Sailing While Anchored

by Elizabeth Kirschner

Robert and I are at Cold Spring Park. November has stepped into the dressing rooms of the poor, their cold parlors, cold hearths which are cathedrals for the dispossessed. The sky, hard as a chestnut, is one such cathedral and my lips silently move in prayer to the small god of my misunderstanding.

The only small god I do understand is my baby boy whose room is a spring sanctuary full of spongy undergrowth. We have left him in Rosa’s care with the tiny sacks of breast milk I pumped earlier in the day. Rosa is from Venezuela, crossed the border by wading through the muddy Rio with her son on her back while under gunfire.

There is no gunfire in Cold Spring Park, but the wind, like an insurgent, charges in. Robert and I have just had supper out. Such evenings are rare—a gold coin we are afraid to touch, let alone pass between us. The hard sky has been slugged by darkness and the moon has a desolate heart, an abandoned one. The trees assume melancholy poses snagged with empty nests stuffed with dead leaves like brown, rusty crowns.

Already my home, the one my baby, Dylan, was conceived in, feels like one such empty nest save for the plural presences, which I dare not call angels, who flock around his crib. Wing palpitations match his heart palpitations and there is a soft shuffling of bare feet, a courtly dance to court him—all infants are of royalty even if they do not come from it.

In my hierarchy, I toe the lowest rung. In Robert’s, he is above me and try as I might I cannot climb the silken ladder out of the cemetery of self. We are parked on a circular drive in Cold Spring Park. It goes around a towering oak, a grandiose oak with many, many wounds. They are black as the black night and I want to wrap gauze around them, dress them up. Instead bits of toilet paper cling to the lower branches like the dirty underthings of fallen angels.

At this moment, most moments, I feel like a fallen angel and she has fallen from lesser grace to no grace at all. Robert and I sit in the car as if locked in a standoff, staring at the ground surrounding that grandiose oak. Long white feathers, hundreds of long, white feathers have been stuck in that ground. Who, I wonder, had so painstakingly planted them, one by one? This, too—shouldn’t we all plant feathers as talisman’s of who we might become?

I reach over, touch one of Robert’s hands which are at ten and two on the steering wheel like the hands of a clock. On my clock, the hands, as well, are frozen at ten and two in my arrested childhood. Ten and two, two and ten. In between, there lies a girl in an icy chrysalis. In each hand, memory’s hand grenade which will not go off for decades.

When I touch Robert, he remains still as if mesmerized by the island of feathers and I am sailing around that island, sailing while anchored. I move over, start kissing him, wanting him. I caress his cheeks, their high, cool bones. I smooth his hair, try to pull him near, but he keeps his hands on the steering wheel at ten and two, does not glance my way.

In that moment, I am pierced by the long and elegant bones of those hundreds upon hundreds of feathers. They are ivory arrows in my Sebastian heart, but I am no saint, only a poor sinner in the cold parlors of November. No fire roars in the cathedral of its black hearth. Only the ashes murmur, ashes soft as feathers, many feathers.

Ah but for their lean and elegant bones which go right through me. Once again, I wonder about the anonymous one who planted all these feathers around the lonely, grandiose oak, the tree of many wounds, mortal wounds.

A thought flies into my brain: even with all these lordly feathers on this little patch of earth, the island can’t fly. I realize I am that island forbidden to fly by the anonymous one who could be the small god of my misunderstanding. Hence, my sentence to sail while anchored.

I finger my wedding ring, a gold band with the tree of life etched in it. I’m also wearing a dress with a coral tree of life silk-screened on to the front panel. Does this make me the tree of many wounds, wounds that gape open, each a black paradise or living gargoyle? I start making wild bird noises, they up-flutter in dry heave after heave. Robert remains quiet, turns the car on, drives home.

I go into my baby’s room, remember a line I once wrote about wild birds in the aviary of the mind. Mine are desperate for sanctuary, find it in Dylan’s room with its spongy undergrowth, plural presences flocking around the crib.

I quietly close the door, release the long shush of a breath. There, in the baby blue light shed by the nightlight, lies my sleeping son. His hands, soft as peaches, are cupped to his ears, intent on listening to who he might be. I bend over, scoop him up, go to his rocking chair where love tips into fear then back again. Currents of his dream go into me like rounds of musical moonlight.

His candled warmth infuses me with an ambrosial aura. I sing to him as we gently rock. This moment, like so many with Dylan, is pinnacle, a piece of heavenly peace on a very silent night. He is my refuge, I am his safe harbor and with him and him alone, can I truly sail while anchored. My soul, adorned with all those lordly feathers, takes flight as does my baby boy’s. We make a little music as we move and I am moved by it. No one, no one else at all, can hear this music which comes out of us in warm wands of breath.

I stay in Dylan’s room all night. As dawn slowly rolls in on its rosy hinges, he opens his eyes, smiles a sweet, sweet smile. I nurse him till he is sated, till his eyes roll up in his head although he were drunk on breast milk. Over breakfast, Robert is a rock, reads the paper as he does every morning.

It will take days to warm him up again and not long after our visit to the island that couldn’t fly, he will take to sleeping in the basement on more nights than I can count. The conjugal bed, the marital bed will become the flightless island around which I try to sail, but fail, while anchored. There among the silence of feathers, many feathers in the cathedral of the dispossessed, I will remain a poor sinner, lips silently moving in prayer.

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