8:1: “Blight, Under the Microscope”, by Michaela Kahn

8:1: “Blight, Under the Microscope”, by Michaela Kahn

What shapes the world? History as force rather than document. Perhaps it’s too complicated to decode. Chaos theory: the thousand thousand chances that converge so this person dies and that one lives, the clockwork machinations which give rise to a city, that allow Columbus to land. A drought, a war. A village disappears. A language dies out. What role does a single person, a single life, have amid the crush and mass of events?

Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated October 5

*

He flicks his wrists. The white tablecloth flies off the table, leaves glasses and plates behind. It’s a trick he learned as a kid, when he did magic at the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings.

“Beat that, professor!” Chris laughs. He sits back in his chair, folds his arms across his chest and smiles.

“Oh, I can beat that,” I say and raise a finger to the vase of yellow roses on the table. I close my eyes. I’m a little dizzy from the wine. “Watch.”

When I open my eyes again, he is focused on the finger. Chris, the good scientist, the careful magician. No perception deceptions for him. I wave my hand over the roses.

“Abracadabra. See?”

“See what?” he asks, and squints his eyes.

“Just look.”

I lean back to sip more wine and watch the yellow petals pale to gray, the leaves crinkle, the buds shrivel inward.

“What did you do?” he asks. He pulls a stem from the vase to study it. The rose falls apart even as he draws it to his face.

“It’s my trick.”

“Adele, what did you do?”

So serious. As if he’s sober.

And then I’m sober, too. A slip: I’m a blight; he’s a biologist.

What was I writing in my notebook today? The chances of history: A famine destroys a village. A girl is tried as a witch. Perhaps not chance, just carelessness.

Chris paces. The smell of burning cobbler wafts from the kitchen. “How. . . you’re a blight? What the hell does that mean?”

“My grandmother was a blight. My great great-grandmother was a blight. It goes back a long way. Women selling cabbages in the old country. You know, ‘Better buy from Anna, or she’ll blight your field.’ Anyway, I gave it up. . . so it’s no big deal.”

“No big deal? It’s like you’re a superhero, Catwoman or, well, Blight Girl.”

“That’s stupid. You’re a biologist, think–what’s a blight?”

“A plant disease. Mold, fungus, whatever. But the discovery that you are a blight.” He looks at me as if I might sprout wings.

“You mean discovery,” I make quotation marks in the air, “like: ‘in 1492 Columbus discovered America’? There were millions of people here before he arrived. My family’s been around a long time. This isn’t new. Just new to you.”

“How do you do it?”

*

I wonder why so many think of history as a set of lists: Battles, generals, infamous leaders, plagues. What do names and dates matter without context?

Some historians (see Matossian) suggest the plague would not have killed so many if not for the simultaneous presence of Ergot poisoning due to a blight on rye. People ate the contaminated grain and Ergot ravaged the immune systems of both the Plague’s victims and survivors. It took over a hundred years for the population to recover.

All the factors converged to make that period the horror it was: a cold wet winter, plague that arrived at a port city where it could spread rapidly, a blight, an ongoing war, and a series of earthquakes. Think what the world might have looked like if all those various threads had not intersected. Perhaps without the religious fanaticism of the plague years, which ossified and entrenched the church, the contact between European and Native American peoples would not have been so tragic. It’s all connected. Maybe Christianity would have died a natural myth-death or transformed into something more tolerant. Would the world have become round sooner?

Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated October 9

*

At the end of a row of tables, Chris types into his laptop. I walk to the bank of windows lining the eastern wall of the lab and look out over grass, students, crepe and falafel kiosks. Oak branches wave in a breeze.

“Too bad the smog blocks the mountains, it’d be a great view.”

There’s always a thick layer of valley smog from cars, factory stacks, and field upon field tilled with combines, their dust rising high into the air. Dust and chemicals.

Chris looks up, half-smiles the way he does when he hasn’t heard what I’ve said. At another table his lab partners, Sergei and Kim, are arguing, pointing at a computer.

“Hey guys!” I wave.

Kim looks over, “Adele, congrats. Chris told us.”

I suck in breath before I realize he’s talking about my fellowship in the History Department.

In the last few weeks Chris has been obsessed with the idea of blight, asking questions, even taking notes of my evasions. I know in the end he’ll lose interest, he never strays far from his formulas. Sometimes I think he sees them on my skin when we make love. For him even desire is a language of chemical interaction, the way saliva mates with saliva, pheromones ringing bells in the nerves, the lubrication of evolution.

He points to the screen which flickers uncomfortably under the fluorescents. “I can’t get it, whatever I do.” He frowns and his crow’s feet deepen. He’s been squinting at the computer all day.

“Aren’t you trying to see what actually happens, not make up a way to prove something you think should happen?”

“Funding is coming up,” he says, rubbing his forehead. I reach up to touch his hand but he turns away. As he packs his bag he hesitates over a lab-book, then drops that in too. He shakes his head. “We need results. Duarte’s going to fire me.”

“He can’t fire you, you basically wrote his last paper.”

“I could have written every single word but I’m a grad student, it doesn’t matter.” He lets out a deep breath and finally looks me in the eyes. “Let’s go. You, me, spaghetti, a bottle of Zin.”

And the world suddenly rights itself with an intersection of Italian cuisine, viticulture, and the temperate climate of California.

We ride our bikes through campus past the Ag fields which at this time of year are mostly given over to cover crop and drying safflower, their rust-green, gold-yellow prickle at my periphery.

We follow the bike path into town, onto the road lined with cork oaks that leads to his apartment complex. Chris lives in one of the dozens of identical student-ghetto complexes in town, all with paper-thin walls and the smell of chlorine, laundry detergent, and locker room towels.

I steady my bike against the wall and pull my backpack out of the pannier.

“You know, a wine blight in the 1850’s in France wiped out about forty percent of European vines. They ended up coming to America to get root stock to make the vines immune. It must really irk the French.”

Chris looks up from locking his bike and laughs.

*

Over 150 were accused in the frenzied witch hunt at Salem in 1692. Nineteen were executed. Evidence (Caporael) links the “bewitchments” to ergot poisoning of rye, not the gangrenous kind from the plague years known as Holy Fire, but convulsive ergotism, which can cause spasms, hallucinations, ranting. Would anything have been different if the source of the first young girl’s fit had been known? Compare with 1741, in England, when a rash of convulsive trances and visions came to be known as The Great Awakening, a period of religious revival, not of mass trial and execution. Rye blight was likely involved there as well. What made Salem different? Why the Devil and not God? Repression, personal grudges, religious intolerance . . .what source are we missing?

    • Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated November 12

*

Everything I say constitutes a clue. Each word might unlock this puzzle for him.

“Adele, you really haven’t explained it,” Chris says, tapping his pencil on a notebook. We’re back in the lab on a Saturday afternoon. And although Chris ostensibly has real lab-work to do, he seems more focused on me.

“I don’t understand how you can have houseplants,” he says. “Why don’t you kill them by touching them, or by just being around them?”

“Sweetie, I don’t really know what more I can tell you.”

“Could I do a tissue sample?”

My hand involuntarily grasps the table behind me as I step back. “Whoa, lab rat territory. Stop. It’s just . . .it’s like you being so tall. You know, brown eyes/blue eyes, pink pea flowers/white pea flowers, fruit flies, all that. It’s a smidgen of genetic history. History. I know you thought it would help generate ideas for your project, but I don’t see how. Don’t you think it’s time to get back to your work?”

“I didn’t mean . . .”

“Besides, I’ve got tons to do. I have to hand in my proposal to Dr. Holt soon. I have lots of useless notes, but I’m completely unfocused. I can’t be hanging at the lab all day.”

“Nothing scary,” he says, “just a scraping from inside your cheek, with a toothpick. Like when you were in high school biology. It’ll be fun.” He smiles.

*

Iodine. Salts. Alcohol and agar. Cheek cells under the microscope. Puffy little mammal cells, dark nuclei. Does it all come to this? Histories of the several continents: war and famine, colonialism, poetry, genocide, stained glass windows in cathedrals . . .all of civilization and its demise start with a single cell? To something that decided to get up and crawl out of the sea one morning.

Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated December 1

*

Light slants into the lab at an angle. South beyond the campus are fields. And north and west and east are more fields: rice, safflower, soy. Peas, lettuce. I can feel them, their little pricks of light and shadow, hear their rustling whispers in the distance.

Last night hand and oil slid along skin. Chris touched my chin, and there was the smell of almonds as he leaned down to kiss the corner where my lips come together. The seam. Who was he, a boy with the smell of almonds on his fingers? And who was I, swimming undersea?

Now he looks at me, says: “But if it works one way, it might work the other.”

“It’s not like a faucet, hot and cold,” I say. “It’s blight, that’s all.” I take a deep breath. “Look, when my mom first told me about our family, I thought it was cool. But then she showed me books about blights throughout history. All the suffering they’ve caused.”

“I don’t think you understand the implications,” he says.

“No, I don’t think you do. Blights kill whole species, countries worth of crops, destroy lives and economies. I can’t make rice puffier or tomatoes that magically ripen in the grocery store.” I look down at my hands, lift them to my face and peer at him through my fingers. “I can’t end world hunger, just the opposite.”

They are only fingers, ten of them. Still a little dirty from cleaning my bicycle this morning.

He has five trays of pea sprouts: A control group, one for an herbicide, one for me to blight, another that I’m supposed to enhance somehow, and one for a fertilizer. A very simple experiment, too simple.

So near, the soft green auras of the pea plants lap against my skin. They are there, I am here. And yet if I reach out, not with fingers but with self, touch the green, soft-edged, I would be there, too. Split, simultaneous–a self no longer anchored. How can a self be here and there? What is left behind?

“Adele, I just want to compare effects.”

I turn away from the sprouts. “Do you know anything about the potato famine in Ireland?” I ask. “About 1.5 million people died. Because of a blight.”

I can’t say to him, because of one of my relatives. Not yet.

“Look, this could really help,” he pleads. “It could get Duarte off my back.”

“I don’t have any reason to kill those pea plants. I’ll be a lot more useful in life teaching than I could ever be as blight.”

*

Dr. Holt’s feedback: my ideas are all the speculation. He thinks I have a blind spot, that I am presenting examples that are “acts of nature.” My “blight” cases are not the best with which to prove my point.

Maybe it’s just all the talk with Chris about blight, wondering if there is something more to it, to me — but I can’t give it up. The rice blight in Bengal in 1943-44 was a disaster that took nearly 3 million lives. Again a variety of factors: World War II, a terrible flood, Japan had taken over some of the larger rice-growing areas once under British control. A vortex of historical events. But what am I missing?

Blame. A name. A reason. Things I could never write in a paper. What relative of mine lived in a village in the Bengali water-land of young rice stalks? Why did she do it? Did she hide, knee-deep in muddy water, to see the farmer who went to his fields next morning and found his plants dying? Did she stay in the village and watch the children turn to straw dolls with hunger?

Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated March 14

*

“Ouch!” I flinch when the needle exits my fingertip. He pinches the finger, smears blood onto glass.

“This is great,” Chris says as he finishes prepping the slide. “I’ll be able to take a preliminary look.”

“Preliminary?” I ask.

Now he looks down, sheepish. “If its okay I’d like to take a larger sample of blood, do a DNA analysis . . .and a few other tests.”

I stare up into his very transparent blue eyes. He looks away, checking the lab book.

“Not a lot,” he adds casually, “just like you’re giving blood at the doctor.”

*

Blood whirs inside a machine. Here is a koan: What color was human blood before human beings? Perhaps the gray of a dusty field or the black of a moldy leaf. Blue eyes/brown eyes. Blood in the machine/ghost in the machine. God in the engine. Pipette, titration. Men with slide-rules sent men to the moon. Chemicals and the residue left when chemicals disappear. Did the alchemists know where their work would lead?

Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated March 24

*

“But even as a blight, there are useful applications. Think of the lives that would have been saved if the government hadn’t had to use a dangerous chemical defoliant like Agent Orange in Vietnam.”

I look at the bean seed in my palm, at the perfect seam down its side that makes two exact halves. “How can symmetry have been an accident?”

“What?” Chris looks up from his notes, confused.

Had to drop Agent Orange onto trees, soldiers, peasants, rice fields, children?” I ask. “Had to burn the village to save the village? You’re one of the ones who’d have kept on with the bomb after VE Day. Not because you had to, but because the science was too fascinating.”

I press the soft seed between thumb and forefinger until it splits. I hand half to Chris, who opens his fist automatically to receive it.

“Adele, let me . . .”

“No, you stick to science and let me handle history. You’ve obviously never studied any.”

Chris’ mouth drops as I turn and walk out of the lab.

At the double doors of the Biology building the fan blasts my hair. Outside my body is immediately covered in sweat. I walk slowly back to the History department, pause across from the coffee kiosk to watch Joe, the sun-tanned barista, flirt with a young woman in a sundress. Sunflowers on white rayon. She tilts her head and laughs. Love and coffee. Love and lab notes.

A voice from somewhere at the back of my brain screams: Run!

The girl leans in to whisper something to Joe.

Run, the voice repeats.

But I turn and enter the dim, cool corridors of the history building.

*

People tear at each other. Famine. Scratch eyes. Disease. Lips go red with blood. Madness. Fingernails rend skin. Blight. They laugh as they light each other on fire. Scourge. It is ashy light. War. Their bodies radiate, hotter than the fires. Nature. The names of my relations are written on the walls above the seething mass. Desire. The walls begin to catch, to fall around us. Death.

I wake crying.

I’ve done some more reading. The deaths of the Irish Potato Famine could have been prevented. Well, many of them could. Instead the laissez faire government under P.M. Lord Russell didn’t want to halt potato exports or create soup kitchens.

Even as the death toll rose, policy remained the same. People couldn’t afford to buy the food in their own fields. How could the government have just watched it all happen?

Blind spot. Something clicks into place. The missing thing. Choice.

Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated April 20

*

Chris stands at the kitchen counter with one hand out in a gesture of appeasement. It’s simple, universally human. And it’s not enough.

“No. You told your lab partners! You don’t see me anymore. You see an experiment. I’m done. ”

He holds a pot of coffee in his other hand. Across from me, the lab notebook sits at his place on the kitchen table. Why it’s so thick I don’t know, I’ve told him nothing useful. I’m sure those tests have proven nothing beyond what he knew the moment I blighted the yellow roses. What could he have learned? I haven’t learned anything more than I already knew about what I am.

“But this is important work, Adele. Important to science, to agriculture, to the lab and the guys. Shit, it’s important to the human race! There are so many ramifications. I don’t get that you don’t see how special this makes you.” He pauses and puts the pot down on the counter. “And it’s important to me, my career.”

“Your career? I could obliterate the economy of California, ride a wave of events and trigger mass starvation. Or madness. Or infertility.” I pause, wanting to understand him, myself. “It’s my fault, I should never have let you start. . .But no more blood, no more urine, no more questions.”

“I didn’t mean it that way. If we told Dr. Duarte, maybe we could even get a grant for the project–funding–then we could pay you for working with us.”

The mug flies from my hand and shatters on the wall behind him. I follow the trajectory of the mug, travel with it and experience collision with the wall. I shatter and spray across the counter.

I am here. I am there.

*

Can’t smell the grass. Can’t hear the wind beating oak-leaf against oak-leaf. If I press my face flat against the window and look right I can just see the top of the Library from here. I’m in the brand new Level IV BioLab, a joint venture of the University, the CDC, and the DHS. Where all the worst (Ebola, Anthrax) live behind space-suits and four-foot concrete walls. Glove boxes and state of the art ventilation systems. And me, behind steel and glass corridors. I didn’t think they had finished the building yet.

There is an encysted silence. The walls are too thick to hear anything but sounds from within. My room is very white, very small. A narrow window. The paint still seems to give off fumes. There is a dull hum of ventilation and electricity that becomes the very depth of silence.

It wasn’t Chris. Kim told Duarte, showed him notes and seeds. Duarte called someone he went to school with . . .How many phone numbers does it take to make a prisoner?

All my ranting about history and context, I should have seen it coming.

Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated May 27

*

“You don’t understand. This isn’t about choice,” says the man who introduced himself as Dr. Sykes. How can I know if that’s his real name?

He sits at the desk so casually, looking at me with muddy-colored eyes from below his shock-white hair. Behind him Duarte stands fidgeting with a pen. He actually looks nervous. Duarte-the-Terrible is scared of this man. Bile rises in my esophagus.

“It’s about National Security,” Sykes adds, tapping his finger randomly against the desk for emphasis.

The pricks behind my knees turn to bee-stings.

Suddenly, this is not funny. Was it ever funny?

“It was a hoax, a joke between Chris and me,” I say. “The guys must have thought we were serious, they must have thought . . .”

“I appreciate your distress Miss–” he looks through papers, doesn’t even know my name, can’t find it, looks up. “But there’s no need to panic and you certainly shouldn’t lie.”

“Lie? Of course not, this is ridiculous. A person can’t be a blight. It’s science fiction.”

The man smiles condescendingly. My fear is merely something he can play with. He’s a big white cat, licking his paws.

“Please, stop,” he says. “I understand you’re scared, but we have all the evidence, the video, the lab reports, the seeds; we have the eye witnesses from Dr. Duarte’s lab.”

Video? “I won’t help you.”

“You will. But we would much rather you did so willingly. Please realize we can not allow you to leave this facility with the knowledge we have of your . . .abilities. You are too great a security risk, by your own admission.”

Chris’ notebooks?

“If you were to fall into enemy hands, we’d be looking at a threat of unacceptable proportions.”

I look around quickly as I choke. There are two men at the door in fatigues, guns holstered at their hips.

*

Strange miracle, a desk and my computer had appeared in my room when I arrived back from another “examination”. Even a few books.

And this is enough freedom? To work on my thesis from a tiny cell and know you will read every word?

So, one for the records (you bastards): Those three million that died following the Indian Rice Blight–I did more research on that, too. They didn’t all have to die. While those poor peasants starved, the surviving rice was sent to English troops. To English house-wives. There might have been enough, stretched thin. But priorities, of course. It’s what happened in Ireland–the poor were left to buy their way out of death.

The more you look you see how many times famine has been used as a way to kill off undesirable parts of the population. A strategy with the added benefit that the governments of the world can say, patting their lips following a meal of veal and baby peas, “So sad about Ethiopia, nothing we could do.”

History is complex. There are a million random events but there are also choices. And responsibility. What role does an individual have amid the chaos? I wonder what you’ll say, Sykes. Do you know the choice you’ve made?

Go ahead, write this down: A relative of mine was there in 1943. In 1692, in 1845. What you technicians should be asking is not how but why.

Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated June 3

*

“You should start cooperating with us; it will be less painful.”

I have track-marks on both arms. Someone must have given management here an earful because these chats with Sykes now take place with him in a “safe” room on the other side of double-glass windows and me strapped to a chair. When they come for me, they now wear protective suits.

I haven’t seen Chris for weeks. He came to my room the second day, told me some new terror organization was in charge of the project, that they could legally hold me forever–so I must cooperate. His eyes shadowed. No sleep. I touched his cheek before he left. Cold–my fingers or his face, I’m not sure.

I haven’t seen him since.

“Less painful?” I giggle. This is what they used to call, still call, hysteria. A woman’s disease. Hysteria from hysteria, the Latin for womb. “You’re kidding, right?”

Dr. Sykes looks at the new presence, a man in a dark suit. He gives Sykes some kind of signal.

Space suit guys come at me, to disengage me from the chair.

“What, you’re having trouble cloning a more cooperative me from my DNA?”

“Don’t you want to help your country?” Sykes says sadly, shaking his head as he taps his folders into a briefcase.

Once I start laughing I can’t stop for hours.

*

A rain shower in the afternoon. Quick outpouring of water from a quickly gray sky. Streams formed on the lawns, puddles on the sidewalks. No one was in this part of the campus to run and find shelter under the oak trees. But afterward everything looked so clean, brilliant in the returned sun.

I hear the sound of my own screams from across the room. In dark closets there are atrocities: they chop off hands, they torture women. Not us, them. Not them, us. Maimed bodies under rubbled buildings. Blind tests–I am supposed to kill.

What did they tell my parents, Dr. Holt, the landlord?

Time here runs together, becomes only a series of incidents, marked by variations of pain or boredom. Have weeks gone by? Months?

The walls are starting to loosen. Something different–every time I go now there is less that comes back. I can feel them all the time, even far away. Green breaths everywhere, not just inside but out, in distant fields and hills. They comfort me.

I am not brave. I blighted the seeds like they wanted me to.

Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated June 25

*

“Hold her!”

Their hands are everywhere. My foot lands solidly in someone’s gut. A quick huff of air. The blood runs into my eyes. Glass everywhere. They drag me back from the broken window.

“Just wanted air!” I scream, still thrashing, blind.

I feel the steel in my arm like a cold shock of water. Aqueous, sub-aqueous. Fish-form. The feeling of falling downward. Fish-form, bird-form. Flight backward. Down through nine layers of lab, through the wormy earth, past aquifers, charcoal and gold, caves of ice, into a molten hot bed.

*

No more room with a view. As if I could have escaped through that small window. I cut my head and hands on the glass, they sewed me up. Only their cuts are allowed. This room, smaller than the last, smells like mice or the ghosts of mice. The room is a lie. They pretend it is all white. Perfect white. But it’s not: I run my fingers over the corners and collect dust. It will outlast them.

      • Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated July 18

*

“Did you tell my parents you’d kidnapped me, or that I was dead?”

“You have a marvelous gift. You could be a useful member of society.”

Sykes has a cup on the desk in front of him. Coffee. Despite the glass, the smell is overpowering. Faulty ventilation?

I think of the Death Squads in the coffee plantations of Guatemala and Colombia who were trained by the American military. What link? Those wars were about oil, the Monroe doctrine . . .or were they? The U.S. does spend more on coffee imports than oil imports each year. So maybe the coups in Latin America were about keeping friendly, stable regimes in power for our caffeine fix.

“Coffee and interrogation go together like bread and jam,” I say.

Sykes looks at Dark Suit Man. The look says: The girl is cracking.

The steam whirls in the room, merges with air. My head whirls with the steam. I am already airborne. Here. There. An intent, a wish. It is almost done.

“Your non-cooperation is tantamount to terrorism.”

“I don’t have to be a terrorist, Dr. Sykes, I’m a blight. Blights have nothing to do with politics.” I grin at him. “Governments kill more people than blights ever have.”

I start to rhythmically pull each arm up against the straps on the chair. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Tick-tock, tick-tock. A Morse-Code to be deciphered by the ghost mice.

They’ve realized I’m not the same as herbicide or defoliant. But the thought of a walking, talking, passport-holding mass-assassin–what it must do to them at night. Delivery method was always the element of bio-weapons that made them less practical than a bomb, a bio-weapon that could walk off a plane and into a wheat field . . .it’s just too tempting. There must be a lot of drool on Sykes’ pillow.

“What did you do to Chris?” I ask.

But by now there is no one to hear me.

*

It occurs to me that maybe Columbus, or not Columbus, but the people afterward who relied upon his experience to give their lives meaning, couldn’t actually face a reality in which the New World was not there for discovery, that the New World was not a blank slate, tabula rasa, a new Eden for the hatchlings of Europe to crawl back into.

Imagine, so much death just because a group of people could not accept what their eyes saw. Perception deception. And so the descendants of Columbus spent 500 years trying to wipe their slate clean.

But it always came back the same: Blood red.

Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated July 27

*

Twilight in California through seven foot thick concrete. Strapped down on a gurney under lights with their masked faces hovering above me I know there are only walls and steel tools, but I can feel the colors of the sunset on my skin. Something has cracked the concrete, broken the silence at last.

“Tighten that restraint, I need to take another sample,” one mask says to another.

Here on the table. There in the last sun.

“You should have told them what they wanted to know,” a voice says softly from somewhere other.

Behind the masked faces, a shadow hovers. “Chris?”

“Or shown them.” The same voice.

And then he looms clearly before me, smiling.

One of the masks interrupts. “Some of your blights were poisonous, others not . . .why the distinction?”

“No, no, I don’t want masks, I want Chris!”

I shake my head; try to see past the bright lights, beyond the floating figures, to see beyond the room where I am tied to a table.

“Can you manage a crop specific infection, undetectable but fatal when ingested?” another asks.

“Chris, make them go!”

And then they are gone. No gurney, no lights. We are at Chris’ kitchen table, a pot of tea between us. It smells like flowers, jasmine. Chris takes my hand, gently rubs the knuckles. I smile and push some strands of hair from my cheek. He reaches to my lips and brushes them softly. And even though I smell the tea, feel his fingers, I know he is not really there. Or that I am not.

“You’re only a dream,” I say.

He smiles and places a hand gently on my cheek.

“Adele, run.”

“Chris, what did they do to you?”

He shakes his head, repeats, “Run.”

*

Dear Sykes: There have always been a handful of my kind on the Earth.

Look at old English poetry, full of words like: Beauty, Truth, Death, Phantasm, Blight. Capital letters. They’ll tell you it was convention, but that’s not the whole Truth. It’s not an accident. It’s because we were real.

If we faded into ideas, gave up our bodies, were disrobed and shunted off into libraries and nightmares, it wasn’t because we never existed. You filed us away to protect yourselves, made us into phyla.

But we have always been and always will be. Maybe there are fewer of us now that have a human form like mine, but it doesn’t mean you’ve never met Death in a Greek restaurant or glimpsed Love getting into a cab.

Thank you Sykes, I understand who I am now. I’m just one of the many forces that shapes the world, that makes history. Like you.

Sweet dreams, Sykes.

Excerpt from The Notebooks of Adele Mor, entry dated August 6

*

White. In the white room I am unfolding. All around now the silence is cracked open, makes the whispers louder. I can feel all the green lights and they can feel me.

“Catatonia?” A pen light flicks across fixed pupils.

“Someone has to tell Sykes.”

Hands reach toward the wrist, the body on the bed, the girl, the format of me.

“Shit!”

“What’d she do?”

“She grabbed my arm, scared the shit out of me.”

Now. I am here. I am there. I watch, am watched.

The other flicks the light again trying to see what is left behind. “I don’t know what that was, auto response–no one’s home. Let’s go.”

I have followed the trajectory of hand to arm, of arm to parking lot, a self, freed. I follow the trajectory of an eastward breeze that lifts over oak leaves and out toward fields of wheat, fields of rice, fields of artichokes and grapes. Green vines, green stalks, green whispers. Waiting for me.


Michaela Kahn began life as a poet who read shocking amounts of fiction. Various incarnations of her work can be found in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Big Bridge, and Santa Fe Poetry Broadside, among others. In the last 12 months she’s lived in 6 different states. In one of them (Wisconsin) she lived in a barn.

This story began as a light-hearted, ironic farce—but it would not behave. Adele, or the thing within her that wanted to discover itself, woke up, began to sniff around and whisper things to me while I slept. Something cracked open and then the world poured in: global warming, famine, bio-weapons, terror, that amorphous dark something that tick-tocks in the background, counting down to . . .



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