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jillison flook

350px-PSM_V34_D714_Skeletons_of_a_bird_and_man

“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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seasons of creature

“But there are some who declare that such creatures of two sexes are monstrosities, and coming rarely into the world as they do they have the quality of presaging the future, sometimes for evil and sometimes for good.”

― Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library, 1st century BC.

“Suppose someone were to say: ‘Imagine this butterfly exactly as it is, but ugly instead of beautiful’?!”

― Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel, 1889-1951

We were swallowed whole and there we were, warm and inside, with the breath of that creature reaching over everything.

Our city was captured, a crash site covered in skin. 

There was no exit or escape, every echo was an earthquake about to erupt, each exhale was a heat wave waiting for us. 

The outcome was over already, we were the creature’s city now.

We woke up to stomachfuls of wrecking balls, wet food, worn debris.  One storm after another, scattering against our shingles and gathering gray hair on the ground. 

The city called it the creature’s rain, they collected it in their cellars and their stairwells, they carved their names into the cement it made.

You watched me there, collecting what remains I could, keeping myself unkilled in the creature’s cartilage.  

Your eyes were on strings, swinging from a ceiling I couldn’t see.  Your eyes were wide as white flags, watching me.

This city here, the one we’ve been left in, it’s a residual collapse, a heavy gasp.  In the distance, the shape of it seems dimly scribbled against the inside of the creature, like the sketch of a spent explosive, it sprawls and then it shivers and then it sprawls some more.

The most of us that survived stuck to the center of the city, in small rooms in short skyscrapers, we searched for shelf lives that stayed just out reach. 

Beneath the buildings, the creature’s ground was cold, coffee-colored, full of fault lines that caught fire whenever the fevers came.     

You kept matchbooks in your pockets and I copied you.  I rubbed gunpowder on my palms to get them pale like yours.  I untrapped my hands as close to you as I could.

You told me maybe there were enough fault lines here to find us again.  You said sooner or later the motion sickness might miss us both.

We spent the first season scavenging the creature for a skeleton key.

I searched in shrapnel piles and stolen terrain, I said over and over there had to be a way out of there. 

Day after day, the creature’s rain wouldn’t stop painting us the way we truly were.  

Each time I looked at you and your hair was heavier and darker.  The build-ups in your breath came and went like birds stealing bread.  

Your skin stayed sheet-white and still hid the stage whispers from me.

I was your hang-wire, your hiding place.  I was your charade of ways to count backwards from the couple we didn’t become.

Our city stayed a knot in the creature’s stomach, a choke hold you couldn’t stop choosing over me.  If there ever was a key, it couldn’t keep me from remembering it all too well.

This was what I knew about you: you grew up without a favorite cease fire.

Your mother was a pushcart, a towel rack, your father was the same.  By the time you were five, every eavesdrop knew your name. By the time your flashback fell into mine, your face was still a fitting room you were trying to find.

We were living in a summer creature, one that had emptied out its echoes long before the leftovers fell in.  The erosion was exposed, cloth wasn’t always an obstacle.

I found you in the back fields, burning bones in an old paper bag.  They looked like black candles buried in there.  

I remember your face was ragged, bruised under the eyes and bluish on the blind sides.  I remember what you told me first, “the big wars are over, and the small ones never end.”

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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.

false martyr cartography.

“The malignant self-obsession and childish vitriol only scratches the surface of the man’s flaws. His compulsions aren’t hidden or covered up. They are broadcast for the entire country to see, for hours on end, every day, late into the night.”


Never underestimate temporary paralysis. It only takes one lifetime to forget all of human history.

The oldest burial sites and artifacts suggest such a belief in an afterlife goes back more than 50,000 years.

Can the dead talk at all?  Leave the afterlife alone. You open a door only to find a fire inside.

Petulant borderline (including negativistic features): Negativistic, impatient, restless, as well as stubborn, defiant, sullen, pessimistic, and resentful; easily feels “slighted” and quickly disillusioned.

Hollow, small, sunken, confused, jealousy. It just dominates so much of my thoughts. Intensities of abandonment or reckless abstraction. It doesn’t ever go away.

Everything was poorly communicated and treated as disposable. Identities. Aspirations. Jobs. Relationships. People, in general. We didn’t hang on to anything for very long.

Entropy was common and collective. Maybe we had more to learn from it than we think.

Days were sharp and light, and the afterlife did both things. I had shingles in my breath and a throat stacked with wood to burn. We often lit a fire just to remember what the world felt like before.

She carried bags of ash and gray air. We had good seasons and bad seasons. More choices did not necessarily make either of us happier. The afterlife highlights the lack in each.

Causality is murky and hubristic. Causality is irrelevant. Falling masonry offers little refuge.

Impulsive borderline (including histrionic or antisocial features): Captivating, capricious, superficial, flighty, distractable, frenetic, and seductive; fearing loss, the individual becomes agitated; gloomy and irritable; and potentially suicidal.

Hospitals were on their “worst case scenarios.” Every bird was made of metal and plastic. The weathervanes couldn’t tell the difference between wires and waves. There were too many angles to count. I think I was just tired.

We counted backwards from the crash site. There were few basic signifiers to indicate anything inhabitable. I used to hide survival tags in my room at night.

Chin, jawbone, brow, mouth, hairline. There wasn’t much I would choose to keep.

I wanted to cry, to feel my face wet and shallow and weak.

What kind of nightmares are the easiest to nail down? The ones that already know your name.

I was short, stumpy-bodied, big nosed. My skin looked someone was trying to kill the color pink. I had wrinkles, my teeth were cigarette yellow and crooked and disorganized.

She preferred an affectionate cloth to a wire frame.

Self-destructive borderline (including depressive or masochistic features): Inward-turning, intropunitive (self-punishing), angry; conforming, deferential, and ingratiating behaviors have deteriorated; increasingly high-strung and moody; possible suicide.

The barometer kept saying: chance of apocalypse. If only.

Big veins. Low self esteem. Not a risk taker. The center could not hold.

Peak-end rule. You pick apart the cemetery dimensions, go over the outline in your head. You make no payments to the future and repeat the same mistakes. You wear makeup and paint as if it will feel any safer. Just goes to show, the past you bleed is just the past you know.

For worse or for worse, felt like another afterlife was ready to fall.

uncanny valley (ruins) / hospital 4

Stared at me like I was missing a part of my face.  Or as if I was wearing two faces, tells on top of tells.

An uncanny valley of obvious giveaways, past lives practically in plain sight.  Canyons for shadow, cheeks covered by makeup and clay, eyes close enough to crater me.

I watched you blink deeply, roll over your irises, blanket your gaze.

I wanted to understand what scared you first (an avalanche of recency bias, a whole life spent in an empty room, feelinglessness in your face and fingertips). 

How you could forget where I left myself in that valley too?

Extinct already, first and last of no one’s kind.  There are certain things you should have known by now.

At least ask.

aurora nervosa


On an ancient sundial in Ibiza: Ultima mvltis.

The last day for many.

Our town was glass domes in a row. Crates and conveyor belts replaced cars and roads. Every horizon was high density sprawl.

Jillison was the only one left who still paid any attention to me. She was a shortage of a girl. Raw wire shadow, skin off white, washed her hands twenty to thirty times a day.

It was hard to tell what was real, what was projection. There was little way to make any of it last. We were losing track. Jillison kept checking dirt lines on the window. We did our best to make sense of the background noise.

We lost light every day, atmosphere was worthless as toilet paper. Might as well have been no windows. There was a long way to go, or maybe not, I didn’t actually know. We had a hole in our bucket, dear darling, a hole.

The sun came out in halves or less, rarely for long. Eclipses came in the shape of rectangles or squares. We helped each other, the two of us there.

We kept ourselves on steady behavior authoring programs. Clouds were gray and on repeat. Jillison held a script against screen molds and I spread the movable press.

Most people, if they could, were still playing pretend.

Anxiety became another bill we received daily. Scattered randomness became static disappointment: Sky was still expensive. Trees were expensive. Oxygen was expensive.

My mental health was mostly just arranging voids in a row. Is trauma walled or unguarded? Does it matter?

You can’t defeat yourself into a success. The hole only gets deeper, only goes way.

the curtsies

               They weren’t birds and they weren’t people, so we didn’t know what to call them at first.  They had feathers on the front of their arms and who the hell knew where else.  My husband was one of the ones who was afraid of them, but I didn’t marry him for his bravery, I married him because he knew more about the weather than I ever could.

             I remember it all too well, we were half-young and all-married and living in a town known for its toothlessness, it made me feel like I was in a cartoon sometimes, the way everyone walked past us, smiling with their big blank gums, and all those pets they pulled along with them too.  Big pets and little pets. So many fucking pets.

             I wasn’t a detective by any means, but I could tell as soon as we moved, something was going on there. The sky was loud in all the wrong places, the days were short and long and everybody said the sun could do all sorts of other things if it wanted to… I didn’t get what they meant by that. Again, I was no Sherlock Holmes.

             When they showed up we thought they might be some sort of new pet too, but as soon as we got a good look at their faces we knew they couldn’t possibly be, there was too much action behind their eyes, it was obvious they knew better than to be leashed around. 

            While I’m telling you about their faces, I’ll tell you this too, they were round and slightly pink, and sharp in the middle.  They didn’t quite have beaks, they looked a lot like people.  Maybe seventy-five percent like people.  I think I liked the way they looked, avian and mammalian and big eyed.  Like children.

             My husband would take a big breath whenever we saw one on the street.  He’s always been a fragile man.

         There had been a break in the summer and we weren’t expecting anything special.  The garbage was piling up in the kitchen, the mannequins were on display on the street, I was trying on new ways to be mad at buildings.  I used to wear my frustration on my sleeves, but then I was doing my best to cover my contempt under my clothes.  As deep as it could go I guess. 
            My husband would tell me to take the elevator to meet him for lunch and sometimes I did.  He ate a lot of salads and chewed quietly, one day he found a butterfly in his lunch bag, its wings were blue as a baby boy’s room, we laughed as it waved away.  Summer was when we got along best, I bet it’s like that for a lot of couples, I don’t know. 

            Anyways, we were closer to black and white living than I’m letting on, it was pretty boring for the most part.  I was working in a field I understood too well, sharpening equations and balancing ledgers for people who had grown up taller than me.  I didn’t have a fling with my boss despite what my husband says.  My hands were just too tired to get into it, even though I could’ve.

         Maybe I was waiting for something larger to walk its way all over me.  One way or another, I was just waiting.

         My husband started to call them bird people after a few days of calling them, “them” and “they.”  I kind of felt that name was disrespectful to birds and people both, these creatures were something new, and needed a new name of course, not some hackneyed mashup of their most accessible characteristics. 
            I tried on a few names, “flickities”, “koo koo karoos”, “laylas”, before I settled on one I liked, “curtsies” (after the ways their legs bowed when they walked).  I never thought to ask them what they wanted to be called.  Sooner or later they’d tell me I guess I imagined. 

         The big question we had to begin with was whether or not they could fly.  They could, but not very high and not very far.  They were better at gliding, but even still, they didn’t take to the air too often, not that I saw anyways.  Every once in a while when I was driving around in my car (it was yellow) I would see one up perched in a tree, but I always assumed they just crawled up there to get a better view, it barely occurred to me they could be flying around all the time when I wasn’t looking. 
            I barely ever saw it happen, I don’t have a terribly good sense of my surroundings sometimes, that’s all I’m saying.

         Another question is where they came from.  My husband insisted they came from bad families, but I eventually convinced him otherwise.  My theory was they came from some place colder and migrated here for the warm summer weather.  It wasn’t much of a theory, a hog-tied kindergartner could’ve come up with it on the spot.  I liked it.  It was simple.

         I guess it didn’t really matter where they came from, but we were curious of course.  Either way, there they were, a couple of them at first, and then more and then probably somewhere between ten and twenty.  It was easy to tell them apart, some had long, fat, feathers, some had tiny, prickly ones, some had skinny necks and some were stubby shaped. 
             Also, believe it or not, they had numbers on their backs.  Big numbers, like the ones on sports jerseys.  That made a lot of people think they escapees of some sort of experiment, but I just figured they liked numbers.  I liked numbers, I guess probably I was projecting.

         My husband had these horrible glasses then.  We still danced in the living room sometimes, but he was clumsier than ever.  At work someone kept telling him the Earth’s poles were reversing fast (too fast!), that’s the sort of stuff he brought home at least.  Our lives were less than fireworks on the rise, that’s for sure, far, far less, but there was a lot lower we could go too.  My hands were still soft, they didn’t hurt like they do now. 
            I still believed one day there would be a stage in the sky where I would watch something spectacular happen.  I’m pretty sure I don’t feel that anymore.

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insect century / hospital 7

You worked at the church, waited for the animals of your family to die.  Hundreds of acres of skin and stitches and still no surprises.   

They disgust us because they show us what we are, always, eventually.  Small, scattered. Confused. They make a mockery of our pretense of “progress”.

Legs moved like a hydraulic system, unnatural, mathematical, controlled by blood pressure, judgements of lesser parts, meaningless never ending methodical action.

—  

Insects have their own scenery of denial.

I remember a lot of movement without momentum. Angular.  Divided. I remember they came out like an ink storm on the sheets and the bedspread.   

We took out the mattress and then we took out the whole room.

Jillison.  Listen to me.

Don’t ever mistake activity for achievement. They already had a name for that, they called it the insect century.

Do you still not understand what the problem is?  I don’t understand the entomology, that’s what you said.

Jillison.  Listen to me.  This is the truth.  Your past comes with you.  If you have any insects, you have all of them.