There are many stories of the thief. Many, many, many. He can arrive like pocket aces in a game of poker, or like actors on a stage, and like those, he is always unwelcome. Here are some of his ventures:

He’s taken maps and maps and maps from many places and many people, put them in his own private museums, and only left us the Mercator Projection because he knows uselessness when he sees it. The thief has swiped dolphins from Venice, the spring waters from Eau Claire, synaptic connections, neighbors, siblings – all nabbed with great aplomb and audacity. The thief has taken songs and stories and replaced them with his own or, even less noticeably, he has marked them with his icon and made them less-than. Whole gods, forests, nations, peoples, species, marked.

I have been in love three times and I am in love now.

The thief cleaves then swipes, sometimes. Other times, the thief cuts, then numbs. Do you know the other stories? You should know the others first. So you understand the ways that I’m speaking in metaphor and the ways I’m not.

I’ll tell you what the thief took from me. It’s not so grand, but it is no less significant. I’ll bandy about it with a bit of build-up and some philosophizing because it’s my story, but it is no more significant.

cats are my friends. so are crows.

Here. Let me tell you.

I sang along and drove, and the snow fell, and where I once felt my voice in my belly, a shadow passed: there were only echoes of somebody convincing themself of something. And the shadow drudged about savories, oils, strange poisons and I kept singing. And as I sang along, a string came undone, a knot untied, and onto my lap poure a glistening cornucopia of purples, pinks, reds, biles, pocket-watches, pennies, and as the last bits fell out, I noticed was a space for echoes…

And what the thief wants, in moments like that, is for me to stay on the task at hand. To convince myself that the drive is important and the darkness in the belly is no trouble, nothing strange, to keep my eyes on the road, and my heart away. I had passed through moments like this at many points and now, each is a faded memory, the experience traced over by charcoal and smudged by the stack of papers on top of it until I look through them and wonder what’s left. What did I miss that time, what will I miss this time? What, if I get down to it, have I been missing?

The thief tells us it’s pain, just pain, only pain, pain forever to live, and this is how he takes more and more of and from us: because holding onto ourselves, what we love, while he scrapes out our insides, is difficult. His greatest efficiency is the cleanliness of his cuts, no loose flesh to tell of what used to be; he convinces you that where there was once something there has always been nothing. And he keeps doing it. And doing it, until you’re just like him: all skin.

there are ghosts. there are.

When I pull over, the snow doesn’t stop falling. I let the song finish out because the song is something that does not make sense to the thief, but it tells me something beyond him and when it is over, I let silence fall.

And in that silence, there is traffic passing and the squish of my fingers rifling slowly through the mess. Gently shifting my liver off of a small bill. Parsing the sweetmeats. I can’t tell what’s wrong or what’s right, whether I’m lying to myself or what may or may not have been taken and my god, please, something hurts.

So I take an inventory.

what if thunderclaps always brought you back what if beans weren’t beans what if you survived this what if you can grow it back

And as the list grows, there is a distinct empty space where none of those things are. And as we look, we find a different piece of us and tear off a bit, plant the bit as a seed in that empty place. (This is what the thief does not want.)

On the side of the lake, in the middle of a snowstorm, curled in a car, we hear nothing but cars sliding by. And then in that empty place, we hear something hum. We have made a garden.


This is why you don’t speak of the thief too much. He is a nuisance. He infects and takes over. Frankly, the smallness the thief curates impinges on the pleasures of reality, the pleasures of pain, sun, steel, food, breath, love, everything. My friends, my camaraderie, my party? They believe in things; they prove that there are things to believe in, in tandem with the truth of nothing to believe in.

We worried about this. We fussed about this, each fear appearing in my head like a little hollow bone in a little hollow bone echoing and bouncing about, a cannibal from the north, delicately impaling my questions with his debonair airs.

The thief and his ilk perpetuate fears like these and use space, silence as weapons. Watch the news (not for too long). Listen to the ways a compromise shapes itself into a gun or a knife. Watch a government walk one walk while talking another talk. Look at the tension between form and function. Participate in an art project about ecology and locality, dispersed across a dozen or so artists on three continents, mediated by a screen and a series of tubes and servers and the like.

This tension is real. The suit doesn’t often fit, leaving gaps of nothing between the flesh and the cloth. And planted deep inside that nothing is a seed of death. Also planted deep inside that nothing?

A seed of change. The hope of home. The constant, unerring, whirring chords of “what if,” an unanswerable question that demands answer with every waking moment.

So: keep your ear to the ground.

Listen for the name of the land, for the birds you don’t know. Get to know them. Listen for the rattle of chains and the lies from the thief’s fingers. Listen for the hollows from where you don’t hurt anymore. Listen for pain. Listen for contradiction and the difficult space of in-between: where the thief sees hollowness, you see connection. Feed people (you’re people). Grow a garden of indigenous plants.

Keep your ear to the ground. Listen for the notes. Sing your songs. Find your friends.

And that is all.

Artist Bio

Percy Van Ort is an itinerant dreamer, writer, artist, and cook.

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