by Lauren Carley
Living still, quietly, lest pain return, a self-induced slowness, bordering on entropy. Not moving too fast, lest an inadvertent bump trigger the distant galloping horses, bringing them closer than I can bear. Listening to my breath, I hear children’s voices playing along the squeaky white beach of my great inland sea. Red hypodermics and bits of hair can be found in the water. Hard to call it medicine.
This road is old and dusty with many ruts and holes. Unpaved for rough decades, it will be generations before wealthy tarmac smooths stones. What if I were to call for more gravel? What if I chose to remember shoes?
Inside the ICU’s continuous, low-level hum, its jagged contrapuntal duet of forced air and percussive generators, I ask for a map of the world to be hung over my bed. Aha! There is the house, I point out to the candy-striped angel floating above me, and there, grandmother’s wig. I spy grandfather’s generously-oiled library, in my fractured crystal ball. Its structural, hard surfaces gleam with sweat and polish. Gold revelation gilds his Bible’s pages and titles rows of leather-bound concordances. This library kept his heart beating.
In the stillness of night, moonhung, starstrewn, we children range free; lambs in a herd, our protectors the lit windows of the neighborhood. Surrounded, we don’t hide too far away. For there are other things on the edges: wolves of failure to succeed, the yellow bared teeth of mouth pain during chemo treatment, the raw high whine of herpes in the nerves.
Swelling suddenly, my heart reveals a hidden corner of itself in the silence of one missed beat. Silent, a quarter rest memory of a lamb, on its side in the straw, its black eyes looking straight into mine. How can a beat powerful enough to pump fuel to my entire frame feel so gentle? When did I take my hand off my heart? Have I been so sure of its rhythm that attention strays? Who will count the beats? Who will keep me alive?
The aroma of morning light is infused with occasional birdsong and the voice of the lamb can be seen but not heard, writ large on digital display. Pausing in skyblue delight, the tolling aches recede. I have survived the night. Once again, I hunger for operatic overtures, thirst for roses’ touch.
By night, I play this twilight game, children’s voices call me in for another round. Ally, ally in free! Behind the voices, underneath the horses, inside the hum, I hear northern wind in grandfather’s pines on my inner ear, one of many sensitive bones by which I navigate through compassless change, shallows, hidden rocks. By day, I don’t know who breathes this breath into me, but find my hand back on my heart.
Lauren Carley performs with her ensembles Polyhymnia and Schola, and tours her original cabaret interpreting the music of Kurt Weill. Ms. Carley teaches choral music for San Francisco State and UC Berkeley, maintains a private voice studio, leads on-going sight-singing classes, conducts local community choruses, and leads the Joy of Singing in Sacred Spaces vocal workshop each summer in Calvi del’ Umbria, Italy. In addition to leading on-going retreats, performances and workshops in singing for healing, sacred services, and community engagement, she is deeply grateful for the opportunity to write with Autumn Stephens and her merry band of writers.