Monday, April 15, 2019

Sword People

("Red Wood Cutting" by Vladimir Cush)

“Hey! What the fuck? There’s a sword in my chest!” 

This is how it begins.

You can’t believe it. You see the sword, you feel the sword, but the sword doesn’t register. The initial shock waves carry you through the first days, and then weeks. It hurts having a sword stuck in your chest, and what’s worse, it hurts to see other people—good people—in the same boat as you.

You recognize each other, from a distance. That is one consolation. These are your people now. All of you resolve, with frantic phone calls and nightly incantations, to never forgive the people who stuck the swords through your ribs, caressing your vital organs with their teeth. Because fuck that. Why would you? They knew what they were doing. Most of the sword stabbers admit quite happily to the desire to do it again. It seems they’ve grown an appetite for it. Babies wish they'd sleep so well.   

It’s exhausting waking up every day with a sword sticking out of your chest. It’s also—can we just say it?—a little boring. There are other things you’d rather be thinking about than navigating the world in this awkward, painful fashion. 

For the first year, you expect the sword to be removed, possibly by a hero-in-training or a magic spell conjured by a passing crone. But you’ve tried everything you can think of, and the thing won’t budge. It’s as if the sword was a sword, and your chest were a stone. And if that’s a crappy analogy, it’s because analogies are harder to come by now. Creativity? Yes. Also a stone. 

You’d like very much to forget your sword. But the damn thing keeps getting in the way. Even seemingly trivial tasks—like eating in a restaurant, or talking to your neighbor, whose chest is mercifully free of sharp sabers—takes special effort, provoking spasms of anxiety and second-guessing. 

You don’t want to hate your neighbor—who once lent you his grass trimmer, and who has two terriers he dresses in funny sweaters when the weather turns cold—but you’re troubled by his unblemished chest cavity, and the way his smooth, flannel shirt buttons all the way up his neck. More than that, you hate the way his eyes flash down to your sword whenever he’s speaking to you. You think you read contempt in his eyes, though it could also be allergies. Your judgment feels skewed. Is gravity off somehow? There is some added weight.

Oh, right. The sword. 

Sometimes, you’d like to butt him with it. Whack him good and hard, ass down to dirt. But you don’t. You won’t. You mustn’t. Because manners, for one. 

Also you’re better than them. 

It’s not like you to be angry or vengeful. You don’t enjoy anger, were never one of those half-cocked people who sucked on its fumes like astro fuel. Nor are you a saint. If it were up to you (and it’s not), you’d rather leave the disillusionment and uphill battles to others: the broken-hearted, the organizers, the artists and gardeners.  

Still, you have a sword sticking out of your chest and somebody—lots of somebodies—helped put it there. After the first year, you begin to examine their intentions more coolly, recognizing their contributions to their communities and families, how their soft metal reason had been hammered into armor by slick-tongued carnival barkers and money whisperers, probably to protect some monstrous sadness within (you hope). You begin to entertain the notion that forgiveness is conceivable, because if nothing else, you’re alive and you have the power to forgive. You imagine yourself lighter, angelic, free of all earthly entanglements. Jesus. You imagine Jesus. 

The truth is: that sword would be there, with or without your neighbor. Your boss. Your mother and father.  

Sixty-three million people helped wedge it in there, nice and tight, with a shrug or a grunt, eyes open or shut, depending on the deed’s distaste to them. Individually, each sinner’s sin tips the balance but slight. Perhaps it’s you who’s stuck, in some holier-than-thou state martyrs like to mix up for themselves. Life is short. Just ask the corpses with swords sticking out of their chests you have to step over on the way home from work. You might be the hero-in-training your neighbor, your boss, your parents require. You’re not just your flesh. You’re also the love you shine in the wo—

“Damn it!”

You wake up in the wrong position, and the sword has perforated an artery. Did somebody come into your room last night and sit down on your chest? Was that imagined? It seems unlikely. Have you been dreaming? 

Why is reality so—squiggly—of late? Do you need glasses? Is the car engine running? Who let the dog out? Oh, right. It was you. 

Oh, right. You don’t have a dog. 

A very real thing is the blood soaking up your sheets. Darn it. You stuff more gauze inside the hole in your chest, change your sheets, flip the mattress, but the pain persists, dull and affable. It’s a different flavor of pain, two years in, than it was at the outset. It has contours and confidence and throws its roots out like ticklers. But you are benumbed, detachment your drug of cowardice.   

Lately, when running across another sword person, both of you avoid looking at each other’s chests, are careful to position yourself in a way that reduces the incidence of any “ramming” or “clanging.” The sheer persistence of your maladies is embarrassing to you both. Even swords bespeak a powerlessness. And what’s the point in rehashing it all? Blindness is a kind of peace. 

Now, though . . . 

Is there a prescription outside of submission or pain? Leaning, hilt first, into the wall, you deliberate for many months, sliding in and out of consciousness, winter passing into spring, while sunlight spreads a sticky warmth across your eyeballs, like a tarnish marching over wedding silver. 

There is a sword sticking out of your chest. You think it will never quite finish the job. But right now, with your eyes closed, you can feel your heart protest its tip with each beat.  

It isn’t right. 

It’s still not right. 

You fill your lungs and breathe, pausing at maximum intake, before letting it out with a shudder. 


Your eyes open. 

You still hate those motherfuckers.

And that you can’t forgive.