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Birkensnake 2 cover

Birkensnake 2

From now on all I’ll talk about is light

Blake Butler

In the cold summers, as the dirt rose, I’d have each child stand before me in the yard. With the protrusions of their bodies I’d beat the life out of the rug — one massive cloth encroachment I’d stretched to fit the whole house. This method would coax more shit out of the deeper folds, where if allowed to sit the skin and spit would turn to cream. It also kept my hands from cracking on the wrap of the whip handle, from which my blood would spill and make stench to cull the wasps — not that they wouldn’t be, regardless. Already we could not see the sun.

A child is made of nothing, I would say into the air around the children so that they could say it back. What is put against him sticks to him forever without end, which is the reason anything goes wrong.

The children’s eyes made prisms. The rugthump punctured their voices as if they had been thrown down long windowed halls.

When I could no longer read one child’s face through the dander, I continued with the next.

Sometimes the children would wear skin hoods. That was how I liked them best.

There was never any prayer.

*

After the beatings, in the tent, the children would get fed what we had made. Termite shit and cogs of smog hair and gash columns made from rubbing, plus whatever the house had sucked up in my absence and whatever sleep speech and gnashing I had given up that month. The kids, for their part, brought cloths I’d use to clear their clotted lungs and nostrils with the hammer and the stick. I could smell the smell of mothers rubbed into the fabric, gifts for parting hours. Sometimes the smell would make me moisten. The children’s underskin was made of skin as well. Where I touched would go tattooed. I could count them out from overhead: There I am. There I am.

By day’s end I was randy and electric. In the den my steak knives stuck together while I fit my fingers in my fold.

In the attic was a wax bath, with which I kept my and Sister’s mind at ease.

I could not stop throwing up.

*

On the back rim of the schoolhouse the wasps continued with their hive. Each year I let them work well into the season. I liked their wingbeat in the evening. I liked the rind they’d form on Sister’s body; her black feet rustled with their buzzing, prophesying walk. I knew she would. I knew she would. We wore her hair in silver knots like mine.

Each year, as summer shifted and licked in glass across the pond, I knew the cold months were coming when on some certain evening I’d become incensed. I’d work myself into a lather in which all I could think about was rupturing the hive: that mass of doors and windows through none of which I’d ever fit.

The first year I used a seven-foot machete.

The second year I shot a beam out of my eyes: radiance earned purely from my fury over Sister — her whole eyes not quite what wherever — and perhaps concerned slightly for my hymen, undulating, which in the night would keep me up, ragged, counting my inhale, waiting on the rheum. At my emission the children moaned a little, rattling their hands, their own eyes lit as if in midst of replication, one thing I’d taught at last, at least — though in their eyes the light would quickly rupture or make paisley and I would sit us down to practice wishing.

From the hive meat we’d make rings that fit our fingers. Each one I kept as mine.

Each year, as we got older, the hive grew back faster and took more to knock down. At first it had resembled my pincushion, soft with something solid in the center, though by the second year it was more a harpsichord. The third year it shrank to a corsage, but by the fourth again it made a booming white balloon, in reign over the yard.

By the fifth year you could not hear the beatbox of my cleaning, nor the children hacking up and on their mangled sums. The children were older now, my height. We looked each other in the eyes and each time shuddered. Our sweat grew richer with recycle. My piss came neon yellow, cold.

At night the black glass bloomed above my bed. I could not concentrate on rubbing. Underneath me, Sister teeming. Sister of no words, no matter how I organized her gums.

I tried to make another backyard of the buzzing but my nails could not cut through the doubled sod.

I tried to fit myself into the skimmer. I tried to find the center of the hive — but by now, for all my anger, in the rasp of cells my skin just made more blushed.

The age came for me faster.

*

By the year my lungs were gristle, the hive was more than I could rend by light alone. The schoolyard stood white and sizzling. I learned to trick my arm into a rifle. I couldn’t aim by seeing. I had to close my eyes.

By the year the children’s mothers could no longer fit the children’s heads into the cars to bring them on, I had to rent a wrecker. The hive was the size of my whole house. Was my house. Was in me. Was me. Was.

I called the renting men the names they wanted. I lost my nails trying to writhe the right way. Inside their barn I showed the men the claw marks on my tonsils where the rash was coming up. I shaved. I made a stairwell of my body. I rang me. I walked out with the keys cold on my tongue.

By the year the roof opened over nowhere, I tried to beat the hive in halves for miles by wielding Sister’s last wax torso, fat with layers laid by layer, the way the children also grew. I could still see her in there somewhat, her new mesh chest hardened where my sister lips had kissed. Inside the year we took turns breathing back and forth through one another with what air we had left, while around us the hive compiled the light to buzz and brick, a home.