Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cold Fire

She suddenly reached for me and climbed into my lap. For several heartbeats I held her against my chest. Then she sat back to study my face. She put a questioning finger on my beard, and then on my moustache, examining them closely. She looked into my eyes, full of curiosity. Then suddenly she rucked up my hair.

These investigations filled her with delight. She turned back and crossed her mother's lap to reach her father's, and announced her findings: “I like him.” She had a settled pro-Dale policy for the rest of the evening: she brought me toy cars, napkins, and foil tea-bag wrappers. Eventually, with due ceremony, she conferred upon me the Order of the Pink Jacket: I was to hold it for her, until such time as it was required.

A cold raw morning. The edges of the awnings flutter outside the windows at Tom's, flickering against the white sky. We are in a nest of cold fire: burning, burning.

I hate to think of having nothing to give back. Who is it, Mary Oliver? Who has the conceit about death being the formal handing on of possibilities, the occasion on which you give back to the living all the opportunities you botched during your life. In that case, I'll be leaving a rich inheritance.

But. The truth of the matter is that I am wholly imaginary, both my honors and my failings: I hold the Order of the Pink Jacket, a wedding ring, a license to practice massage in the State of Oregon, and a diploma styling me magister philosophiae: but I am a small mammal in a huge tumbled landscape, breathing roughly in the cold thin air, my ribs rising and falling, my pulse visible in my belly. I'm frightened of shadows falling from the sky and of sudden gleams in the thicket. I cock my head for the sound of water, but only hear the wind.

I see the amphitheater at Epidaurus, the toppled columns, the winter sun; I see the steam rising from the pools at Breitenbush. All this, and a spider running along the edge of a leaf, and a wet hand print fading from the rock as I watched it. It all seemed important at the time.

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