Toward a Rain-Lashing Chaos
1. Phone call. No, text message to soon-to-be ex-wife: “Tell your brother Harold he WAS being followed. And I know who was following him.” Hahaha. Laughter. That’s me laughing. I’m trying to keep up my spirits. Wifey’s in town, my soon-to-be ex. She’s on the other side of town, staying with her current lover. He’s not her lover—she says he’s not her lover. He’s gay anyway. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love her. Maybe I don’t anymore.
2. Her brother Harold’s in Tucson. He’s building a ship in his backyard. Well, it’s more like an oversized rowboat. He’s waiting for the rains. The Tragic Indian Man, who claims he was born from a saguaro cactus, predicts the rainstorm will come even into the desert. Most especially into the desert. Yes, the desert will be hit most violently. The rain will last for 300 days and nights and Tucson will be lost at sea. Harold will be ready. Besides the constructed rowboat, he’s got plenty of canned foods, bottled water, tools, weapons, and a Hefty bagful of waterproof clothes, shoes, and bedding. He will ride out the storm. He’ll eat canned tuna fish and sardines on the banks of the Sonoran Desert. Birthplace of the Tragic Indian Man whose mother was a saguaro cactus, his father, a prick.
3. After the text to wifey, I’m met with only silence. Two or three days of it but it doesn’t stop me from thinking…I was out there, walking around by the West 4th Street Station when the idea came to me: I was being followed. I had breached a certain level of decorum or acceptable civility but I’d done it slowly over a course of years. In those years I’d become an outlaw and an avant-garde. I was at work on my no-go masterpiece: A book of 300 antipoems. These were the antipoems I’d be sending to Harold. I’d already written 208 of them. I was working on 209—but working’s the wrong term. I didn’t work on my antipoems, I radiated them like a personal sun or halo of light. Later I’d get round to writing them down. After all, the word was the word. I’d gotten around to writing down 208 of them, like I said. Ninety-two more were waiting to pour forth in a profusion of light. Then the light would become words pressed on the page. The book was also for the Tragic Indian Man. He was planning to go aboard Harold’s rowboat when the time came. I wanted them to read the poems to one another, one for each night. And then the 300th on the first fresh day of strict sunshine and blue sky, the end of the rain-lashing chaos.
4. There will be no end to the rain-lashing chaos. Or it will seem that way for a time. By day 100 half the population will have killed itself. By day 200 another quarter or more. Not to mention all the drowned, starved, broken…This may happen. It seems evident in the light that pours from my forehead. It’s part of the inner light—becoming outer. And part of why I’m being followed. Harold had this too, back in the 80s and 90s. He radiated a sheer light. A few got caught in the light and then made him an enemy. The FBI or some secret law enforcement had started tailing him. They didn’t know exactly why. He was an odd duck, someone radically against the norm. He was creating art—real art, and lots of it. Abstracts mostly. But abstracts bordering on the symbolical—like searchlights into the unconscious. A dead-dream-of-life art: Here art. Exploded more than painted for a time.
Harold is a dreamer. And he can’t be touched. He exists in a withdrawn present. Still, he’s building his boat. He might want to stay alive: He’s not sure. He’s even considering building a second boat for supplies—beer mostly. And he wants to be able to start a fire in the second boat, a small cooking fire. He needs a covered grill, something portable. Propane tanks, binoculars, fishing gear…
5. Harold was being followed when he was an artist in New York. He’d show up at a gallery of his work and have to look over his shoulder. Often there’d be a man on the other side of the gallery. The man wore a suit the color of dried blood: rusty brown. This was one of the agents. There were others. A man that carried around a palm-tree plant. He’d put the plant down in different rooms or strategic spots and stand behind the plant. He’d open a small flip-pad and write notes to himself. He was writing notes about Harold—Harold’s art or Harold’s presence. One way or another Harold was the topic. When the surveillance was done, the man would pick up his plant and walk out of the gallery. Meanwhile the rust-brown suit man would hold a miniature walkie-talkie the size of a cigarette packet. It may have been a cigarette packet except the man was seen and heard talking into it. Very few words could be heard clearly but once in a while the name “Harold” was unmistakable. “Harold this and Harold that…”
But anyway Harold was done. Eventually Harold was done and he left New York and he left the art world too. He liked to say “I used to be somebody.” And when he said it, it sounded true—true enough that Harold would turn in his backyard and double check that no one was there. He’d reminded himself of what he was—or had been. But the rust-brown spies, the palm-plant spies were long gone.
6. The Tragic Indian Man came to stand in the backyard shadows for a while. He smoked a clay pipe and watched Harold engaged in his work, his boat building. The Tragic Indian Man had two strangled-to-death rattlesnakes in his pockets. One in his left front pants pocket and one in his right. The dead, diamond-shaped heads of the rattlers were stuffed into each pocket, fangs and all, and the rest of the snake hung out like a scaly hose that swayed gently in the breeze.
“These snakes will do for my meals eventually,” he said. “But I’ll skip biting into the poison pouches.”
Harold heard him but didn’t respond. He was too busy pounding nails and planing boards. The work was going well and the Tragic Indian Man was pleasant enough company if that meant anything.
“Unpleasant enough too,” the Tragic Indian Man said wryly. He inhaled on his clay pipe. He tiptoed to the edge of the yard and sat on a gray, sun-warmed boulder. The sun burned overhead but for how much longer?
“Two weeks or less,” the Tragic Indian Man said. “Then the rains—the 300-day rains that’ll feel like forever.”
Harold pounded 300 nails into place. This would be a boat to endure all torrents. Meanwhile I was having Thai dinner out with wifey in New York…I was telling her how fast the antipoems were coming, how much light was pouring forth from my head.
“You were always possessed,” she said, stabbing a crab cake with her fork. “I never held that against you.”
“276 and counting,” I said, a smidge of lemony butter trickling down my chin.
In Tucson 2,400 miles away, the Tragic Indian Man stood up to an undercurrent of rattling.
7. A few months later I will have to cry. If the 300-day rains come to Arizona and the Sonoran and Harold rides out the torrential waters in his rowboat, mast and all, I will cry. I’ll be in New York City still, awaiting our calamity—the next red explosion or protracted blackout. It’ll be a double dip into strange times. Pockets of the world will swirl into a frenzy of choked existence. Deserts will be reversed and clouds punctured. Death rains will come. Sandstorms and kinetic volts of wayward energy—windmills toppling, electrical lines collapsing, and the tumblings of more towers. Towers east, west, north, and south. A plunge into vast frenetic chaos and dismay…These may just be the panic dreams of the Tragic Indian Man. After all, his face is turned to the east tonight and his thoughts filter like mudslides of quantum particles that pierce my skull. I may be doomed—like him—or we may just ride out the crashing horizons and ill-wind cataclysms to come.
And when the prodigal rains come and Harold is not Noah…Well, he may just leap into the newfound sea, who knows? But when he planes the boards and hammers the nails, there’s a chance still. And the Tragic Indian Man is never going to eat those dead, pocketed snakes. He may use one to choke the life out of Harold. But more than likely he’ll extract the venom, slowly, carefully, and mix a lethal elixir. An anti-elixir—one shot and you’re gone.
“Just prepare the poison and shut your mouth,” Harold says, rolling over in sleep. It comes to me across the continent and I whisper the same to wifey who I believe is cocooned against me but is, in reality, long gone.
8. When I was walking around that other evening, downtown, light profusions intact…the spies were tailing me. Practicing their stealthy practice, creeping along. Not being my friends—not wholly being my enemies. Me Muttering: “But I love my enemies…I ought to love my enemies…”
The one with the palm-tree plant…he tailed me along 6th Avenue and down to West Houston Street. Then into the lobby of the Film Forum—a perfect place to put his plant down. Stand behind the high, broad palm leaves. Take out a Tic-Tac-container-size camera. Snap shots slyly. I won’t smile or “cheese”…at best I’ll balk and recall the forebodings of self-exiled Harold, gone west.
Dear Wifey. We are living through another round of end times. Some might say End Times. I won’t. But Harold’s right—and he’s been right all along. They’re following us. And we’re following ourselves. We have become them and they have become us. If you don’t believe me, carry a palm plant back across the country and visit your brother’s backyard. Let him hear you creep quietly into the yard. Let him turn with his stock weapon and shoot you dead. After you die, and wake up again, then you will know what I mean.
9. When the rains come Harold and the Tragic Indian Man will not take a woman aboard the boat. Not even the second boat. They have no desire to propagate. They barely have a desire to survive. But they will attempt survival for the adventure of the event. For the longed-for invigoration. It’s beyond biblical in its ramifications or could be tagged neo-biblical, whatever exactly that will mean.
The Tragic Indian Man will swallow an entire snakehead after extracting the venom from the glands. He’ll cut the head off at the base and put it in his mouth like a scaly, cold-blooded slider. Then he’ll swallow hard, harrumph. What is the purpose? What is the purpose of such instruction—what is the purpose of 300 antipoems, one per night?
“I’ll swallow a snakehead for the sake of the poems,” the Tragic Indian Man says.
“The antipoems,” Harold corrects.
Later the snakehead will be shat out intact. It’ll float on the newly formed sea—the Sonoran Great Lake. The cactus thorns of the tallest cacti will brush the boat bottom. The Tragic Indian Man will hang his savage ass off the starboard side. He’ll grunt and count to ten before the deed’s done, part two. Harold will hear about it—a snakehead-free second shit. Harold will whistle into the wind, hard rain pummeling his face, the sea’s surface, everything that was once bone dry and beat to dust.
10. From the waterproof pen of Harold Stetson: We are not the rulers of the universe and we have damaged our livers. We’ve drunk up everything in the second boat and regretted not having a third boat. It’s evening 298 as I write this. The Tragic Indian Man is a flashbulb in my forehead. He’ll keep going off now but will soon turn into the sonic scream of a siren. There are no other survivors from here to Bisbee that I’ve encountered. The southern part of the Sonoran along the Mexican border is mud and slop. The snakes, lizards, and other reptiles have been drowned and their bloated corpses rush like cadaverous logs along the streams.
I’ve been given the name Harold earlier but I am not Harold. I’m the man who tried to shamanize during this portentous event. Or perhaps I’m still in the process of shamanizing—like the Tragic Indian Man did. But he was cut to psychical pieces by the masked-world nightmares on day 288 and leaped into the water’s depths. He had all of the things I didn’t want to have to have stuck into his face. A rattler’s fangs punctured each cheek and a crown of cacti thorns and fish bones pierced his forehead. He’d also cored out an eyeball and socket with a serrated bottle top. It was all necessary because rebirth is necessary. There is also the need and the obligation to record—in words. I hope I am up to the task. I have used my waterproof pen and pad and worn the equivalent of the Gorton’s fisherman: black rubbers. Some fool in New York, my sister’s ex, has been channeling with me. He thought he was ready to meet the Tragic Indian Man in mid-dream. He had the audacity to attempt to save him. But nothing, almost nothing can be saved with a pen, with poems, with words…Alas: the antipoems came and went. They struck me as excellent but minor. Simple migrations into the margins, becoming marginalia. And yet all the while being bombarded from above—the Chicken Little falling of a sky.
There is one can of beer left in the rucksack. I mean to carry it onto the peak of the first-spotted land. Drink it in the purple sunset. If there is ever a sun again. These were the plagues and pressures of the antipoems. But I think I learned nothing from that fool and his scribbles. I can’t believe my sister was once his wife. Then again he did have a predicted calamity or two up his sleeve…And so let’s hope the day after tomorrow the sunny bitch of dawn will finally come.
Philip Brunetti holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Georgia State University and was the recipient of that university’s Paul Bowles Writing Fellowship while in the program. Brunetti writes innovative fiction and poetry and much of his work has been published in various paper or online literary magazines including Word Riot, decomP magazinE, The Boiler, Identity Theory and The Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. He is currently seeking a publisher for his experimental novel Newer Testaments, of which excerpts have been published in the latter two journals above.