Excerpt from From My Chest, Dragonfly Wings – 1528
My fingers press into clay. I balance at the edge of my mind. The excitement rises and wants to spill into bright colors and glare. It whispers out of my bones and demands that I continue. It says that I will not fail, that I know enough, everything.
I stop and stare into the morning. The routine chores of waking will sometimes quiet my mind and keep the edges of things more certain. Children race past the women pounding acorn meat and circle the fire keeper as he spreads last night’s coals under the stacks of drying pots. He will heat the fire with pine. The tall pines that sway over the meadows of a thousand flowers give the hottest fire, and after the summer storms, I’ll send people to cut the hearts out of downed trees. Across the work yard, my bed companion washes the sleep from her daughter’s eyes. “Little Cat,” the children call and she escapes her mother to run with them. My clay workers come close and ask about the day’s plan. I stare. I stare, and try to answer, but the space around me goes the watery white of the summer sky. My workers ripple in the wet air. I look down at the bowl between my thighs. Nothing else is important. My fingers stretch over it.
A line of sparks trails each movement of my hands. The work of muscles under tattoos fattens the light running along my arms and throws it into a second, flickering skin. My vision narrows and stretches, and I’m a child again, hiding inside a cypress tree that lays over a length of river bank, hollow, ready for the fire and chisel that will make it into a canoe for my aunt. Only now, in the circle of light at the end, instead of an arm holding a wolf jaw steady, ready to cut, I see clay form into coils. The coils rise out of cupped palms, and fingers on my far away hands wind them along the rim of the bowl. I lick the pad of my thumb to spread wetness on the walls and taste marsh and the grit of dead sponges. The thumb smoothes the edges. The structure is disguised.
I know this clay. I gathered it from our river. I can stretch it higher. I want light to shine through the bowl as if it were our spring water kicked through with sand. The bowl moves my hands. It pushes palms apart and spreads fingers. It widens inside to fit the shape of my fist.
Sandra Gail Lambert writes memoir and fiction. Her writing has been published in New Letters, Brevity,The Weekly Rumpus, Water~Stone Review, the North American Review, Arts & Letters, Hippocampus, the Alaska Quarterly Review, and a variety of anthologies. Her work has received nominations for a Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net. Excerpts from her novel,The River’s Memory (Twisted Road/2014), have won prizes from Big Fiction Magazine and the Saints and Sinners Short Fiction Contest. Sandra lives with her partner in Gainesville, Florida—a home base for trips to her beloved rivers and marshes.
Sarah Einstein is the author of Mot: A Memoir (University of Georgia Press 2015), Remnants of Passion (Shebooks 2014). Her essays and short stories have appeared in The Sun, Ninth Letter, PANK and other journals. Her work has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, a Best of the Net, and the AWP Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She is also the prose editor for Stirring: A Literary Collective and the special projects editor for Brevity Magazine. She is a professor of creative writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.