Gary Reddin

Semantic Satiation

The repetition of a single word until it loses all meaning. This is what happens in my rituals. The reason why, after they break, my tongue feels heavy and wrong. As though it bears the weight of my sins.


Mother says doctors are for the sick of body, not the ill of mind. So we see Brother Calvin at the church downtown. There I taste real sickness, like mildew and burnt hair.


When a word gets stuck to my tongue it becomes a physical necessity. If I do not say it I will die. Brother Calvin places a gag in my mouth to shut me up. I cut into my own wrists with my fingernails until they bleed. He calls it a sign. The wounds of Christ. He puts a crown of brambles on my head and takes off my shirt.


Brother Calvin tells me that true rituals require bloodletting. When I cut my tongue the first time and the blood fills my mouth it calms my compulsion. I do not have to say the word. The second time I cut I do not have the same success.


I cut deeper the third time and am spared. But mother is there, and now I see a real doctor. The doctor tells me I am sick. Truly sick. I have inhaled the sickness of that place, the dark rooms, the old men, the blood, and the wound in my side. It is inside me. It was always inside me, but they put it there.


The doctor brings mother into her office, talks to her for hours, gives her some pamphlets. She does not understand mental illness. I do not either. I understand pain. There are bad pains and good pains.


I have pills now. The pills make my body sicker. I vomit and sleep less. When I lie in bed after taking my pills my ceiling grows teeth and crawls away. I visit Brother Calvin three times a week. I lose myself in the darkness of that place. I inhale willingly now. The smell has turned sweet, like honeysuckle.


Mother will never understand.


My ceiling understands, that’s why it leaves at night.

Ho am

I have written my holy scripture on the walls for them to read. The Words of Christ in Red. To write is to exchange blood for the wound of the word. The words are good pains

Oh ma

I try and ask them if I can go out. Time broke long ago. It is still there, like the background static at the end of a record, but I can’t hear it anymore. Now the days blend together in a crackling hiss that echoes in my head like the radiation of an x-ray, bouncing through my skull, scrambling my thoughts. When I open my mouth I stain the carpet. Blood wine on the bedroom floor. Mother faints. I don’t bother trying to catch her. True rituals require bloodletting.

Gary Reddin is a writer and journalist from Oklahoma. He is a current MFA candidate at Lindenwood University. His work has appeared in Stoneboat, The Windmill, Marathon Lit Review, and elsewhere.