The History of Clouds

A bored goddess sits in a chair perched on the side of a volcano and pulls out strands of her own hair and rolls them together and lights them on fire and puffs them like cigarettes and blows out smoke rings and then does it all over again.

The chair is surrounded by long rows of small holes hollowed deep from a hot earth made of ash and ember.

A gardener sits and watches, and as the goddess exhales each small smoky torus he catches it in a jar and screws the top on tight and grabs a second jar and does the same until she has puffed her last – at least for the time being – and as she reaches her fingers into her hair and begins once again to twirl and yank, he carries each jar out into the field and quickly takes the lid off and tips the smoke ring inside one of the holes and covers it up with hot ashes, and he returns to the goddess to gather more, and he waits.

Every night while the goddess sleeps in her chair, the gardener quietly digs more holes in the ash.

And every morning while the goddess sleeps in her chair, the gardener comes out to feed the little smoke-seeds that he’s planted.

Sometimes he comes with a plastic wand and a basin of soapy water, exhaling skies full of bubbles across the field and watching as they land and jiggle and settle into the ground.

Sometimes he comes with great bunches of balloons made of spiderwebs dyed in a hundred colors, releasing the great delicate globes into the sky and watching as they quickly rise and slowly fall again, drifting to rest on the surface before collapsing into hot puddles of green or crimson.

Sometimes he stretches out to nap with his head propped on earth mounding from one of his favorite holes, his dreams seeping from his ears into the warm ground below.

After a while, things begin to grow up from the ash. First flames break the ground in an orange cabbage of small fire veined with blue, and when that burns out the rest slowly rises.

Perhaps two pointy ears, then the crown of a head, a neck, a breast and a belly grow up out of the hot earth, continuing on to toes and tail until, ripe, it snaps itself from the ashes and fluffs its smoky fur and continues up and up. (And when a little girl lying on the grass looks up and sees it in the sky before it grows and spreads out into its brothers and sisters, she will say, Look Daddy it’s a Fox-Man!)

Or the tips of soft petals unfold velvetly from the ground and rise and rise on thin vaporous stalks that yank themselves from the ashes and twine themselves together before catching the wind and floating up and up. (And when two lovers pause in a kiss to glance up at the night sky, one will marvel at the moonlit bouquet of clouds the other has made for her.)

Or scales upon scales upon scales coiling together into a great steaming of a body that writhes and claws itself out of the ground and seems to set itself afire anew as it rips from the earth and screams up and up. (And when a puppy rolls to rub its back in the dirt and sees a dragon in the sky, it will whimper and bark and run to find its family.)

And if you looked at the gardener while he waits and watches, this gardener who has spent all his hours planting possibility and watching it ripen, you would see the pupils of his grey eyes swirl with smoke, and the puffs of his eyebrows bead with moisture that rains down his face, and the blurry tips of his fingers or his nose occasionally break off and float up to join the children that he will never hold, and never touch. Because one day, a long time ago, a lonely goddess sat in a chair on the side of a volcano and looked up at the sky and saw a gardener in the clouds and wove a net from her hair to bring him down.