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Victims of the Wedding

He who has suffer’d you to impose on him, knows you.
                                —William Blake

1:  Prenuptial

He wakes with his face pressed against the window of an airliner. Outside he can see nothing but clouds, and in his memory the dream he had been dreaming also contained nothing but clouds. There was, he thinks, a rightness in that marriage of world and dream, of mind and sky: Adam’s dream of Eve in Milton, which the man had read in college. He is holding an old spiral-bound notebook in his lap, with the nub of a pencil attached to it by a length of greasy string. Should he be writing something? Was he in the habit of taking notes? As he watches, the thunderheads through which the plane is flying seem to be vanishing, thinning, or melting away. Soon he will see the earth again, and the city to which he is traveling; soon he will remember himself, and the name of the city, and the reason he is going there. But the more the clouds depart, the less he can see the ground; gaps in the clouds reveal only darkness, and darkness beyond darkness, until at length he begins to see stars within it, and he thinks Have I slept into the night? But wasn’t I to arrive at noon?  Were others on the airplane seeing what he saw? Was there a general bewilderment, or panic? He looked down at his notebook and saw written there, in his own hand, these words: Do you hear the sound the water in the streambed makes as it runs over smooth stones? There is the entrance. He looked around and saw there was no one else on the plane. The seats were empty, as though while he was sleeping there had been an evacuation, or the Rapture had taken the others. Beyond the window he could see now only space and its unfamiliar constellations. The clouds had erased the earth. So, he thought, this is how it ends. But wasn’t he supposed to attend a wedding? What would they think of him, the bride and groom, the wedding party, the bridesmaids, if he did not appear? How would he explain himself? And how would his gift now be delivered?

2: The Doorjamb of the Labyrinth

An angel and a daemon were having a meeting just past midnight on a dewy lawn. They were the angel and daemon of a particular woman and man—or one of their angels and one of their daemons—and they had business to attend to.

We have both made promises, the daemon said. Whose promises shall be kept?

My promises, said the angel, are difficult things, but attainable.

Mine, said the daemon, are easy things, but impossible.

That’s the traditional way, the angel said, and they shook hands on it. 

3: A Confusion of Choices Among the Forking Ways

She went down to the shore of her lake, and there she found him, naked and unconscious, washed up among the remnants of his craft that had foundered. She lifted him easily—she was powerful—and took him back to her home. She laid him still unconscious on her bed, and washed him all over, cleansing every inch of him carefully, considering each part. This one has promise, she thought, and so I won’t turn him immediately into a pig, unless he turns out to be one. She washed him again—not because she thought he needed it, but for her own curiosity and satisfaction, probing into every crevice of him. When he wakes, she thought, if he ever does, I will find out his story. But for now I will find out him. And she washed him a third time, anointing him in costly oils after absorbing every smell he possessed. 

The angel and the daemon sat near the bed in their usual chairs. This is an interesting scenario, the angel said, though I have a feeling I have seen it before. 

What haven’t you seen before? the daemon said, and then went on watching while she washed the senseless man a fourth time for reasons entirely of her own.

4: An Uncertain Path through Branching Tunnels

In the middle of the night he finally wakes up. He is lying next to a woman, who is sleeping; it is winter, and there is a deep fresh snowfall outside; though there are no lights on, the window is illuminated by moonlight reflected from the snow. The man and woman are both naked, but covered in a thick duvet they are warm. The man’s arms are around the woman and her back is to him; he can feel her breath as it moves in and out of her body, just as he himself had done a few hours earlier, she atop him and astride, but with the cover up against the cold that surrounded them, leaning close to him so he could take her nipple in his mouth and feel the soft moan that came out of her along with her breath, the same breath he can see lit like the window by moonlight, snow-light, that hangs around them, like the cold that hangs around them, making a crystal cave for them in the bed where they lie, as in cave in a forest, safe and glowing just a little, magical, alive.

5: Dead End

A spring night next. He is standing at the top of the garden’s highest hill just as the sun is setting: a very slender crescent moon, no more than a curved incision of light, presides over the sun’s departure. The air is heavy with smells: cut grass, fresh herbs, the provocation of mock orange. The man feels himself pierced by the evening’s aura: it is a bounty and a judgment of which he feels unworthy but by which he feels blessed. When the woman appears soundlessly beside him as if herself conjured by that air, or as if the embodiment of that aura, he is not surprised. The hill is hers, and the sky is hers, and the night, and the moon carved into it. This place is like a flawless piece of fruit, into which he has insinuated himself like rot, but he is neither sorry nor guilty; rather he is grateful to be so nourished. Is it time? he asks the woman. Time for what? she says. To die, he says, or to go inside. 

6: Backtrack/Recursion I

In the back of the house there was a secret room. No one knew about it, not the man, not even the woman whose house it was; likely not even the previous owner had known of its existence, or the owner before that one. The history of the room went back to the builder of the house, and even she had, by the end of her life, barely remembered it was there. It had been, then, decades since anyone had found the cunningly hidden door, or opened its intricate catch, much less entered the room to find its secret. Or such was the dream the man was having when he woke that morning, at the same time the woman woke, saying I had the strangest dream about a room at the back of the house. . . .

7: Recursion II

She wanted to be naked in starlight on the jetty that went out over the small lake; she left her clothes in a neat pile at the very end, where the weathered wood overhung the water, and stood feeling the warm air against her body. She wanted to be naked in starlight there, and she was, and it was good. She wanted him to be naked with her, and he left his clothes too in a less neat pile and stood feeling her feeling the warm air against her body; she wanted him to be naked in starlight there, and he was, and it was good. She wanted him to lie down on the wood, and he did, carefully, not to get splinters, and she stood above him, watching him, wanting him to be naked in starlight—wanting him to be naked starlight—and he became naked starlight to satisfy her wanting. She wanted starlight to be naked in her on the jetty, and her will was done. And he? He wanted her will to be done.

8: Sense of Direction

The angel and the daemon sat beside the bed where the man and woman were making love. They were interested in human lovemaking, always—connoisseurs, one might say, though they had no direct experience of it—and found it interesting to compare notes on the process.

Do you think, the angel said, that what they’re doing there is really worth all the effort they put into it? It seems to be a lot of work.

I take them at their word, the daemon said, and in every word they speak, even when they are not speaking, they affirm the worth of it.

But look, the angel said, he pierces her. How can that be a pleasant thing?

It’s a mystery, the daemon said, but she pierces him too. The mystery resides in that also.

But can it be a pleasure to be licked like that? He’s licking her nipples. I do not see the joy in that.

And soon, said the daemon, her tongue will be in his ear. Our understanding of their ecstasy is quite beside the point. Just accept that.

You seem to be implying, the angel went on, that there is a reciprocity in it?

Otherwise, the daemon told him, they would both be terribly lonely right now.

The woman grasped the man’s hair and pulled his head to her mouth just as he pressed deep inside her; she put her tongue in his ear and he moaned, but she whispered to him, Are those two still watching us?

He glanced over out of the corner of his eye, where the two supernatural gargoyles sat on three-legged stools beside the bed. They are, he said. And does it excite you to have them watch us?

If it didn’t, she said, feeling her turbulence beginning, they would both be terribly lonely right now.

9: Recursion III

The woman lit a candle, and then with her finger drew a shape in the air. The man appeared there. 

Of all the women in the world, he said, I invoke you.

I thought it was I who had conjured you here, she said.

So it always seems to humans, the daemon instructed the angel, at all times and everywhere.

10: The Minotaur’s Tracks

There was an inaudible, visceral rumbling in the night and the man and woman got up; they went out on the porch to see the cause. Down the hill, beyond the property line, there were explosions; spectral tanks raised their cannons in the starlight; concertina wire was strung across the road that ran by the house, and men and women wearing body armor maneuvered intricately and mysteriously in the middle distance. Meanwhile, people could be seen driving to work, walking their dogs, carrying bags of groceries past rows of foxholes; a minister performed a wedding next to a machine gun nest; children were playing, and shrapnel flew silently over the scene.

They’re at it again, the woman said.

The last time this happened, we were killed, the man answered.

The woman put her arms around him and kissed him. I think we’ll be fine this time.

When they came back inside, the angel and the daemon, who had been napping on their stools, leaning uncomfortably against each other, woke up. Another war, eh, the angel said. Looks like it, the demon said, but our two here don’t seem worried.

Why would they? the angel said. Together they are stronger than an army.

You think so? the daemon said. Weren’t they killed once before?

Oh, my friend, said the angel, even in their eternity things change, but never for the better or for the worse. They change because they change.

11: A Hallway that Narrows to a Point

He was lost in a blizzard that went on for decades. He was immune, it seemed, to the cold of which it was an expression, but he could not see through it and he could not find his way out of it. After awhile he stopped trying. It became his climate. He went about his life in spite of it, even forgetting, finally, that it was there. Without realizing it, he had become covered in snow, encased in it, and imagined that was his proper and fated condition. Within his snow skin he had a life. He did things, accomplished something. But he still dreamed, sometimes, of a spring field, of flowers in a vase, of orchids in a pot.

12: Window in a Cul-De-Sac

That landscape had been damaged; there were scars. The man and the woman walked out in the early morning and went to work with spading forks and hoes. By midmorning all evidence of the war had been smoothed over; by lunchtime, there were new gardens everywhere: herbs grew on the sites of foxholes, a burnt-out half-track provided the structure for a raised vegetable bed; there were flowers growing along the boundaries of no man's land. 

It’s interesting, the angel said, how easily humans absorb history and remake it as if it had never happened. You’d think they’d wear out with it.

It’s different for them than for you and me, the daemon said, they are able to forget because they are capable of ecstasy. 

13: In a Corner, the Spoor of a Large Animal

The woman waited. The man slept. Outside the big wind was whipping across the water, and the small broken ship was scattered even farther up and down the shore, its masts shattering to kindling. The woman walked by the shore, gathering the bits of boat, carrying them up to her woodpile. The ship that had carried him warmed the house for them, burning. The burning ship invisible behind the woodstove’s window: the ship and all it contained, all it conveyed. 

14: Chamber with Music and the Stink of the Bull

There were many children in the meadow on the hill. The man and woman had been fertile, and the children took the meadow like an invading army, in rags if they were wearing clothes at all, feral, lean, their eyes bright with hunger, their play, such as it was, like the play of young jackals, but each held an old spiral-bound notebook in his or her dirty hand, with the nub of a pencil attached to it by a length of greasy string. They moved across the meadow from every direction under a waning late autumn sun, as if they came there by pre-arrangement, as if there were a purpose in their convergence, a destination.

At the center of the meadow the angel was on all fours; behind the angel, the daemon mounted and entered, though just what angelic orifice received him or her it is difficult to say. As neither creature was permanently gendered, all the apparatus was nonce and, so to speak, home-made.

I still fail to see the pleasure in this, or any other purpose, the angel complained.

You still aren’t doing it right, the daemon replied, laying another stripe on the angel’s buttocks with a golden cat-o-nine-tails. Haven’t you watched the humans enough yet to understand?

Evidently not, the angel muttered, changing, through a mystical force of will, the nether configuration to resemble yet more closely what humankind had revealed. Perhaps we need more ichor, or some ectoplasm.

Keep trying, the daemon grunted.

So distracted were the mystical pair that they failed to notice the sharp-toothed children surround them. They moved as quietly as ferrets through the grass and took up positions at all degrees around their objective. When they all were ready, they opened their notebooks and began to draw the most beautiful, accurate, and obscene illustrations of what they observed.

15: Glimpse of an Unattainable Exit

When he woke up, the man thought he was reborn, and then he thought he had dreamed the great storm. What would he have been doing on a ship at all, much less being the captain of one? The idea was absurd. And the room he woke in was both strange to him and familiar. He seemed to remember being carried. Who would have carried him, from where, and why? He felt weak, but only from hunger; he was hungry. He desired. But when the woman appeared in front of him—had she stepped out of a shadow?—he knelt in front of her. She put her hand on his head. He thought she would ask him to rise, but she did not: she held him there with a power he did not understand, but to which he gladly acceded. He was in her domain. 

Doesn’t he know all he has to do is stand up? the angel said. She’s not preventing him.

He is choosing, the daemon said. Angels always have difficulty comprehending the nature and significance of human choosing.

Angels never make choices, the angel said. Or, well, one did, and that is why the rest of us don’t.

16: Hallway with Collapsing Roof

Having made his choice, the man turned and saw a landscape transformed. Gouts of bloody cloud rose into the sky, pillars of smoke and flame; bombs fell from unseen incunabula in the vortex of the firmament. He looked again and saw the body of the woman, pierced by a splintered two-by-four from the frame of the demolished house, framed in a bed of hibiscus; the angel and the demon too had been torn to fragments by the maelstrom, and their essences flung across the moonlit lawn.  He looked skyward and saw his own disintegration descending like a flaming airliner from the black sky.

17: Icarus Falls Through the Roof of the Penultimate Chamber

If there is no earth, can the airliner be descending? Is the wedding party waiting? Will there be champagne in the void? Will there be a wedding band? In his spiral-bound notebook, the man is writing everything he knows with the stump of a pencil. It is said a person is the sum of a life’s choices. My choices have been random, and fated, and fatal, and so this is what I am.

18: The Work of the Maker

Before time began, but after the last war, all the spirits were gathered in a great echoing vacuous space. They arranged themselves in a hierarchal circle, understanding without being told by anyone that they were about to be offered an opportunity, one which must be faced decisively and accomplished precisely, otherwise something as yet nameless and unknown would overtake that which had yet to be created. Before them appeared a large bin, painted drab green and spotted with rust, the mystic word Dumpster stenciled on its side. Inside, they all knew (again without being told), were objects, though in that time before objects existed that word had a dubious status.

One by one, in the order of their place in the great schematic, the spirits came forward, looked into the bin—which was practically speaking gazing into a future universe—and chose the thing that then became the destiny of his or her kind. First came the greatest of the demiurges, who chose a golden crown known as Kether, the topmost of the Sephirot of the Tree of Life; then came the archangels, who chose sundry wings and haloes; after them the multitudes of angels and seraphim and cherubim, who carted away robes and sandals and censors as if they were bargains at a yard sale. They were followed by the daemonic orders—djinn, foliots, devils of all kinds, Beelzebubs all, collectors of pitchforks and sulphuric vapors and the like. The gathering was multitudinous beyond counting, and the bin, though not as large as one might expect, seemed inexhaustible—setting a pattern for the future of miracles.

Still, as the ceremony proceeded and the gathered, after most of an eternity, dwindled, the last of the spirits approached the great receptacle. This of course was the spirit of humanity, last in everything, and least likewise. A meager wisp of a creature, the spirit of humanity had to borrow an ottoman from a sleepy Luciferian to stand on in order to reach the very rim of the bin.

When the spirit looked inside, it discovered to its surprise that the bin was neither empty (usually the kind of thing that happened to the spirit of humanity), nor did it contain merely a single rejected item (which is what long conditioning had led the spirit of humanity to think the most likely eventuality). To its surprise, it found there three things: a decaying brain, a bloody heart, and an old spiral-bound notebook, with the nub of a pencil attached to it by a length of greasy string. Horrified by the brain and disgusted by the heart—while only disappointed in the notebook—the spirit chose the latter.

A bolt of lightning split the sky, which before had been nonexistent, and—in punishment for having made the wrong choice yet again—the spirit of humanity was forced to take the heart and the brain as well.  


T. R. Hummer’s tenth book of poems, Ephemeron, was published by LSU Press in November 2011; his second book of essays, Available Surfaces, will appear in University of Michigan Press’s Poets on Poetry Series in 2012. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and teaches at Arizona State University.