Novella about a WWII vet who returns to civilian life as a deep-sea diver and confronts his war-past through a series of hallucinogenic undersea visions.
[Gregg G. Brown]
Published by BLAST PRESS
ORDER OF CHAPTERS
- dr. kilmer’s ocean-weed heart remedy
- lost in space
- an ice cream cone of sulfur
- u2s moved on the condensed sweat
- a fish suspends itself
- militant in pinnacled rows
- the four sacred roses of the jellyfish
- the mating pipefish pair are suspended
- a tinted fish backs into
- without wires the wrasse tilts
- the cartoon hermitcrab’s claws
- the stinging cell
- damselfish retire among clumsy spines
- a starfish protests on a clamshell
- someone has drawn the venetian blinds
- the sea sunfish takes its colossal
- the pulseless pod
- the formal sky blue tiles
- the chainsaw falls through a redwood
- the high tide moon blocks
- the comber telescopes down
- the blank “pebbles” the glaciers
- the whole gale starts at 56 knots
- the house exploded in broad daylight
- a ceramic statue of clark gable
- the triassic period painted dolphins
- neat as soldiers in their union blue
- “sea dragons and flying freaks.”
- what is the face in this trio
- in the petrified shallows of kansas
- the squat sea bug emanates its death
- from the dismembered hood
- the suave sex of an otter
- it is a deaf cleft
- cradling a camera
- prodding the cariaco trench with a humongous
- the straight knitting needle of the piston-corer
- a waterfall sugars down the cliffside
- neon dna spirals
- the flounder flattens out
- a plate of squiggles, extravagant as pasta
- in meditative aspect, the inverted rockweed
- el niño does not threaten its hot arrival
- red algae in a tidal pool
- one-island volcanoes, bone ribbed
- sea palms cling to the rock
- verbena break the stiff riff
- this is the submerged cunt of asia
- the dye tank at woods hole
- the 14-toothed triggerfish dismantles
- evolution knows no death is sin
- circuitous route
- the tabernacle prism skin undulates
- plankton grows in the sea
- the one-celled diatom
- an arrow painted on highlighted plywood
- the mid-atlantic ridge and rift, echoing africa
- the gulf stream falls on snow-blue paper
- chocolate-striped like a dapper cookie
- mussels crust the rocks
- inverted antlers of the mangrove roots
- the angola abyssal plain is burnt
- manta ray. devilfish.
- the crimped sail of the emergency
- a lighthouse at midnight steams
- it is a matter of energy
- the iris accumulation
- nightshade and venus forced to bloat
- the angry whips exist in gems
- the deep-sea eel lies folded like a carpet
- it comes from the demanded drama
- the striped spikes radiate
- straight from the inked and crisscrossed terrors
- the goat-eyed squids in the pebbled foreground
- pol pot’s potato head expands
- in an era dominated by dinosaurs, the quick lizard
- a subtle pteraspis sucks my will
- a dime shines brightly in a dark bar
- my life’s a wreck. the vital squeal of will
- tremendous music billows from the plush
Lost in space
, my stale head clunking in a tin globe, I view a grey paste through temporal cracks and volcano holes. I can make nothing of my present situation except that I am trapped in static; bounced by automatic satellite between two steel grids, I turn my hamburger-raw back under rough canvas in search of a flame, some ignited center of attention in this dimensionless mist. I can’t breathe, a broken lightbulb fizzing on my flesh in the dark.
I am embedded in the sulfur solar plexus of the sea. The poison spits its grey plume, obliterating nothing in darkness. A sunken vent spews swift heat in a pure blood loss. Comfortable as occupied couches, flesh familiar, warm as afternoon vinyl, the submerged currents of these vents—settled at the bottom of the sea, the impossibly cold deep—spear about their thin exit crack in radiant rivers, a thermal Japanese flag.
Weightless in abeyance, I take this limbo-time out to count up my spiritual gaps, close over unmarried miscarriages with an institutional brand of scar tissue. I stare into the grey paste, a blank static fizz onto which the film in my head flaps spastic, sticks and skips, as burnholes and memories appear and disappear in queer procession:
The cut-out construction paper face of my first slim girl, sweet Christy, rises from the red pulp background of her dad’s borrowed car. Her crystal face hovers in photographed abstraction over our awkward manipulations on the squeaky backseat; the next time I saw her wealthy daddy’s face, it bore the worried maze look of a bisected head of lettuce…. A tense FDR, still smiling in his fourth, fatal term, floats behind his tin-lizzy glass-rims above my remembered draft card…. Every newspaper burned with new tales of the war’s apocalypse, bursting the pictureframe like a volcano….
These images disassemble in a brown boil. Nothing builds toward significance in the heated sea. My head sweats. I feel as if my liquid body were terminating in steam. No war welts my agile hands to fists. Nothing is delicate to me but Christy’s nipples, her left breast the size of a grenade I have brought here to bury.
An ice cream cone of sulfur
kills the fish. Rock erupts upwards. An infant island takes cubist form in the Hiroshima mist; a cloudy crown envelopes the cut stone semblance of new land. This is a birth. It carries the elemental authority of dreams. It is the flayed-up and cock-craved skirts of mother earth, balling through space, turning on her blue fauvist side like a lazy hippo.
Clumsy in canvas gloves, I give my tinsel instruments a quick feel. Poverty hands under sackcloth. A glowing dial, perched above my thumb and index finger like a windshield, says in accurate millimeters that this volcanic pimple won’t wake a new Hawaii; it will simply pile invisible cinders in a submerged underworld made devoid by liquid fire of all vegetation. Perhaps the warted frame of a chemical company exhausts its livid fumes through the cracked rock nipple. Surely, nothing in nature has developed a mouth for this….
Through my faceplate, like an invisible dinner dish, I am confronted with a corrupted image of myself, my society. According to recent evidence, a hive of life will be pulled here like a collapsed puppet returning to the puppeter’s high hand. An albino hive that won’t extend twenty feet beyond the rim of heat this sulfur source emits will arrange itself around this live vomitus. Like the floursack faces of 19th century city workers, receding in paleness beyond a discernment of features in a bleached summer sky of converging August, a hive of uneating worms, drained of their red earth color and inflated to tractor innertube dimensions will crawl among mouthless crabs with welded jaws sulking in their seamless exoskeletons. Every stone garden monstrosity will be brought to able life, electric Frankenstein mobility, minus the vital punctuation of weeds around this cracked sulpher vent—an emission leaking from what Hell? They will gather their oblique underlit countenances around the flaming ashcan in front of me. They will bring a sculptured darkness to the poisonous atmosphere, moving oddly sideways in habitual blindness, blocking or isolating themselves randomly in this usherless movie house.
U2s moved on the condensed sweat
of the Mediterranean past charbydis with motors out. Civilized tears escape from Lebanon, shake wet from the shouting Greeks, shoot from the opera of Italy, slap off the clean beaches of an annoyed France, tumble from the dark oil film of Spain, scream from the internecine nightmare of Africa. History is bathed in such weeping, and yet it is never drowned. The heavy current slides out over the pedestal of Gibraltar. The light Atlantic Ocean dazzles in. The level of this sea is constant.
On my first trip to Europe, I killed a Gothic town. I was burning in the 121st regiment. It feels like it was just the other summer. Black in my wax-sheen wetsuit, I blew up an Italian munitions factory with waterproofed dynamite. I hid behind the tread of a German tank some plaster church had swallowed. Holy glass lit up with the explosions. Job smiled beneath his multi-colored boils, and the sinister sulk of the tank’s sway-back body inherited his outlines: bright, abstract as flowers. And then, my watery commute complete, my deadly itinerant business enacted, I returned to the buoyant teardrop of the Mediterranean quietly as a cyclist.
With my light head half under water, the dark sea seemed to encircle the incinerated star of the town.
A fish suspends itself
in whiteness. It untangles its blue form in air. It is dying for air in the distorted ocean of its origins. Its body is the worn hammer-weight of an overused sinker smelted from horseshoes. Its days pace out the ocular round of its sky-affixed eye. This is the religious fish that will clamber through evolution and onto Jesus’ tunic. The stiff back of the Thelodus is ready to work. Its inflexible lobster-skin will spring into hands that preach or divide bread like a factory blade, incomparable in its impartiality. One can see in the dull lumps of the fins, blurred as a breast restoration, the infant hands that unearth a Lazarus among us.
I think that’s what I see among the razorback rhythms of the fan coral, the empty blue tankards of anemones. A red timberline in ghostly horizon flames marks the faded boundary of my imagination, the worn slur of distance and underwater weather that lets golden instances flare in the generalized haze. These are the metal insecurities of the light that I can own, that can float in a distant flatness I can project images upon, like the corners of Christopher Columbus’ blanked-out sea map. I see the once-thought extinct and hide-bound fish glide in the water before me. The Thelodus has never died out at all, it seems. What was needed, what bled to life, is still needed, still bleeds. Nothing finally dies; no one is killed; no one is a killer.
It opens the asshole oval of its sucker mouth like a VP of sales. It could have survived the atomic war, the whittle of evolution, time’s shuttle and all that, in its executive shelter. Its monotone suit alone proclaims its elevated station, one runty fin above its fellows. It flashes into the exotic underbrush, a grey shadow among shadowy greys. Complicated as a paisley, the ragged edges of this reef defy the engineered stencil of a visible boundary. My Thelodus still lives, and I still live to see him here: an exiled emperor poking out of his concrete hut, striped by far-away fingers of light—dodging the mistaken assumption of his extinction, rare as any saint, breathing pure Perrier in his hidden castle.
Militant in pinnacled rows
, a single live spike detaches itself from wave after wave of flesh-grass and seaweed. A small whip of licorice wraps the vertical snout of the spike, which could be the stump arm of a Nagasaki victim. The whip (a whiplet, actually) attaches like a supple twig to the long cut of the pipefish mother’s mouth. It is one of the broken wire attachments that used to manipulate the sewer-lid keys of a tossed out clarinet. The thin thread of the baby feeds, suckling at its mother’s slit jaw; it could be the strict wire of an accident victim, a dietary aid of last resort, the wasp end of a cartoon bubble left blank for speech. They are perfectly alike, this madonna and child, perfect as seahorses in their filigreed presences, the bass and high notes together, the swift attunement of their flagellating dance, as if born attached, the grotesque body of communal amoeba fluctuating in the invisible heaven of their mutual desire like a golden steam organ.
Simmering four feet in front of my hothouse eyes, is this bright pair a lacramae memory from childhood or a shimmed-up sham and puppety vision of the afterlife?
The four sacred roses of the jellyfish
trap a baby pipefish under its transparent proscenium. The roses close over a head as fine as a horse’s, made in miniature as if inscribed in the face of a wristwatch or carved on the triangle side of a class ring.
The pipefish’s tail extends beyond the plastic-wrapped death engulfing its head. The tip of the tail contains baroque serrations of Renaissance metalwork and is the exact shape of a scallop whose mouth has been glued shut. As the pinhead eye of the pipefish begins to dissolve in the overhead garden-guts of the perfectly round, serene as Krishna, jellyfish, the shivering tail continues to exhibit its supreme artwork, the unenclosed fan of its tip beating and beating.
I feel like that, clamped in my Greek bronze helmet, shaking a furious whip of attached tin cans, my implements, my instruments. They create a cheap echo of fate in the full-of-sounds water, a cramped rattle of mockery, the stolen and paperclipped-on style of some Augustan age that was incapable of original tragedy. Flirting visions hold my head in a vice, creaking like Uncle Fester, popping towards health, the last release of an unwanted freedom to remember, and death’s gelid industry. The clear panes of the jellyfish flinch. Reverse sweet pangs of birth.
I take a hard breath.
As if graduating out of a salt sea meditation capsule, (locked against light or the undue radiation of others’ actions, the plashing appearances of their variable mood ring existences—hueing towards a dwarf blue) I feel the shrinking pressure of wetcap death crowning my clenched cranium in its soulful honorarium of persistent consciousness—the held flame of my name flickering defiantly behind the nervous protection of a claw. Closed in the translucent condom of this perception, I watch the tied-shut iridescences of the nascent pipefish’s gills stop their fluctuating struggle upwards. Dull beneath the milky substance of the jellyfish there is a miniature, expressionless face.
The mating pipefish pair are suspended
in a tinsel cross, opposed clockhands or the gold hilt of a knight’s sword held in aquarium illumination.
Unconscious weeds drift in dullard imitation of them, aching for the delight of life, watching their medieval Adam and Eve pronounce like Chaucer on the flat cart serving as a stage that contains hell, heaven, and earth with its brakes locked. The pipefish themselves are barely able to be distinguished from the drifting mass of the weeds, except when in this position, or paying their taxes, or when at last they die, abandoning the spear forest of their slow friends, silently floating on a full air bladder towards the sky.
Later, I see their embarrassed bodies curling over themselves in contemplation, dull among dull tall weeds, every live egg of the female deposited in the male’s pouch, whose musical skin, rubbing through the water like a sandpaper accompaniment to the marimba, is reminded of past lust by his fat abdominal sack, which now bulges with the uninstructed young. Ten thousand Cains and Abels.
My heterosexual middle will never thicken like Tiresias with fatherhood, ready to burst with abandonment.
A tinted fish backs into
a yellowy puff mushroom. Actually, it is an anemone, with Buckminster Fuller’s forehead and all the self-centered attentiveness of a yogi. Mom used to say the poison dust from a puff mushroom big enough could kill a careless dog if it wasn’t raining. A fish is dying in the anemone’s drowned arms that slowly digest its center into nothingness.
Noticing nothing, the lion-yellow interior of the anemone begins to act like a furnace with the plutonium control rod just shoved in. All the movements of its tentacles are now placid. It is as if all of a life’s intricate manipulations had been shuttered like a camera that operates by the pull of a single string. The anemone settles down to its digestion. Slavered slivers of the fish fray in its inflated lemon belly. That the now casually fisted anemone did not bend back for a nearby beer surprised me, it was so numb and plump in all of its diminished motions—its glossy squalor and pear-plush nether half, lust saffron, static as an inverted top.
My flounced-by-tides form floats before its sun colors. Something clicks in my ticker, an emotional diminuendo reverses and expands, but what is it? Angled towards its pure helium burn of beginning, of destruction, I see its squat shape as a hepatitis icon of the combined-in-oil and set alight desires of my life; my military insistence of goal and instant zen rejection of same. The anemone has the minor glow of a soon to be devastated hill, blown bald by dynamite, hunching behind me in sunset robes, the only accomplishment I could accept and deny. This was my twisted paradox of worthless achievement realized.
My bounced and dissolved baseball.
Squeezing towards the retinal echo of its fierce yellow, my glasshouse eyes return to the citron hut back at basic, the raucous grenade target we were supposed to explode. I am there and here at the same time, with only a wobbly wash of a film-dissolve between the scenes of then and now….
Pinching off the exposed, unpainted fishhead for a safety pin, I toss the open pineapple of the anemone, uselessly stinging my Catfish Hunter hand, and lob it into the lush face of some swaying coral, blotched as my broken-mirror reflection.
Without wires the wrasse tilts
in blare-red connected by alternate electric-blue and carnally virgin-white square stripes that target its squad of buck tusks that emanate from the rectangle of its mouth like candy corn. The ejected side fins are perfect oriental fans blasted to a clean sun-yellow active as Van Gogh’s yellow—a rocket ejection of energy necessary to paddlewheel it towards its prey.
Flying at my facemask with underwater velocity, the wrasse’s eyes begin to clear to a bullet-black that must be absorbing the flattened and torqued image of itself from the silver blip of my diver’s mask. If its clumped cornea, increasing at an angry speed, were the uninhibited diameter of the Astrodome, its small bulb of perceiving midnight would be the destructive size of an MX missile.
The wroth wrasse veers, an expanse of striped circus tent canvas disappearing quick as a staff car’s flag, past my peering mirror oval, shy as an obese lady. As I turn, an abrupt minute-hand clicking my weighted feet over, I see the disturbed flutter that follows its shivering tail. It bit water.
The far waters began to unfocus into a generalized glow, the depleted spray of a hydroelectric plant’s deenergized water, a misty limpidity almost, a distorted effect of dust such as August lifts in the heat of the open road. This shimmering hinges on the wroth wrasse’s tail, leaching its colours, paling it out from a Muslim paradise to a puritan heaven, making me ache to be instantly against it, a sealed condensation unable to penetrate its slick unchosen glass. I flower open my folding-chair soul, rivering ribbons of veins perhaps, from the agitated central fan of my ice heart. I long for a boundaryless existence, pure liquid in that liquid, mercury among the motes and flashes of the sea, delineating nothing, characterless, permanently crippled into the blank inability to caress a trigger, or ring a blush nipple with the same finger, unable to decide and divide at all.
The cartoon hermitcrab’s claws
hook like a surgical clamp. Already it has removed its tumorous questionmark body into a larger shell stiff as a plaster cast. Picking its way through sand for rocks and food, it has found an injured companion that now crests its shell, an incandescent anemone that outgrew a perch, or whose crispy coral, slick with a surface of new cells, was broken in awkward halves by the local trade in human feet. The two-inch hermitcrab grinds through the fabulous coral canyons on his paws like a camper in search of a campsite with his burning backpack.
I follow the path of his armoured tongs on my paws. I have surmised that he has the practical man’s knack for finding an operational Shangri La, open to paying visitors in a tourist season. The hermitcrab hunches past the intestinal flower of a sea cucumber with a steady awkwardness. A paramour of pastiche, he heads for a mismatched clump of coral that suggests the richness of the Great Barrier Reef in its grocery display. As I tug a paused limb from the hungry obstruction of a lobster, I can see the torchbearing body and shell of the crab disappear into a black oval beneath a bone-dead outcropping of inaccessible coral.
I do not give up. It is a sexual experiment, daring me to rush through and manipulate its symbols like a frontline deck of marked cards, played under the covered glow of cigarettes, dogeared by subtle evolution, a cheapskate. My world-first feet hit the soaked sand with a soft crunch. I bend down slowly, inflating an intestinal tension in my belly. From the jagged Rorschach hole, penile breast implant absence of darkness, no anemone illumination exits. Too small for the exaggerated metal outline of my ego to enter, I shove a condomless fist into the mixed feeling of that black-ink territory, bottomless as my memory of home.
I wait for something nameless to attack, detecting nothing.
The stinging cell
of a jellyfish contains a long thread coiled like a spring. Its transparent skirt shifts. Delicately, flutteringly, afloat—a transpaent helmet that dissolves along its edges into its environment in unprincipled undulations of living. This balletic creation is so far from the detested abstraction of a war death that my soul unloads like an orgasm at its darting flutters. Flummoxed.
Phosphorescent in a field of dark blue, this animated medal of some dead Union soldier collapses its soft helmet, along with the sheet-thin helmet’s few cells of contents, into a ridged point, like a tripled arrow whose edges intersect each other to form a starburst pattern as it enters the eye. The minuscule jellyfish, enlarged by my dollop of attention, shoots and pauses forward like a politician. Now it hangs, a glowworm’s eaten inch away, caught on the nail of a decision that could rip the heart-like flutter of its transparent brain cells into an unlabelled pulp.
No bigger than a displaced eyeball, it is strangely watched and identified with, a voyeur’s introspection. One’s mind releases toward the thin purple jelly in the water, a peignoir outline, the light aurora of a watch magnet barely magnified. Its aquatic undulations are infectious. One begins to move in phosphorescences. Pulse. Pause. Pulse. Pulse. Inside my suit, an inner film of black rubber echoes my translucent actions. One tumbles in elongated taps on the gigantic head of a drum membrane. Being in this way an ear, eyeing ones way through unclear liquids, one starts to pick up the buried syllables of the sea, the shovelled whaps of the waves, sharp arguments of urchins in stiff sine curves that almost translate into surface sounds, the sharp tack of a competitive bat… the blunt nose of an unloved and hungry shark almost entering ones cellophane flesh in words.
Damselfish retire among clumsy spines
. Their black bodies are striped in lime and lemon; the lime-green spines dangle their pink tips placidly above them, circulate in cool coos around their fins. Like all women, they are indifferent. They are pleased by their nonchalant dance, or delighted. The south sea anemone which encloses the dozing bodies of these fish is as fat as a forsythia bush. The green limbs excrete a protective juice filled with the intricate codes of peace; this is how each stinging spine, blind, knows not to attack its neighbor, how to avoid the human convulsions of guilt and self-flagellation; Einstein hair on a weighted corpse gone wild. The ladylike fish in their ringed skirts inherit the flower’s secretions. Hooping in and out of the rose-tipped and saturated pine needles, sewing-in the contractual tears, the slow bleed of each live leaf that sweats an aura against death, the damselfish become aware of some minor victory, a distorted rumour from defeated Greece perhaps, become proud and exhibit a matronly swivel, know that they possess some important inoculation against desire.
My rape hand commands them. Counselling a caught fish to my cloth breast, I whisper Caesar desires into her unblinking Cleopatra eye. I unzip the reluctant crest of her sweet spine. Wild against my hidden palm, her gnostic body declares. Light enters my stung and swelling heart, a complacent poison that raises a Byzantine cathedral in my rib cage. Suddenly compelled, I unfist her.
Almost post-coital in my underwater jumpsuit, I find myself sinking among anemones. Knees twist like a sleepy hinge. Distorted adumbrations against narcoleptic fits arrow by. Their green ignited spines console my spine, swamped like a snake among its frittery children.
I cry and cry. My dark helmet is dashed with mercury.
A starfish protests on a clamshell
against a seawind. Orange arms waver backward silently in a grey blue. An argot rock underpins the dramatic tightrope dance. One clown end fingertip cupped a C. The clamshell rocks with a cockle sound. It holds the unconscious hand of the starfish like a candle on an antique stage edge; the set is bathed by an indifferent light from an outside source, making the isolated scene look as dimly backlit as Plato’s cave, standing on the still horizon, the verge, of full colour, awaiting an increase in the light, the embarrassing high-beam of Fate, perhaps, some ushered-in notice from a void, shotgun applause, something to make the central knuckle of the orange dockworker starfish, sunk in its anonymous union and manipulations, begin to develop a face.
But for now, the fluttering tentacles of the starfish, riding its serrated clamshell like a spur, remain the held diminishment of a candle, opening on emptiness, illuminating nothing.
This is how I wobble, indecisive against the indifferent curtain of the ocean. Its thick, blocked blues diffract the hot spot of the sun, which creates an illusion of other-attention in the minimalized, fried-oyster flesh of humans. Desert Indians especially fancy the universe in constellation around themselves. But here, pale in a pale light, one picks up on the subtle differences, the switched alphabets, the garbled typefaces of life-forms finally allowed to blink a thin halo of identity out of themselves in the dark lack of interstellar competition.
One sees the starfish instead of oneself. Its leggy flames open an orange inside, a silvery cocoon of exposed mirrors, detailing shoplifters, noticing the neon outposts of the beings next door. One sees its litter of suckers, aching for attachments. One touches its sandpaper back.
Someone has drawn the Venetian blinds
down, separating the dusty parlor from the street. In the walless room, someone has thrown a tremendous circus tent on its side, or put convict stripes on a whale. The regular lines of the tent in front of me shimmer, like those triple advertisements hanging in sexy judgement in Idlewild airport; in one snap, it disappears. The flooding flesh of ten thousand fish disappears.
This is how the porkfish, elegant in their magician suits, school their fragile young. All of the fish are dramatically striped, as a warning to sharks. The scarred alteration of a half-loaded or stiff paintbrush marks the flaking shingles of their old-house bodies from front to back. Quick with the reduced drag of their foreshortened foreheads, these fish remember how to grow old, the antelope speed of a dispersed pack confusing the thousand hungry teeth of the barracuda that follow.
I find my bald bearings in the swirled silence of this sudden emptiness, the fish vanished. I feel the shifted gravity of an astronaut, released from the hot thermos of the spaceship, fanning his domestic mind with its mute closetful of notions into the distant ache of periwinkle stars. Even an inveterate slob would be sucked into tidy lines of abstraction. This is our original garden, winking under the distortions of distance and watery atmosphere, allowing, in holy stillness, contracting diurnal pulsations of breath, a far swerve in the murkiness to be perceived. Our image of God, once out of the bright shadows of ourselves that we create and chase, is founded on something like this—a dimple in the black felt, a small warp of uninstigated motion in an uncontrasted blank that the instant, unpredictable shattering of appearances has dropped us in.
A sharp reef or quartered moon interrupts my vision.
The sea sunfish takes its colossal
namesake’s ball of mass to make a solid 49 square feet of flesh. It’s half a fish, ending abruptly behind the kayak paddle fins that slice its treetrunk body symmetrically. Looking at its injured condition, one suspects in a few billion years its remaining hydrogen will eddy into the blue halo of a supernova.
It turns the green ocean like a tugboat. It is neither whole nor happy, but chopped and wounded, a veteran of some harmful sword that time has welded together and weilded with a viscious animus.
It is a dwarf, this tight ton of fish, maneuvering its fixed and oppressed expression through the sea like a cerebral palsy poster. Its fist of mouth pouts in a permanent oval; yet it has nothing to say. Despair is silence personified, it seems to imply. All art is trash. The warped bones buck out under the castor-oil skin taut as arching bows, strong as the diseased determination of a kamakazi pilot.
By the sheer effrontery of will it swims, chugging forward, a thrown Acheulean stone axe, leaving an awkward whistle behind it as it splits the air. Now it plunges into a confused underworld of jungle growth. I follow its bumblebee speed on finned feet, hanging a several ells over a neon-orchid orchard of coral. In the puffed-out blimp-bulge of my hand-sewn suit, I dive on an aircraft carrier acre of reef. Dodging a control tower of patched pink and irregular amber (tilting at a steep heil-Hitler angle), like a retarded Mercury, I see the cerebral palsy path of the sacred, almost Mayan, sunfish move into a clotted grotto of colours. I kick my feet with a spastic rapidity, the crayon strokes of a freezing child, in order to catch up with the compact fat of the distant sunfish. Moving through a green cloud of seaweed, struggling towards the physical lightness of a greater depth, I reach the black, bunched roots of the plants and grab at the covered rock support to propel myself further downward into the dark cove where the fish has hidden itself. I feel the blunt outline of the diffuse rock slip along my hand as a sharp vagina of pain opens in my palm. My punctured skin explodes in a linked stream of red-black globes, chugging towards Auschwitz, mushrooming upwards in an underlight like umbrellas flooded on all sides, phosphorescent over a Nagasaki of industry, an intense weave of activity on all scales, busy as a bombed anthill.
Forcing my way by a blood hand, leaking air in pneumatic gasps, I gain the gold cove of the sunfish. It has set itself up in a solar system of brain coral, a central hub amongst warts or cartwheel rivets on an overturned wagon-wheel spinning against the sky; I take up the cold Pluto position, swamped in black at the periphery, invisible among dim pewter stars, with the stinging spin of a closed fist for asteroid-orbiting moon. The sunfish fluctuates its cut gills in a steady state. Losing a galaxy of red interstellar dust from my trailing unconscious right hand, I circle in the deteriorating spiral of an electron, ready for quantum action, the only diminishment towards a central authority that emanates light.
Swirling past the Jupiter clump, crimped as a living cortex with knowledge, I arrow in towards the solar bullseye, a clean burn of hurt animating a ghost arm starting at the balled socket of my ragged right shoulder. My suit is growing warm and heavy with invasive water or renegade blood—I can’t tell which.
Mars moves under me like a silent movie, a red tear in my unconsciousness. A film of lukewarm water encases me up to my chest, a fresh blanket of apostolic charity. My light mind is slowed and drugged by salt erosion. Mercury boils just ahead of me, flooded yellow, slicing a planet of shadow from the yellow ache of fan coral supporting in pentagon altar fashion the unlimited caliber artillery shell of the sunfish, humming an atomic solipsism to itself, aiming at everything.
My drained-out-of-blood limbs detach in a flash.
The pulseless pod
of the sea cucumber eats with its belly out. An anal blossom appears when it is calm. At any alarm, the blossom retracts, the intestinal flag struck in panicked surrender, and it resumes the use of its tanklike rigid skin. I have never seen one move. A contented chess piece, it lets the aqua wind spoon-feed it plankton and digestible parts of the dead. I think that no sea cucumber corpse exists. It is one of God’s Eternals. Its recurrent ubiquitousness has a quality of permanence, of subservience to fate.
Could this fat blob of pickle think? Sunk in the lumpy tour-bus outlines of my oversized diving suit, I extend my gauntleted Godzilla arm and lift the cucumber like a fake train made of incubated high-impact Japanese plastic. I am a fake man in a rubber suit, appearing in my avant-garde get-up before a cameraless sea. The hungry delicacy of the cucumber’s flesh-flower withers, an innercity reaction, a lopped desire, the Puritan reaction of oppressed and pressed-in blacks, Buddhistic refugees stabbing themselves like christ on a nail bed, bursting like jellied napalm with gospel tunes and blues.
It is a religious instrument, this mindless gherkin, waving in my godless hand like a distorted wand. I am suddenly struck with the idea of how like this inert tube I have been all my life! Invoking no music in the restless gurgle of the gastrointestinal sea, I shove the holy mass away from its duplicate blunder, myself, God’s blunt stroke of efflugenceless pink—my soldered-in, wind-blown, inert body. I am beach trash blown and sunk into the waiting sea, a mistaken treasure no one will ever find. I breathe my registered air like an under-glass candle, burning littler and littler, like Alice, the longer I look at what silently exists in the sea under us as we walk the ignorant earth. No one rolls their eyeballs under the mirror of the sea.
Unbuckling the lead tarot cards of weights belted like Orion at bellybutton level, I start skyward instantly as a bubble; demagnetized from the Maya grief of reality; fantastic as lust rising in a dream towards dryness, a final dehydration of altitude and perspective. With a weatherballoon’s sensitivity of registration, I rise caught in a cirrus crustacean vision perhaps, and break into the ordinary air to hear a tin echo of electronic trumpets loudspeaking Farsi from the permanent carnival beached nearby: the sporty tans and turbulence of Daytona Beach.
The formal sky blue tiles
of the crab’s adept legs hinge and point. What do they indicate? Polite as a tuxedo, psychedelic as nightmares, the blue crab’s pincers close on empty water, sift sand. It is a mobile arena of drama, this crab, caught on its tension-line of hunger so intense only a pinched child from the submerged Third World could understand. The claws, red and black at their business tips, have evolved from want. Unbruisable, the claws demonstrate the interminable craving of a blunt digit split into two, dividing its sky-mass to diminish into the scissoring ache of necessity. But, intuitive as Henry Moore, the projectile desire arches from expression into usefulness. The castanet claws (in the endless repetition of practice) conduct the compass pinions of the skipping-rock flat, radar-round center of the crab in the timing of those precise, impinging, untranslatable marks that start across the opinionless sand.
I try to read the cuneiform marks as my toes burrow into the warm pie-crust of the beach.
For all his crunch of claw, bruised paramour, his jerky way among auburn rocks, his flash of Scottish steps upon the plain, plaid skirt of rocks, it is his dwindled eyes that receive the diminished sacrament. This sacrament of sight is everlasting, in its whir of hues, despite the empty manipulation of empty hands, perfect for uninvented levers. The blue crab huffs against the shouting coral, the crimson skull of the sunken rock frmation—universal skeleton, chalky relic, omnipotent bone. Distorting snowy sinews in a distracted winter of effort, it is, with its medallion of unbitten blue, the perfect semaphore of fate against a red alphabetic coral, absent autumn, the latest phosphorescence of life’s green, tumescent metaphor. Liquid identification in a rippled world is all the crab’s angled banner, its concrete cape of sky, will allow. It is, stiff against the grown stone, the total mariner of tidal inconsistencies.
I break the unbabbling water, diving deep.
The chainsaw falls through a redwood
. A day off from Monteray Bay has brought me out to the California forests. There’s some moss here that resembles undersea scum when squinted at through a microscope, the latest Nature says. I look up from the magzine. The swallowed purr of the chainsaw’s motorcycle chain repeats its highs like an addict—its adjacent handles out for cash, unable to applaud its own stiff, buzzing performance as it falls through the divided redwood trunk. A red sugarcube of heat is all that can be seen outside the thick toothy envelope of the tree, the dry-river bark. This is the man raised by wolves in France and unable to speak of his happiness.
I watch its slipping progression downwards—averse to heaven in its joy, it seems. A stuttered mirage, bending under its own asphalt heat waves, it makes, with the momentary crimson bulb of its exposed engine, breeze blown against the stalwart tree, the illusion of a blossom—not wholly unlike a bubble of struck blood on an ancient face. I came out of the sea to study moss, and instead witness this sacrifice, a robot chainsaw undoing a pacifist tree to its roots, this wart of worsening, the world’s endless demand for effigy and death. A uniquely Californian flowering occurs in me, plastic in its persistence, violent in its detailed volition, its surrealistic accuracy and Hindu caste.
O M N I
The high tide moon blocks
the sun. It is the overwhelming arch of spring rising and rising, this tide. It will pull the planet into the shape of an eye. The white pupil burns in its nickel light. It is a divided eye, the pupil dot cannot extend into its recesses. The spring coriolis of this diurnal water will tear the world apart.
The famous chinese brother with the infinite neck would be stressed to walk these waters’ renewed depths, rubbernecking at the sky, his silk-slippered feet on the foundation rock and subconscious core of the earth. Registering against the chalk cliffs of Dover, clean as a nightgown, the sleeping sea lifts up its delicate, jellyfish hem each spring, licking the cliffs. Determined as clocks in their multiple ticks, confident of exactitude or inevitability, the salt swells in their new suits leave a snail trail of wetness against England. Like the wound-up coil of an oven-thermometer, the tall cliffs relax and soften, until, finally, they are submerged by the rising spring tide—becoming one with the puffed sheep in the meadow, who, surprisingly, do not float, and whose white backs going under are the last marks on the fever chart.
Maybe it would be alright to enter the deluge. To drown and drown… a sparked canopy of green and blue overhead the formula of human blood. Maybe, tenseless in the Freudian dream, it would be like flying, paddling through the treetops, examining a drowned bird in its inaccessible nest.
Here is a slim branch brought to bud; encased in jade now, and confined to a permanent chrysalis until winter relaxes the ocean, congeals the polar eyelids into unsalted ice, unstinging tears—pure water draw up and away from the mixed, green wine. This is when the sweet tree, possibly a pussywillow arrested in its amber coffin of the too-tall waves, will absorb from the fresh subzero air the freedom to die.
Rolling back awake from my detached sleep-stung hand, I find that someone has placed my disconcerted head on a beach.
The comber telescopes down
the beach. A blue tube culling itself towards destruction. It is an extended Lemming headed in the wrong direction. It tries and tries to dry its tears. Every day the handkerchief whiff of beach absorbs the long rings of the ocean’s Narcissism. It eats the green sin. It eats the circulated sins of the earth.
A pointillist display of heads tumbles in the surf—vacationing heads in various stages of decay and tan. What are they trying to spell at the roaring moment of their absolution? Maybe they are afraid that they will cease to exist, that they are all sin, a wicked-witch-of-the-west confection with chrome-plated show business six-shooters and wet caps. It is difficult to think with the long green line of light rolling and rolling; the unceasing sun strikes a straightness through its rounded angles. The stagnant swamp of the self is ordered into an emerald mind. You take a chance in the unsteady shuffling. You think you will be totally erased. I have floated in on the red resistance of a body board on many occasions. Every slick head enters the final wave or tube horizontal and wide-eyed.
I watch the heads, black and gold as royal walking sticks made enlarged for sea titans, dissolve in fiery whites. These are the furious exchanges edges induce. The uneven edge of a halo’s emanation. Compact as sea turtles, the waders and boogie-boarders are conveyed in bullet enthusiasm into a spilled treasure chest of sand. Pearly curls crown them. Rolling laughing from their accelerated fall, they rise and walk along the intense beach bright, illuminated as Lucifer’s angels in the pilot-light of hell.
My cold instinct for humanity is baffled into blankness.
The blank “pebbles” the glaciers
left could turn an elephant’s foot. Long Island’s squat eye stares into the gullet of the Atlantic. This is where the ice flowed back, like a retreating fortress, the sudden appalling disappearance of a white sky, and startled prehistoric birds accustomed to the age’s deep cold. Bewildered mammoths stomped a newly green dunegrass under an instant sun that appalled. The birds circled in their warm freedom. Cro-Magnon hands sharpened the stones into faces the axe-size of their wives’ grimaces.
Even today a beachcomber will arrive from the edge of some dead time to blink at the sea. A pale belly, unbalanced as a stork, makes its way like a metronome toward land’s end. The dry ostrich-egg rocks, in their ages old attempt at birth that have scarred even their moony surfaces, are trying to tip the uncertain belly, which is heavy and white with doubt about itself and its slipping income or ego in an uncertain society of bellies, bleached as banjos, inflated as used condoms, into the cerulean saline solution of the ocean’s crusty contact lens.
The swung sack consciousness of the belly is narrow-minded. The belly perceives by hungry insinuations of events, the buttoned-down needs of its blind enzymes aching outwards with the magnetized, undeniable claims of a turned-on TV tube. The outrageous albumen belly asserts a name against the shitty sea; a modern appellation, a single syllable of dry ice clipped from a frozen-stiff tongue, barely audible: “man,” or, even more dimly, “me.”
The pendulum belly, becoming pensive as a wilted teardrop in the chill air, hovers under a sad expanse of sky, mostly mauve, waiting to be dumped by the glacier-emancipated lumps of occupied land into the unceremonious, baptism-blue sea. Instead, wordless at his soliloquy cue, yet imbued with the awkward impulses of a kindly stage manager, the scenery-shaded invisible duffer signals the intoxicated sky to rain.
The whole gale starts at 56 knots
(Beaufort #11). TheDiamond Shoal oil platform drew lightning to its needle. The central sky absorbed its hypodermic cure. My new fiberglass boat rode on an open throttle. Moving like Caruso’s blood-lettered goat skin in a coconut-corked bottle, we angled at the absent, invisible tit of North Carolina’s shark-sharp shore.
We raced to make it back to dirt before the Atlantic’s limbless hug drowned us.
The house exploded in broad daylight
. The stitched, interlocked siding of girdle-white aluminum distorted to mobius strips in the fist of a dirt-brown wave. Its plumbing, and its unplumbed interiors are distended. The wave collapsed landward in a fury of liquid, dousing abandoned cars to their alert headlights, crystal in a crystal spray.
A neighbor dog straddles the roof of its house. Owning abandonment with its thumping tail, excited by the high water as if finally allowed on the family sailboat, the clenched sail of the billowed shingles transports him to his dog heaven. Indifferent to the Arabian miracle of the magic-carpet canine, a jerky bird, sparrow-diminutive in its dun aspect, picks out its new nest in a spilled jewel box; iridescences darken in its eye. Looping under a splintered joist, my salt hands pull me over shifted junk, around an uneasy toilet balanced on a black spattered carpet remnant, past an unsmashed rack of wineglasses, white as penlights in their acrylic cabinet. I look toward the gigantic spill of the songbird’s throat.
It is ecstatic, this bird, indescribably and completely. Has it fallen from heaven to sacralize these beastly leavings of the storm? What dirty water has wrecked, can the stooping sky amend?
The splay German shepherd bays above a promontory of cracked angles, under a planetarium sky soaked with dawn and polite exit signs blinking cheap red. Crossed paws return to the house’s crest. Moony markings double the apparent size of his tragic and decided, coal-nosed face. St. Peter has left him to his happiness. Lost gestures struggle in his mink shoulders. The house shivers. It detaches from its underwater moorings in a gasp of flotation pressure, like a thrown card revolving towards the paddlewheel of the Carribean. The happy shepherd is underweigh at last.
The songbird dabbles in its gauds. Depressed under the screwed-down clouds, I tap along a swiveled fragment of mosaic Mediterranean tiling (a perfect imitation) in my used Italian loafers, crimping the vein-blue dolphins’ skulls, slipping on their rainy tails before regaining ground on the pale traction of their square-filled bellies. Reaching the scuffed songbird, distracted in its jewel haloes, I touch its crimson cap, purpling in my shadow, and trash its egg frame like eroded foil.
A ceramic statue of Clark Gable
sizzles in the aftermath. The dynamo of a waterspout knocked it over beneath the bruise eye of a hurricane. Breakfasters in Malibu exit a room littered with peppered eggs, spilled chairs and unfinished OJs. Neon backlighting indicates palms on a sky-painted wall. Doric half columns offer an illusion of distance. An overturned wicker chair crowns the grass-green carpet—it appears to be freshly mown. The giant square sunrise windows fill up with water from an oncoming wave. A perrier bottle tips over and crests a dropped designer purse with effervescence. Shocked outlines of fish press against the glass of an air aquarium in a tourist mood. The tall glass in black reacts. Nobody has paid their checks in the abandoned opulence; the fish enter with an established crack; their slit gills commune with soda water.
God, in his aesthetic perfection, has tossed off a waterspout from his great throw wheel.
The Triassic period painted dolphins
for the Greeks. They have the accentuated look of mosaic depictions. Tired eyes blink behind the thin comb of hunger their three feet of tooth-pronged noses proclaimed—gallows humor of a working-class air-breather in a pre-tuna sea, each tooth a mosaic chicklet. The ancient sea was dominated, it seems, by these dolphins wrestling with the irony of their existence: a brain the size of a man’s and no hands to kill with. Above the two thick toes, abrupt fins set at arm-and-leg intervals and outlined in rubber like a scuba suit, above the butcher blade side-fins jamming their fat handles into a convolution of washed blues and fluorescent highlights, there stands unfurled on the dolphin’s back the shark triangle, the noble sail, of the dolphin’s dorsal fin. This is the hook that has dragged the sobbing lungs and soaked heads of thousands of refugee sailors to the thumping shore in storm time. Perhaps this is what happens when the clubbing instinct to kill is defeated by chance circumstance and allowed to fester in a meditative state. Maybe this is why that armless vet in the paper spends his dolloped and subsidized time writing immaculate sonnets with a fountain pen stuck in his mouth.
My hands can kill. Detached as the empty rubber stumps sold in the magic shop, they hacked up a nazi my bayonet had pierced. Thrilled at the nicking end of a latent homosexuality, his left lung sighed like a fart through a scree of medals; he flopped into the sliced earth pitkin of the ditch. Out of his loose hand an instant luger loomed—it staggered after my swaying face, bloomed with blood from the struggle. The luger’s barrel was as nice as a dolphin’s nose. My angry molars crunched the nazi’s knuckles. I heard his index digit crack. My unarmed hands smashed his Adam’s apple open, a crisp snap.
Rifling through the gloomy tones of a mesozoic history magazine, a death erection, pulsing out of my aching life, raises the coned noses of depicted dolphins like a benediction, a proffered communion wafer.
They return to the surface
, neat as soldiers in their Union blue, visually offset by a flat TV-tray of uninflated lion-yellow life preservers yoked around their sunburnt necks stiff as oxen-necks. These two submariners stand in a floating safety-orange bucket like telephone repairmen, waiting to be picked up from the metal cornice of their bottom-scraping bathyscaphe. They have seen depths, odd recesses, creatures and causations, no other living observer has witnessed. Proud as wrestlers under the flash page of the unrolled newsmagazine I sit here reading, they know that they have triggered something strange. The newsman writes of them obliquely, and their speech is clipped and off-kilter to us surface-dwellers. They are aware—having arrived at the ocean’s hammer in fit condition, spliced out of the secret (even to themselves) training camps of America, ready as today’s bread to be consumed—they are aware that no moonwalker’s fame awaits them, that they will maunder through a grove of deep-haired women towards their children, towards the imitation of a future they can no longer apprehend; their experience has voided apprehension of the flat world they came from, the solid, horizontal mud flats of mid-America they sprang from like lungfish, thirsty as hindu mystics for the last return to water.
What have they seen?
Looking down from their pumped-up and astutely muscled height, a pair of self-contained Everests, these underwater astronauts speak of ocean-space in closed quotes: “It was like not being watched. No ‘mom’ to make
you do anything, either. Nothing to do until you hit the bottom. Just the radio link.” They mention voids in ellipses: “You feel like the only thing living… like being alive is rude.”
Square faces above honest jaws, they describe the outer darkness of the deep in scientific jargon, metres of visible penetration before ray fray encroaches on the megawatt stage lights they packed in their untarred, waterproof Miracle Play oxcart that represents Heaven, Earth, and Hell and won’t unfold. They have brought all history into these uncharted depths with them, their air-crafted toolkit leaving them hamstrung and helped at random under the dark pressures of water. They prepare a face to meet the faces they can’t unsee—their amorphous undersea audience. Electric with pre-show jitters in the dim backstage regions of their mental landscape, they whisper: “I feel unplugged… planetary, really alone.”
I flip the heavy book open and begin
at “Sea Dragons and Flying Freaks.”
The eternal convergence of the sea tucked the peabrained Tylosaurus under. Bellies pale as shaving cream, swift teeth yellow with victims, the ripped nubbins of a black-green picketfence goes shirring over the Tylosaurus’ suave spine. The exaggerated, fat tail is ready to execute a 90 degree turn and become a fat fin. Evolution marching on, even in the legless sea.
This 25 feet of Marvel-comics creature, thick in the middle like a toddler, could have been dropped from the orbiting aquarium of a UFO it is so alien. After a squalid hour at the study carrel, I return to the weary Sunday funnies in my stifled hotel room after a sick work week of grotesqueries, unimaginable buboes running blood, nitrogen hallucinations impinging on my sacred underwater soirees day after day. I grow old with looking.
At the hotel table, runny eggs engulf a frilly plate. The sun sinks below the tan blinds, churning its fiery bucket of snakes beneath the windy flap of injured skin. It is an injury just to see the things that I have seen. My awful eye makes this.
What is the face in this trio
, coconut swirl of eyes with the crimped pie-edge beatific as Buddha? This ancient fossil resembles a design rediscovered by the Sumerians, and yet it also resembles photographs from Apollo missions scored off the sunken surface of the moon when looking back at the planet we inhabit. The face turns its filigreed edges made of overlapping questionmarks like a slow prop fan in sand. Did the astronauts remember it in the holy fabric of their bodies and overawed eyes when they looked down at the swirls of cloying clouds? This fossil has neither phyla nor classification, and hangs like candy in an Islam of mystery we obey.
First seen by an Aborigine, one wonders if it is a round footfall straight from space, an alien reconquista; this is the depth of the impression one receives. Why wouldn’t some out-of-atmosphere angel in geosynchronous orbit decide to visit the abundant ocean instead of us? Vanity won’t answer it. It is not a grey mirror made to absorb us. An Aborigine tribe preserved the dry fossil as a sacrament, an insistence of mystery, something to prop up a Catholic resolve in people.
Honest in our ignorance, lacking pride, this one time we have decided to let this rock imprint remain unclassified. What else remains unclassifiable in all this strangeness of being alive?
Making love in my ardent sunburn, I think I have felt such desert attractions, a willingness or need to sink and sink. Christy whistled beneath me, her face crooning abandonment with the triple Os of eyes and puckered mouth. Is this hard fossil the deflated ambition of sex? A confessionless communion? A hairy fly lights against my lips. An uncontrollable grimace, streaked as rust, makes it leap away from my unshaven face, carrying its instruments.
The squeezing image of Christy leaves me, leaving sticky tracers down my athwart hips like tears. I am convinced she was here in the pre-Xtian carbon-dated year of 3000 to 100000 B.C., fixing her red hair, slouching towards my unborn ghost her incarnate mystery.
In the petrified shallows of Kansas
the old sea shows its golden waves, that precursor sea of loafing evaporation that has turned into endless wheatfields. It is here that a twelve-foot creaking bone-saw of face was unearthed, the face itself the face of the dance that would eventually translate such dino-fish into red men and herrings. This face was a mirror; it was the totentanz of gluttony. Through the jail grill of its ribs another herring ancestor swims toward the larger fish’s simplified rectum; the smaller fish is six feet long under the wave of Kansas grain. Six feet in the scaled and degraded grave of its totem-faced cousin, the face of the dance. The big dancer eating the littler dancer forever.
The black bones lie at the bottom of a pit a gigantic square spade might have gouged. It is the first flight on an inverted Inca pyramid, funneling towards the crystal jewels of the first dynasty of life. The single cells, exact as regimented cubes or individual as the spinnaker needle of the Eiffel tower, suspended in saline, floating in uncried liquid before the first eye, knew from enlightened self-interest perhaps that cannibalism, even interracial, even international, that attacking one’s fellow cubes of light surmounting the smooth elevations of a prow-tall tower, is universally caustic—and, so, the little gems of life sucked off the altruistic sun instead.
White sweat bleaches my back.
The squat sea bug emanates its death
, proclaims shamelessly its sham of life, petrified in the rock that has replaced its slowly growing, pulsing even, shell as hard as dry leather. The trilobite’s two frontal protrusions serve as stone eyes peering weirdly from the 100 million year depths of its defiant extinction.
In the skeleton negative written in the fossil record, white powders permanently cascade like the flashlit interior of an indian cave. Its heavy organs are veils traced in refrigerator dust; the shell is a sad face composed of pick-up sticks, a fire-bombed umbrella from Dresden.
I dust off its mortician’s grin with an efficient hand, clarifying the instructional chalk sketch. It detaches from its geologic base, the thumbed history of sediment rock, like Christ waving goodbye to Peter, floating apart, and shudders in my mind like a kite. I looked more penetratingly at the abashed fossil, its white violence like a prizefighter’s knuckle. Its deadly implications take up a shrill position above my competing cortex lobes, settling their heaviest bone fragments in the interior absent space of my skull like an acid umpire eating at my self-conceptions comfortably as a spider at rest after pushing out its web’s purile expulsion. I am trapped.
Alien intuitions come to me. My Maine hands learn Latin rhythms, Appalachian repetitions. Even the gnarled Nazis begin to make a slanted sense to my manipulated perceptions. Their sinister guns were an expandable picket fence inflating against garden moles. Jews, weeds. The anthropologist in me trashes the victor’s history. Something black and stabbing as a bureaucrat’s pen rewrote those grim men, grey as bayonets in their tailored fighting outfits, into mewling victims, wronged by international weather, engaged in constructive behaviour under psychoanalysis. The meaning of meaning is meaningless this afternoon.
I pour my hot face into grey dusted hands and weep.
From the dismembered hood
of a Chevrolet these flying fish arrive; caffeine stiffens their mercury wings. Trimmed slim by accident and flashing at everything, they bear the uncorked confidence of California surfers inside the puritan management style of their identical IBM business suits.
They skitter at the side of the ship. Above their shellacked and spastic skipping, a paid-off group of playboys fondle a pingpong ball with green paddles that web their stiff-fingered hands. They sound, in their playing, like the unremarkable, humped scuffle of suddenly marooned seals on the dry deck, one tier up. These unwinged angels slap balls (tough, glowing, and empty as souls) above and over my shoulder. Their immature voices take off in giddy spirals, resound in low laughter echoey as a bowling alley. Meanwhile, the silver fish scissor in the sea; the fat ship rips.
Entombed for the weekend in this steel tumor of my civilized race, this trim racing yacht, I turn away from the aerodynamic expressions of the ocean, manipulating existence by pure blood pulls, the genetic tug. I am not made for such malignering, but I try to relax, to turn away from the feeding existence of the sea. I look over at Dildo and Ovum, my bicycle-maker pals, trying to fly in dull hops as they bat the ping-pong ball, giggling as if garroted when the ship slips under them during their momentarily airborne, parasitically high and gulping jumps towards the sky.
OK, that’s enough.
I climb down the steps, a kind of lazy metal ladder, really, tugging on the flexless side-cables that have been industrially spray painted, like the universal whites I am wearing. My foot, slim in a bright boat shoe, grinds on the cheese-grater surface of the top step, shams forward like a basketball star, then finally slides down the saw-toothed assemblage from peak to peak, a reverse Everest ascent, and deposits me, a small charge of loose change shaking in my pocket with each bump, harmless as a Himalayan monk, on the nubby rubber decking in a sprawl.
Maintaining a Buddhistic balance against the ship’s yawl, I bite off my friends’ eviscerated fish heads (in my damned and drummed imagination, really it is a tin of sardines left out) with Shiva teeth, watching the fleet fish race beside me, as their blank static jet laughter roars above me.
The suave sex of an otter
swooping through water. Its feather-paddles offer its furry belly to the sun. This soft center of muscles coddles crack after crack, thwacks hammering against the cold tongue of an oyster’s black and blue body opening under the tempo of a sharp rock. The otter’s eyes are under water.
The spilled ink of the ocean dazzles in perfect blues. The otter handles the oyster with efficient blind bureaucratic hands. The cocaine-holding claws rattle blackly against the soiled and closed oyster’s perception of itself, visible to others in the cragged and chalky, quietly accreted, shell that shelters its spitting soul. Exhumed from its shell and raised to the uniform, opinionless zero-G of outer space, it would be an exact sphere of thinking water: every point along the zeppelin-grey surface equidistant from an imaginary, infinitely small dot in the exact center of its being.
Snapping down the purple God-globe of the medieval oyster’s body in a slurped growl, the otter celebrates its licked desires under the sun. It burps. Its fuzzy belly flutters in the seawind. Its black eyes blink out salt nostalgias, silent semaphores full of the dark light of pupils. The eyes’ signals direct our attention to unidentified plane wrecks—whose radar-tipped nosecones, painted black as otter noses, were only searching for a few oysters, anyway—a vacation, a warzone.
The sun embitters me, bright; too much light, too much looking. I watch the party group of otters flap, and observe the dignified isolation of the oysters as they disappear into the swallowing tension of throats, fisted in darkness, bathed and anointed in the oyster’s own ceremonial liquids. A similar pressure closes around me in the bright air, and my throat tightens. Am I the eater or the eaten? A metal yellow is creeping into the sea waves. Maybe it’s the tossed-back reflection of the ship’s side, drowning in sunlight. The narrow heads of the otters are crowned in light, pure gold, jagged at the ornamental tufts, jellied to fatness by the water’s insecurities, slap and slide.
Looking down over the taffrail, the sun makes me ruffle as a shadow in the water.
It is a deaf cleft
, a crevice in the face of an Aztec god chunked and regularized out of lava stone and into terror. The fixed expression on the map is the staggered opposite of Monet’s water lilies, a toboggan’s split track in black. Such is the Blake escarpment, deep and perilous as the derriere indent between brain halves.
This is the deep sea. Near the record outrages of Cape Hatteras the Nansen bottles go down; they check in thirsty burps the unheated salt and oxygen levels of the seawater the eyeless denizens of the deep filter and sanctify. The small gills of those who live here, the large slashes, the Spanish comb dentures, fine as a blue whale’s sifting equipment, pronounce a silent benediction with each watery breath. They use and renew what the cold ocean gives.
We release the sealed instruments into the deep, molten mirrors of ourselves. Drowning the effigies with a scientific attitude, Ray and I find a certain illumination, a lightness, in our dry detachment, scanning the array of glowing scopes washed by laser bars of light in the sea-cabin’s closed interior. We analyze and sort the the data we have hauled back up, samples and sums of we know not what. On other screens, cameras and radar outline the escarpment and return grainy images from the alien deep. Occasionally a photograph is filmed-over in green or blue, highlighting veiled faces snapped onto the microscope-slides of negatives—indecipherable surfaces. My center screen blips, oxygen content registers, a graph of our ignorance appears, tracing the jilted jag line of our single certainty up and down the chart with a drunk’s attention to a thrown-in-the-ocean scotch bottle.
Ray rakes his hands along the table. He screws a jeweler’s loupe deeper into his eye socket.
Information spills from the seismographic chart-maker, brightens in the screen’s confines. My breathing tightens. Suddenly, I am underwater again in my rubber tension suit, swishing with a dynamite pack to TNT my Italian desires, my Aeonian home. The impartial screen, rigormortis emotionless as any president repeating his crimes, relates a mass of disasters. The very atmosphere is elliptical! Nothing crumbles or slickens to an armoured resolution, a military intervention, a sabotage attempt. The sorry ocean, slurring its eternal apology, scrapes me toward the viny outline of the shore, clumped in tux blacks and sedate midnight to avoid the flying punch of an airstrike. My froggy body bumps ashore. I sniff around, locating myself in the uncoloured bushes under the absence of a bruised-over moon. A yuletide great dane yeowls its warning warble; my heart knots; but the dog is fuzzily ignored by the drunk and slumbering axis. Their guardhouse has become a sleepover party giggling among the dull Italianate hills, their laughter louder than the dane’s high-voiced welcome.
Slouching into the fabulous sweep of the square screen bleating its sorrows, I wait for an angry face to resolve itself from the stinging dots, to coalesce out of the maze-haze of facts, to jump into me and eat out my napalm heart, chastising into tameness my licking tiger impulses.
The radar light, with intimate access to the deep darks of the sunken Blake escarpment, wipers back and forth, hesitating at the edges of escape.
Cradling a camera
, the aluminum tepee frame puts a campfire light on deepsea slugs and albino crawlers. We have set up this intrusion of nous into the depths with careful dexterity. A bleached crab attunes blind eyestalks to the unknowable instrument. It is a memory of sight, of lightness, of a world that does not crush under 10 atmospheres of junk and salt, but floats, cannot help but float, inescapably buoys up until one learns the trick of weighted belts and lead moon shoes. This is the life at the bottom of everything.
A prehistoric fish, cauterized at birth to existence at these depths, was thought to be extinct, a frail eyelid outline in mountain lime, until, one heated day, a restless skipper, tapping the limits of his arrowhead deck, his distempered brain baked to boredom, attached his nerve-damaged hands to a double-length of steel fishing line and let it plummet, tied to an aerodynamic, unpainted plumb the approximate shape of a sci-fi space shuttle, until it scraped the ultraviolet sand fathoms below and tricked the fish like a balloon to the surface with its carnival lure, where, after a credible pause, it exploded.
My voyeur video tells me about its pressurized existence, its dime-thin swimming aching to expand in condom desire to the sky. Grey fish swish in static. They turn about like tanks, occasionally washed-out in their intricate maneuvers by an aluminum glare that bleeds onto the screen’s square cell. I check the ocular wire, lying lazy as a fuse, that wriggles out the window into choppy water to bury its head. I have the end that rattles.
The blind images of life stalk around the tilting table, stable as anything at sea, nosing after pheromones for food, nagging toward white worms in lip-acute nipple reflex. I tongue a striped straw into my worn mouth, sipping proteins, waiting myself to be snagged by some aberrant attraction and lifted to my annihilation.
Prodding the Cariaco Trench with a humongous
thermometer for a core sample, a team of men resembling Norman Rockwell before death thread a six-inch thick chain through the narrow gully of a pulley. The enclosed probe is an extension of themselves, an implacable attempt to confute the rapture of the deeps by sheer insistence. And yet, these men never win at cards, cut their sandwiches on the diagonal, and marry the first women to give them sex.
What black sweetness made them set out? The licorice taste of coal veins can’t spark here. Their physical selves would be crushed in the water’s deep hush. Desire and impossibility occur together. They make the inhuman attempt to go deeper as if dreaming, subtle and faceless in a siphon of will, made communal and strong by anonymity. They chant around a black and white monitored image of the drillhole they create. An undrilled hole in themselves responds.
“Destruction is creation,” they say to themselves in white smocks tidy as atomic scientists’. As a simple cluster of male members, they wonder if this grinding and boring is the unspeakable secret of sex. Transported from the postulated cubby holes of universities by sonic jets, the mandolin absence in their chests, resonating, tells them in unattached adolescent phrases, in a man-made world, in swift whispers, of an untimed, soulless and heuristic, distant, Neanderthal initiation. They dance around the monitor.
The pulley jumps on a snag, an invisible opponent, whipping the dangerous weight of the chain against the gunwale with the sound of metal thunder.
The straight knitting needle of the piston-corer
bears no relation to the Rock Drill skeleton sculpture of Epstein. It is the pure explorer of the sediment fat of history. It steals knowledge in 65-foot ribbons of dust and mud from the Grand Canyons of the sea floor. It creates an audience in its instant separation of context, extracting the once-living fall of fin or ash from its last rest, and greedily reads the implied documentation of the object’s finish, its death.
This is an electrifying situation. For the man at the top of the piston, laughing perhaps at the unspilled crest of a mill-wheel, there is the vividness of voyeurism, the compressed rush of seeing the lightless stream of materials brought to light by the corer’s muscled unconscious force. The piston-corer snags him as well, keeping him peeping from the high-point of the spinning mill-wheel. This curious man was pulled abruptly upright in evolutionary dawn by the flat mill-paddle’s hesitation and stiff crossgrain. His ingenuity walks over a desert of hidden colours, examining one detail at a time a whole ocean current of simplified mud—the dark slop of all our beginnings.
Desires warp away from me, my white image stiffening under the increasing pressure on the canvas sack of my diving suit as I lower into the loured-over ocean, dropping to check on the stifled rotation of our communal piston-corer. Its whining diamond rotor, whirling away like a girl in her fresh crinoline dress, spins on a nick in the unglossed dance floor, stuck, sputtering up musk dust from the dirty gym periods that dried down in layers from the pore-popping exercise sweat of some ancient Cretaceous June. An unidentifiable heat increases at the back of my waterproof suit, some crucible-eye spun on stage-angel wires. I sink down to the presumably unstoppable pinhead of our suspended boat’s attentions, the gaping barracuda bit.
Cirrus scuds of dust attack me. My hanging lights angle in towards the impenetrable middle of the brown hell. Everything appears to be okay, banging away. I peer and maneuver. Nothing. Everything is fertilely active. Like a good lover, I give up trying to understand it, and give it a metal kick, a swoozy boot in slow-motion. Kite-coloured silts volcano up. I spur away. A green approving light goes on in my head.
A waterfall sugars down the cliffside
. It is a fuzzed spill, seen through a dark occulation, a perverse diminishment of the gulping eye’s usual click-and-grab. The winds underwater are infinitely slow and heavy. A see-through syrup disrupts the falling flow of the sand. The psychic’s crystal ball refuses to grow clear as a teardrop and focus on a managable future. The sunken landslide sucks the tourist sand down, an endless hourglass. I peer into the granular hash.
"Thou one blind sailor, rich in joy Though blind, thy tunes in sadness hum And mourn, thou poor half-witted Boy! Born deaf, and living deaf and dumb. Thou drooping sick Man, bless the Guide Who checked or turned thy headstrong youth, As He before had sanctified Thy infancy with heavenly truth."
by William Wordsworth runs through my head, with a torch, the gasoline lit-up arm of a guilty terrorist innoculating himself against life. The flame-light of my lamp blends with the sand-fall, the orange threat of a molotov revelation itching the back of my fishscale skull. Aimless as a prototype buzzbomb in my creature-from-the-Black-Lagoon suit, I waver in the wake of hallucinogenic sand falling down my faceplate, an unfocused beach of LSD that doesn’t dissolve in the eye. I am being buried in a sandy landfill, a veil of grains. My immersed perception bifurcates towards chaos. Uncertain rivulets form in the Nile-delta dial of my diving mask, split blurrs of clear light in the gritty vista I can no longer transform to cloud-canyons, or sky, or clouds. One staggered stream, the quavering shape of a tear-track, opens in my Cleopatra delusion to the sea-blue suavity of an asp. My diluted mind staggers at the watery aspect of death uncoiling its clear tail. Unleashed by an Egyptian identification, I stare up at the Rameses aspect of the dissolving cliff, the high grim dimensions of rock, and see my sediment-father frowning there—full of trash and sifted, unerodable junk.
And I whisper in undecipherable syllables against glass: “Peace, peace!”
Neon DNA spirals
of a sea anemone enfold a silver fluke. Someone has ruined a hundred screendoor springs and painted them. The springs ignore the tension of the death they inflict, dimensionless in a flat black universe. The fish darts outward in agony, an arrowy imitation of a scream in its attempt to escape. The powder-blue springs, attached to the fish by tiny stingers at their simplified ends, follow in sweet and agonized silence the bullet body until stretched to maximum tension. They are taut as a barber’s razor strap.
Eternal victim at the end of a string. In a deepness of attachment, abstract in blackness, the fluke grows stiff by the light of its executioner. It resembles a deep sea-lure handmade in Mexico, with a metal lip that twists a grin into the imitation corpse as if dropping from the instant end of a hangman’s noose.
My voyeuristic impulse is charged with dissatisfaction. Silver death is not enough. The iron holds of a delicate garrote achieve nothing. My strings twinge with anticipation. I will put on my nine-year-old’s halloween skeleton and dance, bright bone, bright bone. Just watching will not weld me to the meaning aching here, the spar and strike of the flowery anemone.
I unscrew the survival tension of my patched-up and cauterized rubber righthand glove, I expose the Frankenstein mesh of my sutured and anxious right hand. Cold water bites it like a dog. The filling sleeve explodes its airs.
Under a wet weight of ice in my sagging suit, a rigor mortis extends my naked blade palm into the jumping center of the anemone’s acetylene springs. With a psychopath’s Olympic detachment, I note the chemical death of Jewish civilians as the initial stinger lights up my scar. Burning babies, small as Mexican beans, twirl along the open arena of my attacked palm. Atrocities unstitch and restitch themselves into my wounded skin—some new understanding that rips and nips. Fast air, turbulent around my wrist, makes a few of the barbed curls refrain from striking and miss their victim. But I am burning now among the acetylene stings; I am real and realer than ever, at least for this minute. Water is climbing inside my unsealed suit, with only my nose above the frigid brim. I fold into my baggy pants with the steel guilt of a bedwetter.
Even the fluke has ceased its piccolo actions.
The flounder flattens out
from its codfish shape. One of Dürer’s darlings, it is trying to enter a renaissance painting, before perspective. In this pressurized and sinking attempt to comprehend surfaces, one eye slides toward the crest of its forehead, gravitating innocuously aloft, and then reverting to an Indian mandala drawing in colored sand.
Circular as coins the deflated size of a midget Roman soldier’s leather skirt, the European flounder was transported from the overcrowded public housing of the nuzzled and overgrazed shelf of the teacart-delicate
Dutch coast by a man of British citizenry, one Walter Garstang. He put them, as an experiment in living evolution, on a domestic pedestal—the barren underwater mesa plaice in the middle ocean of the North Sea, surrounded on three sides by concretelike land, frosted with dead ice on top for good measure. In this emptiness, the flat fish lived, down among the frigid bones of burned and drowned Viking funerals. The Dutch flounder, in abrupt punch hole outline, and abandoned to the wild west of a cold sea, increased the muscular, solar-cell black, blankets of their bodies to four times their innercity dimensions. Evolution in realtime, agaile enough to fatten both purse and paunch.
I sink into the North Sea to peek at their secrets, the engines of revolution and change that beat on under their slumped gaze and come-hither-never camoflage.
There is a sandy field of flounder in front of me: finned landmines alert as hunger, pumping the flat circuitry of their two-dimensional hearts. Distant equations of dust go off in silent bangs when they swim, skimming the desert floor silently as brooms. Perfect in their pasted-down adaptation, fish-faced stamps, they remind me of the exaggerated jungle leaves I used to cut in kindergarten, licking sticky the thick taste of illegal glue (“You will die” says teacher), faded now to the D-day graininess of these half-buried fish, tacked flatly among the paper perfumes of mother’s closet.
Angling my gauntleted head, I raise the new rubber of the speargun against my shoulder elastically taut. The nearest flounder, having just eaten its neighbor, is glazed over with happiness. Its left eye shoots out when speared with the underwater sound of a diver going down, entering from heaven.
A plate of squiggles, extravagant as pasta
, spill ochre octaves of light against light. Sea lilies, as full of pageantry as a row of can-can girls lift their skirts before me, a paying and waylaid customer, here to study their suavities. You can almost hear them say in red, white and blue: “Dear Dolly, they’re singing to your legs—they’re worth more than eggs… or even but-ter too.” Flamingo-flared skirts beat around their pink ears. In underwater wind. In shelf light.
The fast hammer of my heart, the nailed corsage of veins affixed in my breast, follows their flutter. I reach down with underlit shadowless hands and detach a soft bell of blossom. Arteries of spent light, reflected rainbow patterns, race up and down my bulging arm, dry in my rubberized canvas suit, moving slowly in the warm bathwater of the shore. There is a clipped insistence to the picked lily’s skirt now, a series of short jerks, adjusting her carnation slip in a high, angry wind. Perhaps this headless lady is trying to kick out of the brutal claw my fat five fingers make, complacent in their collective power of disruptive friction; her leggy desperation flubs—a dull lump under my machine-stitched gloves.
Stretching a marbled arm, I let the pink powders of the sea lily go into a fold of light…. My troubled heart floats after her. Coronary pain cracks my arm in another country, far below the low distances of pewter clouds. I am having a heart-attack, a stroke. Bellying after the interstices of the sea lily’s dress on a powerful flood of 98.6° salt water, I ache towards an infinitely recessed, infinitely desirable, damp light.
My forgotten body shrinks from my consciousness to become a dwindled anchor, a copper hairpin pronged in the sand, vaguely attached to my mind from under a mile of ice by a taut monofilament. The cold light ceases to retreat with my steps. I can go no closer to it, and can drift no further away; the light hovers in mid-air above a coliseum of coral I can no longer see.
Something rises and I rise with it.
In meditative aspect, the inverted rockweed
hangs above the blood-red crisscross eyes of a suede rock crab. A mass of dead hair veins itself in Green Giant green above the crab’s brow of stone. The crab is hiding out in his vegetable disguise. Time means only getting through another day, and another: the crab’s blank succession of days, its muffled shift of an existence, shuffles back and forth over a worn spot. Veins of green luft suspended in sea water, fat with a valved inflation of salt water, stiffening them to a shifty, shifting, shiftless pattern of shadows on the muted sand….
Grabbing a sweet branch the consistency of latex vomit, I place it like a mustard patch on the top of my head until the burn comes through. I hope to grow from the weed’s peppery power in rank imitation. I too will hide under the sea and endure. This is the voodoo sympathy magic of a foster child taking the temporary father’s driver license and eating his picture in ritual. Let me be grown up and good. I’ve sat here for hours, tied to the surface by 60 feet of blue snorkel hose, trying to attach to the rocks. I want my burnt-out heart to learn paitience, to slow its Bhudda-speed, its irritable fibulation. I give up. My finned feet, astute as a pelican’s, flutter against the aching emptiness of the sand, disturbing nothing.
A world of angles open to me as I reach the feathered disturbance of the surface, hacking its whites, seeing the trembled green-on-green—insecure as a thunderized dog to infinity….
Quirky boats ride the jade indecisions. Immense wings of waves oscillate around me, requiring nothing, letting me skim the mercury envelope of the ocean, shadowing the downstairs tenants with a broken shadow, an approximate cross the size of a man. That is attached to the rock—myself, my shadow—with all its dwindled disturbance of shape, its buzzbomb dimensions perhaps, marking the x spot, exploding in silent dark, filling the available crevices of the rock with black tar, my angel projection that cancels the sun.
The intense whine of a gasoline-powered crane makes me ascend, flapping my cardboard seraphim parts as the line cinches under my armpits, bidding goodbye, goodbye to all that awful wetness, the fat wart of my second womb, the only safe place where nobody wants me. That lower coldness lacks drafts.
El Niño does not threaten its hot arrival
this year. The timed prick strokes of its killing heat are momentarily abated. Perhaps it is afraid of STDs. Plankton clouds the guano sea; anchovies swim here, thick as beetles on a corpse. The y-wings of seagulls dip into the soupbowl of fog with its spiritual mist-edge rising higher than the horizon—an horizon which cannot be seen over the cold uncirculating stream of the hidden ocean. Sounds ping more clearly in the infinite mist.
Lacking any lovely, unencumbered wife, other than the tied-down South American coast, El Niño simmers around on its Pacific oils, trembling here, coiling coyly there, posing in seductive ceremony somewhere else, silently venting his Polynesian preoccupations in a predawn preemptive steam, wilting nothing, only fostering a flurry of algae. Tightly applied duct tape cramps my hands as I haul in the little fish. Seagulls caw their punctured notes. Sea heat ferments against my face as I bend double over the rising gunwale—my face full of blood and flapping like a dog’s jowly jaw.
We are here to witness it at a great distance from its usual tide of attack. I empty myself of expectations, and keep my eyes peeled, my pencil sharp, and the ears open.
My revolving arms piston the appropriate ropes of the net upward. A metal kaleidoscope of flipping fish appears. They circulate in the net, using subtle bodies of their flashing companions for their ocean. Triangle heads and awning tails reverse and interlock and grimace in meeting. There is a logical end to the mutating combinations, but the switching rhythm is endless. Even their drying scales compose a leitmotif, a harmonious repeat, almost. I spill their grainy carcasses onto the splintered deck. We will weigh measure these specimens, and then grind them into powder, burning them into their constituent chemical spectrums like a star.
Standing to stretch out my snapped rubberband back, the frail lights of the stilling fish, racing against evaporation, form a flickering image of Christy for a second among their multiple positions. She shows up in a shimmered wink as if on the newly found shroud of Turin. She is a revelation, an accusation, a wish most devoutly wished. The wandered lights that compose her face trigger an old epileptic response and make me faint.
Astutely recovered in the dark hours later, I can feel the subterranean thumping of the newly accumulating El Niño burning beneath our yawing boat as we ride it toward Peru.
Red algae in a tidal pool
. Soft coral lifts its green velvet antlers overhead. Low tide dries the cycle. The sun burns this miniature Roman colosseum to dust. Coral colonnades stiff in the sand mock the dry plastered algae, its weak-backed inability to defy, to die like the classic Irish kings, tied to a stone column, upright in misery, loose deerskin boots stuck like a hairdryer in the red tidal pool of blood. The moonstruck inconsistencies of the sea can’t touch the thin, scarlet foreskin of the coral. Dying in cycles from its bitter pride, the candelabra burns its death into the exploding face of a sun it cannot see. Darkening in dehydration, the spent tips will snap off in midair, transforming to lungfish before they hit the resurrection edge of the wet world far below.
I hobble down to the burning dust of the tidal pool, fauvist in the frying pan flames of the copper sun. My cut-open hand is still sore, and my bruised, mauve knee retaliates at the mechanical tension of a weight-bearing bend. Close enough to see the sandy pimples of the coral’s bone surface, I kneel on my best knee and use the uninjured fingertips of my hurt hand to pinch an onionring off one of its Parthenon columns. Here is what remains of a life lived by the tides, pulled and nurtured equally.
It balances like a bread puff on my taped palm, not quite deciding to be blown off by the paramour breezes. One side is rough with clumsy jags, a handmade medieval crown, washed in hot water, machine-dried and shrunk to fit Tom Thumb. I wear it teasingly around my index knuckle so that it sprouts a blank forehead swirled with the intense logic of my identity, my flush fingertip a face. Under a strangely bearish and nonvocal impulse, I crush it to pink powder in an improvised fist. I sniff the remains of its girlish composition and decide nothing.
Thinking of my previous life with pretty Christy, I snuff it against a dead rock, making it blush, and ripping my stitches in the process.
One-island volcanoes, bone ribbed
and eruptionless, emerge from a mass of moss. Twenty-fingered sponges tower over the white limpets like orange, demented clouds of industrial smoke torn on a jet stream. From the small, single cells of anger the limpets have distilled into, an iguana’s black eye might bulb.
Marcel Duchamp would argue with my trying to strangle meaning from this mysterious limpet. This impersonal monument won’t even obey the final significance of death, the eternal Achtung! of God. It simply refuses, with its sloped sides hipped like a thatched cottage roof, falling away from itself, from the signal of its pinnacle, as if it were a girl’s dress made of etched lime.What fertile and subjoined joints of significance would appear if I could decipher it! Duchamp clamps his gamey mouth shut, unable to forget himself in overrational expressions of his sublimation, exact as Freud in his thanatos hat—which bears the suspicious slant and slash pleats of a sexy limpet. Duchamp is the bearded and slouched Jonah kicking the naked Mediterranean docks in Moby Dick.
Back on the beach, I turn one of the pimple shells over and over in my sandy hand. I wait for it to express itself from under my projections, a stranger’s face asserting its muscular ridges in front of a movie screen, a wavered surface of corrugated colors as baldly signifying as a tattoo. But what is it saying, with it stone ritualized moue, its eternal blemish? I toss off its coned bone of adolescence (regularized statued memorial of embarrassments) and let it fall face down in the sugar sand, a bleached acne scar. Some wave will wash it away.
I remember the stiff fluff of Christy’s prom dress, her breasts rising like dough, my pulsed spur of desire. Our forehead zits touched with a hammer’s thwack, producing electric Athenas, fully armed, who let us see, soft under their iron ritualized curls and noseguards, that we, sacred christy and I, were only the moment’s embodiment of some more permanent, less ephemeral, deisre—quivering slugs inside a Platonic ideal of lust. We were bodies, mere bodies, praying to and touching the incarnate the gods, the eternal passions, pimpleless and pure.
Sea palms cling to the rock
. An ocean throws its bitterness at their existence. The bald presumption of these mangled heads! These storm-flat scalps of trees! The blue consumption and bile of the ocean’s demonic stomach condenses into the salt insistence of insults. The dank waves slash; the waves slash back.
Is this the insulted rhythm of an artist? Or is it the fake anger of a histrionic hack? That the unspeaking sea itself is divided on the aesthetic issue is obvious: each attack (or is it the attempted blue spur of an alien communication?) resolves itself into tidepools and undertow, a radical racing back to its origins that delivers oxygen to the trapped crabs and weeds of the tideline that any enemy child could stoop to eat.
Perhaps it is all an untranslatable offering, a gift from the foreign eyelid of the sea; a genie blinking a fecundity of tragedy onto us; an educational attempt. The gist of wetness begs for the interpretation of some inspired Atlas, some communicable fellow, some brother, anything other than the ghost displays of the ignorant and uncomprehending creatures the sea creates and expells, in automatic Jehovah justice, from its paradisiacal depths, the luminescent registers of its elongated, angelic choir.
A long black wave, running suddenly unexpectedly forward, plasters my bare foot with foam. Somebody’s kid is kicking a related part of the dark wave back to its sliding coils. The male child, sporting intense satyr’s curls on his wet head, is screaming insensibly at the sea. A tiger’s smile distorts his handful of face, his lighted eyes as concentrated as the down-point of an ice cream cone.
Without thinking, I toss a carnival beachball (which was lolling alongside my ear with a paper-static sound), light as my thoughts, into the endless awning of the sea. Would the sea return it to me, a gift, an insistence, a lesson?
And I watch the stupid boy, propped up by young pride, bear it back to me, smiling.
Verbena break the stiff riff
of lines in the sand the air arranged. Their secret roots go down among the miniature stones of the beach, which rises smoothly to spears of foxtails, mounting eventually to the lazy yawl of a palmtree on a dune, a protean sweetie who swings her swank hips in a verge of green against the hot land. At least, this is what will happen. Given the instigation of a dropped seed—a sexual gesture, invisible against the blank heat of the open sand, time will unwrinkle a leather leaf, start a sprout, and erect a permanent column of water over nothingness in the cellulose rivers of the palmtree. The irreducible quartz grains of beach sand click against each other in rough whispers at regular intervals, exact spaces that imitate with their shifting footing the clocked increments of increase and life.
Lonely out of the wide water, jumped forth from an improbable froth, clapping against sanddust in my maudlin departure, a pale bipedal stalk, I straighten up, arrange my dusty leaves, and take two-fisted cuneiform shapes of sand, condensed by sweat, and hold them dutifully opposite, at the shoulder-high extremities of my arms, like charged electrodes, waiting in a fixed posture for the feathery green sprouts to start from my fists, a Zeus with duelling bolts of palm-fronds, an ample statue of my vegetable self.
I am praying for life to begin its sins. I am done with the old scars of war, the haunted thoughts that edge into my labcoat with me, pin me speechless with slashed flashbacks. Kick-starting the irregular realities of a simpler existence with my tree-stillness, I feel the grains of the sand begin to shift, spelling nothing, but opening, like live pores, a skein of sifting opportunities for any errant seed, asleep in the swaled dust, to initiate its Buddhistic cycle that culminates in escape from the dull transcendence of eternity. My new seed will propagate its idiocy, its unstoppable, leaf-blade blunt idiocy, into limitless generations of death.
I am unbearably happy.
This is the submerged cunt of Asia
, the Marianas trench. Exotic slot. Looking at the topographic maps, I see how islands are outlined in a sealevel halo of light, the continents in a stretched ribbon exact as a crag. The flat map, whose scar of mountains is etched with shaded skirts to resemble 3-D, jerks to one side like a smirk. The double triangles of a bikini-clad girl, dangling in Babylonian garden blush beneath her imperial Rameses face, have smeared the sullen bumps of the drawn landscape into instant erection.
As I fold the flat depiction of empty oceans towards my cross-legged lap, the third great pyramid of her set opens into view. She is stark scarlet.
“Is it OK if I sit down?”
Her taut legs buckle under with the graceful instantaneousness of a sand crab.
Her body is full of scars. Tattoo erasures perhaps. At her age, not so old, not so young, she has expended an effort at newness. Her red ass shifts into the sand. Above the surreptitious mobility of her breasts, full yamakas, her rye-ripe voice starts out.
“Maps, I see.” She charts me out with her eyes.
A fixed constellation, I wish I could disappear with the sun. She swings her agile lumps onto my lap. I look furtively around us. The empty beach impresses me, the uninterpretable phases of the light. There’s a burning double impression of a cartographer’s nightmare here, beach and water and sky intersecting too quickly, plane slicing through plane, expanse and cohesion of unexpectedly overlaid bodies of water. I roll with the cradle sensation of her motions. Her hooked palms, clamped into my back, begin in scratches to strike a match.
The dye tank at Woods Hole
in Cape Cod looks like an inverted cyclopes diver’s mask. The water is a pure chlorine blue. Two students belly-down on a diving board watch a red infection that has been scientifically introduced into the tank’s precision tides. Lamps, crimson as road flares, double for sunspots, cooking the water hot. Long tubes of air-pumped breath imitate jet winds on an incrementally rotating platform the shape of a clock. Behind black glasses with grey-frosted rims, a man in a plaid shirt points his drawing compass at the tank and squints at the deflected pupil of the world written in water.
The pool is as accurate, in its miniaturization, as a welded Swiss watch serving stand-in by religious metaphor for the watchworks universe. It is as complete as Schrodinger’s unopened box. It is the wet model of a child who couldn’t bear to hear the news a dead seashell whispered him at the age of four. Only scientists could be this literal. This obsessed with detail and the quaantification of the puzzling world’s isness.
Beyond the Woods Hole intitute’s regulated grounds, the far waters of the ocean beat and repeat, an industrial East Coast grey—harassed, and vomiting pollution-choked horseshoe crabs from its dismal waves onto the breakered rocks and graffiti-indignant shores suburban timidity has paid for. Is a lab, with its own graffitied labels and imitation horseshoe crab-incrusted beakers, really that different from childhood’s less tame investigations pursued in the wildness outside the institute?
Banks of instruments clicker with information. Ray, grown up now, stoops over the frying pan of water, listening intently. Terrible hisses rise and enlighten him. He is learning the fundamental syllables of life, of death. His hearing ear (the left one), never hit with anything intense enough to puncture it, bends to the babble. It is shaped like a seashell, an eroded horn.
I respect his dead-white wish to read the world. Strolling closer, descending from the awful speed of my electron orbit and decisionless energy level, I reach around Ray with a subdued glance, not wanting his shallow-water knowledge of this world, not really. I’m OK with my chilish ignorance, my own small spill of messes and guesses. Over Ray’s shoulder, intently hunched, I see the glossy colors of an illuminated drama spill and melt over a Mediterranean-tinted spot in the pool, a Jupiter eye.
In the experimental tank under close observation,
the 14-toothed triggerfish dismantles
a pickup-sticks sea urchin with its eyelid-bright florescent lips. Head down in no atmosphere, it could be orbiting Jupiter, sent out last minute to disassemble a Sputnik satellite. Its outlined rear-end signals to frock-coated, thick-lensed men hunched over a deep dish of radar emanations. The radiant scopes inscribe pies on their faces while a smooth light wipes their faces clean at regular intervals.
This triggerfish is a queen in the lab. She swans the controlled and patrolled lanes the watertank creates. She has reined in her attitudes towards death in order to eat. Her world is regally equitable, even the infinite pain of the half-dismantled sea urchin’s spines seems a matter of indifference rather than grievance or need. She is in complete control of her compulsions. Decked out in the royal blue of an acetylene torch, her traced body seems a halloween skeleton, suddenly alive on a child, or the fishingline-thin bones of her devoured husband, the king.
I slap Ray’s back, Christ-skinny under his tenting shirt. He stands back from the oscillating scope and breaks his bone face with a smile.
“Lemme study this stupid fish, willya?” His eyebrows rise.
I turn toward a bank of unlabelled knobs as he hooks himself toward the glowing water. A spiritual indecision settles over me like dust. My bold shoulders hunch under the powders. Knobs rise on the machinery like melted towers, ruined religions warting the simple metal of history. Each arrowed fist, each dial, demands a conversion, an action. Each will swivel like a new girl when picked. My numb fingers slip from the slick trousers, fluctuating with the motion in stylish grey. Perhaps the fate of a nimble triggerfish rests along my itchy finger. I confront the manipulating knobs whose identifying chants and mantras and rites have been worn away by science to one hum. An abstract hand decides and rises, reversing arrows, trailing evaporate sweat over the pinched plastic grips. A world turns.
And Ray, underlit by faith, stiffens as the triggerfish wavers under a new Gulf Stream.
Evolution knows no death is sin
. Christ knew this, and died accordingly. Pteranodons in their era snapped Elizabethan-green bat gowns above rapid, big-skulled bait making wakes in the ocean. Their leather lips require lipstick. They demand the drama of a madam, shitting and eating between four fast hands of claws. It is an elemental fireplace poker, this abstract head, twisted like a red diamond on those Alice-in-Wonderland cards sprouting potato limbs. The Pterandon carries an executioner’s air of authority. The red head shifts with a pouched twist of its sagging neck angling like a torn awning, above the long rows of ocean moss burning white at the high edges of their aspirations.
The unlovely Pteranadon strangles the interrupted arc of a fish—a winner pinning his dinner. The fish twitches fish-eyed; the split fish begins to flip its aerodynamic tail beneath a blood streak, flying with its oxygenated rust scar towards an unblinking blue heaven where it can breathe a pure, clean solution, so much like home.
. In its circus suit, amplified for business, trimmed in white for the splayed wedding day, the clown sea-slug appears on the clipped twig of a Cyprus coral, inches underwater in a phony lab still. Two snowy lips, discrete as labia, float on the orange flecked, shapeless (except for its no-shape), stippled slug. These silent creatures, flapping in erratic colors as if a somber judge’s robes had been turned inside out and stung alive, tumble hieroglyphs in water with a matador’s flair. To them, traveling in a straight line is not traveling at all; all forward motion must be ellipse and oblique advance. They are students of subtle connections. The Zeno-infinite barrier of distance is overcome with sheer style and the unknowable tao display of a blind-at-birth mime.
I check on the crenellating subject, held up for picture-taking by an invisable fishing line. It is partially wilted with an anxious school boy’s over-effort, like the fresh photograph in my drippy hand. Its oranges are only slowly alive compared to the artificial contrast induced by the stringent chemicals of the padlocked darkroom, the creator’s void of imitation, my buzzing brain-borrowed light of reflected objects, the womb water fixative, the steel pan for extra organs, faux alcohol-soaked clothesline necessary to evaporate the newness from the cribbed text, a Japanese copy of chinese characters made wonderfully foamy by the choppy effort to transport the image’s infantile watercolors over a wet trench without introducing a humped sea change. The clown slug’s Rio Grande curves diminish to a drenched mop’s motions. This sun-melted buttery slug is disappointed with its glassed-in life, its bureaucratic habitat, the artful spine of snapped-off coral that provides no restful net of shadows under the carefully articulated modeling lamps an artist named Lenny leant me.
Its life as a model, a subject of lustful study, is about to return to its pre-Twilight-Zone, Pierrot normal in a polaroid moment.
Readjusting from the bright blank dark of my elaborately gloomy Civil War Reconstruction Era developing chamber, as birth-bathed with chemical fluids as Frankenstein, I disconnect a Job-string from the sensitive boil of the subject’s squirming body and let it fall from its artificially natural arches back to its relaxed, laughless ruffles. It no longer need exhibit the rough exaggeration of pain my jabbing birth-pangs created for the sad clown; back it goes to the limp insistence of limits its measured salt aquarium existence allows at my sad command. I am maestro and minister and photographer to is miniature existence.
This poor clown cannot even choose when to wither.
The tabernacle prism skin undulates
in purple. Hairy legs soft as pine trees fluctuate in time with a dark internal mechanism visible through the stained-glass skin. The claw of its face is black and hard as a tiger bite. Red TV antenna substitute for eyes. The slouched beast emerges from the paranoiac landscape of a microscope. It is the size of a grain of rice.
This is a sea flea, lost in water, and stuck on a microscope slide like a Kansas suicide with nothing to jump off of. In nature, it hits bottom continually, forced by gravity to live there; it despairs of fighting, a retired trapeze artist hopping beautifully out of bed to face the shaving razor. To the depths of the ocean’s muddy bottom, the obscure fecundity of sea sludge from which everything else sprang, this stained-glass amphipod, obscured by the dirt it eats (an artist-journalist), is forced, thoroughly defeated. Trapped in the coiled expectation of a long siege, unsprung in the sea’s springing bed, this creature’s histories, its diaries and trials, will be buried with it in its burrow, beneath its pure body, a bud of amethyst, indecipherable under the shrunken will of its miniaturized state.
I shake the microscopic slide clean. Its contents curl from the glass with the extended glitter of oceanic spittle under an artificial wind. They head from the initial anus of the chrome drain to the settled ignominy of the infertile freshwater sewer. I settle the purified pane on the laboratory sink’s edge and wash my bandit hands like a raccoon.
“Somebody has to burn the libraries,” I say to myself and cast an empty eye around the room for a new start, a fresh slide, an unmolested history.
Historic, or almost historic, bolted bronze plaques announce my ogled accomplishments from the field of a daffodil-shaded wall. Name, doctorate, rank. I lean in a wet wind from the tilted open aluminum window, angling toward the inherited clutter of my cynical experiments like an implicit critic: I will drop the repetition of habitual gestures, doff all hats and tin workplace smiles. I will become myself, history-less and fresh. Absolutely original in my invisible motion of forgetting, my unsponsored touch, arising simultaneously out of everything, will readjust the ant-footing of a monarch butterfly on its momentary redwood; or, like an oily tsunami arisen from zero, I will smash the
Mardi Gras coast of Louisiana back to its mud blacks.
Plankton grows in the sea
. It is like a mold forming a perfect radius of health on nothing. Pythagoras knew this geometric truth, that the smallest plants, the infinitesimal animals, pock the sea like bread mold, and swamp the unbrushed teeth of humpbacked whales with the cold food of their diminutive souls. The whale’s great soul is composed of these million points of light.
The moldlike plankton manufacture themselves in a Judasless slaughterhouse. None of them considers their sacrifice, or considers themselves as sacrificing; they all want to be president. Pure in their McGovern ambitions, the machine of an amphipod, with the registered extent of a flour bug, can dismember 100,000 of them per day in bursting good health. Their circular minds, absorbed in mathematical rotations and schemes, are as fiercely happy as Joan-of-Arc in the sea acids of their upward digestion.
Perhaps there is nothing to them. An altruistic enzyme machineguns them towards birth, the selfless myth of multiplied corn, oiling their gold envelopes to be crushed or punctured with rupturing heat. The combined plankton sizzle the soulless sea-sounds of their miniature pleas into a cloudless air. Am! they shout, rather than I am! They are manipulated by design, a flaw in the manifold of time-abiding Darwinic success, fueling the entire system. Whales loll in their green abundance, thin-lipped fish initiate rituals to celebrate the inexhaustible tarp of food some benign fish-faced god has sprinkled over the surface of the waters.
Caught in a rubber daze of cyclical dancing, as if vulcanized by the abrupt discovery of sex, the spinning fish, sleepily full of blank plankton, are unable to avoid the taut closure of a dolphin’s mouth. Blue dolphins signal in watery ultrasonics the tasty news of a miracle. Annual frenzies arise around stupefied twirls of fish. Sharks or barracuda, attentive to blood, are themselves magnetized toward the white action. Bottom plants, fixing the nitrogen of leftover flesh into their stiffening stems, raise a myriad of obsequies toward the sun.
In the warm, ignored wallows of the water, unmarried masses of plankton, pregnant beyond the borders of their bodies, aren’t even attempting to avoid the red tide dishonor of suicide.
The one-celled diatom
of the mind resigns. Its intricate crystal resistance voids in a single spike the aims of a weltred lifetime. A few rectangular cells assemble a xylophone to play a showtune on; the mind returns to its constituent thoughts, the blocks of being definable in a simple philosophical grid diagram. Who am I when I’m not who I think I am? Looking away from these primative shapes in the microscope, like waking up from a dream of simplicity, the once-dissolved will reabsorbs itself into the lie of a remembered face, the stage set of inspired eyes, articulated gestures of a mouth, the sag disappointment work-weary cheeks assume over their disappearing bones.
We assemble our origins. This soup of clothes, pool of pretenses, adjustable cells of selves. My flashing dreams manipulate these amoeba constituents in the lens into sea birds, dragons. I am looking into the cold source of life’s hothouse wildness. The steel microscope kicks out of focus. My wristwatched wrist and pale hand, contemptuous of culled possibilities, have shoved the prepared slide to the chipped edge of the worktable.
My tired eyes rise to a blind room. Over a dimensionless floor, condensing into a scuffed mist, my disjunctive consciousness suspends itself, waiting to be resolved to clarity, to have a clarity imposed. The sturdy table tilts its bitten outline into lost clouds. The microscope mirror flashes indecipherable signals, telegraphing to invisible confederates. I stand up in the directionless steam, and snap my slowly dissolving head towards the remembered frame of a window. A bright square of sky, of possibility, leans toward me. Remarkable landscapes appear and disappear past its flexible edges, soft as new aluminum. Miltown melts in my sleepy intestines, nuzzling lunch’s third highball toward stepped pastures. Sweat scalds across my thin forehead, sudden as a shadow, a fired iron blade.
My disparate parts disintegrate to their diatom units: a dragged hand registering numbers: a sickle-shaped back crouching against wildflowers: a nimble knee sinking in my brother’s ten year old stomach: a detached cock shrunk in its caul of underwear, now alert in a haze of Christy’s hair. An elbow knocking against nothing immediately identifiable.
An asleep mouth sucks and disperses. Drawls towards silence, an awake blank of wax. The first cheek registers a cheeky substance. A muscle fluctuates in warmth. And now, there is an incredible spinning as if I am in orbit around a huge and black and furiously burning furnace. The insane spinning stops, a sudden calm out of an unexpected east. Only one drop of pure wax remains, infinitely impressionable. Who am I?
The far floor stiffens into stasis.
An arrow painted on highlighted plywood
points to H2O. The wroth broth flat-out refuses the cool sweep of the complaisant sky. The sea’s simmering blues are unabated. Two days of storm still mark the eduring pewter. It is restless, whitish now, an abrupt shrill surface of active champagne.
An awkward stork in hinged steps bobs before the divided scene. It is neither sky nor sea. Maybe the stork is the white intercession of an archangel, its wings the sweep of a savior’s gesture. The ambiguous figure in tall starts adjusts wings edged with charcoal. Wrecked vegetation all around the scene frames its weighted motions in busted lumps as it draws a pictograph of utter astonishment in the sand.
Indecipherable stones grind under the stark sea, negligee pale. Birth water. Out of the combative source of blue, red-blue, the slap of terror, knives of finding, deposited on a heaving plain barren of obstacles, flat blank of personality, hands of sands dissolving, the biting face of my enemy myself emerges. Detached from the retinal umbilical, thrown into lightning sight, one of my divided selves emerges from the alert eye of night’s hypnoses as slow definitions of consciousness go up like smoke from the wreck of being. In a smashed-up spaceship on ovoid rocks the shapes of breasts, I had landed on the dead quiet beach. The Italian air smelled clear of enemies, but my hair was on fire for sabotage and singed my nostrils with the ache for action. This was my first war.
Back in the present, I see the delighted sign, its florescent arrow pinning my pumping heart against my snapped spine. It indicates, if you follow its point, a renewal of battle, the breaking panes of the sea. Perhaps a salt whiff of annihilation rises, one unity among many others. The tall stork balks. It is unable to bring off the idea of birth in this quickening desolation. Small stones sizzle at my feet, a rash jazz.
The sky, ignored in its flamingo tones, demands, one gigantic pale bruised eye, an answer. Who will I be?
Droning in a daze beside white slippage of the combers, I regret the 100,000 names I found in a book of names for baby boys.
Looking at a sea map,
the Mid-Atlantic ridge and rift, echoing Africa
in its Westward bend, aches like an underwater breast, in outline, toward starved American shores. The Atlantis and Plato Seamounts intersect the inverted question mark of the ridge at the start of the neck, just above the absent dot. With its comforting layer of fat and water removed, the earth is an old bone ball, a dry eye.
This image seeps into my dreams, snapping me back to wartime Italy and my first deceased stormtrooper. I see him repeating his dazzling entrance, shocked hair blond as fire, chipped eyes lost in a face too brutal to be useless. I attack. There is a wheeze of butchery, and his unblanketed body beside me all night long….
The Gulf Stream falls on snow-blue paper
like a tree trunk. In the elaborate over-definition of his age, Benjamin Franklin, the author of this view of the sea, has magnetized the stream with the grain of a board. A security of something known in the face of such wide ignorance. It is an assertion of style, the flash of Marlowe, with feathered indian arrows drawn in the stream to indicate the general sweep of the just-discovered mystery of the water’s secret motion.
Clipper ships in three-quarter view slice a confused white wake in the fallen branch of the Gulf Stream. Maybe they are exposing the tender sap that runs beneath the all-weather bark. Save two weeks West on the right vein, the feathered shaft indicating the rapid cupidity of our founding fathers. Mandrake-men with split beards to fork off the devil.
New in the primeval woods of New England, they confronted themselves without limit, without the collective stare of their peering superiors, the reflective glare of history, that under-the-trout-neck tanning device that slits against me now, plowing through a pile of books on the windless beach. Nightmares began their elemental glare back then with the colonial men—the simplified outlines of dream and disaster, the rough circumference of gigantic trees rising out of their capped and buckled minds. Heathens breathed their air. Savagery escaped the projected woods, the wolf-dark biting out from under their brown brows.
This earth nurtured their paranoias; it nurtures mine. The dark of history begins behind my eyes, a blobbly blossom like a blood blot; all this caustic light of now is a bright deception, a bangle to trick the tourists, the Cambridge kids drinking after graduation, their pilgrim hats a buckles lying askew on their beer-stained beach towels. The injected vein-arrow of their flight, drawn by Franklin, begins to ribbon into leaf and purple vine. The sandy soil allows expansion of the ripping roots, the iconoclastic impulse that rivets dreams to the barked-over real.
Primly on their birch-painted canoes, tourists glide like seconal past the intersected circular trunk of the bright bay. One, a student, out for a day at the end of the semester, yet rigid in the remembrance of his dreams, the strict rictus of imagined knives, tips his heavy load of books back into the winking sea.
Chocolate-striped like a dapper cookie
, crisp in a white linen under-canvas, the snail’s shell appears to be arranged in geologic layers, the scrap snippet of a seismograph emerging from the minute jarrings into serried chocolate lines. But this is all history, dead as day-old newsprint, precise as Egyptian scribe transcriptions, perfect as the eviscerated papyrus curling in broken Red Sea jugs.
Mussels crust the rocks
. Scavenger seagulls pimple the heights, the mid-region of rock covered by the spitting shells. Below them, in a fallen arc of the viewer’s attention, a slime so green it is black, swells. Kelp and surfgrass dynamite to life in blasted tidal pools. Bladdered seaweed swivels in the backwash. This civil society cusps itself on the unpredictable edge of air. A political wind will agitate their shallow order. They are essentially Americans living in the degraded sixties, slouching at dead water midnight towards their limited and manipulated image of the seventies. The sky is a blank TV screen their aquatic eyes can’t unblurr from static.
In a few more words, they will be enough like me that I can ignore them, almost. Safe distance of identity. A cynical condescension. A projection. On the solipsistic beach, flooded with sun, even the eternal line of the unceasing sea fuzzes like an uncertain section of hair in front of my eyes. Imagining cat-slits on my ocular bulbs, I could manipulate the sea’s lazy blues away. The easy blink of nonexistence reddens my inner eyelid. Its minor frictions hesitate. I do not want to be the womb that ejaculates a world. What has forced me to this destruction, this creation?
Rich algae explodes its black flak on the rocks. It is a mural by the artist of jet. His fast ebonies. I shape it, in erotic octaves of imagination, beating with the tousled sea, into the midnight depiction of a copulating couple. Invisible birds cry out.
At one time, my Shiva-fingered hands, caressing dresses of invention, were dumb globes, fumbling at knobs, decisively incompetent. Now, in the low drama of the tide, murmur of insurrection, my slender fingers fatten, away from their piano-agile competence. I feel them begin warmly to bloat, asleep in their injuries, their laughable murders of men I invented and stuck like cardboard in their designated worlds, to swell and to bloat back to globes.
Inverted antlers of the mangrove roots
hold a stag’s bark-brown prick in the air. Sea urchins gather in the tangle. Salt-water marks the chalky mangrove arches black. The urchin mouths suck at the swamped roots. They are entering an ancient city, a druid wood, the arched mathematical construct of a gigantic space station. Formal as archbishops in their starched doctrinaire robes, the urchins move through a dimpled distortion of shallow water, keeping a pointed distance from each other as if they were active tips of a single hundred-fingered hand. They agonize over an obstacle of corralled rock, tip their bride of Frankenstein armament on an incline of sand, and disappear with a spiny motion under dry mangrove groins.
I measure myself against the mangrove’s stiff triumphal arches. It is a cold comparison, excluding appearances, excluding dramas. I am as nothing to this living intensity.
Lowering my crew-cut and lopsided head through a decently large Gothic V, I shoulder my bundled back through the four-foot high space-portal, dodge the shrill hair of sea urchins, and hunch uncomfortably among the shattered reflections of pissy tidal water. I am inside a nuclear missile’s nosecone; radiant nodules of urchins darkly flash the countdown sequence. Or else it is a full-body electric hair dryer, hovering pastel above the wincing faces of women, and rusted to the dim patchwork colors of tank camouflage. I examine my cockpit in the dim light if the wooden tank’s visor-slits.
The contained heat of the hunched space is making my fresh fur sweat. Perhaps I am overdressed in a considerately too-warm hospital examination room, an antechamber to Hades perhaps; perhaps war is such an chamber, full of ammo and empty of meaning.
I lean against the massy tangle of mangrove roots and see the frozen halo of one of the sea urchins approach my charmingly naked, sea-slug white, right foot. It seems curious and efficient, a doctor checking recruits before deployment. Am I headed for fight or flight? War’s razors, or the open spaces of astronauts? I, in turn, examine the medical authority of its motions, its stiff timidities; it looks as if it were diagnosing the open throat of the sand beneath the cathedral mangrove. I wait for the cool judgment of its touch, the cold stethoscope, the hot needle. Voiceless, it bulks up and onto the lump of my foot, a ball of foils in the sidelight, and adjusts its one doctor eye to my foot’s arch. No injections; I am not needed for either outerspace nor earthbound battles. The urchin tumbles off toward the glow-spines of its fellows, clumping for take-off like a bag of icecubes in a steward’s bin. A tense rivulet of sweat unzips my back, spilling nothing vital.
Alive at least in the green tree-water reflections, I realize that I will never rise or dry.
The Angola Abyssal plain is burnt
. There, miles under the smashed mirror of the slave trade routes, volcanic ochres ripen. The evaporated congo river on this map inflicts a “fan” of scored, lasagna-wavy edged lines on the otherwise smooth, completely tense anger of this ocean plate shaped like a chicken leg, or a footprint, resonant as drums made from human soles.
I tap the map and move back miles and years into my russet-dusted memory….
I slap my foot in the dead trench. Dust puffs up. It is a robin’s egg afternoon, ready to smash apart. Fragment jags of blue stab out of my back in enemy territory. I carry a conspicuous brightness in my spine, scalding open spina bifida style, a pretty radiation winking from the eyelike wound of bone, the removed hatchet absence in my back. This eviscerated field in Italy is scissored apart by shells, by sky, by every unpredictable whirr of shrapnel.
Abandoned objects thrust up under my padding foot, trying to jack my sweat-black head above the dirt crest of the four-man foxhole, a baked lake unable to shake its dry ocean connections, its long blades of clay exposed by spade and a gouged taste for the desperate. This is my shoveled hovel, my own Abyssal plain, my stared-at waxy page of sea-floor map, dropping me without its salt water and toilet flotation device straight into the crummy memory crevice of WWII.
Pacing past a dead nazi’s body, slumped and slashed with swirls of clothes-folds like last night’s laundry, I tap a slim cylinder cigarette into my numb hand. The blaring battle action has sagged. Occasional emphysema coughs erupt from either side of the front at random, scattered noises of a sickness-stricken zoo.
Orange plains. Blue pressure of sky or ocean. My life has crawled between these two extremes. I fold the depopulated map and accept the waiter’s iced drink and red ink check.
Manta Ray. Devilfish.
Picking delicate shrimp the shade of a girl’s fingernail from an abstract plant complex as a beehive hairdo, the Manta Ray scrolls its flexible scythes. Those fleshy loops that bracket the wide mouth in a semi-funnel, corral a pink crustacean like a wedding-cake rose through the flush water. The devilfish’s caped bachelor suit is perpetually neat.
Netted like Christ off the paradise shores of Acapulco, a huge ray reveals, in its flying diamond complexity, nothing vital about itself. Like me, slashed with accusative shadows, this black stump-shape of pork loin is sold and wrapped in self-attractive plastic that bonds with anything stretched to the requisite drum-note. Any sufficient insistence of alien hands will capture it, for it is always obeying the pressures that surround it. It submits with the subtle elastic bowing of attic stairs.
The captured ray is willing to be walked on, or raised into faceless symboldom. We are alike as ciphers. And that attracts me, that lazy covalent bond among men, the unity of marxism and christianity, Lenin and christ; they swiped pagan attitudes towards nature, the native numbness of faces ritualized into significance; i.e., doing what their grandparents did, seeing the void under the same warp of magnetism, Christ or Lenin, bland values out of a past that seems so milk-consoling, stabbing away real life’s inevitable loneliness—the singluar one-on-one of intimate killing, for instance…. My gold man, razoring over a ditch edge in Italy, died surprised as sunshine on my unrusted bayonet. I want to be what he was: young, able to rise and fall in the war ritual, a premature fetus swinging his mother’s womb by an umbilical lasso, tied by hand into the social concept of a pretzel and considered edible, able to be sacrificed because so thoroughly a part of the communal body, a spare pared nail.
The Manta Ray sways in a rigorous confusion of dark diamonds as our high-handed hands haul him onto the deck. The butter-cuts of the monofilament net that had scored his skin like a chessboard, are disentangled from the beast and thrown over the side, lowered for something new.
The crimped sail of the emergency
life-raft bakes in sunlight like the edges of Mrs Stahl’s under-pressure needlework on a circular wooden frame the size of her shrinking and wrinkled husband’s face as he waves to me from their oval window, his hand enlarged as a claw under a red reading lamp, undefined as a tentacle in its slurry of motion behind the green-tinted glass.
The waves themselves are the icebreaker wakes of her angelfood cake. Pure air honeycombed in sugar dough. Two-inch candles, twisted under the spiral undulations of the flames, melt into the white icing. It is the birthday of a stranger, a remembered ceremony, the cancelled reverberations of a faintly German song marching into our empty yard. Watching through the uninvented view of a window, I can see the small yellow tinsel flames sequentially extinguished. A new light appears that shares the outline of my hungry body.
The sunlight is intense beyond my closed eyes, my lips thristy as I sit seesawing on the ocean. Only memory calls me out of my daze, a phone call full of static and passion. Whose birthday was it all those years ago? I see a miniature Christy smiling eyes-closed in the spat of candlelight—the old light moving farther and farther away, a dim blue hole closing in the clouds until I only feel the waves beneath me again, the broken rocking-horse of the birthing sea.
Set adrift by a hull-splitting scurry of accidents, I see in the submerged matchstick eyes of an agitated knot of sharks under my safety orange rubber lifecraft, the happy last image of a sea-marooned and starving man.
A lighthouse at midnight steams
in the spermy Switzerland of its outlet. It stands alone on a craggy escarpment, a warning. It is a dark block of hewn night, assembled from arrows bound in cat gut or from the eye-strings of enemies, they twist single single single switches of field grass tightly together to create this obelisk; the black bulk indicates a determination; the direction, a god.
The enormous peppermint stick in enameled spirals, torques towards an emotion. It is a reverence for technique in the bald face of overwhelming odds; given a solid, upright engineered form becomes, through its unique engagement of resources, technology. The icepick enters an elephant; light enters the darkness; the lighthouse darts into a flank of sky; a spout of blood illuminates its way. This is the sweet method of technology.
Halfway underwater, my tin head keeps its glass lamps dry. On the inside. The sea breaks its Greek shards at the phallic foot of the lighthouse smaller and smaller. Chromey water oils my view. Bright slant stripes pinwheel into distorted sleeves with a Renaissance puff. The tower crouches among the sea’s uneven blacks, ebony sickles spurring against the one ray of dusk’s first star still hanging in the late sky.
Out of the ecstatic spotlight, I watch as the hooked edifice blurs into thick-margined lines, shapeless chimpanzee fingerpaints, distorts upward toward the doughnut oval of its own bright, swinging desire. The simple assertion of the lighthouse, high as my pre-war suburban dream, and flashed with crimson insight and latex waterproofing, curls at its foot in the priestly intercession of a wave. It sizzles skyward, away from all the tilting war zone of the water, trying by the luck of combined angles to puncture a new revelation through Hollywood heaven.
Solipsistic in the shallows of the given year, I feel the interfering wave fold over the Marconi-sensitive, mantis prayer shell of my body as I drift witless in revelationless shallows.
It is a matter of energy
. It is a matter of energy, and not time. Trigger shoals blade into the soft sides of ships off Nantucket. The bone shoulders of this fanned out and convoluted sand catch many fish. They are hoping to pull together a critical mass of dead parts and sea junk. Rust stains swirl away from the coral bed like an effloresence of bloods. This is the aching
Gertrude of thoughtless men; the switching sea channels that changed Hamlet, squeezing the birth of resolution through the sea’s mixed metaphor and chaos.
Generations of New England whalers killed themselves against these shoals. In a detached spree of American independence they did not even recognize their farming, rock-turning and wall-building, fathers as fathers: only the sea.
But the sea was mother too. So abstract father became God, became a constellation, became a guide to navigation. They step-fathered themselves to maturity against the suavity of these rocks. In a radical arc of action they killed their fathers and now must kill themselves. So they load up their iron hooks and needles, a rapier-minded sewing klatch, into the long shells whose edges are turned up like dry leaves, a carved mask, a breakable wooden persona, and give chase to the most basic image of themselves: the roiling, blue and diving, burning and plumed sperm whale.
Stark shoals are humming underneath the men, deeply attractive as magnets in their primal and nuclear weight. I float through the hole of a snookered frigate, ripped and displayed here in its still effervescing death; there is a morbid freshness in its continuing decay. Compacting to a photographic plate, an unclear x-ray, this rippled under-pinning of the Atlantic, shoal upon shoal, has culled debris into clumped and whitening clouds of disease. Here lies a general indication of the nation’s ailment, a pensive weatherhead of cancer, the puritanic accumulation of an under-achieving child’s pervasive and general sense of guilt. Men have died here to deny their fathers, to cut themselves free from the land, from history.
Looking at the sand-bagged and rusted-out outlines of shadowy hulks shifting in the hallucinatory sand, I add my throw-away and sag gravity to this drowned black hole that eats the light of identities.
The iris accumulation
of the coral is a spaceship. Its aerodynamic UFO edge gives it the bloated elegance of a zeppelin. Honeycombed with the bone blossoms of its species, you can see a few of the living cathedral windows have been punched out; perhaps by the agitated scrabbling of an octagonal crab, perhaps an organized squad of escapees exiting Iran with the traditional hem of their robed garment regularized as a jet contrail.
Indeed, the coral outcropping has the fractal appearance of a mosque—the religious injuction to never depict real life made by Mohammed in his Arabic visions; an expression of the secret faith that the solipsistic powers of people can’t project with any real idiosyncrasy, any ability to emanate from a unique center that Islamic preconceptions have not altered and epoxied into stereotype. An Orwellian will to affix reality. A Soviet determination. An IBM-like regimented insistence to instill. And yet, this is real, this humped clump of coral, an effort of individuals disappearing into a circular edge of stone flowers incisive enough to pry apart the entrenched, presidential pearl of a sullen oyster. Something in me begs to disaster this built-up rigging of perfection, this blind obedience to obedience as if willed by Allah Himself.
Unclenching my gloved and hovering fist, I realize that just one manipulative hand is required to bring about this feat: to topple a religious, political and social environment, complaisant in antagonistic harmony. This supreme society of choral corals is vulnerable to disruption. A simple fist will do it, or a levering lift of insistent fingers.
My bound hand having ceased to bleed, I idle above the pleased symmetry of its oval edges in irreversible recovery. I could bring this edifice down like a deer, melting its sudden confusions and wound-open hexagons, crumbling like Bambi’s broken mom. I pause; a velvety evil inside me piles up like tar and ebbs. The aerosol hairspray of my intentions sprays and frays, stiffening nothing into desire. The unencumbered blood bank of cellular aliens simmers its engines; the sharp-edged coral vibrates, a marooned UFO. It rocks from its anchors like a parade float as I push, a dim orange emanating in laser diffraction beneath its sinister weight. Its slick energies engage in a silent rage of red, axing itself into the shifting sky.
This sissy reticence is as close as I will ever come to birth.
Nightshade and venus forced to bloat
pregnancy under ultraviolet light. A Portuguese man-o-war sacked with bbs and given a face to chew hubcaps. An airport string of runninglights imparts a permanent curve to the niger’s scoliosis sides, shoved 4,000 feet away from air straight down as if allergic.
Deep in its unpollinated Utah of water, the Chiasmodon niger prowls for miniature shrimp and bleating flotsam with an invisible scowl. Upsidedown on its predescribed belly, plush violet and heavy, a false fin, like a mittened and spastically stiff hand, emerges reversed from its spine like a backwards jet engine. It could be a tossed dart, this purple fin, aimed at the rollercoaster lights along the ruffed spine and missing with a drunken lover’s lag of carrythrough. Hanging mid-way beneath the two-inch terror’s anus is a blind eye, the false eyelash of an eye, perfect as a target and intended to distract the tiny attentions of its immature victims. They’ll never see him coming.
It was in a similar spirit of illusion that my parents hired a magician for my fourth birthday party, crowded indoors by an unexpected rain. The room was rosesoft with balloons, their silver luminosity melted into the shapes of hearts gave back the triggered activities of the room’s closed square. A quilt of healthy children, bouncing about like apples in a tub, their heads rising under dark mats of hair split in the mercury-shifting crevice of the strapped-to-the-ceiling hearts, roaming with our collective breaths, misting with the birthday boy’s gigantic candle-killing puff, insistent as the bearded North wind, that put out myriad candelabras arching to the edges of the bloated hearts above us. I grew older.
And then, suddenly punctured by the magician’s gloved hand, the nearest balloon, dark in the dimmed bay of the room that had made the burning cake dramatic, dropped an instant glitter of confetti against my upturned face. I shake a new knife into the niger’s black gut, my SS present, and find my distant faceplate nubbed with unexploded eggs. And I am unable to smell the fragrant rain.
The angry whips exist in gems
; they flick behind a curtain pure as pearl, immune to the sloppy cycles of sun or moon. The tide is a tent-top ten-thousand feet above the whips, undulating in the wind strongly and slowly as if composed of desert dunes that move by hours and eons. The tent-waves cover high, tiny unicyclist dolphins and tightrope-treading flying fish in alternate bands of bluegreen light that are almost stripes—when all at once the enormous tent’s surface is startled by a summer breeze.
Like all angry objects, the miniature whips are attached. They connect to the clawless form of lobster, the deep-sea prawn. The four-inch prawn is actually a shrimp, expelling against all odds its gilded screen; it emits a glitter from the small links of its body, this tiny prestidigitator with enough arms to be a stage manager, or a 1914 movie heroine, mouthing curses in bitter silence, beating her endangered arms in practiced distress cutely against the chest of her captor. This is how the prim prawn flagellate their innocence against the snap-jaws of viperfish—their retreating and troubled antenna writhing like rubberbands behind their staged gold smokescreen.
One pink prawn retreats from my fingertip. A fat prawn in mortician’s black, my index digit guesses at the prawn’s pale disposition under the expulsed golden gloom of its miniature escape cloud; moving in the rest of my hand, a militant quorum of morticians jab past the hokey gold mist and grab the skittering bracelet shape of the prawn. Something blacker than my rubber glove lurking behind all that metal swirl crushes the reddening resistance of the prawn’s crimped body in an invisible explosion, its small exploded guts tracing twirls around my knuckles.
The whipped glitter of the flagellant curtains the corrosive drama—a drama without redemption entirely.
The deep-sea eel lies folded like a carpet
unrolled down a staircase. Its eye is not blind, its bulldog jaw crushes the political rhetoric of its banner body with instant death. A red Roman tassel flashes over its orange eye the size of a mortar barrel. Paired arrow-fins, florescent red, enter its circulating gills as an eccentricity of design expressing the personality of their owner. Perhaps they are the red cry of a death-wish, or the lust of a hunter to feel the strength of its own bite, its fatal superiority.
The eel’s tensionless crest buzzes by me. My canned hair edges up. This far underwater, I must boost to the silver surface in creeping stages, dangling by a looped-over air line in mid-murk, waiting without a nicotine fix for Grendel to grump his way home (perhaps after unpacking a crumpled tin of me, hanging in helpless piñata profundity, buoyant as a girl clawing along an empty bar with her balanced drink). I watch the tremendous butch abundance of the bleak eel peal past. I hold my glistening innards still. Nothing bleeds in fish-whiffs from my skin to trigger the eel’s instincts, except perhaps a clenched stench of oil, spoiling from my suit’s robotic joints. Tin man in the magic woods, I want this punk Dorothy with her razor wig and slicing edges to purl along, leaving me to the rusted-in shackles of my interrupted industry, the riveted stove-pipes of my bolted Andy Jackson bearing—stolid and without a horse in the coalblack battlefield of my chosen eternity.
If its steel teeth were to bite colonies of errant air from my made-in-Malaysia suit, I would have to rise towards light and bend.
It comes from the demanded drama
, the poet’s tweak and thunder, that the old stonefish in her alcove recess blends an ordinary carapace with dismal murk. Double-mossed fins elaborate as a lady’s slip make a mundane skirt for the hidden venom of the stonefish’s lips. This race of fish is all female in their long wait and poisonous anger abrupt as a matchstick in the dark.
And yet, there is an undeniable maleness in the stony surface of its eye. Scratched as an ancient temple wall, the registered sled tracks fall off into an abyss of pupil, dark as a dream of hunger, a hunger satisfied only by Abraham’s sacrifice. If miniature aircraft, adroit as flies in their landing maneuvers, had skidded unwitnessed on the dust of a discarded monocle, the marks would not be different. This fish, sunk to the bottom of a pile of unkempt rocks, has lifted a line from Yeats and has “cast a cold eye/ on life, on death.”
I declare this fish to be my mannikin image, in my bloated stoned perception, something I can fall down to become. Crusted with mossy petticoats, it blocks definition with an androgynous sulk and an armored brow, the pasted-up attitude of a library lion, all terror in its frozen sleep. I, too, can erase my outline underwater and live as a camouflaged rock. When it looks out from its hidden nook, does it see a mirage of existence perhaps? Or is it locked in the iron meditations of a motherlode? Its grainy gills blip. It is living towards some catastrophe, riveted to silt and lost like a discarded breadloaf among rock imitations of breadloaves, too stale for anybody to eat. Maybe Prometheus, sizzling to this depth, would take a bite of such compacted bitterness.
Suspending a wicked hook of chum, detached from my own thigh, in front of its split trumpet-lips, I wait for the earth to move, concentrated down to this one glum chunk of quarried rock, this detached scion that will stand for all the meanings of mundi my imagination can muster. I will catch it and kill it and be free.
The striped spikes radiate
from a striped body. It is an indecipherable geometry. Its jut of action as it swallows is complete as a turkey gobble. The zebrafish studies a line of desire to its last implication; Louis XVI puffs of assertion motivate its jagged going. It is always arriving. Identical in black and white or cinemascope, it has an androgynous aspect, a political evasion of identity even as it declares itself in loud stripes.
I think of this as it murders a flamingo newt with an unconscious poisonous spine, and passes on with an iron stomach and stiff brocade of spines as the ballet tissue of the newt death-convulses in pure pink. I see that the zebrafish, bullying forward on its hollow chest—replete with insistence as a stock broker—has made a sacrifice for its successes, its big entrances slick and gliding under a silk hoop skirt; it is the assassination of character under image.
I want that faceless existence: the lightning-striped facepaint so outrè and extreme the face disppears. Something under the totally reflective silver circle of my diver’s mask bubbles after anonymity. I swallow a lump of regulated air. The sedate zebrafish ruffles its facade. A living curtain of spears, slashing in their accuracy, saunters against a comparatively blank backdrop of an actor, hysterical and minute. It rolls its Buddha-placidity forward, making the remote tips of the spears fluctuate like the hem of a girl’s frill….
Swimming in uniform in ’44, the tight black-code outfit of my assigned scuba unit, I swiveled into sand with a bright, almost electric, erection under the rubber, trying to find the sunken shallow-water eggs of my misplaced mate. When I looked up, wet-faced, from the ancient uterus of the
Tyrrhenian Sea, Christy’s serious face, detached as if reading, rose halo-style over the soon-to-be-exploded factory town.
Trapped in the active definition of myself, moving in secret, I lacked access to the Mardi Gras ingénue anonymity of the zebrafish. There was no revitalized Southern-belle entrance to make my decisions for me, no grand staircase to ascend, nothing but the agreed-upon goal to destroy the target and erase my responsibility. What social protocol could I evaporate into? What assimilated sky would accept my frantic atoms? The casual boxes of the town bulked up, obscuring with a quenched clocktower Christy’s luminous left nostril, and fractured like a highrise her hovering smile.
Tracing her filigreed reflection in the pattern of the rained-on streets, I passed crossed out, or closed, carbon-copy shops, greengrocers, butcher shops, innocuous duplicates of any Italian town—a singularly diminished essence that would not suffer any loss when compressed flat onto a postcard, flashing in a tall stand that twirls.
I am almost ready to insert the confetti-brilliant causality of the explosives I have carried here with my unique guilt and make my zebrafish exit, indifferent and visciously suave—and then return to the sea entirely absorbed under the gigantic crisp combers of Christy’s rainbow hair, coiffed high and lovely as a romantic sunset over this doomed town, the rainbow stripes of her pleated perm vaulting down to the water’s edge.
Straight from the inked and crisscrossed terrors
of the 19th century, two behemoths wrestle under water. The boiled cleats of a monster lobster claw-clamp the smoke-hole of an octopus. Its segmented feelers and tux-tiled waist, starting just behind the giant head, hides beneath the mottled skirt of the octopus, avoiding the tentacle ovals NASA learned to design air locks from, waltzing with a Southern correctness under the ballooning brain bag into the perfectly centered beak of death.
This Godzilla contest bucks across the abandoned ground of the ocean floor. Struggling for supremacy in a meaningless sea of counterpunches, the octopus puts an Atlas foot on the nonporous rock face and slides for a better grip on its tanklike opponent. Exposing its splotched vitals in an attempt to use its brown parrotlike beak, the octopus ties itself down like a tent. Strapped and rippled by the different tensions of its suction anchors, the octopus’ unmoving eyes stare straight out from the opposite sides of a no-nose. It carries a dream of Arabia perhaps in the still unsettled bob and forehead of its jello sack of brains; in its expectation of a feast, the octopus curls the feather tip of its farthest anchor-sucker into the cinnamon swirl of a princess’ slipper.
I close the old fable book edged in gold. The outrageous swallowing body of the octopus lies frozen in the plaster bulk of my night lamp, its feminine hips and leg-like stripes of art deco molding. Out of water in the stacked bones of this dry New York aquarium hotel, high as a hundred-year pile of baseball cards played face down, I bounce from the velvet bed toward the half-buried silver ball of a covered tray, resting like John the Baptist on the thrown angle of a serving cart. Steam bleats out from under the fogging edges of the tray as I raise the bright cover up an inch. Steam flares under the oblique rays of the veiled eye of the octopus lamp right as I throw the silver cover over the happy jumble of an uneaten salad, revealing a hot cooked lobster, gigantic on its plate swilled with limpid butter.
The fight of the fable, its titanic struggle and wildness, has emerged from my subconscious fully clawed and cooked.
Shivering like a high wire under snapping winds, the pale epileptic shakes of my abusive right hand cannot resist cracking the innocent curves of the boiled lobster’s red back, the solemn lobster’s laboring arch, cracking it wide open to expose the pure white plumes of death.
The goat-eyed squids in the pebbled foreground
are wearing party hats. It has a hundred legs made of compressed oil. This nautiloid that farts into its skullcap to keep afloat; its empty head, elegant in length as an Elizabethan announcing trumpet, carries the
Aztec herring-bone pattern of a 3 a.m. motel room TV left on between cable channels.
I fall asleep against this image with my lobster bib still tied around my neck like a cowboy’s kercheif. Maybe a miniature me will ride its wild party hat in my dreams.
Pol Pot’s potato head expands
in the coriolis effect of the earth’s motor rotation. The split tides of his mind divide into opposed currents, dirty water rotoring counterclockwise in
Argentinian sinks. All this within the Richard the Second circlet of his skull. It is a political whitewash. A deflection. “Watch very carefully as with stunned efficiency this shuffled pack of Tarot cards disappears into your life,” a carbine voice announces in paced words.
Somebody is selling a copyrighted (and incorrect) method of ascension. The television, bolted by thick bars to the textured ceiling, screams in blasé hypnotic grey over the tortured and ripped up edge of my aquarium-size Map of All Tides, O Man. The pretty lady with a smeared face and painted nails fans her demonstration pack in a way that implied colors. My dramatic memory drips in black and white, awful absences of blank for the washedout faces, scolding scabs of tattoo ink, pure black, blotching out the subliminal bone structure, the cow’s skull. Her wide mouth flabbergasts at coincidences. She cites the celestial influences of stars, million-eyed. My map folds along its wavelength warp, squeezed light allowing a quantum distinction in the delicate overlay of atoms, their cloudy orbits and evasions. crunching the map down to a large card’s size, I begin to see the aquatic relations of the swirled world unblurr. It is a solar connection, an oven of insistence roiling the arrowed whips of the tides to an arterial beat, a constant game of cessations.
Playing with the skirted pleats of the blue map, I notice a secret drain in the TV accessible only to the completely insane, a buzzing bore hole leaking away the trapped and renewing tides to a dark, electrical place: the cathode-ray gun tube.
In an era dominated by dinosaurs, the quick lizard
, no bigger than a man’s pizzle, splashing through a housing project swamp packed with matched dragonflies and killer-leaved ferns, sway-tailed his way down the delta to the open water—the first of billions of returns that life would make to the freedom of the amoeba, the diatom, rotoring and noseless proto-life. The lizard’s unmown curbedge of teeth is half of its length, seaside tough and overgrown. Once returned to the sea, what will this serrated lingam become? What rearrangement of DNA will life invent—for the millionth time! Balanced in its whip rapport with speed, its cartilage core, and its slight, tiger-tattooed sides, the whole assemblage could curl with undulant comfort into my grandmother’s sewing basket.
No commanding parent, clustered over the toilet with his cramped child, sane and domineering, would flush this ball of terrors into the rank fecundity of a sewer.
A subtle Pteraspis sucks my will
Armored under the dome of ocean, its unfinished tail-end, awkward as a 50s car, embodies an innovation. A segmented series of calcium deposits allows its armor shielding to melt into skin. It is an ancient burn victim scored and mottled with sudden flexibility. The slick tail slashes. The water washes back. They disappeared with the appearance of more salesmanlike fish sporting hinged jaws.
As an extinct type, they gather an academic sympathy. Their brown bullet-heads batter history into existence. They make the Hegelian ghost of evolution batter and repeat. Immense transparent constructions arise full blown in the afternoon mind, tinted by the fake shifting light of imagined details. White water feathers from the tap, floriate. Ghost faces melt in its water flames. My German enemies, bouncing blond over the blond autumn landscape, blond wheat, blond fire at evening eating the cold grapes. Also, native Italians are invited to the massacre. We looked around, a glum group of big-boot Americans, at the Nero ruins of Caligula’s famous floating battle boat in the empty Nemi. Even this theatre of war was at last trashed to cinders. Something beyond the copper shields of history, distorting our summer ambitions with an unearned tan, flashed and burned here, the decimated dell staring into space after god like a bruised eye.
Spinning toward darkness, I watch the open archeology books, stolen snickeringly from the public library only to be punctually returned, flip their pages beside the window with nobody reading. Fantastic facts and slick shapes, streamlined by a constant razor of grief and necessity, practice their trained curves in front of me, starving girls or dolphins. History in a swimsuit dancing its rank striptease. But I am a boy, a thoughtless boy, let in late to the neighbor’s berry patch, after the crows.
A dime shines brightly in a dark bar
. Square, ruined faces, like the torn off ends of a shoe box, turn into holy ovals in the reflected light. A hollow shotglass with a racingstripe lip sit primly beside the sluched bundled body of a man a foot away. His padded figure hovers above the bar top.
“What’s the shortest distance between that dime and this shotglass?” A slim grin divides his face with an ironic shadow.
“I don’t know.” My rye voice is fallow.
“Wanna bet?” A yellow leer.
“I said I don’t know.”
He coddled the shotglass in his ravaged hands, torn by sea-salt perhaps, and soiled with tobacco fidgets. He pulls a comic strip bubble of blank air through his teeth with a squeak, crimping a tired lip. Rescinding speech, I sink into the thin foam of the mauve barstool. Out of a violet crossfire of reflections, his stout voice clips out:
“A straight line.”
Neither of us laugh.
Crumpling money in a rose spotlight, diverted by a suspended glitter of beer mugs, I tuck my puny bartab towards the rich edge of the unmirrored bar, stuffed with leather. I turn like an electricity meter on the screwtop of my seat, ticking a perpetual increase in eaten amperage. The stranger’s “straight line” has fished a decision out of me, my plum-colored depths. Something purple in my heart proposes action, any action, any flat-out and rippling delta overwash of movement. My mind grinds in its socket. A grotesque propeller of hooks tries to beat out what my glands know, what I am going deliberately—in idiotic deliberance and absurd consciousness, a walking talk-show host fired by an immense desire to occupy time—to do.
Under pink floods of scribbled neon, my feet cross the steel threshold past the uncertain waver of a glass door.
I am going to the ignited Empire State Building.
My life’s a wreck. The vital squeal of will
, a surreptitious scar that forms over past malfeasances that, by subtle dissolution, become yourself—playing ego, acting id—crashes a black heaven of act over yourself as a kind of stand-in guilty superego. Above I, above I is flight. I am whatever this slight-of-hand somersault is, this thing in me that is never able to fall, to learn how to fall, to tumble in unmentionable silence to the quick pits, the tarry essences that stick and restrict. This truth is what the terrible two-year-old rejects. Naysaying freedom. The blessed ability to abrogate, invent by distortion, the counting up of bleak blocks, grey tiles of effort, stories of will rising over fields of circled and invisible indians chanting central park into luminous, criminal existence. These are the imagined yous you drag with you into whatever existence is, the ripples that expand and demand—cresting finally into the art deco topping of the blessed and fluorescing Empire State Building: my high soapbox declaring nothing, denying nothing.
The building’s glowing ribs ignite to a peaking diminishment, a stiff definition, a delineation of character (as created by its stopping, its refusal to rise any higher) increased and eternalized by its stony pile-on of story after story, its sweet repeats of format and style. This is how everything begins to be; it can only go so far, and then it must stop, sheer exhaustion leaving a trail-shape in the sand behind. My chest aches with the underlit rock waterfalls of its needle. I near its chopped out valley of sky, its girlish window on infinity.
Iceskating down the avenue, stumbling on stilts, wilting towards the dissolved disaster of decision, provision, a mental projection including everybody, lying millions into existence, steeped in the erect sleep that will cause this monumental train wreck of consciousness, I pay my way into the carpeted elevator that will steam me upwards to the injection tip of my awake dream.
The steel grey doors cuff shut. My day-glo ribs ripen open.
Tremendous music billows from the plush
planking; soft as a cassette ejection, the audible tremors buffet my rising body. Dirty light exits a centered and welded-in-place lamp. There is no sliding sensation of motion, no fresh ruffle as we fall upward through the resonant aorta valve, and then sink three inches in wet cement to a rocking stop at the top of the Empire State Building.
The sore doors hiss apart.
I am underwater. The few windows are something from Namo’s Nautilus.
The submarine portals, sallow in their green copper frames, play out a design of darkness, washing away the sinister stark stars, humming a phosphorescence of waffled-by-low-currents coral at their lower, binocular rim-edge. I step up to the high, round focus of one portal, the punctured moon’s secret exit. UnAmerican McCarthy, I stall at the view, glancing back at a glitter-trash of gumwrappers and the labial glare bleating off the ruddy remains of smashed coke cans. Still, I can’t turn toward that awful black, the hole-punch hole pulling the spinning jet’s passengers to a communal void. What’s outside will tell me nothing of what’s inside myself, will it? And I want to find out something about myself, anything valid, as if speaking alone in a hollow room, that skeletal clarity.
“Here I arrive, boisterous off the hot winds of chemical New Jersey.”
Tin reflections refuse the words, returning their welter complexities with inanimate overtones. It is a tough tin buzz. A sealed circuit fostering a wicked fray of feedback. My spun skull, candy-cotton delicate in its inalienable prejudices, falls again toward the Golgotha window, my slick forehead perching against the greased glass at perfect witness height.
Night, night, and the city in consequence high above itself, illuminated skeleton as on dirigible as on the deep fish, the hatcheted faces. No mouth showing where the moon-circle blots stars, a hole of darkness, the telescope eye painted over. One falls through the skeleton to stars, meaningless stars, meaningless, meaningless. Threaded lightning not apparent in the flash and beat— Nor the streets, also,
invested with sleet