from I Woke Up Early the Morning After the End of the World
by Ian McCarty
A breathes ragged and clipped, lungs short-sheeted, pulmonary pranks, is rapidly run-down with running zags and laps, hears the popping of thread, a horse throwing a shoe with the twang of a slide guitar, as the seam of the spine of his coat-cum-scuttle of letters begins to breach under the mass, the density, the sharp corners, the bas-relief
remembers being a child on the swingset and the excited nerves to leap from the U of black plastic seat at the last moment of ascension, the magic fraction where chain tension went slack and schoolchildren played hooky from gravity, to leap from a dilapidated arc not for the thrill of flying, not for the competition for distance, not for the reverberation of impact, but for the thrill of the hold, the ecstasy of being stationary in air, the hold, living in the inevitably fleeting moment of momentum arm wrestling gravity, the hold, over the top, dead heat, still life, nature morte, the hold where blood pumped for pleasure and sport instead of necessity, where sleep was leisure like cocktails and paperbacks—never exhaustion, where the bit was spat out the mouth of physics and chemistry and biology and semiotics, leaping from the U into the hold, a child in the photovoltaic effect, remembers the nervous anticipation nearing the zenith, the skill in identifying the precise sliver of exit, a dive with maximum flex and minimum break
mouse-mazes his way back towards his cube to collect his things or himself but is then roadblocked, a pile up by the water cooler now a water boiler, simmering at room temperature as atmospheric pressure carnival high-dives into the shallow pool of vapor pressure, the fuselage of pounds-per-square inch riddled with holes, anti-air guns, a wounded duck—
roadblocked by a conflagration of crystalline smoke where there is no fire, a diffuse wall, a gossamer barbed curtain, a waterfall on pause that A begins to push through
begins to push through and is swiftly stung by skin and bone and silent voice, pincered by fingers inside his hands, foreign bones grown up his arms, blood pumped the wrong way on a one way, false transplant and the illogical discomfort of lacing both feet into the same shoe, gasps and inhales voices, is forcefed a stereoscope of first-person perspective and the deleted scenes behind optics, tastes bile in his dry mouth and backpedals, violently forcing a sneeze and wishing for a bright light
fumbles his 3-button sack, drops to his knees to sweep up shards of names broken glass and feels the chains go slack, the magic fraction of time at the most ideal azimuth of this swing’s arc, the hold, knows he must jump, reflex response.
Bindle of signification, of others, the scrabbled pouch of stolen seeds, a cache of sounds is slung across A’s shoulder as an anchor as he bowls through the emergency exit, pinballs down the flights without a single echo on the metal steps, the concrete shaft, floors and numbers falling away autumnal, and bursts breathless into the lobby.
A’s treadless wingtips skid along the high-polish marble, hydrofoils of sea level ground and frictionless, as if millimeters of no-mans-land were shimmed between sole and earth, his feet betray him, momentum rabid, Cujo’d, continuing straight as his legs and hips and torso turn left, A is spilled to the floor, scrambling uphill on an uninclined plane. From his knees, A gazes face to face with the sheened stone, a prone scryer, but needs not to dodge any reflection, any sight, there being no ricochets of light and shape doubling a mirror world beneath his palms, only the shallow swirls and veining twisting ribbon taffy, Möbius strip arteries hardened to arrest as A pulls his feet back beneath him and begins to repack his bindle. He sits and stands when—jump cut—the swirls and veins begin to writhe and squirm. Waves buckle and tango, worms in hibernation or ice reanimated and restless, tongues dancing to a ululation, blood pumped through fingers of tunnels of tracks of fibers of tissue. Throes of disintegration. A smelting.
A lurches ungainly, crabbing backwards from the condensation handprints not evaporating off the cold surface, the horrifically animated core, and spins towards the ranks of revolving doors to the street, and like a shipwreck spotting land rejoices to see it lit sharp and variegated, a mirage depicting light, not just created by light, luscious uneven rough edges and stucco texture.
The court of foyer from emergency stairway to revolving lips of front door is littered and weeded, thinly veiled with lingering humidity, a fog burning off when singed by the touch of plastic or glass or the carbon imprisoned in steel, the court of foyer gauntleted with attachés, briefcases, purses, and phones, flip candybar smart, hanging at head and hip height—piñatas and maces and low-altitude flak—A minces through this three dimensional chess, bounding over mounds of laundry, archeological to-do’s, primitive burials come full circle, fashion cycle, everything is old again. A tightwires past the rectangle of indoor garden, scarred and shaved down to only the patches of plants sewn not grown, raided and weeded and slash-and-burned except for the shrubs synthetic, the moss fiberglass, the pebbles plastic and hide-a-key, the grass astronomical, except for the flecks of cigarette and chewed gum, the calling cards of an Oscar Madison Johnny Appleseed, a rotten tooth fairy, seeds for rhizomes of cable and rebar, for a platelet disease in soil and stone, the nauseously untouched botanical sculptures stark and damning like adultery, stains vibrating with scarlet and disgust in their unmolested perseverance, bathed in the insomniac sin of stationary perpetuation, the unmasking of their stasis and freeze, their fraudulence blaring cacophonous, their trickery slicing cruel and thin until A must avert his eyes, his flesh, his booty of names lest they be julienned, ducks around a stack of cardboard, deliveries leaning impossible, a field of miracles salted, heaves against the revolving door with too much weight, feels none of the expected friction and tendencies of a body at rest, slingshoots into the street, a missile into a mine.
Heels over head on the white cliff of the curb, A unkinks like a sentient pretzel and rights himself in an unconscious way, a blow-up clown with sand for feet and an unbruised mug, slurping in breaths now aware that his lungs had frozen in the headlights of his escape sprint, slurping greedily and frustratedly, a terrarium rodent wishing to shotgun the crook-necked bottle slung cornered in his cage and only receiving the harsh rations of surface tension, only receiving droplets of nitrogen and oxygen and argon and carbon dioxide and variable single percentages of water vapor, only receiving hit-and-miss slurps like apple bobbing—chomping mostly lungfulls of a thick, sloshing empty and but few slippery kisses and nicks of fleshy sweet gases. A begins to panic over his empty chest but feels none of the telltale tingling up his wrists and digits, none of the burning along his ribs and sternum and behind his nose, the scrape of electric wool along the reverse of scapulas, the interior of his love handles—oxygen absence making the lungs grow none-ness—and such a feeling of none-ness grows an uncertain calm like silent city streets, a calm to allow mind to match pace with brain, and A stands, stretches, jogs in place, bends and bows, all with hands clasped over mouth and nose pinched off, jumps and jacks and all no worse for air, oxygen revealed to be a once-afforded luxury and now a cut-corner in the recession, in the reset tumbling down from the tops of buildings and oozing out the cave-mouth entrances to subway tunnels.
Like running a gym treadmill, exertion without locomotion or production, or produce, or product, A restarts his chest to rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall, watches the stenciled blotch of his shadow on the sidewalk rise and fall, rise and fall, so sharp as a miracle, a stain of eight minute old tears down a weathered façade, exhausted face still standing, the cut of direct sunlight soothing as a file cabinet, cubbying x from y and z, brunt of shine a sorting spotlight, a liniment of sidelines, of fighters' corners, and the hot, hard shadeless tingle is the bell between rounds, the rise and fall of a felt-thick line blading the hewn or poured or chiseled ground with self-actualization patterned on panning gold, shadow solid by the body’s right of obstruction, a solid spill of casted affect, die casts, and A reveling in puppeteering, pulling his strings to divert an electromagnetic wave flow like two-hand river boulders fluttering with wings, letting the good times roll as lead and not glass, an opaque agent, restarting his chest to rise and fall with determination, not pre-determined, a chosen rise and fall, a pilot’s climb and dive, elected exhalation, when, abruptly, he is made to restart his gasping, too
Evolution takes a toll. An exact change. But it wasn’t used to going in reverse. Breathing air after breathing water is too simple—learning to walk after you run, juggling three balls when you were weaned on five, feeling solitary in isolation after you perfected the loneliness of crowds. But the inverse, the orientation to water after air, is like the difference between falling and flying. Machines teach us the rhythm of ribs and chests—the rise and fall, rise and fall, of an on-rails elevator box plummeting carefully and precisely, squarely scissoring open on a regular beat—the regular beat of a caffeinated kitchen’s automated napalm drip of black liquid life—the circulation circular whir of magnetrons and carousel plates—the capillary action of negatively charged effectively massless cells distributed cardiac in a cathode ray tube—and the lub-dub of pendulums, so I machined a trainer in the image of the creator: corrugated smokestack, legal spinning flywheel, toothy cogs married tight and well oiled, rods and pistons pummeling with a sneeze, bellows blathering as a projector, peaked and valleyed flange sharp as a car key, ravenous duct, valve, crank. All the divine things. Its heart was a glass cage, a pedestal enclosure alarmed for museums. I hid a broadest leaf inside, a dopey grin grown from definition-cored paper bindles tickled into quickly creasing palms of land, a broad pen-drawn hem re-sewn after being thread ripped by crystal flechette salvos of sound cutting negative twinkle gasps, a broadest leaf that performs a magic trick of gases in the same fashion of my eyeblinks. Instinctual sleight-of-hand hardwired like stop-drop-and-roll or bowling through an emergency exit. There were umbilical hoses to kiss like milkshake straws, rod-and-reel intubation baited with a forgiving jig, for their own good. All together a portable presswood lung, simply handheld and as easy to thump as a bible. After a time, you wean the landlubbed newborns slow as treating frostbite. Rely on sense adaptability, the way olfaction finds comfort despite, and any odor finds anonymity eventually. Trained, they dart away deep like static volts. The autonomy of skill. The no-looks-back. The lonely curse of all progenitors.
Unlike training the legerdemain of French-dropping carbon dioxide for fresh oxygen, the automatic exchange baked inside the crust of cottonwoods and maples, here there was an instinctual necessity gone missing, somehow burgled by sticky fingers and masking off the principals of lift, burgled in the twilight murder mystery party of a yesterday or yester-year—a precise cocktail hour fashionably uncertain since all but the most recent archives are missing time stamps. Or perhaps instinct was just misplaced in the hollows of bones borne to air, lost in the labyrinthine folds of a passed out balloon, foiled by wings. But the fact remains. The footspeed of sparrows and jays and robins and thrushes and warblers meant for easy capture. Uncannily. Like scoring blindfolded bullseyes and hand-catching arrows. Wearing the look of the cat that never expected to catch the canary, that never expected to tumble down a mine shaft, to fall like ashes, and be served up easy prey, served a signifying body stiff in a bindle of perch and pouch, a sign communicating the hold, the hold where gas goes slack and breathing is paused to leap free, to dive through a sliver of exit, to spare the self with minimum break, a reflex escape before the inevitable plummet backswing. After giving time for the air to clear, I put on driving gloves doped with Helium and fastened tethers of Dacron, leashes of sailcloth, around the roots of my hands. Limbs and arms transform to sweeping seconds and flittering gnomons. I sunk my soles in a dome iron cage wrought anchor. A necessary prison of earth. Solder those empty ends of Dacron to taloned feet for an efficient current circuit. Soon the teachers and the students are indistinguishable; a Necker school of who is training who. By cruel fortune, I’d seen generations of miming, and training by whiplash, and lifetimes of flapping. Turning a frown upside. Lactic acid the sting of Edison’s 90 percent perspiration. From my veins seep various radii of dirty magic like a starburst to blind gravity. A pre-perspective halo in altarpiece. The trick is to pull a ripcord with your teeth and they escape in a surge of unpredictable autonomy. A swoop of muscle memory emergency generators finally hooked to a grid not shortly melting from the throughput. Re-hanging chandeliers who were callously slandered litter.