invention IV
a visible city -|- a departure -|- travel -|- the rented room -|- sleeping with Miranda a dream: the broken planet and the subway car -|- a dream: the traitoress in the hollow cube -|- a dream: the ice-fissure and the locket waking with Miranda -|- the rented room -|- travel -|- a return -|- an invisible city a visible city She called it Angelica, as though the name itself invoked the power of the heavenly host. Miranda christened the geometric patterns of wavering city light, separate from fixtures, walls, and structures which support them, separate from intrigues, confidences, and disputes which are illuminated by them, separate from the dark city which breathes in their glow. The only citizens of Angelica, she said, are filaments and arc-lights, power lines and rarefied gas on which they feed. They huddle together in colonies, terrified of unlit spaces between them. They speak to each other in a secret code, a dialect of death and resurrection measured in milliseconds. They whisper in the hum of a sixty-hertz secrecy, sporadically crying out in the high-voltage coupling of ceramic insulators to one another. The night's air lay upon Angelica, a lover which justified her existence. Angelica is the city which lives upon a city, an overlain surrogate metropolis which sanctions each intrigue, each seduction, each separation that occurs beneath it. a departure The teeth no longer mesh, she said, the bags would open on our shoulders, our belongings strewn to the concrete below. The journal in which she occasionally wrote was curling at its edges, the first hundred pages adorned with an organic water-stained territory whose border browned and whose inland region blurred secret notes she composed to herself like old glass, or a weather-stripped window in a summer rainstorm. Should it have fallen to the ground and into a puddle, the half-lost language would have expired forever. The case which held her necessities was brittle plastic. Monthly-needs and daily-needs were arranged according to frequency of use, utility in case of an emergency, size, and compressibility. She approached her period like a scientist, spoke of it only in detached, theoretical terms. Should the case have fallen on a corner or edge, it would have exploded, embarrassingly, probably before strangers. Negotiating the labyrinth of corridors in our building, we passed doors of strangers that lived nearby: a man whose furtive glances belie paranoia, or sexual deviancy, or privileged information; a woman whose nameless child will eventually learn to respond to shut up as a name; an old woman whose face was always made up in an old-fashioned style as though she were entertaining ghosts; an infertile, nightmare couple haunted by the ghosts of ancestors that accuse them of ruining everything; another man; another woman; another stranger offering us their presence. travel We abandoned the versatile rucksacks, choosing bags with clasps, locks, and an assurance that our secrets would remain safely sequestered within. An hour from home, a street sign recalled, unconnectedly, our neglect in packing some vital distractions, books, puzzles, and single-player games to dismiss us from the responsibility of interacting. The narrowing highway radiated its heat directly through the chassis and into our feet. It permitted Miranda only a moment's fitful sleep, her cheek stroked only by a hot, pungent desert breath, infused by farms beyond the horizon, and latrines twenty yards to our left. Under a deepening night, the solitude's arid breath animated her hair and narrowed her eyes. Miranda spoke again of the city Angelica, troubled by the expanse presented to us. Her narrow eyes reflected distant tenuous red from running lights ahead. The city doesn't exist here, she said, only a blood vessel, a desiccated vein, a trickling stream which carries waste from one foundation city to another, one wasteland to another. Reflectors on the road refused the light we brought, bottled, from Angelica, throwing it back at us brighter than we had offered. We also brought with us Angelica's lover the night, like a blanket to hide us. the rented room A daydream came upon me as I signed my name, scribbled my license number to the register; the rhythm of my hand brought Miranda, surrendered, to mind, from a time when her photograph in my wallet was a novelty, a kiss upon her chin or neck was a gift from her to me, from a time when she was package which I untied gently, certain as a prying child what was inside, but reveling in the process of holding it for the first time, of exploring each bending line, texture, scent and surface. We knew we would ignore the scent of nicotine in the pillow. Radio stations offered us sporadic, fitful hissing, as though the songs carried on the air and bounced from the ionosphere were dragged from the foundation city, so far away. They soaked into the room from the speakers stretched, tired and aching. sleeping with miranda There was a stimulus which possessed the room like a spirit. Miranda's feet struck me, an accusation of my stillness. Each shiver or flinch awoke the bed beneath us. It took whole minutes to return to its own slumber, rocking itself to sleep with a straining sound. She convulsed, drawing her arms across her face, a child in dream-throes possessed by a fury or a passion or a fear which burned from inside and presented itself to her on the frequency of a beta wave. Every thrust and unattached syllable was a line which kept me near the rocking vessel, eyelids pierced by its searing lights. They kept me atop the bed which bucked and shivered beneath us, trying to throw us from its back so it could finally be still. Each movement and sound buoyed me, I could not sink into the black ocean's current. I knew the dream-ocean alive with ghosts and reveries, but believed it would be still, if only I could get there. a dream: the broken planet and the subway car Miranda had another name for this place, other than home, where desperate people live, where sated people live. I could not recall its name, perhaps it was Miranda itself. I traveled daily to work in the subway, pushed along a column of air and magnetic levitation. Each day, crews and engineers debated, conferred, knowing that the geology of Miranda was a living one, extrusions of pure metals often penetrating the tunnels, fault lines severing a tube, sometimes moved by God's hand to reconnect with another, some miles away, sometimes guided by Satan's hand sending the express line full-force into granite bedrock. Every providence and ruination was attributed faithfully to its architect on the evening newscasts. Each day, handworkers, ironsmiths, and drafters rerouted the tunnel system, moving lines and reassigning numbers by day and by week, the Blue Line sometimes surfacing to breathe at third street, sometimes at the city circle. I had grown accustomed over commuting years to descending in unfamiliar neighborhoods and being exhumed in unpredictable office plazas, their confused aesthetic a fractured amalgam of neoclassicism and postmodernism. Corporations were as ugly outside as within. Uneventfully, I followed the shifting Blue Line, laboring in a different cubicle day by day, sleeping in a different bed night by night. Miranda the broken world shifted when impelled by her vigorous, violent, and capricious core, liquid and dynamic. Miranda my lover knew each event in advance, observing a straight line to each new stairwell. Miranda the clairvoyant attempted to dissuade me from the Blue Line one morning. I ignored her plea, perusing carefully the trade magazines for tips on up- selling myself at the office. That morning I struck the bedrock, hard enough to transmit each spoken word and metallic shriek of wheels on iron track miles into the body of the planet, faster than light. I penetrated enough to know I would die, tunneled into blue granite, already a preserved fossil for Miranda to uncover in her own time. a dream: the traitoress in the hollow cube Judith Iscariot descended to me as an angel in a hallowed cube twelve thousand stadia on a side. I got fifty silver pieces for you, she said, seating me onto a chair, her hand heavy on my shoulder. This is my upholstery, she said broken for you. This is my sand, the remnant of the silent stone god which I destroyed, poured out for you. Her fingers which once sought unexplored frontiers across my plain gripped my chin, turned my head. I closed my eyes expecting a kiss, passionate, with saliva. Her dry lips touched mine and made a comical smacking noise. Judith's fingers inched up from my chin. I asked for a peaceful moment, to contemplate her treason. At the table, twelve roses bloomed at each of twelve unoccupied placesettings, marshaled like a phalanx of soldiers: Red is passion, white is purity, yellow is friendship, blue is peace. I had never known a natural blue rose, only artificial, a chemically-induced, medicated surrogate, but it must have been a lapse of memory, an artifact of my compression. Placed at each seat except mine. At the first setting, the first stem supported in a vial, on a foundation of graphite; the second, arsenic; the third, high density polyethylene; the fourth, mercury; the fifth, ashes; the sixth, bile; the seventh, Xanax; the eighth, iodine; the ninth, beads of lead solder; the tenth, glass dust; the eleventh, hemlock; the twelfth, lithium carbonate; at the thirteenth, my central seat, no vial and no rose. Judith's fingers pulled apart my lips, searching inside as a clinician would, dry and cold. They slid across my teeth smoothly, lubricated by saliva. She paused, her hand still intimately in my mouth, touching my tongue indiscreetly, and placed an empty vial on the Formica table before me. Starting, she repeated to me, fifty silver pieces. Turning and seizing in my mouth like an undead fish, her hand forced wide my jaw. She pulled my teeth, every one, with a shudder from my head, followed by a mere trickle of blood. Each tooth dropped into the glass vial, until it was full and my mouth empty. She drew in the air a bare stem, like a conjurer pulling a small cane the length of his forearm from his sleeve. You will have to trust me, she said, that the petals were once red, as she thrust the stem into the vial of teeth. a dream: the ice-fissure and the locket Bare feet sticking to an ice floe, I scanned the distance for a horizon. Its boundary was invisible, I could not conjecture where frozen sea ended and clouded sky began. I reached into the water through a fissure in the ice, steaming like a bullet wound in a wintry theater of battle. Withdrew my hand, the water made a frozen arc starting at the sticky edge of the incision, ending at my fingertips. I shook my hand as one trying to detach some pain, my finger was free. Again, I thrust my hand into the fissure, as a surgeon blindly attempting to retrieve a dropped instrument, trying to retrieve an inherited locket with a sepia-tone photograph and a lock of hair. Again, I withdrew, a second frozen stem joining the first, over and over until the steaming cavity blossomed in a small garden of palm fronds and saplings. The locket was worth fifty silver pieces, but the imperative to retrieve it diminished with each cold crystal that steamed out of the thick water. I chose instead to keep this blossom of ice, sought to break it carefully from its base. Pulled too hard, it broke into a pile of crystals as useless and unsightly as a heap of sawdust. I saw then at some point, a fragment of time which slunk by and withdrew without my notice, the ice-blossom's root sealed the wound in the ice. The bloom shattered and locket sunk beneath the floe. A sound overhead, an air-raid siren, distracted me from their loss. waking with miranda The concierge, appallingly prompt, made a wake-up call at seven thirty. I had been dreaming, gladly unconscious. Next to me, Miranda made noises, mumbling, lurching sounds like a stroke or palsy victim, incomprehensible, but reproachful. Her elbow followed a well-worn trajectory, found my ribcage. the rented room The toilet's anteroom had two sinks, a past tenant etched the words 'valuables' and 'memories' into the mirror over them. Miranda disregarded the cues. While washing her hands a ring slipped into the 'memories' sink. I admonished her not to tempt irony. She removed her earrings, placed them on the sink-counter. Which would these fall into? she asked, an examination whether my memory contained them as past gifts or merely as a decorative purchase. I replied, neither. travel Fierce, the sun leaned into the finish of our rented car. Against the ground, its shadow boiled, alive with electricity or evaporating like a spirit in an agnostic material world. The sublimating car was a container for our conversation, hassled by sunlight which chose her side to shine through. In my desiccated eyes and rapid blinking, she glowed, her spirit evaporating into the ghost-car which carried us across the wasteland where road reflectors, angry and burning bright the night before, squatted placidly, modestly. In my vision, her skin bled into the landscape, radiating into the physical world from across the firmament like the picture on a poorly adjusted screen. She radiated so in the bright dry air as though she were a goddess, pure and rare, the very thought of my touch a defilement. She was a goddess who slept fitfully, was possessed of a bewildering insight, was a world unto herself which changed nightly; I was a mere mortal with time-driven passions and a deadline. At the summit of the pass, Miranda saw the living mass which lay before us: Of course the city itself is alive, she said, regardless of who may live there, if anyone could be said to. She said the decaying constructions were to be crushed and digested, integrated in the flesh of the next generation. Even the buildings themselves feed on their dead. a return The city was a garden of high density polyethylene, ferroconcrete, exhaust. Miranda and I crossed toward our apartment building, bags lighter and heavier at once. She deftly outmaneuvered lumbering cars, old and fat men. There was a new plant in the foyer, she thought it was plastic until she tore away a leaf. The bank of elevators was insolvent. No light at the button's press, no bell, frosted metal doors regarded us in silence. I rested at the third stairwell landing, where our hands and mouths once sought desperately unexplored frontiers, and eventually found none. Passing a door on the seventh floor, a man inside talks to pictures of his wife and children in another state. The paranoid deviant passed and politely nodded, the child named shut up was doing anything but. Inside our apartment, I silently called fire down upon this building, this place where arguments stormed and fists struck drywall, where our breathless oaths of true love were absorbed into the walls, but could not be wrung from them. an invisible city She called it L'Endroit Silencieux, as though by defining it she could endure its onslaught. Miranda christened the city of nightmare people, separate from names and oaths which bind them, separate from houses and streets where they sleep, separate from the bands of metal which calmly assert this person is owned, this person owns another. She accused the hours behind us of tempting her to avoid my eye. The city which must not speak lives within our city, it is a nation in diaspora, defined by the society which silently marks its tenure. The citizens of L'Endroit Silencieux are gaunt, pale, transparent. Each cries out to the lover within their sight, the lover which once anointed them with scented oils, which once whispered shared prayers in unison. A foundation established in L'Endroit Silencieux is never extracted, only uncovered centuries later. The citizens hope their sandy ruin, beneath the weight of still air, will someday turn to stone, someday lift up a lover's voice upon a stable foundation.

©2000 Timothy A. Clark