The Persistence of the Bonyleg: Annotated by Sarah Minor

in spring:    the clouds were soot-finger banded and when the sun grew a ring the snow crust began to sweat. Those first shadows of geese trailed buds in their wake. Half-trees and sheaves of ice sailed the loose Abakan like vessels manned by the dead. If they buried seeds in May the frost stamped them all with a graven mark. The traps they made too early caught females heavy with young and then the family grew hungry by autumn. When the children were still small their mother stripped a piece of the wood the way she’d undress a snowshoe rabbit and their father felled the old trees to make a garden like the very first. Together they planted potatoes and thickened in the middle. They made a second plot with onions and peas, hemp, rye, and carrots, the Lord’s sweetest root, but every amber seed went missing with ash mice in the autumn before the hungry year. They would have told you they cherished their seeds as dearly as iron and prayer books. They had carried the first of these into the taiga on the Ark when the youngest was just a flash in her Papa’s heavy eye, and they would never return for more. They came into the taiga hide from our oppressors, from Patriarch Nikon I spit on his name, to hide and pray to God, and there is where they will stay. Their Papa always told them that the taiga was where they would die.
1. Scientists: “At first we had a hard time understanding the daughters’ speech. Their way of speaking was unique—a muffled, nasal chanting. When the sisters talked to each other, it sounded like a slow, blurred cooing.”

2. Narrator: This I is shifting, okay? Over there, I was a schismatic. I’s own birth was an act of rebellion.

3. Fairytale: The taiga is a swath of coniferous forest—the world’s largest Terrestrial Biome. Eleven percent of the northern hemisphere. You go in by helicopter. You take boats or skis if you are half-witted, as most are, and for six months the snow is waist high and doesn’t bother the wolves. The taiga’s depths are eddied by the heli-guttering of survey parties. The taiga is a dark house on chicken legs where no footprints mark the snow. An amber stripe of iron ore the hero risks his tongue to gouge. Where spruce spines string Europe to China and Mongolia to the arctic arc to make the sign of the true cross. Or Northeastern European Floristic Province of the Circumboreal Region of the Holarctic Kingdom. Or, there are some woods can eat the paths behind you. The eyes of trees do not blink and as the alder flicks its faceted gaze you turn and turn clockwise and are lost as you always would have been. Oh, Godmother.

4. Narrator: I do love to go outside. Have you been sent there?

5. Fairytale: When you are sent to the two-legged hut of the Baba Yaga for a needle and some thread, you will need a ribbon and a tinderbox, a bread rusk and a slice of ham.

6. Narrator: This year I am paid to work as a dissector of fairytales.

7. Narrator: I am a researcher trained at a search between folds. I pay my rent by listing motifs. And so I read fairytales in bed, a lot. So I am literate in offal. In auguring. I ply and look for patterns that can explain.

8. Fairytale: Birds, wolves, isolation, white, air, crystal, flowers, pearls.

9. Narrator: If these seem worn and trite to you it is because you never knew them otherwise.

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what the garden stump said:       in the Spring of our Lord 7480 from Adam, the first snows fell heavy at the height of June. They froze old roots, the marrow of birds and hares in their dens, but my garden suffered the worst of all. Frost gnawed at the vegetable stores and come next spring the children ate the straw, they ate Savin’s leather. They ate the rowanberry leaf and their ski linings. The thin one’s legs took on the shape of her bones and never again found a color far beyond snow. The children ate bark and birch buds, they sucked the root loam and prayed. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages; That year a hunger buried their mother beneath the eight-points cross that now shades the path by the river where skimmers peck at little prints. Now this taiga is a mother to all of us. She is no God but we must beg her kindness. The next year was good, or it should take all the children to heaven. The taiga comes back like the red doe with the cloven womb. This is not true of the Lykovs; we have one life before God.

34. Narrator: I have this idea about hair; how it’s not hair until it moves out of bounds.

35. Narrator: Idea: The head is not a place that can be hairy. Elsewhere though, is.

36. Narrator: Diapers to diapers—cradle to grave they say. Baldness of the head is not admired, except in infants, and even then.

37. Ugrešić (on Ugrešić): “Here, then, is how things stand…. There are no better and worse literary interpretations, there are only good and bad books. Secondly: myths are memes, ‘units of cultural transmission.… Myths take themselves to pieces, add bits on, mutate, get  transformed, adapt and readapt. Myths travel; in travelling, they retell and ‘translate’  themselves.”

38. Narrator: Beds are flying things. Places of birth landings and death takings off.

39. Ugrešić: “The elusive Baba Yaga sometimes appears as a helper, a donor, sometimes as an avenger, a villain, sometimes as a sentry, sometimes as an intermediary between worlds. Most interpreters locate Baba Yaga in the ample mythological family of old and ugly women with specific kinds of power, in a taxonomy that is common to mythologies the world over.”

40. Narrator: I would like to be buffeted at all times, a referent on each side. I want to live on the coast of a solid textual landform. I seek compression so that ideas get their own container and stay.

41. Narrator: Out of bed, I like to work on the floor of libraries, between the shelves of books containing the subjects of my interest. My pair of legs is the exact length of the floor space dividing most stacks. I pretend osmosis in these instances, the physical weight on my soles and spine, this condensing of one body on into the next. And I detest movable, crushable, electronic shelving. Someday it will lock us all down.

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what the garden stump said: When the people of the world came in the Autumn of our Lord 7490 it was not quietly. The children heard them long before they were seen and one laid his sack upon my plane, so I could not hear well. Their Papa was still praying that it was a herd of elk passing close until the children saw the people through the hinges and all were much afraid. Papa always knew that one day the world would find him out. He foretold that their oppressors would come and
shear he and Savin of their beards and take their hymnals and force the children away from the garden and back to Patriarch Nikon I spit on his name, but Papa invited the people inside “since you have traveled this far,” and so they came. When they stood in the doorway they seemed full up with evil. Light streamed from their backs as if they lay together in the river and each of them wore the most indecent trousers I had seen. They troubled the grass at the brim of my trunk. The thin one’s eyes spread and curled back into the corner of the house like two mice and Natalia fell to her knees and lamented, crying, “this is for our sins, this is for our sins.” Then the people were gone the way they came and we all prayed the children would not go away with them. And ascended into the Heavens, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; And shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; Whose Kingdom shall have no end;
155. Narrator: Idea: First, a woman is scary for what the world will do to her (to be scared for).

156. Ugrešić: “Mythical beings give themselves away by the noises they make. Baba Yaga uses repetitious phrases and can be recognized by her remarkable wheezing breath. Many of those attributes—specifically ‘noisiness,’ hand clapping, repeating words (echolalia)—could be attributed to autism, or old age.”

157. Narrator: Idea: Second, a woman is scary because she cannot behave as is expected, and because she could act out of turn and tempt or upset the balance (scared because of).

158. Ugrešić: “Yet, more often, she appears as a helpmet and liberator.”

159. Narrator: Idea: Third, a woman is scary because she is no longer desirable or impregnable and is understood to serve no physical function (what can she do with her body?) and then she is invisible and so she is scary because we do not know what she plans for us, because the functionless, like her, begin to symbolize death (scared of).

160. Ugrešić: “Hunters in the forests of north-eastern Siberia build little cabins that they call labaz or chamja on top of high wooden stilts (like the hen’s legs under Baba Yaga’s hut!) as a hunters’ storehouse, to keep supplies safe. The back of the labaz is turned towards the woods.”

161. Narrator: But what is the thing? The second thing? No, the first. The first thing is everything and the second is hard to say. It does not like sentences. It writhes out and leaves a husk of dress clothing behind that smells nothing like an idea anymore.

162. Narrator: Tidy up the syntax.

163. Narrator: Tuck in the folds of skin.

164. Narrator: The labia and jowl are touching.

165. Narrator: Come, say just what you mean.

 


Sarah MinorSarah Minor is an essayist and designer from Iowa. She curates a series on visual writing at Essay Daily and teaches in Athens, Ohio, where she is a doctoral candidate in Creative Nonfiction. Her work appears, or is forthcoming, in Conjunctions, Black Warrior Review, The Normal School, Passages North, and PANK. She was recently awarded first place in Hotel Amerika’s TransGenre Writing Contest.

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