“In the House of Flying Words” by Juan Carlos Reyes

Sitting on the bed’s edge, you know they’re coming. Watching the swinging cradle, the air and wind couldn’t have been clearer. The words are looming, every last word perched just over the bend, ready to insist and shred and tear open swaddling blankets and lips and sheets until only the mattress remains, your baby’s bones and limp bib sprawled on the cheap and obliterated cotton sheets, and all because the words, because they always do, come to unthread those infinite gifts in her name, making waste to celebrations crowning achievements before she so much as opened her eyes, those very ones welcoming new ambitions and turning those cheeks beneath your receding hair into something more beautiful than what you see.

But that laughter hangs yesterday, and today there’s no escaping the words. They’re coming as they always do, they arrive, and you will do everything to protect her but they will leave a mark. They always do. In the dark, you feel the scabs they left across your forearms and wrists, your nape and chin, your cheek shoulders and knuckles, your every joint and jaw you never expected to throw before them as sentries, as walls to the axe.

You watch her sleep, the night passing quickly and measuring evenings and words still unborn, those moons carrying slurs suggestions and ridicules, all those jabbing words looming huddled down street, primed by the garden, crowding parking spaces like impending tanks on the night of shattered glass. Except this time no one fears the sparking rails. These word trains haul millions to fire without combustible, and without flashing lights warning impending cross, because they’ve already tagged innocent hands like cattle and shackled ankles to cabooses, having broken each and every person by the color and tone of ugly words. Your daughter, too, will soon be broken by the color and tone of ugly words.

Resting at the bed’s edge, you sit and watch the cradle, its reluctant swing a shiver, the baby’s eyes shut in the moonlight streaming through uncovered windows. You wish you could crouch over the guard rails and smother the pillow, a magic condensed to silent intention, a protective dress stitched by will, because pictures have taught you, indeed, lightning has shown you, that incantations as wind slices the room can be all the protection she will need, even if, as her adolescent will show, she won’t know what to make of the carpets left her until you visit her nightly in dreams. And even then, the words would have already started to prick her neck. They would have already begun to stab her gently, so that, in time, she will fail to see, much the way they penetrated you, when exactly the words first made her bleed, at what hour and day the words first started burning her skin.

And then the ground shakes, right when thunder rattles the door, and you peer outside. You see them, the words. Your daughter only months old, but schedules are schedules, and in the power of verbs places and things, which she must learn to wield only after she’s learned to fear and be stung, you will have to step aside. But you don’t want to step aside. After all, caveats being acid, words come calling crowing cradling epithet by epiphanic step, and as they arrive, they tear up road, brush aside doorways and front stoops, bend porches and fences.

Refining the knives, they come, too, to tear her up, to brush her and bend her, to hate her and halve her, to chew her and church her, and she will have to learn, on her own time, when and how to return the pelts and tides, when and how to aim without saying a word. But are you prepared to let them in, to let them swirl, to let them fly between bedrooms and open closets, to let them apply conjunctions and accumulate apostrophes and conjoin available curses, to let them sever and threaten or just press that swallowed thought against her throat, as you watch helpless.

Because the words, if they have to, will finish what dynamite they planted in you, if they have to, before moving to her, and at their worst, they will wait, neglect and reject her, hide and destroy her in pretense and bad memory by forgetting her name, by holding tongues and clamoring in echoes You are not important, swiping the stage you constructed beneath her, threatening to dismantle the floors, nail by nail.

Or at their most direct, the clouds will rain belittling words, shaming blaming name-calling words, burning her feet the moment she first speaks, and so as the words creep onto the porch as they start rapping the door, as they wait fogging the windows like hungry wolves outside the pen, you reach into the cradle and button her top baby button.

The words are here, in spirit and foul breath, in harangues, lashes and directed belts, and so you slip her baby pink toes under the sheets, under shade and soft cover, because verbs snicker whipping games, and nouns ricochet off the house to push her into the ditch, and places entrench her in fields only to unearth the soil beneath her bed, and because hands inevitably fail to restrain even the sun, it’s her legs that must keep her standing, that must feed her stand to keep her watching the sky.

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