The dotted dirt floor around Psyche’s feet pulled me into a story of another’s trials. I held the image of my love for a few seconds, and then I turned away, turned back to the stories of childhood. Even my non-human childhood held stories, for we always wanted to understand how human minds worked.
Once upon a time, a girl
came out of the closet of her room,
the broom already in hand,
the dustpan hanging like a charm, clanging
against the metal band around the smaller
straw hand broom hooked to the rough rope
serving as her belt. What does one need
to understand this picture? There were seeds spilled across the otherwise perfectly swept brick floor. As a child, I stopped my mother in the course of her reading it to me, right here, right at the picture, a double-spread bleeding across two pages, book stitches in the brickwork of the chimney. The girl with the hem of her skirt in tatters, the girl pondering the work.
I edged away from stories and books. I flew above living pictures and through open windows and never saw a girl quite like that one in the book of fairy tales. I began to imagine that no such person existed, that the story was false, that all stories are false. The book’s cover split with the changing of the seasons, and silverfish swam in the falseness of the yellowing pages.
And now I am drowning in story. I dove deep into her rescue and became the hero between the pages. Our life revealed the conflict essential to the continuance of the myth. Her journey is the pattern of a life throughout time. I must have known this when I was five or six. When I pondered that three-color picture, I didn’t know to ask: What does one need
To sort the seeds? What tools?
She had two brooms and a dustpan.
She had the willingness to work hard,
Good eyesight, the strong knees
And lungs of youth—and perhaps
Most important of all—the experience
Of loss rupturing innocence.
What did I know of loss until Psyche? There is a cynicism that some of us wear to hide the knowledge that we are intact. We haven’t experienced loss. We wear the badge of our completeness, obsessively self-aware like Doric columns defining the entrance to a building lacking ornamentation.
The seeds in the picture might as well have been ants or pebbles or splatters of paint. I could not distinguish what they meant as seeds, nor as anything else. Yet, when I sat on the window ledge yesterday and looked past the fading light of the day to the image of Psyche at my mother’s side, I could tell they were seeds. I even knew where they came from.
Last night, I flew from the window and walked into the forest. I found the cow parsley, growing taller than I, its weedy white heads framing a pond long since abandoned by man and animal. I rubbed one of the dead flowers in my hand and the seeds trickled across my palm.
I put the seeds into a small leather bag and continued around the pond. Over the ridge was a heath, only marked by small deer trails zigzagging along the edges and trailing from pond to the cover of deeper forest. The combined sounds of night and the singers of the night rose around me so that I could no longer hear the tips of my wings raking against the heather. When I crossed the heath, the seeds clung to my feathers. I brushed some into the bag and left the rest to fall on their own.
Near the road leading into the town of Psyche’s abandonment, a hazel tree grew in its crooked way, dusty and beckoning near a ditch. That long ago storybook girl knelt at a tree like this, a tree like this her mother was buried under. Doves dipped their wings beside the blossoms and held on tight to the tiny branches. Fallen flower petals dotted the grass beneath the tree, a picture not unlike that of the seeds on the hearth. There is a way of looking at things, of listening to the souls of those who set them in motion that alters our perspective.
Perhaps our lives are abandoned
To the tools that echo our presence
Into being. What did she have at birth?
A voice. A hunger. An ability to fill
And evacuate. A sense of the tunneling
Of another’s life through her own.
Was it the contrast of life before and after her mother that held me to that story? The story that held onto me. And so many others that may be holding you . . . motherless children–the girl with ebony hair and white skin, the girl spinning straw in the prince’s basement, the boy escaping in his raft to the Mississippi River, the boy with the lightning scar on his forehead, the child in the cinders and the boy from Tintagel and the girl wandering to Carter Hall, the girl traded for the theft of a rose.
Where am I in these stories, and where is Psyche? Where are you? How will I know which story to continue to hold onto? I sort the versions and note their similarities. I have come to the road that leads me to those who gave her to me, though they didn’t know they were doing so. What do we give ourselves to when we have been abandoned, when we abandon the first draft of our lives?
Would I even think these stories odd if I also had no mother?
Taking care not to trample the hazel blossoms, I left the road and continued across the grass. My wings ached to fly. My body remembered the earthly attraction of tender clover under my feet, the perfume of a grasshopper’s wings at knee level, the sudden rustle of rabbits and lizards at my approach.
I jumped over a small tree felled by the last storm, and the leather bag fell to the ground, the seeds spilled out in a pile. A breeze swept them up and swirled them into a miniature tornado that lingered beside me and waited somehow for me to interpret it.
Once upon a time, a girl was born or you were. You flooded the world with the question of yourself, your toes even curled into the mark of your coming, the entrance the end of a sentence your parents began.
Your fingers met your toes and said hello. The girl played in the creek behind the house and caught minnows in her cupped hands and let them go. You played with moon, who spoke to you with its shadows and light when you lay in the grass of your front lawn or the bedroom of your childhood.
I spoke what I felt and didn’t know what that meant. The girl laughed at her mother’s jokes. You smiled when you caught the red ball. She cried when no one understood, not even those closest to her. I wanted to break free. You stayed out after curfew because you couldn’t stop kissing the lips of the one who was reshaping your world.
You left home. You came back. You left home. Others left you. The girl spoke her last words to the woman of the doves, the last words the woman would hear. I wanted something that I couldn’t imagine. The girl lost her father who still slept ten feet down the hall. You did the work that found you.
I have never done the work that is mine. I am just beginning. The girl had to hack dreams out of rodents and barn wood to escape. She will never escape what her body remembers. You will never escape what your past became, even from that moment when your thumb was saying hello to your toes.
Separate the stories from the life and . . . I dare you . . . separate the stories from the life. I had a love affair with the end of days, and that was where I went wrong. You are reclaiming that root wrapped around the seed, around the rock, around the bit of glass, around the skeleton of the mole because you are seeing the parts, and you are seeing . . . the parts.
The girl wore only one pair of shoes for the rest of her life—orange house slippers, worn, warm, molded to her feet as sure as magic.