She said, you have to be able to be attentive to it, to listen to it.

He said, I can afford the diagnosis.

He felt what most poets feel. Lack of affect. An inability to get up and be out in the world. Everything dulled yet everything full of anxiety. An abject tilt to the head, a slumping of the shoulders, a placing of the right hand over the forehead and a rubbing of the area of the forehead and eyes with a strong squeezing motion. An inward focus of the brain-place. Anger. Rage. Self-contempt. A desire for cessation, for un-life.

He was otherwise generally agreeable, though. At least when he was among others, or at least when he was among others and drinking. He had agreed to be agreeable in that way that most of us agree to be agreeable, to keep our diagnoses inside, or to put one diagnosis out into the air among others, in order to mask the more shameful other diagnoses.

Nonetheless, after a fifteen minute visit in a sterile, overly lit office, he agreed that it might be best for some period of time to inhibit his voltage-sensitive sodium channels and through this to attempt to stabilize neuronal membranes and consequently modulate presynaptic transmitter releases of excitatory amino acids such as glutamate and aspartate. It seemed reasonable to do that, or at least as reasonable as anything else.
A signed slip of paper made possible this inhibition. He took this paper to the pharmacy along with $142.53 and was given in exchange a small plastic bottle of peach pills, each octagonal in shape, the number 200 imprinted on one side. He swallowed one half pill each morning with a mouthful of water. For the few seconds that the pill rested on his tongue, he tasted metallic, orange, sweet.

The literature warned him to expect nausea, insomnia, somnolence, back pain, fatigue, rash, rhinitis, abdominal pain, and xerostomia after taking the pills. And he experienced all of these at one moment or another. He also experienced loss of appetite and a severe increase in irritability that tended to peak between 4 and 6 pm each day. Whether any of these things were related to the pills or not, he did not know. He was also warned to watch for a skin rash that could be a symptom of Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis.

Shortly after he began the inhibition, he began to go to a small room that had been made available by a local arts organization.

The blood on George Bush’s
Hands keeps coming out in my stool.
Night is never dark enough because
Everything I see frightens me.


— Charles Bernstein, “The Sixties, with Apologies”


She said, you have to be able to be attentive to it, to listen to it.

He said, I can afford the diagnosis.

He felt what most poets feel. Lack of affect. An inability to get up and be out in the world. Everything dulled yet everything full of anxiety. An abject tilt to the head, a slumping of the shoulders, a placing of the right hand over the forehead and a rubbing of the area of the forehead and eyes with a strong squeezing motion. An inward focus of the brain-place. Anger. Rage. Self-contempt. A desire for cessation, for un-life.

He was otherwise generally agreeable, though. At least when he was among others, or at least when he was among others and drinking. He had agreed to be agreeable in that way that most of us agree to be agreeable, to keep our diagnoses inside, or to put one diagnosis out into the air among others, in order to mask the more shameful other diagnoses.

Nonetheless, after a fifteen minute visit in a sterile, overly lit office, he agreed that it might be best for some period of time to inhibit his voltage-sensitive sodium channels and through this to attempt to stabilize neuronal membranes and consequently modulate presynaptic transmitter releases of excitatory amino acids such as glutamate and aspartate. It seemed reasonable to do that, or at least as reasonable as anything else.
A signed slip of paper made possible this inhibition. He took this paper to the pharmacy along with $142.53 and was given in exchange a small plastic bottle of peach pills, each octagonal in shape, the number 200 imprinted on one side. He swallowed one half pill each morning with a mouthful of water. For the few seconds that the pill rested on his tongue, he tasted metallic, orange, sweet.

The literature warned him to expect nausea, insomnia, somnolence, back pain, fatigue, rash, rhinitis, abdominal pain, and xerostomia after taking the pills. And he experienced all of these at one moment or another. He also experienced loss of appetite and a severe increase in irritability that tended to peak between 4 and 6 pm each day. Whether any of these things were related to the pills or not, he did not know. He was also warned to watch for a skin rash that could be a symptom of Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis.

Shortly after he began the inhibition, he began to go to a small room that had been made available by a local arts organization.

Each day he went to the room and put his body in a different position, and then held it without moving for most of the day. The first day of his project had him in the small room standing naked with his arms spread out behind him, his upper torso bending backwards, his head erect and facing forward, a pair of women’s underpants over his face. He held this pose for six hours and then went home.

The next day, he spent naked, standing with his knees bent, his left knee slightly ahead of his right, his penis resting on top of his pressed together thighs, his hands in front of him, bent at the elbow, two fingers on one hand making a V sign.

The next day, he stood clothed on his left leg, his right foot out to the side, bent at the waist, his right arm as if pulling a sack down over a face, his torso bent.

The next day he was clothed, squatting down, balanced on the front of his feet, his head forward and down, his spine straight and aligned, his right arm pulled back, his right hand in a fist, ready to punch a body on the floor.

The next day, he stood naked in the small room with his left leg crossed in front of his right leg, both hands held out to the side, palms up, head forward.

There was no audience for these pieces. There was no documentation. He never spoke about the project or about the room that the arts organization had loaned to him to anyone other than the two people that oversaw the organization.

He left the room each day by 4 pm and walked home. Once home, he would walk the dogs. Once they had their walk, he made himself a drink and began what he meant by working on his writing, which meant that he might check his email and various social network feeds, grade several student essays, and then stare into space, grinding his teeth.

After some days of taking the pills and going to the small room to do the project, his body began to smell stale and sour and his right arm and shoulder began to go numb. They felt weak and yet not just weak or numb, but something like weak or numb, something wrong, something wrong and yet without pain. It was as if his body was layering itself with woven or laminated fibers so as to spread the energy from the poses, bringing them to a stop before they could penetrate into him.

Still he continued on.

The next day he spent his time in the small room clothed, standing with his legs spread apart as if straddling a dog, his arms bent at the elbows, his hands as if holding a dog’s chain, his torso bending forward as if over a dog, his head forward.

The day after that, he sat clothed with his legs bent at the knees and underneath him, his arms behind his back as if handcuffed, his torso leaning back, his face forward.

The next day, he was naked and on his back, his knees bent, his hands holding his head.

The next, he was clothed, his feet close together, his weight on his left leg, standing straight, his left arm bent and a little forward of his body, his right arm relaxed.

During his walk home one night he became more numb. Once home, after walking the dogs and making himself a drink, and grading four and a half student essays, he lay down and passed out on the couch. He woke up with his shoulders frozen. He couldn’t move his neck or hands. His body had moved beyond woven and laminated and it was as if it were now growing a metal exoskeleton of plates.

He spent the weekend on the couch, doing what he meant by working on his writing, which that weekend took the form of writing sentences in his head. When he was able to raise himself up and off the couch, he began to carry his arms crab-like in front of him, his fingers held together, one thumb held up. As he lurched, despite the pain, he slowly moved around and wrote sentences in his head. There was no audience for these sentences. There was no documentation. Just him seeing the sentences, grinding his teeth to their rhythms, separating them from each other like discrete poses, seeing them holding there, each on its own, doing nothing but holding their information.

On Monday, he pulled himself up and lurched to the small room to continue the project. On his way to the room, he stopped thinking of his arms as claws even though as he walked he held his hands out in front of him, bent at the elbows, his fingers together, one thumb held up. That day he lay on the floor on his left side, his hands behind his back as if handcuffed together, his underpants around his thighs, his left knee bent, his left foot underneath his right knee, his right foot at a 90 degree angle.

The next day, he was clothed, standing, his feet slightly wider than his hips, resting his weight on his right leg, his right hand relaxed and hanging, his left hand outstretched as if holding a leash, his head turned to the left, bent slightly forward.

The day after that he spent standing, naked, a sack on his head, his left arm stretched out from his body, his right arm parallel with his shoulder, his elbow bent, his hand dropping, as if handcuffed to a wall.

The next day, he stood clothed, his legs spread a little wider than his waist, more weight on his left leg, both feet facing forward, his arms bent at the elbows, his hands as if holding a baton, his face forward.

All that week, whenever he was not working on his project in the small room, he lurched when he walked, one shoulder higher than the other, one leg dragging a little, and as he walked he held his arms in front of him, bent at the elbows, his fingers together, one thumb up. Finally, by late Friday afternoon, he lurched into the welcoming, naturally lit office of a nearby chiropractor. 

The chiropractor was kind. She had a light touch, an interest in healing, and a faith in using alternative medicines to stimulate the body to cleanse all that the culture deposits or stirs up within. That day she did not perform any chiropractic adjustments. She began by touching his neck. She claimed on the basis of this touch that he had a virus that was causing his back and neck and shoulders and hands and fingers to seize up. I can tell from the way you are sweating, she told him. It smells metallic, orange, sweet. She then left the room and returned a few minutes later pushing a small metal tray. On the tray were bottles of supplements. She took each bottle off the tray and held it near his neck and then moved it slowly down the front of his body, holding his left arm up and pulling on it as he resisted, whispering to herself as she did this. Based on the resistance that she got from his arm, she then prescribed the glands and adrenals of mammals for him to ingest. She prescribed combinations of bovine adrenal glands, porcine brain tissue, bovine tissues from the hypothalamus, pituitary, and pineal glands, bovine and ovine spleen, bovine pancreas, liver, pituitary, kidney, prostrate, and liver fat. These supplements had been collected from the wastes of slaughterhouses and then dried and packaged into gelatin pill shaped containers. Some of these he was to suck on so that the active components were absorbed by the tongue for rapid action with the brain. Some he was to swallow. Some came in suppository form that he would insert into his anus before lurching to bed. In return he presented her with $95 and then lurched home with a sack full of supplements.

He again spent the weekend on the couch, doing what he meant by working on his writing, which that weekend took the form of writing sentences in his head in between grading student essays.

The week began with him back at the small room that the arts organization had loaned him. He spent the day in his underwear, evenly balanced on his legs which he held a little wider than his hips, his feet forward, his torso bent, his arms as if tied behind his knees, his head bent at the neck and lifted.

His shoulders continued to seize. He continued to lurch along, dragging one leg. He could not tilt his head, nor could he place his right hand over his forehead and rub the area of his forehead and eyes with a strong squeezing motion. When he graded student essays he could barely grip the pen, and his marks became increasingly jagged and cartoon-like.

It was around this time that he increased his dosage of the small peach pills that inhibited his voltage-sensitive sodium channels. He was now spending $5 a day blocking his sodium channels and around $3 a day on the crushed glands and adrenals of various mammals. Each morning, he would count out all the pills, swallow some of them, mix others with water and squirt them in his mouth, and at night lodge still others in his anus.

On the next day, back at the small room, while he was clothed, kneeling forward, his arms resting on his legs, his head lifted, he felt a tingling in his face. By the time he was done, the tingling had developed into what he thought was a boil on his cheek.

He lurched home that day from his small room at the arts oganization and as he always did, he ate his dinner, graded three student essays, and walked the dogs. While he was walking the dogs that evening, he felt a liquid ooze down his face. When he got home and looked in the mirror he realized that what he thought was just a boil was something more. It had grown into around eight soft blisters, one on top of another. His epidermis seemed to be separating from his dermis and the space created by this separation was filling up with a liquid of dead and living cells that was whitish-yellow in color. This whitish-yellow liquid oozed out and then slowly dripped down his face. He grabbed some toilet paper and pressed down on the blisters to collect the fluid, as if it was possible to join the epidermis and the dermis back together just by pushing on them.

Then began the period of time in which he worried about his face leaking, about the space between the dermis and the epidermis. It was not that this was a major ailment. It was not that it mattered really. There’d always been something in his face and here was some of it now. He could not make the undefined space on his face that filled with a whitish-yellow fluid into a metaphor, for some oppression or self-punishment for whatever shame he happened to feel that week. It was a blemish. It was that his body was constantly and irritatingly reminding him of something, something that he would rather forget but something that he was unable to forget because it had entered into his body and reshaped him. From then on, he spent a great deal of his days focused on this spot on his cheek, hyperaware of any sort of potential dripping. All day long he pressed down on the blisters with small pieces of toilet paper, attempting to drain them, attempting to prevent them from dripping onto the student essays. All day long they would refill.

No one knew what caused the leakage or how to end it.

He called his doctor and joked to him that he was ill with late capitalism. His doctor did not laugh, just replied that he was to come in to the sterile, dimly lit office if the blisters spread, and then reminded him that one potential side effect of his medication included a potentially fatal condition that would present itself as clusters of blisters. He then stated that he would shortly be sending him a bill.

A few days later, he made the same joke about being ill with late capitalism to his chiropractor. His chiropractor, billing at a more reasonable rate, touched his neck and asked to smell his breath. She replied that there was no such thing as capitalism and then prescribed a series of homeopathic laxatives. She said that his leaking face was evidence that his body was successfully cleansing itself of the virus, cleansing itself of numerous parasites, cleansing his messed-up system, and the thing to do was to help it along. She again tested the strength of his arm while whispering to herself and holding various bottles over his kidneys and spleen, or just above his blisters, and from the response of his arm again prescribed a series of supplements. She swabbed his cheek with a tissue and told him she would have her mentor do an energy reading of the tissue sample. She again did not perform any chiropractic adjustments.

While the chiropractor’s laxatives caused him to further cleanse, as she phrased it, not much else happened. His face continued to leak. He continued working on his project, spending a typical day lying naked on his left side on the floor, his knees bent up around his chest, his left hand out straight along the floor, his right hand in front of his chest, resting on the floor by his shoulder, his head lifted off the floor, pus dripping from his cheek and onto the floor.

Eventually the lurching and the dripping, the frozen shoulders and the claws, the cleansing and the clenching became too much and he decided to stop the project.  Or perhaps he simply went home one day and didn’t return the next. The ending of his project was uneventful. On the last day, he lay on his side on the floor naked, his knees slightly bent, his torso bent at the waist, his left arm out straight and held up as if it was resting on the body of someone who was on the floor next to him. Whitish-yellow liquid slowly dripped across his face and collected in a small puddle on the floor. When he was done lying on the floor, he got up and walked home. His face continued to seep. He continued to press a small piece of toilet paper against it.

He now spent most of his days at home, leaking and lurching, swabbing and shitting, doing what he meant by working on his writing. Around this time he tried to intensify his cleansing by clearing out the basement. And so one night, leaking and vomiting and shitting from the supplement-induced cleansing, he began to clean out the mess of the basement. He threw out parking tickets from cars he no longer owned, postcards for art shows he could barely remember, years of mortgage statements and cancelled checks, old unread magazines that had material in them that he thought he might use at some point for a journal that he no longer edited. He threw out photocopies of scholarly articles, many of them unread, that he had collected as research for unfinished projects or from graduate seminars he had attended, an old paper he had written about the political economy of development in Zimbabwe, another called “City of Plastic Jewels” that was about Providence, flyers for music shows that he had collected when he had lived in Harare, letters from friends he had made while he lived there, articles that he had used while attempting to write on literature’s role in national resistance movements, and 45s of his college band, the Omar Saeed Quintet, playing “Moogieboo Fandango.” He threw out a musty-smelling pair of fake-fur-lined leather handcuffs. He threw out 278 graded student essays that students had never retrieved. He threw out a moldy copy of Raymond Carver’s selected stories, a broke-down answering machine, and old jazz charts he’d composed when he first moved to San Francisco, before he was a writer. He threw out someone’s playscript from a writing workshop he’d started at a homeless shelter years ago. He threw out old photographs that he told himself showed clichéd moments, him holding hands with a woman that he had deeply loved on a trip to Italy; both of them, their arms around each other, holding the puppy they’d adopted together on their laps; the same woman swimming naked in a river, smiling at him and the camera with a beatific expression; the two of them at an anti-war march just before they broke up. He threw out what he thought of as the divorce agreement from this relationship. He threw out a love letter from someone whose signature and handwriting he could not recognize. All of this he placed in paper bags and then put out in front of his house to be recycled.

After that, he began to spend more and more time in the basement, among the remaining boxes and papers, moldy books and drywall, the saw-horse table, the old broke-down piano. A part of his face continued to fill with whitish-yellow liquid and this whitish-yellow liquid continued to leak down his face, and he continued to press a small piece of toilet paper onto his face, drawing and collecting the whitish-yellow liquid, and then he began what he called working on his writing, often sleeping at times in a net that hung from the exposed sewage pipes, pipes that transferred his waste through the basement and out into the system that collected his waste along with everyone else’s in his city and the neighboring city to the north, a net that was a sculpture that he’d purchased at a fundraiser at the art college where he’d taught, a net entitled “Support Network.” He would hoist himself up into this net and sag into the pose of a hibernating panda or he at other times would sleep curled up on a piece of dry wall placed on top of the wooden door that had been placed across two saw-horses, pressing his face against the drywall to swab and collect the whitish-yellow liquid, the drywall filling up with the liquid of dead and living cells, in turn producing parasites and mold spores and an odor of musty gin. He mentally registered the drywall in the basement sagging and seeping, the phrase “the basement” reminding him of the word “debasement,” and he felt stupid for thinking that such semblances might mean anything, might produce an impulse for action, for imagining that puns might provide a provisional solution to an impasse, or might allow one’s sense of one’s life to become saddled with stupid metaphors, since metaphors are for books, for autobiographies, and not for actual people.

Still, as the basement felt more and more comforting, he told himself over and over that it was the best place for him to do what he thought of as working on his writing. First he took his laptop down, so that he might check his email or read various blogs written by poets that celebrated their social lives, might then perhaps read a discussion of a book of poems in translation or a Russian journal that was asking “what is the use of art?” Then after that he might read about yet another bombing in Tikrit or about the latest university occupation, checking the map application that marked each occupation as it happened. All the while, checking his email again, still not responding to anyone, grading one or two student essays, tilting head at moments, slumping shoulders, rubbing face, swabbing cheek, folding the soiled toilet paper into a small notebook, perhaps thinking of these small pieces of toilet paper as the documentation of his project. Then he might read about the entangled interactions between birds and panda bears in certain ecologies. He might then read an excerpt from a newly translated novel from Argentina. He might look at photos of various poets that he knew and did not know. He might download an essay from a journal of political theory to be read later, though he probably would not read it later. He might write some notes or make some lists, might scan a student essay but not mark it, might pace and lurch, squeeze forehead, rub and squeeze, might bang claws on the piano. And then he would suddenly close his laptop, finish his drink, insert a homeopathic suppository into his anus, and stop doing what he called working on his writing and go to sleep in his net or on the drywall.

Eventually the swabbing and the shitting, the emails and the bombings in Tikrit, the mold spores and the smell of musty gin became too much and he decided to leave the basement.  Or perhaps he simply went upstairs one day and didn’t return the next. Instead he went over to a friend’s house to make soup.

They made a soup that they thought of as a spell, a spell that might cleanse the effects of the cleansing they’d already been doing, or a spell that might bring out the writing that got stuck inside their bodies, that had not leaked out their faces or their breasts and into their poems. The soup was to be composed half of vegetables grown below ground and half of vegetables grown above ground. Their soup included carrots, onions, beets, kale, celery, zucchini, salt, rosemary, and water. Together they chopped the vegetables and cooked the soup, rubbing the rosemary sprigs between their fingers and breathing in the smell. While the soup cooked, they talked about friendship, about their friendship, about their friendships with others, about the moments when friendship intersects with gender, layered with social and institutional frames of power, invocations of tradition, teleology, trends, cultural capital, gossip, bad advice, know-it-ism, scolding, gate-keeping, team-building, scene policing, after-parties, and yet at the same time has a groundwork of trust and reciprocity that is fortified enough to risk such challenges as the gentle prodding of critique that comes with friendship’s questioning, play, collaboration, and challenge.

They sat down at the table to eat their soup. The table had been used before, by many different poets and lovers in many poems and books. While they ate their soup at the table, they wondered about soup and about tables. Could a table be an object of labor that tells them something about relations between people and the world? Could soup be an aesthetic object that tells them something about relations between people and the world? Could it be a model of possible universes, a way in which they might learn how to inhabit the world in a better way? Or could it be just soup, nurturing and warm in the belly? Just soup and not a spell? Could a table just be a place to put your notebooks on and not a metaphor?

He put his hand into his bowl and, spilling some of his soup on the table, asked his friend, why do you think we’re so miserable?

When she replied she did not mention the obvious. How late capitalism leaked out of their faces. Or big business pharmaceutical industry leaked. Or alternative medicine leaked. Or no health insurance leaked. Or the unregulated glands and adrenals of mammals collected from the wastes of slaughterhouses leaked. Or the various, endless wars leaked. Or the gratuitous torture that was done in their name leaked. Or how what they meant by working on their writing leaked all of these things but not in a way that they could yet recognize as their writing.

Instead she paused, got up from the table and left her soup. She came back carrying a book and she read a poem about daffodils. It went like this:

I wander’d lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch’d in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

He listened, swabbing up the spilled soup off the table, tilted his head, slumped his shoulders, placed his right hand over his forehead and rubbed the area of his forehead and eyes with a strong squeezing motion.

As he walked home, the dogs and their tags jangling in tow, he felt his crab-claws relax and he began to write sentences in his head again. He pictured the sentences and felt them parsing out on his grinding teeth—chicka-chicka-chh—the taste of sweet metallic orange and musty gin and soup on his tongue, sentences acting like poses that held some larger context to live in, like sculptural support networks.

That night he sat down at his table and began typing up the sentences. He sat and typed until the sun came up. What he had meant to type was a description of the project that he had done in the small room. How each day he had held the pose of a person who was torturing someone or who was being tortured by someone. His source for each pose had been a series of photographs that he found on the internet. The photographs had been taken by those who controlled a US prison in Afghanistan called “The Hard Site.” As he reenacted the poses he had not distinguished between who tortured and who was tortured. He let both shape his body, reenacted both. What he had meant to type was about his decision to do this project, to put his body into the position of particular others, that indexical other without whom no one can be. About his attempt to think of his life as part of a series of complex, passionate, antagonistic, and necessary set of relations to others who act and are acted upon without his consent and against his wishes but in his name and with his passive support. His attempt to think about how the nation used his passivity. And also about his reservations around this project, about its relationship to a mortifying and paralyzing guilt, about its ineffectiveness. About the limits of art done in isolation. About the limits of art.

But what he typed instead was very different. Instead what came leaking out were sentences about a time before he was a writer, a time when he was involved in a complex relationship that was far enough in the past so as to seem more architectonic than emotional in its complexities. There were poses, and there was lurching, and there was leaking, but there was also sex, and love, and bodies pressed up against one another in small rooms, or bodies walking, walking and talking and touching and not touching.

He organized the sentences into eight sections, like eight leaking blisters, and he thought of the eight sections as having no beginning, middle, or end, or any particular order. Each of the eight sections had eight types of sentences, along with eight others folded in, mirroring a classical literary form that he felt might best contain his emotional states without having to actually experience or directly express them. Some of the sentences were somewhat nostalgic, about a time when he had the ability both to love and to be hurt by someone, although he did not put any signs of this love or this hurt directly in the sentences. Some of the sentences were also somewhat celebratory of a time that many experience in the early years of their sexual lives, a time when sex feels messy and edgy, when it feels political as much as ethical, though the sex in those sentences might seem like poses, or pratfalls. Other sentences were more flat, like the documentation of impulses or action from a remove. Others were like propositions, statements or impulses to action. The sentences weren’t emotional, but perhaps the paragraphs would be.

The story had a lover, whom he called Maddie, Maddie’s lover, whom he called Spencer, and himself. In the piece, he made Maddie and Spencer dancers and again and again he described various dances that they might choreograph or perform, various ways that they moved their bodies. The bodies made their poses, they touched and did not touch, they pushed and pushed back, and this dance, he kept wanting to tell himself, was rich and meaningful, was sex, was restraints, was documentation, was collaboration, was re-enactment, was writing. He called this piece “The Side Effect.”

But as he wrote, he became more and more aware of how every time he leaked a sentence out of his body that described Maddie’s or Spencer’s body, whether he described Spencer fucking Maddie from behind, or Maddie spanking Spencer, or Maddie spanking him, or himself riding Maddie while there was bucking and whinnying, he was really describing the torturing and the tortured body that now resided within him. He was trying to write a frivolous story of a fun time and it kept going wrong. It was as if he were no longer free to write anything in which he did not also write about the torture done without his consent and against his wishes but in his name and with his passive support. There was no way for him to achieve a full identification with the loved objects of Maddie and Spencer, no way he could achieve a full recognition of their personhood. He thus had to confront how his love objects were in a state of dissolution—in bits, in free-floating sentences—and the despair, remorse, and anxiety that came from this realization. He no longer knew how to put the bits together in the right way and at the right time; how to pick out the good bits and do away with the bad ones; how to bring the object to life when it had been put together. He was anxious about being interfered with in this task by bad objects and by his own self-hatred and shame. He kept telling himself that none of this was metaphors or that he wanted to stop thinking of any of this as metaphors. He did not want to turn it into a sewer system, or postmodern dance, or soup, though he could not stop writing metaphorically, could not stop writing metaphors in his head.

Still, he soldiered on. He lurched around the table, pausing to pound his claws on the piano. He went down into the basement and shuffled some of the sentences around. Then he pulled himself back upstairs to move some other sentences around some more. From his front pocket he pulled out pieces of soiled tissue, then sniffed them like the rosemary twigs between his fingers. The dogs circled and pressed up against his legs as he stood with his legs spread apart as if straddling them.

Finally he finished, or perhaps he simply stopped and did not start up again. He emailed the file to his friend, instructing her to print it out and shuffle the pages into a random order. Then he raised himself up from the table, evenly balanced on his legs, torso bent at the waist, so that his claws rested on his knees, his head bent at the neck and lifted, feeling a tingling in his face.

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