With Eyes Open
It will happen when we stand clear of the closing doors, bodies compressing in—realization behind our earbuds. This train is the A and we need the C. Time will descend upon us as the elongated lurch between 59th street and 125th street, express, and we will take a seat and clench our fists in our lap. Everyone around us will be dreaming.
We wake up this morning without roots in our muscles. Traffic sounds scuttle glibly through the windows, but so do the trees.
So that’s what woke us. Spring. Thin leaves drumming on the window screen like echoes of the storm gone by: the winter long and cruel, and so too our hibernation.
We wake with our back to the windows and open our phone absently from sleep mode. The screen can make even black illuminate, we think. We read to the hum of the small box.
The glass is warm with light and our finger holds steady the aluminum pane while worlds accumulate through our eyes. We drink at Utgard. Here the Alps, there the trails of last night lectures clustered like grapes on vines already falling. Words like sweetness, relentless. We pick them with the pale and slender fingers of our eyes. This bushel is our breakfast for which we play another hunger; another throat that mashes with filling, another mouth to catch the rind.
While the juices set still in that body, our organs slosh around in this. We barely feel them. Breakfast is a brief check-in point before the door and then the stairs. Our knees creak far from our head that floats above the scene, a seraph above our arms, our legs. Our earbuds bloom the tint of love into our skull.
New York today is saturated, atomic. The sunlight like nettles, bristling by us, not on us. The masses come out of hibernation before us, still dotted with black and sprits of red like tulips in a field. We need eye contact when the objects slide into focus, more pixels granulating. This is our line of the road, we say to the blank stare staring back at us. Both our body and the stare move to opposites sides. The sidewalk diverges into two roads where we define our difference. Again and again, the stares and roads multiply; they crack with lanes and traffic light coats. Green. Red. Orange. Spring is here.
We look into the window in our hand and dimly see the world which is hard and true to this. Hello are you going to lunch hello will be late hello hello here. In the sunlight, the machine becomes a mirror. Words belong out of us like taut wire. The streets and buildings simplify into bright blue lines and dots: walk 3 minutes wait 3 minutes ride 9 minutes walk. Our music floats lightly through our wants like lilies on a dark pond.
Uptown subway. The little flowers take the blue line under where darkness is a stench. We think of constellations and the progression of cataracts whose mutual accumulation is white noise. The world is an oyster; it rests on galaxies of stares that look away that look inside. Here, see the view of life: solar systems of windows where we orbit with our eyes. A planet where our mouths air out; a planet to grow us ears that make us tender. Our planets glow with attention today. Another sun appears briefly on the screen. We smile and part the clouds for the little heart, so sweet we could eat its arteries.
We’ve done it better than the rest without a doubt. Our solar system makes our other body flush with life. We have become prolific collectors. Words! Images! The scales of music! They teem with themselves in our net, the entirety of history and human need pinched in windowed silos. A forest goes wild between our ears for us and our ecstasy in conquest.
There, we are famous. We are seen. We are here in the grime and we are there on a green hill with our tea above the sea! The teeming wind and distant salt licks in our nostrils while the silver bullet subway glides in with its battered yellow eyes, and we go along with that wave of multitudes into a submarine.
We forget of thinking so it happens suddenly, when we stand clear of the closing doors, the bell chiming high then low at the gasp of tardy bodies compressing in—realization like an anvil, a steely overhang behind the closed doors of our earbuds. This train is the A line; we need the C. Time descends upon us as the elongated lurch between 59th street and 125th street, express, and we take a seat and clench our fists in our lap. Everyone around us moves in motionless.
Desperate to check the time. Desperate for a mint which is a plant which is a creed against effluvium. It is eleven-twenty-two no messages. Anxiety rises up in our chest and we kill it with our knowledge. Next stop we’ll step off, turn the blue lines around at a whim in our phone. Our shoulders tense and then release, so now we sleep. The empty box plays us tunes we smother on softly. We shut our eyes and begin to drift into its warm black mouth…
“Yes, Margaret, I meant to get the cookies for the kids but they’d run out.”
The music stopped like a cliff; your feet suspended. The grackles of the car suddenly there, beating incessantly into you into a bruise. Your insides bleeding poppies as if the sweetness overrun. With involuntary lurch, your eyes snap open to the buzzing luminescence; your fingers tap the screen. Dead—dead!
No, no, no! You wish yourself a cliff, a mint. You gnash your teeth against this nothingness, uncover your ears. The colors from a dead zone. The bodies from a dead zone. Time relentless moves your ribcage sideways to the chuff chuff of the train. Nothing is more wretched than now! One world emptied like a white-bowled pool and your head pounding at its summer sun reflection. You breathe in like a lost one chafing in the desert, grasping at anything to keep you from the death-rattle of dull reality.
Figures hover over and around, muffled mirages. You keep them at a distance and cling your eyes to the safety signs. If you see something say something MTA would like to remind its passengers and then you run into a purple haze. Some body shifts in the train; some velvet coat above you.
There is no love or hate. Only beauty and ugliness. Only the hum of the screen which is alive and coursing with feeling; thoughts; activity. Silence makes you bloodless. The whites of your eyes are greyed without that usual glow that even makes blacks illuminate. (A wide-mouthed cackle clangs crisply from the far end of the compartment.)
Hate. Love. You’ve got a thick skin for disturbance but you won’t tolerate this trampling of your hyacinths. Your gaze adjusts to that violet velvet coat again. It’s stands stiffly, profoundly, against your gaze. It holds an ill-matched green sweater; a dark pair of dry, crusted hands. Looking up you see what seems to you a large globule of skin, dusty too. Algorithmically, you begin to calculate the necessary adjustments needed to cut this shape into the human form. The priority, of course, being simplicity and perfect definition. Remove the clothing; wash the body. Unhem the skin and bleach it, thin it. Drain expression from the face by letting it sun dry for nine days online. O! And now her eyes look back, for you’ve been staring, and they begin to speak:
“You looking at somethin’?”
You shake your head slowly. You look away to escape the address. Around spring up faces, edged with mist. Sharp jaw lines manifest. Jaws as thin as silver-tongued fish; another with a wide red mouth and paunchy cheeks with weathered shine like rubber. Light, mossy hair here and beetle eyes there. Age persists like a sea awash on all these faces, little kingdoms run muddy after the tide. You are astounded by the gallery of human busts; your mind wanders to the halls of emperors and Rome, where you have never been. Are they painted? They seem so, in your preferred history. A man’s face twisted with his own anguish—it’s marked with deep-set contortion where Lethe may seem nectar. (Idle rustling of a turquoise windbreaker as if a tree.) Two old women sit side by side: one whose lower lip is drooped as a leaf does before the small drop falls, the other who laughs with the sky. There is theatre in capturing the interval, you think, unsure of its meaning but delighted in its rhythm. Your thumbs drum itchy on your phone’s blank screen. Your mind returns to an unwanted silence.
“Excuse me, got something to say?”
You hate to be drawn in. She looks at you proudly. You would have seen a little hurt, or weariness, of you were someone else. Her hands are folded in her lap, her shoulders slightly pinched into a proper position. Around her neck, a gold cross necklace, resting barrenly on the expansive country of her chest. Eleven-twenty-two is the same and last time you read—so, it is still then. You have lost the reel of time since then. Is she coming from some church service? You were not aware that people still made faith in those ways. No, your head shakes more vigorously; your ears tint pink, exposed to sound not music.
“Look, I went to service today. I haven’t been good about it this year, let’s be honest. And today I went and I feel full with grace. I have been living the world as if it is an ugly place when we are not our own makers.” Now please let me alone, her eyes say. Let me alone as I feast at my own table, floating from you. Who are you to desecrate me, she says, who are you to pull me in like a paragraph for your story?
“Thank you for sharing.” The words pour out clunky, as if malfunctioning. They seem the right ones, but you aren’t sure, religion being unwelcome in the words of your own testaments. In the junkyard of words, God always seemed some sort of leitmotif, burrowing a homogeneous loop trapping those who should otherwise be living in the heterogeneous dump of humanity. You recreate yourself as biblical from data points—sense and reason—and that’s just how it goes. It’s easier to read those words in the screen than it is the read this woman towering over you. You feel ugly, clumsy, for listening.
“God bless you.”
You wince. You feel acutely how all the dead of the world are coursing under watered bridges. And what are you, but down here with the rest of them, collecting mists? You, sitting alone like the sad wick, and we in the world just particles wild in the assenting flame, whirling with Sisyphus, drowned by this. Would you deny us, we scraps and orts? For though you may resist us, it makes perfect sense: the assonance with which we occupy your vowels. Ream by ream, letter by letter. Thus we read you. Thus she sees you. Thus you simplify and reduce into nothing but perfect sense to be drawn and quartered neatly on a white, informational malaise. So will you cut us? Perhaps it is that you have already dis-integrated into the postpartum form.
You hold her words unevenly in the space before you. They are hard, impervious, to your interpretation, but your ears have eaten them so you swallow them whole. Is it sweetness or disgust that chokes you? They unfurl in your body cavities, tense as rocks expanding. You didn’t make you in a way that could digest these dreams of giving, whether dead or merely disappearing. You didn’t build eyes that could move at all in souls outside your own.
So even now, you resist. A subway banner across you brandishes the face of a plastic surgeon. He steps out. The number for his practice has imprinted thin lines on his face, as if he’d just woken from slumber. He holds a blue marker, and descends towards her. No, you tell him, leave her well alone! He looks you down. You know she does not bode well. Those crow’s feet; that swollen neck! You know just as well what beauty is. (He fumbles, drops his marker lid.) Never forget: the world is your oyster to shellack as you will into it. You turn the phrase of the universal eye; reorganize the sentences of unkempt humanity. You are czar and purveyor of beauty in the world, and you leave no aesthesia unturned, no grackles in your hair.
But then she blessed you for no reason, and then you both choke and cry; your body convulses. Hard knots buckle around those words that you cannot unhear because they are not your own making nor words you can undo. Knotted, they fester in you, they come from no one, but many.
You keel over in time, space unfolding in that subway car. The lurch upended in you until at last, the stop. You must say yes to this world and exit the other. Today: the first crack of time in loop.
The doors open. You press your self to listen in, and heart of something new moves in you with the moving crowd.
Like glass, a body breaks.
This is part 2 of a 3-part series on information societies (pt. 1, pt. 3).