through foam and
filtered light, webs
Drop down, a black orb
into darkness pulling
at trailing edges
which blur in fractal confusion, upset by swift passing
Drop down to the silt bottom
Sink in and into sick silence
a mushroom cloud of rot
of old bones
Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. I trace my fingers over the inscription carved into the marble, stand, bending knees scarred by years of activity and accidents, feel healed bones shift, and walk out of God’s field under a summer sky veined with leaded clouds. A short grunt, maybe laughter, in the back of my throat doesn’t make it to my lips. I enter the cabin of my car, cold and comfortable, and my engine fires on electronic command, my stereo building to its euphonic equilibrium. The music opens some cortical door. Memories reinforce dopamine-paved synapses as summer roads, winter nights, and cold water sunsets explode like the vault door of some memory bank. It gives me a slight headache and my eyes burn from not blinking, but moving might mean disrupting the stream of relics and ruins pushed over cortisol-scarred nerves by the angel of history.
That aside: I strap in, drop the clutch, let the lateral g’s guide me out of this quiet field of regimented corpses, out onto the road again, passed busted-ass Buicks and passed by perfect Porsches. Past the projects, where the city’s unwanted are herded together in dismal, identical blocks of stone; quiet, but for the serenade of sirens and the muffled cries and curses. Past the cold and silent churches. Over pot holes, piles of dead flesh, lines, barriers. The details and mortar of our lives. I’m tearing through old armor, looking for a clue.
Next to the housing projects is a park, and, even today, under the sulfide and sodium nitrate sky, there are kids in the baseball diamond playing some improvised, bastardized version of our over-priced national pastime. I can see them from the highway, laughing and marveling at their own small magnificence, their crippled version of greatness and glory.
I continue down East Main. Green light; chaos. At the start-gun of squealing breaks, the horizon spins, traffic parts, and at the tail end of four black rubber comets, I open my door, step onto the curb, and am greeted by the smell of dust and an old rusted metal bell. Estate of Confusion is an antique shop—the detritus of the dead collected by a middle aged, over-medicated man attempting to get rich. I wander to his decrepit music section, past the mantles and the roll-top desks. Ah, The Beatles… The Faint… Sorry about Dresden? O.K. I check my pockets: thirteen dollars. I give the man in the bright orange Vols t-shirt twelve, walk to my car, brush off the liquefied and hence dried rubber and pull away, to Broad, out of the dust into bleached light. There’s a Mercedes with one of those neighborhood security stickers stuck prominently to the bumper parked at the adult bookstore. It’s a nice neighborhood. Poor bastard.
I blink in the fractured photon carnage of pollen and bug guts on my car, smell the meat processing plant and the foundry in the shadow of the mountain: the stench of human progress, the scars that we write up as the fulfillment of manifest destiny. I can see the clean air above the city, that sweet dark blue. Sorry about Dresden. I pull away from traffic; try to get up my winding road, home. Aggression escapes the muttering intensity of the motor, roaring to an ecstatic pitch around blind curves and through a fog of speed, clearer than paradise, louder than reason. But of course, given human self-preservation, after a few octane filled seconds of blurred rails and trees, traffic drags me back to safe sanity, brings everything into focus via Illinois plates. With a frustrated sigh I take out my aggression for the gray head behind the wheel of the Oldsmobile on my transmission, compression braking to avoid an unfortunate mechanical coupling with the old and frightened tourist. I open my sunroof in anticipation of the clean air and sunlight, to let the leaf-filtered rays into my cabin. I look up the left hand shoulder; recognize the antique black Volvo and the Valkyrie outline of its owner. I’m anonymous in the iridescent afternoon light at sixty-six-feet-per-second, so I don’t feel bad about watching her pop the hood and lean into the engine compartment to check the oil.
Horns bring me back to a double yellow line too far to my right, and a Bronco’s grill too close to my slanted hood. Left foot brake, second gear, red line. Slide her neatly out of harm’s way and leave the scared tourists wondering why everything has to be so crazy. The yellow lines are blurred with black, pulled out of plumb by the desperate grasp of my tires, the physical remains of a cherished mental image—one more catastrophe averted.
Thoughts of fiery death must be left behind, however, because it takes concentration to draft a nervous tourist on a torturously curving mountain road, concentration and a little bit of disregard. I’ve done this so many times, the normally disconcerting prospect of being able to see nothing but the bumper of a car about to join with my own in an alloy marriage bothers me not in the least. Actually, it’s the only thing that’s keeping me from falling asleep. But beyond this doldrums of fear that this lone tourist embodies is a glimmer, a wet silver flash and a bubble of exhaust that plucks my mind from its suicidal reverie and pushes my clutch to the floor in anticipation. The road splits. The Porsche slices the pavement to the right, shedding the cloak of physics in a sparkling display of power and precision. Like Pavlov dictates, this sound sets off a chemical reaction with predictable results: first, electrical impulses from my retinas travel to my thalamus, occipital lobe, hypothalamus, relaying a chemical signal to the pituitary gland, releasing a flood of endorphins and adrenaline. Simultaneously, my musculoskeletal system responds to electro-chemical stimuli by exerting pressure on the accelerator petal, engaging second gear and the clutch and modulating the hand brake. All of this happens as my eye lids close, a purification ritual made economic by biology, and this blindness accompanied by a metallic scream, torn rubber, and almost one lateral g as the car and driver struggle for grip around the one-hundred and seventy degree corner, in pursuit of that silver German wraith.
I can’t catch it, but possession isn’t everything. So after I watch it glide in the silent distance through a stonewalled chicane and scoff once more at the hard, intractable master that is physics, I idle by the garage to get one last look at her beautiful curves before I head for home. Back on the road, my faithful familiar ghosts—memories—haunting me, I drive fifteen miles an hour over the speed limit, tires occasionally squealing in delight and fright when they lack for purchase. I should get new springs. Through the S-curves on this, the fourth of my all-time top-five favorite roads. Fifteen miles per hour advised, Your Concerned Government. So I slide through the corners at forty the scream of rubber plays harmony to the throaty roar of the engine, as the camber of the road changes and my wheels leave the ground. The weak electromagnetic force is a thousand million times stronger than the pull of gravity. Truth. This is good, because I’d hate for my car to leave the ground and come apart, the both of us, without having got much accomplished other than raised adrenal levels and a global percentage increase in carbon dioxide. But thanks to electromagnetism my tires make a happy little chirp while roughly kissing the pavement by way of greeting, after their brief but traumatic time apart. Up the long hill to another small chicane. There’s no traffic, so snakes of liquefied tire slither across three different roads. That weak electromagnetic force comes into play once more over a small ridge, and another twenty seconds down the road I scare the old lady that lives on the corner one more time with a four wheel drift around that blind, beautiful curve. With a side-step on the clutch and crushing pressure on the accelerator, I bring the tires to a boil. The old lady’s bright pink slippers are distracting. Up the hill, undercarriage hugging the pavement, I let the car scream up to its highest comfortable volume, and then push through to third. Bouncing off the rev limiter, I pull the hand brake to power slide into my driveway, disengaging the clutch to let gravity (still holding) pull me down the slight decline.
I park, turn off the engine, silence Maynard James Keenan. The popping of oil in my tired motor provides percussion for the melody of straining cables (the hand brake tightening), the final setting of gears, and warning alarms. I close the door to end the cacophonous symphony and crunch across the gravel and over the slate walk, to the bleached and bone-dry wooden deck, its construction dim but present in my vaporous memory. Home.
I’ve kept some of my old content. There is interesting new stuff coming. Cheers.