Charles Freeland and Rosaire Appel

from Albumen

What you learned from the previous owner you tried to conceal, tried to cover in an aural camouflage lately centered in the folktales of the Pyrenees. In the budgetary debates that turn our everyday lives into charts and figures we have a hard time recognizing as having anything to do with us. We might make replicas and attempt to stand on them for an hour or two, but as soon as it starts raining, the cardboard frays and disintegrates, and our anxiety reaches such levels as has never been documented before. It morphs into something possessed of actual teeth and a strange hair / polyester blend that remains in our nightmares for weeks afterward. Settles there like refugees and makes ten o’clock an hour we dread because we have to put the kids to bed (assuming we have kids) and we know that soon afterward the whole history of the earth will start again and reach the present after meandering about in the pockets and crannies no one documented the first time through. I tried to steer this entity away from Eulalie, tried to save her from the embarrassment of having to halt its momentum with her bare hands, but failure in my endeavors stalks me from morning until mid-afternoon when Eulalie herself can be seen traipsing through the forests in search of whatever it is she has decided is missing from her life. We can’t even begin to conceptualize this because our conceptual apparatus is so similar to hers it would be like the mind trying to map itself from without. Like a civil war re-enactor trying to position himself on the wrong side of the battle so as to view his own destruction, or pretend destruction as the case may be. It just causes a temporary disorientation and leads eventually (if not rectified) to a kind of guilt like that which shadows us all the way to the workplace and nourishes itself on the impure thoughts that bubble to the surface there on average about once every twenty-three seconds. And sure, these thoughts are obstructed, they back up behind obstacles placed in their way purposefully, but they can never be entirely defeated, managing instead to take advantage of structural weaknesses in the obstacle itself or the terrain on which it has been placed where they drive in a wedge; they create space for the inevitable inundation. They push through and fan out on the other side and sweep everything away before them, leaving behind a devastated landscape very similar in appearance, I would assume, to the cratered plains of the moon. Or portions of an island after a volcanic eruption but before the return of the first shoots of vegetation – breadfruit and fig trees and weeds of every tropical variety -- the seeds for which were perhaps transported on the wind from the other islands in the vicinity that have not yet decided to destroy themselves through whatever mechanism causes these things to happen, up to and including perhaps what we would call ordinary boredom.

Dawn becomes the rumor that has passed through this township one too many times. No one believes any more the things being said because to believe anything seems to open one up to the possibility of having to believe everything. Even the stories about people living under trees, or transforming themselves somehow into animals with the help of the trees, or just stumbling from one tree to another looking for a sign that they are not wasting their time, that they are, in fact, in store for an eventful couple of years. Turns out the old midget’s name is Sunday, which goes with his sideburns but not so much his diminutive stature, though it’s possible he has given me a nom de plume in anticipation of the manifesto he intends some day to write. As near as I can make out, his beef is with the residents of the town whose lights are just visible through the swaying of the branches of the trees outside, or at least what I take to be branches because the laws of optics require there exist something solid between the subject and the object if the object comes in and out of view at regular intervals. That something must of necessity be in movement itself if the object is not in movement. We know light is in constant flux but we also attribute a static quality to it if we imagine the light originating from something as stationary as a year-round habitation. We can expect to be placed under some sort of microscope if our thoughts leak out from their normal hiding places and wind up advertising themselves to all and sundry like cut-rate jewelers. Or are we simply inventing the microscope because we don’t like the idea of a world where microorganisms can operate unseen? I know what it feels like when they run amok in the soft pockets of flesh surrounding your jaw, but as soon as I try to launch into this description, Sunday raises his odd knotty paw in the air and brings a hush to the room that even the stale air obeys, as if it has been waiting for years to demonstrate its allegiance to this man and his peculiar ideas concerning retribution, concerning parenthood and the sorting of indigenous plants into categories suggested not by the standard rules of taxonomy but by the imaginations of those who have little else to occupy them, who can’t even manage a remark in defense of their deepest beliefs when they are finally made aware that they harbor such beliefs. That they aren’t just wandering from place to place in haphazard fashion and at the mercy of that vacuum which passes, in some circles at least, for a soul.

Let the blank places represent the intervals of time and distance between one well-known city and another. Then scrap that and let them represent themselves until the impulse collapses under its own considerable weight. Until it leads us by the nose to the center stairwell and indicates we should jump. No one is sure, really, how this is accomplished but we open the floor up to suggestions and the silence is overwhelming. It begins to weigh on us like some odd and oddly beautiful collection of paving stones. If you were to open your veins in your arms one at a time under close medical supervision, or just on your own come two Tuesdays from now, and then play around in there with something that looks like a pipe cleaner, you still wouldn’t be able to convince me your psychosis has returned. I know the evidence seems fairly substantial from where everyone else sits – which is close by the pond where the turtles over-winter in the mud at the bottom without ever, apparently, requiring any oxygen – but I refuse to weigh the evidence equally with the emotion. I refuse to let logic descend from its perch hard by the heavens, because as soon as it does, people are bartering all around you for not just the essentials, but luxuries. And luxuries of a sort we couldn’t have pictured even three or four generations ago. Fresh asparagus. Socks with no holes in them. An infant carriage you are, I gather, supposed to wheel an infant around in when you decide it’s time to go outside for some fresh air rather than just sitting inside all day working Sudoku puzzles. We turn to tinder at the core, at the very center, and then we look around for a flame that doesn’t show any indication of being struck. Instead everyday desires and something that looks a lot like what we called “wishes” when we were younger (we didn’t have any better term for it, and, arguably, still don’t) pile up in the corner usually reserved for an impromptu mental pantry. When we decide we will sort and separate them and deliver them to their various destinations using wheelbarrows if we must, those closest to us in stature (if not heart, because the heart is something that does not replicate – it starts fresh each time, like a villanelle) can’t imagine what we have been up to all these years. They can’t believe the lines at the corners of our eyes just appeared there one day, almost at random, when there was nothing particularly stressful happening. No end-of-the-year reports to file, no jealousy disturbing the air with its lime-like scent and its nearly limitless reverberations.

Bland tones drift in from all directions, creating an atmosphere just like the atmosphere would be, I imagine, if there were no tones, no sounds of any kind other than those made naturally by the occupants of this particular part of the forest, animals mostly, but not exclusively. The main idea, says Sunday the midget, is the proper admixture of light and dark, tall and short, seasons when the mists come in off the oceans and those when you forget in which direction the oceans lie. I would like to lay the blame on those who forget this fundamental rule or who pervert it intentionally, hoping to grab some notoriety for themselves before they slink off into their graves. Or their clubhouses constructed of plywood and hoisted high up into the branches of an elm tree. I remember, he says, counting the seconds between one thought and the next, or trying to, mapping everything out by increments and intuition, until it became readily apparent that I wasn’t actually capturing individual thoughts, but the idea of individual thoughts, the marker, so to speak, thrown off by the movement of those individual thoughts through time and space, just as if the marker were some sort of electronic impulse or chemical reaction similar to those caused when large-bodies animals swim through a cluster of smaller-bodied animals in the sea and leave in their wake a phosphorescent flash, which is in all likelihood a primitive alarm system unleashed by those smaller organisms, but seems to our eyes a performance for our benefit. A complex array of lights and patterns unleashed to entertain us when we are safely above the waves in a vessel chartered for the evening, or to frighten us half to death when we are up to our necks and treading water in those same waves, the night sky stretching away into the distance and the only sound for miles around being that of the water knocking up against itself as it travels in several different directions at the same time. Who knows how we got there; who knows how we got anywhere to this point? Perhaps it’s best to just assume the circumstances weren’t pleasant but they weren’t unmanageable either. They were a lot like those birds that talk when you put them into cages. They have the potential to say the most hurtful things, to try to make you feel guilty. And you do feel guilty because the birds are in cages and not perched in the branches of the tropical fig trees that ought, by rights, to house them. But they don’t say what you fear the most. They don’t unleash a torrent of invective of the sort you actually deserve. They spend their time, rather, uttering phrases they’ve heard before. Simple things, with puns at the center.

Charles Freeland is Professor of English at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. Recent books and e-books include Eucalyptus (Otoliths), Five Perfect Solids (White Knuckle Press) and Variations on a Theme by Spinoza (red ceilings press). He blogs at The Book of Objects (thebookofobjects.blogspot.com).

Rosaire Appel is an ex-writer visual artist in New York involved with abstract comics, asemic writing and wordless books. (website: www.rosaireappel.com)
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