Monday, January 28, 2013

The patients are also directly magnetized by means of the finger and wand of the magnetizer moved slowly before their faces, above or behind their heads, and on the diseased parts, always observing the direction of the holes. The first indication that something is amiss is the missing chickens. One or two a night, vanished before I can rouse myself and wander out into the morning with its dry wind and its words painted here and there on the nearest overpass by people who don’t spell very well, who have unsteady hands. Dreams drain out the sink in our heads and we are left with a few tantalizing tidbits. The scaly feet of a lizard. The sound of someone whispering your name over the sound of someone else whispering your name. Both are anxious to communicate something of terrific importance. If only their sentences didn’t disintegrate, didn’t melt away like cubes of sugar held on the tongue. The background, like all standard backgrounds, is tiled a muted yellow and difficult to distinguish from the rooms where we are asked to wait while various officials disappear behind doors with opaque glass panels in them. If we try to peer in through the glass we can see figures, shadows, moving about in quick, antic bursts and then there are longer periods during which nothing whatsoever seems to occur. The question, then, is are the people on the other side of the door aware that we are watching them, or at least tracking the comings and goings of their vague silhouettes, and, if so, does this knowledge alter their behavior in perceivable ways? Does it allow them to set aside their personal animosities and their overwhelming desire to enact bloody revenge? Does it allow them to weigh the evidence fairly, by which we mean with an eye toward that which hasn’t been entirely invented yet but which leaves room still for the minor fiddling of a man of genius? The lack of gruesome remains, the lack of severed feet and bloody feathers, for instance, rules out most of the vermin and carnivores I am accustomed to dealing with in this part of the world. The coyotes with their yellow incisors and their green eyes and their reputation for standing upright when we are not looking. The badgers clawing and pulling at the earth as if it were a rough approximation, a stand-in, for their own genitals – meaning, something they do obsessively and with purpose, even if that purpose is not completely evident at the start of the proceedings. And maybe pleasure is its own purpose, is that which separates the meaningful from the meaningless and does so without intending to, without knowing what it is after, except itself. Wouldn’t it be remarkable if we too could lose ourselves completely in the fumbling for sustenance and pleasure, in the stalking and the obliging all others we come upon to be that which is stalked, to play a role in the tale which is our lives rather than the familiar anecdote which is their own?       

Friday, January 25, 2013

We are concerned here with love instincts which have been diverted from their original aims, though they do not operate with less energy on that account. Each channel branches from the last at an angle between 19 and 47 degrees until there is no room anymore for such branching and the whole system comes to an abrupt halt. This is the point at which we are asked to provide resources like lengths of copper and tissue cultures and illustrations torn physically from old magazines so that they are ragged around the edges. Immanuel materializes at the elbow of anyone who takes this instruction so seriously as to begin searching the little utilized portions of his house with a flashlight and a clipboard and one of those ammonia tablets you break open beneath the nostrils of anyone who has recently lost consciousness. His insistence on playing his newfound role in a manner pre-determined by the likes of Maturin and Ann Radcliffe causes a great deal of friction between the two of us, though he chalks this up to simple jealousy, to my desire to possess him the way you might possess an insect in a jar. Which is to say not bodily (something entirely impossible at any rate when you are without a body proper) but spiritually perhaps, though it’s hard to see how such a term would apply to a walking stick or centipede. The hallucinations that speak most directly to the center of our being are also those that like to hang around at the edges, telling stories and forging simple syllogisms out of very complex experiences. You can almost picture them with cigarettes hanging carelessly from their lips and their shoulder slouched a little in an effort to suggest disdain and disinterest in everything that occurs around them, up to and including the sound of their own voices. But this is an exercise in personification that can’t help but lead us astray and ought, therefore, to be tabled until such as time as we are no longer plagued by hallucinations, a time I envision arriving in the not too distant future simply because I envision everything that has yet to happen as happening then. Immanuel exists now, I suppose, in order to warn me away from this or any concept of time that might otherwise destroy me, that might envelope me and begin its slow process of constriction and suffocation. But the idea that he has been sent from some other world through the conscious agency of an intelligence (whether bodily or no) both higher and more demanding than my own gets me to giggling and coughing and clutching helplessly at the bony part of my chest, and eventually it alerts him to the fact that I refuse to take his presence at face value. I refuse to believe that his words, for instance, really ought to echo that noticeably. We are merely sitting at the dining room table and attempting to reminisce. It doesn’t help that I can no longer recognize any of the places where, he claims, we spent time together. The rock pools with their little red crabs, no bigger than half the diameter of the palm of your hand, disintegrating raw between our teeth. The enormous stone towers reverberating in their mossy interiors with the sound of phonograph recordings of Caruso and the tenor who came along immediately following Caruso. The one who knew he stood little chance of reproducing the master’s success but who also knew somewhere deep down inside himself, where such knowledge resides in the darkness like a kraken, that his failure – his repeated public humiliation and subsequent alcoholism, his sobbing at the feet of a woman who couldn’t even sight read a sheet of music -- would be a kind of glory in its own right. Something that only he could experience and so something that he would treasure the way he treasured memories no one else could verify, the way he treasured the sound of the blood moving in the veins behind his ears when he lay his head down on a pillow.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In this way they abode till the evening, when she gave him money, because she found his weaving nice and good. Skill of almost any sort arrives, apparently, as a result less of repetition and careful sustained effort, and more from an organism’s piercing the sole of the recipient’s bare foot, dragging itself upward through flesh and into the bloodstream. The pain is minimal, turning one’s evenings into nothing more threatening than a dull, shapeless gray apparition like those you might see hovering just beneath the waves in an inland sea. Boulders. Turtles. But the individual thus infected will begin to speak to himself repeatedly in a barely audible whisper. It’s enough to cause those who love him (and even some who don’t) to become very concerned. They might broach the subject of professional intervention – interns, technicians, shamans. Eulalie never seems short of the cash necessary to hire someone to set the nearby amusement park’s rides to moving again the way they were designed to move. This after they have frozen up for an interval due to neglect and overuse, or simply a lack of imagination. And if she wishes to lean in to get a better vantage point from which to decipher these and other sounds, she also knows that the sudden changes in direction will play havoc on the senses and compromise the results much the way we compromise our emotions when we allow them to bound about unchecked. When we unleash them on a crowded room like a flock of pigeons and expect them to stay away from the open windows. I live up the hill from the river which floods about twice a year and has the habit of taking with it the dwellings situated lower down, at a bend in the road where the gravel gives way to bare earth and so reminds those who must travel it by foot of what can happen to the flesh when it too is exposed to the elements, when it is left out in the open (due to a tear in the sleeve of one’s coat, say, or the deliberate hiking up of a skirt) and the sun is beating down or the rain comes in sheets and makes a sound unlike any other sound in the known universe. If you were to try to recreate it using something other than water and the various surfaces water can alight on in this part of the world, you would inevitably drive yourself to madness. Or something very like madness in its insistence on creating lists of geographical place names and the names of rivers you have never been to and even artists whose work you despise in spite of the fact that you have never actually seen much of it – just a photo here and there showing something, if you believe the caption accompanying it, representative. A left hand inventing melodies on the keyboard of a piano while the right attempts to pluck houseflies from mid-air. A skull composed of discarded pieces of clear plastic bottles and placed atop a mound of actual skulls in what purports to be a commentary on the life we live now that we live so far away from where human life is said to have originated. And I suppose you could call what we do now in response longing, because it certainly feels like longing, in the gut where such sensations are said to register. But the word seems too bold and too timid at precisely the same time, a mistake made when we rely on words when we ought really to be relying on silence because silence carries within it everything that might possibly be said much the way light carries within it all other wavelengths or the way sand piles up around a monument (a ziggurat, say, or a statue of someone standing absurdly erect)  until you can’t see it anymore. And as a consequence, you begin slowly to lose all sense of who might have erected the monument in the first place. And, perhaps more importantly, why. Why they might have felt the need to let others know of their presence -- of something as simple and self-evident as the fact that they existed, that they took up space here, and now they don’t, and the difference between these two is something nearly unthinkable. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

The new beginning looks a lot like the old one in that strangers seem to understand something I do not. They carry food in their coat pockets – biscuits wrapped in tin foil and lengths of jerky – and part with it only reluctantly. You have to know a great deal about the revolutionary war and the scholars who study that war in universities found so far off the beaten track as to seem afterthoughts, places where people congregate only so as to escape the cold winds that bare down on them from the north and west. Eulalie turns an ankle while competing in a sport of her own invention – something kin to badminton, I believe, without the net but with a great deal of bodily contact encouraged through the perverseness of the rules. From the windowsill where she spends hours each day as a consequence she laments ever laying eyes on the collected works of Browning, says there is something in the approach, the desire to speak in as many different voices as the fallible human imagination will allow, that got her into this mess to begin with. When pushed to elaborate, she waves me away as if I were carrying narrow steel implements which I intended to force into the vulnerable soft portions of her body. There is genuine terror in her eyes for a moment, but it gives way almost immediately to an ache that mimics, I suppose, that centered near her metatarsal bones and travels the length of the body along nerve fibers that translate the purely physical into the almost spiritual through a process no one really understands but which is best illustrated, in both its mystery and its odd efficiency, I suppose, by referring to the steam engine. If by steam engine you mean a contraption capable of generating super-heated water from dry soil or sand or even nothing whatsoever. From a vacuum, say, existing where before there had been the sound of birds trying to dupe or enthrall one another with the wavelengths produced in the region of the throat, and certain scents originating in the moist and pulpy center of the iris and allowed to drift here and there without supervision or even purpose. To say we miss them, to say that their absence is something that causes us confusion and pain on par with that which just naturally settles over us each morning when the sun comes up and our heads are still on the pillows, is to exaggerate a little, but not much. In fact, there is no need any more for entities like exaggeration, according to Eulalie who studies intently the traffic moving past on the streets below. There is no need whatsoever, she says, of careful discernment of patterns and our passing them down to posterity through rites like song and liturgy and mythmaking. Rather, we should be concentrating on the haphazard and the ludicrous, those pockets of ordinary insanity that float about on the collective bloodstream like molecules of glucose and deposit themselves on the surface of whatever passes for the universal mind and take over apropos of nothing. They have the potential to en-fever us, she says, to derange us at the mere sight of a striped shirt on a bony man or a riotous gathering of starlings over the fallow fields come winter. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Check the high pitched metallic pings and rattling coming from the rear of the building. They might be an indication that the invasion is underway. If you see nothing but bits of straw and clock radios still in their boxes, levers that have yet to be definitively pulled down, you know the synapses in your brain are firing properly, no matter how frequently an acquaintance you trust tries to convince you that deliberation, slow and careful accounting of the events swirling around you on the outside, is what you need at the moment. Maybe that’s why there are medications with names on the labels that remind you of the high wire act at the circus. Or a weekend spent on the shores of a lake created entirely through the interminable process of glaciation, and therefore of inferior quality according to those whose job it is to rank various bodies of water following standards and guidelines that wouldn’t make sense to you or me because we didn’t take the correspondence course, remember? We got wrapped up in our own dilemmas instead and began to picture the cosmos existing as much inside the skull as outside, and every attempt by the universe (or its stand-ins, the physicists and priests, but mostly the various sexual partners one runs up against over the course of an ordinary lifetime) to convince us otherwise – by pointing to vicious storm surges, say, half a world away, or corroded batteries, or the pelicans bobbing mindlessly on the waves -- was met with a skepticism both virulent and impractical and all but guaranteed to make us unpopular with our peer set and our emotionally unstable relatives. Who knows how many days I waited across the street, my eyes on the windows of the third floor once I had established his residence there? By watching for lights turned on at suitable intervals after he had arrived. By conjuring in my mind the layout of the place and the time it should take to move from one end of it to another or ascend the stairs and look down behind you at the distance already covered. In fact, distance is the key to all obsessions (as long as the word is defined in spacial terms and not, as too frequently occurs, in terms one otherwise associates with the emotional centers of the brain) and as such should be measured with instruments sensitive enough to capture actual gradation without being so sensitive as to reject the presence of human hands and corneas, to malfunction the moment they leave the assembly line or the place on the table where the individual craftsman -- nay, genius -- has been working day and night to forge something his immediate forebears could only have imagined. With wings where wings have never previously appeared. And a name similar to a name in another language, though without the accompanying detritus – the umlauts, for instance, or the various idioms associated with that particular word in that particular language threatening to drag the whole edifice down through their accumulated weight, their stubborn refusal to strike out like newly-minted adults on their own.    

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The blades, made of wood and big around as palm fronds, circulate the air so that the insects won’t gather above our heads, won’t land on the cantaloupe and set its flesh to crawling. I place my fingers on my temples and lean in, expecting at any moment to be recognized and escorted unceremoniously from the building, which is in the shape of a star with one end, one hallway, sharper, less elongated than the other, as if gravity exerts itself more forcefully the closer you get to solid ground, or at least ground that is still moist from the recent morning rains. Those who might have seen my picture in the past, those who might even have taken it from a concealed vantage point in the hedges across the street, have better things at the moment to occupy their minds. Eulalie catches some unwanted attention by stretching her legs out full length into the aisle way, pulling absently at what must be her garter hidden by the hem of her skirt, and when I whisper something derogatory, threatening, she rolls her eyes and says everything will be fine. The world and everything in it will cease to exist someday soon because we will cease to exist and what would be the purpose then of continuing to create and label objects? What would be the use of songs lamenting one’s distance from home or with tambourines drowning out the background singers who each dreamt of coming down front and center (or so you read in a magazine article with a title you forget now, but one that jumped out at you then in its prodigious black ink like an octopus) and then gave up that dream when they realized it meant having to commit many more words and phrases to memory and recalling them again at a moment’s notice. Eulalie holds her hand out as if to impede the progress of someone who wishes suddenly and for no apparent reason to get closer to her body, to stand next to it in an effort to estimate its height or take from it whatever warmth might be radiating from the skin. Trouble is, no one is actually advancing and the gesture makes me think perhaps Eulalie has suffered some sort of nerve damage during one of her countless strolls around the edge of the lake where fishermen’s lures hang almost decoratively here and there from the tree branches and the water itself grows murky and impenetrable to the gaze the further out you go. This is typical, I’m told, of any body of water where the center is deeper than the surrounding edges precisely because other ways of organizing it will fail to hold the water in, thus disqualifying the body, by definition, as a lake. It will send the water cascading over the edges every time it rains, flooding the homes and the businesses -- the tire repair shops and the beauty parlors with their primitively rendered parrots and the occasional cockatoo in the big bay windows out front. And wouldn’t it be something if we could identify all such suspicious topographies ahead of time and call attention to them the way we call attention to ourselves? How many lives might we save? How many times would we get our names mentioned in the geological journals that matter?      

Monday, January 14, 2013

Vermillion robes arrive in plain brown packages with no return address and a scent like alder. We check the files and re-check them using a method developed in Manchuria more than a century ago, and still we come up empty. It’s almost as if the afternoon has somehow replaced itself with another very similar in appearance but possessing none of the minor accoutrements we have come to expect  – the pealing of an iron bell originating just beyond the hills on the horizon, the banter in the back room concerning who stuck whom with which instrument, the golf club or the porcelain Buddha. I snatch up whatever charity is forthcoming and bide my time, slink about in the shadows until someone gets wise and throws the switch that illuminates the entire area, throws into sudden merciless relief  the banister and the people hiding behind the banister as if they expect at any moment to be crushed by a falling meteorite or caught out on the evening news in the company of intravenous drug users with easy to remember names like Bunny or Ron. It isn’t long before the background music becomes tedious, filled as it is with saxophones and vocalists lamenting the paper thin walls of the human heart in short, vicious bursts of language and syncopated gasps not unlike those you would expect of a man suddenly and unexpectedly struck down by tachycardia. Still, we move to those sounds as if they were ocean waves and we were so many isolated stands of kelp close in by the shore and the moon had sunk close enough to the earth to cause a barely audible humming, a harmonic vibration preceding the imminent collision of two like bodies, of two substances identical but for the names we give them and the patterns that appear on their surfaces. Those caused by chance collision and the occasionally violent movement of the atmosphere over unanchored debris, and those caused by someone having a go at them with a stick. Drawing pictures of faces, mostly, with their eyes closed and their lips parted to reveal the empty place where teeth should be. Sometimes animals of a sort that have gone extinct or never actually existed in the first place – with horns that look like modern armchairs and tails so long and elaborate as to render the bodies they are attached to insignificant, nearly invisible. You have to get up close to see them and when you do, there is a moment when you lose all perspective, when you are in danger of tumbling headfirst into this other, lesser world -- this place of mere scratched-in line and shadow -- and never returning. But this vertiginous feeling doesn’t last long. Pretty soon you are home again, doing the dishes, placing the different sorts of silverware in their proper places in the drawer, and you begin to daydream, even fantasize about what it might have been like to stay there, to get lost in those lines and those primitive patterns – yes, daydream about it now in spite of the genuine terror you felt at the time, the way you had clawed at the air itself for purchase, had prayed an inaudible prayer that, looking back on it now, seems thoroughly undignified, the sort of thing a child might say when the rain is pelting his windows.           

Sunday, January 13, 2013

From deep in those backwaters, those dark cypress eddies, rumors emerge regularly concerning birds that have no business being there, that were last seen in grainy newsreel footage from the 30’s and that hold within them a slightly bilious promise we have yet to completely articulate. Something of amorphous shape in the breast where otherwise nothing whatsoever would be – blank space, silence, a turn like that in the proper sonnets. The memory holds nothing particular of his face, no discerning marks in the brow or eye color, something to match up with the present when we come in contact but that fish scale patch visible now for the first time in years, as good as a signature and sudden root cause of my stalking him at a distance from whatever bodega or Macy’s I first spot him in. This part of town moves with a semi-reptilian shudder, the streets pocked occasionally day and night with people possessed of glassy stares and a penchant for calling out to unseen compatriots ostensibly walking a block or two ahead or behind them, as if they are forever just out of reach of that happiness that comes of being part of a loosely defined social entity, though an integral part at that, the one who delivers whatever cohesion exists  through his use of secret knowledge and ritual, through spells cast with words few others in the group are familiar with unless they too have been studying Latin grammar and the archaic shamans of the arctic. The sharpshooters and amateur scholars with a missing incisor or two. I should feel a sense of dread here, a pain drudged up of conscience like that which robs the soul of breath just when it is about to reach the far shore and set up house in neighborhoods overrun with Canadian geese, but the rage is too great and ancient, something that, when it emerges, does so in colossal fashion, with a shuddering of the earth and boulders flung skyward at the same time the rain comes down in impenetrable walls and the wind carries on it beasts stunned into immobility, antler and horn. Beasts otherwise relegated to the firm terra of forest where they are spoken of in whispers when they are spoken of at all. We know there are moments when the past intrudes upon the present in forms only the present can recognize, in careful disguise in other words so that it will be admitted. And we celebrate this stealthy admission with lengthy toasts and a dancing with abandon, with a promiscuous ladling out of the previously carefully contained self, all the while knowing that the consequences will likely be the same as those when any other intruder is allowed to make its way beneath the skin. The list is too long to repeat here in its entirety, but suffice it to say it includes debilitating fevers and an overwhelming desire to melt away into darkness, into a kind of annihilation, or conversely (should one be oriented, for whatever reason, outward, away from the vital, if not altogether glorious, center), to lash out with heavy implements honed at their edges by innumerable hours of sanding to a fine, dispassionate glint.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The dread, the vaunted silence, approaches without hesitation, without the timidity one normally associates with other noxious beings, assuming they are only partially imaginary. The same caveat applies to the bandages one is expected to dress the wounds with after whatever altercation has taken place and the various parties have retreated to their portion of the public park or the office building where the day started out like any other – with the odd radio tuned to the local station and Sibelius translating the northern latitudes into lament on nylon strings. Or celebration, it’s hard to tell which sometimes at this distance. I pry the rotted boards loose and shove my fingers through to moist soil and all the while Eulalie has convinced me that whatever’s underneath has been hiding out there purposefully for eons and my disturbing it can only serve to make my name synonymous with addiction and misery and maybe (if I’m lucky) those thermal updrafts that keep the carrion birds aloft for hours at a time without their having to so much as flap a wing. This attempt at witticism at my expense, this desire to turn everything upside down for the sheer joy of watching others attempt then to re-orient themselves without benefit of instrumentation or carefully rendered charts, backfires and the last I see of her, Eulalie is stomping down the road with an enormous tree branch in her hand. It must weigh in the neighborhood of forty pounds and it’s crooked a little as if to suggest that it might be useful at some point in the future should you need to boil water or locate constellations that look suspiciously like crabs and other inconsequential aquatic wildlife. Just the sorts of things we ordinarily pay very little attention to unless we are suffering from a specific mineral deficiency and consuming the flesh of these creatures will ameliorate it. What are the chances of that though, really? Eulalie, before she left, put it at about one in ten. These are basically the same odds as inform our decisions when we are on the tire swing and it has reached the zenith of its arc and we must determine for ourselves (how early isolation descends!) if we will let go there or wait for entropy to take over, to make everything right again the way it smoothes out the edges of the universe and makes sure that no one goes hurtling out beyond those edges into something that can’t even be imagined. Something so unlike the here and now that if you were to succeed in gaining an accurate picture of it in your mind (and let’s face it, who of us hasn’t at least made the attempt; who hasn’t fiddled with the notion as a means of destroying himself, little by little, from inside), you would cease speaking almost immediately and close in on yourself and seem all but impenetrable to those who would have no choice then but to continue to go about their business around you and, by definition, without you – waxing the floors. Discussing other people’s extramarital affairs in great detail over the phone before hanging up and examining for a minute or two the lines on the palms of their hands for any sign that they might yet be destined for some measure of greatness, that there hadn’t been a mistake after all -- nay, a colossal, unjust oversight -- despite all appearances to the contrary.        

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A patch of skin no bigger around than a postage stamp catches the light of the sun like fish scales and sends the mind back in on itself, searching for that place where this particular patch glinted previously. Whatever’s down there, though, whatever swirls about in half-body is not to be trusted, is not to be linked to actual physical entities in the here and now any more than phrases ought to replace that which they are intended to depict or modify. You’re better off letting the mind fend for itself elsewhere. Out in front. On the pavement where the chalk outlines disappear but slowly in the runoff and the centipedes stagger about stunned and vulnerable in what passes for light once the sun has dropped behind the cactus and the chain-link fence that endeavors to surround it. Not that we can pinpoint precisely in this fashion (this dropping of fauna at strategic edges, in the margins where otherwise there might simply be straight lines) what we intend to observe and what we intend to bypass simply by counting the number of digits or examining the negatives with a magnifying glass and an Exacto knife and certain Nordic fairy tales ringing in our ears. You could say he was the one perpetually waiting, on the corner, outside someone’s backdoor and you didn’t always realize he was there until you turned that corner, you walked out that door, and came within inches of colliding with him. And you just had time to think Why didn’t I go the other way? Why didn’t I realize that instinct is that which is going to get you in trouble the way corn syrup does, the way listening to the sound of the coyotes howling at night on the ridge keeps you from dreaming about the consonant letter shapes to be made with the image of the neighbor lady’s body? Oh, to be nimble as the tongue when used at tangential purposes! Then you had to flee. An hour after that first glimpse, that moment in which the skin is something other than the skin and this from across the street with bicyclists and a light pole in between, it comes to me he is the one who put an insect in my mouth once, twenty years past like skimming the appendix, who pried my lips open and jammed it in upon the tip of a single finger and held my head forcibly still until I consented to chew, to grind whatever species he had happened upon between teeth at the front otherwise hewn together just moments before so tight with rage and shame as to preclude their being distinguished by the unaided eye one from the other – just a mass lacking all geometrical boundaries and nominal purpose, a shapeless conglomerate of what elsewhere in the body we’d refer to as bone.      

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Both the letter D and the letter M, carved above peculiar human faces, stand for something. And we have all afternoon to determine what. But the prospect of flipping through manuals and dredging up memories from twenty and thirty years in the past doesn’t sit well with those who make the decisions. It causes them to wonder out loud why the walls are painted a burnt umber and where your line of sight is apt to be obstructed, due to a copse of trees, say, or a ramshackle barn for hanging the tobacco. I pay such close attention to each of these in turn, I am startled when I realize Eulalie is standing at my elbow, breathing laboriously perhaps because of some unknown trauma to her torso, or because she has sprinted across the parking lot so as to avoid being struck by the vehicles pulling in and out at regular, though not entirely predictable, intervals. Her ardor has cooled recently due to insults I made at the expense of those who raised her, if a woman like Eulalie can be said to have been raised by anyone corporeal at all. We picture grand staircases and the sound of viola music drifting its way down them and a padlock on the cabinets where the muskets and the household’s ornate soup tureens are stored. Eulalie allows me access to those pages of her diary that endeavor to recount these earliest of events, albeit at a distance. They are full of descriptions in other languages, particularly Mandarin, and when you roll the phrases across your tongue, there is a distinct sense of having tasted them before, of having placed them in your mouth for two or three seconds before the bitterness took hold and made you regret that decision, made you want to spit them out like so many rancid caraway seeds. The faces and the vase atop the stone -- open, we’re told, and coverless -- amount to spiritual artifacts, reminders of our limited time on the planet and the numerous things we are expected to accomplish during that time. Graduate from high school. Scale the nearly vertical sides of mountains with axes and nylon ropes. For her part, Eulalie doubts very seriously whether the vase was intended to hold anyone’s ashes. She has a horror of the obvious and this manifests itself in her speech by making the things she says seem overly combative at precisely the moment when they ought to be soothing, ought to take one back as far as the bassinet by virtue of their lilt and stammer, their imagery drawn from the tending of goats.