Charles Freeland

Opiate Summary (B)

A woman runs off and almost no one notices. When she returns, ragged and torn, decidedly ill-used and worse-tempered, the people of the town all turn their backs. They encourage their children to throw stones. And if not stones, then tin cans with pictures of the ocean on them. They tell their children stories with the woman in them, stories they adapt from other stories they heard themselves as children. These original stories contained no moral. They simply revolved around a creature so loathsome, it decided finally to drown itself. But instead managed only to frighten the water out of the pond. It made the meadows go cobalt when it passed.

Everyday Despair

A man walks into the desert, searching the chaparral for something we can imagine but we can’t put into words. Or we can put it into words but those words change the nature of the thing. They make it both tangible and false. The sort of image one finds on a piece of fabric, superimposed there with a projector or laser. The image moves with the breeze. It changes shape because it is not fundamental. The fabric is.

Everyday despair is always one of the options. It is a corollary, an endnote containing additional text the author deems, for some reason, superfluous. But which might seem to us fascinating because it holds the key to how he thinks. How he creates by slicing everything away.

Hymns and Fragments

We expect luck to descend from its perch more frequently than it is capable. We see it at work in the lives of those we despise, or know only from their faces being plastered on billboards. And we think the numbers don’t add up. They abandon the center like bees abandon the hive. Chased out by cold weather, say. Or smoke. By pheromones — those hymns and fragments that trace their origins far beyond the Latin. My second grade teacher’s name was Fish. Like something you pull from canals. With a piece of corn as bait. A rusty hook. This doesn’t mean, however, we can simply overlook her. The memory of her arms alone causes the sort of longing one is reluctant to discuss with anyone until after the age of, say, sixty-one. And then there is no retrieving that reticence. No desire for any but the most obscene reflections. A turning the past into one long, and only rarely interrupted, burlesque.

The Net

The fish in the tank exhibit tints not otherwise found in the natural world. Certainly not the oceans where color is obscured by flotsam on the surface. And the boredom that sets in whenever the floor is too far away. Or the moon has wandered to the wrong side of the sky. The net necessity throws is iron mesh and see-through. Something picked up at the bait store in a place where there is nothing but bait stores. Row after row of them on both sides of the avenue. It is late. People are talking on the phone. We know at some point a woman will emerge and she will be covered in blood. Our hearts race at the thought of it because the heart is, at bottom, cruel. An organ plucked from some prehistoric fish and sewn in, still beating.

two from Eucalyptus

The shrub emits sounds like those you remember coming from the church organ. Only they don’t soothe or terrify in equal measure. They seem to be speaking a language I might be able to decipher should I spend the evening with a coat draped over my head. And The Great Gatsby opened to page 74. It’s a passage I must have highlighted in the past and whenever I try to determine the reason, whenever I attempt to open the past like the skin of an avocado, there are repercussions that don’t become obvious until many years later. Sometimes we wonder how it is the mountains keep from disintegrating immediately, especially given the unstable materials they are made of, the sub-atomic waves and the magma, the bones of unimaginable beasts. Then the imagination takes over and it does a reputable job. It fleshes out pterosaurs fallen to earth with diseases that are still pretty active. Viruses and other microbes that live on the skin and mostly go unnoticed. Though Immanuel knows they are there and he can’t sleep at night because of the itching that may or may not be all in his head. I try to untie the knot, but we are forced finally to resort to a kitchen knife. And when I slice a small portion of my pinkie off, the blood seems to belong to someone else. It has that quality about it of old photographs, of phrases uttered once and then abandoned. Is it possible our endeavors make us frail at precisely the same time they are preparing us to journey to the arctic or dive to the bottom of the sea with one of those large brass helmets on our heads and a hose sticking out of it, running to the surface even if the surface is too far away to see? I list the attributes I expect from those who are at the surface, feeding the hose out, keeping it from getting kinked up in the middle. But no sooner have I finished than I am starting another because the first went on for three pages. And who can possibly live up to everything listed there? Who, for instance, might dress well, even fashionably, but not care about others’ opinions? Who could possibly know where Clipperton Island is without having been there, without even having looked for it on a map?


Whoever is represented, she doesn’t necessarily appreciate the gesture. And she doesn’t show up in the same attire she left in, which suggests the interval is one of deeper mystery than we might at first have supposed. Still, I vote for pursuing the matter to its furthest reaches, even if those only happen to be as deep as your coat pockets. I am in the minority and resist announcing any further details about my own biography, but the uproar is so sudden and persistent I agree to sketch out something on the chalkboard. This involves lines going both forward and back, with little boxes of text between them and I try to make the lettering so minuscule as to preclude the audience’s determining what exactly is being written down. It is a trick I remember from our days in the academy, spent wandering the corridors with people who knew both our first and last names but who seemed to operate without any ascertainable identity of their own. That must be a plus in the business that gets taken care of there, but out here, among the owls and the pecan trees and the snakes with their finely woven skins, it causes people to glance out of the corners of their eyes and drag too long on the Coca-Cola bottles they have raised to their lips. As if on cue, she staggers forward, stunned perhaps by a blow to the back of the head or some revelation that she had not been expecting, and then the lights suddenly dim on all parts of the scene but her lovely shoulders. Is this due to some astronomical effect perfectly, if coincidentally, timed, or is it the handy-work of memory itself which always seems to have its fingers on the effects board — changing tint here and raising audio there, until we begin to suspect it doesn’t trust the content very much; it doesn’t believe what actually happened should be allowed to fend for itself. It’s an accusation she first popularized by putting it in a song, and then refusing to sing it, refusing even to let others capture the chord progressions for posterity because she said she didn’t believe in chord progressions any more than she believed in that fiction we referred to as posterity when we might just as well have been calling it something else. Like antonyms. Or grape jelly. And I tried to mend things then by reading to her nights from the diaries of vicious men, but she knew there wasn’t anything we could do. The locusts were on the arbors two streets over and the sound they made is one that sticks with me to this very day — a humming like one’s mother might have made in the rocking chair in the deep, black hours of the morning. If, of course, one’s mother happened to be a locust.

Charles Freeland lives in Dayton, Ohio. A two-time recipient of the Individual Excellence Award in Poetry from the Ohio Arts Council, he is the author of Through the Funeral Mountains on a Burro (Otoliths, 2009) and Eros & (Fill in the Blank) (BlazeVOX, 2009). His website is The Fossil Record.
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