Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Penetrable Air

…alas, but that is what we are. Does the infinite space
we dissolve into, taste of us then?

--Rainer Maria Rilke, The Second Elegy

She had witnessed it all, what had happened long ago, the shot that reverberated in the air, hovering somewhere in the fragile space between light and air and the accumulating density of her unborn flesh. For a moment she had seeped through flesh into sky. She was suspended in some bodiless place from which she beheld the old chopping block in the kitchen, the porcelain sink, the curtains, the tiles. Her father was standing at the sink chopping greens, his mind carried deep into the veins of the leaves. The sudden sound of the shot stopped time, trapping the particles of light that traveled through the kitchen window, through the corpuscles of the green leaves and her father’s body. The shot arrested and imprinted the sparse tidiness of the kitchen indelibly on the objects in the room as if imprinted on a silver bromide plate.

Hearing the shot, her father ran out into the fading light,the old screen door slamming behind him. Crows erupted from the corn. He flung himself toward the collapsed figure in the field of yellow grass. At first he did not comprehend what fluid soaked the thick roots of bluestem in a bath of vivid hues: ochre and crimson in stark relief against the pale yellow of her dress, the whiteness of her legs. He fell to his knees beside her. His fingers fumbled for the delicate blue veins of her throat. There was an astonishing stillness. Her right hand still tightly gripped the gun. He wrenched it away, flinging it far across the field. He could not look at her face. At first he buried his head in his hands, but then suddenly looked up, ashen and emotionless. He ran back to the house, the screen door slamming again behind him, but it was only a moment before he emerged like a wild man running with the knife he had just been wielding at the chopping block. He again dropped to his knees, covered her face with a dishtowel, and reached toward her smooth belly. He knew what he had to do. He ripped open her thin dress and with an animal sound of anguish, he carefully carved away the flesh. The tiny form was bundled tightly there, wrinkled like new cabbage within the milky film of the caul.

It was perhaps because of the extraordinary circumstances of her birth that Grace was born with a peculiar gift. Her touch evoked eruptions of images and sounds and smells from whatever object her mother had once touched. She saw through them into the past the same way one might focus one’s vision on the sky reflected in a pool of water, or upon the depths beyond the surface membrane of a pond. In the fields beyond the farmhouse, the past was dispersed in the vast space and wind, just rippling over the tips of heavy seedheads. But inside the house, each object that Grace held in her hand would call her to its secret places.

She was six years old before she realized that what she saw was different from what others saw. There was a world of playgrounds and streets and storefronts, mutually agreed upon as far as she could tell; and there was another world—one than hovered between the cells of this one. There were certain places that she was particularly drawn to, but nowhere more than the place in the field that sang out with her mother's blood, the very spot on the earth where her mother had ended her life. In this place Grace inhaled the familiar smell of soil--the nitrogen, the faint, far-off scent of lightning, the acrid, metallic particulate of burned gunpowder that even now seemed to hover in the astonished air.

In this place she bowed beneath the burden of gravity that had pressed her mother down and the delicious unburdening she had experienced in one shocking flash. Lying on her belly in the tall grass in late summer, she often served as patient midwife to innumerable damp-winged cicadas emerging from their stiff brown shells, and she somehow understood the shotgun in such terms, as midwife to a birth witnessed by the tall grass metamorphosed from her blood.