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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
To cool the naked beauty she hid from the world.
- Ovid’s Metamorphoses, trans. Ted Hughes
I hunt and kill and butcher with arrow and sword, hound and falcon, ear and arm. I sight and take aim. I shudder when the blood leaves your body and I weep as I pull off your skin. Your flesh is delicious in my mouth. I want you with me forever. When you disappear into me I am disconsolate.
My animal nature and my human nature. They fight each other.
I woke early and climbed the hill until the mist was so thick that I could no longer see my hands. I walked until I saw only the distant sea, not the ground, not the flowers, not rabbits or snakes or birds. I wanted to become more mist than woman. To lose myself. My body was a suit of meat. I wanted to be a spirit riding a bone bicycle. I wanted to want nothing.
When I reached the top of the hill I recognized the yearling buck’s antlers silhouetted against the bluing fog. I believed that I had killed him. I moved through the clouds to where he stood at the entrance of a deep lapis cave, waiting for him to flee. Instead he came to me and inclined his head. I took his antler in my hand. He pulled me into the cave.
Down we went. Shimmering corridors and gold-flecked tunnels. Districts of buried light. My birthdate written in stars on the cobalt wall. The buck’s body was warm beside me, his white clouds of breath uncoiling in the air before us, his fur soft under my trembling hands. He led me to the last chamber. The place I had changed him. Before us lay his lovely man’s body, sleeping out of time.
The buck drew me to his man’s body. We knelt. He looked at me with eyes of loam. I held out my left palm. He bowed his head and rent it with the tip of his antler. Blood left me, purple in the blue cave, and went to the man’s body. I felt no pain, only flow and fall. When I looked back at the buck, his eyes had changed from dirt to gold. I drank him with my eyes until there was no buck anymore. In his place stood a man with fire in his hands and golden loam eyes and deer fur for his hair
“Undress,” he told me.
I gave him my javelin. My quiver, my arrows, my unstrung bow. My cord and staff. My dagger and sheath. My slingshot and small stones. My broadsword and my axe. When his arms were full of weapons, the man pivoted on his narrow hips. I waited to die. He leaned my killing tools against the far wall and turned back to me.
“Undress,” he told me.
I gave him my buffalo cape. My leather boots and my cotton socks. My deerskin leggings and my deerskin doublet. My nymph-woven shift of moonbeams and fog. I stood naked before him and waited again to die. He folded my clothing and laid it beside my weapons. Hand on his pointed hipbone, he cocked his head and put his hand to his chest.
“Undress,” he told me.
“But I have nothing left.”
The man came to me and took my head in his hands and I waited for a third time to die. He undid my hair and combed it with his strong fingers. “You will not be able to untangle the knots,” I warned him. He smiled at me and closed his hand in my hair and tore each knot from my head. The pain was bright and alive. Half of my hair lay at our feet and the bare side of my head was slick with blood. I waited to die.
He took me in his arms and held my rent hand against the side of my head, pushing the blood from my scalp back into my wound. We kissed and I bit him. In the taste of his blood I found his last sight before his thousand-year sleep in the lapis cave: the faces of his beloved dogs, half-wolf Nape and ivory Leuca and starred Harpalus, as they ate him.
Can you believe me when I say that I did not know that his hounds would kill him? I did not want his death. I thought the change a lesson only, not such a bad one: to become a deer, my most favored creature, the one I honored with blood. How many times I had wished the same for myself! For all my power I cannot change my form. I am elemental as stars and lapis. Bone and mist.
I made love to the man I had killed. When it was over I watched him walk out of the cave, his body as beautiful as any buck I had taken. For one sentimental moment I wished I had never taken life. I lay on the floor of the cave, the lapis gold burning down at me, until my breath was my own again. Then I stood and stepped out of my skin and left it with my other tools. And I ambled back out into the hills a bear. Twenty razor claws on foot and hind. My jaw can break quartz. My hide is silver.
Lisa Locascio’s writing has appeared in n+1, The Believer, Santa Monica Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and elsewhere. She gratefully acknowledges the Djerassi Resident Artists Program for the residency that facilitated the writing of this story. Lisa lives in Los Angeles and has recently completed a novel, Jutland Gothic.