Category Archives: Art

It’s the Boredom That Kills You, When You’re Dead

Because nobody ever looks at it from the poor zombie’s point of view…

It’s the boredom that kills you, when you’re dead. At first, it’s the claustrophobia of being hermetically sealed in a casket and buried, but that feeling eventually gives way to the illusion of infinite space, which is actually rather pleasant.

Then it’s the soreness of your body’s pressure points against the velvet, until you realize physical sensations are all in your head—a matter of mental habit, as it were, not a response to any external stimuli. Gravity loses all meaning when you have no immediate plans of shifting your weight.

Without fear or discomfort to entertain you, you start thinking about the dirt outside your cushioned time capsule: black, yet honeycombed by trillions of minuscule gaps between granules, the organic matter of grassroots tilled under by the living when they saw fit to keep you in silk, metal, and lacquered wood, and of course worms. You recall the old children’s bonfire poem with the creaking seesaw rhythm:

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,
The worms play pinochle on your snout…

You wish they would. The living are fanatically devoted to organizing their dead things and their living things such that never the twain shall meet. Corpse goes here, worms go there. This ensures you’re completely separated from the outside world, preserved by a rubber gasket from the corrupting, unnatural influence of oxygen, soil-borne microbes, and those card-loving worms—worms which would otherwise be your only familiar company.

Even decomposition is too ponderous to be of much amusement. The chemical breakdown of your formerly vital organs have to make do with whatever air was in the box when they closed it, along with anything that subsequently manages to squeeze inside through structural microfissures and the principle of osmosis.

All of these roadblocks on the way from intact to rotted beyond all recognition buys you plenty of extra time to think up creative new ways of passing the time without sound or motion.

*  *  *  *  *

You wonder how long before you are bone soup in a subterranean mason jar. You wonder if you’ll still be able to think, then.

It already smells like every day of high school chemistry class crammed into one beaker, unstopped and billowing a cumulonimbus cloud of caustic acid gas. You try to mentally separate out the different scents, and discern which parts of your slowly sizzling soft tissues are the source of each. The phrase “methane gas” briefly crosses your mind, but you never paid much attention in chemistry class. You’re certain, however, that this odor is the sort of thing that would inspire a school-wide evacuation, if not a state of emergency for the entire suburb of Mounds View.

Mounds View. A pretty name for a childhood suburb. I believe I lived there, once. You vaguely recall tree-lined streets—the maples, the gracious shade elms. Bicycles in sunlight, sticky forehead sweat, a breeze through the arm holes in your tank top. There is a friend somewhere nearby. You have plans with him—important plans involving hacky sacks or music. His name doesn’t occur to you.

It is a warm sensation, to think of What Was. You continue in this pastime, even as the memories slip away like sand falling off drying swim trunks.

There is a crush. A young lady. Amanda. I still remember that one. You hang on to the scent of her perfume. You can see her face. You notice her eyebrows don’t match her hair color. The old truism about smells being a strong anchor of memory applies even in death.

But that’s enough for now. You’re exhausted by such remembering. Your mental stamina isn’t what it once was. Holding a thought is like holding your breath—which, incidentally, is something you’d like to try doing again, just to see what it feels like. It’s not that you feel suffocated—that feeling has long passed and you’ve grown accustomed to this still, cool airlessness—but you’re curious: would you still know how to breathe? It’s in, out, and repeatthat much you know, any fool knows that—but is there a trick to knowing how deep to go? What if you exhale too much? Would your breath run away then, and would you, if you could, have to go and catch it? It’s been so long, something so simple as breathing seems a calculus.

So exhausting. Stillness is a punishing assault. The black dirt outside has lost its texture, as far as you can recall. You fancy it’s just black, now, or blackness itself, so uniform as to become meaningless—now a negligible topic to think about, at any rate.

Your world is shrinking. Even your thoughts have become too heavy to lift. You drift in and out of sleep—and in sleep, no dreams, just blackness.

And more blackness.

*  *  *  *  *

You awaken to a lightning bolt in front of your eyes. The streak is of a silver so gleaming that it is all you are conscious of. You stare at it without context.

Crack. The lightning bolt grows in length and thickness. It is stationary, not momentary like a flash in a storm, but you are not aware of this incongruity, as you do not remember storms, or weather, or the difference between inside and outside. You are merely transfixed.

Crack. The hole of light in your world-less world rips wide open. Something is jammed inside the hole, something originating inside your own dusty casket and thrusting up into the blinding gash of light above.

It is a sleeve, you realize. Sleeves come with jackets. You follow the sleeve in your mind’s eye to its owner.

It is your sleeve. It’s your jacket. Yours is the sleeve—perhaps with an arm inside?—reaching through to the light above. You peer deeper into the great streak of Whiteness before you. Is there a hand up there, in the Light, attached to the far end of the arm in the sleeve that evidently belongs to you? It’s too bright up there to see whether.

Just as you decide you would like to take a closer look, the entire world goes White.

*  *  *  *  *

The next thing you’re aware of is the existence of form in the Light. Forms circle you, morph slowly. They are Rorschach ink blots, have no names or precedent, are like Darkness in hue but not tone.

A music box begins to play in your memory, and your memory is inside your body. I have a whole body, you recall. You do not think about what shape it’s in, or that it has been buried for who knows how long, but you realize you can control it with a mere thought. The realization is exhilarating.

You test your certainty: Bend, you silently command, to no body part in particular. A knee bends and bangs against the oaken cover of your casket.

Bend louder, you command, still not clear how this works, but eager for more. An arm crashes upon the surface of the casket, snapping it in two. The oaken pieces fall about your lap. You look down at your legs. You realize you have been sitting up. Did I emerge from somewhere?

“Rise.” This time a sound accompanies the command: your very voice, fallen to disuse and in need of a tune-up, rising up from your rib cage and into your skull and, presumably, into the Whiteness out there and all around you. You clatter up to what you approximate to be a standing position, and as you do so the Whiteness begins to fade and contrast with itself. Curving forms become vague flora, like giant broccoli, and straight lines emerge as imposing three-dimensional structures.

I know this place, you realize. This is What Was.

To be continued?

Three Cheers for the Summer Solstice

Summer solstice, racing wheels,
Hair on fire, flames blown back.
Crown of heat cooks off the facts.

***

Paper tigers crackle:
One last snarl until ashes.

***

Winter’s melt
And springtime’s sobbing torrents
Swordfight in foamy peaks below the Falls,
Slide mud slopes across toothpick pathways and toy cars
Peopled by people.

The punishing Falls fucking dare the riverbed to come up for air.

Sunset paints the toenails of whitecaps.

I can take out the garbage at midnight shirtless and barefoot.

Featured image: Saint Anthony Falls, Minneapolis, Minnesota (via Wikipedia)

Royal blue and pauper orange

Don’t talk.
Each word bumps me
closer to your center axis,
each sentence forecasts
some long-awaited contact,
and every paragraph heats my entrails like
electricity through overburdened copper coils.

I am increasingly vigilant
but it seems you will always be
just out-of-reach:
microns are miles,
and I still don’t know you.

So I will now defy time
and jump across this sadistically tiny chasm

to your brain. There
I will become your palette,
if but for a moment. There
I will know how it feels to be

ultraviolet and infrared:
your sempiternal extremities; and

royal blue and pauper orange:
the mutually exclusive
and desperately symbiotic castes which
cast shadows on each other; and

inchworm green to sunrise yellow,
measuring the slow and careful story of your
seasons;

and all your colors in-between
and above and below
and all the rest unseen
whose hues and values deign to show themselves.

– Jan. 3, 2001

“My tears watered my mother’s corpse.”

My tears watered my mother’s corpse. She was in her nursing home gown, the blanket pulled up to her waist. Her head was tilted to one side, her mouth open, her tongue visibly swollen as it had been in her last days. I wailed long, natural wails. Such a reaction I had not expected to rise out of me.

After a minute or two the crying and wailing subsided to sniffles. I turned around, looked about the room. I caught sight of a small placard on the shelf among her meager final belongings. It read, “Love conquers all. Virgil.” It had hung in her apartment a few years. I picked it up, placed it on my mother’s breastbone, and looked at her again.

A nurse had placed a teddy bear beside her previously. I don’t know whether my mother would have approved of such a sentimental measure. She was 70 at the time of her death. Would she have deemed it humiliating, condescending, clueless on the part of the nurse? In life my mother was a Sherman tank, at times. I chuckled at what she might like to say about her current predicament. A bringer of war has no need of a teddy bear, you moron, you imbecile. You are below me. Maybe she liked the teddy bear. But what did she care now. This tawdry arrangement of limbs, linens, child’s toy, and placard was for the mewing psychological requirements of we the living. At least she had the word “conquer” now on her chest. That would be acceptable under any circumstances.

The curtain was pulled around her nursing home bed for privacy. The effect was of a makeshift mausoleum. A pop-up tent for dead people to be humiliated beneath the gaze of their ungrateful, semi-estranged offspring. You mourn me now, vile children. Your display of grief is a lie. Where were you when I needed you? We were off avoiding you, Mom. None of us could stand you. Don’t forget who turned away whom. I’m not lying. Damn you, you wretch, you train wreck, you twisted mass of nature, I grieve you.

You blind archangel. Flaming sword of Quixotic justice. Stoker of fires for hot air balloons, crucible of my armor. I grieve you.

The wailing started up again, then subsided after another minute. I hung my head. Suddenly I felt to make sure she was actually dead. I needed to be sure. Sure enough, the skin on her hands and face was lifeless. I’d never felt a dead person before, but I could tell. I listened for breath. Nothing. I sat perfectly still and watched her chest: the placard didn’t move. I was sure now. I stood up. Watched her a minute or two longer. Snapped a morbid photo. I do not apologize for this last measure; I have only one or two of her from when she was alive. Dead Mom, living Mom — I’ll take any photo I can get.

The whole affair lasted not ten minutes. I backed away slowly. Turned.

Walked out.

For a good time, pay attention to men’s issues

I like the topic of men’s issues. It’s not exactly a popular topic. You might think men are all the media ever talks about, but generally speaking, the public doesn’t care about men as men. I don’t condemn that lack of public interest, but the fact that it is a neglected topic makes it all the more interesting to me, and it ought to be interesting to you as well. You might be surprised by what you can discover when you start looking at the male side of gender issues.

An article of mine appeared today at The Good Men Project (GMP), a left-leaning website devoted to men as men. It’s not a men’s rights advocacy website by any means (see A Voice for Men if you think you have the cojones to listen to and assimilate what they’re saying over there) but GMP does bring attention to the topic for a somewhat wider, more prime-time-friendly audience.

There’s a men’s issues angle to my upcoming book American Family, in that it chronicles my kidnapping as an infant by my mother from my father (got all those prepositions?) and the forces that fated it all. What my mother did was illegal and the courts looked the other way because she was a female who claimed distress. There are of course many sides to this story, and I am not giving anyone the benefit of the doubt based on gender. Women do not get a free pass with me, nor are they automatically suspected of foul play. Same goes for the men. What my book will offer is a clear-eyed view of my own past — as clear-eyed as I can be, anyway — based on my own memories, interviews with living witnesses to the events, hard research about social forces, psychology, and otherwise — along with years of critical thinking and meditation on the story. I want to get this right. My purpose in writing American Family is to help others come to a modicum of peace with similar elements in their own life stories — while telling a gripping story in and of itself. It’s a tough project. Subscribe to this blog to be the first to read it.

And that’s just one of the many pies I’ve got my fingers in these days. Thanks for reading.