Kathryn Hargett

The Myth of Oracle Bones

I say his name like a car crash. I say it again, let its syllables rebel against my tongue. I name him Holofernes, Tereus—a boy I can mold to swallows, a boy whose head I can spar around in my hands.     

*

In dreams, my teeth are walnuts falling into my hands, my gums red icing. I lick them sugar-clean. I strip off my skin and box it into small, neat squares, hang them on trees in the backyard. I compartmentalize and preserve my organs in formaldehyde, labeling them by size and corruption. Every part of me he has touched—sterile at last.

*

After the assault, the closet opens like a mouth, shoves me out in a wad of spit. For hours, I sit on the carpet, kneading my bones like rosaries, my body unwoven. He has slid my head through an ice chipper again. It hangs in strips over the couch, the light bulbs, the air hockey table. Soon, I will be  reconstructed out of grease and ox bone. I will jackal on all fours, slouching through the day with my claws scraping the floor. I want to be dangerous. I want to be a killer.

*

In thermodynamic terms, all organic tissues are composed of chemical energy, which, when not maintained by the constant biochemical maintenance of the living organism, begin to chemically break down.

*

I try keeping plants around the house. I line herbs on the kitchen window where we sometimes watch rain collect in the driveway, but it hasn’t rained in months. I name them biblical: Jonah, Constantine. I water the basil daily, keep the fly trap submerged. The cilantro flowers within weeks, small white blooms with coriander hearts, and the basil blackens at the root. Dead leaves collect around its feet like hair.

*

Except there is no before the assault. Of course, I’d like to imagine myself soft and domestic: something without teeth. A girl in a white dress banging spoons on the kitchen counter. A girl sewing lattices into silk, never sticking herself with the needle. But I know I have always walked like a wild dog, with my shoulders hunched up and cut geometric-clean. There have always been hands.

*

In alchemy, putrefaction is the same as fermentation, whereby a substance is allowed to rot or decompose undisturbed. In some cases, the commencement of the process is facilitated with a small sample of the desired material to act as a ‘seed.’

*

The best dreams are the ones where I cleave the air with switchblades and shriek until my throat becomes butchered meat. In these dreams, I am an Amazon, a body of steel traps. I am the bad guy. I pull out my hair and cut off my breasts and beat my feet against the earth until it pings back to me. But more often than not, my dreams are nothing but closed doors— a dead nightingale plummeting to the ocean—his hands in my mouth—voices growing in the dark—

*

I plant succulents in my bedroom, set them in glass globes on the bedside table. I stare at them for weeks, waiting for the pillars to break through the dirt. Only two ever sprout—tiny green tongues—and the agave never germs.

*

The only thing I know about him are loci, places that orbit around him like gnats in the summer: Texas, basement, backyard, abdomen. Often I find myself locked in the closet again and my throat closes, a boy running his tongue along my neck. My intestines unwind like yarn in my palms. He’s there—he’s there—the boy with gunsmoke fingers. They tell me I’m paranoid; go back to sleep.

*

My therapist tells me that I should sit in the closet with a necklace of human teeth and knead my knuckles until they blister.

*

The approximate time it takes putrefaction to occur is dependent on various factors. Internal factors that affect the rate of putrefaction include the age at which death has occurred, the overall structure and condition of the body, the cause of death, and external injuries arising before or after death. External factors include environmental temperature, moisture and air exposure, clothing, burial factors, and light exposure.

*

Sometimes I walk into the attic and pull out trash bags stuffed with my old clothes and I press them to my face, feeling the fabric against my cheeks. I was so young, so birdlike and toothless. But I cannot bring myself to calling them my virgin dresses.

*

Soon, weeds sprout from every crevice of my bedroom, and vines cover the walls. They’re everywhere, from the cracks of the bedframe to the soft flesh of my cuticles. Call me Max—call me Beast. I want to be a killer.

*

The hardest part is his facelessness. I cannot scale my hands over his nose or dig my nails into his skin. I couldn’t gouge out his eyes if I wanted to. Instead, my thumbs scry dirty sheets, the black wound of the closet, the leaves of oak trees.

*

My therapist tells me that I ought to carry a shotgun.

*

The visual result of gaseous tissue-infiltration is notable bloating of the torso and limbs. The increased internal pressure of the continually rising volume of gas further stresses, weakens, and separates the tissues constraining the gas. In the course of putrefaction, the skin tissues of the body eventually rupture and release the bacterial gas. As the anaerobic bacteria continue consuming, digesting, and excreting the tissue proteins, the body’s decomposition progresses to the stage of skeletonization.

*

Everywhere I go, I walk holding my organs outside my body. I orbit around the house spewing prophesies from the folds of the tissues: I predict my mother’s death from the curve of my liver— the birds held like a caduceus in the dog’s soft maw. Soon, they rot like tangerines and return to the earth.

*

Almost all of my plants have died or are in some form of decay. The fly trap’s head has blackened to soot, and the basil has withered and fallen away. I return home one morning to find my cacti dark and lying on their side in the terrarium, and for a while I stare at my dead plants, their tombs lined in a row on the windowsill.

*

The virgin uterus is the last to putrefy.

*

Thought: I am a bad survivor because the assault made me into roots, bitter and knuckled. I mean, I have never melted easy on the tongue. But now I find myself moving through the underbrush with my ears flat against my head, with my arms cocked back and ready to strike. I pass the men with their pith helmets and muskets, and I want to tell them that I am a cannibal, that I am evil, that if anyone touches me again I swear to God, I’ll kill them, I will, but I don’t talk for days. I smile ugly. My laugh makes everyone uncomfortable.

Kathryn Hargett

Kathryn Hargett is a college kid from Alabama, Pushcart-nominee, and Kundiman fellow in poetry. Her work has been recognized by Princeton University, the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the National YoungArts Foundation, the Alabama Writers Forum, the Poetry Society of the United Kingdom, and others. She is editor-in-chief of TRACK//FOUR, a literary magazine for people of color. Her work has been published by or is forthcoming from The Adroit Journal, |tap| magazine, The Blueshift Journal, A-Minor Magazine, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. She tweets @taipeisausage.

 

Next