If I was going to die in a year, a month, a week—I would, right at this moment, write to you.—Sally Neil
Before I die, I just wanted to let you know that the laundry is sorted, washed, and should be dry by the time you find it tossed in the white hamper or tangled in the dryer. The beginning of dinner waits in the fridge—there’s extra in case we invite someone to join us. Our toddler helped stir together a honeyed Asian marinade for the pork and fried rice; you should have seen his eyebrows arched in concentration, then the delicate motion of his knuckles as he wiped soy sauce off his cheek. The baby doesn’t have a nap schedule yet, but we’re working on it and (perhaps) he will sleep through the night soon.
We could have spent the day in chores; we did scrub the bathrooms and sweep the kitchen thoroughly with our laughter, but that only took part of the morning. So we whistled into the wind, opened our arms, and bent in its embrace the way long blades of grass do. We turned green in the sunlight. We followed a trail of ants to their home, marveling at their lack of claustrophobia, their need for closeness, their determination to labor for it. We could have counted clouds. Maybe we did. I don’t recall how many passed in wisps above our house. Instead we changed shape and stained clothes a thousand times to celebrate our own formlessness and eternity, to notice that we are more than mist.
We remembered to water the tomatoes and squashes individually. We sang to the fern next to the couch and we told a fairy tale to the eight-month-old [End Page 47] poinsettia. The story revolved, primarily, around a small boy who hid his spirit in his shadow. The boy locked himself in the pantry and hoarded the round wheat crackers; then his spirit and shadow flew across the ocean and mapped the thoughts of stars only to return to the tiny body and settle comfortably in the squeaky knees and oily hairs, savoring the bumps across his tongue (comparing them to grand mountains), and praising the softness of thighs (sitting for a second longer to express gratitude), then dashing off in absolute physicality, flailing—full of arms and legs, feet and hands, memories and ideas. We called the combination of spirit and shadow and body and light soul. We decided the little boy and his soul could not live happily ever after before dying, yet he lived happily. His smile sparked rainbows. The story prompted me to ask our sons their opinions on literature: can great words saturate us with joy? In response, they ran to the book basket and we pointed to pictures and descriptions of monsters in closets and blue bonnets pushing up through the sidewalk. We pointed to letters: C, R, A, and the favorite O—the simple word of awe and enlightenment.
When we could have finalized dinner, the three of us sat on the floor in a bundle. I read aloud to them while they rested their healthy cheeks against my shoulders. I leaned against the wall to absorb their weight and the movement of line breaks in a poem. I leaned against the wall and turned the pages of our spiritual biographies. I leaned against the wall and we hefted the sound of sentences, bounding through punctuation, catching on consonants, and gliding—liquidly—through vowels. Our boys understand vowels more than I do. Their cries slide through my throat and harbor in my lungs; I shake my head trying to sort out the meaning, trying to appreciate the rawness, the language. Uncertainty is the acquisition of a new word. Faith is the treasure hunt that follows.
Bath time beckoned. But first!—we ran outside to chalk the faded fence, leaving the gaps hollow, peeking through at the neighbors’ thirsty dog, at the evergreens behind us, at the collapsed and casual space surrounding us. We blew kisses. We waved and wiggled our ears in parting. On our pillows we...