How is the air up there? A horse asks a bird, the bird stirring constantly in the wind on the edge of the world, continuous overlappings at the border, its birds flapping and flapping as if mapping internally but unable to combat the wind.
The bird flies south while singing a serenade and doesn’t notice the horses below. It passes laundry hanging on the line and though it may just be a big misunderstanding, decides that life is utterly unfair, as it imagines an asteroid flattening all it sees in front of him, the laundry hanging on the line, a cauterized and flexible landscape. Yesterday at the bedside of a cooing, agitated patient. Today, a singing body constructing a lullaby. Which is the voice that calls to him?
A horse, alongside many other horses, is grazing on a field. Ice cream, too, melting in a hot mess on the field. Just a big mess. How is the air? He asks himself.
The bird switches course, flies due west, and then starts to laugh because life is limited and the landscape is limited and because he has been flapping his wings so diligently and because fragmentation is inevitable, he flies into a turbine.
Laugh, just keep laughing, a horse thinks to himself as there is a clear sky above him and a hot mess of ice cream on the field nearby. Today the world is intact and the voices are dissonant but he has been composing a speech all morning on fairness and is trying to think of the right prefix to affix to a certain word, uttering, uttering, uttering, as a small and brief shadow approaches above him and then, unseen by the horse, blood from the nearby turbine as the horses realizes how his speech must end.
His face, those birdlike eyes. He wants to look away but the other set of eyes continue to penetrate. Don’t close your eyes, don’t close your eyes. Don’t look away, don’t look away. The horse understands the shapes in the man’s eyes but doesn’t understand why instead of pupils, he sees birds, and instead of blood, green and vile memories as if injected by a syringe, some kind of numbing fluid that keeps this man down so vehemently. The horse knows better, to keep the man at an arm’s length.
Earlier this morning, the man might have been in a bed, the echoes of dead moths on the windowsill, piles of them, a glance into the large mirror hung at the opposite end of the room, a face he didn’t recognize. Don’t close your eyes, don’t close your eyes. Don’t look away, don’t look away.
Earlier this morning, the horse may have been grazing, listening to a lullaby his mother used to sing to him, pondering on the irreversibility of certain actions, apart from death, and the incapability to sing, even a note.
Earlier this morning, someone was weeping. It doesn’t matter who.
From a stolen reflection, he opens his eyes to meet his maker. There are fewer ways of leaving it all behind. There are small pools of matter collecting at the maker’s feet, though there are no worries of drowning here. When fingers like swigs of bark and flesh poke sinewly at a face, when hands sculpt a shape intentionally and fixedly, there are moments of entrancement. But when he wakes he will probably feel nothing. That is, the inclination to feel, the knowledge of having a feeling, will not yet have rung up through the angles in his knees and because he will be able to see, eyes blinking and breath withheld, body shaking and diving into the sweaty palm of circles and triangles, he will be able to yield, and because he will be able to understand, he will know what it feels like to forget.
The desert’s white light prevents him from having any real perspective. He’s been misled by his reflection now so many times that the dimming of headlights is a spectacle of appetite and he is probably dehydrated but the day is stretching out thinner and thinner now and the nostalgia that drove him into the sand keeps his hands on the wheel. He doesn’t know how many time zones he’s covered or when the last time he slept was.
Lost amid aridity and a burning spirit, he no longer knows how to protect himself. Everything that shapes a civilization was lost through his eyes, and the expression he wears is one of habit.
He might substitute fear for hunger, or closeness for a jacket, but none of that makes him any less alone, any closer to home. He might have armed himself with patience, but that’s lost now too, and the mantra “It’s not true” keeps ringing in his ears as he feels the light of day penetrate his skin. The landscape before him is massive. He wants to feel awe but he feels nothing.
“It’s beautiful,” he wants to say. But the symptoms haven’t worn off yet. And so he says nothing.
My hand is still black in the light.
The sound of the night is cold and blaring.
I went adrift. I missed it. The color looks golden but another one has been put to death.
His bright face is bright from the judgment cast by the blaze and in a distant memory, he is falling. A single leaf yet hangs from the tree outside his childhood window and outside a dog barking, his dog, and everyone else is sleeping while he sits up in his bed waiting for the morning to come and rescue him from the darkness. He cannot help but destroy. He cannot help but try and try again, and the harder he tries, the more adrift he finds himself. Wavering.
We are not made for this.
We didn’t have anything in common.
I don’t see the point but I miss you. Will I remember you tomorrow?
Rivulets through the landscape that are called saints. He wants to be able to say, “He died that night.” A song from the river. The belief of intervention. He appears in someone else’s dream but when he realizes he is to deliver a message, he finds himself unable to open his mouth and delivers only silence. What is inherited, is silence.
The shapes of light continue to haunt him and he wonders, even if he could imagine what the other side looked like, if he could even realize such a journey, forward merging and blood cells mingling into sacs, and he understands that this is the moment to make a decision, here on the threshold of beaming and prevented approaches, and he wishes he could just close his eyes and go back to sleep, but it is precisely this way of preventing approaches that has brought his hand to shake these terrors, flapping at the bottom of a well in the middle of the night, blood coagulating inside his veins and his memory only in tune with the distraught heart of his childhood self, remembering that it is all yet unfinished, and as the muscles in his face tense and he can feel the heavy desire for his eyelids to droop down, he can feel in his heart that faint throbbing, that audible pumping of blood that reminds him again that these hands were designed expressly for paving love, and with the burden and insistence of burning an unopened love letter, he blinks, and blinks again, and unable to feel his eyes, to sense or see the blazes any longer, he knows that the decision has been made for him, and with one burden channeled into unwavering destiny, he feels even more cold and sensitive than before, and perhaps, might recognize that thing called hope.
It in itself, looks like a lump of earth, stopped still in its tracks while on its way to form, together with other lumps of earth, a giant mound of dirt that might be traversed by horses, ground squirrels or sports utility vehicles. Understand that a lump of earth might get stuck in your throat, and you’d have to swallow a large amount of rice, perhaps, to push the earth down. Or the throat might expand after some time, with the contraction and protraction of natural heat and cold, and the dirt might disintegrate and slowly make its way down, or otherwise meld together more strongly, urging the tongue to repeat certain movements over and over again that might come out in the forms of utterances, certain recognizable words, genealogies, fastenings, greetings. Or farewells. Don’t all gestures of parting begin with an open mouth, blood pumping, an invasion of scurrying, scurrying squirrels across the disappearing landscape.
Janice Lee is the author of KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press, 2010), Daughter (Jaded Ibis, 2011), Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), Reconsolidation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2015), and The Sky Isn’t Blue (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016). She writes about the filmic long take, slowness, interspecies communication, the apocalypse, and asks the question, how do we hold space open while maintaining intimacy? She is Editor of the imprint #RECURRENT for Civil Coping Mechanisms, Founder & Executive Editor of Entropy, and Assistant Editor at Fanzine. After living for over 30 years in California, she will be moving to Portland, Oregon this summer to teach at Portland State University.