Lidia Yuknavitch’s Weblog

the body of the word

my hands moving



the following is an excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Making Art. If you are reading this then you are already part of its making. I want you to know that you have been with me through the crucible, and I carry you with me as I reach the ending–which never is one, but rather, the next opening.

Menas 1

You must picture your image of Eastern Europe.
In your mind’s eye.
Whatever that image is.
However it came to you.
One winter night when she is not a child (was she ever a child?), Menas walks outside, her shoes against snow, her arms cradling a self, her back to a house not her house but housing her. It is a night after the blast that has atomized her family and any sense of an identity. Some years.
But that night has never left her…unrelenting bruise. It’s blue-black image pearling in and out of memory.
Nor will it ever leave her body, the blast forever injuring her spine, so that all of her life she will carry pain like the story of histories unspoken, and since she will grow into a woman with intelligence and intuition and artistic integrity, she will almost never speak of it. She will transform unbearable pain into artistic production – exactly like how women take what turns out to be a life and live with it.
Nations move over the small backs of children, grinding their bones and hearts into the earth.
The white of the snow stretches out like the bones of a human hand.
You know, we act as if children are always under development, and thus unable to mourn or register the fact of an identity, having not quite arrived. It is not true. It may be more true that identity is as fully formed as the cosmos, as dna, as geographic actuality in the first moments of life. The open mouth as gaping as a galaxy. The unconscious wail. The physical violence. The irrelevancy of time or space.
The moon’s giant white eye.
The moon pulls her eyes, bathes her lightly, convinces her night is not any kind of ending, but rather the place of dreams and visions and beginnings. She is older than a child who would chase the moon, so when she decides to follow it, it is with the sure-footedness of the in-between girlhood of things.
The moon.
Like the iris of an eye, a circle within a circle. She moves forward deeper into the dark and open, away from the house not hers.
The snow becomes apparent now, and she wishes she had a coat. She wishes she had tied her shoes properly, worn socks. The moon, however, makes an entire setting for her motion, and in this way she feels…lit up.
She thinks of the moment of the blast, the singular fire lighting up the face of her father, her mother, first yellow, then orange and blue, then white, then nothing. Of course this is and isn’t true. The moment was a flash of white, a sound closing hearing. It is only in memory that she has changed the pacing to slow motion, changed the colors to vivid hues electrifying her mind.
This does not frighten her. What used to be nightmares have transformed into color and light, composition and story, song and tune. It is with her now. Lifelong companion. Still life of a dead family.
She keeps following, or is she leading? She moves in the dark over the snow under the moon. She thinks of folktales and gypsies. Horses. She sees the moon’s light and suddenly night turns to be something else. She sees a white field ahead of her—a great white field—stretched out like paper or canvas. She stops and her breath fogs in front of her, sweet articulation of wonder. Of desire. She is in love with the white spread before her.
Its purity and readiness.
Its virginity. Like that of a girl.
A girl not her.
A girl not ravaged.
Its potential—like a waiting body.
Then she hears something not her and not the night and not the white expanse waiting before her. Her feet are cold and she can suddenly feel how numb her hands are shoved in her armpits. She does not know what she hears at first. At first it seems as if it is the sound of hummingbirds’ wings, but that is not possible. A fluttering whir, quiet as secrets, there and then gone.
Then she does know what she hears.
She hears something so familiar it is foreign to her. She hears a wolf caught in a trap. She looks down near a fence line she barely noticed was there…ha. Like the divisions between nations. There one minute, gone the next, loyalties and allies disintigrated into snow or rain or dna. What a trick history, geography, being is.
She looks to the left—it is what she thought. It is a beautiful beyond beautiful wolf with its leg caught in a trap. She moves closer, now aware that she is freezing to death (a phrase “freezing to death” which is a bit comical in eastern Europe). The wolf is smart. It is almost finished. She thinks of releasing it only in the briefest of thoughts and then abandons the thought.
The wolf is nearly free.
In its freedom it will lose a leg.
It will be worth it.
The freedom will be won.
She holds perfectly still.
More still than a dead person.
Which she has seen, many times, a corpse in snow.
Still life against white. Against all of humanity.
It takes nearly an hour, but the wolf finally frees herself.
She is suddenly sure it is a female. Females carry the endurance of all of
humanity. The long wait waiting. The bearing of life. The bearing of death.
The wolf frees itself in a single glorious excruciating moment—it lets out a
cry larger than an infant’s.
It is then that she does something, well, thoughtless. Something so
intuitive it could only be the mark of an artist. She goes to where the rust-orange and black metal of the trap sits holding its severed limb, she goes to where blood and animal labor have reddened and dirtied the pristine white of the snow—like the violence against a page or canvas—without thinking, she pulls down her pants, her underwear, she squats with primal force and pisses and pisses there where the crime happened.
Her eyes close.
Her mouth fills with spit.
It is, or more accurately, it will become, the most erotic moment of her life.
She will develop a need to piss when she comes.
It will drive away men.
It will attract men.
This is how our sexuality is formed – a frame at a time – against white,
taboo, thoughtless, corporeal. Our psyches writing themselves against our very beings.
A wolf running three-legged against white into the savior of blackness, from which all creativity springs.
A girl healing herself even as healing appears impossible. Healing herself
through sexual release. Through artistic production. Through the endless act of making.
She opens her eyes.
The piss smell and the blood smell and the youth smell of her skin mingle. Salt of all being.
She licks her lips.
She places her hands into the blood and reprints them in a clean, white place.
What is a girl but this—this obscene and beautiful making against the expanse of white—this brilliant imagination inventing meaning.
And then she runs toward a self.
What is a girl?

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