CONJUNCTIONS:62, Exile (Spring 2014)
Dreamlives of Debris
“Someone I tell you, in another time will remember us, but never as who we were.”
I have my doll and the screamings behind my eyelids. The screamings look like fluttery lights. The fluttery lights believe they live inside me, but I live inside them too.
My doll’s name is Catastrophe.
Daddy once made his ideas purer than King Aegeus’s. Now every year King Aegeus sends seven of his bravest young men and seven of his most beautiful young women from Athens to Crete to visit me. I let them wander the passages of my heart for hours—or maybe it is days, or weeks—I do not know what any of these words mean—before I step out of their frothy panic to welcome them.
I say once, I say now, I say hours, days, weeks, but I do not understand myself: Down here time is a storm-swarmed ship always breaking up.
The liquid architecture will not hold still. Sometimes I cannot locate the walls. I shuffle forward, hands outstretched in the grainy charcoal air, breathing mold, must, fungus, sulfur, damp dirt, wet rock, waiting for the gritty touch ushering me onto the far shore. Sometimes so many walls erupt around me I am forced to crab sideways to make any progress at all.
Sometimes the walls become a whirlwind of hands or dying alphabets.
The ceiling sinks without warning and I discover myself crawling on my belly across the chalky floor, Catastrophe clutched tight to my chest.
Remember, angel, Mommy whispers, rocking me in her lap, you do not need to learn to adapt to Daedalus’s imagination. Survival is never mandatory.
Despite my height, I should mention, my strength is not negligible.
Last month—no, last year—next—I am not sure—I am never sure— no surprises there—one always knows a sliver less than one did a flinch ago—at some point in timelessness Mommy and Daddy gave me a littlesister to play with.
Our wrestling match persisted the length of one short, startled bleat.
Since then I have been an only child again.
Apis the Healer tells me I am thirty-three years old. I cannot remember. He tells me nobody believed I would live past thirty-three months.
This, he says, is why Mommy calls me Her Little Duration.
Why Daddy calls me the Minotaur.
I call myself Debris.
When I set out to greet my new guests I tuck my doll beneath my arm and carry a torch. This is not so I can see them. It is so they can see me.
The brave young men, unarmed, unnerved, usually shit or piss themselves a little when I step into the open. I think they are expecting someone else. It is not unamusing to watch their secretions trickling down their legs as they blunder into blank walls trying to unsee me.
All I have to do is stand there clearing my throat.
Matters usually take care of themselves.
I follow the women like their own shadows, torchless. They cannot hear me, have no sense of my presence, until they feel me clambering up their backs, hands searching for necks, teeth for arteries.
What I am telling you, I want to say, is a love story.
Search as I might over the years, if one may call them that, and not something else—miscalculations, for instance—I have never ferreted out the guarded portal. Surely it exists in the same way, say, future dictionaries exist.
Our virtuoso artificer Daedalus designed my palace.
Mommy says upon its completion he could barely find his own way out.
His brilliance lives inside the body of a pasty man-sized toad sans ass who wears the perpetual grimace of a Skeptic. I have never seen him smile. His rumpled face carries the same message wherever it goes:
Stand a little less between me and the darkness.
I often wake alarmed from the noise they call sleep. My world becomes all blackness and rabbit snifts. I wonder if everyone has forgotten me.
How long has it been since Mommy rocked Her Little Duration? Since the eunuch priests loosed a pig covered with sacrificial ribbons to snort its scramble through my heart?
How long has it been since my trough was refreshed? My favorite amphora—teeming with the taste of violets, hyacinths, and interesting injuries—hidden like a gift for me to root out?
When all instants fuss behind your eyelids at once they become shiny fracas.
Then they become me.
And then Mommy brought around Lady Tiresias.
Calling my name, listening for my response, she zeroed in on her princess.
Soon the three of us were sitting cross-legged in a chamber I had never seen before. It stank of language.
The blind, bony seer with wrinkled female dugs has known life as both man and woman. He had my pity. She reached for my hand. He wanted to read my palm. I hissed at her. He drew back.
Mommy stroked my scruff.
Be nice, button, she said.
Lady Tiresias tried again. She discovered my palm bloated smooth as a baboon’s ass: no bumps, lumps, fissures, figures, failures, futures.
You are born, she said, of a very special race. The Minotaur belongs to a people old as the earth itself. Beneath the skin of your shoulders grow wings. Someday they will break out and carry you far away from here.
I reached back, felt nothing.
Give yourself time, she said. The number thirty-three controls your life. You are concerned not with personal ambition but with uplifting the loving energy of humankind.
Out the corner of my eye I saw Mommy shift.
Lady Tiresias’s bald head reminded me of an enormous gland.
You are a born leader, he said. This is what I see. You will achieve great fame through kindness, tenderness, compassion. Remember: Whosoever is delighted in solitude is a god. Lady Tiresias has spoken.
These speech turbulences are not mine—do not seem to be mine, do and do not seem to be mine. That is, I am nearly convinced my mouth is vigorously unmoving as I ramble these branchings.
(I have just tapped it with my hoof for proof.)
That is, I sometimes have the impression I exist.
:::: athena chorus
I should mention minotaurs have nothing to do with the perpetuation of life.
The very idea of multiplication disgusts us.
If I am not the only numerous.
That afternoon Mommy led the unsuspecting blind man to the Brazen Bull. The hollow bronze beast hulked on a raised platform in our central courtyard at the edge of the shallow pool swarming with eels, each fitted with a pair of tiny gold earrings. Two Athenian slaves helped him through the hatch in its side. Lady Tiresias ordered them to be careful. They obeyed. Crouching here in the darkness I watched them light the fire. It quickly crackled into consciousness. Soon clouds of incense were shooting from the bull’s nostrils. The complex system of tubes and stops inside its skull translated the soothsayer’s shrieks into infuriated bovine bellows.
First comes pain, whispers Mommy, rocking, then knowledge.
Next day they opened the hatch and extracted what was left of Lady Tiresias. Mommy asked that the most delicate bits be fashioned into my beautiful new bracelet.
Mommy loves Her Little Duration.
Before that and after that I watched many wars. Or maybe it was the same war many times. Before that and after that I watched the elaborate festival at which Daddy wedded his queen, whose own daddy tainted her with the same witchery with which she tainted me. Before that and after that I watched the slow wreckage of my city bog into the earth. Before that and after that I watched Daedalus’s boy attempt to scrabble up a hidden ladder above a seascape like hammered silver, his wax wings reducing to air around him. Before that and after that I watched my sister, Ariadne, whom I have never met, hand something I could not make out to a muscular young man I could not recognize standing in front of a gate I could not place. Before that and after that I watched Daddy, whom I have never met, reclining in a silver bathtub decorated with octopi and anemones. I watched the daughter of Cocalus, King of Camicus, signal her slave to empty a pot not of warm water but of boiling oil over his head and chest and groin. Before that and after that I watched me hanging weightless in Mommy’s womb, strangling my almost-brother with his own umbilical cord, preparing to bestow upon my parents my first gift, which they would in turn mummify and boon back to me, a mutual sign of our abiding affection.
(This was back when hope still helped.)
There are the stories that make sense. These are called lies. There are the stories that maze you. These are called the world.
I should mention your body is a haunted house you can’t escape.
Which is to say the worst is still to come, was still to come, will still be to come, has come, had come, is coming, has been coming, might come, is going to come, will have come, would have come, but not yet, and already.
:::: j. g. ballard song
Because all clocks are labyrinths.
:::: lady tiresias chorus
When I die, it will have been inside the stomach of a bull. When I die, it will have been inside the courtyard of a doomed palace. When I die, it will have been with the understanding that the descent into Hades is the same from every point, every race, every gender, every class, every ancestry. With the recognition I will soon meet Odysseus in the infinite gray desert of the afterness and, skin ashen, eyes cloudy and blank from too much seeing, violet mouth sewn shut with black catgut, he will ask me sans voice to recollect for him what the best path of life is. Standing alone with the sacker of cities, I will advise him to forget the philosophers, ignore their metaphysics, for in the end there exists nothing save atoms and empty space—that is it, that is all, that is us, that is this. No one will arrive to save us from ourselves. When I die, it will have been wondering whether I am actually thinking these thoughts I think I am thinking or only dreaming I am thinking them as I study the glowing blue flame float out from my chest and across a black ocean, how it must at some point have ceased to be part of me and become part of something else, for it is so far away, and then farther, and th
:::: jorge luis borges song
Because time is a river that sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.
Because the historians chronicle how, when my brother, Androgeos, began to collect all the prizes at the Panathenaic games, King Aegeus commanded him to fight his most fearsome bull.
How brave, bewildered Androgeos was gored and died on the stadium floor within minutes of entering.
:::: bradley manning song
Because it was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. This is why I turned over the files to which I had access to WikiLeaks, which made them public. I understand that my actions violated the law. I regret that my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people.
Because, outraged, Daddy set off to Athens. Revenge seared his veins. On the way he invaded Megara, whose King Nisos’s power derived from a single magic lock of purple hair. Nisos’s daughter, Scylla, saw Daddy from the battlements, tumbled into love with him in the beat of a hurt, and that very night sheared her own sleeping father like some feeble- minded sheep.
Networks. Weaves. Plaits. How each of us becomes hole.
Because, appalled by Scylla’s lack of filial devotion, Daddy departed at once, leaving Nisos’s daughter keening on the dock.
Each star in the sky a pinprick upon her skin.
Because every labyrinth is both plan and tangle.
Method and mess.
Wait. I believe I have just had a dream.
had Nisos not blurred himself into an osprey and swooped down to destroy her.
Yes: There is no other word for it.
Because at the last instant Nisos’s daughter quivered into a tiny storm petrel that darted away from her father over the waves.
:::: mark z. danielewski song
Because we all create stories to protect ourselves.
Because her father pursued.
:::: lidia yuknavitch song
Because you make up stories until you find one you can live with.
Yes: I can assert with some confidence I have just had a dream.
Because Scylla’s daddy would not forget.
:::: queen elizabeth song
Because the past cannot be cured.
Because the screamings say I will never have heard enough.
They just keep on arriving.
They just keep rushing at me.
Because now and forever Nisos is one beak clip away from tattering Scylla into a burst of bloody feathers.
Because the historians chronicle how the Athenian courts tried and banished Daedalus.
A swineherd found him washed up on Crete’s shores and led him to our palace. Impressed by his talent, Daddy took him in and designated him royal architect. Not long after his arrival, Mommy fell in lust with a giant white bull sent by Poseidon to penalize her for being herself. She ordered Daedalus to build her a wooden cow draped in cowhide to fool the bull into squalling her.
Now whenever you listen to Debris you are really listening to the echo of Mommy and that bull coupling through the night in a damp, rocky field at the edge of Knossos.
The echo’s heart is sometimes referred to as the Daedalus Penance, sometimes as the Age of Loneliness.
Although it is equally possible to assert with some confidence I have just had a vision.
Or a memory, perhaps. Perhaps I have just had a memory.
Or perhaps one could say a dream just had me.
Whatever the case, the muscular young man I could not recognize towhom my sister, Ariadne, had handed something I could not make out now stood before the throne in a palace so sun flooded it seemed to me as if the lavish furniture itself were no longer solid but hazy diffusions of solar particles.
The muscular young man was addressing someone. I could not make out whom. I could not make out what he was saying, what land he was saying it in.
And then—all at once—I saw his mouth move and heard him speak my name and I balked awake into a rush of Mommy whispers.
Atmosphere greasy with my smells.
:::: pasiphaë chorus
and when the midwife pulled the steaming godshit from between my legs I took one glance and commanded her kill it kill it kill the inaccuracy but my husband chuckled and said this bounty is yours sunshine a reward from the gods for how you have lived your life and with that he ordered the wet nurse to deliver my living failure into the labyrinth’s flexions deep beneath our bed and Minos strode out of the birthing chamber and out of my love and before that day drowned itself in the wine-dark sea the godshit had been tucked away from our citizens’ eyes and ears forever while I had discovered just how lavishly a woman can hate a man how much you think this blistering affliction is all the white-hot loathing you can fist inside you only to learn there can always be more and after that more still and
Unless I am still asleep. There is always that.
:::: bradley manning song
Because I want to thank everybody who has supported me over the last three years. I am forever indebted to those who wrote to me, made a donation to my defense fund, or came to watch a portion of the trial. As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun.
Imagine Lady Tiresias’s bracelet clicking with his bits on my wrist as I prowl, Daedalus and his son always feeling their way along just a few hundred paces in front of me.
Because sometimes I have the impression I exist, and then that changes.
:::: sir arthur evans song
It was March 1900, the enamel sky a singular dry blue, the air cool, invigorating, and, having both secured the crucial land—by means of generous private donations made to me through the Cretan Exploration Fund—and ordered stores from Britain, I hired two foremen from the most capable of the generally incapable (if ever childishly cheerful and rigorously uncurious) locals, who in turn hired thirty-two diggers, and the lot of them went merrily to work on the flower-covered hill beneath which I was certain lay the inconceivable ruins.
And before that and after that I watched Paris steal Helen away from her husband and black flames burn through a decade. I watched beautiful broken Cassandra—pale skin, blue eyes, red hair kept in curls; raped repeatedly by Ajax the Lesser on the floor of Athena’s temple where she fled in search of refuge—I watched beautiful broken Cassandra babble from the post to which she had been tied before the gates of junked Troy, disinterested pedestrians passing her by. I watched a nation suffer toward truth, believing it was sharing something important, something lasting that would unite it, even as it already knew all its beliefs had been nothing but bluffs, its politicians best at organizing human weakness. Hell to ships, hell to men, hell to cities, and Clytemnestra clawing a dagger across Cassandra’s bared throat because Agamemnon had taken the disbelieved seer as war spoil. An arrow pierced swift-footed Achilles’s heel and his body pitched forward into death. And before that and after that I watched him, Achilles—no trace of his own ruin shadowing his features—slit the heels of Hector’s corpse, pass Ajax’s belt through them, and drag the breaker of horses around the fortress walls until Hector’s body effaced itself into the rocky earth. Shocked Icarus dropping through luminous blueness, hands raking sunlight, shredded wings disassembling around him.
Imagine death need not concern you because as long as you live death is not here and when it finally arrives you no longer live.
Now imagine you are wrong.
How there was blue sky. I won’t deny it. But not mine. Not the one above me.
:::: odysseus song
Because I am a poor old stranger here, you see. My home is far away. There is no one known to me in countryside or city.
Or perhaps this is the dream and the other thing the other thing.
:::: edward snowden song
Because there is no saving me. I do not expect to see home again.
:::: pasiphaë chorus
despite the fact I bore the bastard Acacallis Ariadne Androgeos Catreus Deucalion Glaucus Phaedra Xenodice still Minos makes a daily art of amnesia refusing to mention the mistake barking up at us into our sleep every night or consider the boundless perplexity webbing below our feet and so it is that every day hating him I have a greater and greater sense I have how to say it have begun to approximate myself yes a greater and greater sense I am gradually becoming the how do you say it the imprecision of Pasiphaë a for example cousin yes or perhaps friend who stopped writing the lonely queen decades ago
And once I entered a chamber to rest a few millennia and when I rose to scuttle on I discovered I could not locate the door.
I assumed at first I had misplaced it, was groping the wrong wall. I made a slow survey of the room with my free hand, Catastrophe rooting me on, but encountered nothing save gritty blank surfaces and right angles.
What, I wondered, if this was another Daedalus trick? If the door was gone for good? Debris could starve in here. Debris could be forgotten.
As I stood there vexing my paws together, my brother mumbling beneath my arm, the walls exploded into a whirl of knife blades. The knife blades exploded into an applause of white hands. The white hands exploded into a mischief of mice. The mice exploded into a zeal of invisible angels. The invisible angels exploded into an ambush of orange shrieks.
And that is when I understood everything was as it should be, was as it had always been, would always be—and so I crouched in place to wait out the hot blood drizzle that had begun falling around us.
:::: abdullah ibn umar song
Because you must be in the world as if you were a stranger or a traveler.
Because something, in any case, is beginning.
:::: catastrophe chorus
but it is also true
Shall I repeat
of a child
is communicable by the art of writing.
for the nights and days are long.
I let myself
fall until I am bloody.
But of all the games, I prefer the one about the other
I pretend that comes to visit me and that I
The house is the same size as the world,
Perhaps I have created the stars
Lance Olsen is the author of more than twenty books of and about innovative writing, including three appearing this spring: the novel based on Robert Smithson’s earthwork the Spiral Jetty, Theories of Forgetting (FC2); How to Unfeel the Dead: New & Selected Fictions (Teksteditions); and [[ there. ]] (Anti-Oedipus). He teaches experimental narrative theory and practice at the University of Utah.