Tag Archives: short story

Stone Song of Geroges Diode

7 Mar

A note in the margin I am reading The Gift Economy by Charles Eisenstein. I think he does a great job of contradicting the idea that destruction of ecology, wars, and poverty are inevitable due to human nature. Self-destructive usurpation of the collective commons is actually institutional and woven into money itself. Usury ensures that money will continue to mean that “more for me is less for you”. I am reading this book partly because it extends the ideas of Small is Beautiful and Cradle to Cradle Design, both of which I talk about with my students. Cradle to Cradle makes the point that “design follows intention”. I feel that artists tend to follow a bad design in that they believe in a process whereby success requires a Herculean struggle for a sliver of pie. The process that determines whether one deserves the sliver is not related exclusively to the quality of the work. For example, nobody is going to anthologize Amiri Baraka’s most effective poems, because they run counter to the interests of the powers that be, as he points out.

Stone Song of Geroges Diode

(from an ongoing novel)

*** Holes in the cistern lid permitted three dim, spreading beams, and Izati woke with his head on his bent arm, swamp mosquitoes whining and lifting heavy from his skin. Fat drops plonked the gutter beneath the spigot, and from the prison farm, roosters koockaroooed. Blasts indicated count then breakfast. Gates boomed and echoed. Mules beat the earth, and the wagons rattled and groaned, the lightspears dying and stabbing beneath their bellies. A work detail stamped and faded. In dusty radiance of morning marshes, politicos and bandits took up spades, shoved wheelbarrows over grassy causeways. The camphor trees would be dripping. The screws hollering halfheartedly or cupping cigarettes. Izati patted along the straw mat until his palm closed over the juggler’s ball. He shook it, and the glow awakened, green and vibrant and strong between his fingers, lighting up his arm and the glistening concrete wall. Who then among the screws, the chortling and pigheaded and supercilious, had dropped a juggler’s ball, this christchild of luminescence?

Izati rolled off the concrete shelf, concrete gritty and wet under his feet, and he hobbled to the gutter hole in time to squat and relieve himself. The spigot handle squeaked as it turned, and the water tasted clean and felt cool in the bowl of his hands. Izati lurched back to the straw mat and lay on his side and under the damp blanket shivered.

Three spears of light moved down the wall. For a while, chickens produced desperate squawks diminishing to ill-fated croaks. Izati lay with his arm stretched, ball in hand, the sweating concrete brightening and fading, brightening and fading. He slipped in and out of a soporific and difficult trance—interrupted now by a tumbling, a dumping of logs. His teeth chattered. His injured leg was glowing beneath the cover like pig iron from a kiln.

Within his belly still was the lump of desire, fevertight, grointhreaded, rooted like reed grass in black scrud—a yearning to pass through the desert reaches and fill his mouth with their juices and locate in untrammeled space the ineffable and rumored and to make himself someway in its legroom. And then? To moor himself, who knows, to a cottage, a pond with speckled trout and banana trees.

Three spots of light widened and moved within reach of his hand. He shook the ball, and it glowed and dimmed, a central nugget slowly extinguishing. The darkness behind produced flashes, uncertain vistas, soft and puffy ridges, horned and blackened burnscapes, transmogrifying, gelatinous, bubbling palaces. He held tight to and shook the woodhard ball. On the brick wall, a savage mask was chalked. The main prison gate crashed. Screws hollered.

So that was it. All flounder and doves were clapped in stone and became themselves fossils. The hardness of everything triumphant, gathering unto itself driftwood and beachgrass and camels in the raiment of childhood and light and even the famous killer who had drowned in one of the cisterns when the water rose. Geroges Diode. Stone laid claim to him as its own. He was taken, but his spirit remained to vibrate in brick and concrete, to partake in the recall of everything. He died and his demon remained to invite, to tempt, to repeat like a mantra, I am Mighty—I am storied and stone—I am the Bloody Bondsman.

Each veteran of the cisterns has heard this song.

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Fiscus Apostina

18 Nov

Madame Cracey stretches for cigarettes and bumps the wine flute, which bursts against the floor. On a blue wave, fragments twirl and slide. Shaved cats gallop along two sets of windows. Among the potted trees at the edge of the floor space, they peek and stalk while in the kitchen cracks Berthold’s Utteringrish ditty. And in the front yard, an imperial pigeon with gray wings jerks off a fig: fiscus apostina. A number of species, including the Harlequin Fruit dove and Cresson’s Crowned Pigeon favor that fruit, and yellow seeds are scattered about the soil. A hand comes down from Madame’s face. Her shoulders are stiff, lips parted, eyes fixed.

Mais pas grave,” says Mr. Cracey.

Motherpiss.”

“We have other glasses.”

“Don’t apprise me of our glasses. I order them.”

“Why, you are allowed to break a glass.”

That’s not the point.

“What is the point?”

“The point is.”

“Yes?”

“The point is I was obliged to wait three months for that glass. The point is, as everyone knows, fifty-dolerais stemware should be placed at eleven o’clock. Not at five o’clock. There is a reason for that.”

At the head of her reflection Berthold fills the doorway, permanent smile deepening the puckerwork at the corners of her eyes. Across the glossy slab, she staggers like a golem, the bottle a weapon in gnarled hands, her foot dragging, apron slightly soiled. Across the glassblue floor of the Cracey dining hall she staggers, mindful of her brittle bones, a paragon of longevity, an embattled clipper outdistancing a cape of dead: lovers, husbands, comrades, enemies, children. She staggers free of care toward a grave that cannot be far off.

“Thirty-eight, sir.”

“Open it. Then fetch a broom. I’m afraid that we have a catastrophe.”

“Of course, Mr. Cracey.”

“And fetch Madame a glass.”

“Of course.”

Berthold clunks the bottle bottom first on the table, and Madame winces as her deformed hands wrench the corkscrew. The music machine exudes a monotonic dirge, and the emotodome covers Berthold in beige light. The bottle pops. Berthold drops the corkscrew into her apron and bears the trembling cork beside Cracey’s dessert fork. She treks back across the blue floor, and a cat, slashing its tail, follows her into the kitchen. Madame lights a cigarette.

“I cannot bear them any longer. Relics of your childhood.”

“We can’t dismiss our entire household.”

“Really, I cannot.”

“They have been with us since—”

“I haven’t the energy to keep tabs on your menagerie of crones.”

“No one is asking you to.”

“Meanwhile, our guests come trudging to the door on foot?

“I enjoyed the walk, Madame Cracey.”

“I should have checked the handhelds.”

“This all has to change. I cannot bear it. My health is at risk.”

Beamed onto Mr. Cracey’s face, which is sinking into his palm (I recall a man’s face crushed into his hand, just so, before us children) the flush of the emotodome has become a gray-yellow pall. Yellow of hysteria. Wild venom of deranged justice. Gray of defeat. Of crumbling, helpless masculinity . . ..

Or haze of blame, acrid and unmitigated, eroding the image of a man who longed for love like a child, who could not divest himself of carnal vitiation, who gave into it like a bed wetter, who purported falsely to be our exemplar of faith and stoicism, who was all Achilles heel and weak spine and craving, ready to sacrifice us all, every starch-shirted child frozen behind his plate at a glass table within a trembling, tipping house of glass—for another her.

Berthold, again, broom in one fist, tin dust pan in another, plugs our way across the glowing space, ankles wreathed in cats. She brings a smile that dawned across her face with a second childhood. Imbecilic, proud of accoutrements, she comes on, an emissary of the blithe menagerie of crones who don’t bother about roadcarts and handhelds. Berthold who remains like a camphor tree in the forest with the forms of almost everyone she knew fallen around her. She cracks to one knee and brings in glass and bluewine with jerks of the hand broom and tells us her thoughts, apropos of nothing, on reincarnation.

“Used ta tell Mr. Cracey when he was a bean. Don’t matter how big your house is or how much money ya got. Do the best ya know how this time around. Next time maybe you are going to be a snake. Sliding on your belly, ha-ha, boys lobbing rocks in your direction. Next time maybe you are going to be some Zipango with two heads and two mouths ta feed. Now, how would that be? Both heads saying, feed me. No, feed me. I prefer rice. I prefer porridge.”

“I don’t quite agree, Berthold,” says Mr. Cracey.

His chair screeches, and he leans over the table, the ivory buttons of his sleeve shining as he empties his glass, dribbling wine over the suckling pig.

“Two heads are not such a burden to the monster who sports them. They burden the rest of us. Especially those charged with care and feeding. Two heads might actually be an advantage. A man with two heads can never be lonely. You could devote one head to philosophy, for example, one to aesthetics. One to dalliance, one to drudgery. If I had an extra head, I would devote it entirely to the memorization of texts.”

He picks up the half-full bottle of bluewine by the neck and pours that also over the back of the piglet.

“What on earth are you doing?” says Madame Cracey.

“I am pouring out a weak vintage.”

“Over our meal?”

“Consider it an offering—”

“I consider it an outrage.”

“To the gods who punish hubris. Studebaker, which are those?”

Bluewine knocks the slice of tomato from the eye and runs between the squares cut in the flesh, adding to a greasy pool in the platter.

“All of them, I suspect.”

Chapter 10 of Serial Novel “The Cage”: Drowning

4 Jun

Every week, by Sunday night here in China–a new episode of an ongoing serial novel called The Cage is posted here.  The first events, which soon go awry, concern the building of an underground cathedral from an abandoned coal mine.  The chapters so far are all right here; you can find the links on the menu under “The Cage”.  If you enjoy an episode, please support me with a subscription, link, re-blog, comment, or recommend the site to friends and family.

Drowning

“About to get splashed,” says Mouse’s brother.

Along a horizon cut behind angular, brick honey combs that jut over plots of new corn, detonations echo and trail.  Like a building whisper, the rain begins.  Lustrous, threaded streams swell and twine.  Pies of wet clay build around Mouse’s shoes, and his thin, cloth jacket grows damp.  They climb the fence.  Mouse’s bother selects a branch, carves mud off of his shoes, and hands it to Mouse.  As Mouse spears and scrapes, the rain falls harder, cracking and pattering while a madman above whacks away at sheet metal, the sound filling an amphitheater of wood and cropland, hovels, and figures distant and bent.  Above them in darkening sky, oak branches glitter and grope.

Mouse follows his brother through beds of bracken, past steel cadavers tilting into the swamped earth.  The whoosh of the river joins the hiss of rain, and scrub willows raise sections of current, tan and rippling, in their branches.  Mouse’s brother halts under a sapling.  Hands to his hips, he surveys the dented army truck with its nose in rushing, crested wavelets.  A tire comes bobbing. Branches turn in current.

“It’s almost up here.”

“Do you think the water will cover her over?”

“Sure,” says Mouse’s brother, climbing down.  “We’ll build something a lot better this year.  A damn fortress, you and me.”

Following the flagstone steps, Mouse’s brother lays his hand on the frame and thumps it, as if it were a great pet. 

“This old battle horse,” he says.

Like a hero-warrior, he launches through the window, into the cab.  Mouse has to hook his elbows on the window socket, bang his knees, and worm his way through.  Inside the drumming shelter, he bounces a couple of times on the blanket folded over seat springs.  The glass dials are smashed, and a clump of growing grass flinches on the hood. In the glove compartment rests a chalky swallow nest.  A toppled tree trails jerking branches in the current below the truck.  Behind the steering wheel, his brother stares beyond the truck’s spattering hood, into the secret, broody magic of wood and water.  On the opposite bank, under a steel undercarriage of sky, cottages are tucked among trees. 

“Think the water could carry away a truck?” says Mouse.

“If it can carry a house, it can carry a truck.”

 The cab smells of soil and mildew.  A gust from the river carries a sour funk.

 “Why does it smell like that?”

“Pig shit.  They are dumping it in the river.”

“I hate pigs.”

“But you like side pork.”

Thin necklaces of rain are strung from the roof of the cab.  Cool drafts wash through the window socket.  From a hollow in the door, Mouse digs out a smooth, rosy chunk of chert and holds it out in the rain.  He brings it in and polishes it with his thumbs.

“Can you catch fish in the rain?”

“With a net, maybe.  They don’t bite in any rain at all.  And high water—forget it.”

“Could we make a net?”

“I tried.  Impossible if you don’t know what you’re doing.  We could buy one, though.  When the berries get ripe, we can pick a lot and sell them.  Going to be a bunch this year.  Pick about a hundred damn pounds; then we’ll have our net.  We’ll catch those biggies snoozing on the bottom.”

“We can sell minnows, too.  And crayfish.”

“It will be a while before we get water clear enough to catch anything.”

“Oh.” 

Mouse’s teeth are beginning to chatter.

“You cold?”

“A little.”

“You should get home.”

“I wish they would make a bridge here.  We could go across.”

“If there was a bridge, we could go across and so could everybody else.  We wouldn’t have this spot to ourselves.  Anyway, I don’t need one.  I can swim over.”

 “Now?”

“Swam way farther than that.  I swam across the lake, and that’s three times this.  Don’t believe it?  That’s it—I’m going.  You take my clothes home.  Meet you back at the house.” 

Mouse looks out across the water.  The trees on the bank are not so far.  His brother could do it.  Mouse?  Beneath the serpents and mouths resides some menace.  At the root of his spine: a wriggle of cowardice.    

Mouse’s brother is slipping out the window. 

“Hope Beckrows are not looking,” he says, and his feet pull out of the cab.

Mouse pushes the stone in his pocket, thrusts his legs out the window, and lets himself slide and drop.  On the bank, above the cliff of rip-rap, his brother pulls off his shirt, steps out of his pants.  He rolls them up and Mouse takes them.  In his underpants, his brother tiptoes down the length of a concrete bridge member, and at the bottom, squats.    Mouse follows partway down the chunk of ancient bridge.  His brother’s outstretched foot tests the current.

“Mama!” he says.  “That’s cold.  Only one way to handle it!” 

He straightens up, grins back at Mouse, and leaps.  Beneath the surface, legs flash, and then his head comes up shaking.  Below his fist, teeth show in a wide-open smile.  Then he is frog-kicking, working his way toward the center.  He is a head and pale, hooking arms above a splash of white.  Mouse climbs back up the bank.  He clambers along the rip-rap, trying to keep up, but the spot is moving downstream too fast. 

As Mouse follows the path through the forest that leads to the bridge, columns of blackbirds chatter in dark oaks and maroon geysers churn in columns of light.  The horizon blinks.  Ducks streak low over the river.  A few white pebbles pop into the path.  Mouse waits it out under a tree.  White balls of ice sail up and roll on the path, and soon, across the whole, steaming width of the river, fountains of white are shooting up.  Then it is over. 

As Mouse crosses the wet plank bridge under glowing, broken clouds, ice nugget upon his tongue, a rainbow has formed; red, purple, and blue, it vaults up from the river, right from the spot where his brother popped up and smiled amid waves. 

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