Mirror. Gas Stove. Branch.

by essayan hart

She warned me there might be rats in the cabin, but I don’t mind. It took about an hour to get warm in here, fussing with this little gas stove and damp paper. I am not alone. The bed is high in the rafters and I peer down and laugh with my companion. There laughing with me, a hole in my memory. Silent and folded, an empty bed stares back. 

The woods are the same as they have always been. In every forest, every lost and perfect place, I sit with the same reflection.  I’m still the kid who named every jutting piece of bedrock, 3000 miles away, lifetimes ago. I still think the sun has a funny smell, and I still can’t explain it.  

I sweep the earth. Cast aside leaves and expose raw canvass.  I trace out one word, then clean my fingernails. I dream into another city. 

I have been walking this path every day for weeks, alone.  One mile away is the clutter of art school, my messy altar, the books I should have read by now. One mile away I look nothing like this. My disguises are less than masterful, shapeshifting day after day. Only a handful of people would recognize me here, in my too-clean running shoes.

I cast aside the leaves and expose raw canvass. In my too clean running shoes, I break a mirror over an unfamiliar rock. This I remember clearly. The glass mosaic embedded across the path.  One word. Reflect.

Only months before, I woke from a nightmare. Branches snapping against my face. Tumbling downhill in a frenzy, like light on water. Changing and acting too quickly. Shaking.

Every day now I pick up these shoes. I run this path. Reflect. I pause to sweep the earth. Keep the mirror clean. Obscured again by morning.

I clean my fingernails. Kick dirt back into place. In the desert I was warned not to leave my thoughts on the earth. They draw in demons, the old woman sighed, troubled. Go back and sweep the earth.