Charles Freeland & Rosaire Appel

from Albumen

She emerges from the darkness piece by piece as if she were composed mostly of what we call memory, when we probably mean something else. I’ve never seen her before and memory is not something you can trust to hold such extraordinary pieces together. It misses stitches and falters, falls all over itself even when moving at a leisurely pace. Which is, truth be told, about all it can handle most of the time. The exceptions come when someone needs to be rescued from an underwater vessel or a cage, or when the lights are blinking at a frequency designed to induce seizures. The same frequency they have outlawed overseas because they are worried about what will happen to the future generations already among us. In the form of zygotes, I suppose. Or certain unfulfilled fantasies involving wraith-like entities that float about above our heads. It’s not often we can contaminate that which hasn’t happened yet, and when we are given the chance, we must embrace it. We must dial up the appropriate ritual from among a pool of such two thousand and more strong. The origins of most of these are obscure, but we can be certain they have origins because everything must start somewhere. It can’t simply will itself to be. Or, if it can, I imagine that counts too. She tells me her name is Anda as she moves in close, hovers before me and apologizes ahead of time for what she is going to have to do. I am not afraid. She seems conjured directly from the primeval, a paper-thin vision straight off the plains and my body reacts to the stimulus as it might to a sound that meant something two million years ago – a low rumble in the center of a mountain. The snapping of twigs in the forest twenty yards away. Anda carries a talc-yellow bowl in her hand, the bowl brimming with a substance, a paste smelling strongly of mulberry and what can only be described as halitosis, a rising up from the interior and a stagnating behind the teeth. She dips some of it from the bowl with a wooden spoon, sits down directly on my lap and slathers it over my lips and tongue. Without the fowl to soak it up, the concoction is overpowering and my head begins to swim immediately, Anda’s coal-black eyes darting about in my vision like rodents with nowhere to go but still operating on an overwhelming instinct to avoid standing around in one place. They know doing so makes you an easy target and eventually even a myth of the sort that quickly gets replaced. A myth that instructed, at one time, countless souls in what it means to be a soul rather than simply something animated by desire, but which hangs out now, biding its time, in the backs of old books in the library, the kind with broken spines.

Each sphere acts as a container of some sort. You can see whatever it contains moving around inside it, shuddering and rolling, pushing against the sides in a desperate attempt to break free. The spheres are arranged in neat rows five and six deep along the banks of a stream, on the muddy part that rises higher than the rest of the surrounding earth and otherwise serves to keep the stream from regularly inundating the environs around it. The question naturally arises as to the nature of whatever placed the spheres here – was it beast or human, something with foresight or something obeying simple instructions planted in its even simpler brain millennia before? We will, of course, never arrive at any satisfactory conclusions if only because conclusions are themselves remnants of a time we no longer inhabit, no longer even recognize when it flashes up on a screen and we are asked to comment, in writing, on what we have seen. On whether what we have seen makes any sense in the context of the present. Or when it is combined with what we haven’t seen, with what has merely been implied by the setting we find ourselves in and the fragrances that keep wafting in through the open windows. I am feeling more fatigued by this procedure than are my companions and they can barely keep their eyes open! I think sometimes we are subjected to interrogation simply to satisfy the will of those who would otherwise be without any discernible will at all, who would languish on a pile of pillows until someone discovered them there, all jutting hipbones and skin the consistency of paper. Maybe it’s time we began asserting our independence by following certain footpaths through the grass, those that lead the way out of the city -- out of civilization itself -- by way of the junk yard and the water treatment plant. Maybe it’s time we started pointing directly at other people’s chests with our crooked index fingers just before making that journey out. At least this way we’d be clear of the overhanging power lines that sag and spit their malevolent energy, their unseemly apparitions, at us every moment of every day without most of us knowing where exactly these apparitions are coming from. We just wish they’d go away. The birds, for their part, know better than to hang around and let such things affect them adversely. They scatter from the branches of the trees, fly as high as they can until they appear to be mere specks against the overcast sky, remnants of some memory that moved us once to tears but which now seems flimsy and alien. The sort of thing you dispel with a quick shake of the head, followed by a long swallow of whatever liquid is in the glass you just happen at that moment to be holding in your hand.

Central to the myth is the idea that we share certain affinities with creatures that do not resemble us at first glance. They have no faces, for instance, and no means of locomotion. They have no means of communicating with the outside world at all except through the myth itself, through the perpetuation of the myth by those of us who have a stake in seeing it continue. The reasons for this are myriad and sound, when you listen to them listed one after another by the experts who have gained a great deal of notoriety as a result of this enterprise, like place names elaborated for no other reason than to induce in the listener some sort of trance so that those who serve in the role of accomplice may go through the contents of their coat pockets. Again, there are innumerable waves of vision that overtake me, some of them so vivid as to seem like celluloid recreations of events from my own recent past, and some as murky as the air above Denver when the clouds are full of whatever sediment from west of that location is light enough to be borne aloft. I enjoy the passage of these images before my eyes and am tempted sometimes to participate in them, but I know, however remotely and abstractly, that this is not possible, that my role must remain solely that of observer, much as it must when I am not having visions but instead just engaging in day-to-day activities. I can’t imagine a more supple and rewarding existence, though, than that offered by the passing enchantments and when they cease, I know I will be left in something close to despair because that is the condition that most frequently follows, in my experience at least, its opposite. That neither state can last indefinitely is, of course, axiomatic and, I suppose, something to be grateful for. But still, who wouldn’t rather spend his time in the grips of that which makes him ecstatic than that which makes him long for the grave? And who wouldn’t alter the contracts or forge the necessary documents to see this happen, so long as such alteration couldn’t be traced back to him too quickly or easily – something that would undoubtedly lead to retribution and recrimination and all the other unpleasant effects invariably unleashed on those who refuse to abide by the guidelines we all seem to have agreed upon at some distant juncture? Of course, none of us can remember exactly where or when or why, though we have our suspicions. These involve flickering torchlight and the sound of people screaming in pain and we prefer to put those suspicions out of our minds whenever they make their appearance. We treat them as if they were once related to us but have since found disfavor for something they said or did. But secretly, inside, we know they are the types of things earlier peoples used to create their epic, oral poetry, to document their doubts and their horror and their outrage for later generations and to simultaneously rob such things of their power to cause harm in what might otherwise seem an interminable present.

Charles Freeland is Professor of English at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. Recent books and e-books inlcude Eucalyptus (Otoliths), Five Perfect Solids (White Knuckle Press) and Variations on a Theme by Spinoza (red ceilings press). His website is The Fossil Record.

Rosaire Appel is an ex-writer visual artist in New York involved with abstract comics, asemic writing and wordless books. (website: www.rosaireappel.com).
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