:: Article

By the Water Behind the House

By Elodie Olson-Coons.


USA. New York. 1988. Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The black marble mouth is rough and cold, imperfectly carved. The notches beneath the stone drapes do not shift in the window breeze or open to her fingers. The nipples are salt and painted gold.


Strange. She runs out and folds down to the grass. The light laps across her wet sock toes, the wild strawberries. She opens the hardback; clenches her thighs, the mechanics of petrification ill-understood—yet she feels, yet she knows.


Egypt: organs are removed by a slit in the side. They have their own gods: the jackal for the stomach, the falcon for the guts. A man for the slippery liver, oddly. Natron is poured over the body by the bucket. In place of putrefaction, a puckering solidification begins. The meat will later be washed with oil, filling in the salted cracks. The lungs-and-intestines, turned to stone, are slipped back in, lickable, packed around with sawdust, leaves.


She loves the part where they liquefy the brain with a small hook, jostling bone. She works her white socks into the murk—the reflection of the chateau warps wetly, the weeds streaming beneath in the faint current. She’s been told she will bleed, but her aches still yield nothing but deeper aches. What else can be known? A honeybee traces her ear. Her toes squash into the silt and, faintly, a bell sounds.


Greece: cracked from an egg or a skull. Traditionally, it can be turned away by sunshine, the surface of lakes. Shields. A man carrying a set of mirrors. Hissing fertile snakes can be braided or killed, curling from startled eyes in midair. Perseus holding her in his fist like a clump of grapes.


The dining room is draped in green velvet and gilt. It is a warm summer evening, and still the logs hiss in the fire. Shoe leather sticks to her feet. The meat, when it arrives, is cold and smells of wood polish. She strokes slowly along it with a fork tine, requests fleur de sel. Where is her hardback book?


North: how they remember daughters and trolls turned to pillars, glaciers, wax, salt. Memorised, translated, by hand. Lost in the darkness by a man who plays the lute, or worships Christ, or whispers the names of the local flora. Perspiring, they breathe softly, desiring only flesh.


Squirming in her chair, she fingers the silver service. The grooves in the oak panelling are stained and rough with dust. A statue’s small fingers could trace along them, gather every particle, lick and

lick them clean. She leaves the table without a sound.


Certain birds, diving towards a hard and glassy lake, will dip and crash in the Tanzanian heat into something like poison. Salt, natron, alkaline. Soda ash makes a kind of glass, a blue and jewelled paint. Here, the stems of their feathers calcify; nerves and flesh disintegrate. Stone begins to wind like thread about the eyes.


She slips her tongue into the statue’s black mouth, tasting flint and mineral. Aching. On barefoot tiptoe, she only reaches the breast, the collarbone. The spine is notched like a real spine, but the heartbeat is only a grandfather clock. It has ebony inlay and a vine carving, or is it snake? Only she is warm as blood.


Wood slowly shifts to quartz. Through the thick warp of old glass, the light of the solar driveway lanterns flickers across them. Questions dip and swell—wet shoes, wax, breath,

The earthquaking slip

of time makes all fossil. A spilled heart hardening to coral amidst the seaweed. Can you suck poison from a living animal? Can you, can you—




Elodie Olson-Coons is a ghostwriter, translator and editor currently based in Switzerland. Her writing has featured in Music & Literature, The Island Review, [PANK], Paper Darts, Lighthouse, and a book by Indigo Ink Press. She tweets @elllode.

A detail from a photograph by Elliott Erwitt, captioned ‘New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988’.  A retrospective of Erwitt’s work with Magnum can be viewed here.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, December 15th, 2016.