“How do you spell ‘clouds folded over them’?” asked my son. I was sweeping up the breakfast crumb mess, and he was sitting at the table, writing a story in his large white sketchbook. He was six, a precocious reader if not yet an expert speller, and had recently become interested in writing his own stories. Consequently, I had gotten very good at absently spelling words (dragon, forest, lightning) while sweeping or folding laundry or returning student emails. My sister-in-law, a pediatrician, once described my son as “kinetic,” which I understood to be synonymous with “never again will you do a crossword puzzle on a Sunday,” so when these rare moments of stillness happened, I seized them, tried to squash three hours’ worth of things-to-be-done into ten minutes.
Then: “How do you spell ‘clouds folded over them’?” he said.
“What?” I said, not sure I’d heard right.
My son repeated his question.
I repeated mine.
My son laughed like I was joking. “‘Clouds folded over them!’” he said. “How do you spell that?”
What I wasn’t trying to do in those short spaces of quiet was read or write. As a poet, I’d been stuck for months, bogged down in my own brain, resenting my poems for cycling again and again over the same territory. I’d open files and shut them. I’d type a line and delete it. And as a reader, I’d stalled out. I’d purchase new books—with beautiful matte covers, with perfect serif fonts, full of poems or stories or essays I knew I’d love—and stack them neatly on the ottoman. I wasn’t opening them. I was reading the blurbs, maybe the dedication, and then setting them aside for Later. I couldn’t access written language—there was too much of it. Too many good books to read any of them; too many good poems already out there to try to add any of my own. It felt like bobbing for apples if the apples had been replaced with planets. My teeth couldn’t find purchase on something so massive.
But clouds folded over them. Folded over. The people were standing there with their dragons, and clouds folded over them. I could picture it, could picture the movement of the sky, the shift of the light. The word folded sparked inside me. Over. Clouds. It was a perfect sentence. Even better, it was one perfect sentence. Just one.
I thought about that one perfect sentence as I swept the crumbs into the dustpan. I said it out loud before bed. I put it in my pocket. I held it in my mouth. I folded it over me and went about my life.
Catherine Pierce is the author of three books of poems: The Tornado Is the World, The Girls of Peculiar, and Famous Last Words, all from Saturnalia Books. Her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.