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Banshee 3:33 [blognovel with music]

 
 
 
Bemused 

In they come, the muses: 
The heart is never so full as when it is empty. 
No, not the heart, the blind muscle pumping life against will;
No, not the mind, the unkempt mad ruler in its walled keep; 
But something else, something throughout, 
Somewhere there was smoke, there was fire, 
There was burning hot tongue scalding gulped 
gone. 
Where? Dregs. A voyageuse. A trail. Wisps. 
But in they come, the muses: 
Into the disembodied desire wish longing 
Like birds into a silent chimney 
With voice and flutter spring summer fall 
Until the kindling of a winter return.



Wednesday, October 25

Jeb Was Wearing Black Today 

It's been a while since you've seen him. He comes into the library to warm up next to the fireplace. "Too damn cold to play outside today." He's got this one-man-band thing going where he plays a harmonica in a rack and a lap bouzouki at the same time. And if you say there's no such thing as a lap bouzouki, you'd be right. Jeb is fictional. But the funny thing is--he *has* to play them at the same time. "They don't work separate" is what he says. 

But he's all in black today. You ask him about the Johnny Cash look. He says he's in mourning because something was happening to the beauty in his life. He'd been having this recurring dream--"once a week, sometimes even once a month"--where he would wake up and there'd be the Venus de Milo all over him, stroking him with her stump. But it hasn't happened in a while. "Not since Orpheus and I got back from Hades." So he's pretty down about that and is wearing black to brighten things up a bit. "It's a prerumination, I know it is." You ask him did he mean "premonition" and he says no, he means prerumination. 

You tell him he needs to get on Myspace and turn people on to the bouzharp. He says, "just what everybody needs: flames dancing over a fake log."

 

 
Wednesday, October 25

Jeb's Sturmunddrang, I mean Conundrum 

"Rum."

"Aw, c'mon, Jeb, that can't be it."

"Yup."

"Her name? Or your weakness?"

"Well, both actually. Them both being her."

"Who is she?"

"Boudicca, queen of the Celtic Iceni and adversary of Romans, transformed into an hourglass-shaped musical instrument."

"I thought you said her name was Rum."

"... and answering to the name of Rum. And sometimes appearing in dreams as Venus di Milo. And in any case, but usually a glass one, the very epitome of the beautiful timekeeping-with-sand kinda dealio."

"And you say she's gone?"

"Yup, went missing after a self-parking Sexlu self-parked right in front of where I was busking on the sidewalk and the front passenger-side door opened and Rum was whisked right off my lap."

"Sexlu?"

"Yeah, the rich devil car."

"You mean a Lexus?"

"I'm dylsexic."

"Mmhm. Self-parking Lexus, huh?"

"Yup. Nobody in it."

"Was it a red self-parking Lexus?"

"Yup."

"You just got back from Hades, right?"

"Yeah, me'n Orpheus charmed Eurydice out of Mr. Satan down there. Quite a crap shoot, that. But Orpheus plays a mean harp. Put 'em all to sleep."

"I thought it was Morpheus did the sleep thing."

"Oh him too. Man, them playing together is one killer act, a total snoozefest."

"Well, Jeb, I'd say you being Rumless and that red self-parking Lexus can only mean one thing."

"I know: Never expect a monkey with a typewriter to write Hamlet, but find them an agent when they do."

"No. You need to go to Hell."

"That's an unkind remark."

"No, I mean you need to go there and look for Rum. Get her back."

"How?"

"You have to do what Orpheus did. Charm the devil into giving her back."

"How?"

"With music."

"But Rum is my music."

"Maybe you could offer to teach How Even Rich Devils Can Learn to Parallel Park In Modo Classico."

"Translate that into Arabic and let me strap on a bomb and I'm good to go."

"Off. Good to go. Off."
 
 
Saturday, October 28 

Autumn Farewell
 
[Music: Autumn Farewell]
 

It isn't so much a gray, rainy, miserable day as it is a mood: the feeling that all is crap, and the sky might as well piss on it and deprive the world of anything like the quilted warmth that makes you want to stay in bed.

That according to Jeb Aubois, who then asks what you think of snapshots. Showing you a snapshot. Of him looking down into a camera with a waist-level finder and pointing at whoever it was who was taking his picture. Black and white. He is off to the side, standing next to a row of doors and behind some kind of barred fence or gate.

You tell him you like snapshots. They bring back memories. Jeb says he dislikes them for the same reason.

He says it's picture of a duel between him and the other photographer. That his, Jeb's, picture didn't turn out at all, complete misfire...The other picture won, Jeb was shot, was nailed to the paper...And so he was dead.

Well, no, Jeb. You're alive. You're here.

Hmm, he says he was hoping this picture would make him dead so he could go to hell and look for Rum. But if he isn't dead well then not only did he dislike snapshots, but they aren't good for very much, were they? They aren't real, and he wants real. He wants Rum to be brought back to the flesh and the blood. OK, not so much the blood (he laughs a little strangely) but definitely the flesh and if I wanted an example, could he borrow my dulcimer?

You let him and he plays something and then asks how was that? And you say "pensive." Then he asks if you knew what it was and you say no, and he says it was a goodbye he'd never been able to say. You ask if there was any flesh and he says it was the principle of the thing.
 
  
Wednesday, November 01 

Helloween 

It'd be standard haunted house fare--screams, vampires emerging from caskets, decomposed corpses walking around in tattered grave clothes, screams, sudden apparitions of ghostly white specters, more screams--if it weren't for the quiet, screamless avenue where all alone under a spotlight amid the temporary walls of black fabric behind a small square table labeled with a hand-lettered notebook-paper sign that says "Jean-Paul Sartre" sits a man. A man who just sits there, arms folded, leaning back in a chair, watching you as you enter the avenue and advance toward him, with you wondering what his scream material would be.

You walk up to his table, slowly, hesitantly, expectantly (without knowing what to expect), but knowing the way is open behind you, and thinking what can this little man do? You reach the table and stand there. He does nothing but look at you in silence. The more the silence goes on, the more uncertain and scared you become. It is disconcerting. Then it happens.

He laughs.

A little chuckle, more like. Heh-heh. Two little syllables of risibility. And they sure get a rise out of you. You practically lift off. You've never been more scared in your life than when a balding walleyed man in glasses stares at you in silence for a few moments and then gives a little laugh.

Noting the impact, he lapses back into his pose while you pull yourself together. Then he speaks--although mercifully he clears his throat first, a little rumble, nonalarming, a very mild warning shot.

"Hell is other people."

A shiver goes all down through you. It is the voice of Arnold "Kalifornia" Schwarzenegger.

"A famous statement. Have you heard it? It isn't well understood. People thought that I meant that interpersonal relations are always poisoned to the point of hellishness. But I meant something else entirely. I meant that if things with another become difficult or impaired, yes, that is hell, but why? It's because other people are fundamentally the most important thing there is to an understanding of ourselves. When we think of ourselves, when we try to understand ourselves, basically we use knowledge that others already have of us."

He stops and sits down. At some point in the delivery, the strangeness of the little walleyed French philosopher speaking English in the voice of a Teutonic muscleman/actor/politician dams the flow of adrenalin, and your fear turns into the desire to quibble. But you keep it to yourself. And notice the exit sign peeking at you through the black fabric. You walk past Jean-Paul Sartrenegger, through the curtains, to the exit door. You push the panic bar and walk outside.

Time in the darkness makes the light so bright you have to close your eyes, and you walk into something leaning against the wall that hits the ground with a jangled chord. You open your eyes and there it is, Jeb Aubois's dulcimer named Rum with a note on it that says, "Take me downtown."

If hell is other people, so is heaven.
 
 
Sunday, November 05

Banshee 3:33
 
[Music: Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring]

Yesterday's oboe gig is nothing dulciferous: a very traditional wedding. With very much the preferred setup for such: performing from the second-storey choir loft in the very back of a long nave inside a tall, elegant church whose brick walls' all-seeking verticality is only lightly tamped down by the timbered horizontal ceiling. So that you float somewhere in the middle, looking toward the sanctuary out over the congregation far below. The loft is spacious, dominated by organ pipes--smokestack-sized in close-ordered ranks on both sides, divided by a spray of heraldic trumpets in the middle--and by the west-facing rose window of stained glass, through which shines the setting sun to center the circle of the rose upon the cross hanging opposite, just in time for the vows before the sun sinks further and ends the projection.

It's a good time to feel small--the one oboe, just another pipe in all that organistic panoply--but it's a good time to feel connected as well. No one looks at you, there is only sound. Maybe unseen angels following the same bidding as the sun illuminating the cross? For the listener, that is your hope. For you there is the work at hand--mostly getting through the challenge of how to get enough air for the unbroken stately triplets of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," the only reasonable solution for which--in your experience--is circular breathing, where in places you simultaneously inhale through your nose while you maintain the sound with air pushed from your cheeks. It is a trick, a technique, that allows you to play music meant to be heard as an unbroken stream of sound and probably written for instruments without breathing challenges, played with a keyboard or a bow.

But it's not easy, and it's stressful when you think of how the sound can go bad. But it doesn't. You were part of the sun in the rose today. But in your relief you are thirsty, with a coffee shop close at hand. Furthermore there's a book in your music bag that you've had to force your way out of the last couple of times you've opened it. Maybe you could finish it off.

You get settled in and ready to read when Jeb Aubois wanders in. You haven't seen him since you returned his dulcimer Rum to him, the one he thought the devil had stolen and that you found outside a haunted house on Halloween. He enters not knowing you are there. You guiltily hope that he doesn't see you--you have chosen the shadowy back of the place on purpose--because that introspective, post-gig mood would be better treated by a book than by a conversation. But see you he does, and he immediately comes over to your table, reaching in his pants pocket as he comes.

"Look at this." he says. "It was inside of Rum." He holds something out to you. You take it and examine it. It's a small flat pebble with lettering on it that says "Banshee 3:33."
 
 

Monday, November 06 

Banshee 3:33 bis

"and this was wrapped around the rock."

Jeb shows you a strip of paper with writing on it. At first you think it's the fortune from a fortune cookie, since it's about that size, but the strip is wrinkled like cloth and the writing is in some kind of gothic font, unevenly printed, as if blocked by hand.

The paper says, "Verily thou shalt not know the last time."
 
 

Wednesday, November 08 

Bantu Bach Flute Ensemble

You're trying to figure it out, you and Jeb, the Banshee 3:33 pebble found in his dulcimer and the strip of rag with the caxtonian typeface and jacobean diction.

Jeb complains that since getting his Rum back with that message in it, he feels like he's going to die every time he plays her. And you say, well maybe you will. Or maybe she'll disappear again. Somebody's telling you not to take those moments for granted.

Well, what's a banshee anyway and why 3:33, Jeb wants to know? It looks like a scripture reference, you say, like John 3:16. The Book of Banshee? Maybe it's a train, Jeb wonders? One of those high-speed jobs like they have in Germany or Japan, the Screaming Banshee, leaving from track 13 every day at 3:33?

You say you'll do some research on banshees since you're well placed to do that, in a library and all. Well, says Jeb, whoever put that rock in there is the one that brought Rum back, and whoever it is is trying to tell me something and it'd be nice to figure it out before whenever the last time is, because after the last time it would probably be too late.

And he asks you what you were doing to your car this morning and you ask him what he means and he says you were draped ... and you remember that there was a leaf stuck in the windshield wiper that was very distracting and you tried to remove it with the wipers going and when you did, the button of your jacket sleeve got stuck in the wiper so that you had to make your arm go back and forth with the wiper and then you tried at the same time that was happening to ease over with your other arm and turn the wipers off but instead you turned it up to high speed ... draped Jeb says you were draped half in and half out of your car, one arm jitterbugging like a coked-up flapper and the other trying to grope the steering column like an adolescent NASCAR Lothario. You ask him if flappers jitterbugged and he says who doesn't?

So you admit to him that what you were doing was rehearsing the Bantu Bach Flute Ensemble, which performs the chorale on your recent recording of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." Recorded live in your basement with the 24-piece Orchestra of the Avatars, an E-power Biggspipe Organ, and the 36-piece Bantu Bach Flute Ensemble. And, Jeb says, you breathing circularly on an oboe and at the same time directing the Banned Book Futon Samba with your windshield wiper? Exactly, you say.

Then Jeb asks if the Bantus would know anything about banshees? And is this a blog or a script of some kind that's going to turn into a cartoon? And where is it going? Probably nowhere, you say, because after all: Banshee 3:33.
 
 

Sunday, November 12 

Spark spinning

It's Sunday afternoon. The small contingent of homeless seeking shelter inside the library includes Jeb Aubois

"So, what'd you find?" he asks.

You have to ask him "about what?" and are a little embarrassed, knowing that somewhere in the litter of paper scraps on the reference counter is a note with a request from him for information, something decidedly obscure and useless, but after all this is a library, where no bit of information is..supposedly..too obscure or useless for you to spend tax dollars looking for it, although..realistically..there are people like Aubois whose lives seem so to revolve around obscurity and uselessness that something inside of you wants to speak for the taxpayer and ask them to leave you alone and let you read, which you feel to be unquestionably something the taxpayer wants you to do, and the more obscure and useless the book the better, with the result that the requests for arcana of the Aubois of the world tend to wind up somewhere in the litter of paper scraps on the reference counter while you tend to your own arcana and to the inevitable embarrassment that results from doing the taxpayer's bidding. But it is only temporary, the embarrassment. It's comforting to think that you've been there before and you'll be there again. And that the taxpayer would really rather you be reading.

"About what? Heck if I know," he answers. "I have a bad memory. I sure hope you wrote it down."

He does have a bad memory. He has told you all about it, about how his daily ritual includes playing all the music he's ever written on his lap bouzouki, so he won't forget any of it, and now the daily ritual takes over three hours.

"Oh, here it is," you say, finding the slip of paper with "Banshee 3:33" written on it, covered front and back with scribbled notes from your Wikipedia disambiguation foray: "basically female fairy herald of death/Book of the B'shee..YA title with sister as banshee/funny there is a train..B'shee Train trad. story covered by Odds Bodkins/Marvel Comix character a male: creators didn't know 'banshee' trans. literally as 'fairy woman' in gaelic LOL they shoulda consulted a ref. lib."

You describe the results to Jeb who lapses into deep thought and then, seemingly latching onto an idea, asks you "Been doing much playing lately?" which takes you aback as it seem non sequiturish, but then you remember that it might just be a default question prompted by a memory lapse of Jeb's.

"Symphony stuff. Oboe. Legit." you say, reprising in your mind your weekend of Chabrier Espana/Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez/Bizet Carmen Suite numero uno/Rimskiiy-Korsakovff Capriccio Espagnol and then this morning a romp through a Handel sonata with a charming little episcopal organ and at the same time wishing he'd let you get back to what the taxpayer pays you to do: that book on the Vermeer forger is tempting you like a piece of unwrapped chocolate.

He chuckles. "Nothing illegit, huh? Keeping it zipped up?"

Yeah right, you say, not much dulciferizing these days.

"But don't forget the Banshee, OK?" he says, bringing you up a little short for all your assumptions about his crappy memory. "I had music in a dream last night--in a cave or something, a fire, sparks spinning upwards. Blasting music, like a shawm or something. Maybe it has something to do with that banshee stuff.You wanna hear it?"

He hands you an mp3 player and you listen to his dream music. What a nightmare.

 
 

Wednesday, November 15

ban si

I sing only with the taste of death in my mouth. If I spit it out, the song would not be what it is.

I am the lover of the dying. I come to them in a form born of their desire. Their final moments I make the sweetest of their lives. With me there is no frantic seizing for last breath. It is the opposite of drowning. It is an opening, of the breath, of the sky. For the dying, my song is a eulogy of their best memories, and they float up upon the drafts of melody and disappear, a spark in the night. I don't know where they go. I have never died.

The living world hears my song and hears only mournful sadness, a harsh wailing. It is the sound of the bereftness they feel. It is as inviting as black emptiness. What could it be, from a Death Messenger, but anything from a sob to a shriek?

The living say I do people no friendly turns. It is because my friendliness is known only to those who are dying. Only they hear it.

Look at someone you love. Anyone else will look at them differently. You look at them with love. It causes you to see them differently--you see, as it were, the one you love as more than a bundle of limbs with a shock of hair. You see the laugh the scent the touch.

That is how a dying person hears my song. Life is fullest--then they leave.

No one has heard both sides of the song of the Banshee and lived.

Except once. If I am solitary and unseen, it is for a reason.

 

November 18

Both sides now

“Well, why didn’t you record it like you did the music?” You ask Jeb the obvious question.

“Well, maybe she didn’t want me to. Rum wouldn’t want to be.”

“Why not?”

Jeb looks at you like you’ve lost your mind. “Well, that would sort of ruin the point, wouldn’t it?”

“The point being …?” You spin out the ellipsis with a looping finger.

“The point being that no one’s ever heard her voice except for me. Her voice is a complete secret.”

You look around the coffeehouse to see if anybody is watching you converse with this patently deranged individual. Everyone appears to be affixed to their laptops but for a moment you consider that they all have webcams affixed to you and your conversation with Jeb is being webcast. Then you consider that Jeb’s patent derangement might be contagious and you shrug off the thought and go on.

“Jeb, look. What’s an instrument for, if not to be heard?”

“Oh, well, she’s heard all right. By me. Sometimes. She doesn’t always say anything.”

“What are you saying, Jeb? That sometimes you strum her and she makes no sound?”

“Well, more like she won’t let me strum her.”

Damn, this guy was incorrigibly nuts. “She won’t let you? Jeb, she … no, not she. It! It! It!”

“Did you just say ‘shit’?” Jeb asked.

“No,” and your exasperation appears in the force of your answer. “I said ‘she’ and then I said ‘it.’ Your damn dulcimer is an it, Jeb. Not a she. And what you do with it is all up to you.”

He shrugs his shoulders. “You’re a fool, man. That’s all I know. You’re just a fool if you think that. I might want to make music from here to breakfast but she’s got to want to. That’s just how it is.”

You look at him and can’t believe he’s calling you a fool.

“And as for that dream, it’s the same thing. If that was Banshee 3:33 in that dream, I’d be crazy to record her without her permission.

You shake your head in disbelief and rub it for good measure. “Sounds like she and Rum are cut from the same cloth.”

“Maybe you’re not such a fool after all.” He takes a drink of your coffee and notices your book. “Whatcha readin’?”

You wish he hadn’t asked. “A book on banshees.”

Now it’s his turn to shake his head. “I take it back. You are a fool.

 

Sunday, November 26

Absinthe makes the heart

[Music: Live at Greyfriars Chattown]

https://sites.google.com/a/judbbarry.com/www/music/banshee-333/liveatgreyfriarschatttown.mp3


You're at Greyfriars, a coffee shop in Chattanooga, just hanging out and using the wifi to bring your mailbag out of the ether and waiting for Jeb to get back from checking on his dad up at the nursing home on the mountain. He doesn't have a car and since you and he are closely related on his bastard third cousin's stepfather's mistress's side, you figured it was your family duty to take some time and bring him down so he could do his family duty, which he was very much wanting to do in that wanton way of his--"purpose, thank God for purpose," he kept saying on the way down. He asked if he could drive himself once you got there, which you did against your better judgment since he likes to straighten out the curvy mountain roads around here, but you did anyway.

And now he's back. "I brought the piano with me." And sure enough he has--the baby grand from his dad's house. "This place needs one." You gather up a few guys from the shop and go and untie it from the back of the car. "How thoughtful of those piano makers to put those little wheels on the legs, huh?" says Jeb.

You get it inside after only a little difficulty--one of the front windows broke out when we put too much pressure on the door frame--but it's a pretty day and a nice piano and people really don't care as long as the coffee keeps coming.

Jeb is quiet at first. His dad's quite the pianist, neither of us much at all. He finally dabbles a little and suggests you get out your horn and we play a little something and then he gets weird, hearing things, and then he goes quiet and writes numbers on a napkin and keeps asking the wait staff for absinthe, which they keep saying they don't have, to which he keeps saying "but my heart, my heart, it isn't fond enough." Nobody gets it except him and you and you don't think it's funny and neither does he. "I want to send a card, that's all," he says.
 
 

Monday, November 27

Bottle by

You read in the hospital today. Stories and poems. Melville and Hardy. Jeb just sits there and wonders about the light show behind the eyelids. That and tunes. With Rum. "Shut up about her," you want to say but that's his life. And so you read to his dad. His dad goes to sleep on your reading but you try not to take it personally; you would put yourself to sleep too with hearing the poems and not seeing them. Poems need to be seen. Nobody talks about that. They say poems need to be heard. But there is something about seeing the words. Were they written before they were heard? Were they written in the mind? You like to see the words in the Bible while the preacher reads them. They are there, potent and loaded.

They're

There

What are the echoes of death, something that we don't know except as a blank?

81 years, the dad says. I've had 81 years and that's OK with me. Jeb sits there and jiggles his leg and wants to strum Rum. You say, not knowing what to say, "well, you just don't know" and the dad says "that's right. Death is the one thing we don't know" and you're not sure that's what you meant but he's right anyway.

Jeb says the banshee is following him. "Why would she be?" you ask. Banshees howl at someone's death. In Ireland.

"You and your book," he says. "You and your dusty archival folklore. When this is real."

"Real how? Real as ghosts?"

"No, safe as houses." And he says this is something, someone, unfound unknown unseen wanting to be heard wanting the peace of revenge the vindication of being right. "Like the end of a poem, the wrap of the rhythm, the close of the rhyme. The head on the pillow."

You ask if that would be a decapitated head? And Jeb's father is talking about his first memory on the back steps of his house in New Orleans and seeing the maid cut off a chicken's head and then watching the chicken dance around the yard for a while, headless but dancing anyway.

And you think about the Melville you read. About Bartleby the deadletter office depressive, able to face less and less in life because of all those destroyed deadletters: the finger never receiving the intended ring. The condemned never receiving the pardon. All the messages in all the bottles and them all broken and the messages floating out to sea, drowning unread. Ah Bartleby. Ah Humanity. Ah headless chickens. Ah dancing.

"Speaking of bottles," Jeb wishes he could drown in Rum before she realizes she doesn't know how to swim. And you think maybe she could at least float but it's not worth quibbling about because you know what he means.


Wednesday, November 29

Hear me call

You're driving back home today with Jeb trying to tell you how to write the song.

"Look, I heard it, man. You didn't. You were just there."

Yeah, yeah, you were just there being normal in that coffeehouse when he received a visitation and heard some kind of electric moan and a voice saying "banshee, hear me call" and today he spends a good part of the ride trying to place the key and plot the solfeggio.

"But I can't write it, man. I just take dictation."

You mean from Rum, you say.

And he says "yeah: Amusement. Bemusement. Perusement. Excusement. Uh, Toulousement. Truebluesment, uh ..."

OK, OK, you get the idea. So, besides the minore sol fa-mi-do, what other ingredients should this song have, you ask?

"Well, it was like dad was saying the other day, what if there were just a little death? what if she could come and be like a caterer, you know, and make a little death so everybody could taste it and see."

So you say he could just call her up and she'd come and make a little death, huh?

"Exactly, I'd call her up and she'd come, like a caterer. So, you got it? For this song? Nothing, uh, flaccid now, not with the cat's-hair-standing-on-end electric moan I was hearing. And when can I have it?"

Why, is there a ... deadline, you ask?

"Hey, if you're going to be refractory I think I'll just live within my moans, OK?"

Whatever you say, Jeb man.
 
 

Monday, December 5

Deadpan
 
[Music: Banshee 333]
 

You play your new song for Jeb, the one he commissioned: "Banshee 333."

He listens one time through and, shaking his head with the air of someone considering the deeply deplorable state of civics education today, asks, "Who was that?"

Who was what? you ask back.

"Well, mostly the second chorus. 'Calling Banshee 333.'"

You say it was you and you and you.

"Well, maybe the question is why."

What do you mean? you ask.

"I thought you were going to explore the provenance of that mysterious manifestation in the Greyfriars coffee house the other night. But instead you seem to have written the theme music to a TV special about gypsy cab drivers."

You think he's being unfare, but you ask: you mean like a reality show?

"A show that would want its theme music to be a heartstopping helping of American cheese."

For a drug-addled street musician with no memory and a romantic inclination toward a lap dulcimer, Jeb Aubois could be weirdly normal sometimes. You wonder if he might be onto something, you wonder if the song is a complete failure, when you notice a change in the wallpaper behind Jeb's eyes.

"Hey, wait a minute!" A reality show has just begun in his brain. "Wait just a toccata-and-fuguing minute! The car that kidnapped Rum! The red car!"

Not a cab, Jeb. It was a Lexus, remember?

"No, I don't remember, and I don't see the significance."

Margaritas ante porcos, you say.

"Margaritas antebellum would be more potent, expudendally speaking. That is to say, what are you saying?" he asks.

A Lexus as a gypsy cab would be casting pearls before swine.

Jeb takes umbrage. "Hey, there's lots of swine out there with pearls on. Why shouldn't they ride from sty to sty in style?"

Because it's too hard to say, you say, but otherwise that's not the point.

"Look, man, the point is that it's almost sundown on Dec. 4. Once again, it's Hanukkah."

You say but you thought Hanukkah didn't start this year til the fifteenth. Next year it starts on the fourth.

"So let's say it's next year," says Jeb. He goes over to a pile of crap on the sidewalk and hauls out a set of 8-point reindeer antlers and puts them on his head. There are candles on the points of the antlers. "OK, let's get shamashed," he says, pulling from his pants pocket a candle for a child's birthday cake in the shape of a zero and lighting it with a cigarette lighter advertising life insurance and when you look at him funny he asks, "What's wrong, never seen a menorah?" Then he starts in on "Oy vey in a manger."

He has no rite to criticize.
 
 

Wednesday, December 06

Notcracker

It'd be like old times, you tell Jeb, trying to convince him to take a break from working out a reggae version of "O Holy Night" on his rum dulcimer and come with you to a rehearsal of the "Nutcracker" that you're playing this weekend. He's in his usual spot outside the comic book store on State St. It's a little after 5 and traffic's heavy.

"Yeah, well, with all the exhaust I'm sucking it's likely to turn out more like The Cars anyway, so maybe I'll come along."

Jeb used to be a practitioner of the ill wind that nobody blows good, way long ago, so he knows something about frustrated desire and great expectorations. He's surprised to hear of the project. "The whole Nutcracker? With live band? Do they do that in Appalachia? I thought we just did karaoke ballet up here."

You're glad to say that finally somebody's giving live music a chance. But that gladness lasts only as long as the overture.

"Psst, hey, sounds a little thin," whispers Jeb from his perch in the front row. You're sitting on the outside of the orchestra, in front of the stage. The instruments are stretched thin, only two deep, from side to side. You can't hear the strings on the other side. Behind you, the trumpets sound like they're over in the next county.

"Where are the strings? Don't you need like at least 40 to do Tchaikovskyii?" You whisper back that, yeah, 9 string players just don't quite provide the right thickness of velvet. But this is Art on a Shoestring.

"Yeah, well, tell Art that his shoes are untied."

The evening improves somewhat when at one point there are so many little kid dancers in the hall, all dressed up like mice or toy soldiers or snowflakes and all talking at once while the orchestra's trying to play, that Jeb goes berserk and chases a bunch of them up and down the aisles calling them disrespectful little vermin and yelling at them to shut up and if they didn't he'd make them do something by Bertolt Brecht, until one wise parent--correctly guessing that the choreography of the "Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy" (which we happen at the time to be playing) doesn't properly involve a man dressed as a homeless person running around after child dancers out in the auditorium and threatening to eat them if they didn't shut up "and I've eaten rats before and they're damn tasty"--calls the police, who arrive not long after to do their own star turn on the stage, chasing after Jeb, who somehow manages to elude them.

Things settle down and you finish and go back to your car, where Jeb is hiding in the trunk.

"So, how does it feel to be a pipe in a carousel calliope?" he asks. "I can see the headlines tomorrow: Art Trips on Shoestring, Karaoke Wins."

You drive on in sad silence, thinking that a carousel calliope wheezes along better in tune than the band did tonight. You feel like one of the musicians in that Thomas Hardy story ("Under the Greenwood Tree"? the question mark being your librarian's way of saying "let me look it up") being rendered redundant by the installation of an organ.

"Suck it up," says Jeb. "I mean, you might as well. Your banshee song sucks and your orchestra sucks, so I'd say there's not much of an alternative for you these days."

You screech to a stop and put Jeb out on the street. Too bad for you that he lives there.

 

Friday, December 08

Oh dear! What can the matter be?

Jeb shows you a letter he has received from the Marxessa de Hidalgo Lobo, an old friend of his, in which she asks if he is part of the problem or part of the solution.

What is in the air, you wonder? Just this morning on Nipper radio you heard someone complete a review Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" by saying that a movie showing human sacrifice in graphic detail is the very thing Gibson claims to be warning against--a glorification of violence: "Somebody needs to tell Mel that he isn't part of the solution; he's part of the problem."

"Well, I'm not cutting anybody's heart out of their chest," says Jeb. "Except maybe my own, reaching in there and pulling it out there, Exhibit A of le chagrin d'amour, slathering it all over the fretboard of my dulcimer."

Jeb, you say, you old bleeding heart, you. Maybe you should be the one to tell Mel. He could be part of the solution if he let people cut out their own hearts. Compassionate graphic violence.

"Do you think the Marxessa would go along with that?" Jeb asks. "I definitely sensed that her question had something of a rhetorical whiff about it, like maybe she already knows the answer."

Oh, she knows the answer, you say: If you're not cutting out the clotted aortas of the burgeroisie, you're part of the problem.

"Rhetorically cutting out, of course," Jeb asserts doubtfully.

Well, if your prose is sharp and your knife is dull.

"Mine is neither," says Jeb.

Making you part of the problem AND part of the solution, you say. Which makes you think that if Mel and the Marxessa could get together ...

"Is this a math problem, like adding two negative numbers together and getting a bad grade?" asks Jeb.

No, really, they could get together and cut out hearts. Like at Valentine's. That'd be the solution right there.

"But you still get a bad grade."

Why?

"Because," says Jeb, "me and the Marxessa and Mel and Nipper radio all agree that your song 'Banshee 333' isn't just part of the problem. It's THE problem."

What's the matter?

"Exactly," says Jeb. "That's the problem."

 

Sunday, December 10

a quote for a sans-culotte

It is Sunday afternoon and you are doing important work of finding winning lottery numbers and finding Christmas greetings in as many languages as possible for someone who wants to use a different language for all 134 of her friends. But finally towards the end the work thins out, you have an opportunity to do something you relish: open a book for the first time.

It is an early Christmas gift, a copy of the latest edition of Bartlett's Quotations, showy and seasonal in its red dustcover. You are about to rip into the plastic enclosing it when Jeb appears.

"Halt!" he orders. "What book is that?"

You tell him.

"Very important," he says, "to note the first quote your eyes land upon."

Note the first quote, note the first quote. OK, you say.

The plastic comes off and the book opens and the quote is: "Do Not Trifle with Love." Which turns out to be the title of a play by Alfred de Musset.

"See?" says Jeb, as if it's something important. "You don't see the coincidence?"

It seems to you like something you might find in a Chinese fortune cookie.

"Ah, but you will," says Jeb, nodding with conviction. "You will."

At that moment there is a voice, a disembodied voice, from the other side of the Reference counter. "Excuse me, I have a question."

You look at Jeb confusedly, thinking he's changed his voice and is playing some kind of joke. Jeb is looking down at something near his feet. You get the idea and lean out of the counter and notice a little man, not a foot high, wearing a tattered uniform like a sans culotte's from the French Revolution.

"Yes," you say. "What can I do for you."

The little man looks up at you and says, "I need a definition of a word."

Great, you think, someone who can't look up a word in a dictionary. Then you realize, given the little man's size, that the average dictionary is almost as big as he is.

"What's the word?"

"Unrequieted," says the little man.

Unrequieted. That can't be right. He must mean "unrequited." You ask him if he means "unrequited."

The little man says, "No, not 'unrequited.' I know what that means. That means a flame burning without a candle. I want 'unrequieted.'"

You give Jeb a look. It's not a word, but OK, so you'll look it up. Might as well go to the OED--you never know. But nope, nothing. Which you tell the little man.

"Um," says Jeb, who used to do this for a living, "you might want to check 'What's the Good Void.'" And he says this winking like crazy.

You register incomprehension, so he goes to the stacks, comes back with a book, opens it, and appears to read: "Unrequieted: When you've gotten the picture out of the bottom of the drawer and should probably put it back but can't quite do it."

The little sans culotte nods his head approvingly and then leaves.

You look at Jeb. What's the Good Void?


Tuesday, December 12

Cantique Caw

"You went to the library?"

"Yeah, and they gave me the same definition. Something about a photo in a drawer."

"You mean a dagger in a daguerrotype."

"Oh, was that it?"

"Did they give you a strange look?"

"You mean because I'm a foot-high sans-culotte?"

"Well, yeah. People like you don't exactly hang out at the mall these days."

"It was the street guy got the definition. He seems like he's seen a few things."

"Yeah, he's the one I want. He's got something I need."

"Really, what's that?"

"I'll tell you when you need to know. You're going to help me out. I'm glad I found you."

"It wasn't the other way around?"

The banshee and the kneebreechless little man are talking while the banshee, waiting for a call, drives her red Lexus. It could be just about any other young shapeshifting female and her foot-high homunculid companion.

They start to argue about what exactly did happen at old lady Buchanan's when the banshee came to sing her out and old lady Buchanan asked for a good laugh by getting that little canuck with a voice like a castrated crow to caw "O Holy Night" in Frog just one more time and the banshee didn't know what she meant but old lady Buchanan pointed over to where Lazare was hiding in the bookcase. Lazare the foot-high sans-culotte, whom the banshee then dragged over to old lady Buchanan so he could sing to her, but he refused to sing without his backups, The Three Mes, "toads, and damn poor by human standards, but moneymakers by carnival sideshow standards," whereupon the banshee went out and dredged old lady Buchanan's pond and press-ganged The Three Mes, and the show was on, the Cantique de Noel a la Lazare, much to the merriment of old lady Buchanan who departed with a rictus on her bigoted face.

Nor can the banshee resist poking fun at Lazare's efforts to make the hit parade with a single of the Cantique, for which he recruited the pop oboist Linnaea Lafleurie and paid her $700 for playing. She did her part in an isolation booth, the rhythm section in her ears, and went her way. But later when she heard the result--and her name--on a Dr. Demento radio show, she'd sued Lazare for defamation of character.

At which point the call box squawks: "Calling Banshee 333."

"Yeah, what?"

"Hospital."

"I don't do hospitals."

"I know. Hahahahahaha! How about the public library?"

 

Friday, December 15

midnought riddim
 
[Music: Ode to the Brandy Snifter at Advent]
 

Young Charlie, who is 90 years old, comes in to enjoy the fireplaces. He comes in to the library almost every day to read the papers. He tells you he's been doing that since he was a kid, when the library was in a little house, whereas now it's a brand-new monumental structure.

"With gas fireplaces," Young Charlie says. "Too bad you can't offer folks some brandy or something."

Yes. Brandy and fireplaces. Brandy and christmas trees. You tell Young Charlie how brandy is pretty much a seasonal event for you--it comes out when the fruitcake arrives.

Young Charlie allows as how he likes a drop of brandy every now and then, but he's "Lenten" with it at Advent up until midnight on Christmas Eve. He tells how when he was a kid he was always told that the animals talked to each other then. Midnight magic. The witching hour in the service of salvation. "We were told that's when Jesus came down, at the stroke of midnight."

You're not one to take up religion with people you don't know all that well, so you keep your quibbles about Mary's pregnancy to yourself, but you do ask Young Charlie if he knows about the Thomas Hardy poem about the talking animals at midnight Christmas Eve.

"Oh yes," he says, "except it's not about talking animals. It's about kneeling ones. How if somebody came to you and said let's go see the oxen kneel, you'd go, hoping it'd be true."

Yeah, that was probably the one, you say. Leave it to an old guy like Young Charlie to set you straight. You have to get back to work, you say, and you leave him sitting by the fireplace with the morning sun full on him like some kind of beam of divinity. He looks back at you as you walk away and he asks you if you've ever been to Venice and you say yes and he says he never has but he'd like to go someday.

It isn't long afterwards that you feel something in your ear and you're momentarily knocked into a confusion that arises from your being subjected to a barrage of auditory events that crowd together one upon the other--disconnected from anything as far as you can tell--so that you feel that you're in a concert hall listening to an ensemble made up of a soughing wind, squealing tires, a sudden ambush by a swarm of hornets, oars dipping into a still lake, a voice singing what you know to be a melody but it maddens you because you can't place its mode. Then it is over.

"What was that?" you ask the other librarian, who gives you a blank look that says "what was what?" Then security hurries over and says to call 911 and it's Young Charlie collapsed in his seat and you and security haul him out of his chair and lay him on the floor so security can try CPR and when the rescue squad they try shock paddles but it's no good. Young Charlie is dead.

At home that night you plug in the tree and have your Advent brandy and watch the lights and think what if they were illuminated pine cones but this is a Fraser fir. Would that make them fir cones? And you look at old pictures of old Christmases and see all the toy stoves and dolls and armor and castles and ballerina outfits that are no longer. How does anything continue when it can't continue? Repetition is the only way, but every repetition is different. If only the present could be stored so it is never past. If only the future be brought in without destroying what is. And you think about Young Charlie and his talking animals and where Young Charlie is now and how it's too bad he had to leave. Midnight magic. Midnight magic myth. And the hope for eternity burning in your Christmas imagination for Young Charlie making it to Venice someday. The burning feeling reflects in you skanking out a riddim.
 
 

Friday, December 15

Shakeout

It's another shaky day. The shakiness starts when you finish your morning swim and come back to your locker and find that your clothes have been taken. Think. What to do? Your trenchcoat is still there so you take off your wet trunks because you hate the feel of wet trunks/water running down your leg and you put the trenchcoat on like a bathrobe and go out to report the theft but along the way your cellphone rings and it is somewhere in your coat but you don't know where and, well, you don't know about other people, but cellphones have their way of taking you outside yourself and you're looking everywhere for it before you realize that you're flashing the good ladies in the morning step aerobics class. Something about the screams not really going with the music they're exercising to. The officer isn't entirely sympathetic either, but eventually you make it to work with your arrest record only slightly more cluttered than it was when you woke up.

Safely ensconced in your raison d'etre (the job), you share the latest from civilization with your favorite barbarian, Jeb the homeless street musician. His take on things is generally worth getting, seeing as how he used to be a stable, productive member of society but is now a stable, productive member of outlawry.

"C'mon, that's not true," he says in his own defense. "I was never more an outlaw than when I was a stable, productive member of society. Now I'm honest and clean, if not to outward appearance, at least pharmacologically and morally. You, on the other hand, like almost all other so-called civilized people, dissemble continuously. You just can't handle the truth."

The latest species of so-called truth to emerge from the wacked-out brain of this denizen of the sidewalk is that his precious dulcimer--the one he calls Rum--is an animate object. "She's a real person, actually," he says.

You point to the piece of wood under his arm--the one that security will make him check at the desk because otherwise the skateboarders complain about unequal treatment--and say, "that's not a real person."

He answers, "This isn't Rum; this is a pale facsimile," and he proceeds to tell you details you've never before heard about the animate zither: that she lives in a castle and she comes out only rarely to see him, and only when she wants to, that she rides a dappled-gray horse, that like many dulcimers she has an hourglass figure, that she is blonde "especially when she's polished," that she is very smooth, that the feel of her lower curve from her waist to her thigh would be about right for a ski-jump to heaven, that the hollow under her strings where you pluck her is the most resonant place on her body, that she has different voices for when you play her with your fingers, your pick, or ... and here Jeb smiles his bright teeth through his bushy beard and you decide you've heard enough.

"You still don't believe me," he says.

No, you shake your head.

"Do you believe that?" And he indicates the public access computers with his head.

What? you ask.

"That," he says, and you follow his stare to what you probably should have noticed in the first place, the foot-high sans culotte dancing on the keyboard.

Duty calls. You go over to the guy and ask him not to dance on the keyboard.

"Is it a policy?" asks the little guillotinard.

No, you say, it's called common sense.

"Do you mean like the common sense it takes to post an mp3 that violates copyright?"

You ask him what he means and he shows you your myspace site and indicates the song that you wrote last night, just the skank riddim and your voice, the one that came to you in the brandy.

"That's what I mean," he says.

You say you have no idea what he's talking about and he gives you a travel drive and says, "listen to the mp3 on this thing and then tell me if you have an idea."



Saturday, December 16

Lazare v. Dulciferous, day 1

You never have a chance to listen to the little man's mp3. After all, it is the Christmas season and you have shopping to do. So you are a little suprised when the copyright police come for you last night in the oui hours.

They drag you out of bed and shine a flashlight in your eyes and ask you "What's wrong with your eyes?" and you say "You're shining a flashlight in them," which earns you a swift and strong warning not to joke around or you'll wind up in Airport Security Court, where they really know how to deal with people like me. So you keep it stowed all the way to the courtroom.

It is a long ride. When you get to the courtroom you notice posters of such notables as Rod Laver, Evonne Goolagong, AC/DC, and Men At Work. You are shown to a table, where a man in a bathing suit and cap sits next to you and introduces himself as your lawyer and surf rescuer. The bailiff, also in bathing suit and cap, advises "all roise," and the judge enters, also in bathing suit and cap, and he says "g'day mates" and advises "sit daown." You ask your lawyer if you are in Australia, and he says "in a manner of speaking: this is a Kangaroo Court." You state an objection to him and he advises you to stow it if you don't want to wind up in Duck-Billed Platypus Court, where they really know how to deal with people like me.

Across the aisle is the foot-high sans culotte, who looks at you and draws a finger across his neck in the international gesture of drawing a finger across the neck.

The judge declares the case of Lazare v. Dulciferous to be open. You understand yourself to be Dulciferous, making it reasonable to assume that Monsieur De La Decapitation must be the party of the first part.

At that point the members of the court all rush out of the room. After 20 minutes they return, dripping wet. "Surf rescue," says your lawyer.

They get down to business and you understand this to be an unintellectual property dispute. They tell you you're going to have to post the evidence on your Myspace site. You tell them there's no room. They tell you to get a domain and move the fourth song over there. Your lawyer gives you a waterproof laptop and tells you to have a go. It's not so much a go as a stop and go, mostly stop, but after a while there it is: a home page and a place for the migratory songs, which you hope people will rip to their heartburn's desire. You announce that you are ready for the evidence, but the members of the court are ready to tucker bag it in and you all gather round the billabong for a smoke. Koolibah!
 
 

Sunday, December 17

Exhibit A
 
[Music: Noel a la Lazare]

 

Now posted according to the judge's instructions as "Noel a la Lazare," the song was at one time in the collection of a library and was in its card (yes, card) catalog as follows:

    "La Cantique de Noel" as performed by Lazare. Lyrics by Placide Cappeau de Roquemare, melody by Adolphe Adam.

    1 knit doll, French Revolutionary "sans culotte," 11 in. high, with squeeze-activated, computer-chip playback,         through an internal speaker, of a digital audio file.

    Title announced by intestinal emcee, who also introduces Lazare as a "crotch" singer.

    Cataloger's note: Delivered in a fierce bleat, this version of "O Holy Night" is to kill with.

 

Monday, December 18
3 Stellas

It being summer in Australia, you think you'll take the morning break in the proceedings to take a stroll and enjoy the cool morning breeze, so unlike the blast furnace you left in your Northern Hemisphere imitation winter. You wander into a hunting trophy-hung dining hall and hear a family of six kids karaokize xmas tunes and then you wander out again and into a little cafe where there is lo and behold a double reed quartet of 3 oboes and bassoon and that's cool and then it's to a coffeehouse where someone hands you an Appalachian lap bouzouki and you pick up what comes along--the tunes, the tunes--and think what people who don't know what it means do when they come to "sans culotte" do they google it and if they do, do they go to the site for the brand of Belgian beer that uses the expression to mean "pantyless," which isn't the meaning you wish to convey, and then you realize you've lost track of time and you hurry back to court where they have already done their kangaroo leap to a conclusion--and have securely stowed it in their front pocket.
 
 

Tuesday, December 19

O Fortuna

The verdict is taken from the kangaroo pocket and read: "Today will be a trying day." The judge looks more closely at the strip of paper he is reading from. He turns it over. He reads what's on the back: "Lucky numbers 12 33 45 67 89." The verdict turns out to be the fortune from a Chinese fortune cookie.

This sends the courtroom into an uproar. Your own jingoistic supporters, led by francophobe Bill O'Reilly, chant "USA! USA! USA!" while Lazare's own French supporters mime their exasperation. In the middle of the turmoil the court officers leave to perform a surf rescue of a school of stingrays threatened by partisans of the late Aussie wild-animal-taunter Steve Irwin.

When the court officers return, the judge calls the court to order and says, "look, it's hard to see how Lazare doesn't have a complaint here. You can't listen to 'Ode to the brandy snifter at Advent' and not hear many things from 'Noel a la Lazare.' However, we conclude that the chord progression and the reggae beat are in the public domain. We'll even grant Dulciferous the opening 9th chord, which is also found in Lazare's tune. However, the melody--it is almost identical to the oboe counter-melody in the Lazare piece. What say you, Dulciferous?"

Bill O'Reilly objects to the judge stealing his own line "what say you" and demands an instantaneous retraction or he'll add Australia to the list of countries he's boycotting--which at this point include pretty much all countries except Australia, New Zealand, and Andorra. The bailiff hauls O'Reilly out and throws him to the Steve Irwin fans, who taunt him about not being a wild animal.

You sit there, wondering how to answer. You don't know how you came by that melody, but it does sound almost exactly like Lazare's music. A note is passed to your lawyer, who rises and asks the judge to allow him to call Linn LaFleurie as a witness.

A tall, slender woman in a long green dress takes the stand and is sworn. She describes the horror of the day when she discovered that her oboe playing had been used for something as disgraceful as Lazare's travesty of music (here Lazare's supporters mime outrage). But nonetheless she is here to set the record straight. The music came to her in a dream, a dream of a man sitting in front of a Christmas tree and drinking brandy and looking at lights and wishing life were not lost, did not disappear, and he was singing a melody. This was in her dream. The melody from that dream she used in Lazare's arrangement.

So, you are innocent. When all the world thought you were guilty, except Bill O'Reilly and he wasn't really looking after you. He just despises the French.


Thursday, December 21

Crumbags to the Rescue
 

It's lonely on the beach in Australia, but the way things are going, it's the closest thing to a white Christmas that you'll have this year. Your copyright trial is over and you've been absolved of all charges, but you're waiting for the dolphin that will swim you home. You'd hoped for a celebratory "mission accomplished" on board an aircraft carrier, but it'd been pulled from the catalog as too dangerous to the public health.

With emptiness stretching before you and above you, you feel like you're inside an artistic representation of infinite nothingness, except there are no random cubes, cones, or obelisks scattered around to indicate either a bored creator or a government contract canceled due to budget problems.

You're thinking the scene needs a Christmas tree when from out of nowhere Lazare, your recent accuser, comes dashing across the sand and throws himself into the waves. Behind him in hot pursuit come the court personnel/surf rescue team. Lazare doesn't get far in the waves. The rescue squad drag him onto the sand and amid his squealed objections administer artificial resuscitation and then wring him out to dry.

He asks why they didn't just let him drown, that he would never live down the catalog card court evidence portraying him as a crocheted doll, that the "pantyless" definition of "sans culotte" recently inserted into the trial record was an effort to defame him, and even though he was anticlerical to his last breath, his only reason for promoting "Noel a la Lazare" was to further the cause of the French people and their language but now it seems everyone just takes it as a huge joke, to which the court bailiff says he thought the French like Woody Allen so what's wrong with a huge joke, and Lazare answers that he doesn't understand: the French take that stuff seriously.

The judge takes you aside and says "Mite, you're innocent of all charges so this isn't a sentence, but looking at this poor Lazare fellow and seeing as how you follow the same walkabout, your common humanity should bring you to do something for him." Like what? you ask, and the judge says oh maybe something Xmas Eve-ish, midnightish, Santa-ish, and you shake your head and say OK and he slaps you on the back and tells the others to break out the beer barrel and the crumhorns.

It isn't so lonely in Australia anymore. There is now a beer barrel and 3 crumbags, with a judge and two attorneys in bathing suits to play them. Which when they do, it is an old Christmas tune you know as "Quem Pastores" meaning "whom spepherds praised," except the bailiff gives you different words: "whom the swagmen sang a carol, gathered 'round the old beer barrel, wrestling crocs and dancing stingrays, crikey is the lord of g'day." You say the words make no sense and he says you haven't had anywhere near enough beer.

 

Tuesday, December 26

Smoker

Lazare and the banshee are having a post-Christmas potato pellet duel in the chimney, with Lazare on the hearth and the banshee up and down the flue. Lazare says it's no fair that she is not taking time to use her pellet gun to extract pellets, that surely it's not according to Hoyle just to pelt him with potatoes. She doesn't stop with the whole potato bombs, so Lazare yells up at her that it's time to find another game.

She suggests smashing Christmas tree ornaments, but Lazare reminds her they don't belong to them. She comes down out of the flue and they sit among the ashes of the Yule log while Lazare consults Hoyle for a card game for one very short person and one death messenger, but the index isn't much help. He tosses the book at the tree. It knocks a Santa ornament off its perch and lands underneath the tree in a shower of dry needles.

"Chimneys," says the banshee. "Everyone should have one."

"You mean in their house?" asks Lazare.

"No, I mean for their bodies. Instead of sweat and excreta, people could give off smoke."

"Some people do anyway. Look at James Brown." Lazare picks up a blackened piece of newspaper from the outer reaches of the hearth. Scorched edges frame part of a headline announcing the death of soul singer James Brown. "You didn't get that gig, I take it?"

"No, I follow a different Brown family." The banshee starts to laugh. "Can you imagine being the banshee for the Godfather of Soul? People'd think he was still screaming from the other side."

"You mean the same other side where Elvis is?"

"There is no other side where Elvis is. Poor guy, he got stuck on the merry-go-round. Like me. Like Santa. All we who gravitate to chimneys." The banshee's tone is sad.

"Elvis gravitates to chimneys?"

"No, in his case he gyrates to chimneys. But that's close enough."

Suddenly the front door opens, and the front room fills with people, with mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers and sons and daughters and aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and nephews and 15 different varieties of Christmas cookies and too much chocolate candy and arguments about was it called coke or soda or pop or a big gray dope and big gray dope wins hands down, while flashes from digital cameras pepper the room with their younger and hipper version of the flashing lights on the tree with the languid outlook, which take their time and forsake the drive-thru for the slow-roasting roast beef. And from their perch in the depths of the ashen hearth Lazare and the banshee feel the warm smoke from the people draw across them and up the flue and out to where Santa and Elvis are starting over and ending at the same time, because for them there is no starting over and no ending.

Lazare wants to quibble with the banshee about that because the dinosaurs took 50,000 years for their civilization and Santa and Elvis and the banshee have nowhere near that timeframe of reference for her to be making any such mythocosmic pronouncements--not to mention the big bang and black holes about which one of the son/grandson/nephews, an astronomer, is discoursing from deep inside his new polyfilled combination parka-igloo, which has swallowed his head entirely and down the hood opening of which he pours the fluid of a big gray dope. But Lazare decides just to savor the flavors of smoke coming off the people in the front room and he remembers how the Bible says God enjoys the smell of roasting flesh, and there surely must be a beginning and an end of enjoyment.
 
 

Friday, December 29

Peartridge in a Par Three

You're trying to convince one of your more demanding patrons that, instead of looking up whether Gerald Ford and James Brown are going to be buried side-by-side in front of Grumman's Chinese Theater (as the patron suspects), he allow you to show him the meaning of the word "ridiculous," when up comes Jeb Aubois with a question of his own: how many apostrophes are there in "little"? You tell him "none," and he accuses you of being an enunciation Nazi, which is hardly consonant with your own self-image.

"Are you telling me you'd sing 'pooorrr lottt-tulll Jesusss' instead of 'po' li'l' Jesus'?" he asks.

You have to say you wouldn't, and you figure that properly speaking there should be two apostrophes in "li'l'." And Jeb wanders away wondering about the placement of a period at the end of a sentence with both an apostrophe and a double quote, but you refuse to let him bait you and go back to verifying the location of Grumman's beneath the 18th green of Augusta National, when a few minutes later an irate patron is in your face complaining about the street person outside. You logically jump to the conclusion that the music is bothering her, but she says no the music's not the problem--in fact, it's an OK "Silent Night" and one she's never heard before about little Jesus and how she's never heard anyone enunciate apostrophes quite so well.

"The problem is that he's telling my children that there are 12 days of Christmas and that all children should get gifts on every day, and today's golden ring day, and now my children are asking me for golden rings. When I've worked so hard to convince them that Santa Claus isn't real."

You start to explain about the sidewalk being a public thoroughfare and Santa being real when somebody (it sure is busy for 5 golden ring day--why isn't everyone at the jeweler's?) asks you about downloading Quicktime so he can watch a movie that won't play with the Windows Media Player and you mutter under your breath about the lack of software uniformity and compression and crappy sound and DVD's and big screens generally being much better--all this the whole time you're serving the public with a smile and getting the Quicktime downloaded and lo and behold there's your recent nemesis Lazare with a movie that is real obvious isn't going to get him buried under Grumman's Augusta National Chinese golf course.
 
 

Tuesday, January 02

Time, gentlemen
 
[Music: Q.E.D. Fiction]
 

You wake up this morning from a dream in which you are walking down a hallway, as if in a university somewhere, with brick walls and a high, arched ceiling, where your steps echo back at you with gratifying proof of your own existence. It feels like a familiar corridor, although you can't place it, and the pciture when you come to it also looks familiar, but more importantly: looking at it feels familiar, as does the muffled laughter coming from inside the frame whenever you stand in front of it--laughter such as you'd hear from people unrestrainedly given over to natural hilarity. The picture itself is not at all hilarious: it's just a woman looking off into a distance so as to invite you to ask, "a penny for your thoughts," except in this picture nothing as articulate as thinking is going on in those eyes and what you mean to ask is "a fortune for your feelings," that whole mountain of deposited strata of emotional mud become radiant in a blue iris. That look and that laughter. You have to look away. This looking away, in the dream, feels the way it felt to see the picture: it is obviously something you've done again and again. But this time when you look away, you look into a sunrise from Jane Bald and then turn around and look into the sunset; you spin between the two suns until they are one.

Awake now, you sit in bed and wonder what feels so fatal about such a dream. Then you go into work, where there is no one because it's a holiday but you forgot and showed up anyway.

There is an unfamiliar occupant in the staff room. It looks like a freezer, but you know from a ceremony last week that it's a time capsule. The time capsule of the recently-expired sesquicentennial celebration of the town, a full year of grand and glorious attempts at pronouncing "sesquicentennial," poor word, that people should embrace it with all the gusto they would a dead skunk in the road.

You tend to think that anything called "time capsule" should look more like a freshly-exhumed Confederate submarine than this shiny white box does. But that day will come: the town is burying this white and shining boxy thing--with its mementoes glad-bagged and acid-free--to be dug up in 2106 (will they know about glad bags in 2106?), by which time surely grave robbers and the elements will have done their work.

You wonder if you're memento enough to be included. And if the grave robbers would think you of any value at all.

"Hey, wouldn't it be neat to get inside it?"

Yes, someone did speak. But no one is in the room with you, and you're certain you didn't say anything.

"Go ahead, you'd fit." Funny how nobody speaking can sound so clear.

Well, would you? You can't help finding out, so you unfasten the lid and look inside. There's actually a fair amount of space. You could fit, but what if the lid closed on you and nobody knew you were there? Yeah, right, like how's that going to happen?

You climb in and settle into a comfortable, seated position among the glad bags and acid-free boxes. Then--of course, because this is you--the lid does close, too fast for you to stop it, but not too fast for you to see just before the light vanishes: the eyes from the picture in your dream. The woman's eyes. Looking away.
 
 

Friday, January 5

You are in the dark

In a sealed box. Unable to get out. Every now and then you bang on the box and yell; you push with all the strength in your arms and legs and neck and shoulders. There is very little room. How long before you suffocate?

You think of something you read recently in the current hit fable "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho: "If you can concentrate always on the present, you'll be a happy man."

Concentrating on the present--in which you are locked in a sealed box--makes you decidedly unhappy. You try a little joke: "It's because you're thinking inside the box." Ha Ha.

You close your eyes. With your eyes open you couldn't see anything inside the box. Now, with them closed, you do see something: the eyes of the woman whose eyes you saw as the box lid closed, the eyes from the painting in the dream.

You open your eyes. Now the woman's eyes are there as well, as if she's inside the box with you, looking at you, looking for you, looking beyond you, with eyes shot full of blue neon.
 
 

Monday, January 08

Look away

"I thought you didn't want the other guy," says Lazare the foot-high sans culotte from his perch on the dashboard. "I thought you wanted him."

The only him in sight is Jeb Aubois sitting among his bags on the sidewalk with his nose in a steaming cup of coffee. From his beatific smile it is apparent that he has found a parcel of eternity in the warm cloud thawing the middle of his face.

For a moment the banshee doesn't answer, but keeps her eyes on the rear bumper on the car in front of them. Today she has the appearance of Queen Nefertiti after an 18-hour overtime shift on the stitcher at the blue jean factory. Suddenly with her free hand she grabs Lazare and slams him onto the passenger seat a few times.

"Damn, that's fun. Your butt's just too damn small," laughs the banshee. "When can we do that again?"

"That'd have to be up to you," says Lazare, staggering to his feet.

"OK, here's the deal—you let me slam you that way and I'll keep you up to speed on what's going on."

"Sure, if you don't mind a little brain leakage on your fancy upholstery," says Lazare with a note of complaint in his voice.

"Oh, that? What's a little frontal lobe on the front seat?" laughs the banshee.

She pulls into a parking space and looks at Lazare. "You see, he gave it up. Gave me what I needed."

"Who? The street dude?"

"Yeah. Christmas Eve, when you were farting around in Australia with all your Redeemer stuff. Well, I'm after a little redemption of my own, and I'm finally starting to get somewhere. You remember that whole business with us making off with his dulcimer?"

"You mean the one he calls Rum?"

"Yeah, well, you don't know this but that whole spiritual hooey business he has with that instrument, that's me in there. And on Christmas Eve I got to whining about needing a new slipcover and how I wanted it to be made out of one of the four original battle flags of the Confederate States of America, one of which was in a museum in New Orleans that an ancestor of his curated when it first started. He's not too happy about it, but he goes and gets it. All the way to New Orleans and back. Which is another story in itself. But anyway once I got it, it was time for the next step, which was to put it in the time capsule with the librarian."

"Where's he going with it?"

"You'll see."
 
 

Monday, January 15

Awe shucks

How does a look compel? The meeting of eyes is a mere intersection of sight, a purely outward act.

Maybe it's not what you see--or think you see--in the eyes opposite you. Divinity? Delirium? Love? Maybe it's more that what you see--or think you see--instantaneously wreaks itself onto your own brain: in one lightning flash of revelation writes its own myth; in one jolt transforms the solid masonry of your constructed life into shoddy gimcrack and collapses it into a smoking heap; in one naked denunciation extinguishes the soaring aircraft of personality and leaves you hanging at 25,000 feet.

Hanging, for only one surprised second. Then you plummet.

The darkness that follows is not sleep.

 

Awe shucks (suite)

"Wake up."

Your eyes open not to the blackness of the time capsule but to the sight of a wood floor. The woman's voice you've just heard comes from above and behind you. You try to lift your head but you can't because you have a terrible crick in your neck.

"What are you doing here? I didn't think you were going anywhere these days."

You wish you could see the woman talking to you. The voice sounds a little familiar, but you can't quite place it--it's both familiar and different.

You say something about the crick in your neck from being stuck in the time capsule and then you say something about how you thought you'd never get out of there and you wonder how you did.

The woman laughs. "You're in The Capsule now. You know that, silly. No one ever gets stuck here. You can come and go as you please. Heck, you could practically walk through the walls of this shabby place."

You wish you could see what she's doing. It's obviously something repetitive--there are little squeaking and tearing sounds from time to time. You wonder who it is, but whoever it is, she seems to know you. So you ask, "What are you doing?"

"What am I doing? I should be asking you. You hole up in your parent's house, not going anywhere for months, and then you show up on the floor of my bar with a rebel flag draped around your shoulders. And muttering something about getting a crick in your neck from being stuck in here. Hm. What am I doing? What I always do when we got a dance happening in here tonight. I'm making stew. And right now I'm shucking the corn."

You manage to turn your head a little to one side and then the other. You do have a rebel flag draped around your shoulders. Then you hear music coming from outside. Oboes. A whole bunch of them. "Who's that?" you ask.

"Oh, that's just Zed and those kids he's been working with. Oboes. A whole bunch of them. C'mon now, you haven't forgotten everything, have you?"


Wednesday, January 17

Up a crick

You sit there, wherever "there" is, on that wood floor, working your neck, trying to get back the full range of motion without wincing, while the woman's voice hums along with the squeaks and rips of cornshucking. You think that it could be a dream, but then you realize that if it were a dream, you wouldn't be inside the dream telling yourself it was just a dream. Outside of it, maybe you could do that--be the detached observer calming the sleeping consciousness that no, you aren't really being subjected to the blood lust of rampaging maenads.

But no, you couldn't be dreaming the wood floor and at the same time telling yourself that your butt isn't really starting to hurt from sitting on it too long. Another thing is that you're thinking that somehow you're going to miss the first show of the fantabulous fifth season of "American Idol," and even though this doesn't really matter much, it would probably be the only time you ever thought about missing "American Idol" at the same time as you remember driving to work that morning (or whenever it was you last drove to work), passing a truck, then having to get out of the passing lane in a hurry to let a tailgater on his/her pushy way, then have the tailgater flip you off at the same time as you notice her bumper sticker: "Happiness is knowing Jesus;" then wondering if the tailgater mistakenly thought that flipping you off was some kind of benediction, like maybe somebody told her that the upright middle finger with all the other fingers scrunched down around it symbolized the world bowing down to the One True God, then thinking if that were the case, then football players celebrating touchdowns should just flip off the crowd instead of pointing heavenward, then thinking that would be really funny if it was a home player scoring a home touchdown and flipping off the home crowd with a benediction, then wondering why you thought that was funny, and finally concluding that your butt does hurt too much for this to be a dream and maybe you should stand up.

So you stand up. Slowly. Stiffly. How long have you been sitting there? The Confederate flag starts to slip from your shoulders. You try to grab it but it escapes you and falls on the floor. You intend to stoop to retrieve it, but before you do anything the woman is there, her back and her elaborately bunned hair interposing itself between you and the flag.

"I sure would like to know how you come to be sitting here with this thing on you. And you not being able to hold onto things and all. You running off to that war and getting blown up and coming home not able to hold onto things. Nor saying much of anything nor doing anything except sleeping in the same old bed where you grew up. And now this. This flag. Do you think I don't know about this?"

You are looking at the floor. It is obvious that this woman knows you, but for the life of you, you have no idea who she is or what she's talking about: You don't know about running off to a war or getting blown up or not being able to hold onto things. But she's speaking with conviction. She knows something you don't, and you'd bet that she's right, so maybe it'd be better to find out more about yourself before you do anything stupid or rash. She's just asked you a question about the Confederate flag and you're trying to figure what the right answer is, whether it's the stainless banner answer or the racist rag answer, but fortunately she's just soapboxing, at least for now, so you can hang your head suitably chagrinedly--especially because your neck is still stiff as hell--and let it go at that.

Aping chagrin, you're not ready for her to respond with a laugh--merry, and, it seems, encouraging? Nor, when you look up from the floor, are you ready for her eyes.

Freaking blue neon.


Friday, January 19

Spasmode

"Somebody else did it." The voice comes from the doorway, where a goat is speaking.

Well, if not exactly a goat, a man dressed as a goat. A billygoat. Or Pooh Bear or Tigger, you can't be too sure. Actually, the Pooh Bear and Tigger thought comes from when you were at the Bonnaroo music festival last summer and saw two dope dealers dressed that way and doing a thriving business with all the people dressed as Christopher Robin. But drug dealer or no, this guy is dressed as a billygoat, horns and all, from head to toe, with only his face uncovered. His features are distinctly Melungeon, with an admixture of Basque, Catalan, !Koi, Bantu, Bedouin, Pashtun, Assamese, Polynesian, Finnish, and last but certainly not least, Luxembourgeois--although you really have to say his mustache looks more Shetland Islandish than it looks, say, Bosnian, but you'd be pressed to argue the point.

"You sound like you know something about it, Zed." Freaking blue neon eyes speaks to goatman. Now that she's looking away, it's easier to look at her. Unlike goatman, she doesn't seem to be *from* anywhere. Utopian, you guess, by way of Venus. Probably by choice. "What difference does it make?" she would say. As if we're just people after all. You do notice that she's wearing a dress, mostly because a woman in a dress these days appears to be going the way of the ... well, dinosaur is trite and dodo just wrong, so how about the bald eagle? Well, there's something wrong with that as well and you try to figure out what, but all you can think of is "Bald Soprano" by Ionesco and then it clicks: David Bowie sang a song called "Suffragette City." That's it. You marvel at the inexorable tread of logic through the trackless forest of allusion (with its occasional leaps into the high Amazonian canopy): Her dress is suffragettish.

Someday you will learn not to be emboldened by your flights of logic, but today is not that day, and you ask the woman, "Are you a suffragette?"

She turns the neon blues back upon you and looks at you and shakes her head and leads you over to a rickety slat seat chair against the wall. The goatman comes over, kisses the woman on the cheek and says to you, "C'mon now, you know what she is. You know she's the 13th Spasm of Ecstasy."
 
[Music: 13 Spasms from Ecstasy]
 
 

Sunday, January 21

Supposedly Jasm

"What he's saying goes back to one time when we were little and seesawing over at the school and he said his tummy was in ecstasy and I didn't know what ecstasy was. So he told me that ecstasy came from spasms in the body and his tummy was spasming. And of course I didn't know what a spasm was. Hey, I was younger by a couple of years! Anyway he said that the way our tummies were feeling was spasming, and that if you got to 13 spasms in a row, then that was ecstasy. So we started counting our stomach spasms and got to going faster and faster to make sure those spasms were there, up and down, up and down, like it was some kind of race to get there. But I won because I got the jump on counting—-you have to wonder if he kept thinking I wasn't going to spasm or something because he was behind from the beginning. Tom is smart like that.

[laughter]

"And to celebrate my victory, well, back then I had this thing that I liked to do, playing with words, especially funny words, just do sing-songs and stuff like that, and spasm was a funny new word and I'd just had thirteen of them and whatever ecstasy was, it must be pretty good, so I started to sing a song: 'oh are they spasms or masms or basms or lasms or rasms or dasms or jasms or gasms?' Well, Zed here thought it was a pretty good song, so I taught it to him and we went home singing it at the top or our lungs and went right away to Grandmother to sing it to her, which we did, with special emphasis on the last two words. Then we stood there smiling up at her very proudly. Her look became stern and she told us not to sing that song any more. Which of course meant we sang it at every opportunity and wondered at the nature of its wicked potency. We went years wondering about it, making up a whole world of ecstasy in which were the realms of Spasm, Masm, and all the rest, each with its own character. We made ourselves rulers of lineage and took titles that identified our realm: I was the Thirteenth Spasm of Ecstasy. Zed was the Supposedly Jasm. But listen to me! Having too much fun telling that old story! And you just let me go on and on about something you already know perfectly well."

You nod your head and say that's OK, you like hearing that old story, but she gives you a look that says she's not fooled. She knows you don't remember. You can't help but wonder why you don't remember. You're supposed to know that story; it was supposed to resonate with you, but there when she stopped talking you wanted to say, "go on, go on, how did it come out?" but didn't because you knew you weren't supposed to. You were supposed to have forgotten.

You are supposed to have forgotten.

Supposedly.
 
 

Monday, January 22

Getting the Gist

"What are we going to do with him?"

The suffragette and the goatman look down at you sitting on a rickety slat-seat chair. They shake their heads and click their tongues as they smile down at you with a mixture of pity and hope and incomprehension. You feel yourself to be--in their minds at least--in some kind of perplexing but perhaps non-life-threatening medical difficulty that requires you to be amnesic and without a grip, both literally and figuratively. The amnesic part isn't too hard to pull off, since you really don't know what's going on here. The same thing might be said about coming to grips with the situation. Your hands feel pretty good though--but you let them go slack. Practice.

Yeah, but, what if ... You remember how when you were a kid you used to pretend you couldn't hear and it pissed your parents off and then you found out that the reason you never heard birds was because really you couldn't hear and you were convinced that God knew you were going to piss off your parents by pretending to be deaf, so He punished you in advance by not letting you hear birds. An omnichronic God could and would do that kind of thing, you during your boyhood were convinced. So now you wonder if something similar is going on and you're going to lose the use of your hands because you're pretending they're no good, and it's the pretense that has you in jeopardy.

If only you knew what war it was you were supposed to have been in.

They're smiling at you. You smile back. Let a smile be your smokescreen.

"Well," says the suffragette, "I know one thing we're going to do with him. We're not going to tolerate you calling me a suffragette."

Oh. OK, so she's no longer "the suffragette." You figure you can take a tip from Prince and refer to her as "formerly known as," but the sound of "not going to tolerate" is still ringing in the room and you drop the idea.

"You don't remember my bruises, do you? You don't remember me going to jail, do you? It wasn't that long ago. Suffragette? It's a taunt, an insult: 'SuffraGETTE, suffraGETTE, you little women, why don't you go home where you belong and leave the big world with the men where it belongs?' It wasn't that long ago. You'd remember if it weren't for that MANmade war of yours. Well, maybe you've forgotten, but can you still learn? If I tell you it's 'suffraGIST,' do you think you can remember?"

You wish you had a dictionary to look up "vituperative" because you think it might apply to the, OK, suffragist's manner. The goatman pulls her out of your face and quietly reminds her that you have amnesia and you take a tip and remind her that the female senator from New York is probably going to be a candidate for President, so look how far things have come.

The suffragist looks at you in pain and anger and incomprehension like you are wounding but wounded and then she starts to cry.
 
 

Tuesday, January 23

best if drunk by (date)

It's hard for you to sit there and watch this lovely woman cry because of something stupid you said, except you didn't know it was stupid until after you said it--any moreso than the stupid things you always say, not knowing they're stupid. So you feel a strong need to redeem yourself.

Which you try to do by saying that you're sorry and you see what she means--saying "suffragette" instead of "suffragist" is kind of like calling the snake goddess of Minos a Cretanesse or like calling Sappho a Lesbienne, but wait isn't that what the French call Sappho? So just blame the French for the effrontery of the "-ette;" it is convenient to have the French to blame for things. They are after all behind all the wars of history, as that wise man Mel Gibson recently did not say but could well have said if he'd been drinking Bordeaux instead of Manischewitz or had he just eaten at a Chinese restaurant and instead of getting a fortune cookie that said "You have an ability to sense and know higher truth" he had gotten one that said, "inspected by 6" and maybe Mel should make a movie about Minos and cast Tyra Banks as the snake goddess. Of course she'd have to be topless the whole time and wear a beehive gown but she would get to wield snakes and when she finds an "inspected by 6" tag in her beehive she'd go after someone with a double-bladed axe meant to symbolize the wings of a butterfly, which symbolism you're sure must be on the mind of Mel as he lays his head on the chopping block and hollers "freedom!" as he is about to receive the blow from Tyra the Cretanesse -- or was it the top model who came out on Tyra's show as a Lesbienne?

You stop talking. The suffragist has stopped crying and is looking at you a look that makes you think maybe it wasn't such a good idea to use a word that's a homophone for "cretin" because that's exactly what you think you must be about now, except that life is just plain confusing and uninspected by 6 and here you are talking so distractedly, so maniacally, so cretinly, looking at the floor, glad it's not a mirror, and then you look up again and the room is empty of goatman and suffragist but there are the neon blue eyes floating in front of you and the next thing you know you're being kissed fervently. You are startled and wonder what's going on and why but because you have an ability to sense and know higher truth, you let it happen.
 
 

Wednesday, January 24

True or Valse

Still the boxy room with the wood stove in the front of it, putting out a halo of warmth that you have to approach to feel, but there's always the cold at your back. No one. You go outside, where the sun is noncommital, allowing the cold and damp to set the tone. You go outside and walk into the woods, walking to get warm, walking as fast as you can, around in circles, with the boxy house always in view so you don't get lost, its stovepipe in constant exhalation. After a while you hear music from inside, some kind of waltz. But how did you miss seeing anyone go inside? You go to the door and try to get back inside, but it is locked. Someone inside tries to let you in, but they tell you the lock is broken.

You stand out in the cold night and listen to the waltz play again and again and again. Who was it said "you'll never waltz alone"? Well duh.
 
 

Friday, January 26

And maybe dance

And you are standing out in the cold listening to the waltz, feeling the rhythm lift your toes into a tap while inside The Capsule they take up the waltz again and again, like somebody inside is playing with it or looking for something. Finally you hear it with a violin playing the melody and you think that's the best one yet, you can go on now, and from inside you hear someone yell happily "That's the best one yet, we can go on now," and they go on playing the waltz, some kind of little orchestra: now, besides the violin, a string bass, organ(?), piano, oboe or 2?, whistle/recorder/piccolo, and two glittering guitar-like stringed instruments that are what? You don't know, but you find your fingers mapping out a progression on an electric dulcimer that isn't there, just your fingers in the air mapping nothing and you wish those damn people inside The Capsule would let you in.

Then you think, no, best not, unless they let you play, because after this many times around that waltz, there are some things you feel like you could say about, but then you remember that you've been told that your hands don't work because of some war you were in. Right. OK. So you can't do that. In fact, better stop mapping out those progressions before someone sees ...

"Child, what are you doing out in the cold, hanging around this joint?"

Your fingers stop their mapping midcontour and your hands drop to your sides. It was a woman's voice behind you. Aframerican. Tidewater? Clear and clean. You turn to face her.

There are no lights outside although there is a glow through the cracks of the walls in The Capsule, but that could just be the music. But it is enough to cast shadows on the gauntness of the face looking up at you. Well, a face only cheekbones nose and mouth, the rest of it occulted by an overhanging hood; the rest of her, short and slight, wrapped tightly in a cloak against the cold.

"What are you doing here? You shouldn't be out here in the cold, child."

You ask her what she's doing hanging around this joint in the cold.

She laughs. "Going to it, that's what. Listen in and maybe dance a little." Then she looks down, as if in embarrassed apology.

You tell her it's locked and they can't get the door unlocked from the inside. She laughs again, harder this time.

"I'm getting you back home before you cause trouble," she says, gripping your upper arm and pulling you away from the building and the waltz onto a path through the woods to a road where you see the smile of a crescent moon.

"Who am I?" you ask the woman, who is walking just ahead of you, pulling you along, looking in her hooded cloak like a shorter version of Death and seemingly also in more of a hurry.

"Damned if I know." She speaks away from you, into the night. "Not who you used to be, that's for sure."

"Who are you?"

"Same person I ever was before you went away and came back having to ask."
 
 

Sunday, January 28

Womb with a view

She keeps you in bed the whole next day, the aframerican lady does. She is little and slight and seems to be about your age--somewhere in the smackdab middle between gradle and crave--but she is not to be messed with, with her quiet, almost whispered orders for you to get back in that bed when you get up to find a bathroom and with her sharp placement of a mixing bowl onto the bed when you tell her you need to go somewhere and her unceremoniously pulling down your pajama pants (pajama pants! when was the last time you wore those?) and turning her face away while she holds your penis over the mixing bowl apparently because you can't do this by yourself but when it comes time to shit, she just puts the bowl on the floor and leaves the room saying "and don't holler til you're good and done," which when you do, she returns and wipes you and gets you back in the bed and looks at you with her arms crossed and the middle finger of her right hand drumming a nervous tattoo on her left arm while she shakes her head and says "child, child, child, look what you've gone and done" over and over again. The rest of the time you lie in the bed and look around at the floral wallpaper and see where some of the seams are starting to peel up, while she sits and does some kind of handwork, knitting or needlepoint or crochet, and you study her trying to figure out who she is and also noticing how her skin isn't much darker than your own, yet she is aframerican, even though her profile is more indamerican, and what adjective should you use for yourself, euramerican? And you say something to her about how funny that would be now that there's a European Community with a common currency called the euro, like it would make you an american who spends euros hahaha. And she shakes her head like she thinks there's something fundamentally wrong with something you've said and mutters something about how the only common currency over there is crazy bloodthirstiness. You figure it won't help your case, whatever your case may be, to keep saying such things until you get things figured out so you shut up and she goes back to her handwork while at one point beneath you (downstairs?) at one point are voices--loud male voices--one which delivers a monologue about how the Washington Artillery made it through the entire war with that battle flag, never lost it, nossir, not even at Missionary Ridge, and how can it just have disappeared from the house in which you are an honored guest? And another voice, there but only barely and with craven indistinct syllables quailing before the cannonboom of the monologist. It is saying something but you can't hear what and then it is quiet again except for the knitting needles of the lady in your room.

When it is dark it is even quieter and you are alone in the bed. You sneak out of the room, down a stair case, out the backdoor you came in for the first time last night. Outside it isn't as cold as it's been, but the wind is blowing strong. You walk across grass to a line of cypress trees that you discover shields a pond or a spring from the view of the house. You sit on a chair there and look at the blackness of the surface of the pond while the wind whips at you and at the cypresses, not cold but hinting at power, like saying there's a fine line between exhilaration and destruction, and without you noticing it someone has joined you in a chair there, looking at the pond, and it is the goatman, except he is wearing formal attire instead of his goat coat.

"You can't go back, you know," he tells you, indicating the pond with his head.

Go back. Into the pond? Through the pond? You look at the pond for answers the way you would look at the screen of a television but it stays still and black.

The goatman's chair is empty. The wind whips you and the trees and carries a tune from a barn somewhere where somebody wants a cathedral and you sit there until you hear "child?" and you get led back inside.
 
 

Tuesday, January 30

Daberhashery

She comes in and tells you "child, they want to talk to you downstairs." You wonder who they are as you get out of bed and follow her down a hall to a staircase that bends once going down and again as it steps down to a front hall. The floors and steps are shining polished wood and are alive with creaks--your footsteps are a symphony of floor noises, which reminds you of the time you went to Carnegie Hall and saw a performance artist wind up a bunch of drumming monkey toys and then set them off while he danced on bubble wrap, which you are telling the woman who leads you down the steps with her arm though yours. Her look is either grim or grave--in any case, it has a "grrr" quality to it--which makes you want to try to make her smile, but your own laughter as you describe the bubble wrap dance doesn't seem to be as infectious as you'd hoped it would be, and then when you're at the bottom of the steps and you look into a living room, you see that you'd need plague-level infectious laughter to do any good around here, because what you see is a roomful of historic re-enactors dressed in the costume of some era or another that you place with laser beam precision sometime between 1860 and 1918, such is your extensive knowledge of haberdashery. It's not entirely your fault, though, since in the midst of the approximately Edwardian dresses and suits of four of the adults present, there's one Confederate uniform, its solemn gray and glittering gold galloons appearing all the more gallant due to the supercilious glare of the white-haired, van-dyked gentleman who wears it.

The first thing that comes to your mind--simply because you'd recently read Chuck Palahniuk's book "Choke," and it had made an odd, perhaps unintended impression upon you--is that these people do not look stoned, unlike the re-enactors in the Palahniuk book. Particularly the Confederate. He doesn't look stoned, but he does look daggers--at you. It is obvious to you that here is a situation in need of defusing, and that is why they are looking at you so sternly.

So you start to riff on the historical re-enactors in "Choke" and about how Palahniuk seems to rely on a group device, the way he did in "Fight Club," to divide humanity into two groups, like an antiphonal Greek chorus: the "in" group, like the stoned workers at Colonial Dunsboro in "Choke" who want something real out of life even though they can't seem to find it, and the "out" group, like the tourists or Lord High Charlie, the supervisor of the re-enactors, who are willing to live with the best society/civiliation has to offer, which is at best a charade not unlike historic re-enacting. And then you say, laughing in advance at your own joke, there would be the "in and out" group, the sex addicts in the book, but you're not sure exactly how they fit in, which is sort of another joke, so you laugh again.

The Confederate suddenly cuts you off by standing and stalking over to you in loud boots and stopping about two inches away from you. He is shorter than you by a few inches but when he fixes you with his look this close up, it seems to shrink you a bit.

"Are you an imbecile as well as a coward?" he hisses.

What are you supposed to say? This is, after all, you understand, a historic moment--maybe not of great import, but nonetheless. Either real or re-enacted. And you have no script. But you gather that the Confederate knows the answer.

"Well ... yeah," you say.
 
 

Wednesday, January 31

Unsamely

When you were a kid, you always used to think about the possibility that life was a dream, and you kept waiting to wake up, but whenever you did wake up, or seemed to wake up, it was still the same dream: the same bed that you got out of to go down the same stairs with the same creaking steps to the same dining room to the same fried eggs cooked by the same mother who later had the same death in the same dining room in the same hospice bed while the same family tried to cope with something as beyond sameness as a just-dead mother is.

So now, when nothing is the same--an unsame bed that you get out of to go down to unsame stairs with unsame creaking steps to an unsame dining room to, well, the fried eggs are pretty much the same but that's about it--so now, when essentially nothing is the same, you have to wonder if you've finally awoken from the same dream that was your life before, or are you dreaming an unsame one? Or if it's still the same old dream, why does it feel so unsame?

What if it's real?

That's what they are telling you: they, these unsame distraught parents in this unsame living room, are telling you that this is your real life and in no way a dream, that you have had a traumatic experience of war (the Confederate gentleman, seated once again, harrumphs loudly in objection to this statement) and have lost your memory and the use of your hands. They are so distraught, these unsame parents, the unsame mother weeping and the unsame father comforting her and at the same time explaining reality to you in a very earnest way, so earnest that you are convinced at least to consider the possibilities 1. that you have no beard and even more importantly, no beard that is mostly white, even though it appears to you that you do; and 2. that your hands don't work, even though they seem to you to have at least some potential, but the distraught unsame father's earnestness convinces you that exhibiting a cure of that condition at this very moment would cause life to end, because what if this is real life and you do something to show that it isn't real and it all becomes a dream again, where would you be?
 
 

Friday, February 02

Who the cap fit

You go for a walk out in the rain and the sleet. Your head feels like a glowing piece of charcoal because there are too many questions and not enough answers and if only somebody would slap a hamburger pattie on your head so you could grill it and do somebody some good, maybe that would help.

Here's the thing: you know who you are, but you're in a place that not only doesn't recognize you, it thinks you're somebody else, to the point that you're starting to think that you're somebody else instead of who you know yourself to be.

When the most fruitful conversation is with an unreconstructed diehard Confederate organizer of "forget hell" legacy groups and it amounts to a heated exchange over whether you stole some stupid holy grail original Confederate battle flag and the best you can say is you had it on your shoulders at one point but you lost track of it and you don't know where you *were* because dammit you don't know where you *are* and he calls you a coward and this woman you don't recognize but who calls herself your mother jumps up and says "he's not a coward; he rescued two men by dragging them to safety with his teeth," which even though you have no idea what she's talking about, it plucks you up and makes you go eyeball to cannonball with the Confederate freak and say "yeah, asshole" and he looks like he wants to spit at you and then spit you over an open fire somewhere and the woman who says she is your mother moves from your defense to admonishing you not to speak to your Great Uncle Adolf that way ... When this is the most fruitful conversation of the last few days, you tend to feel a little out of season.

Which brings you right back to now and your head feeling like it's ignited on a launchpad to a spaceshuttle explosion and you see the goatman by the side of the road but he's not the goatman today and you remember how he wasn't the goatman the other night in his formal attire. Today he's neither goat nor formal; he's wearing a coat and hat against the rain and he's picking up rocks and putting them in a cloth bag that hangs from his shoulder. He sees you and says "hello" and "you need something on your head" so you tell him "how about putting a hamburger on it because it feels like a charcoal grill" and this makes him laugh.

You ask him about the rocks and he says he's gathering a few to build something and you ask him what and he says "oh, maybe a cathedral or maybe the inside of an egg" and you say he could build a big ol' honking convention center like the one where you have the symphony pops concert and you have to play all the Broadwood/Hollyway bombast above the din of commercialites shouting their wineflorid bonhomie at one another and it's all amplified and surely anybody with an ear would just rather open a can of tuna and listen to it and pretend it's a conch shell.

He looks at you, nodding his head, and asks what you mean by amplification and you say "you know, mics and pa's" and hes says, "no, I don't know mikes and peeyays," and you feel forced to admit that you don't know much about them yourself, except sound people *never* mic an oboe right because they always stick the mic down at the bell and it just amplifies the honking low notes and nothing else and he looks at you, nodding his head saying "yeah. Oboe, huh?"

You say yeah and then, back to the rocks, talk about the character in "Choke" by Palahniuk that picks up rocks as a cure for his masturbation addiction and you laugh. He laughs too and says he doesn't know about that, but you don't know if he means "Choke" or Palahniuk or masturbation and decide clarification might rub him the wrong way and he seems friendlier than most of the people you've met wherever you are, so you decide to keep the goatman on your good side by just shutting up and watching him pick up rocks while your head cools down to the point where you start to shiver and he pulls a cap out of his coat pocket and puts it on you.
 
 

Monday, February 05

Skipticism

You ask the goatman about his goatskin, which he was wearing when you first saw him but not now, and he says it was just him pretending to be Pan. Play-acting, he says, with my sister Athena. You ask him if he means the suffragist. He says, "the very one."

What play, you ask him next, and he says no play. You say so it's all improv? and he laughs like he both knows what you're saying and he's never heard it before and says "Yeah, we're improvising. Improvising the archetype."

You tell him you don't know what that means. You've seen it, but always figured it was pronounced "arch-type" and not "arkatype" the way he just said.

He stoops and picks up a rock, a slender gray oval about as big as your hand, rounded and smooth. "What's the purpose of this rock?" he asks.

You say it has no purpose; it's just a rock. He asks you if you would say that about yourself. You say you're not a rock. But if you were, he asks. OK, you agree, willing to play the game. You say that the purpose of the rock is to be a skipper. A skipper? Sure: its purpose is to skip across a creek, from one shore to the other, three bounces, walking on water.

"To skip, or be skipped?" he asks.

"That is the question," you answer, wondering if lame jokes based on Hamlet's soliloquy are the old lame jokes in continuous existence and thinking yours has to be one of the lamest because it's not even parallel.

Then he tells you to think about yourself. Skip or be skipped?

You have to ask does he mean like a rock?

"Like this rock," he says, holding it out to you to hold. You grab at it, he releases it, but you can't hold it, and it falls.

"Be skipped," you say, like dropping the rock was reading a fortune from a fortune cookie. "Wind up on the other side of the creek. On some strange shore where you've never been before."

And he says "and not remembering anything about where you came from. But what if" and he holds the rock up to your face "the purpose of this rock is to build? What if the purpose of this rock is to love?"

Hey, let's not go overboard here, you say--it's just a rock. And he says but in order to build, in order to love, in order to pursue its purpose, whatever it is, the rock must know the secrets. And the secrets are in the archetypes. Which are hidden.

You smile your smile that says "yeah, right," but you're still willing to play along, seeing as how you've been skipped here to begin with and show no signs of getting skipped back anytime soon, so you ask if it's his, the goatman's, purpose to improvise?

"Look, don't get the wrong idea," he says. "You and I are friends. We go back a long way. We played together when we were little. Do you remember when I went away?"

You have to say no, you don't remember. You don't even remember his name.

He takes a handful of quarter-sized flat rocks out of his pocket. He takes your hand and holds it out and pours the handful into your palm, holding your hand up and pouring slowly so they all stay. The rocks are painted with words: "method," "purpose," "form," "function," etc. (actually, one of them is painted "etc."). He picks them up one by one and puts them back in his pocket.

He walks on ahead up the road and you follow him. The road comes to a wooden bridge. He leaves the road and walks down to where a creek passes under and you follow him. He takes a rock out of his pocket and show it to you. It says "knowledge." He sidearms it onto the creek surface and the rock skips a couple of times and then sinks. The creek is too wide for anything to be skipped across. He takes other rocks and does the same: "method," "purpose," "form," "function," "etc." and sidearms them too and they skip some and then sink. Then he takes the bigger palm-sized rock from earlier, the one he asked you "if this was you," an unpainted rock, no words on it, and he sidearms it and it skips seven times and lands on the other shore.

"Skip or be skipped," he says, giving your shoulder a hard shove that knocks you off balance and lands you on all fours in the shallow freezing water of the creek.
 
 

Tuesday, February 06

Cognomen

Underneath blankets upon blankets upon blankets, you feel like the pea under the princess and think that ordinarily the thought of being underneath a princess wouldn't be such a bad one, but now it is a suffocating one. She won't let you out of bed. She not being a princess (that you know of) but being the aframerican woman a large part of whose life seems to be taken up with looking after you, whom she won't stop calling "child" even though you've told her to her great merriment that you and she look to be the same age. Oh she thought that was funny. And when you ask her to call you by your name and she asks you what your name is, so you say your name and she just shakes her head saying she wishes someday to have you back the way you used to be, because now you're just ... and she lets her voice trail off like it doesn't want to go where it is headed.

So, OK, you say, I don't know my name. And further you say so why not just stop pulling the long faces and trailing off the voices into uncharted sadnesses and just tell me what it is and tell me yours while you're at it. And you say you wish you didn't have this problem with forgetting. You say it, but it's a lie because you never knew in the first place. How can you forget what you never knew?

Gus, she says. Gus Adolf. Short for Gustavus Adolphus. Named for that great-uncle of yours, the cannonball-spitting New Orleanian Confederissimo. And hers she says is Regina. Just Regina. Short for nothing. Named for no one.

She won't let you out from under the damn blankets, not even let you poke your toe out to wick a little coolness up to your head, not that there'd be much coolness in that room the way she has a fire going and steam pouring out the radiator. And her looking as happy as she can be as long as she can sit and knit but once she catches sight of you trying to unsmother yourself, she fixes you with a look over her rimless glasses and asks you if you want to torment her all over again by catching pneumonia and dying and you say that might be better than drowning in your own sweat and the way she looks at you then, you know that you might as well learn to enjoy drowning in your own sweat because that's what you're going to do.

Must be something about thinking drowning because next thing Regina asks you, "Why did he push you in the creek?"

"Who?" You know damn well who. It happened yesterday. But you're fishing for names.

And she says, "Who? You know damn well who. It happened yesterday. You're fishing for names."

Is she your twin? You just look at her until she looks down at her knitting and says, "Zed."

And you say, Zed, oh him. Good ol' Zed. We used to play together when we were kids. Robin Zed and Little Gus. And somebody always wound up in the creek. Old times, old times.

She wonders at you, like maybe there's hope.

So you say, but I don't remember a bit of it.

"Doesn't make it any less true," she says.
 
 

Wednesday, February 07

Cognowoman

It is strange how suddenly it is so much warmer today, as if the weather has decided to live for the day. One day at a time. The 12-step program for weather events no longer satisfied with a dedicated cable channel but requiring cumuli of websites and floodgates of fans. And for some reason (don't bother wondering why) this makes you think of the Polish travel writer who was sent completely unprepared to India to write about it and how in his unpreparation, the shock of India had the force of revelation, of revelation of his own ignorance and his own inability to comprehend. You cannot comprehend how today is so warm as to allow you to forget yesterday's cold, as if today is India, when all you have known up to this point has been Poland, the cold of yesterday; how today, walking outside with Regina, it is all you know, even though all you know about her is her name and the fact that she has been looking out for you for the past few days, but beyond that you remember things that are unheard of where you are now, things like cellphones and Super Bowls and islamofascism and global warming and Paris Hilton. As if maybe walking with Regina on a surprisingly warm winter day is India, which you don't know even though it eradicates all you do know, which was a cold day and Poland with Paris Hilton, whom you did not know any more than everybody else, but all of whom including you know her because she is famous for nothing and that's what she wants, Paris Hilton, who is a cold and Polish winter day. And nothing.

This is how confused you are. Which has the force of revelation because you are unprepared for this confusion, you who had life figured out because it was Poland whereas now it's India. With Paris Hilton. Except it's Regina and she's, like, the opposite.

The only way out is to be weatherly and live one day at a time. One 12-step at a time. Twelve one-steps at a time. Or what was it, the 400 blows. One blow at a time. The wind.

One question at a time. "How about her?" you ask Regina who is walking all 400 blows in the 12-stepping wind with you.

"Who?"

"Zed's sister, Athena."

"Athena, my ass," she scoffs, adding that her real name is Alpharetta. "His sister, my ass," she scoffs again, adding that he was adopted into her family. Adding finally: "Who you're asking me about happens to be your fiancee."

Happens to be. Funny how some things happen to be. Like the weather. Like Poland. Like India. Like happening to have a fiancee.
 
 

Thursday, February 08

You don't (fian)cee

Regina shows you letters that you wrote to your apparent fiancee Alpharetta.

Apparent Alpharetta of the eyes, the neon blues that slammed you in that sesquicentennial time capsule that somehow landed you here, not only somehow but somewhere and somewhen and somewho. Except you don't say this to Regina. You are already crazy enough. Apparently. It wouldn't do to wind up among the criminally insane. At least not yet.

You ask Regina how is it that she has letters that you wrote to Alpharetta and Regina looks at you and says she doesn't like that question, she would never in a hundred years have them if Alpharetta hadn't thrown them out. That she kept them because some day you might want them and maybe that someday is now.

Somehow and somewhere and someday.

There you are propped in your bed with a dough board smelling of morning biscuits on your knees for a desk and Regina putting letters on it and you reading them while Regina tells you how you thought it was the right thing to do to go off to war but Alpharetta was dead against it, calling you some right awful things, saying you'd get yourself killed, and then you come back all blank about everything, and Alpharetta saying that was worse than dead and then she tells Regina she's throwing out the letters and Regina is telling you this while you are reading:

Nothing like a coffee injection
To stimulate some introspection.
Outside it's crisp and cold;
Inside the warmth enfolds
So many thought, so many prayers, so many wishes
For the best that life can bring to you.
So much here that's so much gone,
So much here that's still to come,
And I feel so alone
Thinking about the great unknown.
And you're not here
And I miss you,
But there's not much we can do
So I just want to say:
Don't forget.

Don't forget, don't forget that
Somewhere is
Someone who'd tear 
His life
His life apart
His life would give to you
So you would
So you would only
Not
Forget
He loves you.

"Yeah, that one," Regina says, "enfuriated her. She said it would serve you right to get killed, going off like that and then writing a poem with words 'there's not much we can do,' when you went off on your own when you could've just stayed but you didn't." And Regina looks at you out over her rimless glasses and says, "she was right, child."

Somewhere is someone. And that someone is you.

[Music: Don't forget]
 
 

Sunday, February 11

Struck

Regina your caretaker leaves. She thinks you are asleep. She has sat by your bed knitting for a long while in the dim light of an oil lamp with shortened wick until you breathe heavily and regularly so she thinks you are asleep. She puts down her knitting and sits and watches you to verify your slumber, then she rises and extinguishes the lamp and opens the door and is gone. you know where she is going--down the path to the wooden hut they call The Capsule where Zed and Alpharetta will be and others and there will be music and dancing and a door locked against your entrance. Which makes you want to go all the more--the locked door and the sense that something of you is in that room already but you don't know what until tonight when you give Regina plenty of time and then you climb out of bed and into your coat and go out into the night under the bright stars and follow the wide path like a tunnel through the trees and you get to the hut and hear its music and its singing and it is then when you hear the words "don't forget don't forget that somewhere is someone who'd tear his life his life apart" that you are hearing yourself sing inside the hut. But you are outside.

You knock. The music stops and the talking too. You knock again. "The door's open," someone says, and you enter a room lit by a single guttering candle, a room empty except for a rocking chair faced away from you. Rocking.

You ask the rocking chair where everybody went. "Home," says the chair--or the person in the chair, but you can't see the person, so it might as well be the chair.

You say something about the song you just heard and how was it you could be hearing it? and the chair asks you what you're talking about and maybe you're hearing things that aren't there, just the way you don't remember the things that are there, and the person in the chair stands up and you see in the unsteady light of the guttering candle that it is Alpharetta.

"My name is Athena," she says. OK, you say. "I'm not Alpharetta," says Alpharetta, or Athena, or either, or both.

You look at her and you think of books and of descriptions of characters. Of the execution of portraits, as it were, as the descriptions would be described in dustcover blurbishness. And you think how often there is some link between and external feature and an internal character trait--a kind mouth or a wicked nose--and you think how often the way people look tells you nothing at all about the manner in which they feng shui their inner selves. But stories are stories and must be advanced storywise or else. So you stand there and look at Alpharetta/Athena in the loopy shadows with her hair fallen down to her shoulders and all you can think is how big her eyes are, how big and how bright and how blue, but you've noticed this before and you've said this before and everybody's thinking, yes, we know about her eyes, to which you say there's not enough that can be said about her eyes, just like there's not enough to be said about the Mona Lisa's smile. Would you say that to Leonardo, you reader you? "Leonardo, enough about the Mona Lisa's smile." No, you wouldn't, because you can see for yourself that it is unanswerable. And so are these eyes, you reader you, and you would paint them if you could. You would execute a portrait of them and hang it in the Louvre. You would sit them in front of a computer and shoot picture upon picture of them and post them on a website and ask for answers, but no one would know because everyone would know and there would be no answer, just a lot of answers, everyone struck but not in the same place and never twice in the same way.

And now in the guttering candlelight it isn't just the eyes, their blue just an occasional spark in the staggering shadows, but also the hair hanging down, full and tumbling as if recently loosened, and the lips drawn together--drawn you think, drawn like Mona Lisa's and as mysterious, signifying nothing except their own mystery and magnetism, drawing you even as you draw them, which you think must be the way of all beauty.
 
 

Monday, February 12

Blague on

Because there is no one in all mythology more the master of her domain, is what blue-eyed Athena the former Alpharetta tells you. When you jokingly demur to "master" as perhaps the wrong gender, the blue eyes sear you. They are a welding torch in her head as she approaches you and you instinctively start to shield your priva ... privacy, because if she cut open your head and pulled out who you really are, how could you be who you're trying to pretend to be?

"I could cut open your head, you know," is what she says, flashing a charismatic smile that only serves to strengthen the threat. "But I don't want to. I want to see how this plays out."

You wonder, if she is Athena, exactly how she came to be because in the myth it involved Athena's father getting his head cut open and her springing forth. But rather than ask, you decide to try to lay it all out there--no cutting necessary--and so tell her that the only reason you're here is because she closed you inside the sesquicentennial time capsule and she gives a stage laugh and says you have her mixed up with someone else, "just the way you have yourself mixed up with someone else" and you say you are who you are and she says "but you seem to be a little confused about who that might be" and you have to say that even though you are who you are, who you are is pending clarification because people seem to think that you are somebody other than who you remember yourself to be ...

"And of course remembering isn't your strong suit," she says, reaching in her pocket and bringing out and showing you a gold band figured with grape leaves and the legend "Vous et nul aultre" on it, so that it's obvious that she is the you/vous and/et no one else/nul aultre.

Look. You say. Look. I don't you know to say, you say, and you don't because ... well anyway you go on to explain that this is all either a dream or a time warp involving one of those portals that keep turning up in the movies these days, or maybe the Internet morphed from virtual into actual and you've gotten inside somebody's website ...

She humphs and says the only cobweb location is in your head from whence you will obviously birth no puissant daughters or sons for that matter.

... and besides, you continue, if you are who she says you are, why doesn't she take pity on you for being a casualty of war and losing your memory and the use of your hands?

"Because I don't believe you are a casualty of war, nor have you lost your memory, nor have you lost the use of your hands." She summarizes succinctly in the manner of an attorney delivering the keys of the jail cell to a jury inclined to use them.

By dang, she is right!

"Furthermore, you are a deceitful little worm."

By dang, she is wrong! And you tell her that not only she but that something is wrong and you're going to spend the rest of this blog trying to figure it out and she exclaims "Blague! Blague! I knew it was all a joke" and she throws the ring on the floor and stomps it flat and runs out of the room and you wonder what carat it must've been to be flattened so easily and then "blog/blague" hits you and you wish you'd never taken French in high school because a little knowledge is un poete maudit.
 
 

Tuesday, February 13

Scrute over

It doesn't do any good to look in a mirror. You see what you always see: yourself.

It doesn't do any good to tell Regina, "Look, look at the white and the gray in the hair," because when you do this--as you've done a few times--she either laughs uproariously or feels your forehead to see if you're burning with fever, and when you're not, she just shakes her head and tsks you.

It doesn't do any good to foretell the future--to talk about life with air conditioning, interstate highways, television, computers, cellphones, birth control, and antidepressants. Regina just tells you to stop griping and accept reality, and when you tell her that it would be reality, she just says she would be the Queen of Sheba someday, which you take to mean she doesn't believe you.

"If you could predict the headline of tomorrow's paper, maybe you'd have something," she says. So you say just wait til November 11 and when she asks why you just say, "you'll see."

It doesn't do any good to show that your hands are just fine and work perfectly well, because in fact they don't, not when anybody's around that matters. You can open a door at night, on your own, but not during the day, with someone watching to whom you want to prove that you're not who they think you are. And this worries you. What if you're in the process losing who you were, of becoming someone else?

If this were Narnia or Wonderland or someplace like that, it would be different, because you wouldn't really be changing. This is the real world. The problem could be that time and reality have caught up with you and yanked you back to where you're supposed to be.

You remember Jeb Aubois's father the last time you saw him and wonder if he feels this way, alone in his house, unable to get out, unable really to get around much, being fed by strangers, not able to read (though you at least can do this, with help), just sitting there, sitting there, sitting there, waiting, waiting, waiting for the inevitable. Or the inscrutable.
 
 

Wednesday, February 14

Rose job

A rose:
I tore it apart and 
Gave it to you, the
petals detached like all
my thoughts of you, each
one its own thought growing by
with water of seeing you, with sun of hearing you hearing you hearing you hearing you hearing you hearing
each detached thought whirling 
to meet in the calyx of those 
times our legs and arms 
whirl together and join
into just one flower:
A rose.

"What does it look like?" he asks you. Zed does.

He's showing you a poem on a sheet of paper. The poem's about a rose. It's hand-lettered in red ink. You look at it and your first thought is it looks like a red-faced man with a long nose, and you want to say "Cyrano de Bergerac" but instead you say "a rose."

He smiles and his eyebrows twitch up and back, which you take to mean he's done something clever, so you say "yeah" and nod your head in bona fide mock appreciation and he says it's not as easy as it looks and you wonder what a calyx is--in the poem it's located about where Cyrano's upper lip would be, so maybe there are lips involved, various kinds of lips, upper lower and nether but no, all that whirling, it must be about calyxthenics.

You ask him if it's for Valentine's Day? and he says yes and you ask who? and he says yes. In other words, no.
 
 

Thursday, February 15

... all your cares, and go downtown

You ask Regina if there's any way you can go somewhere. You've been cooped up in the bedroom, in the house, for some time now. For how long? you ask. She tells you it's been a whole year. No way! you exclaim, pointing out that you'd spent last Christmas in Australia in a kangaroo copyright court over a disagreement regarding "O Holy Night" and then you remember oh yeah that it was right before new year's you think that you got shut inside the sesquicentennial time capsule and things suddenly got weird. Regina tells you to stop talking such foolishness, that you spent last Christmas in bed not saying a word to anyone and only making noise during the night when you would scream during your nightmares, and then right before new year's you started babbling foolishness and haven't yet stopped, to the point that she doesn't know which is worse, mute days and screaming nights or nonstop crazy nonsense.

You conclude from that that it's OK for you to go outside but you can't grip the faceted glass doorknob so you can't open the door, and Regina just watches while you try. You try but your hands still don't work, but maybe it's the combination of effort and failure that makes her say, "Oh all right, let me ask your mother," which when she comes back becomes that you can go with her to town if you won't get in her way while she gets the groceries. Getting the groceries means getting in a horse-drawn buggy--even though there's sitting in the garage a jalopy that Regina says she wouldn't want to use even if she could--and jiggling down a dirt road--that would be paved by now thanks to Mr. Brownlow and all the farmers tired of being stuck in the mud if it hadn't been for the damn war ("damn war" bringing a regretful look from Regina over to you)--and every once in a while a jalopy chugs by and you tell Regina about tailgaters in school zones and how you think it's worse to speed in a school zone than anywhere else and when somebody tails you in a school zone and then whips around you and speeds away you shape your hand into a gun and shoot at them--which remark brings an uncertain temporizing nod from Regina--until the homes start getting a little closer together and there is a paved road and finally a downtown of buidlings cheek by jowl all grouped around a square where there is a red brick building with a cupola that must be the courthouse, which is where Regina ties up the wagon and sits you down on a bench and says "lunch time" and takes a basket down from the wagon with sandwiches and glass bottle of milk inside, the sandwiches wrapped in wax paper which causes you to recommend to Regina the ziploc plastic bag system--"zipper lock" you are careful to say, remembering your kangaroon copyright imbroglio, so as to avoid patent entanglements--which brings from her the same temporizing nod as before and a chuckled command to shut up and eat, which basically means opening your mouth and letting Regina stuff a sandwich in it or let you drink from one of the glass bottles.

"Well, looky there," you hear, and it's a man in a suit and a fedora and glasses gawking at you. The man comes over and says, "The paper should take your photograph and run it with the headline 'Coward and Colored,'" which he apparently thinks is funny because he laughs but it sounds too much like an insult to let pass so you go over to him and head butt him and bloody his nose and break his glasses and and he bends over holding his bleeding face in pain but not for long--he comes up swinging but Regina lands a kick in his groin and he's down on the ground now fulminating against the "goddam nigger" and Regina leans over him and tells him "the only nigger around here is the black rot you got in your sorry soul" and she gets you back in the buggy and next thing you know you're leaving downtown and she's saying, "Sorry, child, but I have to take you back home."
 
 

Friday, February 16

Get lossed

"C'mon. Wake up. Let's go."

Someone is shaking you out of your sleep. It's dark when you open your eyes.

"C'mon. Wake up. Let's go."

You turn your head off your pillow and there's Zed's face close to yours and your first thought is that if this was an e-mail you'd be going "wtf?" but he gives you another shake and the look on his face is like there's some kind of emergency so you instinctively sniff for the smoke smell because that happened to you once, a bad house fire, but you don't smell smoke and you remember then how the smoke had blinded you but Zed's face is right there staring at you.

You ask him what's going on and he says it's mountain time and you say no it's not it's eastern time and he laughs and says "maybe it's the day of the two moons again huh same as when I was born" and then he's telling you to c'mon because the mountain can't wait and you think the mountain can too damn well wait it's been waiting for eons and you want to stay in your warm bed but Zed drags you out and helps you dress and bundles you up and whispers at you to keep your mouth shut and you follow him outside wondering does Regina know what's going on and Zed is walking into the woods back of the house and you run a little bit up aside of him and ask him does Regina know and he laughs and says hell no Regina doesn't know. He's walking fast, which makes you walk fast just to keep up, his energy just pulling you along in spite of your reservations.

The other thing is that it's cold. It's damn freezing and it's dark and walking fast is the best heater even if it doesn't give off any light but as long as you keep Zed in sight you're ok.

A mountain is higher when you walk up it. You're sure this one would be even higher if it weren't for your hiking companion who not too far in turns around and says you're going to help him find the rhythm and you say which one and he answers something about two and two and one, about ABABA, about scansion, about I AM I AM I, about Ami Ami I, about four, five, and seven, and five fours and seven fives. About today going to the center of the universe and there's a rhythm and a scansion to it and that's why you're climbing the mountain, to find it with your steps. Your steps? you ask, and he says to dance your steps left right left right while he passes behind you or in front of you after every four-step cycle, saying that he is anchoring the scan. If he starts left, he ends left and starts over right and ends right, then left again.

"I [2,3,4] Am [2,3,4] I [2,3,4] Am [2,3,4] I [2,3,4]"

But this is a mountain and the path is going uphill and it's uneven and there are roots and rocks and Zed falls down not a few times, hopping back and forth in front of you. Anchoring the scan? It strikes you as a singularly ridiculous enterprise, but you continue counting your steps and then start singsonging them army-style: "left, left, left right left." But Zed makes me stop, saying that is not the mountain nor the way to the center of the universe, and you ask him to tell you something that makes a little sense and he says "molecules" and then "chemicals" and "gravity" and "can you see any of it?" and you say no and he says "ok then, give me five lines ABABA." Now there is snow on the ground, not much, but you can tell it's old, northside snow and the light is getting gray around you. You tell Zed you can't give him lines and count steps. He says to give him lines so you don't count steps and he doesn't vocalize his scan-anchoring but you can see his lips moving.

Thinking on your feet is not your strong suit. You find that the best way to think is to be seated with a glass of wine that is filled and re-filled. Or with a cup that masquerades as coffee but that is mostly Irish whisky. That is not the present as it were situation. You are wineless, whiskyless, and mobile, and the walking rhythm is much more conducive to conjuring up old advertising jingles, which in turn are conducive to conjuring up the desire to go insane in ordr to avoid conjuring up old advertising jingles. And the snow. Deeper and deeper. Not rhythm-breaking but soon. And the muscles starting to hum their own siren call of "how about a rest?" And the thirst. And hunger, reminding you that you missed the most important meal of the day, and here it is the day of going to the center of the universe. But Zed isn't slowing down. The snow is getting deeper and his hunger doesn't seem to be for food.

Every now and then he asks you for his ABABA and you finally have one, but you demand a rest before you give it to him. He stops and there is steam rising from his shoulders; he hops in place and says for you to give it. You don't want to because it uses the same word for the A scan and the whole thing is no good:

I wanted to spend the day with you
But you were far away
I wanted to spend the night with you
But you went out to play
With the night I wanted to spend with you.

Zed nods his head looking from side to side and says it might hold but we wouldn't know until later and then he tells you to speak it as you walk. Speak it? Yes, all the rest of the way. Then the snow is deep: knee-deep, thigh-deep, ankle-deep and you can barely lift your legs but Zed is breaking trail so you can't complain but yes you can because this is crazy and your ABABA over and over, it reeks of loss, why can't it reek of gain, of happiness, but then you think that loss is what you have right now at present except for a crazy guide to who knows where and how long can you go up and up and up around every deceptive flank of this never-ending mountain until

Finally.

There is a ruin on top. The shell of a hotel? Zed leads you inside and you walk through, your steps now deliciously light and unencumbered by snow, like they're kicking invisible whipped cream, you walk through from the backside to the front where there steps down to what was a drive, now just a clearing of hard-packed snow where there appears to be a wall of snow that Zed leads you inside and opening into a short corridor of snow that keeps turning right and turning left, turning left and turning right, la di da etc., until you enter a small room of snow out under the cold blue sky. Zed says you are in the center of the universe and have to find your own way out. Then he is gone, leaving you thinking on your feet, which is not your strong suit.

You aren't walking anymore and you're getting cold fast. Zed has gone out to play, and you will freeze if you spend the night here.
 
 

February 20

Conceive

It is all of a piece: the people streaming up to the communion rail inside the old stone Episcopal church while you play a slow oboe amid pipe organ; reading that prayers of good people are always good; the lovers united at the end of the movie; the sting in your eyes that comes from tears you try to keep down but can't.

If you knew how to do it: pray; be good; be united; sting someone's eyes with tears of the happiness that comes from knowing that happiness is possible.

How you did it might not matter: write, play, love, teach. Sting.

Oh to be a bee.

But here? The red umbrella. The snow-covered ruin. The snow-covered everything. Except her, under that big red umbrella. Unclothed. Unclothed? Not the center of the universe; not the cold distant empty labyrinthine claustrophobic amazement. You are no longer there. It was cold and white. Now is the center of life on earth. It is a stone ruin, and there's a fire inside the unroofed ruin. Showing red, the red umbrella over you. It is snowing on the fire. Blankets and her dress, which you are wearing. Not wearing--it is wrapped around you, with the blankets, but it is next to your skin with a smell, her smell? Vanilla woodsmoke pepper raspberry? Smells are as complicated as happiness. And now she is next to your skin. Her skin next to yours, a touch so warm as to *conceive* you, and she is telling you that you are freezing and it is the only way for you to live, for her to wrap the two of you in her dress and in blankets and lie under the red umbrella next to a fire in a ruin.

You, still somewhat in your labyrinthine claustrophobic amazement, are telling her the dream: it was a movie; it was bad guys giving you the third degree and she showed up and they scattered and then she moved on to another movie, one that is all of a piece: the people filing up to the communion rail; the oboe and organ; the black words on white page defining good prayer; the lovers united at the end of the movie; the sting of tears in your eyes. If you knew how to do it. You would. Write or some such shit work. [Laughter] If you knew how to take her home. If she would.

She tells you to shut up.

Sting.

Oh to be a bee.
 
[Music: Dream Club]
 
 
 
February 21, 2007

Shutterite

Athena has saved you from freezing to death--how else would you have lived if she hadn't found you and somehow gotten you to shelter and then warmed you back to life with her naked body next to yours? Although you don't remember the finding and the getting to shelter. Not that they would have been that memorable anyway, coming as they did before the naked episode.

Arrived back at the house known to you by now as home, you are on horseback behind Athena, whom you've clung to all the way down the mountain. Regina and the woman known to you by now as your mother run out of the house with cries of relieved exhausted worry, but before they arrive Athena says, "Don't forget: nothing happened. You got lost and I found you and it was a most unremarkable rescue. Promise me you will tell no one about it." You promise her, whereupon she greets the advancing women with a false tale of an unremarkable rescue.

She has told you not to tell. You have promised not to tell. But it was a remarkable rescue. You could easily have died. As far as you know, Zed abandoned you to freeze. Shouldn't someone know? You have to tell someone. You tell Regina that you will tell her if she promises not to tell anyone. She promises. She hears the story. You ask her what mountain is it and she says "the Roan, and it sounds like you all stayed at the Cloudland Hotel" and she says further that if it'd been her you'd be dead for sure because she's not getting naked with you under any circumstances.

You ask her does Zed hate you? And she says no, that Zed is peculiar; that he was just here in fact with a message for you--he said "give this to him when he gets back." "When" not "if." You ask to see the message. "There it is," she says, pointing to a black shutter leaning up against the wall. Regina says it came off the old hotel. A black shutter  painted with white words:


Take me back to Cloudland--I want you to leave me there.
Point me into the north wind--I want to let it freeze my hair.
You know that I am dying, but baby please don't grieve:
Life might've taken my shirt, but I might have something up my sleeve.

Oh if you take me there, to our castle in the air
oh baby if you take me there.

Let me through your French door, one side draped red
The other side, open, beckons, but I think it might bite off my head.
Lead me onto the balcony, promise me eternal day
Take me into your loving arms and let us dance the night away.

Oh if you take me there ...

Light at the end of the tunnel blazing with pure white
Angels coming to get me, but I won't go without a fight
I never bite the hand that feeds me--I've always got too much on my plate
but somebody needs to bite my ass for making me kiss the hand of fate.

Oh if you take me there ...


Take me back to Cloudland--I want you to leave me there.
Point me in one direction but let me go anywhere
Stars are shining someplace in this universal bog
Meanwhile I'm just wondering how I got into this fog.

Oh if you take me there ...

[Music: Cloudland]
 

February 22

Really

It is all trains, your ride to Mountain Home where you are to see the doctor. Almost all trains, all except the last little buggy jaunt up the hill from the railroad stop to the main building. It is like taking buses almost, these trains, stopping frequently to let people on or off, stopping almost as long to let people on or off as they do move between the stops. You wish you could just go on one of them, could let all that locomotive potential run the way it feels like it wants to, gradually building up speed and power only having to stop to let someone on or off. C'mon, let it run, let it wind up in San Antonio or Winnipeg or someplace.

But this is still here. Mountain Home. Funny to see a place that you recognize since your, as it were, relocation. It is its old familiar self, the old grandfather whose handlebar mustache suggests a dapper youth past, but then you see that maybe this is the dapper youth because there is no swollen sprawl of health industry bloat. It is just the original buildings amid spacious grounds, Renaissance Tuscan without the walled-in crowding and the expectation of bubonic plague; Siena off the boat in America the Beautiful. Clear, clean, and pasteurized: the dormitories quaint against your memory of elephantine hospitals, the Carnegie library with people coming and going, the band shell gazebo with lunchers grazing nearby in the sun, the concert hall with banner announcing the upcoming appearance of a diva, the main building not an empty standby but thronged with doctors and nurses and soldiers and civilians and it is there you look up at its clock tower and see that the clock is actually working and telling time and telling you that the time is now. And you wishing you could believe it.

The doctor is, like all doctors, white-coated and brisk, an iced-teabag before steeping. The clock is for him. He asks you how your nights are, do you sleep, are there still nightmares, how are your hands, do you remember anything about the past? Then--right after asking if you remember--he says you must try to forget (it is the nightmares he means) and that is what the drugs are for, but in cases like mine it is possible that shock has so disordered my nerves that I will just have to live with it. You tell him that people call you a coward but your mother says you rescued two men by dragging them to safety, clenching their belts in your teeth. What does he think? Are you a faker? The doctor says there is no way to prove anything, and many men live with nightmares more successfully than others.

OK, so he thinks you're a faker.

All right, then, you'll fake it: you tell him how old you really are and where you were really born and who your parents are/were and how you have a wife and children and a job, really, and like to write music/songs and record it/them and how Zed somehow seems to be stealing it/them--"Cloudland" for sure you wrote that--and maybe he's trying to kill you and how Athena saved you from freezing, only you wonder about her too because her eyes are exactly like the eyes that closed you in the time capsule along with an important Confederate flag that rightfully belongs to your great-great-great uncle whom you never met because he pre-deceased your birth by some mere oh say 40 years, but here he is alive and kicking as Great Uncle Adolf and moreover pissed off at you because you are not only a coward but a co-conspirator in the theft of a flag that rightfully belongs to him or whatever Lost Cause Association he belongs to, but it isn't true, it's all Athena and Zed and something is up and you wonder what it is because every time you sneak out to The Capsule and hear music, it's your music by jingle, music you recorded on a damn computer, but then when you get inside the building, all is silent and everyone has vanished. Really.

And did the good doctor really say something about drugs for nightmares?

Now in the room are men in white other than the doctor. You chuckle to yourself thinking about "men in white" and "they're coming to take me away, ha-ha." Well, the men in white take you away.

Ha-ha.
 
 

Friday, February 23

Harum serum

You are by yourself in a hospital bed in a small room with bare walls. No window. A doughboy walks in--not the Pillsbury kind but the soldier kind, the Over There kind, with puttee-style leggings, the kind you saw a lot of milling around the main building yesterday. He asks you to give him your arm, which you do, and which he sticks with a hypodermic needle. He leaves. You close your eyes against the bare walls until at some indefinite point in the future you are shaken and turn over to see your good buddy the doctor, whom you greet as your good buddy, feeling particularly happy about things, happy and warm and a little sleepy, like you could be sitting in the shade at the beach happily plying yourself with booze with your good buddy the doctor, who just wants to talk--rather who just wants you to talk. He is a good buddy and you feel like telling him everything and every now and again the doughboy comes back in and sticks your arm, which makes it seem a little less like the beach, but what the hell, it does feel like the beach, so warm and drowsy and floating, like you've been in the waves all day, and you ask the doctor where he was at life's big moments: Cuban missile crisis, Beatles/Ed Sullivan, assassinations, shuttle disasters, planes flying into skyscrapers. Your good buddy doctor is very curious about these things and you tell him as much as you know while he listens and while the doughboy freshens up your drink er your dosage and what is this stuff anyway and why the hell is he a doughboy anyway? It's not Halloween, is it? Oh, it's Mardi Gras. Still? That was three days ago. Must've been some party in New Orleans, but the doughboy thing seems a little odd, on the other hand you've always had a hankering to try on some puttees. Putter in some puttees down upon the levees. Which require the obligatory Katrina reference. You know, the hurricane that came close to making New Orleans the Pompeii of our day. What? You want to know about Katrina? What is it with you that you need me to talk to you about these things. So you talk and you notice the doughboy taking notes. As if you're saying anything worth recording for posterity. Ah, posterity, pull up your beach chair and join the good doctor and me in another cup of reminiscence. Or is it delirium?
 
 

Monday, February 26

Come in to my delirium

[Music: Come into]

https://sites.google.com/a/judbbarry.com/www/music/banshee-333/comeinto.mp3

I wanted to spend the day with you but you were far away
I wanted to spend the night with you but you were out to play
In the night I wanted to spend with you.

If I had a champagne fountain, a castle on the shore,
Riches beyond counting, there's nothing I'd want more 
Than a mine inside your mountain.

I'm a bad egg downside sunny, I could help you fry in shame
By cracking jokes that aren't that funny, by poaching all the blame,
By scrambling all your money.

Come in to my delirium, come into my play
So many lines about love—all of them I want to say.
You gotta know I really care about what this means to you
You've gotta know what happens there makes me want to
Come in to my delirium.

My feeble lightshow doesn't penetrate the dark
But with a little bit of puff and blow I can breathe fire into your spark
And watch it melt your snow.

Why're you driving your own hearse and painting the town black?
You could do a whole lot worse than dance back to back
At the center of the universe.

It was never very clear whether it was ice sculpture or chandelier or how it was the long spittoon turned out to be an old bassoon. I am I am I digging for hope and an alibi in case it turns out to be true: You are you, are you? It was me that found the holy grail and filled it with a pint of ale. But it was you that drank it dry. Ah! The blood of Adonai! I am I your creamy head, sublimating in some dry bed, every noise becomes your laugh; every wish becomes your quaff. And you are you, diaphanous dress, the sight of which can only depress the maniac in his tiny box wearing only an unwashed pair of mismatched socks.

Come in to my delirium …


Tuesday, February 27

Come into my play

It is an explosion or thunder. Do you hear it first or do you feel it? The building shivers. Then the smoke. Would thunder do that? Your door is locked. Your window is barred. You calmly consider panic. Then your door opens and a guard is telling you to get out. Behind the guard is Zed, who holds a gun on the guard. Zed is smiling at you. Somehow seeing a smile on Zed's face doesn't fill you with good feeling. The guard looks at Zed, a look that says "OK you got what you want, now leave me alone." Zed thanks the guard and shoots him in the knee. The guard screams, Zed grabs you and you run with him out a side door onto some metal steps that take you outside where it is pouring rain and smoke and noise. You follow Zed where he is running across the grass when there is a sizzle and then a blinding flash of lightning that freezes the scene: Zed running through a screen of rain toward the theatre. You see his one heel kicking up, the curtain of rain, the round side windows of the theatre lobby and their culicued limestone ornamentation. Snap it. It will never change. Then thunder kicks you in the gut and time kicks in again and everything dissolves into a sprint, into wet feet and soaked pajamas, into fear, into a backdoor and down some steps into some kind of basement where Zed tells you to come this way, the way is clear, and you trip and fall and Zed picks you up by the arm and pulls you up some more stairs, it is so dark, but now you are in the forest of ropes and curtains of a backstage and then he is pushing you out onto a stage.

An empty stage, all except for a chandelier hanging over is center. An empty house. Light comes and goes, following the flickering whimsy of a fire from the outside. A building on fire. The chandelier's prisms catch the firelight. They are like ice. They appear to be melting.

"Recite," says a voice.

It is like asking you what your favorite book is, or to perform a piece of music, or to answer the hypothetical situation of what you would do if you were a state department employee and a hotel called you and said a crazy American was running around the hotel pool naked with a knife. Naked with a knife, or with a naked knife? Is what you would ask. Temporize. Buy time. You haven't done off the cuff since your last pair of cufflinks and that was before you could talk.

The bard who comes to you at this point is Margaret Wise Brown. "In the great green room," you begin, scanning the empty seats for your audience. "In the great green room is a long spittoon, which turns out to be an old bassoon."

"Wrong!" says the voice, which then rises in a seat to become Athena. You ask her "is that you" and she says no, and she says it's not you up there either unless you decide. You have to decide.

The glow from the fire comes and goes, jumps in and jumps out. Sometimes there is a half Athena, sometimes not. It is as if you've wandered away from a bonfire, walked away to escape the heat of the fire, but you don't like the cold either. The fire so hot on one side, life so cold on the other. When what you want is constant, comforting warmth, the way her warmth saved you from freezing. And then you realize that it's your life that is melting now. If you had frozen there on the mountain, that would have been the end maybe, but it would have been solid, of a piece. Whereas now you're melting, you and the chandelier. It isn't glass. It's ice and it's melting in the fire, and so are you. Melting into her. When you realize that you are soaked and shaking and you tell her that you really want to come through for her but it would really help if you could warm up first.

She laughs. She runs up to the stage and rolls you into a curtain and says "if it weren't for me, where would you be?" and you say "probably not here" and she laughs again and says that's not funny and says that you're just a bad cracked egg anyway and why would she want to roll around anyone with your stink and you ask her if you smell bad and she says it's more that you don't have a center, a yolk, you could be like one of Zed's eggs that he paints for his cathedral and you ask her what she means and she says she's sorry about your music box and you ask her what she means and she says Zed took it apart, the thing that came with you in the freezer (you take that to mean the sesquicentennial time capsule), the thing that played the songs that they all danced to, the music box thing. Zed took it apart to see how it worked and couldn't get it back together. He wanted to see where the musical velvet was coming from, how you were doing it. You say it was a laptop and Los Oboes, that's all, and she says Zed wanted to find out, but now he can't get it back together and why would you need a laptop, wouldn't you rather have her in your lap, and you have to say that seeing as how you've been melted into her life, there's all kinds of things that you'd rather have regarding her: after all where has the champagne fountain in the castle on the shore gotten you and wouldn't it just be better to let you mine her riches, the ones buried deep beyond anyone's reach? And she says ah but do you have enough light? And you say just let me breathe on you the warmth you gave me, you say you can give some of it back and she says what if she doesn't want it back, what if she just wants to drive around in her hearse and be black all the time and you say there's diamonds in the black mine, diamonds and hope, the holy grail, Alibi: The Blood of Adonai, every noise her laugh, every wish her quaff, and she says take the couplets somewhere else and you ask her if that's an invitation and she says only because you're wrapped up in a curtain and because you're a maniac and your socks don't match. Or, you say, that you're a stinking bad egg in damp pajamas on a darkened stage in an empty house hearing love in melodies of andantes and waltzes, hearing love there, unworded love, line after line of notes, no words, no words anywhere, just lines, the wordless ones you want to say, just the look in your eyes. You really do care about what this means, you say, you just don't know what it means, and you keep looking, and it's her mine after all and there's no light. A likely alibi, she says, winking the look in her eyes. Under the melting chandelier of you.

All the lines about love. The wordless ones. You want to say. Come into my play. Come in to my delirium.
 
 

Wednesday, February 28

Back to work

It never happened, they say. They seem to be in a position to know something, you being straitjacketed and them being ascendant, leerful, and authoritative. It was a thunderstorm and there was a fire and you panicked. You went back to your battlefield hell shock. They had to sedate you and tie you down, tie you up.

Now here you are immobilized, sitting on your bed in your room that smells like smoke; one wall is hell-blackened that before was institutionally insipid (vanilla beige lime yum).

You don't believe them. Zed sprung you and you were with Athena inside the theatre. You tell them you were a happy babbling brook of sweetrum liquidity, quite the quiddity, the essential hairsplitter. And they're telling you no no no it didn't happen. You tell them about the picture that the lightning took, the one of Zed running toward the theatre, and how you probably have it in your laptop if they could bring that to you, oh but Zed said he took it apart. They want to know what a laptop is so you tell them and then they inject you with something and you go back to work.
 
 

Friday, March 02

Praeco City

Sleep, sleep, sleep. That's all they let you do. And oh yeah, take baths. Interminable, long baths in a gray metal trough that they bring in and set you inside of and cover with a slipcover with a hole in it for your head which they tighten with laces just like a tennis shoe (the hole in the slipcover, not your head) maybe to keep the heat in? After being stuck like this for a while--say, 30 minutes--a nice hot bath becomes immobilized torment, but they insist it's good for your dementia and you say "it sure is" because it's driving you nuts but they don't see the humor and when you suggest not so dulciferously that they get a job in some humor-challenged sector like airport security, they decide that it's time for another nap, meaning another injection, and off you go into the zone. How many times have you wanted to catch up on your sleep? How many times have you almost nodded off at the wheel driving home from work? Well, now isn't one of those times. You fight for every waking moment you have, every dry waking moment, every opportunity to jump from the floor onto the bed unseen, to ball your socks together and throw the balled socks up and down, just to be doing something, anything, but they can't see you because if they do they come take the balled socks away and put you to sleep again and they (Ok, not they, but he, the doctor in the white coat with the look of god about him) say that your shellshock seems to have developed into dementia praecox, for which a regimen of complete and enforced rest, bathing, and inactivity is the most effective treatment. Ah, nothing like a little enforced rest. Only thing is, this is a whole lot of enforced rest. And you never really considered yourself actually demented. Maybe a little crazy. But certainly nothing requiring your deliquescence into blobbery. Or blobbishness. Or blobismo. Bloboriousness? Le mot juste escapes you, and you know what? You don't care. Blame the drugs.

The guard is back on the job. The one whom Zed kneecapped the night of the storm. Except the kneecapping was some kind of hallucination. According to them. So you have to wonder why the guard is on crutches with his leg in a cast.
 
 

Monday, March 05

Wreck Room

It is blank. The wall. You stand against it with your nose on it, your eyes closed, breathing in. In a room. Not your room--where it still smells like smoke. Here it smells like nothing. It even smells blank, just the way it looks when you open your eyes and try to focus on nothing. There are four or five other men in the room--shuffling, sitting, standing. All slack-gazed and vague, all waiting for the next injection of false peace. Not wanting it and wanting it, both the same, both feelings equal and contradictory. And vague--hardly feelings at all, more like visitations of some external spirit, finding your husk and using it as a vessel the way a fish would swim through a submerged wreck.

The recreation room is what they call it. "How would you like to go to the recreation room?" they ask you, but it's not a choice. They take you to the recreation room. There is a pool table. A card table. Some bookshelves. But no one reads or plays cards or shoots pool. So much for recreation, you think. Recreation. Re-creation. An odd notion, you think, that using a stick to knock a ball into another ball so as to shoot the second ball into the pocket has something to do with ... damn! But it does!

The boche howitzer shell was the cue ball and it slammed you fresh out of the break right down into a side pocket somewhere, some kind of Phantasteria where you'd look in the mirror and see a man of fifty or so years, going gray, with tortoiseshell glasses and thoughts of a wife and children mostly grown, of a job in a library, of playing in an orchestra for a Mozart mass on a Sunday morning church service (on an oboe? Do you even know what an oboe is?), of some kind of miniature cinematic typewriter that you stare at for hours on end and put music into and take music out of (and what is that loud jangly board that you hold on your lap?). That's the pocket you were in. But now they've taken you out and shaved you from top to bottom and bathed you (oh how they've bathed you) and slept you and slept you and now you can see that it was all just something that the boche shell wrote on your brain, damn literary Huns, saddling you with some kind of confusing futuristic garbage that you can't get rid of, that has you seeing things even! Looking in the mirror and seeing an old fart looking back! But now they've racked you up, they have, they've racked and rolled you, you're in with the other balls, the other shaved bald heads and you for one have your nose up against the rack and you're breathing it in and it is nothing but it is the wall and you're waiting for it to move, to lift, and for you to be outside again, outside and waiting for the break, waiting for the cue ball to slam into you again just like that damn boche howitzer shell but maybe this time you'll get lucky and get to bounce around a little bit so that by the time you do land in the pocket it'll be time to die and maybe the pocket will be heaven and maybe it'll be hell and maybe it'll be some futuristic Phantasteria that a bored Hun in a trench somewhere wrote and stuffed into a shell in the hopes that it would gas a Yankbrain into Purgatorische Ozland.

Recreation Room. There's really not much choice.
 
 

Thursday, March 08

The Return of the Deprodigalized

When will it when will it when will it all. You can't think from thinking too much: there is at one time the sense that there is an answer to the problems of the world and it all has to do with the oak tree in the backyard that you walk by hundreds no thousands no millions of times as you circle the yard down the line of the picket fence back to the gazebo and up the other side where the oak tree is and it is as if all your cold sweat and your fury at sleep for not coming to you when you need it, evn though you're yawning--not just yawning but yawning and yawning and yawning-- when sleep won't come and extinguish this acute tortured squeezing of your knees and wrists in a vise, as if all that agony that makes you want something to put you out of your misery, as if all that at the same time drives you, not so much to walk, but to propel yourself around your yard like some kind of manic steeplechase after something that isn't there, something called life, for which you have all of the answers and they are all in the oak tree, but they aren't answers at all, and you can see that, you can feel it, which brings in yet another crowd of answers that turn into questions, turn into branches of the oak tree losing themselves in the sky, but you can't stop and they can't stop anymore than Regina can not be there three times a day the first day and then the second day always with something for you to eat, but you can't take it, you physically can't take her food cure--you are vomiting in the yard anyway and it's all because they made you this way with injecting you with sleep and then waking you up and sending you home.

Home: The big white house with the round turret fromthe window of which it looks like Rapunzel might let down her hair but when you're inside, it's not a room at all, just a little step-out froma hallway. the big white house with the porch wrapping around the front, but the car didn't drop you there to walk in on your own. The orderlies took you, they led you through the gate in the picket fence to the backyard and knocked on the back door and there was Regina who gave you one quick, glancing look that you were sure told her everything about you she needed to know, although at that moment you were also sure that most of her knowledge was just empathy and concern and imagination and love, and you'd much rather have somebody supply that knowledge from inside themselves than look at you and try to figure out what's wrong with you, because that's the way the doctor looked at you, and his solution of long baths and enforced sleep sure didn't fill you with anywhere near as much hope as did that one glance from Regina.

She thanked the orderlies and they left you standing there at the top steps. Trembling and sweating and clammy and cold, but sure that the answers weren't inside.

So it was to the backyard that you went and where you stayed and tried to walk yourself away from pain and into an answer, where now you sneeze and sneeze and sneeze and can't keep the tears up, but it isn't crying; there is no melancholy affect, nothing to cry about, just a feeling of panicked excitement to the point of goose bumps that keeps you on your incessant steeplechase, never stopping, can't stop, the answer is there up in the oak tree, you and it are the revolution and the hell with the masses and the rest of creation.

What day is it? It is the middle of the afternoon. You've been walking around the yard for two, three days? The oak tree is, after all, just an oak tree, leafless in late winter. You go inside the gazebo and sit on the bench, then you fold up your legs and lie down on it. The torture is over; no longer are the answers important, either to find or to conceal. You are tired and you start to allow yourself to sleep, but you do worry that the oak tree is disappointed in you for not finding the answers or for leaving the ones you did find up in the boughs where birds will use them to build nests, and you worry that you'll get flakes of peeling white paint in your hair from lying on the bench, and then the bench protests that it should care more than you, and you have to agree, and you let youness go and then are beyond caring anymore when will it when will it when will it all.
 
 

Tuesday, March 13

Part Two, Release -358.69

Your homeless musician friend Jeb Aubois comes into the library where you work and asks where you are but nobody seems to know. Maybe on a break, at the doctor, who knows, it's not busy and you're not missed.

Jeb says you probably are in some time warp somewhere. He's not joking; he says it seriously because he means it; the other librarians smile patiently at him. They know Jeb and he's a little off, a little apt to think such cockamamie things, which make them smile patiently at him and gossip about him in the break room. Then Jeb asks to get on a computer and he tries to send you some e-mail in the event that you've gone forward instead of back, but you don't reply because where you are it appears to be 1918 and the only bandwidth is the number of uniformed trombone players it takes to stretch across main street.
 
 

Thursday, March 15

Fit de battle ob my only sunshine

It's warm outside. Spring is pushing winter aside. It's a sure thing, what with the explosion of forsythia yellow on the hedge running along the back fence. It happened yesterday, as if the warm day was a long burning fuse to a flowery burst. But winter's not gone yet. It'll get its revenge on that impulsive show of yellow.

Regina feeds you oatmeal for breakfast and asks you if you need anything. You say you'd like to know what's been going on since you've been away, so she goes downstairs and comes back with a pile of newspapers and sits down on the bed next to you and opens them for you and the two of you go through the papers. You try to pronounce Flemish and French names where there are reports of action, much to Regina's amusement: Houtlhust is Hothouse, Seicheprey is Sickypray, Butte-de-Mesnil is Butt-Dame-Is-Senile and you correct yourself and say "butt" ought to be "byoot" and Regina laughs and says to watch where you're going with that one and trails off laughing with that humming sigh that some people use to ease out of laughing and she says that there's boys being killed and you say yeah, and there's also news of unrest in Ireland, the Bolsheviks becoming the Communists and making peace with the Germans, and Wilson trying to sell Congress on a 14-point peace plan, and a new movie on Broadway called Tarzan of the Apes. Regina asks if I remember reading it and you say no and she goes out of the room and comes back with a magazine called All-Story with a picture of a long-haired headbanded Tarzan knifing a lion in the tall savanna grass above the legend "Tarzan of the Apes: A Romance of the Jungle." She asks you if you want her to read it to you. You say no,

but for some reason it makes you think about Athena and it comes back to you that you dreamed about her and Zeb busting you out of the hospital. You believe it was not a dream but everybody told you it was and when you insisted they seemed to hear it very contrarily and would put you to sleep so you stopped insisting and started being afraid to believe it.

You ask Regina where Athena is. She answers that Athena has run away with Zed and it is the talk of the town. you ask why and she says she'll tell you but right now she has work to do and she leaves you reading about the latter-day battle for Jericho between Australians and Turks and you wonder whether the sun stood still like it did for Joshua and then you read about the Soviets taking Russia into the Gregorian era--they've finally left the Middle Ages--so maybe the sun did stand still and maybe it's still standing still and the days and nights are just theatre gimmicks and you're stuck on a giant stage or something with no audience.
 
 

Monday, March 19

God's whoopee cushion

Regina takes you outside and you sit in the gazebo. It's chilly outside but the forsythia doesn't seem to notice. You see its optimism cocking a snook at the cold. It should hearten you but somehow it doesn't. This is the annual play of seasons, the ritual of death and rebirth, a cycle, a wheel, but you're outside of it, you're where the rubber is hitting the road, getting squeezed, smushed, squashed down between the wheel of nature and the road of time, squeezing out the noisy fart of your whoopee cushion life, the hot-air thought-balloon part of you, the daimon of your personality, your dreams and all that other stuff, the literal et cetera. None of it compostable, all of it evanescent. Quite unreal, really.

Regina knits. She always knits when she has nothing to do. Not that knitting is nothing; of course it isn't nothing. To you it represents the zenith of humanity, taking something from nature and adding a mixture of love and the daimon and bestowing it upon the world. If you only had something like that.

She knits, and she talks. She tells you about how she had a big sister who moved off to South Carolina and who was teaching at a school down there when there was bad time and she got raped and as bad luck would have it, it made her pregnant. She moved home and had the baby but wasn't ever right after that and she ended up drowning herself. It was Zed, the baby was, and he was more like a little brother because there was only ten years difference in age. "So you know," she said, "me going down to the Capsule wasn't me going to dance. It was me going to see my brother. Only he's not really my brother," and she laughs but then she is quiet again and knits some more.

Then she says, "you never knew my mother," and you say no. She says "my mother was white. She was white and she was German. Which is how she raised her children: white and German." Here she laughs a long time, like it's a hilarious thing. You tell her that her African features tend to predominate and she laughs even harder. She is crying with laughter. The thought of her being white seems to have struck her as the funniest idea she's ever heard. You ask her what it means to be raised white, what it means to be raised black, and she stops laughing and asks you what you mean by black, and you say you mean aframerican. She looks at you funny and says she is colored. "OK, well still," you say, "what do you mean, being raised different if you're white or colored?" and she says surely you know what she means, that it's not the raising that's different, it's the definition of who you are. White skin defines you. Colored skin defines you. And her mother didn't know the definition or tried to ignore it but she could get away with it up on her farm up in the mountains.

"And Zed," she says. "Talk about confusion. Being raised with a grandmother like that, and then going to school for colored children that was over at Elk Park. Run by German-speaking Russian Mennonites. God love them for bringing a mission from the Crimea to Kansas to North Carolina. Zed was their prodigy. Color might not matter in God's country. But God's country this ain't, and Zed didn't figure that out until it was too late."

You ask her when she figured it out and she says, "Oh, I knew. I knew. I had my sister to thank for that. She learned from that gang of white men that raped her. And made her die that slow, crumbling death. God's country. Uh-huh." And she spits.
 
 

Sunday, March 25

Not still, maybe. But.

You don't want to go back in the house, back to that upstairs bed that tells you you are stuck: stuck inside a house, stuck inside yourself, stuck inside not ever knowing how you came to be here or why. Maybe if you stay outside where life is happening all around you, that life would happen to you too, and you'd look at your numb dead fingers and they'd suddenly pop out into dandelion puffballs and you'd laugh and blow on them like you did when you were a kid (blowing on puffballs, not your fingers; you don't know that you ever blew on your fingers), and your puffball fingers would disperse their umbrella seeds far and wide and sow unknown ground with seeds that would grow into your hands.

"Don't hold your breath, child," laughs Regina when you tell her. So you say you wouldn't--you'd blow as hard as you could. You ask her about your parents and how she came to work for them and couldn't she do anything else because she's smart and skillful and hard-working and the first thing she does is look at you dead-on and ask "ok, what are you trying to wheedle out of me with that kind of sweetness?" which makes you wonder if in fact you could do such a thing and you chuckle at the thought and shake your head and protest your sincerity.

Regina talks: Your parents--good kind Christian people. Who believe God answers prayer. Who look at you and don't see a prayer answered. Who are waiting on God to tell them what to do. But sometimes God is silent and still. Which is pretty much where they are right now: silent and still. Waiting. Not me. Not Regina. At least not still. One thing my mother did and taught me was that work is its own reward: as long as it's good work that sustains goodness, is what she said. And I look at my nephew Zed and your fiancee Alpharetta Athena (I keep calling her your fiancee but that's force of habit but then again you've never called it off and you did sleep together up on the mountain) and them ganging around, blowing up buildings and proclaiming Bolshevism in Vanderbilt/Carnegie country, staining the stainless banner all in the name of one common humanity, all in the name of justice, all in the name of revenge--for the rape of my sister, for the stupid war that blew your grip and your memory away ...

You know she is going to say that is not her way, but you interrupt her and ask her what does she mean about Zed and Athena blowing up buildings and staining the stainless banner and all that?

She is quiet. You are still wrapped in the blankets on the bench where she let you spend the night. The bench on the gazebo. She has brought you breakfast and fed you. She knows you don't want to go back in the house. She knows you want fingers like dandelion puffballs. She shrugs and says "I wonder how long til the wisteria blooms?", the wisteria that wraps the frame of the gazebo. "Stay out here and maybe Zed or Athena will come to you." But Zed hates you, you say, he always tries to hurt you. No, she says, that's just his way. Yeah, you say, his and the volcano's. She smiles at you and nods like you might have something there and then she goes back to the house. Not still, maybe, but. Back into silence. Her and God.
 
 

Tuesday, March 27

Talking on eggshells

"You need to keep quiet now."

The voice wakes you. You were asleep outside on the bench in the gazebo, but now you are awake. There is only starlight, and the black shapes that it illuminates, everything only in silhouette, the world around you is all cut out from black construction paper, among them the figure standing next to you who just told you to be quiet, the voice issuing from what you'd think was a hole in the stars if you didn't know it to be just a black construction paper cut-out.

You say nothing, but gather your blankets around you and sit up. The figure sits next to you.

"That phonograph music box thing of yours." Now you're awake enough to recognize the voice. It's Zed.

You say nothing. After all, he said you needed to keep quiet.

"That one you left in the Capsule with all the songs in it. I never could figure it out. I tried to take it apart. Wound up busting it. Sorry."

You want to tell him you don't know what he's talking about because all of that was deliriousness. But you don't, because you don't want him to tell you it was real.

He goes on talking, Zed does, in a soft murmuring nocturne of monologue, saying that Athena said the phonograph music box thing was something you brought back from Europe, but he doesn't believe her because you couldn't bring anything in that condition of yours, so she has to have had some reason for planting it. Literally. Like a seed. Or maybe a graft. Some kind of mental graft. Like those apple trees in his grandmother's orchard. But he's not going to speculate.

He's building a house. A treehouse. Out of stones. Not a stone house in a tree. It will be a house made of stones that looks like a tree. And inside the walls and ceilings will be eggs, all painted eggs, eggs with the insides all blown out of them. He says this like it's a matter of some importance.

But he doesn't know if he'll finish. He thought he'd be able to settle down to do it, but he doesn't know if he can. There are too many things to do in one life and some of them cancel each other out, so how can you do them all anyway? And what if the most important thing to do is something that destroys the chance of doing anything else?

You listen to him talking, his dark rumination, and you don't know what he's talking about.

He asks you, "Do you know what I'm talking about?" but you are silent.

And he is silent. And it's just the stars and the decoupage of trees and a little breeze, a warm one for a March night, whispering through like a stranger on a train.

Then the words set it again, softly, the hammer of diction barely touching the string of sound. "It's like with music, do you write it down, or just make it up as you go along? Are you uptown black or downtown Creole? Do you go it the way everybody knows it or do you freak it? Do you want the tips or the gasps? Some people want it sweet, some want it rough. Do you play it note-perfect, a standard high-class rag, or do you jam it up, everybody dancing on invisible beams? Why not do it all like that boss nigger Beethoven and add the whipped cream of philosophy with the cherry of divinity on top of it all? Yeah, yeah, everything. But what if you're just the shine on a rich man's shoes? Or a bubble in his champagne flute? Then you better find something else or you are a slave."

Silence. Louder than him talking.

"You, you know what you've found? You've found fear. You've wrapped yourself up in it, like those blankets. I could unwrap you, do you know that? If you let me, I could."

Silence. You wrap yourself tighter in your blankets.
 
 

Wednesday, March 28

Lost Cause

Funny, but not so funny, you do remember something that Regina said the other day about Athena and Zed staining the stainless banner and how at the time the notion was overwhelmed by matters of greater interest, but now it's hard not to think about it because Great Uncle Adolf is in your bedroom waxing apoplectic about it. He is stalking the room fuming in enraged silence except for the times when his contorted face, red with fury, is two inches away from yours and he is screaming at you about how you could dishonor the lives of his valiant comrades by allowing a nigger to make a French postcard with a white woman using HIS flag as a backdrop. Saying (screaming) the same thing over and over: "They gave their lives for that flag!"

Finally he calms down enough for you to ask him to see the picture, which itself is doing banner duty for all his gesticulations. He throws it into your lap. It's a newspaper clipping with a picture of the picture, you guess, which shows Athena and Zed standing naked facing each other in front of a Confederate flag, Athena offering Zed an apple: the original couple in the Garden of Mobile? You want to laugh because it's so ludicrous and un-French postcardish, but Great Uncle Adolf made the trip all the way from New Orleans to be taken seriously, so you ask him why he's angry at you, and is he sure that's his flag?

He can't believe you're asking him that question. "Which have you less of, honor or a brain? Are you saying I don't know my flag? Are you saying you don't know that I told you and only you of the location of that flag the last time I visited this house? I trusted you to raised the alarm if anything happened to it, and when it went missing you were able to pretend you knew nothing about it, but now I see that's not the case. You told these criminals where it was. You're in cahoots with them, aren't you? They might be building-burning bolshies and sure I'd like to get them for that, but you'd better believe it's war when they go to miscegenating on my battle flag, and if you're in with them, I'll shoot you myself."

And then he's gone, leaving you wondering if you'd get a trial first but figuring no you probably wouldn't.
 
 

Thursday, March 29

Lost in translation

Thunderstorm. First of the year. You see it coming in on gray clouds and quickening wind and flashes of lightning. Threatening the apocalypse, the taking of the lid off some kind of divine fury and being blown back by an explosion of wind and noise and chaos and terror.

How timely, in a way, since today Great Uncle Adolf takes you into town for a lesson in Apocalyptica in the form of a movie that just happens to be in the theatre--and how timely that is, in Great Uncle Adolf's estimation of your need for strenuous instruction. It is a movie that has been bouncing around for a couple of years and doesn't stop bouncing because people can't get enough of it, an epic called "The Birth of a Nation," in which there's an apocalypse, an apocalypse of justice, and it's Ku-Kluxers riding in on the wings of Wagner's Valkyries to finish the work of the assassinated Abe Lincoln by saving the US of A from the depredations of white actors with bad blackface makeup jobs.

You say something to Great Uncle Adolf about this and he takes you to task for your lack of imagination. "Those white actors in blackface are meant to be Negroes." When you innocently--because in fact you are quite innocent, washed quite pure by the tender ministrations of shellshock sleep treatment--ask about the danger of Negroes and how it is that Abe Lincoln and the Ku-Kluxers don't seem to like them much? His answer is a long verbal pat on the head about how it's very complicated but basically the country seems to have woken up to the fact that the people in charge of things need to be white and the races need to be kept separate because race-mixing is the worst of all evils, like in the movie where the real scoundrels were the mulattos.

You ask him if he means creoles and he gives you a sharp look and asks you what you mean? You don't really know but you're thinking based on your visit with Zed the other night (about which you do *not* tell Great Uncle Adolf as you do not wish to die quite yet) that there are mixed-race people in New Orleans that people call creoles who think of themselves as more French than white or black and it wasn't always frowned upon down there and is that because the French are evil too?

Great Uncle Adolf's expression is developing a black complexion in a very white kind of way as he informs you frostily to remember that he is--and you are--of French descent and he for one is proud of it. You ask him if he knows any creoles and he says he knows several. You ask him if they're evil and he says no, but they now have to recognize that they aren't white and are inferior to someone who is. He says that the closer to pure white or negro you are, the happier you are. So the creoles aren't happy? No, they're as happy as anyone. So the blacker you are, the better you're thought to be, because of being more racially pure? No, in fact the opposite is true.

Look, he says, he knows this is confusing, but remember that the French mind can handle subtleties that the Anglo-Saxon mind cannot. You start to ask about the relative subtlety-handling abilities of the negro French mind and the white Anglo-Saxon mind, but decide that the question is too heavy-handed and Anglo-Saxon, more gravy than hollandaise, and let it go.

You ask him are the creoles more white or black and he says the one-drop rule applies: one drop of black blood makes you black. But how do you know if you have that drop? You don't always know, he says; there have been creoles who've crossed the color bar and have passed for white. He says, lowering his voice to a hush, that white-seeming couples have had babies with brown skin, and the expression on his face indicates that such a brown baby is a species of monster.

So, you say, it's possible that his own white creole mother and white creole father could have given Great Uncle Adolf a brown baby brother or sister? Great Uncle Adolf challenges you to a duel but you respectfully decline as fast as you can run away.

And now, later, the evening, and the thunderstorm, and you standing in the first heavy drops while Regina tells you to come in but you say no, you want the lightning all around you and she whirls together a pavilion and pushes you under it calling you a fool and you feel the threatening apocalypse and wonder when being blown back by an explosion of wind and noise and chaos and terror will not be from the likes of the tornado or Ku-Kluxers or Bolshies but will be from God. When and if.
 
 

Saturday, March 31

Stoptime

"Ssshhhhh" you hear somehow in the middle of the hoofbeats and the screams and the frenchhorn-flogged white-hooded horsemen of the Apokollapse and you can't think how anybody would be stupid enough to try to shush Ku-Kluxers in full hurrah unless it is a librarian and sure enough in the middle of the melee is a boxy wood library desk where Athena sits calmly looking at you with her finger to her lips, ignoring the hubbub, ignoring the incongruity of the misty moon over her shoulder, the moon that wouldn't be there if this were a library, silly Athena, fixing on you intently as if no one else is around. Then you realize that no one else is around. You are looking at her and she is shushing you and there is nobody else. You have been sleeping and she has awakened you. She isn't sitting at a librarian's desk, but she is standing above you and the incongruous moon over her shoulder is incongruous no longer.

"You and Zed," you mutter, "you're lucky there aren't any dogs" and tell her Great Uncle Adolf was talking at supper about organizing a posse and she says the law's already out, isn't that enough? And the silence that answers her question makes it clear that she knows the answer to be no. she shakes her head and says it doesn't matter because Zed knows the mountains because he grew up in them. You ask her if she and Zed are lovers and she says it's only work, good work and the right work, but work.

You look at her under the gauzy moon, more and more unincongruous as the minutes with her grow closer and warmer, and you see how beautiful the night has made her and you tell her. "Does that mean I'm not beautiful in the daytime?" she asks, and you rush to say no, no, that's not at all what you mean. It's just that somehow time seems to be moving right now with her in the middle of it, like she is dancing with it, and the eyes of all creation are fixed upon her, yours no less, and every desire is for her, yours no less. It is the power of beauty to stop time, to stun it into stillness so that it has to catch up, to follow, to be led by the nose. That is what she is doing now. You take your hand, one of your dead useless hands, and hold out your fingers and rake them through her hair, feel the dampness of the long walk through the night it has made to find you, and you ask her if she has stopped time, will she stop you?

Time stands still but you do not.
 
 

Thursday, April 05

Knot wood

The perfect spring—one warm sunny day after another, tempting one tree after another to explode into flower. A crescendo of color, starting with the first tentative notes of the pears, followed by more daring splashes of cherry, then the hillsides suddenly alive with redbud and the wonder that things can continue this way without a frosty correction, but it doesn't and it counts as some kind of miracle to see the dogwood blossoms dusted with pieces of pear petals. The flowery fireworks have for once been allowed to run their course to the final climax. Spring is never this way. Spring has let itself go like this.

You wonder if this can mean anything. You musing in a palace of purple wisteria, for such your gazebo has become. No finickiness among those blossoms. They take pride of place as the most recent additions to the flowerburst. The vine has been allowed to climb up into the oak that towers above you so that it is easy to imagine yourself seated amid the frozen flow of an exotic river of sap gushing down from its source somewhere up high in the tree.

Perfection. Have you ever known it? As springs go, this would be hard to improve upon, you think, even as you sit amid the wind and emboldened coldness that will bring it to an end. Tonight? Thus dies perfection.

As if perfection could die. Perfection: seen through to finality. Imperfection: it's all in the diversion. Could you see anything through? Athena asked you. Could you see anything through? You said you could see through her and she looked a little surprised and then laughed. Then you, serious, said you would like to see her through. To finality? To finality. "'Would like to'? Not 'would'?" Knot wood. Laugh. All you do is joke. A diversion.

You are sure she is perfect. You realized this when she held on to you, when she gripped all around you, as if perhaps you had something to do with it. With her. With her perfection. It might have been just once, but it was once. And all you are at this point is an effort at holding on. Without a grip, on reality or her or anything else. So how is that holding on? It's imagining to be holding on. A start. The pear tree's blossoms. Imagination is good for something.
 
 

Friday, April 06, 2007

BÈan si

I don't know if it was like this the first time. Can the weather change the second time around? I am different. I was alive then, meaning I was fully corporeal, and reliving it doesn't change my body. This time, though, I know it's temporary. It's like I'm inhabiting an old set of garments for a different purpose. They still fit, but the evening gown isn't quite right for hoeing the garden.

Always before it was about hope, about the future. Now, it's just now. I know what is in a lot of the future. I know the limitations of my own future, that I will not be in my body much longer.

That part I know. I will shed my corporeality like a cocoon and spread my wings as a banshee. Or spread my voice, my black death-calling voice, which exists because it's expected, it's believed, throughout the diaspora. Not yet, but soon, and he will be at the birth of it. That I do know.

The part I don't know has to do with him, and how he will play it out. I don't know if it will work for what I want, bringing someone else back and inserting that person into a different still-unfinished life. I don't know how it happened. It was just a thought, a hope, a wish, OK maybe even a prayer, that came over me when the opportunity seemed to present itself. Something I wanted to happen. A senseless, stupid imposition on the natural order of things that I, that no one, could never make happen. That is happening. Or seems to be. It's every bit as fraught with uncertainty as ever. The best I can do is hope that more than one hope will be heard by whatever force allows hope to be heard. But hope doesn't have a very good record, from what I see. Who knows whether my hope is shared? This could all just be somebody's experiment. Or punishment. Or joke. There's just this feeling that hope doesn't have anything to do with it, and the flowers are only now.

Zed and his mind games--will Zed show him how to face his fears? And if so, then when the time comes, will he do the right thing?
 
 

Monday, April 09

Whisperia

You can't put it out of your mind, Zed whispers. It's always there. You have to face it.

Face it? Face what?

Face the fact that there's snow on the wisteria blooms, snow on the dogwood flowers, he says still whispering. Young tulip leaves frozen black. Your young life, frozen by ... and he leaves a string of invisible question marks in his look.

Face the music, he says.

What music? you ask.

The music of your own disaster, he says, that you refuse to listen to, to bring out of the silent darkness so that you can dance with it, so you can smell its perfume and realize that it's the smell of your fear squeezed out of you in one awful compression of time and being, the memory of which you enlist an army of nightmares and paralysis to barricade into night and silence.

Hmmm, you murmur. Just your kind of dance partner. How does it go, the music of your disaster?

It actually goes pretty good with snow, he whispers, and on a lap instrument with harmonica he plays something that does tend to flakiness.
 
[Music: Whisperia]
 
 
 
Thursday, April 12
 
Audionce
 

You would play it slower. More rubato. Let it settle in and grow from there.

He makes it rhythmic from the start, pushes the tempo. It sounds brittle, a little forced. Stiff, the way his fingers must be--it is cold, after all. There wouldn't seem to be much chance of warming up. He plays and he plays but it doesn't get any better--the cold is just too much. Finally he stops and gets up to leave and says that he's sorry but he'll have to try again some other time when the music won't get in the way.

Naw, that's OK, you say. (It's all whispering of course because it's all under cover of fear of discovery). And you lie and say you were enjoying that. It's not true that you were enjoying it. You were resisting it, like you were cold to it, like you were freezing his fingers. Or maybe it was you as the audience and he had some stage fright. That's a kind of coldness. And you think that maybe that's the start of what he's getting at, the music of your disaster. Whatever that is. Whatever's freezing you. Like an audience might freeze you. Or an empty page. Maybe that's it.

But he leaves and you are no longer the audience but still the empty page and you don't know where to start and it's freezing.
 
 

Friday, April 13

Coming to blues

Broad daylight, broad sunny daylight, you've had coffee and toast out under the sad shrunken wisteria blooms--too late now for them to enjoy any warmth--when in through the back gate saunters Zed with his lap instrument and his harp and a determined look.

You say what the hell? and he says what the fuck, if somebody comes after him, he'll just run and he can run fast and he knows the trails. But what about dogs? And you tell him that you've heard your Great Uncle Adolf been talking about how a good pack of dogs is all you need to tree a ...

Yeah, he says, coon. And he says that he's not a coon, isn't closely related to coon, doesn't even like the taste of coon, so Great Carbuncle Adolf can just go tree himself, he's probably got a pretty wide streak of coonass in him, he knows so much about it.

And he's laughing. And he sits down with his lap instrument and pulls his harp up in the rack and makes to start playing but before he does you ask him what it is he's playing like a lap dulcimer, because it sure doesn't look like a lap dulcimer, it looks like a bouzouki, and he looks back at you wondering like, amazed at hearing that exotic word from you. He says indeed it is a bouzouki: somebody just showed up with a castoff bouzouki at his grandmother's a long time ago--she had a little bit of every kind of musical thing, and people were always bringing all kinds of bizarre musical hybrids to her, thinking she might be interested in them, and sometimes she was. Well this instrument--and he holds it out to you, its swollen ribbed brown belly up at you like a pregnant woman on her back--we didn't know what it was, he said, until one day he took it outside to mess with it during a harvest party and one of the laborers was from Greece--he didn't speak any English, but he was thrilled at the sight of something familiar and just kept saying boozookee boozookee boozookee the rest of the day and went away that night saying it and Zed is smiling at the memory and says but playing like a dulcimer didn't come til later and there's really not much to say, it's more that it came after he was way down South one summer, the summer his grandmother died, he heard a lot of harmonica playing out in the cotton country, just this long unending bending wailing soloing, people who played it said it was a down thing you could do to blunt the pain, drinking without the drink, and he took it back at the end of the summer thinking how was that so different from hymning on a dulcimer, excepting only in how it sounded, so he played with it, he played it while his grandmother was dying, a down thing for sure, for the rest of his life came different after that, maybe good maybe bad but different and ... hard. He says he will never survive, he will take her death to the grave with him and he hopes it is soon. He looks you straight when he say this. "I hope it is soon." You don't ask him why.

He starts playing now, a down thing but not slow, it pulls you in and along. It bumps and shuffles and feels like you're in a car, the loose suspension swinging and squeaking and swaying, and suddenly you hear it. Suddenly you *see* it. You know that now you are listening to the music of your disaster, you are in the car driving that country road in France, you feel it, the moon is high and clear, outside it is cold but you are feeling alive and excited the way a wolf would feel maybe, a call to sing to the moon, that's the way you felt when all of a sudden ... a flash a noise and nothing ... a flash a noise and nothing ... a flash a noise and nothing.

You jump up and tell Zed to stop playing but he doesn't. Stop you tell him but he won't. You realize that after the nothing is just hell and you can't live with hell. It's the hell of sitting in a wallpapered dining room for Easter and looking around at the dresses and suits of all the family and all the forks in all the hands and you being fed by Regina and they are looking at you, all those devils in hell sticking their forks in you. It is hell, stop it Zed, stop it, but he doesn't. He won't. He's smiling. And you run into the house into the wallpapered hell and back out. I'll get the dogs, you scream at Zed, I'll get the dogs, but his look tells you he doesn't care, he wants you in that moment when the flash cuts you off from the moon, what is there in that moment? In that moment is the hell you have to face if you're going to escape from it and you suddenly remember the dream you once had of going to hell like Orpheus to rescue something, what? a voice? damn, you realize, it was a lap dulcimer, in the dream it had a name. The name was Rum, and it spit out cryptic messages from its soundhole, cryptic messages like "Banshee 3:33," but there's somebody in your head telling you that Rum is just a nickname for delirium, for your delirium, which is what Zed is playing right now, coming to blues, calling you to blues, bringing you down with his bends and his rhythm, damn him not stopping, damn him for leaving you in that moon-ending moment, in the lap of heaven with the dogs of hell. He hopes it is soon, Zed does, and you hope it is soon too so he will stop and you can consign the flash back to the nothing of your nightmares, to the void of your days when you erect your dam of emptiness against that moment.
 
[Music: Coming To Blues]
 
 
Saturday, April 14

Banshee threethreethree

You never know when the last time will be. I didn't. I thought it was over. In the river. Zed pushed me in. He said to get away, swim. The dogs were barking all around us, the posse was almost there. But I can't swim, I said. He said to swim anyway and he pushed me in. God, that cold water and that colder terror. I swallowed and spit and screamed and flailed and watched the dogs jumping around Zed and their terrible baying "you, you, you!" and the men running towards him and one of them my shellshocked former fiancé carrying a rifle in the crook of his armpit and I could hear Zed screaming at him, "Shoot me! Shoot me!" and my fiancé must've heard me screaming too. He looked over and saw where I was in the middle of the current, being pulled fast away and starting to sink and he looked at Zed and back at me and he knelt down with the rifle butt on the ground and the muzzle under his chin and I thought "he can't do it, his hands won't let him," but they did let him. He blew the top of his head off and then I went under.

And drowned. But I didn't die. I was being honest about that when I said that before. I didn't die completely. The dying stuck with me as a song, a cry, a presence.

My first dying was Zed's and it was most cruel. They shot up his arms and legs and then put a rope around his neck and threw it over a tree branch and hauled him up and shot him some more and then let him drop and then dragged him across the ground all the way over to the railyard where they put him on a pile of railroad ties and poured tar on him and burned him. I went to him and took him away from that. He said he wanted to hear his grandmother playing the cello so that's where I took him. He looked so peaceful then, forgetting about death, but something happened. Maybe he wasn't ready. Maybe I had sung too soon. He stood up and held his ears and yelled "what is that awful noise" and it was the death wail from the living side mixed with the anguished screams of the pyre. His death was alive and it was cruel.

But it never happened that way again. That's why it needs to happen again, so maybe it will not happen that way at all.

 
 
Wednesday, April 18

prayer

She says it all comes down to this.

She being Athena, who has come to visit you again in the early morning. This time she is with Zed. There is no light anywhere. It is as black as it can possibly be. You wonder how they could possibly find their way without any light at all. You didn't see them, but then again you were asleep. You were dreaming of Athena saying goodbye to you in a restaurant, and you were hearing music in the restaurant, something like a flute and a guitar but then you're awake and you realize it's Zed and his lap bouzouki/harmonica rig, playing something tentative. You sit up and listen. Athena sits down next to you, puts her arm around your shoulder, leans on you, and says it all comes down to this.

Down to what, you ask?

Darkness, she says. Nothingness. The unknown.

All of what comes down to that, you ask?

Light, things, the known.

So what are you saying, you ask?

She gives a little snort of amusement and says nothing, and then says "Nothing."

You listen to Zed for a while, until Athena asks you if you pray.

You say yes, but you don't know why. You ask her if she prays.

She says she doesn't know if she'd call it that.

So, whatever you wouldn't call that, is it with words, you ask?

No, she says, she just thinks wishfully and pretends there's someone there to hear.

How would that someone hear your wishful thinking, you ask?

They'd hear it like we're hearing Zed's music, she says. There's no words to that--he's just playing. It's just melody, rhythm, harmony, timbre. It's got structure to it--patterns--just the way thought does. But thought isn't sentences. Thought is mixing paint with harmonica notes.

Where does it go, you ask?

That's just it, that's the wishful part, she says. That's what it all comes down to. Darkness. Nothingness. The unknown.

So why bother, you ask?

It's not bothering. You can't not do it, she says. Like you, she says.

What do you mean, like me, you ask?

Your disaster. The thing that destroyed you, that took your memory and your grip. It's not the thing that happened. The thing that happened is over, done, long gone. Except inside your head. And what is it? You don't know. It's the darkness. What if you could take a lantern into it, penetrate it. It would be gone, wouldn't it?

Not necessarily, you say: think of being in a cave with a lantern and only seeing so far in front of you.

But still, she says. You've got that whole caveful of demons and no light at all. With some light you could at least take a step at a time, right?

We were talking about prayer, you say, but now it's about me, you say.

She says you said you didn't know why you'd pray, and she told you why. Maybe it's just lighting a lantern in a cave.

So you can see there's nothing there, you say.

She gives her little snort of amusement while you listen to the music and close your eyes so all is dark, but then to your surprise it is light in there, you climb into the car and drive straight into the exploded moon of your disaster and it is like you've thrown yourself into the big pond on your grandfather's farm where you used to gig big fat bullfrogs sometimes but more often than not just used to find big stones to hurl into the middle of the pond. And now you've thrown the big stone of yourself into the exploded moon ... and the rest is ripples, ripples that always in your mind have been magnified into tidal waves. But now, they are just ripples, like the ripples from the stone splash in the pond, widening and weakening just like a fading plucked string waning with a softening slowing vibrato of harmonica tone.

You didn't know that before. But now you do. And you think that maybe somebody has written on the cave and you've read a little of it with your lantern.

Zed stops playing and he and Athena vanish in the darkness.
 
[Music: Prayer]
 
 
Tuesday, April 24

No ifs

You feel it building, building, building, toward some kind of destruction. With the building higher and higher, you wonder if there will be any of the building left after the destruction.

It's not the weather, not the birds consorting in the warmth. You could almost throw the blanket off you after Athena has come to you with her desire, except that the night doesn't feel like enough cover for your hopelessness when she leaves. She is there suddenly, whispering to you and kissing you and climbing in to hold you and let you try to fix the image of her in your mind, of her coming to grips with pleasure with clamped eyelids and bitten lip, and then to fix her open eyes to yours so that all your desire seems to flow out of you and into her through them. But then she is gone.

And the fixed image you work so hard to hold, you sit clinging to it when Zed appears with his instruments and his insistence on leading you to places he's sure you should go, places you have little desire to visit. His is a tour of pain in which he takes you on a train of thought, chugging slowly to start but then picking up speed and whistling its wail and clacking its track into the night until next thing you know you are sharing a compartment with corpses that you go dragging about by your teeth, and that is a place you'd rather not go, not when you could occupy your compartment with Athena's eyes. If it's pain you should have, her absence is quite enough.

But, says Zed. But. You have to. It's the only way. And there's not much time. He has played the train of thought and he insists that you ride, but you say no, it is ridiculous for him to look for faces in the window or passengers in the compartment when the only face and the only passenger is Athena. She is the clacking track and the train whistle. Zed goes silent and furious, looks at you with a dead look like you are useless and he flings his harmonica at you and you try to catch it but it hits your dead hand and falls to the ground and he is gone.

It is building, you feel it. The way Athena whispers to you "it's going to happen soon now" and the way Zed is pushing you to ... what? It is as if they are telling you a story they don't the ending of, but they know there's an ending and it will be soon and you will be there also. You are bowed and hopeless and stupid and jagged in the reverberation of Athena and in the dragging behind Zed's train of pain and in the building certainty of a catastrophic end.

Somebody sits beside you and you look up and it is Great Uncle Adolf. "All alone?" he asks as he picks up the harmonica and blows a sprightly rendition of "Dixie." You say you didn't know he played. He says he picked it up during the war; it helped when camp got boring. He asks you to play. You say you don't. He says he thought he heard you playing. "Old ears just playing tricks on me, I guess," he says, laughing in a way that lets you know his old ears haven't been doing that at all.

Things seem to be building for him, too, Great Uncle Adolf, the old Confederate, and it's got his blood up.
 
[Music: Train of Thought]
 
 
Friday, April 27

Griptide

You wake up in the middle of the night. You wake up in the middle of a dream that disappears as soon as you wake up, with nothing remaining except the feeling that it told you something important and you understood what it told you and the understanding of it changed your life. And now you're awake clutching after the receding tendrils of dream, trying to retrieve the certainty that you just felt, the certainty that you just *knew*, not seconds earlier. You feel panicky and desperate--as if the world has just vanished--but at the same time there's a certain peace that comes with knowing that, for a moment anyway, you had the answer.

Meaning that now you're sitting there wide awake in the dark, bursting with certainty of the kind conferred by a quadruple espresso, at the very moment that you expect the world to explode. This must be how the dinosaurs felt, abuzz on the terrasse of a Parisian cafe when the asteroid hit.

People say nothing happens when you think--there is no action. But thinking is all action. You sit there in the dark with nothing going on except random noises in the distance and occasional breezes and a slow-moving sky (ok, ok, earth). Nothing, apparently, happening. But inside of you there's an adventure going on as you pursue yourself through various blood- and sweat-strewn locales, following the narrative as you've been told it again and again--but as you do not remember because you have no memory of it--trying to locate that moment in time, that event, that took up its invisibly regnant presence in some unknown cavern of your mind, that Oz of ossification, gathering of mossification, that monstrous invisible cave-written determinant of your thralldom to cheiroparesis and amnesia.

Your eyes are closed and you are watching yourself. You laugh at the thought of seeing something with eyes closed, but there you are, or there your ambulance is, driving down that road under that moon and then there's the sudden flash of an explosion and your ambulance jumps and lands like an elephant with absurd delusions of ballet, then there are bodies writhing and you see yourself on the ground, you are all bloody but pull yourself up and go to another man who is lying on the ground and you see yourself try to drag him, but you can't, you flap your hands, you shake them the way you would a bottle of paint, trying to shake some strength into them, and then you are whimpering and jumping around, flapping your hands, desperately trying to figure what to do, when you suddenly drop to your hands and knees next to the wounded man and you take his belt in your teeth and you drag him inch by inch onto the road and then you get up and go get the other man the same way until they are lying side by side on the road and then you set to dragging them with your teeth, one man at a time, one a little bit at a time and then the other, keeping them together on the road, you dragging them like you are a mother cat and they are your impossibly large and cumbersome but helpless newborn kittens.

Watching this with your eyes closed, you love what you see. You love the catman dragging the two kittenmen. It is only the sight--there is no sound or smell or feel--only the sight of painful, effortful, slow, desperate rescue. There is no fear. There is only goodness.

You open your eyes and see that your right hand is white-knuckle gripping that harmonica Zed threw you the other day that then you could not catch, but that now you hold like you want to hold on to the realization that love is stronger than fear.

 
 
Monday, April 30

Doubt no doubt

She's always saying it: "you never know when the last time will be." Even tonight, when your hands are alive, when you can hold them rigid just above her skin and feel the whisper of its unseen hairs and let them hover there up and down all over her body, raising gooseflesh and gasps; when you can bring one of them onto the curve of a hip and trace it down to the knee and around to the butt and up to the waist and back down the chute between groin and thigh, back down to where it is warm and moist and you can let a lazy finger dangle in her desire while the other hand gathers the hair on the back of her head and forcefully pulls it tight. Ah, the schizophrenia of laziness and forcefulness, the hands too long deprived of amatory contradiction and now regaling in it. Even tonight, when all is returned to rightness and completion.

"You never know when the last time will be."

You look at her eyes and ask why it would be the last time and she says because a tree limb is going to fall on you both and kill you instantly. She laughs but you do not. You know that she and Zed are planning something, some kind of outlawry, that they have been biding their time, waiting for the right time, to make their move, to paint their vision of justice in fiery explosive destruction, and you ask her what they are doing and why they are doing it and does she not know that innocent people might be hurt and she looks at you with those eyes that you want to drink. And tells you she is pregnant. You ask her who is the father? She closes those eyes and shakes her head and the corners of the mouth turn down and she is crying, sobbing, shaking her head. She pushes you away and says she has to leave, says it in the middle of her sobbing, says she would never hurt anyone but there is such a thing as the right thing even if you wouldn't recognize it if it was a dead tree branch falling on you and killing you. You follow in her wake, sputtering protestations. At the gate, there is Zed who grabs your arm and steers you back into the yard, telling you he has something for you. You watch over your shoulder as Athena disappears up the path into the woods.

You notice how beautiful a night it is--it would be--with a supply of moonlight that would qualify as enchanting. And completely meaningless.

"You never know when the last time will be." Zed says it this time, sitting down and asking you to join him and giving you a large envelope and telling you to hold onto it. "Now you can hold on to something," he says, adding that he told you to follow that train of thought. You have to allow him that much, heading you in that direction. "It's just music," he tells you, "manuscript; things I've tried to play for you. Thought you'd be interested. Do something with it, maybe. Get a music box like you had before. That one I broke." He laughs and shakes his head. "I'm always breaking things. Life is just one broken thing after another."

You ask him what he means. He just says he tries to build but there are too many flaws and there's no point. "Perfection eludes me," he says, "except in destruction. Random improvisatory chaos. With a hint of justice. No better wine. No more perfect beauty." He stands up, tells you not to go near the train station for the next little bit, and then he is gone, too, into the meaninglessly beautiful moonlit night.

You unwind the string of the envelope. Wind it back. Unwind it. Wind it back. Your hands work. Your fingers work. It is a right thing, you tell yourself, not just because it is you, but because it could be anybody, some kid winding a rubber band propeller or a painter stirring a can of paint, it wouldn't have to be idle winding or unwinding, not just random, not just improvisatory, not just chaos.

Not just whistling "Dixie." The only reason you think this is that someone is whistling "Dixie" and then Great Uncle Adolf is sitting next to you. And telling you he's taking the train back to New Orleans. Tomorrow or the next day or the next. Asking you what you think about that. Saying "that's the thing about trains--you always know when the last time will be." Not shaking his head. No doubt.

 
 
Tuesday, May 01

It is a beautiful day

It is a beautiful day to be alive and to be full of life. Whether or not it means anything. Right or wrong. You are eating breakfast with Regina--in the kitchen with her because she's "the help." For the first time since your decline, she isn't feeding you. Well, she's cooked for you, but you're using the knife and the fork and the spoon, you're spreading the butter, you're tearing the toast, you're wiping egg yolk off your chin. And she's looking at you and you know she's thinking that she's why you're all better--her care, her cooking, her patience. You won't say--you can't say--otherwise. You look at her and speak the word "solicitude," and she say, "coming up" and goes get some more coffee. With Athena you'd have said "passion" and with Zed you wouldn't have said anything because you don't want him thinking he deserves any credit, but you'd have thought "unrepentance." Together, it seems, they brought you back and made you whole.

Regina is called. She comes back and says that Great Uncle Adolf want to know if you're ready. Ready for what, you ask? Ready to go, is what he says, is what she says. Go where? She says go find out. You go out into the hall where Great Uncle Adolf is all frogged out in his dress Confederate grays and he say, "let's go to New Orleans," and he shoves a rifle into your hand and pushes you out the door and down the front porch steps and up the front walk to the street and left toward town. Some men come running up to Great Uncle Adolf and say a boy found the nigger and the girl in the woods and the nigger was drunk and acting crazy and Great Uncle Adolf says they have to go rescue the girl before there's any harm done and he orders the men to go and he looks at you and says "we have to hurry; you know they're up to no good; they have my flag" and with the last words especially his look is very dark and determined. You go on, walking as fast as you can, Great Uncle Adolf nimble and spry and as fast as you if not faster. You go on, with the rifle under your arm, wondering what it's for. Well, you know what it's for. It's for killing. You just don't know who. You ask him how he knows who it is and he looks back at you like you're a fool for even asking and he says he knows what they've been telling you but he knows you were going to be too much of a coward to do anything so he's going to teach you a lesson. One of the men comes running back and says they've got him on the run, the girl's running with him, they're running for the river. Great Uncle Adolf starts running and you do too, thinking "damn damn damn" and you reach the track that leads to the river and run down it, lungs burning but fear pulling you along, you hear shouting and it gets louder and louder and you see where people are running into a focal point where you are running--all shirt backs and hats--where Great Uncle Adolf reaches and pushes through to the front, you following, and there.

There they are. You do not know them. A black man holding a white girl. He is older, she is younger. The river rolls strong and relentless behind them. The black man is yelling for the crowd to stay back or he throws the girl in. The girl is screaming that she can't swim. Great Uncle Adolf takes it in, looks at them, looks at you, says "shit," spits, asks you do you know what they're going to do to him? You look at him and say he can stop it. He says not once it starts. Then there's a sudden flash of movement as someone from the crowd rushes the black man, who kicks him away and runs into the water and throws the girl in. The current is swift; she thrashes for the surface but goes under. Others from the crowd rush the fugitive and tackle him in shallow water. There is a frantic struggle but the fugitive is overwelmed and dragged onto land where you have him in clear sight, him the fugitive being kicked by men on three sides of him. There is a deafening sound in your ear and the fugitive's head explodes and everybody is looking at you.

It is a beautiful day to be alive and to be full of life, whether or not it means anything.

 
 
Wednesday, May 02

Ridgerunning

There is a pall over the moon. There is a fire at the train station but it isn't the result of a bomb attack by Zed and Athena. It's a lynch mob on the rampage. And you are their hero. Well, maybe not. Some would rather there have been torture. But anyway you shot the fugitive and then the lynch mob took over and did what lynch mobs do to dead black men--they shot up the body and dragged it into town and hauled it up on a pile of railroad ties and set it on fire. And then they went around town spreading word that all the niggers better leave or it'd happen to them too.

To his credit, your great-uncle in his Confederate uniform tries to stop the mob. From the very start he tells the men to lay off, but they threaten him and say "look you rebel traitor you, this is the U S of A, always has been, always will be, we up here in this county didn't secede, we wore the blue for the union that always will be, and it's a white man's union and that's what we aim to prove, so you shut your rebel trap if you know what's good for you." And your uncle pulled himself up into silent impotent defiance and walked home.

The reporters find you. You're their hero, anyway, you and the mob. There hasn't been a story like this since the elephant was hanged in Kingsport two years ago. Yippee! News! A lynching! They ask you about your marksmanship, about your war record, about how you were trying to save the girl's life. They do all the talking with their questions. You just nod your head.

Then they're gone, the mob and the reporters, and you walk home, where your Confederate great-uncle is weeping in the living room holding his blessed unstained banner which he says Regina has been hiding to keep it from being damaged and was going to give back to him before he left but now she's gone because of the threats of the mob. "And here," he says, "this is from Athena."

It is a letter telling you that Zed has gone off ridgerunning; he wanted to take her but she wanted to stay here with you; and she is asking you to come see her at her parent's house where she is in bed with a fever. You go over to see her. A doctor is there, who says it is delirium. She is thrashing in bed, raving, something about singing people off to their deaths. You stay by the bedside for hours--you have brought Zed's manuscript with you. You like to have something to look at, to study. It's hard just to sit there. The smell of smoke is strong. It is like the smell of a barbecue. You think of the smell of sacrifice and how it was pleasing to the God of the Old Testament and you wonder about this.

When it is dark you go back towards home, slowly. Your path takes you by the old music shack that Zed and Regina called the Capsule, that was always locked to you. You try a door. It is open. You walk in. There is a shining white box on the floor that looks vaguely familiar to you. You get the idea of sitting in it. You sit in it. You get the idea of closing yourself in. You close yourself in.
 
[Music: Ridgerunning]
 
 
Thursday, May 03

Vade tecum

What wakes you is a scream. Things take a little bit to gel when you wake up out of a deep sleep, but a screamng woman's face tends to register pretty quickly, as do the shouted words that follow: "What in blazing saddles are you doing in there?" and then the series of rapid-fire questions: what are you doing in the time capsule, how did you fit in there, did you fall asleep, don't you know that the sesquicentennial people are interring it *today*, are you an idiot, why do you smell like grilled meat?

You answer nothing, but look back at her and have just one question: who are you?

Which silences her momentarily, as she recoils to full height and fixes you with a suspicious look and then bursts out laughing. "Have you been smoking something in there? Who am I, really. That's the kind of idiot question I'd expect at the reference desk. C'mon let me help you out of there, you old sleeping stoned sardine you. You're expected on the desk in five minutes."

She reaches under your armpits and gives you a tug while you push yourself up into a standing position. Damn, are you stiff. With an arm on the woman's shoulder, you carefully and a little painfully lift first one leg and then the other and step out of the box and then you shuffle away, aimlessly, across a big carpeted floor in a large room illuminated by bowls of light around the ceiling perimeter, large grids of glass windows allowing you to see several rooms occupied by large chairs and desks.

"Hey, this is yours." And she hands you the envelope with Zed's manuscript. "that is , if you want it. Anything you leave in there's getting buried for 100 years." You shufffle back to her and take the envelope and shuffle away but you haven't gotten far when she says, "Hey! Isn't this your laptop? What did you do to it? Looks like you've fileted this thing. What, were you going to fry it for dinner?" She laughs a little and then says, "I'll see what tech can do with it. Wouldn't hold out too much hope, though."

She looks at you and frowns incomprehension.

You look back the same way, without the frown.

 
 
Friday, May 04

Bastille this book

Everyone seems to know you. And you have to admit, the place—it is a public library—seems vaguely familiar, as do many of the faces.

They refer to the place you are sitting as a "reference desk." A few people looking for books or facts come up to you and ask questions. Otherwise you are free to sit there and read reviews of books—so as to assist the library in selecting materials appropriate to its community. However, it seems to be the assumption of the questioners that you are reading for pleasure, and they are either apologetic or gleeful about interrupting you, some of the latter feeling apparently that it is their civic duty to keep you from wasting taxpayer money by doing anything pleasant.

You are reading a review of an interesting-sounding work of fiction by a Scot named James Robertson, something called The Testament of Gideon Mack, about a Presbyterian minister who also happens to be a nonbeliever and who, trying to rescue a dog, falls into a whitewater torrent and disappears and is given up for lost but turns up unharmed three days later claiming to have been rescued by the devil. But what most interests you is that the review talks about the minister's rebellious right hand that works (or more importantly, doesn't work) independently of the man's will.

You are thinking of your own recent experience with shellshock and losing your grip and wonder how Gideon Mack might inform that experience when your reading and thinking are interrupted by a scruffy-looking, homeless-type individual (male) with long hair going gray and a white beard, who speaks to you familiarly saying he'd heard that you'd spent the night in the time capsule. The easiest thing to do is smile back and joke. Yes, you say, and stealing an idea from James Robertson you go on to add that you met the devil in there. "No shit!" says the scruffy man, who goes on to say that a miracle has just happened to him as well. Wondering if meeting the devil qualifies as a miracle, you ask him about his.

Well, he says, and he asks you you know Lazare, the dwarf who thinks every day is Bastille Day? You say yes of course, even though you have no idea who he's talking about. He says well anyway Lazare woke him up this morning and gave him the keys to a red Lexus automobile and a check for $500,000 from the Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans, which was apparently for a Confederate battle flag he supposedly gave to them. The miracle of course being that he actually *stole* the flag from them last December as a cover for his dulcimer—long story, he says—but now all of a sudden it's gone and here's check for $500,000 for it.

Now that does sound like a miracle, you say—stealing something and getting a 500 grand reward for it. Yeah, says the guy, almost makes me believe in God. But it gets better, he says: "in the trunk of the car there's this box with a bunch of notebooks in it and they turn out to be somebody's genealogy, well, it turns out to be my grandmother's, and not only that, there's some pictures in there—look, here's one of her and my grandfather whom I never met, but who does he look like? You! Dead ringer! And here's one of her, just her eyes, look at that picture, look at those blue eyes. And a bunch of music in here—for lap bouzouki and harmonica, motherfucker, and I thought I invented it!—look, here's something called 'Ridgerunning' …"

He jabbers on until it's time for your break. You go upstairs and get some coffee and go to an office and sit down and drink it and look at the manuscripts Zed left you and shuffle through them and notice one of them titled "Ridgerunning," and you are sitting there looking at it, deciphering the rhythm of how it would go, when a good-natured fellow wearing an equally good-natured tie enters and says your laptop is beyond hope but by some miracle (word o' the day, you think) he was able to save two files that didn't seem to want to evanesce, and he gives you a little stick. You thank him and he and good-naturedly departs.

Back at the reference desk you are able slyly to learn the function of the little stick. It is some kind of memory device for use with the ubiquitous "computers" that don't seem to do much computing. They are like toys they are so easy. The stick has some music on it, which by the bouzouki/harmonica sound and by the rhythm that you match with the manuscript you are able to determine is "Ridgerunning." Then there's also a picture on the stick, a picture of Athena's blue eyes, the same picture the scruffy street man showed you earlier.

You are looking at it when some people come up to the counter and the co-worker sitting next to you says, "How nice to see your family. My, how the children have grown!" Your apparent family--they do seem vaguely familiar--asks you where you want to go eat and you say how about the cafe at the train station and they look at you funny like maybe there isn't a cafe at the train station. Like maybe there isn't really even a train station.




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