:: Article

Tight Little Vocal Cords by Loie Rawding: An Excerpt

By Loie Rawding. 

 Loie Rawding, Tight Little Vocal Cords (Kernpunkt, 2020)



M will be born many times over, always in a solitary space where shadows roll with the sound of waves and the winter is long with night. He submits himself to each landscape, to the rush and bind of branches, water, and gale force. A kiss, for example. His lips, the same grain as the trees. These kinds of carved wooden tools, shaped by iron, held with nails that dimple skin into corroded silver. A kiss. What happens if he gets left in the rain?

Nothing new may come of this. A life flips in space. Another is pressed by the wave. To reveal any truth, will mean to repeat the lines that are drawn around him. Each time, pressing fingerprints into his blue eyes, causing a ripple in his witness.

M was born from his mother’s house, her body stretched with and within a frame built by his father. Her walls of skin, tight and dry, stand hard in rooms of wainscoting. A puzzle bound together with old things. He emerged with a grotesque sound. Silence. A work of abstraction. A smudge against his mother’s breast. How easy it is to forget: grapevines can grow through cliffs.

Was he wanted? They stoically place him in a wooden cradle that trips on a crack in the floor, as it tries to rock back and forth without the push of a bare foot. The child, M, hums along with the hitch of it. His heart beats again and again, but does anyone notice the thud?

The clouds become mirrors, then music. He stacks flat rocks to the beat of gull’s wings, forming a seawall around his sunny wasteland.

M is born in a ring formed from shale and filled with sand. Dried beach peas line his bedside. In the morning, a humid mist rises from the water still smelling of the night’s cold.

He rises from restless sleep and walks to low tide, feeds off salty cattail roots, crab apples, sour grapes as green as the vine. Men and women surround him, trying so hard to remain only as far as they’ve gotten. A community existing on just enough, pushed to the edge of cliffs on which they balance with locked knees, floating away from a flickering world.

His long silences leave empty parenthesis around his mother. The only thing he knows of his father are two long arms that chop wood and drop the stacks of dead limbs into an old milk crate by the stove. The father always smells of burning, his hair the color of ash and peeling birch bark is his skin.

The mother always takes a standing position to piss, same as how she stands over her child. Her biggest fear was that she would have a girl child, more beautiful, more powerful than herself. A child more able to leave, to go beyond the cage, and take all she may ever want.

She was given M, who might yet prove to be exactly this. She periodically chops off her hair, with her eyes closed, asking her son to what degree she might be judged a work of art. She sings to him at night about setting her curves on fire with tongues of the deepest currents. His mother is sculpted from hard granite. His father is the white water that thrashes at her ankles and polishes the surface of her stomach.

M and his mother wrap around each other, forcing their bodies through his father’s rough wake. The father needs them to stay, to join this local circle of bait and catch, salt swept pine needles and a horizon the same color as the ocean pressing against it.

No matter where he goes, M will see the sun through many grains of sand. Such glitter dots and slashes across his vision, forming a line of broken images. He will swallow these demons one by one, but in this beginning, the shine of it all makes him smile his first kind of smile.

He leans forward, the child his mother feared, always hungry, breathing through the wet O his mouth makes at rest. A rosebud that never blooms. A hole, like the one left in the bloody earth after his birth.

He will venture out on the road she never saw, searching for the scattered pieces of a self, always using the twisted laws, the tortured tools, of his mother. M forgot that his father existed until she disappeared.



 M admires and desires the woman in his mother’s form. Such is the impact of her velvety touch. Yet, she remains untouchable, protected by her thinning dark hair and pale armor composed of a deceptively thick skin. So, he sticks his child hands tightly between his knees and then behind his ears, seeking out his own smell, which came from her.

No translation is required.

Need or want or always, what is the taste of words like these? Translation is always required.

M still craves his mother in part because he didn’t get to see her die. When he was finally allowed to enter the room all that remained was a few empty skirts standing in the middle of the room, and a deeper silence. And a blue tin cup speckled with white, by her pillow, half full of the pulpy seaweed she drank as tea, now cold. The sourness of it stung his lips.

As many mothers do, she left deep scratches in his skin. See M: still young, walking with the limp of new legs, knees the size of elbows that shake in the wind. His mother is laughing at the ocean, pressing her body into the horizon of ships headed for other countries. She is talking to an invisible sailor who has joined them for their daily walk. The man seems to be asking with some quality of knowledge, just give me a taste of that skin. Just there, please oh, those sweet, perky tits. His voice is the sound of a storm moving off shore, coaxing her into the surf, demanding her devotion for just a little while. She seems inclined to give in, the clouds tugging at her hand while the other remains locked onto his.

M is used to this flirtation and much more interested in the sand breathing beneath him. Oval shaped cells bubble up, surging between his toes, clear drool emerging from holes that pop from the porous tissue. He calls out, please oh, look. Look between my sweet, perky toes. His mother reacts instantly, as if she heard his voice before he opened his mouth. With a single gesture she digs her thumb and fore finger into one of the opened pores. M is knocked down beside the widening gap. The sand growing wetter with each flex of the muscle in her forearm. He breathes through his teeth, through the O that his lips make. One of his eyelashes is caught inside out. After humming and digging for several minutes, his mother grasps something solid. She grips it like the head of a bullet that must come out and tugs at the ground, her other hand flat in a pool of sandy water, keeping her steady.

A head the size of a thumbnail appears from the wound, then a thousand legs on a black soaked body. The massive worm is very much alive and reacts instantly, coiling itself around her fingers, gripping her wrist like a damp leather strap. He sees the pleasure of tightening muscle under its thin skin. M stops breathing.

She disentangles the thing from herself and lets it fall onto his body. The thousand legs animate in tiny, moving circles, each wheelhouse working to crawl up his leg. This is a significant moment. He wonders if it is possible to be pulled back into the creature’s hole, sealed into the lung of the beach, his whole body wrapped in its rust lined scales. To forever join this precious, powerful thing. This thing of cold-blooded muscle, with only an open mouth and no eyes.


Dear M,

I am asking myself why? Why this? Why now? Who fucking cares? And while no answer comes to mind, I can only say that I am using you to understand myself. I am trying to make sense of our memories. You remind me of my own hesitant brashness. Embarrassed, I enact this composition anyway. I want to translate what is written behind the iron-backed mirror at the end of the hall and the impacts we can cause together.

I am writing my way into wandering, like you. Who is making the decisions? Who transcribes these rules and why should I listen? Why do you keep reading? There are so many stories I still don’t know. The lives of our makers are so unclear. I’m wandering, just like you, pretending to know. I am just beginning and I am using you.

 I keep waking up with my hands in fists. I am pulled into the dirt of our histories for what? To grasp whatever meaning I can salvage. Could be nothing at all. Could mean everything.         

 Meanwhile, there’s this young bitch laughing at me from up a tree just outside my window. You know the one, the wide pine that leans toward the east. She won’t come down or talk to me the way I need her to, which is why I can’t help but talk to you. She’s just another piece of us that I can’t shake loose, that I can’t shake free.

 Yours truly,



The remoteness of M’s home gives it a false sense of perpetuity. Again, and again, and again, the fishermen slide up to the dock, slick with the wet feet of swimmers and mackerel intestines splattered across rotting board. Abandoned fish hooks stick up from the cracks. Lines of waves crest over cliffs shaped like broad men’s thighs, hairy with Atlantic sea moss, strong and resolute against the wind.

The line of the island forms a crotch. Before her departure, his mother holds her own with both hands and says, this is power. This is where we live. But his father just calls it stone, and returns to toeing a line between their small portion of rocky beach and the dingy he uses to fish. Shards of glass collect on this beach, thrown back from the tide, pieces broken to fit between a child’s toes. There is more of that rare blue kind here than anywhere else on the island, it is rocked to a fine smoothness, dusted with salt, bleached by the sun.

The island is an idle rock with a breeze that keeps the black flies away. No need for shoes, except required to get into the amusement park built by a retired tycoon. The park seduces its crowds with stale fried dough, painted rocks, chipped buoy mobiles. All of it gift wrapped in relentless and nauseating splashes of fun. A rainbow of smashed light bulbs.

On one side of the mirror, M’s place of birth is a sunken ship, split in two, all of her degenerate crew lost and long forgotten. On the other side, it is a funhouse freshly painted every June with the sweat of the rich, buttery lobster shells, and sour gin.

It starts here because it ends here.



 On the day his mother dies:

The house blows itself open with a gust of wind and still his father won’t let him see behind the door. The whole house cracks in the wind and salt, paint chipping across the sill and window frames sinking into the plaster wall. Everything is splitting. The sun is silver bright behind a fog curtain. Black sand, shining with oil from Fisherman’s Cove, blows itself inside, forming sacrificial mounds at the foot of every bed and bookshelf. Except hers, her door is closed and his father will not let him in.

Grains of sand snag the rugs and scratch the tops of his feet. They grind between his molars. Dry sea grass inflames his bare legs. It whips through, pulled from the ground by relentless gusts. He is left with a collage of paper cuts across his skin. He can see his veins throbbing underneath. He has to leave, to go somewhere not here. Giving up, he walks through the dry, low tide as the storm finally moves out. The damp air is slowing down. It makes him feel unclean. Salt grease stuck to his hair. He wonders: Have I done something wrong?

The foghorns are blowing out the steamers who have come too close to shore. The park may close early this year. It was a bad season for the dogfish. The island is moving further out, floating into a gray line scraped out between the ocean and the sky. M can see where the currents are taking them. They are the last rock before the horizon. Alone now, he will be pushed all the way across to another side.

With her last words, she said to him, the skin we wear is all we have.

His father stomps out, letting the bedroom door thrash open. On the mattress, only an imprint of a body remains in her pale blanket, the one with a watery sunset dyed in cotton. Now, these faded clouds are disrupted with sickness and torn stitches of his mother’s skin, like moth wings that M takes in his palm and blows out the open window.

He sits there until his father returns, and when the man aligns himself beside his son on the floor, he says nothing, takes a red apple from his pocket and sucks on the skin, breathing through his nose. The two of them stare into the rising, morning light and share the apple, bite for bite. The hair of their forearms mingles for the first time, close enough for M to see the sun burned into his father’s skin, and a set of raised freckles shaped like a certain constellation which the mother always traced on his own twig of an arm.


Dear M,

 I wrote a love letter once and pressed it to my chest and then pressed my naked chest to the wet cliffs not far from your home. I think you know what this feels like. When you reply to this letter, and I hope you do, please tell me how naked you feel right now, like you’ve been turned inside out and there’re boot prints in the lining of your skin. I’m not making much progress Tell the truth, M. Does it really hurt so bad or do you sometimes like it and invent the pain?

 New Englanders can be so damn resigned to the long haul. What is it with all that sadness? What’s that layer you have wrapped about you? So shy and proud on some secret path only you know, through the channel of an infuriating spirituality. Naturalism. Bullshit and a beer served cold. Does that make you uncomfortable?

 You have no great monsters haunting you. You only have the means that I give you to scrape the bark off your own origins.

 I just yanked a hangnail and it is bleeding more than I expected it to.

 I was watching a beetle walk across my blanket this afternoon and I thought of you. It had a strand of black thread caught on its back leg, a hair. And the hair seemed to stretch forever, but there was nothing attached to the other end. I want to think our histories do not determine who we become. People in charge, they try to make us all look the same so our failures and their judgements can fall with the same hammer, but it doesn’t work like that. I still want to tie something to the end of that hair, even if you’ve lost interest in my memory.

 I’m trying to make you smile through a window. It is not enough, not nearly enough and I’m sorry. We must keep trying.

 Yours truly,



LOIE RAWDING was born in 1987 and raised on the coast of Maine. Individual writings and mixed media work have been featured in SAND (Berlin), The Ekphrastic Review (Toronto), Map Literary, Anamesa, DREGINALD, and Lemon Hound (Montreal), among others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and has held residencies at the Martha’s Vineyard Creative Writing Institute and Tin House. Loie is a Teaching Artist with The Porch Writers Collective. She divides her time between Cliff Island, Maine and Nashville, Tennessee. For more: www.loierawding.com

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, November 28th, 2020.