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David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~1~

Love in the KGB Before the clockworks run me down I must ink these memories, not so much to idle in the souped up wheels of our time as to stain the grooves between the treads when they pass over my roadkill bones, out on the lonesome trail. Out here, way out on the wind wheeling trail where the space between words is as wide open as the space between the heart and the mind, the stars and the dirt. On the wide-open road there is cold clear silence between my footsteps. It is night and the stars are stashed behind a wall of clouds, and no moon in sight. My steps carry me in the darkness one by one to a great silver river. As I stand on the edge of the bank the silence is broken in the call of the strong flowing current. No choice but to fall. I plunge towards the swift waters, mud still on my feet. Once fuel for the fire and burning with springtime desire, now I’m just a straw boss of love on a raft of empty leaves. Or a faded stalk pressed between the pages of a forgotten book, the dried tears of print my only companion. But what the hell, it’s a job. I work at the Restles Building, which the neighbors round about describe as a hippie warehouse. It is surely that and plenty more. The plenty more depends upon which end of the telescope you plant your eye or where and when you plant your feet. It could be said that the hippie warehouse is the last lifeboat tied to the floating world of my downtown neighborhood. Landed here with no paddle, cast adrift on the fringe of the bank? There is always a hole to fill somewhere in the Restles, so get a purchase and climb aboard, if you dare to plug one. That’s how I came to be employed in a hippie warehouse. It’s not so bad. I haul out the trash and swab the deck and sweep up in clouds of dust while the sun and moon take turns punching royal numbers on my peasant timecard. I keep my camp and my rowboat in the former loading dock around back where, incidentally, I also hold my stock of brooms. The hippies are always stealing the brooms. If I slip away and leave one unattended in the halls, it’s up for grabs. Free, as the hippies say, is better than cheap. With my brooms I sweep out the halls and common areas. I haul out the trash and the garbage. If the hippie warehouse is a riverboat, on deck I’m chief broom and executive officer of trash. And when I’m in the house call me bonafide. A bonafide black jacket pilot, free of all captains, rolling on the river. It’s as close to the bones of good old mother nature as it gets, now that fresh waste is the mightiest cascade on earth and rising faster than any river. Every mariner knows in the backwash of the mind that the water always wins. Who could have foreseen trash as a trump? In that sense, the hippie warehouse sits a tributary on the bank at the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River, ocean of the heartland. On occasion of his landing in our town well over a century ago, another pilot of rivers, Mr. Mark Twain, described our Dioscuri, Minnesota as “Siamese twins” busy joining themselves through ceaseless building construction.


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~2~

The “substantial ligaments of buildings” then glimpsed and recorded are now fully combined into a cycloptic triumph over the stone cold civic body. On the ground the current state of affairs now dwarf the great water, locking its falls into a subsidiary ditch of commerce and a degraded or overprized view from a condo. Twain’s sage words are clean out of sight, compacted somewhere beneath the blacktop smeared atop a parking lot. On the other hand, a town so tinctured by the shadow of amnesia that it has lost its name beneath a towering pile of bricks held up by gossamer webs of gold is the most perfect place for the likes of me to frame the iconography of my little memoir. So let me sweep up a storm in my crazy hippie slumberhouse of memory, which like the Restles Building itself seems held together by the holes patched in it. How else to clean up while I inspect its ramshackle storehouse and decide at last which doors to crack and which to paint black? And despite that hippie axiom; you’re either in the door or out the door, it doesn’t matter much to me which side of one I face now. Stand back, the doors are flying clean off the hinges, threshold no more: front doors, back doors, side doors, trap doors…doors hid in pockets, doors that fold, slide or glide; doors that swing and doors that won’t, doors that raise or reveal, welcome or conceal, doors broken and doors fixed… After all, it is a hippie warehouse. Go bug off to the front office if you’re so worried about the damage deposit and want to register a complaint. Good luck with the daytime manager, Mr. Manjusri, with his stacks of paperwork and a picture of a sword that he brags can cut any mind into shreds. Cut to shreds? It’s certainly what he does with those bogus invoices. But never mind. No doubt he’s up on the roof getting high or already passed out in the freight elevator, hiding from the auditor. To protect us now, it will take far more than a master of business showing us how to saddle up Old Paint and ride off into the perfect golden sunset. In the meantime, I’ve work to do. I’ve got the dust and the memories to sweep. One hand for the broom and the other for me. In the hippie warehouse Mr. Twain is suddenly illuminated, raised a spiritual body from the landfill. As he explained it, the trick is “uniting them that a stranger will not be able to tell where one Siamese twin leaves off, and the other begins.” Check it out. How else can I float madly like Shih-te, wrapped in a cloud, laughing and dusting up a storm? Bathed in pure silver, the swirling dust rains through the hard emptiness. Now I can see the moon dancing stone cold naked amidst the stars. Now her quivering light speeds towards me from on high like arrows piercing the heart of the night. Her sharp horns begin to cut into the mirror of my memory. In the pool of glass they engrave two names. Ariel. Arachne. Arachne. Ariel. Twins, or two-headed sisters, I don’t really know. My eyes see their names spelled out, separate and distinct, but they unite in my mind like morning dew and mist, now clinging to the pond, now clinging to the shore. No matter. Some


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~3~

ligaments of love cling forever. Arachne. Ariel. Ariel. Arachne. No matter which side of the brain I invoke, I see one, I see the other, back in the once upon a time famous long ago when the hearts in the garden were gathered in soft hands of love and the heat-treated plow of city iron still lay cold and hidden in the ore-rich earth. What can I say? When time flies it’s out of my hands. Once something’s done, any fool sees it. No small wonder I’m here, idiot smile drawn on my face, madly swinging a straw broom through the air with one hand and with the other pointing towards the ruckus in the clouds. Perhaps memory contains its own secret constellations, like frozen starlight captured and concealed in a glacier, locked tight in the polar ice with all the old cold moonbeams for ship’s company. In this view, memory is an iceberg sailing the deep like a drifting prison ship. Hey, it’s no joke and no small job for a hippie drifting alongside in a lifeboat, armed with little more than some hot air and a tin dipper, to wait for a few drops of it to spill and sing joyful at their release. Of course its come to this, but then again, some memories just plain evaporate like a long lost friendship now dissolved into a cloud just hanging out, waiting for the next breeze to fly in from the coast and trip it far away. As I navigate with my broom, kicking up the dust here below, I try and keep a sharp weather eye, to know which way the wind blows. I feel a tear run down my cheek. The peninsula on the West End of Headlight, Maine juts out its leg and drops its stony knee into the spill of the Aft River as it joins its mouth to the surging tides of a rocky bay. Carved by glacial ice long dulled in retreat, its footprint loses hold of the Appalachian foothills as it wanders into the Atlantic deep. For a while it was our home. “Zeke…Zeke. Stop.” I put my arms back to my sides. Ariel is waving her hands like a contestant in the local Miss Clotho Festival. It is an incantation that always means business. Her wild rusted hair is drawn into a sheaf by a bandana behind her neck and rests like winnowed stalks of grain upon her peasant garb of sheepskin and calico. Her eyes burn behind her glasses, binoculars making good contact with my shirt, where they remain at rest. “Just what did you do to Arachne last night?” she demands. I close my eyes a moment. I have nothing to say in reply. This is not still water and I the only ripple. I blink and shift my view to her forehead. The furrows dance like the plain of Galilee in a sandstorm. I can feel the wind now and note the change in the mercury. “Listen to me,” she intones. “Arachne told me that the first time Peter slept with her, it was like Jesus jumping her bones. With some romance, too!” Her gaze falls back to her khaki pants and then descends to her work boots. But the embers rise again, bursting into flames on my chest. Oh shit, I thought, I’m not Jesus. I can’t beat that. I’m not qualified to lick up his spit. Who’s next, the Holy Ghost? What’s with all the fuss? Arachne and I had not, I thought, gone off to play the parts of Adam and Eve, where the moral is not so much that Eve was handled by a snake as that Adam fell in love. If anything, it was a bit of recreational theology


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~4~

that relied principally upon the few simple tools she and I quickly found laying around the house, and less upon the precedent established at that prime time press conference way back in the first family Garden. And I was surely no missionary and Arachne no carefree Polynesian down to meet the boat. The world being what it is and the stars wheeling where they do, I’d rolled her pronate on our pallet and played Thessalian stallion to her Spartan mare. Another midnight moonlight ride, a singing part in the primal opera. Horses, gods and drums. You know, hippie stuff; sex, drugs and rock and roll. It sure seemed like a good idea at the time. The wrinkles above Ariel’s fired eyes wave like fields of wheat now bent to receive the purgative flames of Big Mother Herself. Although I’m just the plowman behind the mule now, I know all about the dragons that she can ride. In that moment it became clear to me that this was a brand new harvest, and one surely to be reaped under the careful direction of brand new management. As sex was not the high point of our married life, marriage is no more the point at all in our sex lives. That the dies in the bedroom board game had just been recast was not in question. What could I say in reply? This was no double-crossing common infidelity or pathetic middle-class version of revenge, or so I thought. This time it was homemade love, better than storebought. And free love is always better than cheap love. Ariel knew what to ask for now. “Try and be more affectionate to Arachne, Zeke. She really wants to try and be with you some more.” I wasn’t exactly a young Werther in those days, and no match for the power of surprise in Ariel’s new table of contents for romance and love in our life together. We were more like Altair and Vega, except for burning off-course, our vapor trails spelling out list after list of cosmic grudges. Did I hear the bones rattling on this new wheel of fortune as my lot in our real estate of love was being drawn before my very eyes? I looked again to her face as she began speaking and in a blink of an eye I knew I had better have nothing to say about her latest survey results. This is all in the family now, set in stones stacked up just a little higher than in the Bible. I could see it in her eyes, so it had to be true true true: true blue, true romance and true love. I kept my mouth shut. If I was now a cowboy with a fresh horse, she was sporting new threads in her power wardrobe of love. In her assumed role as foreman in this latest home improvement project she had some advice to dispense to me which included a few fashion tips and some advisory sketches for my long overdue and much anticipated interior upgrade. She wanted to help me, she said. She wanted to help me, now a double-agent of myself, find romance and love in the KGB yet once again. But this time a bit closer to home, in a small circle of friends, a small circle all sleeping under the same roof and waking in front of the same mirror. Her eyes cool as they meet mine across the Milky Way now separating us like bulletproof glass. She is back to her old self, distant like a shadow deep in the ice, off in some cold heaven where the planets all


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~5~

spin in her head keeping perfect time, and no other rockets in sight to steal her gravity until she lands. “We’ll figure this out,” she says. She draws a pause ever so slowly from her pool of reflection, “and oh yes Peter and I need some time tonight.” On the sudden still water there is nary a ripple. I guess that some starlight is an old memory swimming like a turtle in the deep blue sea that sounds like a bubble to the surface of thought for a random pop and a gulp of air. Of course, some stars no longer live, yet their light travels on, an eternal arrow; the bow no longer bent but blasted. Some memory is a crumbling mirror whose images reflect in yearning to unite across the broken time in its cracks, as if this reanimation might raise them from the dead, so I can feel their touch. Old hippies get lonely too, even in the hippie warehouse. I see in the fissures and flaws of this mirror a sort of map which plainly charts the foot worn paths and well traveled roads now blazed through my own lost frontier. So what if my memory is like a pile of old notebooks mouldering away in some backwoods garden tool shed. The roofs on fire, but it just don’t matter. Whether blown to ash in the flames or consumed by the slower appetite of earth, is not love the star hidden in its own light? Or is love just a memoir, one voice to another, to vanish like windblown fines in the dust, disappear like wisps from clouds or drown in whispers under the moonlight? My broom has come to rest around the corner from the Stinking Lizaveta Café on the ground floor of the Restles. Its straw brushes the threshold of another leading commercial tenant, but is bent in confusion by a mat littered with the shoes and sandals of supplicants gathered inside the Wind in the Willows Zen Center. In the glass that fills the entry door I see that the monks have hung a new poster next to the sign warning their guests about problems in the parking lot and bathrooms. Floating like a cloud on the water hangs an upscale calligraphic decoration captioning an advertisement for a workshop on the poetry of Cold Mountain. Amidst this jumble of finer print is pressed the price of admission: $40.00. Ah, this is good news for the arts community here in Dioscuri. Perhaps the poetry business will improve its revenue position and step out on beyond the spray paint and pay some taxes, build a building, get a casino license, go public. Mr. Cold must surely need the fee, although I heard that he’s an active case of the police, still being sought on an outstanding warrant charging him with vandalism and destruction on public lands. Ah well, if you tried to deliver to him the check from the royalties, he’d call you a crook and drive you away with a stick. The only one who might bump into him is a lucky tree surgeon. As he said about the warrant when we last met at the Pope Sylvester II Soup Kitchen, “Go ahead and steal my identity!” The table was packed in a jimjam of shelter sports. His words covered the silent tabletop like a big mouth back alley bet in a floating craps game. Even the most disciplined and wily eyes snaked his way. But he’s a fox who will snatch the bird right out from under the nose of the dog. However, to draw attention to oneself at the local beggar’s banquet is not always a good


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~6~

plan. Pope II is full of stray men who were not blown into Oz by a fanciful tornado, and unlike poor Dorothy, they were not lost. When you’re homeless you’re never lost. “I was going to auction it off on E-Bay,” he continued with a short laugh. “But that just seemed wrong. I’ll let you have it free and clear.” He waved his spoon to no one in particular. “In exchange, pass the syrup, will you? Hey, anyone got some herb to spare? This ain’t the jailhouse.” I tried to tell him about the workshop and the fee, but he drowned my words in laughter and burst out again. “Didn’t I just tell you it’s OK to steal my identity?” “Yes, but…” “No buts. It’s yours for the taking- forget about all the thieves and grave robbers. They’re busy running the world. If they ever do see the Buddha, they’ll no doubt try to bill him.” The morning sunlight streams through the dirt streaked window at the end of the hall. My broom stirs another cloud which as we travel towards the light envelopes the air and wraps me in a cloak of sudden loneliness. Earthbound and alone it occurs to me that this job of clean up is just another name for moving everything around, and every which way at that, until the hollow broom stalk’s too short to whip up a last gasp of dust, too thin to catch a wind. Ahead I see the door to the utility closet yawning open on its latest pair of mismatched and precarious hinges. The hippies are always wrecking the utility closet doors, no doubt in search of brooms to steal. Sometimes they steal the door itself. Pooled across the threshold is a fluid of unknown and perhaps unknowable origin beginning to fluoresce in the sunlight. It resembles a long dead snake lying coiled in some kind of fetid swamp gas bog. Another gift from the kitchen staff at Stinking Lizaveta, who apparently obey a fierce and mutant variation to the law of natural selection. What else can I expect from an outfit that has its French style entry doors to the hallway decorated like a pair of wide open gloss red human lips, completed with reptilian dentition highlighted with day-glo glitter? The stuff on the floor threatens an imminent animation, perhaps one more fit than a hippie. I’ll have to kill it again just to close the door. Behind it, a shade deeper into the hippie warehouse biological frontier, the sink in the closet presents another raging skirmish line fully engaged in battle against the means of the scientific method. As I fill the mop bucket it occurs to me that the sound of the falling water is my sole companion. As it speaks to me I hear in its streaming voice all the sadness a traveler leaves behind but cannot forget. As I close the valve and silence its tongue, the pipes shudder and shake and strike a dissonant hammer in protest. Then all is stillness and dead calm. Daylight drains from the window in my room as the ritual sting of the Scorpion night sky advances through it like an old friend. I’m home in the bucolic township of my childhood, drinking and reading Karamazov in a rare air of quiet at the Temporary Republic, our local hippie launch pad. The Republic is a modest, almost shabby frame bungalow a gunshot north


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~7~

of the Windy City and a one beer walk east to the Great Lake. Like any good hippie I’m flying high all the way. Pulling up my homeboy roots. Heading back, way back to the Garden. Lift off, 1967. In a town whose greatest civic virtue is clever and smug applause for its moderation in duplicity and the decorum of its injustice. The soil of the Republic sports other virtues: a trumpet player, a kazoo playing motorcycle maniac, a Japanese seminarian studying voice at West Jesus, a drummer and me. At the Republic the women come and go, but they prefer to talk about Belinski, and show for other roadside attractions. Ah, Long Live the Temporary Republic! A palace of love and the peaceful arts, to be sure. An Aquarian chorus illuminated by a lucky star. Until of course that star is eclipsed by a tricked-out blue moon. Then the rosy fingers of dawn clutch a search warrant as police detectives wearing Sears sport coats crash the door, trash the crib, cop the weed, shackle, abuse, then jail the occupants. As regards the power of a flower, much less that of the people, this is the dawning of the Age of Tiberius. The Trumpet had caught a buzz at work about a party. To get there all we have to do is follow the bullet back to the infamous North Side and make a quick step over the line to Jitterbug Terrace. I decide to weigh over this travel suggestion with the help of a few more beers and a glance at the night sky. Soon the idea of attendance is less in my mind the form of a crash and more the construction of a runway for a clear landing and a quick refueling. And while it is true I’d gained discovery of the invitation fourth-hand, I’m no stranger to these parts. Isn’t this exactly like finding with surprise and delight the really good parts in Ovid? Ah, another force besides beer must be at work. Of course this is now true, as I am working on the last beer. Beer gets one through times of no party better than no beer gets you through times of party. Doubtless there will be all manner of continuing refreshment at the bash. The Trumpet sounds off as I dash down my throat the last gulp of brew. Perfect timing. I feel the wheel of the sky accelerating. Too late to strap in. As ballast I stuff the Brothers into my back pocket, but it doesn’t seem to matter. At the back door the Trumpet blows another blast and I float with it right over the threshold and exit the Republic lighter than dust in the wind. But of course, who is to say that the mirror of my memory isn’t now a corrupt antique, some low rent flea market recondition destined to be trashed by the roadside and scorned by even the meanest scavenger? But when the moon shines, mother, it still lights up. It may be in the dumpster, but it hasn’t hit the landfill yet. Yeah, and when the beams from the other side of her face spill upon my looking glass that no one else can see, and the last midnight bird lands on her shoulder, I won’t mind, as long as she’s with me. One moon fits all. And a one moon homeboy poet, too, whose prime is lost and in this poverty reduced to the skaldic ritual of memoir and confession, hoping for sedation and bliss in the first person. There is no way our eyes could have met exactly as they did if I hadn’t scaled the wall to the second floor and entered through the window


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~8~

to the tiny balcony. I was mountaineer, flag in hand, and raised my head through the stone portal as if climbing the final crop of rock to the summit. Ariel was choking an extra long cigarette in one hand and holding a glass of wine in the other like it was filled with the original and still warm vintage Blood of the Lamb. Her compass eyes pierced mine. They held me fast like needles transfixed through my skin. They sparked like comets through the lenses of the dark thick glasses hung upon the polished ivory of her face. A veil of smoke snaked from her mouth. Clouds and stars at the pinnacle. If a few minutes earlier my feet were lightness itself, they now possessed what seemed like gravity in reverse. I’d been beckoned by eyes before, summoned for a run-of-the-mill rub up against some genie-ina-bottle at a grope-in… but no, in that moment of celestial apothecary trajectory her eyes were welded to mine and to her fire at the end of the world. This was some party already. I hadn’t expected to be a man of straw so soon cast into the flames. That is, without drinking a whole lot more. Drinking, I could play my part in the harvest feast without mind, my time come and my time gone, poised to be toast to the gods and a most congenial fuel for their fires. Then it’s a race down the memory hole, in which love partakes of its ashes like a snake swallowing its tail, and all the rest goes up in smoke. And love, if I in my growing amnesia can remember any one thing about it, is recognized in any disguise and over any distance. And by Ariel, through walls. Back then I still had a lot to learn. But make no mistake, love will endure until the end of the world and then some. It’s composed of the toughest of all terrain and all natural ingredients. It can renew itself like the moon. Big bang, big chill or melt down, it will outlast all. So Heads Up! Plug me in for Free! I am at Leisure to Pronounce: no more dancing with the War Gods at the Open Mike! I’m not kidding. Don’t bother waking Buddha from his nap to have another seminar about this. Waste no more time scanning Yahweh’s yellow journalism and the fables in the latest supplement. Forget about saddling up with Mohammed for some crazy levitation on a one-way horse. Never mind the four armed avatar juggling the invisible into infinity! On the way to the end of the world and beyond, love has survived all the mobs of Kings and Queens and Gods Supreme, as countless as their offspring and their sycophants and toadies. No doubt today love is as close to or as far from the end of the world as it was that very moment Ariel and I first dared to see it together. And I knew in that instant illuminated by the beacon from her Armageddon of it that I would carry it in my hands all the way there. Even hippies fall in love. Silken threads of spring rain spin down the bank and weave into the river’s edge. Thunder jars the air. My thoughts are annihilated as swiftly as lightning leaps from a cloud. Drenched to the bone in loneliness, I see the river coast on. 16 tons of sutras and what do you get? As the rain abates a solitary crane rises in flight and heads downriver. I turn to gaze at the landscape. The sky above it is a metropolis of perfect clouds. Gnarled


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~9~

trees spring like upright arms from the face of the cliff, their fists of leaves in salute. On the bluff the city skyline rises in the air like cheap replacement doors and windows propped against a scaffold, left out in the weather by careless workmen on a break. An urban mist begins to rise around them like whiffs of incense escaping a stick or charcoal curls of smoke from fresh burning fossils. I turn back to the river. The last thread of silk is thinning, releasing its hold on the edge. Like a broken fishing line it disappears into the swift running current. I head back to the hippie warehouse. Affairs there are certain to be in a deplorable condition and I’m sure to have work to do. People coming in and people going out; tracks in the dust. And worse. The street out front has been cut for reasons unknown to me. Rivulets of mud and the soggy hieroglyphs of earthen windrows on the road and walkway spell out no legible clues. The growling of backhoes and shovels greet me at the entrance. Black plumes of virgin diesel dust fill the air. The lobby floor is a pond of grit and clay glimmering with flecks of oil. Caked and muddy footprints pock its surface, plopped flat as road kill frogs. Never mind. I strike out to the dock for some loading. Sweeping can wait. Things will have to remain deplorable for a while longer, without me. At my door I see that the manager has posted a note on it. CLEAN LOBBY it says in his unmistakably legible strokes. I duck in quickly and leave it hanging on the door, in case he stops again. In consolation I open my handy copy of Professor Mommsen’s Nobel Prize winning ancient history. In the present deplorable state in the rest of the world my broom is helpless too. But like any up to date pilot on the wheel in Miss Clio’s crazy stream, I adjust my navigation instruments for some high-tech assistance. Applying the pilothouse pantometagraph to the situation, I adjust for 2000 years, give or take a hair, then stretch it from the good doctor’s page directly to a fresh copy of the Dioscuri Daily News. Lucky me. With this exclusive intertextual mobility in hand, I feel better already. As I trace away, I’m reminded of a quip from Mr. Twain, who once dined side by side in Berlin with the great Laureate. “History doesn’t repeat itself,” he said after the meal, “but it sure does rhyme.” So why not live a poet’s daydream in a hippie warehouse memory hole? Clio’s not the only wild girl that’s jumped back into the lifeboat. She and all her mad sisters sing and dance and a whole lot more, around here. I’m sure it’s tough staging a comeback after such a lengthy absence from the boards, and all the rumors about crime and indictments and lawsuits and rehab and mental health. I have sympathy for them, despite all the drama. But make no mistake, I despise all their new friends. When they’re not acting like an unruly mob out on the streets, they do nothing but sneak around behind the back of the girls’ mother, pawning the charms they steal from the dressing room. The sisters may or may not be heading back to stardom, but Mom is forever a giant, and not one to cross. They’ll get theirs. Comforted, I look out my loading dock window. In the patch of sky above my city-walled hut a heron flies in the blue daylight and the


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 10 ~

new moon rests on a passing cloud. I swing open the steel sash to clear the air. A gust of wind from the parking lot slaps my face with a dusty hand. A gyre of plastic bags dances in a little whirlwind towards the back door of SEXXXYYZ, another premier tenant. My eyes fill with grit. Closing them in pain, I feel my way to the broken couch I use for a flop. I must lie down and wait for the tears to free me from the dirt here on the ground. Arachne is in the front room of the Republic as I make my way in through the back alley door. She is seated on a cane chair, bent to the task of washing her feet in a galvanized tub. Her white hands and feet and the water all splash in frenetic time to a siren song from the Doors blasting from my plastic one-piece three-speed transistorized Japanese record player. The record spins beneath the jewel-bearing arm, a perfect circle like the shield of Helen’s fool. The voice inside it wails. Arachne’s lips form a well-practiced synch as she tosses her head in frenzied counterpoint. For a moment she resembles a mixed-up washtub bass warming up for the jug band show. Then her perfect schoolyard eyes of stone strike mine like flint, for the very first time. It occurs to me that Adam was surely still suffering from amnesia all during that bite. It was later, after the land and labor reform, that Yahweh fashioned the marriage license as its cure. Ariel and I followed the full course of treatment. Eloped, we’re hitched and pitched in a camp in a room inside the Republic, busy compounding our own prescription from a wreath bent of back road thistle and downtown laurel. I was tired, arrived home from a Pay Day Every Day rent-a-bum labor job, filling dumpsters with construction and demolition debris. The Republic may be Temporary, but rent is eternal. Ariel is a student and I on the daily dollar auction block. She had the University and I rolled my dice with the busted brothers, hoboes, and Mexicans pretending to be Indians from Wisconsin. “Arachne. Zeke. Zeke…Arachne.” Ariel smiled as she sang out our names. The Doors fell silent. Arachne raised up in the wellwoven rushes, stilling the spring in the tub. “Don’t you just love Jim Morrison?” she crooned. I had standards back then too. No, I did not love Elvis either. So what if you can never trust a hippie? When I required a pure land chant I was happy with the Dead. And Pigpen was better than those two mutts combined. Ariel spun towards Arachne and tossed her a towel, bearing in the other hand her dear friend’s soft dark shoes and striped knit socks. Arachne’s feet seemed cut from the same stone as the whites in her eyes. Emaciated toes flashed in the beads of water shaking free as they emerged from her pool. Her clothes, black turtleneck, black beret, blue jeans and jacket, hung upon the spindles of her frame like some kind of beatnik scarecrow raised on a stick. Her face is now animated in talk and whispers with Ariel. I see a polished silver glint flowing in the glow of her flesh and bone. Her starving fingers push away hairs strayed from beneath her headgear, cobwebs brushed from statuary. Her geologic eyes touch mine again, then


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 11 ~

stray. The stylus of the one-piece record player is idling near the center of the disc, still spinning on the turning table. The rumble of its diamond dance is a chorus of evening cicadas. In profile, Arachne’s face freezes in attention to Ariel’s words. It is struck like the head on some ancient coin. Ah, legal tender in the Republic of love. I’m awakened by a series of raps and rattles at the door. I blink and open my eyes. They are no longer plagued by the dust of the world. I feel relieved until I realize with a slight start that it is the restless Manjusri, ever too vigilant. Just this week he personally affixed a bicycle basket to the door. Well, he is boss on that side of the door, but I am irritated at this new trend. When I inquired of the basket he explained, “For bulkier deposits, packages, invoices to deliver, and the like. Tighten up the ship, so to speak. I do not like clutter in my office.” As I rise from the couch I see a new version of the latest system command slide like a tongue through the crack between door and threshold. NO DELAY SWEEP LOBBY. Ah, I will have to speak to him about this, after all. Outside the construction work on the street is a blustering tornado touching down. Its screaming iron funnel of fuming exhaust and whirling dust dances above the machine cuts in the asphalt, fill and earth like a supercharged dervish spinning crazed in the spoils of dizzied air. Inside I sweep sweep sweep, but every time an entry door groans open the lobby fills anew with a burst of fresh debris. A straw broom cannot keep up until they get off of my cloud! Suddenly the manager appears at my side. This is too much. Tell-tale shreds of paper peek from his pants cuffs. A single shred adorns his hair like a festival ribbon. More trail behind him in the lobby like the wake of a trolling skiff. They cut through the detritus on the floor, spinning even more confusion on the face of the troubled waters. He’s been working too hard. I can see the strain in his eyes. But surely he sees that the broom on my cloud is no match for the maelstrom without and the turbulence building within. “Zeke..,” he said…and without warning both clear glass doors of the hippie warehouse open wide like a pair of wild eyes catching a fresh hallucination. In a cyclonic gust the lobby is filled at once with suits and ties and ribbons and bows and dust and sand and voices and wind. I hold fast to my broom and see an expression on the face of Mr. Manjusri I’d seen only once before, when the fire marshal pulled a surprise inspection. Engulfed in this strange storm, I see that our stretch of river has jumped its banks. I am momentarily confused…dust and river and clouds and winds clash; I must…I must…grab the big wheel with both hands. The current is ripping. I feel the riverboat shake and shiver right down to its bones. Ahead, waves of orphan mortgage notes attack our bow. I slow engines to hold her steady. We are hailed by an unfamiliar launch landing on our starboard rail. In the quick changing current we are boarded. As I hold fast the wheel, the captain greets the new party on the hurricane deck. In a flurry of activity at the masthead our colors are struck and a new flag and insignia are raised. Manjusri’s voice reaches me at last…”Zeke…the


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 12 ~

Restles building has been sold.” Ah, in the time it takes to roll a barrel over a hippie, the warehouse is no more. A chorus of voices echo through the companionway and fill the pilothouse. “The Drywall Institute has outstanding guidelines…” “Oh sure, I used to be an artist, but they’re only looking for a handout…” ”Sir, listen to this!” “The Restles. Real Hip.” “A great marketing slogan…” “No,no, an icon, a trademark…” “Folks, folks…hang on. It’s a branding!” So much for the old horse. In this version of meat science, they seize the hip and we get the pie, by which I mean the former parts of the horse now steaming at my feet on deck. “This is America,” said the new captain, approaching me at the wheel. Glancing at the new deckhands, I noticed we were also in the Gulf of Mexico. Without extending his hand he continued, “I hope we can do business.” His eyes surveyed mine like he was reading a banknote soon to hit the discount floor. It’s his boat now, but go ahead and tell me, who commands the river? On the big river captains come and captains go. But pilots of rivers are like frogs on a lilypad. They know when to jump or when to lie still as a stone on the edge of a bank. And the best thing of all about being a frog on a lily-pad or a hippie in a warehouse or a pilot of rivers or sweeper of dusty clouds is simply this: when I look any zillionaire in the eye, I see an equal, or less. As we know, once something is done any fool sees it. But it still takes a hippie to know the difference between the horse and the latest trick on its back, golden bridle twisted in his hand.

Dear Calliope, I need no reminding from you that my garden plot of reminiscence is but a shovelful of dirt beside your mother’s mountain range of memory. What am I supposed to say? Hers: a dancing invocation singing pure celestial; a secret volcano that can quake the mighty sea! Mine: a worn out roll-off dumpster groaning as it drops to rest in a puddle in the parking lot of the Restles Bldg. Said unit now filling with the lost and found, all the treasures and the trash of a sold-out hippie warehouse, soon to be outfitted for a trip to the dump. If the sun and the moon and the years that pass are travelers in eternity, what about the dumpsters and the trash? And don’t you suppose that just because I’ve spent my life in the saddle, or sculling on oar, or strapped to one wheel or the other…well, I’ve said enough. Let me put it this way. I’ve instructed my executors to waste no time when I die. They are to throw my body into the nearest empty lot, in hopes a stray dog might catch an honest meal. Failing that, I am to be fired at 1200 degrees F. on a riverside pyre and the remains formed into bullets. Say 50


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 13 ~

rounds of 9mm, to be discharged in pursuit of the best science that can for the first time in history measure just how far a hippie sails into the afterlife. I know I can tell you this. You’ve been in the funeral business just about forever, even though you’ve been out of touch for quite a while. No doubt you need an update on modern theology, in which bullets and bombs both define and sustain today’s gold standard for efficient metaphysical travel over time and distance. Guess what, Lady? You have to take your share of the responsibility. So what if you started out with sticks and stones? You too soon hit the harder stuff. And no, you can’t duck back under the counter after you’ve made an over the counter sale. Not ever again. You see, I’m about to burn over a new leaf. But before I do, I insist on writing to you one more crazy letter, here in the waning days of the hippie warehouse. Another crazy letter addressed solely to you, sent on the slim and no doubt insalient hope that a few last chance words embossed on a page might bring you back to life for the dressing down that you so richly deserve. Eternal febrile wench you’ve left me again, left me with my tongue emptied back into my own mouth. Thanks a whole lot. Some resuscitation. I started out with sympathy and empathy and more, when you and your sisters, and perhaps even your Mom, fell into such deep trouble. But as you know, sympathy is but a stepchild, the hand me down half-sister to resentment. So after your entourage complete vanished in some mystery abyss, first reports read that you were gone forever. Take it from me, the stage was filled with an endless parade of crummy impersonators. I knew better. I knew that you had one last stop, one more spin of the wheel to make on your way out the door before cashing in and bugging out on me once and for all. And I should have known that you would resurface with a vengeance, out of the grasp of my last gasp at the Restles Bldg. You, out to pimp some lame and most bogus trademark sponsored comeback tour, trading down your logos for something floating on a screen, trimmed out like a decal stuck to a door on a beer company race car. It was your sharp old sideshow card tricks as well, when the 7th floor was hollywooded into a jet set for your TV show shot live by the Anubis Network News and broadcast direct from your dummied up Hotel Helicon LLC right here in Dioscuri. It was hard to sweep, floating in your cloud, yet separated from you by door number one. I know it was pure foolishness on my part to knock on it. You didn’t have to laugh and sting me to the quick. You didn’t have to act like it was already a condo and I something less than Thersites. Yes, a most convenient amnesia, to ignore everything between us and treat me like I was out begging door to door. Don’t you know that respectable beggars advertise in the newspapers? But now, no more daily news of you is required by me. I don’t need its automatic cleansing action. I’m going to leave your diabolical machinery far behind and wash out by hand my own brain…that’s why I’m on the rocks down by the riverside


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 14 ~

beating mine out on the desolate rip rap, squeezing out the last trace of your dye… You may be the only one who will understand this letter, so go ahead and leave it lying open on the table like you did with all my other missives sent for you, so that you and all of your slick friends can make new sport of my old folly. It makes no difference. I don’t mind being a fish out of water now. It insures that you won’t hook me again on your inevitable line and throw me back like another broken promise. Of course you’re a liar; you laid the first stone on its altar. In the cups of your wine all who drink soon forget that deception is your full time job. Still, I’ve always needed your help. You’re so good at reports and decisions, but you knew that the moment you released me back into the wild. Then you booked in a flash faster than an electron, with nary a pixel farewell. Now I can’t help but think that I must have missed something important that you said, right before you slammed the door. I’m almost sorry if I did, believe me. I could use some good advice right now, but we both know better, don’t we? Go ahead back home without me, but you better clamp a closing valve on your lustral spring before your new pals bottle it for sale and you end up living in a tent next to a bone dry ditch. As for me, now that I’m bereft of you amidst the diabolical public, I’m just trying to keep up with the dust that I sweep in the hippie warehouse. I have no other visible resource. That’s why I’m writing to you now under this separate cover. No use lying to you since you invented them all. I used to be so dumb that I thought that I could rustle up a story and steal away from you with it like a horse thief at twilight, out of sight and out from under your thumb. Trick out a tale more transparent and inaudible and elusive than your very powers and get away with perfect editorial deceit. But now I don’t even care if it’s too bad for me that my idealism is more substantial to me than reality is to you. Hey, I’m allowed some consolation and this isn’t a love letter, unless it’s one addressed in mourning to all the gifts of life that my generation is engaged in so efficiently destroying. Didn’t your mother teach you that burning bridges doesn’t burn the past? Is that why you cleared out so fast with your smoke and mirrors? They aren’t much good to you now. In the current version of life, the past is sold for scrap or blown to pieces. History isn’t going any faster, but its side effects sure are. It’s so clinically fashionable to say that memory is but little more than stacks of leaves or some chemicals smeared on a brain cell. The eternally up-to-date crowd doesn’t seem to realize how much of it’s accrued, even under new world management. It’s clear that they haven’t met you or your family. In the end, I can’t blame you for leaving town, either. As you can see, Lethe has been put in charge of the payroll in the latest scheme of things, and all hands set to searching for the coin of the realm, grinding down the nearest mountaintop and converting its spoils into bombs, ammunition and headstones.


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 15 ~

I know how to mourn too, baby. Now its time for me to lay out all my own wretched and fantastic invention and during its explosion illuminate for your most proper inspection the last of my grief: at the loss of your final embrace, the escape of your touch, the last breath of your word; indeed, your end paper of memory, burning away from me like a blasting cord stretched deep into the heart of the mine at the foot of your mountain. Dig it, honey. I’m ready, dug into my own little memory hole where I can duck and cover when she blows. So naturally, the very moment I have in one hand the fuse and the fusee in the other, ready to strike, I feel the touch of your hand on the other end of the string carry me like a marionette out from under cover in the wings and back to center stage. Oh, Spotlight. I’m twitching all right. Instead of your voice blasted off across the dark river, you broadcast to me through your terminal string in vibration the siren songs of Aura, your fading consort in my old torment, just to be sure that I will have to remember you a bit longer than I’d planned, and that simply in self defense. Ms. Glissando’s notes sail in on a sea of new age electrons flooding my e-mail, informing me that she is “ready now to love me,” and correct a “bittersweet” memory. Damn it all, Calliope, I’m tired of your tricks and the endearments of all your phony understudies. When will you stop? If I learned anything at all from you, it is that coincidence is everywhere a circle that in no way can be squared. The very day that you and your big dog show left the Restles, the same day that you spooked Aura into my mail, and by the way, left me hanging by one hand with a match in it, police detectives visited Ariel’s upstate New York digs. At the door they were greeted by a young lady, daughter of infamous Headlight, Maine revolutionists, her father soon to be paroled from a supermax Federal prison. But they had other business. They asked for me. Talk about a thread. If you recall, Arachne spun out some sort of pulp novel, Neighborhood Pantheon, detailing her erstwhile narrator’s heroic contact with the rebels while they were busy working to conquer the known world and raise up a nice clean middle-class family on the side. They were there, the detectives said, looking for me. Do you see now how complicated all the chained events in my life become when you’re not around keeping the agenda in order and the event crowd held in check? By the time the three Big Apollonian detectives landed on the dock of loading at the Restles, Aura’s tidal flow of missives suffused the safe harbor of my e-mail, just like her lies long ago that overflowed the lip on her golden cup of seduction. Lies that spilled on the distaff of the Fates her false wine of friendship to Ariel and drained the content in the bottle she was spinning in her game with me. In this new skin her messages were launched in an urgent prose of renewed love, love freshly refined in the machinery of her new found clairvoyant wisdom. Treasures from our former lives, she said, unearthed in some sort of nocturnal excavation or astral projection. Which telepathic Tibetan broadcasts are of late received loud and clear in the parlor of her New England cottage. Now passed on to


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 16 ~

me in a state of urgent enlightenment, and not a cheap and trite suburban deception. But you know in full all of the devices of which she is capable, and much, much more. I’m sure going to miss you. Then I’ll be alone in my empty hippie warehouse. Looking out the window at the parking lot, where the dumpster beckons. Under the full moon pinned like a badge to the black jacket of night. Then, on the very day the detectives from the Bronx came to see me, the Dioscuri Daily News pastes my picture right beneath the fold of a feature section, printing my image as a graphic companion to a byline text, a tale about the end of the era for the Restles Bldg, a sort of emblematic real-estate obituary for the hippie warehouse. Like another apparition from your hand, appearing on a back page of the very same edition, a wire service piece described in outline how my old boss, the great Gaius Pompeius Trimalchio himself, faces felony indictment in the Big Apollonian for some recent and most flagrant financial outrage involving public funds, boats and floats, the Big Port Authority and post 9/11 bookkeeping tricks. His lawyers described the grand jury subpoenas as an issue undeserving of comment, mischief authored by jealous business rivals. Oh yes. The latest business with the police is about a drive-by shooting, a stone cold murder to which I was a well-placed but luckless witness in Spoon Island in the Bronx. A midnight dance of death in the first silent minutes of an All Hallows Eve, more than seven years ago. The detectives would like my help again, they say, even if I am just a hippie in a doomed hippie warehouse, flotsam in the wake of a crime. Wouldn’t I like some help from them, if I want to move back? Don’t I want to do the right thing? It’s no secret that when I first tried to do just that I was discredited by whisper, then threatened and lastly hounded away into the anonymous mainland. Hounded by guile and hazard as applied by one Mayo Kayo. Mayo Kayo, himself an Apollonian police detective, yet one untutored by honor nor by shame. It could also be said of Mayo Kayo that when he clocked out from the job, he knew how to leave it behind in the house. The real difficulty lay in his complete success at this endeavor. Yes, Mayo Kayo, factotum of the unbridled Kayo family civil service gene pool. Which pool is best understood as a pond of scum that slipped into the Spoon one night and stuck to it like a hungry clot of spawning barnacles. On Spoon Island, the Riviera of the dispossessed, if a badge without law is king, what does that make of a hippie sleeping on the beach under his rowboat? So you see, Calliope, you worthless astrological fossil, this puppet ain’t dancing for you anymore. Wait until you see what I send back to you from my end of the string. Perhaps gravity enough to weigh you down, pin your stack of paper back to earth just long enough for me to light the fuse and send my last message burning your way. In the end, all you ever gave me was a fool’s choice. Devil. Blue Sea. Vice versa. Some choice. No wonder I was sleepwalking under your spell. I thought I was forever in your debt. What a chump, huh? Scribbling poems on leaflets, trying


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 17 ~

everyday to draw that one picture, that single one thousand year bird clutched to a tree branch…But I’m done with your con-game. Your smartass wagon full of dead conventions you had me drag behind you through the dust, like a blind-folded child groping to pin the tail on the whipped old donkey. Speaking of dust. This reminds me that the last time I saw Arachne up in Headlight she so swiftly asked me, after I muffed a citation, just how long had it been since I’d read the Iliad? I’ve got the answer now. Three or four thousand years, baby, and still counting. Don’t look back. I can write in the sand, if I must. I’ve far too much work to do now, sifting in the debris of my own dumpster filled right up to my neck. Besides, you taught me too well the stratagems of your business and your mischief here on earth. Do you recall? We had some bitter fights about this. When you shouted me down and declared that there is such a thing as reading too many books, I reminded you, and quite calmly too, that it is much worse to read too few. Eye to eye, yours inoculated mine with pure oracular venom as you cursed in reply that any book can be misread. Ah, see? At parting we agree at long last, so go ahead and turn your flaming eyes aside, if you don’t believe me. What crazy goeteiaic handle was it that the old Athenian gangster glued on your spinning retail rack? The works of a magician, trickster, juggler? He never took enough time off from school to get to know you, did he? Or perhaps he did and it’s no wonder he caught a dose of paranoia every night. He dreamed of the day that the law could drive you away, but your letters are always delivered to the right address. They can’t be stopped. Perhaps that’s why I’m writing to you now. And how can you possibly misread a fiction or any really first class love letter if it’s all simply a pack of braying asshole lies or silent sleight-of-hand deceptions piling up like dime novel pages down the hole in the outhouse? Mute stacks of words piled in the shitter, sealed with a treacherous kiss and stamped with the real content of the promises that you made. Some product you left behind for me to sell in the cold empty market where none come to buy. I could go on and on. You deserve a longer obituary notice, I know, but I'm a mere free lance shovel and have to move on. You can forget about all that old-time paralyzed wonder. Its now pimped out in a pillbox and sold like a cheap trick on the street. In this case I am happy to be left behind. Whether this proves to be an act of madness and despair or one of passion and imagination, or all and more, means little to me now. So what if I don’t stand a chance against the flood of infinite empty eyes? And what else is a story, in such a case, but a glimmering string of cruel lies and deceptions doing its best to keep up with reality? I’ll have to keep up with both of them, without you. Here I am at the busy corner of Rehab and Old 7th Son St. in downtown Dioscuri. My hippie warehouse is swept clean of your dust now. I don’t expect that anyone else but you will understand how I feel as the spring snow is falling and windblown crystals strike against my cheek in this new


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 18 ~

recognition. I stand beside three cherry trees burst into blossom. The flowers bloom right inside my frozen eyes while my thoughts gather like a tired army on a cold mountainside. White clouds like folds of icy memory float in the tall cold wind. It is good-bye to all the old times, good-bye my dear, when it was all I could do, a sparrow barely hanging on to hear you sing your song under my nervous wings and silent gaze. You and your strings and bow, leaves and branches, as if the blossoms clutched in the cold claws of the wind were a thousand cranes on the wing and my heart just another one, waiting to join them in flight. And I see ever so clearly inside their dark perfect eyes the shadow of your beautiful form kiss the ragged mortal edge of mine cast on the concrete earth beneath my feet, and fly away. Ka-boom, Zeke

There is a stretch of hallway in the warehouse where from deft habit I do not raise the dust or, I hope, the attention of the manager, past whose office door I am accustomed to slip and slide happily unnoticed. But in these last days of the hippie warehouse I have no idea when we will part, and I find myself drawn to him, as if I half miss him already. As I approach the door I hear the shredder grinding its gears of forgetfulness and know at once that there is now no reprieve from his vigilance or the oblivion seeping into the Restles. I must look in the door and say a word. He is feeding paper into the shredder, up to his knees in chips and strips. Falling from his spinning blade they pile and combine, clouds strewing cold white flakes as they fill his frozen mountain pass. But what the hell, he’s got a job to do too, even if it is just made of snow. Yet if I, a mere sweeper of dust and ridiculous collector of mnemonic scraps, can hang onto this edge of the tax farm culture in which is incubated our new age books of accounts, and that just to grasp by the skin of my teeth the lip on the edge of the cliff, just imagine what sort of noble eggs a clever modern manager with a solid foothold might contrive to hatch and roll back down the mountainside under cover of the storm. The honest days of Socrates and his write-off rooster are long flown past this company broilerhouse. Why did Socrates cross the road? Like he told his boys. To get to the other side before the chicken. But things are different now down on the farm. Current market mantra calls for selling long memory short, and delivering goose eggs to the suckers. Speaking of oblivion, on or off the books; no one knows how or why the hippie warehouse acquired the name that would stick like desiccated rooster shit to so many brand new mortgage notes. Two generations before the invention of the shredder and a generation after Mr. Twain’s celebrated visit to town, it was first conceived a munitions plant. Gestation was marred by the end of World War I. Delivered reborn as a shoe factory, its many incarnations out on the rambling paper trail include


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 19 ~

this last hovering ghost, the Restles. The site unseen. The hippie warehouse. “Yo, Man,” I say. “Should I close the door?” He glances up at me from his task at the whirring machinery. “No, no… keep it open.” His desk holds a towering cliff of paper on the way to reduction in the speedy gorge of the shredder. His eyes meet mine. “This is simply a cost-cutting tool,” he explains. “Yeah, right; court costs,” I laugh. As for me, if you’re walking outside the law, you better obey it. Still, this market liaison of paperwork and amnesia interests me. Soon enough I too will be in flight from all the memory holes that fill the hippie warehouse. How big are the ones out on the street? How will the sky over my head look to me then as I navigate? Of one thing I can be certain. The clouds twisting around his legs dance in a rite of their own, pure theology and emptied of their nature. The disembodied forms he is deposing at his feet…well, some books of memory are indeed, as the hippies say, history. “Life is a leaky boat, Zeke. You have to pump it every day.” Life is a shipwreck, and we’re all castaways. And the only thing left in my lifeboat is a string of words adrift in a sea of pages. His eyes search for a horizon. “Everything is fine,” he hastens to add. “Like a fine for destroying…” He cuts me off faster than a shredder blade. “Destruction? Hardly.” Face still as a statue, his eyes begin to search for some black dot far from our little bark. He pushes more paper from the pile into the machine purring like a tiger beneath his hand. “In a sense,” he continues, the trace of a smile appearing on his lips, “it is not even shredding, no. No, this is recycling, an earth friendly transformation. Or more, perhaps. Cosmic. Yes, the cycle of death and rebirth. You have to believe before you can understand, and then forget. Absolutely ethical and scientific. Also, if you can’t remember whether something is true or not, how can you lie about it?” He shakes his legs, and the spoils of the transmigrating data-mine now heave on the floor like thunderheads soaring across the great water. Manjusri is sometimes quite the inspired manager. “I see no auditors on either shore,” he intones. With a growing smile and a step towards me he asks, “How about some sweeping?” I first landed under the influence and shadowless hue of a bright moon. She hung in full right at the top of the sky. My boat ran straight down her beam cast in balance on the face of the water, a silver compass needle perfected to its mark. A bare night breeze filled the sail with a silent homing. It seemed that the light in the sea was the sum of all the sadness in the world. Steering alone I was joined by both. A sailor is never homeless when afloat, but ashore it is a different tale. Ashore is like a body with one arm. Forget about all that one hand for the ship sort of talk when you land on Spoon Island. There a single hand must juggle both sets of books, and more. Perhaps the moon was angry then, pretending to be a boy, playing the sickly eye of Horus with his old light sweeping my helm to the chartered tell-tale of the Spoon.


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 20 ~

Obeying the night command, at last I came about, sheet flapping, guiding the tiller past the weather and with a lucky downhaul in one shot shipped the rig. Deck secure, I tossed overboard the hook and chain. Its line leapt fair past the toe rail, a snake into the pool of moonlight and sea. Tackle grounded, scope apprized and anchor line made fast, I secure the tiller while glancing up to the land spitting out into the edge of night. Spoon Island looms in the moonlight like an ancient expectoration of the gods, a crag on the edge of the sea that would prove to be my home for no small spell. I eye the end of the road. The broken tip of Spoon Island Avenue lays exposed in the low tide. Rip-rap spills to the sand dollar beach like rocks of coke tossed on the bartop at the 8-Ball Bar & Grill. Busted timber piles and caps pepper the uncovered ground, dirty works stumped into the perforated rump of the Bronx. Claques of herring gulls, drunken in the swarming lights of wheeling cars and blinking restaurant marquees, flock and weave, clutch and wait, clatter and waste on the decayed teeth of the shoreline. They illuminate my landfall and serve to me my first taste in the Spoon. She lays in the Sound like a piece of greasy flatware stuck in the trap of a restaurant slop sink. Spoon Island, the Bronx, whose fickle King of Commerce games at hospitality and with clever hands rules the fevered gamblers bound upon his rigged wheel of chance turning just behind the banquet table. His junior partner Fortuna not only spins the wheel with a local wink, but stays juked, jaded and junked up amidst her crooked coffer of seafood meals, wheels and deals. It’s a crop of beaten rock in the range of ledge that describes the last reach of the Western Sound, and rests near the shores of the mighty Apollopolis like a coke spoon fixed to a gangsters gold chain. Just another trinket on a thug’s neck. Beneath whose fashion statement lurks a heart laid hard, a fatal twist in an ax knot bent in the bight of blackened streets. Streets that twist and slither like sentences on a serpent page of a diabolic text, its song a hangman’s lay. Oh, it’s a slumberous camp where all bunk in the house of the same rising moon...but in the daylight the air is a roar; this home ragged and rusting, cut and filled, shorn and ramshackled, buttressed and bulkheaded, trafficked and zoned, taxed and tox’d—an emporium filled with bags and bones all marooned here ashore…“If Spoon Island had a mayor,” the Cat in the Hat once remarked, “you wouldn’t want to meet him.” I’m awakened from my dreaming by the sound of a dumpster crashing to the ground in the parking lot. The ransacking of the hippie warehouse is begun anew. The roaring of an engine drunk on the whine of hydraulic pumps sings out the rise of day. Before the sunlight spills through the window, I hear through the glass the morning voices of the advancing Mexican troops, no longer disguised as Indians from Wisconsin. In short order their cartwheels are hauling the debris of demolition to the waiting dumpsters. At my loading dock the containers lay like yawning dump scows snugged tight to a bulkhead in the steaming moat at Dis. They float on the edge of the stillborn asphalt sea which laps


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 21 ~

against the bulwark of the Restles, long spilt blood boiling anew. Big wheeled harvest carts guided by the Mexicans overflow in transit to their holds, a bumper crop of trash and wreckage. Gone from the receiving dock are the barbecues and beat furniture, free pile and castaways, hippies and bums. It’s all business now. The loading dock is awash with splintered lumber and chips and nails and all the skeletal remains ripped from the vanishing hippie habitat. By noon, even the sparrows abandon my windowsill like refugees from a clearcut, while parties of men and women sporting power ties recite one to another their host of business sutras, good evangelists at the felling of the sacred grove; now here, now there. In a fresh burst of taxable memory loss, city fathers rename the neighborhood yet again. Flaks and newspapers fire high-powered rounds of bulletins into the air. Sales personnel rejoice and arrange the cheese counter. It’s a regular Roman holiday. Probing just in advance of this battalion line of commercial firepower, squads of obreros drive deep into the hippie warehouse keep. Meanwhile, high aloft the brick edifice, fresh minted banners are fixed, hugging in condo triumph the parapet of the Restles. Doubtless the soul of Pegasus, auctioned on the block and rendered bornagain from the glue factory, holds them fast against the dangerous urban winds now whipping the hippies as they flee. And I and my dock of loading will soon be outward bound like a filled up twenty yard open riding high on the bulldog back of a howling Mack. It appears that my memory is but another well-worn box here at the demolition site, waiting to be carted off and dumped into another hole. Ah, memories and dumpsters. The former divine, the latter mortal; yet twins of destiny, vessels of fate. There’s plenty of room for everything and anything: until they’re packed tight. Then it’s off to the dump at the crack of dawn, courtesy of the Teamsters. In this neurological arbitrage both eyes read 20/20, when memory is trajectory over time and the dumpster its distance of travel. Armed with this equation, even a hippie with the Free Mexican Air Force loading both of his can well understand the paper airplane flight path of this new market method. And as I’m learning from the manager, special effects from this calculation serve a most useful and beneficent function deep within the piling clouds of cutting edge corporate accounting. “This approach to the job at hand helps fuel growth in the emerging recycling industry,” he explained. “I’m a team player.” I used to be trainable, so this space age algorithm isn’t much use to me now. And what will happen to me when his shredder cuts too close to the bone? Out in the wild, will I be free as a bird or just more windblown shreds sliced by the claws on the tiger of paper that prowls the hallways now? I’m not sure at the moment if I’m loading or unloading. Perhaps I’ve seen too many dumpsters and my tired mind confuses its form for its substance. Like the hippies say, you’re either on the horse or you fell off. Whatever, sooner or later it gets hitched to the last turning wheels and the final load heads down the long dusty cartage road that narrows on a switchback track to the high deep north. On the way there will be no time


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 22 ~

to count the autumn wildflowers falling by the wayside. Then it’s two with nature; love it or leave it- one hand for the fill and the other for the hole. Who says hippies and dumpsters aren’t travelers in eternity, too? As the long day wanes, it is time to fly. I launch a quick strike with the Free Mexicans. As the smoke clears I land and watch from my perch the night scene unfold on the loading dock. My sunset eyes spy the gathering crew of dumpster divers who flock like shouting gulls at a midnight fishhouse, searching for a jewel in the spoils. I know how they feel. As the moonlight spills through my window, I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping. There is nothing left to do. The razing of the Restles is begun. Under new management I must soon sweep myself out the door. Sweep, sweep, sweep. But what the hell, it’s a job. Over there, beyond the latest cloud, a near demolished mansion of recollection beckons. I must remove the undocumented debris myself, with no help from the Mexicans. But I too am now an immigrant as I approach this garden of dreams, and can’t ignore the root of all the branches springing into this wilderness book of leaves, as the wind whips the pages and I hear a voice… Ariel and Arachne discovered one another quite alphabetically at Christine de Pizan Academy for Girls, located in Queens, Big Apollonian. I remember well their descriptions of this coincidence of ciphers, as I quickly learned that it required the closest of attentions from both sides of my brain when I was hearing their voices. So I have more than an inkling that every memory isn’t a mere palimpsest, or crumpled carbon copy, or a storage battery of leaking volt potentials… some burst in return to life like a sparkling rainbow over the horizon, as substantial as an illuminated manuscript filled with Blakean tendrils and tombstones and flights of birds through the firmament with a prophet or goddess or two or three thrown in for good measure, not to mention the text, half clothed itself, and apparently intoxicated… According to their tale, from that singular freshman moment the nuns had them fall in line for a gym suit name tag, first name last initial, they were as inseparable as branch and vine. They spoke of their mutual scholastic natures as streams that joined in a baptismal font of friendship, or the moon pulling a tide, elements in concert with a force hidden like jewels beneath their uniforms of matching kilts and socks. With the special physics of this counter spell propelling them, they knew, they said, that they were sisters like a bow is sister to the arrow, each knowing how to stretch and when to spring…but it was a long shot now, from the Academy to the Republic. “We tied on every test,” said Ariel. “Like splitting one arrow with another in the bullseye.” Arachne was making a consolation visit to our camp at the Republic. Things were not going well on the ground, and she was scuffling her footprints around the latest fire. That morning, between bouts of angst, anxiety and annoyance, her eyes colder than a pair of frosty beer mugs, Ariel had announced to me that henceforth, she was frigid, and was retired from the honeymoon. I wasn’t surprised by then. She hadn’t as much as kissed me for a month, or even once looked towards me when she


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 23 ~

spoke aloud her bedroom verdict. She’d stopped reading my notebooks, and taken up Jung. Posters of unicorns and medieval emblems began to fill the walls in our room, she acquired a Siamese cat and… Did I know then that marriage may be temporary, but love eternal? How could I? I was just another hippie, and it didn’t take long for me to discover that in the Republic’s cooling climate, a more mobile heat could get me through times of falling temperatures better than none at all was getting me through Ariel’s cold feet. And she wasn’t talking about this stretch of weather with me. I was on my own when it came to the latest forecast. It was clear that she saved that sort of conversation for Arachne. Chilled to the bone in this arctic air, why not let my eye, or other handy body part rove, while I hit the bottle and stayed warm? Sex gets you through times of no love better than no sex gets you through times of love. As I said, I was just another hippie. Floating in this world, with one hand busy hanging onto a cork, my other was set loose to warm up the mercury on the nearest available thermostat. Ah, corks are an easy toss in such a tempest, when the message is lost in the bottle. Like the seductive lull in the winds just before a howler, in the grip of this air, it was not so easy for a hippie to recognize the emergence and quiet advance of the numerous and tantalizing symptoms by which clinicians and others now define my long time cerebral ailment, Symbolic Literary Disorder. And when you look it up in the latest manual of diagnostics you’ll find another of the ironies that pepper these holes in my memoir like a double ought buckshot spread on a twenty-foot paper target. Ariel was principal author in the breakthrough publication defining this mental state, its etiology and its curious pathologies… but I leap ahead of my broom, and that will not do. After all, some memories are eight miles high, clouds through which a happy sweeper flies; and others are rockets off-course that crash with a boom, and break like old glass. “From IQ to Personality,” added Arachne. “And of course, a dead heat on the Merits, the Regents and College Boards.” Arachne used a lot of capital letters back then, and often used her hands when she spoke, as if to arrange her words like heirloom silverware on a state banquet table. Now her hands are busy helping Ariel wind turns of yarn around a cross made of windfall sticks, constructing a peace eye distaff to decorate the last remaining patches of wall that aren’t plastered with posters and leaflets and collages or filled by hand scrawled graffiti. The décor of the commons in the Republic most resembles a disheveled thrift shop after an unruly holiday crowd on datura has had its way, tossing the floor. Furniture, flotsam, junk, debris, books, bongos, bongs, congas, gongs, songs and thongs, stringed instruments and the occasional motorcycle parts all come and go, sticks in the same nest. Perhaps some additional craftwork might lend balance to the perch. Ariel is wearing one of my flannel work shirts and some surplus fatigue pants with legs that sport billowing cargo pockets. Skeins of yarn fill their pouches, the twisted strands climbing like spring shoots into her


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 24 ~

hands as she passes the threads to Arachne’s. Arachne is barefoot and clad in dancing tights and her standard black turtleneck, the collar of which she has stretched into a mask covering her nose and mouth like a bandit bandana. A pair of obedient children, her slippers rest side-by-side on the floor by the wicker chair. I’m stretched out on the fold-out couch, no doubt in the bag. As they spin out their peace seeking eye, my wheels are fully engaged in my daily public relations work on behalf of the international hops industry and vigilant preparations to insert my radical bit of agrarian reform into their current party line. On behalf of the Republic, I’d recently conducted a successful trade mission to Acapulco. No better time to wrap up some of the latest deal. Soon the active ingredients of my diplomacy are joining forces in a celebration of success. Her mask in place, Arachne’s eyes probe mine through the thickets of stray jet hairs cascading over her forehead. They glisten with the morning dewdrops of her sweat. She has just finished dancing, a fantastique powered by riffs courtesy of Rimsky-Korsakov. So there we are; bow, arrow, and handy target. Ariel, all rose hips and lilacs, discovered. Arachne, all lady-slipper, and waiting to be. A moon and a tide and me in my little bark floating in the haze like a half-filled barrel of beer...here in the dusty earthbound windrows of memory where but rare few flowers of time ever blossom… “We were Valedictorian and Salutarian,” says Ariel. Her eyes are averted from mine, as if she’s addressing the wall. Arachne’s have returned to the strings and the cross at hand. “And don’t ask.” She wouldn’t look at me while she talked, either. “We’ve decided not to tell you,” she said, her hands now bent with Ariel’s to their mutual task. Arachne held a full scholarship in philosophy at the University of Winds, and like ambitions. After graduation she aimed to blow back to the Big and land on a hot desk at Wilhelm Yachtley’s National Preview. Ariel caught her ride in Slavic Language and History at Wildwestern University, the biggest doubloon in my home town’s warchest, and was surely thinking twice about having hitched her gownie to my townie. After all, I confided to her the truth that night on Jitterbug Terrace, even if truth is poor refuge. After savaging European letters, I planned to write America’s first Russian novel, and then march onward to the east, to try my hand in China and Japan. Then, yammering on, confounded in my own geography of words, I told her how I dreamed in text and read in my sleep nocturnal pages stirred by no breeze traveling over this earth. I wasn’t lying. That’s the best part about still being a hippie. I have nothing to gain and nothing to lose by telling the truth. Isn’t that what fiction is? Ah, days and nights were easier once, and more than spent blossoms falling from a fading garland to scent the choking dust. Then, the early morning clouds beckoned like a fresh horizon of empty pages waiting to be filled. All I had to do was hitch a ride on the highway of words. Maybe it was just the night and the stars and the wine as we walked the city streets back to her dormitory, but our eyes and


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 25 ~

hands and shoulders connected and she spoke in reply with an old electric charge that always made me dance…and she said to me through my flesh tingling in the late October air that she would read and edit every word. With a kiss she pledged to be interpreter, translator, amanuensis, and reader to my soul. Oh, how we talked. Perhaps I only now sweep my pen through this fallen detritus of words in order to… but enough. I’m only the sweeper, stirring up memories. As they spun and I floated, I learned that they often wrote one another’s class papers, with none the wiser. In a final scholar’s lark, their masquerade was perfected. Like daring twins trading kisses with a foolish suitor, in serial they intercalated paragraphs in one another’s entries for the most prestigious of contest compositions at de Pizan, the Senior Essay on Joan of Arc. “It really wasn’t that much of a gamble,” said Ariel. “It was just another chance to make two hits with one shot,” explains Arachne. “And even if you were to read them,” Ariel reminds me, “we won’t tell you which lines are which…” Ah, some memories are two mirrors, face to face. Manjusri is at the door. Today he is doing more than rattling the basket or tapping ceaselessly until I respond. As I rise in awakening, I hear his key enter the cylinder in the lock. The bolt slides open. This will not do. He steps through the door like a half recalled dream. Clutched in his hand is the latest poem I’d posted last night on the entry hall wall. I restrain my double irritation, until he says “You poets think you’re some sort of theologians, you know this, don’t you?” Wha? I must have touched a nerve, if he has any left. The pressure must be getting to him. He has been on a manic shredding spree. He begins waving my handscrawled yellow foolscap strip like a flag. “But look at you.” His hands and new standard wave in a mocking survey of my squat. It is a bit messy, but I still don’t like the tone in his voice. “No Bible, no Koran, no Torah, no Ching, no scripture, Vedas, sutras, statues, icons, stars, crosses, moons, emblems or, in fact, the faintest semblance of hermeneutic order.” Now that the condos are afoot, everyone is a literary critic. “What are you talking about?” I demand. “What are you doing in here? This is not right. Put down my poem.” He walks up to my plywood desktop and slaps the yellow paper onto the growing pile of my manuscript. “This stack of paper here…” “That stack, as you call it; are my memoirs, dude. Hands off.” “Yeah, right. Just another pile waiting for the shredder, Zeke,” he snaps in reply. Now what’s happened to him? Perhaps his shredding has become an obsession, an end to itself, and he is unhinged at last, a shadow puppet like a broken hippie stage prop cast by the Mexicans into the dumpsters of deconstruction now dogging our very steps at the Restles. After all, as I sweep, he’s shredding himself right out the same door. “As for theology, it’s not all paperwork, boss,” I retort. He never likes it when I call him boss. Let him stew. Besides, his list of grievances


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 26 ~

has failed to name my religious paraphernalia, now urgently calling to me. Hippies have a spiritual life, too. “Forgive my intrusion, but neither is your job. Get sweeping. The new wheels will be here any moment. The lobby looks like a demolition site.” “It is a demolition site,” I protest. I began putting on my Chinese sneakers. Like any good hippie, I still sleep in my clothes. Especially at the Restles. Anything can happen, any hour. Look at this. It’s barely noon. I never dreamed that the manager would barge in on me like this. I must act at once. I know that if I get up and start moving, Manjusri will mistake it for obedience, and disappear back into his hole. It’s our little dance. “Wait until you see what they did to the elevator,” he moans. As his lamentations trailed to a murmur, there arose from the hallway a loud commotion of voices… “They’re here,” he cries, and disappears through the door like another half of another dream. Good. Time for a private act of faith. The commotion can wait. Or so I thought, beginning my ritual. Once upon a midday bleery, as I pondered, lit but cheery Busy wrapping up (oh) many a quaint and curious mixture Of forgotten score, suddenly there came a tapping Soon become a constant rapping, as of Senors busy smashing Crashing at my chamber door; only this, then voice bravure: “I’m Jim Raven, image graven on the condo bottom line I bust the walls, trash all the halls, unhinge each and every door; If you think that I’m not grinding everything that I’m finding At your entrance here’s reminding that your time here’s near Unwinding,” Quoth the Raven: “More in store!”

Memory is of course an accretion, which over time becomes a sort of mountainous heap filling high the mind’s eye. From its heights gush forth the crystalline fountains of refreshing recollection, but also all the raw untreated waste sluicing from the lost holes and abandoned mineshafts of more earthly experience. One must gaze with caution upon the reflections one finds here or one finds there, bending over such streams to catch a closer glimpse or dare a drink. Make no mistake, I’m no overpaid platonic on hire to clean up the latest edition of the agora with a republic of iron. All I’ve got is a broom and a house of dust. It is way too late for that sort of old home remedy now. Besides, being a hippie busied scavenging the slope of his own mnemonic midden gets you through times of Symbolic Literary Disorder better than Symbolic Literary Disorder gets you through times as an overfed pigeon cooped in a cage, singing on command. Better my own perforated and trashed memory to cut or fill and no other shovels in sight here at my residence on earth. Did I mention that


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 27 ~

I still dream in text? Where words etch the sands of tidal slumbers or fill page after page as I scan the night sky in endless time? They may be as countless as the stars, but I know too that they can multiply, just like any Adam and Eve. Why not let words guide my feet, and words my hands to build the walls and floor and roof and door and window of my little mountain shrine? Words shall be my drunken Han-Shan and laughing Shih-te kicking it up beside the cookstove, and memory their messenger. Words shall be my fuel and fire, rice and bowl, and words my dipper reaching to the moon. Words… I am alerted again by more songs of demolition ringing in the hallway and notice that Manjusri has left the door unlocked. As I snap home the bolt, an envelope slides between the door and threshold like a daily-double ticket spit from the surly mouth of a mob-owned parimutuel machine. It comes to rest like a shadow beneath my left Chinese sneaker. Notice of Condominium Conversion. Which in the lower case means hippie eviction. Ah, the race is on. Now I remember. Words can do that, too. It occurred, my Horse Opera, and appeared to me whole in one single mindflash that filled all my empty zeroes as I was launched from the back doorstep into the alley, guitar in hand. Airborne I was, yet the play and the players came to me as a gift complete in the moment between launch and landing. When I was truly free from the grasp of gravity and not myself in control of anything. In this way eviction is liberation. In that sense I am a free man, and free too are the words and music, dance and scenery, color and plot, action and setting…So understand, this is nothing but a yarn, a tough thread from the bolt of cloth that is the winding sheet of this waterhole in the Bronx. Perhaps my life on the island was only a vision or hallucination tied to it by the most tenuous of strands, and only now, swept ashore to the mainland by the tempest, am I able to untangle them…but my memory is now set free, like my feet and my hands, to face reality like a tourist. So there I was, squatting down to the Desolation Trust Company lot. For once, an overflow of corruption in the Spoon spilled out a favor to the poor, and under its cover provided a landing for my pauper’s houseboat. There I could play at being the nouveau Thoreau and wear out my brain on old-timey texts at no charge, spend time hanging in the park with the kids, and stroll the streets a Juvenal delinquent, no coins from Caesar in my pocket to ring a jingle to a cutpurse or landlord, as if there was any difference between the two, in the Spoon. Of course that’s how I finally came to be singing for my supper at the 8-Ball Bar and Grill. Alas, then lift-off; but, my big idea. My Horse Opera. So here I scrawl, writing on the clouds, from sea level to mountaintop, a reborn paper tiger, tooth indentured to a page and claw reduced to print. So word up. Although she has been cruel to me, I remain so foolish as to believe that poetry is my everlasting love, my loyal mistress; and our lips filling one another’s an assignation as private in its mystery as these memoirs are public. But now I only march upon her command, a trusty slave to her passion. So what if


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 28 ~

I’m just her mouthpiece, a mechanical monkey wrenching together words from her list of available parts? I wasn’t always this way. I was independent. Who needed a handbook? I always hung my little paper poems on trees and fence posts and utility poles, on any street or any corner, to let the eyes of strangers see how we consort, or the trash strewn winds of the city cast them where they might. Why should Spoon Island have been any different for me? Spoon Island is a place where the people are packed together like books jamming a sagging shelf and these poems are the place markers I’m sticking right between their pages, in case you wish to take a note. It’s some library all right, a chanting chorus of signatures bound and stitched alike, front to back, cover to cover. Go ahead, flip them open one by one, and see if something doesn’t fall out... Memory is a book of sorts with its own cover art. So in this neck of the woods it is legend: there are two prices and fashions of payment from which to choose, two sets of books to enter; two cultures: one over the counter and the other under it. Ah, in flight I was set free from this sturdy and tenacious rule. This new work is the sole product of imagination (although Spoon Island is not), and its only method, invention (although I a mere mechanic). It features these unique and affordable facts with but one easy price to pay. Hence, one size fits all. Offer void where prohibited. Zero on this end, boss. Check it out. I hit the ground pretty hard, but managed to keep my ax from breaking. I struck a chord while supine in the dirt and caught a breath, just to be sure. Yet I knew in that instant that the Horse would never ride again without me. Or the Opera slip away like a faulty knot bent in a new lie around some crooked hook. “Mr. Index?” Now I gulped for air. The unmistakable voice of Oversize. A youth from the torn shirt school. Boom box in hand, notebook in his pocket. Athletic clothes like Roman drapery. Headful of dreams, gold and fleece, though he didn’t know it. Nosering. Baseball cap askew. “You all right?” he asked. Just when I required to be alone with my thoughts, I thought. This rock is so small even the alleys are busy. The back door to the bar slammed shut, sounding out another career set-back. Oversize had detected my identity as the poetic litterbug in the Spoon. He too walked the streets, a giant native son in the Bronx. He collected my work, he once explained, to help in his studies towards a career in verse. But he did leave can goods for me down at the boat landing, along with his screeds of lyric criticism. He hung with me down at the park while playing the latest rap and punk on his machine, and slipped me some smoke when I was broke. Of late he intended to broaden his scope and inaugurate a ‘zine for the “unheard voices of modern society.” Which he insisted included me. My fingers brushed the strings in hand while the Horse Opera galloped through my head. And it was too late to play dead and savor this repose of inspiration and meditation. ”Yes,” I croaked. I rose rather slowly from the ground. The door from the bar again opened, and from its dirty portal flew my guitar case, waving papers and scores like ruffling feathers


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 29 ~

of startled grouse. The case crashed into a sentinel line of garbage cans and came to rest at my feet. “I want to be a poet like you,” said Oversize. Like a helpful auditor he busied himself in the gathering of the loose leaf sheets. I shook my head. My neck was a bit sore, but I was little worse for wear. Glancing into the guitar case I noticed that my tips were absent. Robbed again of my fish and chips by the critics. O nummi. Oversize has potential and I almost like him, despite his nuisance. He will overcome his sincerity soon enough. And being familiar with my work, he shrewdly guessed which door at the 8-Ball was my likely exit. Gingerly fingering my papers, he placed them back in the case, birds to the nest, after sneaking his eyes over some of my newest lines. “You are my role model,” he opined. “I’ve been keeping notes.” He patted the notebook in his jacket pocket. “I’m working on a bibliography, you know,” he continued, “with an eye towards a biography when you’re finally discovered.” “A what?” I choked. “When?” This is a new approach for him. Oversize needs to get a life, and I’ve other biographers. “Yessir, Mr. Index, I’ll be there for you when you get your proper due. I’m making this project my top priority.” I glanced at his wide peachfuzz face, his hulking frame outlined in the shadows behind the 8-Ball Bar and Grill. All enthusiasm, a school boy’s fresh blank slate bordered in polished rosewood. Anxious for the chalk in his paradise to scroll and squeak. High class aspirations, visions of oily portraits hung on freshly painted academy walls, photographs on dust jackets, favorable reviews, employment. Well, I’ve been detected, rejected, selected, defected, inspected, injected, deflected, dejected, prescripted, descripted, decrypted, depicted, evicted and more. I’ve had enough. And that’s how I’m in position to instruct poetry to a fresh class of aspirant back in an alley. All the rest is asses ears stuck on the busts of the gods this go round; it’s just a life, a cross between two things. This is the cover charge I pay for my lot. “Oversize, you gotta worry about yourself now. Forget about me. Go to school. Get a job. Get off this island.” “But I want to learn to be a poet,” he wailed. “What year is this?” I screamed. “And look where you are. If you want to be like me, pay attention.” My patience was worn to the bone. Perhaps I was hurt. Suddenly I wanted to get back to the boat. The floating world called to me. I needed to work. No time for aggravation now. I couldn’t help myself. “It’s all done with wires and waves and chips now kid; electronic tentacles attached to every speaker. Better get a 10,000 decibel horn to fill your microphone, if you want to be heard.” I coughed a few hacks and some grit deposed upon me during landing flew into the air, little clouds of dust drifting off the edge of my bluff. “Are you sure that you’re all right?” he implored. His voice sounded helpful, a trend always dangerous to real inspiration. “Maybe you hurt your head?” My head is pre-hurt, or I wouldn’t be here.


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 30 ~

“This is about poetry, not me,” I barked. “So hear this! Modern poetry is a pure nuclear waste. A toxin spewed direct from an insane post Cro-Magnon mutated language melt-down. Worse than Babel, because we know it! Of no use to anyone. Stay away from it. Harmful to the health. Emits dangerous wave-lengths. Irradiates the dust.” I was into it. “Call the EPA,” I whooped. “Duck and cover, that’s the real job of a poet in a real disaster. Away with you, I say. Find some honest work. Take up computer programming, hype your text.” I put the guitar back into the case. Oversize stood over me, scribbling notes into his book. His face was pursed in concentration. I felt better already. “Actual poetry,” I hawked and phlegmed, “is a pure explosive device. That’s why governments and barrooms and churches all hate it, its chemicals are stronger than bombs and booze and bombazine. A book explodes into life whenever it wants to.” I kicked a pile of empty beer cans and pointed to them as they clattered discordant in the dirt. “That’s the real music of our civilization, Oversize, complete with Egyptian dogs barking up a storm in the background. Pay attention, read the labels and weep.” As I walked away Oversize was scrolling madly on his pad. “I’ll see you later, Mr. Index,” he said. “Thanks for your help.” “No deposit, no return,” I said in farewell to the 8-Ball as I flipped it my more secular version of one-fingered Zen. “What was that, Mr. Index?” He’d seen me shake my fist, too. “Danger! Earth rotating,” I shot back to him. He was still busy scribbling. With luck he’ll run out of ink before it’s too late and he just can’t stop. Otherwise, it’s out the back door with the likes of me. True alley gore, hey. Without the price of a dinner and nary a book in palm to bind to a stone and toss into the drink, an empty-handed jeremiad in a town bereft of spirit. Oversize has high hopes and thinks that print will make magic. But there’s a hole in his theory, and I know something about that. Holes, that is. Me with a hole in my pocket and a hole in my leather shoe. Oh, there are rules about holes, to be sure. And some are too small, or too big, to see coming. The trick lies in getting out of the one you’re in without getting lost on the way to the next. Plus, there are holes inside of holes. Behold the holes. Like the hole in the sky filled by the hole of the traveling sun which transits the sky like the hole in my shoe steps the pocked pavement in a hole in the Bronx. When the wind hits the hole in my shoe I can feel the space between leather and skin like the hole in the sky feels its way between heaven and earth. That’s the Spoon, a hole in the Bronx that’s a hole in the water that’s filled with people and the holes they dig and the things they dig to put in them. A poet on Spoon Island? It’s a witness program all right, a framed up eternal picture which to properly view requires one eye for the page and the other to stray to the back of the head, to cover ass. A butterfly runs the rivers edge as a breath of wind pushes little waves against the rock-lined shore. The leaves of the foliage on the bank rustle in murmured reply to the determined wings of the traveler. Falling


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~ 31 ~

in the west, its fire penetrating the hazy clouds, the sun still heats the earth. A snow white crane floats by, rigging on a ship, hitching a ride on a drifting log, feathers sails set in the breeze. As the waning light dives toward dusk on the expanding wings of shadow, the river rolls on, City Water in a Big Ditch, courtesy of the Army. On the rippling surface schooling shiners explode like bursts of dying stars. In the blink of an eye they trace in reflection the diamond glint of a forgotten constellation. Time to walk the garbage curbstones back to the Restles. Manjusri insists that tonight we attack the growing pile of white goods now lining the service dock like a row of exhumed caskets from an abandoned hippie graveyard. Hovering upon the bulkhead like ghosts of the fleeing hippies, they are mostly of the refrigerator variety, if recognizable at all, now that they’re no longer buried in a hole inside the Restles. All day long the Mexicans have been lining them up against the wall like diseased prisoners about to be shot. Some are quite dead and require no bullet. Others seem to have a life of their own still in full bloom, and could require many rounds to finish off. And who knows what other secrets might betray if one dared to pry open the lid after the barrage? I intend to play no part in this day of the dead. As far as I’m concerned, to the victors go the spoils. Of course there was no chance that I might devise some clever ruse to avoid the vigilant Manjusri. It was time he and I had a little talk, anyway. As I expected, when I tried to sneak my way past the debris laden dock of loading he quickly spied me from his hiding place amongst the dread appliances. Leaping into sight like a junkyard cat, he signaled to me to join him. The service dock sits opposite the dock of loading, a stones throw across the horseshoe courtyard enclosed by the three-cornered Restles, the yard now just another pay for parking lot. And current staging area for Raven Constructors and their myriad trucks and dumpsters and compressors and orange cones floating, as the sun now sets, like eerie channel markers ready to burst into flames in the Acheron. Dumpsters on one side of the shimmering asphalt, and pure white trash on the other. To blow him off, I must cross over to the other side. “This is pure white trash,” I recited to him as we met. “I won’t have anything to do with it.” “Zeke, that’s what they say about you hippies. Get a grip.” His face is tense and his mouth a flat line, mirroring my current state of mind. “I’m high-functioning white trash, I’ll have you know,” I retort. “And furthermore…” I’m interrupted by the sound of a fifteen yard compacting garbage truck backing down the incline to our position by the goods. A smile crosses the lips of the manager as the sudden roar overcomes my words. With a squeal of metal, the truck stops short of the dock’s bumper and rolls to rest against it. In a clash of gears and hydraulic song the ass end of the vehicle yawns open like a ready hole in the back room of the sex club. Ah, the foul dust of the world and the garbage and trash, toxins and plastic; all the misstruck glyphs of our petrochemical spoils cast free into the market whirlwinds…how they dance and mime and mock us now, like fools hanging out on the corner of the block, just


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looking for trouble! But we’re respectable cashiers on the public square, and our accountants agree that we can afford to shove it all into a paid hole deep from sight and far from mind. Bury it like we bury dead prisoners and orphans and peasants, cast like a final spell into the great potters fields of landfill anonymity, as if some euphemistic engineering term might transform this physic of memory into the appropriate and decorous sentiment fitting this occasion of our pious and scientific charity, and nothing more. “Think of this like shredding, Zeke,” says Manjusri. “When the memory is gone, the slate is, so to speak, clean again. Then you can write yourself a new ticket, or any sort of memoir you’d like.” He motions in the falling darkness to the nearest hippie refrigerator, which appears to be propelling from its bulging doors a muddy looking rivulet of formerly organic recipe ingredients. Perhaps it’s some kind of new age composting device. “After all, everything comes from nature.” He grabs my hands. “Quick, help me, before this thing pops a hinge and we’re both goners.” My feet tread the strange vintage now oozing onto the deck. Too late for our talk now. “I’ll give you double time for rent credit,” he appeals. Ah, what the hell, it’s a job. We push the box into the hopper, where it gushs open with a last gasp and terminal belch. The truck operator appears like a Charon from the shadows as the manager slips to him his coin in a plain envelope. Clean slate indeed. Shortly the hopper is full and the machine whines in a hoarse hydraulic voice as it intones a ritual compaction into the shaking carcass of the well-wrought iron beast. Its mechanical jaw engorges in earthly communion with the offered host. As its bite shudders to a close, the inverted and slathering mouth spills and spits its wasted wine to the ground like a bulemic piehole commencing a fresh binge. Lips still dripping, it opens wide again, growling in hunger for another memory to swallow whole. Now I remember. “Hypocrisy,” professed Mommsen, “is the homage that vice pays to virtue.” Meaning, you’ll find the same amount of virtue on an empty slate as you will dinner on an empty plate. So it is here I must lift my pen from these soiled pages of manuscript and cast aside for the moment all pretence to the writing of a novel or any kind of story. Ah yes, I too once harbored the ideals of scholarship and art and science, long before I landed here on this dock of the load, seated at my grimy plywood desktop staring at a stack of half full memoirs piling up like unpaid bills, and a growling dog of hunger stalking the empty pit of my stomach. Still, I don’t have to get religion to find some consolation. In fact, it’s simply one more proof that being a hippie is a state of mind, like any elite profession. As both hippies and neurosurgeons remind us, having a brain gets you through times of no bread better than bread gets you through times of no brain. Ah, the feast of memory and history are possessed of their own modern and most special ingredients, and make a meal better than any fly-by-night parable. Forget about the simple beginning, middle and then an end stamped on those


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sorry tales like an expiration date on a package of ground beef tastefully displayed on a convenient retail shelf. In this version of the space program commissary, the register at the checkout is paid in a coin way more theological than that. As you exit to the launching pad, plant your eyes upon the wheel of the night sky, if you can find it. There, even a hippie knows that the swift fleeing past is no lame old personification back at the cheese counter, handing out the same over-toasted gossip on a cracker and itching for some kind of a fight to ease the supermarket blues. Above, the face of history is illuminated like a carnival banquet whose bonfire menu burns in awe night and day like a star defying comet, and whose torch of pure light plots a more certain course through the firmament than all the jet-propelled gizmos rocketing through the clouds of dust here below, farting their way into the heavens to beg her for a date. Like sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, time and space and machines are only one more good old-fashioned love triangle winging towards that perfect collision with reality. Go ahead, Captain, and climb into your spaceship. I can’t stop you. Buckle up and check it out during blast-off, if you will. When you’re chasing after love, it’s easy to give and easy to take. When your love is bound in a triangle, somebody’s star gets burned. Don’t look back, or you’ll see the scorched earth that the flames from your bogus leap of faith left behind. Behind? May I suggest instead that you leave and never return. Who needs a captain when all the world’s an island locked in a tempest, and all the people shipwrecked by your hand? If you ever do return, tilt back your head when your feet are on the ground, like all the other castaways, and open up your eyes if you dare. You too will soon find that all that your stray dogs of memory can muster up down here is a chase of her fastforward tail through the brand new hole she just cut you like a circle punched through a round-trip supersonic discount ticket, now expiring in flatulence. And bark and bark and bark, like stray dogs do best when they’re left sucking wind, lost in the cosmos. Back on earth, it was just another stray trade wind from Mexico that blew Aura through the portal of the Republic and into my drifting cloud. Some local band to which she was attached had a fresh contract with the Big Boys, and pesos aplenty. The report on the weather at the border exchanged, in no time her hungry breeze rustled in every corner of the house, like a whisper filling an ear, and then some. Soon enough she and Ariel were baking cookies, rearranging icons on the wall, worshipping the Siamese cat… in short, her lies were never quite as suspect to the innocent as a hippie truth is to the guilty. No, she knew how to get over, alright, with her fistful of mirrors stashed carefully behind a flying cloud of smoke. And yes, it comes as no surprise that everything I ever wanted to know about her now becomes a piece of commonplace fiction. Indeed, she was a drawing room of images; serving tea like a geisha, advice like a gypsy, and forgetfulness like the queen of the night. Behind whose carefully drawn shades she wrapped me in her special favors, just like a


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woman. Should I have known then, alas, that the Republic was but Temporary, and women eternal? Remember, out on the free-range fields of peace and love, I was just an entry-level hippie, more groom than equestrian, in this episode of the pony express. Some home on the range. A tenderfoot shivering in the cold air spilling to the floor of the happy valley from Ariel’s distant summit, and my steps upon it dogged by the ever-persisting symptoms of SLD… this was no way to harness up a troika and dash off a Russian novel. And the more frequent the visitations of my disorder, the more frequent the round-ups with the hard-riding nymphs and their jam-packed sacks of special-delivery love letters. In the field, my horses of instruction had gone wild, and no wildcats in sight. And what, still gripped in the cunning claws of time, is my last unshredded memory of the Republic before all that’s left are the bones slowly sinking beneath the waves on the sea of the rolling grasslands? As I lay upon the fold-out couch Ariel, Arachne and Aura were together taking tea in the front room, dealing and divining as they sorted through a Tarot deck. Their hands and voices were rising and falling with the luck of the mystery draw, like prairie schooner cowgirls deftly handling reins and whip as they rolled across the badlands. And from time to time each one showing me her face while stealing a shotgun glance my way, riding hard their stagecoach run with Ms. Fortune and all her spinning wheels and trails of spitting dust. With each cowgirl deadeye shot into mine a side-by-side double-barrel blast, an all-pointsbulletin straight from the tricked out Goddess herself into every loose cell still saddled up inside my bucking brain. But now, footsore on the empty trail, the lost hands and lost eyes are all the dust that I can shake from my tumbleweeds of memory, staring at this page like it was the last dying ember in the campfire back of the corral. I recall that I couldn’t hear a word they were saying. They might as well have been playing Old Maid, and I the dummy hand lain out on the table, the Fool left holding Pushkin’s Queen. But hippies can multi-task too. My deck of cards was playing Hearts and my hand busy shooting for the Moon. For ambience in their diablerie, I’d set the Fugs to grinding their way-out chants upon the Japanese record player, and flipped some pages, pretending to read Dead Souls. SLD can do that to a brain, even if you want it to. Years later, driving her high speed career across the gas powered flatlands, Ariel put her own pedal to the metal in our demolition derby of love. Coincidence being her driveshaft in a world that’s as round as any roulette wheel, in her breakout monograph she spun hers and tied me like The Hanged Man to her hood, first deer of the season on the way to be tagged. “Like an automatic clutch to a flywheel, in this course of engagement in the nascent illness, the symptomatic patient sublimely transfers the verbal cunning of Don Giovanni to the differential voices of Vladimir Mayakovsky.” It occurs to me now as I scribble uselessly away, that it may well be Ariel, after all, who is writing the real Russian novel.


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 35 ~

I’m just the stand-in, the last auditor of this case history, a sweeper chasing out the remnants of the clinging dust and all the ashes white as blank paper left behind on the campgrounds. No festive flames to fill the eye tonight or warm the frosty past. No song, no dance, no show… in this version of the hippie warehouse the door unhinges into pure cold storage, a vault holding memories still running in a bone-chilling sledge to exile on the far Siberian ice. Where the cover sheet blinds all eyes at first sight, a stone cold Pallas zapping Tiresias. Ariel could do that to me. Being a hippie isn’t always easy. She could melt my eyeless heart into her ice and let me chill like an organ waiting transplant. Or simply let me freeze inside her gulag of true love, on line for an examination. As they say, one hippie’s medicine is another hippie’s poison. Still, there were times of thaw possessed of a whimsical chemistry indeed, when the riddle of her desires called for me to mix up some kind of solution. But most of her prescription for my treatment was administered like a king-size dose of chlorpromazine served in a cap of solid CO2. Under which anaesthetic I soon found myself carved into a wooden head to complement her new-found skills at ventriloquism. As folk remedy to counter this physics of sublimation, I was busy drinking lots of cheap wine bearing labels printed with a copyright in lieu of vintage year. My favorite, the handy one gallon jug of White Army Sauterne (under two dollars), I enjoyed out on the back porch of our new tenement home on Jitterbug Terrace. It was copyright 1968, the Republic had fallen, and I was, alas, descending without sight, out or in, towards deeper and deeper states of Symbolic Literary Disorder. Ariel and I were on our own, in a fourth floor walk-up. She’d left school to work and pay the rent, and I was burning notebooks like a spy destroying ciphers. We couldn’t talk, but like jealous gods we never strayed far from one another’s sight, or ever got so close that we could see the details. Watched over by the silent faces of the same silent door, we slept apart. When I was competent to find one with hinges unbound, I had to swing them open somewhere else. In this installment of the mountain meadow concert, if I couldn’t sing and dance with the goddess, I could always chase into the fire the bouncing ball tossed by a more cordial companion. Still, it was no happy festival for my light-footed head. I couldn’t face the music in two directions all the time, much less sustain the four that my disease began demanding like a quadraphonic grand inquisitor his price for my claim, sharpening his pencil like a medieval stake, first plunging it through my stack of back pages and clean into the soil of my frontier; then setting it on broil. I was going way back, alright. Although my body was in tune with the tenor of the 60’s, on the admission line to the concert my mind was in the movement of a clock whose works sprung back for 50,000 years. As once noted, history wasn’t playing any faster, but the side effects sure were, their cosmic insatiable chords spreading far and wide, embracing the earth with a perverse and seductive gravitation. And history was no more a magic carpet ride, but the rug


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beneath our feet in the middle of a yank. No choice but to leap, even if things on the ground were getting really heavy. In short, the box office for peace and love was encountering technical difficulties. I tried flanking the mass-movement of a White hangover with a switch in fuel to Red Army Vin Rose, also in the handy and economical one gallon serving. No matter, the results of the siege were the same, berating the stunned brain like the recoils of a thousand barrel artillery blazing away on both sides of my contested front. In this parcel of my real estate development, the abandoned range of firing inside my brain might best be described as a claim jumper’s doppelganger, property whose title is less than perfected, impossible to map, meets and measures covered by mirages in the sand. But this pathetic artillery duel in the smoke rings of my desertified mind was zero-gravity compared to the new laws of physics invading the body politic. In 1968, every day popped out of the calendar like a bullet punching a hole through a name on a ballot. Free speech was not yet cheap speech, holding or selling its tongue for a nickel or a dime. No; and now, like any other hippie traveling light with thumb or perhaps another digit upturned, all I have for sale from my discounted portfolio is this tattered magazine of memoir, handfuls of words spilling like lees of midnight’s wine onto the random pages of my worm-eaten diary… and of course the most seminal glosses of Ariel, writing with her high-performance fuelinjection efficiency, who trumped the experience in her famous diagnostic titration of the multi-stage onset of SLD. Manjusri’s handy shredder is of no use to me here. In one ear and out the other can’t save me now. Besides, that part of my brain, like a hippie petroglyph, is now graved with bold roman letters into the cold headstone of the public domain, a milestone on her sports car highway. “…a condition characterized by the presentation in a single affect of a mental state equivalent to Malcolm Lowry on henbane compounded in equal part with the nuptial intoxication of Edgar Allan Poe.” Ah. Two bulls-eyes, one arrow. Symbolic Literary Disorder may come and go, but as I am again reminded, love is eternal. And every few days on Jitterbug Terrace we received in our mailbox a friendly homemade postcard from Aura in New England, her script sprinkled with colorful line drawn stars and lions and trees, her rainbow emblems urging us to head for the Green Mountains with the rest of the hippies, before it was too late. The idea flew with me, and for once, Ariel and her loyal pack of Tarot cards navigated in agreement. With no Republic to protect us, the City a vengeful twin of Saigon, Revolution in the air, and SLD filling my poetry bag like junk mail, the wind began to howl. Act 1, Scene 1 The curtain reels open to reveal a dimly lit set, which background is an outline of the Big Apollonian skyline; spires and towers and blinking


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lights of the city. A crescent moon is tacked above this horizon, swinging pendulum like, as if hurriedly fixed to place at the last moment. In the mid-ground are painted sets to depict the rear elevation of western-style frame buildings. Stage L is the saloon, with false-works rising above the flat rooflines, constructed to spell out the mirror image of the word: COOKERY. A door is marked by the sign: Help Only. Center stage reveals a smaller frame front, marked Bunkhouse. Between them is a row of overflowing garbage cans and a small dumpster on wheels. The dumpster is painted green, with a shining logo facing front. Bold black letters spell Great North American Waste, encircled by a golden serpent swallowing its tail. Stage R, near the edge, is set a tent, its entry flap hand painted in circus script to declaim: “Straw Beaux’s Egyptian Jug Band.” The house lights dim. The stage falls dark, except for small spots on the swinging moon and the Help Only sign. The low sound of hillbilly guitar picking is suddenly amplified as the door in the spotlight swings open. A voice joins in. I saw Elvis at the local post office He looked right up at me He was sitting right there on a first-day issue And he’s as dead as he can be The King is dead you see… Offstage: “Boo!” Then another muffled complaint and confused shouts and the sounds of chair legs scraping the floor amidst a blend of curses and oaths, mixed again with: We all know drugs from doctors killed our Hero Truck driving man who made it to the Top Now there’s a stamp commemorating Zero That’s the last score Elvis got to Pop… The picking stops amid more confused sounds, then pots and pans and kitchen utensils and dissonant guitar chords. Still, acapella: I saw Elvis at the local post office On a stamp of famous drug overdoses An encounter I consider the closest To his throne that anyone should be Just take a look and see! The singing stops. “Take this,” shouts an angry voice, offstage. More rattles of pots and pans and sounds of crashing plates as the lights on the stage slowly rise. A straw hat flies out the door, followed by a flying body clutching a guitar. The guitar and player sail from the door into the


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line of cans. The usual sound defects as the player sits upright on the refuse and its containers, and begins again to pick and croon. There were bookfuls of Elvis sketched so artfully As numerous as prescriptions he filled faithfully Now his death is celebrated with a postage fee For just a few cents you can see, for just a few cents you can see Elvis at the local post office He’s the stamp of famous drug overdosage A Hero of the Nation and King of our Sedation Insufficient Postage if y’all ask anyway I’ll take Big Mama Thornton any day! (twang) The door slams shut amidst raucous laughter and snorts and footstomping. “Aw shit,” says the player, guitar at arms. “Fuck all you pastrylickers anyway.” He kicks over a can and a lid rolls against the dumpster, sounding a gong. His voice gets louder and rhythmic while he strums a chord. “You toga-trailing sex fiends.” Slides from G to D, the people’s chords. “Satan-sucking chumps.” Some finger picking. “Death worshippers.” Then slips to a G/C rhythm with a further slide to D minor. “You’re all on drugs.” Back to the rhythm. “You all just rape the vine,” closing with a yodel on the last word, then a cough and a groan. The guitar falls silent. “No appreciation for art.” The door to the Cookery swings open. A barrage of empty beer cans crash into the minstrel. “The only place to spit in a rich mans house is his face,” he shouts. His guitar case follows, landing in the open dumpster. The door slams shut and the spotlight upon it is extinguished as the lights onto the stage increase. After pulling his guitar case from the dumpster, the player pulls a garbage bag from his pocket and begins to pick up the cans. While he’s working, ENTER band of youth, Stage R. They mill quietly at the edge of the scenery, shaking their heads at the sight of the trash picker. The picker fills the bag with cans, packs his guitar, picks up his straw hat and jams it in his head. Arethusa: It’s OK. It’s only Beaux. The others laugh. They move to Center stage where they sit around a flat rock. A boy, Ares, presents an oversize deck of cards and starts dealing them out. Beaux returns to the dumpster where he pulls out some discarded food and with his hands full, walks to his Tent. He too sits, lights a little campfire and begins eating. A home made rhythm section begins playing offstage: kazoo, washboard, washtub bass and jug. Arethusa: I hate cowboy camp!


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Ares: My parents threatened to sue me again if I didn’t show up. Kore: It’s worse for me. I’m on scholarship. The staff looks at me like a deduction from their paycheck. Perseus: Yeah, it sucks, but it’s better for me than staying home. A vacation in hell is better than that. Arethusa: I wrote a letter of complaint to the Board of Directors, but they probably can’t read. Ares: My father’s senile attorneys? They used to. But now they outsource it, so they have more time to suck down their punch at the hoedown. Kore: That creepy scholarship mentor keeps trying to put the moves on me. But it’s better than home, where I have to out-run my cousins everyday. Ares: But it’s OK now, out here. We’re away from them. (pointing to the Cookery.) They’ll have some sort of crazy blowout of their own tonight, for sure. Kore: I don’t want anything to do with them. They’ve only one thing on their minds. Arethusa: Yeah, it’s no joke. Those counselors just want to get into one another’s jeans. Kore: Or mine. Perseus; You ain’t alone, sister. Some preparation for future leadership, huh? All four laugh and pick up their cards. The jug band begins a square dance rhythm as a fiddle and other strings kick in. The oversize cards are revealed to be depictions of weapons, cell phones, money, beer, pills, crack vials, whiskey, wine, hypodermic needles, rocks of coke and meth, and other popular everyday consumer goods. As the music rises, the group comes to their feet to display the cards in dance. Arethusa: Hey, Beaux. (Beaux looks up from his plate). Call one out for us! C’mon, you know this stuff. It’s the last night at camp and we’re in the mood to party.


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Beaux gets up and steps over to their group. He doffs his hat and puts it to the side of his mouth like an old-time megaphone. The dance begins: music loud, lights revolve, colors proud: Beaux: O……. Swing your partner dough sees dough love is blind but gold we know Change your partners Go to court Settle all the Rest by tort Swing that hammer Stretch that bow Love is only What you know See…love’s a job But cash a gift Change your partner Don’t be miffed Throw some money Make a score If you’ve got it Throw some more When your neighbor And your wife Change their partners What a life Morpheus and Orpheus swing Spin that wheel Shake that thing….then Wheel that deal Right out the door Steal the keys Come back for more O…..


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Swing your partner Dough sees dough Love is blind But gold we know… As the dancers stop and the music and lights subside, Beaux puts his hat back on his head. Ares: Sounds like you know what kind of parties they throw at my father’s house. Kore: Never mind that. What party? That sounds like my family. Perseus: I’d rather be back in an alley than home with mine. Arethusa: I don’t have a home, but I’ll tell you this, cowboy camp is no fit one either. Ares: Hey, Beaux, I guess cowboy camp isn’t your home anymore now, is it? Heard you got canned. Now you and Arethusa have something in common, after all. Arethusa: Don’t be a jerk, Ares. The guy lives in a tent already. I’ve got tons of job offers. I’m simply in transit. Beaux: I don’t mind it out on the free-range. It’s OK for a real cowpoke. And I notice it’s a fit place to choose for your soiree--so let me put it this way. Welcome to my home. Treat it kindly. Kore: Get real, hayseed. This is an alley, and you were just dumpster diving. I saw you. Ares: What? Real?!? Cowboy camp is just mechanical bulls and electronic toys and bogus theme park attire, if you ask me. But, oh no...my father insists that it’s more than real. He owns this stupid franchise, and says he has even bigger plans on the drawing board. He swears that it’s the only way to preserve our Western Heritage. Kore: And make a buck. Ares: (laughs) He calls it his very own bucking bronco. Beaux: I’ve got another name for it. Arethusa: Don’t go there, Pops. Let’s keep this party peaceful.


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Beaux: I’m already there, girl, and knee-deep, to boot. But I have consolation all the same; the sun and moonlight too, and a sky full of stars that are mine, and true. Kore: I don’t see any stars. You must be having some kind of flashback blackout. You old hippie types are burnt toast. Sun and Moon and Stars, what a bunch of crap. No wonder you sleep on the streets! Beaux: Where better mount to dreams, and rein the clockwork schemes? Dark threads and warp of light? Both weave my cloak of night. I may not see them turn yet my skin draws the heat cast from their wheels that churn the sands beneath our feet...

Does memory not start in the planets’ first fires which seer into the heart divine sparks… and desires? My tongue but spills the jest, burnt stardust now earthbound. But not as you suggest; Not everything’s unwound. Perseus: And no wonder you’re washing dishes and bussing tables, Beaux. You are way-out. Kore: You sixties people can’t seem to get over yourselves. Ares: Seek help. Maybe they’ll take you in down at the shelter. Arethusa: (looks up at the moon) Perhaps there is something in what he has to say. Just look at the moon. How young we are, next to her. It is the first calendar… and didn’t our ancestors worship it? Kore: All you ever seem to think about, Arethusa, is numbers and symbols and math formulas. You spend all of your spare time playing with that computer of yours. You never go anywhere with us. So we finally get a chance to play a little, and crazy Beaux there starts in with some jive about stardust. He’s probably high on some other kind. Me, I just want to party, I’m so glad to be getting away from this place. Away! We may


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never see one another again. Tonight’s my last night in this dump. I’m outta here. So at least, let’s part friends. Perseus: You’re the only ones who made any sense to me. I wish we could stay together longer. But I’ll leave happier for having known you. So… party tonight. Part, tomorrow. Ares: Deal ‘em out. Yahoo! Arethusa: See you later, Mr. Straw. Thanks for the dance call. (She steps away from the group, to Beaux, an aside.) And listen, will you hold this for me until tomorrow? (She slips into his hand some computer memory sticks, and eases back to her friends. Beaux nods and puts them into his pocket without a glance.) And good luck, Pops—watch your twostep. (Lights dim, then dark, with little spot still hanging on the moon.) End Scene 1.

Down the hallway from my squat the Stinking Lizaveta Café, Teddy Microdot and the Prince of Siam, proprietors, wallows in its decline and impending demise. To date I’ve been lucky enough to have two locking doors set securely in place between my hole and their steady customer traffic of bird brains, chicken hawks and freaks. But now that Raven has sunk his well sharpened claws of demolition into every post and lintel, I’m down to one and it’s getting thinner by the day, like an egg on DDT. Attacking it like a sand blaster, the mourning sound of the cafe stereo screeches with the voice of a robot owl their favorite techno trance dance music. The throbbing electronic drum parts, licked by digital tongues, now tastefully orchestrated with the cock-fight ferocity of their drama-queen operetta, beats against my hatch like the head of a dispossessed chimera on amphetamines, its closing act apparently a rampage through their desolate kitchen. The bane of the ground floor utility closet, the increasing doomsday disorder broadcast from Lizaveta is now spreading through the air of the hallway like an avian virus ascending from their disordered coop. In this pastoral, it’s back to the earth, alright. Between the Raven and the roosters the auditory hazards suddenly invading the dock of the load might as well be a Ted Kaczynski CD stuck on a skip, planted at my threshold like a booby-trapped package. In defense against this multi-pronged invasion, when I lay over in the dock I’ve taken to propping a salvaged mattress against the interior face of my door, to serve as a primary filter, acoustic insulation, sanitary precaution, and a sort of low-rent blasting mat, in case of detonation. My broom rides the clouds of dust trailing the Mexican regulars on their daily march of Raven deconstruction. They troop down the hall past the entrance to Lizaveta, on their way to decant fresh streams of waste


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over the edge of the dock of demolition into a brace of clean, just landed dumpsters. In their wake, foot traffic in the Restles is swelling like a spring tide washing over a Gulf boardwalk. In a Raven gesture of international cooperation, the Mexicans have been joined in the conversion assault by platoons of native tradesfolk bearing boom boxes and bad attitudes. Immersed in clouds of seething dust on the dock of demolition, the dumpsters are steeping the debris from the Stinking Lizaveta’s back room like iron tea strainers immersed in the Phlegethon. Boil on big river. As I sweep past the double doors that lead to the service counter, I hear from behind it the whining wisps of Microdot’s voice leap over the threshold and fly into my ear like a fruit fly wasted on X. I hope this buzz isn’t about their so-called “supply room” that Raven today commanded his Mexican cavalrio to attack like the Alamo, armed with intelligence from Manjusri that revealed the current status in arrears of their rent invoice. As the dust from the assault clears in the hallway, the line of troops that pass by bear the supply room’s unnumbered door piled high with mouldering clothes, like a stretcher stacked with body parts on the way to a common hole. Carts of broken mirrors and glassware and smashed furniture quickly follow in train. “Zeke. Hey… Zeke,” it zithers. Besides coffee and animal husbandry, Teddy also dabbles in the liturgical supply business. That is, if he divined that your urge to get lit was as green as your money and your experience in his company. Ah, my straw is no coin in their realm. I’m just a pilot of rivers in a rowboat, drifting back to my little bark and outward bound. As I float by, the bank on their stretch of the river is covered in burning sparks like an exploded ark from hell crash landed on their shore of flaming sand. “No kidding, check it out,” he invited… I glance his way and notice that the only customer to be seen is the Professor, seated at the table on the raised alcove in the window, playing chess with Crazy Jah. The Professor knew better than to take a chair down on that Titanic’s deck, and Crazy is not someone considered as a customer. He sleeps in the basement behind the boilers, a kind of destroyed Spinoza banished to a pallet in the pit beneath the hippie warehouse. Some forest fire had rampaged through much of his wilderness, leaving cinders where new growth could not thrive; a deft touch on the chessboard was much of what remained standing. Old friends would try and try again to help him out, but he always crawled back in his hole, or disappeared for months, or ran naked through the streets until they took him in for a rest and turned him into a chemistry set. Today they begin work in the basement, and the Raven’s wings will sweep him back into the street. The Prince had started a nasty rumor, claiming that the 4½ foot long pubic hair found in a side room in SEXXXYYZ, another premiere tenant, was none other than Crazy’s, who it must be said, has only coincidentally copious hair growing out of every visible pore of his skin. The Stinking boys use Crazy on behalf of other commercial interests. It was Microdot himself that told me that the sex club lounge and grill has


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the trophy hair stretched out on a luminous plaque above their side-bar, displayed like a promotional sample in a dental product advertisement. It should not surprise then, that for any hippie, the penalty for talking with Teddy Microdot is itself the penalty. Yesterday, when I’d at long last cornered him with my broom in the hall a few steps from the offending closet itself, I had no choice but to confront him about the growing problems inside it. Addressing the issue with members of his staff had proven fruitless. “We’ve got to talk,” I said. All at once, the Prince seemed to leap from the closet to our sides, hissing like a snake. “If you ever come in our store, I’ll throw you out,” he said calmly. “And stop harassing our help.” Then the pitch in his voice rose to a fullthrottle scream. “You are banned!” he shrieked, and launched into a prolonged exhalation through his zircon-studded teeth, his trademark curse. Which merely sounds to a frog on a lily-pad like the last stream of air escaping the lungs of a drowning rat. As he fulminated, I noticed the greasy prints from his shoes tracking back in the dust to a newly created and no doubt noxious disaster creeping in freshly minted mystery across the threshold of the utility closet, and… I should have let Manjusri handle this, but there’s only so much a sweeper can take. “Say another word,” I exploded, grabbing my broom with both hands, “and I’ll stuff your sorry ass into that hole until one or the other comes out alive.” So much for peace and love in this version of the holes in Lizaveta. In this proffer of surgery to separate conjoined twins, I wasn’t kidding. He was down to the last straw with me, and it was shorter than my fuse. I pointed to the strange brew beginning to percolate around the closet. I knew what to say next. “What’s that Siam, today’s special?” I must pause here to point out that it wasn’t me that hung such an onerificous handle on his head. He’d earned this graft upon his skin by his own merits, from his own kith and kin, after dragging his corrupted hooks along the riverbanks of Dioscuri as well as every nearby Asian tributary he could troll. Down this baptismal drain every branch down to the smallest creek emphatically denies any link or line to him flowing through blood or money or marriage or anything, period. Erased from his own topography of Southeast Asia, the Prince of Siam is, as hippies say, history. “He’d probably like it if you did that,” said Teddy. Microdot and the Prince were engaged in constructing endless triangles, of the kind with boundaries impossible for a hippie to describe in geometric lines or prosody of classic courtship. And the daisy-chain DNA of their barnyard science and romantic alchemy was more corrosive than that. Now their powder was exploding again, and I wished no part in their barrage. The Blob from the closet was closing in around our feet. From around the corner I heard the call of the Raven. A crowd of Mexicans had broken ranks to stop and gawk at the show from down the hall. I’d had enough. Using my broom to vault this sudden menace to my Chinese sneakers, I


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whisked away. Let Manjusri take care of this. He knows best how to cut to this chase. After all, he loves creating invoices, too. “Some invoices,” he once explained, “have many lives before perfection, and never feel the blade.” I motioned to Teddy with my broom to join me on the Free Mexican side of the border. I know my place in this warehouse of cards. And I have a career to keep up, although diplomacy when dealing with tenant issues is encouraged by Manjusri. “Some of them are crazy, Zeke,” he’d counseled. “That’s why the Sheriff posts the eviction notices. So what if they steal a broom? Just make sure that they don’t steal any fire extinguishers on the way out.” “Here, take this,” whined Teddy. “I told him not to dump that, but he’s not listening to anything I say.” He handed me a sack. As I’ve said over and over like a broken record, I’m a hippie. Free is better than cheap, and always better than high dollar. With luck, Crazy Jah will have just returned from a mission to Panama. “He’s taken up with the new boy, Vlad, the one from the Caligula Hotel across from the Arab’s hockshop, you know what I mean?” Indeed I did. The Hotel across from Majuzzi’s catered to Level 3 sex offenders released into the street from the blindfold of lock and key. Around the hippie warehouse it was better known as the off-campus fellowship hall for a sort of alternate world jury of peers, a dozen dangerous men whose crimes weren’t listed on the menu at Alice’s Restaurant. Vlad dressed like a Moscow pimp and drove a new truck. “This is the guy that cornered the market in condoms and cock pills and enema kits inside the sex joint. Listen; I called his mother, I just had to, and she warned me to have nothing to do with him. Now he’s working here.” As I said, any encounter with Teddy is a trial always followed by a penalty phase. Over his shoulder I noticed that Vlad and his toys were filing in line through the back door like the crew from the burning ark, coming to court on the beach in Lizaveta. Like fiery shrapnel their feet kicked up the burning sands, flames from a devil’s mouth. “I have to listen while they argue over some new slippery piece of shit just landed in their laps, or talk about the fun and games they have playing siamese valve connections… the Prince won’t even let me watch. My fire is out. Vlad is taking over. It’s a Chinese fire drill.” I was saved by the bell. Suddenly, Raven and his family entourage swept into the hallway from the dock of the dumpsters. Spying this darkling flock, Microdot vanished like a spent seed into the newly altered hole of Lizaveta. Yesterday noon, he’d made the mistake of ruffling Raven’s feathers, and was earning from the sharp point of his bill swift pecks as return. By sunset his entrance in the corridor wound up looking like a wrecked hay ride and smelled like a dead horse left in the ditch for a week. Lips and teeth were gone from the welcome mouth of Stinking Lizaveta. Today, his hole in the wall back room operation is vanquished and its spoils vanishing in the steam rising right beneath his nose. Amidst this borderline confusion of senors, locals, investors and bosses, I slipped


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the free trade into my pocket, a prize of battle. Using the column of Mexicans as human shields, I ducked back to the dock of the load and the sanctuary of the mattress, out of range of the wall of flames now breaking out inside Stinking Lizaveta, and the flight of Raven’s far seeing eyes. Ariel and I flew from the howl on a one-way jet from the Windy City, bound for the Green Mountains and Airfield, Vermont, home of Tsiolkovsky College, known on the street as a sort of Drop City with high tuition and lousy food. Ariel’s new sleights of hand with her cards had won a full-boat scholarship to it as a Double Major; standing one watch with her Independent Study in Boundary Mathematics, and sailing through the other as a new mate in their renowned Department of Medea. We arrived on the wind like sailors, landing with four sea bags and a crate in which traveled the Siamese cat. Our new port of call was a rambling second floor apartment in an old sawmill down on the edge of Pea Stone Creek, just off of Low Street, downtown Airfield, about a gunshot and a half down the hill from the college, or two on the way back up, depending on your skill. In a back room I set on the deck a chair and folding table for a desk on which I stacked my notebooks and other papers. Perched on my foothill, I could read or write or gaze through the window at the Pea Stone slipping like a dream past the frozen timber frame of the millworks long gone wheel. There, soothed by the voice of the stream, the rumbling of my SLD was stilled like the broken and rusted gears of the mill. The elderly couple downstairs had lost their farm up on the highway when the old man had gone sick. He’d been a shovel in canal digs down in Mexico for ten years to earn the money to buy it, but now at the end of a lifetime of work, it was in the hands of a professor from the College. I walked up the hill once, past his farm, to see Tsiolkovsky in the flesh. Even then, there were more cars on campus than people. It was the home of the famous MFA program in Science Fiction, too, before its anchor was dragged south down the mountain chain to Western Carolina Arbitration and Elegance, their new age A & E parking lot right down the foothill highway from the still laughing ghosts of Black Mountain. When Ariel and her fellows were on vacation, the campus was transformed into a “residential seminar” for a two-week stampeed of hopeful mail order horses whose checks had cleared, and whose tongues no longer tasted an adhesive while they kissed ass via pony express. They had ten days to strut unglued, before their envelope of correspondence was sealed and posted back to home. Ariel plummeted into studies like the lead on a sounding line. The old man downstairs hooked me up with a job working for his step nephews-in-law on the Hooligan Bros. garbage truck, one of those subtle one-half on the books and the other off affairs, kind of like sleeping with Midas’ wife, or your foster sister who might or might not be your cousin. It sounded good to me. After all, I reasoned, there may be no better way for a hippie to see the world while rounding out his education than to ride the currents of trash like a harpoon slinger on a Nantucket sleigh ride. I


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would launch my career right here on the modest banks of the Pea Stone Creek, and go with the flow right down to the sea. Why not let the great ocean of garbage and waste be my Harvard and my Yale, and the Hooligan Bros. Refuse Co. my Ivy League work-study? This is country living, alright, a brand new vista. Unencumbered by riots on campus and with a fresh hole punched into my ticket to ride, I was ready to yoke the white horses to my hippie car and get up to speed on my new chariot of the gods, the Hooligan Bros. garbage truck. Arachne’s shoreline had changed as well. After meeting Peter, her tide swept out Joan of Arc and rolled back in Trieu Au. Now she and Peter were hitched and pitched inside the belly of another beast. Her letters to Ariel landed in the mailbox like shadows spilled from a blood red moon… the U of W was on strike and there was fighting in the streets. It was copyright 1969, and she and Peter were dancing round the fire on the barricades of Windy City. In the sky over the Green Mountains, Ariel was playing her cards in a Russian space suit. I was back to the earth, riding in the wind, feet perched on a running board, one set of white knuckled digits for the door and the other for the mirror, shaking to the bone on a corduroy country road and getting paid by the Bros. Hooligan down at the Airfield town dump. As a town is first a collection of the people inside it, a town dump is a lot like someone hiding out inside of it. There’s often a great distance between the words spilling from a hole of a village mouth, and what really pours out of the other ones, and where it goes. (A dump, then, is first a hole inside of another hole, with the former busy pretending that the latter’s not home, and willing to pay for the fiction.) On the other hand, it’s a great place to account for some facts about your neighbors, without ever having to meet either one of theirs, or pay any attention to the stink in all the rumors. Harold Hooligan was the First Selectman and his fraternal twin Franklin was Town Clerk. They took turns driving the truck and tending to town business. Of the two, I preferred Franklin as the driver but Harold as the boss. Franklin never said anything within earshot of anyone except Harold or when he read the minutes and other paperwork at Town Meeting. He never rolled down the passenger window, so it made a long day when he was at the wheel, but he was a smooth operator. With Harold driving and yakking away on his CB squawk-box or taking a shot from the bottle he had under the seat, it always threatened to be a short one, left behind in someone’s dooryard like a scarecrow hung on a mailbox. “I like to cut things close, you know. Time is money” he told me softly, as I hollered and stuck my head and shoulders and arms through the rolled down passenger window to avoid the lash of an alder sprung down by his fender and wheel, its return blow folding the California mirror flat against the truck, and its recoil whistling behind my butt. “But I see what you mean. Would you straighten out that mirror? I’ll slow down, a little. How’s that fender?”


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Ballfield, Vermont v. Airfield, Vermont was ongoing litigation only moments older, some say and some deny, than Airfield, Vermont v. Ballfield, Vermont. Its case histories reach as far back as the dawn of the Republic ushered in by the Green Mountain Boys themselves. And even if this horserace was a dead heat photo finish, Harold claims that the dispute is the reason the state had to build a law school in the first place. Over time, and then complicated by the Republic’s entrance into the grand Union, the arguments in question themselves so shifted shape and boundaries and color of language in such subtle and wondrous ways that only teams of lawyers and a convention of oracles could untangle its clumps of tangled threads, much less stitch them into settlement that you could wear to church on Sunday. Like a pair of twisted snakes laid hold of a wooden staff, the suits began as a dispute of possession, now turning on the wagon wheels of justice to pleas of disavowal. Once at the dump, I discovered that I had to use both sides of my brain there as well, if I was going to understand anything about it at all. I have standards. Like many natural wonders of the world, the road to the dump is a narrow affair and just wide enough for folks to get in trouble in the mud or ice, when they met head-on in their cars and trucks and skidders hauling home made trailers or filled with a load that made steering an article of faith, and stopping more like an answer to a prayer, or prelude to a curse, depending upon which parson ended up in which ditch. I hang onto the door and mirror on the outside of the truck an unlikely acolyte as Harold turns onto it and barrels down the middle of the summer washboard like a warm up run for Phaeton. Then the forest canopy swallows our flying wheels like the great fish swallowed Jonah. In the fast enclosing shadows, we fly like a garbage missile past the arrow shaped signs nailed on the trunks of trees, their earth bound ballistics guiding us first to the Airfield dump and then to the Ballfield dump, then Airfield, Ballfield, Airfield, Ballfield, Air…Ball… As the arrows fall behind in the dust we continue in acceleration, my eyes filling with stars and my ears with the rising voice of the wind. Suddenly my feet dance up and down on the running board in rhythm to the surging chassis and hammer of tires. The constellations spinning inside my jostling orbits are joined by a host of unanticipated comets. Against this new gravity I strain in effort to wheel and shine into the cab, navigator to pilot. Harold’s .22 caliber revolver is bouncing around on the seat next to him and he’s squawking into the CB, wrestling the shaking wheel with one hand and fumbling with dials on the dashboard with his other. He pays no attention to me. I might as well be invisible. Ah well, fuck Harvard, fuck Yale. This is work-study, training with higher aspirations. On the running board, I have to be ready for anything. Harold liked to stop the truck hard and kick up the stones and dust with the locking wheels, then jam the gears into reverse and do it again, wheels skidding to a halt on the edge of the tip point. In a well practiced drill he would grab his pistol from the straw filled seat and leap


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from the cab like a hero on the big silver screen at the drive-in. Then he’d dash to the edge of the pit and crouch in combat style to commence his firing. The Norway rats stood no chance. Harold was a deadeye shot and he didn’t waste any. He could nail a herring gull with a sidearm, and the same for doves and crows and ravens too. He hung in a line on the Airfield side of the fence all the blown birds he’d popped at the dump, whose various states of demise served as a sort of real-time natural history diorama showcasing his trick shot skills. I soon learned to stay glued to the running board when we landed until all six shots were spent, and he wasn’t pulling out his speed loader. At last we slow, and I see ahead the fork in the road lashed out into the dust before us like the split tongue of an enormous snake. Following this strike, the truck swerves onto it. Beyond, up a small rise in the contour of the trail, stands a tall pair of gates wrapped in cyclone fencing, whose wire mesh on either side of the common hinging post holds each a sign. One piece of barn red plywood spells Airfield; the other, Ballfield, in a uniform font whose letters are painted blue, their edges trimmed with a thin pair of white lines. At my job interview by the garbage cans in front of the sawmill, Harold had mentioned that the signs and the print are the same size and colors for the time being, equity by court order. “The judge was so tired of listening to the two design committees, that he ordered that the temporary signs be made up from one sheet of plywood, to be ripped in half, and not crosscut, you see, just so’s no one would start to quibble about the shape.” Up in the Green Mountains, Solomon ruled less with a sword than with a picture from a circular saw operator’s manual. “The lawyers cast dies for the colors,” he continued, “and split the fees for oversight of construction.” As the road takes a short decline I notice that the tongue is rejoined on a short plain that kisses with its disputing tip both entry portals to the dump. As the gears in our truck of garbage grind down, we pass slowly a dug building foundation sunken in the hollow of the hole between the siamese spits. The top course of its masonry blocks peek out like a row of store bought dentures mashed into the ground by unknown wheels. The ground itself is littered with stacks and piles of debris and junk rising and falling here and there like little mountains and foothills fashioned on an out of scale relief map, its valley roads marked by planks stretched from old tire to old tire, connecting them like lines and dots on a well stained page torn from a ten cent puzzle book and stuck to the floor at the bus station. Various children scamper around this installed landscape like midget hippies on a mountain lark. The teeth in the dirt are capped by a platform covered with tar paper, held down by strips of random wood or old appliance parts or rocks pulled from the shoulders of the crumbling fork that wrap around it like a ripped gauze bandage. A makeshift trap in the black deck sports the head of an old apple ladder sticking from it like an unburned twig dropped in campfire ashes. The digs, Harold would tell me later, of the Dump Family Robinson, as they were known here roundabouts. Head of household,


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Sarah Heckett, also known as Sally, or just plain Heckett. Few knew the first names of the kids, either, referring to them each, any or all in the genetic plural. Heckett, also known as Smelly Sally, endless sojourner from town to town as well, depending upon which bank of the ditch she sallied out of, and in which direction and on which side of the fork you were passing by as she emerged through the tall brush on the shoulder of the road like a wild boar on human growth hormones. At least, that’s how I met her, the first time I got paid by Harold Hooligan. I was happy to get paid. Aura was driving up from downstate Beirut to visit us at the sawmill, and I needed cash for a venture into some Middle Eastern diplomacy. Harold had just handed me a check and a few greenbacks. He paid his help, he explained to me, on the first day of the week so that the help would show up on it. We were sitting in the truck on the Airfield fork, engine idling. The day was good, and the eagle had just shit. I’d locked the Airfield gate for the night and climbed into the cab for the welcome ride back to town on a wing with a windshield, and I was ready to rock and roll. Never mind that Harold had been talking non-stop on the CB about the men who landed on the moon today, or that I was tired of hearing about it. After a day on the running board, I wanted my feet back on the ground. That’s when Heckett roared out the bushes and slammed against the passenger door with the force of a wild horse. The cab rocked and once again the California mirror slapped flat against the body of the truck, this time with the sound of a hammer on a gong. A single crack split its face clean down the middle. Good thing I’m a hippie. I let loose in the air my paycheck and cash and raised my hands in alarm as her hot breath filled the cab with a curse and my body twisted like a coil spring on a screen door to meet her face-to-face. Hers filled the open window like a face on an ancient coin, only a lot bigger; mouth open wide, tongue flying, teeth bared, eyes wide and hair like flattened mattress coils. One eye on hers, with the other I saw in the mirror the face of Harold Hooligan frozen like a crack in the ice. And before the notes in circulation could begin their journey back to earth, they were in Sally Heckett’s left fist, clutched like an unlucky sparrow in the talons of a hawk. Prey in her claws, she raised herself onto the running board like a rampaging bear. Her huge breasts thrust through the passenger door window like rolling stones flying downhill, knocking me like a dried stack of mown hay towards Harold, the grey Vermont marble of his face in the mirror still cleft in two, his skewed eyes bugging out and lips frozen fast. Then Smelly Sally, as she was also known, began to howl like a Titan on PCP, and commenced beating with the ham of her right fist upon the roof of the cab like it was a kettle drum in a marching band of speed freaks headed into battle at Altamont. The twin billboards towering on the iron false-works atop the winged corners of the Restles look like the suddenly wandering eyes of King Amycus at the bell ending his last round with our local boxing legend. As I walk through the parking lot in the failing daylight towards


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the dock of the load, one pummeled eye sports some slick corporate graffito pimping beer, and apparently, a six-pack of Scandinavian breasts and navels. The other casts out the single word: JESUS, projected on a field of bright gauzy white, spelled out upon it in plain twenty-five foot gold Roman letters, with a silver website caption ten foot tall beneath them. The sign for Jesus is leased by another premiere tenant, Jails for Jesus, www.jails4jesus.god, a growing chain of integrated worship services whose holdings include a burgeoning portfolio of privately held prisons operated strictly on the lines of their evangelical protocols; and welded seamlessly, like the safe that holds Prize’s books, to a costeffective mission of storefront chapels spread out coast-to-coast. Starting with a thousand foot sublease from Majuzzi’s Grocery and Pawn, under the direction of Reverend Paul (nickname: “Prize”) Gallus-Gallus, the chapel’s Paul Bunyan crime fighting footprints now tread its newborn soles throughout two floors, filling them with the busy stamps of his congregants many free and/or recently paroled Sunday shoes as they dance to his most recent tune. And to chase crime as efficiently as any saint a sinner or lawyer an ambulance, Prize drives a look-alike squad car with a look-alike police decal glued on its look-alike door, modified by the gentle word: Chaplain. As he says: “When Jesus Saves, we get paid. We’re moving to expand into temp-service and bail bonds. It’s always a bull market, under God.” Standing beneath the gaze of his billboard like investigators at a fresh scene, he and a couple of his boys are stretching out a hundred foot tape measure from the edge of the loading dock, across the top of the dumpsters of debris, through a traffic lane and over the hoods of various cars parked or booted in the lot. Prize is standing on the dock, his foot on the zero end of the tape, jawboning and scribbling notes into a book while the strip of metal rattles in the air like a loose guitar string. A lone trabajador quit from his day of labor passes me by with a quiet adios. Looking up to check for Ravens, I notice Manjusri taking a break from shredding to fix his eyes upon the scene from his office window on the second floor. Not a Raven in sight. Just below his bank of warehouse windows yawns the back door of SEXXXYYZ, its dingy big box retail vinyl-clad replacement doors positioned on the grade at the rear elevation in the center of the middle of the masonry mass of the hippie warehouse and gripping the earth like a hole squatting on the edge of Persephone’s stool. As I pass the boys shouting out numbers to the waiting ears of Prize, one of them thrusts into my hand a purple streaked mimeograph flier. Manjusri is sure to see this, and I can expect his inquest as soon as he discovers where I’m hiding. One side of the flier announces: Don’t Break In, Break Out! I turn over this curiosity in my hands. The other side trumpets: Don’t Break Out, Break In! Whatever this is, the small print on each face reveals that Jails for Jesus is hosting a free banquet in the parking lot, come two weeks. There’s no ducking the boss now. He’s sure to have heard a buzz or two about this around the hallways. Now he


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knows that I’m holding in my hand a piece of the physical evidence. Unlike Prize, Manjusri doesn’t like rumors at all. They’re phantoms of the hallways too thin for the slice of his sword. Of late, rumors have been running wild in them like Crazy when he last streaked through Corn Park, headed for the river to put out the fire. Then what can you do when you catch up with it? And I was only trying to cheer him up when I told him Ovid once sung that rumor travels fastest of all things. Manjusri’s tongue spun in a high speed shred. “Bullshit,” he cut. “Money does.” I quickly changed tack and headed to the back door of Jambs Restaurant and Bakery, my last hippie safe harbor in this quickening current. Big Daddy the boss cook knew when a hippie could use a hand with a meal or two when the grain bag was short. And the head Jamb, Mother Jamb herself, is always kind to hippies as long as they don’t throw trash into her dumpster or try to sneak out on a bill. If you do, she chases you down and hands it back or gets it from you, with a tip for the help, too. Nothing escapes her attentions at the banquet. She must have been watching Jails4Jesus at work, too, through the porthole window in the door. As I duck into cover, I nearly run her over in my haste. I see instead that Mother is reading one of my poems. Now what’s going on? I quickly fold the purple inked flier and stick it in my shirt pocket. “Look what I just found in my trash,” she said. When Mother speaks, you look her straight in the eyes. She holds my yellow foolscap outstretched and suspended in her right hand for my closer examination. Then she waves it in a circle around my nose. My eyes begin to spin. “I don’t know how it got there,” I start to explain… “Don’t you worry. I do.” She smiles, then laughs. I hold out my paw as if to retrieve it, but she waves me off with her left hand, in which is clutched a sixteen penny nail. I am curious, but I know when to sit still. When Mother gets like this, it’s all dogs to kennel, and I’m not Actaeon. In this presentation of tonight’s production, I’m more like a hound with my ear to a horn, going round and round, waiting for a cue. “I’ve caught him before, you know.” Her arm with my poem comes to rest at her side. Then she intones. “This time I’m going to fix his wagon.” Ah, she has little use for Reverend Prize as well. “And hey,” she smiles again. Her voice rings out like a chime in the morning wind as she holds up my poem once again. “This stuff is hard to penetrate, Zeke, but I like it. So don’t worry, I’m only going to poke one little hole in it.” Like I said, everyone’s a literary critic. “Tell Big Daddy to wrap something up for you.” Now I smiled. “I’ll fix everything. I’ve got to go and find a hammer.” “A hammer?” I should have known. “I’m going to nail it on his frigging door. See ya.” It was Clammer the Hammer, a/k/a The Clam, because no one really knew how he actually made a living and he didn’t seem to either, that handed to my shack behind his squat the quaint appellation, Appalachia. The shack had seen duty first as a chicken house for a turn of the century Avenue farm estate and by all reports the birds covered the


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yard with their feathers and shit right on through the Depression. Transformed by the gravity of World War II into a tiny bungalow to contain a few drops from the flooding tide of workers spilling every day into the Spoon’s shipyards, after the win and the ensuing neglect of prosperity it soon returned a bit closer to nature. By the time I hung my hat in it, it was something else entirely. The rabbits, according to Popeye, who lived in the peak above The Clam’s second floor apartment, had stopped hanging around the place about two years prior. By then, competition all over the Spoon with the raccoons and feral cats and paving for parking lots had proven too keen, and the only place to find them now anywhere near the island was about a gunshot over the bridge in Biaggi Bay Dump and Park. The local teens as well had long abandoned it as a clubhouse or location for an assignation, preferring now the stripped and ditched car or the huts they’d constructed down in the raspberry patch in the Oyster Creek lot. What was left of it on the outside was covered with a thick growth of hops, eager migrants from the old Sicilian’s garden next door. They were in full growth when I first walked up. Optimistic shoots and strobiles climbed upward on the tarpaper roof like Xinjiang jade lain out on a field of black silk. Here and there in the woven green cover thick as a cloak, orange trumpet flowers beckoned like a chorus of heralds. Stray leaves of ivy peeked out like buttons on an English baron’s freshly brushed doublet. Alerted by my footsteps on the broken tiles and glass that surrounded the shack like a moat, the murder of crows perched on the fence behind it lit off in a chorus of raucous squawks. A pair of mourning doves rustled from the ground, their wings whistling in the air, and landed clutched to the wire stretched overhead and down the alley. Finally, a host of sparrows shot in a flurry of feathers and song into the branches of the giant oak tree spread out above it, against which massive trunk the shack rested in repose. In contrast, the whole contraption of the building slumped beneath this camouflage reminded me more of Tidy Bowl, when he gets his check and buys a night of whiskey and crack, until he’s up against the wall in the pisser at the 8-Ball Bar & Grill, but still showing signs of life in the breeze from the swinging door. But it has a roof. Like Tidy, my sails were also looking for a breath of fresh air. I’d run out of time and money too after losing my squat down by The Amalgamated Shipyard. Ariel and her latest flame, Matiyasevich, another in her string of Slavic space cadets with three names and faces longer than a day in jail, had landed on my doorstep one afternoon in the midst of a noisy dispute, which for the life of me I couldn’t understand, nor did my landlady ten minutes later, when she let me know I was done by the end of the month. Yet choosing me as diplomat proved no poor decision on the part of the unhappy appellants. After listening to them each for a careful second, or perhaps two, I decided that in this case their rights were equal. As I’ve said before, I’m not very good at making decisions, but I try. So I went out to the porch, picked up a sturdy wooden chair, walked over to their car and beat on the hood with it several times like a gavel to a bench.


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

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Hearing closed. Victory to equity. Ah, Ariel, Arachne, Aura… all that was behind me now, moons vanished from my sky. Aura was flown from sight, an arrow shot into the blinding Vermont sunrise, flying faster than a Markov algorithm executing 101. The string of letters from Arachne, chatty notes about her love life or pet literary projects, had snapped like a broken bow. And Ariel had presented me with the latest bulls-eye target from her shooting range, a divorce decree. The nymphs at the 8-Ball Bar & Grill all knew my party line, and I couldn’t afford the likes of those they’d rather see a cowboy spill out on a mirror back in the powder room. Cupid was floating face down in the tide. I was broke, out of work and worse. I was out of beer, out of lunch and out of rope. My poetry bag was running on empty and not a line in sight. Things were adding up, alright. The Clam had lent to me his beat up dump-truck for the day so I could make the move, the one with his hand made John Lennon shrine fixed on the dashboard like a bobble head orthodox icon. The shrine was a full color photograph facing the inside of the cab, a fist-sized head shot attached to a sheet metal plaque mounted on a spring. His face moved in an orbital and eerie slow motion no matter how fast or slow the truck was moving, the speed of travel at best an educated guess in the first place, since the needle on the speedometer moved only on travel upgrade and then really only wiggled some like a stage prop in an old science fiction movie. Due to other peculiarities too numerous to mention, top speed was roughly 35, if you could keep the engine running with some fancy footwork on the pedals and turn the right cards in the 3-Card Monte game of choke and wheel and stick. It wasn’t wise to try a dash out on a highway; and besides, the Vermont plates each had different numbers, which Clam explained to me didn’t make it run any better and was close enough for the government. The poets roving stardust eyes, dead then nearly three years, were standing watch over my dwindling supply of chattels packed into the dump body of the old truck parked out front like it had just arrived from Havana. How else make a deal with Jimmy the Pyro, antique dealer, lifestyle entrepreneur, landlord and proprietor of the Walrus and the Carpenter Café, for whom I was currently waiting outside the clump of Appalachia, my thirst growing alongside the lengthening shadow spilling over me from the great oak tree? The Pyro had recently acquired the main house fronting the Avenue and the cobbled row of bungalows that stretched alongside it like pieces on a game board. The little colony stretched in a row down a private concrete alley, each one attached by a wire to the overhead electric cable like baited hooks dangling on a trot line, the last string of which wandered into the shack like a line from a sinker tangled in the growth on the bottom of the drink. Like Noah, the birds from my ark were out searching for a new landfall while I boxed my drifting compass in an empty cup. As Mayo Kayo often says with a greedy smile, just after his latest victim’s dazed exit from the office after the presentation of the bill,


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“A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour your money, and we man the pumps.” But unlike Noah’s, my little ship is now on empty and about to fill rapidly with sea. Water, water everywhere. And soon man overboard, about to sink like a stone roughly the size of the shot rock that Ronnie Pinocchio and his clan steal from a city yard by night and dump by day into every last void along Spoon Island’s shoreline. The boys were busy decorating the ragged edges of the island with high end condos, a piece of cake, tossing them together like fuel for a bonfire celebrating their market as it lights up, or a flame like a bogus beacon to lure unwary ships and all their crew to certain doom. If Pyro doesn’t show up soon, I’ll have to head out for my last resort, the Kayo Corral, where it’s rumored that Tidy Bowl will soon become a live-aboard on one of their more questionable floaters, a refugee from Cuba in reverse. Anything but that. The Purple Gang kept a boat there too, and the spikes that they left out on deck sure had nothing to do with marlins, or the sea. “Cap’n Zeke,” hollered the Pyro as he walked across the yard from the main house. At last. He must have been collecting rents. It’s the end of the month and he likes to do that job himself. “What do you think? A little hammer work, a few shingles, sprinkle some bricks around the threshold, huh? I’ll get you some potted plants, and you’re in.” He pulled out his checkbook as he joined me in the moat. He knows I’m over a barrel, and he’s smart enough to know that I know that he knows… Why say anything? If nothing else, I’m still a hippie, even if the hard-charging white horses were presently kicking fury at my boat. Better to jump in the barrel now than end up flatter than a dead president when it hurtles down the deck and rolls you over as she goes down. “This’ll get you started. I see you brought your tools.” He nodded his head towards the Avenue. By now, everyone on the Spoon knew that I’d brought my tools and everything else I had too. The island is barely a gunshot in length and everyone hears the report when it goes off. If the four number party line phones on the same trunk back in Airfield was a sawmill of town news where there was no telling in what shape the tree would appear when it was spit out of it in sticks, the telephone tree of information on Spoon Island was more like a whole log chipper, blowing in the wind. He handed me a check. “We’ll figure all the rest out later. I think the power is still on, too. And hey, I’ve got to run back to the house, before they steal my hammer.” I looked at the paper in my hand before folding it in two and putting it into my shirt pocket. Five hundred bucks, made out from the Walrus account on an instrument from the Asset Transfer Fund, the Spoon’s latest bank. It’s not the horse’s mouth, but I can settle for the ass. Banks come and go on the island like pay toilets on the boardwalk, and soon discover that this trading table on a rock hosts a game of Monopoly alright, but with privateer lobbies and no hotels. It was made out to Louie’s Lumber over in the Bronx. The Pyro thinks he’s slick, but its only


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bacon grease up his sleeve. As he patted me on the back and walked away, I smiled. Fortune rising like my fist of hunger, I dashed out to the Avenue and jumped back into the Clam’s truck, firing it up to make a dash to the yard before closing. Louie the Stick knew that I worked here and there with the Cat in the Hat, and what’s better, he knew how to deal with a third-party check presented by a more-or-less contractor on the fly, depending on the case and the time of day. He knew more about the Bronx than Ovid Rome, and Louie never had to leave town. The first time I’d proffered to him a note from Pyro, handing it over with a questioning eye, he held it on the fold and began to honk and laugh, and with a squeeze of his giant fingers made the halved faces slap together like a pair of flippers. “Don’t worry kid, you don’t have to spend all of it today.” Not everyone admired Jimmy and his crowd. Louie’s brother was married to Jimmy’s half-sister, and lived in the Spoon in a Pyro family rent. Who needs rumors? Who needs banks? Louie’s was in a couple of rooms above a burger joint somewhere down near Tremont Avenue. “I can give you change. This is easy to figure out. How much a piece you need?” Lucky me. No sooner is my ass set out of one hole than it falls into another. With cash in hand, I could score some fuel for Clam’s truck, running on fumes. As I U-turned across the Fire Lane that split the length of Spoon Island Avenue in two like the aisle in between the feuding pews inside the Two Set of Books Anabaptist Church, I was outward bound again. And since I was trekking to the Bronx on business, why not stop too for some fuel to heat up my hearth and house party, back in my new home Appalachia, and set sail again in the Spoon upon my little bark, floatation bags refilled, cheese upon the table, searching for a pump that still has a handle? As I flew on my mission across the tidal currents coursing beneath the old turn-table bridge and my wheels left the precinct of the Spoon behind, I spied on the mirrored face of the quick-water a shaft of light quivering like an arrow just plunged into a tree. Bulls-eye. Dead ahead on the west side of the looming parkway road, the mountain of waste on the Dump side of the Biaggi preserve was still shooting stray flames from its peak like an angry Andean volcano. Last night the flames had leaped into the sky, the eye in its crater fully ablaze with a fire that leapt off the pages of Dante, except 500 feet tall. To a frog floating on a lily-pad, it’s a very bad sign. To a sweeper of clouds it is no place to fly. And if to a night sailor a lighthouse is a cold memory awakened into life from the dark hours that fill the sea like a dream, then to a pilot of rivers this recognition signals return at the end of a coast, where the water homes back to its source. And a hippie without a warehouse? You know it ain’t easy. Of course I’m driving with the ghost of John Lennon floating in my face in a borrowed five-yard dump-truck with no title, a hole in the muffler, bad tires and a broken mirror, everything running on fumes alongside a river joining the sea, and with my mattress flopping up and down in its iron bed and covering my


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bouncing chattels like a fugitive hayseed coat of arms, rolling past the smoking beacon of a toxic dump in pursuit of some legal tender currently in the very sharp hands of Louie the Stick. The Stick, whose picture too was no doubt an icon, but in another type of book, one filled with notes about the alleged economic miracles he’d performed with a three foot length of 2X4. I’m awakened by a methodical tapping at the door like the radiators in the Restles coming to life in the dead of a winter night. This can’t be Manjusri and I don’t want to see anyone right now. I’d ducked out the front door of Jambs and around the corner and cruised through the front of Pasta Veda and out their back into the parking lot, through which I’d scampered undetected, or so I thought, along the edge of the building past the well-blinded rear window of Wrapperville, LLC, another premier tenant, slipping at last into the dock of the load with a meal from Big Daddy in hand like it was a favorable citation from Paris Review. I stretched out on the broken couch for a celebratory pre-prandial meditation. What a fuss over a piece of paper. I laughed. This is better than publishing poetry in a Man-of-War. My work is in circulation! So what if I have to deal with Manjusri? Then I must have shut my eyes. The tapping at the door continues. I’ve rigged the mattress with a barrel hitch and a traveling line along the wall above the door to the dock of the load. With a little tackle and balanced counterweights of phone books, coming and going is a much smoother operation. Phone books are forever being delivered on pallets to the Restles by anonymous but clever vendors in rental trucks who drop and drive faster than Crazy can run through Corn Park. Sometimes a few disappear from the delivered pile and end up in a bathroom, but mostly they go direct deposit to the dumpster after a month or two when the metal-heads infesting the basement need a pallet after yet another flood. With a slight touch of my hand the mattress glides seamlessly along the floor to expose my entry. Now the sounds at the door more resemble a hammer striking a nail, accompanied by a savage grunt and a brief silence. Now it is a hammer driving a nail and the door is shaking. On the last blow the diamond cut point of a sixteen penny common presents itself like the ragged tip of a boat-tail bullet stopped in the Kevlar and steel. I hear a familiar chant rise from the voice of Prize Gallus-Gallus. The refrain is an integral part of his motivational training, some of which, on CD or audiotape, you can receive free of charge by mail at home or jail, plus a few dollars for shipping and handling. “Jails for Jesus! Jails for Jesus! Jails for Jesus!” His minions join in for a brief chorus, and then he commences to bellow. With a slight touch of my hand the mattress glides seamlessly along the floor to cover my entry. This is not Manjusri. It’s not really a case of mistaken identity. I had written the poem. It’s scrawled out by my hand with pencil on paper and I hung it on the wall. No one but Oversize and Manjusri have done this before and… well, the lobby is still common ground and fair is fair, and what Mother did


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with a hammer and a nail is none of my beeswax. She told me so herself. “Gossip can ruin a business.” Perhaps returning it to the publisher was a way for Prize to work off some ecclesiastic guilt about stealing it in the first place. I’m sure he’s thanking God for this coincidence of redemption right now. Ah, theology always complicates things for a hippie, but I can wait them out. I’ve got dinner sitting on my plywood desk right next to my growing stack of memoirs, and I figure that Manjusri won’t dare show up with the Reverend engaged in another rant. And with the suddenly jackedup techno trance drums from the Lizaveta providing a back beat to the now muffled voice of Prize standing guard over the dock, I figure no way at all. Good. I can eat in peace. I’ve got mood music and a parson at my door saying grace. Manjusri rarely works nights, but that’s all changed now, and I knew from the rhythm and timing of the taps on the wall that it was none other than he sending to me an inquiring signal from the other side of the entry door. Prize and his choir had finally quit their evangelical serenade. The speaking in tongues lashed from the lost mouth of Lizaveta have stilled. Darkness slips through my window like a whisper from the night. Now that daily foot traffic in the halls mimics the noisy jam of rush hour wheels in downtown Dioscuri, Manjusri has taken to locking his office and not answering his door, too, and has devised this acoustic cryptand in case of an emergency. Or so he said, when we last met in the office, behind it. Perhaps he’d constructed this latest ploy simply to assure that when I stopped by to the office he’d know that it was me, and wouldn’t have to turn off the shredder and then close the closet door before responding. Or perhaps not. Manjusri never has just one reason for doing anything. The office was neat as a pin, a needle with no haystack. The floor was spotless, except for a row of neatly tied bags like curbside leaves lined up on a suburban driveway. He’d somehow contrived to fit the shredder into the office closet, SUV to garage, successfully eliminating the unsightly clutter. I see that he’s taken to bagging the clouds of paper himself. He was piling on top of the machine more fuel for his version of a fire sale like a yuppie his camping equipment. Then he closed the closet door. From the looks of it, he’s been doing a bit of sweeping on his own as well. Of course. One of my missing brooms stood resting in a corner. Near it, the door to the closet is closed in obedience to this invisible hand in the Restles free market, but a few scraps of its disappearing signature hang from the bottom hinge pin like the strands of a whip. “It’s a dog and pony show around here now, Zeke. And some dogs bite. It doesn’t hurt to present a more professional appearance.” He has me hauling shreds out twice a day of late. “Both at night,” he instructed. “Without the choke of traffic in the hall, you’ll be more efficient, so I’ll give you time and a half rent credit and call it even. You won’t even have to try and find me.” I knew his so-called emergency code was just a ruse. “I’ll set them out in


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the hallway for you as well. And I’ll be working late until further notice.” Great. Now he’ll be watching from the window at night, too. Word in the lobby says that the Principal Partner will soon be taking possession of a suite just down the hall, its former cargo recently embarked with the crew of the Jails4Jesus Youth Corps, as the monthly stream of Restles invoices is drawn down and the condos new financial engines motor in before the ditch is dry. Maybe I will miss him, but what the hell, we can share a broom for a while. As I’ve said, Manjusri can do more than just shred numbers into strings and confetti. Why, even in a jam like this, his skill has stretched a hippie dollar right out on the rack of company time, and no one felt a thing. It’s not all hard rain in his clouds. His heart is not cold steel, even if his mind pretends it is. I’d better let him in. With a slight touch of my hand the mattress is in motion. It slides free of the hole to the hall and reveals that the door is open wide. Manjusri has used the master key again. He has my still at-large poem in one hand and the key in the other. Behind him on the floor the bicycle basket is a mangled web of flattened wire. Manjusri and I had reached compromise on the issue of the basket. On one side of it he could dispatch his paper trail for me to pony, but no packages, and on the other I could display at will my poetry for market. Perhaps the Reverend had used it as a sort of visual aid and trampoline to elevate his voice during the sermon. The remains of my poems trapped inside it were crushed like martyrs in a medieval machine. Manjusri is holding the purloined letters in his hand and shaking his head. “You’ve written worse,” he said. I stepped past him to examine the face of the door. The door admitting passage from the hall into the dock of loading is like many other examples of interior construction in the Restles, installed in a workman like manner best appreciated as a sort of galactic approximation to the arts of measurement or human consciousness, since at the Restles everything mechanical was an either/or proposition, including the mechanics. Who’d hung the door to the dock of the load? “Ohm,” said Indian Red to the Fire Rescue squad when they finally asked him about the event. Red, who ran the freight elevator during the week, was eyewitness to the said mechanic’s inaugural Restles practice of its law with side cutters and a screwdriver determinedly probing its mysteries, and the shower of sparks and a gasp in the sudden dark hall. When the investigator finally asked Red what happened, Red spoke once his word, pointing to the tools welded to the panel box and then to the newly ordained Ohm, still on the floor but refusing transport to the hospital. Manjusri, to his credit, quickly reduced him to utility worker in other trades, on the opinion that a flood or a faulty door was preferable to a fire or a completed circuit installed in an employee. But he still showed up every day for work after the change in job description and his medication, unknown stuff from his new doctor that worked so well that Ohm hadn’t left the job, it seemed, for weeks on end, and his timing was perfect. When you wanted him he was gone, and when you didn’t, he wasn’t. Then he


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followed Raven around for close to a day, who knew a fool for a good thing when he saw it. Of late Ohm marched with the Mexicans by day, and hung around the dumpsters by night to discourage the divers, and to stand his one man company watch against the mysterious appearances of Freon, the guy who kept taking things from the dumpsters and putting them back into a hole inside the Restles. Aside from the fresh damage; the nail impaling it, a collage of Jails4Jesus bumper stickers adhered in the shape of a cross, scuff marks from shoe leather, dried spittle, and an unidentifiable splatter no longer in motion but still elastic, everything was in Restles order. The door’s closing bevel was backward and on the hinge side to boot, so that every time the door swung shut the frame took a twist and let out a moan in a moment of resistance, reminding me of the honeymoon with Ariel. An entry door, it opened out into the hallway in defiance of good practice, Ohm’s new specialty niche. The trim had to have been shaped with a dull axe, there is no other way to explain it, and the pieces in its assembly driven home with drywall screws that rent the grain in splits and shakes to rival a back woods road post full of lead and holes. I decided to leave the nail right where it was. I picked up the basket’s new form and hung it on the spike. Now that’s modern art. It can serve as a knocker on the door or a contemporary wind chime if Prize tries again to huff and puff and blow the door down. If I leave it hanging long enough, I might even win a prize in the semi-annual Dioscuri Art Sprawl. I turned to Manjusri, who handed me my poem. I was a bit surprised that it had survived this first round of professional criticism. Usually, my poems disappear like torn paper in the wind or crushed into a ball thrown in a basket of waste. I noted the two now ragged holes punched through the head note, but the text was unmarred save for a few splatters of dried blood. Ha. Prize also nailed a finger. “Don’t start talking about theology again,” I said. “That business is just another dead-end minimum wage job.” Manjusri’s face was in his normal neutral state, lips a flat line, eyes steady, not like the last time he’d opened my door with his key and a poem in his hand. I knew his code was a trick. This was no emergency, the poem wasn’t on fire. I waved the foolscap at the front of the door, half open in the hall. “That’s not theology,” I complained. “It’s dogma, it’s dog…” “Don’t get like them, Zeke,’ he said softly. “You’re right.” I took a breath. “Keep in mind that there’s a limit to what anyone can know about God.” Ah, here we go, and I have been meaning to chat with him. “You’re right. It’s like glue. You can only sniff so much of it,” I replied. “Everything has a cost, Zeke.” Don’t I know it. I can’t even afford to burn a sack of my own religion, but the smoke from a sacrifice doesn’t last forever. “In that sense, there’s no limit to what you can learn about money.” Ah, the magic word. If Manjusri can feed his cards into a


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shredder like he’s dealing out a game of Find the Lady, I can ask for a raise in my share of the bet that lands inside of his box. I’m in the clouds, alright, but I need a little rain to float my boat too, when it’s time to cast off. “All I know is that money is the lifeblood of the poor,” I shot back. I detected a flicker of his eyebrows. “Now that’s theology, Zeke.” Spoken like a true boss. “Which, you must agree, can only stretch so far.” Spoken like a true pauper. “True,” he replied. “How far can you stretch a dollar?” I asked. Perhaps a hint will bring another flicker. “How poor is poor?” Getting warmer. “I seem to recall that you once told me that all you needed was a roof over your head and a bowl of rice.” Getting colder. This is like stumbling around in Ohm’s darkened hallway. Where’s the tail and where’s the donkey? Sometimes I can see through Manjusri like a brand new pane of glass, but it requires more than just a rescue team flashlight now. “I’ve got nine dollars,” I said. It was true. I’d counted. I don’t have a shredder that turns trash into cash and I don’t have a lucky mailbox. I’m a hippie. And roof and rice were not included in the condo package at that price. A broom costs more, and if they keep getting stolen, what will I use to sweep myself out the door? “Well, according to your scheme of things, that should last you forever.” “Now that’s theology.” Another flicker. “But I won’t, at this rate.” “What? Get enough money or last long enough to spend it?” His lips moved towards a smile. “Whatever,” I said. “If I’m lucky I’ll have enough to stretch out until I’m stretched out. If I’m really lucky, they can stretch me out on top of my last outstretched dollar.” “Now you’re the theologian again.” He laughed. Perhaps he’s softening up. If not, I’ll bill him for the time. Damn the shredder. “Well, I’ve got a math problem, that’s for sure, when it comes to money.” Now we’re back on course. “No kidding, Zeke.” Uh-oh. “It’s more than numbers.” His smile was beginning to drop. “Hey, wait a second,” I popped out. “Not anymore. The faces on the numbers popping up on the calculator around here lately have five o’clock shadows on them like Albanian bill collectors in the Bronx, or worse. If they can sell a five dollar box as a pair of Gucci’s, where’s the shoes? That’s no stretch. It’s counterfeit. I have more respect for the shredder.” Perhaps appealing to his vanity will help soften his steel. “That shadow business sounds rather celestial, but you are a hippie,” he said with a slash. His smile was dwindling to flat like my


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hopes for a drop from a passing cloud or two. I’m just another hippie and he’s going to let me prove it, down to the last dry straw. “It’s like I asked, Man.” I took another chance. Manjusri can be harsh, and familiarity breeds contempt faster than the wrong side of a flipped coin. “How far can you stretch a dollar before it disappears, when it’s shrinking on one side of the door and rolling out like a magic red carpet on the other?” “Get back to principles, Zeke. I think what you mean is, how far can absolutely everything get stretched out or squeezed in, before it disappears and the barrel has no content for anyone?” His mouth was a flat even line, and we are back to earth. Looks like they can use my last stretched out dollar as a shroud when they toss me in the last stretched out hole. Fuck Harvard. Fuck Yale. Fuck Prize. This is a physics problem. Like shredding, like the dumpsters, like holes, like the trash, and of course, like the hippies. Forget the pin, the tail and the donkey. In this game of blind man’s bluff, it’s no contest. I may have the Free Air Force, but it’s almost out of fuel. Prize may have a hammer and a nail, but Raven’s got the Army and his hired nail-guns on the march. My hangar in the dock of the loading is in their sights, too. I see it in Manjusri’s eyes. The games are over. “We’ve got to talk,” he said. I knew what he wanted. He’s only doing his job. I pulled the flier from Jails4Jesus out of my shirt pocket and placed the folded mimeo in his outstretched hand. Manjusri nodded in recognition. Shredding or shrinking or stretching this wine stained print can’t empty its page. This is hard evidence. He unfolded and glanced at one side of it, then the other. He’d seen enough. I see that I’m not getting a raise. It’s a paper world, alright, and getting thinner. We bid goodnight as Manjusri’s eyes turn to glass and the paper gets so thin it turns to darkness. Some dreams land in the lap like crumbs from the burnt toast served with breakfast at the Donut Hole when the help is fighting it out behind the counter and you have to take what you get. And some dreams are shooting stars like the ones that filled the sky over Biaggi Bay the night that Donut Antoinette died. As the salutes of comet dust fired through the cloudless sky, I was sitting on deck of my houseboat down to the Desolation, tending to the passel of lines that stretched from its wellanchored cleats to shore and pilings and the old car float like a web cast out to catch them. The night herons were landed and fishing too, perched on the lines like carved jewels holding a net. The tide was high and slack and the striper fry were running from their hatchery in the ziggurat of broken compartments and bulwarks of the now submerged body of the float. Besides the fish that popped out of it when it was flooded and covered and presumed as dead as the stars popping out of the night sky, the wreck was a marine warehouse of supply for the ducks and cormorants, egrets and long-legged cranes who used the tide and the carcass in their own way.


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The float stretches out its form like a phantom anode from the lots crumbling timber headed sea wall, against which one rake end of the scow rests in peace. The phantom bulk of the decaying steel was beached like a dead and rotting iron blue whale filled with growing holes, its hide dissolving in earth’s bromidian electrolyte like a dream inside a sleeper. Covered and uncovered by the restless mourning shrouds of the changing tides, it was concealed again beneath one, but still quite alive. In the dream it started out with me and the Cat in the Hat arguing about something or other, which we did so often about everything on earth and the Spoon except how to get the job at hand done so that we could go home and get away from each other. “All water is used,” he said. I can’t recall the context, but it had something to do with physics. Then I was driving his orange pick-up truck on the New Jersey Turnpike, out on some errand, preparing to pull off into the Vince Lombardi Rest Area because I had to take a wicked piss. The sun was setting and I was not happy with him because once again, two hours pulled out of the Hat’s company time clock had gone into it’s usual curious trance of suspended animation, extending to about four for the deck hand. And who knew what latest warp of time-travel lurking on the Cross Bronx Expressway might further stretch it from the hand on the steering wheel, measuring up the distance to the 8-Ball Bar & Grill? As the unleashed stream arced into the sanitary fixture, my ears are filled with the sounds of scuffling shoes and then voices in low moaning, counter-point to the madrigal waves of high-powered flush valves filling the room. The men’s room is crowded, but as the last drops fall on my pants, I find myself alone in the flood lit cavern. The scuffling and moaning has ceased and the waters are still. As I zip up, I hear low voices, three; two men and one woman, from the sound of it. The voices are rising from behind the flying screens that surround the handicapped accessible stall. I see beneath the bottom edges of the screens a pair of bare feet and groomed legs dangled from the bowl to the clothing littered floor, and two pairs of larger feet and hairy legs standing alongside. “Say it, piss boy,” says a soft voice. There falls a few moments of silence. “How about you?” her voice says again. I feel no impulse to cut and run for the truck. I am carried nearly weightless to the stall by the hands of two flounder faced Teamsters wearing grey uniforms that bear embroidered black script reading T-N-T stitched on the pockets over their hearts. As we pass a mirrored wall I cannot see them in the glass. They hold me like a trophy catch so I can peer over the top of the entrance door to view the unfolding scene. The woman is naked and as I suspected, sitting on the throne. The men too are naked, but do not seem as happy as she, looking up and smiling at me in recognition. Don’t forget, I’m a hippie, and this is no Daughter of Inspiration. This is the Goddess of Fortune Herself, straight from Blake’s back pages. “Say it at the same time, you assholes,” she laughs. The Teamsters chortle in reply, and the two naked men facing her turn their


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 65 ~

heads and find with theirs my fish eyes floating like two bobbers on the top edge of the water closet door. Herman Melville and Walt Whitman stare at them in wonder. Behind their turned heads the Goddess opens her mouth as if to issue a next command. Instead of a word and a smile, her lips expand into an O, which shape itself begins to grow like the business end of a whirlpool in a tight ass river bend. Suddenly, Mr. Melville and Mr. Whitman are gone. As quickly as they vanish in her vortex, she returns a woman, naked on the stool. She grips her arms across her chest below her breasts and leans forward, resting her elbows on her knees. Her back is bent and head is bowed. I hear her breathe in sharply and exhale slowly, breasts moving like twin pontoons on the waves of her chest. With a slight shudder, her movement fills the bowl. Using the boys’ shorts as a swab, she rises up from her hole in all her glory and pulls the handle on the flush. Maybe I’m not dreaming. After all, this is New Jersey. I awaken on the couch I use for a flop. Strangely, I am alert and well rested. Sparrows dance along the sill of my window. Behind them the march and the loading of the dumpsters continues in a cloud of dust, but like the birds, I don’t seem to mind the din or the disorder. At least it’s not pouring through my door yet, although it sure seems of late to be buzzing around it like a swarm of hungry wasps over a dead duck. Somehow, it doesn’t matter much to me. I sit up on the cushions and begin to put on my Chinese sneakers, but I change my mind. Time instead for a shower. Lucky me, and two times. One, my squat has water. Two, a sink and a shower, none of the said plumbing installed or serviced by Ohm. With a creative sanitary protocol I have successfully avoided the use of the men’s bathroom down the hall, even for a dump. The men’s room on the street floor is not a place in which to venture anyway, unless you’re looking for a dirty set of works or bring your own seat. I use the ladies room for the second job, and it has a door that locks. I look around the squat. My 3-speed coaster brake bicycle hangs on a hook on the wall. Next to it is pinned my still unframed photograph of Ariel and Arachne posing like triumphators in their graduation regalia at Christine de Pizan Academy. My eyes wander. Winter plastic still covers most of the windows except for the two I’ve managed to restore to operation, where I’ve cut some holes in the wrap. An unfinished rowboat sits in the stocks in front of them, its completion stalled for lack of cash. Building rowboats is my little industry soon to lose its cottage. For years I swung a hammer for a boss, in between bouts with the dumpsters, and no doubt bent a lot of nails in my time. One day I started bending the wood instead of my knee and now find myself landed on this far shore. I’ve got a few tools and a bench, a chair in front of my plywood desktop which lays stretched across a couple of sawhorses, and some screens I move around to hide from prying hallway eyes the hotplate and the tiny refrigerator. In the refrigerator I keep my peanut butter, the caviar of hippies, and my bread, birthright of humanity.


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 66 ~

The mattress covers my door like a muzzle on the mouth of Pallas up to her chin in a rising concrete tide. On the desk the crumbs of last night’s meal from Big Daddy are spread out on its wrinkled white wrapper, seeds spilled for the sparrows in a winter dooryard. Alongside the yard, my pile of memoirs rises like a stack of hay. And right next to this house of straw lay my pantometagraph, calling to me like the eye of the proverbial needle… Ah; writing a memoir does bear an uncanny resemblance to the task of filling a dumpster, and for an old hippie, to a sort of bicycle race through the woods to the end of the world. It requires the same close attention either job, as falling into a dumpster or off of a bike is something you never forget how to do. Both sports are affordable and sometimes even share the same convenient roadway during the event. As an added benefit in the case of the writing, the page is a level playing field when not set on fire, so no one can cheat with a sleazy investment in performance chemistry. In this version of professional sport, cheaters are limited to outright lying. As Mr. Twain put it, “An awkward, unscientific lie is often as ineffectual as the truth.” Meaning, lies and memories can have too much in common, like a Byblis and Caunus. When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall. Like the hippies say, beware of all memories that require new clothes. That’s why I’m so glad to still be a hippie, you know, down to earth, even if it’s down and out. I don’t have to go out on a limb and I’ve still got air in my tires, even if I had to borrow most of it. Floating on this loan I ride naked on the saddle through the hills and the dales, kicking up stray piles of leaves, wheeling to a fresh skinny dip down at the spring… But like the lid on a well, a memory is the book beneath the cover with its text hidden in the turnings of the page. So I had forgotten to open the one on my calendar and flip a leaf of mine. Time can have a flight pattern for a hippie like a piece of silly putty flowing through a bullet hole in a tabletop, and I was falling into one. Why rush into return to the flat earth clockworks of Raven and his ransack of the Restles? Why rush into anything? You can’t punch a timecard on a sundial. With this extra wing of time landing like a gift at my feet, I decide to consult with the pantometagraph and adjust my bearings. I sit down at the desk. As I work, I notice the corner of my poem peeking out from beneath the white paper left from dinner, like a tip from Mother, or an edge of a yellow passport. At least it came back in one piece. Hey, I’m not such a bad poet, why can’t I get ahead? Critics and patrons only see what they want. Has everyone forgotten how to read? I’ll just have to post it up again on the lobby wall, and see if anyone can. There’s lots of room for more holes in it, and the headnote is not really important. As I ponder this plan, there comes a loud knocking at my door. Only this, and nothing more. Surprised, I quickly slip the pantometagraph into the shelter of the haystack. I hear another round of knocks upon the door, louder than the first. Ah, here I am. Perched, and sat, and nothing more. Perhaps I have enough time left hanging in the bullet hole so that I won’t have to answer.


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 67 ~

But now I remember. That’s right. I have a senior pre-moment. How could I forget this appointment? It’s not Raven at my door. And it’s not Prize or Manjusri or Crazy Jah, either. It’s the detectives from the Bronx, and they are here on business. Confiscated Magazine and Snow Country newspaper share an office in the old Seaman’s Chapel. Arachne and I are headed down the street towards it, on a Saturday night lark. We’d stopped for a bit of fuel at the Blood Shot Inn to help propel the other fire we were stirring, and then took flight with our torch in the cold April night to the waterfront of Headlight, Maine. Destination: Love. Location: the land of Beulah and Aphrodite trading places in the mirror. This is Love in the Kind Good Buds, alright. Ariel was right. Arachne did want to try and be with me some more and I wasn’t complaining and neither was she. If making love is anything like riding shotgun on a garbage truck; that is, hanging on for a trip to the moon while she handled the stick like a transmogrified Harold on pheromones, well, then Ariel was a Franklin, questioning his sexuality with the window rolled up, but having fun just the same. Love is about sharing, and that we did. We shared the money too. The Kind Good Buds were us, and our spouses and no small number more of like minds working day-by-day as laborers and builders of the people. The neighborhood was a mess. And we had ideas and we had work and the means to put them into practice. We took all the dough that we all earned and at the end of the week put it in a pile and split it fair and square. It was better to live an equal amongst equals in 1972. Someone had to set a standard. When all thirteen of us showed up at Channel Bank to set up an account it was a scene. Any two signatures could write a check in our scheme, so that we could sign one another’s checks on payday in a roundrobin format, birds of a feather. This led to some confusion with signature cards and teller protocols when we all came in for a cash landing, and the bank manager pointing to his copy of the Declaration of Independence hanging on the wall behind his desk like he’d written it just that morning, muttering something about Reds. Well, if robin red breast in a cage sets all heaven in a rage, then I was a hippie Red alright, counselee of Panama. The Kind Good Buds were a collective because we could be and because we wanted to. It’s right there in the Constitution, but nobody had one on hand because it was 1971 and the Constitution was experiencing technical difficulties. On the street, the exercise of liberty was not a work-study program, and the times made of Harvard and Yale two banks of holding cells, enforcing an excessive bail to keep the inmates on the ice. Arachne and I were free as birds sprung from a coop. And we were winging for a nest at Confiscated Magazine up on the second floor of the Chapel. Confiscated shared an office with Snow Country, the weekly underground paper. I shared some duties at the Magazine, so I had a key. Arachne was poking me on the shoulder and then wrapped an arm around my waist. The salt air carried in with the tide was cool and damp and


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 68 ~

sweet, and when we stopped and traded spit it wrapped us in a true lover’s mist. “I love you, Zeke,” she whispered. “And I love you,” I knew. I could respect the word from her lips because I’d seen it in her eyes. It was that something that I’d detected in them way back at the Republic, when she’d talk about her very old and very fussy dance teacher from her early days as a schoolgirl in Queens. Her muse was a woman who had danced for Vaganova herself, and had served at the pleasure of the very last Czar of all Imperial Russia. Dance was love with a blood royal method. She’d learned to do something she loved from someone she loved, a rare gift to a child. It was a light in them, an original, a spark struck from a stone to kindle fire, and not just in the heart. A fireside where memory is an account of love and not an unknown equation lost in all the numbers, waiting for some equilibrium to land on the page like the signature of a secret message buried beneath the code. The choreography of love holds no secrets within its dance, even without the footlights. How can it? There’s no balance in love to be charted like a paperwork graph hung on the precipice of science, or found in a counterweight of drugs to treat all of its ills before you fall off it. Love feeds its hunger from the nourishment it finds at hand, and there’s still plenty of that left on earth, despite all the new holes in it. Arachne and I just happened to be fresh fuel for its banquet fire, joining ours and falling to it in the flames of its incendiary device. The roof is on fire, let the motherfucker burn. All the lights were off on the second floor. The light in the stairwell up to the office was out as well, and we felt our way up the flight of dark stairs into the shadows on the landing. We embraced again, blood rising like the spring tide. This is much better than garbage trucks and the Ivy League. In tonight’s program, this is one long pas de deux from the floor of the Republic into the parlor of the KGB. I remember her joke from back then, too, when she turned to me as Ariel went to tend the Siamese cat, crying at the back door. “I could have continued in the ballet, but…” and as her eyes shot into mine she cupped her hands beneath her breasts, the same ripening fruit now held in mine. Ah, Ariel and Arachne. Now I preferred Ariel’s mind, and Arachne’s body. Ariel; so silent and distant, never a hint or word of advice on how to steer the boat… Arachne; singing out a shanty and pulling her own weight. Twins, or twoheaded sisters, I just didn’t know. And with our bodies charging up for some welding of our own, it didn’t matter to me if I was the shadow or the puppet while she held me in her arms. All was illumination. The couch in the office is a shambles. The newspaper deadline must be near. We both turn to face the doors across the hall. A sign nailed to the lintel of their double doors spells out CROW in white letters on a black field. The door to the Correctional Reform Or War, Inc. meeting hall is never locked, and they have a nine foot couch covered with Mexican blankets. It’s a perfect place to mount up and cross our borders. We slip across the hallway in the dark, lovers in a sanctuary of stealth. We glide


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 69 ~

right in and close the doors behind us. The couch floats in the corner like a sunset cloud on the Sea of Cortez. Spring snow begins to fill the windows of the hall like silver curtains as we dance towards our pillow. The silence and the darkness are opaque, but we have our own music. On the cloud we are free and no longer shadows, no longer puppets; we are horses pulling gods inside our car upon the floating couch, hearts like drumbeats in the wind… when we hear the tapping of the footsteps rising on the stairs. In the echo in the Chapel, we lay close and stilled our breathing as we could. Arachne quickly wrapped us in the mantle of a Mexican blanket and we lay together stilled in our cloak like a four-legged bandit as the door into the hall swung wide, then closed. Sleep may have no spy, but love sure does. So we lay in the wideawake stillness together, secret agents of it. All I could see was the back of a head walk towards the office suite, and hear the tapping of the boots like a stalking horse across the wooden floor. When they stopped we heard the jingle of some keys and the turning of a lock and the creaking of a door. It opened and then shut in one motion. Our tongues silent, we lay joined at the hips and arms all encircled beneath our borderline cover. A pool of dim light appeared upon the floor beside our car and lingered like a passing moon shadow on our sea. The spring snow in the windows sparkles like diamond dust in the wind. Our tongues join again, sealing with a kiss our conspiracy of silence and keeping warm the harness of our love. Then the pool on the floor vanishes like a picture from a silver screen. In the return of darkness a door open and closes. Still as stone we feel our heartbeats count the footsteps as they pass back in their tracks. The door to the hall opens and closes again and the footfalls fade into the sounds of our breathing and our bodies back to work at love in the KGB. That’s the only time I’ve been in the company of Bellerophon Quebec, the fabled revolutionary. I saw the back of his head while I was yoked to love’s swift chariot. I keep saying it over and over. I’m just a hippie with a literary handicap. But it was his daughter who answered the door at Ariel’s upstate New York digs, when the detectives from the Bronx came knocking, and it was nothing to do with him. This round of detectives explained that they wished to speak to me about some bullets that had flown like Thanatos in the night, once upon a time out in the Spoon. Spoon Island, returning like a dream fallen from another moon, casting its cloak like the shadow of a bird upon my threshold at the dock of the load. There is rapping at my chamber door. I too, must rise again it seems. With a touch of my hand the muzzle slides free of the mouth of Pallas up to her chin in the concrete, and I hear voices behind the door. I set loose the bolt and open wide her mouth. Three guys who look like unlicensed siding contractors from Watson Avenue greet me from the hall. Although I am a hippie, I’m not surprised. I know I haven’t mentioned it until now, but besides Symbolic Literary Disorder, I’ve also got a little extra strand of stuff too, located somewhere in the front of my brain. After


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 70 ~

looking at the readout, my good friend the doctor said something about the corpus callosum, matter which he likened to a full-tilt boogie expressway bridging the banks of the swift-flowing cerebral cortex. This anomaly, which cannot be detected by customary means nor portrayed on a flat screen, is apparently not like a switch or a wire or a panel box or some osmotic chemical exchanging volt potentials, but is more an express subway tunnel shaped like a mobius corrugation filled with cars running between the hemispheres, on account of all the passenger traffic between them when I was a secret agent in the KGB. Turns out that love can do that to you, even if you are a hippie. The doctor said the condition is so rare that it’s not even mentioned in the literature, but he was working on it. Its effects sure come in handy in a situation like this. The train’s in the station, alright. I’ll do the right thing, but that’s not the question. Justice wasn’t born wearing a gag, and it’s time for me to remove mine. I get to say it again. Fuck Harvard. Fuck Yale. Fuck Prize. If Socrates had split the jury, Athena would have cut him loose and bought him lunch. That’s what the Bronx Lobe can do for a hippie and what love can do for justice. And if I learned anything on the Spoon from Mayo Kayo, and none of it was about love or justice, it is simply this. Now when I see someone wearing a badge, I see but an equal, or a whole lot less. It might only be the dock of the load, but it’s my fucking Republic even if the Lobe is as Temporary as me. That’s why I double-checked the hall. No bird. “Come on in,” I said. “I’ve been expecting you.” So now I‘m in the clouds again, alright. But this time their sails are turned inside out, making of my memory a supersonic wind howling through the high-flown heavens faster than a qualifying round popped through a ghost shirt target at the police firing range. As I fly, I recall like a homing bird my lost floating world in the Spoon. The firing range sticks out in the Bay like a neck with no head and lays half a gunshot WNW across the water from my old squat at the Desolation Trust Corporation property. Many a volley had I heard, day and night. Like a headless horseman, the ground on the range has a great view of the mountain of trash rising in the Biaggi Dump and Park just up his Creek, a mountain which looms over the routine roar of gunfire like Tmolus over the crude ears of Midas. Soon enough I will land once again on the other side of the bullets. I feel my flying body and the hull of the plane begin descent into the defiant and colossal gravity hidden like a bullet in a barrel in the belly of the Bronx. Between me and the plane and the plane and the sky falls another impossible theological leap across my hot-wired horizon of memory, another feather landing on a hippie wing to impel it in the unfolding trail of vapors stretching out like a hijacked moonbeam between Dioscuri and the Big Apollonian, where my feet are bound. It rides into my brain like a number 2 train on high pressure ether. Ready or not, like a third rail my Bronx Lobe fires into excitement as the crew chime hymns its alert and a firefly blink of overhead lights announces the landing approach. The


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 71 ~

clouds outside the cabin disappear. The plane banks southwest and to port and in this roll dips mighty wings in trajectory back to earth. The cabin window is a lens in a telescope; in its diamond zoom the surface of the earth begins to grow. There it is. The Rhodesia of the Bronx. The Lobe and my eyes fill with the fully baptized body of Spoon Island floating in the deep blue water of the Sound like a beached white whale, a phenomenal hide, its back trashed by the made and splashed in a tidal cover of jade moss, blowhole ready to spout one last time, gasping jaws poised to disgorge the fetid bones of a stinking Ahab right back out onto the fucking beach. It was an old-time glacier pushing south whose creeping grip on the rim of the north Atlantic deposed here below all these broken bits and stray pieces of coastal New England. Its retreat left behind a pile of stone and clay and soil heaped over the ledge formed edges of the Spoon, back in the day when Mother Nature was the only contractor in the local earthmoving racket. By and large, the island stayed the same under her tutelage for about 25,000 years, until Ronnie Pinocchio got a hold of some dump trucks. Once his wheels started leaving tracks on its back a whole new dictionary had to be passed out at the Spoon Island schoolhouse, just to understand the latest hieroglyphic definition of rock, or Spoon, or line. As windblown spray breaks from a wave on the beach, sparks from the Lobe dance like Saint Elmo’s fire across the top of my head. To be sure, after she left me, Ariel lived in the upstairs apartment in the Pinocchio family home, right on the waterfront. “Time to divorce,” she said, and this time out of fifty she wasn’t kidding. I wasn’t the only tree in the way of her clearcut. Her hair had changed color. Her Picasso nose was to be rebuilt. In this renovation, all fell beneath the scourge. She quit obstetrics and gynecology, after all that work. I was the last to be untied from the rack of her decision, so of course I got the final lash. “To continue practice,” she said with her back turned to me, “would be unethical.” Oh. Of course she was giving me up, too. “Everyone should go to graduate school, you know,” she continued, turning a shoulder my way. I was still just a hippie knocking nails or working on deck for the Cat in the Hat. Our latest job was reviving a big old log float for Duke Vitro and the Pot Pirates. Vitro and his band were expanding their operations and were soon to stretch the cable from their 100 foot vintage yacht to a landing on the historical Spoon. It was the end of a long day and I was feeling a great thirst. I still had bottom paint staining my hands red as blood. My boots and my clothes were filled with the smell of the mussels and whelks I’d scraped all morning from the worm-eaten logs like old dreams from a hang-over. She turned to face me with a curious smile. For once she looked me in the eyes. She had new contact lenses and her eyes were a different color. “I’m taking up psychoanalysis.” So of course she had to be living in the Pinocchio’s crib when she first took custody of the revolutionists’ children. The kids surely needed a home, and she and Arachne were cooking up a plan to help. Their parents,


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 72 ~

none other than the infamous Quebec himself, and Philonoe, someone we all knew better as a harmonica playing member of our KGB jug band, back in the day… well, they were bound over in the Big Apollonian awaiting trial on the capital charge of Seditious Conspiracy. For many years they’d traveled one foot ahead of the law, robbing banks and setting off bombs while they raised a family, until their capture a couple days before the 1984 B-movie landslide election. Federal prosecutors, long tired of hanging pictures on a post office wall like mere promoters of the silver screen, were making plans to become producers of their own, and hang some real McCoys in prime time. Where will the poster children go? Ah, Ariel and Arachne… Without warning my Lobe is struck by a charge like a bolt of lightning resurrected straight from the memory hole poised like a waiting Columbian submarine in the tidal wash between New York and New Jersey and fired right into my cloudy reminiscences here above. This is some plane ride. Through the cold and sharp glass I glimpse but for a single flashing moment another great silver river. O, the river which sparks tumbling emerald memories glittering in the clash of tide and current, flow and undertow thrashing between the docks of the Big and the imperial Palisade of North County, New Jersey. I see in a glimmer the stretch of it between the bridge and the tunnel where the gerry-mandering townships in North County all dip a toe or a foot or, as in the case of Trimalchio’s prizes, cheeks and asshole complete, right in its mouth. “Time to divorce,” said Ceylon. And of course Spoon Island being what it is, why shouldn’t she and Ariel talk it over too? In any case, Ceylon could always use a second opinion from a shrink. In fact, I was standing in the same room while they consulted, but they didn’t seem to mind. It was like I was invisible. On the Spoon, things like this happened to me all the time. But even I knew that this coincidence of matrimonial counsel spelled the end of my disastrous union with Ceylon Trimalchio and my star-crossed career with her family and the business on the waterfront in New Jersey. “All you’ve got in your head,” the Cat in the Hat told me then, “is beer cans and pussy.” Little did he know. But even this doesn’t explain why I’m soaring in a metal bird back to Spoon Island. And every time I try to write one story, on account of SLD I find that I have a tale in hand like the many twisted strands in a cable from a roll-off dumpster winch… In the lays of Spoon Island Anthology I’m a broken comet, a fizzed-out exile on a last return to pick a killer from a line-up and close a spectral book. Meanwhile, as the winch begins to tug, the parts in Love in the KGB are swirling in all the mad various clouds as I’m sweeping clean in memorium the slumbering contents of a way-out hippie warehouse. Now the cable starts to stretch upon the drum. In the twisting steel, as ephemeral as a ghost image on a radar screen, flickering in the leaves of Trimalchio Nummi Transfer it appears that I am a stand-in for a double-agent inside the secret counting house of a banana republic despot. After all, it may


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

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have been Morning in America somewhere down in Washington, DC, but this was New Jersey, where they count the money in a time zone all their own. It occurs to me that you can kick the Lobe out of the Bronx, but never the Bronx from Lobe. And if SLD is a disorder of time, the Lobe is surely one of space. How else could both of my wings be inbound anywhere on a plane? This is hippie anti-gravity, alright. If trading wives is like flipping a coin, this is like flipping a coincidence. How did it get in the air? This condition puts a whole new perspective on the situation. It’s not like in New Jersey or the Bronx, where they kick the truth out of words for a living and let others do the writing about what’s left. Coincidence may be a circle compassed by its borderline of chance, but now the circle’s spinning in the air too, like an ancient coin turned inside out. The Lobe and Disorder are face to face and firing up in the mouth of my midnight river like phosphorescence from a rising tide. I am balanced on the bare-backs of two swift-charging white steeds, no bits in their foaming mouths and no reins in my hands. It’s both feet for the horses now. Could it be that as Symbolic Literary Disorder is to fiction, the Bronx Lobe is to truth? No wonder the Lobe is as handy to a hippie as a bat in his hat. The Cat in the Hat was in my face. “All we need is the Bill of Rights!” he barked. I forget what we were arguing about, but it was something to do with the First Amendment. As every hippie knows, when you’re free, you have one. When your sticker price is cheap, you don’t. Money may weigh it down for a while, but it’s stronger than gravity too, with a power derived from the sole and direct function of its exercise. Its honor mirrors a truth greater in value that all the notes and gold and gems stacked in a tower into heaven, or stashed inside a Trimalchio Nummi Transfer piggyback box container somewhere down in Costa Guano. Law and order on Spoon Island? Put it this way- if the unexamined life is a prison, the unexamined island let a killer walk. Memory may be zero gravity, but bullets aren’t. The last time I saw the twisted face of this stranded rock, law and order was compounded and weighed out in a fresh package served up like an oh so savvy dealer stepping on the goods and pushing a prescription of order right over the top of the counter, at the full expense of the law shoved like a bag of trash beneath it. But like every hippie knows, even on Spoon Island, free speech gets you through times of no money better than money gets you through times of no speech at all. I won’t get shorted because I ain’t selling or buying. This is one of the hidden advantages of Symbolic Literary Disorder, now revealed in a chance airborne encounter with the Lobe. This is some plane ride. I think I’ll keep notes. As I told Oversize, a book explodes when it wants to. Long live SLD! And the Lobe? The Lobe is in full Bronx boogie; charged, juiced, fired and itching to make my feet dance as we swoop in for a landing in… of course, Queens. A detective will meet me at the gate. Time now for a walk in my shoes down the Fire Lane of Spoon Island memory,


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 74 ~

before I put the wings right back on them and take off again, kick-ass Hermes. x. Memory foretells nothing… Ah, who am I kidding? This is no way to write a novel, like a broom straw in the wind. Who am I, some cheap cowboy philosopher expecting his freezer burnt tumbleweed words to line up on the icy horizon, clutching the page like obedient barbs wound through the range wire fence? Or is this just one more proof that no warehouse hippie could possibly understand the composition of a novel? Was it the day the sun came up and all I could see was another coin falling through a slot, buddy spare a dime, when it occurred to me that if I wish to live in the past I’m surely doomed to die as soon as it comes true? What an advantage to be a hippie! Nothing to lose, even if today is the last day of the rest of my life. They can kick me off the street, but not the street from me. My every word is a footstep on the highway, even if my memoirs now resemble more a pile of cherry blossoms with a tractor trailer tire track embossed upon them like an industrial logo stamped on a factory product. More proof that one size fits all. And no better time to write than now, ever a dollar short, but never a day late. And what’s more, a dream in a warehouse gets you through times of nightmare on the street better than no dream on the street gets you through a warehouse disaster. Tired of my complaints and all the bullshit stuck to my boots? Stretched out of shape by the whole list and laundry of them sagging like freshly boiled underwear on a hippie warehouse clothesline? Happy I would be if the next complaint were just such the case. But this intrusion in the fiction is real, like a commercial interruption on television, or a gunshot, or a fresh revelation via the pantometagraph. I should be making up a story about the Bronx and my trip to the courthouse. Instead, on my return, I discover the dock of the load has been entered by party or parties unknown. As I pull open the door I at once feel a taser shock of hippie alert, like an hallucination blasting off in reverse. The muzzle on the bust of Pallas is askew and crimped open, like she’d stuck out her tongue to hiss a warning. I plant my feet. Perhaps in my absence stray biographers have sought to supplement their latest findings; or a low-rent hippie costume has at long last ripped me off. Ah, little matter; no difference between them. Now I see what Mr. Cold is driving at. Go ahead, see what you can do with it and steal my identity too. I stand still and take a slight breath. No shadows dancing on the floor to reveal an intruder on the move. I look aside, like searching the dark sky for a star, to double check. The dim light holds its place. I glance at the back of the door. No signs of a forced entry. The nail hole pierced by Prize’s poetic repair job stares its dull eye back at mine like a vacant knothole in a wooden Cyclops. Time for dinner alright. I hear no tell tale stirring in the dock. A musty odor fills my nose, mingling with the dust of demolition that clouds the hallway air and clings to every surface like the veneer of memory that clutches my every word. I taste alabaster gypsum


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 75 ~

as I purse my lips to call out a probe into the silent room. From the hall I hear the wheels of the Mexican harvest carts mingle with my curse. I shoot my sentry gaze into the dock of the load like a flickering torch and push aside the muzzle of Pallas. I hear the pulleys of my rigging haul out a greeting as my shadow spreads across the floor. I follow both of them inside. I have nowhere else to go. What a twist. I hadn’t expected yet another dose of reality to give my SLD a compulsory treatment. Things are crazy enough around here already. The Jails4Jesus picnic is but a few days away, from the looks of the parking lot, and during my brief sojourn to the coast, the Stinking Lizaveta has been pruned down to the seeds and stems; I couldn’t help but notice their new café motif as I passed their waning enterprise on the way back to mine. Crude orange day-glo spray paint circles decorate and surround the new holes that pock the interior sheetrock walls like Texas bulleyes on the side of a barn, new love taps from the bill of Raven. I look around the squat in the falling darkness. The picture of Ariel and Arachne is still tacked to the wall. My screens are undisturbed. I look inside the refrigerator. Caviar and birthright await my desires. I note the bicycle hanging, see the tools undisturbed. I check beneath the pillow on the busted couch flop for the pantometagraph and the ready reference material, awaiting my attention and study once again. All secure. Then my eyes fall to the sawhorses and the plank stretched out across them. This is NFG, and I’m not talking grade of plywood. My little mountain of memoir seems compressed atop them, as if flattened beneath a wheel. The pages no longer meander on their tattered edges like fuzzy brushstrokes in a painting, but rest neatly stacked, as if cut by machine. The stash of notebooks from my suitcase archive lays spilled on the floor beneath the trestles, a train wreck in a gulley. Now what…and suddenly the flat line lips of Manjusri begin to burn in my skull like a white hot wire in an incandescent bulb, or worse; register like a hungry slot in a shredder, teeth gnashing, wider than my head. Oh no. This can’t be happening. Not the blade. Not the nevermore. Echoing like gunshots from the hallway I hear the staccato squawks of Raven crowing at the door of the ravaged Stinking Lizaveta: The page is turning, hope you’re learning how we do Our business here. The notes are flying, suckers buyingThe legal tender grinds its gear… struck with the image of the Raven graven on the bundles dear: O triple A, wing on the way To our bull market, have no fear. Dare not forget, To your own sorrow, what is coming but tomorrow We’ll smash more walls and trash more halls And unhinge each and every door… Quoth the Raven: “More in Store!”


David Empfield-Love in the KGB

~ 76 ~

I walk back to the wooden Cyclops and pull its face to the jamb, then affix the tumbling handle lock like a dial on the door of a safe. With a tired hand I pull the muzzle of Pallas into place, covering the solitary eye and smothering the voice of Raven. As I turn to face the latest mystery, I see that the panes in the window to the dock of the load are etched in the grey falling wash of dirt and twilight, slowly painting it black. I head back to the busted couch I use as a flop. I stretch out with the pantometagraph in hand… now my life is in shreds, no doubt, a pre-mortem of sorts. Ah, who am I kidding, my whole life is a case of mistaken identity, so like the man said: go ahead and steal it. Like my presence in the warehouse as a virtual ghost, my net worth balances on the equinox of my account line like goose eggs on a cliff. What paper trail has Manjusri disappeared like junk bonds into the belly of the beast? Adjusting the pantometagraph for a consolation sail, I find that although I’m once again at zero with money, I’m united as one with my thoughts. I note that with one foot on land and the other on the gunnel, I’m squarely at two with nature, but judging from the market position of this sum, quite suddenly at risk to be divided by three... But steal my memoirs? And just who are all these people on the page, and who cares? As I straddle this shoal of finance at four with SLD and at five with…. the Lobe is tickling me with recrimination and I feel like a Dmitri on Percodan, hidden in the garden bushes, plagued by his jive-ass 3000 rubles of sheer trouble… looking for a sign to really help him give a shit. I reflect upon all the things that are lost and now absent in my own mirror of memory, an empty consolation indeed for this unforeseen redaction of my memoir by the ruthless hand of Manjusri, like a bullet hole in the glass. Perhaps he thinks I will forget about him as the smell of this gunpowder subsides in my mind. No wonder he was scarce when I returned and not a note upon the door. I should have known. Now I will be chasing him, and he knows it, for surely he is the one behind this latest style of editor in chief… and did not Dante himself observe that only in hell is all to be remembered, this rule an eternal defeat of amnesia, an endless audit where nothing is forgotten, and all is accounted, no shreds, lost editions, bowdlerized text or corrupt translations standing in the way of revelation? Or is it just another virtual ghost? Words in a line with but a shadow of meaning, poltergeists swimming in the muddy pools of memory like reflected starlight from the night sky submerged in the puddles that pock the Restles parking lot like holes struck by a keypunch in an old time card, a discarded ticket, where even now I hear Prize’s boys erecting some sort of makeshift stage in preparation for the Break In/Out celebration, a counterpoint to the footfalls of the retreating Mexicans? So what if three zeroes stand balanced on my account line, like forlorn balls forgotten by the jugglers and the clowns?


Love in the KGB