in which witness is borne: birds, politics, fiction and critical art theory


Friday, December 30, 2005
  • Link to previous installments

  • ...And the Girl awoke early, to a steady rain against her window. The porno magazine had fallen to the floor, its colors dulled by the diffuse light of the cloudy dawn. She climbed out of bed and put on her cardigan sweater, the one that had held the magazine, stuck her feet into her slippers, went to her dresser, flipped shut the lid of her trumpet case and latched it, grabbed its handle and ran on her tiptoes down the stairs and out the door. The block was quiet, the rain light. She raced through it, looking both ways each time she crossed a street, and arrived, panting and damp, at the park. She looked around her at the wet wood of the benches and chose one, placing the trumpet case on the edge and assembling the instrument as she caught her breath. As raindrops fell on the brass surface, she wiped them away with her sweater sleeve, working her lips intently. She stepped up onto the bench and surveyed the grassy field and the baseball diamond. She was exhilarated by the thought that no one knew where she was, indeed no one in the neighborhood, probably, was up and moving except her, that she could do something unobserved but real. And she brought the trumpet to her lips and blew the Haydn solo, all of it, playing to the rain, even-toned and strong, a little fast maybe, her eyes closed as her vision went inward and melted into all of her other senses, as she became the piece she played and became the rain, and became the bench and became the air and let herself become.

    6:57 PM :: ::

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    Trumpet -- Part 5

    Friday, December 23, 2005

  • The Prisoner who had turned off the television felt around the floor of his cell for his stone. His hand went directly to it and he felt its cold sharp hardness turning in his hand. Until now, the stone had been his key, his means to an end which was now only distantly real to him, an escape into the world of kids and wife and swimming pools, which he remembered but had forgotten to cherish. Until now. He turned the stone in his palm, warming it gradually and considering the elegant, violent plan he had set for himself to get free of this place. It was a thought he had built over the years as carefully as a house.

    The slicked-back-hair Prisoner talked continually from his cell on the opposite side of the wall, talked in an urgent, nasal voice of what they had seen, his voice ragged under the harsh lights which only dimmed a little after the final caging of Prisoners for the night. When he ran out of things to say about the Girl, he talked of the usual things, of money, and sex with Ana, and of revenge, but his voice kept coughing itself into little pieces and eventually it trailed off entirely.

    The Prisoner with the stone said nothing, but he knew that things were different. The stone remained in his hand, an insignificant thing, suddenly no longer worthy of his dreams of escape. He looked down at it as though he had only just found it. The stone was not large enough or sharp enough to act as either tool or weapon. No way. He had been asking too much of it for too long. The truth of this thought broke over him like a wave. There was no escape, only the life he had made for himself, wherever he went. He wiped his palm across his eyes and smiled a quiet smile of relief. He lay back on the hard mattress, laced his fingers behind his head, and chuckled.

    Toward morning it occurred to both the Prisoners that the visitation from the Girl had been a gift, a tiny fissure in the impassive blank wall of time which contained their lives. She was like the arc of sky they had over the exercise yard, which brought back to them an awareness of miracles, of the extreme improbability of every single phase of cloud and moment of breath and convergence of lives upon a single spot, and yet there they all were. Each Prisoner held in his mind the image of the girl's inquisitive, young, unfamiliar face and floated off into a sleep of gratitude unlike the sleep of any other Prisoner.

    9:48 AM :: ::

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    Trumpet -- Part 4

    Friday, December 16, 2005

  • The Girl's thoughts spun faster and faster, trying to comprehend all the strange things she was hearing and seeing. Her own door she had left wide open. She hoped her brother wasn't hearing any of this from the other side of the wall. She couldn't risk breaking eye contact with the magazine to get up and shut the door, so she lowered her voice.

    "What? Have I ever opened a magazine and seen real people inside who talked to me? No. What does, uh, One oh two wing--"

    "It's like saying cell block 102. We at Marion Prison, Joliet, Illinois, kid. You're on the TV. And I don't know how you got in here."

    The man stared at her for a moment, and she stared back. He turned around and asked his associate something in an urgent tone, then raised his arm tentatively, his hand hovering just outside the rectangle of the magazine page.

    "Look, ahh, we got to turn this thing off and go to dinner. Can you be here same time tomorrow? I mean, be looking at your magazine, whatever it is? We got some questions for you."

    "I think so. I don't know, though. I'll try."

    "OK. Yeah, OK." The Prisoners seemed to be backing away, still looking at the Girl. Then they disappeared, and the cognac-naked lady picture took their place.

    She closed the magazine and thumbed its pages quickly, feeling the stiff edges shuffle across the flat of her thumb and the air whoosh out from between them. Again and again the Girl shuffled the pages with her thumb, glancing at the green light of the clock-radio on her night table--and with a rush of adrenaline she understood that she had communicated with the men across time as well as space. It was eleven-eleven ,and they had mentioned dinner. She had no idea when dinner would be served in a prison, but it was probably earlier in the day, like six or five o'clock. Some no-nonsense time.

    She lay on her back and imagined their lives, the lives of the Prisoners. What sort of food did they eat? Grown men, with someone telling them when to eat, when to go to bed, what to wear. And what had they done to be placed there, to have lost their freedom...Especially the man she had spoken with, what had he done to be imprisoned? Armed robbery, maybe. He had appeared strong, intelligent, not angry or crazy like a violent criminal. No, probably it was grand larceny. Or civil disobedience, like Martin Luther King, Junior. The man grew more virtuous in her mind with each passing moment. He had embezzled to give to the poor people from his home town, he had faced down a platoon of bulldozers threatening his farmland, he had stolen medicines from a pharmacy to save his child with asthma...Her thoughts were sucked into sleep as if through a porthole into outer space.

    ...And the two Prisoners sat in their cells that night and did not sleep. They thought wonderingly of what they had seen, the tele-vision on the television. Who was the Girl? What had caused her to appear in their midst? They thought of questions for her, cursing themselves for having ended the conversation first. Was she American? Where did she live? Had there been any clues in her appearance as to her location or identity? Oh, why hadn't they asked her more questions instead of arguing with each other? Perhaps if she appeared again they might be able to arrange a different sort of contact, like letter-writing. But what if she was from another time? What if she was really dead, and was communicating with them from her own time of many years ago, or from the future? What if she was currently an infant, and the 102 Wing TV had just given them a glimpse from the future?
    7:50 AM :: 2 comments ::

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    Trumpet -- part 3

    Friday, December 09, 2005


  • She opened the door and went into her parents' room. No one was there, the room dark. TV off. The Girl listened. Only the metallic clanking of the radiators.

    She had seen something, too, besides the pictures of naked ladies and sofas, in the magazine pages. But she couldn't remember. It was as if she'd been in a trance and was only now coming back to herself with no memory of what had occurred. But the voices were clear enough, in her head anyway. Strange.

    She picked up her trumpet and shook it. The spit valves, uncorked, flung bits of moisture everywhere. She depressed the valves, practicing the Haydn solo's fingering. She was not allowed to practice for real after nine thirty.

    But the magazine beckoned her. She felt fevered, chilly, tried to think of what Ms. Shumer from Fourth Grade Gifted Program would do. The Scientific Method. She went back to the bed and flipped methodically through all the pages, stopping at each one for exactly five seconds: one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand, five one thousand. Flip. No voices this time. The Girl sighed and flopped onto her side, her hand toying with the magazine's pages. Suddenly she did hear something.

    "Hey, man, it's that kid again. Or some kind of hand, look like a kid's hand. Man, what happened to the game? Damn!"

    She sat up. She looked at the open page, an ad for an expensive cognac with a giant curvy bottle that a small naked woman leaned against in profile, her head thrown back, her spine tracing a gentle "S" in answer to the bottle's contour. Then the Girl saw something else: a man's face, peering at her from behind the image-or not quite behind, but instead of, so that the real estate where the bottle had been was now occupied by this dark, intelligent, unsmiling face. The Girl brought the magazine up to her eyes to get a closer view.

    "Change the pinche channel, man, come on! Carajo!"

    "Man, don't you think I'm trying to change it? It won't change!" As the first man turned his head, she saw ropy muscles stand out on his neck, then got a quick look at his companion, a slight man with a mustache and slicked-back hair. Both the men kept glancing to a spot at the back of whatever room they were in.

    The Girl spoke.

    "I'm really here, you know. Hello hello."

    Silence. The face in the page frowned profoundly, clouded with alarm, then vanished. The Girl waited. Then she heard voices again, lower this time.

    "Naw, man, I didn't hear nothing."

    "OK, man, I am telling you (vicious stage whisper) this ain't no TV program. Wake up, motherfucker! That little girl just spoke to me, and I am not crazy, ok?"

    She tried again.

    "Hey-where are you guys?"

    Silence again.

    The Girl glared hard into the page, trying not to blink and feeling hot irritation gather behind her eyes. Yet the faces of the two men did not reappear. She relaxed. A bass voice spoke quietly. The first man.

    "Uh, hey kid? If you're really talkin to us, blink twice. No, once, blink once."

    She blinked. The man's face reappeared.

    "Uh-Are you looking at a camera? I mean, is somebody filming you?"

    "Filming me? No, I'm looking at a magazine. I see your face, though. It's like the picture's there, but then you take its place. Are you guys really seeing me on TV?"

    "Yeah." The man rubbed his forehead and eyes, letting his fingers come to rest like pincers on the bridge of his nose. His collar was a coarse khaki and looked stiff. "On the Rec Room TV. On One Oh Two Wing. Has this ever happened to you before?"

    The Girl's thoughts spun faster and faster, trying to comprehend all the strange things she was hearing and seeing. Her own door she had left wide open. She hoped her brother wasn't hearing any of this from the other side of the wall. She couldn't risk breaking eye contact with the magazine to get up and shut the door, so she lowered her voice.

    "What? Have I ever opened a magazine and seen real people inside who talked to me? No. What does, uh, One oh two wing--"

    "It's like saying cell block 102. We at Marion Prison, Joliet, Illinois, kid. You're on the TV. And I don't know how you got in here."
    6:00 PM :: ::

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    i'm interrupting myself. just for a minute though.

    Thursday, December 08, 2005
    We interrupt this story to bring you a bit of bird news: I saw three DARK-EYED JUNCOS yesterday on Northwestern's Evanston campus. And there have been lots of CANADA GEESE and MALLARDS flying around the North Branch of the Chicago River as S. has kindly driven me to work these last several days. Readers of this blog will hopefully enjoy the story I am posting on this space. The first 2 installments can be found here (part 1) and here(part 2). Enjoy!
    9:24 AM :: 0 comments ::

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    Trumpet/Part 2

    Sunday, December 04, 2005
    Below, part 2 of Trumpet. See previous posting for Part 1. PART 3 IS HERE.

    The Girl reaches down and touches the stack of magazines, about a dozen, and without hesitating grasps and pulls them from under the loose wooden slats of the fence. She wipes her hand, front and back, on her jeans and shuffles the magazines slowly. They are porno magazines, each one with a cover picture of a smiling, writhing woman dressed in lacy bra and panties. Some of them are in foreign languages. They look kind of boring, actually. Or at least, all the same. She spreads them on the pavement and stares a moment in the low light, wondering what to do with them. Should she report it to other kids on the block? Or try to stick them back under the same fence? Or throw them in a garbage bin further up the block? But night is coming, and action is required. So she takes off her cardigan, picks up the topmost magazine, and wraps the sweater clumsily around it. She will read it later.
    She didn't remember about the magazine until much later that evening, after a fight with her brother which left her dizzy with anxiety and loneliness. She loped into her room and sat heavily on her unmade bed. Quickly the loneliness transformed into a feeling of freedom, as she unwrapped the sweater to look at the curious photographs of naked women. She hummed to herself the Haydn trumpet solo: black, flowing hair with shaved vagina, oiled breasts and inexplicable high-heeled sandals, hands buried in hair like a shampoo commercial, softly glowing lights, pillowy cushions and purple velvet sofas, legs kicking in an upside-down splits, glistening lips parted softly in seductive snarls, smoky makeup over heavy-lidded eyes, all those poses of yielding...

    "Wait, wait, y'all- What is that?"

    "You see what it is, it's a little kid, man. Why's she up there on that screen, though? Man, get over there and fix that TV."'

    The Girl closed the magazine with a slapping sound. She'd heard something--or rather, someone. People talking.

    She opened the door and went into her parents' room. No one was there, the room dark. TV off. She listened. Only the metallic clanking of the radiators.
    8:58 PM :: ::

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