Fall Gently in the Gray Woods of Our Death
Even if we had the leaves, could we? If all the leaves and these branches like veins were ours, we could. Cover us with them and we could lay so flat the wind couldn’t touch our heads, and the beetles might carry us away. It could be like this, the carrying, the laying, the leaves placed by the hand of God with our bodies, the easy hands of God gouging our lips.
A snort, somewhere in the treeline, outside the dark into a deeper blackness, outside where my eyes can see. Maybe a deer, maybe not. Hard rain soaked everything less than an hour ago, and the ground holds water. The earth moved downward by fractions, to the north by still more fractions, and the air was cold in all the wet. We talked here beneath this tree that rotted inside a long time ago but still seems alive, like we seem alive, but offers shade in its false death. It offered shade then, too, and we took it in, our hearts moving behind bone, bone standing sure behind skin. We talked of the vast hardness of being alive and wished for a death by lightning and thunder and dark clouds smothering us. And, by hell, we still lived and went each to our own places, covering our own distance and moving away from each other with smiles and blood flow only to come back to each other to create more great, sagging faces. You were sure you could change me, see me become less stupid and harder working, a better parent, a harder man, a softer man, an absentee parent, less provocative, not someone who made you control me the way the storm controls the condition of the ground and moves the skin of the earth across its bones. Not like that, like the snorting, unnamed animal vexed in the dark by the scent of hopelessness. I made you want to feel less, to fell nothing. I made you want to become steel and wire and plastic and wood and rock and I made you want evolution at high speed so you could disappear naturally and without fault or blame or guilt. A snorting and shifting eases my racing heart and if only it has teeth and is hungry this will be over as quickly as a sip of cold water across a broken tooth. I will become gray again for you here in the woods, and the blushing of my angry color will never return to blind you.
I control my breathing and hide from you that I can, and will always forever. I have become expertly capable of hiding, losing myself in drawers and behind houses, beneath the earth inside a hollowed out pine.
Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of two collections, The Same Terrible Storm and Where Alligators Sleep, and the forthcoming novella Brown Bottle. He survives in Kentucky.