Surveillance of Human Experience Earmarked Unrealistic Until Now

by Blake Butler

after John Zorn



x.

Dear Mother and Dear Father, This letter is being sent to you by someone else. It was written in my name under my supervision, though the language is not mine. In the event you receive this letter I will not be allowed to contact you again. I am not dead but now am part of something larger than previously considered. I wanted to tell you I am not in pain. I have been allowed to keep the feelings and ideas of our time together in a small amulet I am allowed wear when I have done well at my work. I am not sure what my work is, though I understand it must be done. It is no longer necessary that you search for me; what is becoming changed cannot be changed. You would not recognize my voice or shape by now regardless, nor would I find you in what remains of yours. I wanted you to know this so that your last days living can be spent in relative peace, among a kind of sound that is yours and yours alone and when it ends it will awake. Though a matching copy of this letter is being delivered to an unknown number of homes still undestroyed, that doesn’t make it any less holy between us. Yours in light, X

x.

The bed is wet and cured with blood. The blood has hardened thick in spots and so shines less there in the room’s deforming light. The subject’s body has been moved. A woman dressed in charcoal clothing enters our perspective from our general location. She wears a mask of breathing tubes and micro-speakers formed into shape around her skull. She approaches calmly to the bedside and rolls up the blooded thick wax cover sheet into a mass of data. She walks with the mass back toward us into the out-of-screen. From far off we hear brass; a glass shard spinning. The woman returns with a new clean cover sheet and affixes it in place of the version prior. She rearranges the restraint apparatuses at the bed’s head and foot for better access. With a tube she sucks the sound out of the air into a large black machine attached to rollers on the floor. She stops with her back turned toward us and pauses, removes the mask. Her head is shaved, its skin all agitated and dark in patches. She lays down on the bed face up.

x.

White translucent spheroids rise. Their surfaces wink and fold the light they color. They are made of spit and semen, tear and milk. The sky is nearer to the ground than it was last we remember seeing, though there is nowhere to compare it to up here beyond the brimming shapes and the smeared sound of what behind, which rolls together like a lone voice captured in deep mud speaking without end. Inside each spheroid the shape of the brain of somewhere warbles, cracked with what it’d only ever really meant to be, no shame or desperation. Any other’s eye we land on in reflection then must turn, so there is no longer any eye there, but just surface, and what behind it gives it shape. More spheroids spit from the lip of the white building just beside us, pumping its run-off into the night, thicker and thicker.

x.

No light. We feel our perspective panning forward over the black field not visible. There is the sound of cows and dogs and monkeys and breaking ice and children held close between two panels becoming pressed and buttons being pressed. Vision shakes holding for somewhere. We would like to stop and lie down, but the field absorbs the motion as it is made and thereby makes more motion. At right and left peripheries, it seems a row of others stand along the aisle of black watching our progression. If we could even turn our heads. If we could think the lamps into dementia, force the sun down through the skull of the room. All language spurting backward against itself the milked-throat rolled from the lens at the front of all vision awaiting any stutter. The make of word we want to have said already inside the recording having passed the moment as it became burnt to tape. Thinking the word against its absence we see far along the light ahead a shape of space cut on the space; not lit, but rising from it; made of water almost, tongues. Mink slides where the vision forces on the outline to see harder, bring it rising, which negates the possibility of words along the walls already written there for us to take in, and so have been beyond that shape of time and already less old here and less old then yes and less again, the outline already larger now, like us to it. The outline turning thick along its inseam and filling in the shape of space that it contains with what must be counted toward in this long black rushing where I am and you are. The outline spreading open, beyond the present black into the black again.

x.

Slabs of white ice stacked into cubic form on a gray field. Sheer surface opaque at edges, our perspective curling along it between where one block meets the next, an interlocking catacomb housed by larger space beyond which sky is hid. Heaving drumming obscures the noise of ice on ice as slabs are slid in grain becoming vertices and chambers. Through the cold white we can see human forms there becoming encased, thin rickety shapes that clog the light held half awake. Over each ice room as it is formed a layer of white paint is applied over the new perimeter by a machine that moves between the stacking layers aiming higher at the sky. Each time as we turn away from where the room before was there is the shake of motion, some other body entering the frame, closed in behind. A cold steam rises from the structure as it grows. In the distance, the white building.

x.

The last ten apples gathered from all the land surrounding are brought to sit at the foot of the woman with the language all over her body resting on her gold shrinebed lined with the mirrors. The apples are brown and knotted and when pierced with the tip of a knife exude an oily smegma that stinks like someone burnt out on the inside. Flies spill tucked up at the fruit’s center. They hiss and froth in want to grow. The woman takes the smallest apple and holds it firmly in her palm. She holds it up against the air, composed reflected five times for each direction of the panes, and there again. She presses the apple to her forehead. She listens for the word.

x.

The small black metal box in every home. The box under the bed or in the closet. Each night the heads of household go into the room where the box is hidden. They lock the door and seal the windows shut and place the bag over their eyes. They go to the box and lift the box open and they wait for the phone inside the box to ring. In these hours the space around the houses is off limits and the children should be asleep. In one small room a father lifts his mask and goes to the window to try to peek into the yard and see what the men or whoever might be there do when he is not allowed to look but he can’t see. The moon has gone behind some other surface. The meat of the air of the earth is black and thick around the house so dense it is as if the house is beneath a black box there itself. As if he is the phone inside the box and must be waiting. His skin is old and webby. Inside the house the phone begins to ring, but in the sound of someone speaking. In the room beside the room the father will be found in the daughter rises.

x.

The racks of shirts are made of skin. The pulp of the skin and crisp and yellowed, sewn with glossing fiber from silver heads. The emblem of the spider has been stamped into each shoulder with a pale red substance. The room the shirts are hung in has black walls and gold floors. A sentence is written in even brighter gold font down the center of the floor unscrolling forward in a print too small to read from here above. We pan along down the long shoulder-width wide hall lined with the shirts on each side going faster the further along the aisle we are allowed. There are more and more skinshirts, more and more there. We feel the breathing tighten in our heads somehow beyond the vision, the sound of staple guns packed in around the air allowed to rush beyond us soundlessly in the small extensive chamber until we are moving so fast the walls are mush and everywhere is all before us like a land.

x.

We observe from overhead. The white building appears beneath us rising from a point upon a burnt land whose edges are surrounded with gold walls. The ash is the color of our hair. There are no people visible among the land; only large black machines that rove among the remaining ash and come and go toward the lone white building that now inside our vision seems to sweat. There is an expanse of sea and then another land like the first but larger, its shape encased with blue walls that make it appear not there to those on the first land. This land has not been burned. There are gleaming blue structures from which people come and go; they appear naked. There are gardens on the land there and there are fields not wholly white but also of colors that from here seem not at all real. The color folds over the surface and was not there. The white building seems to rise, growing taller now in the absence of all else on the face of the earth and all our ash in which the homes have been curled under winking out. Every song ever recorded at once is playing in our heads so that it sounds like nothing. Our perspective continues to rise. The higher we get in the sound around the building the wider the space of the earth beneath us seems to stretch, the water around the one land we remember covering all space, no space beyond us. On the water’s face the way is mostly ice, our air so cold we could walk across the water any of us any hour if we wished toward wherever there had been. Currents in the sea’s face have been melted to allow currents in which objects once called ships arrive and rise out into wherever after wherever and we can’t recall the name of what they were. The tape in our head sucks up the language of the images as they occur, with each breach of which we grow still lighter, rising. These, we hear the music speak in human synth, were once my hands. This was once a place where I had lived and been a person and known people like me who I believed in and could have gone on with even in such kinds of ways as what there was that had brought us to the mouth of this regardless, unto today. We go higher. The white building beside us at this height mirrored to match the blue into which we have been drunk. The cameras in us only rolling out more air above.

x.

Through the sky a set of twin gleamed blades arrive. They fold down out of the edges of our vision as if they’d always been there beyond the frame waiting for the instant we would be loose enough to live between them. The blades cut lines into the sky, or whatever this surface is remaining we’ve been culled by where we can no longer see the land beyond a smear of stuff like someone’s laughter white in darkness aboveground. The sky itself then is the blades and slices at itself and begins bleeding. We rain out water on the land. Our body bursts like someone’s puppets and is falling through the machine of the day, the sound of scissors stuttered off from where we can count the stroke surrounding, aural masks that spin inside our heads and eject steam. Our rising turned against itself and spread itself thin and so spread us. The sky is several skies now, is layers in a stream, the water both pouring from us and back into us, whose. The speaking utters somewhere still from way above or way below, the color of the blue allowed all reaches beyond the wall that held the ash in, we remember, anything but not opaque. The bells are ringing. The walls are windows, then are harder. Time seals in around our vision. We are in a body. The skin along our loins and up the bony format to our sternum and then where what we see of our body ends is clean but crispy, as if washed and ironed. We have breasts, the nipples cut off. Birthmarks all over our arms. Stretch marks pull the other marking into ovals of reflective glow stain. We blink and look again and we are larger, the stretching now over a different color of person, the ribcage buried. There is blood where we would pee. We blink again and look again and another body, this one smaller like a child’s, torn up. We do not want to blink again or again but also do not want to stay in any particular body. Sometimes there are people standing. The room around is all white. We blink and blink until something in us when we wake next is again rising and again we see the room from overhead, though in this room the bed is empty.

x.

Bodies mashed into oblong machine. They are alive and looking hard out through their skulls into the shape of the coal black walls forming the surface they are inside of. There are again no windows but there are slits of light that allow in air through which we can see a red surface being passed at great speed. The bodies are all nude again and so near there is no room to move the arms or leg and hardly even the head to look elsewhere and no one is looking at one another despite the erections and the sweat. A great heat under the earth. The heads all shaved. A single younger woman near the back of the long tubular room wears a red ribbon through a shock of hair she has been allowed to keep for a reason let unmentioned among the many others who are wholly shaved, or else is that her hair alone grows back so fast it can’t be stopped. We realize in finding our eyes drawn to her in the mix of so many others that she looks like someone we have already seen inside these structures, someone maybe we know. The sound of gifts being unwrapped, children laughing, throwing their flat, scabbed hands up in the air.

x.

In the house the man notices a small bump behind the bathroom mirror that he’s removed in the night for how it makes him mistake himself for someone else there in the dark. He peels the surface up with his nails and finds it sticky underneath, a small microphone receiver wedged into the wall. By pulling up on the head of the microphone he finds the wire run through the house under the surface of the paint to a second recording device head, this one for video, installed where in the mornings and evenings he would stand washing his face and hands in the double space of the new removed mirror, as his wife had, their nudity and daily excavations exposed as being given unto someone else, cataloged elsewhere in databases to remember and to be. The man imagines this is true of every room in the house if it is true of this one, and in every other home as well, all of them surrounded and cataloged and memorized and used in whatever way by whoever or else just kept on tapes for purposes to come. The man replaces the video camera in the wall and reseals its covering surface and replaces the microphone and seals it as well. He reaffixes the mirror to the wall as it has always been inside this home or for as long as he can recall.

x.

LOCAL STRIP MALL DISCOVERED DISAPPEARED FROM LOCATION OF 40 YEAR ESTABLISHMENT : POPULAR LOCATIONS OF TACO HUT & SCREW’S GYM & WORTHINGTON’S CONSIDERED LOST : 48 EMPLOYEES UNLOCATABLE BY PHONE OR EMAIL, THOUGH THE NUMBERS DO RING : ANY INFORMATION AS TO NEW LOCATIONS OF THIS STRIP MALL WOULD BE GREATLY APPRECIATED

FULL LISTINGS OF THE NAMES OF THE MISSING INVOLVED IN AFOREMENTIONED INCIDENT AS WELL AS COMPLETE INCIDENT CATALOG AVAILABLE BY HANDWRITTEN REQUEST AS THERE IS ONLY SO MUCH PAPER AND ONLY SO MUCH TIME TO CONSIDER WHAT IS PLACED UPON IT

“MACHINEBLOOD FILLED CANAL “AT LAST FILLED IN : WALKING CONSIDERED SAFE IN 4.55.55 REGION

HEADLINE WRITERS WANTED : PLEASE INQUIRE IN PERSON AT OUR GOLD BRANCH WHOSE LOCATION YOU MUST TAKE UPON YOURSELF TO DECIPHER AS A MEASURE OF “WEEDING OUT” MORE ADVANCED EMPLOYEES : GOOD SALARY & VACATIONS, FULL MEDICAL & DENTAL (PENDING) : SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY, NO DESERTERS

VERSION OF GOD APPEARS TO LOCAL CONSTRUCTION WORKER IN A DREAM : WARNS OF READING AS “CERTIFIABLY SPIRITUALLY TROUBLESOME FOREVER YES YES” : WORKER SAID BY FRIENDS AND FAMILY TO HAVE AGED 30 YEARS OVERNIGHT : NOW AVAILABLE FOR SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS AND OTHER PERFORMATIVE APPEARANCES, CONTACT “ED FORCE”

PERSONAL AD: I LOVE YOU MOM I WISH YOU WERE STILL AROUND SO I COULD FILL THE TIME WITH YOU THE WAY I KNEW I SHOULD HAVE BEEN WHEN YOU WERE ALWAYS IN THE NEXT ROOM AND I WAS ALWAYS BUSY UNTIL THERE WAS NO MORE TIME NOW PLEASE FORGIVE ME AND COME BACK

ANGIE’S HOROSCOPES TO RETURN NEXT WEEK

x.

Human hair strings the bows that bow the violins along the hall lacing the perimeter of the room where the woman with the language all over her body sleeps. The black soundless instruments must continue playing at all hours, no pause unless it has been written, though the musicians must not change. Small tubes lead from pockets in their body to elsewhere in the building. They play with their eyes closed, unending gestures, posture. Here it is dark. We cannot hear the music for the sound of chewing and swallowing and the chewing.

x.

Field of whole eggs held in their shells piled ridge to ridge along for miles beyond the lick of vision stretched to want beyond its edge. Building pressure in the rim of each shakes the egg ecstatic toward a sound mimicking god. Silent craft blown in a corroding wind on black ground awaiting.

x.

The man with one gold pupil sits in a small room holding a child swaddled in gold cloth. The room is just large enough for him to sit hunched carefully below the surface of the ceiling, which like the floor’s face is bright gold, as well like the light a lamp large as the child’s head stuck in the ceiling’s center feeds the room so bright in here it’s hard to see all of the features of the room and these two people it contains. The walls behind him and before him are gold also. The two remaining walls are clear. In the room to the left of the room beside the man with one gold pupil we can see another person sitting with their back turned toward this room in a room of the same condition, head tilted down as well toward something he holds cradled to his chest. The cubicles go on in both directions similarly filled or sometimes empty or filled partway with liquids or not well lighted enough that we can tell what is in the room for sure. The child in the man with one gold pupil’s arms is small and sanguine colored. It moves its mouth as if murmuring gently though all we can hear in here are the machines. The man’s mouth is also moving and though we can hear what would seem like his voice in here, it is part off, the syllables not matching the make of his lips, and muffled, backwards, coming out recorded wrong. The man holds the child and pets the child and tries to clean the child’s face with his thumb and speaks in the ruined voice near to the child’s face and tells it what and kneads it warm. The man looks glad.

x.

The man who looked behind the mirror in the house stands near a long bay window to which his back is turned. The window looks onto a field of well-manicured blue-green from which slow enormous webbing bubbles rise from off the earth, filling the air as far back as the ash and forms of absent trees and the wall allow. Below the edge of our perspective the man does something with his hands, a little trick. Somewhere hair burns in a small room. The bubbles gelling, forming frottage on the air against itself. The man is looking head-on into our perspective. He raises his arms and slips an eye of rope around his neck. He stands standing with the rope around his neck holding the rope’s end in both hands. He begins to tie another eye.

x.

In the fields a series of persons in the black uniform with their heads enclosed walk through the area wielding enormous hammers, popping the bubbles under the color of the moon obscured by something larger just above, from which fall a thicker ream of smaller bubbles that then must be demolished with more stroking and the fields beneath them slung with dents. A milk haze slowly amasses on any vision.

x.

Empty blue-dark dirt covered for miles and miles with dripping meatdamp blown to froth by rigid wind and the electronics singing day.

Blake Butler's next novel, Alice Knott, will be released by Riverhead in 2020.

Image: Stay Hydrated