airport purges when your flights delay and your flight’s delayed and my
flight’ll delay I’m sure of it. Read. Sleep. Eat only when necessary. Of travel, of waiting, of boredom, this is life. Here, in between places and
times. I used to wonder why they even put clocks in this godforsaken place, this
spatial vacuum. I stopped wearing mine long ago.
traveled this whole world, that’s also to say, I’ve suffered it. I started wandering
when I was a young man, when I got tired of sitting. I had too much as a child,
sitting at the dinner table with tired parents. Sitting across tables with unhappy
lovers. Soup on the first date growing cold. Time came when I had to get up and
leave. Truth was I just had to sit somewhere else.
sat in taxicabs in New Delhi, Singapore, Liverpool, Los Angeles, even Juneau.
Not to mention hours of traffic jams in Hong Kong and Atlanta and Madrid. I’m
not embarrassed to admit I don’t remember any of the names of my cab drivers. Like
the monuments they encircled they were so long-winded and filled with histories
of violence that their front seat rants all ran together in tongues so human,
did a lot before I found it and I did a lot since. I’ve flushed toilets in a Belarus and Belgium bathrooms. I’ve taken one-hour naps along the Amu Daria,
atop the Sihoteaiin, deep in the forest outside Manaus, and once in a park in Montgomery, Alabama. I’ve spent days
waiting in Russian train stations. My journeys have been delayed by
revolutions, wars, hunger strikes, celebrations of historic precedence. I watch
them from the airport bar, and I raise my glass to the TV.
leg of my journeys I see a little bit less, I traverse a little bit more inward.
Fragments of my life ricochet within me as I bounce from place to place. My
memories repeat endlessly, cementing some idea of a life. I suppose if in the
case that anyone asks me who I am, I’ll be able to tell them with confidence. Every
street a little bit different, but always feels a little bit the same. My strut
is no more distinct from Caesar’s nor Mao’s nor Paul Revere’s. Walking. One
foot before the other. Separate from time and space, it’s simply me stretching
my legs and sucking down breaths full of this earth’s finite fuel.
trip I’ve ever taken is plagued, bears the mark of Cain from the start, for
every journey requires its own return. For each step walked I must account for
another in the direction opposite. Here, this airport, this is solely where I exist
now. I have to say I never went anywhere for good. I always came back.
journeys are worth it, no doubt, and much more memorable than the rest. When I
was sixteen I went down to the record store and waited in the cold and shot snot rockets on the sidewalk. I
counted Volkswagen Beetles with an older man and we made puns and I asked for
the number of a pretty blonde girl and didn’t care much when I didn’t get it
because I still had to wait in line behind her shapely figure. After a long
while the store opened and I purchased the brand new Beatles’ White Album. I
took it straight home and listened to both sides of those two discs back to
back. I went somewhere that day. With only my eyes closed and my ears open I
journeyed through something and I came back different. Of that I’m certain. Been
a fan since I can remember. Did you know that Bobby Dylan turned those boys
onto grass in those days? Sure did, and Paul McCartney he was high as hell and at
some point during his trip when he figured out the meaning of life. He was
right. About a lot of things too, about love songs and simplicity and karma,
but he was dead on when he grabbed for a piece of paper and scribbled, “There are seven layers.” Well the drugs
were good and the story’s fine and the music’s great, but if you care to know,
if you really want to go, if you’re aching just sitting here in this terminal,
I can tell you how to get to Heaven.
not talking about an afterlife. It’s not that, at least not the one I’ve been
to. I’ve slept and boozed. I can understand nor do I fear unconsciousness,
silent dark. Death? Nonexistence? How do they frighten us now, in this boredom
of a florescent shell? Just like baldness maybe, just the lack of. Something
that happens to unfortunate heads that are not ours. Not yet. Well as sure as I
am that there are hairs on your head, Heaven is definitely a place. On this
Earth. And yes, of course, it’s in a church.
found it. One day. Just stumbled upon it like I have you here. I see you
waiting pensively in Terminal A, sticking around for another notch in another
journey. You want to go to Heaven, but of course you don’t want to change your
whole life around. You’re not willing to take off your ring and get down on
your hands and knees with the immigrant woman in the bathroom and help her
scrub urinals as the rest of the world continues to piss their lives on. But a
destination is a goal you can grip. You’ll know it when you get there.
take a look. You see me here, nonthreatening in sum. You see content stoicism,
a smile habitually kept quiet, hidden in a sleet-colored beard. You notice neat
creases on pants unclean. Soon you’ll have read your newspaper all the way
through and your battery will be dead and you’ll be aching for distraction. For
the moment I’m not selling anything save some time to kill and maybe some
haphazard advice so you allow me continue.
me it started on a night like this. When the airport hushes all tired voices in
its windy, air-conditioned quiet. After a while of spreading and crossing your legs
and balancing the weight of your head from one wrist to the other you decide
that you’re restless. At first you just stand up, but moving just feels too
good, so you go for a walk. You don’t think once about your bag, unattended.
stroll the vacant terminals. You don’t stop to gawk at the milky behemoth
aircrafts through the windows. Their barren airfields are far fenced off. Only
blurry yellow lights of some shoddy and likely tolerant residences ache alive
in the night like sleepless lightning bugs between the barbed wire. Unthinking,
you just walk on. Sometimes you trespass across the people mover backwards.
That late at night you can, and well, you suppose, there’s more of the colorful
empty kiosks to see that way. You forget the sounds of your footsteps. You move
between blocks of televisions and ignore their blue red uniform screens full of
further updates and further delays. The subtle presence of their dead,
electronic buzz swells and recedes like lunar tides. Past gates you categorize
aisles of travel types: Family, business, tourism, funeral, youth. You gauge by
their clothes and their postures, nothing else needed.
the chaos in that dull tableau. Seek the gate where ordinary people do not wait
but sprint, push, and hurl themselves down the jet way. They fling their
children in the air like shopping bags and stampede over handicaps. The woman
at the ticket scanner is putting on her coat. A cigarette in her mouth she is
muttering disgust and ditches her post. The destination name is incomplete or
the letters skewed or no one even bothered to finish the simple task. If
there’s a seat left on the plane, you have to take it. Your ignorance is ripe
and right for that strange opportunity. Pace down the jet way. You board the
plane that will take you to heaven.
The woman who sits next to tells you that the word travel comes from a Latin
meaning agony and torment. That suffering and endless exhaust are forever
before you. That in the older times when the nobles crossed the Himalayas they closed
their blinds and shuttered their eyes to the grotesque, starving, infinite
hilltops so fogged by grey clouds and horrid abysmal mist. She stares toward
say nothing for the rest of the flight.
the plane lands it’s delayed on the strip for over two hours without apparent
reason. On the airstrip there are neither other planes nor baggage handlers nor
paint. Day broke mid-flight and all of the flat land is illuminated. Only the
airport terminal, a bus station, and stout hotel await the cramped cabin of
your fellow, rumpus passengers. When you shuffle out you gather scraps of
conversations, foreign fragments, rumors. You are in Europe and Heaven is also.
You confirm that it is in a church. Out the gate you follow the others. Exiting the airport, the
animals without shepherd lead you right. A block of limbs hurls itself from the
terminal to the bus depot and dissolves around a shuttle set for some city.
where the taxis wait but do not drive, where old men rest continuously for just
a moment, overwhelmed and self-forgotten in their many war-torn worlds, the children are the first souls lost. They run savage from their mothers, break
from love-tight grips and outward far from the area marked Arrivals. Past the
airport’s weakly fenced circumference and into the flat, starving landscape,
tearing colorful striped clothing from their free flesh they hurl headfirst
into pools of mud, diseased and infested with fun and fun-lovers.
mothers weep united in sewing circles. Their futile husbands have taken to argue
with ever still taxi drivers, both slouching and stubborn, unfit for learning.
Other men pull credit cards from their bleeding wrists and post up for the time
in the nearby hotel, lured by its advertised ease and comfort. Their families
haul bags to the room and keep the door locked. The fathers settle exhausted
into barstools and turn to stone.
find money for a bus ticket.
seat seems a window seat. The bright horizon penetrates through the bus itself.
Save the tires, the bus is motionless, suspended in the longevity of desert
travel and the gasping, sputtering life force of oil and gasoline. The
honeymooners in the seat in front of you stare straight forward and share only
heightened sensitivities to each other’s agitation. You wonder how you were
ever able to create memories in a world so quiet, so bashful in its silence. A
cacophony of miserable people sitting and saying nothing, clashing futile
desires against fragile expectations like chimps in some nightmare orchestra.
Eardrums dulled, you fall asleep.
you awake the bus is at a standstill beside a gas station and all the other
passengers have gotten off.
gas station and adjacent diner have been built along that road isolated in the
dry desert. The shadows of purple dusk stream against littered rocks and
lizards and beer cans. There, with no suggestion of another civilized world in
miles, young boys take up their father’s professions and bike younger girls to
back behind the junk shed against all’s good senses, including their own. Your
fellow passengers circle around the gas pumps as in prayer. They bow with hopeful
eyes. A fierce and tireless white man stands center them, wearing a tight
fitting collared shirt and tie. He attempts firm negotiations over gasoline on
the masses’ behalf with some stubbly, frugal attendant. After championed,
passionate, speeches the white man is denied fuel and becomes the first of his
kind to fail. Unknowingly they are all forever doomed by him and stuck in that
place. The white man beholds the weighted pump handle, of which by decree will
not be used on the bus, and defiantly ingests its liquid victory and dies
bursting and writhing on the rough ground as bright as a Siberian sunrise. The
tied man’s minions gather round his burning flesh in clamorous celebration.
When the dancing tires a young man steps upward from the crowd and tries to
haggle with some gas station attendant. They need gas to refuel the shuttle, he
the diner, you stand amazed by the neat bathroom tiles, symmetrical and
colorful as a smoggy sky. You wait for a moment, a minute, contemplating a
lifetime there. Wait for a sandwich. Wait for your change. Sundown threatens
but never arrives, insistently lulling you four times over with dreams of
sleep, sleepy daydreams, and a lucid envisioning of that place’s impossible
self-sufficiency. Be wary there, traveler. Recall the Lotus Eaters. If you fail
this holy quest and it’s there that you remain, I hope to highest god unknown
you stay against your will.
one stops you from walking into the kitchen. A boney woman washes dishes and chain-smokes. Her body
suggests a great geological warping of time and pressure upon her soul and
womb. She gives you directions toward the city of the church. You have to walk
it, she says, but she wants you to run. She grips your collar wet and cries
bliss. She screams aloud, telling her past to get out of there. You can sense
the moist passion that her keeper once knew before he imprisoned her to profit.
Before she imprisoned herself to kin. You can imagine ravaging her and those
dirty suds-soaked fingernails before they were rasped by late night breakdowns
and dreams long given up. Before true lovers took far off to other lands. With
good sense and determination and manful justice you leave her alone once again
in that dripping kitchen and walk on as the sun sets peacefully.
walk lone and solemn through that desert.
the time it’s dark you’ve been walking so long that you’ve found the road and
so you took the road and you walked the road and you found the bar and you
stopped right there in front of it with an itch in your dull traveling garb.
The city is in sight. You can see makeshift camps out of tarp and wet wood
speckled about on the plains of the desert’s end. Their lanterns culminate in waves and form a barrier around
the city. They blur and flicker like the good souls of the illiterate nomads
who gather round them nightly and do their absolute cordial best not to slit
each other’s throats over dinner. The city shoots up out of that hazy oasis,
teetering bright and dangerous like an oil refinery flame.
enter the bar as night falls complete.
begins to hammer at your innocence. You’ve never been that far, far away and
far gone. You order a drink stronger than you’ve ever had in your life for that
reason exactly. You eat the fat of bludgeoned beasts. You welcome unknown
excess, thinking it just enough for everybody everyday. But soon pilgrims enter
the saloon and spoil vice. They take your seat, your jacket, and the filthy
temptress that you deny ever touched. Their spirit is vile and infectious. It fills
you so full of yourself that you push onward blackout mad in their ways, as a
brother to those monsters. You grate wild until you finally burst sideways on
some poor sack’s table, spilling out open through your mouth. You wake hours
later in the cold dirt outside. Your knuckles are red and your face feels white
and it’s still night.
appears pilgrims have torched the bar in your conscious absence and now again as
always it’s open for business and welcoming wealthy strangers in cowboy costumes
who gawk at the funny flames. Whores ring at your ears worse than your migraine.
At that time you remember me, you remember how I shook you calm once before
your flight so crazy that everything in you changed even if your life did not.
You stand. The determinant is the master ventriloquist of your weary body. Your
back to the jack-o-lantern saloon, fiery and sweet, you walk on to the Holy
you’ve been to the city where it’s always night, that is to say, you are not an ignorant person. It’s kept you sleepless in some cozy sheet-snug bed. It’s
spoiled the thought of luxuries given to pretty, naive lovers. It exists most
unlike the violent depravity of physical human language, easily accessible and
necessarily forgivable, and it feeds on that very contrast. Suck in your fear
and keep it hidden as you approach the city gate, no more imposing than a
you arrive you should have no trouble finding the church, that holy gothic
structure, built on blood money and breathing nothing but. You first see a
world of confusion and madness and violence and spectacle, but you will also
see a placid line of visitors. Simply follow suit and get in the back. Stand in
line and wait your turn to get into Heaven. Diligence in geometry. You stand behind pious sinners, retired
fun-lovers, old men, naïve missionaries, strong-willed seekers, the faithful,
the forgiving, the charitable and true, all pressing their hungry, tempted
souls out from their minds and into the backs of the next person’s head, one by
one, ignoring the light and warmth that surrounds their periphery.
and ignore—this is the way to salvation.
the people straight, the line coils around the church some times and snakes
through ragtag merchant alleys and past monuments to folklore homicides and
besides colorful, smoke-filled tents and sometimes by circles of plotting
thieves disguised as tourists also. All except the line partakes and breathes
the life of that playground of peoples, that dark and sinning and desperate
corner of western civilization.
You know its structure of cruelty and
hardship without having to examine anything. It’s in the newspaper at your
ankles, the school lessons of your latest youth. It’s the reason you yourself
scheme of having fragile infants of your own. So that your cherished and
preserved hopes may one day grow and squash that terrible, systematic evil with
do not take to calling whores. You do not purchase peanuts. You ignore heartbreaking clowns and their hilarious poetry, true music of the feeling mind. You do not
think of sunsets, nor jokes, desires, or memories. You trap your mind in the
slow shuffle of your body despite the clambering in your ear and the delicacies
just at your fingertips. Jester’s flames cascade through your vision like
shining lions in the sandpit. Perhaps they will be peaceful if unprovoked.
seconds hand on your wristwatch thunders. Each movement resonates through your
body the way cannonballs crush a slave rebellion. When you finally see the
church your heart sings before your mind tames it with calculated realities. By
the time you breach the entrance you glance around at your equals. Many have
long since left the line and joined the millions for pleasure or for reason.
You twitch with regret.
you enter the church you see the sign that hangs beside the door. It’s written
in one language: money. The price of admittance seems steep. Steeper beyond all
other worldly wants. You consider buying into the church. Then you consider everything
else you’ve wanted. Anything you ever could want. You’ve spent almost your
whole life waiting and now you hesitate and sneer and think of the corrupt child molesting priests and their goddamned blood money.
pay. You get your ticket of admission. You show it to the doleful brown girl who hangs dull besides the gift shop. Perhaps her beautiful eyes could afford
grace if she didn’t have to stare at eager tourists all day long. Perhaps if
she could turn inward and find heaven herself instead of ending her shift by returning
nightly to the business of devouring outside. Perhaps, you think. But now this
is none of your business, not this close to the end. When she tears your
ticket, you smile.
O music! O Holiest of holies! O the innards of that grand cathedral how I’ve seen
it how you’ve seen it yet! You’ve banished your goods and your vices. You’ve
left the incestuous kinfolk sniffling and pleasuring themselves at the gate.
You have taken one step upward, devoting your flesh and maybe also your spirit.
You have shown not the world, but yourself, how far you are prepared for that worldly
salvation and high bliss so pure.
all green pastures and fresh milk there. No more crooked smiles just as you
look over your shoulder for an enemy. No more gasping for air out of a midnight
dream when you remember what you’ve left unlocked. Inside the church looks like
trust. Civility without capitalism. Humanity insurance.
still painful, I say as I crack my aching joints, but well worth it. You awe at
a mere fraction of its majesty, its gold etchings and whale-sized murals, its
rivers of illuminated silver and its windows bright and miraculous as if all
the world outside was sunshine and well-fed. You drool with your eyes and keep
your head held so high. Slow to realize how badly tired you really are and how
your neck hurts from craning upward so much and gazing at those works of art on
the ceiling. Happens to everyone, everyone tells you.
introduce themselves without asking, the rest of the happy holy gang in the
church. People just like you. They’re a community here, they say. They’ve
always been one and they protect their way of life. Well, they must, you’ve
seen the outside, they say. They protect each other. And their children. And
your children, they assure smiling. They are always doing that, smiling. And they are always right.
will teach you how to play harp. They would love to. They will teach you how to
swim if you do not know how. They all know how to read and speak every language
yet. They speak your language, but more importantly they hear you. They really
listen. They’re happy to have you, they always say.
tell them you are trying to get to Heaven, and this you need not do. They scoff
and throw their hands in front of them. They go on to tell you everything you
already know, about people and war and inequality and want and disaster and they
speak to you as if you are alien to mankind. Then they must leave you like that
because it’s time for choir or games or some sort of communal activity of which
you’re invited of course. They will never answer your questions, even if they
always answer your stomach.
sit in the back as they pray. Their chants resonate pure and around you off the
walls encompassing. You open your eyes before you grow comfortable in that dim
mass. You see dark figures pace slowly on the sides of the church. They are
picking up trash. They have plungers in their hands. They trash half-eaten
fillets and work to the joy of the chorus not with diligence but with duty. You
watch where these souls retire. You follow from a safe distance as the music
softens. You learn their routes and you slyly keep their locked doors open with
your foot after they’ve passed and you follow them from out the great hall of
the cathedral into a series of some tomb-like passageways.
follow. Despite everything you’ve ever learned and forgotten about conformity,
you trace the steps of others.
halls are narrow and concrete pale and when these unknown caretakers, these
custodians of the light, when they turn left, you too turn left. When you lose
yourself in that labyrinth you rush to keep up with them. You panic
unnecessarily. You jet around
corners and rush hallway into hallway and you never turn back. You halt when
you reach the end of that maze. There are no caretakers there, only a
stairwell’s bottom and an elevator.
if you take the elevator, if you push that button and wait on your heels and
twiddle your thumbs and think soon you’ll be in Heaven, well then may God and Man
be so brutal to your sloth that they cripple you beyond necessary and far
beyond hope so that none dispute that you are weak and a coward and it was you:
You are the one who would rather wait for the machine, incapable of the action
imbibed in your body.
the stairs you walk. Up that final leg to Heaven.
Up you go. You have shed your dispositions. You have worn away your badges of
nationality and hate. Step by step. The staircase circles upward on. Always
left. Your hair falls loose and grey over your eyes. Your hunger stirs like a boiling
brew. It can wait. It has to. Laugh last when you pass the elevator and its Out
of Order sign. The steps turn to an incline and you slide against gravity. You
trek upward, inward until there’s so little left of your mind. You hang onto
some repetitive piece of nonsense from your youth. You clutch one from Revolution #9: “Everyone knew that as
time went by they’d get a little bit older and a little bit slower.”
compresses within your fist.
down your fingertips.
on the wall.
more journey yet.
wet nor dry.
trek without sleep.
That staircase is a circle
you reach a door and that door is painted white and you press upon that door
and you walk flat unto another, another door and you are here and you are
starved and this is it and you have made it and you may knock upon that second
door because behind that second door is Heaven, yes it is, yes you know.
have made it.
And upon this portal you may pass if but
only for a moment, a human measurement of time in space and you will discover
before you are hungry again and lustful again and restless again and again
violent and mad that not on all days but on this particular day that you have arrived
that that door is locked.
imagine the descent.