by Eve West Bessier
The first storm of an early winter descends into the Front Range of the Rockies. I watch rain pound into the canyon. Late afternoon light slants through the sudden deluge, creating a radiant scrim across the pine-green slope of Arkansas Mountain. It has just turned September, but this rain aspires to hail. It batters against soil, rock, pine, and three mountain bikers in high-tech neon on the mud-gray road.
Gravity is an ancient excuse for violent water. The gods are having a fistfight up there, spitting out their icy teeth and their chilled, white blood.
I am dry. I am standing at the edge of changing into someone stronger than I ever wanted to be. The strength doesn’t come willingly. It comes like an angry steer on the end of a taut rope. It kicks. It moans. It blows hot breath from its nostrils. Sweat flies off its back and belly. It leaves me spent and vacant.
I am standing in the unfinished sunroom; three walls around me are glass from floor to ceiling. From here, the storm is panoramic. Today, the opened, sliding-glass door leads directly to a thirty-foot drop. The stairs my husband plans to build beyond this threshold are still missing.
I inch out just over the edge, toes testing the precipice. I look down at the slope of rock, mud, and juniper. The eaves protect me from the falling torrents of water. I raise my eyes at the lightning. Thunder follows close. I shiver. Everything feels immediate, choppy like churned seawater. Risky like living, like dying.
The transient downpour grows dense, obscuring my view. Spruce and pine a hundred feet from the house are sketchy outlines in this wall of milky movement and madness.
If I reach out far enough, the madness will engulf me. If I step out into this clattering curtain, I will fall and break something. I will connect with stone and no longer be whole.
I am already not whole. Perhaps I can break my life into pieces as small and furious as these arrows of rain. Then the wind could wash me down into the canyon’s belly and the earth could swallow me.
The earth makes no such promises. I know. I roll up the left sleeve of my robe, hold on to the door jamb with my other hand and reach out past the protection of eaves, past the protection of fear, out into the frenzy of weather.
My skin soaks with the cold of it, with the force of it. The rapture of hammering atoms obliterates my stupor. The acute percussion of water on my naked skin electrifies my senses into the present. It speaks a language unexpected, the language of Joy.
Could it be? No. I have promised never again to feel it—but it is joy, in some embryotic form. I recognize it as I would recognize a relative’s face gazing out from the amber of an old, faded photograph. Someone I have never met, someone dead a hundred years before my own conception, someone carrying my bloodline forward from the deep past. I recognize the gaze, the way the eyes observe the world with a stern determination to understand, the way the nose is too straight and the mouth slightly curves as if smiling, but not. This is familiar.
I stare out into the noise and chaos of rain and I remember what Anne said.
“Eventually, you’ll still feel the pain, but from a distance, like you’ve walked farther down the road and the music is more faint, still the same music, but not so brutally loud.”
In my mind, I listen to your midnight lullaby tinkling softly from the wind-up mobile of moons and stars spinning above your head. I still want to run to you out of instinct. I wake up all through the night. I drift in and out of shallow, abstract dreams, ditches of muddy water.
Sometimes, I get up. I walk to where your crib stood. I stand there until I am so cold that I feel as close to you as I can be.
I reach out into the cold storm, hold up my hand. I am numb. I curl my fingers to cup the battering of water into my palm. I watch the frigid liquid run out over my fingers, between them. I can’t hold this.
My phone is ringing downstairs. That repeating marimba riff I keep meaning to change. I don’t want to talk, don’t want to say, “Hello,” as if the world is all in order. It’s probably a telemarketer who’ll mispronounce my name. I’ll just stand there, saying nothing. I’ll start to cry and then hang up.
Yesterday, I packed your clothes and donated them to the women’s clinic. They smelled like soap and sun. On the way home, I sat in the car, looking through my tears out into the traffic and wondering how I could be driving, if I should be driving. It was like being in two places at once. In the car, turning corners, winding up the slow grade, driving up the dirt road to the house–and also not in the car, somewhere far away, a puzzle of emotions, an excavation site all dug up and scattered.
Why did I give away your clothes? Someone told me it would make me feel better. That having them around was making me crazy. I saved a few things: your yellow romper, your terrycloth jumpsuit, the monkey-faced rattle, and the quilted baby blanket your grandmother made from scraps of my childhood dresses.
The rain is passing now, down the canyon. A blinding glare of sunlight pushes the storm eastward toward Boulder. Perhaps there will be a rainbow. Once, there was a rainbow stretching from one end of the canyon all the way to the other. I stood on the front deck for an hour just staring, waiting for it to fade. It didn’t. Finally, I went back into the house, even with all that color still out there. How much beauty can a person absorb all at once? How much sadness?
I pull myself back into my cocoon, away from the open threshold. I reach for the door and slide it closed against the chill wind that has picked up in the rain’s wake. Through the wet glass, the world looks distant and blurred.
Maybe I’ll go downstairs and check my voicemail. Maybe there will be a message. I hate the hang-ups from the unknown callers.
Maybe I’ll make myself some hot cocoa or peppermint tea. I’ll just do whatever it takes to keep moving, to fall under the force of habit like gravity pulling me into my life again.
Maybe I should go out for a walk in the fresh, stinging air. Maybe I should, but I won’t. I don’t want to. I want to curl up in my bed and dream about being very small.
Very small, like you were when you were here, so small I could almost hold you with one hand. Your heart was fragile, a tiny bird, fluttering, flying away.
Eve West Bessier writes poetry, fiction, and essays. Her work has appeared in literary journals and has received awards. She is the current poet laureate of Silver City, New Mexico, and a poet laureate emerita of Davis, California. She is also a jazz vocalist and nature photographer; you can find more about her at www.jazzpoeteve.com.
Featured image: Shadowmeld Photography