But an Elegy
The demon bear hunted Daniel Boone through the Kentucky woods. Boone sang for his daughter, Jemima, kidnapped and taken away. He sharpened knives and planned and listened to the demon bear’s wail. He’d seen the bear in his dreams first, then since felt it stalking him always. He felt its hunger. He drank and watched the woods. The woods shifted and Boone dreamt of the ghost of his daughter, Jemima, carrying dead flowers. She caressed his face. She said, a man’s only as good as the world lets him be. He woke and thought if he found her, he could be saved. He called the bear, sensed its eyes upon him. He said he was sorry, but it felt not like a confession, but an elegy.
One of Boone’s men carved the meat from two beavers. He roasted them over the flames. Boone whispered into the rising ash that he might be going mad, that he feared the demon bear might take away his sense of good in the world. He made prophecies of forgetting, of suffering. Boone asked his men why they stayed in a place they were not wanted. One man said, We only know the voice of god when our deeds are laid bare. Boone dragged a blade across the palm of his hand. He wanted to know something about loss. He wanted to know what it meant to dissolve.
The demon bear was the trees, was the howl of locusts in the night, was the ache in Boone’s bones. The demon bear called from their hand-drawn maps, altering cartographies. The demon bear took Jemima into the Ohio country, it called to him, it dragged its claws through his home-lost heart. He woke his men and told them: I am no more than a whispered threat. If you open me up, you’ll find only that I am an empty church. The bells ring, but there’s no one to hear the sermon. He got up and wandered into the woods, a lantern dangling at his side. He felt himself as a dried-out river bed, as an ant that lost the scent of his colony, drifting around in circles forever.
In the morning, Boone cut lines across his chest and bled into the river. He drew Jemima’s face on a large rock in his blood. The woods offered him nothing. He was a baptismal candidate without anyone to save him.
The men sang songs of Kentucky and drank down their bourbon. Boone left bloodied handprints on trees. He said his daughter’s name repeatedly in his head. He asked his men what they’d leave behind if they died on this mission. One man laughed and said, just these bodies and some bourbon and nothing more. The demon bear was Boone’s blood, coursing through and out of him. He thought to open himself up and let the bear out. He asked the demon bear why what we lose is always trying to be found.
One man had lost the war party and Boone found him bathing in a lake. He thought to put his knife to the man’s throat, but all he could do was tell the man, We are both looking and finding nothing. We are both men whose bodies are stardust. The indian turned, naked and wet, and did not flee. He did not speak and still Boone heard him. Boone asked the indian if he’d seen the demon bear and the man just shook his head. Boone handed the man his knife. He wondered if he had words for the way moonlight hits water, the crackle of wood inside a fire. He held close to the man and asked him to tell him how the world ends.
The woods were a cemetery. Boone sang dirges to rotting wood, to his own whittled-down bones. One of his men spoke of redemption, of rebirth in crucibles. Another offered him cigarettes. Boone’s daughter appeared to him behind trees, on the tops of rises of hills. He felt the demon bear’s howl inside him, a stormy wind pressing down. He saw its teeth bared. He knew something of sacrifice. He was meat and they all were meat and they were to be consumed like everything else. They were so much weight on the world, they were wolves asking offerings of blood.
Boone burned his bible and tried to forget any passages about safety. He drank and went into the night woods after the demon bear. He left behind his confessions. The men did not follow. He found the demon bear atop a hill in the light of the moon. The bear tortured Boone, dragged its questions across his bones, drank his marrow. Boone asked the demon bear to split him open. The bear opened itself up, nothing inside but the starless dark.
Boone washed his hands in bourbon and asked his men to name him some new thing. He said his own name was a grave. He said, any word you name me must make a ghost of me. The men stared into the fire. Boone demanded they turn him into another man, a new man made not of the decaying forest, but of the brightness of fireflies, of throngs of salmon rushing upstream. He drew a map on his body with the juices of berries. The men grew crazed and laughing in their drunkenness. He asked them where they would go, but the map gave them no direction.
The nameless man saw the war party in the sleepy light of dawn. He shaved his head with his knife and washed himself and followed them naked. He heard his men behind him and he felt the demon bear roaming inside him. He followed, his daughter within reach. He followed, ready, asking the bear to swallow him, asking it to make of him some new body.
He asked to be born, to be born, to be born, again.
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