The Desert Places

By Amber Sparks and Robert Kloss

Curbside Splendor
October 2013


Yes, before the earth hummed with humans, a void opened in the world and the void was me.

It was good to be present at the birth of people. To understand how something so pink and frail survived the forest. How they learned to shape clay, to use stone tools, when the only implements I needed were those I was created with, the claws and the teeth, the merciless ravaging soul. How they learned to cultivate the soil, the stalks of wheat and corn they harnessed the land with, how they learned to bake bread and to store food and treasures in the ground. When my food was found wandering the forest and kept in a tangle of bone atop the soil, rotting and festering with maggots, decaying between those hours when I took my fill. I learned from them the art of preservation, and how to make mud brick dwellings to sleep in. They slept well, the people. They were good at being comfortable. 

So I saw them and so they were before the eye of doom. They murmured to one another in firelight and washed their bodies cheerfully in the river. They fished and hunted and loved the darkness and the light and one another. They illustrated their slaughters, chalk scrawls in the flickering of firelight. Here the illusion of movement, the possibility of dreams. And they learned to speak. And they learned to chant and to sing. And in their simple songs came the foreshadowing of their symphonies, their literature. And in their rudimentary movements it was clear they would create green spaces and cover this ancient red desert, these crimson lands, with water and breezes and gardens. As if some god would cease its slaughter to revel in such a fantasy. As if such industries could cool the furnace of the soul.

As their world bloomed and grew I watched their banquets, the perfumed wax and the lotus flowers. The slaves who carried the silver trays heaped with fruit and meat, with figs and dates and glistening honey, the slaves who were lashed beneath the throbbing skies for their indolence, who wept red tears in the night when I tore the meat from their ribs.

I watched from the shadows, the rise of their glory, I watched from the cold red shadows, shivering in my only-ness.

And the drumbeats, the chants, as they called to me, as they touched their brows to the dust, as they painted their faces, as they wore the feathers of carrion birds as ornaments. As they split open young girls in my honor, as they tossed the offal to the flame. O hiss of blood and organ in the rise of smoke. They called me Hunter, and they wept and prayed when I came for their sons and daughters. They called me Herne and my head was a skull and my horse was fire and I rode the hounds of hell to find them, tore them apart and picked my teeth with their finger bones. I followed blood and flame. I speared the sons and I ravaged the daughters. I built cities over their cities. I built feasts from their feasts. My banquet the marrow and the brains of those I murdered, my castle a fine house of bones and skulls, my slaves the shades of former men, found wandering in the ash and the dust.

And then there were no gods and there were no monsters. Then the worlds we had known together, worlds a thousand, thousand years ago, fell to ruin. Ever they stain my dreams. Ever they rise up before me, ever they will.

Even now, before the towers of their cities, before the illusions they crafted from glass and steel, those ancient drumbeats pulse, those fires flicker, those hands drip with bison blood, with berry juice, stirring something old in my bones and my blood, drawing the old lust and rage in me like a black storm. My memory runs like a river, forward, forward, and that too cannot be an accident of the universe. But sometimes I can play the tape backward, and watch the past unfold like some tangled map of the world.