Copyright Al Zolynas
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2380 Viewridge Place, Escondido CA 92026
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-for Arlie Yesterday, I discovered my wife often climbs our stairs on all fours. In my lonely beastliness, I thought I was alone, the only four-legged climber, the forger of paths through thickets to Kilimanjaro's summit. In celebration then, side by side, we went up the stairs on all our fours, and after a few steps our self-consciousness slid from us and I growled low in the throat and bit with blunt teeth my mate's shoulder and she laughed low in her throat, and rubbed her haunches on mine. At the top of the stairs we rose on our human feet and it was fine and fitting somehow; it was Adam and Eve rising out of themselves before the Fall-- or after; it was survivors on a raft mad-eyed with joy rising to the hum of a distant rescue. I live for such moments.
The seed I planted has sprung into a sunflower taller than myself. We stand in the morning light facing each other. I am between the sun and the sunflower. Already the large head is home for bejeweled insects and mites whose names I'll never learn. A small breeze comes by and the yellow head nods a few times on its springy stalk. Yes, yes it says. The breeze pivots above the garden, swirls away part of the morning. No, no says the sunflower. I am the sunflower, rooted and wavering through a long day's affirmations and denials, dragging the sun by its gold chain behind me.
A child-woman with fine black hair on her arms operates in your split chest. Open-heart surgery. For some reason, she inspires total confidence. She reaches in with both hands, lifts your heart gently. "Look behind," she whispers. "There's a blocked vein, the vein that leads to your right arm." Immediately, your sword arm goes numb. Your trigger finger, your writing hand, your hiking thumb, your palm with its diagram of what you've made of your life, your fingers that play the piano's high notes (and a woman's) go numb. The hand you shake with, stifle yawns with, serve with, comb your hair with, shave, pick, manipulate the world with, stiffens by your side. But it's all right, somehow. All these years, your left hand, modest but sinister accompanist, has seen itself in the mirror grown stronger. Even now, clenching and unclenching, it is learning the ways of a fist.
I remember my first gun and my first tangerine. My father said never point a gun at a live thing. I was five and it was my first gun and besides it was a toy. I was five and I knew that. So, I pointed the gun at my father, at my mother. It was a big black gun and it wobbled a lot. When I pulled the trigger it went "click," and I think my father died. What I remember about the tangerine is how easily the skin came off.
After years away from the city you return and find your father in a family album suddenly grown younger, grown younger like the cops in squad cars patrolling the streets, licensed teenagers, the faint figure-eight imprints of prophylactics still in their bulky wallets. He is younger than you now, knows less than you, though he tries to hide it with a cocked head and arched eyebrows. Your mother a virgin beside him with a virgin's smile. You are in that smile the way the sun is in a coffee bean or a good cigar, waiting for the magic to release you. And you are in your father's house now, years later, somehow still a child, but strangely father to the man at last, waiting for the magic to release you.
You see them occasionally, the flies hatched in a warm pocket of winter, the dull ones. They lack something, as if they knew their lives were all wrong. They lack the fine maneuvers, the athletic dodges of their summer cousins. They fly in slow, wide circles, buzzing in puzzled surprise. You can almost pick them out of the air with your thumb and forefinger. They come from the last eggs of summer, the last desperate deposits in the bank of the future. Here they are, then, tricked into existence by the central heating in a January house. And so they have no choice but to rise on warm air currents and circle the huge, warm lamps that float beneath ceilings like benign suns; and when the suns get too hot, the flies end up against the clean glass of windows, buzzing in sporadic anger now, a universe of white snow just beyond their insect sight.
The hour of repose. The steaks and potatoes, the chicken noodle soups, the pizzas and cold glasses of milks quietly turning into my neighbors. The quiet streets. The Fords and Chevys, the Buicks and v.w.'s nuzzling the curbs and winding down-like the suddenly abandoned toys of children. They wind down. The ping of metal cooling, the winding down. The retirement home. The golden light spilling out of the aquarium windows of the retirement home. A golden light for the golden years. The retiring, the golden retiring.
--for Sigitas Skrinska, boyhood friend Sigitas, a name like my own, alien--a name to be mocked by the Ians and Trevors, the Brians and Malcolms, the Australian descendants of English and Irish petty-thieves. And they did mock us, but you were tall and blond and at the age of sixteen could jump your own height. You're the only genuine Missing Person I know. Of all the thousands who disappear out of the middle of their lives-- never come back from work one day, never return from an errand--you're the only one whose absence ever touched me. At eighteen you went Outback and we never heard from you again. You left a hole in our lives, left your mother trapped in the Never-Never between hope and loss, unable for years to give herself wholly to one or the other. There were rumors of Foul Play. Even violence or murder we would accept better than this vanishing into thin air, this disappearing without a trace (the cliches appropriate for once). Now, years later and from half-way round the world, I can still see you dimly through the window of my own gradual disappearance, performing some mundane ritual-- eating, washing your hands, perhaps combing your thin blond hair-- in your middle-age now but still able, somehow, to leap your own height.
On guard, check, checkmate. The game concludes like the last inevitable notes of a Beethoven symphony. Bishop, knight, and rook have left father's king nowhere to go. He sits in the corner trapped, humbled. The board dissolves leaving a kitchen table by a window, noises of chairs squeaking, and the snow outside suddenly falling faster.
A man with his wife away does the alone things without guilt; perhaps he walks about the town for hours or lies in the sun all afternoon; perhaps he releases a few million sperm, like lemmings, to the sea. True, the man feels lost some of the time not knowing where to put his hands, but he finds his pockets finally and the obedient world jumps back into place. At night, the man still sleeps on his own side. Perhaps he dreams he makes love to his wife who becomes pregnant and has a child--all in that same night, all in the space of a lifetime.
No cars have gone by for hours. Our white cat wears the fog easily. In the barn eggs grow into chickens, chickens into eggs. Everywhere green fields slowly turn to milk. From five miles up the sound of a jet floats down softly . . . inside, men from Tokyo dream of the strange farms below. For them it is noon. They sleep against the quiet argument of their bodies. In two hours they will land in New York with the sun. For myself, I wish them well. I will be in bed soon. A box-elder bug walks into the house through an entrance that has nothing to do with me.
Seven hawks hang above the farm like some immense, slowly turning mobile. They glide silently as blood, the sun warm in their wings. Beneath them, the rooster, his eye cocked heavenward, struts around his hens.
Late at night I look out the window at the geese sleeping in the grass, their heads thrust deep into their wing-pits. They ask nothing of me. They lie washed by rain dreaming of tall grass and wide marshes, the migrations of dim ancestors.
I sit in the backyard, my hand around a cup of coffee, the morning with its hand around my shoulder. Above me in the pine tree, the blackbirds don't know it's Sunday; their knees bend the wrong way. I sit on my land- lady's garden chair by her wooden picnic table. The morning is a waitress who wipes the dew away. "ScrambIe two, honey, and I'll take a side order of bliss." Easier done than said. To my left the alley tries to shock me with its shamefaced garbage. Just down the street I can hear the turkey plant boasting: '" I change turkeys into T.V. dinners: I employ a thousand townswomen." As always, I am impressed. But not overly so, for here it is the miracle of backyard, the lost garden found, the rare benediction of being where you want to be. I look down at my feet. My toes have split my slippers and are growing into the ground. There are leaves sprouting on my knuckles. A blackbird lands on my nose (now a branch), its emerald head cocked expectantly. Just before my eyes turn to knots, they catch the pale moon rising like a spirit face in the fathomless well of my coffee cup.
You can hear it in these treetops sheltering a farmhouse in the middle of Minnesota. You can hear the whale-song in the bellow of the cows beyond the corn and the crickets in the grass. The swallow-rays dive and pivot on air currents and swim smoothly about the barn. You know that if you dig straight down you'll find a bright twisted shell and you only have to pull out the earth-plug to hear the sea there too. As you walk back into the house, you finger the side of your neck searching for gill-slits and you know some day there'll be a larger tide than usual and things will get back to normal.
Remembering my father's hands and the way they played with moist earth I too tried to raise vegetables. From a garden patch the size of a city parking space and with the help of the municipality's water I created twelve pea pods-or fifty-two peas. I ate those peas one by one as sadly as an ancient chinaman adding up the score on his smooth abacus and decided I was not my father.
I sit down inside, absolutely alone-- sloping concrete floor; smudged screen, as if by huge thumb-prints; the seat hard as a school desk. I feel anxious like a child kept after class. Somewhere near the front row a cricket plays his leg. I realize suddenly I can laugh or cry with total abandon --what an opportunity! I wish I could sit in all two hundred seats at once.
At night a man asleep turns to his life. He tries to embrace it. As always, it skips just out of his reach and laughs at him. He chases it frantically, his feet heavy as unexploded bombs. Effortlessly, his life dances before him. He wants to grab it, to run it through some complicated steps-- a tango, a fox-trot, perhaps a mazurka. He wants to love his life, but it will have nothing of that and only giggles at him, rolling its hips at a safe distance.
Let me be the man who walking among tall trees is struck by lightning, but is not killed; who somersaults in a cloud fizzing with burnt hair and lands on his feet, shoes smoking, and shakes his head saying, "Jesus, that smarts!" Let me be the man hit by the last ash of a dissolving meteorite. Let it light on my head like a benediction. Let me be the man who walks away from shipwrecks. In a leveled city, let me be the man found 17 days later under a former insurance building sucking air through the plumbing saying "I never really thought of giving up." From all disasters let me rise wholly. On my face, let me have beautiful dueling scars.
In the middle of February in Minnesota, unaccountably, the Bahamas show up making fools of the rich who have flown winter seeking them. Throughout the city the unemployed sit on their porches in deck-chairs like retired fat-cats on a luxury liner. Steam rises out of warped planks; cars chase each other down the street like dolphins. No matter a blizzard up north is quietly mustering his men. Today the sun is for the poor. Somewhere, the first insect shows up, proud and penitent like a prodigal son, home too early for his inheritance.
--for Laurence Milbourn You deliberately sought the accidents of others: the cars overturned in ditches along quiet Wyoming highways, the houses in your small town that suddenly bloomed into flame-- these things drew you irresistibly. What most of us couldn't look at you looked a--steadily? What did you see in the broken faces of strangers? Later, you learned to fix these faces, to return them to relatives as they remembered them, reconstructed from favorite photographs. Those who died violently looked calm in death, sometimes even proud, as if they had just graduated from high school. Now you teach and write. Sometimes, in the middle of a sentence, one of your student's eyes will fall out. You are the only one who notices. You know how to deal with this, how to record the precise texture of it, how to finish your sentence with just the slightest suggestion of a pause.
is usually most comfortable with books. He likes to climb around words, up and down letters like a child in a jungle-gym. He is familiar with small things, and can tell you if a spider has thumbs, and how many. He wears glasses in his public life to share in public visions, but his real life is at home, at night, after the wife and kids have gone to bed. He folds his glasses away and draws the world in around him like a shawl. He will sit for hours, legs outstretched, feet stuck in the fog around him, and examine very closely the latest detailed maps of the moon. Outside, for all he knows, a caravan of dinosaurs might be rolling on by.
On a Wednesday afternoon in late summer the unemployed man wakes from his nap on the dining room floor between the piano and dining room table. He is surrounded by wooden legs. He feels like the victim of a catastrophe, coming 'round now to the distantly concerned stares of strangers. "Lie still, buddy. We've called for help. You'll make it." At such a moment it is permitted for a man without a job and with no prospects to see his life clearly in the underside of a wooden table, unfinished, and full of beautiful knots.
In the men's room in the basement of the Saint Paul Public Library a man hands me a pint of whiskey and asks me to open the son of a bitch it's on too tight. I do and am embarrassed that I can so easily: my mother's jars, my wife's jars are tougher than this. By a perverse alchemy this man's wrists have turned to milk. He's an alcoholic he says and knows he may die any day now but adds proudly I ain't hurting no one but myself. He thanks me and offers me a drink as I stand in front of the urinal trying to piss. I, standing in front of a urinal in the basement of the Saint Paul Public Library, politely decline--somehow not much in my life has prepared me for this. Upstairs, I don't check out any books.
The new grass, the new lambs eating the grass, the new calves butting heads under the slow gaze of bull-fathers beyond wire fences, the sparrows flying with pieces of straw in their beaks, the seagulls a thousand miles from salt water eating worms turned up by the plow, the earth itself. . . . It is not enough. I go into the house and put on Beethoven's 6th symphony, the Pastorale. I listen to violins and oboes, former trees, pretending to be winds, birds and brooks. I listen to drums, the hides of animals, trying to be thunder. It all works, somehow: the thunder, controllable--a living" room thunder, and yet the living" room a world, too. Outside, the earth is being lifted by the music, it is rising out of itself, trees wave their arms like mad conductors, the sky is breaking into applause.
(A National Geographic television special) Finally we grow tired of the world's body, the countless tribes, the alien rituals of the dwellers of Katmandu recorded by Somebody Somebody, Ph.D., the fertility dances frozen on impossible Ektachromes. We return to the source of all journeys, all documentaries: our own bodies, our own illusive selves. With the help of a technology that coils all the way back to Adam and Eve, we roll our eyes inward. We float behind the eye of a camera, wavering like a kiss, toward the face of a human being. We enter through parted lips, past the gate of the teeth, through the cavern of the mouth. We gasp as the camera slips down the gullet like a bucket down a well. Suddenly we're where we've never been before and it has the strange familiarity of a dream. We're the snake swallowing its own tail; we're playing the old game of hide-and-seek with the self. We move through the close, illuminated tunnel of a bronchial tube. The camera seems to jiggle a little, as if the cameraman were drunk with his discovery. And who can blame him? We are on the edge of claustrophobia, but the director, a wise man with a sense of humor, has provided a symphony to take along. The music swells and keeps us brave as the tube narrows. Every few paces (or so it seems) there is a fork-two dark holes. (Two tubes diverged in a lung.) We take the left, then the right and then the right again. The choices mount upon each other. We feel cramped and suffocated as we draw nearer to where air becomes blood. A jump-cut: we are outside the body now outside ourselves again, looking at the lungs through an x-ray. The film is speeded up; the thousands of small branches of the bronchial tree wave back and forth as if in a wind. Look, it is the Burning Bush! Behind it squats a plump Buddha pulsing, pulsing, pulsing.
Come at it the way you would a pile of clothes on an empty beach at dawn. Circle it slowly. Hold the pieces up one by one. Be a cop; ask questions. If there are pockets, go through them. The owner won't notice. He is probably dead. Are there any jewels? Fake? Real? If there are footprints in the sand, where do they lead? If to water, don't jump to conclusions. Have your men walk both ways down the beach to check for prints leading out. Is there underwear? A pile of clothes on a beach with no underwear is immediately suspect. It could well be an inauthentic pile. If there is underwear examine it closely. Be neither embarrassed nor disgusted by the stains. If you find a pair of jockeys and a brassiere, be on guard, be suspicious. It could be a false lead. Remember there is more here than meets the eye. Pay close attention to labels, but draw your conclusions shrewdly, tentatively. Be on the lookout for patterns and combinations out of the ordinary: Robert Hall and Florsheim, pleated trousers and cowboy boots, neckties and baseball caps. These all point to a mind capable of great whimsy. Always remember your basic assumption: You can tell a man from the clothes he wears, but only while he wears them. While you are examining his clothes, the owner may be riding in on the crest of a wave twenty miles down the coast, smiling and mouthing the sound of his new name.
The foods decay, the foods decay. Beneath the roof of snow in dirt rooms the worms work, mixing molecules, firing the slow burn, the silent oven kindled against the teeth of Winter gnawing above. Below, weavers shuttle and loom organic fabrics like words woven in crossword puzzles. The secret churning goes on unseen as the cold wind sweeps the cold land clean. In winter's womb Spring grows in an architecture of breakings: As the cellar crumbles the house grows; the rooms burst above ground into flowers waving their heads in the new light. Everywhere tombs explode and the sweet sap climbs from the grave.
Tongue of mine, night bird, fly to the day's almost-women, the saplings of womanhood, the ones alone now, sleeping barely in dreams. Rest finally in the warm nests of your beginnings; leave me now at my best, speechless.
When Kant was composing his Critique of Pure Reason he would look up from his manuscript at the tower in the center of town. He gazed so long the trees grew up and obscured his vision. He informed the city fathers of Konigsberg and they gladly chopped down the trees. Thus he was able to finish his work. Here in the country outside my window the trees tower and wave their arms mockingly. I work anyway, here a word, there a line. Always when I awake in the morning I run to the window to see if this is the day my three hundred farmers have arrived, morning chores all done, murmuring quietly, axes on their shoulders.
I touch your belly half asleep. It is still there. I dream: A railroad track on a green field, workmen dismantling it, tie by tie, loading the long rusted iron onto trucks. it is hot, the men sweat. Suddenly, grass pushes up through the gravel, fast, like a speeded-up movie. The workmen grow smaller, their clothes slip off their bodies and fall like shadows at their feet. The sun turns green. The naked children join hands and run in a circle, grass up to their hips. They break the circle and begin to leapfrog, one over the other, one over the other. Where they have been, the grass waves and closes.
We find them around 'the leavings of telephone conversations clinging to addresses, appointments; around the notes of committee members, judges; in the margins of grocery lists and aborted poems. They are always on the edges, sliding away like vitreous floaters when we try to see them clearly. For all their ubiquity, they are humble and basic: flowers, stars, stick-men, uncomplicated by the rules of perspective and modeling. They leave the loud shout of the third dimension to Art. They are content to whisper.
At the corner cafe where I sometimes eat I ordered a raw egg broken into a cup no toast no coffee. I tossed that egg down my throat like a Cossack taking vodka. I did it for shock value, for the value of the shock. I did it for the waitress for my mother for the sunny siders and hard boilers the over easys. I did it for those hopelessly scrambled by America.
What territory is this? What rivers, what boundaries? Whose bones beneath the ancient mounds? Life, head, heart, fate-- the lines that hold us up, that cradle us in the deep, rocking wind of our lives. I stare down at my own hand like a man awake in a dream, flying above the earth.
You wake one morning and find the world is strange-- "Nay, 'tis ten times strange." Just like that. You become obsessed with the thingness of things, the ecstasy of the possibility of things. Furniture begins to glow, to say nothing of the heads of your friends. You've dreamed of basements, of cellars beneath the basements, tunnels beneath the cellars, and caves at the ends of the tunnels filled with white light so intense it made you weep with joy. In your life surfaces keep slipping away. You fall into the warm ocean of nothing you can fully understand. You are a drowning man waving at the stars. Your lungs explode into gills.
--for Fritjof Capra And so, the closer he looks at things, the farther away they seem. At dinner, after a hard day at the universe, he finds himself slipping through his food. His own hands wave at him from beyond a mountain of peas. Stars and planets dance with molecules on his fingertips. After a hard day with the universe, he tumbles through himself, flies through the dream galaxies of his own heart. In the very presence of his family he feels he is descending through an infinite series of Chinese boxes. This morning, when he entered the little broom-closet of the electron looking for quarks and neutrinos, it opened into an immense hall, the hall into a plain - the Steppes of Mother Russia! He could see men hauling barges up the river, chanting faintly for their daily bread. It's not that he longs for the old Newtonian Days, although something of plain matter and simple gravity might be reassuring, something of the good old equal-but-opposite forces. And it's not that he hasn't learned to balance comfortably on the see-saw of paradox. It's what he sees in the eyes of his children --the infinite black holes, the ransomed light at the center.
At the precise moment of death the pupil of the eye opens its widest. The white lights in ceilings, the moon, sun stars, comets, nebulae, the great band of the Milky Way-- all fall into the brain. There are no lights too bright for the dying.
I find him lying by the door, legs outstretched as if he died in mid-leap. I pick him up by the tail. He feels loose, beyond the first stiffness of death. His molecules have realized the futility of hanging on; they know the party's over, it's time to head home. Suddenly, I want to burn this rat. I surprise myself at how much I want this. I want to save him from the slow decay, the fetid rearrangement of his parts --or so I tell myself. But mostly, I want to see him burn. I drop him on the wire screen that covers the forty-gallon drum I use for burning garbage. I light the fire. I am strangely satisfied. As I expected, his whiskers furl into quick question marks and are gone; his fur bubbles, then turns black and dry. The tail, the long nightmare of a tail, holds on longer than I thought. Hours later, it is the only thing left, a white length of ash like the backbone of something prehistoric seen from a great distance.
The lead bullets From the steel barrels Attached to the wooden stocks Of the rifles Kicking against the shoulders Of the hunters Return (Slightly diverted By the buck's head) To the mountain.
I'm the racer poised, tense in his blocks. It's been this way for years. The cramps in my hamstrings are beyond belief; my eyes fixed on the finish line focus into tears; the bridges of my hands tremble. I'm waiting for the gun, the starter's gun. He has been lifting it into position for ages; generations of sparrows come and go, lining up along his outstretched arm.
We can have it again and again --speeded up, slowed down, stopped at the crucial point: the knockout punch, the rare triple play, the race-car exploding against the wall, the suicide stepping off the ledge. We can play it again and again Sam to our heart's horrible content. We can even have it reversed: the diver sucked feet first out of the water, landing on the board perfectly dry. At night we dream with the help of camera techniques: jump-cuts, fade-outs, slow-mo. The same old dreams: the snake pits, the flying over vast cities, the appointment we have with someone somewhere, but have yet to keep.
--for Michel Siffre A man descends into a cave long abandoned by bats. For six months the electrodes and wires of science bristle from his head. in the dark chest of the earth, a hundred feet beneath the seasons and with no clock but the wound timepiece of himself, he seeks his own rhythms. Above him colleagues monitor his vital functions and turn the lights on and off at his request. His dreams, of course, are his own, part of the self's short-circuit, not to be monitored by the surface crew. After the 130th cycle (there are no days), after waking in panic in absolute darkness, he writes, "When you find yourself alone, isolated in a world totally without time, face-to-face with yourself, all the masks that you hide behind-- those that preserve your own illusions, those that protect them before others-- finally fall, sometimes brutally." The man sits on a rock in the circle of light around his pale-blue tent for a succession of eternities swaying mindlessly. He daydreams of the dense jungles of Guatemala, the sunlight filtering through wet leaves. His boyhood fantasy of finding Mayan relics somehow sustains him: "I will go to Central America and I will regain control of my soul." On the floor of the cave the dust of ancient bat guano filters, particle by fine particle, through itself.
Seeing yourself suddenly in the convex, flying-away-world of the polished hubcap, your hand the largest part of you, you stretched behind it, diminished like the past-- like History itself moving this huge appendage back and forth against itself across the invisible, chrome present.
After years by the ocean a man finds he learns to sail in the middle of the country, on the surface of a small lake with a woman's name in a small boat with one sail. All summer he skims back and forth across the open, blue eye of the midwest. The wind comes in from the northeast most days and the man learns how to seem to go against it, learns of the natural always crouched in the shadow of the unnatural. Sometimes the wind stops and the man is becalmed-- just like the old traders who sat for days in the doldrums on the thin skin of the ocean, nursing their scurvys and grumbling over short grog rations. And the man learns a certain language: he watches the luff, beats windward, comes hard-about, finally gets port and starboard straight. All summer, between the soft, silt bottom and the blue sheath of the sky, he glides back and forth across the modest lake with the woman's name. And at night he dreams of infinite flat surfaces, of flying at incredible speed, one hand on the tiller, one on the mainsheet, leaning far out over the sparkling surface, the sail a transparent membrane, the wind with its silent howl, a force moving him from his own heart.
I picked up some seaweed and felt the despair of its collapse on the sand, the change in its being, how it lacked feathers for its new life in the air, how it shrank from its sudden acquaintance with dust. I watch you comb your hair, the part down the middle. I grow small. I climb onto your head and lie down in the part. Your hair becomes water, the Pacific Ocean. I lie on the invisible seam, the waves rising under me, parting and flowing off to America and Asia. They fall on the ears of those places like hair. I am happy lying on my back in my hair-ocean.
They whirl down the aisles; the congregation applauds. Frankly, I'm frightened. From the pulpit the bishop shows us his armpits. They are hairless like a female trapeze artist's. When he speaks, his teeth click like dice and white hosts tumble from his mouth. The people don't mind; they count it a blessing. From up on the cross, high above the altar, Christ calls to the multitude for someone to please, please scratch his nose. Twelve nuns in the front row gaze at him sweetly. One polishes a wedding band against her habit.
I look over my own shoulder down my arms to where they disappear under water into hands inside pink rubber gloves moiling among dinner dishes. My hands lift a wine glass, holding it by the stem and under the bowl. It breaks the surface like a chalice rising from a medieval lake. Full of the gray wine of domesticity, the glass floats to the level of my eyes. Behind it, through the window above the sink, the sun, among a ceremony of sparrows and bare branches, is setting in Western America. I can see thousands of droplets of steam --each a tiny spectrum --rising from my goblet of gray wine. They sway, changing directions constantly--like a school of playful fish, or like the sheer curtain on the window to another world. Ah, gray sacrament of the mundane!
inside my head a bird. Inside the bird's head an elephant. Inside the head of the elephant the vast Serengeti Plain stretches for miles. Perhaps it is noon. The heat vibrates the trees and the worms dig a few inches deeper. Around the world the sun is always rising always setting. Perhaps the distant stars are white holes inside my head.
Sitting on the porch, leaves falling aslant the frame I have created, I feel like that nameless tribe deep in some walled jungle who anthropologists found had never discovered perspective, who when finding some deep clearing and the distant beast on the other edge, see it as a small animal close, who see all large things far as small things near. At a time like this, on the porch on a fine fall day, I see the neighbor's house across the street as a doll's house, my neighbors intricate, wonderful dolls. I taste the shape and texture of that house with my tongue: the cracked weather-board, the emptiness of open windows, the sudden tickle of a flight of sparrows. I can't stop there. I shove my tongue down the street, over parked cars--the lovely rust, the warm metal. My tongue absorbs accidents at intersections; no one is injured, only inconvenienced. My tongue grows larger from the richness of its experience. It covers a neighborhood, it covers the entire city, it moves out over the vast heartland. I can taste the Salt of the Earth, the ocean that used to be there. Everywhere, I feel the little raised bumps of barns and farmhouses, their desperate Braille messages.
My skin itches and after a while of trying to transcend the itch, I scratch--the slow climb to ecstasy; perhaps my skin will orgasm. No one thing touches another. If we eliminated the space between our molecules we--each of us--would fit in a thimble: tiny buckets of ash. One plane of skin seems to rub another. Out of the space between something nothing is touching festers.
In sleep we reach into our Selves like hands taking food from ovens. Our Selves eat our Selves to save our Selves. In the great kitchen of the night we are both bread and knife. In the city of the great kitchen of the night we are the huge trucks that enter purposefully as sperm bringing ripe apricots from California. In the universe of the city of the great kitchen of the night we are the light from the star a billion years behind our eyelids. From the universe of the city of the great kitchen of the night we awake into the suburbs of morning. All day our Selves run from our Selves. Like circles, we are on our own edges.
Fat flakes of snow explode in my eyes. Zero visibility, the airport or weather bureau would say. The world is a block long and I am running in that world past the ghostly houses of the rich. Traffic lights appear, catching and releasing phantom traffic. I violate a red light. Above me, the trees make a cathedral. The altar is miles away. I could run forever.
Lying on my stomach in the backyard, my eyes leave War and Peace, skip away from lives more beautifully broken than mine, fall on a dewdrop hung in the shade of a blade of grass in the summer sun. An insect--a kind of caterpillar-- no larger than a comma approaches, his body folding and unfolding. Under my nose, all of Mother Russia and the drama of an insect and a drop of water. My insect enters the dewdrop-- simply walks into it, for a few seconds a timeless bug in amber. He comes out, glistening in the summer air. The dewdrop remains as before, pure and clear, a collector of light, self-contained in its miraculous simplicity. . . . As if in the old gypsy woman's tent, after a few predictable cliches about the future, after you've paid her a handful of coins and are rising to leave, she smiles and passes her hand through the crystal ball. Lying on my stomach in the grass, I seem to be looking over my own shoulder, watching myself watch myself pass in and out of solid domes of light, impossibly clear demi-worlds.
I wake to his weight on my chest, his half-closed eyes saying it's time to get up, human. in the bathroom, I turn on the faucet in the tub for him, the way I have most mornings the last two years. He jumps in. The black flames of his eyes widen. Again, he can't believe it, can't believe the silver chord hanging from the silver faucet, can't believe he lives in a world that gives him the same, new gift each morning; can't believe it, so he has to touch it, and then can't believe his paw goes right through it, and has to touch it again and again; and 1, looking at his lost eyes, the wet paw, the tail flicking on the white porcelain, my untouchable other self on the silver surface of the mirror, can't believe it either.
And so, I come to the new land, dragging the baggage of the old land with me. I impose the old maps on the new places. The old vegetation springs newly named in the new land. I have traveled a great distance and still my arrival is a dream. The old land is under everything - like the old landscapes found glowing faintly under the skins of forgotten portraits. My life is becoming like the kneading of bread, an endless turning in on itself; the dailiness alone sustains me. My life is like the transitions of the language: I find myself in the translucent streets of the new land, shouting in a voice no one seems to hear: however, moreover, nonetheless, furthermore, . . .
--for Russell Edson A man begins the long countdown that will bring him to his center . . . 100 ... 99 ... 98 ... He goes through the rainbow of colors, meditating on each and absorbing its special gift. Now he is in an elevator going down to the bottom of things. The floors slip by and the lit numbers above the door blink one by one indicating the slipping by of the floors which in turn represent the subterranean levels of this man. Soon the man arrives at "B" - the basement, where all the pipes are, where it's hot and humming. The doors slide open and the man steps out into a dim passageway. He can feel moss on the walls and from somewhere the sound of dripping . . . Now he is on a spiral, stone staircase; some torches sputter on the wall. And now he arrives at a large subterranean lake and he is diving in naked and swimming past fish who with their wide eyes only seem curious. On the bottom of the lake he finds the rusty iron ring that opens the trapdoor. He climbs into the waiting arms of a tree and slithers down its soft bark and lands on a vast, still plain wrapped in its night. The man pauses to reconnoiter . . . Ah yes, he remembers now. He goes to the rim of the well and peers over the edge. Under the water's black surface floats the man's North Star looking like a common silver coin of the realm. He looks up. Yes, there is the North Star's North Star! Suddenly he is confused; why is he here? Ah, the journey to the center of himself, he says. He focuses on the bottomless star and begins the long countdown . . .