Blackbox Manifold

Issue 11: Mark Dow

Midrash & Banter

After 16,800 minutes of commercials, in an average household and an average year, I agreed to all I saw or heard -- smell makes me nostalgic, and touch, possessive; taste is my own business -- and fit in so well I was nothing, all seams hidden.

           But a computer's having generated an infinite string of non-prime numbers since generating a prime wouldn't mean there are no more primes.  The trees have not been planted men will make paper the results will be printed on from.  So though the place for idealism seems narrow viewed rearward, up ahead there are not even roads, much less freeways above streets along railroad tracks beside trails along rivers.  The dark ages are past in which one thing contains all things; otherwise why would there be so many?  Granted this line of argument depends on there being an economy of existence, but if there weren't that, we wouldn't have routines, forget how oppressive they may seem at times.

           In a change that would only exist qua change if the evolution of man had been captured on film, but would still be ungraspable, as it is impossible to say, viewing a frame at a time, slowed to distinction, when a person's smile begins or ends, as this and here and now have always been unintentional lies, as a child whose mother is pointing at a new object clutches her finger and is satisfied, the brain learned to let a former us learn to make tools by watching someone else make them, and the coincidence of the neural syntax of tool-making with the bent laryngeal tract, the latter making possible our variety of speech sounds (and, in nature's trade-off, making us the only animal to choke on its own food), makes these speech-languages possible, languages in which there is no mere one-to-one correspondence between signal and message, the other animals' limitation, so that each individual has infinity at his disposal.  So say some.  It is since then, though, the process having generated its own map to become routine, the map's ingraining having ruled out alternate routes, that we be and think about it.  One hand holds the tools for making the tools and the other holds instructions.  Our minds and bodies are in the space between.  Though our hands are our minds and bodies too.  We connect, if we're lucky, in a world removed, which may yet be made present.  Here comes one now.  It's still too soon but impatience mounts and begins its methodical pump; I feel it too; sensed like the weather is but taken more personally.  Which is said to say that in the middle of our largely self-explanatory lives we demand supplemental information then grow impatient with the abstraction.  The drawing-forth does weaken one.  But the rock is a rock.  And thwacking it out of despair instead of confidence has kept many a good soul out of the promised land.  To wit, i.e., namely, let's talk.

           On a Saturday night the Soviet Union took Poland.  On live TV a comedian told a studio audience the news and they laughed, because he's a damn good comedian.  What a difficult moment to be part of it was, not like the simplicity of an earlier generation, Jackie scrambling out onto the trunk trying to catch some of Jack's brain, blurred but over and over again.  It's just so hard to be honest without sounding trite or apart (the hidden observer lurks), either of which would tend to undermine the honesty, only apparently, but doesn't honesty depend on appearance?  Woodpeckers don't laugh much at knock-knock jokes, and mockingbirds don't wear blackface.  Do that make their lives superficial?  Depth comes in many shapes.  But what unformed depth, or newness rather, does that little bridge of an equals sign hold us over and from?  Whatever the terms of the divided equation, they are rooted in either side.  And emotion, so abstract, only gets in the way.  The traffic on the bridge is at a passionate standstill.  But a lot's going on.

           Ellie, for one, was not what she thought she was.  For a good part of her life she thought she was not lonely when she was.  In the next part she felt she was when she wasn't.  It took her next-door neighbor Frederick, who disliked being called Fred but wouldn't object aloud if you called him that unless he knew you well, which, in his case, meant feeling not just comfortable with but part-and-parcel of you even as he remained himself through and through, so that he could act as he might anyway and in so doing meet your expectations exactly and somehow also have you find him intriguing, though not mysterious, by virtue of his being so very predictable without seeming to be taking you or himself or the situation or its prospects for granted -- his old girlfriend had left him once she understood this; said she didn't need his power trips anymore -- it took him (Frederick) to allow her (Ellie) to see herself in those respective lights of what she was and/or wasn't.  Ellie saw this, sensed it, imagined it.  Or rather, saw his curious but resigned and unthreatening, clean-shaven face and, moments before, as she made her way across the yard, in part to get the paper, coming up on him working under the hood, apparently oblivious, though it would occur to her later to wonder about that and would take an abrupt about-face to force the idea back into the back, saw the lengths of shoulder muscle, tensed but practically still, a poised contrast to the frenzied little chattered clicking of ratchet teeth no doubt the result of the socket action the hidden hand of his extended arm was engaged in down behind the distributor; sensed his desire to feel comfortable with her; and imagined parallel destinies, as close to each other, almost by design and certainly for function's sake, as train rails, never meeting but suggesting by their dogged continuity the mystifications of touch in some hazy future more suited to land-measure than to time.  It happened on what became for Ellie one of those days uncluttered by increments.  As the momentum built, though there was only the faintest resonance of momentum from within, one of them could have said "It's getting late" or "Christ how long has it been dark out" without so much as rippling the smooth expanse of what was happening to them from her perspective.  She enjoyed it because she knew before she left the house that she was falling in love.  And because she saw it coming, it was like playing a game or a role without quite getting lost there, and, for the same reason, overlaid with her current optimism, she was beside herself with enthusiasm -- restrained, though, because being on top of things, she recognized (flash) that what was to ensue would demand all the energy she could muster and effortlessly time-release, and that when she was all but spent it would be time for that last, lingering, unfaltering, vibrato-less note without diminuendo, the one that leads the breath farther from the prospect of turning back to its source than it has ever been, without taking it far from the body at all.  She'd been to that place.  Yet now she felt approximately twice as lonely as she'd thought possible, beside herself with the anticipation of the chance to escape her loneliness by becoming someone else, someone else named Ellie.

           Frederick was different.  Years later he would think back with inaccuracy and   longing.  How had she managed with that demeanor to render the most striking features so natural-seeming?  Who had been the seducer, then?  Once, just after a record snowfall, long after the rest of it, he took a long, direct walk through a middle-income neighborhood to a deserted (as it turned out) park, built-in respite from the city it was bound by.  This was near to the shore our tradition took root in, of continuation depending on a conscious severance soon forgotten, sawing off the limb you go out on, God shed His grace on thee.  At the park a hillside under thigh-high drifts, untracked except by wind, swung down to the crackling edge of a wide frozen river, milky ice-white along the near-edge, past the muddy joining, grayer out through the middle and toward the infinite other side one had no need to go to.  It may as well have always been.  The past is, the same as the future is, and as far, though so much more organized.  Say Amen, church.  The bottoms of the drifts imagine the roll of the land; the tops recall what the wind meant.  Thin trees, birch maybe, north sides blanketed softly and thickly through the middle, the bottom-sheet of ice slipping out from underneath the covers to round the trunk's curve southward, thin trees, birch maybe, rise unhesitatingly past this newcomer snow.  Their unstated goal is muted by the thick white-gray sky it's behind.  All of which manages to seem to erase time, so the heavy, intrusive head clacking with all its reckless sensibility and intimations appears the stranger.  But still the river.  It is beautiful and one is astonished, standing there unthinking and between, and it does what beauty does that astonishes, obliterating all questions out from under you, I speak for myself, leaving you riding the crest of a question's rising tone, nothing you know of underneath, which is where the floating comes from, and powerlessness.


                                                                                                (1987)

Honey Length Ballad

Not for nothing we found you here

The honey lengthened long

Almost certain comfort here

Lengthen the honey along


We started but after we'd started again

The honey would lengthen along

Insistent as face in the broad-based noon

A long dip of honey was spun


Someone arrived but seemed abstract

As long as the honey was strung

Seemingly less so but no yes though

Lengthening honey along


Before there was a moment before

The honey lengthened long

Long before the moment before

The honey had only begun


Reached out to reach and breach a brim

Honey longs to diminish in swell

Horizon's appearance first far-flung

Sweet rarely unfinished until


A spoon received the overflow

Insects fucked flowers with song

Filament rains rained down steady

Toward crystallization of cloud

The long division added up

To tighten horizon's pull

What seemed like limits thinned and then

Diaphanously lulled


But there was no one to be slipped

By that first languid lull

From somewhere just behind itself

Itself could just recall


Sealed in was what would not get lost

Sealed out whatever could

The thick drag of paralysis

When it's indulged too long


Or longs for what mere touch cannot

Provide a film against

The sticky tack and nutrient

For what's divided from


Divided from the holding place

The moment just before

The moment that determined to

The moment placed on hold


Then dropped a full self from itself

An elongated drop

A pendant drop through gravity's

Attractiveness but soft


Its steady pull on memory

A home away from home

The bulb began to lengthen long

To trace the tunnel strung


As if to say it didn't want

To go but couldn't not

So thinned the self it left behind

Itself as if to want


A golden trace of tautened glint

Descend and be let go

Horizon on a vertical

So sweet to be let go


Neither one son nor the not-one

Or some other one

But one of a moment's one-on-one

Endeavored birth to one


The threads looked straight and were and weren't

As saturate lanestripes arc

Continuous or perforate

And rounded as they run


The surface of the earth they're on

Is rounded or toward that

Although at smaller scales it folds

In and away from that


Likewise honeyed straits to cross

Were tinseled ribbons bowed

And what seemed thin on closer look

Tastes less completely so


This might or this might not be so

Imagination dwells

The mind projects what it believes

Into onto toward


Across which its insistence strides

Increments clock hands

Pass fluidly in measurement

Of what they aim to span


Between between between between

No such of a thing

Or is but isn't time for it

To be it in between


More than water less than tar

It thins coherently

It thickly thins and narrows down

Bound by viscosity


And four and three and two and one

Unstopped unspooled unfree

Looked back on what had come to seem

Inevitablity


Not for nothing found you here

A longing lengthened thin

Comfort for a mother's ear

Afloat somewhere undone


                                                                                               (2013)

Mark Dow was born and raised in Houston, Texas. He lives in New York, and can be reached at mdow (at) igc (dot) org