One learns to continue by continuing, by pushing through the ankle-deep water and the moccasins, the high decibel ringing that brings others to their knees. The ploy is stolen directly from Horace, from some ode or another with a rustic backdrop and learning worn like a knit cap, but it is possible to personalize even this, to shape it between your fingers until something unique emerges, with corners and indentations, with a voice like that of someone not yet fully grown. No sooner do we have him in the ground than Immanuel turns up again, not corporeal anymore but not entirely without shape or substance either. He hangs around in the evening when I am trying to sleep and he doesn’t really seem to recognize me at first, occupying himself instead with wandering about in the mists and mosquitoes like an afterthought broken free of its moorings in the mind where the initial thought first emerged as a result of very careful deliberation and effort. Our rote obsessions owe their existence to rotten luck, to an accident on the caliber of melting ice when you leave the freezer door ajar or when the sun finds its zenith over a pond where the turtles have buried themselves in the mud. Wouldn’t it be something if we had access to a repository and we were no longer expected to generate either fine or lunatic ideas on our own? We had merely to operate the accompanying codex properly to find what we want and, of course, pay a small fee, something perhaps even in barter. Like a bushel of corn or a gilt frame we previously removed the painting from because it depicted an elderly man with a sunflower in his hands and we found the depiction objectionable for reasons we couldn’t quite put into words. Maybe it reminded us of a time when we too were expected to stand still so that someone we barely knew could try to capture our likeness in oils or charcoal or dust, and our trust was violated. Maybe we have grown sick of words the way one person grows sick of another. Over time, and with little effort. Like looking in a mirror. It just happens. It just occurs like the generation of oxygen. When Immanuel first returns, I run as fast as I can, leaping tree roots and culverts in the dark, anxious to tell Eulalie the impossible news, but she has gone, has packed up and fled in the middle of the night following the trauma of internment and, before that, disease, the only traces of her left in the ruins she shared with Immanuel a pile of broken spectacles and a glove with the fingertips cut out so as to allow whoever wears it to work with dexterity, to sort and master the fine gradients of every object that exists on the surface of the planet, or at least those of a size graspable by the ordinary human hand.
Monday, October 29, 2012
Circles rise to the surface, exhibit themselves wantonly, and then descend again once they have caught the attention of those who respond at a visceral level. In the light bouncing then off the unseen oceans, the red sands and mountain peaks twenty miles away, I discovered circles everywhere, unearthed them from substances not made of earth with the persistence of a feral cat stalking chameleons in the treetops or a Geiger counter sniffing out particular isotopes. A mode of transport yellow in body and long as an end table, it had wheels of course because how else was it going to get anywhere? And these I’d turn with my hands and watch turn and see inside the movement something that is as yet missing from my vision today. Something mathematical certainly and of the genus of law, but without name or substance and apt to disintegrate when I looked too closely, hoping to pin it down on the surface of the retinas and keep it there for future consultation. But what need have we of that which is beyond the tongue, beyond the capabilities of the tongue to morph objects that never come in contact with it, as if effect at a distance is not the purview finally of alchemists dead and gone but a day to day reality for anyone who can speak? Who can muster enough words to regenerate that which was swallowed up by time and sunlight and generate that which has still to solidify around its own marrow, still to take its first heady steps? Some of the obsessive appeal originated not in the tactile, not in the rough plastic passing more and more quickly beneath the fingers, but the sound, a rattling just this side of order-less, without music. I could alter it, make it sing, generate a primitive phrasing, if I struck it just so, and the perfecting of this technique accounts for hours during which I was completely unaware of the concern on the faces of the male presence and the female presence watching from a window or the front door. The unlocking of patterns, of mysteries buried deep within the soil by someone secretive and all-reaching trumps the ordinate kindness to others, the empathy one ought otherwise to foster as one fosters an appreciation for Hyden or dry wine. And it is especially so when such circles, such infinite and unwieldy treasures reveal themselves in earliest childhood and promise to abandon us again in something clearer than words or phrases. We can see it in the orbit itself, hear it in the cotter pin and washer beginning to freeze up on the axle from overuse. We can hear it in the lunatic fury of the birds.
The post-simian figures occupy space without -- it seems from this distance, at any rate -- moving, without lifting a leg and then placing it down again somewhere close by or operating their lips in such a way that words escape them, or at least the facsimile of words. I stop no higher than the knees of some of these perpetual shadows and feel at ease for perhaps the one and only time in my life precisely because they have no faces to decode, no agenda hidden away like gold bullion in subterranean passageways. All is still within the jurisdiction of my will, a blueprint I will mislay for many years afterward, only to pick it up again in middle age. Our systems creak and mutter when placed in operation and we can almost imagine the steam and smoke rising off them in the morning, the smell like that of turnips gone bad, but we cling just the same because without the systems of our own devising, without these grand schemes and philosophical edifices, our bones are no more than scaffolding and our dreams pile up against the doorstop like laundry. Many of our dreams look back on a past spent among dervishes and beaded lizards, our bodies prone on the dry soil and racked with pains we no longer even have names for. One of the frozen human totems gives his name to my brother, stands almost directly beneath the sun and if I can flesh out the countenance at this distance, it is only with the assistance of tales told between that place and this one, and not the memory which is full of holes the size of universes. This is a pattern that will persist, will seem at first to grow weaker over time as if it can’t keep track of its own comings and goings, but the illusion reveals itself as illusion when I sit down to compose the melody for a dirge -- something meant to evoke a particular time and place and the people who occupied that place beside me – and I find myself staring instead at my socks. Outside the wind arrives from the place where wind originates and the screens in the windows complain that they too are expected to make do with next to nothing. Our lives, despite all evidence to the contrary, evidence we would spend twenty times that one lifetime and a fortune acquiring if it were possible, belong to empty rooms, and everywhere you turn there are books with familiar names on the spine and titles and the occasional picture of someone’s eighteenth century face starting out at you, just as vivid and haughty as a king’s. And you know that the face will be there every evening until you turn the book around backwards or upside down so as to assert the primacy of your own existence, your vision. So as to prove once and for all to any Hobbes or Rousseau who has the audacity to gaze out at you like that in spite of the grave that it is you who will be calling the shots now. It is you who will decide what solidifies and what dribbles away to nothing on the Earth’s innumerable white hot sands.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
No continuity, no incidents bleeding into one another with all the ease of open wounds. No wounds manufactured, but we will allow a blurring of effect, a moving from one space to another without announcing the move. What reputable mind, what disembodied nerve fiber even is going to follow our lead? Which mountaintop will leave open space to place one’s shoes? A presence enters, discolored from rage, her eyes rolling in her head the way thunder is said to roll by those who do not stand directly beneath it. You can determine a great deal by examining wavelength when nothing visible will suffice, by a kind of echo location, but my experience determining what is real and what merely the workings of some unseen mind not altogether separate from my own is limited to that which can be gleaned without trying, without examining each element in the room separately – the wood slats vertical and obscuring my line of sight when I sit for any length of time. The walls opposite like egg shell in their fragility. What I wouldn’t do now to populate the corners, to stuff them full of artificial beasts with startled looks upon their faces, if beasts and non-human creatures can truly be said to have faces. Perhaps that entity belongs to us alone because it is, finally, a concept. It carries with it expectations not just anyone, or anything, can meet. The enraged presence smears excrement on my legs and my first order of business is to determine not why (this question has yet to formulate itself even as concerns the passing of sunlight across and behind closed curtains, or the purpose of the words bubbling up on my lips lately in meager twos and threes like semi-sociable beetles or flies) but whose excrement it is. The possibilities number, so far as I can determine, no more than the number of the inhabitants of what I will later learn to term the home when I am encouraged to explore it. Certainly, indignation is called for and mine seems natural as flames or fungus on wood. It is that which does not follow from what precedes it -- as if the two had no prior relation -- but which emerges from the substance itself, is born of its various prior elements reshuffled and reconstituted for purposes no one can determine. Perhaps they were written out ahead of time, set down on something like paper so that whoever has need of them in the future will have access. Assuming, of course, he doesn’t forget where they have been stored in the meantime. In which cupboard. In the maw of which paired sock in which drawer. Or perhaps they just happened. They just appeared like light and we are stuck with them the same way we are stuck with light in the morning when we’d rather have (for a time, at any rate) the darkness, the impenetrable desolation of the cave.
Sparks demand attention from those of us composed only partially of flame. We glance and stare and chortle at our foolishness and then stare again until the retina no longer registers the thing we are staring at as other. It becomes accustomed to the intensity of light and treats light, at least until it can be taught to resume its initial naiveté, as that which is ordinary. That which is expected the way rows of corn are expected in the field. As are moles and lacewings. A locomotive green and bulky as a quantity of copper drags behind it cars, one loaded with faux, undifferentiated coal, and throws ozone onto the basement air where the hairs inside my nose take hold of it and (or so I conceive it now) fold it over, prepare to place it permanently in some drab recess of the brain where it will stay forever, dormant and piecemeal, something set to rise again, say, twenty years later in consequence of passing storms. We are reminded of those around us by the accident of objects placed in our way and then recovered, or stumbled upon in likeness. Rarely in words. Two balding men stand close within the circle cast by the bare bulb overhead, the one progenitor of the other and as alien to me as are the river byways of China, the reed beds and the fumbling geese overhead. Their rapport, obvious even to someone still stumbling on coherence, as it were, in his pockets, sentences strung high on light posts and out of reach, bears no resemblance to any I might have with the one I see most days and will later interrogate on occasion concerning the lesions I spy in heaven and the people apt to reside there and why water stops its movement at the boundaries of my skin. The train, barreling repeatedly sideways off the tracks when it has found finally the speed I desire, builds a hydraulic something inside my chest until I can no longer breathe. I race for the stairs and the blinding light outside where everything runs as it is intended. The sun consistent as the minute hand on your watch. The sidewalk motionless and white as bone. The air there is full of its own as yet undivided essence and I stand in one place and pull it in and endeavor to break it. To redistribute the pieces through the infinite concourse of my body. Light and air and body as one. This lasts maybe a minute, the time it takes to pull a fishhook from your flesh if it is imbedded more deeply than you might have anticipated. The time it takes to reorient yourself when you wake from a shallow sleep because someone knocks on your door or the radio plays music composed of little but abject familiar phrases repeated over the barest hint of someone striking a tympani.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Tear at the thatch, set it on fire! Call the rings of Saturn down through incantation and despair. The sound is grating, a long low wail like that you’d expect of an animal caught in a snare, the intervals between utterance lessening until there is no interval at all but infinite continuation. I attempt to capture the visual equivalent with charcoal on paper bags I carted here from the dump specifically for this purpose, each attempt rounded at the top and exhibiting tendencies to splinter at the edges, just as if I had modeled them on multi-cellular organisms at the dawn of complexity, the very beginning of what we would come to recognize as the blueprint for our own devious make up. Eulalie is striking a bell or a bottle or something solid that rings as if it were hollow, calling to the heavens to witness her grief. There is an enormous gulf between what we see and what we allow ourselves to keep, what we store away in the memory like grains. Trying to break through this habit, to untie it and roll it down the hill, just makes us more susceptible and creates, in the end, the distinct feeling that we have accomplished nothing whatsoever. We have simply been standing in place before a mirror and gazing at the odd, isolated strands of hair that jut out from the temple, that catch whatever draft is in the room and amplify it. Mimic it the way the waves mimic the beach on which they will shortly be extinguishing themselves. For my part, I never realized that others thought it possible to make yourself somehow less than human by studying navigation, by sharpening quills when you have a typewriter at hand. It was balmy times, but venomous, the actual sun so far away as to seem like failed conjecture, a promise made on two hands, only one of which, though, was lacerated purposefully to produce the blood necessary for the ritual. Now the bugle is packed up tight and Eulalie throws every other object she comes across through what would have been a window in previous decades or millennia but is now simply an orifice, a blank place in a wall that has crumbled some in the rain and which you might want to write poems about if you were in the habit of writing poems. If you were encouraged in your youth by those who didn’t understand the potentially devastating consequences of what it was they were fobbing off on you. The nights spent picking scabs on your arms. The prizes with names that make one think of prairie flowers, of dens full of buzzing rattlesnakes.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Inside the sphere we are constantly bumping into one another, turning our palms skyward as if to suggest there are alternatives every time. As if to suggest the boundaries are not as well-defined as we have been led to believe by those whose job it is to determine the boundaries and make sure they don’t shift. There’s precious little we can do to prevent movement, though, and the lights remind us of this when we try. They alternate patterns, they refuse to illuminate certain portions of the room and my skin reacts by tightening and growing brittle over stretches around the elbow, below the knee. It reminds me of boutique leather and I am proud for a while, even taking pictures of it to show other people should my skin decide to heal itself. No one would believe me then. They would object in the strongest possible terms. Or else they would simply nod their heads and continue their conversations about Borneo, about the cheapest ways to get there. Our days fill up suddenly with voluminous miniature objects like sand, with rumors having nothing whatsoever to do with sand. We run from these as we might from a swarm of stinging insects. There is only so far you can go, though, when the light behind the clouds is not the light you would otherwise expect to escape from those clouds should they break or should there be no clouds in the first place. All of which suggests our feet were not designed for running or even walking very far. They were designed, I’m sure, for some other less daunting activity, and when I study them on other people, as opposed to when I study my own, I come to the same conclusion pretty much every time – our feet were meant to hang limp beneath us when we fly. If this conjures fairy tales and myths with griffins in them, so be it. I can’t be held responsible for what other people believed before I got on the scene. Their attempts at making the eye the arbiter, the mind the axis of the cosmos, were entirely successful, I’m sure, and deserving of the same sort of grudging respect we offer qualified umpires. But with success comes the equivalent of legal documentation, wills and subpoenas, and a tendency to say things in a way that no longer appeals to those you are speaking to. As a consequence, they lower their eyes if they are polite, thumb their noses at you or spit in your direction if they are not, and resume whatever it was they were doing before you arrived. Cultivating certain questionable grains. Holding hands or throwing dice against a dried mud wall where a handful of hungry curs look on, sharing apparently in the ancient understanding of their race that dice mean bone and bone is lucky as any number you choose to carve into the face of it. Bone is the future promising you something bold, something of consequence like transformation, like finally getting what you’re owed, all by way of an otherwise truly merciless past.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
An ice giant finds its visage under the noisy blade of a chain saw, its creator meticulous and clothed only in burlap and cured hides. Spectators arrive, some of them by bus, but mostly on foot on unseen trails through the forest thick on either side of the highway here like insulation. Their eyes are wide and their faces drawn, the wind whipping through them like rumors, and the Styrofoam containers, crushed and angular, tumble past their feet in threes and fours. All along the highway I kick the cairns over when I find them, scatter the bits and pieces with the toe of my boot. Vengeance, I’m sure, for something I can’t remember, an insult delivered via pigeon, a deep recess in the center of my person filled almost entirely now by shadows and bone spurs, by the physical remnants of whoever else I was supposed to be. Later, at taverns with names lifted wholesale from some earlier century and some other continent, I’ll explain it with my finger cocked sideways, nearly dislocated, and the froth on my lips redoubling itself every tenth syllable as if it had been given directives. As if it were the portion of the soul that insists on visibility despite a very long tradition to the contrary. I recall a time when everyone was attempting to compose an epic with giants at the center, when they compared notes and studied at the trade school library which was the best in the vicinity then and allowed you to smoke inside provided you kept your distance from those who registered their displeasure with an audible clearing of the throat or a glance cast in your direction so full of menace there could be no mistaking it. There was a great deal of debate then concerning how much pride was too much pride as represented in these figures with their molars like mahogany tables and their eyes squinted shut, and there was a great deal of debate concerning what was the best way to depict all this without succumbing yourself to the vice in question. Immanuel was lucid then, a man with a nose like a rivet and a deep and abiding love for the female form in all its manifestations -- even the stone columns at the edge of town referred to as the sisters and featured in more than one young adult novel of the time in which someone disappears and then reappears again but is not the same person. We would scale the sisters come midnight, Immanuel reciting verses of his own invention or those of Auden having to do with the impenetrability of time. I’ve looked for them since, tried to unearth them so as to bring him back with their recitation, at least for a moment, to make him hear and acknowledge them (and me) from the other side, but I can’t find them. Perhaps they were never by Auden in the first place, or Stevens or Ahkmatova in translation. Maybe they were bits and fragments of a recipe he was trying to memorize for reasons of his own or directions to the post office the next town over and his saying them out loud settled in my head as verse simply because everything then was verse, because the world itself had yet to solidify, and it still hasn’t; it still squirms around beneath my feet like nominative accusatives or squid.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Twice the vacuum stalls and leaves its contents dropping unceremoniously toward earth and twice those within earshot hear the accompanying groan, the rattling of metal utensils and the mild cursing under the breath as if the more virulent kind might be expected to call from the cupboards vaguely menacing supernatural entities of the sort perfected in Japanese cinema. My watch follows the same pattern the universe does, as near as I can tell, with the second hand getting caught on occasion on the cusp of the five. Not because that structure juts out, but because the interior gears are defective. They have been rubbed smooth in places by overwork. They are the victims of a shoddy design. When the urchin requests possession of my watch, I am startled for a moment, then properly outraged and only later admiring of the spirit that allowed him to approach. That said in his ear, “All things are possible. You are a Titan among canaries.” Clearly, by this line of reasoning, the urchin’s word is law. I follow along behind him for a while because I have nothing else to do and I suffer sometimes from the delusion that people can’t see me. Or if they can see me, what they see is not the same thing as who I am. This undoubtedly leads to further troubling symptoms and explains for instance that period of time (already touched upon) when I thought I was an egg. To be honest, I still think that but only because I recognize that my body is the perfect host for the incubation of both disease and that which cures disease, the pestilence and the unguent. Reason is a part of the mind no bigger than your thumb and rests on the longitudinal axis, leery of raising itself much like the turtles you see at the zoo. When it is forced into action, it pollutes the area all around it out of spite, casts its garbage and its detailed notes taken on the equivalent of paper all over the ground and leaves them there for others to pick up. I know this is difficult to follow, to condone, but If you believed at some point that you were an egg, and then you stopped believing it, for whatever reason, there would still be a part of you reluctant to embrace the new image, the one that corresponds to what you see in the mirror or the water of the pond past which you happen to be strolling. The question is which part is the more truthful one and why? Which part represents the functional self and which the soul, a term wildly out of favor at the moment but destined to make its return? I don’t know the answer to that question and I’m pretty sure the question itself has been borrowed or stolen numerous times from someone who knew the answer but refused to share it with us because he recognized that the answer was liable to distract him from the real task at hand. Namely, the completion of his symphony or his colossal philosophical system (which amounts to the same thing) – that overwhelming entity that seems to us now, if we are aware of it at all, bloated and of passing interest only to the occasional scholar who studies it in youth before stumbling upon her true passion, a perhaps more modest work created by someone else truly deserving of her time.
Monday, October 8, 2012
Later, the pieces of flesh have been put back where they started. The centering gives way to shifting from one foot to another and then the sky recedes like memory. I stand at the other end of the table, certain the objects laid out between us are meant to suggest something in the aggregate, to add up to a message like that one finds sometimes in a book pulled from the shelves at random in the library. Something scribbled in the margins, a statement or a question that addresses a need one has without ever before realizing it. That conjures it out of mid-air simply by stating that need in sentences half Gaelic and half English. Or fragments, it doesn’t matter. A high-toned whistling continues somewhere far off and makes us think of the inner workings of machines that haven’t been invented yet, that divide the air from the particles in the air and separates them out into a hundred different varieties, all for the purpose of reassembling them again at a later date and placing them in bottles with hand-written labels. I, for one, am sick at heart and ready to follow the game trail through the forest until it comes to a clearing and then see for myself what sort of structures have been built there, examine them carefully by the light of a torch. Most of these will have crumbled, ravaged by time and picked over by those in need of supplies. I imagine rooms one must climb by hand to reach and in the corners of these (assuming there are corners still) a child’s drawing of the family on yellowed paper. It looks strangely familiar, as if generated from my own past, but I know the past is something that doesn’t generate, that doesn’t so much as twitch the skin under its eyes. We have an hour to make it to the next destination and her panting suggests we will need that much and more, but still, I linger. I address people who are no longer among us, who have stepped off the platform and plunged down toward whatever lies beneath the platform without making much of a sound. Sometimes you could hear a whimpering, or a noise very like whimpering without the excess fear attached. I mistook it usually for commentary made by the wild creatures that occupied the adjacent hillside. The hares and the goats and the marmots mostly, those diminutive things that glanced disdainfully at us out of the corners of their eyes.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
The phrase suggests a process contemplated beforehand, taken up and twisted in the hands and made to look finally like some sort of animal. A giraffe, say, without the ungainly spots. It follows the speaker around like his shadow so that people he has never met before comment on it in uncomfortably loud voices and the echoes return from up the street where they have been lingering with others of their kind on the front stoop of an antiques store that will be going out of business within the month. Our personalities congeal around a central axis – a core belief or something traumatic witnessed in youth – and add layers at regular intervals until you can’t see anymore what the edifice stands on, how it keeps from disintegrating in the breeze. This causes those without personalities to chuckle under their breath but they forget almost immediately what they thought what so amusing and revert back to an innocence frequently written about by classical Chinese authors but rarely documented. Before I turned the corner, I didn’t believe anyone could live like that, with their eyeglasses, cracked and filmy, perpetually in their hands, and their minds always turned forward, scanning the horizon in hopes of discovering there some type of illumination you’d otherwise have to pay top dollar to acquire. In books with Latin titles. In seminars where the director is promising to swim to the bottom of the sea on a single breath or climb a ladder using only his left hand (and, of course, both feet). Eulalie makes a great show of her patience, of choosing to behave in ways that would ruin a lesser being, would put them in the hospital because they don’t know where else to go. They can’t imagine a home with actual paintings on the wall, with a furnace that gives off sufficient heat. When I’ve had enough, when the very sight of her reminds me of black and white newsreel footage of American soldiers using flamethrowers on unnamed Pacific islands, I head out into the night with its low and unfamiliar bird calls and its single filament spider webs flung across the road at eye level and I walk until the road turns into another road and the only way you can tell this has happened is by listening to the sound the gravel makes beneath your shoes, taking careful note of the shift in timbre, the telltale rise or drop in tone that announces to anyone in the vicinity who is prepared to listen -- who knows what exactly to listen for -- that you are walking now due south.