JR Fenn

I. Because Everything Was Removed from Us

Zero. We came to an island with cold shores.

One. Formerly, hedges patchworked the fields and turned the roads to green mazes. With the hedges razed, the nuthatches fled. Brown stumps grew from the ground.

Two. The beavers disappeared into their dams. The rains swept them away.

Three. Thousands of badgers curled in their dens as the rain pooled over their young. The hunters came in the night, their hands empty of animals, their searchlights dampened, their calls lost in the mist.

Four. The ship at Sutton Hoo raised off its mound, its treasure afloat: battle helmets, broken hatchets, knuckle bones of thanes. All the interpreters quit, the site abandoned, a horse's head raised on a pole turned to sea.

Five. The Queen of O. unearthed with her cow, her status assured by the price of beasts. A king exhumed from a parking lot, his bones arranged in a velvet case, his death mask cast in wax, photographed and circulated.

Six. An abandoned abattoir, blackberries in winter, the sun behind a twisted tree. All of these signs told us we too would pass.

Seven. We climbed into bed as the boy racers gunned their engines on the bluffs and our neighbor's hair fell from her head, her eyes bright with death.

Eight. She passed me, turbaned, in the grocery store. I kept walking.

Nine. Once a month, I still bled.

Ten. And bled again.


II. Because Events Have Their Own Unfolding

Eleven. We built our homes in alluvial plains and cried when the rains came. We drove to high ground and watched our villages fill with water. In colored boats we kayaked through streets we had once walked—the greengrocer's, the butcher's, the post office swamped, the water line up to our door lintels, welcome lanterns hooked and lit above the water's currents.

Twelve. The winds blew bricks out of bridges, off the tops of garden walls, down from the arches of church belfries and night-dappled ruins. In the cities, the winds toppled the fronts of buildings into the streets. Piles of bricks made sarcophagi of cars. Sirens in the distance. Three dead—one upon arrival and two at the hospital: grievous blood loss.

Thirteen. We couldn't explain how our world had changed without our knowledge. We couldn't explain how our world wouldn't change despite our knowledge.

Fourteen. The old man in the windmill laughed. For decades, no one had listened.

Fifteen. At night on the farms, dogs howled and hid from the rain on mudded stoops. A farmer woke to a litter of pups, a bloody caul on the welcome mat, his dog old and still as her brood swarmed at her flank.

Sixteen. The commons turned to ponds, the rivers to lakes, the meads to small square seas. Transit maps gone useless, satnavs bounced us back and forth between identical roundabouts. Islands and villages disappeared, rivers changed course. We built new routes for the water, concrete channels, hoping to curb abstract patterns yet to occur. Town planners studied the physics of water.

Seventeen. Seaside pubs washed into the sea, walkers on sea walls washed into the sea, sea walls washed into the sea. A woman lost her toddling grandson to the sea. People drowned as they failed to save their dogs drowning in the sea. Couples on beaches washed into the sea, gawkers at giant waves washed into the sea, a teenage boy jumped from a ferry, overwhelmed by rain. We searched for weeks and couldn't find them or any sign of them.

Eighteen. Eventually we called off the searches.

Nineteen. We moved to escape the rain, the sadness of the rain.

Twenty. It rained still.


III. Because of What We Could Not Know, Inside

Twenty-One. In our beds in the mornings, rain fell. Rain fell outside our windows, against the windowpanes, on our roofs. Rain found the cracks in the shingles, the holes in the walls, the porous foundations and earth basements that led to open stairwells. All the damp men in the county couldn't erect enough damp barriers to keep the rain from our houses, much as they wrapped them in plastic, doubled and tripled the layers. Runnels of water pooled in the ceilings, drips sounded, brown patches crept overhead, water leaked from light fixtures, seeped through our closets. Forests of white mold sprouted over our clothes, spread, erupted in our bed.

Twenty-Two. We threw it all away. Water seeped through the walls, under the floorboards. We didn't know until the floorboards rose into sharp peaks. The sewers full, the ground soaked, the drains clogged, the water pooled at our ankles in the tub, impossible to sluice away from the skin.

Twenty-Three. The rain settled deep in the body, trickled down the back of the head and into all the bones' hollows. Our raincoats sodden, our rain boots soaked, water dripped from our hair and plastered our trousers to our legs. The rain surrounded our bodies in blurred, breathing auras. It followed us to the pub, where we ate lambs born in waterlogged fields. It followed us to ancient sites, our faces condensed with dew on mossy hummocks atop rock islands that teetered above the sea. Our mouths glistened with storm-spatter, our hands left damp trails when we touched.

Twenty-Four. We watched effigies burn on promontories, all the lighthouse windows thrown open, naval destroyers ablaze like miniature cities out to sea. After the bonfire, the fireworks began as a fairground behind us flung screamers to the heavens. No amount of rain could baffle those pyrotechnics, the largest display in Europe. The boats bobbed in the harbor under plumes of light, the spent shells hissed as they fell in the water, the smoke drifted in clouds that covered the water, the boats, the shore, the people gathered in forsaken clumps on the jetties. Afterwards, in the dark of a house still shaken by explosions, we clung to each other as beer-slurred shouts echoed against the buildings. Sunk down below the garden, we breathed the same breath and fell still as the window rattled beside us in our dreams.

Twenty-Five. We tangled in farmhouse sheets in a valley. The tide of the river pulled the current in two directions. We wandered too far through the spruce forest, we called home, we lost reception, we found our way with a trail-stained map. By the banks of the river at the foot of a roofless abbey we sat and watched a white cow roam through the grass of the nave. On a ridge above the valley the air glowed under wet leaves, the trees in ancient squats and upward gnarls. Through the shrub gaps, high meadows in the distance. Something waxed in our bodies above the ruins, already kindled.

Twenty-Six. Our daughter.

Twenty-Seven. At first we walked the recreation ground in circles, the springy foam of the red track buoyant to the soles of the feet, endless. We strolled along the streets to the great park, past the playground middled by a spreading oak, along the path where the water birds padded to find bread on webbed feet built for creatures triple their size. We walked past a small bronze bear, down an avenue of trees, along rows of vases in glass cases, to chocolate muffins in a café with tiled floors. The autumn settled on the city, everything turned gold, the air crisp to the nose. Buffetings of rain stripped the brown leaves off the trees, the pavements fresh in the mornings.

Twenty-Eight. Breakfasts of color—blueberries, mangoes, kiwis, and strawberries with toasted oats, yoghurt the thickness of cream. The greengrocer's storefront beckoned with harvest-light, baskets of pumpkins and gourds, boxes of root vegetables, apples, and more apples, shelves fresh with dark greens and herbs, tables of purple sprouting broccoli. The milky sweetness of rambutan, the citrus of pomelo pulled apart by our fingers, juice on the skin.

Twenty-Nine. Blood in the mornings, blood and fear. The rush of blood where there should be none, the wish to stop it, to unbleed. Fear of walking, fear of climbing stairs, fear of eating for fear of bleeding. Fear of the colors on the paper, the bright red of crimson, the water in the toilet bowl with blood spreading. Fear of the rain, the cold lashings. Fear of the body in its wayward unfolding, its cloaked trajectory charted in cell divisions. Wishing the body hermetic, wishing so hard the wish feels puny compared to the force behind the wish—a lone feather pushed on a tsunami wave.

Thirty. Water sticky on belly skin, the body's insides resolved and scattered in black and white with the sonographer's eye, the slick head of the device. Pockets of water in black on the screen, pockets between organs, inside them. In the center of the body, in the still middle, cushioned by soft balloons of water, the white ribs of a spine, an arm moving through oceanic fluid, a face in profile, its edges dusted in light.


IV. Because of What We Could Not Control

Thirty-One. The hedgehogs died from the weather changes. They abandoned their homes for our lawns. One of them lay in the back garden, swarming with flies at snout and tail. Another crawled on to root in the gravel outside the pub with snuffles of joy in the dark. Advised by talk show hosts how to save them, we set out small dishes of bread and milk, untouched until the swans crawled up the riverbank like prehistoric fish driven to die on land. The white aggressors chased the cats past our back doors and laid their eggs under the half-parched willows.

Thirty-Two. Those willows turned yellow in autumn. Storms strewed their limbs over the ground, in the water, in the tops of oaks. The municipal workers limbed them, left nude, bare-lopped trunks where willows had stood—beside the canal, at the edge of the green, by the brook in the garden of the great house. The limbs they chipped in a chipper pulled by a truck, its hopper brimming with once-trees. The pith of fresh wood carried in the streets. I missed the willow boughs, the green caverns underneath.

Thirty-Three. Along the tidal river, the mud flats laid bare to the sun, rusted piers overgrown with starflowers. Sugar factories, barges stacked high with candy-colored freight boxes, industrial fields and warehouses, their roofs flocked with seagulls. The riverboat, the sun through the glass, the smell of fresh coffee, the diesel waft of the motor as the shore slipped past. The river barrier, a gateway of steel, a raft of metal to battle tidal surges, high waters, deluges of rain and runoff. At night, an illuminated dome, a bridge edged in neon orange, white plaster walls bathed in purple, in green luminescence, caught in the corner of the eye. The boat stopping at a pier, moving on again, the rock of the waves, the lull of a water cradle.

Thirty-Four. Night-wakefulness, clear eyes. All the neighbors' windows dark, quiet squares cast on the floor from the streetlights, their edges defined. The nights dry-remaining, without rain or mist, breaths clean and welcome. The sinking back into cushioned seats, waiting for time to turn to its future, each minute a long mile anticipating the next.

Thirty-Five. In the dark, a fox in the street under the streetlamp. Frozen, paw lifted, to herald my approach, my belly swaddled in my down coat, a gathering sense of possibility.

Thirty-Six. Darts of pain became quakes that cleaved away daily experience. I lay in bed on my flank, on my knees, on the couch, in the bath, until the air grew too close around me. Lucid in our green hospital room, I walked back and forth and leaned against the windowsill, my body clamped too tight to stand. I crouched on a beanbag, my belly cradled in my legs. When the room grew too close I sat in the shower and ran a hot stream over front and back. When the shower grew too close I walked back and forth and leaned against the windowsill, my body clamped too tight to stand.

Thirty-Seven. This happened for days, the meaning of the hours annulled by the body's happenings. Time became the countless deeps of an ocean trench.

Thirty-Eight. An impossible fullness between my hips, the urge to push the sensation out, and pain like a mammoth heart beating in a pebble's space. First the head in a slow burn and then in a smooth, wet rush the rest of the body, my baby slick and solid, real in my hands, kicking her feet and arching her spine, clasped to my chest and suddenly still, breathing against me.

Thirty-Nine. Once home, she slept on our bare chests in her diaper as we lay on the couch through the days and nights. The world slowed and stopped. All that remained—our bodies, our skins, our scents.

Forty. After a while we went outside. We walked by the canals and through the green fields, the baby asleep on our bodies. We walked as the waters rose, as the nights filled with rain and the rivers burst their banks again. We walked as the ducks and swans spread into the lakes the rivers had made and we walked as the lakes returned to rivers and the birds returned to build their nests. We walked as the ducklings followed the ducks, as some of the young disappeared and some remained, their adolescent feathers sleek and fresh, as their beaks turned from baby reds to blacks. A new feeling trickled up, rose—a need to nourish what life had placed in my keeping.


Appendices: Because of the Events Heretofore Described

a. Hours went by without notice, the days shortened, the months flashed from one to the next with the speed of a flip-calendar whose pages spring loose from a thumb. Our daughter nursed at my breast. She walked with the ease of the body's design unfolding.

b. A man cycled toward us. Hunched and fast, he hogged the path—we stepped aside, my husband's arms over our daughter at his chest. The cyclist's arms knotted, his neck scrunched, face bared, forward-pushed, body coiled so tense it could spring, something broken inside, broken long ago, and tightening. I held him in my arms, a baby, his head shaved and nubbed. His nose rooted in my chest. I held him so tight this would never happen, his furious ride. Everyone became a baby when I saw them, peach fuzzed and half blind, pinch-faced and curled hot on my skin. I held them in my arms, their tender beginnings, a fierce upwelling, a flood.







I didn't know if I should have children with the island drowning as it was. The old man in the windmill had some ideas about what we should have done, what to do now [here]. Apocalypse aside, I wondered what kind of world she would inherit. Some of the best and worst things happened at the same time and bound together. Finally, I understood them better.