A person can be internally consistent and absurd at the same time, like a comedy skit. Our imagined summaries make us lifelike, or so I heard on television. Don’t mind me, I’m just looking for permission, filled with suppositions about self-preservation through simple perseverance and tricky transposition mixed in blender-wise with kind attentions to the scratches on the table and the streaks on the glass as though I really believe I’d dissolve my fears if I could only embrace the imperfections of my style. Style—ha! When I set out to write I expected each stanza would begin with an abstract observation followed by a loosely corresponding question but here we are in the middle of yet another goddamn paragraph because I don’t stick with anything and slip on Freudians—a fact which you, conscience, always somehow saw as something akin to sin. In the end it was a party that pulled Styron out of his second round of depression, a fucking party, can you believe it? You could tread upon enlightenment and suggest all human achievement amounts to an elaborate mating game, though some pleasures, you’d surely concede, are incrementally higher than others, while others still are far. Sometimes, for instance, you sit nude before a keyboard looking for a compelling way to resist invisibility and silence through the publicizing of one’s life’s truths—a foolish pursuit, no doubt, when you’re so overwhelmed by unreality that you cover your face and refer to yourself in the second person because distance and non-knowledge appear to offer the only way through. But who knows the unwritten rules till we write them and then reject the limitations of language, opting for the ubiquitous lure of second-rate visuals of ritualized identity since it sometimes seems skin is all the world cares to acknowledge in the first place.
You can’t even think straight. Cleanly, that is. It’s straight enough, but so coarse and asperous I must put it in the shell of another—hence this “you” and its rhetorical undressing. You, tell me something funny. Ok, well, earlier there was pure despondence, that utter undesire for the substances of your life as you stood surrounded by linear narratives like sweaty shiny dudes at the gymnasion in tank tops for bearing tribal arm band bullshit tattoos doing bicep curls in incidental unison, their grimaces of exertion gaping back at them and that’s when irony got its hooks in deep around the vainly lathered notion of so little being left to the imagination when in fact the ancient Greeks were the ones who trained naked. Has our sense of the aesthete changed so much, or merely the gods in whose honor we do compete.
Our stories shape us and we shape our stories, you cried, as if in objection or acceptance—‘twas difficult to tell; it all depends on the angle and the context. The commercial break reminds in no uncertain terms that this particular loneliness has been brought to us by double caffeine coffee pods and home security systems but says nothing not a thing at all about extremism. Oh the places I’ve been, and left, reaching out from fate, trying to remember the crumbling Olympia of people within.
You know most of this already.
In the car with them, sitting in the back seat with her up front passenger-wise and turned back to me the two of us and talking fast like always like she had something to sell that she knew we hadn’t the cash or care to buy and the rain pelted the windshield and the wipers swung right back and the dark was outside full of unfocused and flickering points of light, streetlamps and headlights and incidental bokeh, while some vague figure in shadow form all the while drove us on.
Afterspiel, when she’d used up all her words and most of the air in the vehicle, I told her in fact no, our problem is we try to do too much too fast, all force and no finesse, just blind dumb vigor and ataxia and too little brains, like these wipers here, perhaps, I felt, reaching for a metaphor, sweeping dismissive overreliance on artificial intelligences built up around sleights perceived and true and entitlements seemingly due, ungrounded emotion and mechanical philistinism with an inarticulable mission like the goons who forcibly removed that doctor from a plane in Chicago and probably went home that night and had the nerve to believe in civil society though in their idiomatics it’s hard to believe any such nerve is needed, they haven’t even the proper vocab for the fact that kids in the same city kill with AK-47s and five people died last Wednesday just because, nothing happening, nothing going on, just a Wednesday in the city and what do you make of that, if you were to stop and sit still and be quiet for a minute.
The other there with us in the back seat with me was compelled to agree with me and I wondered what keywords in her repertoire of principled social consciousness I tapped, knowing for sure she wasn’t packing even the slightest hint of directional allegory, as oblivious to irony as those goons and maybe just as gullible, just as crowdsourced, giving a mere simple pacific piggybacking mhmm and nod of head, pleased that someone had done the thing and spoken out because somewhere along the straight and narrow well-meaning way she acquired the notion that speaking out said something but it at the very least for the moment changed our atmosphere.
And with that, nevertheless, just her up front stillness and quiet and that slight sound and musculoskeletal gesture in the back beside me within the still-floating presence of my words, I’ll be damned if a faint fellowship did not for a moment shine upon us all four road-weary travelers like the immediate aftermath of a photograph flash, a fraction of assent trying its best to be illumination and hanging in the air and draping us in what I can only think to call our common humanity, common and shared and base, and for that instant it felt not as if we were two against her brazen, impudent one, not as if the three of us outshined and consumed his resolute nothing drive-along indifference and better-knowing onlooker’s bemusement, but as if we were actual, and in that actuality a forward step might be taken, an honest word might be uttered, some responsibility assumed, a tide turned, a leaf flipped, a change made.
But it swiftly turned to dust as always tends to seems to happen with everything with vocal chords and no backbone and all was once again rain and shadows and distorted glows and she just looked at me through streaks of darkness and light and a sort of crazed eye blaze on par with Colonel Kurtz and I wished I hadn’t said a thing, wished I could vanish along with the dust of our fleeting fellowship, right along with it be turned to dust myself and taken away by wind and washed away by rain,
but all I could do was shrink from the terrible inordinacy of the space she occupied up front in that fractured darkness, already shaking off my rejoinder like a dog fresh out of water while I began inwardly apologizing by proxy and diminished presence for others’ misdeeds, her misnomers, our great misanthropy, daymare dreaming in my passive defense a wishful little thesis about going beyond thought as if awareness were something cartographical lying somewhere off the edge of the world, somewhere where I might forever sever ties to the false freedom of staying small amongst the throngs and the safety sense that silence might be the way to say what life’s about, beating myself into a backseat submission that like a deep bruise I felt lacked his up front strength and dignity, and yet
And yet there is hope, he said, and stopped us all.
Read something in a dream last night that was better than this so I revised it—this, not the dream but in the dream I could plainly see the words and world and almost taste them both, so when I woke up I exhaled and did.
Did it, I did, pushed the air back out of mostly empty lungs like backward going for comfort first, starved of art and full up on food and shelter after years of choking down silence for dinner and only really making sound in sleep, remembering how someone I know and daresay might as well trust said it might be hard out there to find good old fashioned neuroses and interesting conversation and so I closed my eyes and stayed inside and pictured people all around and everywhere frozen with the scream face. At the table, at the corner store, down on the avenue, crossing the street, driving, in bed, everywhere muted terror and I felt ok.
Then I remembered and the story happened. Two times in New York one night, time one in some small seedy hotel room from horror films and horror thoughts and the not so distant past—old of structure and worn and soiled from top to bottom and inside out, more like too much had happened, though, than too little cleaned. The big wet spot on the bed—just left of center—had been made by an almost steady drip from a crack in the ceiling up above which felt like the firmament pressing down, the world pressing down, ready to break through. I was there with at least one other, some other standing silent seeming far off away from me in the shadowed corner, not benevolent, not malicious, but instead a being of perfect indeterminacy split 50/50 good and bad and making my neck hairs stand. Yellowing light like old book page paper corners and just as thumbed-through fuzzy crept through lowered and downtwisted jaundice blinds as if their decay and nicotened filth was in fact the source of the room’s meager illumination, aside from a whitish slice of hallway light wedged beneath the door. The bed stood an inexplicable most-of-the-way across the room like it was edging toward the window and I didn’t blame it, its featureless brown wood-like headboard a good foot off the wall, an accidental screaming statement of incidental significance and I wondered why and, as usual, how I’d ever get out without motion and how I’d move without sound.
Later in a car, parked, motor off, windows up, and cold. Vastness of a nighttime parking lot, the verysame nighttime night, but time two this was. Same part of town, though, still unfamiliar, tall scrapers looming all around and a snaking river nearby reflecting scattered lights, the water at least eight shades darker than the black-orange sky. Trying to get hold of him, that’s what I was doing, because I needed help, and there I sat in that car in the middle of that no man’s land scrolling thumbwise and hopelessly through some absent someone else’s misleading tangle of contacts, a glowing rectangle of scrambled names and numbers in my hand and I hadn’t the faintest sense of where to look or how. Or maybe that was just my head. Not in it, just it, because for the death of me I couldn’t tell who was who or even if any of those seeming non-whos were, if they were anything more than entries on an endless catalogue of indistinction, known and unknown no ones even more silent than me.
All I needed was his help, just his help with that fucking leak—ah but here I am telling it bolder than I felt, bolder by far with the angry voice and firm tone since we have appearances to maintain when there’s a low-hum of almost white-noise terror gripping, moving, consuming with psychopathic eyes, the kind of eyes that pose threats and all you can think to do is yell back and shout them down but they freeze you and grab you and hold you there and then it’s you with the scream face and no way out, no sound.
That leak, though, I could even hear it from the car, from the lot, over the river, over the city, that water drip drip drip slow steady drip dripping from the ceiling back at the run-down yellow-brown-dying room in the building at the lot’s looming fringe and all that seemed around me were a scattered smattering of empty cars and an equally empty goddamn fucking ticket booth and that wide and snaking river with its mocking shimmers and there I was faking bold with searching scanning fearful eyes projecting solidity like how we talk our way out of jitters from the retelling of a nightmare as if it’s really something as elemental as sound that’s gonna put us back together and save us.
But that wasn’t the dream. That’s just a story, another story from another dream from another night and through that story I, teller, wondered if the dream is where I found it, if those were the words I read and, waking, knew this waking state couldn’t top it
and if in between this waking state and the next twilight moonlight recess I’d without intention find a way to stop it
and still be around to say I did, after being quiet for far too long.