Some months ago I wrote a series of prose poems to accompany six visual pieces I’d created.
The marriage of words and images worked wonderfully and I’m delighted to present “A Personal Cosmology” to readers. The first segment is below, click on the PDF link to read the work in its entirety.
…and how about some music while you’re reading, an ambient number I call “Atmospheric Disturbance”:
Once back at my place she plays it coy scuttling under the couch until I menace her with a can of Raid using it to steer her toward the bedroom antennae twitching in excitement crawling up the edge of my bedspread chittering as I run my fingers along her polished carapace stroking her thorax her withered ornamental wings fluttering mandibles dug into my pillow in insectile ecstasy while I prepare to mount her probing for anything resembling a vagina wondering if she uses protection and if not if the pupa will look anything like me.
* * * * *
I’m not going back to you. I’m gone. I’m outta here. You won’t find me. It’ll be like we never met. Just another face in the crowd. On a forgotten street. In a strange country. One of the disappeared. Yeah. Lost in time and space. I wasn’t born in the first place. Back to the womb. Stillborn. No. Aborted. A puddle of pink flesh. Gristle and blood. Dumped in an incinerator. Reduced to ash. Floating in the troposphere. Burned by the sun. Ultraviolet radiation. A cancer on your body.
* * * * *
These are two of my favorite short prose pieces, excerpted from my recently released volume Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011).
For ordering information, please go here.
Photo credit: Sherron Burns
One of my heroes has died.
Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, an aviation pioneer, a far traveler and fearless explorer of unknown places. Watching Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon is one of my earliest memories. They inspired me to look up, and instead of endless, daunting depths, view space as a domain not entirely empty or hostile to our kind.
After July 20, 1969 we were earthbound no longer.
(for Neil Armstrong)
The First Man must be humble
yet self-possessed in times of crisis
confident, as one who’s been sorely tried.
Drop him, spin him, shake him
race his heart,
see if he dies.
Undaunted by fame,
puzzled by all the fuss,
natural in the glare.
Stick him in a close compartment,
sling it into the girding dark;
crown him with hero’s laurels
should he return.
I saw the man walking on the moon. I watched it on TV. I couldn’t believe someone was really up there. I went to get my mother and ask her. She said she was too busy. She was cleaning up the kitchen or something. I told her about the man on the moon. But she didn’t seem to care. She had other things to think about. She told me to go outside. She told me that was enough TV for today.
Ahab stalks it still, through the swollen underbrush, its trail wide and easy to follow, marked by pulverized tree trunks, a long, deep, snaking rut in the soft loam of the forest floor.
He will follow it to the very gates of Perdition, if necessary, his hate a goad, relentless and all-consuming.
Hobbling along in the wake of the great whale, knowing it is somewhere ahead, moving easily across the earth, surging forward with powerful thrusts, swimming through seas of bright green.
* * * * *
Yes, I know some of you might recognize this snippet from a recent Facebook post but I couldn’t help reprinting it here, for those who missed it. It’s probably my favorite prose piece of the past few weeks. Sherron sent me some photos of Adrian Villar Rojas’ elegant sculpture and I immediately scribbled out a response. It gave me goosebumps once I finished it.
This one just feels…right.
The scariest people are the ones inside you.
Extrinsic evil is a myth, the product of media hype.
Invented crime figures conceal the identities of the real perpetrators:
members of the Chamber of Commerce
Upstanding in the community, invulnerable by common consent.
© Copyright, 2012 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
I’ve kind of lost my zest for performing my stuff live but I started going, hoping it would encourage my two sons, both talented writers, and their friends to contribute. I love it when a visibly nervous teen author stands in front of us and, voice quaking, reads a poem or short story. Takes me back to the days when I—
Well, never mind.
I always try to have new material for the “open mike” and this time premiered three pieces that even my wife hadn’t heard before. Here are the four offerings I read last night, including “Accident”, which appeared on this blog a couple of years ago but, what the heck, thought I’d reprint it anyway (it read beautifully):
This is a car crash. It’s happening right now. A collision in progress. Metal folding and bending, glass slow-motion bursting, bodies swaying in their seats. And the thing is you see it with perfect clarity, high-def to the max. You watch in fascination as the air bag blooms in front of you, a time-lapse explosion expanding toward your face as you lean forward to meet it. Something else. A heaviness. In the region of your chest. A tug in your neck that isn’t quite pain but soon will be. A sound, a soft exhalation but really a scream in the midst of being born. From the backseat. Ten A.U.’s behind you. Any moment now it will all come rushing in, a cacophony of distress, a wall of noise and sensations. Someone, maybe even you, might be in the midst of dying. On the threshold of an instant. The law-defying lip of an event horizon. Falling…and forever suspended mere petaseconds away from nothing at all.
November is bleeding,
leached of color, vitality,
the land losing its life’s blood
in dark, spreading gouts.
Anemic, cancerous, brittle,
tiny bones crackling underfoot:
this is the graveyard of summer.
Brightening it with festive lights,
disguising it with tinsel, false cheer
but unable to defeat the oppression,
looming like a storm front.
Hibernation is a state between life and death,
a sleep from which some animals never wake–
another hard winter descends from the mountains,
the sun creeping back to make way.
“When that love was done with, I was left like a bird on a branch. I was no longer any use for anything.” Paul Eluard & Andre Breton, The Immaculate Conception (Translation by Jon Graham)
I am that bird/a useless, futile thing/purposeless and unblinking/stiffly clutched on my shivering perch
Denied foresight, stratagems/creature of instinct, heedless/as scattered petals or blown seed/no decisions, save alarm and flight
like the lilies of the field
like the trees and stones,
or a worm, turning in thick, black dirt
Free from striving and strife/charged only with existence/descended from dinosaurs/ small-brained and tuned to the stars
Waking you with piercing melodies/disdainful of the tardy dawn/spying with small, beady eyes/as you depart for work in a funk
Nestled against the weather/high up where the cats can’t reach/alert, yet lightly dozing/untroubled by what you call “dreams”
“My health was endangered. Terror assailed me.”
Arthur Rimbaud, on the writing of Illuminations
Franz Kafka insisted we should only read books that “bite and sting us”. Volumes, one presumes, capable of savaging unwary readers, leaving them spotted with blood. Kafka, a gentle man, left strict instructions in his will that his writings be burned. His executor, Max Brod, ignored his friend’s wishes and preserved his distinctive novels and stories; as a result, each year I risk serious injury plucking them from my shelves.
Words created us and words sustain us:
“The technical language of religion is
symbolism, with storytelling one of its
most important varieties.”
(so sayeth Huston Smith)
Ideas become words become action. The correct conjunction of vowels and consonants will, according to some mythologies, lead to an unbinding.
A return to nullity. From whence we came.
Be mindful and compassionate. Practice right thought, right speech. Do not call the worst into being. Offer prayers to a Creator beyond faith. Use the ancient words of praise. The ones handed down through the ages. Hallowed be thy name, o, God, thy will be done…
When I finished reading, Sherron was beaming.
Snuck in under the eight-minute time limit too.
Thanks to all the participants and audience members. See you at my book launch on Wednesday!
(Photo by Zach Den Adel)
This is a car crash. It’s happening right now. A collision in progress. Metal folding and bending, glass slow-motion bursting, bodies swaying in their seats.
And the thing is you see it with perfect clarity, high-def to the max. You watch in fascination as the air bag blooms in front of you, a time-lapse explosion expanding toward your face as you lean forward to meet it.
Something else. A heaviness. In the region of your chest. A tug in your neck that isn’t quite pain but soon will be. A sound, a soft exhalation but really a scream in the midst of being born. From the backseat. Ten A.U.’s behind you.
Any moment now it will all come rushing in, a cacophony of distress, a wall of noise and sensations. Someone, maybe even you, might be in the midst of dying.
On the threshold of an instant. The law-defying lip of an event horizon. Falling…and forever suspended mere petaseconds away from nothing at all.
(A tune-up of sorts, the equivalent of a pianist cracking his knuckles. No pre-planning, just put fingers to keyboard and see where it takes me. Some of my best stuff comes through this process. It requires a leap of faith…and a willingness to fail. I like “Accident” and welcome your thoughts on this modest example of “automatic” writing. If you’d like too see more of my short-short prose, go to the “Rarities” page and check out some of the work I’ve posted there…)
* Also, be sure to have a look at my latest post on RedRoom where I talk about nearly taking my stupid head off New Year’s Day. And the important object lesson I drew from the experience.