properties of limestone
On broken bicycle spokes, our guide pokes at mosquito bites
bathed in horse shit, speaks of luck
like the octopus who picked world cup winners
Oohing at all the appropriate flora,
we have more or less adapted to the cacti
the stray dogs so skinny
they masticate the spines,
a hunger running deeper than their thirst
There is after all
sacred water tainted with blood of holy sacrifice,
lungs inflated with more dew drops than air
here one must thicken one’s skin when one finds
pinpricks of chance widening to stalactites
(even the bats here have rubies in their eyes I swear)
a horse named Princess led us to this underground well
she also made us drink like royalty, told us of the boy
who dove to the depths of his mortality here
I swear this part is true I swear,
I looked and looked but couldn’t find the bottom
I felt a tentacle touch my hair
so smooth and I fell
This semester they start by asking us about the thickness of glaciers. There is an earthquake in the Caribbean. Then an earthquake in South America. There is recurrent volcanic activity in northern Europe. They keep asking us something about groundwater. Floating ash disturbs airplane routes and seismic waves topple cities, topple governments. Meanwhile, they ask questions about solar winds. The global economy, having already collapsed, is setting new record-breaking lows. They ask us to define paleomagnetism. Every front-page headline uses the word “plummet.” Oil starts pumping into the Gulf Coast. Keeps pumping through midterms. And we are asked to accurately measure the Earth. We lose track of all the questions and stop looking for answers even on other people’s papers. Grades subsequently plummet. A sinkhole opens like an eyeball in a foreign capital city and they ask us to approximate its depth. We start dreaming of getting close enough to make it shut with us inside it. Then they ask us to drop the course or we will fail.
Having cut our losses, we head to the sinkhole hoping to dive in. For six days we ride through flat expanses of uninteresting countryside, living out of my backpack with its broken zipper. The bus is crowded and we are fixated on the hardness of the seatbacks. I massage your shoulder blades even though you didn’t ask me to and we snack on tasteless frozen mangoes, pre-sliced and wrapped in plastic. Your back is deeply knotted.
When sunlight pours through the windows on Saturday we see a big billboard for ecotourism in a language we do not speak. You pull down the flimsy visor to return us to darkness. An hour later we are outside the station choosing between several options for guided tour: bungee jump, rock climb, helicopter ride. The locals have names we mispronounce. Other foreigners have other broken-zippered backpacks. A young girl has her toes on the edge, biting a papaya and spitting the seeds inside. The tiny black dots shrink to tinier black dots and, watching this, we somehow feel relieved.
They ask us to sign a release form. They ask us if we have a history of back injury. They do not wait for our responses. Papaya droplets continue to fall as we are strapped into harnesses. They ask us to pick a focal point to jump toward because this is a big place and getting bigger. We do not understand their accents, their directions (for instance, who do they mean when they say ‘we’? And did they ask us to pray when the gravity pulls us in?). Someone speaks in bible verse of eyes that first opened to nudity and shame. Someone mumbles to himself and we hear a word that sounds like “plummet.” The little girl, having finished her papaya, holds the empty rind like a snakeskin and throws it in. It floats before it freefalls down and down and down. Did you see that, I wonder. Then you kiss me and tell me my mouth tastes vaguely of earth.
Any questions. They ask.
The thickness of glaciers? My mind screams. Now before it is too late. The solar winds? Magnetic fields?
But there is silence at these altitudes. We squint and feel single-celled as even the sinkhole appears no bigger than a womb.
Are we ready now? We nod or the wind nods for us. Either way, we’re jumping.
As a child, I once asked my mother why life is exactly this way as opposed to any other. For instance, why not have a single human composed of every other one?
You hold my hand.
Mom said, that’s a very big thought for such a very little girl.
And, bury that deep inside the dark muds of your mind.
As I fall I pray no sinkhole will ever let this all flood out.
(first published in The College Hill Independent)
Rebekah Bergman studies literature and creative writing at Brown University. Her work has appeared in First Edition Magazine, Clerestory Journal of the Arts, and Catalyst Magazine. She lives in the small town of Swampscott, on the northern coast of Massachusetts.