There are the nothings, either sweet or scolding, offered in the cool of an afternoon or hissed in the heat of a moment. There are the alleluias, the Celtic Gloria, the antiquated verses of crescendoing hymns. There is the fact that you are beautiful–without modifier, without exception–and that you are also capable. There is the secret to accepting compliments: be gracious and thankful; feel no obligation to volley them back to their givers. Your only imperative is not to be smug. There is the advice my mother gave me: there will always be someone more skilled or more lovely than you. And there is my amendment: that is an inconsequential thing. There are confessions, of risk, of a fluid faith, of profound uncertainty. (I do not often deal in absolutes; I have been, too often, proven wrong.) There is God as we imagine Him, in visions: yours is of a massive hand stroking the crowns of children’s heads and leaving streams of gold dust in its wake; mine is of a listener, a philosopher, whose riddles will woo and thrill and confound me well into eternity. There is the confession that I do not mind not knowing, that though I trade in scholarship, daily darkening the halls of academe, I feel safest when I am unsure, when I am not so arrogant as to claim that I know better than others what should be right for all. And there are the scraps that swirl on the wind, debris upon which the wisdom of ages is scrawled. We catch them, like lightning bugs, like butterflies, pull them apart, read their wings. Sometimes, love is haggard, one tells us. Its garments are sooty and tattered. We nervously pass it on sidewalks, afraid to open our purses as it dares to ask alms. It retreats into alleys under our scathing gaze. We deny it its work and its glory, unable to recognize it as it is, unwilling to touch it long enough to brush the embers from its medals. Love rarely comes in gleaming armor. Love hobbles up, discharged from war.
These are the things we whisper, when you’ve climbed my legs and torso like a tree, used my arms as sturdy limbs, and dangled.
The things we shout are fewer. We need only raise our voices in accordance with the stakes. And too few things in the life I’m fashioning for you prove dire enough to necessitate the noise. Still, we are more than able of turning ourselves into cannons. Our hearts are as volatile as powder kegs; they are riled by hate, ignited by injustice. We do not like to be told who we are; when we are underestimated, we are ferocious. If ever your rights are threatened, know that I will roar for you–and that sound that will escape this bodily cage where I’ve kept it corralled, will be like nothing you have heard or are likely to hear again. Of a truth, the time is nigh, the day is close at hand, when I will lower you from the limbs where you love to perch and tuck you safely into the cavern I’ve prepared. You will dip your fingers into the well of a mortar and streak my face with the indigo you find. We will kiss and, before we part, we will howl like Dahomey, like wolves up toward the open ears of moons.