Violent Forces

I have spent too much time on the news this week, reading of men trying to defend the indefensible, thinking about forces that shape the natural world—water, ice, wind, time—how a mountain can become a hill, then a gully, perhaps someday even a crevasse that opens up a space between other spaces, land divided from land. How someone might someday stand on a future shoreline, watch things retreat with tides.

And I have been thinking too of the sharp pressure that eventually turns coal into diamonds. The layers an oyster builds up over a piece of sand until it becomes a pearl, how we too as people are like that, an accumulation of things, of experiences, memories layering like sediment in our souls until we become not people, but person. A singular I orbiting near other singular I’s, sometimes sharing in their nearness, but never occupying the same exact spaces in our heads, in our hearts, even when we are sharing the nearness of our bodies, even when willingly sharing our bodies themselves.

Of those forces that shape the earth, many of them are violent—cosmic collisions, earthquakes, volcanoes. Human history too, often shaped by violent forces. Over the years I have thought of the way a wolf can wear the clothes of a man, have those same big paws, those same bright eyes, the way they can tear open to the meat of things.

I know that there are women who can be wolves, but the story, as we first learned it, centers around a girl, and my personal history is littered with them, all those women treated like prey, walking around and running into wolves in the dark, in the day, in their own homes, in the bright lit open spaces as well as in the shadows.

The biggest lie that story tells is the one at the end where the woodcutter uses his axe to split the wolf in half and the girl emerges from the belly of the wolf unscathed. The idea that one can be birthed a second time out of violence and remain uninjured—that is the lie. There is a before self and there is an after self, but they are not the same.

An article I read on the forces shaping the earth spoke of how the “solar system’s formation debris gradually bec[ame] scooped up” by other worlds, helping to build them, how meteors crashing into earth may have delivered important carbon and water, how even volcanoes shaped the atmosphere we need to breathe. It argued that what we now deem as essential elements for both creating and sustaining human life would not have been possible without these violent forces. Maybe not. But once we had dinosaurs, large as houses, with long necks, claws meant to rend, even club-like tails to crush—powerful, immense beings whose bodies we are still endlessly trying to put back together, to explain all the ways in which we find them broken.

For all the women who turned corners, then turned heads, then turned to find themselves tunneling out of old selves, standing on the shores of old selves, watching the old selves as if from a distance, as if on another continent entirely—I see you. I see the bright hard hurt of demarcation, the line between the before and the after. Remember that you can’t be claimed, that you may be orbited once or twice a millennia by wolves but that you occupy your own space. A kind of country. A singular I. That in the end you survived your violent forces. That the dinosaurs did not.

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