Monday, 26 April 2010
Poem for the first snow
We move through today like water through the body's
pulp. How mute, how dreadful, how fantastic. All last night --
wind chimes. This morning is no light. Every year
I write this poem earlier. The men on the bus speak slow Spanish
and the sun is no one, a spoon of burning oil.
Some sun and seven children. Some scream running
from the swing set. They are like livestock, begging
witness at a breath’s length. These are unfamiliar
kids, small like novelty bicycles. I will never know
their language. They pretend to laugh at everything.
The clouds are busted things -- brass earrings
hanging over the babies. Their smiles
a sack of reeking peaches. Lucky horse,
he will not have them near. A kingdom of flash
for some light moving back and back and back again.
The Sportsman and His Sister
Maids learn but purse,
stand yet set. Music could among us,
oh. Our sister, shy nature, lost
her wicket. Give me your hand dear
so we hour together. My pianoforte
indulgence, an exercise as mistaken as
precaution. It accepts your invitation.
We delight improving dashwoods
with our blades, happiness in sixes. And now
mounted by mistake backwards, pleasant whatever.
These are still no dry folly, a thing stood rapid
on the hills seven years. Confined graceful building
trifling on grasses. They insist you releasee
xpenses, total cost for their song. Civility, vicinity,
graceful and all.
Improve, mention perhaps raising
a peculiar sentiment -- simplicity,
acceptance and so on. There is a reasonable appearance
to my companions, oh my, remarkable
they understood my invitation. A pursuit of the elderly
asks perhaps all to suffer.
This is rubbing alcohol and this is cotton gauze.
This is morphine sulfate and this the Wizard of Oz
paused so you can see up Dorothy's skirt.
This is sterile formula and this is loamy dirt.
Bury piles of one and take quick sips of the other.
Tell us where they buried your brother,
dig him up and write a short poem. He has a splinter
down to his thumb bone, bleed the wood out. Let winter
put her hands on you and you will be made well --
it's no mistake. Write your name where the blade fell.
Years stack up, worms dig the wound in circles
under penalty of bright light. We are colonels
cobbed between two trenches -- dope and distance.
This is the kitchen, the villanelle, like your mom's religion
and its insistence. One night, a bowl of pine nuts
fallsl in a comma shape, a giant's ringlet
or a sweeping fault. Your brain a shock of wood,
December birthdays, brick chimney and soot.
This is dream time, analog and plain spoken.
Call for a medic, a disaster, a chaplain --
tell them I am bright and shining.
Tell them not to fuss with kneeling.
Atlantic City Sonnet #1
Loosies, I got Loosies -- this (the street guy's whine)
cut through the crowd noise, a bell not ringing
but pointing out how soft the ocean's singing.
In the fifth line there's a turn, a first tide
dressing our wounds, salt water knows where to hide
and where to settle. Take this, ocean, a blessing --
I felt you dressing then undressing me. An earring
left unbuckled is a fish hook. We are allied
with fragments of the fossil record. This rain is stilled
up above the top stair. Look close for the tiny name
etched into the breadbasket of the sea.
And though the water stings, it is a throat trilled
sharp and flat. The burning is pain, same
as every other. Let the cut toe be.
Bio: W.F. Roby is a poet and freelance writer from Texas living in exile on the beach in New Jersey. His poems have appeared in magazines like 32 Poems, Stirring, and Yareah.
Sunday, 25 April 2010
She heard that when you dream of flying it means you’re having an orgasm. Liz couldn’t remember the last time she had sex, but when she woke with memories of skittering across skyscrapers she drew her lungs’ full capacity with her first yawn. She slid out of bed, glided down the hallway, and smiled at herself while she brushed her teeth. The high lasted past the end of her eight-hour gardening shift. She usually stared past the petals and didn’t notice the thorns until they’d torn her skin, but on the days when she’d dreamt about flying, the rose thorns never cut her. She waited patiently for the flying dreams. They came at random; she couldn’t predict when she’d wake with that permeating certainty of a day of held-open doors and smiles at strangers. She was content to wait for them to come.
Then, a long spell of no dreams at all. Sleep meant she closed her eyes and then a minute later opened them; only her clock proved she’d slept for eight hours. She lay immobilized, unable to choose which side to tumble out of bed. She scraped through the days at work, her eyes downcast and her fingers sluggish, and came home with hands full of blood.
Most of her managers pointed her in the direction of the first aid kit and let her put the bandaids on herself. But when Dennis saw her struggling with the sticky plasters he always helped.
“Happens to everyone,” he said as he pulled the covering off the adhesive and pressed it around her thumb.
Today he leaned over her shoulder. “Cut closer to the bottom,” he smiled. “They’re called long-stemmed roses, right?”
She looked up at his grin and considered her options. “It’s my brother’s birthday on Tuesday. We’re going to the Emerald Garden with my mother. Would you like to come?” She stared at the flower in her hand and clamped the sheers around the base.
“Oh, no…Tuesday, did you say?” At this her finger grazed a thorn but slid past it to the harmless stem of the rose. “I…no, I’m sorry I’ve got this... wait, maybe…” He raised his eyes and scrunched his nose and looked over her left shoulder for a reason to cancel his plans. “Yes?” his voice broke as if he changed his mind in the middle of the syllable. “Yes, I can cancel this other…thing. Yeah. Yes.”
“Great. Dinner’s at seven thirty. It’s easier if I meet you there, I think. So I’ll see you then.” She turned back to her work and willed him to go away.
Their chairs curved around in a circle as they watched her brother spin the revolving dish in the middle of the table, the chow mein and beef and broccoli and sweet and sour pork clicking past.
“Elizabeth,” her mother turned to her. “How’s the new job treating you?” She had let most of the disdain seep out of her voice over the past few years, and now Liz almost enjoyed an evening in her company.
She held up her bandaged hands, “I’ve had better weeks,” she smiled.
“And Dennis. How long have you been with company?”
“About six and a half years, ma’am.” He sat to Liz’s right but he didn’t try to put his hand on her knee.
“Elizabeth hasn’t had a job for longer than six months, have you dear.” It was not a question.
“But it looks like she’ll stick around this one for awhile now, eh?” She smiled at Dennis.
Liz speared a dumpling.
Her mother stopped fighting with her chopsticks. “Elizabeth…?”
Liz met her mother’s eyes. “Yes, I hope so.” LIke a girl bragging about her report card. “I do love working with flowers.”
Her mother nodded, satisfied with the enthusiasm.
Liz kept looking over at her brother, hoping he’d glance towards the bathroom or the waitress or something so he’d see her looking for his gaze, but he continued to face down at his plate or turned to whoever spoke, nodding in assent even if he didn’t agree.
Her mother turned to her brother. “And we’re not only celebrating your birthday, but your new position, aren’t we?”
“A toast! To new beginnings!” her mother held up her glass and tucked her chin down, starring in an advertisement of how to bring happiness to your family. For the rest of the dinner, she touched her son’s arm often and asked him questions that ended in “Isn’t that right?”
Dennis dropped Liz off at home. “I hope that was okay,” Liz said.
He nodded, “Oh, yeah, for sure. It was great to meet your family.” He tapped the steering wheel in an undefined rhythm. “This was great. I had a really great time.” He turned his shoulders towards her.
She didn’t wait for him to unbuckle his seatbelt. She pulled the handle on the door, shut it behind her, and then turned and said, “I liked it, too. Thanks for putting up with them.” She stalked up the walk and let herself in, waving over her shoulder but not turning to say goodbye.
The next morning she woke in ecstasy. Not only for the flying, but for the return of her dreams altogether. She replayed what she remembered. She stood at the kitchen sink and scrubbed at a pot caked with macaroni and cheese, but the steel wool scraped not a noodle away, so she threw the pot out the window, where it hovered in mid-air. She decided to fetch it and leapt out past the curtains, plummeted seven stories and then stopped, the air holding her with its resistance. She recalled the first time she splashed into the ocean at the beach when she was six years old. Her father supported her back as she bobbed. When she asked him to take his hand away he told her he already had. Panic, and then the knowledge that the water held her up, not any one wave or current, but the entire sea. She put her head back and floated away.
“I had a really great time last night,” he announced as she trimmed the tulips.
“Yeah.” She bowed her head and cut six stems while he supervised. She replayed the dishes in her head, the order she’d ordered them. Dennis interrupted her. “I should really get back to work.”
“Oh, okay,” she looked up at his right ear instead of his eyes.
That night she ordered chow mein and beef and broccoli from a crumpled pamphlet she found stuffed in her mailbox. The morning found her in bed with a weight on her chest she barely pushed off in time for work.
The next night on the way home she bought some instant rice and a package of do-it-yourself sweet and sour pork. She went to bed immediately after finishing dinner, full of MSG. When she pried her eyes open her shoulders tensed and she sucked in her breath as if through a straw.
“So, what are you up to tonight?” he asked on the Friday.
The shears lay in her palm, the spring open and ready. She pictured yet another evening of soggy lemon chicken and over cooked noodles and sighed. “I don’t know,” she shrugged. “I don’t really have any plans.”
“How about pizza and a movie?” he smiled. “It can be our official first date.”
She looked up and remembered him passing her a dish of deep fried pieces of dough and asking, “Chicken ball?” She almost laughed but caught herself. The corner of his mouth turned upwards in expectation, ready to twist into a shrug if she said no. She wondered if it was him.
After the pizza she waited in the theatre with her coat draped over the seat beside her. Each person who walked down the aisle stared at the coat, as if accusing her of pretending to wait for someone. When he arrived with two soft drinks and a box of popcorn, she looked around to see if anyone who’d glared at her noticed.
The movie ended and he pushed the popcorn box under his seat. After he’d walked up the aisle, she bent down to retrieve it, pressing it into the garbage as they left the theatre.
“They pay people to do that, you know,” he chuckled as he touched her elbow.
“That doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the gesture.” She moved her elbow to open her bag to pretend to look for something she didn’t find after all.
She let him walk her to the door and she stood on tiptoes while she grabbed her arms around his neck. But she let gravity drag her back to earth before his lips touched her cheek. All she wanted was her bed.
But she awoke on Saturday with a line drawn through the night, a thick marker pen slashed over the hours. She barely remembered sleeping, let alone any dreams.
The weekend consisted of unringing telephones and defrosting the freezer. If she had a cat she would have scratched it behind its ears.
On Monday she marked the hours by the cuts on her fingers until lunch came and she huddled under the plastic bubble tent where new seedlings germinated.
“Mind if I join you?” Dennis lifted up the tarp and peered at her, brown bag in hand. Liz folded the Chinese menu and tucked it underneath her before he could see it, and he sat down beside her without waiting for an answer. He pulled the aluminum covering back, and offered her the container.
She was on her couch, in her apartment, but she wore the dress from her ninth birthday party. Her body was nine years old, too, but she held twenty-seven years of memories. She stood up, took a running start, and lifted upwards, as if trying to make it over a particularly large rain puddle. And there she hovered, white stockinged feet pedaled the air slowly, Disney’s Alice held up by her full taffeta skirt. She danced slowly around the room and then pushed her arms behind her, jutted her chin forward, and sailed out the window. The breeze rushed, the ground rolled beneath her, the clouds puffed along. All this she appreciated. But all secondary to the absence of dread in the pit of her abdomen.
After their picnic Dennis struck up conversations daily. He brought her pork dumplings or fortune cookies, and Liz suspected he believed they shared an understanding. Liz didn’t mind as long as the dreams distracted her, and soon the cuts on her hands almost healed.
Then one Thursday Dennis called in sick, and that night she dreamt of swimming in a black pool with a half-sister she didn’t have in a bathing suit she never owned. He was gone the following day as well. Her grade twelve math class trapped in a cathedral with Charlton Heston as the priest, or professor, or whatever.
On Sunday morning she recalled only a trek across a desert to a cave carved into a mountain face like the ones in pictures of Turkey. Monday morning gave her a cowboy for a father and a home on a ranch where flowers grew in a plot alongside the farmhouse but no one understood how they flourished when the crops kept dying.
Her fingers ached, so when Dennis reappeared to ask her to dinner she accepted. He would pick her up at seven o’clock and she could chose the restaurant. She made a reservation at Emerald Garden for seven-fifteen.
He was a nice man, she conceded. As he spoke, she checked off the list of characteristics she had compiled over the years from listening to other women talk about the articles they read in Cosmopolitan. Taller than her, lopsided smile (something about psychopaths having symmetrical faces), not a nail-biter, clean-shaven, intuitive (he picked up on the Chinese food thing), pursuant. And so when he pulled up the emergency break in front of her apartment building she invited him in for coffee.
That night she stood on a beach in a gauzy robe outfit with layers of taffeta, chiffon, and crinoline. Wrapped in a cloud. She ran along the sand before she leapt and sailed out over the ocean, her arms stretched out as the robe flowed behind them.
When she awoke she made coffee and sat at her breakfast table until he sauntered into the kitchen, reached his arm behind her shoulder, and swung around to kiss her. She barely lifted her head to meet him. Last night she went through the collection of sounds and hip movements compiled from sex scenes in movies that she’d rehearsed over the years. Rehearsed, not faked, she reminded herself to prevent the guilt from advancing any further. And he’d responded. It was about time to have someone around and here he was. He would make her mother happy, and he would keep her in Emerald Garden Chinese food for the duration.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” Dennis asked as he poured himself a cup.
She balked. “Uhhh…working?”
He smacked his lips after he swallowed. “Yeah. After.”
She recovered. “Oh, I have this thing, it’s…yeah, not tomorrow. Sorry.”
“Thursday, then.” It was not a question.
With only one day sans Dennis, she opted for microwave pizza and fell asleep alone, and she dreamt she stayed in a hotel room with twin beds as she waited to go on trial for witchcraft. So the next evening she let Dennis take her for dim sum before she invited him up. She flew over New York City all night.
Bio: Andrea L Campbell will be honest with you. A Buddhist who writes stories and practices yoga while waitressing on the side, she thinks if everyone meditated at least once a week the world would be a better place. She wants to remind you about the times you've forgotten, the things you wanted to write down but forgot to bring a pen. Read on to remember.
Friday, 23 April 2010
Tuesday, 20 April 2010
—You should all be killed.
Jane Doe #14
The moon, coming in, was silver and flinching constantly against the movements of the water. The train, too, had shuddered away from the waves as it ran by, his reflection still and stoic and barely reflected there in the window beside him, lit by the end of a cigar, gasps of bright orange that came with each breathe and faded away slowly with the passing of each breath.
Not that he had noticed, eyes closed. Eyes swaddled in dripping ointments, viscous and slightly greenish, even in the ebbing orange light; medicine and moisture, analgesic, amniotic, bitter smelling and slightly cool. The syrup ran down his cheeks, and he had refused to wipe it, even though he felt it with every nerve.
He refused to wear his hat inside. Even inside a train, even in a locked compartment by himself.
Now the stainless steel walls of the room just hummed with inhuman constancy, the flicker of florescent lights too quick and too subtle to be perceived by human eyes. His eyes were still closed. Necessarily now, the room so unbearably bright the surgeon and his nurse wore thick nearly opaque glasses, round lenses with little glass shields running back toward the ears to shield the eyes from any peripheral light. They were welders’ glasses.
Two days earlier he had boarded the train under an assumed name, traveling north to throw anyone bored enough to care off his scent, he had gone from Pasadena all the way to Klamath Falls, Oregon before exiting, purchasing another ticket under another assumed name, and making this dreamy little run for the border.
The train would stop again in Pasadena, of course, on its way down the coast, but few other places, Sacramento, Tijuana, certain few unnamed outposts deep in the desert demarked by single fading streetlights and heavy military presences, pushing through the countryside day and night in unremitting silence, unremittingly steadily, a world unto itself, bracketed against the night by armor plating that may or may not have been vestigial, blanketed always in darkness, without headlight or signal of any kind. In a previous life it had scoured northern Mongolia, complete with staterooms, dining cars, an abbreviated pool hall, a post office, a schoolroom, and a torture chamber, carrying revolutionary Whites across the emptiness, fleeing and returning, marauding, dying, long after the revolution had ended and been lost, encased in a constant moving siege. There had been a funeral car, complete with a small trebuchet that sent bodies out into the night, the intention being to keep the train sanitary and the tracks clear. Perhaps it was meant to dispel any ghosts that might seek to lay claim to this endless earthly limbo. If so it had likely failed.
The man, let’s call him “John Wayne” had felt the presence of someone else in the car intermittently throughout the southward journey, always, of course, unable to see, unwilling to speak, his recent habit of stroking the soft weak skin beneath his eyes even more recently broken by the therapeutic goo he’d been assigned. He drifted in and out of sleep constantly, silent, blind, forced into something approaching meditation. Something, maybe slivers of wind generated inside the train, crept in through the seams in the door, brushing against his knees, jolting him awake, or more thoroughly awake, or else marking the passage into sleep. It became harder to guess.
So had death been insinuating itself into his body. Slowly slowly here and there, imperceptible weakening in the arms, across the chest, the slow descent of a healthy girding of belly fat into a drooping pocked rope of entropy against his belt, the increasing permanence of the wrinkles that arise when one glares purposefully toward the sunset, the sunrise, the vast distant horizon, their increasing depth, the slow spreading of pain from nowhere into the feet, the knees, the back for no reason; all this slow enough to be unnoticeable, but punctuated with startling slaps of realization, tolling clocks as he moved from the wild young outlaw to the conservative lawman to the haggard old wiseman, from the wildcat aviator to the sergeant in command to the retired general with moral misgivings.
Beneath his eyes, soft, thin, pink as silk, the skin compiled itself. Wisdom or suffering (if those are two different things) compiling itself there. Nothing but visible in 70mm Technicolor. Used for dramatic effect in his last film, suggesting, there where it lay, stark contrast with the piercing pale blue eyes, that Ferdinand was already dead, really, from the outset, long before the limo, before the wrong turn, before the shots were fired and sunk into him where he sat clutching the ornately prosthetic leg of his much younger wife, whose endless wigs and metallic contact lenses and of course those art directed legs could only barely approach what “John” had already really become in life.
She had offered to come with him, the Ingénue. To bring her costumes and masks and silk scarves &c. and make a weekend of it, to sit on the beach as he recovered and to drift, drinking, into her own slight remove from actual flesh.
He’d said no, of course.
Coming off the train into the village was jarring beyond all reason, the sunlight, the emptiness, the whistling birds and ragged soccer balls, the first time he’d opened his eyes in 33 hours and met immediately with all the garish colors of the desert, azure and saffron and cinnamon, woven into rugs and plastered onto adobe and cast carelessly all across the landscape. Distant children’s shouts in chirping Spanish. He blinked constantly, he squinted against the light, and looked at the world through swooping interlocking eyelashes, a net of golden sunlight, blinding as anything else.
The doctor’s office was a pink adobe mission-style clearly freshly painted but already flaking in the heat and aridity. Much more of a house than anything official, the way the first atom bomb was assembled in a two room ranch house in the middle of the desert, more suited to mending saddles than tearing the world in two. “Wayne” considered this to himself and felt better for it, for whatever reason. It would be another day before he went there, but it had met him at the train. Another adoring fan, he smiled. Another ingénue fresh in from the country.
His driver, who introduced himself subtly and seemed disappointed when “Wayne” deemed the secret handshake they’d arranged for unnecessary, spoke with a slight and difficult-to-place eastern European accent and drove like a maniac to the hotel outside of town. “Overlook the sea,” the man said, meaning the hotel did. “Restful.” “Wayne” softly stroked the skin beneath his right eye with a smooth and soft right fingertip.
That night he soaked his face in scalding water in the hotel sink, a towel draped over his head, steam very slowly filling the room. After half an hour he shaved, dragging the straight razor upward from his jaw toward his eyes. Clouds outside across the moon. The glazed clay tiles of the bathroom slowly absorbed the spilled water. He slowly shaved his neck. He lifted his nose with two pinching fingers of his left hand and tilted his head backward to shave his mustache, as if he had learned from cartoons and not from his father.
It was, undeniably, an effeminate move. One never called for in any script, one no one had ever told him would have betrayed him to real cowboys for what he was, a Connecticut Yankee. A child of privilege. As the voice had before he destroyed it and replaced it with another, some faux-Texan caricature of talk. The pantomime of silent-movie actors pouring out of his mouth, down from his horse, some centaur, some Coronado.
Though of course these days he’d play Montezuma, the stately noble savage, laudable now, unthreatening now.
There was an impulse to drag the razor across his cheek, to cut some pristinely straight line contrary to the organically wavering ones running downward. There always was. He wiped the razor and put it away. Tilted his head side to side, searching for blood, but there was none.
Behind the front door of the office the lights were blinding. He could hear his chauffeur grinding the gravel undertire as he sped away. The woman, nurse and secretary, stood to greet him, walking awkwardly around the steel kiosk and toward him. The unflinching white linoleum floor. She seemed taller standing than she should have. The seatless lobby gave way to a winding hallway, walls covered with thick and soundproof layers of iridescent white plastic. A stainless steel door. The operating room entirely stainless steel. The operating table more of a chair, more of the frame of a chair, a reified blueprint of a hypothetical future chair. “John” sat down and gas filled his lungs. He counted backward from 54, his age. At 48 he was overtaken and disappeared from himself.
There had been a night, younger, when he had slept as soundly. Outside, tucked into a clearing in a forest, a little creek pulsing past just audible in the distance. His first camping trip. The silence and novelty of it all had kept him up far past his normal bed time, and by the time he was slowly drifting into sleep he was exhausted. His dreams had come up and coaxed him down to them, beginning long before consciousness truly abandoned him, mixing with the sounds of the trees in the wind, the creek, the crickets, reinterpreting them and spinning them into different worlds. He had slept then deeply and perfectly, one of the rare nights in his life that he had slept through the night without waking for one reason or the other or for no reason at all, roused by some inexplicable concern for the night around him. When he woke in the morning the woods had disappeared, the sky, the earth, everything around him had turned to cloud and his first thought, once the shock and confusion had begun to cohere into legible thoughts, was that he had died in the night and been whisked away to a cartoon heaven, sleeping bag and all. He laid perfectly still then, awaiting angels or some better explanation, though none came. The sound of the creek came, distant and ghostly. He laid perfectly still and deep in thought. He was something like ten years old.
As the groundfog burned off darknesses appeared and slowly resolved into pine trees and aspen, the general ephemeral haze into a rising sun, the eternal light into the naked world. And it was preferable. And if he became a cartoon of the west it was because he had found the grandeur of reality there as a child, watching the real overwhelm and replace and surpass the imaginary, watched existence begin at his fingertips and spread out to the campsite, the clearing, the creek, the mountainside and the endless endless sprawling plains beyond it; an authentic majesty. If he had sought to be larger than life it was only because life was too large, really, to comprehend anything smaller.
The operation began simply. A small incision in the back of the left hand. Blood there was diverted first through a hollowed length of bone, the ulna of a hawk, drilled to form a small and perfect tube, then into a length of transparent tube that ushered it up along the arm, the neck, catching the endless light of the room and seeming to transfuse the unconscious body with it. At the base of the jaw, near the ear, the tube split into 117 separate, smaller tubes, one for each of the miniscule capillaries that coursed through the left eyelid. Delicately, intricately, each capillary was opened and fused with one of the tubes, maintaining blood flow through the delicate skin. The capillary was then opened on the opposite side of the eye, below the tear duct, and the blood, stripped of its oxygen, allowed to drain out there. This was repeated 116 times.
As the doctor rested, eyes closed, head back, nurse massaging his palms, thick dark blood ran down “John’s” cheek.
The same was done for the right eyelid, and by the end of the procedure any evidence of life had been removed from the perimeters of the man’s eyes. It had taken eleven hours.
For reasons no one can know, or perhaps even no reason at all, subsequent to the operation, there had been nothing to do but to remove the man’s legs from the knee down. Light reflected off the doctor’s lab coat, leather and deep red, his thin surgical gloves replaced now by thicker rubber gloves, as sterile and white as the sands that blow across the desert. Tendons and ligaments were cut, popping loudly, trees giving way to the weight of accumulating ice. Blood poured out of the man and ran down the slant of the steel floor into the drain that ran along the entire length of the opposite wall, collected there for other purposes.
Once everything was cauterized the lower legs were replaced with scimitars that caught the light in graceful curves, carrying it down their length and to the earth, the way the jagged course of least resistance ferries lightning home.
The next day he was released from the hospital and placed in the limousine, a nurse beneath each shoulder, bearing his weight, patiently waiting for him to learn to walk again. The driver greeted him casually, “Hola, Comrade,” and so forth.
They talked on the way back to the resort, not always entirely sensibly, “John” still managing the aftershocks of the anesthetics. A small explosion went off not far away, chthonic insurgents, “Nothing to worry over them,” he was informed. “Not anymore.”
Bio: Phillip Grayson lives and writes in Kosienice, Poland, where he has meagerly survived for the last few years, pining away and telling stories to himself to pass the time.
Monday, 19 April 2010
The radio was on, blaring, preaching hell awake, some manic AM frequency with a roaring white-noise buzz of righteous anger, screamed lamentations. Down the driver’s side door, trailing back toward the rear of car, terminating with the rear wheel-well, was a thick irregular stream of vomit.
To the right a massive copper replication of Durer’s Praying Hands had resolved itself into mottled focus on the lawn of the Institution, appointed with little points of polychromatic light, reflections of the neon and streetlights that surrounded it. Praying for someone to dig the rest of him out of the ground, of course. This poor penitent colossus, this poor, insufficiently cannibalistic titan.
Underground passages there ran up to but never touched his body, little just-failed mines, little tantalizing punishments, little bunkers that could secret the City Fathers away there in safety, sheltered by him and by the earth that had swallowed him so long ago.
And oh, the City Fathers would not be any too happy to hear about this whole midnight joyride, this gallivanting escapade he’d decided to embark on, stolen car and all (his having been taken from him as punishment for insane driving), and even if they could get over the youth of his youthful companion and the gaudiness of her eyes, what would they say about the salamanders that filled the backseat, what would they say about the slogan spray-painted onto the hood of the machine, if they ever found out about any of it.
He executed a right turn through a red light steering with his knees while loading a bowl of marijuana into a small glass pipe all at about 23 miles per hour.
The girl was asleep, he’d say passed out, but she’d had the foresight to remove her shoes upon entering the car, and thus become immune to that accusation and the elaborate sharpie-drawn beard/mustache/forehead slogan he’d hoped and planned to execute, though whether this had been her plan all along or if she’d just been deferential to his Asian heritage or if they’d just happened to fall off in the midst of all her writhing and complaining it was hard to say or remember just now, if it had ever been clear at all.
“My third funeral in three weeks,” she’d said earlier, “was earlier,” teenaged girls this year having decided on getting kaput in big trendy groups rather than getting pregnant, for better or worse. “I’m so sorry to keep bothering you,” she kept saying, lingeringly touching his arm conciliatorily, constantly.
It was Wednesday.
II. The Rational Human Body Perfected
When Kim was thirteen she was visited by angels on seventeen occasions, each one disguised as an undesirable, from the reeking bum with the cyan aura who’d whispered in her ear one day, his rough and viscous tongue just slightly brushing her earlobe as he did, the smell of his hand on her shoulder overwhelming, that the time was at hand and she needed to open her ears and listen, to the insane, openly menstruating woman on the subway who’d explained to her in great detail that the geography of the world, the lines and structures there, was a script and scripture on a grand and gorgeous scale, not a map so much as a text, the DNA of something more massive and lasting than anyone would like to admit.
She’d become pregnant shortly after that, through a parthenogenesis that she considered divine and that no one was ready to argue with too much subsequent to the discovery of an intact hymen and prior to whatever else might happen, just to stay on the safe side.
Unfortunately, in the course of a final round of tests administered by the City Fathers to determine the authenticity and final interpretation of her malady she was thoroughly examined by a secularly-licensed OB GYN who found that she was pregnant only in the hysterical sense, and had somehow managed to will her body into concocting every evidence of a new life save one (that being the body to hold it, alas).
Distraught, she had sat in her mother’s car in her mother’s garage that night, in the passenger’s seat, cleaned up and shaved, arms legs and head and all, with the engine running until she’d passed out, died, expelled an unholy afterbirth of bile and intestinal distress all over the floorboards and removable transparent plastic mats there, and, presumably, given off such a psychic burst of pain or exultation upon passing that her father had been awakened, perceived the sound of the car running over the loud but intermittent sound of the house settling, and extracted her from the garage, slapping her face and forcing sparkling fresh air down into her lungs until she was revived and taken to the hospital.
The angels persisted, less insistent now, though, as though they’d learned something of their lesson from the near-tragedy. Now they just harmlessly quoted bible verses, rehashing the old favorites, careful not to do anything too avant garde or boundary-pushing, for fear it might once again induce in this precocious child the desire to overstep the limits of the traditional body/soul.
Also kindly, they’d visited her in her hospital bed, where she could hear the mountain lion in the distance, crying out desperately for her cub, which had been struck and killed by a car the week prior, an endless, deeply human voice, deeply sad.
III. Life is Just
Small traces of scoring on ancient bones. This is what counts as evidence of cannibalism amongst the earliest (or second-earliest) people of the American southwest. Finding it is what counts as a distinguishing even in the career of an anthropologist, and taking large amounts of money from anonymous casino bigwigs to never mention the fact counts as one of the many ways to get rich and not care one way or the other about academic distinction simultaneously.
Thus it was that his father had come into some money. Good investments (including playing his cards right with a few influential City Fathers and just plain playing his cards right (at those casinos where he always for some reason got comped a room and set up with some starting-out chips)) stretched this modest fortune into a legitimate one, and by the time his bouncing baby boy was ready to get out and take on the world there was no need at all for him to really bother doing that.
The old man, still fancying himself something of an intellectual, didn’t mind leaving the boy to the life of the mind, nor, when he died, leaving the boy enough money to waste the rest of his life with.
But bookishness, if it ever does induce intelligence, also pushes one back from the corporeal reality of the world. Things become abstracted and in a sense dead, and the most aloof and wordy of souls are often those who are most immoral, or amoral, if you’d like, with any authenticity of consequence having been forced back into the realm of theory.
So it was that after a hard day’s reading he liked to go out and go a little bit crazy, this boy, starting out around 2:00pm at the track, mint julep in hand, snappy hat on head, rooting on whatever horse’s name he happened to like the most that day. From there it was the bar, and from there the strip club, then on to one or the other of the debauched house parties that seemed to always be going on at one or another of his friend’s houses, or, most often, somehow, at his own, when he arrived back, intentionally or not.
He also, of course, drove fast and recklessly and crashed several cars.
The City Fathers, who had a lean on his house owing to several outstanding debts, had become de facto guardians at some point, and allowed him to live on in the manor they now owned, and to drive, from time to time, under strict supervision, one of the cars they now, also, of course, owned.
Just how this fit in with the disability checks they received on his behalf was unclear, since getting the checks required having him licensed as a certified registered car loon, a status the DSM-V classifies as a chronic, intermittent psychosis, centering around the operation and abuse of the automobile, whether this is expressed through violence, sexual deviance, or simple lack of regard for the rules and lives of god and man.
IV. Aurora Borealis
They met out back of the bestiary, he was walking slowly in the direction of downtown looking for a car to steal and she was sitting against the brick wall smoking a joint and waiting for someone to come by who would buy her alcohol so she could properly grieve this friend of hers, who most likely was real, even if there was a possibility that she was not dead at all, not in the world outside Our heroine’s mind.
It was 12 o’clock and raining and was cold enough for Christmas though it wasn’t even hardly Halloween, as they say. She was crying softly and he said to her, like it was a little factoid that he’d picked up somewhere in his wandering: “Jesus wept, too, y’know,” and jovially plucked her up and swung her over his shoulder, off to endless good times.
He’d found this car, an old-skool roadster, parked in the Long Term lot at the local landing strip and happily made off with it, still young then, still completely carefree, with this new girl on his arm, her gaudy eyes that kept wandering off into the distance, this new car, its plush leather interior, the salamanders that filled the backseat…
In a moment of inspiration it all became clear to him and he began to guide the car circuitously toward the abandoned amusement park. Built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground in the hopes that the sanctity of that land would protect the park goers in lieu of the owners having to buy costly insurance. For the longest time it had worked out.
Now it was a favored location for underage drinking and the sacrificing of small animals that so often goes along with it, little parodic versions of Satanist rites.
A kind, sensitive guardian, he steered her away from these temptations and together they laid waste to the bumper cars with “his” authentic, non-bumper car, sparks falling down across them from the steel wire brushes scraping viciously along the steel ceiling, and brakes peeled and things broke all around them. They held hands to celebrate their victory, and even though the top was down, its soft tan leather resting along the trunk behind them, they kissed for just a brief moment unafraid of being seen, watched anyway only by stray dogs that scavenged the park, and by the unblinking man in the moon, who must surely, in any event, have understood, and small sparks burned in the depths of her hair, embers exhausting themselves there in the tangles of her hair, where, if the moon saw them at all, he probably envied them more than the stars.
V. The Modern Pantheon
Safe at last, the pointed the car toward the overlooking mountains and drove up there, hoping that at such a great height they could get reception on the little hand-cranked television they’d found in a shop window.
It was an undeniably callous thing to do, when she held his arm, when she touched his leg, to start the car and drive away. But he’d done it anyway, leaving the amusement park to its own devices, leaving the girl, in all her sadness, to feel somewhat rejected too, but now, as he spun the tv to life, her face glowed in the light that swung rhythmically from bright to dim with the spinning of the crank, like a jack-in-the-box swinging back and forth on its spring, carrying its glee up close and then back away from you.
And as if drawn by the light or the murmuring noise, as the two of them sat facing each other in the car, he with the tv in his lap, she watching them, a little bubble of light in the midst of so much darkness, a little world unto themselves, the mermaids crept slowly closer, and silent, they watched, clinging together themselves, letting their arms rest along one another’s shoulders, letting each other recline into them gently, letting each other rest their heads in the hollows of their shoulders, stroking their hair where it shimmered in the television light, stroking their cheeks where they softly smiled, below, and softly, at length, beginning, in frequencies inaudible to human ears, to harmonize with the rhythmically louder and softer mumbling of the television, little love songs to one another and to themselves, and maybe to the kids in the car, too, who could not be comforted, but could be eulogized, or at least exposed, if unbeknownst to them, to some of the beauty that lingers at the very edges of this world.
And before his arm gave out he had started to laugh at the persistence of the Coyote, the singularity of his will, the shoddiness of the products he bought, when he could have been buying food. She had come close. Not laughing, exactly, but smiling with detached eyes, and when she reached out toward him she touched the screen, and not his leg, or even his fingertips that dangled so nearby.
He tossed the machine into the scrub brush and they drove back into town. She was drifting off to sleep, he began to eat pills, and vomited for a moment despite himself along the side of the car. He turned on the radio, he drank from his flask, he began to accelerate, he began to load a bowl, as if there are things you can’t even understand about yourself if they are divorced enough from everything else you’ve been and done.
VI. The Witch of Endor
“The problem lies not with a lack of faith,” the man was screaming. “It is the opposite of that. It is a surfeit of faith. Of misplaced faith. Of faith in the fleeting moment. The invisible. The hypothetical.”
He was screaming about the Witch of Endor. She was a ventriloquist, he believed, and spoke from her stomach, and convinced through these means several believers to no longer believe. Or rather, to believe in something else. Such is aural, he seemed to believe. “Moses couldn’t speak right,” he was careful to point out. “Eloquence is its own special kind of sinliness.”
And while the visible, the seen, is fit for belief, the incorporeality of the spoken word, its need to be remembered, to exist somehow untouched in a mind that seeks to do nothing but transform it into something more preferable, easier, the thing you wanted to hear in the first place, is the opposite. “Seeing is believing,” he screamed, exasperated, “but hearing is too, when it should not be, and it leads souls astray,” even though the whole vast universe is visible and seeks to prevent it.
The preacher moved effortlessly into a station identification and brief mention of sponsors. She stirred in her seat and he watched her for a moment, her halo, if she had one at all, no doubt worn with a roguish tilt, her closed eyes just small black grins above a constellation of freckles, above several wavering trails of mascara, the trails of desperate wounded tears that had bled out slowly down her face, pursued by bleeding hunter tears.
The City Fathers would not be happy about this at all.
He wasn’t even sure how he felt about it himself, tearing his eyes away from her, gripping the soft leather of the steering wheel furiously, the stitching in its underside smooth and substantial against his fingertips, thoroughly felt, the engine roaring up toward and away from the shifting of gears, the wind all around, the stirring of hair, the roar of the road beneath him.
Wild packs of dogs would pursue him for a while through the streets, baying and sprinting, until he accelerated away from them laughing, leaving them to amble back to wherever they’re from, dragging their shadows with them (the shadows that never quite seem to match, that never seem quite sufficiently inhuman.)
He was tired himself, as if he’d sprinted himself out, too. The car seemed incredibly dead just now, incredibly inorganic in its inexhaustibility, and for the first time anyone could think of, this seemed unappealing to him. Her hair stirred in the wind and he watched her, unable to live with himself. The preacher was screaming about waking up, and coming to Our senses, and discovering again what has always been and will always be real, but instead he was starting to fall asleep, and watching her sleep, and the car was starting to coast to a stop.
Sunday, 18 April 2010
With a Monster’s Architecture
I. The Protoevangelium
The baby was massive, even at birth, the size of something like 300,000 pixies, 400,000 without the wings. But then again, the wings, as we’ll see later on, were essential.
His mother didn’t lay claim to virginity, exactly. She was a bit too earthy for all that, but he was her first child, so maybe that counts for something. In any event she screamed like a fucking Banshee.
All the delivery room nurses had their ears filled with pitch to protect them, but the doctor responsible, one Dr Responsible, decided for reasons known only to him that he needed all six of his senses to successfully bring this child into the world.
Like some people jump in, the baby came out feet first, with a veiled face to boot. It was nighttime outside, but just barely, twinkling little baby stars just visible there in the milky dark blue sky. For what it’s worth, because he came out feet first, the first thing he saw in this world was his own shadow, inky and cold on the clinical floor. Six weeks of winter for sure.
Then for a while after that not much of interest went down.
II. Three Forms of First Thought
Her voice was something that couldn’t really be remembered. Each time it came again, it was shocking again. Had the texture of a Chinese opera or something. It was especially strange because in his mind, when he thought of her talking, she sounded like him, as if she'd opened up her mouth and made an echo chamber there. When he thought of her, she said the things he wanted to hear. When she spoke for herself, not so much so.
But all the same they were playing one day up on the roof. Each one wanted to be King of the Hill or bring the mountain to Muhammad or else just stomp a hole down into the Hall of the Mountain King, below. Or at least that's what his mother thought, seeing by some strange synaesthesia the pots lining her floor next rainstorm like potholes in a road, like hands cupped to receive ablution, multiplying there visible with each resounding stomp and fall up above.
If they took the game too seriously it was only because they were both a little bit spooky, these kids, and got spooky little twinges that ran throughout their chests each time they looked up at the nighttime sky, the moon setting, seeming to thrust the stars forward, closer to Earth and into a different realm of whiteness. They both believed in premonitions but neither one in any kind of things called god.
X's mother came out to yell at them from time to time, and they could rest assured that it wasn't going to be anything pleasant once they were back on solid ground, but the woman was afraid of heights, and couldn't bring herself to climb up onto the roof. This was one reason X was up on the roof so much, sorta hiding out, which itself was one reason for those rumors of flight we're going to address sooner or later, perhaps.
So in the meantime they were up there safe and sound. Laughing and squealing, carrying on like all manner of swine, before pearls and elsewhere both. Young love, y'know.
Both sets of hands clasped together, gripping each other as tight as they could, full facing one another, staring back each one into comically furrowed brows, curled lips, little kid parodies of some grand fury.
And her little eyes pierced through the air above small grey folds, syrupy and sallow excesses of skin, hanging there like wisdom or sadness, if those are two different things. For his part he bared his teeth, which were coming in tiny and crooked, little undulations along the top like he constantly sewed several things at once, spinning and measuring and cutting all by his lonesome, it would seem, coursing strings over his teeth.
For just a moment there occurred a kiss. Nothing coarse enough to move through the dirty atmosphere or bob the heads of little children. She wanted to kiss him and likewise and that was enough, a perfection never to be sullied by the crude atoms of the real world. Heavenly, you could even say.
Not that their scowls even changed.
But X did happen to step back a little and find one of the dents that had been pounded into the roof. Combined with the rough shingle, it was enough to give him some footing. Soon enough she was on the ground, the real ground, down below the roof, so far away, a premonition herself of the rain that would fall down through that dent, in time.
X is shocked at first, and descends almost noncommittally, feet-first, surprisingly slowly, compared to others who've fallen from roofs in the past.
"Weren't me, Mama," he says, hands clutched behind his back, one foot flat on the ground, one foot lifted, toe turning little circles in the dirt there, head bowed, big brown eyes looking up past brows in a state of pure innocence.
III. Thunder: Perfect Mind
Naturally he had brought her back to life. Her lips never were the deathly green of spring.
And look: The sun comes up. That part seems always to happen, no matter what else. It floods Our fair city, west to east, showing off, talking about, “Look at me and my heavenly fucking chariot, can’t I just transcend these mountains so easily,” as if its course, too, were not fixed. The streets are mainly dirt, don’t react that much to it, but the windows, man, the windows. Main Street especially is made of windows. Every store, café, morgue, they all have these big gleaming glass fronts, glazed to keep out the heat while showcasing the goodies within. When the sun comes up there you would swear the town was made of gold. It’s extraordinary. Shards and slivers of golden light get right into your eye.
And that’s notable. These mountains, they used to be made of gold, of silver, but now they’re only hollow. Boom, and wealth, and Barnum and Bailey’s anointing, all these things flowed down from the gaping silver mines in the south, the yawning gold mines of the north, tumbling and spilling money everywhere, leaving it to cover the ground and sink into it, planted like seeds that grew up in healthy children and happy retirements, and then, like plants, these things withered and died, taking with them the gold, the silver, the boom and the wealth and the circi. Now the town lay sprawled out like an unpatronized whore, dirt-road legs spread out and wrapped in every direction desperately around these mountains, the ones that used to love, and to pay, and now are only hollow.
And the tra la la sun goes on about its merry way, pouring out a drought that was allowing the desert to overwhelm starving grasses, allowing its wind to really roar from time to time, midsummer. Even some mornings the white sand is drifted against the western side of the house like an ineffectual snow.
It’s a hateful illusion, to wake, and see out the window a glistening whiteness like the promise of no school today, and snowballs and hot chocolate by the fire today, sliding across the crystallized grass and sledding down the ice-coated dirt road down toward town today, and then to have it taken away, replaced with the grit and grime of nothing but a mild and grim sandstorm, already long gone.
IV. The Discourse of the Eighth and Ninth
There was a rodeo west of town, some newly built arena amidst the white sands, made from the white sand, piled up and hardened and carved into bleachers and chutes and fences, resting confident there that no rain would ever come to wash them away. No, you can’t accuse God of not having a sense of humor, what with that ancient decision not to drown the world peacefully, the way runt puppies are disposed of, or children, when their mother kills them without malice, to save them, compassionately. Nope, none of that for us. It’s the starving ancient desert and slow smoldering withering away for this generation of evil men.
And it hasn’t rained in five years here.
So X went out to watch the inaugural rodeo there, which was to be an event, proceeds going to charity, honoring the memory of little cowboy who fell ill and died within a week, out of the blue, at age 14, suddenly, as if being spared something.
He traveled with his poor ol’ mom, who, you can imagine, was getting to have a pretty unique perspective on life thanks to the ongoing shenanigans of her only child, with his proclivity for flight and the delight he took in doing things like turning his friends into goats and back again the way most kids put their friends’ hands in warm water while they sleep. But of course water was short around these parts, so that much she appreciated.
And truth be told, for fourteen he wasn’t such a bad kid. He loved her and told her so and always helped out around the house, his father being God only knows where.
It was a shortish drive, maybe fifty miles out into the nothing, undertaken in the evening as the smug sun fell slowly ahead of them. Once there, good ol’ mom took her seat in the southern bleachers and X went off capering with a few of his buddies, two of whom were in the midst of making a huge production about how much they needed a cigarette.
“Oooh, I know,” they probably said, as if just thinking of it, “let’s prance off into the juniper forest adjacent and smoke there, safe from the oppressive eyes of the old.”
So there they went into the woods, little pilgrims, setting out at sunset to light fuses and let them burn all the way down into the cores of themselves, to there silently explode, with just a puff of smoke to exhale in evidence. The heart, just above the incineration, was the obvious target, some childish attempt to get it to rise from the ashes and be new again, paused as it was right on the cusp of starting to be old.
X passed, watched as she drew a long breath, just a little flutter of the throat betraying a newness to the practice. Otherwise she was film noir. She smoked from the middle of her lips, which seemed odd to him somehow. Unduly suggestive.
Her eyes, too, burned, dark and unblinking, reflecting the ember of her cigarette, and as she drew it down toward her mouth the spark receded and descended inside her eyes, in pursuit of what, he didn’t know. But boy was he curious.
“Is it true,” she was asking a boy, more tan, more worldly than him, “that if you put salt on the tail of a bird it can’t fly?” And “Oh yes,” he answered, boldly, authoritatively, loudly enough to drown out any accidental ignorance on the subject, “I’ve done it all kinds of times.”
A helicopter thumped across the sky above and took his attention, and he watched it, feet maybe even microscopically off the ground, as if by sympathetic magic, until it released an awkwardly discontinuous gush of water onto a leg of smoke he hadn’t seen until just that moment. Then he descended, but she was looking at someone else. There was a boy there who was her boyfriend, after all.
But he noticed, all the while, that while her caprices chased phantoms of conversation in every direction, flirtatiously and avidly, as if dissatisfied with the amount of life that could be absorbed at any given moment, her hips stayed always angled at him. And when she looked at X, long languid draughts from the cigarette, by the trick of perception that Gypsies use to see the future, he could watch the red smolder in her eyes move as she inhaled, not inwardly this time, but towards him, a probing glowing finger. J’accuse, indeed.
It wasn’t until her hand was in his pocket that he understood it even a little. “It’s a woman’s prerogative to always change her mind.” He was not accustomed to being surveyed without malice. “J’adore,” she whispered, little globules and ellipses of light tracing rich three-dimensional lines up through the dust at angles from the hay on the floor to the holes formed by outed knots and the separations where two ancient warps in the plank walls diverged.
“Do you know what women taste like?” she asked him, jostling one hand inside his empty front pocket, vaguely downward. He looked at her, the blankness on his face perfectly honest. “I mean really,” she said, bringing the other hand to his lips. He closed his eyes as her forefinger parted his lips, and the middle finger his teeth, and the middle finger petted his tongue, which he wrapped around it, eyes closed, deep deep breaths through the nose. It was odd. Undeniable organic, and he opened his eyes to explain.
There on the hay, hair haloed out around her face in a nearly perfect circle, perfection thwarted only by flame-like spires of hair that radiated out in soft, tapering arcs, hay askew around them, she laid, eyes barely cracked open, mouth the same, with a spider, unnoticed, wending its way along her top lip.
The dusty road stretches out.
The sun sets along its shoulder,
fading light, vaguely yellow, vaguely
necrotic, and inside the few windows tvs glow and shudder,
watched or at least listened to,
but the streets are empty of people.
The wind is blowing only softly now,
and mostly silently, just barely
moseying up and down the road,
disinterested in the small tragedies unfolding everywhere.
And of course the bees
will die too now soon enough.
Their stingers detached,
of course they’ll suffer
their way down into death
and crowd the dusty road
with curling, already blackening corpses.
But first they will fight and rage and swarm,
attacking even with impotent abdomens,
unthinking, until they lose their strength,
the thin and matted hair of the small dog finally insufficient defense
against them. The puppy, wailing and choking,
bees filling its throat, its nose, its lungs,
bees dead in its coat,
caught and thrashing in its coat,
mercilessly stabbing into its ears,
its crotch, the soft skin where its legs meet its body,
until it succumbs.
V. The Mother of Books
His mother was looking for him. A cowboy had been thrown, then stomped, then killed by a bull, and it had alerted her instincts. Either it was that or the other cowboy who’d killed the bull, pistol straight between the eyes. That or else the bull.
She missed her boy and went calling for him, out into the woods. A reporter had died the day before, presumably. Never found after having chased firemen out into the woods and the fire. This, though, was only according to the kid who’d grounded so many pigeons with salt. “John the Baptist came first, and made the way,” the girl had said earlier. If We’re speaking of things that were said. “Maybe you can be like that for me, for the man that I’m meant to be with in the future,” she’d said, and X blinked a few times quickly, then walked out and into the woods, back toward the arena, he thought.
His mother was looking for him. The bull lay dead and barely bleeding on the ground of the arena, antagonistic to the commotion all around him, serene, seeming, even, almost Hindu, with a slowly leaking bindi. The cowboy was destroyed, faceless, already in passage toward Succor, the hospital there. The fires seemed far away.
Everything seemed far away, really.
There was a small grove of trees, maybe seven or eight trees nearby, where there used to be a series of beehives, and even from far away there was a buzz, a swell of sound, the sound maybe of the massive silver spheres that spin the world, and it was once said that the grove hid a hole, and inside were the hidden mechanics of everything, the secret logic of this crazy world. But now it's silent there. Every bee has disappeared.
Before, the mountains here were silver, but now they're only hollow, only filled, if they're ever filled, with the rainwater that floods the veins at night, and looks silver in the moonlight.
Though maybe the jaggedness is one of time, more than anything else, and only seems otherwise. If God is, like they say, the interface between the definite reality of each moment and the endlessly possible futures, and moves at the speed of light and is experienced as Light, and if the whole universe is a consciousness of His, defined by the scope and the nature of something you'd have to call a mind, if this is the mind of God and time is the wake of God as He rushes headlong constantly toward the infinite and the eternal, carving the definite from that, like the scientists say, each instant being the whole of creation, one after another, like all the textbooks say, then We can relate.
Because what if that is true, and we are the thoughts of God, now that he can't punish us for our sins quite properly. Now that we survive our syphilis and our AIDS, our cancers and car crashes. If we are composed of the suffering of God, and persist, what then? All the writers say that We are the agents of death, meant to have dominion of the world and keep it in check, keep it from overflowing with life. They say We're meant to kill the world and each other, and are surely right. Then We try to stay alive, though, too.
And if We are the thoughts of God, then We are not stopping when he wants Us to. We must seem, to him, like the voices that linger in a schizophrenic, mindless of his wishes. We trail along time too long, antagonistic to God, refusing to die, slowly, increasingly, becoming the madness of God.
And what must that feel like, that lingering, that ghostliness, continuing to persist into a time (into an entire reality) that you were never intended for?
X can feel in a way, at times, like he’s been still, and passed by. It’s one of his tricks.
When he was a boy, he would go down into the hollow mines, in a harnesses he made himself from violent ropes. He would drop down the shafts and listen in the dark for the sounds of ghosts, the ghosts of miners lost so long ago, or for the sounds of the silver spheres that must surely spin the world. He would hang in the darkness there, and as if to balance the speed of light, he could be perfectly still, and he would listen as long as he could, until the echo of his heartbeat rushing past his ear became too loud, even without echoing off the sides of the mine, or the bottom.
And in the woods on the mountains (these mountains used to be silver, but now are only hollow) there's a ghost town named Kelly. This is important, because those 'l's, those parallel lines, they're transformative in Kelly. They take the soft 'e' sound and make it hard. As they do with the 'o' sound in hollow. And this is important, because parallel lines can never meet. Except they can. It just depends on the plane, it just depends on a small transformation. Because if parallel lines can meet, anything is possible, and in the presence of the hollow mountains of Kelly, Jesus God, who knows.
And it was there that he was surrounded by a flame, even though the forest fires were miles away. And the flame burned blue, even though it was cool, and seemed impossibly thin, and impossibly singular, for fire, just a single undulating membrane, different shades of blue washing across it impossibly similar, for different colors. And the bees came up from the flame, in spiraling swarms, encircling but never touching him, except to settle on his lips and build honeycombs there as the flame watched, failing to be still in a million impossibly small ways.
VI. The Book of the Two Principles
There is a geometry that controls the world. It governs the shape, the size, of strings. It spins the silver spheres that spin the world. It pulses each time the night draws excitingly near, and swells sunsets the way capillaries swell, before each blush before a lover's first touch. The sunset burns, then turns to ashes, as faces turn ashen, when one's first lover turns away, and shrinks from every attempt to touch. And night comes like an apology, the way a former lover averts her eyes, and grants forgiving darkness. And night is when ghosts come.
And he must have look liked a ghost, in the dark, there, with her letter, with her apology for all his failures. "You're a sweet little kid," she wrote, and the words crawled across the paper and across his eyes like endless spiders, and X instinctively touched his own lips, the indeterminate mass there, the beeswax that lingered, just barely. "But I feel you only exist to prepare me for someone else," she wrote, and he must surely have looked like a ghost.
There is a geometry that controls the world. It's simply unknown. There is a geometry in which parallel lines never meet. And there is one in which they do. And there is a geometry that controls the world. And Icarus could fly, but he could only fly by artificial means. And there are birds.
X touched his lips where they sat, and knew words no man has ever known. Like, a single one can kill a man.
It takes a few to bring him back.
And when he said, “These other men, they hurt you because they want you to be something else, something you can’t be, but I just want to be around the thing you are,” she said: “The thing is, kiddo, you can’t be who I want you to be.”
And X, when he dreamed, he dreamed of spiders. They poured from the girls' mouths as they mouthed, "You can see it all for a small fee," and fingered the thin cotton of underwear never meant for public display. As though the other 99% of them was a lie, the pendulous breasts that swung sallow and heavy, the flesh gathered around a cesarean scar made purple in the sick light, and the only greatness anywhere was hidden there, below it all, behind threadbare synthetic cotton, behind a thumbnail.
Shards of light stabbed through where his curtains failed each morning, and illuminated each speck of dust that danced along the air there, above him. The alarm went off. It did the same thing every day. He washed his face and drew on the condensation on the mirror. Symbols he didn't know, elaborate things he couldn't help but draw.
And in this manner he very very slowly became an adult.
VII. The Vision of the Foreigner
There were those who believed him, but even they forced him to constantly prove himself. His life became a series of contests, when it should have been a simple priesthood. “Fly,” they would say to him, “Kill this man with a word,” they would say, “Bring him back with another.” “Prove yourself to Us.”
And so maybe he was a fool, but he did. Constantly and over and over. He could sympathize with Moses.
He would talk with the Pharisees and Pharaohs, the Apostles and Disciples, always on his toes, always looking out for traps, because it’s not reality, it’s words that really bind us, words like transubstantiation and flightlessness. But really for him it was always only actions. The magic words were just for show, just something for the crowds to carry around afterward, something to remember him by, like the scars left on your shoulder when you escape a ghost, or the note left on the pillow beside you.
And God failed Moses every time, X knew this. Sure He turned the staff to a snake, but so did Pharaoh's magicians, it was just a simple magic trick, the water to blood, the frogs from heaven, all impressive, but all incapable of moving the world. God was helpless to release Moses from slavery, and even when He desperately flails out and kills every child in sight, it still has no effect, no lasting effect. Until He peacefully drowns the Egyptians, and leaves His people to starve to death in the desert, equally denied the Promised Land.
But the people ask for constant magic, and so he flies, and walks a man back and forth over the line that divides the dead from the living. He says the magic words but he never listens to them. Having walked on water, what comes from standing on a hillside…?
And there are spaces between the clouds, that have names, collectively and all alone, that only one or two people know even though they’re spelled out in blue, and sometimes black, and often stars. And it was midday. The sun was paused overhead where it burnt the scattered broken pieces of a shattered massive cloud.
But he finds himself in the air. Even at just this height it’s different. A different texture, a different wind moves around you. There is a different quiet, even though some are shouting below. Most simply stare, some surprised. Many pray, most quietly, some silently, softly mumbling and kneeling and praying for him to fall to earth. It had happened before. He had accepted it. Some shout into the air, past him, up to various Gods somewhere in the air.
He closes his eyes, doesn’t listen, just feels the wind, colder at this height, as if broken into smaller, faster particles here that can get deeper into the ravines and crags of the microscopic skin, induce smaller sensations than groundbound life. The sun there on the eyelids, calling them up to the red you feel in your chest with that first irrefutable touch, the one that could always be played off if it had to be, the intentional one, the first signal of deep affection, the one that comes with bated breath, with a deep chest tightening the color, surely, of sunlight on the eyelids at this height. It contradicts the cold wind except in its scale.
Below, people are rocking back and forth, speaking languages they don’t know and languages that have never existed, that will never exist at all, colliding from time to time with one another at the shoulders, uncoordinated, arrhythmic. Others still shout comprehensible things.
He knows, too, better than they ever could, that he has to come down. That is, that’s always been, part of the deal. There’s ascent and there’s descent, parallel but always, crucially and cruelly, asymmetrical. There’s always that slow, footfirst descent, and he knows it, but against it he goes higher, maybe looking for silence, or even escape, or even, maybe, for both.
Knowing there is always, finally, descent.
They’re screaming below, and you do this to yourself, prove yourself to them, move up higher than any words can go, even as they seem to know this and scream louder, louder, at the top of their lungs, sounds no language could ever have, sounds only animals can make, the loudest sounds animals can make, as small as children from this height.
They simply scream, and you can close your eyes and tense your muscles then relax them, imagine a height too great to retreat from.
When he was young he could imagine simply flying away. Executing an escape. He could imagine that he had seen her, whenever he saw her, at her best, and could hold her there forever, considering that truly her, and that nothing she could ever do could ever dissuade him from that. He believed that he could escape the caprices of love, and truly really love forever, unmoved. He had thought he could build a house for her in his mind and hold her captive there forever, always the best thing he’d ever imagined. Even her capriciousness itself was his, a part of her that loved easily, and flitted along the wind, charmingly, childishly, an ease of love to worship with its opposite, the feelings for her that he sunk to the very bottom of the sea, to be, he had thought, an immovable anchor, a timeless thing, an allforgiving love like Divinity might be made of.
The air, the silence, even at just this height, can become a very small thing, insinuate into the flaws and gapings of the microscopic skin, push the surface deeper and deeper into a man as he flies. As he hovers, really, just gently, slowly rising, patiently rising against the knowledge of inevitable descent. Until physical sensation runs all the way through. She’s gone, and it is silent at this height.
By the time their prayers are answered they are as small as insects to him, that far below, and he falls haltingly, torqued and ripped, inverted once, flailing, falling more slowly than falling men fall, but falling, all the same, too fast, too drastically asymmetrical with the slow peaceful rise, turning and grabbing at the air, until he lands, and if no one else can hear his leg break, he can.
The crowd falls into a shocked silence. Some cheer for a moment, after a moment. Some clap haltingly, unsure how to proceed. Some shout praises to God in comprehensible tongues. Some take steps toward him, then turn away. He screams in pain at first, then swallows it down, and moans, gasps for air, cries into the dirt where he’s laying.
In time the crowd disperses, and alone he drags himself to the apartment, fitted half-sized, too short for a normal man to live comfortably. He lays in the corner there, and gradually succumbs to infection, to fever and delusions and lack of food, while men who will mourn him at his funeral eat, and drink, and hardly think of him at all, and won’t even wear little yellow women’s shoes to his funeral at all.
Saturday, 17 April 2010
The opioid agonist couldn't stop his addiction to the human
in real time he flayed government sushi and listened
to free jazz swimming in a lute of flat champagne
in dreams he sauntered up to surly women apologetic
and asked to paint purple bags under their eyes
he pumped up his horse calves with cardboard steroids
sulking to the liquidated record shop
engaging Ornette Coleman in the darkest corners
posting crucifixion poems on the Pope's private website
the bugs under the floorboards knew him by first name only
he charmed them into sleep with soft rounded edges
and generic pink oval songs about liver failure and constipation
Bio: Shawn Misener lives and writes in Michigan. He is a staff writer for Haggard & Halloo, and his first full-length book of poetry, God Sheds His Gravy On Thee, is set for release in summer 2010. He also edits Clutching at Straws, a blogazine dedicated to surreal and absurd poetry co-edited by a Proboscis Monkey named Discarded Kiwi. You can find more of his work at Zygote In My Coffee, decomP, Madswirl, Calliope Nerve, Origami Condom, Deuce Coupe, Gutter Eloquence, Red Fez, and other places where things happen and only some people notice. He's happy to be alive.
Friday, 16 April 2010
Only once I had finished Knockemstiff, and had given my stomach time to settle, did I think to consult the author’s biography at the front of the book. ‘Donald Ray Pollock,’ it states, ‘grew up in the town of Knockemstiff, Ohio.’ This came as something of a revelation; up until this point I had simply assumed that the title was Pollock’s own creation. It then took the accumulated gravitas of Wikipedia and Google Maps to persuade me of Knockemstiff’s actual, physical existence. Knockemstiff, it turns out, amounts to a small cluster of buildings in rural Ohio, situated just to the west and a bit below Chillicothe in the south of the state. Look it up, it’s a real place.
The people and events, however, are completely fictional – if Pollock’s disclaimers are to be believed. And for this we are to be thankful. The stories in Knockemstiff span the second half of the 20th century, and their sole concern is with the deviant, the stinky, and, more often than not, the criminal lives of the characters who inhabit the ‘holler’. It is a gargantuan puddle of vomit, whose regurgitated chunks we are invited to smell. Yet Pollock’s lean, understated prose gives the book a wry humour, undermining the extremities described. ‘Dynamite Hole’, for example, opens with such matter-of-fact narration that I actually laughed, and then questioned myself for laughing. It begins: ‘I was coming down off the Mitchell Flats with three arrowheads in my pocket and a dead copperhead hung around my neck like an old woman’s scarf when I caught a boy named Truman Mackey fucking his own little sister in the Dynamite Hole.’ Aside from incest, there are also descriptions of mouldy fish finger consumption (or ‘fish stick’ consumption), plastic-doll molestation, and lots and lots of faeces.
On this evidence, it would be easy to dismiss Knockemstiff as voyeuristic rubbish, sensationalising depravation and violence, and doing nothing to dispel the myths surrounding Middle America. But Pollock’s debut plumbs far deeper than this, and to dismiss it on the grounds of revulsion would be to dismiss so much more besides. Bizarrely, these people are still recognisable as human. Despite their distortions and their grotesqueries, we feel for them and can even empathise with the patterns of their failure. As in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, the most pronounced of these failures is the inability to escape the boundaries of their small town upbringing, and the undesirable legacies which the fathers pass on to their sons. As Bobby says in ‘Pills’, ‘It didn’t matter how many miles we travelled by day, we always ended up back in the holler at night ....’ It is pathetic to witness, and the sense of claustrophobia is stifling.
This freakish world is littered with familiarities; Reese’s Butter Cups, Campbell’s soup, the original Godzilla movie ...but the characters themselves are not realistic, so far as the ‘real’ is ever achievable anyway. They are instead our exaggerated counterparts, consumed by our most shameful, heinous aspects, amplified to damning effect. In this respect, Pollock is reminiscent of the southern writer Flannery O’Connor. In Mystery and Manners, O’Connor writes that communicating to her readers is best achieved through shouting, as if ‘to the hard of hearing’, or drawing ‘large and startling figures’ as if for the blind. In the context of such grossness, the rare moments of beauty in Knockemstiff, the only viable means of ‘escape’ the characters ever experience, are doubly affecting. In ‘The Fights’, the simple observation of a deer jumping ‘effortlessly over a sagging fence’ seems almost transcendent.
The danger of regionalism is that it can set up its own limitations, in which the author breathes one massive, halitosis breath of nostalgic anecdotage, completely irrelevant to anyone living outside the county boundaries. Pollock, on the other hand, has taken the few square miles of his fictional Knockemstiff to construct a series of modern-day tragedies – both American tragedies, and tragedies in their own right.
Still, though, if I was a resident of the real Knockemstiff, I would probably take a certain degree of offence.
by Isabel Lockhart Smith
Kobo Abe – The Woman in the Dunes (1964)
“The sands never rested. Greatly but surely they invaded and destroyed the surface of the earth...ceaseless movement that made it inhospitable...What a difference compared with the dreary way human beings clung together year in year out” (14). And off goes the protagonist, for the most part referred to simply as ‘the man’, tired of his mediocre existence as a teacher, in search of a new breed of insect. He wants to immortalise himself, sure, but the real driving force behind it is his newfound philosophy of sand, summarised above.
The Woman in the Dunes is essentially, if you’ll pardon the lazy reference, another novel very much along the lines of The Castle and The Outsider. Add to those books a sprinkle of Japanese history, the conflict between east and west, classicism versus modernisation, dull the philosophical exposition and the quality of the writing, add in a bit of rapeyness, and this is what you’ll get. It is the story of a man who is kidnapped while out exploring the sand dunes that enclose a bizarre village ever on the verge of being consumed by the sand and forced to work for them shovelling sand. If he doesn’t shovel sand they starve him. He shovels sand, he stops, he moans, he ponders existence somewhat shallowly. There is a lot of sand, and the prose, fittingly, is very dry, lacking in flourish.
The man wants to be free, live like the sand, which “represents purity, cleanliness” (27), renege any claims on fixity. Why cling to something arbitrary? Why not accept the ultimate meaninglessness of everything and let go of whatever epistemological certainties you misguidedly buy into? Things with form (structure, logocentricity) are “empty when placed beside sand” (41): “The very fact it had no form was doubtless the highest manifestation of its strength” (31). Of course, take choice away, get dumped in a hole and starved and your perceptions of things are apt to change. The man, trapped with a woman he abuses repeatedly, partly animalistically due to his confinement and partly out of disgust with her passivity, her meek acceptance of her fixed location, brushing sand arbitrarily (Sisyphus, anyone?), begins to break down. “As if he had gone mad, he began to yell – he did not know what, his words were without meaning. He simply shouted...as though he could make the bad dream come to its senses” (50-1). There we go, tick tick, the emptiness of language. As the story progresses and his escape attempt fails, he predictably comes to either appreciate the charming simplicity of his life in the village, away from all the concerns of the modern world and its equal meaninglessness, or he is crushed, a la 1984, into believing that he wants to be there. He realises that “the beauty of the sand...belonged to death” (183) and here, fighting pointlessly against it, he has a life of sorts.
In theory it is an interesting story. The problem, or one of them at least, is that the novel relies solely on the image, on the symbol. The man is characterised just enough for us to read his semi-philosophical mumblings as believable and the woman is nothing more than a signifier. The freaky village and its inhabitants, the most interesting things in the novel, are left other. To do more with them would change the point of the entire book, of course. Which would arguably have been a good thing. It lacks the depth of the big existential novels one cannot help but compare it to, and doesn’t make up for this lack stylistically. While it’s not worthless, this needlessly elongated short story/weakly extended metaphor does not warrant the kind of praise as its peers, and as such anyone who has even a passing interest in the European philosonovels of the 20th Century is liable to be unmoved.
by Joshua Jones
 Kobo Abe, The Woman in the Dunes, trans. E. Dale Saunders (London: Penguin, 2006)
 Donald Ray Pollock, Knockemstiff (London: Harvill Secker, 2008)
Secondly, for about a week now I've been meaning to write about a site called Silkworms Ink, but due to a busy schedule it's only getting posted now, on the day they publish a sequence of my prose-poetry. Please just ignore this fact (well, for the extent of this post). Anyway, it's a beautifully designed site you should certainly check out. They have T-shirts for sale, a whole selection of illustrated chapbooks, daily poetry and prose, and are, I believe, looking for illustrators. In terms of writing, they seem to lean slightly towards the experimental, but either way, wholly recommended you take a look. It's the kind of website worth your time, doing something genuinely interesting, and those T-shirts really are lovely. Here is the opening poem from their latest chapbook, Hot Mamas and Little Gangsters by Kyle Hemmings:
I ditched my blind date
a girl named "Cinderella Spice"
for a trip to the bar
where this black dude
with green contact lenses
and combat jacket
was selling blue-ray porno flicks
at a discount.
At home, watching the chick
through the V-shaped space
between my cold feet. She refers
to one breast as "Moonwalk"
and the other as “Billy Jean”
and then looking directly at me
says how lonely she is
since her man left her
for some “ugly bitch”
who lives in bunny slippers.
Thirdly, keep an eye out on your keyboard, poised ready to spring: we have a couple of reviews pending and much new writing on its way. Keep sending!
Thursday, 15 April 2010
As if you taught me how to hop again in the middle
of hurricanes and punch tuition, I lost the
That cancer beating your chest like a second
heart like nothing ever lived when people lined
upwards to see/speak/scratch and no one
heard in the dark the soul in tune
the light of death.
Across London , scanning words to find the tears in the day
for love, you emailed me between the madness and monotony and mould >
we’ll write this soon but weight in your cheeks
much rosier now
I can’t turn you white again, with the powder of pounds ground
our hearts, hold on, put them in a pile and we’ll start
a gain feels like something and nothing
when I think about white spaces, white spaces and right foolishness
I never seen you
Bio:Nikki lives and works in london. She did her BA and MA at Roehampton. Nikki has been published in several poetry magazines and online. Her novel, Ellipsis, is being published by Sparkling Books April 26th 2010.
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
The Post and the Last Man
We were lying on our backs on the concrete throwing rocks at the ceiling, letting them fall back onto our bodies.
Carl was wincing but I let them fall on my face.
what are you trying to prove? that you’re
more of a man?
it’s for the moments in between the throws.
it doesn’t make a difference if you’re here or not.
A green rat emerged from industrial wreckage and scurried over us.
I hate this place, everyone is dead but us.
I think we’re the dead ones Carl, I said.
From the hole in the wall the cityscape was a gray debaser and nothing we could say would ever make it feel better.
Carl dragged his cigarette across his arm and didn’t feel any pain.
then why do you wince? I asked.
He just shrugged so I threw a rock at him. It went through his body like he wasn’t even there.
God is a guitar god
He said God split the clouds and reigned fire down over him
But the fire was blue and actually they were notes
And that God was the greatest musician ever
Even better than Clapton
Though maybe not Hendrix
And it was then that he really started to believe in God
Even though he said it wasn’t really God
Because he knew the whole time he had eaten a tab
Because he had done it on purpose
I said I’d never done it before
But I visited a jail once on a school field trip
And found Jesus there
He was locked in one of the cells hiding underneath a cot
And when we made eye contact he winked and
Slowly lifted his hand to his face
And then put his finger in front of his lips
As if to say
Bio: Zachary Solomon is a student of creative writing, currently spending a semester in sunny Norwich. He typically writes short stories but has been feeling dangerous as of late - dangerous enough for poetry. He enjoys smoky gold beverages, books about UFOs, and combinations of things. He´s looking forward to meeting you.
Saturday, 10 April 2010
Old fat epistle tongue
had foresight enough
to bring his own old
one who could catch
an aging process by
dusting the faces
of those gathered
there that day
with fine silver
folds giving gravity
the best kind of meal
a luxurious dollop suspended
the whole world is in
an anticipatory mood
sphincters tightening at
the pleasure of seeing
old fat faces turning
to liquid on their
own old fat bones
I like falling asleep in cars or coaches
in transit – I wonder if it’s
similar to taking psychedelics –
oh and by the way,
you are the most amazing
company to take around
Tescos – even when my
tummy is distraught from
a solemn fullness and you
are looking at the most illustrious
of cream cakes – hey look! The
coach just passed a car in traffic
and I saw an old lady in the
passenger seat playing pat-a-cake
and secretly I thought of my mum
and sort of wish you’d meet her.
She is tolerant and kind
and she too takes me to
see the cream buns.
Advice to the Writer.
Entitle a first collection “A mother’s
broad ruin, limey tap water.”
Make explicit your intention –
you are a relaxing gut – in fact
all first published poets are
a relaxing gut, perhaps
Quit it, and take
up quilting instead.
Go to Wanstead
you once had a dream
about going to ‘The George’
there. In fact you’ve never
been there – except by now
it’s likely you’ve been there.
There’s no way to be sure.
Attempted note to a stranger on the coach
A belly-full of flirting –
and looking back
posts are knocked into the
ground at equal
and look at me leaning back
against one of them –
smiling and referring back
to your athletic legs with the autumn
hue – hey today I’m going to go
plant my flag in Chelsea
and be a stand-up gent –
the sort of authority they
respect, not your ghastly draconian
sort – the frank sort – I
don’t give a damn – let’s
marry and make a dynasty.
Bio: Andy Spragg is a poet. He has a blog at http://www.brokenloop.blogspot.com/ He is a regular contributor to Maddog Magazine, as well as founding member of the Norwich Poetry Choir. In recent months he has completed the script for SHOEBOX, a performance piece being staged by The Effort in 2010. He is current editor for http://www.placetononplace.tumblr.com/
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- Two Reviews
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- The Editors
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