Note from Earth

First performed by David Schein
directed by the author
for High Ledges, Soft Shoes
at Studio Eremos
San Francisco, December 9, 1985.

the memory of your lips
smoking in the wreckage of the twentieth century. And I, the
wilted swain beyond its end, proclaim
there’s only one step after this:
the land of unpromised unbliss…
This is another version of the
news you’d have preferred delivered by
the cover of your favorite newsweekly,
and that comforts me and my someone else
as we step over the smoking threshold.
You can probably do without your lips anyway
in your new world.  & I
can do without them too,
though I remember them.…
We notice now that even bricks float in the new waters
flooding our crater,
so you can imagine what happened to vegetables and stuff.
Need a match? Just hold your finger to the landscape
but stay away from the singing pansexual garlic & jalapeño trees.
I know it’s tough because their songs are beautiful
but they cancel people like switches — & the fumes, did I tell
you how the dead leaves float along on the fumes? It’s all
a body can do sometimes to negotiate a path through them.
Scars are fashionable, even though
everybody has them. And the poles are completely
taken up by the rich: they’re awfully wet, but cool & expensive.
Because ice is money now it feels so good on your scars
and you know no matter how much you get of
the stuff it just — well, you of all people.…
They say we’re leaving a beautiful vapor trail of luminous
dust & debris among the stars as we
leave the solar system & that all our old satellites
including the moon now circumrotate a kind of
gravitational ghost where earth used to be.
I don’t know, all these changes so fast, I just
don’t know.…  Minnie 4 (you might as well
know her name, Minnie 3)
Minnie 4 makes mobiles out of petrified birds, — oh
yes, she’s talented, like you were —
these birds are everywhere, like you are and
she says we don’t even remember half of what
we used to be, but is that so surprising?
I mean right this very minute we’re twice
what we’re going to be and that’s not…  I mean we’re like
everything else, arithmetically and geometrically goin’ down,
faster and faster, leaps and bounds, as they
say around the physics lab.
I worry about her though, she smokes
constantly, I mean she just sits there and smokes, day
and night, without even, you know, smoking. Say these
twigs by the way are something, pretoasted though I
don’t suppose you can
taste them but they’re all addiction inside and less
combustible outside, so they burn all day. I try not to inhale.
But, sometimes, what with the planet in the shape it’s in and all,
I kind of think it doesn’t make any difference — you know?
So I sneak a lungful every now and again. It really makes
me a little undizzy, and they say that’s not good for
your vertigo. They also say there’s people in
the underground who have their palates fitted with
lead plates so they can smoke all the time. That way they
are undizzy for hours and can study their signals. By varying
the thickness of your lead plate you can tune it, so it acts
as a filter, and you can get discrete frequencies from your
fillings.  Everybody’s are radioactive — I mean, you know,
at night — when we have night — when somebody opens their
mouth, all you see is this pink to crimson glow, depending on
how many fillings they have. But that’s just the visible radiation.
The fillings in your mouth, see, have a memory of all the
radiation they have ever been exposed to.
I mean, do you have any idea?  Especially now, right.  So
sometimes we go over to Bellini’s hovel, and she’s got this
one kid who’s got nothing but this one Frank Sinatra tune
radiating out of its mouth, day and night — when we have night.
A tune from way back. Other people are content to pretend they’re
stop signs, channel markers, tail lights, etc.
Close their eyes and open their mouth — stop. Close
their mouth and open their eyes — go.…
Course, there’s no more
streets or channels or anything like that. Nope. It’s
just tunnels in the rubble for us, Minnie 3.
But you, you’ve got the
whole universe to wander around in.  You’re such a  …gas.…
But even so, you’re sure going to have a
hard time keeping up with this old earth, honey.
You know, we’re traveling
so fast through the stars we can’t navigate by them any more?
And who would want to come here, anyway, even if they could
find us? From where you are, we must look like a
barbecued eight ball with smallpox and dysentery.
That’s what it looks like from here, anyway.…
But you know, every once in awhile, late at night —
when we have night, or what passes for night —, every once in
a while I look out over the blasted plazas,
and the smokable trees, the useless, mangled
machinery and the truncated peaks; and I see stars out there.…
Blue, blue-white, brown, orange and even red stars, way up,
down, out, whichever way they are, all those points
and specks of light against a deep, black-and-blue universe,
depth against depth, light against black, sparks against cold.
And I know what they say about all that out there — you ever
hear it? Space tells matter how to move,
matter tells space how to curve.
You got that?
Space tells matter how to move,
matter tells space how to curve.
Ain’t that a mess? That was my first thought, too.
It’s all balled up. Out there, in here,
up anywhere, down somewhere — and time!
When I’m looking at that night sky I’m
looking at a window onto all of history. Everything that was
ever known, everything that ever happened is out there, somewhere,
zinging around with all the room imaginable, all the time
in the universe to get someplace and tell somebody
… what happened.
Gazillions of units of information, it’s like a big mouth full
of hot fillings in the head of an old, old man who’s seen
But it’s so peaceful. It’s so deep it might as well
not be deep, you can look as far forwards as you
can backwards like it’s two dimensional,
like a mirror. You know that Hart Crane line, Minnie 3?
Minnie 4 does. “As silent as a mirror is believed/
realities plunge in silence by.”  Remember it?  No?  That’s OK.
You were so… talented…
“As silent as a mirror is believed/realities plunge in
silence by.” That’s it. That’s what I think of when I
look out on space at night, when we have night, right. And it
looks so peaceful out there. So utterly tranquil.
But I know the whole thing’s on fire. You know there’s stuff
crashing into other stuff, and exploding, and sending out
waves of shock and light and heat and Frank Sinatra songs
that can destroy other stuff, that can change itty bitty histories
on itty bitty half-planets, like this one, and pass on, undiminished.…
Once in a while we have these little magnetic storms pass
through here. Oh yeah, I know,
that’s probably some residual local phenomenon or something,
and it won’t last probably, but, you can even see them or
feel them. People with a lot of fillings can taste them.
I personally have never had a cavity in my life. But I can
tell a storm’s around because some of these
old appliances we’ve got lying
all over the place, like a refrigerator
or an egg beater or an outboard motor or sometimes even a car,
will start up for a few seconds, — or just try to start up, if the
field is weak. Or, but they say, when the field is really strong,
these gadgets just burn themselves up. Overrev, like, until they melt.
That’s when the folks with fillings have really got something
to worry about. The fillings get super hot in your head, see.…
But it looks so quiet out there. And if you’re way out there,
Minnie 3, if you’re on one of those points of light,
it must look quiet down here, too,
even though half the planet’s melted away.
And that’s good, I guess. It’s like
the moon used to be. Close up as, I remember it,
it was this blasted, cratered, dead ball
up there in the sky, like something a giant
dung beetle rolled half way home and left there,
but at night, and we always had night then, at night
the whole sky, and the surface of the moon, and the earth, too,
would be completely covered by this cool, thick,
milky blue light. It was everywhere, lying
about what things really looked like, about how things really were,
like this milky blue
rumour of beauty on the face of your
mother’s corpse at her wake, like…
An inspirationally gorgeous piece of desolation.
A seductive destruction. And that’s good, I guess.
It’s nice to have something
like that to admire, once in awhile, something
peaceful, reassuring, — modest almost, in its incredible
power. Even though you know, you know, there’s a lot of wasted,
beautiful lifeforms out there, disguised as light. And we
were like that once. Right there with them,
poised at that moment, dancing, right before destruction,
wasted, but beautiful — more beautiful
than wasted. And we asked ourselves,
How long can it go on?

About the Author

Jim Nisbet

Jim Nisbet has published eleven novels, the most recent of which, Windward Passage, was released by Overlook Press in May, 2010, along with Lethal Injection, the first title in Overlook’s planned reissue of Nisbet’s entire backlist. The Rivages/Thriller edition of Windward Passage will also appear in 2012.  Overlook will publish a new novel, Old & Cold, in the spring of 2012. PM/Green Arcade will publish another new novel, Snitch World, in the fall of 2012. Nisbet has also published five volumes of poetry: Poems for a LadyMorpho (with Alastair Johnston), Gnachos for Bishop BerkeleySmall Apt (with photographs by Shelly Vogel), and Across the Tasman Sea. The San Francisco Book Festival declared Windward Passge the winner of its 2010 Best Science Fiction Award.



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