Up above the Sootlands, I march into the Moonlands. Tiered earth shaken apart till only white rock juts above, and here I climb. Below me, the holes emptied for burning bloom upwards, aglow with swift embers conjuring vivid oranges and reds. Even from here I smell the earth, its people kissing, its mortal soils churning, killing. Smoke curls underneath, but from here I catch only the barest musk, indecent pits, malignant bits. Underfoot, rock like the colorless part of ash steadies me, brazen and cracked. No bushes, no little ferns announce themselves present. Only the pebbled filaments of ancient years crushing heavy upon themselves, compounding life itself into the bald plane that’s splayed like a flat pearl beneath my feet.
It has been four years without rain, and all is as bone. I have come to the above part to die, to lay myself down upon something bleached and unabashed in its barrenness. Within me I can feel the sinking, and like a cat gone feral with its own ruin, I seek a curve of hidden earth to lie against for the last time. The fires below burn not for the heat, that we have enough of, but for the ash. The ash we eat. Although it coats the throat and provokes loud coughing, turns the mouth black, still it is easier to swallow than its former form. What they burn and give us for feed, we are not told. But dark, far inside, we know. It is the ash or return to ash ourselves.
The sun when I was young, shone bright, many warnings were made to not gaze directly at it. Now it pulses opaline in a sky muted by so many vapors. Like the pearl of a ground that stretches below me, the sun hangs hard and white, glinting only when you crane your neck just so. The moon, when it comes, burns red.
There! I have found a cleft in the whiteness. Here I will lie. Here a river once ran, strong and screaming enough to carve canyons, to make rock itself bend a knee. I have not had water for 18 days. They sell now powdered hydration. Nothing like water itself, the substitute leeches acrid odors from its pouch and creates a grainy film across the teeth. They say though, it does wonders for soothing thirst. But that exists only for those few who have the means. It is a luxury with an expense. I’ve satisfied my need, here and there, by slicing my palm, but I have grown weary of the same wound again, again. There is a business in the professional Criers, they who weep abysmally, and sell petite vials of tears for obscene amounts, to nourish the throats of those rich ones crazed with yearning. I tried once, to cry. I do not know what it means to achieve such a feeling any longer.
Yes, here. I have not bothered with clothing for some time – not only is it too hot, it is too costly. But today I’ve taken a bit of the ash, and spread it over the tops of my feet in the hope I will not pass naked and alone. Underneath, the shouting has begun. It is distribution time. Feeding time. I wish only to deny them my death. I wish only the reassurance of what was once pressing, unforgiving, below me. I wish only the bone of my spine melting into ossein earth, some momentary flourish of sensing two disparate rots rejoined.
Kelsey Gray is a writer and visual artist living in Portland, Oregon whose work broadly concerns sickness, corporeal experiences of the divine, and the florid nature of memory. She is a 2015 graduate of Lewis and Clark College with a degree in studio art. Her written work has been published in The Nashville Review, Big Big Wednesday, Maudlin House, and self-published chapbooks.