PART THREE

 

buffalo

BLINK

and a raindrop’s impact prints its pattern

spreads its influence

sends its shock wave as concentric circles

outward

inward

outward

an illusive oscillation

set in mesmerizing motion

pulls attention like a drawstring

closed is open

open closed

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

 

BLINK

 

amalgams

be they animal mineral vegetable

share one rhythm

throb in unison

vibrate quickly slowly

animate

none inert

resembling megahertz reproducing imitations

only actual

if the tune is hummed just right

the strings strung taut for proper strumming

and the chord is struck with an upbeat timing

—vanished—

downbeat

—visible—

yet displaced to somewhere

(anywhere)

sometime

(anytime)

else

at will

because what was and is and shall be

coexist

 

BLINK

 

why?

I wonder,

after several dis-

re-

dis-

re-

(countless)

dis-re-integrations do they seem as much alike

as not

their differences

all the same

when/where where/when

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

of mind

 

Both pen and leather-bound book of empty pages wait like ancient relics, arid heirlooms of an Age that saw illiteracy range unchecked, the parchment’s 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 writer’s need to vent—though 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 bright—those 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… Hamlet’s 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, there’s 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 it’s 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 Tarzan’s sidekick "Cheetah" to present your virgin duff for a sniff then thrust by an uncouth ape? No slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am, for me; I’d sooner fraternize with a fetish. Though I must admit it’s lonesome, living in the wake of Mankind’s… wake; which was traumatic, at the outset. I was barely out of diapers.

Lit by firefly light, Ann’s full-fledged features wax and wane erratically. She has grown—not tall, but roughly in proportion to her feet—her face encompassed by an unkempt mane of burnt sienna dreadlocks, each a-sparkle as if dusted by a fairy’s 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’ beasts—although 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 Other’s 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! It’s Moon—stopped by out front to say hello; we have an understanding. Hers an orbit, mine an exile, we console each other’s plight, by keeping company.

Shoo, flies, shoo; you’ve 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 Sun’s 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 don’t belong—though bound by gravity (albeit weakly). Of identical stuff as Earth, we two, by virtue of our distance, yearn for reconciliation, mourn our designation—Gemini—feel 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 People’s 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-judge’s gavel livestock slain.

 

I BLINKed him back, though, what I should have done was barbecued that monkey. If he hadn’t been so handicapped, I’d have done him in for sure. But he was hapless more than heinous. Those who sent him were the scoundrels. Next to their misanthropy, Geezer’s 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 blame—regardless how unwitting or slight his contribution.

Moon moves on, her train of luminescence trailing sterling tresses, sweeping softly through Ann’s 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 woman’s cherished string of cultured pearls.

 

Like pets, they were; I kept my family safe and fed. I kept their clothes clean (those they’d bother to put on). But as the months passed into years they grew more primitive—Ian worst; he never had been all that civilized. Owl-Eyes simply rushed the process by which boy turned into brute—if non-malevolent. Truth be told, my brother’s 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 they’ll be saved: my mom, my dad, my brother, the Race itself. I crowned myself Messiah. As the Earth’s rotation seemed to shift, its residents stumbling backward, I sped forward (all too hastily). I advanced while they regressed—including 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 fear’s stink, fright’s 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 Ian—though 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? We’re 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 mother’s traveling thinkable. Up till then (regardless Ian’s absence), both my parents lingered. Due to lethargy or to loyalty, I’m not certain why they stayed. But once I had a brand new sibling (jaundiced-eyed and pug-nosed ugly), Mom’s allegiance, Dad’s devotion seemed to shift from me to ‘it.’

A creeping chill commences slow ascent up Ann’s unguarded body. She is nude, beneath her homespun poncho. Bare toes prod the soil—its 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 I’d scavenged, clothes I’d laundered, threats I’d 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.

‘It’s just us chickens,’ he’d 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 I’d known, the life I’d 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. ‘He’ll turn back,’ I thought, I hoped, I prayed. But no; he’d 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-smile’s quiver, knowing I, to her, was nothing but an imperfect stranger.

Bats return, their bellies bloated—having gorged themselves on swarms of airborne insects—to 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 won’t 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 crow’s-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; you’re either lucky or you’re 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 we’d 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 exchange—which they took pains to cloak, quite skillfully. Theirs made Geezer’s skills look bumbling. Little wonder he’d 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 Ann’s 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.

 

I’m my own contrived facsimile, in this godforsaken sector. I’m an exile from identity. I’m a breed that never bred. They were impressive; Geezer’s 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 Death—as dealt to organisms ‘other’ than us ‘supernatural’ beings. Did not humans think themselves endowed with rights beyond the pale? I did…

 

before

acknowledging Water calls attention

to impurities

leached, evacuated, pissed, and pumped

through drum, duct, pipe, and main

despoiling taste buds

clouding clarity

feeding fishes filth

from effluent

like a hypodermic needle shooting smack

in a baby’s vein

 

before

admitting Air’s breath coughs

and sputters

gasps discoloration

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

asphyxiation

Life turned gray

 

before

conceding Land’s contusions

signify wholesale detonation

blasts at mine and well and test site

landing blows

deep-tissue bruises

brutal body punches

suffered, stored, accumulated

injuries

as insulting

as abuse

to a pregnant wife

 

before

observing Magma’s pre-volcanic protest

via rumbles

—reminiscent of the Sky’s 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.

Ann’s 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 Geezer’s 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-All’s sole(?) exception. They seemed eager to detain me, which is maybe why I left—against 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. I’d found a seam where Past and Future overlap. My BLINKs were Timeless—unlike 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 own—eschewing 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. I’d 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 that’s why I’ve chosen Here and Now (instead of There and Then) to live my life out; I’m content evading perils posed by peers… of which I’ve 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 Sky’s horizon—sailor’s 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, I’ve not returned to Maple Street, nor even to New England, nor attempted to retrace my family’s ancient roots abroad. And yet I’ve 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, I’ll 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 navel’s 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 Ann’s 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 one’s sweat. A honeyed highlight coats her basking breast now shed of the horsehair poncho. Ann invites Day’s 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 nightfall’s 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 I’ve taken to arrive at pure Awareness there’s 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 journey’s 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 won’t weigh anchor

or a hawk, full-fledged,
reluctant to accept the sky as home

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 Sun’s 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. Man’s 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 know,

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

(epidemic)

deep remorse

(or dread Dis-ease)

and suffer sympathetic pangs

with Ann

…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 crow’s 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 Crow’s closed talons.

CROW

Good morning.

ANN

If you’re a stupid bird, maybe. If you’re Human, with half a brain left, it’s so-so.

CROW

Good morning.

ANN

If you’re an ‘imbecilic’ bird, I should amend.

Ignoring the chalk-feathered figment, Ann begins a set of rigorous calisthenics, knee bends first, counting them off in a medley of foreign languages…

ANN

Uno, dos, tres, four, five…

…to ward off monotony…

…enam, tujuh, delapan…

…and to ridicule her visitor’s 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.

CROW

Good morning.

ANN

Are you a cockatoo, or what? Just make yourself scarce, okay? I’m busy.

Einundzwanzig, zweiundzwanzig…

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 Ann’s 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 can’t help thinking, while Ann shifts from squats to twists.

CROW

Good morning.

Ann, exasperated, deigns a droll reply.

ANN

Okay, 'good morn-ing'...

…she pronounces, with an insincere civility, expecting Crow to quote himself ad nauseam…

CROW

Shadows hinge…

…surprised to find herself addressed…

CROW

…at heels while Souls extend from toenails.

…with sagacity(?); she suspends her swivels, glowers, frowns, rethinks…

ANN

   A ‘philosophical’ imbecilic cockatoo, eh? I should have known it…

…then resumes.

…this day, from the very get-go, promised to be weird.

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 solitude’s solemn pall and Ann succumb to that which Crow seems the hoary harbinger).

CROW

Yours, for instance, has, with every Noon’s arrival and departure, been foreshortened…

ANN

What; my spirit?

CROW

No; your shadow.

ANN

Oh; I thought you meant my soul?

CROW

That stays the same, is always long, so long it loops, surrounds the Planet, hems the Hemisphere. Craaaawk!

Crow’s caw erupts from his crop like a whiskey laugh (Ann halts, mid-movement…) somehow underscoring his jester’s reputation (…to reflect), then makes his introduction formal.

CROW

Hatching first

I nudged my sister’s

brother’s

raaaaw potential brink-ward

helped them topple

watched them yield

to the Great God Gravity

—"whoops" crash "whoops"—

which made me smirk

which gave my nature

as a youth

a rather roguish inclination

that would fledge

each prepubescent pinion

prime it through maturity

and ensure I flapped toward dotage

on excursions seldom straight

regarding deviance irresistible

—be it on the wing or grounded—

I can just as crookedly hop

as warp a flight path

plus

I welsh

repay my debts

with pinpoint droppings

on the pates of those

whose hand-outs

I would sooner filch

than earn by groveling

—gratitude crimps hauteur—

which I exalt in

having dog-fought eagles

sidestepped striking vipers

hoodwinked coyotes

outflanked lightning, even

boasts, tall tales, and fibs

are but the jokes

by which I cultivate

my notorious

jocularity

I who never could be trusted

save to fashion Truth a shape

that stretches puckers

like a Harlequin’s

grease-painted

grimace.

ANN

A ‘poetic’ philosophical blah, blah, blah. Get lost, Bird. Scram. I’m not in the mood, this morning, to bandy verse with a scavenger.

CROW

Mind your manners.

Crow’s 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

Maaaarvelous flexibility.

Crow intones with deadpan irony, sidling just a wee bit further out on the branch…

…thus nearer Ann, who disregards the bird’s 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; Ann’s 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 fable—as is Ann herself—a 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 puppet’s 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 potter’s kiln, their numbers mumbling, grumbling, rumbling with a voice akin to Thunder’s, 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 Ann’s 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?

ANN

Is this Present?

CROW

Present, Future, Past… let’s carbon-date it Now.

ANN

But…

Ann recalls…

When?

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…

ANN

…did, does, and shall exist.

CROW

I beg your pardon?

ANN

That was where we erred…

CROW

We who?

ANN

…forgot humility, lost our innocence. Time, not Evil, was the first false step Man took en route to Hell, to falling shamefaced out of Paradise, out of favor, out of sync with every other living thing aware of Current as a Constant, for whom moments are the molecules of an Interactive Earth whereby the Whole can be intuited from its least significant particle. How absorbed we might have been by Life had seconds not intruded—followed by minutes, hours, epochs on a timeline toward nonentity we ‘so happened’ to have reached ahead of schedule; thanks to you?

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 genie’s bottle, indistinct but growing clearer, sharper, poignant as a twinge (retrieved by virtue of Ann’s 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.

Indictment? Accusation?

Crow dissects the hostile disposition: ‘lingering grudge,’ he gleans. Ann’s reminiscence (what was done unto her Genus by said Simians) may have left so deep a scar that Crow’s complicity (he was present) may condemn him (though he merely had partaken of the spoils, consumed the hapless midget’s excised flesh, a Eucharistic offal shed by Proto’s ‘plasmic’ transubstantiation).

CROW

Craaaawk!

ANN

You fink!

Ann’s blues eyes penetrate, bore like corkscrews, seek to pluck the scavenger’s 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.

CROW

So? What’s your beef?

ANN

You mean me personally?

CROW

No; who cares about your private peeves and grievances? What; should I belabor you with groans of gout, arthritic wings, or that my beak can’t shell a snail without its causing me a migraine?

ANN

How extrapolate insight otherwise? We rely on real experience to explain Life’s whys and wherefores. Pain is relevant. It reminds us of the sorry state we’re in.

CROW

Oh? What have menstrual cramps to do with the extinction of a mammal that has seen its bloodline cauterized by a clique of arrogant apes?

Ann’s bloated belly is about to slough its ineffectual lining. How Crow knows this, she attributes to his sense of smell, not prescience—loathe to recognize the bird’s uncanny aptitude.

ANN

The blood I soon will shed—if it’s not yours for such impertinence—is a metaphor, Mister Phagocyte, that describes the Human Race: one vast potential flushed, inert, down an antiquated drain.

CROW

You could conceive.

ANN

Of what? With whom? Have you seen people, lately? Pitiful. They’re pathetic! Even simple tools are now beyond their prehistoric ken. I watched my father, rest his soul, decide a floppy disc was useful as a hand-held hoe for gathering acorns; past that, he was stumped. A diagnostic program—every known disease, its cure or treatment (minus one, alas)—was right there in his unaccomplished mitts, without an ice cube's chance on Guam he ever would decipher it; what a waste. And that was YEARS ago. Since then, the brow of Man has so receded, I’m afraid my genes would scarcely help admixed; I won’t breed brutes! If I’m reduced to living out my days as a barren, old-maid termagant… well, so be it. Better that, than rear a brood of slack-jawed dolts without the smarts to put on shoes, let alone know how to lace them.

Ann resumes her vigorous workout, touching toes (unshod and filthy) as they print their contradiction in the grotto entry’s dirt, Crow’s focus dropping. He takes note, then aim, with a wry insinuation, that elicits, in advance, Ann’s staunch denial.

ANN

I’ve put on loafers, sandals, moccasins. Leather carps. Without exception! Makes me feel as if I’d slain and skinned and tanned the source myself. While manmade footwear causes tootsies to perspire with such vulgarity, I would sooner flirt with frostbite than be plagued by smells that foul.

CROW

Why so self-conscious? You have fat enough for warmth, and pores for cooling. I’ll concede your fur is rather sparse, but clothes have been superfluous since the day they were invented. Your disclaimers smack of pride, the very hubris you’ve indicted for occasioning Mankind’s downfall. Be consistent. Either lift your low regard for those ‘retarded’… Is the world worse off for want of intellectuals? …or wear a dress!

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…

predating Flood

which scrubbed a generation

clean of all impurities

save the spot

that forty days and nights of rain

could not expunge

 

predating Flint

whose un-kept secret

had emancipated sparks

that, once ignited, would be used

abused

to light

to scorch

the Dark

 

predating God’s

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

once cloven

under Satan’s fallen arches

Heaven rendered hard-of-hearing

calls to prayer, to arms, unheard

the Rift a rumor

a prediction

then a prophesy

lacking prophets

Space returned to realms un-ruled by dint

of devils

angels

jinn

the Palm of Chaos

once more cradling cosmic import

nonsense

suchness

with its aptitude

for absolute

indifference.

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-volution’s kitchen.

CROW

Craaaawk!

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 arm’s reach, harm’s reach. Instead, Ann finds…

…herself(?)…

…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…

…recalling Ian…

…lo, her missing brother…

…womb-mate…

…soul-mate…

…twin…

…Ann’s other half…

…until events that shook a world shook theirs asunder…

…and the double helix binding them forever severed…

…split…

…made one and one no more connected…

…no more starting/ending sentences…

…no more tandem looks…

…or duplicate thoughts…

…or simultaneous dreams.

Ann’s 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 you’ve 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 soldier’s graveside passed by next-of-kin unwittingly; no, don’t go!)

A numbness overtakes those contact points Ann covets with such longing she delays the fragile fancy’s fond farewell.

Eyes meet (they’re blue!), the selfsame azure tint appeals to hers with urgency;

interchangeable looks (they’re blue because…) depict a loss regained;

a severed soul made whole by force of will (they’re blue because they’re…) mended;

carbon copies merge like kissing drops of mercury, two turned one, rejoined as both once were (they’re blue because they’re 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 Man’s 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 Ann’s

 

instantaneous impulse

to avenge her family’s ruin

pluck this prankster from his perch

and play the geek

bite through Crow’s 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

cannot fly

sans wits

ANN

I’ve made a mess, it seems.

Ann contemplates the scarlet-sprinkled spectacle (the ‘projection’ of her would-be vengeance), numbly, non-contrite. The spastic lurching of Crow’s headless corpse trails blood and frantic footprints that encircle Ann as if to draw a ring around her guilt.

CROW

Which goes to show you…

…Crow pontificates through his disembodied voice box…

…that the creature blessed and cursed by scruples, given provocation, will as likely yield to violence as to conscience. Craaaawk! You failed.

Crow reconvenes; the mind’s-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.

ANN

"Provocation?" Yeah, you betcha! I am not my neutered kinsmen. If attacked by pest or predator, I can act in self-defense. I don’t see any other life forms barred from fighting off aggressors, or from eating those less strong or swift or crafty than themselves. I "failed"? Failed what? Since when do animals sit in judgment over People? Only Humans can—or, past tense, could—distinguish good from evil. What do birds, anemic or otherwise, know about right and wrong, pray tell?

Crow kneads the tree limb’s scaly bark, by way of putting off an answer, cocks his noggin (now remounted), lifts his hackles, pecks a tick—this dumb-show lag a rankling spur to Ann’s irritation.

ANN

You eat worms! Is that so different from my biting off your brainpan—if I’d done it, not just thought about it?

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.

CROW

You weren’t hungry.

With the glibness of an actor who has mouthed a pat rejoinder, Crow peruses Ann’s 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 ruthlessly—not 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

to sketch

a distant silhouette above the tree

whose branch still harbors

that which holds his hollow husk intact

then crumbles like a shell

an ash

a memoir disinherited by its absentminded author

who bequeaths

in parting

one last quill

that flutters

signs the air

inscribes a white/black fluctuation

on its fall from Sky

to grotto

where it enters

at an angle

to alight upon the page

of Ann’s anachronistic

yet-unfinished

novel

 

END OF PART THREE

 

PART FOUR

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