The wind was blowing from the south and the moon was all cheshire cat today as Revel and I walked over to my new sit spot at dusk.
We passed by a man dressed in gray, perched on the edge of the base of a large gravestone, eyes closed, lips moving in silent prayer, rosary beads tangled in his fingers.
Revel and I marveled at the singing trees, dozens of chimes hung amongst their branches, humming in time to the wind. He reached his baby hands up, as if to catch the sound.
And I got to thinking about stone.
The cold chips of stone in the man’s warm hand, the granite headstones, so permanent, chosen to mark something so fleeting. The Virgin Mary carved from marble, a mysterious and comforting mother in marble robes.
And I thought about our great mother the earth, so beautiful in her green and blue, so soft. But then underneath the soft, grand slabs of rock, so solid, thick and heavy, cool to the touch.
And below that the molten rock, liquefied stone, the fire of creation; the fire of destruction.
And I thought how we exploit stone too, chew it up with monster machines, mix it with oil and spit it out to bake under the hot sun,
the criss-cross of scars on a beautiful face.
Thank you for listening,
Our guest piece tonight is from a woman whose wild heart speaks to mine. A woman of the woods with a gentle and free spirit. And a ferocious lover of the land. Kelsey M., I love you so much. Your wildness inspires me. Thank you for your beautiful words, thank you for sharing.
More than anything, I remember the smell of it. Like formaldehyde in warm milk, pungent and sweet. It was fresh blood, raw marrow, warm flesh. It was skin and bone and soul. It was a mother, fawns freshly weaned, her bosom still yearning for those of her womb. It was the last few moments of her life, her side heaving in and out beneath fingers that still feel it if I let them remember. It was wind that was harsh, bitter, unforgiving. It was four feet off the highway, the bone-shuddering whir of eighteen-wheelers in transit. It was me struggling to sift exhaust from my throat and her fighting for any air she could get. It was January, burn-in-your-lungs cold, and the dome of black sky above us was sifting snow.
More than anything, I remember the look in her eyes. The pain, thick and pulsing, a heartbeat shared with the world one last time. Save the anguished rise and fall of her chest, she was still. But her eyes spoke to days of running, to a beast wild and unbridled and free. To days of sunshine unfiltered and babies to feed and miles to roam without measuring how many or how far. To places beyond that freeway and to times sweeter than the last moments before death.
More than anything, I remember her final breath. The way it was so slow the air seemed to freeze around us. The way her ribcage rattled inward suddenly, and how it stopped. The way the stillness of her terrified me, how hot flesh under my fingers turned cold so quickly.
I was just a child when I sat frozen and wide-eyed by the side of that highway, my every breath willing hers not to stop. I was just a child when I watched the night cave in around her, snow swirling, blood steaming into the air around us. I was just a child when death clawed its way into my world, and I’m still a child every time it comes back.
Death. The loss of an uncle, a father, a friend, a grandfather, a grandmother. The loss of a tree, a field, a quiet place, a quiet night. The loss of that meadow where I chased butterflies as a child, wild and free and still unbroken. The loss of a sycamore that held me when nothing else could. The loss of a stream and the freedom to drink from it. The loss of that forest and knowing my nephews could never know it as I did.
My beloved trees, the friends of my childhood, bleeding where chainsaws came too soon.
Ravaged river bottoms, where two hills come together in the bosom of what was once so alive.
Memory etched in grass choked by asphalt.
Birds, broken-winged, waiting for the warmth of a spring that will never come.
Children crying, the sound hollow because there is no silence left to soothe it.
No silence. No forest. No place to run wild and free.
Some days it creeps in slowly, dull claws digging flesh until my heart aches from it, a bruise slowly blackening. Other days it’s sudden, not a moment to spare between bright and black. But always it is the same. The pain of knowing things lost can never return, no matter how much I love them.
Knowing that my arms will never be big enough, strong enough, to hold it all.
Knowing that tar will suffocate seedlings. That clear skies will be swallowed by smog. That rivers will run red with the blood of our ancestors, hollow without the laughter of our children. And death, like pop rocks on pavement, will never cease to clatter the insides of our souls.
Yet every morning I wake up, and the sun peaks above the horizon no matter how many times the darkness tells it to stop.
Grass breaks through concrete.
Love conquers what hate cannot even touch.
Faith moves mountains intangibly tall, and children look with wide eyes at a world still extraordinary.
I was just a child when I shared my breath with the last of hers. More than anything, I remember the life-filled eyes of every fawn I’ve ever seen since. Their crooked stick legs, blamelessly wobbly, and white against brown across their fragile spine. Abandon in every step and no one to tell them to stop. Running with no place to go. Breathing.
I was no longer a child when my nephew was born. But more than anything, I remember the way he turned the world new again. His wide eyes, paper skin, hands so small two of his fit into one of mine. A cry unchecked, his tiny lungs sharing my air for the first time. That look in his eyes, a wonder more beautiful than I’ve ever known. His tiny hands, grasping. Heart beating.
Years pass, pain comes. Rips at my insides, hammers into my bones until they ache from the weight of it. Yet with every wound comes the promise of something else. With every scar, the hope of skin renewed. With every pain-filled night, sunrise and fresh air and hope.
From death, birth. From loss, gain. Learning to acknowledge it, swallow it, cling to it, scream, cry, thrash out. Learning to accept, to move on. And more than anything, love for the future because of the beautiful ache of the past.
More than anything, I remember.