Even the Desert is Smaller

All evening I have been looking at pictures of the earth taken by astronauts in space while I am eating chocolate, so maybe that is why the Sahara looks as though someone had layered fudge over orange peel in a vat of sherbet. Seen from this angle the ridges flatten, become the smooth of quartz sliced and held to light, layered, not the dangerous sameness all sand has when lost in it.

From space, even the mountains are soft. From space, all that is hard or dangerous becomes only a painter’s swirled palette. On earth, rocks only become smooth through erosion by water, time, weather, or wind; some small ones, their edges lost in an electric tumbler owned by a child. And yet all the rocks in my garden, each one of them, somehow distinct and unique, like small inanimate people populating the patio—their edges will outlast me.

And so I think too of how your bones are a kind of rock, mineral deposits calcifying under their sack of flesh. When you die, it will be those rocks that remain, the hills of your hands, the ridges of your ribs, a mountain of skull waiting for its own dissolution through time into nothingness.

In the drawer, my husband’s body is a box of sand that I get lost in, a desert devoid of direction, no longer navigable. I remember all those years in bed beside him, the nights when he slept and I didn’t. How it had seemed then like sleep was a kind of little death, his mind leaning far from me where I could not follow. A kind of little death, one I could outlast. I could hold the palm of my hand to his back to feel him breathe. I could hold the palm of my hand to his back and feel the way his heart beat, feel the way the blood rushed through the tiny capillaries, the way it rushed through all the veins and arteries, like it might have been the water in these pictures those astronauts took from space, the kind that dives its way through continents and countries, his back, a kind of country. His body, a kind of home.

Tonight I do not want this empty bed, want instead, even if only briefly, some other back, want instead, even if only briefly, some new territory to chart, want instead the hill of someone’s hip in my hand, want those ridges of ribs, want, too, that sedge of someone’s skin. Because even the desert is smaller than loss, and in my drawer I’ve got containers of it, uncountable ash, want instead, even if only briefly, some other body to lay claim to.

Some other living body. Someone to show me how something can return.

Instead of just go.

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