the listening post

Posted in The Undoing: Tales from Elsewhen on June 16, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

dunes

This tale was published on The Dark Mountain Project blog. 

I don’t remember how old I was when I was taught to tend the listening post. The lottery was held when Good Gillem, who taught me, was an old man and ready to be replaced. All the children who were old enough to work were given a pebble; we put them in the box; mine was drawn.

So I had to leave the oasis, where the other children would work all their lives as our parents and grandparents had to shepherd the tiny spring into channels where a few fish would spawn each year among the cress and rice we planted. To tend and harvest the palms, weave their fibers into cloth, mend the screens and strengthen the mud walls. To grind the flour and bake the dry, flat bread. My work would be different from theirs. I felt sad and proud.

As I stood in the shadowed doorway of my parents’ house, ready to set out, my mother held my shoulders tightly and kissed me on the top of my head. She was not crying, but her face was twisted in sadness. We’ll see you on Year’s Day, she whispered. Be good till then. One day each year they would come to visit me, for once I was at the post, I could never leave it again.

On my shoulder I carried the little bundle she’d prepared for me. Alone I walked out beyond the storm screens, to the open desert, which I’d never seen before. I stared. Stretched before me were endless hills of red sand under the burning sky. The vastness of it made my heart jump like a netted fish in my chest. Everything I knew shrunk to nothingness before it. Carefully I followed the old markers that led over the dunes. I climbed the highest dune and looked back down on my home. The oasis looked indistinct, just a grainy shadow behind the screens, its colors, plants, and people gone. I turned my face away, twisting it as my mother had done to keep from crying, and went on.

The sand shifted and whispered around me. It was red, soft, warm, moving like a smooth-limbed body turning in its sleep. For a moment I felt tempted to leave the marked path and just walk into that great red place, join my body with its body and sleep in its softness. I thought I heard it calling me as it whispered: come and sleep with me, little one! Come and lie down in my arms! It was so great and I was so little. Why shouldn’t I do as it wanted?

Another sound woke me from my daze: the clinking of the old metal flags of the marker as I approached. I realized the sun outside the screens was too strong and it had opened a channel in my head for the whispering sand to enter. Quickly I pulled my hood up and wrapped it tight. Behind the screens I mostly forgot to wear it, unless a big storm came. I drank from my water jug until the whispering died down, and went on again.

At sunset I reached the foot of the black rock mountain, and saw the marker flashing at the entrance to the cave. Gillem waited there. He stood leaning on a great staff of knotted wood. It must have been older than he was, perhaps much older, as there were no trees from which to cut such staffs now in the oasis or any of the places we knew.

I followed him inside the cave and set down my bundle on its smooth, swept, rock floor. Gillem nodded to me in greeting but that was all. My training began at once.

He showed me the wall at the back of the cave, behind a stone outcrop that shielded it from view. Into the wall were set the devices of the listening post. They were like nothing I had seen in the oasis; I didn’t understand them at all. You don’t have to understand how they work, Gillem said. I don’t, nor has any Listener before me, as far as I know. You just have to do exactly as I show you, and the devices will sweep the skies, as they have down all the lifetimes since they were put here, for a message.

How many Listeners have there been? I asked.

I have never counted, replied Gillem. Each one keeps his archive and when he is finished, adds it to the others, to show that he has fulfilled his task. The count can be made if you want to – he waved his arm at the huge archive wall – but it would take a long time and it is easy to lose track. There’s enough to keep you busy.

And has any message ever come? I asked.

No message has ever come, he said.

Continue reading

notes from the island

Posted in The Undoing: Tales from Elsewhen on June 6, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

This story first appeared in Zahir Tales Magazine (nom de plume: Diana Swift)

by becky liddiard, http://cargocollective.com/beckyliddiard

Two Islands by Becky Liddiard – cargocollective.com

I decided to start keeping a diary today. Yes, it is ridiculous. There’s no one else to read it here, of course. Nor will there ever be, here or elsewhere, if what we believe has happened since the last Visit is true. Years have passed since then; we’ve no reason to doubt our belief. So why write anything? But I’ve decided this will be company for me, of a kind. My diary will be like the invisible friend a child has, and I had once upon a time as well. With all that has happened in my life, I don’t suppose I ever imagined I’d want an invisible friend again. But there you are. Today I do.

Lars has his music, and his solitary nature, and he has me. He never needed other company much. When he was exiled here, after the first shock, he adapted quite quickly. When I chose to follow him rather than to become one of the slave-women in the Director’s household, I, by contrast, had to relinquish my pleasure in a small society of friends, family, a circle of acquaintances. Because his preference for solitude and the sparseness of his family had not added anyone to that limited circle, the connections we lost were almost exclusively mine. I was never entirely dependent on society; in fact, I had learned to be independent of it from living with Lars. But it was still almost unbearable for a time, the loss.

It was more difficult for me, yes. But that was so long ago; it’s funny I should decide to take this up now, after twenty years of life on the island, after forgetting even to miss any other human voice, any words but his terse daily commentary. Nothing particular has happened; that’s the beauty of our situation, the strange beauty of it: we’ve grown into our routines like plants, and nothing disturbs them any more. So I really don’t know what made me do it, finally. Nothing I could name. An ancient instinct, perhaps.

Continue reading

life after wartime

Posted in the country, Transformations on May 10, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

This piece first appeared on the Dissident Voice and CounterPunch webzines.

Burned all my notebooks
What good are notebooks?
They won’t help me survive
My head is burning
Feels like a furnace
That burning keeps me alive

You haven’t been to war until you’ve learned to flinch at the sound of a traffic helicopter overhead, as your body waits for the pop of machine gun fire spattered on the crowds below.

You haven’t been to war until you fear having your back to the street as you turn your key in the lock of your own front door, because of how easy it would be to take you out from behind as you stand there.

You haven’t been to war until you look into the shit-filled toilet bowl before you flush and imagine a hand on the back of your neck forcing your head down into the filthy water. Holding it there until your lungs burst, and you gasp for air and swallow shit and piss instead. Until your fingers curl periodically with the sensation that someone is about to pull your nails out with a pair of pliers.

You haven’t been to war until you transpose any loud sound in your dreams to a pounding on your door as the troops storm in to drag you from your bed and fling you into a waiting van.

You haven’t been to war until you wait, behind the thud of distant fireworks at the ballpark, to hear the scream of the diving planes, the shriek of the guided missiles, the rumble and roar of the tanks as they roll in.

You haven’t been to war until you look around guardedly in a crowded street and know without a shadow of a doubt that anyone you see, anyone, could be about to kill you.

And because you haven’t been to war, you cower at the images on the TV screen and you say to everyone you know (all of whom, who haven’t been to war either, will nod supportively and say, yes, of course, that’s true): the police, the soldiers, they have to do whatever they must to protect us. Who are we to judge them? We are not in their place.

But if you have been to war, all of this is waiting for you, all day every day, lurking in the silence of the suburban streets where your neighbors are invisible hostiles, or the clangorous city streets where no one looks anyone else in the eye, where the suit on his phone bumps into you and moves on past without breaking his stride, in the plastic-coated food, and the gas-soaked pavement and the cheesy, piped-in music everywhere – so one day you flip out, you say no more terror, no more dread, no more waiting for the ax to fall. Not enough to go for a drive and blast the car stereo till your gut shakes. Not enough to drink yourself stupid and beat the wife or girlfriend bloody when the rage takes hold.

You plan your operation; you assemble your weaponry (so easy, that part!) Then you head for the highway, for the demonstration, for the shopping mall. You know exactly what to do, because we gave you the best training in the world. We built you, we sent you out there. Ambush. That’s how we roll. Catch the enemy by surprise.

And because we taught you what justice is: it’s kill the other guy, the one who wants to kill you. It’s as simple as that, the justice we taught you, our military justice. You don’t have to ask why he wants to kill you, what made him that way. Just take him out. Make him pay for making you afraid for your life. It’s him or you. If you learned nothing else during your stint, you learned that.

You know it’s a hopeless mission, and you will probably die in the attempt. But what kind of life can you have anyway, now that the war is everywhere?

Others will come after you, and finish what you started.

Rolling Stone, July 11, 2016: Micah Xavier Johnson, thanks to his military training, knew what he was doing, targeting and dispatching police officers with ruthless efficiency. Footage from the attack showing Johnson weaving in and out of pillars and shooting one officer from behind is a brutal testament to what powerful weaponry in skilled hands can do in the right environment, against even well-trained and armed opponents.

complexity theory

Posted in Concerning literature, culture shifts, Transformations on May 8, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

There really is a butterfly effect at work in the Homo sapiens sapiens story: Imagine, tiny genetic anomalies reverberating into distinguishable types of physicality and cognitive processing, expanding into historical acts in the world altering aspects of large-scale material reality – the climate of a planet! (the largest if not the happiest example) leading to concatenating unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences through great spans of time.

Missing from what we call complex civilization today: the ethic of humility, attentiveness, and care that a real understanding of the nature of this effect would seem to demand.

That civilization looks like our last best hope for comfort, sophistication, and abundance – until you visit its sacrifice zones. Then, like Shevek in The Dispossessed, all you want to do is run.

But Shevek has a home outside of the murderous, gleaming, extractive civilization of Urras to which to flee. We don’t. For now, our stories are the only door to the sky.

another may day’s come and gone

Posted in culture shifts, Transformations on May 2, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

Against the dream of a universal human family that haunted the last century: “all things in common/ all people one,” the times have given us a strange array of nearly disembodied tribes scattered about the globe, who rise up here or there in fearful ecstasy against the extermination of unprofitable difference by capital, and its establishment of a venal, phony meritocracy with the rentiers at the tiptop and the rest (numbering in the billions, mind you!) to blame for their own misery. Then these stirrings fade – under bombs, tear gas, buy-offs, internal divisions, media defamation, political accommodations – leaving capital reeling on, largely indifferent to anything but its own increasingly unmoored manic-depressive cycles, in its happier moments blithely ecumenical, calling anyone with cash, no matter what color or creed, to come on in and buy. And its gloomier ones, of course, all chilly premonitions of the inevitable and yet unpredictable Armageddon that shadows all its busy-ness.

How strange, in a small, dim, sparsely populated hall in Berkeley, California, amid determined voices singing the stirring and lilting songs of failed struggles for the universal goal: venga, jaleo, jaleo… a ragged band they called the Diggers… arise, ye prisoners of starvation… to see again with mournful clarity that the Old White Left in the US is another such tribe: the tribe of internationalists, people who want no tribe, people who fervently believe in The People, now one of the smallest tribes of all. (For whom, I should add, the Senator from Vermont is to be taken at his word as an Eisenhower Republican). As fragile and yet tenacious as the old ones still clinging to an Amazonian riverbank or a depopulated Mediterranean village.

Oh the decades that have crawled by, and we get older, ghostlier; we keep saying the same things because they are still true and yet the words are without agency. Like the chiefs of a landless people who can’t call the rain anymore. Like Ghost Dancers.

What will it be like, the time of fulfillment, the time of transformation? We will die without seeing it, as have all the rest before us. Instead, imperfect wonders and horrors unpredicted by those who will experience them will unfold, as they always have, and those people will keep finding ways to trap them in dull retrospective chronicles as we always have.

Until such time as those people become something entirely unrecognizable to us as we are now, or else vanish from the earth.

the irish have risen (to the top of nob hill)

Posted in the city, Transformations on April 25, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

This weekend the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising was celebrated with a concert at Grace Cathedral. In that grand space the words rebellion, oppression, socialism – set to a new operatic score – reverberated down the chilly nave, absorbed in the folds of the comfortable flesh of a flush-faced, suburban crowd.

Interspersed with the cantos of high style were some old country laments – pipes, flute, harp, fiddle, drum. Plaintive and joyful at once, heartrendingly beautiful. The music of exile and loss to which you must dance. Composed by people whose names are gone forever from our collective memory.

From these heights (the biggest flag you ever saw atop the Mark Hopkins Hotel across the park) Jones Street plunges down to the darkest trough of the meanest city blocks, where the hopes of the new Irish come to grief at the hands of the cops, politicians, and bureaucrats with the lyrical names.

All true human music is the sound of exile. Our comfort surrounds an abyss; our freedom is only an absence. Let us at least keep making music, then. The streets are rivers of music, and rivers flow where they will.

twice-told tales

Posted in Transformations, visions on April 17, 2016 by Christy Rodgers
  1. The little lame boy in the Pied Piper of Hamelin

who gets left behind when the others are led off to their magical fate, weeps and weeps as if his heart were broken. He can never be comforted, because he sees it all; he knows what he has missed. Since he could not follow the music, he will have a long, boring, sated life, without wonder in it, marked mainly by isolation and mild contempt disguised as pity, in which each day is nothing more than a series of moments existed through until there are no more moments left for him. While his lost companions will go singing and dancing wildly into an invisible shining world full of mystery and marvels – even if it seems to the fearful, hesitant, grasping townspeople that they are being led away to bitter death.

  1. The Grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood

What was she doing living out there on her own in the woods? There’s always been something suspect, something louche about her. If she’d just agreed to live in town with her daughter and son-in-law, none of this would have happened. But it may be that the grandmother is a kind of bohemian, an independent-minded sort who doesn’t really get along with her children that well, and her granddaughter loves to visit her because she can’t wait to get away from her oppressive, boring parents, with their chores and nagging. Anyway, as the grandmother knows, sooner or later we’ve all got to face the predators out there; we’ve got to succumb to them or become them; c’est la vie. And it’s a wise child who knows her own grandmother.

  1. The animals in all the tales

The goats, pigs, spiders, geese, cats, donkeys, mice, rabbits, deer, foxes, swans, chickens, crows, eagles, ants, serpents, bears – extras, walk-ons, or stars, they all leave the set each night exhausted, muttering glumly, knowing they’ll never get anything like what they’re worth for their work; they’re just being used for their exotic qualities. But their real lives are never shown, never make it into the tales that light up the big screens. It’s always all about these rich, self-absorbed apes, with their clever tongues, draped bodies, and busy hands. The other animals wonder how it all came to be this way, and how much longer it will go on being this way. They take their meager pay and trudge stoically back to the tattered fields and woodlands at the edge of town, to watch and wait.