Charles Freeland

Carving Heads Out of Boulders

What we saw there was so much less than what we had been expecting. A few copper coins. A ribbon tied to a safety pin and unraveling at the edges. Maybe someone had packed it away when the conflict in Korea got its start. But then forgot about it just as quickly as he forgot exactly where Korea was on the map. How you could differentiate it from Iceland, say. Or those islands where people are forever carving heads out of boulders and lining them all up in a row. And perhaps it’s premature on our part to start demanding explanations of such things along the borders of the map. Where whoever is responsible for putting them together is expected to do more than just leave things blank. There are columns to be filled with numbers. And abstract patterns holding out against the emptiness of the night. And the cold. And the sound of the coyotes moving about in the underbrush as if they expect to find there something of interest. A discarded sandwich. Or an infant who is not just any infant, but one of those fabled creatures like Krishna who take the whole world on their shoulders. And move it occasionally – shake it so that our saucepans tumble from their cupboards – all so as to keep the meteorites from splitting it down the middle.

Quadratic Equations for the 27 Unknowns

He discovers a note under the cushions of the couch, a passionate recounting of the first time she met someone who didn’t smell somehow like raisins. She thought perhaps she was going insane. What he admires most (besides the elegance of her handwriting, the way it leans always to one side like a fence) is the certainty with which she handles her emotions, the expertise, the willingness to throw them into the air like clubs, knowing full-well that they will never come back down again. Sometimes we realize the point of view is not what separates us from those in the room. It is the mechanical nature of their limbs, the guerilla metaphysics that lurks just behind each utterance they make. So that we throw things over the cliff as a precaution. The gallons of milk, the untold numbers of prophylactics still in their packaging. I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be better to just admit that the first impression that strikes the eye is a mistake, a malformation of whatever it is that actually takes up space out there, like gold bullion in a pirate’s cave. But I know I am just being sentimental. Someone will come along eventually and change all that, will make us think of the bed or the broom closet where we first felt someone else’s breath on the back of our necks.

Lost Voices of Jamestown


His conscience becomes inflamed and the only remedy at hand is a thorough sanding and splashing it with cologne. Anything with alcohol in it so as to cause an acutely painful sensation. Still, he wonders if perhaps he hasn’t ventured too close to some boundary that wasn’t advertised, some place left off the map for very particular reasons.


The gravel pit in the center is apt to contain secrets of its own, treasures and skeletal remains clumped together on the floor like cousins collapsed from exhaustion at the reunion. But she knows he is just throwing blankets over the scenery, just trying to pretend that he has the same mechanism in his chest as the rest of us, even though it is in all actuality a blank slate in there. And whenever you try to draw something on it, the image won’t take, the lines will not appear.


And there is a sound sometimes like steel on steel, the sort of thing you would expect to throw sparks or make those in the vicinity cringe. If it hadn’t been for the aspirin she might have been tempted to give up entirely. To move with her best friend to the high plains of the Dakotas and start there an alpaca ranch. Maybe marry a man who hasn’t come to grips yet with his name. Who thinks it something valuable, of course, but can’t pinpoint its origins, its true nature the way we can’t always tell what is on the horizon even when the horizon keeps inching closer to us like an assassin.


I imagine there are days when they will not forgive each other simply for existing, and on those days, if you were to take a photograph of the two of them sitting in the kitchen, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. It would look just like any other taken during the year when their minds were occupied with the simple tasks lying before them. The dredging of the pond. The sticking of aluminum poles into beehives to see if the occupants still wish to protect themselves.


Sometimes, when you reach a certain critical mass, every individual begins to see himself as an individual again, and refuses to follow the others, even if the direction they are taking is the most obvious and logical one. Can this be bottled? Can we take the inclination and turn it into a philosophy of the sort that sells a million books (and not of the sort, like Bergson’s, which sells maybe two or three a week, worldwide, if you’re lucky)?


His alarm starts ringing and they are both looking around for the source of that noise, as if they can’t imagine sharing in any auditory stimulus unless it is absolutely necessary and absolutely real. In this way they each reject the primacy of the other and a sort of balance is established, even if it is negative and predicated on a desire for mutual elimination. It’s the same principle that keeps the planets from running into one another, at least for the time being. And there’s the rub: who’s to say what will happen in a month’s time, if the sky might not ignite with the fury of heavenly bodies turned in on themselves like children who watch too much TV?

Charles Freeland teaches composition and creative writing at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. The recipient of a 2008 Individual Excellence Grant from the Ohio Arts Council, he is the author of several chapbooks of poetry, including Furiant, Not Polka (Moria), The Case of the Danish King Halfdene (Mudlark), and Where We Saw Them Last (Lily Press). Recent work appears in Poetry International, Mipoesias, Spinning Jenny, 580 Split, Harpur Palate, and The Cincinnati Review. His website is The Fossil Record.

previous page     contents     next page



Post a Comment

<< Home