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by Naomi Bess Leimsider
from the archives
At the long end of the lumbar line, listen for the wild rumors, whispers of warnings: collapse is coming. In the beginning, there was violence, too. Fresh nerve explosions, the beat-to-beat regimented repetition of the segmentation clock, then each knob, root, and ring stacking one on top of the other, a bundle of shock absorbers, coiled springs, begets the graceful curves of five sections from cervical top to horse’s tail. Thirty-three prehistoric bones grow, fuse, take up more and more room in their own small universe. Years and years later, the rising chatter reveals those same nerves frayed like fried wires, scorched beyond repair, pressed into less and less space. Gradual onset gives way to the full pull of gravity. One last sound: the deep groan of devastated molecules, particles -- separating, rearranging -- before being thrust into this yawning abyss. Down and down and down. Then silence. Stunted and stilled at the bottom of the world. Above you, the atmosphere thins: it is hard to believe they expect you to breathe. What else do they want you to do? Get up; walk it off? Remember walking around. Footsteps upstairs. The feel of feet on the ground. Delicate lungs can regenerate, repair. The liver grows its own tissue, too. Skin hardens, scars. But the spine – oh, the spine! – does it dirty. What’s done is done. What’s lost is lost. No one denies the night is long. That there will be more violence. It is sensible for you to remain inflamed, nauseous, stunned. Someone needs to tick off time while you wait for those thirty-three bones – calcium hard, collagen spongy – to succumb. Someone needs to bear witness to the ones that bend, compress, into other dimensions. They used to call it shellshock when there would be no more messages received, nothing here or there, no more sensation, but you can still send signals into space, shrug off form and function. Don’t look down; it is too late for questions.
Once, in a twilight sleep so deep it was just shy of a fugue state, I set forth on a fact-finding mission following the curving path of my hijacked mind. Back on the straight line, still shimmering around the edges, were the occasional sparks and shocks of distant cramps, phantom pains, fleeting discomfort, start-and-stop symptoms, but, in time, they – and the remnants of reality – ceased to exist, so in the stark face of grim discoveries that require grim decisions, I gave into the dark energy in that new realm. There are always thresholds to cross. I want to tell you what I saw there. Show you all the sights there were to behold. As you might imagine, everything requires surgical extraction. When you are not awake yet awake, they cut out organs, inspect them for margins. In the soft, glowing light of this particular purgatory, your body parts are up for examination. Smallish feet smoothly separated – somehow—from their long-ago child legs, once burned, then bloodless, dry, without juice or mucus or oils and stripped down to gray-brown bones were on display. A pair of previously ashy, dirty lungs busily repairing themselves in real time before the damage couldn’t be undone. Everything on a tight schedule. Spines twisting -- some with potential trouble—in primordial bodies, bobbing in great glass tanks: which one, which one, would I choose? A rough patch of rigid removed skin once biopsied within an inch of itself – dug so deep, stretched so tight – that only flimsy wrinkled tissue remained. Thousands and thousands of abandoned, neglected eggs, jellied and slick, swimming in their own wet universe, popping with possibility one at a time, then dying all at once on the vine. Thickened veins stood out against the tangible parts of the pulsing organ in question. The distance, the space – negative but tactile – between what I didn’t know and what I would soon learn. Once, before this, I bit a finger on my essential left hand – hard to the bone but did not lop it off— and for the first time understood the power of the body in parts, the bite force of a mammal’s mouth, the want, the fear, the intent of hunger. It will eat you alive. I can’t promise they won’t feed whatever is left, the scraps, piecemeal, from your physical form, --still bloody, still beating -- to the local wildlife, animals living on the edge of existence. It’s okay. We all need to be fed. What is left except to have bits and pieces removed, and wonder what to do with the leftovers. Wander in the dark long enough, dream when you are not supposed to dream, and you might find yourself compelled to take that desperate drag of pure oxygen, prep for colorless camouflage, slip into an exoskeleton, just in case there are sudden shudders, whispers, calling you back, as they called me, and for once, I thought, I listened. Maybe I never left. All memory is temporary, so how did they put me back together? How we acknowledge what can happen, the precariousness of how we slip out and slip in. How to accept the violent injury of realizing that one chapter has ended, and another will soon begin.
Naomi Bess Leimsider has published poems, flash fiction, and short stories in Packingtown Review, Tangled Locks Journal, The Avenue Journal, Booth, Anti-Heroin Chic, Wild Roof Journal, Planisphere Quarterly, Little Somethings Press, Syncopation Literary Journal, On the Seawall, St. Katherine Review, Exquisite Pandemic, Orca, Hamilton Stone Review, Rogue Agent Journal, Coffin Bell Journal, Hole in the Head Review, Newtown Literary, Otis Nebula, Quarterly West, The Adirondack Review, Summerset Review, Blood Lotus Journal, Pindeldyboz, 13 Warriors, Slow Trains, Zone 3, Drunkenboat, and The Brooklyn Review. She has been a finalist for the Acacia Fiction Prize, the Saguaro Poetry Prize, and the Tiny Fork Chapbook Contest. Also, she received a Pushcart Prize nomination for fiction in 2022. In addition, her poetry chapbook, Wild Evolution, will be published by Cathexis Northwest Press in Fall 2023.