Charles Freeland & Rosaire Appel

from Albumen

As all roads have been washed away (or all that might reasonably be expected to lead somewhere in particular), I abandon the truck in favor of a johnboat somehow miraculously spared the violence of the deluge and make my way leisurely downstream. I expect at any moment to be set upon by survivors, scofflaws and tax accountants, looking to impose their worldview upon anyone attempting to operate without a worldview. Which is about seventy-eight percent of us now that the sky has ceased moving and its faraway contents have been frozen into indecipherable forms and patterns. How are we to resist the trite phrasing and overused vernacular that seeps from the very stones themselves, that turns purple just as soon as it hits the air with its heavy concentration of nitrogen and other less than useful elements and compounds we admire from afar precisely because they offer nothing of value? They are afterthoughts of the universe itself, an entity not exactly known for its complex thinking. Sometimes I think it would be better to just admit I suffer from delusions concerning the composition of my body, to see the trunk as flesh and viscera rather than what it is – eggshell; a solidified outer layer of calcium. Others might then be more likely to engage me in conversation or loan me a hundred dollars should I find myself in need. Karl Popper has taught us nothing if not to test our hypotheses by first assuming they can be refuted, and this one simply can’t be refuted. As soon as I make the attempt, my eyes grow weak and my mind turns on itself like a scorpion in a hall of mirrors. The mind sees shell where there should be none and ears that are symmetrical but still misshapen for all that. It abandons its position — hands in its badge, its credentials — and lights out for a peninsula where the locals and visitors alike are already gathered in enormous numbers, waving torches about in the air and dancing to the sound of drummers who are, it seems, paid by the hour to keep everyone around them whipped into a frenzy.

I inventory the empty places in my bones, in my organs — the multiplying cavities and voids where I should find nothing but body, or something so like the body as to be its twin and replica. I take the resulting list to a physician, someone who can tell me what I am supposed to do to remedy the situation. I am hoping for sage advice, snippets and excerpts from Cicero, from the Popul Vuh, because there is something stale and unsatisfactory about treating the body as if it were a machine. Something to be tuned up and re-fitted on a regular schedule. Wouldn’t it make more sense to wait for the body to declare itself a simple auxiliary of the mind before we attempt to make it whole again? Shouldn’t we at least give it credit for trying? If you stand at the edge of a precipice and look down, what you will see is most likely a mirror image of what you expected to see well before you ever reached the edge. And by mirror image I mean something turned around, backwards. It is the opposite of that which should be. Something so familiar and yet completely broken as to remind you (hopefully before it is too late, before you go plunging to your death without meaning to, simply because once we get close to the edge of anything, we are somehow required to determine for ourselves if, in fact, it is an edge rather than something else; some other, less lethal, and therefore less meaningful, structure) of nights when the rain was turning to snow and you could almost hear the transformation from where you were lying on your bed by yourself in the dark. It sounded like someone grinding his teeth, but in an adjacent room. It sounded like the locked knob on your door turning.

The sun comes up directly over the place where the river turns away to the south, its light transforming the water into half-water and half-solid surface, even if only momentarily, the interval lasting I’d say on average about three-and-a-half seconds. The purpose in trying to determine this interval is lost on anyone who might be watching. From the hills where the light has yet to bring any relief from the darkness. From the windows in the houses that overlook the river here and there as if they were merely curious. I should, in going forward, banish all use of tableau. It hinders our appreciation of that which is being depicted precisely because the parts are subsumed within the arrangement of the whole. Or at least so goes the theory as expressed by those who make a living concocting theories that should not (according to other, separate theories) agree with the theories concocted by those who share office space with them. Very little of benefit can be said to result from this activity, but people still pursue it because they believe idle hands lead to certain exotic and completely incurable mental disorders. They are afraid of what their bodies are saying to them. My thirst is monumental. It refuses to slake itself on the handfuls of muddy water I bring to my lips directly from the current on either side of the johnboat. Soon nausea overwhelms all mental process, including the memory of the promises made to the maker of all things, and I understand the significance of the color black for the first time in my life. It is an all-pervasive entity the weight of which you would think would be much greater than it actually is. But weight itself is one of those fictions we can mostly do without, like how time lengthens when you are in pain and how it disappears altogether once you have learned to embrace that pain and make of it a tale with a beginning, a middle, and another beginning. “Tale” is probably not the right term, but I suspect the right term has yet to be invented. We may have to wait decades, as much of our collective energy these days is devoted to defending the practice of digging holes in the ground for no apparent reason against the slights and insults of those who are not involved in the practice. Who see it as yet another instance of our placing too much emphasis on the value of the natural world and not enough on the value of that which lies outside it and so is harder to pin down, is harder to prove even exists except through the use of intricate analogy and the obsessive deployment of that old workhorse, terza rima.

An alphabet demands little in the way of obedience. It treats us as if we have always been present and will always remain present. Like light. Or what people call fear when they are searching desperately for some word to explain why they behaved the way they did. Tweaking the consonants more often than not results in a strange humming sound and then, unfortunately, we are back where we started, hoping for something enormous to jump out at us, to serve as a temporary decoy while the real culprits escape through a side exit. Eulalie has been patient, but that patience, you can tell, is beginning to evaporate, to ascend to the heavens where it will be broken up into parts and re-shuffled, distributed again on the breeze like water molecules and bits of pollen. She knows the late nights are not spent among the gentry, the flute solos not meted out with anything resembling caution. Her back is turned, the forest in the background seems to swell to twice or even three times its normal size, and I know instinctively this is not an illusion. Eulalie is in charge of everything we see; she controls it somehow with her mind, the same way we do, and if you were to identify the mechanism that allows it, what good would it possibly do you? How would you explain it again to others without feeling completely inadequate to the task? I stitch the requisite words together using something like thread, only I find, after much pulling at it with my fingers, it doesn’t have any real substance. It is generated out of itself, and should you try to isolate it so as to be able to repeat this procedure, you would be left with little more than an eye that won’t stop twitching or a memory of a time when you were trying to say one thing and you ended up saying another. God knows, there are plenty of those. When pressed, Eulalie repeats her belief that jealousy is the thing that makes the sun come up in the morning. But by this, of course, she means that which, should you step off the side of a cliff or a balcony, will send you plummeting to earth where you will find, at best, all your bones have been broken. All the same, she is not happy at being pressed, and makes her feelings known. She does this by disappearing for weeks at a time, wandering off into the darkness of the forest and the canyons scattered about throughout the forest — all while managing somehow at the same time to stay seated on the couch beside you in the evenings, to brush her teeth methodically at the master bathroom sink.

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). His website is The Fossil Record.

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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