Your ghosts were cowboys
There’s no such smell as burnt flesh. To get so named it would need to exist
independent of its visual. Some words have two protuberances, they’re
antennae, half a weathervane. One frond extends to smell, one frond
to sight. Manure or vanilla or cinnamon have the right to live
their specific living (logocentric tuning forks). An example: your grandmother
is liquorice till you see her. Another example: burnt flesh is burnt till flesh.
In the moments before finding a body you were smelling an off-season
office barbecue or a three-teen campfire: cider and communal sweatshirt.
In the moments before finding a body you’re young (about 10)
and you hope. In the moments after you’re young (about 10) and you hope
nobody will ever take you to a valley and rob you semiotically, hurt you
like this. Once, your closed eyes meant the promise of Burt Lancaster,
generous in his lapels, impossible to know where stubble ended and shadow
from sun-rubbled adventures began. Now, they mean a woman’s former
face. There wasn’t a scream upon finding her, just lithic skin among
scree, tissue never seen preshrunk. This undisputed wind-beaten caryatid.
SUSANNAH DICKEY is a poet and novelist from Derry. Her first collection, ISDAL, will be published in September 2023 by Picador.