I was sitting in my yard in the hot, still, saturated light of early evening. It was hours from dimness but on the cusp of fading contrast.
A finch landed next to me and warbled a song. When he was done, a woodchuck, who had been watching nearby, said, That bird has seen things that would make your human soul wither.
Curious, I asked, Such as what?
The finch warbled another song and flew away.
A casino is built in the outskirts of a small city, separated from the industrial river by freight tracks. It's surrounded by a sparse landscape of unique geometries -- Of voids broken by towering squares and expansive low rectangles defining massive space around them, a space remaining vast, perhaps vaster, in the face of such monoliths -- Of a broad drawbridge rusted-open that seemingly, fluidly, redefines its own perspective even in stasis, hinged at the shore, reaching beyond midpoint of the river, no struts or suspensions, the uncomfortably-angled slant and length and implied weight of the span sparking the inherent human capacity for assessment to assume the presence of massive unseen counterweights -- Of elongated pyramid wireframes truncated by water-tower cylinders peaking in broad cones -- Of gesturing freight tracks curving up and over the river, morphing in and out of line and plane as the curve and ascent is followed, spawning trapezoids when hitting critical height and perfect straight bisection over the river --
And of the insane kinetic chaos of utility poles herding wires into undulating lines moving together but in and out by minor degrees so the eye can only follow for so long before transgressing to a new strand -- And of the cacophony of such poles competing with broadly-latticed towers shaped like stunted Xs pulling high-tension lines in a perfectly mutating parallel to the freight track right-of-way -- And of rows of taller high-tension crosses on the other side of the river, following its gentle curve, phasing in merging and demerging intervals with the closer poles and towers and wires --
And of slack dendrites breaking out of the static and extruding in seemingly infinite perspectives to connect with buildings -- Of calmly attenuating smokestacks perpendicular to the voided sky, some putting out listless amorphous clouds hinting at the unseen degradation and corruption underneath the landscape's indifferently architected physics.
A ways down on the far side of the casino, across the parking lot, in the direction of the chain motels and restaurants, in an area where industry becomes minimally verdant with utilitarian breaks of trees and brush, the freight tracks curve back into land towards the far border of the city. They cross the two-lane county highway -- The Interstate's distanced service road -- that runs separated from but parallel to the river, and which further back borders the land-side of the casino. It's night. A freight train has derailed. The locomotive lays on its side, and the cars have jackknifed and jackrabbited in different directions and angles.
THE ANGEL OF DEATH
The angel of Death stands atop the locomotive and waits for the motorman and his assistant. Maybe they won't die. The angel of Death doesn't mind. If not today, another.
The man watches, dispassionately. He achieves quiet mind. As a child, his mother cooed to him: "Every time a card is dealt an angel claps for joy; For a universe has been created, and others have been destroyed." To him, this is nothing more than his time in casinos, standing to the side of the blackjack players, watching in fixation, his cycle synching to the ritual of the table: The arm curving out, the cards laying down, the arm snapping back, the arm curving out, the cards laying down, the arm snapping back, an attenuated sawtooth, and the dealer checks his down card, then random chirps of motion when blackjack is paid to the table, then a return to a half sine wave, stunted by the moment of pause before each player, a confluence of decision, a chaos, a moment in which the past is divided from the future by a binary decision, the first two sweeps a certainty but only to introduce the unknown futures spawned of Taking Not-Taking, of pausing on a point in the wave for an indeterminate period, a statistic born and borne by each player, a stuttered motion across the way, and he achieves quiet mind by watching and immersing, but never joining.
A statistic was born: A train derailed. A wave of particles set in motion, a universe of new probability birthed from the moment the derailment became Is instead of Not Is. And he watches. Maybe they won't die. Maybe they will. It's of no concern to him, he just watches, and like the angels, he finds joy (but unlike the angels does not feel joy -- he is dispassionate) in knowing the physics from which he was created continuously ebbs and flows around him, and he joys (dispassionately) in its being, even if he will not join it.
She inures herself to the cruel viciousness of the streets. As a blackjack dealer, she gave men what they wanted -- Calm sage advice triggered by the timid glance of an eye; A knowing smile for a statistical improbability landing in front of one who took the risk; An approving nod when a player wanted to be known for "playing like a dealer"; Bits and pieces of her life obfuscated to protect her core when a player needed the mirage of human connection. The house was her pimp, yet her cut was worse than that of a prostitute's. So she promoted herself. Walking the streets, the unbelievable but highly functional cliche of glancing at a man, looking back at him, but never approaching. For both the safety of his ego and her safety from arrest, she never makes the first move. And the streets are harder than she imagined. But she's strong. She maintains her independence. She'll never work for anyone else again. She never backs down to the predatory pimps, even if the price is a beating; She never lets a square get the upper hand -- She's never been hurt by one, her immense ability to read them makes her hand back money and walk away before the opportunity arises; She never allows verbal abuse, and a pinch or slap is returned in kind; Her only concession is comps for the police, but that's just paying rent. She's strong. She has made herself invincible to all that's around her. But how can she ever beat the futility and meaninglessness that rises inside her like fermenting paste, swelling and filling all the gaps, eventually pushing in all directions against her rock-hard shell -- When will it burst? When will her viscous putrefied psyche spray out on all those around her?
The penguin is being violated. It is in pain. It observes its physical and psychic pain but does not feel them. It objectifies itself in a perverse sympathetic vibration to the horrific depersonalization being inflicted upon it. It is shouting with all its strength into the stifling, muffling hand. There is no one to hear the cries even if they were allowed to be free and infiltrate all the void around the penguin. The penguin hears the expansiveness of its cries while no one else does. But the cries are from elsewhere. The penguin is no longer the penguin.
When their eyes meet, there's a mirrored void instead of a sparking mystery.
When they stand close there is an aura of dull panic instead of desire.
When they speak in each other's ears, it's sibilant death instead of a breathy concealed sensuality.
They hold hands and unify fear instead of hope.
They dance and try to repel their cosmic xenophobic amicicide instead of pulling closer in heat.
They kiss and taste defeat instead of cocktails and whiskey.
When they make love, it is to murder God instead of explore a new universe.
As the tanker car explodes, the tree is just far enough to see and hear the blast before the heat and pressure arrive. The tree begins a relaxation that stands it a beat deeper into the ground and a fraction taller into the sky, and that allows its branches to expand like lung breath, not bigger, just fuller, a holistic flowering of aura, and its physical awareness opens chakras and it finds samadrishti, and the conflagration arrives, and it turns into flame yet it is not consumed but instead manifests its energy, it is not blown back but instead pushes into the onslaught like a monkey arm pulling into its mother's enveloping musk, a cub pushing into its mother to mark and be marked, a dolphin swimming into its mother's enthralling sounds of love, a human baby reaching to its mothers face and becoming one with her eyes.
The Angel of Death, The Man, The Woman, The Penguin, The Dancers, and The Tree will all live forever.
It's only human arrogance that makes us believe our pain is more significant than that of an animal. To the universe, both are a crisis of energy. And it's our arrogance that makes us think the tropes we attribute to time have inherent meaning beyond our own self-awareness -- The human evocations of 9am and 7pm and 11pm and 12 noon mean nothing to the world around us. The universe's processes and physics have no alignment with our assumptions of significance and temporal normality.
It's 2am. As I sit at my desk, a squirrel is panting, awake, in the nest it made in the space between my ceiling and roof. It's experiencing an excruciating urgency in its core, a consolidation of all awareness, a kinetic sparking pressure shredding out in smaller waves, contracting, then expanding into bigger waves, then contracting, then expanding into enveloping vastness, then contracting, and, then, expanding into kinetic detached pain anesthetized only by synaesthesiac conversion into red noise vision. And then declination and dazed panting. And then it happens again, and a few more times again, until her litter is born.
There's a brief period of rest and her cosmic stupefaction breaks in the compact, pert manner of a squirrel. She grooms herself and she scurries around to start tending to her children. Residual afterbirth still drags from her when a focused yet enveloping surge of awareness brings on rigor. Smell produces adrenaline, now feeling the slight change in air pressure, now hearing a cycle of brown noise then pink noise then brown noise then pink noise separate from the wash of aurality around her. And the afterbirth still attached behind her. Her guard had been down. She should have known long before now. In her blindness in the darkness she turns to face where the scent is strongest, puffing with her panting, adhering to her newly circuited urge to crouch before her children (there is not space to stand). In the moment of standoff, enveloping acuteness of skittering energy and rapid dense pounding become an obliviousness to the corporeal world around her, physically detaching in the preparation for and knowledge that the attack will be, preparing her for either the unfettered flight or cataclysmic pain about to hit. In her case, both.
The energy infused in her maternal urges dissipates as if it never was, and she bolts. The small cat, as feral as the squirrel, knows in whatever ways cats do that the squirrel is weak, perhaps it understands the smell of dragging afterbirth, and scatters at her instead of the defenseless children.
And there's a shredding flurry of pain and an oceanic engulfing of smell and an urgency of cataclysmic proportions sized to fit a geometry accounting for not just time and space but dimensions the universe only displays in moments of such disproportionate significance, in moments when energy becomes so pure and raw that it fuses with all energies, when a squirrel experiences frequencies so resonant and frenzied that the focus and power blow open a simultaneous exposure to the physics of dimensions previously hidden, only exposed when the phasing of sine-pure waves coalesce and produce peaks that range beyond scale powerfully enough to illuminate in the universe what is always there but for our knowing it, places in which a marker in a system of rotations is so insignificant as to be below noise and below statistical anomaly, to be meaningless in the most finite and devastating ways. And a final explosion of squirrel energy, and then dissipation, and then stasis.
Dimensions and geometries indifferent to anything and everything, reacting but not aware when energies disrupt or energies ignite, it is all the processes and cycles of energy and nothing else, of crisis and stasis and the equilibrium that always resumes.
The universe is at peace. Only we are in turmoil.