A Million Reasons Images by Barbara Michelman and text by Charles Finn
On a Benediction of Wind
On a benediction of wind, they watched the cranes leave, and their feelings reached to each other, like minds of migratory birds communing. Above them the sky, abundant, would stop not at nothing. He turned to her, and she said, “Jettison everything.” Oh, but what will be left of us, once we leave? A house? On a hill? Maybe some wood smoke? Or our hearts, full of longing, as the sky is of wind? “Don’t laugh,” he said, “Life is no narrow business,” as she laughed, tossing her most trusted fears, like pennies into the sea. He watched the tide recede, leaving her ankles, her toes. “Wash the axle grease of Now from your hands,” she said, “Take hold! Together we shall strike out for the northernmost territories of love.” He watched the tide come back in. “Like the cranes?” he asked, “Like the wild geese?”
For Each Thing, Once.
In the morning, three sandhill cranes, gray, against a gray sky, and the shorn blonde hayfields below them. Black Angus cattle in the far field, and a red barn slouching against hills of tamarack lit like candles, incandescent, burning between stands of white pine, fir, and ponderosa, wet from last night’s rain. In the ditch, cattails gone to seed, and coyote hunting nose down along the barbwire fence where plastic grocery bags hang. “Gone,” he said, putting a hand on her shoulder, “The redwing blackbirds, the yellow-headed blackbirds, the tiny mountain blue birds. But still the magpies, yin-yang as always, and red-tailed hawks atop telephone poles, and great blue heron dressed as smoke signal, spearfishing down by the pond.” Turning off the dirt road, “For each thing, once,” she told him, and turned her eyes back to the road.
He Would Leave His Apartment in the City
It’s rumored in his later years he would leave his apartment in the city and drive through the night to arrive before sun up. He would dress warmly and bring a gun, his grandfather’s Winchester Model 1912, a pump action with walnut stock and blue finish. Hiking through the dark, he liked the weight of it resting against his shoulder, and when he lifted it to his face, sighting down the barrel, he’d feel the cheek-polished wood against his own—and that’s when he thought of his grandfather. By then his eyes were as old as the old man’s had been, and he worried they were one and the same: the eyes, the two cheeks, the paper mâché serenity of the morning he could so easily blow a hole through. How many times had he done it before? Reaching the blind, he’d unscrew the lid from a thermos of coffee and watch the steam rise, imagining time curling in on itself like the aromatic tendrils he inhaled. In these moments a weight was lifted and he saw himself at the center of a great and powerful will that was, like the birds, just waking up. All the while, the scent of wet mud was like a blanket around him as the pinks and purples bled into the sky as if the heavens were a sponge soaking up blood. He thought of his dog in these moments too, dead all these years, and his memories brought him a solace he would fold and place in his pocket like the knife that he carried. Still, he was there for the birds, the mallards and pintails and widgeons, for the quiet mutterings they spoke to each other. Yet despite his best efforts, he couldn’t reconcile himself to the fact they were leaving. Which is why when the sun came up, a magnificent red ball that broke the horizon like a promise, he’d walk back to the truck (toes cold, gun unfired) memories at his heels like that old Brittney Spaniel. On the drive back, he’d have the gun zipped in its brown leather case and classical music on the radio, and many times flocks of the exact same birds he’d been watching would pass overhead, paralleling the highway. He’d be concentrating on the commuter traffic and never see them, and just as well. In his mind they were miles away, flotillas of squabble and down on the black glass of the lake, hundreds of them massed in the growing light, preening chest feathers, dunking for weeds, kibitzing about air currents and the finer points of long distance flight. All this, I remind you, is rumor and speculation. The bread and butter of gossip. His friends deny every word. They say it never happened. But I saw him the day they brought him in, blue as a teal, a pair of shells in his breast jacket pocket and a queer smile, loose and ropey as Christmas tree garland, hung on his face.
Above It All
At night the great carapace of sky
Extinguished, a salt shaker of stars
Spilled, moonlight slipping through
Sprung branches, a pale
Poultice of light on the ground.
There are owls and foxes
The sea on the prowl, deer bedded down
The jazz songs of coyotes.
Did you ever stop to wonder
If we have it all wrong?
Why the geese fly south in the winter
Make those spelling mistakes in the clouds?
Maybe it’s not about breeding grounds
Magnetic pulls, or warmer climates at all.
When the pot lid of night slides into place
When the frogs shout their one word love, “Me! Me! Me!”
When the moon and the stars get down to business
Feigning serenity, and the nighthawks make good on their name
You and I will be in bed, tangled as we were meant to be
The improbable geese on the other side of the ceiling
Flying south against all odds. It’s not enough to love the world
You must dive in. When I was young, I used to go out at night
And howl at the moon, just for practice, just for kicks, and just in case
It came to that. Look around, the moonlight taught me
Everything conspires to love.