The boy who loved to count

•April 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

There once was a boy named Sylvester. Sylvester was very small, with loose auburn curls and irises like polished chestnuts. He didn’t play sports. He had no friends. He kept quiet as gravestone lichen. And all he ever wanted to do was count.

At the age of four, Sylvester counted legos, peas, and his mother’s necklace pearls.

“Stop playing with your food. Food is for eating!” his mother chirped. “How’d I breed such a nut?” she muttered to herself.

At eight, he counted leaves on all the household plants, stripes on all his father’s shirts, locks on all the house’s doors.

“Quit that inanity and do your goddamn homework!” his father yelled. “Obsessive little weirdo,” he growled to himself.

At twelve, he counted the number of times Mrs. Matthias licked her lips during math class. He counted the number of cracks in the schoolyard pavement. He counted the number of pages in his English textbook.

His classmates threw rocks at him. He counted the rocks. They called him freak and gremlin and ginger and laughed at his size, his demeanor. He counted the fs and gs in their name-calling. He counted the syllables of their insults. As he grew older, their invectives grew longer, and Sylvester didn’t mind because that meant more syllables to count.

At fifteen, he ran out of satisfyingly countable things around him, so he began totaling the imaginary. He summed the number of siblings he wished he had, the amount of feathers adorning his winged Pegasus, the integers of far-off alien worlds.

Then one day, his parents died in a car crash. Sylvester was sent to live with his great-aunt in the desert. Surrounding her house was a dry, rocky landscape with shrubs and cacti and not many other houses. Several months passed. Spring came, and his great-aunt said that she wanted to show him a special place a couple hours’ drive away. So they drove on wide country highways through the southwestern landscape, listening to low radio crackle, drinking cola, exchanging few words. Finally, they pulled up to a massive stretch of cream-colored dunes. Sylvester slowly got out of the car. There was no one besides his great-aunt for a hundred miles. The air was very quiet, except he could hear the heat sizzling across the bone-dry expanse. He walked to the base of the closest dune. Until that moment, he’d never really seen sand before. He’d never been taken to a beach, or even played in a sandbox. He squatted down and examined the tiny iridescent particles. With great care, he sunk a hand into the glowing warm mass. Wriggled his fingers. Gazed up at the monolith sloping to the sun before him. A single thing on the one hand…composed of a near-endless number of things, on the other. His lower face gradually formed a shape foreign to the muscles there. Sylvester began to smile.

Pigeons

•March 10, 2018 • Leave a Comment

7:39 a.m.

Walk-run, cheeks cold, bulk of bag. Coat fabric swish, morning light downtown. Shreds of garbage across brick cobbles, and a cable car’s rich squealing. My mind is linear; my trajectory linear; the seconds tick linearly. Life’s one long line to catch that bus to make 7:59 train to make 8:55 shuttle to make desk by 9:30 have laptop open apps buzzing tap-tap-tapping away in advance of manager’s arrival.

Walk-run, approaching square, see the pigeons in their morning loop-de-loop. Each loop the same, every morning looping. 30 40 pigeons gliding elliptical; down-up, down-up, down-up. Marvel, hurry, watch for falling birdshit as 10 unrecoverable seconds pass.

 

O

We fly together. The pattern is gentle and soft. The airstream is good. The cold sun is nice. Time flies with us, forever round. We rejoice at the beginning of each new loop. Each loop is different but the same. The earth is a round ball. Our lives are also round. We enjoy each other’s company. The pattern repeats.

 

7:41 a.m.

Huff huff huff. Will it be caught? Noisy streetbarge, wait for me. I see you, grey stoic whale of Nordstrom’s. Backdrop to looping pigeons is all. You loom, I close in on the target. No backpedaling if missed. My mind ticks linearly; my trajectory tries for linear but must make the requisite swerves for those hobbling, hanging, bobbing, shuffling.  We all live time’s long line so why does everyone bib and wobble? Out the way, out the way! 5 more seconds pass.

 

O

We fly together. The pattern is smooth and sweet. The airstream is fine. The cold sun is grand. Time wings with us, forever spiral. We squee at each new circle’s beginning. Each circle traces samely. Our planet is a nice good egg. Our lives go ‘round and ‘round. We are never lonely. The pattern repeats.

 

7:43 a.m.

Clack-to, I got you. Riders banding down the steps before we up! and ho. Snag seat, shift bag, lurch of bus. Time flows forward, mind now snapped in, water up xylem, along for the ride. Event structure unidirectional. The gone stay gone.

 

O

We fly together. The airstream is sound. We love each loop’s beginning. Our globe is the eyeball of god. We go around again. The pattern repeats.

 

Tower

•February 3, 2018 • 1 Comment

There is a land of inky nights and golden days. In that land is a city and in the city is a tower. The tower is grey stone, diametric perfection, colossal. Inside lives a woman. The woman is a princess, but that means nothing. What is a princess to rugs, tapestries, copper urns, books? To armchairs and mirrors? To fireplaces, and staircases that lead nowhere? The princess is alone, and cannot ever leave the tower. She yearns for companionship, chaos, a stinking humanity pressed close. She dreams: I’m examining the grooves in this bricklayer’s hands; I’m feeling in my marrow the shrill tantrum of this child; I’m scanning landscapes through the eyes of this traveling man. Every day at her east-facing window she watches a hunchbacked turnip vendor walk to work and home again with his cart of turnips.

The princess has some longago memories – a mother and father, traipsing children, lively, extravagant people. A grandfather smelling of apples and stardust. Who with cigar smoke fingers washes ink across the evening sky, making night. But these memories are unreliable. Their images pulse blearily, as if underwater, or kaleidoscope into unfamiliar forms. Sometimes they feel packaged; sometimes stolen.

The tower is several strains of magic. Many chambers link to form its single floor high in the low mists. Every chamber has a doorway. No chamber has a door. They are such arranged that when the princess stands at the very center and turns slowly, she can see into every room. A panopticon. The princess knows this word, and many others. She has read about the watching giant with his hundred eyes. She has read all the books in the tower. There are hundreds and hundreds of books. She’s had time and more time.

The single staircase descends five steps and then ends. It ends at a brick wall – the tower’s inflexible hide. The tower is alive, although it does not breathe as other living things do. It loves the princess unhealthily, obsessingly. Its power grows from the swelling of her intellect and the longing of her heart. It parasitizes her brain, her loneliness.

The princess has some sorcery of her own, but it does not match the tower’s. Often she transforms into jellyfish or alicorn or crow, wild boar or dragonfly. She likes the form of things with wings, to pretend at freedom. She materializes food from thoughts. The past few years she’s grown bored of eating; there are months where she lives on air and coffee. With long-nailed fingers the woman paints scenes from favorite novels through her imprisoned three dimensions. She makes the scenes move, and imagines herself a part of the world.

One day the princess finds a chink in the tower’s enchantment. At just this moment, the turnip vendor is going by on his way home. For the first time, the princess is able to cross the tower’s invisible barrier. Her spirit soars out the window and down to the street, inhabiting the bowed old vendor’s body. Several minutes pass in which she feels and thinks everything he feels and thinks. They are hungry, tired, their feet and back ache. They are harried by the day’s rude customers, their ailing wife, their poverty. The princess learns the dull pain of pebbles on heels barely sandaled. She learns despair.

The tower self-sutures. Its rift closes, and the princess is again wholly encircled by grey stone. But she’s invigorated from those few precious minutes on the outside. From her oneness with the poor vendor. This will tide her over for a little while. Perhaps it will keep her until she finds another chink in the tower’s spell.

Jungle story

•January 6, 2018 • Leave a Comment

A young girl with skin like a river stone and hair like a pile of lianas. She’s holding a glow of red berries in her hand. She eats them in twos and threes. She’s sitting crosslegged at the O of her home. The O is a cave mouth. Cozy little cave, drenched in lianas. The girl is in love with a mighty jaguar. The mighty jaguar loves her back. He loves the novelty of her no spots and how she kills lizards and the quenching way she scratches behind his ears. They go on long runs through the forest and stop to bathe in swampy ponds. Then one day a man comes. He sees the girl, sees her river stone skin and her eyes like the mouths of endless caves. His heart stomps, dives, wings up through the canopy. He tries to speak to her, but she answers in growls, or non-sequiturs. The man leaves and returns the next day. He has brought her a necklace strung with glowing rubies. He tries to put the jewelry around her neck, but she snatches it, sits crosslegged, pulls hard at the precious stones on their string. String breaks, beads scatter. She puts two or three between her lips. The man’s heart drops. The young girl spits out hard juiceless rubies and scowls. You’re not worth one spot on my jaguar’s rump, she says. The man leaves, his heart in his heels. Squashed by every step. He resolves to commission a new heart made of steel and stone. The girl goes to find her jaguar, and they run and run until stars squint through the darkened canopy.

Total solar eclipse

•October 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Everyone warned me not to look into the mooned-out sun. Colleagues chorused, reporters opined, my dear old mom fell to feverish texting. They told me it was stupid and dangerous, that I’d absolutely go blind as a stony-eyed bat.

But I’m a rebel. An anarchist. An owndrumbeatmarching loonytoon. I started straight at that motherfucker.

And it gave me superpowers.

Now I can see through clothes, walls, skulls. I can taste the pebbly powder of outer-space. One handed I can uproot giant oaks; two handed I can flip a line of semis like dominoes. Do I use these powers for good? Fuck no. Do I use them for evil? Too much work. Are they great fun? You bet your lawabiding, naysaying, fuddy-duddy ass they are.

How the American children outsensed their president

•September 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Emily was farsighted, but she could see the dirty storm water as it eddied mindlessly about her knees in the middle of their hometown street.

Jones was born almost entirely deaf. He could hear ice snapping, and manyvoiced tones of lack in the railroad rubbish slums of subcontinent cities.

Zeke had arrhythmia. He played video games with Shivani, teeball with José, cards with Mohammad. He and his friends pealed giggles together daily, because they all had human hearts.

Samantha had lost olfaction in an infection of infancy. She smelled miles of coal and chemicals, a quashing cloud hunkered over some distant eastern land.

Patrick was nearsighted, but he watched the sands as they spread and spread, giant grabby yellow hands, an unwelcome afghan of famishing particles.

Maya had astigmatism. She could see ten years into the future – it wasn’t that hard. She saw the creeping white heat, and garbage, and death; soon-tendrils of the shouting plastic man who played king of their crumbling castle world.

Exercises in style (19): à la Henry Miller

•September 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

What a night! I’ve locked myself under the green-dream eaves of this month’s rental flat to escape the demented clutches of a madwoman and her drooling, liquescent cunt. Only three hours ago it was that we met at a seedy little dance hall in Montparnasse – the darkest one on Rue Giradon, the one that plays a particularly loud and purplish music – and after several dances during which she presses her small, serpentine body to mine and wiggles her ass devilishly and bats her eyelashes obviously, we slip into a lousy hotel and I give the poor pale whore a healthy fuck. When I try to leave she grabs my hand with weasel paws. I reason and bribe and plead and pry at her clasped fingers but she is like a grotesque sea creature, an amaranthine octopus suckered to my skin, a fleshy barnacle and me the hull of her chosen ship… I’m forced to march down the street with her like that, pretending all is normal. Just two lovers clamping their bodies together as lovers do…I pull her into a smoky bar, saying “a cognac for the mademoiselle?” Inside the café a lovely chaos reigns. Brutes fighting, unangelic tarts squinting sideways through their greasy hair, every man fried to the hat while the barman claims his ignorance. I tell the woman I just have to take a leak and will be right back! She finally releases her death-grip and I hightail it to the men’s room, climb through the dirty window and out to the freedom of the street.

The street is swampy and sordid, the street is deadly reason, the street is a microcosmic hemorrhage of leaking song and sagging buildings; I am home at once in the street. However, it is of utmost importance that I not be retrouvé, and so I hail the first cab that blazes up and demand the driver to make haste. When we arrive at the front door, her taxi is pulling behind!  Across the threshold she whorls like a drunken unicorn, and I rush to the topmost floor, whose single locked room I happen to know stands empty, and my luck is such that I’ve previously purloined its key.

Here I stand, blood popping and spitting in my ears like hot fat in a heated pan, feverishly sucking the air, staring at the full moon glowing like one half of an alabaster buttocks, like death boiled white, like the cold yet marvelous face of my ex-wife – and thinking I never should have messed with that crazy dancehall cunt. But when I hear her call my name the voice sounds so pitiful that my sinuses work themselves into a mirrored pain and each eye drips precisely one tiny diamond. And then the twisting, vine-laden jungle wallpaper begins to shimmy. Fauna two-steps and flora falls and billows into the room, everything is vibrating with chaotic, maniacal life, bromeliads, dragon lilies, strangler figs, lianas, Kapok trees, starlings, red-breasted warblers, dragonflies, killer ants, praying mantises, boas, okapis, tapirs, chimpanzees. They swarm in phantasmal flux, and I am frozen at the skylight. When an electric orange bird-of-paradise alights on my nose I inhale its heavy rich fragrance, suddenly thinking that life and death and a good piss and a good drink and a good meal and a good fuck are all one and the same, everything and nothing, and how we jump from one to the next like monomaniacs, without ever being able to take pleasure in the whole of it. Except I will be joyful, no matter what! No longer do I care about the girl. At this moment, I care about nothing at all. The moon was soft waxing gibbous cheese, now it is new. The rainforest closes in and I feel as if in the womb again – everything is warm, humid, and absolutely meaningless.