She’s singing again. I can hear her through the walls, notes wearing away at the sheetrock as the melody mingles with the dust in the air. I can’t sleep through the heat, can’t seem to find a chill dream to lure me into slumber when the sweat running between my breasts and dampening the sheets feels as warm as my own body. Lying awake to her singing, the only company tonight, and all I can think of is how tired I’ll be in the sap-sticky light of morning.Don’t you know where the rain goes, Don’t you know where the snow blows, darling? All the sleet’s been a fleeing While the world’s lost in dreaming…
Over and over like the rain that won’t come as we watch the crops wilt and the animals pant in wheezes. No one bathes anymore, not when water’s so scarce the cattle are dying, and our fug rises like incense to some flaking god of drought, rises to further thicken the air until our lungs have to labor against the smell. I hear her voice crack on these thoughts and stutter in a cough that only ceases when I pound the wall with knuckles scarred from nights of this. Months of nights. And finally, a sob and a whimper and I can’t stand it any longer. The boards are warm against my heels, the door opens into a (fucking yes it is) warmer hallway inspiring a fresh coat of sweat on my salt-crusted skin. Her door creaks open and there she is, huddled with her face to the wall, but my dry, keen eyes can spot the glisten of tears against her cheeks in the lamplight. She doesn’t turn as the bed sags with my weight, so I push her thin shoulder down into the mattress and as she lies there, eyes closed and on her back, I bend down, not to kiss her, but to lick the tears from her cheeks, to savor the salty moisture that soothes my throat and, as she sobs still, I begin to sing.
He wakes again, his hands in aching fists, the sweat still damp against his back and it’s like he never slept at all. He turns, sees her curled away with furrowed brow and dream-crusted lashes and strokes her side, once, twice, three times before she stirs and murmurs, her lips now a movement against his shoulder, and he can barely catch the words.
I can’t find it.
Years of this and one bed traded for another, each lost in another’s dreams, each night a drowsing failure and home a little more distant and just as painfully extant. They’d lost their way hunting, and here they were again, as together as time and space could make it so and they knew each other by likeness. He could feel his heart shifting in his chest at the familiar in her face, old lineaments and age an overlay, an illusion. The same. The same and he was just as caught, just as reminded of the music they were born knowing and following like two besotted pilgrims half-dead and stumbling. A bitter union this, when it’s the longing that first brings people together.
Covered and catalogued, and no two shrinks agree on what disorder best inspires it, he knows. Some mass delusion surviving hundreds, perhaps thousands of years of living and looking and dying, largely benign, like the conviction that it’s the talking spiders and not your mother making you eat breakfast. Breakfast is good, right? So the spiders can’t be a bad thing. They never seem to say much else. Nothing to do with the Illuminati, nothing paranoid, really, and it’s somehow better, locking eyes with some stranger knowing you’ll share the same fuck and the same story later that night. Brothers. Sisters. Lovers and lost, recognized and united in a confused haze of displacement and lust.
He slides out of bed and into the cold, regretting the ease of leaving her like this. The ease of not having to watch her face mirror his as they dress for waking hours, more empty stretches between their occasional and unplanned meeting. The ease of spending most of their time asleep and undreaming, unstirred and untroubled like some kid wandering around with her eyes shut cause she knows she’s fucking invincible.
The box sits on her doorstep, brown papered and twined and a little crushed at the edges. She nudges it with her foot, listening for the odd ticking, a packaged rattle. Nothing, and she picks it up with her fingertips, takes it inside. The twine is rough against her skin as she saws at it with a rust-scarred kitchen knife and her hands slip against the waxed surface of the wrapping. Dotted with blood now as she sucks on a cut with a frown, the knife clattering to the floor. She kicks it under the table and worries away at the tape holding the paper in place, finally ripping away at it to reveal a plain white shoebox. When she lifts the top she gasps a little– despite the dim light in the room the pair of red shoes glistens like her mangled finger and she traces the long curve of an arch as if it were some living thing blinking up at her. They fit, snug and flexing, and the straps lie across her foot like hands. A few experimental steps and she’s dancing like she used to, like the wings on her ankles never shriveled and fell away, like she’d never caged herself, bar by bar and finally lock with the key buried and forgotten.
She dances and the door opens for her, the path unrolls itself step by scarlet step and she doesn’t hear the voices behind her asking her to stay, telling her that this exit will close her past like a vault and make her a stranger. And she dances down the street and through alleys and the occasional crowd, along highways and bridges and wilderness roads till there’s nothing left of her toes and her insteps and ankles, till it’s the shoes and the wave of her truncated legs, till it’s the shoes and the glimmer of her smile, till it’s the shoes and her ghost and everything else forgotten.
Once upon a time they dreamed a city
Threw a wall around it, stuck a tower in the middle, filled it full of all the things they loved and feared and ran to and ran from and all the strangers whose lingering eyes they met and held on subways in libraries on rooftops at shows. And the city lived, grew until it held the hearts of its builders and changed from dream to soul. Somehow, walking those streets, they recalled the memories of every thing they’d lost in every thing they found, traced the lineaments of their lives on stone and in water, heard their stories sung by artificial birds caged in dim alleys as they stumbled past, drunk on a wine pressed by amnesiacs.
Pilgrims came by desert and sea to pass through open gates, to wander in streets that never led to the same place twice. Some settled and joined the city’s artificers and cut and bruised and burned their hands on complicated machines with equally complicated purposes, some moved to a street of weavers where they fabricated verdant sheets woven from their sleeping visions of the forests of their homes. Some became the beggars on the corners playing music with the bones of the city’s dead, melodies that haunted the miserly, that brought luck and light to the generous.
Some left– those who came looking for a city that was less than a collective wish, those who came expecting the familiar, the details that comprise the structure of home. They left the strangers and the stranger labors, the wild thumping of the city’s heart that wove its way through every line of music, the slinking pad of dog-sized cats, the bookstalls crammed solely with texts of an interrogative nature. They turned their feet outside the gates to retrace the same weary road and after a shorter journey than they expected, found themselves surrounded by their own lives again and filled with a regret that burrowed like a live stone in their chests and they lived ever after with the taste of ash in their mouths and their children, growing older, inherited faded memories of a city that drew them, over mountains and seas, through deserts and valleys, to itself like some impossible and foreign star.
Once upon a time he started running out of things to say and his tongue would tap against the roof of his mouth as he tried to think of, well, anything in response to queries and asides and concern. For a while, his conversation was awash with extravagant plagiarisms culled from whatever he was currently reading at the time. Facts and trivia and theories and dogmas and headlines and on one disastrous date, an entire twitter feed he’d scrawled on his forearm. His therapist still charged him for the one hour a week he spent silent in her office, the one hour a week he spent staring out a cloudy window and peering at the windows of an adjoining building where he could imagine that the occasional person he saw peering back or smoking on a balcony or watching television or reaching for someone else’s hand– he could imagine that they, too, felt the compulsion of silence, only they had kept going into that silence and come out with a new language that shaped a new world. He could imagine as he hovered on this frantic edge between desire and uncertainty, wanting to express the feeling of having this gaping vacuum in the middle of his chest that ate and demanded and cried out for more. He once spent four days confined to his apartment trying to verbalize the moment that exists when his world falls silent and the ticking of the clock becomes a thunder. The four days ended with stale cereal and a mangled pendulum.
His silences grew and
And he said– Consider the flies who spend much of their time trying to cross from one side of the glass to the other. Consider one fly as
he gives up, tumbles to the sill and meets this mother of all flies, this big, glowing bastard hovering above him. He gazes up at this bright fucker, twitches a little, and hears the glowing godfly tell him The Big Secret, The Winged Gospel, The Compound Heresy of Sight.
Like you, my excresensory pilgrim, I too searched for the Great Outside, struggled to decipher our True Origin. A fit came upon me one day, as I raced my brethren across dunes of clumping cat litter. A vision overtook me, followed by an ammoniac stench as I fell from the air to lie, trembling, upon a freshly dampened patch. It was there, overcome by a savory stink, that I dreamed a world without division in which there was room for light and dark, trees and pantries alike and no sheet of glass to say otherwise. The inhabitants of the world greeted me with awe and amazement, for my stories of inside and outside, windows and doors, were as madmen’s tales to their ear. (Which also happened to be their mouth. Imagine: these creatures could speak and listen simultaneously.)
The godfly pauses.
Oh, I see. Feeling a little woozy, eh? I’ll keep it short, then. You, my son, are captive to A Flawed Idea propagated by A Flawed System. This outside/inside against the glass business is killing us.
He raises a phosphorescent eyebrow at the litter of desiccated corpses around them.
Don’t you get it?
He leans in and whispers
There is no glass.
And watches the fly below him expire.
Well, there goes another potential disciple. Funny, how they can never seem to understand that it’s their fear of being separate from the outside that keeps them here. Sorry fuckers. On to the next one.
I am zero. I am the open mouth and the orgasm, the end-less line of existence and the void, the everything and the question that answers it all.
I am zero, exclusive of illusion and expectation, inclusive of that most valued resource, possibility.
I am beginning, end, and neither. I delineate the lie of absence and the ever presence of the preterite. Naught I am, alone, a round company to be ciphered.
al-Khwārizmī with his kept rows, his cifre en algorisme (I) divisatory, letting kha and kamil reside, yin and yang, full and empty
the paradox of binary in our crippled machines, calculating one and everything.