Apart

Unless she focuses,
the universe reverts
to void.

Unsettled by emptiness,
she creates an apartment:
oddly familiar walls and couches coalesce,
and stars gather into the shape of a black cat
tiptoeing over to embrace her shin.

But then she exhales
and the room recedes,
and she crosses into another scene,
searching for something real.
Behind her, walls crumple
and spring up when she looks back,

and she builds entire cities,

but no one shows up.

Having invented a sky,
she erects a skyscraper
just to approach an arbitrary inch
she has an odd hunch about,

and once there
she hears a disembodied voice
wheeze a word
that might have been her name,

if she had one.

Renata?

The voice haunts her for centuries,
till she forgets all but
the echoing ache.

Sometimes she makes mirrors,
but they never reflect her.
Sometimes she makes humans,
but they are only machines.
If only she could create another god…

Is that what she is?
Rinalda the god?

Yet she feels like a prisoner…
horribly trapped in fact,
in fact
suffocating in place,

strangled but breathing…

Her mannequins surround her,
hissing and beeping
and jabbering in a language
she doesn’t understand.

With a hand-wave she banishes them.

Is this a jail for gods?

Only once,
looking up from her own thoughts,
she glimpses an arc of faces around her,
faces she knows from some other time—
perhaps from before her birth—
and in that instant
she meets an old man’s grieving eyes

and glimpses another mind,

a real mind,

and something almost makes sense

before the ghost turns away.

Reminder

He’s got your fucking number, my friend
He knows your real name
and lives where you live
and has been leaving messages
all over your body.
So now,
in these final moments,
what few notes do you scrawl
for posterity?
No time to get it perfect.
Spit it out
before he catches up.
It’s getting late, 
and the curtains are breathing…

Between

here again, at the end and the beginning, at the instant before the big wake, all tender and waiting to be shaped, as the embryo of the universe dreams about what it might someday become, slowly approaching consciousness but still hungover from the last cycle, here, with the fetal universe still a single incredibly dense and hot point of pure mind, the original period holding within itself every possible sentence, here, where everything is unwritten, before the stars roared, before the dust ever assembled itself and began to philosophize, before history overlaid everything with steel bars, before the grave gave birth and mothers brought death into the world, before the monocle and before the guillotine, here, with all the past and future whirling around us, long before we ever were, long after we will be, and yet where we’ve always been, in this fixed point beyond time from whose perspective time stays still, here with all the possible realities overlapping overhead, in the four-dimensional cogs of a machine where god in its blank mask sets trillions of words shuttling across the weave of reality to form the illusion of the observable universe, in these timeless little rooms in the centers of our skulls where we sit by fires and read the constellations on our eyelids, here in these waiting areas between existences where souls try on bodies like pairs of shoes, in this dust where heavy-hearted galaxies gaze into one another’s supermassive eyes over this nonplace, in this beat woven from the unseen, the unoccupied and the unspoken, as the universe begins to hatch, as the cosmic child screams suns, as the first organic molecules have their tryst in spiraling aquatic light, as the soul possesses its new body, as the director’s assistant claps the sceneboard, as the dream of the last life fades, as the lock becomes the key

You Can’t Escape Your Body

You were my favorite hand. That’s why I flung you out when my bicycle skidded sideways, as if it were being pulled out from beneath me, and the pavement became a wall that expanded until it filled the world.

CRUNCH.

It was like high-fiving God.

The dark city vanished. It was just you and me revolving in space—barely me, almost all you—and your wrist had a molten crevice, and stars were embedded in your palm, ringing a high pure note of pain that was strangely perfect and almost beautiful.

I didn’t mean to sacrifice you. I’d gladly have given your slacker sister, my right hand.

I’m sorry.   

*

While I’m still assembling myself from a thousand scattered pieces, a flock of birds descend on me and turn into concerned strangers.

Instantly they seem like the only real problem.

I announce that I’m okay, and chuckle to prove my point. I stagger upright, and with my left arm folded T-rex-style across my chest, hobble with my bike through the gathering crowd, ignoring all further inquiries.

The bike I leave unlocked against a wall. I’d known it was shit, but to save money I’d ridden it anyway. Fuck me and fuck that bike. Let it be stolen.

I limp down stairs to a waiting train, where I lower myself painfully into the seat and text my boss:

Had a little accident, might be twenty minutes late.

But now I can’t procrastinate any longer. I have to look.

My right thumb: wrenched and radiating chill spikes.

Elbows: bloodied and banged, but whole.

Knees: reddening my jeans, with holes disclosing a sort of magma jam. Unpleasant, but just scraped flesh.

Finally the left wrist, which

has a quirky new angle.

Staring in horror, I can’t uncurl the fingers.

Whole-body shivers hit me like a shower of sparks.

*

In shadowless hospital light I bite my bookbag’s zippers to get at my notebook, and with my lesser hand crabbed around the pen, I jaggedly scrawl You can’t escape your body.

Then: I speak so crooked with my spare voice.

My left forearm has doubled in size. But I can’t think about that.

The coffee machine eats my two euros, then stares at me insolently. Should I kick it, should I scream and one-handedly pull out my hair?

Abruptly everything’s funny: no coffee, no money, no hand.

Hahaha.

*

Please just give me back my usual problems

and I promise to be grateful for them.

*

Several million years later the nurse calls me in for x-rays, and to maintain my arm in the proper position I have to growl and hunch over, twisting awkwardly sideways into a rough swastika, with one bloodied knee coming up.

Cherry-cheeked and cheerful doc informs me I’ll need a permanent titanium plate. They’re sending me home for the night, but in the morning I’ll need to nip on down so they can slice open my wrist halfway to the elbow.

They won’t even put me under.

For now he’ll need to straighten out the bone. He tightens white weaves over my fingers, then hangs my hand from hooks and attaches weights to my bicep.

I’m left alone for twenty minutes. One by one my fingers tingle, then wink out of existence.

Just a big ol’ frozen lobsterclaw.

The happy-go-lucky doc returns, his high spirits somehow gruesome. With hands as strong as machines he mashes my wristbones back into place, going hmm, hmm, squeeeeezing, hmmmmmm, SQUEEZING, hmmmmmmmmmm, rolling and and thumbing and pulping while my wristbones crackle like papyrus scrolls.

I suspect that the doctor is a professional sadist, crushing patients for his own sick pleasure. I rob him of his satisfaction by staying silent.

“You’re very brave,” he remarks, being unable to see my face.

*

I’m released at three a.m with my arm in a plaster coffin.

After a nauseous train-ride I find my bike almost where I left it, so obviously shitty even the thief noped out. For some reason I decide I should drag it home single-handedly.

With every step my knees and elbows squeal.

At home, in the grip of a sort of weightlessness, I pack and pace and scroll through memes I don’t find funny, and think about the food I’m not allowed to eat, and the water I can’t drink.

I wait for their call.

Five a.m.

Six a.m.

Eight. Nine. I am sleepless, parched, losing strength, trying to just lie back and let time bear me along but totally unable to be still. I spend most of my time staring at my sleeping phone and waiting for it to scream.

My hand is a hunk of frozen ham, and the wrist has a chasm.

My chest does this weird chugging thing that is like crying without tears.

At noon I break and call every number I can find, and after nearly an hour in the wrong telephone queues I find out that the orthopedic ward has had a crazy Friday, unbelievable, catastrophic—and they can’t operate on me till Monday.

*

Two days waiting to be sliced.

Holding my mind stiff as the wrist, so that everything is muffled and far away, I stay inside my tiny room, which is not unlike a skull with a single rectangular eye. The electric heat parches my mouth, wastes my skin. Posters crackle on the walls and my notes blacken at the edges.

Feasting on garbage food brought to me by an angel, I walk my good hand like a spider over the tabletop, then push off, ascending.

My surviving hand, floating in space.

When I wash the dishes one-handed, the bowls hop around clanging, till I laugh a dusty and infertile laugh.

I open the window to save my life but find I’m angry at the birds.

At night I spoon the cast and count the hours until—

The hospital is a pale promise, a white hole that had been waiting all this time while I stumbled around in stupid health.

I roll over, and formerly joined bones rub on one another, sending sparks thudding into my brain.

But it’s just arm surgery—how can I be so cowardly?

How do people with cancer ever survive?

Not just illness but treatments, curative poisons,

the scalpels catheters wheeled beds intermittent beeps,

surrounded but utterly alone.

Sepsis. Chronic pain. Complications.

My blanket pins me to the mattress.

I am being buried alive in my bed.

It’s coming it’s coming

and there’s nothing I can do.

*

Morning of, I wake at four.

I take my first shower since the.

Outdoors, a cruel chill. Plump drops.

Bus-stop flapping with newspapers.

Eerily empty bus.

Wobbling heads on the metro.

Rain-dust side-streets under construction.

The hospital—a block of solid light.

Admissions unstaffed. All empty chairs.

Me reading white-faced in unbearable silence.

Clerk. Papers. Hallways. Increasingly ominous signage.

The gatekeeper who takes my earthly belongings and gives me a hospital gown, gauzy underwear, blue plastic bags for my feet.

I lie on the bed they have prepared for me.

Nurses roll me toward the gathering conclusion. We joke, and there is more of that unpleasant crackling laughter that cannot possibly be mine.

Someone removes my glasses, and I enter the blur.

*

I’d chosen local anesthesia but I am seriously questioning my wisdom as they jam needle after needle into my armpit, shoving the steel spear around and jolting my fingers into a dance.

Every time I whimper, a certain nurse oohs and aahs, sounding genuinely hurt for me, and her sympathy strikes me so deeply I almost cry.

My arm begins to go away. The doctor pinches it.

“Does that hurt?”

“No, but I can feel it.”

“You’ll still be able to sense movement.”

Wait a fucking minute—WHAT?

We cast off. I say nothing but I want out. I’ll adjust to life one-handed. It wasn’t fair—I hadn’t asked for this body. It was thrust upon me. It’s a prison, only I’m the prison, destined to degenerate or be shattered, needled and pinched, shaved, scrubbed and flushed, cut, cut, and cut.

I am borne into a terrible room where seven or eight personnel await me.

What, so many maids of honor for my marriage to the scalpel?

The high priests arrive in masks. They stretch out my radio-static arm and sharpie where they’ll cut. I feel every nuzzle of the sharpie’s blunt nose.

Where’s the knife?

I begin to tremble.

Where’s the knife where’s the knife?

Slowly the talk trails off. Someone grunts. The empathetic nurse—I’d forgotten she existed—bends over me.

“Are you cold?”

I shake my head and begin to cry.

*

I’m given a shot for anxiety and a shot for sleep.

But they don’t wait. As the knife noses into my arm and tugs open the wristmeat, my head snaps up, I shudder. The surgeon growls, and I apologize in anguish, crying very quietly so as not to make it harder for them.

I don’t fall asleep completely. My hand is subject to squads of white-suited mechanics; it is like a white spider with five limbs and they’re carving up its abdomen and pulling out its intestines.

The ghost arm threads cold white veins into my chest.

It takes no time and forever.

*

The nurse appears from the fog and gently asks if I’m okay.

I nod—a lie. Her soft question seems like the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me. She’s close enough I can see her eyes, and they are fantastically feline, shaped like mosque-tops, with squiggling ornate eyebrows creased into eloquent sympathy. She’s so beautiful and so real. I cry again.

She stands up and out of my life.

*

I’m rolled to an empty room high above the city. The orderly opens the window, life blows in, and he leaves.

I grope for the bed control and slowly ascend on the rising pillows.

Outside, the sky up close and impersonal. And the city: the city: the city.

The back of my right hand is speckled with purple amoeba that flex and bounce as I thumbwrestle my pen.

In the distance, like a dystopian future approaching, towering glass hives bear billboards flickering through lurid ads, but nearby the old streets twist like the worn thoughts of the solemn, brick-browed buildings.

The arm’s still dead. It feels like it’s latched onto me, a parasite sucking on the stub of my shoulder. From the cast runs a thick tube dripping blood into what looks like a watercooler jug for mice. In my mind the surgical cut’s a flaming ladder, and the titanium plate plank-thick.

I am this thing that clutches its broken limb and sings.

When the sky darkens, I see my face in the window. Greasy hair thin as spiderlegs. Pate shiny with sickly sweat.

Eyes like archeological excavations.

Smile, buddy: this is what luck looks like.

Dancing in a Cage Wheeled Through a Forest of Eyes

Outdoors the air is hostile and nervy,
it bothers glam willows and the swan navy,
and me, slug hunched in a shell jacket,
haunting the canal and street market,
searching the slow crowd.

I stop under a window and gaze up into a world.

Later I ripple my tresses and deck myself in fruit hues,
venture out to perch in parks and groom on stools,
journaling, describing those
I most want to know.

Then I bolt home.
It’s long past time to work,
for real and at last.
I open the page
and stare at the lines of my face.
And I hear, faintly, a hubbub.
I crack the window—
in slides winter,
and party clamour,
high and rapid talk bubbling
over eerie marching-band tunes
I’d love to know the names of.

But these people are on another planet.

I dress again and set out
over rainy cobblesnakes
to the old powerhouse,
a palace pounding with dark light,
where I shiver in line, mutely
watching abstractions.
The bouncer approves…
I climb down into the electric dungeon,
through shaking hallways,
past bars, turbines, attack lights,
dodging swayers and stompers;
and in throbbing smog,
I force myself to dance,
staring overhead,
rigid, pained,
wishing
someone would come—
and then they do,
and it feels wrong,
and I mumble,
can’t look up,
I say no or nothing
and drive them off,
and cursing myself
I hurl my body in rage,
jerk and thrash,
dart in place
and maul air,
for hours,
till muscles quake
and lungs grab
and feet squeal
and I am flesh,
just
flesh
sweating
in the breathing beat
that has inhaled me,
and my face fuses,
as the hall recedes,
as the few who haven’t left
dissolve to dreamt dust,
as the walls buckle and blow out,
and into this deepest noise
billows silence

and I remember I once ran symphonies for no one.

and I remember I spent a sleepless four months engraving paper with the word of my counterfeit god, and then descended from the ceiling and strode out and up forest mountain cemetery roads into the secret world I’d built inside myself, and cackling over punchlineless jokes spooked a kid who doubletook and shrieked at my halfbearded highhaired snagglemawed crazed malodorous monstrosity

and I have awoken clean in holy aloneness, to blinds spraying zebra crossings on beloved floorboards, and approached in awe the glowing window, and beheld the long blue reverberation of morning building, carhoods creased with slanted eyes of light, shadow birds wavering over stainless sky wrinkled with wind, and downtown concrete expanding and receding over the glass bones of giants, their metal ideas driven like dimensionless nails into spacetime.

O O

way back at the beginning of time
all reality except us was a cold corporate hallway
and her body was my daily bread

we made the trees shout

before her I’d been doomed to write
what had never happened

then she smashed in through my windows

and suddenly
everything we touched
turned to history

and mostly we touched each other.
in sheets of ice, under bloody rainbows,
we embraced around our hipbone campfire
and fashioned our own myths:
I was her favourite villain,
Snake kissing Eve after the Fall

but to me

she was the one who slithered
and reflected in her eyes,
a thousand times bigger than life,
was all the flaming 21st century

Our Lady of the Streets

The city’s rectangular eyes towered over me. Banks and offices whispered to each other forecasts of my movements. They knew I was lost and trying to escape them. Where the city wanted me to end up was anybody’s guess. Probably the same place where everyone ended up, and where my family, transformed beyond all recognition, would be hungrily awaiting my arrival.

I kept my movements erratic, preferring the small-aired sidestreets and alleyways. Stores leered at me. A sewer drain gurgled a recognizable melody, something sweet and sad, trying to lure me.

Then the alleyway ended in a brick wall.

I yelped and fell over myself trying to run. But it was too late: between me and the streetmouth was a little girl in a frock, with a rose in her hair.

If she was a real child, the streets would literally eat her alive—unless they killed her first. Not my problem though. I pocketed my hands and hurried past with my eyes averted.

But her fingers like five steel cables closed around my elbow.

I had no choice but to turn and look.

She was incredibly old, with a scrunched face and a single tooth. She had small confused eyes and seemed to have already forgotten what she wanted to ask.

Then her face lifted off from her skull and smoothed out like a photo of a teenage girl uncrumpling, with eyes like tiny red lightbulbs. Then her entire head collapsed and reformed as a glossy black vortex grinding inward. I watched my own frightened reflection sucked in.

She spoke, and her voice was like rusted machinery.

“You waaaaant to fuuuuck meeeeeeeeeee?”

I did not.

At her place she kept the lights off and played porn on her face. Was she trying to make it easier for me? Could something like her feel pity? Her bed was wide and cold as a bay, and she was gently trying to push me down onto it. I thought that if I co-operated she might stay gentle, so I lay down for her, but the mattress was sandy and wet and strewn with trash, and pebbles and loose screws dug into my back. I winced and tried to adjust myself, but she was already climbing onto me, and she was heavy as a building. I felt crushed into place by concrete and steel, with the mattress foaming and swirling around my head. Slowly she winched her architecture down over me. Her face had split into a city square with flashing billboards. By now bridges lashed together my knees, and my sagging jaw was filling up with high-rises. Skyscrapers crawled all over my body and trains ran straight through me, carrying sleepy commuters that stared out from my torso bored, as if she weren’t out there bearing down on me like an infrastructural sky, all her vast cabled machinery bouncing hard and heavy on my radio tower. Up through the tower pulsed a painful red sun; inside its sphere was my screaming face. Then the sun burst, and a mushroom cloud as thick and brown as gravy rolled over her harbors and meatpacking plants.

I was going to be a father.

You

okay let’s see
you’re in debt
your significant other left you for a profile pic
you feel most alive when you’re on drugs

I know you

you failed the test
you want and don’t want the truth
you can’t handle and need the truth

some days you text more than you talk

your father didn’t mother you much

and now you are getting very sleepy
since you worked all day all week
didn’t even have time for chores
how do others cope with so much working?

every year you think more about climate change

you know about disasters, diseases, and serial killers
but not miracles or cures

you wonder whether you’ll grow old
you wonder whether it might be better not to
you would swear the walls are closer every day
you believe it’s best not to think too much about death

you think about death all the time

you wonder whether you maybe said the wrong thing
yeah buddy you did say the wrong thing
you said it a hundred times

you miss him so much
you tell yourself there are others like him, but better

you don’t find any

you know what you should have done
you don’t know what you’re going to do
you doubt too much, you believe too much

you want this part to end

you look at beloved faces and imagine them old
for the last decade you’ve been sidling around a hole
you think ever less about that one brief era when it all flowed
when love was easy
and you were about to become another and better person
but never did
you have this hunch though, that one day
one day…
sometimes this is all that keeps you going

you know there must be a better way

or this will all end badly

you throw open the curtains
it’s night

Rise and Fall of the One-Man Empire

I unsolved a few mysteries
(a good night’s work)
then strutted the morning streets
with a candle in my head,
half-believing that everyone was
watching me pass,
admiring my
lofty
burning
transcendental

eyes.

That lordly stride!
Those mystical lips!

The sky rolled its eye up over the avenue,

the city shuffled its deck of people,

and I blessed a park bench
with my presence,
slid my gaze around
and waited for a miracle,
a disaster,
anything.

Honey sunlight drizzled in waves.

A sunken woman drinking beer solo
stole looks at me.

Some decayed rockers argued about chemicals in vodka.

Planes left trails of white droppings.

A tragic teenage couple embraced.

And the sunken woman began to sob
so loud it echoed across the park
and she swung into her bottles
and they came clattering smashing down
and the pigeons launched and wheeled,
but her crying was louder and harder,
and the sobs slammed into bricks,
shattered laughter,
broke bank windows,
boomed over river boats,
bounced over factories and parliaments,
splashed hissing into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

It took me a while to find my body again
but there it was, slumped on a bench:
balding,
box glasses,
a squint,

not much more.

I smoked weed
and wandered around in music,
a sleepless weirdo
timing my steps to eerie beats,
side-eying the sadder women,
the black-lidded and serious women.
They looked at me
and saw only the city.

The Chief Managing Director Has a Few Requests

I

I want a dirtier sunset

with tar and molten waste!

Got it?

Give me sewer pipes that spew
and rusty black scaffolding
dewed with distillate of pollution!

You like that?

I want streets that crush
and lives that kill,
steel that never starves
and glass cages for the shills
so that they may swelter in luxury!

Give me enslaved and huddled masses
yearning to be me! ME!

Ahahaha!

So… I know you’re all wondering…
just what is it that I want most
of all the things my big, big money could buy?
I want… I want you to drive two hours to work!
Yes! And two hours back!
Every! Fucking! Day!
I want you to believe there is no other way.
I want you to forget…
Forget what?
Listen buddy,
Today’s surplus population
may be tomorrow’s source of oil,
but that wasn’t my decision!
Although I do play tennis with the guy,
don’t try to make me feel guilty!
Maybe if you want to live,
you should try working a little harder—
otherwise what use are you to us?

So give me rotting things!
Give me executions!
Give me things I threw out windows
and give me things I ruined!
I want things I… stepped on…
Give me…

Aw, christ…
Take it away!
I’m hungover, I…

Shut! It! Down!

DOWN!

Goodbye!

II

Give me…
Give me brunch!

I want a lamb’s skinned raw head ringed by citrus discs of stained glass!

I want two soft warm fat bread-rolls with crusty nipples smeared in bloody beef gravy, the cow’s memories coming through in an exquisitely brownish taste!

Which reminds me, darling,
It’s time for your behind that could feed a family for a week
but which satisfies me for only three minutes…

Thanks, baby… say, do you do you?
You do do you, don’t you?

And just a little shot of…
Wow! WOWOWOWOOOOOW! Yeaaaaah!
And back to work!

III

Towers collapse!

Nerve gas fries minds!

Bullets burst through baby eyes!

Drones vomit napalm on beings of shit!

Victims of my victims blow loud crowds clean!

Tanks pulp peaceniks into puddles shuddering with final rain!

High-rise rat-hives scream with flame fusing mother and child into coal!

Spears of grey light fall into bombed-out churches and impale the slaves groveling in snow!

Trucks hurl the walking trash flapping their shattered arms through a blizzard of broken glass!

Black fullmoons explode above your fecal ghettoes and rinse the human filth from the smoking rock!

Heart-split stars flare and x-ray millions of human skulls and ribcages with blue fish-hearts palpitating in shriveling membranes!

Skin crawls from muscles shrinking back over bone charring down to the brain seared to dust sucked up into the holy and the perfect white!

And then: Nothing.

Nothing…

And shh, baby, it’s no use
Kill me and I would only return
in new and splendid forms—
History ends with me!
MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Bwa-hah!
And I get everything that I want!