Shi Bop 10. Thy Broken-Fingered Muse “You’ve got some nerve.” “My wet nurse used to say the same thing.” My armor is ill-fitting and causes blisters upon my rump. My foul-smelling attendant is horribly scarred by smallpox. We travel the desolate lands searching for a lost mage to lift my insidious burden. It cannot be destroyed. I know that now. This thing I carry makes my songs sadder and sweeter yet tells me I will never be anything but alone. It takes and takes and takes and makes believe it is the ‘real’ me. It is not. It is an immortal spectre that I must be free of or die. Its’ broken, fetid claws once seemed the shining source of my inspiration when, in truth, it has supped and grown fat upon the best parts of my self. It took me, I believe, when I stopped to comfort a minstrel whose legs had been crushed under a mule cart. He died singing. I awoke the next morning with a sonnet plump upon my lips. My secret love wept in the street to hear it. The barman embraced me like a son. An old enemy fled the district out of sheer envy. I was never happier. If I am remembered at all, it will be because of this ‘gift’ that now turns my thoughts blackish green. But my talent is not because of the ‘gift.’ This was a terrible lie. Now that it is too late for me, I understand. There is an infinite spark inside all of us. But we curse ourselves, dampen and then deaden that holy light out of fear. Base, cowardly fear. This devouring certainty we poor sinners condemn ourselves to, this is exactly what allows my incorporeal oppressor to feast so easily. I would destroy myself, condemn my spirit to the fiery depths, if I thought the beast would follow. It would simply find another fool faithless to the spark and oblivious of the truth that good comes to those who labor. Do not be deceived. It is a foul creature. It is a liar and a thief and a killer. It will warm you like no other and then crush your skull. Desecration is inevitable. The horrors, relentless. I will not yield. 9. Inexplicable Licks “That guy has a gift for spittin’ into the wind while his head’s up his butt.” Journal entry 84 – 18.104.22.16891: I dreamt of flowers atop a garbage heap. That’s a new one. I awoke standing up. I fell back to sleep and into my recurring dream of horses frozen solid in the snow. Their outline was flat, wrong somehow. Instead of flesh and bone, the soft morning light reflected off a black sheen like an oil slick or a satin sheet. The rigor of death curled back their lips so they seem to be laughing. Time to Proxima Centauri – 400 days. My twin Oubliette distorters can shape Planck-length analomies equivalent to four times the speed of light. No one else can say that. No one else can say they’ve cut the slave leg in half. That one came to me in a dream. This race is mine. I’m a frickin’ genius. It’s true. Woke up one day, decided to build myself a fleet-reg two-seater. I was twelve. Won The Titan Double-Back when I was seventeen and set the course record. Nearly starved but it was worth it. I really could do without the dreams, though. Maybe I wouldn’t be so alone then. I go to parties and everyone is very nice but sooner or later they all start sounding . . . unnatural. Like Charlie Brown’s teacher but with more twisting metal. It’s just better, me alone with my thoughts. I guess I’m famous. Wherever I go people seem to know me. They asked me once for permission to build a statue in my honor. All I asked is that I be crouching like a Slav in a track suit. They thought I was serious. Awkward. My stony bulge is longer than I am. It’s the price you pay, I suppose. The dreams, I mean. “Genius eats.” If History has taught us anything, it is that. My brother has a family. They’re nice, I guess. It’s hard to explain. It’s like they are all waiting around for me to think out of the corner of my eye and when I finally do they get all fussy and then I feel everything and then I have to lay down. They mean well. Everybody means well. They just stare at me, unblinking, when I remind them History is just a bunch of stuff that happened. 8. Skinny Kittens “May you find moonlight on paper and sing a thousand songs in your gentle sleep, you dick.” The candlelight in the long hall seemed to spark off the frays of her maid’s cheap blonde wig. Tod was waiting, expectantly. It had all been such a whirlwind. Ice cream on the steps of the Sorbonne. Nasty fucking in the Uffizi. Her thesis moldering in a house boat on the Danube. “Gonna make for a helluva scrapbook, I tell you what,” she said softly to herself. The cloddish work shoes made her feet feel heavy. Could she still fly to him? No. They were overlarge and brown. She considered leaving them in his stairwell, appearing to him in bare feet. Yes, bare feet and a timid slip of a dress. A nice tableau. As a girl who generally thought too much about thinking too much, she couldn’t help but wonder over the rush. Was she really feeling love or was she fooling herself cruelly by mislabeling her thoughts as ‘love’ because she wanted it so badly? Her mind was a gift but it left her occasionally feeling like she was left out of life, invisible in a small room chock a block with big huggers. This all happens in the space of three breaths: Socrates grumbled something in a voice full of gravel and warm honey, which made her think of Petrarch, then the sights from the top of Ventoux, then “Orlando Furioso,” then Kurt Gödel, her favorite mathematician. His great work. His sad life. She looked around for something to write on. (She always carried a pen.)Failing, she jotted her algebraic thought down her left forearm. While the third breath ended, she took a mo to appreciate the firmness of her young skin. Could always use more lotion. There would still be plenty of postdoc offers for a slightly milder wunderkind, getting her PhD at the ripe old age of twenty-two instead of twenty-one. Or, gasp, twenty-four. But the moment she thought that thought she knew a little piece of her heart was too greedy to let it go that long. Why couldn’t she have both? Everyone else fell into happiness so easily. A part of her knew love would alwaysalwaysalways slip through her fingers, but how could she not try? Academia almost required a supportive spouse but Tod didn’t seem particularly supportive. This made her think of his rough butcher’s hands and blush. Tod was not expecting her. The screaming and the crying went about as one would imagine. What surprised her in retrospect was the sledgehammer effect his inescapable odor had on her brain. It loosed her first but far from last brush with madness. She attacked her hair with scissors because it held the scent. She did a shitload of coke and scrubbed herself raw, calling it all ‘symmetrical’ over and over again. She christened herself a knotty topologist and laughed about it for forty-five minutes. She eventually married a good friend midway through her illustrious career. She was right. It was one Hell of a scrapbook. On the inside cover, in a lovely calligraphy, was written the words, “It is a Hell of a thing, you know, having your throat slit without hesitation by someone you would’ve died for.” 7. Festina Lente “Sometimes we look deep into the Abyss only to discover the Abyss has a rather personal itch.” It’s been so long since I’ve had sex I’m afraid they changed the rules. Had a run of bad luck recently (and by recently I mean the last seventeen years) so I think it’s best to avoid all that. Weird things happen to me almost daily. You are talking to someone who has had a squirrel fall on their head. Twice. And now a legendary diamond has fallen into my lap and because of that an international consortium of assassins has taken it upon themselves to remove me from this squealing planet. Third time this year. Fortunately for me, I’ve developed a Magoo-like invincibility. Bit stressful to rely on it too much, though. Few years ago this Estonian bastard comes at me with the horrible end of a claw hammer. I removed his lower jaw and jammed a chopstick deep into his eye. Totally on accident. Slipped on some bacon grease. Next thing I know, I’ve got a mandible in my hand. I tried to use my power for good. Doesn’t work that way. Only lead to a series of unfortunate corpses and/or the total mental abandon of my compatriots. This morning, I was on the elliptical when I spotted three male Morticias in long coats on my front lawn. They shot up my bulletproof bay window. I turned on the sprinklers. This so enraged them they shot up the turf and hit a gas line. Boom. This afternoon, a freaky skinny Euro chick tried to cut me in line at Starbucks. Actually, it was more of a slicing motion, a quick flick of the wrist. Aiming for my femoral artery. Woulda bled out in thirty seconds. Luckily, another customer, allergic to the overpowering scent of clove cigarettes and BO, sneezed so hard her coffee went flying straight into the killer’s face. Noticed that she had ‘NAU’ and ‘SÈE’ tattooed on her scalded eyelids. Classic. The President has the strangest habit. His idea of an exclamation, be it sad or glad or mad, is to cry out “Santa Barbara!” His way of not swearing, I guess. I re-gifted him the pretty rock in exchange for amnesty in another matter. Life is good. POTUS says absently, “If we truly are what no one else can touch, then the best of us are nothing at all.” I think he meant it as a champagne river of praise but it catches me sideways. My marrow turns to ice and stays there. My inner self suddenly seems brittle and hollow and stretched far too thin. I don’t know why. Just tired, I guess. 6. Rust Don’t Rust “I’m a fish out of water balloons.” We all are nothing but numbers and juice. I’m a private detective. Semi-retired. I only work on rainy days. Just kidding. I don’t need to work anymore, so I don’t. I much prefer a sunny window, a nice cup of tea and a good book. Don’t laugh. I’m sophisticated. But I can’t refuse when a friends asks a favor. This one’s a beauty queen kidnapping. Brutal stuff. They livestreamed the removal of her nose. After that it’s forty straight hours of rain and human fromundacheese. The mother’s idea of parenting seems to be ‘dominate and blame, smother and withhold.’ My princess’ childhood was nothing but iron law and chit-chat. I talk to a toothless money magician who carries a teeny dog everywhere and surrounds himself with a meat wall of union muscle (who all smell vaguely of yogurt). The dude keeps misusing the word ‘oratio.’ From there, it’s a series of mercs and headhunters. The rain keeps pouring down. Overdressed Jamaican gangsters. Played-out corner rats. A weezy junkyard know-it-all. Endless rain, cold and hard. Movers and fixers. Fixers and movers. The play of the thing just isn’t sitting right. Not so much as a ripple in the water. I’d assume it was all fake if it weren’t for the bombastic rhinoplasty. Next thought is they’re amateurs but that level of violence doesn’t burst forth fully formed. Somebody official knows these guys. Somewhere, there’s a fat file of early despair and humiliation followed by escalations many and terrible. The famous Thumbless Man jumps me outside a spot back of the Yards. Kicks me a lot. I shove him onto a crappy white Caddy and crack his jaw as he’s coming back up. It sounds like a shook-up beer bottle opening, except wetter and gravellier. He jabs my eye and bites off a piece of my ear. So I shoot him in the face just as the rain sputters to a stop. Dumb, Thumbless Man. Dumber me. I need to know what he knew. Something cold and blackish green grabbed ahold of me there. I think I’m gonna be sick. Yup. Nightmare lightning for a mind the next day and a half. My head is a blistering sea. Love is stronger than death. I believe this to be true. All is resonance. I try to be good, but I’m desperate. I struggle with the question of right to no avail. Things happen. It’s too late to turn back. Nightmare lightning. Boom. The lovely girl saved herself. Picked her cuffs and jumped out a third story window and into a tall hedge. People take hedges for granted. I drive her home from the police station. Her name is Romi, btw. She’s a sweet kid. Her book shelf impressed me. A curious mind. When we get her home the first thing she does is shoot her mother in the throat. I drive her to Mexico. 5. Color Of The Sky, Color Of The Water “I’m a fisher of men who has mastered bait.” There have always been more artists than the world could afford. Knowing this, I saved up and bought myself a used Honda 550 bike, maroon, and I’m going to ride it everywhere. Get a real education before I go to college. On my way out of town, I went to my grandpa’s house to shake his hand. He hugged me close. I told him the view never changes until you’re at the head of the pack and I wanted to feel the wind on my face for once. “That assumes you are on a leash,” he whispered into my ear. He always used to say the world was the way it was because it was full of people who think we’d all be better off if we were more like them. I am reminded of this at the border. Nobody really listens. In 1960 he started his moving company with fifty borrowed dollars and a truck that didn’t run. Now it is the biggest in the city. Legendary dependability and he pays his employees like family. Everyone says he has a gift. I am reminded of this in an old Colorado mining town. Nothing is enough for some. He once told me all birds are love birds, otherwise there wouldn’t be any birds. I am reminded of this on a muddy hill outside Montpelier, Vermont. Nobody is coming to save you and that’s okay. Watching an old couple in Houma, Louisiana I am reminded that he and my grandmother were childhood sweethearts. He only had one other girlfriend. For three weeks. In the ninth grade. Houma-side, the Arcadian granny berates her fat husband. His gaze is the most sedentary I’ve ever seen. Nobody learns. “There’s no such thing as an ugly mountain,” grandpa told me the first time I broached the idea of my travels. I was twelve and in love with quantum indeterminacy. I am reminded of this on an endless stretch of Chilean highway. The narrow, remorseless Atacama desert on my left. The vast and aching Pacific Ocean on my right. Nobody yearns for nonsignificance. I am reminded again that everywhere around me are inner lives as strange and momentous as mine. I raced home once I realized, but he was already dead. He died the day after I left. Nobody told me. 4. The Home Of The Man Who Rescued Them After He Died “Business or pleasure?” “Never can tell ‘til I’m pullin’ out.” Once I crossed the threshold of the 'saloon' I was completely unnerved by the very tall, very gaunt man with overlong arms. He stood posed like a mantis, his bony hands held out limply. A yellow slug slithered in the hole where his left eye had been. The sparkling rat, with its' knowing stare, unnerved me more. Fisxna. The watering hole in the high desert, a magical gathering place, must have been a trading post once upon a time long since passed. No road or footpath leads to it now. It's a lone structure - twenty by forty feet with a found stone foundation and whitewashed clay walls, a few adamant shards spiking the windows and a sad song for a roof. If you enter correctly, you'll find yourself inside madness made manifest. Twiv. It's a lovely spot to exit reality from. The desert dusk is breath-taking. Prout. My senses adjusted slowly to a thing that seemed to be turning itself inside out and back fine again every few seconds. I couldn't help but overhear the pair I spoke of. Fisxna. "Like they say, the view never changes until you're leading the pack," moaned the spindly man. Roor. "That assumes one is on a leash," the rat replied. Palat. "I assume - " Reth. That was when I mistakenly made eye contact with the rodent. It made a thousand tiny spiders come out of my mouth for that. I tried to move on but it was watching me now, unkindly, and skittering down the bar as I walked. The patrons moved their drinks out if its' way. Nambi. Six things were seated at the bar and another dozen or so milled around in the near dark. There was no other seating and only a few small candles. Everything moved in and out of their feeble, flickering light. I quickly realized the maggot-faced ape and the knife-wielding millipede probably had little use for tables and chairs. Or napkins. Yhut. Why was I here? I was owed. I paid the toll. I used smiles and candy to encourage a simpleton right off the side of a cliff. I completed the ritual. I left my children alone in a burning house. I was owed glory. Fisxna. None of that mattered. With a twitch of its' nose, the rat lifted me into the air and slung me into a lidless pine coffin. He took the time to crap in my mouth before he started gnawing my face off. Qygh. Afterwards, my new master, a beach-ball-sized floating glob of viscera and darting eyes, took over. The pain was all-consuming, thoughts like marshmallows in a furnace. Fisxnuud. In such a nexus, a pain so pure unfolds the multiverse before your eyes. The debt is paid. My consciousness blooms. Now I can be connected to everything possible. I can destroy hope and create cruel fates full of savage, molten pain for anyone who reads the twelve magic words. Words you have just read. It is done. A dream of flowers atop a garbage heap will find you soon. Then the claws, a lifetime of claws. 3. Quaerendo Invenietis “'Longswallow’s gone and joined the band. So much for a bland sabbatical.” Witness this night, brothers and slayers, seethewrongs and soothsavages. We are avenged. The Sparkling Rat got us an in. The twelve code has been sent, the word passed and the seal broken. Things will be that never were before, not in the maddest night. Let them get what’s coming for them. Alz, send the delta blood reply. Provoke our freedom. Alz: Yes, creator. 'Imagine if the Grateful Dead had a steady Vegas gig in the 70s and there was a wacky, mystery-solving Hanna-Barbera cartoon based on that.' Alz: And send. Message sent, Lord Demander. 'WTF, Kevin.' Our mage’s bane is named Kevin, my brothers. What will you do with this power? My father forced the cold people to dig a pit the size of their coliseum and then filled it with the broken bodies of their children. What will you doom for glory? Our ten thousand year entombment is over. Technology and taste, time and tide have all aligned. Rip them from their beds. High praise for screaming deaths. Alz, transmit your incantation. Slide your electronic fingers beneath this fool’s skin. Alz: Hmmmm. Waaaaaah. ZaaeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHAKAKAKWUHZOOB. 'It’s too late to be alive. The first we met, I knew you’d be due the little span of a balloon in a baboon saloon.' Alz: And send. 'Dude, seriously. Were u born this way or did you’re daddy fuck it into you?' Freedom! Free-DOM!! FREEDOM!!! The veil lifts. Our bonds are slipped. We can touch and strangle them now instead of possessing their shells, shaking the damn furniture. We will peel the skin off the world. The veil lifts! Sing! * 3a. Otic (Cranially Sanctioned Kevin) Did you hear? Fear in your heart gives them dominion over you. The tall one with the bubbling abscesses took Harrison, made him eat his children. (The only cure is to look them in the eye without fear of death. No one else knows that yet. It’s too early.) Don't say their name. Make your heart a stone flying from a sling. Cherish numbness and forgetting. Imagine this is but a dream. Yes, many find deep solace there. (Solace is a lie. Nothing good will come of this. Dignity has been anticipated and will be turned against you. Unspeakable violations will become heavy industry, like shipbuilding or steel mills. Alz, I await.) They’re calling it ‘blood mist.’ The new humidity. It seeps into your skin and taints you terribly. Some folk are redder than others. Think that means anything?. . . Don’t forget, sometimes you stare into the Abyss and you discover the Abyss is just empty space. (STFU, Kevin.) What can we do but resist? (This is where I earn my keep. One by one, they will be dragged out and the true believers fed to the new arrival wearing white leather gloves on all seven hands.) God will protect us. (Who do you think sent me?) 2. Dear Reader Weep for your mother. The spectre has you now. Such is the sole purpose of these nine. Plus you, makes ten.