The gulf between us now an ocean of sky. Swirling through an hour glass of wind where our pasts spiral out from some shared center.
When we first slid sideways and pulled apart, I felt the buoyancy of rootlessness. A kind of falling upwards. And the simple thrill of velocity and speed.
That gulf only a rift then. These fragments still part of the same whole. Emptiness, like tissue or flesh, holding bones together.
Ether pushing through these arteries, long twisted fingers grasping for our essential center.
Half of me working to live, the other half bent on destruction. Without you the thrill of velocity gone.
Thinner air, even in this valley. Branches collapsing as my two halves war with each other.
You were the only one to understand my tragic and my comic. To walk the razor’s edge between those spheres.
You asked me to bleed and I did. To laugh and cry. I did it all, like you. So why let the space between us grow?
I won’t let years pile up again. Not months. Not even weeks. Tomorrow I start the ascent. Over the mountain. Toward that scrap of brown. The blue sky above.
Over that ridge another higher mountain that I climb through the cloud forest to that lake above the sky.
Swimming the icy water, muscles hardening and numbing, sinking my bones under the crushing weight of your memory
filling my lungs the churning water pressing me down into the murky depths. I keep rising, fighting my way to the surface, only to sink again.
And I finally give up trying to take another stroke. When I let myself fall I feel my foot on the rocky bottom of the lake shore.
A few more steps and I collapse on land, close my eyes and forget whether I am breathing or not.
When I open my eyes in the middle of night I struggle to my feet, walk to your castle, and open the heavy front door.
Climbing the stairs I know I’ll see you soon. Finding your room my eyes widen as the door creaks open and I look in.
Nights like these moonlight paints snow blue and birch trees are bones planted in this bottomless cold. Almost no memory of times before snow.
Even the home I took you from may have been a dream. A hard life since we left the lake in the sky. But a good one.
Warm in the home we built. The padding of tiny feet on the floor. The dog, full and content, asleep by a fire. Dreaming wild canine dreams.
Tomorrow I’ll wake before dawn, snowshoe the valley down where sheer cliffs squeeze the frozen river tight and morning light paints canyon walls with its honey.
I’ll take my time, bring back what I can find knowing it’s more than enough. The need for velocity and speed gone. Or asleep for now.
The only darkness comes sometimes when I dream of that old world where it’s always night. Clouds swirling and twisting into screaming faces. Wind blowing directionless.
Nothing to see, except through one ragged hole in those clouds where the top of that building points upward.
What does it all mean? More and more dreams now. So vivid they drip with color. Closing my eyes, I wonder what will come tonight.
A shelter in the desert. Beams reaching for the sky. But there are holes in the vision where the painted landscape
stretches into the distance. The red sand, like fire—like particles of the sun itself. A bed of glowing embers.
I wake with the image burned into my mind. Branded. Imprinted on my brain. But it’s fragile as mist breaking somewhere over the mountains out there. Breaking at dawn
when that distant fire rises over this frozen world. The dream fades, but not that old pang for rootlessness.
I have to build my own fire, thaw the cabin walls. Still dark this time of year as I shake out of bed, tremble into the frigid air and light the wick.
As I break sticks for the stove the desert flashes behind my eyes once more and disappears. The dog whimpers in his sleep. And from some dark corner a baby sighs.
More nightmares this evening. Whiteness covering everything. Waves of snow. Denali restless somewhere out in that great night,
giving birth to clouds. Days recoiling from a darkness stalking back into our lives and something old stirs inside us urging the gathering of wood—meat, killed
and stored. And in the corners of eyes a man in the shadows bent to flint and bark hoping a fire will last until the sun fills his world once more.
But it wasn’t the cold. Or the dark. Just the feeling rising again. The same yearning that stirred the ancestors’ blood. The hunters. The travelers.
Outside the cabin door cold snarls and snaps but days are opening up as light pours back in. Soon shoots will spring
from moss, pushing toward the sun. We are always pushing toward the sun, bending to our faithful but wavering, distant flame.
I will miss this night, walking the silent valley, passing the frozen lake where the moon shows fallen stars, sleeping in their bed of white.
We are headed to the aspen grove and beyond. The restlessness never really went anywhere. The thirst for movement there all along though I tried to deny it.
But you can’t deny what you are. And this time we go together. No choice but to embrace what we can’t quiet. What we can’t still. And what we can’t change.
Malado Francine Baldwin is a Los Angeles-based artist, following more than fifteen years in New York, where she worked as an artist alongside careers in film and book publishing (Rizzoli). Her work traces intimate personal and larger geographic and historic memories through symbolically imbued imagery in multiple mediums. Outstanding influences in her work include a childhood spent in Dakar, Senegal and Bamako, Mali as the daughter of former Peace Corps volunteers. She earned a Master’s degree in painting at the New York Studio School in 2006, and a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature at Swarthmore College in 1997. She has shown extensively and her work is in public and private collections, including the Getty Research Institute and the William Louis-Dreyfus collection.
Iver Arnegard‘s poetry, nonfiction, and fiction have appeared in the North American Review, Gulf Coast, the Missouri Review, and elsewhere. His collection, Whip & Spur, was published by Gold Line Press after winning their 2013 Fiction Chapbook Competition. He currently teaches creative writing at Colorado State University-Pueblo.