nimue to merlin

* * *

i want to tell you of the vision i had last night: that of my own vivisection. my chest cavity had been packed to the ribs with tumors, some like pumice stones and others like peach pits, rattling, then erupting, giving birth to spiders, wasps, and mites that swarmed in pilgrimage to my skull. this morning my head still brimmed with their tinny voices. they'd chattered,

scatter his ashes beneath the oak tree;
your gall will grow.
scatter his ashes beneath the dog rose;
your gall will grow.
scatter his ashes beneath the new moon;
your gall will grow.

by five past eight the dream has been shelved in the curio closet of consciousness where dust has consumed the oldest artifacts. my fingers shift from shelf to shelf to sift and isolate one memento from another, until, from a trove of your hand-me-downs and handiworks, i draw a mortar and pestle carved of cold, milky quartz. though warmed by my handling, the crystal remembers your touch as the one that gave it purpose. your hands are also fixed in my mind's eye like an hour fixed on a clock locked in time; in their prime those hands were so much the artist's and the agents of change. they crafted the hinges on the parlor door that i throw open as the timepiece you set ticking hurries me to the desk you built, and thereupon lies the book you wrote, and though you are gone, you are still dictating instructions in your neat, slanted script.

you tell me to gather a basketful of oak apples and grind them by mortar and pestle to dust. mix with rainwater drawn at dawn. stir counterclockwise five score times. unbottle the rusty extract of twelve iron nails submerged in vinegar and add resin of acacia with a pinch of green dye. once the mixture's settled, i will have in my hands a fine ink with which i am to finish the book you left, unclosed, and incomplete, if i have the gall to do so.

i set the vial of ink on your desk and pick up your pen. it resonates, as all objects do. it sings of things passed in the present tense, and it really is immediate, this memory, of your hand framed by the parallels of your desk, and at the slightest, lightest grazing of your thumb, a bead of ink on the pen's nib bursts in a dark bloom, matching the bruises and blue veins swelling against the thin vellum of skin that holds you together.

the remembrance coexists with the knowledge of those hands now at rest beneath an oak tree. my fingers tremble, thread tentatively a line of ink across the page:

when a parasitic gall wasp deposits its egg beneath the scales of an unopened leaf bud, a spell hatches, inducing the plant host's tissues to swell and ossify around the larva. thus an oak apple is not an apple or a fruit at all, but a tumorous microhabitat, a gall bearing a secret of the microcosmic realm.

a leaf bud becomes a gall. a basketful of oak galls becomes a glassful of ink. you have become soil for the oak. i think of the single rebellious cell that sent your organs rioting, and i know that we are changed from inside and out, not only by great shocks and traumas, but by nuances and lingering absences. i rub my hands together; they are ink-stained, tingling, and a little callous has begun to grow, and harden, on my finger where your pen now rests.

"it takes the lightest touch, like that of a gall wasp's ovipositor; suddenly cells redirect and rearrange themselves, and the very nature of an organism shifts towards a new purpose."

<--- the arthurian cycle