The curtain might rise anywhere on a single speaker — Edward Dorn
In the beginning, we’re told, was the Word, as told by The Word, and the rest is History, as the saying goes— remains, leftovers, to pick through, recycle, take apart, reassemble. The settlers here live in logos cabins built by linkin’ blogs from the Great Emancipator, in a chain of being that beggars any known epistemology. Above the road to Bone House a young woman hovers in her solar-powered levitation vest. She, as most of us, has known only the rapture of two suns, the paradisal parade, not that old Antaean grounding— But this is no narrative. I have no story to tell. No one’s life is an arc. The only plot lies somewhere off the road to Bone House, and even She Who Hovers cannot descry it or, left alone, describe.
My mother won a freezer and a fur coat on Queen for a Day one year, back when we had just the one sun— That’s not a story either, only accidents in succession. She filled in three blanks: In Bosch’s Hell a rat [pounds a drum]. Ding. [Marlon Brando] said, “I don’t like the country. Crickets make me nervous.” Ding ding. On Bolivar Peninsula, Hurricane Ike revealed a football-sized [mammoth’s tooth]. Ding ding ding. Each blank could have been a story, but she was no narrator, rather a filler of factual gaps (and she stored the fur coat [in the freezer]).
If this accounting were a story, it would probably trace the roamings of the human genome, the hiphopping Y and the independent, dependable X. But these characters need no N[arrator], as billiard balls need no cue, at most an interpreter, someone who can excavate the foundation of Bone House, beyond which now our two suns set, or explicate the narratives of the Tenders of Lies importuning at every cross road— But that, too, begins to sound like a story, even a meta- story, crackling in the electronic thicket.
In Second Life the Hall of Lectures accepts into it a colorful assembly, not individuals but clusters of behavior seeking a plan or if not a plan a mode or an organizing principle. They view the Lecturer from different angles, without knowing angles, and hear his voice on different wavelengths while parsing his words into a thousand different understandings. Each thinks he knows but all hear the scraping of the backhoe back at Bone House where the Programmer prepares to backdate the cornerstone when it sees sunslight— Which again is no story, a mere fact made up for convenience, a fabrication like any stone carved to purpose or not—
Much like the unicorns released to the countryside by the sentimental and unimaginative, which have multiplied, much as do also the sentimental and unimaginative, trampling the red wheat and despoiling the forests— All of which too could pass for narrative on a sunsless day, though the details likely would muffle interest, so many alleles turned to such obscure ends. Perhaps after breakfast someone will unleash a pack of teenage boys with laser blasters to thin the herd, which at least would be a linear gesture if not a story’s line.
When the suns eventually set, the iDream (patent pending) captures the citizens’ subconscious. They plug in to download their nocturnal transmissions for playback when they wake. They swap the narratives with friends or deposit them in Dream Bank boxes on even-numbered and oddly- named streets and wait for interest to accrue. Everyone knows by word of mouth whose dreams are best. iDream Editor is in beta test.
In First Life, Dr. Aribert Heim collected Jüdische Schädel, especially treasured the children’s skulls in a line on a shelf in his Matthausen office. Somewhere they went missing, as did he from the photograph of his German champion hockey team, ten years post-war. The Khazars, he claimed, drove him to the tennis court roof of the rundown hotel in downtown Cairo. They forced him to hear the muzzein’s call from Al Azhar mosque, to which he walked fifteen miles each day, Tarek Hussein Farid, with the check from his sister in Baden-Baden and his German Koran, gift for Uncle Tarek from his landlord’s children. Seldom seen in Cairo’s streets and stalls without his camera, he never appeared in a photograph. His unpublished book on the Zionists disappeared in Second Life, as did his cancer- ridden Aryan body.
“NeXT,” say the letters on the vacated building in Redwood City, the one with I.M. Pei’s ((((((floating staircase)))))) Now it’s an inpost for skunks and rodents, raccoons and foxes, feral cats. If every narrative needs a next, then the previous NeXT is Now, after the Gold Rush has doffed its Levi’s and plucked its chickens, after the Silver Surfer has washed up on the silicon strand, as RejuviMed shores up the foundation, anchors the staircase— Voila! vivarium.
And so it begins again, another iteration, recombinant in the retelling, running on the inside track, another accident needing to happen, another avatar flipping switches cut from the family tree. [Reload current page] My avatar blogs about my life— Stephen has 63 friends, but they’re not speaking— and others’ avatars read it as if my life is all middle, no beginning and end. Chances are my avatar will outlive me, but he’ll run out of things to blog about, if he hasn’t already, since verbs and adverbs and pre- positions and prepossessions have no place in Second Life, and the number of names, while great, is finite, and conjunctions become wearisome after a spell, or even before it’s cast, spellcheck or no. (Or was that a rumor unleashed by some other writer about the verbs, and adverbs and cetera, disinformation manufactured by MFA program insurgents. Hmmm?) Stephen is having leftovers for dinner again. [Reload current page] 404 Error: File not found [Reload current page]
The Speaker of Facts emits messages from wireless receivers mounted on each hitching post all around Town Square to counter the neigh sayers and keep the populace in line. “Peanuts are legumes,” the Voice asserts for the record. “Water was available yesterday.” On the reality show “Scriptorium Idol,” monks from various religious traditions compete to rewrite the classics to conform to the world we imagine today (which should not be confused with the competing program, “Reality Today,” flowing through a pharmaceutical distribution channel near you). The audience favorite, a Trappist, reworks Hemingway—and who wouldn’t want that task—so now, at last, The Suns Also Rise. The long shot Gnostic scrivener has Ecclesiastes, in which no thing is new under either sun, though Bone House must undergo reverse engineering. The facts change, but the meanings remain in dispute beyond any serious lingering interest.
The tour guide at the Memorial for Forgotten Phrases explains that in the old days “laughing out loud” meant “LOL.” “We’re told,” she continues, “that no one ever wrote or said ‘laughing out loud,’ but apparently the phrase existed before its current transliteration.” “More puzzling,” she says, “is the phrase to your left—‘What the fuck’—which is what our forebears used as we use ‘WTF.’ Although we know the definitions and functions of the individual words, scholars disagree on the meaning of the phrase.” “On your right is ‘For what it’s worth,’ which was a popular song in First Life. No one knows why it became our ‘FWIW,’ despite extensive research on the song’s lyrics, which, FWIW, do not contain the phrase.” She pauses. “If this is TMI, you may take notes.”
Do you wish to overwrite this file? All information will be lost— Unlike palimpsests, in which multiple stories play out simultaneously, though some be hidden or infuse their color into the pre- and post-scripted narratives cohabiting a parchment. These scribblers had no fear [The Speaker of Facts announces: “Today the sky fills the eye.”] of history, just an immediate need for materials. Goethe sought more light and died. Augustine needed more earth, so overwrote Cicero, the Psalms trumping but not undermining De Republica, or so the story went— Not unlike the Albert Speer bunker in East Berlin, which the Russians then next used to warehouse bananas from Cuba, the redolence of which persisted in the S&M techno club and now the art gallery—four different stories five stories deep under Reinhardstrasse— Unlike on the edge of our town, where Digital Diversions Developers (3D) does site preparation for DanteWorld, the project beginning in medias res, Purgatorio to open next fall. The Inferno phase is fully financed, but Paradiso is still dicey, if not jagged, and the architects struggle to convert terza rima into glass, steel, and rollercoasters. La Vita Nuova Hotel and Spa will open on schedule. [Reload current page]
[The Speaker of Facts again: “According to Wikipedia, in the seventh century the Dalai Lama dispatched his scholars to Tibet’s neighboring lands and charged them to return with a workable written language.”] (That ’pedia entry is subject, of course, to revision, endless tweaking, or deletion. Check back before speaking author- itatively on this or any other subject.) At the Hot Links Café the wireless is free. Every sausage tells a story, and each like a story passes through one grinder into another in reaching the Reader’s Digestion.
Meanwhile, in the Museum of Poetic Devices, Ed Dorn’s Literate Projector stands on permanent display, running 24/7, throwing transubstantiated movies into stark text on a flat screen. It purrs as the audience gasps as “characters” become characters, Brando’s Terry Malloy’s constellation of movements and motives distilled to combinations and recombinations of 26 symbols and assorted punctuation, diacritical marks and remarks (My avatar’s blog prevaricates: Stephen wonders why the story of Tibet’s written language has never been written in Tibetan.) contending for white space and a reader’s eye. Crowds form to try to stump the Projector, calling out Andalusian Dog! and Three Stooges! and although it threw sparks when distilling Koyaanisqatsi, the text projected clear and linear in the darkness of the filmic transmutorium.
Stephen’s avatar “writes”: Gravity obtains. Bone House is no subterranean Berlin banana bunker disco. Bone House has but one story, ground level, told over and over and again, but it has exactly as many meanings as the number of visitors who pass through it. On the walls of Bone House the Muralist painted the story of human progress under one old sun— the hominid antecedents, agriculture, the printed word, the modern flourish of electromagnetic enterprise, occupations, and pre- occupations— and the Muralist’s descendants return each generation to paint different faces, pentimento, on Neandertal, homo habilis, statesman, emperor, philosopher, and astronaut, perfecting the belief in, while confirming, the fallacy of perfectability. “Stephen” blogs, I’m not averse to avatars but I think they should be seen, not heard—no avatars aloud—
I lie here writing in Bone House, barely remembering First Life, when the Word became flesh and the world rippled out from my hand and eye to horizons more easily imagined now than understood then— or when I sank into Second Life and learned to look out these windows, walk these hallways, pace these empty rooms, forget names and faces, and tear the pages from the book of hours. Words failing, flesh failing, the world without falling in while the exhaust of the backhoe mixes with the memory of mortuary gardenias. The nouns break down into phonemes, then consonants, vowels, then curved and straight lines, serifs, dots, before dissolving into the silent earth. The verbs evaporate in their own heated intensity. I lie here writing in Bone House. I lie and I wait.
At which “my” “avatar” “deletes” “his” “story” and blinks at history, all of which words in the preceding clause constitute a narrative, notwithstanding what any “narrator” in good standing may tell us, not unlike the habitual clicking of the reload button— 410 Error: Gone [Reload current page] Έν άρχη ήν ό Λογος. Caveat lector.
Stephen Bunch lives and writes in Lawrence, Kansas, where he received the 2008 Langston Hughes Award for Poetry from the Lawrence Arts Center and Raven Books. His poems can be found in Autumn Sky Poetry, The Externalist, The Literary Bohemian, Fickle Muses, and Umbrella. From 1978 to 1988, he edited and published Tellus, a little magazine that featured work by Victor Contoski, Edward Dorn, Jane Hirshfield, Donald Levering, Denise Low, Paul Metcalf, Edward Sanders, and many others. After a fifteen-year hibernation, he awoke in 2005 and resumed writing. Preparing to Leave, his first gathering of poems, was published in 2011.