Nothing. She said nothing. She wanted to write it onto paper. Onto skin. Write the river’s end, miles away. She wanted to walk to the river, saying nothing, legs moving into the current. Oh, she’d walk against it—up to her hips, ballooning her skirt. Its yellow wildflower pattern saturated by algae, litter, outpoured beers. She’d walk across the river—from Boston to Cambridge. She’d walk and walk and walk and—teeth buzzing, boots filling with water. She wouldn’t die. And. She wouldn’t die. And. The impossibility of nothing would be enough to go on with. The nothing-impossible: a kind of static hovering, an imperceptible silver thread. The nothing-impossible: coiled like a snake and harsh as compressed air. Wrapped in a slivered shell of reality. Warped in a silver bell. And…she hums, of this: what a halo. What a hollow. What a haunting. What—gestural-and-gesturing, ever-annihilating. Her blackened vision like a blindfold of silk: turning her eyes back, and back…and inward…and oblivion-out. Her blackened vision: what triggers. By gun crystalline. By bullets of quartz. Somewhere, and in a concurrent past-future, a man grabs her hips, bites her ear. Somewhere, in the now-not-now, her legs go numb. But she won’t collapse in the current.
Oh. She had visions of nothing, fixed on the masculine body. Oh. Her blackouts flesh-conjured. Apex-abyss—the crown of the head. In the abyss: more weapons than words can account for. In the abyss: more weapons than numbers can calculate. Weapons warping in obsidian mirrors, the shape and make of that haunt of space. And—that morning, in the library, a man’s face was a black hole. An absence. A smoke-filled abscess. That morning, in the library, her peripheral vision…vanished. In the library, mourning, her jaw…unhinged. Snakes crawled out the back of her throat: silent, cold. Snakes cut down her chest faster than breath. Spun around her on the floor, rat-king-curling. That ssss. That oh. To be fixed. To be affixed. Once—virgin, drunkest-drunk—she was asleep in his bed. That bullet, penetration. That no. She couldn’t see her body. She couldn’t see the room.
She was writing an essay on the catalog in fiction. In the library. She was writing a sequence on obsession. In her head. She was cataloging language-as-image. Cataloguing Lolita, Lolita, Lo. He was smoke and smoke and smoke and. Oh. Once they sat in the Public Garden. Once they watched the pond reflect sun. Once they laid in a twin-size bed, listened to a song called Dogs. Once she wore a red dress, red sunglasses. She was…blood dripping down her legs. She was…lit by rhizomic disco balls. She was…tangled, weed-wrapped…no-warped. Snakes spitting out chains of lily-of-the-valley. Mary’s Tears, reptilian saliva. She was smiling. Was bleeding. For who. Salvador Dali’s The Royal Heart. Guy Bourdin’s buried women. Calves on grass. Oh. Uncovered thighs, silk waterfalls.
She was finding…black holes between theatrical gestures. She was heaving—nothing. Why did she dance with him, her head to his chest, after…that knife. Why did she—nothing. She was smoking…between legs. Was…fire, creating a theater inside her head. Black holes inside her stretch-marked limbs. And: snakes shedding bullets of light. Echoing halo. Feminine fatal. She wondered: what fluids did she release then, and then, and then—unwilling, un-wanting, washed away (by who—?) before waking.
Whatever images she culled for herself, whatever quiet and perfumed, whatever magnolia-amber-lichen, became nothing. As, driving through Mississippi, she and her lover marveled: what if those magnolia trees were on fire. What if—black holes cut by the blade of a sharpened spoon. Far from Massachusetts, yellow airplanes scooped clouds and offered space to the further sky. What does one do in rural Mississippi, they wondered. What cyclical flights. Summer air, evening rainstorms. What does one do—such regular expulsion. Such regular expression. And yet, bewildered—always new, always weaponed, always violet or violencing. The way the air smells, wet. What blooms. Always heaving on a landscape, blurred. Always and—and—and—and—bewildered. The snakes, the snakes spinning.
His name? Hadn’t he spoken to her? Yes, they had talked for a moment or two. When he walked past her, he was smoke and smoke and smoke and. Oh. Once when he was in her. Once when he was tearing. She forgot, and how. Wanted to write it onto skin. Wanted to carve it in stone. Wanted to wonder: at what point does catalog become superfluous? On what plane, supernatural? The river, Charles? Those numbered names? She wonders: Should I stop? Should I stop? Oh. She imagines walking past them, bodied, and failing to emote. Them: they who knived. Them: they who—oh. And those snakes, possessing her, pushing her cyclical-forward. She: bending under the weight of every temporal direction. She—wanting to wander. And. And. To be: bewildered.
A dream breaks into parts and contradicts its own will, even as it travels around and around.
For me, bewilderment is like a dream: one continually returning pause on a gyre and in both my stories and my poems it could be the shape of the spiral that imprints itself in my interior before anything emerges on paper.
For to the spiral-walker there is no plain path, no up and down, no inside or outside. But there are strange returns and recognitions and never a conclusion.
What goes in, goes out. Just as a well-known street or house forms a living and expressive face that looks back at you, so do all the weirdly familiar bends in the spiral.[*]
Mississippi. Something in the air. In the airplanes. In the thick wet leaves of trees. In the humidity-dampened tree bark. In the movement of the sun: there, and then lacking, and then there. In the river: Pearl River. In the now-not-now—Pearl River, so she left 55 S., stopped the car, moved outside to be in the name. Did she say: I’m in Pearl River. She imagined: sweat-covered pearls. Placenta-covered pearls. Growing in the belly of a mother snake. Growing in the glow of interiority. Translucent baby snakes cracking out of pearl eggs.[†] She’d carry a cracked egg in her pocket so no one could touch her. She’d carry a cracked egg, forbid men. She listened: Magenta, Josephine Foster. She’d get back in the car, back on the big big road. She’d sing to the baby snakes. From anywhere. From the thick wet leaves of trees. With the movement of a pearl—comet—searing across sky. In the moment of the now-not-now. In oblivious remembrance.
Oh, so soft.
She was spending the summer unlearning herself. She was spending the summer teaching babies how to sing. Pushing them in strollers. Up Beacon Hill. Singing. In sweat swings. With sunburned lips. Oh. How to walk. Hands around smaller hands, soft pulp of skin, legs like pillars behind the little ones. How to hold. What reverberations, there. What wobbling. She was…researching. Can lips sweat? The lip skin is not hairy and does not have sweat glands. Therefore, it does not have the usual protection layer of sweat and body oils which keep the skin smooth, inhibit pathogens, and regulate warmth.[‡] She was. Regulating warmth. Numbing her tongue. Her memory gaps. Naming every thing. Cup, spoon, stroller, hill. This is: care. This is: cry. She was listening to…night…to willow. She was listening: can’t keep on crying.[§]
At night, she walked herself up those cobblestone hills. Pushing her pulse. Pushing past—big bay windows. Pianos and chandeliers. Horseshoe crab door knockers. Sometimes she ate ice cream while she walked. Sometimes she watched it melt. Vanilla-thumbed. Waffle-lipped. Cataloging her manifold stride. Boston transformed into a mountain, obsidian mirror at the top, calling (her name? in non-language?). Who called for her. What called for—moonlight. Who called for—memory. What—nothing. Her lover came with, but she never knew what they discussed. She unhinged her mouth, heard muddled light. Snaking cold. Bladerunner noise through morphine drip. Lip-numb. So many years loving. (This is: —, she’d say.) Void, veiled, stifled-unfurling. This is: —.
Her lover was breathing. She said nothing. Dreading distant smoke and smoke and smoke and. Who washed her, then. Who wasted. Who, wholly loving. She—denying the mothered self, which is remembrance reverberant. Which is snaking light. Snaking weep. When they neared the top of the hill, he disappeared. She paced. Forward, back. Into—obsidian river. And the hill extended on towards the moon. Where the snake are constellations. Where the airplanes are pearls. Where the smoke and smoke and smoke and: song. Oh. With a blindfold of silk. With dry legs, pulsing veins. With snake egg shells. She climbed.
Somewhere, her lover played guitar: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. Somewhere, simultaneous, they made love on the side of the road: Warrior, Alabama. Somewhere, simultaneous, she’s healing—healed. As, in a courtroom: some rise. As in: testimonial sunrise. She woke up in bed with him, the good one. The lover. Say: safe. Say: snake. To sing in non-language. Un-numb with obsidian split. Uncoiling on windowsill. And who—? Who will she be, now? She closed her eyes. What dances in that dark. What holds. What soft. Snakes spitting out chains of lily-of-the-valley. Mary’s Tears, reptilian saliva. She smiled when she came. Turned her eyes into moonstone. When—her fingers over eyelids like a moon-corpse. Turned them up those cobblestone hills. Into the river. Into the night.
[*] Fanny Howe, “Bewilderment”
[†] A few exceptional species of snakes diverge from this general rule. They are referred to as viviparous, and they give birth to live young. Both oviparous and viviparous snakes have uteri, or wombs; however, only viviparous snakes form placental attachments between their uteri and the developing fetuses. – “Do Snakes Have Wombs,” animals.mom.me/snakes-wombs-10778.html
[§] Karen Dalton, “Everytime I Think of Freedom”
AM Ringwalt is a writer and musician. Called "unsettling" by NPR, her words have recently appeared in Cloud Rodeo, Tagvverk, OCCULUM and Hobart, and were vocalized at the Watermill Center and the New Yorker Festival. "Like Cleopatra," her debut poetry chapbook, was published by dancing girl press.