- 9. Promises
When you don't know what the words mean, are you saying anything at all? So that's one way of looking at it: all our solemnity was foolish, and our fear. Only the sunlight was real, and our fantastically orange eyes, our furled wings. And so we launched ourselves into the air, believing our falling was flight. And so we hit the road, trusting our phrasebooks and our maps. Does it matter that the hills we tapped across with our sticks and boots were not in fact France, that the chapels were only vats of coolness and shadow? That's another way of looking at it: trust and belief. We stumbled through the impossible sounds in our little books, and we were given rooms, we were welcomed into echoing spaces and served plates of exotic meat. And so there we were, grinding up the gravel road with a black dog on our flatbed. And so I set a cup of coffee on the floor beside your pillow. And so: your eyes orange in the sunrise. Purple blossoms scattered in bitterness. Block of loneliness. Infant laughter. And so: just this morning, your glance across the croissants, our knees touching under the table. The black dog is gone now, but still the dust rises. And still that wind in our hair—although perhaps it never meant we were falling. Perhaps we have stayed true to our dim promises all along, because the words were never more than ghosts we had to bring to life by living.
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.