Four Adventures, by Charles Freeland.
Borrowing a Line from the Gettysburg Address
We feel less inspired to accomplish anything once the Earth's orbit has been
explained to us the way you might explain the molting process to a child.
Which means diagrams and those legends at the foot of the diagrams that
could exist by themselves and never need to be ashamed. They are like lesser
figures from Beowulf given their own epic adventures by a poet who thought
he might be doing them a favor. But who was really just causing a stir where
there didn't need to be one. And isn't it distasteful how we rummage about
in the past looking for a name or an anecdote, some quasi-literary gem to
illustrate what we have no ability to illustrate with our own invention? Has
it really come to this, our minds so withered by time and under-use, we must
draw on the vision of men who lived three thousand years ago? In sweltering
tents or caves decorated all over with pornographic images drawn by the
older children? And the rudiments of an alphabet drawn by the younger?
And Clearly It Must be Hard When It is So Seldom Found
I have procured the snorkels. We wait on an outcropping. When the bus comes,
it's obvious the driver doesn't understand the meaning of the word
"recrudescence". Eulalie is too impatient to wait for me. She waves away the
anchor. Sometimes we think the world is made entirely of sandstone. That it
will crumble at the touch of a thumb. Between rocks, I stumble on slugs the
color of peonies. I've been told they crave blood. Eulalie is gone again to
the village. I imagine her there, wrapped in blankets. Music tumbles out of
the spaces in the thatch of the roof. It sounds like someone drowning. But
what does that mean? Where does it slough off its physical nature and turn,
as if magically, into some kind of statement? Some kind of order that
communicates the same credo and disease to me as it does to the men gambling
in the corner?
Fugue, Commencing at the Toes
We must check our instincts for unbounded admiration before they turn us
into runway models. Or worse yet, the people in the audience who wish they
were runway models, but who don't feel as if they have yet perfected the
sneer, the grasp of pre-Raphaelite aesthetics necessary to succeed up there.
Or at least turn the passions into a kind of folding chair on which you may
sit comfortably while everybody else gets knocked off his feet by the
spinning of the Earth. You'd think people would get sick of waiting. But
maybe they don't mean the same thing by "waiting" as we do. Assuming, of
course, we can come to some sort of consensus ourselves. I remember a time
when you couldn't get people to stop whistling even if you'd gained a
hundred pounds. If you went about it intentionally, hoping to deflect the
attention that might otherwise have been directed at the hummingbirds. And
their habit of trying to run each other through with their beaks. I mean,
enough's enough really. And if we can't concentrate on one thing at a time,
we might as well not waste our time trying to concentrate on two.
By the time they reach the summit, the snow has begun to melt. It has
changed its make up without altering itself at the molecular level. At least
that is his theory when he is pressed to explain what happened later. Over a
cup of some liquid originating in Argentina and tasting like those mints we
used to hoard as children. Because we were afraid whoever manufactured them
might not continue. We had heard rumors. We were looking through the wrong
end of the binoculars.
The woman at his side studies her nails so relentlessly, he begins to wonder
if she has something hidden there. A document the size of a fish scale. And
covered on both sides with scribbling. With anecdotes she picked up while
reading other people's memoirs in anticipation of beginning her own.
How often are we encouraged to back over the remnants with a cart? To crush
to oblivion the last bits of bone and skin? And the receipts for the things
we purchased with money we did not have when we started out? But found
somehow miraculously in the pockets of our coats? As if someone had wished
to test our mettle, like Dionysius the Younger demanding treasure from a
citizen of Syracuse said to hoard his millions. And then, when the man had
gone elsewhere to spend what little he held back for himself, Dionysius
returned the rest because the man now knew its proper use.
But imagine for a moment we have been catapulted across open fields like
hunks of stone. And when we descend, we do so with such violence, our limbs
are turned backwards. And we feel no pain but we understand that nothing
will be as it was before. No more roller skating Friday nights when the
girls will let you touch them in the alley if you buy them a Coke. No more
re-shaping your anger into enormous works of art.
When he tries to explain this to her in the car, the woman turns her head as
if she has gotten a splinter in her face. And she doesn't wish for him to
see the agony and the disfigurement it has caused. Though, in truth, she
knows she would retain her beauty even with a thumbtack in her skin. Even
with half a dozen of them arranged to look like something animate. A snail,
say. One of those birds that know how to say their own name. This image sets
her to chuckling in spite of herself. In spite of the dramatic effect she
had worked so hard to create. And when she attempts to arrest her mirth, she
can't. She begs simply to be allowed to begin again. To act as if she has
just now decided she will sleep with him.
Charles Freeland teaches composition and creative writing at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. The recipient of a 2008 Individual Excellence Grant from the Ohio Arts Council, he is the author of several chapbooks of poetry, including Furiant, Not Polka (Moria), The Case of the Danish King Halfdene (Mudlark), and Where We Saw Them Last (Lily Press). Recent work appears in Otoliths, Poetry International, MiPoesias, Spinning Jenny, Offcourse, 580 Split, Harpur Palate, and The Cincinnati Review.
His website is The Fossil Record (charlesfreelandpoetry.net) and his blog is Spring Cleaning in the Labyrinth of the Continuum ( charlesfreeland.blogspot.com).
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