Will Baker

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Writing

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She & I

"Because everything is dying,
and I—"

II

What tall grass hadn't already been desiccated, trodden,
halo'd me. And into the scorched penumbra, I threw myself
and breathed deep of such fresh oxides 
and painted my face in such fine soot
as no saint, no shaman, no salesman would ever know. 
In the glassed dirt, I mapped reflected constellations with cooled casings— 
portraits of heroes now how many worlds old— 
all the gods and godmen and the men like them— 
and challenged them about, 

Your charges—even yours, kings—I have learned are inconsistent and weak— 
and don't blame my lens, for who doesn't refract what he sees. 
You drink sloppily monsoon dew from a waxing chalice 
and let from your lips dribble saccharine indulgence 
down your formidable bellies and over unbuckled three-buckled belts
that it may sweeten—but so slightly—your thrown bones:
the femurs and the ribs and the wish you didn't need
from the greased and headless poultry of won wars. 

I said, Hear now:
here now I censure all of your blessedness, if only for the wonder of it all
and probably only for the wonder of it all. 
Henceforth and under your grumpy clouds I'll parade at you
each and every of my last remaining desperations.
I shan't any longer credit to any other
these—my lesions; your gifts—I now so proudly own— 
the sacrosanct rusts that debeast me, debase me, and enervate over eons
my lust for my realm. This collusive compression of digressive evolution
that here hugs me to don a still-hot crown—
the primacy of forever versus the primate of now—
condensed and overturned until nebulae burned.

But how brief, the stars!
and in their simultaneous eruption, how happy
the collision and fracture of planets
and the heavy, lazy,
languid, slothen,
slewful, lurdan,
digging deep and digging deeper
of a black, black hole,
seated hungry at the head of a table clothed in white.

That's right!— 
the products of your facility handled by your bastard half-brother, Cosmos,
because he too thought you too silly in your perch,
and not just that, but knew it, and was sufficiently armed
to, with said celestial violence, reconcile me with my compromised mettle.

So scorn my impetuousness and gently appeal to my yearning for a home's hearth 
that I—even now, in the ecstasy of my decry—can't shake,
and reassure me of your insidiousness—it was that with which I first fell in love.
It was with you that I first fell in love, and it is on your floor I now beg— 
I am a child, I am a child, I am your child, your child— 
let it be, but never let me be!

The winds cindered my tongue. 
So that's how it is? 
I called it pepper.
So this is how it will be!

The likes of me, though post-cataclysm, an unbranded new breed, are the inevitable
prostration of a tenancy so long on its knees, serf to the whim and lunacy
of you all and your trepidity.
Look now with your big eyes! Look now as I scratch at my scabs — 
may they never heal, may they fossilize in this ash!
May I die and die soon that I may never be you!

And in the umbra, she was reborn unto me. 
And thank goodness for that,
because I was so scared.

III

When she awoke, I told her she'd quite a fall and that nothing would be alright.

I said, I see in you the accidental sum of an era— 
so soon will it be forgotten and so wholly will it be lost.
You, the now rotten daughter of appliance and application— 
patinated and glitched— 
drafted by the brilliantmost minds and forged of the richmost mines
to ripen and ripen and ripen
until you were the happiest fruit in the perfectest climate.

With a whimper, she rubbed the dirt and the ash and the blood from her bleary eyes,
and from her hands rubbed them into the grass,
and sifted the horizon through her pupils. 
"I am not plucked, but fallen."

I helped her rise to foal legs, red-streaked and new and wobbling,
and walked her to a pattern of ruined stones
that, with the burnt grass, sang a triumphant song
before an audience in whom we didn't believe
in a pitch our ears had long-since rung dead.
I picked a lithic shard from the ground; a lyric, and scoured her with it,
and, in a nervous, quivering diction that I was certain belied my composure,
told her any story I could that had nothing to do with anything I remembered.

When I'd abrased her yet visible limbs, I returned my potsherd to its pot.
As much I can offer as filtered through my reservation, 
I will and willingly,
for if you are to know one thing of me,
and may you only know one thing of me,
it is that I am a selfish man and looking for reason to not be. 

Through none of this did she look at me, 
instead transfixed on the churning of the grey-pink sky
she was only then realizing was not of a sinking sun,
but rather of an aged cloud that, 
having drifted over and collected from the lands and seas
and their respective factories
for at least the extent of her construction and programming
had come into its own;
had become the ceiling of our realm.

She declothed and lay supine before me,
coarse caramel in a bowl of stone,
and breathed deeply—but silently—as I again took up my potsherd
and continued the scouring, 
rawing her tenders and calloused alike,
until caramel returned to milk
and milk ran pink.

IV

In the plains, tawny and coal,
we caught in the wind the souring scent of a forfeit flesh;
we caught in the wind the hot breath of a throat so rasped, so sore
and so dumb no knell could chime. 

We walked to where it lay on its side in the dry crop, threshed and matted,
its jaw clicking in twitch, its eyes pale and shot under purpled lids,
its talons dull or splintered, its tail hard-angled, broken and limp,
and its teeth—I could tell they were once many—all stolen.
We knelt over it—the stench from its pitted maw lacing our inhalations—
and I told her, Appreciate this and in it find what you've been designed to not,
for here in debut rest is the last beat beast you'll ever see.

I took her hand in mine and we stroked it— 
from its dry beak to its heated genitals,
from its brittle scales to its coarse fur,
from its swollen hooves to its molting wings,
from its soft muscles to its puckered teats stained with rust,
from its fat to its fat to its femurs to its fat
to its fractured exoskeleton to its grease to its salty sinew
to its underbelly to its carapace
and I said, I'm pretty sure we can fix this:
spread its legs and drag it—it can still slither—
mount it and kill from its back—it can still gallop— 
saw down its skull and sleep as its guts—
the trophy in atrophy.

It gave wet birth to a hatch of shattered eggs
and we hadn't eaten, so we drank them, all of them
until we were drunk, until we were drunk enough
to know we could never be too drunk
and then scraped clean its uterus with its severed sandpaper tongue
and carved from its back stretched fin steaks with its spines and quills
and filled our pooled stomachs with its pulled stomachs,
soaking parent in child in bile; in intestine sarcophagus. 

Panting, we licked at the berry stains on our cheeks
and felt their sweet irrigate our cracked lips
as, in the cave of its abdomen, we relished our lulled hungers.
It's not to my liking, I told her— 
"Nor mine, but little is"— 
and I'm pretty sure they make chemicals for this
Again, with her hand in mine, we pet it— 
"Poor gone creature with such bad flavor,"
it's not much longer now 'til your blubber burns,
"remember it was we who saved you,"
for we've need of a lantern, and one cannot possibly forget
that which he never never learns.

The good beast did not bray,
but did blaze.

V

In the city, vacant and surgeried
we saw a naked concrete, blushed in the soak of its immigrant parents.

On the bank of a black ravine stood a shelved file
of the last printed speeches, of published lullaby: 
this woman wore these few clothes 
and this man sang these many songs;
this woman danced these silly dances
and this man was impatient with this woman 
and so he hit her and so she hit him back
and so the issue sold so well and I bought the one remaining copy.

Through its leaves we traced coagulated veins 
in hope that they might lead us to branches, to trunks, to roots, to seed.
They did not, and we instead lost our way and one another
as we, in histrionic hilarity, horned one another
through limbic fogs of tart copy and troika photo—
the bitch, the beast, and the bard.

This, I said to her, is the dialogue of those
who have become weary of dialogue, so obsessed were they
by deluded homophony and the pretense, the pretext
of their own representation.

What we read, we read in the key of extinction,
rubbing into our skins the gloss and the matte alike
until the ink filled the trenches of our fingertips,
at once comforting and terrifying:
in those leaves our ridges were smoothed.

So I read to her a romance novel written by a wife:
in the beginning, the protagonist—a woman—
felt herself stitched in a loveless marriage,
the constricting seams of which she'd only just begun to notice—
cold, steely, uncuttable cables; a portrait
of her and her husband hung above the piano.
A great deal of narrative effort went into describing this portrait.
In the middle, she met another man—
a younger man, a handsomer man,
a stronger man, a violenter man
who, written in androgynous sympathies,
brought about a righteous and schismatic chaos,
freeing the woman from her husband.
In the end, she loved the new man and never missed her husband.
A great deal of narrative effort went into describing their sex.

The grey-pink sky dyed the leaves warmly
as we tore them from their spine.

VI

In the factory, skeletal and tremor,
we swam in vats of formula seed,
breathing deep the chalk, the dust of the plant
until it blessed our eyes and burned our nostrils,
until it coated our tongues and the walls of our lungs.

When we surfaced at the base of the silos,
we carried in our bodies' ravines
the sediment of industrial grain.
By it we were smoothed; by it we were layered.
We walked carefully to not upset our mantle
to a fracture in the cement floor
and shivered our seeds into the naked earth.
I stepped back and watched her cover them with chalk:
"Even the warm need a blanket under which they may sleep."
I laughed and shivered; ascended the stairs and lay prone on the catwalk above her.

Kneeling over her garden, she welled her mouth with saliva
and let it drip through her lips to mud the dust
and quench the thirsts of her stillborn menagerie:
electron vegetables and proton fruits,
neutron soils,
annihilative fungi.

For hours she did this until her mouth ran dry and her throat rasped,
but the fracture did not green.

Obsolescence and expiration, I told her, are the wisdoms of the arcane,
and though you're plot with patience, you're childishly restrained.

Through none of this did she look at me,
instead struggling to recall the proper melody, the curve of a lullaby,
that'd not long before pulled her skyward.

"Don't you worry, dear child of mine, 
it's okay to be frightened some of the time, 
but if you ever are, just look to the stars, 
for from that sweet milk does Heaven shine."

Through coarse chords she sang this and several more verses into the earth,
eventually rising to her feet to sashay,
but despite the zeal, the fervor of her rapture,
there were no cries from the nursery.

VII

On the coast, glassed and stormy,
we watched the oily waves lap hungrily at the shore,
scouring the black crust with salt and sand,
until it was too smooth and too slick for us to stand sturdily upon it.

Several times I slipped and broke my bones
and she dragged me back to the homes we'd made of the beachfront properties
that buffered the expanse and fenced the strewn guts
through which we'd been rifling in celebration.
One time, though she did not come for me,
and I was left to drag myself, tattering, across the shattered shells
and back into our window-walled living room,
where I lay watching for her,
sifting the horizon through my pupils until I wrongly healed.

The sea swelled with her return,
and thank goodness for that, because I was so scared. 
She said that while she was gone, she'd thought about how the world had received us,
about how the mountains, brooding, disavowed our gaiety
and refused to shade us or share their springs,
about how the forests, ashing, thought us irresponsible
and made worse and mocked our disorientation.
"What have we done?"
Much too much, I told her as the earth lurched beneath us,
they envy.

She lay next to me and whispered into my ringing ears
about everything I'd always wanted her to say;
about everything she'd been drawn to say.

It wasn't long before the ocean, turgid and provoked,
snapped our castle stilts and left our acres swath and revirgin,
and us to slap ourselves against the ebb
that we may again lie, heaving and seasoned in illicit repose.

When the whales washed ashore, we left our beachfront detritus
and swore to one another that we'd not go back
until our bodies no longer quaked with the vibration;
the miserable tremble of their song.

VIII

She spoke:

"Of the corpses of men and women and children I don't know,
of the poisons fused with their bloods now dammed in their veins,
of short-circuited logic and operating system fatality,
of synthetic nubility and high-market meats,
of internationalism and wandering and the open road,
of digital ease and analog asceticism,
of posturing, facade, and especially authenticity,
of pigs both slit-throat and not,
of participant government and freedom and indulgent anarchy,
of fat wallets and slim wallets and the cessation of product,
of mendicant monopods—I don't care where you've been, what you've seen—
of any kind of alien,
of projects and ghettos and suburbs and grottos,
of what's interesting and striking and variable conditions,
of broke-foot ballerinas and backwards square-dancing,
of sympathy and probably and sainthood,
of dusty books and clean books and gods and no-gods,
of hospital paradise,
I am bored,
and if I could, I'd null the lot with my yawn.

Though I may be the death of woman, I am not a dead woman
and no collision of sanctities will reupholster my flesh.
I will say my curves exist without equation,
Though my body may spring, I am free to rend it through summer
that is discolors long before it cools. Forget the feckless fetus. 
Though I was born pure twice, I welcome lush fountains and bright tablets
that they may swirl and wing me beyond myself.
Though I can't talk without medium and have been told they day I'll die,
I am at play with the plug and outlet.
Though I've been gripped and groped and made sensation,
I've been rewarded, and handsomely.
Though I've tasted sweets from overseas,
I'm best situated in the stupor of residence.
Though I'm bloated with intangible satisfaction,
I cant and don't want to qualify my arthritis. 
Though I'm not, I am.
Though there are countless flavors, and though sometimes I wonder,
I've found comfort under the gun of one.
Though I have a voice, I don't care to speak until it's too late.
Though I can buy, I'd rather buy.
Though my pillow is stuffed with rusty necklaces and cooled casings,
I'm not hunted.
Though that, I'd rather this.
Though the lost are misleading themselves, I find my way alright.
Though I can take in, I leave out.
Though it's quicker to climb up than it is to tumble down,
my lungs can carry more air when it's thinner. 
Though I live amongst the beautiful, it is too much, and maybe ugly is enough.
Though there are gods, there are also no-gods.
Though this is artifice, this is the perfectest. 

You have nothing to show me that I can't see on my own; I'm bored.
Though I was bored before, I at least could play.
Then this—now this—you've woken me,
and what can I do? I can cry. And where if not in your arms?
I am bored of your arms.
Rip the new that it may bleed; I'm bored."

IX

We returned to the beach in an inebriate haze,
naked and futile and starved and satisfied,
and surveyed the breadth of our ballroom.
Taking her hands in mine, I raised her onto my toes
and spun her—my joints clicking in twitch—
through the plasticked blubber and stained glass
that spilled from the behemoths at our beck.
From our cupped hands, we drank sloppily thick new wines
until they dyed our teeth and damped our feet.
Up the tongues of the whales, we waltzed to the thresholds
where, in hushed prayer, we beheld their cosmic maws,
grey-pink and gaping, dead and sweet.
Happy and supreme, we voyaged into them, 
and, tasting of brine,
we made love in their infinite bellies.

— 2011