Janice Lee


Verbs: to grow; to see; to wander; to follow; to tend; to meet; to clash; to reckon with; to reach fullness; to be a moon reaching fullness; to be a bay; to be an archaic identity; to be in the midst of catastrophe; to be a tree; to be a trembling tree; to keep full speed; to be in love; to be a maddening mystery; to claim the same god; to claim no god; to be alone in the midst of waves; to be a memory; to be mediated by a draft of air in the middle of the woods.
     The starting point of infinity is always at the center, everything else expanding outwards from that single point, reaching outwards forever in a tortured desire for intimacy, that reaching for the horizon that can never be reached, both infinity and desire being defined by the untenable distance and intimacy that is a mediation of bodies within the paradoxical retreat, but space is made up of layers, and she has so many memory-chambers dedicated to the imaginings of many deaths (her own and of many others), but in the woods she has become unexpectedly close with a man who is kind, who insists on her independence, and though familiar, she feels indecently close to him sometimes. Is this what love really is? she wonders, and works to unlearn some of the survival instincts she can’t help but hold on to, that is, she does not need to scream, she does not need to fight agony with more agony, she does not need to maintain a wall, she does not need to be who she thinks she is seen to be, she does not need to get help from the dead, she does not need to be fixed, she does not need to live inside a prison, and she does not need to be right.
     She is sitting at the base of a large and wide fig tree, the girth of the tree, its expansive roots, all testament to how things stretch beyond their limit and though she has torn her dress—it snagged on an exposed branch as she paced around the perimeter of the tree looking for a spot to sit down—and she thinks about how although this tree is not marked on any map, its extended survival in this particular point in space makes it a landmark, here the branches that extend and reach towards the sky as if reaching for homeland or ancestors, so that the bark of the tree is already fused with the universe’s history and to linger too long in a spot like this might lead to thoughts of suicide, that kind of experience evades the kind of description or narrative that she is used to articulating, but she has found peace with the ephemeral, has found, perhaps, her terrestrial habitat—here even her hair seems to be doing better, its volume communicates something about the state of her body that she is still not prone to hearing well—and this tree, which she couldn’t wrap her arms around, its circumference is perhaps the distance of eight of her arm-lengths, even if stretched taut, as if being pulled apart by horses in some primitive torture technique, and though she cannot see the other side of the tree from here nor can she find any line of sight with that part of the tree, she would have to walk several paces just to be able to see that particular spot and verify its existence, she trusts that it is there, that though the distance between this point and that point is not easily measurable as any straight line, it is familiar, close, empowering, that sense that the tree is still living, growing, becoming, and as she breathes she can feel the tree breathing too, the quality of breath here as reverent, almost sacred, she can feel her lungs fill to capacity with the displacement of mountains and then she can feel her lungs empty with the transfixion of a leaf opening in the morning to absorb the sunlight, and her entire body can feel that rhythm of breathing, not unlike the ebb and flow of the ocean tide, not unlike the effects of the moon on all bodies of water, not unlike the effect of gravity on all kinds of bodies, and at some point some surveyor looked at a map of this region and might have thought, This map is not complete, but like a bird that can only see from above, found that it was inclusive of all the pre-ordained landmarks and allowed this part of the forest to remain intact and "unimportant," or, if it was not worth visiting, it would reach its own demise naturally, and as she breathes she feels the muffled shrieks move out of her body with the lightness of words and she feels cold for a moment but then warm again as she re-experiences the vicissitudes of the journey that brought her here, so many nights of crying, so many nights of feeling and not feeling, so many nights where she thought of death, and she continues to breathe, the breathing intensifying all of these memories and simultaneously converting them, momentarily, into cacophonous clouds disembarking and dissipating and being absorbed by the tree, all of the trees and plants around her, and she sees the abstract, gray and darkening schedule of her past shift slightly in the swirling air and here, sitting here, participating in this intimate communion through air, breathing among the generative and restorative power of the elements, she feels the closest thing she’s ever felt to peace, and the important thing isn’t that she feels calm or hopeful, the important thing is that she feels a continuance in the development of self and environment, that the slow and creaking ship that gently rocks among the other stranded vessels in the bay, the slow lapping of the waves and the rolling in and out of the thick fog, that there is time for movement and there is time for waiting, and then, there is time itself, and she knows that the tree has given her a tremendous gift, that though the nightmarish state of affairs might not be over forever, that isn’t the point, but that she could attempt now to understand the balance that connected it all together, that the tethers are not anchors that imprisoned or shackled, but rather invisible threads that connect and build intimacy between things, and she wonders, what can she offer the tree in return; she doesn’t know what she could give as a gift to the tree, this tree that has given her so much already, but, as she imagines the impossible navigation through fog, the dangerous rocks hidden in the shallow depths that beckon and threaten the lives of ships, she realizes that here, she is not out of place, she is rather, very much in place, and seeing the rip in her dress she thinks about all of the pain she has been carrying on behalf of all of the dead she has encountered, all of the pain that has been inflicted upon her and all of the pain that she has inflicted upon others, these giant rocks she has refused to unburden herself of, and the kind of sensitivity it has induced in her has helped her to get this far, but too, she can make space now to be open, to allow herself to receive and to love, to build up rather than to destroy, and she thinks, I will give the tree my pain, because she knows that the tree will not feel the sensation of her pain and suffering, rather, the tree will know to absorb it, to metabolize it, to turn it into a kind of energy for growth and continuance, and in this way, she too could do something good with her pain, could create a new ceremony to bind herself to the land, to be able to move forward and speculate on a future for herself, that this would be her gift, the possibility and imagination of a future where she, and others, could still thrive and remember, that though the trees are burning and the world is becoming uninhabitable, she can feel more than her own tortured past and trauma but instead a pain that is shared, intimate, and allows for a trajectory for moving forward, and so, she says thank you, and that becomes the tipping point, that feeling of gratitude, a feeling that she has never felt before now.
     She gets up and brushes the dirt off her legs gently, and walks home. When she opens the front door, she sees that spot on the opposite wall, that without her glasses on, looks like a spider every time.




from Imagine a Death, forthcoming from Texas Reviewe Press, 2021.