Annabel Lee

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“Let me trip on your face,” she said, turning the searchlights of her eyes full on me. We had each taken four tabs of acid a half-hour before.

“Talk to me. I want to watch . . . you . . . talk.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Anything . . . anything. It matters . . . not.”

“I could recite poems, I suppose. They would come to mind now, I think, if I called them.”

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

The words came back with an ease that caught me off-guard. My lips & tongue felt almost possessed.

We sat cross-legged on the floor, touching only at the knees, & as I recited she brought her face to within a foot of mine. Even with my beard, I knew that the movement of muscles in my face were giving her that dripping-candle experience she so craved. If my cheeks are the wax, where’s the flame?

She joined in on the second verse, & somehow managed to match my cadence so that we chanted in perfect synchronicity. It was beautiful, & a little frightening. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who’d had a grammar school teacher with a thing for Poe & poetry by rote.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love,
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the wingí¨d seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

Her face was changing by the second like a time-lapsed bloom. Wind scattered the petals & left the bare nib.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The poem was a mirror. Her face had turned into mine – & vice versa, I think. She reached out a hand to touch my beard, then up past my ear to my unplucked unibrow. I focused on our mouth & nostrils & eyes, that wetness, that shine. Like the sheen of oil on sand. It flashed into my mind like a news bulletin interrupting the broadcast: a tanker split up on the reef. Seabirds & sea lions black with crude in the kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me;
Yes! that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

We smiled conspiratorially as we chanted these lines. Our Blakean heaven was empty except for the two of us; the sexless angels circled their hive, sure we meant to raid it – the source of all sweetness. When we got to the words chilling and killing, our lips tingled with thaumaturgic power. To have said is to have done: the night-tripper’s incommunicable discovery. You have to have been there. In fact, you have to have been us.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we,
Of many far wiser than we;
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

Which one of us was the first to weep, I wonder? Perhaps there, too, we were synchronized swimmers. I saw wave after wave washing oil-slicked bodies up on shore as seagulls wheeled overhead, calling & calling. Poe’s necromance conjured up a rocky headland with a stone tower where one light burned, & not merely to ward off ships. I heard Robinson Jeffers, too, above the surf: Humanity is needless. The waters coursed down the cliffs of her face, my face. Her mouth was a cave full of tidal surge, a sea anemone with drowned hair, beseeching arms. Annabel Lee. Lorelei. We had become like the angels, now – unsexed. The whole moist & messy business of life seemed increasingly abstract.


For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling–my darling–my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

We were breathing, I suddenly realized, in waltz time now. Slow as sleepwalkers came the last four lines, all in a whisper. We lay down as they commanded, hungry only for visions, eye to eye. The body is almost all audience, I thought, in this thing called worship.

Cibola 83

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 82 of 119 in the series Cibola

 

The Friar’s Camp: Song Contest (cont’d)

4. Owl-Meeter Shaman

a boy of ten summers
ay, ah! a boy of ten summers
I thought I knew something
when I went off into the hills
to hunt deer

*

my body lies broken
in a desolate place
far from the sound of water
our gray brother circles & keeps going
our shining-eyed companion
looks sideways without stopping

*

every spot
between you & the enemy
that can sleep a band of hunters
I can show
I know every secret thing
in this flowering land

*

what I paid
such a bitter price to learn
look out
it’s free for the asking

__________

As with many native American peoples, for the O’odham, owls are spirits of the dead. But they were not regarded with the kind of invariable dread found elsewhere. An aspiring shaman could learn songs from owl-spirits, who conveyed unique knowledge of both worlds and proffered a dangerous magic that could be turned upon enemies of the tribe. Owl-meeter shamans frequently became masters of war-making magic.

our gray brother, our shining-eyed companion: Traditional O’odham poetic euphemisms for Coyote.

Etiologies

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Sharp-lobed hepatica

A small fear sprouted in my gut right before bed. A misgiving, really.

I argued with it. Tried to shout it down.

I read to it – dull stories set in distant lands.

Go to sleep, I crooned. Daddy needs to rest.

It made a nest for itself & curled up, with evident contentment.

But six hours later it jostled me awake, hungry, restless. I stumbled out of bed.

Showered & caffeinated, I decided to look into the origins of this fear: utterly groundless.

But in its place a new & larger fear rose up.

That’s just the way I am, she says, pouring another drink.

I was always afraid of clocks. Something so constant & tireless has no business measuring time, I thought.

Sometime around the age of five or six I decided to have a staring contest with the old-fashioned wind-up clock in the living room. I wanted to see just how long an hour really was, what it felt like to live each one of those sixty minutes in turn.

Because, on the one hand, a minute wasn’t very long, and sixty wasn’t very many.

On the other hand, an hour did still seem to possess considerable length and heft. A day, with sixteen waking hours in it, could last almost forever.

On the third hand – which is really the second hand – a minute might last as long as an hour, since it too had sixty parts. And what would happen if one further subdivided the second?

But that clock didn’t measure seconds. I watched its large, round, brass pendulum swing back and forth, focusing on each tick and tock.

Twenty-some minutes into the hour, the pendulum stopped.

I’ve been inhabiting that same hour ever since.

Whenever my sister & I acted up, she says, Father would tell us to go play in traffic. Sometimes we did.

My mother was horrified. She’d come running out to get us.

Fortunately, it was a small, country road. There weren’t very many cars.

We both got our drivers’ licenses as soon as we could.

Sometimes on rainy days my mother would tell us boys to pretend we were going swimming at the park.

“I don’t hear any thunder,” she’d say. “Why don’t you put on your swimming trunks & run around outside?”

And we would. “Look mommy, I’m swimming!” We were easily amused.

The front lawn turned into the bottom of a lake. We tilted our heads back, drank from the sky.

Dry towels waited on the verandah, now a beach.

In this way I learned about immersion, that it doesn’t necessarily require leaving home.

The first time I ever had sex, she says, I was with one of my brother’s friends, on the back of his Harley. I was thirteen. My breasts never did grow any bigger than they were then.

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American beeches

I remember my pre-pubescent years as a time of less focused sexuality.

Erections would come & go for no discernable reason.

The so-called facts of life I learned at the tender age of seven – I was a farm kid, remember – but they made little impression.

I developed innocent crushes on boys as well as girls, which were no less passionate for not having any apparent goal.

In Second Grade, I liked a pair of twin girls. They were fraternal twins, but looked similar enough that I couldn’t tell them apart: short, lively, dark-haired, with adorable dimples whenever they laughed, which was often.

I made the mistake of confiding in one of my closest friends, who immediately ran to tell the twins. I was mortified.

One of them came over. “Which one of us do you like?” she asked.

“He was lying,” I said, staring at my feet.

“Are you sure?”

“YES!”

After that, I learned not to confide in anyone.

Sometimes, I don’t even tell myself.

The day we moved into our new place in South Carolina, I went out into the back yard & walked right into a spider web.

It was enormous.

The sticky silk got all over my arms & in my hair, & as I was trying to get it off me, this huge, hairy spider ran right down under my blouse.

I screamed.

But for some reason I can’t recall, no else was around. I went into hysterics.

It probably only lasted a few seconds, but it seemed like forever.

I still clutch up whenever I think of anything hairy & soft against my skin.

Somehow the deep, clear lakes we once knew have grown shallow & murky with silt.

Did this start with puberty? I can’t remember.

Whenever I’m around children, I try to mind my tongue & remember how far out the ripples can travel.

But sometimes, God help me, I do forget.

Once, during the worst time, when we were going though family counseling, my father took us to a lake up in the mountains.

It was nothing planned. We grabbed the picnic basket & some towels & hit the road.

My parents liked to think of themselves as being spontaneous – they were hippies, after all – but in fact we almost never did anything just for fun.

My father & I were just learning how to talk to each other again. We walked a little ways down the shore, just the two of us, to where there were a lot of flat stones.

He picked one up, weighed it in his hand for a second, then sent it skipping out across the water.

I was entranced. I’d never seen anyone skip a stone before.

He picked up another one. This time, he counted the skips: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!

I joined in halfway through the counting.

“One for every year of your life,” he said.

I let him hold my hand to show me the proper angle & motion of wrist & finger, that little flick.

I held my breath and jerked my hand forward. The stone spun off my index finger.

One, two, three, four, five on my very first try!

“Look out for the lilies!” he laughed.

I felt my mother’s gaze on us from the beach.

She was my Tara, he was my Dharmapala. Is it any wonder I grew up to be a Buddhist?

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Logging slash (probably red maple) at the edge of a forest road

Cibola 82

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 81 of 119 in the series Cibola

 

The Friar’s Camp: Song Contest (cont’d)

3. Martí­n Medina de Sevilla (accompanying himself on a homemade guitar)

Seven caravels set sail
from Seville, fairest of cities,
plowing seven furrows
on the Guadalquivir.

From each ship arises such
a gust, such storms of wails
& sighs & blowing of noses
that they need no other wind

to carry them out past
the Punta del Perro,
stone muzzle
frozen at point–

dog nose, they’ll need thy direction,
through storm & calm
to find the Isles
of the Bless’d.

And as they drop
below the horizon
the guitarist’s fingers canter
across the strings:

“Tell me, you who nod
or tap your cup,
these poor sinners–
who do you say they are?

Will you wager on
the last Christians, with
the Seven Cities of Antilla
rising from the salt?

Or are they Jews,
fleeing their nests
at the first cock-crow
of the Inquisition?”

__________

the last Christians: As mentioned in “Beginnings,” Spanish ballads of the late Middle Ages assumed that Christians had been driven from the Iberian Peninsula during the initial Muslim conquest in the eight century, and that some of them ended up founding idyllic, Christian colonies in “Antilla.” Thus were the utopian visions of a New World to the west bound up with the Reconquest and national-messianic dreams of recapturing the Holy Land in the east. Such ahistorical (and ageographical) propaganda helped build public support for the forced conversion or expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain in 1492.

A few words from the Original Nittany Lion™

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Meow, fuckers. That’s me-fucking-ow. I’m sure glad I can’t see my own reflection here in the glass. Talk about a ridiculous taxidermy job!

But I am the original Nittany Lion, and don’t you forget it. That’s Mount Nittany rising behind me in this cheesy fucking diorama. And here I am, believe it or not, crouching in the exact spot where Beaver Stadium will someday be built. Has been built. Whatever. I’ve been dead for like a hundred and twenty-five years, O.K.? My mind ain’t what it used to be.

Plus, I mean, this is bullshit. A lion at Beaver Stadium. Does that make sense to you? Me neither. Plus, I never set foot in the area. My ass got shot in, like, Pike County or some shit. 1880-something. You can feel up the buttons on the handy touch-screen interpretive thingy there to the left of the display case, if you’re real curious.

Hey, get your mouth away from the glass, kid! You’re scaring me!

Beavers? Yeah, we lions used to have ’em for breakfast. Not much to my taste – kind of oily, you know? Except for the tails. Those were choice! But here’s the thing: back when y’all still had mountain lions – or painters, as you inbred cow-bangers liked to call us – the beavers weren’t nearly the nuisance they are now. Not that there were any less of them – hell, there were more! It’s just that they kept to the water when they knew that there were lions and wolves in the neighborhood, just waiting to get all predacious on their ass. And more beavers packed in closer to the water – think about it, if that’s not too much to ask. More dammed creeks means more marshes and eventually more wet meadows, right?

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usCan you see where I’m going with this? No? What the hell do they teach you kids nowadays? I was like the plant cop, y’all! And all the birds and dragonflies and whatnot – I was their superhero protector, know what I’m saying? And it was that way everywhere, every habitat you can think of. Way up on the rocks, on just about every one of these ridges, you got – or had – a critter y’all call the Allegheny wood rat. Not too common anymore. Can’t find ’em on Nittany Mountain, the Seven Mountains – hell, they’re just about gone from this neck of the woods. Why? Too many mid-sized predators – especially those fucking raccoons. They go everywhere now, carrying their lousy roundworm with them. Act like they own the place. Ha!

And deer? Y’all are talking like it’s just a matter of over-population. As if the way y’all have fucked up Pennsylfuckingvania – more roads than any other state, houses and shopping malls out the wazoo – as if that has nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with it. That, and the fact that you wiped out all of us lions and wolves.

It’s just like with the beavers. It ain’t like we killed that many. But we kept ’em scared. They lay low all year round, not just during the couple months of the year when you send your pumpkin-colored Nimrods out to fire at anything that flashes a white ass. When deer are lying low, guess what? They’re not eating much. And guess what else? When they do go to eat, they do it very, very cautiously – no hanging out in forest openings and on riverbanks and whatnot. You think it’s a coincidence that your native streamside and forest plants are disappearing? Think again.

Yeah, so here I am at this fucking cow college on steroids, the Original Nittany Lion, stuck in a display case at the library. The real-deal mascot, he’s carved out of stone. Looks all heroic and shit, not a sad sack like me. Hell, that thing got so popular they completely forgot I existed. I spent half the last century on loan to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, stuck in a basement storeroom with the moths and the spiders. The only complete specimen of an Eastern Cougar, out of the hundreds of thousands that were killed for bounty, and I didn’t get any respect whatsoever.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usBut we’re comin’ back. Yeah, I know, there’s a lot of dumb-ass white folks who think there’s a cougar behind every tree – just like Elvis Lives and the space aliens abducted Aunt Minnie. But some of these mountain lion sightings in places like Maine and Missouri – they got it on video. Not to mention those inbred fuckers down in Florida. Plus, they found roadkilled cougar kittens in Kentucky three years ago, folks. They did a DNA analysis: one parent was from North America, one from South America. So the new Eastern Cougar will not be genetically pure, but who the hell cares? Long as we get the job done. Like that cat down there in suburban Chester County, Pennsylvania. A release or an escape, who knows? But the fact is, he survived in the not-so-wild for years till they finally drug him in.

See, we don’t need the Big Woods, we just need a prey base and a few good places to digest a meal in relative peace. The females like wilderness to raise their families in, but we’ll take what we can get. Including little Jimmy – yum! But I don’t think you need to worry too much about that. When’s the last time you saw a kid outdoors? Except for those fat fuckers on their ATVs.

I got two words for ATV riders: fast food. If you got housecats, you know what I’m talking about: there’s nothing a cat enjoys more than a nice, moving target!

But someday soon the oil runs low and it’s no more free lunch time, no more shipping food halfway around the fucking world, no more chemical fertilizer and all that. All you fuckers will come here to study farming – you know, like growing food? But there won’t be no more hunters ’cause the little fat kids never learned how, so you’ll be up to your ass in white-tailed deer and then you will thank Whomever for any free-roaming lions you can find. You’ll be so fucking grateful to us, you’ll probably even send out a virgin now and then just to keep us happy. That stone statue at the Nittany Lion shrine? They’ll start finding, like, blood on it and shit. Hell yeah.

Put that in your pot pipe and smoke it. Then you can sing about loving Mother Earth all you want, go hug your fertilizer-enhanced trees and play hacky-sack on Penn State’s world-famous, genetically engineered, poison-laden turf grass. Happy Earth Day, fuckers.

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Cibola 81

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 80 of 119 in the series Cibola

 

The Friar’s Camp: Song Contest (cont’d)

2. White-Feather Priest

straight along the western edge of the land
I went where the great birds cry
wheeling
alighting on hills of sand
on hills of sea

*

the sun just down
through the waves
a dark road opens
ai ah this pounding in my chest

*

there my guardian comes
with his white cane
there he strikes me
& drags me under

*

four kinds of water
he gives me to drink
a bitter brew I fly
on a bitter wind

*

then I hear then I hear
what the gulls are crying
then I gather
songs

*

at the still
center of the land
something pounds
something threatens to break

__________

This section draws its imagery from translations of O’odham song cycles and speeches associated with the once-annual salt pilgrimage to the Gulf of California. (I am not entirely certain who or what the spirit guardian represents.) It’s impossible to say how much of later, O’odham religious tradition echoes the priestly religion of their ancestors the Hohokam, but I imagine that basic elements of worldview have remained intact, including the notion of water as both dangerous and essential to life, and the conception of the earth as surrounded and underlain by it. This idea is too widespread in the broader Meso-American cultural region to have been derived from similar conceptions in the Hebrew Bible. And in what is now the desert southwest of the United States, such a belief system seems especially apt, given the perils of both floodwater cultivation and irrigation, which the Hohokam perfected to a degree elsewhere matched only by the desert agriculturalists of coastal Peru.

City of joy

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

[S]he sold beer by the single bottle alone. She gave you a bottle, you gave her a shilling. She gave you another bottle, you gave her another shilling.
Abdul-Walid

“What am I?” Only asking this question and letting go of the cycle of chasing after outside things means to cut off all our craving. When we do that, what happens?
Ditch the Raft

It was not immediately obvious – least of all to me – that I was a student. My immediate memories were of a bridge over a raging flood and the mountain beyond, which was and was not the mountain I return to every evening. The cliff face had turned to water; how would I get past it? And the man who walked beside me, whom I kept addressing as my friend – imagine my surprise when there in the middle of the bridge he asked for my money at knifepoint. Even as I refused, I felt the sadness and futility of it. Why couldn’t I just hand everything over – my wallet, the shirt off my back – down to my shoes and wristwatch? We tangled; it was no contest. But imagine, I thought, if I could just let the knife pierce and sever as it wished.

He seemed ready for another round, so I fled into the waterfall of glass. Ladders and catwalks, trapdoors and trapezes: up I went. It’s not that my fear of heights ever left me, but that, having escaped from a friend with a knife, it suddenly didn’t matter any more. If I fall, I thought, my bones will break – but wouldn’t that be interesting? There was a view from the top, about which I remember nothing. It was getting late. I should go back, or I’d miss the last bus of the evening.

The P.A. system crackled with my name, repeated once, as is the style with in-store announcements. I heard “Go to -” and the rest was unintelligible. Maybe over here?

I entered a small theater where ashen-faced young men sweated and groaned: a place, I quickly realized, where varying kinds of bodily pain were administered to the occupants of every seat, increasing in intensity as one gravitated toward the empty stage. It seemed odd that there weren’t any women; the room had the ambiance of a video arcade in hell.

I tried one seat after another, watching my limbs twitch with a detachment that surprised me. In one seat I felt myself frozen; in another I was scalded; in a third, currents of electricity made me seize up like an engine with sugar in its crankcase. I remembered how I used to enjoy the electric shock tank in the Japanese public baths, how I would move closer and closer to the metal panel in the side of the tub until, at six inches away, my body refused to obey the commands of my brain any longer. Now I had eliminated that last six inches. It wasn’t so bad, really.

But at length I realized this wasn’t getting me any closer to home. I wandered out into the street and someone wearing a police or military uniform immediately began speaking into his walkie-talkie. “Why did you go in there?” he accosted me. “You weren’t supposed to take that course!” I explained how I hadn’t understood the announcement, and besides, I really just wanted to catch a bus. “No time for that now,” he said.

As I started up a gentle flight of stairs, a strange creature sprouted from the ground behind me. It was humanoid, maybe eighteen inches tall, with bulging eyes and many sharp teeth. Without thinking, I grabbed a halberd from the wall and split it down the middle, then severed it at the waist for good measure. But as I watched, its severed parts rejoined each other and it stuck out its tongue. I stared in awe. Don’t you want to learn how to do this, it seemed to be saying. Well, yes, I did. Then keep moving.

I opened another door – or rather, it grew thin and disappeared as I drew near. Inside, it looked like a literal body shop, or a spare parts warehouse. Animated heads floated in space, legs danced, arms reached out to shake my hand. Over there was the Cheshire cat’s grin. A voice spoke, and for a moment I puzzled over which body or body part it belonged to, before realizing that all questions of belonging and identity were moot. “We’ve never had a student here who also passed the endurance course,” it said. “We had always thought that the two were mutually exclusive.”

“So I guess I get to be the guinea pig,” I heard myself say, realizing all of a sudden just what lay behind that common and innocent-sounding cliché. It would be a relief not to feel tied to one body any longer, I thought. I took a deep breath. The air still smelled of rain.