And the Green Grass Grows All Around

There is a hole in the middle of the ground.

Listen to me.

Yes. I'm here, in this hole, and I know secrets.

What secrets could I possibly know? Illiterate daughter of a tribal farmer. Never left my village. Dead before my 6th birthday. Thrown down this hole before you were born.

And what a tiny void. In a single step, you walk farther than my hole is wide, yet it's a universe unto itself. Me at the bottom. Sky at the top. The whole writhing, loamy riddle of earth in between.

It pulls people in. Not that it's very deep. You could scrape the bottom if you lay down, stretched your arm as far as your sinews will reach, and opened your fingers into the dark. 

But no one says, "I want to find a hole," much less shove an arm down one. Usually they stumble upon it, sometimes twist an ankle. They curse, but it calls to them. "What's in that hole?" they ask, even if they won't peer into the dark.

No one wants to find a hole, but everyone wants its secrets. 

In this hole there is a root.

You noticed the root--most people do--an artery the size of a woman's leg, the scabbed curve rising up from the grass and diving into the hole. What you don't see is how it pierced my throat and wormed into my lungs, threading its tendrils through my veins and stitching me into the earth.

It consumed me long ago. If you did reach down, your hand might bump into cool, hard things that you imagine are my stained bones, but there's nothing left but a vaguely girl-shaped fan of roots. I am as much the root as the root is me.

On this root there is a tree.

It's astounding how far roots will grow in search of food and water. No one alive could guess which tree belongs to my root, but just as it crawled to me, I can follow it back, slithering under your feet, gathering the other roots to me until I break the surface a full thirty paces away, gasping out of the dirt and lunging for the sun. I wiggle my fingers and feel dark branches tickling the clouds.

On this tree there is a limb.

Bodies are useful things. You can, of course, live inside them, marching briskly through your days, but the real power of a body is not in the movement, it's in the structure, the familiar bilateral symmetry of limbs--two arms and two legs, such greedy things, always grasping for something until it's all gone, then walking toward the next thing. Familiarity carries meaning. I'm past all that. I'm a whatever the opposite of a body is. Not even bones. Not even a myth. I fed the tree and I am the tree.

Children sing songs about holes. The words change as the seasons circle, splintering into new songs that coalesce into stories that crystallize into something more powerful. Do you remember when you first heard the words? Did your father sing them to drown out the expectant breath of monsters under your bed?

The verses drag themselves up from the hole and climb into the tree, only to fall back down. But they're stubborn and crawl out again, up the pretty tree, out onto the pretty limb, where they fall again. How many times do they fall back into the prettiest hole you ever did see before they finally fly away with the prettiest bird in the whole wide world?

You don't even realize why you still sing it, but I'll tell you. It's a prayer.

On this limb there is a nest.

My branches twist and stretch and shelter the birds who pluck my twigs to weave their tiny homes. The young sleep fitfully in my fingers while their father sings about the vast ocean of sky. 

I had a different home, once, although I can't remember it. I can't even remember my old body. I remember that the men came, as they always do, with paler skin and eyes like sky and mouths full of dominion. My brothers had stones, but the men always have sharper blades, or bodies wrapped in steel, or maybe they simply have stronger prayers.

The men chose me. "Don't fear," they said. "You now have a purpose. You will carry a message."

What could my father do but hurl his rocks and curse their blasphemous gods?

When they put me in the ground, they left the hole open. Me at the bottom, sky at the top. A sign with no post and no letters.

"This is as far as you may travel," it said.

Or maybe, "you live because we grant you life."

Or, "this seals our covenant."

Probably it was all of those, and more. I can't remember everything. The point is, bodies are useful things.

They never said my name, referring to me only as the body, although I mean more now than I ever did when I had a name or a body. I still carry a message, but I don't think it's the one they intended.

I would laugh if I still had a mouth. Instead I shake my leaves, rattling them in a whisper that you cannot translate yet your body understands.

My leaves fall and feed the grass, and I am the grass.

In this nest there is a bird.

The young birds grow too big for their nest and shove each other toward the edges. A fledgling falls. In that moment it is nothing more than a stone on its way back to the earth. Yet terror drives instinct, and in the next moment it remembers why it has wings, and it is more than a stone.

It is the bird.  And I am the bird.

And you will never see such beauty as when I spread my wings across the vast ocean of sky and cast a shadow as dark as a hole.