book 3: the abacus and the felicitous feather


That night I woke in the darkness to the sound of my name being called. I walked out of the house and saw a man who looked at me, nodded, and turned and walked into the night. I followed him to a path that led us to a river I had not seen before. We climbed into a small boat and began to float downstream. It was quiet and I sat very still, looking at him. He asked if I could hear the goldenrod soldier beetles and their relentless march through the forest. I shook my head that I could not. We floated in silence again. Then he spoke.

To survive in a small boat in rough water, do the opposite of huddle. It is at this moment, you must lean, he said. Lean until touching the surface feels inevitable. Lean until you can look whatever is underneath you in the eyes. Lean until you can pull with all of your strength, he said. To master the boat, he said, you must understand there are three forces present; you, the boat, and the water. To master the boat is to speak with the water. Show it you trust it. You will be able to flow with it. The water is the bridge, he said. The architecture is never what it appears to be, he said. The boat is the tool. You are the notes. The three together, are the dance.

I watched his teeth while he spoke. They were crooked. I opened my mouth to reply but the only thing I could say was, Your teeth are crooked. He smiled. We only see symmetry because we have two eyes, he said. We floated to shore. I turned around to look at the land as we approached. When I turned back to him again, he was gone.

I stepped into the ankle deep water and pulled the boat ashore. As I did, I found his eye sockets in the water, near the area where we had departed together. Their empty pink pools were clean and curved and they floated at the water’s edge. It was only his eye sockets as his eyes had synchronized and swam ahead. I peered out into the water, trying to see them but it was too dark. Suddenly, I heard them. They whispered to me from somewhere over the water. They said, we see future and bring it back to you. You can hear it by reading teeth.

I crawled back into my bed after I dried my hands and feet. I began to drift off to sleep when I heard his voice one last time and I never have heard it since.

He said, When I was a boy I swallowed the earth.

What did it taste like? I asked him.

Its hard to describe. There are many tastes. They all blend together but the strongest tastes rise. He replied.

What are the strongest tastes? I asked him.

All of the springs and all of the dyes. All of the landfills and the small old trees. The taste of all of those tears and all of those years.

What do years taste like? I asked.

They taste like yellow, the way yellow tastes, he replied.

Near the shore the sockets of your eyes lifted themselves and drummed on the surface of the water right before you walked away, I told him.

What did they drum? He asked me.

They spelled out, sing along.



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