Rebecca BrownRebecca Brown

Working Note

My work often begins with my hearing a sound, a phrase, a sentence. Often I don’t know what this sound phrase sentence means. It has to go over and over in my head and then slowly it squeezes more words out and I am, fitfully, writing. This "description" comes from, I think, realizing that a lot of my work is about the same thing—trying to describe this dark, low, bitten, something inside of me. I wrote this piece after finishing my book The Dogs, on which I worked for more than ten years. Then I realized that book had not exorcized my dogs and here I was again. One version of the title is in homage to, stolen from, with genuflections toward, Kafka, one of whose most early fragments is called "description of a struggle." That’s what I’m still trying to do, describe the same struggle again in which I am.




A Description


Description of a Struggle



         I’m trying to describe it again.
        It has not changed although it slipped from me and then, because I needed
        to, as always I have done, I misremembered.

        Although I can’t forget entirely for always it returns.

       Always it was here except for sometimes.
       Although perhaps that’s not the case.
       It may have not been when I was young.
       When I was young I was not as I am. It may have been but I nor knew nor recognized.
        I was, when I was young, resilient, full of hope. I had not learned to not have hope.
        I am no longer young.

       Always it is here except for sometimes. Especially when I think that I’m about to stop, succumb, be fed to it, pressed underneath, for which I would not be ungrateful, no, would, rather, please, I prithee—
       It releases me.
       I am released not by a thing I do but it.
       Whatever is done is done by it. Whatever I do is naught. I nothing am.
       Then it lifts me and I am again.
       Then I am grateful then ashamed of being grateful, even glad, to be at all again.

       I’m grateful, when it lets me go, as if it has been kind to me.
       I make these tearful promises. I say that I have learned this time, as if I have not learned before, as if those other times were naught, although they weren’t, they were, they are, still, yes, each, every one of them, yes, all, I bear the marks, see, here, where I am bent, the lines and cuts, the bruises, scars, the nightmares, the prosthetic.
       I pick myself up gingerly, the hand, the knees, the forehead scraped and bloodied. Gravel in palm, dirt in cuts across the knees. The hair in clumps. Abrasions across, lacerations within the protrusions (forehead, nose, cheekbones, chin). The nails chewed and bloodied. The back swaybacked from the pushing down. The bones of the elbows chipped from attempting to hold up, though not succeeding, the belly not entirely dragging but almost. The shirt flapping, spotted with holes, the cloth apparently ancient though in fact recently young, care with personal appearance having gone by the by some time ago, the collar frayed, the ends of the sleeves frayed, their color a ruddy rusty red, a sanguine hue, browning, blackening, expanding in spots, the rest of the shirt something of a shell-gray beige suggesting what once may have been white, clean, young or new though no longer, however, is. The end of an arm is a stump.
       The knees have been heroic. With the stump and the hand they too have attempted to remove themselves. The knees are hairless, scraped, bloodied, though not scabbed having never been given sufficient respite from crawling to form into scabs. They rather have been in contact with the ground apparently constantly which is gravelly, gritty, grainy, sandy, with little splinters of glass therein, sticky, dusty, hot in spots, you could fry an egg on it some days, icy in others, lukewarm, like if you spit it out of your mouth in others, severely slippery when wet, wet, as if covered with a thin layer of oil or grease, either auto, truck or otherwise, black ice it is called in these parts, a dreaded road condition, slanted, sloped, cliffed, so either one is clawing oneself up against the pull of gravity, against which one cannot argue, it has its laws, or one is clawing with what is left of one’s nails or ersatz nails, gore or stitches, to keep from slipping sliding falling being dragged by the pull of gravity, against which one cannot argue, it has its laws, down. The knees, hand and stump continue to be gushy, gunky, gory, gross, gelatinous in part, deeply unpleasant on whole, yet also with stitches, unsightly undoubtedly, yet nonetheless installed by Someone: Whom ?
        An act of Kindness?
       A mystery.

       Perhaps what I remember is a lie. Perhaps I just remember what I want. Perhaps I always knew the laws I fear.

      When it lifts itself and with it, me, then am I raised and grateful so it seems.
      I wonder if it’s like the change in altitude in coming up from the ocean, from whence one never should have sunk, where life is neither meant to go, though if it does, ought to desist and not return, for if it does, it does diminished like that child I knew when I was young, who fell in the pool and almost drowned, who should have drowned but didn’t, was rather "saved" to "live" in a coma on a diagonally slanted plank or "bed" in what was once the family living room, but then became, as it continues to be, the "treatment" room, yes, continues for she is still "living", now in her forties, as she has for the past three decades, breathing, receiving IV nourishment, evacuating, all with assistance as she will for the rest of her miserable fucking "life" like a fucking vegetable while her poor pathetic delusional babbling mother, now some kind of religious nut, prays faithfully, still, after all these years, for pity’s sake, for her little girl to recover while her husband, having not been able to stand the sight of his beloved daughter drooling her fucking life away, left, and honestly, who could blame him, the poor bastard, then only after years of serious boozing, was finally, at long last, able to off himself by, rumor has it, means involving a plastic bag, all the while nutty ol’ mom continues to pray, babble and hope like crazy that her vegetable girl, excuse me, vegetable woman, can still yet somehow against all reason, against all odds, against all that is that is decent, good or right, by means, that is, of some dark miracle, recover.
        Or if it is like the speed, as in a coming up from the ocean, something deeper than a merely nearly lethal suburban family swimming pool, too fast, from whence one never should have fallen, although one did, then being expelled, ejected, thrown, tossed, heaved, wretched up as in a vomiting forth, too rapidly, that makes one giddy, disoriented, distraught and temporarily out of mind, temporarily buoyant as if shot through with hope, with light, or rather a thing mistaken for light, a flash or jolt or electrical event or something that induces or makes way for something else the name of which I cannot recall, the nature of which I cannot create, although the memory of which, because it is no more, although I so believed when I was young, (I am no longer young) once seemed or was, or if it is like nothing else at all.



        I can’t have you how I want.

I can of course the human way, like any body can, with flesh, how we, both each and both both can and do, and this is good and I am glad but this is not enough.

       I want some thing impossible. I want to be of you, inside, the same as you.
       I want us skinned, beneath the flesh, the beating viscera. I want where some thing was that still remains. Where what we are is not the two, the separate, but the one.
       I want you open, wide, before the close, the seam, the covering. I want the willful opening where I can push inside. I want me in.
       I can’t actually imagine this. I mean, I’m capable of imagining a lot, but there’s a way that what one can actually imagine, if one is imagining right, could actually really happen. But this could not, not all of it, so I cannot, not all of it.
       I don’t know where to stop.
       I see my hand, an opening. The opening is yours, you’re open, I am going in, the fingers first, this part’s familiar, one, a pair or three, the whole hand then. I’m careful. Then the knuckles go, pressed close and small like a bunch of twigs, in, out, then in again and then the wide part of the hand which cannot bend as much, can’t shrink. I’m very careful now.
       Is this OK?
        Then slowly, more, the back of it, the whole of it, it’s all inside then held as if by something sucking wet and warm then pulling.
        Is this OK?
       Yes, Yes.
       Then careful, slowly up, the wrist, the thick part then the thin. Another pause.
       Although this is not comfortable at first, we take much care and then the hand is fully in.
       I can imagine what I’ve seen.
       Then now there is the other one, yes, both of them at once.

       This part is hard to see. I mean, I can’t really imagine this part like the other, what with bones and all. Though of course there’s also birth though that is not the same though has its similarities so one might imagine so I attempt.
       I am trying to explain in a picture what something might look like which cannot be pictured because it’s about what I can’t see.
      Anyway, then I see, that is, then it is my arms.
      Wait. Wait. This isn’t possible. I must be losing it. Maybe I’ve already lost it.
      But this is where I’m most at home. Where what cannot, where what will never, can. Where what can only be desired is.
      I have always only partly lived. Part of me, I think, was not full born.
      To return: Both my arms are inside.
      You hold your breath and I do too.
      I am extremely careful. I push, you pull, extremely carefully, my forearms to my elbows up.
      My elbows have never felt like this before. At least not that I can remember. The hair on my arms is matted, swept backwards like something swimming, like a thing that’s being fully born but backwards. (Like the arm of the vet up the hole of a cow with a calf calving upside down).
      The end of my arm I can see is wet and slick. Inside it looks how no-one can see.
      Then I am inside further, to my biceps, to the line where the sleeves of my t-shirts stop. Then I am going in with my Shoulders.
       I know this is impossible. Not to mention ridiculous. Nonetheless. It’s like swimming the breaststroke or the butterfly. The shoulders tense and pull so that if someone was behind or above, as you are of me, they (you) could see, if their (your) eyes were open. I don’t know if yours are. I’m not looking.
      Sometimes we look at one another and sometimes those are the most awed and humbling frightening times but I don’t know if we do this time. Perhaps it should be the most private, interior, eye-closed moment, but it could also be a moment to look. I want you to do what you want. But if someone, you, would look, you could see muscles in the shoulders flex, release then pull again, except of course I don’t pull my arms back, I couldn’t, not like this, without doing damage. I keep them forward, up, inside you.
      Now my head is inside too. I don’t remember it going in. Like a crowning backwards maybe. I don’t, although I wish I could, remember. The top of my head, where there’s the part in my hair, would have felt it first like the water they sprinkle on your head when you are received into an order.
       Miraculously, wonderfully, inspiringly, like those dreams I have of breathing under water, those dreams I have of flying, which I do by a kind of breast stroke in the air, above the world, I’m breathing here inside of you, alive.
       Then it’s different. Not like I’m coming up through you, but as if there has been a seam, like in one of those thick plastic oval coin purses that you just squeeze top to bottom and they open up. You have an opening like that, smooth edged, not torn, this is its purpose. (I think I have one too, but now is not my turn though that will come.) Or maybe it’s like you’re like a big jumpsuit of yourself, like you have a zipper of flesh from the bottom of your stomach to the bottom of your neck that you open up.
       I’ve entered you from that long middle place and I can feel the soft insides of you, intestines, stomach, guts, then the firmer liver, bean-shaped kidneys, connective strings, as taut as harp or fiddle strings, but pliable as the strings of a violin. I feel this all with all me, with hands and mouth and skin and I am glad.
       There also is, of course, the blood. It’s all around, I swim in it, but it is not a wound or hemorrhage. You are not in danger. It’s like everything is in an ultra-thin, see-through plastic wrap. No, that’s not quite right. It’s not so contained that none of it gets on me because some of it does. I like it. I like the slippery, slightly sticky wet. So, rather than an entirely impermeable barrier, let it be more like one of those noisy crinkly bread wrappers with all the little holes, a porous membrane. I shouldn’t have said noisy. It’s quiet here. There’s a hum or pulse and swishing sounds, things opening and closing, moving and coursing, but evenly, firmly, comforting sounds, not irritating noise. In any event, neither a "bleeding" in the sense of an untoward letting resultant from some a broken or wounded thing nor an unpleasant "noise" rather only the regular sound of right and natural movement.
       I am pulled in where it is warm as milk. It smells a little that too, vaguely metallic, like iron or rust, and steamy and close and comforting.
       Then I am not alone in here.
       For you’re inside here too; you’re inside you.
       You’re smaller or larger. I’m made the size that fits.
       Anyway, you’re in here too, there’s two of us now, and the amazing this is, it doesn’t bother the big outside you. The big outside you doesn’t feel queasy or sick the way one might if there were something, two things actually, crawling around inside one’s guts and one felt like one was going to be sick. You don’t feel sick at all. It also doesn’t look from the outside like there’s a lump or a growth or two, or one big one actually because we stick so close together, or like that alien baby from the movie, it just looks fairly normal, maybe a bulge or a thickening around the middle, but nothing anyone would be concerned about, more something they would see and think oh how nice, a bun in the oven. But of course, there’s no one else around. We only do this when we’re alone. But if the big you were to look down at yourself, you wouldn’t see anything unnatural only maybe a bulge or thickening around the middle.
        We slip around inside so easily, like a couple of kids in the snow except it’s warm. Maybe actually we’re more like a couple of kids on one of those Slippy Slides like I remember from the 60’s when I was a kid.   
        Do you remember?

       From somewhere there is light.
       The way, though thick and dark, is clear. There is a noise, a pulse and I am pulling in. I’m swimming to the core of you, I’m almost there, I have come far almost enough.
       I reach out with my wanting hand.
       This is what I came here for: the heart.


BIO: Rebecca Brown is the author of The Terrible Girls, Annie Oakley’s Girl, The Gifts of the Body, What Keeps Me Here, and The Dogs. She lives in Seattle.


new writing

table of contents