JIM CARTER
LIPS OF ADAM

Animals will effect the dreams that men alone cannot fulfil. They dance as thought in the maternal word, give to the world its body of rare substance. The nativity spells were there in the mouth of the bird of poverty, by whose songs perhaps, had it been their beginning, men could be served to a grace in their loneliness, the one to institute a true migration.

The crow had seen the fox about the summer wood, each day to part from his earth in pursuit of the thought of a virginal heaven: a yellow flower for him, she guessed, made tight in the bulb to illumine the word and purge his hunger thereby. In the quiet morning, on the holy day, she found however that his movements could not be so predicted, and it seemed to her that he returned this once as if with vagrant knowledge that lent to his step an invisible burden. The throes of the land will pass now and then through the jaws of the dog, this much she knew, and she dropped through the boughs to hear how the fox might speak in the old emanation. Never had his voice been so ordained as he retched in a noise of sticks and stones. His belly baulked at its inner milk, the blood disowning its king, but it seemed to her to chant all the same, and his grief had news of a veiled language.

For the winter that year had been fruitful ground for the body’s advent, and the god himself came up to seed elemental spaces; father to lips and incense of skin. The weeds and the flowers they were made so lush that the fox lay down beneath the trees to spew cinquefoil. It ran from his mouth in a green-black bile that the crow would drink for its promise of sleep. The rain fell and the leaden sun but the beasts knew not the hour. Oblivious to earth and its will for union, they communed by lines of blood and sap, of dirt and water, and the pool engulfed them.

The fox breathed with strange lungs the night and its counsel. His river was spent, but the bird, unsated, struggled to rise from the mire, and she flailed as he gulped the receding water. There was a sound from afar of men’s voices, and almost it seemed that the ebb in the fox had brought them to the bounds of the wood, and they too were enmeshed in crude alchemy. Animals do not miss the night unlike the man who only in sleep assays his bonds with their markings and makings. There is in his mind too much of the glare of false suns though the songs will work inside his chest to free him from the treacherous lights. Into the mouth of the fox went bird and man and all the vistas of eye and wing; into his gut slipped the moon and sun in his final breath. The white clouds shone on the yellow lip and the woods were still.

Before the dawn the creatures came, drawn by the lamp of the fox, and they stole with their hurts under cankerous skin to salvage the light of the crimson body. Their trembling years of pain and spite, they were birthed thereby so that the seasons passed in his waxing coat when his intimate hours had been few. Unclaimed by man, the time made good his flesh for flowers to tear in root and stem. The heather and sorrel, the mayweed and rose, they made the magic circle and the square; down from his skin, heavy with snow, they drained his days into the soil, to be filled once again from the font of the night. On these set paths the summer seeds lay deep in his winter fell, and it flaked with the bark of cherry and birch, for their songs were righteous. The night cannot withal maintain its primal spell so that, in the rising sun, softened by rain and lymph and dew, the flesh dropped to the valley of its bone. In the absence of viscera, in a white emptiness, there remained nonetheless a cave for a child to be born, and it was filled with the nectar of beasts. The gore and filth of deer and hare, of horse and dog, tumbled over stones till the legs were his but the arms were proportioned with talon and wing; till the womb would sing with the cries of a pup made deep and full with a spring’s efficacy.

When the rain and sun took apart and cleansed the husk of the night, the child met for the first time with the sensuous world that had fashioned for him his tender beginning. Soon dreamt from the cast of the fox, he took in low fragrance, turning away into earth as if to obstruct the restless spaces. For the sky seemed a thing of which to become inured, it had such weight; as if it attested to a first principle when the child would sleep in an earthly sensibility. Flinching from the cold and damp, he plucked nonetheless at overhanging branches, the world refusing the young that must break free of their own volition. Muscle must needs breach fibre, the feather its bone, so that he screamed as the cradle ruptured and he was born in black waste to the morning wood; born stumbling through trees consumed with the grief of a loss and surrender. For it seemed to him that a revelation owned him and he bowed as he ran with a shame of things done to the animal body but unrepented. He made for the sky but the flesh opposed him as it did the receiving earth; the wing bore him down into scrub and briar but to no further sanctuary.

Wretched and void with a suckling’s hunger, he blundered ever in and down from brakes of ash and oak into elder hollows. In the valley of the summer god, the water and waste accrued from higher farms made willow and birch there plentiful, but from their spells some bright survivors had in part been sung from a new contagion. The child came to rest on a shore of black stones where the stream banked softly to a curve, partitioned to a silver quarter by the fallen boughs of an alder tree. In the deep cup, stirred by subtle currents but itself unmoving, there lingered, trapped, a golden fish. Before claw and wing would pierce the foil to give of that light to the sunless belly, the fish seemed to throb with uncertain omen that came not by force of will or running water but by reason of marvelling countenance. Let there be no charm but in the word. In the green enclave, let speech ally to an old world’s anguish, no new and foreign wound. Wish for your voice to be a thing not distinct as thought has become, but equal to the ends and the bruises. For the animal songs once dwelt connate and were long entrusted to man’s devotion. In grievous time, formed from spoil, they sing laments that man has made to a balm of remedy and neglect.

The child took his measure from the yielding gold, drawing hard in his passion from springs that arose from the yolk and fruit of chaste worlds. The white throat took down sweet offering and it seemed for a space that it came with aegis of sense, as if by its heat and smell and taste it upheld what was pure in the noise of his famine and his youth. For the elixir hummed in lost anthem and it was soft as a cub or fledgeling bird in those first few notes of new language. In his economy of wild utterance there was alder and holly of a valley’s chorus; November fountains; argot of rock and stream and the hill’s lament; in the interstice before the end there were shrines to the wind; fieldfares sang with the newborn calf in brief communion; and the child called from the gut no less an animal myth for the world itself to renew.

The song drew to its ending as the light went out and the blight took hold of his blood. The child dropped to the ground, clutching his innards with wing and paw, thrashing the shallow water. The thought not yet free, it clung to his bone in and out of hurt with the weight of purpose; a power unwilling to yield till he gasped at the last as a winter foal that shakes with pain into forest stillness. Ask of your body, without human censure, to what faith it holds allegiance, and if in reply it claims no concomitant spirit, the eternal fire extinguished, then under the fleece and pelt, the feather and hair, let the roseate skin perspire, beloved of God.

Men will never know these children of their suffering and their sin. Though the old divinity will work for them, they will struggle to tell the miraculous traces. They would say the beasts are commonplace but it is given to them to uphold the memory of the sons and daughters of the earth’s ordeal. The conquered body will not be reconciled with its own self, its trials and its tortures: it must be reimagined at least in man’s proximity. But men that covet have never been so nescient and their bodies, ailing, adjured only in dreams: fade not into green chapels they asked of the animal god, but stay with us for your warmth is the prize, your tissue the clay, attendant to the fire of our thought.

When the night came down the creatures emerged from the wood in their kinds and their numbers to lament of the child by the poisoned stream. Packed between bones, the fire had begun in his crescent body; a fire that was blazing but which could not be heard as clearly as the mewls of a dog that yearned for its master. The noise of that loss was leaven to worlds of iron and stone, all that dwelt therein; even obdurate man, on the boundaries of things and witness to prayers of his own inheritance. Songs spread from the skin in a colour of gold; the empty spaces of grief broke through from the gut and the crow came forth, squeezing from ribs. The bones bore her to fire, to sky, and in fire she perished as she reached for heaven; illegitimate sky and heaven and patient earth, their yoke to sing, had the creatures known it, the fierce beatitudes.