Near death, sometimes the hands curve into themselves like claws. I held my mother’s open, smoothing the fingers, trimming the wild nails. Once, years before, my husband and I awoke to a fawn caught in the family compost, a hole on its back end festering with worms, and he pinched each one out swiping his little finger in the bowl of the wound, then coating it with antibiotic salve. I loved him, and how he saved this small thing. It’s a story I have told over and over. Today though, I’m thinking of the medical uses for maggots: biodebridement and extracorporeal digestion, their enzymes liquefying dead tissue in wounds, and wonder, do I feed off the dead who live inside me? When my mother was dying, she had a vision of her non-corporeal father, brothers, sisters. Her last words, Why have you left me alone? She never opened her eyes again, her chest a drowning well. The bodily signs of death: the skin mottling as blood flow slows; breathing, open mouthed; jaw, unhinged. I won’t recount the signs of a dying marriage, but he left two days after her funeral. Physically, he returned but told me he’d fallen in love with someone else, that his love for me had passed. Above my mother’s body, orange mist had exhaled and dispersed, a light bulb busted open, its luminescent gas escaping. The word fluorescent is so similar to the word florescence, meaning flowering, and somewhere between these two, there is a splendor I can barely stand. Inflorescence refers to flowers clustering on one branch, each a separate floret, but if they are tightly clustered as in the dandelion seed head, they look incomplete alone, though the whole is an illusion. The word for this—pseudanthium—means “false flower.” Infrutescence, its fruiting stage, gives us grapes, ears of corn, stalks of wheat, so many of the berries we love. This morning my hands ache as though in the night I’d been trying to claw my way out of a hole I am down in, having lost the body I came into this world through, and my husband’s as well. It’s almost as if my body had come to believe his was a part of its own, a connection he would have to break or die. Medical experts say it takes two moltings for maggots to do the job well, to feed enough to clean a wound. I do not feel clean at all, though in our shower, my husband and I still huddle some days, hunched into the spray. We call it watering. When we do, we scrub each other, grateful for the living, dying flesh, but trying to get clean of each other. That fawn he saved way back when we were new in love was released into the wild. Surely, it had a scar identifying it, evidence of what flesh my husband was willing to enter in order to keep something alive. Lately, he seems more clear-eyed, and it is as if a cicatrix husk is cracking. Neither of us know who will emerge, but he seems luminescent, a kind of light created by the excitation of the smallest elements, and not giving off warmth, but a cold glow that at least illuminates.
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