That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
– Julius Caesar (289-290), Shakespeare
The sun had never bothered me, nor birds, children, bug-bites. Yet, everything was sore now. The extreme parallax was interesting at first: seeing the earth fade into the grass, blinking back and forth, but the dirt against in my eye right eye was a nuisance, even if I enjoyed watching the ants crawl up the grass and onto my nose, then inside. They tickled up my sinuses, leaving me on the edge of a sneeze I knew my muscles couldn’t deliver.
It took forty days before he appeared. I mean, I saw him coming the whole time, walking across the playground slowly, hovering over the sand box, a specter ever approaching. First, the dogs came with gentle sniffs, loving licks. One lifted his leg but was called away by a distant master before he could release even a drop. Then the rain came; itchy at first, but cool, relieving. The sun was its own plague and brought more plagues.
As I baked, I felt my body changing. The ground dried, but not the puddle under me. Flora erupting. He was maybe halfway to me and I sent him a prayer through my unblinking left eye: Are you the mushroom god? He didn’t answer, but the space between my belly and the earth started to merge; so, I said to the earth, Thank you for welcoming me. The earth didn’t answer, but it didn’t need to; he shared roots.
Everything has to crack eventually: volcanos, the mind, the backside of a gunshot. It doesn’t stop hurting. If I was mad about anything it was that lie: there’s no more pain on the other side. As we inched forward, I asked him questions: Leonard Cohen says there’s a crack in everything, he said, that’s how the light gets in; are you the light? And sometimes he was the light, at night, glowing in opaline light. Are you the angel of death? In the sun, he was a vacuum: pure darkness warping the edges of space. He was silent, always.
Rationalizing is not one of the stages of grief because it is the barrier to processing every other layer of grief. Know these things, degrees, lecturing, none of that matters when you are the body of your own grief. I told myself what I told my patience: Embody your anger. But I couldn’t move, and corpse pose does little when you are already a corpse. I said all the things I’m supposed to say: Allow yourself to cry. It would be irrational to be rational. What would it feel like to feel “okay”? But I knew my tricks and I saw him coming – a hope and a fear.
I wish I could have moved my eyes to see the first bird that landed. His weight was the weight I imagined for a pigeon but all I could see was the praying mantis reaching for my eye. Perhaps, I thought, I’m stuck.This, I thought, couldn’t be usual. The mantis, color of spring at dawn, and the specter, caught in the shimmering space between his luminous and consumptive qualities, each stretched out in the slowest reach. He flickered as I spoke to the bird I couldn’t see: Suppose this is an unfinished business situation, how do I finish anything when I can’t move? The bird was silent; I reimagined it as a starling, though neither are scavengers. If I’m a ghost, I should be able to float, or move, something.
Cadaverine and putrescine are two possible emissions from a corpse. While unlikely to be answers on Jeopardy, trivia is by its nature trivial. There was comfort, I’ll admit, in knowing the name of what escaped from me. I told the bacterial colony that had pushed at my seams, I don’t think the light is good for you. The mycelial network took the broken seal as an opportunity to breath and spread; how to describe being hugged from the inside, to describe each cell rupturing, and the beginning of collapse? Neither comfort nor disgust works, but that those were the feelings of smelling my own decay. My hope rested in believing that I’d be free if my body was gone before he reached me.
Today is day thirty. It occurs to me that my situation might be philosophical. Perhaps I need to wrestle with angels or face my demons. Unlike the maggots that occasionally fall from my nose, and into view of my muddied right eye, I might have to contend my existential concerns. I use my “good eye” to beam a joke at the approaching figure: Or am I facing an ex-existential crisis? I realize now that I can’t laugh, and I’m not funny. But you can hear me. You enjoy this. I’m happy you’ve come. After we do me, we can do you.
Inventory of the day in question: I saw eight clients. Four in the morning and four in the afternoon. Forty-five minutes each, followed by a fifteen-minute break. I was nice, polite. I listened. I gave advice. I wore these clothes. I ate something in my office. There was lettuce. Chicken, perhaps. These details are getting fuzzy, and with his presence drawing near it’s getting harder to remember anything.
Each client mentioned the rally. Each felt strongly, but about what? I remember it was the same thing all day, but my response had to change; I went from Lean into your feelings and See what you can do with those feelings to Maybe you should try a social media cleanse and What are some other ways you can choose to use that energy. The biggest question, the thing I feel pulsing inside me with the growth of mushrooms and the swelling bacteria, is was he walking towards me even then? I want to know how long I’ve been a stop on his path. I want to know how long he must have been traveling to come at this slow speed. Flickering. Black then white; always pearlescent.
Closer. Time. Moving. I am still on the day. I am thinking about my feet walking down the stairs of the office after locking up. I am thinking about his presence, about the way I stopped by the rally. I am trying to see the faces but all I can see is this park, the water, the mass of bodies holding signs. If my lips could move, if I could tongue the centipedes out of my cheeks, I’d ask him, Were you among them? Were you a presence in the throng? Were you holding a sign? The signs are clear. Did I miss you for your message?
This is a story everyone inevitably hears in grad school for psychology or anthropology. It is called Third Man Syndrome. It happens in times of stress. Something takes over our bodies and we see it as an outsider: an alien, an extra man in the climbing party, a set of footprints carrying us in the sand. Closer and closer. The third man is in us already, a projection out of us to carry us when we cannot carry ourselves. I am looking now at him and there is only the two of us in my line of sight. Me and him and the brown speckled grasshopper.
But, I wasn’t alone here. The rally – the park, it was pulsing with rage. A sign: Domestic Fury. Another: Fierce Civil Strife. So much shouting; more than the sky could swallow. Hands holding the words, Blood And Destruction Shall Be So In Use. So many voices chanting, I hear them now like a distant train, Cry Havoc! Cry Havoc! Cry Havoc! What color is he now? Black? White? And I hear something else – a voice over the walkie talkie: Disperse! Disperse! Or else be quartered by the hands of war! After my second year of college, I didn’t read Shakespeare, but he is lodged in my head or floating around out there. Words rattling in my ears enough that when a gun-metal grey hand reached down for me I didn’t even notice when I reached back, clasped the wrist and stood.
Together now, I looked down at my body, then at him: “Atè by my side, come hot from hell.” We surveyed the park together. Bodies everywhere, like mine: bullet wounds, bloating, hands still gripping their signs like he grabs my shoulder. Now we are rising up. Now we are headed into the light blue of the sky and below us, this strange harvest. Up, just at the top of the trees, we see the men marching in with their torches, burning the mass of corpses in the grass. Higher still, a view of the city: smoke rising up in patches, the faint whispers of sirens, the silent segmented movement of people en masse matching to another fate.
At our zenith, I look back to see how many footprints are in the sand.
Bio: Dudgrick Bevins is a queer interdisciplinary artist who infuses poetry into all other forms of art, including film, fiber, painting, and publishing. He is an MA candidate at Kennesaw State College in American Studies and an MFA candidate in Poetry at City College of New York. He is the author of the collaborative chapbooks Georgia Dusk with luke kurtis (bd studios), Pointless Thorns with Nate DeWaele (Kintsugi Books), the books Vigil (bd studios, forthcoming) and Route 4 Box 358 (bd studios), and the solo chapbook My Feelings Are Imaginary People Who Fight for My Attention (Poet’s Haven). You can follow his endeavors at www.dudgrickbevins.com.