What is life? A painting, blue mixed with red, slashes of brown, all come together, intertwining threads of color, made into her mantle, laid across her knees, and in her delicate, parchment and alabaster hands, a book.
The book of life? Not really. The book of death, one of several, a collector’s edition, the final copy, a heavy black ledger, and somewhere, written in gold, her name.
On her temple, above one eye, the gold feather: Crown of the eagle, crown of the chief, painted over satin brown skin, sun-creased, knit, worn, a patchwork quilt of her people and all their many days.
Over the water, ships in the water, the hull creaking and here we row together or we die, sun and the sun-warmed backs and this bark, over the wide ocean, like a prayer.
That is what I used to do—pray for you. That somewhere, behind the snow-capped mountains where you hid, you would hear me call, the cry, up in the sky, curled up in the wing of a shore bird, my voice, falling from the sky, unanswerable but heard—my voice.
In the beginning there was only time, first of the gods’ great gifts. All our shoulders huddled, curled together in the middle of the vast sea, strengthened by the touch of laughter, before the storm tossed us each out, into the water, this bark, rowing hard against the ocean, terrified, exhausted, brave.
I waited a long time, to hear your voice, back over the water, but the squall ate it, a greedy throat of foam ate it, and I could not surmount these monstrous tides to get to you. You over there, the other side of the moon, I thought—so far that even dreams can’t reach it, can’t imagine it.
The dark night curled above the house, shooting stars, and we three were all together, and I was strong, but only because you stood there with me.
Music becomes another language, one without vocabulary but with grammar and syntax. It becomes our language, though it has always been your language, will always be your language. The words were lost, dropped one by one like pearls into the water, but the song came back to me. The shorebirds gave it to the osprey who, quiet and circling, gave it to me.
Every journey is a prayer, every destination, hope. I can’t explain. Those who crossed the water, long ago, they prayed. Not for survival but for discovery, for the destination, the arrival. We pray for discovery.
I washed up, from my broken up bark, on terrifying sands, the desert of Amin, or Sahar, the desert of my ancestors, the nomads. Did they really once inhabit these God-forsaken places? The oasis nearly beaten in by drought, no place a refuge.
Refuge is what we seek, Good God Almighty: shelter. To know where we are is a greater gift than to know where we’re going.
The woman wears red satin, and pearls. In my mind she has been arrested, halted, the whirling of infinitesimal atoms only just contained.
Out of the water came mermaids, spitting jewels.
I watched the clouds in the sky, hurried by the wind, forming and reforming, no compulsion but compulsion itself, to end and start anew. I dreamt of harmony, the moon pressed white and full against the window.
Up in the sky rose the osprey, curled around the note, tucked beneath its wings, diving fiercely into the groundswell of the music, being lifted, thrown, joy in the exertion. That was my voice, a lone brown in the long blue, up and away to you—where you might hear it, and know it, and sing, too.