by Ryan Farrell
Barefoot on red sand, a coyote trotting at his heels, he strides across the desert. What used to be is no more; a wanderer must find what he can. The roaming soldier runs from his old life, what he used to know, stumbles across the dunes and the parched landscape ‘til he reaches a tract of tall grass at the edge of the sand, where he smells the scent of sage blown by dry wind. The sky bleeds to a violet haze as the sun dips below the uppermost branches of a sequoia; he sees a cottage, and Hanna, and the coyote paws at the ground, meanders in a circle, and lays down content.
A man learns to call this home. He adapts to, embraces, the rhythm: the rising of the sun, the setting of his body, the closing of four eyes, the bodily warmth of another through the noontime hours, and the steadfast awakening to a starry night. A man learns to appreciate the bliss of a nocturnal life, to hold a hand, to marvel with another at the sudden and synchronized blooming of the cactus’ flowers, the sudden blooming of Hanna’s eyes, a sudden bodily shuddering at the dependably abrupt desert storms – miraculously swift, a darkening sky, the crack of thunder and the parched ground opening its throat to swallow all it can. On those nights the wind would howl through the sequoia’s branches, would drown out the coyote’s growls of an ever-increasing volume, would necessitate a greater degree of warmth to be shared on the floor of the cottage. A man loses track of the passage of time, knows not how long has been spent by minutes and seconds but by the periodic grinning of the moon and of his partner and by the periodic snarls of his companion.
Oh, but the beauty of the desert at night.
The earth and the dunes and the grass would have swallowed him whole were it not for the sequoia beneath them and the fine silvery threads cast down from the night sky upon his shoulders, she a puppeteer – and he a marionette! – playing their game ‘til the morning when the sun’s rays deaden his wooden eyes and turn his skin to ash. He seeks refuge under shade of the branches and is received with open arms by his Hanna, and in his daylit slumber he is yet burnt. He is content, and in the night they run across the veldt, the tall grasses, the seas of green flanked by sand, and he is free. Yet the coyote still comes in the cool desert darkness and howls at the moon, and nips at his heels as they trot through the grasses and dangle from the lower branches, and he scorns it and bid it not interrupt.
Yet even a soldier is shackled by his needs; a man is pumped dry, can live no more in a state marked by permanent transience. He must spurn his lover and shed his wings, resolve himself to a life of wandering and meandering, searching the endless breadth of the earth and grasping for a place to call home, all the while pestered by a coyote, the single permanent fixture through all his days, one who gnashes his teeth and snarls at his conscience and claws at the air when the man knows he is truly lost.
He leaves but a letter, frightened by her tendency, her inescapable ability, to strip him of his resolution. He flees as she sleeps, friend at his heels once more.
“I sat staring at the stars for what felt like hours, Hanna, but I could not decide on how toopen my letter. These are all ways that I would address you. You may select that by which you are most pleased.
Dearest Hanna, who need not worry, for our journey is
at a close:
Hanna, the dryad, who lives in a meadow at the edge of the sands.
Ravishing Hanna, who would beget a shiver with a touch from her hands!
Amiable Hanna, in her floral crown, with whom I stood vigil under the moon –
Sweet, sweet Hanna, with whom I spent many an idle afternoon.
Hanna with her charm, yet whose words could be so cruel…
Towheaded Hanna, who took me for a fool.
Fitful, fickle Hanna, who lulled me with a word and culled me with a glance:
Resplendent Hanna, whose siren song left me in a trance.
Cold blue Hanna, a font of folly from which I could not depart:
Ruinous, gratifying Hanna, whose words would bring me to –
Ravaging Hanna; so long as I did which my life could not start!
Lithe, enthralling Hanna, whose voice was so fine:
Hanna, my Calypso –
Hanna who was mine.
Forgive me, Hanna, but I could not stay. I have enjoyed your home, your sequoia, your desert, and you – and for that, I thank you. But I must go. Perhaps one day my path will bring me back to this place.
– your lover.”
published in Kalliope 2013