JP Briggs
PROSE
 
When I Died


It must be that when I died these images began. Perhaps they’re images of places where I resided or visited when I lived, but in fact I have no memory of having lived. The images and scenes arise with no connections between them:

...Huge pink hunks of rock jumble against each other in a motionless cascade. The white and dark tendons of a mountain stream spill among them. From one tendon comes a slender flare of water rushing between an oblong white stone and a flat pink one, then dropping down into the overlapping, bubbling circles of a small pool. At the edge of the pool, a twig, foam clinging to it, rotates slowly, bumping against gray stones...

...Beneath snow-filled evergreens, an absolute stillness of pale shadows… the wintergreen scent of hemlock...Ice needles forming around rocks in a stream...

...A trail through the woods. The click of leaves as they break and fall from the branches, drifting against the dark earth and moss—reds, yellows, pale blues, yellow-greens... In the same woods, or perhaps a similar one, a striped, scalloped fungus clings like a moth to the underside of a rotting log... Thick tree roots spread out across a trail like veins, the upper surfaces of the roots polished by the boots of hikers’ passing. One step, another step. The fleeting, immensely vivid impression that each step reveals perceptions absolutely new...

...On a vast, hot muddy river an island of grass floats and bobs, a creamy yellow bird perched on top. Along the water tall mud cliffs rise where earthen slabs sheared away when the river level dropped. Carcasses of massive trees lie in the rich mud, their top branches in the water, dug-out canoes carved from tree trunks tied up to them... A white-breasted raptor bends its head on a log by the shore beside the broad, fast-moving brown water. The bird plucks apart a large, tear-shaped, pink fish. It plucks the fish apart for a long time…

...Rain starts, suddenly becomes fast, hissing out of the saturated air with a quick scent that seems to say something more will come...

...The sound of mud sucking under boots and a sensation, perhaps the pang, of time vanishing...

When I sense several images that might have come from the same time and place, I try to connect them to make a story of the life I had lived.

...Night… My perception drifts as the dugout pushes forward… Above me the overhanging branches of black, looming trees form a tunnel along the faintly gleaming channel of water. In the gaps of the canopy stars slide liquidly past. A febrile breeze stirs the leaves, the shadow of a boatman in the prow, his torchlight sweeping up. The dugout glides beneath stalactites of mud-dried roots, bumps across a submerged log, water gurgling along the boat’s wooden side. From the high branches, come the rising-falling shrills, shrieks, clucks of frogs. Stars flow in and out among tree shapes which appear utterly black, without dimension, indefinably present...

...Tiny chips of red and bluegreen rock litter a pink anthill on a high-desert floor. Two spiny legged beetles copulate along its side, their backs shining in the morning sun. A sense of love here as part of the emptiness of the arroyo...

...Fresh light on flanks and outcroppings made out of bright layers—yellow, bluegray, white—folded up into softly rounded hills spread out like spines and ribs. These ridges and hills are rain-glazed mud, melting and wrinkled with myriad tributaries of erosion. Hot dry red mountains lie all around; birds call, wimple; insects whiz; a lizard on a rock hunts mosquitoes. A vast silence...

Again and again I seem almost to grasp the being who had witnessed these things and remembers them—or is infested with them. There are clues here.

...A high mountain valley. Peaks encircling the horizon. Looming rock walls on either side of a river. In this valley rise great spires of fire-damaged trees, blown-down hulks. On fields of wildflowers linger huge, molten-gray, wind-scoured roots, upended and clotted with stones and small boulders...

...Night. Rain drips on the sides of a tent. A loon’s unearthly babble. Someone intimately known but deeply unknown sleeps inside the tent...Chill wind, the glow of a campfire. Above, the minuscule grinding sound of an insect boring into a tree. Meteors streak across webs of starfields. Expanding cold sinks through the atmosphere as the grinding sound from the tiny creature works on the high limb beneath the stars...

There are other kinds of images, too. Because these center on human beings, they seem more irresistibly to imply a story which could describe who I was.

...An old man bleeding in the tall grass; various parts of him missing. One eye...
...A young boy standing at the back of a room on the verge of pain or laughter (was he my son? grandson? myself? The image passes, stripped of any names or relations)...
...A woman in a long, white dress with a look on her face contradicting something she has just said or believes (was she my mother? My wife? was she me?)...
...A thin little girl chases ducks up a muddy knoll beside an outlet leading to a large brown swollen river. A thatched hooch is on top of the knoll, and the little girl is in a short, faded blue dress smeared with mud. Bare-legged. In some places the mud comes up to her knees. She extracts herself from the muck, high stepping. She yells at the ducks, throwing rocks at them to drive them up the knoll. One duck darts away from her attention and glides into the water, paddles around the outlet. The little girl sees him and shouts. Shakes her fist. Her words, which I cannot understand, remain small across the water. The little girl stalks up the hill, driving the other ducks ahead of her. The wayward duck glides in a half circle, watching, then streaks toward shore, wobbles rapidly up the knoll after her...

But a story that connects these images never comes. Now and again an image repeats itself. None contains any trace of the ambitions, fears, preoccupations or the intricate and specialized knowledge of the world that my living mind must once have possessed. It seems all that remains of what I was is this urge to make a story.

But would I need a story now? Why would I want it? What good would it do?

The images exist as pictures and sensations accompanied by a limited ability to describe them in words to myself, or this absence of myself. I can infer nothing from even the diction of the words that appear. When an image repeats I seem to see it and describe it to myself in the same words each time. The words of the descriptions come from nowhere, while the images seem to surge from the depths of the universe, but a universe that exists only as it is reflected in the images themselves. Whoever or whatever I was, I linger now only as a blank space, a spring from which bubble the images and the limited consciousness that describes them. The images appear like a residue of what was important in a life, or lives, lost. I have no idea what might happen if the images stop.



 

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