The flat-out madness beckoned. The young shadows would want to depart for the threshing lands, the sixty mile waste of abandoned barley fields, old machinery, derailed boxcars, empty barns, burnt out cars, rubber tires, tar pits and smoking trees. It was a right of passage, a way to find their lucky stars, or just a visit to the unknown in search of answers. Some were just suicides waiting to happen. Some just wanted to look for fossils and poems or a cold, quiet, darkness in which to slowly kiss or pray. One had to have jeans, boots, hoodies, a hunting knife, matches and cigarettes, rum and hot tea, maybe even a tattered paperback classic or a pocket-sized notebook with a good pen. A good flannel shirt, a toolbox and a radio wouldn’t hurt. One had to have a head full of old leaves and roads never taken. There among discarded carriage wheels, weed-covered crossroads, mounds of sawdust, broken fences and deer bones, they walked in the brisk landscape of midnight without end. The machines and burnt out cars would eventually wake up. The screaming weeds and the deathberries would animate. The sabretoothed threshers and reapers bared their fangs and growled after the running shadows, leaving trails of fragrant dust. Prehistoric wolves and obsolete foxes skulked and skirted the wired roads through the great nothing and its twisted constellations. It was unusual to get out without open wounds and deep inner scars, and nobody was ever quite able to describe the horror and the passion in everyday words. Most of those who made it out spoke of outdated gears or rotted roofing—there was no point in describing the sensation of being eaten, of wishing one were safely wrapped in a body cast forever, of the thrill of having no body cast, of what it means to be thrown through time, of what it is like to be eaten by earth or sharp metal. And behind their silence was the secret revelation that lucky stars only burned back there in that land of golden grain and rust, and the roads never taken are the only ones worth taking.
India ink on paper. 8 x 11.
In a dark palazzo, the traveler approached what looked to be a great wooden dais. Through the arched windows on the far side of the chamber, he saw aquamarine canals and the pastel facades of the villas perched along their banks. Dark gondolas darted past. Magnificent stone statues stood vigil throughout the chamber, elaborate scrolls and rich paintings hung from the walls. A great, robed woman lay stretched out upon the wooden dais. As he came closer, he realized that the wooden dais was a gigantic type box, a box filled with thousands of dark squares, each one capable of carrying a lead type the size of a crate. Some of these were scattered around the dais, and a mess of printed papers fluttered in the breeze blowing from the canals through the dark arches. The woman asleep on the type box possessed a grandeur and glory that defied words. She was long, fair and slept with one cheek propped on her bent arm, the other arm was thrown dramatically outward, trailing off the dais, as though pointing to the discarded scraps of text that floated in the air or the disarray of the glinting italics in the sides and tops of the huge types. As ancient as time, and yet as youthful as a virgin, her skin glowed with a faint silver radiance. Her imperishable robes, though delicate and intricately woven of platinum threads, were covered with a light film of dust and almost imperceptible cobwebs. Near the bottom hem, he descried the letter pi; at the top, an elegantly pleated theta. A long ladder thronged with angels, saints and abstract spirits rose from the pi to the theta. Despite the beauty of the designs and the incorruptible material itself, the robe was torn, exposing her nudity, which gleamed with the sad pallor of sunless days. She looked almost bloodless, her lips and nipples almost blue, her eyelids dark with fatigue. The more he gazed upon her, the more she seemed to resemble a marble statue from a drowned garden. In the blue twilight of the room, he watched as her skin changed. The robe melted into rivulets of silver water and rolled from her now golden, now luscious and youthful skin. Within seconds, as though written in invisible ink, lines and words appeared all over her body, activated by his own silent breath that had drifted over to her form. Drawing even closer, he saw a map spread out upon her figure. Marked with the lines of rivers, the borders of kingdoms, the markings of living cities and of vanished cities, her skin rippled like the surface of a lake. The legends blurred and reconfigured, the names of the cities and kingdoms appeared in every imaginable type and font, and drifted in and out of view with the subtlety of smoke. He began to search the map, studying every geographical formation, every trade route and secret paradise, every terrestrial hell and valley of shadow. The blood drained from his cheeks and he felt his strength leave his limbs as a dark, bloody gash appeared on her abdomen, but instead of blood, a flood of saltwater gurgled up, pouring out of the red gate. Staring into the cataract within her wound, he saw an architectonic labyrinth of waterfalls within. With horror he saw that he held a sword dripping with gore. Throwing it to the ground, he tried to wash his hands in the jets of saltwater streaming out of her. The blood vanished, but he continued washing. Frantic, he parted the cataracts like curtains, and stepped into her wound, walking through naves of water in search of something that he could not quite name. Tremendous torrents sounded around him. Everywhere he looked, he saw drifting spray and plunging quicksilver. After walking for miles, beyond the last cataract, he found an immense night full of moons, planets, and stars glowing and pulsing above a great sea. There in that immense night full of magic celestial lanterns of many soft colours, he walked into the sea until he was fully immersed. For three days and nights, he walked along the ocean floor, only to emerge at the far end on the threshold of the amber morning star that blazed like a tiger’s eye marble, casting x-ray images of his skeleton on the dark, sandy shores where his shadow would have fallen. Weightless, his body took flight into the star.
An evening of indigo dripped down upon the pomegranates, figs, olives and apples, upon the grapevines and upon the ivy, into the tobacco and into the poppies, into the jasmine, hemp and morning glory. The girl was naked and new, a nova of being, heavy with the unnamed, forbidden fruit. Her cold hands, still wet with pulp and seeds, reached into an abyss beyond a veil of dark horsechestnut leaves. Then her blue veins gorged with sudden sleep; her leaden eyelids lay down their long, curved fans. Stray vines and strange voices still curled around the cracked contour of her porcelain cheek. Lying down at the threshold of night and day, now she dreams she has dreamt of paradise.
Mornings there are continuous evenings, coal-burning dusks of half-lit lampposts, and the trees have all changed into what they once were thousands or hundreds of years ago. In a lost city of copper sulfate, a dream reader with his lexicon considers the most distant constellations, which flicker from far off somnium. The lost soul dreams of eating traditional candy, of watching marbled mountains through nude branches, of chestnut cakes, of gray-eyed goddesses and gray iron bridges. And his verses, none of them original, possess the logic and light of the winter sky.
Through curling tunnels of blue-green glass, through curtains of white foam, he moved at breakneck velocity, his feet firm on the board, every muscle alert and receptive to the motion of the breakers. The light and sound coursed around him and through him. Whether he was freefalling sideways or diving upward, the green water followed him and he followed it through depths and heights, always searching, searching the vertigo, the curves and cascades of shimmer and thunder, his body left far behind in sand and sky. The last breaker was the one he had been waiting for. It was high and hard, rising up swiftly, a beast of furious water. And he mounted the beast and soared into the great blue of sea and sky, almost touching the sun. Within seconds, he knew that it would throw him hard, and this certainty lifted his soul through seven heavens of angelic winds. Life was endless. The impact was cruel but not fatal. A stone or brick struck his cheek, and the pavement shredded his legs. For several minutes, he lay on the concrete, just breathing and remembering. The wheels sparkled on the asphalt not far away. All of the abandoned buildings looked like black and white postcards. The skater got up, his mouth full of blood, and walked on air towards the skateboard. The gray pigeons were gathering by a lake of blue spring rain.
In abandoned shrines the man who was tired of life lived through dreams of steel. On his wooden sandals ten thousand universes hid in golden dust. Ancient gravel roads possessed for him the clarity of one polished mirror or sword. Always shouting farewell to wind-blown landscapes in a monochrome mirage, in rivers of scripts, down the road he would fade. Down the road, the man would blur.
In the empty castle, there are no mice left to eat, and sometimes the cat is hungry. Of course, it is better to eat fish, for their goodness lasts forever, and there are ways to get to the moats and the river through the cellars, storm drains, and catacombs. Nevertheless, there is the emptiness of time. Wandering the long stone hallways and climbing the infinite towers of gray stone and gray brick, the cat collects bones, wires, old keys, magnetic coils, batteries, fragments of music boxes, and glass marbles to assemble his robotic rats. The idea first came to him when, alone and sad, he drew a face and some whiskers on a pebble with a stub of charcoal, and then battered it about as if it were a mouse. Not long after, he manufactured his first mouse and wound it up. It ran here and there, trailing its rubber tail. The cat was amused and chased it at once. Then it went on to build an army of mice out of metal scraps. The engines whirred, and drew figure 8s in the dust, and the music of the mice danced throughout the castle. Sometimes, the cat forgets, and almost breaks his jaws on the steel skin of his contraptions. One day, he should venture out of the castle and search for real prey. In the meantime, the robotic mice are beautiful, and they help him to forget the hunger, the water leaking into the cellars, the rotting galleries, the broken pillars, and the sinking foundation. And sometimes the mousecraft makes the cat forget the absence of another cat whose forehead he would touch with his own forehead, until their skulls became typewritten paper, their bodies electric eels burning with one sustained prayerful, reasoning and transcendent thought of what it means to walk in the void as phantom tigers and ethereal panthers in a dream of bones and dust.
A man lived on a wine-black argo. In the early, rosy-fingered morning, it was beached on a wooden shore covered with scraps of paper, papyri, and the kinds of things children leave behind. Once awake, he would survey the lonely shores that stretched to cloud-white walls, knowing he had just missed the linen softness of a woman moving around in the dark or the excited whispers of children. Alone, he cleaned the beach and ate his bread and then departed for the galaxies of amber and green aegises, the thousand gray death ships making their cyclical odysseys through the underworld, and labyrinths of stone and glass where he waged war against the electric humming and shape-shifting of minotaurs. There were ringing bellerophons, raging typhons, hydras to pay off, medusas, ajaxes, sirens, harpies, furies, bacchae, and all manner of other creatures. Only late at night, as the icy stars rose high, would he voyage back among the gray death ships to the silent shores where a bottle of wine and his blessed argo awaited the exhausted body. The man who knew not whether he was helot or hero, twisted and turned on his boat of pitch-black leather and wood. After a drink or two, he set sail into his own night, wondering if he would catch a glimpse of somnus or thanatos, who were more like shadows than shades. Rowing far out, he expected to see charons in their black vessels ghosted with whispers. It would be a miracle if a hitherto unknown, lissome eos came to join him in his wine-dark argo to share her word hoard of secrets and coded caresses. It would be better if he circumnavigated the ocean of twenty-four winds and captured either the somnus or the thanatos to drink of their hidden amber and ambrosia. The only things he really feared were the eternal charybdis, the eternal cronos, and the endless silence of life.
The sardines, like ancient republics, are always in grave danger. The ocean is the color of their dreams, dark blue and filled with clouds of unspoken thoughts and aeolian winds trapped in bubbles passing back and forth through their gills. It is the secret life of piscatory rei naturali. Some vanish beyond the jaws of sharks and whales. Some fall sick, bloat and drift on their sides, rotting and bleeding slowly into the water. Most are lifted up, after wandering in the labyrinths of seines and weirs. Once caught and transported in brine, they continue to dream in the dark prussian blue of the other, earlier and wider sea. When they meet the air, their sense of danger evaporates like morning rain on the pavement, and their souls escape for a farewell party. They smoke cigarettes and drink sherry with the fishermen. They lay on newspapers in the good sun and listen to short wave fados and stare back at hungry gray cats. They bathe in boxes of icewater and ice cubes. The sardines swim down the cobblestone streets. There are whitewashed houses and tiled roofs. They look at porcelains with blue and white pictographs of sardines that also mirror sea and cloud. They find gentle palms and stone saints. They get lost in old cathedrals and wishing wells. Many have reported on their sidetrips through markets and restaurants, and have described frying in olive oil as something not unlike fireworks or pop candy for their scales. Being chewed has been compared to music for their skin and a massage for those parts of the body that are neither bone nor flesh. Being gutted by kitchen knives and slowly boned by forks is also therapeutic in inexplicable ways. Others have reported on the descent into digestive chemistry and the almost epicurean spaces of atomic collisions, which again are not unlike fireworks or pop candy for the mind. Invariably, their souls return to the moment of death to begin their interrupted ascent into the ether. Like lazy kites or montgolfiers, their little souls rise in elegance, not like careless flying fish, but like sardines, who are sleepy children of the gentle elements, caught up into silver nets of wind and cloud. The five oceans shrink into a black raindrop. The sky is intolerably blue.
[credit for piscatory rei naturali goes to Romanus Cessario]