Group Therapeutic Enlightenment – Curtis Eggleston
July 22, 2021
Cap was still jawing us, filching my cooler´s food, lobbing it into his, accusing a bucket of stenchy bait by the rods he’d geared for me and Laze at setoff. I got under one of Laze’s arms and legged it across the plank between Cap’s boat and the steep grass riverbank. At toe touch to land Cap rescinded his bridge and forded upriver goodbye.
Ninety-nine wooden steps had been staked into the soil from current’s edge up to a roundoff hilltop summit. Laze and I got there one step at a time, to a stripped-bark, rubbed fruit-peel red sign that read Nazaré.
Mothering her shade, an infinity tree, with branches´ skywide wingspans exempt from senescence, offered Laze and me her trunk on which to sigh, its circumference like the wind´s, we accepted, reclined in still-hot-but-beats-sun, nature rest with no one beat dream, leaves´ gossiped tips assured us sleep was okay, rustled speak outdated sin and all decrees of language, prewritten as the fated light imbibed by her athirst anastomosis, ancient soft bark healed, and roots ensured firmness, flexed like arrows compassed grasping soil from lost crumble, roll, splash and dissolution into currents. I steadied Laze against her trunk and thought to go exploring but hunger and post-drunkenness implored me to wait a sec and a sec after that I was stuck heavy beside him. Laze was starting to feel his headache and wincing around looking over the provincial river realizing the boat was gone. I thought he´d start crying but he just kinda whimpered and then regained himself and said he wanted home.
“I thought you wanted to come to a shithole.”
“Yeah, well, now I’m in paradise and I’m paying for it.”
Everything did seem to be having its tradeoffs. My head was throbbing and Laze’s I imagined was worse though sometimes I wondered about the subjectivity of pain and nerve responses, like, if my slightest pain would be the worst ever felt by my neighbor because that would have made me really tough and excused my own whining if there’d ever been an example of it but I looked at Laze’s little natural spring of rosy forehead-trickling and thought that though I’d had a couple more beers than him and didn’t know for sure our individual tolerances that he probably was still hurting pretty bad. The tree trunk was a perfect rest and the sun was setting and en-garde-ing its reflection over the darkening river’s surface. Every bird, regardless what species, was a slitted silhouette, contrasts to sunset’s atomic bombness, taking their time in their shadowy drifts across the sky like the opposites of shooting stars in terms of speed and color, black and slow and traceless but allowing for memorization of their own chosen movements, intentional and telling us we didn’t need to make a wish, that what we yearned for, it was right there in front of us.
I was hungry though and Laze was still bleeding even after pressuring his head all this time so I heaved him up again and we brothered past that sign along a trodden path between younger trees and ol’ cretaceous Mother back there. A group of children some naked and others loin-clothed came crashing out of a bush to our left right in front of us. They had already seen us and they half-screamed and half-laughed and all ran off but for one boy who took a few reluctant sprint-steps before turning back and staring at us curiously with capacious brown eyes and a finger on his lip like he was ready to paint our portrait and then he ran off after the others, looking back.
We followed their lead. With Laze’s arm around my neck I could feel his pulse, and that we had entered a new place, where slowly was the pace to be demanded. We breathed up-trail between alleys of a thousand shades of green until a wall of trees revealed like heavy doors, we creaked into a history un-ours, and came upon the tribe.
The only ego, nature’s own. Huts effloresced out of wilderness, yards grew into hide-and-seek before diminishment to hallways slashed of growth. We saw butterflies feared nothing, and humans who had never swallowed time. The faces we met said welcome, and curiosity. A girl breastfed her infant on her small wooden porch and watched us nearing haunted. A man in the grass stood for nothing else and watched, unmoving and silent with question. That world unprepared for us. They waited. They adjusted. The near man neared us, his tattoos extending face to foot. He was small and replete with a source I cannot call. The children who had led us there thrummed and called high pitches, exceptions to stillness, handed with the wind.
The most painted man, the chieftain, inspected Laze’s sanguine leak, ducked under Laze’s other dangling arm and led us limping onward. He guided up three wooden steps, onto an elevated walkway, a sanded plankway built to the door of every home, every village structure stilted for wet season. We turned at the first wooden elbow, saw the path extended hundreds of meters, saw the village population spanned a few generations. With sun nearly set, hot insect blizzards rose from stilled water, but to the chieftain, mosquitos acquiesced, parting as we limped along the boardwalk, attracting new eyes from realm after realm of passed windows, bodies near behind, slipping out of leafy front doors, balms in hand, two women met us at the next L juncture, unwound the bloody rag from Laze’s head, sealed his cut with thick unguents, redolent of menthol but colored like wine, before letting the three of us on, and following in step with other men who had added to the numerous of chieftain’s new tails, from each house we passed, villagers left to play their part and contact us, providing Laze with medicine or both of us with blessings through caresses of our hair or humid necks, whispers of a language of a touch and scent of ancients drowned by now, the village came to save us that evening. They waved their fingertips past our bodies, raked our auras, cleaned our ethers, reiki, the name of the cleanse, pulling spiritual dirtiness out of us like a long slow withdrawal of a parasite within our souls’ intestines, left us writhing, as we sunk deeper into greenery, I felt as sickly as Laze did then, and my memory forgave me, reset me alone finally.
Mid-afternoon, we woke together on a dark-grained wooden bench, overlooking the river, in thin white pants and shirtless, restored from the burden of self-assumed worthlessness. I looked over to Laze, freshly evolved from infancy, and he grin-eyed, green-eyed and pure of sinlessness, emitted a sense of some prophecy. He touched his forehead, asked if I thought his stitches would return the split to form. Deftly, someone had reunified the skin. Spiderleg thin threads adorned his swelling. I said in time that all would meld to normal.
Two women, beautiful and nude, tapped us on the shoulders, calling us to join for a meal. I couldn’t stop looking at their eyes while they spoke a language of which we understood the feeling. We held hands across long planks elevated over porous soil emanating greens. We arrived at a table, sat and cut open the soft underbelly of an anaconda called sucurí. Its length extended curled round the table, I thanked the women with a nod and the snake for his vessel´s donation, thanked the God of choice for His generosity and allowing Laze and I to cross the threshold of indigenous belief. We were not in any world I had ever known. I know no such thing as permanence, but I staved off hunger with steamed snake meat, watched women in the eyes and felt relief of loss of time on a tribal riverbank of peace and majesty.
For whiles we remained there, light of memory, reminded of ourselves by groundward looks at our bare feet. We sat and watched the water cradle twilight. We sacrificed snake, capybara, and tucunaré as means for our bipedal prolongation. We shirked our clothes and every lesson of modesty, forgot the term naked to describe another’s body. We caught dourado with the men, our bait: guts hung hot into the river at sunrises. From their strong-handed wives we learned to shake out thick leaves and weave roofs of nature’s untucked threads of belief.
I hadn’t seen Laze when I ran into the eyes of a white woman. In her appearance I remembered myself. I interrupted, in English, asking her name. Ali, American accent. I asked her where she came from, how she got there, how long ago, and if she knew how long since we had passed. She saddened. Her smile emphasized crow’s feet and she led me by the hand to and through a wall of liminal verdure. We appeared to the other side. Shaved out of the rainforest, a full-size soccer field, grass grown soft and lush but trimmed evenly, as if by buzzcut, goals white-painted stood sturdily, their unwanting of nets indebted to the otherworldly thickness of the forest behind.
Each team already fielded ten players and a goalie. Laze was running down the left wing. Ali and I chose one corner, observed the competition. There were no clothes, shoes, fouls, or referees, but instead unfettered continuation. Ali said they played to ten, the score had been nine-nine for half a day now, and then I could see them, bodies sputtering, though while each sprint pledged liveliness out of desperation, resistance against extinction´s fetid threat. Neither team would surrender or collapse, never to run out of air, only score or be scored on, and die standing. A tall albino boy, with eye-white´s blood-haloed gaze, fleetest player of the pack of Laze’s rivals, took a seraphic touch of the leather-quilted ball, control of sun at midfield. If he was in possession of a mind, he didn’t use it there, unconsciously dribbling toward the rectangle of trees and its guardian, shifting the winds of each defender with shoulder dips, I didn’t think he ever touched the ball before shooting, tip-toed soundlessly, muted jukes to hush defensive reams, a collision of paint-faced center-backs collapsed to him and he appeared again phantasmically through and rearing back a leg with eyes for goal, released wound strength and followed through a shot with speed enough to leave the stratosphere and ride the moon’s crescent flew top corner short of just a millimeter curved, heroically came up an eyelid short, Ali and I arched our necks and followed the reverberating sail across blue noon. The ball landed at the feet of Laze, who stood as one of few without his face painted but wore countenance of war like the others, pushed forward, un-pretty with his movements, not eloquently fluid as the near game-winner just seen, but tankishly driven he gained needed ground, raised elbows instead of spun, forced the ball beneath his touches and as the last line of defenders converged upon him I thought he was beat, but surprising me and Ali and all else but one he flicked with his heel and continued on sprinting as a dummy, the defense followed his possessionless body, the smallest boy fielded collected the scrap, saw the keeper out of position, angled expectantly to block Laze’s shot that never came, and with the power small children shouldn’t have at that size, and with the faith that only children hold dear without why, the kid shot the ball truly, between the three posts, and ended a war with the nineteenth and necessary goal.
Each team condensed around the boy, and Laze. They hefted them up onto their shoulders. Laze cried at the sky, grateful for below it. I checked my left to find the empty indentation in the grass where Ali had been sitting. I stood up, looked down at the one I had made. I looked at the space Laze was crying to. The players cheered jumping. Laze was on his feet with them now, chanting something I didn’t understand in unison. I looked across the field to the wall of vegetation. Layers of shadows and limbs slipped and darkened and invited you into there. Two small boys appeared out of the edge of there. They held machetes vertical, rested on their shoulders like soldiers hold guns at attention, but the rest of their body language was relaxed, not so surgical, like indigenous boys should’ve been, so I trusted them when they waved me over. I walked across the field and Laze saw me and jogged nearer and I high-fived him and said that his heel flick was unexpected and necessary because of it, even if the kid would’ve shanked. He asked if those kids had waved me over and I said they had and he said they’d been watching the whole game like a couple of murderous weirdos and he couldn’t wait for the game to end so he could go see what they were up to. As we neared enough to hand-dance a conversation they turned and shadowed into the creases of the jungle barricade. We followed where to sun couldn’t and Laze wasn’t looking at anything, explaining the details of the game, intensity of war inaccessible through viewership alone. I agreed with his points, I had my own wars that were pointless to explain whose details I shared anyway. The two boys slashed like breath. The blades they used matched their heights but I didn’t know much about physics and leverage and their parents weren’t around nor would I have said anything to them or the kids about slashing risks, they did a fine job, better than I’d have done and less likely to cut themselves probably and maybe even due to their short compact bodies with more felicitous strokes angularly, and as we walked on undeterred by hanging vines or stiff branches I began to scold myself for never breaking trail really, the methodical chop that set the pace of my gait was convenient yet embarrassing, I might have been adventuring but with the kids ahead of me, whose adventure was this, and I didn’t come here to play tourist, it made the whole experience cartoonish, I mean we’d gotten here drunk and one of us bleeding, been shamanically healed and that had seemed plenty like magic, dreamworld, memory-slipping montage of weirdness, I was all for it, but I was back in my head again and following these boys through the jungle like this—I looked left, a massive tarantula-looker jumped out of the ground and grabbed a bird off the side of a tree and yanked it into a burrow—everything was a bit too aware of its role as a part of the Amazonian, wild, violent jungle, pulsating as if we were walking through the stromatic maze inside of God’s green-irised eyeballs.
We kept along, Laze asking why Ali didn’t get me to play the game with them, while I watched through the slivers of light piercing our bush-tunnel somehow a caterpillar shooting white quills at another bug resembling a lemon on stilts, and but maybe there was something to the rhythm of the march, simple progression, I tried not to mind not carving my own trail ahead, I could follow a path cut for me and metaphorically break trail in terms of mentality, via optimistic approach, I passed Laze so I wouldn’t have to answer him, he could just see me nod, submitted to the progress offered by measured steps forward, enjoying then the violence of nature all around, the katanacity of the thorns, brutality of the sucurí crushing the ribcage of a boar into bone chips, the jaguar lurking somewhere I didn’t see like all the documentaries had promised, and the kids kept chopping fresh tunnels that didn’t have me questioning if they’d been here before because I trusted their God like earlier, and if it started to rain how the fuck would we have known, umbrella’d by all the dense forest, and we probably kept hiking for hours or two of however that many that included, hungry to the point of acid de-stomaching our stomach, Laze’s term, a lesson that pain was important for ascending into paradise at a much later point down the line, he’d decided, but when we slowed down Laze and I looked at each other pretty skeptically, trying to subtilize our eyebrow raises cuz like, this was no epic waterfall over a massive cliff, but a disgusting swamp with like a hundred caimans slithering in and sunbathing around in mud out of it, and I’d already seen my share of predators for the day but fuck it, I decided to stay grateful, closed my eyes and prayed a thank you to the bestowers of this moment onto me, and as soon as I exhibited some gratitude instead of just grossing out at the mucus green flotsam, the boys disappeared for a sec and came back with the shoddiest canoes I had ever seen and even have seen up until now, carved out of tree bark or something I guess, thin and begging many questions like where and how and what if with all the caimans who I’ve learned since then are called jacaré, a very cooler name and I looked at Laze and didn’t hesitate to press the bottom edge of one canoe with one kid into the mud and into the water, because their indigenous God whether Native or Jaguar-Jesus had offered this moment in front of me and God damn wrong I wasn’t going to take it.
We pushed off. At this point in my life I hadn’t gotten my Wile E. Coyote tattoo and I didn’t know jacaré would only attack if a warrant had been issued aka if you were bloody flip-flopping or otherwise trying to grab them by the tail, like, being a dick, then, otherwise they’re actually pretty chill, but, back to my tattooless then-ignorance, we heaved ourselves into a wobbly float of ripples over the moss carpet top, caimans slid in and resolutely disappeared, the kid handed me half a coconut shell whose use became apparent before I could ask if it was supposed to throw off the mini-crocs from our human scent, he stroked with a paddly branch, we were weighty for sure, iffy water spilled over onto my feet, I bailed us afloat coco-stroking, the kid turned upon feeling the breeze of my flails and asked me if I sabe’d nadar, I said what and didn’t hear him repeat himself, busy remembering nadar as the infinitive “to swim” from high school Spanish. I said clearly no nadar, no nadar, and the kid knew what I meant but paddled recklessly, tipping us the one way and the other taking water every time, which was my fault, I was the long-boned of the two of us, so I criss-crossed and tailbone-sturdied myself on the back wooden knot and robotically swoop-and-slopped that murky moss water up and out of the boat, stroke by stroke, and once again, from repetition arose the calm, the beauty. It only took thirty seconds of not being eaten to decide I wouldn’t be, I found my balance to match the kid’s strokes, I leaned against the rock to counterbalance us out, he turned and winked in a cool, like nice-job-white-boy-you-got-us-going-good-now way, I bailed the boat and forgot I was doing so as we floated to the sound of soft splashes and strokes beneath arched trunks grown from the water, scarring slight wakes over carpeted green, ducking the jungle that had grown all the way out of the bottom of that acquainted mystery, and we came to the shallows, the froth cleared up, we exited the swamp and caught a current and the kid turned and winked again, I thought we might get sucked into a whirlpool which would’ve probably meant I was an indigenous sacrifice, a death I’d be okay with, but no, we got sucked now forward effortlessly, the kid dropped the paddle in only to angle us between rainbow shaped trunks of trees dipping their leafy lord-of-the-rings heads in, the current swept us faster and the shallows revealed freshwater fish I’d never seen, reef-like, gleaming, painted by an optimist, they escorted us and I got a feeling as if the canoe, the hike, the trip, and life, all of it was about to be proven worth it, the feeling you have to resort to once you’ve succumbed to a new speed over which you have no control.
We tilted forward into the steeps of a river. I turned to look for Laze who went arms-wild, branch-paddle forwarding my gaze to some whitewater misted fallaway cataract. Gravity clutched, we kept attached to it, the boat bottom cracked, we ricocheted through and fell fully, half canoe in hand I looked for the kid in midair but just saw water and then I was under it, implored deafened deeper, and a second splash over helped propel my current forward and out the liquid churn socket, I playfully gasped for air for my own entertainment and partial relief, flipped droplets off my orbital bones, and gathered dripping.
The two boys lounged the eddy. The fish with us earlier flippered up now, yellow-gilled and Laze’s head and I got to see his reaction, dramatic breath and realization of breath. We floated below the waterfall, climbed out, sat on misted limestone. Laze said he felt like he was tripping. Tropicalia ribcage shade of trees curved above protected from sunburn or sight by overhead planes, paradise suspicious, the memorable flights though were butterflies’, thousands, striped tiger topsides, change of direction tipped wing cloud to clouded azul, Laze repeated, I feel like I’m tripping.
The boys shouted to our attention. They’d edged a cliffside, and carried up a pointed log. Merrily they placed it through a soft-bodied freshwater stingray, pinning him through the sand. They pulled him out, raised him up over their heads, arms wide shouting as if they could fly as men. They scourged another ray swimming through the clarity, invited Laze to take the next kill. I jumped up first, ascended the cliff wall like a rat dripping, took the weight of the log and thrust it down as taught, stilling the other one right through the brain so it was safe for us to swim. The boys looked at me strangely, pointed at Laze, before leaping into the water and splashing him.
It started to rain. Drizzle, thin, unfelt and seen only in the ripples of consequence at first, didn’t end our swimming, but inversely, begged a rowdier version, as we plashed each other´s liquid vestures to urge more strength from Mother Earth. She came. The drops went thick and cold, began to hurt. We looked up through thatched branches where the sunlight had refracted droplets´ crowns of gleams, but saw darkness, and heard deep thunder and found the butterflies had left us, the waterfall had doubled in size, and in the pool, the dry spot where we’d been sitting was already inches submerged. The kids moved quick but they weren’t scared for us, and Laze and I mimicked their composure, we abandoned paradise and ran behind them through muddied jungle, thick-soled strides became ankle deep. I didn’t have to try not to think of the spiders, there was really no time, we trampled over everything anyway, hopping cliffs and ducking slanted trunks as if we fled a crime scene, the kids burst through a weave and held it open for Laze and me, we came upon the swamp where we’d entered, I saw the canoes we’d used weren’t canoes at all but quite literally the reuse of disregarded whole sides of tree bark, the kids grabbed their machetes and led us onward through jungle mucus, running with their little barefoot kid-strides but always keeping ahead of us, the rain was caving in on us and all below was called to rise, if you didn’t stop moving you’d get stuck and eternalized as a tree or log, but it was no use, there was no getting back to the village through high water. Laze looked at me for the first time hinting of worry, he thought we might be swimming and I was inclined to agree until the kids stopped in sync by a huge trunk of a dying tree, motioned us to heave another slick side of bark from the meat, and we tore it, flattened it before us as a boat, jumped on and let the jungle float us where it would.
We were risen over the forest floor then, and the violences had been drowned beneath us, the water was calm and we floated through treetops in our curved trunkside like frogs in a capsized umbrella, pushing off of newly made dams when we got stuck, spun at the current’s decision of where until we reached it, the spilled over village, and the villagers floating their calms, all in their canoes, waiting.
The kids and Laze and me and every villager paddled in place or held branches to keep still, breathing heavily. We are breathing machines, just like the trees, our lives have meaning all the time, Laze had said on the boat. The chieftain paddled nearer through the steady chords of rain. The creeks we had ridden out of the jungle all threaded into a freshwater sea, rushing down either bank, to fill the Madeira, heaving up the river over the village. The ninety-nine steps Laze and I’d ascended were hidden, everything submerged cabana tips, their threaded roofs loosened and lost down the flow, only that cretaceous Mother on the bank kept visible, her girth still strong above water, the width of her trunk wishboning currents around her. Chief offered a canoe, looking to me like it fit three. Laze and the kids hopped in, while I held our boat of tree bark steady, grappling in place against water determined, latched to a treetop tipping out, an eight meter species now resembling hardly a reed. Chief signaled me decision. I shrugged. He pointed against the grain of the jungle’s output, urged the villagers begin. They paddled toward where we’d come, cross current, between the diminishing thicknesses of foliage, to what I could only assume meant higher ground. Laze waved for me to follow.
I held the treetop. He began to paddle. I saw Ali among the others stroking past me. Some children suckled their mothers, others heckled fathers to let them help propel upflow. I squinted through the splashes to the watery plain, recognized a big boat there, even in distance dwarfing the indigenous canoes by comparison. I let go, flowed away from the tribe and Laze heading back into the flushing jungle. I passed the slope where we’d climbed, swooped downward on my bark over a little rapid, and joined the Madeira mainstream. The water wasn’t cold, I slid back, dipped in my lower half and kick-sped to cut off the fishing boat.
Cap hoisted me in. He wasn’t pissed off anymore. He was definitely drunk, captaining well through the storm, he’d had the best luck of his fisherman’s life I guess, without us. He was grinning and loving the swells as the brown river distended and tore the banks away along with half of the trees, and those it didn’t take continued to disappear, three quarters of the way, making trunks tall as the banks themselves look like bush sprouts over the current. He asked me where Laze had gotten off to, tapped his forehead a few times and shrugged his shoulders. I pointed at the drowning forest and shrugged mine and he shrugged and lit a cigarette and offered me one and I took it and his lighter, lit the cig, handed back the light and walked upstairs careful not to hit my head on the way up.
From the upper level you could see the chaos of a flood and no boat. Creeks rushed out the jungle taps. Somewhere jaguars scaling trees and underground tarantulas evicted or drowned. I thought of the tribe and their paddles and their haven. I wondered of Laze, how long until regretting his commitment. I wondered what I would say if I spoke Cap´s language. I took a long drag from my cigarette and enjoyed the unhealthy chalk-dry grate of the breath.
I walked back downstairs. Cap was admiring his catch. I pointed at them, sign languaged a request to stay on his boat as a fisherman. Me, you, I was pointing. He shook his head. He said something in Portuguese, pointed at all the fish, his boat, and made like an umpire safe sign. I guessed his fishing days were over. He kept on repeating the name São Paulo.
“Trabalho?” he asked. “São Paulo. São Paulo.”