Song of Ourselves
by Naïma Msechu
(Loosely inspired by Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass)
We would be lying if we said we weren’t disappointed when we found out the electric guests were nothing but electric circuits. Not even several circuits (we’d always sparked a mental picture of galaxies of humming loops), but one each, one loop only. And it was how we found out, too, that made us flicker. Everything had been sputtering that day, everything and everyone, really. We had all felt off since that morning, after we’d woken to a day that felt half-charged and never developed into anything more.
We sat on the hill for hours that buzzed in the negative, hours of scanning smudged forests stitched with dirt road threads for the trigger. At one point we thought the trigger might be under us—the dirt crackled when we burned the grass off, stalk-leaves of it popping like a chlorophylled chain reaction, but it felt less significant under our boot-soles after—then we thought it might be among us, then one of us. Those hours were the most uncomfortable, eyes shaving layer after layer from each other. Whether or not they truly fell onto the steaming dirt didn’t matter, mostly because we didn’t know but also because we all felt ourselves growing thinner either way. When our shoes slipped from our pacing feet, the sky powered down to a midnight black and we all sat again. It happened seamlessly as a slowly dimmed light and it was only we who glitched through the transition.
The electric guests came with a swelling that both excised and heaped, all of us feeling the prickling pressure at once as it pushed us into the ground. We watched them hum to light in the air around the hill. Our feet had been swallowed by the dirt as though they belonged there, had always been there. The electric guests, too, seemed like they had always been in the air surrounding the hill, and we realized with a sinking feeling that was all too physical that maybe they had and we just hadn’t been able to see them. In any case, they were there now. (Eleven of them, we decided after several recounts, because we were sure there should have been twelve. That would have been fitting somehow.)
But there were eleven and they hovered above us, buzzing rings of light that expanded and contracted rhythmically, each shrinking to uneven folds that resembled a glowing carnation, each expanding until its radiant circle was perfectly symmetrical. We sat and watched them, our disappointment turning to grudging awe and our seated bodies halfway sunk in the dirt, which was warm from where we’d scorched it and soggy like moss after days of rain. (Our electricity had always been a little aqueous.) We couldn’t spark anymore, and we knew it. A couple of us still flickered every once in a while, but it was a defeated sort of electricity, like the crackling, watered-down song of a radio signal too far from its home. The rest of us just swayed in a kind of disconnected limbo, unplugged as we were from the charged grid of that morning’s world. Looking at each other only made it worse, only made us sway faster as our bodies tried to find a common pattern in our chaotic movements. We looked at the electric guests again and there were still eleven of them and they were expanding and contracting oh so rhythmically, a model that was close yet desperately unreachable, and we thought that if we could just orient them above the sloping valley and the smudged forests and the roads that connected the copses in constellations, we could mimic them, but it was dead-battery dark and we really couldn’t see a thing.
Then roots began to grow out of our toes, burrowing deeper into the ground than we remembered but still as though chasing a memory. We let our eyes fall shut and thought ourselves down there with them, mind spirals racing after toe-root coils until we anchored on a spongy recollection, a knowledge we hadn’t touched in a while. It felt old, ancient. We sensed we hadn’t been there since before the electric guests first arrived.
When we opened our eyes, we were barely moving, and the guests had stopped altogether. They were fully expanded and brighter with an electricity that crackled into the darkness, making it seem like it was deepening, stretching out away from the hill in horizontal plummets that gave us vertigo when we stared too long. They hung like rings of orbit that had been peeled from around some high-powered sun and now yearned for a cosmic reunion with a pull that made the air feel taut as a bent-back branch. They were waiting, but for what, we weren’t sure.
Our roots allowed us to sway, and this time we had the purchase needed to do it willingly. We were already a lot more fluid then, wetted by whatever our roots had tapped into, and though our movements in the charged air caused a couple of involuntary sparks and some splutters, we were soon swirling it. We got the idea that we could shift the electric guests with the air currents we produced, so we swayed faster and faster until the air molecules popped and shattered in watery electrocutions, but either the guests were too far away or our currents weren’t strong enough. The guests never budged.
We had a choice then, and it wasn’t easy. Some of us wanted to stay in the ground the way we had been before the electric guests had made us electric hosts, and some of us wanted to retract our roots and regain the foreign electricity. But splitting up wasn’t an option, and when—after a long moment in which all that could be heard was the slow pulse of the hill and the luminescent whine of the guests—one of us (we never really knew who, everything was so tangled down there) unlatched her roots from the hill’s spongy heart, we all did the same.
The electric guests waited until we were standing, our waterlogged feet resting on but detached from the tepid dirt. Then they broke their looped selves in an explosion that our minds filled in as the cracking sound of a blown fuse, and the world went dark for a split-second. When the guests reappeared, they were connected into one large electric circuit that began to contract as we watched, perfect only in the sliver of time while we were too stunned to see it and then rapidly wrinkling inwards in a powerful shrivel.
First they were around us, the tiny lights of their consciousness sharp as thorns, pricking yet not alarming. And then they were inside us. The darkness slipped away as the guests made themselves comfortable, a fizzy dissolution that we later agreed felt like the patter of rain on a tin roof and a dragonfly’s buzzing made palpable, our bodies turning electric, and by the time the last pinpricks finished frothing, the sky was a lighter gray than it had been in a long time. We even thought it might be lighter than it had ever been—the whole world looked a little different.
The hill was grassy again, but we were mostly sure it was more vibrant than we remembered. The dirt roads were specked with shards of something that sparkled as they sliced through the trees, which were crisply coniferous where before they had been smudged. The world was sharper, now that each one of the electric guests was in each of us, or maybe now that one of them was in each of us, though we didn’t know how many of us there were. Or rather we did know, but we didn’t have a number for it. We just knew that it was greater than eleven, greater even than twelve, and still, somehow, fitting.
Naïma Msechu is a junior at Brown University concentrating in Literary Arts and Comparative Literature. Her work has appeared in The Postscript Journal, The Round, Wigleaf, and Post- Magazine. She calls both Bavaria and rural Missouri home, but likes neither yodeling nor cow tipping.