At war with the blind

Turns out the election of 2016 was a declaration of war. America is at war with itself and it’s not clear who is winning. We Americans didn’t recognize it for war at the time, but it’s clear now and clearer every day—with each childish act, each transgression by the populist president and the blind allegiance to him by those who turn the cheek to his lies, indecency, and hypocrisy. They’d rather not see the truth. It doesn’t conform to the reality they’ve invented.

Instead, they make excuses. They claim that journalism is their enemy; and in a way, they are right. Journalism is a purveyor of news—news is the running narrative of the current state of the world. Most news organizations rely on facts and truth to inform the public, to check authority and keep it from running wild with abandon. But these people are not concerned with facts and truth. Perhaps they never were.

They converse in small circles of their own, unable to communicate beyond their self-imposed borders. Their ideas are small; their speech hateful. To them, the mind is not a tool or weapon, but a liability. Their weapons of warfare: guns and faith in a god that would not recognize their warped idea of that god’s intended purpose or morality. Somewhere along the way, they decided their god had a white face and carried an assault rifle.

The religious right got the president they think is a crusader for their religion. But he’s not—he’s lying about being a practicing Christian just as he lies about everything else. The Christians think they have god on their side. I am a reformed Christian, so I know their sad story well. It’s a story in which they have owned the last two thousand years. Yet history is not on their side.

God and guns are their hallmarks, despite their lord and savior’s abhorrence to violence. If their Jesus were alive today they would not recognize him. They would ridicule him, persecute him, expel him, torture him, imprison him, murder him. Those on the Christian Right have deluded themselves. They look out at the world through veiled eyes and do everything possible to avoid seeing what’s really, truly there. They have the vision of a bat—their eyes do not work, and noise guides their focus. But whereas bats were cursed by nature with lack of eyesight, the blindness of the Christian Right is self-imposed.

The two sides prepare for battle in opposite ways. I prepare by improving my eyesight—by reading the sages, by keeping myself informed through reliable, proven news sources (not commentary). Most importantly, I prepare by thinking. As a journalist, I feel the declaration of war more intimately or personally than most. This is a war on truth and decency. The president and his blind followers bring their guns, their anger, their certainty that they are right to the battlefield. Where I come from, only people who couldn’t fight carried guns.

I bring the lessons of history and the sages who have lived through such battles and emerged victorious. Wisdom and open mindedness will always prevail against lies, intolerance, false patriotism, hypocrisy, violence, and indecency. I study the lessons of the past and sharpen my sword by lamplight every night. I urge you to do the same, and above all to participate in the civic discussion by spreading the truth you see all around you.

—Your brother and rebel for truth.

The silence

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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.

Testimony

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I parked the van in the alley behind the building and went in the back door. The bar smelled like hickory and smoke, rich autumn sunlight flooding the place. There was no one there, or at least that’s what I thought. I walked around the bar and poured myself a glass of orange juice and stood there drinking in the morning silence, languid dust particles shoaling in the sunbeams.

“Where’s the stuff?” I heard someone say. I looked toward the end of the room on the right and saw Sal leaning forward on the bar, smiling, his bald head gleaming and slick and tracked by veins.

“The place looks good, Sally,” I said, and drained the juice. “You ought to lock it.”

Sal came back behind the bar and we shook hands and hugged. We stood there for a while holding each other at the elbow, two old friends frozen in the aging light of morning and studying one another’s age spots, the wrinkles and other flaws fashioned by gravity and time. He was much older and he didn’t look well. I tried to put his appearance into context, weigh it against my memories of him as a young man, flamboyant and indestructible. To stare into his eyes long bereft of their luster and see the irrefutable residue of his strain, the effects of life’s bitter charm, his youthful gloss wiped clear away and replaced with irony, it made me wonder how bad I looked.

“How long you been here?”

“You’re the first person I come to see, Sally.”

“Followed?”

“They’re listening now, I guarantee.”

Sal grunted and picked up the bar phone and dialed a number. He muttered a few words into the receiver and hung up and said, “Let’s go.”

We walked out to the alley awash in fluid morning hues and I swung open the back doors of the van. Sal looked up and down the alley and shuffled his feet and neither of us said anything. I climbed in and pulled the two suitcases toward the rear of the van and got back out, stealing a cigarette from my jacket pocket and lighting it and then snapping open the suitcases one after the other, the objects inside coming to life as if illumined from within, deep reds and browns and stark blacks of exotic hides with the names of men and women stamped in glittering gold and silver upon the handcrafted spines. Sal inhaled audibly and climbed in the van, leaning over the suitcases.

“I can’t tell you how beautiful,” he said, one hand reaching and hovering over the titles. “They’ll torture us, they catch us with these.”

“First editions,” I said, and sucked on the cigarette. “Each and every one.”

“Reminds me of the old days,” he said, and climbed back out of the van, his eyes wet and large and rendered frozen upon the books. Another van peeled into the alley and I had a brief moment of panic, my hand at my hip and the steel waiting there. Sal waved for the driver to park behind my van and a young man of maybe twenty got out and walked quickly towards me, his hand stretched out before him.

“Mr. Guy, holy shit, it’s an honor,” he said, and I took his hand. “How long it’s been, I’ve followed your career.”

“What’s your name?”

“His name is Billy,” Sal said. “And he’d better get on.”

“Good to meet you Billy,” I said, and loaded the suitcases into his van. “But Sal’s right.”

“Yeah,” Billy said. “I’d better get on.” He reached out for my hand again and I shook it, feeling the coarse strength and energy in his skin, thinking back to when I was his age and wondering where the virtue had died between the people of my generation and our own shadow-leaders. None of us are safe, I thought. Not then, certainly not now.

I watched Billy drive out of the alley into the radiant unknown and I could have worried about our precious delivery but I pacified myself in knowing that some day in the future there will be large hallowed libraries again and there will be books lining their shelves protected from the destructive clutch of tyranny and those books will forever provide testimony to man’s most sacred ideas so long as courageous young minds like Billy and his peers continued our honored struggle of liberating them to the grueling end.

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The young man dismounted his horse in the mad clatter of battle and forgot about his life, the unwritten codes and reverence of the land and deep honored traditions. He forgot about his young wife and the lump in her belly and he moved swiftly through the fog of rifle smoke trailed by his own long braids and the mad shrieks of wounded men. He approached the white man with red hair lying supine and staring at him from the mud. There were men upon wild horses weaving incoherently through the smoke with their guns or war clubs raised and there were fleeting visions of other men riding boldly and bareback but long ago killed on the battlefield and a small white sun directly overhead trembled each time the white men in blue coats fired their wagon-gun.

The young man stepped over the men strewn across the sodden prairie field and unsheathed his bowie and crouched down next to the white man. He took a handful of the man’s red hair and looked into his eyes. A bullet whistled over the young man’s head and another screamed by his left ear and he sliced the white man’s forehead from temple to temple and said to him quietly in Lakota, “The wind does not cry for you.”

Then he stood and tore the scalp from the white man’s skull and held it up to the sky and screamed while the white man in his final moments of life watched his own blood drip down the young man’s arm, his torso, lean and brown and heaving muscle in the gray light.

That night the young man sat alone in his tipi and thought about the mystery of battle, the subtle violent leanings of men and the power to forget one’s self amid the jolts of heightened awareness. Outside, the red fire glowed bestial and the hypnotic throb of victory drums brought to life the dancing ghosts of many dead men both white and red and the young man agreed with the ageless wisdom of his ancestors that warfare was indeed more spiritual than physical, that courage was an extension of the self but that acting upon that courage according to honor and principle was integrally selfless.

The young man reclined onto his blankets and listened to the chanting of his people and breathed deeply to remove the walls of his mind. He remembered what he had said to the white man with red hair and he reminded himself that the wind cried for no man, especially not the man who honored and defended it with his own life.

We communicate

He had to remind himself to breathe.

Sitting there in the truck, liquid daylight leaking into the city, he couldn’t breathe unless he thought about it. Counting backwards from thirty. He reached forward to the radio and turned the station. He turned again, and then again, trying to find a balance, something to soothe him.

“Hey asshole. Stop with the radio.”

“I’m a little on edge, is all.”

“Yeah, me too. Before I break it.”

“All right, jesus.” He reached forward and turned the radio off. “That better?”

The driver didn’t say anything. He leaned his head back on the headrest and closed his eyes.

The guy in the passenger seat looked out the window. He didn’t care to watch the dark monotony of night slip away to another day’s luminous truth. He didn’t notice the ravens swirling stark in the rectangle of sky above the alley. He could have rolled down his window and focused his attention on the sound of morning, the crisp regeneration and cool yawning concrete. That might have calmed him. He picked up his Walther instead, slipped out the magazine and then clicked it back in. Out and in. Down and up. Click, click. Click, click. The smell of the city never changes overnight and for some men the sound and feel of a loaded gun is worth a thousand dawns.

“You know what I was thinking?” the driver said.

“You were thinking.”

“We’re isolating ourselves.”

The guy in the passenger seat stopped playing with the Walther.

“I mean, not like, you and me. I mean all of us. The world. Americans.”

“How’s that?” Click, click.

“The technologically advanced.”

“Please elaborate.”

“There is movement toward isolation in the wake of technological advancement. This happens on a personal level, but also culturally. People shrinking from each other. Less face-to-face contact. The more technologically advanced a culture becomes, the more its parameters of communication shift. The modes change shape with each new wave of progress. Think about it.”

“The Internet.”

“Think about the language. Dialects. Think about means of expression. The invention of words and terms.”

“You’re thinking about the Internet. People shop for anything from home. They don’t need to go out, spend hours in the bookstore or trying on a pair of pants.” Click, click. “They don’t have to go to the bar or to church to find a date, to sample the talent.”

“Notice how almost everyone has a mobile phone now,” the driver said, lifting his up and looking at it. “We use these phones to communicate in a myriad of ways.”

“Less standing in line. The Internet has made standing in line an endangered species.”

“Text and e-mail. Voice. Video, photo. Imagine if we could see the streams of communication going on all around us. Even right now, at this hour. Imagine all the invisible voices and coded language, all the hidden data. Slender rhythm of radio and television waves. Digital binary information, little ones and zeros dictating the pulse and flow of all the world’s knowledge.”

“The prayers.” Click, click. “Imagine if we could see all the prayers.”

“I wonder what it would look like, if each mode of communication was a different color.”

They looked through the windows to the alley set in cool morning shadow, the chinked and stained concrete, old brick facades of buildings left to derelicts and huddled runaways. Dumpsters ahead and behind them filled with waste matter. The driver looked up through the windshield to the sky, a snatch of cloudless pale blue emerging stridently to claim another awed human rumination.

“The change is so gradual that we can hardly scrutinize it,” the driver said. “I mean, we go from a megabyte of technology to a gigabyte. We go from cordless phones to cellular phones.”

“From Playstation 2 to Playstation 3.”

“We don’t graduate straight to high-def television from shortwave radio.”

“Self-deification takes patience.” Click, click.

“Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the transformation is dense and tangible enough to observe and study, maybe even to manipulate. Maybe this is what the guys in lab coats and power suits are thinking of next. Clustered in places called Washington. New York. Los Angeles. Cairo.”

“Las Vegas.”

“Sitting around a table, men wearing gleaming white ghoutras and women dressed in paramilitary fatigues, guerrilla-clad luminaries with mysterious backgrounds and red smiling faces.”

“Calculating the science of communication in order to control it.”

The guy in the passenger seat clicked the magazine free of the gun and clicked it back into place and he looked down to it black and reassuring in his hands and he imagined how he would react if the people in the bank mutinied or if the cops came in with their guns aloft and he tried to imagine pointing the Walther at one of them and pulling the trigger and he told himself he could do it if he had to but he wasn’t convinced. He pictured his wife of twenty-four and in his mind he saw their son with his mother’s curly blond hair and his father’s stone gray eyes and he tried to imagine how his family would survive if the action this morning went south.

“Do they even have record stores anymore?” he said. “Are there such establishments as record stores, and are they operational? Quite frankly I haven’t seen one in at least a year.”

“People on the subway. Most of them plugged into a music player. The others with their heads buried in a shiny magazine. Maybe there are books. I think people still read books.”

“Nobody burns books anymore.” Click, click.

“Nobody talks about how the ball team is doing. Nobody asks about the wife and kids.”

“The discussion board is the new subway.”

“People assume the wife and kids are fine. The wife and kids are healthy and plentifully drugged.”

“People assume.” Click, click. “People shouldn’t assume.”

The driver reached forward and flipped the radio back on. He changed the station to a news program and the two of them sat listening to the hurried headlines until the sweeping brand of day lit its distinct mark upon the world and the cellular phone buzzed in the driver’s pocket.

“We’re on,” he said, and started the truck.

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.

Scars

I watched her fingers trace the angles of my chest down to my abdomen, deep ridges of muscle and bone and patches of coarse hair and skin darkened in thick tracks of scars. I watched her hand grow timid about the stained edges, as if touching the scars would bring back the memory of what had caused them, as if my seeing them each day and feeling about them with my own fingers wasn’t memory enough.

What happened, she said.

I thought of lying, about how I fell drunk from a window and landed on some rocks or broken glass or maybe about how I was in a fiery accident or a knife fight and needed surgery to re-stitch the deeply shorn tissue. Something that might make her nod or smile or laugh and then forget it all. But she was gentle and seemed forgiving and so I told her the truth. She listened and was silent for a while and her fingers grew still and rigid on my skin and I regretted telling her almost immediately.

Are you serious, she said.

After a few minutes she rose and walked to the bathroom and I breathed the warm air of her departure on the sheets. There was artificial innocence and deep acceptance and years of hurt in her scent. She was like most every other woman. Light framed the closed door, a symmetry of knife edges in the dark. I heard the toilet flush and then the hiss of the faucet. She opened the door and stood in the frame, half-lit and exposed to the darkness, her nakedness stark and emblematic and teetering between the shadow of here and now and the verity of past light.

I’d better be going, she said.

She gathered her clothes about her and put them on methodically but gracefully, like I wasn’t even in the room. As if it wasn’t my room. As if she had done this a thousand times in a thousand different rooms just as I was certain she had. The clothes had come off in haste, without ceremony, the sole neutralizing obstacle to will. Now she stepped into them just as quickly and callously but with robotic calculation, like the clothes were a requirement and nothing more, as if they reminded her of her life before she took them off and how this new life was exactly like the old life and nothing like she thought it would be or perhaps hoped it would be. The clothes reminded her that nothing had changed, nothing would ever change. The brief nakedness between lives was her hurried respite from herself, from both lives.

It was nice meeting you, she said. Call me some time.

She sat and the edge of the bed sagged beneath her. She reached into her purse and rummaged through it and I wondered if the bathroom light was bright enough to kill moods and strains of moods or if it would even stop there and I could hear the wind whipping through the city outside my window but I could hear nothing more save for the screaming of bedsprings as she stood up and put a folded piece of paper with her phone number inside it on my nightstand. She crawled on the bed toward me and kissed me softly on the cheek and then the side of the mouth and for the first time I understood her intense sadness and its brutal dominion over her young life.

She walked out the door and shut it softly behind her and I could still smell her pale nomadic skin and her scalp and her breath woven into threads of the moment now lost to us. Her ghost haunted me through the night and so my dreams reverted in myriad to that lonely face at the far table in the coffee shop, that dark, worm-like body of abandon atop mine, shivering with the brief delight of self-sustaining sovereignty of soul. I closed my eyes and traced the scars on my stomach and torso with sudden longing for I never even thought to search her body.