To Whom It May Concern

Alice Bolin

"So. You don't believe in a future life.
Then do we have the place for you!"
—Joy Williams, The Quick and the Dead


These are winkings from a future you. The after-you, if you will. These are the messages you so desperately want to get to you once you have doffed the body and the self and become as a song, perhaps: lingering, etheric, memorable but in no way touchable. Unlike a song, you cannot be repeated, none of your features are defined. You are long, in a way, but you have no dimension. You are trapped like a cranberry between two fingertips: you appear like your captors, who could distinguish between you? All you know of yourself is an insistent backward motion, a gravity aching you toward solidity, toward the slow and bleary world of the living. Not so bleary as you, though. Nothing could be blearier than that. You are long and song: an endless painful resonance, what depletes you sustains you, you are not nothing, you are not gone, you are ringing through the cosmos, you could be compared to a howl.

If you could remember it, maybe you could get back to it. There's nothing haunting. You are nowhere, and due to ontological limitations, you can have no destination. There is no Cherry Street, mother, first mouth kiss, for you no left ear, no goldfish. Absolutely no personality, no childhood, no pain—these are harder still to conceive of. You are pure inclination now, along with the kind of stringy sadness that used to hang around your neck on winter days. Lean into it, the January you were twelve, the week after your birthday. You sat at the window for hours watching the squirrels in the snow, sucking the gold necklace your godmother gave you. The days were frozen still—they moved almost imperceptibly toward darkness. You knew even then that the winter resembled you.

In the common parlance: you are dead as a bird's nest. You are dead as a strand of hair caught in the back of the throat. You are dead as the lumps of old snow on the sidewalk. When your dad first approached the driveway with his shovel, the morning was white enough to burn shapes into your sight—you saw them float in front of you as you made your way through the hallway's olive shadows. The snow at first was fun, it was lively, it had power in the shock of it, its brilliance. But it lacked motivation. When your dad went at it, it just turned over, and the driveway was left with streaks of white but no more magic. After a week, the snow piles were topped with a gray crust of gravel: it was only a matter of time. You are as useless.

You think of those ice worms alive deep within glaciers. You think of yourself. You stayed indoors for a week that winter. When your dad stashed the shovel in the garage, he approached you at the window. "Hey kid, you want to go to the store?" You shook your head no. "Thanks," you said, and you were surprised to feel so translucent. You were opaque and static as an iceberg, but still so crystalline, pulling light through your veins. Then, you preferred that no one look at you. You related not to the reflection in the mirror, but to the mirror itself—you wanted to be bright, a way of seeing. Now you are no observer but still less observed. You are a vapor, water absorbed upward into the air. You dad shrugged and pulled down his hat's earflaps.

Furthermore: you are dead like a tree trunk, like a torso, like a mountain lion. In your brother's too-big winter boots you went trudging in the backyard. The air alarmed you. You were so used to breathing the porous heat above the furnace. If you could get back to it: the moment you squinted up and grew toward the sun, when the air was so sharp that you thought you never knew anything so raw as your body. Never before could you be sure you were real, and never again. You were searching for something. The summer you were ten, you did it so impulsively, buried the box in the shelter of the big pine's slouching branches. When you crawled beneath the tree, there was no snow, just a blanket of pine needles that hushed under your boots.

Carefully, carefully. You'd been keeping it back then, when you were ten. Little mouse squished in the closet by the water heater, dead furry body the color of water, dead little mouth open. Amid the forks and underwear of your window seat you hovered over its body like a prayer—your breath had never been so quiet, your teeth. Your punk rock babysitter said to put it in a box of rock salt for a week, then you could use the bones for jewelry. Beneath the tree, in old pine needles scorched orange with death, you buried it in order to save it, which isn't to say deliver it.

The winter you were twelve, in the pine tree's corduroy's shadows: you were not in fact saving the mouse for that moment. Boredom and something beyond motivated you. There is a sacred—that is, appropriate—time for everything, and it is never to be trusted. Beyond boredom, the desire to confront yourself on the path to ultimate meaninglessness, endless silence. What a let down. You peeled back the ground with your hands, your fingers and breath blurring in front of you. Opening the box you realized you had prepared yourself for neither terror nor decay but alchemy—you expected to find a plum, an extension cord. A pair of dice, a square of felt, a paper, a shoe. A message, a light switch, a prom dress, spaghetti sticks, a mood swing, a scent of vinegar. Who's to say?

Inside the box there was not much to see. A mouse shape rigid and chalky and the faint smell of matches. The sheet of winter air frayed ragged in your throat—it was unbearable. Life was frail and harsh as a light bulb, but you were leaden, a dark substance sinking. The hole left in the earth was large enough to lay your head in, if need be, and you felt your fingertips pulse with an amber light, a kind of viscous fear. To bury is not to preserve, no memory retains its glow, nothing, absolutely nothing, will be recorded. Inside the box, what becomes of a body. You are far from yourself now, captive to muteness—not even a dead star in the night. Desire was never resistance, a page of poetry, grains of rice counted with such intention, the dirty lilac of your winter coat, the things you collected or said for no reason, thinking there must be a reason. What resistance? No hope, little waterfall, no hope, little door, sadly, every means of escape is prohibited. Forget prayer, you are as a shriek in the night, and if the world could know you, it would abandon you. You are so unspeakably heavy, or, if you prefer, light. You are dead, you are dead, what sacrifice could save you or deliver you, now you belong to us.