Charles Freeland

from Eucalyptus

In which the porch has scorpions on it even though Easter is still a month away. We try hurrying them elsewhere. With soothing words and lullabies and other scraps of information we have picked up while moving through space so rapidly the eye itself is incapable of determining where one part of the world ends and another begins. Our memories concentrate on the grotesque and the exotic so thoroughly, we are left wondering if the past has become something we can not recognize. Aren’t we going to take the advice of the experts? a woman inquires of the man sitting next to her on the bus, a man who looks as if he has just finished running a dozen wind sprints, his hair sticking out in every direction like porcupine quills and his mouth shaped into a semi-permanent omega. Aren’t we going to pay attention to the sins of Ixion? The answer is a determined no, as is made evident by the sound of people nearby muttering threats under their breath. If, that is, they mutter anything at all. Most of them are too busy chewing on the ends of their fingers.

Just upstream from the grown-over fuselage is another grown-over fuselage. This time with no conspicuous markings on the outside. We hover around trying to convince ourselves what we are seeing has its antecedents in the way history has played itself out in these remote corners of the world, but our reasoning takes such drastic tacks and corners, no one is convinced. We begin to wonder if maybe there is no such thing as history at all. Part of the afternoon’s meal is left out to attract insects that are themselves quickly shut up in containers in preparation for shipment back to our original point of origin, this step having been insisted upon by those who agreed to underwrite our adventure and who seem to think enzymes are the most valuable substance on Earth. Especially when they are previously unknown. Or when the description was written out longhand and contained adjectives that we might consider questionable. There is even mention of “defenestration”, and when some of us voice our objections we are drowned out almost immediately by the sound of the rain. And the leaves turning over on themselves so as to reflect whatever light has made it through the clouds back up into the sky and away from where we so desperately need it. Maybe I’ve seen enough of the world without Eulalie in it, and if only she would stay in one place long enough for us to catch up, to be able to get a snapshot, say, from a hundred yards away, then I could happily spend my old age back home, amid the vines and the broken windows, surrounded by children and grandchildren that have no verifiable biological connection to me at all. I could count to whatever number I wished without having to worry about someone correcting me when I got off target, when I started going backwards or when the numbers became so enormous, they had to be given names belonging to everyday objects. Like “Orange”. And “Tuxedo”. Of course, all such longing must be chalked up now to hallucination. Just the sort of thing that convinces you, if you hang around in the forest long enough, that you will be adopted by snakes.


In which, hunkered down in the underbrush, we whistle to one another over a distance of about fifty yards, each trying to outdo the other by mimicking as closely as possible the song of the mourning dove that makes that particular stretch of forest home. The problem arises from the fact that we haven’t done our homework, we haven’t bothered to listen to the recordings made in the 30’s by those who took their work more seriously, apparently, than we take ours. I suspect there are hard feelings. Who wouldn’t wonder, in fact, if the entire neighborhood is simply on loan? And those who expect its return, with interest, have their eyes on our rucksacks. They think we have hidden away the best portions in there, the meat and the gristle, and they will receive merely bones. Or wheelbarrows full of something that looks like bones, but turns out on closer inspection to be plaster replicas of the sort they have been known to fashion on film sets when the plot calls for gruesome discoveries. Imagine panic giving way to curiosity yet again, the samples becoming the core experience, that thing that makes people sell their houses and hitchhike to Santa Fe, only to find there objects nearly identical to those they left at home in cardboard boxes.

The ankles give way almost immediately. They are designed to make you feel as if you are supported somehow from below. But in reality, you just feel things when you should be thinking and vice versa. When someone asks you about the situation, you hold up a salad fork and say, this is not what it appears to be. Nor is it an illusion. The horse belongs to someone who lives in the next county and he visits it on occasion, during which visits the horse tries to act aloof. It’s a strategy that wins the animal praise from those who gather at the fences and jot down figures in their notepads. They cut themselves sometimes on pieces of broken glass, but they act as if they have never yet been surprised by anything. As if the horizon is something held in place by a crane. I doubt there are any theories sufficient to explain Eulalie’s behavior, nothing in the research of those who watch others from far away using telescopes. I think maybe I am just destined to imagine all sorts of misdeeds without ever being able to verify them with my own eyes. Of course, I could interrogate her if she would sit still long enough for the interrogation. But she has places to be. This is why she wears the aviator’s goggles. Why she keeps turning up in the newspaper, her name misspelled and her photograph the same one they have kept on file for years now. Ever since it became obvious the artists’ likenesses they were in the habit of using before that were of poor quality and suggested a certain wild fury, an indecent set to the jaw, an expression so clouded over as to make people think they weren’t looking at a human being at all, but a primitive forebear, a mythical creature of the sort said to haunt still the forests and lagoons east of our present location.


In which he remembers a time when he did not know her name, when it was possible that he might never make her acquaintance. And the sensation he gets then is like a plate of enchiladas – something close to burning without the unpleasant side effects. The altering of the flesh in hard-to-repair ways. The making one deathly afraid of both light bulbs and the Fourth of July. This sensation is one that he is sure others have experienced as well. With the cause and consequence still lingering in the air. Maybe there are places where we fit because of body shape and instincts, because of how it is we learned to speak. With certain idioms coming effortlessly as breath. Prejudices lurking just beneath the surface where they are apt to cast shadows in every direction. And get us interrogated. She wishes he’d whisper in her ear, say something he has said a thousand times before. How the flesh is a mass of properties, how it stands between us and the moon. When he does speak, however, his voice is loud, unruly. And aimed in the direction of the walls or the headboard. Objects he deems unlikely to respond.

The tunnel is not the sort of thing I would normally approve of. In fact, I doubt I would even recognize one without an accompanying sign, a plaque or other legend created by committee. I imagine the shelves are lined with something more important than simple food stuffs, and that odor that permeates the place is one coming from the very bowels of the Earth itself, though by this I don’t mean to imply the odor is necessarily unpleasant. How frequently do we try to worm our way into the confidence of those we have only recently met and probably won’t ever again be given the chance to talk to because they belong to an entirely different world than ours? They make extensive use of bamboo rafts, say, and we have yet to drift around on anything for more than an hour or two. Which is not to suggest there is a ranking here, an above and below and an obvious means of determining who belongs to which level. It’s just that we approach our other everyday endeavors the same way we approach love, which is to say through dishonest and ultimately obsessive means. Much like those exotic creatures you see on safari once you have saved up enough money to go on safari. By giving up on alcohol, say, or treating the garden with inexpensive pesticides. Alternatives based on junk science, on internal rhyme. Eulalie doesn’t like this talk of abandoning one thing so as to secure another. She believes all things are within reach so long as you keep your arms covered and you don’t spring any last minute surprises. You know the kind, she says, her mouth turned slightly sideways by the force of her good humor, of that abiding sense of irony she inherited from people who (you can’t help but imagine) used to farm with their bare hands, who saw comets streak across the morning sky and still managed to act as if they were alone in the universe. This at a time when no one believed in anything, when they had abandoned every sort of myth that didn’t somehow generate itself from the sand and soil beneath their villages or, of course, their shabby farmhouses, where they returned in the evenings and soaked their feet and fingers in buckets full of warm water. They embraced only those myths that abandoned every message and moral in exchange for a certain delicious sound and feel to it like that you get sometimes when you are biting into the raw flesh of an apple.

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) and Eros & (Fill in the Blank) (BlazeVOX). His website is The Fossil Record.
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