Two Rocks Sitting

two rocks bThere had been times to do nothing at all. Nothing to make. Nothing to mend. Nothing to buy, even if it might have been needed. There really had been no need to polish anything at all. The brass pin that I had worn on my lapel, I could not remember even when I had stuck it in on the left side of my jacket, let alone gotten it. The peeling leather of my watch strap, same kind of thing. What it had been to be reminded of them now, like the weathered wooden pickets to a country fence grown gray and showing their grain splitting over time, is that these alone are the bring-about of death. When looking at an old canvas field coat, or a pair of well-worn boots, that is exactly in step with one’s own working, one’s own walking.

Some things, like gardens, renew themselves each year. And, if they are tended well, each year they grow a little better—only because the gardener has learned perhaps one small thing last season. But the gardener is older. Other things, inanimate, forever lifeless, they, too, have their own sullen beauty—stuck the way they are, almost the perfect emblems of eternity. If any change should ever come to rocks lying about the forest, such would only be through something cataclysmic, or something human and mad the way smashing them up to rocky small bits with a hammer would be mad.

The simple fact is that things wear out—valves to kitchen faucets eventually leak; tomato stakes rot at the ends; bicycle tires will get flats. That is how it goes with tree stumps chucked over the stone wall, with a sweet pile of sunflower seeds sifted through by the careful paws of bears, and with people, too, falling asleep to the back-and-forth sounds of katydids chirping again at night when the middle of summer has passed, the way I had in childhood.

Pretty Little Mushroom

mushroomWhile I could not remember who exactly—Anaxagoras, Democritus, Plato, or Aristotle–somebody had claimed that for all things that come into being, there is decay. And me, I had for most of my life, for the eternity of it, held this precept as close to my chest as Roy Batty holds a white dove to his own. For that is not all. No, there are moments of decay’s beautiful impermanence to behold. Seeing the child looking at the sand pouring from between the small fingers of the child’s even smaller hands. The paws of raccoons having left their marks behind the overturned garbage cans in the mud. The smiles on photographs of unknown relatives before they are burnt up behind the closed metal doors of the woodstove forever. The sweetness of the smell of blackberries in a large, glass bowl just picked. The ubiquitous rattling of a brood of cicadas portending my death if not in the next seventeen years, then in the next seventeen years after that. And after summer rainstorms, too, the forest is spotted here and there with the wildest growth of things—mushrooms and fungi of different colors, different shapes. They stand so briefly whose spores will fall out in a day or two like red rubies tumbled from a fallen crown. While alive they have an animation that defies the natural order of things, as if to say they alone have the privilege and the momentary pride to halt time itself, for just as long as they are able to support themselves, and no more.

Green Flour Lullaby

green algae

The land itself was some kind of autochthonous lie, treasure of history going back one generation beyond the next. Those who had kept it, worked it, those who had lived on, who had scratched out thin crops from it, these people they were all gone. All of them were dis-remembered. And I had been there once myself, having sorted out the soups, the guarapo, the mountain a-fire. And there in the lagoon I had sunk my own money, harbinger of dreams, troubler of domestic discord, all mixed up in the boondoggled memory of sentimental if not sanctimonious notions of thatch-roofed futurity. For those dozens of years the coy fish swam and had swum, none inscribed nor encumbered by felonious intent. In the wintertime they must have sunk, they sank below the water, mixed and mixing with debris and mud, to live again, offspring of the next season of seasons thereafter. The rocks and trapped rainwater, these might have held onto life like angels must have held their breaths, such as passersby passing by are who may be about to put their own fingerprints on the blank mist, the clouds hanging low, the empty standing air.

Smiling Ghost, Land Ho!

indian pipe

That it had been a little step away from where I had been and what I had seen was obvious and clear. There had been no steel girder pulled up from a cable from a crane’s boom in Portland overhanging a dry poured cement pad. There hadn’t been a nuclear waste zone clean up gang either somewhere in Central Asia that had never been reported, too small to have been picked up by sensors anywhere anyway. Nor a contributor to gut bacteria research and the effect of human health overall on the biome. No, I had side-stepped, side-swept it all. Had emptied my front pockets left and right of this week’s lint and last year’s recollections and memories and just gone out. Had gone out for a while, over last year’s leaves, last fall’s crash out. There was a little bit of bright fluttering divinity out there, too, as usual. And these angels, if rather poisonous, I had also skipped past.

Hello, Morning Rock Wall

morning wallThe hands that had made the world are long gone. Whatever temples, and ruins of these, and fields long past fallow, these all remain somewhere. Even a simple walk is a reminder of memories that are no more. They are gone, they have fled, like childhood fairies weeping in the forest elsewhere unseen. All this has fled. Small reminders, they are here and they are there. Some wear the placards of nostalgia, and some—like candy necklaces on an elastic thread pulled on by wet sandy teeth near the food stand at the beach—are almost sentimental. Others wear signs for tourists, the lost folk of the planet hoping—with too much grease, salt, and time on their hands—that a real piece of kitchen baked pie can be bought and taken back home with them. Most of the relics that have anything left worth remarking on are completely nameless, outside of the scope of much of human history. Here and there a spent farmer’s hand must be detected, even as the forests have grown over the fields, and his family has completely dissipated itself by now between most of New England and the northern coast of California where the bright anemones are waving their colors in the clear shallow water among the rocks.

Never Cool To Vote Again

nyc reservoir“You got to vote all the time. Not just when it’s cool.” —President Obama

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-obama-graduation-20160507-snap-story.html

People should never ever vote. And I’m not the sort of guy who uses the word “should.” I avoid it. But voting? It is one thing no one should ever do. Of course there is the mythology of having a voice and that a vote is your voice, and with your voice along with millions of other voters in America, you, collectively, make democracy work. And, by direct implication, that if you do not vote, you do not exercise that voice, and put the brakes on the system of democracy. And, to boot, the undercurrent is that by not voting, you are unpatriotic, un-American, and worse.

Voting gives people that precious little feeling of having a say, of having a voice. And when people no longer have that feeling of having a say, of having a voice, even a tiny one, people begin to get choked up. If you’re at the dinner table and politely ask someone to pass the salt, you expect to be heard. And, in due course, you expect to have that shaker of salt passed your way, as soon as it is practical. You feel heard. And you feel seen. Were you to ask for the salt and nobody did a thing, it wouldn’t be long before you got frustrated, ticked off, unnerved, angry. Eventually you’d build up understandable sorts of resentments and one day, assuming no one ever passed you the salt, meal after meal, month after month, year after year, you’d flip out.

Votes give people the feeling that they are being heard. And it’s that feeling that’s so important. Otherwise you might just explode like that raisin in the sun does at the end of the Langston Hughes’ poem. And the political system, which wants very much to preserve itself, which caters only to the top interests—the top financial and top economic interests—of the folks in charge, at the direct and at the indirect expense of the folks not in charge, by giving voters the opportunity to vote, by creating the satisfying illusion of having a say in the system which really does not care an iota about the millions and millions of lives that are subject to it, the political system very skillfully does preserve itself.

Were it not for voting, people would explode. They would erupt. They might become violent. They would become revolutionary. Voting lets off that steam. Voting makes people blind to the fact that the odds of winning a multi-million dollar lottery twice are less than the odds of a father and son becoming president in a democracy that is actually a democracy. Voting makes people deaf to the fact that the odds of being struck four times in a lifetime by lightning are less than a husband and then his wife becoming president in a democracy that is actually a democracy. But this feeling of having a say, this feeling of having a voice, dulls all the five senses, and numbs completely the brains of the people.

So long as people keep voting, things will keep on being the same. The public theater of Republicans and Democrats, like the Sharks and Jets, like the Montagues and the Capulets, it just goes on and on. The same sides, the same families will stage the same centuries’ old political plays for the public, and by doing this, by putting on these plays between this side and that side, they will always keep their places, their power, their positions. It is these—their places, their power, their positions—which those in the upper echelon of society, regardless of their so-called political affiliation, which they will never under any circumstance give up or risk giving up, that the system is almost perfectly designed to preserve.

Voting is the grease to the machinery of the smoothly running wheels and gears of power, position, and generational entitlement. The American Republic is no different than an Old World landed aristocracy except for the illusion that every few years people vote, by which action the American people at large are completely blinded, deafened, and made completely dumb to the fact that it is they who are the peons, the servants, the crushed and oppressed underclass of this tiny but very powerful overclass of landed and political aristocrats in charge and in power above them. By voting in America all that happens is different branches of the well-established aristocracy of America sit at the long oak table every so often, every few years, while the other branches of that aristocracy, for the time being, eat elsewhere, until it becomes their time to sit at the table again, while the others now sit out. But like squealing pigs made frantic and excited to their own horrible slaughter, Americans keep voting and voting all the time, cycle after cycle, while the true aristocracy in charge, in the name of “progress,” keeps profiting and profiting.

Amour Tunisienne

Before my life’s second half, before the obvious Inferno-rift, which involved my sitting in a dusty armchair on the banks of Lake Champlain after squandering the first half my life, after causing as much suffering and committing, as Saint Paul would have it, enough sin to people a small South American village a couple of times over, before the second half of my life I was asleep. Only when I smelled the cheap dust in a badly upholstered armchair of three homosexual friends who took me under their wing for several months, who fed and housed me in Vermont out of charity and love for me for seven months, maybe it was eight; only then, when I read Dante—and this is the truth—did I wake up from having been an extremely talented waste.

Before inhaling the good filthy dust of an orange-thatched armchair on Lake Chaplain, and being left alone to think and be and masturbate and be, above all, listened to by three men, before I inhaled the filth of Vermont, I was asleep. Over awful pork dinners, over awful pot roasts, over bread-crumb soaked fat-dripping bacon-laid meatloaves that made me sick to have on the tip of my fork, and which, because these male friends were all gay and gallant and generous, who was I in the crapped up shoes I was wearing to have turned down the three gay g’s, even if the last of the triplet is soft? I was in no position to do anything but refuse or submit to their months of dusty love. I could never call them, they called themselves Peter, Paul, and Mary, which was a cute and apt gay joke we kept up for the entirety of my visit; I never called them by their real names, and won’t, out of my love for them. I won’t call them by their real names here in this reckoning. I loved all three and couldn’t criticize their dinner food that was dripping with fat, soaked in animal grease. I can’t even say what they called me. It wasn’t polite. But I won’t say. Some things, even in a perfect reckoning, must remain silent; some things must ever remain silent. That’s the way I am. That’s the way I have always been.

All I have left, for example, from my amour Tunisienne is a little brass plate, an ashtray really, and a single photograph, which, since I never take pictures, I have no pictures of my loves, is exceptional. For me it is taboo. I will say as little as possible about my amour Tunisienne, not out of shyness, not out of shame, not out of guilt, not out of pride. I will not name her. People I have loved I never name. The only external reminder I have of my amour Tunisienne is a small brass ashtray, a souvenir plate, with her name’s meaning, along with other arabesque designs, banged into the side, banged into the lip. Her name means star. I may point to every constellation I know of in the heavens; with my etymological wand I may point to her name itself; I may indicate it with the index of translation; but I will never say it. Somewhere in my lifelong heap of junk I have this plate with her name hammered into the side of it in English capital letters, in, I should say, a Roman alphabet, a small gift she passed to me sometime before our clandestine love affair was discovered by her older brother.

I have been mad about women all my life; for me, as others bend their knee to the Cross, I lower myself to women. As others seek spiritual salvation through Christ, my life has been a Golgotha of women. Everywhere on this hill of skulls, my loves are crucified. Everywhere on this bloody hill of women there is another lover. My journey to the divine heart has been through women, from my earliest teens, when I was a doubtful American thrown on the white coral beaches of Carthage, where along the promenade at vespers young girls walked their light-brown arms wrapped around each other’s waists, down and up the red-tiled promenade above the Mediterranean Sea, their unheard voices drowned out by the skulk and shuffle of matchstick-striking boys leering here and there, like me. All my life I have lit matches, and struck them before the faces of illuminated women. In Carthage and elsewhere, much of my life has been a discovery of the divine through an ongoing and endless crucifixion of feminines. It is the only way I seem to learn. Through loss I have learned and through loss gained everything.

Just last year I traveled to a local film screening and, seeing a seat free beside a young woman, asked her if she minded my sitting beside her. Shortly after welcoming me to the seat, she put out her hand and greeted me with her name. Establishing within the several minutes before the screening room darkened about us an intimacy of names and places, more than just her raw beauty itself, to which I am and always have been irrevocably attracted, the shaded salience of a cheekbone, the knobbed attenuated wrist bared at the cuff, the smell of beauty, that sweet unguent of salt and water and grease, it is a smell itself that draws me in like the word itself love uttered by another before me, more than just the similar social accents exchanged between us, I was lost to my now perpetual silence. While I later, the next day in fact, sent to this lovely young woman, whose surname and town in which she lived she had given to me, a copy of the extant text of the great poet-lover Sappho, marking the spot with a yellow autumn leaf where on the right-hand page the English reads the English, and on the left-hand page reads the Greek, I will never hear from her again, I will never in daylight see her.

That it was my desire to do so, though it was my desire to see her again, though in her beauty and youth was awakened in me the rapture of Carthage, though my heart could recall the scandaled bliss of placing my hand on my amour Tunisenne’s right knee seated on the filthy curb of an urban street, in Tunis itself, where we had conspired to create our lovers’ tryst, though next to my own smell of my own nose crammed into my own armpit, though besides my own the salted aromas of this movie girl’s body filling up my lips with blood puffed they were the best ever I smelled once in my life, though I felt the urges of a lifetime to compose a thousand poems and shred them to papered fragments to be mulched by the promiscuous woods and pulped by the greasy and slimy estuaries besides which we all live, I could guess even then, when I know nothing of propriety, when I go through the mere motions of manner and propriety, when the coattails of my upright social upbringing are grabbed onto; when, if, for example, to note an entering female I turn the entirety of my albeit squat, foreshortened torso about, rather than cranking around the hairy uncouth knob of my flustered head to view the entrant; when my true barbaric self behind a knoll lies half-hidden and I pretend that outwardly I am the handsome JFK, when this collision happens, when I am neither half the one nor half the other, when both exterminate the other, when I mentioned to this great young beauty whose oily breasts were a button away the poet-goddess Sappho just before the darkness of the movie theatre descended and she knew nothing of Sappho, the name itself was foreign, unheard of, even then I knew in my shivers that I should never meet her again. Throughout the dark screening, my left hand cupping the armrest, I felt her breath exhaled on my warmed fingers. Being placed on the face pointing downwards the nose is such a funny thing, I thought: made to send messages of love even the sender may not comprehend, understand, or even know of. Phoenician thrown from a cliff my love is fallen down to a nameless purple sea.

I will never say to the world the name of my amour Tunisienne or the name of the young movie girl. The one I knew in my teens, the other in my fifties. It is all the same to me, and I have never let a truth in my heart be corrupted by naming it. The particular province of men, to name, is one I have steered away from in my life. To have records of my life runs counter to everything I believe in. Only were I sure that a lover were to be a lover for life would I take her picture. That is why my amour Tunisienne is such an exception. Her picture, which I snapped at a careless moment, I don’t have the impulse to destroy, nor do I wish to keep it. I would never snap the picture of a woman unless I knew I were to spend my entire life with her. That has, except for this one exceptional picture, been my lifelong credo. I have, except for this one picture, been faithful to it. I have no pictures of any of my lovers, not one of them, except of course for the amour Tunisienne.

In the picture, it is actually a picture of her and me, we are standing next to each other, I with my arm hung atop her shoulder, and she with her arm held loose around my waist. Her older sister, Jemullah, which means beautiful, took it. We are smiling. I cannot bear to look at it. Even my memory of it makes me sad. When I look at that picture in my memory, I am saddened forever by how happy I am. I cannot bear to have dozens of pictures like this. So, I have none. Pictures of happiness would be impossible to live by. So, I have none. The idea of pictures of happiness reminds me of the life they represent as no longer being so. So, these pictures represent a life that is false. Pictures represent falsehood. So, I cannot bear any of them. This is especially true for the dozens of pictures of women I have loved. I cannot bear to see any of them. It would be suicidal for me to have kept pictures of my loves. They would have made me feel false, and, therefore, suicidal. So, except for the amour Tunisienne, whose existence has been a silent curse throughout my life, and which I never will destroy, I have not taken any pictures of women and therefore have not been faced again ever with keeping or not keeping some. I have made it perfidious to take and therefore keep any. I have made it sacrilege. I have paid homage to all the women I have loved by not taking and not keeping their pictures.

This, really, is my only religion, it is my only constant lifelong practise. In everything else, I have lived in violation, a sort of violation that at times has been steadfast and at others not. But, in any case, I have lived a life continuously filled with violations, and every violation is a violation of love. The one aspect of my life which I have not violated is the taking of pictures, except for my amour Tunisienne. Excepting her, I have all my life been steadfast and true to this one reigning principle: never to take the picture of a woman whom I did not doubt I would know forever. In this, except for the Tunisienne, a plague to me, I have been true. To me, naming women I have loved is identical to taking their pictures. Their names spoken are identical to the images taken. To me, it doesn’t matter if that name is one from decades and decades back, or if that name is one from the week prior. The divine must never be profaned. To me, naming and creating the image of the divine profanes it. It is taking what is divine and soiling it, chewing up what is real and meaningful to what is rendered mere amusement and sport. I have never named or created an image of any of my life’s loves, besides the one already detailed, and I never will.

(Novel excerpt, 2004—click here for other current works)

Abrahim Krivokapić

rock wall layers

Things had lost their luster, kept their glow. An old quarter kept in the pocket, just the pocket of memory, nothing else. Years, dances, people. An old man had roared up to my house on his motorcycle and was gone. The melting snow, too, had melted and was gone forever. An infinitesimal comet paired up elliptically with a smaller orbit will return someday. And we had not. Oh, well. The cubic yards of dirt I had dug day after day will still probably remain for some good time. Not of any further use at some point. Once we had gone, there wasn’t the same use. That’s all. It hadn’t been that important. The gravel. The driveway. The automobiles. All of us had once been so busy, so occupied. We forgot ourselves in our own peerless lives. Once I had looked inside the mica window of an old rusted oven on top of a Canadian island and had been amazed at the blackened reflected eternity. It needed nothing, I suppose, besides a boy’s eye to have seen it once. Had the Italian seen it, I am almost sure he would have been just as happy, no less proud peering at that than the dwindling chambers of a nautilus’ shell’s cross-section, all dwindled in mathematical perfection, no less so than Archimedes once shouting in the first person singular perfect indicative active tense we had later borrowed as the English exclamation for all discovery, “Eureka!” And behind all this the spectral illumination of the moon had continued, like the halo of an evening’s haze outshining itself with nothing to ever bear it any witness besides the comfortable peasants who had once dozed upon the sloping hillsides of Mother Earth, sunken and old and gone away forever.

Daimon Philips

One hour I had worked in the dirt. And one hour I had worked in the sun. One more in the rain. And the hour that I had liked most was filled with filth and mud. In that were stones, roots, and glass bottles tossed by careless men meandering down drunkenly the backside of the sinuous mountain road away from the police and human desires. And each of these bottles, smashed and whole, I tossed gently into a glass heap. For decades since, the rain had washed the dirt, and the bottles’ broken colors had shone. Now that I had become old, about to die, I had recalled my venal life, uncorrupted by most things most were corrupted by. For me, it was never women, and it was never gold. But the glint of glass, old roadside bottles broken to pieces, all these jewels, all this rubbish had become my Aqaba, my final shipwreck, my Pyrrhic victory against fortune and time.

Bethany Rose Sherwood

tibetan crystal

My last bout with mild hallucinogenics had been largely ineffective. That wasn’t because of either their lab source or the destination. It had been a chimerical sort of venture to begin with. It had been one step Minotaur, one step Peter Pan. I hadn’t been able to keep pace between monstrosity and fantasy. And the dull end of the uxorious rainbow of experience had once again been caught up with my promiscuous appurtenances. Licorice beans and flax seed concoctions mixed with almond butter syrup had been to me like the Promised Land. And a day behind Adobe Illustrator had also worked as the burden’s ideal distractor. Mention of Velázquez, Goya, and the Prado always a plus. A lift in spirit like a hem line just above the knee. An eyebrow raised. A half-fortuitous glance from afar, coming from across the street anointed. A purposeful roving down the track tracks of the northeastern corridor, the risen daily sun already losing its splendor and its golden color overhead. The pastel shading of memory could not have been more delightful at times than drinking by frozen hand in my palm the cold spring water in the Ozark Mountains where legend had it a lone bandit was time ago shot and had died six or seven generations before, some years before even the invention of the internal combustion engine and the early oil derricks began covering the world’s deserts and plains alike.