At the end of the wilderness was a cave
The first man and woman died peacefully in their sleep. The stars dimmed their light out of respect. Their children fasted for forty days. On the last day of fasting, they feasted and told stories about them. Thus they lived on, in memory. Omaden Puwil’s body was thrown in the ocean, where it sank to the bottom and blossomed; Tabe Pordugil’s body was buried in the mountains, where trees took root and nourished themselves with his essence.
The souls of Omaden Puwil and Tabe Pordugil were led through the wilderness by the cold hand of Sapos Sinoksa, deliverer of souls. These parts of creation are only visible to those unencumbered by flesh. At the end of the wilderness was a cave, guarded by a large black panther. Its muscular body glistened in the moonlight, its claws shined, its yellow eyes glowed. Upon their arrival, it bared its teeth and began to speak, but they did not see it move its mouth. It said: “I am Arimat, guardian of the gate and devourer of the unworthy. Tell me who goes there.”
Said the man and woman: “We are Omaden Puwil and Tabe Pordugil, the first born. We were there in the beginning, now we long for the embrace of the One Who Made Us. We desire to be truly united.”
Arimat growled and stood up. It walked in the shadows, every step made the ground tremble. It said, “We have been waiting for you. Upon your entrance to the cave, all your memories shall be left behind for me to eat. This is the price of death. If you are unwilling to leave what you have already left behind, then you may return as spirit. But I warn you: without flesh to house your memories and a mouth to satisfy your bodily cravings, you will drop your memories along the way and be consumed by your own hunger. Thus you will live in the purposeless darkness of forgetfulness, causing only destruction among those who are still alive, and when the time comes, I shall hunt you through the memories you have dropped, and I will devour you whole.”
Omaden Puwil and Tabe Pordugil shivered in terror, but they stood firm. They said, “We long for the embrace of the One Who Made Us. Grant us passage into peaceful oblivion, O Great and Mighty Beast.”
The animal smiled and nodded, and it disappeared in the darkness. Sapos Sinoksa led them through, and what happens afterward only God knows. All darkness is forgetfulness.
Carl Cervantes is a psychology grad student based in the Philippines. His pieces have been mostly self-published, but his work has also appeared in Rappler, Rambutan Literary, Heights Ateneo, and The Youth is On Fire.
Hunger After Dark
Riding my secondhand bike / through my secondhand childhood / neighborhood of HUD-funded houses, / I circled a man, / clad head to toe in camo, / wielding a hunting knife, / skinning a dead squirrel / atop a dead car. // I thought / that was poverty. / I thought / squirrels & rabbits / were poor people food. / Meanwhile, I dined / on instant ramen & government cheese, / wild onions pulled / from the backwoods / &, on special occasions, / blue box mac & cheese. // Classmates called me / Skeleton, / pointing / at sharp bones / & blue veins visible / beneath my pallid skin, / home sewn & hand-me-down clothes / hanging / from my thin, rickety limbs. / But none of them / could ride a bike / as fast as me. // I rode past / the man, / the knife, / the car & the squirrel, / passing his son, / a tough, dirt-faced little boy, / younger than me, / smiling / with a cigarette / dangling / from his broken teeth. // I heard / my mother’s voice / rising / in the night air, / calling me / home. / Sometime before sunrise, / my bike disappeared.
V.C. McCabe is an Appalachian poet, the author of Give the Bard a
Tetanus Shot (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2019), and a Contributing
Poetry Editor of Barren Magazine. Her work has appeared, or is
forthcoming, in such journals as Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, The
Minnesota Review, Appalachian Heritage, Coffin Bell, and Yes Poetry.
Her website is vcmccabe.com.
When I was six you took me to CVS, the one with the man ringing his bell outside, the one with the woman dropping lipsticks into her purse who winked at me when I stared, the one with the children rolling out pink bubblegum tape until someone tall noticed. I had a cold and you were being a good dad, one that took me places and held my hand and bought me antibiotics at a counter I wasn’t big enough to look over. I tugged at the bottom of your jeans. Why is it taking so long. Why does my throat hurt. Why don’t the tiles all line up the way they should. You asked me to lower my voice and to stop pulling so hard, I’ll rip the seams, but what if I want to rip the seams, but what if I. You grabbed my shoulders and yanked me up onto the counter and said you’d buy me honey for my throat if I was good. Being close to your face was thrilling in some quiet, almost scary way, seeing the thicks of your eyeballs, the way they seemed so deep and shallow all at once. I got quiet in the fear of our proximity, noticing that your breath smelled bad (like asphalt and egg sulfur), noticing that I couldn’t remember being so close to you, noticing I had never been so close as to smell your breath like I was now.
You mistook my silence for goodness and grabbed the white paper bag that looked like a school lunch, one that you might pack me if we were the kind of father and daughter who knew what each other’s breath smelled like, and you bought me honey. When we got outside, back where the man with his bell was asking for something you told me not to listen to, you ripped the seal off the plastic bear’s head and cut your thumb while tearing it and poured the honey straight into my mouth, just like that, the concrete and the children around us, finger prick bleeding, you and me and the sidewalk like three estranged objects accidently being in the same place.
I loved you, swallowing the honey.
We went home. Honey is mostly sugar and nothing else. I got a stomachache and you can’t take antibiotics for colds anyways. I coughed so much my eyes watered, but I noticed the flecks of sugary gold, in between all the mucus.
My mother is eating overripe bananas in Japan. It is summer and vividly so, the flowers she took from the open-air market drooping under the density of heat, grasped mindlessly between her sweating palms. My mother is sixteen. She buys the brown, spotted fruits because they are the cheapest. She takes the tender calico peel of a banana between her hands and undoes it. Lets the folds of yellow spotted brown hang heavy over itself. Thin strings of fiber vaguely protect the interior, which is already so browned and battered it seems to her someone must have crushed this banana under their foot and then put it back into the pile of sale produce while no one was watching. She reveals the starchy center of the fruit, peeking out and looking almost naked in its whiteness, though dented and bruised on most of its edges. The flesh of the banana is soft, sickeningly so, heavy in its near-fermented sugars. My mother doesn’t need to chew the fruit; gravity pulling on the top half of her jaw and saliva alone are enough to digest the flesh, and digest it does, breaking down into fat morsels on her tongue before sliding down her throat, still thick and gummy as it travels south.
My mother’s host family smiles politely when she comes home, sweating, smelling of something so sweet it is certainly rotten, and clutching dead flowers, the source of which they do not ask. They know a boy could not have bought them for her because she doesn’t know enough Japanese to even ask someone for their name. My mother pulls her hair, wide with humidity, out from the knot at the equator of her skull and mumbles the greeting she has memorized only phonetically and slides the door to her room behind her body. She hasn’t noticed the flowers are so limp, until she softens into the wood floor and looks at the crumpled things, already dead and it is only noon. She spills the browned bananas from her bag onto the floor, freckled and rotting, their scent sweet and thick and clinging to the air with the stubbornness of sugar. My mother sits up, and she waits for summer to end.
To Barn Cat/Lizard/Garlic
Lizard blood drains metal in her mouth. Damn the cats raised in barns who don’t remember the dry food I put out in the mornings for them. Drag a reptile into the house, half alive while she wails at my feet with pride, scaled body fat in the middle between two teeth inherited from bigger beasts. Purring. Taste of butterfly wings, taste of lightning strike, taste of a dead thing with two thin arms rigor mortis-ing at attention in the air. Tail splintered off in another corner of the room, moving like something possessed, body lost but not forsaken quite yet. Take scales between teeth and believe it to be an offering. Gift, maybe. Leave him belly side up, wiped blue on the sides, shining like something alive and I wait for him to twitch. Paper towel funeral home, a burial party of one, fling reptile body into garden and call it compost.
Taste of the garlic buds erupted green in the kitchen before I could crush them onto bread. So I push the buds into the soil and wait for their bodies to become shiny and sticky again. Taste of lizard-flesh-soil, maybe. Spring cracks open and I wash the garlic when I pick it from the dirt, make plants into food, something animal into something art. A lizard burial turned to the sweet brutality of garlic smell. Garlic shells wither while I forget to eat them, my pearly produce breaking green again, and the former barn cat brings in a new sacrifice I must queasily throw back into the ground, wait to decompose, wait to dissolve into something I can cut and then consume.
Olivia Treynor is a Barnard College student from the upper half of California. She is a 2020 YoungArts Finalist and a Scholastic Art & Writing American Voices Medal recipient. Her work appears in or is forthcoming in Phoebe Journal, 4×4 Magazine, Canvas Literary Journal, and elsewhere. She loves lakes but is scared of the ocean.