Animalia

About a week ago, I woke to find feathers scattered here and there in my apartment. They were of light gray and brown coloring, and not very big, though certainly not from a tiny creature. Bemused, I went about picking them up, then realized that there were more than I’d first noticed, and grabbed the vacuum, hoping they wouldn’t clog it. They didn’t, but they did clog my attention for a while, wondering where the hell they came from. It seemed as if a bird had gotten in, but search as I might, there was no sign of anything more than feathers. Eventually I went off to work and forgot all about it. The next morning I found a few more, which I was sure weren’t from the night before. This time I went tearing through the closets and checking under furniture. The last thing I needed was to have a dead bird somewhere in the apartment. I found nothing.

A couple of days after that I got home from work and noticed clumps of matted gray hair or fur in most of the rooms, even on the kitchen table and especially in the bed. Suspect #1: the downstairs neighbor’s nasty old longhair, which had gotten into my place a few times before. Even so, after the feathers, it felt a little weird. I thrashed around through all the rooms, but couldn’t spy or scare it out from anywhere – then realized I’d left the door ajar, and it must have gotten back out. I went down and pounded on the old guy’s door, but no response, not even that vexatious feline rawling as usual. It was probably on the roof by then anyway. The following morning I spotted even more of the gross, mangy stuff. I repeated the search’n’pound of the night before with a dash of rage, but no cat, no answer, and definitely no joy. Was relieved to arrive home in the evening to no further clumps or evidence of intrusion. And although I suspected the invasion wasn’t over, I decided to let it go, as much as I can let anything go. Besides, I was beat, and didn’t want to spend another second on it.

A few days later, that being yesterday morning, I woke to find my bed full of…scales. No shit. Like snake scales, I guess, but bigger than I’d imagine them. Now I was officially creeped out. Clearly somebody was fucking with me, probably one of my psycho ex’s, the question mostly being which one. (I have a type.) I wasn’t sure if the scales were real, never did hang much with snakes, but they definitely had a sharp odor. Not unpleasant, just…sharp, kind of acrid. Not that it mattered. Someone was sneaking into my apartment while I was sleeping or not home and tossing animal sheds all over the place. Sloughs. Molting. How sick was that? First thing I texted my building manager to come take a look. He wrote back to say he was out of town for a couple of days. Okay. No vacuum for these babies. I picked them up one by one, gingerly at first – they were cool and smooth but not slimy, I thought they’d be slimy – and collected them in a big ziplock bag which I laid carefully on the far side of the kitchen table. Dozens of them, maybe a hundred or more. Psycho. I was pretty worked up and debated staying home from work, considering what antics might happen here during the day especially with no one around to check. Then I thought the better of it, figuring that it couldn’t get much worse than this, and if it did, there’d be hell to pay. I needed the distraction anyway.

Arrived home apprehensive as hell and crept quietly to my door. There was no sound from within and no sign of anyone having entered. Still I wasn’t taking any chances. I burst in like a bad tv cop actor, shouting, “Police!” to my empty, musty place. All right, maybe I was overreacting. But I couldn’t settle down, and eventually ended up having a couple of drinks while staring at some bland human drama on the screen. Took one of my favorite little chill pills to knock my ass out – don’t ask which one, I’ve got ‘em all – and hit the sack. I slept badly last night anyway, tossing and writhing in sweaty sheets for hours without ever being conscious enough to wake up fully and start over. Finally I slid into a blackness with no sound, no dream, still as a cavern.

I woke this morning feeling oddly untroubled, almost serene, as if I’d put a great ordeal behind me. I’d forgotten to set the alarm and didn’t care, lying there incredibly relaxed with eyes closed luxuriously against the day. In my half-sleep I imagined I was lying with a lover, could even feel the light weight of their hand against my chest. As I woke further, I realized that couldn’t be, and decided that I must be snuggling with my sheets, still tangled from the night. My eyes finally fluttered open on their own, and I saw that was not the case either. Here’s the strangest part: you’d think that I’d have been freaked or frightened to find myself lying side by side with a shed of my entire skin, but I was not. Instead it felt so familiar, soft, almost silken, shrouded in a comforting musk. Though it was light as can be, I felt a great weight lifted. The shed looked to be complete, intact, with only the mouth gaping as if ready to kiss. I let out a deep breath and lay there feeling whole for the first time in memory, calm and content as ever. I snuggled in against it, letting my eyes close again, and for the longest time I lay there breathing in the musk, cheek to cheek with my inverted face.

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NEW BOOK COMING IN SEPTEMBER :: I am proud and honored to have my manuscript Unit of Agency chosen to be the first publication by the brand-spankin’-new-and-I-mean-spankin’ Collapse Press. Tentatively out in mid- to late-September, it’s a collection of poetry and short prose that might be called human struggle/protest culture/pissed-off leftie pieces (or might be called something else). Whatever they are, prepare to be provoked. Collapse Press was founded just this spring by the ever-diligent Paul Corman-Roberts and Lynn Alexander, who are planning to produce a number of books, including a collection by Missy Church and Volume 1 of Comics for Collapse, both coming soon. They’ve been running a terrific zoom read called The Friday Collapse on the last Friday of each month, which can be found on the Collapse Press Facebook page. So keep yer eyes, ears, and nose open for more!

FLASH FICTION IN THE NEW MAINTENANT :: I’m thrilled to have a cute little fable on the hazards of capitalism titled “A Fable” in Maintenant 15, the pre-eminent Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing & Art. Should you purchase a copy to read my piece? Of course! But be warned, you’ll find yourself swimming in beauty. This issue contains a stunning array of 240 artists, writers, musicians, philosophers, performance artists unabashedly representing the counter-mind and culture of the moment. Deets and more on the Anthologies & Journals page.

UPCOMING READING :: I’m finally listing upcoming events here again, and on the, er, Events page. Have one this month on Thursday, August 26 at 4 pm PDT / 7 pm EDT. It’s Neuronautic Institute Presents zooming from the Long Island of New York State, who are generously allowing me to co-feature with the amazing George Wallace and Neeli Cherkovski, yes that is the truth. You know you need to be there, and if you’ll be working, well, you’ll just have to QUIT YOUR DAMN JOB. Deets on the Events page.

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I’ve been thinking about animals, and how so many “humans” (whatever that means) consider themselves to be separate (hubris), superior (hubris), and distinct (more hubris) from those “lower” species. I am deeply grateful that some people, however a minority, do not hold beliefs of this sort. Those who do often evince that difference as a sense of an individual self, an awareness of self discrete from others, leaving us phenomenologically at least even more isolated and alone in the vast expanse of space. On the other hand, animals, as we call them, sure will fight like hell to save their skins, but day to day, seem much more aware and merged with the world around them – the less domesticated, the more in tune. Just watch a flock of starlings, foraging deer, ants setting up shop. Then look at the internet and cringe at the stupendous confusion and irrational flailing about of our “higher” species. High, maybe, but higher? I gotta say, I’m much more impressed with the deer, with salamanders, hell, even with those obnoxious squawking blackbirds that perch on the powerlines outside my window through the afternoon, interrupting my every thought. They got it goin on, being here and moving forward, and really don’t seem in the market for a singular sense of self, for individuality and all the existential angst and easily exploited vulnerabilities that come along for the ride. In that light, the whole higher species thing comes off as just a high-level insecurity, which would simply be ludicrous if not for the fact that “we’re number one” so frequently reduces to “it’s okay to pillage, rape, and kill everyone else.” Not the most charming behavioral tendency, when it comes right down to it. But what if there wasn’t an “everyone else”? What if there was just one big “we”? Imagine that as a starting point. I suspect that those animals that we speak of so condescendingly don’t even have to.

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BOOKS I’VE LIKED RECENTLY ::

Mom Says by Peggy Morrison (self-published, 2020)

This is a heart-filled gorgeous work in which Morrison honors her mom who died in 2012, but whose voice and language remained quite present in her day to day life. Part memoir, part poetry, part family photo album, the book alternates between flash prose recollections, lists of her mom’s axioms and sayings, and photos that take us into her family’s life and history. More than that, Morrison emits an introspective, caring tone throughout that not only channels her mother’s voice and her 20th Century second-gen American perspective, but also opened the floodgates of my own memories of voices and language that carried me through childhood and beyond. I suspect that it will do the same for many others. I was profoundly moved.

We’ve Been Too Patient: Voices from Radical Mental Health, edited by L.D. Green and Kelechi Ubozoh (North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA), 2019

Here lives a collection of twenty-five personal stories and essays that challenge and criticize the biochemical model of mental health that reared its authoritative head in the latter half of the 20th Century. And it’s astounding. These are stories of people who’ve been through hell that’s been compounded and amplified by doctors who compulsively filled them with all kinds of new and often experimental chemicals under the guise of “treatment”. These are not reactionary tales; their telling is absolutely apropos and essential. This is not a book that says, “Never take a pill.” Rather it cries for recognition of what these chemicals do and the many intelligent, often overlooked methods for helping folks who need it. The book is split into people’s narratives and essays on alternative perspectives and approaches (which shouldn’t even need to be called “alternative”), written in personal and extremely accessible language. This book is invaluable, and anyone who has ever been challenged by mental health issues of any size and shape, or has known anyone who has, should read and welcome it.

Scattered Arils by Dena Rod (Milk and Cake Press, Hamilton, OH), 2021

“Fierce” is the word that always comes to mind when I read or listen to Dena Rod’s work, and to that this book is monument and exemplar. Radiating the queer Iranian-American experience, this first collection sets us on their journey to see clearly the complex, combative, passionate world around them, and to both place themself and defy their placement in it. Whether addressing gentrification, their mother preparing food, their coming into queerness, or the rivulets and rivers of racism and queerphobia they encounter daily, Rod’s language sears, etches and transforms their subjects in an almost Blakean manner. This book may not make the world any simpler, nor do I think it means to, but it’s assuredly a better place for it.

~ ~ ~

            “Quack, quack,” said the cow, and all the ducks were up in arms (well, wings).
            “You can’t say that,” said the ducks. “You’re a cow!”
            “But I like the way it sounds,” said the cow. “It’s pretty.”
            “Just don’t ever do it again,” said the ducks.
            The cow regarded them for a minute with its big dumb smart eyes, let out a fart, then wandered off to make cud pies.

Sincerely,
Richard

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