hangedI, Homunculus 

by Erica David

Mimes are just like us. Sometimes they get boxed in, sometimes caged. They walk against the wind battling bluster with the acute movement of articulate limbs, joints which joust, fluent in the language of cartilage and ligament. Sometimes they come to rest on things which aren’t really there, elbows perched and parallel to the ground, bodies aligned in longitudinal slant, canting hips akimbo in response to an imaginary ledge. I have rested upon less.

I remember my earliest beginnings, which is more than most mimes can say. Who remembers exactly the first time silence frets the vocal cords, dampens the hue and cry of the strings, stops the wind of the organ, trapping pressurized air in the fleshy cylinder of the throat? Who can recall precisely the moment silence becomes a substitute for speech and carries with it its own story, punctuated by the susurration of appendages? Such beginnings seed the mime; they are the very germ from which he springs, but they are hard to pinpoint, impossible to vocalize.

I was born of a hanged man, his feet two parallel pendulums turning a leisurely ellipse above the ground. Mistaken feet, reliant on a floor which gave way far too easily, shabby planks dropping free with the kind of pliant abandon reserved for loose women. The integrity of the trapdoor is perhaps a non-issue, traps being what they are, because it was not the planks that killed him, it was the drop, the long drop, calculated according to tables of weight and height to kill but not decapitate. 

I am told the ligature sat just so, the hempen rope resting on his clavicle, each twined segment palpating the column of his throat, negotiating pocked skin and inflamed follicle—his last shave involuntary and against the grain at the behest of the executioner. When he dropped and the rope tightened, and the noose slid along his throat unimpeded by beard, the bones of his neck were broken, the carotid artery blocked, the windpipe closed, silenced.

The drop succeeded. He was well and truly hanged, and quickly. There was little in the way of entertainment for those who watched; no quivering rope, no bodily dumb show of stuttering limbs, the result of a botched execution. Little spectacle perhaps, except for those unaccustomed to the death trade. There was one last imitation of life, the death erection and subsequent ejaculation. 

Hanging is a business of fluids. The hangman knows this. While much of his profession deals in solids, in leaden sacks of flour meant to gauge and test the trap, in corpus and the corporeal, it’s the effluvia of the body, the often liquid dross which he confronts as frequently. The stained trouser doesn’t trouble him. 

The spectators may gasp. They may not understand that the last of life hurries from the organs with unseemly haste, that ejaculant is often the last matter to quit a corpse. But they do go in for gallows lore. They titter and sometimes whisper. They say a dead man’s seed sows the mandrake plant and that beneath its leaves, swaddled in soil a half-man takes root.

It is what they say and often what they say is untrue. Had I the choice I might not believe it myself, but I remember my earliest beginnings. I remember life at the very root. I remember the human germ and the vegetal process by which I was born.

 They say it makes me less than human, more than mime.


Erica David was a bit of a Wookiee as a kid—hairy and prone to emit ear-splitting sounds without reason. She has since learned to use her “inside voice” and is currently an MFA candidate at The Writer’s Foundry in Brooklyn, NY.
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