Calling All Angels

They started as little rumors, more like the rustle of a spring breeze through the branches of willow trees than like human voices. They began early on a Wednesday morning without any origin. They drifted slowly, just above a whisper, through the telephone wires. Haunting echoes that interrupted our breathing, our words, our conversations.

“There are too many wires in the city, Doug. And they’re evil. The wires. They cut into the sky. What they do to us when we try to talk to each other. Our human touch. Transmissions that break words down into codes, splinter them into numbers, and rearrange the back into words as if nothing has happened. Only Satan would do such a thing to our words, our desires, our need for truth.”

Claire poured another cup of coffee, filling her mug until it overflowed, spilling coffee onto the table. Looking at me, she kept pouring, mindless of the coffee as it spilled and spilled. A flood of distraction. She looked into me as if I were the sinner, as if I were the one who had insisted we live in a world of wires. Her hands shook, that caffeine and coke buzz that had exhausted me, still ran through her muscles, her nerves. I had called it quits, put an end to it. No more drugs. I was too far behind in my schoolwork, had forgotten to return too many library books, had seen John on campus one day and could not remember his name or who he was or why he was talking to me in such an animated, beautiful way. I had lost one too many t-shirts and four too many pairs of jeans in random apartments, had awoken one too many times sharing lies, secrets, and silences with people whose names were unclear to me, whose bodies were little more than a momentary amnesia of touch. Claire was in between, coming closer to forgetting drugs and remembering the desert and her poetry. She struggled with needles and mirrors, said most of the damage had been done already. Why turn back? She remained a little too intrigued by the way visions interrupted her showers, complicated her boredom while standing on corners waiting for buses, inspired her longing in the middle of her poems for the perfect rhyme that only rhymed in languages that no one any longer dared to speak. More than anything else, I think she was frightened by what waited for her in the turning back, the cobwebs the cluttered the doorways that led her to going home. She had emptied all of the coffee from the pot to the table.

“What is it that we are really hearing when we hear a voice on the phone? Who is speaking? When I hear you say hello to me on the phone. What am I hearing? How is it possible for this voice any longer to be yours, to belong to you? How am I supposed to believe it is you that said this and not just some magic, some wizard behind a curtain, or a demon in the wires changing what you really said into hello? And I am always sitting here wondering what you really said. What you really meant. What was behind the apparent innocence of hello. I need to smell your breath, your riverskin scent, when I hear your words. Then I can know. I want to feel your fingers when you talk. I want my body to make your body talk.”

My father first left my mother through the phone. He came home one day with a new chord for our phone, a long long long chord. He told our mother it would make cooking easier. She could be on the phone and the chord would stretch from the wall to the stove. The only phone we had was attached to a wall in the kitchen, the hearth. It had a very short chord. This new chord, this long long long chord was the newest technology to make talking on the phone more convenient. Now when Grandma or my aunt or a telemarketer called, my mother could stand at the stove and stir whatever she was cooking on the stove. Convenience and joy. My father used the long long long chord to pull the phone out the kitchen door so he could talk to his lovers, set up a rendezvous. One ring. Silence. Silence. Then phone would ring again. Signs and desires. My mother pretending not to know. My father trying not to jump too quickly off the sofa and taking the phone out the door. So I understood Claire’s mistrust of what happens to truth on the phone. Today, I wonder how Claire must struggle with cell phones and wonder how happy my father, if he were still alive, would be in a world of cell phones. The ease of lying. Most technological inventions are designed to make lying easier, more comforting.

I looked over at Claire sitting on the hardwood floor. Her body cold and nearly naked as she worked. Her skin had turned pale and dry from Binghamton, not just from the winter air but also from the city itself. From holding onto the brick buildings when the wind threatened to destroy her. It was as if her body was angry with her for living here, for having fled the deserts. She sat now in her quiet world delicately counting and arranging pebbles on a page of yellow legal paper. She was forming the pebbles into a poem. Her fingers touched each pebble in the same way that her lips touched each syllable of every word whenever she spoke. She pushed at these pebbles, nudged them along, bringing them ever so close to the precipice, taking them near to falling off the very edge of every line of poetry that she wrote. She kept these pebbles along with rocks of different sizes and shapes in a bucket of dirt on the floor alongside her writing table. She smeared dirt from the bucket onto the white spaces of the page that appeared between each line of poetry. This dirt that she had dug out from the banks of the Susquehanna River meant more to her than any white space could ever mean. White space only mimicked the dusting of angels. The dust that lifted her body to the heavens. Dirt smudged onto the pages of her poems kept her grounded, kept her of the earth, with the earth, whenever she razorbladed a line of coke and took a deep inhaling of Cinderella’s dreams.

She pulled a twig from between her lips and gently placed it on the page near the flattest of the pebbles. She looked up at me, then went right back to her stones. “The wet ones are calling,” she said. Between placing rocks and pebbles on the page, Claire picked at her knuckles in whispers of long forgotten beliefs. Stories that still clung to her skin from the days in the deserts, stories that made little girls along the river&sdquo;s edge weep. Watching her play with her skin in this way made me feel irresponsibly innocent. Claire had begun drifting from the world of solid forms. Edges had become unclear to her. She sunk deeper into a world of vague morning mist. “A word is always only a word even when it changes shape,” Claire said. “A word is merely a shadow of your desire and a shadow never leaves a stain. Your teeth, Doug, your knuckles, your collarbone want me in ways that words never will be able to express, that no word will ever come to understand. And your muscles bruise me like a poem, a real poem, one written without fear, without regret, without metaphors. A poem written not for the sake of a grade to please the teacher or for the sake of publication to appease an audience, but a poem written to be a poem.”

Claire was beginning to give up on using words. Too many words had disappointed her, had failed to change anything. She had fallen behind in all of her classes. Her professors demanded that she submit work in order to stay in the program. Claire never could simply obey. She felt words should never be used as a way for obeying, as a way for saying what was expected or demanded. For Claire, too many words merely repeated what was already there in the beginning. And everyone, everyone, everyone was using words. Saying the same words over and over and over. Saying words like they were Pavlov’s dog responding to a ringing bell. Speaking to simply get their master’s approval. Saying words that were downright dull. Words that failed to cut, to break into memory. Uttering words that could not find their way home. Saying words that they had heard other people say. Borrowed words. Saying things. Saying things that meant nothing. Breaking silence with words because silence is far more terrifying than noise. Releasing words that were rootless from their petty little mouths. Claire had begun taking a needle and a thread, a little sewing kit, with her everywhere she went. She threatened to sew people’s lips shut if they spoke words in this way. Claire wanted to beat such people into submission the way that Beowulf slammed Grendel’s head against the stone wall until he finally gave in and sang the praises of the very heroes who had invaded his forest, the ones who had burned down the trees and built parking lots, the heroes who murdered tiny animals because they got in the way of their buildings, the heroes who dammed rivers and called it progress. She wanted to force each and everyone of them to admit that their lives were empty, that they did this because they were so disappointed in the size of their little, inadequate, barely visible penises.

She wanted to flee the one-dimensional world that had trapped her body. She paced around the apartment tearing up books, ripping up her poems. “They’re not thick enough,” she said as she ripped apart two of her poems. “There’s nothing to them. They’re afraid of me.” And she tore into more of her notebooks. “They don’t even resist me. They don’t even bite.” She picked up a rock and made as if to tear it in half. “See the difference?”

She had taken to cremating books. Setting them on fire and then placing their ashes in empty soup cans, empty jars of jelly or peanut butter. She set fire to that Hemmingway story. The one about hills and a white elephant and an abortion that the characters refused to talk about but that every teacher in the world endlessly talked about. &sdquo;I hate stupid stories,” Claire said and lit the match. The smoke detector went off. Blared and blared. Claire ignored the sound. It was almost as if she did not hear it. For all those voices bouncing around inside her head, the ones in the bathtub, the ones that insisted she stay awake all night, she seemed not even to hear this loud, mad noise. Nor did she seem to hear the man in the apartment above hers stomping his feet, swearing, calling for divine justice or intervention, calling for nuclear bombs to descend upon Claire. In place of storing books, Claire used her bookcases as a mausoleum for displaying the cremated remains of her books. She labeled each jar or can with the name of the author, the title of the book, the date of the book’s birth, and finally the date of the death of each book. “All these rotting corpses stinking up libraries. Old men in the sea fishing. Old men climbing up out of hell following a pre-teen girl into the light, old men peeping out their windows at a young girl sunbathing next door. And everyone being ok with all that. Teaching it. Giving tests on it until we all got it. Until we all agreed. Desperate old men writing sonnets to innocent girls because what harm can a sonnet do? It’s only 14 lines and it rhymes in the safest way possible. In couplets. And couplets are so cute they can’t even harm a flea. And every word in a sonnet is a lie, a way to avoid the mess of the body, a disguise because no poet can live directly in the world, an intellectual exercise in the futility of desire. Petrarch and Shakespeare were the Ted Bundys of their day. And I do not mean that just metaphorically. I am tired of men murdering women with words. Men armed with their words, their nouns, their “Me Tarzan, You Jane” attitude cannibalize my flesh with every one of their sentences. I am tired of being meat for some man’s muse.” She looked over at me. My silence. My beer. My joint. My lonely pilgrim pen lightly touching a piece of paper, wrecking the white space. My desire.

Earlier in the day Claire had come up with a plan to break into the library. Drawn up blueprints and everything. She wanted to steal every single book that had ever been written by a man. She said then libraries would be safe for little girls. For daughters. A place for daughters to hear the voices of their mothers for a change. Claire rented a truck but it was simply not big enough. She sat in the cab of that truck banging the steering wheel and cursing. “In the desert there are no books. It’s why that arrogant little shit of a saint, that Saint Jerome went crazy. Going into the desert to read. What exactly was he thinking? His books caught on fire and that was the end of him. Jesus walked into the desert to live, to take on Satan. To become strong. To suffer for his human desires. Jesus left his books at home with Mary and Joseph. Told mom and dad that he’d be back later for them. Morrison journeyed into the desert to find snake venom more powerful than heroin. Wild Bill went down into the desert then up into the mountains in search of yage. The desert is a place for seeing. A place to sit with your body on fire. But it is never a place to read. The desert is too quiet for reading, no one can read in such solitude, such silence. Books are frightened by this kind of silence. There is no need to place signs in the desert the way that signs for quiet have to placed around libraries. The desert knows it is a silence.”

Claire just wanted to walk the streets. She thought that if we left the apartment the voices would stay behind us, would remain trapped inside the wires, and not have the wherewithal to follow us. But the voices from the phone were traveling, becoming as nomadic as Claire. And they knew how to follow. The voices leaked out of the wires through the walls in the bathroom and then they began haunting her bedroom. They shadowed her.

“Put on your best dress, darling.”

We did. And we headed out into the streets to take on the night. To say hallelujah and to mean it, like banshees standing in white water.

Doug Rice

Without a mirror, without a look, without a gaze, without a moment within time without time, time that resisted time, Doug Rice became nearly invisible to the image of his own desire so he began writing. Spectral pencils wanting, longing to write words that took lines of flight, words that escaped sentenced dreams. A breath of writing that believed in the fairytales escaping mirrors. In a state of almost no memory, he wrote. Once upon a time, he became the author of Between Appear and Disappear (Jaded Ibis Productions), Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist (Co-Pilot Press), Skin Prayer: fragments of abject memory, A Good Cuntboy is Hard to Find, and Blood of Mugwump: A Tiresian Tale of Incest. He is the recipient of an arts residency at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany for 2012 and 2103.

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Calling All Angels

They started as little rumors, more like the rustle of a spring breeze through the branches of willow trees than like human voices. They began early on a Wednesday morning without any origin. They drifted slowly, just above a whisper, through the telephone wires. Haunting echoes that interrupted our breathing, our words, our conversations.

“There are too many wires in the city, Doug. And they’re evil. The wires. They cut into the sky. What they do to us when we try to talk to each other. Our human touch. Transmissions that break words down into codes, splinter them into numbers, and rearrange the back into words as if nothing has happened. Only Satan would do such a thing to our words, our desires, our need for truth.”

Claire poured another cup of coffee, filling her mug until it overflowed, spilling coffee onto the table. Looking at me, she kept pouring, mindless of the coffee as it spilled and spilled. A flood of distraction. She looked into me as if I were the sinner, as if I were the one who had insisted we live in a world of wires. Her hands shook, that caffeine and coke buzz that had exhausted me, still ran through her muscles, her nerves. I had called it quits, put an end to it. No more drugs. I was too far behind in my schoolwork, had forgotten to return too many library books, had seen John on campus one day and could not remember his name or who he was or why he was talking to me in such an animated, beautiful way. I had lost one too many t-shirts and four too many pairs of jeans in random apartments, had awoken one too many times sharing lies, secrets, and silences with people whose names were unclear to me, whose bodies were little more than a momentary amnesia of touch. Claire was in between, coming closer to forgetting drugs and remembering the desert and her poetry. She struggled with needles and mirrors, said most of the damage had been done already. Why turn back? She remained a little too intrigued by the way visions interrupted her showers, complicated her boredom while standing on corners waiting for buses, inspired her longing in the middle of her poems for the perfect rhyme that only rhymed in languages that no one any longer dared to speak. More than anything else, I think she was frightened by what waited for her in the turning back, the cobwebs the cluttered the doorways that led her to going home. She had emptied all of the coffee from the pot to the table.

“What is it that we are really hearing when we hear a voice on the phone? Who is speaking? When I hear you say hello to me on the phone. What am I hearing? How is it possible for this voice any longer to be yours, to belong to you? How am I supposed to believe it is you that said this and not just some magic, some wizard behind a curtain, or a demon in the wires changing what you really said into hello? And I am always sitting here wondering what you really said. What you really meant. What was behind the apparent innocence of hello. I need to smell your breath, your riverskin scent, when I hear your words. Then I can know. I want to feel your fingers when you talk. I want my body to make your body talk.”

My father first left my mother through the phone. He came home one day with a new chord for our phone, a long long long chord. He told our mother it would make cooking easier. She could be on the phone and the chord would stretch from the wall to the stove. The only phone we had was attached to a wall in the kitchen, the hearth. It had a very short chord. This new chord, this long long long chord was the newest technology to make talking on the phone more convenient. Now when Grandma or my aunt or a telemarketer called, my mother could stand at the stove and stir whatever she was cooking on the stove. Convenience and joy. My father used the long long long chord to pull the phone out the kitchen door so he could talk to his lovers, set up a rendezvous. One ring. Silence. Silence. Then phone would ring again. Signs and desires. My mother pretending not to know. My father trying not to jump too quickly off the sofa and taking the phone out the door. So I understood Claire’s mistrust of what happens to truth on the phone. Today, I wonder how Claire must struggle with cell phones and wonder how happy my father, if he were still alive, would be in a world of cell phones. The ease of lying. Most technological inventions are designed to make lying easier, more comforting.

I looked over at Claire sitting on the hardwood floor. Her body cold and nearly naked as she worked. Her skin had turned pale and dry from Binghamton, not just from the winter air but also from the city itself. From holding onto the brick buildings when the wind threatened to destroy her. It was as if her body was angry with her for living here, for having fled the deserts. She sat now in her quiet world delicately counting and arranging pebbles on a page of yellow legal paper. She was forming the pebbles into a poem. Her fingers touched each pebble in the same way that her lips touched each syllable of every word whenever she spoke. She pushed at these pebbles, nudged them along, bringing them ever so close to the precipice, taking them near to falling off the very edge of every line of poetry that she wrote. She kept these pebbles along with rocks of different sizes and shapes in a bucket of dirt on the floor alongside her writing table. She smeared dirt from the bucket onto the white spaces of the page that appeared between each line of poetry. This dirt that she had dug out from the banks of the Susquehanna River meant more to her than any white space could ever mean. White space only mimicked the dusting of angels. The dust that lifted her body to the heavens. Dirt smudged onto the pages of her poems kept her grounded, kept her of the earth, with the earth, whenever she razorbladed a line of coke and took a deep inhaling of Cinderella’s dreams.

She pulled a twig from between her lips and gently placed it on the page near the flattest of the pebbles. She looked up at me, then went right back to her stones. “The wet ones are calling,” she said. Between placing rocks and pebbles on the page, Claire picked at her knuckles in whispers of long forgotten beliefs. Stories that still clung to her skin from the days in the deserts, stories that made little girls along the river&sdquo;s edge weep. Watching her play with her skin in this way made me feel irresponsibly innocent. Claire had begun drifting from the world of solid forms. Edges had become unclear to her. She sunk deeper into a world of vague morning mist. “A word is always only a word even when it changes shape,” Claire said. “A word is merely a shadow of your desire and a shadow never leaves a stain. Your teeth, Doug, your knuckles, your collarbone want me in ways that words never will be able to express, that no word will ever come to understand. And your muscles bruise me like a poem, a real poem, one written without fear, without regret, without metaphors. A poem written not for the sake of a grade to please the teacher or for the sake of publication to appease an audience, but a poem written to be a poem.”

Claire was beginning to give up on using words. Too many words had disappointed her, had failed to change anything. She had fallen behind in all of her classes. Her professors demanded that she submit work in order to stay in the program. Claire never could simply obey. She felt words should never be used as a way for obeying, as a way for saying what was expected or demanded. For Claire, too many words merely repeated what was already there in the beginning. And everyone, everyone, everyone was using words. Saying the same words over and over and over. Saying words like they were Pavlov’s dog responding to a ringing bell. Speaking to simply get their master’s approval. Saying words that were downright dull. Words that failed to cut, to break into memory. Uttering words that could not find their way home. Saying words that they had heard other people say. Borrowed words. Saying things. Saying things that meant nothing. Breaking silence with words because silence is far more terrifying than noise. Releasing words that were rootless from their petty little mouths. Claire had begun taking a needle and a thread, a little sewing kit, with her everywhere she went. She threatened to sew people’s lips shut if they spoke words in this way. Claire wanted to beat such people into submission the way that Beowulf slammed Grendel’s head against the stone wall until he finally gave in and sang the praises of the very heroes who had invaded his forest, the ones who had burned down the trees and built parking lots, the heroes who murdered tiny animals because they got in the way of their buildings, the heroes who dammed rivers and called it progress. She wanted to force each and everyone of them to admit that their lives were empty, that they did this because they were so disappointed in the size of their little, inadequate, barely visible penises.

She wanted to flee the one-dimensional world that had trapped her body. She paced around the apartment tearing up books, ripping up her poems. “They’re not thick enough,” she said as she ripped apart two of her poems. “There’s nothing to them. They’re afraid of me.” And she tore into more of her notebooks. “They don’t even resist me. They don’t even bite.” She picked up a rock and made as if to tear it in half. “See the difference?”

She had taken to cremating books. Setting them on fire and then placing their ashes in empty soup cans, empty jars of jelly or peanut butter. She set fire to that Hemmingway story. The one about hills and a white elephant and an abortion that the characters refused to talk about but that every teacher in the world endlessly talked about. &sdquo;I hate stupid stories,” Claire said and lit the match. The smoke detector went off. Blared and blared. Claire ignored the sound. It was almost as if she did not hear it. For all those voices bouncing around inside her head, the ones in the bathtub, the ones that insisted she stay awake all night, she seemed not even to hear this loud, mad noise. Nor did she seem to hear the man in the apartment above hers stomping his feet, swearing, calling for divine justice or intervention, calling for nuclear bombs to descend upon Claire. In place of storing books, Claire used her bookcases as a mausoleum for displaying the cremated remains of her books. She labeled each jar or can with the name of the author, the title of the book, the date of the book’s birth, and finally the date of the death of each book. “All these rotting corpses stinking up libraries. Old men in the sea fishing. Old men climbing up out of hell following a pre-teen girl into the light, old men peeping out their windows at a young girl sunbathing next door. And everyone being ok with all that. Teaching it. Giving tests on it until we all got it. Until we all agreed. Desperate old men writing sonnets to innocent girls because what harm can a sonnet do? It’s only 14 lines and it rhymes in the safest way possible. In couplets. And couplets are so cute they can’t even harm a flea. And every word in a sonnet is a lie, a way to avoid the mess of the body, a disguise because no poet can live directly in the world, an intellectual exercise in the futility of desire. Petrarch and Shakespeare were the Ted Bundys of their day. And I do not mean that just metaphorically. I am tired of men murdering women with words. Men armed with their words, their nouns, their “Me Tarzan, You Jane” attitude cannibalize my flesh with every one of their sentences. I am tired of being meat for some man’s muse.” She looked over at me. My silence. My beer. My joint. My lonely pilgrim pen lightly touching a piece of paper, wrecking the white space. My desire.

Earlier in the day Claire had come up with a plan to break into the library. Drawn up blueprints and everything. She wanted to steal every single book that had ever been written by a man. She said then libraries would be safe for little girls. For daughters. A place for daughters to hear the voices of their mothers for a change. Claire rented a truck but it was simply not big enough. She sat in the cab of that truck banging the steering wheel and cursing. “In the desert there are no books. It’s why that arrogant little shit of a saint, that Saint Jerome went crazy. Going into the desert to read. What exactly was he thinking? His books caught on fire and that was the end of him. Jesus walked into the desert to live, to take on Satan. To become strong. To suffer for his human desires. Jesus left his books at home with Mary and Joseph. Told mom and dad that he’d be back later for them. Morrison journeyed into the desert to find snake venom more powerful than heroin. Wild Bill went down into the desert then up into the mountains in search of yage. The desert is a place for seeing. A place to sit with your body on fire. But it is never a place to read. The desert is too quiet for reading, no one can read in such solitude, such silence. Books are frightened by this kind of silence. There is no need to place signs in the desert the way that signs for quiet have to placed around libraries. The desert knows it is a silence.”

Claire just wanted to walk the streets. She thought that if we left the apartment the voices would stay behind us, would remain trapped inside the wires, and not have the wherewithal to follow us. But the voices from the phone were traveling, becoming as nomadic as Claire. And they knew how to follow. The voices leaked out of the wires through the walls in the bathroom and then they began haunting her bedroom. They shadowed her.

“Put on your best dress, darling.”

We did. And we headed out into the streets to take on the night. To say hallelujah and to mean it, like banshees standing in white water.

Doug Rice

Without a mirror, without a look, without a gaze, without a moment within time without time, time that resisted time, Doug Rice became nearly invisible to the image of his own desire so he began writing. Spectral pencils wanting, longing to write words that took lines of flight, words that escaped sentenced dreams. A breath of writing that believed in the fairytales escaping mirrors. In a state of almost no memory, he wrote. Once upon a time, he became the author of Between Appear and Disappear (Jaded Ibis Productions), Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist (Co-Pilot Press), Skin Prayer: fragments of abject memory, A Good Cuntboy is Hard to Find, and Blood of Mugwump: A Tiresian Tale of Incest. He is the recipient of an arts residency at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany for 2012 and 2103.

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