Santa Fe, New Mexico
Anne Valley-Fox is the author of How Shadows Are Bundled (University of New Mexico Press, 2009), Point of No Return (La Alameda Press, 2006), Fish Drum 15 (Fish Drum Press, 1999) and Sending the Body Out (Zephyr Press, 1986). She published Your Mythic Journey (with Sam Keen, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1989) and is co-editor of five oral history collections from the New Mexico Federal Writers’ Project (Sunstone Press, 2008-2013).
The concubine of the underworld is expecting. Up above, we
hold our breath with shivery fascination. She might deliver at any
time, any place, and in multiples. The instant Ebola pirouettes
west, a state-of-the-art hazard team will rush to the scene—
stifled in moon suits standing back from her sweaty thighs
they’ll watch aghast as the newborn slips from its poisonous
caul into our midst. Though its isolation will be scrupulous,
the medical team will be sweating bullets. Because we are
linked, like paper dolls in a flammable chain of contagion
and death, the virus, a monster of pure chemistry, provokes in me
a feeling almost tender. Unlike the drone, dispatched from a U.S.
Air Force base to take out a terrorist target in Afghanistan,
or the hooded assassin raising his hatchet over a bowed head,
Ebola plays no favorites in her fast embrace.
My partners and I have stolen three children, intending
to start a circus. The boy is a gifted aerialist, though he’s clumsy
on land. The girl, a gold-metal gymnast, has never flown trapeze.
The four-year-old, brilliant in circus arts, speaks only Chinese;
she’s chubby and snubs what we cook. My partners are
twenty-somethings of the “whatever” ilk. I tell them we really
need a plan. We can’t hold the children captive forever, so
how to convince their parents to send them to our circus?
Also, what acts are we going to offer? We need to establish
a practice schedule and get started. When do they think we’ll
be ready to open and where can we find a tent? My partners loll
on the floor—“No worries!” The baby has plucked up a centipede
and is avidly chewing. Scooping the leggy remains from her
mouth, I see in a flash the calamitous turn my life has taken.
Women and girls of the sweeping caste sweep all day—
smoothing the ground around barefoot tailor, naked toddler,
the mendicant’s toes evenly spaced like dormer windows.
They sweep around families sleeping on sidewalks,
rolled up in sheets like logs on the floor of a forest.
They whisk the walkways with bundled straw, erasing prints
so that monkey, viper, stinging wasp on the sacred rump
of the cow in the lane may come again as gods. Passing
a mirror I check my reflection, noting potential corrections.
“Comparisons are odious,” my father was wont to say.
Might the sweeper compare her fate with the garbage sorter?
The builder of funeral pyres? “Love yourself unconditionally,
no matter what,” the dharma teacher instructs. I’ll need
all the lives I have coming.
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