By Rachel Yoder
My hope left one day when I opened its golden cage. It took off on the wind, a white flock that twirled and stretched above the flatness into messages that disappeared as soon as they’d been written. I had been a farmer, with crops of soy and corn and a barn in which I quietly raised my hope in a warm, dark corner. But then the droughts came and turned thousands of acres to desert. Entrepreneurs slapped up roadside stores full of trinkets and T-shirts for families of tourists who brought with them all the grotesqueries of modern life, their various technologies lashed to them with designer Velcro straps, their eyes oversized from generations of screen time. Their main talent was to consume and they did this with startling skill, buying up corn-flavored jellybeans, miniature boxes of “genuine dust,” Vintage Farm Dogs the farmers had left behind. Spoiled teenagers tricked out remaindered combines with subwoofers and vanity plates to show off around town.
You can image my hope was far away by that time. I liked to think it had migrated to a sunny spot where it preened in the boughs of a leafy, fruit-bearing tree. I sold my farmhouse to some tourists who bought it as a gift for their toddler who was fond of houses. I decided to go and find my despair, which I had misplaced back in the late 1990s and not needed again until I bumped down the dusty lane, homeless.
I set off toward the sea, which I hadn’t seen in many years. When I arrived, I found the shoreline miles from where it had once been. I stood on a sandy knoll and glimpsed through binoculars the Portuguese coastline and, further south, the continent of Africa. Circumstances were much worse than I’d imagined. I purchased a submersible and tattered manual about deep ocean exploration, then descended away from the lunacies of land.
At one point we weren’t sure of the greatest depths of the ocean but since have drained away its mystery. Luckily, though waters are comparatively shallow, a person is still able to sink into complete and profound darkness. My submersible provided a weak beam of light through the endless night of opaque jellies, schools of puce fish, the confetti of krill, emptiness that grew the further down I went.
I can’t be sure of my ultimate depth as important gauges were nonfunctional, but eventually I went as far as I could. For three days I watched thousands of starfish devour a dead whale on the ocean floor. Then I found it. My despair had been in my pocket all along, a smooth black stone, heavier than you’d expect. It was polished from all the years I’d unwittingly kept it close. I unzipped my jumpsuit and touched the notched-out place in my breastbone where the stone fit perfectly, tucked cool and hard against my skin. Even in these times, it seems there are still beautiful ways in which to feel complete.
Rachel Yoder graduated from the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. More at racheljyoder.com
Hot Tin Roof is a program to showcase current literary work produced in Iowa City. The series is organized and juried by representatives of three Iowa City-based cultural advocacy organizations: The Englert Theatre, Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature and Little Village magazine.