Mercedes de Salvo

rocks low tide

The sunlight had glistened on the tops of trees. And it was the tops of the trees that had glistened. So, it meant that the sunlight had shone there. And each morning that I had risen from bed, from my sleep, I had looked forward to this. I had looked forward to cold winters, winters during which the snow had never come. And I had looked forward to summers whose rains were just as hot as sweat. Autumns whose colors were like brightened memories. All that had come back again and again, like a sweetness I could almost touch, almost taste, almost see. Everything had hinged on the “almost.” Had I lived in perpetual sunshine, perpetual warmth, the human comfort of love, I could not have been more than a day. It had become like a gaze in whose stark absences longing made me a sort or sorceress, dreaming up tubers of recollection, prophecies of others’ pasts, and soft unguents tending to the morrow. My rake and shovel had kept me company most of the time. I dug more trenches with my hoe, planted more seeds, grew more to eat. I had counted on nothing. I dropped a stone at my feet and was amused by the ever oppressive force of gravity. It alone had never changed. Its certainty could be depended on, relied on, predicted. Even the day’s next coming had seemed a contiguous moment in space and in time. And even death, like a common penny left outside an envelope containing a hand-drawn letter posted to the beloved, was not possessed, was not known, was not held or cradled or kept.

Maria Gustafson

music in snow

I had always been a hot pepper. So when the storekeeper in the village said, “Hey, Hot Pepper, try this tunic on,” I had to tell him that that tunic was twice the size for the Wicked Witch of the West. And when I was filling up my tractor with petrol, the same thing: “Hey, Hot Pepper, don’t you overfill that tank with too much petrol.” Naturally, this was always on account of the terrible, which is usual the precedent to any terms of endearment. My family had perished so long ago flying across Nebraska in a Cessna 172. I was at the time taking my place on the podium for third place in a Science Olympiad project as a winner who could make windmills turn just by the energy given off by four pairs of human eyes staring simultaneously at the sails, front and back, paired up. It was something like a potato alarm clock, but different and fancier. And they were all killed in a field of DuPont wheat out there. And though I got the news straight from my earpiece, I went right on along with my presentation in ninth grade for this, and that is why I earned the epithet Hot Pepper because I am not at all. When you take most human sorrow, most of it gets spun around at the outer edges, just like the tips of a windmill’s blades turning looks like a carnival fantasy of fun and death. But right there at the dot of the center axis, at the hub, the part that holds the entire mechanism in place and together, there is a dot of being. It is so small, it is so infinitesimal that it does not turn at all. I know of winds, and I know of hurricanes; I know of storms and gales. I know of love drowned in the waves of Lake Michigan. I know of motorcycle accidents. At the center of it all there is nothing that holds the universe together. And from that tiny point on the sharp end of pin so small that you cannot imagine it, I think a fairy must have leapt off smiling.