by Craig Foltz
Sulphur lacks evidence. It produces huge domes of salt which loom between us. There are reams of the earth’s crust, cut up into triangles and arranged on vintage ceramic plates. We develop a collection of books through a complex system of appropriation, while pink hazy clouds drift by outside the window.
We’re sitting in the spare bedroom. The titles of the books are revelatory. Geranium Blues. Tiger’s Refrain. The BBQ Killers.
One of us wields spiky grass stalks behind our opercles to ward off hallucinatory strangers. The other stops washing their hair and lets it turn into a matted clump that takes the shape of a delicate conch shell. Our fear of the dark cannot be alleviated by light-producing organs nor by the links between modified eye muscles and powdery sugar. The way we subvert the dominant paradigm has altered over time. Discarded plastic has a wide range of issues.
You say, Some of us achieve death before we achieve flight.
Our goal is to achieve a state of complete darkness via methods of simplicity and universal appeal. In the way that the poet becomes dependent upon phosphate fertilizers, deep lustrous purples make their way into young girl’s notebooks.
And so, one poet may never sit still. While another must acquaint themselves with the taste of oats and pearl barley.
I attempt to remove the hull and other outer layers of my body. I hulk through gardens of wavy sea grass in search of sulphate deposits and vents of superheated water. You say, Stop it. That tickles.
We follow a curved path. Our bodies tend towards a fixed point in the center.
To cure this fear darkness we visit the drab office of an alchemist, but the alchemist offers us only fumigants, balms and antiparasitics. She tosses a few pairs of hooves on the counter and says, While you are at it, you may as well take these too.
We are hull-less now and wander through the streets, in search of outer layers or bio-luminescence. We wear the hooves from the alchemist on loose strings dangling around our necks. As it turns out, there are very few of us who possess these specialized electroreceptors. But without them, how would we locate one another? How would we know when an image was totally false? How would we recognize the shape of each other’s faces?
Molybdenum is a ghost. It’s coefficients of thermal expansion are weak and defer to jaundiced elders. In the way that our cheeks shape the words which escape from our lips, some blossoms lack the tensile strength to unfold.
I will perch atop your domes of salt in hopes of getting just one little taste. I will purchase vast expanses of bare land and wait for the ocean to claim them. I will inhabit the shell of the ghost of what we haven’t yet become in order to feel what the dead feel.
In time, you say, all that you survey will prevent you from reaching your desired destination. With that, you lead us deeper into a place where oxygen is not readily accessible.
One day, we take a trip down to the ocean. On the way, we stop at a curious outdoor amphitheater where our circle of friends, stoned and draped in black robes, chant the names of our zodiac signs. They want us to join them in the darkest recesses of the deepest oceanic trench. But their posture is emblematic of something else. The lines along their jaws are curved and have been enlarged somewhat to accommodate an extra row of teeth.
You say, Falling isn’t the interesting part. It’s landing.
Q: Is this going to follow standard processes?
A: My neck is heavy with beads. My tongue is thick with parts of speech. My hands are encrusted in salt and I can no longer feel my extremities nor make my body behave in the manner to which it is accustomed.
Q: Is Nothing Sacred?
A: Asphyxiation is a fashionable way to go. The books we have written appear on the tables of the bookstore and sit next to books whose authors have names that we recognize.
Q: Now that we stand in front of this lovely expanse of water, will you help me sanctify it by jumping in?
A: Contrary to popular opinion, our bodies are soluble in the correct conditions. But in order to achieve these conditions we must first be willing to embrace our status as an animal.
Cadmium is perfectly capable of elucidating enthusiasm. Now, while it’s true that some dyes are derived from insects who dwell in the desert and feed on cacti, it’s also true that our words are little more than a colorant for soda cans and eye mascara.
Things change. We drift apart. We come back together. We drift further apart again. Those who use anthrax seek the front lines. The domes of salt we previously scrambled over to reach one another began to leach into the soil and lay waste to our neighbors’ crops of soybeans and potatoes. In time, these neighbors turn to fracking and other modes of industry intended to whittle away the earth’s crust.
One night we attend a party to celebrate an enormous collection of cobalt. The hosts of the party were the type of people who attained the characteristics of those around them. If poets were present, they had the faces of tapirs. If investors were near, they acquired the characteristics of stoats and possums. When they were alone, they draped black robes back over their bodies and blended into the background—only their mouths were visible, slowly drinking out of dandelion straws.
The next day you begin to pack up all of your books and memorabilia and tell me it’s time for us to move on. I want to smell the salt air when I wake up in the morning. I want to study piles of kelp above the high-water mark as they slowly decompose over a number of days. I want stray animals to feel safe in our gardens.
Our friends from the amphitheater have turned on us. Their limbs are most useful if deployed like fans. Their pupils have tripled in size. One of them, a woman you used to date, says, “We’ll go out and get drunk together and then get depressed together.”
In this scenario, the act of descending into the ocean means more than it did before.
Days later, she sends me an SMS from near the ocean which reads, Needless to say, it’s a strange day and here I am unexpectedly thinking about you again.
I slip down a few percentage points in order to get comfortable. Would it make more sense if we stood in front of the sun? Could our movements remain aligned if we picked up speed? If we started running, would our feet pound the concrete in unison?
The move: In which we exchanged one kind of paradise for another. In which annual rainfall amounts, sunshine hours, and public transportation options were all fed into some kind of formula whose equation was elusive and cryptic. The hooves from the alchemist sit, unpacked, in a cardboard box on the counter.
Rubidium is incapable of producing feeling. Not only that, it lacks plot points as well. You continue to lead us towards the high-pressured darkness of the ocean. The world down here feels two dimensional. I can make out the shapes of shiny, pink creatures both large and small, but they all appear to be stretched out on a flat canvass in front of me.
I’m convinced this is an illusion until you take the canvass down from the wall and begin to roll it up.
The floors in our new house are little more than monochromatic bursts of color. The horizons are linked and stretch out beyond the surveyor poles of our new neighbors’ yards. I’ve heard it said that domes of salt are nothing more than the future home of motorway tunnels. I’ve heard it said that the body is little more than a hollow sea shell, covered in barnacles and scraping its way upwards to greet us.
I take another trip down to the ocean. It is summer and the waves are filled with dozens of gleeful kids on vacation. Despite them, the water looks abandoned.
There is no sign of you anywhere. Even your footprints have been washed away from the sand. Your absence is accompanied by a shimmering light, particles of dust, a yellowish haze, and a surprisingly warm mist.
Months pass. The alchemist leaves a phone message asking for her hooves to be returned. She queries the legitimacy of our invoices and the quality of our deliverables. It is as if everyone is conspiring against us so that we will be unable to clearly perceive the world.
Nitrogen reduces poets to cheap bouillon. We take bites from a meal but the bites from the meal only increase our anxiety. You say, This place has changed a lot since we last visited.
We are close in age. Our interests are twinned and conjoined in a way that makes a remote control superfluous. We have a joint bank account. Both of our names appear on the rental agreement. We cast shadows with our hands. Strangely, the hallway in our new house is the only place with a view.
We have a shared photo album on display which we’ve called The Lighter Side of Heavy. It turns out we are great inventors of complicated devices—devices whose uses are unnecessary. Despite this, we have performed impressive feats of engineering.
When we are alone, we take separate trips down to the beach. One of us walks in. The other stays behind, not watching exactly, but paying attention. From somewhere down the beach, laughter.
Me: I’m not sure if you’re up for it, but I’d like to revisit some autobiographical facts again.
You: I have nothing else to tell you. I grew up near a large body of water. The walls of my bedroom were plastered in Cabaret Voltaire and Bauhaus posters.
Me: Microphonies. Burning From the Inside.
You: The year was 1986. The year was 1987. The year was 1988.
Me: Where do we go from here?
You: Clusters of dissent dominate the margins. But it’s not just the margins. Even the mainstream is grieving. New methods of transport have beeb enabled. Where there used to be no rocks jutting out of the water, suddenly there are.
Me: Where are you? Where does one body begin and another end?
You: Now that you mention it, I’m not sure. One thing I do know: Language is public property.
Me: If I was to suddenly disappear would you remember all of my access codes and passwords?
You: I can’t answer this for certain. The only thing I ever remember you asking for was to be case sensitive. Is this part of that request, or something new? The coast remains a myth. As it has always been.
Me: We forget where we started. But when I look up, the place is very familiar.
You: Some say the ocean is a purplish-green color with yellow flecks of an unknown substance which glows in the moonlight. Others say the rays of the sun slant in through the thick foliage which cover our windows.
A group of men and women operating heavy construction equipment begin to claw away at the domes of salt. Without them, I wonder if there will be anything left to protect us. A pier extends into the ocean while a few kids surf between the pylons. Our hands can no longer determine the maturity and tenderness of fruits and vegetables, so we get machines to do it for us.
The strangers, apparently, have stopped hallucinating. And they are no longer strangers, of course. Friends, ex-friends: what’s the difference? Regardless, I still confuse the sounds of their machinery with your singing.
Craig Foltz is a writer and multimedia artist whose work has appeared in numerous journals including Conjunctions, Fence and The Diagram, among others. He has published two books on Ugly Duckling Presse. He lives and works in New Zealand, on the slopes of a dormant volcano. Send collaboration proposals here.