Saturday, December 29, 2012

One tower has something written on it in Greek, which suggests the other one is probably ornamented as well in a language we have not studied. One would like to translate, but the energy expended in looking up words and conjugating them when conjugation is both possible and expected causes one to become thirsty at precisely that moment when almost every liquid in the vicinity has evaporated due to exposure to direct and plentiful sunlight. There is something colored gray and smelling faintly of ashes in a plastic container in the cupboard, in the shadows out of reach of the sun’s prying rays, but Eulalie warns me away from it with a song she apparently composed specifically for this occasion on some previous occasion when I was out of the house or had been detained by the local authorities. The sound of her voice has not altered since I first heard it decades ago when she was sitting under a tree in the moonlight and replaying the day’s events out loud to no one in particular. It has a rasping quality to it that, far from suggesting permanent damage to the vocal chords and a congenital tendency to moral transgression somehow responsible for that damage, convinces you that her time on the planet has been spent looking after those who might otherwise have been forced to live in mud huts in the canyon and to allow their children to wander away somewhere around the second grade. Those people travelling between one tower and the other, we are told, do so by boat and they have the wind at their back and are entirely free of care or worry so long as the fruit and the flower blossoms continue to drop haphazardly into the boat with them. Certainly this would be the perfect opportunity for someone following along on the bank or standing at the top of one of the towers in question to take a photograph and attempt to sell copies of the photograph to the passengers once they have disembarked (if they are allowed to disembark) or to a magazine of the sort that is still interested in the outside world as opposed to the abstract interior world that has become of such enormous interest to those who still purchase things like magazines. For her part, Eulalie denies the primacy of either, stating that interior and exterior are separate sides of the same worthless coin and that we ought instead to be concentrating our attention on the unremittingly dull if we wish to get to the bottom of anything, if we wish to understand why our hearts and our shoelaces, for instance, are made of fundamentally identical materials.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stumbling over semi-circular concrete edifices with pungent soil and ordinary flowers in the center of them, children throwing dice in the dark, we begin to rethink and replace even our most primeval desires. We locate them somewhere close to the gall bladder. But this is disingenuous on our part, a strategy we invent when we are between two locations, we are stranded like ducks frozen feet-first to the surface of a lake. Eulalie recommends visual illustration, the putting of pen and ink to paper and then wadding up the results because they remind you of something you saw on the isthmus. Chained mammals. Butterflies drinking at the corners of their eyes. I dispute every third claim she makes on principle, then turn my attention to the nearby sounds of thunder, of rainwater on the street. She knows my hands are growing steadily weaker. They can’t be trusted to hold tight to a rope. Just the sort of failing that can cause the forest floor to rush up at you like a predatory fish (assuming, of course, you are dangling for some reason above the forest floor on a rope). This doesn’t mean I’m planning to un-build what we have spent entire decades building. It doesn’t mean our time together is destined to become something legendary, something you put in a book when you can’t think of anything else to put in it, like the chemical composition of magma or the lineage of one noble Greek family or another. In a handwritten note, I discover what appears at first glance to be a secret code and I take it to the African up the road who has experience unraveling such things, who spent his formative years in the employ of cartographers and had to run for his life on more than one occasion when the building in which he worked was damaged by an earthquake. His fingernails are yellow or gray and have been chewed ragged and I wonder if maybe the ringing in his ears he complains of from the moment I arrive is the sort of thing that drives one crazy, literally crazy, if left untreated. But then, something is bound to drive one crazy at some point, isn’t it? Assuming one is a little unbalanced to begin with and susceptible to outside influences that the rest of us wouldn’t notice even if you made a special point of drawing our attention to them. Influenced by the African, Eulalie spends hours recalling events from a past with barely discernible labels on it, evoking rivers overhung with vines and toasters that belonged to historical personages of the first and second rank. You can make an entire workable ontological system, she contends, by casting about in the remnants left by those who have come to visit, those who endeavor to return transience to its original luster. By way of illustrating a not altogether separate point, she pulls out of her hat phrases she has written down ahead of time on small, ragged pieces of paper and placing them next to the objects they are intended to describe. The porcelain tortoise. The book ends with gaudy pirates standing astride them. She turns the fan on and starts over. This lasts for a good twenty minutes, interrupted only briefly when she unwraps a piece of caramel and eyes it suspiciously as if it were made of lint, before placing it on her tongue and closing her eyes. I am tempted to fear for her mind at times like these, but I know my fears are misplaced, as is my lust. These emotions more properly belong to that stage of our lives together when we saw one another as emblems rather than actual human beings, as stand-ins for ideas and attitudes we knew through our careful reading of Kierkegaard and our careless reading of Kant, and conversations with all the right people (read baristas and the occasional unemployed environmental engineer) we were expected to adopt. Ideas and attitudes we were then expected to alter, but only rarely. Only when they had ceased serving their original purpose and had begun instead to ossify, to lend an undeserved and undignified weight to any otherwise mediocre sentence that just happened to contain them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Exile seems more and more likely, days spent in a shack on a promontory overlooking the sea. What’s to complain of? My ribs ache on one side only, in the evening when the wine has grown bitter and the conversation circles around ideas that have only recently gone out of fashion. Neuropathways and brie cheese. The distance between two points that seem to be placed directly on top of one another. I’d like to take the opportunity to recall past events that may or may not have happened to me, to bundle them up with twine and toss them to my accomplice waiting in the next room, but I know she is sleeping and the least disturbance is liable to enter her subconscious mind and re-arrange the contents, not necessarily for the better. Just try then to undo the damage with bicycle rides, with miniature origami flowers arranged in intricate patterns. Not that anyone affected would recognize the damage had been done in the first place. They would glance at you out of the corner of their eyes and shrug their shoulders and the rest of the afternoon might be spent then repeating meaningful phrases as if to leach the meaning from them and turn them into a veritable gruel. On the sidewalk I am forced to turn my body ninety degrees repeatedly so as to be able to pass safely through barriers placed there specifically to keep me out. The idea seems to be that my presence will make others uncomfortable and they will flee in all directions in a panic, but precisely the opposite occurs. Before I know it, I am surrounded by curious faces, people with expressions of wonder and something even like (dare I say it?) awe in their eyes and around their mouths as if they have just stumbled on a fragment of an Ionic column sticking up out of the broken asphalt of a parking lot. I am offered joyful chanting on all sides, and handshakes and even a mint julep by an old man who says he has seen me before, on the other side of town where things like this just do not happen. Where you are told what to wear and how to behave and what subjects to study from the time you are eight or nine years old until the time they put you in the grave, and even then, there are plenty of expectations. You can’t just lie there, for instance, at your ease for all of eternity. You must make every effort to start another journey, to gather what things you need and set off (after, of course, a sufficient enough time has passed to allow those who knew you or those who just thought they knew you to grieve) over the mountains that mark the barrier between this world and some other one that probably, if we are being honest with ourselves, looks a lot like this one and offers many of the same pleasures and disappointments. Fact is it’s hard to take seriously the alternatives that have been presented to us in the meantime. The stratocumulus clouds. The doe-eyed virgins in their tunics.       

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The steppe invites all and sundry, beckons with a bird hung high in the air for an hour or more, the sound of exotic stringed instruments manipulated by experts. I take notes in my head and then erase them immediately, cast them out the way one casts out demons when one is plagued by them or knows others who are. Not that there is a lot of gambling here, or algebra or masturbation. It’s just the seasons begin to take their toll – they rumble in with authority, and with spiderlings at the ends of their webs. With brazen calls for starting over.  Eulalie wanders down the hall as instructed, feeling at the core of herself that something is amiss but not wishing to acknowledge this because she has acknowledged such foreboding in the past and had it come back to haunt her. Or at least tap her on the shoulders as if to say, “you’re standing on my foot.” She takes stock of her surroundings but they are so drab suddenly and dark and anonymous, she begins to wonder if maybe she has wandered by accident into someone else’s consciousness, has taken it over and is now strangely compelled to light a flame. Our flesh is re-constituted as a matter of course. It finds its likeness and shadow in everything it passes, everything it rubs up against even if it tears. The necklace on the neck of a passing stranger, the onyx in it gulping light. The flagpole standing erect and bare in the middle of a park otherwise overrun with skunks. The man’s sister is lying apparently naked in bed, the entire overwrought mass of her, though the bitterest sections are walled off by a blanket and the presence of three or four parrots each big as a small child and bobbing its head about in an aggressive manner. Prizefighters in scarlet. None of them speak. Eulalie has told me before she thinks the day divides up rationally into twelve zones or arenas and she labels them according to the way they make her feel, but she doesn’t bother sharing the results with me because she thinks I am stupid. She says so out loud and counts to three. I am expected to respond in kind but whenever I try – whenever I quote Wordsworth from memory or staple blank pieces of paper to other blank piece of paper, step back and shout voila! -- she breaks into long, exasperated sobs. She pulls her favorite old blanket over her shoulders, pin hold cigarette burns all over it like lesions of the skin, the smell of it something to remind you of other places even if you weren’t there -- you hadn’t been so much as imagined or daydreamed or limned -- when the blanket (younger then and entirely intact) picked them up, when it made their scent and aura the building blocks, the disembodied originals of its own.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The effect is of holes on parchment, material interrupted in its attempt to go without borders, to go without purpose. We attempt to align the holes through the liberal application of ink and hypnosis and the subsequent vertigo catches us off guard. We suppose the voices we hear then belong to those on the other side, but when we turn it over, we see little more than a window and beyond that a hillside covered in scrub. The sun beats down on it uninterruptedly for several minutes at a time and then layers of sound replace the sun gleefully. It is as if they had been waiting in nearby passageways, in the pockets of discarded coats. I try for a while to live without placing my feet on any convenient surface – the rocks like axioms strewn about in such a way as to impede the progress of others, the baby grand piano given as a gift. But my every effort is thwarted by that part of my mind that doesn’t believe the other parts exist. That insists it is the sole occupant and as such deserving of respect like that given the royalty of the Sandwich Islands when they were still called that and not something else. An hour later, someone is lying in the street, bleeding from a wound that doesn’t appear serious, and yet, he will not answer any questions. He seems to believe that the wound corresponds to the holes in the parchment we started with in some deep and  meaningful way, but by that time we have sent the parchment away to be examined by experts and have little faith that it will be returned. Maybe our only option is to create a similar object ourselves and pass it around until the second object becomes as enigmatic, and ultimately threadbare, as the first. You can imagine the outcry, the jumping up and down on boxes that are rumored to contain explosives but are probably just empty. They have that appearance. And besides, when was the last time we discovered gold coins buried in the soil? Or buried them ourselves and returned to find that they had not been dug up? I like to think the legend placed underneath the object, the parchment, when they eventually hang it on a wall will reference those of us who spent so much of our lives attempting to decode it, attempting to fit it into conceptions we already hold. I like to think too the legend will be a mild peach in color, reminding one of childhood at precisely that point when childhood is furthest away, when it is covered over in something very like concrete and very like vines.