[the fifth daughter] by J.A. Tyler
The fifth daughter was composed entirely of letters.
Dear Father, I would have looked just like the woman who would have been my mother. I would have hugged you with her arms. I would have latched her lips on your cheek. I would have said what her mouth would have said. When I wanted to say ‘I love you’ you were already missing and I had no arms and then I disappeared entirely and left a mountain and a river and a lake and a forest in my stead. Walk these woods and remember me.
She made a seam in an uneven world.
Dear Mother, I am so sorry that when the branches reached down into your womb they came back empty. I am so sorry that what should have been a robin’s egg nestled in your tresses was instead empty wind. I am so sorry that I was transitory. There should have been a father and there wasn’t. There should have been a mother and it should have been you. If you see a river, a deer standing nears its rocks, walk away until the city engulfs you and there is no memory of trees.
There was begging, but it was done in silence.
Dear River, you run as fast as I ever wanted to run.
The fifth daughter stood above these lost woods, trampled, letters raining down.
Dear Father, when you were a deer-child did you wonder where the river would go if you followed it forever? It led me to the horizon which led me to the clouds which led me to the sky. I would have had a sister made of mountains. I would have had a sister made of sun. I would have had a sister made of stone. I would have had a sister made of glacial ice. I would have had my mother’s arms to hold you with.
The fifth daughter was as only a brood is, sweltering anger.
Dear Sisters, I never had you, and you never had me. We are trees growing next to each other, never touching. I want my branches to grow into yours, but ours is a vacant womb.
In these woods, lost and pretending survival.
Dear Mother, the sisters I would have had would you have had them, would have been beautiful. We would all have had your hair, and we would have raised these woods as if they were our own. Instead, our father who was not a father is dying inside of this forest, and we are taunting him from the sky. It seems wrong, every way we handle not living, but we don’t have any answers. We wrote you letters asking for help, but we haven’t heard back. Are you forgetting about not being a mother, because we have never forgotten about how trees made into houses are like forgotten sisters burning.
A deer-brother hidden in woods is a father who wasn’t and the dying.
Dear Father, have you found your deer-brother yet? We know you’ve been looking for him, and we know that you believe he can save you. He cannot. There is no salvation in messages handed back and forth. These are letters, not love, and don’t be confused by our lack of existence. This doesn’t mean that you have won solitude. This only means that there is a mountain and a sun and a stone and a glacier sliding down towards you.
Take back the daughters, burn the houses and skin the animals. Make in the ashes a way to accept dying.
Dear Woods, how can you house such a man in your belly? How can you hold his deer-love when you should be holding his deer-daughters and their beautiful mother-hair? How can you make us love you still, even as we weep? How is there ever any way out of woods or dying, when the trees so clearly reach upwards?
J. A. Tyler is the author of Inconceivable Wilson (Scrambler Books, 2010), A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed (Fugue State Press, 2011), and A Shiny, Unused Heart (Black Coffee Press, 2011). His work has appeared with Caketrain, Diagram, Black Warrior Review, Redivider, and New York Tyrant. He is also founding editor of Mud Luscious Press. For more, visit: www.chokeonthesewords.com.