Flesh of Dust and Blood and Fire
Dedicated to Winson Chen
Mother’s skin stretches to accommodate the bulbous sac of water where we originate. Stretch marks: bear paws on skin of belly, hips, and breasts. Claw-line scars lighten, but never disappear. No laser, cream, or cure masks evidence of existence.
Winson was born, Asian skin, olive and smooth and shining wet, as beautiful as any other baby boy ever was.
Derived from a single ancestral Eve’s mitochondrial cell. We, born in sensitive vulnerability. Arrive. Wet. Warm.
Gasping first breaths.
Some will come gray-skinned. Some will come blue.
Born into death.
Always, all come coated in body blood and fluid.
He had breath.
With ten fingers. Ten toes.
Fingers and foot’s toes, our first identification prints. The intricacies of unique thumbs, like the zebra’s stripes; no two toe swirls are ever formed alike.
After the birth, foreskin, umbilical cord and placenta are discarded. Discards sometimes live second lives in laboratories, alongside aborted stem cells and malignant tissue harvests.
Those are the lucky ones.
We strive to live in this world of strife. Through trauma, we persevere, without so much as a satisfactory, chitinous crunch of thorax under the sole of a shoe.
Winson burned alive for twenty-five minutes, and he died, but he didn’t.
Resuscitation reversed Dead On Arrival.
He awoke three months later from an extended morphine-dream coma. A coma-dream nightmare about a cross-country crime spree and homosexual gang rapes in a maximum-security prison.
His father said:
“Son, you’ve had an accident.”
Winson first asked for a mirror, and after he used it, he tried to die.
Un-plugging artificial extensions,
destroying the mechanical, inorganic system keeping him alive, removing lines of intravenous morphine,
rejecting pretense of medicinal vitality
and hypertonic saline nutrient drippings.
He spent six months wrapped in white. Gauze held his marrow meat sinews, in
absence of epidermal shell,
he became a man,
folded in one thousand paper-crane prayers.
Unwrapped, his blood flesh was pink red, raw as fresh-killed cow’s hide on a spitting grill.
We, our flesh and bones, taut muscles stretched over skeletal frame, are blood eyeballs. Not gleaming fish scales shining silver.
It all withers. Decomposition begins long before the body dies.
After age sixteen, your neck skin starts losing elasticity. After age thirty: women’s bones are too old to benefit from
calcium supplementation; the testosterone that makes a man a man dissipates by the day. Wrinkles of age replace tautness of youth. Sagging is as inevitable as a baby’s behind is smooth.
Winson has a body map of burns and scars.
His legs, a quilt of square skin grafts. His arms, rippled fish scales, feel like cobblestones worn smooth. He has one fully functioning hand, and another forever curled in a hammer-claw fist. Though his fingerprints have changed, they are still uniquely his. But this is not the body he was born with. It is now new. It is foreign. It is his, and it is him.
Think of rotten skin stretched across a faceless skull in decomposition. The dirt clumps beneath maggots in feast. The congregation of slithering worm-crawl squirms. How long does it take for once-fluid eyeballs sunk in sockets to dissolve? To deflate?
The fire consumed most of his face and the cartilage was the first to go. He lives with one eye of fluid and one eye of glass painted black. In sleep, his lids only half close, and whites of hard-boiled-egg eyes are left exposed to the night. Meanwhile, on the bedside table, a Mr. Potato Head nose, a silly-puttied prosthetic, molded from the distinguished features of an old Jewish doctor, ill-shaped for the face of this Chinese boy, waits until morning to be bolted in its place.
Tattooed sideburns and eyebrows fill in patches of skull where hair will never grow. Hair plugs scalp, grown thick black.
After more than one hundred reconstructive procedures, he is addicted to plastic surgery.
Lip injections let him smile how he wants to.
Almost like the way he used to.
We scar. We bruise. We bleed. We break.
Our skin can be grafted, faces transplanted, blood transfused, and bone marrow borrowed from bones of baboons. Cuticles are shorn, chewed until torn ragged and bleeding, but they regenerate.
His Superman tattoo was middle-split: eroded, but not erased by the flames.
Noting the irony of this cracked symbol, he asked:
“If the man of steel could die, what are my chances of survival?”
The remaining ink on his arm was re-grafted to his back, with added words:
“Only the strong survive.”
We survive, just penetrable hide and no fearsome tusks. Without the ugliness of cockroach antennae to strike fear into superior beings. No armadillo’s armor. No porcupine’s spines spike out to protect us.
At the urging of a snake, the teeth sank into red forbidden skin to taste the sinful, yet seductive, white pulp.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the flesh that was not hidden became their shame. Until to primordial dust it does return.
Priscilla Alarcon | Flesh of Dust and Blood and Fire