The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2015

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OCT 2015 Issue


This is how the mind degenerates … How the world reverts to simpler forms. Somewhere, close behind me, is the echo of a woman’s voice … I dismantle each word as it reaches me, patterning syllables into curves of miscellaneous gradients along the walls of my asylum.

My residence is … a shore of letters.

I’m told I have visitors waiting … that I should take the wheelchair by the window, which frames the concrete and lines of yellow paint, to let the light warm my skin … I forget, without sorrow or regret, what their borders indicate.

I inhabit the edge of splintered shadows.

I am talking with two men outside my old apartment … who confess they control the light. They are standing near the curb, which is crowded with dollies, jibs, crates, shades ... Disturbed, I repeat their phrase … Light enters how we allow it ... or not at all.

My visitors, they believe I’m having a fit. A little girl who resembles … my late grandmother begins to cry. I do nothing to reassure them. I’m moved away from the window to the center of a room … muttering with mad intention the light is a wound! the light is my rune!

The dread in them quickens my dementia.

Her name … it was Judith. Grandma Judy, on my mother’s side, raised off the dust storms of Midwest America. I see it written on an envelope sealing her last will and testament … Judith is showing me a vaudeville poster from her childhood on the plains, when everyone called her Juju, hanging slightly crooked on a mustard-colored wall forming the hallway. Her Levittown house has the scent of feast.

Hunger collapses me. My visitors are concerned. They call over to the woman’s voice.

The two technicians are guarding their equipment with disinterest. You always want to avoid the man with tumors growing on the back of his neck, I say … You okay? you okay? the man with tumors will say, repeating his belligerence. It does not matter how, or if, you reply. He will come close, I say … he may even put a hand on you. That’s when nervousness seizes. It is okay, though … I’m convinced his harm has no means.

I have much to regret, and by that allowance I am kept forever by … live over again … illusions conceived outside time.

This is L., one of my visitors says to me. Her body eclipses the light as she approaches. I see again two men, their faces just indentations where their features had once been … Reveal yourself! I shout.

My visitors have left, and I am back in the barracks, where they have hung curtains over my mirrors. No … submarine windows … where the air does not do us favors.

I embrace my oxygen tank, when I am put to sleep … slumber invigorates inertia, inconceivable to the intangible, waking hours.

The man with tumors is roughly in his late forties. The tumors, they’re malignant … He comes to me … and I am unsure of his methods. I listen to him with pity on nights he cannot be avoided … like I would follow. Sometimes, when he’s being unyielding, I act as if he is invisible … as if there’s a window between us thick enough to guard me from the madness of his speech. I admit this behavior I exhibit only aggravates him further … but his tantrum concedes in due course. He leaves.

I am sharing a bunk with William, awaiting orders from the admiral. We hunt the depths. In the Navy we call it reconnaissance. But I am anxious in my steel enclosure … They need to bring in some pussy on this freight, says William. There is a voice somewhere else I do not know to call home.

The sea employs me … the Dark I domesticate.

My visitors return. I am in the mess hall … a tray of perishables in front of me. William is clandestine when he passes me his Playboy under the table. When I giggle, mashed peas fall from my mouth and onto my lap … My visitors are pleased. He’s having a good day, the woman’s voice says, again from somewhere behind me.

Dawn on the Adriatic … Through a periscope I see distorted regions of an old world. The Mediterranean coastline is mute, while explosions in the sky are bleeding silently into the atmosphere. Inside the control room, red lights are running rampant … as the instrument panels that surround me perspire with the lessness of my condition.

L. is come to see me alone … on her face I forge mortal variations of Judith’s expressions with the trauma she lets slip from her guise. On the rest of her I relinquish my ticks … forming more reunions from my past to fear … When L. wipes the drool from my chin with a napkin, I do not flinch a muscle.

The reality of my body disrupts those maladies which are otherwise forced along the margins … loneliness habitually lived. Silence speaks for that confusion of living.

Something about the hands … and how they tremor on Judith. How the one grips tightly the other to her chest. I am growing taller than she as she shivers … and she is always shivering. Judith takes me to the movies only on days when it rains.

Hope and regret are trivialities of the temporal. It is in their scheduled visitations … their stamina to stay … that my visitors accelerate the frequency of death, for which I am a beneficiary … a direct descendant.

I keep continuing … and what results is the reassurance of why I must end.

A symphony of a somber meter fills the empty theater. Judith and I are watching the credits roll, as is custom of our outings … I read them long enough to be taught how, through repetition, eternity is made not by the succession of moments, but by isolating instants so that they may unfold, and unfold again … to give in return an element of forever … for which we mortally fail.

I am on a crowded subway train, where I am coming home from work and watching a woman sitting on the bench in front of me pull from her purse an orange already peeled and separated, sealed in a Ziploc. I begin to salivate.

I am a passenger somewhere else.

If you refuse to eat, your visitors will have no choice but to stay, says the woman’s voice. I am warming to the woman’s voice … it hints at hopelessness, which aides in easing my visions to conquer the peace in me.

Bea’s parents leave the house for a couple of hours. We are watching videos from their pornography library in the master bedroom … taking a break from our home lessons. No video is ever watched twice at Bea’s house.

I am growing weary of men in suits … asking me questions for which I have no answers. I rather not cooperate. Ask about dividing assets, my visitors insist. I don’t notice L. is absent among them … The woman’s voice drapes a blanket over my lap to mask the soiled area of myself.

We know about the man with tumors growing on the back of his neck, says one of the grips. Do you have a cigarette? the second grip asks, putting two fingers to his lips. How long do you plan on staying? I inquire politely. Until they serve your lunch, one of my visitors replies. Do you want us to leave now?

I am wheeled to different wards of the hospital. On the way to our appointments, the woman’s voice subdues me into purer ailments … And where are we today? she asks. Not the coast of Croatia, I pray.

My mind conceives dueling origins … and fatigue decorates my memories rushed to ruination.

Sitting down, with her bag and a paperback book bundled neatly on her lap, the woman with the orange unzips her jacket far enough below her throat to swallow unobstructed … She eats each piece by bringing the Ziploc bag to her mouth, careful not to hinder the future use of her fingers. Each movement of her hands … I fascinate on them … is not wasted. Is, meticulously, a delicate motion of precision … Neither is it when she chews.

We were lean from the athletics, I tell L., certain she will say nothing back. The boys on the block’s vacant lot used to call me “Lefty.” During my rehabilitation I grow fond of L. and her discovery upon life’s poverties … I am a hero, I say to L.’s faraway gaze … not for acts of bravery, or invasion, but resistance.

My body is carefully anguished. Does it hurt when I press down here? asks the woman’s voice. William is on the gurney opposite me … a floodlight pointing to a piece of shrapnel jutting from his sternum. I position my head to get a better look … to read the rise and fall above his abdomen … but by this grave gesture of reassurance he is gone.

They boarded the windows to my cell … but I’ve been carving knots with my fingernails. The man with tumors is somewhere beyond the center, where the wood parts and rejoins itself. You okay? You okay? Tomorrow, no? They come tomorrow? I hear him ask through the disintegrating pith.

When a piece of me decays … I tell lies to nurture this imperfection.

I wake in a dark train car. The woman resumes eating her orange … her fingernails are polished red, defying the temporary suspension of light. They are the only thing visible to me. When the electricity is finally restored, the last slice is ate … The only evidence of what once had been disappears back into the woman’s purse.

Near the entrance, an elderly woman waits for a son who never comes. Thomas is just running late, she tells two male nurses routinely, assured of his arrival. She sits there everyday … in pearls and a purple bonnet.

I keep hidden from my guests an assortment of objects I gather into piles … to keep intact my confusion of what they are meant to accumulate, and for what purpose … to put things places only to rediscover them where they are most unlikely.

At the inheritance of my home are letters I’ll never reply to … plants I will not prune again, lights left on, sheets I’ll never smooth … photos of L. never to be laminated.

Apprehension presupposes every moment of ecstasy.

Bea is touching herself between her legs … because Bill is not here. I know not proven by my eyes … but the sound of the gradual labor in her breathing. The volume on the television is muted to detect anyone coming … her pleasures can only be received with caution.

A song comes on, and inside its composition I experience tiny collisions. I am standing behind my wife … before we were wed … as she sits at her desk. She looks up from her work to meet me in the window’s reflection.

I magnify with a microscope a shrinking world I desire to be rid of, reimagined for my visitors using, without permission, the facility’s projector. Behind me two men build their film set … one rigging the menace arm, with a cigarette between his lips and squinting from the smoke … the other hooding me in duvetyne fabric.

The assembled shot of the penetration arc arouses me mildly. A continuous series of events, real or perceived, is not welcoming to my inhabiting of them … Only a snapshot, a captured image … affords an entrance for decay. I hesitate to push the pause button on the VCR.

Nothing gained by death … but nothing given to life, either.

Winter in the Po Valley … The surface of the river is dressed in a dense fog. I am someone’s son again … I have forgotten my age, the pen names of lovers … only to inherit the ache of separation.

The undertaker will take your measurements now, I hear one of my visitors say, and fit you for your funeral. The arrangements have all been taken care of … you just need to show up. Laughter. I hide between the creases of my wheelchair’s seat cushions provisions to ration in another life.

Bill’s father is outside drinking his gin and tonic, watching his wife skim the pool. I am on my knees in Bill’s bedroom, with his penis in my mouth. Not out of force, or love, but because I am unsure I will ever know the sensation. I am trained early on to know only shame. I cut him with my braces, and the favor, once promised, is not returned.

Grandma, where have you been?

I am weeping … I know nothing of how Judith wept in the cathedral for her husband … though I’ve remembered stories … or afterwards when Judith collapsed as they saluted William’s coffin to the hearse. I know nothing about the weeks in his wake when, bedridden and still unspoken, Judith received only the most distant of acquaintances … those whose calls come as whispered secrets, those secrets that rise from the far recesses of grief.

This is how memory persists. I am unsure of where we are when I am everywhere. I slip away … into the assembly … Bea groans quietly to requite Bill’s absence … Son of night … Son of a thousand surrogates … Son of bitch. It was an accident, I say aloud … so easy to make when the only reproach is duration.

My departure, I must … I snap back into a museum of wax expressions. The trauma L. wears on her face is brought on by sleepless nights … is not trauma any longer. I do not have to ask to know this. How many! I demand. An armada … coming from the south or whereabouts, answers William … somewhere misheard amongst the howling of sirens.

I weep because it is the last part of me to forfeit, to give away. You okay? I am not. There are deviations in which the world exudes me … none involving relief. I stare long enough at L. to know that what connects us now, when she is seated opposite me, are only circumstances of devastation.

I know only of Judith’s hands and their violet complexion, clutching two tickets to gain access to a film neither of us remembers … secrets misinterpreted between her sobs.

The encounter is comatose. The places not covered on our bodies belonging to that small square of night and suspended lights, the silhouettes moving in and out of our faces and into different rooms … L. turns around to see me whole, as we both begin to tear. The only gesture time would allow is one in which we, with minimal movement, return our eyes to us reflected … to an image of love as I must now understand it.

I am under the awning outside my old apartment, measuring the intensities of a memory once begun … I cover the walls with how rain sounds … to stay just a little longer.


Jared Daniel Fagen

Jared Daniel Fagen is the author of The Animal of Existence, which is forthcoming from Black Square Editions in 2022. He is the editor of Black Sun Lit, a PhD student in Comparative Literature at the CUNY Graduate Center, and an English instructor at the City College of New York.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2015

All Issues