A pity the selfsame vehicle that spirits me away from
factories of tedium should likewise serve to drag
me backwards into panic, or that panic should erect
massive factories of its own, their virulent pollutants
havocking loved waterways, frothing all the reed-
fringed margins acid pink and gathering in the shell
and soft tissues of the snails unknowingly in danger
as they inch up stems. Through the bulkhead door
I can hear their spirals plunk into the sluggish south-
bound current and dissolve therein with such brutal
regularity their dying has given rise to the custom
of measuring time here in a unit known as the snailsdeath.
The snailsdeath refers to the average length of time,
about 43 seconds, elapsing between the loss of the first
snail to toxic waters and the loss of the next, a value
equivalent to the pause between swallows in a human
throat, while the adverb “here” refers to my person
and all its outskirts, beginning on the so-called cellular
level extending more or less undaunted all the way down
to the vale at the foot of the bed. I often fear I’ll wake
to find you waiting there and won’t know how to speak
on the subject of my production, or rather my woeful
lack thereof, but in your absence, once again, I will begin
drafting apologies in a language ineffectual as doves.
Daybreak on my marshland: a single egret, blotched,
trudges through the froth. I take its photograph
from the rooftop observation deck from which I watch
day’s delivery trucks advance. I take advantage of
the quiet before their arrival to organize my thoughts
on the paranormal thusly: 1. If the human psyche
has proven spirited enough to produce such a range
of material effects upon what we’ll call the closed
system of its custodial body, indeed if it’s expected to,
and 2. If such effects might be thought to constitute
the physical expression of that psyche, an emanation
willed into matter in a manner not unlike a brand-
new car or cream-filled cake or disposable camera,
and 3. If the system of the body can be swapped out
for another, maybe an abandoned factory or a vale,
then might it not also prove possible for the psyche
by aptitude or lather or sheer circumstance to impress
its thumbprint on some other system, a production
in the basement, or in a video store, as when I find you
inching up steps or down a shady aisle or pathway,
dragging your long chains behind you most morosely
if you ask me, the question is: Did you choose this, or was it
imposed on you, but even as I ask your hands move
wildly about your throat to indicate you cannot speak.
After the memory of the trucks withdrawing heavy
with their cargo fans out and fades into late-morning
hunger, I relocate in time to the lit bank of vending
machines still humming in the staffroom corner for a light
meal of cheese curls, orange soda, and what history
will come to mourn as the last two cream-filled cakes.
Eating in silence, a breeze in the half-light, absently
thinking of trying not to think, I imagine the Bethlehem
steel smokestacks above me piping nonstop, the sky
wide open without any question, steam and dioxides
of carbon and sulfur, hands pressed to the wall as I walk
down the corridor to stop myself from falling awake
again on the floor in embarrassment. If there’s any use
of imagination more productive or time less painful
it hasn’t tried hard enough to push through to find me
wandering the wings of a ghost-run factory as Earth
approaches the dark vale cut in the heart of the galaxy.
Taking shots of the sunbaked fields of putrefaction
visible from the observation deck. Hoping to capture
what I can point to as the way it feels. Sensing my hand
in what I push away. Watching it dissolve into plumes
rising like aerosols, or like ghosts of indigenous peoples,
or the lump in the throat to keep me from saying that
surviving almost everything has felt like having killed it.
(Plunk) Up from the floor with the sun to the sound of
dawn’s first sacrifice to the residues of commerce.
On autofog, on disbelief: rejuvenation in a boxer brief
crashed three miles wide in the waves off Madagascar,
cause of great flooding in the Bible and in Gilgamesh.
Massive sphere of rock and ice, of all events in history
(Plunk) thought to be the lethalmost. A snailsdeath
semiquavers from pang to ghost where the habit of ghosts
of inhabiting timepieces, of conniving their phantom
tendrils through parlor air and into the escapements
of some inoperative heirloom clock on a mantle shows
not the dead’s ongoing interest in their old adversary
(Plunk) time so much as an urge to return to the hard
mechanical kind of being. An erotic longing to reanimate
the long-inert pendulum. As I have felt you banging
nights in my machine, jostling the salt from a pretzel.
This passion for the material realm after death however
refuses to be reconciled with a willingness to destroy
(Plunk) it while alive. When the last of the human voices
told me what I had to do, they rattled off a shopping
list of artifacts they wanted thrown down open throats.
That left me feeling in on it, chosen, a real fun-time guy
albeit somewhat sleep-deprived; detail-oriented, modern,
yes, but also dubious, maudlin, bedridden, speechless.
Graffiti on the stonework around the service entrance
makes the doorway at night look like the mystagogic
mouth of a big beast, amphibious, outfitted with fangs,
snout, the suggestion of a tongue, throat, and alimentary
canal leading to a complex of caves, tunnels, temples . . .
There are rooms I won’t enter, at whose threshold I say
this is as far as I go, no farther, almost as if I can sense
there’s something in there I don’t want to see, or for which
to see means having wanted already to forget, unless
stepping into the mouth at last, pressed into its damp,
the advantage of not knowing is swapped out for a loss
of apartness from what you’d held unknown, meaning
you don’t come to know it so much as become it, wholly
warping into its absorbent fold. I can’t let that happen
if it hasn’t already. What draws me on might be thought
canine, keen-sighted, but it’s still incapable of divining why
the constant hum around or inside me has to choose
among being a nocturne of toxic manufacture, the call
of what remains of the jungle, or else just another prank
on my gullible anatomy. Am I not now beset in the utmost
basement of industry? Is that basement itself not beset
by the broad, black-green, waxy leaves of Mesoamerica?
And haven’t I parted those selfsame leaves, discovering me
asleep on my own weapon, threat to no one but myself?
Asked again what I miss the most about my former life,
I remember to pause this time, look left, a little off camera
an entire snailsdeath, an air of sifting the possibilities,
I eliminate certain objects and events from the running
right off the bat, such as when their great displeasure
brought the gods to turn to darkness all that had been
light, submerging mountaintops in stormwater, the gods
shocked by their own power, and heartsick to watch
their once dear people stippling the surf like little fishes.
Or when the flaming peccary of a comet struck the earth
with much the same effect, waves as high as ziggurats
crashing mathematically against our coastlines, scalding
plumes of vapor and aerosols tossed into the atmosphere
spawning storms to pummel the far side of the earth,
approximately 80 percent of all life vanished in a week.
Or when we squandered that very earth and shat on it
with much the same effect, and more or less on purpose,
emitting nonstop gases in the flow of our production,
shoveling it in as ancient ice caps melted, what difference
could another make now. And so I clear my throat, look
directly into the camera, and even though it will make me
come off bovine in their eyes, I say that what I miss the most
has to be those cream-filled cakes I used to like, but then
they prod me with their volts and lead me back to the barn.
After the panic grew more or less customary, the pity
dissolved into a mobile fogbank, dense, reducing visibility
from the rooftop observation deck. Mobile in the sense
that it possessed mobility, not in the sense that it actually
moved. Because it didn’t. It just stayed there, reducing
visibility but not in the sense that it simply diminished it
or diminished it partly. Because it didn’t. It pretty much
managed to do away with it altogether, as my photography
will come to show: field after field of untouched white.
After the possibility of change grew funny, threadbare,
too embarrassing to be with, I eased into the knowledge
that you’d never appear at the foot of the bed, the vale
turned into a lifetime’s heap of laundry, and not the gentle
tuffets and streambanks of an afterlife it seems we only
imagined remembering, that watercolor done in greens
and about which I predicted its monotony of fair weather
over time might deaden one all over again, unless being
changed with death means not only changing past change
but past even the wish for it. I worried to aspire towards
that condition might actually dull one’s aptitude for change.
That I would grow to protect what I wished to keep from
change at the cost of perpetuating much that required it.
In this sense I had come to resemble the fogbank, at once
given to motion but no less motionless than its photograph.
The last time I saw myself alive, I drew the curtain back
from the bed, stood by my sleeping body. I felt tenderness
towards it. I knew how long it had waited, and how little
time remained for it to prepare its bundle of grave goods.
When I tried to speak, rather than my voice, my mouth
released the tight, distinctive shriek of an aerophone of clay.
I wanted to stop the shock of that from taking away from
what I felt. I couldn’t quite manage it. Even at this late hour,
even here, the purity of a feeling is ruined by the world.
The noises from the basement were not auspicious noises.
I wanted to live forever. I wanted to live forever and die
right then and there. I had heard the tight, distinctive shriek.
Here again and now. I no longer have legs. I am sleeping.
Long tendrils of tobacco smoke, composed of carbon dioxide,
water vapor, ammonia, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen cyanide,
and 4000 other chemical compounds, penetrate the room
through the gap beneath the door and through heating vents
with confidence. They are the spectral forms of anaconda.
The ruler of the underworld smokes cigars. A certain brand.
Hand-rolled. He smiles as if there is much to smile about.
And there is. He is hollow-eyed, toothless. His hat, infamous:
broad-brimmed, embellished with feathers, a live macaw.
His cape is depicted, often, as a length of fabric in distinctive
black and white chevrons. Otherwise, as here, the full pelt
of a jaguar. On a barge of plywood and empty milk cartons
he trudges through the froth. He is the lord of black sorcery
and lord of percussion. He is patron of commerce. He parts
the leaves of Mesoamerica, traveling with a retinue of drunk
ax wielders, collection agents. His scribe is a white rabbit.
Daughter of moon and of night. Elsewhere, you are having
your teeth taken out. There is no music left, but I still feel held
captive by the cinema, and in its custom, I believe myself
capable of protecting myself by hiding my face in my hands.