Around the Bone: A Memoir
Mostly composed in darkness.
Mostly a footnote of itself.
Mostly a microcosm, distilled.
Fallen but not
fallow, I discover the shell
at low tide. Organic,
mathematically sound. Hear
the rumble. Hold it close to your ear.
After it was over, we went outside
and walked. I counted the sirens and called it
solidarity. I cut my foot on a branch and called it
empathy. Statistics splintered, fractal as the nature
of the tornado outbreak. Existing inside of the event.
There was no light
in the shower later but the beam
from a flashlight. I spun the steam
into tiny vortices with my fingertips,
poetic and dilated to match the
vortex of the tornado, this,
a microcosm, this,
It begins at a peak.
It has been bleached by the sun.
There is a hole sprouting from its point.
Fallow, but not empty.
(Alabama on April 27th:
stickygreen pollen falling dense as fact,
rising heavy as ash.
Coated in the stuff.) If we stop to turn back, it might not be true
Caked with plaster and
outwardly, in a dusty way,
we had become the center of the world.
Electricity in the absence of itself,
pointing into us continuously. Heaps
of normalcy contained by guarded barriers at
night. During the day, in camouflage.
I wasn’t there to hear it.
My sister heard it.
My living room took in its light, changed
in its shadow. Became
it inwardly near the chair where I would sit
this light seems wrong. Are the reflections upside-
down on upside-down
The metal was twisted where it had become
separated from its referent. I contained these events only as a matter of context,
seem to have paid attention to the wrong bits of the disaster, the odds and ends,
silver roof growing from its shredded trunk. Bear with me.
I turn the shell over and over in my palm.
The periostracum is shredded,
hangs in soggy wisps of matter from
Static vortex in the act of condensation,
emblem of form, mirror of the ways
in which we wrap our skins around the wound.
What ends up getting rebuilt after a tornado is not
the seed of it, the cause of it, the
What ends up rebuilding is the proliferation of dump trucks
in a dry spell at the end of May. It seemed to be so much grander on the radar,
snapping power lines as though reclaiming lightning, or.
When the heaps are cleared there is only civilization lying fallow. A narrative implies creation implies purpose. There is very little in writing to imply redemption.
I began looking into my body to rebuild a city that was never mine. I pulled splinters out of myself as large as mattresses and larger.
What goes wrong
goes wrong in those moments preceding itself and those which come
after. If it is June and there is no more pollen to be lifted from the wind-
swept ruins then the things to go wrong
go wrong primarily inside of themselves.
When the losing begins it rolls downhill.
The X’s painted on buildings are benign if one of the quadrants contains a
Zero. Nothing found
is nothing lost, and when the nothing begins growing it can only refer to itself.
What goes on growing then suddenly stops.
What hardens and becomes factual.
What is forgotten.
Though I wash the shell in seawater
I can’t be sure it is empty, that
it contains only my wanting of it.
What gets wrapped around the bone, what sinew, what itch. There is skin in the way the sun rises up over stripped trees. There is skin in stagnation where mosquitos nest and swarm. The horizon
a melodrama of itself. Naked and limbless tree-stalks
inside of a winter inside of a snow globe inside of a tomb. Dust devils spring like ghosts from abandoned construction sites on the hottest days, when
there were parts of town to go to and not others. We learned the less disruptive routes. When we passed truckloads of warped and shrunken cars, we turned our faces.
Simultaneously, things happen. Things dig their fingernails in, sullen, low. The name for those things
is spelled out in the flyers
littering surviving mailboxes
sent like medicine by concerned psychologists.
What gets wrapped around the bone is the not knowing, sewn in those first dark moments between
interpretations of gone. What is gone is being rebuilt. What is wrong is inside of itself, is a lack of, a future of.
What is wrong is a matter of context, the view through a leveled wall,
the jeep upside-down on that lawn,
the firefighter’s voice rushing down-
hill. There is a reason we’re here. What is wrong is the
nothing-to-be-done. Observing the cadaver-
dogs led grimly alongside our bodies. You have to leave right now.
A flurry of inward turnings.
At its base, at its root
a hole broadening, the promise of a dense body
to fill the void. I throw the shell back into the sea
where it sinks slowly, drowns.
A resolution is not in sight. One resolution, a revolution, perpetually echoing after. What gets lost inside itself is not a matter of accumulating statistics, is not the implications carved into the differentiation of EF4 and EF5,
is not a matter of what lurked below the shell of a bedroom on which I felt myself grow hollow. What gets lost interrupts the stasis, as context, as a mechanical creation process leading nowhere. To exist in the aftermath is a kind of subtraction, is building order out of emptiness, is feigning the desire to maintain the status quo.
After it was over, we went outside and walked. When we reached the boundary of order we retreated. A proliferation of echoes, signifying nothing but noise, prompting me to pick up my pen for the first time after 26 days. To set it down again. We went in search of food and when we couldn't find any we showered in the darkness of our uninjured bathrooms. The next morning we came in waves to the edge of the world, from which we were turned away, my whole body clinging to itself, asserting that this was never my story.
It occurs simultaneously, the confusion and resulting holes in the narrative. Scattered hours have gone missing, during which I sank into a haze by the window. Outside, the National Guard arrived in camouflaged Humvees and helicopters. After a while, we stopped asking ourselves to memorize our location.
I no longer know which memories I meant to keep and which are incidental. What objects in the stew of leveled neighborhoods were more meaningful than others. I no longer remember what happened inside of myself, what shifted, what clung to my gut like a raised root.
The things to go wrong continue to go wrong, the processes playing out internally. What continued was the dissolution of syntax in each load of debris plowed to sides of the roads like snow.
And those last moments in front of the live broadcast, being struck by the grace of the vortex. It seemed to be a great gray dancer, a silent sweeping eye. Because I could not hear the rumble, I imagined the noise as purring, followed by soft silence.
The periostracum is wrapped around the bone of the shell, is what shelters, what holds, the gauze which allows the story to go on growing. The first thing to be ripped away from a fallow shell at high tide. Without it, I am dancing to a false echo, to a homeless monologue, a torn image of a span of three blocks which is an inversion of itself. (What, then, can cradle the afterimage of my hazy memory?)
The things to go wrong become visceral, static, embedded in the atmosphere of that airless room.
The dark underbelly reeks of the rotting food flung out of refrigerators and into the muggy heat. Halved mattresses stirred here with thousands of mismatched shoes. We came to salvage a friend’s belongings. We came to dig deep into the shade of the afterimage. What we saw swept out of us, the dust from a crumbled plaster wall ground into the fabric my shoe.
We lifted up in silence into the air
I continued to pick up my pens and throw them aside.
On bad nights I dreamt I was carrying a baby who was continually lost, who was born and ran off into a forest, who would not come after days of labor. I continued
to pick up my pens. I continued to watch the dump trucks like an elegy.
On the phone with my mother: I just need some time
What spreads? What proliferates? What persists but stagnation?
The funnel spread, underwent multiplication. I dreamed it with a thousand different faces in a thousand different ways. It kaleidoscoped, refused to fade. The children continued to pour half-born from my broken sleep.
The interpretation of a disaster revolves, absolves no one, becomes something one can fall into and grow stone cold appendages from perfectly good eyes.
I dreamed I was standing at the edge of the universe, beyond which there was nothing. Around the bone the nothing holds, funnels down into the soil, begins to grow.
Rebecca Ansorge was born in Colorado and holds a BA from the University of Alabama. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction from Brown University. Her work can be found in PANK Magazine and elsewhere.