from Vex’d Discretion, 2016, collage on paper (15″ x 18″). Eric Amling. Courtesy of the artist.
from Vex’d Discretion, 2016, collage on paper (15″ x 18″). Eric Amling. Courtesy of the artist.
(for Berta Cáceres)
Lisa Samuels has not shared anything on this page with you
In her book a personal devotion to feminist theory
Is an erotic situation because words drape electrically through her mind
Which insists on reciprocity where we live
Whose meeting point’s a commission between external and in-
Sight: at the point where anything is made is the center of its making
You can go there, over to the new center
Down to the new center, up to the new center
You integrate divergence without fail muscles
As a courtesy to this idea, which meets where you become one too
Where the literal becomes physical as a consequence of your attention
You become yourself a concept meeting that one, free
From self-possession’s warrantless erasure of relation.
Go to work and take up the material of nature’s swift ability
To self-heal, if you count a heal as change mark
To the dense struggle to make external possibles
Ready for those shots that come where she is not alone
The very visceral vanishing of point perspective
As the concept ceases to be holding
Provided by its other. The concept realizes self-perception’s lonely cry
Because the filled-in area is vanishing.
Every center gets its day replete inside and out
Not long enough for anyone to know it
Which is why the exhalation leads to terminals where the
Battery charge of culture wants to rest. Please let us rest
Says Cloaky to the bastion of divergence. No, Cloaky, no:
She’ll not. One’s claim in faith to ill sunder finds
There’s battle in the breath, certain scattered objects
Such as water, life, stars, eyes, voices calling out
A topic’s reason for assent to start itself righteously
In the center of what’s powerless. That center pulse
Gives out a new authentic, one’s own object turns
A scaling trans-surrender in the zone that never mocks.
This is what gets called authentic tribute. The idea of her
Eyes and stars and water is a center one can breathe
In as example. The social location of our ideas has changed
Which is exhausting to the slow move against which
Measure’s latent knowledge’s wont to hover.
So we put a body there: its signs of force
Trigger the necessity of knowing from that center
Pulls us towards an other we accept, attention’s moment
Emphasis mine. To cause her to be idea’s open score
The words fill up our heady eyes and flesh out
To the multiples of center. We cannot abnegate
In thinking for her of her near to her
Breath’s contention cancels out the slow
Determination how we value musters in “the world”
A known dispute. There’s no way to speak ugly but to say
Plural’s a wretch, so close in to the skin such
Convention’s blasted its own wise.
Which is related, tell me, to the topic of our
Mass centrality everywhere you can think
Think allow it. This is predicated on belief
Your structures listen to announcements very far away
Her body brings it close and proves the rule.
The satisfied relief’s no thought at all
Since publication’s superadded form
The circumstance of central’s system fix, means we’re
Undergone, a fragmentation loss as having given up
In gaze. It almost makes you wish for porn’s effects,
Distributed submission to the site where desire’s activate
Hits hard a moving purview. The gaze returns itself
Without a recognition of its mirror apps
The schedule of our freedom’s hidden from the beast
We give ourselves, a private reliquary stipend
When we save our chance to misrecognize
For the wrong occasion. We might instead cross-cut
The labor of our thought as yielding when
We meet in real quiescence to the far-off zone
Where thought displaces both itself and us.
The product of a woman failed itself far-reached
But only in a hid-sight dead to actual failure’s
Crucial work. You have to give up in advance to understand
The work the water did over her flesh
Without analysis, our context becomes a moment’s
Harvest kept with hers: that’s thinking parlance
Self-formed in a wrap with far-clung instance
More authentic than what you’re swamped with feeling’s
Vacant register smashed on you when it’s “close to home.”
Further’s no escape beyond control if it’s choisir
We’re dead not knowing so reciprocal to how
We might then land. I can’t interpret her whom I’ve not seen
But having seen in scene withstand
Trajectory of thought beyond the heart.
Misrecognition’s grace is there interpreted
Resisting on the eye, the living space a dark intended
Document we’ll never see, so knowing’s then a subject
Near to me so far as I have no such face nor never will.
Authentic listening’s bonds broke mutual.
When you express it starts to feel as well, a mutual
Cancellation of captivity breached in the ramp
Where blood’s a thought armed on the floor’s example
Intemperate wish to make us heal as hole.
So nothing’s thought the echo of this one-time stolen role.
Accept and don’t accept the rigorous loss of view
Lisa Samuels has shared anything on this page with you
Lisa Samuels has published thirteen books of poetry and prose, with recent experiments in memoir (Anti M, 2013) and the novel (Tender Girl, 2015). Her poetry has inspired musical scores and scholarly essays internationally, and her recent critical essays include Over Hear: six types of poetry experiment in Aotearoa/New Zealand (2015). Her edited book A TransPacific Poetics, with Sawako Nakayasu, is coming out this year, and current projects include Symphony for Human Transport (poems) and The Long White Cloud of Unknowing (prose). A U.S.-born transnational poet, Lisa has also lived in Sweden, Israel/Palestine, Yemen, Malaysia, Spain, and since 2006 in Aotearoa/New Zealand, where she teaches at the University of Auckland. In 2016 she is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Washington Simpson Humanities Center in Seattle.
Nicole Reber (b.1989) is a New York based artist working within sculpture, painting, collage, and language. Recent exhibitions of her work have taken place at Black and White Project Space, Knockdown Center, and Kimberly-Klark. She has spoken at MoMA PS1, NADA, and Printed Matter, and is a co-editor of Packet, a biweekly arts publication that has published over 75 issues in the past 3 years. The complete Packet archive was recently acquired by the MoMA Library. She is working toward an upcoming solo exhibition entitled “Allure” opening July 2016 at Outside Gallery in North Adams, MA.
1. It’s eating them from the inside! In horror the parasite arrives as foreigner, alien, vampire, worm, threatening to infiltrate the social body and destroy it from within.
2. The following social groups have been culturally constructed as parasites: Jewish people, poor people, people of color, queer people, disabled people, migrants and immigrants, women. The artist is also a parasite, feeding off of shared resources without producing anything useful in return. But, as Donna Haraway has observed: We have never been human. And, as Michel Serres has declared: There is no system without parasites. Tom Ray’s artificial evolution simulation system Tierra, built in the 1990s, managed to generate its own parasites.
3. Appropriative or citational writing is categorically parasitic, and has often been denigrated as derivative, vampiric, feeding on the life/blood/brains of other texts and persons. But there is no shame in being a parasite, Carl Zimmer concludes in his popular science book Parasite Rex. Indeed, there is political strategy. The parasite can provide a useful model for thinking about oppositional appropriative writing and its relational politics.
4. Parasitic writing is posthuman, beyond-human, in-human, though it may not be humanless. It writes the body from a trans-species perspective indebted to indigenous critiques of human exceptionalism. Gloria Anzaldúa: You’re all the different organisms and parasites that live on your body and also the ones who live in a symbiotic relationship to you…So who are you? You’re not one single entity. You’re a multiple entity.
5. A parasitic mode of writing is organized around imposition, infection, and itch. It sucks, it burrows, it produces chronic irritation. In contrast to the pure machine of conceptual writing, parasitic writing insists on impurity, transcorporeality, bad boundaries. It is a minoritarian mode, exploiting power asymmetries and enacting imposition: the self-body-text—understood in a post-Enlightenment western context to be bounded, sovereign, impermeable—recognized as permeable; violable.
6. An agent of imposition and occupation, the parasite may also be an agent of intersubjectivity, allyship, symbiosis: potentially. More often, the relationship is nonmutual, one-directional, nonconsensual, nonethical. The parasite takes more than it gives. The parasite is a dangerous subject, Anna Watkins Fisher writes in her analysis of artist Roisin Byrne’s performative parasitism. It does not necessarily work toward something…it just works….
7. In this way, the parasite rejects the logic of avant-gardism. There is no progress forward or backward; parasites force their host to change without going anywhere (Zimmer).
8. A parasite transforms through infection. It makes a system change its condition in small steps. It introduces a tilt (Serres).
9. The predominant metaphor for the parasite is the vampire. Let us put aside the vampire and think about the tick, which needs no invitation. To write like a tick: find a sweet spot and suck until swollen. Extract the host’s contents. Gorge yourself and give only an infectious bite. Detach and find another host.
10. Or the scabies mite: enter the skin and travel subcutaneous, eating tissue and depositing eggs. Leave jagged burrows and itchy bubbles in your wake. Chronically irritate a text or idea with your presence. Reproduce inside it.
11. The fluke begins life in fecal matter, then gets eaten by a mollusk, which may be eaten by a bird; the fluke changes form for each stage. To write like a fluke: attempt transfiguration. Be consumed by multiple host bodies. Create relationality through inter-species escapade.
12. The tongue-eating louse slides into a host’s body through the gills, then attaches to the host’s tongue with its front claws. To write in this fashion: Hang out in the mouth, siphoning away the tongue’s blood supply until the tongue falls out and you have replaced it with your own body. Occupy the mouth with new hungers.
13. The tapeworm has no mouth or gut: its whole body is a mouth-gut system: its skin absorbs food. To write like a tapeworm is to behave as a consumption machine.
14. This is just one possibility. There are more than six thousand species of tapeworms.
15. There are more parasites than there are any other organism in the world.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987.
Fisher, Anna Watkins. “We Are Parasites: On the Politics of Imposition.” Art and Education. N.d. <http://www.artandeducation.net/paper/we-are-parasites-on-the-politics-of-imposition/> Accessed 17 September 2015.
Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
Serres, Michel. The Parasite. Tr. Lawrence R. Schehr. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
Zimmer, Carl. Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures. New York: Touchstone, 2000.
Megan Milks is the author of Kill Marguerite and Other Stories, winner of the 2015 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Fiction and a Lambda Literary Award finalist; as well as three chapbooks, including The Feels, published in Black Warrior Review.
The sun. Well. What can he say about the sun that hasn’t been said already. He resists description and thinks instead of a relentless open mouth kiss. The humidity of it. The voluptuous pressure bowing him closer to the petunias he’s pruning. Hybrid. Black velvet. That sounds like a song, he thinks. A rolled newspaper smacks into the screen door. He hears a cat-call whistle, looks up to see golden tresses streaming off the bicycling paper girl who’s noticed he isn’t wearing any pants. It’s a dressing gown tied in front, hanging to mid-thigh when standing. He hadn’t considered its length when knelt over with a trowel. It isn’t made of anything impressive—cashmere or silk. It’s terrycloth and second-hand, the color of well-chewed bubble gum. And the tie is slipping.
He pushes his sunglasses further up the aqueduct of his nose, lets the robe open uncertainly. He likes the draft it allows. A sudden gasping thirst brings the watering can to his mouth. He gulps down half the sulfurous blend and the swelling tide of it in his stomach makes him heave over a patch of empty soil next to the petunias. I’ll plant some tulips here, bright coral ones.
A bright choral arrangement balladeers from a passing convertible enchanting his hands to flirt with dirt, trowel tossed aside. Burbling air, his fingers hear the arrangement again, convertible long past. He grunts. I play the piano. He observes with humor the obedience of his hands. I may even play well.
He pulls out a pack of cigarettes from his robe pocket, lights one, leans back in the grass with the slumped elegance of a fashion model, skeletal legs and sunken belly stretched out narrow as the shadow of a sundial. His dial should be hitting forty-five years old any month now, but he’ll have to be told this. Several times. And it won’t matter to him anyway. But falling asleep will. If he dozes now, he’ll roast into lobster red, he knows this. He can see uneven burn lines fractured across his body from some time before. Like that Nudist Distending a Stairwell, and takes another drag. Someday, he thinks, I could have a yard like this, live in a neighborhood like this one. Where news is wielded, and sprinklers tick and hiss away the afternoon, a chorus of occasional laughter in the distance. First, he’d have to figure out which neighborhood this is, then, years from now return, buy a small corner house—more ground for planting. He’d find a piano and throw dinner parties that carry on into scandalous hours. He sleeves his forehead and notices the terrycloth frosted in scarlet, looks over to his car parked in the shade of a nearby tree. The tree is pressing into the radiator, which is smoking. In fact, the tree is making its way into the central engine, an area he knows nothing about. There are one or two things left to do today. Maybe three. He’s just beginning to realize he won’t remember what they are.
There’s the matter of a flywheel buzzing in his chest, a tiny turbine standing valiant in a motionless field of sallow lung tissue exhausting his desire for anything but sleep. And it makes him wonder—if there isn’t a way to open up his chest like window shutters and reach in, hold it still. Jerk it out. He looks down into the opening robe at the bruises and claw marks haloing his lower ribs. Maybe he’s already tried.
There are one or two things left to do today. Maybe three. He’s just beginning to realize he won’t remember what they are. And stands, robe opening completely, cigarette limping from his mouth; decides to leave the trowel in the garden and not return it to the shed where he had chanced it. Walks past the rose bushes and chrysanthemums, the deep puncture of earth where he had found the petunias, dug them up. Opens the car door, collapses to the seat, pulls the lever to drop it back. The sun can’t kiss me here, and sucks on his lips, remembering the watering can. A slumber hovers over him sounding like Beethoven’s Moonscape Serenada. In silhouette of flowers crumbling across the ruptured dashboard, his hands rise above the steering wheel to play heavy uncluttered chords with astonishing ease.
He awakes in a coma of cerulean blue. Sheets, pillow, the kicked-off comforter. Listens to the hushed even scream of a shower insisting itself in another room. On the floor are two pairs of men’s trousers—khaki and black tuxedo. He recognizes neither. The window curtains are new, wedding-white, badly hemmed, bursting sunlight. He stands woozy and wobbles to the front door wrapped in a blue fitted sheet.
The heat outside is a torrid affair. Like breathing flesh, he thinks. I stand in another’s mouth; the pebbled porch step is a calcified tongue. He raises his arms to dive down what could be a flight of throat, bed sheet blooming behind like a cancerous tumor. “PARISTALTICATE ME MOTHER FUCKER” he cries across the morning serenity to the sun—a fearless uvula over the cul-de-sac. He spits a fist of solar-aimed saliva and hits a perfect bullseye.
Inside again he looks around the room. The boudoir—a wall closet standing guard to a double-twin mattress low on a box spring—is the left wing of the main room centering a butcher-block table and chairs and a wall of empty shelves behind which lurks a kitchen. There are no music books propped on the mudstone colored upright piano camouflaged in shadow facing the front door. And beside the front door is a Greek column of wood, a ledge hip-height, perfect to pageant a set of car keys. But no keys are there and he doesn’t think to reach for any. Above the stand is a chalkboard slashed with bone-white letters: NOON—BATHROOM CABINET. Once closing the cabinet and swallowing a second glass of water, he peeks behind the shower curtain.
Back in the living room he wants to put on an apron and clean. And he wants the apron to have ruffles, with that friendly pattern of two red cherries conjoined at the stems, one snug above the other like testicles. He looks in the pantry closet: ironing board, broom, dust pan, lightbulbs, orange hazmat suit. By now he’s realized the apartment doesn’t need cleaning. Though not without dust, it is unlived in. Politely desolate.
At the chalkboard he wonders at the handwriting and decides to rescript the words but hesitates which hand to reach. He writes with each, taking several minutes, every line and hump a dare upon dare. “How about me?” asks the first O, “Am I familiar?” “And how about me?” asks the fourth. Neither mimic matches the original. He wants to draw more. The floorboards’ varnish has long ago vanished and slats rise up like a drafting table as he kneels down with chalk, still cloaked in the sheet. Arcs and swirls curiously soothe until he’s tracing his hands, then his whole body. He stands to examine the outline, tilting his head, pouting his mouth. The lines are light, questioning, quivering. Having traced only the pressure of his flesh, the figure is smaller than his. He has drawn somebody else. He lies down beside it, retracing with firm attention. Now the contours are over-pronounced, blubbery, dumb-looking. Maybe he is somebody else. And he remembers the bandaids.
Days ago—was it only days—he had arrived back to this apartment—yes, it was this apartment—on the table top a pyramid of boxed bandaids, different sizes and shapes. That night he had used every bandage to tape on the floor a life-size likeness of his body, arms out prostrate, face embedded. He had fallen asleep to wake up hours later, his skin stuck to the gummy veneer, shoulders sore, hands numb. Peeled from the portrait, he was pocked with rectangular stamps, like burns. Like sunburns.
Now he traces his feet—prints not quite webbed, not quite articulated either. He crawls beneath the table where he means to trace himself again—himself—and settles on his back. On the underside of the table top the word TEN is written in marker. Probably warehouse-speak, but for a moment it looks like TED, and he thinks of his Uncle.
He had met him only once when he was eight at the funeral of his grandfather, the patriarch of both his father and Ted. Uncle Ted was a pilot, flew safaris in Africa. The brothers had had a rift, though over what he hadn’t known then and can’t remember now. Uncle Ted was a tall man who loomed like a bell tower resonating above everyone, his voice baritone and abrupt, deft at dismissing “the dialectic dysentery” of others, as he called it. None were spared.
As a boy, he had been agitated by the whole funeral affair. The weight of the rituals, the coldness between adults that seemed less like grief and more like boredom, loneliness. As if they were all loitering in the lobby at the end of a sold-out show, having missed it. The chapel was emptying, family one by one abducted through light beyond the foyer doors. He was still whining about whatever, loafing as the very last to leave when Uncle Ted turned on him gruffly, clutched his small face in his broad suntanned hand and leaning down, kissed him full on the mouth. Several heartbeats later Uncle Ted pulled away, glaring. “Now shut up.” Then turned and boarded the blinding light.
He had nearly swooned as a child then in the vestibule, and nearly swoons now in remembrance. Below the table, pulling up the meager sheet, surrendering to sleep, he recalls the smell of him. Bourbon, cigar smoke, the pages of a rare used book—tannic with intelligence, sour with secrets. And a hint of talcum baby powder.
“Dude, let’s chase those kids!” Someone snickers. “Let’s scare them shitless!” These must be buddies from college. It feels like college. In their old Buick, the upholstery smells like so many other Saturday nights wagered in bets and blasphemy and black-tipped cigarettes. It’s one of their parents’ homes, the folks on holiday. The house, retired and mono-mahogany, sits like a brick of mud measuring itself against the night with a rope of daffodils snaking its perimeter, their hopeful yellow ashed in sleep.
At the neighborhood intersection is a half-dozen children playing catch-football under a tall streetlamp casting over them an arachnid web of light. The wrong song is playing on the car radio, making him impatient. The Buick swings into the driveway and halts, engine exhaling. And for an instant the whole night hesitates. He sees their academic faces indistinct, a plot of headstones in a photograph. His mind clicks the flash. All doors clack open and they buckshot into the street with the relish of a well-paid mafia. The best at pool fronts as cue, the rest as follow-through, breaking apart the billiards of kids. He veers behind the smallest, a girl in loose boy clothes and matted hair. She sprints him up the block, her strides five times his to stay ahead, both blindfolded by darkness. And it’s now that he realizes how unprepared he is for joy, how painful that can be—the face flexing as one muscle, the catapulted heart, the gibberish brain, the mayhem. The terror in her squeals staccato as she turns to glimpse him, gasping euphoric when she turns back. The sound of her pulls a ripcord of bubbles through his spine, shimmering his bones with pleasure and an urgent guilt to wonder, What if I catch her. She hitches a sharp left through an armoire of honeysuckle as he stands huffing and puffing with an idiot grin.
He awakens to the ultimatum of drums.
Snapping upright with mouse trap intent, he clunks his head on the table top, falls back in surprise. The drums lead from his forehead and get lost somewhere in his chest. The word TEN stares at him in countdown. He drags himself from dreaming, dresses with anticipation.
Outside, humidity is still as pressing and perverse as body heat, but a river of breeze moves the fever enough to breathe. It is already night. His cramped, hard sole shoes make the drumroll, popping pavement as he remembers the extract: Van Gogh was a formidable walker. He could walk with this borrowed confidence all night, and perhaps has—his heart pulsing in fresh blisters on his feet. Past bodegas and caged shops, past butcher shop windows with pendulous legs of peeling meat, past a neon night club with rows of boys posing in cut-offs and lipgloss and aerodynamic desire calling to him. He swerves to the street. From the club’s open door a woman’s voice heavy and sweet smogs the avenue. Vowels… on this he meditates—their ambrosial delay of consonants, opening wide the mouth for what it can only hope at.
He thumps deeper into the domestic, past colossus homes asleep in their opulence, the corridor of tremendous elm trees out-doing them. A contusion of night colors spring off car windows, through leaves and swim like Northern Lights up his pale khakis and white t-shirt, rippling his arms aquatic. His hands slither up his body and he wonders if he has ever touched himself like this before.
He’s unaware there is an indifference in him so deep it will be mistaken as understanding, for it needs no conversion, seeks no argument. It will be mistaken as strength and swagger. It will be conspiracy, he will be dreaded. He volunteers his solemn face to the sky. Tonight he is an offering, come what may. Tonight he is a deep lagoon of a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y; he is purple and dark turquoise and aquamarine. And for now there is nothing to wish, nothing to correct, nothing to account for. He needs no witness, believes nothing needs him as witness either. He dances like a phantom, like a fool.
The propeller thwacks in his chest, skewering what must be his ribs. He crumples to the ground, face scraping concrete. The abrasion feels good, so he drags his face further down the residential road, tearing open more skin.
“NO ONE WAS SUPPOSED TO GET HURT” he shrieks, forgetting the words as soon as they hit air.
Kat Mandeville graduated from Carnegie Mellon University and is finishing her PhD in Philosophy & Critical Thought at the European Graduate School. She has published two books of poetry, with various poems published in various journals. She lives in New York City.
Roberta was pretty enough to be a homecoming princess. I was a non-athletic math and science nerd, and forever grateful she went against custom. Furtive glances in the high school hallways led to flirtatious smiles, and one evening I summoned the nerve to park in front of her house. That was an accepted dating technique in Portland, Oregon, circa 1958. I was 17 and driving my first car, a 1947 Chevy Fleetwood fastback. Paid a hard-earned $75 for it. It looked super cool parked in front of Roberta’s house, the light from the street lamp shimmering off its sloping back. She came out of the house, and I invited her to sit in the car with me. To my relief and terror, she did.
That began a courtship consisting mostly of short trips to the A&W Root Beer drive-in after dusk. For guys, the drive-in dates showed that someone had found us desirable, and that one of the highest status symbols on Planet High School was within reach: sexual intercourse. The drive-in visits were followed by curbside make-out sessions in front of her house. This falsely reassured her parents of no bad behavior.
Adolescent passion in Fleetwoods was a fumbling of buttons, buckles, and bra hooks, with forays into unfathomed territories portending incomparable wealth or loss. Night after night, our passion ended in a stand-off. But as time went on, her defenses weakened, and I stood a little closer. I was obsessed with losing my virginity to a woman who was under considerable pressure not to lose hers. She and her family belonged to a fundamentalist church, the Wesleyan Methodists. My upbringing was among ordinary Methodists, whose pilgrimage relied more on homily than on fire and brimstone.
And so it came to pass that the desire to fornicate brought me to the Wesleyan Sunday services, where you could actually smell and feel the heat of hell. The charismatic preacher was a magnificent orator, beginning with a few daily temptations and the lies we tell ourselves. Before you knew it, the congregation was bound for a tour of the devil’s realm, with fire and brimstone everywhere. The preacher’s face, puffy even when calm, was blood-red, drenched in sweat, and swollen near to bursting. “Amen!” escaped from old men like vented steam, fanning the preacher’s fire. At times I thought he was going to have a stroke as he bellowed warnings and predictions of the soul’s imminent demise. And then his voice would soften as he delivered our only hope, God’s eternal love and forgiveness, a pillow held out to catch us in our fall. To those caught, it was spiritual euphoria.
After Sunday church, the congregation gathered at the home of one of the families for a potluck. By then the preacher’s furnaces had cooled. The oral violence, the threats and accusations, had been stored for the next flame-throwing sermon. Away from the brimstone, he was one of the sweetest men I ever met. The radiance streaming from his face could only have come from the constant touch of God.
God touched me at the Wesleyan summer camp. I had already been to the camps run by the ordinary Methodists, where grace before meals, a few bible readings, and prayers before bed were the only required stops on our spiritual journey. Roberta had invited me to attend the Wesleyan camp, and I had agreed, not wanting to jeopardize the course my sex drive had mapped out. The Wesleyan camp had daytime crafts and physical activities like the ordinary Methodists had, but evenings were different. Each night we gathered in a Quonset hut auditorium for the saving of our souls, and each night we heard a new voice. The camp recruited its attendees from a large region, and with them came a phalanx of preachers for the calling out of ripening young sinners.
To that point in my life, church had been a Sunday routine, and I regarded myself as religious. Church attendance had been required of me and my sister from early childhood, but our parents only attended on Christmas and Easter. (At the time, I was critical of them for this apparent hypocrisy.) Besides the Sunday services, I attended weekly classes for children, and later for adolescents. These classes also served critical secular needs, as it was there I first encountered girls socially, out of school. I had my first dance at a church social, and later my first kiss, an awkward bumping of lips in the bushes beneath a stained-glass window. By the time I started dating Roberta, sex and religion were already intertwined. But I believed in God and had proof of His existence even before I attended the Wesleyan camp meeting.
Earlier that year, a friend and I had driven the Fleetwood out into the hinterland of Sauvies Island, 40 square miles of dikes, farms, and bottomlands at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers. My friend and I were of the opinion that adventure was more likely to be found by following the unpaved roadbeds on top of the dikes to the most remote parts of the island. It was a self-fulfilling opinion, as we eventually came to a place where part of the roadbed on top of the dike had been eroded away. After stopping to conduct a thorough engineering analysis, we got back in the car and abruptly nosed into the far wall of the washout, hopelessly stuck not only miles from home, but from the nearest farmhouse.
It was a horrible situation, and I didn’t know what was worse, leaving or staying. It would be a long walk back, and required the abandoning of the beloved Fleetwood. I feared it would be brutalized and pillaged, the fate of abandoned cars. And even if we got help in time, the towing fee would bankrupt me. The only positive option I could think of was divine intervention. So I walked off a little ways by myself, got down on my knees, and begged for deliverance. I promised God to do His bidding the rest of my life if He would only rescue the Fleetwood from its terrible predicament.
As I walked back to the site of the disaster, I saw something moving on top of the dike at a great distance, maybe a mile away. It was another car, coming from the opposite direction, from the most remote part of the island. As it approached, I could hardly believe my eyes. Attached to the front bumper was something I had never seen on a sedan before. A cable winch. It was a miracle, my miracle, in answer to prayer less than five minutes old. God must have been hard up for new workers. There was no other reasonable explanation.
From that event until the Wesleyan camp meeting, I had not been particularly busy on behalf of God. It might even appear I was hard at work for the other guy. The Miracle of Sauvies Island had been reduced to intermittent moments of guilt lacquered with lame promises. But I think it was that incident more than anything else that primed me for the camp meeting’s preacher-of-the-night. My journey on the Road to Damascus, as well as on the road to coitus, began in the Fleetwood.
I don’t remember the details of the preacher’s exhortation, but I do remember the lighting. It was semi-dark where we sat on folding chairs in the Quonset hut, while up front the fluorescent light was glaring – not the sort of light associated with parting clouds and throngs of angels, but of Quonset huts. It was almost too functional, showing the interior of the building to be wholly without character except for a small cross and framed picture of Jesus on the wall behind the preacher. Whatever one might think of fundamentalists, they are less concerned with the material.
At some point during the sermon – as usual, hot from the fires of hell and the burning love of God – the visceral words scoured the lacquer from my guilt-ridden soul. I felt a power in me not mine responding to the preacher’s bidding. It pulled me up out of the chair and to the front of the hall, where I was so overwhelmed with Spirit I started crying. A few others had also come forward, and for each of us there was a preacher waiting. They were intimate with the experience and would be our guide. Mine led me back down the aisle to the door. But outside, he let the Spirit move me, and I felt drawn to the area behind the hut, near the wall closest to the sermonizer. I was euphoric, filled with God’s love and forgiveness, crying from pure joy, kneeling on the ground, leaning forward on my hands, gushing happy tears in near-total darkness.
Suddenly, on the ground in front of me, within a foot of my knees, there was a small circle of white light, no more than two inches in diameter. Everything else was black night, and the light made no sense according to the known laws of the universe. It seemed not to have an earthly origin, as if it had been beamed from heaven.
My guide was kneeling beside me, his arm draped over my shoulders. I kept babbling on about this light, and he finally said, “It’s coming through that knothole in the wall.” Maybe he was tiring of my obsessiveness and wanted me to move on, taking a chance that a little ordinary reality wouldn’t hurt the mystical process. And it didn’t. Rather than deflate the moment, that too became part of the mystery. I had been carried to that bit of ground by an external force, and had not seen the small circle of light until after I had knelt down. It was no less of an experience because God had used humble elements of His universe – the Quonset hut’s knothole and fluorescent lighting – to show me He was listening. He had made it tangible.
The experience was so strong the euphoria survived sleep and lingered well into the next day. I was in a state of bliss, with a constant radiant smile.
* * *
There was something of ecstasy in the mystical experience, and in retrospect it had properties that seem related to those of the aftermath of the sexual climax, as if they share a common physiological origin or pathway. In the euphoria following the sexual climax, I have sometimes experienced a strong sense that I have stepped outside of the limits of time, that my partner and I exist in an eternal realm as well as in a finite one – and in that eternal realm, the moment will continue forever. Although the content of the post-climax euphoria may vary widely among individuals (and within individuals), the euphoric sense of timelessness is probably a universal human capacity.
Unlike medieval troubadours, a charismatic evangelist might bristle at equating the sexual climax with the touch of God. But the preacher’s argument is compromised by his own charisma. Whether emanating from him, a rock star, or Bill Clinton, charisma is subtly to overtly charged with sexual as well as spiritual energy. And charisma affects the self as well as the other. It is no wonder so many preachers fall by the wayside.
After camp, I continued going to church with Roberta, and may even have uttered a few involuntary amens. But like the aftermath of the miracle on the dike, there was no follow-up labor for the Lord. Eventually, even the mystical experience became material, the organic high against which all future euphorias would be measured.
In his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (1902), philosopher and psychologist William James demonstrates the mystical state to be a universal human attribute, available to all peoples and religions, and not the province of a particular set of beliefs. Though the prerequisites can differ, the experience is essentially the same for all: euphoria, the overwhelming presence of a supernatural power, a flood of revelations and insights, and feelings that cannot be described in words. The experience commonly lasts for an hour or two. Euphoria, ineffability, and a supernatural presence were strong characteristics of my Quonset hut experience, but I have no recollection of revelations and insights. Too bad – I would love to know now what was revelatory to my 17-year-old self.
James was never able to experience the natural mystical state. But he did experiment with nitrous oxide, which led him to conclude that “our normal waking consciousness . . . is but one especial type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.”
Although a large subculture has experimented with psychotropic substances since the 1960s, the natural mystical state in America today seems primarily confined to practitioners of evangelical religions. The experience may be most accessible as a “calling out” within a group setting. Thanks to the televangelists, many non-evangelicals no doubt view the natural mystical state as temporary insanity at best, and fraud at worst. Others may have an elitist view: Mahatma Gandhi was a mystic, but Mrs. Jones down the street is merely out of her mind.
A dozen years after my natural high, I began experimenting with acid (LSD) and psilocybin mushrooms. These produced amazing states of mind, including a sense of contact with the supernatural. But it was not an experience of God, at least not in the Christian sense. Instead, I felt I had risen to a higher realm of awareness, of feeling, of being. The mystical state without pretext and preparation. But it wasn’t pure. Along with the experience of the supernatural were bouts with paranoia and episodes of fantastic images and perceptions – hallucinations – ultimately having little or nothing to do with a spiritual journey, at least for me. And the return to earth was often accompanied by a debilitating depression, opposite the feelings I experienced coming down from the natural high.
The closest I have come with chemistry to the natural high is with James’s vehicle, nitrous oxide. In the dentist’s chair. The first time was the most spiritual. I rose to a realm so high the worst imaginable thing was reconciled. For me in the early 1980s, that was nuclear holocaust. It was reconciled in an infinite place above the horror, where the universe always rights itself. As in the natural mystical state, I was aware of a supernatural presence that can be experienced but not described, except by metaphor. It is a realm where the urge to live is in the rocks, where life is the universe experiencing itself.
Every now and then I would descend to the dentist’s chair to see how he was progressing. I was so euphoric that I hoped he had plenty of work left to do, and in those days he did, as my mouth had become a silver mine of cavities, crowns, and root canals. With the prospect of more nitrous oxide, it was a struggle to take better care of my teeth.
* * *
In the experience, the supernatural presence is immediate, infinite, and unknowable. Call it God or not. Whatever it is, the mystical state has no doubt of its existence. The experience and its realm may be confined to us, but the experience itself argues the opposite.
The mystical state is a psycho-physiological capacity residing in all of us, a component of our being, like thumbs and laughter. It could have evolved from another purpose, another psycho-physiological function, the sexual climax, our most accessible path to a natural euphoria.
From my perspective, it took a lifetime to reach the maturity needed to write about these events. I am fortunate that aspects of the mystical experience feel as fresh now as when they happened. Roberta and I broke up before graduation, and never saw each other after high school. She married and had children, then died too soon in the late 1980s. But she is still in that long-ago memory, and somewhere we are in an eternal moment forever.
Richard LeBlond is a biologist living in North Carolina, where he worked for that state’s Natural Heritage Program until his retirement in 2007. He continues his biological research, and has added travel, photography, and writing. Since 2014, his essays and photographs have appeared in numerous U.S. and international journals.
“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.
I am thing. Certain.
Stricken dumb, call me Beta.
A blessed shadow.
My mute-loose tongue laps
virgins and stricken in years,
Wholly ghost, I rise.
A light to lighten
tarried afraid mis-spaking;
Lettest depart peace,
wist ye not the openeth
heat of womankind.
The Wildman cries,
“Here’s the news, can’t fill his shoes!”
I fan the fire.
In my tight Levi’s
I’m a wild flamer. Hot.
The coo of heaven.
God don’t mess with no
Son-of-a bitch. Fat with fame
And me and we, Heal!
You dirty devil,
Hold thy peace and come out. Spake.
What? A word is this?
Launch deep and draught nets
And when they heave, withdraw wild
Into –ness and heart.
Strange new wine busts old
bottles and drunk man
desireth better spirits.
Work it all weekend,
kissing cheeks, shaking
a withered finger.
Fruits and floods corrupt;
Oh mercy. What a house. All
spirit and eye beams.
My boys be marvelin’
in brothels and bars, spinnin’
tales in deadly mouths .
Son, when her tresses
tingled the sweet spot of sole,
what love forgave thou?
Suzanna. Reap seeds, candle-
light devilish snubs.
Choke swine and awaken
dead hearts of Legion. Bewail
not. Eat meat. Bite tongues.
Mountains change things. Not
hole, or nest, my house is cloud.
It foameth secrets
of slain and rise and
three. And then came twelve, five, two,
and fifties. Fragments.
Spirits, I wolf, lamb
I am Serpent, seventy,
a miracle in your mouth,
labour in your field.
And fire on the mountain.
Love your scorpion.
Jesus doesn’t like
division or the law. Woe
is a white bone bled
dry. With closed eyes and
forked tongues, dummies search for signs
on wicked platters.
Jesus likes sparrows
a little but hair even
more. Give me an hour
and I will make that
tongue sing; Covet cloud loins,
and showers will come.
Jesus likes touch. Dig
and dung it, and fruit will come.
We all loose ass, weep
and gnash on Sabbath.
Spread your branches and gather
your brood at the pits.
Same lame maimed dropsy
story. He who exalts the
wives of oxen on
the ground near hedges
by a highway resurrects
recompense. Hear ye?
Wholly ghost, I am
the eldest son of the field.
I want party. Skin
silver sheep so life
can cloak from ye. And brother
remains lost, not found.
Dig this… ashamed he
Was. Wasted. An unrighteous
For the children of
this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
Unjust in the much
At least a table tittle,
I knoweth hearts, wives, holy dog
tongue lapping waves
of a great gulf, begging thence
and burning with thirst.
Here a lo, there a
lo, everywhere women grind
thither in rain-fire.
Trow not, good stranger, glory
a whole lotta faith
Blind camels stuck with
needles justify better,
And you don’t know it.
The mock-spit and scourge
Of one beat will rise on three
then your eyes will see
The stones cry and I
cry and He cries. We all cry
trenched about on stage
Attentive thieves cast
long shadows when fleeing this
house of bought prayer.
A durst beat, stone re-
on the tongue, a word,
my word will grind, be powder
for widows cheeks, Son.
Mites of truth I say
Widows rise against nations.
for answers in hearts.
Moons—perplexed and roaring—shall;
Heaven and seas shall…
But my words shall not.
Come early to the temple,
Overcharged with drunk.
Let’s eat God and kiss;
And deny plus three; sayest
suffer in a cock
crew. Smote present past
the Christ I bred. Heeled our ear,
severed by tongue; We are
Peter and tears, Man.
Know not what thou sayest, but
if that’s what you say, We
am. Let’s eat meat, you hear?
For, behold, coming,
Blessed are the barren wombs,
paps which gave no suck.
Mountains, Fall on us;
and to the hills, Cover us.
If they do these things
in a green tree, what
be done in the dry?
Jesus cried, Father,
into thy hands I commend
my spirit, loudly:
he gave up the ghost.
Jesus rolled the stone,
Left his linens
But it was I, Wholly, with the women and Mary’s. Ask Cleopas, and
Oh man. Amen!
Chad Faries is the author of two collections of poetry, The Border Will Be Soon and The Book of Knowledge. A recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, he lived and taught in Central Europe for many years. Currently he teaches at Savannah State University, where he also hosts a radio program on WHCJ 90.3. When not in Thunderbolt, Georgia, Faries gets lost on his motorcycle whenever he can. Above all, he is a “Yooper”—a native of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
1. Slighted by a stranger’s greater insight, the ideal citizen attacks those who question the nature of a power they do not themselves understand. These retaliations serve our function in two ways: servility, leading to hostility. Enduringly oppressed, the ideal citizen lashes out in ignorance at rational, anti-national opposition. We hear no call to amend this type of behaviour.
2. The ideal citizen informs on lawbreakers in order to show obeisance to power and to settle scores. The act of Revenge, to Sir Frances Bacon a kind of wild justice, is a necessary recourse for every member of the classes below ours. It is our duty to make revenge widely accessible through diverse media, to encourage minor acts of treachery that incite extrajudicial mayhem and subsequent mass incarceration. We hear no call to amend this type of behaviour.
3. Though wars, civil or extra-territorial, are temporarily disruptive to the economy, when we decide to re-establish peace, bankers are brought upstairs with promising figures for infrastructural growth. Reparations pass through politicians, architects, engineers and resource managers who renew the status quo until such time as planned chaos comes again. Men and women will build in the face of insurgency and permitted radicalisation. The ideal citizen will die for their country during war and peace in preparation for war. We hear no call to amend this type of behaviour.
4. A word about our habitat. Skyscrapers laid sideways, foundation to penthouse, circle Earth at the height of altostratus clouds; it’s very comfortable here. Access to colleagues is hologrammatic, our beds made from electrostatic-impulses with pillows that beat into our ears the rhythms of the heart beamed in from hardworking families below to whom we are just another polluted day when the sky is blocked and hope lifts its chin to the fist. The ideal citizen’s heart must beat with vigour at all times. We hear no call to amend this type of behaviour.
5. It has taken no small amount of effort to complete our ring of protected steel with help from friends whom we own, centuries of pioneering ladder climbing, the psychologically-damaged-through-the-ages pushing out to the stars from where the view down – particularly today – is never the same as the insect colonies of the planet rise accumulating and distributing at will, in every known sense free. We hear no call to amend this type of behaviour.
6. The ideal citizen could be more challenging, we agree, than doggedly aspiring to mediated greatness, visible throughout life at all points up to and including the end of the ladder, where, shrinking, ashen, restrained by medicine, they peer through a hole in the clouds to request with their dying breath the whereabouts of their soul. We hear no call to amend this type of behaviour.
Daniel Roy Connelly was the winner of the 2014 Fermoy International Poetry Festival Prize, a finalist in the 2015 Aesthetica Magazine Creative Writing Prize, and winner of the 2015 Cuirt New Writing Prize for Poetry. A former British diplomat and Ivy League salutatorian, he holds a PhD from the University of Saint Andrews on the colour of Othello’s skin. Published widely, he appears in the current editions of The Moth, Acumen, and Critical Survey. He is an actor, theatre director, and professor of creative writing, English, and theatre at John Cabot University and The American University of Rome. Read more of his work at www.danielroyconnelly.com
Timothy Cleary’s sculptures are a blend of proverb, elegy, accusation, joke, and self-portrait. He lives in Hermantown, MN, and teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.