I wanted to believe in cards. Like the woven bag around my neck containing seven polished stones — one to ground each chakra — her cards might be the missing talisman. Maybe they could wash clean the deep cut of skepticism inveterate in the daughter of a biologist.
The friend I don’t remember handed me an overlarge deck and had me shuffle. We drew and placed them in the required configuration. Three down, three across, four afield. Celtic Cross. Magic needs its portal. Design is combination, a code that lets the tumblers fall.
She didn’t ask me the question I was to ask myself. A sentence of silence. Imperative. Interrogative.
Intention presses open the door.
I turned them face up.
It’s been 25 years. I recall only one card. The one in the center, the one that made the novice medium suck in her breath.
The cloaked skull, the languid bones.
From the pattern of masks and wands, my friend began to shape my story. It was a transition. An earnest wish. An unreachable other. It was the poison secret. My story was as stunning a truth as a Chinese paper fortune. As dead on as the morning’s horoscope.
When you peel back your bark and feel for gods’ whispering, when the wind breathes through your naked reed, surely you hear music.
Clairvoyance is the prerogative of the young.
Before you snap yourself clean, claim yourself free, before time’s tireless blade whittles you into fixed form, you can still be idol or masterpiece, veined with myth rather than function. You are rooted in an origin both sturdy and sweeping, that origin itself so rooted. You can still feed on light. You are held.
And so you are more free than you will ever be. More so, certainly, than later when you venture to free yourself. You are still free to choose to believe whatever you wish, even what the wise and powerful dismiss as bunk or sacrilege. You don’t have to decide wisdom. You don’t have to delineate power.
You can’t yet calculate the true cost of dissonance.
My friend came back to the bones.
In words picked from among the most tempered, she said death is not death.
Winter is the transformation that happens in stillness. She told me a version of this I can only make out through memory’s scuffed lens. I see a blanket of ice. Compulsory paralysis. Pain as insurance against motion.
She said it is necessary.
(I say, beware of the jealous wind.)
On every branch, the last leaf shivers. Clings. Each gust demands it surrender for a greater good. Death feeds the next beginning.
If you can see down, see that all you were and all you’d ever considered yourself to be blowing away, would you let go?
Or would you hold on with all your might?
You know the source needs you free. This is how cycles works. Death is not a one-way slice. The thing has to shed to live, just as you have to give over if you hope to do the same.
This is the cost of names: leaf, branch, tree, earth. We bring taxonomy. Without language and its arsenal of nets, there is only everything: Cell, thread, ember, night. Tomorrow is the light after the dark, but always yesterday exists alongside next year. Sun warms somewhere always just like sun explodes to nothing somewhere always. Hands sweep the clock face and I come to mistake the measure for the phenomenon.
I am trapped inside my name.
I resist the iced bones.
If I tip towards that death, what promise? What warmth? Only the grinding jaws of blind mealworms. Their hunger erasing history. Everything I was becomes digestion’s stink and sleep. No guarantee that mine — me, this decadent conception — will be the embryo that splits to sky come spring.
Twenty-five years in coming. The cards did not survive the passage. Neither did cookie fortunes or tiger eyes.
My hands reach for something. Anything.
I open them.
It’s the only way to fall.