the ghosts at gardoussel

By Kyung Peggy Kim

i could not be telling you this story if i were alive as my brain had lost its capacities its complex networks having crashed as a result of touching the infectious protein of creutzfeldt-jakob disease from the instruments i used for surgery on a patient’s brain;

and that minuscule contact with the defective prion wreaked havoc on my senses my language my cognition creating total misalignment of every physical and mental process; 

yes it was horrible but also propitious for as the protein punched holes in the brain it blunted the cruelties of reality like what i bore at the hands of fellow humans hired by my common-law wife to drag me from our bed and dump me in a faraway barren field on a cold november evening under a crystalline sky reminding me of my youth when i gazed at hanul from atop south mountain and at the lights of my occupied city nightdreaming my infinite possibilities; 

and of van gogh’s starry night painted during his year at the asylum of saint-paul de mausole along with 150 other paintings even while anguish pushed him to suicidal attempts by ingesting paints and paraffin; 

i wonder how he met the night sky between the iron bars of his bedroom window and how he clung tightly to its image even in his sleep so he could paint the phantom in his studio when the night ended; 

and i wonder how the magnificent soul of the sky could be understood by one so ill and how his painting could soothe like balm the countless masses who stared at its infinite glorious heaven the ceiling covering our house of earth where horrific sufferings abound everywhere including the field where two men kicked me like a soccer ball swearing their wishes of death upon me before they left me to die; 

but i didn’t because a drunken villager saw me as he stumbled across the field and had the police take me to a homeless shelter packed with other unwell people muttering their confused stories with words incomprehensible not unlike the shouts and terrible howls as of animals in a menagerie heard by vincent; 

and i joined my fellow sufferers in the chorus of the lost even resorting to german japanese and english but no language could salvage a single thread to reconnect me to the once-familiar fabric of life; 

so the days passed until someone recognized my face from a missing person poster and after a telephone call an ambulance came to retrieve me; 

but as the ambulance sped upon dirt roads and asphalt highways – its sirens singing clear the road let us get by – the fists of the men dressed in white punched my ears over and over turning my spongy brain into an amorphous blob;

yet in the last picosecond of my life or the first picosecond of my death clarity snowed upon me like manna as i saw my beloveds standing in a gapless circle around me; 

thus i died and a coroner wrote unknown for the cause of my death; 

soon thereafter my youngest daughter in the states begged please do not bury him before i can see him and she and her two sisters dressed in white hanboks stayed with me to mourn; 

and while i was being washed and dressed in hemp my youngest scolded her weeping sisters don’t let your tears touch father believing this would keep me in bardo a place betwixt and between and preventing my complete freedom; 

but her own eyes welled up and one tear fell upon my chest piercing my non-beating heart; 

so i was buried under a perfect mound under a perfect sky for fourteen years as most of my attachments – ambition judgment passion and more – withered away before the auspicious year when the dead could be moved;

and i was unburied burned urned and buried once more with my (true) wife in a sweet new england town; 

but there i did not rest but roamed among the stars upon the wings of butterflies into the dreams and thoughts of my youngest daughter and into the air of her boston home where she whispered now and then dad? dad? and finally to a remote place called gardoussel tucked in the cevennes mountains of france (not far from van gogh’s asylum) where she went on retreat with women seeking some answer or another and sleeping in a gite with a window overlooking a meadow of donkeys hens and a rooster – an opening through which i would peer each night at the sleeping once-upon-a-child woman with an assembly of our ancestors who smiled invisible but true smiles and muttered without sound how lovely is this child of ours whose sufferings have been too much and her time in the wilderness too long aigo aigo oh dear before returning to the dimming stars as the sun prepared to rise; 

and on the final night we followed her and her fellow travelers to the field of sleepy donkeys and a gurgling brook under the glistening sky with a bloated blue moon and as their music grew louder their dance became faster and my daughter looked up at us among the clouds and marveled aloud van gogh dad van gogh and the revelation rippled the air while her feet pounded the earth as she stretched wide her arms spinning like a dervish to shake off her death cloths that dropped to her feet casting shadows darker than the night and joy bubbled from the recesses of her being and her laughter became fresh; 

and seeing my daughter returning toward freedom my own mantle of melancholy melted into the clouds;  and in unison with the stars the moon and the earth we pushed our descendant onwards with roars of OLEOLEOLE until my last tangle with the world – the thread of love – vanished and nothing of me was left over.

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Kyung is an emerging writer of color who has returned to creative writing after a long lapse – this time with an interest in diminishing demarcations that separate polarities such as life and death, past and present, and loss and redemption. In the process she is developing a voice being loosed from the constraints of both the East and the West.

She is a grandmother, a Korean immigrant, and a fictive New Englander living in the Boston area. In 2020 she completed an MA in Mindfulness Studies, some 45 years after her last graduate degree.

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