“Persian Night” was nominated for The Best of the Net.
Angeline was mixing up the medicine from her shelves stacked with mason jars full of herbs and roots and eye of newt. A smile on her face. No sandwich made with hate, here, but a humming lovely music in the background of redbird warm mist as the dream potion bubbled and alchemized under her hands. And as I sat at the counter there, I thought indeed, this is probably a perch he’d held many a full moon night such as this as the balewinds blew and wooed their way through the screens and curtains.
Slinking along comes Morph the cat.
“I’m not sure what I’m hoping to find in these,” I said. “But I do enjoy reading them.”
I’m selling my soul
and she’s charging me interest
“You never know what you’ll discover in there,” she said. “Sometimes I think he just liked to make sounds.”
“He write about you?”
“I’m usually the witch-goddess of chaos.”
Her pots rattled with steam seeping around the lids, and on her cutting board were little piles of Greenleaf and black seed. She fine-chopped and rubbed the ingredients between her fractionalizing hands and then mince-added them layer by layer into her brew.
“What is that you’re making?” I said.
She smiled and looked at me with dark enigma eyes.
“Some tea,” she said.
Easter now and a strange night
crossing the line into longer light
the energy source just within reach
like an extended day of the dead
like an Escher hand drawing
a hand drawing itself in
another version of Michelangelo’s
God touching the finger of Adam
or Octavio Paz beholding himself
through the Blue Bouquet with
the great eye looking down
through the microscope of sky
“You ready?” she said.
“What’ll it do to me?”
“You don’t have to be anywhere for a while, do you?”
She placed a cup of the hot elixir on the counter before me. On the surface of the cup, little dragonfish swirled around like visual laughter. I felt my stomach tighten and my heart speed up. Here we go . . .
I’m experienced and have seen and been the cosmic wow . . .
And the music in the background was electronica motion indigo mind-bath with cascading rhythms descending in chromatic four-chord progressions, a little baroque and reborn and leading to the one and only one conclusion, that there was no disbelief to suspend. Ah, seek nothing, the fool is on the loose! And these were just subtle variations at this point rippling through a more or less preconceiving lizard cortex and maybe sinking down to the sub-cellular level half-imagined and half-remembered because I was not the first nor the last.
A fly entered the scene with big black heavy-weight buzzing like a military transport plane nearly colliding with my forehead. Now that was intentional! A few moments later it was gone, but I couldn’t stop seeing those green beveled hair spindle eyes. That was a close one! So I read some more:
I was a hot fever tropical earthquake
land fragment in a stream—
I thought I was in a movie
with good effects and mist parting—
I continued to read, but I was a little distracted by the effects, or what I imagined were the effects, because it might have just been some blissful sip of the Hippocrene for all I knew, and the worst thing that was going to happen was that I would have to go to the bathroom all night. Angeline was out on the patio with a candle glowing and the liquid Buddha fountain flowing and the little lights on strings glittering in the wisteria above her as she played some lovely tune on the guitar. Was this heaven? Nothing was really happening. I kept thinking that. Nothing is really happening. Or it was a question. Was anything happening? I just think it is. Or, I just think it isn’t. Or is it?
The Universal Clown
See, you can call it an office
you can call it a prison cell
you can call it the inside of your skull
and time is an abstract notion
going on somewhere else
while in here find portals
to Guatemala, Paris, LA,
Mount Fuji and New York City
The Five Spot or a grave in the woods
and I go through a plume of ash
commotion of coming and going
and I’d probably stay here forever
if I didn’t get bored or know
a little guidance is needed
from time to time even from
a cosmic jester like me.
And did I hear out there in the night streets someone singing Old Macdonald Had a Farm, E I E I O? And over that, Angeline’s guitar and her humming soft and low . . .
A lovely glow of light was filling up the room and seemed to flutter and roll rippling with swirling internal eddies and crests and plumes, ah glorious waves, attuned in perfect synchronous frequency with the humming of the refrigerator, I think it was.
The big fly came back around. In my mind I heard Rutger Howard saying, where are you going?
My hands felt cold.
My feet felt cold.
This was a sign.
But what was coming?
Big fly swung by, and I looked into his eye. And then I read these lines:
The ground is crumbling beneath me
eviction notice fluttering on the door
And the landlord changed the locks
I wanted to ask Angeline about this one, but the effort seemed colossal, and she was in a space of her own. What was he writing about? Was it historical and specific? Metaphoric? Both? Often more than it seemed, the letters themselves took on a life of their own. I was in the handwriting space, you see? Much more intimate there and extreme, sort of like the quantum idea that even in the most solid forms there is more space than substance, unedited, raw, direct. The cold marble under my hands, for example, was once a pretty secure promise, but now it was now showing its hem, and I looked down into its tectonic layers, mica fleck and clear quartz depressions like bodies of water seen from the opposite of an aerial view. A cartoon satellite caught me by hook around the neck and kept me from falling fathoms down down down.
Here come the waves.
They roll up from the stomach it seems, something blasting outward from the dantian. I forgot I was a breathing creature until I remembered I had a beating heart. Was I still on the case? The mind was struggling with its own weird landscape. I watched it shine and shudder like a baseball made of fiber-optic strands of light. I was trapped for a moment in wonder. Then something shifted. I thought, I’m getting out of here.
I’ve had enough experience of experience to remember how to breathe. So I breathed and the air coming out swirled like a spiral of serpent’s breath. What’s this music? Some other? And what’s that smell? Uh oh, I thought I was starting to fall down the well, and you know what that means, where time works like acid and with stained glass eyes you see time fly . . .
Radiant stove, radiant black windows glowing back a watery reflection of all this, the pots hanging from the rack like Easter Island heads and the dream catcher with fine dust embedded like pollen on its black strands, the boomerang from Australia with its dreamtime fine-touch pointillist tracks going back in all directions and the oven mitts like slugs caught in flight and jars full of pens and pencils wriggling like worms come up from the flood rains and white paper waiting for a world or a stain and the hard log fibers down there like a forest of infinitesimal terrain and the incredible shrinking man looking up from a sheet of onion skin waving his arms like the castaway he was and the fly the circling fly leaving red trails in its wake and the throbbing liquid floor and walls and so much more and there you are you handsome devil you, like some cave creature with fat hands pawing at the book of mysteries and these unintelligible symbols—man in the maze—and behind the theremin music vibrating his skeletal structure stands the man in the bright nightgown! I turned and closed my eyes and saw the fire of the rose light up. I looked again. He was gone. And in his place, the oblivion ah-ha shape remained from which he came. I’m getting out of here! But I was going nowhere. Well, I guess I needed a miracle.
Te Deum laudamus.
Did I say that or think it? I felt like my head was in a diving bell, heavy and rolling on my shoulders. How did I keep myself up? I felt the entire genetic weight of the dinosaurs.
Movement was fishlike, meaning, I moved but felt like I was swimming, by which I mean I think I was more conscious in the moment of the medium I was in, as if as they say the fish could know it’s in water, or something like that. That’s the way thoughts were coming, arranging themselves like Chinese silkscreens after the fact . . . the fact, the fact of what? The facts were anything but factual! Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah! When did my face take on so much woe?
“I’ve got to go,” I said.
“No, I mean—come with me.”
“Just for a walk.”
The brutal clumsy imperfect reach of my actual hand out there, mechanical and adumbrated, cantilevered and flesh-heavy in the garden overhung with thick-shouldered ivy, and Angeline’s candle there in the middle on the Celtic design of the iron table, inside its little storm chamber glowing like a soul inside the cell, and flowing in from further out there still came the tribal rhythms of the night along with the swan kiss of a breeze with jasmine floating fluid and sly, and then I am this thinking thought and the words that rise up here and now are what I am now. Then, I think behind the thought. And what I see and feel and understand—not know but understand, and the difference is like trying to command that bell head and that octopus arm and that tongue on fire. How do you control the tongue on fire and the fire that is there and always there just waiting for the right conditions to appear—understand? And you, woman, there before me, launching through the complete evolutionary trajectory in a single breath, you other, you living landlord of the flesh, ah that’s it, that’s what he meant, but before I could connect it back to the page I had moved ahead, see, yes as primary as a letter, aleph . . . rising monstrous and divine with me and saying, take my hand . . . and so out we went into the liquid night.
Let me tell you about wandering and the people appearing and approaching—they were not people at all but their essential cellves, spheres glowing blue orange and green and odd fluttering up and down on avenues fringed with mock orange assailing us with sweet profusive scents of orient and memory tails whipping up my thalamic avenues into vivid walks through Berkeley hills with trumpet vines and bear stars coming down like a net floating with a billion eyes looking in and out of galaxies under Carl Sagan’s floppy tartan tonsure black matter head, and what a grin Alki has, the grand beast carnival we cut through slow with too much proximity and then down to the beach with the moon as big as a candy skull coming up out of the grave sea with mariachi music and eyes like pinwheels all sapphire and ruby and gold, and great Scott how I was dealing with the warping and wefting of this mechanical tendril marionette body we call I am, struggling to walk as I sent hard intentional electrical bolts like in those old war movies where the captain up on the bridge cranks the brass chadburn to all-ahead-full and then wait and wait and wait for the orders to arrive and take effect and to feel the reaction occur—something like that is how I felt, moving through thick molasses shore air vaguely unsure that I was actually going to be able to pull it off, this whole walking thing, such that I get it, I get you’re walking and you don’t always realize it but you’re also falling and with each step you fall forward slightly and catch yourself from falling and this is how you can be walking and falling at the same time . . . and the waves come up on the beach and the sand is a soft mattress underfoot and the moon glow is a silent spectral serpent bending through the water . . .
And then I was alone among the elements. “Hey, where’d you go?” I said.
“I’m right here.”
“You can’t see the invisible woman?”
Remember, lightning rises from the ground, and so she plied herself from the warm velvet air like a wind-inflated advertisement for mystery vehicles and time-share vacations.
“You having trouble, there, space cowboy?”
“Only with location.”
“Then look at your hands.”
“Those eye-pilfering ex-convicts?”
“And you call yourself an investigator.”
How do you respond to something like that when you’re stuck in a worm-hole moment, and the idea of reason is a green snake biting its own tail?
“ . . . out of a paper bag . . . ” I heard, but it might have been me.
What street is this oh mad theater director, what missing person is this on the hand-made notice on the wall? Let’s see . . . unfamiliar face on fluttering sheet, the man missing now since New Year’s Eve and last seen at the Alki Tavern which itself is now gone gone gone, and how haven’t I heard of this missing person from the collective callosum and where oh where have you gone oh missing dream within the dream among the people orbs floating around, and what philosophy says I am the author of all this?
And the buildings like models of buildings, waffle-shaped apartments and the shake-wall bunker palace and the black spiral stairs we ascend turning turning untethered to lofty perch to gaze from rooftop high and behold like Otto Rank the bombing of London and the fire emerging and glowing and the whole city blazing down to these simple beach fires in their rings glowing morphic in their overlapping, meaning that just is, no reasoning or knowing but we understand. And on we went, down the alleyway and under the palm trees and the hiss-hiss of bamboo tongues and past the back of the log house covered in more wisteria vines and the wicker man’s eye in the center of the skeletons dangling in the cedar branches with starfish and sea horses and fluorescent fish netting with little candles flickering over backyard brick garden walls with pit fires glowing and shadows moving around and casting themselves high.
Mermaid on a sign pointing this way to the beach and nautical ropes hanging looped over white fences and more cedar and more sweet-briar—sweet briar!—and a cloaked couple with two kids drifting by with these words coming out of them . . .
“Many a scrape!”
And the child asks, “What’s a maniscape?”
“No, we’ve had many a scrape . . . ”
This way to the egress.
And the uneven plates of the ground create a tectonic challenge to straight maneuvering.
Battery block townhouses, smell of clams and seashore rocks and seaweed floating its green tendrils through the avenues and through our hair and eyes and mouths, my god don’t ask what that sound is, king before the kingdom asking who has caused all this, and a beach chair up there on a hook on the landing is Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase . . .
A man rides by on a bicycle with these words coming out of his shirt:
And I saw a satyr moving beside me, a fleshy shadow of my secret mind running and knowing, and that’s the house with the gimp in the basement near the surf shop and tattoo parlor, and I caught the scent of cedar smoke again from a backyard fire, and Angeline appeared again in her peregrine wonder wheel light sphere, and through her, I saw the ghost that precedes us and the tracers that follow us and how each time we stop we fall . . .
“How do you do that?” I said.
“What’s that, Lancelot?”
“Two places at once?”
“More than two, buckaroo . . . ”
“What about surveillance cameras?”
“The whole ball of wax is malleable.”
“And this was a common activity for you two?”
“He called it edgework.”
“You have to peer around the edges if you want to see beyond your own reflection.”
“He liked to ‘blow off the cobwebs’ as he would say.”
Up above the nest of Orion and The Bear and Venus one bright singular eye in the heavens looked down as we arrived in the field behind Whale Tale Park, and into that black soupy meadow we went together, little wish luminarias floating like sluggish fireflies in the night among the glow of homes embedded in the hillside, and there I caught the sonic wave that was maybe emanating from propellers on a tanker ship out in the Sound reverberating off of the Alki Community Center walls and back and around in a swirl-current I found my way to the center of and lifted my arms and spinning sent out my own dark waves from the vortex, and I heard the echo of a baseball bat crack shot and music of wind chimes on porches and low rhythmic ancient shifting from deep in the land of a thousand years a thousand more a thousand miles deep . . .
Past a fence made of wagon wheels we made our way, and entering the intersection we stopped both of us in blind stupid wonder . . .
“My god . . . ” I said.
“I don’t know.”
And we both stood there in mute nostril agony staring at the gray crossroad expanse of the street so wide you couldn’t go around it telescoping and rolling so that we both saw and felt it in the same pioneer instant, and we laughed like soft mad children at how we never saw it before and how our perfections would always be denied on this road, this road widening like a river in flood swelling, this road no one goes down . . .
And it seemed impossible to ever cross it.
And the changer changed the land and changed our shapes and changed our way of thinking and seeing and speaking. Who knows what we really said and in what Ur tongue as we strode the grainy gray emulsion of the asphalt through the neighborhood and back to her garden where it all began and where I sat down on the couch, the very same couch, and looked out at the green glowing sea anemones puffing and floating in that grotto chamber dream cesura anteroom as I clawed at consciousness around me like a rubbery eggshell and at last at last let go . . .
DOUGLAS COLE has published six collections of poetry, a novella called Ghost, and the highly praised novel The White Field. His work has appeared in several anthologies as well as journals such as The Chicago Quarterly Review, Poetry International, The Galway Review, Bitter Oleander, Chiron, Louisiana Literature, Slipstream, as well Spanish translations of work (translated by Maria Del Castillo Sucerquia) in La Cabra Montes. He is a regular contributor to Mythaixs, an online journal, where in addition to his fiction and essays, his interviews with notable writers, artists, and musicians have been popular contributions He has been nominated twice for a Pushcart and Best of the Net and received the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry. He lives and teaches in Seattle, Washington.