Charles Freeland

Tactfully Keeping a Blank Expression

They turn on the radio, then refuse to be coaxed from their silence. To emerge from that element costs more than can be explained by the rate of inflation. It keeps some people from even recognizing their reflections in the pond water. By the reeds. When they are passing on bicycles and just happen to glance in that direction. They reject it as being somehow shameful. Not to be advertised. It’s the same thing that makes us pack up the camper and head for the desert. Hoping to find something to fill up the hours. Images of mythic creatures scratched into the sides of a cave. Even our microscopes seem hard-pressed to determine where something begins and another thing ends. It’s like we were told a story that means different things to different people. But when you look closely at the elements, particularly the denouement, you realize it’s too quirky to have any meaning whatsoever. That we have simply deposited our own needs and well-being on it like an insect laying her eggs.

Among a Cluster of Bawdy Postcards

Eulalie knocks the ashes from Squid’s coat sleeves, looks at him suspiciously because there are no active volcanoes in the vicinity. Even those that have gone dormant require one to pronounce their names carefully. As if too much haste will lead to mistakes. Will make us realize we don’t know why there are that many syllables to be hacked through like jungle vines. Squid feels sometimes as if Eulalie’s skin is the same skin he has been touching since the day he was sixteen and decided to move beyond the world of imagination. When he was coaxed away from his own mind by the girl with a chipped tooth. Sometimes there are satisfactions that don’t become such until well after we’ve launched them on their way like paper boats. We go hunting for them again much too late. Calling them by name. Even if that name isn’t entirely accurate. Eulalie attempts instead to emulate the earth that lies beneath our feet. Tells those who might be interested that it is composed of particles that themselves consist of particles much too numerous to count. And this is what should serve as a model for those who come from this substance. But who wish to escape those origins by wearing frilly things. By conjuring the sky and its rapt, ephemeral whole.

As the Fates of His Heroes Show

We ask the stars to align themselves according to patterns. And they oblige us, for a time. But some day, when our attention has been turned toward the napkins in their holders and the statements made by fools about the work of Pushkin, they will undermine their past achievements the way we routinely undermine our own best interests. By chasing women who are distantly related to us. Who have no qualm describing the contents of our letters to anyone who will listen. I think it’s time, then, we stop asking ourselves difficult questions. And concentrate instead on pre-packaging our difficult answers. Start throwing them together in bundles and shipping them off to the highest bidder. I know, says Eulalie, her arms wrapped almost completely around herself like snakes, her upper lip quivering with an emotion I have yet to classify. Something with ardor in it. A trace of derision. The days follow so closely upon one another, she says, we won’t be able to remember a single one. Won’t be able to differentiate between them the way you can differentiate sometimes between separate members of a single species of ape. If you look closely enough at their heads. Some of them have knots and ridges. Others scars owing to physical conflicts that affect more than just those directly involved. And ask yourself: Would I consider this a task worth pursuing? Or would I just walk away because I have been down that boulevard previously? Either way, we haven’t exactly emerged with what you might call concessions. At least none in the neighborhood of those given the latter kings of Calicut — who were spared the ritual of cutting their own throats at the end of the traditional twelve year reign.

If His Behavior is Not Mechanical

Strange how we desire things in opposite proportion as they are available to us. This is why a book about the surface of the planet Venus, say, is almost always more compelling than one that treats of families just like our own. The pairing-off reminds one of the time when there were no large carnivores on the planet. Only miniature ones angry at their plight. How do you justify consuming others? How do you keep from feeling ostracized and overwhelmed? Something is definitely causing a fissure. Something is pulling at the atmosphere with its claws. We love the way words come out of one another as if they were being born. We even have a name for the phenomenon, but it isn’t dignified and to utter it in mixed company often results in accusations that sound vaguely like compliments. Why not just admit that what we want is the same thing as what others want? It just goes by different names. And its surface appearance changes itself according to who is looking at it. The membranes reacting to the presence of light. To the presence of an observer, much like sub-atomic particles according to the Copenhagen Interpretation. Or those adults who never quite manage to outgrow their social phobias. Generated perhaps by trying too early to escape their surroundings. The wallpaper their parents thought charming. With waterfowl on it. The hues approximating those to be found on the skin of a grape.

Accents that Form the Diagonal

Some marks start at the top and move downward, sustaining themselves through gravity, I suppose, or the will of the mark itself. Others begin in the middle and radiate outward from there, but in varying degrees of intensity and length, so that those oriented north and south, for instance, tend to extend beyond what would otherwise seem logical limits. They explore the boundaries of their own genesis and completion, following a desire that is as old as the Sumerians, or maybe a few years older. Whenever we strain to see that far into the past, our eyes begin to feel as though they have been damaged by something chemical. Something administered by one of those villains usually depicted as slinking around in a long black cape. His head obscured by shadow. Or a mask that covers only a certain percentage of the face. The higher the percentage, the less menacing the apparition.

In the Days of the Plagiarist

The impossible must re-assert itself as something ferocious, to be held in great awe as it was in the days of the plagiarist. When everyone was keen to demonstrate his impeccable taste. And then fashion (after, of course, the fashion of others) a response to the pervasive malaise. To whip it up into such a frenzy, the riverboats swung wide to avoid it. And ran aground. They tore enormous holes in their keels and forced the occupants to run around on deck as if they expected at any moment to witness an allegory without actually knowing what an allegory was.
               Squid won’t look in that direction no matter what the temptation. Won’t raise his eyes from the ground for fear of looking in precisely the wrong place at precisely the wrong time. And spoiling everything the way the refrigerator does when you leave the door open. This is something cunning, a trick on his part that we ought not to pass over in silence. Or the near silence that indicates we have no idea what the proper response should be.
               I find myself haunting this neighborhood almost daily. Nodding and looking over people’s shoulders even when I long to connect with them in some more meaningful way. Say by inviting them to Lake Erie. By showing them where the walleye hang motionless in the murky water. They wait for something to flash by. To stir their instincts in a primal fashion that we can document but no longer truly take the measure of. We have lost that ability in trade for others more circumspect and ultimately unnecessary. Fine glossy adornments that cost a great deal. But don’t fetch much uptown, where people are busy selling their cucumbers and their squash. And relating tales of things that seem to have happened directly to them. Marvelous, uncanny adventures that almost always conclude with someone mistaking one person for another. Becoming confused about who is in the room. And who has only recently left it so as to train their telescopes on the Pleiades.
               And where do they come from, exactly? How is it they intrude so consistently, we can’t imagine our narratives finding their completion without them? Perhaps this is what it means to be searching for solace in places where none is permitted. Where it has been banished by edict of someone who ought really to be more lenient. The grand executioner. The purveyor of wanton phantasmagoria. Who nevertheless spends his weekends relaxing by the sea.

Charles Freeland lives in Dayton, Ohio. The recipient of an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, he is the author of a full-length collection, Through the Funeral Mountains on a Burro (Otoliths), and the chapbooks Furiant, Not Polka (Moria) and The Case of the Danish King Halfdene (Mudlark). His website is The Fossil Record.

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