My eyes hungered
for light, for color, the way someone's dry mouth may hunger for saliva. They
became so sensitive if I touched them; they exploded in light, in showers or
white sparks shooting as if from a fountain.
-Jack Henry Abbott describing "blackout cells"
Your brain has nowhere
to go; it mines holes in itself, grows
unnaturally, as a story transmogrifies
when retold. I know how it feels
when space abdicates; desire ricochets
through time bending reality into new forms,
pinning it there until it is indecipherable.
There was nowhere to go but their house,
no way to live except by their rules.
My mother decreed I would tell her the truth
about whatever she asked. Yet I knew,
if I did, I risked being found
corrupt. My whole life, I wanted to be strong
enough to forge a place where I was
invulnerable. I knew love was a drug,
controlling, painful when revoked. I knew
it was a necessary racket, another trick
to keep up appearances.
When their sentence is not specified, prisoners
say, the mind deems all things arbitrary.
The neurotransmitters are destroyed
by plaques and tangles; memories
from this universe fade. We are no longer
able to interact intellectually with the natural
world. Our moods and posture change.
We cannot employ tools correctly or understand
language. We are chiseling the walls
with stolen spoons. The holes go all the way
through. In prison there is no life
without trying to escape. We require
medication when our behavior becomes
agitated. We often wander inside, the way
adolescent Lakota enter the wild to request
the guidance of a spirit. In leaving,
we risk accidents, death, but it is the only way
we know to communicate our longing.
When dying, everything is reversed.
Actions become the only literal meaning;
statements exist as metaphors.
My voice said, "This means nothing,"
when we kissed. My body was pleading
for sustenance, locked in my head,
clawing holes in the tissues, through to the skull.
In times of drought, the shaman mounts his drum,
ascends to the sky, petitions, and returns with rain.
We sent our boys up there when it was the last place
to go. We planted our flag once and for keeps.
We did it to show our hegemony.
When the body cannot move,
space disappears; stories mold
to an emplotment of loneliness, the mind
our beaconless world. We threw bricks through
the windows of homes. We knew
whom our enemies were. The glass shattered.
The sanctity of the wall was destroyed.
The sharp wind took license. We owned nothing
but our longing, so it was spiritual. Our toes
were freezing then; even our knowledge, even
our pain was holy. We were tired of being
scared away from the boundaries
there was no room for us to discover
on our own. We could not tell you then,
but we knew you were dying in there.
We were trying to let you out.
Named because they attributed
the sickness to the influence of the stars.
History tells us that large populations in
small quarters facilitate its spread. In our kitchen
my sister and I would be squeezed between our parents
and the wall when we ate breakfast. We had to ask permission
to leave; my father knew not the heavens, but his children
conspired his overthrow. I rose early one morning, cracked eight eggs
into a bowl and beat them meticulously. I liked my family;
I wanted them to know. So I cooked the eggs until
they were neither raw nor dry. Before they came in,
I asked my mother to tell everyone I had made breakfast.
When she spoke, they kept their eyes on their plates like accomplices
in an interrogation, their heads hot, bodies dry and fatigued.
We know the virus spreads through the air, spoken and
silent: This much our inquires have established.
Reconnaissance reveals that antigenic shifting ( a structural change
in one or more crucial proteins) is responsible for the disease's yearly
variance, its repeated success in penetrating the anitbodies'
patrols. We are compelled to plot against it, wondering when
the rebels will succeed in something more devastating.
This bastard killed four times as many as World War I,
they'll tell you. Check the stats for yourself. My father
mandated that we all be in bed before he would sleep;
if nothing else, safety in the dark would be maintained.
I prowled into his room when I was terrified of my own.
It was not his own immune system, but the swift antibiotic
of violence, without which his body no longer understood itself,
that subdued my fearful invasion, punching my head, disabling
my intelligence. I could say he was awful;
I have written books about those seconds, the years
of infection that followed. But we were quarantined in that house
with our eyes patroling for intrigue. Sick for kindness, we tore
each other cell from cell for anything named an antidote. A disease
is easier to fight than to nurture; we often speak of heroic
battles. They can last forever, tragic, the work of epics,
all for the sake of a microscopic feeling, begging to be released.
"Today we wiped them off the face
of the earth: 63-7," I tell my father
after school. "Don't
you even try
to make it fair?" he asks, looking straight
ahead, like a surgeon squinting at an MRI.
Those with Aphasia have always communicated
better than they've spoken.
As a child, I knew
he was saying. So I learned
the only way to live
Hide your sickness. Always talk. Never
disclose. Aphasia dates to
its name glimmers like a golden chalice, divorced from
time, a fresh cast
mythological. Even the diagnostic specifications
(Broca's, Wernicke's), christened
the names of
the men who planted their flags amidst the savage
brain, whose stories science students recite
like epics. Trauma to the brain causes Aphasia.
Prognosis: terminal tourism. Common words
clatter like the genealogy
Emperors. We warp grammar the way
history straightens time.
At Thanksgiving dinner, my
the Lions game. As usual,
children surround him. His conversations are short,
exhausting. He wears a smile
My oldest uncle welcomes me to his home.
My Aunt tells
story of how the turkey never came out
right until they
began hosting the dinner
at their house.
she calls the arguments (how long
to cook the bird, up-side-down or not,
the men yelling not to let the god
damn white meat dry out again.)
I nod. Aphasia causes us
misuse our vocabulary.
Often we respond with words
and incorrect. Yes,
say, hi, thanks, fine, hell,
fuck. My uncle leans against the wall, breathing heavily,
left arm stretched above his head. When I was
young, I gave myself a stomach ache, waiting
too long to go to the bathroom
I could keep talking
with him about the Cowboys trading Hershel Walker
to the Vikings. When he went for by-pass surgery,
he held my gold
Later, he thanked
I knew he meant it. My mother said
grandpa never hit her, but
uncle got it
bad. As a young child, he
with his mother and grandparents, while his father
was in Korea. Didn't think he had to obey
once he came home. Now he
outside of town. His body has expanded again,
filling the space he requires around him. In time, we all die
from our own salvation. In succeeding, we
to mimicry, blasphemy. The metaphors grow distant,
reeking of pretense; our lives are an endless chain
of unactualized similes, a chronicle of vectors.
Approaching. Infinity? Aphasia? Is it through history
language has become
a tyrant? What was
the other word -
Distraction. We listen, horrified,
each sound another gilded
loss. My father told me, when
he was my
he would read a book a day. I can see him receiving
his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.
He wanted to go out to Arizona, some job in education
he could really do something,
get his name on a building or two. They stayed
in Flint. My mother wouldn't leave
her family the way
have. I can feel my writing
splitting away from me, increasingly urgent. There is much
to recount, and time is
short; I'm sure of it.
Aphasia is nothing
stories have never served
more than their master. Moses was powerless
when my father beat
me like a slave. Not Jesus,
what they call a "bad attitude," laid
hands over my wounds. Imagine my desperate god
withdrawing deep inside me, kicking over
the Tower, scattering syllables,
I demanded to be blamed for my injuries,
for them to make sense. I agreed to
the cacophonous space between us.
Understand. Aphasia is
This is the disease I have