Mo Dheartháir,

Twenty years ago this month, I followed you to the valley of the mountain. I’d cried at your leaving and found a way to follow you north.  Where we had been, there were forests, plantation ruins, Civil War pools.  There was pilfered bourbon and your kisses were sweet and sticky in the Alabama nights.  Our time was marked by red ant hills, degrees of heat radiating through the pavement far after sunset, country roads and cricket song.  You bit me and drew blood.  There autumn was something we’d heard of, but the trees still looked the same.  You stole my cigarettes, I drank your beer.  We loved with an easy, negligent violence, feeling too expansive for our own skins but sure our shapes would shift to fit us, in due time.

In the valley, autumn fell with a sharp crack, the leaves suddenly crisp and the moon big and orange as a bloated koi.  The nights unfurled before us, and we marked them with cheap wine and missing buttons from our flannel shirts.  For a while it seemed they never ended, never would.  The brisk evening air mixed with your cigarette smoke.  We climbed mountains, forded streams, built acrid, smoky fires and fell asleep in the rustling leaves.  I twisted my fingers around yours, then, sure we would never let go.  You wrote a song you called Oktember, and even now, twenty years later, when the first crisp night of autumn comes, I hear it in my head.  Then the nights smelled like possibility, and the breezes like our lives, so full and free, when all the scars we had, we’d given ourselves.

Odetta – House of the Rising Sun

***

Mo Mhuirnín,

Ten years ago this month, I said goodbye to you. The clouds stole your shadow when you got into the cab, so the last thing I saw of you then was almost a ghost-image, a flash of your keychain before the clouds quenched their dull glint from the light of the moon.  In the morning, the snow had covered your tracks, a fresh layer atop the hard-packed, grey ice we had walked on the day before.  You had lost a glove, and I walked the path we’d taken to the grocery store, thinking I might find it.  A doll’s shoe, a handful of bottle caps, an unlikely sock and the evidence of neighborhood dogs, but no glove.  I thought of holding your fingers, of breathing on them to keep them warm, of how you tasted somehow of salt air and beaches even in the cutting autumn wind.  When I got home, I washed your coffee cup, and for a long minute I had no idea where to put it when it was dry.

Ten years later, you came south to see me, and I don’t know why.  Your eyes looked the same, a shocking sea color under your shock of black hair.  I hadn’t spoken to you in ten years, but my skin answered yours when you took my hand, and time broke over me suddenly, a cruel wave that left me breathless and afraid.  Under friendly conversations about years passed and places lived, something huge and dark threatened to pull me under towards black expanse, to crush me under the weight of salt waves, to bear down on my lungs ’til there was no possible way to move, or live.  I could imagine us as if from high above, two small bodies lightly touching, a thin millimeter of skin between us and a thinner sliver of warmth adrift in a heaving grey sky.  When you  used to touch me, my skin would burn with the fever of you, and I felt your fingers so keenly I imagined they could cut.  You’ve touched me now, again, but the warm salt air is gone.  I saw it in your eyes for a long moment before I moved my hand away, pulled my coffee cup closer, and fought away a storm of seasickness.  Autumn falls hard this year as I say goodbye again, with no idea why you came back for a long afternoon, and no idea when the air will stop smelling of death and the weight of impossible things.

***

The Mamas and the Papas – California Dreaming

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