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jillison flook

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“The Earth, in relation to the distance of the fixed stars, has no appreciable size and must be treated as a mathematical point.”
― Ptolemy, The Almagest, 2nd century AD.

“I hope you love birds too, it is economical. It saves going to heaven.”
― Emily Dickinson, Letter to Eugenia Hall, 1885.

My father and I watch a flock of finches flying around the fallout shelter. Their orbits are slow and worn in, they make it seem like the hours outside are smaller than ours.

My father tells me if we wait long enough one of them will be Mercury, one will Venus, one will be Earth, one will be Mars.

Even then, I could tell his astronomy was clumsy and domestic, a way of keeping track of dinner manners and developed etiquette. A way to make sure an elastic band is all he’d ever be.

Waist high though, I believed him when he said, “there are breadwinners and there are bird feeders. Jillison, you are a bird feeder.

And if the Earth is flatter than we ever gave it credit for, and if the Earth is already a dead bird drowned in mid-air.

When we first met I was living in a blue house (as it grew out a red house).

When I was tired I slept in spare shelves or scatter points. When I was awake I tried to keep track of the birds.

It was all a cradle to collapse, and then the candle came down.

The curtains were as thin as shedded snake skin. I tore them off to get a better look at him. He was walking with his mother. Her legs were made of grey and brick, her head was twice as tall as his.

It looked like there was a tunnel dug underground between the two of them, every time she moved a foot one way, he would follow a foot behind.

They had been walking that way for a while and then she stopped. She shouted something at him that I couldn’t hear. He shouted something back at her.

It felt like there was a family of field mice sneaking through me. I was already nervous.

She reached into the sack she carried and pulled out a piece of wood with a nail at its head. I hadn’t met her yet so I couldn’t have known what was coming.

She swung the wood with both her arms and he crumpled. Like a mannequin who’d been up all night.

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rainy day in an amphibious house / letters

Nevada / 16 May to 14 June

Dear Jillison,

There are two kinds of half-life (blood loss, sentimentality) and they can both kill you quietly. 

Me?  Myself? I still suffer from a lack of generative imagery, imaginative capabilities.

An eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out of-the-way New England village cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar.

Oblivion lurks in the immediate neighborhood.
Said Thomas Bailey Aldrich of Emily Dickinson, 1885. 

I’ve tried to prepare an explanation for you the best I can:

Nosebleed, ear ache, stomach cramps.  Highly derivative ways of forcing back weight.  Slow. Sluggish. Already lost more than arms and legs.   

I’m pretty much just sure we both can’t keep using exhaustion as an excuse.

Julin / 15 June to 15 July

Dear Jillison,

Consider.

Most hummingbirds are continuously hours away from starving to death and consume the human equivalent of 140,000 calories per day to compensate.

They enter an mini-hibernation mode (torpor) each night just to survive the suspension of calories.

Jillison, This is how I imagine it must be to live the way you do.

Incurable, without sleep, not dead enough.  Still scrambling to write your same zero-sum diaries.  Childless too, obviously.

This how I imagine it to be at least.

Castle /  16 November to 15 December

Dear Jillison,

OK, so what did I actually actually see? These days?  It wasn’t much.

Gray splotches, dust storms, pale clouds.  A disconnect between patchwork and puncture sites.

You told me once, every wound has to have an origin story.  Do you remember that? You said, “a cautionary tale is just culture (however you choose to to define it) designed to improve our survival rate.

Scavenger’s daughter was right.  I wasn’t going to last.  

Castle / 16 November to 15 December

Dear Jillison,

Before proper mirrors, the ocean or lake was the looking glass, the reflective world.

Lacking semantic or declarative memory.  Many of us, we still mistake this metaphor, we have a hard time remembering what lap we are on, we mistake denotation for connotation.  

Even when the differences are glaring at us right in the face.

The act of predation can be broken down into a maximum of four stages: Detection of prey, attack, capture and finally consumption.

What I mean is? We have been adapting to the afterlife as if it were a normal error.  Everything has slowed down. Completely.

Jillison, have you considered?  There are many that hereafters that may not belong to humans at all. 

This should come as no surprise to you by now.

Plowshare / 16 January to 12 or 13 February

Dear Jillison,

I said I was going to stop writing you these letters.  I should have.

We often fail to appreciate this critical aspect of the natural world: it’s brutal.  Even apex predators are very often constantly on the edge of starvation.

Emily Dickinson’s complete refusal to sit for a photographer.  In the end, unwilling to leave her bedroom, hiding from all visitors, even in her own home.

What is here since you left?  

Some days are like hummingbirds in plastic bags and some have some have been so long and flat they may as well have been laid out on a stretcher.  

Every one I thought of you at some point or another.  

Why are there so many myths and folklore where humans are punished for wanting better than their present lot in life?

It’s because you can’t have it.  Ultimately.

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scavenger’s daughter

It was a scar chart stacked into a skyline, it was shipwrecks of soot and shipwrecks of skin and shipwrecks of everything after.  I called it a home, I called it the shadow of a scavenger’s daughter.

The entirety was risen to scale.  A city of replaced components, perfect complements, a test of compressions to become. 

If we knew each other at all, you knew it as a torture device too.

We crashed there in halves. Shallow-breathed and splinter-limbed and salvage remaining. 

Underwater was what was left, most of us had sunk by then.

We tried to make an echo of who to remember or how. 

Every face was a capsized float, swollen closed from the vocal cords on down.  They followed as clouds of flesh, hungry ghosts, decomposing fish.

Today, the human food supply contains a plethora of fresh, farmed, cured and processed meats. But we’ve not always been the competent herdsman or capable hunter.

At dawn of the Pleistocene epoch, approximately 2.5 millions years ago, humans  practiced confrontational scavenging, a from of kleptoparasitism in which one creature drives off or distracts another predator from its kill.

As humans developed a taste for the meat of fallen vertebrates, we also discovered the taste of our own flesh.  

It is likely our ancestors turned to cannibalism due to lack of resources and competition at critical points in their ascension.

”My purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed into shapes of a different kind.”  

– Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1st century AD.

Here is most of what I felt: 

I was terrified.  Completely.

Make a fraud of yourself long enough and the fault lines do what they want to you.   

Often leaving you without an afterlife to fulfill.

The economy of cannibalism speaks for itself, which is why the practice is prevalent throughout the animal kingdom, including among human and non-human primates.

A widespread presence of genes protecting against prion disease suggest that human endocannibalism was common for thousands of years.  

This practice may often take on supernatural and ritual dimensions.

They hid in small circles, with teeth behind teeth.  True predators who knew the trauma well.

Born again by drowning wrong, they were becoming natives there.  

Soon, you said, they would be hunting us on their own.

“A scavenger’s daughter does not age.  A scavenger’s daughter survives by starving a corpse in its place.”

One crushed orbital bone.  Or a couple overriding things to know.

You told me there was drowning and there was dissolving, stretching and compressing, the only difference was the distance to tell.

You told me even blind spots could be living things, and still, I wanted to believe you.

The towers of Scavenger’s Daughter were built of interlocking shipwrecks, which made the underwater city “earthquake-proof.

Using reinforced skeletons, the hulls of hundred of vessels could be notched and stacked on top of each other to create structures of enormous height and complexity.  

Together these structures form the city of Scavenger’s Daughter.  A skyline of shipwrecks rising from the ocean floor.

There are times we all fail.  We salvage ourselves just long enough to explore the wreckage of a warmer person.  We dig out the hidden teeth in each other.

By the anniversary of our attack, I was back to six bones missing again.  Two orbital, two nasal, and two made of hunger and need.

You told me there were ways to trust it would end, a scavenger may pray to surviving gods too.

Jillison, we should leave here.  Now.

Jillison. We should leave here. 

Now.  Now. Now.  Now.

Now.

The Scavenger’s Daughter worked by strapping the head of the victim to an A-frame shaped metal rack at the top point of A. The hands were then tied at the midpoint and the legs at the lower spread end of A

The body was then compressed from both sides, pushing the knees up in a sitting position and the head in the opposite direction. This resulted in blood running from the nose and ears of the victim other than damage to muscles.

The Scavenger’s Daughter was among those torture devices that were rarely used and yet relatively easy to make. 

Shipwrecker’s Paradox.

Whether a shipwreck which is restored by replacing each and every one of its wooden parts is still the same shipwreck?

And yes, I said yes.  Pick your shipwreck, any shipwreck.  Pick your carcass, any carcass. Pick your angles, pick your shape.  Pick your predators, pick your prey.

I survived as a scavenger’s daughter, I could only keep circling yes.

once upon a meteor riot / letters

Prime / 16 March to 14 April

Dear Jillison,

Have I given you my reasons yet? I wanted to tell you, no one else has to know.

A meteor riot may last as long as there are still mistakes for us to learn.

When we I started sending you these letters, I should have warned you:  Sutures. Yes. Always hungry.  Yes. Never, ever, ever, ever, going home.

You can collapse a sky by coming too close to it.  Even if the past has yet to make its impact, even if you wait there, waiting for it to crash.

I should have told you, “OK, you know all of this about me already.”

Mostly melodramatic, maudlin, under-imaginative.  

-Pock marks on top of pock marks.   

-Track marks on top of track marks. 

-Craters of cartilage, itching or missing or mostly gone.

Nevada / 16 May to 14 June

Dear Jillison,

The assumption is you’re drunk… When you drop things like that, when you walk like that, when you act like that.

Oh.”

It is an act though, right?

I know you don’t remember.  I’ll tell you again. This is exactly what you told me:

Stubborn. Engages almost exclusively in all or nothing thinking, delusional, frequently “injured.”  Anti-patterns in each pulse. Irises sinking like sacks in a lake. Black eye permanent. 

Voice like this.

You said, “That’s how you know it’s me.”

Is there a lesson here? A moral? A point? 

Fragile as ash fall and anyone could be just like you. Anyone could be just like me.  

Hurricane / 16 September to 15 October

Dear Jillison,

What is the opposite of wisdom?  Folly? Ignorance? Fatalism? A type of tooth?  Should I know by now?  

When it comes to the mortality, it seems we are not often encouraged to look at the details.

What a difference a couple months make.  I had a very different story I was trying to write before.  The thing I’m afraid of, is change. The thing I want, is stagnation.

When it comes to the mortality we are not often encouraged to look at the details.  

“Blushing.  The most peculiar and most human of all the emotions.

― Charles Darwin, Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals, 1871.

Transcendental anatomists in the 19th century theorized that the bones of the skull were “cranial vertebra“, or modified bones from the vertebrae. 

The theory has since been discredited.

Grable/ 16 October to 15 November

Dear Jillison,

Firecracker’s dilemma.

Honestly, Jillison.  A lot of the time when you dare someone to leave… they will.  That has to be scary to know. What if you turn into the things you hated all along?

Most of the time, when you dare someone to leave…they will.   That has to be comforting to know? An explicit reinforcement of causality.  At least on a larger level the classical laws of physics still hold? General relativity has not caught up yet?

 I tried covering my throat in cut black cloth.  I tried to forget how easy it is for an afterlife finds its mark.

“I brought up lonesomeness again, and not being understood at all except by some women everybody hated.’’ 

― Grace Paley, The Loudest Voice, 1959.

Castle / 16 November to 15 December

Dear Jillison,

Do I ever look like a girl to you? Do you ever think of me as one? Kind of? Not at all? I never ever know.

She has this complete and rigid dedication to this spiteful creation, this spiteful self-conception.

Very stubborn, obscure, confrontational in her own overindulgent way.  And aesthetically, still quite pedestrian.

Don’t forget Jillison, I get letters from you too.  I’ve taken what you said as truth.

There is a time we all fail.  We pause our own disintegration just long enough to explore the wreckage of a warmer person.  We dig out the hidden teeth in each other.

Jillison, if you still think you don’t know me like that?  Trust me, you know me like that.

Plowshare / 16 January to 12 or 13 February

Dear Jillison,

Here is what you taught me to remember.

Atoms against atoms, all light is the afterlife of mass.  No impact left to tell, we are hardly here at all.

Suns out of socket, sky out of socket

Skin separated by serrated angles

Spine like a torn white string.

It was a makeup year.  A mechanical year.

The oldest recorded love poetry is 4,000 years old and describes it exactly the same as we do now.

Melodramatic, maudlin, under imaginative. 

We were twin signs, kept making the same mistakes.  But if we’re this close, call it a miracle, call it a mirror kill.

Call it every meteor riot couldn’t we couldn’t run away from in the end.

murder the wren days / letters

Castle / 16 November to 15 December

Dear Jillison,

When I was little, still in the nowhere farmhouse, I used to press my palms of my hands against my closed eyes as hard as I could. 

I pressed and pressed until the discolored splotches and fractals showed up on the inside of my eyelids. 

I asked my parents if that’s what dreaming was.  Now I know the phenomena is called “prisoner’s cinema.”

Somehow I’m not surprised. 

The myth most commonly told to explain the festival is as follows; God wished to know who was the king of all birds so he set a challenge. The bird who flew highest and furthest would win. 

The birds all began together but they dropped out one by one until none were left but the great eagle. The eagle eventually grew tired and began to drop lower in the sky. 

At this point, the treacherous wren emerged from beneath the eagle’s wing to soar higher and further than all the others.

Prime / 16 March to 14 April

Dear Jillison,

You told me a few times, storms provide anonymity.  Provide distraction. 

I never liked it when you would talk like that.

It was the day to commemorate the first killing of the winter king by the orphan children.  Capture’s Day. Hollow Born Day.  First Martyr’s Day.

We wore scars around our necks and short robes and women’s clothes, just trying to keep the wind from breaking us.


Mutatis mutandis is a Medieval Latin phrase meaning “the necessary changes having been made” or “once the necessary changes have been made.

It is used in many countries to acknowledge that a comparison being made requires certain obvious alterations, which are left unstated.

The tradition may also have been influenced by Scandinavian settlers during the Viking invasions of the 8th to 10th century.

Various associated legends exist, such as a wren being responsible for betraying soldiers who fought the Viking invaders by beating its wings on their shields, in the late 1st and early 2nd millennia, and for betraying the Christian martyr Saint Stephen, after whom the day is named.

This mythological association with treachery is a possible reason the bird was hunted by wrenboys on St. Stephen’s Day, or why a pagan sacrificial tradition was continued into Christian times.