Guesswork (lyric essay) wins RSR’s Loren Eiseley Creative Nonfiction Contest
I am not deep. My light wavers in the presence of brainy owls. What flies amid a long blue space, frankly, leaves me cold, and new theories pour thickly. Once I fell through an inner tube float while going down rapids—my mad rush toward death. In times like that, no one thinks about new theories, or even old ones; the taste on the tongue is all that matters.
In the beginning were whistles, hums, and grunts. Sound rose off the waters, out of trees. Against the rocks, shadows thrummed and lifted, thrummed and lifted, for Eden meant pleasure and in pleasure is life. Words fell into usage like so much sky, color-filled and calm. Did Adam grow lethargic in the process of time? Fruit hangs heavy on the trees, heavy like hunger, heavy like sin. Every selfsame body struck a chord of immediacy in the shafted chasm called presence. Alice Walker thinks that in nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. I think the sky is a burnt orange and lavender.
Begin at the sky and talk downward: birds, trees, the cost of war. There are strings that work and others that merely get on. It’s all about the cliffside paintings beyond the long dry desert or a snaking stream at the wax end of a valley of sheep. Keep the shoes dry and free of sand. Keep walking. A bird is poetry that never rhymes. Trees are arrows shot to heaven, until they’re not. It’s anyone’s guess what a war costs, so maybe liken it to following yourself but never quite catching up, always out of reach.
How to carry on: return
We return to the land of our birth, the childhood stories, the family who raised us. Return through visions and memories long enveloped in the apples of middle life. We return when all is old and age no longer feared. The shadows of the middle clarify toward twilight. We change our mind about so many things, realize day isn’t a puzzle as much as an abstract—finally learn to embrace the hot edges of the sun. Most of all, we forget that we’re supposed to forget with age.
Alice Walker again
“We have to wake up. We have to refuse to be a clone.”
In a dry space
The desert is a bone picked clean, the bland and bleak clung to a vulture’s wing. When visiting a desert, find the skull marked “time,” and drink.
How to carry on – continued
Be forever reminded of something once released: a dream, a person, a hurt now healed. Never stop seeking closure and bright beginnings. Love is not what we expect, but if it’s out there, it’s worth wrapping around our shoulders and lugging along our journey.
All this farmland and those rolling hills used for pasturing cattle. Fields unfold in long corned miles. Most of Iowa’s 33 million acres of tillable land are planted in corn and soybeans. In a neighboring pasture, rows of logs stretch on for nearly an acre, freshly cut timber harvested to help finance a widow’s waning years, doctor visits, occasional trips to see places denied her in the early busy times, and a new house begun six months before her farmer husband’s death by pancreatic cancer. Pesticide and herbicide use is rampant here. Some farmers wear masks while spraying their fields; most don’t. Waterways and streams groan, and too much of the rich black soil no longer harbors life—earthen infertility. You have begun a dialog—you have peeked under the lid. Lift the item out with care, even if only to smash it to bits later; curiosity is fragile so we treat it as a gift.
Feline expert John Bradshaw tells us in a National Geographic interview that a cat treats a human like another cat, not like a superior or even a friend, as dogs do. Still I tell my barn cats on the way to the vet, “we’re going where the nice people are,” but I’m not sure it helps.
In the case of religion
One blue-suited man is a little strange but he knows things I don’t. Dragging that cross around must make him tired. How does that even happen? At what point does he die? This world is his petri dish, his eyes so deep and beautiful. All we really want to know is why, and where’s the wine.
One tiny room comforts. The candles burn brightly and sanctification wafts on a holy breeze. The big bad world is bigger and badder through the open door into the land of rising and setting suns, but at least the space is endless there and every highway long.
Such brilliant mixes of him and her: an extra X here, Y there. Isn’t variety jibing?
At this riverbank riffles soft is said and bare winter trees. Brown grasses shock, shoot along miles winding down—every river has them. I stood at a ten-thousand-year old river and it had them: marsh grasses waterlogged weeded insistent. Fishes swimming through, it had them. Riffles, waves, it had them. It had mailboxes on the off-river side (for obvious reasons) and a sliding down bank mixed with here and there beaches. There is ivy and rough weeds, others, both here and then. Like the brown leaves falling, a carpet of crinkle. Like the gray-blue air, early-winter soft. Like tomorrow’s utter wonder set on pale blue sight today. Like a finch on the feeder and a hawk in the field. Like a snowstorm strapped and waiting, held and ready, near. Like a moth, the wings, the take-off. Like the land. And land. And land.
A fisherman cast a net and caught a hundred fish. The net sagged from the possibilities but the fisherman felt mercy and cut them loose. Then he cast his broken net again and again and slowly starved to death.
Age caught her on the wall between Jefferson Airplane and death. Time plays its hand; her tell is a flinch in strength, and dullness of reason. History is not a still life, Judith Kitchen said, but a coincidence of latitude. We fall into rabbit holes again and again, lack love when we need it, want it, bear an everlasting weight of weights. So ask for time like a gift because every breeze brings something new, and the taste on the tongue is all that matters.
 Distance and Direction, Judith Kitchen, 2001, Coffee House Press
German-born Chila Woychik has bylines in journals such as Silk Road, Storm Cellar, and Soundings East, and was awarded the 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award (Emrys Foundation). She craves the beautiful and lyrical, scours the pedestrian Iowan countryside for such, all while editing the Eastern Iowa Review.