S T E P H A N I E R A Y N E R
THE CHILD BOOK
In the beginning there was darkness without form. Then a spirit moved. The waters divided…and there was light. I do not remember this, but poetry does.
Breath, the first knowing. Mouth the first opening. Lips soft as dust. Tongue a small cradle. I do not remember this, but body does.
Taste, the first learning…to trust. Trust what is given…the sharp, the sweet, the bitter. To open in faith, not knowing which is offered. I remember the yolk of an egg.
Naming, the second learning…the animals first known by their sounds. My first voicings like theirs. To speak as them and later to name them was to joyfully bring them, and laughter, into my life as close companions.
Held in the crook of my father’s arm, we move together though the light of the setting sun. I see the tree in the center of the Garden glows gold. Of a sudden my heart constricts. Through my eyes, through my eyes, I have been pierced by beauty.
I am close to all creatures. Toads with gold mazes in their eyes eat from my hand. I lean into the bull’s great shoulder to stroke the grey silk of his dewlap.
A tiny raccoon explores my ear with delicate black hands, then trill chirps into it, I trill chirp back into his.
The cow is warm with heavy wet breath of grass. I curl between her folded knees, putting my hand out to feel the cud move up and down her throat. When she rises I cling to her bony back and am thrilled to have her wade into the lake.
Father says, “snakes!” and lift-levers up a large rock. For him, I blindly plunge both arms into the dark nest. For him, I come out with three snakes in each hand. I hold them up over my head. There is one with blue eyes among the others. From this time on, father avoids my pale green eyes.
The sun, a red circle in a red sky paling at the edges like a bloodstain. The tree at the far side of the Garden is outlined in fierce light, but the center is black.
I am lifted, never taking my eyes from the tree and the sinking circle, and lowered into the water my remaining grandmother has heated. Water is poured over my head…blurring my sight.
My grandmother touches my shoulder blades and says, “here is where your wings used to be.”
I cling to the edges of the Garden. I have invented rituals to celebrate and move to the green pulse of Spring. Feet feeling sweet earth, I walk clothed in rainwater to gather blue and white clouds of lilac.
There is a hole in my being that beauty uses to enter. There is a hole in my body where love will enter. I feel and fear the movement of moon tides. I now know shame and hide my
nakedness from others’ eyes. The time is coming when the great Garden will no longer open and gently close after me…when my body will become heavy and thicken.
I watch for the dark ship that may cross the full moon and take me to another garden…and eternal garden of hollow trees.
Beyond the Garden there is a new cleft in the hill oozing Spring’s moisture. At its slick base a fawn is floundering. Against the rules, I wail for my father to let me go there. I lift the tiny creature and cradle him to my chest. He smells like sweetgrass. I struggle out of the raw mud up the slope to the long grasses above. The baby bleats. It’s mother bounds past me through the meadow back into the deep woods. I enter the leaf green undulations of light and there, by the ancient tree, stands the doe. With childhood’s charm I walk towards her…walk to her side, and place the fawn beside her. We stand together for a timeless time. Then I turn and leave and the Garden closes behind me forever…
My father does not speak.
All beauty contains the seeds of sadness. All seeds contain…
According to tradition, the Cherubim that guarded the entrance to Eden had the faces of children.
From a commentary of the Torah by M. M. Epstein
Red oak casket
Two ebony scrolls
Stilling silver cuffs on scrolls inscribed
GENESIS , THE GARDEN, KNOWING, EAST
A map fragment
White snail shells
A cast silver apple leaf
A silver pocket watch with black and white photo
A sand clock filled with apple seeds, small bits of film and children’s first teeth
The bits of film and the apple seeds can travel through time from one side of the sand clock to the other…the children’ teeth cannot