As a haunted trumpet solo divides the mind from the world, Night's knife-edge divides the City, slicing across the tenements, the apartments, the office blocks, its song a scrape heard through the passages: an anonymous, yet familiar melody bewitching Humanity into the streets. Evening winds blow the scraps of Yesterday across the darkening face of the sunset-topped buildings. Fugitive tower windows, full of fire, throw rectangular sparks into eclipsed canyons, limning the exhausted secretary, the spent clerk, the worn shop assistant, each witless of their flickering corona or their trace images cross-hatched through the plane of reflection. Half-submerged in the inconstant tide, pushed and pulled by the unknown tune, moving in counterpoint to the crescendo of Darkness: this Beat, this Rhythm, they attempt to find purchase on their distant shore: their refuge; their evening homes.
Night-fall obscures: the familiar face is unfamiliar, the glance between lovers becomes a second, asking glance, the curious glances between parents echo the averted glances among the young. These now foreign faces know they must turn away from Evening into the land of dream, into the imagined security of their beds, for the City is lost to them.
Few sense the Night-song, the Night-blade, as anything more than the accustomed herald to the end of their work-day, fewer still follow it's nightly furrow . These few knowingly ally themselves with the Unknown, their smiles cupping Mystery under fugitive eyes. In some other town less apt to Destiny, heavenly shades of night may fall... in this machine-edged City night issues as vapor from the sliced-open underworld. Some choke on this night vapor and yes, their choking sounds like laughter. From a darkened window one might watch them, the Nightbound, falling into the city's glittering chasm: clothespins falling into a sluice, swept into another world.
These who dare the night-realm must believe in themselves, in drink, the City or Night Itself. They are cast adrift onto a light-spattered sea. The tide pulls the weaker souls, drawing them across the terminator from normal life toward the distant, pulsing horizon.
Nature sleeps in the Museum: history. The infrequent stars are impotent. Too often a sphere, head-jerked into a streak of fire, surprises the night walkers: a headlight out of true, a misplaced street lamp? "Oh," as the heartbeat subsides, "It's the Moon..."
Is the function of this city to bewilder? If form follows function, if breath follows desire...
A single lit window in the massive dark of a building, set just to the side of center by a designing inevitability. The skyline: an intricate cut-paper trick robbed of all but psychic dimension by the inner-city glow. It appears ready to accordion, to fold in on itself, layer upon layer of innocent humanity squeezed together, a darker stain seeping onto the blotter. The clouds, above, up-lit red by the imprisoned furnace of city-light, race toward a future midnight. A randomly placed street lamp throws the mundane assemblage of bricks, mortar, concrete and glass into dramatic relief, its artificial daylight imbuing the familiar with an "otherness" at times unique, or reminiscent of other such corners at other such times, so similar to the nightmare-haunted avenues featured in the dreams of the immobile sleeping millions awaiting daybreak. How many hollow, silent howls issue from those empty-faced buildings? How many imagined deaths or desperate survivals extend into this sleeping, deepening night? How many slumbering fugitives lope open-mouthed into the dream-streets, pursuing themselves, escaping themselves?
Radiating, the streets project into gloom. Figures, lamp posts and machines are cast into theatrical silhouette in the isolated extravagance of pouring, pulsing neon.
Smiles freeze on the faces of the early-night people. Their time draws to a close as the True Night touches their faces-- the deeper city-dark: a starving hand clutching a wind-torn coat--a miser's claw at an orphan's pocket. Pale ovals pivot over retreating shoulders, hurrying home, away from the redefining night.
All color now washes away-- some rinsed in the frozen fire of automatic fluorescence, some fading to a slumbering, forgettable brown: a half-color dripping from an ignored palette. On the abandoned streets water pools in jig-saw patterns of reflectivity, suggesting depth, suggesting content.
A tattered banner proclaiming some ephemeral glory or commonplace announcement flaps and cracks, defining the emptiness: a great bird wing caught in concrete jaws, its movement arresting the eye. The human eye searches for movement in these Avenues of Stillness, the human ear for sound in these Avenues of Silence. Without the fluttering banner, the wind-blown leaf, the inevitable cat on its private quiet journey, our eye would needs make the buildings come to life. How our sight cries for the one living thing... that, or daylight; how our ear fears the one living sound, lest it be breaking glass, a scream, or hollow laughter.
There are some among the late-nightborne who profess themselves masters of the Night, masters of their Fate, and so masters of this gun-metal City. Aware, they make no sound when they walk except the sound thought might make treading over bones. They have steel hands, or gloves holding steel; hands holding lives, or the threads of life. In thinking, they will not think of the strong except as oppressors, the meek except as victims or the "just" as existing at all.
They never see themselves as I see them: the City Night coalesced, human-faced to mock Humanity. They may recognize themselves reflected in one of two mirrors: the watery eyes of the dying, or the glassy eyes of the dead.
Their code is not complex. Like the glint of gold in an open mouth, the original secret wrapped 'round and 'round in close coils of repetition, warped into the shape of a human heart--armored against enlightened thought--defined by images of its constant reflection, pane upon pane: a mirror in which all staring faces are reflected as facets of the one great Imposter Face. A mouth of Eternity, feeding, feeding with each timed beat, devouring its own kind, never admitting that it feeds on itself--feeds on us all.
This is our Heart, this Fist of Perversity through which all our power flows: a monkey's paw gripping the gem of our Immortality. This is the Seed of Life, this night veiled fear... the heart of every being. Nurtured with what passes for Truth, showered with what one hopes is love, the heart attempts to grow, to bloom, however briefly, so that some may say: "Here was Beauty in the midst of Bitterness. Here was a flower in the midst of weeds. Even by the wayside of Life and against all odds a good life has sprung from the Heart of Darkness."
But not all can resist that shining, dripping fist, that gripping thud that I recognize as the spark of Humanity.
Nurtured with Avarice, Greed and Self-importance; showered with Self-love this Weed thrives into immensity, its limbs spreading high, thrusting out, vapor issuing from its pendant Fruit: repellent yet compelling.
It is a blight-- and a Monument.
All come under its Dominion...
All save one.
As the philosopher says:
"There are many hands to pull at the leaves on the tree of evil--but only one hand to strike at the root."
Money squandered, souls spent, night's obscure agents crawl around the corner of Time, sticky hands winding the Clock-That-Died. Webs of darkness still enshroud the quiet. The mainspring slides against its housing, slowly twisted into life by the suddenly insistent turning of the key. A metal sigh: the gearing moves again. In the first half-sweep of the second hand the clock-face wakes, once more aware that the hour is important. With painful accuracy the chimes chime through the recently forbidden air, sounding an end and beginning, their reverberating toll climbing the first step onto the risers leading to Dawn. Morning in the tide (a shoal of light quarreling below the horizon) wavers with each timed peal, reticent to extend itself across the border of despair that Blind Nature senses surrounding the City.
The acts of Judgement and Misjudgment that echo from the deeper envelope of the Night have only just played their final trump, the last poses in the awkward dance of Death and Desire, a footfall short of finality...the final bow and turn of the plummeting form splashing into yesterday.
With mounting dread, as one might unwrap an unknown, sodden bundle, the sky dinges another point toward un-dark, hands trembling and eyes flicking to either side--will the twisted lump lying astride the curb be a coat of pain, tossed off with someone's forgotten life, the finger-spread crimson arc mapping the the final staves of its pointless symphony? Its surrounding stain a mark of ignorance or ambition?
Fragments of confrontation redefine the boundaries of ownership and intrusion, scattered at just the proper angle to refract the green edge of rising light. Blurred alley-dark now retreats from the brightening points--shards of reflection--though the light is only discernable to eyes steeped in deeper dark--eyes that remained lidless throughout the haunted early hours.
Dawn as Dawn is hours away but the night has passed and the exhalation of long-held breath over-sussurates the whispering breath of the lightly-dead: the sleeping refugees from Yesterday. The early brushstrokes of normality begin to repaint the despair-daubed canvas...the rattle and click of teeth gives way to the accustomed rattle and click of bottles in the milk cases, the drag and clop of retreating footsteps replaced by the tired metronomic clop clop of the dray horse. The Silent Animals return to shadow--the nightmares repaper themselves onto the walls and fences, tendrils sliding into the brick and mortar, the sidewalk crack, the empty box behind the dustbin.
Precariously hanging forms suffused with intent, dangerous corners, angles of insubstantial dread curl into their daytime masquerade. The clowns no longer chuckle at midnight; the doors no longer gape, orange tongues licking inky shoes into their bellies. Slatted windows no longer watch the desperate night dance, curtains unbound, applauding the figured movements. The curving building face no longer wrinkles its brow in dark contemplation of the weeping man, the shrieking woman or the street-haunted child.
Sucked into itself, Night retires.
The day is born in a blister of radiance: a light-crazed retinal image stabbing upward from the East too wide for the blind slit eye of the descending crescent moon. Beneath beating wings the eternal gray city is silhouetted by the upsurging dawn.
Life pumps slowly into the tiered catacombs, the fluid drive of the metropolis begins the hours-long process of uncongealment, unconcealment. Leaving their cooling forms pressed in the bedclothes, the Morning Men--draped in grey, disenfranchised by the night--begin their quest for Meaning (the pump pumping, the motor grinding, and how the drum beats, on and on). Revealed by dawn, each denying the understatement of his own reflection, each greeting the other with a welcome smile of insignificance, they clabber into runnels, streams, rivers of sleep-puckered millions trailing wisps of dream, choking the recently shrouded night-drama streets with the clearing throat of Industry and Intent to Earn.
One who stands sentinel, alert, during this transition must acquire the strange grace of insignificance, eyes opened from the dark unblinded by the burning coin of sunrise. Under the wash of light, shadows hold only reflections of light and more light.
The oblique face of the Night is now wreathed in Dream, digesting. There's a new face now, nameless and universal, fresh from slumber, hair tied back with a ribbon of light. This is Day and its renewal, wearing the refigured Mask of Yesterday (a memory half caught in the throat), the weight of night-fears taken from its shoulders. When she laughs, every memory and fragment of laughter echoes, copies, identifies, floating around her stolen image, individuating the multitude with the honest temptation of usefulness.
This is the face that beckons the briskly striding multitude toward the descending hand of Opportunity...
This is the face that imbues the throng with the Need to Be, giving cause to their effect...
This is the face that re-apportions the city's proportions, denying the parallel, defying the perpendicular...
This is the face that forgives the city for teaching perception with a straight edge, for combining the blast furnace with the kaleidoscope while caressing tubes of chrome...
This is the face that smiles through the multi-tiered Egyptian's Nightmare, her breath of success blending with her breath of marble while her hand picks pockets and crushes souls, squeezing the faltering ones toward the sucking hose of Night.
The faltering join the Night-owned who wither beneath the sun, the droud feeds pulled from their veins by the avalanche of Morning. It is their curse to curse the sun while licking the razor edge of daylight 'til the shadows lengthen again toward the liquid promise of evening.
How they shamble through their morning, aching hearts beating toward the angular fragment of stolen midnight, their lips toward the decanted wine of that bitterest of fruit. How many draughts before evening darkens the crack under the door? How dry the tongue wetted with evil, the vintage of their chosen hour still hours away but advancing within the whirlpool of their consciousness,
Who could believe how they yearn again for the sealed vault of midnight, how they strangle inwardly in hysterical petulance to abide again with the vicera-hung figures and cat-faced phantoms, their amorphous mouths grinning, teeth on the jugular of My City, groaning, anticipating the hot wash of its lifeblood. To bite. To drink and drink and drink, finding surcease only in the madness of glutted insensibility.
I watch as they walk like other men.
I listen when they speak in shrouded meanings, like other men.
I know what evil lurks in their hearts.
And knowing, I laugh. And laugh. And laugh.
Sun-crowned and strange, the metallic music of Day is in constant metamorphosis--listened to, closely, the various strands part into fundamental rhythms. In full daylight the Exceptional Moment is not one of startling sound (as it is in the Night) but Unexpected Silence, happening so seldom that every person notices, so quick, there's no chance to comment, except with a glance toward the surrounding, glancing strangers. A parentheses, as of all sound leaving, a pulling-apart like dancers from the ballroom floor in intrigued expectation of the better couple too shy to dance. There is the urge to laugh, to point into the empty silence now given dimension...all wait through their interrupted movement, breath held, for Sound to bleed back into the daylight world. Where it went, and how more than quiet the silence was, is lost as the pocket of infinity closes again.
The city-pulse so noticeable in the quiet hours is hidden within the cacophony of multiple coinciding energies, a thundering echelon of consideration. The confident swagger is backed by the hunched shoulder against the amaranthine Wheel. The why of this daily spectacle is orchestrated through mutual consent between Those That Do, and the City Itself.... When the City's greased rails carry their accustomed traffic to and fro and the slickened bodies, taking pleasure in honest sweat--mildly cursing the rain, move on purpose with purpose, coming and going, pinpoints of Focus pacing the bisected map, easing the attributable energies over the counter, totaling into the tally of Hours, spent and collected to be spent again. No one walks the iron roads checkered by unconscious patterns or paces the corridors woven on the Loom of Noon without carrying a burden, propelling the engine of Advancement from one place to another. The unaccompanied idler leaning into the torrent may earn an expression, a negligible seed with no fallow time to germinate into irritation, thrown over a retreating, otherwise tolerant, back. The footfall that follows the Wheel of Industry is pressed more definitely against the unresponsive flagstones and concrete avenues impervious to everything but stain.
The Toiling Integer and the Sensitive Heart pass as one, unnoticed, unmarked...to count the passersby is to count without the blessing of a sum--a way of disappearing. The first step toward transparency is to count the large insignificances: bricks, windows, faces. All important as individuals to themselves and so worth a consideration when separated from the whole, or as a hoard, or a movement toward, by the city in its internal listing. Factoring, figuring, totaling, noting, reminding and forecasting: so many talented hands toiling through the day's diversity, channeling thoughts and memories for the City's daily consumption.
Wreaths of concentric support maintain the Working City. The Worker works and hopes for at least the same reward as yesterday, most doors opening to them in unquestioning encouragement of their forward progress--for a fee...a small fee (as cynics note and report for the benefit of the cynical choir leaning on the bent backs of the honestly curious). It is only during the coffee break or the last three minutes of the harried lunch time that thoughts return to the morning bed-anger and alarm clock fantasies, the awareness of the drain that the end of the day will encompass. Once having started the day, very few would want to just stop before finishing it, and most actually enjoy the thrum of the event. As the counter counts the minutes, the lung expands and contracts without an external awareness--the plan to "do" becomes the urge to accomplish whatever in each's gaze is their encompassed perimeter of endeavor. There is a consciousness of placement--of being where and when one belongs. More than the Night, the daily routine reinforces the idea that the city is Eternal. Each day the street-life moves to the accustomed place at the accustomed pace...not given to the surprising movements accepted by Night. There is a planting, a growing and harvesting each day--the accepted incessant give and take: waves washing the shore--each unique within its inevitableness, followed one upon the other, an implied eternity that reinforces itself. In league with each other, none notice the similarity of each concurrent day, though it's not hidden--
As each moves in his own path, so often the path becomes a trail, the trail a way, a road, a thoroughfare, avenue, boulevard with its unchanging landmarks. The other people, seen moving through their daytime, the building edges and street corners passed so frequently, evolve into insignificance, numbered by their advancement toward a destination...areas traveled through unremarked except by the consistent tour guide of the mind. The importance is that the fluid moves, carries, delivers, accepts, returns, borrows, lends from the creators to the consumers. Beyond a well-done day trapped by Time into levels of usefulness used, these perturbations are not my concern: Gratification in exchange for Time. Everything is to be lavished on the citizens, except Time. To the daylight city, Time is the dearest coin, kept to itself, an article so truly the measure of wealth. A coin so often squandered by the Night.
As large and loud as is this torrent of the Day, it rushes by with no effect on the insulated warrens of the night-forgiven souls, asleep--some with smiles on their slackening faces, some with blood--asleep, or, feigning sleep, staring through their closed lids during the hours of brightness, prayers holding back the radiant cascade against the fall of night. Curled protectively in Vampire comas, the day-lost souls repine and repent, supine and spent, dreaming, asking the blot on the ceiling whither the Demon Night has fled.
I can see The Night, hanging between the forgotten coats in unopened closets, wrapping down around the heating pipes, dripping into basements, settling at last into the drain traps, the overflow valves and storm conduitss--blending with the centuries paved-over rivulets that once drained the virgin forest below the streets washed in sunlight, now become evil through neglect, by being forgotten. The Night abides with the Dark, whispering to the ever-present hidden Past. The deep secrets and deadly secretions spiral, blending into repeated successions of rainbow stains across the snail-trailed tubes, the root-choked esophagi, the silted brachial veins abandoned by memory, the death-sinks and septic pools glutted with this nacreous effluvia indulged by Night in its lost struggle with the coming of Day. Safety in solitude. Gelid-eyed animals of no name nose under the solvent layer of Lost Dark, devouring the shreds of remarkability, mulching the uncut identifiable proofs of existence; rending, tearing, leaving a burrow of mysterious conclusion never meant to rise into the realm of re-contemplation. Stuffed under the weight of years, Fear heavy on its shoulders, the terrific Midnight sleeps coiled in the psudopodia of these horrors, one eye open for the shimmer of evening, dreaming that this underworld of immutable Dark may one day return to the cyclic surface.
Haunted by the memory and the pressure from the somnolent Night, the rippled and reflected fingers of the dwindling Day scrape through layers of translucence and opacity, flicking aside the veils of fog and charcoal that obscure the questing opal spotlight.
Horizontal sunlight slicing through the dust-laden air etches a last glance across the suddenly empty sidewalk.
As I step forward my silhouette is pinned to the wall by the lancet of dying light.
Turning toward myself, I see into the breadth and depth of the dark.
Sunset's passing reflection retreats, taking with it the last memory of the brighter life I've contemplated from behind the intertwined fingers of my gloved hands. Gone again are the dancing motes of Application and Hopefulness, Forthrightness and Humility, clearing the Night-stage, leaving it to the slowly emerging entities self-subscribed to the Haunted Hours. The ensuing air of charnel expectancy presents the oblong perforated slab of My City as something other than, yet akin to, the slit open wall of the Tomb. And focused in the lens of my consideration stands a figured composite of the multiple thousand criminals whose tide ring of base cruelty patinas the walls of this sequestered cavity of aggression and evasion. The eternal Thug. Without the spur of retribution your crime becomes mundane, your evil intent an uncontrolled inconsideration gliding toward the salavic pool of insipid casual pastime--a sort of breathing puppet gesture with no effort of personal involvement--while you cry that you are owed a living by the World. The Crime of your crime becomes insult in addition to injury; the unasked question I take as mine to answer.
From outside the perimeter of your insignificant dream the pockets of light beckon the memory of who you were, when? You can no longer remember. A snare drum taps in your brain. Isn't your hand the hand that moves against the rewards of Humanity with a self-love inspired single-mindedness...isn't it your boast that you search not for shadowed anonymity in the lee of brighter personalities, but a well-lit corridor of focused admiration, a tube of consent to siphon the praise of one's imagined betters? Your foot feels for the top step and I take it from you...as you fall through the night my laughter follows...I will laugh behind you for the ones you gracelessly pillaged of their belief in hope. I will point and mock behind you for the ones who lost their ability to justify your life: they were to be your last escape. I will be there by the wall, in the corner of your laughter, in the hollow of your comfort, in the tide of your love-making. To say to you thou shalt not sleep but to dream of me; thou shalt not wake but to see my figure leaning across the path of your life; I will deny you the joys of a life earned at the expense of the Still Believing...you will never again smile in amusement without the crinkled eyelid of doubt.
Your hand can not move to the door handle without a catch, a movement held back in consideration of considerations you've neglected in the account of your life; no corner can be backed into without my breath on your neck. You will know of me yet be unable to speak, even to those whose eyes tell your eyes they know what you now know: there is no peace in the knowledge of me. I will move in your shadow as I move in my own. Where you've been you can no longer go-- there is finally a door in your path unconsidering of your desires, that will not open to your knock though you bloody your fist.
You will not taste bread without sand, water without brine, love without mockery. I will make certain you devour yourself. You will not turn your head except to glance back, expecting me. You will not walk without listening for my footfall, hearing it in your every step, in your every heartbeat. You will not run without my shadow pursuing you: in front when you look behind, behind when you think to look forward. You will not reach for the light without encountering the dark fang of your own spite and desire biting at your hand. It is leashed and obeys me. No matter which way you turn every light bulb is broken, every door locked, though the handle turns and turns... I will surround you with the once grasped-for envelope of darkness...you will not shut your eyes without seeing my eyes, my eyes...your eternal hidden darkness with the unthought-of addition of my glowing eyes. You will breathe the salt that stains the forgotten faces of your handiwork in creeping awareness that you no longer lean over the basin of another's anguish, wiping the corners of your mouth with the sleeve you so casually dipped in their blood.
I will suck from your expectant lips your last halting breath--I will give it back to the silent ones you've stolen it from. I will fragment your peace of mind and share the divided shards among the starving souls you've raped of theirs... I will plug your ears with your recurring lies, your mouth I will fill with your prodigal repentances, I will hold back your hand from the one last collar you might grasp in your panicked awareness that it is now your immortal soul that is sliding into the pit you dug for so many others...and know, count on it: they are waiting there with my laughing face for a welcome.
I will haunt you as the chosen focus you longed to be. How often have you held out your bruised subjects for the hoped-for off-stage applause of an imagined presence: a Mastermind, a Potent Force, casting in your own truncated self-image some Lord of Crime, mailed fist holding all the cords of Award and Despair. It was he who would turn his eye from the Banquet at your catalogue of infliction to dispense the rewards you believed yourself to have earned in imitation of this Figment, this Icon, this Power. You stretched beyond your full height in grateful anticipation, not expecting to find me standing across the laden table. When you courted the notoriety you saw as laurel, you could not guess who'd spread the table and polished the proffered crown, holding it just out of your reach above the pit of undulations, the pit of lamentation, the eternal falling dream of not daring to open your eyes...
Cry out that you are not the only one to blame: is this the excuse you offer to the blameless who now blame you? Cry out that you are sorry and the repetition will only paper the blank wall of dread around you with the accusing epitaph of sorrow you caused into being by the wake of your passage through these other's lives. Cry out in anger, in petulance, in blind fury, rage and impotence...it will only echo back in fugued octaves of your fear.
This is where it comes to, a perimeter mapped and crafted by your considered neglect. This is the vortex you are meant to turn in, where every wall is the wall of your shame.
Would you tell me now of your self-loathing, your bile, your illness of spirit and substance, of your inner betrayal, your inner affliction? As if I didn't know?
Would you tell me now, at long last, of your Repentance?
In my laughter you will hear my final judgement:
Tell it to the Worms.