Land Beast, Part Two

Kate Wyer


There is so much field, so much openness. It is possible to forget the fence.

I stand at a distance and watch his shape move across the far edge of the horizon.  He is most always there, so mindful of captivity, pressed against the braided wire.

I joined him in his looking those first days. I looked through the patterned light. There was nothing there, meaning: the same trees and grasses, the same stones and dust, as inside the fence.

We are in a canyon and if you lift your eyes to the hills you can see it is open up there too.  Singular crows ride the drafts.


I see the crows of home, the land hot with their bird bellies, bellies lifted a few inches from the ground, their claws stirring dust and heat.

Offerings are tossed to them. There are songs to bring songs.

The villagers haul fishing nets and throw them over the murder; the ropes have the heavy murkiness of river water. The crows flatten to the dust, their songs change. Bird by bird they are lifted and brought to the villagers' mouths. A bite to the neck to kill them. The bones are filled with air, an architectonic holiness. The bones were made for what they desired: flight.

Women pluck iridescent black feathers and pile them at their feet. They handle knives and gizzards. They spit chewing tobacco. They make the birds headless and then place the bodies in a pot.

Like rubies in a tumbler. The bodies' edges soften, gleam.

The women turn a plague into a feast.


What about the carrots? Such sweetness. And the melons rolled to us, near splitting with ripeness? Similar to the mangos of home.

What about the absence of fear? The absence of the helicopter and gasoline fumes; the absence of rifles and greed.

The absence of my horn, of the fear it would be taken. The absence of my daughter and the fear for her safety.

To be released from these fears does not mean I am grateful to their takers.


My mind is unfamiliar to me. Like a mother bird who finds a cuckoo egg in her nest. There is no option but to feed the parasite. To feed it as if it were your own.


How I long for a thunderstorm.


Red beets, golden beets. Their dark greens hold sweetness too. Every week there is a new treasure in the troth near the keepers.

They have women handle me. Before these women, the closest I had been to one was the one I killed. The smell of that kill flares in my nose and makes me pant. How easily my body humiliates me. Shames me.

And how too does my body not allow for grieving. How around the male I am bowed, docile. My mind turns away from loss when I am around him. I feel my milk still building and then realize the heat is not from production, but from the will to produce. Sometimes I feel a slight swaying, a slight unsteadiness—as if returning to land.

I try not to crowd him. It's unnatural to be around him. If we were wild still, wild still unwounded, I would not seek company.


My scabs itch and pull tight. I rub them against a tree until I feel the wetness of blood and know that I've opened them again. I will continue to wound myself until the skin scars and resists me and still I will find ways to open myself.


I watch the outrageous pleasure of the elephant. She sinks her trunk deep into the waterhole and then lifts it to spray her hot back. Her skin is thick like mine. Her child is next to her, leaning against her hind legs.

A locust moves lazy incisors over the hay's chaff. It moves with slow efficiency, rotating the dry stalk, chewing the ripe seed under the husk. It moves with the luxury of a full stomach.

This is how we all move here. Slow, fat. Even the pests are pulled into its safety.


The male, at the far corner alone against the fence, is not slow. Even though he mostly rests his body against the wire, you can see his body is not still. He is not moving and yet he is not still. There is everything under his skin. It is all there.


Once, a woman here ate curry. I smelled it across the field: the coriander, the cumin, the cardamom. I was reminded of a woman at the waterhole, a woman who had walked its perimeter.  She was in orange and gold. There was vulgarity in her movement. Something unsettling. I took breaths of her and pulled her into my head. I breathed into the smell and tried to figure out its sourness.

I pulled my feet from their deep place in the mud. My daughter did the same.  Even outside of my body she was in me. Every action mirrored, learning and thinking at once. 

The woman bent to pull a lotus from the water. She held the stem in both hands, and then ripped the petals from the base. The woman threw petals and then threw the stem with the remaining seed bed. She tried to push the petals into the water with her hands. They were thick and wet; they rolled up under her palms as she tried to push.  They were bruised worms: ropes of pale bodies crushed and leaking. They did not float.

My daughter looked to me to see how she should be feeling. I didn't know what to show her, so I remained still and pulled the woman into my nose again.  My daughter pulled the woman into her nose too.

She sat near the waterline and rested her hands, face up, on her thighs.

I signaled to my daughter that it is okay to sink again. We allowed the mud to return again to the knees, feet deep in the thick of it. My daughter reached to eat a lotus. She pulled on the thick leaves and sliced through them. The bubble of a root.

This small movement caught the woman's eye. She startled. She stilled her body and watched.

No one moved.

We stayed this way, unmoving, until nerves settled. She lay down, her face near the lip of the water. She clasped her hands together and prayed. She rolled into the shallows and kept her face submerged.

Out, I said to my daughter. Get out of the water, I said.

The woman turned her head to breathe and then returned it underwater. Her orange clothing turned dark brown and the gold lost its glint. Like a coin changing many hands, each leaving its own small corrosion, each hand taking with it some metal.


I shake with want.


Let me think again about the airlifting. See my great shadow move across a flat sea. The helicopter's fans move scalped air, carve patterns into the water. I imagine my rolling eyeball looking up at the moon. I am under the belly of the plane, hanging in the darkness, a moon shadow. How much trust they must have put into the cables that held me. How easy it would seem to fray and pull steel fiber from steel fiber. How easy it would seem to lose my body to the sea.

The drop slow, the helicopter losing balance, springing into the sky from sudden weight loss, from the sudden loss of my body suspended in the blackness.

A mind rutted to emptiness, aware only of itself.


Where are the footpaths here? To the through, to the water, to the trees. The same, really. The same as home. 


My body floats within my body: a slight duality, a slight buoyancy, especially something with the mouth. It's like the lips are made aware of the face. They move, prehensile, reaching, wanting to grasp. Like the nerves have their own desires.


I remember water filing my mouth as I ate lilies.


Climb into her chest and look up through the ribs. See where her small neck connected to her skull. See the bone that would have supported her horn. See the toes, like small creatures of their own, like the bones of something smaller. They have a gritty texture from being hollowed out, from being beetle-bored.

The toes like the toes of drought. I place them in my mouth and feel the ridges of her walking this way. Rub them against the roof of the mouth. Spit them out and see them clean and pale. The toes she would have walked away from me on.


I know the dead are pulled into the sky. It is not enough to keep their smell here on the ground.


Ants stop to clean themselves on her. Just another stone to mark on their way. Her body a trail, a collection of hormones.

What happened to the body of the woman I killed? Her body cleaned and burned. Her family wrapped her in linens and brought her body to a fire. They kissed her and burned her. Her death went into the sky too. A ritual of cleanliness.

So many called to do the cleaning.


Except me. If I had stood and gored a wild dog, that would have been cleaning my daughter. If I had stood and crushed beetles, that would have been cleaning. Preventing others, letting only the hardness of my exhaustion fail me.


Pulled away. Dropped into the sea. Watch the shadow fall and the helicopter go up, spin, and readjust after losing two tons. My body taken into the sea. Swallowed.


Once a death goes into the sky, does it return?


My breathing changes around the male. I want to see his mouth foam for me. I want to see his legs shake for me. This is not power, is it? Both of us must reach toward the other. Does it matter who goes first?


While in the sea I felt salt in all the places of my body.


At first I didn't think to think about where my horn was. It wasn't on my body and my body hurt. That was all. Then it was absent and I picked my scabs and they hurt. Then my skin scared over and I wondered what had happened to the rest of me.

Ground to cure hangovers. Ground to cure impotence. I think about my severed horn and some male drinking it. The deadness of keratin—the absolute powerlessness of a toenail. What a failure of imagination. The shape and strength of my horn will do nothing for you.


 Legs clanging in the sea.


The kelp branches are dark against the filtered light. They move like trees in a monsoon. They look like Chitwan trees against the sunrise. That first sun moving, strange and rabid—mist-killing, water-eating, river-hating. There are dark arms against the growing day. There are tunnels in all of us. We carry the same treatment of life, share the same vulnerabilities. 


Helicopters are unliving and monsoon loud.


Her body already armored: the plates of her legs, her shoulders, her hips. Her beautiful smooth head.


I look for wounds and find them. The silver dollars of bullet scars. I don't know how he lived. I don't know how he kept his horn. 

Is it because he is the only one here? The only other like me? If there were two, would I still want this one? This male?


I want him to come to me. I don't want to approach his fence-gazing, his ground-gazing, his palpable anger. I want to sheer his ears with my teeth, bite through his upper lip where it becomes his nose. There is nothing tender here. I want to call him with my body and watch his head rise to meet my smell, his thick legs moving toward me, his nose leading.


If I could charge at my rescuers, I would. If I knew the man who had stopped my bleeding and wrapped my wound; if I knew the team that heaved my body into a sling and flew me over the sea; wrestled with the infection of a rusty chainsaw; covered my eyes with bandages until I hallucinated sight and saw my daughter walk away from me, I would charge. My eyes showed me her leaving. I saw her tail swishing away flies, her ears twitching them away. These pests were becoming her normal, the movements to shoo were built into her. From her posture I could tell she wasn't missing me. She was learning to be alone, to be like me, a land beast.

The rescuers could have left my body. They could have shot me through the head to force the life out of me. A kindness, as they say. Like a rabid dog.


We are all this way, I want to say to him. We are all ground-staring, but there is also a sky. There is also a face to meet your face.

I watch him—half-black from the water. Black and wet up to his nose, his back still baked clay. The male searches out lily pads and grasses that hold the sweetness of quiet water.