Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Cradle of Bones


They made the cradle out of grandpa. On a flat and treeless planet, they made a cradle of his bones. Of what was left of him, his softer parts now returned to the old dry earth, he now as featureless as the desiccated land around him. Grandpa’s wrinkled flesh was the dried-out riverbed of memory only, and the sleepless red face of the baby bawled from within a cage of the old man’s bones.

“Sleep, child, sleep,” they said, hundreds of them gathered ‘round its cradle in the memory cave, shushing the baby to sleep. “Grandpa is a mountain lion,” they said. “If we had mountains, if we had lions. Grandpa is a wave, is a whale, if we had oceans and knew of where the whales went.

“Grow, baby, grow,” they said. “Like our food, though you are not food. Grow, baby, grow, as if you were our hopes and dreams, which of course you are, nestled within the ribs of he who begat your own father, now sent by rocket into space. But, our little hopes and dreams, cry less and sleep more, close the twin moons of your eyes and the raw red cave of your mouth. Imagine the dark soil of the sky, rich with the bright seed of stars, the shining wombs of planets.

“Sleep, child,” they said. “For this planet, too, is a womb and you are safe here, and ready to grow.”

The father, not in the bones of his own father, but in the tin of a rocket crossing the sky, moving toward a new world, picked up the phone.

“Boy, do I feel like pizza. Think you could order me a pizza?” he said. “Boy, do I feel like going home. Think you could order me home?”

There was no reply on the other end. The father heard nothing but a hiss, like all the rain of a planet, falling at once.

“Boy, do I feel like a sardine, think you could order me out of this tin can?” he said, a little more loudly.

All he heard from the receiver was a rush of wind, the sound of everyone on his home planet hushing a baby, all at once.

In a corner of the zoo, the mother was brushing down the dark and silver hairs on a gorilla’s back. The gorilla was dressed in a huge, but still too small, sailor’s suit with embroidered white anchors on its blue lapels. Its broad knees looked embarrassed in short pants. “Gorilla baby,” the mother said, “You are a good boy. Look at your handsome face and your big little hands. You will grow fine and strong, tall like your father.”

The mother cupped the gorilla’s wide jaw. “O Gorilla, one day you will be king of this habitat and live a happy life, here with your gorilla mate, and your gorilla friends, and your gorilla babies, while far away in the stars, my husband will be an old man walking across a new planet. And when he dies, they will take his well travelled bones and make a cradle of them, for by then, our baby will be a grown man and he will have a child of his own, growing strong and happy in the cave. And when he is tired, that baby will rest in a cradle of his father’s bones, just like all babies before him, and our people will help him sleep, and they will help him grow, and they will keep him safe.”

The mother kissed the gorilla on the forehead before letting herself out and locking the Plexiglas door of the habitat. In the deep sky, the bioluminescent moon was a pizza-shaped creature, with, or without, bones.

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