book 7: There is more to this story but I cannot tell it until I know who the listener is

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In the story you and I stand together and watch nets lift from landscapes, holding dark clouds, centuries, weather satellites, fish, shells, birds, bees, twigs and drums. They seep with song, humming, buzzing, howling. Static, silence heresy. They float around the room.  The nets are made of strands of all of our hair tied together end to end, connecting all of our backyards.

We wander into quarries that contain ladders made of the softest rock and the softest metal, limestone and pure iron. Each time one of us climbs around, the rungs mold the weight of our hands and feet into it’s surface, our set after set of our hands and feet. Limestone and pure iron, clay that passes as other, soft that passes as hard, holding and molding the habits of our hands and feet. In this place we can always see where we all have been.

The smoke tree I used to lie under is no longer there. Its tree houses and clouds of perennial castles exist now only in my memory.  Maybe it only did to begin with. But I still hear its spiny fingers typing storied songs and I still hear it whisper to me when I ask it which direction to walk. I still hear its concert halls, the kings sound like coins dropping, each a begging musician with swarms of queen bees surrounding them. And in this place where you and I stand, we open our mouths to speak but there are no more words, not now, not anymore.

We are not their size.

All things
are too small
to hold me,
I am so vast

In the Infinite
I reach
for the Uncreated

I have
touched it,
it undoes me
wider than wide

Everything else
is too narrow

You know this well,
you who are also there

– Hadewijch of Antwerp

 

book 6: that which crawls around worn out words, above the rumbling earth of aching roots

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When I woke I found myself back underneath the smoke tree, its spiny fingers taping my eyelids to stir me. I was exhausted but attempted to describe my journey to it and to not leave out a single detail on where I had just been. I even described how the tree itself had disappeared and I had stood, for a brief moment, before the invention of color.

It told me I needed to listen to the lines of the journeys. Their ripples, waves, filmy movements. Its lessons inside volumetric flasks, all grace and glass. The journeys had been woven by  the sea, threadbare and all of our hair. They contained the three tiers of arches of The Pont du Gard, a rich and endless backyard. Nilometers and blankets of translucent sand. Ladders and leyden jars built hand by hand.  As it spoke, upside down trees and flat disc-shaped worlds began to grow in the palm of my hand.

And it told me more. More than I can tell you. More than I can tell you because the words for it have not yet been invented. But you’ll hear it regardless. It’s very close. Its wordless, silent, only in the pauses and the notes.

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book 5: wide walks, great landscape architects, sinuous paths and winding waterways

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I walked out in the desert until I came upon a girl standing alone and looking at me. She nodded and turned around and began to walk away. I followed her. We came upon the foundation of a bridge. The remains were only ancient timbers that once bound the brickwork together. She was carrying a piece of petrified wood in her hand and she placed it on top of the timber and all of the petrified architecture went to immortal sleep. Next to the remnants of the bridge remains of a great palace were scattered around the desert. A complex foundation of courts and halls. We walked through it, touching each unpillar, each of the unmade walls.

I followed her as she left the ruins and the sky lightened as we entered morning. We walked through an animal market and I could see a city on the horizon, at the entrance of it stood a colossal statue of an ancient woman. We didn’t go to the city however. We continued to walk on the outskirts and eventually I saw what we were walking toward. Ahead of us there was a great river.  We were approaching The Nile. Just as the cemetary had prophesized to me, I was introduced to its blue blue.

We descended the bank and as soon as we were underneath the water, insects surrounded us. They latched onto the surface of our skin as we swam. They navigated us through the water. They steered us through the venomous stares of the black mamba, the saw scaled viper, the horned viper. They slipped us past the five hundred pound Nile crocodile carrying  foot long newborns in her mouth. We looked it right in the eye as we swam by, knowing the insects protected us. As we did, we opened our mouths and out of them floated water hyacinths that spelled, we are protected by the crocodiles’ closest living relative, the birds. We are protected by the sight of all of these eyes.

We swiftly passed the soft-shelled turtles and the lizards.  We slid through the hippopotamus’ twenty inch long teeth, denticulate cliffs we climbed because we were the size of words. We were followed by tiger fish, lungfish, catfish, and eels. We arrived safely to shore in a fleet of stripes and spots and they shed scales and covered us and let us slip into the grasses unnoticed. Transvestite snakes, water that passes as land, fish that pass as other, imbued with narrow eyes and venom to pass us safely through the tall grasses and the sinister stares of the wild. And we slithered back out to the desert, shedding our double skins along the way first, then our own until we were nearly bone. Then we pushed ourselves up onto our hands and knees and last to our feet. We stood a moment as our subcutaneous layer reformed. Then our dermis. Then our epidermis. With our new skin of knowing, we walked. On.

As we walked we picked up stones and twigs to eat but we began to notice everything we put in our mouth became metal. First, it caught fire, softening it so we could draw it out through our lips, the sturdiest thread. And nickel hardened in our throats and our body parts began to shine. We were no longer camouflaged and despite the weight of our armor, we could fly. We were the table silver, the gold coins, and aluminum pans. We were the tiny amount of potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium necessary for animal life. We were the minute quantity of copper, aluminum, and manganese in our bodies. We needed nothing except wet dark earth to grow.

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book 4: the stumbling and humming holes that store the stars

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I decided I would need to wake in the middle of the night to return to the water. If I went to the river I saw at night when I was with the dead, maybe I could discover why I had been called there, who the man was, more about how to read teeth and the name of the great gullies. I crept down the stairs and out of the house. I walked past the smoke tree to the backyard through the forest and toward the spot where the river was.

When I arrived however, there was no water. There was no river. There was nothing but a field. Puzzled, I turned around to walk back toward the house and the smoke tree. But as I approached the spot where they stood, I found nothing as well. There was no tree, no drawer in the floor.

I was alone in a barren field.

The only thing I could see was the stars. A myriad of galaxies confronted me and the further out I looked, the further back in time I drifted as the darkness densified. I looked around and noticed, there was not even color. The grasses were gray by the light of the moon. Was I before the invention of color?

I didn’t know what to do so I sat down where the tree once stood and closed my eyes and asked the tree where it was. I did not hear a reply.  Sound had uninvented.

When I opened my eyes I found myself surrounded by books. I sat up and knocked on their spines and listened for a reply from the other side of the wide walls but heard again, nothing, not even my own knock. There was no other there to share dreams with or talk to. I had only the titles of the books, the spaces, inhalation and exhalation. Everything was untalking, unsinging. Even the dead were empty.

I didn’t know what to do so I hummed and as soon as I did, my paeon pulsed the covers of the books open, one at a time, every fourth syllable, even and lean, they uncurled, fell. The last book was titled We have the mountain and the central mountain is everywhere.

As soon as it fell open everything shifted and drifted, and I ran outside the lines, slid off the page and receded into its boughs.

I found myself in Zawiyet el-Mayyiteen, the place of the dead, planted into the dead’s domes between the fields of the aubergine and cabbage of Egypt. The burial grounds’ infinite miniature mounds disappeared into the haze all around me and tumbled me forward and whispered over and over again we promise to introduce you to the blue blue Nile.

The commodious cemetery wandered around me, the mud-bricked domes inspected me, rotating, round, resilient. The song of marigold birds rang out but each note was quickly absorbed into the white clay, each birth-cry so short. The domes and their crowded holes were each like the inverted night sky, each a chirping universe, the weight of a head, dusty and consistently disintegrating. They were slaves to the stumbling and humming holes of their structures, the holes where stars and stunted songs were stored. Each was a sleep maniac, like me, that goes and sends a picture of the way there. All around me was the smell of wet metal.

As I walked toward the exit an object slid off the top of one of the domes and landed at my feet. It was an umbrella. I picked it up and tucked it under my arm in case I would need it.

I climbed the wall at the limit of the cemetery and walked into the desert. I turned and looked at it as I did, all of those while mounds in the dark night, unblinking eyes if I were the size of words.

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book 3: the abacus and the felicitous feather

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That night I woke in the darkness to the sound of my name being called. I walked out of the house and saw a man who looked at me, nodded, and turned and walked into the night. I followed him to a path that led us to a river I had not seen before. We climbed into a small boat and began to float downstream. It was quiet and I sat very still, looking at him. He asked if I could hear the goldenrod soldier beetles and their relentless march through the forest. I shook my head that I could not. We floated in silence again. Then he spoke.

To survive in a small boat in rough water, do the opposite of huddle. It is at this moment, you must lean, he said. Lean until touching the surface feels inevitable. Lean until you can look whatever is underneath you in the eyes. Lean until you can pull with all of your strength, he said. To master the boat, he said, you must understand there are three forces present; you, the boat, and the water. To master the boat is to speak with the water. Show it you trust it. You will be able to flow with it. The water is the bridge, he said. The architecture is never what it appears to be, he said. The boat is the tool. You are the notes. The three together, are the dance.

I watched his teeth while he spoke. They were crooked. I opened my mouth to reply but the only thing I could say was, Your teeth are crooked. He smiled. We only see symmetry because we have two eyes, he said. We floated to shore. I turned around to look at the land as we approached. When I turned back to him again, he was gone.

I stepped into the ankle deep water and pulled the boat ashore. As I did, I found his eye sockets in the water, near the area where we had departed together. Their empty pink pools were clean and curved and they floated at the water’s edge. It was only his eye sockets as his eyes had synchronized and swam ahead. I peered out into the water, trying to see them but it was too dark. Suddenly, I heard them. They whispered to me from somewhere over the water. They said, we see future and bring it back to you. You can hear it by reading teeth.

I crawled back into my bed after I dried my hands and feet. I began to drift off to sleep when I heard his voice one last time and I never have heard it since.

He said, When I was a boy I swallowed the earth.

What did it taste like? I asked him.

Its hard to describe. There are many tastes. They all blend together but the strongest tastes rise. He replied.

What are the strongest tastes? I asked him.

All of the springs and all of the dyes. All of the landfills and the small old trees. The taste of all of those tears and all of those years.

What do years taste like? I asked.

They taste like yellow, the way yellow tastes, he replied.

Near the shore the sockets of your eyes lifted themselves and drummed on the surface of the water right before you walked away, I told him.

What did they drum? He asked me.

They spelled out, sing along.

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book 2: what kind of satellite have we just invented?

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The smoke tree told me that before the soil was stony and covered with our narrow house and all the other houses, the land was different. It was covered with rich endless heath and scattered with trees, hazel bushes, wild plums and crab apples.  It was called the barrens. Before the introduction of clover and agriculture, the hilly limestone land had its soil washed off and was disfigured with great gullies.

What were they called? I asked it.

They were called the great gullies of the barrens.

The water on the moon is called Maria, I replied.

What do you mean?

The dark plains you can see when the Moon is full are named Maria. Maria is Latin for seas, and they are found almost exclusively on the near side.

These gullies do not have a name, It told me. 

Upon hearing this, I knew I needed to figure out the name of the great gullies, the ancestral seas of our land that lived now only on the maps of the oldest tree rings and in the memory of the soil. I knew they had to have a name. The tree told me one last thing about them.

The water was there before roads, before anything was planked. They were formed when Eustachian tubes transported lakes to this landscape, fraying as they approached, becoming brooks and ravines and they all ran after each other and remade themselves. The fields between were only one and one quarter of a step apart.

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book 1: this is the beginning of the story

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there

-Wallace Stevens
The House was quiet and the World was Calm

 

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book 1: this is the beginning of the story

The yard surrounding the house had a metal gate on one side and a smoke tree on the other. The house was quiet but the large deciduous bush buzzed and crackled. I would lie underneath it all year, letting the winter snow stack on top of me. In the spring the water would thaw against the skin on my arms saturating me with the elongated raindrops shook off by the downy woodpeckers. Egg-shaped pods covered with fine white hairs grew and held brown seeds inside of them. The panicles grew in clusters and changed color as they aged. At their peak they were a smokey pink. I used to pry the pods open to peek at them in their state of forming. I watched their becoming.

The yard also had paper birches and elms, which provided more consistent shade than the smoke tree. It also had an ample lawn that provided a softer pillow. But it was the spiny intricate finger branches of the smoke tree that made room beneath itself, a small space, like a drawer in a floor and that’s where I would lie.  Each puff of the smoke tree was like a whole smoke tree, each contained chamber upon chamber of rooms. A tree of tree houses, perennial clouds of countless castles. One of the first things it told me was to begin to rely more on my ears, to listen to the sound of things. And from underneath the smoke tree, I would think of anything, any object in the world, and I’d ask the object questions. I would ask and then listen. The objects would reply, their imperceptible movements hissed and clicked to me. They often told me, we are the size of words.

One afternoon while lying beneath the smoke tree, a curious landscape revealed itself to me. It was a field. Its undulating green grass was glowing, lit not from the sun above but from a light source underground, beneath it. On the field, there were hundreds of walking women. Some were counting aloud, losing track over and over and continually beginning again. Many stepped over anything and everything in front of them, their eyes intently focused on the horizon. In the middle of the field piles of mattresses stacked on top of each other rose like totem poles. The women swerved around each other without colliding like a precisely choreographed dance. There was a small round window at the bottom of the mattress totems, lodged between the mattresses closest to the ground. I could see through one. Like a ship’s portal, there was an ocean behind it. On the glass there were water stains.

I didn’t tell anyone what I saw that day under the tree. I only watched.

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