Saturday, March 21, 2009
So, last night, I participated in a reading at the Lutecium here in San Francisco. I read a piece that I've been working on for a while, inspired by the lives of siblings William and Caroline Herschel and their imagined similarity to the twin gods Apollo and Artemis. It's an odd little thing, one of those works-in-progress that never seems to get finished, but for some reason it's my favorite piece to read aloud.
This being the internet, I can't read it aloud to you. So the written version will have to do for now.
“We’ll live on the moon,” says William, “as soon as we’re able.”
He is holding on to grandmother’s front gate, his feet wedged against the base of the frame and his body bent and then straight like a windshield wiper as he pulls back then thrusts forward, making iron hinge music. It’s almost so dark that we’ll have to go in. William is thinking about this, too, because he says, “On the moon, it is never dark. The ground glows at night. During the day, too.”
From where I’m sitting, in the dark shadow of the hedges, William’s hair stands out against the darkening sky, like clouds in front of the moon. When the light shines pink through the clouds, we say that it’s the fruit trees blooming in heaven, and I wonder what makes William’s hair shine so coldly. Maybe it’s the bones in his skull.
There are thirty-one bones in our heads, but they grow together, binding as we get older. I like to think about William and I, and how we might have super powers. Like maybe we’ll never get old, or if we do, our skulls will stay flexible. We could end up smarter than anyone.
I imagine our skulls opening like water lilies, turning like music boxes. I imagine our skulls flexing, gathering light. I imagine us dead, discovered by archeologists.
“They’re perfect,” they’ll whisper. “Each like the other, the pinnacle of their age.”
Sometimes I wonder if we were even born. Will says he remembers it, that mom cried like a wild thing while she had me, then laughed as he arrived. But I don’t believe him. We’ve been just like now forever.
“On the moon,” says William, “the language is music. This fence right now is speaking Moonish.” He pulls back with gusto. The gate sighs reluctantly.
Grandmother’s house is in the country. When it gets dark here, no streetlights come on. The stars are bright and clear and go on forever. I lie back onto the grass and it looks like they’re just above me, as if there is no sky. There are just lights, an arm’s length above me, set in dark blue corduroy. If I don’t move, they’ll be inches from my eyes forever. But soon it’s dinnertime, and when I get up the sky is far away again.
My bedroom is below William’s, and at night he drops notes and pictures through a hole in his floorboards. I can’t reply, because the knothole is too high for me to reach even if I stand on the dresser. After a while, I just watch out the window, listening to the whisper of papers dropping from the ceiling. There are deer in the meadow.
Just before midnight, I see a tree moving towards me, out of the forest. It’s massive, and moves deliberately, unhurriedly. Its branches are thick and ancient, hung with moss. I’m embarrassed. I don’t want to witness something so strange, so unique. I don’t want to be singled out by the gods, or by magic or whatever. When it pauses at the edge of the meadow, I realize that it was only a moose.
Climbing back into bed, I brush one of William’s letters to the floor. “The earth is round,” it says. “There are stars beneath us, too.”
One winter’s night, our father took me out into the street to show me the stars. The air was sharp and cold inside my nose, and the breath in my chest felt hollow and alive. He named the constellations as I watched, calling the sky into order.
“Our father was made of minerals in the darkness under the earth,” I write, alone in my bedroom, William awake above me. “He never lost his baby teeth. He was created whole.”
Because we are twins, William and I guard each other jealously. Once we had a birthday party, and a man had a balloon for William, but not for me. William handed it to me, and I drove my heel into it until it popped. “Helium,” William says, “was made by the sun god Helios. It wants to return to the sky.” I agree. There’s room enough in the sky, and no need to stay here without reason.
Our father’s father was made of stone, minerals forged deep down inside the earth. He could sand wood smooth against his cheeks. You couldn't get a straight answer out of him, and when he told you things there was a bit of sandpaper hidden inside or maybe a smooth bit of stone, so if you tried to eat it then you had rocks inside you, too.
In the afternoons, we tromp through the forest, setting traps. Once I caught a mink, and kept it as a pet. One morning William and I went to the river, and he dared me to shoot a duck that was far out on the water. I’m known for my sharp eyes, and had no trouble hitting it, even though it was little more than a dark shape. Later that night, my poor mink washed ashore.
Our grandmother is made of smallness. “Grandmother weighs less than nothing,” William says. “Literally.” Her house is in the country, and the sky is set in corduroy. At night, she looks out the window, and is she made of looking.
We play music every night after dinner. William conducts, and I sing, or he plays on the piano while I polish the mirrors that hang at the bottom of the stairs. “On the moon,” William calls to me, “beauty is prized above all things.” The piano soars up, up, up, like city lights on a hillside. I look in the mirror, and the sky falls open behind me.