:: Article

On Horses and on Sea and on the Island of Malhado

By Russell Persson.

Image by The Starn Brothers

The following are selections from The Way of Florida, a novel that follows the failed 16th century Narvaez Expedition to the Gulf of Mexico


Where We Find Ourselves

I doubt the shape of this world. Where we find ourselves. As a band of Indians appear to us in these woods with their reeds and with their plume and their sounds all odd and fucked to hear so also we appear to them with our leather and our crossbow and our belts and to them also the sound we carry has no truck with them no weight at all except that it is not a silence there between us so our exchange in these woods is of a slim bag of gestures and through this we are both commanded to gauge if we are here in peace or have we come here to be against thee. How has a man come to be the judge of this? The condition of a shape of where we are and I can signal to you our Lord I can refer to where you are for it is I alone who keep these maps of you and keep what you draw for us here upon this sand and soil and I have come to know our lot is drawn and you have sketched with great love the charts of my step revealed to me the moment I step and I have come to know my past and come to know the great distance and I have come to know that here in these woods with only the sound of air and birds and wind and a broken twig and a judgment placed before me what to be with these natives I know your maps of love for us are like great hands who live about us and guard and fend.


This is of Our Horses

Our waterskins are made from horses. The meat we dine is horses. We are carried here on horses and our horses continue steady if at all able. I have at least one confession. As all the horses die for us all I have not once taken flesh of them for me. I could not. So beyond what I could do even as our sins have placed us here in a premise beyond all fathom I still could not find myself past the reach of what I know of all our horses. To become partaken of them. I could not join in to this. I have a confession of this and I did not bring in to me the flesh of any of our horses. Our waterskins are made from horses. And it is all I can to lift one against the dryness. We all succumb at a point but at what? I don’t go beyond our horses.


The Sea and the Roof Above Us

Now come days and nights of a drifted way. The slow creaking of our decks and there is a moon who lights us in night and who puts a trail of moonlight on the vastness of the sea between us and the moon it lays a path to she. Behind us the events are stacken like felled oaks laid down in rows the land behind us as a referent only and a breeze acrosses us in night as is some colder land existed so to tempt us to forget the present land the present sea as all about us as is possible. The sea now between us and land a stretch so reached to look back to where was poor hope and between the land and us was builded an uncountable map of sea volumes. Our nights were slept as much as a crouched mass of us could retire to it, our nights were dark nights on the sea calling shouting to the other boats for our closenesses on the sea who tented us in the canopy of stars who bended from one shore to the other in all directions and a single star was for any of the men some point beyond our what that could not be reached but only seen from far away the cranking shelf turning all night of stars one next another the rotated roof above us the pinholes in linen draped above us the white fires in back of it all lighting the dotted sky in even and in odd lights and us below it all a huddled audience unclean and fucking adjacent to the next a packed assembly I see few of us looking upward in night to reckon our place among them or to reckon how many more nights we might come to be at all among them let us not soften this recall.


Of How We Drift at Night

I sit us rafted there in nights. It is an almost quiet if there is one. The bad nourish of the men keeps us in a solemn. The groaning of the men. The sea closest to our decks it washes in a sound against the sides and we drift at night. Our bodies uncloaked against the weather even though uncoated is what we’d be either way. One of the men hutched in nearby is drawn and little remains of him and I wait here our Lord I wait here for the turn of his eye for the moment his head might lift and I know our Lord I know there is no return and I know there is no thing toward of which all of us sail. How there can be it can’t. In night we capture ourselves inside us and go visit those ensaddened rooms where the moments so darkly drawn and brought back again with new light and new edges like a hand who disturbs the tapestry inside the fresco so this visit repaints a life already been, untrusted and believed at once for the visit is what he calls the visit alone is the matter. His eye bended down in such a visit. His room a stolen room spent down on matted grass with her that dear inside neck the loosened collar and a shoulder how it lights itself and puts a crest above the grass the lavender was her design in hemp oil and in rose, the fallen what we wear coming to its mounded fall the matted well in which, the bended inness of a waist and on its edge inside the light who comes down from noon there is a faint silken hair like blown grain but as fragile and minute as the near lost edge of wool. The light a criminal beside the eye together building this ungone forever bit, lasted from then on and visited again as a moment as a guide back to the moment and from there depart and brightly sing in the gaps. His room a stolen room tethered unkindly to the where in which we find ourselves. I wait here for his eye and I wait with him so his eye can remain and solely visit back into what all remains as it would seem the upcoming has only to arrive to tell what we might already divine.


What Becomes Odd Within Us

There is a beyond madness I believe we have in us. A deep yellow like a metal stone who turns and as an ember it heats with the wind up against it. The madness lugged in and out of the rooms of us through doors of us we hide it from the wind the lightest duff which up against the madness it fans the ember into that hottest stone who puts a body along some odd path and writes a script for each man differently and strange this hottest babel is unheard the notions peculiar to each man come alive and now freed enact a rite wholly fucked and bright to only that man and none other. This solitary trip at once outside the man and truly within. A beyond madness who somehow does not ride with us floated here aloud but instead the madness though fanned I do not know how it remains inside these men. It seems for some the lightest alter can throw him into the gut of it. It could be that our hunger has a taller role or the water we have needed and without these deep wants it would avail the stone to become odd within us. But instead we ride floated here and our madness is small for now though I can not believe for good.


Mine Evening Sky Alone

We visit our life just once. It could rain down or it could sun a string of days or an unended ease could be what days you live in but I come to believe we visit our life just once this only one time in which we live, the string of days entire from one until the end. Inside this now I live with my body underneath the sky the stars there I would bet the stars set up there in measure of what we do and pourn down from the moon is my revital. I’m as wracked as any man here and I toil more and eat less and my charge demands that I lift us to the next day and so it is I underneath the moon the other men have fallen upon each other in what could be close to giving in as a body spells its coming day and sapped to the utmost lands where it might and I the moon addresses and it is I the moon floods up with sand for what’s upcoming so that I may guide in some way these rafted men who pell-mell upon each other like blown twigs I lie here standed to that task our Lord I become the one who gathers them in to proceed us all into the. Could I call out my desire to be finished to no longer have to witness the men in shapes so drawn and beyond the fetch of hope? What was possible was aside that and my invigor in night my hands on gunwales or so my solemn moon has come on to breed in me the sons of light and the sons in me of the trick who heals me I tread here alone it’s mine evening sky alone.


When the Horsemen Would Abandon

Our ruined horses I apologize to our Lord for their ruin I can see them taut thin and draggled as a coat becomes in rain I can see them as our Lord sees them in rows of thin dark walkers enburdened with the sick who flop and tumble on them moving with their troubled grace their unhealth a matter of form I see them down through the tops of trees as we go I am in communion I can see our ruined horses and I ask forgiveness of the utmost as I have not before.

How fucked we found ourselves. So gone was our state and hope it is now unable of any recall what we could tell ourselves why we found ourselves there and we could not tell ourselves how to leave it it was a special home we made for ourselves a new home inside this charred hollow. This bind. To be in a place it seemed unable to be in. And as well to be in this same place and have no exit from it.

But faith in our Lord God as he stands beside me is the most curing of a man I can not tell enough how this is so. And for good as the time had drawn up to us all when the horsemen in their private den conspired to abandon and go off to some unknown but without us all instead just them on horses would go. And although the truth of this spread as quick there was only sickness that our Governor could do then, overrun by illness his weak admonish was less than much. He could do nothing against it. And since the breed of these horsemen was of the hidalgo and other blooded ilk they would not head their way without first a notice to our Governor. So this intention was brought forward and we all astounded the horsemen with a reduction of their plan, and questioned their role on an earth where they would leave to die underneath the shade of some odd plants the very men who have gone armed with them to now and could a man do such a thing and if on the far side by chance they reach some otherwhere is the sun who rises there and the wind is it all enjoyed as if this way of Florida never was? With all this they abandoned their plan and to this day I still am unsure where they might have gone that would have tossed them any different coin for unless they had been guided by a dream who showed them a route unknown to the day there was no figured way to go but back and in that way there was nothing for them but a chain of misery run in reverse.


On the Island of Malhado

On Malhado she lay dying there her back up against a tree and it was the only recline for leagues. She had ears still and they took in the silence and the sound the sun makes on the sand and the palm fingers up overhead the whisper they lend down and what a mote of animal arms were there. She’d been left there a grandmother is what I took from her story and her story was a line of gestures and the way her eyes moved about it. This is how these Indians put each other when they become old and unable to do much to gather roots or dig or haul the pieces of their houses taken apart to travel. It was all I could do then to lay by. There was a notion not letting me leave the woman, it was as if my body though wracked and taut as I’ve been and wanting for almost all its store even then the most of what I needed was to be with her in her what seemed there against a tree in shade or so her dying. There was a need I can not say for why it was but her there and her eyes looked up to between the sun and shade the palm fingers set down on the front of her inside her what must have been to her own insides the final beats of her walk among them all. It’s not able for a near soul to go and leave a body alone I’m sure of this and so I sat with her in sun and fingered shade and when her tough skin shuddered I too was with her in that and in her night stories I could gather what her daughter and sons and the sons of them did able at and who was held dearest to her it was clear the way her eyes went and her breathing told a story about her dearest one the girl who was young and was swept one night up into the moon river in full run and she was carried out to set the moon with it out to sea and her breathing and her back the way she held herself told a story of the others and of her own knotted past from what I could gather and in night her shudders and her silence was a story she doled out to me together we and the palm fingers and she leaned there and no other of her people went to her but instead it seemed already she was gone to them I was unable to see how.

She died by nature who it was to come leaving us without her. And our men have died up to now and death it has been a steady hand with us to now and duly measured we’ve all been guided near some death or so. So our nature is to walk and our nature is to keep by the sitting of an elder in her shudders and in turn to walk.


Russell Persson
lives in Reno, Nevada. His fiction has appeared in The Quarterly and Unsaid Magazine. His first novel, The Way of Florida, will be published in 2017 by Unsaid Books.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, October 31st, 2016.