In the frozen river, there is blood. Tomorrow is a dream that repeats again and again. Tomorrow is a line that cuts endlessly through the forest. Tomorrow is a circle. Tomorrow, there will be silence. Tomorrow spreads out horizontally along all the hard surfaces. Tomorrow might arrive on the roadway across the water. There will always be a roadway. There will always be a future. There will always be some idea of a country. There will always be words. There will always be voices. There will always be towns connected together by pathways of hard dirt and small, broken rocks. Somewhere out in the bush beyond the town there are frozen voices crying out in the snowy forest. Somewhere in the cold brush there are bodies. Somewhere out there flesh is freezing in the biting wind from the mountain. Some mountain waters become ice. Some waterfalls freeze over. Some flesh carries the lingering scent of roses. Some flesh protrudes from the frozen mud. Some flesh becomes petrified. The bones in the earth will crust over the frost.
Empty Spaces is a book-length project that draws on the repetitive descriptions of landscape from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, a book that, as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz argues, played an important role in reinventing the colonial origins of North America. What started as a refusal of Cooper’s representation of land as terra nullius quickly moved past this point to become a project about rewriting land and reaffirming Indigenous presence. Each chapter break is a moment of reversal, a moment where I started writing back and through what I had already written, returning to the same landscapes, the same places, again and again. In the preceding excerpt taken from the fourth chapter, each sentence has been written over, written through, written beyond, at least three previous times. Writing in, around, and over Cooper’s descriptions of land, nature, and territory Empty Spaces rearticulates Indigenous presence. But it also asks what it means to be an urban Indigenous person, to have been severed from the land, or to have limited or no access to traditional territory (and also traditional knowledges). Empty Spaces, then, is also a project about imagining land through fiction — remaining in and reimagining a space that has been closed off and irreversibly altered.
Jordan Abel’s “Empty Spaces” is excerpted from Issue 3.45: Weather (Fall 2021). Order the issue or subscribe today to receive this issue plus two more delivered to your door.