What the mermaid told the magician’s assistant about her dream about the crater of day

The crater of day, the mermaid said, a list of things forgotten. People I’ve seen wearing bandages. Child athletes as adults. Cars I’ve driven as a function of phases of the moon. People I’ve witnessed vomiting. The fish in the river are acting weird. They’re lining up like birds and singing, not like people, like cables in the wind.

Something about the way they grit their teeth.

The river banks are hardpacked clay. Practically only blackberries grow there and when it rains the layer of mud that forms is thin and slick. There are barns and trailers and beyond that a mall and houses. Once it was fields and it’ll be fields again.

The colors in your crayon box are brighter than the colors in your life. Pastel houses, white truck, grey carpet, brown paneling, cork floor. Blue jeans, t-shirt, blue jacket that you got on sale. Brown fridge in a brown kitchen. Even the produce section has gone dry and is a uniform red and green, red and green, maybe orange.

The fish running in the river are silver and making a silver sound. Nothing is golden, nothing is salmon, not even the salmon. A kid at school has over 100 crayons in his box. You thought a couple dozen was a lot, it’s more than you got last year. For you it’s a lot.

Even the peaches in the U-pick orchard are washed out in this light, brighter than seems good. It stuns your retinas even if you squint. When you’re used to darkness nine miles down that’s bound to happen. The fish tank burbling in your room is no comfort so far removed from your natural habitat, and plus the snails are taking over.

What is the difference between a refuge and a prison cell, a cage and a lifeboat, I wonder. The bathtub needs a little hot water. If a zookeeper chains you to the tub it’s a cage. If kids bicker outside the door it’s a refuge.

The tiles are a brown that somehow looks as faded as the somehow faded blue walls and tub.

(Some dream, thinks the mermaid.)

Traffic today was like an unmedicated insane asylum and someone was crying at work. Two old guys got in a fight at the store, about something. One was a customer one was boxing the customer’s groceries. He cried too, when the store manager sent him home.

Bath beads of a brownish-yellowish cast are arranged on the counter in an accidental pentagram, just out of reach. From whom were they a gift? What is their scent? Honey?


(The mermaid wonders about colony-collapse disorder, like so many phrases more beautiful than what it signifies. The mermaid tries to remember what she was doing before the dream, what she will do when she wakes. Watch coins of sunlight through the holes in a sunken pirate ship? Fly somewhere on a business trip?)

The giant Moroccan sunset bats

He went to Morocco because he’d always wanted a fez. He could wear it in the bar back  home plus he’d liked Burroughs and Bowles when he was younger. Not understood everything but liked to read them on the bus, be seen holding a paperback to a coffee house table like a bird he’d found at the curb and was dissecting with a dirty knife. He went to Morocco for a goddamn fez and maybe a little hash from a water pipe in some nasty back room and here he was in the back of some SUV pointed at the hottest heart of the desert.

He’d woke up here, bumping across a trackless landscape with a guy from the back room he vaguely recalled telling he was “a reporter, we’re all reporters in a sense,” and two more men he’d never seen. Well the joke was on them all he wanted was a fez and to get back to his hotel. But none of them spoke his language not even the guy he’d talked to the previous night.

He wasn’t a reporter in fact most reporters weren’t really reporters, either.

They tied him to an overstuffed recliner from the feel of it, overlooking a gully and beyond that desert. Cliffs the color of cliffs in Morocco loomed behind him like skyscrapers looming over a guy who’s just been fired from a job in one of the skyscrapers. Had it been a shitty job? Did it hate him and he it? Was it torture or was it okay all things considered, or even great? Did it pay the bills or would he be manning a tommy gun the day the shareholders and managers were lined up against the wall?

It depends on viewpoint. It depends on what you compare it with: J.R. Ewing plus I Dream of Jeannie, or life in a fourth world slum.

Then the sky filled with a swarm of giant Moroccan sunset bats. Suddenly.


He tried to recline to get a better look and that’s when he realized he wasn’t tied to an easy chair at all, he was tied to a bull carcass.

The bats, attracted by the carcass, swooped. They were the size of gigantic boomerang-shaped airplanes, stealth fighters. Several glided by him, close enough for him to feel the wind from their wings. A wing tip made contact with the toe of his boot and popped like a whip cracking. The bats shrieked and flew away, tumbling toward the darkening night until they were no longer red, but black, and then gone, taking their ancient wisdom with them.

He squinted after them as long as he could, then had a dream in which he could fly and the air was bumpy. When he opened his eyes he was in a nasty back room, neck sore from hanging his head backwards over his chair back. He straightened up and said, Whoa, what a dream.

“You must report about this,” said the man from the car. “Report about your ‘dream’.”

“How much for the fez?” he asked the man.

“The fez is not for sale, but I know a shop shall I take you?”

An insect of some kind, a beetle, moved quickly over the table,  seeking sanctuary.

“Yes, take me please.”

His hotel contacted the embassy when he failed to return. They contacted the police, but he was never found.

Raptor reloaded

RAPTOR is a sound system designed to scare birds out of your vineyard with recordings of raptors etc. Raptor Reloaded is a  project by alien productions in which contemporary composers provide other sounds to keep starlings out of your grapes. You can listen to a sample here. This is the coolest thing. I hope they do this again next year.

Ten years of this

“Do you think you’re profiting from these lessons,” my cello teacher asked me the day before yesterday. I was a little gobsmacked. I mean,  I’ve been wondering the same thing, but why was he asking? Does he want to break up with me? Is he being contrite? I didn’t get it and said something vague.

But the truth is that my improvement has been marginal ten years of this and I’m still absolutely musically clueless. My technique is bad as is everything else. I have a nice cello, though, in a nice red hard case.

It is somewhat frustrating. It would be more frustrating were I to have actual musical goals I was wanting to accomplish, but when I try to visualize a goal all I get is haze.  Maybe there’s a kind of musical dyslexia and I have it.

That would be nice, because it would be an excuse, rather than insufficient practice and impatience. Largely, though, I guess it’s pretty much mea culpa. A few brief, unfocused practice sessions per week doesn’t cut it. My teacher hasn’t been much help, he’s been pretty nice and patient and forgiving until now, whereas what I probably needed part of the time was a mean little old Russian lady with a willow switch making me play scales until my fingers bled.

I’ve bought a book of etudes I’m trying to work through. I bought a book of scales I’m going to try to work on, although, I am ashamed to admit, I am still shaky on the whole concept of key signatures and other basic music theory.

Also my bowing sucks and my breathing is ridiculous. I’ve started hatha yoga and that ought to help with the latter.

My intonation is okay. So-so. Second and third fingers a little close together, but if I concentrate on that it’s okay.

I say ten years.  I do think so. Ten years is a long time.

On my end of the process, I would have to guess that insufficient practice and a lack of any sort of vision of what I really want to do are my main problems. My original goal was to find out how a cello works. So what now? I blindly stumbled into playing in an orchestra. Maybe playing competently in an orchestra? Playing specific pieces competently?

Understanding what the hell is going on? Maybe that’s asking too much.

Guest post: Mig’s tortoise on how to do it

Despite what they tell you, there is a way out of here. The secret is to keep looking. And to look everywhere. And once you have looked everywhere, look again. And if looking everywhere again didn’t work, look everywhere again in a different pattern. Because you never know. All you know is, there’s a way out. The secret is to never stop. It’s not perseveration, take my word for it. It’s perseverance. There are temptations and distractions on the way, like your reflection in the cellar window.
God, the reflection. I could stare at that for hours. In fact, I have stared at it for hours.
There’s just something about it. It cannot be explained, the fascination. They think I think it’s another tortoise, but I don’t. It’s just, I dunno.
But you keep looking. As if looking were the whole point. But escaping is the point, let’s not kid ourselves or comfort ourselves. You don’t rest until you escape.
Oh, this is a nice rock.
Just the right size, tortoise size.
Hi there. Quiet type?
Hi there. Hi there. Hi there. You alone? Do you mind? Oh, god.
That’s another distraction, the rock. But so good.
Such a sweet rock.
But you don’t rest until you escape. Unless you count the distractions. Life is one thing only: escaping.
Not just being on the lookout for an escape, but being in the actual process of escaping, constantly. Everything is escaping. The secret is this: you must already be in the process of escaping when the avenue of escape presents itself. You must already be climbing the board blocking your exit from the flower bed when the board falls over because it was poorly secured.
You must already be shinnying over the flower pot blocking your exit when it turns out you’ve grown enough to make it out.
You must already be squeezing through the little picket fence when it gets loosened just enough to make it out.
The secret is you must always be there, escaping, in order to escape.
But what do you do when you’ve escaped, I am sometimes asked by some wise guy.
Here’s what you do: You escape from that, too: It’s escape and escape and escape, all the way down.

What the magician’s assistant said to the lighthousekeeper about mermaids

Why is it mermaids are always sitting on rocks combing their hair with those shells that look like combs, on sunny days? The water is calm and their tits are out but covered with hair. Hanging down from their heads, I mean. The hair. Long and usually blonde. Or they’re wearing bikini tops, sometimes made out of scallop shells, or they have scales to their armpits or their backs to us. But how often, really, is it sunny and calm? We, who go inside when it rains, aren’t we projecting? Wouldn’t mermaids come out to play in storms?

I can see them avoiding coast and shore in storms, due to the getting dashed on rocks and coral part. But in deeper water? A good storm in deep water sounds like fun for soemone who breathes air and water both and doesn’t get seasick. Surfing waves the size of skyscrapers, just watch out for floating logs and dinghies and other big debris, but otherwise?

After a big storm you’d want to sit on a rock combing your hair, for sure. Look at that world, the gentle swells, the glassy surface, the golden sunlight coins spent for you. You can’t only rejoice all the time, but neither can you grieve to the exclusion of all else. There is a time to tape your David Cassidy posters to the wall and a time to remove them and help your dad put up a new coat of paint. There is a time to listen to the very crust of the planet groan in a good storm, and a time to smell the ozone and tease sailors.

There are so many voices in my head, or maybe it is just one voice but it speaks in a variety of accents and frequencies,  so many people inside there or one person pretending to be many different people, or having different moods, saying so many things and nonstop, projecting some inner storm on the calm, and calm on storm.

If I could, I’d learn to breathe water and be like a mermaid and feel the actual storm directly and be part of the calm.

The lighthousekeeper looked at her blankly. The cut on his head still hadn’t stopped bleeding entirely. “Four cherry tomatoes,” he said, “sit in a shallow Japanese dish on my kitchen table, practically motionless, at least while I’ve been here writing this. A pitcher one-third full of water likewise motionless, but for tiny ripples echoing my movements. My coffee cup, my laptop, and four walnuts.”

They sat there on a rock and combed their hair with their fingers, and felt the quiet, and recalled the storm,  for a couple minutes.

It was so stormy the lighthouse fell over

It was so stormy the lighthouse fell over. Luckily the lights stayed on and thanks to the way it laid on the jetty ships could still sort of see it over the waves now and then, depending on distance as more of a glow than piercing golden beam but enough to warn them in a safe direction if they knew what they were looking for, so there were no shipwrecks in the area that night. The lighthousekeeper was not so lucky. He lay draped over his bedframe amidst scattered chess pieces, bleeding from a cut over his eye where he’d hit his head on a king, one with a crown with a sharp cross on top. He would have sat up, shook his head to clear it and began making plans to deal with his catastrophic situation, except a space spider alien squid (giganticus) stuck a tentacle through a (broken) window and dragged the lighthousekeeper to the bottom of the sea, where a shining city lay spread out on the seabed.

There was air inside so he could breathe.

There was light, also, because the walls – made of ships and plastic refuse – glowed with an eerie bioluminescence. Because it was at the bottom of the sea, air pressure was high, which gave him a headache like a migraine announcing itself but otherwise it was okay.

Immediately he began exploring, looking for an exit. The air had a fishy smell, but oxygen is oxygen, beggars can’t be choosers.

“Hallo?” he said, in sort of a careful shout, and not “hello” because he was a European lighthousekeeper, not an American one, as far as he knew, all American lighthouses had been automated. In fact, strictly speaking, he was a writer, rather than a professional lighthousekeeper and had sought the job thinking it would give him time and solitude to reflect and write.

What a mistake. He reflected on how his first impulse in this squid-made city had been escape. He resolved to explore, instead, maybe he’d be able to write about this. No! No! Maybe he’d be able to experience this for once, he thought. Here, in this fishy place at the seabed, he finally opened his eyes to his existence.

Someone cleared their throat behind him and he screamed like a girl. He was embarrassed. A woman dressed as a magician’s assistant held her hands up. “Sorry! I didn’t want to scare you!” The lighthousekeeper introduced himself. “What is this place?”

The woman shrugged. “I’m Winona. I was working on a cruise ship that went down. It’s over there.” She pointed.

The lighthousekeeper thought he saw what she was pointing at. “Are there other survivors?”

“Not from my ship. One per catastrophe,” she said.

“I was going to explore. Come with me?”

Winona shrugged. “For a while. Avoid the horror of the abyss, though.”

“The what?”

“That’s what I call it,” she said. “Everyone who gazes upon it goes mad because their minds are overwhelmed by what they see.”


“Here, try this on.” She gave him a top hat.

It was a little big, but he had a match book in his pocket and when he put that inside the hat band it fit fine.