To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Monday, March 12, 2012

David Matlin: From A HalfMan Dreaming, Book I

Exit Chino

            I was used to seeing the factories. The scrubbed clean ones with low roofs where you needed a great grandmother from the American Revolutions to get work clearance. You got to put together torpedoes and missiles with atomic and nuclear warheads, take your time, microtune those fuckers so that they wouldn't even leave a stain. You could come home to your girlfriend. Have her wrap her legs around your back in the back seat of your Dodge Hemi and know she couldn't even begin to ask how your day went, that it was "Top Secret" installing  gyroscopes the angular rotation of your nighttime hours and their pitch yaw and roll. Maybe you could do it eight hours a day, get to love to drop DMT, tell your head it steadied your fingers, sing the same little rodent song that Annette or Darlene sang and have that girl friend strap on a Mickey Mouse hat, suck and pull your nipples raw, stretch your anus with her hungry wanting fingers, and if you let it become an image where would its eating stop or begin what with those industries surrounding the death of being being another gold rush, and moving between that flow of money and how it could customize a car, buy in-board race boats with blown injected Chryslers and the Northwest wastes of the Mekong Delta where cults and prophets seemed to appear out of a nowhere equal to any Southern California parking lot, the mutual power of incantation licking, calling everyone to a passage and whether it was beyond cure only death's part of the rescue's price would tell. Ripened. Who can be ripened as the moon is eaten. And may never come back. Warped maze of swollen earth one finger tall. Hell particularly stinks they thought. In all their scrolls the dead in the land of the dead are represented by a fart. And there the most beautiful jewelry to be worn are the freshest eyes of the dying. 
            And the witch in my world was a plane. What it gathered at that time just after World War II, more than anything else, was the dust of insecticides. It ate our childhoods. But we didn't know it until the on-set of our becoming men. It ate sex, it ate the world, it ate the nation; a below radar feast no one's caught up with yet.
            We didn't know that either.
            The world surrounding that plane was slow. No one could say it was sticky cause the air was too dry, too hot. The Santa Anas came and drained everything. Squeezed the air a fine, thin blue, squeezed the distances so you could see a hundred miles, sometimes more, and if we asked that ole Kiowa, Tom Green, he'd say look out far as you boys can but don't concentrate on the farthest edge, other ocean's there and you might drown.
            That kind of story spooked us.
            If I was to say we had a childhood and what accompanied it it wouldn't be the Nation's though that's what all the adults seemed to want to believe in those years. Uncles came back from war ready as hell for cars, kids, houses, paychecks that looked like pan fried gold; aunts ready to get drunk fall ass first into anything that'd make them feel alive and leave a beautiful twist of lipstick, a smear of perfume.
            The escort of our childhood was that plane accompanied by kids who came to school with black eyes and bruises, people still hungry and vagrant from the Depression, pregnant mothers collapsing in potato and corn fields, and warnings over radiation storms collecting over the San Gabriels, having the breath of extraterrestrial onions we'd whisper to each other on our grammar school playgrounds not knowing any other way to hard polish the expensive menace; the way we saw our mothers and fathers were inventing a tolerance for those facts that hallowed them more remotely than the small tree-killing temblors offering a complexion of shadows to the after-war prosperity of our valley and watch it the fuck out that none of it comes to your night-time window, forget to slam it shut and you might turn into some sort of wart never seen on no generations of anybody.
            Me and Wesley were born in 1944. Makes us a year older than the Bomb. We knew  that little year made us older than any of the adults in any other world; one's gone, one's to come, a little problem of addition and subtraction tasting of something but what?
            The plane was a witch, a ghost, a blindness breathing the pure ashes of some dermatological aberration swirled up out of a Yucca Flat Plymouth used for heat and vaporization experiments in the Funeral Mountains. That's what we heard from some of our friends who'd gone and waited to be taken to other planets on the lava humps outside Barstow and when that didn't happen became Hell's Angels.
            We sometimes dreamed we flew that ship over our town, nosed dived the fields and houses, secretly landed in the still wild hills, a kind of invention we threw up so the plane and its cargo couldn't do its job, even maybe before we were born, the invisible about-to-bes doing some navigation over the chaparral looking for those last ground sloths or teratornis under a January Wolf Moon. If we could keep that plane just here over our river and its mountains then its fate could never be unleashed. So we got good at local navigation, keeping the thing locked in its secret.
            I don't know if I'm an invisible about-to-be anymore or just plain an invisible. Solitary confinement sort of makes that "other ocean" the Kiowa told us about look like a holiday resort. A pond or a sea can flood this solitude, you rig up a sail, become the first female admiral of your own fleet and by the time morning arrives you'll have gone from your ship-shape girlhood to being the mumbling Noah of your own aftertime and you won't even remember the name of the guard who pissed on your breakfast.
            A sunrise brought me here, hitch hiking at sun up; hitch hike Baby like Marvin from Deetroit said, and you can find all the best American amputations slung on the roadside. If I'd have known on that sunrise where I'd end up I would have stayed an extra week. Maybe the delay could have jangled the sequences and kept me from reaching Motown on Thanksgiving weekend a month later.
            I was in a bar for a beer or two and a cheeseburger ready to call my parents, let'em know I was thinking about them when this couple in a booth near me got into some angry words. I didn't try to catch any of it. Wasn't my business. But the man was saying such ugly things to the woman about her and their kids it almost made me sick. The cheeseburger was good too and my not being able to get one simple goddamned bite down because of what this citizen was doing started to grind in. Everyone in the place had looked up too. No one I know wants ever to step between any couple like this and have that rage turn on the third party but the male was so nasty and mean I'd thought I'd break the rule for a second, try to tell the motherfucker I didn't give a shit what was goin down with him and his goddamned wife but he was makin it hard for me to eat, wasn't askin for trouble, just hold it the fuck down so's I could have a quiet last beer, pay muh bill, and leave. Son-of-a-bitch went real quiet for a moment, then smashed his old lady in the face, straight up broke her nose and some teeth and said "How'd you like some of her blood for ketchup." That was a question I hadn't heard, not even after three tours. Didn't have a fancy answer for it either. Never gave a shit and never will. Stuffed the cheeseburger down that asshole's throat like he was a force-fed pigeon. Big fucker too, thought it could never happen, an off-duty cop with too much time on his hands. Guess that's why they gave me three years in a Michigan jail for nearly killing him, along with my refusal to "feel remorse" was what they called it, the damage non-lethal but memorable, say some shit to his wife again or bully the kids, and just look in the mirror to get the crash test dummy results.
            I got solitary for eight of the thirty-six months for being escape prone. Almost made it too, except for some razor wire that caused some major leaks. Feed an off-duty cop some hamburger and no matter how much you shove down that throat you'll never ever anticipate how the crushing space of a jail cell can swallow what you thought might be your identity and all of its peculiar gestures and carefully honed sympathies that reflect back in those grinding dead hours as a voracious maggot-wave. The three years in jail, though I never thought I'd experience such a deadening hell, also gave me a gift, one I never imagined would appear in that bottom feeder world. As a veteran I was eligible for an "in-house" college education program, and for me it seemed like the only life-line I'd ever be offered inside that steel to help me get past the violence and savagery that seemed the only reality left to me. Some of the hardest labor I ever did was to read those books and to wait for books from outside libraries. I don't really know, even though I was three years in it, what exactly hell is or how to name it. But I do know how thoroughly I was devoured and how thoroughly I disappeared in order to survive. A prison can be compared to an oceanic trench. The penetration of sun-light is so shallow that you soon forget what this light's influence actually was. It ceases to touch you and you cease to care about it as you recede from life into this death because such care is too dangerous as you begin to swim in the various stages of shadow and darkness filled with sickened screams, predators, violent guards, rotten food, murder, constant degrading filth, rape, extortion, and a wilting boredom that erodes sanity, humanity, and the most obscure filaments of anything you thought might have belonged to you or were a part of you and you become hungry in this abyss and insatiable and the hungers have no application or reference to any other world. The smell of detergent and fear becomes a toxic dump soaking skin, lips, eyes, mouth, concrete and steel with malice and cruelty, all of it ruled down to the most exacting flesh shredding second by a routine that gradually digests you into a disfigured, malevolent infant. A man in this aquarium can hold on to his humanity ten, fifteen, even twenty years but after that parts that you thought composed your identity start to drift away and you can see the bottom feeders, eating of that visible and invisible feast, and looking up to the exact cell from where they fell for more of those morsels. One day I was there, and the next day I wasn't. And what kept me from dressing in some other freshly flayed skin was that college program and those books.
            One teacher who visited from a local college had us read a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne called "The Scarlet Letter." Book seemed like a piece of gibberish in the beginning. Language stale as a buried shoe, people had nothin to do with where I was from or any one I knew. Somehow I kept at it. Musta read the goddamned thing fifty times before I noticed some opening sentences and paragraphs. After that I couldn't figure out how I'd been deaf to it and it made me think this writer had some real business to take care of especially in that opening called "The Prison Door": 
A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes. The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison. In accordance with this rule, it may safely be assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built the first prison-house, somewhere in the vicinity of Cornhill, almost as seasonably as they marked out the first burial-ground, on Isaac Johnson's lot, and roundabout his grave, which subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated sepulchers in the old church-yard of King's Chapel. Certain it is, that, some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town, the wooden jail was already marked with weather-stains and other indications of age, which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front. The rust on the ponderous ironwork of its oaken door looked more antique than anything else in the new world.

            The portion of virgin soil allotted to cemeteries and those same portions allotted to prison, the ancient nucleus of America risen from old Isaac Johnson's lot waiting how many millions of years for this fulfillment - the ponderous iron-work holding the great prison/cemetery door together becomes instantaneously the oldest thing in the fresh new world spreading its Utopian agencies of rottenness unstoppably outward. How would I otherwise make sense of this story I want to and must tell about the doings and goings of ghosts colder than the coldest rhymes of the oldest nursery and where do we walk, actually walk while in the body?

[NOTE.  From the publisher in summary: “David Matlin’s new novel, just published by Red Hen Press, begins with a Flying Wing. The image remains a startling blank that hovered over Cold War Southern California and extends into the whirlpools of betrayal which have, since that time, become so sleekly barbaric. Through the telling of a Mexican/American Vietnam War veteran [Lupe], A HalfMan Dreaming mixes voices, events, ghosts and ghost worlds and lets these tapestries be draped in their possessions, repudiations, and messianic extremities. This novel gives these disarrangements a new recognition and brings their fragilities, glamorous malignances, and spasmodic defects forward into a startling narrative full of strange and necessary wonders.”  Writes David Antin in an early reading: “This is a novel that aims to be more than a novel and risks being less than a novel as Lupe embarks on a quest that takes him through history, archaeology, and mythology in his search for the ground of his own and America’s violence. Anyone who has noted the dark stain spreading through our contemporary world will conclude it was worth the risk.”  Matlin's new web site can be found at]

1 comment:

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