Author: Samantha Leigh Miller
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
Samantha Leigh Miller is the author of one novel and several short stories. She currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona, where she teaches at Arizona State University.
Inspired by Nuruddin Farah’s “Maps”
You want to kill. You want the body to break, to be silenced, finally. You want to dip your fingertips in blood and write your name in the sand. But what name would you write? How would it be spelled? What language? What tongue? A lie etched in sand and blown to the heavens to join with others, all who have called themselves “me” or “I.” All who take what has not been given them. That which will not be given, but can only be fought for, and won. No one has told you this, no one has said, “Here is the line you have seen on your map. Here, it cuts across the grass that pokes between your toes. Here, take it.” How many will you have killed for the name you have won? One for each letter? And how many letters in a name?
You sit. You read. You drink iced tea from a wet glass and form words with your lips that look like “war” and “atrocity” and “political unrest” and “Africa”. You watch the words as they come off your mouth and spin into the room. You marvel at their shape. You cross your legs. Tap a finger. An oddity. An interest. A subject, a part of a sentence that contains a period at its end. “Africa.” Roll the r, drop an a. This pleases you, you who live in a country where blood makes no sound. Colorless, tasteless. You who close the eyes of your dead as if they could not see. Roll the r, add a syllable. You say it again. “America.” You do not know who you, is.
And I? Who am I? Do I hedge the question? I do not wish to lie, but you force it, as you have in the past. You put your clothes on my body and fill my mouth with your language, you, who are missing a syllable. I cannot escape your need to define my borders. You have killed for this need and maybe my death will answer you. Maybe my silence will fill your question. But I think, no. Your mother’s death did not answer you—the first one, the dead one. Nor your second mother’s—the murdered one. And what of the third? Have you found her yet? Why is it that you think she hides?
Who am I? I am the baby with blood on my face, expelled by the dead hen. I am the boy, broken by the cane, healed by the woman. I am the woman, broken by the man, healed by the boy. I am the horse and I am the rider.
What? Is it proof that you want?
Children stand by a wall and a girl, five, maybe six years of age screams in a language she does not understand—“Where is he? Where is the traitor!”—repeating the sounds she has heard from the men with the guns. The hand she holds is that of her friend who lays at her feet. A line of blood warms a path beneath her bare toes and she screams—“Where is he? Where is the—” and then falls on top of the body of her friend, silent. And I am she.
An old man lies on the floor in a hut and stares at the ceiling. Others walk. Others talk. He says nothing. He stares. There is a bird, hidden up there, he thinks, but the others do not see it. He is fed. He is washed. He wets himself and he is changed. He is talked about, and spoken to. He has ceased to be with. He knows this and the others know it too. A life among, he thinks. A life before his time on the floor. He closes his eyes. Smiles. Among. He will drown inside the liquid in his lungs while the others discuss the dinner meal above him. With parched lips and a dry throat, his chest will fill with water. His eyes will open and his heart will stop and the bird will come down from the ceiling and pick crumbs of food from his white beard. And I am he.
A woman closes her eyes and hides behind her shut lids. She must be quiet, silent, she knows this, lest her cries will frighten her child. The loose boards of the floor have scraped her back and her cheek is pressed against a table leg. He has ripped the dress she made from soft cloth, bruised her hands that tried to stop him, torn open her flesh with his speed and his mass and his rage. Her eyes have closed and each of his labored pants falls on her face like a shroud. Breaths, humid and smelling of mulched earth, breaths that he, above, alive, casts down on her, below and dead. The heavens are gone and the worms are fluid in the dirt, like fish through water, swimming fast and swift, moving in toward prey. They enter through her nose and through her ears and they feed and feed and feed, growing fat inside her skull. Her hair falls from her scalp and her mouth is open, as if in scream, but she is silent since her breath is gone. She is alone. Trapped within the earth. And now her eyes have opened upon he who writhes above her. She opens her eyes and sees not a man, but an animal, grunting and grinding within her. A baboon who has seen the fear in her open eyes and is glad for it. She screams now, using her breaths while she can. She screams and her child wakes. And I am she.
I am the woman and the girl, the boy and the man, the child, the babe, the foetus. I am the oppressor and the oppressed, the ruler and the ruled, the blessed and the damned. I am the higher and the lower animal. I am the lie and the lying. The traitor and the betrayed. I am the dead, the dying and the forgotten. And you, you think now that you know me? You know of dust and ash and words written in sand. You know nothing of me. I am the caned, the sick, the raped, the murdered, but I am also the cane, the disease, the rapist, the gun, the bullet and the explosion that propelled the bullet and the thought whereupon came the explosion. I am the fire and the fuel. I am the feet that trod upon the earth, the earth that sprouts beneath the feet, the wind that spreads the seed to sprout, and I am the seed, planted deep and dark inside the earth, growing and mutating and changing the quality of all that is thought or known. I am that which lies outside your borders, outside your thoughts, outside your subjects, your languages, your cultures, your religions, your sciences, your histories, your peoples and your politics. There, beyond, is where you will find me. That is, if I haven’t gone.
Are you sorry that you asked?
But him? You’ll find him in the attic with his books. He has been given an education. He draws maps now and colors things and believes that he can label that which does not exist. He has been given clothes that fit him and suit his taste. He has been given the tools with which to speak his name. He has been given. The language he speaks now is one he can also write and he does; he writes long and hard and with an intensity that resembles death. Does he still fight? Does he still kill? This is a book, he writes, sipping on his iced tea. This is my body, he writes, and watches the letters form at the end of his pen, staring, and in awe of the graceful patterns that they make. Does he remember who you are? This is a cup, he writes. Does he remember who I am? A spoon. A fork. This is a blade. But can he pierce the sky and bring the floods? These are my hands. But can he rip a tree out of the earth and spread its scraggled roots across the page?
He is the storyteller, nothing more. He says that each letter is a sword, but he lies. The letters form words, and the words give shape to what he does not understand. An image to what is unfathomable. What is too large to fit inside his body. The words provide him structure, form, an outline, an idea within a boundary, a design with a smoothed edge that he can hold in one hand. Something safe. They are a comfort, nothing more. They pacify him. They help him to sleep, nothing else. I don’t trust him to tell our story. Neither should you. But I do pity him. He writes and will not be silent. He knows that the only proof of life is death. And he knows that you want proof. He tries to please you. But he fails.
May he always fail you.
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