On bike rides through the nearby university campus, I am drawn to the "communication" manhole covers along the route. Stumbling upon this one nestled in the grass like a gravestone led me to reflect on the life and death of communication in society as a whole and in my own personal experiences. Ongoing is a series of works that "lift" the cover, first in a graphite rubbing and currently in experimentation with dry embossing on handmade cotton papers.
In the Sta(i)rs
in collaboration with Megan Kaminski
for the Blank Space fairy tale competition
written by Megan Kaminski, illustrated by Regina Kraus
One afternoon in the waning summer, a girl set out walking past her family’s fields of wheat, past the borders of their farm. Slipping her mother’s notice, she wanted to disappear for a few hours from the smallness of the farm. So instead of another afternoon of canning in the hot kitchen, she wandered out beyond the wheat fields, following crows above and the rustle of mule deer in the big bluestem. Late cicada hum lulled her along her happy wanderings through the browning prairie. But it soon faded and the stillness of the day overtook the plains.
Rolling up her sleeves to let her arms brown, absorbing the heat of the sun, she settled by a limestone outcropping. The wooden fences of the farm disappeared far into the distance. In the lazy warmth of the day, she drifted into daydreams spurred on by cotton clouds spooling overhead. Shadows cast over the tallgrass, mottling the endless golden brown with shade. Daydreams gave way to something else, the gentle hum of the prairie catalyst to some deeper want.
Soon her long skirt swirled around her, lifted by a phantom breeze. Her dress transformed to feather. Her arms stretched and extended, flesh lightened into transparent skin coated with down and feather, flapping to raise her high into the sky. Soaring and dipping over the plains, she found herself a solitary hawk—far above the endless rolling prairie, far farther from her family and farm than she had ever been. She drifted towards the setting sun, the horizon licked by pink and orange flame. She dove into cottonwoods lining a stream and let her cry echo across the plains.
And in these travels her heart felt alive in a way it never had before. Far from stained white aprons of the kitchen, far from the musty barn filled with milking cows, far from the braid-pulling of her older brothers, far from the day upon day drag of labor and longing for anything other than the day to day. The air around her embraced her, cushioning wing and feather. Warm currents lifted her far above the prairie floor—each inch enveloped in the fading day.
After the sun had long set, she returned to ground. Feathers receded and she again smoothed her skirt over her legs. Her skin still held the memory of flight and escape. She woke to the black stillness of night: a sliver of moon in the sky and punctuation of stars above. Tunnels of starlight traveled from some distant body. As the film of flight dissolved and she slowly came to full consciousness, she felt her back resting soft along the ground.
The deep-rooted grasses beneath mirrored the stars in the sky, and she imagined them traveling great depths in the sod beneath her. The ground that supported her body and the bodies and livelihoods of her family generations before. She closed her eyes and imagined their bones deep below. She saw the bones of countless prairie chickens, coyotes, and deer mice. She saw the bones of her grandmother and great aunts; she saw the bones of all the people who came before her. Blood turned to mineral. The sod and the prairie renewing and absorbing one thing into another. The echo of centuries and bodies before her tolled deep in her chest.
And so perhaps she found great peace in that moment when the earth softened, whispering sweetly to her. The loam beneath her spoke softly with insistent invitation, pulling gently at first at her tailbone, her hips sinking into dark clay. She tensed her arms and back and legs and resisted for a moment. Then only the stillness of night. The gentle glow of stars high above. The earth slurping against her back and the gentle pull below. Until just her fingertips remained above ground. And then ground’s soft embrace.
On the farm that evening, the mother’s annoyance at her daughter skipping chores started to soften. The mother’s back ached and her hands smarted from work, but soon they softened, too. As the night wore on the mother and father and all the brothers had brief moments of recognition—thoughts of the girl and questions about where she might be. But those thoughts faded slowly, slipping away deep into the night. And by the time morning came, no one remembered to look for her. It was as if she had disappeared completely. Only an occasional trace of the wheat on the horizon, or perhaps the sun reflecting off a trough of water, would stir something in their minds. But, truly, it was as if she never existed.