We'd tried to dig the sides to a slope of no more than 20 degrees, but we must've overdone it, because my cautious walk turned into a slip, and I went sliding into the pond on my bare ass, cool clay caking my palms. Then I was in, swimming around, pedaling in the water, flinging my legs like the frogs, breaststroking back and forth. Five days of rain had not managed to fill 'er up to 10 feet; I'd say our pond was filled to four feet, ten inches, maximum.
I know this because when I finally stood up, all five feet of me, I could stand with my head above the water. After a while, I walked toward the side to get out—and then paused for a second to admire what we'd made, standing ankle-deep in the shallow end. I stood for no more than maybe five seconds, and that's when it happened. Not slowly; it happened suddenly, as though a Rumpelstiltskin beneath me had pulled the plug, because suddenly I was sinking, the muddy bottom collapsing out from under me, my flailing feet searching for water but instead stuck in sucking mud.
I'd never felt anything comparable. I'd never known the ground was capable of caving like this; my standing spot had a nervous breakdown of some sort and melted into a voracious, devilish substance gobbling me up, or down—down I went, not even thinking to scream.
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Before I knew it, I was sunk to my knees, my thighs; it happened fast. I recall feeling how hot and heavy the afternoon sun was on my head, like a hand pushing me down, this image in a flash of a flash, and then I disappeared, just darkness, and now the mud was at my mid-section. I kept going. My life did not roll before my eyes. I did not process my regrets, or my loves, or my luck, for that matter. I lost all thought.
I shed my status as noun and became pure verb, at one with the plot I was quite literally sucked into. I was going down, I needed to find a way up and out, but I was no match for the mud.
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My muscles were irrelevant. I couldn't quite grasp this fact at first, because I've always thought that if you're caught in a natural disaster, muscle could save or sink you; it was all about strength. And yet here, no matter how hard I strained, it made not one whit of difference; I was clawing at mush, at mash; clawing at cloud, pushing against emptiness, each tiny solid center my feet seemed to find collapsing still further inward, like those boxes that give way to a box still smaller, and still smaller, until you cease to see what obviously continues to exist, proving infinity is not emptiness, not at all.
A long time passed. This I know. So perhaps my struggles did do some good, did slow the sinking; the sun was far westward when the mud crept past my neck and pressed up against my pursed lips, clasping my whole head just below my flaring nostrils. Where the fuck is my family? I thought, with a spasm of rage. This is one hell of an ice cream cone they're eating. I started choking, spitting, but whenever I spit, more mud in my mouth.
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I could still breathe well enough to weep, and my tears merged with the mud and made it still muddier. And once again, I saw that there was nothing I could do. There was simply no way out. There was no way out. No amount of understanding or struggle would crack the code of quicksand, which this essentially was, and I was tired. So very tired. I tried again to thrash my way upward, and then exhaustion captured me completely, and I slumped in my mud and tasted its taste: drenched darkness, thick salt, shredded plant.
I tasted it all: the depth, the darkness, the minerals, the fire, the water, the loam, the clay, the seeds, the weeping, the wanting, the living, the dying. I tasted it all because I was forced to. I slumped in my mud and sampled the whole world.
And once I stopped, the mud stopped with me. In fact, it was as though the entire earth came to a quiet halt. I hung there, entombed, suspended between here and there, then and now, with nothing sucking.
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Dangling in density, still weeping. But even in tears I took note of how stopping had helped.
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When I stopped, so too did the sinking. I'd like to know why this was, but I haven't had time to look into it. And then, after minutes or hours, mosquitoes snacking on my scalp, the suspension became an ever so slight upward lift.
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I felt it, a tectonic shift, a northward shrug, the land in all its layers lifting me out of my mess. Now I stayed very still, afraid to even wriggle my toes, because clearly there was a connection between my stillness and the movement of the world. I was in mud, but miles beneath my feet the tectonic plates held me aloft, ground their gears, and then urged me skyward, so eventually my mouth emerged; my neck; my shoulders; my breasts, black moguls; my belly, black balloon.
I rose in increments, standing still, doing nothing. I rose, or rather, the earth lifted me, rewarded me, and once my stomach was out, I flung my whole self forward, grasped the embankment, hauled myself high, the pond's lip just inches away now.
Only then did I allow myself this image: phoenix, swan, mermaid rising from her own excessive froth, finding her land legs, ecstatic not because of talent and surely not because of luck but then again, precisely because of luck, her gifts sometimes gaudy, sometimes simple, she favors the prepared, perhaps, but as far as I'm concerned, everything I get, good and bad, yes everything I get starts to go as soon as I feel it in my fingers I made my way up over the embankment and stepped on solid ground.
Imagine what I must have looked like from far away, my family now pulling in the drive, tumbling out of the Subaru, seeing a dark apparition with a silver halo of hair stumbling across an infertile field, tears making tracks in her face—this is what I must have looked like from the outside. But from the inside—well, that's another story. I was on a whole different pole, but not polarized—no, no longer. I was simply in a shining bright room, a small bundle of fire flickering in the hearth, well-steeped tea in a cup by my side, beloved book in my lap; I looked around.
Outside, butterflies massed by the windows, so many species, so many colors, such a plethora of filmy wings; I could just barely hear them beat, just barely smell the garden pouring its perfume. I was inside, in a space and a grace called this place here is home , and I held out my hands and my children came running and my husband came walking and the butterflies came flying and the frogs came hopping and the locusts came shrieking and Job came limping and God came on his chariot and my children on their lean and thank-the- Lord healthy legs and my husband powered by his steady and thank-the-Lord healthy heart— they all came, such a crowd beyond counting, five football stadiums came as I held out my hands and everyone ran, and I let them inside.
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We went inside and lit a small fire, and I told them this tale, of stumbling, of sinking, and of finally finding some stillness, the fall of my footsteps always in my ears here: fall , fall , fall , the sound no longer ominous, oddly sweet now, like the autumn that's coming, like the leaves that will blaze, like the trees turning to torches while I watch all this, my hands held out, in humility, for balance: Here is where I stand.
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