Building birdhouses and questioning the rise of the nation-state.

Weekends at the Coryell Castle have a tendency to develop in unexpected ways. This past weekend, the King and the Eldest spent a Saturday building a “wren house” from tornado-fallen wood found along Hurricane Creek. It happened because of a book….

Meanwhile, the girls and I colored the “Coryell Castle” sign for the garden gate. The King cut it from found wood last year, but it languished in the garage, unpainted, until the chirps of a coming spring brought it to our attention.

“Our house is really small- it’s not like other castles,” observed Prophet, as she washed a paintbrush in water she’d procured from the rain barrel.

“That’s because all the other castles are way too big,” I said (a little too smug). “One day, we humans will be remembered only for our ruins- and the ruin we made of this beautiful planet.”

Prophet giggled and leaned against Gnome. “Mommy is in a serious mood,” she whispered.

Now, after having built the birdhouse and painted the Coryell Castle sign, the King and I sit watching the girls swing.

Gnome shows off her new ability to propel herself by pumping through the air; she throws her head back and closes her eyes for emphasis. We are charmed.

“She would have made a good Wren,” I say to the King, a reference to the original name we had planned for yonder tiny-swing-thing. He agrees.

Why did we name her M—- rather than Wren? Neither remembers.

The clouds lay like a poisonous white snakeskin over the sky. I want to peel them back and find the proper name for this strange planet-place in which we find (and lose) ourselves on a daily basis.

Prophet settles onto the swing nearest Gnome. Suddenly, Gnome’s two pigtales reveal their asymmetry, she lays her head to the side, crumples her face into a cry- “No, Prophet, go away”. Prophet tries to ignore the crescendo of wails demanding that she get off the swing.

I feel myself redden.

“Gnome, you can’t cry because someone sits next to you or breathes near you!”, I snap. I’m surprised by how much this flusters me.

“Next thing you know, you’ll become one of those nationalists!” I practically spit out that last word as if it were an expletive.

“Look,” I say, trying to impose some calm on my own outrage, “If you don’t like the person next to you, then it’s YOUR job to get up and move. You don’t have a right to remove them or make them leave….” The Alabama Immigration legislation flashes through my mind, alongside sepia-toned photos of Ellis Island and Japanese internment camps. Gnome stops complaining; the girls swing as if their lives depended on feeling their toes touch the clouds.

The King enters my field of vision, picking up trash from the lawn, a large smile on his beardless face. “Did you just call her a nationalist?” he laughs.

“Yes,” I admit. I am that woman in the check-out line who fears that her children will find anything of value in flags, nation-states, and patriotisms. The excuses we imagine for mass killings can never be sacred to me. Fortunately, the King takes a more nuanced view of fences, gates, and the history of the nation-state.

If it weren’t for the subtle poetries of living in the deep South, this girl would be roaming the continents with her backpack, eyes peeled for caravans or other contingencies. I wonder sometimes if my rambling blood courses through the kids’ veins- how and when and if they will recognize it, what symptoms will lead them to give it a name…. The mysteries of life disguise themselves in rapture.

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