the worm

Open your eyes, says a voice.

Close-up of an insect, dead and brown, appendages curled and blackened.

I can’t, I whisper.

The lens pans slowly from the insect, one object of many in a gutter.

My mouth is full of worms.

The lens slides left to a patch of dead grass, yellowed and dry.

My mouth is full of worms! I say, drooling onto the pillow.

To the left of the grass: an old toy firetruck, broken, faded by the seasons.

A worm says: Follow the dead insect’s trajectory backward in time.

The lens returns to the dead insect, fixates on it.

Zoom in on the insect! says the worm, its voice an expanding drain.

And your ceaseless inquiries will be the end of you.

Fragrant cardboard, rotten food.

Zoom in until we enter the insect! says the worm.

No, I think.

Zoom in until we become the insect! says the worm.

The lens spirals toward, then onto the insect, gaining speed, catapulting into the insect—

Fear arms the heart, engages the lungs—

I wake—

Chills crisscross sweat like dew on my skin.

Your connection to this world will never be severed.

Open your eyes, says a voice.

At the publisher’s house

I dreamed last night of a local book publisher. The contact there was a blond young man a few years younger than I was, and I sent him my manuscript eagerly, which he awaited with likewise eagerness, to my surprise. It was cold out and dark and the roads were very icy. I didn’t recognize where I was, or what city, and I was driving the old car I drove when I first began driving so many years ago.

Cars drifted on the ice and crashed into other cars, many of them already parked. I stood on the sidewalk watching the chaos and destruction and did not feel optimistic about my journey back home. I thought of my wife in the dream, but she was never present.

I was at my grandfather’s house and once again it was very dark. It was dark outside his house as well as inside. My mother was there and my grandfather was about 20 years younger; he was able to move about with relative ease. Nobody spoke, but there was a sense of restlessness or turmoil or danger just beyond our reach. The neighbor across the street had been implicated in something, a rape or beating. Then I was back at the book publisher’s place across town, a very old building with creaky floorboards and a few old bookish people lingering about.

The young man at the publisher’s house told me he’d read the manuscript and liked it very much. He handed me a large plastic zip baggie with three antique style keys inside. Here are the keys to our special luncheon, he told me, smiling. Be very careful with them, obviously, he added, and then he disappeared into one of the old rooms. I smiled and walked out into the cold, wondering if it meant that he was going to publish my novel.

A dark sedan tried to turn the corner but its tires just spun on the ice. Another car was stationary in the middle of the road and I noticed it beginning to slide toward me. It slid on the icy road without any catalyst to propel it and I thought there was no way my old car was going to make it home without crashing into something. The sliding car began to pick up speed and luckily for me it changed direction and continued to slide down the street, slamming into a pickup truck parked at the curb. I pitched my cigarette, because in cold dreams I’m always smoking, and crossed the street to my old car and got in, starting it up. I put some music on, feeling very happy about what the publisher told me, even if I didn’t know what it meant.

The night chilled me so deeply that nothing would ever warm me again, but it was okay. The lights of the city shimmered, and I drove back to my grandfather’s house.

group discussion

burninglight

The room began to burn around them and the oldest of them said, So what are the prevailing themes of the work. So far, I mean. If it’s not too early in the story.

The other three looked to the flames spreading quickly about them, orange and yellow and red pulsing light and heat. Billowing flames upon the wide raftered ceiling and floor and white walls. They sat in silence and studied the force of the flames and then they dropped their heads into the text, scanning mindlessly, listening to the fire snap and lick carnally at their world. They tried to remember what the oldest one had just said and couldn’t and then what.

I know it’s early, she said. But surely we can identify at least one thematic element.

The flames carried a truth of their own, a rogue life force born of circadian breath and sustained by thought, thrust outward to the realm of awareness, attacking each of their senses and spreading violence and destruction and misunderstanding. Regeneration. Someone cleared their throat and the flames grew larger and doubled in heat, smoke whirling mad cyclonic threats about their heads.

Violence, said the second one. Violence is a theme, I think. He had to shout to be heard over the growl and whine of the spreading fire.

Please explain.

Well, um, he said, trying not to focus on the dancing fire but the topic at hand, the discussion. Not just overtly, he said, With the brutal beating at the beginning of part one and the shooting there at the end of part two. But also the implicit violence. The interaction between characters. There’s violence in the language, the dialogue, even without being profane. Especially without being profane. The author has chosen to create a dialogue of what seems to be constant agitation between parties.

Hmm, yes. Interesting.

And darkness. Darkness also seems to be a prevailing theme, I think, though I’m not quite sure how yet.

I was thinking of that too, said the third one, flames lapping at her legs. Her face was wet with sweat, hair matted to her forehead in knotted clumps. There’s obviously something complicated going on here with the use of light and dark, she said, Illumination and shadow. It’s like a dichotomy, like the author is using light and darkness to set up some kind of dichotomy.

Between what. Give us an example.

And the entire room was burning now, flames affronting physical and metaphysical laws alike and consisting not of individual bodies of flames but of one churning mechanism roaring godlike and ferocious and the people of the room watched transfixed with the glittering vortex tattooed onto their dark pooling irises amid the sounds of crashing wood and stone and screaming steel.

Well, for instance, said the third one. The narrator’s not really explaining anything he sees on the highway other than what’s revealed in the Cadillac’s lights. It’s almost like nothing really exists on the Highway Six unless it’s bathed in light.

Okay, yes. I see. Hmm. Interesting, yes.

It’s about revelation. I think. And the highway itself is very intriguing, said the second one. The highway itself is a character. There’s something very strange and fabular going on here, I think. I hope we’ll encounter more as the story progresses.

Well the story is named after the highway, said the oldest one. So I imagine the narrator will get around to enlightening us before long.

The ceiling crashed down around them, sparks and flames shooting up into a black void, deep chaotic vibrato and a loud hiss of smoke and pressure being sucked upward into the hole.

I think it’s too early for theme, shouted the fourth one, the skin of his arms bubbling in the heat. His hair was on fire, his eyes glowing red and orange with swirling rings of white. But symbol, he shouted. There are symbols galore. The Cadillac is a symbol, I think. It’s a transporter, a protector. I mean, the only time we haven’t seen what’s happening are the times when our narrator is in the car, driving. We don’t get to know his thoughts, his doubts. This is when the world slows down enough for him to think, to assess his world and situation, and we’re not even there.

Excluded.

Yes, but if this is a coincidence or on purpose, we don’t know.

Everything in literature is on purpose.

This narrator, anger rules his world, said the fourth one, and then his body was swallowed in heat and glow, liquid flame of autonomy, his former body impossible to distinguish from the rest of the throbbing blaze.

We’re not even real, the oldest one said, and then nobody said anything, they all sat watching the blaze reach its howling culmination of size and depth and menace and they listened to its biblical crash and wail and they felt the heat abate as the walls fell away into black, total black surrounding them above and below and layers upon layers of dark nothing through to the very core of the universe and they all were able to breathe and all was so very silent as to hear one’s heart beating somewhere in the heaving cocoon of their chests, so very human and fragile.

Part two seemed to have a small meditation on police, or being a policeman, or the perception people have of policemen. Or something. This was the second one speaking again. She had her head in the text, a lone finger probing a page in repose, back and forth, back and forth, her eyes following the finger’s march through words and phrases and thoughts and messages both innocuous and incendiary. Trying to recapture a message or image burned forever into her mind with the power that only the written word possesses. Silence engulfed them. Playground of gods, landscape of the cosmos. Black on blackest. Infinite clarity.

What type of police officer is this narrator, the first one asked.

A complicated one, said the third one.

No, I mean a good cop or a bad cop.

He’s obviously a bad cop.

I think he’s a good cop, said the second one.

Maybe he’s a conflicted cop, said the Author.

You can’t do that, said the oldest one. It’s against the rules. Or something.

The interpreters interpret, said the Author. They do this because they cannot create. The creators just create. They do this because this is what they do.

Someone tell him we’re not discussing theory.

So you write for readers, then?

Who said that, said someone.

What are you trying to do, what are you trying to prove.

Who’s that speaking, who just spoke right then.

Why don’t you ask the creator, the Author said.

The silence

word-blur

She said that she had looked up to the sky in the dark wasteland to the shimmering lights of energies distant and ineffable and what she imagined was the very sum of all the things her mind could render. I spoke to her years later amid fragrant seaside discourse during an evening of food and wine and the amiable company of friends and intellectual neighbors and I asked her what had been the most cherished moment of her adult life and she tried to explain it to me vividly: that night long ago and her standing beneath the stars painted on blackness everlasting somewhere in the vast American desert, hands in her pockets and no sounds but those she conjured and felt in her toes through the vibration of the dusted earth. I asked her what was so seminal about the moment and she was silent for a long time staring off into some candle flame or inner reflection and then she broke from her reverie and regarded me with an expression of total indifference and said, I’ll always be incapable of explaining the significant moments in my life, however small and seemingly trivial they are to others, and that was one of those moments. Then she drained her glass of wine and leaned back against the wrought-iron chair and looked away from me to the dark cresting hills at the island’s elbow with the sound of night waves crashing upon the moon-paled beach behind her, dark eyes shadowed but glistening with tears. She refrained from looking at me or uttering any word in my direction for the rest of the evening, even when the oculoid moon crawled from one end of the sodden navy sky to the other and when the waves of the sea failed to rest upon the hour of their programmed repose and when our friends dispersed drunk and flaccid to their own nests and the dreams therein, and even when I walked her back to her room at the villa in our shared silence, my head oscillating from the flickering lights of town to the restless black water foaming at our feet. I wanted to tell her I understood but I knew that a woman enraptured by the sentiments of certain memories is an impenetrable emotive force. I stopped at her door and she passed through it without regard for me or my considerations or the steady rhythmic clock of the universe rolling its omniscient eyes at such petty human ruminations.

The next morning I awoke tremulous and sweating from some dream I couldn’t recall and there were sounds of rain and people scurrying about in the square. I stepped into some clean clothes and opened my door to see what was happening, the rain falling heavily like a translucent screen, boiling sore of the world opened up and electric gray throughout. There were three men carrying the woman out of her room supine and motionless with a white sheet draped over her while other women huddled about trying to keep the sheet dry. People bowed their heads in prayer and a lone dirge echoed throughout the square in the rain and I looked down to them transfixed as the men placed the woman in a van and drove her away, mud slinging from the tires like the bloody pigment of the earth, the deep wounds left by the tires quickly flooded again by the torrent. I closed the door and my room fell dark and cold and so I called the woman’s room and listened for hours to the empty line ring until the rain ceased its barrage in the square, and the people came out of their rooms at dusk with candles aloft and flickering in the gray mist, water dripping from the rooftops. I stood from my window and watched them and tried to remember what the woman looked like or even her name but I could remember nothing other than her long and bitter silence the night before. And standing there gazing down upon the darkening world and the people of the square hovering about somnolent and wraithlike I understood the woman’s last words with a clarity proportionate to the white moon hanging dry and sagacious behind thinning silvery wisps of rainclouds.

Somnambulist’s reckoning

Deep in the gut of the earth a man and woman moved together through the cold darkness, wandering without diagram or any semblance of light to guide them. They staggered panting through the endless tunnel of mud and rock scratched and badly bruised and with nothing for the eye to uphold nor nourish the want of the godlike human mind.

“Whatever you do,” the man said. “Never let go of this hand.”

They walked and walked and there was nothing in that dark narrow world but their invisible breaths and their movement and their delicate thoughts and the understanding that they had nothing but each other, colorless and blind and hungry and frightened. The world continued to revolve about them and the hardened planet shifted in deep turbulent scars high above and the smell of earth was like cordite in that enclosed cavernous place. There was silence and there was blackness and they trudged on continuous through the tunnel, their hearts like two small bellies of fire or signals of life in an alien world reduced to its rudiments.

The man was terrified and he often thought of stopping and holding the woman in his arms and surrendering to the giant void because he foresaw one of them dying in that dark place and the other alone and cold and hopeless. He imagined the two of them webbed together by their arms as the darkness unfolded its timeless maxim upon them and they would not speak but only sleep and dream of a consciousness with light and sight and the promise of tomorrow. The eyes make their own vision, he thought. For I am seeing things that I cannot possibly see. There are walls about me and a flat muddy ground and there are small beings with round gray eyes shrinking away from my probing hands. I can see the future in its rote black agony and I can see the errors of my past and their influence on my conscience like a nimbus of heavy gray fog hanging about my head. I can see deeply into the dark and smell my own fear and I can feel the woman’s hand though I want nothing more than to look into her eyes for I’ve long forgotten their color and shape.

They walked clutching tiredly at the hand of the other and feeling their breath in the dampened air and they knew their world was one of cold and lightless uncertainty and that somewhere ahead the tunnel would have to end and the sudden seepage of light would overwhelm and embolden them. Somewhere behind them they heard an echoed scream neither human nor living and they froze in the darkness, clinging to each other and shivering. After a while they moved on again and they could smell flowers growing in the tunnel and they could hear water somewhere about them, a steady rushing flow like the open vein of the very earth and each of them thought in private how they could be dreaming the whole thing but which one was dreaming neither knew nor cared.

The woman thought to speak and then refrained, for under what domain does the decree of language have in such a place? All we have is the tangible communication between us, the communion of flesh and heat, our bodies tied together by the noblest of bonds and axioms of trust. Dirt frozen still in the deep leathery ridges of our fingers. Nails and ashen skin and thin jutting hairs. This is our language, this is our life. These are our words. This link of flesh could fail us at any moment. She pictured the myriad of ways they would die, a gaping hole up ahead in the darkness swallowing them one after the other, their hands broken apart by the force of one body falling, stumbling down weightless and alone to that other unknown darkness of similar breath and sound. She imagined a creature looming up ahead in the darkness, human in proportion but lacking the probity which distinguishes humanity from other mundane life. A six-legged likeness of nightmarish wonder, viscous body mass and thin spine-like legs and throbbing cold heart and they would see it in that last flashing moment before it struck them totally blind, glimmering eyes of diamond light in the only thing they’d seen in so very long, the last light of the world known to them, and there would be a knowing in those eyes and also a familiar form of understanding for the creature had lived in the darkness all of her life and was accustomed to surviving on the flawed wanderings of others. The woman imagined the creature devouring them and slinking silently onward through the tunnel of mud with her former body in that creature’s jellied womb until the next stumbling and condemned soul strolled blind and unknowing into the nest of a frightened somnambulist’s reckoning.

“Wait,” the woman said. “I need to catch my breath.”

“Are you all right.”

“Yes. I just need to stop. For a moment, is all.”

The man was quiet. He thought he could see the woman bent at the waist, her head down and blonde hair dirty and matted and clinging to her temples. He saw her there in the dark, a shadow of light, body heaving with warm breath, angel of soft white incandescence drawn in the framework of a beating human heart. There is a light within her. There is a light within us both.

“I can see you,” he said, and smiled. “You’re magnificent.”

Marquee

In the town of young men and women voices could be heard shrilling in the quiet pocket of night. Streetlight glow painted the walls of the closed brick shops on main street and the young men and women walked drunkenly by them clutching at one another and laughing at nothing but the levity of their shadows and the understanding that this world belonged to them under some unpenned contract with the figurative constraint of time looming somewhere indiscernible. The young men and women came from privilege and knew that privilege would be awaiting their immersion back into the real world and clouds danced swiftly in front of the oblong moon so close and yet so distant from their lives.

They lived in shared light and they spoke of the dreams they often had with nothing but youth in their guises and the young women drank and danced and the young men drank and watched the women and all of them were living deviations of those people they otherwise always were. They fell in love with the poisoned facades of themselves and squandered their summer days and nights and some of them discovered the nature of their childish rue while others glimpsed clear and firm into their future and saw a formal departure from the very youth that bound them. There were many days of heat and stupor but there were even more nights of blithe abandon and the recklessness we tend to tolerate until a particular age or experience of life’s revolving strain has been reached.

The sun or the scent of a friend awoke them in the afternoon and carried them through another boundless and eventful evening worthy of their potential narratives in the far-off and same but somehow much different life. They knew they were constructing the future diagram of their fondest and most bereaved reminiscences like the perfumed skin of all their favorite summer romances, like the collective delight of all their twilight laughter. The young men and women operated beneath the protective shroud of the town’s own undemanding regulations and flourished in the narcotic bliss of being young and knowing it and heeding to no authority save for that which lives among the tanned hide and billowing hair and rampant nubility of its hormonal supplicants.

I knew this town and I lived there as witness to its mystical lessons. I grew disenchanted by its charm for I was no longer young nor free of responsibility and perhaps I never had been. The tension swelled within me so that soon I grew to imagine a world where the town of young men and women no longer subsisted but burned steadily somewhere between the iron gates of perdition and the subtle snickering memory of those who had escaped the wrath unforeseen. I imagined the young men and women running naked and hairless through the smoldering streets beneath a bloodred autumn sky with their skin bubbling from the heat and their eyeballs liquefied and melted to their cheeks.

There was caution in my rumination but I believed the agonized fate of the young men and women to be taut and certain. Each night I dreamt the same horrific dream where the town collapsed in fiery ruin and the sky turned black above those callow heads and all the smiles and all the town clocks were washed away in sweeping conflagration while sparing the select few dramatis personae compliant enough to withstand the terror and each morning I awoke from that same dream smiling. I would walk to work and see the young men and women in the town still awake and poisoned from the night previous and I knew that God would play the role of god in the film version and I would direct the cataclysmic beauty of the tale to the visual medium and watch orgasmically while the young men and women of other towns across the cosmos sat mesmerized into silence by the film’s searing truth. And I knew my name would appear on the marquee just above the title of the film in thick red letters and that the earth would ultimately swallow that black hole of loathing where neither future nor past was ever paid any deference.

a memory in algorithm

Everywhere I look is where I see him.

Downtown city streets awash in morning glow, throng of heads bobbing with the tide of rote obligation. Lives wholly separate but flowing together, a predesigned uniform cause. Thousands of personal histories carrying their preternatural weight, their stories. These are intersecting bloodlines, divergent strains of DNA coiled in distinct splendor, yet each of them anonymous and irrelevant when condensed by the crowd. Personal struggles no longer matter. Children and time and detailed subplots are trampled and forgotten underfoot. Fifteen paces up ahead a man turns his head in profile and the cold sunlight splashes his face, my father’s face, a snapshot frozen in memory long after the man regains his centeredness, facing forward.

I quicken my pace, my eyes stuck on the back of his head. The image remains branded into my mind and my father resurfaces, not just his image or his face the way I remember it but his chided spirit, what it meant to be my father in this world, his burden of strain and deep disconnected habit. In a span of seconds I’m thinking of how my father’s legacy is imbedded in my body and mind. I’m thinking of my commitment to him, of our brief interaction on this planet and its stranglehold on everything I touch. It was just a stranger in a blinking moment of illusion but it was also my father, a careful revelation into my origins, a walking memory of a man that has become so much more than flesh and blood.

The crowd seems to thicken, to intensify in density, a calculated frustration of my pursuit. I move faster, sweating now in the morning frost, hoping he’ll turn again. Next time I’ll get a better look, I’ll prove to myself that it is just a stranger and not my dead father. It couldn’t possibly be him, the man I hated and loved, the man upon whom my own genetic habits and tendencies were patterned. I walk faster still, his steps matching mine. He moves at a rate of imminent escape.

An old man stands against a giant gray building and plays songs on his battered guitar, the case open and virginal in front of him. His face is scrunched into the drawl of a song, a slow expression compressed by years of struggle. He looks nothing like my father. His song is beautiful, a steady weaving lament of molten silk, and in this brief encounter I’m saddened by the way it gets lost in the bawl of activity. The streets throb with the morning crowd, an aura written in plumes of people’s steam, the vehicle exhaust. Paper coffee cups and flickering traffic lights and cellular phones. The history of the city is written in the rebirth of the morning, in the success and toil and steel and glass and concrete of yesterday, the forgetfulness, the failed dreams scrawled in stained sidewalk residue. I look up and the likeness of my father has gone, merged into the confluence of everyone and everything.