The Language of Beasts

Harry Potter can speak Parseltongue, the language of snakes, which is typically a mark of a dark wizard. I have a pack of wildebeests stampeding through my stomach, and I wish I spoke their language so I could tell them to be still.

Is it only our dark parts that can speak to the tormentors inside of us? And what to do when you are hell-bent on searching for light, or even when you’ve resigned yourself to the gray, at least for now? The darkness goes unanswered, and it grows angry.

There’s a website that lets you translate a message from English to Parseltongue. I type in, “Please, be still,” and it comes back to me in a quick and frantic breath, a girl’s voice, tense and bristled. That seems fitting.

It tried to snow today, flurries off and on that didn’t stick and then did, and then melted just the same. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone for a walk with a knit cap on, longer still since I’ve had to step around ice. In Portland, the line between snow and rain is often so fine, it’s not always possible to tell which is which.

I was calm when I was moving–God bless forward motion–but now, still and sitting, the brigade of beasts returns. I picture the hollow behind my navel like a dried-out Serengeti, muddy animals charging in circles, circles, circles, churning up dust, hooves hitting dirt, looking for an escape, which there is not. I want to tug wide the neck of my t-shirt and tell them, “Stop it,” as though I’ve become pregnant with anxiety, and these are just the kicks and punches of new life as it forms.

Sick, the unrest snakes its way up my sternum, into my breasts, through my throat, and gets trapped in my mouth. I play the Parseltongue message again, Please, be still. If I try to speak the breathy words, they’ll strangle me.

I once wrote a bad poem with an undeveloped metaphor about a man who became so much a part of me that I could feel him in my skin, as though our bodies had merged, like when one cell wholly absorbs another. And when he tried to leave, it scared me, that sudden and utter emptiness, and so I caught him with my talons (because when two bodies merge, the receiver gets talons) and tried to swallow him once more, like the wolf eating the grandmother in “Little Red Riding Hood.” But he’d grown too big or I’d become too small, and I couldn’t get him down. I had to cough him out. He left, and I remained, a slipcover of skin.

Worse than being only skin is being heightened nerves, a giant throb, a worrier and a control freak who is terrible at waiting. And everything about me now is waiting. The more dust gets kicked up, the more I cannot see, and the less effective my cosmic vacuum, trying to tidy up what simply refuses to be clean.

I am a big and anxious bruise, and I want someone to come beside me, rub me down in Tiger Balm, and tell me it’ll be okay. Even though I know I won’t believe it. No one I know speaks the language of beasts.

If you sliced me open like a frog in Biology, you’d find wildebeests raging. Peel back my skin, and out they’d flee, covered in blood. Over and down my wounded sides, they’d run until they couldn’t run anymore. Until the sky turned to black, and they found a tree to settle beneath for the night. Until their honking and snorting tongues went still, leaving them to breath, slow breath, and to sleep. Until they woke again to chase and howl, to scream out things I cannot translate, to stomp me down to a thin, fine point–so small, so close to nothing, and maybe then, they’d leave me be. If only because, then, they could no longer fit–my gut too pinched, my throat too narrow, my ears too tiny to catch the sounds of caterwauling within.