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.

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

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

[Author’s Note: This version of the story is now obsolete. A new and improved form will appear in my book Unearthlily. I leave it here because I like certain elements of the old version.]

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.

The Chief Managing Director Has a Few Requests

1

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!

2

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!

3

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!

Cradled over Cold Rails into the Twenty-First Century

Hi,
I come from your planet,
just another sperm walking this flooded toilet,
frankensteined from genetic alphabet
and then evicted from the womb.

I was injected with crucifix,
taught by volunteer cops,
and sentenced to the hamster wheel,
and managed into corners
and hammered into place,

while oceans gagged,
and insects coughed,
while we all boiled together.

Until finally,
I bolted my eyes,
barricaded my head,
shut my ears in the cupboard,
and locked myself out of me.

I pickled my soul.

I killed myself to stay alive.

Now I float over brutal tower blocks.
Now I tumble rattling after garbage trucks.
Now I yell through gulls and ventriloquize the sky.

On hills and in valleys,
in deserts and on coasts,
the human builds its iron nest,
the world does not smile back.

The Insemination (Old Version)

[Author’s Note: This version of the story is now obsolete. A drastically different form appears in my book Unearthlily. I leave this here because I like certain elements of the old version.]

With her right claw Genu46 grips the child and tugs her beak from its ribs. She dribbles softener on its forehead, then cuts from combed hair to snub nose and tenderly peels back the floppy bone, exposing lobes packed with eggs as round and white as pearls.

She gapes briefly but catches herself quick and tunes down her mood engine until she’s calm enough to tweeze out the eggs.

Afterward she darts up into the pea-green sky over the human village and cuts off east toward her roost, skimming over winged trees fluffy with spring feathers. On the horizon her roost, a glossy black pillar, slopes up hairlike into clustered stratocumuli.

Inside, Genu46 skips her usual friendly beak-rubbing and slips off to the chapel, where she discovers Genu85 perched in front, his eyeball cocked at the gauges set into the altar. In the altar’s testing chamber he has placed an entire brain—eggless, of course, like every day.

Normally 46 tries to be patient with 85—they all do—but today she shoulders him aside, plucks out his junk specimen, unseals her eye canal and lets one egg roll into the altar.

All sixteen gauges bong in unison.

46 and 85 glance at each other. 85 begins to twitter in happy hack-brained excitement, and even 46 permits herself some joy in the instant before her mind is overridden by an incoming command:

DELIVER THE EGGS.

Her personality dissolves like sugar into water. Only the smallest grains of self still blink on and off, sparking through the depths of an ocean of nonbeing.

Her beak siphons the egg back into her eye pouch. Her body turns to leave.

The chapel is crammed with her roostmates—they line the pews and are stacked along the walls up to the dome, tiers of glassy eyeballs arranged so that everyone can stare at her.

But her legs carry her past them, through deserted maintenance halls, and into a bright corridor to mountains and plains and oceanic sky.

Her body launches itself out and her wings lock into hummingbird mode and carry her straight up.

The landscape rapidly contracts, rivers and forests pulling together into a mottled, blossoming flesh. Her roost tapers and curves down into a shiny black spiral.

Other colossal spirals appear in the far distance, dozens tangling on pale plains that curve off to the end of the world, where red waterfalls cascade sparkling into astral darkness.

Her wings slow, three nozzles emerge from her tail feathers, and then she blasts up out of the atmosphere, a cyclopean magpie rising on triplet jets of white flame, a speck departing her planet, which looks like a reclining human wreathed in clouds, with a red umbilical ocean, ribs made of mountain chains, and a bald head with closed eyes and a serene smile.

Three eye-moons orbit its torso, sweeping their gazes across its length.

And near its left knee, the thin black hair of her roost.

In the back of her mind a half-crushed feeling rears up and she plunges after it, chasing the pain into herself, shrinking, as she falls inward, to a dot of mind snowing toward an electric island of fragmented emotions.

With time other human planets spin past, vast sleepers clothed in clouds and feather-forests, their transcendental smiles reflected in the glassy dome of her deserted eye.

Meanwhile, 46, deep inside herself, glitchy and incomplete, views and reviews the footage of her roostmates filling the chapel. Again and again they stare at her, the Finder of the Eggs, the One, with all the camaraderie gone from their ancient faces, replaced by disappointment and an awful distance.

As her body passes the sun, a gargantuan glass orb containing an irradiant organism with feathery membranes swirling around its blinding core, she’s composing a speech for her return in which she reassures everyone, and especially poor deluded 85, that she found the eggs only because of their work ethic, their determination, the unbreakable unity of all their people everywhere—they who had searched so long and so bravely for the eggs.

The sun fades behind her. The stars drop from view. Her body ascends through silent darkness toward a matte-black ceiling and angles into a short tunnel to a metal room.

She’ll say she was only ever the insignificant emissary of a noble, superior, and devoted race.

A mechanical pincer drops down, seizes her eye, and yanks her into the air. A green laser hums in sideways and halves her skull. Her body and most of her brain drop.

Her eyeball is scoured by microlasers until it shines and turns translucent—revealing the clutch of eggs stored behind its pupil—and then the pincer pushes the eye into a slot in the roof.

Her eye, wedged in place, looks out from a submicroscopic gap in a smooth pale surface that extends beyond all horizons, curving around 46’s entire universe—

All her reality contained in a round, glowing shell, a cosmic pearl that fills all space.

I press one final button.

Her pupil squirts the eggs. They spray out, glittering in a light that is not light, travel up your gaze and through your eyes and thud into your brain.

Your figments wriggle toward the eggs…

The Freshness of the First and Foremost of the Finest of the Lines

All philosophies condense to a line, with time,
and all songs dwindle to a single sooty melody,

and even if you sawed the locks off your senses,

even if you turned these letters
until light came through,
so that what’s behind them
could demand to be rescued,

even if you left behind the sentence,
tossed the whole scaffolding aside,
and let each moment become its own manifesto,

you would still fall back

to foil scraps and pigeon shit,
upturned take-out and puked noodles,
smashed flasks’ stained glass,
and sweatered smokers kicking
at the torn grey tissues

of dawn clouds.