The Incubation Mirror

by Tantra Bensko

I know nothing about the tiny square building I am lying in. It’s dark, as I have walked in in the night, barefoot, and lain down on the bed I found by the door with my big toe. I feel nothing around me with my fingers but the scrying mirror lining the wall, which I assume it must be, from Arthurs whispers earlier. The wax on the floor from the candle leaves some acrid scent, being blown out not too long ago. An incubation room for dreams to come alive in the visions in the high mirrors when daylight subtly sneaks in through the thick curtains in the morning. I know everything about it. There is nothing here but me.

I stare at the blackness, waiting for some cloud of meaning or ghostly dreamthing float, a sound of prying into ethers, hypnagogia precocious. Only the theater of my mind, a blank, with velvet red curtains hypnotized into it when young, frustrating curtains, mocking me to see what’s behind them, presenting me with tangible shows, then telling me it’s wrong, all wrong.

Everything is my imagination.

Every nothing I have ever thought I saw in some miraculous entryway to truth was just stupidity. The blackness teases me. It’s my big chance to redeem myself. It’s my only chance to be allowed to live within the confines of the psychic ballerina conclave by the sea.

When the sunrise comes, I can stare up at the scrying mirrors positioned high enough on the walls to reflect me not. To reflect black paint. For now, I only stare at endless black, and hear the sound of breathing. My breathing. My chest of bones. My piezoelectric cage that gives off subtle light when squeezed. Light that has been squeezed often lately, dancing on tall square stones shaped like dour faces, leaping off boulders into the sea while holding onto my octopus, swirling up the stars on the floor with my broom, tinkling my voice through the bones like xylophone songs from all the friends I knew on an island in another sea. A Canadian sea I escaped to, for awhile, for awhile.

My feet are singing from the wetness on the ground they walked over tonight. They are buzzing from the kiss of the earth. Old Arthur who whispered to me so sweetly about this room filled up my empty ears, ears I stripped empty on the endless sand, the beach where no one but me went, and the sea lions, and the driftwood, white and bare.

My visions are waiting in the mirrors. Are teasing with the crescent moon. Perhaps I’ll dream them first. Then wake to dance my dreams inside the sunrisen walls of visions called to me, the incubation room of ghosts.

For, that’s what I’ve walked across this land to see. The ghosts in the mirrors in this one room. This incubation room owned by this man I barely know named Arthur, with his scraggly beard, his grey hair loose, his feet never shod, his muscles warm and viny, his whispers wrong, or whispers right. His eyes made of owl, his mouth made of sod.

Who will come through the mirrors? Who will I only think shows up, arising from subconscious under-streams? Who is real, and who is me? How much of my psyche is made of unreal, made of whispers told along the strand, bits of snail, of shell, of driftwood twigs, of jellyfish, of croaks, and slime?

How much of me is the sea? How much of me is deeper than I can ever swim, in a suit of myself? How much of me is other swimmers, drifting down to the bottom of the light?

Is it time to sleep away the visions, or time for birds to burst, time for songs and shaking, tears and disembodied heads? I don’t know the time this night. I don’t know my name.

Because my name is swimming in the ocean, is calling me home: my hands are pale, lit up in the green water, bubbles playing with the fingers, and my friends the sea lions have entered the cold water, bobbing up and down, smiling at ideas of names. At ideas of life and death.

I let my legs sleep, my toes, my nose. My shining isn’t sure yet it will let go ’til the morning, when the dreams come through the mirrors, when the dead speak in my brain, when the mysteries begin. I want to eat the berries on the vines that scraped me up as I walked through the woods into the room. I instead lick the little globules of blood drying on my arms, and call them boysenberries. I think the whiteness of my skin into the cream, the salt into the sugar.

The morning comes, with wafts of golden orange tinged with mockingbird on spokes of light through the window, and I see the spokes turned into wheels upon wheels in the mirrors reflecting each other on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, threaded with cobwebs, and spiders like little ladies knitting knitting stories, knitting dream characters into each other, ancient memories of death, memories which life pretends are made of loss, that such a thing as loss exists within it, that thing so bursting full of All.

I stare the memories into the walls. I see Canada, see the naked families playing in the sand, being mermaids and mermen together, drinking home-made wine from boysenberries, living laughter in tree houses, weaving, playing baseball after the Wake, skimming the cream off the goat milk, skipping the stones behind the Bed and Breakfast, everyone dressed as flowers one month, racing boats made of recycling, breathing giant breaths in naked lines arms out, the drunken Irishman draped across his horse that led him home, everybody speaking sweet.

The Canadian men who who told each other loved me, huddled together on the other side of the hedge, not knowing I was lying there in a sleeping bag, listening. The men who gave me drinks of water when I fainted in the air. The women who let me sleep in all their rooms, one after another, like a game of cats and ethers, squares and colors. The idea of never coming home to the States again, of hiding my existence, of trying not to be killed by the for who I am, and what I did. For spreading open my purity like the wings of an eagle for all to see.

The foreign land I thought to go to to be free. The land I thought still maintained some truth. The land I finally, wrenchingly left, ferry after ferry, leaving behind me the wake the end of innocence. Coming back home to this country that ruins the rest of them. Back to this country made of lies and dying bees. This country that I love. To be here for the disembodied faces before they died, and fell into these mirrors, silver black against these walls. To be here for my family love, made out of dirt and sand, made out of thorns and blood, made out of owls hooting their cacophonies bursting bright inside the darkness. To be here for the trees that love me hollow, exuding crystalized sap that I once thought housed fairies, and now I know is only vertical blood.

The family faces come at me out of the mirrors. The wrinkles deep, the wispy hair. Like wild turkeys flying over head, they lift my own hair up off my head a bit. They unwind the darkness. They become the staring morning. They braid themselves together with cobwebs.

Now, I know, I live my last free day. Coming home to see my family die meant facing prison — first, though, this prison-like room of mirrors in the morning, before I walk into the town barefoot slapping dust, the white, white dust made of sand and hands. What will the faces tell me that will make my time in exile from them worthy of my time in prison walls? Years of torture for telling the truth to stop the deaths.

They tell me, dear. They tell me, love. They say no one ever missed you when you were gone but us. But we bled out our eyes and all the truth left our veins, and now we have no more to tell you. You are nothing to us now. All those berries, those leaps off rocks into the sea, those rollicking drinks of berry wine, they were life. Your life. Our life was missing you. And now it’s over, all of it, and now United States is ready for you to embed yourself in it, and curl your back up inside labor, inside shame, and inside numbers, rows and rows of numbers.

I walk outside the little room, away from faces, away from anything but sand between my toes, and tears on my upturned face in the morning sun.

And Arthur comes singing, through the woods. On his shoulder is a mockingbird. I had a feeling you were here, he says. I heard the voices calling. I heard the faces yelling. Moon faced growls.

Yes, that was me and mine, I say.

I will never let you go, he says, to prison. I will bury you instead inside the moon, inside the sand, inside the mirror. You are truth. Truth should be free.

I will ever let you, that I say. I have nothing more.

The mockingbird sings like I’ve never heard before, like Everything, like the waves, like jumping off of boulders, like sips of boysenberry wine, like the tears of my Mama and my Papa, dried into rough salt rubbed against my face with fierce-eyed nuzzles, dusting off the powder into the wind that blows no name that sings no song but that the mockingbird makes up, and shakes itself, flinging glowing drops of glory in the sunshine of the morning, my last like other mornings, this morning by the mirrors and the sea.







Tantra Bensko teaches fiction writing through UCLA Ex. Writing Program and her own academy online. She has 2 books out, with 2 more slated – from Dog Horn and Make-Do, 4 chapbooks, including from ISMs Press, and 200 stories and poems in journals and anthologies, such as Red Fez, Birkinsnake, and Surreal South. She publishes people’s chapbooks through LucidPlay Publishing, maintains a resource site, Experimental Writing, published Exclusive Magazine, and runs the FlameFlower Experimental Fiction contest. She lives in Berkeley.


2 thoughts on “The Incubation Mirror

  1. […] The Incubation Mirror Tantra Bensko […]

  2. Wow, this is an amazing thing. From the small dark nothing of everything to the things it becomes. Powerful in word and image, down to the last sentence. And it manages to be sparse and lush, at once. How did you do that?

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