The Bird Leading The Blind: Graveyard Swims

January 6, 2020

Past the dragonfruit groves and the barking dogs and the bamboo that knock knock knocks around the bend of the stream, are the graveyard tombs stacked like little homes into the hillside. They face toward the ocean to watch the entertainment of waves and feel the salted breeze. Flowers, cans of sweet soda, crackers and cigarettes left for the past are neatly balanced around the plots. Some of them are kept, some of them are not. In the middle of a jungle, in the middle of the night, in the middle of ghost month, Johan and I took a walk through a graveyard.

A week before was a different scene. There weren’t any snakes, or stick bugs or trees with stairs. A week before we sat in the hallway of an ER in a Southern Kaohsiung hospital. My right eye swollen and red with pain. Johan by my side and my head in my hand as the doctor told me it is strongly advised you do not leave.

Do not leave. 

Johan laid on my thigh in the hallway that night. Every room full, all the doctors busy. One drop every ten minutes, six hours through the break of morning. We learned to dream in between that man that screamed, the woman who didn’t move and the child’s voice that turned into two. When the halls became milky and light began to hurt, I tried to think of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. 

He got me an olive green head lamp for my birthday this year. It still felt unfamiliar for me to wear. We grabbed our things and began on the path off the campground.  A vinegaroon crawled across the dirt into the vines of the dragonfruit still too young to harvest. Earlier we saw one in the daylight, thought it was a scorpion until we learned otherwise. The harmful became harmless. 

The people who go hiking in the dark, they say things shift at night. The plants that open, the insects that come alive tempting snakes and bats and things that bite. They say maybe its because of your light beam. You know, you only have one focus, so you pay more attention to the details of what you can see. You are forced to notice.

Johan slept on a yoga mat to the right of my bed, head covered with a headband to keep out the fluorescent lights. One drop every half hour. A little more time to sleep now. He brought me clothes and a toothbrush. He brought me food and earplugs. He brought me my birthday gift.

An olive green head lamp.

We smiled at the irony of it. 

We have been around the graveyard before, just passing through to take a shortcut around to get to the ocean front. In our beams of light, we saw a Taiwanese Habu Viper slowly swimming through the grass, diamonds in his back. We saw a Bamboo Viper who hung in a tree like a windless vine. Still. Both of these snakes have bites that can kill. It is something peculiar to feel that little death like that moving so close to you. We realised that we were just seeing the edge of something. This was just a small cut through a jungle that expanded far beyond what we could see. I tried to focus, my sight still milky in the night.

They moved me upstairs to the twentieth floor where in the mornings, the nurses woke me up at 6:00. They divided out the medicine, took temperatures, automatic things to them, still unfamiliar to me.  I would get up and walk outside the door to feel the sun through the window and stretch my body. I made lists. I made lists of things I still wanted to do in life. I thought about how I spend my time, and how I want to. The things I want to cook, make, and feel and still see. I thought about some bad habits and why I have them. I closed my eyes and looked out the window. 

A banyan sits on top of the tallest hill in the graveyard. Before, we didn’t notice the concrete stairs overgrown with green things that smell like herbs that lead to top of the trunk where the branches meet. It seemed like someone tried to build something there once a long time ago. A place to sit, or to worship, or to remember something past. It overlooks where the ocean meets land. Over the town and the road and the stream. We decided to sit there for a while just because no one else knew we were there. 

Johan would come by at night, and we would walk outside with sunglasses on towards the bowling alley. Between the morning we got to the hospital and the movement upstairs, Johan had caught a bad flu. Between laughing and crying, it was the bird leading the blind.

You wouldn’t know it was there unless you were looking for it. Once you find the water on the road with the algae that grows underneath, stop. Follow the flowing water upward, but not too far. In the middle of the graveyard there is a pool of water flowing up and out of the ground. Fresh and cold and clear. Tall grasses grow around it, and the vibration of frog noises hurt our ears. I have never felt that before. We’ve never seen anything like this before.

Johan set down his light on a rock so it shined onto the pool and got in. I remember thinking of the water, and how I did not again want to have to go back to that room beside that window. But, despite, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a graveyard, in the middle of a jungle, we got in.