For the Love of Paul Bunyan
She was tender. Soft as a sand dune after a windstorm.
Back in the before days, she would wake up and stretch those arms out across the sky, her left hand arched over the Baffin Islands, her right curled up under her jaw, her elbow casting a swaying shadow over the Jack Pine Forests of Saskatchewan. She was a tangle of stretching and yawning, and I would let slip a quiet sigh from where I lay, snuggled down along the south shore of Lake Erie, my head pillowed up on the Adirondacks.
Clouds would cling to her ears, and if she got lost in bit of work, say weeding the plains of Iowa or cleaning gunk out of Old Faithful, she could get a whole murder of crows caught up in her crazy black hair. Sometimes, if she needed the room, she would gather up a flock of wheeling starlings in her cupped hands. Gentle as any mother bear, she would carefully move them down into the belching swamps of Cuba out of her way, or off into the air over the blue-calm seas of the Grand Banks in June. God, how she cared for things... polishing the mountain ice in winter, scrubbing the granite shoreline of Maine come spring. And the soup she could make, cooked up in a hot-spring kettle in the heart of Yellowstone... The rich aroma of creamed potatoes and apples clouded the air back then.
But she wasn't all cherries and milk, either. Once, in a fit after we had fought she tripped me and I came down hard on my left hand and dug out a huge print in the mud. And one time she kissed me like a river so hard I didn't come around again until the glaciers had retreated and little men were all abroad in the land stalking the bigger cats (that is, the ones big enough that I could scare her with one by hiding it in the toe of her boot). And the land looked transformed after a while, and then I realized that she was gone.
But I think now that everything in the before days was a fuzzy cloud of mists and rains and sweet fruit. It was like moss and green sprouts and black loamy earth. But that cloud of tender is also a shroud of regret, free floating, for I cannot remember where our fight started, or over what, and worse I have the sense that my own... my sense of that time was of laying about and consuming.
Her absence is a great mystery to me now, in this smaller time where the bears roam and I feel that I have become so much less. I wonder about her rage, and I find myself constantly wandering the woodsaround that great hand print of mine which, I suppose, has grown so much larger than me. The mud-print pushed up a pile of dirt, which became a hill, then a mountain, then a great land amongst lakes.
Finally, I found myself raging in the woods as the trees rose up around me. The trees loomed and the shadow of my life filled the air, amongst a closing cave of teeth and obscurity. And I knew quickly that as things were going, soon, I wouldn't be able to even see the next county, let alone all the way to the sea, and how are you supposed to find a woman in this damn world if you can't see both seas at once? If she isn't on one coast, she could be on the other and you would have to walk all that way just to check. Her space is huge and hidden and covered in so many layers of shadow... I feel that it was just a little thing that we fought over. Something small. But she made me feel so large, and in amongst all that, the little things
seem fuzzy and I cannot see... I felt... and she...
That was when I started cutting. Hacking. Sawing. Beating. Tearing down. And now I find that the little men have grown a bit and they need cutters and I *need* to cut, to clear, to make open and plain the whole of the land so that I can see, god let me see far.
About the author:
Fritz Swanson edits the online 'zine Poor Mojo's Alamnac(k) (www.poormojo.org). His work has appeared in Spork, McSweeney's and The Mid-American Review. He's finished a story collection called Artemis and Actaeon, has co-written (with David Erik Nelson) a novel tentatively titled A Year and a Day, and is working on another novel, currently untitled, about imaginary robots and houses that change shape. He lives in Manchester, Michigan with his wife Sara, his infant son Oscar, his cats Munchie and the Admiral and a printing press named Bill."