The Man Who Was Allergic To Himself

Two tiny black pyramids.

Like black sugar, but with a faintly glowing core.

Supposedly I’ll be able to taste the light.

But I’m thinking too much.

Steeling myself when I should be trying to relax.

Breathe out. In.

Without letting myself worry, I put the pyramids in my mouth.

They taste like electricity.

I’m leaning over my desk, typing one-handedly.

The keys I’m pecking look like runes embedded in jello.

Already my head is hovering above my body, engines purring; time has the consistency of clear jam, and it is no simple task to keep reality integrated.

Slopping over with stars, the kitchen sink reflects the moon.

I risk the mirror.

Every face I’ll ever have flickers superimposed, the layers of selves shifting so that I wobble between young and old, with my hair spasming and flickering through different colors.

Hours coat my cheeks, minutes glop from my chin, seconds itch at my neckline…

Did I take too much?

No: don’t think that.

Cradling my left forearm in its fleecy cast, I climb up to my loftbed and hump awkwardly beneath the covers. Only my head protrudes from the warm cotton sea.

What did I come up here trying not to think about?

The ceiling’s hung with a zebra-waved cloth that ripples and pulses jellyfishily, the inky black stripes scurrying over smoky white stripes, mesmerizing me with undulations like liquid math.

I’m forgetting something important.

What was I supposed to remember?

The ceiling is distant as a great-great-grandfather. Immensity envelops my tiny form and yet I am gigantic, stretched like a rubber band over thirty years, with my feet in a different era than my head.

And something somewhere is rotten.

It’s hard to explain.

Sometimes randomly the rot recedes and my head floats free, spinning featherwise through sunnier realms.

But mostly my body is a sack of gibbering red goblins laughing fire, with the broken wrist a raw chicken wing folded against my chest, its stiffly limp fingers like thawing frozen shit.

Well.

Looks like I’ve fallen into my own trap, again.

No matter which way I turn my thoughts, they darken, wither, and mutate into dreadful crackling forests of mocking laughter too bitter to bear, and all while I’m being sucked to taffy in a neverending spiral into myself.

Me: the white zero of ego: swirling drain all the world empties into.

Whole cities pour through me, and the sun’s stuck in my throat.

Just to stand up I’d have to reverse the entire flow of the universe.

I crawl over and open the window.

The lampstroked night, shaking inkdrops from its shiny black pelt, leans in close to inspect me, exhaling frost that trickles blue and soothing into my lungs.

It’s vast out.

A queenly evergreen wrings her hard hair over the wiry hedge-bones. Beyond her, a stately-eyed brick schoolhouse with white brows of ornamented plasterwork sweats in his own spotlights.

Out there everything is breathing, powering up.

In here it’s all grimy spiders and greasy pans, my mind stabbing itself from all directions, and decaying thoughts hanging above me, drying on strings.

It’s obvious I have to go out.

But… is that really a good idea?

Then I’m hunched in two jackets on a streetcorner just a few meters under the sleeping sky, and there is no going back. This is too important…

Bars surround me.

Within their glass bellies, flesh gargoyles yell and cough and guffaw, gnaw bones or suck on burning roots, breathing in slow watery pink music—squashed hiphop, spiraling funk, itchy jazz.

Past the bars rises a square church tower like a middle finger flipping off the ghostly sky, which has only one enormous cloud-crowd riven with crevices, crazy jigsaw seams offering slim glimpses of a night so black it looks heavy.

Whenever someone draws near, I floor my gaze to conceal my gemstone pupils and corkscrew grin—

And all the flaming, unfurling magnificence of the night fizzles, dumped out.

I just have this feeling that if I am not exceedingly careful and in control, if I don’t plot every second, if I let my guard down and unlock my fists, even for a breath, something terrible and irrevocable will occur.

But what?

I sit cross-legged above the canal.

Dangling lanterns ring luminal bells, singing in a language of light.

Upon the black water hangs my graven image, the familiar pale round face melting into itself, staying in one place and yet forever eroding and losing its contours, an enduring frame of reference in a dissolving world.

Or is that the moon?

Yup—just the moon, the pounding and cascading moon, a cataracted eye fizzling and popping against the rippling cheek of the sky, doubled in the water, quadrupled in windows.

I stand up, and my upside-down self streaks off to lead his own adventures.

Further downstream the bridge makes a running jump over the canal and freezes in mid-air, over that goddamned moon bouncing like a puppy’s tongue.

The moon is a cursed coin I trade for coffee, to a sharky clerk who grins too wide.

I look up and away, into myself.

My eyes rearrange themselves again.

Level after level of streets stack themselves teetering, plazas and alleys spiraling around impossibly, with partiers staggering up zigzag stairs at ninety-degree angles to each other. Gargantuan bridges fork off in all directions. A train car with motionless silhouettes floats above an empty parking lot, all thoughts inside frozen into a solid block.

On a concrete ledge I gather a handful of dust whiskery and hostile with micronized glass. From my hand crumble cities, flinging out streetlamps and traffic signs as they sparkle down into the water.

Along the river, the buildings look like fortresses dedicated to various ideologies: there’s a jumble of beer-umbrellaed verandas, a clean crystal helmet for sterile business thoughts, and a dated ultramodern experiment resembling a tumorous potato with blinking eyes.

One building in particular stands out, a collaged chaos of styles that doesn’t quite hang together, all its variously shaped windows loudly lit, and its front doors wide open despite the evil cold and late hour.

Its sign says only THE MUSEUM.

I climb the museum’s stairs, turning to gaze out.

Further down the river, elephantine trees trumpet and stampede.

A rusty Ferris wheel turns, creaking, under the wind’s transparent hand.

Seen from afar, the city districts are englassed by smooth golden sodium domes that resemble the foreheads and cheeks of the skull of no animal.

All over the globe, city-filled skulls direct their questioning gazes into the roomy, sunlit interstellar spaces.

The stars are opening their mouths to answer.

Yeah… I think it’s time to go inside.

There’s no one around, which makes sense once I see what’s hung on the milky walls: oil paintings, in modest wooden frames, of people from my life and landscapes I’ve traveled through—

A sort of greatest hits of my memories.

From afar the details stand out with dazzling clarity, realer than life.

But as I draw near, the images splinter into spiraling thickets that refuse to resolve into any single form, their realism dissolving into noise.

Next is an artifact room with all my lifetime’s major possessions.

Then come interconnected exhibits modeled on my apartments—true-to-life rooms complete with old shirts, pages of my handwriting, and windows on high-quality print-outs of the proper view.

In bluish aquarium light, I wander through galleries of enormous phosphorescent wax dolls with human eyes. One room has all my lovers, another a broad cross-section of ancestors, and a third me at different ages, posed in often embarrassing attitudes.

And here are lucite cages with animals that look and move exactly like my dead pets, and who hop around excitedly and try to speak to me.

I can’t reach them.

Past the cages, a glass elevator with only three buttons: up, down, and possibly a mayday button, bright red and engraved with the screaming face of somebody having a baaaaad trip.

I press the down button.

The elevator descends into a colossal red-lit space with no visible walls.

Below, giant ghosts hustle through each other—everybody from my life, and me a hundred times over.

Except everything’s twisted.

Here I’m always a repulsive sniveling fool.

My family can’t stand me, and my friends mock me behind my back.

Even my pets just scratch and bite and growl.

It’s all so convincing that instantly I can’t imagine anything else.

All my favorite memories—airy, tight gems full of clouds and thumbprints, so alluring they mesmerized—were conceited delusions.

But isn’t it better to perceive the reality?

The truth is an ugly angel.

The elevator plunges through the floor into a hangar-sized replica of my bedroom, with massive versions of the ceiling-spanning zebra-cloth, the deer skull, and all my books.

On the bed, a gargantuan duplicate of me reclines shirtless, soft from sloth and pale as ham; I’m holding up the cast-imprisoned arm and squinting stone-faced at the paralyzed thumb and forefinger, trying to force them to meet.

With the other hand I scratch at my beard, where scaly red paramecium crawl and breed:

Psoriasis:

The command, inscribed in my DNA, to repair skin that isn’t broken.

Broke-winged, scarlet and peeling, I am slowly boiling in my own inflammation.

The disease coats my insides: it forms scales over my eyes.

My body, inside and out, is the color of hell.

The room below is a colossal replica of an operating theater, with an ensemble of medical personnel clustered around me supine on a table, my eyes open but sedatively deadened, and the silenced arm stretched out and subject to the magic-markerings of a masked man with round spectacles of frosted glass.

Up in the elevator, every muscle I have puckers, and the broken wrist twitches with horrible half-life, like a mind shuddering up out of oblivion.

But something ain’t right.

Why are the surgeons and nurses wearing full-face masks of white latex?

Only their eyes are exposed, with white pupils and black irises that grow and shrink dramatically in reaction to the red radiance pouring off my face.

While a nurse manipulates a round black vacuum to suck away the excess red light, the round-spectacled surgeon dawdles with his prolonged fingers over a tray of nightmarish tools till he reaches a rusty boxcutter.

He strokes its blade lovingly.

Then he snatches it up and starts hacking at my arm with rough jerks and impatient grunts, as if it were a parcel from his home planet.

My arm flowers open meatily and sticks out a tongue of bone.

The bone he deftly tugs out and replaces with a hard-plastic tube.

The tube noses up into my armpit, its wet nostril snuffling deep into my chest.

Into the tube’s other end, the surgeon tweezes finger-sized, sterile-looking white insects.

Just as the elevator sinks into the floor, I see my eviscerated arm flap down limply from the table, and its innards look like urban infrastructure, with layers of earth and concrete, cables and pipes.

The room below contains a shot of the accident, the bike slipping sideways, my terrified face frozen over the pavement, the left arm flung out ahead of my body at a steep angle to the concrete.

I don’t look for long.

The exhibits continue backward through my life. Some rooms have entire streets from Berlin, others only have massive close-up of my face reacting, the elevator sliding down my own cliff-size cheek.

In the time before the accident I wasn’t happy either.

In one room my own enormous skull, cross-sectioned, shows the brain as an eye glancing around frantically. In another my replica astrally projects himself over his own shoulder to rant advice and hiss insults.

Again and again I smack myself in the face and curse.

I write and erase, write and erase.

The paper rips.

Then we reach my twenties, and the omniprescent figure of my wife.

Sometimes she is three times my size, clutching her head and babbling as I hold her and calmly talk. More often she’s tiny, and my imperious replicas treat her with cold contempt.

She’s swollen to fill the entire room and I’m fighting for air in a corner.

Or she’s curled up on the bed, I have a face like a meat grinder and I’m chewing up her hands.

Side by side without body heat, we look in different directions, our faces like tins someone tried and failed to open.

But as we pass backward through cities, apartments, jobs, we begin to thaw, to draw together. Our sleeping forms migrate toward each other. We sketch on the same piece of paper. The sun flies up like a tossed orange while we lie embracing in sleep. Here I am singing one of our favorite songs to her in my ungodly, merciless voice. Holding hands we talk while cities rise and fall on all sides. Letters flap through the air between us.

I hold her face. I whisper to her. I brush her hair back tenderly behind her ears.

Finally there are dozens of rooms dedicated to the first two weeks of our real relationship, her just out of the hospital, barely making it over the border, half-dead on my doorstep on the mountain.

Our hundred-hour conversation in each other’s arms.

For the first time in all the scenes, the essential redness fades from my skin, the muscles unclench, and here, at the beginning, it really does look as if I might escape my own inflamed unhappiness, down into a hidden internal corridor, into the describable light of an entirely new way of being.

She’s standing by her suitcases, dressed in all black, and so young.

Then she’s gone, and I’m folded back into my own private flames, scratching obsessively, washing dishes in fry restaurants and at night filling notebooks with hilariously bad bullshit, in public thumping my rubber chest and rambling loudly, bullying my friends with books I hadn’t actually read.

Scenes of university and school take over. My enormous form slumps at a schooldesk over a hidden book, taking up most of the room, so that only the elbows and arms of other students half-emerge from the distant walls.

Quickly shrinking back through the years, squirming under varying bowl cuts and hair colors, I don’t essentially change, always refusing to listen and responding with the insolence of supreme contempt.

Nothing that bad ever happens, yet I’m always miserable.

All the way back in kindergarten, I hide with head in hands for two days straight, crying, refusing to talk or interact, having re-invented non-violent resistance in the hopes of getting out of being educated.

I’d raged when I found out about school.

Why force me out of my privacy to spend time around kids who would only make fun of me, learning shit I didn’t care about?

I’d show them. I’d never give in.

I’d always hold myself apart.

Those feelings never left.

I clutched them tightly.

School was a prison.

Work prison after prison.

Marriage prison.

And then would come the final prison.

The blank and endless one.

Four years old, I watch my mother double-check all the windows, having moved to the boondocks because of her obsessive fear of child abduction, only to find herself single, broke, with three young children, amid yokels who regarded her accent with suspicion.

Then my father appears.

It’s an outdoor scene with fake sunlight.

My mother is crying on the steps.

His pick-up is filled with boxes.

Dad’s crouching and talking to me.

He manages to sound both sweet and enraged.

He’s telling me I’m man of the house now.

That I have to be tough, and never let anyone get the better of me.

I’m red-nosed and crying. I don’t understand what’s happening.

Dad’s telling me it’s okay to cry in front of him—

But that if I’m ever weak in front of others, they’d make fun of me, and I’d be everyone’s dog.

I wish I could be around, he says, to teach you how to fight.

After that the scenes grow indistinct.

The people deform into bobbleheads with caricatured expressions, then blotches of color blaring nonsense.

The elevator finally halts in reddish darkness.

Far below, half-obscured, is a sort of hilly, bulbous landscape.

Rocking gently, the landscape slowly drifts up through dark currents, gradually resolving into an enormous fetus with eyeballs like white orbs wrapped in cloth, its umbilical cord noosed around its neck…

The elevator doors don’t open. Pressing the down button does nothing, and the scream-embossed button makes me uneasy.

There’s no way to go but back up.

The return trip is much quicker.

The elevator rockets up through thirty years, through the hellish hangar of spectral anti-people, the ground level, and past, bursting into a vast, airy room, prodigiously sunlit, with sweeping cloud formations under a stone roof.

Here all the people from my life have been transfigured into mystical, prismatic versions, like my life cast in 3D stained-glass windows.

But I only get a brief, aching glance before the elevator passes through the ceiling and divides into thousands of elevators, then millions, then billions, with my mind splitting along with it into a billion minds as the branching elevators pass through all the possible lives I could lead, weaving a massive braid of realities like the myriad-stranded DNA of a higher-dimensional self.

One by one the separate elevators with their separate selves hurtle into black, until the only one left follows my last self alive in a timeline where I contract a terminal illness and volunteer for experiments that transfer my consciousness into a computer.

This self survives thousands of years and ends up venturing into deep space, outfitted as a sort of sentient spaceship, and heading toward an alien beacon repeating an incomprehensible message.

For millions of years I journey through dusty emptiness.

Only a few galaxies from the beacon, I’m ambushed by a swirling metal being that emerges from the sun.

The elevator door opens on the museum roof.

All the galaxy, a half-stirred sauce of diamonds, spirals around me.

The moon is huge, as big as an eye peering in a jar at an ant.

To either side Mars and Venus are red and green apples of discord, so bright their brightness is a noise.

Far below glint the dwarfy lights of the city, like fire in mud.

But the roof isn’t empty.

There’s a strange one-story construction that looks cut out from a larger building, with its wires and pipes neatly sliced.

It has a single tall window.

I soft-shoe over and peer in.

Inside is my kitchen.

There’s a double of me slouched with crossed arms at my desk, sullenly staring at an empty page.

But he’s not quite me.

In fact, he’s not even human.

He’s a glass-skulled lizardman with an itchy purple brain.

Suddenly he shifts and meets my gaze.

He has bitter red evil eyes.

He snarls.

I’m already backing away in horror.

I sprint into the elevator and jam the down button. Nothing happens.

Holding my breath, weirdly nervous, I hit the screaming red mayday button.

Nothing happens.

Behind me a disembodied door blasts open.

My lizard double appears, brandishing the only sharp knife I own—a toothy breadknife.

He hisses what sounds like a question.

I put up both hands in surrender and start apologizing, stepping out toward him.

The elevator door snicks closed behind me.

Fuck.

He screams something garbled and begins advancing on me.

With every step he takes, I take one back.

Why am I like this?

Why do I always do this to myself?

Behind me, a 100,000-foot drop to earth.

In front of me, my reptile self jabbering and flourishing a breadknife, bent on murdering me.

But I’ve never seen anyone so feverish, so angry and confused.

He looks like he’s about to cry. Even the knife tip is trembling.

So I take a deep breath. I relax my face, my throat, my shoulders.

I open my eyes wide and show him my palms.

“It’s okay,” I say gently, and take a step forward.

He shrieks and waves the knife, but doesn’t move.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” I whisper.

Already more human, he stares bewildered at me. The knife tip drifts down.

“You don’t have to be afraid.”

I watch my face twist off his body, shake loose from its roots, and billow skyward on a cauliflower of steam.

My face falls up, fluttering ribbons, a jellyfish flying to nirvana.

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.