Monday, January 16, 2017

Vestigial (excerpt of)

One: Earth…accretion

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It begins millions of years ago with algal mats and bryophytes. Later, when the water recedes, the earth is stitched with gymnosperms, angiosperms, grass fills the open expanse.

It begins the way all beginnings do. Everything is new, unknown, cellular. The sun spills its full splendor across the landscape.

It begins with her opening, almost imperceptibly, toward the light. 

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It begins with an organism resembling the earth worm. The change is incremental but over time it grows legs, an abdomen, thorax, and head.

It begins with the cambrian explosion, the rapid appearance of animal phyla and the evolution of organisms.

It begins with sight, with the development of the compound eye, a patchwork of eyes or ommatidia, which in their multiplicity provide the ability to see in many direction. There are 25,000 ommatidia in the dragonfly, accommodating its swift flight.  

Intersect. It begins with him, the presencing of, a multitude of parts. 


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Compound eyes can assimilate visual changes at a rapid rate, but such hurried processing has its drawbacks. The brain must interpret a composite of different, high resolution pictures. It must fuse a moving image. The dragonfly cannot differentiate between an enemy and a mate. It must fly very close to the winged other before it knows what happens next—tap, tap, tap—sex or death.

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The visual field of humans, of predators, involve large areas of binocular vision. This improves depth perceptions, makes possible the chase.

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It begins at night, in the dark interior. She can barely make out his face, but his scent is unmistakable. Pheromones. It begins with this, a lusting for.

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Fluttering. Insects travel great distances to satisfy their ecological requirements.

He swims the atlantic, traverses the north american continent, then burrows in.

She remains west, developing in situ, a process of adaptation and random selection. Like darwin’s finches, her beak is shaped perfectly to harvest local seeds, her body just small enough to slip between the thorns of the acacia tree.

If she is the product of sympatric speciation, then he is allopatric, vicariant, genetically isolate.

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The green hawk moth beats its wings, feeds on the nectar of flowers with the prick of its tongue. From a distance, she mistakes it for a hummingbird.

Convergent evolution explains many things. How different species can develop similar features. How their bodies can fit each other perfectly and yet they share neither chromosome nor tongue. How his scent is absorbed by her vomeronasal organ, signaling something to her hypothalamus that she cannot translate into words.

It begins with his hands, traveling from breasts to thighs, reading the exterior. It begins with her tongue circling his neck, tasting his heredity.

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It begins with her arched back, her split abdomen, unleashing waves of pheromones.

He flies toward her cascading scent, tracking her location from miles away by the increasing number of molecules that coat the hair-like olfactory receptors on his antenna.

It begins with lust but mistakes itself for love.  

She sleeps with his armpit in her mouth, licks the filamentous muskiness. When he leaves, she wraps her face in the cloth of his shirt, sucking his newly male scent like juice.


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Their genetic lines are split by the western cordillera, an immense mountain range dividing the continent as if bone splitting the skin. On one side are rivers and valleys and on the other a vast open plain.

At its northern point, the cordillera is cold and dark. Between ice caps and glaciers, the earth hibernates. But even here the temperatures are rising. As the cordillera warms, it wakes and blossoms with an increasing number of fungi species.

The rise in temperature leads to an explosion of insects. Highly mobile, they mate quickly, accelerate their life cycle to match the warming planet.

As the earth warms, her mating cycle speeds up. She goes from proestrus to estrus in a single afternoon. He can sense her swelling  labia, the oocyte moved along by cilia down her  fallopian tube. 

Lets make a baby, he says, laying her down on the linoleum floor. She opens her mouth, her legs, every orifice rising up to meet him. But he has no seminal vesicles, no prostate or vas deferens. When he comes, there is only the sound of it, an echo of gametes fusing.  

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sister Soldier

for Stacy Nathaniel Jackson




I.

She dines some place called the mess hall. The food is sorted by color and texture. Yellow. Runny. Stringy. Brown. Something sweet and then the inedible thing. She thought food was something special before she came here, this place that could be the end of the earth for all that has been drained away.

She sleeps in the barracks hut, b-hut, what she learns to call the hooch. It is temporary housing, but there is nothing to replace it. Hooch meant something different where she grew up. It meant drink so strong people renamed you when you drank it. Her squad mate tells her hooch is short for hoochinoo, firewater, something the Tlingit distilled and sold to the miners during the Klondike goldrush.

At night, when they listen for everything and hear nothing, when the thin walls of the hooch make them more target than protection, her squad mate tells her all kinds of things about the people of the tides, her people, and the Alaskan coastline that is her home. She closes her eyes and tries to picture the steep mountains and horsetail falls, the miles of scalloped bays. Her squad mates describes her village down the exact colors of the wolf crest, the teal, black, and red protector painted above her family’s front door.

She says nothing of her home. It eases the longing to return. When she enlisted, she had not known, could not know, what it would be like to live here, a place that is both the beginning and the end of the world.

Outside the hooch, the land drops down toward the dusty city and the river that is little more than a trickle until the snow melts and the water rushes from the mountains toward Jalabad before flowing across the border. Most of the trees have been harvested and they too traveled south, leaving the mountains barren, plucked of their feathers like a chicken, pink and bloody, stripped of its plumage.

Her grandmother taught her how to kill a chicken, how to clean it and coat its naked skin in buttermilk, then flour. They cooked together every Sunday until she died, making food as an offering to family, to god. That was back in Tennessee where the hills are green year round. Not here, this place that it so barren she wonders if god has turned his back on it. This hooch, this night she prays to live through, and the day that she hopes may never come.



2.

Come, I am going to tell you a story, he would say, and she’d crawl on her grandfather’s lap and wait for the world to split open.

Clear Sky and Fair Maiden were sisters, he told her. Clear Sky was beautiful and cleaver while her sister, Fair Maiden, was quiet and kind. Which one am I, she asked. He kissed her head. You are cleaver and kind, he told her. Hush now, I am telling you a story. And she’d snuggled deeper into her grandfather’s lap.

Clear Sky and Fair Maiden were sisters, he began again. The sisters shared everything, including a husband, which was the way back then. Clear Sky captured most of her husband’s attention and the first children were hers. But after many years, her husband was drawn to the gentleness of Fair Maiden and spent more nights in her bed.

It is hard for one man to please two women, her grandfather told her. Although she was too young to know what he meant. Eventually, Clear Sky became jealous of the ease with which Fair Maiden and her husband bent over the fire together. One day, Clear Sky stormed off. Every hour she traveled, her family slipped further and further into the distance. Eventually she stopped. She was tired and she missed them. But she was stubborn and would not return. So she drew herself up into the highest mountain and watched her family from a distance above the blur of the trees.

When she joined the military, her grandfather gave her his badge from the Alaskan Command and told her that he would draw himself up into a mountain peak high enough to see over the Sulaiman range to watch over her. He was old and didn’t understand that she was flying combat missions for the Airforce. It was she who would watch over them.

She is Gooch Naa, people of the wolf clan. She is from a long line of warriors. But she carries a picture of Annie Oakley in her breast pocket, a sharp shooter and star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Oakley was born of Quakers, but she taught upwards of 15,000 women to use a gun.

When she flies, she imagines the joy stick is a pistol in Oakley’s hands. But she too makes history. She is one of four women who completes the first all female Airforce combat mission.

Back home they call her cha’ak’yéis, young eagle, but she calls herself Clear Sky. When the clouds come, they wrap themselves around her legs and from her feet wash the steps of rain.


3.

Every night she dreams the same thing. They are locusts swarming the dry landscape, eating every speck of life, leaving nothing in their wake.

Most days she watches the check point. Her job is to search the women who pass through. The male soldiers cannot touch the women. Or rather the women cannot be touched by unknown men.

She grew up with three brothers. The summers crackled with mosquitoes and the hands of boys. She knew them all, but she always fought back.

Yesterday, the male soldiers were talking about snatch. Snatch is not a military term. Snatch is something seized or grabbed suddenly. Snatch is a word for female genitalia, the word for taking a woman against her will.

There are many hours of waiting in the blistering sun. The horizon blurs. She can see a swarm of insects hovering. She straightens her rifle, stands erect.

She knows the odds. Women in the military are three times more likely to be raped than women in the general population, and even their odds are not good. She has learned to sleep with one eye open, her weapon tucked like a good luck charm beneath her head.

When the unit rotates from the checkpoint to patrol she is relieved. There is less time waiting. From the tank, she scans the perimeter for weapons, dogs, men, bombs, everything that makes up the street and what lurks beyond.

After a roadside bombing, they are ordered to enter every home within a few miles radius. She is responsible for calming the women and children, for removing them from harm. She leads them outside into the courtyard while the men wage war inside.

Locusts are nomadic. They swarm when overcrowded, when too much tactile stimulations induces them to eat staggering amounts of vegetation, to breed at an astounding rate. There are stories of locusts plaques in the bible and the quran. In response to the decimated crops, the people ate the insects. Locusts are both kosher and halal.

In the courtyard she waits with the women and children. One of the women sings something that sounds like a bird’s cry. The baby in her arms reaches a small hand toward her mouth, trying to touch the trilling lips.

Overhead a helicopter unit scans the area for militants. The plane is the color of sage brush, its blades moving as fast as insect wings. The locusts are hundreds of miles away, but she can feel them swarming. They eat their own body weight and at night, travel with the wind. Don’t worry, she tells the women and children, they will be here soon.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Quantum

number one, count this off, start with your index finger, she was not, you made her up, you made them all up, even yourself, the person you wanted to be, who you wanted to be with, that nexus of.

number two, or is it one, the same one.

number three, an ancient custom, to triangulate, to measure distance by proximity to what is known. i knew you or thought i did. no one can really know such things.

number four, the littlest one, call her sister, family, the missing part. to be always suturing.

number five is not thumb. that is prehensile. separate. five is the palm, the mapping of. what is born, intractable, what is lived into.

flipping it over, meaning something other than. i meant to. what is true for only two values of. me and you. where i am constant and you are determined to be. where you are sex specific and i am sexing to.

let’s start again. there were three of us, always three and within that blood, the blue interiority. what pitch, what strange effluvium.

number six is the mirror, the comforting reflection. a murky presence, this ghosting of. echolalia is more disturbing, an unwanted accuracy, to hear over and over the last thing you said. they sound so strange, your words on another’s tongue. hold the sixth digit, this broken limb. speak to it of forgiveness. listen for the echo. within it is everything that should have, could not have been said.

number seven, almost symmetry, heptagon, an awkward nest. there are seven fundamental types of catastrophes. we lived them all. to be embattled, to be emptied from. the scorched wonder of aftermath.

what has become eight dimensional. we are thought to be creatures of. the first four are more familiar, part of our space time continuum. the other can only be mapped with numbers. the octonion is a numeric system central to string theory, to the unfurling theory of everything. when i put my palm on your chest, i could see the oscillations on the surface of your skin. you were holographic, a black hole. falling through the emptiness, bioidentical space.

nine is not enough. nothing ever was. the logarithmic probability that a fantasy can be inhabited long enough to be sated is zero. zero is expressed as two nines. invert one and you have the symbol of balance, the probability of.

ten digits, two palms, the incessant burrowing. a world buried beneath the other. to root down, the get caught beneath, ingrown. it is impossible to know anything other than this flesh, this layer of epidermis. another body, another life, a different galaxy. i have seen pictures. in one you had become another celestial body. unrecognizable, dwarfing your own history. to transcribe, to interpret, to erase. i can only measure myself by tithing. palms together, a steepled throat, i give one tenth of what i have taken. everything that remains.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Span

Spanning the milky green waters of the bay, moving between here and there, yesterday and tomorrow. In between is not present, but emptiness. What is crossed and recrossed. What becomes forgotten. The bay was bridged in 1936, stitching land together with suspension and truss-cantilever. Almost 100 years later, it is to be done again. Everything is to be done again, piece by piece.


You too are restitching the same wound, moving back and forth across the puckered skin. Like sentences, repeating the unnecessary syntax. Like love. What to do with all the extra nouns. This body once belonged to someone else, this wrist, this arm once connected you to another.


The bridge can hear each mile that it crosses. Spanning one of the most seismically active regions in the world, it listens for every sigh and groan. The initial pilings were Douglas Fir, clusters of trees banded together like straw on a broom and plunged into the mud. A century later, they are to be replaced with braided steel. The metal is deaf but it can feel the shifting layers of sediment. When the fault ruptures, it will thrust the earth forward. But it is the steel that will torque and scream.


Secondary effects are often more traumatic than the first. What comes after the initial rupture. You were together then you were split in two. There is no feat of engineering that can suture you back.


Beneath the bridge lives a flock of cormorants. During the morning’s commute, while the cars head west into the city, the birds fly east en mass to their fishing site. Within an hour there are hundreds of dark winged birds swimming in rows, nearly half of them submerged in the silty water. They dive into an estuary phosphorescent with pollution, seeking their waning silver fish.


You have stopped breeding. An entire generation forgot to remake itself.


Each span is linked by Yerba Buena Island. The bridge tunnels though. Next to the island sits another, a landfill built for the 1939 World’s Fair. Treasure Island is a fictional place, a landing strip for Pan American Airway’s flying boats, the first planes to provide commercial air service from San Francisco to the Philippines. This was before the second world war, when Manila would see ten percent of its population murdered, most of the city burned. The flying boat died too, crashing one month before in Trinidad. Neither the passengers nor crew survived.


There is risk in connection. To cross sky and water. To link that which has always been apart. After the initial stitching heals, there is a violent cleaving. To begin and end with injury. To break open and closed. This emptiness, this accretion.


The falcons roost in the metal beams of the east span. Once cliff dwellers, they have adapted to modernity, to the human tendency to scrape the sky. The new bridge will have a self anchoring suspension tower, a 500 foot white blade rising out of the sea. The tower is autonomous, manifest, tethering heaven to earth. Once the sections of bridge are replaced, the falcons will abandon their nests. Biologists in white suits will foster their eggs, feed their young, release whoever survives into the wild.


What wilderness remains is the untamed expanse of the mind. You are tethered here, someplace between memory and fantasy, yesterday and tomorrow. Your heart, the dark mess of it, is home to every fledgling.


On the eastern edge is the construction site. Unlike the bridge, it is a temporary structure. At the entrance is a small exhibit of objects found during the reconstruction of the bridge. There, in a glass case, resting on black felt, are two millennia of human objects: a bottle of bourbon, a pill case, the missing buttons of someone’s shirt. Such are the things people carry and loose. On the right side of the case are the older objects, the arrowheads and obsidian skinning knives, the pestles for grinding nuts and seeds. But the most beautiful object of all is an sweat scraper, a elk bone tool curved like a hand to scrape sweat from flesh. The handle is crested with abalone beads, adorned for the monumental effort of lifting the past, its excrement, from the surface of skin.


The bridge is twinned. Past and present structures resting side by side. Soon the old will be removed and only the new structure will remain. But for now there is a window into everything you have been, everything you are becoming. You are cantilever and truss, one arm parallel to the other. Bridge this distance. Cross the hungry expanse.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Legacy

The woman at the Native American Cultural Center wears her Indian proudly. The earrings are turquoise but she is Creek, a member of the Cherokee Nation. You are harder to recognize. One grandfather who headed west two years before the state of disposessed Chippewa formed their own federally recognized tribe. He left everything of his heritage behind. You came later, at a time without tribe, family ties, a Native tongue. You withstand the genealogy exercise, smile, tell what you know, apologize for what you do not. She is kind, she will embrace you, but she wants to know what kind of Indian you are first. This is both old and new. Lineage is important; blood lines define clans, relationships within tribal communities. But blood quantum is new. It was established by the government in 1934, one of many gifts of the Indian Reorganization Act. Its purpose is to define membership, restrict recognition, effect the eventual termination of Federally recognized tribes. It is how you end up being a fraction of. The rules not withstanding, the Creek woman introduces you to the others as if you are one of them. But when you leave the center, by virtue of blood law, you are already disappeared.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Broker

Friday afternoon, late in the recession, there is a line at the pawnshop. The woman at the counter is selling her childhood earrings, the wedding coins sprinkled, so many years ago, over her and her new husband’s bowed heads. He is dead now, as is the child she used to be. The broker gives her one hundred and seventy-five dollars. She thanks him although it won’t get her through the week. Next, the broker calls, and the man in line empties the entire content of his pockets on the glass. The quarters scatter as if a tumble of jewels. American quarters, copper and nickel, and he has twenty of them. The broker smiles, kind considering the line. These are quarters sir, he says. The man nods; he is at a coin shop. OK, the broker says, for this one, the 1985 issue, I’ll give you twenty-five cents.

At the bottom of your purse is a one ounce gold coin your grandmother gave you. It is not an heirloom. It is a South African Kruger Rand from 1979, a year alight with bombs that, despite the laws, could not distinguish race and often killed whites and blacks alike. The Kruger Rand sells for thirteen hundred dollars. Seven times what it was purchased for. It is an easy exchange, a brilliant gold coin, heavy with oppression and the violence of extraction, and a check, thin paper striped blue and gray through which money is made formal, benign. You are not catholic, not even religious, but walking out of the shop you make the sign of the cross, ask god to forgive you. Two doors down, there is a bar crowded with happy hour revelers. With so many unemployed, the end of the work week merits a celebration of both its existence and its culmination. On the sidewalk out front are four or five people smoking next to a sign that tells them not to. There is a code to live by, you know, and yet you no longer are able to make out the words.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Inheritance

The Watching

It was her job, she knew to watch the boy, her brother, her twin. And she did. But the afternoon came when she forgot. They were at the beach. It was not especially pretty, but it was close to the city and the ocean breeze brought some relief from the August heat.

They had learned to swim young, but like all things, she was better at it than he. Watch your brother, the mother said, then went to the concession stand for a drink. The mother returned a half hour later while the lifeguard was pulling him out of the water. Driving back into the city, the son curled into a ball like a small animal. The daughter, cried, said she was sorry. The mother said nothing.

Later the mother stopped drinking, but the son inherited both the desire and the disease. When he drank himself into terminal illness, the daughter flew across the country to stay with him. The other chair in the hospital room was empty; the mother could not be reached. That day at the beach, he said, I was only trying to catch up with you. She could feel him dying and a part of her dying too. It was me, she said, I forgot that we are one and the same.



Karma

Everyone has at least two, she said. She said a lot of things. I believed some of them, none of them. The last time she was just as beautiful, but more naïve. Like you, she said meaning whomever she was speaking to. When he left her for the blue expanse of ocean, she had thrown herself over the balustrade. Can you believe it, she said, I shattered and he simply sailed away.

She told me she had learned her lesson. She swore off men, romance, any elevated surface. That’s where I came in. Petite, I was catlike, ermine. She called me ocelot, then kissed me. Her lips were soft but my tongue got caught on the rail of broken teeth.



Narrative

She had a story that ran like an ant trail in her head. Sometimes, if she shook her head long enough, she was able to temporarily disperse the ants. Usually they just marched diligently on. She didn’t know the beginning of it; it was as if the ants had always been there and she had simply woken up to them midway in their journey.

Others had their own stories. She talked about them with friends from time to time. Their stories disoriented her, as if she was walking an unknown street in the dark. Her own were unwanted but familiar, like the constellation of moles on her back, the scar below her left eye.

One day she shook herself so hard that the story splintered; the ants moved outward as if marking the spokes on a wheel. At the center of it was a black hole, a vast emptiness in which she was finally free.



Resentment

To let go of it, she offered her palms to the sky, as if sky wanted such things: resentment, grief, the myriad of human attachments. Later the sky made its own offering, freezing rain that fell in perfectly round pellets of ice. She put a glass bowl down outside her front door to gather it. In the morning, she found a black dog peeing into the frozen, mush filled bowl.



Attachment to Form

He shit blood at the end, his head dropping into the red and brown mess of fluid. She was surprised at the violence of it, of life’s departure. And while it was his life, his boundless pleasure in it, that she loved, it was his body, in the end, that she had to attend to. First there was the matter of wrapping and moving it out of the sun into the dark storage shed. Then ice was required to keep it cool long enough for a postponed burial. Worried about mice, or other opportunistic creatures, she stayed up that night and through the day that followed, held a kind of private wake, keeping watch over the body until her ex would return and they could bury him. The afternoon the ex returned, they unwrapped his body, kissed his stiffened head. He was no longer there, she knew, and yet it was a hard idea to hold onto. The ex cooed his name, stroked the pattern of spotted fur. It took another day for the ex to agree to bury him, but by then she no longer believed the dead should be separated from the living, interned in the dark weight of earth.



Passing

When she was young she developed a cough that wouldn’t go away, some kind of lung thing which limited her mobility. Or at least that is the story her parents used to explain why she never really left the house until she was far too old to learn how to live among others. When she asked about the physical differences—the soft fur on her ears, the way her chin drew out rather than down—they waved their hands as if her concerns were flies bothering the air.

Now she is older and her parents are dead but she is still home, sitting in the window, looking out longingly at the open field and the road that winds like a river beyond. One day she packs a bag; she leaves, walking the curves of the asphalt bank until she reaches town. Entering the first open door she finds, she is surprised by the room of welcoming faces that greet her. Either she is passing as something they might love, or she was one of them all along.



Envy

Every day comes a new thing to covet. When you were younger, it was always things that money brought. Later, you began to covet things you once had, beauty, youth, boundless enthusiasm. It is easy to get lost in the yearning, running back and forth, caught in a juniper hedged path of longing. One day you stop, part the dense foliage and peer through. On the other side is another pathway, another person racing from one end to the other. But it is clear from the way she moves that she is nothing like you. Her strides are shorter, her hands claw the air.



The Waiting

We have all done it, spent our time someplace we did not choose for a duration that we could not stand. We share this, even in the moments of it, when our awareness of another’s frustration makes our own dislike of them, their presence, their need that prolongs the satiation of our own, impossible to bear. For this moment occurs precisely when we are already burdened with it, our own discomfort.

This is one of those times, when to wait is to die a little, as all time, the passing of it, is a movement toward and away. That we are someplace filled with dying, as all places are, and yet also with living, makes both seem without consequence and yet it is here, waiting, that we are most fully aware of their significance.

And so it is morning, in this year of war and disease, in this hallway of this office, in a country that is and is not our home, that we share something, an orange, taking it apart slowly, one wedge at a time. It is here, so many years after we decided what it means to be of and from, that we find ourselves marveling at the sweet juice beneath the skin. The parting of lips, the glistening of saliva, the shocking pink of tongue.



Love

She had been known by other names, but Love was the one that stuck. It may have been as simple as the shape of her face, which most closely resembled a silphium seed, a vulva, the flesh of her own buttocks. Such are the possible sources of the symbolic image of the heart. As metaphor, the heart has been home to the divine and she was, or so her lover said, until the day when she was not. The name, however, remained.



The Oldest One At the Pig Roast

It is hard to know for sure the age of anyone in the dark. The pig, fully grown and fattened with hormones, could not be more than 10 months old. The others, the ones drinking around the fire pit, are probably closer to twenty-five. This would make her the chaperone, but she is drinking too, heavily like they are, drinking vodka and whatever mixture of juice was on the table next to it. She can smell the pig cooking, the scent of it roasting in its own juices, and she knows that she will not be able to remain quietly among them. It is not just age, or the generations of wealth they wear as if a second skin. It is that she finally understands that without her, without the exception of her presence, the series of accessible achievements that mark their lives would seem privilege. But she is here, a member of the not-disappeared, presencing a people who were not counted as individuals in the national census until 1930. And so, their success can be narrated differently. It is a meritocracy after all. The rest is just history. She drinks two more drinks, says a blessing for the slaughtered pig, and begins the dance that centuries ago someone mistook for a welcome. It is not. It is what her people danced when it is was time for the gichi-mookomaanag to sail back home.