Charles Freeland

Emerging Themes in Epidemiology

Maybe our memories are colored by the present in such minute ways as to keep us from identifying them. You can test the truth of the proposition by opening your eyes at the very moment when you are bringing back the feel and sinister taste of your first kiss. Notice that the candle burning on the mantle is turning that moment into something tinged with smoke. And the radio is playing advertisements for a vacation in Bimini. Is this simply coincidence? Of course not. Everyone knows there are points on the compass that overlap with one another. And when we find ourselves faced with these — occupying them almost, the way you might be said to occupy the place on the floor where your shoes rest, even when you are not wearing them — we should act as if nothing has changed. As if the day itself were numbered among ten thousand of the same. And the only way you can tell the difference between them is to go back and label those that you wish to set apart, you wish to assign meaning. Not because they actually contain any. But because to desire something is almost the same as guaranteeing that it will not happen.

The Defeated Logic of Protest

As a result of the things we said and the things we didn’t say because we didn’t have to, our loved ones join the clubs that spring up clandestinely in other people’s basements. Where grown human beings gather to exercise their demons, their insecurities using papier-mâché masks. Constructed on the spot. And painted lava red, gourd yellow. Hallucinations have this way of creeping up on you precisely when you are looking most carefully for them. When you have read an account of someone suffering in ways you didn’t even know it was possible to suffer. How the human mind undoes itself as a matter of course! As if it too has had enough of the people lined up outside the courthouse. Their hands thrown protectively over the shoulders of their children. Ask them: Where does it all end? How does one become a flâneur? Their eyes go glassy, they pull themselves up to their full height. And still, you can see the sky behind their heads. It is full of birds wheeling about in delight. Or something that looks like delight, but is, in all probability, just aimless movement predicated on fear.

All But the Last Staff

The dishwasher runs audibly in an adjoining room. Sounds, in fact, as if it has been tinkered with recently. And the guilty party left some of his equipment inside. Of course, no one knows why we wind up with parts of ourselves missing. And they don’t have to be important parts either. They can simply be those that accrued accidentally to something that was indeed important at one time in the history of the organism. But which has itself been replaced since. Or rendered unnecessary by a stranger altering things after hours. There will be signs, of course, carved into the bark of the trees by those who went before us. And if we take our time and examine these signs with a magnifying glass, we are apt to discover that they all point in different directions. It’s almost as if someone wants us to get lost. But doesn’t want to be too obvious about it. Doesn’t want to be discovered standing around in his bathrobe, twirling the ends of his handlebar mustache.

The Gospel of Derived Nominals

His knuckles have turned an off-white due to the exertion that is only a faint memory now. A bit of flotsam on a shore with library books left on chairs, themselves abandoned by people who suffered awe-inspiring premonitions. Half-starts and torn envelopes. Leaves with no veins in them. She pulls a bottle from the refrigerator, turns the cap and tries unsuccessfully to un-turn it, to replace the preceding time as if it were a floor. She knows the trick is to juggle each moment in both hands, to divide it in squares and label them. But the north wind is complicating matters, as it always does. It is convinced of its own sublimity. Try talking down the self-regard of the inanimate, the impossible to paint! It is like borrowing water from a cistern. There is no end to the work, and what are you supposed to do with the result? Set it aside in what container? Follow it for how long until you are sore in the ankles? He throws pebbles at the window, whether to alert her to his knowledge of her presence or frighten her moderately, she is never sure. Perhaps he is trying to conjure a time when they did such things routinely. When they spoke to one another with objects because objects are always more eloquent than words.

From Eucalyptus

Thirty-eight steps lead to the dock that juts out into the lake, though the angle seems peculiar, as if it has been determined by someone with a disease of the left eye rather than by the ice that is even now pushing up against it on all sides. Somewhere out there, on the other shore, or beyond, a man is tapping on pieces of rock to make tones and then discarding those that don’t seem entirely appropriate. Imagine if you were to paint pictures of faces on those stones and then barter with them for your supplies, those that will take you through winter and beyond, those that will determine how well you sleep and what you see in your dreams when you do sleep, what you see in the morning when you wake up, and what you see after everyone else, unfortunately, has lost their eyesight. Due to the toxins in the water. Due to the effects of old age. I try to clear my mind of the image that has sent me out here the way you erase something from a chalkboard, assuming of course you have one in front of you. And there is something written on it, something that helped others get images in their heads and kept them there, at least long enough to solve a problem or communicate an important truth. The sky, with its intermittent host of travelling geese, its odd way of shifting in place without seeming to change its location, suggests all such truths have been dislodged now. They reside in the cellar with the cobwebs and the bottles emptied of their contents, even the lettering, raised at one time and detectable through the touch, worn flush now with the surrounding glass. Why wouldn’t we want to examine those things that tear at us in the middle like swallowed fishhooks? Why wouldn’t we recognize the importance of staying sane? The ground gives way to ground of a separate texture, moves under the foot like it’s trying to get away. I see Eulalie propped up on one elbow, whispering something that doesn’t coalesce, doesn’t form for my ear any more than does the image of the far ends of her, the ankles and the feet disappearing into the shadows and the mist with such insistency, I spend the next three or four days trying to conjure them and only them, trying to bring them back from that inaccessible place they occupy. But all such endeavor is bound to create monsters, to engender them from nothing and then release them upon the world where they will inevitably do the Devil’s bidding. Or at least suggest someone has been doing some sort of bidding and whoever it is isn’t all that interested in remaining civil.

Charles Freeland lives in Dayton, Ohio. A two-time recipient of the Individual Excellence Award in Poetry from the Ohio Arts Council, he is the author of Eros & (Fill in the Blank) (BlazeVOX Books, 2009) and Through the Funeral Mountains on a Burro (Otoliths, 2009). His website is The Fossil Record and his blog is Spring Cleaning in the Labyrinth of the Continuum.

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