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“I remember nothing, which has its advantages in everyday life” – Richard Makin, WORK (Chapter I)

As Iain Sinclair has observed, Makin’s “writing is that it is. This is prose you must learn to experience before you begin to interpret […] the pages in their beautiful and delirious abstraction are ordered poetry.”

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 pointed out (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 2020.

I

All objects were translucent, held in suspension. There was no more light than now. We slit open the envelopes one by one. 

            Anxiety arises from having all paths and thus no path open before one; a colony of ants behaves like a single organism. Word order is an allusive presence, a residual signal. 

            Dog tonguing a puddle of water. 

A dramatic increase in neuron firing has been recorded. Physical withdrawal symptoms have triggered over-activation of the autonomic nervous system. The enamel plaque itemized a wholesaler in exotic feathers (struck off), a taxidermist and a qualified Gauleitner.

            In order to draw a boundary one has to operate on both sides of this threshold; such an individual must be considered unfortunate. The witness added that she did not believe she had been conversing with a particularly imposing spirit. 

            ‘Silverpoint, that’s right, on paper prepared with a coating of powdered bone, creating a fine indelible line composed of metal fragments.’ 

            I remember your face, but never a name. 

To be removed: a chest of drawers, antique roll-top, one flyblown mirror and a moth-eaten silk partition. (So named from the bell shape of early prototypes.) It was some occasion, this. 

*

Remote sulphur mine — a cabin in the forest — a dwelling, the bloody hair-matted maul. An abandoned sawmill, makeshift and ramshackle. 

            A chain of logs courses slowly downriver, grinding at the pack ice. The chorus shrieks while heaving at the capstan.

            As in all acts of translation, an erosion is already taking place. 

A pyre of timber is stacked for the incineration. From one perspective this is an archive of neurological disaster.

            He justifies himself by arguing that any error is an achievement in itself. Part of the alchemy is the sudden shift in key whereby impulses received at synapses are transmitted along the branched extension of a nerve.

How would I have felt if this had happened to me? You’re not sure whether you’re reading or being written.

            He scrambles through the cobbled streets. All other sensations are shocked out of existence — the dynamic of crisis-catharsis is repeated throughout, a spiral or vortex, a circular pattern of currents in an ocean trench.

Interesting futile.

I set out at a loss. It was a Thursday (that constant hissing in my ears). We were limited to things. The crux here lies in a steadfast refusal to take place. Origin is misuse.

            A subatomic particle has no integrity, is quote ‘incorrigible’. I am here following the statistical description given by the witness.

            In a shop window have been placed a battered musical instrument, one bag of ash, a pack of dogeared tarot, a volcano-shaped lump of molten plastic (orange), string and wire, along with fuses and electric triggers of unspecified use. I am refusing to make any decisions today.               

The disease resulting from these acts was summoned. Grandiloquent names were timetabled: You’re Quite Catastrophic et cetera. A colourless material comprises the living part of any cell.

            The psychiatrist’s report confirmed the subject’s ‘adamantine fragility’. There was no going back. Research indicates that some organisms may retain memory within bodily tissue. (I thought your monicker sounded familiar.) Spectators gambled on the outcome.

*

It’s funny you should ask that question he said, scalpel in clinched fist. The novel is set around two people who share a tragic past; a track of scar tissue runs the length of her sternum. Her entrance into the room mirrored a dream of several nights before: aviator goggles, flecks of foam rimming the lips, the raised pistol, a white secretion oozing from her vagina, the supermarket trolley abandoned to an oily canal.

            The judge replied that her statement claiming the defendant had once toiled as an assassin would have to be taken into consideration. 

            I used to have my own bell. Someone stole it. 

            It is very quiet today, hereabouts. When the location of the seizures is pinpointed, any affected organs will be removed and destroyed. Such is the agony of foreknowledge when combined with the inability to do anything about the consequences.

Crisis apparitions.

What time are you leaving. Catachresis is incorrect usage of a word, its function indeterminate: a tool or agent blindly devoted to your adversary’s will — literally, ‘a soul of mud’, atrophy of the muscles — a tongue in the larval state, gill flaps twitching. 

            See, he’s already working within a tripartite structure. Skin feels amphibian — to the abdomen: same impression. 

            Ground has been lost. Wearing the mutinous cockade today would not be savvy, could even prove fatal. Overawed by such assaults as these the envoys resigned en masse. 

Stale bread, smooth stones and a circuit board have been crammed inside my pockets (the bread is for the ducks at the municipal abyss). Contraction is a term used to explain the doctrine that began. I must forewarn you.

*

My circus training has been rigorous — I reach out and touch, connect, and the voltmeter twitches. I recall this morning the leg of a spider afloat in the communal shower. By the summer there was hardship and the threat of disaster.

            The prolonged absence of a thing unspecified persists. That mound we’re passing was long ago a hill fort, a natural temple and omphalos — its position led people down the dorsal spine and hogback of the south. I can barely cope with these infinite varieties of loss (disembodied voice, a brace of parental units). A feeling of vulnerability lingers.

            For months now I’ve been trading on the orbital, mouths on stalks dowse and quiver. . . . The streets are about so wide. [Parts hands to demonstrate.] In vertebrates there may be up to four chambers, with two atria and two ventricles, a lung of clay: let the dry land appear et cetera.

            The completed shape is a trapezoid, a vast rectangle with sloping upper edge. Clouds descend to fill the vacuum: sky full of smoke, water falling in droplets as creeping snails crush underfoot. . . . There was once a machine, he claims, could manufacture flammable gas by splitting up the hydrogen and oxygen into precisely required parts. Now he says he has gangrene and cysts all over his back. I have an exposed vertebra at the top of my spine, a gleaming white nub that signals neglect. We are busy comparing atrocities, incorrigible in our virtue. Acid rain sanitizes the surface; apologies are withheld. I’m so excited about everything. 

Shell-tooth.

Lip split, itchy phantom limb. In my spare time I am dedicated to inertia. In my spare time I am digging a cellar beneath the compound, a storage unit for stockpiled quicklime and nerve agent. Informal social gatherings have been disfigured by semi-ritualized crawling. My whole industry has collapsed; I’m about in the middle of a life sentence.

            He then conveyed in a whisper the exact moment when our termination was to take place. In the midst of this schism in the concert of opinion, to hear his simple language was a blessing.

Forbidden to talk for a few minutes, I can finally grasp what we’re dealing with: a crust is forming. She took a deep breath and let it out. Her eyes opened for the first time in weeks. Those that did not join the exodus have been living dormant under the ground since the last ice age. 

            A name from history has been given to the inner circle, especially the five unpopulars. Navigation by means of maritime errancies has led us to some deserted islet. 

*

The roof slates have developed a resistant film of livid green lichen. Peat burns in the hearth, filling the interior of the hovel with acrid smoke that stings the eyes and settles on the tongue. One man fell into a deep sleep and experienced a vision. 

            Radical reflection must go further back and seize this theme, within the horizon which grants it significance. Informed of his years of hermitage, it was agreed the envoy should come in person and tell the delegates of his discovery. He gazed at my palm for a few moments before raising his eyes and asking what happened on that winter day in ’77. 

            It was his custom to walk about unarmed, inspecting the excavations, ecstatic with the glory of sunset from the hill. (I hope you’re not in charge of communications when a real war descends.) I schlepped back to the compound with all the apparatus he had requested: none of these disparate objects made sense in terms of defence. He reported that he’d seen a huge wheel turning in the sky, and within the wheel was another wheel, and so on. I have inherited the magnetized corpse of an abandoned empire. 

            After surgery, the severed end of the artery was twisted to impede blood loss. That electric surge you feel throughout your body is adrenalin. 

*

Item, twelve civil war side arms. Cost to buyer: life. He trembled, his lip. What provokes this torsion — at least he died in harness, did he not? Countless lights glitter and drift in the sky tonight. St Ignatius says they cannot be real. 

            The only item of furniture in the cell was a writing desk with an obsidian shell that slid along curved grooves of bone. It appears the accused wrote standing up.

            I am endeavouring to recreate a static moment from memory.

We are pulling apart his theory. One must seek the essential where nothing more is to be found.

            Your left hand is what you’re born with, your heart is never in the right place. (I might have got this the wrong way round.) The little finger is your psyche and there are stars and triangles and squares and circles — they can all end up in different places doing different things. I have a function. I cannot remember.
            Consequently, his life must be meticulously written out by several hands: the man had absolutely no substance to speak of. It’s as if I had never left. 

*

For abode they have none and must have gathered together here against their will. They must, as it were, have been harvested, assembled from their dispersion.

            I must confess myself. Anyone in their right senses could see that men under the sway of malignant demons must be constrained by subtle diplomacy. What was it that drew these high-profile people to this particular room every Tuesday evening? If there was one word, it would be suggestion (or suggestiveness). He would marry sounds to semantics. . . . All of these things resonate now that I’m standing here quite alone.

            I have yet to listen attentively to this passage. The helical orbit increases in radius while having minimal effect on our own. 

*

Animal familiars snaffle at my shins as metal-rimmed hoofs clatter and spark at the wet cobble, making fire. This discourse has been designed such that the novice will learn what should be understood concerning animal familiars. Nothing here is compulsory; our objective is the undermining of base and superstructure, at this cusp of people and their things. I hear souls are already climbing out onto rooftops and balconies, screaming amiably at one another, banging on saucepans with knives and spoons.

            A crack opens up in the day. I wake to find another letter on the welcome mat. 

            The first stone dropped into my neck, trapped between head and abdomen. I sliced open the envelope: your cells are indifferent, ballast of decaying tissue. . . . By contrast, the salamander can regenerate limbs, retina and tail after amputation.

            He returns to the same subject again and again. Pyroblast is an epic spell card for the avant-garage set.

            Dear Gauleitner 

            I’ve often thought about staying in and going out; I am retreating back to the opening scene of my life. At last something I’m good at has become popular: state sponsored solitude. (I just made a car out of a cardboard box.) Yes, that’s what I meant — Plan B, followed by suicide. 

            A broad revolving cylinder with a vertical axis was once used for winding a rope or cable. This is the most potent weapon available but suffers from a very long cast of time.

            So little is known. Irresolvable structural polarities are believed to be identical — historically, we are thought to be composed of indifferent sleeper cells. It all depends on the neurochemistry used.

            See, I don’t believe that endlessly deferred trial has helped one little bit. This is going to be the end of my body work. I’ve been advised never to exhale. 

            Yours, forever

He then raised his hands and spread out his fingers (six digits on the left). Whose mind could possibly encompass such a range of critical information? I promise that I will come and visit you one miserable Sunday afternoon, when infinite light finally contracts to allow for a conceptual space in which finite and seemingly independent realms can exist.

*

We have to run to chaetotaxy now, analyse the skin of the insect to narrow it down to one species. The central thesis is that people don’t exist beyond the warp of embalming flesh. This vignette is an ox, this vignette is an ox having the disk with plumes between her horns. She is wearing the collar from which is suspended the emblem. This is the chapter of making heat to be placed inside the head of the deceased. 

            One weekend the walls of my cell suddenly disappeared. (Descant sackbut, see Trombone Family.) Origin is an obsolete hook for pulling off a horse. I hear exceptional voice tonight — someone should reset that bone.

The crew are afflicted, pocked and bleached like weathered marble. I need your permission to cross the frontier, and the exit visa that will grant me safe passage. I have kept some of the negatives.  

            All present wear flammable glycerine masks (on leaping into water the sea catches fire). I begin to reconsider the argument of his missive, its inherent contradictions — something about an old magus, a sac of cells, a forgotten munitions dump. Ten days later trepan of the skull was hazard.

            There’s always been plenty of zero-hour work around here. The stones on his breastplate were arranged.

                                    sardius                         topaz                           carbuncle

                                    emerald                       sapphire                      diamond

                                    ligure                           agate                            amethyst 

                                    beryl                            onyx                            jasper

Decoration is an inadequate word to describe what she does with her voice at this point. 

            ‘All I can say is I remember seeing him sample a colourless oily liquid whose vapour caused severe irritation of the eyes and blistering of the skin after dinner. But that was twenty years ago.’ 

            It is true that in the existing texts the ancient connection has disappeared. We are approaching the spot where the wanderer finally established a hermitage. Touch nothing, please, touch nothing. 

*

Naevus relic, morass of nerves. The cells of your body collect information and form lasting memories. Viewed from above, the caterpillar tracks radiate outward from the village dungheap; the townsfolk have been folded inward and placed in storage. The eighties saw a renaissance. One surviving fresco depicts witches burnt at the stake in the town square, another showed defenestration of municipal leaders who had apparently fallen out of favour that afternoon. 

            The act is easier when the self you are slaying is no longer recognizable as your own. One can always go back to the original. (Who’s your fungal partner?) This has been constructed in such a way that it’s enough to discover and choose the shortest path toward a goal whose position is never fixed. 

*

A rusting scar with neatly folded wings — flapping angelus, sinew at the index. More of the old adverts stack up in your head (massacre at plague chronicle et cetera). His memory lent him one last trick — he was elated and quite forgot that the elaborate scene spread out before him was his own interment. Then, without warning, one of the mourners threw a revolver into the grave.  

            ‘I’ve come up with a really good idea about that parcel of land, the frozen panhandle.’      

            Now twisting cardinal north — folk upon the esplanade soak up the rain and can’t think where to look next, what to say. Influx has ceased. He would like to have had someone with him when it happened, human company; there was nothing unusual in this. (I thought of you.) He was once the brutal autocrat who masterminded the global traffic in organs, now he stands before an improvised gallows. Last words are coaxed from his reluctant throat.  

Back then, such were the themes of a typical drawing-room conversation. I have a theory: consider the action of twisting or the state of being twisted, especially one end of an object relative to another.   

            ‘Some five years ago, when I first asked for your help on this project (an encyclopaedia), I had already exhausted the means to please anyone.’  

            A fold in the wall of the heart fills and distends if the blood flows backwards, so forming a valve resembling the pointed ends of the crescent moon. No one is thinking of why they are doing what they are doing; a secular approach to the psyche poisons all discourse. But here we must restrict ourselves to a single line: your right hemisphere is what you make of it.  

            You took a wrong turn. I’m resolved to write standing up for eternity. As he watched, the wheels began to turn, one within the other.

            He was found slumped over his electric typewriter, the lettered orb still spinning. The text ran to a stop at ‘tithe is a tenth part’ — i.e. an infinitely small part, the tenth of the produce of land and stock thieved for purpose (hence ‘to decimate’).

            Trust your body to bear the hardships of exile. Offer to the gods spectacles which, to a virtuous judgement, could only appear repulsive. Forensics found unidentifiable fibres of fur on the upholstery. I remember nothing, which has its advantages in everyday life.

© Richard Makin

About Equus Press

EQUUS was established in 2011 with the objective of publishing innovative & translocal writing.

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"Modernity today is not in the hands of the poets, but in the hands of the cops" // Louis Aragon
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“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?…we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” // Franz Kafka, letter to Oskar Pollack, 27 January 1904
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