my cult gathered around a dressmaker’s dummy. there were about twenty of us; mostly girls, graduates of institutes of fashion, women who had been touched by someone on the underground. it was the late 70s. later on they would say i convinced them. but, of course, they already believed; they had already enrolled in a school that made ideas about appearance concrete. they already wanted to make something bespoke that would repeat and repeat. vince, after the shell of my body dissolves around the part of you i swallowed, tell them what we did worked.
tell them it isn’t a cult if it works, if later on everyone is wearing it; tell them it isn’t a hospital if it produces the ill; tell them i was a charismatic economist, not a photographer; tell them i generated the need.
spiritually, we knew the value of a body after the fact; post-scarce. we knew that after what had happened to us we were not the raw body anymore, but something we could call a ghost; a mirror in a mirror.
(no, an automaton of ourselves sent to sit the portrait.)
(i mean, i hate a body in a white bag but i love the idea of a body in a bag. i mean, clothespins alone can be an outfit if you believe in points instead of frames.)
vince, there really isn’t anything to hold on to.
for our initiation we prayed to a sponge; we looked real close at our tan lines to try and decide where the darkness started and stopped; we knew we were living when our voices came out like theremin, when we could sense the fault lines moving under our feet. obviously, we wore veils. we wore polka dots. we made an argument out of patterns. when we went, we left an unsuicide note.
we made sure the coroner’s report evinced nothing. it became a thing later on, later when they were left with nothing but the image. have you heard of those women who get nude photos by telling the subject there is no film in the camera; by pretending the transaction is structural, composition emptied of content?; by suggesting the void to be filled was still owned by the men themselves? this was the inversion of us: what we did was more sinister: we left the camera and we left the film and we removed ourselves.
vince, we walked into the walls. we walked into the walls of the subway itself so there was nothing there to touch; all unreachable content. ungropable chants. our initiation ritual involved swallowing a lot of salt to become an ocean, to be a system that could create our own weather. the idea was that they could not permanently capture steam. our initiation ritual involved swallowing a corset to metabolize fashion, to excrete constriction. our initiation ritual replaced our bodies with the dressmaker’s dummy while we pulled a ghost from our mouths who pulled a ghost from her mouth who pulled a ghost from her mouth. factory of imprint; steam lick my eye.
dormitory. a girl prays over a pregnancy test. she needs to know if there is anyone inside her as bad as i need to know if there is anyone inside me. biology is the best argument for time, the most gross. hospital civility. they will let you bleed and bleed as long as what you are bleeding looks like blood. if you need the nurse to pay attention, bleed a fuzzy sweater. bleed a garter belt. bleed a sexy hat: a half veil. if you really want to know new york: get really sick. get so sick you have to learn the language of the surgeon to get the surgery. prove what is inside you is what isn’t inside them.
vince, you remember praying over the salt bowl. i took spoon and more spoonfuls of the crystals you consecrated. when i’m gone, do tell them i ingested the fetishized rocks. tell them how when they were children they went to science class and poured salt and more salt into boiling water until they had the solution. tell them they dipped the string and hung it by a pencil balanced over the mouth of a mason jar. remind them they also captured light. villains. see, there isn’t any hospital without sex. there isn’t any fashion without science. geometry is evident in the web of everything. i boil a bowl of water and add gelatin to try to convince myself of something else. to watch the world jiggle.
vince, you see through this, right?
celery and lime. a jade orb. a floating fence.
that was where the idea to handle snakes from the inside out came from. to bring the opening to us, to go inside the unhinged jaw. we were experts at constriction. we were experts at undulation. we entered on our backs, we entered wearing pointed shoes. when we were only the shape of ourselves inside the monster, we sliced our way out. aborted hell. flayed heaven.
that was where the idea to carve flesh came from. to tell the model to apply clothes pins to her fat. i am sometimes the model. i believe my body is my own. i won’t let anybody see my bones unless i turn into a tree. i’m going to be your cult leader. you’re going to believe in me so hard.
Candice Wuehle is the author of the chapbooks VIBE CHECK (Garden Door Press, 2017), curse words: a guide in 19 steps for aspiring transmographs (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) and EARTH*AIR*FIRE*WATER*ÆTHER (Grey Books Press, 2015). Her work can be found in Tarpaulin Sky, The Volta, The Colorado Review, SPORK, The New Orleans Review and Prelude, among others. She is originally from Iowa City, Iowa and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Candice currently resides in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is a Chancellor’s Fellow at The University of Kansas.
“poltergeist iii” was nominated by NDR for the 2018 Pushcart Prize.