Adam Phillips


                In the beginning...Ye shall not neglect not neglecting for a fraction of a second. Nary a sunny field, a cave, the water, the dark (obviously the dark) shall go unexamined preceding entrance. Send forth your weakest first. Thou shalt not fall a fraction less than vigilant whilst sleeping, whilst wrapped in your mother's hairy arms. Thou brutish former self. Flee fromst each noise, each bobbing leaf. Flee the corpus, burst asunder, entrails strewn like petals of the loosestrife....
                You were born with the ocean in your brain. Even if you've never seen it. Even if you've never imagined it. The darkness and the ice. Perpetual motion. Darkness and perpetual falling. The tantalizing vestigial memory of light without sight. Eternity. Mist. Slickness. Mist. The alpha and omega. Running in a dream. Eschatological storm. Sliding amorphous shapes. Protean. Do not go into the ocean. Kraken. Siren. Lantern eyes, the size of multiple hearts. Leviathan. Goblin's faces. Creatures blind and flat. Sea lions shrieking their fangs on rocks like men turned vicious slugs in hell. Noah's eyes, dull but moving, moving, choosing, picking sides...Picking the future and the past. The smell of prosaic ubiquitous death. Beware the corpse spit mockingly out, bloated and clownish, features blurred. There, says the ocean. Fifty billion years ago and now. Now. Now. Every second, a fresh now. Don't come back, says the ocean. Get back up on your fucking hill.
                In the beginning there was water, and there was dirt.
                Then we recognized water as separate from the soil, we moved it, we made it work, we grew corn. We smelled soot on our hands, and we set that soot to work. We smelled blood on our hands, and we spilled more and made a lake of blood and set it to work. We smelled shit on our hands...We made every other living thing in the world stand where we wanted them to stand and declared ourselves no longer of the world. Stay clear of the corn at night. Marauders. Look away, look away, from the bobbing lights in the corn at night. Do not (do not!) fuck amongst the corn. Trolls. Don't forget to throw a virgin off the tower, the rim of the volcano, the apex of the pyramid. Do not incur the wrath of the river child. Do not incite the manticore. Do not misbehave. Listen to your mother. Smile as your father strikes you. There are so many (so many!) things out there just waiting to eat the children.
                Do not incite the dead. Don’t make fun of them. Don’t use their parts. Don't piss on the dead. Don't claw their soil (it's all they have). Don’t bury them upside down, or face down. Don't cram them into something. Don't stuff more than one into a single hole. Don't put their hands on their crotches or their thumbs in their eyes (Us & Them). Don’t forget to bury them. Beware the corpse that has been scared to death. Don’t rouse the dead. Don't arouse the dead. Don’t tell them they’re dead. Never use their names. Never forget. Don’t eat them, even if you’re starving. Don’t take their stuff. Don’t hump their wives or daughters.
                Beware of things that are smaller or larger than they're supposed to be. Or misshapen. Beware of fused combinations. Beware of the man with a dog's head. Beware of the man with no head. The snake with a man's head. The man with a vegetable head. Beware of snake parts, no matter what the head and the body. Beware of deep velvety flowers in the humid swamp at night. Barbarians. Beware of glowing eyes. Dull eyes. Spinning eyes. The eyes of a rooster. Beware of eyes like drops of oil. Like buttons or stitches. The eyes of a pig. Don't ever look / into any eyes.
                Close your windows against birds flying in reading tomorrow’s obituaries. Don't eat the dead sailor's spirit. Water water everywhere.
                Don’t let your soul get trapped. If another soul gets trapped, don’t break the receptacle. Wash it facing south. Grind the victim into dust. Better yet, hide the fucking thing, so nobody falls in.
                When the world has grown uncontrollable, find something you can control and control it.
                Then things get simpler. Or stupider. No longer does the thing necessarily match the source of death. No longer does one avoid the shark to avoid being eaten by the shark. [Suddenly, you prepare your food incorrectly or tell the wrong part of the sky to kiss your ass, and here comes the shark knocking at your door with an edict to eat you. Fear the passage. Do not forget to fortify the door, lay out food before the door, paint the door with blood. Do not leave the door open (birds again...). Don't leave the mead hall. Don't sacrifice to the stone faces, who used to warn you against so much. Do not steal, even if you're starving. Even if your children are starving (unless you want EVERYONE TO DIE!). Listen to the king. Don't listen to the king. Don't kill the king and take his stuff. Don't think too much. Do not forget to pray (cagily, now!) to the Destroyer. Beware the Destroyer. Burn meat for the Creator. Go have your period outside the city limits. Kill the wild man. Do not ask why. Align yourself with the wild man. Watch for he who / is duskier than you.
                Do not touch nor consent to be touched by the rats. Do not go near the body in the gutter, bloating, black around the gills. Do not dance with strange women on bridges, or at night, or when the atmosphere has grown disorienting. Never refuse a dance with a strange woman. If a man approaches you bearing a riddle, run. Dwarves. Beware the corpse stripped and robbed alongside the road. Though we have finally lost the child-eater with his multiple heads wearing smaller heads (beautiful gossamer hair) on hemp ropes strung around his waist and throats, with the razor-sharp teeth pricking cracked black lips and blood splotching his powdery white face, DO NOT (for a second) assume that the children are no longer being eaten. The eater has simply become less outrageous, ostentatious, obvious. Now it's an old woman sneaking in on the breeze through a bedroom window, now it's an old man selling snacks in the forest.
                Do not let anything steal the women. Everything wants to steal the women. Or worse, impregnate the women, leaving us to raise the child and tend to the deranged limping women. And then even if you do everything correctly, the goddamn bastard child murders you in your sleep. Beware of women watching wistfully out windows. Beware of elongated shadows crossing bed chambers, tallow from sperm candles dripping down long hairy fingers. Beware the man with the face of a wolf, the hirsute torso of a wolf, the face of a rat, talons like a weasel, eyes like a spider, the hunched mien of a spider. Beware the corpse drained like a fig. Do not (do not!) go down to help the unidentified ship safely abut the wharf because the ship is (clearly) full of long-rotting corpses, and something will flash ashore, and the next thing you know the women (always the women!) are wandering the breaker wall in their nightgowns at midnight.
                If the foreigners are destitute, cloddish, pock-marked, clad in rags, butchering / the language...let them pass. Beware only the debonair, the velvet capes, the large hair. Beware the rolling Rs. Do not let the girls choose. Do not let the girls travel. Slaughter the foreigners in their beds. Ask questions later. Do not ask questions.
                Don't play god. Of course you want to play god. Don't play god. Messy business. You sew it together, it shambles back. Be gentle, You, you say. It smacks you over the head (the thing that once existed only within your head). It chucks the girl into the river. You have no control. You think you have control but you don't.
                Don't fixate on the poetic revelation that, at root, all of them only want to be loved. Don't linger on the fact that they're lonely and ugly and weird and deserving of our sympathy. Don't obsess over their insistence that they only want to pick the flowers, watch the butterflies, listen to the birds sing...They only want to touch the pretty hair of the girls. Because even so...
                Even so, what then? So fucking what? What else are you supposed to do? Regardless of the butterflies, the hair, the birds...They had their chance. Even if it wasn't a chance. They've got to go.
                Then, wait a minute now, everything has changed. (Who...?) It's no longer the foreigner, the weirdo, the brute, the beast outside...but the monster within. Inside of you! Always brutish rising from the refined, never the opposite; never have the virile and bellicose feared discovering within themselves the homuncular soul of some effete bookworm. Always the gutter or the jungle. Always there, some thin relentless trickle of primordial ooze, waiting to feed some dark blossom. A dark star passes through you, and suddenly off you go to stave in heads with canes or skewer heads on stakes. (And admit it, you like it).
                And nature. Thousands of years spent stacking stones and harnessing fire, fighting to keep her from tearing out livers with her great green teeth. Beating back the tomato vines, the roused dinosaurs, the drooping black serpents...And suddenly now, the goddamn opposite. Cultivate the beast. Do not use flashbulbs when photographing the beast. Wear your slippers. Kill those who would throw her into peril, and if not...
                If not, you're living in sand, breathing fiberglass. Air becomes chemical, water melts your throat.
                Which brings us to the present day. A puritanical voice shouting “Don't go fuck in the woods. Don't smoke weed. (Does this sound fun? Of course it does, but don't!) Don't be weird. Don't limp or stutter. You will be culled.” And the device, the tool, the reckoning comes limping big and bloodstained, shitty clothes, himself the victim of childhood ostracizing, swinging garden tools, faceless, voiceless, mechanical, no passion in his violence. Beware of the beautiful bikini-clad corpse with her throat slit at the edge of the woods. And here the warning is double-edged. Don't create this thing. Don't be a dick. Don't take everything you can have. Cradle the reject. Sleep with the nerd.
                Then (the story goes) we invent microscopes to see the crossed wires in our bodies, the tangle of our minds. We kill practically everybody and then write a thousand books confirming how repulsed we are at the prospect of killing everybody. We have nobody to fight so we eat ourselves.
                We look in a mirror. We've become smaller than we remember we're supposed to be. Hunched. Perforations like rudimentary gills. And there, we say, pointing a gnarled finger...
                There you are.
                All this time. We've been expecting you.
                Let's put this thing to rest.

Adam Phillips makes his living teaching at-risk junior high kids how to read, write, and dominate on the hardwood (these are three separate things; the kids rarely read or write while playing basketball). He lives on the coastline of Rockaway Beach, Oregon, with his inimitable wife and two small sons. Recent/impending publications include upstreet, Blotterature, Shark Pack Poetry Review, Raven Chronicles, and Blue Monday Review. His first novel is forthcoming from Propertius Press.
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