Characterization

fullsizeoutput_ce3.jpeg

A: Characterize yourself in two words.

B: Hm. No.

A: Perhaps in three words.

B: I think not.

A: One word?

B: No.

*

I wake at dawn, unable to sleep for the discomfort, the mental fatigue, the sunshine bright at the windows—too bright. Anxiety digs into me, burrows, multiplies, dies again. What’s the point? I wonder. The wife and daughter sleep. I do not speak but move slowly, cautiously, downstairs to the kitchen for water, then onto the couch to read the newspaper. My scent lingers about me like bad perfume. What have I become? I think. Again, I do not speak. The world inside me quakes. I am alone.

*

A: Do you seek to feel normal?

B: No.

A: Do you seek attention?

B: No.

A: What do you seek?

B: Freedom.

*

I write in the notebook by the light of a candle, the flame quaking above and beyond the page. The phone alerts and disturbs my mental trajectory. I have grown to hate the phone, my forced attachment to it, the dull, conformed wretch I become each time I reach to gaze at its screen. The screen glass reflects an external world rather than the authentic, co-opted, internal world.

*

A: Are you prepared to submit?

B: No.

A: Are you prepared to be forced to submit?

B: …

A: Are you prepared to be forced to submit?

B: …

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.

Fighting in the halls

I returned to my room to find my belongings disrespectfully strewn about. The nurses had dumped the contents of my dresser onto the bed, drawers included. Nothing of my wardrobe remained neatly hung. Books lay scattered like debris in the room, some of the titles lying open and visibly damaged—one page in particular tattooed with a dirty shoe print.

I snatched my suitcase from the closet floor and began packing it, first with books but then removing some titles to pack clothing and other necessities. The two male nurses entered the room as I worked. The quiet one remained quiet.

The other one said: The director wants to see you.

At first I didn’t do anything. Then I nodded and smiled, stepping slowly toward them. I raised the arm without the suitcase in a gesture of acquiescence and surprised them with a sudden charge forth in which I knocked them both out of my way and ran out the door to the hallway, sliding on the tile with my suitcase flailing in my left hand. I heard one of the nurses fall on the tile and then I heard them both scrambling after me. I ran past patient rooms with doors closed and some open to the sound of televisions playing too loud, I ran past faces turning too late to behold the humanoid blur speeding through the hall. What were the blur’s intentions? I turned right at the hall’s end toward the cafeteria but slid into a small depression made for an alarmed exit door. I waited for the nurses to run past me into the cafeteria and perhaps out the cafeteria doors onto the back lawn, but they did not. Perhaps they saw me slide into the depression or perhaps it was a poor decision, premature to try and trick them. The quiet one was there reaching for me with thick fingers, his forearms fertile with black hair. I punched him almost square in the chin with my right. It surprised him and he staggered back into the arms of the talkative one, who regarded me with eyes wide and full of violent delight.

The talkative one said: You’re fuckin dead.

I stepped forward and swung the suitcase up in a wide arc toward his face but it was too heavy and slow and he dodged it easily. The quiet one dove downward and got hold of my legs. I dropped the suitcase and with my hands clasped together brought them down forcefully on the back of the quiet one’s neck. I was able to bash him that way three times before the talkative one tackled me down. The quiet one had fallen asleep from the blows to his neck and only the talkative one remained. He was big and strong. He tried to wrestle me to obtain a dominant position but I slipped from his grasp and quickly got back to my feet. He stood and we squared each other up. He seemed amused but serious. He was wiry and had the composure of someone who’d fought many fights. A small crowd began to gather around us, murmuring like cats. Time seemed to slow so that passing seconds were audible disturbances. I had only been in two or three fistfights in my life, all of them during childhood. But my anger outweighed any trepidation or fear—my lack of fighting experience had been kidnapped by adrenaline. He swung for my face with his left and I dodged it. Then he swung with his right and he was too quick. He got me on the nose and my eyes welled with water. I tried to kick him and he dodged it easily. He laughed and re-centered himself with his hands by his cheeks, moving laterally like a boxer in a ring. I tried kicking him again just to keep some distance while my eyes stopped watering. He lowered his head and charged, tackling me into the wall with a thud and prompting an audible gasp from the observers, now numbering at least a dozen. We fell to the ground with him on top. He pushed himself up and raised his right hand toward his ear and I looked into his eyes to regard pure vacant fury. Then he blasted his hand into my face just under the right eye. My head bounced off the tile to another audible gasp from the onlookers. The nurse raised his fist up near his ear again.

GIBSON! screamed a voice from afar.

The nurse looked from me up to the source of the voice, his eyes wide as clarity and reason began to resurface. He dropped his hand, his chest heaving with air.

Director Hitchens’s shoes clicked on the tile as he ran toward us. A dull pain like a bruise began to spread at the back of my head. My lungs yearned for air but it was too difficult with the nurse atop me. I pushed him off, aware of swelling and extra blood below my eye, hot like lava beneath the skin.

Hitchens slid on the tile as he came to a stop. He seemed tired and haggard. He’d had a long day. He looked at me and then the quiet nurse coming to on the tile next to me and said: What the hell is going on here?

Up the mountain

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

The snow was more than a meter deep without drifts. Each step was a victory earned by the breath in our lungs, every muscle in the body straining up the spongy incline rutted with tree and rock. Quickly we discovered we would not make it unless we helped each other, provided leverage where man substituted tree, an outstretched glove covered in snow in a world fiercely against us, its gravity, calm, and vastness too much to meet alone. Lungs aflame and breaths before us like clouds where above there were none—a sky impossibly blue and vast just as our steps from the Jeep grew impossibly numerous. I looked back to our path up the mountain, a manmade seam in an otherwise undisturbed natural kingdom. Twice we stopped to rest. The exertion elevated my body temperature but my feet and hands felt frozen. Brandon stopped moving again but it wasn’t to rest. With the breath pumping in and out of him, he said: This is it.

He looked down the mountain and up to the sky then pointed to the tree nearest me. Should be right there, he said, then knelt and began digging with his hands, shuffling the snow away from the base of the tree. A bird cawed. I knelt to help Brandon, keeping my eyes trained on him and the woods around us. The digging brought him to rustling plastic and he carefully extracted a bulky black trash bag, brushing the snow from it. It’s in here, he said, handing it to me. I could feel the contours of the boot box inside, heavy with paper. Hope it’s not damaged, I said.

A doe startled me to my left. She watched us with interest, two tall figures limited by two legs, shrunken by their voyage up the mountain. She’d studied our journey the entire way, from our vehicles on the bluff to a point not halfway up the mountain, where the doe, amused and aware of our admiration for her combination of elegance and power, took leave swift and light to a place beyond the trees.

Alley on F

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I decided to stop wanting cigarettes and bought a pack, smacking it in my hand like a ball into a mitt while vehicles swam past on F Street. Still the same plastic string to break, then the foil, still that unmolested, fecund first smell of a new pack. The sun high in its nest but past zenith. I lit the smoke with a match and inhaled, flooded with sensation, injected with memories as if from a dream. As if I’d never smoked but somehow in not smoking I’d smoked ten thousand times. An inhalation toward perfection. I took one pull for my lungs, bronchi stretched taut and sated, and one for the head, spinning slightly but controlled in mellow euphoria. The heart raced, vision was clear, sharpened. I inhaled the air around me.

I didn’t know what else to do so I ate in a diner. The food was excellent but it made me sleepy. I ordered a coffee to go and called my wife. She was upset with work. I listened, reassuring her, and promised to call before bed. The waitress brought my coffee in a paper cup and took my payment. I left the diner to smoke in the alley next to it. The air smelled of burning wood from a stove. My wife was passionate about her work in music and perhaps sometimes too passionate but long ago I conceded that I’d rather have a passionate woman than the alternative. A thin trail of single-file footsteps cut through the icy drifts down the center of the alley toward Tenderfoot on the other side, drenched in sunlight. Even with the snow cover I could smell garbage, spoiled food, piss. Something moved to the right of me and I turned to see a woman seated on steps at the back door of a business, smoking. I smiled at her and she looked at me as if I wasn’t supposed to be there. Her eyes were brown and she wore a red knit cap. Her fingernails were trimmed and painted black. I drank my coffee. Like the town itself the buildings in the alley were old and I wondered how many drifters stood in my exact spot, how many starved cowboys, how many Kerouac copycats and rafting junkies stood here like me staring at the old masonry and pondering their next move. Cat prints laced the alley snow like scars. I inhaled again and the smoke and cold air were ice in my lungs. A tall figure entered the alley from the sunlight at the far end. It was bright but the daylight wouldn’t last. Nothing lasts, nothing endures. I heard steps on the snow close behind me but it was too late. He’d come from the sidewalk near the diner’s entrance and hit me with pepper spray. Daggers ripped my eyes apart. He kicked me into a drift and I sank deep into it, my back crashing into something like steel. I cursed and could open my eyes just enough to make out two of them. Hornets swarmed and stung my face, my ears. The woman in the red hat was gone. Where’s the case? one man said. I’d never heard the voice before. He must have been talking to me because when I didn’t answer I got punched in the face, but my attacker lost balance and fell into the snow next to me. I pounced on him, grabbing him by the neck and squeezing, his stubble digging into my palms. I reared back to hit him, my face ablaze, my eyes swollen closed and filled with crushed glass, sinking deeper into the snow with each movement. Then I was pulled from behind and tossed away like a child. I landed hard on my shoulder and attempted to see but couldn’t. The snow on my face and up my nose was heaven and I stood to fight but the big man pulled the other up with powdery dust flying off him. They had dark ski masks, both of them. The man I’d fought pulled a revolver up from beneath his snowy overcoat and said, Where’s the fuckin case?

What case? I said, but the words were like saliva dripping out. My lips were burning, numb.

Someone must have walked by on the sidewalk because they both looked in that direction. Their eyes were dark rimmed with white beneath the masks.

I said: I don’t know what the fuck you’re—

Shut up! shouted the man with the gun, thrusting it toward me. His eyes were mean. The big man put his big arm out to try and quell the other man’s rage, or intent, or boldness.

Then the man with the gun said: Let’s go.

They took off running down the alley toward Tenderfoot, stumbling and breathing heavily in the deep snow. I put my face in the drift and just lay there. That asshole got me good, right on the nose. I was close enough to smell his coat. It was him—he’d been in my room at the motel the day before.

I felt a soft hand on my back. Someone said: Are you all right?

Someone else: Is he dead?

Deconstructionist pt. V

 

 

 

IMG_1460.JPG

The wall opposite the hearth pulses light, my head and shoulders cut sharply in shadow. I am a man, former architect. Everything else is mystery. Warmth from the fire marches over me, into me. I stare into it, captivated by its light and color, its disorder. In the next room a harsh rectangle of silver light is etched into the wall. I rise and walk toward it. The glass is cold and fogged. Beyond are white-capped trees and snowy rooftops, glinting particles of light. Bookcases dominate the wall opposite the window and I stand before them as if naked before strangers. They know me but I don’t know them. I don’t even know myself; the books are supposed to remind me. I take down a large, handsome volume: Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect. I open to a random page by the light of the window and begin reading.

Page 161: Throughout his life as an architect, Wright attempted to relate the spaces and forms of his designs to the structures and materials with which they were made. Wright believed this was essential if his buildings were to be edifying for those who inhabited them: aedificare, the ancient word for building, means both to edify (instruct) and to build (construct) with an ethical intention. Wright engaged in a constant search for a comprehensive order that would encompass both composition and construction, an order similar to the fusion of structure, material, form, and space that he found in his studies of nature.

I remember nothing of my career, my creations. Reality is dreamlike. Events and situations unfold then wash away entirely. A warm breath on the window fogs it. Nearby a radio plays a man’s voice. Twenty-eight degrees, he says. The book is filled with large photos and I admire them. I am often angered by the memory loss, saddened, fatigued, but fortified by the notion that I might uncover the hidden jewel to unlock everything. The answers are buried inside me, inside the books.

Page 87 – As we have seen, Wright’s public buildings invariably focus on introspective, top-lit central spaces, protected by solid walls that deny eye-level views outwards. Introverted at ground level with their closed exteriors and open centers, these buildings are vertically oriented, opening up and out, directed towards the sky.

Trankworth—I remember the name but nothing else. I built it. Perhaps it was a success. It does not matter. It’s a ghost that haunts. Surrounded by ghosts, I am also a ghost. I stopped writing when days passed after adding nothing to the pages. Nothing to recall into print. I often smile but not in moments like this, by the window with a book, nor at the hearth, watching the flames. The souls of the ancients remain alive in the flames, and to flames I shall also go.

Page 63: With his statements, and more importantly with his own design works of this period (c.1908), Wright sought to reclaim ancient architecture for those who would examine it analytically, searching for the underlying principles that shaped it; to accomplish this he could not allow ancient architecture to be claimed and defined by those merely seeking models for copying.

A man’s legacy is his contribution to history. His history is what he leaves behind. The world of light beyond the window seems an abstraction. So much history. I once moved through that world a claimant. The weight of the world belongs to each inhabitant. I don’t remember why I built but there was a purpose. The man on the radio says, probably a good day to stay inside

Page 225: Approaching [Taliesin West] through the desert, we first see it silhouetted against the low mountains immediately behind, its materials and colors drawn from the material site itself, and its broken, serrated profile intended to merge with the desert.

The window is cold, my legs are tired from standing. I return the book to the shelf. My arms sigh in relief. I revisit the hearth and poke the logs. I know how to do this. I watch the fire and merge with it. Silence and stillness weave a path and time escapes me.

The wall opposite the hearth pulses with light, my head and shoulders cut sharply in shadow. I am a man, former architect. All else is mystery. Warmth from the fire marches over me, into me. I stare into it, captivated by its light and color, its disorder. I am tired. In the next room a harsh rectangle of gray light is etched into the wall. I rise and walk toward it. The glass is cold and fogged. Beyond are white-capped trees and snowy rooftops, glinting particles of light. Bookcases dominate the wall opposite the window and I stand before them as if naked before strangers. They know me but I don’t know them. I don’t even know myself; the books are supposed to remind me. I take down a small, neat volume: The Poetics of Space, by Gaston Bachelard. I open to a random page by the light of the window and begin reading.

Page 43: There is nothing like silence to suggest a sense of unlimited space. Sounds lend color to space, and confer a sort of sound body upon it. But absence of sound leaves it quite pure and, in the silence, we are seized with the sensation of something vast and deep and boundless.

I know silence. I know it in spaces and in myself. I am a house, my life is a home that has been rearranged beyond comprehension. A light burns eternal in its attic-a sole occupant there hard at work. Papers and debris scatter the floor endlessly. The worker is confused and loses time. He loses focus. Again he is lost.

Page 15: The house we were born in is more than an embodiment of home, it is also an embodiment of dreams. Each one of its nooks and corners was a resting place for daydreaming. And often the resting place particularized the daydream. Our habits of a particular daydream were acquired there. The house, the bedroom, the garret in which we were alone, furnished the framework for an interminable dream, one that poetry alone could succeed in achieving completely.

Beyond the window men and women move about the world with their memories intact, accessible. Perhaps they take their memories for granted. I don’t remember if I did or not. Perhaps Bachelard can tell me, or one of the others. Shapes and angles, those were my life. Principles, ideals, realism—and their invaluable synthesis. Now what is my life? The enduring change of the seasons, the endearing breath of night. Absence populates most everything. Biology is my only schedule.

Page 41: Winter is by far the oldest of the seasons. Not only does it confer age upon our memories, taking us back to a remote past but, on snowy days, the house too is old. It is as though living in the past of centuries gone by.

The window is cold and my back is tired. I return the book to the shelf, my elbows sigh in relief. I revisit the hearth and carefully add a log. I know how to do this. I watch the fire and merge with it. Time escapes me.

 

Works
Bachelard, Gaston, The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press, Boston, 1958.
McCarter, Robert, Frank Lloyd Wright, Phaidon Press Limited, London, 1997.

 

 

 

Institutionalized

Processed with VSCO with a4 preset

…I’ve stayed in all types—fancy hospitals, but mostly non-descript hospitals of ill repute. Most are run by condescending men and women dressed as business executives, with methods to match. Hospitals are not all the same, and I’ve slept in them all. There are big, airy, clean places, and there are the opposite. Places with cigarette butts swept into corners, rats and roaches under the bed, human shit on the walls. Some hospitals allow pets. Those places are privately owned. Many places you’ll see the patients and nursing personnel all drugged beyond words, and if you watch closely you’ll see facility staff jaunting tiled corridors they’ve just swept to perfection only to sneak about rooms they shouldn’t. I knew nurses who’d arrive at work some days gentle and tender and other days gritting teeth and grabbing patients roughly, with meanness. I’ve seen all kinds of meanness. One place I lived brought in a clown with a cartful of iced cream every summer. The patients lobbied to allow the clown and his cart year-round, a request the director denied outright. He wouldn’t hear of it. The patients orchestrated clandestine meetings at night by candlelight and organized in solidarity against the director. Patients who otherwise bickered and hated one another united to subvert the director, to sabotage his hospital. Then suddenly the director was transferred to another hospital as often happens and a new director was installed in his place. As a sign of good will from the director to his new patients, the clown was immediately allowed to peddle from his cart even in winter. Gone was the focus of the patients’ anger and frustration. The energy that unified them was replaced again by boredom, pettiness, lassitude, and the banality of living each day of one’s life in a hospital, where the pulse of life is one of military or prison-like rigidity. Doors open and close and people move through them. Voices scatter and retreat. You only know what day of the week it is by the smell emanating from the kitchen. I’ve slept in government-owned hospitals where people buy and sell drugs in plain sight. Staff, patients, visitors. The patients sometimes disappear from those places. They exit unseen in the night or they don’t wake in the morning because someone put them to sleep. I don’t want to be one of them and that’s why I write this, that’s why you’re reading these words. My story is like all others: it requires a voice to tell it, to leverage my life in the eternal war against the abyss. How do I mean? One hundred years is about as long as a person can expect to live under the most favorable circumstances. Earth is about four-point-five billion years old, and that’s just a fraction of what astronomers estimate to be the age of the universe. O, the brevity of our existence! The clock on the wall and the device in the pocket are constant reminders of how soon you’ll depart this place and how insignificant you are. Each day the sun rises and you’re older than you were—another giant step toward the vast expanse. In a house broken by violence I was a slave to time, conscious of its brutal inflexibility, its moments of intolerable duration. It’s the same in all the hospitals I’ve lived since. Only reading and writing eliminate time from my awareness. Only through reading and writing I can learn about the world and my purpose. Why bother to live without purpose? Knowledge and creation buoyed me up above the depths. I had to understand why I was the way I was but more importantly, I had to create something to speak for me following my departure.