You search for a word to describe the loaded pause in a baby’s cry, crumpled face frozen for a few long seconds before the real pain is wrenched out of its body. You try repeatedly to rearrange subjects and objects in such a way that the reader will feel the same twist in their abdomen that you felt the first time you witnessed this. You thumb through crumbling dictionaries and scan cleverly curated lists online for untranslatable words and emotions. There must be some speakers of a language you have never heard before that can accurately describe this moment which up until now has grazed the edge of your fingertips, missing your keyboard by the minutest distance. You hold your breath, hoping that by simulating this agonizing breathlessness, the words to describe it will stir from the floor of your lungs and make their way out of your mouth. Words are your daily sustenance, but in this instance any metaphors you can imagine are rotting in the back of your fridge, clinging to a wall of ice and congealed juices. You include your description of this ambiguous moment anyway. Surely anyone who has had to care for a younger sibling or neighbor or distant relative’s child (or all of the above) will know what it feels like to have their misery balanced at a single point on top of their head for five seconds or an eternity before it comes crashing down all over their shoulders. You have written about it anyway, only to find a red line through your words, invalidating that such a moment actually exists. Rewrite for clarity. Or delete.
This is something I wrote for my poetry seminar yesterday. We had a day off from school because there was this insane thing happening where actual ice falls from the sky and just lies in wait for you to slip and fall on it the moment you step outside…Anyway, we only had two hours to write a poem or a piece of flash fiction including ten words from a list of forty somewhere in our work. The instructions were more complicated than that, but I’ll spare you the details. I can’t say that I’ve always been a believer in organized creativity, if I was I would probably post on this blog a lot more regularly than I do. BUT, I must say this came out better than I expected. It’s actually the only thing I’ve written for this class so far that I am not horribly ashamed of. Yes to giving myself time limits and writing by numbers?
She stood at the edge of memory, calloused toes gripping the edges of her too small sandals, cracked palm open and upward. Open. Yawning like the harsh white sky, empty of rain clouds and compassion. Her skinny brown legs were planted to the ground, on a strip of red earth somewhere between despair and peaceful expiration, open mouth yawning like the cavernous nothing at the bottom of her stomach. Give us something to eat please, it’s been a few lifetimes since we were last satisfied. She strained her eyes, hoping to see past the border of beyond, looking for- what? Manna from heaven, smoke from the last coal pot, grains of salt falling like hail, a tornado- whisking across the thirsty soil and gathering her up into its empty center. A passage toward safety, the road away from Sodom and Gomorrah- don’t you know light cannot escape from a black hole? She clutched a fist to her thin chest, flimsy membrane barely containing the barren soul beneath it and the ancestral ruins constructed there, and orange seeds, and chicken feathers. She yawned and picked her teeth with a shard of bone.
And the drought was so severe that the springs had ceased their playful spray months before and the dry riverbeds cracked audibly, sending up gasping pleas to the sky. It was almost as if a mean little deity sat on a chipped wooden throne somewhere in a parched forest, or on top of a mound of dirt, distributing water into enamel basins drop by painful drop with a contemptuous cackle trapped in the back of his dry throat.
In the same way, I doled out affection in stingy portions, when you were almost spent and could barely produce whispers from peeling, bleeding lips. It is possible that my well had simply ran dry- but I must admit- it’s more likely that you were attempting to pull water where only sand and sediment had sat for centuries. Your thirst was uncontrollable; even your pores cried out for what I could not (and did not want to) give. Your appetite demanded the most succulent of fruits, but all I could offer were the shriveled remnants hanging at the end of sagging branches, with juice that had long fermented and vanished.
More. Always wanting more. Why so greedy? Why couldn’t you be content with the memory of greener times? Your voracious consumption was not sustainable. Consuming all. Consuming me. You yourself, you were the wind that whipped through rainforests and stripped trees of their greenness. You were the dust that settled on the eyelids and inside the nostrils of victims as they entered their final rest. You were the supreme being jealously tightening the tap before anyone could taste the metallic sweetness of that life-giving elixir. You were the tornado and the sandstorm, the landslide that demolished any potential fertility and nourishment. You dried up the well, and then complained that it was I who didn’t know where to dig.
The usual flowery phrases and sensory overload elude my grasp. Water through the evil little gaps in a basket, like trying to hold the breeze in the palm of my hand. Have you ever tried to balance day dreams on the tip of your nose? It is as easy as sewing a coat with cobweb thread, or keeping the taste of tomorrow’s sweetness on your tongue for longer than it takes for you to wake from your dreams. My hands search the ground for straws to clutch, but instead I end up dragging jagged fingernails through the dust, looking for…what? A keepsake, a snippet of laughter bouncing gleefully off the sagging walls of my mind, reviving- if only momentarily- an abandoned wreck in need of repairs. Or demolition? The familiar yarn I spin spirals slowly into a useless heap at my feet. Journeying to the other side of the horizon in a leaky canoe, like trying to describe the color of bougainvillea’s scent. Have you ever tried to hold the breeze in the palm of your hand? I caught it once, but when I tried to run with it- worry the leaves, whistle through open windows, lift up scarves and moods and possibilities- the level of freedom in my spirit was found wanting.