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Travis Vick

The Art of Anonymous Figures

indented sections are anonymous figures selected from W.S. Merwin’s translations of Japanese and Maylan texts.


            Just got it

            in time to lose it

I said to myself, thinking of my life, as I walked out of the factory, where my thoughts always muddled onto one another and sounded like the blind sorrow of water rushing through darkness, or of nothing at all: the empty smiles of unattractive models printed onto workplace-safety posters; the flag of a name, written or carved, above a row of urinals. Walking out, I left behind the hum of the machinery, and said nothing to no one.  

“The sky is burning,” a newscaster reported on the television in the break room, “A hole has opened in the sky above a cornfield in East Texas.” And the sky was burning.

Still in my uniform, I got in my car and headed east. Once on the road, I wished my radio wasn’t broken so that I could listen to the news, and then thought of Emma—her body, in my car, next to my body—her legs draped across the dash and the thoughtless thing she said, as I drove her home one night in the rain, regarding the silence:

                        If you know a song

                        sing it.

Of her stepping out of the car into the rain, still singing, my heart can tell a lie, but my lips would know. The influx of hot, wet air—hot, wet, June air—confused within itself, as it came into the car through the open door, and then within me, confusing me. I thought of how she stepped out, barefoot, and let it all come onto her. Of how she smiled and invited me into it with her, into her life with her. But I looked away, toward the long field behind her house, where I saw a young colt against a white fence, hanging its head over the top board, and how the coming down of

                        the summer rain

                        so hard

                        parted the horse’s mane.

Only to look back and see Emma walking away from me, headed inside, with a pair of dirty sandals hanging, limp, like sad animals from her fingers.

East: where the sun met me in the morning, where the night came on first; the perennially blooming bud of another evening, beginning and ending: I headed east. I thought of Emma and felt like Hell again, and so sang out loud to myself, I got the money, honey, if you got the time. East: east, I said out loud, east, beast, feast, east. I looked to the sky, no hole. No burning. The length of the workday crept onto me. The length of seven years worth of workdays crept onto me. I gripped the wheel and closed my eyes, said out loud:

                        Wake up

                        as much as you can.

Then the traffic. And the hitchhikers spaced along the highway, holding out their thumbs and staring intimately at each driver that inched by them. Some of them had given up on procuring a ride altogether and only kept their hands in their pockets as they walked past us. A particular man, still young but noticeably beaten, wore a black coat and slapped the wing mirror of each car he passed, laughing and saying:

                        Nobody bothers

                        the bad boys. 

Which stuck in my head as I moved on, progressively slower, east. I beat my fingers on the steering wheel, trying to find the rhythm of a new song to sing. I looked at my fingers and thought of fingers and then of Emma, Emma’s fingers—her skin, the color of fresh tilled earth, which stretched tightly over her hand; the nervous, happy, and comfortable tick she had of trailing her fingers across her lower thighs; the images I had left of her raising the hem of her dress in order to drag her fingers over herself; the sad sandals; her whole body soaked—shoulders, hands, and fingers. I said in my head to her:

                        I would die

                        of your fingers

                        if I could be buried in your palm

and stepped out of my car, leaving it in the road. I put my keys in my pocket, then took them out and threw them in the ditch. I walked fast, almost running, and passed car after car in a long line of cars, and then even the man in the black coat, who was still laughing, and once behind me, made me laugh a little too. The air was growing drier, and a cloud of oncoming smoke forced me to duck my chin. Then I walked with my head down for at least an hour, watching only my feet, within a haze of smoke, for so long that they separated themselves from me, and seemed to be trying to beat me to where I was going; and one another, too, the left and then the right, fighting for the lead; the top view. And their unguided movement made me remember again of how I drove home that night, angry and sad, after letting Emma stand alone in the rain; of how I made a twenty minute drive last an hour as I turned thoughtlessly onto unfamiliar roads; how I wanted to die, and drove too fast in the rain— leaned my seat back, cut the headlights, and struck puddles of water so quickly that my car broke free from beneath me, like a frightened horse, as I imagined Emma still in the seat beside me, nervously rubbing her fingers along her thighs, while I shouted to her, and myself, and no one; the night and rain:

                        You knew what I was like

                        and you started it.

Still walking, I remembered how I never saw her again. Never heard from or called her again. And, out of self-hatred, took my mind and body and gave it to the factory—working, for the next five years: 12 hour shifts, six days a week, and sleeping all day every Sunday. I remembered how I’d looked at myself in the mirror over that stretch of time and couldn’t ignore how suddenly I’d begun to grow older: how my hair had moved further back from my brow; how my skin had grayed and sagged.

Then my thoughts were interrupted as I noticed my feet scrapping through mounds of white powder on the road, and looked up to see a sprinkle of flakes falling from the sky above me: the ash of swallowed clouds coming down, like how

                        the autumn rides down

                        on one leaf.

I was suddenly beneath the fire. Above me, red-green flames were curling up and out from each other, endlessly spreading and opening the sky, while raining down the ash. Breathless, I rubbed my eyes. The smoke and ash were thick; the flames silent. Yet as I squinted upward, I saw how where the flames had been, the sky hadn’t opened at all. Instead it’d only glazed over, like volcanic rock; and in a ring of sky, I could see a reflection of just the earth itself: the abacus of traffic, the blonde hair of the cornfields on either side of the road, and people holding their hands above their eyes as they stared up at themselves.

And I saw myself too, standing there lost, with a look of despair frozen onto my face. There was no opening. No exit. And everything remained. There was no hole in the sky through which I might have chosen to enter and then leave, as if God himself had undergone a sorrowful renunciation, and decided to open the gate and simply forgive us; had left a sign there: This way for the Rapture. In the reflection, I saw the factory and Emma and my life in my eyes. I saw only my body looking back at itself, and how:

                        one god goes

                        and another comes.


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