Monday, February 27, 2012

The chessboard cost well over three hundred dollars and always served to remind him of a time in the past when he knew how to play, when he was actually capable of moving the pieces around with his own fingers. Now, his mind lost its way from one room to the next and when someone called his name out in passing he had to count the letters of that name on his fingers just to be certain he was the person who was supposed to respond. The match lasted two and a half hours, by which time most of those in attendance had forgotten why they had become interested in it in the first place, why they were sitting in the stands rather than at home making love to someone on the recliner. Or painting a picture with a Biblical theme. Judith and Holofernes, say. The return of the prodigal. I know the terms seem unfamiliar now, at least until you allow yourself time to study them, to let them steep in the general ambience like bits of mutton in a stew. Something cloudy and fragrant, smelling of minerals and promising to turn the evening into one you will remember but you won’t be precisely sure why. At the other end, the aisles were more or less straight and you could wander them without worrying overly about knocking items off the shelf accidentally with your elbows. Eulalie’s gaze suggested that she had been waiting, in the aisle devoted to grains and non-domestic cereals, for more than three days and if you walked on past without acknowledging her, she would just continue to wait, until you passed by again because you had forgotten something or because several weeks had come and gone, and it was time for you to reappear again after spending your time productively elsewhere. I mean, the cycle repeated because that’s what cycles do. What else can I say? I tried to lead her away by dangling a piece of fruit from a string, a pomegranate I think it was, but this ploy only ever works in the movies and we couldn’t find the camera. We kept thinking it must be directly above us, housed inside a spherical piece of plastic, but the only thing visible on the ceiling were crossbeams and the occasional motley spider web and little bits of mattress ticking gathered, no doubt, by the sparrows that kept getting trapped in there and either didn’t want to, or couldn’t figure out how to, escape. I worried that perhaps they carried disease around on their bodies and so made us all vulnerable as soon as we walked in through the front doors, our goggles pushed up onto our heads, our hands half-palsied from the excitement of coming in. Of freeing ourselves, at least momentarily, from the concept, from the category, of “out”. But Eulalie would have none of it. She said pathology is simply a product of the mind and if you let your body become accustomed, truly accustomed, to the proximity of other bodies, no matter how alien they might appear at first to your own, you will find in the end that nothing can harm you. You can live the equivalent of ten thousand years in every single minute. It will be, she said, as if those slices of time had grown tired of their meager lot in life, as if they wished to demonstrate once and for all to every larger denomination that they too were of significance and ought not to be relegated, finally, to familiar and overly sentimental phrases. To the blank spaces between Roman numerals on the face of a watch.             

Saturday, February 25, 2012

First, undergarments disappeared from the dryer, mostly faded and torn articles no longer attractive, if they ever were. Whispers and suspicions arose immediately involving the man down the street who wore sunglasses even indoors, who once catalogued all the old pictures in the museum and could speak of nothing but each individual item for a year and more afterwards. When you tried to change the subject, his eyebrows met at the upper center of his face and the effect was similar to that you have probably witnessed when someone close by holds a viper by the neck. For my part, I brought my own pencils with me, afraid those provided would prove too dull or soft to allow me to calculate unperturbed for the two and a half hours it took to finish the test. Someone stood at the entrance, asking impertinent questions. To throw us off, I guess. To try to get inside our heads where he was likely to find something very like enormous containers full of raw material. Facts and dates and theories named after their French or Greek creators. Then, of course, long after she walked into the room, an afterimage hung in that exact spot as if to reinforce the idea that we are not the person trapped inside our skin so much as the memory of that person held by those who have shared small portions of their lives with us. Those who have attempted to escape our stifling presence once and for all by going to bed with the first reasonably presentable stranger who happens along, or taking up skeet shooting at the gun club on the outskirts of town. It rarely works. Somewhere along the line the past rises up again out of its filthy container and stalks about on the street, looking completely out of place like a young man with a cane. Or those blankets one places on the back of a horse so as to soak up the foam that would otherwise get trapped beneath the saddle and cause the animal harm. I spent the rest of the afternoon jotting ideas down in the margins of the book I had picked up the night before and had grown so bored of within twenty minutes, I couldn’t remember what the book was called or why I thought it might have been a good idea to read it in the first place. Something similar occurred again two weeks later when she showed up carrying a bottle of Jameson whiskey and looked at me down the slope of her nose as if I were no more than an object, a peculiar work of art, say, made entirely out of the collected, disembodied wings of innumerable insects – ordinary houseflies and dragonflies, and the miniature brown grasshoppers that materialize in the dead grass around here at the close of almost every summer.     

Friday, February 24, 2012

He borrowed the seventeen dollars from someone who looked like she had the money to spare, earrings bigger than her thumbs and encrusted with emeralds, or at least something green the way deep water is green when it hasn’t been circulating much. Under the mattress receipts kept accumulating and whenever we attempted to address the issue, someone’s feelings would inevitably get hurt. A great deal of crying and shouting and running around with sharp implements aimed in the general direction of the crier / shouter’s heart would ensue, all of which convinced him finally that silence was the solution to any of his problems that had arisen since the last solstice. Which wasn’t that long ago, really, when you thought about it. Snow still occupied the ground at the higher elevations and the wind hacked at your flesh whenever you ventured outside in search of brandy or some temporary companionship. At that time, I was in the habit of dropping the last letter of almost every word that ended in a consonant so as to impress the woman who claimed to have been born in Romania and who specialized in dishes with lots of cabbage in them. Just so you know -- none of it ever tasted like it was made with cabbage. I suppose because of her liberal use of exotic spices she brought over with her in what they used to call steamer trunks, but which we now refer to, erroneously, as luggage. She refused to let me have a look at these spices, though, refused to let me into the kitchen until after the meal was already three quarters prepared. I suspected this was her attempt to preserve a sense of mystery that was otherwise lacking in our relationship but which was crying out to be remedied the way newly-hatched owls cry out morning and night to be fed. When we listened to the sound of footsteps echoing on the pavement at night outside our windows, or the sound of someone cursing under his breath as he tried to solve a very difficult verbal riddle published in the newspaper, it reminded us that being alone was not the worst thing in the world. It was the second worst thing on a list that runs into the tens of millions. His speech on the subject was one they speak of to this day in the post office where he made it, where he delivered it with all the aplomb of a geyser. Then he didn’t so much storm out of the building as pretend he had never entered it in the first place. Later, at his desk, the Taschen edition of Degas open to one gauzy, skeletal dancer or another, he ran through all the other alternatives in his mind, all the successes and all the failures that might have overtaken him if he hadn’t been much too quick for them. If he hadn’t outdistanced them through the employment of his trademark quick wit and a thorough knowledge of the local terrain he acquired while experiencing particularly vivid dreams about this very neighborhood before he had ever even had a chance to visit it. Before he had ever once heard the conductor call it out as one of the upcoming destinations when he was still travelling about aimlessly on the train.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The sound is an obscene popping created with the mouth and intended, I believe, to imitate that made when certain parts of the body are inserted into the mouth and then removed quickly. This is, of course, a process designed to repeat itself, to go on for an indefinite period of time. However long, in fact, it takes to accomplish the unsubtle biological goal. The young man making the sound is of sub-par stature and possessed of the barest traces of a goatee like just about every young man in the building. And indeed, on the street outside. And everywhere in between. I am in the midst of discussing Heraclitus’ odd and fastidious praise of Bias, son of Teutames, but the sound is causing the others to squirm, to release themselves from the grip of whatever reverie had preceded the intrusion of that sound, whatever reverie had taken them safely far away from ancient Priene. They look around as if just up from a two-month coma. Is it possible we are aware of only one thing at a time and that one thing is inevitably, when boiled down to its essence, to the center and place where it is most truly itself and so entirely free of contamination by dust and participles, the workings of our own conscious mind? Sure, that mind is not a vault; it hums in constant call and response to the symphony and filmstrip it receives through the senses, information having its origin, ostensibly, in the world but in all likelihood having very little to do with that world. Where then is it generated? How are we to separate the inside from the outside or even to make sense of such distinctions? Wouldn’t it be better to just start fresh, to turn our backs once and for all on the ideas that have been passed down for just over two hundred generations now and affixed with the rather insulting label “esoteric wisdom”, or, if wisdom won’t do, then at least that which sits on the shelf next to wisdom and keeps it company during the dreariest parts of the winter? My mind fills slowly (like a swimming pool) with visions of my jumping on the perpetrator’s back, of ripping at his ears with my teeth, of beating him to death with a cane that somehow introduces itself into the proceedings for no reason I can gather other than perhaps to give me something solid to enact my rage with, without having to resort to the use of my hands, which are thin and fragile and covered recently with patches of discoloration. That these visions are more than just visions and that I have apparently, in the process of nurturing them and encouraging their maturation (the way you encourage a continuous increase in the local turtle population by tossing the occasional chicken carcass into the river) turned them into something resembling an actual assault -- is attested to by several sudden high-pitched and not altogether female screams and the sound of shuffling about the room, of shoes squeaking meekly against the linoleum and the metal tips of the chair legs penduluming as those in my vicinity realize they may wish to head for the exits (of which there are precisely two at either end of the typically yellow room) before they too risk becoming the target of my Heraclitian, if irrational, ire.  I see immediately that no flesh has been torn, no blood spilled as a result of my attempted murder of the table behind which the mouth-popper sat. Fortunately, this table, though overturned -- its legs sticking awkwardly into the air between us like those of a deceased and bloated horse -- is still in one piece. I can’t afford to purchase the institution another.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Under the surface, under the skin, something is amiss. Flesh fails to register its own solidity. Fibers appear as if out of nowhere and stitch themselves together into patterns that interfere with the patterns pre-programmed into the cells. Those who become aware of this before anyone else are accused of succumbing to psychiatric disturbances only recently recorded in the medical literature. The names given these disturbances are as ordinary as the names we give our kitchen utensils. Certainly if you think about them long enough, if you repeat them over and over again to yourself, they will begin to strike you as out-of-place, as so irremediably contrary to the nature of objects being named, you will begin to wonder if maybe the names aren’t really names at all but elements in a code that you are, perhaps, the first human being in history to detect. And you fear it may then become your destiny and obligation to devote the rest of your life to attempting to decipher it – to taking it apart like an old typewriter you’ve found in the garage, taking it apart just to see for yourself how it works. I walk the mile and a half to work and back every day without complaint but without much of a sense of having accomplished anything either. There are two hills along the way, mild inclines in the topography of the earth and I imagine sometimes as I am making my way up and down them that they were landmarks at one time whereby the indigenous peoples of this region navigated, though surely this area must have been entirely forested at that time and so any increase in elevation as minor as is represented by these hills would have been nearly impossible to spot until you were almost directly on top of them. Still, the forested, be-savaged inclines in my mind are more compelling than those encased in concrete or asphalt that pass beneath my feet, those watched over by nothing more mysterious than loose groupings of black power lines swinging dangerously close to the heads of those of us who make our way through this part of town without ever bothering to linger. Every now and then I see someone watching my progress from one of the windows that grace the second or third story of the buildings built half a century ago, and more, on the slope and arch of these twin hills and I wonder what it’s like to live, in effect, in the sky. My room is on the ground floor of a building with a picture of a sea creature of some sort painted on the south wall. The sea creature is a sandy yellow, vaguely cetacean in appearance, and covered in moss. It has flippers someone has taken great care to render – with irregular knobs across them and mottled shadows meant to capture the movement of light through the upper regions of otherwise very deep water. No one seems to know what the sea creature means. Why it is here and not somewhere else. Why it is constantly watching you with its big gray eye (the other one is hidden on the other side of its massive head) whenever you approach, or (should you prefer) whenever you cross the street so as to avoid its malevolent gaze. This is, I’m sad to say, the option my friends choose more often than not, and so I rarely see my friends now. I am having a harder and harder time each day trying to remember their names or what it is they look like. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The position requires little in the way of current research or even grooming. It is the kind of opportunity that arises when someone else has passed into the netherworld we make mention of so frequently – a place we imagine as having enormous chandeliers hanging from the ceilings and decorative plush pillows scattered about on the outsized leather chairs lining either side of the front gallery. The less we believe in it the more we embroider, leading some to publish a rule to that effect, naming it after some seventeenth-century statesman they just happened to read about one morning, or a nephew struggling with alcohol issues and other issues related to the alcohol but seeming to belong to an entirely separate universe. Like the habit of mispronouncing other people’s names. Or of dropping hard-to-replace objects (hard-to-replace because of the sentimental value attached to them or the boutique nature of their origins) into bodies of water in the general vicinity of where he lives. I am hired because I wrote a book on Heraclitus once, and though no one here has ever actually read it, they know instinctively this is the not the sort of thing most people would find it necessary to make up. And they have heard of Heraclitus, they are fairly certain. They say the name rings a bell. But I know the iron in their heads is more likely to commence vibrating to the frequency given off by sitcom characters or catchphrases borrowed from past presidential campaigns. In the corner of nearly every classroom someone is huddled on the floor with his knees pulled up to his chest and is muttering something that, should you approach closely enough to catch a snippet, turns out to be not so much the incantation one expects of the mentally ill but more a laundry list of items to be secured so as to make the speaker an ordinary, contented individual like everyone else. Baby Ruth candy bars usually place somewhere high up on that list. They are followed closely by clothes hangers to be bent into animal shapes and old-fashioned money clips with synthetic rubies in the middle, actual rubies being, of course, scarce and so prohibitively expensive. Try spinning out your moment to moment ruminations on the fragments of the pre-Socratics in a setting such as this! You will be lucky to get beyond the first ten years. I hobble home at night certain that they will no longer ask me back and if they do, certain that I will refuse, but none of that comes to pass and before I know it, my craving for raw corn starch and Irish whiskey has reached such a fevered pitch as to threaten to swamp both my emotional well-being and my intestinal health once and for all. At this point, the nights are lonely because they are made of equal parts moonlight and silence and when I try to remedy the situation by purchasing a desk lamp or a prostitute, I become so disoriented I think for a moment I might simply disappear, might cease to exist the way the last ten minutes are no longer available to you no matter how you try to get them back – yoga, temper tantrums you throw while lying on your back. Eventually everything has this habit of swimming back into view, though, and I realize that if I am going to continue to live in this manner and in this place, I am going to have to abandon all desire to pursue what they call a “purposeful life” in the pamphlets well-dressed strangers hand out to all and sundry at the strip mall down the road, between the fountain at the center (a fountain that has, of course, run perpetually dry and is stained an unseemly yellow) and a very narrow store where they sell, among other things, electronic devices that pinpoint your precise location on the surface of the planet as it goes spinning its endless and unperturbed way through outer space.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Panic sets in right before resignation and the two begin an intricate dance that puts anything else you have seen (on the island of Bali, for instance) to shame. Later, the same groups of people who first set eyes on one another at the airport are asked a series of questions, the object of which is to suggest they have been trusting their eyes far too much and ought, at some point soon, to switch allegiance to one of the other senses. Of course no one is going to admit this up front, and, when confronted, the authors of the experiment refuse to act as if they can even write. They stumble about with their hands swinging aimlessly at their sides like broken scaffolding, and as the setting sun gets in their eyes they begin a wailing and a caterwauling more appropriately associated with common apes. There is no point in judging, though, unless judgment will make us feel better about ourselves. This occurs frequently enough, I suppose, to encourage some people to comment on it and others to act as if they have been aware of it since they were very small children. They were in the habit of observing everything that went on around them. The lighting of the oil lamps come sunset. The whispers growing to a crescendo over time. You can determine for yourself whether or not these whispers had anything to do with talcum powder, but, for my part, my mind is made up. It’s made up before I ever even step into a room and see all those who might be arrayed against me. Each sitting bare-chested at a desk with an open bottle of ink on it and a handful of old-fashioned goose quills yet to be sharpened. Imagine my horror when I realize what is going to take place. How I have been tricked into showing up through promises of wealth. Ingots stacked up in crates. Pieces of paper with my name on them and the insignia of what I can only imagine were, at one time, venerable financial institutions or government agencies long since passed now into the mists of non-existence. Someone at my elbow (there always seems to be someone at my elbow these days, as if I have grown so notorious complete strangers can make a living now just by promising to keep a close eye on me around the clock, from morning until night when really they ought to be in their beds sleeping and dreaming about what it’s like to make love to someone you have only ever seen at a distance) says something I can’t quite make out, but I know it is intended to warn me of the approach of danger on my other side, on the side where my other elbow is located and, at least for the moment, unencumbered by someone’s being “at” it. I just have time to duck my head when something weighty, and no doubt very sharp, passes over it, something that makes a terrific hissing sound as it does so, its bulk and momentum sufficient, I suppose, to separate the oxygen molecules in the air from their companions and therefore threaten to make everything around me blow up. At least that’s how I imagine things happening at precisely the same time as they are happening. Perhaps then I have merely to imagine my way out of this predicament as effortlessly as I have imagined my way into it. I have merely to furrow my brow and suddenly, just like that, everything will be back to the way it was last Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The pit at the center of the cherry stands no chance against my teeth, not on this day when the sounds that drift down from the floor above are those of fallen bottles and someone playing a familiar melody on what I take to be a mandolin. I’m left with innumerable hard bits on my tongue, intermixed with the half-chewed pulp, and an unpleasant sense that the melody is going to haunt me until late in the evening when I can finally put a name to it. When I can tell myself that what I am doing is no different than what everyone else on the planet is doing at some point or another. Barking commands at imaginary underlings. Exploring roads that seem to have no set direction -- no single identity of their own -- just so as to have something to do for half an hour. Or until the clock stops working because it is one of those with hands and the force of gravity has finally grown stronger than whatever force it was that allowed those hands to defy gravity for years on end. Of course, just when I think I have turned a corner, when I think I will be able to continue without suffering one abominable pang after another for the rest of my life, I look into her eyes again for just a moment and I am lost. How can the most intense experience one knows in a lifetime be the simple act of gazing? Thank God at times like this for the invention of the trombone! For those who know how to make the trombone sound faintly like a full-fledged thought first emerging from that region of the mind where thoughts have not yet been granted their full compliment and arsenal. Where they are mere lines and shadows floating about at the surface of something very like a soup or stew. And you are expected to dip some sort of implement (this, in the right hand, I suppose, is the trombone itself, though it could also conceivably be other items like a spatula or a novel, so long as you are the one who writes it) into the soup or stew so as to dredge up from the bottom whichever pieces have gotten stuck, have been burnt on and so can be expected to contain the greatest concentration of minerals and collagens and whatever peculiar shapes give our thoughts their solidity, their ability to hang together even when we hurl them at objects in the outside world that we might otherwise expect to dash them to pieces. Stone fences. Barbecue pits. The tongs used to move the meat about above the fires in the barbecue pits. Soon it becomes obvious that it will never be enough for us to exist inside our own skin. We are expected to occupy other selves as thoroughly as we occupy our own. And yes, we are supposed to ask permission first, but that doesn’t ensure a painless transition. Quite the contrary! There is blood in there and we will, by definition and the laws of physics, displace it. We will take up space previously reserved for nerve fibers and whatever serves as the interior equivalent of a mirror.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Yes, it’s worrisome when Eulalie professes a new fascination for the love suicide plays of Chikamatsu. Not because I think they’ll give her any ideas but because I can’t imagine Eulalie’s interest piqued by anything so tangible as ordinary words strung out crosswise on a piece of paper. Nothing you can hold in your hands, nothing you can peel the outsides off of the way you are compelled almost to take the clothes off a doll. But we shouldn’t put too great a burden on this observation as it is frail at the center like all observations, and therefore wont to buckle. And it is apt to make a noise when it does so that we will spend the next six months attempting to decipher, ignoring in the process those who would be willing to love us, even groom us in the old-fashioned way, despite our ungainly appearance. Our outsized ears. Our shuffling gait. Maybe Eulalie is trying to tell us something the only way she knows how – through extra sensory perception. And the language of the body which is a language everyone speaks in common even when we find we are no longer possessed of an actual body. We have relinquished it due to an unforeseen illness or an accident involving the railroad and our poor peripheral vision. This is the point at which, if we were adept at moving our puppets, we would have them move to the center of the arena and gaze intently into each other’s enormous eyes. We would wait breathlessly for the trumpets to play in unison off-stage, the agreed upon signal to proceed with the final act: the raising of the blades, the shaking of those empty heads, a shaking designed to signify either grief or the overwhelming anxiety one would, of course, expect when facing the termination of one type of existence and the consequent beginning of another. Not that I put too much credence in those doctrines that say we are going to recognize immediately and cleave to those who mean the most to us when we meet them on the other side. When you get right down to it, there probably aren’t any sides. No angles, no walls. And even if there are, you can all but guarantee that these things exist precisely to separate us from one another, to insure, for instance, that Eulalie will remain forever out of reach. Like a pomegranate in a locked cupboard. The kind of cupboard, say, with glass in the doors so that you can see what it is you are missing. You know you have merely to break the glass, to reach in and take the pomegranate, to make off with that which has tempted you so sorely. But you won’t. You are afraid of cutting your fingers. You are afraid of accidentally ingesting the microscopic shards of glass that will, no doubt, have lodged themselves in the meantime in the pomegranate’s otherwise flawless scarlet skin. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What is it about Vronsky that makes it so difficult to remain conscious? How am I to take the foreshadowing, the tick in my left eye that seems to grow in intensity until it is no longer a tick but a full-fledged shudder, an indication of pathology at such a deep level that there is no hope, really, of ever being able to un-earth and eliminate it once and for all? The only option available at this point is complete surrender and then a lifetime of rehashing the events that led me to this place – a gate nine feet high, someone pacing back and forth behind the gate in the shadows cast by poplars and other indigenous species of tree. Who is that over there and why does he keep lighting pieces of paper on fire and then waving them about above his head? Could it be that what we call communication is really just a way to isolate ourselves even further through gestures designed to seem meaningful at first glance, while still managing to withhold any information that might otherwise let us know what is at stake and who is liable to be harmed in the process? Of course I don’t mean physically, but I don’t mean emotionally either. Think of the concept of the hybrid, the thing that is both itself and something else at the same time. Or at different times, alternating times. Like an amphibian which is both reptile and fish. Or at least has the potential to turn eventually into the one and revert back finally to the other. I like that the hum produced when this occurs is very like a soothing human voice. If you listen closely enough you will begin to hear barely discernible words. Whether these words actually exist or are inserted by the mind afterward because the mind can’t help but to operate through some dim approximation of language, is anyone’s guess, and there are as many schools of thought on the issue as there are individuals who are willing to create a school of thought. So that they might be taken seriously, perhaps for the first time in their lives. So that they might have something to point to when they too are standing before an imposing gate and whoever is standing behind it, in the shadows, asks them why they are there and what they hope to achieve once they are granted access to the environs behind the gate. The limitless plains, the villages laid out as symmetrically as handsome human faces. The residents of these villages as happy and contented as if they had been allowed to reside forever in the most spectacularly fevered of all their tens of thousands of spectacularly fevered dreams.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

These particular bodily movements resemble those of a hammerhead shark inasmuch as they do not seem to have any ultimate goal, any purpose identifiable to those who are on the sidelines and who like to tell themselves their opinions are just as valuable as are those of the leading experts who tend to publish their findings in journals with names we find it difficult to pronounce. Names originating almost always in the Greek and therefore striking our ears with all the subtlety of a claw hammer. I recoil from violence when it arrives as itself, as something so obviously designed to cause bodily harm to others that one can not reasonably argue otherwise. But when there is some room for interpretation, for deciding that what one experiences – what one sees and what one hears -- is not necessarily the same thing as what is actually out there, my mind increases the speed of its operations two or threefold and the ideas that result begin to accumulate at the base of some enormous structure that has also appeared as if out of thin air. It towers above everything else around it and you might crane your neck in an effort to catch a glimpse of the top where it recedes beyond what look suspiciously like clouds, but it is impossible to see the top given that the structure has no top and no bottom. It is all middle much like a story someone is already telling when you walk into the room and which continues long after you have lost interest in it and decide to leave. I become acutely aware for some reason that my hat is the same color as the structure and I begin to wonder, as is only natural, if maybe they are made of the same material. But my curiosity has never been overly aggressive. It is just the sort of thing, like an aged canine, that raises its head at the advent of a loud noise but lowers it again almost immediately, the realization that noise by itself is rarely harmful overtaking it and allowing room then for more mundane considerations to make their appearance. Like whatever happened to those vivid dreams that used to haunt my sleep every night when I was a young man? Why aren’t there rhinoceroses trundling about in the dining room any longer? Why do I no longer feel someone’s delicate fingers snaking their way deliberately around my throat? In the other room people have decided to do without their shoes. They have piled them up in the corners. Some of them have chucked their shoes out the windows, afraid, I suppose, that the others in the room will be able to discern the most compromising details about them just by gazing at what they put on their feet. I would follow suit, but I know I would have to explain myself later; I’d have to come up with a more compelling reason for my decision than they do if only because no one believes me when I am telling the truth. The truth tends to tumble from my mouth in discreet pieces. Broken. Shattered at the edges, so that if you were to run your fingers over it at these edges (and not the middle which is dull and cold to the touch) you could expect to draw blood, to accidentally dislodge splinters and push them so deep into your flesh, they will never come out again. Not even when someone -- a loved one, a relative much too anxious to play this role of both savior and deliverer of pain – offers to have a go at your flesh with a pair of tweezers.

Friday, February 10, 2012

At some point, our wounds – both literal and figurative, though I suppose it is the latter we fear more -- begin to stitch themselves up when no one is looking. They threaten to usher in an era of relative sanity and of hygiene unlike anything we have ever experienced before. They are sick and tired of waiting for us to look after them properly. To figure out where each part belongs in relation to the whole and why we need different designations for the part and the whole when they are very nearly identical entities if examined closely. They belong to each other the way we belong to the ashes from which we are said to have arisen and to which we are said to return by those who don’t believe in anything other than a very strict interpretation of the phrases they read when they are home by themselves in bed with the lamp on and the wind howling outside like miners lost inside the mine, and the phrases that have been recited out loud to them at important ceremonies throughout their lives. At the start of banquets, for instance, that might then last sometimes in excess of six hours. The actual length all depends on who has been seated next to whom and what they find they have in common to discuss. Much of what gets said at functions of this sort involves the body and how to manipulate in such a way that it can be expected to give pleasure to others. I don’t think the object is to inform, though, to make sure those in attendance walk away with knowledge or insights they did not possess previously. I think the purpose is to eliminate all discussion of purpose once and for all. To relegate the concept to something like an empty box stored away in the corner of the cellar. The same corner where most of the other boxes are stored as well, and should you decide to open one of them because you are curious, because you have found that any enclosed cardboard space is apt to hide something of value, you would discover that it too has been used to store items and ideas no longer deemed necessary or relevant. Old baseball cards. Whisk brooms and ledgers in green covers with hand-printed numbers running down their pages like rain water down the tin sides of a shanty. Or the tattoos on the arms of the woman you loved once who you can’t quite get out of your mind now even though it has been twenty years since you last spoke to her, since she last wrapped you in those arms immaculate and tendriled, with the eagles anchored to them and staring out at a world fortunate enough to know how to move, to have never forgotten what it’s like to be in one place and then decide you want to be in another. And finding in the process that there is nothing capable of stopping you. No stubborn flesh. No borders made permanent with cheap ink and blood.         

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Endeavor to drop the accent as it will never sound authentic, even if it is. We judge words based on their sound and not their meaning because we know somewhere deep inside ourselves without anyone having to tell us, without anyone having to demonstrate this truth through intricate logical maneuvers, that words can never mean anything, or at least they can’t mean anything in quite the same way that objects can, the way objects mean something when you place them side by side on a flat surface. And then you step back and you wave your arm a certain way – in a sweeping motion over the objects. Or, if they are large, in their general direction. Those in the audience will begin to shift about uncomfortably in their seats. Minutes pass, more people get anxious and pretty soon someone is shouting in the back row, stringing together expletives as if they were bits of shell and he was in the process of making a necklace. Make no mistake – he and the others like him are in on it; they have been rehearsed, they have been carefully selected based on the color of their mustaches and the blank looks they get in their eyes whenever you ask them a question concerning the Adriatic Sea, or the hypotenuse of a triangle and why it is almost always more beautiful than the other sides. After the others have cleared out, I approach a table occupied by a single, snarky-looking little man and three women each at least three times his size. I try to make out what they are saying before I get there, but the conversation unravels at the speed of electricity and sounds – as a consequence of each of these people speaking at exactly the same time – as if it were created by a machine. One with a handle on the side and a mechanism hidden away in the interior of the machine, a mechanism that is set in motion by someone turning the handle. The mechanism, I imagine, forces gears of soft metal to rub against one another so that there is a great deal of friction, but not an excess of heat. Hence, the hum. One gets the sense immediately that what all of this is aping is the physical operations of human coitus while intentionally leaving out some of the more salient factors, such as what we like to call an “emotional connection” and an imagination wholly taken up sometimes with images of other people’s shoes. It doesn’t take long, though, to realize we have been misled, have been left to fend for ourselves on a terrace overlooking a series of other terraces, each of which is, as near as we can tell (and believe me – we look; we have no choice but to look) abandoned. Bare of all life, except for perhaps a housefly here and there. Even that we can’t be sure of because the distances involved are such that what one thinks one sees might turn out, in actual fact, to be an illusion -- a trick of depth and shadows, and the mind’s unconquerable desire to populate the world beyond its borders with other entities very much like itself. Meaning, very frail things. Abysmal things just moments from flickering out. But possessed, for all that, of a sense that they ought, by rights, to burn forever. That no one has ever experienced that unseemly thing called light in quite this form before.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A dozen steps lead to a lower level where the tropical vegetation has overtaken and concealed much of the concrete and the glass tile work, hides it from view and simultaneously allows the local amphibians to thrive without drying up, desiccation being that state they fear most – given the ready permeability of their membranes – if amphibians can accurately be said to fear anything at all. Which is not to suggest they are a particularly brave class of creature so much as to question the complexity of what goes on inside their heads. I consider lying beneath a particularly impressive overarching of banana leaves all day, or until the sun has drifted so far west as to seem as if it doesn’t belong to our world any longer. As if it were its own entity and obeyed its own agenda without being the least bit concerned with what we might need or want from it, those of us occupying a sphere ninety-six million miles away (if you are to insist on a materialist reading of where we stand in relation to the other objects of the universe and what our influence over them might conceivably entail). Shouldn’t the architecture of the sky follow some set and rigid pattern rather than simply changing every hour with the whims of whatever architect designed the sky in the first place and then decided he didn’t like it, decided it might as well be left to its own devices? Or are we asking too much of the sky when we attempt to discern within it patterns and messages and other oblique ways of giving guidance to those of us here on solid ground where guidance is – to put it mildly -- so difficult to come by? It usually takes the form of words spoken by relatives determined to make us feel as if we have been behaving in a decidedly selfish fashion, or those written down by authors who don’t really care if we pay attention to what they are saying. They are too busy wondering where their next swallow of good scotch is going to come from and how they are going to take the events that actually happened to them at some point in the distant past – be they traumatic and involving the sudden appearance of pythons snakes or blissful and necessitating the tangling of limbs and the quickening of breath one otherwise associates with staying on a treadmill too long – and alter them so as to make them unrecognizable to those who might have participated in the original events. If these altered events manage somehow, for all that, to become potentially transformative, to become that which finally makes the unbearable lives of those who consume them bearable if only for an hour or two while they (those who have plunked down their fourteen dollars and ninety-five cents) hold the book in their hands, so much the better. But of course it is a balancing act with no hope of success, the sort of thing the high-wire artist experiences just as the wind is picking up and he is preparing to plunge the thirty or so stories to his death. The sort of thing that makes us wonder if perhaps we ought to abandon our search for transcendence, for anything even remotely life-affirming, and decide finally to just get by -- the way rodents do when they are shredding bits of newspaper to line their nests or the way the invasive zebra mussels of the great lakes do when they attach themselves to solid surfaces beneath the waves and wait out whatever time they have been given without so much as moving an inch.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Each sphere acts as a container of some sort. You can see whatever it contains moving around inside it, shuddering and rolling, pushing against the sides in a desperate attempt to break free. The spheres are arranged in neat rows five and six deep along the banks of a stream, on the muddy part that rises higher than the rest of the surrounding earth and otherwise serves to keep the stream from regularly inundating the environs around it. The question naturally arises as to the nature of whatever placed the spheres here – was it beast or human, something with foresight or something obeying simple instructions planted in its even simpler brain millennia before? We will, of course, never arrive at any satisfactory conclusions if only because conclusions are themselves remnants of a time we no longer inhabit, no longer even recognize when it flashes up on a screen and we are asked to comment, in writing, on what we have seen. On whether what we have seen makes any sense in the context of the present. Or when it is combined with what we haven’t seen, with what has merely been implied by the setting we find ourselves in and the fragrances that keep wafting in through the open windows. I am feeling more fatigued by this procedure than are my companions and they can barely keep their eyes open! I think sometimes we are subjected to interrogation simply to satisfy the will of those who would otherwise be without any discernible will at all, who would languish on a pile of pillows until someone discovered them there, all jutting hipbones and skin the consistency of paper. Maybe it’s time we began asserting our independence by following certain footpaths through the grass, those that lead the way out of the city -- out of civilization itself -- by way of the junk yard and the water treatment plant. Maybe it’s time to start pointing directly at other people’s chests with our crooked index fingers even as we are doing so. At least that way we’d be clear of the overhanging power lines that sag and spit their malevolent energy, their unseemly apparitions, at us every moment of every day without most of us knowing where exactly these apparitions came from. We just wish they’d go away. Think of the publicity afterward! The headlines screaming our triumph in capital letters, the public servants committing the civic equivalent of ritual suicide -- saying not their own names but someone else’s name over and over again, repeating it until that name begins to sound like a collection of nonsense syllables conjured up in order to cast a spell. Whatever it is they are up to, the birds know better than to hang around and let such sounds affect them adversely. They scatter from the branches of the trees, fly as high as they can until they appear to be mere specks against the overcast sky, remnants of some memory that moved us once to tears but which now seems flimsy and alien. The sort of thing you dispel with a quick shake of the head, followed sometimes by a long swallow of whatever liquid is in the glass you happen to be holding in your hand.           

Friday, February 3, 2012

Each generation of the particular species of fly I have in mind lives only about thirty eight minutes, so those observing can determine the effects of any single mutation on an entire population within a day or two. They can then communicate this information to their peers via megaphone or fax machine. What ensues is a free-for-all very similar in appearance to those that take place when you toss a handful of cash down from a balcony onto a crowded floor of any sort. People come scurrying like crabs with their claws in the air and their mouths take on what appears to be a permanent grimace, at least from your vantage point standing above them, among the plastic ferns and the Modigliani prints. Certainly there are steps you can take to prevent the situation from getting out of hand, but these are so numerous and so needlessly complicated it might work just as well to create a list of your own and then ignore it completely. When Eulalie feels an itch that is in reality not so much an itch as a circumscribed ache with no one in particular at the other end of it, she gives me a call and I come running, but in the meantime she has usually decided to vacate the premises and the rest of the evening becomes a game of guessing which way to turn and what phrase to call out into the darkness in hopes of getting her to respond. My money is almost always on some form of flattery, a lengthy commentary on the inverted V’s of her cheek bones, the protuberances on other parts of her body as well and why they are so unique as to defy ordinary nomenclature. We will have to find new ways of referring to them by searching though a dictionary and selecting terms at random. The results will startle us into something like a coma, but only for a moment. Only for about 7 seconds, to be exact. After that we are as energetic again as if Eulalie herself had injected us with a syringe full of synthetic adrenaline. Whatever that’s called. I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to wake up next to her some mornings, the sun filtering in through the cheap muslin curtains, the sounds of bus traffic and the endless rounds of tennis played nearby finding their way in through the cracks in the plaster, and under the front door where (in one scenario notable for its plausibility, for its evenhanded manner) someone is knocking so insistently I begin to wonder if maybe I am in danger. Whoever is out there doesn’t seem content to take silence for an answer, which means, I suppose, he has some knowledge as to what is likely to have taken place here during his absence. Assuming, of course, he has been absent, he hasn’t simply been lurking out there from the beginning hoping to gather evidence of both the audible and visual variety. And then do what with it? I wonder. Present it before a panel convened specifically to hear that evidence? Drop it in a drawer (or to be more precise – drop whatever medium has been used to contain that evidence, to store and preserve it for posterity) where the other evidence he has gathered over the years involving this case and any other he might be involved with has been gathering dust and even warping the wood of the drawer there through its accumulated bulk? Which, of course, makes the drawer very difficult to open. Pretty soon – because one is never satisfied one has gotten to the bottom of any mystery, and so one continues to hunt up clues and further bits of flotsam for what amounts sometimes to an entire  lifetime --- it will begin to seem as if the drawer has been permanently sealed shut.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What if the shell, in this instance, serves a function contrary to that it ordinarily serves? What if, instead of protecting the fragile inner contents of the egg from the hostile outside world, this time it is designed to protect the outside world from whatever is contained within the egg? I am beginning to suspect my position is not merely a matter of bad luck and worse timing; perhaps all of this has been planned and I am the victim of a brand of consciousness that, despite its being ultimately unidentifiable, remains consciousness for all that. That can not shake off its nature no matter how hard it tries. In this it is similar of course to yours truly, but this doesn’t mean it is identical. Sometimes we imagine the contours of the Earth follow the contours of the gray matter and any attempt to separate them will destroy both. It is a symbiosis that allows for only one player and so seems, at first glance, a contradiction. Something to placate with dark chocolate and puzzles, with soothing words that nevertheless suggest in combination a second meaning – a revaluation of all previous statements in the light of the final statement. I try to palpate different portions of the shell when I am otherwise unoccupied, sitting by myself with a glass of wine and listening to the radio for clues as to what is happening at the antipodes. I expect hollow sounds but usually receive something like the sound one makes when one stubs a toe, that involuntary exhalation so deep within the body as to suggest it didn’t originate with that individual body but found its genesis in the mud of some far away swamp so removed in the dim past of the species as to seem entirely made up. Rendered from an artist’s best educated guess and years of practice of the sort those of us less dedicated to our crafts can only imagine by closing our eyes and concentrating on a single, deeply upsetting image like a beloved pet struck lifeless at the side of the road or someone we know and consider ourselves to be friendly with suddenly achieving spectacular success in his every endeavor while we are left to founder about just as lost and confused and ineffective as we have ever been. In this instance, we are left certain that the future, because it has never been anything other than a rabid continuation of the present, something without imagination or mercy, will inevitably bring more of the same, and it this knowledge that leads to visions of such intensity as to suggest both the brain has been damaged irrevocably, and that this damage -- the lesions and unseen scars, the consequent vivid hallucinations – can’t help but work to our advantage.