Michael Peters




Origins of the Lathe

Directions toward a theoretical fiction (or fictional theory) and the logistical cartography regarding birth and textual performance; an explanation written in the image of Lathe Tung.

I'm not sure how to describe the following intimation of words and images or the whereabouts of their manufacture. The morning it happened--instead of with words--it happened with values of light: Its height, depth, shade, perspective, comparative dimensions, et cetera. Mist, sort of. From the thick woods, thin branches pricked through it, upward into the first moments of light. I was confused because the mist seemed to be part of the sky, and the array of tree branches became text-like amidst the gristle of thick particles accumulating. But the meaning of this text also defied me. Allure--both enigmatic and familiar at the same time--approached me with diaphanous intention. I could do little to impede, let alone interpret its advance. And thus, the dark branches could only impart mood.

In an effort to better describe this moment to you, I suggest thinking of dust in a shaft of sunlight; but in this case, add the idea of a milky window that's both moist and soluble in consistency, a window into the white space, a paper sky. This was the window where it happened. And in this integration of foreground and background, racked-out in the black tools of the text's branches, a moist, purple animal bristled with tungsten lanugo and crawled from an o in the text bel(o)w. Squinting at the dark creature only increased the intensity of light. Its tiny hairs stabbed outward in even greater swords of iridescence.

As I watched it, it watched me; and for some time, it lounged passively across the forearm of one of the larger branches. It coughed, and air rattled in its tender lungs. Its eyes seemed to absorb everything: The whole room, the whole page. It seemed wet, and like ink, it seemed to be airing itself dry. And because it looked familiar to me, it seemed the animal likewise recognized me, though it remained tacit. Its dark, wide eyes engendered a remote silence inside me. A consciousness reciprocating another consciousness without words. Fluid leaked from its lips like a dream faucet conjoining life and what must be death: An unforgettable image descending the black, arboreal ladder of infinity, connecting both what the mist concealed and the earth, or at least, infinite space and the proximity of this animal and myself in the forest of text.

Although nothing was beyond this proximity, at the same time, I stared back at all of it, blankly. The birth of this awareness, an awareness of what seemed to be nothing and a proximity to it, was less than itself. It was it, and it was then … that I noticed movement on the periphery. More of these animals were gathering in the branches of the text. Then, something brushed against my right arm. Averting my eyes from the unblinking gaze of the animals, I noticed a vine, of sorts, dangling beside me. It seemed to be disappearing into the dull effulgence of the mist permeating the canopy of black foliage. With great intrigue, I reached for it. It was an overwhelming, pure white--perfect and smooth.

I closed my eyes to symbolize rational thought and the sound of flutes and French horns fluttered like birds under my eyelids. And in my imagination, clotting fronds of frost-covered foliage congealed into a placenta, and then, bloomed into the bulbous shape of a massive tree-like cloud. To avoid the coagulating darkness of the animals, I kept my eyes closed and pulled myself up this smooth white vine, reaching for its bloody fruit. Distant light. The glowing redness of it blossomed into concentric petals of electricity across my eyelids. It burned with kinetic fury, but without heat. As I came within arm's length, my face grew flush with excitement, thinking the insatiable mystery would soon be revealed. I reached for its fruit with my left hand. But everything-the infinite weight of a vast darkness --somehow usurped the moment and threatened to collapse and crush me. I lost my grip and slid back into myself with alarming velocity, still clutching the cord.

In the dull amnesia that ensued, I doubted my memory of the event and yet marveled at its general impression. Did I dream of glowing fruit? Had I touched it? But now, at the bottom again, it was only an image, and I observed that the vine had taken umbilical root in the spirals of my navel. A dark, syrupy coating clung with gelatinous persistence to my hands. It likewise covered the visible length of the cord. Stained with the black alphabet of my thoughts, my fingers were suddenly lost in the night converging with the ramose text, bloated in the dampness of the mist. I couldn't see my hands in the darkness. The ink must be perpetually drying. But this hanging light, whose heights I previously matched, remained visible above the darkness, burning like the mouth of a well-lit tunnel, an irresistible 60-watts of ovum, whole egg of the moon, a white pill to the imagination sprawled across a uterine ocean, and I wanted only to touch it, to crawl into its beckoning warmth despite the uncoverable distance.

Despite the black grease of text smeared into the convulsions of my hand, I maintained my precarious grip at the very end of the cord, although I probably could have let go, knowing that the cord that currently propelled me was also attached to my navel. This certainly helped, but holding the cord at its base with my own hands offered me palliation, a confidence that I wasn't being controlled, but instead, was dictating the ambulatory inference.

And so the white of it hummed vibrantly. Gentle movements of the tail-like cord propelled my curiosity toward the o that bathed the morning in the burning matter of heatless light. Thoughts, like the animals in the branches of the text, began to gather. Another approach had begun. This time, the closer I came to the source of light, the more the o began to assume the properties of a period, or at least punctuation affecting the flow of thoughts. I had full intentions of seeing this approach to any possible number of ends because it seemed that the cord possessed a complicit willingness to take me to its source. But to chase this dark period required a velocity at least as vehement as the one that had sent me back into myself. And with this distance defined and spatially mapped as such, yet again, the period burned just out of reach, not unlike the matter of a black comet disintegrating into sparks of charred remnants in the white atmosphere, the mist and light of meaning enveloping the text. I began to think of this undefined space, this moving darkness, as an inkling of absence, or a possibility for the lack of any presence or a birthing ground for all thoughts. Nebulous, dark fingers committed to perpetual star formation. And just as stars incubate, burn, affect orbits, create degrees of heat, and thus seasons which force migrations upon the animals, so too these thoughts culminating in another cyclical abstraction of time.

It seemed funny, in a rhetorical way, for every reason. Inside this period-- through this window into the moving eye of absence--there appeared to be no end or beginning, an unimaginable place where everything is known, a place where the sentence moves forever without margins and in every direction. Fecundity, chance, fate--all of these totally overwhelmed by contemplation of the emptiness. Here, words and sentences--their shapes and text-sounds--were absorbed by the solidity of the dark matter. It was here that it spoke to me briefly in coherent sentences, though I might have simply been reinterpreting the textual fragments as follows: Light plays upon the surface of things. The solution lies accordingly in the vehicles that change the perspective of our vision. Little boys in the corner of the room will continue to chant their mathematical equations, but in the tungsten glare, watch the effect of adding a second sheet of paper... these words, looking back on them from right to left, seem like a paraphrase. But the thoughts were too complex to reconfigure without losing comprehension amidst the greater detail. How do you translate this kind of language? Explanations defied me. Perhaps I could illustrate its characteristics?

I paused with some trepidation for I wasn't sure if I should spiritualize these temporal disturbances. Was this urge to spiritualize itself, a "limitation," given the breadth of the expanse? All the while, or the whole of this time, the idea of sidereal punctuation continued its arc through the atmosphere of paper, brimming with energy, spilling over the edge of itself. Sentences bruised the sky. Here are some forfeit examples: The jury has been deliberating the definition of space, but uncertainty prevails. Intolerant power respects power not weakness. The next morning you will notice that the river is flowing at a much faster pace. And the next morning after that, you will notice nothing: The entire index of words and phrases at one's disposal. A great blizzard. A white out. And therein, one of the most effective means of emphasis: a pause ... on the morning it happened, I hesitated, wondering if these thoughts were the work of a dark animal scurrying across the snow covered field beyond the woods, the same dark animal that was watching me from the text's branches. Was the animal winged? Had it taken to the paper sky with black wings beating at the apparitions of the white space? Had it joined a flock, and like its ancestors, begun the assemblage of like-minded matter for another great migration?

They gathered silently in paragraphs behind the period.

Driven by the proximity of the animals and my consciousness along with the desire to compile speechless phenomenon as an index of thought, I swore to myself that I would not be left behind. I rocked back and forth like a pendulum, tucking my legs both in and out at the appropriate times, forcing the cord to swing me outward in a movement that briefly paralleled the black hole of the period. Therein the eye of this dark animal--in the eye of its absence from which all of the words seemed to follow--I sensed everything that this creature was not. I felt an ephemeral connection to something I cannot describe.

This brushing up against the understanding of something greater than I had ever perceived was short-lived. Frustrated even more by my previous attempts, I wanted that glimpse again, but the moment it happened, it only receded further from my recollection, evaporating once more to reveal only more mist swollen with diffused, moribund light. And from the miasma of the receding period, dark clouds rippled across the night sky like sentences, some of which were only partially legible: The streams and tributaries, composed mostly of its own history, became nervous with erratic order. Both indigent and migratory, it allowed the verbiage to play out with unlimited use. Yet, he was the same character from beginning to end… as I was. As I swung backward through the distance previously covered to obtain my glimpse of these fragments inside the dark eye, I realized I was hanging upon the lips of an empty concrete fountain somewhere in the night. Had I made some sort of passage into the eye itself? The rush of anxiety as to my whereabouts provided a velvet-like pillow for a voice. Perhaps it was my Mother's voice, however, in its indigenous tongue, that is to say before I could understand her words. Dumb with amazement, I pondered the collection of sounds. Impenetrable with allure, they gushed through the spiraling canals of my ears. To know nothing and yet to be amidst everything? And everything up to this point: The umbilical cord between.

I dangled from this rhetorical precipice at the edge of the cavernous fountain, clinging with slick hands to the pristine cord. It seemed pathetic. I wrapped my fist the cord twice for a better hold. Thought seemed deformed. I tugged at the white cord draped in the striations of the lower lip of the fountain's mouth. Was it the lip of the dream faucet? Why was the fountain empty? Now, the animal motivated by thirst? Herein, I heard my first words, among other sounds, purling with reverberation in the space of this vast cement chamber. It was dark and muffled, and nothing made sense. Frightened, I wanted to escape this cavern of vast retreats. [Editor's Note: In more popular editions, this would be The End, or an exit.] But something kept pulling me along. What was at the other end of this rope? Quickly, I concluded that the urge to follow, the beckoning made the idea of reentry possible. The paper-white, umbilical cord carried the fragile nutrients of my sentences, and with propulsion as described afore, it cast me across the dome of its ethereal atmosphere. From here, the exit, clearly marked, became a portal. Just to the right, I noticed a simple set of directions folded neatly and lodged in the crevice of a wooden rack displaying an assortment of tourist's pamphlets. It read: Go up the ramp, and split to the right and merge with the text. At the top of The Ramp, follow The Directions using comparisons that unify all unformed thoughts.

The threat of gusty winds, thunder showers, and wind squalls, did little to discourage my curiosity. Up here at these heights, with the formulaic variations of Cumulus and Stratus about me, it crossed my mind that these fomenting ideas had never hit the bottom of The Ramp, never touched the spongy tongue. Suddenly, a filter of teeth. A forest, upright and opaque, beyond the clearing. I remembered the white opacity of the sky--the jungle's sky--pressing down upon the 60-acre ecological preserve. There on the preserve, light cast itself upon me with tungsten flame, and the heat of the filaments made me feral; I was blinking in the overwhelming light of it. Meaning was born for the first time, again, and I was holding it in my arms, comforting it like a frightened animal. This whole time, the horrible expanse of it, mere gestation.

Within the mist disguised as portal, window, and sky too, I suddenly perceived a soluble indifference. Suddenly, I remembered finding the large black beetle that had died outside the door of my room at the preserve. Was this the bottom of The Ramp mentioned in The Directions? All along, it was probably just outside my door: A porch light burning into the darkness I was sleeping through, providing a way out, a mouth of light at the end of a passage. The memory's spiraling codes and neural pathways twitched in gesticulating spasms, which suggested I was already passing through this light from a starting point to a perpetual beginning. Then, I realized the sporadic transmission of these sentences were The Directions. The following sentences, excerpted from which, were particularly unsettling: You will never pass all the way through it. Despite the landmarks set aside to distract or inform you, it's necessary to know that all directions include these directions.

And then, the conceptual inconsistency struck me. What was matter? What could I retain? I was afraid of the dead beetle, and yet I was attracted to it. The idea of it began to eat at me. With pornographic fascination, I picked the beetle up, and placed it in a small cardboard box lined with cotton. Often, I would open the box for the perverse thrill of experiencing the feeling that would inevitable sweep over me. A perverse, familiar feeling. It was like the light had been turned on. And upon revisiting the light, I would stare at the beetle, blinking at the shape of the dark exoskeleton. It was hollow.

I held my breath because I was afraid I might lose the sudden proximity of the understanding's presence. I mused that the umbilical cord was pulling me along much faster now, as if The Directions were a delicate ruse forced upon me, and that once sensing this, the mystery had little time to waste. I assumed textual characteristics, and I realized that I was nothing without the nutrients the white space of meaning was feeding me through the cord. And I gathered that if the o was an entrance, it might also be a trap; and so I felt the urgent need to find escape as if I was being stalked by something greater than all the dark animals.

After I merged with the text, flowing from left to right, I began looking for streets on the right, but the sentences continued. The digits of my hands tore at the letters of the keyboard in a flurry of anxious movement. Thoughts ran. Fingers randomly trembled above the home keys. Fearfully, my stomach turned. I looked behind me. In the momentary pause above the keyboard, my left most finger stumbled on to the return key, and I felt myself swing straight out into the blackness of what seemed like the o in opening.

Music filled the darkness. Were the animals calling to each other? A foot scurried in the undergrowth to the foot pedal of the piano. This opening: Was it the mouthpiece of an instrument making wide leaps across difficult scales in the entirety of this passage? Just as I remembered the dead beetle, I remembered coming across a recording in a thrift store. The photo of a gifted musician on the back cover seems prescient now. His eyes, captured in the stasis of the black and white photo, revised the ideal portrait of one who is not only un-prescient, but also, one about to be engulfed by the elements of the expanse I've labored to describe herein. The same expanse just beyond this text, just beyond the margin. An entrance, where the same gifted musician, a French horn player, crashed his favorite sports car into a tree in the Spanish countryside. He died instantly under the canopy of night, which was at once, pierced by the retractable sabres of stars burning white. Because of this type of proximity, it must have been easy for the musician to crawl inside.

The thought of crashing, of derailing thoughts, made me nervous. I glanced quickly at the dark opening of the field on my left, and tried desperately to keep the car between the lines. A collision appeared imminent if I even so much as tried to focus on a few particular landmarks. Because I had to keep my eyes trained upon the road--in order to maintain conceptual integrity--I could only sense the even greater hollow expanse that hovered as night above me. I couldn't make out the details of the landscape, but with quick glances, however, I could discern the dark landmass of distant mountains, smoldering as if they had only been geographically conceived this afternoon, and now rested, cooling in an evening filled with the music of frogs and cicadas. Clouds rolled above this setting like smoke. More aleatoric sentences, this time, uttered by the wind.

Quick glances from my car window, however, did little to assist in distinguishing the textual branches of the forest's trees rolling across the paper of this reenactment. These came on too fast for any realistic legibility. It was all afterthoughts. It was as if all the unread books taunted me from the shelf of the sky. But all these thoughts and ideas, triggered by the musical verbiage, congealed into some kind of manufactured evidence, a new fiction of immaculate craftsmanship, exquisite taste, and felicity of invention. Every word in The Directions made me tremble, and I began singing back to it. I felt an urge to calm it like a restless child, mainly because I was afraid of drifting away into the irremediable, black forest of thoughts where such concepts, though gestating, lacked any cohesive form. Likewise, I feared drifting into the opposite lane, into the burning headlights of an approaching idea. I was squinting at two such cones of light, when they exploded into parselene rapiers, both particle and wave. These must have been the stars.

The Directions had warned, "If you lose your way, you will pass through this introduction." Dark animals assembled for another migratory excursion. As if standing before a microphone amplified by the night, I took up the vocal melody of pop song on the car's radio. The melody of it merely recreated the same phrases of the French horn and the flutes playing across my eyelids.

Rather suddenly, the atmospheric dome of my night sky filled itself with incendiary stars, threatening a horrific conflagration in the forest below. I turned on the interior light of the ceiling--the moon--and discovered there was an attachment to The Directions, a computer printout from a friend. Given his understanding of my appreciation for outlandish texts, he apparently thought I could make good use of these supplemental directions. Although he had received them in his own printer, he thought The Addendum to the Directions was meant for me. Only I couldn't read them, despite the confidence of my friend.

Just then, an illuminated sign flashed on my right in a burst of fluorescent green, and then, disappeared. It was obvious: The car was rapidly approaching a giant chasm. I wanted to stop the whole narrative from needless complications. I knew that what had shaped me, and what had shaped the contents of The Directions, might have shaped visions of these unrecognizable, as of yet, unformed thoughts. For example, this whole recapitulation of events comes nowhere near the actual experience. I turned off the light resembling the moon in the center of the car's ceiling. Glowing with the radiation of hot stars buried within, my pupils expanded beyond all normal parameters. I could see all the visible stars in the sky, but at the same time, I lost my grip on the wheel. I panicked. The white cord was gone, and I was falling through the night. Mimetic fragments of these ideas glittered and receded in the out-stretched distance that I covered with horrific ease. Shimmering in chalky-white verisimilitude, these resplendent fragments sizzled in the vast darkness of unformed text. Sparks of it sprayed, arced, and faded in the flickering tail of my random trajectory. I felt as if I was stationary, immobile, but I knew from the white glow of the speedometer that I was moving and had reached the white expanse of the margin




To attempt a description of the unexplainable distance I covered in this narrative is a judicious example of the annulment, the severed umbilical, if you will. Still, I'm driven by these same indescribable forces to rationalize my urge to give image to absence, to give absence a face, which I in turn, cut from the back cover of the recording. With scissors, I followed the shape of its cheekbones and darkened the edge of its head with black ink so that the tendrils of its hair might mingle with the infinite darkness. Because the visage of a musician evokes a solemn, poetic splendor toward our brief moment of suffering, I dressed the thought of absence in a tunic of stars, and gave my makeshift representative a tongue--the letter A--with which to carve new meaning out of the darkness.

And thus armed with its eternal music and the ink of infinity, the instrument known as tongue becomes lathe in its character. In single and multiple harmonic phrases, the lathe pierces the matter of gestating text and unformed thoughts. Strophes of its music carve, cut, and re-shape the glistening-black fabric in its own image. In its irreconcilable enormity, it exscinds the plane into domesticated animals: Text--walking and floating the black night, real and unreal, like the music--singing through the ephemeral, voiceless stops. The lull between, a pause. Night, from the morning it was born.

To replay the idea of the tongue, I grappled with technology and the tumult of it's wolfram, spitting digital fire in pixels and atoms, ultimately, singeing the verb stem draped across the porous gut of the gurgling lathe. Through this passageway, I suddenly appeared in the left margin and worked into the remainder of the night by the light of the paper and tungsten bulb alone. Within the interior of the moon, I questioned myself with the lathe's condescending totality, manifested in its violent use of shadows. I questioned the forces of self-doubt to type this, committing the work of my own, silent tongue to narrative. Sentences dripped from my hovering fingers. During this time, I thought of little or nothing


Michael Peters' writings-poetry, fiction, and essays-have appeared in Spinning Jenny, Rhino, Lungfull, Lost and Found Times, North of South, Sweet Portable You, World Letter, and Badaboom Gramophone. His visual poetry has appeared in on-line publications, such as Posted, Spinning Jenny, and Generator Press; and in various visual poetry shows such as The Art Academy of Cincinnati's 02txt Exhibit in 2001, the OSEAO gallery in Seattle (in conjunction with Seattle Poetry Festival 2002), and the Diana Lowenstein Fina Arts gallery in Miami, Florida this March of 2003.

As an assistant to the composer Petr Kotik (SEM Ensemble) in New York City from 1992 to 1999, Peters was introduced to the polyartist Richard Kostelanetz. Collaborating with Kostelanetz, Peters designed two books of visual poetry and contributed several entries to his Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes. In June of 2001, Peters attended what would become an important three-week residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA) in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, which was convened under Kostelanetz.

In September of 2001 at Wolverhampton University in the UK, Peters presented a paper at the No Future Conference, titled: "Absence and Psychogeography in the Dawn of the Trickster." In July of 2002, as a participant in the Avant-Garde Symposium that was held at The Ohio State University's Special Collections Library of Avant-Garde Literature, Peters presented a conceptual treatise: "Wholesale Form; an Attack on the Corporate Form with Text and Sound."

Also a musician, most notably in Poem Rocket, Peters has released recordings on numerous independent labels since 1990, most recently, Atavistic--the experimental, Chicago-based avant-jazz & rock label. He is also a member of the Be Blank Consort-a collaborative group of experimental writers dedicated to the creation and performance of sound-texts that has just recorded and released a CD with Luna Bisonte Prods.

Among other projects, Peters is currently working on a large poem, participating in collaborative texts of visual and linear poetry, and recording new material for another Poem Rocket release. Future projects include a biography on the French architect Fleury Colon.

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