He is too fond of the child, for all the wrong reasons. He hangs
success higher and higher, a star out of reach, hopes this will expand
the child's capacity for wishing. But the child never looks up at the
night sky. Sirius lopes along unseen, Canopus steers his ship in vain.
The child is firmly rooted to the earth. Her eyes are a steady
lantern; they light the way over the rough and raw terrain.
She washes the child every night, scrawny thing white and smooth as
the tub it stands in. The child shivers and goose pimples pop up all
over the paper skin, over dark purple veins, mauve pools under the
young/old eyes. The mother understands that her child is special; as
she towels off the drops of wet she tells the child, You are a thin
strong weed, born to rule. You were born to take care of us. You were
born to take care of all of us.
The child is wiser than its parents, as all children are. The child
understands the world is made of disappointment. Nothing the child
wants has ever come to pass since the very earliest days; once the
child's desires grew more complex the world began to say no, and has
kept on saying it ever since.
People say spoiled and the child does not understand, the child can
never understand. People say spoiled and what they really mean is the
innocence of children, and what they really mean is something that
does not exist, has never existed, will never exist as long as there
are years to stretch a life into and no way to stop the stretching.
A house, a hut, a village, a mound, a grove, a flat, an apartment, an
alley, a meadhall, a basement, a condo, a truck, a car, a trailer, a
dirt floor, a castle, a thatched cottage, a church, a sanctuary, a
stronghold, a storefront, a hospital, a park bench, a bed, a grave.
Love, fear, and habit. Three things that will grow in you and hold you
fast, no matter the chemical makeup of your soul. They will be
stubborn tumors in the dank dark of your insides. No matter how your
beleaguered blood tries to expel them.
A fist in your face, a red, rotten face in your chest. It tells
things. It told the mother she would be better loved elsewhere, told
the father he'd never really loved her at all. It told the child she
would bask in the warmth of the cities we build, but also that she
would burn in their ruins. This was the saddest part of the story,
The heart said, Child, you will wander the world and bring happiness
to all you meet, and the world will make you its favorite daughter.
But even you must come to an end. And this is the terrible prophecy
that we hold close and secret. This is the always-whisper in our ear.
The soil is blowing away like loose words; the earth sheds our short
history here like skin flakes after a bath. The earth is cleansing
itself of us. There is a hungry safety in our movements, like we're
scared to move too fast, we might blur ourselves, we might be here
then gone which we suppose will happen someday but why hurry things
The meat of movement fills us beyond question, beyond dream, and our
heels dig in the dust in vain. The whole world is a chair of gold and
our lives are etched into its seat, like pictures of the future for
our ancestors to discover.
The guns have been sitting in storage for a very long time. We alone
know the location, the combination to enter. We alone know where the
ammunition is kept. We alone know how to use these massive weapons,
how to roll the girdles over the spiked tires to keep them from
sinking into the mud, how many horses it takes to pull them out of the
shed and into the field, how to tell which shells will fire what:
incendiary charges, high explosive charges, or gas. We alone know the
bodies strewn on the grass, casualties of mass action and opposing
We keep these things a secret from the child, because we know how
eager she is. But lately, she has been driving us mad with questions,
circling while we plow our fields, while we watch television. She
keeps asking about the guns, about the last war, about the war before
that. She keeps asking us about the body and the soul, and the way
the two can fuse together and fall apart.
Is that a war, she asks. We tell her, no, that is a weapon.
She looks to us, this child who is no longer a child. She has
forgotten to be a savior, to keep pushing forward. She burns to divide
and to kill. She burns to blow another's cells apart with differences.
It's time, she says. Tell me how, she says. Tell me how to fight the
So she was burnt, with all her clothes,
And arms, and hands, and eyes, and nose;
Till she had nothing more to lose
Except her little scarlet shoes;
And nothing else but these was found
Among her ashes on the ground.*
What existed before home. The Ur-Home. The thing we all come back to
in the end. Home to all, monsters and mermaids and children and
parents, mortals and immortals, questions and dreams. The bright hall
for heroes and the long dark depths for the rest of us.
The thing we build with our useless, heavy hands and hope will enfold
us when we are going. When we are gone.
As in: afraid of the. As in: a candle in the. As in: the endless sleep of.
*Excerpt from "The Dreaded Story of the Matches," in Der
Struwwelpeter, by Heinrich Hoffman