My smile is white-toothed in that image, the description of me that is world-wide lingering and me gone, the black stumps here, coals and black red blood still coating my ankles, my fingertips…”
by j.a. taylor
They show them to me, these men and women, they place their hands on mine and guide. They are my guides, mentoring in this dark, this black. I have never known a black as deep, as explosive in its subtlety.
Palms and pine move in wind.
I wait, have waited, this is what I have waited for.
On the back of the photo I have written my name, pen black ink and cursive, the scribble.
And the back of it, this last image of me, this picture, it is white, engendered snow, what I have become in this brutal lasting, this place. How the lack of definition defines it, the white its proper and constant contrast.
Shift, I shift my body in darkness, in black, my ribs out today and the feeling of not holding up, less posture than falling, having fallen, my body crumpling at a breath, at breathing. Ribs made to shape, function now as more than a protection of my heart.
The hands that are my hands in this dark they shake when they move, guided by the people, this village. Their fingers filled with meat and bones, sewage and renderings. I cut and paste the images in this black, no outlines showing, no way to trace.
I have become. I am an endangered species.
The hands they place on my hands guide me to spheres, hollow globes, small and rough as raised fingerprints. I finger down the line, the hundreds of these, the banging spacious sound they make, palming them, these objects, black sutured over my eyes, blind.
And the world plummets, their voices, calling in deafening noise, the laughter. They laugh. I listen and feel the roundness, the bouncing lines of them.
My fingers find the string, strung through the sockets with cable or twine, the unrefined bone polish of children’s skulls, hung and dried, rattling together in warm wind.
Decorations strung between trees, layered. A wall of skin free heads, bones.
My hands, their hands on my hands, they guide me from the string strung to the stump, stretch my fingers in black that is insides, that turns to lakes around the roots of this tree, my feet, sticking to the base of new ugliness, the experience.
My sincerest apologies, I would never have smiled in that picture, for that photograph taken of me, if I had known.
And inside inside inside there is a place I both hear and understand, these are babies crying, children crying.
This inside is dark, moon-less as outside but without wind, hot instead of warm.
There are people in this.
My smile is white-toothed in that image, the description of me that is world-wide lingering and me gone, the black stumps here, coals and black red blood still coating my ankles, my fingertips.
I have searched the limbs for fruit but there is none.
Were there coconuts here we would place them on rocks or stumps and use the tools that are everywhere here, that I trip on as I walk, open them with tooling and eat the candy innards, the sweet guts. But there are not shells of fruit, hanging tree limbs, there is no ripe. There is meat. Meat. There is only meat.
Skulls dangle and the wind, warm, blows through the holes, makes sound.
I wish myself deafness and neutrality, to learn of them, this village and these people, my own hands, without unwinding entirely.
In a lesser world where I existed the staples held me together. Long ago with paper-cuts in the webs between my fingers. How time and its concerns, the constant going, how it goes. I have gone. I am gone.
I mimic instead.
I went to observe. I came and this is the find, the findings, what I will find.
Cultures, and I have existed around some in all the places, all but this center, where my hands no longer light. Seashell societies where ocean sand taints the words. Insect cultures and those who mud worship, monkey banter and sun gods, the metal houses of stone goddesses.
I have witnessed.
And here on this expanse, where the trees change and morph, the sun complete in its lack, the skin of me glowing but no longer giving off light, here it is.
A woman maybe waits for me, fingering my image.
I fold and am undressed, my legs sticky in children, the bone-clatter of their empty useless heads, the noises a shroud, a way.
Naked, spurned into further centers, further darkness, I go. My written word disappearing, charcoal letters on black-thick canvas. I make notes but am, this time only, entrenched.
I have fallen into them. I am falling. I fall.
(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)
J. A. Tyler’s work has appeared in numerous online & print publications including Diagram, Sleepingfish, elimae, Caketrain, Hobart, Hotel St. George, Action, Yes, & many others. He has been nominated for Best of the Web, Best of the Net, & the Pushcart Prize & has won honors in recent contests with The StorySouth Million Writers Award, The Emprise Review, PANK, & Prick of the Spindle.