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.         

Friday, February 1, 2013

If I’d seen something in the dust like toes in shape, the marked pit indentions resulting from nails pressing downward so as to generate speed when the moon is directly overhead and thus working against all attempts at camouflage, at succor, I might have decided then to sit down at the kitchen table and knock out the whodunit that had been troubling my sleep for weeks, the evidence to be conjured and interpreted by a private investigator seven feet tall -- the gasoline soaked rags, say, the tube of lipstick and the incorrectly-strung tennis racket -- floating before my eyes in otherwise empty space like dust motes or wanton cherubim. The price for uttering finally what you should have uttered ten minutes before is the same as not uttering anything at all, which means we are left with a sensation in the chest very like a bullet wound. And when we try to explain it those who grow concerned, those who have watched us struggle at the banister as if the banister were made of feathers and the palms of our hands had broken out in hives, the only words that come to mind are the words that someone else has forged and then discarded, has willfully abandoned because they never managed to suit his purposes. Perhaps they had growths on them like barnacles that all but disqualified them for use in any but the most self-serving screed of the sort that gets turned eventually into a play by people who know how to evoke complex emotions using the simplest of props. A bugle with a dent in it. Another bugle pristine and bright as polished isinglass but incapable of producing a single note no matter how forcefully you blow into it. The coop is undamaged, the wiring just as I’d left it each night the night before and for fifteen years before that, when the boy had showed an interest finally in what he could do with his thumbs and that part of the hand that folds over the thumb and so makes it possible for us to grasp objects, to wield them with intent. He held hammers and mallets with silent and malicious glee, seemed to be watching the back of my head for any opportunity that might present itself. In his eyes, on that place at the center of the iris where what is brewing about inside mirrors precisely what is occurring outside, you could see a predetermined location on my scalp, and I knew better than to turn my back on him for more than ten seconds when the light was failing and the breeze came off the mountains and stirred the dust at your feet. It was enough to make you believe in spirits, entities diminutive enough to fit inside those small rotating columns of otherwise invisible air. And yet they were formidable for all that – ancient and determined to make you pay for the least misstep, for the arrogance of treading the barren earth without so much as a nod in their direction. A name whispered as talisman. A candle left burning the night through on the dresser closest to the window.  The immovable window, the one that does not tilt in or out, the one covered on the outside in an opaque gauze mixture of abandoned spider web and organic debris that looks suddenly like it has been placed there intentionally, it has been left behind as calling card or marker only the blind could miss.