Michael Blackburn


In your beginning is a house. It leans and leers, as old as stone, shadowed and shadow. Its skin is grey, its insides rotting red, its roots jutting from the cold earth.

Enter it through the kitchen, hoping, as you always do, for comfort. Onions and dust. An overturned chair, a rusted sink. Silence that gropes you, penetrates you. You shrink. You diminish so that you are only hair, bones. Your shadow pools around you, crawls up your legs.

Behind that iron door, there at the foot of the cellar stairs, is your dark father. He will eat your eyes. He will caress your stomach. He will grin against your ear while you scream. Above, wandering the narrow halls in a yellowed shift, is your hysterical mother. On her forearms, furrowed scars; on her lips, your whispered, importuned name. Your bed is in her sterile womb; your sewing desk that looks out over a stagnant creek is the perch from which you peek out of her labia and dream of crossing waters that will wash your father’s dirt from you, your mother’s madness.

But you are afraid, afraid that there is no real escape, that you will cross the brooding wilderness only to find a riotous city that will swallow you deep into its bowels; or, worse, that you will find nothing, only days that pass in dead sequence until you realize that the disease secreted in you has bloomed, has built its own empty house to erupt from your eyes, your nostrils, your pores, to swallow you alone.

Here, at least, at the old house, there are others, and you have the drama they create, and so you have the hope an unfinished dramatic narrative carries with it: gods and their blessed children; suffering and salvation; labyrinth and escape. You try to see these stories in yourself, to cast yourself as their hero, to feel them, to believe them; you beg the house’s bent and illiterate gardener—whom you secretly and incorrectly believe is your real father; his obese wife, your real mother—you hound him, as your only contact beyond the house, to tell you that the stories are indeed true, that there is meaning, that there is something other than this house and you.

He thinks you’re mad like him (his wife thinks you’re both sinners) and he placates you as a fellow conspirator; he winks at you, taps his nose, and at lunch, while your father sleeps and your mother moans, the gardener sneaks you thin and folded essays that he has drawn in the smoky light of a kerosene lamp before his breakfast. He asks, his large hands latched together, for a reward, and you allow him to smell your fingertips before, impatient, eager, you send him away.

Crooked lines. Tangled runes. Garbled blocks. You sit, in the afternoons, beneath an apple tree that is shriveling in the shadow of the house, and you try to force the gardener’s scribbles into a sacred code that will speak secrets to you.

But there are no secrets. You whisper that to yourself, and you accept it, finally, with a sigh as long as the wind. You fold the gardener’s essays into a small square, squeeze it beneath the browned roots of the grass. You look up through the tree limbs and watch the sun set behind the sharp lines of the house. Your father roars for you from his den; your mother floats behind a window and stares down at you with vacant eyes in the falling light.

You walk into the house through the kitchen. Your sweat smells like onions. You give yourself to your father at the foot of his stairs. Then, naked, bleeding, you kiss your mother’s cheek and allow her to pinch your face while she sings in tongues. You climb into the attic, humming to yourself. You don’t recognize your face in the reflection of the window that opens far above a small rocky ledge which collapses under your weight as you fall against it, and then, as the window like a dark and unblinking eye watches you, you fall further down into the quiet woods below.

Your left eye is blind now, but your right sees, and as your final breath wheezes out against the fallen leaves and branches that cover you like a bier, you stare up, unable to turn your head, at the house’s black angles ripping the lighter sky, your mother’s faint voice drifting down–is that your name she calls?–a gibbered secret like the murmur of a crow before it shudders and sleeps.




Michael Blackburn is a PhD student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he studies the English Renaissance and the uncanny.