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Michael Piafsky

Barking Angels



Snail Tracks: The first thing you will notice is a slight numbing of the tongue. Consonant blends will become difficult, and then impossible. Still you will think it is not so bad: the pills had bright and pretty colors and even a slight sugary taste. They left a residue trail down your throat. When the trail goes away you won’t know whether it is because the residue has washed down or because you can no longer feel your throat. Following this, a slight tingling in the stomach. You will lose feeling in your extremities— pinky fingers to begin, and then fanning inward towards the thumbs. Your body will be retrenching, making its sacrifices to whatever god it worships. Your feet will become detached from your body. You will not be afraid because, after all, you can still see them. They will not really be detached; you’ll know it just feels like they are.. On the other hand the gentle burning you will feel in your stomach is closely correlated with actuality. The inner lining of the stomach will in fact be eating itself. It will be among the very last to know that something is wrong.


BASF: You cannot be sure this is working correctly. We are trained to place our faith in engineers and moviemakers, and here they work together in opposition to your cause. It is not just the many commercials that have reinforced the elements of quality craftsmanship. It is not just the reassuring rubberized lining, or the robotic assembly line arms, or the slight change in pressure felt on the ears when the door is slammed shut. It is more than these things: the constant and daily barrage of cinematic images of cars trapped underwater and ever so slowly filling up. You squint hard to catch a glimpse of the monoxide molecules spreading, stare through heater slats hoping to see the Zyclon B effects of air conditioning on a hot day. You wonder if the windows will fog up. Then you consider how well manufactured the car is, particularly in comparison to the wood planks of the garage door. You can see now as you look the chimera air forcing its nose between the rotted wood planks. You finally conclude that you are impervious, a firefly in a jar without holes, and then your neck begins to sag. This is much better than rainbows, you think, smiling sleepily, as you wave your hand in front of your eyes and see it distort.


Somewhere Between Drips Exists A Proof For Higher Mathematics: The porcelain bath is slick and you are balancing your arm against its side so as not to slip. The irony of danger does not escape you but since you are alone it is not worthy of comment. And anyway, who would there be to direct your comment to? Your toes scrape against the sandpaper strips. The other arm holds the toaster by its cord and, like a crane, suspends you from the sink top above. As you lower yourself into the tub, squatting while your most personal parts hang and bounce, you speculate on how much of yourself should be immersed. You can imagine the current running up your legs and the one dangling arm, but wonder if this is enough. It might do well for the torso and heart to be under as well. At the last, you will compromise by splashing large waves of water that bounce off of your chest and drip downward, falling in the same unpredictably chaotic route as the charge climbing upward. You will imagine the two forces meeting in a second rate diorama and then the lights will flicker. Your knees will be grinding on the sandpaper and you will feel your most personal parts hanging and bouncing. There is my decorum, you will finally conclude. There it goes dripping downward and flowing up, hanging and bouncing, bouncing and hanging and repeating and shaking, like a shampoo rinse or champagne bubbles. This is a vertical ending, no more or less than flying.


The Tourist: The man behind the counter leers at you while describing the many features of the gun. He waits patiently while you juggle it in your hand, produces a wry smile when you ask about the type of wood in the handle. He tells you he doesn’t really know too much about that. But he does show you the correct way to hold the gun and squeeze the trigger. He also hands you a card that entitles you to 10% off membership at a gun range. There’s an additional 20% if you show your NRA membership, he says. You nod. “Just in passing,” he says, “if you want the gun I’d go ahead and buy it soon since the damned government is going to institute mandatory child locks.” You tell him you don’t have any children and he replies: “that’s what I’m always saying. It doesn’t matter.” So you show him your driver’s license and fill out a form and a few days later you go back to pick up the gun. He’s already oiled it for you, no charge, and you purchase a whole box of bullets. The whole affair leaves you feeling slightly disoriented, like you have just changed demographics and then you think that’s probably just as well so that people know what they’re getting into. You drive out into the woods because you don’t want the neighbors to be disturbed and it all seems so loud. You remember at the last minute what the man said about squeezing rather than pulling and think that’s good advice. The oil is sweet coating your tongue and you can taste metal shearing where the barrel has been shaved. The man told you in confidence that the intricate barrel design is bullshit aesthetics and something about the way he said the word aesthetics makes you think maybe he was once in a different demographic too.


Meniscus: Even though you are a hopeless romantic, your pragmatic side will ensure that the bridge is high enough. You will remember reading all about this in a magazine. What is important in the end is the change in air-pressure, the high speeds. It is the falling. Like an astronaut. Like G Forces. When you are high enough you don’t have to worry about the ground. As you fall you will feel time slow down. You will imagine the curve of the horizon and birds’ nests floating far away at sea. The water below you will seem as smooth as glass, stretching endlessly. Your last knowledge will be the discovery that gravity is an illusion and you will know religiously, without question, that you are not moving but that it is the water that rushes upwards to meet you. You will be flattered.


I think I think I think I can: Because of the constant shaking you have to wedge your forehead beneath the iron track. The legs and ankles dangle. You listen but hear nothing, only the faint rumor of a baritone rumble so subtle a dog might miss it. You may have come too early and you think about the spot you have chosen. It is on the beginning of a straightaway following a curve. You have chosen it so that the conductor will not have time to see and slow, but will in fact begin again picking up speed knowing that he is coming into the straight part. Then you look, pushing your eyes to right and left, confined by their sockets as real movement is impossible from within the track grid, and you think of where you might end up. There are shrubs and bushes and tiny little pebbles to all sides. It is possible, you acknowledge, that they might never find you. Particularly if the conductor is not paying too much attention, and there is a good chance of this as it is miles from a stop coming or going. You wonder if it is actually a conductor, or an engineer? You mouth each word in context but reach no epiphany save this: you did come too early. Then the iron jumps and dances like a jazz club with the heavy bass and your eyes adjust to the darkness and feel wet against your cheeks. The rhythm wrangles your insides and you feel blessed. Oh Clickity Clack, this ho-rizontal ragtime speakeasy jig sure feels good and sexy. You wish you could snap your fingers but know they’ll understand and your vibrating throat breaks up the notes from your whistle and they escape your lips in beautiful shards that float and dissipate and grow into the clouds above you. There is money to be made in any field.


Madame Sosostris: In The Tarot pack the hanged man rests amiably, a rope suspending him downward from his ankle. As you climb to your perch you think of the differences between you and him. For one thing, in most packs he carries a saintly aura, like a Renaissance Virgin. He does not dangle but remains perfectly aligned with the perfectly symmetrical tree trunk. And yet despite these obvious differences you are forced to conclude that there are more similarities that bind you together. There is naturally the coarse rope digging deeper and deeper into your skin, producing as it does the almost imperceptible smell of burning. There is the waiting, the patience and also the sense of vulnerability. No animal leaves its belly unprotected. Then there is gravity working in its disinterested manner. To gravity, you and the Hanged Man are equal, a simple equation of mass and weight. But as the winding strands tickle at your nape you think of other affinities as well. You think perhaps that the Hanged Man knows as well as you do the dangers of pursuit and the benefits of submission. Perhaps he has found in his figure- four legs the glory of divine understanding. You wonder: is your share waiting for you? At the very last you conceive of one final correlation: you have both learned the secret to living in the moment. Does this make you a prophet?


Progress: While the water is running you remove your watch and jewelry. You leave these in the bedroom, resting atop the heap of clothing. You spend a moment in debate over whether to keep the bathroom door open before finally ruling against it. It is the sight of the watchband hanging over the cotton towels (inverted from the shaving mirror) that clinches the decision for you. The hotel bathroom has mirrors etched in mirrors bubbling out of mirrors. They all have different magnifying capacities that seem interesting at first, but then begin to frighten you as you consider their implications. They show like millions of different yous in millions of different worlds in a thoroughly exhausting manner. So you switch off the light. Because the plastic window blind is an imperfect fit, and because it is the middle of the day, there is plenty of sunlight. The hot water makes your wrists puff up and redden and it feels so good you keep at it for a few minutes, but then the old metal pipes growl at you to stop. In order for it to be effective, you must first cut long-ways and then across. There is reason to all things, even if this reason is not readily apparent. There might well be a diagram. The razor blade has a titanium alloy tip and you think, thank heavens for science.


Ascension: At a certain speed the car begins to vibrate. At certain speeds cars alongside become part of the background. At unwise speeds, all of your concentration is focused on the lane directly in front of you. Your prayers are for the engineers who designed the steering column and the wheelbase. You have placed your faith in these men. They are gods to you. You cannot see the neck turn slightly, or the eyes close. You hear nothing, you sense nothing. You see nothing but the asphalt ahead, feel nothing but your own adrenaline. You are invulnerable, albeit in very short bursts. Then you see the road curving gently and the heavy brick wall in front of you. You know that without the sound barrier, people blocks away will hear the echoes of traffic for the first time in years and think that it must be a special way the wind is blowing. And in a way they will be right.


The downside of rental units: Unfortunately you don’t have a gas oven and it doesn’t seem right to borrow one from a friend.


Sugar Rush: Finding a hypodermic is harder than it looks and must be for junkies too, you think. But eventually you find a medical supply store and explain what you want to the woman behind the counter. She looks at you strangely until you tell her that it’s for diabetes and then she pulls up her shirt and shows you her own skid marks, which would be vile even on a normal person and are made much, much worse by her obesity and the stomach fat rolling over the tiny puncture holes from both sides and you think how fat can someone get if they can’t eat chocolate? But you smile and she asks if you need insulin. You think for a moment as if considering whether you have enough when really you are considering which option to take because insulin would work just as well, but you don’t have a proscription, so no thanks, I think I’m OK, just the needle please. Then home with the paper bag to wonder which room has the cleanest air. You decide on the living room because it has no window to the outside. Sitting on the couch with the sharp jabby needle and you punch down on your left arm to raise the vein and stare through the cylinder and think how clean and perfect, and the plunger is hard to force through empty but eventually it goes down, and fairies start to dance in front of your face.


Down The Rabbit Hole: Businessmen with bruising briefcases will scurry past you as you pay for a single ticket and maneuver through the turnstile. Metallic voices will shout at you from tiny speakers impossible to discern, so high up they are like barking angels. As if in a trance you will count the steps down onto the platform, 113 in all, and be somewhat surprised that it came out an odd number. Near the bottom, after two landings, you will have to decide between cars going north or south. Most people at this time of morning are heading south into the city, and you think it best to head north or else you’d disrupt all of their schedules. But then you think, maybe that’s a good thing, sort of a gift to a thousand or so people and their secretaries. Surely this excuse is as good as any. Surely they are not to be held accountable for the vagaries of public transport. But then, an ancient woman suffocating under a woolen shawl stumbles as she passes you. You hear the tiny bones of her wrist and hand crack as she grabs the rail for support. And you decide to head north after all. There is something unnatural, this is true, about walking down so many stairs into the earth. Maybe you are getting younger with each step. But then the lights peek through the tunnel and the metallic box shrieks again and you will never know.

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