My muse-en-abyme is the Rust Belt, specifically northwest Indiana, where I live. When I moved here in 2006, the economic pain of the place was just palpable: everything was out in the open, from the foreclosed buildings to the SRO motels to the contagious violence that seemed to move around the city to the expressions on people’s faces, people’s postures. In a few years the rest of the world would reveal that it, too, was suffering. In the East Coast suburbs where I grew up, everyone hides their debt behind a façade of affluence. In fact, affluence is debt — you can afford a bigger house, bigger car, second home, new bathroom because you are managing a debt. Here there’s no façade. Capitalism has cracked here, left buildings up and left the ground and water poisoned and the community drained of resources due to rapacious attacks on the tax code. It’s reverse Wizard-of-Oz here — I fell asleep and woke up someplace made of pain, a place that couldn’t hide its pain. In this way it turned out to resemble the majority of human habitations on earth and most non-human habitats, too. You know what sonder means? sonder – n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own … Watch out for those burning bars of iron, yo! But for the past 30 or more years I’ve been trying to attach a face and a body to the whirlwind. I wish some cache of old documents turns up with details of the School of Night, or letters that passed between Marlowe, Kyd, and John Dee. Lutz Bassmann passed his final days as we all did, between life and death. A rotten odor stagnated in the cell, which did not come from its occupant but from outside. The sewers in the city were fermenting, the docks in the harbor were emitting a rancid signal, the covered markets were stinking terribly, as they often did in the springtime when both the waters and the temperature began to rise. The mercury in the thermometers was never below 34 or 35° Celsius before sunrise, and it always rose back up from its nightly drop to give way to oppressive grayness. Puddles of moisture had reformed their apparitions on every wall. In the hours preceding dawn, darkness grew in power in the depths of lungs, under the bed, under the nails. Clouds burst into cataracts under the slightest pretext. The noise of the storm haunted everyone. Ever since Bassmann began to feel unwell, the rain had not ceased its patter against the prison’s façade, furnishing the silence with the sound of lead. It streamed over the exterior, crossed over the edge of the window, and gloomily drew lines of rust beneath the bars, onto the bulletin board that certain guards had baptized as the “union board” and which resembled a very old cubist or futurist collage, very dense, very faded. The water zig-zagged between the photographs and the newspaper clippings that Bassmann had pinned there, and which helped support him in his stay in the high-security sector, among us: this immobile voyage had already lasted for twenty-seven years … Then, the already-dirty liquid met up with a thin blackish ribbon wending its way to the bottom of the wall, thus mixing with the infiltrations from a leak in the plumbing, perhaps in the toilet’s evacuation pipe. No doubt there, yes, in this pipe, or in a pipe of the same kind. Over several months the humidity had pierced the cement and gradually expanded. … Bassmann himself was not waiting for anything. He was sitting facing our damaged portraits and looking at them. He contemplated the spongy, almost-illegible photographs, the obsolete portraits of his friends, men and women, all dead, and he looked back on who knows what trouble and, at the same time, glimmering marvelously, that he had lived in their company, at the time when they were all free and shining, the time when all of us, from the first to the last, were something other than.
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I’ve got to face it. I don’t react the way I used to. I don’t weep properly anymore. Something has changed inside me, as it has around me. The streets are deserted. There’s scarcely anyone left in the cities, or the countryside, or the forests. The sky is clearer now, but still without colour. Years of endless wind have swept away the stench of mass graves. Some sights still upset me, others not. I seem to be on the verge of a sob, but nothing comes. I’ll have to go and see the tear-fixer.
Someone may want
to know one day how many steps we took
to cross one of our streets.
[Note: Sources: Joyelle McSweeney, as quoted in John Madera, “Interview with Joyelle McSweeney”, at Big Other, 11 Jun 013; JBR, but see next; John Koenig, “Sonder …”, at The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, 11 Jun 013; Jesse Glass, FB post, 11 Jun 013; Antoine Volodine, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven, as quoted in Chad W Post, “‘Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven’ by Antoine Volodine [A Sample]”, at Three Percent, 11 Jun 013; Billy Bob Beamer, “POMEfrpocketsleep”, at experiential-experimental-literature, 11 Jun 013; Antoine Volodine, Minor Angels (tr. Jordan Stump); Ed Roberson, “Sit in What City We’re In”, in Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology Second Edition (ed. Paul Hoover)]