Mandy L. Rose studied creative writing at Colorado State University and lives near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with her two children. Her poetry and creative nonfiction are forthcoming from or have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Pithead Chapel, University of Hell Press, A Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park and others. She always knew she wanted to be a parent. Poet came later.
H E R M E N E U T I C C H A O S J O U R N A L
M A N D Y L. R O S E
H E A R T C H O S E N
And so it happened, as it always does, that the babies-to-be sat in the breath between this world and the next, trying to decide.
“Which will you choose,” each asked the others, watching the parents-in-waiting through a hole in the wall between.
Some pointed to the prettiest mothers. The strongest fathers. The unlikely couples most would not have paired, or those who looked like mirror images of each other. One wanted a mother with a voice like a bird, “to sing me to sleep when I’m weeping.” Another wanted the father who could chop the biggest pile of wood, “to warm my feet while I’m sleeping.”
Each by each, the babies chose their parents, and answered the question, “Why?”
When the shyest of them made her decision, the others did not hear at first, her voice losing itself in chaos.
“Speak clearly, little one, what parents do you seek?”
“I want the parents who will teach me how to be the best parent,” she said, “So that all the babies-to-be want me. I want to be a mother.”
The babies were always born to the parents they chose. Of course, once they were on the other side of the wall, they forgot the answer to the question, “Why?” This meant they would spend the first years of their new lives asking their parents, but remain unsatisfied with the answer.
A married couple, frustrated after years of waiting to be chosen, invited a wise woman to their home for a cup of wild berry tea.
“I want a baby,” the mother-in-waiting said, “Someone to love me, no matter what.”
“Do you want to be parents or do you want to have a baby?”
The wise woman waited for their response, her slender fingers turning a red stone hanging from the silver thread around her neck.
“It’s the same thing,” they told her, “is this about having a child or is this some sort of test?”
“Yes,” answered the wise woman, setting her cup down and heading for the door. One moment, they saw her standing, her back to the sun. The next, her arms were crossed over her chest and folded into wings. The couple stood in silence and watched as the blue jay rose higher in the sky. Her red stone seemed to sparkle in the afternoon sun, even long after she was out of sight. The couple stayed in the doorway, confused at her departure, watching the forest behind their home. After a time, they turned to walk back into the house. The man stopped to pick up the blue tail feather resting near the door and tucked it into his pocket.
As the day of birth approached, a bird took each child into the gallery of hearts, through a door they had never before noticed, but now seemed obvious. When the shyest of them entered, the bird lifted its wing and pointed a scroll on the wall:
Within your heart find the root of your gift,
the source of nature, your path slow or swift.
Enter the world free of burden and doubt—
the well-spring within must turn itself out.
No matter weight or if you grow weary
the heart you choose, the heart you must carry.
With a nod, the bird indicated the time had come to find a heart.
“Is that your heart or just an amulet,” the shyest asked, pointing to the red stone, afraid she might make the wrong choice. The bird nodded yes.
The child stepped carefully past rows of hearts, bowing her head to each one in reverence as she passed. At times, she leaned in to look at one more intently, or touch it gently with a finger. She ran her hand along the shelf and soon began to skip as her steps felt lighter. The bird saw she was getting closer, and though there was no urgency, her blue feathers ruffled in anticipation.
There were pretty hearts and ordinary hearts, of all sizes and shapes, some that appeared quite dark or even ugly. Some didn’t look like hearts, at all. In fact, the child was sure the leafy crown she placed on her head for fun was certainly placed on the shelf by mistake. However, when it touched her hair, the room grew quiet and still, the crown seeming to attach itself to her. She glanced into the mirror and watched as the room before her doubled and redoubled itself until it was, at once, one room and all rooms, opening into each other. The bird tilted its head to ask a question the child heard without hearing.
“Everything at once,” the child answered, in tears, but laughing.
“And?” the bird asked.
“And I want to feel everything,” the child answered.
The rooms, the hearts, and the bird disappeared, and the shyest child was born to the man with the blue feather, and his wife.
She grew neither big nor small, neither pretty nor plain, and learned to tend her parents’ garden. Each day she watered and weeded, patting the soil down carefully, encouraging roots to grow. Her mother was not kind nor patient, so the child spent as much time in the garden as she could, her crown growing heavier with each unkind word or deed at home or in the world around her. When she was happy, the crown seemed to grow bigger, when she was sad, it seemed more dense, but either way it grew heavier and heavier, her head bowed by the weight. Soon it was so heavy, she began to have headaches. She tried to remove it, but it just became heavier in her hands. Her vision blurred. The more she tried to see, the more she felt.
Her mother still expected the chores to be done, the garden watered and weeded, and wouldn’t allow the girl’s father to help. He could only watch the daughter carry water to the garden, as the plants approached the time of harvest. She seemed to know just when they needed a gentle touch, or a bit of encouragement, more room to grow, shelter from a storm, or even to be left alone. She poured everything into the garden that she did not get herself, and in sustaining, gained sustenance.
One day, her father walked out to find her staring at the forest, as she often did, though he knew she could not see beyond the stone wall of the garden.
“Are you looking for something,” he asked her, “or someone?”
“Yes,” she answered.
The answer reminded him of the wise woman, and he pulled the blue feather from the shirt pocket, where he had kept it safe all these years, and held it out to his daughter. Just then, a breeze, like the flapping of a wing, lifted the feather from his fingers and onto the top of the stone wall surrounding the garden.
Without a word, the girl climbed the wall, and just as the feather was almost in her grasp, another bit of breeze carried it to the base of a nearby tree. She jumped toward it and again, just as she almost reached it, the feather blew away. She followed it for days, deeper into the woods, sure she must try to grasp it again, though she did not know why or how. She could hear her father’s voice growing quieter behind her, cautioning her to be careful, to keep her eyes on the path, but she could see no path here. The thought of turning home reminded her of her mother and she knew she must keep going, even if she didn’t know why. Dusk kept turning to dawn, but she neither hungered nor felt thirsty, and though her slippers were worn thin, her feet did not ache as long as she kept moving toward the feather. It seemed to stay closest when she only approached it, but did not try to catch it. Her vision was clearer and, even in the darkness, she was able to keep the feather in sight. Somehow, she felt the only way home was to keep walking. She told herself she would go back with the feather. Maybe it was magic, and would teach her mother kindness. Maybe it would help her see differently. Maybe it would turn her into a bird, and she could fly away. Home felt closer again.
One morning, as dawn turned into day, she found a boy under a willow tree, weeping. His tears fell over a stone which grew larger each time he touched it. In his hand was the feather she’d been chasing.
“Are you lost, or are you looking for something,” she asked the boy.
“Yes,” he said.
“Me, too,” the girl said.
“I can carry that,” he said, pointing to her crown. She was surprised at how light it seemed when they strapped it to his back.
She found a nearby stick and used it to roll his stone down the path before them as they walked.
Through the hole in the wall, the babies watched and fussed about who would go first.
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