The going is rough, the roads having been totally destroyed in a path about as wide as two football fields and travelling for miles into the town on one side and then out on the other. Fortunately I know my way around and can find alternate routes after having lived here for years and having dreamt about this place previous to those years for an equally lengthy amount of time. Strange how we believe almost anything someone else tells us so long as it seems at least slightly credible, so long as it doesn’t require us to suspend the laws of physics momentarily, to announce to the world that we are not who we claim to be. But rather a phantom composed entirely of symbols and regrets, of limbs so long as to suggest malformation and incurable disease. Where are the sonic disturbances, the melodies and the words applied to the melodies, designed to attract attention? Where are the days when we were expected to hike a mile or more to the outpost and discuss the situation with men and women who didn’t seem to recognize us, who thought perhaps we had arrived there from the mountains lately covered in snow? Once arrived at my destination, I see something very like what Vesuvius must have done to her communities, only considerably more moist, mud and debris to a height of fifteen feet in the few trees and power poles still standing, bits of farm machinery wrapped like tinsel around anything sturdy enough to have withstood the water’s advance – the remnant corners of brick buildings, stone blocks from the bridge upstream. Try eliminating the image of a bird from the air through which it has already flown. You will experience an awe and frustration mounting to terror but where does this come from? Why must it follow this particular cycle when we are willing to explore other avenues, other ideas still germinating inside our skulls like millet? As part of the postscript you might consider making the main theme explicit, tying it to the movement of something that doesn’t ordinarily move, that one might even mistake for a local monument or tower, just the sort of place teenagers visit when they wish to hide from the disapproving glare of their elders and get a little drunk. Where they think they might, if given the proper chance, escape the mortality that awaits us all simply by informing the universe of their names and the salient features of their biographies. The mediocre schools attended. The hopes that taste like licorice on their tongues when they speak them out loud, and that feel (you’ll remember) oddly gritty — like torn newspaper — when they fall apart later in their hands.
The cutoff, the point of starting over ought, by rights to appear somewhere other than in the middle of things, the place where everyone is expecting change, sure, alteration, but in moderate doses. They expect the tone of the handwritten notes to become slightly more demanding or hysterical, but the paper should remain a similar consistency throughout. I try to obscure the sound of hammers outside with headphones and in those headphones music that seems strangely familiar if only because every song is built like every other song using common notation and instruments of the sort first invented in previous centuries and since perfected. Or perhaps abandoned. By people who long for perfection but realize that finding it necessitates that it be taken away from you almost immediately. This requirement is part of what makes it what it is and if you try to circumvent this requirement, you merely rob the perfect object of its perfection. You turn it into something very like yourself. Eulalie came down out of nowhere and lived for a while with me in the light. Light such as that you find in open places, or certain novels. Those by Czech writers, say, concerning themselves with what it means to be alive, to love and to suffer but to suffer nobly in the human confusion of that love. But it didn’t last long. Somewhere out there, in the forest maybe, without even the benefit of a fire to dispel the gloom and the bone cold like that in castle walls, there is someone hunkered over tired old tomes written by people primarily interested in what it means to be dead, to live in darkness and to bring everyone with you into darkness, into insanity through a child’s pretend knowledge of witchcraft and other nonsense. So now I live, without Eulalie, in a house. The house is like a place where people used to live and when we look for some sign of them, some sense that they were here and had left their mark the way we might be said to leave our mark when we carve an animal figure out of soap or stand in the hallway and just reflect light back at whoever happens to enter the hallway and look at us, we find almost nothing. A few stray strands of hair caught in the fabric of a chair. An earring discarded on the carpet. To see these things, to know what they mean and to say them out loud and have no one hear you is unbearable. Pretty soon, they too begin to fade.
A slapping sound in the alley, a cool breeze carrying on it the scent of mud and someone’s breath when she has been drinking vodka and talking too much, drying out the saliva and creating extra real estate for the microbes we always imagine as possessing primary colors and behaving in ways that seem designed to make them fascinating to those who find no fascination in their own kind. Who whisper to themselves in crowded rooms and invent whole worlds to occupy once their own has proven too narrow to suffice. At first I think it’s Sunday the midget and Octavia re-united in the madness of what he’s done, reconciled, at least momentarily, through annihilation and murder, but I am mistaken, at least as concerns the stature of the man. It is an understandable mistake, these strangers fornicating on the slippery cement remnants outside what might have been their home, someone’s home, or a tavern, say, frequented at any other time by people desiring the same thing everyone else desires, if perhaps too strongly and with little chance of fulfilling those desires except through desperate measures like lighting someone else’s cigarette or falling to the floor and pretending to have a seizure. It is the fish, the carp, white in the moonlight and thick as an undersized man’s arm, flopping heavily all around the pair where they pair themselves naked and gasping in the flood’s aftermath, in the tangles of weed and wire, the pungent black river mud transported this far in something like protest – it is the fish, the carp that misleads me as to the size of the man’s limbs and so when it is not Sunday the midget there (and probably not Octavia but, who knows?), just two otherwise anonymous souls pulling what they can together from the devastation, from the broken bricks and dog carcasses of a town they might not even ultimately belong to, I lose interest and continue to what must have been three or four hours ago the outskirts. The frontier in a world where everything now is a frontier, if by that term you mean a place where no one knows what he is supposed to be doing. No one can precisely define his role.
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 (www.charlesfreelandpoetry.blogspot.com).
Rosaire Appel is an ex-writer visual artist in New York involved with abstract comics, asemic writing and wordless books. (website: www.rosaireappel.com).