by Carol Ann Parchewsky
If you can’t close the sky now, then lower the clouds, thickened by grief and fed by the tears of the children that didn’t hug their parents goodbye at the train station on Tuesday. If you can’t close the sky now, then bring on the Spring, erupt the buds on the trees and extend the branches overhead. Shelter us from sorrow, protect us from gut-wrenching loss. If you can’t close the sky now, then explain why in words my toddler can understand. Tell her why she is not important, tell her why her family is like dust on a shelf, brushed aside, inconsequential.
I dream of cleaning the bedrooms starting with the largest and moving to the smallest. Picking the soiled clothing, the mismatched socks, the tattered t-shirt, the torn blue jeans from the floor. I pause when I replace the books on the shelf. I open one and flip to the page where we would laugh and roll on the floor each taking a turn making the scary voice and the scared voices. Mr. Bunny with the missing left ear and shattered right eye gets a full embrace, his smell of the past, the formula, the baby powder, the dryer sheets, the middle of the night feedings. Mr. Bunny sits next to the family photo all smiles and blue sky.
If you can’t answer my request immediately, then tell me about the term, about who and how many need to be consulted and posture and pontificate, tell me the word count, the page count, whether 12-point Comic Sans font is accepted. Tell me who needs to hear.
I dream of flipping through the photo albums and seeing your births, your first days of school, your trophies. I tremble when I turn to the pages marked Wedding and Grandchildren. I smile when I run my finger across the page and pause at not one grandchild, not two or three, but ten, one for each finger on my hands. Each holding a brilliant yellow sunflower.
If you can’t do this now, then tell me how many nights I can tuck my child into bed, underneath the smiling sun and moon, with stars that twinkle and wink instead of hidden under the stairs in the dirt cellar full of last year’s potatoes and lined with braided onions and garlic far from the eruptions of light from man-made weapons of mass-destruction.
If you can’t answer my plea, then tell how many people need to explode, how many hands, legs, heads need to fly away to make you hear us. Do they need to be from my family, my child, my mother, my father, my nephew, my niece, my husband, my grandparents, or my neighbour, my teacher, my doctor, my mail carrier? Do I need to birth more children? Or can they be from the army of mannequins dressed in shades of camouflage from olive to moss to cadmium green. Can the mannequins and statues fill the quota instead of my child who suckles at my breast, and my love who tells me be careful and wraps his arms around me, sheltering my mind from the news?
I dream of my childhood and the freedom to roam and ride our bikes to the schoolyard. We clip the tetherball to the pole and begin the challenge. I play my brother, then he plays our neighbour, then the neighbor plays me. I never win, but I try, again and again.
Whether sane or insane, the system to count appendages is undefined and indescribable. There isn’t a document in a hidden chamber beneath the capitol buildings down a narrow candlelit hallway inside a metal box with thousands and thousands of locks covering a simple word puzzle, a cryptogram, where the answer is PEACE. There isn’t a document that details a kajillion hands left and right; a bajillion legs, peg leg, chicken legs, dog legs, and left and right; a megazillion heads, salamander, newt, baby, toddler, child, teenager, adult, parent, president, premier, ambassador, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, enemy, frenemy. There isn’t a logical, tangible, understandable, relatable, defined quantity sanctioned by an underwriter.
Tell me how many ounces are in a kilogram, tell me how many breaths a child can breathe, tell me how to solve a Rubik’s cube or a Wordle, but don’t tell me how many will fade.
I learned to walk, I learned to talk, I learned to write, I know my multiplication times tables, how to boil water and fry an egg easy over, I know how to start a fire in the forest with kindling and a twig, I can write a drabble, a quartern, a chapter book, a novella, a novel; I can make filo pastry from flour, butter, eggs, salt, baking powder, and water. I can’t solve a quadratic equation or prevent a skinned knee.
Tell me how many, and I will be waiting for this moment.
I dreamt of my father and when he taught me how to change a starter in my ’68 Highland Green Fastback Mustang. I remember lying upside down in the front seat, my head near the pedals twisting and turning the wires. He told me common sense wasn’t that common. He taught me to care.
If I can’t close the sky, then let me unzip the sun and unbuckle the moon, wrap me in beams of unbroken light and the tender purr of the sunflower fields. Tell me how many sleeps my children have left. Tell me how many first laughs, first smiles, first hugs, and first steps I will witness before the sky shatters and its fragments pierce my head, my hands, my legs; let me wait for this moment that the sky will close.
If you can’t close the sky, then open your eyes, your arms, your hands. Rain down sheets to flood the playgrounds, the homes, the streets, the bridges, the churches, the cities and towns. Grasp hold of my children and don’t let them drown. Don’t let them drown. Teach them to solve a quadratic equation and bandage their knees. Teach them to care. Teach them to hear. Teach them to close the sky.
© Carol Ann Parchewsky
Painting: Sky by Carol Ann Parchewsky