Earthen Story

Earthen Story

Historians excavate stone tablets of dead languages. Religious leaders preach creation stories. Biologists study evolution. Psychologist and sociologists look into the human mind… To the immortal, they all seem to belabor the same question but never reveal the whole truth.

Leaving this trail of inconclusive

trembling bits of some

momentous story.

Was it true, this time, the rumor?

The wherefore of our being here?

Does it come true in the retelling?

And truer in

the re-

presenting?

(“Prayer” by Jorie Graham)

The immortal finds a pail of moist clay—

Let that coolness envelop you for a moment. This clay has been dug out of the creek that you now hear trickling nearby. Can you feel it’s grains beneath your fingers? The ripple of fish, the rush of the current as the winter rains fall, the pecking of birds at stones? Let it’s life wash over you, let it guide you to its true form as we mold it under our hands.

Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes. It is not the sand of the Arabian Desert, not the mud of Welsh marshlands, not the flaky slate of the mountains, but a firm, rich, rooted sediment from years of glaciers and flows that rest beneath you feet. Yet, it is the same earth. The grains and water molecules continuously moving and cycling, taking new forms, falling back into the Earth, taken up and thrown back down endlessly. In this manner, it is the same soil; the same soil the immortal touched millennia ago, the same soul from the beginning of time, even if it has changed in appearance.

A book of poetry lay open, it’s words escaping into the air we breathe.

…Yes, the speaking subject in

me wants

to rip the veil. Thought ‘if I bring my pen to bear inside something

will rip.’ But what? We write.

(“The Taken-Down God” by Jorie Graham)

We continuously tended to the vase, smoothing, dampening where needed. Then, when the urn is ready; when you are ready…put impressions into the shaped clay.

The immortal writes their story; the clay’s story; our story; the story of the Earth throughout all time. Memories and tales spin around vase—

Let it consume you, let the present slip away as we dive into the past, dive into eternity.

By their crossing through the one great

inwardness of

mind, by the straining to be held (grasped) by my

meanings…

And yet how they want to see behind themselves

twisting on their stems to see behind—as if there were a

sun

back there they need, as if it’s a betrayal,

this single forward-facing

Backglancing stirrings,

wedged—in between unsaying and

forgetting—

(“Gulls” by Jorie Graham)

Fill the vase from top to bottom with a lacework of text: Cuneiform blending into Latin into Norse, Greek, Italian, …, English, Chinese… and back again through endless time and space.

He speaks of the long chain back

to the beginning of ‘the world’ (as he calls it) and then, at last,

to the great no

beginning. I feel the no begin.

(“Evolution” by Jorie Graham)

The story ends at the beginning and begins at the end, spiraling down into the past and up into the future. How else could you fit eternity in the finite space of an urn? How else do you end a story without end? The immortal leans back, smears dust across their face and looks around.

*Structure of poetry directly transcribed from Jorie Graham’s book, Never. Poem titles stated in text. 

Photo by Shane Albuquerque on Unsplash

This piece written for the Calvin College graduate’s fiction blog: Presticogitations. Visit there for other great pieces from my fellow alumni! 

Advertisements

SheWolves: A memoir about professional trail crew women and gender

SheWolves: A memoir about professional trail crew women and gender

I stood on a slab of slate, my toes dipping into the edge of an isolated lake. I wore only a bra and underwear. Slanted rays of the setting sun glistened off the still water, broken only by four bobbing heads. I wanted to join them, but the moment I submerged myself… my feet went numb—my lungs constricted. I scrambled out. A chilly breeze nibbled the water droplets from my bare skin; I shivered but remained exposed on the edge for a moment longer.

The week of Babe Crew ended in tears.

I was third to arrive at the trail junction where we let off our loads, cracked a beer, and stretched before the last mile back to the cabin. My load was lighter than usual, but I was still surprised to not be the last one.

After a while, Tits* came stomping up the trail, staggering under her towering pack-frame. Her gear hung off loosely, throwing her off balance. Her eyes were dark, her jaw set in a snarl, her shirt ripped to tatters as if she’d fought a bear. She marched past us and threw down her pack before disappearing behind a few trees where we could only hear her distress.

Candy* wasn’t too far behind, but her face was already streaked with tears. She had torn her shirt in half; the shreds now lay over her shoulders. Their packs were heavy, easily over 100 pounds with the rock-working tools. I had nearly thrown up on the pack-in while carrying the 50-yard, steel cable for the grip hoist which must weigh 50 pounds in itself. I was glad to be carrying the empty lunch bag and buckets—the lightest of our gear—over the steep, rocky five miles back to the cabin.

Apparently, I was the only one in the group who took the actual trail, which is at least a half-mile longer than the shortcut across the river. With the water-levels high and their packs so heavy, each of them had a terrifying story to tell. But they weren’t crying because of fear or pain, they cried for the same reason I cried for the first few weeks of the season: they were ashamed that they weren’t stronger. These women who never complained, who laughed when it stormed, who happily threw an ax into a tree for hours… These women who were the strongest women both physically and in spirit that I had ever met still didn’t think they were good enough.

We finished our hike out together, dropped our packs, and submerged ourselves in the lake, muddy boots and all. Then, we paraded back to the trail cabin with our modified WOMEN WORKING sign as our banner leaving evaporating footprints in our wake. But the boy’s crew hadn’t returned yet, so they did not get to see our spectacular display of tattered and grimy clothes and rats’ nests of hair or our smiles at returning home after a successful week of work.

I’ve never considered myself a feminist, though I’m proud to be female and don’t let it stop me from doing anything. The women I got to work with inspired me in many ways, but their ambitions to be strong seemed a bit misplaced. Rather than praising their own improvements, they continuously compared themselves to the men. They weren’t trying to be strong women—they already were—rather, they were being overcome by the same power play dynamics as the men. This type of feminist isn’t trying to make a place for herself in this world, she’s trying to take The Man’s place. We don’t need women in the roles of men; we need a complete reform of society.

At the end of the season, we took a crew picture. It was tradition to yell at the camera: to raise your ax, flex, and scrunch your face into an fierce, wild snarl—the look of a professional trail worker. We stood on railroad tracks, the mountains rising behind us. We were all teeth and tanned skin taunt with muscle. The men threw their shirts to the side, as did the women boasting their black bras with pride. Before the camera took the last shot, Candy threw off her bra and positioned her double-bit ax before her bare breasts.

From the other side of the lens, you can’t even see Candy’s bare breasts behind her ax.

 

*Note the trail names used here are not their real trail names, but reflect a similar style, and by no means intend offense. From my experience, there are lots of offensive things said in loving ways between close-knit people. In case you’re curious, over the years I have been called: Ifets, Cloud Whisper, Silent Death, Recycling Guru, Phantom, and Lotto.

 

Blame Nature; Blame the Can

Blame Nature; Blame the Can

The road ended in a blockade of trees. A layer of dried leaves paved the ground, leaving only the occasional green flare of pine needles among the dark trunks. The forest smelled pungent like old jack-o-lanterns with smiles collapsed into snarls.

Fern parked the car.

Murphy opened the door and looked around, “Where’s the cabin? You said we’d be staying at a cabin.”

“Don’t freak out. It’s just a short walk.” Fern tossed Murphy a backpack from the trunk.

Murphy threw the bag over one shoulder and her mustard scarf over the other. Wind jostled her hair, knotting the bleached threads into snarls. She tried to fix her hair in the reflection of the car window.

“Come on, Murphy,” Fern called moving towards the trail head.

Murphy followed swatting mosquitoes. “Did you bring bug spray?”

“They’re not bothering me. Maybe you’re jinxed because of that can you threw out the window on the way here.”

“Oh, shut up.”

After they had walked for a few minutes, they could hear the trickle of a stream and river flies reinforced the mosquitoes. Murphy smashed a fly, flicked the carcass off her palm, and grabbed the hand-sanitizer hanging off her backpack covering up the smudge with the scent of fresh linen. “How far away is this cabin?” Murphy said.

“Just a little farther,” Fern said. “It’ll be cozy and relaxing, I promise. Just what we need after those killer mid-terms.”

Murphy sighed, “Don’t remind me. I don’t even want to know my scores for chemistry and biology.”

“I’m sure you did fine. I helped you study,” Fern winked and ambled ahead.

The clouds darkened and several droplets hit the ground. “Of course, it’s going to rain,” Murphy said.

“It’s just a little drizzle,” Fern said. But seconds later, the rain pelted them in sheets mingled with tiny bits of ice. They covered their heads and ran dripping into the cabin as the wind tore after them.

Murphy threw down her backpack and went to the bathroom while Fern started up the fireplace. Cobwebs strung every inch of the bathroom, and when a spider skittered across the floor, Murphy stomped on it with so much force the floorboard cracked.

“Are you alright in there?” Fern called from the kitchen.

Murphy came out drying her hair with a towel and slumped into the chair closest the fire. “I only came because you like this sort of thing.”

Fern poured two cups of tea from the screaming kettle as wind rattled the windows and thunder rumbled overhead. The electric lights flickered and went out. Fern smirked and threw another log on the fire.

Murphy stared at the writhing flames, her knees drawn up to her chest, a scratchy wool blanket clutched around her. She rung a twig from the wood pile with her fingers scraping off the bark and leaving gashes in the grain. Fern handed her the tea, and Murphy set aside the mutilated twig.

“Have your parents found a new house yet?” Fern asked.

Murphy kept an eye on the writhing flames. “No. They’re still in an apartment. They’re thinking of moving to a different town since Kendelville was completely wiped out by the fire.”

Fern sipped her tea.

“It’s not fair. I’d lived there my whole life, and I didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye to the house. And all of my stuff—besides what I had in the dorm—it’s all gone.” Murphy put her feet down, and a mouse scampered out from under her chair sending her screaming out of the chair. “I swear nature has it out for me.”

Fern laughed, “It’s just a mouse. Think of it like a little brother teasing you. My brother’s always trying to annoy me.”

Murphy sat in a different chair. “It’s not just the mouse. It’s that fire, the flooding, the earthquakes. It’s like James Henry who took a gun to school in St. Bern and shot everyone for no good reason.”

Tea spilled over the edge of Fern’s cup as she set it down. “That’s too far.”

They locked eyes, and then Murphy looked down into her cup, “You’re right. I’m sorry.” A leak in the roof dripped onto Murphy’s head, and she stood to move seats yet again.

Fern patted the couch, and Murphy sat beside her. The cabin groaned. Fern glanced at water streaming over the panes and wrapped an arm around Murphy’s shoulders, “You really shouldn’t have thrown that can out the window.” They sat together as trees thrashed against the walls and cracks of lightning threatened the roof over their heads.

Cover Image by Imaginings


Groveling at the Feet of the Shadow

Groveling at the Feet of the Shadow

“I wish you would stay out of my life.” I wanted my voice to rip apart the shadow in front of me, but all I could do was whimper.

I floated on a mirror of sunset orange hues, but the joy, warmth, and encouragement of the sky was lost to me as I grovelled at the feet of the shadow.

The shadow stood with a hand on its hip and said, “I am your life.”

How could I deny it?

I had always been surrounded by dancing colors and vibrant people, but all I brought was darkness. Even here—on a calm lake in the wilderness—here, I was a aphotic zone, an empty void where nothing can survive.

I used to reach for the sky, but I knew now that I could never touch it. All I could have was the feigned image on the surface of the water, and once I broke it, there was no sunset warmth, only icy depths. How many false images had I created? How many beautiful images had I shattered?

Storm clouds billowed over the mountains. The shadow rocked our boat and smiled at the clouds.

The watery mark on the horizon concerned me. I withdrew myself from the painting and breathed. I needed a break. My body felt drenched; my lungs full of ice.

The calm before the storm, they say. They also said painting was meditative, a way to explore your inner demons and express them. I looked at the painting. The shadow stood in the center of the painting, consuming the spot where a sun should be.

“Why do you have to be at the center of everything I do?” The brush in my hand threatened to snap between my fingers; I threw it down splattering paint on the floor. Outside the studio windows a wind was building up under a moonless night. I slammed the door as I escaped into the hall.

Nisa sat beside the door sketching smiles. She drew people she had met, and she remembered every detail about them—she knew their names, their stories, their struggles and joys. Her drawings pulsed with life down to the shading of scars and folds of wrinkles. I refused to let her draw me.

“I told you to go home,” I said and choked. My voice was too loud, too harsh.

“I said I’d wait,” Nisa smiled. “Did you finish it?”

I shrugged. I was done with that painting; it wasn’t worth anymore time since nothing was going to change. All of my pieces looked the same: two dark figures stark in the center of the world. No matter what I did, I couldn’t change my perspective.

Nisa rose on her tip-toes and pecked my cheek. I withdrew from her warmth. No matter what her friends and family said about me, she kept coming back to my side. I told her they were right: I was dangerous. If she got too close to me, she would…

“Can I see it?” she asked.

I waved to the door, and she entered the studio.

She studied my painting and hummed. “I love the contrast! The colors really illuminate and bring focus to the shadows, and the shadows make the sunset look that much brighter.”

Nisa always looked for the good; she was blind to the evil that lurked beneath the surface. She was beautiful, graceful, fragile. As I reached for her, my hand trembled.

The shadow echoed out of the painting into the room, “I will consume her. I will smother all of her light like the storm that darkens the sun.” I staggered back and tripped over a stool.

“Are you okay?” Nisa leaned over me and offered a hand. Branches thrashed against the window, and any moment, the clouds would burst open.

“Would you leave already?!” I cried.

“Zach.” She stood back but didn’t leave. Concern and sorrow that pulled on her face.

“I will end up hurting you, just like everyone else.” I turned away.

“We all have a past. You have to forgive yourself and move forward just trying your best. I know you don’t believe it, but I can see good in you. I love you despite your past.”

“SHUT UP!” Suddenly, that paintbrush was in between my fingers again, and then, it was flying through the air at Nisa’s head. Black and red paint smeared her face as she fell backwards.

Outside lightning crashed. The lights flickered and went out; everything always ends up in darkness, swallowed by the void. There is no escape, only a transient calm before the storm.

Image by bluemoonjools at Pixabay 


InFinite Time

InFinite Time

Time is fluid, yet linear, like a ribbon adrift on the wind. It extends and restricts, even at moments folding in on itself. The most turbulent times occur around the equinoxes when daylight ripples and the seasons change. It is during these mystical hours that certain worlds that usually live in different times may be able to touch if only for a moment. Perhaps you have experienced this when you take an evening walk in the woods and as the light tilts, suddenly you find yourself lost among trees and trails that should be familiar. Or when you pass a stranger on the street and swear you know them, but from where? From when?

Usually, these encounters pass quickly and are forgotten. A mere moment of déjà vu. A chill up your spine. The sensation of something brushing past you. But for some, these passing moments become the most important ones.

 

The scent of cherry blossoms filled the car as Mo and her mother drove down the boulevard towards Granny’s cottage, The Golden Equinox.

Eddies of pink petals kissed Mo’s finger tips. 

“The cherry blossoms are beautiful this year,” her mother said.

“I wish they would last longer,” Mo sighed and tapped her fingers against the outside of the car.

“The brief moments just make us treasure them that much more,” her mother said as they meandered down the drive.

“Do you think Dad and Sammy and Aunt Jewel are here yet?”

“They don’t usually appear until closer to dusk you know.”

Mo unfastened her seat belt as her mother parked the car. She grabbed her bag and ran up onto the porch. “Are they here yet?” she asked Granny who was sitting by Auntie Em on the bench swing.

“Mo! Happy birthday! My, you’re growing up,” Granny said.

“I love that hat,” Auntie Em said.

“You know, I have some clothes in the attic you might like, Mo. It’s so funny how fashions come back,” Granny smiled.

“Anything’s better than that hot pink hair you had last year,” Auntie Em said. “What was it your cousin Sammy called you? Flamingo Mo? Flaming Mo?” Sammy was the closest to Mo’s age even in the extended family. 

Mo glanced through the windows and around the yard. “Sammy’s not here yet?”

“Your Uncle Jo and the cousins are out back.”

Uncle Smith never came to the reunion anymore. Seeing Sammy and Aunt Jewel was too hard on him. He spent most of his days alone, and Mo couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to see the ones he loved the most.

“The Manns haven’t appeared yet,” Auntie Em said. 

Granny whispered to Mo’s mother who was opening the door, “The little pea is sleeping in the crib, so don’t wake her up.” 

 

The scent of garlic asparagus warmed the cabin. Mo went to the bathroom. The sun was beginning to slant through the yellow glass making the yellow and orange floral wallpaper look mottled and strange. Her mother was humming to the baby in the bedroom. Her cousins drank and laughed in the backyard. The bench on the porch creaked. But all Mo could hear was the ticking of the grandfather clock as she stared into the mirror. 

After the rest of the family had eaten and laughed and gone to bed, Mo stood on the porch alone. She watched the stars spinning above, the trees swaying in the wind, the whole world tilting too quickly.

“Mo? Mo?!”

“I’m here, Mom.”

Her mother flew out the door and embraced her. “Mo,” she cried. “Mo, don’t leave the house tonight. I don’t want to lose you.” 

Mo stayed on the porch despite her mother’s tugging. “They’re coming aren’t they?”

“Maybe they can’t make it this year. Come inside.” Her mother dragged her into the house.

“But they always come. Every year.”

 

Mo lay awake in the dark wiggling her toes under the quilt. The clock chimed and twelve hours pounded in her head. She squeezed her eyes shut.

“FlamingMo? You’re not asleep are you?”

“Sam the Mann?!” she shot up and hugged her cousin.

He wasn’t a shadow or ghost or some fantasy; he was here, flesh and blood. She could no longer hear the clock. Even if he would scatter like petals with the first rays of morning, she knew he would return as soon as the snow melted again next year, and they would continue to share their birthdays throughout eternity. 

 

Photo by Imaginings


Planets Apart

Planets Apart

“While you’re home, will you go through these boxes? I told Dad not to throw them out until you had looked.” Mom pointed to the boxes crammed in the corner of my room–or rather, the new guest bedroom.

“Sure.” I couldn’t even remember what was in those boxes. I had been adding things to them for years—things I didn’t want to lose.

I set aside my laptop and plopped down among the boxes. I tore open the lids and pulled out each item. The first box was from high school, mostly papers full of scratches that had made sense to me at some point, I think. Soon my recycling bin was overflowing and old clothes and books to donate lay strewn about the floor.

In the middle school box, I found a trinket box. The polished wood and elegant carvings seemed out of place among the stuffed animals and toilet paper rolls smothered in star-shaped glitter. A cheap lock from a diary held the latch shut. Whatever I had put in it must have been important, but I couldn’t remember. I easily snapped off the lock and opened the wooden box.

Nestled in a velvety red cloth lay a leather bracelet with seven beads of varying metals each carved with a glyph.

I touched each bead as memories twinkled in the distance. This bracelet made me look like an idiot in sixth grade astronomy. The gold bead was the Sun; silver was the Moon; the swirling iridescent bead representing mercury was the planet Mercury; the rusty iron was Mars. That left copper, tin, and lead. The symbol on copper was for female, so that must be Venus. What were the other two? Alice would know.

Would she still have her bracelet after all these years? We had bought them at a renaissance festival together.

Now, I was craving turkey legs and keg root-beer. Alice hated those; she only ate salad and coffee.

Whatever happened to her anyway? I rolled the beads between my fingers. We had really drifted apart. There had always been space between us; I think I had insisted on matching bracelets hoping that it would tie us together.

We used to spend hours in the woods collecting “ingredients.” I made pixie dust and ink; she made poison and hexes. While I wrote stories about adventures and love, she wrote novels that merged history, science, and Gothic horror in such vivid detail that I eventually had to stop reading them: I was having nightmares. Her drawing was just as vivid and detailed, obviously inherited from her relatives that had drawn the framed portraits around the house. She could even draw a horse. The best thing I could draw was a cube. 

My sister told me to stay away from Alice; she said she was weird. But I didn’t have that many friends, and I wasn’t about to let go of them. She was a good friend. The type of friend that you can call by nicknames, create secret languages, go on adventures, and play games on the bus that no one else understands. 

In high school, I was overwhelmed with studies, and Alice seemed even farther away. She was home schooled now and had friends of another sort. She had switched from novels and realistic drawing to manga. I wished her the best, but I knew nothing about manga. Weren’t they like comics? If nothing else, she still loved Lord of the Rings; now, I could quote the movies just like she had when she introduced me to Tolkien’s world. 

Now, I was studying physics in college and writing for the campus newspaper. I wondered what Alice was doing. 

I tugged on the bracelet, but the band wouldn’t stretch over my hand and it snapped. The planets spun around the room. It took a while, but I found them all and returned them to the wooden box. I would fix it later. 

I was beginning to pack things up when Mom came in with a garbage bag. “Is this garbage?” She reached for the box of loose beads.

“NO!” I lunged across the room and snatched the broken bracelet to my chest. “I’m going to fix it.”

“Are you?” Mom raised an eye brow.

It was an easy fix; I just needed a new string. It was the beads that made the bracelet. 

 

Photo by Shalom de León on Unsplash

Edited from original submission for YeahWrite 


 

Taking a Fall

Taking a Fall

I was slipping. My legs trembled on slopers. My left arm wedged between me and the wall. My right hand searched for a secure hold and found none. Seconds. Centimeters. Get it wrong, push my luck, and I’d get hurt. I felt my legs going, so I launched my right hand to the top of the bouldering wall. I felt the rough hold under my fingers and then…

I was curled up on the padded floor eight feet below, my back as tight as stone, whistling air through gritted teeth. With my eyes pinched shut, I floated in darkness aware only of voices around me and the pain in my back.

I was so embarrassed. I’d been climbing for more than five years and bouldering for two years. I’d climbed that exact wall before. I had just completed the route. But I hadn’t thought about coming down: a rooky mistake.

Minutes later, when I had calmed down enough to at least sit up, a climber more experienced than me took the same type of fall. He pulled his knees into his chest and rocked on his back, trying to release the tension; he knew what to do. No doubt, he’d fallen before.

With all extreme sports, you can’t be afraid of falling. For some sports—like sky diving—falling is the whole point!

When I taught myself to skateboard, I started by throwing myself down in the grass and practicing the proper way to use my elbow pads so that I wouldn’t break my wrists or chin when I fell for real. With most things it’s not a matter of if you will fall, but when. It doesn’t matter how much you cling to it, eventually you may slip, loose your balance, or the thing you’re clinging to may crumble.

People cling to crumbling relationships because they’re afraid of what will happen to them if they let go. Will they get hurt if they let go? Probably. But they’re likely to fall anyway, and if they aren’t prepared for the fall, they’re likely to get hurt worse and have a longer recovery.

Still, days later, it was a struggle to stand or walk long distances because my back was so sore. It was really annoying, but what did I expect? Of course it’s going to hurt when you fall eight feet.

I’m not really afraid of heights, but I’m terrified of water. I remember tubing behind a boat with a friend and as we approached a massive wave, she bailed. I would never let go if it meant falling in the water, so the tube flipped over and dragged me underneath. I swallowed so much water. It wasn’t until I intentionally let go a few times, that I became comfortable with falling in the water. I’ve also drifted too far out on currents because I was too afraid to let go of the inflatable tube. Often times, it’s safer to let go and fall when you’re prepared for it rather than holding on until things get too out of hand and the risk of the imminent fall magnifies.

Still, people won’t let go because more than the fear of the pain that may result, falling has a negative connotation in our culture. The first thing people will ask, including yourself, is “What did you do wrong?” Even if it was an accident, even if it wasn’t your fault, even if it wasn’t avoidable. But falling is just a part of life.

In extreme sports, you’re not a real snowboarder, skateboarder, rock climber, or mountain biker unless you’ve taken a couple falls. It’s why you wear a helmet and protection equipment. It’s why you practice the proper way to fall and assess the situation before jumping in and create an emergency plan.

I’m not saying you should go up in a plane with the intention of jumping out (unless you want to). It’s always good to prevent risk when possible, but falling isn’t always a bad thing.

A planned fall is sometimes the safest option when you find yourself in a dangerous or tough situation. Maybe that means moving away or committing to rehab or letting someone you love go to a better place. If you continue to hang on and not plan for it, the fall is going to be way worse for you.