Chase Twichell, “Animal Caution”

Memories of a certain significance entail grand gestures, rituals piled atop rituals. Every so often, Twichell climbs to a height where a cairn memorializing one of her parents lies. Whenever I touch the cairn marking the summit of one of my parents stops me. She’s carefully stepped on certain areas of the path, noted landmarks such as rocks and plants, tried not to startle the wildlife. The cairn itself stands unique, made from local stones. Each stone is rough and uneven, with a texture and color all its own. Together, they form a small hill echoing the hill they sit upon. 

Animal Caution (from Poetry)
Chase Twichell

Whenever I touch the cairn
marking the summit
of one of my parents,
touch the top stone,
an animal caution comes over me,
sinew and muscle like the brook’s,
a sudden shivering
green-brown flame.
Soon they will be constellations,
and I a small tower of stones.

So much alludes to every moment in life having weight and seriousness. And that’s the problem our parents pose. What are you doing with your life? What are you doing with what we gave you? These questions may be verbalized, but their importance is in the spirit we believe we should manifest. Their silence in our blood builds us or kills us. Even some of the worst parents leave a clump of various visions marking themselves in our mind. A happy birthday party; an extremely extravagant Christmas; advice not meant seriously which ironically worked. The best parents can leave legacies which threaten to paralyze with shame.

One can’t help but feel that Twichell measures herself against that cairn. [I] touch the top stone, an animal caution comes over me. The measurement results in a quiet but significant gesture. She reaches out and touches the top of the cairn, a height she can reach. At that moment, an animal caution. Parental love, bound up with our bodies, can at times ignore our choices and our values. For some children, this is annoying; for others, it is the height of neglect. Still. What if, for a moment, we tried to see as their love sees?

We can’t, of course. Only briefly can we become an animal enhanced by a desire to survive and prosper. And even then, we’re beyond the type of love implied. Sinew and muscle like the brook’s. Sinew and muscle enhanced by an animal caution, by an excitement not as much fear as alertness. But the sinew and muscle are ultimately like the brook’s, not simply animal. Strength gathers from a stream of continual change. Drawing strength from change is specific to our individual growth. Parents can only help with this, if they recognize that it must happen at all.

And then, Twichell writes what sounds like a vision. A sudden shivering green-brown flame. Perhaps it was a vision for a moment, like Moses’ burning bush. But in the end, it must be Twichell herself, a blend of tree and fire, shivering. Her own recognition that she’s here, she’s alive and growing and changing now. That what oppresses with regard to parental love is a sense of being which struggles to comprehend change. This is not the fault of any set of parents, though the limits of parental love are clear. We as children, even adult children, struggle to understand our parents as people. They become moments, expectations, idols. None of this is unnatural, but it is certainly mystical, a process of the beyond defining the here and now. Soon they will be constellations, and I a small tower of stones.

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