Emily Jane Shelton
As it turns out, the urban legend is not a myth. Play the “Falling Soldier” photograph by Robert Capa backwards and you will hear Schubert’s “Wanderer Fantasy” with the following embedded message, spoken in German, by a woman with a Romanian accent: “I should have been a bitch from the beginning.” No one knows whose voice it was.
The mystery fascinated me, so I went to the archives at the University of Ghent to peruse their extensive collection of carnal thoughts across time. Each period of conscious history is represented there. The only thing I noticed to be missing was the tragedy depicted in this image: the father gave his only daughter a Gatling gun at her wedding (her husband collected them) and, in demonstrating how they ought to admire it, the Gatling kicked back like Tilikum the whale against his trainer at Sea World, and simply went off in his hand. The father died later of his wounds, but really he should have learned something.
While I was on the subject of progress, I took out two iterations of a recurring dream I’d been having intermittently, several years apart, to see if they were in fact identical. The mood was exactly the same—sonorous and ineffable—and the major motifs were all there. As you can see, when comparing them, the most obvious coefficient is the apartment building (I dream only about apartments). The most significant difference—development?—between the two is, in the second, more recent dream, the proliferation of mental detail around the sensation of a roommate, not pictured, but clearly there.
I promised myself I’d keep this a secret, but I once had a very powerful sexual relationship with Chekhov at a ranch house in Corsica where we took the waters. No, I did not have a lapdog. There was no slice of watermelon, ever. But until I met Chekhov I had been in suspense—not about him; more like wanting to know what the weather of my upcoming life was going to be, and the reports were so inconsistent, hysterical one day then nothing, normal the next—and as soon as I saw him naked, the anticipation of my unhappy old age came to a crashing end. He died of champagne, a year later: a fitting tribute. This has nothing to do with it, but recently I noticed that I have barely been writing in my notebook and that was basically all I ever did before. Before what?
It is hard to forget the summer loon that moaned over our warm, coursing lake. When Hamlet’s father showed up at my yurt in Epping Forest recently, he said three things: “Trust in me,” I can’t remember the second thing, and “Denomination.” He did not specify the genre of the recipe, or its ideal outcome, and I’m only assuming the order of ingredients matters. Most formulas count on our knowledge of other formulations—personal, political—that haven’t worked, that aren’t working; otherwise, why try a new combination? Historically, when there was a reason to worry that my predilections would only lead me more deeply into my warehouse of wishes (ossuary), I took a drastic measure and attached my tongue to a frozen flagpole of reality that would distract the desires from my actual, tender objects. Otherwise, there was a real danger I would hallucinate my three meals a day and starve to death quite happily. (“I want you to live a full life.”)
It’s possible I may have made decisions in order to preempt the
possibility of choice.
My visit to the erotic archives at the University of Ghent had unearthed something more urgent than the perversions of ancestors’ buried higher selves. Some developing situation in the environmental atmosphere, the ethereal equivalent of an earthquake: vapor and gravity had collided on some plane some eon ago, and its roiling latency was almost over.
The process is well underway. When we’re dealing with what’s underground, the plates are moving, always, even when the movement is imperceptible up above, on earth. However, the pressure building underneath—the swelling magma—forces a stealth of motion between the plates that will eventually become as consequential as any action can be. Whatever force is boiling the magma is an intelligence, without an imp to confuse its one aim. A million little collisions between the plates—no grand massive smack of contact—creates a creeping weakness, which is called inevitability. History begins here.
While we’re talking about that other terrain, between the earth and outer space, the front where clouds cavort in mutual confusion (who is who?) and internecine war between the elements is calmly ongoing, the impassioned magma is applying the same pressure, on a thinner crust. The events above ground created these very many tiny weaknesses. The quake—followed by the corresponding intensity, the voluble concentration of a gathering response—happened a very long time before the eruption, is happening all the time, even now, a meteor crash in the slowest motion; quake and eruption are never simultaneous phenomena, they cannot be. The moment of impact takes a billion and a billion years. A real other, who survived the disaster, will tell you: there must always be a lag between.
I called Schrödinger, to warn him. I thought he might still be setting up the Geiger counter and the cyanide capsule in the glass container, but he’d gone so far as to seal his pet bunny, Guigemar, inside of it already. Already being a long time ago now—seven years? Anyway, he’d been waiting awhile for the Geiger counter to detect the degradation of the atom, once that degradation was complete, but what he couldn’t figure out in the meantime was if the counter understood degradation, could determine when deterioration was at an end. Only once the atom had collapsed altogether would the particle of cyanide release its toxin and put a stop to Guigemar’s temporarily awesome superposition. I had a suspicion that Schrödinger had no real interest in the conclusion of the superposition; as long as the superposition held, theoretically, Guigemar did not need to be entertained, or fed. His well-being was, of course, more than topical, but in the abstract a bad conscience is not so unlike the craven concern of a bird of prey. One swooped down on my patio table the other day and fucked up my cupcake. Afraid.
Try and care about the perennial damage. Minor swelling and inflammation do not last.
Schrödinger resented my attempt to counter his ur-reality with another (ur-reality) and retorted that my credibility was pathetically assailable. He accused me of marrying the man who sold me life insurance and divorcing him when I realized I was going to die anyway. “You married the man who sold you life insurance,” he said, “and divorced him when you realized you were going to die anyway.” That this was true enough did not stop me from reminding him of his own wife of late (she may be alive—he hasn’t checked) who tumbled into the deadfall he dug in their bedroom floor and who stopped issuing lamentations after he dug another deadfall next to it, for another woman. Evolutionary schedules rarely coordinate, and the ethical dilemma is that a person is distressingly separate, with so many interrupting details. Grace is occasional, it is so sad. Chekhov and I had a block on each other’s names for days, at the very beginning. We knew them, but. Our very first time, in the dreamhouse, he penetrated me without a word. The second he was all the way inside of me, sleepwise, he said my name. Change.
After Schrödinger hung up on me, I took out a coincidence that I’d preserved between two pieces of tabloid newspaper and placed it gently on my running board. I had not looked at this coincidence since it occurred to me and made its impact and demanded retention, lest I remit it to the bonehouse with the rest of the transcendences that failed (the unhelpful skepticism). I examined the coincidence, and the lesson encrypted within it opened to me suddenly, and the necessary regret contained within it made its first and final appearance, before the coincidence evaporated as such. Such as the analysand who dreamt frequently about a golden scarab: one day, during a session, a scarab flew through the analyst’s window and landed on his desk. The analyst picked it up and handed it to the analysand. “There is your scarab,” he said. At that moment, the analysand’s clock tower tumbled down. But as I inspected the coincidence closely now, I could see that the scarab that flew through Carl Jung’s window was not a scarab at all. It was a scarabaied beetle. The object of analysis is to make these differences obligatory. But—do you agree?
You want a reason? You want to know the why? A continental plate gets stuck on an oceanic plate and then abruptly, violently gets unstuck: that is the earthquake’s motive. That is the madman effect of the divinely guided state—that is, nature. Pay attention.
Find out if there has been a development, and the inspection phase can come to an end.
You are correct that this is a matter of life and death. This is an existential issue. You found the hole in my wall. So: do you listen for a signal? Will the communication be that equivocal, when it comes? Here it is. Distinguish between a wish and an expectation. The difference between a wish and an expectation is: the element of surprise (the agency/idiocy of the other person). Your dreams and your fantasies never serve the same ends. Trade benefits in exchange for costs. Joe Biden knows what Beau wants. Ask yourself and answer honestly: am I even anywhere in the neighborhood of meeting this animal’s actual natural needs? The Scythian combat strategy will not work to improve the health of wine drinkers; what the palate needs to develop a painful sophistication isn’t feinting or any form of asymmetrical warfare—scorch earth and your taste buds will be useless as a field salted by victorious Romans. Scythian combat drinkers were the unsung heroes of Austerlitz, the battle we fought on bloodless Dunkirk shore. Remember me.
I will. Victim of the procrustean scourge that is everyone individually: I refuse to be this. Which means I’ll be a hypocrite instead, but at least I may end up great at the failure. Somewhere on this planet a former military contractor drives a gypsy cab and has never been happier, or less revanchist. Freeman Dyson supported the Iran deal. Henry Kissinger cannot get through to Europe. The nonproliferation agreement you drew up and I declined to sign at the time: I still had my heart set on Section 8 housing. That was before the bubble. Now, the stagnant pool of my birthwater needs some friendly flora, and when I’m honest with myself, I recognize our shadow writing had a probiotic quality, and the only headier substance on the dark web is accountability. I thought about trading some metadata with the Japanese, but you still have my passport. Don’t forget.
I returned to the “Falling Soldier” photograph after the spasms subsided, hoping to notice something new, despairing of proof that I had been changed. What was there to be noticed was there/had been noticed before: grass, soldier, rifle, contrast, some sky. The Romanian woman deploring her regrettable good behavior: that lament about her disingenuous gentility was nowhere audible now. Institutional transformation on an individual scale: I thought it would register as curiosity regarding her fate. That I began with this fascination: it could seem then as though there had then been no change at all. What the pacifists want us to believe is: there was never any point to our war. The truism almost distracted me—but somehow I continued to notice /did not forget: that I no longer heard the voice—and yet it remained interesting. The motor impulse to inquire into the current condition of that remorseful bitch: now that I was firmly in the future, the full extension the gesture always required of me—maybe it could be completed now.
Leavenworth is even harder to reach than Greenland in a rental car—a full fathom below the University of Ghent, it’s no place to pass the summer—but I hired a Russian lawyer and made the more of an effort that now needed to be made. Selective mutism? Apparently not: according to my Ecuadorian detective, the Balkan voice had deployed Tor encryption, so Visa and Mastercard could make no claim on its giant debt (offshore wealth). In the proverbial back room with all the Marlboro smoke, my Russian lawyer, Ecuadorian detective, Israeli ninja, and Icelandic hypnotist negotiated with the rueful German speaker for an incalculable duration. Before they went in, I had pleaded with them not to leave me to my imagination for too long; that would be the quickest way to failure now—reversion to previous statehood. The entire object was to unprecedent the prior monarchy. Eventually my battalion came out of the star chamber, with answers.
The Balkan voice also sent a warning: survive all you like, but what if no one is noticing.
When the bard had the courage to be nothing, he’d drained the lake hugging his theater in the round, turned off his satellite phone, and left the beacon lit. I thought of Chekhov.
The intifada will last as long as Selassie, until Selassie dies, of pain evasion.
From studying this photograph, I learned that I think there should be
a different god.