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.

Infinite monkey theorem

•May 21, 2017 • Leave a Comment

We entered the room. Anemic winter light filtered through small windows, fingering random parts of tarnished metal thingums, the like of which I’d never seen before. The apparatuses were stacked everywhere – on the ground, on tables low and high, on chairs and shelves…chunky, all-black relics that had to have hailed from our technological infancy. The “Arcane Tours” guide shuffled ahead of us and stopped when he could move no further.

“They look like Zipfian meteorites,” my wife whispered to me. I agreed. It was hard to imagine a time when humans used things so large, so opaque and mechanical. Rows of three-dimensional buttons composed the lower half of each instrument, and each button had a mysterious marking on it. A symbol of some kind. I’d seen images of such machines before, but I couldn’t remember where or when.

“What did these do?” I asked the guide, in wonderment.

“We-ll, they’re called typewriters,” he said, in a voice threaded with little unintentional buzzes and burbles. The man was no spring chicken. I guessed upwards of 140.

“Their ex-tinction goes back about, uh – three centuries – to when, uh, most information and literature was writ-ten… you know, writ-ten instead of pictorialized… People of the time created texts with them.”

“No kidding,” I said. I walked up to one, tried to press a button with my right index. It barely budged.

“The keys re-quire a lot of physical exertion to dep-ress,” the guide said.

“Huh. Why are there peanut shells everywhere?” my wife asked.

“We-ll, we have monkeys,” the guide answered. “They’re, uh, gone for the day now. But they’re he-re most days.”

“Monkeys! What on this big brown earth for?”

“Uh, a small group of anach-ronistic folks – a couple scientists, a historian, a linguist – made some big stink twenty years ago, claiming it was imp-erative to ‘better preserve our text-ual past’… and be-cause the majority of text-ual artifacts were near total disint-egration, and obviously no human could interpret or re-create the writ-ten symbols, they brought in the chimp-an-zees.”

“Amazing.” I noticed stacks of white rectangular material, possibly almost as thin as our miAll screens, in the far corners.

“The chimp-ees took very quickly to the task, and had soon rewrit-ten many of the old stories. At least, the scholars concerned were pret-ty sure that the new texts were the same. Their image soft-ware analyses concluded so, anyway. And our dear prim-ates have kept at it, diligent souls – for there was an enormous lit-erature that almost became dust.”

“What an extraordinary concept,” said my wife. “Would we be able to see a bit of this – ‘writing’?”

“In fa-ct. You can,” the guide said, and he pinched out a tiny smile, genuine, the first I’d seen from him. “We’re not sup-posed to offer unprompt-ed. But if the customer asks directly… Here.” He scuttled to a side bench and retrieved a handhold of white rectangles, like the piles I’d seen, with each thin piece encased in mylar, and placed them between my open fingers.

So many tiny symbols! So tightly crammed together. No colors, no cohesion. The idea of our unsophisticated ancestry using this as their entertainment was laughable and absurd. But fitting? Life must have been impossibly dull. My curiosity waned into boredom after a second or two. I handed the sheets to my wife. She looked at them just as briefly.

“Wait,” the guide said. “We have an app that lets you read them.” And he directed his miAll at mine and my wife’s in turn, transferring the software. “Hover your screen over the sheet.”

I did, seeing with renewed interest how the unknown symbols popped to bright, instantly-readable pictorials. “Cool,” I said, and scanned the remaining pages. “Seems the old writers were more creative than I’d have expected – look: in the end monkeys are sporting golden crowns, eating peanuts in the Oval Office. And here, troops of naked men and women are building massive pyramidal structures out of trees. What’s the title of this doozie? The author?”

“Y’know, uh, I don’t know. We’re mis-sing the cover page to that one.”

“Too bad. I’d have liked to know what intellectual nutcase produced such a gem. Oh well. The mysteries of history, I suppose.”

My wife chuckled. “It’s about time to go, dear,” she said. “I only got twelve hours last night. I’m exhausted.”

“Of course,” I replied. “A pleasure,” I said to the guide, “but we must be heading home. Thank you for this fascinating peep into the past.”

“You’re wel-come,” he said, and led us out to the exit.

When the rains came

•April 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The rains finally came. After decades of drought, fallow fields, skin like sand, shaking fists at a bleached-out cold fish sky. Except by then, we had evolved to live without water. Suddenly we could drink to our heart’s deepest whim, and it no longer mattered. Our tissues were generating their own fluids.

Evolution kicked up her heels and began to sprint. Things started coming out of our mouths that we didn’t know had been in our bodies. Living bees, the seeds of desert plants, cysts the size of cantaloupes, palimpsests detailing each historic war. When the regurgitations finished, we became entirely self-sufficient, recyclable. Ours was a Kafka headstand. Instead of alienation, we achieved a single hive mind.

Rules kept sliding down the invisible supports of the world and forming puddles in the spaces betwixt rivers newly created by the interminable rains. Enveloped in the green-grey-blue cocoon of mist I could eventually hear an underhum of voices… indistinguishable words as unspoken thoughts as a current directly beneath the continent’s crust.

“We’re in another’s dream,” I told my lover. “Or else, we’re characters in a story. This is no reality.”

“No,” she said. “It’s our collective imagination. Our imagination was defunct, was then resurrected by the onslaught of rain, and is now utterly flooded and deranged. It was squashed under the too-ponderous weight of the earth’s dying, but toward the planet’s very end, we turned on the juice. Now our imagination creates reality. Humanity endures.”

I couldn’t tell truth from poppycock. Since it felt airy and nice, I decided to believe her, and took my belief into the fresh cold lake in our front yard, where I lay on my back, light as a buoy, eyes closed against the downpour, and listened to the subterranean buzz of my species: possibly the greatest survivors… possibly almost extinct.