Everyone Was in Love
One day, when they were little, Maud and Fergus appeared in the doorway naked and mirthful, with a dozen long garter snakes draped over each of them like brand-new clothes.
Snake tails dangled down their backs, and snake foreparts in various lengths fell over their fronts. With heads raised and swaying, alert as cobras, the snakes writhed their dry skins upon each other, as snakes like doing in lovemaking, with the added novelty of caressing soft, smooth, moist human skin.
Maud and Fergus were deliciously pleased with themselves.
The snakes seemed to be tickled, too.
We were enchanted. Everyone was in love.
Then Maud drew down off Fergus’s shoulder, as off a tie rack, a peculiarly lumpy snake and told me to look inside.
Inside the double-hinged jaw, a frog’s green webbed hind feet were being drawn, like a diver’s, very slowly as if into deepest waters.
Perhaps thinking I might be considering rescue, Maud said, “Don’t. Frog is already elsewhere.”
Yesterday she took down from the attic an old lumpy tea-colored pillow–stained with drool, hair grease, night sweats, or what !
which many heads may have waked upon in the dark, and lain there motionless, eyes open, wondering at the strangeness within themselves– took it and ripped out the stitching at one end, making of it a sack.
Standing on a bench in the garden, she plunges a hand into the sack and lifts out a puffy fistful of feathers.
A few accidentally spill and drift, and tree swallows appear. She raises the hand holding the feathers straight up over her head, and stands like a god of seedtime about to scatter bits of plenitude, or like herself in a long-ago summer, by a pond, chumming for sunfish with bread crumbs.
When the breeze quickens she opens her fist and more of these fluffs near zero on the scale of materiality float free. One of the swallows now looping and whirling about her snatches at a feather, misses, twists round on itself, streaks back, snaps its beak shut on it, and flings itself across the field.
Another swallow seizes a feather and flies up, but, flapping and turning, loses it to a third swallow, who soars with it even higher and disappears.
After many tosses, misses, parries, catches, she ties off the pillow, ending for now the game they make of it when she’s there, the imperative to feather one’s nest, which has come down in the tree swallow from the Pliocene. She returns to the house, a slight lurch in her gait–not surprising, for she has been so long at play with these acrobatic, daredevil aerialists, she might momentarily have lost the trick of walking on earth.
I open my eyes to see how the night is progressing. The clock glows green, the light of the last-quarter moon shines up off the snow into our bedroom.
Her portion of our oceanic duvet lies completely flat. The words of the shepherd in Tristan, “Waste and empty, the sea,” come back to me.
Where can she be? Then in the furrow where the duvet overlaps her pillow, a small hank of brown hair shows itself, her marker that she’s here, asleep, somewhere down in the dark underneath. Now she rotates herself a quarter turn, from strewn all unfolded on her back to bunched in a Z on her side, with her back to me.
I squirm nearer, careful not to break into the immensity of her sleep, and lie there absorbing the astounding quantity of heat a slender body ovens up around itself.
Her slow, purring, sometimes snorish, perfectly intelligible sleeping sounds abruptly stop. A leg darts back and hooks my ankle with its foot and draws me closer. Immediately her sleeping sounds resume, telling me: “Come, press against me, yes, like that, put your right elbow on my hipbone, perfect, and your right hand at my breasts, yes, that’s it, now your left arm, which has become extra, stow it somewhere out of the way, good.
Entangled with each other so, unsleeping one, together we will outsleep the night.”
Copyright © 2006 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.