Saturday, May 16, 2015

Dull Swords

I found my jar of shark teeth yesterday. My favorite is large and worn smooth by the ocean. Part of it is missing. Not a T like the rest but an L. Broken off long before I ever pinched it from the sand. I spent entire spring days in Florida with my family fishing for dull swords. No threat to anyone. In fact, so far removed from a shark's mouth, I don't remember considering the sharks at all. A world of them only a leg away, and as I later learned, eons past, an entire evolutionary line of bear trap faces.

In the absence of shells there were teeth by the thousands. But they weren't teeth, really. They were fossils. Over time, minerals seeped in and supplanted the teeth. We were removing ghost rocks from an ancient place and carrying them back to Kentucky, another ancient place that used to be a shallow sea itself. The fossils had no currency beyond the praise I received when I found the largest one of the day, small seeming now in my adult hands. Still, we collected them like they were important. Like they meant something. We curled over the water and held the sand tight in our fists, loosening our fingers a little as the waves ran in and we waited for the clear suck of the current to siphon away the smallest pieces.

Even on vacation we were beholden to chores.

My grandfather was a dentist. Teeth are part of my family mythology. I had braces longer than most children, so now I lack a charming gap between my two front teeth. Today, I would make a deal with evil forces to revive that gap, but back then I was grateful. In lieu of natural weirdness, I come up with reasons to receive tattoos. My newer friends haven't asked what they mean. Maybe we're all adults now. Maybe we've heard enough stories about people's tattoos, and maybe they weren't good stories. Even if I tell people my tattoos mean one thing, they don't. They mean more than I can say. They have origins compelling to me, but when I open my mouth to tell the stories, something has leeched out the meaning. The teeth have been pulled.

I've been drawing. Those teeth grew back. A long time ago, I thought I'd be an illustrator. People told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up. The problem is I still want to be everything.

A literary magazine emailed me a couple months ago. Nothing unusual. I've been writing pretty exclusively for a few years now. Sometimes magazines ask for stories, and if I have something I send it. But I reached the end of the email, and I got to the question, "Will you illustrate a future issue of our magazine?" I'd only been drawing again for a few weeks. I didn't know if I could do it. (Though of course I knew I could do it.) So I did it. You'll see those illustrations in the future, or if you come over to my house you can see them now, along with a bunch of dicks I've drawn. Why dicks? For fun? Sure. For fun. If you need a reason, take that one and rest easy.

I have other birds in the aviary, as always. I'm doing my best to keep them alive.