In 2008, I wrote a story about how bodies talk without words. I wanted the story to not just describe this dance but to perform it. The interaction would be visceral—the exchange melancholic yet full of lust. I wanted words to retain the unsayable: the subtle movements of a body in heat. In the years since, I kept rewriting this story, using different techniques, different syntaxes and forms, in hopes that I would find a successful method of gestural writing.
Compiled with essays on somatic writing, language as a plastic art, and figuration studies, these stories became the basis for Imperial Physique, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Essay Press Open Book Contest and the 2017 FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest.
Empire in Shade includes two stories that explore the way our bodies hover between animal and human, civil and wild. The melancholy—and underlying verve—of imagining Western empires in decline serve as a backdrop for a lone figure searching city streets, decaying architecture, and sand dunes for some type of physical connection. What arises is the loss of—and longing for—touch at the edge of imperialism, historical violence, and personal shame.
A third story, "Homo-Oeconomicos," can be found here in this issue of Fact-Simile.
Published by Essay Press
May 1, 2017
Excerpt from "The Elusion Artist" in Empire in Shade
The hotel room was sparse, almost windowless. A self-contained box of brown paintbrushes, knocked around for years, emptied of its contents, and yet: a residue. The lights were as if candles, haloing cheap Italian bedspreads. The wallpaper may have been peeling off around corners, reaching for a baser state.
The shape of a man sitting on a bed dominated the darker forms of chair and desk, long silhouettes held taut, inviting singular repose. His edges retracted in that light, editing themselves for future inaccuracies, a constant wash, as if to decide on this width of arm the air must become less stale. Stability causes its own vibration.
More importantly, a suture—two mattresses: then one.
“I want to sit on this bridge forever, on the edge of the world, each of us now someone else’s horizon. The river Arno, and its tributaries: Sieve, Bisenzio, Era, Elsa, Pesa, and Pescia, converging.”
To deflect. To refuse. To remember: that room, its eggshell glaze, and the shaded sun.
The shower wasn’t long enough to commit me towards a means of escape. Grasped, I wanted to be released; once released, I found the confinement of a tiled, white bathroom entranced—each tile a beam.
I wrote on each tile with translucent soap. I sharpened the edge into a point. I rubbed the corners along grout, the underside of the faucet. I kneaded the shavings into the wooden cabinet to hide the excess. Luckily, like spit, soap disappears when worked.
Here, with this point, I drew a crouching figure, its head against a wall. Here, an attempted toe-touch. Here, a head, neck too thin to support it. I did this on the surface of every tile until it was daylight.
He chose when it was daylight.
A streaming—inward. Will you show me? Polite thrusts.
I reached the edge of the sidewalk, an urban rumble, the end of limbs. The toe of my shoe left an imprint before my coming. Earth knows the sizes and weights of our bodies when it begs for a lie. Cement steeps in wet weather: under this—sand; and under this—fire.
A slab of pink pavement, its indentations filled with red chalk.
Caves, inundated with surging seawater, act similarly.
This is not an origin story. There was heat, a sense expanding on an unreflective surface: brick and stucco, rough—these hills were once volcanoes Aeneas built to shelter wolves. This is a lie: false histories parade as coping mechanisms. Alchemical ancestry requires something more: in rejection the room does not fade. It must be made into other more complex exits.
A woman from Brazil once told me the mind creates containers our memories fill to figure solid narration. Manic, when pressurized, we feel an upward thrust and thus begin anew: the color of perception, surplus on each surface. “Beauty,” she said, “is effusive: the way molten rock sublimes.” Broken mirrors leaned against eucalyptus, bark scoured by the weight. I can’t remember how I found myself there, but I welcomed the palm-reader’s touch in the absence of closer bodies. Loneliness: another type of divination.
-- 2013 (Boulder, CO)