Smoked to Life

Davy Carren
Nov 13, 2016 · 10 min read

We were not using American water. For years we’d used foam, soldered tubes of uranium, and lumpy sun-kissed flecks of spatula glint to harness the potent energy swirl of vocational fun. It worked. We got by. The harder parts of staying unholy: Jesus hair, lost harbinger perception, and looting eyes. Being unholy was only good if you uttered something akin to: “Oh! Holy shit!” That’s about as far as any of us was going to get with it. We talked like wolves hiding in the boscage, almost pounce-ready, but still bashful enough to need cocktails before breakfast. “Don’t hear me listening,” I once warned an armadillo-skin armored oxygen-mask wearer. He went light on butter when it came to toast, and this drew respect from those who learned admiration from classists. Me? Well, I enjoyed the challenge of class struggle as much as most did then, but it wasn’t up my alley, per se, to accomplish great things on the scale of well-oiled crispiness. “Be alone and forget yourself,” would’ve been a better motto for us. Over fields of violets we strode in bowling shoes soled with taps, as saltation wasn’t exactly what was needed, but close; and, as one might expect, we used this to our advantage needlessly. Zooming in on the crosshairs of battle. That was a catchall for a few days. It wasn’t a season. We had to make do with pellets of eclectic zeal and soft pink erasers. “Smatter it,” I grew fond of saying. It wasn’t all my duty, but that didn’t bother me. Help would arrive. We’d use it or not. Most of our achievement’s misery was second- or third-hand stuff, and we, or I too, did not care for later arriving “troops” of a haunting disposition. Varicose-veined men stripped of their camels trickled supplies our way through the airport-security diligence of what we hoped were not enemy combatants. Nobody was fearful. I made careful loops in the metallurgical proofs of what we were then fond of calling, “Our little professors.”

One must maintain confidence in oneself at all costs. Due to the little Korean girls in sombreros and the Finnish day laborers who sell their wares and smoke indecent cigarettes on the curb (because of course we are a many varied species who relish consciousness), we must argue for control of all decisions; doing so makes us appear purposeful and ready to be followed. That is life sometimes. You just have to roll around in it.

What to do. Be distraught with gingerbread. Cook skinless snakes on the stainless steel stoves. More of the different. Be inclined with jumpiness and alert. I am timing bored elephant runners in their brutal task of staring into deep holes of the border’s concrete. We all look for tomorrow in our own way. Hurrying doesn’t become me, or them.

Like the sham looks of retired hornet keepers, when the moon gets this way it is best to leave it alone.

Laughing at stalks. Not sure if they are beans or neglected wiring from gone-bad refrigerators. Maybe we could leave them be, alone or together. We don’t, though. “Capering o’er mountains speeds warm-blooded clouds, bold as ere an eve’s storm; ought not face sunnier climbs, instead place orders through a small window,” retells the magician’s uncle, and then, “I cannot listen to everything I hear.” It’s a good accompaniment to my sound-incapacitated pinball game. The stalks return our favor with windy shudders. Believing in something takes a know-how that none of us as of yet possess. A sign? Well, I am not one to consider truth to be less likely than belief. Besides, replaceable parts have fallen out of favor with the more progressive among us. Open a can; scream, “Can opener!”

Far flung. That’s harder not to explain. It turns out the captain’s got gout. He told us yesterday over cockroach lasagna, just after dimming the lights. The troops were not exactly rallied by this. So many of us are rashy and dyspeptic. We’d all be willing to trade beer for new skin, but there’s nothing here to chase us, and so we stay, not hidden as much as unseen, patrolling sounds or less flattering bodies of water with a bit of hunger comforting us to a steady beat: “Lum, lum, lum, lum…” Piece me together and you will have nothing except used parts.

Jugs. Ewers. Earthenware containers. Canteens. Plastic bottles. Barrels made of ravaged shingles. Thin-stave kegs. Zebra-skin flasks. Human hands. We try not to let things slip through our catching vessels. Copper vases in fireplaces. Clean? That’s difficult to assess. It might be worth somebody’s while to account for leakage, in terms of ullage or with a grains-per-sand scale, but we don’t come to blows over it. We are all considerate of moderation — though none of us knows how to perform moderately. It’s not something that worries me. The scenery here tells it like it never should’ve been. The scent of pine sends us half crazy into October-country withdrawal. The lowing of the foghorn makes us reminisce. It’s like a treaty we’ve not only never signed but never even seen — only heard of, without listening. My new pajamas are just snug enough without being too tight around the hips.

Not completely assured that the sky would let itself rain, we ran out of hats and cigar boxes at the same time, and so had to gather plastic bags. Further convictions were left at the exit. I ran. It was just out of spite though, so I halted myself before too much had become of it; and, if truth tells on itself, I spent a night sleeping through bouts of thunder with trembling windows momentarily lit by flashing yellow-bright streaks of what I couldn’t conceive of as lightning.

The stairs helixed. You had to lean your way around down them. Every step was loud, even bootless, even barefoot. Too much rambunctiousness did us in: stomps and readily available panned shows of unclapping resistance, and what most of us were referring to as “moon heavy” disarmament plans. Friday held on to Thursday with the jealous grip of next Tuesday’s grim infatuation. We launched paper at the air.

In the midmornings we speak of photographs we wished we’d taken. Hands don’t always clasp. Our voices are little more than whispering. A few go on and off about unused utilities, drawing chopsticks as they stop and go, uneasy, tempered, and, what really clips the cow’s tail, brave. Vermouth flows; we mix our spirits with gutter water.

“Don’t ever tell me to ask. I’m mischievous enough as it is.” That’s what a clambering sneezy bastard said the other night when I conspiratorially winked in his general direction. The rivers were bland. We all had Texas for dessert. Nobody fed themselves. A geezer who weighed more than a docked oil tanker told me, “Crowing gets one everywhere, it seems.” Through the blinds we get Novembered to dry thoughts. “Gas pumps,” I almost cough aloud, “are bespectacled in these parts. Keep your eyes off of them. They are being milked.” Shyness almost overwhelms me, so I stop, crawl back towards the ATMs, and attempt to mentally bull’s-eye the constraints of my escape. It doesn’t work. Frederick, a temperamental bassoonist, keeps me in check with a moonlit mile of chewing, gaping, and lewd grapples with honey-soaked prairie dogs. If we argue, which is not quite as often as often, it is beyond the capacities of mootness. Recently I told him, “Let’s change modes of chance for a change. Believe in gasoline; it keeps us poor. Nobody, not even the rain, pays such small dividends.” If he heard me he wasn’t listening. It goes with much saying, for he is an ex-rebel, and I cannot pull the plug on temporary Midasism, even if it martyrs itself for the best. We boil monkey skin to add some zest to the robust zeal of our nights. Washing clothes is not an option. Dirt lays down our schemes for us. We must not omit it.

I was working on staying dry. Rain stomped down; we apricoted from the pit of the stomach what good umbrellaing would do, and it worked, dingy as it was, and, without further fear of safety, we gassed it. Mostly it was courage we paid for. Kinship? Lost allure? Siphoning? It was all done with the hassle of grogginess, ever old, upon us. Killing trees for spare parts? Nothing was below or above us. I decided to wear a permanent pout on my mug. It wasn’t a shame at all.

We slip on melted gold. I hack my madness from tree stumps, and then go off telling stories to make everybody’s sleep easier. The aluminum ramparts grow sticky with mold. This isn’t a mess for those of us troubled by crouching small. The way to swim is sideways. Entrancing as bathing in warm milk might be, it is not our wrong to flourish in a hard or easy manner. The captain fetches us for reasons nobody should ever know, and we crank the gears backwards, and we dog nap, and the valuable extractions like black blood sprinkler all around, and we rinse off under the spray of petroleum until shining is all we can do.

Many of the coal workers had married widows. It was a safekeeping measure, not always followed through on. Most of us knew when not to keep quiet; we were loud about it; the birds even eavesdropped in while the coal shovels clanked and scraped, while we squatted and harbored no ill-meant “all’s well” in our devising. Fatter times were ahead, we were told, and we wasted away to bone wishing to know them soon. Soon? Well, that didn’t come our way until the spill, and the spill conjured its own spirits among the largest yacht-goers from hither to to. A way of going crazy, in particular separating one’s self from the selves of others and flipping and rearranging how the world views itself, is the only way we seem to be able to go, now, or later, too. The sky is cloudy with remnants of crude dreams, visions of the Orinoco oil sands scandalizing the brutality of our lazy clichés, and, in the meanwhile, we fast for the duration of the harvest. M. King Hubbert blushes below his roses. Clinging hands is what we’ll say we’ve done. A soft touch is too much to drain our sap because we live our lives below the surface of whatever gushes down to us — as in: grow a tail just to snip it off with the scissors of an idiot’s profit.

Most of us locked away our trinkets and small-time valuables when we got here: a bastion built, we hoped, against needless worry. Certainly, there is worry among us still over the patchy matters of drilling guilt, and pardons, which doesn’t make any of us feel exceptional, but does stoke the emptier parts of our souls with fiber. It’s a matchmaker’s disease, and we’ve caught it, and it gets us from meaningfulness through sadness to riskier investments. We dwell among lively sobriquets echoed in a steel cavern; I have forgotten my own name, and for the most part merely hunch my shoulders at or to whatever comes my way. The drums fill and leave us be. The clack and drone of the conveyor belts carries us off to sleep.

Harking gets us less information than we supposed. Uniforms of lost officers hang among the spare horse heads, walking beams, pitman arms, counter weights, cranks, stuffing boxes, tees, and a pair of self-made magnet shoes I’ve been using to jump from roof to roof. It keeps me agile. We look nowhere for tenets we’re pretty sure we’d never get around to following. Silence resounds. We’d listen to the slick, liquid quiet of springtide if we could hear it. “If you’d rather give me a yard,” I’d like to tell the administration, “then I’ll have to go on spending my inches as they come.” There’s no response to this that would be adequate, so I separate myself from the blasé mood of it and squelch the voice of the goodness it might have done. You’d think there would be more frustration, more antagonizing of the upper echelon by those who trump decision making with harder labor, but we are missing the links to galvanize ourselves, to reach out, to be parts of a grander whole, and, also, we have charred lives to take out on ourselves.

Inspecting the subterranean depths, slinking down spiral staircases with pith helmets and flashtubes until we hit the chilly (and even, oddly, somewhat dour) dankness of the rock, we become acquainted to the shale’s personality, the coarse bitter love of its nature, its terrestrial longing and fossilized moroseness; and, in loops of here to back here with no there, we sense early on the ceiling becoming the floor, and we exeunt while we temporarily have the knack for it. As we remove ourselves from the equation, the possibility of smoking rubble chimneys puffs away the kerogen of our lost faith, and, so, we rigorously shelve misguided tours of self-deprivation to make room for the medium-sized aspirations (and, by jingo, extrapolations) of God-fearless yokels. We are the lacking, the men of ore’s soot-black smoky goodbye, those of the shoveled frowns and scuffed souls, who drape their dreams in ash, drink dry the tar-thick liquid of their days, and make way for the well-beyond steam-driven powers that be to pat them on the head and tell them, “Hey, it’s been nice knowing you and all, but, um, it seems it’s time you best better be going now. Ahem.” We don’t add up or substitute mixers for the hard stuff or, also, mix well with others, for that matter. Maybe, in the dimness of our suppressed resignation, carouseled on a tired aria of gloomy harmonica music, I sigh to myself, “Bow out or be borrowed,” but, still awake when the rest of the world is asleep, I’m not listening.

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Davy Carren

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