how many years had I walked past that house?
how many lifetimes?
with how many lovers, friends, parents, siblings?
it stood on lill st in chicago, on delaware park in buffalo, mesita in el paso…
it never changes.
flakey-gray clapboard, green gables…i never knew: was the gray really just dingy weathered white? i suppose it doesn’t matter.
i am small. both of my hands are being held…by my mother on one side and my father on the other. and we are gliding down the tree-lined sidewalk. it is spring; short puffy sleeves and patent leather sandals, boys on boards, cats in windows and all of us responding quite nobly to the urge of life, if you will...gliding, gliding…and there, on the corner, gray clapboard and the brush of weeping birch on shingles.
“can we go home now, mom?”
“why of course, dear, where else would we go?”
and we approached the gray clapboard building and glided like so much silk onto the front porch.
“hey!” my father said, “i have an idea!!! let’s act like our neighbors do and go through the front door!” he opened the front door as my mother and i landed with a little “plunk” onto our feet and walked into the wallpapered living room.
i am 13. i have not left the house in 23 years. the boards squeak when i walk…my cat has become so thin; all i can see of her is her shadow. and she hides a lot, right there, between the stove and the fridge. and my father wants to read his letters and i am standing at the dining room table, now collecting them from the vestibule, now bending to remove some he has taped to the underside of the table, now standing on a chair, peeling his letters from the ceiling, when . . .
i am 23 and standing on a chair peeling letters from the ceiling. i have not left the house in 37 years and the wallpaper is dark and blistered. and now…
i am 37. i have not left the house in 20 years. sunshine and dust motes twirling in the air; wilted tulips. the sound of stephen drury’s leather pants squeaking away on a piano bench, of people fucking in the women’s room at limelight & me, too many cocktails later carving yeats onto a cell wall with a safety pin, and now standing on a chair peeling letters from the ceiling, when…
i am 20. and i am standing on a chair peeling my dad’s letters from the ceiling. when…
and a throb
and a push
and the stained yuckiness of urine soaked paper and plaster. i peel an envelope from the ceiling and
. . . when
a hole opens up in the ceiling, small. but there: the movement of shiny blackness, and a sense of overwhelm as plaster whitens my hair, the hole crumbles on, as thin, black, bodies and feathery articulated legs now emerging, pushing themselves through the hole.
and i start screaming and yelling and my dad freaking out, thinks i’m hurt, and the weight of the bodies, their blind, instinctive urge to emerge, and the wetness of the plaster, my heart the breeding ground and stable for an infinitude of conflicting beliefs, sensations and emotions, the chair quite rickety, i come crashing to the ground just as the entire ceiling collapses under the weight of 1000’s of enormous, black cockroach-like beetles loading themselves through the hole at the speed of darkness. and i am lying there, panic stricken, screaming, screaming, screaming.
a tank of green poison.
and a landscape of belly-side-up, legs now helplessly scrunched, bespeckling the squeaky floorboards singly, in pairs & small colonies and i wonder if bugs have families, too.
and dad, my hero, still needs his letters.
how about a glass of water instead?
“ok” he says; he loves me.
and in the kitchen. . .
and green tanks,
and more dead bodies.
our house is filled with poison.
our house is filled with poison.
our house is filled with poison.
*** *** ***
i am 37b. i am 23. i am 48; i am a'. i am upstairs, lying on my bed supine. eyes watching, ears listening. and yes, i can hear the sounds of the living and the dead. can see the shimmering energies of earth-bound things and in my mind's eye, bodies boiling in thick green goo downstairs and the bones of my ancestors exhumed now by curious anthropologists . . .they can't help it. . .driven by human frailty on their quest for answers to the mystery of human existence, they dig.
they perform multifarious carbon dating procedures on minute shards of pottery.
they study the relation of bodies to artifacts and archeological structures.
elaborate charts and graphs are drawn that have as much to do with existence as about the tartness of cherry pie. and still there are bugs. they press on and on; they are upstairs now. why? because there is no method for control. that's why. hose 'em down with the green stuff in one place, they scatter and multiply in another.
i am afraid of the bugs.
i am afraid of the blisters in the wallpaper.
i am afraid of the bespectacled anthropologists and of the invisibility of my mother.
i can't stay in this bed, worn springs, host to hundreds of anonymous couplings eons old, to my grandmother's final dusty gasp, no.
back downstairs...my chair is still in the middle of the dining room, my dad's letters have all surrendered and have dropped from the ceiling, blistered wallpaper has now sweat itself free and underneath i see the wall is plastered with 1000's of statistical charts, graphs, bar and pie diagrams, all squashed together in a sea of nonsensical relations. the radio is playing billie holiday's 'strange fruit,' but both of my parents are missing and i wonder who billie is singing to. the floor looks like a battleground. and me on the chair peering into the hole from which the first onslaught of bugs raged forth. and movement, still.
frightened, i hit the floor running. to return with my dad's green tank in hand, only...no bugs, but large, brown fish floating through the hole and now happily swimming through the air above the dining room table. WOOOOOOOOW! they are so WEIRD!!! so puffy, like brown balloons with fish faces... and i get really close to one, and look at it and realize that the scales are arranged in whorls. and from this distance i also see that it is not just brown, but many shades of brown & rust & metallic copper, here & there the copper gleams green like an oil slick. i wonder if they act like balloons. and i take my hand and gently hit one on the face. and yes, it moves backwards like a balloon, but: horrified expression, and:
"do NOT hit me in the face...in fact, NEVER HIT ME ANYWHERE."
"ooooooh noooooo, i'm so sorry...please forgive; i didn't know you were...um...like, alive."
"are you stupid?"
"maybe. what are you? i mean, i've never seen any of your kind."
"i am an airfish." she said, and she puffed herself up, her scales lifting from her body, and beneath them, silver and copper accentuating the darkness of her scales. "and i am beautiful."
"you were beautiful before you puffed yourself up, you know."
and she smiled broadly.
"so, i have never seen one of your kind either, yet i could sense your beingness (it's why we came out, actually)" and her sisters meandered over in their airfish-swimway, all with different scale arrangements. "...yet, i would never have hit YOU in the face....say, what happened to your wallpaper? we much prefer the floral motif."
and before my eyes, the graphs and charts and diagrams, the statistics & figurings & and very important calculations began to mutate. they grew, they stretched themselves beyond their former incarnation as dissheveled scraps into the unlikliest of ornate floral scrollwork, becoming nonsense entwined with nonsense, entwined with sweat, entwined with tears, entwined here with the cilia of 2 paramecium and there with dust of granite, my walls an ocean of...
"smith?" my airfish wants me.
"i give you three gifts: 1. the gift of this wallpaper. it contains secrets beyond the numbers themselves and beyond their new configurations. the answers lie in their relation: every bit to every bit, every interim to every interim, and every bit to every interim. you are unable to know it; physically, it is too large to be accomodated by the tools you were given in this existence. your friends, the writers and scholars among you will approach the wallpaper with their magnifying glasses extended, and all of them will see a different fragment, magnified...the more any individual knows or purports to know about the minutia of a single locus, the less they know of its meaning in the larger cosmos. you see, each locus is inextricably bound to the interims embedded within it and to the bits and interims in every other speck of the galaxy. know this: all stories are particles of other stories. and be delighted: because, yes...there IS more. don't trust your scholars for they know as much as you do. do not waste time quoting them. do not waste time quoting me. hear the multitude of voices; within it, that of your mother, that of your teacher, that of your student, that of your trees, bushes, giraffes and beagles.
the second two gifts are things your friends will call "faith"
gift #2: know this: you are an airfish, waiting to be born.
gift #3: and this: the bit that goes unnoticed is called the "interim." the interim is NOT an absence.
and with that she brushes herself against my cheek.
"do you want to remember me?"
and she presses herself first against my left cheek and then against my right. and then she and her sisters swim into the walls their particles disbursing, now joining with the tendrils and scrollwork of my wallpaper.