This story originally appeared in Hexus Journal Volume II, April 2016
The mushrooms were gathered. All night, a team of a hundred trusted servants had inched forward through the rainforest, breast to breast, scrutinizing the darkened ground. By dawn, many square miles had been thus covered; the correct quantity of the God-mushrooms had been collected, and were taken to the cold larders of the palace to keep.
The guests assembled for the feast; they were seated. Tobacco was provided in smoking tubes, and flowers – they rubbed the flowers over their faces and bodies, passing them round, some to the left and some to the right. When the food arrived, it was splendid: they ate turkeys caked in corn dough, tortilla chips with chilli, and vegetables served in the clay pots in which they had been steamed. Z didn’t eat, though his belly screamed as he watched the others. He hadn’t eaten for a long time. After the food, bitter chocolate was served, and solemnly consumed. Then the mushrooms, dipped in honey.
The musicians were lined up to one side, shimmering in long feather crowns. They began to play – an insistent rhythm, the rate of a person’s heartbeat under healthy exertion. The soul of sport or war, sung by drums. A thin flute flew over the top, like a green bird above the treetops. A poet sang:
…Begin the song in pleasure, singer, enjoy, give pleasure to all, even to Life Giver. Yyeo ayahui ohuaya.
Delight, for Life Giver adorns us. All the flower bracelets, your flowers, are dancing. Our songs are strewn in this jewel house, this golden house…
The mushrooms were stringy and had an unpleasant tang, barely masked by the honey. Z chewed seriously, keeping his eyes closed. He felt weak and nervous. The beat went on.
…The Flower Tree grows and shakes, already it scatters…
He looked at his hands. He was mushrooming, and his hands had begun to bulge, undulating in hilarious bulbosity. He began to giggle at their fat absurdity, their ridiculous fungiform turgidity; he found he couldn’t stop. He let the brittle laughter of the gods pulse through his body, tingling him from the roof of his mouth down to his toenails, and threw his arm over his eyes to wipe back tears. Trails of light followed his vision, shining motes continuously resolving themselves into ever more complex laceworks of diamonds, tiny mountain flowers and stars.
…The quetzal breathes honey, the golden quéchol breathes honey. Ohuaya ohuaya…
Torches were lit, and the black smell of pine resin thickly filled the hall. The Sun was descending, deep into the belly of the Earth. Every fifty-two years the Sun descended forever, and would only rise again the following morning if offered such sincere supplications as were to occur tonight.
Z felt a nausea growing in his bare intestines – he didn’t know if he needed to eat or vomit or shit. He knew he wasn’t able to do any of these things. He heard the poet:
…You have transformed into a Flower Tree, you have emerged, you bend and scatter. You have appeared before God’s face as multi-colored flowers. Ohuaya ohuaya…
He was the flower tree. The nausea became a potential energy growing inside him, like he might explode any minute in a starburst of cosmic joy. His guts were swimming, swirling, tumbling. Faces all around him were curled into strange snarls. In the shadowed torchlight, he could no longer tell the difference between his feast companions and the sculptures in jade, gold and stone. They snaked and surged, each making a thousand expressions at once.
He rose, and staggered, falling face down into the crushed blossoms on the floor. They radiated symmetrically, throwing out starry rhumblines in shining colours across the ground and into the sky. He looked up: owls were assembling, circling near the ceiling- owls with the faces of men and women. Their shrieking rose above the song of the singer: something halfway between the screech of an owl and the desperate scream of a sacrifice.
He felt himself disintegrating; he was no longer himself. He was the mushroom, the flower tree, his companions, all the animals of the forest, the whole of the air around him, for a million miles or more.
Flowers of raven, flowers you scatter, you let them fall in the house of flowers. Ohuaya ohuyaya.
He watched the body from above, a body he idly recognised as his own. Shrieking endlessly, the human body lay on the floor, thrashing and rolling. It raised its crabbed hands to its black hole mouth, pulled it til the skin ripped at the sides. Blood flowed into beautiful, inscrutable rippled pools on either side of his contorted face.
Ah, yes: I am happy, I prince NezahualCóyotl, gathering jewels, wide plumes of quetzal, I contemplate the faces of jades: they are the princes! I gaze into the faces of Eagles and Jaguars, and behold the faces of jades and jewels! Ohuaya ohuyaya
The hands pushed into the eye sockets – the eyes were gone, one rolling off to the side, the other falling into the wide open mouth. The human body choked and spat it out.
We will pass away. I, NezahualCóyotl, say, Enjoy! Do we really live on earth? Ohuaya ohuaya!
Still screaming, the body took its arms down to its belly, and exerted pressure with its nails until the skin tore. It plunged its hands into the darkness and threw out glistening snakes that were its guts. Z could feel the warmth on the hands even as he flew, detached, above. The hands moved under the left hand side of the ribcage and pulled; a wet thud rang out as the ribs cracked. The hands reached in for the heart, pulled it out, spraying blood, and held it above the body for the split second it took for the body to stop moving; then the hands faltered, the hearts plopped down and rolled to the side in a pool of blood, and the body lay still as the singer reached a crescendo:
Not forever on earth, only a brief time here! Even jades fracture; even gold ruptures, even quetzal plumes tear: Not forever on earth: only a brief time here! Ohuaya ohuaya!
This story excerpts ‘The Flower Tree’ by NezahualCoatl (Hungry Coyote, 1402-72) as translated by John Curl in Ancient American Poets (Bilingual Press, 2005)