Who Walks When I Am Walking / Joshua Alan Sturgill
I dreamed about a leaf falling through the narrow opening of a cavern in a forest floor. The cave is deep, and the leaf falls for a length of time, carrying stowaways: bacteria on the leaf, and a beetle, and bacteria that live inside the beetle. And in the dream, they all drift together down into the cave, into the still air, into the cool darkness, and settle there
at a certain time, on a certain pile of debris known only to God. And the beetle continues eating the leaf, heedless of its fall into darkness—because the life of a beetle is so short that everything is new. Life and dark and leaf and falling are all one thing for a beetle,
all one thing and all everything. Finishing its meal of leaf, the beetle wanders off in search of other leaves and other beetles. It sets off downward where its instinct tells it other leaves and other beetles will be. It feels its way lightlessly through small and large dry stones. And as it walks a long way down,
I dream the beetle slowly dies—slow and slow, losing the energy required to move, because all the while that it’s walking, it’s growing, too, and digesting and feeding the bacteria inside it. It goes on being prepared for other leaves and other beetles and other seasons. But its body finally halts
and for awhile, its brain stubbornly wills its stiff and frozen legs to move. And then the brain dies, too—like the bright spot left for a moment on old television after the power is cut—an arc of static still is there to pass however briefly from the one last living island in the brain—a spark enough to qualify as consciousness. God sees this final spark,
this final, failing microscopic flash within the beetle’s brain. And then a beetle-corpse is there on the stone floor of a cave, cool and dry. Its bacteria outlive it by a certain number of hours. The dead insect is their isolated home in a hostile place. Until they too die, one by one, like candles no one can see
except maybe God. Poised there in that providential cave, on that last providential stone, through chance coincidence of wind and leaf and insect: a kind of monument remains: a petrified, dead-end possibility—like a book that’s a record of quite another place, quite a different plan. A monument to light and purpose in the dark unknown.
This dream (I have had it before) is my prayer-antithesis. It comes in pieces, so I’ve tied the variations of the dream into this single narrative. What prayer is supposed to be, this dream denies. Sometimes, if I’m awakened suddenly—the kind of waking that banishes a dream irretrievably—I wake with only a residue of melancholy, clinging just below emotion. A residue
from that place in the soul where symbols first erupt, from where I feel I sit motionless, prone, a monument gazing up at ungrasped stars, and knowing that I’ve failed at prayer. I’ve fallen into a cave; all hope is lost but I don’t know it yet. Because I only know this leaf to which I’m clinging—and it may be carrying me away
further out from a paradise of trees I never noticed because I was too busy consuming a single leaf. Carrying me out of paradise into dry dark, so slowly, a tiny insect on a leaf, making slow, quiet spirals away from home. Who falls
when I am falling? Who prays when I am praying? Who dreams these things, and are the dreams suggesting something more? I wonder if the dream itself might be a path I could somehow re-ascend.