First Night


The long night calls to its creatures with a voice darkened by hunger. Under the owl sleeping in the hollow of the tamarack. Next to the broken bones of mice.
She is awake now. He stands quiet, listening to the water. You could not have seen through this. You watched yourself become a third person. She told you she still loved you and put her arms around him, the other one you had become.
And so I can’t sleep now because my shadow of a crow is a thief and walks like a clumsy fat man playing hopscotch, head cocked with a child’s quizzical turn, a scolding cry like a ratchet, a few more shadows hanging out, nightfall in pieces.
After all, you didn’t really want this. My friends and I will fight over it in your dream before you sleep.
A man I am is singing. He is crying. He begins a small desire. He purrs. Finally he sleeps. Candles and stones light the path.
The man grows silent. The man grows smarter than we thought. Shouting does not feed the air the man exists in. The man continues to grow. He grows so large we can crawl into the base of his thumb, wander through his body until we come to the porchlight.
“This way,” the man says, but the woman you’ve become bursts into embarrassment and her skin chaffs like sandpaper. “Try this,” he says, but she falls asleep beside herself. So he sings to her and the words fall out of his mouth like wooden teeth and nothing at all grows there.
Still they wait, these two with me still in them, in the white bed that smells of sweat, refusing to float, inviting. She becomes the neighbor with the sad house and the quiet voice, and you come to his house again to find the sweater you knitted your life into when the weather was harsh and the marriage harsher. You don’t know why, but you’re in the cellar and your hands move in and out of the rows of suspicious fruit, aging marital prizes sleeping in dusty Mason jars.
Perhaps now an echo enters the damp room dancing. The walls won’t hold it. Each of its songs opens the outside morning differently. Whose sons are these in the tubers, buried in the potatoes and turnips and arms of blind reaching in the wooden bins, clicking like jackal’s tongues?
Have I been, then, not good for my stumbling down selves, the woman asks, disguised as one more me in my downliest humble-down echo? Yeh, I coulda been married a handful by now, another mom-voice lodged in my mortgaged head. I coulda halved it, teething, and split wide away. “’adn’t ‘e copped me crotch feathers? ’n me stuffin” still unstrutted? Tall tale told not so, and so . . .
Twelve bullets they found themselves, erupted, returning from his torn chest, closing it, reloading into the unaiming rifles. The soldiers took them back carefully, unshouldering, marched the man feet behind feet into the courtroom, took back his guilt, sent him back into the world to look for his mother and nearly exploding as an afterthought his equally be-gone-from-me father. Sunset filters through the tortured sky, spreading over the upper lake. Cutthroats rising to the winged blood of evening insects. Across the channel an owl calls, answered by a softer echo. Slowly the colors shift deeper into the darkening. The woman stands quietly on the metaphorical water.
This isn’t happening to just one of me.
A light breeze flutters over the lake. We turn. The woman waits. We don’t know what she’s waiting for. We begin the descent to speech. We begin the rising fall.

Rich Ives is the author of Tunneling to the Moon: A Psychological Gardener’s Book of Days currently being published in serial @ Silenced Press everyday in 2014 and forthcoming in paperback. Begin from the beginning, catch up, read daily. Just refer to the Burrow Guide.