Archives for the month of: October, 2012

The Detroit idea’s the best anyone’s come up with so far, in terms of turning Dodge City into Another City for as long as the inspector’s here.

 

I hang out at the Cracker Barrel with Big Pharmakos, watching trucks rattle by under sleet and factory haze. Giant piles of scrap metal, wrecked cars and drill presses and stamping plant parts, tremble in the atmosphere, ever on the verge of resolving into robots.

 

It’s hours or days, and none of us has anything to do aside from slouching away from ourselves, trying to become anything but, in the hopes that all of Dodge City will follow suit and become Not[Dodge City] until the inspector leaves, without finding what he’s ostensibly looking for.

 

Not that I have any good guess as to what this might be, and of course I can’t ask around now since everyone’s trying to deny it. So I follow suit — the City’s been good to me, overall, so I figure I owe it my best effort at ceasing to be myself, in case, latent within my selfhood, lies a clue to this damning thing that the inspector is apparently so determined to track down.

 

I wonder if he’s been tracking it all over the country, and, having tracked it all the way here, won’t leave until he finds it … or if he’s simply gotten a whiff of something intriguing here, in the course of a routine inspection, and will leave as soon as it ceases to intrigue him.

 

We all wave our hands through the air, trying, like clearing away smoke, to clear this whiff away. Whenever I wave, the Cracker Barrel waitress refills my coffee and asks if we’re ready for the check.

 

We pay and go back to some halfway house where we’re registered under false names. Everyone in Dodge City has fled their normal dwellings, like after a hurricane, and is living in halfway houses, detention centers, refugee camps, ghettoes, and, a lucky few, at the Cottonwood Suites on the corner of E. 39th and SE. Huron. We live in these places so as to telegraph transience, like, “Look, Herr Inspektor, none of us actually lives here. How could we possibly help you find what you’re looking for?”

 

There are even some former Dodge City residents dressed as assault rifle wielding FEMA troops, ushering everyone else around, keeping certain people behind fences and fishing others out of the water whenever they climb down into it, trying to swim or float away.

 

From the halfway house, Big Pharmakos and I sit on plastic chairs with wool hats pulled low over our eyes, all fading Fugazi tattoos and cigarette-burned hands like a couple of methadone dealers, watching the inspector:

 

In the abandoned Dodge City, which exists in the same space but not in the same state as this hastily assembled sham Detroit, the inspector rides one of those two horselike beasts, while his (its?) handler rides the other.

 

They stampede up and down the empty streets, knocking down storefronts and ripping up pavement, in search of the secret.

 

I nod off in the halfway house, and can see something else:

 

The inspector and his handler have ripped out the horses’ eyes, and are steering them not with a harness but with their hands shoved deep into the eye sockets, massaging their brains.

 

The harder they massage, the faster and more triumphantly the beasts run. The handler is big, sitting high on the beast’s back, her (its?) hands shoved into the sockets all the way up to her elbows, but the inspector is a tiny bundle, still wrapped in clean sheets, stuck onto the horse’s back like a wooly mothball, entangled in its mane, arms protruding just a little into the shockets, probably grazing the brain’s edges with its fingertips.

 

Big Pharmakos can apparently see the eyeless stampeding horses as well, knocking over the post office now and rooting through the mail, because he ribs me and mutters, “Peter Shaffer called — he wants his gag back!”

 

“Am I right? Am I right?” he chortles.

 

He is. It’s strange to hear the dead, menacing silence of this truth-obscuring Detroit, in one ear, while, in the other, those hoofbeats just get louder and louder, the Moth-inspector riding ever more furiously.

 

This is almost all there is to the vision, and is thus how I’ll spend the rest of my day, unless some more typical halfway house shit goes down, which I’m sure is not hugely unlikely.

 

But there’s:

 

 

also a dark space, like a small room, or a cell or a closet. Its boundaries are indistinct, and there’s no apparent door, but the place is definitely closed, because the thing in it is raging to get out and cannot get out.

 

It slams against its imprisonment, sweating and spitting, eyes and nose watering with fury.

 

It roars, the sound too awful to transcribe, tearing indiscriminately at itself and its surroundings.

 

Then I hear another sound, like that of a Flugelhorn, and see the inspector, in his Moth-bundle, on his eyeless Nethersteed, blowing loud and clear into the sky.

 

The clouds thicken, and the thing in that cramped space rages all the harder against the entropy holding it back from heeding this call.

 

“Dude,” I say, trying to keep my voice down, in Big Pharmakos’ direction, “That thing is about to get out. And I, for one, would like to be at least as far as Chicago by the time it does.”

 

In the plastic chair beside me, instead of Big Pharmakos, sits a skinny shirtless guy with the Rain Dogs album cover tattooed across his chest and a belt around his left arm. He slumps to the ground when I get up to leave, and, though I start tiptoeing away so as not to wake him, I’m soon at a full on run, out the door of the halfway house

 

and into the semi-present street scene, my accelerating footsteps falling into rhythm with the hoofbeats of those brain-driven Nethersteeds, until we’re running as one, running toward or away from that confined furious thing in the dark, about to break free as the whole fucking sky lights up with the inspector’s call.

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Time gets slow out in the Prayer Meadow, circling these two beasts that look like archaic horses and cannot interbreed.

 

My Faulkner litany has turned to meal and then to mush in my mouth, and once I’ve drooled it out onto the pebbles by my feet, I close my mouth and keep walking.

 

Up on a podium in the distance (its orientation to me seems to remain fixed even as I, like all the celebrants, continue circling) a series of priests or officiants have taken turns speaking, each more mush-mouthed than the last, drooling into a big bucket that some of them hold up for effect.

 

I fall into a waking sleepwalk, my eyes milked-over such that I’m trying to discern my thoughts etched onto what looks like a candlelit wall of whitish wax, rising like a cliff out of the waves.

 

Like this I remain, deciphering one wax-scratched word at a time, uttering none of them, listening to the frustrated, horsey beasts chew, when the messenger arrives.

 

The Prayer Meadow is thrown into action, fast and shambolic.

 

In comes Big Pharmakos, decked out in religious garb, and genuflects in a way I read as a signal that he needs to talk to me.

 

So here we are, under a ragged tentlike covering, and Big Pharmakos is whispering, “Inspector … emergency audit … from time to time … never know when … have to cloak … rearrange … retrofit … redakt, dissemble … by no means, at any cost … right now, man, today, right this minute … no, here, in Dodge City, a full audit, no stone left … if He were to see, well — ”

 

Things are changing fast.

 

There’s no longer any Prayer Meadow, any beasts or celebrants or anything. My suit of Dhalgren is long gone, replaced by some pants and a shirt out of last year’s Gap catalogue.

 

Big Pharmakos and I are still talking, as the locales get shuffled and cloaks of all sizes and natures get thrown over all offending aspects.

 

“Like when those two Red Cross inspectors came to Theresienstadt back in ’44? To see what the Nazis had been up to? And the Nazis mustered all the stick figures they’d been making to clean the place up … like really clean it up, spotless top to bottom, so when the Swiss dropped it it’d all look aboveboard, nothing to get all nightmary about.”

 

My lips feel like pasted-on chunks of stewed apple, so I leave off trying to respond.

 

“Called it the Great Verschönerung,” Big Pharmakos continues. We are, as far as I can tell, simply not in a space of any kind. “Really cleaned the fuck out of what, until the moment the Swiss got there, would have looked pretty doubtlessly to you or I like the home of some genuine concentration camp bestiality. And at least the Nazis had some forewarning — look around you, we’re doing this all on the fly, our pants down and tripping us up.”

 

Slices of Dodge City filter by, turning hastily opaque as hands from some other side of things douse them in cloaks.

 

Some silent sliced spatial shuffling ensues. I chew warm cinnamony baked apple, reminding myself to stop before I chew through my tongue. Big Pharmakos stuffs a wooden spoon in my direction, and I bite down on it.

 

“There he is!” shouts Big Pharmakos later on, as we’re standing in a windy parking lot with 7-11 soda cups and wires and hubcaps whipping all around our shins, a smell of gas and fur in the air.

 

I look, and see a very tall, androgynous figure, in a smart pantsuit and high heels, carrying a bundle wrapped in sheets. The bundle is about twice the size of a baby.

 

A pizza box smacks the back of my head, and I see the air fill with blown dandelion pulp.

 

When I regain my composure, I see the double-baby-sized bundle reach out a hand and unravel just enough of the cloth it’s wrapped in to peek out. I can see its eyes, looking hard at the town, taking it all in.

 

Big Pharmakos crouches behind an old Ford Galaxie up on cinder blocks, and pulls on my shitty Gap pants to get me to do the same. “Stay out of sight man, seriously!” he barks.

 

Thus crouched, we watch the Inspector and his handler, moving around, peeking through the wrapping bundle and whispering. The handler records spoken notes into a black plastic device.

 

The longer we remain crouched here, Big Pharmakos snoring with the effort of prolonged concealment, I feel my usual subjective orientation slipping out of its grooves.

 

The cloth in which I’m wrapped smells like Mountain Spring laundry detergent and off-brand dryer sheets. I like how tightly it contains me. I whisper up and my handler carries me to the next site. I peek out again, taking in all I can of this town, trying to see it for what it is.

 

I know this feeling. It’s the feeling I get in a dream when the dreamworld has something in its heart that it doesn’t want me to see.

 

It deflects and distracts me, bounces me off its surfaces, leads me on — the air itself tells me it must be here — but it will not let me find it. I can wake up now, or sleep as if dead, but I will not find it.

 

I begin to grow angry here in my bundle. I squirm in my handler’s hands. This isn’t good. The people of this town are hiding something from me.

 

 

 

 

When it all dies down, it’s like there’s been a tornado. Telephone poles are down and wires are sparking, dogs lie spread out in the street, hydrants bubble dejectedly, mushrooms sprouting in the puddles.

 

Big Pharmakos and I walk, still cagy and looking around, out of this parking lot and round a corner in a worn-out city that might as well be Pittsburgh or Detroit. People who seem to have nothing to do with our stories hustle us on the street.

 

Finally, we see a Cracker Barrel sign lit up at the end of the block, and hurry toward it, hands in our pockets, shouldering off the advances of five or six people between here and there.

 

There’s a crowd smoking, listening to headphones, and bobbing, boxer-like, on the balls of its feet, clustered around the entrance.

 

Inside, we brood over coffee and burgers and partially frozen fries. I play with the wooden spoon that Big Pharmakos gave me, admiring the tooth marks I put in it.

 

Aside from the waitress there’s no one here except Gottfried Benn, hunched and alone a few tables over.

 

“Not now,” we think, but, catching our eye, he comes over and sits down at our booth.

 

I can see he’s wearing an ascot, but it looks wrong. I don’t know what’s wrong about it, just that it’s not right.

 

“Heard about the Inspector?” Big Pharmakos asks him.

 

Gottfried Benn puts his hand up to his ascot, to stop me looking at it, and replies, “In tomorrow’s morning paper, we will know for sure.”

Days turn cold through my window onto the Suicide Cemetery, in all its unfinished fascination. I take down more Dhalgrens and fashion for myself a hat, scarf, and gloves. The left glove is snug out by the ends of the fingers, chafing with that Thinsulate tingle (sewn, as it is, from the part known as The Anathemata: a plague journal), but, determining myself capable of overlooking minor discomfort, I suit up and am soon ready to go.

 

It’s been long enough indoors. A stroll around the still-unfinal plots of the Suicide Cemetery should do me well. Plus, I’m curious to talk to the proprietor about his apportioning scheme and maybe (or maybe not, who knows?) make his acquaintance more generally.

 

I attempt to cross the street across which lies the Suicide Cemetery fence, but, like the horizon when you’re trying to swim somewhere, it turns out to be farther than it’d looked.

 

So now I’m on what may be more of a hike. I tie my shoes tighter.

 

After a period of waving grass and occasional boulders, I find myself in a clearing ringed with rock piles. They’re too far away to make out clearly, and look fairly crude, but I can tell they’re manmade, monuments or markers.

 

There are others, heads wrapped in shrouds and faces down, hugging themselves tightly around the bottoms of their ribs, walking in loose, private circles.

 

They circle a center defined by two large creatures, similar to one another but not of the same species. Both resemble giant horses, between thirty and forty feet tall, and eighty or ninety long, from head to tail. One has tusks, like an estranged relative of the mastodon, while the other’s head is lost in a mane long and full as a weeping willow, hanging to the ground.

 

As the shrouded and murmuring faithful trace their wide arcs around this center (remaining always between the creatures and the rock piles, beyond which lies naked steppe), the creatures brush up against one another, stare into each other’s eyes, and then retreat, an air of sadness, or of disappointment, hanging hugely down from them.

 

It occurs to me, as I stand at a safe distance and behold them, that they are ruminating on the impossibility of interbreeding. I can tell this with a certainty that reveals a change in state that I hadn’t, until now, perceived in myself.  Like two mules of different provenances, the species-pull between them is great, but not as great as the reality that there is nowhere left for it to go. They paw the ground, sniffing and snorting, and then turn, lumber away, and then repeat.

 

The faithful continue their prayer-loops, mouths working constantly on syllables that hover well beneath the semantic sphere.

 

I breathe out, and out, and out, spitting out my mind until it’s empty.

 

Then I fall in step, tracing this same circle around the beasts, aware suddenly (and utterly, as if I’d always been aware) that this is the antechamber to the Suicide  Cemetery, invisible from my room’s window through some mere trick of the visual plane.

 

Into me come syllables, and I mouth them.

 

I begin, compelled by a habit I didn’t know I had, to give voice to a litany of Faulkners:

 

The Greek Faulkner. The Faulkner who wrote a 10,000-page novel and nothing else. The Yankee Faulkner. The Lady Faulkner. The Faulkner still to come. The Faulkner who renounced Faulkner to become Dante. The Hebrew Faulkner. The Faulkner who sold his name to the highest bidder. The Faulkner who ate his children to become a god. The Faulkner who refused his calling and attempted another. The Faulkner who produced his masterpiece by age nineteen and died of typhoid in Africa. The reanimated Faulkner, walking among us. The Chinese Faulkner. The Oulipo Faulkner. The Faulkner who didn’t appreciate the mysteries of race. The fossil Faulkner, whose bones were read and transcribed by German archeologists. The Faulkner whose works were melted down into The Book of Blood and added to the Apocrypha, following Esther. The Twitter-quip Faulkner. The Faulkner who wasn’t all that good. The Faulkner who told it funny, like Beck. The millennial curse Faulkner, whose words infect all those who behold them. The cold, cold reptile Faulkner. The paid-by-the-word Faulkner. The Faulkner who wrote for God alone (and whom God alone has read). The disembodied, possibly nonexistent Faulkner, whispering up from a pit. The joke Faulkner, trotted out for little kids at county fairs. The pure math Faulkner, conjured only by rare and fearsome derivatives. The revenant Faulkner, shut away in the attic of a condemned mansion, pushing hand-written scraps under the door for a lumbering half-wit Keeper to gather up and bear away.

 

Speaking makes them so. I see them all, heads-shrouded, murmuring incantations of their own, circling the infertile beasts, around and around, all day long.

I don’t know if I fainted or what, back there at the unveiling of the other one of me that Industry Ed built while I was away, but now I’m back in my room, laid up in bed with flower bouquets and balloons and other Get Well Soon paraphernalia spread all around.

The sound of a jackhammer outside my window — shades drawn — wakes me up, and, not knowing if I have broken bones and ruptured organs also, on top of everything else, I get quickly out of bed and find that I can stand.

So here I am, standing, in stale boxers and undershirt, in my room. I turn ninety degrees, so as to try standing in a new direction, and then another ninety, and ninety more, and then I get bored, and hungry.

I find a breakfast-in-bed tray tipped over and spilled among my sheets, but the spill is such that I can rescue a few elements, such as bread, a mini jar of marmalade with a strip of fancy tape connecting the lid to the sides, and a few (hair inflected) orange and apple slices.

After breakfast, I decide to get to the bottom of what feels strange about this room. “Not about my state in it,” I promise myself, setting a hard and fast rule, “but about the room itself.”

It doesn’t take long to find out: all of the books on all of the shelves have been replaced with brand new editions of Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren.

There are, I’d estimate, ten thousand copies here. The weight of Dhalgren, here in this place where I am, outweighs the weight of me, in any measurable unit of consciousness, by several powers of ten. “You’re the vast minority,” I tell myself.

“Well, great,” I reply. “Here’s what we’ll do then.”

I take ten or twelve copies off the shelf and embed them in the orange- and jelly-streaked sheets, planning to read one after another but soon I’m reading, almost at random, all of them at once.

What a thing: the Kid, or Kidd, comes to Bellona, that ruined but strangely blissed-out Midwestern city, looking for someone or something, maybe William Dhalgren, unless that’s who he is; in the meantime, he has a ton of (widely various) sex, writes poetry, gathers clues, wanders around on one sandal and one bare foot, admires and fights holographic scorpions, and and — I don’t know, all sorts of stuff, I suppose, but I can’t say for sure because I’ve begun to cut the books up into slices, sheets, and ribbons.

I wield a giant carving knife, cutting deep into each of the ten thousand Dhalgrens with a sure-handedness, a kind of definite apprehension of purpose, that I haven’t felt since, or, maybe ever.

When the time is right, I begin sewing, working long hours on my sewing machine, pumping the foot pedal and wearing a thimble. The sun beyond my closed blinds goes into time-lapse mode, rising and falling in the space of a few seconds, or else it doesn’t, what do I care?

I’m sewing myself a suit of Dhalgren and I’ve never been happier.

When the ten thousand have been sliced free of their bindings and sewed into pants, a shirt, a vest, a jacket, oh, and, of course, a tie and Italian-leather-style belt, I shower and shave and then come back out, waiting a minute in my towel until I’m completely dry.

Then I suit up.

The text and the items and objects contained within that text merge freely up and down my body. The words “Prism, Mirror, Lens,” run up my legs; “The Ruins of Morning,” says my natty tie, while my arms bear the imprint, partially cut off but still legible, of “House of the Ax” (left) and “In Time of Plague” (right). “Creatures of Light and Darkness” and “Palimpsest” are displayed, the mirror shows me, up and down my back.

At the same time, the Brazilian-made chain object that the Kid finds early on now hangs from my neck and torso and, though I don’t look down to confirm, I can feel the blades he calls his Orchid clasped around one wrist.

I feel, overall, saturated with deep ruby red, just like the cover of the new Vintage edition, blood- and pomegranate-smelling. I stretch my arms and legs inside my new suit, and feel healthy and powerful, ready for a new spell of living.

*****

After several days of pacing the room in my suit of Dhalgren, kicking the wasted bindings and trash under the bed and hiding my giant carving knife in case anyone barges in, I remember about the jackhammer that’s been going all this time, and decide to finally open my window. I adjust my tie and belt and saunter over.

Once my eyes have adjusted to the influx of light, I can see that the view has changed since last I occupied this room. Now, I see a few derelict stores and cafes, and, mainly, a big grassy expanse with a banner hanging over it that reads DODGE CITY SUICIDE CEMETERY, OPENING VERY SOON.

I see people talking in a cluster by a couple of bulldozers near the center, and a Local Access TV crew huddled around them. Desirous of eavesdropping, I turn on the TV in my room and tune it to Cable Access.

Sure enough, there they are. “And, so, while we haven’t ironed out all the kinks yet, the martyrs will likely go there,” a petite, shrivel-faced man points in one direction, “while the overdoses and reckless motorcycle accidents will go there,” he points in another direction. “The suicide bombers and other zealots, here,” the camera follows his pointing finger, awkwardly zooming in on a pile of a dirt, “while the disputed cases, the, er, ‘maybes,’ if you will,” go over there. Oh, and the, we’re calling them, the ‘taken by angels in the night slash sham suicides gone right,’ all go over there.”

“So you’re apportioning the whole place, looks like, down to a fairly specific level, correct?” an interviewer asks him.

He looks annoyed by the question, but nods and says, “Correct. Dodge City has campaigned, I don’t know if you all appreciate, long and hard to get the Suicide Cemetery built here. Only one of its kind in the country, you realize. Maybe in the world. It could have been anywhere, and would have been, had we not fought harder than anyone else to make sure it ended up here. We’ve got some pretty high-profile suicides in discussion — I shouldn’t say too much, but — the names Cobain and Nerval have come up behind closed doors. No promises, of course, the political entanglements when it comes to things like this are a waking nightmare, but, I’d like to say, don’t rule it out altogether.”

The signal gets hazy here as his face folds into an unlikely smile. Noticing a loose thread around the collar of my suit, I turn off the TV and rev up the sewing machine, after checking on my carving knife in its hiding place. I can tell, as I work through the night, that I’ll be seeing a lot more of this Suicide Cemetery and its shrivel-faced but outspoken proprietor in the days to come.