We had time enough to exit the sanctuary before the reformatting hit,
enough to spread a blanket of protection, small
to avoid the satellite-eye, before all we had built
became verdant-green-grass-pastoral. We had little choice at that point.
Phoenix by midnight...or the crowds would surround us
what was in our trunk,
what was causing this punishment,
We had found a One frozen solid in paleolithic-technology–
an early form of carbonite freeze.
Just about the time revolvers were still
the trick-of-the-trade, this stranger strangled
herself in immortal sleep, unwittingly awaiting this most ominous of days, this
time-of-times, this intrusion.
Her story is still sketchy at best, 1
but the little of it we had pieced together
painted her with a viciousness, a grandiosity of violence
that would better befit one with a different moniker.2
For now, we simply called her Stranger.
Reborn in this late century, her pure unaltered DNA,
her original limbs and organs, her unadulterated metabolism still
appropriate to this dimming planet made her vital
to the cause. And though she would not thaw out
for a while still, we had smuggled her out of the tower,
the bastion of our contact with the heavens.
A literal stranger in a strange land corrupted—
falsified by our will to dominate landscape: nothing.
For some reason we thought she gave us a chance,
a fighting chance against this terrible paralysis, this post-apocalyptic
fury that had been unleashed, this complete control exercised
from above, from without, and from within—
she still had the Colt .45 holstered to her belt,
its legendary call-and-response something not heard
for almost millennia—myth come back from envy
of men and the imagination of women.
The capacity for passionate violence still
resided in her muscle-corded limbs.
Ours was lost in the sea of contemporary purges.
Horus and Anubis had descended,
unleashed upon our comrades as well as our leaders.
There was nothing to be done. We had to summon her.
She was the only thing that could set things aright.
The aquamarine web laid quickly fifty-or-so meters from the tower
was our only hope of survival.
On the ancient highway to Phoenix, pocked and straddled with boards,
our vehicle hit a bump and overturned itself. She would be thawed too soon!
And open fire she did. Nothing could stop her terrestrial judgement.
As if all the horrors of a life lived, from one point of fidelity to the next,
the immanent changes and the gradual becomings into new seats of fire,
her awakening was so...organic. Like a journey where one starts
in frame one, a man sitting at a bar, smoking a cigarette, a little bit drunk
but none worse for the wear, through adventures which necessarily culminate
in the awakening and finding of powers, the recession of them, the finding of new ones,
until the man is fighting gods themselves, defeating them, rising, awakening again,
promoting himself into higher and higher universes where ultimate nirvana,
true enlightened bliss enters, fought for, but strangely destined with what combination
of free will there may exist, until the story ends, last panel, with the self-same man
The gods, Isis, Osiris, all the rest, could not help but to fall to this Saint of Killers, this hate born to rule, and to judge, and to replace.
sitting at a bar, smoking a cigarette, a little bit drunk but none worse for the wear,
fade to credits, gallery of stills, written and drawn by: , she glared at our hollowed out eyes
and replacement epidermis, our transplanted brains and reconstructed heads, and with no matter
shattered our every existence with bullets from before immortality.
1Symphony of the Great Transnational
Finally! The shift has occurred!
We had been stalled for days rocking worry on our haunches,
muttering about bandits, but now we are finished waiting
for that interminable freighter to pass—that long serpent
raking its claws against steel veins.
The track has shifted and we are on our way, chugging west,
the rain falling in a complex rhythm
with the steady cadence of forward moving wheels.
I hadn’t smelled the creosote since
gods with hammers, strange men from the east,
and overseers enough to disturb any union head
drove the last golden spike through. I can remember
being on that team all through that mottled Utah May,
up there in Promontory thanking Abe, who,
despite being mixed up with that kin problem,
had the foresight way back in ‘62,
(a terrible year by all accounts,
my own being a yarn spun so thick and long
I’d have to ask ole’ Munny for the exact details),
to give me that terrible job of connecting
two sides of an entity gobbling itself
like some reified behemoth
addicted to ether and loose women,
crawling slowly inward on its belly
of broken glass scales, weighing
the soil down with disinterred hearts in its stomach
of the men and women who had fought
to keep that connection possible.
I had fought a little for both sides,
played the guest at some dirty gulag in El Paso,
and even sang professionally at a few state funerals,
but the Union Pacific had offered the only work
where I got three square meals.
Missing those fasts in my break,
afflicted with fever, dehydration:
the black death of the frontier...
the dining car rhymed with pity that day. The pity we all felt,
sitting there, holding our hats, vigorously trying to ignore the whiskey haze.
I’m telling you, this was before refrigeration,
long before ice could exist in July on the Wyoming plain rushing by
life, one might say today, but real
like a movie projected on the side
of a warehouse, a storehouse
of jetset goods set to explode
when the bug hits the millennial fan—beef jerky
was the party program, our raison d’etere, our yup
in the face of that vast unity of blue which hung above us.
Ole’ Butch couldn’t contain us—forward momentum!—
that forever western push doesn’t succumb to the raids
of some blue eyed, smooth talkin’, well...
yankee–never does. Keeps going.
Ole’ World hadn’t known frontiers in so long
that young Alex was still having the taws played upon—
that is all we have known. For centuries now.
So much distance and time and promises,
and of course we would always be separated by
ten thousand years and a vial of aspirin,
which mean photograhs, which mean slide-shows
on a sheet of papyrus, which is nothing
sitting beside an anthill).
I poked my head out the engineer’s side
two miles before the forest, smoothed my wrinkled chinos—
(slightly dry, a momentary abundance—restless eyes,
helminth feet and a vague awareness
of being; closets stuffed full, citizens in their homes;
no song is ever good enough
except the gun blasts blinking against the glare
of falling ice to the north and a few John Henrys
who’ve forgotten Panatlanticism as soon as it began:
it split their heart.)
This was the Great Transnational (that never
got off the ground). This would be
the liminal edge and end of the World, the end of Liberty Valance,
the end of tributaries actually feeding rivers,
at this end of the tracks, (there’s good shopping,
good half-ravers in techno bars).
We were all stealing,
that’s why I’m here—all those new friends,
here, in the west where every ounce of tweed
became a filial attachment—where—
where was paradise?
Outside my window
two bison roamed the Kansas plains,
they were twirling semiotic batons
in the noon graylight. The men in the car
couldn’t get to their guns fast enough.
Heard once that this sort of thing
was encouraged; sometimes the trains had to
come to a full stop for the herds. Heard once
that this sort of thing made one
believe we were all being led
somewhere. Heard it from
a little man with intense eyes
who told me about the epic
that was being written on the plains,
in the Rockies, and on the coasts.
That this epic was a tale
that would be told by silver-light
in dark rooms and seen by men, women, and children alike,
voyeurs who would remain completely motionless.
Word had gotten around to the right people,
so we added just a little bit each night
to this vast tale. It would be the tale
of the West, of times
when the rattlesnake posed the greatest threat
to running drugs out of Nogales.
But we gave it up. Trains have no tales,
Closed, my eyes covered themselves naturally
amidst the gunfire, as if a dance of Sanskrit motion
combing the paths to the quarantined areas of this vast left,
were the somewhere hinted at crying in the basement. If I
had gone down the steps to see just how high the watermark ran
during monsoon imago, I would have only seen the tracks running by,
which would force my body to lurch back into the sway
of the left right, which would force my body topside
where the watermark hadn’t been seen in three generations.
Something about the movement of the train,
the steam whistle, the heat and dust
of the dining car, the fever of movement,
change, vision–something caused,
simultaneously, the waiter and myself
to whisper, “The shame.”
The same something which disabled us
from glimpsing the other’s whispered words
or the shadows of seagulls migrating east—
bleak shapes in the noontime sun.
Someone once told me in El Paso,
that you could read an entire almagest
in the pattern of birds’ shadows.
He, like the rest of us there,
were chained and hadn’t seen
shadow since the trading company
put us there to rot for blowing open
cathedrals. Someone once told me
that this was the only pilgrimage...left,
always, I had a destination, with a name
and a face seen only on paper, which
made me very glad to see
that someone had been possessed
of enough foresight to put a player piano
in one corner of the car. The tinkling keys
went well with the dusty whiskey symphony,
the sweat dripping from my forehead onto
the dry beef, and the obviously peculiar stare
of One-Eyed Jack: most notorious
cattle rustler in the territories:
my staked claim, all forest and ocean,
Oregon (for the uninitiated).
Sauntering over in step with the music,
I saw he was playing seven card with a few cowboys,
their faces all stone and ice, twisted around the smoke
of each man’s foul cigar. I pulled
the cigar from the nearest rustler’s creased face to light my own,
and placing it back, said, “You One-Eyed Jack?” All heads turned slowly.
Jack leaned back in his chair and cocked his one good eye at me,
letting it linger on my pistol for a moment and said,
“Who’s asking?” his voice like gravel rattling
in an empty tin drum, riddled with bullet holes.
“Well that depends,” I said while the cowboys
inched away from the table, “I can be either
your lovely escort for the evening, all done up
in ball gown and glass slippers, waiting
with patient hand for a waltz toward our destination,
or I can be the grim reaper of big-time end of the world
type eschatology, raining fire like the worst Abaddon.”
“I see,” he said, the cowboys now out their seats, four of them,
and nothing between me and the door, but a few loud mouthed
easterners, their bladders already loosening. “You see miss,” he said,
“There are a few words I’d like to have with any man or woman who comes along
looking for my hand or head, so if you don’t mind,
before we start our mambo, listen well.
“Fever crystalized doesn’t depend upon the sharpness of its points,
but upon the breach it can make in the hull
of our Madeleine Ferguson memory.
Like breaking an arm, the old adage regarding loss
doesn’t begin to clarify, only ease
the stop and go of Heraclitean flux:
“This is where I live.
A fieldmouse, a sandstorm off the port-bow—this
is a lusty haven for the newly indicted,
the newly fixed for the always acquainted front line mongrels.
“This is where I roam dusty train tracks.
Goodbye lonely shipping yards
the mustard stew has flown the coop
and we are all readying ourselves
for the goodbye fantod of crystals crystals.”
II After Racing to the Engineer’s Room, Dodging Bullets and Leaping the Gaps Between the Cars
The waxen glow of the fire
revealed gnarled hands, too young to be
slowly stoking the flames with bent back
and a poker of hair. The man illumined
had fashioned tools from his beard
and gray hairs. So stoking the flame
became a slow, olfactory consumption,
an impotent burning, a slow hallucination.
The fumes from the hair brought him visions:
women strumming thick chords on motley guitars given at birth;
bartenders talking on cordless phones, in a mad nexus of blues, reds:
visions of overwhelming youth, times when each petty tragedy,
each stirring moment, led to an outpouring.
As the man’s poker slowly burned, his hand began to blister.
But the fire had cooled.
His wound wouldn’t cauterize.
Like a man bleeding to death from a scratch,
he would perish from a single scorching, burning event:
a hemophilia of tragedy.
And in the aftermath,
the ash blew on the wind
and through the cornfields
like leaflets and pamphlets
proposing anonymous tranquility
as I lay unconscious on the floor of the engine-room, a prophet remembering.
Terrible time it was mixing into that solvent earth;
we had spent night after night digging at the soil
trying to raise something above our heads in a ringing cry,
and there were only nettles mixed in...that’s all we found.
Raking leaves we toiled month after month,
We went into town and saw
a heroin motorcade move past,
letting bags of white celebrity
fall from the cracks
in their limousine windows.
The streets were filled with wild and frantic people
hoping to get a glimpse behind murky windows,
a glimpse of something—something
round and soft, that we could take to the salted fields with us,
something like a balm—found in
brilliant little concave groves
weary in threadbare simplicity—
to soothe our yellow and bloody hands.
We followed the procession of limousines
out of town as if they were pipers
dressed in reflecting black.
We followed until we were all standing
at the door of our trailers breathing heavily
the perfumed exhaust and the musk of the earth.
We stood solemnly watching as the last limousine
disappeared behind our local smithy’s forge,
tempering cocaine dreams with our calloused foreheads.
The fields were fertile with stone and ash
when we returned to them that night.
A boy, with dirt already creased in the folds
of his skin, came to us as we walked home.
Awe made a radio of his face as he said,
“I found this stone in the earth today....
Years later concrete had replaced a hazy carpet.
A parking lot was laid over our red land
and we longed for shoes. There weren’t many left.
Most had moved on, but we would kneel as the sun rose
and chant the only words we had left,
“I found this stone in the earth today....
I found this stone in the earth today,
I found this stone in the earth today
it glitters, it glitters.”
The train was picking up speed, hurtling toward Promontory
and that last glittering spike, dislodged by some thrill seeker,
some treasure hunter in the midnight of our generation’s nightmare war,
dislodged to offer up its great weight to our onrushing, unattended locomotive.
One-Eye had just detached the cars for speed,
was just about to bind my unconscious soul
hand and foot for a later use, when the cattle-scoop struck gold.
Struck, only to continue its direction, now hurtling end over end, into the center of town.
I was brought to by the force of our landing, and in that instant of chaos and blood
and fire, I saw. It was no Saul road, nor fiery weed,
but it was an enemy, and it was not of this Earth.
Picking my broken and wracked body off the floor,
I exited the train,
to see One-Eye picking himself up off the dirt
in front of the Sheriff’s Office, having been thrown clear
of the spinning locomotive and the coal.
Blood was streaming from his one good eye.
And there was no shoot-out, no high drama
in the streets of Promontory, no Morricone drawl in the background–
my Oregon, my Elysian fields, my Paradise Regained,
was now impossible. Not for the bill, the warrant
and its differing numbers for capture or decapitation,
but for that terrible vision, that great lie we called our Saviour.
Instead, there was a clean, point-blank bullet hole
in his face, right between the eyes.
I don’t remember much after I pulled the trigger for the first time,
but when they finally wrapped me up in adamantine cuffs around both arms and legs,
my gun swallowed into my Being,
After they dragged me away,
throwing the key into the Marianas Trench,
after that show-trial, that juridical circus,
I was told the charge: wholesale slaughter of innocents:
women, children, men, dogs, cows, horses (I suppose they caught me
gnawing on some weeds—I’d already burned everything that would...),
and destruction of a national treasure:
that stone tie, or at least what they think is that authentic golden spike, now on display
in a new exhibit at the Smithsonian commemorating the dying and dead frontier
while I await my own kind of tourists behind as much plate and steel
as the Declaration.
I have become nothing more than the nameplate on the door outside
this room. The paths of sweat running down these walls,
interrupted by scratched messages left there
by the generations interred as I am now,
are defined merely by their return to the metal grating that collects
all fluids in one drain in the center of the floor.
Having gotten to a certain point, there was no further land to traverse, no boundaries to cross:
the rails lead straight here as they twisted across the great expanse of land behind.
I was taken out of my sleeper and directed from the platform to here,
to this room with its one window overlooking the water, bay, and city.
My keepers wear nothing but white frocks occasionally stained by blood and shit;
they told me this was a kind of cure, a way to find myself
under the great cloudy sphere above; I was told I would need nothing else.
At night, when my keepers go home to their prefab homes on the shore,
I read the messages that cost fingernails and time,
the words that cover every inch of these walls–I read for a few hours
then sleep. My one amenity is a coffee maker and it keeps me up sometimes with its gurgling and sputtering
and the darkness it spreads. I am leaving this account here
like all the accounts surrounding me, to give you who will come after again and again some testimony of the pushes’ end that is now
falling back into the sea of wheat and the plains which once seemed endless.
I am leaving this message to affirm the promise made to me of a plot of land—
this is it. Nothing has been denied me, everything came through eventually.
I hardly need to say that it was all I have ever hoped for and more.
Could I ever have imagined a number so great, that is the infinity of this room?
If you are here, you might want to look under the mattress.
I have left there that last golden spike, that last mineral piece of stone
which my train dislodged on its crescendo of a run and came careening,
as if fated, into my hand right before I disembarked.
I have written a name on the bottom: the name of the last to come
and the grave which now holds what you should be looking for.
Memorize this name and destroy the spike if you can.
Many would die for much less knowledge of it, but you my eventual roommate
in this hotel of wearied presence, I gift to you the last piece
of the puzzle that completes this union of states,
the piece that might finally fit into the keyhole
and open the door on this last piece of untouched land.
Why, you ask, are you worthy of this information; why you ask
is there an answer to all of it?
Because there is nothing left. Because you are here,
right where you should be, and for now will remain here
until you can decode the messages that lie beside this one.
This makes you worthy. Not because you have traveled across that tightrope stretched
between Nueva York y Los Angeles
but because there is no rope, and no poles which to climb to the height
of what was never there in the first place.
I hope you have found this useful, the keepers are about to slide my bread and water
through the tiny slit in the door, so I will return
always and forever, return to this, and the other messages later.
I hope you suffer this room better than I have.
They are comi–