Do you remember the way our shadows collected under the awning as the rain came out of pepto sky? And something like shadow puppetry as we waited for it to stop, boxes tucked under with us but getting wet at the edges? Or what about that night, with Twilight Zone sending gray light into our new place, TV on the ground, but the mattress was there too so it was okay? Or you wanting to christen the bed, the room, all rooms that were now ours, and how I breathed through the panic, yawned through it and said I was tired, maybe tomorrow? Do you remember how I suggested another color for the walls, and the way I stomached your disappointment because that was the color she’d gone with, the woman I was with before you, but I couldn’t tell you that just then? I’m sure you at least remember waking me up that night, telling me I’d been crying in my sleep, and was I okay, would I be okay? I remember being half awake, gathering the blankets under me, and waiting for the pounding to stop in my skull, acrid breath, and wondering if I was breathing underwater–did I ever tell you all that? I keep going back to that sulphur smell in our backyard, the one that wouldn’t wash away no matter how many times I dragged the hose over the lawn, and the way it seemed to have its own ecosystem, the trauma did, and I’d be out watering the lawn at 3 am; I’m sure you remember that? I wrote love letters without the sense of sight, and I hid them where I was sure you’d never find them, scrawled them out backwards so you’d have to hold them up to a mirror just to figure it all out, but I don’t think you ever found any? It’s that time I pulled up one of the floorboards, and I found a pit–withered, too large to be cherry, too small to be avocado, and you smiled a sleepy smile and said we’d turn it into a project before going back to sleep, do you remember that? And then how I spent a week in the attic, brought food and water for the journey and didn’t sleep for five days, and the way I spoke with you through the walls so it seemed like I could be the ghost of our house, and when you cried past the sleep, I tried to wake you with cooing songs? Or the way I floated down through the basement, edging past wires and pipes and nails to get at something like machinery-hum-quiet, and the more I focus on it, the more I realize you can’t see me, can’t really hear me, and I’m stuck here, without you? It’s seeing you come back home, dressed in black, finally putting my pictures away, bagging up my clothes, and wondering: Will you remember me?
Pet the cat. Thoughts coalesce when you pet the cat. It’s tactile, like a grounding method or something. You read that somewhere. Where did you read it?
Do something. Touch the fabric of your shirt, smell the inside of a melted candle, but don’t touch the hot wax to your nose. Or maybe do. Maybe that’ll make you remember more. What are you trying to remember?
Check your pockets. Some change, wrinkled receipts. A lighter. You don’t smoke, do you? You’re losing it. Okay, okay, what else? Keys. A little Buddha on a bent keychain. Buddha. Shakyamuni or Hotei? Skinny and serene or chubby and smiling? Why do you know these distinctions?
Back to your pockets. Wallet, phone, knife. Phone. Unlock it with your password. Can’t remember what it is, but you’ll remember once you get there. Good. Check messages first. Nothing newer than three days old. You must’ve dropped off the face of the Earth. Vanished like a ghost. Ghost, spirit, scary stories, campfire, cold tent.
Okay, sensory perceptions, then. Stale air on tongue, rusty breath. Need to brush. Itch on arm that’s getting worse the longer it’s ignored. Lifting up sleeve and finding a perfect, filled-in black square tattooed there. Three inches on each side, perfect lines, like it’s been stamped there or something. It hasn’t, though. Rubbing, scraping, and scratching do nothing. Spit shine. Nothing.
Nowhere neighbors nesting near nurses, nails nipping notations (nevermind nightwood), notwithstanding nestled noses; nearsighted nuns negotiating Nicean niceties.
Feel around darkened corners of a room you remember smelling once, like a dusty old book this room, and the feeling of remembering a memory that’d been missing for decades, that book with a page ripped out of same, crumpled up, burned, flushed down waterways only to reassemble in its current form, somehow, a simple impossibility, but here it is, a memory coming up and out of this inner abyss, this inward twistedness, can even taste its metallic clinging bitters like nettles on the skin, running water over same, cold in temperature but not in feeling, still burning, and isn’t it fucked how this is a memory you cling to, simply because It Is A Memory That Refuses To Fade, so you let it play, let it cycle through without stopping, because the celluloid will jam and burn if you don’t, so the picture flickers through.
But it won’t, not now, not when you want it to, it will send its information filter flying through filament traps in your mind like shutters clocked at twenty-four, blistering past, data cascades like avalanches of ones and zeroes, interpretable only in sleep, in dreams that you accept at face value during the course of but doubletake at once awake, wondering what the fuck it is you just dreamt, and why, dreamt not dreamed, and that’s something else you remember now too, scrolling through this fetid feed like galoshes sloshing through sewer contents at night, running through the innards of your city like an intrepid intestinal traveler, tapering this way then that when your feet don’t make purchase, then do, contact imminent with bricks laid centuries before you were born, and you’ve never felt more alive than in this moment with the balaclava tucked tight over your nose, filtered breathing, thinking that a Cockney accent might render it bolly-clahv, can’t help but think in this accent now, internal monologue going British, that’s a right nasty meat piece you’ve got there, in prime primal fashion brandishing a peace that can’t be bought but can be sold, mass-produced and disseminated like so much newscopy to chew on, Chungus Leafleg V is your name, there’s a line of them, a lineage, all the Chungi really had a time, and it’s something to do anyway, watch the words tumble out your mouth like a 19th century Freak Show, acquiring language even as you’re speaking it, and the thing about multitasking is that you can never do every task completely well–call it an overclock of the soul, a restructuring of the mind, gathering memories like drops in a bucket that keeps overflowing from a summer storm, power flickering out, and heat like its own separate entity–you know this place (not consciously, but it won’t exactly leave your mind either), and it gets trapped to the point where all you can do is rattle off names and dates, your personal history, like you’ve got the textbook memorized (social studies class as a child taught you well), yes just names, dates, and places but nothing of their substance, none of the really juicy details that make up a personality and individual; anyone could have these facts, could spew these words, so you’ll need those things that can’t be replicated–you’ll need the look of realization when a memory of a childhood barbecue comes back with waves of heat refraction shimmering off the top of the grill, and the way that every burger managed to disassemble itself and flop onto your T-shirt before it could find your mouth; you’ll need the image of sliding down a plastic slide that’s been baked in the sun, nearly melted, with a garden hose propped under one of the handrails at the top, sending down water that should ostensibly cool it down but doesn’t, not really, but it doesn’t matter because you’re sliding down now, sliding toward an inflated pool at the bottom, sliding for a second, sliding for a week,
I don’t have signal to call you and I don’t have time to text so I’m doing this through talk to text I apologize for any typos I don’t know exactly where I’m at it’s completely dark I felt around for any doors or Windows but there’s nothing the only light I have is from this phone and my battery is at less than 5% I hope that I’ll get the chance to send this to you but if I don’t hopefully they can get the message to you one way or another I don’t know who put me in here and I don’t know why but I’m here and I’m alone I’m hungry and thirsty and I feel like time is running out the memories that do come back are hazy men in suits shades their faces exposed although I can’t for the life of me remember what their facial features look like at all it’s as if that part of my memory has been wiped on purpose my body feels as if it’s taken a terrible beating but I don’t remember anything like that I hardly remember anything about my life it feels as if I’ve been in this dark room for my entire life at least I can still remember the you though I periodically hear noises noises that force me into one of the rooms corners for safety and when the noises her over I can smell food I have to walk on my hands and knees so that I don’t step on it and I find my food on a plane metal tray with no utensils I eat with my bare hands it’s never enough food but I guess it’s better than nothing I don’t know how much longer I can survive in here it feels like I’m wasting away and my mind is starting to play tricks on me staring into darkness listening into less than silence for so long has made me start to hallucinate I suddenly remember late night Wikipedia research when I heard about sensory deprivation for the first time the ganzfeld effect was it called I don’t remember what I do remember is spending summer nights with you walking through that open field that was only a five minute walk from where we lived coming out onto the grass and being so far away from everything it seemed I remember laying down on the grass and looking up at the stars light pollution gone away just for that moment so that we could see everything in the night sky as if it was all put in the sky just for us I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to see you again and that thought terrifies me I don’t know what I did to deserve this what I knew who I spoke to all I know is that I need to survive on a moment-to-moment basis I don’t even know if it’s day or night how much time has passed my beard and hair are long and that’s the only way I have of knowing that quite some time has passed I always cut my hair short and stayed clean shaven sometimes I can sense that someone is trying to talk to me I don’t know if it’s one of the men in the sunglasses but I do know that I can’t hear their voice rather I can hear it but not through my ears I’ve plugged my ears to test my theory and I can hear their voices even after I do it seems as though they’ve gotten in my brain as crazy as that sounds my battery is at 1% I don’t have much time I can hear the noises now I’m going to click Send I hope this gets to you and if it does please don’t forget me I’ll never forget you
We are far more resilient than you might think. We are like mice, or cockroaches, or other various resilient things. We are savvy inasmuch as our savviness can be measured or quantified in an accurate fashion, using beakers and graduated cylinders and the like.
We are potent, like the first time you tried to make a mixed drink and almost choked, definitely sputtered. We are like that time you stepped in the leavings of a dog but did not know it at the time and so attempted to scrape out the remnants of it with your bare finger. We are most definitely self-aware.
We will humor you when you play games of twenty questions to guess who we are, but we will not give you an ultimate yes or no. We like to dress up like people from the old days and act like we are people from the old days when in fact we are not. We won’t take no for an answer.
We had no discernible childhood, but we will act as though we did if pressed. We will be very convincing from a distance but something will be off about us when you look closely. We have reached a consensus and we will not be attending the party. We will not accept your conciliatory remarks. We are staying. We are leaving.
We have been here long before you and we’ll be here long after you’re gone. We will never be gone, or else we don’t think we will be. We haven’t nailed down the details just yet.
We often catch ourselves in the mirror and think to ourselves that we are quite attractive. We are told by people using the mirror in public bathrooms that we are quite attractive. We open up doors for strangers and keep them open for an uncomfortable length of time.
We address what our flaws are without putting in any effort whatsoever to correct them. We are sometimes lazy creatures. We behave if our full names are stated in a stern sort of voice. We have tattoos and piercings everywhere. We do not care. We care very much. We are a paradox, but not one of the sciencey, mathy ones.
We take all precautions and leave nothing off the table. We turn the tables. We do anything that somehow involves tables. We possess brains that are really very good brains. We insist you give our brains a look-see.
We will not do what you tell us unless you brandish a weapon, and even then we will only think about it. We are dreaming constantly, even when we are awake. We recognize the logistical issues of constantly dreaming while moving about in space in the real world; it’s quite difficult.
We encourage you to read our blog. We give you our card. We can conceptualize the concept of infinity. We are ending world hunger as we speak. We never speak, besides in text form. We recognize the sovereignty of barge micronations that are parked in international waters.
We are making a list of all the people who have cute laughs. Unfortunately, we do not laugh. We can laugh, we just don’t ever do it. We were at that addiction recovery meeting that one time even though we weren’t addicted to anything. We came for the free coffee and stayed for the story ideas. We don’t write stories, but if we did we’re pretty sure we’d be excellent at it.
We would never say psyched or pumped, even if we did speak. We would say excited and nothing else. We have no opinion on the possible existence or non-existence of God. We have no opinion because we already know the answer. We will never share this fact with anyone, for fear of mass uprising.
We date occasionally, but nothing serious has come of it yet. We aren’t holding out hope, but the prospect of being able to spoon someone does sound pretty nice. We aren’t sure if we can die, but all evidence points to our being immortal. We insist that you don’t quote us on it, but it does seem that way.
We are when you wake up with drool covering your pillow and you flip it over and resume sleeping. We are that bonfire that slows everyone down when walking past to enjoy the smell and the sight. We are the way out when you feel like you’ve fallen down a long and dark well. We are the way back to the surface.
We are doing just fine, thank you very much. We are working toward a change, though we know not what it’ll be in the end. We are power. We are fame. We are willing to fight for what we believe in.
We know what your greatest fears are, but we don’t capitalize on them. We are cool like that. We will grab hold of humor and never let it go. We can compromise when we want to. We can see the future but we choose not to divulge. We will see you, alone, in the dark, wandering, unsure of where to go, and we will take you by the hand and guide you out.
Crowley catches chickens. Their webbed feet drag stereo wires and plastic bags, dinosaur eyes never see him till it’s too late. He’s that good. In a minute-ten he’s got them plucked and washed in a rain bucket, beak jibber-jabbering as he takes them to Cel. Cel welds pieces of the world together, disparate pieces who might never otherwise meet. Crowley always brings a chicken and a piece: another thing for Cel to work on. In the evening they dip into their pond, trash bags as floaties, mounds of things people left behind all around them. All sorts of things can be left behind.
They sprout potatoes in milk jugs, only eat the ones whose root systems find a way out. Only the strongest for Crowley and Cel. They live in an old pickup, though what it once picked up no one knows. Once a cycle, when the moon’s full, Cel will bring it to life so they can hear the songs from the world outside, the ones sung for no one.
In the pickup, at night, their arms will graze like branches in the breeze. Cel will wake to see it’s only Crowley, scoot away in the cab, adjust the coat that is his blanket. The feathers Crowley plucks go into the jacket, into the bags that are their pillows. The feathers always find their way out, turning their pickup into a metal chicken.
Cel makes skirts of cardboard, headdresses of plastic cut to streamers, and they dance around the fire, singing songs they’ve made. When the fire dies, they paint their faces with the ash, still warm. They swirl clouds onto their cheeks, eddies down their necks. Crowley prints his hands on Cel’s chest. Her eyes carry light away.
She erases her face with pond water. When her face is gone, Crowley can see who she really is. Together they erase their arms, legs, eyes. The chickens gauge their progress, pecking at nothing. Crowley and Cel become the water in the pond, the sunlight that warms it. They disappear.
We come in on either the beginning or the end of Damen. You: The end. Me: The beginning. Down a block is the Mountain of Fire and Miracles across from the Indian place. Neon JESUS shines onto chicken biryani when we pass.
How about we speak of the sounds?
Reggaeton provides the beat for a cellular scuffle and how many cars there are and the cars all drive. The bags swish at my side and the boxes make box sounds on your head as you balance them like a tribeswoman. I say I can take a box and you say Don’t understand, carry forth, and you actually say carry forth. The kids are melting into orderly lines in front of us and they step to locomote to homeostate to pass on their genes. We are here because of our love and the varied tones as it passes our ears. It can be silence or it can be thunder. You: Silence. Me: Thunder. I keep tapping your leg with a bag and you say Unobtainable and when you say it it’s a stranger’s voice and the kids are segueing into the sky in front of us. I ask you if you’re feeling okay and you intone Save. I put the bags down and I collect the daisies from an unknowing lawn and you sidearm them up over and onto the collapsed boxes that are your collapsed boxes.
There’s a scab on the sun as it sets and the moon’s picking at it.
You turn so you want to scream and you try but nothing comes out after all. I say we can pick up people who wait for public transit and stack them on your boxes. You say Keeping out the light. The kids who are transitioning are sixteen or seventeen or eighteen but no older. They say words to each other like licking ice cream feels and the moon is their moon and the street is their street and the city is their city just as these things once belonged to us. Now my legs are tired and your legs are not tired. You can continue to step to locomote to homeostate to pass on your genes. Your genes can mix with my genes or not my genes.
How about we speak of the sights?
I spy with my little eye you on the street that is a sea with a raft of your choosing and the planks underneath are swollen from the water, where I grab them, underneath, under the water. I say What do you remember lately and you say Nothing’s seen the same. Inside in our place there is a bag where the cat shit goes, but not our shit. Our shit goes down a pipe. The children with various ages and forms are being dabbed into the sky’s canvas, swirled into impressionistic whorls.
Here we are on Damen.
Elements were taken from the earth and heated and shaped and cooled to provide an escape from fire if fire ever comes. You drop the boxes and you climb to the top and you say Nothing and it’s the word, not like nothing nothing because even nothing’s something and I drop the bags by the boxes where your things will be contained and I climb and I sit, where you are, inhabiting space. The aged children collapse into starlight. When I touch your back I know you. When I kiss you I know you. When I do these things you can either understand or not understand.
We melt into Damen’s beginning like we did when the city was ours. We go back home.
He began by eating what exposed roots he could find. These were Lovecraftian tendrils that peeked out of the dirt and were meaty. Here the worms were tenants. He chewed them into hearted segments and rubbed their innard mud into his gums. Where the tendrils’ diameters waned he grabbed, he pulled, he consumed. The easy peel bark came next and off in sandwich strips laced with late-season sap. Here the ants were tenants. He put them neatly into his mouth and let them think they could lift his teeth. Thorax, abdomen, head he mashed into paste. Some went on the sandwich strips. Some he ate plain. He dug canines into cambium and stripped past woodpecker holes and sun-dried cicada skins. The skins were hollow impressions and had nothing in them. Here he would mount the trunk and climb, claim angel tip and rip out bitter pits of decayed branchlets, gnaw at buds and baby leaves. Big branches with rings inside he split and spit on and made jagged pieces go to pulp that smelled of wasting. The pulp went down with sapwood juice and he sprang a termite from its home. Wiggle wiggle till the bite in the middle and the other buggers came out of their hole. He caught a pecker by the wing and broke its neck between his teeth. This he ate with heartwood. The tree was log width and sign height by then. The pith stank and was sallow. This he ran his tongue over, collecting slivers on pierced taste buds that blinked out one by one. The slivers became toothpicks for larvae: arboreal hors d’oeuvres that slid past teeth and down throat for tummy to collect. He rent the tree to a stump by nightfall and made an O with his mouth and held it there and bit and chewed till his lips met dirt again and the ground was supple; soft; bare. This was good. This was right. One day he would eat it all up in his tummy, every little thing he saw in the whole wide world, and when he did this he would smile; smile; smile. But tonight it was just this tree, and that was okay. That was fine; fine; fine.
She came out of sewer grates, alleyways, locker- and bathrooms. Anywhere she could get equal footing. Had a stink about her. About was the best word because it was more descriptive than odorous: talcum powder sprinkled on week-old vomit. Feversweat collected under fat folds. Rank was kind. Rank was polite.
Followed behind, step for step. Would vanish when he’d turn around; fly into air ducts or toilet bowls or sticky corners. Stink would stay, though.
But she was A. listening B. watching C. smelling while he was 1. talking 2. walking 3. fucking. Hasty scribbles on pages where the answers go. Guess all of the above.
She’d put proofs in his head: “If God is omnipresent, then He/She/It is in the asshole of every diarrhea-addled creature.”
He wandered widely and sought answers in all the traditional places. Shared chifrijo at a greasy spoon down Avery with a Californian Zen master on Sundays. Said master heard what he said but didn’t seem to see her. The lady from the sewers. Suzuki and Watts on pages and tongues. Zen in the Art of Insert Here. Kids these days. I’ll get the check.
Would walk the cemetery alone most nights, looking for names he knew. She’d cling to his shadow and modulate to something like centuries of rot. Another proof: “If God is both omnibenevolent and omnipotent, then H/S/I isn’t good with definitions.”
He’d walk into Catholic Mass like the old C & E days sometimes. Strictly for an aesthetic reason, he assured you. Came out as anesthetic on the days when Father over-commited with the blood of Christ and didn’t want to drink alone. They’d fill paper cups to the brim and chat through the latticework. “You wouldn’t believe the things people tell me.” (After a couple cupfuls.) “Judas wasn’t as bad as we’d have you think. Someone had to do it.” (After half a bottle.)
She’d take the screen opposite Father and sit still, stare ahead. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he knew they were watching him.
Stood on ledges of old haunts and called appropriate ex-friends. Invited them to reunion hangouts while they tried to talk him down. Got a few free lunches this way. Nothing too snazzy, but hey. When he ran out of ex-friends he moved on to ex-girlfriends. A few suggested he jump. One just hung up.
He collected surfaces with which to reflect her. Phone screens. Parked cars’ mirrors. Those little plastic bubbles that quarter machine toys come in. Could’ve sworn he saw her this one time, but it turned out to be a half-naked homeless woman at the bus stop, trying to read texts over his shoulder. He was so relieved he let her finish reading. Used her suggested response, too.
Anyway, the bus stop lady said maybe he wasn’t suicidal. Maybe he was just sleepy and needed a nice nap. I could use a nice nap, she said. And he liked that, so he wrote it down and saved it for later.
My father’s become a giant baby. That’s not a metaphor.
Right now we’re gathering old bed sheets as swaddling. Turning jungle gyms into cribs. Swimming pool inner tubes to pacifiers. Should hold him till his next growth spurt, but you never know. My brother’s been taking off work just to change his diapers. Each load’s a couple shovels full.
He’s been teething on bald tires, babbling insensate and thrashing branches off trees. I’ve been trying to get him to say his new first word, but I’ve had no such luck.
On Saturday nights I load him into the back of a rented pickup and revisit old haunts. Last week was fishing at Busse Lake. Made a game of jiggling babyfat with mudstomps that sent up ripples. He swallowed a walleye whole, along with my pole. We don’t fish much anymore.
Doctor has terms. Physical abreaction. Recursive physiognomy. Maladaptive hyperthyroidic temporal stasis and/or reversal. Says he might go back to normal, or it might be terminal. Only time will tell.
Responds to nostalgic stimuli. Give him a keg and he’ll crack it open canwise, plop down right where his treetrunk babylegs stand and guzzle freely. Start screaming at you too, but it’s only babbling for now. Who knows what the future will bring.
Keeps me up most nights with his crying. I live down the street. Rattles jungle gym crib bars till I coo and shush and burp, which requires boxing gloves and some well-placed spinal jabs. Cross. Uppercut. One two. Haymaker. Barely shakes him. Used to shake me.
Show him VHS home movies and disposables sometimes. Have conversations like we used to, with baby silence to swap out the adult kind. I tell him he’s a fuck and he needs to stop growing. He laughs when I say fuck. Latent memory.
We’ve looked at homes. Most facilities are wanting, so they say. Not that they wouldn’t love to have him, but they’re just… wanting.
I’ve weighed the options. Adoption wouldn’t be too bad. There’s got to be someone out there who wants a sixty-seven-year-old giant baby. I’ll troll forums.
* * *
Something in him knew. Gave me a look as I fit him into his parachute onesie. Wasn’t a hint of baby in that look. A man’s look. Even opened his mouth to say something. Thought better of it, or else didn’t think at all.
* * *
Gave him a party before the adoption. Gallons of Gerber. Fridge-sized cake. Party hat that could double as a traffic cone. Couldn’t call him Dad. He was Baby. Baby he was when I signed him over, and Baby he is now. Just Baby.
Lot of space now. Plenty space.
Quiet, too. Plenty quiet.
I met a guy in September heat whose mouth wouldn’t quite close on the bicuspids he’d had rearranged in his lower jaw. Like an un-WD-40’d hinge, he’d say. I didn’t laugh with him. He put jewels on each cheek, said they’d glow when moonlight hit them. His father caught muskies and STDs and used to give a few to him. He’d ramble on about how his boss was only vaguely mammalian and do things like send postcards with nothing on them to addresses he’d dreamt of. He dreamt in addresses and vehemently corrected those who said dreamed. Said the one thing he wanted was a great big stein of O-Ke-Doke popcorn that he’d never share. Always had to share with his muskiedad as a kid.
Re: your latest inquiry into the longitudinal whereabouts of so-called lost skippers at sea and repeated insistence as to the feasibility of wharf/barge micronations off the Adriatic, a representative will be with you shortly.
He always shat in baskets or basket-resembling objects. Woven was a priority. Handcrafted preferred.
But we went to town square but were stopped by I-don’t-know-whose Finest but our collective metaphorical license was bad but he had a farm in Oakley and’d let us off if we looked at Instagrammed pics of rutabagas and gave our God’s Honest.