Sheldon Lee Compton

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.