A Prosecutor Prepares for the Testimony of Mr. Carlos Santana

Thank you for testifying today Mr. Santana, let’s get started.

Concerning the Black Magic Woman you wrote of, to be clear is this a woman who practices black magic, or a black woman who practices an unspecified type of magic? Would stage magic be considered a valid type of magic in this instance?

When did you first suspect that the Black Magic Woman was trying to make a devil out of you? Is being a devil something you have attempted unsuccessfully on your own?

Is it possible that your own perhaps unacknowledged desire to be a devil is what drives your relationship with the Black Magic Woman?

Let’s move on to your baby and her alleged evil ways.

Now, when you arrived home on the night in question, you stated that your house was dark. Aren’t you in the habit of shutting off lights when you leave the house? Isn’t it true that you have no real concerns about the lights being off, except to imply that your baby was not at home when you expected her to be. Where were you, and who were you with, prior to returning home?

As to the pots which you claim were cold, you stated that they were, and I quote, “my pots,” so this was cookware that you yourself had purchased? Is it your view that your baby is somehow solely responsible for heating up pots that she doesn’t even own?

When you complain that your baby’s ways are evil, isn’t it based on your own view that her role in the relationship is to be subservient, and that you are being overly zealous in detecting deviation from this desired norm?

Is it possible, Mr. Santana, that what you describe as “running around” is simply your baby’s pursuit of an ordinary and healthy social life?

You have complained that you feel compelled to be ‘runnin and hidin all over town,’ and also ‘sneakin and peepin’ etc. This sounds exhausting. What is it that compels you to do these things, if not an exaggerated sense of suspicion or jealousy?

This issue you have of feeling like a clown, did you seek counseling? Is it possible that you are projecting your own sublimated inadequacies onto your baby, in the form of blame?

(possible objection: witness is not a psychologist)

Is your baby as well acquainted with the Black Magic Woman as you are? Have they ever even met?

How did your baby respond when you threatened to stop loving her? Are you sure she’s still your baby? Have you checked lately? Why do you never refer to your baby by her given name? Surely she has one. You refer to her friends Jean and Joan by their names.

(possible objection: badgering)

Are there any women at all, Mr. Santana, that you admire, or even approve of?

Mr. Santana, are you familiar with the term “woke?”

(Note: Evil Ways is a great song with very stupid lyrics.)

Wolfbane

My annual Halloween post.

The kids would tease and mock him, call him Woofy, or Captain Wolfbane, even though it was unconscionably mean given what had happened. Some still call him that to this day, behind his back. It was because of his story about the attack.

He’d always insisted that what he saw that night was not a pack of dogs or any kind of ordinary wild animal. His parents, the authorities, the school counselors, his friends, no one could convince him otherwise. Gradually, as he grew up, he recovered some sense of normalcy in his life, but the memory of his little brother’s death simply would not fade. He was hobbled by the burden of a truth none would accept and that he could not deny.

Now a grown man in the same little town, nestled in the mountain’s afternoon shadow, he works and lives just outside the stream of everyday life. Polite relations with the townsfolk, always, but distant, and dwelling alone. He works the yard down at the mill and is tolerated as a harmless oddball. Some of the women quietly look out for him in a protective, motherly way. They see in him the traumatized child and think dear God, that poor boy.

But after returning from his last trip to the Balkans this once quiet borough was thrown into a panic. Brutal animal attacks began occurring. No survivors, bodies mutilated, often beyond recognition. The malignancy swept through the valley on a cycle linked to the moon’s full appearance and soon the connection began to be made. Captain Wolfbane was called in for questioning by the police chief. It was becoming impossible to ignore the story he’d insisted was true so many years before.

What do you know about these attacks, they ask him. He has a rising sense of indignation, that people should have listened to him before. His story had never changed, even in the face of the kinds of pressure that authority and popular opinion can bring to bear. And he was still just a child at the time. These horrible deaths were shaking the town to its foundations, but it was nothing new to him. He would help if he could. There remained a sense of decency and kindness in his makeup, even if his outward behavior seemed aloof. What could he do though, he’d made some progress in his research, but there was nothing conclusive, and plenty better left unsaid.

Why do you travel to Romania? What do you do there? Are you still convinced of the existence of werewolves? His absences during these trips did not go unnoticed. He had let on as little as possible but this is a small town. Folks stick their noses in, and they like to talk. They knew where he’d gone, had nothing more than ideas as to why. “He thinks he’s a werewolf hunter,” they’d snicker. “He scours the news for hints of unusual animal attacks. He thinks he’s going to find this mythical beast and avenge his brother.”

With nothing to fear he answered their questions forthright. He was convinced of nothing, but that his experience from before lurked within his memory like an autonomous entity, like something hunting. Similar attacks had occurred in Eastern Europe and that is what compelled his interest. He’d traveled there three times now, and otherwise stayed alone in his little shack with no alibi to offer. His deposition only intensified the cop’s suspicions. Now, whatever it was, was right here in his back yard. No need to travel anymore, correct? He thought a moment, then simply agreed.

The chief and her deputy questioned him late into the evening as the moon, near full this night, stabbed shafts of silver-blue light through the station house window and into his unaverted, aching eyes. And then he remembered. He remembered what had gotten so thoroughly erased from his mind each time it happened. He felt his blood heating and expanding, his bones warping into unnatural shapes with agonizing surety, the intoxicating whiff of warm, salty flesh igniting within him a power he knew nothing could control. He watched the officers, their faces, as it dawned on them. The impossibility of it right before their eyes. You believe me now, he thought.

In that fleeting moonlit portal that rises so briefly between his two worlds stands the shock of recognition. Each side suddenly knows the other. Each side seeing itself as a blighted image of the other, like two clouded mirrors chained face to face. The light and the darkness, the purity of each contaminated by the other. Unbearable, this knowledge, that he himself could do what so horribly was done to his own kid brother, but the segue is mercifully short. And he would awaken numb to recollection come morning, innocent as a bloody ax which knows nothing of who had wielded it, or why.

Last year’s Halloween post can be found haunting this link.

The Late Mr. Middleman

“Punctuality is a disease of the mind which habituates the tendency to prioritize all the wrong things.”

When we refer to people who have passed away, we often prepend to their names, “the late”, which is a custom I find charming and a little strange. One of the chief benefits of being dead has to be the fact that you don’t have to show up for things anymore, which, for me, is one of the great joys of being alive, that is, when you can manage to pull it off.

Sometimes you have to show up though, and when you do, it is fashionable to be late. I have been told this before, and have tried in earnest to believe it. Being late, they say, establishes your reputation within the upper ranks of the hierarchy, provided you are properly dressed. This is the sort of conventional wisdom that may well work for others. I myself have found it necessary to take a different tack.

My own reputation is that of a man who always shows up on time and then lolls about not doing much, to the relief of everyone in the organization, who all have vivid recollections of what happens when I roll up my sleeves and attempt to accomplish things. It wasn’t long before upper management saw the advantage of giving me my own office and getting me out of the way.

My advice to anyone who would mimic my rise in the world of business is to first of all be on time. I have shouldered the burden of punctuality my entire life, making me the bore at parties and the least admired among coworkers and the most likely to be tapped for that position in middle management where one abides for the remainder of his days, or until they downsize, which ever comes first.

In the mean time, you get to abide in that sweet spot between the pressures of fiduciary responsibility and the grind of actually producing things that consumers are willing to pay for. Then when you finally die, let them go ahead and refer to you as The Late Mr. Middleman. It is a badge of honor, my friend, and one that you and your little alarm clock have earned. It is the secret reward crowning your lifelong campaign of punctuality. Because the day you don’t show up, they’ll know what you’ve trained them to know your entire life: you’re not late, that’s never ever happened, you must be dead.

And then finally, having shed all worries of tardiness, you will get to sleep in.

Delta

I was barely in the door when she spoke, without looking up. “The devil’s layin’ for those who walk the path of righteousness,” she said, apropos of nothing.

She put on an old delta blues record and started a little striptease to it. The bottleneck slide put a sadness in the air, becoming of her dim little bedroom. Sun dapples of late afternoon played on the shear curtains through the crepe myrtles by the window, and the walls glowed the yellow of candle-lit paper. I sank into the springy seat of a musty old wingback as she moved in fluid half steps, her petite form swaying. The record popped and hissed and a gravely old voice tried to warn us about some beautiful true thing. Some unavoidable thing.

I thought about God’s righteousness. It’s a suit of clothes. We play dress-up and save virtue for a rainy day. Always a goal, no more livable than a memory. There’s your devil, right there. The good in me is almost close enough to touch, but church people rub me the wrong way. I caught her eye and she gave me a wink. We go way back. You’d need a passport to get there, and better go soon. The memories have already lost a shoe.

There was always something of the healer in her, and she knew things. Myself, I never got away with anything. She could out-think the natural, make ailments shy away—or become severe if you had crossed her in some way. The rain would stop, even, if it sensed she’d had enough of it. That’s how people saw her, anyway. They would seek her counsel in matters of personal doubt, like you would a preacher. She had that reputation, and a kind of congregation had formed around her. She tolerated the hangers-on with a resignment that troubled her not so much. I was one of them, come to think of it. Closer than most, but not apart from them, or above them, as I sometimes wished to be.

She paused a moment and fixed me with a look. “Who are you again?” A good question. I supposed I was following the natural order of things. You lead yourself around by your own nose, and then wonder why you end up where you do. I told her I didn’t really know. I used to think I did, but not any more. She nodded thoughtfully and continued swaying to the music, working the sweater draped across her shoulders in a provocative way. I always felt forgetful around her. Like memory is just a treading water. The song ended and the phonograph lifted its little arm and clicked off. I felt pressed to get out of there.

“We’ve got to get going, mom,” I said. “Where do you want to eat? Let’s try to keep our clothes on, okay?”


Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

Passage

It was a routine run over the Pacific, en route to the antipodes with a resupply for the colony. Weather clear, trade winds driving our massive hydrogen balloon on coarse and in good time. Then, on the third night, our dirigible was overtaken and boarded by pirates of a most aggressive demeanor. Our security team had scrambled to the alert siren but fell in check to the intruders before a counterattack could be mounted. Their leader, a surly brute with cancerous skin and a hook for a hand, had us corralled on the quarterdeck and an unhappy end seemed at hand.

It was the dragon attack (they’d flown in out of nowhere it seemed) that was our saving grace. Differences aside, we were now all fighting for our lives, gangster and citizen alike, against a common peril. The pirate’s vessel was dispatched in a horrific fireball almost immediately, as this type of aircraft is quite vulnerable to sparks and heat. We drove the great beasts away again and again with our water cannons, as they are averse to moisture, and we resorted at last to praying for rain. A sound drenching from a thunderstorm would surely drive the dragons away.

That’s when the alien craft uncloaked itself off our starboard bow. The ship was birdlike in form and its sudden menace provoked the flying reptiles to leave us and attack it at once. Then, as men encounter that divide where waking crosses into dream, and unsure which side was which, we report to you that the captain of the alien force beamed in before us on a shaft of light, the sight of which none of us would be eager to testify to, and even the heretics among us were moved to cross themselves.

The being spoke to us as plain as a man ordering a meal, and bid us good day and asked if he could borrow some tea. With great relief, we all understood this as the blossoming of peaceful relations for we sky-men are all dedicated tea drinkers, pirate and merchant alike. Our captain had us fetch four full parcels of our best Darjeeling and everyone started to relax. On port side we watched with amazement as the alien ship protruded teat-like spouts which the dragons, now tame-like, hovered before and fed upon, like hummingbirds. Our captain hailed down to the galley and bid the ship’s cook to prepare a feast.

Soon we were all bending elbows as brothers and the fiddles started and the party roared in the clouds and starlight until morning’s glow arced over the brim of the ocean, though we kept a sharp eye, the whole time, on those pirate fellows, and they upon us. In our hearts we’d have loved to reform those thieving rascals and welcome them to the mercantile way of life, but those low ways get into a man’s blood. We bid the alien captain, having pulled him aside, to remove these characters down to the surface, as their ship had been reduced to ash. He agreed, and to our astonishment they all dissolved into a sparkling orb of light right before our eyes and were gone.

Sated, the dragons had disappeared as abruptly as they’d arrived, and all seemed well under the sky. We asked the alien captain how they go about taming dragons. We found his answer a bit strange, that they like to have the dragons on their side when they visit, so they’d developed a drug-like meal formula that the beasts find irresistible. Reluctant to elaborate, he thanked us again for the tea and departed on that crazy beam they use to get around and their ship then, likewise, vanished.

The Grind

A stumpy old molar lives alone in the back of some mouth, like a tombstone at the grave site of all the missing teeth. He reaches up, searching for his mate above, to press against, eager for contact, ready to grind and mash together like crazy young lovers, but alas, she’s long gone. She got the rot and they came and took her.

He thinks they might as well come take him too. Lone molar, a widower with nothing much to do but keep that cheek from caving in. They give him a good flossing now and then, but really, he’s just biding his time, a mockery of function, like a gate with no fence. He can’t even go put in with the smile up there, back of the line his whole life. Front teeth were always so well cared for, weren’t they? Vain sons of bitches.

Well, at least he wasn’t a wisdom tooth. Butt of every dental joke he’d ever heard.

The Line

I barely had one foot in this world when they handed me a face and a name and a number and said, “get in that line over there.” So I did. I don’t know much else. I don’t know where the line goes. The lady ahead of me doesn’t know either, or the guy behind—you’d think someone would know. And don’t think I haven’t asked around. Everyone has. Around here it’s like talking about the weather. Anybody find out where the line goes? Nah. Think it will rain tomorrow? Maybe. Continue reading “The Line”

Whale Song

The oceans evaporate

—and mingle with the air, sky being lung to water. Days of thirst, nights of deluge, mountains of liquid, mist like evacuating angels. Wisdom stands somehow mute while we change the dressing on a festering misconception, and the atmosphere convulses in another round of violent coughing. During the storm, shutters slap in a heaving, belligerent wind, the effect somewhat muted by the plaster walls of our carpeted room.

There is a flexibility

—to the way the minutes pass and the storm outside has lifted the building from its basement. Foundation bricks peel off in jagged wordless paragraphs. Lightening reveals dark forms in the clouds through the rattling panes of window glass. They look like dinosaurs, like great dirigibles hanging in the sky, tethered by giant tubes, wires, bundled and twisted, disappearing into the tumult of vapor and thunder below.

We will settle

—for nothing less than the full account. Our shack must land on the wicked witch. Appease the gods, pay off the sorcerers. What have we forgotten? Have the Enterprise beam those whales back up. The sea is not ready for them. Our abridgment comes at high tide, as the water crests that city on a hill. Now convenience stands on its head. How inconvenient.

Dream Shanty

We had shrimp for dinner, and later that night they came back to me, and they made up my dreams for me. The shrimp, that is, their bodies buried in the shallow grave of an appetite sated. Born shrimp, born to be eaten, a waking life of monotony, but their dreams are quite elaborate. You eat something, maybe something eats you, but dreamlife swings wide and hard, twirling like a centrifuge. The deep stuff pulled out of its shell.

The years were piled behind me like great mounds of bald tires in a vast rural tract bounded by chain link fencing, ablaze with morning glories. Something about the bent, linked wires attracts the vines. It was the shrimp dreaming, and myself, eating their dreams. The vines look a tangle, a thicket made of dreams, like intestines, dilated to accommodate the diaspora of displaced thoughts. They form vast tent cities, shanties of curiosity in the bardo of the seeking night. Dreams weighted down by heavy meals. Stomachs themselves, dreaming.

Bee-like, the shrimp dream of flowers. A trumpet shaped flower may one day dream me up. They have yet to name that color, that something-blue, rattling the ocular nerve. It is uncertainty. You call an endless thing infinite because you run out of time. You have to call it something. You are given your name. My bent, linked mind attracts these vines. In dreamland the dreams dream you.

In the morning we rise and dream up another day. The shrimpers return to the docks engulfed by clouds of frantic gulls. The birds take repast in open water. On the boat, cormorants, pelicans line up aft, on the railings, like a depression era breadline. They wait, dreaming of shrimp, then dive after the spoils as the fishermen sort the catch. They are in for some crazy dreams. I was caught out in a daydream and, snapping out of it, I got a whiff of salt. The gulf is dreaming and I am in that dream. At dock, the boats sway and the sun makes its way. The net booms point skyward, but no one seems to see this as a sign.

Do you ever crave mountains? And when you think of mountains do you think of hulking peaks of buttery mashed potatoes with scoop-dented crests, filled with steamy hot gravy? I face the water. Behind me the land stretches out flat, like water. I’m thinking of vegetables now. Or maybe I’ll fast. Try dreaming my own stuff, for a change.

Where the Paint Don’t Dry

An abstract painting
looked at my kid
and said, “I could do that.”

The conscious mind is trained by nature to seize upon the world and make sense of it. Alas, poor conscious mind!

An Abstract Expressionist spun her palette on a lazy Susan in the dark, like the chamber of a revolver in a game of Russian roulette. It spins and slows to a halt and she begins work. She jabs at the hapless canvas in knowing ignorance of the colors and deliberate non-concern for the emerging abstract forms. The close air sustains the poisonous cadmium vapors and smell of linseed oil. The blackness of the studio like pitch, a dead end in an abandoned coal mine. She executes the work in total darkness.

The painting completed, unseen even by its creator, is quickly sealed in a steel box welded shut. Whisked away to a deep sea fishing charter, it is motored out to sea and hoisted overboard, deposited in the Atlantic by an uncredited boat captain. It makes an ominous sploosh in the salty waves, which is recorded in digital audio for the exhibition, and disappears into the murky depths, bye bye. Fare well, unseen painting! Godspeed!

Take this image for no one’s eye
And stick it where the paint don’t dry

On opening night of the exhibition, the sploosh recording is looped in a darkened, empty room. The guests are asked to stop sipping their wine for a moment and imagine what the painting looks like. An explosion of faux-abstract imagery mushrooms up from the collective unconscious, a glorious, swirling mess of non-objective visions mixing with the ambient sounds of cleared throats and cocktail chatter. The critics bubble over with enthusiastic reviews. The conundrum of the unknown as a medium of expression: the mind is the commodity! It helps to be in the know on these matters, one supposes.

Time passes. Things are forgotten. Fare well, time! Godspeed, forgotten things!

At the retrospective decades later, a well trained docent at the MOMA will explain it all to a bedazzled couple from Topeka while the subtle energy waves from the artist’s original thoughts continue to propagate out into the blackness of outer space, bye bye. Fare well, original thoughts! Godspeed, conceptual art!

-:-

This bit originally appeared here September 3, 2016