from “Women Who Sleep With Dogs“
I see my life come shining, from the West down to the East
Any day now, any day now, I shall be released
Cat stopped on the rise, and called the dogs. The prairie was a glitter of white frost; billions of winking glints of ice had settled over everything in a fine netting. Miniscule flakes of ice floated in the air like diamond dust, catching sunlight into spectral arcs of light.
“Pogonip,” she said.
“Huh?” Indy asked.
“The hoar frost floating in the air. That’s what it’s called,” Cat said.
“That’s a dumb name, you know. It should be called frosties, or chillight, or starglaze, or glisten, or airmist, iceflame, or something pretty, and poetic. Where the fuck did pogonip come from?” Indy grouched.
“I don’t know,” Cat said, “or I don’t remember. Another bad sign, by the way. I can’t remember anything anymore. I’m beginning to forget words. Pogonip is probably some Indian name.”
“No shit. No one remembers stuff like that. I mean, who the hell is a walking Oxford English Dictionary of Etymology? Besides you, and at the present moment excepted, of course.”
“There’s no present, you know,” Cat said.
“What? Look who’s talking silly talk.”
“It’s not silly talk. To have a present moment is impossible.”
“Is that why no one writes in present tense, except Junot Diaz? And he’s a dick and wins the Pulitzer Prize,” Indy kidded.
“Maybe a writer is the exception to the law. They alone can actually have a present tense,” Cat said.
“Was that actually a joke, Cat? Seriously though, how the hell am I going to learn to live in the present if there isn’t one?” Indy said.
“Think about it. There is only what has been, and what is coming. There is no now. It’s impossible to have a present moment, just like reaching light speed is impossible. You of all people should get this, being a science fiction writer and all. Everything has already happened, or it hasn’t happened yet. Children have most everything yet to come, and very little past, so everything is exciting, new, something to hope for. And now, for me, almost everything has already happened. Very little is still the yet part of my existence. The present is a combination of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, what I’ve done, and what I have to do. Nothing is the present. Everyone I’ve loved, every moment I’ve experienced, it’s all past. We are—I am living in the past, waiting for what little future I have left. The only thing I can be sure of is the past. And death. Essentially, we have the past, and we have death. There is no now that isn’t aware, isn’t confined within those two things.”
Indy stood with both feet spread apart, her hands on her hips, her face turned up toward the darkly navy sky, so the tiny ice particles glittered onto her skin, and vanished, making her appear like a frost faery. For the first time since Cat had known her, Indy had nothing to say—no smart-ass comeback, no cheerful sarcasm. Speaking the word death sharpened the pain in Cat’s chest so she could hardly breath—and silenced the unsilenceable voice of her amazing friend.
I am rings. Rings of happy and sad seasons. Thick rings, and thin. An old tree, waiting to be cut down, or struck by lightning. I am rings of history and fear.
Indy flung out her arms in exasperation, and shook her head so the pogonip swirled around her. “And this is what I’m supposed to tell my kids? Sorry Rye, sorry Sterling, you can’t live in the present, Auntie Cat says there isn’t one,” she groused. “What about all the smaltzy, newagey advice know-it-alls? Huh? What am I supposed to say when they tell me to live in the present? Nope, my bad-ass poet friend says there is no present, only death.”
“Well. It is poetic to have death as a theme.” Cat said it resignedly instead of laughing at Indy, as she usually did.
“I wonder if they even read poetry. Those millennials would only read poetry if they thought it was gonna look good on their résumé and let them show up the boomers. The earth-muffins might read Neruda, maybe. Or Ginsberg, and Kerouac, and Plath, I suppose.” Indy whistled for the dogs who were drifting too far from the ridge.
“How many of those people do you actually know?” Cat asked.
“You mean like Ginsberg and Neruda?”
“Sheesh, no. Aren’t they all dead? I mean Millennials and earth muffins.”
“Hey, have you met my boyfriend? He’s a rock band drummer, remember? There are gaggles of enlightened, super-conscious people at every gig, handing out Zen quotes and live-in-the-moment-man advice shit. But you’re right, I don’t know them.”
Cat kept maneuvering around to get pictures that captured the golden glitter suffusing the air. It was impossible. Nothing came out in phone photos the same as it appeared in reality. Sometimes, the result was surprisingly artistic. This was not one of those times. Cat sat down on a basalt outcrop of stones covered in lichen and frost, and got really close to take some shots of the hoar-rimed lichen. Her knee was painfully tight and she rubbed it to warm it up. Then she took a series of shots of the dogs who crowded around Indy, looking cute and hoping it was treat time.
Indy found a perch on a frosty rock. The dogs were mauling her. Sprite and JR crowded into her lap, wriggling, and bumping her to hog her attention. Indy’s yellow Labrador retriever siblings, Hero and Butter, sat about an arm’s length away, and stared in what they probably hoped was a penetrating, compelling way—waiting for Indy to give in and pull the cookies from her pocket. She laughed that throaty, uninhibited laugh Cat found enchanting, and struggled to not fall over backwards under the two Jack Russell’s enthusiasm. She gave up and got out cookies, finally.
For most of her life, Cat had believed time was circular, not linear. Linear thinking was so limited—ideologically Western—and gave rise to trust in misleading beliefs, and fears that drove people to be desperate and gullible. She knew life wasn’t something that simply began and ended for no reason, or at the whim of a myth-god some person made up to quell human fears of all that went bump in the night. The essence of an individual soul wasn’t lost because the material structure wore out. When Danny came back to her, she allowed herself to be vulnerable, to live as if death didn’t matter. But lately, her regret was drowning her inner eye—the eye that saw through the illusion of a present—and her physical self was dragging her spirit into a lost place.
“It’s kind of beautiful out here,” Indy said. “All frosted, and vast and full of light. Look at how the moon is like the cover on a Science Fiction book. The prairie’s pretty cosmic when it’s like this.”
“Yes,” Cat replied slowly. “Like something timeless we just happen to exist in for a passing minute. I try to envision what other places we have been.”
“What do you mean, other places?”
“Other times, other worlds, other realities. Other lives. Other loves. All part of something bigger. Maybe we’re supposed to remember our part in it.” The grief over her inability to remember any of her part in the bigger picture created a portion of the lump in Cat’s throat. She was a lost child who couldn’t remember where she lived. Cat made a small, helpless, squeaky sound as she said the words, and a tear dropped onto her cheek.
“Okay, you just have to stop,” Indy said, standing up. “You are making me sad. This walk is supposed to cheer us up, remember?”
“I know,” Cat said. “I’m sorry.” She tried not to sob, but it broke through before she could take a leveling breath.
“OK, that’s it,” Indy took Cat’s arm, and dragged her to her feet. She hugged her fiercely. “We have to fix this somehow. Come on, let’s go home and plot out a trip to take. I will load up the camper, and we will go somewhere, you, me, the dogs. Beach, or New Orleans, or somewhere to look for dinosaur bones. Maybe catch a Blackwater concert.”
“I’d like that,” Cat admitted.