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/

Know

sea serpent near galveston crop short mod 1

This is the part where you don’t know what you know. Later when you know what you know, you don’t like what you know, you wish you didn’t know it, you wish you’d known it sooner. But you did.

Right now you are dreaming, strolling, lollygagging, in a place where you don’t know what you know. So it’s more like somebody is dreaming you, sorting you out in the dream bins with the other detritus of the day, some other dreamer who gets to wake up while you dream on.

First there are some bad things, though the really bad things aren’t what you think the bad things are, you think he’s sad. You’re sad, but your sad doesn’t matter. It’s like always giving him the better part of whatever it is that you are cooking for dinner, everything you take for yourself is something not good enough for him. No big deal, you’ve got love, you’ve got a lot to give. Everything you have in life is something with a nick in it or a smudge on it, you get the crooked, he gets the straight, you get the old, he gets the new. It’s what you do till you don’t even know you do it.

His sad, now that’s something, that’s some kind of sad, something’s got to be done about that kind of sad. Your sad, that’s just some little old thing you keep in the nevermind drawer. One day you’re going to be looking for something and you’re going to open that drawer up and think where did all this broken stuff come from, how come I kept it when it didn’t get fixed? But that’s later, not now.

Get this: he’s not loving you, but you cannot imagine that, so you think he’s sad, you think his mind is off in some lonely place, of course he’s not talking, there aren’t words to say whatever the big sad is he got coming down on him. You get a cat, you think maybe he needs something small to love, you think maybe he needs to work his way back up to loving you—what the hell are you thinking?

You’re thinking there’s a story here, a story of restoration, a story of return. Or maybe it’s just that you think whatever the story is, he’s in it, you’re in it. Now the cat’s in it, and the cat needs your love too because he’s not loving the cat and what you move on to thinking is that if he just loves the cat it’s ok if he doesn’t love me, he just needs to love something so he can start living again. Doctor Jesus, please come on in my house.

You’re not thinking he’s got a story and you’re not in it. What kind of story would that be? If you’re not in the story he’s in, why is he still here and what the hell are you doing here?

What you got girl is a baby man: a baby that ain’t a baby, a man that ain’t a man. So you think: must be a man man thing, letting you see his softer side, oh how you’re gonna take tender care of it, oh how you are gonna abide with this little slump here, this soft side. The side you get when the other side’s already packed its bags and gone off somewhere else.

Oh, you worried so about that man. Everybody loves that man. How’s Derek? they say down at the store. Oh, you know, you say and shake your head. How’s Derek? they say at work. Oh he’s coming along little by little, you say. At church, How’s Derek? Oh, you say, he just has not been the same since his mama died, I miss her too. And you do and so you think you know his sadness. Your girlfriends, now, they’re not saying How’s Derek, they don’t even say his name anymore but you don’t notice that, how’s he, what’s he doing, he’s he to you too, and by the time you get it, your friends, they’re gone too.

Later on you think. What kind of man, you think, what kind of man, what kind of words come after what kind of man. What kind of man what kind of man what kind of man. But right now you wait, you’re patient, but you don’t really know how to be patient, never have, so you don’t know that what you are experiencing is postponement.

So you wait. And then you drift. But even that isn’t what you think it is. You think you’re drifting, drifting in all this waiting, waiting for him to be the man who used to love you, waiting for him just to be the kind of man who can love you, waiting to be the woman that kind of man would love. Drifting. Postponing what you know but don’t know you know: you’re not drifting—he’s cut you loose, he’s thrown you back in, he’s got bigger fish to fry. He’s got the life boat. Look at all that water running over your feet.

One day you reach out to touch him, to comfort him, he’s so sad, he’s so lost, you think, and he recoils. Now there’s a word your mind has never coiled around, a word you’ve known only in books: the mortal coil, snakes coil, guns recoil. Now you know men recoil. You think about it the way you think about things you learned in school. Isn’t that something? Men recoil. Who’dathought.

And here you’ve got to hand it to your mind: if you knew what that meant, there would just be no living, so it just becomes another fact. And everything else becomes another fact. And you are living in a world where nothing can mean anything because if anything means anything then it can mean something that he won’t even touch you now. Though he does seem to be warming up to the cat.

And that, you will think later, is what people mean when they say it is what it is. It is what it is because we can’t say what it is because if we said what it is it would really be what it is which is what it really shouldn’t be but is. When you get back to it later, that is how your mind is going to run on because a mind that can run on like that is a mind that can run away.

One day you think he might as well have killed you. And then you know he did. And that’s when you know that nothing you know is any good. And that’s when you go see the conjure woman. Because you can’t live in the world you’re in, and you think if he loved you again it would be a world worth living in.

Now you know.

——————————
altered image; original image: Oudemans, The great sea-serpent (1892), Biodiversity Library: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/129989#page/75/mode/1up

Something Like

way home sky crp rszd

where you were there were no final trains, the station
occupied by cruising thugs, a man with a big broom, a clock
you can hear ticking whenever there’s a hole in the noise,
the kind of place where there’s lots of pacing back and forth,
there’s a guy over in a corner throwing up, and you are
watching your hands, marveling at how still they are
when you are just quaking inside, and you look up and

see the dead friend you’ve seen several times since he died,
sometimes carrying a suitcase, just as he must have
on his way to that last plane, sometimes looking
straight at you, even smiling, before disappearing, crossing
a street you’re not crossing or getting on a train you’re
not getting on or just passing blithely by or through
someplace where you are like now, snap out of it

so which world was it you were in the night you unscrewed
the backs of every appliance in the apartment, only to discover
they had no inner workings, and that, moreover, electricity
was an illusion and small mammals were running all
major corporate-type entities– and it didn’t stop there,
the engine in your car was a cardboard mock-up
even a kid would find unconvincing

suddenly, there was no North Pole, a news flash that
disappeared into the flotsam and jetsam, news folk
reading tweets from all and sundry, the same tweets
a few beats ahead projected onto screens behind them and
also crawling across the bottom of the screen, like
maybe they’d mean something in triplicate, the world
contracted into a tiny place
where everything is exciting news, so nothing is exciting,
nothing is news, where all reference refers to itself,
where intention just gets worn out with iteration,
where anything not now this just doesn’t exist

and that’s not even to mention the funny fuel —you could
bathe in it and get high from it at the same time,
light your way down a hallway and torch your house,
such an all-purpose substance, making the stars all
wavy in the sky like that, so intoxicating you wanted
to become a machine just to have it inside you,
invisible too, woo

ok yeah, there were probably some things left in the world
to wonder or worry about, but we had ceased to care what they
might be which kept us safe from knowing what they were
in a way that not wanting to know would not have, since
not wanting to know things (as opposed to not giving a fuck)
always seems to bring them on, as if the emptiness of
the place where you could know things attracts anything that
will fill it up, and since good things skip through
your back yard or down your street only when
you are not home, what would probably fill up

that rather poorly patrolled place of not knowing would be
all kinds of random maybe even evil shit that you’d have to
leave the planet to get away from, or maybe even some random
something that you didn’t know you didn’t want to know
because you could not even imagine it or imagine what
not knowing it would involve because, for example, you are
now trekking or trudging or gliding on with it

yeah, getting away with it, something like life

Stella Ridley Twelve

12

My First Friend

When I entered public school, I became a public loner—that kid at the edge of the playground studying her shoes or walking back and forth on the periphery as if in some invisible cage. The first friend I ever made on my own was Ouida St. John. We were in the same mathematics class and shared the distinction of being the only students in the class who had barely a rudimentary clue about the subject matter no matter how hard we worked on our homework. Somehow we migrated—perhaps the teacher migrated us—to the back of the room, and as long as we were quiet there, the teacher, who had openly given up on us, let us do as we pleased. So we passed notes—Ouida’s were almost impossible to decipher—or, when other students were engaged in noisy math games, we chatted without fear of getting black marks for conduct. Continue reading

Stella Ridley One

3 my skies mississippi poss head pix (3)

1

Holy Moly

 One Sunday in church when I was ten or eleven years old, Molly elbowed me as we were singing “Holy, holy, holy” and cut her eyes down toward a yawning hole in Aunt Deena’s stockings.  I looked and then quickly stared straight ahead and sang louder, trying to sing over whatever nonsense Molly was singing instead of “merciful and mighty.”   I didn’t need to look to know that further down the row Matu was leaning over her hymnal and glaring at us with her mouth in that tense line that even then was getting to be a habit.  When we sat down for the sermon, Molly was quaking with repressed laughter, and I had to pinch myself hard as I did every Sunday, with or without Molly’s puns and antics.  I don’t know what was wrong with me.  During the most solemn moments, I was possessed by the impulse to leap up and shout.   In fact, when I heard the phrase “mortification of the flesh,” I thought it referred to the repressed and rather itchy urge to guffaw or shout in church, and I was secretly of the opinion that I might be more at home in one of those evangelical sects that elevate losing control to a form of worship.

Back in the station wagon, Matu and Mamaw Ridley sat in front, and Aunt Deena, Molly, Baby Robert, Adela (my pet sibling at the time), and I crammed into the backseat because no one liked to sit in the seat that was the whole point of having a station wagon, what we called the “way back seat,” which faced backwards and therefore seemed, well, unsociable.  Molly held the baby, and Adela, who was probably about four then, sat on my lap and reached over to fondle Deena’s locket. When Deena kissed Adela’s little chubby hand, a brief, inexplicable shock of envy ran through me as it always did when I saw moments of love or affection that did not include me, but then Molly started humming the hymn we had sung in church, and we started laughing and couldn’t stop.

“What are they on about?” Matu said, craning her head up and sideways to look in the rearview mirror, squinting back at Deena and nearly running over poor Miss Estelle from down the street.  Deena said, “I have no idea, but I’m sure that it’s irreverent,” in that voice she had that we children all loved, a voice that–no matter what it was saying–said that everything was wonderful and good.  “What?  What?” Mamaw said and looked around frantically as if she’d just heard a shotgun go off, but by then we were home and nobody paid her any mind.  As we were all piling out of the car, Matu said, “Deena!  Look at your stockings!” and Deena did look, and laughed.  “I didn’t have time to give Miss Monkey her cream, so she swatted me as I was going out the door,” she said.  And Matu glared at her and shook her head and started in with “Deena, I’ve never seen you without a hole or a ladder-run in your stockings.  And there is such a thing as hairspray you know.”

Deena patted at her frizzy hair and laughed, said, “I can’t help it if I have our mother’s hair. And there’s nothing I can do about the wind.”

“Really, Deena, people notice these things!  How can I raise these girls up right if you set such a . . . such a scruffy example?”

Molly handed the baby to Matu and turned back toward me, smirked, and made yackety-yack motions with her hands.  She mouthed the words “people notice”—one of Matu’s favorite phrases–and opened her eyes wide in mock alarm.  Matu could not have actually seen this, but Matu seemed to know everything, seen or not.  She snapped, “Molly!  Stop that disrespectful behavior!  Right now!”

At that time, Molly and I—Molly was only a year and a half older than me, and I was very precise about this “only”–were just on the verge of thinking about stockings and hairspray and such, but Matu had already started avidly monitoring our behavior, our grooming, our posture, even our facial expressions.  She was hoping, I suppose, that she could avoid the inevitable upheaval of our adolescence if she prepared everything in advance and had us well in line.  She knew that we were rather charmed by Deena’s blithe violations of propriety, and she had become increasingly exasperated with Deena, as if Deena were a naughty child.  And women in my family, whatever they were doing, were relentless.  We sometimes overheard Matu all ganged up with Mamaw on the subject of Deena’s appearance.  They said things like “Now Deena, you have such a pretty face.  If only you’d wear makeup.  Not that dab of lipstick.  A proper foundation.”  Deena would interrupt them with a laugh and say she didn’t have time for makeup, but they would then go on at length about how much easier life is if you make an effort to fit in (another of Matu’s and Mamaw’s favorite phrases).  But Deena would just laugh some more.  Not in a mean way, mind you—Aunt Deena didn’t have a mean bone in her body—but in a way that said to them that she found their criticism endearing or cute, which must have irritated them as no meanness or scoffing resistance ever could.

When they got onto Deena this way, the only thing that would bring them up short was Papaw, who would exercise his mouth for what seemed like forever until he had maneuvered his dentures into place and then grumble, “Girl’s fine just as she is.  Leave her alone.”

Movie TV Jesus

ghent lamb cu mod - comique 2 - mod 2

In ten parts:    1. Jesus is on our TV!     2. Up close     3. After intermission, joyous horns     4. And tweeting!     5. The Pilate Show     6. Whereas, Jesus.     7. Gathering     8. Here comes Judas.     9. Even in this trumped-up Jesusland     10. If this is love

1. Jesus is on our TV!

A sleek, slow-moving, gliding movie Jesus looking now like an El Greco Jesus, then–declaiming atop a spaceship-shaped boulder—a rather Rio de Janeiro Jesus, then the Byzantine icon look, and otherwise other things. In other words, just about every possible Jesus. Except the Jesus in the bible your mother gave me, the one your pothead friend tried to tear a page out of when he ran out of rolling papers.

Movie-TV Jesus has followers who, well, are always following him, an excessive kind of following, like you worry if he suddenly stops they’re gonna Continue reading

Tend

flagstaff protected night sky nasa fin tend 2 cmpr

Nothing much has changed since you’ve been gone.

We’ve still been unable to locate the source of that relentless banging and drilling noise. Current theories in the Moonlight Bar, the place from whence all theories emanate, are that it’s a collective hallucination or a broadcast from some ubiquitous and invisible truck or car from out of town or outer space.

As usual the move from one speculation to another causes some kind of spooky resonance that makes all prior speculation seem true so by the time speculation begins to look like explanation what prompted the speculation in the first place is so far removed as to be unrecognizable.

Tourists still come ashore and shuffle glumly to the mounds where they think the temples were. They complain about the heat as if we created it and they want to chastise us for poor climate design, or, more like, for living in a place where they think it’s too hot for better sorts of persons such as themselves to live.

Still, sometimes some one of them will flourish in our climate and will stay behind, belonging here as we do because they don’t belong anywhere else–like you did when you loved us, if you ever really loved us. If you did.

Shortly after you left, the factory shut down, the company’s buildings and our fields were still smoldering as they sailed away. Perhaps they feared we’d somehow fashion ourselves into rivals with the sticks and broken rakes they left behind. Now we tend weeds and water stones, so even though the baas is gone, the baas is still here.

Last week the bishop manifested in our little town to tell us that we bring our troubles on ourselves, that our current sad state is some kind of delayed aftermath of original sin and a multitude of subsequent transgressions and maybe even more recent transgressions yet to be brought to light.

Late at night when everyone’s asleep so deep you cannot even see them in their beds, I wander the beach. Out there alone, I am my own continent, I lie down on the sand and look up, and imagine I am some amorphous massless creature wandering forever through cold space, yearning for another lonely creature, maybe a mate.

We looked for you everywhere, how could you leave us everyone said, surely you’d never leave us, you must have drowned in the sea, you must have been snatched up and carried away by some fearsome beast from the forest, you must have been abducted by the aliens. I’m the only one who knows you took your clothes and my cash.

Don’t think even for a minute that I can’t sleep without you or that I still wonder where you are or that I wonder if wherever you are you look up at night and see the same stars I see.

I don’t.

_________________________
image: small detail from Astronomy Photo of the Day 06 April 2008: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap080416.html.