I’m dancing tonight. Smog adrift lakeside. Smog and low clouds meeting in a mix above the industrial center and warehouses. I’m dancing in, through each party, threading through and back. The party is days old. I store a change of clothes tucked in rafters, beams, old storage bins where bosses used to keep those oversized paper clips. I’d dance for shades of day and night–the golden hour, twilight. I reached into the quietness of 3:32 am, and alternated from foot to foot. A spin and a tuck. A spin and a tuck. Repeat for hours. Rest. Change. Move. New warehouse. A harpsichord this time. Synth before synth. Timbre and color being fond friends of one another.
Dressed as Death tonight. Courier of pestilence. Epidemic. Pandemic. Death chooses a shroud of Black to blend in during night-time walks. Every color is free in the world of death until invisibility is needed for day-time deaths. Invisibility is key, intuition is key. Whatever Death has, it precedes intuition. It precedes, encounters, lunges into the field and comes up with a latitudinal look into origins, fates, expirations and origins again. Death’s view assists its quick moves. Death’s game would vanish without this trick. So I danced in black for the night time in honor of Death and its craft. Other kids came up with funnier outfits. There was the obligatory banana, T-Rex, a witch, and a couple of nuns.
On the floor I was muscle in movement. During my off-time I slept curled under stairs or against a building. Sometimes I kissed people. Sometimes I couldn’t stop moving, and the kisses brought contact and meditation in ways that I didn’t allow myself on the floor. I only kissed if the other engaged me truly, erotically: their movements sacred and spare, each player in tune with the field he or she entered into. The right ones shudder. Bodies that really move through time, shudder with the potency of a death rattle. Able to toss off the murk of earlier times.
Kisses demanded the end of secrets. Tongue became a godson of mouth, mouth, a daughter of voice, voice if not the spirit of eros. I struck out tongue against tongue like thumbs into eye–I wanted to willingly blind and be blinded. If the other struck out like a miner with gold-seeking pans and rose lips, it was obviously pure pure pure muscle and reminded me too much of the dance floor. Too eager and direct an energy, like a gunshot into a full room. I felt it too quickly. It’s an energy seeking blood. I’m seeking spirit.
That night I made Death walk on a tightrope. We made like talons on a thin wire, between the invisible walls of a corridor. Death refused to touch anything wet or alive, but I allowed the converse to be true. I kept a bell at my side, and held it mute. I saw it only as a signal for real Death to use when it saw fit. Suddenly, a light touch came, a palm grazed the back of Death’s neck. I could feel it through the shroud. My mask, light enough to move slightly, plied away from my jaw in surprise.
The bell rang.
I, as Death, felt a chill, and then a grid of perspiration formed under the cheeks of my mask. Just a matchbook sized panel of sweat to remind me that I was a firstly a dancer, a human and secondly, Death. I glanced at my body and out onto the floor. There was no one getting away. No one jogging to, or even flirting with escape. Everyone was already cast, landed from the rafters above. They stood stationary now, as un-matched globules grinding in the spare dark parts of the warehouse room. Bodies everywhere in mid-exorcism, eyes rolled and cast back–their wet rims red with stye and smoke. Lips in eating-you formation. Some hands exposed, enjoined with others. Some hands gloved. All were absorbed like tick on tick. My person became a mystery, until I saw a woman weave through the crowd hurriedly.
I thought I had death on a short leash. Quartz-crusted, braided-black, near-hallucinatory leash. But the touch reminded me of my humanness, and spurts of adrenaline, rapid flashes of life opened my heart. If the flashes were visible to anyone else, they would not reflect openness, but defect. My blood felt cautious, I braced a wall, and felt the waste of partiers, the film of nights, the hard days of work, food processed, hormones leapt and fallen. A low drone rubbed the walls. The organum entered, the second voice altered like the echoes of the ocean splattered on a conch shell. I nodded into a gloved hand that felt much larger than normal, and began to cry. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. My chest heaved, my torso grew, expanded, thickened. My feet became light. My face became light. Light face, the face of a non-being.
I continued to follow the woman, and stumbled into a small room of women with her likeness, or rather her dress. All in white with red sashes around their waists. They were clustered around an unmatched woman–naked and with and hair a vast set of hues–her head shook with tears and each time she sobbed the light revealed another color. She stood at the base of a square floor sink, of which the women were pushing her to climb into.
As I watched I grew tender for her–she felt near to me, like a lit candle in the window of my past. Someone close to me, someone I had comforted once. The women gathered around her, soothing her in the way that felt mechanical. They laid hands on her chest, the meridians of her body, and reassured her with circular touches and murmurs. I felt compelled by and ran to her, but a layer of my wing snagged on the wall. The layer splintered into tens of threads, and sagged into a half-circle. Another gloved hand, larger than my head came down and pulled on the threads till they snapped and the released tension jarred my step. I flew into the scene, and immediately knew that I wasn’t welcome, and I felt their harassing stares and hisses form like a serpentine cloud above me.
I crept to the corner leaf of a heavy curtain, and from there I intuited the circumstances at hand. I saw a wave of glances formed with closed mouths. This plan was not vocal but felt and charged into something unreadable as they progressed. They were preparing her for death, and the sacrifice would be done when the sinks’ water murmured opaquely with blood. When her blood judged the water, then the water announced her new path. Then they would stop. Then they would take her from the partiers into the outside, where they would make her re-learn from the sky, help her return home to the vapor that begat her.
I could tell that what was happening to her was like sand standing, then laying down on a small patch of coast. Seemingly indiscriminate in where, but not how it laid. The beach–her hair, her sad sea licking brackish mounts, the drunk swell of life above pulling, grapply black–natty, luminesce. Between it all, there was little distinction. It was not murder, I could tell, it was a conscious division of matter. It was so far from murder, the conditions so pacific, so languid –it was almost a new life, not death.
And it occurred in a world where messages were grabbed from the air, and where tones came to match the intent of the thing. The process was the same when I danced, and with familiarity, I matched her impressions with my tones. They were surprisingly familiar. When they cut a long line down the front of her chest, she did not show any signs of outward distress, but her tone clenched and became crisp–the temperature changed, and she snapped into a frost where everything was free to break upon touch. But there were no howls. She took it all fully warned.
And from my intuiting and tone-touching came the truth: she was a witch, one witch of many witches: she was from Atzlan. Of Avar, wore the bridal relic, sat at the heels of mother fire. Mary A. of Massachusetts, little unclear Mary. Celine of Normandy, sick on milk. Joan of Arc. Strega. Lost in the woods in her red shoes. Caught in the rain at the base of a mountain. No survivor of death, survivor of transcendence. Torched, entombed, excised. Arid climate, cupidity, war, drought. In lieu of an oral lineage, in lieu of explanations, there came the gift of death to her. When death was collective, she was anonymous. When death became individual, she died with little handfuls of dirt on her chest, thrown with purpose and care. Her conclusion was more than physical death now, and her body nothing more than an reed carved to sing its masterful song. This is why she stood resolute–she had known a thousand floods of death. This, out of all of them, was nothing.
Flayed, exhausted, she collapsed into their arms. The women’s steady lines of worry were sucked out now, and she was handed from woman to woman in a near mechanical procedural count. I kept my heart in my chest, but it pounded so, so violently as if it wanted to escape my chest and fling itself at the woman prone on the sinks’ square. Again, in distress, I felt the presence of a large body, one that had no mortal air in its lungs, nor terrestrial energy to assume a shape in space. I felt it hover over the back of me. Still clutching my heart, I turned to see its face, but its shadow doubled and layered and disappeared like a shade of hell. I could tell it chose me, and the complete reduction of my soul into something easily conceptualized and stolen, along with the death of the girl, made me grow faint. I again fell forward into the gloved hand and wept for these simultaneous losses
and awoke in the cold. Outside, where it smelled of hay. My temples itched in it, and removing the long strands from my face caused a dull ache in the forefront of my brain to radiate like a stem down my spine. I cautiously opened my eyes to see a silver and gray sky, and looked down at my body. It was a different thing now, not mine or even of me. I wore a robe, solid white with a red belt. I felt the trails of stories I held onto by the wrist loosen. The density of things, the touch of my hand on a wall, the presence of sound–I lost it all, and the weight of the present moment dashed these thoughts into a watery depth I could never look into again.
The grass was dry, it hadn’t rained in some time I could tell, and as I came onto my elbows I heard a rustle of steps, multiple feet moving to the left and right of me. I looked to see many women dressed the same. I didn’t want to startle them, so I kept my eyes low. I waited patiently for the last woman to pass, her long red hair resting at the top edge of her red belt. Her knife tucked on her left side. As she reached the horizon of a hill, I lifted myself and felt unable to walk at first, but inspired by the woman’s hair, her robe, her belt and knife, I got up, and followed her over the hill.
Jacqueline Treiber is an editor and poet living in Portland, Oregon. She is a wannabe collagist and enjoys translating the richness of an image to words and vice versa.