Dear Mammal

Sarah Gerard

Dear Mammal,

Your star moved over me in opposition. You implanted yourself in the walls of me. Your father held me in the bathtub and we watched you spread around us, light diffusing. There were all the days after. I’m taking a bus to the mountains.

Science is unforgiving but we return to it. It’s been weeks but time is relative to feeling. I let in the air. I let the air in again. You’re a monochrome smudge on a screen.

We stop at an onramp. I read by the face of my watch. The passengers sleep and I hear them by the echo you left. Gunpowder is poisonous. It deprives us of iron, making us bleed.

I know the meaning of reproduction. A man pins a sign to the shirt of a small child, then leaves her. I find versions of you in a comma, a shadow, a curve, a tadpole, identical movements, any creature, a rabbit, an earthworm, a virus.

We wait on the shoulder. We’re stuck in a dark place and we’ve returned to our old repetitions. I eat my placenta. I constellate versions of history. You were mistaken.

To love is to orbit potential if you love nothing. It’s raining in the mountains and you will never have to learn that pain is profit. I find a cabin. There’s a dark ring circling the lot. The river is named for its origin. Taking a man is also killing him. I will never forgive your father. I attach myself to the mountain’s breast and drink the milk of the future.

There is no end to deconstruction. Time is immense and fabric, so we are together. I go before you to clear the way for futility. I cleared you from the weave. We returned to the source and discovered its brutality. It’s beautiful here on the mountain.

I carry you as two lines and an absence. A dog comes out of the woods looking for food. I feed and bathe him. I sweep my absence into corners, cover it up with inattention, drift toward a bright center. We use light to measure distance. An animal robbed of her young will call it making sounds she’s never made.

Repetition breeds habit and comfort. The dog and I pass each other at predetermined times of day and pass back. Leaves fall. Cold clears the sky. From the ground, we see stars.

I had delusions. I believed in the power of two and feared the zero. I no longer fear what the mountain can do. I feel that I did it for love. I learn to cook with fire. My body is a tool. Time is a loom with ten strings. I lift one to make a story.

Mammal, I see your face as translucent. I leave the cabin open and walk toward a distant hum. I have written you, now send you. The road is wide and milked over. At its end there’s nothing.

Your mother,


Sarah Gerard is the author of the essay collection Sunshine State, a New York Times critics’ choice, the novel Binary Star, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times first fiction prize, and two chapbooks. Her short stories, essays, interviews, and criticism have appeared in The New York Times, Granta, The Baffler, and McSweeney’s. She’s the New College of Florida 2018-2019 Writer-in-Residence.