Rendering Flighted Things
Updated: Mar 24
To say I was profoundly saddened by the death of my father was truer than tautology, tantamount to this: whales are large and God is good and french fries are delicious. I existed, and that existence included joy and water and a penchant for fresh sentences, no matter the context. That existence sat beside me on a bench, eating a biscuit, cozying right up next to my sadness; the existence of that sadness was like a palm flat against the heaving lungs of a horse having bolted in an oncoming thunderstorm. He died. Not the horse; my father.
And after he died, the storm passed and I and the horse of my grief were left to catch our breath. Resting my hand on the pulsing side of the Grief Horse brought a steadiness, a groundedness I needed to palpate like the polished stones I carried in my pockets every time I traveled. My grief a stone, a horse, a heavy cloud. My existence, the perpetual layover between trips.
We’d flown 600 miles beyond the chain of western mountains that come after Washington before I realized what I’d been starting at was not snow but cloud on cloud on cloud. I let sink in that failure of such simple geography. I let my body slump. I didn’t write a postcard or read more than a couple ten pages of fairy tales I’d picked up at the annual mega writers’ conference, a literary hedon-fest of booze and reunions and poetry and consumerism and BOOKS and WRITING and righting the ship that had been set a-tilt with the missing of my comrades-in-words. So tired, so wrung out, I just stared at sky, thinking our aerial view still one of rock, earth, peaks’ rag-tag sharp crests, restlessly climbing toward an unknown upper limit.
Gravitas—this feeling or its anodyne, apotheosis of the stretching, the pursuit, the daily living with my bench mate and my biscuits.
We were still airborne when the captain announced he’d begun his descent. For the first time, I could see blue above me but nothing real below. Closing my lids down afforded me no relief; I remained aloft in a colorless blind. Once back home in my art studio, could I paint this feeling? Or if not this feeling, the wondering, the question itself? Could I capture it, hold it on a page? Success’s low likelihood would not preempt or preclude my effort. The failure in itself may prove to do a better job at conveyance.
Flying into the daylight savings sunset, my body did not know what time it was. My head bobbed no matter how hard I tried to hold it upright. From jet lag, airport junk food or grief, or most likely, a combination of all three? Have the mental free range chickens finally pecked every last grain from the synaptically trip-wired feedyard of my brain? When I meditate, it’s not vipassana I seek, it’s a blissful blank field, much like this striated and multivalent skyscape, ombré lavender gray cloud white and dusk yielding to lilac flower mango flesh embankments of water droplets fulfilling the promise of their minuscule potentials. That’s a lot of words when all I’m talking about is sheer emptiness.
Last night at the Thai restaurant on the waterfront, they served me a carved green papaya adorned with orchids in an angry ocean of shrimp, lobster, prawns as vulval-tinted as this strip outside the airplane window and high, so one had to dip her head down low to see it. Beauty transpires in liminal spaces. Beauty transpires as heavy, heaving horses, as light as countless particles of air, all riding the same wavelength and refracting the same range on the spectrum.
I mused in the present and the future. . . Good coffee does good writers make. Good wine doth undo us. Drink up and be drunk on the doing and the coming full undone. Tomorrow morning I will wake beside a steady breathing body, a steadfast man to whom I’ve pledged my troth, who knows me as no other. And yet, he does not know a goddamn thing—how everything I write is about God, how found I felt inside the turbulent engine of a circle of sisters that last night in Seattle. We’d only just met each other and yet, we occupied one another’s skin. It’s okay, I suppose, that he doesn’t know how sad I am. Or how strong. Or how deeply I have dipped my heart in gold and flecked off the rough edges where I missed submersion. Or how necessary it is for me to get in water, even if it means swimming in the hotel pool in black lace underwear in the broad daylight. How would he understand that underwater when I’m weightless is the only time I can see forever? Unless I’m floating up above, believing I’m looking at Something when I’m really staring at Nothing, into my own reflection in the glass. And how, really, all I want are milkshakes and diamonds and to save the world, is that so wrong? Is that so hard??
I interposed the numbers of my hotel room at the front desk in order to charge a snack from the snack bar. They asked me, was I James Howe, the guest registered at 2918? (when it was I, Emily Shearer, saying in #2819) Why didn’t I say Yes? Why didn’t it cross my mind to lie?
If, in a million years it crossed my darling husband’s mind to ask if I had smoked cigarettes, if I swam in the hotel pool in my skivvies, if I texted another man how he took his coffee, I would say No. No, no, six hundred times no. If he asked me if I wrote anything on my transcontinental flight back to him, my answer again? No. Should he inquire, Are you sad? No. But, Are you lying? That right there is the unanswerable question.
I want to draw perfect birds, fill a notebook with them, astonish small crowds by how deftly I can render flighted things with pen and paper.
I want whole languages of feathers to drip from my shoulders through my wrists and fingers, and with them, I will embrace you and you will be taken up. I want to tell my friend Hughes what a warm mug of tea he is for my weariness and I want to open-water swim with him in the cold straits of Maine, its generous coastline undulating around my waist and calves, a syncopation in my wings that flutters and carries me forward in any element. And I want to ride the turbo engine of female camaraderie that is Serena and Bree and Alexandra like a crotch-rocket of laughter between my legs. I want those razzle-dazzly Eye of Horus earrings in the Swarovski airport gift shop for no other reason than because they razzle-dazzle. I would gift each member of my new motorcycle coven with a pair, the blessing of the Evil Eye protecting their auric halos, which I’ve been practicing perceiving by softening my focus, then bringing it back to perspicacity.
With my pencils and my watercolors, I will create for my bird-sketches a never-before-discovered artist’s technique that will dimensionalize each animal’s spirit the way God breathes hope into the nearly faithless at the exact moment before the pilot lands a plane on an invisible runway, or when the surgeon announces that the procedure was a success or the policeman who rings the doorbell in the middle of the night presents the barefoot-frantic-searching-the-neighborhood-for-her-missing-child-who’d-disappeared-from-his-bed mother with her six year old and their dog. He’d only sleep-wandered over to the neighbors. Faith restored. Aura colored back in. Animus re-animated. Birds in flight.
I do not want your inflight promo codes. I’ll buy my tickets wholesale, pay full price for the late night snacks, thank you James Howe all the same.
I wrote a poem about a mango and switched up the codes, because that’s how my brain functions and draws images, in all the languages that I know: English and French and Spanish and Feather and Fruit. The title of the poem asks “May I suggest to you a lovely mango?” “Puis-je vous suggérer un lovely mango?” I printed up a ‘zine and called the whole thing “Un Lovely Mango” with the title in all caps and my saint of a friend Erin called the little book “An Un-Lovely Mango” and I was like, Shit! It does say UNLOVELY MANGO right there on the cover. And my other friend Charlotte, talk about faith restored, she wrote a memoir about her husband’s death by suicide and her self-care rituals of getting sushi for herself on Tuesdays and she titled her book Sushi Tuesdays and when it came out all the hashtags read #sushituesdays and it hadn’t been until then that she realized there was shit right in the middle of it all, and she was like “Yep. That checks.”
Sometimes it’s an unlovely mango and sometimes there is shit right there smack-dab in the middle, and sometimes you switch up the codes and the auras get muddled and all you can see is Nothingness and there, staring right back at you is Something and that something is Just Right.
Fred took me shopping in the quartier latin, and I didn’t buy any of the beautiful clothes he and the impeccable saleswoman picked out for me, all in the serenest shades of periwinkle and fawn, pervenche et faon en français if you must know. Fred was older then than I am now. We’re both gone from this world, actually, though I’m still here, wishing I had drawn him or written him as a bird, penned him (pinned him) down somehow before he flew away.
The last time I saw him in Paris he told me that his sister had died and I didn’t ask him if it was a good death, if he'd tried laying his hand on a horse. Frankly back then I didn’t believe, as I do now, that there could be such a thing as a good death or an antidote for a bad one. My father’s was a good one, him in my warm arms, me stroking the side of his already tallowing skin as he attempted to stammer his last words, which I’ve managed to convince myself were, I love you. Him, I can’t pin down either. He’s still floating around, and I’m still in need of grounding. I wonder where Fred would have been, en haut with the birds, or down here, with me.
Maybe I can chalk the cigarettes up to grief. They say it’s an emotion responsible for rash, unreasonable ideas, like swimming in one’s underwear as a grown-ass woman at 4 pm in an indoor heated hotel pool, from whence, by the way, one could see the high Seattle skyline catching the last paltry rays of winter daylight painting an aura around the whole city. Yes, the light makes it harder to see the stars, no less of a reminder that they’re there, even when redacted from our visible astronomy.
I want to go down to the shoreline and make erasure poetry out of pebbles, the kind worn softer than water, smoother than the mug of tea that is Hughes, that is the intrinsic warmth itself. I will worry them in my mouth, the pebbles, as I used to do Czech cherries— selecting which ones will become the verbs in my poems and which ones will be the black-outs, the punctuation marks, the line breaks. I will calculate exactly how to stack them, to create something architecturally sound and intransient, even when I know that Ask is as nearly impossible as, at my age, finding friends, switching codes, triangulating my position when I can’t even see the mountains or the stars. Nearly impossible. But not.
I’ve said nothing here, because I’ve nowhere else to say it. I’ve chased the light all day and now I’m bumping up against the shadows. I’ve slept some and eased up some and done a bit of cataloguing the events of those crazy days, letting them fall to the feed yard to be pecked at by silly chickens, the clucky fuckers keeping me awake wondering if I’ll ever contain them, rein them in, gather their eggs and whip them into something fluffy with butter, golden sunburst yolky rich and nourishing if not a little indulgent too. That’s what will happen to everything that has happened— it will all become part of the omelet, the sustenance, the sum of the parts of the stories that make up our Selves.
I am an omelet.
You are an omelet.
Hughes and Fred and Coffeeman and Darling Hubby Dear, and Serena and Alexandra and Bree and Erin and Charlotte and Charlotte’s dead husband and Fred’s dead sister and my dead dad, they’re omelets.
Ram Dass said we are all just walking each other home and maybe that’s so and maybe when we get there we’ll all make each other omelets or at least shelter each other from the kinds of storms horses run from. We are all each other’s eggs and shells and pebbles, and stars, lines of them on beaches and unseen in the sky both day and night. And we’re bands of color and broad expanses stretching horizon to horizon, from window seats on airplanes, from top floors of buildings that nearly scrape the sky, and from down below where everything is life-sized and we can fill our pockets with crystals and scrap papers and if this all seems esoteric and a little mumbledy-peg, just blur your focus and let your sight recalibrate.
Meanwhile, I will walk these lines and keep on picking up smooth and shiny rocks. Chickens will roost and lay their eggs and I’ll scramble them up just the way you like them. I will bring my sketchbook and my pencils to the beach. Perhaps I will wear new clothes from Paris in subtle shades of blues and latte browns. Perhaps I’ll catch the light of some pretty birds mid-flight.