CW mentions of sexual abuse
I rarely open up about my magic inks (old posts: here & here; interview: here) these days, and yet, I do not know how to process experiences — particularly sibling loss & disabilities — except through my inks. For me, my inks & my story are not only intertwined, but inseparable. Symbiotic. When I make ink, I may start with rough formulas & basic ingredients from years of ink-making studies and practice, but I infuse them with magic intentions & materials: my spit, my teeth, my medical records, my childhood ephemera (example: Strange Flowers, in which I burned one of my elementary school stories and collected the carbon to make an ink, a technique I learned from an infamous Mormon forger who I see as a proxy brother), my letters, skin, pills, and on & on. I use pollutants in the air and water, study the forensics and toxicokinetics. I make no distinction between magic and science.
Often, I create a specific ink for a drawing or letter or scroll and never use that same formula again. The material is the message.
For me, ink is a personal alchemy, a disability poetics, and a process to transmute trauma, grief, and pain into magic.
After some intense experiences, I bottled up my ink magic & kept it secret, but lately I have opened up again on my Instagram. And now here.
This image came to me after Tooth 19 — yes, that tooth, my LUZ bone, my tooth of resurrection, the tomb where I sealed my brother — got extracted. Here, I imagine it awash in cerebrospinal fluid, returned to its original home in the body, the neural tube, from which cells migrate to form the teeth (and brain and face …).
There is no fundamental difference between a tooth and a spinal cord.
[my malformed neural tube gave birth to my teeth, and this is why my roots are malformed, too]
[the brain gives birth to its body]
[my spinal cord has cavities – that is what a syrinx is – just like teeth]
Because this is my brother tooth, his LUZ, and because I have long imagined my spinal cord condition as an effect of my resurrection spell, it is also a kind of parthenogenesis. My body giving birth to my brother’s body.
Tooth 19 has survived a lot: a cavity, an all-day sedated root canal, two caps, and a root canal re-do, but it could not survive seizures when I lost access to my epilepsy med.
My brother’s and my “secret” also could not survive seizures: the doctors figured it out; they could tell:
Confession gives birth to your original body, the doctor was promising. Confession resurrects your “perfect DNA blueprint.” The you before you got sick.
But I never told. Not to that doctor. And not until half a lifetime later.
And she was wrong. My DNA blueprint was: birth defects, genetic disorder. I never had a body before sick.
[Doctors always thought abuse caused my disabilities, but it was the other way around: I got abused because of my disabilities.]
“You have a root fracture,” a dentist said after tapping all around the crown and making me wince so bad he took a special x-ray at angle to reveal hidden things in the roots. “See that J-shaped shadow around the root tip?”
My brain is destroying my teeth.
Tooth 19 in 2012:
“Did you know people can be identified by their teeth?” The oral surgeon said.
“Yes,” I said.
And who am I now? I thought.
Later, when I posted on Facebook how distressed I was to lose the tooth, a friend said, “I get it. It’s your evidence.”
Some people just get you. She gets me.
I knew the only way to process this loss was through ink. I also knew it wasn’t only a loss. There was magic in this tooth’s roots fracturing.
In 2012, I told a counselor in Salt Lake City I was scared to get my sedated root canal. “What if I feel everything but can’t say anything? What if I feel it but can’t remember it later? Is it really an experience if I can’t remember it?”
She stood, extracted Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life from her shelf, thumbed through it until she found this page:
and said, “All your root beliefs are being destroyed.”
I have a lot to say about Louise Hay’s ableist use of illness & disability as metaphor for spiritual & personal shortcomings (that’s a hard nope & this is not negotiable for me), and yet, all my root beliefs were being destroyed, and this tooth was caught up in them–not for the reasons Louise Hay thought, though, and not in her causal direction.
At first I wanted to make bone black pigment from the tooth: calcination, then dissolution with gum and water, separation through filtration, conjunction with another pigment made from a patella, putrefaction through reintroduction of enterococcus faecalis — the bacteria that had infected my tooth and lives on its surfaces still, impervious to deprivation of serum and fluid — distillation through boiling of the ink, and finally, coagulation on the page.
But then an image appeared to me: a spine leaking CSF fluid out the back, washing my tooth in a wave back into itself. A rebirth.
Living teeth contain dental pulp stem cells – in deciduous teeth, called SHEDs for human exfoliated deciduous teeth, like trees that shed leaves – and I imagined a thought form I could eat and metabolize into my tissue, a kind of magical stem cell transplant into my spinal cord. Ink medicine. This is how I often conceive of my inks and scrolls: as medicine.
Not cure, but medicine. Dis medicine. Anti-cure.
Yes, I know a root canal should be devoid of pulp, but my dentist said – alarmed – “some pulp got missed.” My roots held onto my potential, my perfect DNA blueprint. My root beliefs were alive, not destroyed.
And I made ink of them, gave them form, gave them breath (for my inks react with air, inhale and exhale), gave them life. The brain gives birth to the body.
rough notes for composing the inks
(emphasis on rough and notes / think of it as the swirling in my brain when I make my inks/ some draw from previously published work, so bear that in mind):
iron gall, vertebrae, spinal cord
Iron gall gets it name from gall nuts, tumor-like growths on leaves or branches of oak trees formed when parasitic wasps puncture them to lay eggs, stinging the host plant with an irritant. The tree responds by producing growth hormones, stimulating the formation of the spherical gall. It donates a womb to its assailant.
The larvae secrete irritants, too, stimulating the growth of the gall, which they eat, feeding on its interior threads.
The galls contain tannic acid, essential for the chemical reaction with ferrous sulfate that produces the richest inks. Ink makers prize galls with young larvae still inside most of all, for they are richest in the acid.
My iron gall depends on the assailant’s baby never being born; my iron gall was made to give birth to my assailant’s body. I am forging his confession to resurrect his body. [Am I a magician or a doctor?]
Gum Arabic, binder of all inks in this permutation
Sap of the acacia tree, secreted by xylem cells, constantly in danger of cavitation: bubbles of air where fluid ceases to flow, like syrinxes in a spinal cord.
Amount measured to exactly the weight in grams I have lost of my spinal cord, eroded by swirling whirlpools of cerebrospinal fluid trapped inside it. Where did my spinal cord tissue go? It had to go somewhere. What if I can be Eve donating her spine instead of her rib?
Ultramarine, cerebrospinal fluid, nerves
Cennini’s ultramarine recipe Il Libro dell’arte, turn of the 15th century:
To begin with, get some lapis lazuli … Pound it in a bronze mortar, covered up, so that it may not go off in dust; then put it on your porphyry slab, and work it up without water. Then take a covered sieve such as the druggists use for sifting drugs; and sift it, and pound it over again as you find necessary … When you have this powder all ready, get six ounces of pine rosin from the druggists, three ounces of gum mastic, and three ounces of new wax, for each pound of lapis lazuli; put all these things into a new pipkin, and melt them up together. Then take a white linen cloth, and strain these things into a glazed washbasin. Then take a pound of the lapis lazuli powder, and mix it all up thoroughly, and make a plastic of it, all incorporated together.
This ball is kneaded in lye solution until all the blue is extracted out without the calcite and pyrite: pure violet blue.
Spike Bucklow writes in The Alchemy of Paint:
The blue, the white, and the gold minerals in lapis all have different elemental mixtures. They are all solid, so there is earth in all of them. but they contain different amounts of water, air and fire. All three are naturally gathered together in the lapis but being different elemental mixes, they may well have different desires. The recipe gives the blue, the white, and the gold an opportunity to move around and change their circumstances.
Pine and amber=fire
lye = predominantly elemental water as it dissolves in water
calcite = earth
pyrite = fire
ultramarine = water
Let the calcite, pyrite, and ultramarine be in their elements: that is the science behind Cennini’s recipe. The alchemy.
I took purified ultramarine and made it into Lapiz Lazuli again:
my tooth white as the calcite
golden ink is the pyrite
This is my bones getting into my cerebrospinal fluid and my cerebrospinal fluid getting into my bones. This is anti-cure.
gold illuminated ink
flakes not of gold but copper
Fragment of Tooth 19
At 11:55 AM EST on February 10, 2009, five minutes before the close of my first 24 hours in Utah, satellite 33 of the Iridium constellation smashed into the defunct Russia Cosmos 2251 satellite at 32 times the speed of a bullet.
Satellite 33: the number signifying God’s covenant. In Genesis, on the 33rd mention of Jacob by name, he dreams of a stairway to heaven.
Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
Tooth 19 flickered on like a light bulb in a live socket, as if my pulp picked up the signal.
An emergency dentist performed my initiation into the land of the dead, prying open my mouth with a plastic bite block and sprinkling CO2 snow on the crown through a little wand.
dry ice, frozen greenhouse gas
When I flinched, he said, “Good. That means the pulp is alive.”
Outside, the Salt Lake City air was metallic, thick from fossil fuel combustion, the air of long-dead things on fire: nitrogen oxides, benzene, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide.
We had arrived in Salt Lake City in the dark of night, smothered under the smog of a red air day, but we did not know it.
“There is something not right about this air,” I said.
We passed the temple, its spires glowing pink. I lowered my head, peered through the U-Haul window at the LDS World Headquarters tower, rising like a minaret into the smog.
“Get me of here,” I said. “Before it’s too late.”
We did not know we arrived during an inversion, a flip of the natural strata of the sky, when warm air slides over the mountains like a garage door.
Carbon monoxide makes you sleepy. Benzene makes you sleepy. Cytokines, the body’s natural anti-inflammatories released by cells to quell the assault from pollutants, make you sleepy. Automobile pollution turns the body into a sleeping pill factory.
That first night in Utah, I slipped into REM for the first time in ages. Dreamed.
“Whence it is,” Agrippa wrote, “that many philosophers were of opinion that Air is the cause of dreams.”
[A fetus initiates its own parturition by secreting surfactant protein-A and platelet activating factor from its lungs. Inflames the mother’s womb. Labor begins. Inflammation like my asthma in the polluted air of SLC.
No MRI ever caught my birth defect before age 39, six years into living in SLC. Did I initiate my own re-parturition? Did I give birth to my own birth defect?]
Incubating under the snow: a plague of grasshoppers, eggs planted like seeds in the earth last fall, during the same period when my brother’s body lay decomposing on the floor of his apartment in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
[Hugh Nibley on the Joseph Smith Papyri, Line 12-13, “on the north side of the Field of Grasshoppers.”
Try to locate the real prototype of such a place in the Egyptian terrain does violence to the texts … they only mean to depict an unworldly place of transition, a spirit land. — Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri
Joseph Smith Papyri, so called because he purchased them with Egyptian mummies and “translated” them into the Book of Abraham. But it was not the Book of Abraham … It was The Book of Breathings, in which Isis writes Osiris – her brother, her lover – into eternal life.
Joseph Smith did violence to the text, too, with his fraudulent translation, his appropriation, and yet and yet and yet … Utah and those fields of grasshoppers, an unworldly place of transition, where Mormons collect the records of their ancestors to usher them into eternity, in the air of long-dead things on fire.
He built a whole religion around grief for a lost brother. His big brother Alvin died in 1823, not long before Joseph got the golden plates. Years later: Joseph’s vision of Alvin in the Celestial Kingdom. How could that be, if he died before baptism into the restored Church? Soon came the revelation of posthumous baptisms and the priesthood keys to seal families together on heaven as on earth. He wrote his brother into eternal life by forcing him to confess in the afterworld.
[These coincidences do not let him off the hook.]
On Local Channel 4: one lone believer prayed for a miracle, and seagulls swooped in to devour the pestilence. It was my faith, she said. The seagulls came because of my LDS faith.
Live from Grantsville, Utah: God has not forsaken us in these latter days. We are still his people, the peculiar people.
But what if the miracle is the other way around?
I want hard times, Brigham Young proclaimed, so that every person that does not wish to stay, for the sake of his religion, will leave.
Remedy for toothache in the Gemara: eggs of grasshopper in a poultice to caries.
Tooth 19 straddles the boundary between pre-existence and the terrestrial world. 1st permanent molars are the only adult teeth to start forming in the womb: the first to cut the gums without a deciduous tooth to fall out before it.
Last surviving proof you ever got born into a body: a neonatal line marking the day of birth in the first Striae of Retzius: . Neonatal lines are so accurate, they can be evidence of infanticide: this baby died outside the womb.
[“I want you to yank the tooth,” I tell the dentist when he recommends a root canal to relieve my pain, even though nothing on the x-ray indicates an infection. I do not tell the dentist that this is the tooth, the one where pain goes—the one that takes a psychosomatic beating.
He winces. “I will do everything I can to save the tooth.”
Dentists always want to save the tooth.
I think of the model toddler skull on display in my old dentist’s office: adult teeth lying in wait, poised to push their way into the child’s mouth whether she wants them or not. Everyone tells you that you can be anything, but it’s not true. Even as a toddler, your body is crowded with multiple ages at once. Your adult self is already inside you, just waiting. Why can’t it work the opposite way? Why can’t my adult teeth be my baby teeth?]
He puts me to sleep with Propofol made of benzene, made of gasoline, fills the tooth with gutta percha, latex from sap of the palaquium gutta, same as insulation for underwater telegraph cables, for carrying secrets from the tooth to the brain.
Lose your teeth; lose your memories. Mastication makes memories. Mastication makes memories. Cut the molars out of mice’s mouths, they lose the memory to master a maze. Teeth are like live electrical contacts, touching hundreds of times a day, transmitting secret signals to the brain.
Chewing is Morse code.
How is a tree like a tooth?
Teeth lay down striae at regular intervals during formation, called Striae of Retzius. In cross-section, they look like tree rings.
Forensic scientists can tell when children were exposed to which heavy metals, like dendrochronologists calibrating carbon-14 ratios for a given year.
Childhood malnutrition, illness, and trauma can alter Striae of Retzius: make whole striae never form, as if time stopped.
[April 15, 1815: Mt. Tambora eruption. 1.7 million tons of particulates, as much dust as six million nuclear bombs [meteorologist Lee Foster with NOAA]. Skies darken for months.
100,000 people wiped out: if the lava and ash didn’t get them, starvation did.
Eighteen Hundred and Starve to Death they called it in Europe and North America, The Year Without a Summer.
May 1816: snow — snow in May!
June: a Nor’easter of summer snow in New York and Northern New England.
August: Frost and snow and dead crops. Corn prices triple. Farmers sell off cattle.
Inside the oak trees: a missing ring to mark the missing summer. Stress slowed tree growth to the point that the trees never recorded that year.
You will find that all predictable things are either properties or accidents of matter and void, said Lucretius. A property is what cannot under any circumstances be severed and separated from a body without the divorce involving destruction: such is the relationship of heaviness to rocks, heat to fire, liquidity to water, touch to all matter, intangibility to void. On the other hand, to slavery, poverty, and wealth, freedom, war, concord, and all of a thing, we regularly apply the appropriate term accidents.
What if time really did turn back to winter? What if it’s not the tree ring that’s missing, but the year itself? If that is so, there is no missing ring, for there was no season, no time, to mark.
After all, if dendrochronologists bore into those oak trees and extract a plug, they will not find an empty groove where a ring should be, like a stencil to trace out the gap year. They will find the same complete ring pattern as always, except one groove short of what they think it should be.]
Recipe to cure a toothache, Archigenes of Apamea, 1st Century:
rinse teeth with mouthwash made of gallnuts and vinegar
Into teeth with cavities, drip vitriol of iron
vitriol of Iron + gallnuts = iron gall ink.
Teeth do not remodel like femurs and phalanges. When the dentin is laid down, it’s permanent. If you starved, if you got sick, it’s in your teeth: whole lines less mineralized, waiting for damage.
Because they cannot be fixed, because the damage is permanent, teeth are our perfect blueprint.
enterrococcus faecalis, bacteria that infected Tooth 19
Gold Fillings, gold caps, gold bridges, gold crowns, fixed dentures, built in, on, and around diseased teeth, form a veritable mausoleum of gold over a mass of sepsis, to which there is no parallel in the whole realm of medicine or surgery.
— Dr. Hunter, The Role of Sepsis and Antisepsis in Medicine – 1911
In the microbial world, bacteria cells trade genetic weapons like guns on the black market, hooking up through bacterial conjugation, when a donor cell reaches out a tentacle-like f-pilus and transplants a gene inside it.
Inside the cytoplasm of both cells: a nucleus containing the genome and free-floating plasmids carrying extra genes. The donor cell possesses a plasmid the recipient lacks, something it might desperately need: coding for antibiotic or heavy metal resistance. During conjugation, a plasmid swims into the recipient cell through the f-pilus, a process called horizontal gene transfer like a phallus ejaculating into a womb.
They become phenotypic siblings.
[Is this sex? Is this reproduction? What are they to each other?]
2015: I am in urgent care with a bladder infection, fists between my legs like a lock.
“Any chance you have an STD?” The doctor asks after he notices my rose tattoo. [Does he know? Does he know?]
I don’t have an STD, but downstairs in a laboratory petri dish Enterrococcus faecalis is being fruitful, multiplying in my urine culture: same infection as Tooth 19. That tooth. My tooth has gotten into my genitals.
Enterrococcus faecalis, only bacteria that uses sex pheromones to signal its desire for a plasmid it lacks. Come hither. Give me the genetic material I need to become just like you.
[is that a kind of STD?]
Enterrococcus faecalis, most common culprit of root canal failure. It resists antibiotics, hides in dental tubules, survives without food for long periods, survives desiccation even.
Which means: it survives the ink-making process. Even my ultramarine has bite.
Iron gall possesses what archivists call bite, meaning it sinks into paper like teeth. Ink’s root word, encaustic, means burn, and iron gall is a slow burn. From the moment you dip in a nib, oxidation begins, which is how the writer sees their words at all. Without a dye like logwood, iron gall is invisible at first, until the air blackens it. The corrosion on some documents is so complete, if you lift an old paper, letters fall out of the page like alphabet ash.
Every stroke of iron gall absorbs oxygen as it rusts, gaining the weight of the oxygen: words grow heavier as they age. They gain the weight of time. [time is a physical substance]
Every letter reenacts The Beginning, the perfect chemical signature, chemical blueprint, of our atmosphere … Two hundred millions years before the Great Oxygenation [Oxidation] Event that changed Earth’s atmosphere forever and made it habitable to human beings, cyanobacteria appeared and learned to photosynthesize. In went light, out went oxygen pollution.
But oxygen is unstable, reactive. Dissolved iron in the oceans became oxygen sinks, literally: oxidizing, rusting, precipitating to the floor, forming the iron band formations in rocks from which we still mine the metal today. Skyscraper steel frames, cars, railroad tracks: all fossils of Original Atmosphere: we build monuments to air we could not breathe. Soon, oceanic iron could not devour any more oxygen, and then, and only then, did oxygen build up in the atmosphere and make our bodies possible.
I am resurrecting the Original Air that made my body possible; I am making ink that breathes by stealing the oxygen I need. I like this tension in this ink, because this is the tension between my brother and me, too. I can’t stand a world with him dead, and I can’t stand a world with him alive.
Gum Arabic is comprised partly of glycoprotein, structural molecule of collagen, the stuff of spinal cord tissue in development, controller of NOTCH signaling for cell differentiation. Stem cells become skin or bone or brain cells. They become who they are.
In cold water fish, glycoprotein = antifreeze protein invoking thermal hysteresis, keeping blood fluid even in subfreezing temperatures.
In ink, it imparts viscosity: thickness, resistance to deformation by stress. Deformation by stress = syringomyelia = scoliosis = my body.
[Conflict between body and ink; freezing and fluidity, thickness and flow, like me.]
Ultramarine does not get its intense blue from water. It gets it from fire. It is an aluminosilicate, a colorless lattice molecule except for a seed of sulphur, a glimmer of a flame, trapped inside. The sulphur turns it blue: a mirage. It is fire water, just like my cerebrospinal fluid, the cause of all my neuropathic burning from syringomyelia.
Ultramarine: blue reserved for the robes of the Virgin Mary: saint of sexless reproduction, patron of parthenogenesis.
[yet to the Romans, ultramarine powder was an aphrodisiac]
Researchers used nuclear magnetic resonance — an MRI! — to study how ultramarine fades: aluminosilicate lattice breaks, chromospheres escape. likemybackbonelikemybackbonelikemybackbone: my fire water flows out through my spine as my lattice breaks.
some (not mine) ataxia is caused by copper deficiency; I will give this spinal cord the copper it needs and this copper is from home: Utah, Bingham Canyon mine, largest open-pit copper mine in the world, so big you can see it from space. When a landslide halted production, gun forums blew up: oh man, the price of ammo. Green ammo, they meant: copper bullets, invented to stop the lead poisoning of protected predators (think: bald eagles), to spare animals from motor deficits like me.
[But the bullets aren’t green, not really: copper mining = lead pollution.
Utah took a bullet for you.]
Like someone shot a bullet clean through it, that’s how I described it when I first saw the holes in my spinal cord
same metal that saves my spinal cord shoots it like a bullet
In the pre-existence,” my hypnotist says, pointing to his legal pad, “we write a contract specifying each and every thing our family will do to us. In this world, they fulfill that contract completely.”
His carnelian ring imparts a simultaneously benevolent and malevolent authority, like a pope or a king.
“Every single word.”
He leans forward, and I am struck how he emanates no scent—no cologne, no shampoo, no mouthwash, no deodorants, no laundry detergent. If his scent came packaged in a bottle, it would be distilled water.
“You asked for it.”
He extracts a deck of laminated cards from a book sleeve, tips the book, domino-like, so I can’t see the title, and spreads the cards on the table in front of me. Black, red, violet, green, yellow, blue, brown, and gray: a tarot except blank.
“The question is: what are you going to do with it?”
He peers at me over the rim of his glasses, his irises so intensely aquamarine they seem saline, like the briny waters of the Great Salt Lake. Pupils like pool drains.
“Six relatives sexually abused me,” he says. “I am grateful for it.”
I try to look away. He leans to the side, catches my gaze.
“Choose the color that appeals to you most.”
I slide the black card toward him.
Black, he tells me, is the color of denial, self-abnegation, annihilation. In the first position, it is my modus operandi.
“Your way of achieving justice in an unjust world is to obliterate yourself.”
Orange in the second position means the goal my modus operandi is turning toward, in this case desire and sexuality. I do not just want to obliterate myself; I want to obliterate myself sexually.
I don’t tell him I am forging Valentine cards in my dead brother’s handwriting, forcing him to confess on record. Not exactly a lie, not exactly true. History that could have been–same as Mark Hofmann forged. History that should have been. I have to play the part of my own molester and play it well.
“Is there something wrong with your backbone or someone’s you love?” The hypnotist points to my stick man’s spine snapped in two.
He had drawn one, told me to draw one.
You put distance between yourself and others.
You broke your spine because something is wrong with it. Something is wrong with it because you broke it.
[I did not yet know about my spinal cord, but maybe I did.]
He leads me to an anteroom with no windows, tips an antique wooden chair back on its hind legs.
“Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both sat in this chair,” he says as he lets go. The front legs slam into the hardwood floor. “I have relatives who would kill for it.”
He instructs me to stand in front of it and imagine my brother sitting there.
“Repeat after me.”
Get your dick out of me now.
Get your dick out of me now.
I take my vagina back now.
I take my vagina back now.
I release all contracts.
I release all contracts.
But I am not imagining my brother: I am imagining Brigham Young. He told me that chair was Brigham Young’s for a reason. He wants me to picture him. He wants me to say, Get your dick out of me now, to the prophet.
I sit in the hypnosis chair, cross my legs, stick my fists between my knees like a lock. The hypnotist stands over me at my feet, uncrosses them, says it closes off my energy meridians.
This is what it means to have the Kingdom of God inside you.
This is what it means to have the Kingdom of God inside you.
This is what it means to have the Kingdom of God inside you.
In his pre-existence as my brother, before I knew he was my brother, my brother signed a contract with the Army, signing over his body to the government. In his Statement of Personal History, he listed his siblings, all except my sister me:
Mitch Laurence, One Life to Live, summer of 1986, summer right after Challenger, last time my brother touched me:
Dear Viki, I know you’ve hated me since the re-emergence of Niki Smith, so to make up for my part in brining her out, I’m giving you the following information. Every word of it is true.
Cordero Roberts is actually the love child of Maria Roberts and your husband, Clint. When Maria was pregnant, Asa paid off her mother to get Maria out of town and away from Clint. He doesn’t know that Cord is his son.
Sorry, I’ll be leaving Llanview (laugh) shortly and can’t tell you more, but Asa can fill you in on all the details of his infamous act.
Sincerely, Mitch Laurence.
I confess to the hypnotist I learned to make inks from Mormon forger Mark Hofmann, that I am forging my brother’s confession, that my bone black ink [not used in this drawing but in others] is tunneled through and through where, in life, veins would carry blood and nerves would carry pleasure & pain.
That I would make my ink from my brother’s cremation dust if I could. I would prepare it with extra gum arabic so it is thick like glue, so I could run my fingers over it like Braille and feel the skeleton of his confession.
Then, I would sneak into the cemetery late at night and bury his confession in his grave. Exhumation in reverse: putting back what should have been there all along, this thing missing in our timeline.
Not a hair on your head will be lost, Joseph Smith promised. The Lord will resurrect your body exactly as it lived on earth. Perfect material continuity. At the Resurrection, my brother would be whole again; he would be who he is. He would rise and walk in the shape of his words recorded and transcribed by the police, because that would be his final body, his true body:
I love you and I’m so sorry. It happened to me too when I was younger.
And it would save him. And he would be my brother again.
I would do that for him.
“Magical, material continuity inks,” I tell the hypnotist.
In the hypnosis room, when I am deep under, he repeats:
Visualize magical, material continuity inks. Perfect viscosity. Perfect sheen. Perfect color. Visualize magical, material continuity inks. Perfect viscosity. Perfect sheen. Perfect color …
The hypnotist gives me a CD. “Listen as often as possible,” he says, and I follow his command.
On the recording:
I identify and correct any environmental gene suppression.
I look for similar imbalances inherited from previous generations through disease pathways, environmental, and emotional stresses.
I cancel these taints so that my gene expression can follow my perfect blueprint.
Joseph Smith, King Follett Sermon:
A question may be asked—”Will mothers have their children in eternity?” Yes! Yes! Mothers, you shall have your children; for they shall have eternal life, for their debt is paid. There is no damnation awaiting them for they are in the spirit. But as the child dies, so shall it rise from the dead, and be for ever living in the learning of God. It will never grow [in the grave]; it will still be the child, in the same precise form [when it rises] as it appeared before it died out of its mother’s arms, but possessing all the intelligence of a God. Children dwell in the mansions of glory and exercise power, but appear in the same form as when on earth. Eternity is full of thrones, upon which dwell thousands of children, reigning on thrones of glory, with not one cubit added to their stature.
February 2015, forensic anthropology facility: I am standing in a clearing surrounded by bodies under chicken wire cages, like the aftermath of a mass suicide. It’s a body farm, where forensic anthropologists examine decomposing bodies in hopes of gleaning knowledge to solve murders and identify victims. I came to study forensic art, specifically sculpting on skulls to reconstruct soft tissues that have long since decayed. I have no hope of working as a police sketch artist; I want to understand resurrection as a physical process, something a human being can do, even when God refuses.
I step backward, almost stumble over one of the cages, and steady myself, leaning so close to the chicken wire I can poke a finger through and swab the buccal edge of a molar. The dead man looks just like my brother.
“This one still has hair,” a student says, peering over my shoulder. Everyone gathers around us. For a forensic artist, it’s an exciting find, the kind of detail that could identify a John or Jane Doe.
The dead man’s neck twists away from me, his jaw gaping, as if screaming from the torment of worms. The cage is the only thing between us. It has always been the only thing between us. My brother could never show me who he really was because of the specter of a cage; I could never see who he really was for the same reason. I never wanted him in prison.
I touch my left hand to my right shoulder, where my Salt Lake City Temple doorknob tattoo just finished healing. In a couple of days, I get a rose on the opposite shoulder, just like my brother’s. I’m not getting it in memory of him, but to steal the memory of him getting it. I’ve been stealing his memories: talking to his childhood and high school friends, searching for photos, watching vintage Pontiac GTO ads, mastering the Parachute Landing Fall.
Memories have epigenetic mechanisms, meaning: Every time I steal one of my brother’s memories, I make myself more related to him, genetically.
“We speculate,” wrote Jeremy Jay and David Sweatt in Nature Neuroscience, “that the new understanding of the role of neuro-epigenetic molecular mechanisms in memory formation can answer the long-standing question in neuroscience of why neurons can’t divide.” Neurons, “can’t have their cake and eat it, too.” They can either use methylation to preserve a singular memory, or they can use it to preserve cell-wide identity–a lung cell is not a kidney cell because methylation blots out different genes–but they cannot use it for both.
I am co-opting the machinery of memory for the purpose of reproduction. I am giving birth to my brother from my brain, like Athena popping out of Zeus’ skull. I am letting neurons have their cake and eat it, too.
If I donate my body here, I think, my face up close to the chicken wire cage, with all my brother’s epigenetic memories intact, with my rose tattoo intact, I could take my brother’s place in the cage. I could serve his time, save his soul. Maybe fool God.
[And now I have a spine like my brother’s spine. Did I give birth to my own birth defect?]
Alison Perkins: I’m the Warden’s daughter. Let’s just say I can smell it.
John Russell: You’re close but no cigar. My name’s John Russell. I’m a private investigator. I’d like to ask you a few questions.
You don’t belong here, a woman says, approaching the two from behind.
You’re quite right. But I am talking with the lady.”He gestures to Alison.
The lady has been hounded enough by our authoritarian system. She only answers to the Lord.
Shut up, Susan. From now on, I will say what I please, and I will do what I please.
Now go on, Mr. Russell. Ask me whatever you want.
I’m surprised you’re willing to talk with me, Ms. Perkins.
Why shouldn’t I be? I have nothing to hide. Nothing to lose. Now what do you want from me?
You want me to change my story. Well, I’m sorry, but it happens to be the truth.
So you did actually see Cassie killing Mitch?
No, I never said that. Look, I saw enough.
You want to talk about it?
Well, I have already told everything to the police.
Alison, suppose you tell me what you really did see up at Mitch’s room.
They were kissing.
Well, I’m sorry, that must have been hard to take.
Hard? Do you know what happens when a god falls to earth, Mr. Russell?
Well, let me tell you.
Not a single sound.
He just falls and breaks into hundreds of meaningless little pieces. He becomes like everyone else.
So Mitch was a man, much like other men?
Even more so, it seems.
At the dentist months after Tooth 19 was extracted, my empty socket is aglow on the x-ray screen.
“I didn’t expect ghost roots,” I say to the dentist at my checkup to see how my jaw is healing, whether it’s ready for a screw to hold an implant. “I swear that tooth is going to haunt me forever.”
“Oh yes, it will take some time before they disappear,” the dentist says, tracing his finger down the white outline of a root. “This is a different type of bone–harder. It takes longer to resorb. For some people, it never does, but that’s not a bad thing. Stronger bone for the implant.”
He points to the tips of the roots. “These are further along in healing,” he says. “Because the top part was exposed when the gum healed.”
We get sick from the root; we heal from the root.
For the first time, I see it: how the tips of my ghost roots are blurring, disappearing, being resorbed into the jaw.
Get your roots out of me now.
Get your roots out of me now.
I release all contracts.