I had 64 of you before I could even count to 20. Offerings from my mother. Waxy and earthy columns of color clackity-clacked across the concrete floor of the hall when I upended you in a frenzy—her apron’s cerulean blue first out of the box. You were jumbled color fracturing the long brown planes of my bedroom. She gave you to me, a sunglow of contriteness, and lay on the couch with a peach arm over her eyes; a study in exhaustion, mulberry on a gutted grocery sack, her apron, with loose fraying strings, speckled with plum flowers. Her mouth, a line of carnation pink.
And in creating with you, there is a lesson every child must learn: the perfect balance of pressure, so as to not snap you, little bird bones, with the urgency for depth; learning, instead, to layer, gently, upon layer. Your spiral shavings, cheese of industry, confettied the floors and filled my nails—until some of you were just crumbs, broken spines cracked under foot, while others I hoarded, as if the Aztec gold contained real flecks of metal, so that even at the end of the pillaging of the box, some of you still rasped through my finger in your jackets of wrapping, proud and unsullied, as if ready for formal dining at a moment’s notice.
O captains of our melon apartment! O shepherds of my time, stalwart pioneers who unspooled every merry adventure that could fit on letterhead she rescued from the hotel room, uncurled and smoothed with a quick hand fit on rough-edged blank pages of books. Excalibur in my hand, while she slept, we spilled on rough-edged blank pages of books, cut through the neon carrot curtains, we cut through the cream, sloping endless colors of our apartment until—sizzle and zip—the razzmatazz fish swam up from the depths of a great indigo underground maze, skimming the margins of the old encyclopedia books of the bottom shelf, cutting into the shape of a raw sienna bird on the bottom of her shoes. A prairie grassland along the baseboards of my room, where atomic tangerine and apricot flowers turned skyward on sturdy asparagus stems, supplicant to the macaroni and cheese sun. Along the side of the little gray refrigerator, an offering to the bittersweet bees seeking the nectar for their honey.
Your denuded and crumbling bodies. Your very hearts pumped onto the page. Your sacrifice was valiant and worthwhile. How else would an earth-bound boy begin to understand the myth of the Inuit’s 27 words for each variegate of snow? It’s how I knew her cry of delight upon waking—where did you learn to draw like this?—was the most delicate shade of outer space mixed with wild blue yonder. A precise and tender tonal shift of purple mountain’s majesty could capture the bruises made by his fingers gripping my inchworm arm; and a hair too much of pressure and his violet red—how could you fucking let him ruin the apartment?—until its midnight blue shredded through clenched teeth. All that night how she stayed with me in the closet, until a sort of magic mint sleep lulled her, and you! You! You and I together found the discarded envelope under the vacuum, a wide canvas for a cornucopia of underwater creatures, lobsters in cerise, bittersweet coral, and antique brass escape pod, moving into the deep. Stuffed inside her purse, the next morning, offerings to my mother. Because of you, I understood the color of shadow that can only be used as the color of leaving, a goodbye from her red mouth in the morning. The mark of his hand on her face: timberwolf.