Against the Abstract Machine
 
What both the urbane and the emotional are looking for is a list of amphibian characteristics. Suitable for all environments. You couldn’t hope to meet it even with your hands tied together. Your accounts filled to capacity. Which means we shouldn’t take anything as seriously as we take broadleaf weeds. We ought just to accept the fact that the world doesn’t wish us to prosper. In fact, it can be downright hostile. Though it retains its sublime visual beauty throughout the process. Eulalie understands you can’t trust the man you love to look you in the eye and tell you something meaningful. It just isn’t done. It’s possible he knows a thing or two about curing leather and can pass this information along without a smirk on his face. But beyond that, you are just throwing pennies down a well. She undoes the lace around her throat, allows the air to circulate on her neck and chest and closes the window shade. Too many people wander this part of the neighborhood without proper alibis. They turn up on your back porch like ferns. When questioned, they deny all knowledge of the collar that went missing. And the dog that was in the collar.



The Most Likely Scenario
 
On her way up the stairs, Eulalie wonders what has happened to her longing for Malta. How she ever found herself with blocks of time on her hands and no way to determine where they came from. Why they keep disintegrating around the edges like croutons left to float on the surface of one’s soup. Not that she expected anything more arresting. There are simply some things that can’t be captured with figurative language. You must seek them out with verbs so exact and demanding, the rest of the sentence goes on hiatus. And the sounds of the world -- the sounds of the parrots in the trees across the street, the sounds of the airplanes skidding to abrupt stops on the tarmac -- become so vital, we will not exchange them for even a weekend in Taos. Squid has ordered the duck, sits chewing a thigh bone and reading the sort of magazine she thought had gone extinct. Had excused itself politely and stepped off the roof. Squid has this way of unearthing things that no one even realizes are missing. Until they show up again, in his possession, and he holds them before your face as if to taunt you. As if to say, Look! I’m not going away either. You can try your luck on the outskirts of town, where the river ambles between chicken coops, where it shelters garfish in their hundreds. But chances are still good there will be someone waiting there before you arrive. When introductions are finished, the silence resumes. And you’ll wonder why nothing ever pays off the way it is supposed to. Nothing ever pans out.

Eulalie tries to ignore the obvious signs of paralysis on the right side of his face. The eyes gone suddenly out of balance. The strange furtive gaze contained within them the way windowpanes occasionally carry reflections of things that are not visible from the street. Precious little difference it all makes, Squid says suddenly, out loud, hands working the pages anxiously, as if there is additional information to be had there through the sense of touch. Footnotes in brail. An osmosis of the sort we studied in biology class when we were first introduced to the cell.



A Later Juxtaposition of Parts and Selves
 
There are days when we think we can get by without a single morsel of food. Can withstand the demands of the body the way we withstand the demands of the brain. By standing up to it. By insisting that it isn’t actually what it appears to be. It isn’t a tangible entity at all, but a construct. Like the globes and pipes the chemist uses in his lecture. They have holes in them for easy recombination. Sometimes they are colored red. And sometimes they are colored green. But the shapes themselves are not to be taken as literal. Such things don’t float around in the air invisible to all but the initiated. They stand at one end of the metaphor. And at the other? The crucial end? The one that waits for us to find it? The list includes every name that has ever been. It duplicates itself on several occasions. But these duplications amount to no more than a mild distraction in the larger scheme of things. And let’s face it: there is no way any but the most dedicated of scholars is going to run across these mistakes and recognize them. Rather, we are apt to be so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what we find, we won’t be able to glean a single useful thing. And will throw our hands up in desperation. Who wouldn’t then accuse us of having a naïve approach? Of wanting to find there the answer to riddles that haven’t even been posed yet?



Very Stupid Birds Fly Above the Blue Mermaid
 
Desnos has that line “And very stupid birds fly above the blue mermaid." But it offers precious little solace, especially in English. Perhaps it was meant to be written down on a strip of paper and tucked away in a back pocket. And discovered only ten or twenty years later. When you are sifting through your old clothing so as to make a donation.



Abyss Beyond Trembling
 
The attention she devotes to Straparola’s “Pietro the Fool” brings Eulalie to the brink of some state she can’t precisely identify. Something not unlike melancholy in its stubborn insistence on turning every color and every shape into the one next to it. Or preceding it. As a consequence, the passage of time itself is blunted and dulled. And there are no more caravans to the coast. But this describes only bits and pieces of a phenomenon that might otherwise remind one of those visions that take place on Antarctica. And rely on a sense of isolation so deep and all-pervasive as to completely overwhelm the organism. Should you find yourself replaced in this manner, there is really but one recourse. Speaking your name out loud so many times in a row, those within hearing distance will begin to think it is just another natural sound. Like the warbling of the birds. Or their bickering -- their lives being taken up as much as is our own with establishing dominance. Or informing on one another in a less than flattering manner. You may assume there are corollaries to this law, but that they are not readily apparent even to the most fickle and exacting of specialists. Those who would rather spend an entire afternoon in the company of snails -- and the ancient, hanging ferns that offer them a home -- than relive the last twenty seconds of the basketball game. And who can blame them? Eulalie thinks as she mops the serum from the counter where she spilled it. She considers Squid’s alibi the kind of thing one shouldn’t mention to those who are listening at the door. Why antagonize them any further? Besides, the results speak volumes. They suggest the world doesn’t monitor dishonesty too closely. It doesn’t keep tabs in hopes of making restitution in the future. Or at least forcing restitution from those it deems culpable.



© Charles Freeland

Bio: Charles Freeland lives in Dayton, Ohio. The recipient of an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, he is the author of a full-length collection, Through the Funeral Mountains on a Burro (Otoliths), and the chapbooks Furiant, Not Polka (Moria) and The Case of the Danish King Halfdene (Mudlark). His website is The Fossil Record (charlesfreelandpoetry.net).