Wednesday, May 31, 2017

ETHICS

Hello All --

I have been neglecting this blog lately, so I ought to show you what I've been up to.  This is the opening to a novella about birds, entitled ETHICS, that I wrote a little over a year ago.  The first part is about a songbird, the second part is about the cuckoo that has parasitized the songbird's nest, and the third part is a stripped down version of what I imagine the Ethics would have been like if Spinoza had been a bird (sorry). 

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Streaking over the earth, the songbird lifts itself up slightly and then, folding its wings, drops into a shallow swoop toward cover as a flash of lightning bursts and gutters, and then, virtually in the same moment, a thunderclap swats the bird to the ground. The bird's skull fractures, with a crack that sets its jaw awry, and the pain and shock of crashing is doubled and redoubled with the searing, sugary torture of the split bone. The blasted bird lies turned onto its side, stunned in the tall grass, still dry, though whipped by the wind, which has begun to stink. 

Suffering is playing all around the bird like that stinking wind. Suddenly, she sees the fire. The dream is in the light, the gold and scarlet color, the almost inaudible sound it makes, the impossibly nimble dance it's doing in place, and in the way it swells, as if the bird were hurtling up to meet it and only it, unmoored among all the other fixed things the bird can see. The noise of the fire is like the song of an unfamiliar type of familiar animal. There's a humming, like a swarm of bees. There's snapping like twigs, rustling like dry leaves, but then none of these familiar noises are ever produced at once by the same thing, not in any organized way. The fire thing must have its own organization, which is the reason it sings in the way it does, using the most unusual things as voices. The coloring is strange because the noises have no associations whatever with bright things, like sparkling water running; but then the ocean also sparkles and roars. Incandescent gold sparkled into ruby and sullen bloody scarlet, lacings of symmetrically tongued crimsons and carmines, luminously tawny and sun-glazed sand. The fire looms over her now like a tree growing out of nothing, the stinking, coiling brilliance in front of her seems to want to poison and devour her senses like a swarm of vicious insects, but it is mysteriously contained in itself, even as it fights to hatch itself out of its own shape. The songbird stares in awe at the coilings of towering scarlet monster rearing itself out of nothing, no roots, nothing but grass and the level ground, taking in its writhing shapelessness, its struggles within its bottomless shape, as if it were a huge poisoned animal convulsing and sick, vomiting itself. The fire, set by lightning, dancing out of its irregular footprint and throwing itself impetuously up, up. Now it channels itself along its length to heighten this leaf, standing bolt upright out of its spiny, whirling mass, and now that leaf shrinks back down and becomes a spine while the fire, which seems to be both the whole thing and a sort of darting shootingness inside it, transfers its upward groping into another limb adjacent to the first. 

Horrorstruck, she stares at the beaded lashings sliding along the dry stalks of the grass only inches away from her. She struggles, her skull flaring and crackling with every movement, her head heavy and ungainly, pulling her down to strike it again against the ground and causing the flames already lining the crevice to pop. She watches helplessly as a feeble sticklike arm of the fire effortlessly encircles her. She is trapped inside the fire. She screams. Stares. Screams. Stares. She cannot balance, get her wings out to fly. Then a chance contraction concentrates her will into the effort to rise to her feet. Just then, a lazy flirt of wind dashes a scrap of flame directly onto her, and she catches fire, the flames sucking greedily at her neck and face. Her right eye puckers, charring. The bird flails wildly, battering herself against the ground, all her muscles spasming. She falls on her right side and feels the cool of damp mud through the heat. 

The pain is so total that it almost forces her out of herself somehow. Her right side is slathered with mud. The right side of her face and neck are smoking, but the flames are extinguished. Staggering, she turns to look toward the fire with her one seeing eye, and sees that there is a brownish hollow space inside it, returning her gaze like an unexpected eye.

"This is Reason" it says.

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