a thousand years on the backs of paper elephants Dec 21, 2012

it happened every year, but i never saw him.
never, that is, until i did.
a meter of snow had fallen during the day.
the night was cold and quiet.
the old bones of the house groaned.

i had not heard the door, but here he was
in the fireplacelight, much skinnier than i had imagined
and so much older. he looked young enough,
but there was something in his voice and posture,
like staring up the side of the tour eiffel,
his age weighed on the room

i asked

"mister klaus, did you bring me a gift?"

"i did not, child. it's the sack for you."

"but i've done all my chores!
 my lessons are going well!"

"you've been good, child,
 but sometimes life isn't fair.
 one day you might understand."

and klaus scooped me up into his sack.

every year on this night,
i kept scissors in my pocket
just in case he caught me.
but in the darkness and the tumble
i couldn't find them, the fear in my breast
coiled like a snake around my waist
stopping my breath, my eyes, my arms
all i did was listen and pretend---
to the wind, that i was at home in bed
dreaming

i woke on a white bed, covered in white sheets
in a white walled room with a white end table
and a white bookshelf filled with white books.

klaus poked his head in the door.
i sat up.

"i want to go home!"

"you can not. you live here now."

"why have you done this? i'll miss my parents,
 my brothers and sisters.
 my little dog, my red blanket."

"we all have our purposes.
 come eat. i have prepared a soup.
 it is delicious."

i scowled the entire time while eating,
even though it was delicious.
i hated him for at least half of the first year.
he tried to get me to read.

"books are other worlds."

"i hate reading."

"do you like listening?"

"if it's not boring. if it is i'll probably just fall asleep."

"we shall try this one."

i never could stay awake until the end of that one.
i read it on my own. much later.

the first year he wouldn't let me come with him,
only to prepare the sack.
it was to be half full with a representative collection of toys and games,
my choice.
he wore a ring which caused any door he opened
to lead exactly where it needed to.
i had been alone in the house before,
but there is a special kind of loneliness
when you are not where your mind is.

he taught me to fold paper.

"it is like writing a good sentence.
 you must see the entire shape."

"how many years were you alone?"

"not as many as my predecessor."

"why did you pick me?
 can't you do this forever?"

"i chose a spot from a map without looking."

one day after he was gone, i touched the scissors in my pocket.
they always meant escape to me,
but suddenly they cut a doorway into klaus' paper house
and i saw his entire life, laid out like an origami dollhouse
tragic and beautiful and delicate and dangerous
like a hydrogen zeppelin exploding against power wires
or a paper elephant left out in the rain next to a pair of scissors.
he made sense, and a part of me made sense too.
i cried as i felt his weight come off of my body,
and he changed and faded. i gathered up the sack,
half full. i hesitated a moment before taking the scissors from my pocket
and dropping them in.