n. infantile pattern of suckle-swallow movement in which the tongue is placed between incisor teeth or between alveolar ridges during initial stage of swallowing (if persistent can lead to various dental abnormalities) v. [content removed due to Bush campaign to clean up the internet] n. act of nyah-nyah v. pursuing with relentless abandon the need to masticate and thrust the world into every bodily incarnation in order to transform it, via the act of salivation, into nutritive agency

Thursday, October 19, 2006

towards an earlier piece

here's some prose, written this summer but rawdraft towards a longer earlier project.


two kingfishers, blue and white with noticeable long smirks, flicker and drop across the pond, a pair of small kites with strings tightening and sweeping in burst. one fisher finds a low alder branch and perches; i watch and perch, lift my arms and split another piece, this time down the center, right from side to side, and the axe is sharp, this wood dry. slivers fall down by the block, and i already have little pieces of wood, fine sawdust, stuck to my undershirt. muscles pull without sweat and i carry a wry expression on my face, unseeable and unnoticed, like a tree falling in the woods; most of our lives unexpressed and perhaps nonexistent.

i think of home and television, addictive with all the people surviving by walking the mechanized beaches, each putting into their collective purgatory, and i too am busy surviving. by bread and milk alone, by bread and milk we are alone. solitude and sustenance stretch miles on the west and more miles to the east. they pull and tug at whoever stands in their center, stretching her taut like a rotating coin on a rubber band; the directions have us; in this hemisphere, it’s always north when we look to the frozen beginnings.

the wood has been chainsawed from my beach. it is enjoyable to say “my” beach like anything is owned and so it becomes a term of irony, used only to express the plunge taken when i step on her back and personify her expression, anthropomorphize her pebbled surface and see her rapier sharp tongue wrap around me as if from a dinosaur’s beak. she is ancient, ridden with pinched furrows and knobs where the ancestors, who long ago claimed me to their returning salmon souls, built their badarkas to live in and smoke fish and light fuses from seal fats. we, to be slightly more modernized, chainsawed these cedar logs from my beach’s bank using the saw with the slipping belt.

there’s nothing i like about chainsaws but their expediency, and this is how machines fall into groups for me: those machines with nothing but expedient force, the ability to cut ratios into fractions—the time otherwise spent in this direction or another, but no pleasure, maybe some fear, a noise and the rush potential to lose digits or slice a foot in half. second category: the machines that splinter time like wood on a block, one half to one and the other to it’s own, gone or imagined, the ax present in the center. the heart pulses extra hard to push the blood through the center; like a boat engine that saves rowing or sail time but does not threaten to chop you up and yet gives one that rush of heat from left hand pull and push, the waves belching over the bow although if you slow and surf, speed and cross, the pat-pat-pat is minimized and one can even stay mostly dry onboard. or the third kind of machinery, the negative of the first, something that sieves time and keeps all the beach debris, all the graveyard collections of weed and dry, twisted logs, washed-in starfish with stomachs spewed last-timely across their multiplicity of miniature hose vacuums—these machines that collect the intricacy of tide-line and hold it apart, separate from the body and flashed outward, as if art were a hovering ghost, intangible but in pixels and wishful identifications and such. the last machines i have left for the moment, discarded televisions still spitting their white noise like angry grunts of surf and spittle.

instead i stand the middle ground—trying to find the machine that helps and yet is part of too—created and guarded by sensation and unhindered emotion: these are the landscapes i see as extremes collected for joy or grief. that is, the middle ground: formed in the center of the line between two extremes—say, static and unhalting, or practical and fanciful—might just be the furthest reactionary tip of a line perpendicular to the first set of extremes. thus, i find myself—having utilized the practical chainsaw and shunned the fanciful television, yet having also shunned the practical shower and started splitting logs for the fanciful banya—directly in the middle of both extremes and practicalities, either end, and this end is composed of something so far away from placid or normal that i actually have hope for finding myself standing here. that is, i am initiating ceremony.

i split my wood near the banya, a hut built years ago. of unpainted plywood, it is roughly six feet tall and takes no more space than a large outhouse with a bench cobbled together with dry logs brought in from the same beach i now steal from to split wood and ceremonialize my need. on one end of the hut, a stove has rusted so thoroughly that the door no longer hangs on its hinges. it has pulled free and i myself ripped the frame off the stove so i could place wood in the interior and the prop the door in such a way as to encourage the fire to make sounds—like a high-pitched wheeling sound—but not roar, which is prone to generate chimney fires that cause the aluminum chimney and aluminum roof to creak and shudder when touched. the high-pitched creak of right heat fills the small wooden space and warms the stones we have buried the stove in, stones i have collected in buckets and hauled to the fields, until things shudder, we wait for the shudder.

i wait for the shudder. the fire spits hot and sends flames, and outside the small window in the banya, i can see our backyard: the pond shallow and reeded, two kingfishers, first here then branched, then streaking sidewise, down and sliverflashed, over the reeds which have a kind of ritual to them. their long slicing stalks shimmer and bend, pass invisible creatures over their surface, like intestinal cilia lifting nutrients and giving them from one area to another; they all bend one to the next, the first reeds lifting their tips up again when the invisible weight has left their shoulders, sometimes rushing backwards to check for some new chain of command, while the others keep passing, keep passing, rushing faster and faster, and then falling, all reeds dropping the weight in one place and then bending around it in a circle, as if kneeling to pay homage at a shifting alter. each section of reeds has its moment—whether stillness or prayer—and near them, tiny dipped ripples start at the shoreside and pit pit pit out to the hills across the pond’s surface, stopping only to circle lily pads, but continuing new-directional after circling.

the wood inside the banya is starting to shudder, and outside i wade through the reeds into the pond and dip a bucket at the surface, allowing only the top layer to rush over the rim. i do this slowly to keep the silt from the water, and what does come in will settle to the bottom and the water will be clean and holy next to the reed bank, from inside the ripples, with only a dead mayfly to lift out, or maybe a couple mosquito larvae twitching around like spastic ballet dancers who’ve fallen into the pit. the water flows over the rim, one sediment following another, a broken leaf tip waterfalling off the plastic edge and churning upon the shallow bucket rocks, she gains speed, the water reaches further and i tilt the bucket back upright and lift her, splashing long baptismal along my arms and pant-legs. i carry the water back up to the banya and then return four times to the pond, each time tiptoeing softer through the stirred-up shallows, boot bottoms sinking further and further into murky ooze that lies bellyup along the pond’s ground floor.

she is shaking and creaking, a pft-fzzz of steam escapes wood, red wildflowers wick around underneath the propped stove door and heat the flat slate feldspar, the pebbles of quartz and feldspar, the chunks falling onto the floor—of feldspar. my hand feels its way to the rocks, lies flat on their surface; they are hot to touch, and rust flakes from the stove in long streaks revealing more rust. a mist-rain starts (if in greenland they have a thousand words for snow, in southern alaska they must’ve had a thousand words for rain because it never comes one way, straight down, but sneaks in and around, flutters, beats and pricks, enshrouds and so forth in so many ways, such that i know the weather here gets its existence in game-playing with its denizens. the eagles on the beach get more and more sodden when it rains until they looks like the tideline seaweed, dejected and sulking, nearly dead with all the undertufts dazed in water as well as the key feathers. the seagulls on the other hand, just wind themselves tighter and tighter into balls until each looks like a little net cork, washed up after a storm. but the kingfishers play the weather’s game back to her, not taking a slight as a slight, but everything as a reason to smirk and swirl; i want their philosophy but tend to get wet and cold outside). and so inside the rusted stove is near rattling, the pit-pit of rain leaking through the stovepipe, falling to the back of the feldspar, charging downhill horses on legions and hissing to disappear in the heat.

when it’s time to bathe, my fishing companions go before me, and i wait in the cabin, forgetting i’m spending time by the window drifting, full of everything, dirty awash at a moment’s break. bread and milk alone, i want to hum to myself, and my sister stands across the bay, bread and milk too, looking at her still water, her different green, with her philosophy (which i’d place at anger reined back with ironical and leather thongs) pulling on her shoulders as multifarious and ranging as the kodiak hellkinny-cat rain that hisses inside a complete bubble-dome of grey.

i hiss along with it; my skin creaks hot and rattles; i carry invisible weights across grasslands and drop them, pray to them briefly and return to carry the same weights back again. ripples billow and pat, pieces split and scream in opposite directions, smelling cedar-like and mediumwet. useless internal machines rev up and churn endlessly as the night turns dimmer and dimmer; flickering lit fragments and idolatrous identifications roam from the reel—other people’s stories—and who knows what to keep or what to discard with so much talking; but other machines expedite time into chore and pleasure. i stand by the window as my boss goes to the banya and then returns talking mile after mile and my ears can’t hear anything because i have the story of my lovers and friends and lost nephew, and in this sedimented land, there is nothing i can find to hope for; bread and milked with no appetite and i try to stay for an hour; an hour to make it without motion until my ceremony.

last, as last as i want, the only one awake, i enter lampless and darkclouded into the field—where maybe a bear rolls along the reeds she’s claimed for her bedding—walking brisk with a towel, ritual tobacco, hot tang doused thick with rum, soap. my towel stashed in the banya, i light the cigarette, not having smoked for days now and not knowing why but for others, which is how we move from east to west, from net to net anyway. no kingfishers, darkness, only the wheeling rift of fireweed and reed from one side of our flat valley up to the ridge where a grim line of christmas spruce knob up the darkness with further darkness. my smoke curls from fingers so tight and gruff i have to hold the cigarette with three fingers instead of two and my exhalations enter the banya smoke, the rum disappears. i am naked, i finish the first half of ceremony, a mouthful of water, lick the drop from one reed, and unhook the door latch, with which i once locked my sister in the banya accidentally and then remembered a half-hour later to come down and find her wild-red and about to do the window in with a rock. i remember her, red hair, a sister who keeps buried and ferocious because she will not easily love anything (with humanity, isn’t it always the fight to show each other we know our own value?), the opposite of me, who loves like a slut—too easy and often, and too easily and often soiled.

soiled, dirty awash and full, the banya heat, humidity wraps around and with the door’s close, to pore, permeating like nutrients absorbed through the skin touch: “i am finally sweating,” i say. the rusted stove creaks back hot-flamed, feverish and flaking apart. “we are both spirits,” we say in tandem and then moan with the addition of bucketed water on our decaying skins.

the rust drops off under distinct temperature extremes, and again i pick up slices of wood i have halved and broken. the encouragement of combustion via the particular rearrangement of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen; into the shuddering stove i place the trees that have grown, whispered, shunted sap, dropped leaves, stretched bare-limbed in an unseen forest somewhere and then fallen unheard to wash abroad in epic and wooden iceberg journeys until they finally found “my” graveyard, the pebbled land just outside our cabin’s reach, where they cover themselves partially in sand and wait for their relatives to find them and mark their loss with some slab of memory. all winter, they miss us, those who are to put flowers on top of the remains, but then i found their bleached carcasses, their last green breaths stripped from them in the salty marker of time, and expedited their dissolution via chainsaw and axe. they will join me in ceremonial loss and gain; they will find themselves in the middle of extremes, pulled to burn themselves into nothing by way of a sharp nothing—for what really is flame?

everything on my skin, around my skin, in my skin is water, steam and sweat. i lick my arm and taste in it my labor, all that i have being the salt i have earned and which makes my hands thick and swollen, each knuckle puffed and creaky, grey blue with ornery disavowal of my choices. in the banya, my body is the shifting alter, and i stand alone in the center of the world, landscape but a singularity between grief and joy. i am certain i’ve been carried here, along the backs of grasses blowing in variable winds, and i have come to wash myself clean, to rub the clinging scales from my elbows, the stinging slime of jellyfish from my cheeks, the sole remaining fruits of our existence. but in this moment of extremes, as the water hisses from punctured cans resting on the top of the stove, and the stove shudders, her sound like a woman’s birthing hum, i am nothing but a pile of humility with a needy grief on my shoulders because in the world i have found myself, loss can only be dealt with alone, and this is the land outside, i have taken myself here to put my rough fingers on the pulsing heart of why i shudder and leak from each opening under the stress of new realignment.

the only answer to such humility is prayer and homage, and i do not say those words like a man climbing a wooden box with a bible, but as a woman looking landward for some koan philosophy that will enter a rift in my knowledge like water pouring over the edge of a bucket. “tell me how to live,” i ask the sheets of rust fallen to sit atop feldspar, “and i swear i’ll hear you fall.” i soap my body, and the bubbles engorge on sweat, fattening and sliding between every crevice i never knew, and i rub the soap through my hair; it falls into my eyes stinging, so i blindly pull a bucket of pond near me and pour cupful after cupful down my back and it is from the glacial north, thin shallow water that stings cold and i gasp and gasp, but after each cupful my skin springs reincarnated back towards the shuddering stove. i am in perfect balance of extreme, simultaneously heat-soaked and drenched with cold water, back forth, the steam so thick and hyper i have to place a washcloth over my mouth so as to breathe. i scrub my skin, and some form of answer is there as rust flakes my skin and the stars outside grow like quartz flashing in feldspar.

when i can no longer breathe in the heat, i walk out stinging red and stand baby-birthed off the fire in the midst of fireweed and dreadfully still reeds, and look up at nothing to ask for the other dimension of the point i’m standing on, because it is death to stand in one place and not see the forms and layers of difference that coexist simultaneously. “i will fall,” i tell those ancient eyes, “only if i am alone.”
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