CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
From The Mayflies
A package tied with twine is thrown off the bridge. A leather satchel full of letters is flung into the river. Shirts, sweaters, hats, gloves are tossed off in fits of joy and fall to the river to be taken away by the current. A handful of paper is sent flying from the bridge walkway. A gold band is taken off and given up to the water below. A woman at night screams down to the water. A man at dawn screams down to the water. The ironwork is formidable in its construction, a barrier of crossbeams. But the river is there below, and voices barely audible, call out.
She walked along the riverbank and jumped from rock to rock. The landscape there was both smooth and treacherous. Her friends had gone to drive the park road near the river. The road was circular, making the park an island marooned inside concrete and exhaust. She was down near the rip-rap because she hated driving around. Driving was boring and there was nothing else to do but go down to the cool, muddy water and let its damp fingers soak your clothes and skin.
Sad emerald new and lost. The sky broken, I returned. I was a body churning and into moving I shone. It was out of necessity, these practical beliefs a protection of cold iron, running water, bells, the special power of bread. The statues that preside over the fountains, the ladies of the forests, the secret spirits between the forest and the river. Wrecked and heavy, I return and return and return and return and return.
If they could see her, they would feel something sharp between the eyes. A bright blue light emanating from what could be her face. If they could see her, they would see a dripping costume of wings. She is covered in mud, surrounded by air. She is surrounded yet invisible. If she is invisible, she hovers and spins and moves towards the river. If she is not invisible, she will walk to the river slowly.
I took my first breath in a room made of metal. Everything echoed and the noise was deafening. I could not believe how loud. When the oxygen hit my lungs it was sharp and knifelike. I cried out only once.
Should a call from far away be heard through glass. To be struck ringing. A person is a church and heard on the day of prayer. When the body is a ringing sound, someone is expected. A river claims everyone. Human, demon, or a hole. Something needs to be offered. If doomed to float, if fortunate, the brink. The body bright with lies. A light will appear. Drowning as a cure for water. Until she plunged she remained whole. She who has gone there. What it requires.
She has a dream where she is followed by several small snails. At first, she doesn’t notice them because they are so small. Their tiny shells barely make a noise when she accidentally steps on one of them. Soon, though, they grow bigger and she cannot help but notice that no matter how fast she walks there is always a large snail, the size of a potato, at her heels. Eventually, these snails become foxes. These foxes are a luminous, solid red. They freeze into statues when she turns to notice them. She does believe, for a while, that they are indeed statues. Solid red foxes frozen in midstride, jumping over a fountain, landing on a table, stealing food from a plate. Then she sees one of them blink and she knows.
Place a loaf of bread with a quantity of quicksilver within. Place a loaf of bread with a lit candle embedded within it. Place a shirt there. Listen for the change in the sound of the drumbeat. Float chips of wood. Wear an earring. Row in a boat with a rooster. Place a straw or bundle of straw. Insert a paper with the name written upon it. Throw a lamb or goat there. Fire a cannon. Ring the bell. You’ll hear her voice before a storm: a crier who returns as a bird. Use a fetish of fishbone, wear a ring of coffin nail, wear a ring of seahorse teeth, a fillet of green rushes tied to the calf. Carry a knee bone, a black key. Come into the world at the rising of the dog star. To appease, to make sure, throw salt into the river.
In the grove on the other side of the river, she lingered near a spread of heavy walnut trees. She shivered in the shade although the sun came through the leaves in sharp fragments. Her ladies followed far behind her, completely unprepared for a walk. They wore black high heels with ankle straps and thin dresses with short sleeves that flapped in the wind. They should have been wearing coats, scarves, and gloves. They laughed as they always did, walking fast in the breeze, pushing each other playfully.
The first stage of life equals water. Once she reaches air she is different.
A sheep is slaughtered, a nail is hammered into a hand, several bodies lie still beneath sheets. A young woman is in bed reading. She considers herself a hero of her time, for herself only. She holds her hand out to someone walking past her door, a blur she cannot see.
In the dream I am in an old mansion with ornate tapestries and tile floors. The mansion is surrounded by heavy iron gates and fences. Someone walks through a space in the fence and disappears. I see this from where I stand at a large window on the top floor. I watch this figure dressed in a military uniform bend low to the ground and go through the fence. I wait for what seems like hours to see whether this man will come back through, but grow impatient and leave the window. I hear running water but I cannot find it nor escape from the sound. I climb up and down the stairs, open every door and look in every room, trying to find where this water sound is coming from. In the middle of a dark room there is a dark stream that rushes through it, and an overgrowth of ivy, ferns. This stream begins at one end of the room, splashes out the window and continues along a gravel pathway that leads away from the mansion and into a beech grove. I leave the house through the window to follow the stream. I follow it as far as I can. In my peripheral vision I see the person in the military uniform walking parallel to me. I lift a hand and call out but I cannot speak. I wake choking.
Mornings, they come to wake her, eyes dim from a long night of dreaming. They are in nightgowns, barefoot, their long red hair brushed smooth over their shoulders. Three cool hands are placed in turn upon her forehead. They whisper, Get up now, it’s morning.
“Don’t you know it’s bad luck to compare hands?”
They have heard of the woman who walks the riverbeds, who paces the bridge. Some say they have seen her with other women who wear long flowing gowns. Some say they do not believe she is real, say she’s made up, that her feet have never touched solid ground. They say she’s a vision, a shade, an appearance, unknowable. Believers are thought to be deluding themselves, wasting their time by the river, but superstitions always arise from truth. The ones who believe are affected. They make pilgrimages to the water. They bring jars in which to put the river. A river of their own to keep them safe. They believe she keeps them safe.
I do not know what it is I am waiting for, if I am waiting for anything. It seems I am. I have been here so long. There was a time I was elsewhere, my dwelling a private district of gravel. Solid ground. A frame house. Windows and curtains. Eggs and tea. I appeared alone in the meadow, ran reckless through the prospect. My outlook was extensive and naïve. At night, the river whispered and I was its likely customer. Whichever direction I faced was water. It was inevitable.
Sara Veglahn’s most recent chapbooks are Another Random Heart (Letter Machine Editions) and Closed Histories (Noemi Press). She lives in Denver.