BY LEDA SWANN
Many times we were thrown to the heavens, with our tender paws bound at a point. We struggled to release ourselves from the cords’ constrictions, hoping to chew them to shreds, for we flew through the air against our will, looking like fur sacks. But the ropes were covered in oily goop, something thick and wet and altogether nasty-smelling. Chewing through it was revolting, if not impossible.
The ropes coiled our ankles to our wrists and then were tied off in intolerably tight, complicated knots. Swinging beyond these great knots, the ropes' ends reeled as we soared, making us think, as we ascended into rare atmosphere, that headless serpents had claimed us for a meal. There were anvils tied to the other end of these ropes. As we later realized, it was the anvils that actually did the tying up. And that sludgy muck all over the ropes, it may have been anvil spit. No one is exactly sure.
It’s all so fast. How things happen. What things are. I know the anvil relied on memory to tie the knots. One thing is clear: you must forget your memory before you think. Anvils rely on memory to perpetrate. We have since realized we must be our own ancestors. But how does one go about doing this?
Look at us! We are huge kittens! Titanic kittens! The most cow-like kittens in history! The most obscenely cute kittens the world has ever seen! But our combined weight is no more than a common coin. We will not burden the storm. Not even with anvils tied to us. They don't slow us down. They are not anchors.
Even on the most flawless mornings, we find the anvils have tied themselves to us. We exchange glances with the anvils. They know we'd really prefer to do something else with our time. But soon enough, despite our preferences, a storm appears to whisk us into the air. We look up at the violent, churning dynamo of the storm’s mouth. With the flip of a tongue long, black, and ferocious, the storm pulls us tumbling into its terribly fresh breath.
This has happened many times before. It is almost always the same.
The first time I found myself dropping earthward, after soaring through the sky with my paws tied tight, the anvil plunging ahead of me, I fell asleep, perhaps from fear. I awoke curled in a ball, sore but otherwise unharmed, at the bottom of a crater. The anvil and I had drilled hundreds of feet through the earth. As twisting signals of steam rose from the hole we made, I noticed the impact had cleaned the nasty viscous stuff from the cord. I chewed myself free in an instant. But it took many long and laborious days to claw to the surface. And when I did, another anvil tied itself to me. I sat there awhile, not even thinking about resistance, until another storm came to spin me up into the sky.
Hours later, after the storm sent me across the heavens at great heights, at nearly supersonic velocities, I pulled my skin closer to the bone and slipped my paws through the cord, letting it fall away to the earth. I made myself as wide as I could, opening and closing the loose skin beneath my limbs to control how fast I dropped, steering the descent with my tail. I became my own parachute. I flew for hours, landing in a disturbed ocean. I didn’t return home again for days. During that time, survival instincts taught me to swim, and once I got hungry, I figured out how to dive down and catch manta rays, sharks, whatever the ocean offered.
Up until awhile ago, on mornings when the anvil had tied my paws together and the storm had pulled me high into the air, at the last moment, as we began to drop, I'd slip the cords from my paws and hold the cords tight. The anvil carried me directly back home, an express service. Hundreds of feet above the ground, I'd release the anvil cord, opening the webby skin beneath my arms and legs to slow my descent. The anvil would drill down below. But I would land on my feet, safe and sound.
Plot me no plots. Map me no maps. O me no O’s. End me no ends.
The last time this happened was different. Someone whispered in my ear, “There is but one: take that or none.” I whirled to see who spoke.
It was then I was grabbed, this time with no anvil in sight.
It was then that I found you.
Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt marooned? I have found in you a true and devoted friend, and I am very grateful for it, despite being where we are. I know it’s peculiar. But I no longer feel marooned, no longer floundering in a sea of doubt and uncertainty, thanks to these narrow quarters.
We’re pressed against one another here. It’s not so bad. It could be worse, if we could see beyond the short distance we’re allowed, for example. And, because we’re so close, we can speak in whispers that no one else can hear. We can say things like “It’s better to love in the lowest hole than to live in a palace alone.”
We don’t need any more space than we have here. Never again will I ask for open space, no more sea to shining sea. We’ll remain in the closed palm of the storm as it roars through spacious rooms. And the storm will throw us to safety at its whim.
We add nothing to the storm’s weight, we proud oversized kittens. The storm lifts us and becomes stronger, although we cannot feel it becoming stronger. We do not feel it controlling the wind. Summoning the thunder. These are things we cannot do. The storm breathes. It freezes oceans. The ice reflects and cools everything. We say to ourselves, “The company of just and righteous men is better than a rich estate,” even up here, hiding in the palm of a storm.
I dropped what I had.
I dug a hole in the palm of the storm. Like you said when I arrived, “We can bury quarrels if the fault is only ours.”
I am no longer in the storm’s palm. But at any time of the day or night, close your eyes, see me here, thinking of you, waiting for you.
The storm scattered us, throwing me into a forest. It was unlike anything I’ve ever known. I had to defend myself. I relied on instinct to teach me.
Few trees possess the tenacious vitality of the willow. They live for a long time, even after they seem to have almost died. They repair damaged parts rapidly. They reproduce freely. One may cut a short section of a twig, place it in moist ground, and be assured it will become a tree. This is how they once made rods for baskets and furniture. This is now an inspiration.
In very wet situations, willows form dense thickets, excluding almost all other woody growth. Do you remember when you told me that silence is the best resolve when you don’t trust yourself? In that willow forest, they tried to burn me out, but I fell to the ground and rubbed a branch on rough stones until it was sharp along its edge. When one makes a spear, the branches of willow trees are not recommended. But if there’s nothing else available, if it is the only alternative to gathering stones to hurl at them, you can try as I did. A sharpened willow branch provides a serviceable whip. It is not better than forging a spear out of a solid limb, but it will serve your purpose adequately, if pressed for time.
You will hear them when they come, for they speak too much. They say we are the weakest reed in nature. But I can see you standing like a steady oak in a forest. What beautiful flowers are growing where we were! I will lie here on this forest bed, waiting for them. We have always known that a city on a hill cannot be hidden. I will reach a higher place today, or I will rest, and climb on tomorrow.
We must think like anvils. We must only remember ourselves. It is written that the worst comes to the worst. We are not the worst.
If trees had human characteristics, the trembling aspen would be the pioneer of the forest, for they open the way for other trees in the course of renewal. Like a mighty army they march along and cover the bare soil in the wake of fires. When you have nothing else, trees grow, even while creatures sleep in them. We will be like the trembling aspen, rising from our bellies along the forest bed.
I am going to return to the same home I knew and loved. And when I return,
will you throw your pearls to the pigs? Will you beat the feathers down?
Will you feel that saying hello can be a goodbye? Is the wrong way more
reasonable? Can you think of another way? If so, please tell me. And I
will tell you this: “You can never learn all the great things in this world.”
Let that salve your confusion.
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