Variation on a Fable

When Fannie and I moved to Chicago, to a spacious brick-and-mortar loft in the West Loop, I began to write a long series of nature poems. “Is everything all right?” she asked one evening, unpinning her long brown hair in the dresser mirror. “Oh, it’s nothing,” I said, “—a passing phase.” I sat on my side of the bed, holding Rimbaud’s Illuminations, admiring the way Fannie’s hair curved down her back like the trunk of a cypress tree. I knew that it was not a phase, that even our spacious loft would sometimes suffocate me, but I didn’t know how to break it to her. I wandered the streets, barefooted, picking up seagull feathers, tapping the walking stick I’d whittled. “Fan,” I imagined blurting out at the dinner table, “I’m a nature poet.” Worst-case scenario, she’d choke on the skin of her baked potato and keel over. That would solve the problem, I suppose, except I knew I’d miss her: the dimple on her left buttock; the ever-tweaking arc of her thin eyebrows; even the hip, urban slang she liked to slip into our conversations. Overhead, the clouds disintegrated. I reached into my pocket and fondled the pebble I carried—a little black crumb from the Mesozoic era—and tried to center myself, despite the river of stroller-pushing mothers shoving past me. When I arrived back at our loft, I saw that my desk had been plundered: quills busted; ink pooled on the desktop; drawerfuls of nature poems scattered across the floor. Fannie sat in my wooden chair, reading my logbook. “I suppose we should move to Montana, then,” she said. “A stick-and-mud hut in the purple shade of a mountain.” I said nothing. My heart fluttered. “White buffalo drinking from the moonlit waters,” she said, standing. I took a step backward. Her voice fell to a whisper. “Fire crackling in a darkened wood. Dried plums and The Flowers of Evil.” She had me backed into a corner. “Remembering Chopin, as the first light shatters through the spruce trees.”

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