HTML Backgorund Color

  About   /  Archive   /   Seasons   /  Print   /  Tenement   /  Shop


The Way of Florida

Russell Persson

The following are selections from The Way of Florida, a novel that follows the failed 16th century Narvaez Expedition to the Gulf of Mexico.

On the Island of MALHADO...

She lay dying there her back up against a tree and it was the only recline for leagues. She had ears still and they took in the silence and the sound the sun makes on the sand and the palm fingers up overhead the whisper they lend down and what a mote of animal arms were there. She’d been left there a grandmother is what I took from her story and her story was a line of gestures and the way her eyes moved about it. This is how these Indians put each other when they become old and unable to do much to gather roots or dig or haul the pieces of their houses taken apart to travel. It was all I could do then to lay by. There was a notion not letting me leave the woman, it was as if my body though wracked and taut as I’ve been and wanting for almost all its store even then the most of what I needed was to be with her in her what seemed there against a tree in shade or so her dying. There was a need I can not say for why it was but her there and her eyes looked up to between the sun and shade the palm fingers set down on the front of her inside her what must have been to her own insides the final beats of her walk among them all. It’s not able for a near soul to go and leave a body alone I’m sure of this and so I sat with her in sun and fingered shade and when her tough skin shuddered I too was with her in that and in her night stories I could gather what her daughter and sons and the sons of them did able at and who was held dearest to her it was clear the way her eyes went and her breathing told a story about her dearest one the girl who was young and was swept one night up into the moon river in full run and she was carried out to set the moon with it out to sea and her breathing and her back the way she held herself told a story of the others and of her own knotted past from what I could gather and in night her shudders and her silence was a story she doled out to me together we and the palm fingers and she leaned there and no other of her people went to her but instead it seemed already she was gone to them I was unable to see how.

She died by nature who it was to come leaving us without her. And our men have died up to now and death it has been a steady hand with us to now and duly measured we’ve all been guided near some death or so. So our nature is to walk and our nature is to keep by the sitting of an elder in her shudders and in turn to walk.


This casting of the no longer useful arms came to us Christians then as an equal law—it was told to us in no words the useful man has a post here and otherwise is there any reason we all feed you? And it was offered in no words that to be of use to them we should employ our powers to heal sick men and do this.

The young elders they did this healing by the blowing of the healer onto the ill and through this a cure is somehow sent over to the sick. When they came to us to enlist our powers in this healing art it was beyond us and we told them in words who had no truck inside what hearing they’d. Then our cost for this was that following days we had no food and food was kept from us and so we came to know the dire sides of what was laid out to choose and what each meant to us. So brought again to some brink of health ourselves no longer nourished but instead in further dwindle for the blowing on the sick we did not embrace. So held in turn again we ebb and blow healing to whomever needs it.


But it was our resist who brought to us an Indian man he stooped low to give us something and it was this. That it was not the man or the blowing breath to cure an illness but instead we do employ the tools of our world and if we claim to not know how to use them then one did not know what we claim at all. For the stone we use when heated and placed on the belly of an ill man will cure the man no matter who placed it there. And by using the seed pods of the biggest trees who shed seeds in a pointed ball who falls almost all year and so this seed ball is crushed apart and the lint of it is rubbed into the front arms of an ill man and it does not depend on the man who rubs the seeded lint it so becomes the healing of an ill man for the seed pod and the heated stone it all has a healing built into it from the fact of it itself. And so do not believe that you’re unable to cure men for it is not your own tell but instead the tell of what is found in the stone and in seeds who send us into the goodness we live us for. And so the Indian man no longer stooped and walked from us as if he was a chart himself on how we might. His back to us and his skin away from us with each step we left and it was further shaded in how these Indians came to value things and for us we included this in our thinking and our hunger and our ancient habit to go on.


So up we took it and studied the methods they had with them and also built onto those methods some of our own as if the hot stones and the seedpods and the blowing could be well augmented and we mixed in these fabricates. The Ave Maria and the Pater Noster was also canted with the blowing and these we trusted and held dear as the actual charms who did the work assigned.

When it was time for the ill to come to us we used our new hand in healing and with our own addendums we went about what the young elders would do but with cruder means for the crudeness of us was yet of the utmost and our nakedness held us far from what we believed to be the way some physician would carry himself to the ill but even so we counted or at least were robbed of health and seated by our own default and they came to us in their illnesses. They came to us with skin illness and with torn backs and they could not breathe and a sharp rock put itself into the foot of one boy up to the bone or it was an oyster shell or an elder came to us and he saw twice what should be seen and his thoughts were shotted through with pain whose day was always on. No matter what the downfall we could first blow upon them and then sing out the Ave Maria as best we could recall but we recited and we blew our healing breath or so upon them and if there was a grain of doubt we hauled out some Pater Noster and laid it there upon the pine needle floor or it was a sandy floor and our Lord God who looks down upon us in some way he so duly assisted us, yes?


And he came to us the tallest man they had and although they did not have a lord among them it was seen how this taller man was held to them. His tallness made him a rangy man and he moved like a spider in the cold. His head was stooped for it could only hang from where it was and his step was halted by the bending his legs had to do each step and he shifted to us his arms set to his sides the long arms hanged against him and like the praying bugs we’ve seen it has more angles than seem to be of his use and his front arms come up now to note something he’s said to us we bend us together to try to know his say. He leans he can not sit with us and so he leans against a closer tree and his hands at the ends of his spindles try to tell us of his illness. His hands shake against a will to keep them from doing so and so his command of himself is small and he has a reed who passes through his under lip and through his nipple in through a hole he’s made there is a reed there too and it is thick as two fingers and from his man is hanging one stone tied there with a fiber he must have twined up by hand his shaking hands they conveyed the story already told. We had seen this state in our own land ago and it was such that a man who was ill with this habit was sent to the monastery where he was sent to be cured by our Lord God but we knew that it was so the stricken man would be forgotten and out of our pouring thoughts about him and the news of his death when it came was taken in with a sweet bitterness for the day was dark and yet the day was a rock lifted off us all. And his spindle arms they rustle and his cripple tells us one thing but he finds he believes another and it is yet up to us to put our hands on him and cast out this tremor and lay him back into the men who pull oysters from the sea and dig roots and haul houses to the next. Fuck us all for what we’re in I tell the sun who sets on us then. What good is possible from our simple Ave Maria and from the borrowed acts we’ve seen done by the young Indian elders we now use to send hope in some direction near to them? He leans there his tree a solid pole he counts on. His eye is not as much to ask of us a cure but it is to tell us only of his state and that it is so and nothing else. Some pact is written then? We guess as always. To spell out what comes is nothing we could even tend to now. And so the ground between us is ready for us each but we both hold us where we are and allow an unknown judge to decide or allow olden habits to intrude on us there and so the habits or judges or it is our Lord who decides the stillness of the day is not done yet and we remain to each other some message to be read.

SEPARATED & LENDED to the Mainland

Sunup. We convene among us all naked and setted to the day. The rhythm of them. Of us. A conference, and some are decided.

The Indians and Andrés Dorantes and Alonso del Castillo and the rest of the Christians who were living they all prepared to go and it was unknown to where and they set off and were gone. But I alone was lended to the Indians who spoke and went on in their own manner and they brought me to the mainland with them.

It is there on the mainland with my Indians that I fell ill into a depth I have not known and so death was close to me and death did not have much to cross to reach me and I did not have one thing I could muster against this and so I was certain of the end of me. I was broke of any hope to be living soon.


The rest of them were on the island of Malhado. In my void it was Dorantes and Castillo and on the island they gathered all Christian men and there were fourteen Christian men. And so to continue us all in the way of Pánuco and to the town of Pánuco there, Dorantes and Castillo brought these Christian men back to the mainland and it was the belief that this collection of men was all who remained of our boats. Twelve men crossed back to the mainland for two of our Christians were too ill and unwell to trek and so these two men Jerónimo de Alaniz and Lope de Oviedo remained on the island of Malhado and Dorantes and Castillo and the rest crossed back to the mainland and they came to me where I was being held by my Indians.

My illness was to me dire and this can not be mapped enough how close death came to me then and I held little hope to convince an else. I was laid there in sticks and sand they mounded to my sides in the way they set to care for ill men and my days were unknown to me. I had days then but I could not know how many or what was held inside the days for my Indians and I remained there cupped in that mounded sand and my water went out from me and the color of the sky was something other than what it must have been and painted for me there was a different day who resembled little of the day at hand and I pulled my skin over me to keep warm and it was told to me that I drank water when it was not so much brought to me as left there in absence.


Dorantes and Castillo came to me as such. They were the shapes of men but sizes ungoverned by reason so hands were giant and feet and heads with mouths were of a size no man could harbor and bended to the side they came to me and I could not move from my sand to greet these giants and my mouth was filled with itself. There must have been a piece to connect them all with what I knew for my heart recalls this mostly, my heart saw them as the men I came to be with for long and they returned to me as men I know. The mist around their odd shapes held up and they teetered with giant eyes and teeth and I could not wipe away the lens who rewrote their visit to me. So they told me I’m told they mean to set off in the direction of a river to continue along the coast and away and to bring me of course to go with them.

I must have done little more than drag an arm against my bunker there. My eyes did not look back I’m told to where the travel was noted. To where the men waited. I could have shifted or put out a leg from where it was to get signal to the men but what my tongue was doing in my head was meant to do that and that whole try was unseen and I could do little to alter the trade we all had. And so my sanded eye and my head rested there on twigs and my open mouth who went and kept on for the whole of it they took to be my unable to go with them and that I would soon be held by death and I would remain and they could set off to what river was ahead.

Then for what I could not recall even for some outline of what it might have been like at the time they were gone and away and my eye must have followed them for as long as it could have done and the big hands they held were setting off and my sanded mound was a cup I rested in to see them off.

The Year of CUT HANDS among these Indians

They had gone and I was too ill to follow. I was made to stay with my Indians for almost a year and in this year my illness sent some of itself away from me and I was again almost able and I waded in the shallows for the root we ate and in the rushes I waded when I was able and I pulled up what we needed to live and in this doing so it was my hands who came enfucked of it and cut up and raw to the next edge the next sharper blade I let myself do the next person’s bidding but it was my own skin who paid it off and to pay it I dug each day for the root and the rawness and baldness of these fingers I went down into the rushes and cut them deep and these were my early days with them.


So come to me and embrace this elegy—an elegy of lateness I’ve come accustomed to.

My año with the heathen my año with the men who scale their lines so distant from mine.

Drawn out the cutted hands. I’m seen of it, pulling up roots in rushes I head back to mats of reeds any soften of the land we’re on I welcome.

My Indians live on oyster midden piles laid out in stacks for what mounding I can still not ken. Above the what? As if a rise was good to fend some night pincer night tooth who would do harm. No way to know and I am too in need of food to know what’s better. Sunken. I’d make an oyster midden if I could.

It’s not possible to know I’ll be here for a year. Mine año among them. My body without cover and in the reeds who cut me open with the broken ends of them and edges as if honed to do well against a man.

To leave these Indians I can only plan as much as my awaken hours allow this. When unfed it becomes a longer tale of reaching that good health and so months continue and I go without food and I am sent to dig roots among those reeds and I can tell I am still on the teetered edge of to live or to be denied entry into my own body here on land. Days in need of mending health and calls to our Lord for a notion or some lifted hand or even the shape of a cloud to mean a sign I could take to then build into the way on.

Months ended without my finding any sign and passed into further days marked only by the angles of light and the tallness of the shadows laid down.


In a moment my bigness was guessed and my health was up to go at night and to leave these Indians so to bring my self further into the mainland and the woods and the Charruco Indians who trade with my Indians who hold me captive and live deep in the mainland woods. I setted off from my Indians. The full moon guided my step and I continued on in a night way along no path but in brambles and knotted ground. The light sand an almost guide to where, the moon a direction to keep along. I slept a low count in moments when to go on it wasn’t true. I laid in sand and some loudness a bug it could have been made the night awake and on I went to go further until I came upon the Charruco in a nearness and in dark and so I waited in my sand until the light to go to them. 

Russell PERSSON lives in Reno, Nevada. His fiction has appeared in The Quarterly and Unsaid Magazine. He is the 2014 recipient of Unsaid’s Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Award for Fiction in the Face of Adversity. His first novel, The Way of Florida, is published by Little Island Press and is available here.

Submissions     ︎      ︎

Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

Mailing List