I see her; I carry her. I wish to let her go.
I dreamed of a river, clear water over red clay, a river that I have dreamed of many times before. Alligators, salamanders, life rafts, my child: this river has pulled much below its surface. It is a nameless river, forever shifting breadth and turbulence, sometimes tannic, reflective like the brooding Okefenokee, others briny, sulfrous like the tidal creeks of the marsh; once white with water swirling over slick sharp rocks, as alligators three times the length of my body watched from the shore. Despite its changing face, the river resides in my dreams rooted to the mountains of north Georgia, near the mountain on which I made up my own religion, conceived a child, married.
The river has carried and drowned me, taken my child, my lover, born me swiftly to the reptilian jaws of death. It is a nightmare river, a river of cleansing and hunger, trial and loss. I have hunted and been hunted on its shores, sought haven in the damp chill of its caves, screamed from the slip-surfaces of its rocks as it tore the body of my child from me. In this river I sweat, cry, swallow, choke; not a floating river, not a torpid river, it is sharp and unforgiving in its depths.
The night before last the river was clear, currents subtle, swift as a mountainside stream. My father was there, a blind man, a beast.
On a bare mattress beside my beloved I sat in the bedroom of my father’s house and crushed the ants that crawled from the neatly chewed hole in my thigh.
The beast threatened, a primate of sorts with tangled brown hair, long slim fangs sharp protruding from gums bleached with rage. It was a party, a wedding party. The beast advanced.
I kissed him, held his hand- rough but tender, like old cracked leather. I kissed the blind man. He saw; look, he said, your breast. He cupped it, astonished; I love you, he said.
A magician- a short slender transman with hipster suspenders, pale skin, plaid shirt- offered to read our fortune. He broke things, silver plates, made estimates from the shards: how many pubic hairs we had, how long we might live. He prepared a dish for the groom, my friend: babaganoush. The groom ate his babaganoush as we stood by the river.
Look, Danny, I said, and pointed to the river, an eagle! That’s good luck. Belatedly I realized the eagle- a bald eagle, floating spread-winged with tufts of broken feathers that fluttered absurdly round a broken neck- was dead. Danny smiled awkwardly.
Then we saw the horse, a white horse, entirely submerged below the surface. Head over tail she rolled; her legs curled peacefully, opalescent hooves elegantly curved, lifting. Her neck, slender, unsoiled, tossed gracefully side to side; her cheeks- a fluid, exquisite curve, nostrils soft, pale pink lips unparted- tossed upwards as if she sought to sip from the surface; peacefully, beautifully, effortlessly her corpse rolled in the currents. Eyes closed as in sleep, her eyelashes, mane, tail shimmered, a silky flash of cream pearlescent round her dance of death, untangled.
That horse could be alive, someone murmured. She tumbled, a gleam of white, belly exposed, legs spread; her body curled and stretched- a heart beat, an implosion of muscle, hair, hooves; thin streams of red clay swirled in her wake. I looked for her horn. At moments, as she twisted, she seemed to be a woman, a bloodless dead peaceful woman with one weightless breast.
It occurred to me that in this river clear and quick nothing would stop her from rolling. She was dead, forced to dance, a devil’s dance bewitched by the skim of sunlight on a deceptively shallow surface to appear peaceful, alive.
I wondered if she would bloat, break, rot, her breast turned to the sun like a jewel as her limbs ripped from her body. Could she disintegrate, or would the river carry her perpetually, a false front of grace, purity, peace?
A beautiful dead horse rolled head over ass in the currents of the river, imprisoned, exalted, exposed.
That horse could be alive, someone- a man- murmured. That horse could be alive.