Over the Bridge
I was out in the field with the dogs when Pa called me. I'd thought at first I was in trouble since I hadn't milked the cows yet, and it was already after seven. I know chores start right at sun-up, but my arm's been aching ever since I got thrown from our horse, Penny, two days ago, so I'd been laying in the tall grass with the dogs for a while. The summer sun had already soaked into the thin fabric of my dress, making me feel sleepy, like I was being hugged, but I sat up and ran across the field in the direction of Pa's voice.
I stopped when I could see the bridge, and the dogs, Tan and Ollie, yapped at each other and ran ahead. They cut little slices through the grass like shooting stars. I looked out at the field, the old, wooden bridge rising from the landscape of yellows and greens, two figures atop it. Our house was further across the field, a patch of red against the summer-blue sky. Bubbles of clouds hung in the sky, too still.
Pa shouted my name again, and I fisted my skirts in my hands and ran the rest of the way to the bridge, half-tripping on a jutting-out rock on the way there. Pa stood with his back to me, a stiff silhouette in his faded overalls. My sister Lynley was squatting down to pet Tan and Ollie, who were quiet now but both had their tails wagging madly. I could hear the stream gurgling beneath the bridge, and nobody said a word. I looked to Pa, but his expression was hidden underneath the shadow of his hat.
Lynley stood up then, and smiled warmly at me. She'd always been the calmest out of us kids, the most patient and responsible. I wondered why she was in her nicest dress, the pink one with the the white lacy details, instead of in her work clothes and in the stables.
"You've got paint in your hair," I tell her while I picked bits of grass off the skirt of my dress. Lynley's hair was blonde and straight, all pulled back with a ribbon except for her bangs, which stopped just above her brows. A clump of yellow paint stuck in the center of her bangs, and she went cross-eyed for a second trying to see it. With one hand she reached up and pulled it gently out.
"Roxy, Lynley's leaving," Pa says in his low, scratchy voice. His voice always reminded me of fire embers dying in the grate, the way it trailed off at the end.
I rub off a clump of dirt that'd stuck to my palm and eye Lynley. She reached down and picked up a traveling case I hadn't noticed, as it had been hidden by her pink skirt. It was Ma's old case, worn and fraying on all the edges, but it looked different now. As Lynley swung it in front of her, holding the bulging case's single handle with both hands, I saw the painting on the front. It was of Ollie, who was a brown and white border collie, but she'd painted him in all different colors: bright yellows and sunset oranges and soft green shadows against a background of even more scattered color. It was a clear picture from far away, and just a field of paint-strokes from up close. I don't know when Lynley might've painted it, or if Ma knew; she'd be furious.
Lynley was always a painter. Whenever us kids would get an extra silver to spend, which was rare, she'd spend hers on paints. And I remember one day she'd spent hours finely cutting up hairs from Penny's mane and binding them together to make brushes so that she had a whole kit. Lynley had started out painting on the backs of old wooden posts, or, with Pa's permission, the inside of the barn doors. She didn't get a proper canvas until some old woman a year back appeared at the market selling them.
Ma had always said painting was a nice hobby, nicer than mine, anyway, which she said is 'running amok and sticking your hands in things they shouldn't be stuck in'. And nicer than our brother Tucker's, which Ma claimed is lazing about. But Ma always said not to let any hobbies get in the way of work. Still, Pa liked to point out things for Lynley to paint, like the kitchen cabinets or the sign post at the edge of the cow pen.
"Where're you going?" I asked my sister, looking up at her now. I knew from what everyone else told us that we looked just alike: same heart-like face and fair hair and autumn-leaf colored eyes. It was just that Lynley was taller than me, by a few inches, and older than me by a few years. But in this moment she looked much more like a grown-up, with shoulders back like Pa and dress pressed like Ma. Meanwhile I had mud caked on the bottoms of my bare feet and the hem of my dress.
"I'll be an artist's apprentice," Lynley said, and she sounded dazed by her own words, a smile ever-present on her face.
I reached down and picked up Tan, who was still a small thing, and she licked my face as I cradled her. "Really?" I know it should be a good thing, but my insides felt heavy. "Pa?"
Pa looked at me now, his brown eyes like rocks in the center of a river. He gave a proud nod, his hat tipping back and a splash of morning sun falling across his jaw. "She's riding west," he said. "There's a wagon coming soon that'll pick her up."
I glanced across the field, as if the wagon might be there now, summoned by the mere mention of it. Instead, it's a familiar landscape, with the stream flowing south and splitting around the big apple tree, just like always.
"I'll visit in the winter," Lynley promised, and it was then that I noticed I'd let a tear track down my cheek. I hid my face in Tan's fur, and she wiggled against my hold. I set her back down.
"Say goodbye, and then it's back to work, alright Roxy?" Pa told me. He sniffed and reached down to pull a weed growing up in between the planks of wood that made the bridge. With a yank he had it in his hands, and tossed it over the railing behind him. We all heard it plop into the shallow water below.
"Bye," I said obediently, hugging my elbows. I didn't want to touch Lynley's best dress.
Lynley was still smiling. "Bye," she agreed.
Pa nodded at her. "You'll find your way out there," he said to her, quieter than usual. He reached out like he was going to hold her cheek, but stopped. His hands were rough and calloused, and his fingernails were stained and blackened from dirt and coal. Damp soil clung to his skin from the weed he'd pulled.
To my surprise, Lynley set down her case and took his hand in hers, guiding it to her face. I couldn't see Pa's expression from where I was standing, but Lynley glowed as she looked up at him, and she leaned her face against his palm. When he slowly pulled his hand away, she had dirt smudged across her cheek.
I touched my own cheek as I looked at her, silently pointing it out, and she just laughed a little and rubbed at her own face with the pad of her finger, but didn't try and remove it. "Bye," she said again, and this time I thought her face was going to crack in half from how fiercely she smiled.
I threw my arms around her then, and she rocked me back and forth and then let me go.
i used to wander through air
like a traveler through a forest,
eyes closed and mind easy.
and then, the sky fell.
falling through every cloud
and the air rushes by,
tumbling through the moonbeams,
heels over head or the other way around?
there's no ground, just space,
just the smell of sunset like burning wood,
just a touch of dew on newly planted grass,
just the song of the sky - surrounding.
the air's pulling the words out of my chest,
yanking the ribs away to reveal the inside.
is this what it feels like?
the world's so fine from above -
endless space, a million, million miles that don't mean a thing.
i'll stretch the night for you,
wait til it yawns and hold its jaws in my hands.
fill in the gaps with soulstuff.
curled up with your voice still in my ears -
the sky still falling, bit by bit -
snake tongues talking about fire,
bones made of malleable stardust.
all the while the sky's alive,
expanding so rapidly beneath my feet
i'll fall and it doesn't matter where.
night. stars. tethered soul.
Having your words to
hang onto like stars
You know they feel the same as the sky, draping like a blanket across my back
Eyes as black as the moon
, tethered soul
rotating softly, sighing,
Imagine - to be born again, of inky darkness -
That I can fall asleep to your voice,
even through the void - or especially -
when time is
This, now, here and now.
Perfectly balanced on the tip of my finger like
a single grain of sand suspended in an Almighty glass
and then falling
into the nighttime beneath .
lightning encircling the skull
selfish or human (or no distinction at all)
hubris to be so unafraid, so certain, in what can only be
you know we see the same moon.
Meteors are like gods flicking stars out of the sky,
letting them fall just to watch them.
A dizzying display of power, just to breathe and
shift the pieces of the sky.
To make it whole again, when it was never in pieces,
just in a different order.
see, this has changed me,
stitched patterns overtop the existing ones on my soul;
not to patch a hole, just to decorate it
when every word is lightning,
the intensity of knowing you knowing me; knowing us,
and fire crackling inside,
unfurling out of my chest and settling in my hands, here: fire
built of words,
you don't see me stare at the sky
when i read - processing - because a bit of me can't breathe this in -
too unbelievable - makes me feel, feel, feel
some kind of way
every kind of way
like the lightning will bind me to the earth, bind me to the trees,
shatter the ground and crack the surface of whatever's making us mortal
and that's rotating in the back of my head all day,
you could block out the sun, if i let you, but we've talked about this - -
among all these words i don't think there's a word for this;
hubris, then, again? to assume we've made something entirely new?
to assume that in the whole of the universe,
is quite like this?
is it godlike, to see the meteors fall across the sky;
is it less godlike to burn inside one?
is it godlike to not fear the fire at all? (or no distinction at all)
take thoughts, like stars, conjure more
i have words on words on words,
spoken and conjured and concentrating
in the air between us -
taking on new forms.
we're picking holes in the universe,
don't you see it unravelling?
until we see its lace-like pattern,
joining it back together in new songs.
prodding at the edges, watching
the light bend.
it's like waves pushing against my skull,
thoughts blinding and running down
my arms, escaped my skull,
buzzing to be heard.
hear it -
a soft sigh like a book closing.
it's easier to see in the dark.
we'll be here, existing between,
sharing the darkness. and
you could describe the stars
and i would listen.
souls see souls see souls
when a million moments
into a cosmic rainstorm: a soft
that means souls see souls see souls
so i won't choose a moment
when i've chosen them all:
woodland thrones, down to the water
and always off the path.
crushing berries between our fingers
and being sunlight, being riverflow.
short chair, tall chair,
a million ways to die and all of them
intangible under the shoplights.
watching flowers grow on
stillness in darkness.
blinking lights and its not so scary
when you're around;
autumn. and vinyl scratching
like fire against the dark.
fortune, or just us.
trees and shades and woodland creatures
spinning tales like silk across
our foreheads for everyone else
to read. a crescent moon, suspended.
lights, strangers, warm mugs.
cocooned in stories and sounds.
drinking in everything like
a last breath of air.
holding time between the palm of
our hands and stretching it -
and then we're spinning,
spinning in different directions.
okay. balance. a cosmic
of souls across space. suspended,
and still spinning.