Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

by Stephen J. Lyons

She sticks out her tongue and shows me a round, quivering post. I think of Christmas cookies with green and red flakes of crystal sugar, and shiny hard metallic ornaments that look like balls of mined silver. Did those ever digest, or are they still floating inside my colon, growing slate-colored tumors, twenty cells an hour?

"It must have been a couple of weeks ago. I guess I forgot to tell you. I was depressed one dayÖ from breaking up with RayÖ so I went down to the tattoo place above the bank. Melissa paid for it because she owed me for groceries. Forty dollars."

Christmas was dry this year. She came over, we opened presents, ate manicotti, ginger snaps, and drank sparkling cider. Then she left. It was our usual holiday routine, but everything felt different.

The snow finally came yesterday, but it was the wimpy, spring variety that melts by noon. I passed two cars in the ditch but I didnít stop. State troopers had flares out. My windshield wipers barely kept up with the flakes.

Today the afternoon sun reflects off my daughterís bobbing silver earring that floats inside my daughterís mouth. Every time she talks a pinprick of swallowed light escapes.

"Are you pierced anywhere else? Any tattoos I should know about?" I donít really want to know.

High school sweethearts, she and Ray lasted one Idaho winter in the drafty Moscow Hotel, room 113. I tried to talk her out of it. She sat in a chair in the living room and when I gave up she began to cry.

"No, Papa. But Stacy got both her nipples done."

Her new place is by the cemetery. For my benefit, because she knows what birds mean to me, she says she hears great horned owls at night. They sit and call to each other from the tops of gravestones. Five hoots, two short, then three slightly longer. A year ago the apartment complex was a wheat field. Now there are hundreds of students and families. She says itís the best place sheís ever lived, then adds, "on my own."

When she left home last summer I lost my bearings. I sat on the couch with the remote and clicked back and forth across our countryís culture. "Cops" to C-Span, through "Dateline" and the Seahawks. I wasted spectacular amounts of time. The couch has a permanent indentation of my horizontal body. Almost a year now and I canít lose the weight.

"Look, Mom sent me this postcard from California. Donít you think sheís doing great?" On the postcard is a photo of a banana slug with the title "Redwoods," postmarked Eureka, California.

Her mother didnít stick around Idaho for the college years. She left to live with an old college pal, a former logger and reformed pot grower. Long, hand-written letters arrive at the beginning of each month informing me of their trips to wildlife refuges and to towns where we once lived. "Took the skinny roads to and from, down through Happy Camp along the Klamath, came back up Hwy 3 through Trinity Lakes/Alps and Scott Valley. Great country Iíve not seen in such a while." I never write back.

"Donít worry," my daughter laughs. "No matter where youíre pierced, the hole always grows back."
Stephen J. Lyons is the author of Landscape of the Heart, a single father's memoir. His articles, reviews, essays, and poems have appeared in many national magazines and journals including Newsweek, Salon, Chicago Reader, Sierra, High Country News, Witness, Commonweal, The Sun, Hope Magazine, Manoa, Whole Earth, and New Age. His writing appears in the anthologies Idaho's Poetry : A Centennial Anthology (University of Idaho Press), Passionate Hearts (New World Library), Living in the Runaway West (Fulcrum Books), and Bless the Day (Kodansha Press).

Read more of Lyons's work here