The men, they come, ants before the sun, and scurry around under me. They move more quickly than could possibly be good for them. They dart, back and forth and back again. One leans something against me and climbs up it, a giant squirrel minus the tail. He hangs something long, a brown snake maybe, over my lower branch, then wraps it around a few times.
These men, they have come before, many times. Sometimes they come with that which hurts, carrying it on the broken limbs of brothers and sisters. Sometimes they come as many, a flock or herd or whatever many of them are called. Sometimes they come only two or three. Seldom, they come as one. When the one alone comes, he does like the man is doing now, but does it all on his own, and jumps from the branch with the snake around him. Then he stops before he touches the ground. The snake must be strong to hold so many men so many times.
This time there are three men. The one on the climbing thing, the squirrel man, and two that look more like bears. They are heavier, stouter. The kind of men that carry that which hurts or that which knocks brother and sisters down. The squirrel man finishes his work, stops, and climbs back down. He takes the climbing thing and shoves it back in the bushes where he found it, where they keep it. He speaks to the bear men in their queer too fast to understand way and the three take off again.
The sun starts to go down, the birds start to rest, and the tree frogs start to sing. I love the sound of middle sun, middle warm. I am my healthiest now and so are the frogs and the birds. I feel little tiny bugs, flit flit fly away little bugs. The beetles, the sun bugs, they take off into the night. As it is night now, the bats they leave too from behind the bush, down the hill. The grass and bush they tell me that the cave is empty. The spider, she whispers that she will have her nest ready soon, full of babies, to dangle in my hair before fall. Then all is silent, because the men, they are coming back.
Back they come, up the hill, through the bushes, pushing branches and pulling up turf. They stomp on babies and old alike. These men, they are many, a herd, a flock, a gross. Something terrible this time for them. They are all howling, not like the beautiful wolf song, but like the sick baying of hunting dogs. They all howl and have before them a great burning brother, tied across himself. On their backs they hide under snow. But how could it be now in summer? How have the fast movers, the hurries, made summer snow? It must be like the feathers on the underside of dove, the clouds, the white. On their backs they wear the white. On each white chest is a cardinal color crossed over brother, like the one they brandish before them. The brother on their chests is inside the sun or moon, inside the eye of the bird. The round.
The men in their group with that which kills before them have someone not dressed in snow. The man not in snow is hard for them to see in the light from the killer and the light from the night. He is like night to them. Black and dark and different and scary. He is not the first one the men have brought. He is one of many, probably one of many many more. They bring him to the snake and make him stand under it. A man that must be one of the bears holds that which kills, yelling in his too high voice. A man that must be the squirrel brings over a stump, making the night man stand on it and putting the snake around him, around the thin part of his trunk between his top and his bottom. The crowd yells more and someone starts to throw stones once the squirrel man has moved.
This is not a new scene to me. I watch, weary from having seen this at least a dozen times. They never come to just sit anymore. They never come in slow and quiet. Always in a rush, always yelling, always mean and biting. Termites to the world. The rock hits the midnight man, he reels a little, and loses his footing on the stump. He teeters, his hands bound behind him with another piece of snake. He wobbles back and forth and back again, trying to catch his balance I guess. He looks more like he’s moving in a strong wind, as one should do. Instead he fights the wind. He is screaming too. His voice is lower than theirs, but still too fast for me to understand.
I’ll never get their talk.
Before too long the night man falls completely and there’s a muffled crack when he can’t go any further. The men in snow and cardinals howl all the louder, continuing to throw stones and pat each other on the back. The bear man lays down the brand he’s carrying, stomping it out with at least some good sense. The squirrel man walks in front of the group, turning his back on the night man. He says something to them, motioning great waves with his hands. The herd all holler back at him and clap and cheer. Then they all leave.
They leave me and the midnight man. Soon it’s quiet again and the frogs start back and the night bird chips just one chirp. I can feel the bugs again, though they are a little unsure of the weight swinging and twisting slightly in the little breeze.
Then they are all silent again. Will there be no rest tonight? Something different comes from the bushes, from the way the snow men went. It is a midnight woman. She has snow wrapped around her head and down below her lower half. It looks like the breast of a robin only the wrong color. She makes a strangled snuffling sound, an animal in a trap. Then she snarls and throws herself on the midnight man, wailing. She stays and wails and hangs on his body, shaking the limb, trying to pull him down. I stop paying attention, thinking this some sort of private person moment. She cries for a while longer then sits down, leaning against me. She says without moving her mouth, very clearly, what a wonder I can understand her!
“I’m sorry, ole’ tree. I knew this ain’t your fault. It’s too bad you gets used for this, you gotta see this.” Then she pats me on my lowest part before the grass. She looks up at the midnight man again. She makes the sound of light wind in branches and stands, going the way she came. By morning she will come back with someone to take down the midnight man and I can rest. Maybe she will stay for a while and talk so I can hear her, sometimes the women do.
— Sarah Ockershausen Delp