The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2016

All Issues
JUNE 2016 Issue

Transitions to the Up-Tempo Second Section, Called Tombohoneng (“Remedy for Yearning”)

When a character speaks in a work of fiction, it’s generally the last thing that character said to the author before dying. “Don’t eat too much,” for example.

Which, like most things said, wasn’t really necessary. He probably wouldn’t have anyway. Or if anything, just a little. Enough to tide him over. He’d been tiding himself over for what felt like forever. In the end it was easier in a way to just stop—stop looking, nibbling, stop wanting, and fall—the motion of this verb cannot be stressed enough—asleep.

Girls scatter off benches and resettle on benches like birds on branches, chirp, “No eating no eating no eating no—”

Teacher tosses breadcrumbs. Girls gather, stoop, lift breadcrumbs to their lips. Chewth.

He tended to not wake up, but down, further even than he’d fallen.

We walk along the cliff, he read, and I feel a sudden impulse to push you over, which I promptly do: I acted on impulse, yet I certainly intended to push you over, and may even have devised a little ruse to achieve it; yet even then I did not act deliberately, for I did not (stop to) ask myself whether to do it or not.

Proof that understanding had overturned impulse but not done away with it altogether was gradually accrued from the commitment with which he kept biting his lip whenever he meant to bite something—anything—other. He’d scream and flail, hit whatever was within reach—which, without fail, belonged to him, skin, bones, teeth, interference, whatever instant’s thisness he seemed just then to be.

He can’t say now whether the character in question was his brother or his grandfather. He can’t say much, I know. And even what he can, he can’t say all that well. Can’t say all the way.

All words are last words; it’s a matter of capture. I devised a little ruse.

An author is a wound, a body, a web words fall and stick along the weave of. No matter the character the same words, or no matter the words the same syntax. No matter the animal the same windborne formations from bench to bench to bench to—

Whatever he said, wherever he looked, whatever he bit, he found only more wounded parts of him to swallow.

Swallows scatter off branches, ride the wind in swirling formations, resettle on branches, chirp: “No eating no eating no eating no—”

The instruments, he read, are commonly played in pairs which are tuned slightly apart to produce interference beats.

Teacher tosses breadcrumbs, says, “Where there’s a wound there’s a way.” Girls gather, stoop, lift breadcrumbs.

One instrument, tuned slightly higher, is thought of as the “inhale,” he read, and the other slightly lower, is called the “exhale.” When the inhale and the exhale are combined, beating is produced, meant to represent the beating of the heart, or the symbol of being alive.

A homeless window open to both winds without and winds within was what I think he was looking for—or out of—or into.

That he, the character, continued dying, in other words, in no way diminishes the extent to which his words, whichever they were, were his last.

“Are these still mine?” for instance, he joked—choked—nodding at his ballooned-up feet, blood-fattened and inflated with viscous blood his battered heart could hardly keep in congress through congested veins his paper skin was cursively underscrawled by.

They weren’t still his. But his weren’t yet the other’s. Whose wounds exactly the wounds were was difficult to tell. It was all rather difficult to tell. But it was never difficult to tell something was missing. The symbol of being alive.

“Even my scars have scars,” he said.

He understood. Of course, he understood. He’d been under—and the stress of this prefix cannot be addressed enough—standing for what felt like forever. But proof that understanding could not do away with impulse but only overlay a sticky okayness over it, okayness which couldn’t undo it, but only stick to it like a flock of insects in a weave of web, captured to the threads it meant to overlay was gradually accrued with every bite of anything other he tried and failed to take.

He tided himself over and over and over and—

Near an injury like an amputated limb or tail, he read, the cells undergo a process called de-differentiation: they lose their characteristics—the defining traits that make them skin cells or bone cells—and return to a state like that of stem cells, early cellular forms that can become any cell type.

He was often near an injury. He walked along a cliff.

Since there’s no scarring, he read, it’s difficult to tell anything had been missing, and imagined being another animal.

Thrushes scatter off branches, ride the wind in swirling formations, resettle on branches like girls on benches, chirp, “No eating no eating no eating no—”


Anima (breath).

Animalis (having breath).

I did not act deliberately, for I did not (stop to) ask myself whether to do it or not.

Plot is a name for a sort of homeless window open to both winds without and winds within. It is anything that needs a character as badly as the author needed that character to just—I don’t know—die already. Theirs was hardly holding itself together at the edge of a field he’d often walk to, spectral rays of every color struggling to cohere into some excuse for a plane, embryonic, eggy, its frame fuzzed, curtained in canvas.

In a way, he took him there.

“Look,” he said.

“I know,” said his brother, “I’ve seen this before.”

And then later, “Look, it will happen. Just please don’t rush me.”

And later still, “My skin, my bones, my teeth, my blood. Even my scars have scars. Not everyone can be a—what did you call it?—all the time.”

“Even my scars have scars,” he said later. “The body doesn’t de-differentiate to resuture its wounds. What gets sawed open gets sewed closed. Discolored tissue grows over the fissures. Prosthetics for my amputations. I am in so many ways—with so many wounds—not an axolotl.”

“I have some trepidation,” is another fine example of dialogue.

Teacher scatters breadcrumbs, says, “They lose their characteristics,” dies. Girls gather, stoop, lift breadcrumbs to their lips. Chewth.

Proof that understanding could only overcoat impulse, turn impulse over into a sort of impulse that was meant to be satisfied with not being satisfied, which wasn’t impulse at all but an entirely different animal was growing incontrovertible with every wound he both sustained and issued. Inhale.


De (down).

Librare (weigh).

Weigh down. Where there’s a wound there’s a—

“Jessse,” he whispered—his name was Jesse, too, but with more s’s. “Jessssse.”


“You sleeping?”

“Was. Why?”

He had no answer, didn’t know why he needed to know just now as badly as he did how really and actually here they both were, but he did. So he said, “I read somewhere someone saying wisdom doesn’t come from age, but from periods of excessive sexual activity.”

“Hm,” said his brother.

“Hm?” he asked. He wasn’t satisfied.

And it had been so long since he’d been satisfied that he reached from his side of the bed to the other’s, wove his limbs through the webs of his feeding tubes, his miles of wires, tides of blankets, t-shirts, and briefs, passed bandages and bra-straps, stitches, casts, catheters, wounds left long unopened, scars unsealed.

In the end he had his face. In his hands he held him, the breathing thwacking thinning cheeks like winds thwacked canvas curtains. Inhale. He scuttled over stubble, outlined lips, tapped temples. Inhale. His finger was an insect that settled on the eyelid and felt the dreaming pupil’s pulse ripple with its own.

“Brother,” he said. Or “Grandpa.”

I guess he never had a brother.


“We walk along the cliff,” he said and he’d been tiding himself over for what felt like forever. But by then his brother was asleep again, and so, I suppose, was he.

He was, in so many ways—where there are so many wounds—not there—inhale—anyway.

They walked along a cliff to where the field met a forest, where the plot from the sky splayed its light in a circle.

He took his brother’s hand in his.

“Let’s just see what it’s like up close.”

Swallows and thrushes threaded the grasses. Jealous, he gazed at thick rows of roses buzzing with insects that rose from the gardens where scaffolded beanstalks were skirted with kale.

He urged his brother on. The plot gathered. The nearer he came the more solid it looked.

He let go of his hand and went toward it alone.

He got close. He was almost light, the window almost something. But what was something so light to the weight of those wounds?

You know a work of fiction is finished once its author accepts he’ll be doing the killing himself.

He walked along a cliff and came to the bedroom. The doorway was a window his brother was sleeping in and on the outside of. His brother was a body. The body was a wound, a wound wounded. The wound was the future. Mine, embryonic again, losing its characteristics, egged him on, egged him in, borne from a branch, swirling in girly formations, resettled on the edge of the bed.

Girls gather, stoop, lift breadcrumbs to their—

What glints must his bared teeth have thrown?

“Don’t—” he heard his brother sing, but there was meat between his teeth, too, his brother’s, and it glistened like pancetta, “—eat—” he sang, meat ribboned, cured—to branch to branch to branch to—“too much.”

In my eyes I saw two insects helix through the dark, and I could hear a heartbeat beat: impulse, impulse, impulse.

Texts quoted include: the program for Gamelan Kusuma Laras’ “Music & Dance of Java” at Roulette, November 21st, 2015 (title); J. L. Austin’s “The Meaning of a Word”; the Wikipedia entry on Gamelan; “An Amazing Amphibian” in American Museum of Natural History’s member magazine, Rotunda, Vol. 40 No. 4; and Percival Everett’s Percival Everett by Virgil Russell.


Jesse Kohn

Jesse Kohn’s fiction has appeared in Spork Press, Sleepingfish, The Atlas Review, Everyday Genius, SAND Journal, and elsewhere. He has contributed essays and interviews to 3:AM, The Rumpus, Quarterly Conversation, BOMB, Bookslut, HTMLGiant, and more. Links can be found here:


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2016

All Issues