Blowback

You discover that space is flat
but you prefer a surface more like
an interface, or something that if turned
on its side would go straight to the bottom.

You want to turn your face to the sun,
you want gravity. Everybody else
will sit around eating and joking
all the way up to the end.

Names and other things have curves
where secrets hide or can be planted
to blow things up later. Unlike the
rolling boundaries of the things
you care about.

So you track it down.
There’s an improved experiment.
Before there was nothing there wasn’t
something. Your last refuge not to
beg the attribution.

The brute–it was all underwater but
like sadness it wasn’t an even thing–
more like a cryptic note or rather
a partial note. Acquiesce, it said.
a mean overseer with a whip.

Did it say “depth” or “death”?
Another way of saying it’s not true,
probably not true that you’ll be anxious
now in any scene set on a spacecraft
with the short guy in the tight coat.

That blowback from the future is such
an absolute affliction you wonder
how it is that something that’s
over hasn’t surfaced yet.

The god who lives in a shack always
leans a chair up against the nearest
outside wall to sit in the sun.
Everything he says is so crafted it’s
like clothing. Each day we wait to hear
from you. Are you there?

 

 

 

Where It Is

Early on the dog seemed more like home—no animal ever had black spinning things behind a face, that relentless hum in every room of things that weren’t words that everyone’s mind was always shouting, things I never could unhear. Even now in every grinding place without an exit, I play here-there with things I’ve turned to empty objects in my mind. Down every hallway some dark engine rushed toward me or behind me, every house was a cabinet with a mirrored front. Always alone in days or evenings that didn’t begin and didn’t end until the mind just packed off to the side, but by then I’d already seen too much of everything.

After a while, you didn’t have to keep moving all the time, you were already unrecognizable in how you managed it, a border with a life on one side open to any vantage point, on the other side the one that always smelled of paint and turpentine. The one saving discovery: that you could show invisible things with a pencil or brush on paper, paper that you could go into like a house no one could see. Later on, every time I stretched a canvas, I was building a house behind it, a place I could breathe in behind the scrim of everything else.

There was just entirely too much seeing, seeing that would not stop, one Continue reading

Haunt

They make you think you are dead. When you enter a room, nothing is happening, you speak and suddenly everyone lives in a world without sound. It’s almost corny like those movies in which ghosts don’t know they’re dead, daily life goes on, but people see right through you, you can holler or stamp your feet or try to flag somebody down, it doesn’t matter. Nothing can compensate for that, not even walking through walls, not such a neat trick when there’s nobody who will see you do it.

Other things seem smaller but take so much more doing—rattling things, opening cabinets, moving stuff around, all to no avail. Who’d have thought a tomb could be made from someone’s disregard. It somehow binds you to a spot—you’re not there, but you belong to the place, you don’t exist, but there you are, and there’s no place else for you.

You make a little chaos, but by now you’re frantic and pissed off—maybe you don’t, in fact, exist—and a little chaos isn’t as fulfilling as bringing the house down would be. You think. You will never be like the wind, known by its effects, though you could possibly be mistaken for the wind when you blow through a room. Someone can stand on top of you, but all you do is make them cold. Something you’d never expect in life, this shunning, this banishment, this invisibility.

On the other side of things, perhaps it’s hard to do, to pretend someone else doesn’t exist until you believe it or feel justified in believing it. But pretend absence inscribes a presence, the ghost you make goes with you wherever you go, even if you are always turning the petrified side of your heart toward it, it drains something of your life away. Thus this shunning becomes a kind of deathly binding.

You seek places where you won’t have to feel invisible—what a relief finally to occupy places where no one lingers: under beds, in closets, cupboards, attics. Living this underside kind of life does have its peaceful appeal. Still, it’s probably not as tricky as that implacable hostility that can deny what it is simply by making you disappear. All that spectral tapping while you are screaming I am here I’m alive I’m alive.

 

Report Card

noaa ice house made of sod mod 1

Old age arrived today. No kids, no books.
Thirty-five years married, mostly spent
alone—bad marks for not getting out
when the wherewithal to go was good.
Over half a lifetime teaching—bad marks
for thinking anybody gave a damn.
A decade beat-down by a bully boss—
bad marks for not seeing that
for the decade of being fired it was.
Bad marks in most major categories—
freezing when stunned, not sucking it up
the not being loved, being slow to know,
being bent by the usual catastrophes—
headaches, heartaches, chest pain, death,
erstwhile friends, bad knees, bad health.
Bad marks for not attending to the drift.
Bad marks for the dark inside, the alien
encampments and bonfires and skirmishes
in my brain. Bad marks for not being
fuckin’ glad about my metamorphosis,
my reticulated body, my unhinged face.
Bad marks for trying—twice—to open
the front door with the car remote.
Bad marks for just not getting
the hang of phones that don’t hang up.
Bad marks for bad grace and bad memory–
did I mention that already? Bad marks
for forty years of writing someone will
throw out when I die—I won’t care then but
I do now—damn it all, I’m still alive.

_________________________
altered image; original image: sod ice house, 1912, NOAA Photo Library, http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/htmls/fish7254.htm

The After

warbeth 1903 crp smoke 6

This is the part where you’ve climbed as high as you can go and you can see the city, what’s left of it, spread out below like some enormous outcropping of otherworldly rock, its tarnished spires and black-hole monoliths, clouds above it moving so slowly they don’t seem to be moving, just hanging there like comic book clouds, like objects pasted onto the sky.

Somebody made that place, you say. And unmade it.

A lot of somebodies, he says.

If there are somebodies down there, you can’t see them from here, though you doubt there are any somebodies left alive there and you haven’t seen any somebodies apart from your somebody in all these days you’ve been trudging along looking for higher ground, carrying with you that hasty survival kit composed of sundry canned foods that could exist only in a world that never imagined an apocalypse–you finally ate the pink peppercorns in brine last night, unable to envision what sort of dish they might have been a condiment for.  Why you grabbed and haven’t yet ditched your costume jewelry and a bag of miscellaneous nails and furniture tacks and S-hooks, or why out of all the tools you could’ve grabbed from the toolbox you selected the hex wrenches and a miniscule Phillips head screwdriver, well, you’ll never know.  A few days out he said, Useless. You always save the most useless junk.

Here you stand, mesmerized, a condition humans cannot tolerate for very long unless they themselves have chemically induced it, so both of you have followed your minds down into the city. One of you imagines the fires are out and the animals have moved on, leaving behind a grimy sort of urban emptiness, the kind represented in movies by empty streets through which newspapers or grocery bags fly about and little dust devils pass through, no humans in sight. The other of you imagines a long ago time when you wandered that place together, slept in a bed at night, sat on grass in the sun. We don’t know who imagines what, though in truth there’s little imagining involved–the world as you knew it has ended, and you don’t even have any personal memories of it, all that’s left in your mind are filmic tropes.

I’m going back, he says.

You say, What do you mean you’re going back?

He says, I mean I’m going back.

You say, Are you serious? We’ve been walking for over a month to get up here and survey the territory, as you say, and now you want to go back?

I’m going back, he says.

You say, Why? There’s nothing left there but coyotes and trash and broken things, there aren’t even people down there.

He says, we don’t know that.

But we do know that, you say. We searched on our way out. Every damn building and park. We even searched that damn artificial cave at the zoo. I can’t believe I let you talk me into that. Going back to what? It’s just one big grave. Fires. No water.

The city’s big, he says, we didn’t look everywhere.

Like most conversations of this sort, this goes on too long, punctuated too often by silences that don’t seem like silences any more. With only minor variations in its subject matter, it’s like almost every conversation longer than three minutes that you’ve had with him for the past twenty years. Even now you’re talking without looking at each other, gazing out at a scene of desolation to which he wants to return. You are the peacemaker between how you imagine him and how you imagine he imagines you, so you elicit from him a promise that he will sleep on it.  You make camp, which amounts to lying down in the blankets and quilts you wear during the day and drinking a little water, down to strict rationing now, and sharing a can of julienned beets, you’ve only three cans left but you keep forgetting what they are, though that’s in addition to the two tins of Spam, which you’ve agreed to save for last, whenever last comes.

Lying here looking up at a sky weirdly clear and full of stars, you are thinking that in a couple of days you’ll see the ocean, not that there’s much of a plan there, it’s just the next destination fixed in your mind, first the lake on the outskirts of town, then the nearest hill, then a hill here and there after that, that stand of trees, that thing that looked like a stream but turned out to be a flock of black garbage bags, this promontory where you are now.

You don’t know when in this journey through no place toward no place in particular you started thinking only in terms of place, having abandoned thoughts of food, of warmth, of the company of other people, indulging in the thought that at least you are together, and now the thing that you’ve been repeating to yourself without really being aware of it is rolling through your mind like a tank: at least we have each other.

Superimposed on the sky now: scrolling images of people interviewed after tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, explosions, inner city warfare—Thank god we still have each other, they say, at least we have each other, we’re just happy that we have each other. What does it mean to have each other, what does that mean, is it just some mutual way of saying we’re glad we’re not alone?  You dream you are a shiny silver aircraft of some kind, unmanned, dropping plasma bombs.

In the morning, he’s gone. He’s left you a liter of water and a can of okra and tomatoes. Heights make you dizzy, so you get down on your belly in the dirt and wiggle over to the edge of the cliff to look down to see if you can see him, but the morning haze has set in and you can’t really see anything except this little piece of earth you’re on. You just lie there awhile even though you know you need to pack up and start looking for some shade.

You’re thinking he never said why he wanted to go back, and you’re thinking that he had a plan but you weren’t in it, he didn’t say let’s go back, come with me, I’m going back, but you dodge that thought by wondering idly, as if you are thinking about some fictive character, precisely how long he had been thinking it over, when he made up his mind, whether he was thinking about it even before the first EMP, why he decided to tell you at that particular moment. What was he thinking, you think. That there are all kinds of somebodies left he’d rather be with, that there’s some tribe of sturdy survivors with attractive stores of food the looters hadn’t gotten to and loose women just waiting for him to arrive? That he’d rather be alone in a dangerous place than nowhere with you? That anywhere is better than here wherever here is?

A bit less idly, you start thinking about why even now you are wasting time thinking about what he may be thinking, reflecting that whenever you’ve actually known what he was thinking it was usually something that didn’t make any sense or something you didn’t really want to know, some thinking, usually of an elaborate and repetitious kind, merely being a way of not knowing.

You wish you had a door to slam. You wish you had a wall and something breakable to throw at it. You wish you wished those things in a more heartfelt way. But you don’t.

Before you pack up, you take out the things you’ve kept so well hidden you’ve almost forgotten about them and lay them out on the ground—a rather too complex Swiss army knife, a roll of cash, a fistful of silver dollars that you’d been hanging onto as some kind of novelty, some gold jewelry your auntie left you, a flashlight, a sizeable stash of batteries of various types, several yards of nylon clothesline, silk underwear, useful if it ever got cold again, a water purification kit, a bottle of heavy-duty sunscreen, salt tablets, a small but nonetheless substantial first aid kit, a sewing kit you’d snagged for no reason from a hotel in the distant past, some glow sticks, but the kid’s party kind, not the emergency kind, strike anywhere matches in a waterproof box, a bottle of aspirin, several packets of some kind of vitamin and mineral thing to mix in water, you’d be needing a source of water in a couple of days, a snack-sized baggie containing some weed and rolling papers, a couple of space blankets, three tiny bottles of tequila, pens and paper, a compass, a rosary, a camera.

You take a photograph of this stuff, these riches. You’re laughing now. You’re thinking that you crossed some kind of line when the two of you could have used things from this stash but you kept it to yourself, like several nights ago when the last of the batteries you were using for his flashlight gave out, or on one of the first days of this trek when he cut his hand wrestling with a can of fancy beans and could have used some things from your first aid kit. You’re thinking that you had really crossed the line before that when you packed these things and then forgot about them, forgot about them so long that you couldn’t imagine the circumstances in which you could have produced them without feeling guilty. It’s like some other part of you has been looking out for you. You don’t doubt for a second that if he’d known about your stash he would have helped himself before sneaking away that morning without even saying goodbye, good luck, fuck you.

By the time you’ve packed up, the haze has started to dissipate, you can see a bit of the city, you’re feeling kind of exhilarated to be looking at it for the last time, to be on your own without feeling bad about feeling alone. Before turning around and heading out for wherever it is you’re going, you say it out loud: Not even. Not even if you were the last man on earth.

Perpetual Room

 

People are always passing through the perpetual room, looking different, being the same. You don’t know what you’re missing, you’re not much troubled by anything. It’s always noon in the perpetual room, without shadows you cannot tell demon from friend, but there’s no time for caution.

You don’t know where you go to sleep, you dream of objectless yearning, swamp lights, threatening mail. You wake up in the perpetual room surprised to find that you yourself are always passing through, one side of the door no different from the other: you’ve been here before, you’ll be here again, you’ll have to go out when you want to get in.

Always on your way to other places that somehow always end up being here, you cannot fully appreciate the beauty of the perpetual room–its transparent walls and soft landings, its finely calibrated air, the narcotic effect of its ambient music, the spectacular near-misses of its perihelia. Nonetheless, you surmise that all this passing through is what keeps the perpetual room perpetual: zero, one, not being in the same place at the same time, not being.

At some point you discover you’ve been navigating all this time you thought you were just along for the ride. Now Saturn scares you, so cold, so colorless to mortal eyes, so damn close to far away and where you’re going. Always too late tomorrow, never too late yesterday.

saturn scares me cmprsd nasa

Second Life

We knew we would die and we didn’t care. When we discovered we were already dead, we reckoned we’d been conscripted.

For several millennia we walked the outer wall, which was not the same wall if one thought of it as, say, an inner wall, which is not to say that we ever knew where we were or who we were, if we were us or if we even knew each other.

At first–in a remnant of maybe someone’s old neighborhood or maybe some coastal sort of place where we were maybe born–there was only one landmark: an iridescent oil slick, left behind, someone claimed, by a factory of former ones plying furtive somethings in remote and desperate locales. Well, hell, someone said, is quite remote, but others disagreed, saying hell was usually located rather close to where one lived and thus, given that we were dead and all, probably was not the remote we were in.

Rumors reached us that our pets were pacing morosely about near some
Continue reading

Encounters

noaa old mag lightning multiple rszd

sci fi haiku

shiny vibrating
cylinder hovers above
woods, animals freeze

luminescent craft
buzzing fucks up radio
trucker prays in field

women driving home
stunning light, vehicle swarmed
tiny humanoids

teenagers camping
superfast spacecraft arrives
drinking and loud sex

tall frilly spacemen
emerge from haystack-shaped ship
police call it in

Wet

Ito mer compr

A woman washes up on a lonely stretch of beach. The sun is barely up. Three men are passing by on their way to do some surf casting. She asks them what town they’re in, they look at her and quickly look away, she asks them for a drink of water and, of all things, a cigarette, they’ve got no time for female foolishness, they ignore her and walk on, their minds have gone on ahead to where they’re going.

Although the don’t-look-and-it-won’t-exist method of managing reality does sometimes work, in general, it’s just not good not to assist drowned women regardless of where they are or what they ask you for. If no kindness meets them on land, they are stuck there for years and years living again as ordinary women. More or less.

Give them wine, give them something to dry off with, be a friend, and they can go back to the water and you can go back to your life. But some men see a shitload of trouble when a woman suddenly rises up out of the sea. They don’t know what trouble is. Continue reading

This is the part where you think you don’t

medieval burning%20(2)

This is the part where, you think, you don’t know anything, for surely if you knew something, you would feel compelled to say something, unlike, you think, the other part when you knew something and didn’t say anything—that past part, the long part, the part eating up your life, the part you tell yourself you’re not in now. Tell and tell.

This is the part where you try to act like life is the same but you can’t because it’s not.

Always behind any surface that you show, it’s like you’re some cartoon character who—running away from some danger—has sawed a hole in the floor only to fall through it a long, long time and end up on the opposite side of the world. But no matter where you are, run away and it will keep you running. You think. You think that, but you don’t believe it.

Then one day you know this part you seem to have fallen into is really going nowhere—it’s static, it’s like waiting but not waiting for anything in particular, or maybe forgetting what you’re waiting for—but it’s just the waiting part, a part without the usual parts of waiting like being patient or impatient, like checking and checking the time, like daydreaming at a stop light or idly flipping through a magazine in some waiting room. It’s not that kind of waiting.

It’s waiting that’s a kind of absolute stillness in which you’ve stopped trying to know anything because there are so many things you know that you wish you didn’t. The phone bills, the messages—endearments, pleas—not meant for you but written nonetheless in searing letters in the front of your mind.

Maybe you were waiting to know but when you knew, the waiting didn’t stop. Maybe you gave up on knowing—so much transportation, so many ways to get to the wrong place. All those other things you didn’t think about then or didn’t do—doors you opened when you should have been locking them, things you looked into when you really should have run away. Now there’s no not knowing.

And now you know what part this is. This is the part where you keep in deep silence the other’s secret, the secret that is also the secret of how you’ve been wounded, the burden of it, this part where all that’s left of you is where the secret is, the part where the other’s secret is all you have left of him.

 

 

 

 

Conjure

This is the part in which you are strolling with the conjure woman in a garden filled with inexplicably scary or scarily inexplicable prehistoric looking plants, gigantic things, dwarfing, one supposes, the mere humans in the middle distance and reminding us of the, oh, the ephemerality of it all. Of course, the reason you’re with the conjure woman is that you thought she could do something about the ephemerality of things, specific things–fading, fleeting, gone already, in the kind of past that really is over. She is saying to you or maybe to me “I tol’ you and tol’ you so” or, perhaps, “I tol’ you so-and-so” or perhaps she is just nodding her head in that tired you-wouldn’t-listen way.

No matter. What she told you before that you wouldn’t listen to is this: if you have to make a charm for someone to love you, you have to take whatever kind of love you get from it, but you also have to take whatever kind of love it makes you give. Or, rather, you have to take the person you become when what you want to have for love is something that the person you want it from really doesn’t want to give you. In other words, in the scene from the past that may be appearing in a thought bubble in your vicinity, you asked for a mojo hand to make something happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise, and she warned you.

She warned you then in that other part that you are now remembering in this part—by the way, she’s not wearing a head-rag or a voluminous colonial skirt, she looks rather like a successful businesswoman, like really successful, like the clothes are understated and exquisite, and if you keep thinking about this you are going to get a fair idea of exactly how much business she does, even though it’s of basically three types: get and re-get and un-get. At any rate, she warned you that the outcome of the thing she could make for you and the let’s-bake-a-weird cake things you’ll have to do with it that these things are unpredictable–maybe help, maybe harm, that’s what she said. And then she gave you what you wanted, which has amounted to simultaneously giving you what you want and punishing you for thinking it was something you could have.

Which is why you’re here now after begging her to meet you. And now instead of asking her to undo it, you are asking her to do more to it, and you know it’s like that time you agreed to cut your girlfriend’s hair and your attempts to correct your mistakes and then to correct your corrections ended up with her having a more or less skinned head. And, of course, how do you think Miss Conjure got those fine clothes that you could never in a million years afford, if not by giving people what they deserve when they think they deserve something else?

She’s answering her phone now and giving you the cellphone finger. You wander down the path like a kid headed home after being shut out of a game. Or maybe you’re just starting to give in to the next outrageous thing that’s going to come out of your mouth. You realize now that you’re in the arboretum not some mystical garden though there is in fact a kind of mystical slant of late afternoon light coming in from somewhere, big stripes of it across the path full of what looks like extremely fine gold dust and you could just crawl up under that tree where shade has given things clear edges.

And then she’s saying she won’t do what you want, and you shouldn’t want it done [three-beat pause], but she knows someone who will. Suddenly she’s gone and you are standing there looking at the back of one of her business cards on which she’s written a phone number and a name. But you won’t pause to consider whether you should explore possibilities other than calling Madame Virginie and taking that taxi that’s going to miraculously appear when you get out to the street. Or at least you’re going to think of it as miraculously appearing, along with other things you’ll interpret as presaging in a happy sort of way the world you’re going to be living in when you are defined by the love that you are thinking of yourself as merely nudging along.

Listen: cicadas, that sound that winds around everything until there’s nothing else.

Tol’ you so.

Tight Ship

arabic machine ms PDR crop

Notes for My Successor–Welcome Aboard

Avoid grappling with sentient cargo.
If it tries to escape, just back down the
oscillation and see what happens.

For the spin things will inhabit, cold stars
will do if they can follow instructions
and are disarmed. That last part is important.

Unlike the improvised sealant, the
official sealant is unstable
even at modest speeds.

Permission has not been granted to enter
the tunnel. Nonetheless, at night we hear
someone in there making an infernal
racket rearranging the ephemera.

The “questions and suggestions are welcome”
box outside the cafeteria is
management’s early warning system
for insubordination. Don’t ask. Don’t suggest.

The ergot problem has been acknowledged and
will be monitored. Volunteers are needed
to ingest sundry foodstuffs that may or may not
be contaminated. Volunteering
is mandatory.

Blowback trumps everything but weather.

Ignore gossip about the cook and the
entertainment. Even without all their
sockets, they are lovely to observe
operating their frilly appendages
and chasing the good-natured scullions.

In open air, measures quicken and may
skew penumbral estimates. Use the slide rule.

You will not get a raise.

No matter how you engineer it,
the scatter will show which stations
to abandon. Ten seconds.
BTW the timer is broken.

By the time we get there, our love will be
so far away its light will have panned out
into sectors to which we have no access.

Asking for additional orbits will only
make them laugh. Go ahead. Try it.

The key to the plasma storage cabinet
was already missing when I got here.

Regardless of what the gauges indicate,
nothing in the universe loves a lock.

 

 

image: detail Arabic Machine MS Public Domain Review http://publicdomainreview.org/collections/arabic-machine-manuscript/