Nicholas Clemente 日 03/08/2023 · admin No comments


…but he knows instantly that it’s not a park, because the grass smells different from the grass in a park; and then he sees the end of the street; and it’s the strangest thing; because he’s seen streets curve or change in New York but he’s never seen them simply end; and that’s when he knows what it is; and the fence at the end of the street; black wrought iron, sinking into the darkness, the exact same shade and texture as the darkness; his suspicions instantly confirmed, because there’s only one reason why people build fences like that; but still he’s not scared; and less and less scared the closer he gets; all the way up to the bars, his face pressed between the painted metal; and from this perspective the tombstones, modest and more or less uniform, appear to him as a series of gently rolling waves on the sea; like bobbing at the edge of the ocean shelf, feeling the invisible depths beneath your feet; calming because you’re still close to shore, you’re not down below; and the subtle hills of the cemetery seem to undulate in place without moving; just a gentle breathing motion which bobs them up and down; inviting like a warm sea at the end of the season, still holding the heat of the summer; when there’s a breeze on the shore, just enough to stir up a few grains of sand nearby, just enough to raise the hair on your arms; and the water feels warmer than the air, or at least you think it is; warm like blood, the old body dissolved; the blood lifting you up, the blood carrying you out and away; that’s what the cemetery feels like to him now; and he catches a glimpse of a tuft of grass growing up at the base of a tombstone; right next to a paved walkway and the protruding root of a tree, where it must be difficult for the mower to reach it; a tuft of grass unnaturally thick, its color unnaturally rich, so green that it nears a shade of blue; and just the sight of it is enough to set him in motion; because he wants to plant his bare foot in that tuft of grass, he wants to walk across those lawns, he wants to dig his toes in and see how black and cool the soil is; wants to sink into the lush grass fattened with the blood of the dead; following the fence until it diminishes to a chest-high stone wall protected by a spine of jagged rocks cemented across the top; vaulting himself up all the way before he has time to think if it’s a good idea or not; finding a flat surface to place his hands and then lifting himself straight up until his elbows lock; something he didn’t know he could do, something he never would have tried if he had actually taken the time to think about it; arms quivering when he is at the highest point, and he only has seconds to think about what to do next; finding another flat spot for one knee and resting his weight; leaning over to peer down the other side of the wall; a larger drop than he expected, but still not impossible; because who else would ever want to break into the cemetery; and that’s when he begins to see it as a duty, because he’s the only one willing to spend time with the dead; and so he leaps over the other side; throws himself artlessly forward, head first, trusting that the grass will catch him, that the presence of the dead will somehow cushion his fall; and when his shoulder hits the ground it doesn’t hurt at all; when he rolls down the incline it doesn’t hurt at all; the earth soft and cool, just the way he imagined it; and when he comes to a stop he doesn’t want to get up; because he can feel the soft touch of every single blade of grass against his arms, against his cheek, reaching up to stroke the small of his back through the thin cloth of his T-shirt; because he can see a handful of stars up above; as if the cemetery emanates a shadow that reaches all the way up into space; a self-contained eclipse blocking the light cast from the rest of the city; the stars dim pinpricks of light like holes in the canopy of night, revealing something burning white-hot just beyond it; the stars like holes in the sky the same way he saw black mouths open up in the air right in front of him on the sidewalk; even if he knows that the stars aren’t actually holes; because it doesn’t matter what he knows, it doesn’t matter what’s actually real; because the stars shoot holes in him; because when he looks at them he can feel holes opening up in him; and it works both ways; he lifts his head up in front of his face to make sure; has to lift it higher than usual in order to catch the pale moonlike light beamed over the wall from the nearest streetlight; and there it is, there they are, just like he suspected, just like he always knew; the multicolored molecules gone from his skin, replaced by bottomless black pores placed at the center of every wrinkle; the pores so wide sometimes that there’s hardly any skin between them; but it doesn’t bother him, doesn’t scare him; only scares him in the same way the ocean scares him when his feet don’t touch the sand and he can feel the depth below; because that’s what it is; that’s what’s inside of his skin and inside of everything else; not an absence but a presence; something black and humming with life like the white-hot world rotating on the outer side of the sky; and he’s happy to be a part of it, happy to be the skin it has chosen to wear for now; and the grass is like a cushion sinking beneath his body but that’s what compels him to lift himself up; he doesn’t know how much longer afterwards, exactly; time has very little meaning here in the cemetery; the only visible sign of its passage the undersea swaying of the tufted grass in the wind; but he wants to see how wide the darkness goes, how pervasive it is, searching for its presence upon every possible surface; peering close to tree bark and pitted headstones and seeing the same thing; and the longer he stares at them the bigger the apertures seem to grow, the less raw material they have to work with; a blade of grass in the palm of his hand; he watches the openings spread out upon its surface, devouring it from within; carries it through a shadow and then it’s gone, consumed by spiritual rot, dissolved invisibly into the air; giving itself up to a greater presence; and it doesn’t hurt it and doesn’t hurt anyone; because after all what is a blade of grass, what is a tree, what is a tombstone, what is a human life; and that’s the funny thing; so he kneels down and touches the earth to make sure it’s not his imagination; and it isn’t; the same way the apertures aren’t in his imagination; because this is something he can feel in his fingertips; and he understands how you could see things sometimes, how your eyes could trick you, but he can’t imagine that his other senses could trick him, that they could all unite to trick him at once, none of them keeping the others in check; so if he can feel something with his whole body, and he has the whole body telling him it’s something true, then it must be something true; and that’s what he feels; first in his fingertips, and then in his whole palm when he presses it flat to the ground; the stirring of the dead; not in the sense that things are stirring around them; insects devouring the corpses, damp soil collapsing the caskets; nothing like that; and not in a supernatural sense either; a city of reanimated bodies milling around, a city of the dead beneath the crust of the earth; not like that either; more like the dead never really died, not all the way; like the force with which they lived their lives has continued after their death, the follow-through and resonance of the same motion; and that’s what he can feel humming in the earth beneath him; and he can feel it now in the air around him; and he wanders around touching a tree, a tombstone, and the hum is there too; and if he stands very still and concentrates very intently he can feel the hum of the dead within his own body; not just the dead nearby but the dead everywhere; the lives of millions of dead running through him and running through everything and running through everyone; the dead incorporated all into one body and forming a giant engine which powers the existence of the world; which means that death had to be in the world even before anything existed, before anyone had actually died; death a giant machine sitting at the heart of the universe, empty forever and waiting forever for its first tenants; not in any other universe, any other dimension, any other spiritual plane; but at the same time not exactly in this one either; not exactly; more like it’s something that exists more in the future than in the present; a place he will reach one day but not yet; and even the dead aren’t all the way there yet; and that’s where the heat of the sun comes from, that’s what fuels the action of gravity, the impossibly fast passage of the dead towards a place reserved only for them…

Nicholas Clemente lives in New York City. CV at The present piece is an excerpt from a work in progress.