Protagonist

Although it’s about giants—actually, one giant in particular—this is a small story. There are only a few lives in it and it doesn’t travel very far in time or space. It’s not an epic or an adventure—or at least not a very adventuresome adventure. Perhaps I should mention here that giants, as opposed to unusually large human beings, are not real, so I suppose you could call this a fantasy—but again, not a very fantastical fantasy. Sometimes I worry that the story is more about me than her. Sometimes I then remember that she’s not real so maybe it’s a sign of mental health that I’d rather write about me than about an imaginary entity. This is the kind of thing writers spend all day thinking about instead of writing.

spring again
always the flower
and never the pollen

Begin at the beginning: She was born. I don’t know how big giant babies are. I would like to see one but I never will because she’s the last one. How do you know? Well, that was what she told me, and anyway don’t you think we would know somehow, we would feel it, if there were more somewhere? I have to say that it feels more and more, to me, like giants have pretty much gone out of the world.

the last egg saved for target practice

When she was born I was much younger, of course, and not in any mood to believe in giants. I wonder sometimes what I would have done if she had come stomping down my road then. I wonder what I would have done about a lot of things then. Why is it, do you think, that we’re so convinced we’re the same people from day to day, from year to year, when we’re so changeable, so fickle?

inhaling the sparrow’s warble

Here’s one day she told me about, from when she was very small: maybe the first day she remembered. A fall day, full of warm colors that contradicted the chill in the air. A year when the harvest, the hunt, had gone well and they ate, and drank, and ate, and sang, and ate, and danced, and ate, and played games, showing off: tossing boulders, lifting fallen trees. She was beside herself with excitement and finally fell asleep in the early evening, and woke again sometime later in the night, but before the adults had gone to sleep. They were all gathered around a fire, leaning against each other comfortably, frank with drink and telling all the most scandalous and outrageous stories they knew, and she listened with increasing understanding for hours. In the morning she felt shy with her new knowledge and maturity, not realizing yet that no one could see inside her head and know her thoughts. Stories only change you on the inside.

first day of Advent I write the end

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Improbability

It was always said that there might be giants in the mountains, the way it was always said that there were gods on Mount Olympus, Yeti in the Himalayas, fairies in the hills of Britain. It had been a long time since anyone actually believed that there were giants in the mountains but in fact there were, and the less people believed in the giants the less the stories about them had anything to do with the reality of them.

the more moon the more shadows

The giants did not carry clubs or eat people. They did not spend all their time beating each other up and they weren’t stupid brutes. They had no magical powers; they didn’t, needless to say, live in the clouds; they didn’t have any gold or other treasures. Who makes these things up, anyway?

sorry for everything I cross the river

The giants, as any sensible person might deduce, lived the hard lives of people trying to support themselves off the land in a hostile wilderness. They spent most of their time hunting and foraging. They lived in caves. They wore wool and leather. They were cold. They were hungry. There’s not enough food to feed many giants at the top of a mountain. Their numbers diminished rapidly. They could see well enough that the living would be easier in the valleys. But they had stories about us, too.

spring showers
the unidentified caller
finally speaks

They didn’t tell the stories to the youngest giant, the only child growing up among them in the days of their decline. They saw no sense in frightening her and they were in any case preoccupied with practicalities. You might think that without myths and fairy tales she saw the world more clearly and truly but in fact the opposite was the case. Without the stories she had no choice but to take everything at face value, and the face of things is often deceptive.

in the rebuilt wasps’ nest the same buzzing

Ignition

Forty years ago he was a Boy Scout who took a wrong turn in the woods on one of those interminable Boy Scout hikes. He wasn’t a good Boy Scout. He never paid attention to where he was or where he was going, never tried to keep up with the rest of the troop. He moved slowly, even when the situation called for quick action. When he realized he was lost, he stood still for a while, listening for voices, and finally he heard some. The voices drew him up the mountain. It never occurred to him that this was strange, since the troop had been heading down the mountain originally. He didn’t notice that the light was fading until he stopped being able to see the path beneath his feet. But shortly after that he saw fire in the distance, and the voices grew louder, and he assumed that he had reached the troop’s encampment.

 fall equinox I put on clothes I’ve forgotten

When he came into the clearing, he saw first that the campfire was the size of a large bonfire—the heat kept him from coming nearer—and then that the people around the fire were not his fellow Scouts nor even his fellow human beings. If you stood them next to his family’s ranch house they would be able to lean their elbows on the roof. There were eight or ten of them and their voices were so loud they hurt his ears but he couldn’t understand anything they were saying. It was clear that he was having a dream and it was also clear that the only sensible thing to do in a dream like this was to run as fast as he could as far away as he could, so he began to do that. They found him in the morning at the base of the mountain, asleep at the base of a tree.

first frost I’m finally anonymous

He never told anyone about the dream and he was never fully convinced that it was a dream. Now—is it a mid-life crisis?—he’s hiked up the mountain in search of his vision. It’s dusk, and he hears voices again, sees a fire in the distance. Slowly—he hasn’t grown any faster with age—he moves to the age of the clearing and sees the fire, a much smaller fire than before, and next to it: two giants. Two female giants. No sign of any others. No sound of any others. Just the low rumble of incomprehensible, desultory conversation. The certainty, at last, that it had never been a dream. And the moon overhead with the face of an enormous man.

dandelion clocks my nightmares everywhere

Intermingled

From what I understand from the giant’s stilted, sketched account, this is the way it happened: On a late spring day, when we were warm down in the valley but there was still snow up in the mountains, she and her mother went out collecting mountain goats. It’s true that mountain goats are winter-skinny and poor eating that time of year, but it’s the time of year when creatures living on the edge of mountains can’t afford to be fussy about what they eat.

late spring we’re still snow and collecting time to be

She didn’t tell me, but I imagine, that for so long it had been just her and her mother that they didn’t really need to talk to get on with what they were doing. They knew where to go, what to do, who would do what. Maybe they’d been doing it for so long that they forgot to be careful. Maybe it was something that would have happened no matter how careful they were. Maybe her mother was deliberately not careful, because she was tired, because she was sad, because she was cold. Crouching close to the edge of a cliff, reaching her inconceivable arm down to a rocky ledge to scoop up a prized ram, she lost her balance—so the giant, the last giant, speculated. She saw it only from a distance, from her own cliff edge that she was negotiating with a heavy bag of goat, but she still heard it, whenever she heard anything like it—a cry, a crash—or simply when she closed her eyes, or sometimes when she stopped to think about anything. It was the sound, she explained to me, of Alone. It took me a while to figure out that this phrase was not ragged grammar but a simple fact.

so long cold negotiating with alone

Ambiguity

At the very edge of summer the melodramatic clouds are gathering, the ones that are harbingers of something in a particularly sappy opera. The day takes on a shade of dark usually reserved for night. Everyone begins to move in slow motion. We feel like characters in something, start trying to remember our lines. How does this go again? Something is about to happen; what is it?

solstice
all the hard words
underlined

over there, where a jagged black line of mountains defines the horizon, someone sees the first bolt of electricity leap casually, athletically, across the sky. we begin to murmur, counting under our breaths, counting our breaths, until the crash. then there’s no point in saying anything. all we can do is listen.

rosebud this isn’t my first attempt

You know how when you’re surrounded by noise, you start hearing things? Was that a crash of thunder, an incessant rapping of rain on the roof, a torrent of water pouring down the street, or was it a booming voice, massive thudding footsteps, the sound of uncontrollable, unimaginably loud weeping? Are there giants in the mountains, giants in mourning? We might never know; all we can do is consider the probabilities. Nature or a myth? We tell one story to the children and another to ourselves.

the way the world ends in a blade of grass

On the Soul

All day she sits on a hill watching animals that are clearly not animals but she doesn’t know what else to call them or what she should call herself now because clearly she is not the only person left and clearly the other people are nothing like her and have thrown their hearts and souls into building extremely fast things that go back and forth all day, just back and forth, very fast, she can’t imagine what they’re thinking or doing but she needs to go find out because if she’s alone for too much longer she won’t be anything at all.

all night the owl can’t remember my name

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

how many times had he driven over the mountains, listening to mountain music—I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry—and naming names. his train of thought was so predictable that by now he associated certain peaks with certain episodes of betrayal.

only a swallow—
later you’ll ask
what’s that bird?

there was a rest stop that was a convenient place to exercise his legs and move away from his thoughts; halfway up or down a mountain; a scenic overlook but not so scenic it would make you weep. he pulled the truck in and got out, scrambling up the mountain path as if it were the only way out of a sticky situation.

just this once we all fall up instead of down

…she slid like an avalanche down the rocky slope. she saw that she was almost as tall as the truck and probably almost as long, if she were to lie down in it, which she thought she would do, just to do something dangerous and get away from this place. the big doors wrenched open easily and she made room for herself among the big boxes. if she were asked to describe the smell, she would have said: clean but dead.

turn the record over and start snowing

…after smoking three cigarettes and imagining three different ways a certain conversation could have gone instead of the way it actually did go, he climbed back down and turned on a comforting radio show with a host who was even angrier than he was.

in the end times the static will be even louder