Empty Spaces

By Jordan Abel
Empty Spaces by Jordan Abel. Copyright © 2023 Jordan Abel. Published by McClelland & Stewart
Excerpted from Empty Spaces by Jordan Abel. Copyright © 2023 Jordan Abel. Published by McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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When tomorrow finally arrives. When a soft, silvery wind rushes

through the branches. When the bodies are swallowed by the

forest. When the summer air is warm and broken. When the bodies

seem to disappear from ninety feet up in the air. When there is a

moment. When the light spreads through the brush. When the sun

directly above the earth is blinding. The air and the broken limbs

and the silvery clouds and the blood and the rocks and the skulls and

the warmth of the afternoon. There is a clear sheet of water and

sunken bodies somewhere below the surface. The stars will shine

through the clouds; the flesh will fall away. To see the line that

connects the antlers to the sternum to the fingers. To puncture the

skin. To remove the claws. There is a jaw bone resting on the mossy

stump of a tree trunk. There is a flat, black rock below the thigh

and above the skull. There are broken bodies and broken bones.

In the river, there is blood. Tomorrow is a line that cuts endlessly

through the forest. There will be words. There will be voices. Some

waters dry up. Some waters do not. Some bodies carry the scent of

roses. In the summer afternoon, the mud will harden and fall from

the dried bones. Bodies in the heat of the afternoon. Bodies reflected

on the surface of the water. Bodies with antlers and mouths and claws

and fingers in the hot sun. Bodies in the passageways. If there are

still passageways between the broken rocks. If there is a tumbling in

the air above us. If the darkness never lifts. If blood gushes from

every throat. If some other, softer place is not softer at all. If there

is a bellowing in the passageways between the broken rocks. If

there is land and hunger and breath and fire. If the moon reflects

the light from the sun. If slow, intermingling drifts of sounds and

scents float through the air. If bark is peeled from a tree. If the

blood runs like a river. If there is fear. If there are ripples in the lake

water. If there is still a memory of the sun after the woods grow

dark. If there are caverns in the rocks that lead us into darkness.

If there is old light and a bright mist and glassy rocks. If the woods

disappear into the night. If the light between leaves is just moonlight.

If a broken line branches into the east. If the bodies hang in the trees.

If the south bank remains a point in space. If the smoke consumes the

forest. If there are moments that intersect with other moments. If the

bodies float down the stream. If there are roses. If the soft curvature

of the lake sometimes shines in the light from the sun at dawn. If

there are no more hills or banks or caverns or ravines. If there are

connections between the precipices. If a line is drawn. If the waters

rise. If there are parallels between the tree branches. If there are

voices. If the blood sprays into the air. If there are leaves floating in

the river. If the water from the river branches silently towards the

lake. If the lake stretches for miles and miles. If the rocks just below

the surface can’t quite be seen. If the thousands of glittering stars

above are never quite visible in the light from the afternoon. If the

trees that have fallen in the river sink down to the riverbed. If there

is the taste of wilderness in the air on the southern shore. If there

is a gust of wind that follows the curvature of the valleys and glides

up to the black clouds ninety feet up in the air. At this height,

about a half mile from the base of the mountain, the summer sun

scorches the ragged tops of trees. At this elevation, the shining stars

are just a little closer. There is a mist that drifts through the trees.

Water that hung in the air before it pours down on the mountains.

The water that finds a way here after winding its way among

countless islands, that turned to vapour in the summer heat. There

is a nakedness out here in this water. Just above the expanse. Just

above the slow, intermingling drifts of darkness. There is a mist

here that lingers just above the surface. A current that cuts through

the cool water and ripples the lake. From somewhere under the deep

stillness of the lake there is a current that rises up from some other,

softer place. Some water from some other place. Some reflections.

Some blood. Some dirt. Some silence. Some bark. Some limbs. Some

antlers. Some branches. Some bodies. Somewhere above there is

light from somewhere other than here. Some stars can be seen above

the lake and through the broken canopy of smouldering trees.

Somewhere above there is a soft, silvery wind that disappears into

the trees. Somewhere above there is a tumbling in the air a mile

above us. If there is space between the trees and the black rocks

and the shrubs and the driftwood, it is filled with mounds of black

earth and silence. If there is space for breaking, it is here and now

in the rain overlooking the dark lake. If there is space here for

voices, then they are softer than before. There are glowing orange

and red chunks of trees that hiss momentarily in the downpour and

slowly turn black and ashen. There are bright embers. There is rain now

in the grey sky and the fire seems to have died out. Beyond the

curvature of the shore there is the dark, wooded outline of the

forest. For a moment, the bodies in the lake are lit up again and

can be seen very briefly from the shore. For a moment, light touches

a place it has never touched before. For a moment, the light from the

bright, delicate afternoon and the light from the wildfire reach out

to this dark place. Here, the soft, silvery winds push the water and

bodies through the lake towards the dark, deep places. The bodies,

as seen from the bottom of the lake, look almost like a constellation

of stars. Blood floats through the water until it disappears. Blood

gushing from soft, delicate bodies. Blood and salt and dark currents.

Today, the blood blooms in this water. In earlier seasons, spring

flowers would bloom on this shore by the woods overlooking the

deep stillness of the lake. There are no bodies other than these

bodies. There are no shores other than these shores. There are no

sounds anymore except for the crackling of the fire in the woods.

Beneath the broken clouds is a steep, rugged ascent and a trail of

bodies spilling out of the forest and into the lake. For every cloud

that breaks apart, a leaf falls from a tree. For all the broken rocks

and immovable trees and deep, narrow ravines. For all the leaves

falling to the ground. For all the dark mounds of earth and wet

rocks and broken branches and intersecting lines of sight that cut

across each other until there is a moment when those lines

converge. For all the fragments of driftwood along the shore. For

all the clouds above the smoke that seem to drift into each other,

another voice can be heard. Another mouth. Another islet. Another

clear sheet of water. Here, there is light and stillness and glimpses

of grey smoke billowing over the tops of trees in the distance.

Jordan Abel
Jordan Abel is a queer Nisga’a writer from Vancouver.
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
Rungh Redux Winner 2022 Award of Merit Innovative Practice
Britannia Art Gallery
Britannia Art Gallery
Bookhug Press
Bookhug Press
Plantation Memories
Plantation Memories
Alternator Centre