The land that raised us, she and I, was scraped free of myth, tilled and squared and poisoned until there were no more clouds of birds blotting the sky, no sandhill cranes swimming prairie seas. Sandy soil excellent for growing potatoes. Ho-poe-kaw, Glory of the Morning, last female chief of the Ho-Chunk, fed her people from this land and bargained for their survival with the white men who kept coming, kept coming, kept coming. Ours were the myths of the colonizer: Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, Fourth of July. Our family legend the great-great-grandpa and great-great-grandma who fled the same dissolved country, floated beneath Lady Liberty on the same boat, moved to the same small German town in Wisconsin, and there met and married and built a house on lands taken from one nation to build another, embossed with the names of the vanished people who had cared for it without plows, without poison.
So we lifted our myths from books and movies. We left gifts for the Littles who lived in the walls of our house. We tramped the back woods around Bloody Run Creek looking for Anne Shirley’s fairy rings of birch trees. I bit on jealousy the day she saw Emily of New Moon’s “flash,” that swift moment when the veil drops on the radiant essence of the world, and did I know then she would cross to it before I did? In high school we watched Candyman in the dark basement amid the smell of old mildew and new framed wood and we held hands and chanted into the bathroom mirror blotched with my hair spray, and I said it because I wanted to be as brave as she was: candyman, candyman, candyman. We dare you to take us, vengeful ghosts.
Of course the ghosts came, not then but later, and was it because I faltered that I was spared, that the hook caught and tore her insides instead of mine, Candyman as cancer, the bloody run from health to white bone to shadow. I held her hand again at the last. Then her sweater, then her shoes. Now I hold red birthday roses at her grave where her name is embossed on an aging stone. I choose crimson roses. I have my own ghost. She is the story I tell over and over, for what is myth but memory rehearsed until it becomes worldview, touchstone, lost ideal. She is the secret that divides me from Those Who Know and those who do not. She is the logic for everything I do. Every time I retell it she gains something until she is every myth that ever existed—La Llarona, trickster Coyote, my glory of the morning—and when I go to meet her I am afraid I will take the last thing left of her with me and all that will remain is a name dissolving into the piece of land that is hers forever, into sand that is good for potatoes and salted with tears.
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Married, Living in Italy available from Pearl City Press
My Day As Regan Forrester out now from Canty Dames
September 27, 2021