Charles Freeland

With Their Attention Confined to a Stated Task

God forbid we should be captured on tape. The disingenuous affection. The soothing tone of voice straining audibly against the resentment. Oh, these are miraculous times! And if the situation were reversed, you’d see the same behavior in the clerks. In the parrots that happily share their icy hovels with them. Still, you know where the shower is and how to use it. Though the instructions are more complicated than any of us might have imagined. They contain seventy-three distinct steps. And each step comes equipped with footnotes. And holograms. To ensure, apparently, even more precision. I suppose they wanted to avoid the sort of confusion that got us into Mongolia that one time and then got us out again almost as quickly. The locksmith himself became agitated enough to drop his pliers into the potato soup. And when the legions of spectators arrived, they were instructed to stay behind the fence. But only so long as there was a fence still standing to stay behind. Just as soon as they pushed it over they were free to wander about however they saw fit. Especially if it was up the steep side-streets where you can find sometimes a bargain on wool products. Because the sheep in the region are plentiful. And they don’t consume the indigo creeper that causes digestion problems elsewhere. And hence a thinning of the raw material. I remember balancing teacups on my wrists, reciting odes by Pindar from memory. And still no one would part with their quarters. They just nodded their heads as if they had seen it all about a hundred times before. And when the evening came and the sound of trumpets was all but drowned out by the sound of other things – locusts on the wing, say; women calling out the names of their children and the names of other people’s children – the sheriff would amble by, his elbows looking overly protuberant in the sleeves of his coat. And his one eye turning forever backwards in his skull. I thought he would offer some assistance. At the very least a bit of advice that came from his many years sweeping degenerates off the sidewalk. Singing Verdi in the nearby cafes. But his attitude was that of a man who had never laid eyes on other men before. Who had never encountered so much as a single substitution in a foot of verse. And when I recognized the peril I was in, I wanted to flee. Much as you can see yellow birds scattering before the brown ones on any given morning in almost any county in the state. Excepting Meigs, of course, where the birds are mostly a deep amber in color. And passive because of the cold. Or the fumes given off by the chemical plants that line that county’s stretch of river.

Uncooperative Floating Curios

Maybe she is correct in claiming the bottom of the feet are no place to start experimenting. You have to begin at the top of the head and work your way down if you wish to avoid the plight of the young wife who sees her husband adorned with the leaves of the Gamb’u tree. A sure sign that he has been visiting the garden of the Vidyadharas, hoping to secure there his basest desires. But then, who hasn’t taken a detour now and then? Searched for some replica of the day before and found instead a tingling in the earlobes. A pain in the coccyx that can only be described as tolerable? Better to let the fish sauce simmer. Better to address your concerns to the man on the balcony who is playing his oboe with a reckless, primitive abandon. Just as if he is trying to conjure himself from the surf.

Chilean Sea Bass is Really Just Patagonian Toothfish

Cyrus thinks the lateness of the hour means something other than what he has imagined in the past. When fatigue crept up on him like an alligator. And there was a real sense in the air that what we experience is simply a delicate crust on the outside of something enormous. And mouth-watering. Or at least aromatic. That Eulalie goes to bed early is a sign, he supposes, that her patience has worn thin. Or that she is so fond of dreaming, she can’t wait to get back there again and discover something about the dresser drawers. Something hidden and earth-shattering. The stash of diamonds an ancestor left behind just before she disappeared into the wilderness. A receipt for twelve gallons of gas. Ah! If only we could conjure those hours again! Those exquisite sounds by the bank of the river!
          I know what Cyrus is up to, why he hauls the catfish ashore as if he is handling some sort of industrial poison. But really, the thought of holding one’s nose before a cadre of women, and then expecting them to remain interested, to ask you about the tattoo on your forearm! It’s too much. I remember once stumbling on a pair of scissors tossed aside for no reason, it seemed, on a trail that snaked its way over the ridge of a mountain. And ended abruptly at a cliff. Below me there were buzzards circling in the mist. And you could just make out the tops of some evergreen trees. I always wondered who had been there before me. Who had decided it was no longer necessary to cut up scraps of paper. And leave them on the ground. It’s the same sense of wonder that grips Cyrus when he hears Eulalie whispering on the phone in the next room. When he catches her looking off into the distance when they are out for a drive. Which way is she going, forward or back? Which would be the most delicious? Which cause him the most pain? They are questions Cyrus never tires of asking himself. As if they had appeared first in a sacred book. And his discovery of them now represents nothing short of an initiation.

Before the Ceremony Took Place

Our minds do not belong to us. We are not responsible for what occurs there most of the time. And if this should cause others melancholy, well then, we ought not to admit that it causes us some trouble too. Because once this secret gets on the wind, it weighs it down. It turns the wind into something that doesn’t know where it is going. Or why it wanted to go anywhere in the first place. Perhaps all indecision is a blessing handed down from the heavens the way dinner rolls get sent from one end of the table to the other. Everyone knows where they originated is more important, ultimately, than where they wind up. Of course, we don’t know if Eulalie’s eyes are open or closed. And if they are actually in-between, just slits showing the slightest bit of color and some of the sclera, then perhaps Cyrus is right to sulk after all. Because she is choosing to eliminate all but the minimum of sense impression. Just the vaguest outline of his head and arms. And her motivation is the same as it was when they met here previously. On a Tuesday perhaps. When the weather wasn’t as fine, but the sense of possibility was much more acute than it is now. When they knew no more about each other than does a pair of snails. If only everything kept to its proper order like this, obeyed the chronology written out ahead of time, we wouldn’t be so afraid to step out the front door. We wouldn’t march to the post office with our hearts in our throats. And the manuscripts of our autobiographies tucked up under our arms. We’d let the world infect us with whatever nonsense it has kept brewing in the back room. And unleashes only when it is certain the time is not quite right for it. That its recipients will all but be destroyed. Cyrus sees Eulalie’s outline in the ice on the window. And knows then that even mistakes can go terribly wrong. Can make you long for the contests that used to pop up in the back pages of the magazines. Promising deliverance from a life with no boundaries. With just a few wide open pastures to hide in when there was no real reason to be hiding from anyone. Only a bland, inimitable sense of the futility of all things.

Far Parts of the Archipelago

Maybe they were looking behind the furniture because they didn’t know which other objects are capable of concealing things. They hadn’t become familiar with the list in time to make use of it, though we are not immune to negligence of this magnitude either. Remember the lost keys, the attempts to scrub the skin cells off the outside of our ears? It’s like there are two agendas to be followed, and both of them wind up taking you to identical island locations, where people are standing around in their underwear, unsure of what the proper response should be. Perhaps a nodding of the head in affirmation, even though one knows that whatever happens to others is not going to happen again. At least not in the same sequence. This is why you see people waving bandanas over their heads. They seem to believe there is some sort of universal message contained in the gesture, that even those from the far parts of the archipelago will be able to understand it. We have this much in common. And some other things as well, though when you make mention of these there is instant bristling, a temptation to drive their javelins deep into your body while your attention is directed elsewhere. Maybe we’ve been watching too many of those films where the leading man is terribly thin, suffering, apparently, from an intestinal ailment and apt, for all that, to act as if he has not been consulted about the storyline, about why people keep flailing around on the set as if they are getting paid by the mile. Or the artifact. And when I open the script to try to find the appendix — listing the original denouement — the pages are stuck together. Nobody bothered to cut them with even so much as a butter knife. And maybe this means we are headed in the wrong direction but will not actually come to regret it. We will regress so far as to find ourselves among the speakers of Ugarit, pleased that they are willing to share their myths with us, their poems that make such persistent and remarkable use of parallel structure. And we’ll fall asleep at night believing that we too are just weeks away from realizing our purpose on this fatal, dusty planet. Of putting it into terms that will last even longer than the catalpas that line the street two streets over from our own.

Why the Spanish Blister Fly Secretes an Antidote to its Poison

The primeval stock and building blocks are not content to wait all day for the verdict. They are anxious to, if not exactly free themselves from their shelter, at least stir up something at the surface. Make their quixotic presence felt. And in so doing, turn everything into a brighter version of itself. A mirror image still searching for its mirror.
          Partial amnesia is no better, really, than the complete kind. It won’t get you admitted to the ball through the side door. It won’t show up as a commendation in the records that follow us around even after we’ve left the service. Obviously, some things seem to see well in the dark. They maneuver best when the moon is barely visible through the clouds. And the sound of rushing water grows fainter, until you’re not sure if you are still in Sedona anymore. If maybe you should ask someone at the gas station. Forty thousand evenings pass this way in the blink of an eye. And we are on the side of the mountain looking down. Trying to decide which pair of binoculars is less likely to glint in the sun. Which will reveal our position only gradually. The way a play starts off trying to be funny. And only later decides to challenge our basic view of things. Our inherited epistemology. Try to understand, says the man with many acres of corn at his disposal. I don’t determine the sounds that come off the lake at night. I don’t know why people chase after the very thing that is no good for them. Crave it as if it were a mineral. The man on the other end of the porch says he knows there are places where the food is served without the least formality. Just plopped down in front of you with the edges burnt off.
          That’s when the drum major pulls up in her station wagon, gets out and searches the ground for signs that her rivals have been by. Have planted something unwanted in the garden. And are waiting even now in some secret location. Watching to see if their blueprint turns out to be worth the exorbitant price they paid for it. No one, of course, can remember the figure. But there has been speculation where I work. A certain plumbing the depths with your colleagues over a cup of minestrone. Or under those flags that people fly when they are marching from one end of town to the other. For any number of reasons, really. The most common of which, I imagine, are the marking of important days on the calendar. Or the appeasement of deities that haven’t shown their faces around here in more than a thousand years.

Charles Freeland lives in Dayton, Ohio. The recipient of a 2008 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, he is the author of half a dozen e-books and chapbooks of poetry, including Grubb (BlazeVOX books), Furiant, Not Polka (Moria), The Case of the Danish King Halfdene (Mudlark), and Where We Saw Them Last (Lily Press). His website is The Fossil Record and his blog is Spring Cleaning in the Labyrinth of the Continuum.

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