In a landlocked town in a landlocked state, he built a ship in the backyard. He hoisted the sails on windy days, and it strained the hawsers that held it to anchors sunken into concrete. He polished the figurehead he found leaning against the wall of his father’s garage and installed her, her face to the sky, her breast to the fence between his yard and the neighbors’. His wife called him Captain after that, and some days, after she left for work, he called in sick and spread out his charts, planning his next voyage.
Inside the storefront Pentecostal church, the preacher exhorted his flock in Spanish, and two small girls beat tambourines, blue and pink streamers tied to the side of their instruments flailing in time. I locked eyes with one of them as I passed the doorway, both of us wondering where the other was headed. Outside, women fried plantains in bubbling oil, the scent blessing the sidewalk. I nodded at them, and they nodded back, and I wondered how they managed to hang on here, with their food and their prayers, as the city turned as if from water to wine.
We cannot correct for the determined, for the mad, for the exhausted. We cannot correct for sudden downdrafts, runways turned slick with invisible ice, eyes blinded by an unexpected lightning flash. We cannot correct for the broken wire, the critical screw unspooled from its threads, pieces of bird thudding through the blades of the engine turbine.
We cannot correct for any of these, and so we buckle in, open a magazine, close the shade, and exhale. We hope. We fly. We land as safely as that moment allows.
She remembered fishing the big river with her father, the tiny fish gasping in the air. He released it from the hook, tossed it back. Let it get bigger.
But it was my first catch, she whined.
Love, too, proved slippery as a small fish. She tried every line and net she could, but love escaped her efforts, or was just too small and had to be thrown back.
She heard her father’s words: Let it get bigger. Somewhere, beneath the murky waves, love grew day by day, just waiting for her boat to linger at the surface.
Words cluster about my head like moths most days, teasing me with wing-beaten currents, but they dart away when I reach out to catch them.
I would like to turn off the light that draws them to me, just dim it long enough for them to move elsewhere. It is exhausting, the constant chasing of small, winged beasts, the fear that even if I do catch one, the brush of my fingers against their hair-like scales will bring it down, take away its essence. Is it worth catching one only to learn it will never fly again?
I have taken photographs of my son every day of his life. The images scroll by—smiles, frowns, a pout, mouths frozen in screams.
But he is already half my height, and yesterday, when I drove by a school, I watched the children at recess and thought about all the things they do that their parents don’t see, all the experiences that go undocumented as they emigrate to adulthood.
Life slowly fades like an image in bright sunlight. There is no reversing it—I already miss what I will not get to see.
He scrimped and bought a small bunch of chard, some broth, a box of pasta, but it was enough for dinner. He had unearthed a bottle of wine he had stashed away for a special night, and he’d lit a candle to cozy the small room.
Are you more afraid of what might come later? he asked. Or of losing touch with what came before?
She didn’t like to think about either, she admitted finally, but only because she’d had too much wine. I would rather just stay in the now, she said. I like it here very much.