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Prologue

Low light slants through a bower of maple branches onto the roof and dirt-spattered windshield of a car parked on the red clay driveway. No wind stirs, and the mosaic of shadow slides by imperceptible degrees from the blue roof of the parked car to the tawny drive, crawling from there to the tips of the trees. Cinders of sunset spark on the windshield between buttons of grime. On the porch of the adjacent house, a large dog sleeps restlessly, its black ears twitching in the evening heat, next to a swing hung between white wooden columns. Through the grid of windows facing the porch, a woman stirring sauce in the kitchen presents an occasional profile, hair pulled back neatly and rubber-banded, brow flexed in thought. She stops stirring and lifts the spoon to her lips, one hand cupped beneath, bending her neck forward slightly to greet the upwards curve of the spoon-bearing hand.

My cigarette smoke rising from an empty chair on the porch mirrors the steam from the sauce, twining in the window, which reflects not only the warm light from the kitchen but the sun’s quiet death. The first few fireflies test their turn signals, harbingers of impending night. One buzzes too close to the sleeping dog, inducing a drastic shift in the stubborn flow of time and place: the dog yawns, and suddenly I’m in a dark room in a cold city with a streetlight blaring in my eyes. Impermanence, I have a feeling, is a self-inflicted wound.

1. Absence

It’s cold in here. The window is loose in its frame and rattles with every gust of wind. I can feel the wind through my sweater, slowly unraveling like the frayed edges of my personality, falling apart now that I’m alone, now that no one else is around to give me substance and meaning. Outside the glare of another’s perception, I’m afraid I have no real being. I’m an accretion of foreign fluid—the sweat and saliva I’ve sucked out of you and everyone else. That equals me. That’s my sum.

Without you I have no memory, and without memory people are little better than husks. I can no longer draw your face in my mind: I remember only plangent recombinations of light and shade, half-shimmers of reflected recollection, spangles of recognition—as if you were mirrored in a poorly-lit store window, at an oblique angle, on one of my memory’s byways or sidestreets. I’m starting to forget what everything looks like. My room is inhabited by phantoms of objects I’m sure I long ago lost, and the shapes of the few things that do remain seem to shift from moment to moment. I’m constantly bumping into my table and spilling books onto the floor, books I didn’t even know I had and certainly have never read, nor will.

Hunger and thirst are feminine. Ho fame, ho sete. Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness, or do you, as I do, simply hunger and thirst, in the most obvious and humiliating ways? A penny shines on my dresser, reflecting the tangerine streetlight outside the window. I want that coin’s brightness, its permanence, its lack of permanence. Everything.

Time’s been severed at the root, lopped, trimmed and sent spinning from space by a single brutal blow. Poor gap-toothed infinite, our silly sun, useless armies of stars in her fingerless hands. Garlands and garlands of two-lipped truths dangle from her neck. Who collects the residue of passion?

2. Presence

Liquid syllables spill down the phone lines, like wet diamonds, like a wild boar in a shadow forest. Message from a seasick heart. The sun in my blood goes supernova and gutters out. The moon, I’m beginning to think, has designs on me. The moon has a motive.

I’ve felt the lunar tug before, but never so strong, never so pure. Every atom in me vibrates with its light, and I lie unmoving, pinned to the bed, barely blinking. A jacaranda tree outside my window, spindly with age, bends in the moonlit wind, directing my eyes, my hands, my heart towards the image inhabiting the center of my mind.

I know what the moon wants. I know and resist with an automatic strength. I know because I can see her: sometimes she lies breathing quietly in the next room, her long and lovely fingers clutching the edges of a borrowed blanket. I envy that blanket’s easy embrace, and resent the rasp of sheets against my flushed skin. Lead-limbed on my glimmering bed, I smoke a stale cigarette, exhaling with effort, and imagine the shadows falling across her face. Shadow fingers, shadow lips, shadow kisses. I’m no stranger to the rapture of attraction, but this is different. This is a matter of tides, of gravity. Of ineluctable force.

What is love? Movement of the soul towards its essential nature. All words become one word. When you say the word your life begins.

If. L’if. Life. In the strange geometry of ardor, words are never proof enough.

Epilogue

Today and tomorrow, no more. Whatever pain you have caused in the past: redacted. Nothing ensues, transpires: happens. Sadness: no more. In the sky, drifting ashes mix with snow and become snow, and fall, in wet flakes, on the international date line. Let’s get out of the house. Let’s open the high oak doors and walk outside, breathing new air. The ice ages but we do not: no more. A blue jay carries an almond in its beak, hopping along the crooked fence. The warped and rotting boards of the fence bear the weight of the bird, and the falling snow, without complaint.

 

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What was I born for? thought Thomas, sitting at his desk, copying the last few lines of his work. What was anybody born for?

The sun had long since floated past the lid of his window, over the gray slate roof, and begun to set. He could see its rubescent face reflected in the windows from the building across the street, where for all he knew there was an exact duplicate of himself, doing the same thing, but with perhaps a better understanding of the basic questions.

Thomas absent-mindedly scratched his cheek with the tip of his pen. When he realized what he was doing, he took the index finger of his right hand and rubbed the spot where he had scratched, hoping to erase the inky blotch he was sure must be there. He did not bother to check.

Put the pen down, shuffled the papers on the desk before him. More than twenty, covered with tiny, neat handwriting on both sides. Examined the last lines he had written:

 

That you cannot know the terror in a word. That it will not be the worst you fear. That you bring to the last the first sign. That you choose what to disappear.

 

“That you choose what to disappear.” The last four lines: these were the most important, the ones Caeli had insisted he take down word-for-word, with exactly that punctuation, exactly those rhythms. Apparently the words were a magic. It was not clear what sort of a magic, nor for what purpose, when everything had become so useless. But Caeli had insisted that he not leave Paris without finishing the manuscript, which he now stacked and straightened and slipped inside a clear plastic folder with an elastic fastener. He took the folder, stacked it with other folders, similarly transparent but tinted different colors—gold, green, blue—and slipped the stack in his briefcase.

Rising from the desk he walked over the Persian carpet towards the coat rack and removed his tan raincoat.

There was a knock at the door. Soft but insistent.

Thomas looked through the peep-hole. Furrowed his brow, unfastened the lock and opened the door.

“What are you doing here?” he asked the small, stout, balding, round-faced man who stood before him.

“Sorry to bother you,” said the man, in heavily-accented French. “But we can’t let you leave.”

“What? Don’t be ridiculous. ”

“I’m serious.” To demonstrate his intent, the man produced a snub-nosed revolver from under his coat.

“All right, all right. Put that thing away, Charles, you look ridiculous. Do you even know how to use it?”

Thomas stood aside and gestured Charles into the room.

The Ecuadorean poet Charles Panic walked in and sat down in the chair by the window where Caeli usually sat. He looked at the gun in his hand as if suddenly seeing it for the first time. Slipped it into the pocket of his raincoat.

“No. I don’t know how to use it. But they insisted.”

“They.”

“The Collective.”

“I thought you weren’t with them anymore.”

“I’m not. I mean, I wasn’t. They knew that we’re friends, and they thought I could persuade you to stay. So they forced me, in the way that I’m supposed to force you now.”

Thomas slumped down in the chair at his writing table without taking off his overcoat.

“Charles, I have to go. Caeli’s waiting for me.”

Pater noster, qui est in caelis…”

“Don’t.”

“Will you come with me?”

Thomas scoffed. “Obviously not.”

“You should know that it’s not just me. There are five more downstairs. All armed. All much bigger than me.”

“But can any of them write, Charles? Do any have talent?”

Charles was silent for a moment.

“No. The Collective no longer believes in talent as a mark of distinction. They prize strength over subtlety. They’ve become moralists, Thomas. It’s really quite sad.”

“I told you it would turn out that way.”

“You have to belong to something.”

“The idea of community is a dangerous fiction.”

Charles took out a handkerchief from the inside pocket of his jacket and mopped his brow.

“I’m sure that’s an impressively original thought, Thomas, but we don’t have time for this.”

“You’re right. We don’t. I have to be Auvers-sur-Oise in two hours, and you have to fuck off back to the catacombs to die.”

“I told you. It’s not just me.”

“And I heard you. Good-bye, Charles.”

Thomas went to the window, opened wide the white wood panes, and fluttered down the street below. I learned more than one thing from Caeli, he thought.

He looked back up at his open window, through which Charles Panic was staring, wide-eyed, down at the street. He knew that Charles could not see him, but he was unused to invisible mode, and instinctively ducked for shelter under the awning of the Halle des Chaussures. Across the street, at the entrance to his building, Thomas noticed four or five heavy-set men in long black overcoats.

He jammed his hands in his pockets and walked down the street towards his car, murmuring to himself, careful not to attract attention. “I am the boy. Who can enjoy. Invisibility.”

Charles turned away from the window.

“I wish things were different,” said Charles. He shrugged his shoulders, and his jowls quivered.

“I’m not sure that’s true,” said Thomas. He sighed and stood up. Smoothed the folds in his tan raincoat. “Anyway, let’s go.”

 

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I could break the shell of myself, if you want, or you could try to fail. Here’s how the thing works: some injustice must be left un-righted. Some tumescent flaw must be kept in the perfectly silvered surface of your Venetian mirror, set in the bark of a living tree.

In a stand of reflected catalpas, on each broad leaf, a poem appears in dendriform. In the grass we sit broadside down, and read the fallen leaves, turning pages and colors and sheaves of wheat-seeded idea. From this time to that time is the distance of dewdrop from its source.

Outside the shell, a sinewy thread connects consciousness to individual spirit. The desultations of philosophy, according to some lispy Latin (twining his elder Pliny with De Rerum), are essentially binding, essentially religious. The trinity is one God, four Gospels, and a multitude of loafs. A Character-Not-Yet-Invented hovers over mother-father earth, investing via uncreated breath each holy relic, each storm-born hiccup, with a sailing grace. In order to grit out the truth you have to tell stories that are not stories.

Frank the letters I gift you. Resist upon the justness of my claws. Have prayings for the marks and stick-matter of poor Mary’s rosy crux. Did she treat you well, muttering?

Sing to me now of infinity. Sing infinitely well, and finish with a flourish. Whose fingers now are stained with what type of sin? The devil you say. Named after light but hiding in the dark. In the beginning was the bird. The bird was made fish. Everybody, hellbound pelican or lofty perch, must eat. Must take part or partake, body and blood of Jack Christmas. Each act of kindness is a hopeful mistake.

The old man slumped at the table in a suit spun of flax. “I offer my heart to anyone in need of a muscle to move the lever that moves the world.”

Gemmules of inspiration pop like dolorous spit bubbles. Everything proceeds. Momentum of the moment, refracted in the prison of sight. Uncountable fragments that, together, unreveal a pattern no one stoops to admire.

The shell of the constructed self cracks like brittle candy on the rocks that shift, with predatory intent, from ship to shore. I think, therefore I’m not who you think I am.

Without his coat he believes himself naked, and that unreal nakedness drives him nuts.

Which is the true grammar? Break me if you will. Will me to break myself, to hoist surrender to an army that seeks to conquer itself. O Lord of guests, bid me to build myself a lighter limb, and chatter like a bird. I know, now, I cannot fly. I can only fall.

 

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From the vast North of Onhava archives:

 

 

“Full of grace my ass. Every one of them too goddamn tall. And doubtless crazy as swans. ” The young man was annoyed. He banged his bottle on the wet wood of the bar.

“Perhaps that’s true, but you didn’t stick around long enough to find out.” His companion, a much older man, talked from the side of his mouth, but his words were perfectly clear to anyone who wanted to hear. His eyes were fixed on the ceiling fan in the middle of the small room. The ceiling fan rotated so slowly that it was impossible to tell whether it was turning by electric power or the currents of the barroom’s fetid air.

“What, to see if one was maybe shorter than six foot two? I will not dance with a woman who’s taller than me. It’s not a question of prejudice, simply logistics.”

The old man took off his straw hat and set it on an empty barstool. “Name one thing that’s not a question of logistics,” he said. “Name one.”

(The process of naming, if done properly, kills the sense of the thing named. Like pinning a butterfly.)

“That’s poetry,” muttered the young man, spitting flat beer back into the bottle. He signaled to the woman, thin and sallow under neon beerlight. “Another.”

“That’s not poetry. That’s beyond language. No — you’re right. Tenderly, straight as a curving arrow, that can be poetry.”

“Did you see the way that one redhead was boring straight through me with her red hair and her green eyes? Her red hair? Red?”

“I saw her,” said the older man.

The woman brought a bottle of beer for the young man. He took the bottle and held its coldness to his forehead.

She gave an inquiring look to the older man, who considered his glass of whiskey. He nodded. The nod meant “yes.”

“Boring through me. I was transparent to her, but she was transparent, too. Didn’t think I’d notice. I noticed.”

“It’s good to get out once in a while, see how the other half drinks,” said the old man. “You can tell a lot of things that way.”

“Did you say tell or spell?” asked the younger man. The woman brought a fresh glass of whiskey, sans ice, for the old man, who nodded gratefully. The nod meant “thanks.”

“I’m not sure I understand your meaning,” said the older man, sipping his drink.

“The brunette with glasses? What kind of plan or mission or hidden agenda was up her nose? Shifty, that one. Shifty and tall equals danger. You know what color were her eyes? Because I don’t! She kept shifting them around  their orbits so fast you couldn’t catch the hue.”

“I remember the brunette with glasses,” said the old man, wistfully. “I remember all the brunettes with glasses.”

The younger man had an abstract look. He leafed through a book on the bar in front of him, abstractedly looking at a point in the distance, somewhere past the edge of the page.

“There was only one brunette with glasses,” said the younger man after a time.

Here are the words that the younger man was not reading, but nevertheless had open in front of him:

You are reluctant to state the purpose of your being here. Your reluctance derives from fear and from the certain knowledge that purposes cannot be stated. A purpose stated is a purpose thwarted. Into the blackness of: night, into the blackness of: sea,  from the blackness of: solitude, longing, and despair.

“I wasn’t talking about just tonight’s brunette with glasses. I was talking about all the brunettes with glasses, past, present, and future.” The older man finished his whiskey with a single swallow.

“Time, gentleman!” called the woman, dishtowelling an empty glass. “Time!”

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In with the good, out with the bad. But it’s not air of which the teacher speaks. Something more valuable. Essence. Out with ignorance, in with wisdom. Knowledge of the self means knowledge of things hidden in plain sight. When you can see what’s in front of you these hidden things will be revealed. Because when you let out what is in you, that is creative. Held inside (which does not mean withhold from say another person but from existence) these uncreated forms living in darkness will consume you like the fires of hell. Speaks a lot about consuming, and fire. Equating fire with bodily lusts, whether for food or sex or material possessions. That is the hell that will destroy you. Ignorance of that causes madness — you can see that our world is becoming more and more mad, driving more and more ignorant souls mad, because it is a push in the wrong direction.

The aspirant must work in solitude, because only then comes the ability to know yourself. Without distraction. Without guidance, except that which answers the bell of the mind. Word the teacher used was gnosis, but which seems mistranslated merely as knowledge, because some knowledge is empty learning, whose purpose is empty because not aimed correctly. Hamartia the Hebrew word for sin — derived from archery: missing the mark. Who sets the mark? The archer. The two words which interest us most are therefore gnosis and logos. Gnosis better translated as insight or vision, and logos as proclaimed by the teacher (who reserves the term for himself, and thus represents the highest form of being): truth.

To uncover, to disclose, to reveal: apocalypse. When I shed my clothes I am an apocalypt. Every moment has that potential, of showing something hidden. Every person carries his apocalypse within, every person his logos. These are neither subject to nor subjective of, but connected strands of the same unity. Who can through hard work of the spirit achieve true insight will be greatly troubled, and astonished, tells the teacher, but will never die. Much confusion over the use of that word: death. In some accounts does not exist, in others a condition of ignorance to which most are condemned. Talks a great deal about light, as representative of the true condition of anthropos. We are the sons of the Anthropos. Or of the source of the source of the source, higher than any source.

His usage of light distinguishes between even the light of the sun, which is an artificial light, because made by the maker. And the maker himself made, in some versions, by those he made. Did we create the sun or did the sun create us? Or did something else create both, or have we always existed, but in different, possibly less cumbrous, form and content? Or — do we exist in different form even now but lack the means to see? Willful ignorance, everything returns to that. If you do not know the manner of your coming you cannot know how to go.

Painting: Paul Nash, Totes Mere

Dan Volonino | Bart Baggett | Horst Ferrero Gainesville

 

Gardenias. Heavy scent borne on the evening breeze, through two windows facing the street. The red Mercedes had seemed to come out of nowhere.

“Listen. I met a girl.”

In fading sun the row of bougainvillea overflowing chain link fence across the street flushes pinkly, nodding (sweet, demure) at passersby.

“I love Dave, don’t you?”

He hadn’t seen the car until it juddered into his, obliquely, at low speed, denting the hood over the right headlight and smashing the blinker to yellow shards, scattered on the road. Useless blinker guts hung from exposed wires, sadly on the bumper, a gouged eye dangling from its socket by a bloody thread.

“He thinks I’m trashing him. And of course I am, I mean whenever you break up with somebody….”

Night wearily shrugs on pinpricked overcoat. He sits in blue chair facing the windows. Cars roll by, eachly different by susurrus, by timbre of engine-stroke and brake-squeak. Bursts of conversation from sidewalkers in brief spaces between rumbly belching and whispering cars. Palpates parts of his face with one indifferent hand. Still there. Still.

“I don’t involve myself with anything to do with Allen.”

Can you feel his fingers moving slowly over your body? he wondered. Hot dry lips on slender shoulder, breathing in your ear, blowing strands of hair from your eyes? Like fine sand drifting in sea-air. You might not have noticed. Bastard didn’t even apologize. Not a flicker of regret. The look in his eyes as dead as will. We all. Being. Unwell. Stand. Windowsill. Understood. Will understand.

“I was in shock, just complete… shock….”

Photo: Still from Mimesis (2006)