Liz Rosen tells cryptic and lyrical tale of a cosmic secret-keeper. This story is part of a public art project with artist Heather Arak-Kanofsky.
|Image generated with OpenAI
When the wind blows, I leave my body and go walking.
Sometimes I head toward the moons of Jupiter, crossing the empty, black parsecs of space with the deliberate long strides of a missionary carrying the word. I let the rings of the Galilean satellites carry me along in their slow turns. When I tire of the view from Callisto, I stroll across the cosmic dust to a different moon, Elara or Himalia. I search the skies, looking for a place to empty my box of secrets.
Sometimes I spot a Canadian maple tree and slide down the delicate veins of one of its pronged leaves. I follow the coursing pathways deep into the earth where it is hot and dark and claustrophobic. I am not alone down here. It comforts me to see how everything is connected. If I find the right hollow among the roots and grubs, I may open my box and choose a secret to leave behind. Later, I will return to this tree to see if my secret has taken root. I will examine the leaves to see if their sharp tips have curdled. I will run my hands over the bark to see if it recoils from my knowing touch, and I will climb into the branches to see if they lock twigs to keep the stranger out. Then I will remember what kind of secret I left here.
There are so many that I do not always remember which I have cached where. But when an asteroid rolls its pocked side away from my approach, showing me its icy underbelly instead, I know what kind of secret I left on the far side. I smile to myself as the streaming tail passes by and the tiny particles of ice strike my skin. Then I know I have chosen well and that the secret is well-guarded.
Sometimes I will find a baby and stand at its crib listening to the silences of the universe between its deep slumberous breaths. I like the babies. I open my box and choose my secret especially carefully at these times. I blow the gossamer secret gently into the baby’s ear. Sometimes, the baby twitches in her sleep. Sometimes, he will hiccup. When I visit these babies years later, I will see the glistening thread of the secret woven into their skin so that they seem to glow. I will spend a few minutes following them through their lives to see how this thread ties them to their specific futures, binds them to their specific pasts.
I used to wonder about the babies I didn’t visit, the ones who have no thread to hold them together. I wonder if they are unmoored and drifting. It made me sad. I have so many secrets, but not nearly enough to give to every baby.
Nonetheless, when I hear the low gathering of the wind outside, like a moan eddying in the bottom of a glass jar, I let go of my body and go searching for a new place to leave my secrets. I would like to find a place where I could empty my entire box.
Just last week I thought I had found a place at last. I had followed the corona of the sun around the planet to the sunlit side. In the gentle hills of New Zealand’s south island, I stood and listened and waited. In my bones, I felt the giant animals that once wandered these plains, the Hypsilophodonts and Titanosaurs who lifted their long necks into the sunrise and made the earth rumble as they crossed it. I followed their ghostly images until I saw it: a tiny abandoned tuatara burrow under an unremarkable bit of rubble and shrubbery. I thought perhaps that this was, at last, the spot where I could bury my box and not have to worry about it. It was so remote. I sat on a nearby boulder and looked out over the plains to think. The half moon was finally fading into the brightening sky, and my carved wooden box sat uncomplaining on my lap.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to set my box down and return to my body unburdened. I think of the babies with their secret skins. I push my sleeve up on my arm and look at my own stitched and double-stitched and triple-stitched skin. I am a rag doll held together with the threads of my secrets. If I put my box down and walk away, will my body unravel? I think I am made up of too many secret threads to risk it now. I think I will become dissolute if I try to separate myself from my secrets all at once. I will fall apart.
I rise and stand over the tuatara hole. I will leave more than one secret here in this remote and terrible spot where history and dawn mingle. I will return one day to see what has become of the secrets I plant here, examining the nearby soil for fissures and the yellowing grass for disease. Or maybe, like the babies, the secrets will become shiny specks of mica, making these hills glitter in the sun, and people from down in the valley will come searching up here to find what will be fool’s gold because, by then, the secrets will have strengthened and hardened into geoids, dull, rocky lumps which, broken in two, reveal the brilliant quartz and amethyst needles of the complicated landscape which has grown inside.
I place two secrets carefully into the hole. One dribbles from my palm like mercury, the other pours like black sand. I place a small rock over the entrance to the hole and say my usual benediction for safe-keeping.
Then I turn and walk down toward Christchurch where earlier I spotted a pea-gravel garden in the middle of a children’s playground. There is a small faded statue of the Virgin Mary keeping watch over the gravel and the children. I will tuck a secret between the shrubs at her feet – no benediction will be necessary – and then I will follow the wind home to claim my becalmed body.