Riley remembers being born. He remembers being adrift at the bottom of a lake, and the light on the surface being far away and quiet. He remembers watching fish move like ghosts between him and the sunlight. Every sound was muted and far off. He’d listen to the voices, just barely understanding that there were words, but they soothed him just the same. He remembers sleeping so peacefully and drifting forever in the warm darkness.
Then the lake got smaller and smaller and started crushing him. He felt claustrophobic. He swam to the surface where the sun was getting ever larger. Many hands broke the surface, grabbed him and hung on tight. They pulled him out of the water, and everything burned. He screamed. He screamed for the cold and the light on his skin and the many hands clutching at him.
Then everything was calm again. He remembers being rocked gently as if he were drifting like a boat on the water. He remembers a voice singing his name to him. He remembers being loved. He remembers opening his eyes and seeing an angel holding him. She was the most beautiful thing he could imagine. And then she was gone. She moved like a bird and rushed straight at him and into his head. And then he was lying naked on a bed, alone, eyes squeezed tight so as to not let anything else in. That was the last person Riley ever saw.
He still sees her sometimes. He goes out into the fields at night after the house is quiet and he walks until the horizon is all the same shape. He lies flat on his back and unties the bandana that he always wears over his eyes to keep everything out, and he lets the night air move over his lightly closed eyes. He lies there all night and watches the stars move through his eyelashes. He knows that if he turns his head, she’d be lying beside him, mouth moving as if she’s trying to say three words over and over, but her voice is distant, muted by water. He can never hear what she's saying, but it’s enough to know that he’s not alone.
Maeve went camping with her father once. They camped next to a broad river, with no other human around for miles. As the light faded, Maeve's father built a small fire and told her some ghost stories. She was captivated by them, and when the fire burned out and they went inside their tent to sleep, Maeve stayed wide awake. She wasn’t scared, she was spell-bound. She thought maybe if she stayed up late enough, she’d be able to see a ghost right there that night.
So when her father was sound asleep, Maeve carefully unzipped the tent and slipped out. She walked to the edge of the water and just listened. The broad stretch of shifting waters was slick in the starlight. There were crickets, but there were other larger sounds as well. Maeve could hear things slipping into the water, crawling around in the brush and trees. She turned in place slowly, watching carefully for a ghostly glow moving timidly between the swallowing darkness of the trees.
Maeve squatted and made herself small in the dim at the edge of the river, barely breathing, pretending to be a stone. She waited for what seemed like hours for a ghost to appear, but saw none.
She sighed, and as she did, she stood up and hung her head. Her heart jumped.
In the starlight, her own limbs faintly glowed. She smiled a wisp of a smile. “Oh, there you are.”
When he moved to the city, Preston made friends with a ghost. The ghost was great fun, and the perfect friend to have in a new city. They hung out a lot, took the train out to the shore then turn around and come back just because. They went bar-hopping, snuck into movies, hit the theater and bar districts when Preston had a little money to spend. What Preston liked doing the most was going for walks down by the waterfront where the ships go by and people shuffle around muttering themselves.
The ghost kept Preston out all night. That was ghosts do, really; they stay out all night. They’d meet up after work and hit the town together. Preston caught the ghost up on how work was going, this new girl he met in the building, funny stuff that happened on the commute. Then the ghost would tell Preston how it used to be in the old days. Preston liked that part the most.
The ghost would say that back in the old days, the gods came by a lot. They’d come by and just walk right in and you were all ‘Heyyyy! Take a load off!’
He’d tell Preston how you used to be able to just walk out into the river and wait until the gods came downstream and hand you a fish, already cooked.
He'd tell him how the sunsets behind the skyline nowadays aren’t bad, but they’re nothing like they used to be, back before the buildings jagged up the sky. He’d say that sunsets used to burn your eyelashes off they were so great. And they wouldn’t just look great either, they’d have a taste to them. He’d try to describe it, but he’d always end up saying they were like a cross between the ripest peach you ever had and the kiss of a the one you love.
The ghost would shake his head and get really quiet. Preston would be quiet too, at least for a while, then he’d suggest they go see check out that new Thai or Cajun or whatever place the ghost was telling him about the week prior. The ghost always perks up immediately, totally up for it.
The world is so much more beautiful than you realize, my love. I say this because I am the silent space between thoughts where everything in the world is only what it is, all tied together with strings invisible and taught. The world is filled with such beauty, and when it is not, it is still beautiful in its non-beauty.
Suzuki Roshi was interrupted by a student of his while standing in a forest. Before the student had the chance to finish his sentence, Suzuki Roshi raised his finger and whispered, “Shh,” then gestured to the expanse of trees before him. The point of this story is that the silent space among the trees was me, and he was one of the few who was listening intently to what I was not saying.
There are crickets outside a young girl’s window right now, chirping lightly. For the first time, she has noticed them, and is listening intently, with her entire being. She is breathing along with them, her small chest rising and falling like the motion of tides, of continents.
Everything is beautiful. Everything is wonderful. Shh. Listen.
at night as I gather my hair
my mothers watch me
unknown women who crossed waters
paper boats made from lost census records
taking planting raising moving
dark earth over and over
coaxing food from dust
feet and face unwashed
singing along with cicadas
my own mother is there
she who was never a mother
despite trying so many times
I gather her along with her mothers
they watch as my dark ocean is pulled together
a dark bowl of moving currents
and hidden tributaries
the stories are there but the language gone
at night I gather my hair
my mothers are there
whispering I'm sorry
Something is going to happen. Something is going to happen and you have to be ready for it. Something is going to happen and there might be nothing you can do about it, but you should know about it just the same. Something is going to happen and I would tell you if I knew what it was, really I would, but honestly I don’t know what it is either, I just know it’s coming. Something is going to happen that is going to change everything. Something is going to happen that will be felt by everyone, even if they don’t hear about it, they’ll just feel it, like when you know someone else is in the room with you, only more so. Something is going to happen and they’ll be talking about it for generations, I’m not even kidding. Something is going to happen and it’ll make some things clear and some things confusing and some things obsolete, but it’ll make some things more important and that’s the good thing. Something is going to happen and you should live every second of every hour of every day of your life preparing for it, training for it, getting ready for it. Something is going to happen and there is much more at stake than you originally thought. Something is going to happen and it might not make sense right now or eventually or maybe ever, but just because you can’t understand it now doesn’t mean that it will never come.
You just have to be ready.
Originally posted 17 May 2003
When we were kids, we would ride our bikes home from school, turn sharp into the driveway and jump off, legs still pumping. We’d run out behind the rows of identical suburban houses and crash into the scraggy strip of woods that lay there. We’d have a secret path that we imagined was once traveled by bootleggers. We’d run through the branches and stop dead when the trees ended, then drop to our knees and part the grasses like deer. We’d find our spot and press down a mat of plants and just lay there, looking at the sky. We’d stretch our thin small bodies as wide as we could, ribs pushing against skin, our lungs full to bursting, blood pushing through our veins so loud we could hear the sound the individual cells made as they rushed through our bodies. We’d lay there and sweat in the bright light, and feel the bugs and flecks of dirt and chaff stick to our arms and legs. We’d lay there, just watching sky, imagining we were where we wanted to be.
Note: This was published originally on the 28th of July 2003, by myself. I called it “Someone Else's Story”. I wrote it, as is the case with much of my old writing, during a time where I was heavily abused, and my coping mechanisms were to hide myself even deeper.
There's a lot of this in my old writing, this theme of not being where I wanted to be, not the person I knew I was, didn't have the life that would let me thrive. But all that's over now, and I do have the life I always wanted.
So I suppose the title still fits, doesn't it? It's someone else's story because I am where I wanted to be.
It feels a bit like robbing my own tomb, going over these old stories
like a pile of clothes that I think used to be mine,
but mine from a dream.
I'm finding sand in pockets from beaches I've never been
stains on lapels left by food that never was
diplomas tilted on walls with patterns I can't remember
holding lightly a name of someone I do not know