How Long, How Long!

Reynard Seifert

As hot pink rolls in beneath a stack of cloudbanks, streaks of blood-orange lick their puffy backsides as if chunks of flesh. A fire-globe rises high above the jungle, a blazing red crown. With two feet for hands and two feet for feet, a spine-like row of points indicate the otherwise gray-green sky like baby teeth aching to puncture the skin of an olive. As it was, it will continue to be: a pale imp produces a powerful, guttural cry.
…..Setting groups of bony fowl forth to burst from the surrounding treetops in a rapid succession of squibs, as if an array of tiny cannons – placed just below the canopy of red-capped broccoli florets – stretching towards the edge of the rainforest floor, seemingly incapable of ceasing to continue or begin. The imp’s cry quakes in waves receding from the far end of the dome-curved sky-wall, at the far end of the Queen’s singular, shimmering mind-eye. A single tear fills a valley of pure thought, the membrane coated in molten lightning – slick in parts, sharp in others – like broken glass or a set of shark’s teeth soundless on black velvet, waiting for the right flow of water to strike.
…..The imp sets out to dig up the soft mud below its four hairless feet. Feet complete with five familiar if hairless toes. Rooting about experimentally, as if in search of a thing buried – grunting and pawing from both sides of its strangely configured body with a multiplicity of toes and total lack of teeth – the imp spins and snorts, ankles accomplishing impossible angles. Rolling round, alternately lowering and arching its mud-smeared back, over and over, it squeals and squirms and even squawks – gums clapping out tones making no sense, not to anyone, not even to the imp – somehow unearthing the beginnings of a shapely gray formation.
…..Many feet above, ripping gobs of dried mud from her black hair with fingernails sharp as scissor-blades, letting the soft gobs fall as small turds to the muddy forest floor below, the Queen watches the creature dance a weird dance. From the low branch of a tall, leafless tree filled with purple fruit – full not of flesh but thousands of sticky seeds, thousands of new beginnings – the Queen thinks, These trees are no good for eating, but they are excellent for hiding away among these branches spiraling downward like vein shafts from a piglet arm ripped apart beneath my teeth sharp as toenails, toenails sharp from rubbing the King’s grindstone, the King’s grindstone outside my birth-cave in the West.
…..It is a calm day on the savanna. The branches reflect the same quality and quantity of light-brown as the Queen’s eyes when sunbeams pool into them from a low angle, like high tide on her mind’s shimmering ocean, as it does in the treetops when the fire-globe tucks back behind the far edge of the rainforest like a dying fire in a dirt hole just shy of scorching the yellow grass. Here a little fog rolls along the forest floor, crowding the tall grass as patches of pulled cotton might in another time and place. There, a little turd.
…..The imp dances still, snorting and swaying to a total lack of wind, though neither music nor rhythm accompanies the air, thick and heavy with spice. The Queen farts wet and thinks, I will stay right where I am. I am safe here in this useless tree. She snaps a twig, reaches back and pushes it into her cornhole. She frowns and pulls it out. After tasting it with her tongue she holds her arm out and bends her fingers toward the sky. Like a wayward sunbeam, the twig plunges into the mud: a wayward arrow.
…..P l o p
…..Hearing this, the imp pivots its head and tilts chin back to gaze upon the Queen. The imp smiles, its pale face mangled into skin-folds beyond distinction; quickly, along with a lip-curl, it returns to the sort of visage one might draw upon a cave wall with little more than the most recognizable of punctuation marks. At first the Queen is frightened, but then she smiles back at the creature, vacantly sucking her big toe and thinking warmly of banana farts (that’s what she calls them when they’re wet: banana farts). The sky turns dark. Streaks of gray drizzle like pastry frosting.
…..Snorting excitedly, hurriedly, the creature kicks up gobs and gobs of brown mud with its four feet, revealing a stone the size of the Queen’s black fist. The imp looks up, and again its face becomes a mess of crinkled smiles. It turns and trots off, tail held high in the air, exploding raindrops in the wake of rump-whipping like a self-serving jockey lacking the brains for race. Turning her head slowly, the Queen watches the pale creature’s swaying red spots disappear beyond a curtain of mist, behind layers of dark-green foliage and otherwise yellowing grass.
…..The Queen waits in the tree for a while: she does not know how long.
…..The gray rain falls harder, growing darker as the light recedes. Now blackish rain. Her blood, dark-blue in the body, just as black.
…..The Queen crawls down from the tree, bursting many purple bulbs of fruit on the ground. On the ground she looks round and leans down to tug upon the stone. The stone doesn’t budge from the mud where it is stuck like a stump. But a stump is a stump. She pulls harder. It budges a little. She pulls harder still. And it unsticks. Sounds like a banana fart.
…..The Queen giggle-grunts, falling back on some fruit. The fruit bursts across her rump, spilling seeds and smelling strongly of death. She rubs the sticky seeds from her backside with the ribbed base of the tree trunk, left and right, up and down, giving reptilian birth to little nothings in the breeze. Then, holding the stone tight as hands to her hairy bosom, she scurries through the jungle.
…..She scurries for a while: she does not know how long.
…..The Queen hides beneath a large, dark-green leaf. Rainwater pours over the curved edge of the gregarious lean-to like a sheet of black ice. She inspects the stone. It doesn’t appear to have been carved (not that she would know, of course, but it doesn’t). Twin ridges, slanted like a discordant V, beset three dimples of triangular arrangement with an apex at the bottom.
…..The Queen recognizes the form but cannot place it. She stares intently at the stone, searching for meaning (or if not meaning exactly, something like it). She bangs the stone against her forehead, grunting, bleeding a little, trying to remember what seems so familiar about the stone, what makes it so beautiful to her branch-brown eyes lacking sunlight for illumination and thus seeming now like two rotten olives set below a pair of eyebrows furrowed in a breaking wave of confusion.
…..This is stupid, the Queen thinks. What am I doing? She tosses the stone behind her. It plops heavy-like in the mud. She crosses her arms, crouching, setting hands to cheeks, knees to elbows, thinking hard. She farts again. She giggle-grunts. She looks back at the stone, still stuck in the mud. She sighs.
…..The memory of twin indentions triggers some hint of recognition in the back of the Queen’s rather feeble brain, about the same size as the stone itself – the same size as her black fist clenched in frustration – she turns forward again. She sighs again. Her bottom lip twitches. She stomps her foot and water splashes. Finally the Queen raps her chest, turns around, hobbles over to the stone, and pulls it out.
…..Smeared mud has obscured the indentions now. As raindrops fall on the stone, she wipes it with her tiny thumb. The Queen remembers wiping the mud from her son’s face the same way, with the same tiny thumb. Her eyes grow large and round as peacock eggs. Her mouth makes an O. A little air passes between her lips and she moans, signaling a deep form of recognition, a soft guttural cry. The Queen’s eyes well up with wetness, but no tears fall.
…..Unable to scale a tree with the heavy stone under her arm, the Queen lies down. She closes her eyes with the stone held tight to her hairy bosom, dripping with rainwater. There are a few distant animal calls and rattles and sizzles and such, which keep her awake a good long while. Afraid to sleep on the ground where the snakes crawl beneath thick layers of dead and dying leaves, she tries to sleep with her eyes open.
…..How long does she lie there? She does not know how long: how long does she lie there, thinking about her son? She does not know. The raindrops lull her to sleep.


The Prince sits atop the canopy watching the top rim of the fire-globe dip below the far edge of the rainforest. Three layers of low-rolling clouds reflect neon-pink on their undersides and bright-blue elsewhere. A column of electric storm clouds grumbles above the otherwise light-yellow haze. The clouds turn slowly black.
…..He wonders how long it takes for this to happen. How long he wonders.
…..The Prince looks down at his hairy hands, twisting a gray-green vine in his black fingers, beyond which the leaves barely cover a series of spiraling branches and purple fruit descending to the forest floor like a ventricle system. He looks up to the black sky and wonders what it means that things change. He lets out a medium guttural moan. It echoes throughout the rainforest.
…..The other end of the vine pulls taut and rises through the trees like a hooked fish in a stream. The Prince wraps the vine round his fist. It cuts deep into his flesh. He grips the vine with the other hand and leans back. A group of purple birds burst from the canopy like scattered seeds or chunks of fruit launched from cannons.
…..The Prince flies away.


The sensation of a snake slipping smooth across the small of her back wakes the Queen from her dream-sleep. The snake raises its head to strike as she rolls away. Still clutching the stone to her bosom, she jumps to her feet, plants her back foot, and hurls the stone at the snake’s head. The stone and the snake, curled round one another, roll down a slight hill into a shallow creek.
…..The Queen chases after them, wading into the creek and feeling about as the water rushes past her kneecaps. All she feels is mud, mud, mud. Desperately splashing about, panting, she finds the stone. But not the snake. She lifts the stone and gets out of the creek. Inspecting the stone, wiping the blood from it, she sighs with relief and clutches it tight to her bosom once again. Her eyes glisten like lake-water.
…..A hissing sound near her feet. She jumps, barely missing the strike. Turning in mid-air, she hurls the stone at the snake’s head; this time she smashes it in the ground. She picks up the stone, rips off the snake’s head and spits it out, looking up to see the fire-globe rise through a burnt clearing ahead. The snake is eaten with two black hands.
…..Finishing her meal, she washes the bloody stone in the creek, looking into two dimples resembling eyes like shallow graves set side by side. She clutches the stone to her bosom and starts walking to her birth-cave at the far end of the rainforest, near the savanna at the far end of the world, where it will be safe.
…..The Queen enters the clearing. Thin columns of smoke rise from the charred remnants of tree trunks. The clearing goes on for miles. The earth is dry and cracked.
…..When the fire-globe is directly above the Queen she stops for a break. She sets the stone down on a black stump, turns its face toward her and sits down in front of it.
…..After sitting for a long while, not knowing how long, she begins to notice that, where there was no shadow before, the stone now casts a dark negative on the ground. The Queen considers this for a long time. After a long time the stone’s shadow grows larger across the ground behind the stump.
…..Now she knows how long.
…..She stares into the shadow; there she sees her son’s face. Reaching out to grab it, she lifts handfuls of white ash with her two shaking fists. The wind picks up behind her and sets the ash flying through her fingertips, across the clearing, twirling about, lending definition to a funnel cloud awaiting shape for vision. Hazel-tainted tears well-up and fall beneath the Queen’s huge brown eyes.
…..The tail of the twister parts with the ground, spinning loose, twirling in a haphazard way toward the sky-wall. But above the treetops at the edge of the clearing, the ash becomes haze becoming lighter and lighter and nothing at all. The Queen falls back in the gray earth and stares up at the fire-globe shining down through the sky-dome, hot and bright-orange becoming blood-orange upon shutting her eyes wide open with tears.
…..Her tears flow like creek water. Her teeth shine like crystal lattice. As the dry earth splits beneath her slammed fists, the dome-curved sky-wall becomes sad and white and cracks like an egg raining slabs of glass around the Queen’s trembling black body, convulsing; conversing with a chorus of angels lacking wings for flight or voices for song or shape for being seen, she cries, in a powerful guttural, How long, how long!

Reynard Seifert is the author of the chapbook How To Skin The Moon. He programs California Select for Viva Radio, publishes hahaclever dot com, co-edits Titular, and blogs at Music For Books.


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