In their woods I am safe. In the trees, beyond the roads, under the darker sky, in the shadowy hills. Even though my paws burn, the pads raw, I carry my carnival bones away from the handlers. They think they are larger. They think they are intimate with animals. Intimacy it may be, but intimacy is equally available to enemies. It requires only the acceptance of vulnerability. It's open to the possibilities of control. This control may be offered and returned, or it may simply be taken.
This is the head of an axe, firmly attached to a club by the savage who used it. And this is a knife made from deer horn. This is one way of looking at the world.
The man is kneeling at the end of the road. This man is building a fire. This man is looking into the fallen sun.
A wind is blowing. We call it a transient wind because it is arriving from the same place as the man. We are the reason the man built the fire. We are not the reason the man fears the sun.
Water and fire joined beneath the tent. Their portrayal of the soul leaving the body flaunted my belief system. Its spirit and vulnerability surfaced inside me like a burble of gas. Magnificent, erratic, full of laughter and more ancient than I am. I was launched. Not as a man seeking an answer, but as an animal participating in a question. I was lost in the amplitude of the brief endless moment.
As soon as I had swallowed the ocean, the ocean began burning.
Picture 1 shows a bee in a flower. Many of them have gathered near the holes that have been freshly dug into the earth. The square boxes on the ground in picture 2 are coffins. At least two men will fit in each coffin. The bees must fly from the men to the hives to deposit the pollen. Although the bees must sometimes fly many miles to reach their hives, they do not, like the men, get lost.
Picture 3 shows a swarm of children entering abandoned coffins to start new homes. If they are superstitious, they may choose a hollow tree instead. Picture 4 shows the inside of the coffin. You can see that it is very very dark, but there are a few small brightly lit altars along the edges of the body. If the children do not plant their feet firmly and eat at the altars before they arrive here, the children may not grow.
Clay has been accepted as a necessary component of man's conquest of his physical limitations, but the word clay has not. This creates a problem for the disorganized settlers and their petroleum geologists. Once upon a time, natural resources were used to establish communication between the disparate elements of men's lives.
Flint, a man hard enough to scratch glass, was found close to the surface, like most of the people who live here. It took a great deal of study to determine what use might be made of his incendiary qualities. Ideas that are found this close to the surface are often split and broken and may not have any applications at all.
So if the creator of a world, if creator could be said to apply when the elements of that world already exist in other forms, apologizes in advance for his transgressions, thereby becoming yet another character in the story, will it make the deceit any more palatable? The creator may be doing some things here that you might not find acceptable if he were to just spell out what they are. You might say you don't want to participate in this story if all of its devices and sleight of hand maneuvers were identified and laid out like so many dead rabbits. You might say you don't like being led down the golden path of trickery and misdirection. You might say you refuse to be treated with such patent disregard. You might say you will not allow yourself to be drawn into the arrogant hostility of a construct that admits to manipulation and coercion even before it offers any conventional reason to accept such seemingly contradictory guidance. You might say all of these things and more. But probably just to yourself.
And then you would continue reading.
And in this way the story within the story begins a little closer to the surface, finally, after waving its intentions about the compound like dirty laundry. It begins with a woman who offers no apology, for it is not she who will deceive you, but the author of her story, which may or may not be based on real events but will attempt to gain your complicity anyway. The same author blatantly honks and squabbles and postures and wobbles his bumbling way along the trajectory of his misguided and nearly hostile intentions, which, like him, will so quickly be left behind. Already he's but a thread dangling from the web. All we need is a description of the fly to lose him entirely.
And there. There she is. The woman we will come to know as the protagonist. Or is she the antagonist? Unless even this thread is still being woven into the dangling web . . . You need only read another sentence and the creator is gone, banished deep inside the story, his intentions folded away like a dirty handkie. The woman continues upon her way, in her own self-involved manner now, no one else's. Already she is all there is of the story, her story, and she belongs to no one.
A dreamy hairless woman in a cream colored blouse appears. She plays the cello, paints hunting scenes. Her father lives in France, a chef, her mother dead in an asylum (an odor of hummingbirds). She's almost not even there.
She's not looking. If you approach now, she might find you unacceptable or worse, invisible. A man's confidence wilts if he cares too much what a woman thinks of him.
Better to let the teasing glances speak.
It's the storm at the center that unhooks its skirt and drops down to the deeper dance. She could be a hedgehog of a woman snuffling along the sidewalk. It makes no difference.
The pickers wear sandals and carry their lunches in small brown animal skins. Sometimes the sun feels so hot that their eyes seem like small red cherries ripe with exposure. When they have been working a long time, their fingers begin to look like they are covered with a soft silvery skin. The air is filled with the fragrance of grapefruit, but there are no grapefruit.
The pickers empty their baskets into the sack, and when the sack is full, it is emptied into large carts drawn by large oxen.
In this drawer are drawings of tools that were made by people of not so long ago. You can easily pick out the neck axe, the nose puller, the testicle hook, and the thumbscrew. Diplomats of old relied heavily on such tools for their access to reliable labor.
Perhaps the steering wheel on your father's automobile is now made of pulp from soybeans or the worn out overalls of men who planted row upon row of banana trees on great plantations in the southern hemisphere.
Picture 5 does not show the disaster you might have expected. It shows a man's home falling down very slowly, so slowly it appears to be sturdy. A deception, perhaps, but not a disaster.
Picture 6 doesn't show a fire. It shows the warm breath of god on the frightened trees long before a great rain.
Picture 7 doesn't show a man washing his hands. It shows an animal touching himself with another animal.
The picture on the bottom of this page helps to explain the picture on the top, which has been torn into tiny pieces by the angry miner who appears in both pictures, which will appear as words in the translated version.
The people and the dogs help to hold the dirt where it belongs. This would appear to be self-evident although it cannot be put into books and appropriately labeled.
Pictures 10 and 11 have crossed the border into bread in order to capture the dark crater of the body's voice. It was echoing across the areas of overexposure. It appeared to be achieving intimacy with the soldiers of mercy. No vacancies yet in the Salvation Army's cold hotel. No ethereal horsehair sofa. No angel's virgin meadow.
The pictures represent the frustration the photographer evidenced when asked to capture the sacrifice and denial lent to the scene by the surly drunk, who seemed to be angry mainly about being drunk. Perhaps he was set up.
Notice the green bush, so ordinary, so correct in its compositional placing and color you wouldn't even notice if you hadn't thought, What a singular treasure it must conceal.
"Involved" was only a word the authorities used to describe her inventive engagements. The kind of woman you argued over in your head before you even said hello, needing to decide if she was merely simple or worthy of a more profound disgust.
I lobbed myself into the disgorged vinyl car seat in front of the television that couldn't be turned off. My entrance into the story might have gone unnoticed if it had not contrasted so abruptly with the distancing characteristics of the voice thus far engaged.
Perhaps he was not merely the narrator's sidekick idling in a self-deprecating purr is something you might have thought of first if the character had not stated it categorically.
Give yourself some credit.
She was at that moment busy constructing my possibilities with an eraser.
I had already been sufficiently elaborated elsewhere. Creator transparent in the creation and all that bullshit. Characters thinly disguised as. Captured by his own imagination kind of crap. You know the game. And there wasn't any more of me left because I was stuffed to the brim with those false intentions.
It made me feel like the fattest individual I could have imagined. Then I realized how many fat people got that way by feeling empty and I didn't think I could feel any emptier.
As if some arrogant child leaping with a loud horse-headed trumpet over the marigolds ringing the tired granite statue had driven his imaginary steed past history and into glory, faded, and sat there, triumphant bronzed equestrian surrounded by golden blooms, once more ignored, while the crows flashed their hungry beaks at the raucous air and complained of so much less than we have already unwittingly survived.
I want to know. I really want to know. Who is the happiest man? Because it's certainly not me, and I want to know what I'm missing. I want a glimpse of what it could be like if I wasn't who I am. I want a reason to try. I want a future. Because the way it looks to me now, there are a whole lot of assholes faking it out there, and I want to know who's really happier than I am, and if the answer's nobody is, well shit, I don't know if I can take that. I don't know if I can believe it could be better than it is either, but at least for one person it's got to be better than it is for me without all the hype and bullshit. Because I don't want to just believe in the possibility. I've done that plenty of times and it's bullshit. It's just pussy-assed, family-members-down-by-the-garbage-dumps, unidentifiable-body-fluids, best-friend-and-your-girlfriend bullshit is what it is.
It had been a long time since a woman had stared at me in that way. I desired it, but not with this woman.
There was a scar across her cheek all the way to her lip, and her hair looked dry and flew away from her head in every direction. She was wiry, but muscled. Her breasts trembled as she gestured to the matronly figure in front of her, as if she were a child and was deliberately annoying her. She looked tired and wild at the same time. She had had a difficult and interesting life. You could see that. Perhaps she was still having it. She was so unusual that I had been looking at her too long, taking her in. Perhaps she thought I was having a fantasy about her. In a way I was. But not the one she thought I was having. I had grown old enough to begin having fantasies about what my life might be like if I lived a long time. I seemed to feel a need to imagine it in order to make it possible. I had been watching her too long. She noticed.
I turned away, but not before noticing a grin spread quickly from her mouth all the way up her scar to her forehead. She shook her head in mock disbelief. Her hair coiled and uncoiled from its gray ringlets like a gaggle of tiny slinkies, those fascinating and useless children's toys that walk right down a stairway if you get them started. I was afraid her hair was telling me more than I wanted to know about her thoughts.
She started moving in my direction. She moved quickly and with a surprising smooth gait. I could see her out of the corner of my eye while I pretended to be engaged with the rosebush that had been to my left and was now innocently awaiting my intrusion upon its peaceful beauty. I thought of leaving, but not quickly enough. I didn't want her to think I was running away. I was not going to let her intimidate me.
She positioned herself close and just behind my right arm, which was bent to allow my book bag to hang from it. To my left was a building, brick and without windows, the back of a lonely square flat that sat beneath another and that beneath another. Many parts of the city had these buildings set next to each other without respite, and I was thinking about the lives of the people living in them. She waited.
When I turned, I misjudged the encumbrance dangling from my right arm, and the cloth of the book bag brushed her left breast. She made a half-sincere attempt to cover her mouth as she giggled softly and made a point of looking into the bag, as if to see what impertinent tiny gentleman might be lurking in there. I succeeded in avoiding a blush until I remembered that the book on top, with a lurid cover from the 1950s of a type once called pulp fiction was lying flat, with its face up, flashing its prominent title, A Crime of Passion, displayed luridly in faded crimson above a cowering dandy, shrinking from a knife-wielding vixen forever poised to strike.
My first impulse was to explain my uncharacteristic possession of such a book. I had been to the thrift store only a block away and, suspecting the item might be of some antique value, purchased it for almost nothing. I soon realized how such a protest might easily be taken as an attempt to deny the obvious, which was, in this case, nevertheless not the truth, and thereby exacerbate my situation.
The woman waited. I might have been inclined to think she waited patiently, but her whole body moved in a constant agitated sputter. Even so, she did not appear to be upset, was perhaps even quite entertained by these circumstantial events, but she was most certainly not remaining still.
I was busy reformulating my apology when a small shower of soft green spears descended upon us. The woman was delighted. I surmised that they had come from the roof of the sad building and examined the roof that rested upon my shoulder. It appeared to be the top of an onion once again, as it had done on many other occasions.
I cannot explain how I came to my next conclusion, but I trusted the impulse. I offered one of the green spears to the woman, in my mind a kind of apology for unintentionally invading her space, and she made a faint curtsy, stabbing the spear deeply into her gray mop of hair. I was surprised to discover I no longer felt uneasy about the woman's presence, but I had no idea what it was that I wanted from the encounter. I still had not spoken to her.
Are you there? Are you seeing the stars through the porch railing with your head propped up against a log of firewood, coat draped and folded to soften the bark's scrape?
Do you know any of the names for the constellations of celestial moments in time that, even though long past, are represented by the night sky's pinholes?
Some other guy would have done it differently. Not me. I had my own way of doing things. I had my way of making things happen. It's just that they weren't usually the things I had intended to make happen.
It's a public place so there's lots of refuse and people wanting to be seen there's desperate complacency and overflowing gratitude for remembering it doesn't matter what you could be accomplishing go home to the life they wanted you to have it makes them feel better and their happiness is your responsibility.
In picture 12 the stones appear softer than the water, which is passing over them, but the evidence suggests they are not.
It's your wonder at the world that ought to be messy. As he is thinking this, he remembers the sallow, knuckled face of once more and once more. He draws a frame around it and sets it on the porch next to a piece of charcoal and a lemon.
When he knocks on her door, he is thinking of groceries. He's a delivery boy filled with everything that hasn't yet said no or changed address. He's happy and it's the longest Sunday afternoon ever.
She tastes like saxophones and dyed hair, and she waits while you take your shoes off. He's thinking this. She doesn't resist. Not anything. Her mother's downstairs, but they're not in the same world.
Later she will offer him onion-bread.
And now, after sex, the sound he makes in the wet air is like the sound of an ewe the wild dogs have run to ground. But soft. Quiet. Aware.
A restless wobble of flesh full with welcome and wonder.
A little drink of night. A couple of killers dancing with their loved ones.
It's dark, but not so dark you can't see what you're doing.
Past the forest now. Past the images passing. Past the ordinary accidents. Past the crime of survival.
The fecund swamp is purring in the heat.
The vixen musk of burrowing dreams cannot be placed in evidence.
The mewling of distant stars is too constant to hear.
Beads of water descend the window-glass, transparent insects with sticky feet and a distorted view of the restrained light that finds them hurrying towards the earth that will consume them.
For a while nothing of any greater value.
Then more of it.