My name—Noël—has been mispronounced, mislabeled, and mistaken since my parents bestowed it upon me one snowy March afternoon. It wasn't until a friend nicknamed me "French Christmas" that it came into focus.
How much would our lives change if we could just see things differently?
I cross the fives, keep the tally, stack the sticks, line the bundles. This is where my labor comes. I learn to make bricks of mud and clay, I learn to make right angles. Forged and flamed and scratched and sealed, I bear the weight and witness of this wall.
At night my legs pedal aimlessly and I dream of the hot hairy breath that will blow it all down.
I want to be the witness to this dark season, just stay still as the colors peak and drain, see the sickle moon slice the sky, hear the horses coming home from harvest, thundering the dusk up and over us.
Little buds burst forth in the marrow, tumbling after each other, answering the whistle in my chest. It is maddening here in this bed, keeping still so my blood can thicken and saturate, when all I want is to climb and stretch and push. But I need to wait for the heaviness. I will need it where I am going, I am going where there is no air.
Forgotten seeds can lie dormant in their beds for days, weeks, months, until, like a thief divines the sequence of numbers that will spring a combination lock, wind and water and heat collide at the perfect moment and push the start button. And then it tumbles forth: this green wave of chaotic, perfect, pulsing life, stretching for water, stretching to be fed.
Blood makes no inroads here. I imagine the space between joints as vast, white, and silent like the moon, lacking the pulse and chaos of skin and cells and organs because there are no nerves, nothing to communicate signal, to siren out a warning or firework a victory. There is only impact, pressure, the distribution of weight to keep bone from grinding on bone. I think about these spaces when my hands dive into themselves and become fists, when the grip is so deep the knuckles stutter. I wonder what happens when they shrug.
When the day is brimming with bustle, and the clouds shake in the sky, and there are tiny wars to wage and win, I find the fire accessible. I know how to feed it, flame by flame, I know how to stoke it into a frenzy, into a roar, into a cyclone that slakes its thirst on every drop of oxygen from every corner of every room. But when it’s best is when it’s spent, just a few left embers that pulse like a slow heartbeat, enough to curl up around and keep warm for the night.
I deny you by daylight. But under even the thickest veil of skin, I feel you swimming through the rivers on the backs of my hands, I see your fins when you breach and surface in the soft pockets of my elbows. You are an unhurried ancient thing, evolved for this slow stalking underneath the surface. You luxuriate in the laziness of your movement. Because in the end, you know the night favors you. Because in the end, you know I will, too.
I don’t go into the back rooms. There the gas is on and hissing, the spaces tick with trip wires, the air crouches low and waits to pounce. I hover in the front of the house like a bird caught in a current: not rising, not falling, not resting. Just waiting.
We split that tree down the middle years ago, carved the ripest wood out for ourselves, stripped branches for switch sticks and got drunk on syrup too slow to flee from our fingers. We were gluttons, we were reckless with something green and growing and alive. Now when I hear the heavy dead thump of metal against wood it makes my heart stall.