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.

we alight

we alight
a branch, a pencil
someone’s hand
imagined home

our submarine, our coast
our delight, our new skin
our body bag

our moon, our outer space
our buddy the robot
roved out of orbit
equipment
left behind
is reprimand

the power hand
a lie, a command
a storied put-together
duct tape, spite
spit, static

our mystery scene
our screen seen
our camera that
shaky trope
disappeared
our all again

One Day

 

One day I may not know you, not know who you are, not as already I don’t know people I loved who made themselves strangers or whom I made strangers, but as a stranger but not really–the person standing at the platform while your I-can’t-remember-the-word-for-those-underground-cars rushes past after that wind that precedes them and you can’t breathe, someone you knew, someone you take a shine to and would like to have a conversation with, but the car-thingy whatever the word for it is goes on and you think oh it was just my mind, he has been dead for twenty years, or maybe I’m the one who is dead, maybe I’m not the one on the train but the one on the platform oh damn it gets so complicated maybe I’m underneath the fucking train.

One day, my friend, I may not know you, but if I see you, I’ll have that feeling of standing in the middle of a room and wondering why I came there, that short term memory glitch that seems to be rapidly becoming my only memory–I am a glitch, I am the thing I can’t remember that I came to this room for, but I was thinking about you and I was almost remembering, my friend. If you go this way too, we may meet one day and I will think you are me and I am you, but neither of us will remember who that is.

Maybe there’s a pure kind of not remembering that obliterates the anxiety of not remembering and leaves one in peace. Sometimes I think I am forgetting little things because there’s something else, something more significant that I really need to remember, something that hopes that it can ride into my consciousness in the sidecar of that other lesser thing. The trying to remember is more like listening for something in this kind of caesura, a pause half a beat too long in which a world you could fall into, sometimes even want to fall into, opens up and all the words in your life are sliding down in it like sand in a three-minute glass. One of my old professors used to pretend to forget, walking nonchalantly to the classroom window, pausing, staring out, saying where was I now to see if we knew what he was saying about operant conditioning or wherever we were in the land of behaviorism or if instead our minds were still heavy from the groovy mescaline we did the day before or in the case of some of us were doing at that very moment. I said to someone gee he really spaces out sometimes and they cracked up and said he’s not spacing out, it’s a test.

But the pause dogs me now when I’m speaking, I think I may just give up on words, but maybe that’s what I’m listening for, those words that just fly out the window like there’s nothing to keep them there, or maybe they are beckoning me to follow to some place where they’re actually connected to something and someone will actually listen to them. Or it’s just another thing in that endless sequence of things that just happens as everything just happens, and delivers one into what appears to be someone else’s life, this facsimile. William Trevor has said “It kills you in the end, anything you are doing that isn’t just writing. It’s no joke.”

And I can’t remember when I started to give what seems like everything over to those killing things, this one-thing-after-another that impales day after day like done tickets in a diner, thankless work, a bully boss, a home you drive past when you’re going around the block a few times before you give up and go in, though even that will go the way of the specific places that have become generic in my mind—the actual diner that I knew well has suddenly been subsumed in that Hopper painting, what little I can remember of my own life has become what someone else has seen, though no one saw the vampire I saw at the door or made me say, hey, come on into my house and make yourself at home, just drain it.

It’s like something was saying to me pay attention over and over in increasingly extravagant ways and I was pulling back to that tiny thing inside that is the last place I can be and I’m that polar bear in that Mississippi zoo in summer swaying back and forth and pacing and pacing and falling into that murky water into which the zoo has thrown huge blocks of ice that will never be huge enough or ice enough for any kind of respite, for any kind of home. Or I’m those polar bears in England who were taking the same three steps forward and backward over and over and the expert called in said “Vary their diets, and give them unbreakable toys.” Or that monkey Nabokov talks about in a zoo in London who was taught to put pencil to paper and scrawled three vertical lines, all he could see of the world he was in, a world that had collapsed down into the size of the cage he was in.

Being inside and being put inside or driven inside are not the same thing. In the forties, there was an asylum—a good word for a bad cage in hell–where the medical center is now, and after church on Sundays, boys would walk along the railroad tracks until they got to the fence where they could peer in and laugh and taunt and throw rocks at the crazy people shuffling around on the one day they were allowed outside. I bet those poor human beings from the asylum were trying to remember something or trying to forget something and forgetting when they wanted to remember and remembering when they wanted to forget or forgetting everything when someone spiked their tender brains. I don’t know how anyone could see the anguish of a person who’s been transformed into an institutional unit and laugh or think there was anything remotely laughable about that. But the boys at the fence, like people at all fences they can walk away from, could have been laughing because they themselves were safely outside, and someone had set up a clear boundary of impeccable differences, at least for as long as that would last.

Being released from inside, their fence is still between one and the outside world, always the fence, their fence, on the front of one like an oversized grid on a pickup truck, till it begins to feel like some safe front one lives behind, at least one thinks so until one turns around.

Stand

This is the part where someone doesn’t stand up for someone. Or doesn’t stand up to someone. But that’s not the kind of standing up this part needs.

Maybe someone simply stands up, to go to another room, to go into the bar, to walk to a corner store, turns back as if compelled to say something that gets forgotten right there on the spot.

After he’s been gone for months, maybe for years, she’s still driving herself crazy with it: what was he going to say? She’s got this feeling there’s something she should’ve known even if he didn’t say it, or just that there was something she didn’t know, that he was going to tell her something she needed to know. Life becomes impossible, there’s something she doesn’t know that she needs to know, for what, to avoid danger, to pursue delight.

Sometimes it’s like something she’s circling, sometimes it’s like something circling her, getting tighter in, making it hard to breathe. Sometimes it’s as if she’s living there where it is whatever it is, that that is where she has her life, or where her life has gone, but she has no access to it. This life she’s in now, the one she does have access to, this life feels like an approximation of something. She’s not looking for something in this life. She’s looking for it in whatever life she might have had if he had said whatever it was he was going to say.

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.

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

See

They see us when they look at us,
animals do, the way we cannot see
each other.  Do they, one wonders,
ever look at the world in any way
that is not seeing, is their seeing
like being seen, no difference,
just being.

How little of that we can stand.
As soon as a future comes to mind,
the present is spoiled with loss–
loss of something the present has
that the future won’t, loss of
something we think the future will
have that the present doesn’t.
Not like real losses that stop time
and allow no interval in which to
even know what it is but the state
we’re in, like only being, maybe,
maybe only not.

When animals watch, they become
what watching is.  We think they
hope and fear as we do, we think
their watching is anticipating or
watching out. But unlike us, they
know how not to know, they know
how to occupy an empty space
in which something may happen
or something may not.

Surely their watching doesn’t
haul quite the freight of ours–
after all, we sometimes watch
for things to make them happen,
we can look at things and make
them disappear, we can make
things mere objects in our minds
so we won’t see them.

When watching falls away from
being, there’s no seeing, we
watch from outside ourselves,
watch out for things that have
already happened and cannot
be prevented or undone, watch
for things that have never
happened or never will, or for
something that will happen
but won’t be what we want
or will be what we want but
we no longer want it.

All this watching and wanting
my mind feels its way through
on its way to the scene of
all the looking and watching
you do: the way you must
look when you watch women
strip, how you look and look
and look at photographs of
women’s private parts,
parts for which women become
mere frames, how looking
keeps you safe from seeing,
how what you really pay for is
watching yourself in the scene,
watching yourself getting
what you want over and over
again, and never getting
enough of it.

That night the car hit me, I
thought you’d been hit too, as
natural then for my only thought
to be for you as it must have been
for you to pull me away from further
harm. But then we were mortal, and
there was something not to love
in that, how untouchable being
wounded made me, how solitude
settled down around me, a house
locked up tight from outside.

There was a couple sitting at a
sidewalk table watching us as we
dragged ourselves out of that street.
Later on, an image of them took up
residence in my mind as the first
thing I saw when I suddenly wasn’t
dead. Even so I didn’t think it strange
they just watched–early on I learned
not to count on other people for
much of anything. I counted on you
just to live life with me, and you did
until you left me with a past in which
you didn’t, that past in which I
didn’t know what you knew until
you didn’t care if I did, you.

At least it was a familiar state
of being: a mind so empty it had no
room for anything else, the depthless
look of things like a revelation I was
seeing life as it really always had been,
a conviction hard to shake even ten
years on.  No way of looking at it
conjures up anything not flat or empty
to see, not even what that eternal
couple may have seen, sitting there
serene as gods or cats, watching us
with their naked faces, unabashed.

o

© 2012

This is the part where you think you don’t

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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.

 

 

 

 

Saying Not Saying

onfim 8 b mod 1

This is how you make it stay still.

This is the part where you pick up a piece of paper and inspect it to see if there’s writing on it. This is a thing you do, it’s part of the part.

You want to know what everything says, that’s what you’d say if someone asked you, but no one will ever ask you, no one ever asks you anything, no one even listens now when you talk, so you’ve given up on saying.

But if someone did ask you something and then actually listened, you would say this, you would say I want to know what everything says, and so the one thing you would say that someone might listen to would be untrue because you don’t want to know what everything says–everything is too much saying and not enough said, there is entirely too much saying, nothing ever gets finished because there’s so much saying saying saying, uncontained promiscuous saying, it snakes into your house from work, it snakes out of everybody’s house out into the street, it’s wrapped around everybody’s head, the air so thick with saying you can hardly breathe, such a glut of saying that no word means more than any other word anymore, and anyone is someone-everyone-no-one.

This is how you make it stay still. This is how you look for saying that says.

This is how you got to the part where you’ve picked up this piece of paper, something lost or discarded on which someone might have written something, like all the other things you pick up, something public that has now become forever private by virtue of never arriving anywhere, except where you are picking it up, reading it in the expansive dead letter office you’ve become.

Grocery lists, phone numbers scribbled on the backs of flimsy receipts, take out menus with every fifth word heavily underlined or circled, crumpled and mauled looking high school exams with vines and flowers heavily inscribed in the margins, pages from coloring books, a photograph of a lost cat on a flyer, some yahoo has scrawled a penis shape over its face, a drawing of a doll, or a girl, with crosses over its eyes, a story underneath something that could be a hat or a pot: thn the spicemens kam from arisona en thir spiceshp an flewd al ovr up n hir.

One time a piece of notebook paper on which someone had written damn over and over, slanted left, right, straight up, even upside down exactly one hundred and thirty-two times, nothing good can come from all the counting you do, all the counting you can’t not do.

A letter, nobody writes letters anymore just rafts of email and barges of twaddle, probably then some ancient artifact: I hope you really didn’t see me at Bob’s the other night and that you weren’t just acting like you didn’t see me, though I don’t recall your vision being that bad. What is wrong? What? Why don’t you call me back? When we were down at the lake I thought we were happy. I thought you said you–the rest was a rip, a ragged edge, you keep expecting that missing strip to turn up somewhere.

Lost, tossed, looking all lonely, things that aren’t going anywhere. A notebook page covered with drawings of piles of cannonballs and knives and what appeared to be guinea pigs on their backs with their feet in the air, at the bottom of the page, the curlicued legend I conker all. A notecard on which someone had written in an old-fashioned fancy hand they shot him, they shot him.

The one you are now unfolding, written on stationery from Gramma’s Quainte Inne, written with a crawling sort of hand, someone has been needing to say something, someone has given up saying anything, someone has no one to say anything to: When I die, I want to be cremated by the King Tut society to. I will make arrangements for my body my bodily remnants remains my remains to be Arrangements have been made or will be made soon for the will be having have been made by for King Tut society to cremate me my body after I die pursuant to my death don’t scatter me over water don’t say anything. When I die I want

These orphan messages—once you read them bad luck to keep them, bad luck to throw them away, you’ve been stashing them in the crevice of a tree in the park down the street from your apartment, let the tree undo them, let the bugs chew them into lace, let the rain wear them down, let the world grind them down like everything else gets ground down till you can’t tell one thing from another.

There will be other pieces of paper you’ll pick up and read. One day one of them will be for you. There is a room inside you waiting for it, waiting for its saying, waiting for its numinous words.

_______________________
Altered image. Original image from: “The Art of Onfim: Medieval Novgorod Through the Eyes of a Child.” http://www.goldschp.net/SIG/onfim/onfim.html

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

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

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/