by Talley Kayser
I was nine years old when the full moon leapt into my life. It was my first day of wearing glasses, and so my first day of clear seeing. I felt dizzy from so much seeing—from leaves on trees and letters on signs and the sudden complexity of human faces. I was holding my mother’s hand as we crossed a dark parking lot, and I glanced up.
I reeled. My mother says I screamed.
It was a shock as cold as ice water, learning light could be that crisp, that whole. Learning anything could be so self-possessed.
Ten years later, I lived in a mountain valley scoured wide by ancient glaciers, its floor a mile-wide romp of meadows and pines ribboned by a clear green river. The valley walls are a soaring, clean granite that blues when evening comes. In the early season, melting snow waterfalls over every edge. Some shafts of snowmelt freefall four thousand feet before they shatter against the valley floor.
I spent eight-plus hours a day thumbing dumb cash, smiling and making rote noises at a swarm of strangers. When at last the flicker of fluorescent lights powered down, I walked the half-mile home through meadows and between pines, all dwarfed by watchful valley walls. Some nights their granite was a pane of hard flat dark, backlit by a paste of stars. Other nights, the whole valley brimmed full of moon.
On moon-nights, meadows were a dizzying lace of grass and grass-shadow. On moon-nights, every drop of every waterfall keened with light, and the waterfalls themselves cast restless shadows that moved and tumbled. Moon-nights etched the shadows of single pine needles vivid on the ground; my shadow as it crossed them had fingernails, stray hairs.
On moon-nights, I took a long and quiet time walking home.
Three times since living in that valley, I have walked alone in the surrounding mountains for more than a month, refusing paths and trails. Each time my body aligned with the moon, so that I bled as the moon became full.
Experts accept that moonlight drives the large-scale migration of zooplankton, the flight patterns of swifts, the mating cycle of ragworms, badgers, and horseshoe crabs. But when scientists test the hypothesis that a woman’s body responds to moonlight—that we can bleed in lunar rhythm—the science gets messy. The sample size is small, the variables are intricate, the evidence is incomplete. Results have not been replicated.
Meanwhile, my body quietly makes its rounds. A messy myth, my body makes its own way through the mountains, crafts its own truths from moonlight and movement. Writes them in blood.
During one of those long mountain walks, I stayed awake all night for the moon. I was sitting alone by a cheerless tarn when the moonlight bloomed, full and red as any rose, from behind an overhead arete. I was still sitting hours later, when the moon was high and its light poured over the granite like milk, and I was still sitting when the moon sank pale into the teeth of the next ridgeline. In this time I watched my shadow slip from me and circle my body, then slip back into me again like a quiet, patient ghost.
Ninety-three million miles away is a burning star. The moon, some two hundred thirty-nine thousand miles away, is its mirror. All of the moon’s light is borrowed. But moon is more than light. The moon’s body is a power all its own: waxed or waning, warped or full, the moon moves oceans. Mountains, too. When moon passes overhead, there is a tide that heaves stones up, that coaxes a micro-measurable rise in every morning coffee, that swells the blood in a human body and hums it a hair higher.
My shadow, cast by the mirror-moon, will steal in silence across a stretch of granite, contour across every divot of feldspar and mica and quartz, dance effortlessly at once with the far reach of space and the finest textures of the ground around my body.
I saw. I reeled, or maybe rooted.
I have not believed in self-possession since.
Talley V. Kayser teaches at the western edge of the Great Basin. Her writing has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Cimarron Review, Alpinist, and elsewhere; her honors include Pushcart Prize nomination. In 2022, Talley was a finalist for the PEN Northwest Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency. Read more at www.talleyvkayser.com.