The Passage Between

By Rich Ives

ugust. A woman, who holds all women inside her, waits at my window, quietly watching the snow falling.

 

Of course not, but everyone feels it.

 

As if you can feel a knife plunging into the moon.

 

Or cattails bursting in another world.

 

Or the birth of yet another reckless heart.

 

Listen:

The wet slap of lovers’ bellies punctuates the blackbirds’ cackle, hung on the hurried air like laundry. The space these thoughts will occupy has been waiting since the first time loneliness turned physical.

 

In his private poem Farmer Johnson was speaking about something vague and untouched and still possible in this world we must live in. He wanted to give it to his beloved, as a butterfly, as a cloud, as a seed caught on the coat of a traveler, as anything you might see and say the qualities of it ought to be understandable.

But inside he had become the crowd at the high school football game, too small and screaming for injuries, wanting his sons to kill, his daughters to marry gladiators, his relatives to throw jobs at prancing heroes.

He had been thinking about this a long time, and it needed to come out.

 

She wraps her eggs in a soft silken bag. She lives in a pink tent and eats berries for breakfast. She wears a crown of daisies and carries a suitcase full of thimbles.

 

Whose heart mirrored the moist lamps of his eyes?

 

Remember when your best friend used to come over to your house and ask your mother if you could come out and play? Now it’s your body that has become the house, with a parent or two in it to say, “No, he’s got too many important things to do, and anyway, he’s too tired from not getting them done.”

Maybe your body has learned how to feel too much and found it dangerous.

 

The street was empty and he stepped into it. He passed a small red tree, and he did not try to break it. He passed a bus with its engine running and no one inside.

 

Was his life just another letter from his mother about thirst, about the fluids needed to release his exhausted experiences?

 

In a rare “secret” interview the ventriloquist, isolated, hiding from fame and Howard’s growing disillusionment, revealed that Howard the Prophet never wears white because, “White is the most painful color. Perfection is not human.”

 

A kumquat glowing softly on the red divan.

 

Someone’s future sleeping in a sneeze.

 

In the quiet of the ventriloquist’s hideaway, the story the dirty dishcloth told, as it brushed the scarred surface of the oak table, whispered the word “lamp,” and you could see something passing, reflected from the surface just as you opened your mouth to speak and forgot what you were going to say. It rested there on your tongue, awaiting another possibility. Then your body spoke and the moment passed before you could think about taking it back.

 

And the woman at the window, weeping spasmodically, the red ribbon in her hand, shaking with the contractions coursing through her hunched body, thinking about what has been left behind, how different it is now.

You thought you were avoiding an unpleasant experience with gravity.

She places the ribbon in the envelope.

Let’s go.

Some losses are healthy and do not encourage us to linger.

 

Fame arrives unexpected, and Howard the Prophet, newly also Howard the Poet, basks, but his museum, not his verse, is the reason. His new stationery reads:

 

Greetings from the World’s Greatest Collection of Sighs

 

Three persistent woodpeckers, a few small puddles of rain, some wildflowers and a patronage of sheltered dust conversing in the boneyard.

Is this the explanation for the curdled blue milk of the moon?

How do we explain the presence of such disparate elements in our new museum?

Are sighs issuing from the edges of the overlooked elements of the earth’s occupations?

How then shall we collect ourselves in them?

Perhaps we are the museum, gathering the exhibits as we begin noticing with our bodies what our minds do not find as interesting?

 

A scumble of clouds. A pile of bean dust.

 

You’re terrified. Let’s eat.

Says Howard to his silent ventriloquist.

 

No one in Woods Lake, Nebraska, seems to wonder if the missing Thomas is the ventriloquist.

Do we?

 

No one in Woods Lake, Nebraska, seemed to wonder if the missing Thomas was really the missing Howard, but then nobody had been looking for either one. They had taken to calling each other Howard when somebody said something amusing, but a little smart-assed, or when someone unexpectedly waxed poetic at an inappropriate moment. Neither did anyone wonder why The World’s Greatest Collection of Sighs was located just outside of this particular town.

 

For dessert the neighbor’s shadow grinned open. It turned and ate itself.

Another day, another haughty dollop of rainbeast.

 

Another dog and another scarecrow, still discussing the wind where no one can hear them, but the insects and the sunlight don’t hesitate to interrupt them. A lot was going on in the cornfield that refused to stay predictable.

 

Followed by the questionable sound the belly of a shadow makes.

 

The longest sigh in The World’s Greatest Collection of Sighs belongs to a woman identified only as Desirée. Her sigh begins, “Friends, I have come here to be normal . . .” It’s not funny, and the mere existence of the door to her sigh was once enough to keep her from entering, but behind the mask, her mistakes were brilliant.

It should not be a question of desire, her sigh continues. Desire should be the given. As you listen to her speak from the recording in the museum, it’s easy to imagine her lips full but not pouting. But it’s hard to imagine such an exact despair, as if she were describing a building and had said 48 windows with exactly 17 broken, and described the precise color and number of rags stuffed in the corners of the broken glass panes.

This is where you were in the recording when you left. Not many of us can accept the entire sigh in a single sitting. When you come back, you will learn that her lover was not a man who could read women, and he left her, and he made a foolishly useless conciliatory gesture that would not go away. It stayed uselessly in his life and hers, waiting to do something helpful, like a chair left out in a field for the right passing storm to sit upon.

He had left her and he succeeded without her and he grew sad. He told her this, and it’s easy to imagine how he repents often in his opulent crushed-velvet confessional, the one he had built to hold his grief. He was no longer the same man, and she had become a place beyond innocence with the eyes of warm milk. Corsets of swept air flared his lungs tight each time he remembered her. He told her this and he was not the same.

 

Perhaps it never happened, but you are saddened by it all the same. Just as the angels are saddened by what is missing in their own creations. The snow rests on its way to the river before them, one more layer of fur between them and the animal of the earth they long to regain.

 

On one of those nights when it was raining, Thomas had the desire to go out into that wet darkness. He has done this before, but he does not remember it, and this time he does not intend to walk through it, but into it.

 

Worship with your tongue. It’s an instrument of reason. Worship with the tiniest hairs at the back of your knee. These clues are forgotten by the angels. Worship with the glove of your need. This is your body, and it does not know you. You must learn to wear it. Take it with you to what you learn again. Remember how it taught you. Teach it what you have learned to think about it. Let it tell you when thought is a physical thing.

 

Thomas places the red ribbon of his tongue upon the other two, his family of absence, a gathering of his losses, complete now, as two of the three ribbons change slowly to white, the third held in the harsh twist of reason’s necessary struggle.

 

Because angels may be confused by the dreams that created them.

Because the human animal may decide it too is a dream and not know how it came to that.

Because a dream and a thought are both rooms in which you must live.

 

Because angels do not lack gender just because a few humans have not completed their dreaming.

 

Not from the seed to the planter, not from dream to dream, but from dreamer to dreamer.

 

Someone stops you on the street and asks, “Who are you?” You answer and someone says, “I thought you were killed in that accident. I thought you were someone else.”

You are.

On the way home you are involved in an accident in which someone is killed. Afterwards, someone stops you on the street and says . . .

 

Howard the Prophet achieves his measure of fame although Howard the Poet does not. The funny thing to Howard the Poet about Howard the Prophet is that so many people believe him literally. Soon his local predictions of success in business, failure in love and mysterious encounters with tall dark strangers begin to seem tame.

So Howard the Prophet predicts disaster. No particulars. An all-encompassing phenomenon. Too many people believe him. Perhaps they have been deeply illuminated by the poetry, which underlies his predictions? We think not. Perhaps they have been living lives of quiet desperation and find his predictions entirely consistent with the expectations of those lives? More likely, but they have always been that way. What’s different now? We do not know.

The government is forced to respond. The Government is not used to responding. Most governments aren’t though perhaps they once were. Neither is Government familiar with all-encompassing possibilities. Perhaps we should not expect this of Government since sufficient familiarity with possibilities might obviate the need for government. Nor is Government used to prophets who are believed, particularly wooden ones. Even the best fully-fleshed prophets are generally found merely entertaining.

Still, guidelines must be prepared to cover all contingencies. That is what Government does. Confidence must be inspired without ignoring the danger. Government is functioning. Government will provide us with the information we need in order to accept what we cannot change.

Let us witness the government:

 

Officially Approved Statements

to Be Delivered in Case of Emergency

 

1. We are experiencing some difficulty in defining the problem, but we are certain now that it has arrived, it will not go away.

2. We do this, of course, for your own good, as we have done those things that led to this.

3. We fully expect the phenomenon from the North, but it may come from the East, West or South. We cannot be held responsible for this. Our predictions are not infallible. They are the only ones available. As once were the predictions that preceded them.

4. We have placed detection devices in appropriate locations. We have also placed detection devices in inappropriate locations, for your further safety.

5. We cannot promise adequate warning, but we promise if survival occurs, you will have no difficulty comprehending when the crisis is over.

6. Some of you suffering certain common ailments will be the first to experience the advent. We sympathize with your discomfort. We urge you to notify your neighbors of the phenomenon’s imminence when your ailments accelerate. Please do not notify us. We already know.

7. Brochures describing certain elements of this mostly unknown phenomenon will be mailed to affected areas. Since postal service may be disrupted by the phenomenon, we cannot guarantee they will arrive.

8. Some basic elements of the instructions we are striving with utmost expediency to formulate have been determined and can be released immediately. They include:

     A. Do not take refuge in cardboard or wooden boxes.

     B. Do not pass before mirrors.

     C. Do not attempt to read instructional materials in dim light.

     D. Allow several minutes for full assimilation of instructional materials. Disorientation is to be expected.

     E. Act immediately upon the conclusions reached by following these simple guidelines, in accordance with further instructions to be issued at a later date in the event of survival by as yet undetermined surviving agencies.

9. Artificial light may not be available during the phenomenon. In any case, relatively speaking, this is unlikely to be your most serious problem.

10. Receivers will soon become widely available at a modest price. In the event of the arrival of the phenomenon, instructions for their use will be distributed.

11. If your receiver breaks down before receiving instructions, do not panic. Instructions for the repair of receivers will be mailed following the dissemination of instructions for their use.

12. We realize that unattainable goals have been set, and we are now in the process of developing a plan for further enhancement. This process is expected to take time, but a plan for processing the streamlining of the process will soon be initiated.

13. No one expects you to be heroic.

14. We wish you all lived in protected areas. This is not possible. It would be helpful if you would stop calling the authorities. They are already busy attempting to answer the questions they expect you to ask. We wish we could help you more directly and individually, but you may be clogging the limited communications facilities. Please desist. Others may be in greater need of assistance than you are. It would be irresponsible of us to give your potential concerns priority over their probable losses.

 

March 12, 1934. Thomas the Elder perched on a stone, considering his recent birth and fatherhood. If only he could have had a childhood himself. Couldn’t he just imagine one?

Perhaps his son could help as he gets older.

But Thomas the Elder believes he will always be the father that doesn’t exist in his son’s world. He is not the “father” Thomas’ mother could not bring herself to leave. He ponders his incompleteness, considering how what he has yet to learn follows so closely what his son has to learn. Why is he so slow at it? And if this son is getting a childhood after all, then perhaps someday his son could tell him what it was like, perhaps they could share childhoods, as all fathers and sons do.

Already Thomas the Elder feels pain for what is not there. He doesn’t know that some of this pain comes from before he was an angel. He doesn’t know that it is necessary to remember this. He has been avoiding it.

 

August 18, 1932. Folded, there was little more than a thin ridge under each shoulder blade, and the feathers fit so neatly against one another they appeared seamless. The dirt and the bruises were more obvious. His hair hung down in ropes of drying mud.

A killdeer called further down the mudflats and cutthroat trout began jumping after insects fallen to the river’s keening flow from grasses overhanging the cut-bank where a doe and two fawns were passing. A red-tailed hawk held nearly motionless in the air above the meadow. Still, the angel did not move.

A cloud passed in front of the sun and the angel shivered, the crosswind lifting the dirty feathers behind him and letting them fall back again. The cloud quickly passed and slowly, the creature moved to the water, limping, and began cleaning away the mud and leaves clinging to his fallen body. He moved gracefully in long arching reaches, as if performing some kind of ritual, or as if taking great care to leave as little evidence as possible.

Voices drifted over the meadow from across the river. By then, the creature was gone.

 

Thomas the Elder flexed his shoulders, a brief spasm of forgetfulness. When he did not ascend, he stood and walked slowly, thoughtfully, with great effort across the field, planting his feet one and one and one more, his whole body waking now, wracked with the deep muscular sobs unknown to the other angels.

The field, turned under, waited, empty and without instructions, for whatever might be capable of inhabiting it.

 

Thomas at the mailbox. Thomas at the stairs. Thomas combing his thinning hair and Thomas greeting a lost dog he does not realize is lost. But which Thomas? If the child is father to the man, must the man be father to the child?

 

Will the real Thomas please rise?

 

Until the angel has forgotten. Until the angel’s birth is complete.

Perhaps it’s only a childhood that does not appear to be a childhood.

 

Thomas the Elder dressing for work. Thomas taking his vitamins and herbs. Thomas boiling water for dinner and Thomas brushing his teeth. The dull repetitive routines a human performs with little thought that might once have held interest, if only briefly, if only in passing. These are the great, discovered pleasures of a fallen angel forgetting he was an angel.

 

Thomas the Elder resting on a park bench. Thomas buying a coffee cup. Thomas stopping at a stop sign, and Thomas parking between the lines.

 

Thomas the Younger picks up the white feather that has fallen ever so slowly from a coat he does not recognize in his mother’s closet. He does not understand why the feather causes him pain.

 

How long does it take to reach the earth?

 

How long must we wait to understand our fathers? How long will the world beneath our feet continue sighing as we pass?

 

Do we make the world what it is by waking or does the world make us what we are by dreaming? If the other word for “angel” cannot be spoken, then perhaps the memory it leaves is the passage between.

 

___

Rich Ives has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. His writing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, Fiction Daily and many more. He is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander. His story collection, The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking, was one of five finalists for the 2009 Starcherone Innovative Fiction Prize. In 2010 he has been a finalist in fiction at Black Warrior Review and Mississippi Review and in poetry at Mississippi Review. In both 2011 and 2012 he is again a finalist in poetry at Mississippi Review, as well as receiving a nomination for The Best of the Web and two nominations for both the Pushcart Prize and The Best of the Net. He is the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. The Spring 2011 Bitter Oleander contains a feature including an interview and 18 of his hybrid works.

August. A woman, who holds all women inside her, waits at my window, quietly watching the snow falling.

 

   Of course not, but everyone feels it.

 

   As if you can feel a knife plunging into the moon.

 

   Or cattails bursting in another world.

 

   Or the birth of yet another reckless heart.

 

   Listen:

   The wet slap of lovers’ bellies punctuates the blackbirds’ cackle, hung on the hurried air like laundry. The space these thoughts will occupy has been waiting since the first time loneliness turned physical.

 

   In his private poem Farmer Johnson was speaking about something vague and untouched and still possible in this world we must live in. He wanted to give it to his beloved, as a butterfly, as a cloud, as a seed caught on the coat of a traveler, as anything you might see and say the qualities of it ought to be understandable.

   But inside he had become the crowd at the high school football game, too small and screaming for injuries, wanting his sons to kill, his daughters to marry gladiators, his relatives to throw jobs at prancing heroes.

   He had been thinking about this a long time, and it needed to come out.

 

   She wraps her eggs in a soft silken bag. She lives in a pink tent and eats berries for breakfast. She wears a crown of daisies and carries a suitcase full of thimbles.

 

   Whose heart mirrored the moist lamps of his eyes?

 

   Remember when your best friend used to come over to your house and ask your mother if you could come out and play? Now it’s your body that has become the house, with a parent or two in it to say, “No, he’s got too many important things to do, and anyway, he’s too tired from not getting them done.”

   Maybe your body has learned how to feel too much and found it dangerous.

 

   The street was empty and he stepped into it. He passed a small red tree, and he did not try to break it. He passed a bus with its engine running and no one inside.

 

   Was his life just another letter from his mother about thirst, about the fluids needed to release his exhausted experiences?

 

   In a rare “secret” interview the ventriloquist, isolated, hiding from fame and Howard’s growing disillusionment, revealed that Howard the Prophet never wears white because, “White is the most painful color. Perfection is not human.”

 

   A kumquat glowing softly on the red divan.

 

   Someone’s future sleeping in a sneeze.

 

   In the quiet of the ventriloquist’s hideaway, the story the dirty dishcloth told, as it brushed the scarred surface of the oak table, whispered the word “lamp,” and you could see something passing, reflected from the surface just as you opened your mouth to speak and forgot what you were going to say. It rested there on your tongue, awaiting another possibility. Then your body spoke and the moment passed before you could think about taking it back.

 

   And the woman at the window, weeping spasmodically, the red ribbon in her hand, shaking with the contractions coursing through her hunched body, thinking about what has been left behind, how different it is now.

   You thought you were avoiding an unpleasant experience with gravity.

   She places the ribbon in the envelope.

   Let’s go.

   Some losses are healthy and do not encourage us to linger.

 

   Fame arrives unexpected, and Howard the Prophet, newly also Howard the Poet, basks, but his museum, not his verse, is the reason. His new stationery reads:

 

Greetings from the World’s Greatest Collection of Sighs

 

   Three persistent woodpeckers, a few small puddles of rain, some wildflowers and a patronage of sheltered dust conversing in the boneyard.

   Is this the explanation for the curdled blue milk of the moon?

   How do we explain the presence of such disparate elements in our new museum?

   Are sighs issuing from the edges of the overlooked elements of the earth’s occupations?

   How then shall we collect ourselves in them?

   Perhaps we are the museum, gathering the exhibits as we begin noticing with our bodies what our minds do not find as interesting?

 

   A scumble of clouds. A pile of bean dust.

 

   You’re terrified. Let’s eat.

   Says Howard to his silent ventriloquist.

 

   No one in Woods Lake, Nebraska, seems to wonder if the missing Thomas is the ventriloquist.

   Do we?

 

   No one in Woods Lake, Nebraska, seemed to wonder if the missing Thomas was really the missing Howard, but then nobody had been looking for either one. They had taken to calling each other Howard when somebody said something amusing, but a little smart-assed, or when someone unexpectedly waxed poetic at an inappropriate moment. Neither did anyone wonder why The World’s Greatest Collection of Sighs was located just outside of this particular town.

 

   For dessert the neighbor’s shadow grinned open. It turned and ate itself.

   Another day, another haughty dollop of rainbeast.

 

   Another dog and another scarecrow, still discussing the wind where no one can hear them, but the insects and the sunlight don’t hesitate to interrupt them. A lot was going on in the cornfield that refused to stay predictable.

 

   Followed by the questionable sound the belly of a shadow makes.

 

   The longest sigh in The World’s Greatest Collection of Sighs belongs to a woman identified only as Desirée. Her sigh begins, “Friends, I have come here to be normal . . .” It’s not funny, and the mere existence of the door to her sigh was once enough to keep her from entering, but behind the mask, her mistakes were brilliant.

   It should not be a question of desire, her sigh continues. Desire should be the given. As you listen to her speak from the recording in the museum, it’s easy to imagine her lips full but not pouting. But it’s hard to imagine such an exact despair, as if she were describing a building and had said 48 windows with exactly 17 broken, and described the precise color and number of rags stuffed in the corners of the broken glass panes.

   This is where you were in the recording when you left. Not many of us can accept the entire sigh in a single sitting. When you come back, you will learn that her lover was not a man who could read women, and he left her, and he made a foolishly useless conciliatory gesture that would not go away. It stayed uselessly in his life and hers, waiting to do something helpful, like a chair left out in a field for the right passing storm to sit upon.

   He had left her and he succeeded without her and he grew sad. He told her this, and it’s easy to imagine how he repents often in his opulent crushed-velvet confessional, the one he had built to hold his grief. He was no longer the same man, and she had become a place beyond innocence with the eyes of warm milk. Corsets of swept air flared his lungs tight each time he remembered her. He told her this and he was not the same.

 

   Perhaps it never happened, but you are saddened by it all the same. Just as the angels are saddened by what is missing in their own creations. The snow rests on its way to the river before them, one more layer of fur between them and the animal of the earth they long to regain.

 

   On one of those nights when it was raining, Thomas had the desire to go out into that wet darkness. He has done this before, but he does not remember it, and this time he does not intend to walk through it, but into it.

 

   Worship with your tongue. It’s an instrument of reason. Worship with the tiniest hairs at the back of your knee. These clues are forgotten by the angels. Worship with the glove of your need. This is your body, and it does not know you. You must learn to wear it. Take it with you to what you learn again. Remember how it taught you. Teach it what you have learned to think about it. Let it tell you when thought is a physical thing.

 

   Thomas places the red ribbon of his tongue upon the other two, his family of absence, a gathering of his losses, complete now, as two of the three ribbons change slowly to white, the third held in the harsh twist of reason’s necessary struggle.

 

   Because angels may be confused by the dreams that created them.

   Because the human animal may decide it too is a dream and not know how it came to that.

   Because a dream and a thought are both rooms in which you must live.

 

   Because angels do not lack gender just because a few humans have not completed their dreaming.

 

   Not from the seed to the planter, not from dream to dream, but from dreamer to dreamer.

 

   Someone stops you on the street and asks, “Who are you?” You answer and someone says, “I thought you were killed in that accident. I thought you were someone else.”

   You are.

   On the way home you are involved in an accident in which someone is killed. Afterwards, someone stops you on the street and says . . .

 

   Howard the Prophet achieves his measure of fame although Howard the Poet does not. The funny thing to Howard the Poet about Howard the Prophet is that so many people believe him literally. Soon his local predictions of success in business, failure in love and mysterious encounters with tall dark strangers begin to seem tame.

   So Howard the Prophet predicts disaster. No particulars. An all-encompassing phenomenon. Too many people believe him. Perhaps they have been deeply illuminated by the poetry, which underlies his predictions? We think not. Perhaps they have been living lives of quiet desperation and find his predictions entirely consistent with the expectations of those lives? More likely, but they have always been that way. What’s different now? We do not know.

   The government is forced to respond. The Government is not used to responding. Most governments aren’t though perhaps they once were. Neither is Government familiar with all-encompassing possibilities. Perhaps we should not expect this of Government since sufficient familiarity with possibilities might obviate the need for government. Nor is Government used to prophets who are believed, particularly wooden ones. Even the best fully-fleshed prophets are generally found merely entertaining.

   Still, guidelines must be prepared to cover all contingencies. That is what Government does. Confidence must be inspired without ignoring the danger. Government is functioning. Government will provide us with the information we need in order to accept what we cannot change.

   Let us witness the government:

 

Officially Approved Statements

to Be Delivered in Case of Emergency

 

1. We are experiencing some difficulty in defining the problem, but we are certain now that it has arrived, it will not go away.

 

2. We do this, of course, for your own good, as we have done those things that led to this.

 

3. We fully expect the phenomenon from the North, but it may come from the East, West or South. We cannot be held responsible for this. Our predictions are not infallible. They are the only ones available. As once were the predictions that preceded them.

 

4. We have placed detection devices in appropriate locations. We have also placed detection devices in inappropriate locations, for your further safety.

 

5. We cannot promise adequate warning, but we promise if survival occurs, you will have no difficulty comprehending when the crisis is over.

 

6. Some of you suffering certain common ailments will be the first to experience the advent. We sympathize with your discomfort. We urge you to notify your neighbors of the phenomenon’s imminence when your ailments accelerate. Please do not notify us. We already know.

 

7. Brochures describing certain elements of this mostly unknown phenomenon will be mailed to affected areas. Since postal service may be disrupted by the phenomenon, we cannot guarantee they will arrive.

 

8. Some basic elements of the instructions we are striving with utmost expediency to formulate have been determined and can be released immediately. They include:

 

     A. Do not take refuge in cardboard or wooden boxes.

     B. Do not pass before mirrors.

     C. Do not attempt to read instructional materials in dim light.

     D. Allow several minutes for full assimilation of instructional materials. Disorientation is to be expected.

     E. Act immediately upon the conclusions reached by following these simple guidelines, in accordance with further instructions to be issued at a later date in the event of survival by as yet undetermined surviving agencies.

 

9. Artificial light may not be available during the phenomenon. In any case, relatively speaking, this is unlikely to be your most serious problem.

 

10. Receivers will soon become widely available at a modest price. In the event of the arrival of the phenomenon, instructions for their use will be distributed.

 

11. If your receiver breaks down before receiving instructions, do not panic. Instructions for the repair of receivers will be mailed following the dissemination of instructions for their use.

 

12. We realize that unattainable goals have been set, and we are now in the process of developing a plan for further enhancement. This process is expected to take time, but a plan for processing the streamlining of the process will soon be initiated.

 

13. No one expects you to be heroic.

 

14. We wish you all lived in protected areas. This is not possible. It would be helpful if you would stop calling the authorities. They are already busy attempting to answer the questions they expect you to ask. We wish we could help you more directly and individually, but you may be clogging the limited communications facilities. Please desist. Others may be in greater need of assistance than you are. It would be irresponsible of us to give your potential concerns priority over their probable losses.

 

   March 12, 1934. Thomas the Elder perched on a stone, considering his recent birth and fatherhood. If only he could have had a childhood himself. Couldn’t he just imagine one?

   Perhaps his son could help as he gets older.

   But Thomas the Elder believes he will always be the father that doesn’t exist in his son’s world. He is not the “father” Thomas’ mother could not bring herself to leave. He ponders his incompleteness, considering how what he has yet to learn follows so closely what his son has to learn. Why is he so slow at it? And if this son is getting a childhood after all, then perhaps someday his son could tell him what it was like, perhaps they could share childhoods, as all fathers and sons do.

   Already Thomas the Elder feels pain for what is not there. He doesn’t know that some of this pain comes from before he was an angel. He doesn’t know that it is necessary to remember this. He has been avoiding it.

 

   August 18, 1932. Folded, there was little more than a thin ridge under each shoulder blade, and the feathers fit so neatly against one another they appeared seamless. The dirt and the bruises were more obvious. His hair hung down in ropes of drying mud.

   A killdeer called further down the mudflats and cutthroat trout began jumping after insects fallen to the river’s keening flow from grasses overhanging the cut-bank where a doe and two fawns were passing. A red-tailed hawk held nearly motionless in the air above the meadow. Still, the angel did not move.

   A cloud passed in front of the sun and the angel shivered, the crosswind lifting the dirty feathers behind him and letting them fall back again. The cloud quickly passed and slowly, the creature moved to the water, limping, and began cleaning away the mud and leaves clinging to his fallen body. He moved gracefully in long arching reaches, as if performing some kind of ritual, or as if taking great care to leave as little evidence as possible.

   Voices drifted over the meadow from across the river. By then, the creature was gone.

 

   Thomas the Elder flexed his shoulders, a brief spasm of forgetfulness. When he did not ascend, he stood and walked slowly, thoughtfully, with great effort across the field, planting his feet one and one and one more, his whole body waking now, wracked with the deep muscular sobs unknown to the other angels.

   The field, turned under, waited, empty and without instructions, for whatever might be capable of inhabiting it.

 

   Thomas at the mailbox. Thomas at the stairs. Thomas combing his thinning hair and Thomas greeting a lost dog he does not realize is lost. But which Thomas? If the child is father to the man, must the man be father to the child?

 

   Will the real Thomas please rise?

 

   Until the angel has forgotten. Until the angel’s birth is complete.

   Perhaps it’s only a childhood that does not appear to be a childhood.

 

   Thomas the Elder dressing for work. Thomas taking his vitamins and herbs. Thomas boiling water for dinner and Thomas brushing his teeth. The dull repetitive routines a human performs with little thought that might once have held interest, if only briefly, if only in passing. These are the great, discovered pleasures of a fallen angel forgetting he was an angel.

 

   Thomas the Elder resting on a park bench. Thomas buying a coffee cup. Thomas stopping at a stop sign, and Thomas parking between the lines.

 

   Thomas the Younger picks up the white feather that has fallen ever so slowly from a coat he does not recognize in his mother’s closet. He does not understand why the feather causes him pain.

 

   How long does it take to reach the earth?

 

   How long must we wait to understand our fathers? How long will the world beneath our feet continue sighing as we pass?

 

   Do we make the world what it is by waking or does the world make us what we are by dreaming? If the other word for “angel” cannot be spoken, then perhaps the memory it leaves is the passage between.

___

Rich Ives has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. His writing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, Fiction Daily and many more. He is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander. His story collection, The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking, was one of five finalists for the 2009 Starcherone Innovative Fiction Prize. In 2010 he has been a finalist in fiction at Black Warrior Review and Mississippi Review and in poetry at Mississippi Review. In both 2011 and 2012 he is again a finalist in poetry at Mississippi Review, as well as receiving a nomination for The Best of the Web and two nominations for both the Pushcart Prize and The Best of the Net. He is the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. The Spring 2011 Bitter Oleander contains a feature including an interview and 18 of his hybrid works.


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