Unsaid 7 : from THE WAY OF FLORIDA, by Russell Persson (Recipient of the 2014 Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Award for Fiction in the Face of Adversity)


And waiting another day to enter port, a south wind took us and drove us away from land. We passed over to the coast of Florida, and came to land, and went along the coast the way of Florida.

Lone flats due east of dry Tortuga, the shallows there. The pilot ran us aground for all he knows. Four hundred men and eighty horse and four ships and brigantine. High up on this shoal in spring the groans of us and the groans our ship does against its own damn weight. The groans and walking, only stillness could break them down. If I hear another man pace today this pilot who shoaled us up here answers for that sound I swear. Hardtack and water barreled and a fruit destroyed inside it for its medicine against a worm. Dry Tortuga far out and east of us the bonefish in between. The fish in clouds around us.

Then it was the cloth of our Lord commanded our silence and I along with the great wishes of our keeper gone along with this for any bend in the ritual of our pause there run aground was itself a gift and so it must have been what our Lord intended for us that great heads of rain walked over us and our grounded ship inside this sea above the sea was for now a quiet one save what fell against the decks from it. We couldn’t help but give ourselves to what it was and stare us out through its curtain of falls. We had a sea around us is what I said. The horse can subdue itself if about them a peace is made, like any other beast, and so it was. The damp horse still and headhung close up against so all eighty head and hide are blended into one. What steadies us here though is the water pourn I’m certain of it. Our Lord is quiet boots upon man I know this at least.

Sat there for two fucking weeks. Blown by three storms since Havana. This pilot of the north coast, Miruelo. I have a time constructing words to go with him.

Our doldrum broken, we went along the coast of Florida. Then we anchored on the same coast at the mouth of a bay, at the back of which we saw houses and where Indians live.

Like a waypoint an island in the bay was our halfshot and each met there, the Indians and our comptroller Alonso Enriquez. The Indians brought with them fish and venison and they were with Enriquez for the day and the afternoon on that island. And after they left the island they paddled in their canoes back to land and in the night they gathered all they had and lit some cookfires that we saw from across the bay and what they gathered was hauled out with them and they disappeared into the night trees so that when we arrived the next day their buhios were empty and a great buhio what could hold three hundred of them was bare of them entire. Some of them must have gone coasted, oversea in canoes so all canoes were gone. Among it all we found a golden rattle.

And standing on this cleared town this land is presented to his royal name and orders as commanded.

Of our horses the sick and thin horse is all who remained. Half of what started, so many dead and brought up and dropped into the waves and sunk overboard, falling dead in seawater into some depth who makes all souls opaque. One after another. And who remained all thin and worn. We brought them ashore either way. My sorrow for the sunken horses I also cannot put words to but for a different why.

And when the Indians returned the next day with their language that they used into our ears to no good and with the flying fist and calls for to warn us off the land they went back to the woods and no violence had come of them but when we knew they were gone and had taken to the woods again it was as if a drum inside the woods was always gently hit in there, a low drawn hum in slow walk down near the roots and knees.

The next day the governor decided to go inland to explore and to see what it contained.

This Miruelo, great navigator of a lost sea, some ocean no man can tell would even exist outside the blown realm of his thistled head, some mapless weed he must dream up and spout off about among a trusted company. Doesn’t know where we are. Some thousand mile stretch he might hit if he had a week. So fuck his notions on where. Consult him any longer there is no way to do this.

The always and low beating of a drum out there in the humid trees and I picture this with my companion, we envision what a drum of this people would be like, some hide stretched over a basketish ring, tendon looped in and hooked through the smoothen hide and around under the whole basket and adorned with some heathen artifacts all baubled attached or so. The always beating like a heart out there in rest but never gone.

In night we give a story out into the air. Just air that comes out of us. It is not the sea and it is not land or trees of course it is air in the shape of our sound in the shape of tales. We trade story and but trade at once so one might bank into another.

Another starts: There is no winter where she is from. It is like what we have found here but instead of these pools and mud there is only sand and beyond that a meadow where men built stick houses and she led me to a house one of these stick houses and I could have been led to food or to men with sharpened bones and fast arms or led to a trading room and only what was there in that stick house was a gourd of clear water and a reed mat. 

In day it was the will of the governor to go inland and that the ships go along the coast until they arrived at port and on this our opinion was requested.

The notary and his lost books all lost to the sea or inside the wind this notary put down my response — the lostness of our pilots and the state of our horses not fit to use for any use and that our words could not be folded into the ears of who lived on this land nor their words folded into what we could hear and so our ears were blind to what and beyond all this our notion of what this land held was empty of any fact save what we saw in front of us which could be kindly noted as fucked in terms of where to settle us and beyond all this what a mind will not mention even to himself what undressed demon waits in this thatch or blended into the sand we tread and beyond all this our food. But to the commissary he felt all this in reverse and that the port of Panuco could not be far off as our pilots have advised and could not be missed and the first to arrive should wait there and that to embark with all of us on our ships and all our trunks would be to ask our Lord to bring down upon us His iron heel as He has done already again and before that.

These opinions were noted and because the governor was deciding in the way of the most assembled there I asked that my opinion to do the opposite be quite noted and certified.

The governor called for his men who would travel overland with him to prepare themselves for this trip and then he set me in charge of the ships and to this I refused to do it.

How I saw both each of us as men who went up against a thing, and as such how my body was a piece broken off directly from the sacked ore and set upon this earth to come blasted by all what rains down on average men to halt them, I exist on separate terms as a man of hardships than our governor and to convey this would badden our terms—so as the sun will warm the meat of our bodies the same all of us so the moon ripens only me while they lie dark asleep. Is it found a way to bring this up and still eat the same board? 

I refuse and hold fast to refuse the charge of those ships in the face of all our governor’s beseeching and I paint to him a picture of my honor as a stack of beams gone to punk which all the men have set to flame and our governor begins to see that I will not at all sail with the ships but will instead test my body versus all terms of the land here and go alongside him on the overland journey. I tell him it is my sense that the ships and those who travel on land will not meet again in this world. So Caravallo is set in charge of the ships.

And so it is I go along with the governor and three hunrdred men and forty horse and for each man he is given two pounds of hardtack and one-half pound of salt pork and we gather ourselves. The ships too are prepared to sail along the coast and Caravallo sees to this and I am thankful that I am not wearing the duty of Caravallo to the ships. Looking out from land the ships are there and they begin to get painted there, as if no longer true ships of wood but in my eyes they are versions of ships perfected, the light upon them and how they sit on the water as things at once a part of our world and also a sketch as an artist might make a thing lay flat on his canvas. Did our Lord command this? My strongest notion tells me these ships will not see our governor again nor he these ships. That our split here will be so for the rest of us. But our Lord will deem right what fate these ships run into and I can only see from across that distance what our outcomes might be and may all our men on land and those with Caravallo enjoy His protection and course.

We walk into the land.

These overland days are long for the things we do not come upon. No man. No altered dirt just this sanded ground where armadillos and other armored rats do be. The palmetto tree is our only game on this stretch and it is an easy one to corner but takes many arms to bring down. We fell them whole and strip off the woven bark and the strings who run up and down and work our way into the core of each trunk and sculpt out for meals the softest inside part of this tree. The rabble we leave behind for each one of these. For more than two weeks this core is our only game and it is what our Lord intended for us and so again we hack down the palmetto and tear apart its outside in order for to cause among us all a meal to make itself a thing in our hand so our Lord provides for us a feast again and once again. The land unmarked by any home of who might live in this place and unmarked by any who at all.

Then a river is across our way. It is wide and with a current who has a fist and for a day we spend us to get across with all our men and our horses. The water is almost clear, a shallow pool near the shore with a white sand floor tells us about the goodness of the river. A sandbar near us at the near shore and then past that the river becomes a deep river and the water in it moves along with an unbended fist. Our dear horses who along our journey with their noble walk and their strong eye and courage sent to them from a thousand years of courage behind them put up with the halted stumbles of their masters who beat down jungle with long knives and come upon blasted seas and two-fisted rivers and are we all in this as one our Lord? Our day here crossing has at least a different cloud above it, gathering a self inside a piece of shade or setting the next man to hold him to his strong stories and send him to the far shore. We tie together items in a rafted way and send across in batches what we have and on the side of this a man will swim with his body. We mound our all on the far bank and those already over take apart the rafted what and set out the crossed gear on the sandbar in the sun.

And as the most of us are on the near shore and only few have gone across we can tell some Indians have come through the far trees and move over there as if we don’t know they are there and move and hide low. Our men on the far shore do not tell yet that these Indians are in the woods behind them. Our language does not carry past the good sound of this river. We throw a small gesture not a large one but that too does not carry to the far shore. They keep on over there to lay out cloth and items in the sun of the sandbar and spread them there. We keep on our crossing and the news of the hidden Indians goes with the next man to cross the river and during his cross the Indians there become several and it seems now they are more than several but come as a company of many arms and they spread out along the shore for they are many and each goes down to a knee so that who leads them stands tall above them and above his head rides a tall bended plume. 

How can it be that a gesture of a hand or how a body becomes more upright and rigid before you and the eyes become stern with an eyebrow at a new posture and a mouth who less widens but drawn in so it’s told that together we are at odds and soon a hand will raise up against another hand? Men at arms do they come ready in this life for moving a quick arm against another man? So has it been mapped ahead of us our Lord a mapmaker with his scrolls of us spread out above us perhaps this is what the clouds are they are his charts of us laid out with what we do pictured there and we tread duly on its lines. Or has our walk led us to our present day and each turn or befallment renders us further for the next turn until we come to the far side of the river and through some gauge we devise or through a notion we can tell the Indians gathered there come ready to mix with us against us?

These signs lead us to know we are at odds. We must turn on them. In so doing we capture five or six of them. They lead us back to their homes where we find an abundance of maize ready for harvest that our Lord has set aside for us and we give thanks. So here we encamp and repair our hunger and our horses rest.

We continue the way of Florida to the supposed Port of Panuco and we bring with us the five or six we have captured and they as our guides go ahead and two of them among us and steer us through great fallen trees who lay as tall as one man the tree laid there in its new and final spot a great arm gray and ridged. For two weeks there is no sign of any others there in the forest and for two weeks we carve out the heart of palm and for two weeks it is only the heart of palm we eat and we thank our Lord for providing these gifts to us and the vigor of our thanks to Him seems among the men to subside each day yet praise to Him is given and I see to it each man brings his full voice and his wide open eyes looking forward and full awake in this rejoicing. Our Lord can hear the timbre of our voices for He can hear our very heartbeats and the voices we must all have inside us who all day speak with us and bargain withinside us and test our resolve.

We march on through this heated woods and fourteen days has passed when coming forth to meet us is a native lord and he is carried up above his people on their shoulders and in front of this array like buzzing insects there are small ones who play a strange music from a reed flute and these small ones weave among themselves and dart and bound lightly in the undergrowth and hide their heads like the armadillo can do and this lord who flies above his people wears a painted deer hide and teeters there on shoulders and it is this appearance of flying above the ground without any shoulders between him and the sand that he must wish to convey, the natives below him with sticks and leaves and hanging moss tied to them at one with the land about them.

I am having doubts about the shape of this world. Where we find ourselves. As a band of Indians appear to us in these woods with their reeds and with their plume and their sounds all odd and fucked to hear so also we appear to them with our leather and our crossbow and our belts and to them also the sound we carry has no business with them no weight at all except that it is not a silence there between us so our exchange in these woods is of a slim bag of gestures and through this we are both commanded to gauge if we are here in peace or have we come here to be against thee. How has a man come to be the judge of this? The condition of a shape of where we are and I can signal to you our Lord I can refer to where you are for it is I alone who keep these maps of you and keep what you draw for us here upon this sand and soil and I have come to know our lot is drawn and you have sketched with great love the charts of my step revealed to me the moment I do step and I have come to know my past and come to know the great distance and I have come to know that here in these woods with only the sounds of air and birds and wind and a broken twig and a judgment placed before me what to be with these natives I know your maps of love for us are like great hands who live about us and guard and fend.

It is so and so we move into the sand between us. Two bands of bodies and a question of our each carried to the fore, so to first meet in our path the questions of our each an unended question on the service of to judge a man if his hand is gradual and open or if his hand is fisted and abrupt. As I said it was open this hand and it was presented in kind announce. This cacique and our governor spent a piece of time making gestures to the other and it was sketched to this cacique that we were going to Palachen and to the Port of Panuco there and through the motion of his hands and from the voice of him it was known to us that he was at odds with the people of Palachen and that he would lead us this cacique would be our lead to Palachen and that his arm and the arm of his people would join in with us in our get to Palachen and if there was an against to do so then these all arms were together in such an against. The cacique took off the painted deerskin he wore and he handed it to our governor and our governor then grandly set out some bells and beads on a piece of bright cloth on top of the ground and this was to be for the cacique and the governor stood as tall as he could stand and with his back like a tree is straight and his jaw set high as he was pleased to show how pleased he was to bestow these fucking beads and metal balls to the cacique who was called Dulchanchellin and who turned and walked into the trees and his people followed him into the trees and we all followed them all into the trees toward Palachen.

And like this we followed Dulchanchellin and his people and one might have a thought about the faith we handed over as a blind man is led through an unknown hall of rooms and how this faith is more easily handed over when for weeks the heart of palm was only what fed us and our lostness was so great and complete although our lostness was not a spoken thing of us and how a new land to a body causes that same body to believe in the help that is sent to it more quickly for the belief is that there is a goodness ahead and otherwise to otherwise hope is hopeless. How do you follow a man if you are already against yourself? The marching of the sound of us in those trees it is enough to cast away that foe inside us I speak for every man here. It can be no other way.

Inside the trees it became night and we all continue and reach after a time a river who ran with great bigness. We heard this river for some leagues before we met this river in our path. There came from off the sides a coolness who drifted up and along the river yard and in that coolness and in the night darkness we constructed a canoe to help us cross the river and even so and even with the help of the men of Dulchanchellin this crossing took us one entire day.

This time has come to reveal the death of Juan Velazquez de Cuellar, the impatient and he was mortally so. And he was mortally courageous some might say of him and did not judge well the current he believed his horse could swim across and Juan Velazquez de Cuellar mortally on his horse they rode together into that river. It was as if we slept there in our feet and a dream became over us for none of the men could speak to warn him away from the river as a voice is hidden in a dream so our voices became mute and the sand of the river was what he heard and rode into the water and soon came to overturn and to go along with the current instead of at an angle as a right swimmer would have done and Juan Velazquez de Cuellar held the reins of his horse in some try to stay his head into the air but instead the reins pulled down into the river the horse he brought there and they both went to the water under and did not come up to live again with us. We stood there in our feet and some men went along the river. In the day the Indians of Dulchanchellin found the horse downstream and told us where we could find Juan Velazquez de Cuellar and near all our men were bent in sorrow for this the first lost of our inland group and that was an unfortune and this man who for his final choice rode himself and one good horse into a big current died dead this day. And it was as if our Lord had called down to fetch one of us in trade for some other of our luck. The tables then more even. And in this as well how to walk all of us into the next. The stitch of who was further. The quiet camp we held into the night. The river sound in night and most of us ate of his horse.

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1 Response to Unsaid 7 : from THE WAY OF FLORIDA, by Russell Persson (Recipient of the 2014 Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Award for Fiction in the Face of Adversity)

  1. Show me stronger writing being written these days and I’ll show you how a woodpecker swallows a whale.

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