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


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


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?

all the hard words

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


A few months after I thought the story of the giant was over, I discovered that the story of a giant is never really over, or at least can never be said to be over with any degree of certainty. I had cleaned out the barn; had stopped waking in the night to hold my breath and listen for the sound of a giant snoring and worry about whether anyone else could hear it too; had written down everything I could remember about my dealings with the giant; had put all those files in a locked folder in the equivalent of a dark basement corner of my hard drive. I no longer expected anything, in regards to the giant.

bird passing through a forgotten whistle

One season ended and another began and ran most of its course. A chill came over us all, a hush engulfed us, a void replaced activity. When I wasn’t reading or writing I wandered the house and yard with no intention or plan to guide me, until one day, a day of rare clarity in November, when I stepped onto the porch and realized that the shedding of leaves had ended and the trees were waving their bare limbs in resignation. The horizon had returned, and with it the mountains. I looked out to them, to where the giant said she had come from. I had hardly ever seen them in such sharp definition.

standard time
the clock’s ticking
suddenly louder

Something made me retrieve the binoculars; something made me put them to my eyes. The slopes were a solid mass of bare trees, except for the stony crags on which nothing grew, and it was across one of these crags that something was moving. I thought, at first, a deer, a mountain goat, a rock climber, an ordinary hiker. But the scale was off. The cliffs were too small, or the moving thing was too large. I moved out into the yard, focused, focused. My hands were cold. I was close to obtaining resolution, but then my numb hands fumbled, the binoculars fell, the lens cracked. When I lifted them to my eyes again, I saw only a jigsaw of glass. And that, although I bought new binoculars, although I looked every clear day for as long as I lived in that house, was the last time I saw anything like that moving across those cliffs.

first frost—a myth on the verge of being invented

myths from another universe: 2

Three half-grown girls decide one day to climb an immense mountain that, everyone knows, only men should climb. Halfway up, the air grows so thin that they feel faint and cry for help; immediately, a giant man made of snow—a familiar, recurring character at whose appearance all the listeners murmur in approval—appears and offers to carry them the rest of the way to the summit. But there is a catch. There’s always a catch. Depending on who’s telling the story, the catch is either that once they reach the summit, they will become male and no one who knows them back home will recognize them or have anything to do with them; or that they will be obliged to stay forever on the summit, which everyone assumes is cold, windy, and utterly inhospitable. Regardless, it turns out that the top of the mountain is in fact a warm and airy paradise, filled with both men and women whom everyone below imagines to have died in their attempt to reach it. Two of the girls, who might be men at this point, if the story has gone that way, are eager to stay, but the third considers it her duty to go back and inform the rest of the people about this wondrous place. When no one can persuade her to stay they set the snowman after her; he turns himself into an avalanche that destroys them both. There is always an appalled silence at the conclusion of this story.

knit one purl two twilight all afternoon