I am not afraid.

After I'm sure that she is sleeping, she lifts her tired head and lays it on my belly. She traces circles in the hollow where the sides of my ribcage meet. "Baby brother," she says, and she kisses the stretching skin that rests temporarily between them. "Ni-Night, baby brother." Her hair still smells like campfire smoke and dusty pine. I inhale her. I am not afraid.

the manifesto

I feel like I owe the world some sort of loose-lipped justification. For oversharing, maybe. For never finishing projects that I say I've started. And it's not because I'm dishonest or irresponsible or distracted. Rather, it's very likely that I'm still working on everything I've ever mentioned in a post or a story or a conversation we shared over something hot and creamy. Just in this moment, I am designing a magazine for my town, navigating the tide of a retail shop, crafting logos for the fine folks who ask, blocking out the spine of a yearly planner, sketching floorplans for our barn house, all the while tossing short stories into the lapses like stones down a well. There are a hundred thousand projects in my back pocket, folded and tucked away for the proper time, when the air outside is just right, when a spark is flicked and catches the corner of something long forgotten. 

I have always been wildly indecisive, dipping my hungry limbs into all sorts of hobbies and professions and projects and interests. My Grandmother used to call me ambitious, but not with the bright and hopeful tongue that usually accompanies the word. She was cautious, drawing out the syllables slowly, am-bi-tious, until they sounded more like a warning than a term of endearment. 

But my wide-open lungs longed then and ache now to sample each and every patch of life like licks of wine. I've been a writer, and an illustrator, and an herbalist, and a health coach, and a yoga teacher, some at the same time, some for a while, some for only a breath. When something isn't the proper fit for me, I honor it, and then gently (and swiftly) let it go. I am forever learning what I love, and, maybe even more importantly, what I don't love. Some folks may see this as quitting, as something that should be shamed, but I think it's beautiful. It's okay that I'm neither one thing, or the other. I refuse to be bound by boundaries. I refuse to give up my wildness. To stop sampling, and learning, and wondering, and expanding. I promise to always change my mind. I contain multitudes. I am a universe wrapped in skin. And so are you.

And we must never apologize. 

the blush

There is a woman at the cafe with a new baby, one that's still purple around the ears and sleepy. He's tucked against her breast, knees folded, fingers kneading, as if he is still in the honey-sweet sea of her womb. He's half here. An in-between place.

She looks beautiful, and she feels beautiful, though she is surely still bleeding, though she is surely still sore around the hips and painted with the kind of exhaustion that only comes with the arrival of needing new life. The happy haze of motherhood is lifting her tired eyes and turning her cheeks a tender pink. She has been well cared for, this mother. Someone held the slow breathing babe this morning while she washed, and pressed her hair, and painted her eyelashes a deep black. Someone heated oats on the stove and leaned into her and said, "You're doing well, I am proud of you." Maybe a husband, or a lover, or her own mother. Someone. Someone.

Her friends have joined her, one on either side. They sing like doves and place warm hands against the sleeping babe, against the tender skin of the mother, her hair, her face. One takes the child in her arms and rests his cheek against her shoulder. She rubs his back in slow, neat circles. The other fills cups with water and ice and pulls from a paper bag summer berries, thick cream, slices of bread and cheese.

How loved this child must feel, cradled against the shoulder of his mother's keeper. How loved this mother must feel with new fingers reaching, with new heart swelling, with soft and familiar hands to touch, to heal, to warm.

There is such a beautiful color that blushes the mothers who are not alone. I felt the way it spreads, thick like butter, from time to time. During the first months with Aspen. But there could have been more. I could have asked for more. I will ask for more, this time.

I wonder how we may all be privy to such care - how we may all become blessed with a mother's keeper. The kind of whole-being nourishment that is a right to all who birth, to all who carry beneath tired hearts and in the nook of tired arms.

In the cafe, watching this new mother like an old dove on a branch overhead, I am more inspired than I've ever been. This is a right. This is necessary. And to all mothers, somehow, I will make it so. 

a night not meant for sleeping

She has decided that there are nights not meant for sleeping. She lays flat-backed against the mattress, thin stomach slowly moving up and down. Her eyes open, blink hard, adjust. She wonders what, then, nights such as this one are for. 

It’s raining. The quiet kind of rain. The kind you might walk in with a lover, both bodies tucked beneath the spines of an umbrella, knocking elbows, trying to keep the other’s hair from getting wet. She counts the times that the streetlight outside the bedroom window flickers like the tail end of a lightning bug - eight, nine, ten. She counts the inhalations and exhalation of the body beside her. In-out, one. In-out, two. 

Her hand finds his side and she rests it against him gently, like you would a stack of things that are about to fall. She whispers, I love you, and then slides her body from the bed. The screen door knocks against the frame. She fumbles at the lighter on the railing, flicks the metal once, twice, holds the flame to the bottom of a cigarette. A charcoal sky has opened wide and pushed the clouds to the west. The pavement smells sweet and blackened like burned pancakes, the humid air as thick as syrup. She can see the smooth outline of her neighbor sitting on the second stair of his back porch. From across the fence, he strikes a match against the brick and his face turns the color of honey. He looks up, nods at her, looks back down. 

A night not meant for sleeping, she thinks.

She takes the phone from her pocket and dials a number, slowly, deliberately. Two hundred miles away, he answers.

“I can’t sleep,” she says. She leans against the house and watches the hallway, in case the man in the bed has woken to find that she’s gone.

“Neither can I. But you knew that. It’s been a while. How are you?” She hears him putting a kettle on the stove.

“Really, really good,” she says, and she means it. “I’ve never been so content. I’ve always felt like running until just recently.”

“That’s really good to hear.” He sits by the window. She can hear the city, the stopping and starting of the night busses like a low moan, the hiss of a gutter, someone yelling in the street.

“Bring the phone closer to the window,” she says, “I want to hear the night there.” And he does.

He pours water from one container to another. She hears him take a drink. After a while, he draws in a breath. “I’m moving to China,” he says. The words fall from his tongue, as if he is commenting on the weather.

She moves a hand to her throat and closes her eyes. Two weeks ago, she was in the city. The man in the bed bought her ramen and tea, and they listened to bluegrass in the meadow. There must have been a hundred thousand people in the park that day, bodies like water, swaying and heaving as a fiddle and a cello spoke sweetly to one another on the stage. The man in the bed held her hand and sang along, but she was standing on her toes, eyes moving left and right and left again like a ship captain surveying the sea. “Who are you looking for?” The man in bed had asked, and she shook her head and said, “Someone I used to know.” 

Spine curved against the wooden siding, she swallows. “I’m never going to see you again. Are you getting married?”

He laughs softly through his nose. “No. I love her, but it wouldn’t work. I’ll be back. Maybe in three or four years. I’m going to live around, you know how it goes. I’m still looking for what I’ll be doing with the rest of my life.”

Her neighbor rubs the end of his cigarette on the stair and moves back inside. Overhead, a ribbon of clouds pass over the moon and a thin rain begins to fall again. She watches the dry spots on the pavement turn black.

“What do you hope for?” she asks.

“A little passion for something.”

“What are you feeling now?”

He breathes. Outside his window, someone laughs. “Not too much of anything, really. I’ve been all over, you know. Went to Tibet last summer, Peru and Paraguay the fall before that. But I haven’t felt anything - really felt anything - in four years.”

She checks the hallway again. “Has it been four years? My God. I feel like a stranger in my own skin when I talk to you, like I’m present in another life entirely.”

“Nothing’s changed, even though everything has.” he says. She hears the subtle sound of skin moving against a sheet as he lays back. 

“I’m going to be thinking about you, wondering about you, longing for you for the rest of my life. And just knowing that is strange. It’s like looking into the future. It’s the only thing I’m sure of.”

She hears him smile. He licks his lips. Softly, he shifts the phone from one ear to the other. “We have something. Something that just seems to last and last and last. I love that you have a daughter and a little family but that’s – that’s something else. Our lives are so ordinary and good, but there is a profound and always present layer where I hold you.”

She is quiet. She checks the hallway once, and again. Swallowed by the night, she closes her eyes and reaches an arm out, as if the simple act of wanting may bring his body forward through time and space. He would stand before her, hold the curve of her cheek in the palm of his hand and run a finger over her bottom lip. And they would collapse together and disappear, just like that, the way two galaxies might when they finally brush edges in the sky.

His voice is hardly there, just a whisper now, two hundred miles away. “I’m afraid to see you, I think. Despite what you say, I think I could find that old, other part of you.”

She nods at the night. “Probably quicker than we would know what to do with it. I would fall apart.”

“Strange how I want both things.”

From inside the house, a floorboard groans. The man in bed is rubbing his eyes, fastening the buttons on a coat, searching for her. She slips the phone into her pocket without saying goodbye. The man in bed leans against the doorway.

“Can’t sleep?” he asks, wrapping her shoulders in a blanket. She shakes her head, and he smiles. “Come back inside. I’ll talk to you.”

She takes his hand and trails behind him. In her pocket, two hundred miles away, the closing of a window.