Brian Strang
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Try as you might, you can’t leave it. Even during this reign of witches, among the stubble and ruins they leave in their wake, on the scorched ground, the scarred watersheds, the gasping fish, you can’t leave it.

Their reign is one of imagining. They imagine the world and break it into the fragments of their shame. Destructors every one.

They shadow the ancient groves with simpleton cartoons, with enormous plastic heads. They fuck and gorge in their atriums. And they love to watch. They watch the pestilence—the boils and blisters—to define their own virtue. They love the plagues and cancers because they contrast so well with their own milky cheeks, replete with gnarled veins.

But you can’t leave it. You occupy ground so thin it is transparent, so thin you can read the letters of their name in the abyss directly under you. This is what they allow you, but you can’t leave.

So you watch the spectacle from within—a vortex of image, of screens and projections, shadows and light, the longest running cartoon ever produced, the deepest cave ever discovered. This is what they have for us. And this is what we live in, always at a remove.

You become tender with a light inside of your broken sleep. The bed seems to turn beneath you at night and there is no way to outrun this artful confusion. You feel a light tapping that is meant to be an imitation of human touch. You see the people around you through a gauzy film, a translucent membrane, the disassociation of similitude. When you awake, you find that you are covered in gelatin—the reduced hooves and bones of animals—and need to loosen yourself from the world of process.

This the actual location of your life and thought—wire through your retinas discovered only recently. You touch the skin on your arm to check for a living warmth within. In their enormous boardrooms, these proportions do not exist. There is only the unifying principle of accumulation, a network that is itself virtual, composed of waves and incapable of error or excess. You watch for signs of life but see only spectacle—rippled muscles, panting heads, streaking jets, embodiment machines. In this landscape, where is sentiment? What are your strategies for finding it? You can find no answers but continue to look for signs.

Under this actual moon, you see that the world is flooded by writing nobody can read. You walk over canals on floating bridges. One man is able to cross without a bridge because he is not real and because the water is actually a thick green sludge, water in only the loosest sense, in the same sense that you are water. There are safety gates and automatic hammers. Some go swimming but you cannot. There is too much writing gathering on the surface of the canal. You feel the quiet and disquiet of this place but people continue to swim effortlessly, refreshed from the heat. You cannot join them but you cannot leave either, so you watch and wish that you knew nothing of the plastic heads, atriums and carnage, that you too could penetrate the surface of the water. The pages continue to collect on the surface, blown here by a hot afternoon wind, covering the canals, the swimmers and the city itself, until you too are wrapped within the pages.


visible code


Photos make everyone look pint-sized. The ground wails and some faces appear to be laughing while others appear to be crying.

The people in this region live in the very mines where syllables are cut. They stand as organic blocks against white paper, the rules printed beneath their feet. Between breaths, stunt language creaks out of their mouths. The suffering of being born hangs from these walking frames.

You must buy everything you need to survive. The business of living has etched itself on the brown hills—some lands will never change.

This is an organic understanding. This is an actual feeling in your shoes. You wear exactly the same shoes and clothes as everyone else.

In a small human space, you find reasons to dislike those around you—nasty smells, chirping voices, petty boredoms and vanities. You accidentally touch the hand of a passerby. It is a person like you, an actual squeaking face composed mostly of water. The scale of this economy is grotesque.

Ask for only half a cup. At how many miles a minute? The atmospheres of pressure piling on our heads—a cruel joke to the believers.

You ask for a towel and receive headache tablets. There is a burning rope through your ears.

Ask how you've come to this place in your life. How does one come to sort coffee cups? Paint figures on the walls? Enslave the people one holds dear?

Manufactured items are scattered over the surface of the soil, a jagged environment of process, an organized beauty, the visible code of toil.

A functionary will make you stand in line with the bins of potatoes and the containers of disposable goods from lands you've never seen.

An animal warmth, the size of living beings. An arched neck, a clenched hand, a softened brow, extended knee. Dimensionless green. Wrought fields sown through many times over.

This sun has appeared before. Devoid of its construct, it's a secular splendor. For now, you decide to leave your fatalism in the stones by the shore. Drinks are served from small trays. In the square, purgatorial nudes hang against a black sky.

But there is water in the hands too, and this gives you pause, loosens the bones in the neck. Grapple through the woods and move toward the solar light. Trees grow because of precisely balanced conditions.


the eye


Incremental and particulate, they flow through the shores, lap into the sand, cycle into the abyss. Pre-production plastics have become the sand of every beach. From the daily release of thousands of balloons at the amusement park, miles of ribbon sink in the channel offshore, entangling fish and creating webs of fanciful carnage. Birds choke on plastic bags. I hear about the dead coral reefs. I drive among the warehouses of convenience, the numbered loading docks of the junk-mailing center, the oil refinery, the unctuous sunset, the city skyline seething with the silence of distance.

But there are the inescapable ridges, the geometry that flows in muscular fractals from the mountain peak to the bay. And there remains the systole and diastole, the tidal pull, the strings of atoms vibrating at the core of matter, the rhythm of unimaginable permeation, complexity and vastness, making myself and everyone else in the world mere, aggregate, transient, indivisible.

Inside the walls of the capital city, oil paintings by silverbacks line the hallways. The sports played here are those of charts and diagrams. I look very closely and see the kings of the line living in caves against the hill and I think I see something of the lost geometry of porcelain cups. There is an abundance of salt in the ground. I want to leave immediately but know there will be no place for me anywhere else, so rarified and dependent have I become.

The new world is a performance, a kind of coverage. I wake in a soup of sun. I am in a room far from my own without words or ideas.

I am walking at night down a florescent hallway lined with dozens of doors. Only one is open. There is a man inside the small room working. Usually, his door is closed like all the others. I pass by and see him staring intently at the screen and typing, with his chin raised slightly in order to see through the bottom portion of his bifocals. Behind him, there is a bright background of colored tapestries, the origin of which I am unsure. I imagine he is working on an enormous project, a lifetime of work, brick by mental brick. He is competent and tenacious, maybe even brilliant. And I think I could never do something like that, working here every night in such grand loneliness. And then I pass by later and notice him smiling at the screen and think he's just checking his email or surfing the Internet. And I wonder how he could waste his life like that. I walk outside.

Rows of war veterans rock their chairs on the mile-long porch, an incessant moan. And the emperor pares his nails, casts his shadow over the entire lawn of the home, rehearses declarations, wallows in his golf shoes. But this time, like all others, will pass. In the air is a piercing truth and a subterranean yawn. I cover my ears as the grasses cover and the oceans rise. Soda bottles are lined in tidy rows on the lawn, nursing fat and abundant children.

And farther out, a woman weaves a flailing kite from the local flax. Cormorants and terns make nests of hair. For three days the sun sets. She turns the fields of the local farmers with ash and burns the chickens in their cages. She wants a dormant year or two away from the capital. Plates of petals and cones. She is agitated and expectant but has lowered expectations. I cut holes through the air with every step. She picks the mosquitoes out of her teeth, her head aching with astringent possibilities. For hundreds of years the water has pooled.

I huddle just outside the walls in the fold of the land. It falls apart in the fingers—a broken fruit, the only thing holding together sun and movement. The local people know what is presented to them. The land barons hide within the power of intimate knowledge. They wear heads made from knotted muscle and have blinking jellyfish inside their skulls. I put everything I own into a hole and live there covered by leaves and soil. The people run away into their own holes, which are, every one, much like my own. We are without ribs in our bodies. A rotted interior peels from itself and settles.

The weaver cuts pieces of the shoreline into the depths. Heads of sea lettuce are wrapped in the tidal remains.

A plumed magistrate with dappled arms pulls what he can from the cliff nest: two misbegotten birds and a wound-chewing mammal. He dissects the birds and stuffs them into his thigh. Salmon-robed monks watch from the hills built of cardboard.

The quaint popular ideas wash over the proceedings. Everyone thinks they have invented themselves. Sunflower seeds rain from the sky.

The abandoned contact in the motel is a follower of the night sky. He orders a drink with remnants still attached to his body. Bright cupped heads bobble in his arms. Vapor escapes from the seams in his skin.

Tonight, servants turn on their masters. This place is printed in one color only. Nothing comes so easy as when it eats itself. The car will remain parked here all night.

Can I now find a way to reorder the diminutive barkers I call my selves? I review the sleeping waves.

Inside my chest is a thistle. I pull it through my pores. It floods back to me in the clatter of afternoon pills. A spider leaves its mark sweetly on my ankle. This morning I will go into battle and tear through my sciences with the droopy heads of buttercups inspecting my work.

Every person is like every other: each swells when the sun reaches its zenith and deflates at night no matter the sights each has seen.

They have finally come for her. They knock at the door of her hovel and read a list of charges. Imploring the decision, the weaver waves her arms as she is escorted outside. I disguise my movements. On the water, the winds cut through my skin. Blockbusters are based on these times. These times are based on blockbusters. As punishment, she must wash the ankles of bodies that hang along the shores, a reminder from the king. Waxy onlookers, individuals covered in the empirical stamps of statehood, are swept up in the fury.

On board, among the green bottles, I play cards in the drawing room, trying not to look out the window, becoming farcical and bloated, a beast staring over its muzzle, a bright blue truck of armor, a recorder in his office, a harmonica fly, an agent hanging around the traveling station. I've become everything I hate.

I see these laws I don't understand. Faces wave their loose fabric. I answer the phone, hearing that everything is not one. And their tantrums come from vanity and extend to the back of the mouth, tusked in cruel penalties. Other faces steel me for admittance inside the bellies of great pigs grazing on the previous owner and kerosene lickers. Of the whole there are many parts. And squat blocks ascend ladders by grace fortunes. I mat up my hair to join in disguise on smoking land and remember that big fish boss the hole deeper all the time. Your one and only. Paying silk for dentures and knitting balls from ivory.

But somewhere on the ridge lined with smooth ears, my god cuts its teeth, wanting to make me small and itself great. I want to believe that my devotion will replace its hunger. And I finally see the ribbons of water through the trees.

Right along the edge of the water, the day breaks apart, afternoon buckles away and the animal drifts. In my teeth, I hold the circle, desperately quiet, hoping to escape its notice. A beetle clamors along the floor, crackling the skin of the earth. I watch the weaver for a while and then join her. Here, outside the capital, are new faces, new encounters. The animal eyes follow us through the window.

One moves its tongue. It retreats in time to a military march and slithers along the stripes in the flag and nestles in the corner of its Styrofoam ice chest, snapping chicken bones in its foaming mouth. It will always be waiting here in the shade filing its nails.

I know that sometimes this is my god and it requires offerings of oil. Taped to a gurney, it moves along the corridor. Daydreams won't deliver. What are these? Black nets billow over the highway rails.

There is rising water in my pores—a disturbance in the glands and an imagined scent. Cut the flowers around the edge of the sidewalk. It is here in the cadaver trade that I purchase a ticket for analysis. What can possibly go wrong in a practice procedure?

On the message boards, on the scoreboards, on the tickers and soft screens: a running tally, a partial list of the dead and wounded. Beasts of the pit are making off with mashy, yeasty things. Ever polite to their assassins, pilgrims born completely mature kneel and dip their heads and are stitched up one at a time with the most elegant touches. A paisley appears on my skin after the first four degrees of the sun's decline.

They have started their own parade, the actor with his gun and his leather strap leading the way with fresh feet patterning his walk. The naturalist has three gardenias under glass and an unparalleled collection of teaspoons. Surely, this is reason enough to get to the business of living. He puts his eyepiece into the water and comes undone at the sight of the loneliness below.

But the sun beats them all to the punch, beats them with nails, makes them gurgle along, their low-slung bellies, their callused knees. It crawls on the branches of trees they use for arms. In a clearing, I lay in wait and watch thousands of blue wings. The parade, now snapping here and there like a horsefly, collapses itself into a circle of pickups and the participants drink themselves from beneath their cowboy hats.

I listen through little holes in the graying forest. Wings tear through the backs of bloodless horses. I do the trick where I tear off my hand and wake in an umber-colored diagram, a field without forgiveness. There are blistered fools in the open at this time of day. The warring factions slip into town at eventide, their jaws screwed shut and at the bottom of the lake, a skeletal hand writes of the broad boulevards of antiquity. But the apocalypse ushers are out of work and the streets here are hammered, not woven. So bodies walk unmanned, worked only by wires. I've lost the patterns. Animal figures no longer release themselves.

On the waves, whales sound and dive with greased internal workings. And on board, finely detailed arms define the struggle, hauling heads of oil from the depths. Even now, the battle continues for its mineral cousin. The atmosphere is a living thing: bringer of war, bringer of peace, the clean burn of destruction. Milk is distilled from a nozzled cow. The sweat washes nicely from tomatoes and the hands disappear from my food.

And the dogmatists float on a raft of candles, the downside illuminating the fish below. And on shore damaged people sift sand between their fingers––the unbearable glass man and his tendency to break into pieces, the nervous child clad in paper airplanes. I don't know what to say here, where the driveways turn into one another and faces converge and become obedient. Every minute becomes more urgent. Out on the waves, they continue toting the burden of everyone, convinced that they will be redeemed and that their light will penetrate the ocean and the heart of the earth. Every minute becomes more urgent.

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