The Echo of Something Hitting

Copyright 2018 by Jessica Halsey.

Cover art by Jessica Halsey.

ISBN: 9781732036703

The first edition of this ebook was published by Jessica Halsey on April 30, 2016 and was titled RIVERKILL. This second edition has revised and updated content.

PROLOGUE

—words travel across the page in a sunset song sung softly your voice bleeds the line down a drop of ink on your tongue a stumble against the rumble strip a casualty of wandering and diesel fumes skinned haunches and shattered nose point towards the ragweed spine pokes through chewed skin defiantly the beginning of the line dresses itself in a drop of ink a hemorrhage here is the horizon bleeding down generations of sunrises and sunsets light comes up light goes down when you sing the road allocates flesh absorbs blood boneandfurfeathersscales pulverized to a fine sheen over the rumble strip and the verge the road stretches out sniffs with a dead thing’s nose gulps the sky with broken teeth—

PART ONE

—we fall

on the red smear where the edge leaps out

claws the mountain sharp flanks

caught

in the headlights we have

no home—

—my footsteps and the shuddering black scrawl peel back. The horizon languidly turns over. I don’t know how to mend a splintered jaw. I should carry super glue or duct tape or bandaids with me everywhere but even if I do I know my remedy is useless. Things that are shattered should be easy—

—I begin to write. I am writing. I am writing a poem for you. I am writing a poem about you. In this moment, I am writing a poem about you. A poem about what poppies do at night in the weed-choked corridor without any light. The desire to explore the idea of what you do not know. Finding the thing you do not know. I gesture toward the absence of light. The absence of light makes a gesture of sliding across the highway as a fractal cracking delicately across a map. The absence of light blurs a line that is not the road. The absence of light is a tangle of poppies that grow very fast parallel to the line that is not the road, I see the line that is not the road road grow and I gesture toward it. A pulse wakes in the quiet; locates the gesture and puts the light in its mouth. A mouthful shut up with eating (the creative mode of self preservation). I do not believe in the muse. I believe in the mouth that eats the muse. Air sizzles in the space above a body. I write a poem about the air too. The road bleeds summer tar, gums roadkill bones. The road is greedy and protective. I pick at the remnants of the light and throw them across the line that is not the road; I write a poem about a free line in a free horizon. There is perfection in the gristly line stretching beyond the break that tastes like resurrection but really is body deconstructed and reimagined, traveling the road beyond death—

—a heavy wall of rain tumbles down the road. Water writes over light, bone, the curve down and away where the weeping horizon bleeds over everyone who travels through. Look here, on the side of the road a body makes a beautiful arch— a bow—limbs twisted at angles unhinged and perfect for lashing power behind the arrow forcing it to fly long and far into the echo of something hitting a body and a body falling. The broken hinge of a jaw yawns the wide horizontal line. No other map will give you such a destination or exist with more beauty but you might not notice if you don’t know how to look. Feathered nerves and ruptured blood vessels convulse under the morning heatshimmer. Beyond the broken body and the breath before the predicted rain lies the road. To a voice it is fatigue; a hoarseness, the brittle corridor of the throat convulsing with fever. To the broken body it is nothing—

—stretch out, recoil, fingers curl in the humid air—

—the body opens like the flapping wings of an underwater butterfly. The lungs fly away. The heart sinks to the bottom whichisweirdbecauseIneeditnottolie. Words do not always adopt the space of what they have become. They have to reinvent space. Reinvent the light—

—What do you name a dead thing on the side of the road? I stop when I reach the body barely indistinguishable in color or dimension from the road. Flat. Gray. It is two-dimensional grey. I kneel down on the sidewalk and pick up the gravely exhalation. A hiss—that which is not carried off as food for other bodies slowly smashes against the unyielding surface. The road lurches under my fingers like messy handwriting. I reach out, the road cracks and there is no surface. The road stretches. The road bursts its seams. The road does not like unstable foundations. The river gives no warning. The river knows endurance. The river doesn’t care about unstable foundations, you, or your family. The river wants to sprawl. The river does not believe in stillness. The roadriver views this alchemy as a mild inconvenience, the necessary tithe of light and pain before passage can be granted into the space where the horizon used to be—breathing tangible as a thorny bramble tied around my fingers. The body’s eyes open. The body lifts its head, pulls a paw under itself and flicks its tail. Its breath smells like blood and wet wool, a decomposing jump between the stagnant marsh and summer footsteps undulating down the liquefying road—

PART TWO

—after a late-night thunderstorm

call it unseasonably

the brittle image

slimy this heart

of the moon hanging

in the water I don’t want

in an empty sky to think about what is

redly like a peeled egg growing what is growing underneath: a latticing

slowly rises to the surface

a quiet, oily membrane tethered with silhouettes lazily churning in my footsteps

of clinging poppy blossoms

(clinging redly underneath the brittle image)

—the road stretches until the seams fill with the river and the river laps at the concrete borders, curious and fickle. When a road becomes a river it does not twist like haunches of light broken in a prism, it is not hobbled or mutilated by any kind of magic; a new skin grows, water heavy with the memory of a tide that shatters and shatters and remakes itself. A hungry, writhing rain perforates the small ungainly waves that stretch across terrain that has forgotten what it means to be a river—but memory returns—as the road becomes a river my car becomes a boat. Water slides across the windshield, destroys the engine that is no longer needed. This is not cruelty. This is mercy. Destruction is the gesture of remembering—

—I push open the door; water moves around my boots, snuffles under the driver’s seat smelling of brinesewage—I reach through the crunching exoskeleton into the road and pick up a stone. The cage rattles. Submerged we lash against the cold, murky darkness. To the staring eye of a dead fish I am distorted and greasy with the shimmerheat clotting the storm—I sometimes get the itch to be near the ocean but tonight it’s the river that’s scratching. My face wavers under the surface of the river. The frequency of my skin is unstable, particles on the verge of flying apart. Trees felled and flung far by tornadoes dancing at the edges of the swamp turn violently in their moist incubators of mud- under-bitumen and pull themselves across the alchemical precipice—

—What has happened to the page? My page? Write on it. Drop it. Write on it. Drop it. Write on it. Drop it in the river. Drop it in the river. Drop it. Drop it—

—On their way to wherever 5,000 blackbirds fall from the sky. Dead. No sign of trauma but that’s not true is it there is nothing soft about falling. Their descent. Their charcoal precision listless on the water—

—a clog of choking weeds caught in the russet dilapidation of train tracks. A pollywog’s choking cry made quiet.The tracks soak their oxidizing wounds in the river. A crackling shadow separates from the edge of the river and slowly rolls like a tumbleweed—all fibrous and whimsical—across my path—

—the bulbous ghost of a train oozes onto the bank, slowly the hazy hand of a little boy snatching at the corner of my eye. In the haze the rural moon illuminates a glistening net that wavers ghostly in the heavy calm. The river laps gently now at the seams of an edge coiled with barbed wire, so close. The boy scampers away with his pollywog. From the train a trembling rumble of syllabic repetition. Words? Thunder—

—the river unearths a legion of ghosts—

—thunder is the sound a blackbird’s bedraggled body makes when it hits the water. Floating on the surface of the river, not quite swimming with the current. A blackbird’s body balances on the edge of a translucent skin pecked by rain and the muffled silence of the undertow. I walk through the river. Trip over stones and garbage. Muddy detritus of the flood smears my footsteps until I reach the deep and can tread water (each particle dislodges and floats away from me down and away). The eddies and little waves by my thrashing limbs make distortions in the whispering undertow. Morse Code: a soft texture of dashes and dots identifying a body that might be me. Might also be a small fish. Might be I don’t exist anymore. The water is quiet, heavy, and sharp, stinging like a bite or a piece of glass. I open my mouth (O) and the floodwater swallows my voice. I wave my arms but the water seals over my head with ease, no protest—

—the roadriver spits me out. Pace the narrow bank, foldunfold wet arms; sitdowncrossuncrossjumpup on wet legs, rake wet finger through the mud in my hair, yowl at the brumy air. A bestial complaint. I cut off my hair and put a match to it. A substantial blaze for now. The smell of smoke and me burning. Warmth, the river’s curve. The clouds look like the smudges your face makes against my face but your face isn’t here to smudge against my face no glistening cloud membrane against my lips my cheekbones only the mud of this new riverbank—

—I attempt to fish, unravel the supple nerve from my right wrist and forearm. Slickness and pain like sticking my right hand into the mouth of an animal with sharp teeth; the mouth of a feral intruder. I do not need my right hand because I do not need it to write. The roadriver can take my right hand. The roadriver can take the nails too. The cracked (O) of my fingernail makes an ideal improvised fishhook. And so, I fish. And those fish I catch I string up on the roadriverbank and peel the words from their glistening scales—

—I shed a few tears and congratulate myself. I want to be like the river. I want to be strong. I want to be strong without you, cast the line again. The cold river soothes the throb. I can move my fingers. I imagine that in spring or summer the heat would also be comfortable. I can bleed into the air. I can ignore the fact that I am distracting myself with fishing. I am fluid and swimming. You can’t see my hand writing in the water—

— remember, a stone can bring you luck until it leaves your hand—

—As the sun rises I am still walking. Indulging the now so long with me it is a primal need. I want to become a satellite with no fear of breaking. But I have seen the map. I know my destination. Keep walking, always forward. I never deviate from this single minded direction into the light bleeding onto the horizon.

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