the whip-poor-will singing in the bush, luka nuzzles her dark crown into the crook of kottak's neck, says, "I cold." the golden grass sways and kottak's maple eyes meet mine. I nod, stomach suddenly swelling with love like it does often for them; I am already walking to the camper before I realize I have moved, warm, as if the sun has found refuge inside me.
arrow is still asleep there, freckled fingers in a fierce hold on her rabbit, its pale cotton ears hanging over the edge of the bed in imitation of her bare leg. I watch her breathe obsessively. in sleep, she exudes peace. yin. in waking, she's a wildling. yang. In the golden silence, with the dying light falling like stars across her body and the sweet though of my two still outside, I capture the moment in the mason jar of my mind, store it there for nourishment in hard times.
I tug from the overhead rack the blanket nana poppy made mama when she was a fledgling, press the fibers to my nose and inhale slow, then cradle it outwards, towards my babes to be wrapped around their fawn skin like a cocoon. snug as a bug in a rug.
"thank you, mama," kottak says then kisses the tip of his littlest sister's head.
"danks mama," she says, eyes closed, fingers curled in the crochet.
it has been a long day. ten hours in the truck with our little camper sailing behind us, restless bones flailing in protest to the car's restraints, not one dry eye between our eight by the time the tires subside and we park for the night. I pray I haven't made some huge mistake, ask oren for a sign, tears falling from my eyes: are you watching? can you feel me? my heart beating against my bones like an ancient wardrum, broken but mending, always longing. dove, can you see from inside their eyes? the three you helped create and raise. are there pieces of you there that even death cannot take?
and I'm shaking, almost angry. why won't you answer me!
I almost forget the favor of the breeze when kottak starts to sing his sister to sleep, at first softly, the notes growing bolder with every word until even the birds fall silent, struck dumb by his heaven-sent tongue cooing, "baby mine, don't you cry, baby mine, dry your eyes, rest your head close to my heart, never to part, baby of mine."