By Ariel Fleishhacker
Did my daughter scribble these red, tangerine roads in my eyes or were they from my father's purple heart. Did I burst these jagged veins, now running down my face.
Am I just too tired to see.
She sits up in bed. Dadda?
My little girl is awake in the dark. My little girl is looking at me. Tell a story and put this place called room away until morning.
I help her put on a blue patagonia jacket. Her limbs are so small. But they move mountains and will move her far away from here or there.
I hold her in my arms and carry her outside. She is looking at the stars with her mommie's eyes. Funny, I didn't know until now that I was also awake in a place where women die.
I am not cold on the outside.
You are not cold.
Sit on the porch-step with your daughter on your knee and tell her about the time you were on that bus with the guys going through a place, a state, a name now forgotten, but yet a time preserved so fucking profoundly for the rest of your life.
You sat near the back and your buddy bumped against your shoulder with every pothole the tires met on the highway. Cuts on your scalp from the razor that took your hair away
and the guy before you
and after you
and after you
and after you
until the razor got dull.
There is dust on the window, dust in your teeth.
You remember the brown land and how it looked so fucking vast and important and how you thought about your own father and how his bus ride was so much more meaningful than yours. And how as you looked out the window at that vast landscape,
a place of color and taste,
you saw something far away getting closer.
And how it made you sweat and stand up and press your hands against the window and get as near as you could to the glass. Cause then you're using each seat as a handhold to get to the exit, stumbling down the aisle and nobody really notices your significance.
You are outside the bus and stumbling into the brown and suddenly you are 10 years older, no longer a teenager, and your beard is long and you're screaming. Your heart is screaming cause there is too much dust and you can't find her.
Even in the jungle you never screamed like this.
And you realize you're calling her name. Your baby girl. And the dust chokes you and you raise your hands like they could move mountains.
The dust parts.
Stumble into sunlight and see them running around and around, a mass of wild legs and teeth. And in the center,
right in the fucking center of those animals,
is your little baby girl.
She turns to look at you with the biggest, happiest smile you've ever seen on a living creature and you know this baby is moving mountains that will one day make her stronger and so profoundly sad. Then you are in the center of it too and holding her in your arms and crying into her hair. She has her arms around your neck and says Dadda.
“The horses were running circles and I held you as tight as a father can and knew you did not need me.” I look down. There is a red cheek and a down jacket asleep on my shoulder. She won't remember in the morning. Smile and don't dare stir.
This daughter smiles amongst the beasts.