Trees stand bare on the banks of the river, their canopies bristles of a fully-grown beard on a giant’s chin. I wish I could soar above and see this giant’s face, to see if he is asleep for the winter or if his great watery eyes are open to the blank sky. His ears will be forever submerged in this cold gray water, hearing the hushed roar of the depths and nothing else. He is between dry and wet, light and dark, sky and sea, and I cannot tell if this giant was caught mid-rise toward the surface – raising his heavy head and chest out of the riverbed to hear birdsong and train rattle and thunder clap – or if he was choosing to sink his being slowly back into the wet and roiled rush, a choice to hear no more, when the land froze in time.
It’s 12:35am and we’ve stopped in Katowice. Border control I imagine. It’s begun to rain and the water slides down the window, creating a map of veins. On the journey down some trickling streams catch the station lamps and pulse in the light, a hospital heart monitor acting the metronome for breath and bodily function.
My eyes sting from too many hours awake but I continue to watch the little rivers from the train car, now empty except for me, now quiet except for the low whir of the resting engine and the slow, sputtering wetness outside. The rhythmical throb of the rivulets mirrors the beats of my calm and steady heart, and I can’t help but think that it’s the rain that is keeping me here.
Somewhere between Indiana and Ohio I take a good look at the sky. It’s immense and expansive, and so intricate with its many shades of blue. It’s the kind of sky I want to sit down and paint right here and now, though I’ve never been much of an artist and besides, we’re moving fast.
The billow of clouds cracks open to reveal a heavenly glow. Crepuscular light pierces down to till the fertile earth and the green pastures below. I wonder if the belief in God throughout the Midwest, heavy and wholesome, has something to do with these clouds. Even I am finding a drop of the divine in these celestial bodies, resting low and lazy in the sky.
We pass farmhouses and grain silos that look like miniatures, put so carefully together by giant, steady hands and model glue, painted with a tiny brush by a man who is alone but not lonely, a man who enjoys the solitude and the meditative state he enters when building his small, quiet towns.
I’m chewing a piece of gum, the original flavor that tastes like pink, trying to remember the first time I learned how to blow a bubble. I look to my mom, hands at ten and two, quiet and tired. Maybe she was the one to teach me, many years ago.
There is a rare moment where the world is good, where life is good, where everything around you is both beautiful and available. Where you know the temperature dial reads 97 degrees, even as the sun goes down, but you don’t mind the stifle or the sweat on your skin. Where your friends are waiting for you at the park around the corner; you will greet them with a bag full of watermelon, red grapes, and carrots for picnic snacking. Where your lover is only a bike ride away, and wouldn’t mind the spontaneous call or text one bit because it’s new and exciting and you both quietly like each other so much that it becomes palpable, even in your smiling silence. Where the sky is a Renaissance painting, a revolutionary first play with light and color, unrestricted by canvas and gilded frame and unobstructed by fluorescent lights and museum head-nodders. It is the perfect night, and nothing has even happened yet.
Steam heat escapes from my kneecaps as I look out on a tree and contemplate the fragility of its leaves. The fragility of my own knees, knocking in toward one another, naked and beaded with sauna sweat and chlorine. The fact that when I write I sometimes say what sounds beautiful or fragile or profound over what’s true. I wonder if readers can see through that.
I scratch the salt and sand from my scalp, nature’s exfoliators embedded from yesterday’s beach bumming. My sunburn smarts in the warm tub water and the wooden bench I sit upon, my mind still hazy from joint smoke and marine layer or maybe newly lazy from the sizzle and pop of hot rocks and the babble of the garden waterfall. It’s amazing what calm and respite from city sounds can do for the body and mind.
The breeze leads the waxy leaves in a shadow dance against the wooden window slats, where the light is made to look like it’s opening and closing its sleepy eyes. It’s only leaves, breeze, and light, I know, but I am grateful for the personification; it lets me know my thoughts are free, and that I am perfectly at ease.