I find the idea that we write alone laughable, even egotistical. Poetry is a palimpsest that has been endlessly rewritten—it’s a social space we share with others.
Blue window where we waited for you.
[Limited third person invented regional dialect, occasionally slipping into omniscient mode; gender unclear; no dialogue tags to distinguish inner speech from exterior description; speaker has only recently awakened after an inordinately long sleep; content of dictation revolves between the remembrance of speaker having known that they were sleeping and yet were unable to wake up, alongside observations of the anesthetic tenor of terrain beyond the window’s glass through which stands a field of silvered panels meant to deflect all would-be incoming sound and light back at the sky.]
A shuddering expanse of warm blood in no wind.
[Shift to POV of oval camera network observing terrain from overhead; pan upward to reveal brightly colored cluster homes in monotone quarantine complex; amongst the homes, violent, animate bloodclouds populate the terrain irregularly absorbing signs of life; narration will occasionally make note of previous narrator having been consumed in such bloodcloud; alternatingly, the blood itself will also speak; but the blood knows nothing.]
[We learn foam comes from remainders of the dead; notation of specific texture, tint, and smell of foam and its dispersal among the climate as indicative of the nature of the originating human’s demeanor. All that exists now is rendered from this foam; none can remember otherwise.]
[References to rampant burning and peals of disconnected human voicework through the aural foreground interweaved; the voices on open land enforce a pale mirage of hordes appearing traced into the history and present combined, which continues to appear there also in the emotional imagination of the reader even after; looking at one’s loved one across the room, for instance, seeing legions of the dead crammed in their eyes. “One begins to get the sense the book is aware of the reader, or can react to the reader’s proclivities, though one is unsure precisely how or why or given over unto whom.”]
Dark powder thrown onto the translucent newborns without digits.
[Explicit depictive study of effect of foreboding control of governmental body, one whose present operating nexus is unclear, and yet its operation remains swift and omnipresent; citizens will appear at times wandering out from patches of disrupted architecture having been manipulated, filled with speech; their interjections fill the margins, form its whitespace.]
There must be no mirror remaining here.
[Lengthy description of the destructive properties of our only common light.]
Ants from outlets engorge a woman’s hands holding a Holy Book in bed.
[Introduction of primary protagonist via objective passage detailing a particular night alone in foam house (foam should be made of the woman’s plague-dead son); inclusion of passages from “National Holy Book” may be interspersed casually, employing a peculiar language not common to holy books reader may be familiar with; nonsensical, brain-damaged; true.]
Orb hovers inches above the face of the fields.
[Somewhere just above the woman’s house; the Orb will appear in the background of many forthcoming scenes, though often without actual referent or resolution, thus establishing an unspoken lurking “presence” (it also appears in historical descriptions in said Holy Book, and so had existed through all time).]
3D slave pornography.
[Explanation of homes’ interiors as state-decorated, beyond the inhabitant’s control, including violently graphic scenes of sexual degradation and imprisonment; torture; altogether, so much wallpaper.]
Bending birch trees spurting leather.
[Scenes of the woman tending her home and yard among its melt, in hellish winds that rake her face; she appears calm and diligent and contented, her face now somehow described in such a way it matches the reader’s own understanding of their own face.]
Whole square miles of glass.
[Passage detailing surrounding vectors of locale where foam or wind have hardened to impenetrability; consideration on the persons lost inside the space and whether or not they may ever be unlocked and how that would feel to both sides and what could be wrong with them or changed; how it could come for any of us at any time now, whoever we are.]
I searched for you among the leaving from above.
[Conflicting use of first person spoken by authorial-like voice above the woman watching not only her but the thousands of others living on the glass’s perimeter all thinking identical thoughts.]
Now all the forests without color.
[The tone and texture of various elements of the terrain as reflected in the glass flickers through stations as if being altered by software allowing clickable manipulation of disposition; the woman faints frequently, from which she stands and continues on about her business until it turns and stays so dark she cannot see her hands.]
The computer learns to worship in reverse; it speaks.
[While the woman sleeps, again inside, a white machine much like the Orb but smaller directs itself around her home; it prepares food the woman will eat on waking; it fills the air with prayerspeak of its design, to a god of the inanimate, along with which the woman in her unconsciousness also prays.]
[Close description of a place much like one someone would recognize from a place fondly remembered; a relic of memory made real, linking the reality of each memory to the dreamlife of the novel, which sleeps and wakes alongside the reader; as in sleep all skin is seen to touch here; all bodies blend together under fear.]
I had been walking through the village as I always would when a man I did not recognize came up to me and looked into my head. He took my hands and squeezed them. I did not stop him. He asked me where I was going. He spoke in a voice that seemed destroyed. I could not speak. He began to drag me through the street now and I felt like iron, as if the only way I could move was to be moved. The wind was all around us. He left me in a clearing where there were all these others like me standing motionless. It began to grow dark …
[All memory sharing a central codex, bled together, interspersed.]
Synthetic casing over a clean and natural expanse, hiding the plot from view.
[Pan back to reveal a bank of screens amassing all the visions into a single visual database, each being recorded, unobserved but by the reader.]
The men on the video recordings keep touching at their faces.
[A bank of monitors wider than visible understanding; in catacomb of winking screens, often cutting so quickly from one to the next it is difficult to follow, though frequently the subject will suddenly turn to look directly at the screen.]
Coal glistening in pitch while a person who looks like you flails at a painting of a person flailing at a painting…
[The narration’s attention suddenly falls on one particular screen among the millions, which then becomes the scene itself; a voice describes the insuppressible unconscious desire in extant persons to create replicant images of their own body while at the same time despising the memory of any prior image; for instance, the man appearing here has made a million images of the woman, throughout years and years of work, using contraband art materials, though he does not know her, nor does he know why he painted what he has; the man’s house or wherever he’s been stationed looks oddly like the woman’s house.]
Seven sweating crosses.
[Noise permeates the room inside the screen; the sound is explained as a byproduct of local process of machines harvesting “milk-like” substance from the seven identical black crosses planted in black soil contained at an inaccessible location; the milk is known for its complex hyper-sensory effects; it fills the bloodstreams and the groundstreams alike; it fills the heart.]
“I need to see death.”
[Monologue from woman upon waking remembering nothing as it was; she goes at once to gorge herself in a pantry-area on strangely labeled oil and chunk-based substances in matte white packets, the taste and nutritional benefit of which are then described for hundreds of pages in deformed corporate language provided by the manufacturer.]
50 wolves with eyes sewn shut.
[Series of photos of wolves (actually once humans) shot from the face head on against a black surface; the veins or pores held in certain wolves’ heads glint and weave; as if beneath the forced lids they watch the reader.]
A flat blue altar hums.
[Description of altar-surface that appears unpopulated among a massive expanse of bright white sand. Markings on the face of the altar describe physical laws of any fiction. Man referred to in second passage of section III appears and kneels; he cuts himself and bleeds upon the altar.]
I begged and begged for you into the fires while all Dogs gathered at the smell; the Dogs all flooding through the pictures of the light; eating everything; fucking everything.
[Spasms in the curvature of the landscape cause the animals to go insane; pets, bugs, boys, fish, foul, bacteria, the caged; this as well affects the buildings and the mouths in the earth; descriptions of the wilderness flooding over the face of all.]
Some bluebirds’ skulls bury the Mall.
[The only single sentence paragraph in the novel, which does not refer to the birds or the Mall at all, only the color of their muscle; how today the sun is white and seems to eat itself.]
The ceilings in random rooms lowered so low even a child must stoop and wriggle.
[Passage describing the woman moving through the house, suddenly much smaller, on her stomach forcing forward after an exit; at any window she does find, the infestation through the glass is overwhelming; animals clawing and chewing; she keeps believing she hears a child she once miscarried in her sleep within the walls; arrhythmia, chest pain; in and out of her exhaustion she passes out and sees herself from above. Passage ends with her coming into the one room of her home where the ceiling has not lowered, the library, and finds the text in all the books has been erased.]
Where what was asked of us inside our brains in machine language.
[Clinical report of blood content of woman, including index of densely populated menu of artificial substances and their deleterious mesmeric effects; verbiage should call into question her understanding of the real, while also addressing possibility of similar substances in the bloodstream of the manufacturers, the bodiless narrator, the author his or herself, this outline and the maker of this outline.]
“You will not find me.”
[Lengthy passage as written by the woman in one of the now-blank books, as she attempts to reconstruct from memory the gospel of her Holy Book’s Christ-figure as she recalls; He who was said to be a human who is still alive and walks the earth appearing the same as any, whose gospel corresponds with how to knit the states of waking and dreaming, the everyday and in the imagination, time and faith and want and space; He who has appeared in no such way here but on paper; while the woman believes she is faithfully reconstructing the book as she had read it, these words are her own.]
Soil-colored cake on crystal plates.
[Empty, lavish ballroom w/ black on black on black décor, set with a dining table down the middle lit in silver; a massive chrome machine gesticulates inside the overhead space plating sizeable portions of what seems a loaf of manicured sod onto each setting, dumping the stuff onto the plate haphazardly, often spilling off the table; as the arm moves we notice in the background a translucent wall containing an onslaught of coal-black dogs who gnash and gnash at the glass in silence as a monotone orchestral choir takes the air.]
Mirrors full of women smearing cream into their hair in celebration.
[Contraband storage devices found carried by nameless passing characters or lodged in certain unpopulated sections of the landscape allow a link inside this book into other books: connective tissue in the form of altered light bent to imbue the work with ulterior fictions. In this way scenes or ideas from other books familiar or unfamiliar to the reader may appear in the context of the new; every plot and character in our history contained, if under cover, incommunicative, motion-sick, bereft.]
The machines mark small sections of the ground with unique numbers.
[Unstable locations in the soil are shifting too frequently to maintain; pixels shifting from one portion of the ground to one miles away; standing anywhere for too long might lose a portion of a neck or arm; the newly born are going blind; what is is what it is only so long enough to not recognize the instant of itself before becoming again changed; the machines flex silent in the night, themselves all slowly transmutating their own drives even while writing the data.]
Knives off mowers come up through the grass over and over.
[The dead wish for more dead; they do not like the sounds of the living beating the soil up all above them and deforming the terrain they still remember as their own; what lurks there behind your back just now could any minute come alive and take your head clean off your body.]
[Passage describing a popular hyper-animation children’s action film played over the sky during the daylight to keep whoever calm; where that any other viewer will see their own faces projected onto the body of the lover of Blood Boy (who resembles the reader his or herself underneath his costume, one would find); a brutal, sickening maniac, but one with limitless passion reserved toward his one true love; where only upon rereading will a careful reader find evidence of the entire novel taking place in a wet dream by a walk-on character killed by Blood Boy in the first fifteen seconds of the film; our dream a dream of graves not even ours, the quickest fiction, and totally hilarious, great CGI.]
The steaming sea only remaining where you were born inside our electronic church.
[Under the soil the pews are crowded full; the captive audience (obscured each by a metal box around their faces) stare into a wall where on smaller screens surrounding Blood Boy, an array of 3D projections replay each viewer’s artificial birth all overlaid on one another, in a loop; the mothers in the film are soft and pale and breathe with their whole faces; the children do not scream; an emblem like that pressed into the land’s coordinates is etched into the backside of each child’s head with a pink laser, which blinds each unknowing viewer into a state of unrelenting light.]
All the horses killed at once in a new sunlight.
[Passage describing Ark-like containment center where various strains of rare remaining creatures have been stored; inside the quarters these coal black horses buckle and spasm; once they’d been gods; their blood will be evaporated, fed into all breathing.]
[Description of layer of thick white ticks that form out of the horses’ blood condensed; each shaped like buttons; they cover the landscape every inch.]
I hate all art.
[Darkness in which nothing can be seen or felt; like something larger has moved before the moon; our perspective through the space is the only movement.]
When you woke, the earth was just above you waiting to crane down.
[Second person passage placing the reader in the body of the woman having woken in the smokefields far from her house covered in blood; “You know the blood is yours but you are not wounded”; you walk for hours through the smoke, seeing many houses here on fire, carcasses of animals and children; you return to your house to find the ceilings in the rooms have returned to normal, though the décor in each is changed; the walls are gold and have a shifting pattern; the hallways seem to lengthen; the furniture all covered in sunburned skin; in each room is hung a photo of the reader, as they were, dressed in a heavily decorated black military costume.]
The wall of fingernails unveiling.
[In the bedroom, you find a door that had not previously appeared there; the door is warm and black and has no knob, but opens easily when pushed on; as you enter the hallway and begin along it, you find the hallway keeps extending; the light at the end of the hall is always so far away; where by concentrating hard on any section of its glow you can see into the heart of any person held alone in their own station experiencing the surviving world as theirs alone.]
Birds burst from a child’s bite into chocolate, down the child’s throat, out through the sun.
[The Orb in your heart explodes, absorbs your history, reforms.]
This had happened once before and was erased.
[The hall ends with the light at last arrived; it has been lifetimes; now, a door; the woman (you) goes through the door and comes out into a bedroom exactly matching the one you’d come in from; the house is exactly like the other house, though the air is warmer, slicker; in the library all the books are the same book, each filled with the words of this novel once it is written, up to this point; no way back.]
There was never enough water.
[In the library now there are two windows, side by side; at one window water covers all, no land; the water is black and crystalline; it goes on forever; through the other window the world appears the same, but instead of water, it is sand; the woman looks through one window with one eye and the other with the other, winking one shut then the other, against some center.]
The sky sheds colors like a baby’s imagination being crushed before it sees.
[All else but the Orb is fully blurred; daylight billows as if magnetic, swarming over filled with vision.]
Secret lairs full of bodies fill with cold oil.
[Relation of a sect of humans who had built unlit catacombs under the earth for their survival; an only hope; no explanation of what causes the oil to begin to hiss out of their pores, sucks as if by magnets, all at once; it fills their air so fast; thousands of chambers sealed full of death in any instant without a glimmer aboveground.]
Suddenly difficult to tell the texture of blood from what we’re being fed.
[Montage-style series of infants’ faces sucking on their masks; then, older children; their skins seem hardened, pale and patchy; then adults, bearing the same placid complexion, dead-eyed, inhaling.]
“I didn’t mean to quote the Forbidden Book in your presence,” the doctor whispers.
[Transcribed dialogues between woman and hologram-based medical practitioner who arrives unannounced for forced assessment by the state; it is clear the machine is glitched; it continues to try to bend the woman’s answers towards participation in insurgence; it babbles plague-code and portends worship of the moon; it begs her to mate with it and feed it pizza; the woman maintains composure, breathes into the tubes, offers her blood; the hologram injects her with new language, into eyes, pores, fingers; then it disintegrates.]
A long white-crepe parade of murdered famous persons; the streets are silent.
[The woman thumbs through event photos that she has kept hidden under the floor; the photos should have been burned during expungement; she does not know why she kept these, of all things; the photos may be activated into video loops when pressed down on; she watches the parade go by in silence, recognizing passing personalities she grew up entertained by, none that the reader should know; she rubs the moving pixels with her fingers, watches them become smudged, crumple.]
The website that consumed you through the worst periods now redirects to a reflective surface.
[The woman turns to face the reader, eyes alive, online; she addresses the demolition of the time-gap between the present setting in the novel as it is read and the era in which the reader his or herself feels entrenched; how really though it may seem the two are distant they are actually quite near, as to be touching; “Touch me. Please touch me again.”]
Mile-long eyelashes on a dog that you had loved.
[Invocation of the reader’s memory; passages describing what is remembered and what is not; what you have deleted and what you held dear and still do; where you allow your brain and the illusion to become fused.]
Blue machine gun tattooed on the scalps of all dead mothers, furiously.
[Press the page and feel the emblems in the letters lather, blister.]
Gold foil sunset, no return.
[The book becomes a knife clasped in your hands; it becomes a fountain, then a stairwell; then a hole.]
[A short clipped noise not so loud as to deafen or shake surfaces but just enough to distract any mind from forming thought; so omnipresent as to seem like another part of one’s own body.]
Priests in line for miles to become reinstated after the .gif of a particularly white levitating baby revitalizes faith.
[The state-displays in all the houses flip at once onto the image of the Child, whose facial features are flat and unpronounced enough to resemble anyone; the screaming fills the hour.]
They invent the Pleasure Prison and then destroy it.
[A windowless white building on the horizon; visual annotation displays the crimes of those imprisoned;hunger, desire, wisdom, pleasure, fury, sight. The woman leaves her home and runs toward the building in the dust for hours, in the name of finally knowing other life (already having forgotten about you); no matter from what angle it won’t grow nearer; the land beneath her turning into mush, up to her knees, her neck.]
Great Rivers of salad dressing, rivers of lotion.
[Upon giving up, returning, home the woman finds the landscape ruined with lakes and valleys where before there’d been homes; in place of any point of local recognition now only the ongoing sound of the ground breathing, bearing its sickness.]
Glaucoma, leukemia, emphysema, Parkinson’s, arthritis, diabetes, diarrhea, eczema, gastritis, carcinoma, AIDS, etc.
[Mile-long black placards set into the earth; pages and pages of lists of names appear inside the novel, bearing the dead forth; the reader inadvertently scrolls among them searching for their name; and then there it is, misspelled.]
It was nice to see you when I could.
[Catalog of recalled deaths witnessed by the omniscient narrator in its lifetime, of every one it’d ever loved; it cannot picture the faces of the people, or what their names were; only how it’d seen them dragged on through the dirt beyond its own home; no memory but what lies buried in the people.]
[The woman cannot see the ground beneath her shifting; she is descending; her eyes are closed but not asleep; the inside of her lids are tiled with faces.]
No matter how long you go on there is an end.
[Section ends midsentence as the woman opens her eyes, finding more dark.]
It is today.
[Close second person physical description of the reader’s person; their chest, their scalp, their face, their fingers; casual admittance of details relating to the reader’s recent life, their triumphs or troubles, terrors.]
I tried to remember the day you told me you wanted to not be near me but there’s all this sound in my complexion.
[Passage dictated to the reader from the voice of someone the reader had once loved; someone gone now, buried or elsewhere; the voice is carried on with fear, of having known what would come upon them.]
The hissing filled the beds; there was no one left who’d not partaken.
[Proto-textural transcription of sound of massive skin on skin; voices boned inside a syllabic interference; the noise electric in the head, from which inside the noise there the reader feels a sort of bridge or pulse through which inside the colors from the light on skin arriving bright alive the reader finds someone in there clasped inside the sound on the far side touching back; becoming.]
Skyscrapers filled with gasoline and flowers always.
[Onslaught of singular images sprawled through unpunctuated pages, misspelled and without bone, like being peeled apart in language; as if the front piece on the speech to this point fell off like skin to show the junk behind.]
Kissing the mask’s brain.
[Series of black pages as long as the book has been so far.]
“I believe that you believe I am alive.”
[Always outside the set of selves there must be another there waiting, creating the world as it is read; our skin spread all through all extant and potential eras; infinite prisons.]
0 from 0.
[The text against now disappears; the text is black as well, cannot be read; the black pages continue on through another ream of pages again equal to the book’s length thus far twice again, ending with a close-up photo of someone’s head; the hair has been shaved off of the head to reveal a cut in the scalp there a ream of tattooed code; beneath the name there, in a gold font, is your name, your birth and death dates, then a third.]
Blue sunshine underneath the sound.
[Anywhere you look to try to read now the words will fill the room with fuzz.]
The wives come bearing hammers and demand to speak to the Canopy of Limbs of Those Who’d Never Touched and I have sex with them and feel them die.
[You feel someone standing underneath your feet; like where you are there parallel beneath you is another; the room is solid black, impenetrable; it had always been this way; a whole other life you lived you’ll never know a single thrust of, and yet must pay the price for.]
Blood Boy 2.
[All the actors appearing from the previous film commit suicide still wearing makeup; the film goes on; the camera scrolls over old locations in still silence, unto an ocean, from out of which men clad in all-black riot gear are marching on half-melted.]
4 + 4 is however many of the armies marched draped in their own come.
[Limbs and lids shift through reams rising foam bloat, destroying every inch of what could be creatively described; the night goes on; omniscient narration drifts into the woman talking about herself in the third person, what she would like to eat for lunch.]
A bright vibrating satisfaction.
[The book itself begins to speak; no text; the lengths of buildings and the rubble and the coal powder blowing; the day is warm and under friction edict flames; large areas are burning; it is difficult to see or breathe while continuing through the section, and yet the reader feels condemned; as if to miss an instant could be a keyhole out, a glimmer in the baking.]
There were crystal gorges all around us, we could not touch them, there was a stammer in the sunlight, all the ridges of the veins of God had counted us to plug the holes in what anyone could walk through, never imagining the way we’d cower, even as we stood up and raised our arms; I wanted to let you know that you were a gift to me even in knowing how we’d both be very soon all entered into wind; I wanted at the least to remind you all the ways that I was never there.
[Language appears inscribing itself up along the reader’s arms; the pages of the book now made to match the skin, into the brain.]
The darkness splitting into twins, and the twins again to twins again.
[You can see the woman in her home way up above you, standing at the window from the beginning on the inside looking out; you realize that the house is melting, its pixels are being torn apart from the inside; a shrieking sound that fills the eyes; you wave your arms and shout and can hear nothing; she will not look; her attention is fixated on the sky even further still above; you crane your neck to look up too, then it is like you have gone blind.]
The words together have no meaning.
[The next 400 pages of the book are blank; as if you are meant to fill them in.]
If there ever was a world…
[Rising grasses split through white sand over long miles up to beaches blocked with walls; trees organized by wire held together to form rows on rows forever parallel; the sun rises and sets in different colors; a kind of drying glass holds over lakes; there is a wind at times that stirs no dust; no markers and no homes; no mention of sound here besides to say that there is a sound I can’t describe, one moving differently than sound had as I remembered; where against the far northeast horizon a sky-wide mirror shows the world back at itself.]
They divided our limbs with wishing pins and photographed them without light and spread them copy upon copy through the database to all graves.
[Body of the woman (you) spread on a table and manipulated; unclear if she (you) is alive or dead; blood pours from her like a fountain, fills the perspective, makes it scroll beneath cold color beyond imagination.]
Our charcoal moaning in the keyholes.
[The scrolling moves now beyond the color, through the endless rows of matching homes; the homes have been removed of all the objects, now been replaced with mirrors; occasionally men in black costumes appear inside the houses holding weapons or black boxes or a metal eye that ejects light. In a bedroom exactly like the bedroom of the woman, where we first found her, still on her bed, the Holy Book; it is open to two pages, which from a distance appear blank, though as we move closer to the bed there is a picture of the room; you see yourself move into the image, matching your movement.]
In the dark I touch the mirror and I can hear you breathing seamless lather.
[Voice like the woman’s voice but badly damaged in manner of syntax; the voice describes you there now in the room; you take the Holy Book from the bed; the floor is also mirrored, as are the walls, making it appear as if there are several dozen at least of you. You begin reading in the book then, turning the pages, speaking it aloud; the woman does not want you to go on; she knows what is yet to come; she tries to enter through the glass and can’t remember how, instead banging her head over and over on the surface above you as you read.]
Blood plumes bloom one after another.
[Like being beaten with a pillow in the darkness; wet shafts and weird globes of light; on each point of impact, the continued expectation of a new unknown narrator about to speak, and yet who won’t.]
A glove of bubbles where the sun was.
[If you could open up your eyes it might be different; the darkness like so many of the Orbs and walls of worlds at once; there is nothing left to touch; you move your brain toward the next incoming sentence and summer happens and then it is no longer summer and then it is summer now again; the air is burning into no air.]
Face cartilage multiplying.
[Several hundred thousand fields; behind each of those a mass of self enslaved; remembrances and ruptures; each mass seems deeper than the one before.]
The ocean’s floors collapse at once and underneath it there is nothing.
[Omniscient description of a contextless mass parting through darkness as each new black edge around it bends, blows wide.]
Blake Butler lives in Atlanta. 300,000,000 (Harper Perennial) is his most recent novel.
I find the idea that we write alone laughable, even egotistical. Poetry is a palimpsest that has been endlessly rewritten—it’s a social space we share with others.