Feb 24: I'm in an academic office, surrounded by screens, each with a keyboard attached. The screens depict scenes and cityscapes; I'm to type in words. I type "PLAY" and a section in the southeast of the city blows up: a seven-story parking structure and a big boxy sewage treatment facility with its attendant pond goes boom: a grainy spray of particles expands up in a vee and then falls while the sound system produces a sharp burst of static until the particles have vanished, leaving a tan crater. "GUILT," on the other hand, creates a whole flat small town on a screen which had shown 'verdant' forest. I see a little car moving down "Main Street." It stops and makes a right. I go over to a third screen with a generic big city. I type "I LIKE HORSES" but nothing happens. "I HAPPEN TO GET OFF ON THE HORSES OF INSTRUCTION THE HELL WITH THE MARLBORO MAN": nothing. Apparently syntax cancels out the effects. Okay, so just plain "HORSES." Anything? Yes, a tiny pup tent has appeared in the lower right-hand corner, on the sidewalk in front of a department store. I try "I": a second pup tent. "LIKE": a third. The power of writing in this particular game is starting to feel, shall we say, illusory.
An authority (dressed in blue) is in the doorway with three large yellow envelopes. He is holding them out to me; none have return addresses (they are "unmarked"), and the authority is both offering and withholding them. It is mail/not-mail (perhaps one is a letter bomb). I can see the address on the top envelope it was written with a sweeping gesture by someone using a two-tone (red and silver) pen and shows great flourish, I know from this that the top envelope contains a literary magazine. I feel deeply vexed suddenly; tears start, though I hold them, and I feel dizzy. I don't know about the other two envelopes. I don't take them. I gesture toward the screens. "You take a turn," I say. But he pauses, "a turn" doesn't compute. He seems to feel the screens and keyboards are a site fraught with dignity and heroic challenge. I offer him a cigarette. He takes it with earnest gratefulness. As I offer the match he's in bureaucratic heaven inhaling with rapt concentration. I drop the pack to the floor, squash it, rubbing it heavily with the ball of my foot until tobacco and paper are spread. Tears are flowing down my cheeks. He's smoking, wide-eyed, silent.
Soon I'm standing on the grass near home, which is set amid an array of terraced gardens. Other people are there, including T. Three times in quick succession a terrific thunderous roar fills the air and the ground rumbles and shakes. We all know then that hundreds of miles away great monsters have emerged from the ground. They are reptilian but insect-like, giant ants with nimble alligator limbs. It is comforting to know they are "hundreds, maybe thousands" of miles away, but eventually they will come; it is common knowledge that they particularly hate poets. Their most fearsome posture is when they arrange themselves into words. They can get us at a distance that way. We talk nervously, trying to assert our seconds with the timbres of our voices; we make long sentences; we gesture and laugh as accurately as we can. Timing is crucial.
Copyright © 1996
Electronic Poetry Review