Their mother branded Pride and Joy
The twins who gave her pride and joy,
And took the phrasing into heart
When nursing them to full-grown health.
Yet Joy still fed from mother’s breast
To seek the joy found nowhere else,
For work is joyless; someone else
Can care for worldly happenings.
And Joy lay stagnant, found no hope
When breast’s provisions ceased their flow,
So basked in comforts every day
Until the teat said “find a job!”
But Pride did nothing similar!
No offers broke sufficiency.
Without a helping hand to hold,
A life unnourished built itself.
Yet even though ‘twas disavowed,
A suckle hid in chewing gum,
A coddle hid in curling tight
At night, when Pride would sleep alone.
Never would a single moment
Pass without a wayward fancy,
Yearning, pining presence pleasant,
Supple flesh and subtle beauty,
Thrilling sinful, tired feelings
Simple stimulation sating
All the wishes human beings
Ever held in hopeless living.
How my mistress beckons madly,
How consumed my wanton passion;
How I love my one and only,
How I dream of you, my bacon.
I found myself one day at the bottom of a large pit. I woke as dawn settled one morning, weary from a long rest. I bothered not to demystify where I lay as reminders of my strange surroundings appeared. Sense came from absence; form came from formlessness. On an edge, a band of sanguine reflected into my eyes. The crescent widened ever more until indiscernible grooves in the stone became discernible, and I better understood the composition of the earth which confined me.
Once I decided I fell into enough trouble, having no memory of any day before today, I rose. As for me, I had no clothes and no clues. The pit, however, provided much to mull over. On all sides, a roughly circular wall of sandstone a dozen body lengths tall lined a gentle funnel of darker stone to where I slept, on a dais encircled by darker boulders of its same material. The parched air complemented the sandstone well. A sole waterfall spoke in sotto voce behind where I earlier spotted the crescent, snaking by pebbles toward the dais as the liquid gold sank between the cracks in the center. I must be in some sinkhole, I thought, fortunate enough to have water in an arid desert climate. My conjectures brought me relief and worry. I would surely starve here in this pit if I did not escape. A single twisted tree by the brook offered me nourishment from afar, but when I neared, I spotted no fruit on its branches. I would die here with this tree as company unless I scrambled up and away.
And I tried—I did! I gripped the gradual crags with my fingers’ every will, but never gained vertical ground. At the point of physical exhaustion, the sun bid forth my sweat, and I retired to the dais. In the succeeding hours, the sun reached its perigee; my patience, its apogee. The heat of everything above and below drove me to the edge of total submission. Looking over the cliff on the floor of the pit, I turned my head from side to side to avoid burns slower and slower.
On a switch, I caught a ray of green I had never caught before. By the stream, beneath a rock, a new color tucked itself in shade. I bore through endless unpleasant positions from here to there to uncover the secret. Wrapped in cloths underneath that rock were a roll of wheat and a handful of figs. I pulled away the fabrics, placing the first beneath my feet and the second on my nape. Left with the food, I dined.
Not until my meal disappeared and I sated myself did I begin to wonder what produce plainly placed in a wasteland meant. Perhaps whatever force sent me here let me struggle to claim and survive off something not belonging to me. Yet I spotted neither man nor god in the depths of the pit at the hour of agony.
The day passed. The crescent closed on the other side. After a futile day with more unanswered questions than at its onset, I welcomed rest at the dais at the base of the pit.
Many such days ensued. They flowed together as one, with no distinguishing factors between them in the scheme. I woke, I dawdled in similar ways, I suffered in similar ways, I fed on similar meals stowed under similar shelter. No two cycles were identical, but each was alike, each a shadow of the former.
The exception among them coincided with an uneasy night. For reasons beyond my reasoning, I stared at the stars and stayed silent on a still dusk. My lament consumed me. I would, I figured, never know what I was doing here, only what I did. At the very lowest point of existence, gazing upward at the heavens, my perspective shifted. The walls bent inward into themselves; the sky bubbled to meet my outstretched body. A sense of unity and peace rose within me. I blinked—just once—and peered down into the stars. I observed from the highest ceiling the entire universe. The cosmic dust, the stars, the galaxies, the matter unknown—all beckoned and vibrated in a way I had never identified, for nothing distinguished the trapped nomad and the eternal being and nonbeing beneath. Nothing changed and nothing hid.
This was the exception: the time when I lost time, the distinction when I lost distinction. I cursed myself the next day for misplacing awakening overnight, and in desperation, I have never quite recovered that senseless sensibility.
The fire expires,
The heavens amalgamate
By flames extinguished through the wind
To waft the vapor toward the sky,
Pour the phlegm, expel the substance,
Trickle, settle ever deeper,
Let cinders precipitate,
Send ashes to ashes.
There was a stiff man from Aruba
Who practiced for years on the tuba,
Whose breathing was deep
And doomed him to sleep
When trying to learn how to scuba.
Consider the clip of a heel hitting pavement,
The tickling of sweat which beads on your forehead,
All moving so swiftly past landscapes around you,
All stationed around that same passive perception.
You’re going so far now—you couldn’t be moving!
The logic is simple to justify nonsense:
You’re running in place, in a strange place you’ve sensed since.
No progress is felt, but there’s harvest within you:
Accomplishment, labored breath, quantification.
You’ve worked just to stay, to endure the surroundings.
But stop—stop! In seconds, your thesis is shattered
When pacing steps die and the scene loses luster.
Where could you have wandered, what could you have found?
Then whims stray to home in the daze of the summer:
A stir-craze, those hell-days spent lying in place there,
With nothing to gain there and nothing to lose there,
With tasks and iotas to justify being,
And being impatient, you broke free and ran off,
To leave it behind you and ripple the fabric.
But motion is relative; motion is biased.
Impartially speaking, we can’t say what’s acting,
Remaining, or drowning, inertia preserved and
Perceived to be fixed—like for any known body.
That clip has a pace which can babble briskly, quicker chatter,
And ring in higher tones—
Or screech to a stand-still, where it hums in a deep, idle drawl,
With an impetus yet.
Consider again that claimed impotent stress now.
Perhaps a removed frame will gauge this told movement
And verify work was done, energy managed.
A uniform system’s consistent in action.
Inaction is relative, seen by observers afar as
Advancement through space, with a rocket’s prompt racket.
And looking at dog days spent dawdling existence:
Iotas did total, some progress passed by you,
Subjective idolatry, objective improvement—
Distinguished by little in practice or spirit!
As long as the concrete resounds, whether time here
Will speed the worn echo, distort ever slower,
Or otherwise mess with the head, let thoughts pause.
Reflect and recall the suspected lethargy
Can signify differently given perspective.
With every friendship I ever made
I split a tiny fragment loose
And rid my nature shade by shade
As labored bonding forced a ruse
And more such bleeding took away
A trait or two to make myself
Until the likeness shaped from clay
Took sculpting hands upon itself
Until the mass diffused to gas
And nothing nascent stayed behind
And as an image, I, alas,
Was all, with nothing left to find.
“You are aware this is the second time we’ve caught your friend committing a felony act, correct?”
“Yes, and I’m so sorry for the trouble, officer. He’s just like that; I can never speak sense into him. I know you know he’s not a danger or anything. A bit weird, but he doesn’t mean harm. I suspect he could be slightly autistic.”
“This has nothing to do with harm. This has to do with your friend’s stupidity—trespassing on a construction site again? If the company ever files a complaint, he’s not going to get off so easily.”
“I understand, sir. I’ll make sure to get across to him.”
“Alright, I warned you. He’s in the room over. I’ve already gone through the whole spiel with him. You should be good to go now.”
The officer led Binh into the office, where Fred sat in front of a desk. His head drooped, hung low. Fred felt guilty—he was certain—but Fred’s foot tapped an incessant beat against the floor. An excess of energy drove his fidgeting. This was atypical.
Binh stared at him for a moment. Fred raised his head while keeping the angst-ridden posture; his eyes squinted in a twitch of remorse. Something was amiss—yet more important matters lay before figuring out whatever it was.
“You oaf. You’ve really dug your own grave this time.”
“I’m sorry, man, but there’s something else—something else entirely—happening. Look, you’re going to have to let me explain, and I’m sorry for getting caught and all, but…”
“For getting caught? Getting caught? That doesn’t mean anything! You were caught doing exactly what we talked about not doing last time—walking out on that damn construction site. I know you want to be alone, and I know you find the piles of rocks or whatever interesting, but you should do better than this. You aren’t dumb; don’t act that way and make me drive all the way out to the station to pick you up!”
“Poor choice of words. It doesn’t matter. Look. I think we’re in a spot of trouble. I might have precipitated something worse.”
The officer stepped into the conversation, intrigued yet annoyed. “I think it’s time for you boys to haul on out.”
He glared at Fred. “Certainly. You have enough time to think about this elsewhere.” The two stepped out of the room; once the officer’s door emitted a faint click behind him, he turned around, arms akimbo in a power position.
“You ought to explain yourself better. Tell me. Now. What’s going on?”
Fred gave an audible breath and rubbed his forehead. “Okay. As for trespassing and all, I have no excuse. I thought I wouldn’t be spotted. Again. But I promise it won’t happen! It’s not a one-time thing to get noticed! None of that’s important now.”
Binh cocked his head to the side in skepticism. Fred should have a rebuttal worth picking to fragments.
“You see, I strolled by the culvert—that ditch that runs alongside the site where the water drains. There’s this stretch where they draped red clay or dug it up along the culvert. It looked smooth because of the rains. It looked almost like a carpet. I reckoned I could head straight through the patch, but three paces in, man, the ground slipped under me, and I stumbled into the little ravine…”
“You aren’t even wet.” Fred’s hallmark fluorescent green shirt shone as obnoxiously as ever.
“That’s the point. I passed on through and came out the other side dry. Not underwater, but almost like a reflection of the site. Except the chirality is the same. I don’t quite know what that means. Maybe it cloned me or some other Twilight Zone kind of effect.”
“Well, that’s mind-boggling.” He had gone whacko. The brain which rattled the bars so long had broken loose and bled out. What now?
“I know it sounds too rich; I know I’ve taken a swing on this one. I won’t go there ever again—I’m not so inclined after getting mind-boggled earlier, as you’d call it. Hear me out for my trespasses on your time and gas, and I swear to it.”
“Fine. But as soon as the other roommates come back, we are having a discussion. Fair enough?”
Fred perked up. A round of defending his sanity in this strange land appeared to be far better than walking across half the city to the same end. Besides, the ditch is on the other side of town; arriving there involved swinging by the apartment.
“Yeah. Sure. Let me get my possessions, my phone and stuff, and I’ll be good to go.”
Fred picked up. They had taken his phone, wallet, keys—a mere fee for a moment. There’s a challenge here, he supposed, ripe for the adventure. What secrets did the culvert hold? Does this happen every instance? Fred had one way to be sure.
Binh, excluded from these riddles, could do no more than inform the roommates and watch. And wait. And at the moment the officer on the other side of the room unlocked the storage box, and allowed Fred to rummage through the bin, Binh glanced past the window which looked out from the office to the reception desk. Nothing glanced back—he already spent a dozen minutes there earlier and remembered nothing unusual. More people had filed in—a businessman reading a brochure on DUI charges, a young woman texting fervently on a bright pink phone, and a young man in a fluorescent green shirt who stared down at the tiles in front of him and tapped his foot in anxiety. And just as Binh paused in thought and began to put the pieces together, in his peripheral vision—out in the parking lot, visible through the lobby—a motorist pulled up in a recognizable car. The car grinded to a faint halt over two spaces. Whoever was in such a hurry leaped out of the car and sprinted to the lobby.
Binh could distinguish his shirt from this far away: a familiar shade of fluorescent green.
(If I could)
Take you away
Past every place
To the humblest shelter
Truly at peace
But that wasn’t meant to be
I have myself to keep
The food’s getting cold
Better in thought
A friend helps out in times of longing,
Claims you’re the person, not the object,
And whether buds are objects matters
In selfish treatment set alone.
And I’m not selfish—self-deception—
So greeting paper pal in silence—
My Lucy, Leary, silk-road camel—
Reveals not greed, but sacred kinship.
Spiraling up the irregular ceiling design,
Crawling and squirming in place to perhaps see divine,
Rivulets, darkly set vision, and musical zest,
Therapy: meditate ego death. Crazy protest.
Leaping off buildings like birds need a ledge to take flights,
Seven sad trips to destroy a weak wit who still writes.
Orange juice fantasies neither imagined nor known—
Words of old wives’ tales to tame the occult and dethrone.
Racing, repeating, prophetic awareness made sane,
Fever dreams sending you into the world of the plain,
Even when tripping to feel earthly flesh in caress,
Laugh and feel groovy affect to no longer oppress.
Fading elation will bring greed again,
Looping insanity falls to nil,
Reminders linger, halos help out,
Reflections fuse the pieces as one.
So while the troubled lose their control,
The decades prove the liquid’s purpose:
A tool of novel insight and love
As long as minds check facts delivered.