The suitors aren’t ready for the noises in the walls, the reptiles issuing from crevices in numbers not previously seen unless you count the time when the climate had shifted slightly and the day lengthened by an average of twelve minutes so that there was time enough for breeding and time enough for the reports to get filed. A rare combination indeed, but when you factor in the questionable advice and the people stacked up like off-brand china on either side of the boulevard, you get one of those impossible to predict and impossible to replicate moments that put me in the mood, nine times out of ten, for an aperitif. That remind me my middle name is the one most apt to cause me difficulty, even mortal danger, when we return to the town on the mountain and find that some others in the vicinity have co-opted it and have tarnished it ruthlessly over the two or three decades since we left. Now there are scores to settle and the possibility, however remote, that I will never again see the banks of my beloved Ganges, will never again be able to wind surf on the Mediterranean among what you first assume to be boulders but which begin to look suspiciously like sea turtles or even mermen as your speed increases and your imagination does everything it can to keep up, to keep from being rendered obsolete by the more urgent requirements of the body. Like digestion. And that thing that happens just before digestion, but just after the visible world has turned into a two-dimensional replica of itself. Maybe chemistry is to blame for this disturbing phenomenon and maybe there is not enough blame to go around because whoever is in the business of manufacturing blame hasn’t realized yet the enormity of the task at hand. The headwinds to be conquered and the mountain peaks and the cardboard boxes in which you conceal your liquor as if you were an eighty-six year old man and you have forgotten how to determine what a loved one’s facial expressions mean. Oh, you have some inkling because of your training as an artist, the hours spent rendering still lifes in charcoal and pencil lead, the pieces of fruit gone rotten at the edges and drawing gnats, the underside of bridges where the rivets seem as big as your hand. But all of that barely adds up to a complete geometrical figure. A rhombus, say. Or its numerical equivalent such as that which (when it is applied liberally to precious metals, to gold and amethysts) makes certain people of your acquaintance completely independent of the vicissitudes of the heavens overhead. That convinces them they can journey out into the heart of the open sea on little more than a raft and expect to survive that journey, expect to wash ashore three months later looking very little the worse for wear. Sporting a beard, maybe, at worst. Licking obsessively at the corner of their lips where the flesh has not so much worn away or disintegrated as it has transformed itself into something less pliable than it used to be, something less likely to let itself get pushed around by the salt and the sun and its heat.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Much of the furniture has been broken and some of it burned but there is no one you can complain to because almost everyone in the vicinity is wielding broadswords and something tells me they are not made of cardboard. Clearly, they have been forged by an expert smith and decorated along the blades with designs that suggest a more than passing interest in numerology, something Eulalie herself comments upon after she has left for a week and then chooses not to return. She writes instead on stationary colored and scented of lemons. Her hand is sprawling and ostentatious and I wonder for a moment whether or not she has hired someone else to write it or her. Lately, Eulalie has the money to hire strangers to perform almost any action she wishes though no one seems to be able to account for how she got the money or what she intends to do with it now that she has it. I suspect a scam like that she ran in the Dominican Republic once that involved forging historical documents of questionable value or marginal interest. She could have made a fortune then, of course, had she gone for something more sensational, like an alternative Magna Carta or the missing pages of the Gospel of Mark, but she worried notoriety would undermine her operation too quickly, and besides, who wants to pursue the obvious? Why spend all your time chasing trends that someone else created when you could just as easily be creating them yourself? At least this was the question as Eulalie formulated it when she was still deep in the quagmire of despising pretty much every other person on the planet, a habit that arose, I believe, from the fact that she was unable to identify anything she could point to that distinguished her finally from them. The passages all lead in the same general direction and the poor lighting is not so much hindrance as invitation. Just the sort of thing to make you wish you had been born in a cave with the whip scorpions and the blind catfish as boon companions. That way, when people wrote your biography after you were dead (for what’s the good in writing it beforehand?), they’d have to do so as a collaboration because the single angle is guaranteed to obscure the view when it originates so deep underground. It will make the world seem linear and obscure and full of creatures that make a high thin menacing sound whenever they flit past your temples or when they scurry occasionally over the tops of your feet. Despite what some might claim to the contrary, I don’t care that no one is occupied with documenting my life. I’m a little unsure as to whether what has happened to me and what I have in turn caused to happen even actually fit, in totality, the definition. My life is more like a sketch really that someone started in the margins of an otherwise mediocre graphic novel, a sketch with two or three stick figures circling ominously on themselves and a rudimentary moon hung in the corner for effect.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
You can have your well-groomed protagonists stumble into any number of occupied rooms, you can have them paint snails in florescent colors and reveal their scrotums, but the door – the enormous door, that is, the crucial door I have been searching a quarter of the world over for because I dreamt once it existed and I became convinced, not because it was in a dream or because I give any particular credence to dreams but because I am easily convinced, because I take immediately to heart the slimmest or most circular of arguments and the flimsiest bit of evidence – the door is not going to appear suddenly through the use of techniques such as these. You’ll say that doesn’t matter because the door doesn’t exist and I’ll be forced to agree with you. But, at the same time, I’ll be whittling away at pieces of driftwood the neighborhood kids bring me routinely because there is a rumor I have a fortune and will pay cash, upwards of five hundred dollars, for random pieces of junk whenever such junk sparks my imagination. This happens so frequently I am, as a result, inundated and must fight my way to the surface, to the outside world, so that it is no exaggeration to suggest that my life is in danger! I have been within millimeters of suffocation at least three times before! When the cemetery begins to flood, the last of those who have come to illegally unearth their forebears, to whisk them away to a resting place on higher ground, drop their picks and their shovels and they wail at the moon as if they expect to find some condolence there when, in fact, to this point, there has been only silence. A serenity almost mocking in its infinitude. But what do you expect from something so far away it took us a thousand generations to tame? And even then, we did so only at our own peril, one or two at a time, strapped to devices that look now, all these years later, like antique wash tubs or the inventions of a visionary Chinese author from the distant past, inventions the precise use for which has been swallowed up by the significant differences between the language he composed in and the one we use today when we are reading, or just pretending to read. I am all for broadening the focus, for shifting ideas back to their root and origin, but what if the ideas are ideas in name only and when you cut them apart, you find inside merely a kind of blackness, the non-human equivalent of a blank stare? What if they aren’t even tangible the way potatoes are said to be tangible, which means, I suppose, you can hold them in your hands?
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Too frequently we start from a location that has already been created, has been forged of something like iron but without the secondary qualities and the increased chances of rust. I attempt to identify through cross-reference my own particular origins using an appendix in a hefty textbook from a past course of study I pursued in accounting, and then, when that doesn’t work, I file it under a heading I promptly forget, but it doesn’t matter. Everywhere you turn there are like substances and like phenomena and trying to differentiate between them will only lead you to something very similar to mental collapse. Or away from it should you already be in the vicinity. Eulalie takes the cup proffered and encourages me to do the same but I am leery and I’m not precisely sure why. Certainly poison crops up in my thoughts more frequently than it ought, and my attempts to rid myself of it just increase the instances until I spend at least twelve to eighteen of the finite hours in a week obsessing over who has had access to what I put in my body and who has had access to my body itself and what the overlap suggests. The man pulls a framed photograph down from the shelf and we pass it around as if it contained a psychotropic substance of the sort that causes benevolent hallucination involving forest creatures, say, not yet altered through the taste of blood, sailing vessels approaching on a bay that stretches eighty miles in either direction and reminds us that it’s not possible to see beyond the curvature of the earth without the use of specialized equipment and an imagination such as Dante possessed when he was first learning to speak but hadn’t yet met his Beatrice. When he didn’t yet view the world the way we do when we have suffered a lesion on the prefrontal cortex due to a skiing accident, perhaps, or just an ordinary mutation in the genes that help configure that particular portion of the gray matter. The woman in the photograph attempts a smile, but her head is tilted toward the earth and her eyes are averted and you can tell she has been told previously one or two very brutal things by this man who has presented us with the picture as if nothing were out of the ordinary, things that would alter the very texture of your skin should you hear them. Would turn your skin, in fact, into just the sort of pale imitation it appears to be in this or any photograph. A facsimile, a poor, reverse-engineered replica that, if you were possessed of it instead of the skin you were actually born in, you would suffer to the very end of your days from tremors and phantom pains and a sense that whatever is outside is painstakingly trying to make its way in.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Adrift again under a zodiac like no other, one uncharted by those who had gone before because they lacked the basic tools necessary -- the implements for making circles on paper and stabbing your friends with playfully and not so playfully, the protractor with its conspicuous voids at the center -- we began to realize the false world itself was a mere construct, a mechanism through which we attempted to escape enslavement by an entity that contoured information into the semblance of a world so as to keep us in one place, subservient and satisfied, content. The waves battered the craft at irregular intervals and threatened to swamp the whole mess now and then, the sound they made like the sound of nothing turning inevitably into something, transforming itself through the assistance of whole numbers and footnotes, the treble clef. By the time sleep came, it was no longer a relief, but a second burden and a form of decay, a means of being in two places at the same time without the benefit of experiencing either one. Odd, how our patterns are not really patterns at all when viewed from above, through eyes inhuman in that they do not and can not belong to us; they’re not really even eyes when you get right down to it, not cellular or reflective in any way. What we call patterns are, rather, random shapes and inclinations like those that afflict the song birds in the fields across the street, causing them to change locations innumerable times throughout the day, to flit from one dead strand of vegetation to another without purpose or benefit made obvious to the observer. My heels ache with the loss of practice, the surface of the earth like broken pottery and the distances covered similar to those you’d expect of languages or migratory waterfowl so long as they aren’t arriving from Ethiopia, a location chosen simply to illustrate an outlying logical possibility and not to forge a political statement of questionable taste. The man is at the door before we are, his forearms banded with muscle and wound tight upon themselves as if he had distilled them down from another essence, a novel concept governing anatomy discovered in the pages of a magazine that otherwise includes commentary on the niceties of theosophist thinking and the proper seeds to plant come spring. He will not look me in the eye and I know before either one of us is given the chance to speak that he holds me accountable, that he believes I have somehow turned this particular pestilence loose upon the land and even if I am here to rectify the situation, his forgiveness is not forthcoming. It is locked away in the cellar of the organ that rubs occasionally against the bones in his chest and it will perish there unlit and unseen, a mere rumor, really, failing, as all rumors must, by definition, to transcend its hopeless situation and stand upon the semantic equivalent of a ridge overlooking both the named and the unnamed valleys that are laid out below it, orderly and inviting in the dishonest light originating with what at one time were stars but are now (now that we have seen them up close with our own eyes and have suffered the unpleasant consequences) merely conglomerations of methane and hydrogen gas morphed, for our convenience, into unquenchable flame.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
The heads carved from stone appeared at first glance the handiwork of their ancestors, totemic reminders of human agency from the very beginning of habitation, but we were assured this was not the case, that their cosmos was a self-governing entity or field and there was no causation as we normally understand it, no first this and then something else, but an entity forever unfolding within itself on the vertical axis. It took two weeks to communicate this properly, though, and during most of that time we made the forgivable mistake of praising the ingenuity of their forebears, the vision that allowed them to rework misery, the iron-choked cisterns and the innumerable broken toes, into something that changed the subject, that denied all subjects but the one deemed most worthy of discussion by their effeminate elders and thus, by definition, that which was to be frowned upon by the visiting archeologists or the occasional minister washed ashore and all but insane, his hair grown unruly in the wind and the skin on his forehead peeling with disease. Who are we, though, to count backwards, to suggest that the numbers we have used to this point successfully no longer function the way they were intended? That they belong to an order of existence three furlongs further east where the residents are terrified of the sound of a passing locomotive and they attempt to mask their fear with actual masks, with noncommittal faces worked in alabaster and holes where the eyes go, crow’s feathers hung (for a time anyway) from the sides with ordinary white glue. The house is like any other in the region, but for what looks like sod on the roof and the doors here and there leading into underground caverns. Eulalie waves her arms and the man sees us from the kitchen window, nods in our direction as if he has had a premonition of our approach and wishes to acknowledge that we are welcome even though he doesn’t believe in premonitions. Somewhere, out of sight, hounds bay with a fury that bespeaks their acquaintance with, if not evil exactly, the closest thing to it that doesn’t pulse in the light of the moon, doesn’t throw its own light around as if it were constructed of almost nothing but light, and so has extra sums to do with as it pleases. Eulalie mocks the bitter wailing with a brand of her own and I wish for about the thousandth time that I had never met Eulalie, that our paths had wandered close enough to one another to occupy the same mountain, say, but had veered sharply at the point of contact, had recognized the impending catastrophe and had taken it upon themselves to avert that catastrophe by hurrying off into the vegetation on opposite ends of the mountain where they would simply peter out and disappear from underuse like metaphysics, or the harpsichord.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
The transmutation of one mineral into another, or into something completely un-mineral like, take your pick, was exactly as advertised by those who had told me about it upon my arrival -- with lightning flashes fifty miles distant and regular updates on the airwaves by anyone who had access to the airwaves, who had paid their money up front and were delivered of equipment eighty years out of date. You turned the knobs one way and you received information from as far away as Spain; you turned it another and the information you received was no longer really information at all. It was a bland re-working of stage dramas with names that suggested they took place in the Ural mountains and examined the everyday lives of everyday people but delivered nothing of the sort. I pitched my tent close to the outcropping the locals had named for a legendary pair of lovers who would meet up there nights when the moon was full and sometimes when it was crescent-shaped, or, as the locals frequently expressed it,” mimicking the uterus”, until they were discovered by a great, lumbering aunt of one or the other of them. She (it was said) wagged her finger in their faces and, when no one paid attention to the warnings she doled out from that evening forward with such regularity even her own siblings (at any rate, those who were still living) believed she had gone insane, she cast a spell that no one was able to break because they didn’t fully understand how it worked or how exactly it had managed to change the lives of those it had been cast on. The only difference in the victims was a certain ruddiness of the cheeks that appeared now and then inexplicably and a tendency to dream about snow leopards when before they wouldn’t have known what the animals looked like. When not pouring over old atlases or boning up on my trigonometry, I spent my evenings there reliving the experience, jotting some of it down in a notebook that I subsequently misplaced, but the trumpeting like bereaved swans and the sulfurous aftertaste stay with me to this day due to their novelty and what I’ve come since to understand was their association with that thing we term the Ground of Being when we need some entity or some place from which to begin. Someplace other than our own remembered origins which have the feel to them at this remove of something invented, something paltry and a little unconvincing like the plot of a novel, say, or almost any spoken sentence accompanied by tears.
Monday, May 6, 2013
The string technique arose in response to mandates against narrative set down by sovereigns with little or no patience for any entity that was not themselves. They frequently railed at the shooting stars and shook their fists in the direction of the walking sticks that livened up (barely) the arbor, but these sovereigns are long since passed into something like history now except that nothing of that time has actually been recorded and everything we say about them is based solely on speculation or analogy. Or just an overwhelming desire to string trite phrases together so that whatever silence exists in the vicinity and is tempted to drop down on us like a filthy bird of carrion realizes that its particular wishes, like all wishes, will not be granted without a little push back, without some difficulty attached, and even what we would call mortal danger if we were speaking of living beings, beings with detectable heartbeats and flesh covering the less easily verifiable parts of them, such as the spirit or the thing that replaces the spirit when it is no longer capable of fulfilling its many responsibilities. The procedure is as follows: You wrap the string (or the twine if you have it; even the flat end of cattails will do) around each of the fingers on your left hand, one at a time, all the while reciting any tale that appears before your eyes or on your tongue as a result, I suppose, of the change in circulation of the blood, no matter how miniscule. Or perhaps the trance the introductory ceremony has placed you under because you are unusually susceptible to trances. When you are on your own, for instance, walking in the street, you keep your head down, eyes on the pavement so that no one passing by with a pocket watch left intentionally dangling and spinning out where the whole world can see it will be able to place you under his control and demand that you perform actions that, no doubt, your closest friends and associates would consider demeaning or obscene should they find out about them later. Should they read about them in your diary, say, while snooping through the upper shelves in your walk-in closet with the assistance of a stepladder. Or should they be in that initial audience that forms spontaneously in the street, that circles up and therefore obscures the view of anyone who might have been able to bring this catastrophe to a halt, just as soon as they realize something out of the ordinary is going to happen. Your every precaution results only in your own ultimate isolation, though, and -- when the weather is foul and the market nearly unreachable by foot -- a certain malnutrition that makes you look a little like a hand-painted sign. And then, when you find yourself under someone else’s control anyway, find yourself a marionette prancing about on stage with your feet only occasionally touching the ground, who will come to your rescue then with a bottle of schnapps, will slice the air with his invisible scissors and wrap a blanket around your shoulders? Who will lead you to safety in the unfinished basement of his home?
Sunday, May 5, 2013
The legend we are left with is equal parts hyperbole and carbon, numbers manipulated in such a way as to suggest living beings with auras dancing around their heads in every color of the rainbow plus some, wavelengths as yet undiscovered because they are not really waves. The uses we put that legend to, though, remain remarkably consistent from one generation to the next. We believe each time that we have unearthed it through our own industriousness and we refuse to give credit to those who’ve come before, with, say, bear skins thrown over their shoulders and the syllables tripping from the end of their swollen tongues in torrents that transform themselves eventually into rivulets and then dry up entirely. But not before we have been given a glimpse into a world very similar to ours, with its plaintive insistence on mortality and the ordinary aging process. If you look closely enough, you will discover a few differences and you might even be able to forge a career for yourself penning lengthy exegeses on those differences, enormous formidable things that your nearest relatives won’t read because they suspect they are somehow sacrilegious. Dismissive of a logic that has haunted the family since the time it first discovered there was such an entity as logic, that you could map it and keep track of it the way you can keep track of how many goats have been lost to the wolves and how many have simply wandered over a cliff at night because they didn’t know it was there. The episodes themselves last between forty minutes and two days and when they are finished I feel as if I have been beaten around the head with a tennis racket, but you wouldn’t know it to look at me because no one is allowed to be a witness. I can feel each episode coming on ahead of time and I am careful to absent myself from all human company (and most subhuman) in anticipation. If offered a cure, I don’t think I’d take it if only because that would mean starting over from a position I don’t recall ever having occupied to begin with and the anxiety the thought causes me is enough to send me to the attic where there are boxes full of old shoes and photographs. Of course, I recognize very few of the people in them. They are dressed in clothing typical of the nineteen forties, I suppose, though one or two of them are decked out in what appears to be a futuristic suit of armor, with a cobalt visor and titanium plates placed about the torso in a pattern reminiscent of flying insects. You get the feeling that none of this is to be taken lightly. The others are trying desperately not to look in the direction of those so attired, you can tell, but the children can’t help themselves. The horror in their eyes is such that it can’t be replicated, I’m sure, no matter how hard you try and that suggests they are seeing these apparitions for the very first time in their lives. They have not been prepared ahead of time in any way for the nightmare that awaits the moment the shutters on those cameras open and then close.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Rare evenings indeed when I don’t run into Immanuel there, flickering in and out as if he were made entirely of radio waves, his voice just barely audible over the voices of all the other patrons who must think I am talking to myself. That I do talk to myself on a regular basis should make little difference in the overall judgment of others, but I know the world works according to two or three basic scripts and there is nothing you can do about it and we are, at present, halfway through the second. Immanuel spends a great deal of time studying the footnotes and the appendix and he claims to be working on a treatment of them that is set in the middle ages, a treatment in which the characters (mostly trolls and jesters and their various hangers-on) express themselves as both extension and thought. This makes little sense to me and I say so between bites of liverwurst but Immanuel will not listen to reason unless it is of a certain variety – meaning, it drives itself into a corner where it can not escape and where it morphs rather quickly into something that looks and behaves and even smells a little like an eel. Immanuel is partial to my recounting that part of the voyage when he was too far away to receive my messages, when the mail I sent by sealed bottle would float for seven or eight years before ever reaching shore and still it had half a continent to go. The house that seemed most likely to represent accurately where it is we live and why we live there was that crafted by the hunters of seals who took ice for granted and were enormously skilled at shaping it and bending it like pieces of rubber. They threw something together in less than twenty days. It had parlors and a working kitchen and each room turned into the next without your really being able to tell the difference. It just seemed as if you were surrounded at every moment by the distorting ice and the sun trapped gloriously in the ice and now and again the stars. I never could figure out how they kept the place so pristine given that their hands were forever bloodied from stripping the hide and the flesh and the blubber from those creatures they didn’t so much worship as speak to directly the way you might speak to an equal. To a cousin your age, say, whom you have known as long as you have known your own name. I tell Immanuel to identify his authentic vision and stick to it, not adopt that of others because he thinks it is the best way to earn a reputation, to make himself known among those who pay attention to things like who is writing books on the far shore and who is simply aping the motions. Moving the fingers absently over the image of a keyboard. It must be difficult, though, coming and going like that, being somewhere and then being somewhere else without ever really being anywhere at all. It reminds me of dreams I’ve had in which the ground swallowed me up and in my endeavors to dig myself back to the surface, to claw my way toward the sunlight, I found that I had no hands. Only loose flaps of skin where my hands used to be. They were useless and caused me severe pain whenever they came into contact with the soil. I was horrified, of course, but there was something unnervingly beautiful about them as well, something alien and familiar all at the same time, which made me happy eventually to abandon all sense of purpose and just sit there and stare at them, to congratulate myself, in fact, on having generated them through little more than the force of my own unconscious will.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Once separated from the others in my party, I purposefully followed the trail from which, it was rumored, no one had ever returned. People set out in the spring usually and by the end of June their loved ones had forgotten their names. A kind of amnesia settled over the community and to break it required extraordinary measures – whittling ceremonial poles from green hickory, tying scarves around them from top to bottom so that the resident crows might be tricked into saying the names out loud. It almost never worked. I like the hint of pistachio that lingers in the air when I finally work up the nerve to set foot outside and I stand on the porch and wait for the two gentlemen in black ties to arrive at the tavern across the street. I know that they are on a mission to civilize the rest of us according to a creed that is difficult to understand when you are first introduced to it but becomes easier the more frequently you immerse yourself in its teachings. From what I’ve heard, it promises an afterlife so similar to this one you don’t even realize anything has changed until someone important points it out to you, someone whose job it is to minimize misunderstandings and pass along the secret codes and the secret handshakes and the folk music of that place, which is counter-punctual in nature and is said to remind one of Debussy if one has not listened to Debussy very closely in the past. The giant at the end of the path was not a giant in the true sense of that word, over the trees in stature and drooling after human flesh, but he did have to duck his head whenever he entered or exited through the front door and his hands fit quite easily over mine when he was attempting to show me how to properly toss the discus. My patience was sorely tested by the terrain and when I lay down to sleep under the stars near the wood pile I feared I would never see my home again if only because the tendons in my neck had begun to ache and I was certain this was due not to the tendons at all but an aneurysm in the artery that took the blood upward to my brain. The giant reassured me using graphs and statistics and a speaking voice he modulated up or down in timbre and volume as the situation required. By the end of my stay I realized there was no need to try to steal any of his household items. I was free to come and go as I pleased and what alchemy, really, can one discover at the strings of a lyre when one has trained previously on nothing more complicated than the oboe?
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Once ashore my priorities shift and I am standing at the window wondering how long it will be before I embark again, knowing full well, however, that those day are over. They have been discarded in favor of days that aren’t really days at all anymore if by days you mean the passage of a certain number of hours and the events and tribulations that fill up those hours, and of course the longing that is as palpable as another arm. Our memories are more than just coverings with which we keep off the cold and the dark and the insects that would otherwise feast on our flesh because it is unprotected and it gives off a beacon of some sort, an aura and trail of carbon dioxide the color of magenta in their compound eyes, I imagine. Glinting and bouncing up and down in mid-air as if hung from a string and manipulated by someone in the rafters. One island looked pretty much like the next, except for the one with a summit in the middle, a dormant volcano on which skilled artisans had carved the likeness of a horse’s skull sometime in the distant past. Their purpose was the same apparently as was ours when we ate without our knives and spoons, when we grunted a great deal while speaking and it often made me wonder why the clouds kept so aloof there and far away when it was obvious their assistance was desperately needed closer to the ground. The people spoke a dialect inaccessible to their neighbors not five miles away across the straight and when we attempted to pry its flesh apart, to get at the heart of it by assigning an alphabet, they pulled out one of their own which had been scribbled on the back of a stray piece of Styrofoam and locked away in the cellar where they kept other objects they considered of only passing interest. A couple bottles of their indigenous wine and some of their ancestors’ bones in faded burlap sacks that had once contained rice, I suppose, or millet.
A set of turrets speaks to me from across the skyline, beckons and pleads until I am all but determined to head in that direction. The only thing stopping me, of course, is the sense that I have been there before, that I have wandered all around the perimeter of that cathedral without being able to gain access and the men in the shadows plucking their guitars composed a dirge for me extemporaneously. It was in B flat and the sound of it sent the birds scurrying for the adjacent rooftops and brought the saliva to my lips where it settled and cooled and turned a pasty white guaranteed to turn my stomach should I get a glimpse of my reflection in a window as I passed. On the island of flying men we lost our way in the caverns underneath the main village, passages painted with complicated images of bulls and viola players and women with eyes the color of pomegranates. Certainly there was a system to it all and some of us wished to get to the bottom of it, spent days and weeks in contemplation, with our sketch pads at the ready and our fingers stained irrevocably by the charcoal we used to render what we’d seen. It turns out no one on the island of flying men could actually fly, but every now and then you’d see one of them hurl himself into the air from a nearby cliff and there was great deal of shouting and consequent merry-making among a population who believed they had yet again witnessed the miracle of someone’s escaping once and for all the unholy constraints of gravity. I spend my days now within reach of the radio, tuning to stations that specialize in the mandolin. It makes a sound like that you get when you rub your fingernails across the scales on the back of a lizard and reminds me of a childhood that didn’t actually belong to me, that I appropriated for myself at the precise moment when I realized the other one, the earlier and more accurate one, was going to dissolve minute by minute, was going to turn into a soup of little more than enzymes and innuendo, a milky white substance with nothing underneath. The process that causes this to happen is of great interest to those who it never happens to, but for the rest of us, the victims and the orphaned, the dead-eyed and somnolent, knowledge is no more beneficial in itself than is the shape of a carrot or the lesions that are said to break out on your skin when you are battling meningitis.
The telephone rings and I jump up from where I have been sitting but I can’t locate the device, I have trouble even remembering exactly what it looks like and pretty soon there is silence but for my breathing which is labored and shallow as if someone else were suddenly entrusted with doing it for me. Someone with no real credentials other than the fact that he has been born on this planet the same as you or I and has managed thus far to remain here through a certain ingenuity and know-how in the construction of miniature magnet-driven motors and the marketing of the same, if not the actual sales. I examine the wall closest to my head very closely, the divots and the patterns in the plaster like numbered thoroughfares passing through desert scrub-land when viewed from above, and begin the usual round of unanswerable questions – how can we be sure what appears to the senses, particularly of the auditory variety, originated in this room and not the one separated from it by a common wall? And how do we define objects like walls without first defining the substance of which the wall is but a mere attribute, a way of experiencing it? Before we could regroup and set sail yet again, there was the interlude on the other side of the island where a handful of engineers and seers and the like were busy competing with one another in the construction of mock-ups, of facsimile versions of the world at its most fundamental, as it appeared in the tales they told themselves when they could be bothered to tell tales rather than spending the day netting the fish in the harbor or cleaning them with rusty blades. I spent what seemed at the time like entire weeks wandering through the version made of ice, every room carved by hand from a block of ice blue as the deepest curve of the atmosphere and possessing a solidity such as I had heard rumors of in other places, in flimsy places that altered their appearances simply as a result of one’s looking directly at them, or stifling a cough.
My favorite recipe involved the grouse that scattered from the newly-tilled fields when you walked them, when you followed the elders to their altars at the edges of the fields and you listened to them speak a language that relied on brimstone, on the noxious properties of sulfur to get its message across. For days and weeks afterward, as we plied the waves, as I would lie awake at night on my hammock staring at the violently mobile heavens overhead, I would conjure the flavor of that flesh on my tongue and begin to weep until the others threatened to toss me overboard, a threat I took seriously because they had done it to at least one other of our party before. The effect of the metronome, its sawing back and forth between two equidistant points and two ontological states as yet to be fully identified, explains a great deal in terms of who is likely to become enamored of electrical storms and who is likely to survive a coma and inform us of what exactly lies on the other side (before, of course, the informant can abjure all responsibility for what has been said to that point and pursue instead an exciting career in finance). Eulalie explains the physics of it, the mathematics wedded to everyday observation, in terms I can understand and so my debt to her is increased to the point where it is not really a debt any more in the strictest sense of the term. It is an obligation, a terror such as descends upon us at night when we are walking along a precipice, say, and we can’t see where we are placing our feet. But we have to place them somewhere because it is irresponsible to stand still. It gets you, among other things, a reputation for daydreaming that is almost impossible to shake. Eulalie knocks at the front window at all hours of the night trying, I suppose, to lure me outside where the crickets grow to the size of small dogs and where the rain beats on the pavement in a staccato that reminds one of piano lessons taken at a time when the hands were yet to fully develop, when they were as pliable as saplings. I know she wants nothing in particular, we both know whatever she wants she can secure for herself by opening the front door and presenting me with a bit of cactus in a miniature plastic pot, or a hand-drawn likeness of the Golden Gate bridge. But there are principles involved and some day I hope to master them, I hope to be able to recite them just as you might the words to the national anthem to a country you visited only once, and that in a dream. A place with boulevards as wide as man-made lakes and a representative dish composed almost entirely of raisins and beets.
Saturday, April 6, 2013
A hierarchy of forms establishes itself through no obvious conscious endeavor. It merely falls into place and then calls attention to itself immediately, raising the specter of antagonism and hashish, of the dispossessed maneuvering through the streets in packs that resemble abstract concepts or un-sheared sheep in their tendency to get snagged and slowed down momentarily on stray bits of iron fencing that stick out into and obstruct the sidewalks through poor planning or the ravages of weather. Immanuel’s entrance is always prefigured by a blast of trumpets to hear the others who have witnessed this tell it, but I can’t report so much as a single hair standing on end, and if I could I probably wouldn’t just because it seems counterproductive. The sort of thing designed to aim the attention away from that which deserves it. The wigs on the heads of the women standing at the front of the room and lecturing. The enormous plastic balls balancing on either end of a stick in a photograph hanging on the wall between other photographs also depicting various everyday objects (tin cans, stuffed armadillos) brought into unnatural alignment for no other reason than that a photograph was to be taken. Of course, I know from the beginning that it is Immanuel who will announce the time for departure, who will demonstrate through a certain unearthly humming that there is no place for me on shore any more and that the residents of this village are like the residents of any other village in that they chain their imaginations to solid rock; they taunt their imaginations and kick them and feed them a substance something like gruel and something like broken glass. A concoction from which no nutrition can be extracted but which sounds sufficient enough when it is merely theoretical, when you are not the one unfortunate enough to have to consume it. This is always the way with Immanuel, making his pronouncements from the shadows where he believes he is safe from scrutiny by all but the most sympathetic of observers and participants. Those who studied his manifesto closely when it appeared a few years after his death, who even dropped the forty dollars a hardcover copy set you back. The question on everyone’s lips then was similar to that which is on virtually no one’s now – is Immanuel correct in labeling all grasping at what the gauche refer to as “meaning” an unmistakable symptom of disease simply because it is obviously so among those who would connect every random occurrence and event into “signs”, into an overarching paranoid narrative with themselves at the center as arbiter, as simple instrument of reception? Or has he overstated the case in a cunning, yet ultimately misguided effort to make himself seem guilty of exactly the same thing? By way of answer we have, I suppose, the sudden change in air temperature inside the room when he makes his appearance. The nitrogen and oxygen (and whatever other trace elements happen to be present) entering and escaping your lungs when he does so in a frightening yet entirely predetermined and therefore predictable rhythm.
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
The latency period lasts only as long as it takes someone to identify it and work it into conversation so as to detract from the glaring inconsistencies and tautologies that might otherwise turn the listener off. Might force him to make a decision regarding the sherry and its inflated price, its tendency to make the head swim. I make the rounds one last time, sitting in on the banjo (an instrument I know next to nothing about but from which I can nevertheless extract something very like a tune in its tendency to begin and end in roughly the same location), examining the exposed skin of the fingers of men and women who have spent all day in the sun because their livelihood demands it (think dredging up crustaceans from the briny deep, think the running of barbed wire fence), and finally wrestling with eleven or twelve loosely interrelated concepts hurled at me in rapid succession by the members of the chess club huddled in their usual corner of the delicatessen that has a picture of a rabid boar on the front of it because a likeness of a sperm whale was deemed too expensive by the proprietor and apt to cause confusion. We can’t be expected to fall for the same bit of deception as brought the Incas to their knees but the present difficulty has as much to do with geometry, with how we visualize space and the objects that take up that space, as it does with our genetic backgrounds and the convenient phrases handed down to us over generations by people who didn’t pay much attention to what they were saying or how they were saying it. They were too busy pulling the bits of dirt and the jagged pebbles from their flesh that had gotten there because the people at some point in their journey had fallen on them. Because they were never entirely convinced their flesh was actually made of flesh until such time as the jagged pebbles (and, of course, other things, like the sharp end of goose quills, say, or the metal shavings produced by industrial strength grinding machines) got so catastrophically stuck in it. By midnight, I think all I have to do is walk backwards for about a block and everything will be as it was before I opened the cellar door in the morning and heard the racket for myself – the plovers pitching a fit in the sand dunes because they are, apparently, sick and tired of sand. The thunder kicking up on the far range of hearing, rolling across the waves in an ever-strengthening crescendo and then spending itself against the cliffs just north of here where people jump sometimes to their death either because they have underestimated the height of the cliffs themselves or they have decided intentionally upon this fate instead of all the myriad others available to them. The living to a ripe, and most likely incontinent, old age. The bounding about on a pogo stick picked up at the flea market on a whim because that is what the latter stages of one’s life are for – acting on one’s every saccharine reminiscence. Clawing one’s way ferociously back toward what turns out finally to be not merely an unattainable past, but an unknowable one as well, a cipher with twenty two distinct characters in it, all shuffled about at random and reassembled later with the cognitive equivalent of bamboo pegs instead of glue because pegs help eliminate the mess.
Monday, April 1, 2013
Eulalie belittles what she calls my many crises in cosmology, my never-ending search of the heavens or some sign of when we are to depart. Why not make the decision based on the criteria that led to the building of the raft in the first place? Namely a hunch, a whim like that which has us re-upholstering the chairs in the dining room or driving sixty miles to the closest town with a cattle auction in it and an enormous photo on a billboard of the auctioneer himself, a man with stern, marbled eyes magnified two or three dozen times their actual size by the process which puts his image up there on the billboard to begin with, and then by the lenses in his glasses and the extreme refraction of light waves in that part of the world due to an unusually dense atmosphere and pollutants emitted by the chemical plants on the river. His name escapes me but it is associated somehow with the second farthest planet in the solar system and makes grown men tremble when they hear it, especially if they have chronic trouble already with their nerve endings, a common enough complaint when you reach a certain age and you realize you will never again be able to speak with authority about subjects you know virtually nothing about. Those days have receded into the caves where bats in their millions emerge come late afternoon and there is a strange melancholy attached to the near silence that accompanies them. Certainly, you can make out the beating of that many wings and every now and then the barely detectable high-frequency squawks the animals make so as to determine where exactly in space they are at any given moment and whether or not they are in danger of colliding with their fellow travelers or with the concrete edifices we have put in their path. Not intentionally of course, but not without a certain subconscious malice at the heart of it either. The way we do everything. Eulalie grabs a piece of ruled paper and creates intricate and confusing tree graphs in hopes of making me see what I have to this point been missing – the sheer overwhelming number of possibilities at our fingertips if only we can stop staring at our fingertips long enough to recognize them. The sound the locomotive makes at this distance like someone talking in the next room about his love of the Viennese Waltz, his subsequent timid and therefore clumsy attempts at reproducing the footwork. The dreams in which we meet some earlier version of ourselves speaking in riddles we used to know the answer to but which we have since repudiated if only because we no longer find value in riddles, we no longer think of them as keys to unlocking and exposing the delicate, scented paper center of the human mind, but more as something children do to keep themselves occupied, to keep themselves from chasing frogs into the deepest parts of the neighborhood pond, say, and accidentally drowning.
Sunday, March 31, 2013
A feeling of nausea overcomes me seemingly from out of nowhere, descends as if it were a falcon or, more accurately, some other, slower and larger bird more interested in carrion than anything else. The night sky is full of designs we are compelled to decipher by the thing inside us that recoils at all random conglomerations, whether of words or facts or numbers, but I have set out deliberately, at least for an hour or two, to destroy that part of myself, to fill it in with the rational equivalent of concrete so as not to have to spend the rest of my life arguing for the reinstatement of sophistry as a legitimate legal profession, the wringing of one’s hands in the face of decisions that might otherwise seem on the face of them mundane. When to fill the dirt bikes with gasoline, when to stand at the window and, out of a sense of helplessness I suppose, do deep knee bends or whatever we call deep knee bends now that we have become much more sophisticated in our knowledge of the body and what it can endure before giving out, what it can be expected to accomplish. The chemist who lives across the street with the wife who whispered something once in my ear that I could not make out but which has ever since kept me up at night as I try, naturally enough, to piece those incomprehensible sounds together into a comprehensible whole, looks the contraption over, runs his fingers along the more elegant lines that just happen to have emerged during the haphazard fashioning of it over the course of weeks and months and years and says he has heard there are islands out there where the people are no longer human in the strictest sense of the term, where they have evolved or devolved one into the basest replicas, into ideas with flesh and blood covering and little else. His monologue reminds me of the time when I was stuck on an elevator by myself and the hours ticked by and before I knew what had happened, the elevator had turned into a cathedral whose endless stained glass windows depicted its bearded and taciturn saints standing perfectly still for some reason in tide pools, among brilliant yellow anemones and the occasional octopus, its tentacles wrapped lasciviously around an ankle and its eye peering out at you with something like impertinence and something like love. Not that love which joins one being to another, however briefly, but that which endeavors to annihilate all distinctions, all boundaries between beings and make of them a single indefinable entity like light or what some people refer to as universal gravitational pull when what they really mean is that thing that encourages them to keel over lifeless in the streets.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Returning with his bloodied pitchfork, Reinhardt set to work almost immediately. The book had to remind one of the color gold and its spine would be eight inches across, so the afternoon began with reflections accompanied by obscure arias on the radio and tea sweetened with the agave nectar Reinhardt himself had collected. That was in the spring and the sun was high overhead but it didn’t heat the ground beneath it properly and the toes on Reinhardt’s left foot turned an off-white within twenty minutes. His determination was matched only by his cowardice and visions passed through his head of mules on winding mountain paths and their riders tossing cigarette butts into the scrub chaparral on either side. In the evenings, the black background seemed to those who stared at it long enough to divide itself up finally into separate spheres and territories, the most impressive of which (in terms of gross square footage and the occupants conceivable if not entirely visible yet due to the way the thing was hung, the impossible angles one had to adopt with the body to a get a closer look) was in the upper corner where a single metal eyelet spoiled the homogeneity of the fabric and where, through the orifice of the eyelet itself, you could glimpse the other side. Reinhardt expected blue jays, those arrow-headed assassins that have gone missing in this part of the country. The trick was to be able to maneuver one’s self high enough in the air to be able to look through and see them, to call to them using the high-pitched squawk they utilized when attempting to mob a chicken. Step ladders were no good because they tilted a little and so altered the reality of what you would see by about six degrees on average, and photographs taken ostensibly by someone who had been here before you wouldn’t work because they inevitably told their stories without movement. They eliminated more than half of the pertinent information simply by being what they were. Reinhardt had no choice but to write the book then so as to be able to place it under the feet of the ladder when he was finished and thereby stabilize the ladder and keep it from leaning. This required, of course, he spend more time composing and striking through some parts of the book rather than others, skipping, say, the portions of childhood where nothing out of the ordinary happened save for maybe someone’s falling in a pond and someone else jumping into rescue her and never coming up again, not even on the end of a hook. No, all of that could be glossed over in favor of the lengthy explorations at the other end of the timeline, of fugitive mental states we run across only when we have become dehydrated or when the blood has grown stale within the veins because there has been no bloodletting for an extended period of time, no spilling it on the concrete in manageable amounts due to a fistfight or the doctor’s anachronistic practice. And poverty, that too could be examined at length because it was poverty, it was the genuine article. The sort of thing one might expect to find in the center of Calcutta when it was still called Calcutta instead of whatever it is called today.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Light breaks through the barrier and begins speaking, its insistence on finding fault so grating as to make you wish you had jumped out of the way at the last minute and landed in the ocean. Or among the pines. Anywhere that allowed you to reformulate the ideas that had been circulating in your brain at that moment and so distracted you, kept you from recognizing the peril that threatened to fall on you from above. My recollection of these events goes in a jar containing the recollections of others, all written down on slender pieces of paper, and the jar is passed around at the close of the evening when the man in the auburn blazer with the outsized, Frankish nose finds it terribly difficult to stand up straight, though whether this is due to drunkenness (he has been at the absinthe since at least six o’clock in the afternoon and he waved away the sugar cube on more than one occasion) or something gone awry inside, in the interior where we keep our organs and our oddly-shaped and worse-named organelles, is a matter of opinion. My companions suggest it is situations such as these and the interminable questions they encourage that most properly belong in that peculiar construction people once called the book but which now goes by so many names there is no point in trying to keep up with them. To catalogue them, as they say at JC Penneys, or Yale. I recognize the jibe as one directed toward my erstwhile companion and muse and make to defend her endeavors, but no words come, as usual, and I am left to explain myself later to no one in particular, just as if ordinary shadows and the occasional pitcher plant sloshing half-digested beetles around inside it can be expected do the work of ten men. The only reason we are not already floating face down in a pond on the edge of the premises ourselves is because there is no pond to be found there, just a lot of lightweight medical waste blown about on the breeze. Maybe its time to just give in, to recognize that not every utterance is worthy of the toad that sits at the end of it. And not every toad secretes the substance the toad is known the world over for secreting, which, once placed on the tongue, produces hallucination and eventually, should you ingest enough of it, death. But death in name only, for I have it on good authority that should you take it upon yourself to journey in that direction (and not accidentally the way the neighborhood cur does when he molests the lesser beings around him out of boredom or a genuine lack of what we would call focus), you’ll continue to enjoy vistas such as you might get through a window that hasn’t been cleaned in several decades. It is possible to make out certain shapes and movements – the waves cresting a mile away, say, the roosters scratching up millipedes in the dirt. And anything not readily apparent may be fleshed out then with the aid of the imagination, which is diminished, certainly, on the other side of that portal, but not altogether extinguished, despite what we might have been led to believe by the teachings of the Dominicans, say, or the nursery rhymes we insist on tormenting our children with. That faculty may last an hour or a day or, who knows? maybe even several weeks, depending on the original condition it was in and how frequently we were forced to rely on it beforehand because our own surroundings weren’t exactly pristine then, or full of the sorts of birds who dazzle with their intricate plumage.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
News of the hurricane’s approach reached Cortez’s ears like something sprung from the grass blades, its antennae failing to register yet again objects of significant bulk standing in its path or its mind failing to make adequate sense of the signals it received in time to make a difference. In time to order a change in trajectory, say, or a full-on retreat such as one might have witnessed when Antony attempted to meet the Parthians on their own soil. I wonder if the dreams we have just prior to such events get in the way or if they contain messages written on the flesh of anyone or anything who happens to inhabit them, who swings in on a chandelier, say, and you glimpse something, briefly, at the elbow. A pictogram in ink, smudged from usage, from the perspiration inevitably produced when the body is put through its paces. Cortez maneuvered her back up against the brick wall and shuffled the length of it so quickly you might have mistaken her for a shadow or a sea creature such as those that routinely find their purchase on solid ground and scurry about looking for something to eat or at least something to keep them entertained. A puppet show produced by a youth pastor with a poor grasp of the faith, the dialogue ripe with synecdoche and questions that have answers, certainly, but those answers take a lifetime of patient study to discern, and when you do succeed in discerning them, you can’t help but wonder if the original questions might not have altered themselves some in the meantime, out of necessity, even ceased to exist as questions if by questions you mean those utterances we create by inflecting certain syllables the wrong way. By treating them as traffic signals or turning our backs on them the way you turn and face the other direction when someone who has insulted you comes into view. And how ridiculous you look, your comb sticking out of your pants pocket, your hands fluttering nervously at your sides as if they have just ingested large quantities of a certain well-known psychotropic substance! Cortez got it into her head somehow that the safest place to weather the storm was aboard a frigate and so she walked aboard on the arm of a man she had never seen before and, once she managed to give him the slip, spent hours and days below decks re-reading the comic book she had picked up on her way over to the wharf. Its pages were yellow and some of them were missing and the story centered around a man who preferred the after-images that populated his eyelids when he closed his eyes to the real thing which was entirely too colorful and bright and the objects in it were apt to move from one place to another before you could get a reliable sense of what they were, of what distinguished them from all those other objects very close to them in appearance that occupied the same general space and that, if you weren’t careful, could put you in mind of the market where they bartered slaughtered flesh right alongside the cucumbers and the candles as if there were no qualitative differences between them, as if all of it naturally ran together into, if not one, then the closest prime number to one that wasn’t also at the same time seven.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Down the stairwell, out of sight, someone trills after the manner of a bird. At regular intervals, adopting a pitch guaranteed to grate on one’s nerves. Eulalie descends so as to determine her next move and does not reappear again until the following Tuesday. Her voice has all but disintegrated and to make herself understood she blinks her eyes and raps her knuckles on the table in what seems at first like some sort of code, but the more attention I give to deciphering it, the less sense it makes. The patterns that emerged initially turn out to be specters, remnants of whatever organizational storms swept over the gray surface plains of my mind after a night drinking the tequila with the skeletons on the bottle. And brandishing the swords we discovered in the basement. They are heavier than I would have expected and tarnished by water or wind or soil, gorgeous antique things just as likely, I suspect, to break in half as sever a limb and the sound they make when you strike them one against the other puts me in mind of the north rim of a crater I visited once overseas. The macaws nested there so as to receive direct sunlight in the morning and they moved about in the sky in twos and threes without ever really seeming to flap their wings. People came from all corners to have a look at them and they went away invariably disappointed. I don’t know what we expected but the evenings were free for revelry and a certain staring away into space that was extremely popular. You couldn’t go a hundred yards down the avenue in either direction without it seeping into you, without it hijacking your face for its own nefarious purposes. What does it matter? Eulalie exclaims when she has gotten her voice back, or at least that portion of it that belongs solely to her, that portion you could never find in the admixture of anyone else’s voice, with its polished under-surface like garnets and its distinctive scent that does not assault the nostrils, doesn’t even so much as enter them, but you pick it up nonetheless much as you might pick up the words in a beautiful woman’s eyes, or a trumpet when someone else, someone in your family, has left it on the floor in disgust because it is much more difficult to make whole tones with only your lips and the movement of your fingers than that person might have supposed. It’s at moments such as these that we come face to face with what used to be called destiny back when such enormous words did not yet have the power to embarrass us. Now we keep them concealed in other words that don’t have any power whatsoever, that don’t even manage to mean what they were intended to mean but instead just manage to lie there, inert and fundamentally pointless, like constellations.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Making out faces in the shadows thrown by the porch light or the torches gave Cortez a moment’s pain similar to that one gets in the tooth due to abscess or injury, something she addressed habitually with poultices and plasters and riddles she recalled from a youth spent in the caverns close by. The riddles she composed and told to herself so as to ward off loneliness and the fear of annihilation promised by long hours spent in near total darkness, the one concept playing off the other and informing it at precisely the same time it was denying and counteracting it the way antimatter is said to cause devastating explosions when it comes into contact with its opposite – but then, when have we ever witnessed that? When have we seen with our own eyes the consequences, good or bad, of any of the ethereal theories we have also seen with our own eyes? In the newspaper mostly, though occasionally we run across them in notebooks left behind when their authors had to flee suddenly and for no apparent reason. The toast is still in the toaster, the blinds opened wide onto a view of enormous ferns and the ocean in the distance looking a little like the waistband of someone’s designer underwear. Cortez lifted her pan up from the cold stream and searched the sentiment for gold but she knew whatever mineral wealth had occupied this stretch of river at one time was now washed further west through the mountains named after obscure birds of prey or it was already in the possession of the indigenous peoples of the region, those she had glimpsed from a distance in the valley once and had attempted to communicate with through the use of hand mirrors and an aria she had been working on since she stepped off the plane. She was forced to render it, of course, a cappella because she carried with her no instrument large enough to make a noise audible from that distance and she didn’t know how to play any instruments at any rate, other than the zither which she considered crude and potentially insulting to whoever happened to hear it. It was the type of instrument people constructed and then learned how to play (learned how to bang on, really, in a semi-rhythmic pattern) when they didn’t actually believe in the harmony of the cosmos around them. When they simply paid lip service to the concept and argued with themselves at night when they thought they were alone. About the implications of their beliefs, or the lack thereof, and how they were supposed to reconcile it all with the sound of the water forever plummeting over the edge of a cliff a thousand and more feet tall just up the road, the mist and the consequent rainbows and that feeling you get sometimes when you look down into ravines and valleys, into what passes for an abyss this side of the Milky Way. Not a longing, exactly, not a desire for annihilation made manifest in your leaning precariously forward, mere millimeters away from immediate and irreversible descent. But rather a strangely painful recall of such longing, a conjuring it up from a past immersed in it, intoxicated by it, and then bringing it, rashly, into a present where it no longer exists, where it no longer belongs. It has been banished by decree like a grubby gunslinger or (perhaps more to the point) your run-of-the-mill income tax cheat.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Mounted trout of suspicious hue hung on the walls where the remnants of pencil scrawl surrounded them and bled outward. Reinhardt got up close in a half-hearted attempt to decipher what was said there, but his eyes functioned at half capacity since the fire and even before that when the beams of the sun found a haphazardly-hung mirror once and bore themselves in a point no bigger around, he imagined, than a mosquito, onto the bare red flesh of his retina. The proprietor discouraged close examination anyway because he thought the secrets of something enormous rested there on the plaster of the walls of the building he had purchased three years previous and he wanted to be the first to unleash it, to staple his name forever to events such as no one had been able to imagine since the days when the Titans (or something like them) roamed the earth and challenged one another to contests of strength and realistic storytelling and the people in the villages and the metropolises close by fled in every direction because they were afraid of what they would hear. Old-fashioned tedium sits on the fence row like a cat and when you attempt to chase it away, your limbs are stiff and uncooperative and you realize you only have about twenty more truly viable years left, if that, and you ought to get busy constructing the arbors someone you love or tolerate has requested, or get busy studying the black arts before it is too late, before those who know you by sight and reputation begin to rethink their position on encroachment, on taking to the skies with cardboard wings. Cortez whispered in Reinhardt’s ear when he was sleeping and what she said sounded so much like the howling of a pack of wolves that he thought for a moment, as he rose slowly from the underworld he inhabited when he did not inhabit this one, that he was somewhere on the vast steppes and the ice that helped define that part of the world was in his eyes and on his moustache, and his fingers had turned black from the cold, which was not a presence or a state exactly, so much as it was an idea of the sort you think up when you have nothing better to keep yourself occupied. No pressing engagements with your accountant, no wayward strolls along the lip of the canyon where once, when you were a child, you saw a man jump to his death with a smile on his face, and you were never as traumatized by what you had seen that day as everyone seemed to think you ought to be – their every question, their every gesture communicating this to you as loudly as if they had been holding a megaphone. But why must it be trauma exactly? Why unravel the fabric at the center of your abdomen given the fact that what one witnesses at any given moment is hopelessly outnumbered and undone by what one witnesses at all other times and in all other places? And this was precisely the message Cortez was attempting to deliver, her lips on the rim of Reinhardt’s ear, her breath heavy with the intoxication of this all-inclusiveness, with this immersion that swamps and swallows the significant, that submerges it in the everyday enormity of breath itself, and whatever is not breath, is living between one breath and another like a stonefish lying in wait between stones, only twice as patient.
Monday, March 4, 2013
Lately we see machines returned to objects of utility. They have wandered off the list of accepted tropes. Eulalie invents a name for the phenomenon but questions its validity almost immediately, answering her as yet non-existent critics with a kind of nodding and shuffling that takes its cue primarily from deep-water crabs washed up on distant black sand beaches every January. Out of sight, though, late at night when the moon is scratching at the windows, she sticks pins into figures she has fashioned with bits of canvas left over from the outfitting of enormous airships and strewn mysteriously along the roadside for about twenty miles. She says words over them that she knows mean nothing whatsoever, that don’t have so much as the mathematical threat of influenza associated with them. But she continues for at least half an hour until I threaten to leave. It’s at moments like this that I begin to wonder what the point of our interaction, if you can call it that, is. I mean, where are her earlobes and how does one delay the overwhelming desire to perform in civic rituals and masques without consequently destroying the part of one’s self that believes rituals and masques are so similar they ought not to have separate appellations? Eulalie tampers with the edge of each page until it is no longer recognizable as an edge; it looks more like a portal of some sort, a subtly graded demarcation that you don’t know you are entering until it is too late, and I think this is intentional on her part because no sooner has she finished than she is inviting me again to read to her out loud from what is written there, the fairy tales and the lengthy annotations hand-written in indigo ink, the reports from the neighboring portions of the continent where they are preparing for yet another conflict by sharpening their hand axes and their very long sticks and they are practicing their military drills which consist mostly, as near as I can tell, of walking around in circles with their hand axes and their very long sticks displayed prominently at their sides or held up proudly and provocatively in the air so that the entire mob begins to look like the glistening surface of an enormous passing porcupine. Of course, this being a marshal occasion of some standing, it is imperative that their favorite anthems be on their lips for the duration, and the difficulty arises when it turns out each individual in the procession has his own particular favorite when it comes to things like anthems, a favorite which he adheres to and has spent countless hours memorizing. The resulting cacophony reminds you of those nightmares in which you are sliding down an icy mountain slope toward certain annihilation and the geese are flying by overhead. In your nightmare, the geese know the language, though they speak it with a marked accent, and their commentary is much too wry for most of the other people in your dream to accept. They label it out-and-out cruelty and have such a hard time forgiving the birds for what they’ve said about you (long since you have crashed to earth and are either dead or resurrected), they refuse to speak of the incident even with their closest friends or spouses. They spit on the floor instead as shorthand. They try desperately to keep their head and shoulders, their entire bodies really, from spasming uncontrollably with the memory of it, but they fail. You suspect the entire population will turn, eventually, to medication and they will hold you partially or even wholly to blame. They will have forgotten all about the role of the geese in the situation by then. Some of them will even have taken their children to the pond located in the cemetery where you have been buried (if, in fact, you were not resurrected, something most in your entourage secretly believed would be the case) in order to feed the geese wadded up pieces of bread.
Monday, February 25, 2013
Regarding the forging of columns, the kettle drum and tin flute accompaniment, without question, you are doing something wrong, he said, his hammer a blur and his beard moving back and forth like dingy curtains with the effort. This was an exertion toward which point and what whole, though? The shapes emerging from the marble and then disappearing again just as quickly as though they had been talked out of it by someone with a bowler hat on his head? With a gold tooth you could see sometimes when he smiled? But he never smiled. Reinhardt tried to keep the picture from his memory, a representation dredged up at a remove of twenty years, just as it was, without alteration, without so much as the inevitable addition of tin cans, of airplanes passing by overhead. He told the woman next in the progression, the one with the last name so similar to his own he believed for a while they must be related, that he swallowed any number of variously colored pills at night in an attempt to sleep without bothering to read the labels because he knew that it didn’t matter what was in the bottles exactly – nothing would work. Nothing would send him over the cliff and down to the floor of the waiting ravine, with its spongy yellow ferns and its inhabitants aiming their primitive iron weapons at anything that stirred. Of course he was lying. He wished to impress her and he badly miscalculated. When our desire is enormous we see around it only partial landscapes and arches supporting further arches which support what appears to be the lower portions, the tendrils and vines, of hanging gardens such as they used to include in lists of the seven or eight wonders of the world, depending on which portion of the world you happened to be living in or passing through at the time. What we see remains nearly impossible to make sense of because of the obstruction itself, because of the silhouette we have labeled desire because we don’t know what else to call it. But when that same desire (or something very like it) slakes itself and lessens, then what we see narrows to a pinprick and then winks out altogether, even though we were expecting exactly the opposite. We were expecting -- as was only logical given the above information and the matter-of-fact manner in which it was delivered -- an expansion, an opening out onto, if not unlimited vistas and ornate cloudbanks, then at least vistas without something standing in front of them like a hippopotamus, making our job that much more difficult. Imagine our disappointment, our anger even which, lacking an adequate outlet, we take out on the offending hippopotamus itself and the architecture of the building within which it is ordinarily housed. That is, when it is not out strolling about the grounds as if it owned them. We belittle that building’s minarets. We point and scoff openly at the arabesques that adorn its flimsy doorframes.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
The ice contains impurities which taste, once they find your tongue, a little like the desire you feel to end a conversation before it has begun. The impatience that settles on the lowest portions of the spine (those that look as though they more properly belong to earlier forms of life like reptiles or bony fishes) and starts to gnaw, starts to radiate outward in all directions. Eulalie props her bare feet up on the back of the chair in front of her and draws pictures in the air with her finger as she is speaking, as she is narrating and borrowing from sources as yet unidentified but not too difficult to trace, I imagine, if you start with the master European gardeners of the sixteenth century and their complicated allegories, their attempts to reduce everything to commentary on seeds and whatever is inside seeds that allows them to germinate. I imagine a substance very like the substance created at the moment the cosmos was first ignited, in minute quantities, of course, and degenerated some from its original purity due to the passing of so many years. But why not suppose something of that initial perfection has come down to us unaltered? Eulalie asks, her toes curling provocatively just inches from my face which is itself, no doubt, a mere simulacra of the one she remembers due to strained moments like this between us stacking up one on top of another, accumulating over the years much as sediment is said to set down layers atop earlier layers in an almost infinite pattern, and when you want to figure out which is the oldest and which the newest and why that difference is significant, you can head to the foothills with a shovel in your hands and a canteen half-full of gin and, who knows? maybe you’ll stumble upon the walls of a previously undiscovered edifice while you’re down there in the sand and mud, a fortress or smokehouse with pottery shards scattered about what would have been the grounds and designs on the side of it like enormous birds. At this time of night, which is to say the deepest portion, the time when time is no longer a tangible presence, Eulalie’s breath seems to turn red and when I wave the remnants of what she exhales toward my nostrils, there is a moment when I feel as if I have been here before and have experienced everything previously exactly as it is unfolding and I can predict with startling ease what Eulalie is going to say and do next. It involves a copper and onyx ring she finds on the floor that does not belong to either one of us and a consequent jealous rage like that one reads about in the Saga of the People of Vatnsdal when one still thinks it a work of fiction rather history of the first magnitude. Fortunately, the spell dissipates before the bloody vision can come to pass and I am left with little more than a vague disappointment like that you get when you realize your arms are never going to transform themselves into wings. They are never going to become mechanical devices that allow you to climb onto the breeze and pass the day moving from one point to the next unobserved and far away but for your shadow which haunts the courtyards and balconies below and gets the people it passes, if not to look up and point, at least to consider doing so until they realize they will probably be blinded momentarily by the sun which created the shadow to begin with. And so they continue to look anywhere but above their own heads. Mostly, you’ll notice, they look down at their feet on the tile or the grass where the lizards scurry about between dandelion heads and the beads of dew holding to the individual blades of grass glisten and wobble with the movement; they hang precariously just this side of collapse. And then they collapse.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
At the Promised Land a woman regaled the two or three present with tales of her life as a trapeze artist, something she had been training for since she was three, since the day her father held her up off the ground for a moment and then let her drop again. The pain spoke of something beyond itself like the ideas skulking under the surface pigment of a portrait of an old-world explorer with his tin hat pinched and raised at the center and his eyes trained far off and away from where the artist must have been standing, in this case behind and to the right of the canvas. Our instincts draw us to the periphery of any dispute that involves the instincts themselves, that attempts to wrangle them for particular purposes like defending procreation or the demi-urge, or tossing it all onto the trash heap the way you might discard a jacket when the lining has been frayed, or maybe documents that meant something at one time, that spoke coherently and could therefore have been used in any number of incriminating schemes or scenarios like those you run across sometimes in the prose romances of Barnabe Riche, but which have since grown mostly incomprehensible due to the fading of the ink used and the inevitable alterations in the language with which the documents were composed. Lewis brought his sandwich with him, unwrapped it before the unevenly-numbered, curious and bemused eyeballs attempting to focus on either side of him. He behaved as if they didn’t exist. Later we discovered (by asking around, by broadcasting our desires through the medium of door-to-door knocking and sometimes, as a consequence, spur of the moment games of badminton or croquet) he had written a treatise not thirteen years before on the evolution of inanimate objects, particularly those that seem at first glance to have no clear purpose, like broken tree limbs or the bits of broken and colored glass that have accumulated over the years in a crevice on the blacktop. He would be damned if all that hard work was just going to go to waste or if he was going to fail to retaliate when it was stolen in underhand fashion. The only difficulty now lay in determining what the original document had meant and if he still had a copy of it in that yellow and black cardboard box he kept in a corner of the room when he had a room to keep things in the corner of. Maybe his memory hadn’t been forced around itself by disease after all, maybe his thoughts were just as unsullied as they’d been before he recognized them as bonafide human thoughts rather than simply bits and pieces of information blown his way haphazardly by whatever entity was in charge of transporting things from one place to another. Certainly, he thought, stray strings of bratwurst hung between his teeth like flightless birds, if we can’t agree on anything else, we can agree that movement seems to be a priority and making it continue is a job only the most robust and qualified are to be trusted with. The rest of us must be content with simple observation and mostly silent reflection while stretched out on the sidelines, perpendicular to the playing field where all the action is, where, as a consequence, it’s difficult to secure any lasting shade and where the occasional beetle of one sort or another is in the habit of scampering across our ankles.
Monday, February 11, 2013
Blood surrounds itself, leaves space between approximate rings for the imagination to fill, to populate with something other than simple dirt, the yellow sands that make up this part of the map. Funny, how we are always looking to connect one thing to another, to enlist them all in families and genera we have yet to create names for just as we have yet to determine why the old names, the original names, were not good enough. And who rejected them without showing his face? Was he attempting to conceal lips that were too thin, or draw out some part of the self that lurks beneath the surface the way black and white striped freshwater stingrays are said to lurk beneath the waves when you are canoeing in Paraguay? Samson couldn’t be bothered with the birds when he was younger, couldn’t be bothered with anything that wasn’t somehow connected to the prose romances of Gautier, a cheap edition of whose works he stumbled on young and stole from the library of a family acquaintance, a woman who would later jump to her death from the rim of the gorge because she had become convinced there was no gorge, that what you saw in the daytime – the buzzards aloft on thermals, the air quavering like the voice when the body attached to it has been pummeled physically, or even just emotionally by the pictures on a cinema screen, say, not isolated, alone and bounded solely by themselves, of course, but as a whole, the coming together of those phantasms in such a way as to suggest they are real and interconnected, they are telling us something we don’t already know – what you saw in the daytime went away at night. Simply altered its appearance, or disappeared. Morphed chemically and enormously in the coming of the moon. We can attempt to prove any number of suppositions we don’t in fact believe to be true, but once they are proven, once we are successful in demonstrating what we set out to demonstrate in spite of our own superior instincts, in spite of our reluctance to wager the detached greenhouse out back with its broken windows and its contents turned now a dispiriting brown, how are we expected to continue? Whose version of events (written out longhand on note cards) are we to take with us when we go on vacation or when we lay ourselves down, however reluctantly, in the grave? One begins to wonder if there isn’t something to be found in Gautier – all those words, all those gypsies setting fire to things and the interminable visits to the opera – that requires an eventual interest in chickens. No, more than that. An obsession. For there can be no question whatsoever it is Sampson come down again from the foothills where he has hidden away like a troll in his caves the better part of five years now, ever since he split the flesh at the side of my face with his hammer. And he leaves again come morning, gore and feathers about his mouth, the shambling form mute and alone and enormous, like something out of the Aegean past set down here by the highway where it straightens out and sinks down, where the sun sees itself multiplied two and three times in the windows of the dry cleaner and that place where the handwritten sign out front every single day, ice and bitter flood included, promises live bait.
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Her favorite joke is one involving five physicians seated in a circle facing one another. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different, spanning privilege in Helsinki to want in Algiers. You can trace its origins nearly to the middle ages, but beyond that all is mist and deep recesses and should you insist on pushing further, there is the very real risk of mental disturbance and pecuniary difficulties incurred as a result of the vast distances travelled and the procuring and consumption of fine wines considered de rigueur by those who would accompany you. Eulalie declines to include in her retelling the crucial portion about the house in which they are sitting, one rumored to be haunted if only because it is cast in shadow by the forested hills just to the east of it and because the cemetery that used to stand there now stands somewhere else, and the general consensus is that you can’t disturb the dead without facing at least a few consequences. This is probably a stubborn holdover from a much more superstitious era than our own but we like to keep our fingers on the pulse of the past whenever possible because if you don’t, if you let the past slip away from you constantly the way the present does, then how are you supposed to be able to tell the difference between the two? How are you supposed to know when Eulalie’s declarations are genuine and when they are merely the child-like aping of someone else’s declarations she happened to overhear when she was traipsing about late at night in a light rain in the recently rejuvenated warehouse district where people are constantly whispering things to one another in the mouths of alleyways and porticoes within earshot of major thoroughfares like Winston Street and Albania Street and that one with a name I can’t recall but which seems to run on forever into the surrounding countryside when you walk it over a span of several days or several weeks, pausing at night to rest in the culverts or to avoid the numbing cold by breaking into an abandoned shed. You think the whole world might emanate from it, might circle it so slowly as to evade detection while at the same time causing the road to exist precisely because it has caused all other things to exist, a mutual meting out of being such as you may have read about in the old Norse myths or those that followed the Polynesians from one island to the next under a limitless expanse of galaxy overhead and a limitless expanse of rolling sea underneath. Eulalie is privy to some of these tales too. Despite her claims to the contrary, she must have accessed them, though, at the library where she is in the habit of spending two or three hours a day now that her sense of direction has been all but eliminated and the cataracts have begun to set in. She resists my every effort to remove them with candlelight and mirrors and incantations I make up on the spot, though not before I jettison all trace of the rational self and burrow down deep into that territory I never really believed in before I happened to stumble on it one day without meaning to, without knowing precisely what I had accomplished because I was in a state similar to sleep, without, of course, its actually being sleep. Without its being anything at all, really, one could identify the way one can identify the different bones to be found inside the ear, or the various species of song bird, say, by the unique sounds they make. Eulalie considers all such interference bald and obvious exercises in power and control and rejects them with an impatient gesture that lies somewhere on the spectrum between your ordinary animal snarl and the rarely misidentified silent invitation to follow someone we have only recently come to know upstairs and into bed.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
The thermometer reads three degrees lower than all the other thermometers in the area and reminds me that what I take to be objective truth is really just a handful of statements I fashion inside my head when the light on the patio has burned out and shapes consequently appear to move in the darkness like cunning beasts or Myrmidons. Like fairy tale creatures risen from the mud and bent on destruction or at least the snarling of downtown traffic. We routinely broadcast to the other side of the street and the other side of the world our deepest insecurities without realizing it – our beliefs in the redemptive power of failure and dark ale, our tedious recitations of the names of those who have influenced us in some way, whether by angling for exotic species beneath the waves or exploring the limits of despair in treatises with titles four lines long and heavy with Latinate constructions. Eulalie sends away for the x-ray glasses advertised in the back of a magazine long since out of print but still sitting on the shelf of a place we find by the canal, a shop that also carries fossil trilobites in plastic boxes and umbrellas with the images of starlets on them, though some of these look as if they were famous only in Yugoslavia, say, where they may have started on the stage and moved to the silent pictures shot in that country on cameras as big as ostriches. Second-rate contraptions that produced grainy images and slowed them down so that even a waterfall seemed to be changing its mind halfway through its descent and the lips on a human face when they moved did so in jerks and spasms that caused onlookers to wince, to promise themselves never again to take their singing voices for granted. When they arrive I see what I had suspected from the beginning – little more than bones and viscera painted on the inside of the lenses, but Eulalie straps them on after dinner and wanders out into the street or wilderness and returns two days later in a state akin to a trance but without the awkward shuffling and the monotone response to questions naturally put to one in that state. Like “Where have you been?” and “Why are there rose pedals on your socks and in your hair?” When I wake in the middle of the night she is looking at me with the glasses affixed, head tilted, mouth agape and when I press her for what she sees, what deep blank part of me has revealed itself through the mechanism of the lenses, her horror is such that she seems to have lost the power of speech altogether. After a moment when I too am frozen in indecision or fear or something halfway between them, I reach for her and we make love in a mechanical and unrewarding fashion, and the next morning we wake to find small lizards hanging on the screens on the windows and the back door, two or three dozen of them by my count twitching and working their throats spastically up and down in the direct sunlight.