Editing Exquisite Live Things
October 26, 1999
We passed around pieces of paper, writing on each until someone said "STOP", aiming to continue the piece taking shape on each paper. The responsibility for saying "STOP" passed around the table clockwise, while the papers passed around counterclockwise. Then, each person took one paper, and "edited" it into a coherent piece, adding, subtracting, and rewriting as necessary. After that, we condensed each piece into exactly 15 words.
#33: Cumulus Clown
We had nothing solid to grasp. The clouds had been hanged for the evening. As if they were responsible for the dark. Slumped in ridiculous uniforms, we were ordered to remove the corpses. The fire -- my idea -- failed to distract the growing crowd, and the white smoke stayed low, pushing down hard on the heavy grass. A mourning fog.
The crowd continued to grow. They just came to watch, somebody said, hopefully. We huddled, and decided to oblige them. To toy with the dead things, make it a show. We each took hold, as firmly as possible, of one or another body part. Our intention: to demonstrate, for all to see, what sort of lines each would make in the mud. A skull, for instance, carved a wide ovalesque rut, a dip in the earth. The right wrist, the one I held, left a sharp mark, like a quill.
There was one of us -- Bubba, the Idiot -- who began then to practice the marks we had been taught in school. He had most of a fluffy left arm (part of the shoulder still attached), which he maneuvered clumsily with his breath. A bespectacled gentleman in the front row gasped loudly, then fainted when Bubba was done. Bubba looked down at the scratches, bemused and uncertain.
Apparently discouraged by the results, he decided instead to dance with the thing. Though the cloud's other limbs were in others' hands, Bubba insinuated an entire body by caressing the shoulder just so. We all stopped. The waltz was exquisite. We watched, we kept time. Humming a simple tune, with subtle elbow english he lent the carcass weight. Swaying, he rose above the gathered throng, turned a substantive white, and floated ghostly away overhead.
We had nothing to go on, and nowhere to go; the clouds were hanging heavily, the grass looked heavy after the hanging; not even the forest fire could calm down the townfolk; so for amusement we busied ourselves with disposing of the corpse in creative ways. We each took a part, and had to demonstrate in front of the rest of the community what sort of lines it would make in the mud. For instance, the skull carves a wide, ovalesque rut. A dip in the earth -- while the sharp mark of a slack wrist. Well, it's almost like a quill.
Bubba, who many had believed to be the village idiot, began to practice the marks they had taught him in school. Discouraged, he began dancing, took the heavy arm and the part of the shoulder still attached, insinuating the rest of the body with subtle elbow english. We realized he was the Lord of the Dance. What genius, what weight he lent the carcass. In primal gestures, waving at the gathered throng, he provoked his fate and was satisfied.
IN FIFTEEN WORDS:
might hold, be held
or, for that matter,
not hold. Not be held.
The question hangs over the dinner table, enforcing silence: How can a flat thing hold water or, for that matter, any thing at all?
And its converse: How can a thing not flat not hold water?
The man grabs the woman's very fine fingers. They stiffen and chill in the meat of his hand. His heart is large and pumps vigorously.
"We wonder," he states, "about it, for it. We wonder because it. Because it is. Because it sometimes is. And because, quite often, it isn't."
The woman with the cold fingers once acted in a Broadway play. Her eyes are filmy but if one looks intently at them -- and with a hint of longing -- one can locate the violet disk of the iris, each spoke emerging from the pupil like a series of dry creek beds.
He has pegged her for one with tremendous depth and feeling. He imagines that at some point she will be moved to rapture -- that her tight pursed lips will puff and open revealing her extreme wit and insight. He loves to imagine her, lit from within by a battalion of fireflies -- all clanging their wings at once -- all singing -- the film dispersing from her. A lifting of the curtains.
It is a question of what holds what. Concavity. Convexity. She makes a vague attempt to extract her fingers.
There is a bucket at the end of its long day, longing there. There is a fork at the edge of the table, resisting the evening. Supper is ready, but I need a spoon. This table is lined with copper, an empty receptacle. Do tomatoes interact with aluminum or was it just a rumor. In mahogany drear we supped as though encumbered with weights on our head; the question hangs over the dinner table, enforcing silence: how can a flat thing hold water or, for that matter, any fluid at all? And its converse: how can a thing not flat not hold water or, at the very least, gaseous misery? We wonder about it, at it, for it. We wonder because it. Because it is. Because it sometimes is. And even because, once in a while, it isn't. Potato. Potato, potato,
Does it come back to the bucket or the spoon?
Or do we wonder everything we wonder because of the heirarchy of knife, fork, spoon? And what of metal?
Good, they've brought the coffee. To still the eye and with it those nauseating thoughts. The ones that zoom in, scan the room, which in making the four walls take the floor from the stomach.
The soup falls, a flat ringing on the ear. The bucket resounds.
IN FIFTEEN WORDS:
fallen out the frame
some scenes play over
We were instructed to pull
Having fallen through the floor, we exercized our pure will to reason and, never having thought rationally before, came up with nothing to say.
Your 2x4's had caught us. My hip hurt and your shirt was torn at the corner. Smell of your declining heart -- powdery, it made my tongue splinter.
Flick, splinter, snap. Flicker, snap.
Certain scenes play over your bones like a broken reel. Someone has taken a pen and marked each frame. Marked each broken.
Bringing the escaped and jagged jagged into line, palpitating hands angle, insert their cold points. The clouds. We were instructed to pull by the handles, to drive the nails in with force.
Limited materials. Dead weight. New parts which beep before they fly.
Having fallen through the floor, we exercized our pure will to reason, and never having thought rationally before, we came up with nothing to say. My hip hurt, your shirt was torn at the shoulder. The 2x4's had caught us, but still I could barely see through my eleventh shakra, except Venus kept getting in the way, blocking my usually clear view to Pleiades; you hung there like a blob of sad ideas. And the thick smell of your declining heart was powdery -- and made my tongue swell.
Slender arrows of blood.
The splinters from the beams.
Your palpitating hands.
What scenes play over and over like a broken reel.
Someone has taken pen and marked each frame.
I see your face and all of the bones. Broken or beams?
Or just an assignment due tomorrow, bringing into line, responsibility for the cohevesiveness of the story, the escaped commas and jagged clauses. The clouds.
We were instructed to pull by the handles, to drive the nails in with force, to find the particular angle with which to insert their cold points. The sheetrock fit like a puzzle, the studs proved firm, and when the foreman blew the lunch whistle, all went home glad of thier musings, and slept to build anew.
IN FIFTEEN WORDS:
Liza, I'm sorry about everything, even this note. Birds circle; I've got writer's block. -- O.F.
Dear Miss Liza, Miss TV --
I apologize in advance for this sorry-ass chicken-scratch ultimatum. I dropped my metal pieces on the curbstones, thought there'd be hell to pay. Come back. The birds are circling, the bucket's too small, Houghton-Mifflin's still awaiting my memoirs. I'm a frog on the couch in TV-lit lethargy. There's death metal downstairs: "Man-O-War". Same old story.
On Foot in West Oakland
-- Dear Liza, miss TV, curbstones, hell to pay; metal pieces, dropped; sorry-ass chicken-scratch ultimatum.
-- Gray birds circling on shattered metal pieces as Liza all aloof of the bucket too small; Houghton-Mifflin awaiting the memoir, as this goes through to Liza's spurning, amid curbside-din breakdown of TV-lighted lethargy; a shrunken frog on the couch, wheels spin to the rhythm of death metal from the street and listless stereo.
Sure, I'll start. I want to take back the bucket. It is a size too small for all the metal pieces. The metal pieces are too small to fit in her hands, slippery buggers. And bam! the bucket goes down and might as well start over. On knees. Bigger bucket now. Hole in the bucket now. Dear Liza. Bigger longing now. Dear Liza, my hands are too much for myself. I miss you.
Liza, I'm not sure I should be saying this, but I think of you when the sun goes down, and when it comes up. And when the gray birds outside begin circling, I think of you with each nod at the TV, whenever I step off the curb and barely miss a car; whenever a Man-O-War deathmetal song drifts by in someone's car; whenever I'm on foot in West Oakland. I'm no longer dating your therapist -- the coast is clear. When Houghton-Mifflin gets my memoirs there will be hell to pay.
Okay? All right? Is that what you wanted to hear? Is that what I have to say? Is that what it will take to get you to pause a moment before you reseal the envelope and scrawl, in your elegant chicken-scratch, "Return to Sender"?
Dear Liza, it is all about your hands, the metal pieces,
I could have had any bucket, darling, but I chose you.
And bam! the bucket went down. There was no well, only the floor. No frog, only the princess with her sorry-ass same old story again. Same old story, Liza.
IN FIFTEEN WORDS:
Queen V's constipated fuselage foisted on masses, contraband paper, humor's corpse in a fetid stew.
Queen V's prurient & prudent fuselage stopped up by the sheer will of chic constipation foisted on the masses, as paper became contraband & my humor sinks like a corpse into a fetid stew.
I am more societal than the Victorians. When on the john, I don't believe in paper. I use rations of used fictions, tearing the pages into small squares. I save trees. The details of my toilet humor nag at me from my notebook, like the remains of a rotting ancestor. So I keep the notebook prudently closed, preferring to wipe with my eyes away from prurient matters.
Queen V. started the practice of constipation. Today, in more pomo times, we understand "constipate" not as a verb but as a past participle.
This notebook is like a barque of uncooled fuselage. It lines at me with lascivious looks, blue and straight. There is a seduction to paper, though I wouldn't know. I have never seen paper. I don't believe in paper. In paper, all things dying are kept. In paper, the teeth of all the nagging ancestors of all the rotting queens.
Toilet paper was first invented (so they say) in China in the sixth century. Medieval Europeans thought the idea ludicrous (at least, the lucky explorers), preferring to wipe their asses with novels.
Victoria, unamused by this practice, ordered all in her empire to constipate, except certain writers who were allowed logorrhea.
In today's savvier, more pomo society, we understand constipate not as a verb but as a past participle. An adjectival adversary.
But anyway. If one is going to use used fiction to save trees while on the john, it would be most prudent from a societal standpoint to use the rations carefully, ya never know.
I, being more societal than most, keep the notebook prudently closed.
IN FIFTEEN WORDS:
ice makes mouth and sinus frozen sockets.
social diseases merge with ice sickness.
Ice is what makes us be alive. It is a chilling thing. Ice makes the whole body pause, the tongue startle, start. Ice is the sinuses. A frozen socket. A quiet mouth. Too many quiet mouths. Mouths to feed. Feed them ice.
Ice ravages the north side of town, a social disease, a melee of haphazard violence. December cools to an alleged winter. Locals shiver. The rest of us freeze and drive up the rent.
In January, we shiver, and the rent goes down. We see other diseases in the streets, most of them in the gutters. All of them ice sicknesses.
Except this one. The locals shuffle through the snow. They lick things, and stay warm.
In March, our tongues are meant for important things. Frustrated, they remain inside our mouths. We refuse to talk about it, and they wither to black.
We evict them, demanding a season. The perverts chew on their own flesh and it squeaks against their molars.
Ice is what makes us all sit still when we would rather be jogging or warming our limbs -- but ice is a chilling thing. Ice makes the whole body pause and wonder. So cold, the body wonders -- so cold.
Ice is what makes the tongue startle, start to warm itself on words, cocoa, nearby tongues. Almost anything, really.
Then why silent, hands in your pocket, scuffle, shuffle ball, change. Ice in the sinuses. A frozen socket. Shuffling through the snow on the way to work or the afterhours bookstore. Tracks on the path but only one set. Hands inside pockets inside of warm entryways. Glowing television (set). Too many quiet mouths. Swing (set) under the snow. Too many mouths to feed. Feed them ice.
Ice cream social disease runs rampant across the north side of town, a melee of haphazard greetiings approximating violence as December approaches and cools to a supposed winter; locals shiver while the rest of us do the work and drive up their rent.
Then we shiver, and the rent goes down again. People start to notice other diseases in the streets, primarily in the gutters. All ice-ills. Except this one.
This one is red and grey. It is like a beetle, only thicker.