How Do We Know Planets Will Persist?

               There is belonging, and then there is belonging. We recognize that thigh roll, the unearthly reach towards an unknown butterfly. We see things we never saw. We never knew until we saw.
               There is belonging: stories conjure us. They are us: involuntary responses, like breath and heart beat. We are driven to the last breath by some story where we had no say.
               Call me Barbara. I watch radar to learn my fate. It’s impossible to tell stories; it’s impossible not to be told.
               Where does that leave me? Hurtling through space like some dumb rock.
               Call me what you will, but I need a name. I can try to tell you, but it only adheres to forms. Even then, there may be questions. Erasures. Deletions. Distortions. Social Security the only stable place for a name. At least if it’s not stolen.
               We come and we go. Up here on this mountain, granite is older than anything. Yet it, too, sees its disappearance. How do we know planets will persist? What stories do we have that say entropy is not inevitable? How can planets be exempt?
               This is my story from on top of a mountain. Call it Green Mountain. Call it what you will. This is what the map will tell you, a name decided who knows when by who knows who.
               Yes, it is green. Sometimes. It stands out like a half diamond, pointed north, among the other ridges. It peaks exactly how we think a mountain should.
               Most of the time, we tell stories badly. We gravitate towards the good ones, to forget the ones that persist. The ones that never end. That wander and fidget and lead down paths that go no farther than spit. We try and we try and we try to find endings. That’s when good stories seem good. Until they turn bad: Make sense no more.
               We are nothing if not senseless: stories roaming for a home.
               I call this mountain home. No matter how many times it has tried to kill me, the mountain tells no stories. It cannot lie. It belongs only to itself.
               Who before has called this home? Perhaps those who came before had no sense of home, or at least no sense like mine, which, of course, is nonsense. I live for nonsense. This house I built, that I think of as home, rests on ground never before turned. In the story of the Wild West, this was virgin ground.
               Vomit that story.
               My story is that I belong here. Or at least nowhere else will give me peace. Which is another story, since this mountain is always trying to kill me. It promises no shelter.
               It’s so boring, that pretense of shelter. It’s so boring to tell bad stories, even though that’s what we do, day in and day out. We can’t help ourselves.
               Though sometimes being boring is the point. No way out of boring except, as the (boring) cliché goes, through.
               Writing badly is what I do most of the time.
               One thing about mountains—you can’t sum them up, a chorus of cacophony. Don’t even think about generalizations. Mountains will shrug those off so fast, they’ll shame you with the truth.
               On this mountain, what I could not stand in flatness, I can stand here. What a little space will do is something. What if the conquering armies had not marched in formation? What if they had scattered across rocky ridges and found their own, specific way through?
               I want to be a mountain. I want to believe I will persist.
               I crack open at the slightest meadowlark song. Or my beagle’s single-pointed sniffing, where coyotes burn.
               I want to be unreasonable.
               Once upon a time, stories could be told. Call us stupid. Call us primitive. Call us anything that makes you feel powerful. You know your power comes from saying such things. You think you are above stories.
               I am, and it hurts.
               It’s so boring to be above it all. It’s so expected.
               You’d think the mountain is above it all, and thus boring. But the mountain is just above. The mountain makes me above. It’s not me making the mountain making me above it all.
               It’s when the coffee smells just right, taking me back to the first, best cup. It’s when Bootsie smiles that beagle smile, expectant, and wild flax catches the blue glint in her eye. It’s when rain forces me inside, and it turns out that’s all I really wanted, from this day, or any day. When I’m not above it all.
               That’s when it can all fall apart. That’s when I can tell a story, knowing full well it is the beautiful lie that the mountain can never tell. See how it turns in on itself, then out, in full resolution. When I can believe in beginnings and endings, crises and denouements. I have to let go of them to tell a story.
               I read it on my Zen calendar, or words to that effect.
               Don’t trust my words; they are notoriously inaccurate.
               And what of Carole Maso and her one-sentence paragraphs?
               Can we all write prose in lines?
               It’s that first margarita at The Armadillo, which was razed for a luxury hotel in a place no one ever thought. It’s the last margarita in Chicago, at a Mexican restaurant not far from Buddy Guy’s. I time-travel on tequila wings to that moment when I lick a salted rim and taste smoky fumes before drinking. How the salt let me taste before tasting.
               This last was a narrow rimmed, tall glass, but I remembered the deep, wide bowls of the first. The first chips and salsa. The first sopapilla. Bean, for my vegetarian tastes. The dessert sopapilla with ice cream and cinnamon, and my runner’s body to absorb it.
               There is a logic to the glint of light in a dangling earring, darling Carole. We need not search any farther. Just this image and that.
               When I don’t know what else to write, I write badly.
               I write longing to taste everything and still wanting more.
               Can we all just have a moment, with a salted rim?

Mary Ann Cain’s fiction, nonfiction essays, and poems have appeared in national and international literary and scholarly journals. Her five books are similarly diverse in genre, including a poetry collection, How Small the Sky Really Dreams (Dos Madres Press, 2021), a biography, South Side Venus: The Legacy of Margaret Burroughs (Northwestern University Press, 2018), a novel, Down from Moonshine (Thirteenth Moon Press, 2009), and two scholarly books, Composing Public Space: Teaching Writing in the Face of Private Interests (Heinemann 2010) and Revisioning Writers’ Talk: Gender and Culture in Acts of Composing (SUNY Press 1995).  She is Professor Emerita of English at Purdue University Fort Wayne and lives with her husband, poet George Kalamaras, and their beloved beagle, Blaisie. They spend time living in both Fort Wayne and Livermore, Colorado.