The bones of death, the covering day, the sinews shrunk and dried,
Reviving shake, Inspiring move, breathing! Awakening!
—William Blake, America: A Prophecy
On the belly of the infant American plains, unscarred by asphalt highway, still untouched by insecticides, and not yet ripping at the seams from fertilizer or steroid, the crows gather around a deer carcass. Some, already bloated from the gut-pile of yesterday’s kill, are confident in their chatter. Others, newly hatched, stand aside and wait for the larger ones to eat before meekly hopping over to dig for their own meals with black beaks. Bugs also come to the feast. The stomach of the beast, now punctured, turns as if it is still alive. Resurrected by an entire multitude of worms, ants, aphids, flies, bees, and other varieties of insect, the deer’s dead guts writhe and churn excitedly. Many people in the town of Keeseville do not give the pile a second look, but a few find the remnants of death’s decay poignant standing next to the graveyard. Some find the scene too morose and hasten to re-schedule weekly ancestry pilgrimages. They wait for death to become invisible once again.
By nightfall, the heap is reduced to a pile of fur, shit, half-digested grass, and white bone, including a hollow skull. The moon transforms the bones into phosphorescence. Night-sounds echo in the abandoned, rotten brain. The grass still abounds with green sunlight, becomes cool, and begins to harden. Insects search the pile for any meat or marrow that may have been missed by larger scavengers. Tiny eyes probe every cavity, tiny jaws roll and process food. Nature whispers to us on this night, but we strain even to hear her scream.
In a month’s time, nothing remains to the casual observer. People resume their visits to the cemetery. Children, bored of hearing stories about people they never knew, delight in running around the hill-side to discover bone fragments left by the crows. They speculate about what kinds of bones these are. They tell terrifying stories of murder and sacrifice.
Some of the children take pieces of bone home like a treasure. They bury their loot under mattresses, knowing that their parents will force them to discard the dirty things should they ever find them. Bones are painted. Bones are banged against one another to announce the morning. Bones used as whistles. Bones used as swords. Bones for paper-weights.
The children’s clumsy treasure hunts have unraveled the semi-hardened heap of half-digested grass that once lay on the hill. The wind scatters most of the blades about the hillside. Only the heavier, though microscopic, seeds of tree, grass, and grain remain. Digestive enzymes of the deer, when alive, worked on some of the seeds’ shell-like exterior. Life swells and soon explodes from the seeds’ broken vents.
Life, newly-hatched, is fragile. It is often cut short by the shoes of a wayfarer, and is quick to wither in the shade of nearby oak tree. Some life flourishes and takes root in the juicy womb of soft soil. But most life silently disappears without having been seen by any eye. Life abounds in the belly of death and death, overcome.
One soul refuses to die in the Keeseville cemetery. One soul grows tired of pine box claustrophobia. Soul crawls out of pine, wades through six feet of dirt, root, and earthworm, in search of a peculiar death in which to plant its life. Strange, that Soul must search for death in a cemetery, but the kind of death that resides here is as fixed as the plaques that commemorate it. While many people of the town say and sing that death has been overcome, they hold on to it with death grip. The people of Keeseville plant death in rows like corn, without the expectation of food in September. Soul must move on.
Soul looks to yonder oak-tree hill and finds green mound. Soul jumps into a punctured seed and takes rest in her bosom. Soul now inhabits a wheat seed and though his new room is infinitely smaller than pine-box, it is much more comfortable. The wind helps circulate spring’s flowery breath, an aroma and a feel most pleasing to an unborn soul in search of new conception. The next morning, Seed is eaten by a Canada Goose on her way back home. The fleshy lining of the goose-belly takes its time with the seed as it guides it through perfect digestion. Unborn Soul-Seed flies over Canada’s massive and stony shield, but is soon dropped, along with the warm sticky goo of goose shit, onto a farmer’s field in Northern Ontario.
Everything comes home, eventually. Wheat-Seed, displaced and digested, falls in the company of distant relatives. While Soul’s relatives differ from New York wheat, in both shade and texture, farmers’ eyes are often weary and indiscriminate. Our seed, now twice digested and filled with life, flourishes in the warm summer sunshine of farmer’s field.
By June, Seed and the Soul within, have grown over two feet tall, an inch above most of her Canadian cousins. As the farmer sharpens his blades in September, our seed has developed plump grain; Seed is ready to feed the masses. Wheat is separated from the chaff, and tanned grain, along with some of her fair cousins, move hastily toward inevitable oven. Soul is on a journey.
So far, Soul has inhabited mother’s belly, pine box, wheat seed, goose belly, goose shit and golden grain, but a domestic and homely oven now warms Soul to a new birth and different incarnation. Soul is, now, bread. But the oven affects Soul much differently. Whereas ovens force Soul’s fair cousins to rise and become bloated, Soul-bread remains flat no matter how hot his oven gets. We might expect Soul to be disappointed by his flat and homely state, but there are some perks involved.
Unlike bloated bread, Soul-bread is eaten with reverence. It is held up and it is blessed; it is also said that flat bread, when mixed with the sugars of yellow wine, transforms into God himself. Soul likes this idea. One Sunday morning, Soul sits in a golden tray, waiting its turn and listening attentively to the voice of a baroquely clad man. Ancient languages, foreign, yet instantly familiar, bless Soul. Soul breathes heavily the white smoke that begins to rise; he thinks to himself that this is the smell of God. A Parrish approaches and, soon, an old woman nudges Soul, only to opt for his larger cousin. Pipe-tobacco hands glide past Soul towards yet another cousin, and another; only Soul remains.
Finally, a woman grabs Soul. She is thirty-four years old and, despite her dark complexion, looks much like the pin-up girl in blue whose image dominates the building’s plaster.
Crooked-grey-tooth. Mary’s mouth caresses Soul until, quite suddenly, a tidal wave of wine washes over Him— every one of his pore becomes a vessel in which to hold a sacramental fluid. Soul feels drunk, but he feels something else too. Soul has company in the mouth of his strange host. Drunken and chewed-up, he sees a bearded man standing in the middle of a river of yellow, sugary wine.
The man beside him receives a baptism of a wine, which pours over his head like golden honey. Behold, a voice from of the heavens declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Baby Jesus in the manger, Jesus transfigured, Jesus in the Wilderness, Jesus at the Temple, Jesus on the Cross, Jesus in the tomb, Jesus in Hell, Jesus on Earth, Jesus in Heaven: heavenly hosts of Jesus all here now.
Oops, swallowed. Pink tongue, tonsils, esophagus and, finally, familiar stomach; Soul is back at home alone in the fluids his own digestion. He tires of this place quickly, however, and gleefully hops to an egg which clings to a meaty wall below. He had been in a similar place before, but his stay was cut short: this time, Soul decides to stick around for a while.
Nine months later, a baby is born. Proud parents, Gilles and Anne-Marie show off their little Marcel to visiting relatives. Marcel/Soul enjoys being caressed, burped, and looked after. He loves breast-food, quickly becoming a milk-fiend. So long as long as Anne Marie brews milk in her bulbous breast, Marcel sucks it back. But Soul battles with Marcel’s body; it isn’t big enough.
Even when the baby moves on to crushed carrots and pureed peas, even when he enters a world of meat and potatoes, Soul is unimpressed by Marcel’s rate of growth, for the child has a high metabolic rate and food, no matter how much, falls short of Soul’s insatiable demand; he remains frustrated.
By the time Marcel hits puberty, Soul has given up. He resigns himself to a comparatively shrunken state again, on the off-chance that one day, he might become larger. Fortunately for Soul, Marcel begins to produce microscopic tadpoles by the millions. The region in which these tadpoles reside is anything but ideal. The strong smell of piss permeates everything and, occasionally, millions of tadpoles are mercilessly ejected into sock, blanket or folded palm. But Soul decides to take a leap of faith. He transforms into the very smallest of specimens. Once again, Soul is one of the masses.
So, Soul waits patiently for his chance at life. He has studied the rhythms and false starts of masturbation, an exercise in futility that usually takes longer to initiate than the ‘real thing’. Young tadpoles are eager to burst through the gates, like soldiers off to some pointless war, but Soul simply sits back and waits for destiny. In the meantime, he studies poets who might prophesy his birth: he reads Kerouac from the sac, realizing soon that Kerouac knows his tale:
Praised be man, he is existing in milk
And living in lilies—
And his violin music takes place in milk
And Creamy emptiness
-Jack Kerouac: Mexico City Blues #228
At twenty years old, Soul has grown strong. His tail, the size of some of his friends’ entire bodies, is nothing short of monstrous. He swims in circles for twenty-five minutes a day in order to maintain the tremendously powerful, yet elegant stride of his swim. He waits for almost twenty years, until, one evening, he sees his chance, for he knows it is the tenth anniversary of Marcel and Marie.
The evening begins right after work, and ends late. His Lord, drunk on a huge feast, chased with plenty of wine, is as horny as hell. Night falls, and lovers go to bed: there is lots of foreplay, for the Marie’s sake, though Marcel is drunk and tired.
In the meantime, Soul easily bullies the rest of his pack away from seminal gates, waiting to be shot out of cannon into cave. Finally, KABOOM! and then a moan and a snore. For a third time, Soul finds himself in a familiar, pink canal. His huge tail furiously flaps and he advances three millimeters beyond even the best of his competition.
Finally, an egg appears on his distant horizon: a microscopic, gravitational Jupiter and Soul, a small moon to this massive planet, dives through her thin, though nourishing, atmosphere at the perfect angle. He digs and digs and digs until, finally, his monstrous tail is shed.
Winter comes. Marie is preparing a late dinner for her husband, Marcel, who is in the sticks, hunting for game. She puts the lid on the pot of stew, removes her apron and checks on her children, who are sleeping in the next room. She hears the gate slam and the hard soles of her husband’s boots soon trudge up the front step. Marcel opens the door and leans his 30/30 against the entrance wall; he has blood on his hands.
Marie’s eyes light up: “What did you get, hun?”
“Oh, just a little buck about a mile east. Problem is I don’t know how I’m gonna get him home. If we had some snow on the ground it’d be no problem, but it’s tough to drag it over the grass.”
She purses her lips: “Couldn’t you get Andre to help you?”
“Naw, I went over there earlier and the fucker’s already passed out. Mary said that he started drinking at three today. Goddamn.”
“Well, then, I’ll help you.”
“Fuck off, us Lapierre women are tough, Marcel, you know that. I’m not like your sisters who lie in their beds whining for months on end. I’m gonna get the fuckin’ thing; you can come and help me if you want.”
In Marie, Marcel had found the only woman in his village more stubborn than himself. So, after a quick meal, the couple’s shadows glide across the valley in search of their fallen prey. Marcel builds a fire to warm his hands before he starts pulling out the still-warm guts from his prey.
Marcel and his wife soon start to drag the animal’s stiff carcass over the dead grass and fragile leaves. As the couple reaches the road leading to their house, she stops. “Oh shit.”
“My water just broke.”
“Are you fuckin’ serious?”
“Look at my pants if you don’t believe me.”
Marcel guides the lamp to his wife’s crotch. Her pants steam with broken birth fluid.
Marie sits down on the hindquarter of the deer. “Could you build a fire? I’m cold.”
Marcel dutifully gathers tinder and soon has a roaring fire going.
“Do you think you can make it home, babe?”
Marie chokes on the freezing air: “I think he’s coming now, Marcel. Get more wood!”
Marcel has had no formal training as a midwife. His sisters had helped Marie the first two times she gave birth; he went fishing.
“Could you help me off with my pants?”
Usually, Marcel is happy to oblige such a request, but he now cringes as he thinks about taking off his wife’s clothes. He shakes it off and delicately removes her woolen pantaloons before gathering the courage to help her off with her drenched linens.
“Tabernac! It looks like you’ve been fucked by a horse!”
Before Marie has a chance to tell Marcel how much she hates him at this moment, she screams and pushes out the tiny, hairy head of their screaming son. Marcel pukes into his own agape mouth, and then he almost faints, before he delicately holds the head of the infant son in his calloused hand.
“You’re doing a great job Marie!”
“Shut the fuck up motherfucker!”
The baby, almost two months premature, is very small and so the birth ends quickly.
Marie is soon closes again as Marcel struggles to cut their thick umbilical cord with an old, dull hunting knife covered in fur. He uses his extensive knowledge of various fishing knots to take care of his son’s portion of the cord; the child, who would be christened as Luc Marc Louis, has a fishing knot outy.
As soon as the cord is tied, Marcel shelters his son from the cold winter wind and checks on Marie, who still sits on the hindquarters of deer, shaking uncontrollably. He helps with her now-frozen linens and her pants: “Are you gonna be able to make it home, babe?”
“Actually, I feel strangely fine, just really cold.”
“Ok, let’s get going then.”
“Wait, what about the deer?”
“I’ll come grab it in the morning.”
“Fuck off, Marcel, we’ve dragged it this far—might as well finish the job.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Well how are we gonna drag this fucker and carry the little guy?”
She smiles knowingly.
Everything comes home, eventually. Soul now finds himself at home in Luc’s young flesh. Luc is now plucked from the warm jacket of his father, and is transplanted into the even warmer empty cavity of the deer belly. He exercises his smile muscles for the first time as he, along with the deer, is dragged home. He delights in the smells of blood and bone. Finally, Soul takes rest in the small frame of Luc Marc Louis; his long journey is over.
words: Nicholas Lyons
drawing: Freyja Zazu