Alas the captain

Alas the captain
the last late asteroid flies past
that swarm of clicking drives us.
Anything to save the herd. He says.
If the core overheats.
Bypass the vessel and all its vessel-like,
retrofit the avatars.
We do the future.
We made Mars.
Our ray guns light up
while the reptoids.
An enormous hole on deck five.
But our outfits more stylish than.
We are the partial humans,
We have names, we weld,
we meld, we hang out in wormholes
and hotels. We love tubed nutrients,
our plasma bomb.
Inside outsiders
we’re an underground.
Not lightning on the horizon.
Phosphorescent
antennae anomalies, warheads
and pranks, institutions
and airy boats the size of
dinosaurs blocking out.
Breathing up.
Separated we guess
the other’s mind. The engineer
has moved the plate,
our window not a window
but a gate.

Anywhere Anyway

 

way home sky crp

just you, just passing by which you are always only doing anyway

Looking out over the bay, black water and shimmy of lights on the freeway, the hills on one side, the city on the other, like some impossible place, I was struck with a thought the certainty of which was so intense that it was exhilarating: you could be unhappy anywhere. I said it aloud and laughed. I might not be happy anywhere, but I could be unhappy anywhere. I didn’t owe it to a place or a person to try to be happy, and all that trying always only means that happy is always not happening.

But if you could be unhappy anywhere, anywhere would do, any series of anywheres would do, no need to confine oneself to the imaginary places of cities or tick-tock suburbs or the don’t-imagine place of trailer parks, although perhaps some indefinitely prolonged tenure in one of those pull-in-here- we-got-a-pool places where tired dads finally give up the wheel and there’s a lounge of some kind nearby with those knobby teardrop candle holders the ones waitresses light by holding the safe end of a match between two fingers, lucky if it lights the first time you’re always going to burn a finger now you’ve done it.

Some guy shows up, you thought he was already dead, and there’s this faraway low bank of godforsaken hills like denuded things, something about them that you really shouldn’t be seeing like that time you saw your boss in an unlikely place actually sitting no shit at the feet of her boss with the mooney look of worship on her mean face, don’t look now but then you can’t undo seeing, and the lowlands stretching out to the horizon like a, like a I-don’t-know-what, and you’re alone in the pool at night, floating in a sky where you can’t land on anything. There might be something to that, or nothing.

Or you could just be on a plank road headed down into something hard to get out of or in a boat stitching into little ports along the southern coast of some island, some world. Or a little sticky place above some small-town shop the walls the color of old newspapers out in the sun, always smelling like newspaper, too, or cold toast, the window up there open, the sound of the typewriter reaching across the road up there, no one else awake, just you, just passing by which you are always only doing anyway, just wondering what someone is typing on a manual typewriter, maybe someone just a tad mad or just some forlorn someone wording and rewording something for someone who will never love them, the words barely holding off knowledge of the kind that cuts a lonely space around you that will never go away or that you always carry with you like something you can’t put down, you can’t let go, the thing you arrive at the party or the port with and no one anywhere knows where to put it, not even you, jackrabbit.

Anywhere, at least not some place where it’s winter almost all the time, but somewhat textured weather, maybe even occasional hail and a tornado or two, but mostly warm now that all the sexy parts of you have melted not that anybody anyway, nobody phoning up for you or mailing you a letter, like you care, but you don’t, you know, what a relief that finally you really don’t anyway. In some anywhere where you could be unhappy all that could just be over with, then maybe you or someone could say come over to my place, don’t have to be happy unhappy, don’t have to do anything say anything, don’t have to anything, just be.

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

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

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/

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

Next

His first mistake, one that couldn’t be considered anything but a major mistake no matter how far away from it your mind was, ended up being precisely what he thought he was doing right at the outset when he enlisted the aid of a couple of sociopaths. They were eager to do, and relished doing, the thing he asked, though they were a bit sloppy about it—like cats, they liked to play with their prey. He winced when he thought of how often she must have thought she could get away, and how often they let her think that.

He just hadn’t thought much past getting them to do it. Didn’t think ahead, like, to the part where they would still be around and he might have to try to reason with them about various things, like would they leave and go back to wherever they had come from. They were in the kitchen now, fucking things up, which was what they generally did when they weren’t aimed in the direction of the miscellaneous criminal activity they enjoyed. There was just not going to be any clean transaction here.

They were wearing Melanie’s clothes, well, not exactly wearing, more like decorating themselves with Melanie’s clothes and jewelry. It bothered him a lot that they seemed to think of Melanie’s accoutrements–and his house–as part of their take for what they did to her, as if the money hadn’t been enough. The fact of it was that they didn’t really care about money, they didn’t understand money, and to his way of thinking people who didn’t understand money were people to be afraid of.

John-John—the other one was Jerry-Jo, Jesus, did they all have names like that—sauntered through with a pair of Melanie’s panties on his head, sauntered past him as if he wasn’t there, but he didn’t think about that right then. Oddly—since he didn’t think he noticed such things—he remembered Melanie wearing those panties when she undressed in a hotel room in Chania just last summer. How cool and dark and still it was in the room, the sun outside so bright and relentless it was like some kind of shout whenever you stepped out into it. But inside, her cool skin, the way she always smelled like warm rain, how he had loved her then.

When John-John and Jerry-Jo had moved in, he’d started going to church—any service, any day, any time, even the AA meetings Wednesday nights and the NA meetings Saturday mornings and those coffeecake meetings or doughnut meetings or whatever the hell they were. It wasn’t that he expected to come to Jesus and call down some kind of divine intervention to take care of his John-John-Jerry-Jo problem. He just thought that church was probably the only place he could be where they wouldn’t expect him to be.

But more than that, he figured church would be a good place to find a certain kind of psycho—an upright uptight finicky sort of psycho who wouldn’t move into your house and wear your wife’s panties on his head—a psycho who might be happy to take care of the other two and take a handsome sum of money and be done with it. Otherwise—and he couldn’t shake this feeling—he was next.

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

Face

We hope this friendliness will guarantee a future without details.

This is the part where we become not exactly friends, but friendly, or, rather, we enact friendliness. This enacting is some way of having a face for each other that is not the face we have for each other. That face doesn’t know what to do. Or, rather, that face knows things to do but those things are too unseemly or unruly to be done.

This face—the face of our friendliness–knows what to do because it knows nothing. It’s rather like the face one of us had when one of us found out, the open face with a door closing behind it, or the face that pulls some sort of amnesia along behind it, keeping its luggage with it at all times and not agreeing to carry something in it for a perfect stranger.

In retrospect, it’s astonishing how alike those faces are—the face of the one finding out, the face of the one being found out. Though, of course, the one being found out had been wearing that face for some time, a rather long time in fact.

This friendliness itself is a tacit agreement, a step-down, a pact without details. We hope this friendliness will guarantee a future without details.

If one of us thinks this friendliness is a truce, one of us doesn’t understand. If one of us thinks it’s like let’s do lunch, one of us doesn’t understand. If one of us in the future thinks help me move my furniture, one of us doesn’t understand. If one of us in the future thinks take care of the cat while I’m in the hospital, one of us doesn’t understand.

If one of us keeps mementos of a past us and the other one of us discovers the thumbed box, the thumbed photos, the thumbed postcard from twenty years ago, the lock of hair, that one, the discovering one, will be alarmed.

If one of us just happens to be passing by some trash receptacle in which the other of us has deposited, say, something that had formerly been valued—apparently valued—as a shared object—that perfectly good painting, for example–that one of us just passing by and just noticing might also be alarmed. This is why friendliness must be enacted in public where it will bear no resemblance to evisceration.

Violations of this friendliness will require the invocation of busy-ness and absence, so friendliness establishes busy-ness and absence in advance, a general kind of busy-ness and absence, a future state of things already beyond one’s control that insures the stateless state of the present.

The face of this friendliness is like a mirror that doesn’t reflect anything. It is something that cannot be studied or searched for anything other than its general look of interest or goodwill. It is the face from behind which one can say things like you poor thing how terrible! or that’s great news! that’s really wonderful!

It’s a face one thought oneself incapable of, there’s always so much cheerful sweeping up behind it.

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.

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.

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