We are evidence of this praise.”
— Joy Harjo, from “A Postcolonial Tale”
I am flint; occasionally I strike a stone, a big beautiful rock. I do not do this by design. The spark intrigues me. I am cold, black. I covet the promise of heat. Things we hold in common, mysteries, hard edges – tinder, kindling – burn
away, leaving us scorched but as we were: cold stones, unable to sustain fire. Flint chips away, gets used up; stone cracks if left in the fire too long. We are slowly worn away by what we seek, what we cannot hold in ourselves. Our dense centers, formed of old earth birthed in chaos, will not ignite.
We are stones, we create the spark by luck, or by accident; we are placed around the fire to contain it. There is earth under us; water from above and air all around eventually cool us. We are intimate with the fire; it licks us, envelopes us, invites us in. Yet we do not know it, cannot know it, in ourselves. The fire is created by us, but is not of us. Fire exists only in the space between. As flint erodes and stone cracks, the space grows cavernous, the fuel runs out, fire finally dies.
Our stories tell us we were made from clay, crushed stones and dry earth mixed with water. The primal breath made us come alive. We are of the earth; water runs through our veins, air sustains us. But we crave the fire, the only element that is not part of us. Fire beckons, warms, burns us back to ashes, back to dust.
What else can fill the spaces between us? What, then, if not the fire? Dreams are woven between us but even the strongest fabric burns, our imagined lives consumed by unanswerable desires. We cannot weave ourselves together. Water runs through us, air over and around us. They are ungraspable. Only earth can hold us together for a time. If we build it up in the space between, sew it, tend it, it will insulate us; earth can fill the space. Roots will entangle us, if we are lucky. Earth held, clung to in the space between us, can become place, and place can hold us together. We write our stories in place, on landscapes and dreamscapes. Our stories bind us when the landscape changes, when we lose our place. Sometimes, if the stories are strong enough, the imagining valued and caressed like a lover’s neck or a baby’s cheek, we can re-create our place in the spaces we do not know, the spaces that are not home.