The reeds of the swamp tower over my head. I can’t see very far ahead. I wade waist deep in water, but the sounds I hear tell me more or less what is happening around me. The feeling I get is that everything is waiting and it will only be a matter of time before something lashes out and strikes me, possibly killing me. But I won’t know until the last minute how this will happen. It may be an animal but it might be a person. And they will not be friendly. It will be a hostile encounter and I will not come out of it unscarred: perhaps cut and bleeding. The pain will slowly fade away or it will get worse. If it gets worse, then I am done for, for in this place an injury cannot be cured or else is slow to heal.
How long have I been in the swamp? It’s impossible to tell. I sleep at nights on a makeshift platform whose location is marked by the call of a bird who lives in the tree in which the platform is built. Sometimes if the wind is high it’s hard to hear the bird calling and often the bird is asleep or has flown off somewhere so does not call at all. At these times the platform is almost impossible to find and I don’t sleep. I have to drift off against a bundle of reeds, wedging my body between the stalks so I won’t fall into the water. Now and then I sense the faint swish against my ankles of a water snake. Or a wader bird. The stars peep through the black silhouetted blades of the waving reeds. But there is no safety or any chance of real sleep. Dreams slide in and out at these times and seem to have the same reality as the atmosphere of the night time swamp. The wind inside the reeds sounds like a metallic swishing, like tiny blades being sharpened. It’s a frightening sound- as are the cries of the night birds, which are not melodious but gutteral and booming. I have no way of knowing whether there is anyone else in the swamp and if so where they are. It’s better to stay quiet so as not to attract attention. If a signal was made, it would not come in the form of a cry or speech. It would be a subtly coded signal, designed to protect the secret of the whereabouts of the sender while also giving information about the reason for the communique.
It took me weeks to find the tree and I found it by accident. It suddenly loomed up before me like a welcome friend: fixed, solid, reassuring. The lower branches of the tree were plentiful and it was easy to climb up higher so it was possible to see out across the tops of the reeds. From above, the swamp looked like a dark green carpet streaked now and then by the gusts of wind which caused the reeds to part in a slight depression, giving a momentary shape to the green plate of the swamp and made it seem like the surface of an ocean: a vast, undulating mass.
I do not know exactly what I fear but since I am afraid I’m certain this innate uncertainty speaks of some definite threat hidden in the body of the swamp. Fear is a troubling emotion although it is useful to me. I am accustomed to its presence and I know its absence marks danger. So I try to remain alert, cautious and self-aware. I check and triple check any action I must perform.
I fish at night with insects as bait using a line cast into the water. I am nearly always hungry and have no way of cooking the fish. In any case a fire would bring predators at once to where I am. I offer part of my meal when I have it to the bird who nests in the branches of the tree and who by now has gotten used to me. I consider this a payment to the bird who most evenings guides me to safety.
THE TEMPLE OF ATHENA
My hair was cut today and I got fresh clothes. They took me to a barber, and told him, “Cut his hair”. The barber said, “How you want it?” I said short but leave my beard alone. While he cut my hair, they took my clothes and burnt them; gave me these fresh duds. It's cold still, but I sleep out in the park. No one knows I’m here. It's safe. The city's not safe. At night if someone finds you, you might get beaten, robbed or stabbed.
I was in the city yesterday. I saw a crowd outside a building. There were maybe fifty. Then they started walking in the building, so I followed them. The young lady at the door pretended not to notice me. I followed the line of people to the stairs. Near bottom of the stairs was a lift. There was a sign on the lift, saying it was broken. On the wall beside the lift was a picture of a lady in a helmet. She wore a dress and between her breasts was the face of a ghoul, who laughed at me.
Five flights up and I was beat. Soon as I stepped onto the landing, I felt dizzy. The line was moving slowly. I was getting angry. The height made me dizzy and I wanted to be sick. The concrete strip that led to the flat didn’t seem strong enough to hold us. I went into the open flat. The room was built of large brown bricks. People filed through then out again. There wasn’t much space. There were no windows, I don't think. If there were, I didn’t see them. I went into the kitchenette. No one there. There was a cupboard underneath the sink. I climbed inside the cupboard and closed the door. It was hot inside the cupboard. I could hardly breathe. Then later someone used the sink, I heard water in the plumbing, the pipe felt cold against my cheek. I must have been dog tired, because I fell asleep.
I woke and couldn’t tell what time it was. I pressed my ear against the door. Nothing. I climbed out of the cupboard. The flat was empty. It was very dark. I felt my way along the wall, then stepped into the middle of the room and lay down on the carpet. Now the room was freezing. My neck and body stung from being cramped inside the cupboard. As my eyes took in the dark, I noticed a triangle lit up the corner of the room. I got up and walked into the kitchenette and saw there was a window. I could just make out a streetlight behind a tiny grille. Then I heard a thud. Though the wall a thud again, and then another one. I went back to the other room, pressed my ear against the bricks and listened. A thud and then a woman groaned. Then the sound of flesh get hit. “Don’t ,” the woman said. A crash as something hit the wall. The door slammed, I heard the woman crying. It made me scared to go next door so I laid back down, watching the triangle from the street light on the carpet in the corner of the room.
I couldn’t sleep. I checked the window a few more times to see if it was day. Then I must have been asleep, because the ghoul was chasing me. I woke again and went to check the window. A dull grey light had come. I let myself out quietly so as not to scare the woman. I passed her flat, and saw her light was on. I peered into the blinds. The woman was asleep.
When the barber cut my hair, I asked about the picture of the woman with the helmet on. He said she was a god. He said her name but I forgot it. He said she went to war for men. He pointed to a picture in the shop. “That's her temple”, he said. “In Athens. See how beautiful it is? She cared for men, this goddess. That's what gods did, and men built cities for them.”
an errant pea
impelled by gravity,
off the kitchen bench.
on hands and knees
I tried desperately
to recover said pea,
like an up-stream tench.
THE ART OF BUSINESS
with John Teasle
Michelangelo claimed he could release the angel from the stone. Bernini, he just walks right in and makes himself acquainted. He totally ignores the marble. He totally ignores this obstacle which weighs a ton and must be negotiated with a fucking pick. What he was capable of. Utterly ruthless. Power broker. A lunchtime meet with some marquis or pope or other. Glad-handing the whole Vatican fraternity. But while the maestro’s shaking hands, he’s also conjuring up these miracles. The orgasm of Saint Theresa what you call it. Corkscrew columns. He makes you scared of it. Scared you were ever scared of any thing. But he teaches you. Just step in. Negotiate.
that bovine eye,
which i ascribed
was the risible stare
of a man not there,
suffering from blindness.