Land Beast

Kate Wyer


There are great kelp bladders, air mouthed into their growth, fed into them. The process of lifting near rootless: sea constant against each hollow knuckle: falling, unfalling.

I have no built-in buoy. I collapse into the undrinkable. 

But mostly, I remember the river. My head rooted under that water, pulling against anything that wanted to lift. The plants thin green and mucus-rich in my teeth.

Arms, off. Legs, off. No, that's not true. Just the horn and some skull.

My hard hollow frame for breath collapses under sedation. A matter of giving away, of no longer resisting. Heaviness from needled sleep.

I would like to continue.  

On my side in the dust, my one sky-turned eye sees a brass handle on the diminished moon. I imagine opening that door and seeing a blacker circle there against the black. The moon's gravity shaves away its edges into dust, a constant powder. My vision thick with it, granular.

My eyelashes have been praised. The interior of my ears as well, their deep cones and feathered hair.

The terror-panic of my eyes closing, of feeling the lashes against the rims, of fighting that. I kept my legs moving even when my legs could not feel ground.


I have a daughter.

I imagine her cracked mouth, her dry throat. I imagine her hunger and collapse. I see the way her thin body looked when alone.


I am a land beast and in this story I am in the sea. A creature of simple needs. Mud, protection, grass. The hard roaring of males. I do not struggle against this.

I carried my daughter for sixteen months and my body could not shut off the awareness of her heaviness. I found myself counting sunrises to her birth.


The sea rose and carried me, my two ton body, my rough self. My dried mud toes and caked mud tongue. I woke up, my equilibrium lost. I could not right myself.


It is hard to keep circling around the thing that happened and not say it. But it is also hard to say it. So, I circle some more until it tells itself. I can trust that it will.

I had heard the engines for days, and then the helicopter. Their violence was no secret. My violence was no secret either. I could not ask to be spared. And yet, why not? It's true I have no other predators. It's true I am a killer. But what of the violence of place? 


Shorn. Sheared. Not severed, severed would be a limb. I cannot see the way I used to, with all this open space between my eyes. My eyes do not know their sides anymore, right, left: they search the middle. My mind still tries to rope them together in the united way they saw before.


In the dream there, the forced dream of sedation, there was a brass-handled moon. I opened the door and stepped through to the sea.


I could smell gasoline on the men.


Like the boys in the village who hit the sides of metal drums, the sound signaling emptiness, the gas leaping out in drops, arching into the dust, pulling into spheres before sinking.

Like the way a bird folds its wings into its body as it dives from a branch, no fear in the dropping. They know they can stop and lift. Their minds plummet in a controlled way. The birds find what they need: a grub, a song, a mate. Or, they don't. It's the same, though, the falling.

I am a land beast. I am not meant to drop, not into a dark circle, or into the void of falling. I drop only when forced to shut down. When my legs give out.


I am meant to walk footpaths, the same footpaths my mother walked. Her flat feet in that fine dust, the dust of families on their way to water, to shelter. We walk this way. We are easy to track on footpaths.

We heard them from the air. We knew they were coming. We could smell them. We knew that there would be nowhere without them. Men want to believe there is power in our horns. And there is, there is the power they give them. We are full of the life that makes each cell push another out of the way, build and build until they push off the body. We are full of the life needed to make horns.


We ran like the grasslands were on fire.


How did I know what the sea was, let alone know how to dream of it? I had never seen it. The water I knew was near stagnant, it had no motion unless others waded in, pushed their bodies into its warmth. How did I know saltwater? The runoff of eyes.

But those small dark marks under eyes know no motion except down. 

I knew a river once, when it was still difficult to walk, my legs uncramping and building muscle. A baby of three-hundred pounds. That water against my face was the first and only real coolness I've known. I closed my eyes to it because the water hurt to look through. I tried to see where the water was coming from and what it was made of. I put my head in too deeply and my ears filled up and still I kept pushing down. My mother stood beside me, allowing me this mistake. It was easy to forget to breathe when I hadn't been out of the womb long. But the coolness running over my eyes woke me to my now separateness. I came back up to air.

I tried to shake the water out of my ears. What had been weightless was now pressure that needed release.


What can possibly prepare the body for a chainsaw.


There are other horned beasts. Buffalo, cows, deer, ox. Men use those horns for knife handles and other things. Dogs chew on them for the marrow. The horns clean the dogs' teeth. Those other horned beasts are killed for their meat and the antlers are secondary. Just another useful thing on the carcass. 

My body served no other purpose to the hunter. 

I've heard of another creature. A creature called a unicorn. One horn. Like me as I was, before.


At the water hole with my daughter, I saw her flip water off her tiny nub, tossing her head back to see the water catch light, bright in its falling.

Can I not talk without mentioning her?

Here it is again, without her:

At the water hole.

That is the story without her.


We all gathered together at dusk, pulled our bodies from the mud and took slow walks around the perimeter, using our feet to crush tall grass. We had to crush it to our mouths' height.

Sometimes wild dogs would stand at the far edges of our circle and bark at us. They would lower their chests to the ground between their front legs and bark and then spring up, pawing the space between us. The young would startle at their sounds. But they witnessed the adults ignoring the dogs, and they learned to ignore. Even the dogs' smell no longer surprised their noses.

We could smell cooking fires in the distance. We could smell bodies in the fires.


Every night after eating I returned to a place under a tree with low branches and enjoyed the coolness of the dust. Life meant a way to keep cool in the sun, a place to eat grass and place to rest. Solitary, mostly.


I was airlifted, but I only know this because I was told. I have the slightest memory of flight, but the memory must be false. Something I created to not lose out. I am a land beast, remember. I am heavy.


I met her father the usual way. He was in a fight and he won. I was five and he was fifteen. I did not run away from him. I did not fear him. I had heard his noise for a few weeks and waited. His smell was not unpleasant.


There were others before me that met the horn-takers. I came upon two of them in the summer. Their bodies had been dead for days and I had not recognized their smell. I knew the female; we came up at the same time. Our mothers wallowed in the same hole and sometimes nuzzled noses in the monsoon season. Everyone was always happiest during the monsoon. There was no need to search out mud. Everything was mud. The greens were always crushed to the right height from the force of the water. There was bleating, honking, celebration.


They call where I am now California. There is no rain here, never.


I was born by a river and never returned to it. I could not find the footpath that brought my mother there. I could not remember the walk I took back from it. I've tried to search my memory for the right pattern of smells and sounds. A particular fruit of a particular tree. The hammering of birds in those trees. Giant cats in green shadows, the scrape of their tongues loud against their paws in cleaning.


The second one felled was a male I had never seen before. I wanderer from another range, a distant one. His ears held a slightly different cone shape. These two, the male and female, fell together, became hornless. The ground around them had dried once into black dust and was becoming wet again from their bodies and the animals that found them. 


There are six documented ways to kill us. The shotgun makes it easy, is used most often. What happened to me was not one of the six. Also, I did not die.


When I used the word "we" when I said "We knew they would be coming" I was talking about my daughter and myself. We were the we. I tried to hide my fear but she knew. She could taste it in my milk. She didn't even know which questions to ask. She knew fear but not death.  


Like the butcher who buys grassland for cow pastures.  Every day he foresees death in the field. But do the cows know he is coming?


My nose deep in mustard greens, the oils burning the rims and outside edges. The taste a drug, a fire in the throat and tongue. We can smell the fields from miles away and come like vultures to a carcass. And we make those fields carcasses, we clean the bones of the rows, pull the plants up by the roots, send the dirt in showers; our feet high-stepping, as high as they can, in the satisfaction and pleasure.

She had a pot and a pan and she was hitting it to make noise. She wanted to frighten me away from her greens. I was not frightened. I did not move my mouth away from the greens. She came closer, then closer, hitting harder and harder on the metal pot. The sound like a tiny bloodsucker in my ear. The bite unfelt. She smelled like a human, like hunger. Thin skin. She smelled like a rootless scrounger. Go away, I thought. Allow me the claim of this field. This marshland you've filled with rows. She continued her banging. Her pot might bring guns, I thought. The sound might signal guns to come. I lifted her and then she fell. I was only four years old.

I had a belly full of greens and felt sleep coming. I looked for a tree with low branches under which to sink. The blood already drying. It felt like mud, like attenuated mud. It felt like protection. The sun would soon rise and I needed shadow. The oil from the greens so strong in my gut. I was drunk, like the birds that eat fermented berries, those berries at the end of the season that have hung too long on the branch, turned into a mild poison, a pleasant one; those birds that fall over and swoon, sleep deep as death.

Solitary, I washed the blood away. Submerged my horn, closed my nose to the warm water, held my breath. It did not matter, the blood. It would not matter to anyone. I would not see anyone, anyway. It was not monsoon season. There were no crashes of us, no herds. I would not feel the white-red call to mate.

They say lumber. I say walk. I say I run faster than you imagine.


This dream of the sea returns nightly. The great kelp tries to give me their arms. They try to find my mouth and fill it with air from their bladders as I travel down. They know they cannot lift me; they cannot roll themselves around me to keep me floating.

I dreamt of the sea before I knew that was its name. Before it was named it was just a body of water that stung my face where my face was open. In the dreams I could feel this, even after my face had healed.


Myrna birds were screaming. I heard them over the chainsaw as I fought forced sleep.


All the seasons cycle through once during pregnancy, then half of the seasons cycle through again before it is over. The baby already knows cold and sparse food; already knows the monsoons and their pleasure; knows the heat and danger of the sun; been with me at the foot of mountains, hung in my belly as I wallowed; knew sprouts; knew the corset of wax around tough plants; knew solitude.


My willful nose remembering her smell.



There is a thundering in the horn when there is lighting. The air shakes and vibrates around it; the air fills with static. Blue sparks arc from the horn onto anything: grasses, trees, rocks, hides. The arcing of being to being, sharing the jolt. 


My youth: exhausted, willing to push it to zero, to fumes. This is how I ran. Headlong, reckless, shrubs under my feet unfelt, willful blades of feet, birds and rats shooting out of the way of my two-ton body. A riot. A riot. Panting, empty, drinking for ten minutes straight after, feeling heart rate return to normal. A thrashing against the daily routines of waking, eating, wallowing and sleeping.


I am not noble. I am not kind. I was not tender, except. You know, I know you know.


The sadness of grace seen fleetingly. Even through the bandages covering my nose and face, I smelled him. Somewhere there was another. Another was here, after so long in sleep, in flight, in a concrete cage on a straw covered floor, under blankets. The blankets felt like mud, like protection. They allowed quietness. Where was he? Where do they keep him?

The bandages did little to help me. They just made me angry. They made me more aware of what was missing.

Like a till, like a chainsaw, like a bulldozer. Those tools of strength with appetite. My anger.


He greeted me with a snort. I stood there, at the gate to the reserve, full of shame. My cut-down-to-the-skull head. Still I stood, not moving. He came closer. He rubbed the side of his head against the side of mine. The touch a blue arc. A return from the sea.