I used to live in a lion’s skin. I was never afraid. With a heavy tool box and hands with bruises and scabs, I worked as a carpenter then, battering 2x4s and plywood, breathing cigarettes and sawdust.I floated high over mud and cement in my lion’s skin, gliding up rafters, nails flying, up the ladder and down again to the whine of the saw and the smell of pitch.
The tape measure in my palm felt smooth and slightly slick. Snap, the blade shot back; snap, crack, lines of certainty etched with pencil and chalk. Six and three-quarters, 47 and a half.
Nails angled in three-quarters of an inch, shanks crossing deep in the 2×10. Kick the stud and pound my two six-gun hammers. Tiny beads of moisture rose where the steel sank into the green wood.
I looked out over neighborhoods from new roofs, my body at the center of a web: fearless, uneasy, and not beholding to any man. When a job was done, I’d just take off, truck paid for and the rent in hand. “You can’t buy me,” I told them, a young man in a lion’s skin. I thought those days were gone . that feeling of something rising in my chest, something agitated and swift, gone my perfect confidence .
And then she pulled up beside me and rolled the window down.
“I’m going to liberate you,” she said. “I’m going to liberate you from the tyranny of the present.”
My heart leaped . The window came down with a hiss.
“Get in,” she said.
And I did; we drove on into the future.
“OK, where are we going?” I asked.
“First thing, we’re going to ditch this car,” she said, and headed down Umatilla Street toward the boat ramp. We watched the dark blue sedan surge into the river and disappear. It was April, the current was heavy and swift.
“Now run,” she said.
When we finally stopped, big firs surrounded us.
“What now?” I asked. She was cool, but I could see her blue eyes brimming with anger and defiance, snapping with pain like a downed power line, unpredictable and dangerous.
“Now we find a house where nobody’s home,” she said, and when she spoke, my future appeared:
A stolen car, a stolen house, a woman stolen for moments only, a life of stolen moments in which nothing would be mine alone, nothing mine to own.
” but it’s all yours,” she said, “if you have the strength to just use it and let it go.”
Later we sat side-by-side in a stolen rowboat, each pulling an oar. The liberated river was churning with silt, the city in uneasy silence. Warehouses, grain elevators and roadways had all tumbled before the new current. Twisted lengths of rebar bristled from piles of broken cement, unresolved hurt just under the surface, waiting to rip the bottom from the boat.
“There are no charts,” she said. “There are no charts since we blew up Bonneville Dam.”
The serrated blade slips and cuts the knuckles of my hand. Her jaw is still set. I pick up the oar and we pull again, away from the groves of willows that conceal rubble near the bank. I’m leaping as if across rooftops again, as if I still wore a lion’s skin. But this time I’m afraid.
Out in the current, silt pelts the aluminum boat. The new river pulls us toward Sauvie Island now, where she’ll find us another house where no one is home
Out of the dark her voice comes like the hiss of silt.
“We only see the water because of what is not the water,” she says. “Periphery, blind spots, blurred edges.” We drift on echoes from a new landscape, deafened by the hiss of silt. “Listen to the current,” she says. “Listen and follow the shifting sound of sand.”
“Let’s take down the dams,” I remember her whispering. “Let’s take down the dams. Let’s dump the cars in the rivers and run without maps.”
Her whisper insistent as silt .
“Now run,” she said.
“No more figure, no more ground,” she said, “no melody — only the shapes we imagine below, and the currents that will never leave them the same again.”
And in her mouth it’s a stern command. She squares her shoulders, her jaw sticks out — a challenge, a threat. “The new world does not revolve around you,” she says. “Only by letting go can you navigate it.”
She wants us to grow like vines through the rubble.
“Why do you want to blow up the dams?” I asked. “Why do you want this?
“Because now no one is in control,” she said, the sound of silt on her breath, “because now no one is in control.”
“Now run,” she said. “Now run in your lion’s skin.”