Richard Makin’s Work continues the “work” of Mourning by taking stock of “the minutiae of the view, the dissenting details,” and dealing with the processes of passing, disappearance, & death. As David Vichnar has observed (see here), Makin’s is writing born out of “the obsession of the I that wants to die without ceasing to be I.” In the excerpt published below, one finds the similar pressing, disconcerting and richly bewildering tone that fills the pages of Mourning, and also something more.
Work is forthcoming with Equus Press in early 2020.
Under a rock, perhaps — three keels in tow along the oily waters of the canal. (Replace I for he throughout.) In many ways the worst option is the number six; the survivors are not quite aligned.
None is apologetic, all chunter and gibbet. He does not yet know.
Again, some basic rules: a soft wave of pressure — bite into the tongue, bind fast his eyes. A small boy peers around the jamb. I forget the rest. (Please, head.) The trembling has no cease.
A whiff of mown hay, truffling hogs caved up for a season, made shadow by charcoal flame. Myself and my animals are safe under a watchful ear. I vow to begin.
Bring me his head in the welter of the day; the only formal recognition of his authority is a badge.
Revolt: you have a day off and then there’s no alternative.
Your chance to be a winner, trigger the experience. The needle trembles at eighty-ninety and all the spectators jump. A sentinel is placed at every approach, waves gnawing at the foreshore. Don’t tease him out, do not will an affect, any consequence; unfold him. The oldest child is the candidate, insofar as anyone is.
Clansman, village elder: starosta. My brother covets the role of hegemon, top of the old ladder when he grows, yet still wriggling like a hooked fish — he is very measured, beneath the massive tread of angels, offspring of a one-trick brood. (I don’t trust those card things that regenerate, the offshore pills.) But I don’t feel this is a valid answer; sound lies poised in the ear.
He’s obviously having a bit of a shocker this morning. These are the kind of messages you’ll send without reply. There are days when I manage not to think of anything at all, when a gap opens up — send him homeward to think again et cetera. We part.
Days later I chanced upon him in an all-night café, gently weeping. I ask. He says he does not know. (Are you responding.) He says he once held his hand in boiling water for forty seconds because they would not let him outside. At that moment a man passes clutching a bin liner crammed full of arrows.
These events appear unconnected. I can feel the horizon stretching away from me, pulling in different directions on every side. He was tired, very tired. This is a utopia, no doubt about it.
Rustle of tongue as I’m washed down an impassive river, silt in every pocket. List his phenomena: the tump-line — a small rounded hill or mound, a tumulus, a clump of trees, shrubs or grass — a nearby constellation, patrons of the field cherishing lost time — a blast, a metallic insect egg.
They never found his liver. They’re guessing what the outcome might be, a saga of manipulated histories, alien worlds and a devastating cosmic secret; make use of what’s at hand. Ruined piles string out distance on either flank. Towns are twinned. A squat obelisk sits in moss-blown testimony, while children slather at the mud chutes, delivered up to the dismal creek. Skies converge at the rim, threads of light scored into boardwalk shadow, illuminating asphalt. A withered skin of molten tar receives my cautious step, condenses the scene: latterly homeland, pinned flat by fossil stacks, summer thunderheads.
This is all quite interesting to think about, he writes. I’ll see you in about twenty years or so; any story will end by summarizing itself. A narrow flagellum is a slender thread-like structure, especially a microscopic whip-like appendage which enables many protozoa, bacteria, spermatozoa et cetera to swim. You’ve been an absolute star. M42 is the main body of the nebula, lit up by four bright stars — other categories are compressed, so much dark matter.
The manuscript begins versal, a style of ornate capital letter built up by inking between pen strokes and having long flat serifs.
Her pigments range from dense opacity to washes of invisible glaze — crimson rust, violet and naphtha blue, earth brown, magenta and cyan, translucent greys, rose madder, cobalt with viridian, copper ores and dayglo orange, arid whites scored with remnant memories of listening. She only abandoned the project because she couldn’t think of a convincing way to represent a black hole on stage.
Witness, an unexpected power or event is saving a seemingly hopeless situation through a contrived plot device. Origin is translation.
I think of this as a tardy apprenticeship. Nonetheless, he has divined a parsing principle. In the eighteenth century divination was by plunging toothless mummers into the river through a wooden tube built for that purpose, and recording their ranting objections upon being raised back to the surface. I should add that by this point in history the waterway had become a sewer.
A funicular descends and ascends within a whitewashed turret. At the apex, much summer rain is falling from the sky; I remember someone filmed your naked breasts as we lay side by side on the grass. At irregular intervals niches are set into the structure’s interior wall, leading off to various levels. You filmed the ascent (or was it the descent) through the tunnel; it looked like someone’s oesophagus. A narrow ledge ran the entire length, just wide enough for footfall; should he choose to, a runner may negotiate this rim while the funicular is in motion.
‘You’ve got him hidden in some improbable future, and if we live, we’re going to regret it.’
The purpose of this risky manoeuvre is to save time; some of the intervals between exits are short, others long. One’s got lizards all over the page and salamanders with all the little marks and scales on the skin touched in. If a runner is caught between levels, he’s crushed by the cable car, whose passage allows only a narrow gap between its outer skin and the inside wall of the turret.
A blank, if you like, a blank screen. All up to now have gone down to defeat, usually resulting in the discomfort, or even the extinction, of the practitioner.
What’s left to signal: plane tracks, a yellow crane, glass and concrete, what I can see of it. I also see signs of ageing — the arms, neck, buttocks. Nonetheless, the nearest sun sluices grit from my eye, sends me hurtling back into myself.
His syntax. He’ll be back for more. It was like a great ship heaving across a dark ocean. I didn’t ask for this.
Some cruel catastrophe, yes, but you volunteered. In your brain you’ve got fifteen thousand million nerve cells running riot, but there’s nothing more to be won from this coastline (he said as much at the outset). The lock is a breech locking mechanism based upon his observation that under extreme pressure certain dissimilar metals will resist movement with a force greater than normal friction laws would predict.
Flotsam and whisper, female: be sure to come back alive. Dilatory fire in the night; come back, come back down.
Concretion of subsequent moments, battery lymph seeping out of him. Collapse and concretion; the framing gilt has a red hue. There’s an oblong hole suspended in the roof for the admittance and egress of light, smoke. It’s said one emperor watched human torches burn, transfixed.
‘Listen, I’m trade; I am the one is paid to do this.’
A gibbet is an upright post with an arm on which the bodies of executed criminals are left hanging as a warning or deterrent to others. Down to the last detail the thing simply needs to be renamed: ‘offspring of watchers in the last days of his flesh’ et cetera. As for shelter, I’ve nothing of my own to balance the cards with. I’m incontestable.
But you may not want to happen after all. (Sleeping has been rubbish.) Despite occasional outbreaks of violent hysteria, his default position is surprisingly serene. He is touchy. We regard him as a misfortune, a sickness, under the sheltering shade of a camphor tree — a strip of rose-coloured light split inward at the spine.
Tremble of ashlar as I lay my hand upon its warmth, a simple affinity, the absolute liberty demanded. Impulse resides at the mid-cell of the brain. Origin is diminutive of axis, plank.
Flint street. Across the thoroughfare, a restaurant. (How could I have missed him.) If the image is accurate, his skin is an improvement on the old peculiar, aged in a characteristic way, a familiar note of deep Saxon blue. He has webbed (genetic) feet, reminiscent of the grotesquely contorted trees of the headland. What else is there to speak of: ‘a blue suction dye, smeared across sheaves of albumin at the salt defence. . . .’ (From his random notes). ‘A shive, slice, slab — a grooved pulley-wheel — a fragment, a speck, particles of impurity, as in paper.’
Pencil, pen, brush, in sewn booklet made from cardboard, skin, paper.
One reaches down another’s back, into the garment to the flesh. We’re going to end up in the same position. We still have three days left to crawl back and forth. The air rushes in to occupy, set on edge, as a stone with reference to the grain. The headland has three lines of defence across its neck.
Be sure to make yourself absent when the chrysalis transforms to the adult state.
There had to be a centre. Truth be known, I had set the two of them up: matted hair, neck ornament of twisted metal (torc), hessian mourning garments — black above, white below — a paintbrush of arctic fur. I approach, harbouring all manner of suspicion.
Where is she. Who is she. And most importantly, when is she. No further questions. If this were not the soil that bore her feet away the wave.
Location: a secure place well protected by natural features, e.g a remote mountain fastness. And we know from what was described above that they are being swept along by four great currents, out to sea.
Now they’re holding a raffle. The connecting bar of gravel is submerged beneath the risen tide. The winner gets to draw horrors down upon his own head. I position myself and wait the long wait. One murmurs let’s eat. (In a dream I had been instructed to find a close-fitting linen suit of coppery brown.) We go into the house and never come back. Dystopia is often what guides the investigations of the avant-garde.
One contestant begins to write back. She writes this letter, steadily, yet with no sense of inner necessity. Sightseers cluster to gaze at the open sea beyond the corral. These, she says very softly, we will have to deal with if the invasion succeeds.
Something invisible stands beside. The ‘I-think’ is not yet bound up with me. She sells her own story. I oppose: I understand you have a proposition et cetera. The platter used is sometimes a cup, catching blood, or a dish, a flat crater, a rock-carved bowl; there’s an awful lot of unused material. All human things are reset by rule and compass.
The engineers share between them a single eye and a single tooth (a measure of their critique of our progress). If I knew of any other who could remain still enough, I would replace her; she is not what was expected — in this territory, nothing is expected. Each of the crew solemnly moves back to his own place and grabs an oar, as if in a trance.
Orthodoxy is enforced by law or custom; today’s byroads may have been old lanes or drovers’ tracks.
He is busy today. He is writing at a time when percussion is making a comeback; a dignified figure, indentured man scurrying beneath a clawlike cloud — apprentice bound to master in exchange for passage back to the colony. He hears the dip and push of the oars. M43 is the smaller bright smear to the northeast (upper left).
Accelerate this exchange.
The moon hung low just beneath the hills; one segment is polished white. It’s trapped under there, leave it to die. I’ve met all the protagonists, all of a similar age, all pretty much the same people. Origin is god from the machinery.
‘You see, with its many layers, the bridge is absorbing the analogue signal.’
This reminds me of her plutonium blonde hair and that twisted mouth, dead rictus. (What kind of us?) This isn’t a good time to leave, just before a public act of atonement and a demonstration of her discomfiting grin. Origin is defeat in battle from old malcontent, expressing reversal (see dissection). The words are etymologically unrelated and in everyday use their principal meaning as a verb has collapsed. Make someone near you feel uneasy.
This is another example of being too much. He rises too late, he takes himself off outside, to the rain, to the endless speech of others, passersby. I’m not going to swing out like that, self-made on a creaking gibbet.
He has swallowed the stone. There was no refuge anywhere. Endless digression returns, footfall upon well-trodden earth.
‘I think he died for me,’ she answers.