and a raindrops impact prints its pattern
spreads its influence
sends its shock wave as concentric circles
an illusive oscillation
set in mesmerizing motion
pulls attention like a drawstring
closed is open
the I and Other interchangeable
midst an elemental milieu
which mistakes itself for what it is without
for that within
as does the droplet
once its splash is past
its ripples ruled by stillness
and the pool wherein it plunked
regains its calm
be they animal mineral vegetable
share one rhythm
throb in unison
vibrate quickly slowly
resembling megahertz reproducing imitations
if the tune is hummed just right
the strings strung taut for proper strumming
and the chord is struck with an upbeat timing
yet displaced to somewhere
because what was and is and shall be
after several dis-
dis-re-integrations do they seem as much alike
all the same
a wearying wealth of choice
that leaves the chooser bankrupt
Time-Space Transport having liabilities
Now means Now regardless
where it happens less significant
than ones present frame
Both pen and leather-bound book of empty pages wait like ancient relics, arid heirlooms of an Age that saw illiteracy range unchecked, the parchments thirst for ink impatient under hands and wrists and forearms whose relentless pulse is reassuring; more words soon will ebb, transfused by one who craves expression, on and into grain absorbent, paper pores a willing medium for the writers need to ventthough there be no one left to read what she, in isolation, issues, hers a skill as dead as language, hers the last articulate peep within a tongue-tied void, a vacuum, home to snarls and grunts and hisses, neither prose nor poem coherent in a world unschooled, unlettered, so forgetful of its former erudition bugs seem brightthose few cajoled by Ann to light the gloomy grotto where she dwells. One chair, one desk, one simple pallet lined with dove down (lent, not plundered) are her living quarters furnishings, plus a shelf well-stocked with books, the plays of Shakespeare, Beckett, Albee well-preserving conversation, lines of wit and style and repartee reminders of gifts gone.
Nostalgic nonsense. Epitaphs all. Mementos drear, save to a lunatic. Why I lugged those over hill and dale betrays a lapse in logic. Listen Hamlets famed soliloquy (silverfish-edited, hence the stutter). Still, a pithier speech was seldom heard when Humanoids uttered discourse. Now? The crickets sing with truer pitch, the whales with wiser lyrics. Better chipmunk chatter than people patter; plain folk just talk gibberish. Whereas Wind can spin a tale or two, tell tragedies when it blusters, or compose the sweetest sonnet as its breath escapes as Breeze while Rain, forever the romantic, talks of trysts concealed by teardrops; every shelter, from its soggy angst, entices pairs to meet perchance to mate; aye, theres the rub. With whom, with what; my fellow Sapiens? You should see them! Gone to seed, have all the erstwhile human traits: compassion, charm, a sense of humor, ingenuity, cleanliness; name it. My contemporaries snub the fairest flower (unless its edible), flinch at everything (since attacks by enemies dare not be repulsed), inhabit glens and glades and hollows that they mark with urination (its offensive odor offering rather dubious defense), and act, when all is said and done, much like the quadrupeds. Want a date? Can you imagine sidling up to the likes of Tarzans sidekick "Cheetah" to present your virgin duff for a sniff then thrust by an uncouth ape? No slam-bam-thank-you-maam, for me; Id sooner fraternize with a fetish. Though I must admit its lonesome, living in the wake of Mankinds wake; which was traumatic, at the outset. I was barely out of diapers.
Lit by firefly light, Anns full-fledged features wax and wane erratically. She has grownnot tall, but roughly in proportion to her feether face encompassed by an unkempt mane of burnt sienna dreadlocks, each a-sparkle as if dusted by a fairys magic wand.
A child of five, I think. Or was I four? Too young, in either instance, for contending with a scourge that scoured the Earth of upright beastsalthough our posture and our ethics seldom reached the selfsame stature. This I learned before my crash-course education reached its peak (age six) when Rhyme and Reason finally parted company.
Is she ugly? Does it matter that her eyes emit an unbecoming aura which pervades what might be seen as less than picture-perfect parts: her mouth immodest in its fleshy fullness, cheekbones semi-angular, nose a trifle small and upturned, jaw line squarish, ears too large? Without an Others point of view, appearance, plain or prepossessing, seems an insignificant factor. "I am I; so what," Ann states, ensuring countenance cracks no jokes at her reflection.
Looky there! Its Moonstopped by out front to say hello; we have an understanding. Hers an orbit, mine an exile, we console each others plight, by keeping company.
Shoo, flies, shoo; youve been relieved of duty, thank you. Lunar light will lend me luminescence. Sleep. Adieu. Goodnight.
Ann shakes her hair to shed its sugar coating; crystals fall like dandruff, sweet reward for those whose glow makes Night less black, less bleak, less long. The fireflies scatter, land, collect their treat, take flight once more, dispersing, as their hostess welcomes Suns lackluster Looking Glass.
Bright not warm, we act alike, do Moon and I, on our respective rounds, our orbits, as we eavesdrop, spy, home in on things to which we dont belongthough bound by gravity (albeit weakly). Of identical stuff as Earth, we two, by virtue of our distance, yearn for reconciliation, mourn our designationGeminifeel a similar sibling sorrow, as if Moon had lost her twin, as well.
The pale beams grope like fingers, searching crannies, probing shadows, rousting secrets from their hideouts, rendering every object touched throughout the cave a bluish tinge that colors spiders, geckos, roosting swallows, several bats (departing), various insects that include a mammoth moth with twofold wings on which a Rorschach-style motif has been embossed.
We once were hinged It seems incredible that a brother, from a sister, could be severed when they shared so snug a genesis, when their birth cries overlapped, when both were suckled by a matching pair of milk-secreting nipples. Most souls, crib to crypt, sing solos; ours, for a short spell, sang duets until that pesky pea-brain Geezer poked his nose in Peoples business, and the world was changed forever by the fallout from a sneeze.
Ann shifts her poncho, which is heavy, somewhat coarse against her goose flesh, somewhat haunted by the mare whose old bones shed its raw material. Horsehair prickles, often itches against her weather-beaten hide, as if to rub in rough reminders of the rope, the bit, the bridle, and the sledge that fell like a hanging-judges gavel livestock slain.
I BLINKed him back, though, what I should have done was barbecued that monkey. If he hadnt been so handicapped, Id have done him in for sure. But he was hapless more than heinous. Those who sent him were the scoundrels. Next to their misanthropy, Geezers could have qualified as humane. He once apologized. Not for what was done in principle; that, he sanctioned. But for what was done in practice, he expressed a touching shame, as if the side effects of Owl-Eyes were admittedly regrettable (loss of music-making prowess, in particular), him to blameregardless how unwitting or slight his contribution.
Moon moves on, her train of luminescence trailing sterling tresses, sweeping softly through Anns domicile like a satin broom, no trace, its silent egress almost stealthy, as if making off with treasures, stealing marbles from a little girl, or beads from an adolescent, or absconding with a womans cherished string of cultured pearls.
Like pets, they were; I kept my family safe and fed. I kept their clothes clean (those theyd bother to put on). But as the months passed into years they grew more primitiveIan worst; he never had been all that civilized. Owl-Eyes simply rushed the process by which boy turned into bruteif non-malevolent. Truth be told, my brothers misbehavior lessened. I was fond of him, though seldom showed it. Duty intervened. Responsibilities reigned too strictly; I was bound by obligation. I was overwhelmed by martyrdom; sacrifice me, and theyll be saved: my mom, my dad, my brother, the Race itself. I crowned myself Messiah. As the Earths rotation seemed to shift, its residents stumbling backward, I sped forward (all too hastily). I advanced while they regressedincluding Ian, puking airborne bugs some qualm decreed inedible, grubbing for roots and tuberous bulbs his finicky innards could ingest, a code of conduct somehow chiseled into his stone-age-vintage conscience, instinct leading him by the foreskin, one fine Springtime day, astray to who knows where; he simply wandered off. I searched and searched. No sign of him. I would climb our former neighbors rooftops, face in each direction, cup my hands and lift my voice like a muezzin whose call to prayer assembled no one. East, West, North, South not a solitary soul responded only echoes merely me and my reverberating selves.
Ann dons her hood, which acts to channel noises. Night cries pierce the darkness: hunters hovering, prowling, taking aim with talon, fang, and claw, while prey lie low or make a break for it. Fight or flight, the age-old options, stage their existential tug-of-war in each and all pursued. The stalkers, giving chase with keen persistence, hone their several senses: ears cock, eyes grow wider, nostrils flare to catch fears stink, frights spoor, the smells of slumber, weakness, inexperienced youth, fatigued seniority, like advertisements, beckoning killers to the sites of would-be kills, to fateful crossroads wherein lives, for lives, are forfeited.
They left, too; my parents exited much like Ianthough they did explain beforehand (when they still indulged in verbiage) that the land on which our home-sweet-home abided was not theirs. I used to watch them taking samples. They would scoop up dirt and sniff it, often touch it to their tongues as if to draw some crude comparison between it and what? A childhood memory? Both were born New Yorkers. Recollections dated earlier? Were of British/Irish heritage; Smith was Smythe, in the original; Mom was an Emerald-Isle McCoy. Then they would spit it out with a curious mix of gall and discontentment. They were not where they belonged, was my assessment, felt estranged, like displaced persons who descend from tribes across enormous oceans, come as immigrants, refugees, conquerors uninvited, out of state or so I told myself, consoled myself, when finally they departed, having weaned, in record brevity, their most recent pride and joy, another bouncing baby something whose impetuous maturation made my mothers traveling thinkable. Up till then (regardless Ians absence), both my parents lingered. Due to lethargy or to loyalty, Im not certain why they stayed. But once I had a brand new sibling (jaundiced-eyed and pug-nosed ugly), Moms allegiance, Dads devotion seemed to shift from me to it.
A creeping chill commences slow ascent up Anns unguarded body. She is nude, beneath her homespun poncho. Bare toes prod the soilits fine-ground powder coating soles and insteps, heels and crisscrossed ankles. Knee bones knock, thighs hug in a vain attempt to ward off mounting shivers, but, in lieu of making a fire (Ann has the means, if not the gumption), she will have to bear the pre-dawn nip that darkness keeps on ice.
Without farewells, my parents went away, abandoned me so lightly. All the food Id scavenged, clothes Id laundered, threats Id kept at bay from feral cats and dogs, from wild raccoons, from rats and mice run rampant (even birds of prey were wont to filch an easy meal, on air raids, that would make my timid kinfolk run for cover) all for naught. Their sheer ingratitude kept me moping for a solid month; I hated them, felt forsaken, unprotected, left alone except for him; that piss-pot Geezer maintained residence (and a shifty-eyed surveillance), still pretending that he knew what I had finally taught myself.
Its just us chickens, hed enunciate, in his Simian-style vernacular (or in wordless words-to-that-effect, our chats were always mute).
We watched together, while my Mom and Dad departed (plus appendage), Geezer perched atop my shoulder. I stood stock-still, dispossessed. The life Id known, the life Id learned to suffer, walked due East, oblivious, unconcerned about the mortal dangers lurking dead ahead. My doltish father, in his threadbare bathrobe, stopped once, I remember. Hell turn back, I thought, I hoped, I prayed. But no; hed simply stalled. My mother waited, like the loyal soul she was at heart; such patience, with a man whose mind peeked rarely through its overcast, made me ache. I saw her glance around; she maybe caught a whiff of their predicament (unarmed humans, in a world returned to wilderness, are not safe, our former top-dog rank reduced to that of chow). I waved. She gaped. But hers was more a noncommittal look than one of recognition, so I lowered my child-size duke and tried to quell a false-smiles quiver, knowing I, to her, was nothing but an imperfect stranger.
Bats return, their bellies bloatedhaving gorged themselves on swarms of airborne insectsto suspend their forms in jam-packed clusters squabbling, upside down, then, snugly wrapped within their self-embraces, finally fall asleep while mourning doves stir, breast feathers fluffed against the shadows slow gradation, pitch transmuting into pewter, spell of Night, by Day, revoked.
BLINK, BLINK, BLINK, BLINK; I grasped the concept; what I misconceived was method. Time and Space are not as orderly as our gauges make us think. In fact, the very thought of seconds, minutes, hours (like plots and acreage) predisposes one to miss the point. A clock wont help you BLINK. Nor will a yardstick, scale, or sextant; uniform increments are unnatural; tools that use them serve to build upon (hence reinforce) mistakes. A more amorphous rationale exposes Truths: like Time has wrinkles, tiny crows-feet here and there, in which a wink tucks in a BLINK; like Space is always held in common, mixed with media, matched with matter, solid objects in it BLINKable by re-constituting shape; like Form and Function, in relation (wings to flight or brains to breakthroughs) are a tag team that ensures what one deems doable, both get done, ergo a BLINK requires the Mind to flap, the Will to spread its faculties, so that each, with luck, can reach its destination. That's the glitch; youre either lucky or youre not.
The day I BLINKed us back to China, we so happened to arrive inside what Geezer called "The Lab" (an empty cave, alas, by then), although we might have landed anywhere. He was useless, as a navigator; I was indisputably green. For all I knew, the Wuyi Mountains could have been the Adirondacks. He seemed happy to be home, at any rate (that was reassuring), if a trifle sad our coming went without the slightest welcome. It was not the Simian way, he claimed, to stage some flashy fanfare. We came totally unannounced; of course his kinfolk kept their distance, no doubt wary of their long-lost member (more so, of his cohort)nonetheless, despite his explanation, Geezer felt betrayed. Except it turned out that they were attending, watching, waiting, listening. Once wed surfaced, I perceived their presence, sensed a cryptic dialog that proposed to run me off before debriefing my informant, unaware that I was more attuned than he to their exchangewhich they took pains to cloak, quite skillfully. Theirs made Geezers skills look bumbling. Little wonder hed been written off, or given up for dead. Outlived his usefulness, was my assumption; lackeys are expendable. I was wrong in this, they later told me (they, the so-called Geniuses), having made themselves extant by means impractical to relate.
The hue of Anns eyes can be seen inside her horsehair hood like sapphires, iridescent gems whose setting might be modern or antique. Her face, obscured by its surrounding shroud, looks young/old simultaneously. Once a child turned teen (if prematurely), now a maid turned spinster? Hard to tell, in light crepuscular, light that lends an eerie halo round the features of a figment.
Im my own contrived facsimile, in this godforsaken sector. Im an exile from identity. Im a breed that never bred. They were impressive; Geezers gang of gurus: modest, frank, persuasive. We communed for many hours, on many topics came to terms. I lost resentment, gained respect for that which made my life a wasteland. I conceded their conclusion; wondrous Mankind was a menace. I agreed that drastic measures had been warranted, praised their aim. I even sanctioned their solution, to a point; the antidote Owl-Eyes had been carefully concocted to inflict the fewest casualties; only people perished wholesale; worldwide war had been averted; not a holocaust happened anywhere; mass destruction (of the culprit species) took place self-contained. We killed ourselves in countless suicides mostly frugal, unsung murders that dispatched, instead of innocent victims, perpetrators, one and all. A perfect purge, it was, of those who slew for sport, revenge, or meanness, those whose ignorance or indifference, up to then, had shrugged off Deathas dealt to organisms other than us supernatural beings. Did not humans think themselves endowed with rights beyond the pale? I did
acknowledging Water calls attention
leached, evacuated, pissed, and pumped
through drum, duct, pipe, and main
despoiling taste buds
feeding fishes filth
like a hypodermic needle shooting smack
in a babys vein
admitting Airs breath coughs
blows contaminants in a poisoned pollen
stirred up, strewn, resettled
coating surfaces with a pore-condemning film
a gluey overlay
that promotes and then secures
Life turned gray
conceding Lands contusions
signify wholesale detonation
blasts at mine and well and test site
brutal body punches
suffered, stored, accumulated
to a pregnant wife
observing Magmas pre-volcanic protest
reminiscent of the Skys alert
that Lightning likewise rails
against unauthorized use
of elements meant to fit
to forge alliances
in dispute of cyclic systems turning heads
to munch on tails
I learned to listen
to be taught by rhythms once drowned out by dissonance.
It took silence
to restore my eardrums tensile sensibility.
It took stillness
to perceive the pulse of Rain, Wind, Earth, and Fire.
Anns gaze ignites the murk with a cobalt gleam, occult in cast and character. Like a wizard, she emits an iridescent flood of light that augurs Dawn before the stars outside have lost their raven backdrop. Orphan/crone, unseasoned/savvy, she defies fixed modes, transmutably; immature/full-grown by turns, she shifts like a hologram.
Short on patience, I departed Geezers stomping grounds too soon. I could have lingered, should have lingered, made the most of my inquisitive primate hosts, who were disgruntled, I surmised, about their Cure-Alls sole(?) exception. They seemed eager to detain me, which is maybe why I leftagainst their wishes, was my sense of it although no one tried to stop me. No one could have; I was clumsy, but my BLINKs were well-advanced. Id found a seam where Past and Future overlap. My BLINKs were Timelessunlike theirs, which seemed confined to use (if sparing) in the Present Tense. Unless they knew what I would come to know, and chose to keep their context. We are born at plot-able points on pathways misconstrued as linear, thus restricting us to an epoch, era, century, span of years, but, in Reality, Time is subject to a warped interpretation whereby what-was-what back when, with what-will-be, are not exclusive, are accessible, given a certain talent. I flexed mine on impulse, as I BLINKed to any place and period other than my owneschewing those who knew the havoc wreaked by peoples pride in progress. Did we really think pollution could be curbed recycling cans? Or that the weapons stockpiled round the world, in overzealous caches, would defend without discharging, would attack without retort? I grew up fast. I had no childhood, really. Play, for me, was studying. And the more I studied Homo Sapiens (post and pre contagion), the less secure I felt among them; Man evolved depraved. Id sooner meet, of all the beasts at large on land or sea, a cobra, than a horny, hungry, armed, insane, or drunken human being that is, before the Simians interceded, unleashed their contagion. After Geezer, those exposed became, by steady stages, meek. Perhaps thats why Ive chosen Here and Now (instead of There and Then) to live my life out; Im content evading perils posed by peers of which Ive none, as far as I can gather. Owl-Eyes swept the planet. From its first "HA-CHOO" to its last "God Bless," not a single soul was spared, all eyes turned amber, save for my implacable baby-blues.
Ann talks to phantoms, rants at ghosts, lets loose a joyless laugh that crumbles, a la Wind-eroded crockery, as the glow of Daybreak looms. A stitch of crimson sews the cleft at Skys horizonsailors warning. Bird song lifts the moratorium Night imposed, while Air brews mist. A wispy hoarfrost waits for whiskers to be shaved, with a stroke, by Sun, whose razor rise extends like spikes on a bronze-cast mace.
Or was I homing? True, Ive not returned to Maple Street, nor even to New England, nor attempted to retrace my familys ancient roots abroad. And yet Ive come to When, if not to Where; my Time-frame proved compulsory. Though the world is far from civilized now, devoid of creature comforts, inhospitable in its adversarial fit-versus-unfit fray, it is mine own. I crave these brackets, like a spritzing cat her territory. Birth to death, Ill mark my borders and defend them (best I can). For when I strayed too long, indulged in stints of social interaction (well-disguised, my outward aspect as a new-age nymph concealed), Time tugged me back. I lurched with a yo-yo's snap to the palm, the balm, of Origin, as if who I was and am were tied, like a navels cord, to Here. We own our Hour no less than our Native Soil, possess both lot and life span. Squall to last gasp we reside within a niche of measured turns by which our days on Mother Earth, thank God, are numbered.
Sunshine sprawls. The prairie's scrub becomes a golden fleece unending, till it reaches Anns escarpment; half way up, in a nook, she squints, her haven gilded by the selfsame solar source of heat and energy that awakens blood in reptiles, incubates updrafts, dries ones sweat. A honeyed highlight coats her basking breast now shed of the horsehair poncho. Ann invites Days early rays to lick her skin like a love-starved pup, to fill the hollows round her collarbone with a warmth so dear it fondles, trickles, overflows and spills the length of her torso, waist, lap, thighs as she stands up, steps round her roughhewn chair and desk to welcome Morning with what seems a lifted wretchedness. She feels heartened, less depressed, as if the nightfalls weighty musings have abolished her insomnia. Why has sleep been so standoffish? What had Dusk-till-Dawn to teach a mind more luminous in its scope than the far-flung nebulae?
How proceed? When I recount the steps Ive taken to arrive at pure Awareness theres a recognizable sequence. Life, reflected, verifies Fate. The tracks behind predict the ones ahead, confirm each destination by comparing where we were to where we are at journeys end. But this is arbitrary false, in fact. The mapping of Existence is a superimposition drawn by Time-trapped/Space-snagged constructs unacquainted with the Cosmos in its unencumbered state. My own intelligence, from its comfy confines, ventures all too cautiously, as if frightened by the prospect of an outside-self Expanse. I clutch my own hand, on the threshold of an inexact Immensity, scared to Death my grip on Me will prove
a ship that wont weigh anchor
or a hawk, full-fledged,
or rain, whose vain integrity balks at joining puddles, rivers, oceans, plummeting upward, turned to ice, before its mass insists it fall
Ann inhales slowly, feels her ribs expand with a rush of vital oxygen
or like lungs that cling to breath without the sense to let it go
then exhales gladly, comprehendingly, Give and Take thereby affirmed, her resolution reinforced to write it all down.
The space extending eastward under Suns ascent seems vacant rid of people, that is; other species flourish, breed, abound. The restoration of variety has so swiftly spanned our Planet, even animals thought extinct have made a comeback. Rare plants bloom, release their spores amidst an atmosphere run riot with fertility. Mans dominion, overthrown, has worked a miracle on Creation. Every living thing discerns The Purge is through, The Hazard shrunk, reduced to scattered bands of harmless individuals whose capacity to abuse, exploit, enslave, pollute, destroy has been annulled reaction (worldwide) marked by a near-unanimous sigh.
Ann sighs, as well, albeit hers is a relief offset by an undisclosed regret; the last of anything grieves a grief unique to the obsolete:
who watch their habitat shrink
their food source wane
their neighbors die or migrate
who observe their offspring cease to hatch
or come to term infirm
who brave catastrophes so traumatic
(be they flood, freeze, drought, or asteroid)
they feel anguish
(or dread Dis-ease)
and suffer sympathetic pangs
who steps outside the grotto and is shocked to see her shadow casting forward, not behind (the way it ought to when one faces Sunrise); something is not kosher, her conclusion underscored by a white crows otherworldly cry.
Mirage? Ghost? Dream? Ann shades her eyes to better watch the specter spiral, bank above her, glide, with graceful arcs, on a roundabout descent
as pale as powder
slick as cold cream
odd as pancake-white on a Negress
come to roost, at last, in the scrawny crook of a cliff-side-clinging tree, whose roots, despairing of their futile reach for growth-sustaining water, have resigned themselves to a sparse subsistence served by stunted leaves which scarcely hint that life still throbs under Crows closed talons.
Ignoring the chalk-feathered figment, Ann begins a set of rigorous calisthenics, knee bends first, counting them off in a medley of foreign languages
to ward off monotony
and to ridicule her visitors lingual limitations.
Crow, much less dismissive of this "Lone Inamorata," she whose legendary presence has been buzzed, howled, yelped, brayed, chirped for miles around, in all directions, from the day she took up residence, trains his blue-black gaze unswervingly.
Ann steps up the pace of her routine (small bosom bouncing, arms akimbo, joints complying with each overzealous squat). Her body, agile in its middle age, is muscled like an athlete more concerned about performance than appearance, trim not svelte, its flesh tones tinted by an Indian Summer Sun (whose ultra-violence has been filtered, hence assuaged, by the renovated ozone).
Crow can wait; possessed of patience (and a motive both benevolent and ulterior), he appraises Anns activity with an analytic leer. Her sweaty ups and downs amuse him, in addition; so much effort, flexing wings that he can tell are all but useless, seems bizarre. Just give it up, he cant help thinking, while Ann shifts from squats to twists.
Ann, exasperated, deigns a droll reply.
she pronounces, with an insincere civility, expecting Crow to quote himself ad nauseam
surprised to find herself addressed
with sagacity(?); she suspends her swivels, glowers, frowns, rethinks
Her voice is breathy, huffed and puffed at the speedy tempo of exertions that have worked up quite a lather through her leathery, unclad pores (twists turned to stretches), in a regimen she performs each Sun-up faithfully (fitness crucial lest debility add to solitudes solemn pall and Ann succumb to that which Crow seems the hoary harbinger).
Crows caw erupts from his crop like a whiskey laugh (Ann halts, mid-movement ) somehow underscoring his jesters reputation ( to reflect), then makes his introduction formal.
Crows rebuke goes unacknowledged; Ann, preoccupied by balance, stands on one foot, lifts the other, holds its heel, extends her leg, until both knee and elbow lock at an obtuse angle.
Crow intones with deadpan irony, sidling just a wee bit further out on the branch
thus nearer Ann, who disregards the birds proximity and his wry attempt at flattery(?); she stands sturdy as a peg-legged ballerina, stuck in place.
(Besides which, Crow may not be there at all; Anns wits, of late, have wandered. Nights of sleeplessness have rendered her perceptions somewhat vague. In lieu of dreams, perhaps hallucinations haunt her drowsy consciousness. Chats with insects? T�te-�-t�tes with satellites? Monologues rife with ranting? What could banter with a bleach-blond bird betray, if not delirium? Crow is doubtlessly a saucy apparition, spook, or shade, a flimsy fableas is Ann herselfa storybook overwritten, too simplistic for adults, while too complex for youths unripe: astute, naive, profound, ridiculous, true-to-life, yet so improbable she mistrusts the very perspiration inundating ligaments that define her joints like a puppets linkage, doubts her beating breast, the ruddy flush infusing features she has not seen mirrored since puberty, disbelieves the very nerves gone all aquiver under stress, their urgent quaking unless Earth itself is captive to some shudder?)
Ann abandons her balletic pose for one more firm, flat-footed but the ground persists in trembling as if gripped by mortal dread. Of what?
The answer raises dust so thick it obfuscates a landscape that was glimmering, moments earlier, as might "amber waves of grain" engulfed, made murky by the advent of enormous, humpbacked beasts whose hirsute hides, honed horns, and hefty hooves stir nimbus with their passage. Brown as burlap, dry as topsoil fired to bisque in a potters kiln, their numbers mumbling, grumbling, rumbling with a voice akin to Thunders, bison (North American buffalo) lope in a nonchalant parade pursued by nothing more insidious than their un-corralled vivacity. Free to roam again un-hurried/harried/hunted/or harassed, they make their way, below Anns precipice, with a calm, if clamorous, confidence that their progress will, by "Progress," go unimpeded.
Prairie dogs yelp; their dash for cover clears a path for the grazing ruminants. Sparrows flock to feast on the scurrying easy-pickings overturned, the Great Plain plowed as if traversed by a thousand tractors.
Ann stands awed. Who would have thought that Life could rebound so prolifically?
Long ago at home through visions credit Geezer; had the monkey not portrayed this very scene to a child of five? Perhaps to illustrate Time
Another sobering recollection comes (with haunting implications) as Ann eyes the ghastly guise of her anemic-looking guest. A bygone dream reshapes its content as might smoke from a genies bottle, indistinct but growing clearer, sharper, poignant as a twinge (retrieved by virtue of Anns micro-fiche-like memory); this one bleeds, revives a childhood horror at gore discharged while surgeons (small as hamsters) work atrocities on a hunchback dwarf, unnamed (until long afterwards, Geezer finally having tattled prior to entering what he swore, despite its desolation, was the erstwhile Lab cum cave).
Ann fixes Crow with an inscrutable stare.
Crow dissects the hostile disposition: lingering grudge, he gleans. Anns reminiscence (what was done unto her Genus by said Simians) may have left so deep a scar that Crows complicity (he was present) may condemn him (though he merely had partaken of the spoils, consumed the hapless midgets excised flesh, a Eucharistic offal shed by Protos plasmic transubstantiation).
Anns blues eyes penetrate, bore like corkscrews, seek to pluck the scavengers heart out!
Crow, unflappable, does not flinch. Instead he counters, tit for tat; his look denudes, strips flesh to sinew, x-rays bones to lay bare marrow; could this once-competitive species, left unchecked, reverse its nature? Was this sole-surviving specimen an exemplar? Had Man changed? Crow fluffs his feathers in the face of what Humanity might have fashioned (had a troupe of misanthropic monkeys failed to intervene), then reconfirms his plan to put Ms. Smith to the test.
Anns bloated belly is about to slough its ineffectual lining. How Crow knows this, she attributes to his sense of smell, not prescienceloathe to recognize the birds uncanny aptitude.
Ann resumes her vigorous workout, touching toes (unshod and filthy) as they print their contradiction in the grotto entrys dirt, Crows focus dropping. He takes note, then aim, with a wry insinuation, that elicits, in advance, Anns staunch denial.
Thus croaked, Crow lifts his wings and flares them to expose refulgent plumage so metallic Ann can see herself, in replica, framed therein, as by a mantled vanity lined with silver, interlocking panels that arrest then cast her image back in multiples tall and thin (as she draws closer), stretched distortedly yet authentic in their likeness with respect to left being left and right being right, Ann un-reversed, Ann photographic, photogenic in her spellbound estimation. Hers is not the sloping forehead, barrel chest, or sideways gait (as she steps nearer still) that typify offspring parented by contemporaries, children grown to full adulthood in just half a dozen years, then halved again, when these, in turn, gave birth to smaller, simpler progeny, hardly Human anymore in their diminished size and wit, resembling not so much their fathers and their mothers as their forebears, those who came before the word "before" occurred to babbling lips
which scrubbed a generation
clean of all impurities
save the spot
that forty days and nights of rain
could not expunge
whose un-kept secret
had emancipated sparks
that, once ignited, would be used
punctilious claim upon
the stake of every conscience
right: an unpronounced direction
wrong: an error without remorse
when Good and Evil
simply segregated sweets
from tastes too bitter
prior to Will itself
under Satans fallen arches
Heaven rendered hard-of-hearing
calls to prayer, to arms, unheard
the Rift a rumor
then a prophesy
Space returned to realms un-ruled by dint
the Palm of Chaos
once more cradling cosmic import
with its aptitude
Wings enlarge. Ann seems surrounded now by looking-glass slats reflecting her reflections on reflections on reflections like a fun house hall of mirrors, a score of selves begetting selves, in all directions, to Infinity, each identical with exception of its steadily shrunken scale, dimensions life-size unto microscopic, countless incarnations stretching back, like antecedents, to some distant crust-cooked phase when what is Ann was merely Ann as her remote potentiality, Ann as prospect, possibility, Ann as fate of a single cell that somewhere simmered in the soup of Cre-volutions kitchen.
Brought back (though self-absorbed, still), Ann appraises her antagonist. Who is Crow? Why has he come? From Where and When? What does he want?
To ease the foremost of her doubts, she lifts her hand as if to touch him. He is perched within arms reach, harms reach. Instead, Ann finds
encounters solid, consanguineous flesh and blood
a cheek, an earlobe
then a jaw, which thumb and fingers trace to embrace a squarish chin
that feels both foreign and familiar in its shape and bristly texture
the sensation much like being held and taking hold combined
lo, her missing brother
Anns other half
until events that shook a world shook theirs asunder
and the double helix binding them forever severed
made one and one no more connected
no more starting/ending sentences
no more tandem looks
or duplicate thoughts
or simultaneous dreams.
Anns body trembles at the prospect of a bona fide reunion, wants this semblance of herself to be not her but him for real:
his arms (no matter they be scrawny due to rigors of subsistence)
his emaciated torso (never mind its jutting ribs, the prematurely grizzled chest hair, sunken sternum, fractured breastbone; what has happened to you, Ian, that youve grown so gaunt and frail?)
his legs (regardless their foreshortening bow)
his spindly calves and ankles (no less lovable to a sister whose affections reemerge as from an unknown soldiers graveside passed by next-of-kin unwittingly; no, dont go!)
A numbness overtakes those contact points Ann covets with such longing she delays the fragile fancys fond farewell.
Eyes meet (theyre blue!), the selfsame azure tint appeals to hers with urgency;
interchangeable looks (theyre blue because ) depict a loss regained;
a severed soul made whole by force of will (theyre blue because theyre ) mended;
carbon copies merge like kissing drops of mercury, two turned one, rejoined as both once were (theyre blue because theyre mine).
Her vision fades.
Mistaking self for sibling segues into staring at a visage etched and creased and scored and crosshatched by an acrid middle age. Advanced in cynicism, skepticism, Ann has not accepted that a peopled planet spelled demise for untold living things her Kind used up, or crowded out, exposed to toxic wastes, wars, chemicals, purged with poisons, killed by accident or on purpose, engineered death to clear a space, remove a blight, or feed an ever-spreading populace whose constituents proved, for the most part, ill-equipped to feed themselves when pressed when faced with sure starvation after Owl-Eyes narrowed options and the hordes of humans prone to acts of violence slew themselves, while peers more passive likewise died in droves, unsaved by letting others do their dirty work. Surely Ann was not to blame for what transpired. The Race itself, perhaps, was guilty in a general sense; but singly? Was it fair that each and every person pay and pay and pay until the debt owed Mother Earth was finally expiated, settled at a cost of Mans demotion to the rank of lesser ape? And who decided Humankind must be reduced in mass and faculties to the sub-moronic species thinned so sparsely random cliques describe the paltry distribution of this one-time primo-predator? Ann is angry; no, incensed at the unmitigated gall of those for whom Crow stands an emissary. Bristling with resentment, she rebels against a verdict mispronounced, above the law, without her knowledge or her testimony. People were defensible. Some were gracious, noble, generous, kind, compassionate, thoughtful, wise. Why punish them for sins that might have been redressed through worthy auspices? How could Mankind, purged of intellect, hope to fix its fatal flaw? Which fueled Anns
to avenge her familys ruin
pluck this prankster from his perch
and play the geek
bite through Crows neck
chomp into gristle
gnaw his ghostly gullet
sever dual carotids
spit his skull out
drop the carcass
watch its traumatized nerve-ends wrench
and thereby demonstrate brawn
bereft of brain
is useless as an entity
even wings outstretched and madly flapping
Ann contemplates the scarlet-sprinkled spectacle (the projection of her would-be vengeance), numbly, non-contrite. The spastic lurching of Crows headless corpse trails blood and frantic footprints that encircle Ann as if to draw a ring around her guilt.
Crow pontificates through his disembodied voice box
Crow reconvenes; the minds-eye malice Ann committed drops its pretense, as the bloody feathers plastered to her teeth and gums dissolve. She has not butchered, though she would have, could have; choice remains her birthright.
Crow kneads the tree limbs scaly bark, by way of putting off an answer, cocks his noggin (now remounted), lifts his hackles, pecks a tickthis dumb-show lag a rankling spur to Anns irritation.
Crow looks unimpressed. He grooms his pinions, nonchalantly, as if loathe to state the obvious, as if hoping Ann, un-coached, will see the error of her ways; but she seems blind to all save righteous indignation.
With the glibness of an actor who has mouthed a pat rejoinder, Crow peruses Anns reaction.
She stands motionless, mute, reserved until the furrows in her brow relax, her cheeks show indentations, and a smirk (like youth revisited) irons crinkles from her face. Unused to mirth, unused to recognizing insights lent by Others, Ann examines who she might have been had hardships not infringed, had kith and kin been pared less ruthlesslynot blamed beyond redemption, damned like Lucifer, marked like Cain, the name of Man forever smeared, a smudge indicting Human Nature like the impulse Ann gave way to when retaliating. Better to have shown some Self-restraint? And thereby coalesce with fellow species, those who know not knowing, who exist beyond the bounds of questions asked and answers begged, whose peace is actual, a-conceptual, crib to coffin mere contingencies in between which Matter teeter-totters, tilts, perchance to topple when the figured out dissembles, laws lose license, fools make sense(?)
as Crow himself is wont to do on certain import-fraught occasions when a situation merits his unmasking; Crow's disguise becomes an empty cloud of molting plumage, shed, upon arising, by the flap of ink-black wings that leave their carapace far behind