Honorable Mention: “Circumambulation” by Rebecca Collins

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Strut and fret I will no more, and this shadow is not walking. Not even a shadow, really, but tucked under the light. Just outside the inmost oval, axis mundi. There, the motion stops. Around the cloisters the monks pace, foreheads heavy, sandals digging, rope belts taut, always looking in at the garden (a few shrubs and rocks), never arriving. La joie de la recherche, they say.

Just let me in already.

But, of course, the orbits never end. A concentric circle, ellipses–whatever the new fad, the movement remains the constant. The world is charged with the grandeur of God, a bunch of whizzing electrons.

Her back to the mountain and the clock tower, graciously past the prick of noon, Rebecca lay sideways, watching the legs traverse the walkways, climbing the horizontal against a landscape of patchy blue sky. The shoes clip-clipped through the mock spring air. The weather a sign of the ozone layer, the legs the accomplices. They are all receptacles of the ozone age, every step, every hurried plastic burrito wrapper thrown into the trash to be burned. She clung to the ground, asking for it not to drop her. A girl walked by with a yoga mat, and Rebecca stared, saying a prayer over her aching knees. She counted her Camino backpack among the legs, the teal REI forty-liter with the hip straps. One, two, three…such sacrilege. The yoke is hard, the burden heavy.

The old man poked his cane along the curving walkway sensibly, suspenders bungee-ing with each bend of the hip. He is waiting for my email about the wanderjahr. What a year.

Go east, young woman, she had said, between bouts of beeping machines. I am on my journey westward. Find me at the Rock of the Lover.

Three King’s Day the beginning of my pilgrimage, the end of hers. The Portland skyline clear, Mt. Rainier knocking on the cardiac unit window, Kathleen requesting tardy apologies, Therese with her prayer beads, Tom with his stroke brain, Mary on the airplane, John arranging sleeping bags in the waiting room at sunset, Mommy staring at a gaping mouth moving through that old cliché, the valley of the shadow.

The axis mundi had a heart attack.

I’m coming, Grammie. I’m walking, three parts coward, through Le Puy, Saugues, Conques, Figeac, Lacapelle, choking on French and blisters. Where did you go? Canyon closing in, trees shading caves of starving penitent medieval pilgrims. Agnes and Denis a kilometer ahead. Alone. Where are you? It is enough. I am no better than my ancestors.

Agnes and Denis said, “Get up and eat.” Omelettes and Bach organ preludes in the stone sanctuary for two days.

-Mommy, she’s here. They played Bach. They flew hot air balloons across the canyon. There are candles against the canyon wall. I saw her old painting, the one from a catalogue, in a restaurant.


-That’s it?

-They broke into our car! The window smashed! It’s all falling to pieces.

-Mommy, it’s okay. She’s still here.

-Huh. But the car!

Children cannot bury their mothers. Only the grandchildren can.

The endless migration recommences. Labastide, Vers, Cahors, Moissac. St. James will not wait for aching legs. A leaf falls gracefully: prophecy. I never asked for a walk to break me. I wanted to call myself beloved. Literally run off my feet. That this too, too sullied flesh would melt. Indeed, I fell. Gracefully. Out of speed, out of peace, out of France, out of walking. Now I just orbit around the center of things.

I will not give my life, my legs, my love, to any fall less important than that.

They took his dead body in a boat, head severed. A man, scorned and beheaded, winner of converts with his suit and nametag. Knock-knock. Want some Jesus Christ? No, he wasn’t that tacky. Just a quiet man, no moor-slayer, sandals and taut rope-belt, orbiting, wandering, groveling, forced to submit to the ultimate sacrifice. Head and body bobbing over the waves, one final journey. Movement in the lack of it.

We brought her to Mt. Rainier. Hands relinquishing the itch of chalk and white elements, gripping and patting, containing, then tossing into ponds and ferns with a view of the peak. Clapping hands, a final bow. Dinner. Composturnablesorerunela.

Rebecca watched the circle of legs thicken, the clock past the midpoint. She watched people watch her, sitting in the wet grass, next to the crossing. They crossed over the center, light and truth, scrolling through phone contacts, sending ricochets up their heels and into their knees and hips with each clip of the boot, faster than the ticks on her watch. She glanced across the green at the distant ivy-covered building, then back at her black backpack, full, to-do list scribbled on top. The sun hung unencumbered by the weight of clouds. The mountain defrosted. She stood, slung the bag over one shoulder, nodding to the center of it all, and clip-clipped away.


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