“If we continue speaking the same language together, we’re going to reproduce the same history.”
Like a drippy faucet, the taste of raw beef, the smell of an outhouse on a summer day, three paper cuts on the palm of your hand and the need to zest a lemon, we meet in a dark place, hammer falls from some voice we cannot see, the police appear but our passports have expired so we cannot find shelter, nor can we escape deportation though we want to stay, want to find safety with our loved ones, want to hold our friends in warm embraces, want all the things the normal people want and need and work hard to achieve, however we appear as not-normal people, whoever constitutes the normal people we count ourselves as the people normal people despise. At brunch we steal napkins, they say. We steal toilet paper, they say, from the lavatory. They say we steal candy from the kiddie jar, we steal tips from other tables, and we spray-paint little monsters over top the blinking cameras like deformed daggers or broken spoons. So they say. In turn we bow down with mouthfuls of forgiveness, weeping, they say come back later, come back sometime around Sunday evening. Don’t worry about us, we say. We’ll be fine, we say. Go back to your lecture, we say. Go back to your life. Go back to driving and texting and ordering drones to drop bombs on elementary schools. We will be fine. We will survive or in the very least we will fester and require semi-adequate medical attention.
Please believe me when I say evening seems to barricade our thoughts from spilling over, running lines before an audition, voicing objection to objectification as if becoming a second wave feminist will solve all our problems when we possess firsthand knowledge contradicting that assessment. The lack of intersectionality stumps the assumptions. So much glassware goes unused, so many fingertips, so many pieces of grandmother’s fine china never make it out of the hutch when we eat like a sleeve of saltine crackers alongside peanut butter and jelly sandwiches halfcocked or wishing some scrub would harness more potent sea flavors or something. Alphabetical wish list bullshit. Forget about the flounder, tilapia, whatever. Eat sand.
Notice our most respected criticism makes my jean shorts feel inadequate, makes the Marx Brothers something other than funny, makes the last object I peered at seem like a symbol for oppression or salvation or gratification or enslavement or incarceration or detention when I simply saw a man in a black cloak holding a stack of blueberry pancakes smothered in warm semen sitting atop a framed picture of a naked hunk juggling fire, but truth be told: after grifting for three years a hot stack of pancakes can sometimes remain a hot stack of pancakes, I think, I hope, I chant: so much for education, down with intellectualism!
These green grass magicians want all the fame and stuff. I like to think of them as flowers who bloom only for a minute, or like sailors away on a visit, or frankly I don’t like to think about them because time proceeds and we cannot stop it and even if we could stop it there’s no way to make them understand. We fall so far outside the vision of those chicken eaters we can only pray for the readers of the future to get on board, like Fredrickson or Ardwar or some other minor magician I’m not thinking of right now but probably others exist for whom such an analogy fits. Besides, time travel narratives don’t always work. Be quiet! Shut up! Find a hold of yourself and put all the wishes you ever wished into a cardboard box and kiss it and hug it and make the love you wish you had inside you to it for the rest of your life if you can—can you, that’s the question?
Frankly, the room looks polished and blue-lined and froggy. Truth be told, feelings get jammed against their will and we weep for fortresses unable to confound our enemies. Think about it. This room here, the ballroom, holds neither balls nor perks of being a diamond. Where, I might add, has the moat gone? We see no moat. No moat. No fucking moat! Seriously?
Absolutely, we should question authority. Absolutely, but when the cops appear with assault rifles and tear gas and pepper spray we cannot rely on mud buildings and handshakes. I want only to rest, to sleep, but they won’t allow it. They won’t turn their music down or turn off those lights. My vagina makes my penis so angry whenever I get really cocked up about this topic, but sincerely we need a game plan to stop these hegemonic powers. Just ask yourself: why wear a cape when you can wear a voice against the cement nonsense they breed in our Taco Bell restrooms? Not to mention jalopy noise or credit default swaps or anything under the FCC radar. Don’t believe me? Go outside right now and flag down a driver to masquerade as your mother so when August gets here you’ll have something to say; you’ll say, listen: I have something to say, and then you’ll open your mouth and say something. But now you know not what you’ll say. That’s part of the game. Go find a deer or goat or foal or something. Maybe a Neptune baby. It does not matter at this point. All we say and do becomes rainbowed gargoyles if you think about it, so I send messages to my aunt in Nairobi. She cannot hear me. She thinks the main character in The Great Gatsby is Gatsby. How am I supposed to talk to her without first drowning myself in her disgusting backwoods reality? She may seem as distant as the next star in our solar system, but ask yourself: are there other stars in our solar system? That is the question.
Trying to teach anyone anything these days compares to waterboarding. Why can’t I use bird-language? Why can’t I send a gift in the mail? Do you play like the rest of them, or can you feel the glass underneath? I’m seriously asking. This isn’t a rhetorical question or a narrative device. Volume increases and we get weighed down. I know. It’s cyclical. And relatable. Just wait for the sunrise and begin counting—wait, forget the whole counting thing.
Reader, you seem fond of your impending avalanche. You seem impregnable, like the type who cannot make it to the end of this piece but will pass judgment on it and will likely discuss it as though you have read it, studied it in a scholarly manner, when in your heart of hearts you know you conjure lies. You pretend to understand us, but you cannot understand us. You’ve never read Don Quixote. You have no idea why Foucault dubbed it the turning point toward the modern era, the revolution in our thinking about mimesis. You’ve never read Moby Dick. You have no knowledge of the strangely beautiful homoerotic love story composed in its first hundred pages. You’ve never read Ulysses. You haven’t a clue what Bloom eats for breakfast nor what Stephen Dedalus means when he refers to “that word known to all men.” We could go on and on. This façade of dominance you wield makes a mockery of everything. So many liars, the lot of you. Who counts as one of you, if everyone counts as one of you?
But here we stand: the subjects of your accusations. Here we stand: the ones dubbed guilty of malfeasance. Just think about how ludicrous you sound. Think about your expensive coffee, your caramel-flavored soup or think about sharp-finned fish swimming in black water while five men in hazmat suits fish quarters from the deepest spot. We try to reach the border with our children but they stop us. We try to secure passage, try to sneak back into our own quantum universe, try to smuggle our children back into the slag. We want asylum from the wicked but only find the muzzles of their AR-47s. Can you imagine holding a thirteen month old baby boy with a runny nose who cannot understand language of any kind who wants something to eat but has nothing to eat because an alien outbreak has caused an infestation of some disease no doctor can cure on this side of the fence? What about just plain spacemen in rain suits unfit for the desert making foliage a priority, making Scandinavian sea turtles a priority, making blasphemous injunctions while hummingbirds picket the White House while all these pitches make noise one way or another wondering why can’t we just go back to Wyoming? Why can’t we just get on the road and drive from California to Wyoming? Why can’t we just revert to childhood ourselves and forget the game these monsters play in their piggery. Haven’t you ever noticed these things? Haven’t you ever considered the soft hands of gravel?
Let me explain.
A room remains a room until it becomes a cell. Inside a cell the room no longer remains a room. No longer a room, no longer a space with an exit, now the cell smells different to most who can attest. The smell remains a smell until it becomes the truth. We lose our children at the moment we step through the gate, the cell, the ship, none will let us fix our problems. We grew up inside something else. We grew up southward or northward or extraterrestrial. Someone condemns us for our star color, someone says our star color matters. How can this be life? Why, we continue to ask without ever receiving an acceptable answer, does our star color matter but our eye color doesn’t matter and what about our habit color? Logically, our habit color should matter much more significantly than our star color. Our habit color forms because of our own choices whereas our star color simply align us with a birth moment, nothing of our own doing. So why these arbitrary hierarchies? Before landing, we observed the inhabitants for some time. We formulated assumptions based on statistical analysis of vectors and sine waves and the like. Half of us captured a glow, the other half furrowed the lunchmeat and crowded into some form of liver function or caterpillar stance. Help me, we whispered. Help me. But no one came. The room, therefore, never began as a room in the first place. Sunlight makes everything look like a room. Moonlight makes everything look like a cell. What difference does it make? In the end we cannot retrieve the time we lost. We cannot grumble either. Cereal dry or cereal over milk, wooden wedding bands or silver wedding bands or titanium, it does not matter. The system won’t let the real hackers hack. The government won’t destroy itself. And we remain here without our own volition intact.
Which leads us back to the ongoing match causing all this misdirection, redirection, intuition processing with so many folds of understanding we retain little to show the pizza delivery man other than a rack of phony hundreds. Climb back into the memory hole. Pick up the blindfold, we tell the brightest among us. Expand, if you will, on the method of your characterization for the committee. Is it a committee? Or is it more like a board? Can individuals actually wield power in this dynamic, or can we only tell officially sanctioned narratives in the officially sanctioned ways of telling? Have you made it this far? Are you still with me? One minute I speak in what Paul Thomas Anderson calls “rhyme and rub-a-dub” while another minute I crack the fucking split of it. All these guts everywhere from when I found the parcel and fed the gravy to the men who made me extrapolate the plan. What plan? We have a plan you know. Did you think we didn’t have a plan? We do. We certainly do.
The plan involves the secret. The secret involves the plan. Between those two statements you will find all the answers. I cannot yield the trophy without quality intelligence, without xenophobic hatred for everything living, call it misanthropy or call it frigid degeneration of social mobility. We face the firing squad for our transgressions. My son thankfully stands absent, otherwise I would stop functioning, just look at the paucity of given situations akin to these. Can we afford to ignore the hate beams, I wonder what life looks like from the other side of the fence, the space over there, the land of forgotten troubles, the goal of us all.
See this bund, this cape, this catchment area we call home means nothing to you foreigners—they say “you foreigners” as if everybody wasn’t already some foregone conclusion waiting to find a gripping enough ending, as if having never read Sartre or thinking about existential predicaments at least one measly minute. Victory or not, look closely and you’ll find a glaring omission in your general report. We’ve become contagious, you know. We’ve become a contiguous state. All abutted among the others. Everybody knows foreigners breed diseases. A dead bird carcass rotting in the sun from who knows what maybe some other disease maybe glaxo syndrome maybe kreemo dependency, either way a foreigner stands surely to blame, the disease most surely arrived from abroad.
Just think, all these filing cabinets talking about capturing experience. So many binders, yet we never planned on capturing anything: not experience, not a flag, not nothing. We make certain models of cars without revving engines, I suppose. Vindicated, these trappers we call representatives digress with malt beverages and sour faces behind closed escape hatches and once I heard a man melt a face for changing the guard too soon or something similar forgive me if I’m misremembering what happens you know out west shit happens all the time.
Minus time, minus psychic distance, poetry fire becomes the poetry of fire or fire making, fire poetics, where flames produce smoke smote or eclipse or put under pressure by glaciers enveloping volcanos erupting and spurting ash into the sky. All of nature disappears, like it or not, believe it or not. Then the sky turns black. All the natives choke to death. We chant and escape. Our portal opens. Figure someone somewhere wished these wishes into existence. I mean, how many times have we witnessed these same events?, Nietzsche would say many times, all the times, we see this in Béla Tarr’s film The Turin Horse, which makes it impossible to eat a boiled potato without eliciting sorrow the size of Texas. We want no more to do with Texas. We want nothing to do with you, Texas. We want a reason to release the fireflies instead. We want to send an invoice to the world-masters explaining why we cannot stay, why we have to leave, why our children will die at the hands of interstellar drug dealers or rapists or both if you disallow us to exit. We want answers and no one wants to give us answers, so this world seems too tight for living.
What then would you have us do? Driven by evil insects, these so-called decision-makers actually want nothing to do with making decisions rather someone higher up on the phone tree makes half a penny on the dollar more than the next person on the phone tree and before long the world gets smothered in war like nachos, like topographical chicken pox only now toxicity-levels plague the atmosphere, disallow our ships liftoff as though our fuel won’t work, and then our physical disguises start fading away. Following this event you will regret capturing us, you will wish you had released us. We will not flinch. We will not cower. But why not show mercy? Why not free us? Why not look the other way? Why not stop those who want to destroy us? Don’t you realize what you’re doing? Don’t you see what’s coming next? Soon you’ll wish you’d done things very differently. Soon you’ll see our underneath. Soon it will be too late.
Christopher Higgs writes sentences in Los Angeles where he teaches narrative theory & technique in the creative writing program at California State University Northridge. He’s the composer slash assembler of two books: The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney (Sator Press) and ONE (in collaboration with Blake Butler & Vanessa Place, Roof Books), two chapbooks, and shorter work for print and online venues, including: AGNI, Denver Quarterly, and The Paris Review Daily.