Two Fictions

Michael Chitwood


The gas lantern hissed. It always amazed him that the cloth mantels inside the globe could glow so white hot and not fall apart. They had to be only ash. From time to time, his father would replace them. The new ones were mesh, soft as tissue.

They had brought liver and some high shrimp. The more gone the better, his father always said. Their lines looked like antennae slanting from the boat, illuminated for a yard by the lantern’s light.

His father’s fingers glistened from baiting the hooks and on his cheeks he wore streaks of his own blood where he had smeared mosquitoes.

Back at the dock, his father would turn the gas knob and the mantels would sputter and fade and the singing dark would rush in. Out of the light, he could begin to see, dimly, everything around him.

De Humani Corporis Fabrica, Andreas Vesalius

To be locked outside the gate for the night. To be the only bipedal creature in the dark. The crows have gone to roost, the black notches of their bodies like invisible tally marks in the night.

Later, he will draw all the bodies upright, in lifelike positions on the outskirts of Padua. To avoid the church, they will walk or lean, lounging against a low wall. Save for the flayed muscles, the exposed bone, they will seem like any citizen about their business.

As he is now, thrilled here at the base of the gibbet. This is the first body, criminal and leader. He will be famously studied. The problem now: how to lift him down.

Fabulous dead. They stalk the outskirts. Their bodies ropey with muscle, they seem to implore the sky with a lifted hand or cocked head. Unmade, this is how we are made. Think of them just outside town on a sunny day. The severed and splayed muscles flap as they walk. But, of course, they do not walk. They are merely observable, distraught. A bird trills like a flute and they turn to look.

It was done in this manner so the learning living would not have to face charges. The body taken for art trumps the body taken for science. Now they seem to declaim or be mid-soliloquy. I was. You see. They grieve in spondee. The bone man leans on his digging bar, work done, evening coming on and soon the pleasures of the bed.

Rent. Ripped. Bone-handled knife. Blunt probe. Razor. Fine razor. Fabric is his trope. Unraveling. But the ruckus on the title page where an autopsy is in progress! Such detail. A priest in prayer. Jokes. Bargains. The press of flesh, whispers, stirrings. A lap dog farts. Onlookers lean. The learned one sweats and unpacks the corpse for the avid eyes. In a hallway above, unseen, the sound of little boys playing.

Later, as he takes the first bite of a pear, the sweet wine of the juice bathes his tongue. From his hand, a whiff of the body.

Michael Chitwood’s work has received┬áthe Chaffin Award for Appalachian Writing, the L.E. Phillabaum Award from LSU Press, and the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Poetry.┬áHis most recent book is Search & Rescue, from LSU Press.