Michelle Bailat-Jones: Elemental (a trilogy)

marathonlitreview —  February 2, 2014 — Leave a comment

solitude awarded
There are thorn bushes along the trail to the ravine and this slows her down, a good thing
because she is too hasty this morning, impatient to find again the cradle of flat rock she
discovered the night before, a platform for watching the hawks circle upward on hot
thermals, their sharp cries launched off into the wide air as they glide ever higher.

Carefully now, slowly now, she moves with measured steps, she knows the ravine will come
upon her suddenly, the trail will drop off and she might lose her footing—and yes, here it is,
she must catch herself, a hand snatched out to grip a thorny branch while drops of blood rise
to the surface of her torn skin, but she has remembered this place correctly and her triumph
surges swift and severe as she sidesteps the end of the trail and ducks to crouch against the
rock ledge, breathing hard with the height that plunges before her and the thrill of solitude

She has escaped her party for this short moment, left them to their tents and sleeping bags
and muffled repose, their dreams of climbing and forest domination, and she looks out as
the sun rises over this canyon, as it changes the color of the rocks on the far wall, the rocks
at her feet, where a cold circle of stone and ashes whispers against this lie of isolation in
which she would like to believe—this clearly a favorite spot with other hikers.

But her disappointment is short lived because this circle of stones is not dead, it is already on
fire, already dancing with the heat and the light of the swelling dawn, and she must test it
with her own skin, must reach out to touch the flames she has not lit and which do not
smoke, and yes, there is heat, but it is not separate from her and she knows then that she is
the only part of this landscape that has actually caught on fire.

an enquiry

There is nothing left but the unmatched oars and so she must taken them, carrying them
over her shoulder down to the water, her steps those of a careful tramp, and to the boat
that only leaks a little, that is not the sturdiest of vessels but safe for this hour amidst the
waves which tap against the hull of the wood like restless hands forced into too much

She pushes the boat through the silt and the sand until it is rocking free, its belly first grazing
the bottom but floating now, and her legs are wet up to her knees until she is jumping, that
smooth arc of her body, so much younger in these moments, and then she is in the boat, her
back straight, her arms a perfect triangle to the water and those rough-grained wooden oar
handles in each hand, her thumbs clasped and already a gentle splinter sliding beneath the
skin as she pulls hard, and the push back of the water against her is like a breath along her
neck, an invitation to come home.

There are days for looking and days for rowing and today she must remain in motion, this is
no pleasure cruise, and there is an inquiry in each stroke backward, her body a question
mark and the turn of her head away from land the only answer she might possibly offer, and
as the boat glides along she considers her position between these two paths of blue, the arc
of the one above and the cup of the one below, both ready to engulf her if she would let

So she is pulling hard again, dipping those unmatched oars deep into the water and feeling
the strain in her shoulder at this imbalance, and she wonders about the color that is made
where the sky and the ocean come together, this slim space where the water can only reach
up and the sky can only reach down, and where anything in between risks a fearful paleness,
but not today, today she will not be erased because her own blue is the deep midnight of
her motion and the hard sapphire of her thought.

those earth-held ores

She watches them now as they are spread long-limbed over the dirt, their fingers reaching
into the redness and the grit, their elbows and knees always dusty, always rubbed a little
raw from their kneeling at play, this serious activity of theirs, eyes grave and directions
passed between them in sensible whispers, never shouted because her children do not raise
their voices.

And still today she checks the urge to lean into their studious faces and roar, to let out this
great cry that is pitted deep, that she has been burying all these years, digging it deeper with
each held breath and unspoken word, with each closing of her eyes against the glitter of
those earth-held ores. The children have sensed her presence at the edge of their game but
they will not turn to her, will not speak either because this is an always-game, a silence that
means I am listening, I hear you.

Instead they pick up their sticks and scratch at the surface of the soil, clawing with their
fingers too, with nails that will never be truly clean, and certain they will go deep enough
into the rocks and the dirt this time, certain that if they can just sit here long enough with
their tools and their quiet focus, if they can work hard under the steady gaze of their mother,
they will uncover the treasure that is whispered about throughout their lives, these minerals
in the ground, these fuels and particles and energy buried where only the strongest of the
men can go looking.

These children know so very much about energy, and so they hunch their backs in this dusty
untidy garden, they throw their sticks away for shovels and they keep at it, turning over the
rocks, moving the soil, thrusting their feet into the holes they dig, feeling the coolness of the
uncovered earth and knowing it will only get colder the deeper they go.

Michelle Bailat-Jones 
is a writer and translator living in Switzerland, originally from the Pacific NW. Her translations, fiction and criticism have appeared in various journals, including Hayden’s Ferry Review, Necessary Fiction, Ascent, Fogged Clarity, Cerise Press, The Quarterly Conversation and The Kenyon Review. She runs a literary blog called Pieces and is the reviews editor at Necessary Fiction.

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