Successive approximations to the ideal force prescription

“Cop cams are inextricably tied to Taser, by far the dominant supplier, and the company will likely shape whatever the devices evolve into… Founded at one national moment of police angst, the company is using another such moment to transform from a manufacturer into a technology company. From a business perspective, body cameras are low-margin hunks of plastic designed to get police departments using the real moneymaker:, which provides the software and cloud services for managing all the footage the devices generate…”


—Karen Weise, “Will a Camera on Every Cop Make Everyone Safer? Taser Thinks So,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, July 12, 2016


Variation I: The endocrine safety

The widespread adoption of body cameras was followed by a wave of high-profile indictments for police misconduct, generally considered a mark of their success—a success qualified, of course, by the only somewhat smaller wave of high-profile exonerations following the indictments. From that success and that qualification came the endocrine safety. This was a trigger lock yoked to an optical sensor monitoring the pituitary gland, which would allow the gun to fire only when the officer’s brain released adrenaline and cortisol in volumes indicating a genuine sense of danger to the self or others.

Venture capital drove the technology to the public eye; opinion-makers and legislators of the technocratic Left kept it there; and initial skepticism crumbled as lab and field evidence showed conclusively that the endocrine safety was, in fact, exquisitely sensitive to an officer’s perception of threat. Body cameras could be used to create like-for-like control simulations: After an officer had successfully fired a “pit-locked” weapon, she could be taken back through the same experience, from the body-camera footage, and directed to shoot in the simulation where she had shot in life. With the same sensory stimulus, but the absence of danger, the safety engaged every time.

There followed a string of satisfying prosecutions, a spate of drops in police violence correlated with regional adoption of the technology. “Neuroscience,” wrote the editors of Nature Neuroscience, “now promises to inform something like an ideal force prescription: If not a clear, then at least a less blurred delineation of the circumstances that justify violence.”

The endocrine safety could exculpate as well as implicate, of course. An officer able to fire a pit-locked weapon was, almost definitionally, acting in self-defense—even when hindsight would reveal that there was nothing to defend against. The issue came to a head as a Trenton grand jury declined to indict Troopers Michael Leblanc and Francisco Barraja, who together sent five dozen bullets from pit-locked sidearms through the flesh of Zora Farrow. Ms. Farrow had been stopped on the street, searched for drugs, and handcuffed, kneeling, to a bike rack while the officers called the stop in from their cruiser; an epileptic, she had begun seizing, and the officers had opened fire. Restrained and known to be unarmed, a dozen feet away, she had apparently kindled a terror in those two men that the endocrine safety and an army of expert witnesses pronounced utter and mortal.

Device error was investigated—prayed for—and ruled out. All evidence indicated that Leblanc and Barraja’s fear had been real.


Variation II: The aperture safety

The promise of what was then called “big data” enchanted weaponsmiths as much as it had everyone else. Local wealth and crime rates, the time of day and year, the trails of text and tissue and found light that everybody in a surveillance state left in its wake like footprints in new snow: How could such things fail to pertain to the decision to kill?

And they did not fail. The studies were clear on that: In situations where officers could be agreed, in hindsight, to have erred, statistical models trained on real-time situational information consistently recommended a better course of action. The open question concerned the interface. An algorithm could simply apply weights to the data, compare to a threshold, and decide; for a human officer, no such integration of computed factors and her own judgments could be done in the moment.

Or not consciously. But the machinery of perception, by this point, was in play; law enforcement worldwide was experimenting with improvements to sight, hearing, smell, with new senses for electromagnetism and radiation. Estimates of danger could be fed directly into the inferior temporal lobe, subtly shaping the officer’s visual experience to differentiate high- from low-threat targets. This was called the integration or, more stylishly, the aperture safety.

To support split-second decision-making, the safety tapped into the most entrenched visual archetypes of menace. Dangerous places became darker, closer, more jagged-edged; dangerous people became larger, more graceful, more brutish. Darker-skinned.

Machines are not the only things that learn. Officers from “bad” neighborhoods complained that they were unable to go back, even off duty, the safety disabled; the sense of lurking danger was too great. More saliently: By tightening the association between true threat and swift grace, large size, dark skin, the aperture safety made life more dangerous for non-threatening persons in possession of those features.

This danger was studied, quantified. Biological anthropologists projected that, within two generations, the average size of men in several distressed urban neighborhoods would decrease by several percentage points, their skin lighten by several shades. The ideal force prescription, it seemed, was a Darwinian influence.


Interlude: The peppered moth

From a contemporary vantage, looking back, such a claim is absurd on its face. No matter their bias, no matter their intentions—how could officers of the law kill enough people to exert a visible selection pressure in a population of any size?

The peppered moth, Biston betularia, comes in two colorations—typica, white peppered with black spots, andcarbonaria, all black. In 1811, carbonaria was unknown in England. As the nineteenth century progressed, the frequency of carbonariaincreased, until by 1895 its prevalence in the species was 98%. This is due to the interaction of two factors: The “differential bird predation hypothesis,” a compression of the intuitive idea that birds find it easier to find and eat black moths on white backgrounds and white moths on black backgrounds than the reverse; and the increasing frequency, as industrialization took hold in England, of finding light-colored trees whose bark had been darkened by soot.

From those data, J. B. S. Haldane estimated that carbonariahad a 50% fitness advantage relative to typica. What advantage would it take to enact a smaller shift, in fewer generations?

Do the math. That is how it was. That is how it had come to be.


Variation III. The empathy safety

The Dallas police department, lauded for its strong relationship with the community it served, collaborated with neuroscientists at the Max Planck to prototype what they termed an empathy safety: A tool that would scour and digest the target’s digital history, injecting relationships, hopes, accomplishments, and a life’s high and low moments directly into an officer’s brain in a split-millisecond dream before he or she could pull the trigger. Proponents reasoned that such a thunderbolt of familiarity would restrict the use of lethal force to the absolute height of necessity; opponents countered that it would cripple enforcement, clouding officers’ judgment with the emotions and contradictions of a relationship that was not even real. The fifteen officers who agreed to a live test of the device revealed a more complicated truth.

Although the empathy safety drastically reduced the test cohort’s use of violence, three of the fifteen did indeed freeze up on their first violent encounter, twice fatally. From the rest, one had to be dropped from the program after taking an intense interest in the family of one man he had spared—slipping extra cash to the almost-victim’s wife at her workplace, fund-raising for a motorized wheelchair for his disabled son, intervening with near-cataclysmic results in the admittedly disastrous love life of his daughter.

Two more were terminated from the force after it emerged that they were threatening innocent people expressly to gather their biographies. In one case, the officer used the information to convince the suspects’ associates that she was psychic, a conviction she used to sell tips on stock prices and the outcomes of sporting events. The other officer was discovered recombining and altering the lives he extracted into short stories, none of which he succeeded in selling.

The death blow to the empathy safety was struck by Nina Abousalem, an officer in the test program whose metrics had shown no change. She worked a dangerous beat in West Dallas, on the other side of the river from where the money was. Internal and external evaluators, both then and after her death, found that she drew her sidearm frequently but judiciously, and that her use of force on the job was essentially without flaw.

One spring morning, months after she had joined the test group, Abousalem’s three-year-old son, Ibrahim, refused to go to daycare. A neighbor of theirs, Hunter Strickland, described what followed:


I was on my way out to get the mail and I heard Ibrahim shouting, and Nina talking back at him. Nothing I hadn’t heard before—I think the whole street knew by then that Ibi didn’t always like to leave the house in the morning. But then I heard a different kind of scream. I looked to see what was going on, and I see Nina standing over Ibi in the driveway, talking at him while he holds his shoulder and screams his head off. He’s clearly in pain, and she’s just calmly flaying him—I only caught what she said when he stopped for breath, but stuff like, “If you hate school so much, why don’t you just drive to the station and do my job instead?” And then Yusuf comes out and asks what’s going on and Nina fires on him. She keeps her eyes on Ibi, doesn’t even look at Yusuf, just sort of points the gun in his general direction and pulls the trigger. He jumps, covers his head with his arms, then looks at her and starts to say something. And she says “Fuck off,” and points the gun at Ibi. At that point Yusuf ducks inside, to call the cops, I guess. But she don’t shoot Ibi, just motions him to the car with the gun and says “Get in the car.” And he does. But she don’t, she just pushes the buttons on the key fob that close the door. It don’t take long for the cops to get there, and as soon as she gets a clear line on a cop car, she opens right up —


Sgt. Felicia Garza, also outfitted with an empathy safety, fired the killing shot. On the stand, she claimed the safety had revealed to her, in an instant, what Yusef Abousalem had seen only in hindsight: That Nina Abousalem had withdrawn from her relationships, had grown cold and distant from even her closest friends and family. Photos and video with loved ones waned, then ceased; in disputes where Abousalem would normally have been a peacemaker, she was the first to the knives. “The safety didn’t teach her not to shoot people because she knew and loved them,” Garza testified. “It taught her to look past that knowledge, and that love, and shoot anyway.”

No experts confirmed the plausibility of Garza’s diagnosis. It didn’t matter much. Empathy was officially excluded from the ideal force prescription.


Coda: The failure of alternatives

At no point during this technological evolution, it should be said, did citizens cease to suggest the usual methods for reducing police-involved violence. There remained heartfelt calls to train police in de-escalation and nonlethal subdual, to draw new officers from the communities they would protect, to abandon broken-windows policing and the “warrior mindset” and using citations as an income stream. Some of these were tried, sometimes with seriousness; results or no, none were widely implemented.

A plausible guess at the reason nearly writes itself. As wealth concentrated around a smaller and smaller cadre of the fortunate, an increasing share of law enforcement budgets came from a decreasing population of constituents. That population was technically gifted and optimistic about technology; they had strong networks and platforms for influencing voters and decision-makers.

Very few of them had spoken to a police officer about anything other than a moving violation. Technology was something they trusted and understood. Police were not. But, as their fortunes mounted and the rest of the country stagnated, they needed the police to protect them from a majority with less and less to lose.

In these circumstances, a mandate to protect the golden goose was natural, if not inescapable. The increasingly violent tactics this mandate entailed were both a response to and an accelerant of a mounting conflagration of class rage, like using a fan to blow flames away.



In the decades and centuries that followed, a young man from the green country might venture among the black streets and their gutted palaces. If he returned, he might do so having been bestowed, by the native tribes, a weapon more and more likely, as time went on, to be called “blackwand” or “fire-thrower” or “killer-that-shouts.” And, rarely, such a weapon might be endowed with a special property that nearly demanded to be spoken of just before sleep, seated in a circle, around a fire—for example, the “just” weapon of Demetrius the Square-Dealer, which would fire only in defense of his person; or the “discerning” wand of Martin Sky-Eyes, which allowed him to see who was his friend and who his foe.

The wielders of such weapons often rose to prominence among their people as warlords or rangers, mercenaries or homesteaders. Yet their stories—or, in any case, those that were remembered and repeated—partook of a certain sameness. Martin Sky-Eyes was neither the first hero nor the last to kill a well-loved foe and die at his minions’ hands, when parlay (the storytellers assure us) would have saved them both; Demetrius the Square-Dealer was just one of a long line of heroes who had, drunk or new-awakened, mowed down loved ones in a moment’s mistaken terror. And as that long dark age trudged on, a story grew around the stories, to account for their sameness. The men who walk the black streets understand the treachery of magic, it went. There is a reason that they let their treasures go.



Harry’s Last Trick

Harry’s Last Trick PDF icon



The most innocuous way to begin this story is to tell you that I hit a dog.  This happens to hundreds of people every day with not much recourse.  Yet, I had somehow avoided this sad fate for forty-three years.  The requisite guilt was intensified by all of my years as a non-dog killer.  The morally upright person that walks around during the day doesn’t hit animals.  The only marginally aware, emotionally consumed, and half blind idiot apparently does.  I don’t know if this story has any clear “moral,” but that might be a good one.




I started this story off in a manner that I referred to as “innocuous.”  Now I would like to fill in that skeletal portrait with a few (possibly) hard to believe details.  I will begin by describing the car that I was driving on the particular night of the accident.  This would be a standard issue 1975 Volkswagen Beetle.  (These, obviously, are better known in popular language as “Bugs.”  The cars that were shamefully clunky and unloved until Walt Disney gave one of them a human consciousness and mediocre cast mates).  My “bug” was originally the conventional color of yellow.

Many years ago, I had repainted the hood and body to look like a person wearing a tuxedo.  The hood was the bowtie, shirt, and jacket while the rest of it was the body of the suit wearer.  A black “top hat” I had fashioned out of Plaster of Paris completed the “suit”; this was secured to the roof of the vehicle.  I had wanted to finish this transformation by attaching a mannequin arm holding a magic wand to the passenger door.  This had been done, and resulted in a rather costly ticket because the city court was convinced it was a “hazard.”  (I even spent an hour arguing with a judge about that arm.  My defense entailed me stating that it “brought joy” to the thousands of city dwellers I passed ever day.  This was clearly not successful, and the arm came off the next day.  I would add that my suggestion to perform a few card tricks in the court room was also very poorly received.)

The arm with the magic wand should be a tip off to my profession.  For the last twenty years, I have been a professional magician.  The kind you see struggling to entertain children at various birthday parties, or laboring at “gigs” in the back of bookstores and libraries.  If I am unduly lucky, I might get a slot at the depilated theater that holds events for “charity.”  (I have never figured out who is benefiting from these said “events.”  I just know that I can go home with a cut from the store.  I can lay in bed and stare at the door money stuffed in my hot little hand and ruminate about having finally “made it.”)

The car had lived for much longer than I ever thought it would.  Unfortunately, it was currently serving as my home when I ran mercilessly into my four-legged friend.  The evening before I had returned to the place where I was staying and found the lock had been changed.  I had been bunking in a friend’s magic shop (sleeping on a couch in the storage room).  I have come to believe that this unhappy outcome was far beyond my control.  I looked in the window after struggling with the door with several minutes.  Everything was gone and the room was covered in a sickly white color from a nearby streetlamp.

You now have a solid picture of what the car looked like.  Now I need to tell you about the beast itself.  The mongrel in question was well over a hundred pounds.  The pitch-black night obscured many other details (the most obvious one being the actual breed).  The one detail that can’t be overlooked; the dog completely demolished the front of my car.  There was an inescapable dent and a very large plume of smoke that followed the metallic crunch.

The damage is not the remarkable thing about this story.  The fact that the dog looked directly in my eyes and then walked off very much alive is.  I didn’t see where he went, but I got out of my totaled magic mobile with a purpose.  I was off to find what was left of the dog.




Here are a few details to consider as “setting the scene.”  This was one of the coldest nights documented in a very long time.  I got out of my car and realized that I was in a part of the city that I didn’t even recognize.  Typical “urban” elements like telephone polls and brick buildings were contrasted by dirt alleys and unpopulated roads that led out of town.  I was to discover that very few of the citizens of this area believed in leaving their lights on.  (My imagination conjured up every explanation from devil worship to shameful nudity to explain why all the windows were dark).  I was dressed in my “uniform” for shows.  I had invested in a highly tailored suit that I had horizontally outgrown (my gut burst over the pant line).  A back length red cape made out of velvet that collected asphalt as I walked had always complimented the suit.  The red from the cape was most likely the only detail that the occasional driver could see with their headlights.

I always have painfully clear insights after a car accident.   They don’t always have a logical succession, but they do have a sick sort of staying power.  The first major one; my “career” in magic was probably over.  My trademark (the bug) was permanently damaged and my income was not going to provide for a replacement.  The very thing that got from one gig to another had committed suicide by dog.  I might be able to salvage the material from the back of the car (old props, costumes, and the same “how to” books I had studied since childhood).  All of that stuff was now horribly dated.  When I was still living in the magic shop, I had caught a ritzy cable special of a much younger and hipper magician.  The idiot had toys I couldn’t even imagine, not to mention a fully articulated light show behind him at all times.  This was the sort of example I had been seeing lately of talent being only “optional.”  The crowd was sedated by memorization and distracted by charm and showmanship.  I just had the same old jokes followed by the plethora of tricks for eons now.

That is what led to another realization; there was nothing extraordinary about me.  Magicians all over the country were doing various versions of my act right now.  They were far from plagiarists, because every good magic show should have an element of the familiar.  I just began to wonder if I had ever done anything completely unique.  I wasn’t just talking about my show…I was turning over every unexamined aspect of my meek little existence.

My eyes kept scanning for the dog as I walked into the darkness.  As I continued walking, the question: “Why?” popped into my head.  I thought I could ignore it and move on.  To make matters worse, I started imagining the word: “Why?” appearing like a neon sign in front of me.  The sign in my head would point to a formerly unspecified destination that would contain all the mythical answers I could possibly desire.  What was the “why” really asking?

I didn’t even have to ask because I inherently knew.  “Why magic?”  I was about to discover when I turned another corner that I had become lost on a back road.  Nothing looked even remotely familiar to me at this point.  I started to turn around and walk back in the direction I came from.  I found myself thinking: “Fine.  I clearly have a walk in front of me.  Why magic?”




My very first memory has to do with a soup can that was on my mother’s kitchen counter.  I was all of about two and a half years old; I can remember thinking that if I concentrated hard enough the can would move.  The next image that comes into my mind is of the can being in a completely different spot.  This wasn’t like watching a ghost drag a inanimate object across the counter.  The can had very much been transported by what I saw as my own willpower.  I know that any rational person can shoot this full of holes and I don’t need a believer.  This was simply my own experience of what I thought I saw.   This led to other incidents; causing the TV to turn off and on, causing the school bus tire to blow out, and even willing a black out during one of my bored school days.

I might not have thought I was directly responsible for any of it, but I couldn’t help but forge a connection in my mind.  I was dreadfully bored during that school black out and just as my frustration reached its zenith: “Pop!”  The bus incident was also similar; this was after I had grown to hate going to school.  My younger psyche had been filled with various escape plans and a nagging, eventually all-consuming dread.  What could be done to ensure that the bus didn’t arrive at school when we hit the end of the line?  After all of the grotesque children had been collected, and the bus door shut for the final time…there had to be an escape.  The moment I brought that thought into my consciousness the tire exploded and the bus was barely maneuvered to the side of the road.

What about the TV switching off?  That mostly had to do with a leak my family had in the roof.   I walked by one night feeling flushed with power and a giant torrent of rain came storming through the leak.  The TV had been displaying a particular program I didn’t approve of and I took this as more circumstantial evidence.

These brief examples are all just previews for the main attraction.  I have large chunks in my memory leading up to making this decision.  However, when I was sixteen, I decided that I desperately wanted to end my own life.  There was a crumby bridge by my house that overlooked a marginally crowded intersection.  I had written some self-indulgent poetry (in lieu of a suicide note) and stuffed it in a pocket.  I figured that whoever found my mangled corpse might be able to read whatever was left decipherable.  (There clearly wasn’t strong logic operating inside me at this time).  That particular night I arrived at the bridge around one a.m. and teetered on the edge.  I read my bad poetry to the world and then got up the gumption to make the descent.

The miracle happened when I decided half way through the jump that I wanted to live.  This is what I swear to you happened; a breeze came and redirected my ninety pound frame into a row of bushes.  Don’t get me wrong; I still attained several serious injuries (broken bones and a long gash across my forehead).  That wasn’t the point to me.  I had once again willed myself to circumvent fate and ended up alive.   That meant that I had some particular destiny here on the planet.  I was supposed to do a ‘GREAT THING” that I perhaps had yet to discover.  (The phrase “GREAT THING” might as well be another one of my directionless, neon flashing signs.)

Then, after the bridge incident, I had to go away for a while…




I was jolted out of my pleasant recollections by my first sighting of what I would refer to as: “The Mongrel.”  I suddenly spotted the dog hobbling towards a giant empty space in front of me.  The space was populated by what looked like dark and misshapen structures.  (I had a distant memory of a TV program I had seen once about elephant graveyards.)  I stuck my hand up (almost as if I assumed the animal could see me) and started to run after it.  As I approached the empty space, my eyes spontaneously adapted to the darkness surrounding me.  I realized I was in the middle of a large dirt lot.  The “dead elephants” turned out to be circus tents.  I was in the middle of a traveling show that had obviously closed up for the night.

The Mongrel was nowhere to be found as I walked around the perimeter.  I saw a couple of the carnies wandering around the corner and decided it was best to hide.  I didn’t want to go into a long explanation of what I was doing or why.  I found a particular (and perfectly sized) spot to hide at the exit of one of the tents.  That is when I noticed a smaller tent directly in front of me.  The word MAGIC was displayed proudly on the roof and the tent was illustrated with pictures.  There were magic wands, cards, dices, and a rather pitiful looking rabbit popping out of a hat.

I couldn’t believe it; my “GREAT THING” was staring me right in the face.  I knew the tent probably housed another performer.  (One I assumed was infinitely more talented than I was).  That didn’t prevent me from walking into the unprotected entrance.  I found myself in a relatively cozy environment with only about thirty seats and a small stage.  The stage displayed a coffin and a saw (without the lovely assistant).  There was an oversized deck of cards on top of an ancient picnic table.  There was also a velvet backdrop that hardly covered the canvas wall.  I was home, and I decided to perform a few tricks.

I leapt up onto the stage and bellowed: “For my first trick…”




“For my first trick…”

That was a very old line in my life from when I first started doing tricks.  That was after I went away for a while to The Place Which Shan’t Be Named.  I found myself surrounded by human beings in various stages of emotional turmoil.  We were all constantly on watch by a man I liked to call “The Specialist.”  The Specialist was a dry humored, bald, and overly diplomatic man that we all had to spend at least an hour a week with.  The other half of the time was spent with the Specialist and the rest of us seated in an awkward badly formed semi-circle staring at each other.  I was never quite sure of how any of this was supposed to translate into anything productive.  I wonder if we all were led to believe that a cure would present itself at just the right time.  The good news was that we had the evening (mostly) free and there was a wide selection of books.

I was having one of my bouts of sleeplessness when I decided to go wandering the halls.  There were various bookshelves tucked away and completely ignored in just about every corner.  The books and shelves collected more and more dust as they were spread further out.  I eventually got all the way to the end of one of the hallways and found a case with a single book.   By this point, I was in almost complete darkness with nothing but a bit of moonlight shining through the venetian blinds.  I attribute that fact to my motivation for picking up this oddly orphaned volume.  In any other circumstance, I would have turned a blind eye and kept on walking.

The moonlight fell on what I perceived to be a diagram that held little appeal.  That was before a bit more study illuminated the fact that it was instructions for a card trick.  That was enough for me to tuck the book under my arm and walk away with it.  I was fortunate enough to have a room to myself.  (That had to do with my last roommate having an unfortunate encounter with the ceiling and his shoelaces.)   I could flip on the light at random and read for many hours on end.  I found entire nights vanishing under the influence of obscure “magical spells” and slights of hand.  This allowed me to sleepwalk through just about everything else.

The final culmination in becoming a magician was to give my first real show.  I was pleasantly surprised that the Specialist was all for this “opportunity.”  He even donated me an hour or so on the cafeteria stage after our “medicine” break.  I found myself performing magic tricks in front of a bunch of zonked out patients.  There were two sizable takeaways from this particular experience.  The completely unreceptive members of the audience were hazing me for the future.  I also did a full out stumble when I first took the stage that brought down the house.  This was the unintentional creation of a personae; the bumbling idiot that was at least marginally competent.  I would go about pretending that I didn’t know what I was doing.  That would make the pay off of each magic trick a surprise.  All of these events seemed accidental until I thought about it later.

My mysterious streak of self-appointed “luck” was continuing.  I was “approved” to leave The Place Which Shan’t Be Named.  I was never to lay eyes on the Specialist again.  He might not have been visibly present, but he was forever in my thoughts in a nightmarish way.   The voice of unintentional deterrent is a pleasant way to refer to him.  I always have his voice in the back of my head saying: “Is that really such a great idea?”




The small stage I stood on was now consumed with a wash of magic supplies.  I had found a stack of boxes stuffed in a corner.  Each one of them had been badly taped together and was clearly overflowing with the tricks of the trade.  I had started to perform almost on autopilot.  I was only dimly aware of stage lights slowly rising on me as I did my usual “competent idiot” act.  I didn’t even notice a dark figure seated at the end of one of the aisles.  That might have continued if I hadn’t heard oddly incongruous applause after one more card trick.  I looked out into the darkness.

That is when I saw a familiar face; the Specialist was watching me intently.  I couldn’t mistake the face or the antique pair of spectacles.  The only thing that had changed was that he was wearing a clown suit.  There was even remnants of white make-up around his eyes (he didn’t finish cleaning himself up).  I looked directly at him and he exaggeratedly clapped again.  I was so dumbfounded that I had to wait for him to speak.

“You’ve gotten better,” the Specialist said.

“Was I bad before?” I said as I walked towards the edge of the stage.

“You were…unformed,” the Specialist told me.

He got up and walked towards the edge of the stage and I helped him up.

“Why the clown suit?” I asked.

“Sort of a childhood ambition,” he said.

I had never noticed a beach ball that was rolling around on stage.  (I fully acknowledge the fact that it might have always been there I just hadn’t noticed it.  That is a completely unimportant detail to me).  We started to pass the ball back and forth in a standard game of catch.   That was until the game mutated and the Specialist must have grown a new set of limbs.  The man was infinitely more agile than I ever could have imagined.  He would dart from one point to another and I could never quite locate him.  I would toss the ball into the darkness and watch the clown suit materialize out of nowhere.   The ball would plummet back into my arms and simultaneously release itself.  I found that I could dash away just in time to catch the ball at another location.

The ball finally landed and my feet and I didn’t have the inclination to toss it again.  The Specialist appeared out of the darkness and started to cradle the ball like a baby.

“When did you ever want to be a clown?” I asked, out of breath.

“More of a direct route to happiness,” the Clown informed me.

“How so?” I found myself sitting down.

The Specialist sat down next to me, still holding the ball for dear life.

“What I did,” he started to explain, “There’s theories and techniques.  There’s charts to follow.  But clowns make people laugh.”

The Specialist smiled, which was also something I didn’t know he could do.  He eased the ball into my lap and pushed it down with his hand.

“I thought of a final trick for our act,” the Specialist said.

“What act?”

“The one we were doing just now.”

I wanted to push the ball away from, but found the same kind of paralysis.

“Okay,” I said, “What is the grand finale?”

The Specialist looked me dead in the eye: “I want you to make this ball disappear.”

I placed my hand on the ball and concentrated.  Wasn’t the ball just like my childhood soup can?  I closed my eyes for a fleeting moment and felt the strangeness of the rubber.  The ball wouldn’t recognize my willpower.  I didn’t feel the cold air that my imagination desired.  The emptiness that would signify that I was just as powerful as I had always assumed.  When I opened my eyes, I found the dead looking beach ball staring back at me.  The Specialist, however, was completely gone from the stage.




I had vague ambitions when I got out of The Place Which Shan’t Be Named.  The title “magician” was wonderfully evocative but aimless.  This trade, if you can call it that, doesn’t have a clear path.  There aren’t clubs that people join or signs that sprout up on the side of the road that say: “Magicians Welcome.”  I didn’t go to school; I just read many books and slept out in parks at night.  That same crazy faith was with me at all times.   The faith was made worse by the various wild and almost tangible daydreams.  In my head, I had reached the absolute zenith of success.

Here is a sketch of that particular doubled headed monster.  I had somehow found an abandoned house in my wanderings.  The door was open when I found it and everything was relatively clean.  This, in my crazed state, was now a wonderful place to “rehearse.”  This was directly after I had decided on my new nome de plume: “Harry the Magnificent.”  Have you ever created an alter ego?  They give you a wonderful excuse to blame everything on a ghost.  The skeletal, hungry version of me could say that “Harry” stole the candy bar out of the convenience store.  “Harry” could have a total disregard for sleep when I spent all night pouring over magic books.

“Harry” was the person who transformed this house.  “Harry” found various bright colors of paint in the garage and mercilessly splashed them on the white walls.  “Harry” decided that he needed a bonfire in the living room to stay warm.  “Harry” painted crude pictures on the walls of what should have been the children’s rooms.  Little by little, I imagined that the entire home was my stage.  The original home started to fade away as “Harry” entertained his millions of adoring fans.

I would also tell you that “Harry” was the person who chased off the people who showed up to reclaim the house.  I believe that “Harry” rushed at them and yelled at the top of his lungs: “Now I will make you all vanish.”




“Harry” was with me tonight.  “Harry” was the one who started to decorate the stage.  He pushed the coffin and saw in the center of the stage.  He was the one who made a vain attempt to clean the debris off his stage with his foot.  “Harry” was setting the stage for a certain person to show up.  I had rather ambivalent feelings about her, but “Harry” needed her to come.  The question was how long both of us were willing to wait.




I found myself wandering again after having to leave my house/auditorium.  “Harry” would appear to me from time to time as the laziest travel guide who ever lived.  He would be my guiding instinct when it was time to eat, sleep, or move on.  I only have dim memories; there is a traveling circus, a few children’s birthday parties, and a disastrous appearance in the back of a bookstore.  The wisest thing would have been to stay in one area and try to truly establish myself as a “name.”  This just didn’t suit my dual personality.  The best way to deceive myself (and “Harry”) of my mysteriousness was to show up as a foreign object in each new environment.  I would perform (many times illegally) on various street corners.  There was even a few times when my fear of the law got so great that I gave “late night shows.”  The various non-human and human vermin would gather around me as I used streetlights as stage lighting.  On some nights, there might only be five or six audience members.  That mattered very little to “Harry” or myself because the applause always sounded deafening to both of us.

This was around the same time that I discovered that joy was an oddly tradable currency.  People would take me in with no questions asked.  There would be the opportunity to shower and stay two or three nights.  My trademark suit appeared because I met a tailor with a few extra pieces of clothing.  (The cape was his idea and it fit me just right with the exception of a few inches that trailed behind me.  He even offered to correct it but I absolutely refused.  This was, in my mind, part of the “Harry” gag.  How does this idiot even walk around without tripping on his cape?)

My sense of time completely eroded while I was traveling.  I can’t tell you precisely how long I was out roving.  There was only the exact moment when it stopped cold.  I had found some other anonymous city to wander through.  I was right in the middle of scouting my spot for tonight’s late night show.  I was crossing a bridge when I saw a pale skinned, black haired girl standing a tad too close to the ledge.   She was wearing what looked to be a ball gown.  This was not the most important detail; she had an elaborate pair of angel wings strapped to her back.  The logical part of my mind knew this was just a costume.  “Harry” was the one who saw her, as she would like to be seen.  The fact that it looked like she was about to jump off the bridge had not escaped either one of us.




The inside of the tent felt like it had expanded.  There were new rows of chairs that I hadn’t noticed before.  The stage grew in size; the interior of the tent (which had originally felt cramped) was now oddly cacophonous.  The canvas on the back wall was slipping down and starting to reveal some kind of poster.  I walked away from the coffin and saw towards whatever the piece of the art was.  I was about to find a piece of artwork that I had fashioned years before.  The woman I just told you about stood on the bridge with her wings.  She faced the onlooker with a radiant, death-defying smile.  I had illustrated her standing under a streetlamp just in the way I used to.  The younger version of me stood next to the woman.  That’s when I was reminded of the unfortunate truth that I was once considered handsome.  The obscene handsomeness canceled out the over all ludicrousness of the magician’s costume.

Bold lettering at the bottom of the picture read: “Amelia Flies!”  I checked to see if I could find a date for this performance.  (The date of the original performance had long escaped from my memory).  I finally found the date hidden at the very bottom of the picture.  That is when I found tonight’s date staring at me in the face.  There was no other way than to see that as the final sign; Amelia was going to be here soon.  I had started to feel my anticipatory nervousness when the picture shifted.  The reflection surface of a mirror replaced the two figures and the magic proposition of flight.

I can’t remember when I had made the habit of intentionally not looking at myself.  Perhaps I had begun to assume that a youthful profession would keep me from the ravages of age.  That was not going to be the case; I could only see remnants of my formerly handsome visage.  Everything had unfortunately dropped or receded to an uncorrectable degree.  My suit was severely distorted by weight gained over the long course of a life filled with health related neglect.  The most disturbing thing to look for me was my own set of eyes.  They have oddly changed to a darker, battle weary color of green.  I looked like a person who physically couldn’t stand waiting for another second.

How much longer would I have to wait?




As you have no doubt gathered, Amelia was the woman on the bridge.  The heroic piece of me felt the need to somehow intervene.  I approached her and magically made a bouquet of flowers appear in my hand.  I handed it to her and she accepted without giving me eye contact.

The very first thing Amelia ever said to me was this indicative statement:

“My dear, I’m not sure your magical flowers will ever quite be enough.”

“What would, then?” I asked.

Amelia turned her face to me and said: “Make me fly.”

Amelia was a classically beautiful woman with one minor exception.  She had a long scar that ran from the top of forehead to the bottom of her nose.  As I was going to find out, her explanation would change constantly for why she had this.

“How am I supposed to do that?” I asked.

“With your magical powers,” she retorted, “You do have powers, don’t you?”

“I would like to believe so,” I said.

“Use them now!” she exclaimed.

That is when Amelia hoisted herself off the bridge into the shallow body of water below.  There was at least a brief moment I could have sworn that her wings organically flapped.  I did everything I could to concentrate (much in the same way that I had on the soup can from my youth).  I can’t really attest to how much help I was.  The worries over my true abilities were canceled out as I rushed down to help the woman I had just met.  I even went as far as to jump into the water without any concern for my suit or cape.  Amelia surfaced from the water with any superficial injuries and an eerie smile.  This was a regular practice for her (as I was about to find out).

I dragged Amelia out and set her on the ground.

“Magic doesn’t exist!” she proclaimed, before passing out cold.

That one line might have been enough to cement our history together.  Disproving it became more than a hobby; it slid into the world of a deeply sick obsession.




I realized the surface of the mirror at the back of the tent had faded.  I was watching my first encounter with Amelia in front of me like some dreadful movie.  I’m still not sure where the mirror shifted back and I could see the inside of the tent.  The night was still very much in tact outside.  The arena was cast in dull shadows that just seemed senseless to me at this point.  That is when I saw the mongrel I had hit wander into the space and to the edge of the stage.  I bolted around to confront it and just saw a sad dog smile.  The animal was still mobile and almost didn’t look damaged.  The only hint of the accident came in the form of blood dripping out of the mouth.  I wanted to utter an apology and found myself unable to do it.

Then the dog was gone from the space.  I walked slowly around the room looking for any sign of it.  I walked back up on the stage and found the mirror flickering again.




Amelia and I had found each other during another one of my bouts of homelessness.  She offered to let me sleep on a dilapidated couch in her living room for an indefinite amount of time.  I assumed that she wanted intimacy; instead, I was going to be subjected to months of not being touched by her.  The constant denial of any kind of physical bond just made me more desirous of her.  Whenever I made overtures, she would push me away and say: “No, I care about you too much.”

Over the next few months I was going to discover that Amelia had “gentleman callers.”  They would show up at her home; each one looking more hopeless than the last.  They were the absolute dregs of society; men with unsightly skin conditions, amputees, and those with an almost unfathomable sadness. She would pull them into her tiny closet-sized bedroom.  If I didn’t want to hear the sounds of their encounters, I would have to retreat to the hole in the wall diner below her apartment.  There was a pretty waitress there who would take pity on me and give me free coffee.  I would let it seep into my very being as I seethed about what I was denied.  The fact that the waitress was paying me attention was completely lost on me at the time.  (Sometimes when I can’t get to sleep, I find myself thinking about the waitress and what become of her.  I have invented numerous scenarios in which she has nothing but infinite security and happiness.  The thought that someone is at peace helps me rest a bit).

What kept me there?  That would be the nonsense of what was to be deemed our “project.”   Perhaps I should explain how Amelia’s mind worked.  She was haunted by a singular childhood dream about flying over a range of mountains.  This was done completely without any kind of assistance (the way many of us fly in our dreams).  She had a similar GREAT THING in mind to me.  This led to a childhood full of near accidents; higher and higher surfaces from which to plummet off of.  Somewhere in her lost years she started wearing the angels’ wings as a trademark.  The fundamental difference between Amelia and myself was relatively simple.  She had stopped believing, and I didn’t understand how that could happen.

On the second night at her place, I found myself vowing to give her a functional set of wings.  That led to months of scouring libraries for every kind of book on aviation.  I discovered that I was capable of doing very complex mathematical problems.  I even was to discover that I had somewhat of a gift for elaborate construction.  I had to find a way to conceal all of the mechanical inner workings of the wings in the right amount of feathers.  The wings, in turn, had to look naturally attached to Amelia’s tiny body.  The last pair I was ever to produce was almost credible as a real set of angelic limbs.

I was to discover that this was mostly “baptism by fire” work.  Each new pair of wings had to be subjected to a number of rigorous tests.  Amelia would hurl herself from a high surface with frantically flapping arms.  I would use this an excuse to “catch” her.  By the time we developed the last set of wings, a strange and miraculous thing occurred.  Amelia stopped flapping and flew for a magnificent thirty seconds.  She glided to a safe landing on a nearby piece of dirt.  I had closed my eyes and concentrated as hard as I possibly could; this time I let my desperation bleed out into the atmosphere.  When Amelia and I looked at each other, there was a silent understanding that magic had been achieved.

The next few weeks were spent plastering the town with our “Amelia Flies” posters.  This mystical event was going to take place on the same bridge where I met Amelia for the first time.  I have forgotten most of the details of the actual day.  I wish I could tell you how many people showed up.  I even wish I could repeat word for word my introduction.  My distorted memory would have me believe that it was one of the great oratory performances of all time.  Truth be told, I can’t even the sensation of giving it.  The words left my mouth and then Amelia took her position on the ledge.

The next few minutes always expand in my mind to be longer than they were.  Amelia flapped her wings, glided, and then crashed into the ground next to the water.  I heard gasps from the audience as she became motionless.  Her eyes closed, and I found my first impulse was to run.  That’s right; I didn’t stick around to see what happened or how I could help.  No one chased after me because there was a dying woman on the ground.  The armchair psychologist could tell you that I didn’t want my naïveté shattered.  My steadfast dedication to belief in magic would have taken a severe blow.  Was that really it?  The fundamental truth is that I have no earthly clue why I bolted.




I stopped looking in the mirror after the last image of Amelia on the ground faded.  The theater remained empty, and the stage remained silent.  I could feel the sensation of disappointment as a knot in my stomach.  I started to head towards the exit.  That is when the tent was swamped with light.  The seats were instantaneously filled with a crowd of well-dressed spectators.  The sounds of wild applause deafened me.  Through no action of my own, I found myself back on stage with a confidence I hadn’t known before.  The marginally competent “Harry” was nowhere in my body.

My voice boomed as I said: “We’ve all had impossible dreams!  Dreams that haunt us with their impossibility.  What would you do if nothing stopped you?  Maybe you would fly!”  As the last line bellowed from me, I saw an elderly woman with a pair of wings begin to flutter down from the ceiling.  I would have recognized her anywhere at any age.  This was Amelia; but her black hair had turned grey and her distinctive scar had gotten longer.  Amelia’s style of dress had gone from revealing dresses to what respectively looked like a hospital gown.  The crowd loudly voiced its approval as Amelia whirled around the top of the tent.  There were moments when she would just vanish into darkness only to emerge triumphantly in light.  The vanishing act was supplemented with elaborate summersaults and mind numbingly excellent flips.  The final trick consisted of Amelia coming to a dead stand still in mid-air.  I could physically feel the audience holds its breath until she descended down to the stage.  She bowed to wild applause that I thought would never end.

The entire time I watched Amelia’s flying out with a professional distance.  Her wings were even more realistic than anything I could fashion.  They moved with organic grace and precise birdlike timing that I couldn’t help but marvel at.  I even found myself wanting wholeheartedly to believe they were real.  They even folded up as Amelia went into a second bow for her delighted audience.

The lights shut off we were covered in complete blackness.




I found Amelia and I engulfed in a floodlight that made very little else visible.  I realized in the moment that a person’s smile never changes.  Amelia’s was just as paradoxically distant and warm as it had always been.  I felt my smile plaster onto my face as tears welled up in my eyes.  She stole the exact thought from my mind as she began to speak.

“I was finally able to fly,” she said.

“You fly beautifully,” I answered, “No thanks to me.”

“That’s unimportant now,” she said, reaching for my arm.

We walked together in the darkness for a while.

“Was it everything you expected to be?” I finally asked.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say so,” she stopped walking.


“The most satisfying feeling came after I landed for the first time.  The knowledge that I could finally look back and know that some kind of miracle was achieved.  You can’t spot a miracle when you are right in the middle of it.”

“I’ve been trying to my entire life.”

She laughed gently and touched my face.

“Have you still not done it yet?” she said, laughing.

“I keep thinking that I’ll be able to spot it.  Be able to look around at the world transforming around me while smiling.  I’ve spent so much time imagining it…shouldn’t I just be able to freeze time and know it when it comes?”

“No,” she said, “you should feel it in your gut.  Here…”

She grabbed my hand and set it on the wings.  This was just as I imagined it to be.  There was no separation from her flesh; the wings moved underneath my nervous fingers.  That was when she started to vanish from my sight.

“Wait,” I said, “how is this possible?”

“I stopped wishing,” she called back, “and then it happened.”

After that, Amelia was completely gone.  I could just hear her laughing from somewhere in the pitch black.  I suddenly realized how long it had been since I heard her distinct brand of chuckle.  The one that accompanied every single part of our flying “work.”  She would laugh at every single fitting of a new pair of wings.  She would even chortle after thousands of rough landings.  There was nothing that would ever stop her from a certain pleasing ironic distance.  Was that why I did it all?  Just to hear a beautiful woman laugh?  The women that I just let vanish again from my sight.

The Specialist appeared out of the darkness dressed in his clown suit.

“Should I have just been a comedian?” I asked.

The Specialist just raised his eyebrow and snapped his fingers.




I was back on stage again with the Specialist with the house lights up.  I could see every one of the joy filled faces as they applauded.  The Specialist stood at a microphone stand off to my left and gestured at me wildly.

“Please applaud Harry,” he proclaimed, “Please applaud Harry the Magnificent in his final performance.”

Two words were clearly etched in my memory; and they were final performance I wanted to ask The Specialist: “Is this really it?”  I knew from personal experience that I wouldn’t get anything back but a non-answer.  I turned to another direction, and that is when I saw the dog again.  The dog was laid on its side and breathed in a terminal sounding shallow manner.  I turned around to see the Specialist nod at me to approach the dog.  I turned my back towards the Specialist as I heard his authoritative voice boom through the microphone.

“For his last trick ever,” the Specialist said, “Harry will save the life of a dying dog.”

I found myself crouching down by the dog and putting my hand on its midsection.  Hadn’t my entire life trained me to do the impossible?  The journey that began with an innocuous can of soup was about to end.  The crowd was relying on me to save this animal that my Beetle had such an unfortunate run-in with.  I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the animal well.  I attempted to imagine its entire life as the most blessed existence a dog could ever have.  I extrapolated that this was a life the dog wanted to return to desperately.  The only way to do that was to rediscover his vitality that was right at my fingertips.

Nothing happened.

I opened my eyes to discover that the dog was even more distant.  The dog’s eyes were now closed and the body was even stiffer.  My magical touch was not being summoned; I suppose that would lead more logical people to realize that it was never real.  I was so much concerned with the discovery of my own delusions at the moment.  If I couldn’t save the dog, what could I do in this moment?  I took off my cape and covered the dog.   I gave it one final pat on the head and then stood up to face the crowd.

“I couldn’t save it,” I cried out, “But I could make it disappear.”

I heard the crowd laugh approvingly and then begin a loud applause.  The Specialist walked up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder.

“That was exactly the right answer,” the Specialist told me.

The crowd rose to its feet and I waved one last time and began to exit the stage.  The lights snapped off again and I found myself in an empty tent.  The space was back to its tragically original size.  I could detect a few early morning sunrays streaming through the cracks in the canvas.  My cape was still on exact same spot that I had left it when I covered the dog. At any other time in my life, I would have hurried to pick it back up and reattach the thing to my suit.  I knew that I wouldn’t do that again as I continued to study it.  That is when I realized that I wasn’t alone.

A burly, tattooed carny was staring straight at me with a combination of confusion and menace.

“Old timer,” he said, “I’m afraid I am going to ask you to leave.”

“Just one moment longer?” I asked.

The carny shook his head and pointed to an exit.  The frown was the most prominent thing I noticed as I took off my top hat.

“Maybe what you need most,” I said, “is a top hat.”

I jumped off the stage and placed on the hat on his head before he could protest.  Then I rushed out the exit into the burgeoning sunrise.

The Evidence of Things Not Seen

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I was.

There you were and I was looking at a newspaper with my body in the body of your imagination. The hope of your return kept my blood running through windy plains. I paced up and down a nervous room of frail voices. What if you do not arrive! I assert that you are a cloud that collides with the red mountain. My death is your presence. I wait for the singular moment that will throw me out of gear. In body passing out of its senses I catch the fever of life. All that I lived, the love I felt in the eye, the pursuits of the soul – they happened in a moment when I was away to meet a friend without a name. I rose and fell as happens to waves under the spell of the moon. I rolled in the sand of phantasms. I leaned across railings of a bridge feeling the sensation of going into sunlit waters far below the edges of perception. I do not fall because I reconcile with you. The differences of a lifetime came to view. I could not go down without expressing ineptitude when it came to words. I held you the way a soldier needs to feel the hilt of a sword. I brandished the sword in the wind but the cold would not die. I fought you in the desire that ran through my skin. Your quietness had a deadly effect on me. You had a way of keeping rage within the shape of silences. My worlds that were a collection of images collapsed faster than day in the lap of night. All my losses put together came to one moment. I gave up the one moment to be freed of mortality. I gave up nothing. I was looking for the sound of happiness.

I moved into the heart of forms. I came out of a mirror glued to time. My suffering is illogical or it would never be mine. I squeezed the flesh out of music. I was sad as a person who misses a lottery by a single digit. The cursing of fate became a pastime for the heart’s tongue. I kept pummeling invisible walls with bare hands. My hands turned into a semblance of skeletal images covered with flesh. It seemed unreal until I saw blood flow into the hollowness that became the life of my hands. The child I abandoned to the universe became a singer. The child that was mine suffered. I took the suffering child in my arms. I cried through my prayers. I asked for help. I screamed in the direction of the stars. No one heard me. The world was a lonely place. I asked the abandoned child to pray for her sisters. I regret the illusions that kept my youth occupied.

I was desperate to be normal. I wanted normal joys. I write my end as if I were on stage declaring my innocence to an audience that has already left. I called upon emptiness to vindicate the life I wrought in a moment. The hard part was giving up sadness that smiled through lips as if that is where it was born. Sadness slipped from the face and the dreamless sleeper came out of my death. In my illusion I escaped the clutches of death. In freedom I looked for death to release the face of the moment. The moment would not outlive me. Neither would I be able to come out of absence. The slender paradox of time and infinity was the dominating paradigm of my life. I let infinity replace time because I knew what it meant to be a person in the bliss of love. I took the illusions of living seriously. I go through the loneliness of infinity before I get past time.



We live among other selves. The person I feel for the most is my neighbor. I knew she was not one person. The friend together with the enemy became one body. When I say you must believe in yourself it means you are certain of the monsoons to come. In certainty of water running down the face we were young in the afternoon of our first days. The air absorbed our dreams. We walked down the road facing the sea. Backgrounds floated through our bodies. It did not matter where we stood. We could be anywhere in the cosmos locked in one thought that brought me into you. I felt the oneness of a life given to fire in water. I dream of living in the times of your body. Our friendship locks us in an unforgettable tune. One cloud and the wetness of dark feelings. We came out of time and passed out on a bed of straw. Tired we barely noticed the sun warming the room. Out of isolated happiness came the need of a friend. I encase my ecstasy in stories of the miraculous arrival of the guest whose lips I tasted in a dream. I wasn’t dreaming. It could be an act of consciousness. I was attributing the quality of dreaminess to the lips of the guest. Love infects the air in the neighborhood. Stories upon stories and lips drunk with the sweetness of the guest who arrived at dawn. In clouds gently breaking apart to let in the light I took the guest into the formless body of the dark escaping into the belly of the sky. Were we ever separate at any point in time? I’ve little to offer as an individual. I owe the power of dreams to dissect reality to a parachute falling through the heavens. Nothing is faster than light and neither is the parachute. I speculated on the possibility of moving beyond time. In a parallel lightless universe I had the tenacity of the blind. The neighbor is a body with my eyes. Through her is my knowledge of the sources of water in a traveler’s deserts.


True to thyme.

Beauty is the background to cruelty. I reject the cruelty of the beautiful. What happens to man when power enters his bones? The man who seeks to preserve the beautiful is the cruelest of men. He preserves it in the violence of body against body. I prefer being true to thyme rather than beauty. In beauty I’m a man. In thyme I’m a possibility. Beauty is the dogma of truth. In thyme compassion is truth. Why do I need beauty if I can live without malice! The smell of thyme is all there is to meaning. The wars of the beautiful stain the earth with petals drenched in the blood of men. I give up the beautiful for the hills and the lakes. I drop down on the banks of the river and beg forgiveness from death that nature has spared me of. Cruelty I’ve given the earth that reciprocates with the calm of the mist. I’ve a long way to go before night catches up with memories of my beating heart. I pass towns where my open eyes barely see anything beside the long spell of the dark. My body is awake. I feel the soft breath of a child in my arms. I feel alive in thyme. I must’ve been dead for a long time. My passion for beauty died in the dream that overshadowed sleep.

I came to terms with images to which I brought pain. The reconciliation was a revulsion I felt for the manhood I stood upon in the glare of morning light. Such was the beauty of the morning that my feet stuck to the ground. Injured in the foot I was seized with fear. I did not want to die no matter what. Habit brought the beautiful together with the cruel. I was lost to thyme. I was vindictive for the same reason that I brushed my teeth and took a shower. It was a sign of cleanliness. I cannot bear a polluted body. The body had to be rid of the pollutant. I took the moral burden of making a clean world. I was destined to torment the ugly until nothing of it was left on earth. I keep the beautiful the within bounds of the self. In murder I found the answer to the question of the beautiful. I lost nights to uncertainty. I regain them in the murders of the beautiful. I burnt and plundered villages and towns until the truth of thyme occurred in passing. I saw my reflection in the greater cruelty of another man. I saw who I am in the twinkling of eyes that spoke little even as they acted out the worst forms of sadism. The smile hurt me because it resembled mine and could’ve been me. The music of evil roused in me one last cry of loss. It is neither the beautiful I seek nor the cruel. I call upon the kindness of water to forgive men the unforgivable need to possess the scent of thyme.



I made it look like I was born to hide. Hiding is language as seeking is nature. I hide in what I say. I seek what I never find – the person that I’m not. The conviction of your existence is in doubt. I feel you with the senses. I know the breath of your mouth coming out of my tongue. The need to believe is hunger and thirst with equal force pulling the body apart. In the need looking for succor I reject you though you are all that I seek. Your suffering deludes me into closing my eyes. I’m far from letting you tear the blinds covering my sense of self. I reconcile the personae of my body with the logic of superstition. I find that more acceptable than you being the person that I am. I cannot bear to believe that you are me. I cannot be normal. I fear the loss of sanity. I fear suffering in your place. My body is used to delusions of itself as a dreamer of elephants. The poor thing does not know better. I dare not disappoint the body by bringing you into my life. I seek you as death seeks life. I’m not willing to die so that you live.



I was standing beneath a streetlight watching rain fall with the smallness of rice. I’m willing to live in the pessimism of a body with no truth. I hide from you. I hide from love that escapes the prison of a word. I hide from all that is less than obvious. I know the world I’m intoxicated with. I am the dolphin in both air and water. I command fantasies to become stages for audiences to gaze at my childishness. What flows beneath the knowledge I acquired through replication of patterns of roses is an undercurrent of silence upon silence. I shirk away from what does not turn into sound. I was born with a cry and there was no need for silence. I was silent in the few moments when I did not hear my breathing. I jumped with fear in the bones. I cannot bear not being real and yet in wild undercurrents I could not recognize anything that closely resembled me. Silence was another world from a dark period. I’m used to accumulating feelings that burst into words when I no longer contain them.



Trite is the sun of yesteryears. Memory is the invention of culture. It is musical for someone like me who takes pleasure in tunes dancing in the head. The little devils that are sounds make the day go faster. I’m simplistic when it takes so much to be simple. I turn on my feet spinning through untimely orbits. I’m zigzagged for short of reasons to go in a straight line. I’m true to voices that are not mine. Alone I’m sinister. In company I’m as sinister as you are. Stranger to strangers I’m stranger to the one in the mirror that cannot hold itself from breaking down each time I look at it. I walk with a raised head to watch birds. I fall into ditches dug for nobody. I’m suspicious of my deviousness. I’m amazed by the ease with which I walk into stories of betrayals. My life is one long moment of complicity in a series of murders I did not commit. I do the most unforgivable act with innocence that makes you cry. The child in me cultivated a taste for truimphalism. I cannot help being the sweetness of all I see. For a hurt I eliminate villages born out of centuries of imagination. I cannot bear the isolation of beauty. I preferred the ugliness of cities where I disappear into a lane with barely livable houses. I walk into the house with a cinema poster in it. The union of opposites happens behind closed doors. The boy who took me to the house straight from the bus stop pulled a cigarette out of my pocket. I wanted instant gratification in the body of the prostitute. The demands never come to an end. The prostitute knew what it took to be one. She referred to herself as the ‘family type.’ I smiled at the appropriateness of the term. The family created the prostitute. I never knew how wooden a body could be until I felt the one on the floor. I took her with vehemence of the dying. The rules were laid out and she was in no mood to compromise. A job had to be done as far as she was concerned. I finished my part and went out waiting for the friend in the other room. An old woman was threshing rice. I watched listlessly.


Compos mentis.

A good part of life goes with you out of your mind. Rarely do you go by the plan made in the clarity of twilight. You’re posing for a photograph. The senses are deviants by nature. The critical thing in my body is a line of sensuality coming on the page with irony and transcendence. You never write for a person. You write for an abstraction into which a person is made to fit as one puts a photograph in an empty frame. Artists are makers of frames. I saw myself in lines of writers who never dreamt of my existence. No one is fully compos mentis. I weathered situations that left me crawling for my humanity. No one has seen a calm river and fail to repent for the excesses of life. The detachment of water is the mind absorbed in the dark. In waters far from thoughts we spilt blood that did not belong to our clan. We extended brutality to women that failed to keep the integrity of body and soul. Manhood is a process combining history and environment. No one is born a man.



In wine I felt the voice beckon me to dusk. The voice changed as night progressed in the intensity of subtle variations. I was counting the frequencies in a love maker’s voice. At the point I felt silence I knew the answer to the night. It was a brightly lit room with a carpet in the middle. I promised myself never to experience the infinite without wine in the background to bring me back to the real world. I was afraid to transcend without the strength of wine. The wine in the voice took my heart. I rejected irony as I approached the body without limits. Through the voice I figured out the length of the night. Wine, myself and the night of the voice – three factors and the number of rooms kept increasing proportionately to accommodate the music from the window. I was bewilderingly close to the forgetting that kicks the bucket of time back into the dark well of the cosmos. Go any way you like but you come to the point that is outside the town. The outsider is an artist when it comes to memorizing ways. You never forget the ways of the body that become one with yours in the wine of forgetting. You return to the body as one remains an outsider for no reason. I knew I was talking to the dust in a voice without inflections and light from the hills staring at me as I contemplated beauty that passion resurrected in the corpse of time.



I collected rare instances of silence to make a sketch of a perfect life. I left it incomplete because I had dreams to dab the sketch. I was wistful during late afternoons and sensual as the night fell into my ears with the cricket in the background. The dance was the stroke of many feet in rhythm. At midnight there was nothing left but wait for the dawn. I asked for color to make the eye lively. I strove for memories of hands moving upon the skin of a lying body. In the marshes light takes the color of strangers looking for a time outside time. We were young and rivers ran inconclusively. The faith in creation was a moment. Something had to be created for such faith to be possible. The recreation was a face in a white moment of sunlight. The spirit of art came into hands that suffered. I held the raging heat of the times to my bosom. How could the mother let go the child in the surging tide to come! I preserved what I could of moments of madness in the soul. The waters took me past the rock. Consciousness had no meaning to me other than the spirit. The light I perceived was the abyss that rose from the cave of the spirit to worlds at hand. The spirit embraced bleak thorns with love of music from a sensitive hand. The knowledge of spirit is greater than the attempt at recreation. The joy of recreation is in imitation of the face envisioned in fire as it breaks out at the center of a forest in a valley. Light rose from the ashes to the stars. A prison without windows is a tomb. I’m entombed in the sweetness of spirit. I rejoice in stars shining through the ashes of the senses. In bodies across time I make homes. My aloneness is spirit that cannot be identified. In death I’m connected to life. The sketchy portraits I make are spirit in waiting for the gloom of shadows to pass away. It would not matter if I never existed to sing the song of infinite praise. My life is a frail occasion in a sea of occurrences. The sea and my life serve the blankness of imagination before death becomes sleep.


Time capsule.

I don’t have a language of my own. I keep telling myself that such a language does not exist. Death has taken the irony out of words. Pain simplifies the truth. The mad person wants to go further than time. Madness was my life on roads where people are tokens of laughing faces. I’m touched by the seriousness of made-up rooms. I could die or kill for them. My self is invested in walls I bequeath children. My dreams are edgeless spaces. The negotiation I imagined taking place in the blood is false. Civilization is another name given to failures of the spirit. Contaminated legacies are unnatural. My humanity is my will to renunciation. I negate the illusion that comes in the way of the spirit. I create for the joy that connects my body to the dead and the unborn. I associate the security of comfort with the distance it creates between past and future with me lost in an isolated present. I don’t reject technology. I reject inequality. I don’t reject the senses. I reject sensuality. I don’t reject the body. I reject whatever forgets the spirit. I don’t reject happiness. I reject the happiness that comes without sharing. I don’t reject pain. I reject that which drugs pain to sleep in the guise of ideology. I reject desire but not passion. I reject attachment but not love. I reject institutions but not people. I could never reject individual persons. I embrace the communes of strangers even if they are made of two persons who believe that a single act of sacrifice is meaningful to the universe. Interestingly I’m the novelist who likes to parade her likes and dislikes. Either I reduce the scope of the novel or poke fun at the simplicity of the genre. I did both, which is what Solomon the wise or the Buddha would’ve done.



The instant I forget wine I’ve given up thinking of decanters. Liberation is a comic instant of merriment. You catch me dancing without a glass in hand. What flows in my body is wine not blood. I respect intoxication. I cannot be a poet but for that. I make a stone sing but I cannot think in an orderly fashion. I blame the drunkenness of the body for that. I die in an odd corner of the night. I wouldn’t know what took me away while I was praising you with lips of the spirit. You’re my drunkenness and without you I’m a useless decanter meant to be recycled in a factory.


The Door and the Staircase.

I was elusive when it came to descriptions. I narrowed the degree of visualization to monkish levels. I was an ascetic in the sparseness with which I took objects seriously. It is never easy to be voluble about what you face each day – brutalized landscapes that are masculine in bitterness. My description is facile. It is easier to betray than be factitious. Betrayal is performance that goes against self-preservation. There is no heroism in being untruthful to an audience of liars. I got the idea of a door and a staircase from a movie.  The misreading of the colonized is unwittingly profound. The door I enter does not lead to the staircase. The staircase is nowhere near the door. In the imagination I see both of them standing parallel to each other. I feel as though I must go through one magically only to realistically come out of the other. That is how I see words. Each sentence is parallel to the other one. A sentence is either a door or a staircase. The disconnection is maintained. I make a frame of disconnections. I keep alive the paradox that makes me an alternate writer. I see the thing so obvious that it blurs the eyes like the poverty of the poor or the domination of men. Passion makes me say things in spurts. I cannot imagine doing things any other way without being pretentious.


Prime Mover.

Everything boils down to the eyes. Cool water on a summer afternoon and the eyes bursting with life. My fainting fits begin with the eyes. I’m exhausted because I haven’t eaten all day. Bread and salt dilemmas are real as far as the eyes are concerned. Who knows the hunger of the heart better than the creature sleeping beyond my eyes! At some point I ignored my eyes. I refused to look in any direction except inward and then I wasn’t looking at all. I moved the world that I saw in the blindness I was born with. I often thought about the real world – if it really existed at all. How different was that world from the one I saw with the eyes used to making stories. Was childhood real? Were pain and anger real? Was the ‘I’ who imagined death in the bones real? My hatred of God – was it real? Were the eyes of friends that hurt my sensitive skin real? Was the music or the love real? The millions of times I felt mocked and forgotten for no reason – were they real? They are real in the compassion I feel toward strangers. I’m no stranger to myself. I inhabited this body all my life. If death is a process of quitting I make peace with the stranger I feared without reason. I gave my blessings to the eyes that barely uttered a word. I saw beauty in the ugliness of life at the bottom where men and women managed to keep their humanity from drowning in a bile-green sea. From a scholar on the gaze I became a poet of the eyes. The inhumanity of others is the possibility of what I’m capable of doing given the situation of the other person. This does not justify inhumanity. It is one reason why I must love you unconditionally or not love at all. I’m moved by all that I do not see with the faith that I’m at the center of the troubled heart of the world. Eyes in the dark float upon silence.



Admonish me as much as you like and I stick to surfaces. The insecurity is obvious. I say things and leave them incomplete like a broken track in the middle of a forest. I think it is strategic. You laugh at my impunity. Time is not a factor. I don’t condemn the pleasure of dreaming. I invested my being in dreams. The love I believed in came from streets that did not make a fetish of the past as I do. The oppressed squeezed through life as through prison gates. I’m struck by the dream that makes them human in their quirkiness. In the demeaning dirt of the world there is a timeless moment for one who shares the plight of those pushed into drudgery. I broke the power of drudgery with love I felt for the poor whose work gave reality a basis in truth. There’s a point beyond which a person embraces death rather than accept to live without reasons. That is an intensely human moment for any person. You’re encountering death that is musical as life itself. Bred in captivity the bird chose to fly into the dark. I drew the contours of my kingdom from the moon to the horizon. I was centered in the moon. I changed with progression of cycles. In the horizon I saw the circumference of dreams. I grew old looking at faces as I traveled while being looked at in the curious way that we identify with strangers.



Rain spread into the makeup giving a distorted look to the face. I don’t sleep easily for lack of music in the eye. I look straight to impose thoughts on you that avert my gaze. I was trying to learn what you felt about me. My breast aches for a clean face. I never saw how my face looked without makeup. I touch it with a slight gesture before I look in the mirror. Years melt the faces of my face. No music comes out of distorted lines. An unbridgeable gap is formed between thoughts of others and who I am. I dig a hole in the earth of my soul that I may find you in the gray sea. I saw the road to you within myself. The web of past tense lost its charm. It kept me too much in closeness to the color of sensation. Green leaves turn gray with spring bequeathing her child to autumn. Things go by and the return does not assure that the letters you posted bring answers to questions as you drink music of swaying cornfields with lips of wine. Hands made histories that isolated language and the mind from working hands. I restored morality to the hands of history. The future belongs to children that I did not bring into this world. There might be other worlds, but going to one without children is a pointless one. Timelessness is a dream of the body. Nature refuses persistence. The mind bends toward death. The longing to cross the sea is a feeling that I could find the horizon. Islands along the way and countries where the sad eyes of men are momentarily awake to the sight of a rose from a distant past. I lived your past. I dreamt your future. Your look made me cry. It wasn’t your look. The way you placed your hands close to your breast and looked at the sea. It was a scene from a movie I imagined. I stopped fighting my changing body. The romantic turmoil of my hungry body showed me the excesses of stressing through sleep. I counted midnight hours to make the years of my life. The instants before sleep were particularly poignant full with expectations. I talked to you before the dark took me into the eye. I’m vulnerable to the dagger in your hand. The dagger is vulnerable to my sleeping body. I leave stains that change the color of the dagger forever. Out of grayness of age I made red kites that flew in the breeze of infinity.



My heart accommodated spaces in the suffering of the spirit. Though I never went past the shore I was nowhere within visibility of passersby that had homes to reach before night. Without looking forward to home I fall asleep at odd places out of exhaustion of keeping the eyes open to dust, smoke and litter. Home has a bed and a body in bed. I took bodies as they passed my sight. I gave bodies names and made stories out of lives. No on reaches home just like that. There was something missing before I left for the outside. I bring that missing sensation to the house I step in. I rest on a full belly. I sleep and wake to fears of what might happen to the body. The fact that nothing ever happens kills me. This nightmare of a walker past midnights, a friend of dogs and beggars, one who sleeps to die, the body denied of being, the silent philosopher, one that is no one, discarded by idiocies of histories, not useful to prisons or madhouses, out of the spectacle, essentially a non-performer, one that haunts mirrors, an existence without language, the zero of vacuum, I embrace the death before life set in.



In joy I was light as an unsaid word. I imagined the word waiting behind the lips of my friend. My friend teases by never opening the lips lest the word should escape and come to me. Teased to the point when I’m about to cry I felt the word dancing with light steps behind lips that smile. In a smile that conceals a word I felt the greenness of hillsides and blue wind across plains coming from the sea. These are scenes that one locked in the frenzy of cities imagines to keep moods alive. The friend is real. So is the sea, the green and the blue. I build scenarios as acts of meaningful resistance. I argue against cities as I do with the patriarchies of villages. I speak of communes. I understand communes as a society free of the evil of money and markets built on money. A society that rejects power as a basis to seeking love is the alternative. In suffering is a dream-like sweetness. Among friends I work out the basis of a life that retains the lightness of gossamer.



When the spring of death arrives lovers turn betrayers. I’m on the verge of celebrating the coming of roses and poses appropriate for red, pink and blue. I forsook joys of arrival for the pain of departure. I was playing one game with different names. Water and light are preliminary intuitions. I fell for the wisdom of dark with a tinge of dryness. The cry of birth echoes in the silence of death. The mediocre think while the sensitive imagine. I’m the persecuted one tempted to hold my breath and save the thought of persecution from moving out of my body. Without an audience I’m in a desert of white moonlight. I build a stage where I breathlessly watch myself perform the last tango. What I was doing was a parody of a parody. I made jokes on masks. I made jokes on jokes that were not funny. I cared for the audience I loved. I laughed at how I could care for such a bunch of losers. I laughed louder than ever at my passivity that I took seriously for a profound gesture.



The masks of the dying are fabulous in comparison to the colors of living. I don’t meet my friend in death. I meet the friend in life. In death for a moment we’re actors with the smile of oneness. The two dancers are the function of diverse intensities. There are moments of union that never complement one another. Call it one dance with two dancers or one face with two eyes. If I look in two directions they would be two dancers on two stages. In the mind I feel diversions. My friendship is closer to death than flowers on street corners for lovers on the way home. The signs of affection do not disturb the twoness of things. I choose dying as much as living for you. Either way I’m drenched in rain of love. The dance of disunities comes alive as a spot in the eye. I dissolve and come out as two different beings. Either I’m male or I’m female. You fall in love with one body. In case I’m female you love the dance of resistance. In case I’m male you love the power of motion in the body leaning to the feminine. Oneness is how my body swells in making love to images. The disunity of forms is in the nature of things. The written word is not the same as silence. They are two snakes wound together on the dancing floor. I wait for music to stop because disunity kills me. My body is hurt. My neck is broken and dying is not easy. I stay awake until one sleep moves into another.