a broken tusk

by tobias crabtree

i remember the morning I broke my tusk. It didn’t break off completely, not right away…it took weeks. But the first crack woke me from my sleep. I thought it was a tree branch at first. I was in the woods under the grey pines and I know they sometimes shed their branches. I climbed up from my sleeping bag to take a leak and make a fire. While I was gathering wood I glanced at my tusk and that’s when I noticed the fracture.


There’s really no way to describe a broken tusk. No matter what I say you won’t understand, unless of course you’ve broken one. It is a loss so great that words tend to turn invisible as they move to describe it. I don’t remember when the tears began but I remember when they ended. It was exactly a year, one month and nineteen days. It doesn’t matter what I did during that time, I hardly know myself, but I know I carried that broken tusk with me everywhere. I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I thought about swimming it out to sea and letting it sink down and settle with the bones of the whales. i dreamt of burying it and seeing it grow again from my face but this time made of wood and sprouting green like a cedar.


I finally decided to make it into a pen. I hollowed it out and filled it with ink and wrote a story about a river, and a tribe.


Here is one of the stories. It is one of many and it is as real as rain.


   There is a place in the mountains where a river runs between granite walls that are a half-mile high. There is a tribe of people that have a village that starts by the river and spills up the hill as far as the granite will allow. In a house, up that hill live the Kerr’s. I go there to eat the pancakes that Nate makes from scratch. He also makes a tiny cup of espresso for me and tells me which cup I am drinking from and what it means. I believe him because the espresso is so damn good. I can sit at the table and watch Calliope and Scarlett eat their pancakes before they run for the school bus. I think the girls are 9 and 7, consecutively. i believe they have the power to heal a broken tusk.


    When Calliope turns her squinty eyes at me and curls the corner of her mouth, I feel a quiet magic that reminds me of seeing a trout slip in and out of my vision in a mossy-bottomed creek. She carries the mystery found in the fern forests where the newts hide among the Morrell’s.  She will read you.


    If you are ever lucky enough to dance with Scarlett, you will better understand forces of nature. She is not looking at who is looking; she is looking at you. If you don’t have the energy to dance, she will leave you and take a little bit of you with her. When she leaves the dance floor, the lights are never quite as bright. She is fire. She is a rock song that can’t be written.


    And who is their mother? Who is Nate’s wife? She is the tall, beautiful woman at the edge of the crowd with the Buddha in her eyes. She is the strong lady putting gear on her harness before she leads you up a climb that you will struggle on. She has the guitar in her hands and is teaching herself a Led Zeppelin song and Calliope is reading about swords in her red velvet dress and Scarlett is screaming the words to the song with her mother and Nate is making me an espresso that will be the best on earth and we are all looking back and forth at one another…and my tusk is healing.