Charles Freeland

from Rabbit Fever


The regular movement of the shade in the window across the way releasing and concealing the light at intervals suggests a code of some sort, one I am still in the process of cracking. The uncertainty is like being attacked by eels in shallow water. It’s enough to send you to the center of some imaginary island that is expanding due to active lava flows and so does not have, in the strictest sense, an exact geometrical center. Or at least not one that lasts for more than four or five hours at a time. How difficult it must be to see through the atmosphere there when all you have is your own eyes and maybe a few of the instruments like spectacles designed to make them more powerful, but which end up diminishing their innate capacity through overuse until we are wandering around bumping into walls and parked cars and we are forced to request assistance from those who would rather act as if we did not exist, as if we were specters conjured up from the pages of well-known children’s books like Pinocchio or the Book of Job.


All signs point to a rabbit fever, passed around before we recognized the peril. The aftereffects keep cropping up like messages from outer space, and so we throw ourselves into the recommended cures — the exercise regimens and dietary restrictions — as if our bodies do not entirely belong to us. As if we have leased them for a few months and we will probably forget to return them. Pretty soon, the light at the end of the hallway becomes something to avoid like secondhand smoke or a reputation for cheating at cards. We tiptoe around the edges until we find ourselves on the other side. Soon, though, we long to be back again where we started. I suspect this is a common enough problem among those who remain standing, those who have not let the weight of the atmosphere pressing down upon their shoulders wreak havoc on their equilibrium. The rest of us are hard pressed to remember even a single day when we were as happy as we imagine the lowly vulture must be when it is riding thermals half a mile up and the whole wide world is spread out beneath it, beckoning, calling its name — if it has a name — or just gesturing to it with the equivalent of an index finger.


The existence of magnetic poles answers some need so deep inside us you couldn’t pinpoint it if you tried, if you used one of those donut-shaped machines that peer inside our living tissues and split virtually our otherwise intact bones. I drift off momentarily and in my dream I run my hands over a saddle not attached to a horse. I pull them away again almost immediately, horrified by the feel of the dried out leather, but enchanted for all that by the spirals and arabaesques hand-worked at the edges. I wonder if we are not better served by throwing our memories away the moment they are formed, tossing them out like cabbage instead of clinging to them so desperately they are mutilated by the pressure. Eulalie deems my ideas fruitless, scoffs with her whole body until there is a shaking like that one would normally associate with restrained mirth. With a chuckling under the breath. Only it increases in intensity until you realize something neurological is taking place — some distant cousin to epilepsy, I suppose, a remnant from our early mammalian, shrew-like past, when the brain was taxed with wiring itself and everything got crossed up in the rush.


Maybe we have been placed here to expound without the use of too many words. To gesture and jump from one tree stump to another without touching the ground, just as we used to try to do when we were children. We thought the whole of our futures rested on the successful completion of arbitrary tasks. The dishes pile up like shipping containers at the wharf and the stink is such that it runs one out of the room for a good ten minutes until the consolations of philosophy plug up the nose sufficiently to allow one back inside to complete a job that we believe rightly belongs to others. Those who stand around with their hands in their pockets waiting for someone to drive up and whistle, someone to flash a gold nugget struck straight from the earth itself. We barely have time to secure ourselves in our seats with a length of rope and the Bible in our hands, open, I suppose, to anything in Ecclesiastes. Especially that part where a solemn tone is struck for once, where disingenuousness goes the way of the prong-horned antelope and, as a result, the skies overhead turn a brilliant white with the influx of ice. So high up it doesn’t really count as part of the planet anymore but can’t quite make its escape either. Can’t quite find its way into the emptiness of space because there it would be something other than emptiness and so it is not allowed by the rules, written or otherwise. All of this makes me long for a time when I too was part of something larger than myself but refused to acknowledge this fact simply because doing so would shrink the dimensions of that something else considerably. It would make it seem as if I were somehow in charge. A prospect that frightened me at the time much the way we are frightened by our own image in the mirror when we see it only partially illuminated and realize that some day we are going to grow old.

Charles Freeland lives in Dayton, Ohio. Recent books include Albumen (with Rosaire Appel / https://archive.org/details/Albumen), Eucalyptus (Otoliths) and Variations on a Theme by Spinoza (red ceilings press). His website is The Fossil Record (charlesfreelandpoetry.blogspot.com).
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