The End Which Envelopes the End, a Bramble, a Rose
By Elizabeth Kirschner
Lonely, like a coffee mug on the shelf, I slow roll into the empty spot on the bed where we shed the best skin of our lives. We were a thing of beauty, weren’t we?
A thing of beauty, us, this, before that man—not you!—shoved my face into the weeds. I can still smell his sweat: the cleave of his breath, like lice, on my neck.
When he ordered me to pull down my tights, nylon-black like the chador of my mother, I did what I was told. My spine, a grounded stake, was lit with liquid brass and burning peaches.
He said, I devour best with my mouth closed, but his teeth, these didn’t sleep.
Under the soft sumac, cottonwood hard as my nipples. Exotic, my hair, thick as a rug, this he snatched at like newly acquired money.
I was alone. Don’t do this, I said, because pain and brightness are distributed in equal parts, and only exist because of excess.
His boot heels were wild hooves as he pushed into me and left me sore, like a balloon full of glass. This left nothing in my mouth but the wounded side of Jesus where they had knifed him.
When I got up, a dead beetle stuck to my back. As I inched my way across black humus, a loose bone floated in my foot.
With a dumb unmanageable thing in me, I crawled to where wide swatches of light sliced between gray trunks, to where the air had the texture of drying moss and the birds of the forest sang of before and after: as musk from the mushrooms scalloped mold.
They sang from where there can’t be an order, there in the dry leaves where something smelled like the past, which was stored in me, like an ever-widening abyss.
And the marred twines of cinquefoil, false strawberry, sumac—a low branch hung above a cave just the width of my shoulder blades.
As I crawled in, I imagined us walking among the pokeberry, yes, us walking over the bulbed phosphorescence of the roots, beneath the disfiguring blackness, where the ground is covered by the pliant green needles, the piney fronds.
Once we walked in this forest, so strangely alike and yet singular, too, but the truth is —it is lost to us now and I am as far as the deepest sky between clouds, I am as far as cicadas and locusts and you are as far as the cleanest arrow that has sewn the wind to the trees because I sent you there. I had to.
From the cave, I watched that man rub his eyes with hands, then wander naked into the road. It was cold and his mouth steamed like torn bread. His voice shrieked in an ocean blind with ghosts.
When the semi slammed into him, I saw nothing, felt nothing, yet knew I would have to begin with the end and there were two endings: the end which enveloped the end, like a bramble, a rose. And then, nothing.
How to start again against the tightening. A knife can give up, but I could not—there was the miscarriage, and before that months of waiting: like a basket filled with bright shapes.
And then what arrived: the forsaken event—the blood, the scrap, the enormous present collapsing, folding over, like a wave overtaking a grain of sand.
A tiny skull with bones so fragile, it flaked into dust—bones of water, bones of light, bones I asked for.
Once I climbed—there was a bunch of us!—to the top of a trestle bridge where I watched a bird drop, heavy as a stop watch. I watched its dark wings thrash. Then yield.
In water cold as pincers. Like a suicidal blackout. That I wanted what the bird had was my only truth. Beneath me: a river, a swollen river, river of star-hole, of harness, lichen river, river that we—we were kids!—wanted to velvet with our filth.
River of butter, river cracked open like an egg, or burst apart, unleashing its violent load. River of sound, river curved like a backbone.
River in which I wanted to particle, feathery and wet, lemony and loud, river that still smells, river I still wear tight on my hips. River I still dream about. River from the inside. River above which we shouted.
Septum river, bundle river, river of mercy edging far into night. All night river, burnt sugar river, we jumped, plummeted, our hands, the color of paw prints.
Into the river we went. River where my flesh belonged to me. Made softer somehow by its honey, its vaseline.
Brown river, black river, off the map river. I’m still there, snatching at the air as I fall.
And yelping, of course, like a dog.
The joy of it, the magic, the water somehow like Ophelia, or an infant, gardenia-pale, floating, under and away, as faraway as invention, as the scarlet wing of that suicidal bird, the one that plummeted, thrashed, then yielded, a halo.
Elizabeth Kirschner has published six collections of poetry, including MY LIFE AS A DOLL, and an award-winning memoir, WAKING THE BONES. She’s currently completing a collection of short stories titled, ONLY THE DEAD SUFFER BUTTER. Many of these stories have or will be published. A Master Gardener, she lives in Maine.
© Elizabeth Kirschner
Photo Credit: © den-belitsky / Adobe Stock. Mountains in fog at beautiful sunset in autumn in Dolomites, Italy. Landscape with alpine mountain valley, low clouds, trees on hills, village in fog, blue sky with clouds. Aerial view. Passo Giau