Fiction: Miranda Mellis
I am winding around a river in scarves. I become a fish. I am an eel with a man’s head, swimming in an ancient tributary, over gemstones. I finally grow feet, legs, arms, hands and I climb to shore. I walk, naked, and as I walk I sing. As I sing, I grow clothing, the way that fish grow scales, or birds grow feathers. The clothing is swinging with me as I step out onto a trampoline. Slowly, I flip up into the air and am caught by strong arms … a tambourine floats into my hands. I float over a wedding ceremony, playing the tambourine. Nobody sees me but they hear the tambourine overhead. The people are getting married, they all kiss each other, they roll around in the grass and shout. A woman is shouting from a mountain, all her despair, she is ripping things apart, now a newspaper, now a car engine, behind her a thirty million shooting stars. The people walk up the mountain, carrying their light. They are singing, “One day … one day.”
Without meaning it, I find myself in your throat. Glitter floats out of your eyes, and we are sound. The tap dancers are putting out their libations, and the trumpeters have decided to devote themselves to everyone, universally, despite everything. Sister is wearing her green Forgiveness Cloak: it fits all sentient beings. In this sacred crossroads, the invaders look in the mirror, and they retreat, they march to the cemetery to undo their ancestor’s crimes. The invaders, on the backs of machines, their eyes and ears, mouths and lungs, full of thorns, are scratching. To be heroes is to give back everything, and to bow out. In this story, the land is restored. In this story, a mass of white faces are washing blood from their hands, blood from their money, and giving it all back, prostrate. They give up the one haranguing harp that had become their metaphysics, “What’s on the other side?” “How can I make it a possession?” Everything grew hard under that touch, hard and lifeless, not just bodies, but spirits became things to lay out on the altar of sale … no coin was old enough, no gold rare enough to buy back the wisdom they sold, for the sake of chains wrapped around muscles, to make a body a machine. “We’re nothing, and nothing will help us.”
The earthlings woke up and the sun was shining on their musical instruments, arrayed in readiness. They dressed up for the sun, on such days. In this way a holiday could not be planned for. Not even the weathermen could prepare for the sun. Simply, when the sun came out, it was a holiday and everything else was put aside. They dressed in their sun garments and went into it, moving along with it, living sundials. They became leaves, flowers, and birds, heliotropic. They swam in this light, climbed trees and towers to be closer to it. Painted, drew and sang the sun. All disputation and production was set aside for this universal love of the sun, shared and celebrated by all. “I remember standing by the wall”—they recounted their best holiday stories—“the sun shone over our heads. And we kissed.” One day was all that was needed—this one, that one, the one in which the sun shone down, the one sun, and all were turned towards it. No next day; no prior day. Just this day. They melted into the flagstones, the grasses, the sand, the sidewalks, wrapped in this warm season, for now, is the saying of the sun.
Sounds make shapes that limbs can trace, this is what we call dancing. What bodies do is, as if in water, they sway. They forego accusation and blame for the duration. When they are sung to, they know they are blessed. They get so blessed they go crazy. They can only handle so much blessing, so they start to run, and jump, to shake and throw their hands up. This is why the people love rain: because to be rained on is to remember about dancing and music. Often, you will see people in the world, and also in movies, dancing when the rain falls, or dancing to bring the rain. Once in a big schoolyard I danced with my best friend. She was twelve and I was thirteen. We sang in pouring rain and danced and flung our bodies around. The whole yard was empty, everyone was in class, but we couldn’t go inside, we had to be together in the rain. We sang-shouted, “LOVE! RAIN ON ME!” over and over, and it did, it did.
They fanned the hot animals, and bathed their feet. They brushed them and fed them. They whispered so as not to wake the sleeping ones. They nuzzled, rubbed and tickled the ears of the animals, who love, above all, to have their ears regarded with considerate, sweet fingers. Ears are pleasure universes. Music comes through the ears, and out of the mouth—the ears and the mouth are a couple. The ears are related to the feet, whose whorls and movements respect the messages that the ears convey. Whatever we hear, the world is saying. The distance also seems to listen. The distance can be imagined this way: wearing shoes, to stay out walking forever.
Count to seven: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. Now who are you? Count to seventeen: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17. On the beat: now who are you? Up tempo: who are you? Early raptures, early cares. They cared for different things then, and some still do. Everyone cares at different phases and levels. The world is an old, old woman, and we are infants. We can’t imagine her death, we don’t even know ourselves separate from her. But she knows death, and has seen other planets die. She remembers when there was water on Mars. Do you think that rain, rivers, and oceans consider themselves separate nations, or old friends? Do you think that soil is a nation, and rocks? Are tree roots countries, with customs agents of sorts? What about air, our cosmological constant? Where would we be without you, air? Who can remember a time before breathing? Isn’t that called sleep, or death? When you are asleep, who are you? Three Gray Jays fling themselves into the next set of Cedar branches, which accommodate gravely (showing gravity). Oh, the laws of this place, so mysterious and specific. Three gray things, jays themselves.
What instrument is that? I’ve heard it before. How is it that you go from one word and sound to another? How do you keep time? What allows you to bend sound and yet keep time? What is time when it bends inside of a rhythm like that? When I am swimming, it is much like that, though I swim nowhere. When the rain falls, does it have a rhythm? How many flowers are opening at the same time any given moment? Yesterday a hard red flower, like vinyl, opened suddenly. It was as big as the face of a cat. In the center, a sapphire vault of pollen. How did it know when to open? For so long, it had been hard and closed, while behind it, a tower of foxgloves slowly opened, one flower at a time, like the windows of a building in the morning. Some of us are leaves, some of us are stems, and some of us are flowers, passionately exhorting. A flower is a mind, and also an ear.
Miranda Mellis is the author of Demystifications (forthcoming, Solid Objects). Other books and chapbooks include The Instead, The Spokes, None of This Is Real, The Quarry, and The Revisionist. She has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction and has been an Artist in Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts and the Millay Colony. She co-founded The Encyclopedia Project and teaches at Evergreen State College.
Check out HFR’s book catalog, publicity list, submission manager, and buy merch from our Spring store. Follow us on Instagram and YouTube.