The Weight of Things
In a house that is not yet home, I am heavy.
Heavy with the weight of flight, and the things I have brought with me. Flight requires us to get lighter, even as we clamp down with claws that won’t let go of some things. For we know there is a heaviness even in lightness, that the uprooted heart lies heavy in the night.
In flight, we feel the weight of that which we carry with us and of that which we’ve left behind. For humans, then, weight is inescapable. We pull things towards us as if to say “O weight, sweet weight, press down upon me!” It swirls around us like stars amassing in a black galaxy. And even birds, which really must fly, refuse to be unburdened: the bower birds with their collected blues, the ravens with their trinkets and shiny things. Even the birds build nests and feel the weight of babies’ beaks open to the sky.
I do not live here, do not yet really live here. My house is a house full of prayers. Sitting at my altar, I touch the things I have carried with me. From the French Broad River: silken tufts of milkweed seeds bursting from their pod, and spiraling white and brown mollusks from the island that we paddled to on a misty morning when raindrops chilled my skin. Sand pours out of them as I twirl them in my fingers. From the Tennessee Valley: the rough red wood of cedar, broken blue robin’s eggs I picked up in spring, turkey feathers, horse chestnut, coiled snake skin, acorns, honey locust pod, stones from so many winding rivers, delicate hip bone of a doe, a turtle shell. Coal washed down from the Cumberland Mountains. Guinea feathers from a farm in South Georgia where it still gets dark at night, and longleaf pine cones. From the Big Island of Hawai’i: small jagged pieces of lava rock from Kilauea volcano. Compact cones of ironwood trees, the conifers that grow tall on towering ocean cliffs, swaying with the heaviness of sea and wind. Cholla skeletons and devil’s claws from the enchanted deserts of New Mexico where I would sometimes spend an everlasting winter day among rocks and cacti. An elk’s vertebrae, one section of spine that held it up. I remember how its huge body heaved in the woods where I found it dying, how it was heavy-hoofed—the sound—and I imagined its thick heart thumping underneath the fur. How quickly it fell away to nothing.
Old landscapes and maps carved into my mind, I carry the past with me.
Prayers: the earth and its creatures produce daily incantations. The endless chant of butterfly wings, cicada shells and snail shells left behind. New maps are always being made. My prayers are for things that already are, to the earth as it is, to accept the weight of being human; and also, the weightlessness, the constant change of living things; the flights and the losses.
a form of ourselves that once snaked through time,
though that form is now something of a ghost,
some long-shed skin.
The birds built their nests with my hair in spring. We are always shedding dead layers like the snakes, but we are still left with the weight of ourselves. The transformations are barely visible, so that when we see the snake again, we say “Look, it’s the black snake that lives behind the barn,” though it is only some present form of it, as when we look into the past at photographs, we see a form of ourselves that once snaked through time, though that form is now something of a ghost, some long-shed skin. People change, and we don’t.
My mind is making new maps, the brain such a changing country, where orogeny and erosion take place at alarming rates, clouds pass swiftly over the fields, seas rise and evaporate in a day. But still—the layers of sediment. Some sustaining form that flickers at the core, so that others say, when they see newly mapped Joe, “Look, there’s Joe.”
What will it feel like, finally, to be untethered? What a glorious weightlessness in the end.
I will give it all back.
Finally, I must say, “Worm, eat my flesh. Ant, feast upon my eye. Moth, unravel these fibers.”
Take back these snail shells, these eggshells, these buckeyes I have brought for luck. Take back this turtle shell I have kept for comfort, this cedar wood for its smell, these pine cones, these stones rattling in my pockets.
But I will be clutching the dirt or a blade of grass—won’t I be lying on the ground?—perhaps the hand of a loved one, or stroking some animal’s fur, saying, “Hold me. Hold me, earth, and don’t let go.”
And the earth will collect me, saying, “O weight, sweet weight, press down upon me!”