Winter 03

from Nothing in the Dark, a prose-poem noir


          News today that more planets have been discovered. Of course astronomers don't see them as they might gold or turquoise spheres in a telescope's lens, as ringed and polar-capped ball bearings circling orange suns. These planets are no more than infinitesimal but consistent diminishings of invisible light read by state-of-the-art sensors and transmuted to a binary code interpreted wishfully as "planet." My apprehension of the events around me is no more direct, an empiricism of derived and interpreted impulses. I observe, I act, I observe myself acting, I record the observations in something approximating a dream diary. I discover evidence, connections that can't be diagrammed, only assumed from variations in the patterned behaviors of others. Two of Felice's fingernails are chipped. They were not chipped yesterday. Something has happened. Something new has entered the known universe, and once again that universe is open to question.


          Extreme actions can be motivated by nothing stronger than a desire for change. A wife poisons a husband or a husband shoots a wife, and afterwards, in court, will make a point of saying It was nothing personal; I just couldn't live like that anymore. The human race invents new definitions for like that every day: I couldn't stand being trapped another minute. I couldn't live knowing that the present was my future. I couldn't go on being the one less loved. I couldn't stand feeling like the center of someone else's universe. Your like that is probably in there somewhere, growing in the back of your mind right now, like interest on an unwise loan.


          The apartment was empty except for some worn and sagging furniture, a few blurry prints of Impressionist paintings, and an ancient, cabinet-style record player. The man I needed to question had left so quickly that he'd forgotten to turn it off. Amid the record's scratches and pops, I recognized the music: Bill Evans playing "My Foolish Heart" at the Village Vanguard. Sweet, sad, fragile on top, knowing and resilient underneath. It was the song you played for your date once both of you knew this would be the night you'd sleep together for the first time. It was also the song you'd play alone in the middle of the night of the day she told you that it was over. Judging from the open bottle of Jack Daniels on the battered night stand and the overturned shot glass on the carpet, the presence of a single, aluminum frozen dinner tray in the trash, I guessed the latter scenario. Maybe I didn't need to find and interrogate him, after all. Maybe he didn't know anything I hadn't already figured out. I left the apartment with an unsettled feeling, angry at myself for empathizing so readily with a stranger whose only connection to me was a few notes on a piano played decades ago by someone long dead. I walked home in double time, needing a drink, wanting as much as I'd wanted anything to hear that song again from beginning to end.


          My dreams nearly always have endings—clear denouements in which I am either proven to be right or wrong, final moments in which the previous millisecond's surreal mysteries are explained in a flurry of prepositions and pipe smoke. Mundane as it sounds, I dream of my work, of who I am when I am awake, although my dream-self occasionally wears large rubber masks in imitation of wolves or lizards. This morning, for example, just before I woke to the yellow tetrahedron of sun on my bedroom wall, my dream ended with myself and a short, portly Englishman jovially discussing our brilliant solution to the case of the purloined radish. Each of us seemed far too willing to share credit for this little triumph, and had the situation occurred in real life, I would have been troubled. One of us would be hiding something. But no, since the context was completely fanciful, we could be nothing but two thoroughly humble and honest men who breathed water and spoke a language resembling Russian heard through a plastic tube, rewarded enough by the simple fact that we had once more made it through till dawn without sacrificing a single grain of sand.












Fred Muratori's poetry collections are The Possible and Despite Repeated Warnings. His poems and prose-poems appear in New American Writing, LIT, Denver Quarterly, 5_Trope, and Rattle, among others, and he regularly contributes poetry criticism to American Book Review, Boston Review, and Rain Taxi. He is the Bibliographer for Anglo-American and Comparative Literature at the Cornell University Library.