it’s all about walls this time around…

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In This Hole

“I liked my little hole, / Its window facing a brick wall.” 

— Charles Simic, “Hotel Insomnia”

I live in a parallel universe of my own devising.  I live most of my days in a dank cell, in the bowels of a vast complex of cells.  I am allowed to write for fifteen minutes every afternoon, on the refuse recycled from the land beyond the barrens.  The pipes on the ceiling here drip at all hours, and the walls are covered in sweat.

On occasion I hear others moaning from distant cells, but never a sound from the cells immediately adjacent to mine.  I’ve never seen any of the other inmates here, only the gloved hands and truncheons of my captors. They allow me out for a day once a month.  On these occasions I visit my childhood home, which is now a pile of muddy detritus and gnarled rebar.  I also visit the site of my former school, which is now a massive dung heap.  Really, a dung heap.  A heap of dung one hundred feet long and thirty feet high now.  Cattle wander about freely since they were infected with the plague and deemed holy beings.  The inhabitants of this neighborhood have been tasked with building the dung heap into a 100 by 100 foot totem to our shantytown — the last refuge before one enters the barrens.

When I tire I sleep on a patch of rocks where our library once stood. Early the next day I walk back to the complex — to my cell smelling of urine and fear.  I love my little hole.

In this parallel world which I inhabit only the objects that become the subject of my consciousness truly exist, everything else is a ghostly simulacrum that plays on unseen film screens in theaters I don’t attend.  And that I wouldn’t attend had I the capacity… 

And I am a capacious man, even in these lean times.

Imagine that I move through the world inside an untethered bathysphere.  My bathysphere is diving bell yellow, something jaunty from an ancient memory, like the Beatles “yellow submarine” if you will.  You see, “jaunty” is not a natural predisposition for me, but I try. It’s the “power of positive thinking,” I remember a charlatan repeating.  I believe that charlatan was my father — and so I delude myself with repeating this moment after moment.  In any case, there is a wheeled hatch in my bathysphere.  It’s at my feet, and I choose what and who to allow to inside.  And in this manner the things I allow inside become the subject of my consciousness, and only at this point — once inside — does something truly exist.

And don’t fret, stranger.  It’s not as if you’ll get flattened or knocked cold by a large metallic orb as I float into a room or walk by you on these desolate streets — no, in this physical dimension we actually inhabit the bathysphere allows for immateriality and transparency — you can walk right by me completely unaware of my universe in the bathysphere.  But you might feel a slight tug in or near your heart and you’ll surely inhale a few molecules of sadness.  Otherwise you’d have no idea of my strangeness.  I am as innocuous as any other person from the outskirts of the barrens.

Oh my, I don’t like to mix my metaphors, friend.  May I call you friend?  Just for these few minutes we’ll spend together.

Thank you.

Yes, frightful really, the oceans and deserts appearing in the same place — the same sentence —  they should be kept in an altogether separate figurative language universe.  No, those allusions do not conform at all… 

Conformity…

Think of your third grade teacher telling you exactly how it all should be — the world.  Conformity: this is good, this is bad.  This is the correct way to hold your pencil and this is the correct way to make a cursive “A…”   

Oh, goodness me, reader — may I call you reader for these now fewer minutes we have left together?

Thank you, most kind.

No.  You can’t imagine your teacher.  You must imagine mine.  For I don’t know if you were born in the 1940’s or in 2001, and those born before the 1940’s are fewer by the day, and those born after 2000 are still such inchoate bores, in my piteous estimation.  They’ve never used a pencil or pen.  And now, in this reduced state, all there is is charcoal to scrawl out the stories of our lives.  They’ll never know the wonder that is a writing blister.

No, you must imagine my third grade teacher.  And I must render her in all her Procrustean splendor, because I don’t want you to claim I’ve given you an undeveloped character, lacking dimensionality and real human traits.  Ok, if you don’t remember or never knew, maybe now is the moment to look up “Procrustes…”  but as the dictionaries have disappeared and your cell mates next door are silent, ask the guards if you dare.  No?  I didn’t think so.

No, I am so omniscient a narrator that I will detail her down to the mole on her mons pubis that she is happy — is quite happy — is covered by a wild thicket of hair (she’ll never shave — well, it wasn’t fashionable then anyway… {but I never told you that, because I never told you I was born in 1963 and the story I’m relating to you is actually happening in… [let’s see, what age is one in the third grade?… if in 1981 I was a senior… uh… if I subtract 9 years I’d say it’s ’72, but it might have happened in ’71 at the beginning of the school year, or did I start the third grade in the fall of ’72 and go through the spring of ’73… well, Fall and Spring aren’t really relevant in the barrens.  Never have been.  There’s barely a distinction now.  It’s really 9 months of a summer’s cauldron and 3 months of embers — something of that sort of heat.  I think I’ll just write 1972, no one would actually put this story down and start doing math, would they?]  No.}  No, reader.)  No, friend, please don’t put it down I’ll get on with it. Where was I?  Yes, yes…

It’s 1972 and Ms. Paula is teaching us penmanship at a school that was once considered “glorious” during Cuba’s pre-Revolutionary days.  It shall remain nameless here —  let’s admit it, it means nothing to you and it might only mean trouble for me.  “Naming” is the  sort of trouble that impinges violently upon us, and DOES make itself the object of one’s consciousness — no matter the make and model of your bathysphere, or the guard’s truncheon.

This school was a mere specter of its former self, and while it was a private school with a parochial past — St. Ignatius’s name was invoked, for the sake of gravitas, you see…  oh my goodness, I’ve actually said too much here.  Let’s move on.  The school wasn’t any good, you see?  They hired people like Ms. Paula who measured our arms and our penmanship.  Your “A’s need to be taller,” she’d say to Marieta.  She’d then pull her up by the ponytail, place her foot on Marieta’s rib cage and stretch the her arm out for a protracted period of time, and tell Marieta to repeat her “A.”  If the letter was just the proper length, dimensional, and conforming to regulation, she was allowed to proceed to “B.”  If not, the stretching process would be repeated until the little wretch gave Ms. Paula a proper and artful letter.  The next day Marieta came to school with a regulation Marine buzz haircut.  Ms. Paula was implacable.

For the others, like myself, if we didn’t produce regulation approved letters in penmanship Ms. Paula would chop off our arms.  I always had mine stretched until I got to the “F” — but at that point I’d freeze and produce the worst sort of “garabate” (oh I’m sorry, chum.  Do you mind if I call you chum?  K.  Thanks!) — the worst sort of scrawl.  And there we’d sit one armed for a while tapping time with the clock above the chalkboard until the end of the period when our arms would grow back in time for physical education.  But we didn’t really need them for P.E. as in the third grade as we played kickball all year.  But we were glad to have our arms back nonetheless, no worse for the humiliation.

You know I didn’t really start out to tell you the story of my third grade year, Ms. Paula, or St. Ignatius’s embarrassment at the invocation of his name for my school —  which I’m certain by now you’ve deduced was Loyola.  Loyola School.  Oh, you are a sharp reader.

No, I wanted to tell you the story of how I’ve erased myself completely.  About how I create and live in the midst of the desert (oceanic and bathysphere metaphors notwithstanding).  And apropos of nothing, but a trampled memory, here is a found poem about walls.  Because it’s all about “Walls” this time around:

 

You believe…

Calypso…

 

In rising seas,

In openings, closings,

 

In walls to protect him;

The journey no longer as important 

 

As the destination.

We build trust,

 

We fall apart, Inside this temporary

Housing.  Odysseus, heavy as stone,

 

Maintains his sad sway — An island

Without bridge-makers in

 

This migrant disorder.

 

Why is it a “found poem”?  I found it in an article “most foul” about the new fangled fascists that populated the world in the late “20-teens.”  I tore the thing up in a frenzy, in those  waning days, as the marching vanguard approached my home.  And it fell into place in that most ancient and propitious Brion Gysin / William S. Burroughs sort of way.  The tatters were adhering on the page just as the first truncheon blow smashed my temple — and it quickly put me in the mind of my childhood. 

It was sometime in May of 1966, soon after my mother’s fifth miscarriage, during a blood moon eclipse.  In the window the engorged orange moon waxed, and rising up before it the untethered, darkened planet of my mother’s head — her hair, backlit, ghastly lunar flares — a corona of post-post-post-post-post-partum dread:  I am the thing that must be extinguished.  I am the unruly satellite careening out of orbit into her ecliptic.  Then hands. Hands.  My neck constricted.  The air.  Where is the air now?  The bathysphere’s air hose is crimped somewhere along its path to the depths below.

“Out, out, damned spot,” she cries.  She cries.  She cries.

The air.  Where is the air?  

My head now its own detached bathysphere.  I am the detached bathysphere.  I float, alight in this rarified air.  And I fall.  I fall.  I fall.  How I remember our granito floor.  I remember.  I remember the impact.  Time and time again.  The impacts.

And now this blackguard truncheons me again, and puts me in the mind of the days when I smoked opium with the governor under the thorny burrs of the honey locust tree.

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“I don’t have a very clear idea of who the characters are until they start talking.”

— Joan Didion

About istsfor manity

i'm a truncated word-person looking for an assemblage of extracted teeth in a tent full of mosquitoes (and currently writing a novel without writing a novel word) and pulling nothing but the difficult out of the top hat while the bunny munches grass in the hallway. you might say: i’m thee asynchronous voice over in search of a film....
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