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Jason Schwartz

ACCOUNT OF A DROWNING

 

 

         The soldier—a redcoat, by all reports—chokes on a coin or a nail or, more likely, dead bees, three or four of them, shown here in a gray basin and on a white bedsheet.  (Better a high bed, as the saying has it, than the sound of blood.)  The sound of the blade—the implement is a short dagger rather than a mortuary sword—carries quite well.  Or so goes one description of the event, despite the burnt curtains, the slaughtered dog, the music in the attic.  (A bruit, for its part, is a noise—a fault—in the heart.)  The arms, given this configuration—a martlet proper, at the battlement; shield, pommel, and hilt vert—are thought silent with regard to a falling body, for instance, or a sinking ship.

 

         The crying wife, according to folklore, is carried from a house—a burning house, in those unfortunate drawings—and then down a road and through a town—or across a field and through a forest—in a wooden bed.  (The cannons appear rather charmless from this angle.)  Thence south, perhaps, in a rainstorm, past the sorrow in the burrows, the jackchain and the shooting wall, and now, near a creek or a lake, the sounds of a drowning.  A family stands in the grass—the boards red in the background, the steeples green.  (Her heart went white, as the saying has it—or, more precisely, silent.)  The nightdress is woolen, a plain design, open at the collar or fastened there with a clasp or a knot or just a common pin, the click of which may suggest an insect.  (Hessian flies are Russian, in fact, and are sometimes mistaken for wasps.)  Certain marks on a door, often an arrangement of scrapes or engravings, indicate the loss of a daughter.

 

         The orphan swallows a small bird, a finch or a sparrow, even a parakeet, wings clipped, eyes excised—at least as the narrative survives in the upland boroughs and in several of the eastern towns.  (Bloodbirds, so-called, are said to produce a rueful sound.)  A bloody bone is thunder, in one version, and timber and chimney smoke, in another—or a pile of sticks near a river, just before the war.  (Perhaps the treetops seem to shriek.)  A rag doll gives way to a stump doll—the face painted red, for the frightened child, or blue, for the dying child—which gives way, in turn, to a toy horse, described in a faltering voice.  The rattlebox contains a hook and a blade, and is buried at the margin of the yard.

 



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