Monday, February 27, 2006


To be at the forefront of a movement only means that you will one day be trampled on by your successors. At your heels, the pack is closing in. They have no choice but to go forward, ever forward, and to one day overtake you. This is not intended to be a threat, and this is not simple pessimism - it is only the truth. It is just the way of things.

The leader of an endless race, there is no doubt that you will one day grow tired. Shortly thereafter, you will fall victim to the imperfection of the human condition, and you will collapse in a heap upon the ground. Those running immediately behind you will be the most likely to stop and help you up, but, mindful of their own positions, will chose to leap over you instead and keep on running. A new leader will immerge. A leader every bit as strong as you once were. A leader every bit as wise. A leader every bit as human.

Only after the race is long over, a very distant memory, and the scavengers have had their way, will your battered and ransacked remains be found.

"Oh yeah - remember him?" your discoverer will ask his colleagues.

"Vaguely," the others will mutter, while self-consciously glancing around at one another.

"What do you suppose he did?" one bold man will ask of no-one in particular.

"It's hard to say," another will venture forth in a practice of avoidance. "Perhaps something, perhaps nothing at all."

All will nod very sagely with furrowed brows. They'll scribble words in their little notepads.


No-one knife fights anymore; there's probably a reason for that.

All I can see is my opponent, and even then my vision is limited to his eyes, and the occasional silver flash of a blade. He's little more than a shadow hustling before me, darting this way and that. The fear. I'm running on nothing but the fear, and the faint hope that this bastard is as scared as I am.

I'm crouched low to the ground, and our feet scramble on gravel as we both vie for the better position. How does something like this begin? How do we decide who strikes first? The cool of my knife, heavy in my hand, keeps me grounded. Tight on the grip, I couldn't get any closer to the pommel. A Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife - I was told it was the best.


I purchased the blade from a fence in London, an old man who gave me his word through the steel bars of his dark, tiny office - little more than a rat hole in an alley.

"Best in the world," he said, holding up the weapon for me to see. "Designed after the daggers of Shanghai street fighters, and intended for use by British commandos."

Rendered speechless by its beauty, I was in love.

"Double-edged blade, you hold it like so," he said, while gripping the knife upside down and making a vicious stabbing motion through the air. "Lightweight, and slim, it fits nicely between the bones right here," he said, patting his ribs with his free hand.

I smiled. I'm sure I was smiling.

"But," the old man continued, "I'm sure you know how it works. I'm certain I don't have to go into detail with someone like you."

Nod. My heart was thumping.

"You'd be surprised," he said, "how many kids I get coming in here thinking that having the best knife will make them the best fighter." Raspy chuckle. "I always sell to them anyway," he shrugged. "I figure I'm doing a service to the underground by letting these imbeciles exterminate each other."

"I couldn’t agree with you more. And it really is a thing of beauty - I'll take it," I said, slipping a wad of dirty money under the smudged window.


The old heart beats quick now. It really pounds. Breathing heavy, I can feel the moisture collecting in my beard. Where are my boys at? Someone's got to be packing. Soon, someone will pull his nine and end this foolishness. Sweat is beginning to trickle into my eye, and I go to brush it away. Soon there-

Lightning quick movement. There's a strong grip on the sleeve of my leather jacket.

Someone shrieks. I think it's me.

I'm pulled, yanked forward. Spun around. Lost.

Suddenly I feel something in my chest that shouldn't be there. Where's the pain? A twisting inside of me. A wrenching. On the ground now, pockets being rifled.

Is this really how it happens? I slowly, feebly, reach out along the ground and my fingers are met with the thick warm of my blood. Where the hell is the pain? Slick fingers find my blade. There's a laugh as it's kicked away.



To be at the forefront of a movement only meant that I would one day be trampled on by my successors. At my heels, the pack was closing in - and I had no idea, no way of knowing. In a race of any kind, it's so tough to look behind you without losing momentum. And the others, your competitors, they have no choice but to go forward, ever forward, and to one day overtake you. This is not so much a threat as it is a warning. And not so much a warning as it is the transmission of simple information, the truth. It's just the way of things.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

the art of normal

"So, what did you tell her?"

You're leaning on your elbows across from me, and I'm steadying a spoonful of soup midway between bowl and mouth. More broth than chunks - just the way I like it. Raise to lips. Out of habit, I blow gently across the surface of the liquid. Slight ripple. Spoon entering mouth, my tongue is met with the brackish twang of imitation chicken mixed with a slight hint of metal from cheap diner cutlery. Grimace. Reluctantly swallow, and I'm thinking about the mix in the pit of my stomach - cheap broth meeting cheaper coffee.

"Come on, are you going to keep me in suspense all day?"

"All right, all right." I put the spoon down and push the bowl of filth aside. Motion to the waitress that I'd like my coffee topped up. "I told her the same thing I tell all inquirers," I say. "I told her that it was fiction, that it was written straight from my imagination, and that it was about nobody in particular, but a conglomeration of illusory beings."

You push a shock of blonde out of your vision. Straighten your glasses. "She must have been a little disappointed," you offer.

"More than, I think. But it's the same way with all of them. It's like magic," I say. "Everyone wants to know how the magician does his tricks, but when the secret is revealed, the audience is disappointed and wishes they'd never been shown."

"You mind?" you ask, displaying your pack of cigarets.

"Not at all," I say, sliding the plastic ashtray over to you. "I think I'm done eating."

"So, what happened after that?" you ask, lighting up with little ceremony.

"Well, she halfheartedly asked a couple more questions, snapped a photo, made small talk while packing up her gear, and then I signed her copy of the journal before bidding her adieu."

"Wow." Puff of smoke, cigaret dangling. "Sounds like the interview took a real turn."

I nod, take a sip of weak coffee. "The magic was gone," I say. "She caught the magician without his cape, found him buying milk and bread at the local market in worn jeans and a threadbare Jane’s Addiction t-shirt."

"And you love it," you chuckle. You know me too well.

Pause. I take a moment, pretending to think. Smile. "Yes," I say. "I really do. But that's me - butcher of dreams since 1857."

You laugh. "So, what do you have planned for the rest of the afternoon?"

"I think I might go haunt the used bookshops downtown for awhile," I say, "see what there is to see. Would you like to come along?"

"Love to," you say, stubbing out your cigaret. "I couldn't have thought of a more delightfully mundane way to spend the afternoon if I tried."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

gently down

"What do you sell, old man?"

This question asked of a stranger on my door step. An old, old man in a tatty leather duster, clutching a battered briefcase in one knotty hand. Snarled beard. Bloodshot eyes. Rotten yellow teeth. He just stood there for a time, exhaling noxious breath in my general direction. Wheezing, strained, breath. Putrid - like spoiled meat.

"Excuse me - sir? Can I help you?" I asked this question though I didn't even want to. My coffee was growing cold on the kitchen table. The newspaper was only half-read. My toast had popped. "Listen, if you're not going to-"


I'm a million miles away, with my consciousness shattered into a billion tiny hyaline shards, each screaming away at light speed. Breathing hard, wind rushing past my face, tears streaming from my eyes - I try to open them, but I can't for the wind. Nothing more than a squint, and the too-bright light of the future hurtling past at nearly three hundred million meters per second.

Sudden stop.

Open eyes.

Desperate junky. My heart is pounding in my chest, and there's the startling realisation that where I've landed is not the future, but another present. Voices voice, but no-one's at the door, so I just stand there for a second feeling the cold winter air jostle past me, uninvited, into my squalid apartment. It brings me down for a moment. Makes me feel almost sober. "Fuck all y'all," I yell out into the dirty hallway.

"Mind playing tricks on me," I say to no-one, and slam the door.

I pick at a sore on my face, and scan the scene. All my friends are here, boiled down into nothing more than shadows huddling in every corner. Butter knives glow white-hot in a stovetop element, and a pile of powdered Prozac sits on the filthy kitchen counter. But it's a colourless crystalline cube which calls my name presently.

Ladybird's got the oven mitts, and she grasps those blistering hot blades, her eyes closing as she registers the heat through thinning burnt fabric. A thin sliver of ice dropped onto hot, hot steel. A thread of oily white smoke, and I'm sucking it all up through the congested shell of a Bic pen.

"Take it all," she purrs.

Everything's all black, and my lungs are full - more than full, bursting. Tiny yellow stars explode ever so slowly from my chest into the great beyond, and I'm making a solemn promise never to exhale.

Have you any dreams you'd like to sell?
Dreams of emptiness,
a drumbeat, hypnotising,
like a lifetime of slowly realising
you've found a different kind of hell.




"I'll ask you one more time, old man: what are you trying to sell me?"

A rotten yellow grin accompanied a throaty laugh. He set that briefcase gently down.

"I'm not so much selling or buying as I am repossessing," he said. "And it looks like you were pre-approved for more than you could handle."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


There is nothing new here or anywhere. So goddamn tired of logging the everyday, you tell yourself you have a headache if only to provide a good excuse for popping open the bottle. Take a healthy dose of acetaminophen just because. Go numb. Leaf through 'Cool Memories' for the umpteenth time. Get bored. Dip your mind into a glassy pool of simulacra. Use a fancy word in place of a commonplace one. Practice pretension. Sleep because you have nothing more interesting to do.

We were sitting across from each other beneath the vaulted, smoke-stained ceilings of a smirched little hole of a pub downtown. Papers all over the sticky table. Plans were being drawn up with pens rapidly running out of ink. Pint glasses were emptied and emptied again. By this point, we hadn't even started up the paper, and articles were already being submitted. Good articles, really well-written articles, and we hadn't even found a printer yet. We were in over our heads and didn't even know it. No matter, we wouldn't have cared anyway. We couldn't have cared. I was young, and you, younger still.

"I must admit, I'm a little jealous," you told me out of the beery blue.

I must have scrunched my forehead a little. I'm sure I asked why.

"Because you're starting to get that dignified look about you," you added. "I'm positively filled with envy."

I would have laughed, I'm sure, and brushed off the comment. I wasn't becoming more dignified - I was getting older. By this point, I would have already been made well aware of that, but I would have kept my mouth shut. I would have kept silent to protect you from the knowledge that we are not here forever, knowledge that you were still yet a couple years away from gathering. That first time you get out of bed and groan, stretching your stiffened back. That first twinge in your knee. The first time your memory fails.

There is nothing new here or anywhere. So goddamn tired of writing the same paper over and over again, you tell yourself you have insomnia if only to provide a good excuse for popping open the bottle. Pour yourself three fingers of scotch just because. Go numb. Leaf through 'On the Genealogy of Morals' for the umpteenth time. Get bored. Dip your mind into a murky pool of ressentiment. Use a French word in place of an English one. Practice pomposity. Sleep because you have nothing more interesting to do.

Sunday, February 5, 2006

white on white

All around you, poems were being written. With fingertips gliding on dust-covered windowsills. With tired eyes scanning mottled sidewalks. With toes pressed into raw sugar sand on cloudy beaches. Poems for the unenamoured. Poems for the unarmoured. Poems for the unmoored. All around you, poems were being written, but at the centre of your universe where pen tip touched paper, where the point made but a single depression, a poem would not unfold. No words were written - your hand remained steadied, your pen remained stilled. Quieted. Hushed. You had no story to tell.

So you went away to find your self, but wound up, instead, farther from yourself than ever before. A backward island, and a thousand others just like you. You listened to their stories, each and every one of them; always searching, always halfway there. Time passed, and you never quite felt comfortable. You looked at the newcomers and saw bits of who you were - lonely, confused, and overwhelmed - and you looked at the veterans and saw bits of who you might become - lost, arrogant, and hardened. Time served brought with it a surprising relief. There was a silent promise and a ticket home. A long flight back to there.

But you still miss that backward island with its perpetually cloudy, raw sugar beaches, and shining, futuristic nightlife. Another place, another time - and it's all too easy to place great distance between your present and past selves. It wasn't me, it was he, you say, while unconsciously censoring the past. You'll hold close the high times, while pushing away the low. You'll make plans to go back. Still lost, you desire to be found - and instinct tells you to flee. Another city will offer up new opportunities. Another scene will bring a new life. A new lie will bring more lies.

All around you, poems are being written. In the zigzagging tracks of a squirrel in the park. In the rush of air from the flap of an owl's great wings. In the howl of a coyote at two o'clock in the morning. Poems for the disenchanted. Poems for the disenfranchised. Poems for the disavowed. All around you, poems are being written, but at the centre of your universe where pen tip touches paper, where the point makes but a single depression, a poem has yet to unfold. No words are written - your hand remains steadied, your pen remains stilled. Quieted. Hushed.

How long can this last? you ask yourself. Another week without verse. Another year without meter. An entire lifetime without structure. All around you, poems are being written, and it seems so easy. Plagiarism comes quickly to mind. You could live the life of another. Image over substance. Make yourself a home in the shell of another. Your hand begins to shake, and the pen tip begins to quiver as you push harder into the paper with pent-up frustration. Just one line. Just one word. A start. Anything. Nothing comes.

Your life is like this - a poem written with white ink on white paper. Years from now, when you're gone and your page is added to the Great Book, the critics will analyze your contribution. Is it art? they'll ask superciliously. White on white. A blank sheet. They'll share a good laugh while clapping each other on the shoulders, united in their disdain. Poor fellow, they'll add, someone might have told him that even poor art is better than no art at all. And they'll laugh some more. They'll laugh because they know they are right. Their laughter will fade because they know they have always been right. And they'll stop laughing because they know they will always be right. Their laughter ceases because each shares with the others the same disturbing dream. No beginning and no end. Nothing. White on white.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

the deciding incident

A month or more wasted in Northern Africa. Hot days spent in pointless conversation with the locals. Chilly nights spent in pointless research at the computer. I didn't sleep much, then. Kept my sweater on because I was cold. Let a bag of coffee beans sit on the kitchen counter because there was little point in putting it away. Caught up on my reading.

I kept a shotgun strapped to the underside of my desk, and a box of shells in the pen drawer. I was waiting for you to appear. Just one more time - I'd be ready. Four locks on the door and not one of them being used. Windows wide open to the crisp night air - and you, if you so desired. But I must have dozed off.

I awoke to smashing, glass tinkling, and found myself surrounded by a group of five masked men, one of which I had to guess was you. My own shotgun was pointed at my face. The box of shells had been spilled all over the floor.

"Do not move!" one of the figures yelled. I immediately detected a Farsi accent. "If you move, I will shoot you right in the face!"

I didn't move. "What's this about?" I asked. "Farhad! Jones!" he yelled over his shoulder. "Get what we come for and get out!"

The other four started to dismantle my flat. Gathering up great bunches of paper. Going through my books. One of the men started to take my computer case apart.

"Lagan," I said. "I knew you'd come."

He didn't say a word, but my talking seemed to excite the shotgun-wielding man a little.

"You! You shut up!"

I ignored him. "Didn't you find it a little strange that my door and windows were unlocked, Lagan?"

He hesitated. I actually saw him hesitate before ripping my hard drive out.

I felt the cold barrel of the shotgun push into my chin.

"You shut up your mouth right now or I will shoot it!"

"Come on, Artie. You must have known I'd have a plan."

He turned to me, and looked right into my eyes. It was him.

Before I could say another word, though, I felt one ton of steel across my chin. A deafening blast. Heat on my forehead. I could smell my own flesh burning. I heard it sizzle like a steak.

Chaos. I was on the floor.

"What did you do, man?" Arthur Lagan. Certainly.

Boots were stomping all around me, running, this way and that.

"I only wanted to strike him! Not shoot!"


Hands on my face. Fingers searching. Through my hair.

"He seems to be okay. Powder burns, maybe."

Warmth on my face. Trickling.

"But so much blood!"

More stomping. More running.

"A couple pellets may've made contact, that’s all."

The slamming of a door.

"Come on. We've got to get out of here."

That’s all.