Ron Silliman

excerpt from UNDER

for Krishna Evans

Perhaps you think the pen cuts the page, which bleeds, leaving scars of ink. The weight of your body beside me organizes my sleep. Picking little translucent bones from the salmon. A man is sleeping in the planter box out side the abandoned restaurant, his body pushed as tightly against the building as he can get. Dust on my windshield turns to constellations as I drive directly into the setting sun.

I'm standing on the freeway exchanging insurance information with Ms. Pam Rhoe of Concord, waiting for the tow truck to arrive, sun still rising, around us the steady onrush of commute traffic, the view of Oakland rooftops curiously serene when I realize I'm not wearing my glasses, which flew off at the point of impact. A couple comes to the door with the collar of a cat they found crushed in the street and dying, which they rushed to the vet anyway, returning to search for its owner. The way a distant train's horn threads the morning air.

Is it poetry or is it ComputerLand? "Body shop," says the voice answering the phone. Roast pig as an edible sculpture. The green of the radiator fluid washes over the freeway. Staring out a sixth floor window, Lee Harvey Oswald inaugurates postmodernism one, two, three times (stunt double on the grassy knoll).

"Well, who wouldn't be tired, confronted with all these postmodernisms, this L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writing, MTV, ACT UP, e-mail, junk bonds, Madonna, smart bombs, poststructuralism, Reaganism, terrorism, colorization, Houstonization, and, if you order right away, much much more?" (VLS, October, 1991) Then explain how spelling it with equal signs discredits the perspective. Toy boat, toy boat. The sun hovers low over the converted farmland of the business park, shrill call of the killdeer. Secretaries jogging on their lunch hour (hummingbirds at the feeder before dawn).

Orange cat stalks through the sunflowers. On his ladder, housepainter listens to talk radio. Rose bush gone ragged, full of butterflies. Squirrel's alertness when it sees the cat.

Helicopter low overhead, makes all the windows shudder. In the dream, I shoot two of the assassins and capture a third, for which the University rewards me with a computerized security badge even though I'm not in its employ. In the dream, Kathleen Frumkin in a CD store is holding a very wiggly, nervous badger that she recently has rescued in the city. You turn to me and say, "Honey, I'm bleeding and we need to go to the hospital."

A washing machine understood as a series of songs. "We're blood sisters now," says the nurse as she pushes the IV needle too far through the vein, the blood splattering over her hands, which she has forgotten to place in rubber gloves. It's Sunday and so at least two of the doctors who get called in show up with small children in tow (radiologist in a Harley Davidson t-shirt). Smog stretches red-brown over the valley, erasing the horizon. Placenta previa.

Night can't last forever. Terbutaline, as a muscle relaxant, also permits blood to flush unimpeded through the heart -- the side effects of speed without the euphoria. Very rapidly I learn to negotiate the corridors of the hospital, the staff at the nursing station, the hours of its restaurant, knowing that I will just as quickly forget them all save as glimpses, tones, expressions, smells, the affects of memory. Sunset full of reds and purples frames a four-storey parking garage. Combine the flowers into a single vase.

Her name is, I swear, Lavender Fog. Avoid raspberry leaf tea. Lyn arrives with the blue foam thingee. What is worse than a hyper mode of exhaustion?

"You're worrying about the day before yesterday when you should be worrying about today," says the doctor, explaining how we can grow our own socks for the winter (I want the blue ones). Dreamgate. Like listening for the songs of the whales, the microphone amplifies the distant sound of heartbeats. I wake with that exhausted, cried-out feeling. Grow babies, grow.

What you think is a hawk, I see is a robin. In the dream, the Texan landscape emerges from the mist, small hills sharp and far apart from one another surrounded by emerald green marshes (impossible what is stone and what algae), the lone bus at the end of its line. Growl of a squirrel. Rearranging the sequence of potted plants about the vacant lot, waiting for the right combination to click. Card in the mail announces the birth of Willa Bea Ott.

Sculpture garden of the damned, a vacant lot in the middle of Telegraph Avenue has become a new squat for the homeless, intricate stone paths between tents, memorial mounds of found objects (this one for Karen Silkwood and Jane Addams), a computer screen with painted graffiti, murals on surrounding brick walls, as many people here now as when the old six-storey hotel occupied the site -- red-orange sun sets over Cody's while someone solos on a harmonica out of sight.

Job paranoia dream: when I return to my desk, I find a restaurant has taken its place. Leaving the window open at night, I can hear the dull rush of the freeway one mile away. I sit on a lawn chair and shut my eyes. Street people stand at an electronics store display window, watching the Clarence Thomas hearings silently on a half dozen TVs. In this nation, hunger is a government policy.

Teach Jack Hirschmann to play Uno with a regular deck of cards. Paramount push. Wire coathangers in a closet rattle together, muted bells, muffled xylophone. Red fish soup. I place my hand on the great mound of your tummy and whisper encouragement to the boys.

Typos on a plastic bag. Society for Prevention of Little Animal Tragedies. Knowing that, as the car rounds this bend, I will be driving directly into the setting sun. Teaser for the eleven o'clock news. Ten years after the death of her husband, she's become a communications consultant in the Midwest who buys a copy of Avital Ronell's The Telephone Book, think it would be good to stay in touch with the theory of her work, only to mail the volume to me weeks later having rediscovered why she so detests theory.

Think in shadows. An elastic band as a closed form. This instantly becomes known as the Texas Cafeteria Massacre. Before he speaks, the man who approaches me starts to smile, and in that act I see the familiar expression of my best friend from the fifth grade. Days grow shorter toward the end of a notebook.

The song in my head as I wake today: "Papa ooo mau mau, papa ooo mau mau (yip yip yip)." Krishna's sister sighs audibly, asleep in the other room. A blimp floats quietly through the night sky. Birds silent, hidden in the trees. Red sun, sliver moon.

Giant tortoise crawls across the restaurant table, but we're afraid to stab at it with our forks. Standing on the porch in my bathrobe to fetch the Sunday paper, I hear a train in the distance, passing: not only the horn, but the bells of intersection warning signs and the clackety sound of the tracks. Having gone away for the weekend, our neighbor's left her skylight open, so now it's pouring rain right onto her bed. Dr. Yang: The Uses of Asian Stereotypes in Woody Allen's Alice. First birds in the morning sky.

The guests have gone so the house feels large again. The dog stares intently at the seagull. A long fly on the sill of the kitchen window. In the dream the doctor hands me the syringe but instead of a first bubble of air emerging from the needle's sharp, slanted tip, a long ribbon of a black inky substance pours out.

Suddenly, right after breakfast on what we can sense is going to be a scorcher, it grows dark in the house, so I stand on the porch and see a vast column of smoke rising from the Berkeley hills, covering a dime-sized red-dot sun, spreading southeast. From the Ashby Bart station, I can see flames in the hills leaping from eucalyptus to eucalyptus, then houses as fireplaces, framed by the flames that consume them. A phone tree tells us very quickly whose homes are already lost, who's still packing and waiting for the word to evacuate, who's gone away for the weekend. What would I take? At night, the wind dies, a kind of miracle.

On television, elements of narrative stalk the news: camera holds on a woman's face as she shakes with the realization that her house is the only one left standing, a specialist discusses insurance, lists on the screen of which schools are closed, which roads open, a reporter wades through rubble stringing cliches into a "think piece." Having been evacuated from his brunch at the Claremont Hotel, the enormity of the disaster doesn't reach him until his car reaches the parking lot exit on Ashby and he sees the stream of cars filled with people in tears, a traffic jam of refugees. When dawn rises the next day, the great plume of smoke had become a low-lying lazy cloud, yesterday's disaster hidden in the mist. Leslie Scalapino on the roof of her house watches the fire burn just three blocks away, then a house on the next block catches, but then the wind shifts and the firestorm blows instead over the freeway, the next neighborhood burning to the ground. Against the panic of people packing what they can into cars and in flight, there's the curious calmness of people who've already lost all they own, the flattened affect of shock.

Skin pulled taut over your stomach like the canvas of a drum, breasts transformed completely in anticipation of the production of milk, belly button losing all sense of indentedness. Dark clouds from the edge of a rain system that never quite lets loose. Better to singe than singed against. Exactly what you would expect from a small atomic bomb. The whole city smells charred.

A street singer wanders through the ashes, strumming and singing, "It's only a cyborg, now one more is gone, leaving nobody to carry it home, leaving nobody to boot up a clone, it's only a cyborg, now one more is gone." In the dream, I and several coworkers are in a different city -- elements of Albuquerque, Kansas City, plus places I've never been -- walking through the streets at dust, looking for excitement. At the office people mill around: at least 18 of us live close to the devastation, one surrounded by it on three sides, but miraculously nobody's been burned ut.

First rain brings the ants indoors, spots on the bathtub porcelain. "Wish," says the windshield wiper, and so I do.

The train in the rain pulls loudly through the night. Somewhere someone is attempting to start their car but the engine won't turn over. Dear flash floods, don't.

Driving around with somebody who, after 20 years in this town, still doesn't know the major streets. I wake with every muscle in my lower back stiffened, spine and ribs pulled so tight it hurts to breathe. The lamp in the basement clamps to a beam. I feel your tongue at the base of my cock, the muscles of your lips.

The thief's rap, emerging from the backyard, was that he was recycling the silver tray, which didn't ring true so we fetched a neighbor who'd spoken with the man himself, but whose wife realized instantly what was missing. Ink smears as if words have shadows. Look into my eyes when you make me come.

Is this the dream, car stalled in tunnel? I'm alone in a vast bookstore, much larger than the Strand, nothing in categories, no alphabeticization, no system, trying to locate a single title, my own. Telling Mark how sorry I am that his house burned down, I find myself spouting cliches, the event so enormous no other language remains. One full day after the death of Bill Graham, the copter's still stuck in the web of the power pole it struck. Shahin tells me that, ever since the firestorm, she's been too depressed to work out at the gym.

Rod Stewart, king of the schmaltz anthem, sings Forever Young. Alarm clock stuffed into the drawer full of t-shirts rings to be let out. I explain to the senior VP that I've just sent the manuscript to a printer 70 yards away and he proceeds to count it off, determining it to be exactly 65. The top drawer's for shorts, the next for socks, the next t-shirts, and the bottom for sweatshirts and sweaters. Dyed blond perm calculated to look wild, uncombed, spontaneous, Rod's hair demonstrates theory.

Proprietary to dawn, an alarm rings and I rise. An optimism's built of too little sleep. Day begins, the 26th anniversary of my first marriage. The distant train passes on the same line my grandfather as a boy would ride his bike down to see, bearing commerce from far places in the north. Mysterious as ever, today's invisible song echoing in my head is Maggie May.

You groan in your sleep as if to speak. At the door, a boy with one leg -- it's not a costume -- his face painted clownlike but earth tones, green and brown, holds out a plastic sack, too intimidated to say "trick or treat." The rhyme with the homeless is inescapable. A used bike shop called ReCycle. This young girl makes a very fat, African-American Tinkerbell.

Copyright CrossConnect, Inc. 1996


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