She said, Let there be stories; and there were stories.
As she spoke, her breath crystallized into the shapes of birds and beasts.
But the animals were forgetful,
so she had to teach them to remember the words that formed them.
She taught honeybees to tell each other stories:
Once upon a time, five minutes ago,
I found a tree laden with fruit,
and now I will tell you how to find it by wiggling my butt.
She taught hyenas to tell the most hilarious stories,
but the other animals never got the joke.
She taught bears to dream their stories
in the fallow bitterness of winter, when water becomes stone.
She taught oysters the herculean patience of making a new story:
Pick one molecule of sand, something any mere scallop could do,
but then shape it to the lightless curves of your body
until you and it emerge transformed.
She taught coyotes to sing their stories to their children,
to their nieces and nephews.
One day she drank too much wine and gave birds far too many stories,
so they are always overflowing with them.
She taught turtles to write three-part novels;
sloths, epic poetry.
She taught sharks and other fish to exhale haikus,
lines of water coursing out over their gills.
To the whales, she taught philosophical plays and spiritual treatises,
so they are always smiling demurely about their very serious minds.
To the crickets, she gave tragedies.
To the rats and mice, enough proverbs to fill an eon of almanacs.
To the dogs, she taught operas,
but some of them were much quicker studies than others.
To the cats, she taught a dangerous mix of lullabies and murder mysteries,
which made them sleep all day and stalk mice all night.
To the bullfrogs, spring peepers, and toads,
she taught complex harmonies and polyrhythms,
trusting that their lyrical abilities would unfold if given enough time.
She taught the vultures to compose obituaries.
To the humans, she taught nothing,
but she made them with an empty space at the center of them—
so they would run and swim and fight and mate
to try to find the scraps of story to fill it.
Quarterly Review, The New York Times, Sycamore Review, and elsewhere. She’s
a queer, disabled writer who was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of
Virginia. You can find more of her writing online at lizbergstrom.com.