If the dirt could speak, whose story would it tell? Would it
favor the ones who have knelt upon it, whose fingers have
split turning it over with their hands? Those who, in the
evening, would collapse weeping and bleeding into it as if the dirt
were their mother? Or would it favor those who seek to be far, far
from it, like birds screeching tearless through the sky?
This must be the longing of the dirt, for the ones who are suspended
Down here I have come to know two things: birds fall down
and dirt can wait. Eventually, teeth and skin and twists of bone will
all be given up to it. And one day those who seek to be high up and
far from it will find themselves planted like a gnarly root in its
dark, tight soil. Just as I have.
This must be the lesson of the dirt.
Morning of my birth. My mother was digging. Soot-covered
and bloody. If you could not see her, you would have surely smelt
her in this dark. I was trussed to her in a torn-up sheet. Rain and
wind scoured us from both sides, but she went on digging. Her
heart was in my ear. I pushed my face into the fan of her ribs and
tasted her. She tasted of rust and death.
In the wind, in the squall, I became an encumbrance. She set
me on the ground beside her horse. Cold on my back and wet, I
could see my breath breathe out. Beside me, her horse was sinking
into the mud. I watched him with one eye as he tried to recover his
hooves. I knew if he trod on me he would surely flatten my head
like a plate.
Morning of my birth, there were no stars in the sky. My mother
went on digging. A pile of dirt rose around her until it was just her
arms, her shoulders, her hair, sweeping in and out of the dark while
her horse coughed and whined above me.
When she finally arched herself out of the hole in the ground
she looked like the wrecked figurehead on a ship’s bow. Hopeful as
I was, I thought we might take off again, although I knew there
was no boat or raft to carry us, only Houdini, her spooked horse.
And from where we had come, there was no returning.
She stood above me, her hair willowy strips, the rain as heavy
as stones. Finally, she stooped to pick me up and I felt her hand
beneath my back. She brought me to her chest, kissed my muddied
head. Again, I pushed my face into the bony hollow of her chest
and breathed my mother in.
Morning of my birth, my mother buried me in a hole that
was two feet deep. Strong though she was, she was weak from my
birth, and as she dug, the wind filled the hole with leaves and
the rain collapsed it with mud so all that was left was a wet and
When the sun inched awkwardly up she lowered me into the
grave. Then, lying prone on the earth, she stroked my head and
sang to me. I had never, in my short life, heard her sing. She sang
to me until the song got caught in her throat. Even as she bawled
and spluttered, her open hand covered my body like the warmest
I had an instinct then to take her song and sing it back to her,
and I opened my mouth wide to make a sound, but instead of air
there was only fluid and as I gasped I felt my lungs fold in. In that
first light of morning my body contorted and I saw my own fingers
reaching up to her, desperate things.
She held them and I felt them still and I felt them collapse. And
then she said, Sh, sh, my darling. And then she slit my throat.
I should not have seen the sky turn pink or the day seep in.
I should not have seen my mother’s pale arms sweep out and heap
wet earth upon me or the screeching white birds fan out over her
But I did.