Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One of these ostensibly contemplative souls keeps watch across the river, sees Kia in the daytime equivalent of dreams involving a bell tower that doesn’t exist on the grounds. Richard strays as often as he can from the confines of the monastery, looking for the place where his daytime visions might manifest themselves in tangible form and runs across the establishment quite late in his tenure, at that point in anybody’s life where what we have devoted ourselves to becomes a burden, becomes that which we would escape no matter what the cost. We write sentences longhand on the back of whatever happens to be handy – envelopes or bits of leather – each sentence building on the last into a crescendo of grief or ennui and, at some point, when we are feeling confident or reckless, we endeavor to share them with those in the vicinity. But we realize, frequently too late, that our scribbling, our incessant talking to ourselves and staring away into empty space, has run off whatever family had not to that point already abandoned us to go searching for something crucial missing in their own lives. The cycle bears witness to an odd fact of human psychology, but no one can agree on precisely what that fact consists of. Certain factions, active in the northeast and lumped together under a shorthand moniker referring obliquely to their collective habit of asking too many questions of a very personal nature in inappropriate settings, holds that what we have discovered about ourselves has yet to reach a mass sufficient to fill up a thimble and they have taken to carrying this archaic sewing implement around with them in their pockets so that they can produce it during conversation, thus creating (in their eyes, at any rate) a dramatic gesture that relieves them of the necessity of continuing in words, which are, of course, weak and hopelessly redundant. Another faction, consisting mostly, as near as I can tell, of two individuals cohabiting together somewhere in the San Fernando Valley, pushes things in the opposite direction and comes to the rather startling conclusion that everything that can be known has already been discovered and worked through by hacks and professionals alike so that nothing further needs to be done. We have no more need of attending symposia and writing books and discussing ontology (in an informal manner) with someone standing beside us in line at the market when we are purchasing a gallon of milk. And all these activities would, logically, cease to exist but for the fact that we like to hear ourselves say things even if those things prove, in the end, to be entirely unnecessary. And so, paradoxically, this faction advocates a return to the epic use of words, a pouring forth akin to that which must have occurred when our first stooped and miserable ancestors discovered they could forge words with a felicity rivaling that with which they forged even sharp stones or fire.            

Monday, August 27, 2012

Their faces rarely change demeanor. They seem at times like actual stones set upon the hill to frighten away invading armies. Or crows. They inhabit the darkness like enzymes in prehistoric seas and if it weren’t for the distraction offered by the passing carnival troupes or the salesmen selling hats and trinkets and sometimes even stoves from out of the trunks of their cars, I’d be truly depressed. Of course, we can’t live our lives as if they have been loaned to us but we can’t treat them as legitimate property either for fear of breaking the curse that allowed us to have lives and bodies in the first place. All the same, no one will reconnoiter the far, dark side of creation for me so I have to make certain calculations before I can act. Many of these involve doing fairly complex mathematics on my fingers, but not for the reasons most people automatically assume. It is an effective way to plant an image in your interlocutor’s head and keep it there long after the image, or the concept necessarily sewn to that image, proves fatal. Long after he makes his disdain for the entire procedure something more than a mere inward condition. Across the river, a monastery stands where it has stood for the better part of a hundred years, looking less medieval than one might have assumed if one was in the habit of making assumptions about architecture, particularly the sort associated with religious orders -- not something I’d recommend now that we possess fewer and fewer of these for reasons I couldn’t begin to unravel. Perhaps it has something to do with the way we view the past and then contrast it with the future, the way we illustrate our view of each of them, and their relation to each other, by holding our hands out away from the body and indicating our hands are full by cupping them. This is intended to mean, I suppose (at least this is what I intend the gesture to mean whenever I perform it), that we are carrying both the one and the other, that they are entirely separate entities and we keep them as far apart from each other as the numerous structural limitations and design weaknesses of our bodies will allow. You can frequently see the monks from the freeway as you pass, their ambling about the numerous courtyards of the monastery in twos and threes, their eyeglasses glinting sometimes in the sunlight and that light racing upward again towards its source when the monk’s head is inclined at a certain angle. We might be tempted to interpret this glint in a metaphysical sense, congratulating ourselves on witnessing a rare instance of the spirit made tangible and glimpsed because of our close physical proximity to a place where things like that are expected to happen. Or we may simply chock it up to run-of-the-mill optics, no different, really, than what you might witness at any time of the day or night when a light source is present, and in any other part of the city or the vast countryside that happens to caresses it. Either way, we are mistaken.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Three blocks of wood, very like statues in size and general appearance, grace the entrance to the cave. I didn’t carry them up here and I don’t know who did. Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly restless, I think I should carve them into the likeness of proper beings, individuals, I should make of them a committee to greet people on those rare occasions when I am away and to keep them lingering until my return. But I can’t get my hands to obey even the simplest tasks. Grabbing flies out of mid-air. Sketching a faithful likeness of Eulalie when she stops by before heading home to Immanuel who will inevitably, through inebriation, fail to recognize her. Our emblems are thrust upon us and we either decline or accept. Maybe it’s even more stark than that – the rest of the world making such decisions for us and never bothering to send notification. At a bend in the river, on the western side, the side with a road on it trod into existence originally by skittish wildlife and then domesticated beasts, a woman called Kia serves patrons seated inside a small building and in the open air, tea or gin or strawberry concoctions and sandwiches with Irish-sounding names attached to them by the owner of the establishment who is a man with a memory like a camel’s -- said to be quite good by those who rely on camels in the desert wastes to find their way from one place to another, though why we should lend credence to the opinions of people we have no direct contact with and probably never will, people who, to be honest, because we (and by we, I mean you, not those of us living in caves) are such a narrow and suspicious bunch, we wouldn’t trust to work in our daycare centers or deliver our important packages, is a question someone should look into just as soon as most other questions of similar import have been eliminated as irrelevant or answered sufficiently in the opinion of those who originally posed them. On certain evenings, when the sun has made the edge of the world bruised and bloody and the battery-run radio that fits in my hand is dredging up dark melodramas from the 1930’s, I find myself longing for that idiosyncratic menu, for egg salad O’Leary and other questionable fare, because of Kia’s beauty which is something that hangs in the air around her and seems to speak in complete sentences. You have to fight your way through it sometimes, using of course your bare hands because metal weapons threaten to tear the gauzy fabric of it and will get you thrown into the dust close to the road by larger-than-standard men who turn out to be the owner’s degenerate sons and whose job it is to see to the well-being of all those who make their living inside. Whose job it is too, apparently, to wash the windows or sweep the floors on occasion when they have nothing better to do. We linger forever just at the edge of tedium or ecstasy and expect to push our way through from one to the other without ever really recognizing what the difference is between them, that there might not be a difference ultimately, and that our every expectation then is like a bird on a sandbar in that it doesn’t belong there for any extended period of time. When the wind picks up and the moon hovers close and the water in the river rises and threatens to overwhelm whatever nest the bird has thrown together with fugitive bits of straw and Styrofoam, there is a decision to be made but no one knows quite how to go about it, least of all the bird.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Irrational parameters are still parameters, are still to be respected so long as they run perpendicular to one another and don’t cause us to reminisce about barns and outbuildings in and around which we first inhaled the smoke from imported Turkish cigarettes and learned the melody to songs that weren’t overly laden with melody, that mostly just plodded from one place to another and back again like what one imagines mastodons did when they were still prevalent on the continent. Our turn will likely come soon, third or fourth, but it feels as if we are standing in line for more than an hour and when we check our watches, that suspicion is confirmed. Immanuel plucks his from his arm, hurls it in the direction of the people he takes to be in charge, but as is frequently the case, we can’t determine this for sure because we have no way of discussing it with them. Short of sign language, of course. Short of saying something out loud. Immanuel complains that the sun makes its way down the brainstem and into his throat, passes clean through using some metaphysical trick he tries to explain while tapping mechanically, unconsciously, the tips of the fingers on his left hand over and over again. I can’t understand the niceties of it all, can’t even determine, frankly, why such explanation is necessary. I’ll believe just about anything he says. The consequences are mostly minor and have to do with the skin, the way the skin regenerates itself more slowly as you age. We like to draw parallels with the coatings to be found on the exterior of other objects, like coconuts or plastic buckets. But we reject out of hand any attempt to repeat the procedure using things that don’t actually exist. Or if they do exist, they do so only in the underdeveloped provinces of the mind. Conceptual things, things made up of words and perfectly straight lines that we can then mould and manipulate as we see fit, we can re-arrange and ultimately tear down again into innumerable pieces, all while trying to keep the look on our faces from appearing pained. If we succeed, no one knows what we are up to, but the sense of accomplishment that rushes over us at that moment doesn’t last very long. It dissipates, dribbles away to nothing and before we know it, our surroundings adopt their customary demeanor. Certainly there are dangers close by – the rumor of lynx, never substantiated. People wearing hats made of wool. But we come to grips with these things almost immediately. It is as if they were the medium within which we have been steeped since the day someone decided it’s best we do not emerge into a void. We should be offered clarity and context as something of a birthright -- by summoning into miraculous existence a frame (or stage, depending on where you’re standing) the width of the sky but not as deep and not as tall. There needed to be concessions, after all. A way of confirming we have the resolve, but not the resources, not the bond measures or the people respectable enough to propose them. What we have instead are those (like ourselves) who pass most of the day harmlessly in their cubicles. With their striped ties and their faux snake leather shoes and their miniature joke abacuses on their desks and the instruction manuals for the abacuses, most of these opened ominously to the same page, the very difficult to grasp page seventy-three devoid of illustration and, with it, any sense of something legitimately human taking place. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The specter that occupies this space (if in fact it is something otherworldly and not prosaic – a stray item of laundry, say, blowing in the wind, someone traipsing about at night because he can’t sleep) seems to have very little it wants to communicate. Its back is almost always turned to the witness and the sounds emanating from it remind one of the sounds of jumbo jet engines rumbling far away in the sky. You could never decipher them unless you too were only partially present at any given moment, distracted by memories that may or may not have happened to you, but which are so vivid nonetheless they seem like straightforward experience – getting stuck under a limb in the river, the cold clear water moving past just above your eyes, the sunlight intensifying and decreasing at intervals with the volume of water passing between you and it at any given moment, or with the frantic movements of your body become now its own agent, its own material thing completely independent of the rest of you, whatever that might consist of. What you don’t recall is the panic, the fire caused by lack of air in the middle of your chest, sensations that must have been present, must have been so overwhelming as to erase themselves finally the way desire is said to consume itself when given nothing but the empty past on which to feed. We borrow our concepts of the places we can not see from those we have formed of the places we can see – the desert riddled with canyons and red earth, the mouths of caves where we hesitate a moment before climbing in. This hesitation is so common as to suggest a form of ritual, a means of taking stock and re-creating ourselves, of generating a coherent whole from the myriad, untidy fragments we were composed of just moments before. Of course, the cave itself should, logically speaking, operate in a similar, if much more thorough manner, and so we are expected to move beyond the mouth of it; we can almost feel the pull as if an enormous invisible hand had emerged from the depths and grabbed hold of our lapels, or our elbows if, as would most likely be the case, we weren’t wearing the sort of thing that had lapels on it. This is why, when we venture down we almost always find others have been there before us, making charcoal reproductions of bison on the walls and other beasts fairly accurate in their physiology, all as part -- so we are told and so we believe because it makes perfect sense, it jibes with our own experience of this damp and alien place -- of ancient fertility rituals and shamanistic religious practice. For my part, I prefer the names or initials of people more recent scraped into the rock with car keys or other implements, frequently in conjunction with those of their purported lovers, heart emblems with bloody arrows through them conjoining the pair forever in the otherwise non-committal bowels of the earth.          

Friday, August 17, 2012

Eulalie stretches a plastic container she finds on the floor to its breaking point and beyond, the sound it makes like a gunshot, if, that is, you are standing thirty feet or more away from the gun at the time it goes off. Her nervous energy keeps her slender, as does her diet of almost nothing but kale. It makes her tense on occasion and causes the skin around her eyes to sink in and turn a not-unflattering shade of salmon. I would follow her almost anywhere if not for the fact that she keeps following me, and the habit has become so ingrained as to stir comment among those who (for lack of a more surprising image) spend most of their time on the sidelines, who promise themselves each morning that, from now on, they will keep their mouths shut, they will count to a pre-determined integer and then wait an additional minute or two before unleashing whatever invective or platitude, whatever torrent of wit or hysteria, has backed up against the easily-breeched barrier of their teeth. We find both the evolved and the rudimentary portions of the mind entirely unsuited to the task at hand, the breaking down of experience into component parts usually no longer than an eighth of an inch and carrying with them the promise of a complicated code. Something to be deciphered if only we can burrow far enough down, to that place where sediments no longer cover over and preserve objects by replacing them, bit by bit, but instead repulse them forcefully, like a handful of magnets. That place where, were you to be able to glance at your own reflection in a mirror, you would see merely a smattering of light waves and plus signs, a vague outline collapsing in on itself in volcanic earnest. Eulalie plucks a bit of rye bread from my lips, examines it in the light thrown by a bare bulb overhead and warns that our desire to slice too thin, to have at the core of all things is akin to our desire to read other people’s minds and will have much the same consequences just as soon as we are successful. There will be a scramble for higher ground, a complete breakdown of trust among all but the most vulnerable individuals, and even they will wander around for a while in packs become so ruthless and unpredictable, we will wish we had been kinder to them in high school. We will spend hours trying to atone in our minds for actions we can’t even be sure we committed they happened so long ago. The tossing of someone’s windbreaker into an open well. The misidentification of blood types. Imagine for a moment if everything that had ever happened to you and everything you had ever caused to happen to someone else, was suddenly common knowledge, the sort of thing we speak about only in whispers and undertones because we are ashamed of what we know. We want others to think of us as, not blank slates, exactly, but perhaps erased ones. With a few numbers scattered her and there and maybe a recipe for a favorite cocktail, all of it made illegible by someone’s purposefully going over it with a moist paper towel or accidentally rubbing up against it with his shirt.  

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Begging produces the highest frequency sounds detectable using instruments we fabricated specifically to test for them. There is always the possibility that the effort to detect unduly influences what is detected, that we are privy to but a fraction of what’s actually out there (and this fraction is somehow artificially engendered), but most educated speculation seems to favor what has already been stated – namely, that our evenings are going to get a whole lot less interesting at the exact same time they get a little bit more painful, the smell of melting rubber infiltrating our nostrils for some reason and sending us on long safaris through the deepest, most overgrown parts of our memories, including those environs where something very like rubber trees without actually being rubber trees surrounded the villages where we lived (or where we thought we lived) and we would tap on the surface of these trees with hammers just to make the adults in the vicinity angry. In the corner, looking like a casualty of skirmishes between people that are not altogether real and not altogether mythical either, people with affinities to all possible realms and feet as misshapen as feet can be and still be able to function, a decapitated Holofernes lies in a pile of his own strings and the red handkerchief obviously meant to simulate a voluminous blood loss consequent to the puppet Judith (not immediately visible) taking her vengeance on the puppet stage. Close by this giddy tableaux grins the creature down whose gullet Jonah slides during the tumult of a similar miniature thunderstorm at sea. The girl explains the intricacies of each creation separately, proudly displays her handiwork and clucks her tongue at any questions we might have as if to suggest we need only listen and watch to learn everything it is necessary to know, at least for the moment. I’m not sure why the stucco seems to close in whenever we notice we are surrounded by walls, that we are not simply wandering about on the high plains like mustang ponies, but the phenomenon is one so frequently commented on by those who make a living commenting on the things we see and hear when we are awake that I am almost certain it is an hallucination, one shared by the entire race and dating, no doubt, from the earliest appearance of that race, if not innumerable millennia previous. What purpose it serves, why it should exist and not something else, something similar but without the near flawless logic associated with it, without the emotional content delivered via a mechanism we can’t even begin to decipher or re-assemble once we have taken it apart, is something I will explain, perhaps, at length, when the opportunity arises and when my expertise has reached a position congruent with that of those likely to be in the audience. In the meantime, I will simply draw your attention to the current lack of explanation by all parties, not just myself, and attempt to bring the discussion to a graceful close by mentioning, in passing of course, the clouds just now gathering on the horizon, high and dark and irregular in shape like caterpillars – but not the pleasant, furry multi-colored sort we used to collect during childhood. Rather, the spiny, uniformly green and threatening sort we used to dare one another to pick up with our bare hands, certain that the first person to do so would be snagged immediately by those spines and forthwith poisoned, would suffer a death more prolonged and wretched than any we could possibly to that point have imagined.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Next to the barrier you may occasionally see something that looks like an enormous hawthorn flower, but this is, in fact, a man-made object frequently associated with a group of artisans who meet together in town once a week and share gossip and tips of a technical nature. None of them admits to forging the hawthorn shape but each in turn will explain to you how it was created and what the materials are that went into its composition in such minute detail you might begin to suspect they were all in on the project together. The problem is that once you begin to examine the shape for yourself, you realize that everything you have been told about it is false – not a lie, exactly, but simple misinformation of the sort that you can pick up when discussing the animal kingdom with people who have viewed a great many wildlife documentaries on tv and so consider themselves experts. As a result, time and again, confusion rides up in its (to keep somewhat with the trope) birch bark canoe and makes hand gestures in our direction and we respond in kind but nothing ever really gets said. I tend to hang out in the back, where the shadows take care of whatever concealment is necessary and where I can work out for myself who in the room is an enemy and who is merely someone with the potential to become an enemy, someone with very particular ideas concerning the direction the continent should take, and by this I mean the actual continent, the landmass itself and where exactly it should wind up as it goes drifting about on its tectonic plate. My reasons for scouting others out in this manner, people who are probably, in all actuality, no more hazardous than are the motes in the sunbeams that find their way in through my windows, are myriad and I would list them out loud without provocation, as a kind of therapy, a kind of mildly necessary catharsis, if I thought anyone would pay the slightest bit of attention. But given I have situated myself both here and in my domestic relations in such a way as to suggest I want very little company, that I probably don’t even speak the same language as anyone else I might happen upon while moving about in the world, I have nothing, really, to complain about. Everything is of my own doing and my own volition; I am, it seems, ultimately responsible for the existence of everything, both visible and potential, and it can only stay that way -- in fact, intensify -- the more closely I set out to examine everything. The stone stairs leading up through a tangle of honeysuckle and garbage. The nebulae -- when you locate them in the viewfinder, or more accurately when someone else locates them, someone who knows where to look, who has been trained to properly operate the sorts of mammoth instruments capable of locating distant objects in the sky, and who then takes a photograph of the nebulae and publishes those photos in a place where the rest of us will have access to them – the nebulae looking strangely like children’s sloppy, hand-drawn art in the remote corners of space.   

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lists appear before my eyes as if they were tangible, as if they were actual three-dimensional entities engaged in defying the laws of gravity. I can’t make out the items themselves, the language they are written in, but instinct tells me the lists are important the same way nerve twinges and muscle aches arising in the body are important and should not be ignored. That I am mistaken, that none of it matters in the least, becomes obvious just twenty minutes later when the girl with the pigtails and a blue poncho shows up again, her eyes no longer as dull and malformed as they seemed before in the shadows of her front door, but vibrant now with something like fear, though I suspect almost immediately the name of this emotion is not precise, it is not what I am looking for. She has had a change of heart, explains that the book is indeed hers, or at least is something that has belonged to her family for more than a couple of generations. And she needs it because how else will she construct the programs meant to accompany her marionette theatricals? How else will her mother know the background and importance of what she witnesses most nights on a stage the girl has constructed with two old end tables and a beach blanket thrown over them, a blanket with orange and white stripes and what appears to be condiment stains cleansed and subdued by time. Sinister associations accompany the least sinister of situations like a pack of dogs. We look for the bridge that sways unstable above the river, the weeds grown chest high in the field across the street, and we tell ourselves they mean exactly what they say, which is, of course, nothing. When you get right down to it, all of creation is mute. The song Uncle Toby Belch sings serves (for the audience, at any rate) as initial unmasking of everyone’s favorite, or second favorite, bĂȘte noir, Malvolio, but the song itself is artificial in at least seven different ways and it’s only when we elaborate on them, when we deliver our exegesis that any real sound gets made at all. The girl in the poncho knows this, clearly, despite her reluctance to explain what she is doing, despite her insistence that she has brought us back to the apartment she shares with an, as yet, merely theoretical mother, not to demonstrate but plead. Who else could possibly get to the bottom of the tangle of abominations and falsehoods? Who else could possibly understand what even a little bit of sunlight is capable of doing to the skin? If we attempt to turn all of it on its head, to reverse the order, to unwind what amounts to a physical syllogism, an argument in matter and dust and thread, we are guilty of the same crime we set out originally to prevent. We can’t remember what it is. No one remembers what that crime is, what it’s called, but it has a name, you can be sure, and it will stay on the tip of the tongue like bacteria until such time as someone commits it again and everyone blurts the name of it out at the same time, a whole chorus thunderous and overwhelming and terrifying, its members pointing their vicious long fingers and bellowing and wiping the foam and spittle from the corners of their lips, and only afterwards, when they are at home, in private, just themselves and maybe a reproduction watching sheepishly from the far side of the mirror, allowing themselves a measure of shame.     

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The pores and the pits on my forehead could give me away; they have the potential to explain to the casual onlooker what exactly is in my mind and how long it’s been there. Fortunately very few of them know how to interpret these signals, and even fewer have the desire. I am safe for the time being but who knows who is getting ready to bound down the stairs, to come around the corner in a turban? I’ve always felt as if the crust of the Earth was just a few millimeters thick and lying in wait beneath it another world, an alternative it is our object and duty while occupying this one to try to discover, to try to penetrate by stomping around in boots, say, by digging everywhere with spades. The woman who lived in the apartment beside mine at one time (this was when I still lived in apartments, when I still resided in something man-made rather than spending my time in an ever-expanding series of caves) would drop whatever she was doing when she glimpsed me out the window having at the grass and the soil beside our building with my bare hands. Her teeth were straight and flat as cardboard, her smile like something that hadn’t convinced itself yet it was an actual entity, something that has been named and described by those whose job it is to catalog objects and those states of mind associated with objects because they seem to be required to be associated with something. She didn’t share this particular metaphysical conviction of mine, but she liked the feel of the dirt between her fingers and the sounds she made when she came out to join me became so distracting, I was forced to wear ear muffs in the heat of summer or stuff bits of newspaper into my ears when I couldn’t locate the ear muffs. I admit my behavior borders on the insulting sometimes and when I try to remedy it, I am nearly always successful, but then, immediately, an odd, obstinate feeling comes over me and I stop trying again. What’s the use? Whoever I happen to be standing beside, whoever I happen to be engaged in conversation with at any particular moment, will soon find himself so far away from me both physically and emotionally speaking, it will be like he had never really shared space with me at all. Perhaps I invent each person I meet for purposes that blur, that disappear just as rapidly and as completely as those who I have invented. Then, I must start all over again, I must pull the shape of the face and the color of the eyes of someone new down out of the firmament and conjure up a backstory inevitably making use of little bits of my own. There will be the part in it with the shell necklace on a bare neck and my desire burning hot as embers. And a light rain later, making its way in through broken windows.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Someone has left his Bible on a radiator in the hallway and a quick flip through reveals missing pages, half of entire books clipped away neatly with a knife or a pair of scissors. We knock on door after door, attempting to reunite it with its owner, discover a motive for this disfigurement if one is necessary, but the closest we come to accomplishing our task is when a little girl in pigtails and blue poncho looks at us for long seconds with bloodshot eyes before closing the door unceremoniously in our faces. A little while later, we stumble down the back stairs again and outside where the sun reflects off the building’s aluminum siding in a concentrated, murderous beam that seems to follow us down the street for a block and more and I think for a moment I might succumb, my head swimming, the sound of strangers’ voices drifting in and out of my ears in varying degrees of panic and foreboding. Fortunately, there is a plastic tree positioned at the end of the street that blocks all direct and indirect sources of sunlight if you sit under it a certain way (with, at the time of day I made use of it at any rate, your knees pulled up and your head turned sharply to the right and tilted up) and so saves my life. Eulalie disappears and returns again half an hour later with a bottle of something in her hand. Drink this, she says, and I resist at first because I think perhaps she is trying to poison me. I am slowing her down, and ever since that time in the canyon when she filled both our canteens with stagnant, larva-filled water and began absently to hum snippets of the aria from Gianni Schicchi, I haven’t really felt as if I could trust her. But I notice the bottle has a professionally printed label and Eulalie promises me that if I comply with her wishes this afternoon, she will comply with mine later. When the stars are out and we will be able to group them, as is our habit, into constellations of our own devising. Part of the problem is that, even in the shade, even indoors where the air conditioning is running, nothing anyone says to me anymore makes complete and total sense, the way it used to when I was younger and words seemed tangible and sharp and angular as a first basemen’s mitt. You could group them together in simple patterns and trust that those patterns would stay put, would represent something obvious to everyone in the room, even if some of those people present had arrived late with mud on their pants and excuses on their lips that no one, least of all their spouses, actually believed. Now, these entities hurry from one place to another like dragonflies on the wing, frequently breaking apart in mid-flight and recombining to form new conglomerations that don’t seem to serve any purpose whatsoever. Some of them fall to the floor when they become too heavy and you can pick them up and turn them over in your hand to get a closer look, but the end result is always the same – your hand begins to sting as if it has grasped something impure. And your eyes become strained and your mind fills up with a kind of unremitting darkness that threatens to solidify, to become the permanent mould and record of the thing within which it got its unremarkable start. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

If our lives consist of thought, in the strictest sense of that term, then very few of us are alive. Fortunately, we have the senses to distract us, to wave us on past the fencerow and toward the entrance that looks as if it were transplanted from a region where stone is plentiful and cheap, but where the residents are sick and tired of being told what to do by the rich owners of the quarries. Everywhere I turn a sickly sweet scent like lavender, only without the unpleasant associations loaded on lavender’s back by its historical place in both literature and film, assaults my nostrils, makes me wish I hadn’t strayed into this part of the country thinking I was straying into another. Getting lost is something we do when we don’t know how to read maps or determine for ourselves what is floating about in the night sky above our heads, which is no easy task, believe me, even after you have been trained. Perhaps this is why I try to keep my eyes pointed straight ahead and a little to the left so as not to run the risk of glimpsing something that calls out to be deciphered. It’s not that I resent landmarks and souvenirs, not that I am looking to establish strict philosophical principles in a landscape where even the standing cactus plants refuse to take on human shape in the moonlight. It’s just that our time is so limited and the distances to be covered so great! If, upon arrival, you stand directly in front of the gate, a series of electronic beeps and noises greets you but nothing happens. You could stand there all day. Fortunately I have some rope and an idea how to use it, an idea derived no doubt from reading too many Zane Grey westerns when I worked at a desk in a cubicle on one floor of a building where, as near as I could tell,  everyone else was doing the same thing. I thought, after a mere month or so, that I would be forced to pull my own fingernails out if someone didn’t come along and do it for me. I didn’t really know what their motivation might be, but I certainly knew mine, and at that time I rarely separated the two. On the other side of the gate, as you might have expected, a garden, a carefully cultivated oasis stretches away to the left and the right and when I bend to take a drink from the spring in the middle that seems to make the whole thing possible, someone shoves a gun in my face. Mistaken identity says the woman dressed almost entirely in black once I have put my hands in the air and she laughs as if I have just repeated my most clever memory (or joke or story or all of the above) from the past involving someone sitting on a rocking chair on the deck of an ocean liner in the middle of the ocean and moving her hands as the deck itself pitches and rolls, moves her hands in such a way that you can’t tell if she is trying to keep her balance, or if perhaps she is blind or simply requesting something from you each time you pass. Chopsticks. A watch with a leather band. If you stop to clarify, to ask her directly what it is she is up to, she waves you away with a barely audible grunt, as if your very existence disturbs her. As if she wished you would be so kind as to vanish immediately down the same ladder or peach-colored hallway from which you originally emerged.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The flesh, highly susceptible to pinches and rending, serves as a questionable barrier, at best. A gauzy afterthought that belongs really in glass cases at the museum rather than out here among the brambles and the strangers carrying sharpened sticks. The question becomes not so much what is the flesh a barrier against -- that much is obvious if you have eyes and an imagination dulled but not extinguished, still capable of visualizing fractions and fractions of fractions and invertebrates going about their usual business in the leaf litter and the eaves of old houses. Rather, one should be wondering about what’s inside, what exactly needs to be protected, whether it is something kin to the flesh that protects it or something altogether separate, which is the opinion of most everyone since Malebranche, and even before if we are being honest with ourselves. Certainly you can, after separating the one from the other, try to fuse them back together again, but it won’t stick. Habit serves something more fundamental than itself. It is that which anchors us in place, keeps us from floating away on a river of incomprehensible objects, two hundred million million of them bunched up in places like fallen trees trunks in a gorge and torrent, and isolated in others, so far removed from the others of their kind as to seem mere decoration or hallucination, something dropped into the void so as to rob the void of its haughty demeanor. I thank the heavens for their interference in these matters, for their stubborn insistence that you can’t take the soil you stand on too seriously or else you will be swallowed up, both literally and in contemplation, which is a terrible fate, believe me. It is like borrowing fifty dollars from someone you have to see everyday or every other day from that point forward and there is no escaping the humiliation, the need to lower one’s eyes to the floor whenever this other person happens by. Whenever she comes up the stairs, say, at the same time you have chosen to go down. Sometimes, that stairway is too narrow for the both of you to fit. You know you will have to step aside, to make way or else bump into her with your shoulder, and that option is suddenly out of the question simply because of the debt, because of this strange artificial way we have of placing inordinate value on certain minerals in the ground, or even just digital figures bouncing around in space. All future physical contact between the two of you must now be relegated to that same indefinable space, that same theoretical other world where nothing gets done, where nothing happens except for very real zeroes piling up (in your name) like tires in the brush beside a stagnating lake.   

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

After a week or two surviving on nothing but the diminutive grasshoppers that alight at my feet on occasion when the sun is high and the air feels and even smells a little as if it had been exhaled from the interior of some beast said to be long extinct, it becomes apparent that acquiring food will be my number one priority for a while, or at least among the top five, something that depresses me and so effectively neutralizes most of the hunger for a bit and allows me to put off the inevitable for a few more days. Reflected lightning plays its odd visual serenade on the walls of the cave behind me and I speculate for many hours at a time on what the nature of the infinite would be if it weren’t entirely infinite. If, for instance, it allowed itself to be erased as a kind of experiment, the way we sometimes pretend we are someone else, someone of the opposite gender, or holding convictions we ourselves, in our natural state, would never consider if only because they would make us appear heartless or weak or likely to jump headfirst into a river without knowing really how to swim, all in an attempt to determine something important about who we are and what we desire without, of course, knowing ahead of time what the results will be. This instinct is one of fifteen or so that have the potential to lead us around by the nose, to take over completely and refuse to let go, until we find some means of neutralizing their power. You can accomplish this, I’m told, by hand drawing and coloring in maps of locations that don’t actually exist or studying the footprints left behind in the snow outside your window just so long as you recognize that the footprints probably belong to someone you know or at least someone you have seen before in the neighborhood, most likely at a distance. For her part, Eulalie has never seemed overly interested in consuming flesh and when I see her with a glass of wine in her hand, I wait patiently, I avoid conversation as much as possible, so as not to distract myself, so as not to miss that moment when she brings the glass finally to her lips and parts them slightly. It is one of those moments you think you will remember forever, something sublime and deeply moving without your ever really being able to determine why. And yet, even so, an hour or two later, it has inevitably escaped my memory in all but the barest outline -- a grotesque, half-completed sketch on a sketch pad itself damaged by wind and time and rainwater, folding up at the edges and turning an insipid yellow.