Microbial Residues

Microbial Residues

Microbial Residues 1920 1263 Melissa Hunter Gurney

It’s the ground walking we are scared of. The life and death of soil—a diverse mineralogy we call dirt. Integrated systems of rocks, roots, clay, silt and sand. Various states of decomposition—plants, animals, microbial residues. Natural bodies with size, form and history. A place where soil horizons interact with one another—never alone. Entire worlds we no longer feel or see

Natural bodies, the woman thought—what does that even mean anymore? She was stuck. Stuck in a reality she didn’t create. Stuck between the walls of buildings like a critter seeking the field. She wanted to run through the wilds. She craved the kind of places that required engines to get to—engines like the ones she fell asleep to when she was little, but now, without a driver, there seemed to be too many stop signs and yellow lights. Where could the woman be? Being—a foreign concept to begin with, a concept floating somewhere in the ether with natural bodies, a concept built on the unachievable, contingent on the torture you’re willing to endure first. Contingent on how you’ll be when you get there—how willing you are to pay taxes on the house you built out of the trees you cut praying to the gods and goddesses as you slice through. Taxes that don’t go into planting more trees but instead pay for the fumes that kill them without prayer or reverence. The woman breathed deep, letting the contaminants of her walls circle around and come out like fire. She did this every day but on this day she could feel the flames. Feel the particles that created her anger, feel the holes in her cabinets where the critters lie, feel the poison she put there to stop them, feel the chards of steel wool, the vacant words people kept feeding her, but mostly she could feel all her unattainable desires as they unraveled, leaving bruises on her hips and splinters in her fingers. Natural bodies, she thought.

She remembered a time when she used to think about the purifying qualities of vast cerulean oceans—places where listlessness ran silent and the Jacaranda grew from the cracks of coral reefs. A time when she thought about the anomalous undercurrent of nature’s force, swooshing through shelled dwellings, causing a city like transience. A time when one life washed in while another washed out—in and out, in and out—cyclical, fast, forcibly clean. A time when she thought about the life and death of things, the impermanence, the ungraspable and irreconcilable. There can be life in the same place there is death, on the same ground, touching the same arm, chair or wall, eating off the same table—but in one fell swoop, one inescapable wave, the fork falls to the floor and the spine relinquishes all responsibility, letting a head fall to a plate. It’s unnerving to consider — and this is why so many people seek out aggressive linearity she thought. Like tightrope walkers, they know that the second they veer from the plan there is open air—if the net is there they bounce back up, climb the ladder and get on the rope again but if the net isn’t they are left to walk on the ground or not at all. It’s the ground walking we are scared of the woman thought—the broken ladder—the being unable to inhabit the skies when war breaks out over land and ownership. When people get enslaved on the same dirt they move against, pray for and sleep within there is nowhere to go but up or in. 

Her mind was relentless now. We live in a place where there are boundaries of all kinds simultaneously knowing of boundlessness and it is this knowledge that makes everything we exist within irrational. There is nothing rational about concepts built on irrational behaviors. We are where we start from, she thought, a diverse mineralogy we call dirt.

The woman is the womb and the wombs carrier. The womb and the womb’s carrier are the vast cerulean oceans and the uninhabitable skies. When she decided to stop staring, to stand up and move—everything she realized here would be gone. That is how her brain worked—things were there and then they weren’t. She was there and then she wasn’t. He was there and then he wasn’t. They were there and then they weren’t. It was there and then it wasn’t. This is the simplest thing in the world to know yet everything is based on staying—an integrated system of rock, clay, silt and sand

Why do humans want both the roots of the tree and the rootlessness of the fish and the birds? Why do they want to ground themselves, to take flight and to swim? Maybe it is this want that stops them from walking, this need for all things that keeps them missing the joy and fullness of one. As the woman perused her insides, scraping at the walls trying to understand the specs, she knew nothing was as she thought it was. Not even herself. Entire worlds we no longer feel or see

What could she be? Does she represent the ground, the ocean, the sky? Does she represent the inner workings of a mind in heat? Does she represent what is hot, bothered and full of life? Does she represent birth—the birth of a human, the birth of an idea, the birth of hundreds of ideas? Does she represent a lifelong pregnancy — constantly waddling through the world in desperate need of feeding her insides? Does she represent the stories of the women who came before her? 

The sorceress who cried on the inside while no one was watching. Cried because she was fully aware of the system she was working against, fully aware of the war to come, knowing of death. The sorceress whose arms fell dead while she slept. Who flailed the middle of her body around to get them to move, fearful they’d snap if they went the wrong way. Who noticed the way her elbows bent without permission. The way her limp arms waved like a dying bird’s wings until she could feel them coming alive again, until she had control over every feather—lifting them the way she wanted them to lift, turning them the way she wanted them to turn. The way the wind stopped and the feathers morphed into arms again and suddenly she remembered she was a woman not a bird. The way she bit her finger to see if it hurt and wiped saliva on the flesh around her nipples. 

The seamstress who returned from undiscussed travels in long white dresses with dirt along the edges, as if she’d been running from something and never stopped. Who walked into the house, usually after dark, and took off her clothes on the way to the bathroom—leaving a trail not to be followed while she sat in the tub for hours staring at the needles and blood she left behind—pricking herself over and over until she was drained enough to sleep. 

Or is it the girl who wore ugly cotton underwear and dressed in oversized sweatsuits. A girl who braided her hair tight and long and meticulously tucked it inside her clothes. A girl who got in bed with her mother as they cried and bled, letting the pain and blood of their abuse magnetize and collect as one. A girl who decided to get up when all the droplets were gone and go to school. A girl who used to smile at a boy in art class—secretly painting their imagined love in the form of suns and moons but now painted old, fat men with snakes between their legs and knives as fingers. Painted police badges ex’d out in blood, broken crystal glasses and fallen Malta. Painted torn silk billowing in the wind of a dragon’s breath and a lady whose clothes were shredded by the claws of another.

Or is it all of this beauty and this pain. Maybe the woman was yelling so loudly, trying to tell these stories, and no one could hear her. Maybe she was referring to a place where soil horizons interact with one another—never alone yet never seen. Maybe there was no one to share she with, nowhere to put the pain as it rose except those uncontaminated trees the woman couldn’t get to without all those engines. 

She wanted to be dropped in the middle of the ocean where the fear of the unknown, the pondering of death, was all that existed between that sky and that water. She wanted to float there looking at the open space, feeling the weight of worlds below her, knowing she would eventually sink in or be taken down unwillingly but it would be okay because it would make sense. There would be prayer and reverence, there would be unfettered, limitless space—no walls, no poison, no taxes, no fumes—just life, death, sky and water. The sound of seas slapping against seas, the smell of salted ocean breeze and the animals who live there—swimming in and out of the deep, somehow understanding that there is nothing more than nourishment and part of accepting that is accepting death at any time — accepting its relevance and its reality — accepting that in order for she to live she must die and there is nothing more boundless than that. 

It’s the ground walking we are scared of—various states of decomposition—plants, animals, microbial residues. Natural bodies with size, form and history. The life and death of soil—a diverse mineralogy we call dirt.

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