Smelling Hope

It is possible that I smelled hope. It was hard for me to believe, too, since I was not aware that alligators could smell. I was readying to crawl into a mound of decaying leaves next to one of the remaining snow-piles. Only a few weeks ago there were vast chains of snow-piles all around Washington DC. The city’s lattice of cleverly ordered streets, of climbing-numbered longitudes and growing-lettered latitudes, and even its collection of slicing avenues were buried, dulled beneath jebels of snow~ more than hills, less than mountains. One day I took a walk and picked-up a ball of sweetgum, like an explosive baby-urchin or a disarmed marine mine. I smelled it but it held no scent; I put it to my ear like a sea-shell and I heard woodpeckers calling. If I burrowed into the snow, I would find that the lattice of passages had moved ninety-degrees, that when the horizontal streets of space retarded a vertical network opened through time. I could tunnel down and come-up in a driveway in 2001.

I wanted to be an author but I was more of a pacer. I promised myself that I would get a computer so I never had to cramp my hands writing a first draft. But I didn’t dare use the family computer to get started because someone might see, might mock me, might do much worse: encourage me. I hate encouragement; it lifts our taste for expectations above the trees to places we cannot climb. Those of us who might have ascended like monkey-ninjas to the highest boughs find ourselves, alas, sitting on the ground flapping our arms — wishing to be birds. The sound of woodpeckers echoed from the North woods, through the frozen bowels of time, and out of crevices in the snow. Then I saw a wood-pecker over-head and decided to pretend: “I’m a realist — no one is interested in where I could have gone, only in where I’ve been.”

I figured something out the other night while I was ice-skating but I think it would hurt someone very deeply if I ever shared it publicly.

Realists do not turn into alligators, though. Medicine people do such things. Perhaps in some places they would call them ‘shaman’ or ‘prophet’. It is much less embarrassing when someone else names a person such a thing but, in our incredulous age, I need to name myself. I am fessing-up: I am a ragged-excuse for a magical person. Yet, I am. Not in the Harry Potter or Dungeon & Dragons sense; so much of fantasy is a caricature of what real power could look like. All of that is for the birds — but I am for monkeys. I could be on a higher branch, right now. Explaining how I turned into an alligator is easier than explaining why, though perhaps less important. I do not fully understand why because I was actually trying to die of inertia. If I became really still and held my breath, maybe my heart would stop and depression with it. As my blood-cooled, primal-peace dawned upon me and…

An alligator in a river is practically weightless and invisible; as a general rule, a full-sized alligator dwells undisturbed, though alone. Such an absolute sense of security is soothing, a liquor much stronger but gentler than alcohol: it carried me away but never dulled my senses. My inhibitions disappeared but there was no violence lying beneath to be unleashed. I floated. I glided. I found a likely place to hibernate rather than die. For so long I wanted to hibernate; as a man, I was becoming addicted to sleep. If the snow-pile opened into the past, maybe the leaf-pile opened into the future.

When I smelled hope I knew that I should not waste time getting comfortable. I became a man again, refreshed from my retreat as a reptile. The channel became a set of railroad tracks again, and the train’s lights appeared from around the bend. Quietly, I ascended back to the street-level and breathed.

As for what hope smells like, I think you readers should tell me…

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