14 December 2007 | Vol. 7, No. 4
Dear with Extremes of Thirst and Pain
Sapling like a scepter and a tin pot on his head: the man looks completely insane.
"An early telling. A girl theory," you said, and sipped your coffee.
On the street they are telling each other jokes. You see people dissolving
with laughter. The fallen hold themselves, saying, "We believe. Now, we believe."
A slip of wood, notched into the trunk of another, fared harshly.
Tiny, oblate: an outright birth is one of these, a fact.
In one country the Minister of Information pulled two boys out of the trunk of his car.
He said, "I am too important a man for propaganda. I have issues of government on my mind."
Who now would think of sweetness as a noble quality? I have only the testimony:
the first encounter, the first born. A face has power on my tongue.
First eyelids and lips are closed, then open. Now, open eyes appear unseeing. A kind of dreaming.
For thousands of years people have carried their faces this way, one by one, only on their heads.
Under these conditions nothing is harder to control than reason. You babble without speaking,
march into the desert without water. We will die tomorrow, the day after at the latest.
Sublimities of wilderness have their place: plagues turned loam, new green black, bounded.
God knows, but I want to speak. Seedlings rising like a green city. Sensation of oxymoron to my eye.
The barn, you see, was nothing: my silly brain was open to the elements. So the man and I fell
into conversation, the bones in my legs making small talk, without addressing the muscles in my lips.
In this place night will descend rapidly. In the dark, the eye will notice Africa on the horizon.
Despite the dust, the hum of metal and human voices, we will remain silent, paying no attention.
Red-soled rubber boots. Swallow the coffee. Car will start. A cheek that tasted suddenly of salt.
It is thus that the day will go by: a child's hands to worry darkness, lamplight to worry dawn.
"Long sleeves" meant cutting off hands. "Short sleeves"—lopping the whole arm.
In villages of grass-roofed huts "natural order" meant bird squawks and the roar of lions.
The forecast for the day was the same: no temperature, nothing about sunshine or rain. Later,
you printed in a stolen box: "brown river under brown sky." No one had any idea of the meaning.
Shoes that pinched. A brown table. A reading light. A room. Her literal people. Her deck of horizons
burning into the wood for years. Until a door opened, wind whipping papers into laughter, sea.
On the night train a clever man touched his heart and uttered "Ashani ana…" for my sake.
He touched his heart, where kings and queens had lived so long ago.
It is difficult lying listening, during the waves of embarrassed night. How much we know
of the old man with his bag of papers, warmed by the sun of side streets, drinking palm.
One image illustrates a harvest: in camp a woman waulking cloth, combing hair.
In language, everyone knows each other.
Midway through the story, women interrogated men, the men interrogated a child.
The doctor asked questions the rest of us dared not ask. And you? You began writing.
They were killing time beside the track. Going to Botswana. No—they were standing
on their heads. Going to San Francisco. They said: "We are reading what you wrote."
Pens and pencils, sweat-white shirt: his glistening blackness seems disproportionately small.
You say I say he is lying. I say his hands are dirty and the car is red.
Notes on this piece:
"Dear With Extremes of Thirst and Pain" is a constrained cut up collage between Adrian and Susan, created using language extracted from The Shadow of the Sun, Ryszard Kapuscinski (Vintage International, 2002); Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux (Mariner Books, 2004); The Last King of Scotland, Giles Foden (Faber & Faber, 1998); The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan (Random House, 2002); Island, Alistair MacLeod (Vintaage, 2002). Their collaborations have appeared in Fascicle and Indiana Review. Susan and Adrian together edit PRACTICE: NEW WRITING + ART.
About the authors:
Adrian Lurssen's work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in American Letters & Commentary, Fence, 580 Split, Five Fingers Review, and Word For/Word. Originally from South Africa, he lives in Northern California with his wife and children.
Susan Tichy's third book is Bone Pagoda (Ahsahta Press, 2007). Her work has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Denver Quarterly, Fascicle, Indiana Review, Runes, Luna, Free Verse, and elsewhere. She lives in Colorado and in Virginia, where she teaches at George Mason University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further reading:
See the complete list of work by Adrian Lurssen at 42opus. See the complete list of work by Susan Tichy at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 7, No. 4, where "Dear with Extremes of Thirst and Pain" ran on December 14, 2007. List other work with these same labels: poetry, collaboration.