33 in 99

Short Short Forms



Wearing an elegantly tailored, light-grey, man's overcoat, standing with a lilt on her booted heels under the grey and dripping sky, hand on hip, she might have been a gaucho. One could almost see a wide-brimmed hat shading her round, flat-nosed face. Mongolian? A descendant of the Khan? Or Filipino? -- Either might be catching a bus near the International District which, originating as Seattle's Chinatown, now radiated tentacles of ethnicity throughout the Pacific Rim. Mercy, seeing her often, thought she probably worked at Microsoft because she got off the bus near the 520 transfer point at the floating bridge.



Tall, pale, plain-faced the young man sat on the bus a little self-consciously. His hair was the color of an old, light-blue awning. Mercy couldn't take her eyes off him, not did she feel she needed to. No one, she thought, dyes their hair celestial blue and expects not to be stared at. As he got off she wanted to touch his arm, say: "Delightful!" but he didn't come close enough. When she glanced back: in his vacant seat sat a big-headed, etched-face dwarf with twisted hair tumbling from a tweed tam. Was she there behind "blue-hair" all along?



Later on, Mercy glanced again toward the back of the bus. The dwarf had sat up straight. She wasn't a dwarf at all, just a rather brutish blond woman, average size. How had she crouched in the seat to appear so small, so ugly, like a troglodyte, like a disinherited "other-half" of the beautiful blue-hair boy? Without taking off the tam, the non-dwarf combed and combed her unclean, long hair, then adjusted herself, her tam, her nondescript tan coat into a perfectly normal passenger on the 48 bus. What if I had never looked back, wondered the staring Mercy.



He is strong, aging and intense; he has a tragic, lined face with metallic-hewed skin dotted here and there with dark brown warts; he has the purplish pouches of alcoholism; his eyes squint above a potato-nose; he wears a long shock of silver, wisp-fine hair like a halo, and whiskery side-burns. He wears a blue work-man's shirt under which his body is smooth and brown, his hands are sensitive, delicate, veined and well kept; his long fingers tap against his chin. He is my last lover, dead now, The New York Times' December 23rd obituary states, of leukemia.



He had impressed Evangeline not as devoid of attractiveness, but as an incarnate glove of handsomeness which turned her cool, which created in her no -- was the word? -- lust, which roused, indeed, revulsion; as a man of whom every woman can list many who merely shadow the likeness her desire necessitates. To stimulate her delight his head was too large, his skin too porcelain, his nose too etched, his mouth too pursed. His eyes were brilliant, but so dark, so refractive they seemed to conceal caverns into which one might fall, descending forever into the blackness of unknowing mindlessness.



Atma Nepada was of a wispy build, had an addiction to windy days, and her two eyes, one blue and wall-eyed, the other brown and cross-eyed, chased each other round her world. Despite this visual vacuity, however, she did not strike a new acquaintance as particularly odd, having acquired, of necessity, scholarly traits that required thick glasses and close scrutiny of esoteric texts, which disguised the fact that she couldn't see but four inches from her nose. She had a reputation as a philological genius, inspired as much by her book-worm demeanor as by her hoardings of Rosetta-stone-like knowledge.



Bradbury, in this one-ups-man-ship contest, took a pugilistic pose against Sansome, who had not been invited to the Summary Justice Summit Meeting in Jakarta. It was before a much magnified color video sent my Sansome that the media caught the two heads-of-state acting as they did. Shadow-boxing, Bradbury stormed against Sansome for the same reason -- in the opinion of some of the world audience -- that Sansome had attacked Bradbury originally. Bradbury's rape of his daughter, however, had been only a media-event exploding out of proportion because it skewered America's ever breathless pursuit of and curiosity about other people's sex.



Even his father could not have moved the audience as his son did that night, waking them, tempting them, exalting them, bringing joyous tears to their eyes, the fruiting of hope: here was an heir! At sixteen, possessed of the power of his gharana, so fresh-faced and American, only his dark skin spoke of his heritage and his touch of unimaginable delicacy on the sarode, twanging poignancy, understanding, as if he had lived a very long time. His mother wept, the audience rose in ecstasy. Having come to accept, they stayed to worship, like Bhaktis, the young god's arrival.



Matilda's radio announced "research" had discovered what she had known for decades; but now they blame it on television. Previously it was the movies, before, photography, phonography, print, paint, chiseling, right back to the tale-teller beside the fire, and the animated rib. The question: Without an audience, was anything worth doing? As age moved in, Matilda found the greatest fun in doing "it" just for her self; whether it was wearing sunglasses in her cave to study, hoot at remembrance-of-things-past, or write two-thousand poems just for herself and cyberspace. Chuckling up-welled most especially when there was only herself to guffaw.



Joseph, admittedly, was unlovable, too nosey, too hairy, too revoltingly gregarious. Mary, long since, had burrowed into the deep comfort of manless, childless solitude, only rarely admitting another female to her world, but never for "company," always for repartee, what she called "the giggles." She adored laughter, and most of her countrymen, except possibly the gays, were incapable of it, not the crude laughter of slapstick, but a wild nimbleness of wit. Having no need to replicate herself, Mary avoided entanglement, accepting only joy, the best from others. She could cry alone. Therefore, she could afford to ignore Joseph.



Jackson was ageing. He was asthmatic and arthritic and wizened. He hadn't got dressed in years. His hair, matted, almost green, tangled down his back like sea-weed. He had a line for a mouth, a vertical line for a nose, and slits for eyes. He was ninety-nine and surprised to be alive. He had watched his wife die at fifty. He had watched his children die at fifty-one, fifty-two, and fifty-three, not realizing the consecutivity of ages until years later. He had no other relations. He looked upon himself as an old anemone expanding and contracting with the tide.



Jackson didn't recall having dropped a seed in another womb, that one last amneotic child was now fifty-five, nor would he have thought himself capable of the sea-change to which this concatenation of occurrences led. Unlike the other three children, Sophia knew in her bones, who was her father even though there was nothing on paper and very little contact. Her nose, dimpled chin and thin mouth formed almost a cross, but not unattractively. She had thought of becoming a nun, but in a burst of millennial fever, fin de siecle, 1999, she turned her computer skill onto Y2K.



Arabella moved through the world like a swan, long-necked, her head bent down, incandescently white upon the dark waters, and went bottoms-up every-once-in-a-while to go fishing. Ah, that gentle curve of her neck. Submissive, thought -- no, sensed! -- her beaux, totally forgetting she was a goose, that she could hiss, could bite, indeed, she had relations in the barn-yard and that, though she was a wild swan, she preferred the field to the lagoon. Not a mute swan, Arabella honked and flew. She would fly away in season and might -- or might not -- return to her reflection on the water.



Annette-Marie was red-haired, pale-eyed, and outspoken. It was hard to tell if her eyes were blue or green; beneath yellowish lashes, they picked up reflections. Freckles, of course, went along with the orange-y hair and the milk-white skin. Her slightly awkward, angular bones were partly visible and partly padded; cuteness lurked in odd elements around and behind her honed physique. Though she loved cats, she was never kittenish. Always clear and concise, she made intelligent remarks as precise as the bark of a dog. She was rather frightening in her directness, like fire unexpectedly shooting up through moss-covered sticks.



It was a travesty of justice to think that Arnold could be let go, off the hook, and that Erika must pay the price. It was, had been, always would be sheer invention; Arnold's invention; Erika's invention. They had laughed gleefully and played it out, never anticipating retribution from each other and from "the law." In two years, now humbled, Arnold had aged from a successful, broad-shouldered man into a gnome; Erika a crone. But, perhaps, that was more suitable than to spend their wisdom-years continuing to be the free-wheeling, no-longer-young medalists their tarnished fame demanded. Solitude seemed sweet.



Yesterday it begun. Minute sparks of the mind jumped from the fireplace's cave, smoldered on the stone, singed the rug, as if another universe lay behind the too evident flames. With remembered terror fear flashed through soot round the ringed hearts of the logs. O much desired fear! Walking coals, about to be burnt, walking the knife's edge, about to be cut -- blood spurting, hideous things revealed. But only a few sparks darted and died. In silence, in solitude, Annette must wait, without wishing, for a steady conflagration to burn the pitch veil of non-knowledge in which she lived.



She was like the desert, clean, pure, white, golden -- a soft earth-beige, with sage-green eyes, tall, colossally present, like a brilliant sun in a bleached sky, blasting with beauty, spare, her great boney limbs like incandescent terrain. It was hard to believe she wasn't the landscape. Tucked away, as in the desert, were ravines, arroyos full of salt-cedar, tamarisk, feathery, grey-green. Rock-strewn, silent, alone, her thoughts opened as rocky, branchy enclosures onto gigantic vistas where great oceans had once covered the land. Angelica squatted in the shade on the crystalline land, sifting handfulls of sand, smelling the acrimonious sage.



Waukeen was blue-eyed and smelt of earth, the dampness, the rain, the misty coastal reaches of the Puget Sound as if, soaked in salt-water, he had never been dried. He smelt of the wind, the caressing, cool breeze and the thunderous storms that shook the tall, bare trees -- illuminated candelabra in the gold-minting rays of the setting sun. He smelt of the rain's silver drops, and the seagull's cry fleeing before the rampage of high waves on the water. The moss on the south side of trees smelt of Waukeen -- which was, of course, not his real name.



As constituent of his own experiments, perhaps without intent, he leads, undergoes, endures, teaches. Put another way: he opens cans of worms, the gyrating tangles of which he observes, absorbs, inhales, exhales, experiences. Tall, fresh-faced, silver-haired, clever, shrewd, he's the sacrificial lamb; one senses at the core of his being love, gentleness, humor, desperation. President Clinton no more knows his "destiny" than do his detractors, defenders. But he has shepherded his country through an awareness of what sex is, of what truth is, grace, compassion, and he may, like the Dalai Lama, get the Peace Prize for his efforts.



Georgia feels like God. God the observer, not the actor. For Shiva commanded: "Do nothing!" Georgia plays the hermit, studies Sanskrit, watches television. A recent soap-opera: "The Impeachment," just ended. Down South she saw: "Rodney King," and "OJ;" near the North Pole "Princess Diana" played; now she watches the on-going series(s) about the Serbs, "Hussein," "The Freezing-Warming-Earth," "Bomb-the-Avalanches," and "Ecoli." She would like to see more soaps about India, Africa, South American, but the media, Weather-Western-War-biased says it must "bleed to lead," or "not be about sex." Georgia shivers, eats, sleeps; God's eye wonders about the other billions.



Black Beauty was her name, and her destiny was death. Not so different, note, from the destinies of others. She lived in equinimity. "Here today; gone tomorrow," she kept before her mind's eye or at her tongue's tip. No big fuss. "Let it be, let it be, let it be"-- in her blackness she sang, inviting every single possible thing into her short, happy life, before she lay between the coffin walls or on the slippery slope's flume to the furnace. "My last wish: scatter my ashes in the wind" -- or words to that effect she honed for her black-bordered note.



See Indra's Net



See Indra's Net

#24 HHH II


See Indra's Net



Driving up one of the Puget Sound area's canyons, Melissa saw, for the first time -- it had been raining for four days -- the Olympics. "Like the Himalayas!" she exclaimed. The higher she rose, the more majestic they became. Then, plunging down a still deeper canyon, the mountains shrank in height and grandeur. On the farther side of the Sound, they covered just two hand-spans of the landscape: flatten, minor dieties. Pacing the beach, measuring by eye and again by hand, Melissa wondered why they seemed so insignificant at sea level. Distance, she decided. At their base, they'd seem colossal.



What did Stanzia want to write about if not about people, about their loves, hates and perpetual jealousies, their tedious affairs, their savaging of the earth and their cruelty toward one another? She longed to write a novel, but about what? -- the magicalness of weaving with yarn and needle, with words, with paints, with stone or musical notes, of work, of pattern, the mysteries of the grid, the occupations of humans, who, as soon as they had time, turned from one another to complete creation, building buildings, make artifacts, preserve ancient words, although billions were minted anew each day.

#27 CLEA


"Strangers..." it's a strange concept thought Clea. It's because there are too many of us. Crossing the desert, if you meet a stranger, she wouldn't be a stranger -- nor on a desert island. You'd know each other at once, as children do when they meet someone their size -- they hold hands, they kiss -- as animals do upon meeting their kind. Equally, Clea was willing to admit, my dearest friends are strangers. They know me not at all, or me they. Which perception is real? Neither. Circumstances are real, not perceptions. Perceptions are illusions, Clea concluded, mirrors of the mind.



Frequently she dreamt of the holocaustic flames of terror consuming her home in the abandoned building. Burned-fur smelling, engines clanging -- the mewing, louder than the roaring flames, of her five. Then she knew a friend heard the tiny sounds beneath the thunder. Yellow-suited, helmeted, he took the kittens from where she dropped them on the sidewalk, took them to safety. Terribly burned, too weak to walk, she coiled up to die. But big hands scooped her as well. Scarlett saved her kittens from the fire. Loved by the world, adopted by friends, she and her kittens purred, grew fat.



Ernestine was tall and exceedingly thin, with quite a small round head, bobbed hair, receding chin, big eyes, and, for all that, quite pretty; pretty enough, indeed, to throw one off guard as to how smart she was, how serious, intent. She pursued esoteric languages, deep subjects, iconographies that would stand her in good stead in the next world, if not in this. She smiled and laughed and was first in her Sanskrit class. She had no plans at all upon graduation. An enigma even to herself, one can imagine the picture she presented to her unschooled great-grandmother's generation.



At times, Felicity felt nauseous about those she brought into life and let die. But, what was she to do? An unsuccessful novelist, she was peopled with beings who lived on white pages, in notebooks, on bus transfers, grocery bills, envelopes, and at times, on her left hand. They clung to, cluttered her life with their passions, pleas. They came without pasts or presents, lived for the length of a thought, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, Part I, Part II, and died in manuscripts. Then along came the NET; she shooed them all, quite happily, out into cyberspace.



Octavio was an old caballero with lace at his throat and his cuffs. Gallant, smiling, extending his forearm for the ladies, his fortune for the beautification of hacienda, town square, biblioteca, it not once occur to him to have less money and give more wages to his workers. He looked upon himself as a humanitarian and didn't mind the wide, dull eyes, the extended bellies, the flies in the eyes of his familia grande. Hurt, he was, and insulted when not one wanted to subscribe a single peso for the equestrian statue to commemorate his fight for their freedom.

#32 SVEN


He could have been called Eric-the-Red. Tall, raw-boned, red-faced, he had a jutting, angular jaw, great, popping, blue eyes with scarlet-veined lids, a loose-lipped mouth, and five, exposable, cracked-off teeth. His real name was Sven. He thought from time to time that his wiring was coming loose, for it was as if a single, fragile, female hair was dragged curlicuing up the left side of his spine or beside his knee or across his toes. He would jump about, cursing, scratching, dancing, trying to shake away the tickle. Had he been, he wondered, evil-eyed by some damned wronged damsel?



Jessica, at sixty-five, as her hair bloomed into a white halo, discovered that she need not concern herself with time. It would continue to flow through her, in her and around her whether she considered the deepening pores on her nose, or the possibility of bombing in Bosnia. It was. She was. It would be. She would be. She might as well believe in God, as not. Actually, her personal God, Siva, she saw as whizzing molecules, or tinier -- electrons or quarks speeding as fast as light around nuclei; she was eager to join them, join the dance.



Introduction to The Short Forms


INDRA'S NET, 33 IN 133



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