Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Ill-Considered Journey, part 1

“Cross a bridge when you come to it.” People have always said that to me ‘cause I get so overwhelmed with everything, like bills and appointments and work and stuff like that. But every time I cross a bridge all I think about is jumping. I especially like highway overpasses, like to imagine a driver’s expression as my body slams into their windshield. The fantasy comforts me. I tell myself, “Not today. Probably tomorrow, but not today.” So mostly I avoid bridges as much as I can. Don’t care who’s grass is greener, you know? Unless it’s the kind you can smoke.
So how I ended up here is a total mystery.
The smoke and lightning monster with all the eyes and everything told me, “Walk fast, but not too fast. Don’t stomp your feet. Don’t look over the edge, and do not, no matter what you see or hear or feel, do not let go of the railing. If you do, you’ll fall, and it’s a very long way down.”
And I thought, “Really? Seven billion people in the world and you choose me to cross the highest scariest easiest-to-jump-off bridge in the world?” Or I guess between the worlds.
Anyway, it told me time was running out. Gotta have that ticking clock to drive the narrative and prevent my reconsidering or I’d never walk through that swirling fiery arch. Not only are they asking- really begging- me to walk across a bridge for them (and you know I have actually jumped a few times, into water not traffic, and obviously without success. It gets easier every time) but I have to do so in the midst of some lazily written cliche!
Anyway, the electric smoke monster was looking pretty desperate I think, so I went ahead and walked fast but not too fast through the arch and found myself on the bridge.
It was damp mossy stone under my feet, slippery as anything. The handrail was tarnished brass. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I muttered. I mean, they can’t even keep the railings polished on the trans-dimensional bridge between the worlds? Seems like kind of an important thing to keep up with… At least the sky didn’t disappoint. It was sheets of fire done in shifting colors, with I’m not even kidding glitter drifting down like snow. Some fell on my hands and clothes and stuff and I looked real close- it was definitely, positively glitter. It was mostly silver but a little of all the other colors too, even black. Then of course the weirdness started.
I came up on a great big wall made of interlocking wooden rocking horses. Their beady little eyes kept moving, looking me up and down. When I got close, maybe ten steps away, all these spidery things crawled out from somewhere and filled in all the spaces in the rocking horse wall. I think they had a lot more than eight legs though.
Anyway I didn’t slow down. It’s easy to not believe in something like that, and sure enough I passed right through it. It was just a hologram or something. After that one there was a cyborg T-rex with one glowing red eye (that one was my favorite), a huge fire-breathing octopus creature (purple of course), zombies, zombie elephants, and a dragon made entirely of rats. The rat dragon was pretty awesome too.
It was great to have all those distraction ‘cause it took my mind off wanting to jump off that bridge and find out what the heck I was crossing over.
After the rat dragon things were quiet for a few minutes. I tried to count glitter flakes and come up with all those color names that only artists and interior designers ever use, like ‘puce’ and ‘carmine’, to describe the fire sheets in the sky. Just trying to focus on something, anything, besides how easy it would be to just hop over the railing and be on my way out of all the bullshit and misery. It really was a losing battle, whenever I’m alone and run out of distractions I just get sucked into all that suicide stuff and this was no exception. But then I realized the fire sheets were getting a little thin and it was getting really cold. A few minutes later I was shivering and I could see my breath and the sky was clear and full of stars, huge stars like pinwheels. You could see them slowly spinning, millions of them, when one off to the left exploded. It looked just like those fireworks that make all the little burning bits that slowly fall down so it looks like a willow tree. I was watching them in the distance, they were just so pretty, kind of a coral color, when a car-sized chunk of flaming pinwheel drifted down right next to the bridge. It was just crazy hot, burned the hair off my left hand (the one holding the handrail) and the hair on my head was smoking on that side too! I used to burn the hair off my hands and arms all the time, for fun I guess, so I kept holding on and it was no big deal really. But it was definitely pretty cool.
Once the fireball had passed it got really, really, really cold. You know how when it’s so so cold and it hurts so much to have to touch anything metal? Yeah, that was a bitch. I just kept trying to pretend I was doing it on purpose. After a couple minutes of that I don’t think I could have opened my hand to let go even if I’d wanted to. And truthfully by then I did want to, very much. I’d’ve pried my hand off that bar except it was so damn cold I couldn’t hardly think at all.
I was distracting myself wondering what crazy psychedelic shit would happen next when the bridge started to twist like a corkscrew. It made me all dizzy of course but the bridge seemed to still be down so what the hell, right? It’s all relative anyway.
And then there was the other arch, unsurprisingly guarded by a jumbo size lion with faceted insect eyes and a shit ton of huge long squirming centipedes for a mane. Seriously, that seems like a bit of a design flaw, you know? I guess it was just supposed to look cool or something.
I asked it why a trans-dimensional universe-spanning bridge should look like it was dreamed up by a thirteen-year-old goth kid on ‘shrooms. I was just messing around of course, I thought it was just another hologram or whatever. Oh well, wrong again. So it says, in an Australian accent, no less, “There’s nothing here but what you bring, mate.” Touche, I thought. “Now why’ve you come?”
So I told it about the lightning monster thing and the quest to find the stolen magic jewel that holds the world together and return it to my home universe.
“Let me get this straight,” said the lion, with it’s centipedes all a-wriggle. “A lightning monster climbs out of a space-time rift and gives you some horseshit quest to another universe to find a jewel, one jewel, in an entire universe, and you just pop right off to that other universe. Do you know how big universes are? Did you even have a piss before you rushed off?”
Now, I know I’ve always been stupidly impulsive, so I guess I was ready to hear that fucked-up lion. I thought for a bit about jumping again. I mean, you really couldn’t pick a more picturesque and unique place to die, and no one nice would have to deal with my corpse. But I was committed to trying to stay alive, and if I was gonna have to go around being alive, what the hell else did I have to do with all that being alive time? At least this was interesting. Might as well have some fun while I’m still breathing. So I told that weird-ass lion to move aside.
You can probably guess what happened next. It stood up on its hind legs and put up its dukes like a Victorian gentleman. I have done a lot of stupid things in my life and made plenty of poor decisions, but even I am not dumb enough to box with a giant centipede lion. So I kicked that kitty in the nuts and ducked past it while it howled on the mossy stone and walked fast, not too fast, through the arch.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Suicide Note

What is there to say when all I feel is hopeless, hurting- helpless
before a nameless doom that overwhelms
no matter how hard I try, how fierce I feel, how rarely I am alone.
Loves, friends, passions, plans-
all poems I read in a book I loved long ago
and lost along the way.
If I have been selfish, unselfconscious-
I don’t mean it
it’s just-
the world collapsed into a point three inches below my breaking heart.
And if I hurt you
know, I only didn’t see you.
Eyes closed, knives in hand,
I swing at every sound-
a catastrophe
waiting to stop happening-

“You said it buddy!”

The sandpaper on glass voice had come from just beneath where he was sitting. This was unexpected, because he was sitting on the edge of a rather tall bridge. It being night time, he had managed to get there without being noticed, so no police cars or bullhorns were there to interfere. Indeed, he was so startled as to nearly fall from his perch. The irony in his desperate grab to stay aloft was not lost on him. Irony was one of the few things he was really good at. That and angsty poetry, both of which had unfortunately stopped impressing people around the time he hit twenty-four.
So this thirty-two-year-old single unemployed ex-file clerk sat far above the river he’d lived next to his whole life. He was wearing tight stretchy exercise clothes, having read extensively about what happens to dead human bodies that spend a long time in water. He thought it likely that someone would be called upon to identify his body and thought himself considerate enough to make reasonably sure that his body would still be clothed and not too horrifyingly swollen when some unfortunate friend or relative would come to see it on the slab. He had written his suicide poem on the back of the diploma conferring his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy degree, which he’d planned to weight down with a chunk of macadam or some other similarly weighty object he might find at his departure point. He’d been reading it aloud one last time as a sort of goodbye ritual when the surprising voice interrupted him.
Panic more or less subsided, he leaned forward a bit and peered down between his knees. “Hello?” This time the answer came from behind him.

“Hello yourself. Sorry to interrupt, I really thought you must be done. Read the rest?”

This time he was quite sure he was really going to fall. Even as his hands scrabbled for a hold and his heart prepared to burst out of his chest, some detached part of his mind was wondering why he didn’t just let go, let himself fall, and be done with it. As if it would be more pure or conscious or authentic if he jumped; as if being startled off the bridge could make his death even more trite and ignoble than it was already destined to be.
Secure again, he slid himself back from the edge so only his feet dangled over the precipice. Inspired, he kicked off his shoes and watched them tumble down, down, down- it really was such a long way- until the two tiny specks became invisible against the grey and black shadowy depths. “Now I am really committed”, he thought to himself.

“Now you’re really committed, eh?,” the voice asked.

Elated at his own courage, he turned around to view the speaker. For a moment he saw nothing but empty space, until his brain figured out how to adequately convey to itself the sight that met his wondering eyes. His eyes seemed unable to focus on the whole thing all at once. It seemed to be shades of metallic silver and bronze and grey and black and very dark red, sort of swirling. In fact, the whole thing seemed to be made of turbulent smoke and lightning. The shape, indistinct as it was, suggested a winged person or a burning building. It was a little taller and wider than an adult. Bright yellow eyes in groups appeared and opened, then closed and vanished, their locations constantly shifting all over the thing’s body. Whenever it spoke the region that seemed to correspond to where a head ought to go would go all jagged and buzzy and even harder to see, like a vibrator or an electric toothbrush.

“I’m not being patronizing, I’d really like to hear the rest. Please?”

His mouth moved without dislodging any words for a bit while his thoughts didn’t race, but just slogged around in muddy circles. “I’m going to die. It’s a monster or something and I’m going to die. It’s going to kill me. But I want to die. Maybe it only eats people who want to die. But I want to fall an awful long way into water, not be eaten by a tornado monster. And it talks, and that’s not fair, and I’m going to die,” and so on.

“Look, I know I can be a bit off-putting at first, so let me reassure you. I am not going to eat you, steal your soul, push you off the bridge, or trick you into making some kind of Faustian bargain. Truth be told, I’m here for the same reason as you. Can’t stand it anymore. I’m nine-hundred and three today and haven’t done a damn thing worth doing. Got loads of friends- not one of them really knows me, and if they did I don’t think they’d much like me. You know how it is. So you got nothing to fear, only one I’m planning to kill tonight is me.”

“You’re nine-hundred and three today?”

Some demented neurological process had hijacked control of his mouth and was now operating it independent of any conscious thought.

“Happy birthday!”

His cheeks flushed scarlet upon hearing this inanity cross his lips. An alien demon monster thing was pouring out its miserable heart to him, and all he could say was, “Happy birthday!” Truly, he deserved to die.

“Thank you! You know, no one’s remembered my birthday in hundreds of years. So, what should I call you in these, our last moments of life?”

“My name’s Byron. Byron Claudius Bloom.”

Every time he introduced himself, Byron felt the same combination  of fierce pride at having such a cool name and crushing shame at having done nothing whatsoever that was worthy of it.

“My, that is a wonderful name. Think of it, ‘The body of Byron Claudius Bloom was found washed up on Kingston Point Beach today. Authorities are awaiting autopsy results but have said that the cause of death was almost certainly suicide, the world being so obviously unworthy of anyone with such an awesome name. A suicide note in the form of a poem was found on the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. The poem has already become a viral hit on the web.’ And then, ‘Just two weeks after the suicide of noted poet Byron Claudius Bloom the toll of young hipsters committing ‘copycat’ suicides inspired by Bloom’s famous suicide poem has reach eighty-seven.’ I think you’ll be famous yet, Byron.”

Byron laughed a little uneasily. “What’s your name, then?”

“Pentarlathostrialiania Fzethd Keldegerr. You can call me Alia. So come on then, let me hear the rest of the soon-to-be-famous suicide poem. And then maybe we can jump together, if you don’t mind a little company.”

Byron cleared his throat and read.

“Eyes closed, knives in hand,
I swing at every sound-
a catastrophe
waiting to stop happening-
a fell tornado of sharp-edged mediocrity-
a silent fart,
a violent heart,
Brave enough only
to die.

That’s it. What do you think?”

“Perfect! The absurdity, the over-the-top language- they don’t fall flat at all, they really convey the absurdity of life, of the games we play to pass the time and convince ourselves we’re happy, or that we at least can become happy. But of course in the end all it amounts to is a puff of warm air and a smell of rot. Genius. I’m so pleased you have the courage to die, Byron Claudius Bloom. You’ve made my suicide ever so much more fun. Now, shall we?”

Byron quickly located a suitable paperweight. It was a broken headlight, apparently from a bad accident where there had been enough car pieces that a missing headlight was never noticed. His greatest poem secured, he stepped back to the edge, this time next to Alia. They locked eyes and joined hands. Alia’s touch sent electric tingling sensations up his arm. His palm felt like it was burning. Close up he could smell brimstone and ozone and roses. Byron thought he could fall into Alia’s eyes and the fall would be much, much further than the one to the cleansing river that awaited them both far below. They stood like that, united in their bravery, as car after car after car whooshed by ten feet away, as the stars turned, as the moon rose. Byron took a long, deep breath while Alia pulsed with silvery light. Without a word, they turned to face the empty sky, and hand in hand, they jumped as if to fly. As the water rushed to meet them they recognized together that neither had ever been so happy in all their life.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Everything May Be

Sometimes there's a fearful quality to silence.
Nothing awkward, really-
a longing, perhaps, to draw closer;
to touch and hold and be less alone.
We are magnets, close but not close enough.
If I move toward you
(take your hand,
kiss your lips,
tell you what I fear so much that thinking of it feels like dying,
ask you what you love enough to live for)
will we come together with a snap?
(be as much one as two can be
resist gravity
reach through every glass and paper wall)
Or will I find what I brought
(another negative
invisible, insurmountable repulsion)
and have to know full certain
the limits of our love?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Moment, Sharp as Glass

“I’ve always been attracted to edges. All kinds of edges. Like there are those places where a field meets a forest, and there’s a thicket or a whole bunch of shrubs and vines and things. Those places always have more birds and mammals than either the forest or the field. They’re called ecotones, those in-between places. Isn’t that pretty? It’s like music from the collision of two different things. Edges are always more interesting than middles. Did you ever notice the most interesting people are the ones you find on the margins? Wallflowers at parties, street kids busking outside popular bars, anarchists squatting in abandoned churches...You get the idea, right?”

Jacob nodded.

“I also kind of have a thing for edges in time. That moment of anticipation  just before something completely changes your life. When you know it’s coming and you even have a good idea of what it is and whether you like it or not it...will...happen. You understand that, don’t you Jacob?”

Jacob nodded.

“The frustrating thing about edges, Jacob, is that you can’t stay. They’re transitions, and transitions are no place to live. They’re just for passing through. But what about the beach, you might ask. Beaches are ecotones and they’re lovely places to stay. You’re right, they are. But even there the tide comes in and you can never drink the water. Are you thirsty, Jacob?”

Jacob nodded.

“See what I mean? There’s nothing here to drink! Just sea water and birds and hedgehogs and anticipation! But let me tell you my favorite thing about edges, Jacob. It’s called fractal geometry. Did you know that if you look very closely at an edge, you’ll find even more edges? The closer you look, the more you find, the more complex it gets. Edges are endless, Jacob. Finite but endless. Like life. Even knives and razors and broken glass, perfect and straight and beautiful and sharp and clear, are longer than you can imagine. Isn’t that wonderful? Together we can touch infinity, Jacob. Infinite complexities interacting in infinite ways, for one perfect moment between now and then. Edges can be loved and worshipped, but never understood until you leave the middle forever. It’s time now to abandon the middle, Jacob, to embrace the edge, free the sea, and touch infinity with me! We’ll stay as long as we can. Are you ready?”

Jacob nodded. There was nothing else he could do.

Friday, August 1, 2014

It Could Be Worse

The day even started bright. White enameled stoves and cream-colored linoleum were painful to look at and eggs were cracked into frying pans with eyes half closed, squinting.


It surprised her when she really finally left, although in retrospect it was obvious she'd been leaving for weeks. Somehow all the clues had completely escaped her notice, which was probably indicative of the state of their relationship.

Clothes had been disappearing from the closet. She'd bought her own tube of toothpaste. There had been intensive cleaning so that one could do one's makeup in the mirror bright appliances and formica countertops.


As the day progressed toward noon more and more of the sky turned to red fire as the burning blazing sun grew and grew. The heat grew too, but ultraviolet radiation trickled to almost nothing as the Sun expanded. No one worried anymore about skin cancer.


For example, the pillow she'd been sleeping on for the last few weeks and that she'd not taken with her- it had a little crusty patch that turned out to be salt. How could she have failed to notice her love crying that much?

She didn't even try to call or track her down. She had ruined the best thing she'd ever known with her indifference and didn't deserve another chance.


Within a few days trees and tall buildings started smoking at noon while people huddled in underground warrens, having chosen to prolong the end a few weeks. All the extra energy caused intense windstorms but no rain as the clouds boiled off into space.


So she took up drinking. Some people become passionate or maudlin when they drink, but that was another thing she couldn't do right. So she sat dizzy and brooding, counting ratios of consonants to vowels in the words printed on cereal boxes.


It turned out expansion of red giants was less predictable than they thought, and it took another nine million years for the Sun's corona to engulf the dried out cinder that had been humanity's cradle. The event was watched with some interest.