Hanging Man, as Seen from the Water
I went to the lake to hang myself from the old magnolia tree.
I saw you from beneath the surface of the water, and I rose naked to meet you where you stood. I would climb the promontory and tell you that’s not how you tie a noose.
The dogwoods bloomed their impossible shades. A tumor in my brain was turning me into a monster. I had started to believe in penance. I slipped the noose around my neck. I thought briefly of a wolf, cleaning his brother’s face of gore following a kill.
That was the year glaciers funeral-processioned into the sea and the bees stopped carrying on the machinery of the world. Part of me wanted to see your body drop and swing. I’m afraid of that in me; I’m not that woman; I’m not in love with the promise of the end, and I don’t open-arm welcome catastrophe like some mistress of ash.
If I made it to you on time, I’d hold you up. I’d wait until you fell in love with me, or until you told me a prophecy of something other than the story of an endless Ice Age, snowfall like armies blotting out the sun. I’d hold you up, and wait for the rope to give, I would, and I’d be there with you until the earth welcomed you back to the ground.
The tumor hatched a black hole inside me. I would swallow the world. I stood. I braced for the fall.
I climbed. Berries grew all around, starlight in their green skies. I thought of hopeful things as I climbed, hoping to save you. I thought of milk, of water nymphs I’d chased as a child, of magic. Beasts were different than you. Beasts don’t know what light they come from.
You told me later, we know death before we can deny it.
You asked me how I imagined the world would end. I put my lips to yours: hush, breath.
I hesitated. The water glowed, distracted me. I saw my shadow on the water, imagined some alternate version of myself, moving backwards, from burial back to baptism.
I’d stopped praying to a god that was still too enraptured by creation to listen to me. I didn’t know how to ask for what my body needed. I think I wanted to find that in you, in that moment, and I wanted to time travel to the moment before the moment you turned, and I would hold you there, wait for your body to know how to rise from the ashes of itself. I saw you linger. I didn’t know whether to climb to stop you or wait for you to fall to me, into my arms.
To know this dark growing inside me is made of the same stardust as you, as me, as the deer drinking from the lake, unafraid of the falling man reflected in the water.
If I was too late, I’d kiss your eyelids, I’d wash your feet.
Our daughter asks about what is coming and I tell her songbirds never stop their arias even as their voices burn away.
Your daughter doesn’t know what’s coming. She doesn’t need that destruction myth. She carries us both now in her, on her tongue, singing our bodies through the dark.
Justin Lawrence Daugherty lives in Atlanta and is the Co-Publisher at Jellyfish Highway Press. He founded and manages Sundog Lit, is the Fiction Editor at New South, and co-pilots Cartridge Lit, a magazine dedicated to literature inspired by video games.