Because now we must save the whole world, my son’s bow slips from the strings. The last reverberation hums against windows closed against night. So does the cold flash of his gaze when he slaps the songbook shut.
I walk out.
I carry into the whipping wind the stone cavern. Wet and jagged walls, the damp crust of fire scars on the floor, I carry this all tucked in under my jacket, inside my shirt. My heart must be near, must be just a few steps down one of these unlit granite tunnels.
Curling into the shape of this subterranean place, I tell myself I’m trying to find the way out.
How to orient towards a light, any light other than my own tungsten burn?
I step then step then step. This truth trots alongside matching my pace, happy only to gulp bellyfuls of gale. This motion, though it feels like fleeing and maybe even like a sudden descent, only consists of
One contraction of muscle followed by one moment of extension. Physics at play with the biology of cells, the anatomy of form. One step. Just like so many of us learned at 9 months or 12, wobbling into motion.
Just like my son.
He smolders at home on the couch alone, a hot clench of defiance. His violin waits next to him, taunting or pouting or maybe just resting its bruised neck.
“I’m going out,” I’d said. Because my voice had risen to the brink of bellow. Because sometimes walking away is the only way to save what matters.
“Don’t,” he’d said. “Don’t go.”
I know so few things anymore. In the most peeled-open moments, this one is all that’s left: Monsters lurk where vision constricts.
“I’m going out. I’ll come back later.”
“When I’ve calmed down and you’re ready to practice.”
Could diplomatic means ever achieve such an alignment? And if we find ourselves there, could we sustain it?
On the sidewalk ahead glitters the busted green glass. It was formerly a bottle carried in a bag by a weaving man here on this dim path weeks ago. We passed in the dark when winter still gripped our collars to our throats. He didn’t fit. Beyond living with parents but not grown into the manhood of this place, he appeared lost in all ways at once. First arcing wide around us then turning back, he grasped at the grocery bag whose overtaxed handles stretched against the erratic swing of weight. He fumbled with another bottle in his back pocket, another tucked under his arm.
Could those eyes focus in the dark? Did he even register us?
Us. The one night I happened to pass someone on this mausoleum of a path was the same night I consisted of a We. My companion stepped ever so slightly closer to me then, a subtle shift of intention and position. Out from him, a low thrum of protectiveness. My partner then. He loomed.
A darkness that never before contained menace suddenly did. A sovereign confidence that rarely ever needed support suddenly had it.
That fleeting alignment separated into its constituent parts.
So little sustains.
The shards press up against the edge of the grass. Doesn’t anyone live here in these twinkling boxes? Through one window, I see a draped canopy of silver-blue, tiny bulbs weaving into a mesh of stars. No human motion stirs inside the walls, beyond the stiff gauze of curtains .
Out here, limbs thrash, tossing too-early sweetgum briars and tissues of blossoms over the winding path. In all these weeks, no one has come with broom and dustpan to carry away the broken glass. Whose job is it to restore this place to anonymity? The shards belong here now, at least until they don’t. Formerly bottle, they linger as broken and whole as any of us.
Formerly bottle. Before and again soon, water and sand and fire.
Before and again soon, the silicone bottom of the sea.
The raw side of the mountain.
Before and again,
In my pocket, the phone hums. My boy’s voice pings off satellites then wings back to earth. To me.
“Are you coming home?”
Step and step again. In this way, I will proceed.
As I pass, the shattered glass jostles light like a pile of teeth, shredding the fat half-moon into jagged blades. Yellow as a street lamp. Yellow as veins leaking from the walls of this cave I still carry tucked against me. An unsplit geode: the remains as well as the source. Sulfur, sodium, in my fists against my sternum. Close, so close to the surface, as if something inside squirms and unfurls, trying to be born.
Image: Reed Flute Cave in Guilin, China