Icon, Can You?

The first time I saw God, I was digesting a bellyful of poison and processing a headful of one of the stronger psychoactive biological byproducts known to the sapiens crew. Staring at the placid surface of a pond, I grokked and grokked, alternately smiling and sobbing; feeling at once completely refreshed and utterly destroyed.

When the face-to-face confrontation became too much, I trailed my fingers through the water to disrupt the image. Narcissus‘ failure was not in his gaze, but rather in his inability to shake things up every now and then. We become enchanted by and enamored of our own iconized fictions, forgetting that they’re no more than deep ruts of habit—and no more valuable than a scent whose strength fades almost as soon as it becomes apparent.

As the ripples settled  and my reflection rematerialized, I recognized that I finally understood everything. The pattern was clear. Through the course of history, the spiritual looking-glass had been clouded over by a multitude of cheap products and obscured by the patina of centuries of filthy rags.

As I see it, the truth that the snake-oil prophets would obscure forever is simpler than anyone would believe. As I see it, the truth of the universe (which is infinitely complicated or shockingly simple, depending on the layer) rests briefly in each one of us. But through a mad web of manipulation and an artificially structured society, we’ve been led to believe that there are paragons to admire and pinnacles to aspire to.

This is wrong. This is the product of living in a “community” of 300 millions, a number that the human brain can’t even really conceptualize outside of an abstract comparison to grains of sand or stars in the sky. Bound together by a vague sense of patriotism, we sift through the proverbial hourglass while bullies with billy clubs keep us from disturbing the peace as we worship the plebeian promise of the American Dream.

But the truth of the matter is, the patsies always outnumber the iconoclasts, which traditionally means the latter are killed as soon as feasible. Nowadays, however, such individuals are simply paved over by the bland idolatry of 1/300,000,000. Even God has been rubbed out by those who refer to it the most.

Before Aftershave

Standing here, watching the shh shh of this thin little blade against my skin, peering close and squinting, I feel a tremendous amount of power, and a looming loss of control.

As it glides over the contours, barely hesitating at each hair to whisper shh shh, bubbles of soap curl back to reveal shiny skin pink with freshness.

shh

shh

With an angle just right comes an easy stroke and the tingling freedom from stubble. But change the angle only slightly…

shh

The badger-hair brush slops on a foam of soap, warm and scented like an old chest found in the attic. A thin blade, scooped and shiny, winking under the light.

shh

Around the jaw, which shelters a hot grid of blood vessels, an impossibly complex circuit between jugular and carotid. A scarce few layers between life and a blade so sharp it’s touched up on leather.

shh

A gruesome, frightening tradition; a dangerous desire to be above nature. How odd that it comes with scents of oak, a feeling like pine needles, and a flaring of nostrils smelling rain and fire.

shh

Miss a spot; pull the skin a different way, shh shh smooth like wood stripped of bark, feeling the cold and rebelling with a rustle. Twist and turn under the light. Shorten a bit here

shh

straighten a line there

shh

movements all defying the rhythm of blood underneath. The eyes ask a question. So easy. It would look like an accident. shh The power over life and death balanced between my thumb and forefinger, and resting lightly on my pinky. This choice—a hovering between outcomes, a weighing of explanations and reason. This choice is what it means to be human.

Just like that…

It would be so easy.

© 2010

Fourth of July

A fat yellow sun loitered at the edge of a wood-slat fence around the pool, understandably dawdling at the approach of evening. The heat had mellowed out, leaving us decorated with streaks of sea salt, patches of scarlet skin, and deep eye-wrinkles from laughing at the burning orb as we rinsed the ocean off in the pool. The idyllic summer vacation.

Just minutes ago, we were gathered around the deep end of the pool, watching Nate streak back and forth, working to break his own record of three lengths with no breath. This is what we do. Compete to survive. If you can’t do it, we’ll still hang out with you—but you won’t be quite as cool.

There was the “three club,” consisting of Nate and Erik. There was the “two club,” which didn’t exist, because just two was for chumps. The rest of us were in that club.

This is it, boys, Nate huffed, filling his lungs, I’m getting four.
He reared back and launched himself in, wake churning a v-for-victory, as we chatted and gossiped, and watched him flip-turn perfectly against the back wall. Then again on this side. Streaking across with slow, deliberate strokes. Another perfect kickoff over there.

Here he comes. Our excitement buzzing with the cicadas. Almost there. He’s got it.

The halfway mark.

Another lanky kick—two thirds.

The crown of his head at the surface like an otter. Wanting air so badly; discipline and machismo growling go! go!
Almost there. Arms reaching forward, fingertips stretching out, muscles straining.

And then a foot from the wall, he stops.

“What’s he doing?”

Arms drifting.

“Dude, he definitely made it. I think we can give him that.”

“Why doesn’t he just touch the wall? He can easily reach it.”

“I think he’s fucking with us now. He’s gloating.”

“Is he…?”

“Wait, Nate…?”

He floats up and then rolls slightly over, sinking to the floor of the pool. A string of bubbles connects his mouth to the surface.

“Oh my god, you guys! He’s out!”

“Get him up! Get him up!”

Thrashing, diving, scooping, dragging—a dead weight rises from the bottom, a dozen desperate hands scrabbling to help.

“No, like this!”

Arms crossed on the pool deck, forehead on forearms. Just like you’re taught. Plant a hand on his wrists and hoist yourself out. Just like you’re taught. Reach under his armpits; squat, twist, and stand up; get the victim clear of the water. Just like you’re taught.

“Nate…! Nate…! Wake up, dude!”

“Please!”

Nothing else for it. Tilt his chin back. Look, Listen, and Feel for breathing. Just like you’re taught. Just like you’re taught. Just like you’re goddamn taught! Find the xyphoid process. Position the hands. Just like you’re taught. Only—do you go for the diaphragm and push the water out? Or compress the sternum and get his heart beating again? Which––? Wait, which––? Is this really happening?

Jesus Christ, what were you taught?

Just do something! Solar plexus. Push. Push. Pinch his nose, make a good lip seal. Breath. Breath. Listen for air. Breath. Bre—

He sputters, water burbling from his lips.

Turn him over! Turn him over!

Nate on his side, sputtering. Is this really happening?

“Cough! Keep coughing!” Screaming just like you’re taught.

He retches.

“Fucking vomit, dude! Get that shit out!” Just like you’re taught.

“Turn him over again, do it again,” someone shrieks.

No, he’s breathing. Let him catch his breath.

“Puke it up, Nate! Wake up!”

He’s awake. Oh my god, he’s awake.

Eyes flutter. He rolls over, supporting himself on a hand. Sits up, elbows on knees, head in hands, drool and tears dripping onto the concrete.

Sputtering. Breathing. Blinking.

Alive for the sunset.

 

© 2010