The roof is the place to see parrots, an entire population of them descended from a single breeding pair that escaped twenty years ago from their cages at the zoological park. They congregate now in separate flocks of ten or twelve and multiply the same way the rest of us do. I like their colors against the drab concrete and the billboards, their chattering at all hours of the night, though I suspect I am in the minority there. Two kids with slingshots have at them but their aim is atrocious. If I had something heavy with me I’d drop it on their heads – something like the onyx globe, for instance, I stole from the Dean of Students’ office when I went there to visit and the Dean didn’t recognize me. He was immediately frightened, could sense that something was not right, and he tried to act as if he were perfectly capable of defending himself should matters get out of hand. Some people seem to think matters are always just a squint-eyed glance or awkward phrase away from getting out of hand. It was when he had excused himself, when he was going, he said, in search of some paperwork he was sure I was supposed to sign (though really I knew he was running for safety, looking about desperately in the hallway for someone with a badge and a gun to come and arrest me) that I stole the globe. I didn’t even bother trying to hide it under my coat, the coat I had brought with me for the express purpose of hiding stolen objects under. The kids who dislike the parrots so intensely listen to Thelonious Monk recordings all day when they are not trying to shoot the parrots with their slingshots. They are positively obsessed, which makes them miscreants in my book and deserving of something heavy dropped on their heads. If things keep going the way they have been going, soon every interior organ in my body will be damaged beyond repair, turned into a grotesque, spongy replica of itself unless I can find a way of reversing the procedure, of making the light that originates inside my body less anxious to make its escape. The only way I know of accomplishing this is to hold perfectly still for hours at a time, refusing to so much as blink until it is completely impossible not to. The sounds of Monk knocking about on the keyboard three stories below puts me off my game sometimes and I curse a little under my breath, shift about uncomfortably and then start again. You’d be surprised at how still the human body can be when the right mind has taken control of it. My record for not blinking must remain an unknown quantity because you can not do anything so deliberate as count and still expect to will your eyes into total immobility. Still, an educated guess might be in the neighborhood of three or four hours despite what the experts would undoubtedly have to say to the contrary. I know what I know, and the ocular experts in this neighborhood at any rate spend entirely too much time at McMullen’s Lounge, swilling gin and congratulating themselves on having married someone new or having published an article in a journal the rest of us know nothing about. If we were -- simply on a lark, simply so as to try to make a point that desperately needs making -- to try to subscribe to it, we’d be rebuffed as a matter of course. We’d be told in no uncertain terms to tackle something more appropriate to our abilities and our education level. Something with lush and sparsely populated tropical islands in it, say, and a story that isn’t true but seems as if it could be.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
I hone my skills at the impromptu marketplace they set up in the square downtown most Saturdays, pocketing handfuls of green beans and the occasional plum. I suspect some of the merchants, the farmers mostly come in from the outlying areas to peddle their miserable muddy produce, know what I’m up to. They all give me long, distrustful looks like those you might expect of religious icons when you don’t happen to be a believer of that particular religion. I don’t know, maybe statues can’t actually discern the things I think they can. Maybe they are face blind and without the requisite reasoning centers in their stony brains. If I had an hour or two to start chiseling away at a piece of marble, I’d make something that looked like a manta ray and try to sell it for a substantial amount of money at the gallery. I’d lug it around on my back in the middle of the afternoon, inviting all the little children I see to come and have a look at it, maybe even take a picture with it if someone had a camera. The last time the city flooded, I thought I saw something struggling in the water, something so enormous as to take up the better part of a city block. It came to the surface only rarely and made such a commotion, such a splashing and a stirring up of the sentiments washed down from the nearby hills, you couldn’t tell what it was exactly. When I try to explain it to people all these years later, the best I can come up with is a comparison with known creatures from mythology – griffins and centaurs and the like, though the comparison is, of necessity, loose and designed mostly to demonstrate a level of classical education on my part and not so much to communicate the actual truth about whatever was making its way up Baxter street in the waves outside my window. Odd, how we wish others to see us a certain way, as perhaps more urbane and less spiteful than we actually are, and we will go to such lengths to implant this image we begin to believe it ourselves. We throw it over our own shoulders like a shawl. If, that is, we are in the habit of wearing shawls. I have never, to my knowledge, owned one. Which is not to say I would object to owning something like a shawl or would refuse to wear one should someone give me a shawl as a gift. It’s just that I associate that particular accessory with a group of old women – ribald, skeletal things -- who gather in the sunshine in the courtyard of the senior center up the street, and whenever I pass by, they shout the most degrading things at me! Usually this consists of a litany of obscene actions they’d like to see me perform in the street. At first I would stand there for a moment, mortified, unable to comprehend the depravity these old women were apparently capable of, before hurrying along. Then, after it had happened a time or two and I had become used to it, I began to consider their requests. I mean, why not? What else did I have to do? And why not make someone’s final days on this earth that much more pleasurable if it is within your power to do so?
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
The light originates, I am positive now, inside my own body. I have studied the phenomenon closely for twenty minutes and there can be no doubt of the direction the light is taking – it starts in the lower back and seeks its escape presumably because it knows it will do the most good on the outside where it can join the substance just like itself streaming down from above. I would like to facilitate its escape by loosening my garments, maybe even tearing at the flesh that is blocking the way, but it’s cold, the sky is clear and I’m afraid of what people might say should they happen to be passing by on the street, look up and witness my frantic movements. I have been accused of all sorts of pathologies in the past by these people and I’m sure they wouldn’t hesitate to add to the list. There is something about congregating in great numbers that causes the many to have at the few with big sticks, or to construct pocket-sized effigies and stick them with pins. From my vantage point on the roof, the city spreads out like a rash, covering both sides of the river and spanning it in places as if to say “You can not defeat me.” Of course the river has the last laugh when it floods, which it does seriously about once every ten years, if my memory serves me correctly. But why start in the middle when it’s better not to start at all? Or to start and then to quit immediately because you recognize the futility of every endeavor that doesn’t involve making plants appear where before there had been simply a lot of dirt? I had imagined the light would redouble its efforts once I was outside, on the roof, closer, in effect to that which the light wishes to rejoin, but I was mistaken. It seems almost as if the light has resigned itself to staying inside, where it is dark but for the aftereffects of the light itself. I must try to coax it free so that it doesn’t roast my sensitive interior with its longing, with its energy naturally intensified by being contained within such a limited space. I can feel certain organs already beginning to give way – the spleen, for instance, if the spleen actually resides in the lower portion of the body cavity where I think it resides -- and the panic I feel would be outsized and uncontrollable if not for my training in relaxation techniques that had their origins, coincidentally enough, in the thought and practice of people who spent a great deal of time thinking about and writing about the sun. They seemed to believe the sun was some sort of deity, while at the same time recognizing that this belief was basically untenable, the sort of thing the least sophisticated of our forebears always gravitated toward because they had nothing else to replace it. They operated with a paucity of thought that nevertheless left them feeling perfectly contented in the morning when they rose from their beds of, I don’t know, fallen leaves? And began scrounging around in the dirt and the tree roots, looking for grubs to eat. Or patrolled the ocean’s edge, searching for shells and other naturally-forged trinkets to trade with their frequently treacherous and always unruly neighbors.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Some of the substances can not be classified as completely legal, but in that case I just simply refuse to use any sort of classification system at all. Or I complicate the classification hopelessly by adding elements that don’t belong. Ingredients, for instance, that come from overseas, testimonials that go on for pages and don’t really manage to say anything definite other than that someone has taken the time to compose the testimonial and he is now probably looking for a similar line of work so as to continue to influence the outcome of decisions being made on the other side of the globe by people he will never meet. Or if he does happen to meet them, it will be under entirely separate circumstances and no one, including the author of the testimonials himself, is liable to make the connection. I barter for my portion with whatever I happen to discover in the garage or the attic, and if I am lucky, something priceless comes my way because I have chosen to branch out beyond my own garage or attic and have made my way into those belonging to other people. I am not adverse to scaling trellises or jimmying windows in the middle of the night, though this can get hairy sometimes when whoever resides there is still awake and watching a film about a Korean serial killer or working on his memoirs. I try to explain myself at exactly the same time as I am turning on my heels to flee because this will confuse whoever it is I am facing and give me a moment or two’s advantage. Which, so far, at any rate, has made all the difference. I frequently wonder what would happen should I run up against someone utilizing the same technique after I have caught him slipping in through one of my own basement windows. Will I see it coming? Will I know instinctively how to react and manage to apprehend the intruder before he disappears again into the night? Sometimes, in these situations, the moon is a brilliant accomplice and you simply have to know how to use its light to your advantage by studying the moon’s movements and the different shapes it assumes at different times of the month. To this end, I spend hours each day pouring over charts and ancient atlases, information handed down by generations of amateur astronomers for the sole purpose, it seems, of making my life easier. But it rarely works. After all that, I no more recognize what I see in the heavens from one evening to the next than I do the facial features of the strangers who pass me in the street when I am headed in the general direction of my favorite diner by the river. A place where they serve veal on Wednesdays, and, believe it or not, it is very reasonably priced.
Friday, March 23, 2012
Whenever I get the urge to start over, to eliminate at least one substance from the list of substances that is already a page and a half long, and replace it with one that doesn’t make the usual lists because it is bitter and no one has bothered yet to give it a name, I must stifle it just as I must stifle every urge that comes my way before I become a slave to each of them in turn. Before I morph into the sort of person you read about in pamphlets handed out at church. With black and white art work on the cover that looks at first as if it were depicting your everyday, run-of-the-mill demon, but in fact, on closer examination, turns out to be a close-up of a locust’s face or the underside of someone’s shoe. A couple weeks pass and nothing changes for the better. In fact, everything seems to intensify – the sound of tires rolling past on the pavement outside, the spot in the middle of my back where light originates and attempts to break free of the skin cells that impede it. The pain is such that I begin to wonder if I am really producing light with my body at all. I might instead be absorbing it in an unnatural way and turning it into fuel, but not the sort that makes you happier or stronger or more likely to find cash on the sidewalk when you are walking, not the sort others would then inevitably envy me for. The people I know have this way of turning everything around backwards and making it sound as if I have propositioned them. At the theatre when the lights have just gone down and the previews are coming on and everyone is still talking about all the remarkable things that have happened to them in the past month. Sometimes I want to turn around and hurl solid objects at anyone who happens to be sitting behind me, but I almost never have anything handy that would do the trick. And nine times out of ten, no one is sitting back there to begin with. If I had half an imagination, if I were to plan things better, I’d swing by the grocery store first and buy a couple of pineapples, assuming they are in season. I’d find a way to smuggle them in with me, which means I’d have to get a bigger coat and that will be difficult as I have very little money at the moment. There’s always stealing. I know that the so-called difference between right and wrong, the demarcation at the heart of any truly civilized human soul, is a popular topic among those who believe they will never have to paint one room the same color as the other. They won’t have to navigate entirely by sight because their hands have blisters on them and so have been bandaged up. They are wrapped entirely in gauze. But the topic bores me the same way lemonade bores me or kissing someone I have known for more than a couple of years. It feels as if it is too demanding, as if it expects the rest of us to take it as seriously as we take ourselves, and that is not something in its favor. In fact, I doubt it can be done.
Monday, March 19, 2012
Clamming took up the entire day and he arrived home that evening covered in a mud that stunk of thirteen different types of protein, that came off in sheets under the hose. His mind shot off into the far corners of the county, cataloging, sorting and prioritizing when it should have been walking itself through whatever process was necessary to allow it to disengage from the outside world come evening. When the swallows found their way to the silos and the radio advertised something no one he knew would ever use. Something with pumice in it. And baring a Malaysian name. How frequently do we rob our own thoughts of their primary substance, turn those thoughts into bitter, empty shells before they even have a chance to break open of their own accord on the soils of the world? Inside you might have found diamonds and objects that looked just like diamonds but for the words engraved upon the surface, whole sentences sometimes with yet further sentences suggested and forbidden at precisely the same time. His barometer had fallen sometime during the day and it lay cracked and useless on the floor, the glass shards crunching underfoot as he stepped over the barometer and returned, uncertain of what he was supposed to do. People would be depending on him for information but he would no longer be able to provide it now. They would call to complain, to cancel their subscriptions, and he would, most likely, have moved to the shed by then, far from the ringing of the phone, re-soling his boots and talking to himself. Inventing riddles with answers that did not seem like answers, or questions either, or declarative sentences for that matter. They didn’t seem as if they had been invented at all, but were simply plucked out of the air fully-formed by someone who could see such things floating around above our heads while we were oblivious. We marched blindly ahead until the street turned to the right and the property facing the road was overrun with brambles. It was literally impossible to tell who owned it or why it had been allowed to go to seed like that without your doing a great deal of investigation. Without thumbing through records at the court house, for instance, and interviewing witnesses who, in all likelihood, weren’t even there. They were riding their bicycles instead, following the routes first laid out (so rumor has it) by the backwoodsmen -- the trappers and the primitive surveyors and the dirt farmers -- who first called this isthmus home. I suppose, though, knowing what I know of the troubled history of this region, that that last statement ought to be amended. To include mention of those who preceded the heroes of our tale. As well as those who just arrived a day or two ago, anxious to see for themselves what their own faces will look like when reflected in the peat-stained streams that wind their way between structures here like the opaque and implausible, if highly entertaining, syllogisms of a lunatic.
Friday, March 16, 2012
The part about the fragments was good; you might almost be forgiven for keeping that around for a day or two, setting certain portions of it to music. If you know how to play the banjo, say. Or just how to arrange musical notes on a staff, which doesn’t look all that difficult to me. Of course, no one bothered to inform me the crate had arrived and that inside the crate something was desperate to get out. It had eyes you could see in the darkness between the slats, glowing red orbs that portended evil. Everything, it seems, portents evil these days. Everything is sick and tired of serving someone else’s purposes and so, in order to make its escape, in order to assert itself finally the way the Ibex asserts itself against others of its kind by ramming them with the massive, curly-cue horns on its head, all of creation has decided to cast some spells on you. It has decided to get in your mind and stir the conceptual circuitry about like so much cake batter. I recommended a different course, one involving the methodical mastering of foreign tongues and asking complete strangers to identify the single physical characteristic (widely-spaced eyes, lips that turn up at the corners) they possessed that made other people think they were trustworthy or competent. When this didn’t produce any meaningful results, I gave up entirely on meaningful results and concentrated instead on those that could be had for the asking. Whichever results just showed up because you stuck your hand out or you dropped a glass object from a great height and instructed everyone around you to be quiet and listen. I can’t imagine why the tarmac seemed suddenly so much shorter, why the approach was hampered by ginkgo trees with leaves the size and consistency of ceramic ashtrays. But it was and we would just have to deal with that. We had to recognize that the world is not manufactured according to anyone’s specifications, that it doesn’t have to fit together like a hose and the wet end of a spigot. I went back to the hangar after it had emptied out, and I examined the debris, the splinters, the place in the corner stained with blood. I was struck by how timid the memory is, how reluctant it is to serve its original purpose, which means, I suppose, vomiting up the information it has been asked to store. Perhaps this is due to its relatively late arrival on a scene that had been, if not humming, then stumbling along just fine without it for a million years. In fact, I imagine some very hard feelings once it decided to make its appearance. Name-calling, a campaign to have it removed from the premises just as if it had committed a violent crime, or worse. A desecration. This is why you can still make out today a faint outline in the dust, parallel lines where something like fingernails got dragged through the dirt. And why when you try to look away from the spot, you can’t. You can’t even whistle in time to the piano someone two houses down has started playing in what seems like accompaniment but is probably just coincidence. After all, who has the time to score your experience? To spend the morning commenting on everything you see in the medium of minor thirds instead of getting dressed like an ordinary person and going to work?
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Once she unbuckled the strap, gravity took over and the various pharmaceuticals plunged to the floor. That in vials escaped when the glass broke and you could have heard the weeping from two streets over. My arms felt as though they had been turned around backwards, against their normal rotation, and though I couldn’t remember how I had come to this point, I was glad that I was here. Otherwise, I should have been at home watching television with a family that clearly couldn’t stand me anymore. They had begun formulating names for the different parts of my body that offended them in some way, comparing notes and making sure each name sounded unique, that it didn’t resemble the one that preceded it in terms of number of syllables and types of vowel sound. I told her I thought we should rest a while in the back room where the lights didn’t work and where certain robust vines had infiltrated the walls. Sometimes, if you listened closely enough, you could hear ants and mantises and centipedes making their way inside along the pathway of these vines. Their movements sounded like someone whispering your name over and over again at a level too faint to hear precisely but still loud enough to be audible for all that. Her hair curled up at the ends and reminded me of cliffs I had visited once where people got paid to throw themselves over the side. No one could really see what was awaiting them, the abyss there just as total -- just as infinitely black -- as, I imagine, the abyss is anywhere, by definition. We listened for the sound of one object making violent contact with another, of a dull thud or water being displaced rapidly, but nothing ever made it to our ears. Pretty soon, the line of people waiting for their turn was so long, someone had to come there with a system of ropes and brass poles just to keep everyone in order, to keep them from swinging at each other’s torsos with whatever weapons they happened to have on hand. My time was running out so rapidly I requested a visual aid -- an hourglass, or someone pedaling furiously on a bicycle, getting further and further away until I couldn’t tell anymore where her legs were and where her arms. Pretty soon the bicyclist’s head was incorporated into the dark line of the horizon so completely as to fail even to increase its height by a millimeter. I too, I realized, was swallowed up at every instant by a line I could not see, one that ran right through my body on either side and continued forever in either direction, searching, no doubt, for someone who could make the whole process cease, who could turn the line back into what it was at its beginning. A single point in space, wholly self sufficient. Something with no need for companionship, no desire to increase itself lest that desire morph into a compulsion like that which makes most of us miserable when we find we must go to bed at night alone.
Monday, March 12, 2012
Half dead from dehydration I traipsed to the end of the field and then turned around to see where I had come from, the hills and the villages between the hills and then the field itself full of desiccated weeds and plastic wrappers blown there in some instances years before. It was impossible to make out the lettering on such wrappers and when I tried later to make this fact suggestive of the weakness of language itself, tried to make it seem as if every word uttered is temporary and of no final consequence, the push back was immediate and all-consuming. The sort of thing that might be expected to send a lesser man into hiding on one of the islands in the middle of the river, but which simply had the effect of making me even more recalcitrant than I already was. I stood up as tall as I could, on my toes, and punctuated everything I said with an emphatic stab of my right forefinger. About this time, a woman I had met maybe once before called me out of the blue, said she was sitting at the deli about a mile away and wanted to know if I had any interest in meeting her there. She would, she explained, keep her hands clear of the silverware at all times and promised not to say my name out loud in case anyone in the vicinity might recognize it. I reassured her that the likelihood of that occurring was miniscule and that I had no plans for the moment but this could change if those at the dig site stumbled onto something and needed a second or third opinion as to what that something might be. Expertise is not always a boon for those who hold it. Sometimes it coaxes them down interminable rivers, and I don’t mean the figurative sort either, but real rivers with real carnivorous fish in them and poisonous vines hanging from the trees that line the bank. By the time I reached the destination in question, the woman was gone and I was forced to weigh the benefits of pursuit against the drawbacks of finally getting your hands on whatever it is you have been desiring. Sometimes desire is just another emotion in disguise – fear, for instance, with all its unruly facial hair, its habit of walking up and down the same street day after day with the assistance of a cane. If you were to get close enough to un-mask it, the others in the room might try to stop you. They might pull at your shirtsleeves, draw a finger across their own throats and open their eyes so wide you’d think something had gone wrong with the muscles in their face. But none of this should stop you. It is imperative you identify the masquerade and spell out once and for all, perhaps with a hand-lettered sign you nail to the trunk of a nearby tree, the very real penalties one can expect for engaging in such behavior. Friends turning their enormous, pimply backs on you, for instance. Lightning finding you (unerringly this time) from its inscrutable place of origin in the sky.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Contact spurred further contact and led me to believe I knew the person I was speaking to intimately. It’s a mistake I make with such frequency those who know me refer to the mistake itself by my first name. Then they nearly succumb to ailments they picked up while traveling abroad. I fell in with a group of sungazers and thought that I too could get whatever energy I needed to sustain all physical activity simply by looking directly at the sun as it began to set. This went on for several weeks, during which time I limited my intake of food to that which I was able to find lying about on the ground. Discarded crusts of bread mostly and the occasional lizard numbed into immobility by the cooler temperatures. At some point the memories thinned out and I found myself spending more and more time shouting her name into the wind, but only when I was sure it was blowing in off the ocean and could not carry my voice down the street like a plastic bag. Who wants to be observed in that vulnerable state? But then again, who doesn’t wish for at least someone to take notice, to comment in such a way that the original state no longer seems so overwhelming if only because it has become an object of conjecture? Something you can look at from every angle and hold long, learned conversations about provided you are capable of distancing yourself from the original state sufficiently to see it as something that could have happened to someone else. Something that might even have been dreamed up in a laboratory where they are constantly dreaming up situations just to see how the average man or woman or child will react when faced with them. In the oculist’s office later, the full effect and benefit of hindsight falling on my shoulders like a predatory bird, I began to regret my decision and the outbreak of irrational anger that accompanied it, that caused her to run up the hill in a thunderstorm and disappear for several hours. We searched every crevice, every naturally-occurring cave for miles in either direction but could discover no hint of her whereabouts. And though we certainly weren’t about to give up, we didn’t like the idea of continuing forever either. I mean, what would we be losing in the meantime? How would know when our dedication had become a lunatic’s obsession and how would we be able to explain ourselves later to those we had abandoned? The children and the other bit players. The neighbors two and three doors down. The cousins we hadn’t grown up with and so didn’t know much about. Whether they were married, for instance. Whether they ever once questioned – deep in the night when no one was around to influence their decision, when the unruly kingdom of dreams hovered just out of reach -- if the world was, in fact, as conventional wisdom had it, round.
Friday, March 9, 2012
Would you expect visual representation when all you have before you is random shapes and colors, a pattern that only a machine could extract? And that after seven months of trying. Her foot felt as if it had been crushed but there was no visible injury, no discoloration or record of the event. When they attempted to infiltrate her dreams they found their progress blocked at every turn by something very like concrete, which suggested they were starting at the climax and ought to reverse their course if they wished for results of the sort others might replicate. After that, no one would speak for fear of raising the specter of revenge, of fully grown human beings wandering about the hallways dressed like the invertebrates that call tide pools home. The starfish and the anemones. I would like to be able to tell you the hours begin to empty themselves of grappling hooks eventually, of every sharp thing that pulls at the flesh as the flesh is passing through, but to do so would be to commit the venal sin of saying things just because people wish to hear them or because they feel good in the throat. The ground grew more moist the further west she travelled and she was afraid people could read her mind. The combination, as all combinations will, ruined the ambiance she had worked so hard to create, ruined it in an instant, though this instant happened to extend itself well beyond what could legitimately be considered the boundary and influence of that word. Perhaps this is why her heart rate increased suddenly to a perilous level. It had nothing to do with the hand stroking the flesh of her neck rhythmically, had nothing to do with the fingers reaching for the place where her lips met the left corner of her mouth. Who knows? another ten minutes and you might have sensed something snaking its way between the shrubs at the base of the flag pole, an apparition every bit as mysterious as the ones that have the habit of showing up in old houses. Only this one was composed of flesh and blood and a little bit of cartilage, and when you tried to corner it, when you tried to run it down and capture it with a butterfly net or the lid of a garbage can, it vanished. It seemed almost to taunt you. It knew, for example, your weakness was centered in the eyes. It knew that the harder you tried to employ your eyes in the service of whatever it was you were trying to accomplish, the more likely it was that they would cross involuntarily. They would begin sending you snapshots of objects that weren’t actually there. Like a porcelain Minotaur. Or certain river fish rumored to increase a woman’s fertility if she slept with one secreted beneath her pillow.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
The gland in his neck turned to stone seemingly overnight. It influenced the contents of his dream through the same process, I suppose, that made small organs solid, the same process that cast a pall over the evening’s proceedings because no one remembered to celebrate by blowing on the correct end of a trumpet. My reaction was photographed from every angle but the one that might have explained what exactly I was reacting to, why my words hung in the air for several moments like an impromptu gathering of terns. Later, he asked me if I knew someone whose name I forget now, and of course I said yes. Otherwise, everyone within earshot would have known I had arrived without a ticket, without so much as a pair of shoes. I had decided to borrow these things from the man standing outside. He didn’t seem to mind the rain or the cold too much, but he didn’t at all appreciate my tapping him on the shoulder. Leaving the moniker of the facility un-stated allows us to claim we knew what we were doing while at the same time giving us an out should the interrogation (which is coming as surely as is the Wednesday two Wednesdays from now) grow too personal. Should it immediately focus on the interior portions of our bodies where no light has shone for many years. Once, I underwent a procedure named for the Romanian physician who first suggested it in a paper, as well as the Norwegian physician who first attempted it afterward. He had some limited success, though that success was naturally overshadowed by the more numerous tragic failures that accompanied it, and by a very complex personal life. As you can imagine, the procedure is very difficult to pronounce and for this reason people usually just refer to it by a set of initials. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the history. If anything, it suggests we should probably be more vigilant in the recall of that history, and of the history of everything else we come into contact with on a daily or weekly basis. In the street, you could hear the barking of the vicious dog packs that roamed the garbage dump nearby, but this sound was hardly sufficient to distract one from the sound of classical instruments – oboes, I think, primarily -- drifting down from open windows, where, if you looked closely enough, you might discern an elegant female arm gesturing in languid accompaniment to something the arm’s owner was, no doubt, in the act of saying at that very moment. It was enough to make you wish you had learned at some point in the past how to interact with people at even the most fundamental of levels, had learned to communicate with them using something more satisfying and ultimately effective than simple guffaws and snarls. Then maybe you too could have been standing high up over the street looking down at the poor souls who wandered around beneath that window in the rain and the cold. Who had nowhere to go and very little to do once they got there. Strain the spaghetti, maybe. Make a picture with colored sand, then wipe it away again – destroy it -- before someone they loved happened by and saw it and insisted on having the thing explained to them in precise and exacting detail. The Doric columns and the piercing rays of the sun and the people milling about as if even a loose approximation of the world can’t be the world without a certain number of human beings taking up space in it. At the center or along the periphery. Which is no longer the periphery, really, once these quasi-human entities, these rough geometric stand-ins, arrive.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
The debate concerning the distinction between memory and imagination went on for less than two hours and brought no more light to the subject than if we had been discussing it in a cave. The one is very like the other, according to this way of looking at things (if you can call it looking rather than feeling about in the dark, with your fingers splayed and anticipating abrasion) except in terms of the strength of the impressions made. I disagree entirely with those (like Hume) who would have the first more powerful than the second. Let’s just say they have yet to open the refrigerator door and so don’t know what is liable to be hiding in the crisper. In a similar vein, I look away the moment my hand happens to clasp the hand of someone standing directly in front of me. Not because I lack confidence. I worry about the transference of viruses through the medium of warm and stagnant air. And I can’t imagine how this averting of the gaze could possibly harm anyone in the long run, though there can be no question of its offending in the short. Also, I frequently think maybe I’ll find ten dollars on the ground, as I did once twenty years ago. The man with the flimsy van dyke beard and the habit of rolling his r’s as if he’d been born in Barcelona had just barged in late and was waving his hands about wildly above his head, but the room had all but emptied out by that point and those who remained behind, a few clumsy bikers and a woman with the letter C emblazoned on her sweater, taunted him mercilessly. You would have thought they weren’t really human beings – in the noble sense, at least, the sense preferred by apologists for the species, the thinkers and cheerleaders who had a vested interested in making us see ourselves not in the light of the sun but the light cast by unsubtle fairy tales and hymns – but creatures so far beyond the pale, so bestially cruel, as to thwart any and all efforts to classify them. I tried to hide behind the mahogany bar because I was a coward, and even though I knew right from wrong, I didn’t really want anyone else to be aware of that fact. I wanted them to aim their attention elsewhere, even if in so doing, their red-hot attention wound up burning the skin off of whoever happened to get in the way. On this day, unfortunately, it was the man with the van dyke who had just come to warn us of the presence of a grizzly bear in the vicinity. An animal known to the locals as “Venerable Augustine” and tolerated because of its reluctance to charge. The next day, who knows, it might have been a child ordered to play outside with his sister and their friends in the neighborhood until the first street lights came on. Until they heard the strains of the stand-up bass emanating from the open windows of their home and knew that all was well again, that their parents were probably dancing arm-in-arm in the dining room or the kitchen and no more apt to notice their presence now underfoot than might the entwined serpents of Hermes’ caduceus.
Friday, March 2, 2012
My forearm twitched slightly before my eyes registered what it was I was looking for -- the blank place in the series. That place where the subtle gradation of shades of blue was supposed to have a gap in it. A band that would appear as nothing whatsoever – a zone devoid of all color -- if I had never before encountered that particular shade of blue in the actual world. According to the theory, as I remember it, I would have had to have gone temporarily blind around the age of thirty for this to work. Because I didn’t, I suspected some critics would claim this was sufficient enough explanation as to why my experience was contrary to what the philosophers and the psychologists and the engineers tell us was supposed to happen. That’s all well and good, but it was the fact that my unseeing, bony arm responded to the visual cue that had me staying awake, rolling about in bed past two and three o’clock in the morning, unable finally to trust my body to parse out roles to each of its individual parts in a responsible fashion. I mean, what would happen if my ears decided they should track the images even then swarming through my brain like winged insects? How would I explain my haggard appearance to the woman who had devoted half of her life to keeping people like me from running amok in the community? Her methods were crude, to be sure, involving wooden stakes and talk therapy, during which we didn’t so much talk as grunt, as lob our empty syllables in her general direction and pray that today wouldn’t be the day she came after us with a trowel. Rumors kept circulating that her legs were not real, that they had been amputated in a catastrophic accident some years previously, but any attempt to broach the subject was met with immediate hostility and then a hasty (usually, but not always, on her part) retreat in the opposite direction. Sometimes, after the sun had gone down and we were feeling safer than we had previously, we would gather outside her window and attempt to get a glimpse inside where the curtains separated slightly as a result of their tendency to bunch up naturally somewhere else. I would like to be able to go into detail concerning what we glimpsed there, but I am afraid I can’t. First, the memory has been tainted somewhat by age and the poor quality of the glass through which we were staring. Second, the innocent can only process so much information before yielding to an overwhelming and (in this instance, at any rate) irrational urge to vomit. Suffice it to say that candelabras were involved. If I remember correctly, someone kept re-arranging them on the table as if perpetually dissatisfied with the faint light given off and the restless shadows that it threw. I suggested the best remedy was to act as if we no longer believed in remedies, as if we considered them relics of a barbaric age, and we would no more pay attention to them now than if they had been etiquette handbooks written in stilted language and endorsed by thinkers and celebrities lately grown infamous for behaving in any salacious way they saw fit.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Lean into the place obscured by shadow, turn your head to the left as if you expect to find there a long-lost cousin. The same who borrowed twenty dollars and refused to pay it back. So you haunted the street outside the bodega where he worked at all hours of the evening, reminiscing out loud. Asking strangers whether they’d be willing to stand guard while you went to the truck stop to shower. My larynx seems oversized lately, swollen from too much use. This could, of course, just be my imagination, which never seems entirely satisfied with the dreamscapes and the partial sonatas it conjures up from the raw material we all have access to. The tales told by itinerant workers, involving incest and the Liberty Bell. The poems in the anthology without a cover. I can count on one hand the number of times someone has asked me what the discolored patch of skin on my arm means and then asked my forgiveness for the intrusion. Most people seem to think my mind is at their disposal because they happen to be standing in my vicinity. I am to open it up and let them have a look around as if my head were no more than a trunk and I was attempting to smuggle it in over the border. Imagine for a moment a handful of triangles made of a material that sticks readily to felt. I suppose that material is probably felt as well, but I can’t be certain. I didn’t pay attention when that chapter was covered. Each triangle circles the other in an intricate pattern, the whole of it resembling in numerous aspects the workings of the universe itself, or at least that portion of it we find ourselves occupying at present. The movements are stiff and erratic, the triangles frequently jumping from one place to another far away without occupying any of the intervening spaces. It’s as if they don’t believe in the laws of arithmetic that wind up making all the other laws possible. Those that keep you glued to the armchair instead of floating about near the rafters, those that say when you can and can not purchase bonds from whichever agency or institution is charged with making bonds available to ordinary citizens. There’s really only so much of this we can take before we too are turned into the sorts of entities that orient themselves neither skyward nor toward the smell of clover but simply revolve around themselves indefinitely, shutting out all stimuli that arise from the environment around them. All light and every cymbal crash, every glance in your direction meant to communicate something you can’t quite put into words, but which you know the meaning of as surely as you know the meaning of a white flag flying unattended in a field full of artillery pieces. Or someone’s clearing his throat at the precise moment you have decided to speak.