- 18. Dust and Ashes
I am going to give you everything, and then I am going to take it away, beginning with this morning of steam in the yellow valley. It is already half over, isn't it? The crows' raucous yammer from the oak by the frog pond; that will be the first thing to disappear, because I have given it to you so often, not just wherever I have gathered two or three trees, but glancing off the brick flanks of airshafts, and in the narrow zone between blue snow and dank sky. You value it at nothing, so you let it slip by, and soon it will be lost. The sunlight on bleached grass, the reflected heat on your cheeks, the mustiness of crushed limestone —these will last longer, but the day will come when you think of them no more. And so you will help me, as you always have. I have given you the entire valley, but you want only the girl latching the pigeon coops. I have given you the whole girl, but you want only her bitten nails as she pushes in the rusty hooks, and those strands of hennaed hair caught at her lips' edge. You have rejected almost everything. You have never had a choice. You are a spider building a web in the wind; all of your gossamer explorations anchor on moving air, capturing nothing but themselves. Soon it will be worse. One, drunk, fell backward into the bath, and lay there a day, never shifting his open eyes, even when the super broke down his door. Another simply tore off on a motorcycle: a post card from Sri Lanka. Nothing more. There have been others. And there will be more than you can count. I shall surround you with strange alphabets. The speech of checkout clerks will become a rippling across lips and eyes. And when you speak, you will be shunned. You will be the farmer's mad spaniel turning circles in the cow parsley, pursued by his own deformed yowl. The sun will have done with blood and gold. One by one the stars will fall from the sky (I shall grant you such beauty) [End Page 103] and you will awake in the night that follows night, alone with the beast you should never have become, wanting all you have wasted and I have taken away. One bottle will contain bitterness, another fear— all the rest, nausea and pain. Yet, even these you will want. And I shall take them away.
Stephen O’Connor has published three books: Rescue (fiction and poetry), Will My Name Be Shouted Out? (memoir) and Orphan Trains (history). He teaches in the writing MFA programs of Columbia and Sarah Lawrence.