The Third House

The third house was the most difficult to build because I built it in the center of a lake and the walls always sank. There was constant weeping. I made a chimney but maintaining the fire was enormous and impossible. I built gutters for the roof but the rain of lake-water was too much for it. I was always pushing my chair back from the table, water filling up every pore, like being in love.

It was in this house that I played the violin, a serenade of fins whiskering across wet wood floors, fish swimming strings. They loved it, the violin I played, and swam with their gills wide, chugging landscape. The water gave each note sustain.

My deer-brother saw me there, deep in the water, in this third house, and his hooves made the sound of our childhood. My deer-brother the messenger. My deer-brother the endless bearer. The deer-brother that I used to run with.

The fish looked at me in the house I had built of lake-water. Everything liquid. The fish who couldn’t burn, their bodies a testament. Those fish with their fins, their scales, those eyes on either side of their fish-heads. These fish, swimming in fits of brother-loss. So many of them, and with such wide spaces between.

My brother stood on the edge of this lake. Stood with a note in his hand. A black dot on white paper. The message was death, but I was in disbelief. My brother looking down, but I would not give in. All of my beliefs were filled with fish.

The third house, stacked high with lake, turned every vision into a watery make-believe of what had come before. I was remembering through a glass of lake, a dismissive sun, waves of fish.

In remembering I saw my brother running next to me, us deer-brothers churning through trees. I saw my mother with her porcupine arms. I saw my father wrapped in leaves. I saw a niece, holding out a blanket. I saw my own arms reach and then crumble, a watershed of unexpected failure. I saw myself outside of myself, and there was a dead body beneath everything. I saw what looked like tears in my eyes, the center of an endless forest.

I built this third house atop a lake so that I could sink. I built this third house in water so that I could disappear. I built this third house in a place where everything went inward, because I was not going to let myself die without at least one more watery attempt at living.

In these woods, hiding is craved magic.

I saw fish breeching the surface, a redemption of up and out. I saw fish who were not brothers, leaving our lake house, leaving their water-walls behind. I saw their fish fins dragging in pine needles. I saw myself and a violin trailing deadened clefs. I saw fish following fish until they dried in frying sun, and the woods were lost again. I saw myself alone and the water dripping down, remembering a deer-brother and a river running between us.

In these woods, it is about learning how to undrown yourself.

I saw watered-visions of slogged steps. Shoulders slumped, I trudged, making my way through these woods. I remembered that I had come here before, when I was young, had lived in these trees with my deer-brother, with our river, with the sky overhead. We were deer running beside one another. And these were not lost woods but longing and bright, hopeful blind woods. There was so much faith in our brotherhood. We were loving arms. We were woods and boys running. We were deer chasing dried leaves. There was no hiding.

I built this third house to escape. I built this third house to dissipate. I built this third house to come home.

In these woods there was a deer-brother, his message of death, and my constant refusal to listen.

I saw myself and the fish, my deer-brother above me on a watered edge. These were forest-dreams, lake-visions. Underneath the water I built my third house, and my third house made dreams. My third house made the world understandable in its imperfections, drawing on memories, washing the brother back into me. My third house was a chimney and a roof and those full-up gutters. I played violin in that house. I sifted through fish in that house. I collapsed and drained in that house.

These fish are all non-brothers, and their scales minor chords. I feel the gills on my neck, the opening of fins beneath my ribs. If I was a fish I would have so many brothers.

In these woods, we collapse and rebuild. In these woods I do not accept death. In these woods I see my brother, the message of dying in his hand. I hear his hooves standing still, and I reject everything.

This third house was the most difficult to build because of all these fish-implications, their belief in dying, my brother’s deer-insistence on deathly messages.

When I played violin for the last time the watery walls burst and collapsed. Everything that was once a house washed away. I wanted to set fire to this third house, but the lake wouldn’t allow it. There was water, and only water. Fish. So the violin, floating mute amongst the solemn scales, was the best available fire for this house-collapse, this brotherhood. I bathed those fish in music and I played my violin until all of our dreams fell in on us.

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J. A. Tyler

J. A. TYLER is the author of eight books of prose and poetry, including A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed and No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear (co-authored with John Dermot Woods). His words have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Redivider, Diagram, New York Tyrant, and others. He also reviews for The Nervous Breakdown and The Rumpus. For more on his work, visit: www.chokeonthesewords.com.