about the author

Drew Knapp has previously published work in Hobart, The Citron Review, and others, and has work forthcoming in Cleaver Magazine. He can be reached @ggzuzwan.

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Neon Wilderness 

Drew Knapp

I could taste the tin of the winter sky and the rot staining it. A butcher slapping wet gizzards onto crisp wax paper. In this field brocaded by trees stiff and black as burnt nerves there had been something like an annihilation. Now it held human soup like a shallow bowl; heavy torsos oozing jammy substances, piles of boggy limbs and their unbuckled bones, indiscriminate chunks of muscle in red-bell-bloom, hair, teeth, and sinew all being flattened to a congealed picture by decay. It smelled as if every Roman that ever lived had together abandoned the aqueducts and marched to this small paddock to take a shit. Prayers, hymns, and curses had soured to a chorus of pathological moans and wails. We the lucky few there at the echoing balconies of hell.

The face closest to me wore a rictus grin, sticky with dreams. Caws through the mizzling air first signaled the plague that would guide our protracted obsolescence—the might-heard cracks at the door that make one doubt the peephole through it. I had made war with birds before, in the spectacularly painted days of my baptismal youth when my father had bottled howls. In later years, the kin of each tribe had begun to shed the sins of their parents. The process was accelerated by the sudden death of a particular woman, murdered and strewn with such hate it seemed to open the sky up to conversation. In the granular weeks that followed, they gathered to throw their gestures of violence down a long hallway of diminishing perspectives, permitting the distilled significance of all these rituals trickle out the hole at the far end and drain into a past nearly forgotten.

That goddess, being pleased with their austerities, took to wandering on the earth in the form of a woman. In Dandana she found a home dancing for the God of Wealth, who cleft her thigh and let fall a drop of blood; that drop fell into the water and turned into an egg, and from that sprang the whole of the block, its gospel, and its people, it felt like. In March he caught her jaw with a tire iron and she thereupon cut him down: then through regret for what she had done, undertook a difficult vow. So thus it came to pass that she carried skulls in her hands, and loved the places where corpses were burned, and danced when she was told to. Moreover this world resembled a skull, resting in her hand; for the two skull-shaped halves of the egg before mentioned were called heaven and earth. Many nights she haunted the bathroom stalls, where Siva and Malyavan had stuck their menstrual pads up like stickers to the grey paint, waiting for her turn to vibrate for the crowd and thinking about the prom king and queen: still together, unmarried, just bought a house. He wanted to become a doctor, became a pharmacist. The girl now a stay-at-home woman, supremely blessed, was proud in soul on account of his affection.

The ring of his wife’s left hand shone with the lustre of gleaming gold, and was begirt with hundreds of white swans, and so looked like a sudden flash of lightning, surrounded by white clouds. And her desire to behold it kept increasing so mightily that she took no pleasure in the delights of food or sacrifice and instead vowed to guide these virtuous petitioners. The couple was pleased with her devotion and the man pressed more money into the goddess’ bosom as token. “You will stay here and entertain ‘my wife’” he decreed, before rising and pursuing his course towards the garden den, humming the songs of various birds as he went. The goddess turned again to the wife, the ring like a lamp dispelling the darkness of night, the woman’s dress in a pattern of lotus-blossoms, with their expanding cups and the sweet murmur of bees surrounding, seemed to be looking at her and saying, drink of the sweet water. And drink she did, grasping the glass on the table in front of her, which seemed to be impregnated with the nectar of the moon, from dwelling on the head of Siva, and she bathed in it, and felt refreshed.

The wife called herself Etiva, passing a cigarette to Goddess. She was thin and elegant in her waist, which appeared as if the creator had compressed it in his grasp when making her. The darkness of grief seemed to be both simultaneously drowning her extremities into her core and emanating dense purple pulses of empathy from that center that pressed against the body of the Goddess like a passing stranger before wrapping around her and snapping off down the street. They stood in silence for minutes, scorching their breath with the smoke of funeral pyres and watching strays in the gutter, ever full of water, as if it were a necklace ever-resting on the neck of this place. “Do you party?” said Etiva the way something might slip from your hand, slipping to her hand a flask of silver. The Goddess asked what it was and was told it was GHB, to which she said no, no. Etiva smiled in kindness and took the flask back, swigging deep, screwing the lid on with drunk-wobbled carefulness, before raising it over her head and bringing it down hard on the forehead of the Goddess, causing her to collapse, a bright red gash to ripping then purring where her eyebrow met the corner of her frontal incisure. As the Goddess slumped into unconsciousness, she half-dreamed a warm rain greasing her hair, extinguishing nothing. The woman stood over her and indulged again in the concoction, said “My daddy said you were gonna do what we want, but you ain’t, so here we are.” The Goddess leaned back and tried to swallow or spit saliva thick as foreign coffee, heard a dull pom pom in the Friday street a block over, the staccato ramblings of man—their poor bodies only vessels for hate, or what she thought of as hate. When she went, she went like heat through a funnel, and with her went her worship, a sense of absence in its old shiny place, her at the center of the city’s loveless spokes, mouth dying to say something unanswerable.

Moving the body was not a prerequisite for remembrance in the culture of scavage. Rather, they covered her childhood, her exposed embarrassments alternately stern and tearful, with a canvas tarp and a mat of buggy roses, right where she lay, and waited for the kind of day that opens its bowl of red blooms out of only sheer love. On the iridescent afternoon, we became vertical and evacuated our little interiors of grey mirrors, came like a tide to her place of resting. No prayers were said, only small thieveries. The children spun themsleves from the host and plucked all things shining from the scene, exchanging bits of longevity for the daring gleam of treasure. When the location had finally been reduced to a drab and widowed sheet, the crowd withdrew and allowed the few compassionate trees to bend in mourning like a folding hand plucking from us the fruit of life.

I see her here now, or some ghost in perfect resemblance, talismans wood-chiming together like boat against dock, tide-traipsing among this fresh crop of disaster. She floats frail as smoke, ignorant of her dovelike impression against the carbon paper panorama behind her, presence so bright I am overlooking her by looking too hard. She creeps through the coiled-spring still-life, so delicately balanced it could crack, levitates a numb minute in the updraft then drops thick as stone into the twiggy picket of limbs. From a burlap sack the silhouette draws the small and lumped corpse of a crow, wrapped gently in cloth from another season. From my canted vantage, I watch her kneel and set the thing to dirt. With no misdirection, she performs a true magic trick—the conjuring of dozens of birds from thin air simply by removing fabric from a body.

The murder arrives to this great vacant estate in a cloud of indeterminate chatter. Dulled with much travelling, they take to the curtain of trees like anxious dust. The woman becomes tilted and disparate. Browsing in their dirty wool-clouds, the birds demand permission and she abases them with promises. When a durable agreement has been uprighted, she blows out into a mist, leaving behind the impression of something beautiful, but annihilating, that weights the sky with a solider color.

I sense the horde stiffen to their chill vigil in the drafty half-light. Night arrives and the moon’s crook widens, turns into a cup tipped sideways. The day empties its images and exhales an indigo nimbus like a cellophane balloon. The heath grass and polished buckles glitter in blue light off the writhen and wincing bodies; between the dark-boughed cypresses it pools in heeled-out boot-prints and the scattered impact craters left behind by the blind journeys of battery. The linked ponds of eyes wince and pulse, tracing an archipelago of black bodies fed by trash and carcass. Wind sutures my breath and funnels off the night. Above a bald hill the new day hones its edge; faceless and pale as china, the round sky goes on minding its own business. An admonitory whistle calls the mass of x-shaped contours to rise in a swell and we begin to learn what it means to be a feast.

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