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Speaker for the Dead - 31 May


I was up later than usual last night. Jennifer had gone off to sleep in her room around midnight. The house was quiet. I was running character recognition passes over photographs of songs I'd written. Repetitive work that frees the mind while holding its attention on a slight leash. 

I thought I heard a man's voice. The neighbor's house is close. After we painted, we left all the curtains and blinds off the windows, so the house is open and often feels as if we are living in a diorama. I could see no one outside.

Now I heard a woman's voice. I went to the front door and looked out. 

Chloe and Emma, the dogs from next door, who guard the alley, were barking and chasing something. Our front gate was open. I thought I'd closed it. 

Then I saw a possum, larger than Chloe, a medium sized brown terrier. Emma, an overweight Mexican chihuahua, was right up in its face like an angry housewife. The possum paid the barking dogs no mind, ambling into our front yard like Sidney Greenstreet on a nefarious errand. 

I suddenly remembered I'd put too much food in Cat's bowl in back and hurried through the house and out the back door to pick it up. It was empty. There's a crow who often waits in the oak tree over the backyard, squawking at Cat to finish eating so he can eat the rest. 

I figured either the crow had finished off the bowl or the possum had gotten to it earlier. I waited in the blue moonlit shadows for the possum to suddenly round the corner and find me there. I hoped I could surprise him. 

The insects began to chime and choir again. This eerie haunting sound. The leaves of the oak tree rustled. Crow dreams, black feathers. 

I thought I heard the woman's voice again, laughing and playful, as if a man was unsuccessfully seducing her. 

It was so real I crept around to the back of the house and looked into the dark spaces behind everything, wondering if two crackheads were bedded down there. The fallen leaves were thick in the ground and Virginia Creeper covered the walls. There was no one back there. 

I figured I'd just gotten spooked. I stood for a moment at the back door studying the shadows as the insects sang in the haunting choir. 

As I stepped back into the house, I smelled another man's body odor: pungent, strong. The hair on the back of my neck rose up. Could someone have slipped in the door while I was looking out back? 

I checked the bathrooms and closets. I smelled my own clothes for any trace of the scent. 

I heard a man speaking in a low voice again. It seemed he was inside the walls or maybe the attic. 

Yesterday, I had heard what I thought was a squirrel up there making noise. Maybe, I thought, this man and his woman were up there hiding, doing drugs and sleeping on the roof. 

Then, I realized what was happening and sat down at the desk. And I held my head in my hands. 

***

I had worked all day - 12 hours or more. I didn't sleep much the night before. I drank too much for two nights in a row. 

I knew there was no man or woman living on the roof or in the walls or out back in the leaves, those voices were all in my head. 

I remembered this exact paranoid feeling from when I used to smoke crack. With crack, you hear voices all the time, the thup thup thup of your heartbeat becomes helicopters circling overheard, tracking your heat signature, while cops are closing in with their high tech microphones. They have been listening to everything you’ve said and done. The neighbors also know what you are doing. Everybody knows. It's just a matter of time before there's the hammering on the door and the battering ram breaks it down and they come in to find you fumbling to feverishly hit that last rock before they take you away. 

It's horrible and this thinking infects every moment of your life. Long after you've stopped smoking crack, there's a reflexive sense of shame and humiliation that follows you around like your own personal dark cloud. 

Years may pass: and you are clean as a whistle and healthy as a horse - but you cannot escape the crack-laced thinking that sees through these pat cliched phrases and works to convince you are are still that hungering desperate greedy detestable addict who would lie and steal and betray everyone you ever loved to just have one solitary uninterrupted hour with a bag of rocks and a glass pipe. 

This worm I once ate was wrapped around a sharp and barbed hook. It set deep inside me. And I know I’ll never be free of it. 

***

When I was around twelve-years old, I caught a seven pound large-mouthed bass with bamboo pole while I was fishing for Redfin with my Grandfather. I almost broke the pole getting him in the boat. 

When I finally did, there was no sign of the hook, just the monofilament line disappearing into the depths of his throat. He had hit the bait with such violence that he'd swallowed the hook into his stomach. I'd have had to tear out his insides to get the hook back. My Grandfather told me to cut the line and just leave it be. 

After I placed him in the catch basket, I hung over the side and watched to see if he would be all right. He seemed fine, as if the hook gave him no trouble. 

***

I hate the word addiction. I can argue all day about how wrong it is, how inaccurate, and how it doesn’t begin to describe the nature of my desire. But whatever the word means, it's like that hook. I know it's buried deep in me. 

And while it won't kill me, it makes its presence known on those odd nights like last night. It is a mystery how subtle and how seamlessly it insinuates itself into my thinking, how easy and natural it is to believe I am normal and what’s wrong is out there in the world.

The voices were all in my head, that foul body odor was my own, and the desperate vagrant hiding in the fallen leaves, believing he is a pariah and outcast was me. 

It is me. 
***

The dogs bark every night. 

And the possum has his usual midnight path. 

Squirrels chatter around on the roof in the morning. 

And the crow rattles and squawks at Cat.

The world is fine. As ordinary as the sunrise.

My days are filled with writing like never before. My mind dwells in the deserts of New Mexico with the enormous Skull of God hidden in a cave and a man who will not die and lives to crucify himself and others. 

And with Jones, who died long ago and whose ghost will not leave me alone, who is always waiting for me to carve the meat from his bones and bury his skull in a hive full of honey.

I am the one who is watching. I am the witness. My job here is to chronicle, to write it all down as dispassionately as a historian, to carve and polish the language into a shining bone. 

Many of my hours are in agony with the Man Who Can Not Die, Demos. The rest pass by in clever and happy conversation with Jones, dead now more than a dozen years.

In this inner world, monks and witches walk around in impatient circles, drowning dogs struggle, buzzards wait patiently in the branches, coyotes watch red-eyed from the edge of the fire’s light, golden bees feed upon Jones' blackened face and the ancient voices of the Fugitive Gods, who left traces of their passage still present upon the fundament of this world, whisper out of the stone. 

***

I believe writing is the making of a wound, revealing bone beneath skin and flesh. I must make myself vulnerable. There must be blood. And there must be a risk of infection with old dis-ease. 

I know how to summon the dead: you sacrifice a living thing, drain its blood into a pit. The dead will come to drink and feed their empty souls. Others will come to watch the dead while they drink, but will not lower themselves to feed. And others still to simply remind themselves of what it was to be alive, standing apart, from a distance. 

Only those who have fed are required to be responsible to your questions. I am fine with this. 

That shameful creature with his buried hook, hiding in the leaves out back can stay. He is a nuisance but no threat. He has no answers, no responsibility. 

But those others that have come to watch, that are not compelled to say anything or even be here, they are the ones for whom I desire to be the speaker.