Graveyard

graveyard

The graveyard is crowded with headstones and trees, rolling over hills and stretching for the horizon.  The late evening light is lining everything in orange as I run through the rows of headstones.  I hear the shouts behind me but can no longer see my pursuers.  They do not know these gray hills like I do, and with the long shadows and twisting rows, it is easy to end up running in circles.

Most of the stones here were engraved by the very people buried beneath, and the words they bear are more of a last confession and warning to the living than they are a comfort to those that come to mourn.

I brush stray hairs from my face, ducking behind a large oak.  Blue and yellow wildflowers are clumped beside me, closing with the fading light.  I always loved the patches of flowers that grew here.  They remind me of who I wish to be.

Color amidst gray.  Brightness against dark.  Softness in a hard place.

I was born in the height of spring, when the meadows were filled with blue and the trees were bursting with pink.

Early in my childhood I embraced the warmth of the sun, and I try to bring its light with me wherever I go.  It is my desire to share it with the world.  Yellow sweaters are my beacon, a ready laugh a sign of welcome, and my ear is ever listening for the dark cracks inside.  I want to reach out to others with sunshine in my hands.

They do not all wish for light.  I feel so fragile sometimes, when my efforts won’t work and I wonder if I am doing it wrong.  It is then that I wonder if I can stand trying one more time.  If it would be worth it.  I’m only one of many.

The headstone before me stares me down, cold dark slate edged with golden light.  The dates tell me that the man buried here died in his fifties.  I may not succeed, but I hope they will say of me ‘he still fought anyway’.

The shouting of my pursuers has gotten far away and bewildered.  They are forgetting their taunts and sneers with every turn they make, instead remembering their ghost stories and fears of dark places.  I stand up, brushing dirt from my jeans, and walk in the direction farthest from their cries.  This place has become a part of me, I do not fear it.

I was born in the midst of a storm, when the wind was filled with torn petals and the rain smelled like perfume.

I think the storm got trapped beneath my skin.  It is where I hold my stories, creativity, and words, words, words.  They simmer on the surface in chaos and I want to let them out, but they get stuck in my ribs and my lungs whenever I open my mouth.  I have to pry them out and guide them to my lips, and that means I have to be confident that they are worth it.  Sometimes I’m not so sure.

I stop for a moment beneath a cherry tree, most of its pink blossoms a blanket for the ground.  There is a small stone there that I go to see whenever I visit.  It may be the smallest headstone in this graveyard, but once I read its words it didn’t matter what size it was.  I could never shake it from my mind.  To all the dreams I had, I’m sorry for being afraid.

I was born amid the falling of hail, when the sky was filled with ice and the ground could do nothing but endure.

Sometimes my words are so heavy from being inside me, and they tumble out like the pelting hail.  I try to soften them into droplets, like a sweet summer rain, so that they might be useful to the ground they hit.  I was given these words for a reason, and it is my wish to use them.

Here’s a secret.  I do not know what I’m doing.

But if I am to learn, I must start somewhere, and for me to give up when I realize I don’t know is comparable to taking the wheels off my bike when I want to ride it.

The trees and stones around me have become silhouettes.  I climb the stone wall that guards the edges of this graveyard, and pause at the top to look behind me.  My pursuers are either jumping at the headstones in the dark or they have given up their search.  Either way, I have slipped out of their reach once again.

Here’s a secret.  I have broken, and I will break again.

Nothing hurts like anticipation, and once pain is felt there are so many paths people take to avoid feeling it again.  Listen closely, let me tell you what I know.  Those paths do not avoid pain.  Nothing hurts like anticipation, but regret is the one thing that’s worse.

Here’s a secret.  It does not matter that I have failed.

I am learning to see failure as a stepping stone instead of a pit.  Some days I fail in even remembering that, but that does not mean I stop.  I am still here.  I am carrying light in my palms and words under my skin.  I may not be as good with either as I would like, but I still use them to spread light and warmth and color.

Just try and stop me.

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Traveling

pexels-photo-1082666

The world could swallow me whole if I let it.

The western countryside rolls on and on and on.  It’s such a change from the hugging buildings and crisscrossed streets and closeness of my home that I’ve been happily silent for most of the car ride.

I’m riding with my cousin, who’d picked me up from the airport.  Eventually.  Apparently he’d driven in three complete circles before finding the place where I was waiting for him.  It’s just over an hour drive from the airport to his house, and the landscape changed as soon as the airport disappeared behind us.

I’d forgotten how far land can stretch, hugging the curve of the earth with its bumps and divots.  Rows and rows of crops mesmerize me as I stare out the window.

There are lovely smells of grass and summer breezes and good dirt, and there are unpleasant smells of cows and manure and hot rubber on blacktop.

My face is an open book as we encounter each new thing.  I know I’m wide eyed in wonder at everything that is mundane to my cousin, but I don’t care.  It isn’t mundane to me, so I wrinkle my nose, or stare, or point out the eleventh barn we’ve passed so far.

There is wildlife just off the road, and I know they aren’t deer, but I also can’t remember what exactly they are called.  Their sandy brown coats and white bellies stick out just enough to be seen in the tall grass.  Black horns poke up from their heads, the tips forked at the ends.  They’re just standing there, two –no, three– of them, looking for all the world as if they own the land themselves.

“Antelope?” I ask.  I’m careful not to say cantaloupe, because that, I know, is a fruit.

“Pronghorn.” he says, barely glancing over. “There’s a loner that visits us every autumn.  The kids named him Alfalfa.”

I look out the window again, picturing what it would be like to have a pronghorn near my house often enough to name it.  I have to smile at that, because if just one of those visited my house it would drive the neighborhood dogs wild and freak out the Hendersons next door for at least a week.  Poor thing would never come back after that ordeal.

Billowing storm clouds are gathering, from white and fluffy on top to dark and flat at the bottom and so, so, big.  They fill the sky and make the rolling hills feel small, and me even smaller.  The air has changed again, and in it is the combined smell of dust and approaching rain.

I can’t wait to sit on my cousin’s front porch, his kids crawling all over us, to watch the storm blow in.  I can’t wait to breathe deep and explore this place.  The kids will want to show me everything that’s normal for them, if only for the sheer entertainment of watching my reaction.  There’s something vast and wonderful about going somewhere so different from home.

It helps me remember how big the world can be.

And that it’s waiting to be explored.

Dangerous

rabbits

We live in the forest, but never far from the border.  Never far from open spaces and busy towns where the creatures won’t go.

You can survive them.  My parents would tell me.  I used to wonder why their voices strained with held-back desperation.  You can survive them, but you cannot befriend them.

They have fangs.  Sharp, hollow fangs, dripping with venom.  The strands of their fur are colored black or brown or red, sometimes a blend of all three.  Their little paws hold sharp claws inside, and their long ears can hear you tip-toeing over moss.  They have tiny gleaming eyes and a nose that’s always quivering with anticipation.  Often, you can spot them among the roots of the trees, under the thick of bramble, or inside the hollow of rotting wood.

Sometimes, if you look up, they are in the branches.  Sometimes, if you get too close, they spread their feathered wings and dive for you, their mouths an unnatural bright red.

Killer rabbits.

You can survive them, but you cannot befriend them.

My grandfather tried once.  He almost died from their venom.  I wanted to see.  He would always say.  I wanted to see the wings up close.

Now his legs are paralyzed and his hands shake.

My cousin tried.  She found a nest of babies and tried to take one.  Its shrill cries of fright would have had any adult bounding to rescue it, but in the end it was its own bite that caused her to put it down and flee.  You’d think the venom of a baby bunny would be small.  Diluted.

My cousin lost her arm and laid in a coma for two years.

My family knows the warnings, but they can’t seem to stop us.  Not all of us.  I understand the desperation in my parents voices now.  It runs in our blood.

They are dangerous.  I am drawn to dangerous things.

They can be survived.  I’m looking into its dark beady eyes.

You cannot befriend them.  It is staring back into mine.

The rabbit is watching me from across a small clearing as I sit cross-legged in the grass.  I have done this every week for months, my back straight as a ruler, my eyes bright as the full moon, my hands trembling with excitement.

I want to touch its fur.

My parents would be distressed if they saw me, but not surprised.  The rabbit is red and black, and it keeps returning every week to watch me.  I have made myself into a riddle, one that is just hard enough to keep wondering about.

Its ears point at me like two daggers, its nose twitching like aspen leaves in the wind, its predatory gaze full of malice.

It wants a reason to attack.

I am unraveling the knotted reasons why I am drawn to them.  Why we all are drawn to them.  Slowly, I am learning.

They are the dizziness of looking off the edge of a cliff and they are the held breath of swimming in depthless water.

More than that, they are the mystery of something that cannot be touched.

It is the game they play.  The bait they use to lure us.  They wait until the unknown becomes unbearable.  They wait until one of us breaks.  It is how they lure in lone dogs and stray cats and reckless crows.

But I think their weapon is also their curse.  Born to exploit their preys’ curiosity, they themselves bear a dangerous amount of it.  Dangerous enough to hold one back from attacking me.  Dangerous enough for it to creep closer with every encounter.

Dangerous enough for it to check itself and forget its venom.

Sure it can be survived, but I want more.

I want to touch its fur.

Secrets

pexels-photo-699782

Tell me a secret.

I’ll tell you mine.

Are you thinking about what scares you?  Are you remembering something you’ve never had the courage to say?  Are you opening your closet and freezing at the sight of the skeletons?

Close it.

There are secrets no one thinks of when they’re told to turn out the pockets of their lives.  There are some things they never tell anyone; not because they want to keep it from others, but because they don’t realize it’s hidden.

Tell me those secrets.

Tell me about the items you’ve held onto, perhaps scattered around your room.  Maybe you’re not the kind of person who holds onto stuff, not physically, but some things stay in your memory nonetheless.

There is a softball sitting on my desk that my brother and I found in a field a long, long, time ago.  We fought over whose it was until I hid it in my sock drawer and left it there for years.  It’s old and cracked and there’s black duct tape over a spot where it had ripped, but I still like the way it feels in my hands even though they’re much bigger now.

I have an old library card from when I lived in another state, another time.  It hasn’t been useful for nearly a decade, but it still bears the faded marks of one of my first ever signatures, written in terrible handwriting because my hand was still a stranger to holding a pen.

There is an old calendar in my drawer from 1985 that used to belong to my grandfather, and it is waiting for a year when the days of the week once again match up with the dates of the month so that I can hang it on a wall one more time.

Tell me your secrets.

I’ll tell you mine.

I eat my pizza from crust to tip.  Most of my dreams are out of focus or not completely there because if I pay too much attention I wake myself up.  I love the smell of rose because it reminds me of eating Turkish Delight.  When I go up or down stairs I try to finish on my right foot.  I snort when I laugh because I loved the sound of it when I was younger and learned how to make myself do it.  When I read I usually have to cover up the next lines because my eyes like to skip down and catch spoilers before I can get to them.  I like to hit multiples of five when I adjust the volume.

I still think about the haircuts I’ve given that didn’t turn out.

I love boxes disguised as old books.

I miss the feeling of bare feet on grass.

Tell me your secrets.

I’ll tell you mine.

 

Thief

castle

Shouts from the palace guards rose up behind me as I ran down the gilded halls.  I laughed, holding the package close to my chest.  I’d never been inside a palace before.  The sheer joy and adrenaline I had from running barefoot through this place was like nothing I’d felt before.

I made a sharp turn to the left and there were the stairs, right where Jalex had told me they’d be.  My legs burned as I took the steps two at a time.  Up, up, up, the guards that gave chase becoming a rumbling thunder behind me.  I hadn’t glanced back at them in a while, but I could tell the number had grown.  I adjusted my grip on the package, careful not to crush it.

“Halt!  You there!  Stop!”

As if.

I burst onto the next floor, dodging the guards Jalex had said would be there.  One of their hands brushed my back, a breath of air away from catching me.  I forced my legs into a burst of new speed.

Almost there.  Almost there.

I wove around a couple servants, grinning at their exclamations as the stampede of guards swallowed them whole.

Another spiraling staircase appeared on my right, and I charged up.  The palace was huge.  Jalex had said it would be, but I suppose he could only prepare me for so much.  Some things you just have to see to believe.

The door at the very top was heavy, and I had to slam my shoulder into it before I could get through.  I ran out, onto the top of the castle walls.  To my left I could see stone and windows and pointed rooftops, and to my right I saw a spreading town and winding roads and green hills checkered with fields.

Soldiers were close behind, I could hear their heavy steps echoing up the staircase.  Before me was a path of stone, ending in another spiraling staircase.  Just as the men behind me reached the top, the door to the stair in front of me burst open.  More men spilled out, their swords unsheathed.

No turning back.  No going forward.

I’d run out of breath so I didn’t laugh, but I did grin at the men running after me.  They couldn’t catch me, and they wouldn’t get the package in my arms.

I looked to the right again, this time straight down to the base of the wall.  It looked a lot farther down than it had looked the night before, when Jalex and I had stood at the bottom.

Almost there.  A few more steps should do it.

The closest soldier reached out a hand, a few more steps and he would have grabbed me.  Instead, his fingers grasped cold air as I jumped onto the edge.  I stood there for barely a second, just long enough to look down and aim before leaping off the wall.

I clutched the package close to my chest, my heart and stomach floating inside me as I fell.  Shouting above me and wind around me and falling, falling, falling . . .

Whoosh.

I sank deep into a pile of hay, nearly hitting the wooden planks of the wagon that held it before I stopped falling.  There was a whistle and a jerk, and the wagon started moving.  I smiled, panting for breath as Jalex drove us away.

My fingers shook with excitement as I carefully unwrapped the package.

Thieves we may be, but we have only ever sought one kind of plunder.  The smell of leather and paper and vanilla rose to mingle with the scent of hay, and I passed a loving hand over the cover.

Those nobles wouldn’t have used it anyway; leaving it to rot in their vaults, its knowledge unread and unknown.

But I opened the book to its first page and began reading as we made our escape.

Weaver

rain

The light is dim in my tiny home, but morning has broken all the same.  Thunder rumbles all around me as rain splashes against my window panes.  The wind plays a game of tag with itself, rushing along my walls and pushing the rain in every different direction.

I light a rose scented candle and start the kettle for tea.  Today I have nowhere to go and the possibility for anything.  Lightning flashes, and I count the seconds before thunder grumbles an answer.  I pour myself a cup of tea and walk the few steps from my kitchen to the living room.

The windows are framed with plants that I’ve somehow managed to keep alive, their leaves stretching to catch every last bit of light.  A small table sits tucked into the corner, holding up stacks of books with used envelopes sticking out of their pages as bookmarks.  They call out to me with their worlds and stories, but today is not the day to open them.

In the center of the room, waiting patiently and filling nearly all the floorspace, sits my loom.

Today, I will weave something for myself.  Something I don’t have to show anyone or limit to what they want.  Something fun and experimental and all my own.

Today I want to weave the storm.

I start out with my soft grey thread, the best for binding and holding.  The wind presses rain against my windows in sheets, and I pull just the smallest stream of it out, weaving it up and down through the threads.  The wind bucks and squirms, but eventually it figures out the rhythm and direction I’m taking, and it flows smoothly through the thread.

The forming cloth under my fingertips is turning into a light, glistening blue, and I know it is ready for a new element.

I reach for the dark, blanketing clouds.

They are elusive and full of everything I’ve ever felt.  It’s no wonder they are always swirling and charged with a storm, I would do the same if I held so much inside me.

Light as mist and heavy as rain, I weave the clouds through.  They take their own sweet time to settle, but once they do, it makes the softest cloth I’ve touched.  Softer than my cats’ purring woven into silk.

The cloth now has flecks of green and purple and silver.  I breathe in deeply and stretch, stepping out onto my front porch for a break.

The wind instantly starts playing with my hair, and the rain follows it under the overhang to spray mist into my face.

The colors around me are all deeper, brighter, vividly shining through the downpour.  My eye catches on the yellow honeysuckle, and suddenly I know I have to have it in my cloth.

I am soaked by the time I come back inside, but I have the honeysuckle blossoms in my hands.  They are sweet and warm, murmuring about humid days and bumble bees.  I lay them out on my counter to rest while I change out of my wet clothes and pull on a soft sweater and warm leggings.

My cuckoo clock calls out the hour as I settle back to my weaving.  Rich dark yellow appears in fine threads amongst the wind and clouds, and the scent of honeysuckle rises to mingle with the essence of rose from my candle.

There is one last element I want to add to this cloth, and it is the most difficult of all to catch.

It is mid-afternoon before I capture a splintering bolt of lightning.  It is charged and wild and makes my skin tingle as I weave it in.  Lightning fills the spaces between threads and lines the edges, flickering like the sky outside.  I think perhaps even an echo of thunder is caught in the cloth.

I weave until the storm passes, leaving in its wake a hushed sort of calm.  The clouds part just in time to let through the last rays of the setting sun, steeping the sky in gold and red and orange.

I leave the cloth on the loom for the night, letting the storm settle into its threads.  Tomorrow I have other work to do, I have places to go and responsibilities to fulfill.  But sometime, when I have another day to myself, I will make something from my cloth of storms.

Of everything I’ve made so far, I think this one will be a favorite.

Goodbye

Quiet

Flakes of white float down from the sky, collecting on my shoulders and clinging to my hair.  It covers the ground in a thin sheet, marred by the track of footprints I’ve left behind me.

I’m trying not to look back.  I already know what it looks like– still and quiet, dusted in white and gray.

There used to be such noise.  I think normal volume was never quite loud enough for us.  Squirrels used to wage warfare in the trees before the sun had a chance to wake me.  My neighbors would always be shouting, laughing, working.  Dogs would fill the air with their excitement and play, ceaselessly working to scare away the stubborn squirrels.

Now . . . silence.

My home, turned into an echo of what had been.  Buried under the flakes that continue to fall.

A phantom breeze brushes across my neck.

It’s time to move on.  I know it is.  Somehow, knowing that doesn’t make it easier.  There is a part of me that is clinging to the past and refusing to let go, no matter how impossible it is to go back.  No matter how many terrible memories I have, the good ones like to shine brighter.

I tell myself it doesn’t matter now.  The good and the bad, it’s all in the past.  It had to be, before I could leave.

That’s why I’d done it.  Why I’d buried my home behind me.

I take a deep breath, looking at the path before me.  The trees are reaching out their branches, green buds peeking out from beneath the white flakes.  The air is still cool enough to see a faint puff of fog as I breathe out.  It looks for all the world like winter is still clinging to the earth, refusing to let go, as I once had.

But that’s something I’ve learned over the years.  Looks can be deceiving.

A small smile grows on my face.

I look back, peering through the softly falling flakes.  My whispered goodbye is barely heard, only reaching my ears because of the blanketing silence around me.  It’s strange to look back like this, and I can almost imagine something peaceful amidst the dusting of white and gray.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for the smell of smoke, you’d almost mistake the ashes for snow.