At the dead end, I turn back, but there is no point in retracing my steps as my steps were altogether random in the first place, I see that now. I understand suddenly that intention is simply a fiction we tell ourselves so as to differentiate ourselves in our own heads from the starfish. Perhaps the starfish are doing something similar in their entirely alien fashion. Perhaps they are better able to accomplish whatever they set out to accomplish. Mostly to move from one place to another, I imagine (the same as us). To surround and consume organisms weaker than themselves. In the dim light cast by highway signs that rise high above that part of the city, the skin on my arm begins to look as if it were thin and papery, just the sort of thing that might tear and release its contents should it rub up against something solid. My concern grows out of all rational proportion and I move to the center of the street so as to avoid the garbage cans and benches and anything solid that I can’t see but that I know is out there and just waiting to cause me pain. Ten or twelve hours pass in this fashion and before I know it the sun is up and I am no closer to my original goal than I was when I set out. Farther away, in fact, because I can no longer recall what that goal was. Just when I am ready to give in to despair, to lie down in a garbage-strewn lot I have discovered and let the insects consume me, I see Eulalie scurrying between buildings two blocks away, pushing her wheelbarrow and kicking violently in the direction of anyone who attempts to impede her progress. I was right! I saw in my mind that she made use of a wheelbarrow and my vision turned out to be true, unless of course, this too is a vision and I will find neither Eulalie nor the wheelbarrow once I corner the apparition in the alleyway in which it has disappeared. That possibility frightens me so much that I am unable to move from the spot where I am standing and eventually people begin to gather around me, asking questions, occasionally poking me with a stick or waving their hands in front of my face to determine if I am responsive, if perhaps I have had a stroke. Their concern makes me hungry for some reason and I search through the pockets of my coat to see if I have any crackers or loose seeds, but all I find is a single piece of yellow gypsum I had managed somehow to overlook previously. Oh ecstatic day! I bolt the substance and feel the effects almost immediately – the slow hum of the gears of the world turning on its axis become gradually audible, the curtain of unreality lowered over everything visible, altering it irrevocably without obscuring or distorting it, without eliminating so much as a single leaf on a single nearby tree or a syllable of the words spoken by those who have lost their concern for me and are now grumbling at the shabby way I have treated them, even hatching plots to avenge themselves upon me for tricking them into believing I was in mortal distress through no obvious fault of my own when in all actuality I had brought whatever adverse consequences I was experiencing down upon myself through the misuse of substances each of them had heard of previously, even if they had never before used them, or believed in their existence. They had considered them the stuff of legend and fairy tale until that moment when they saw me pop a grain of gypsum into my mouth and turn before their very eyes into something simultaneously both human and less-than-human, something very similar to the portraits of ordinary people they might have run across hanging on the walls of a local museum that is not known particularly for its collection of portraiture so much as it is known for its extensive collection of medieval suits of armor.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Bleak times, these, what with the sky misshapen and the responses in the newspapers lackluster and off-topic. The harbingers fly low over the dried creek bed and fail to differentiate themselves from the plovers which make an off-putting racket there morning and night. I wouldn’t mind trying again, relaxing my grip on the handle and trying to squeeze my way between the turnstile and the brick wall before any of the custodians might notice. But that would mean dropping another ten pounds and staying up half the night reciting verses I have committed to memory ahead of time just in case this very opportunity should present itself. The monk motions for me to follow him and I mistake the gesture at first for a proposition, an attempt to turn my expectations on their head and have at them with a cheap plastic replica of a well-known instrument of torture. One with what looks like tentacles attached loosely to its business end. An implement legendary and notorious in the land of its origins, which can no longer, unfortunately, be precisely pinpointed. We walk two or three blocks in total silence, the city sliding by in its casing and armor, smelling at times like something that grows on the skin and is the color of tree sap, something with a name in Greek over thirty characters long. Eventually we reach the river where D --------- is still sitting on the concrete retaining wall watching the carp spawn. She can’t get enough of the violence; the black beasts splash and frolic in the shallow channels as if they would like nothing more than to take flight. To take to the sky which hangs tantalizingly close above their heads. The monk is obviously in love and I feel sorry for him, the way he stares at D ---------- in the moonlight, all but weeps at the sight of her flesh turned silver with the advent of the moon and the lust-tuned flashing of the fishes’ scales. Maybe we create what we see so as to ensure it gets destroyed at some point in the not too distant future. We can’t stand the thought of anything being allowed to continue after we are gone and so we strike preemptively by creating, by pulling shape and color and contour out of the void and promising it a future we have no right to promise and no intention of delivering. This is what makes us such lousy lovers. And brings the fury of the heavens down upon our heads. Whenever, that is, the citizens of the heavens can be said to pay proper attention. When they do not, when we are left to operate as we see fit (which is, of course, most of the time), we are threatened by nothing much more ferocious than the occasional rain shower. Or the faint glow of a meteor passing by overhead before it disintegrates somewhere over Montana, to our infinite regret.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
I’ve heard the vicious things said about those closest to me and I’ve responded, almost inevitably, by believing them wholeheartedly, by confronting those closest to me with the content of those rumors and I have, as a result, been deprived of all but the most basic of human contact. The person sitting across from me on the bus. The lady behind the counter at the convenience store counting out the pennies I’ve handed her in exchange for a lottery ticket or a piece of candy. Don’t weep for me, though. Your eyes will become discolored. And don’t imagine I’d have it any other way just because I would. Tame your imagination by commanding it to abandon the most obvious scenarios and take up those that no one could have predicted. In this way, your imagination actually becomes a very powerful tool for deciphering the hidden structures of reality. It unearths them as efficiently as your greater anteater pulls termites from the hive. With very powerful forepaws, and a tongue half the length of its body. This it winds up and stores for later use in a specially designed pocket very close to the throat. As I meander up the street in moonlight the color of stale beer, I realize I am trying to find a similar pocket in my own throat, trying to locate it with my fingers and this will certainly give the wrong impression to those who are watching me from their front porches or the passenger seats of the sports cars that happen by. They will think I am in love with myself and that I have no use for human company. They will think I am actively trying to transform myself into another sort of creature, one with pockets in its throat and extended tongues in those pockets. But they are wrong on both counts, and I intend to prove it by speaking to the next person I see – which turns out to be a monk of some kind, meditating on the concrete. He sits cross-legged and holds his palms skyward and in each palm is what looks like a small lizard gazing out at the world with restless yellow eyes. I clear my throat and ready myself to speak (by searching desperately through my cavernous mind for an appropriate topic of conversation with which to begin), but the monk shakes his head vigorously. He has, no doubt, sworn a vow of silence and will not respond to me no matter what I say. This much is clear. One can’t get a glimpse of lizards in the palm of someone’s hand and not wish to know, at the very least, how they got there, why they don’t just scamper away. But there is no use in pursuing the matter further. Sometimes what you see must be allowed to remain unaltered, undamaged by inquiry of the sort that attempts to sort out and classify. That attempts to make the unknown known by virtue of a procedure that also manages to destroy the former even as it is turning it into its diametric opposite. The monk seems to know all of this ahead of time, seems to know what will happen if I approach, and so he turns his back on me and then turns his back on the next person who happens by and does the same over and over again for at least twenty minutes while I am watching him, and no doubt much longer after I am gone. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch, I imagine, to say it is the monk’s entire purpose and raison d’ etre now to behave in this fashion toward anyone he meets. It is his job to befuddle those who would dig too deep into the pedigree of even the most common of God’s creatures -- the lizards that scamper and creep.
Eulalie digs the substances up with her bare hands, transports them with a wheelbarrow, I imagine. I’ve never witnessed the process myself. She won’t let me. She has secrets many decades and more old, some of which you can picture for yourself by closing your eyes and waiting for the afterimage of whatever it was you had been looking at previously to fade. Don’t move around too much as this will affect the outcome negatively and will lead you to make accusations that have no merit. The substances are usually an edible form of gypsum, coming in nearly every color of the rainbow, though they are muted somewhat after having spent countless eons in the earth. I knock on doors all down Pangolin Street but no one has seen Eulalie this evening and some of those I encounter claim never to have laid eyes on her before, though I can tell they are lying. Their lips twitch a little, their eyes dart back and forth along the street behind me. I don’t mind. I know Eulalie inspires dread in some of the locals simply because of the color of her hair, which reminds one of sunrise in the polar regions, or the way she rolls her r’s as if to suggest she is not one of us and has never been one of us. She comes from a place so far away it has no name. There are no names for places like that. There isn’t any need. Let me explain what happens when the last residue of these substances leaves your body via respiration or the function of the organs: You begin to see things on all side of you that are actually there – lightposts and wolves in cages, say – but you think they are not real. You chalk up the whole of creation to nothing more than a fleeting illusion, a dream that you will stop dreaming at any moment. And then what will you wake up to? What could possibly replace the dream you are dreaming of everything? The only possible answer is so horrifying, you redouble your efforts immediately to locate more of these substances. You overturn the whole of your life in order to acquire them. Deceive friends, cheat on lovers, carve the flesh from your own fingers if need be. Nothing will stop you. But make no mistake, it is not a lowly addiction like that which afflicts those you see in the x-rated movie houses downtown or those lined up outside the clinic on Tuesdays. It is something you must choose to do every moment of everyday for no reward whatsoever. You don’t walk away feeling elated or powerful, redeemed or understood. You don’t walk away at all. You simply continue to live in a place that allows other people to live in it with you, and other objects and other sounds and other moods. And if it weren’t for you, if it weren’t for your tireless and pointless efforts, none of what we witness every day would exist at all. Not the fountain around which people are reading their newspapers and their novels with heroines in them who can’t decide whom to love. Not the town you’ve never been to (and will probably never in your lifetime visit) one hundred and twenty kilometers north of Oslo where Edvard Munch just happened to be born.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Del got himself into trouble over the chickens on a regular basis, sometimes even having to answer to the county investigators themselves. His neighbors or family members would lodge a complaint and the investigators would have then to come and investigate, but Del was expert at concealing his true nature. He’d learned it in the war where he’d also first contracted the, what? illness, I suppose you’d call it. The unusual proclivity. I don’t mind what anybody does so long as they don’t do it in front of me, but Del had this off-putting habit of describing his desires in such detail you couldn’t help but feel after a while as if you were right there with him participating. It was enough to make you grind your teeth at night when you were trying to sleep. Once home again, I sleep until 3, the exhaustion set into the bones themselves and hibernating there overwinter. My dreams come fast and numerous, each having something to do with what I had seen during my recent sojourn in the wider world, but altering it, in the fashion of dreams, to tell me something, I suppose. To instruct me. My task then is to decipher the instruction from the whimsy, from the imagination unfurling itself like a panther from the shadows. Then again, perhaps the imagination’s will is the lesson to be learned, the thing to be adopted as a primary benefit in and of itself. I have never been able to make heads or tails of aesthetic or metaphysical theory, but maybe my dreams are smarter than I am and it’s time to stand aside and let them take over before I botch things irreparably. What things would be botched has yet to be determined, of course, and by the time I roll out of bed and have a nibble at the last tangerine on the counter, I have dismissed the prospect as the ravings of a half-conscious man. A man with a dull ache in his scrotum from having slept on it funny. Soon, I am rifling through drawers and cabinets, in search of the substances I have previously sworn off, but finding none, I begin to panic. What happens if I must face the entire evening ahead with nothing but my own thoughts to keep me occupied? What happens if those thoughts turn out not to be my thoughts at all, but mere bits and fragments stolen wholesale from the books I read (or at least skimmed) in college because someone told me to read them and I didn’t have the fortitude to resist? I didn’t possess the obstinate certainty that comes of consuming substances all day around the clock instead of doing whatever it is you are supposed to be doing. Like picking your kids up from the skating rink. Or preparing reports to deliver the following morning to a roomful of men and women who don’t give a damn what’s contained in those reports – the projections and the promises and the figures splayed out before them in faintly pornographic poses -- any more than you do.
Friday, May 11, 2012
The woman disappeared one day rather abruptly, just stopped being where I had become accustomed to seeing her – which was usually on the balcony stirring drinks when I walked in the front door. We had an agreement that last names would remain a closely guarded secret, and if anyone were to address us by last name in the presence of the other, we would refuse to look in that person’s direction so as to create the illusion that the person must be addressing someone else even if there was no one else in the room to be addressed. In this way, I think we both came to know a great deal more about each other than we would ever admit, but the knowledge was next to sacred and so I have rarely spoken of it since. Once, when I had been drinking rye with Del and had begun to suspect he was messing around with his own chickens again because of the odd pock marks that surfaced on his hands and his neck, I spoke openly of that time and almost immediately regretted it. Del grinned at me with his teeth hanging every which way but straight and his eye squinted a little where it had caught the sharp part of a fence once when he was a boy. He started to comment, to tell me, no doubt, that he thought I was stupid for letting that woman go, but I held my hand up before he could get started and I think Del believed this gesture was more significant than I had intended it to be. Sometimes, when you can’t think of what else to do, moving a limb from its supine position is the only thing that will make you feel as if you have accomplished something when, in fact, you have accomplished nothing at all. You are in exactly the same position you were a few moments before, and the humiliation you’d feel should this become obvious would be too much to bear. It would be the sort of thing that might make you consider throwing yourself from a bridge if you could find one high enough and far enough removed from your present location to give the impression that you had been thinking through the implications of your decision during the whole of the time it took you to travel to that faraway bridge and find a suitable spot on it from which to throw yourself. But, of course, all of this presupposes a brooding temperament and a tendency to give in to hysterical impulses when, in all likelihood, you are not like that. You are deliberate in your decision making and prone to overthink things to such a degree any emotional upheaval is apt to dissipate itself once and for all in all the confusion. Then you are free to occupy your leisure in whatever way you see fit for the rest of the evening, including picking the cabbage shreds from between your teeth with your finger or remixing a version of Ravel’s “Bolero” on your laptop computer to make it sound as if someone were humming the whole of it while swimming underwater.
Conversational brilliance is a quality lacking in the family going back as far as the seventeenth century, though there are no actual records to consult or heirlooms passed from hand to hand like narcotics in little plastic bags. Mostly it’s just a hunch, I suspect, but those who hold it try to act as if they have been entirely circumspect and can not be held accountable for what results. The pointing of fingers at inanimate objects. The turning of ordinary notes and staffs on sheet music into indecipherable blocks of black ink. As if in response, the person watching me from the window lets out a little howl, seems to be calling out to the wolves that are said to frequent the hills roundabout, but which in all actuality were poisoned by the ranchers in the vicinity eighty or more years before we ever arrived. She (for there can be no doubt of her gender if for no other reason than it is the gender the narrator prefers to invite into the proceedings and to show around on his arm as if it were a tattoo or a bauble with diminutive emeralds sprinkled about its surface) speaks the same language everybody else does, which is a strange combination of English and something that might be a pseudo-Hakka, but she refuses to do it within earshot of anyone who reminds her of her uncle – a tall man with pouches perpetually beneath the eyes and a penchant for chewing on the ends of cigars and forever spitting the resins and the paper bits that come off in his mouth out onto the ground even if he is standing in somebody’s kitchen. This endears him to very few, as you may well imagine, but those it does look at him like someone arrived from another time and a distant place, maybe even somewhere outside our galaxy. I make one last attempt to draw her out into the open with a song that has no words, that you can play on a comb with a piece of wax paper stretched out across the teeth. You might suspect whatever tune arises from such a set up originates within the throat of the person playing, that the device is much like a child’s toy, the name of which sounds very similar to a variety of vine or the isthmus where we spent our holidays until I turned six, and that requires only the manipulation of the vocal chords to alter the tone of the breath that makes it through. But this is not the case at all. A great deal of talent is required, as well as practice, and it is this I am engaged in when the girl emerges from the shadows and walks in my direction so slowly it takes me twenty or thirty seconds – by necessity a calculation performed afterwards -- just to register that she is there, to mark some difference between the fact and the outline of her body and the fact and the outline of the mud walls of one the domiciles she has emerged from. And even then, I’m not sure I am seeing exactly what is out there for the eye to register. I suspect I am suffering visions once again due this time to chronic consumption of untreated pond water, and the ribald fever that descends upon me in shifts and turns my heart into something that operates on a wisdom not originally intended for it, and certainly not designed. A wisdom perfectly suited for other organs in the body, I suppose, like the lowly gall bladder, but seeming out of place in the company of the heart, which has an obligation to be somewhat exclusive. It must be careful who it listens to and who it pals around with so as to avoid the generation of unnecessary rumors.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
The refugees file past in disordered rows. They seem to be fleeing something specific, like an army or one of those enormous pterodactyls that menace people in B movies but almost never materialize in real life. When we show up at the village they have abandoned, nothing menacing can be found. There’s not so much as a burned cornfield. Nary a poster with the image of a bearded man on it. I sneak off by myself come twilight and practice my card tricks with a pack that reminds me of someone, but I can’t quite remember her name. I can’t figure out either what the connection might be, why the cards generate the image of her eyes in particular, which are large and pinched in at the corners and the color of bird plumage when the sun hits it an angle. Pain accompanies the association, but it is so vague and dull and otherworldly, it might not really be pain at all anymore, but a kind of ecstasy in the making. An opportunity to alter all things for the better through a kind of alchemy involving the memory and the hammers we strike the memory with so as to shape it a certain way (and, by extension, to punish it). After an hour of practice, during which I succeed only in losing the ten of clubs, misplacing it entirely (though I will find another, almost identical one but for the color on the back of the card, in the mud a mile away on my trek home), I realize someone is watching me from a window close by. I’m not sure how I come to this realization, and I can’t verify it, as all the windows prove to be empty as soon as I raise my head to scan them. But I am certain just the same that someone is watching me and I begin speaking to whoever it is who has been left behind in this otherwise abandoned village. Or who has chosen to remain behind for reasons it’s almost impossible to imagine if you haven’t chosen to remain behind yourself in the past when a group of people has made its difficult decision to leave. My words are kind and reassuring, and, I realize, a little condescending, but this can’t be helped. When you don’t know who exactly you are speaking to, you must assume that person is likely a child given the numbers of children wandering about aimless and alone on our disgraceful planet. When I look back down at my cards, I can hear scratching as if someone is trying to carve his initials into a window frame, and a few inaudible words drift in my direction. I try to make sense of them, I try to transform them into a definite message by amplifying each separate sound in my mind and then matching it to known sounds in the alphabet, but after twenty minutes of such effort, all I wind up with is a threat that makes no sense. A promise to turn the miniscule bones inside my ears inside out. Or to gallop by on a war pony, I’m not sure exactly which. Either way I am intrigued and decide to make my big finish precisely where I am standing – to turn the Ace of Spades into a ball of flame and then back again into itself – in full view of my spectral friend or tormentor so that he or she will know that I have some talent, some ability to alter the course of events, if need be, in my favor. I am not entirely at the mercy of the unknown.
Thursday, May 3, 2012
Rub your fingers along the edges of the glass, wait for the tone to emerge, or if the edge is jagged, the blood. The difference is one of degree. Just the slightest nudge one way or another and the outcome changes completely. Of course, from where we are sitting -- in the bleachers, behind a load-bearing pole -- you can’t really tell the difference. I ask the people sitting immediately to the left and to the right of me and they paint a verbal picture someone else is soon supplementing with one drawn on an actual piece of paper. As near as I can tell, there are three distinct sections to this picture, but it’s the one in the center I concern myself with primarily, because it depicts the trappers making their way through terrain we no longer recognize as our own. Heavily forested and moist, with no pavement to bisect it, no electrical wires running cancerous riot above their heads. Just then, a collective shout rises from the far side of the arena and I crane my neck in an attempt to catch a glimpse of whatever is causing the commotion, but to no avail. You’d think I would have learned my lesson by now. Especially after the woman showed up at my front door in a driving rain storm around four o’clock in the morning. She was babbling something about a hex but I couldn’t make out exactly what she was saying while the door was still closed, so I opened it. Big mistake! She ended up staying a year and a half and whenever we broached the subject of making the arrangement permanent and official by having certain documents drafted by someone who knew what he was doing and then submitting them at the courthouse, she always had an excuse as to why she couldn’t oblige me. I think maybe there was something to that notion of a hex after all. I mean, she never mentioned it again, never so much as spelled the word out in hushed undertones in my presence, but I always got the feeling that she was two or three different people at the same time locked up inside a single body. And she hadn’t always been that way. It was a relatively recent occurrence. One I had to find an explanation for if only because I felt, at that time anyway, that there must be an explanation for almost everything, much the same way there is an umbilicus left over somewhere on the body of everything that is born. It is just a natural byproduct of the process by which things turn from nothing into something before reverting back again to their initial state, much to the regret of nearly all of them. If she were to return to me today and promise to lead me by the hand to the domicile of whichever witch or shaman living on the outskirts of town (we had around 40, I think, at last count; take your pick) cast the hex on her in the first place, so as to let me in on their secrets, I suppose, and, by extension, her own, I’m not sure, but I think I would refuse. I mean, what would I stand to win in that situation? Material for an appendix to a book I have no intention of writing in the first place? Some questionable recipes going back a thousand years?
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
A clap of thunder precedes the smoke in the distance and Xarlemagne knows that it his own hovel caught fire even before anyone can confirm it. They do so on their way past, in the opposite direction, what’s left of their own personal belongings thrown together in burlap sacks and, more often than not, slung over their shoulders. I count a travois or two but I might just be seeing things. Hallucination hounds me from morning `til night lately, becoming so familiar with my comings and goings it can recite my itinerary pretty much from memory. And what a capacity for recall hallucination has! Xarlemagne grumbles about it at night by the fire, his arms beefy and covered in an impossible to precisely identify grime (the theories, though, proliferate in inverse ratio to the odds of identification – resulting in a phenomenon I like to call “the righting of the Mayflower” after a film I stumbled on once when I was a child, a film concerning the unforeseen consequences of the scuttling of a replica of that infamous vessel). I’m a little frightened at the turn the conversation is about to take, something I can determine beforehand simply because I have spent so much time in the company of Xarlemagne and the others of his ilk who accompany us as far as the city gates and then turn on their heels and run, afraid apparently they will be recognized and someone inside will let the falcons loose upon them. I wonder why I can’t remember anything that doesn’t somehow involve me, that can’t be labeled as such and stored away like so many containers of turpentine. Where is the rest of the world when it’s not passing directly before my disinterested gaze, when it’s not occupying the nerve cells at the back of my eyes? I know we must act as if it has its own autonomous existence, because if we don’t, our friends and our acquaintances will stop speaking to us one at a time and drift away like nearly identical common weed seedpods on a moderate breeze, almost as if they have been instructed and swallowed up by this new worldview itself, by the implications of it suddenly coming to light. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fill of what others call decorum when they probably mean dignity. Of standing upright for as many as eight hours a day. Maybe what we remember, what we cling to so desperately, is nothing much more than something we intended once to remind ourselves of, but forgot almost immediately because it was so trivial. To pick up the dry cleaning, say. To bone up on the card tricks that come in handy at social gatherings where you don’t really know anyone. And we have simply been adding to and elaborating on these original kernels (these specks and stains) obsessively every day for twenty or thirty years until they become entirely outsized and possessed of such apparent significance, we can’t imagine going anywhere without them. We can’t imagine ourselves complete should they break free of our grasp and escape, or worse yet, should someone come along and appropriate them for his own inscrutable ends.