Have You Seen My Trowel?

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I imagine archaeologists to be a rugged lot. Thick-soled boots like the treads of earth-movers, caked in ancient and illuminating grime. Wide brims and handkerchiefs and mirrored sunglasses to guard against a bully-sun cracking its knuckles. Scrapes and bruises; dehydration and sunburns; fingertips raw, knees creaking, eyes gritty and red.

And pockets. Lots of pockets.

I’m not ill-prepared in my bathrobe; just exploring a different terrain. A bathrobe, because stumbling in the dark for pants will wake her. Slipperless feet so that I can follow the contours of the carpet with my toes, in the dark. Or possibly because I’ve misplaced my slippers. A mug of coffee to keep my senses warm and alert.

My bathrobe has two pockets. I don’t know what they’re for.

The stairs lead downward, walls low and close. The evidence is sparse: faint outlines of shoe prints, scuff marks, crumbs clinging to the soles of my feet. They were here, quick and raucous.

There is an eyeball on the floor, staring at the ceiling. Disturbing in any light, and unexpected. I give it a scientific nudge with my toe, and it glows. Red, blue, green, red, blue, green. It fades, leaving a purple globe in my vision. Who were they, to have this? And to what purpose?

The pupil wobbles and settles. It does not follow.

Their civilization is spread across the floor, shattered. Or perhaps incomplete. Small, colorful bits of plastic are arranged in familiar shapes. I see buildings and vehicles with wheels and wings, and tiny figures scaled to use them. A village? A city? The design is haphazard, as though it hadn’t been planned, but discovered.

I see fluorescent domes, and devices that could be guns or drills or experimental probes. Or death rays. A military installation? This appears to be an airstrip, or landing pad. The headless bodies surrounded by wreckage certainly indicate a conflict.

I can’t explain the tentacles.

I do know there was laughter. Sudden bursts of joy punctuating the soft murmur of voices. There was discussion, and the rising inflection of questions. Shuffling and thumping, and an occasional scuffle. A companionable society that smelled strongly of feet.

But I can’t know the details; haven’t known for a while. I used to know everything. When he woke and slept, what he ate and when. What he wore, and what he learned. Who was there, what they said, what they did. What the tentacles were for.

He didn’t belong to me, but had been placed within my care. He needed.

Now there are swaths of hidden time. Where I am not, and so cannot see. A society to which I had belonged, but has grown beyond my grasp. Vast, and bright, and wonderful.

All I have are clues. Fading trails and bread crumbs, shards covered in dust. Remnants of history clouded by free will and perpetual motion. My knees crack and my joints ache. Sometimes I am burned.

I don’t have enough pockets.

(Originally posted on Total Depravity.)

True Story

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In memory of Anthony Lamar Smith.

I.

Patterns are important.

They trained us to use stickers
stuck to name tags to create
stucked mosaics of remembering
that I was they were we had been stuck
together.

The un-unstuckable promise of future stuckiness.

II.

I am the
Friday Man the
Story Man the
Teller Man
with the
books and the
bag and the
voice of bears in my chest.
I am the
unconditioner the
constant visitor the
indescriminate huggerer.

I am (also) the
White.

III.

A favorite is The Monster at the End of This Book
when they’re eager to look beyond This Page despite
Grover’s growing fear and rage at their strength and
power, and fervor to see the next and reach the end.
Laughter in the face of danger.

They squeal when I ask if they’re sure, should I
turn, do we dare, is it safe, aren’t you scared?
No! They are brave, they don’t care, it’s a story and
a show and I am there to protect them.
And, anyway, monsters aren’t really real.

IV.

I can’t understand
a word he says but
that doesn’t stop him
talking from the moment
I enter the classroom,
throughout each book.

As the others fidget
in a bulbous line
waiting
for their stickers
I see his hand slide
into my peripheral
(as I’ve slid into his)
to grab a sheet of Minions with guitars,

soon
followed by a finger pressed carefully
onto my shoulder so
the sticker will be stuck, and
never leave.

V.

The verdict wasn’t surprising but
the tears were unexpected because
this, too, has become
a pattern that won’t unstuck.
Injustice that never leaves,
pressed too long along
the peripheral of they who judge.
And he is brave and he is bold
which is, now, met with joy
because this boy has been told
(and believes)
that
I will protect
him.
But, dear God,
how real are these monsters?
How close, with every page?