From a crouch

From a crouch of a fire stair John enters the hospital cafeteria like a paste extruded into a denim ensemble with paste still for hair, taking a lidded plastic glass of thin orange juice from a chilled cabinet, alights at a too large round table the color and texture of souse, where two ample black women in scrubs beam. From the distance, where every body can be seen from head to toe, the measure of proximity in a hospital, he could be seen as immediately shaping the moments as they came, with his arms speaking like a conductor or puppeteer to draw out voluminous shrieks, moans, exclamations, through the undulations and ripples of the womens’ squinting bodies. And also he spoke, with a singularly human distraction, in words that, from where the gallery sat around the perimeter of the hall, arrived in concussions on the antimicrobial air that blunted the nuances of the tale or fragment which had the women rolling out glee from the cavities of their legs and sucking his full excrescence of words from the air in their tremendous gasps. He held court. Daily immemorial and onward daily they danced.

No still quadrant of the North American spiral has consistently larger radii than the other three. Only in the shifting identification of the moment is there something greater behind and lesser ahead, and not in a connotative sense, because the crispness of resolution and focus can be seen as a crowning attribute of the trajectory, only if it is kept in motion, and only from a distance, and assuming it has a constant center.

Being spun outward from a drain, again on smooth feet, you arced into the cafeteria in cosmically expanding radius, to a table by the wall, and sat facing in the direction of your travel, at a barely acute angle to the wall, which, in repeated ellipsis, was dotted with telephones along its entire length. The mysterious dark planet of your own cloaked innards shares, in its overwhelming struggle against clawing yourself open for them once to glisten like your damp eye in the light, the latent desire to pick up a telephone after months of mute shallow breathing, in which you indulged yourself with the device nearest your chair which you drew to your ear, and as you breathed into it John looked across the room and its now empty flat of fatty flat tables. While the faces of his charges unendingly howled, four short tones, or one echoing, like the yawn of air being pressed out of a boot, and a distant receiver, all phones are distant, uncradled to a familiar voice, which all became, facelessly, demanding in a brisk but unaddled cadence, Who is there with you?

John, the man in denim with pressed white seams, walked toward you in the din that once again rose with the silent corporeality of a single body meeting itself, like the cat walking her back legs toward the front until she was seated, and without asking he was at the table. He sat with his back to the room and his knees touching yours.

You cleaned rooms at the Marquis,


Or your were here in the hospital a while back, one.

Yes, both.

Are you feeling better?

A bit. Bit by bit. But the last step…

Tell me… a sinister silence, you feel…



See two worlds at once, or see the single one from two different vantage points, and, the sea rises…

You are…

Coasting closer and closer toward the horizon, but…

You know you…

Won’t be able to breach it…

Because you…

Know the point where it began, but not whether…


Went downward or upward.

From where?

In Death Valley. The end of where single things overlapped,

Where you…

Left him to die.


Need to know…

Which side of the horizon your are on.

Beneath the black ocean you swam toward the scent of the buoyant sky, the moon or pale, and with your lungs collapsing into the tightest curls of diminishing breaths, you touch the bottom. The lights of Las Vegas like knives in the side view mirror pulled out of your black flesh into brown breath and you and he were in the flying darkness buttressed by the last house in the sprawl, draining away itself in the paws of desperate coyotes, where there are only your voices across the highway of night teleportation.

He was the center.

He was the edge.

Of what?

Of himself. His life was like a closed circle that I encompassed the entirety of when I left him.

Maybe he is still there?

No, he couldn’t be, you can’t be unless you find a different center, for even an instant, to throw yourself into a different spiral.

Why couldn’t he have?

Because I was his center.

So what’s inside the circle?

Me, and then you, and then someone else. But really, for him, it doesn’t exist, it barely does for us.

Is this the darkness you remember that night?

You can’t remember darkness.

So you don’t expect to find anything?

No. That night was different. A different black. His.

So why come back.

For my darkness.

Arriving back in yourself is the feeling of something dripping, of the slowness spoken through a stopped up ear, of distant thunder that isn’t thunder, of never knowing where the irritant is, but feeling the irritation like shorn skin under clothes, and new cats sleep with their legs jutting out in a posture that would stiffen or paralyze a man, with their paws over their faces in the most minute curl of a being, all the love that any human could give in their most tender dying looks, and feeling the car still moving, you know it is hours before sunrise as headlights begin to linger but never arrive like unspoken words you know he is saying in the dark. Sound only grew from inside you in a way that made speech patterns not align with mouth movement and you assign effete sounding male voices to all speaking roles including train horns and creaking doors. People like him only speak when you can see them so they can hypnotize you, the headlights like the edge of a written word without a center, words don’t need to complete themselves to linger with you, or control you.

You will see. Nothing. Then it will be over. You’ll see. Then you will go on. Without it.

Your hip was sore from sitting through the night. Darkness to darkness, no light, Atlanta to Death Valley, one long night drive, miles dripping into you and distances contracting, the universe grows smaller, but unrecognizably changed until you move through it again, and for miles, or minutes, the lights of Stovepipe Wells loom joining the mountain-masked gibbous moon in describing the dunes to you with lines for the first time, rather than sounds when they sang in the dark, and you choked inside, where lost landscapes hold stronger sway over the memory than photographs or names, in the dark star fog where those sands had shifted over Jacky, you saw in the length of your fingernails in the moonlight the ends of a man clawing his way out of you.

The car glowed green in the motel parking lot. You could see, from within, and before sunrise in the arid ice blue dawn, a drifting person or two pushed open the door of the cafeteria of the old motel compound where light the color of preserved wood steeped. John bought a room, it was still hot from the day long ago. You turned on a ceiling fan’s stationary spin and the wildly contained air conditioner and slept like a hum or vibration while John sat in a vinyl chair picking at his scalp and tracing his hairline, still a stranger, where we are at night with others, until day plying wide the window to accept the desert panorama birthed John into himself, as you saw him, in this setting, for the first time since the room below the hospital, as an unselfconscious body, a silent tenuous benevolence belonging to your chapter, and a bridge of sorts, across the sand, or over the night. As he slept with his throat arched two ravens strode across the low wall of the arcade outside the window with their beaks inquisitively opened.

When it is full reared morning, for the first time in so many turns, you then were born into the day with its promise, and with breath and with fresh emptiness that allowed the dustless air of the valley breeze to swell within you as you pulled open the black door of the shadow motel room. John awoke.

Let’s find him. We start at the bottom.

You exhale audibly and the ravens cock their heads. The lowest point. Badwater Basin is white death endless, no more alive than anywhere else. The shadow of the east wall of the valley inked a cool wash between etherous damp past full of people, swarms, hiding in vast communal groups divided by windows and curtains and this walls, and the white hot present, with ten acres to a man. You stepped into it with salt crunches and whether vision or memory, you named off the dozen people you had seen in the past five years. All the years were silent, but this was physical, an inconsistent daylight silence muffled by the entire valley of captured air. You could hear your heart and stomach in your ears, and in your swelling fingertips and your thoughts spoke the words of a removed man, a character whose separate reflections were more clear to you than a logic you tried to assemble parallel to them for why you were standing baking in the flat sun with John’s shadow nudging your feet. And as if it were easiest, the man thought about death, or its opposite, white death, a forever sustained brink. Life wasn’t the opposite, it was part of it, it was a changing surface upon which death also existed, but what he thought about was a pinnacle, or rut, in which he neither lived nor died, but sustained, and looking at terrain level across the salt flat, let the beige sky happen to collapse all times into one faintly pulsing rhythm.

You two returned to the car and you felt again as if you were leaving someone out there in the white or the black, bodily only a whisper inaudible, but a man instantaneously formed inside you, unnamed. When you name a man, or the thought of a man, he is quickly as whole and beheld as the sun behind clouds or the mystery of the earth’s center, and where he lay continued to sink even as you left it, and things in your past continued to change long after they had been fixed in your memory.

Do you feel anything yet?

Not here, just to speak.

Your chest began to bilaterally contract. Both lobes of your rib cage unable to yield at your sternum bowed. The fault lines all around are silent until their potential energy is able to yank one side into submission below the other.

John drove north, up out of the flats, back toward Stovepipe Wells. As he drove it grew closer at a rate faster than that at which you had approached. The entire emptiness captured in the valley, empty of sky and air, was, without content, a homogeneous solid, that once you were within it, performed after its own principles. It was a delusional mechanics, that is why outside of it, in Atlanta, or wherever, you became fully apart from it, the mechanics even of your memories born there did not function without its dimensionless fluid. So distances became emotional measures, coiled up by fear or cast out by longing, but not in a relative sense that those experiencing the tedium of the road or the sprint of love might recollect, but a physical diminishing in which time pulsed regularly, night and day spun, but the nation’s topography was cinched.

Critical Response:

« | »