On this episode of the Dance Cry Dance Break, “So Near Where Earth Sees Its End,” written by Elizabeth Kilcoyne, inspired by No Place Safer, the EP by The Good Williams Fringe.
The Good Williams Fringe. The Somerset, KY band is the new project from songwriter Boone Williams - formerly indie darling Tiny Tiny - and a rotating cast of friends, family, and collaborators. This debut album reflects a growth and transformation from Williams's earlier work to a darker, more ominous writing style. "I wanted it to feel like dread. Like how it feels just before things turn for the worst," says Williams of his new album.
Elizabeth Kilcoyne is an author, playwright, and poet, born and raised in Kentucky. Her first novel, Wake the Bones, a YA Southern Gothic from Wednesday Books, is a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award, and received a starred review from both Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus, who described her as "a new standard-bearer in YA Horror." She currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where she gardens, serves on the organizational team for a local community vegetable market, and teaches writing.
So Near Where Earth Sees Its End
By Elizabeth Kilcoyne
The mud on my boots would have bothered me once, but it doesn’t condemn me in a town like this, and I’m far beyond old vanities now. Everybody around here knows the river silt on these banks sticks to you, even after you’re baptized. Every holy roller knows to expect a little smudge of it on the hems of their whitest whites. After sin is scrubbed from you, that mud still lingers and the preacher lets it because there’s only so much God can do about it. God made dirt. Dirt don’t hurt. Or so I’ve been told.
That’s why I don’t mind to get right up next to the lip of the bank where it kisses the river, close enough that mud closes over the toes of my boots and clings so thoroughly to the hem of my pants I know years of current couldn’t wash it all away. Of course, even your graveyard dirt wants to sink its claws in me. It clings. It sinks into me like nails digging into my palms. The water won’t wash that away, no matter how long I stare into it, looking for your face and seeing only mine, dim and rippling in the darkness.
You’re somewhere in this river even still. You were dispersed into these waters twice, first in those days held beneath the current, moved slow and rhythmic, skin torn from muscle revealing hipbone, ground into limestone riffle-grit, then again after you were raised from the current by search and rescue divers, like angels lifting you into the clouds. Your parents had you torched in holy flame at the Blue Haven Crematorium, near enough to heaven but not quite there. Then after your funeral rites were said, they scattered you back down here again, the place you considered heaven, the waters where in life you often floated face up to the sky, smiling a placid, Ophelia smile for only the sun to see. Water to water to water again, too fluid and lively to have ever been made from or kept in or crushed back into dust.
So hell, if you want to get holy about it, I’ll be a prophet now, tired of my short career as a priest. I’ll be a seer, scrying here in the shallows among the crawfish and the hellgramites and the glimmer of low-hanging stars until God defies death and rolls away the moon to reveal your face to me once more. I’ll be the holy man who starves away, who, rose-breathed and emaciated, looks towards sainthood and away from the world, into any darkness that will show me your lovely reflection. But all I see in the darkness is a reflection of the man who thought he could be your redeemer–I suppose I once fancied myself that. A one-time baptizer, I brought you all the way to God, hand-delivered, and now he’s got you, and I’ve got the water you drowned in lapping at my boots.
Sending you to Jesus was the last thing on my mind when I held you fast to that muddy river bottom you so loved to float above. I was only thinking about bringing you down below into the mud that made you a little more human, a little less starlight, with a film of current veiling your face.
Did that spirit in you really fly above the clouds, or does it linger, tucked into my cheek, hanging at the tail ends of my speech? I still hear your voice, but now it says what I say, thinks what I think, and its broader mountain cadence is swallowed up in wing-clipped city tones. My voice cuts through your meaning. Morphs it with my own. It takes all memory of who either of us used to be before each other, and mangles it, blurring you and me into us with every rippling wave that laps over my reflection until the face before me could belong to us both, an image keeping the vow of one flesh where I couldn’t manage. Your whisper across my tongue now justifies my evil. It forgives my sins. It makes what I say sound true. Where we mingle, I could give our story any flavored ending and where you harmonize, our sadness could sound sweet.
What’s left of you is a piece of me, but I’ve stained it like river muck and now I’ll never get it out. Now I have to search the water for any piece that hasn’t touched me yet--what remains separate from the problem, the shittiness of me. My solution, my last hope of salvation. But I’m stuck in the mud I sank you in, a haint counting out particles of sand from particles of silt until I find whatever bones and ash you left behind. I waste, waiting for sunrise, but the night of dark water in front of me stretches its spindly arms until it reaches the Mississippi and holds me farther from you and the light on an endless, sleepless current. My face hollows out into something you wouldn’t recognize, cavernous and thin as rotting leaves. In my weakness I stare, transfixed, loving and forgiving it for all its ugliness in a voice I tore out of your throat.
Echo, I’ve found you, hiding in the caved-in mess of my mouth. I’ll end the selfsame way you ended, looking into the face that killed you like the smiling face of God. This face that smiled down upon you grins up at me, blocking all the clouds and starlight from both our views and plunging them beneath black water. To love someone is to know them; the two of us will share the same final sight. My face. Your face.
No Place Safer was written and performed by Boone Williams.
“So Near Where Earth Sees Its End” was written by Elizabeth Kilcoyne and voiced by Burn Hislope.
The Dance Cry Dance Break is written and produced by Natalie Bayne and recorded and edited by Moe Provencher. Timaree Marston is our Story Editor.
Theme music is Red Lines, by Dance Cry Dance artist Tiny Tiny.
Dance Cry Dance is an arts collective in Seattle, WA. To support our work and to hear bonus material, like artist and writer interviews, subscribe to Dance Cry Dance + on Apple Podcasts.