Tributaries: "yosemite"

By Mia DeFelice

after Daughter, “Switzerland”

 

forestmaker. two halves making home.
            breathe wanderings onto my wooden spine / my grateful tongue.

curling like chimney gasp / twirling greyscale /
i’m calling you home in a small way. joining sounds yet
unbirthed. hovering somewhere between sentient / soldered.
the air is younger here. your sweater doesn’t do enough.

recall — we two flames lengthwise on single bed,
shotgunning sighs. cabin boy / vapid boy / prayers wreathed round
bed posts, as string lights.

we walking barefoot through holocene / minted mountain passes /
mulch like ice chips under toes — then we amongst pines / shifting scents /
chimney gasp obscuring you from me —

            treading light on parables rooted deep in dawnlight / gentle
            on bare branches — trees you scaled as child / as sketched
            limbs clutching white bark. my heart beating off half-formed
            ribs / you a braver conflagration than i —

                        and you wearing a white soiled shirt / smile seeks
                        relief / red dewdrops and stitches made by your
                        mother’s impatient / disappointed hand / known
                        quantities in smudged stockings / scratched kneecaps —

i would hold you if i could.

i hold your sounds instead. in small iced hands / mittens covered raw /
keep heat in / keep you in. i watch icicles form on your
rosebud lips / spider lashes / aching ears /
we foliage-fragile / fracture-frostbitten / chimney gasp at first white light —


                                                            we two halves. we come home.

Tributaries: "Original Suffering"

William Lychack

In another existence—and, yes, there are many lives within this one life—I become someone who ends up going to Burma to be a Buddhist monk for a spell. It’s like a dream, no need for explanation, but at my ordination I am given a new name, U Sâsana. I go and live for a time in a forest monastery on the southern Shan plateau.

I will teach about this in my classes back home. I will explain how the Buddhists have this idea of original suffering. This is something you carry with you your whole life. It’s not always obvious what the suffering is to you—or sometimes it’s so obvious you don’t count it as anything—but still every choice you make can be traced to this one single thing. It’ll be your giftcurse, everything touching back to this for you.

lychak.jpg

One afternoon, driving in our jeep from Mandalay to Yangon—I’ve gone to Burma many times now, the complete opposite side of the world in every way, as far from home as I could ever get—and still I feel I must have been a Burman in a previous life. A Burman, or a Brit, just someone with a great affinity for his station here, someone who found he loved the heat and rain, someone who could go as if by memory along certain roads and rivers. This would make about as much sense as anything to my Burmese friends. No need to spell out such yearning to anyone here.

It’d be enough to say you simply felt drawn to a place. In Burma, if you passed unsatisfied from this life, you’d be reborn on the plane of hungry ghosts, your soul coming back again to complete some piece of unfinished business from a previous existence. It took the Buddha many lives to become the Buddha. With this kind of mind, it’d be easy to appreciate—and to have some compassion for—the way a person might feel compelled to keep going back and forth over a particular piece of ground.

On our drive south to Yangon, we stop at a roadside gas station. There’s a small village nearby, and off to the side a very old woman is selling teak chocks, tall stacks of wedges set out in all sizes around her. She’s no bigger than a little boy, woman inviting us to sit with her in the shade. She offers tea and mango, and the breeze is pleasant off the small pond behind the house and palm-leaf shed. She wants to know the story about us—our heads shaved clean, the three of us explaining how we’ve just disrobed, just left the monastery—and she’s pleased and tells how she’s lived on this hill her entire life.

We’re only there for ten minutes—the space of a cup of tea, the engine of our jeep ticking itself cool nearby—and she tells of her children, her grandchildren, her husband’s death, and how she laughed at her younger brother when she was six years old. She didn’t know any better, the boy in his coffin in the front room of the house, but almost ninety years later she’s still known in the village as the little girl who couldn’t stop giggling at the funeral of her brother. It’s right there in her face, the sadness and shame, the acceptance, the odd sense of pride almost, the old woman relighting her cheroot.

Of all the stories she could have told, that was the one she chose to tell about herself. That must mean something. Of all the things she might have wanted us to know about, of all the things to share with complete strangers, it was that single moment from a lifetime away that she chose (or that chose her), this being the detail that let her situation speak, this young girl reacting to the sight of her brother lying there as if asleep.


My work has appeared in The Pushcart Prize, The Best American Short Stories, and on public radio's This American Life. I am the author of a novel, The Wasp Eater, a collection of stories, The Architect of Flowers, and a forthcoming novel, Cargill Falls. I currently teach at the University of Pittsburgh.

Tributaries: "Forward"

Marian Rogers

 

A woman carries a doe forward. The woman is naked and smooth and stands erect. The doe’s coat appears smooth, but short strands of hair are visible on a closer look. The doe is limp in the woman’s hands, its legs hanging down, its head over the woman’s shoulder and tilted back in an unnatural manner. It is no longer alive. The woman doesn’t embrace the doe, nor does she carry it deliberately, though she could, with most of its weight flung over her shoulder. Instead, she holds it rigidly, its back against her belly, the doe facing outward, forward. Where the woman is going with the doe isn’t clear, or for what purpose. Only forward.

 

On my desk is a stone I have used as a paperweight for twenty-seven years. The stone is round and flat, its shape from above almost a perfect circle. It’s what some people call a moonstone. It feels smooth but isn’t polished, and in a certain light its color shifts from blue-gray to a darker gray. Its weight is surprising. It is heavy. When I pick the stone up, at first it seems to fit the palm of my hand, and then overwhelms it.

 

I found the stone on a beach near Lubec, Maine, in 1989. Lubec is the easternmost point in the continental United States, way downeast on the Maine coast, where the sun rises first. That summer day was pristine—windy and brisk, sunny and clear. All afternoon, my four-year-old daughter and I combed the sand, unusual at the Maine shore, collecting stones. When we returned home, we hauled our bag of beach loot inside, laid the stones out on the floor, and made small piles of the ones we liked, grouping them by shape, color, texture, size, feel. I selected the stones that I thought would look best in the garden I had planted in front of the house. My daughter had her own preferences and made her own choices. I think she especially liked the heart-shaped stones. But I confess my memory about that has faded, so much storm and stress followed. Two years later I left my husband and our log cabin on fifty acres in Maine to start a new life with our daughter in upstate New York.

 

What do we choose to carry forward into a new life? There are the obvious things that meet our needs: a few sticks of furniture, the everyday contents of cupboards and closets, favorite books off shelves, small items from drawers. Nestled in one of the many boxes that I packed for the move was the round, almost perfect stone I had found on the beach that day, now nearly thirty years ago. When I look at it on my desk, I see not a memento of a pristine place where the sun rises first, but something stolen from a place at the end of the world. I keep it as a reminder that I went there and somehow got back.

 


Marian Rogers is a freelance editor of scholarly nonfiction and holds a PhD in classics from Brown University. She has been a participant in the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop in Literary Nonfiction, where she has written about place, the natural world, travel, myth, family, and identity. She lives in Ithaca, NY.

The New Nature: “Breadcrumbs”

I wake up to a vision of her sitting on the floor of my bedroom, her back pressed to the door. Her hair curls around her ears, the color of sunlight. She sits with her knees bent in an oversized grey sweater that pools around her naked thighs. Her hands are covered. I can’t see the engagement ring her fiancé gave her.

“Come here,” I tell her.

A cool breeze flutters in from the open window, fluttering the curtain. I turn towards it. The last dredges of winter still linger on the glass, tiny trails of frost. When I look back at the door, she’s gone.

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The New Nature: “Freeze and Thaw”

I met her in early January on a sidewalk in Missoula, Montana. It was only nine but it felt past midnight, the dark and cold thrumming along my skin, the stars dagger points suspended in the frozen air. A puff of air came from her mouth as she said her name and extended her mittened hand. I offered my own name puff and reached back. The snow crunched beneath our boots as we parted ways, hurrying to our vehicles.

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