home

july dances sunward, we drift hazy dawn to dusk.

crops green, even under desert’s harsh light.

water and wind tangle on the peaks, gray and heavy, they never stray. all our water comes from the mountains. everyone out here measures the inches, the fury, the power of the storms. they count the drifts’ hopes, all through winter’s ice. until summer’s wilding melt-water canals run full.

i watch lightning slice cloud from dust.

our high desert, our home, it shimmers like everything they promised heaven would be. but it’s here. blue to blue, there is so much light. even at 4am, i can find light from the darkness. this must be what people feel when they say ‘home’.

i am home.

‘Hello? Shade? I have missed hearing from you. Have you been too busy to call me?’

‘oh, hi, mom.’

‘I suppose since you moved so far away, you’ve forgotten your family?’

‘no, no i haven’t. i’ve just… i haven’t felt like talking.’

‘Oh, well, that’s no excuse and you know it. We love you so much. I don’t understand why you had to move so far away. Don’t you know you do better with us around?’

‘oh, i like it so much out here. it’s quiet, and there are mountains. we love it.’

‘You don’t know what’s good for you, not really. I can’t believe you talked North into going that far away. He should know better than to listen to you.’

‘his job is good, we like it out here so much.’

‘Well, I suppose I’ll have to have Jaeger talk with him. He needs to learn what family responsibility means. You need help raising Christmas.’

‘he’s fine. we’re doing fine.’

‘You need to be careful with him, that he doesn’t turn out like you. I wish we’d started younger with you, tried harder. I suppose we can’t change that now.’

he’s face-pressed to window, watching light and shadow move along ground. trees waving, scraping against sky, he is blue-blue to the world. his toys are 2 and 3, grouped by shape and size. his world shapes around light, laughter, hope.

‘he’s not like me. he’s not like me at all, he’s a good boy. and we love him so much.’

‘Well, you just never know.’

‘i have to go now.’

‘Well, you’re always in our hearts and in our prayers. Remember, I love you.’

wind blows from west to east, tumbleweeds gather. small conclaves, rootless wanderers. it is the seasonal migration of crooked lines and spiky weeds. they jump, they wheel.

my words are lost.

this is my home.

lunch

‘Shade, come in. We were just finishing here.’

it is sun-bright, grass is still almost soft from spring. desert’s summer has yet to steal green from the ground. it’s been two years since we moved, it’s my first invitation to someone’s home.

she holds the door open, skirt brushing the tops of her bare feet. hair reaching down her back, it’s pulled neatly away from her face with a ribbon.

smiling, she waves us inside.

‘Well, I suppose you didn’t have time to dress nicely today? That’s ok, it’s just us. No need to worry about appropriate clothes.’

suddenly my jeans and sandals feel grubby. christmas laughs, though, squirms from my grasp. there are bright toys, and little boys.

we are here to make friends.

‘Jadon, Jabin, Jael, come here, please.’

they come with smiles, they come quietly, quickly, to stand in a line.

‘yes, ma’am, mama? yes?’

‘These are our arrows, aren’t they fine? They are 3, 2, and 1.’

they’re still standing side by side, the baby wobbles his hands, but the bigger two hold him steady. they are collar-clean, jeans, and short hair. they seem happy.

‘I couldn’t help noticing you at church on Sunday, and I wanted so to meet you.’

‘really? i don’t remember seeing you, but christmas was kind of wiggly. i think next time i will just let him play in the nursery.’

‘Well, the nursery is available, that’s for sure. But if you do that, you’re depriving him and yourself of a valuable training opportunity. Children need to be in church. You know there weren’t always nurseries. Do you think children ran wild during services?’

‘well. no, but..’

‘It’s ok. Let’s have lunch. We can talk more later.’

offers to help are waved gently away.

‘I want my boys to know how to take care of themselves, they can set the table.’

and they do. it’s almost perfectly laid out.

walking to the table, they stand behind their chairs waiting. her hands move to straighten little pieces here and there.

‘You know, this is almost good enough. If you try really hard, I’m sure you won’t be so careless next time.’

we sit to eat.

‘Shade, how old is Christmas?’

‘he’s almost 3.’

‘So really he’s old enough to know better.’

christmas is, as ever, light in a shadowed world. bright eyes, he shines with wonder. he is a gift, surprising wonder from an increasingly painful g-d.

half sign-language, and half words, delight colors everything. he trusts good in the world, he is not afraid of failing.

‘i’m not sure what you mean.’

‘Well I saw how much noise he was making in church.’

‘well, yes, he was hungry. and it was a long service.’

‘That’s no real excuse, and I think you know that. Have you noticed how nicely my boys sit in the service? They make not one peep the entire time. We don’t use toys, we don’t use bribes. They know what they are to do in church.’

i feel the listening, the waiting. i’m not here to make friends, i’m here to learn.

‘Oh, you know. It’s so important for our children to receive the nurture and admonition of g-d every sunday. We have church training every day.’

‘what’s that?’

‘I have the boys sit on the couch. They sit up straight and quietly. We do a teaching, we do songs. If they wiggle, they get correction. If they get up, we start over.’

‘Make no mistake, children are work. You need to train them right, or you just never know.’

she reaches past me into the shelves.

‘I think you need to read this book. It’s helped me so much.’

unthinking, my hands extend.

title slams into my skin, ‘To Train up a Child’.

it hangs between us, a book, an offer of teaching, possible friendship.

i do not know how to say no.

4th

sun’s spiked into my eyes.

they turn and turn on the green, blue blue white white, all their uniforms run together. they all look the same.

‘Stand up straight.’

her fingers pinch into our shoulders. we, attention-straight, stiffen further. hands to side, we wait. stars and stripes, they fly the field. the spangled song commands our feet and hands.

we are patriotic soldiers.

‘Where’s Daddy?’

cairn’s voice splits the hushing roar between units.

‘hush!’

alder’s hands are faster this time.

‘And hush, she didn’t give you anything to cry about. If you can’t act like a man, I will have to tell Jaeger. You don’t want that, do you?’

it was always the uniform that divided him. jaeger walked, jaeger hunted. the daddy person might laugh, he might smile. his anger ran hot hot towards the ground.  the daddy person sometimes would even share cookies.

but jaeger owned the dark.

like his language, jaeger shaped the monsters in the shadows. he gave them teeth.

his unit was small, only 5. that was enough jaeger for each of us, but today there were hundreds of jaegers on the field, hungry, waiting. parade starts, cairn straightens.

no more tears.

noise from the horns, from the drums, they pound into my skin. it is louder than reveille, shaking up light and shadow. cloud covers up the sharpest edges.

‘Remember, you never know when I’m watching,’ his voice runs loud inside my ears.

i don’t know how to forget.

‘It’s a big base, Shade, but everyone knows you are mine. If you get into trouble, I will know. My C.O. will know. You are either a credit or a disgrace. Is that understood?’

‘sir.’

‘And if you can’t be a credit, at least try to not be a disgrace. It’s my career your actions are affecting.’

straight, straighter, straightest, we stand stand. sun’s burning my eyes. i wish for deepest shade, cool and dark. i wish for the basement’s closed spaces.

there, it’s quiet. the shadows don’t jump. there are no bright noises, there is only the deeping quiet of alone.

but it’s parade day, and there might be ice cream.

i stand straighter.

zone

‘Tell me, Alder, were you listening to The Word today?’

‘sir, i was,’ she rings out crisp clear words into the car.

we are all hot-pressed into seats. road bends away from sky, tree to tree, they reach up up up. cloud tangled, they’ve been praying all day. it’s sunday, g-d’s day. our only words are to be prayers, so every tree obeys.

‘Even the rocks would cry out,’ he loves to say as we walk.

we’d be hand-pinched into his shadow, bible verses raining down. faster than light can shed dark, his words steal all the green. when he talks, dark sinks into my bones.

sign by sign, the letters move past us.

10, 20, 35, 45, we are going going. trees dip against sky, i want their hands, their bark. but we are rough-edged into the back seats. today we learned about the second coming. today we learned more about hell, and the tribulation.

‘Are you saved? Have you truly received G-d’s salvation? I tell you now, that these are the last days. In these days there will come men who speak of G-d and yet they are liars. They will deceive you with pretty lies about grace and forgiveness. I am telling you this day has come. Are you prepared?’

everyone nods, ‘amen’ is the by-word.

‘When that trumpet sounds, when J-sus comes back, judging the quick and the dead, will you be ready? You might be walking, you might be driving, you will be doing something, that is certain. J-sus will come like a thief in the night, and you had better be ready. If you are not, you will be left here.’

‘When all the righteous have been brought up into heaven, the beast will come, and his mark will be writ large in the world. Everyone who is left behind will be brought before this beast, and marked. I tell you they will be marked with the number of the beast. You will surely die, if you are left behind. One way or another, satan will have your soul.’

the fan above me circles ’round and ’round. it is not enough to move summer from the building. it is only enough to count.

1, 2, 3….

‘Believe and you will be saved….’

4, 5, 6…

‘The heart is deceitful. Do you know for certain, without a shadow of a doubt where you’d go. If you died tonight…’

21, 23, 29, 31…

‘If any of you here today are not sure. If any of you here today have not asked J-sus into your heart…’

and it’s ‘just as i am’ until enough repenting has happened.

we leave for home.

alder slides against me. shoulder to shoulder, her face is wet. she repented today, all the way up to the altar. she prayed and prayed, everyone made the smiling faces.

‘speed limit 45. what’s that mean?’

‘Shade, are you so stupid you can’t read?’

‘no sir.’

‘Then don’t ask useless questions. They are a waste of my time.’

1, 1, 1, 1, 1, road tells secrets one by one. so i count.

‘no passing zone. what’s a no passing zone?’

‘Did you bother to listen today in church? Did you understand anything about what Preacher was saying?’

‘sir, i listened. g-d will come back and take the good people.’

‘Well, this sign means if you are here when J-sus comes back, that you can’t go. You will get left behind like you weren’t saved. But you’re not really saved anyway.’

‘that’s not true.’

‘Don’t call me a liar. I know what I’m talking about.’

white light fills the car, my face is burning. i count the seconds until we leave the no passing zone.

and i pray, i pray that g-d won’t come back yet.

burn

‘So I’m wondering, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I am wondering. Now that you are free, do you think you will go back?”

‘i can’t go back. i won’t go back. depravity is such a twisted thing. i’m afraid of that g-d still, even though i don’t really believe. even though i am trying so hard to not believe. g-d…’

‘Oh, f*ck G-d. F*ck that.’

the world stops.

branches outside have greened their way across blue. white and blue stripe sky’s face, buildings have cut in between the breezes, the hopes of summer. i like the windows, they divide and divide against tree and branch. there are, maybe a hundred triangles for the finding.

‘F*ck G-d. You can say it. I want you to say it.’

she perches, bird-bright, voice like bells. it cuts differently, eating darkness, offering names for the pieces. almost i trust her voice.

‘i don’t think i can. i don’t think i can.’

‘F*** G-d. You can say it. Do you feel it? Do you want to say it? I’m not going to make you say anything you don’t want to.’

‘it is hard to swear sometimes. well, most of the time it’s hard.’

‘Do you write? I get the feeling you have a lot of words inside your head. I’m not asking for them, they are yours. There is such a thing as privacy. But when you only write, when you only hold the idea in your head, it becomes a secret. You have enough secrets to carry. Can you say it?’

‘i think…’

almost the tears come, and in a rush, the words all line up tangled.

‘i think g-d can burn in hell. i think they made g-d in their own image and it hungered. i think that that g-d can burn in hell. burn in hell. it only brought me pain. that g-d only desires pain as sacrifice. i will not give any more. i will not.’

bravery fades, my skin is jumping. i am grateful for the light cast blue into the sky. i am grateful for the stillness. i am grateful no hand has come out of the darkness to pull the strength from my bones.

across the room, the tears i cannot find are running from her eyes.

‘i’m sorry. that was maybe too much anger at one time.’

‘If that was anger, we need to work on that.’

and we are finished.

letter 2

[continued from letter]

jaeger,

i want to not call you dad, father, daddy, anything, but in my head you are still ‘sir’, the uniform, the voice, the fear behind obedience. the day that i was born, you named me for the darkness, you named me evil. then you shaped me to it. and with every gift of fear and shame, i learned to name myself abomination.

you are my first nightmare, my last breath at night. your ghost stalks my shadows. you taught me fear before i knew love. i hear your voice in the dark, i hear it in the light. you are the reason i fear to say ‘i love you’ to another person. you are the reason a raised hand causes me to flinch.

from you i learned the language of breaking, of the red-lettered nights.

when it came to g-d, you made him first. in your own image, it hungered for my self. i was the easy sacrifice, the burnt offering for the delight and joy of a hungry g-d. you bought your salvation, sanctification with my skin. across my body, i am tattooed with the very failings of your wishes.

i never made you happy, i never knew your pride.

i kept your secrets, i kept them written inside of me. i kept their words, until my voice was gone. upon your love, i broke over and over. until i learned to bend. i learned the silence of the dark, and the fear of being.

from you the gift of belief became a curse. to believe was to court safety, and so i learned to swallow my voice. until the words died.

‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.’

you love that verse, and you raised me in fear.

i will depart from it, though. i will learn to love myself. i am learning to trust my goodness. i defy you, i defy the scars, i defy your darkness.

i depart from your ways.

i am not your daughter to be owned and traded. i am not your thing to be kept in the dark next to your guns. i am not your toy to be traded, to be used. i was supposed to be your delight, your laughter. i should have been your pride, not your shame.

i have been a nothing to you, an unruly thing to be brought under control.

my children have never known the cool slice of dread upon hearing the voice of their daddy. they will never survive discipline that leaves their skin running with lightning. never will they break upon his anger. never will he dress them in shame until there is no good left in their souls.

his voice at the door brings laughter. they run to him like light to the sun. they have never felt the gnawing ache of hunger underneath fear. they will never sell their consent for food, for shelter. they have the power to say no.

you are not welcome in our home.

i say no to your love.

my name is shade, and i belong to me.

lightning

[continued from retreat]

the amen rings, she stops the piano.

we have been, 20 minutes and more, seeking g-d through prayer. chair to floor, they ring the room. they are scattered hopes and dreams, jeans and long hair. broken-winged, the wet tissues are everywhere. no one has enough to dry their sorrows. they call it g-d’s spirit.

my mind wanders.

outside, blue to grey, smoke lingers between the hills. we occupy green between smokes and darks. a rare year-round creek laughs and crackles its way through aspen, through little flowers.

the peaks have burned more than once.

trees beacon themselves, every flame a burnt prayer. they, rising and falling. false thermals give faith pause. they fall, like my own words. we are both, faithless in the burn of doubt. i crave the truth of ash and smoke, the bones of the mountains.

this green soft only hides the lie of hopes.

‘And now, Ladies, now that we’ve sought G-d’s healing, let us take time to meditate on these things. You have the next few hours free to do as you like. You can hike, or stay and pray, you can be in groups, you can walk by the water, just be safe in what you do. And remember, seek G-d.’

we are free.

i am hand to shoes, barefoot to the door.

the jaggedest edges of the peaks call my name. but they are standing, waiting, talking, reaching. hand to skin, the hugs come from every direction, caging love.

there is no route to door.

‘Shade, Shade, where are you going? Why don’t you want to spend time with us?’

‘i want to go on a walk.’

‘Oh, well that sounds nice. We might go on a nice little walk by the water. Why don’t you join us?’

‘Oh yes, we are going to have a small little walk. It will be easy. No one will get tired or sweaty. It will be perfect. We can all talk about what G-d is doing in our hearts.’

‘no, i’d like to go on a walk alone.’

‘Oh, Shade, you don’t really want to be alone. And besides, where would you go?’

‘there. i want to go up there.’

my hands sketch the tallest bluffs. they hover deep, shrill against the green. dust-dry and heavy, rocks line the way. it sheers almost straight up from us. i need to be the angle of incidence, sky to shadow, foot to ground. i need to climb.

‘No, Shade, that’s too hard. It’s too dangerous. Come with us.’

‘no, i want to go this way’

‘You will be lonely.’

‘i will be fine.’

‘It’s dangerous.’

‘i know what i am doing.’

‘Don’t be like this. Don’t be difficult.’

‘i will be fine, i’ll see you later.’

the mountain calls.

‘Fine, Shade. Fine. If you’re going to be like that. We will just come with you. Are you happy now?’

i keep walking. step step step, trail winds switchback against gravity, but their voices follow. little thorns of laughter, manicured nails painted against the sagebrush. i start cutting across the trail.

‘Ew, it stinks out here.’

‘What kind of person has fun out here? Why are we doing this?’

‘Shhh. She will hear you. She thinks this is fun. We’re supposed to show her we like her.’

i keep walking.

step, step, step, dust between my toes. air thins, and sage promises silver at dusk. and then sky opens. their voices fall behind, they are gravity-weighted, flat-footed. i am alone.

sky wheels, stretches under my skin.

the edges of sky are all shifted smoke, the burn grows and grows. without enough water, without enough firefighters, the mountains eat their dead, tree by field. we will ash-choked drive through the remains tomorrow. mile for mile, blue feeds world.

mile for mile, red eats green.

‘Shade, really. Are you done yet? A storm is coming.’

‘i’m ok! go on back, i will be fine.’

because it’s this, the cool shifting and wind’s regret sighing between skin and dream. this calls me.

lightning finds ground, slamming its refrain. one one thousand, two mississippi, three… air dances with promise, and its ancient twin roars through me. thunder, lightning, thunder thunder. sky runs cold, white, metal. skin-wild comes the rain.

gone the faith, gone the half-formed words.

i am being washed clean.

retreat

‘Shade, honey, maybe he’s just saying that to you because he thinks your feelings will be hurt…’

hands tipped red, she reaches over to pat my leg.

‘Shade, you have to understand. Men really don’t want to marry a partner who will play sports with them. They marry a woman. They marry someone feminine. This is how G-d made us, to please men. They want to come home to something lovely and delicate. And let’s be honest, you’re not really like that.’

she nods a little at my jeans. there’s a rip in the knee, my socks have mismatched their way from drawer to feet. her eyes drift to my hair.

‘You have some…. assets worth noticing, but really you need a lot of work. How about a makeover?’

‘no, i like not wearing makeup. and north says he thinks i’m pretty without it.’

laughter rises-falls-rises, flutters of disbelief.

their voices begin.

‘Oh, I was so rebellious against my husband’s wishes. I cut my hair. It was just so hot and heavy. It felt so good to have it short.’

they are all nodding, round smiling faces of agreement.

‘I felt…. sexy,’ she whispered half to her bible.

hands reached out, comforting prayer-words rose around us. my ears are cold, new-cut, my hair drifts cloud about me. the one tiny braid i have left curls in my fingers.

i like my hair.

‘You see, I needed to feel attractive on the outside because my heart was not right with G-d. I craved the adoration of men.’

mrs. pastor speaks up, ‘That was what I struggled with too. I had the sin of pride in my heart. I wanted to use tools like Pastor. I wanted to be seen as equal to him in every way. It took the loving guidance of an older more g-dly woman to help me. Even then, it took many hours of praying before I could see the error of my ways. I let my hair grow long again as a testament to my submission to G-d and my husband’s authority.’

‘Yes’

‘Yes’

‘Me too’

‘Don’t you see? Would you at least pray about this? We can help your outer beauty improve, but as long as your heart is proud and rebellious, it will be for nothing. And G-d will continue to deny you children. He blesses those who submit.’

i stop listening.

it’s only been 2 months since the last miscarriage, the last wild roaring of red hot failure. we are measured here, on the strength of body and skin. and mine, mine has failed twice already.

‘At least you have a son, so North must be a little relieved, right? And with that hair and eyes, no one will doubt he belongs to North. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have your coloring.’

retreat was supposed to be healing for me. it was supposed to bring peace, open skies, and hikes. it wasn’t supposed to be this.

‘It’s ok if you cry, Shade. We know the H-ly Sp-rit wants to work in you. Just cry, let it out. Stop being so stubborn. Let us share with you.’

we have already had small smiles, gentle prayers. we have had the songs, and the disjointed words that are to bring g-d into our midst. the tears never came, all my sins and tears they tangle down in the dark.

eventually they stopped praying.

wind has shifted, it ruffles all my edges. ash drifts in, wildfire grief from the burn one range over. it’s the fire season, our nights light red. my eyes sting.

‘Our most gracious heavenly f-ther, we come to you tonight with heavy hearts. We have sinned, we have wanted, we have been proud. We have been wanton in our need to be seen as equal in the eyes of men. We ask you, L-rd and F-ther to help us learn our place. Give us joy in our desires, give us peace in our homes. Help us to learn submission. Help us..’

i stop listening.

i have enough sins already.

bench

‘Get in, get in. Hurry up, quit being so lazy.’

her hands pinch us into one by one, up into van. doors slammed, she is 10’o clock and 2’o clock on the wheel.

‘Be quiet, be quiet. I need to think. Just be quiet.’

she is shoulder-hunched, dress wrinkled. engine’s teeth cut our daylight, we topple sideways. little tipped over trees, and river, river is crying.

‘Heavenly Father, let me get there safely…’

she deviates from prayer to verse to song to prayer. weaving all the holiness together, she knows how to weave g-d into everything. hungry, awake, g-d will eat us if she doesn’t sing. we count her words, count her drinks. obeying, she says, is the only way she can keep g-d happy with us. so every day, we try.

there is so much dark.

one time there were seats in here, slicing plastic seats, metal and buckles, straps and bends. one time we used to line up, little flags on the bench. we, all belted in, safe and clean.

but then his coffee spilled, all clear and smoky on the ground. he prayed and prayed, but g-d said nothing. and cleanliness was g-dliness, so he took the seats and left them in the trash. because they were filthy.

and he made us wooden prayer benches.

‘You can pray while I drive, you can sit there like good little children. And if you are very very good, you will be alive when we get there.’

alder’s holding the edge, rough wood splinters digging into our fingers. we twine ourselves together. alder reaches down, we grab river’s seat before it moves across the floor. we are the anchor, she cries.

we dangle feetward, road unfurls behind our eyes.

across the seat, lark and cairn fold into each other. hand-holding, faces curved into the shadows. he, half-gone with sleep, all his edges muted in the face of dreams. he pulls into lark’s softness, anger forgotten.

she shines, and songs drift from her.

everyone knows that lark is light, they move in and out from her. her voice teaches light new words. everyone wants to be near her, everyone wants to know her. she smiles at me, even when i have none to give.

even when i am darkness, she smiles at me.

‘Lark! Stop that foolishness. Don’t you know you can’t sing like that here? I need quiet. Be quiet.’

lark’s songs come undone, light leaves.

we drive.