This is a collaboration between three writers who are excavating through writing. This is one of many sections to come as we tangle and untangle our histories.
It’s been seven months since the fire. The ashes return to my mouth, dust gathers around the frame.Trails of flame followed us across states and always this desire to not let you go. To keep you breathing, somehow, through a photograph, a memory that rises in moments of forgetting.The incense burns in front of your face, your bones. Your passing: a canyon in our bodies. A rearrangement of everything we knew.
But not without dew, as the bones rearrange. The wet of our winter that guards against the flame. The dew as small as a memory, light as a ghost. In the lacuna of the photograph we gather our losses for the burning. The fire that cleanses, that lifts the leaves of our story high into the belly of the sky. This us, this you. Still tethered to the constellation of a name.
Loosen the tongue from your teeth.
Wrap a vein around the earth till our bodies touch again.
When we met, you wore a pink belt. You stood up from your desk chair and turned toward me. I shook your hand and felt an electric wave pulse through my veins. Your pale blue eyes. My heart beating the beat that knew already, even in that brief moment, that nothing would ever be the same. My lips parted to say hello, and I couldn’t breathe. My lungs tightened in my chest. The color of my blood brightened underneath my skin. My eyes on fire. My palm ablaze.
To speak your name, the letters wrapped around our tongues, pressing against the backs of our teeth. This rage presses against the inside of our skins and I wonder if this is what it was like for you. Anger lava moving slow, rubbing the crust of the back of the skin. Counting the days passing, the mounting pressure. Then a break in the surface. A surge. A volcano. But I thought once it was a geyser. The heat of your scars. I wanted the water to touch you, your burnt skin as you tried to open the body, let loose the wounds.
The map of this love from heart to fingertip. Vena amoris. You told me that story after we lost the war. The one that slipped blood into the ground of our lives. The rift in the ground where the earth cracked open but would not offer water. This cataclysm. The mud pulling away from us. Until even silence had sounds and a petal to place on your tongue. Can we lift the light to eat the shadows. Can the baby be born from a root placed in the ground during the drought. The drought that is a voice, that is a baptism, that is a return. Vena amoris, the stream that still has the abandon to dream.
I can’t bury the bodies in the ground. All the people we created in light of the lack of us. Our twinning to create a story that singes. Light a match against the twist in the bed sheet. A pink flower on the nightstand. Burrowing back toward wood. To begin again. To be born of ash.
the coming storm.
I had imagined this so many times, but in the moment, my hands moved on their own, my body detached from my heart. I felt you but didn’t feel you. I felt the cool air, the mist of the waves. I saw you were there, but didn’t see you in the dark.
It occurred to me in that moment that maybe we were always in the dark, and maybe you were always there but really not there. And maybe your touch was so deep that I never really felt it because its indentation had already changed the shape of my skin, the muscles beneath it.
Maybe all we ever are is an evolution of ourselves, our skin always stretching to hold all of us in. The expansions and retractions. How do we ever know who we are? Some days we are everything to each other. Some days I don’t recognize my own breath. The startling noise of lungs filling themselves. After the fire, it occurred to me there is no way to stop this. The flames burnt everything we knew, but your house still stands. It was there to scavenge through, to smell the smell of your burning, those last moments of your flesh.
The center cannot hold. The neighbors at first hated to see the structure, the right side sloping toward the earth, reaching to the ash, to the return, as if the wood of that house came exactly from that spot of land. Rooted from long ago. The neighbors hated the reminder that the body becomes earth after death. That even if they believed in Heaven or Hell, there is no way to fight body being left behind to become ashes or rot slowly in a box in the ground. Then the months passed, and they began to like your half burned house. Big things don’t happen in small towns. The father wanted the house torn down, uprooted. Erased. Show the ripe pink flesh so the wound can heal. The town wouldn’t let him, wanted to say to any visitor, “That’s the house of the Lost Boy. Got burnt up inside, right there where the beam don’t sit straight. See? Nobody knew till too late. He didn’t make it out. Imagine that.” The glamor of other people’s tragedies. All of this said between tobacco spits, the tar landing on the earth of his overgrown garden. They don’t see where it lands, cannot turn away from the image as they worked the thought out of their minds that they were glad the house was set back away from the street, don’t have to see it if you don’t want to. Don’t have to get too close case his spirit comes. Might be he believed in God. Might be he didn’t, but don’t know where he went. His brother told me he got the hell away from that place though.
Still, they do not understand how his center was not holding, and our lungs keep going, but we are not breathing, and that some days our skin is ripping from the stretching of keeping all of his memories and breaths and movements in.
The inability to let the dead rest. Listening to the lullaby of your bone bits rattling in their box.
The ghosts will always surface. She was a ghost I met in memory. Standing there excavating all the old ways. The body spectacle. The lens can be so complex. And I thought I started in a place of childhood, she tells me. But the words come out like the color blue. Bruised but buoyant. Filtered through the light cast through currents. Her words hold space like a votive, on the body of an old birch tree.
That tree has since been caught in the flood, the one that rushed down Independence and Windward, the flood that masqueraded like a daughter with a knotted heart, the one that lifted all the maps in the town library. As if it meant to wash away the grime of the city, toward the beginning of old roads. The movement of fire is like water, both cleansing toward bone. Speaking the marrow, speaking the country roads. Remembering before there was the memory of us.
So blind is the child that doesn’t see her ghost. Wet skin in the frost.
This they we speak of. The disappeared. The Lost Ones. The almost dreams. The shadows against our walls, bumping against the dimension of life. Seek the open window. Follow the letters of the alphabet, the young child saying, “B for brother.” Hug the full belly, this naming of everything we see.
Has your named changed since you left? What does Neverland call you?
We run along what is left of the river and search for memories there. I found one, between the dry riverbed and the skeleton of a fish. You, swimming along the shore, seeing if you could beat us back home. The exhaustion reached us, from smoke filled lungs you called, “don’t do it, save yourselves!” We laughed at the feigned but real desperation, at the sweetness of your voice. I wonder now if you meant more. I wonder now if you still can smell the heat soaked dirt of the river, the dampness of nothing. That place we all grew up along. We are children of this river, of this five mile strip on the south side of the American. The span of elementary to graduate school, beginning at the place, when you were just a name, where your brother first kissed me. We were fourteen under the tree that’s been torn down for years. The place where initials have been carved into logs we cannot find and how everything is familiar, but the years transform the landscape of our memories and the trails disappear so we run the opposite way.
We enter here to feel like maybe we aren’t really in the city, but if we could just find a raft we could float to the ocean. Dip the feet in, lose a shoe in the water, hold a tree branch that reaches over and scare yourself, just a little, with the power of the current. But today, I cannot find the spot where you entered the river and swam toward home. It sank, perhaps months ago, and I walk into the exposed riverbed and consider sifting your ashes so I can pour part of you into the cracks.
I always felt you near the water. That cloudy afternoon in August 2011 when I didn’t know my name. The name I would soon change. The name I had already crossed out on papers and reimagined in a new cursive. My hand still getting used to the looks of it, even though I had signed it for years, before, as the past me. The identity that was already dissolving into you like the mist of the ocean waves and my salty tears.
I didn’t want to go home yet, so I drove down Newport avenue to the beach wall. The place I would escape to on my 30-minute breaks during my shift at the ice cream shop. I would immerse myself fully into the saltwater, rinse off the sweat and sticky waffle cone bits. Return, my hair soaking. My skin the smell of the sea.
I scanned the horizon looking for you and found you, there, sitting right next to me in a song.
This is our archeology. Our reverie. Three times you have left in the night, disappeared in the sheets, in the stratification of our sentences. Our histories left like artifacts wrapped in the roots of trees where we buried your photograph. I imagine it has been bound by the arms of these roots, that they curl into our smiles, to rewrite chronology. Bleed backwards. We dream in hieroglyphs, they speak to us in sediment and silt.
These three, monolithic, always a brother, a boy wet with sun, a child only growing now in memory.
Building breath, out of a story of loss.