Burning Books

by Melody Sumner Carnahan


AT FIRST HE FEELS ONLY CONFIDENCE. He expands to fill the room. Then comes doubt. He shrinks to a dot on the page. Each evening while he sleeps Orion comes up sideways. All the short-lived birches cannot erase this diurnal necessity. The imaginary line has been drawn. He needs to know why and for whom. He was placed here hairless and confused.

He will presume on nascent intellects. Hurl heedlessly his rage. From the ditch lurk crawl rise degrade. There are things he must right and left right away.

Each time he succeeds in bringing the cylinder to his lips some of the liquid escapes. The tray faces the window and the window looks out onto the yard. There’s a place called Faraday Meadows but he isn’t going there anytime soon. No sound now except his voice, high as grief. Scented like the leaves over and over stiffening and softening. Fresh as an ant crossing a newly laid grave. Trapped in a wave of sensation like a hornet inside a window shade. It seems not once that he is brave.

Presently there is something he must never do again. Figs of insight gathered at night like a friend calling from a midnight highway. His breath moves pebblelike through his lungs. He tightens his fists. The muscles of his legs twitch and the room fills with his odors.

Striving is all he knows. A tempest crash of wood and glass. Fireflies of every race and sex peering in against him.

Momentarily he feels pleased with himself until it stings like needles on his skin. All the precious liquid splashes to the floor—the way human history in the final analysis amounts to no more than a mist.

He thinks perhaps this first thought isn’t a good one.

She hovers like a storm on the horizon—at once frightful and comforting. Her skirt sways curtain-like as she crosses the linoleum to him. Her sighing voice a fugitive. A scent of ripeness emanating from her . . . wheat on the threshing floor . . . apple cores for the horses. He is certain that without her nothing can be saved.

Clatter outside the room increases his sense of loss tenfold. His breath heaves. His spine stiffens and curls. His limbs flail finding nothing to overpower, perfect, or destroy. A burst of sunlight locates the rim of his tray ripping open small packets of joy, fine as powder floating on the air. Her hands caress him hold him firm as stitches. Distanced from the impending his heart roars with bliss.

She does not notice or perhaps care that her elbow has been pinching him. She kisses. Her lipstick gives off pictures. Fairest first child. The final incision. The attempt to isolate the proper conditions for isolation. He begins to reconstruct: The word thing is only occasionally the thing anyone envisions when he says it. Pleasuring begat him in misery. Civility is not a sign of weakness. Chaos is always a byproduct of order. What he felt when he was inside her.

A beam of passing light reveals desolation: orange and green geometries he willfully squashed are distributed like sticky smoke. She bends to sop up the mess. He cannot reach, cannot even grasp, the enormous plasticity of the rippling plateau of her back.

Cold damp cloth divides his fingers roughing up the spaces between. A whiff of bitter revives his imminent enjoyment. Too vain now to raise his voice he hears bell-like notes repeated while a thing of melting doughy sweetness is pressed into his mouth. His tongue and gums crush the soft dead lump. His senses fuse. Inside and outside merge. She smoothes down gurgling greetings to his soul. Reaching wildly he yanks the beaded red chord strung about her neck. She cries out and slaps him. Pain without parenthesis.

Her words pour out neither kindly nor a rebuke. His viscera churns. A pleasing warmth coats his limbs. The petals of his heart burst wide open.

At length he thinks how good it would be to repeat the act with her. She has moved beyond his range. Her presence dissolves in his greed the way a noisy wind precludes sleeping.

He has no need but her and now. She exits closing the door.

As far as he knows he is alone. Without her. Space and time conditioning begin. She not bending to him. The element of hazard enters. Knowledge changes him.

The present ends
The wind working against him
Open grassy places bleak
When seen from top of the rise
Having had the best of it
Approaching now with the last of the roots
Heard that rasping sound before
Flat as ignorance, hard as innocence
Swift and unforgiving as ice on the road
A breeze heavy with pitch pine strips the air.

His toes curl in anticipation. He tries to hold his weak-muscled head erect. This time, surely, he will stand. This time take a step.


From One Inch Equals Twenty-Five Miles © 2004 Melody Sumner Carnahan / Burning Books