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ANIMALS FOR LIFE

traduced from André Breton and Philippe Soupault’s Les Champs Magnétiques, with help from Elizabeth Anglin

One day we found the remains of a building that had been a snake-pit or a monument to snakes. We didn’t cry. We didn’t care for the solar system.

The day we did cry the women who knew us offered us their love. There was only death to thank for all the hugs and food they gave us.

The reverse of everything was true then. No one knew what to say. If only we had been there when it happened we could have been spared.

In our dreams the trauma kept recurring. Sooner or later we had to visit the factories of our failures. When we would lose track of them they would track us down, and we’d meet in the same place we’d started, under the Chinese elms, and one of us would still be lost for good. We’d have our picture taken many times so that one could be framed. The photographer would give us things to smile at, which made us forget how to. Our smiles were full of errors. We kept the things to cry at to ourselves.

One day Little Dry Creek flooded, and we went down. We were so happy to see it so high we followed it north toward the city. We stopped to stain our crooked mouths with resin. We found a cottonwood lodged and a way to unlodge it. We got on. It ripped out fences and knocked down trees, and all in silence we rode the battering ram. We turned around afraid and laughed at the power we were riding on, our little dry creek so full we couldn’t run back inside.

A man appeared to us and said he’d lost his wife in the flood before. He said we shouldn’t be doing what we were doing, and we don’t remember how we could have had time to slow down and hear his lecture. There wasn’t a neighbor whose warning would have made any difference. We were thinking of the smooth sailing through the golf course just ahead, no more alders tugging at us or strands of barbed wire. We were in for banks as soft as fairway grass.

One of us got downstream of the trunk. None of us could see the shallowness rising up to meet the floodedness and the one leg first by a foot then the other by a knee took the laugher downstream under. The trunk that pinned him in the narrow channel took its time in passing over, and made less noise than the milkman made at six a.m.

We’re drops of water, we’re animals for life. We know about the dead stars. We see the valleys. We keep our eyes on faces. We take pleasure. Our mouths are drier than beaches the ocean doesn’t turn up on anymore. Sometimes the wind hangs us on trees the sun cuts out. We laugh. We try to sing. But the heart’s gone out of it. We wish we could catch fever.

We wish the train stations hadn’t abandoned us. The long corridors at least frightened us. Now there’s no sitting room, only waiting room. That isn’t shelter. We keep on suffocating, we keep on bringing to mind the shreds of what we used to love. December suns, thin strips of land our eyes could roll like rivers on, the way it was when we were little. Now it’s just absurd animals and plants so common their names don’t matter.

The cities we want to love some more are dead. We’ll end up hating the sky and the dump-like land. That’s what we see when we look around. But when the fire’s dead in the grate, there’s always the stars. The stars never used to people our dreams. They’re so tender now we’re afraid to touch them.

When the geese take flight late in the afternoon they do it quietly at first. Then their honking brings us out of doors to get a good look at their veer formation. They pass over the trash heaps and the golf course and the school that’s never big enough. They skirt the redwing blackbirds and the robins we shot with bb’s. They keep us standing with our heads cocked.

The one who knows how to give us that leaping kind of joy lives pretty far from here. We want to ask her if she’s forgotten our voices wrapped in fondness and our other ornery gestures. We want to know if the hellish little things torment her anymore. The other women where she lives frighten her, they cry out so many times a day, “How far do we go? How long till we get there?” We want her to recite “The Rhodora” for us suddenly. We wish she would open an orange and fill the room with her sweet voice.

Today again (when will this short life end?) we’ll go to meet our friends, and our problem will be the same. The air we filled our lungs with just yesterday is unbreathable now. There’s nothing to do but look straight ahead or not look at all. If we turn our heads the man whose wallet we stole last might be gaining on us.

Can we really own up to it? That all voyages are ended and only interruptions remain? We left the mountain towns with bitter resentments and crimes on our hands.

Our minds are made up of books we think we have to read. We’re sure we’ll love some of them, but we fall asleep after ten pages. We won’t break out at this rate. It’s always as if we’re on the verge of being logical. We want one idea that won’t be a prospectus but a career. On the other hand, our habits are hard to break. When the blackout hits, the light switch is first thing we reach for.

What insult us and make us so sullen are commercials, we’ve loved them so much. And now we must abandon them, even them.

The whole earth wasn’t enough for us. We needed bigger deserts, suburbs without cities, drier water, cleaner dust. But others kept coming up with reasons why we didn’t need these things.

We’re reaching the end of sacrifice. We don’t know what to do with ourselves. Our skeletons show through us like branches. We crack our necks and knuckles. It makes us aware of those who are squeamish. We stopped using chalkboards a long time ago, when we thought we’d seen the other side of ignorance. Yesterday we slipped at the mall in front of the dry goods store, the tenth one we passed. We meant to stay until we saw how sad things can get, but we couldn’t, there were so many pants.

We play the games of our hearts as we find them. They’re toys we pitch up so high we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t come down. It’s the number of times we pitch that’s astounding. It makes us suspicious of our own intensity. We begin to think there might be something to the talk of depth people are always trying to get us to believe in. Sometimes they use expressions so fancy and practical we can’t believe there might not be a time when they’d come in handy.

Those who don’t even think of themselves as adventurers also live in what we may still call the open air. But they don’t let themselves get carried away with their feverish imaginations. The night goes by nevertheless and we wake up occupying ourselves.

We’re not sure where power’s located. We’ve just begun to say that it is located. One thing at a time (is that the best advice we can repeat?).

Our strength is something we’ve slowly become conscious of, even though we used to attribute to ourselves pretty easily the power to hurt those who liked us. They thought they knew us and we thought we knew ourselves. Now, when their disbelief in our existence begins to dissolve us, our disbelief in theirs must be equal to the task.

We’re sick of the sound of bells and we’re fed up with scaring ourselves. If we have to cut our throats again with silence we won’t be able to repeat the statistics, even though we know the page numbers.

We also know the kind of people who can’t wait until it’s time for scarves and won’t strip them off when they come inside. And yet we’ve seen priests in their cars with their collars hanging down like bibs unhitched.

When the straw-colored after-dinner drinks stop making fine enough evenings in our throats, we’ll turn to pills. Don’t talk to us about the consent of the governed. The time for remarks like that is passed. We rank with mouthwash for endurance. The scale we used to use to measure with was mis-calibrated in the first place. We’re tired of having to repeat that fact.

What separates us from life is something not unlike that tiny flame wavering under the asbestos in the suck-tube. That’s how rooted we are in time and it isn’t very satisfying. We disappear in whatever a trice is.

We hollowed a window out of our chest that opens on our heart. The dragonflies and cicadas that would use it can’t because it’s bronze. Those who can bear to look can see the bloody pelts our sins are hooked to.

Everything’s going fine and everything’s going badly. There’s nothing left to do but be open to it all and tell ourselves we refuse to be dragged along by sorcerers so miserable they use their cauldrons to boil the clouds. We’re not hungry anymore.

 
   

 

A BEDROOM OCCUPATION BY MARK SCOTT

Paperback: 86 pages
Publisher: Lumen Books
(June 1, 2007)
ISBN: 0930829646

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TACTILE VALUES BY MARK SCOTT

Paperback: 86 pages
Publisher:
New Issues Pr
Poetry Series
ISBN: 0932826911

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