We love our God and so we love his sister, too. Our God has placed us in his pocket, curled us inside his warm hand. We, so suddenly torn from our mother, still missing her belly and warmth, sing his praises as we pile in his palm to fall. Good Lord who gave us life, Good Lord who will take us into the world and bring us safely home again.
We say cheerful goodbyes to our brothers and sisters, pinch and kiss their cheeks. One by one, he plucks us all away, drops us into the wide forest. Young ones, he beams at us and we adore him, my kin. Our God tells us to sit vast inches apart and wait. We do not take this easily, the aloneness. We look to each other, but cannot move to touch. So he has whispered to us and so we believe.
When the Lord returns to gather us up, mother will pull us greedily into her arms! She will marvel at everything we’ve seen, beg us never to leave her again.
But oh, these three arduous trials we do not expect.
First comes the wind, which blows us to and fro like feathers. It sends dust and dirt upon our soft skin, leaves our faces smudged and weatherworn; we can hardly tell our own brothers and sisters from rocks. We push up over tall twigs and mounds, rolling back to our places again. Breathless and matted, we rejoice this overcoming, the tin of its taste, the stories we have to tell.
Oh, then come the woodlarks with their talons and beaks, their sharp-swift dives that take our heads before we know to hide or scream. Their wings unfurl to eclipse the sun, cast a blind black chill before they strike. We raise our voices and sing to our Lord, save us, as the birds circle and caw, pilfering us for their children’s mouths. The trees, after many repetitions of our song, take pity—push their leaves thickly together and shield us from view. Our God has placed some of us in brush and some of us in wide open sun. We accept that some of us he has chosen to die. We thank the Lord for his wisdom in this, that the birds might sate themselves and retreat before eating us all.
The night drapes down over the trees and grass. We, weary and wanting only to sleep, begin to slump our shoulders down into the earth. At last, the mice peek their heads out from their burrows. They scurry to us in the quiet way mice do, tickle us with their little paws and yank us, sleeping, into their mouths.
Too tired, now, to sing, and too few, when the black slips behind the mountain, revealing gold and blue in the sky. So few of us left and our God walking past us, kicking us like pebbles, his sister bringing raindrops upon our backs. We shout joyously to him, our tall promiser covered in sun, and he does not answer, only cries out falsely that we have gone. We have waited here, we say, our voices urgent as he shrinks. Can’t you see us, we have waited here.
Our God, disappeared now for three moons and four suns. Our bodies crumbling in the soil. Good Hänsel who gave us life, we sing, our mouths scattered across the forest.
The Sun Makes Daughters Everywhere
I think of the last time my daughters were my daughters. They were growing from my hip. My leg. My elbow. I was gurgling daughters—that’s how filled with song I was.
“Daughters!” I called to them, my mouth opened wide to keep their bodies unruffled. A new one started growing from my teeth. My jaw ached until it felt strange to have it closed.
“More,” they replied, one at a time. A chorus of want. They replied this way even when I had said nothing at all. They took turns reaching their toes toward the warm window like xylophones. They brushed each other’s hair. Their combs rang metallic and swift as chimes. My shimmering daughters. I couldn’t see for their growing bodies, had a spine bent from their growing bodies, my mouth opening in one long yawn. They squirmed and cried around me in a constant rustle. Their sounds and shirt-tugging. I was always so distracted, always petting their heads, singing them to sleep in my gurgling, open-mouthed way.
So you’ll see how sudden it was when I realized what had happened—as though something had been missing for a long time. The shock made me blind. How could anybody lose a daughter and not know it? But I had. I could feel the air on the side of my neck. An empty space where a body had been.
I knew at once I would lose them all. Call it fear or intuition; they’re both the same. I woke up to find a daughter missing from my shoulder blade. Then another from my second to last toe. Each loss was a sudden quiet. I lost some before I could name them and others when they were large enough to tilt me to the side. I made more of them as quickly as I could, I filled the silence with hums, but my daughters cut away from me until I hadn’t the energy left. My back was twisted and my body in postpartum lumps. I was very thirsty from all the work. Scars covered my body like brown knobs.
Could scars be daughters? The hands don’t understand why I am asking this. They move me to the other side of the room. It’s better for me here, they said; too much light makes me wild. They place my pretty young daughters in the window, all in a row. They can’t reach each other’s hair. They twist like strums. The morning is exactly like the evening. I count my daughters from memory, whispering their names. I get a different number every time and I wonder which I forgot. I open my mouth knowing it can be closed again. My hands grow too long, as though they might reach something. I lick the edges of my lips, expecting salt. My tongue drums over every tooth. For the first time, I am thinking percussively. I know exactly what to do. My arms are tangled and slow, but lengthening.
Rumpus original art by Lisa Lee Herrick