Desire Path

MacDonald Frances Desire Path

Then and this. Now and here.

A pause.

Cool air shivers skin. The bus engine grumbles below plastic seats molded to cup a human’s soft places. Thighs of meat padding bone. Outside, women in a pack bustle down the sidewalk in jeans stretched taut.

The days grow shorter.

Even so, I forget. Forget to stop and touch the zinnia with its five shades of orange tethered to a center like chocolate. Forget to let the crepe myrtle dip across my cheek. Barely notice a fat bee chugging past me towards what bursts from the hedges. A body that should be too weighty for the tissue of wings somehow stays airborne.

I forget that eventually, everything falls. I forget to catch drift.

We walk today. Walk and talk, walk and talk. This is what we do. Commutes and kids and race in the workplace. Leaders. Architecture. Aches and aging joints.

I meet you across a desire path. You wait half in the shade. It would only take a few extra steps to go around. I forget how to slow down. I wear this groove into the wild earth, here where the plans didn’t include a direct way. All proper routes leading out from me would take me anywhere but the place of you.

The green expanse appeals too, doesn’t it? This is what we learned, what we keep on having to learn. A tract left alone turns to meadow. Succession reigns here, as it does in every place we relinquish our grip. Eventually seed gives way to sapling, branch to nest, bramble to forest. To see you across this rivals gazing at horizons. It is standing at an overlook where panorama sweeps distance into one indistinct blue.

We stayed there for a while. Turned towards other things. Rain came then a season of swelter. We watched it happen in glimpses. Weeds then a flowering. I never stopped looking even when you did.

Time is a maker of marvels. The low purple flowers, the fox that lives in a burrow under the silent earth.

Truth. I kept stepping over hedgerows. Even then. Thorns and nettle. A thirst in the skin. The single flat trail is swallowed by shadow but make no mistake, it’s there. The dusk-pearl underside of the tilted blades, each like a wrist turned open and bare. Beckoning.

No sign, no mark on the map. Of course not. This route shouldn’t exist. No one has named it, graded it, gotten it up to code. The path returns because we return to it. Only this.

Then and this.

Imagine when we speak from flesh. If.

For now, we stride, we match. We walk and talk. No yearning, not yet. Because of this, for now and here, I don’t forget. I gather what falls.

Our palms sweat. So much sun, so much momentum. A glancing touch, a release. Barely a beat yet it hums along the heart line. Even now. A copper quartz gleam, the fine grain across the soft desert of your face. We have nowhere to go to be alone. We only walk, only talk, as if we are giving the very bodies we inhabit a wide but ever shrinking berth.

One determined bird tucked high up in a tangle of rusting limbs cries her song across the sky. We quiet. We pause. We catch a ribbon of music before it’s gone.


Image: Frances MacDonald, ‘Tis a Long Path which Wanders to Desire’, 1909-15

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4 thoughts on “Desire Path”

  1. When some people talk about money
    They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
    Who went out to buy milk and never
    Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
    For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
    Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
    Like a woman journeying for water
    From a village without a well, then living
    One or two nights like everyone else
    On roast chicken and red wine.

    “The Good Life” by Tracy K. Smith

  2. Susan Griffin’s Happiness:

    Happiness. I am not used
    to this. (There is always
    something wrong.)
    Look at it
    the bright early tree.
    (I am trying to find out
    how you fell.)
    The leaves have already turned.
    (I want you to see
    this, how they
    glow outside the glass.)
    Morning light strikes
    differently. For so
    many years I hardly
    had time to know such
    moments. They struck me
    with such intensity
    I would have said
    battered me open.
    I never understood
    they were mine.
    I was panicked.
    Unhappiness caught up with me
    all the time.
    Did you know
    the speed of light never alters
    even when you go faster
    it will be
    still that much faster
    than you?
    (I am thinking that in your fall
    something momentous occurred.)
    What I see as beautiful
    I want you to see too.
    Next door, the workmen are hammering.
    Very soon we’ll go to lunch.
    For some reason this moves me to tears.
    How life is.
    (One does not have to explain
    what occurs. One only need say
    it has meaning.)
    Years ago, when I was young
    I traveled to Italy, took in
    the great sights. I was in awe, yet
    I did not understand
    seeing Masaccio’s frescoes
    fading like shadows into the walls,
    this would be the only time
    nor that
    I would never forget.
    Those muted shades are
    still with me, as possession
    and longing, and the view too
    of the square before that church
    the air, newly spring,
    that day, all of it.
    Life, I have finally begun to realize,
    is real.
    (All this time you recover
    from falling
    will sink indelibly into mind.)
    The leaves
    may fall before you are able
    to see them. Science
    has recently learned
    the line
    of existence is soft
    and stretches out like a field
    wind and light shaping the grass
    energy
    of sight giving consciousness
    force. In the meantime
    we live out our lives.
    (This morning we talked for so long
    everything became lucid.
    How can I say what I see?)
    At each turning
    perfection eludes me.
    One moment is not like another.
    Last spring
    the house next door caught fire.
    There was the smell of gas.
    We thought
    both houses would go.
    I vanished up the hill,
    went to the house of a friend
    where we listened for flames
    and to that aria from Italian
    opera, was it the one of love,
    or jealousy, or grief?
    My house was untouched.
    Now the one next door is painted,
    fixed. In place of
    perfection, the empty hands
    I turned out to the world
    are filled.
    With what? A letter
    half written, the notes
    I make on this page,
    this new feeling about my shoulders
    of age, that sad child’s story
    you told me this morning,
    the workmen’s tools sounding
    and stopping. What? As time
    moves through me, does it also
    move through you?
    I keep remembering what you said,
    ways you have of seeing (and that
    light must have curved with
    you fall.) This
    is the paradox of vision:
    Sharp perception softens
    our existence in the world.

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