If there was a shack by the side of the river, what would it look like? How big would it be? If we opened the door to the shack by the river, what would we find there? There’s no light in the shack except light that eats through the gaps and the cracks in the day, but now it is night.
Here in the shack by the side of the river there’s ash on the floor, up to our ankles. What has been burned in this shack with one door? Dust that deep, ash at our ankles, feels like stepping in secrets up to our ankles.
One thing we know in the shack by the river is the way it smells, nothing hidden. Like the stems of flowers—the coxcomb and yarrow and white Queen Anne’s lace—when the vaseful of water is green and the stems green-black and oozy. The smell is so thick with plant rot, with stem death, with slick vegetal breakdown, we gag. We have gagged pulling flowers from water that’s rotted, the black flesh of the stems sloughing like ash in our hands.
And we wonder: If this is the smell of a few stems of flowers, what of a body in death? What of a body in rot?
Under the stem smell in the shack by the river, burnt hair and mothballs fill our faces with smell. And mothballs, oh, mothballs, blankets and sweaters, closed up in the chests in the halls of our grandmothers. Mothballs, oh, mothballs, cold whistle-white smell that knives the nose and throat and base of the brain. Eyebrows, eyelashes, arms, someone’s braid yanked and whole head pulled too close to the flame, the braid a rope. A yank. Shank. Nape. Shiv. Shave.
The shavings drift into our lungs. The sheets of ash, velvet soft, enter and cling to our throats. The secrets form wet plaster along the hall of our throats, the wall at the top of the stairs, and the rooms of our lungs.
Inside, we peer out through the cracks in the walls of the shack. Out, and we want to see in. In, and we want to see out.
From the other side of the river, a rowboat approaches. The rower, his back to us, he turns now and then to see where he’s going. Bodies fill the boat. Bodies standing, bodies sitting, bodies tense with fear.
The boat man pulls the oars in. He stands with the oars in. The boat rocks on the water. A woman stands close. He pulls her hips toward him. She takes her hands from her knees and grabs the waist of the man and he feels her breasts, her breasts like dead ducks, and he touches the sides of them, warm and soft he squeezes them, all the bodies are pulsing, all the bodies correcting. Flesh silhouette. The sweat. No one wants to fall in. Her nipples like duck beaks, tiny tongues of the ducks.
We see from the shack on the side of the river that the boat drifts closer and closer.
The boat at the bank, they come to this shack, all of the bodies they come. They’re larger than we are. They’ve been here before? They enter, silhouettes, flesh, sweat, and press. The shack fills with their bodies, they stand and correct, no place not to touch, a pulse in the shack, and the ducks on the water, their beaks, pinch the beaks, squeeze their bodies.
Coxcomb stem. Queen Anne’s lace.
So dark it’s one body. So tight it’s one noise, one smell. Breath and sweat. The ash lifts up from the shifting. The moon through the cracks shows it rising and drifting.
The boat man opens the door, shakes his head at the smell. Mothballs burnt hair stem rot our crotches.
We row you, row your boat, hold you as you come to know.
The river rises. Shins and knees. Rises, fills the shack, lifts the ash.
Duck tongues, the oars in, door opens, the rushing, we’re spilling, into the water that takes us. The secrets they’re spilling, we come to know. In, out we go, there’s no we where we are now. Urgent as animals, we don’t know where we’re going, but know that we’ll go there. In the room of our lungs, sheets of ash flutter, secrets blown by the heat that’s rising from lower. The heat’s getting hotter even in water, we can’t stop it, this wanting, this fear and this throbbing, here, not knowing but knowing.
We’re on this high river, it’s wider, we ride it. We’re out now, we’re looking, warm water pushing. On the banks of the river, birds eat all the raspberries, they don’t mind the prickers. Between the oak and the birches, smoke ghosts in the branches. Burn reaches our noses, ash piled with shovels. The crab apples fall tart and gnarled, they rot and get gnawed on. The vein lace of time wraps us till we break it. We rush toward and rush toward until we reach what was opening from when we were children. We move with each other, press and flesh, god turns away from us and looks back through the cracks at us.
There isn’t much time. In, then we’re out, and our bodies correcting for the pain of the exiting. The animals see us as animals.