Love, Relationships


What they don’t know is his wings come out at night. The leathered edge splits free of the scar zippered white across the burrow where it stays tucked in daylight hours into weeks into years. For longer than he can remember the damp fur has housed germinal flight. Something rests like brood XIX down there where the subtlest shift could mean the difference between incubation and asphyxiation.
For some, burial is only dormancy.
His need to unfurl is as pressing as that of a coiled spring wound wrong-way past its tensile capacity. The stretch never quiets and the threads never fuse even when forced immobile. They hammered beams criss-cross over hasp and hinge. They forgot what was in there.
Just because the creak of need is not discernable to the naked ear does not mean it has been stilled. Bend close enough
(I do)
and you hear it. The groan is not bone. It is not age. The creases by his eyes cloak hoods over the range. A low flame hisses at the furrowed firebreak delimiting the mouth, his cave. Stalactite teeth. Whiskers of plated beard thrum in the follicle and wait to split the skin from within. At the source the tunnel forks. A tongue thirsty for heat is pressed back waiting helical beneath his flushed neck. Up from the other corridor, fume and the hint of ignition. Somewhere, a fusebox. The plunger is cocked in a shadowed channel of his body where old leaf and stone have hidden it so well.
My fingers seek
what they claimed fell away like an umbilical stump. Perhaps they had to believe pubescent eruptions would fade into soft craters. Time alone would scour away roughness. Walking upright among the diurnal would grate off any remnant of scale. They imagined him inhabiting the rippled dune just as it poured into him and filled every crevasse. They pictured him, finally, submitting to the inevitability of that boundless desert terrain.
Except his fissures were already occupied.
Except everything has a boundary and every boundary has another everything it is holding back.
This chimera with the vocabulary of inventors (though I suspect he knows only a streak of what he is) finds no relief in sleep. Mind on fire. Minding the fire? Mining? The other half half-wakes. He cannot find comfort stretched on his back, lips falling open. The rumble deep in his lungs and lower still is too much like the first roil of contraction.
He knew what to expect. He knew their intent. He was fully two wholes when only one could live. He saw the glint of the knife before they had even divined their own actions, before they had even closed hands around hilt. They would. He prepared.
Second sight is not just the blessing of an intuitive but the birthright of a pterosaur. Like echolocation, that sister faculty of his mammal kin, it is not magic at all. It is not even a marvel, not to anyone who can conceive of the hum of momentum when its source never shows itself to sight.
Here now.
The slender strip of stars skulking at the edges of the blinds is enough for distance but not intent. I know by feel he has turned on his side. Breath and hunger. I reach. The webbing noses out against the sheet at his back. An inch then two. He lets his guard down though I would never tell him and he’d deny it if I did. The teeth of his scars unclench. As hungry as they are to tap the marrow of whatever they’ve been gripping all this time, their appetite for night’s promise is greater. He stays awake, or perhaps returns again and again to wakefulness. He watches. He keeps watch. Not with eyes and maybe not with any sense I can name though I surely recognize the tattoo of its clang against the etched walls of my own forgotten cave.
What they don’t know is that it is never too soon to knit the tears nor too late to tear back the stitches.
The creak of wing, the scratch of pteroid against the base of my skull draws my head to his shoulder and I am creeping finally into the hollows of my own eyes at the moment his tongue pushes free. Longer than any, a thickly sown field of buds seeking heat now whets itself against my jaw, my throat. Its length alone bespeaks a palate for furred flesh. It is a nocturnal thing hinting at blood and strike but this close I can tell it is as translucent as the membrane between the digits pulsing now from the trench beneath his scapulae. They hold me but reach past. At any moment, he will sense the expanse beyond the ceiling and vault up and out. Will I have a place in that ascent?
This right here is the entirety of what is promised. And even this is not guaranteed.
I release the damper and let in whole the chord of his appetite so tuned like the lost lower fifth of mine. Glossa streaks of ink and string, he sculpts the notes of a long dead language into the spells that bind my breastbone to his rib. The current he strains to catch with the first beat of his awakened reach is the one we trace onto our shared night.
It might slip. It might lift.
We fuse halves to fractions and produce a vibration to fit this tilted air.
Surfing into my own thawing dawn, I search for the stiffness in my neck, the ache, the thud of resistance I have carried for decades. It has become as familiar as the shape of my voice. Yet it is nowhere here. It has blurred into memory and even the electric pulse of recollection has skipped from its gutter and seeks a new route. All that remains of the body I suddenly inhabit is just softness upon softness. Feathers of ash rise free. The rest is burned clean.
Maybe the scars on tears on years were never there at all. The shape of those wounds was just the last generation’s abandoned husk. All this time they have been thinning. They have been giving way. They have been waiting to let me through as raw as newborn tissue unmarred and falling like water into him.

Living in the Moment, Outdoors

Maiden Name

The unnamable is the eternally real.

Tao Te Ching

In Shenandoah, the first of the wildflowers are beginning to open. A few eager trees lead the pack, popping with pastel confetti. We walk slowly, the dog in tow. Coming here was a last-minute plan for a lazy Sunday. Giovanni’s pack is perfectly provisioned, as always. He has brought not only water and mixed nuts, but a first aid kit, toilet paper, and a knife. Should we end up stuck here a few extra hours, he has a flashlight and an emergency radio.
My pack contains two Audubon guides and a single wilted band-aid. The latter makes a passable bookmark. Also, I remembered my boots.
On the way up the Compton Gap trail, we spot the first of the small purple blossoms tucked into the crevices of the cool rocks. I am fairly certain of their name, but I stop anyway. Flipping through my wildflower book, I find a matching description. With their fifth petal a pointed tongue, violets are almost impossible to mistake for anything else. Among the earliest arrivals in the Appalachian chain, they are poorly hidden Easter eggs, peeking up from random turns in the trail.
At an outcrop, we drop our packs and peel off our fleece jackets. The sun has joined us, brushing against the early leaves. Many trees are still bare-knuckled, fighting a pointless battle against a forgiving sky. One, however, is feathered in a cloud of snowy blossoms that spring from a clutch of slender trunks. She is probably more accurately called a shrub, but since she stands as tall as any of the surrounding oaks, she deserves the more robust title. She seems to think so, too, puffing herself out over the edge of the mountain. Neither her more staid companions nor the wide-open pull of gravity intimidate the brazen thing.
I try to find the tree-shrub in my book, seeking out “white radially symmetrical blossoms.” Her leaves are still embryonic while her slender petals insist on their pull towards day. They are long and translucent tissues, five to a blossom, veined with cracks that make them appear both newborn and wizened.  I cannot find the tree despite trying to match the thin, vertical striations of her bark and the dried leaves below to the photos in the glossy pages. She clearly exists, and it tickles me to imagine I have beaten John Audubon to the pleasure of an introduction. One last time, I look into the yellow-tipped stamens and the blushing bud where the petals grip the branch. The tree is herself. Her greeting of the sun is no less bright for the absence of a name.
Above, an airplane grumbles past, then another. They are high enough in the thin streak of clouds to be invisible, but their whine echoes against the valley and does not end, not for one breath during our extended moment on the mountain. We rest there on the exposed rock, stretching pores and bone. Giovanni has stashed a surprise in his bottomless pack. We share a piece of chocolate cake, taking slow, melting bites.
Down the path, we stop again. Where a trickle of water slicks the rocks dark, more bright clusters shoulder their way through the soil. I park myself on the side of the trail and bend close. The tiny blossoms are no bigger than my pinkie nail. They are white. Even the centers with their aurora of hair-like petals are white. The stems, a furred and frosted green, stand in close bunches with an explosion of flowers at the end of each. Giovanni a little further up the hill. I am worried he is bored, but he tells me to take my time. He steps closer and leans in. “That one?” he asks, glancing between page and blossom.  “No,” he says, answering his own question. “This one is too white in the middle. It’s not as fuzzy, either.” He rests on his haunches, holding the lead as Fenway snuffles in the damp soil. After a few quiet passes, I close the book and shrug.
“Maybe it’s a wildflower,” he tells me.
“Yeah, a wildflower.” We begin walking again. At the crossroads where the Compton Gap spur crosses the Appalachian Trail, a small marbling of grayish white appears at our feet.
“What’s that?” Giovanni asks. This time, he is the first to crouch. I join him. Our foreheads touching, we gaze at the alien flower. It is a midget, milky and bulbous and growing in the low shade. It is nothing anyone would call “beautiful.” Small shoots of the simultaneously spiked and rounded flower push through the moss. We gaze together, naming what we see before we even open the book.

“It is sort of pink underneath.”
“The stalk is furry.”
“The leaves are ovals. See the veins? And they are spread out on the ground.”
We count the seeds, if that is what they are. Finally, I pull out the guide and we leaf through the pages. “No,” he murmurs. “Uh, uh. Keep going.” Then, he cries, “That one!” His shout gets the dog’s attention. She trots over, ears up. All three of us hover between flower and page.
“Plantain-leaf Pussytoes,” I read.
He chuckles. “Pussytoes.” I turn to the page with the description and as I read it out, Giovanni touches the flower, nodding as the particulars of the living thing fall into line with the words describing it. “That’s it,” he says.
We are up, a second wind carrying down the final stretch of the trail towards the car. I am giddy about the flower and its name. “We found one!”
“Two,” he corrects. “That bluebell thing, too.”
“Blue violet,” I say.
We have found nothing, of course, nothing but a series of letters in a book corresponding with what is right in front of us. Why does it satisfy so well, this puzzle and its specious solution? Why are we so compelled to bend in close and inspect the organs of a small, gray seed pod, and to describe it with such precision?
Vision cares nothing for beauty. It cares even less for the confines of language. The eye’s only pleasure is in gazing intently at a thing and painting the edges into memory, rubbing light against husk until a shape appears.Looking closely confirms what we know in our uneasy hearts: every incarnation both clings to and recoils from the earth itself. Borders bleed away. Shrub, stone, seed, sun: each works its component parts into the soles of our retreating boots, catching a lift to someplace entirely new so it can become something entirely different. We take comfort in image as it fades into name, then legend, then just a phantom whispering at the limits of memory. Meanwhile, the living thing has not only forgotten us, it is already gone.