You know her dreams before she tells them, prewired, engraved somehow. Murmurs cloaked in wind. The echolalia of rattled leaves. Combinations of words you’ve never swallowed, descriptions you’ve never held. But just as you understand the hidden wallpaper and satin bedding of rooms you have yet to enter, you understand the breeze brushing bare skin, the shadow bruising the valley of a thigh. It’s a viral knowledge, absorbed from the pages of some used book, carried in the bloodstream, corroding at the base of the spine. But perhaps all that’s not entirely true. Perhaps the transmission isn’t the result of pages. Perhaps you should redirect your efforts to the inky inscription tattooed to the inside cover:
Bedtime. Nightlights weave a protective aura. Shadows trundle across phosphorescent stars. There’s coolness to this light, a softness projected by every apparatus engineered to keep darkness at bay. The undulating glow galvanizes toy spaceships, model airplanes and posters depicting oceans, deserts, tropics, deep space. A room for a child with restless legs.
There’s a smaller room within this room, though some may just call it a drawer. In this drawer there are artifacts, stockpiles of precious treasures children specialize in: a baseball glove, marbles, shells acquired on a far-off shore. Anyway, what’s really important in this drawer is a snapshot of a father and son tucked beside an even smaller room, though most would just call it a box.
But this box is a special box, a box crafted by meticulous hands in some distant place. It’s a box with a small dial protruding from its base, a dial little fingers regularly turn when sleep is miles away. It’s an old box, so when you open the lid it makes this screeching noise and you cringe a little bit, but that’s okay once the music commences.
There are other rooms, big ones this time, the ones people pass through and paint with memories. They’re the type of rooms where a woman might lie awake, sequestered to the side of a bed, anticipating the false presence of a body upon a spread of empty sheets. These are rooms where a tender kind of loneliness sets in when the television is off and the house is at rest. Lastly, there are these narrow rooms, these connecting rooms, rooms generally referred to as halls. But in this particular house, they’re just another pool of separation preventing a reassuring peek into a protectively lit room.
A boy lies on his side beneath a dragnet of nightlights, absorbing the melody of a music box, thumbing a photo of his father, eyes drifting, shutting, slipping away. An incandescent beam cuts across a wall, the nightly insignia of a mother carefully opening a door. The boy is alert now, steady, still. He will act as though he’s asleep as long as his mother pretends to believe him. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to say goodnight.
The mother shuts the door, leaving the boy unable to rest, to set his eyes adrift. He throws his feet over the bed, slides into a pair of slippers and wades across the room, parting watery light. He switches a lamp atop a small desk. This is where the refrigerator paintings come from, all creatures born from clothespins, googly eyes, glitter and Popsicle sticks. Upon the desk there is a sketchbook, leather-bound, an engraving of a mighty tree etched upon its surface. Another precious artifact; the container of three-thousand-one hundred dreams realized in color and shape.
There are thresholds that ease open with a sheet of paper and a spire of colored wax; sleepy passageways, best revealed in twilight, when the mind is welling to forfeit the optics of what is blatant and real. They lead to flaxen meadows trembling beneath daylight stars and clouds that shift at an extraordinary rate. A celestial neighbors hangs on the horizon, close enough to touch, harboring an apple glow.
What makes us wade so deeply into these synaptic lagoons? What makes us wander blondish fields, the sonority of our slippered footsteps strumming through tall grass? There’s a purpose to these private meanderings, an attraction to invisible tethers that guide us to places of familiar profiles, cherished in perfect memory, until the amnesia of waking takes us away.
The boy wakes at his desk in a wash of morning light, soaking in the realization of time and place. Drowsy, he fumbles through his sketchbook, soliciting evidence of the soft elsewhere that turned in his dreams. His eyes bind to a page. The proper markings are there: tessellated branches, wind-driven clouds and celestial bodies hanging in an indigo sky. Particles of dusts dance in the slipstream of his touch as he shuts his sketchbook, while his mind secretly tattoos a remembrance, stunning and unreal, to the surface of his heart.
The boy has become an expert at espionage, a reluctant agent edging corners, monitoring voices through walls. On certain mornings he is prone to discover his mother with a phone pressed to her ear, her lips beckoning words he cannot place or register. He sinks in and listens, thumbing the strap of his sketchbook as he might thumb a precious picture, not wanting to intrude, interrupt or interpret adult pain. Though there’s no way of knowing with whom she speaks, he can only assume it has something to do with the letter-sized worry she holds in her hand. She’s in the throes of one of those telephone negotiations, those not quite pleading, not quite crying arbitrations that always seem to settle somewhere in between.
What if her arms were longer? What if she could reach around corners, pulling him past temporal anachronisms, the contradictions of what one senses at the time and what is presently believed? What if she could coax him past the agony of front doors? The fact it’s the most necessary portion of a house also explains why it’s the most mysterious. It’s the place people enter and exit, the portal loved ones pass through, tacitly agreeing to come back okay. So it should come as no surprise when such a pact is broken, it’s hard to disavow the shadowstain that lingers there.
It’s a rare and stunning wisdom when a child looks at his mother and realizes she lives inside hidden places of her own—shaded depths, camouflaged and lurking through tunnels of active memory. He knows he must brave broken passageways, that he must run to her, be her counterweight, the one true thing above all else, the before and after dictating the chronology of her life. Locate a blank page and guide her through the tall grass, beneath accelerated skies, star-stenciled and breathing. Become entangled, the mother’s hands running through her child’s hair, interlacing fingers, the security that’s explicit when someone loved is near. In this place of greater safety, a boy can lie on his belly, flipping through the pages of his sketchbook, his fingers delicate, decisive, fleshing the outline of a man who isn’t there.
What the boy remembers most about his father is the clutter of his desk. There were days when dad returned home from work only to bury himself inside his study and plummet into aggregations of finely printed pages. This was not an intentional distance, it was a mandatory one. Every now and then, the boy would slip into that crackerjack space and share a joke, a smile or a disparaging account of a rotten school day. Other times he would just sit and draw, simulating the concentration his father conveyed. These were loving intrusions, simple attempts to pull warmth from a man as he toiled among grown up things.
“He’ll be back,” she assured him as his father shut the door—an unknowing preface to the most colossal of lies.
It was never a messy clutter, just a beautiful disarray of books and papers, curious objects with mystical resonance. Handsome ornaments, tiny figurines, polished stones and things that looked old. These were riches acquired before the boy’s time, or at least before his memory kicked in, so he couldn’t help but wonder about their origins, though he never got around to questioning aloud. The most enchanting of all the desktop treasure was an antique music box that dad would wind for time to time without introduction or reason. And when the tiny aria enveloped the room, the boy would sink into a nascent state. It was as if that melody had always been with him, a part of him, etched upon his identity, a rippling recollection in the backwaters of his mind.
Crayons untangle human boundaries, mapping lost outlines. The light on a wristwatch. The turn of the doorknob. A hand, a handle, a briefcase. The gestures of unintentional goodbyes. Though the boy may not realize it, there’s a precious defect to his memory, a selectivity of images, color-glazed and hurting: shoulders, eyeglasses, elbows and a necktie. It’s as though he’s lost his father’s totality, the sincerity of his living wholeness. Now he’s left with something bodiless and mythical, something beyond the scent of Old Spice, the pen-strokes and the contour of a stubbled chin. He’s left with a presence, bare and wavering, an existences beyond physical form. A substance only he can see.
A mother’s eyes shackle to her child’s hands. The application of color and shape. A sacred cartography. She senses a shielded intensity radiating from her son, an under-force, wall-breaking and ferocious, spawned from the mire of unreachable convictions. If life was fair and god was tangible and everyone got a second chance, there would be no weighted moments in this life, no decisions about whether to elude sorrow or rediscover the moments that conceived it. It occurs to her the most potent dreams are those we secretly forge for others: a gentle vision of a boy running through a starstruck meadow, beckoned by a man with a music box in hand, a father cresting a gentle hill.
The boy lies on his side beneath protective lights. He faces a music box, soaking in the melody, as he thumbs the photo of his father, his eyes drifting, shutting, slipping away. An incandescent beam cuts across a wall, the nightly insignia of a mother carefully opening a door. It’s a befitting ending, if you think about it. After all, this hasn’t only been a story about dreams or loss or which memories are cherished most feelingly—it’s also been a story about opening and closing: a music box, a book cover, a front door. In the shallow amount of time we’re allotted on this earth, there’s such an abundance of passageway we must cross, it’s often difficult to determine which way to go. But no matter how many doorknobs we turn or hidden worlds we plunge into, there’s a foreboding acknowledgment of that final threshold, a notion developed sometime in childhood and anxiously carried in our pockets for the rest of our lives. Despite this understanding, we continue on, we keep moving and we keep opening doors, drawing courage from the memories we share and the hands we hold onto. And perhaps this hope, this ubiquitous wish is, in and of itself, a form of sympathetic magic, if only dreaming makes it so.
Miles above the surface. No plane, no zeppelin, no hot air balloon. Only two arms flickering in the ebb of evening light. He rises through tangles of clouds, gliding above serrated cliffs shaped like dinosaur bones. His eyes trace slender tributaries as they tumble off the horizon. His body slows. A breath of warm air cradles his torso. Flight is no longer the proper verb. He levitates now, surpassing the atmosphere, severing his connection with earth. At home among satellites and lunar dust, all nine years of him slip into physical silence—a dream texture, kind of ephemeral, though he has yet to discover that word.
If he’s up early enough, Arthur studies headlights as Dad heads off to work. Incandescent beams pour through spaceship curtains; a decorative treasure improvised from an old bed sheet and a shower rod. Sometimes, if he’s brave enough, he’ll even perch his chin on the windowsill and peer into the desert. Still tottering on the rim of a dream, he monitors the pick-up’s passage: the trail of dust, the rhythm of brake lights. The further the truck sinks into the mauve of dawn, the more his day begins.
In the isthmus of time before Mom wakes, the house belongs to him. He is free to roam, to interpret his new geography freely, even feelingly, without threat of parental hindrance. The morning transition from shadow to light diffuses the miasma of unfamiliar walls. It’s a sort of ghost-walk, a somnambulist’s voyage through a tropic of vampire fabric and macramé.
Later, at the kitchen table, daylight intensifies, warming the pages of picture books. Their content is devoid of dragons, fairies and cranky old gnomes. It is the ocean, the atmosphere, and the course of magma that thread his fantasies. He scans the pages of a particularly beloved selection, mouthing words like nebula, asteroid and meteorite.
“Morning,” a voice says, soft, drowsy, a decibel above a whisper. Arthur shifts away from his book to find Mom standing in the doorway. Strands of her hair dance under the influence of the air conditioner. For an increment of time that really wouldn’t qualify as an instant, the mechanics of Arthur’s face convey an expression that borders on surprised. A secret part of him wants to let her know how much he missed her, how much night and its wells of sleep suggested separation from her, though he dare not say it aloud.
She crosses the room, squeezes his shoulders, kisses his forehead. “How’d you sleep?”
She smiles, rakes her fingers through his hair. Several steps further into the kitchen now. A yawn before fiddling with the coffee maker.
Arthur’s legs swing beneath his seat. He continues to flip through his book. Fingertips navigate the pictures and the text. A pause in the canyon of the spine. He must locate a parcel of information that will demonstrate growth and learning. Mom glances over. From her position, the outline of her son briefly appears to be that of a wise old owl.
“Hey, Mom, did you know that Earth gets a hundred tons heavier each day because of falling space dust?”
“News to me.” She swerves and deposits a soiled coffee filter in the trashcan. A reach across the counter. The flip of a dial on a small television set. The signal’s fuzzy. She adjusts the antenna. Particles stir in the air. “Sometimes I get impression it all ended up here.”
“Well if that were true, we’d be up to our necks in dust, which is gross since a lot of dust comes from dead skin cells.”
“Even space dust?”
“No, that’s different.”
Slightly dismayed by his inconsistency, he continues to browse for another morsel. “Hey, did you know that the sunlight hitting the Earth right now is thirty-thousand years old?”
“Really?” she says, opening the refrigerator. “For some reason I thought you told me that it only takes eight minutes for sunlight to reach us.”
“Well, that’s true too. But that’s after it leaves the sun. You see, when light is born—”
“—yeah, born in the core of the sun, it has to travel through all these atoms and takes thirty-thousand years to get here. Well, thirty-thousand years plus eight minutes.”
“Alright, Einstein, enough trivia. What are we going to do about breakfast?”
“Had them yesterday.”
“Nice try.” She removes eggs and bacon from the refrigerator. “What you need is protein. Got to bulk up.”
Mom starts breakfast. A news broadcast grumbles beneath the crackle of frying bacon. Murders, mishaps and mishandlings. Monsters who will steal a child’s breathe as a souvenir. Villains who inflect dime-sized cavities over trivial debts. Ball bearings and ink-black smoke hurled through breastbones and kneecaps. The world breaks open. Pyroclastic flow over a tranquil horizon. A boy with a gun. A mistimed red light. Stay tuned for the weather.
Arthur stirs in his seat, unsettled by remote miseries. He catches the curiosity of his reflection smeared in a nearby window, the clarity of a boy too small for his age. Translucent, pitted against the desert, he locates his frailty, his numerous incapacities, though it’s unlikely he’d phrase it that way. Oceanic eyes and narrow shoulders. Shadowy depressions lining a slender bands of ribs, rigidly defined in angular light. He longs for his bedroom now, his posters, books and stash of toys. He craves auditory fragments of city traffic, successions of streetlights and the assurance that if one of his episodes should occur, the nearest hospital is only a ways away.
“What’s up, baby?”
“When can we go home?”
“Haven’t we been over this before?” she asks, though she knows he knows the answer by now.
“So, I don’t see the point in bringing it up.”
Mom turns from the stove and shovels breakfast onto Arthur’s plate. Human movements to displace a well-worn subject.
“But it’s taking forever.”
“Five days is hardly forever,” she laughs, though part of her is inclined to agree with this childish dilation of time. How long does it take to reconcile a dead woman’s house, to quarry value and dispose of waste? “Besides, all this isn’t exactly easy for Dad, you know. These things take time.”
“But he hasn’t even cried yet. Not even when he found out.”
“Some people express their feelings differently, kiddo. I’m pretty sure we’ve had this conversation too.”
“I’d cry if you died.”
“And I’d die if you died.”
“This conversation’s is over.”
Mom places breakfast on the table, slides into a seat and begins her meal.
Arthur senses a tiredness in the room. He tries to lose himself in the sound of the television as it oscillates between a detergent commercial and bursts of white noise. An urge to lurch back in time, several hundred seconds or so, consumes him. He wants to be noble again, selfless and compassionate. He wants to feel affection for this situation, to understand the mythology behind every doorknob, faucet and vase, as a good grandson should. But even for a boy growing into his tenth year, it’s difficult to force affection based on lineage alone. Aside from rumored visits when he was still so small he could only commit scents and the timbre of intimate voices to memory, she exists as an apocryphal memory, a myth passed around to satisfy a lapse in time.
He feels the tug of his deficiencies now, the missing geography obscured by a stain on a map. He wants to lift the blemishes from the parchment, to uncover unprecedented adore. If he were a superhero, he’d possess the ability to pull inaccessible objects into his orbit from a million miles away. He would redirect the trajectory of absent grandparents, skateboards and allergenic pets, lassoing the missing constellations that embellish a normal boy’s life. And once each strand was secure within his pull, he would translate their substance into a richness only he could comprehend.
An imperative broadcast via cathode ray tube:
“NASA officials expect several large pieces of a research satellite to withstand the searing temperatures of atmospheric re-entry and strike the Earth’s surfaces within the next twenty-four hours.” A news anchor’s voice infiltrates Arthur’s thoughts, pulling him back to the kitchen, the present, right here, right now. This is a pivotal redirection. The utmost attention is required. “Though scientists won’t be able to approximate the point of impact until roughly two hours before re-entry, they have identified a broad region between the Southern Canada and Central America.”
Arthur swallows a forkful of eggs, trying to conceal the elation oozing within. He begins to rise within his thought, harnessing an inner updraft. He conceives of something peculiar and jagged, small enough to wear around the neck or fit into a pocket. A talisman. A boy with a satellite around his neck. He relishes the thought, inhaling it deeply as he drifts away from a pair of eyes that, even in his absence, never leave him.
It’s moments like this, studying her child’s morning meditations, when Mom wants nothing more than to slip into his ocean and drown for a while. Sinking into that watery ingress, she articulates cherished history, polishing the subtle outlines of all that has past. Mismatched socks and untied shoelaces. Ghosts of former Band-Aids and wrists that were smaller. She wants to calculate the movements around his sternum, the flicker of his eyelashes, retracing the stutters of flesh that once shimmered within. Without realizing it, she’s falling into something primitive and brave; an acknowledgement of a heart beating outside of her own body. It’s something molecular, driving and smooth, an ablution to wash away a dream that’s vicious or a memory that’s jagged. For an increment of time that really wouldn’t qualify as an instant, she tries to see his bones.
I know the most beautiful names generally contain five letters or less and never more than two syllables. I also know sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it naturally absorbs water; a surefire anodyne for the bacteria that resides in the carmine canons of a wound. Lastly, I know life is best lived through the eyes of collage artists. Straight lines and steady patterns are lacerations, the sum of all injuries time affords us after we’re dried off and named.
I engage in a conversation with a lady friend concerning the mythical resonance of names. It’s summer, possibly Tuesday, probably July. Trapped in the momentary thickness that sweeps in around sunset, we settle on a front porch, the rasps of cicadas bouncing off walls. She’s eight months pregnant and I’m drunk, so it’s her duty to steer the oars. She’s expecting a boy. She summons my opinions. I take a moment to calibrate my tongue on the roof of my mouth, a preventive remedy for slurred speech.
“Asa,” I explain, breathless, succumbing to the thickness, “is Hebrew for healer, so there’s a likelihood he’ll apply sugar to wounds. Milo, on the other hand, is Latin, I think meaning solider—but I’ve also heard it’s Teutonic for merciful. If the better part of human nature presides, I wouldn’t know which way to go.”
“I’ve always liked Alexander.”
“Too many letters. Too many syllables. The impact is vague.”
“I could always shorten it to Alex,” she suggests, her voice softening, her eyes drifting, her mind slipping into some private place. “It would still mean protector, helper, defender of men. I guess some people might just think it’s an abbreviation—something bite-sized, more compact—but they’d be wrong and he’d tell them so. I believe it could stand as an independent name.”
I retrace the trajectory of her gaze. Tears. No words between us, only invisible waves. If I were a sensible man, I would conclude her expression hormonal, a brief melancholy brought about by a critique of favored names. But sensible men walk in straight lines. Their ability to discern diagonals is questionable. For all I know, they’d just assume it’s something in her eye.
The sky is molten now, dripping tangerine, crimson, amethyst, black. The air is a barbiturate. I summon words at random, as I sink into its haze. “Did you know that at birth, in addition to their mother’s voice, infants can recognize their native language?” I ask, belaying her, pulling her back to the present, this evening, this front porch. She takes a breath and laughs to prove she’s somewhere near. “They recognize, you see, but they don’t understand. I’d imagine it’s just a bunch of rhythms to them, a network of sounds, meandering percussion. But just because they don’t understand the words doesn’t mean they don’t find meaning. Maybe by the time they start reciting names like cat, raccoon, fire truck, toilet, what’s truly knowable has already dissolved. It’s a tradeoff. At least I think that’s what I’m trying to say.”
“I thought we were talking about names,” she murmurs, racked across time, preparing for leaves that may never fall. She plummets into a million trusts and suspicions, trying to preconceive an unknown betrayal or the joyful glint of a little smile spraying through the curtains of a future room.
“Well, that’s the trade off—we’re always talking about names. We organize everything—stratify everything, which, at its base level, is just the assignment of names. Once we name it, we exchange it, replace it or disregard it. We forget a name’s true gift isn’t to distinguish tombstones or lunchboxes, just as we forget what we use to sweeten our coffee is a potent alexipharmic. Names rekindle a fire that, at best, can only light halfway. Candles for light bulbs, sugar for penicillin… I forgot what else I was going to say.”
Another halfway smile. Another distant gaze. I now know she knows when we name something, we wrap it up tight, though the string will fail and the foam will falter. She knows of choices made and distances measured within the insular space between a letter and a name. She knows of all the possibilities: something untied, scratched or misplaced. She knows of the remarkable joy hidden inside a shoelace, kneecap or pillowcase. But she also knows no sentence is guaranteed. Paragraphs crumble, chapters decay. It’s only in hindsight that we structure the narrative, that we assess the damage and determine if everything panned out okay. The real magic is hidden in the spaces between words, the tiny indentions, the cave inside the letter a.
The sun sinks, alleviating her distance. “I don’t know,” she whispers, seduced by the abating light. “Besides the touch and the shape, names are all we really have. Perhaps, it’s for the best to discover them at random, based upon the colors they convey. Anyway, I should probably wait until I understand the pigmentation of his eyes. Maybe everything will sort itself out and I can name him Jade.”
I thought about my math teacher for the first time in a thousand years. To no surprise, it came by way of a dream. Though he didn’t make a physical appearance, I was well aware I was in his space. It was a trivial thing; something about lost homework or not being dressed decently, but it is rare that the contents of dreams affect the dreamer. It’s what happens well after waking that takes the most definitive toll.
He was a short man, well past fifty, with a round face and rounder glasses. I don’t remember what class I had him for or what grade I was in, so he exists as a displaced apparition.
The byproducts of the dream dissolve into memory.
Now I remember that boy the math teacher knew.
He had spoken about him in class once, that’s all I really know. I don’t know the color of his hair or the complexion of his skin. I don’t know upon which grounds he walked or the hidden places he had been. What I do know is the math teacher whose space I’ve dreamt adopted him. He took him into his home at the request of his wife, knowing all too well they were exiting middle age. Couldn’t they concede to a pair of lap dogs divided by the flicker of a fire? Surely, they could. But the recognition of age tends to fade when older folks start getting strange ideas about voids that need filling.
Now, some say there are children who are born angry. Others say it’s something that swells over time. At any rate, based upon the math teacher’s description, this boy must have been the sum of both. He was part earthquake, part typhoon, a damaged child from a damaged place. But the math teacher and his wife still had that void, so they disregarded the turbulence and tried loved him just the same. And I suppose they really did love him, if I recall correctly the inflection of the math teacher’s voice. But the boy was too strong for them. Too brazen, too angry, too strong. They even had to attend classes on how to restrain him properly, how to pin him down without pain or malice when his tantrums flared up. Regardless, deep in the backwaters of their hearts, they knew that if they multiplied the sum of their affections, they could certainly cool the caustics of that cursed boy’s heart. That’s about the time all the fires started—the fires and dead dogs.
They had to take him back, of course. They were too old and too tired, so they took him back. But I’m sure they kept a piece of him. That’s what I’d like to think, anyway. An arm or a leg or the gentle curve of a little spine as it lies harmless on the floor, quietly insinuating it possessed the power to tie the room together all along. Or maybe a crop of eyelashes or the sleeping folds of a tiny belly and waist, infinitely charming enough to reinforce the belief that people do change.
Tessellations of memory weave into something new. Something that doesn’t require the smell of smoke or tufts of bloody fur. Something altogether perfect, like seeing rain kiss a mountain in rearview.
Magic has no power in the city. At night, spells become distracted, as they lose the ability to navigate by stars hidden beneath a dragnet of streetlights. And in the day, while people go about their business, commuting in invisible boxes, incantations crumble upon deaf ears. Some may consider this a modest loss. Perhaps such childish delusions are best left in captivity, stored away somewhere, beneath the collarbone or at the base of the neck. Maybe all ancient consolations should remain tucked behind the cloak of science, technology and war. But I believe in such calligraphy, a forgotten language fossilized in deep time.
Sometimes I dream of a network of caves itched along some far off river place. It is a world of endless branches that tessellate a sky colored plum, coral, cerise. There are no human sounds here, no distortions that swaddle the mind. Even my footsteps remain muted, drowned out by a droning breeze. Perhaps there are no footsteps. Perhaps I am floating, beckoned by the river’s mantra. I am upon the water now. Behind me, I recognize the splash of a creature slipping into a stream.
In the corner of my eye, I spot a figure wandering along the river. Her appearance is subtle, a leaf’s ripple on the surface of a pond. She removes her robe, her naked flesh crimson in the waning light. She steps into the river and begins to bathe, shifting spheres of water in the slipstream of her touch. I feel abashed by my intrusion, my interference with something delicate and obscene—something sacred, I should think. A secret gravity pulls me closer. I have crossed into a private space.
Blood trickles down her thigh, dispersing, ink-like in the crystalline water. This is not a vision. It’s a feeling, an embedded knowledge that something is leaving her body. Her blood coalesces in the river, turning its contents black. The sky darkens. Night falls. The oily infection flowing downriver is contagious, influencing the appearance of the moon. A colony of something fluorescent and living slither inches beneath the water. Silver eyes flicker in shafts of tall grass. I know her name now, though I cannot recall learning it. I can feel it like the fluid exiting her body, though this understanding is acute, untraceable as I mouth her name.
I cannot recall entering this cave, I know only that I am here. Smooth, subterranean, the corridors spread like a system of veins. Canals of sandstone cartilage meander, petroglyphs slashed upon their walls. I try to reconstruct the woman bleeding in the water, the wash of river, the robe I may have never seen. As my reconstruction fades, she appears before me, one hand raised, the topography of her palm smoldering like a volcano’s web. She needn’t move her lips to convey her wisdom, as it’s already buried deep inside me, haunting my clavicle, my cervical curve. Her notions are the tributaries that channel through this life, the quiet waves that spill into the estuary of dreams.
There is a vastness within the subconscious that does not require paths, passageways or transitions. The chronology of the imagination is organized by emotions, by what must be felt. A pursuit along a river’s edge or the ascension of a cliff side maintains little necessity unless the most distant corners of the mind makes it so. Moments are not required to exist for one to understand they occurred. This is the prototypical nature of dreams.
I remember speaking to a friend about a poet whose name escapes me. When questioned about the approximant time he started writing, this forgotten poet simply wondered when everybody else stopped. In the world behind his eyes, children spoke in poetry; meandering sentences, questions and jostling observations that are strange, inventive and misplaced, like whirlwinds at the bottom of the ocean.
The protocol of aging suggests that we relinquish poetic tongues—that we lay secret languages to rest and exchange them for words that are merely pragmatic. However, there are a sturdy few who choose to ignore this particular facet of aging. And though, quite naturally, they’ve grown armor to deflect jagged edges projected by the outside world, a child remains somewhere within, hidden behind an earlobe or breastbone, constantly unearthing opportunities to create.
The work of my dear friend Reilly Sinanan epitomizes this notion of the hidden child within. Mixing and transcending a number of different mediums, he maintains the ability to totter between the playful, the abstract, the unanswered, and the bleak. Here exists an artist that can hone in on the dreamy spools of madness that haunt childish and grown-up minds alike. So take a moment to look, feel and understand that any idea that provokes the imagination is far more impactful than any act of logic, reason or war.
Corralled by cinder blocks and flesh-colored stones, a fire burns in the valley. Flames lap, a wild series of limbs, stirring chain-link shadows. The wind picks up. Embers dispatch into the branches of what I assume are elms. There is no certainty in this light—no facts or accounts of truth. Gestures are violent shifts in weather. The only thing that’s clear is the heat, the smell of smoke and the watery mirage hovering above the flare. Even the children are evanescent. They jettison scraps of wood into the blaze, felt cutouts against the night. Tiny lights flicker on the heel of their sneakers; a band of LED tribesmen.
“I think the summer just ended,” a voice murmurs, displaced, elegiac, considering the alteration of a friend. I recognize the roundness, the shape and timbre, but I can’t connect it to a body.
“I’m inclined to agree.”
More often than not, seasons change like voyages into sleep. Rumors of swimming pools transubstantiate into visions of copper light. These are quiet transitions, like the turn of a pillow or the fusion of a shattered bone. It’s something you wade into. But this autumn chose to elucidate, to make its presence perfectly clear through the haze and sneaker-light. Maybe the fire was a beacon or a kind of moth lure drawing me into the night. Maybe it was an ablution, a metaphor, or the torn wing of a great white ghost. Or maybe it was just a fire, glowing and apodictic, born from an old fence, a wooden chair and fragments of a tree house. Whatever it was, it nebulized the middle of me, propelling my aerosol through the treetops, where I witnessed another summer’s fall.
Electronic music is a form of time travel devoid of interdimensional paradoxes and lascivious encounters with unwitting ancestors. Songs become wormholes capable of dispatching a listener to the left flank of a bionic militia or the bone-littered floor of a troglodyte cave. While listening to “Remember Who,” a jackin’ house groove off Reverend Mitton’s début release The Silver Lining EP (Caboose Recordings), I teleported to the backseat of a maroon ‘87 Eagle Premier. The excursion was ephemeral, constituting a contraction of time generally expressed in the language of dreams. Regardless of the duration, I was able to approximate an unexceptional moment in time I had long since surrendered. Enthroned behind the steering wheel, my dad murmured harmonic fragments of an old funk song written well before my time. My sandaled toes tapped erratically against the floorboard, an involuntary reaction stirred by a rhythm in which I was unconditioned. The seatbelt buckle infiltrated the protective coating of my Ninja Turtles t-shirt, scolding the flesh above my navel. Was it July? I think we were heading to a swimming pool.
I first met Reverend Mitton (aka Timm Reynolds) when I was a lanky teenager perusing shelves at The Loft, a record store that once occupied a narrow second storey unit in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill. By and large, this initial meeting was unhistorical. In fact, bestowing a verb like “meeting” might be a bit of an overstatement. I was just some party kid in a Kangol Visor and a pair of Kick Wear pants baggy enough to swim in. The Reverend had achieved a sort of local celebrity among my adolescent band of raver compatriots, thus triggering a rare bout of modesty while I was in his presence. But the more I got to know the guy, the more I became aware that he didn’t oozes with the dregs of undo self-importance that can infect the elite few who figure out how to slide a fader and match beats (please forgive my blatant sarcasm). Anyway, as it turns out, Reverend Mitton is a steadfast advocate of electronic dance music, a percussive soothsayer worthy of the venerated prefix that adorns his name. In the years that I’ve known him, he has emerged as a passionate disciple of house, broadcasting the tenants of harmonious accessibility that has catapulted electronica to the far reaches of the globe. And to highlight this sense of accessibility, I will henceforth abandon his befitting moniker and simply refer to him as Timm.
After two decades behind the decks, one might perceive Timm’s transition from DJ to producer as inevitable, though slightly overdue. However, life is a collection of modest educations, exquisitely molecular, that coalesce into a vibrant whole. Just as the slap of a bass-lick intertwining with a soulful hook may stir memories of a car ride on a summer afternoon, the process of creative articulation is one of subtlety. So before delving into a review of The Silver Lining EP, I feel that it would be remiss not to provide a little bit of back-story. After all, destination are often self evident; it’s the pathways that interest me most.
If you’ve ever had the distinguished pleasure of reading one of those musician bios found on web sites and the backs of rave flyers, then you’re probably familiar with the well-worn preamble concerning a prodigy brought up within the clutch of talented musical virtuosos. Now don’t get me wrong—I’m sure all DJs who provide this depiction spent the whole of their childhoods dropping Chopin on a Casio keyboard like nobody’s business. I mean, everybody’s special, right? So suffice it to say it was rather refreshing to learn Timm’s parents didn’t really listen to music, much less proctor him in the mythical tendencies of Wagner, Stravinsky and Hendrix. But he did have older brothers who liked to wander to the local mall and buy records—a notably unremarkable feat in the 1980s. However, if one wishes to mythologize the situation, observing the recreational habits of his siblings played an important role in altering the arc of his own identity.
“My brothers, who were 6 and 8 years older than me, would buy records,” Timm explained. We had already downed a couple drinks before moseying onto his back patio. Dusk. A helicopter flew overhead. “They would buy 45s, you know, like the top 40s Casey Kasem shit. So by the time I got to where I had like any money that was like something I would go do.”
“What were you buying at the time?” I asked, consciously trying to camouflage an inebriated slur. I tilted my head backwards in an attempt to locate the position of the propellers droning overhead. I was a mosaic of waning professionalism.
“Well, when I first started buying stuff it was like Men at Work—pop music for the most part. Then I first started hearing hip-hop on the radio when we lived in Florida. I was like 8 or 9 years old, so I started buying some of that. I started with stuff like Run DMC and L.L. Cool J—that kind of stuff. Right away my brothers didn’t like that, so that was the breakaway from me just copying them.”
Timm went on to explain how his record collection soon surpassed that of his brothers, then promptly conjured the memory of the light bulb that ignited when a pair of neighborhood kids mixed some of his records on a mobile DJ setup. I lit a cigarette with a single flick of a lighter. That’s about the time the memory on my digital tape recorder tapered off—a travesty undiscovered until the conclusion of our conversation. Yet despite this technical lapse in preparation, I was able to commit Timm’s narrative to memory with little effort. This might be because accounts of artistic passion, at some base level, are the same. But language can only express so much. This is why I feel it would be somewhat trite to attempt to elucidate on the windfall of auditory stimulation that drew Timm into the slipstream of house music. Sometimes our most vibrant memories are best left in their container, I think.
Quiet alterations swim inside all of us. Yet we often disregard this facet of development and project mortal headway on monumental screens. A first love, a first car accident, a second diagnosis of the clap. Though I doubt it’s a contemporary affliction to view our personal histories as hastily abridged novels, it’s rather unfortunate we can’t retain the minutia that floats like silt on the hidden pools of our lives. A boy ascertains an interest in music by way of domestic observation. As he develops, his interest evolves into an obsession. And his obsession results in a vast record collection, countless DJ mixes and an unwavering urge to share the subject of his desire with those around him. But passion and commitment only provide a small portion of the story I’m trying to tell. Sometimes it’s the dark sludge of societal excrement that alters the creative trajectory of our lives.
The Silver Lining EP was suppose to be titled The Silver Line EP (a nod to Caboose Recordings), but a clerical error provided an unintentional suffix. Though this may seem to be a minor blunder, the final leg over this story divulges its exquisite irony. Last year, Timm’s house was burglarized. A pair of CDJs, a mixer and a pair of Technics he owned since 1993—gone. For the better part of two decades, Timm has explored his interest in dance music as a DJ. Sure, he had dabbled in producing before, but these endeavors were laden with many false starts. Though this may be somewhat presumptuous, I feel little shame in assuming that the sudden absence of his gear diverted his musical inclinations to the confines of the studio. Though it doesn’t excuse the wayward behavior of a band of roaming crack-heads, it does poetically demonstrate enigmatic nature of causality, hence the silver lining.
Conduits of recollection saturate this trio of soul-slinging house music gems. The Silver Lining EP is a jackin’ throwback to the structural aesthetics that transformed disco into a richer, sample-driven music that has rocked parties across the globe for over a generation. The opening track “Gimme Somethin’” is a rich, feel-good cut that’s sure to charm the piss out of any dance floor. Featuring a spirited sample from Brenton Wood’s 1967 single “Gimme Little Sign,” the track merges a stomping house beat with a vocal of such intimate delight. Also, it might worth noting that “Gimme Something” breeched the top 10 on Stompy.com’s top 100 list. No small feat for a début outing, if I do say so myself.
“Bayou Boogaloo” is the techiest number on the EP. It has this Cajun android weirdness about it that’s kind of hard to put a finger on. The vocal samples are short and bubbling, aiding the rhythm as opposed to providing an additional layer to the song. Though this creates a more computerized atmosphere, it’s a catchy tune. It’s definitely a good transition track that could bridge a more Chicago sound with tech house.
And then there’s “Remember Who,” a shake-it or break-it bootleg utilizing divine samples from Sly and the Family Stone’s “Remember Who You Are”. This is my personal favorite. It’s one of those remixes that never banishes the original sentiment in exchange for praise on the dance floor. Instead of manipulating the song beyond recognition, Reverend Mitton plays it simple, embellishing kicks, snares and high hats that transform the song without out depleting its natural charisma. About 1600 words ago, I began this feature by describing a momentary lapse in time that occurred when I first listened this to song. Though it might have seemed like some anecdote concocted to provide a catchy intro, I can assure you it was not. Music has this funny tendency to stratify chapters of our lives. At times, pages stick together, obscuring scenes that may be inconsequential, but nevertheless are there. Music serves as a delicate astringent, a solution that breaks down mental adhesives, revealing who we really are.
The Silver Lining EP by Reverend Mitton on Caboose
7:00 pm. The outskirts of Santa Fe. A drive past aluminum structures, cumbersome and nondescript—carbon copies on an industrial block. A search for a unit number. The foil of February darkness. After several k-turns, I produce my cell phone. The convenient safety of binary limbs. I dial and wait, tentatively imagining the nocturnal passages of unknown ancestors, the cautious push through sepulchral shadows. The ability to empathize with an ancient routine strikes me as deplete, a predicament banished from the First World. All I really have to go on has been passed down from the pages of books, the flicker of silver screens. Perhaps I am unfortunate in this regard.
“I’m lost. Everything’s the same”
“Be right out.”
Stray thoughts on modern conditions: light pollution, prescription drugs and toxic debris. Do cell phones really give you cancer? My mind jitters as I roll down the block, seeking the wave of a familiar hand. I am about to arrive at the residence of Nico Salazar and Autumn Dawn Gomez. They are friends with whom I have shared and discussed. However, the purpose of my journey goes beyond the realm of affectionate visitation. There have recently been sightings of strange talismans around the necks of electronic music aficionados. Unsuspecting nightclub patrons glimpse fugitive nostalgias, pixilated and dashing. Familiar faces like Mega Man, Super Mario and (my personal favorite) Sonic the Hedgehog compose the dappled surface of these charms.
Nico ushers me into the Soft Museum. As I enter, it becomes evident this outpost was groomed by a pair of rambunctious pop artists. Curious objects inundate the warehouse: giant canvases, esoteric deities and an assortment of masks. There’s even an inflatable ape clinging to the branches of a potted tree. Tethered blankets form flowing partitions; the creation of makeshift rooms. There’s a sort of joyful clutter about it, a childlike panache that hangs in the air like pollen.
Autumn reclines on a sofa… or maybe it’s a chase lounge. Clusters of texture and color hinder all attempts at inventory. Cambodian rock music radiates from a laptop: Ros Sereyothea, a likely victim of the Khmer Rouge. I roam freely, carefully exploring little eccentricities. This is a place of tri-optic teddy bears and lasers beams.
Pop art exists as an examination of the surface; the familiar as the profound. Well, at least that’s how I would construe it. But I introspect compulsively. Art that exchanges the “inner” for the “outer” frustrates me. And don’t get me started on post-modern diatribes. From personal experiences, artists (as well as writers) are shameless. Don’t expect straight answers. However, when I inquired about the inspiration for the 8-bit medallions that are becoming increasingly visible in the New Mexico electronic music scene, Nico simply explained that, “We live in two worlds now.”
Since the proliferation of the internet, we slip between worlds, convoluting what is real and what is contrived. Children born in the 70s and late 80s served as test subjects for this rift. Unless you had card-carrying members of the video game Gestapo as parents, formative interactions with technology involved triangles that discharged dashes, or Italian plumbers disappearing down wells. I suppose it may be difficult for someone born prior to this to understand, but some of us maintained an emotional curiosity for computer-generated worlds.
When I was a kid, I convinced myself the world was going to end by the year 2000. This was the result of flippant adult remarks in conjunction with a decade-long television campaign aimed at scaring the piss out of every sensitive crumb-cruncher in the world. Compound this with an awareness of serial killers, senseless wars and a breed of “bad people” who yearned to do something terrible to children that I could never quiet put my finger on, it’s astonishing that I didn’t grow to develop more complexes than those already acquired.
Lucky for me, escapism was only a game cartridge away. Video games were an aegis, a comfort best savored when you realized how small you are. Becoming a hero in a quest provided a sense of control that seemed unobtainable in the adult world, a childish rapture. I’m not trying to suggest that I spent my childhood within a fetal curl, but sometimes I needed a fiction in which I could participate, a shade to block the glare. At times, I even fiddled with the notion that my 8-bit adventures might induce an applicable bravery. As I grew, the outcomes of such whimsies were negligible. But when I was little, I felt that way.
Grownups cannot dodge mortal vulnerability, or hide from the tragedies of a tainted life. Self-forgetfulness is not an option. There are rights and wrongs in this world that we must address, explain and monitor. But our vigilance is also our amnesia. This is why I praise the efforts of the Soft Museum and its proprietors. They have restored an attention to a species of color and imagery that some might lose in a cynical haze. Their work is jaunty and impish, yet drenched in symbol and myth. And though their work may not be for everyone, it seems quite befitting for a generation that worships synthetic music and laser light.