Charles Freeland

from Albumen

Our ravings are of interest only to our own subconscious minds. And that, it turns out, only when the cosmos has aligned itself properly. It arranges clusters of galaxies, near and far, according to a pattern it’s impossible to unravel if you haven’t been paying attention to the things you say in your sleep. This requires, of course, assistance from someone who shares your bed and is willing to lay awake nights with a notepad in her hand. After an interminable wait, another wait of lesser duration. And then someone comes to the door. An old man only about three and a half feet tall emerges and says he has been waiting for me ever since his own dreams began to fill up with visions of soufflés, with women who paid him the most exquisite attention because, they said, his name had come up in a drawing they held at the Eagles Club down the road where people are forever going to escape the misery of their domestic situations. The radios tuned to stations they abhor. The shoelaces used to tie other shoelaces together in ever-bulkier conglomerations. I smell stewed rabbit coming from somewhere on the premises and make to push past the old man and into the house that seems now as if it has been sitting in this spot for over a thousand years, even though I know it is of more recent vintage if only because the whole country is still an infant in comparison with others even on the same continent. Maybe it’s time we admit the flesh is susceptible to infection and attempt to rework it, to change its composition by adding elements not usually associated with the body and its component parts – the thick red clay that piles up on either side of the river. The plastics mixed and extruded in the plants that line that river like juvenile swans. Certainly the results would be disappointing but then when have we ever witnessed the careers of those things we’ve made with our hands and minds without some sense of having failed colossally? Of having brought shame on ourselves like that associated with masturbating in public? Or refusing to do so even after we have been encouraged? There is a moment of disassociation, of what might have been unconsciousness if by unconsciousness you mean the opposite of consciousness. Afterward, the patina shell of my forehead aches — but has not, I hope, cracked again — from a blow the old midget has, apparently, delivered with a pool cue he holds in his hand. One I hadn’t noticed previously due to the unusually poor lighting in that part of the world after the sun has set. The moon is not up to the task assigned it because the moon seems to think it only has to hang in the branches of certain species of tree and may ignore the others much the way we ignore those who pretend to know us after they have read our names on a nametag or (less frequently) a plaque.


The evening is no longer brisk. It gives off the scent of alder and cinnamon almost gratuitously. In fact, we have trouble forgiving it for its kindness. Outside the windows the world seems daubed in places with very dark paint, arranged in such a way as to lull us into a sense of well-being at precisely the same time the microbes are amassing along our borders, are sending out chemical feelers and communicating with one another through a system of images of the sort that can’t actually be seen. What happens when we interrupt our thoughts with thoughts that belong to other organisms? That barely meet the minimum criteria necessary to be considered thoughts in the first place? Are we in danger of losing our way, of becoming something less than ourselves? Or perhaps something superior? Like those statues made of iron or bronze that stand in the park on the outskirts of town and which look like ordinary businessmen with briefcases and bow ties, but which on closer inspection turn out to be the spitting image of anyone who gazes at them for more than five minutes. Mirrors, if you will, that forego glass in favor of some psychic disturbance initiated through clever use of materials and the ever-shifting angles of the sunlight as it makes its way over and through the tops of the trees and hits the surface of the statues and bounces off, of course, and continues its journey into the retina where, if I’m not mistaken, it is swallowed up forever and disappears. How dreadful to imagine ourselves the end point and agent of annihilation for that which enables life! That which enables vision! I prefer to stand at the sidelines and formulate theories that justify my own particular manner of existence and that denigrate all those who don’t happen to share that manner of existence — who seem to genuinely enjoy the company of other people, say, even inviting them to their house for dinner on occasion and listening with rapt attention to the adventures they relate concerning where they have been recently and what they found there. Silver ingots hidden in the cold waters of a Guatemalan stream. Folk art canvases hung in abandoned warehouses in Berlin. And though the surroundings might be exotic, the depictions on the canvases are, for the most part, typical for the genre: two dimensional human beings wearing outsized hats and playing stringed instruments on a hillside otherwise populated with bearded goats and banners declaring the coming apocalypse. Each letter on these banners has been rendered in a different color in an attempt, I suspect, to command the attention of the eye, an attempt to make the message more palatable to those who might be tempted to turn away from the canvas through tedium or an innate lack of interest in the future brought on by any number of factors, but most prominently a diet poor in beta-carotenes.


As a result of the blow, electric pulses range up and down my leg, reminding me for a moment of the substance coursing unseen through the walls, but just as suddenly there is a cessation of all energy and I black out. In my dreams miniature statuettes surround me and I have the feeling that some of them are attempting to communicate, to utter some final devastating statement through a medium other than speech. We have a name for the re-arrangement of the senses accompanying love in its initial stages, but we rarely use it because to do so puts us at risk of being labeled a romantic, or an ordinary dipsomaniac with romantic tendencies who is nevertheless afraid of the moon. Eventually one of the statuettes (representing, I believe, a local deity long since abandoned or discredited) claims he can alter his pulse simply by willing it to happen, can slow it down and speed it up on command but when I express skepticism he will not hold his wrist out for me to examine. He says he doesn’t believe there are any other people on the planet in my situation, meaning, of course, someone seemingly composed of cracked and subsequently fused eggshell, round as a tear drop and sporting human limbs. Doesn’t believe, in fact, that I exist, or at least not in the form he experiences, and so he all but accuses me of being an hallucination. Which is, I suppose, when you think about it, kind of flattering. We aren’t permitted to determine for ourselves the order of appearance of those things that happen, that come out of the blue and change our circumstances one way or another. But we are permitted to list them in the logbooks we keep in our jacket pockets, and then erase them again, or cut them out, assigning each event its own slender strip of paper, which we can then paste back into the book in an entirely different order. Or simply let blow away on the breeze, the benefit of doing so obvious to anyone who has been walking along the road where the cliffs drop precipitously a mere foot or two away from where the asphalt ends. Of course, for those of us living far away from cliffs of any sort, no benefit is necessary. We simply go about our business with the understanding that our feet are going to wind up on solid ground no matter what we do. And when we fall anyway, when we find ourselves tumbling and spiraling in space, reaching out desperately for any purchase whatsoever in the abyss that suddenly surrounds us on all sides like oxygen, we think perhaps the sensation has been foisted on us by someone with a stake in the outcome and the means of creating entirely new worlds out of the old one the way we turn our own worn clothing into puppets to entertain the children, or filters through which to strain liquids should we find it necessary to separate those liquids from the materials suspended within them.


Under the façade or what appears to be a façade when viewed at a certain angle, you find a second façade less extensive and less ornate. Patterned after Muslim arches and containing pictorial depictions of battles that never took place, at least in this hemisphere, it hums a little when the wind picks up which almost always happens in early November and continues for two straight months sometimes uninterrupted, the cornflowers close by bent double with the force and habit of it. When I lost my way, I pleaded with the gods to reveal themselves in the form of other more recognizable gods of the sort that had made their appearance previously in sacred texts the translation of which I always imagined myself undertaking just as soon as I found the time. But suppose this is all the time we will ever be allotted — that which we are currently immersed in like sulfur water at the hot springs. Will that mean we have no hope of accomplishing anything of value in spite of our making enormous efforts to re-route traffic or dispose once and for all of some leading theory in astronomy? Does that mean our dimensions have always been and will always be similar to those of the person who stares back at us when we happen to stop by the edge of a pond and look down into the water there, which is shallow and does a poor job of concealing the creatures that pass by underneath? My longing comes and goes much like these animals. It makes its appearance and demands a hearing, all but scratches at the signposts that announce distances to cities in the region, these cities boasting names, like Vincennes, with their roots planted firmly in the past as if whoever lives there is afraid we will not take them seriously, that we will relegate them to that place where cartoons are set and where inanimate objects like rocks and bracelets are therefore blessed with the power of speech.


The explosives occupy a corner of the room, wrapped in tarps and stinking like something that has just dragged itself in from the swamp or slaughterhouse. I always before imagined the materials of annihilation as somehow pristine around the edges, clean as the piece of paper on which we write our arithmetic problems when we are younger, clean as the liquid one uses to rinse the gore away from a wound that is not too serious now but which promises to get nasty if left to its own devices. I find a mirror in another room and examine my forehead, but whatever is there is no more frightful than what was there before, lines and cracks and strange wavy ravines in the shell — all of it taped up or, in some instances, stapled. The logistics of this, the sheer impossibility of stapling a substance as brittle as egg shell, combined at once with the incontestable fact of it (the seeing it with one’s own eyes), still keeps me up nights and causes a queasiness not unlike that which descends when one has smashed a finger with a hammer or witnessed someone leap from a tall edifice. I try to think of almost anything else when confronted with the sight of these metal dashes in the place where my body meets what is not my body and therefore all of creation minus this one thing that is me – past sojourns on the Riveria, or at least imagined sojourns now taking on tangibility through repetition and a long-term addiction to painkillers, lately replaced with a short-term infatuation with a woman possessing wax bean skin and eyes like beads of mercury escaped from whatever container was robust enough, at least initially, to contain them. The heart has this habit of intruding itself into the more elevated parts of the body, the airy heights, and insisting on explanations and rationalizations for things we ordinarily wouldn’t consider worthy of any form of cognition at all. Like why the body is never entirely comfortable with itself. Why the hands are forever seeking out portions of other people’s bodies to rest on or explore or torment. Maybe this is due to the intentions of some hypothetical — but still formidable for all that — ethereal Grand Poobah, some cosmic, sexless architect with a capital A (and C), ensconced in its overarching dome and penciling in changes by the second. As the whim hits it or necessity dictates because nothing stands still even for a minute once it has let the process escape its control. Once it has turned the process loose upon the wind and the gently rolling terrain of whichever institution is the setting for its most recent comeback – that place where it is made to seem relevant again through rational argument or, if need be, a series of Vicodin-induced hallucinations.

Charles Freeland is Professor of English at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. Recent books and e-books include Eucalyptus (Otoliths), Variations on a Theme by Spinoza (Red Ceilings Press), and Five Perfect Solids (White Knuckle Press). He blogs at The Book of Objects.
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