Mourners could not bind their tones into the body of a dirge, chasing each note as it curled and fell to the lawn—quavers lodging in flower beds and semibreves filling with bludgeoned stems and freshly turned soil—in the shredded oak air of a disintegrating season. Locust was spearhead bronze hurtling towards the phalanx of uniformed officials, parched leaves that sailed through distinct villages of hospital white, police blue, and church black. Obligation drew them all to this finely carved trench, coffin nest and terrarium for roots thick as arteries and frail as capillaries, metastasizing rhizomes and monstrous centipedes, errant limestone and modern artifacts too young for recovery. Diggers leaned against their shovels, star-nosed and blind, anxious to return to the fungal perfume of darkness. Trio of gingko leaves lodged in the thorax of the hired eulogist, caught in the sideshow hail of Midas hatchets thrown to silhouette the crowd by mad October. Fire maple tongues atrophied to burgundy claws, battlefield trophies hacked from their limbs and curled in premonition of winter—pennants of withering that presided over the funeral of a woman of no importance.
Folding chairs and polished shoes lined the edge of her dark bed as the starched, jagged ruffle on a formal shirt worn just once and folded into the earth. Voices curdled into the malignant texture of conversation stilted by anonymous sorrow, a strange life ended without the structure of motive or measure of circumstance, existence deprived of recall. Without cause to fuel tragedy, the gathering of mourners tethered to her case could muster only a disembodied sympathy that wrapped the woman’s body in rough strands, unraveling at once with the procession of cars driving away.
She was in death assaulted by life, writhing vitality pounding from the other side of ceremonial wood. Burrowing mole crickets, cicada nymphs sucking at tree roots, wireworms morphing into click beetles, cornfield ants diligently farming aphids, predatory tiger beetle larvae waiting in deep tunnels with open jaws. They all had names, were copiously photographed and illustrated, collected and identified—most avidly in death. Reclining in the sunless garden of azalea roots soaring over trails paved with forgotten acorns destined to germinate or rot, lay a murder victim of no importance—corporal evidence of an imagined offense or crafted revenge, hobbled luck or maligned fate, pointless accident or mistaken identity. Immeasurable life without conclusion that persisted only as a Mandlebrot pattern of infinite clarity, telescoping backward and forward without resolution. Lacework of possibilities manifested as a repeating design without genesis or termination: perpetual calligraphy of tides, plumes of frost on a windowpane spattered with anonymous blood from a murder without measure, ice ferns which swirled in anguish across the Unicorn beetle’s wing covers.
In the belly of a scholar about to proceed with the continuation of tales, lay the remains of his last meal—half chewed ink sticks and splintered bamboo brushes, a partially digested writing desk and silken pulp from several dozen scrolls, grit from the dissolved limestone of a revered scholar’s rock and the persistent tangle of carved lotus blossoms from its wooden stand, whose stems inhabited his intestines as parasitic worms swaying in anticipation of fables yet to be written.
Ink pooled where the scholar’s brush inhabited fixed time, remaining just long enough to bleed into the rice paper before skating on a frenetic blade and lifting off the surface with a shriek of its disintegrating tail. Fierce characters, jittery and wild, lurched from the serene milk of a calligraphed scroll, imprisoned by the rigid geometry of silk borders and dominant will of the scribe’s singular hand. Three dozen symbols thrashed in the grip of imposed order, a cohesive body defined by row upon row of anarchic pieces articulating the tale of a woman’s murder five hundred years before her death, tragic in detail and resonant with the deranged machinations of those who would, in centuries still to come, engineer the bleak methodology of her last day.
Brushwork coiled and choked, leapt and pierced, yet disclosed a story of dispassionate record, the schedule and means of wrongful death committed to paper as a forecast of rain. Soaking weather and the probability of molding crops, the termination of one life judged an obstacle to other lives. The woman was taken apart with a jeweler’s precision, creator’s affection for work performed on such an intimate scale—a complete body imagined, crafted, admired for its brief shining autonomy, destroyed and then melted down for the value of its raw materials, only to be resurrected and fashioned again—measured in the palm of a hand.
Pronounced by scholars and written with indelible, stalking forms, the woman’s story was preserved for centuries of vicarious eyes, participants and eager shadows in the conspiracy of her extermination. Partaking in her demise, generations waned from complicit rope to spectator’s thread, finally losing the verity of murder altogether. Events were reconceived as fables, lives softened into characters, to be revered as symbols of brief shining humanity and vigorously annihilated—only to be resuscitated and written again.
Ciphers tumbled through the time continuum of twitching filaments in a rush of prancing ink and the scroll’s calligraphy lurched to merry life, sweeping away the flying cranes and peonies woven into its stern borders, imprisoning lengths of fauna and flora which melted into strokes of dye and steam. Three dozen symbols bound to the purgatorial cycle of relating this tale of wrongful death denied its pathos were at last released. Contorted and knotted, compressed to choking, their ligaments stretched to fraying by scholars intent on digesting the verity of murder, the brush strokes finally unwound and straightened, raising themselves from the paper on delicate, jointed legs. Consuming the lacquered pole that had been its prison, the unicorn beetle crawled away on fresh new legs, setting the red waxen seal of ownership adrift.
Conspiracy arrived as a horn of plenty, an alluring cornucopia filled with grains and fruits radiant with the garden blush of freshly severed life and dusted with poison. Mutinous scholars traveled as a stalking arabesque which moved as a single feral entity through the palace grounds, disparate garments billowing now in unity as mane, scales, wings and fire from the chimera born to hunt him down. Crafted from his nightmares, the creature moved with purpose and periodically opened the flesh of its belly to show him the driving heart, his most trusted teacher, wrapped in mythological viscera and howling for his blood with the dynamic killing force of autumn hurtling towards winter.
It was Lilith’s horn, and the man imagined his own impalement on raven’s point, sum of all colors rendered as pitch by a projection at once form and void–spur of betrayal and sightless chasm that nullified all he had been taught in years of rigorous study. There would be retribution for this call to murder, plot crafted against a life measured by privilege and station, an extravagant construction that would be remembered. Fragments of the man’s existence congealed as hard paste, embedded with loyalties wrenched from unwilling subjects, adoration leveraged by threats and always undermined by the fear that his perilous magnitude could slip away at any moment.
As tutor and student, the man had found no grandeur with his mentor, no enslaved shadow minding his court and chambers, only the persistent ache of uncertainty, constant reminder of his impoverished knowledge and sutured flaws, which opened always at first daybreak as their lessons commenced, uncoiling with the brash radiance of morning glories. The man was small and insubstantial in their early years, when the teacher’s words on philosophy, science, and history leapt from vast coffers of scrolls to captivate a student’s intellect and humble his speech. Dialogues between them forced alien liquids from his childhood skin, when such secretions were still forgivable.
When the water ran clear and the man was confronted only by successive strata of unanswerable questions, reflections without terminus which only served to produce rancorous sacks of fluid and tissue that in turn ruptured to reveal new theoretical constructs, he grew ever more disturbed and finally dismissed the tutor. Years of debris rose from his depths and the gathering of darkening particles brought an exquisite solace—a black certainty to the water as it moved now in artificial tides generated by a confident hand working the inkstone.
He wrote only with ink prepared in controlled densities, successive assurances of grays and tepid blacks which stained his fingertips with confidence and hardened into a rigid palette of obsidian beads that gradually implanted themselves under his skin. Intractable glass nestled in his soft tissues and oyster muscle, forming monstrous lesions that periodically burst at Senate meetings and banquets, running with the brilliant hues of infection and punctuated by curdled orbs of ink from writing which had turned foul and brittle, pieces of a life that lurched, abraded, sliced and gored—sending echoes groaning up through his pores, stretched open and weeping into thousands of ulcerated rooms.
Unblemished skin clung to the frame of Emperor Nero, standing in full sight of his subjects as a swath of pristine landscape unstained in daylight. Yet darkness always brought the verity of ink and infestation, nightly rape of malignant abscess which drove into him relentlessly, and Nero awakened each morning to the horror of revered teachings torn away and knowledge abandoned.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca could only watch from his place by a distant window as the lesions consumed his former student. Forced now to crane his neck to see the whole of the Emperor’s body at once, contorting in a desperate bid to assemble disparate pieces into a man, the philosopher twisted and bent, at last coming to rest against harsh outside light in the ashen silhouette of a great horn.
At once form and void, the water opened around Seneca’s legs as he walked into the ocean. Calligraphy of tides recorded the swirls of blood as the philosopher’s opened veins interrupted repeating patterns of saline that persisted without genesis or termination. Ordered to commit suicide by his most notorious student, Seneca ended a life that would persist as a Mandlebrot pattern of infinite clarity, telescoping backward and forward with the potent measure of tragedy. Bound to a noble suicide, Nero’s fractured pieces would be reassembled into a unified structure, tethered to a story of eternal clarity. Centuries later, Rubens drew this murderous conclusion to alleged conspiracy in black chalk on paper, in lines eternally wed to their ground and incapable of transformation. Seneca died anew with each set of eyes cast on the artist’s lines, chalk knotting and weaving filaments of voracious rule, revered teachings, corrupted ideologies, and profound betrayal—a death measured by history in striations which swept across the Unicorn beetle’s thorax and anchored its body in time.
Two lives persisted and battled for the hierarchy of remembrance on a broad expanse of log, yet neither saw beyond their minute plot of fallen wood—the space between three knots and a rotted branch, which hung by its broken neck high above Elysian Fields of dense moss. Two singular points existed at once: on wing covers churning with ice storms ripping across the firmament, inside the joints of periscope legs which impaled decaying wood with the pitiless gait of surgical tools, erupting from thoraxes laid down in the stratified layers of organic machines and ancient fables, redesigned and retold with the intention of altering history.
They met with a clash of horns, two Unicorn beetles fighting for dominance, intent on knocking the other off the edge of their world. Endless span of prostrate sycamore trunk shot away from the encounter in either direction, but the beetles knew only their shuttered battleground, the brevity of time passed in mortal armor. Organs and nerve chords adapted to the rhythmic pounding of exoskeletons, adopted the symphonic resonance of interminable struggle without the attainment of knowledge.
Upon defeat, the vanquished entity fell from its perch toward virid undulating realms below, without revelation of the infinite trunk, as its horn ripped forest air then expanded in a great yawn to swallow conspirators and teachers alike, evaporating monuments and cities. Paisley ice cleaved from wing covers to atomize and drift through the horn’s void as water, falling on the other side as snow—asymmetrical flakes unnatural and anguished, which immediately began knitting bone, then rebuilding the tremulous architecture of nerves and soft tissue.
The victor would remain on freshly acquired territory of triumphant bark for a single moment, without revelation of the infinite trunk, before its thorax unraveled to contort and pool in the language of ink—its legs uncoiling in dry brushstrokes of tales written once again to assemble the measure of life into a body primed for consumption.
Copyright © July 29, 2005 - Julie Rauer