Tonight, as we walked back to our hostel in the little outskirt where we are staying, we saw a dog on the road, and beneath that dog we saw a second dog and beneath that second dog we saw the deep and unending darkness. We felt uneasy about this entire package, so we crossed to the other side of the street—passing now—we on the left, the dog on the right. It was only we and the dog and the streetlights, and beneath the sidewalk there was a second sidewalk with more bright neon streetlights beneath another dark sky and beneath all of that, the dragon, sleeping beneath this city, drinking milk from the old women who remember to throw gallons of it into wells or flush it down their toilets. And after the dog passed us, the silence and the stars and the two of us lost in the strange houses of this neighborhood, and beneath those houses two more and two more people and so on. And finally, coming back to our tiny room, our faces nearly touching in the glow of our little bedroom lamp and, later, two more faces hovering around us, none of them our own.
Sentences Before Babel
I heard a man talking in the locker room of the YMCA today, standing there in his white towel, telling his friends how we should return to a cash and barter system. He wanted to destroy all of the banks and disband all of the unions and the credit card companies. He wanted to get rid of debt, which eventually brought him around to the problem of the Jews. Someone in an adjoining bay of lockers overheard him and said he should have become a politician—“maybe back in the old days,” he said.
All of my close friends have either died or left town now, or they have become tired of my company. I go the mall anyway, the dingy place where we all used to meet up. I still walk around. I still tell the security guards to go fuck off. They are all new hires. All of the staff I used to be friendly with have died, moved on or become unfriendly, just like my friends. The mall itself is the same. The cracks in the wall, the lines in the darkening sky through the skylights. I trace the branches of fake trees with my hungry eyes, and then the real branches, bare, walking home past the Christmas lights, smelling the ocean. It is dinnertime, and the roadway is busy with cars piloted by drunks.
Write a sentence on Microsoft Word, and it is Microsoft Word that lies, not you. What does a single word matter if you can change it to another word, if an automated line of code can change it, if it was nothing but an automated line of code in the first place?
The ability to perform minor alterations of daily events, to replace one word with another, for example, it changes reality—cowering in fear becomes standing there, terrible dreams become things I overheard in a locker room, cities become white towels, oceans become just more crowds of people &c.
Explain a simple idea to someone you love. It won’t come out quite the way you hope. Not anymore. It hasn’t been that way for a long time. Ideas will disappoint you. Communication will disappoint you. Sleep more, instead. Go to bed hungry. Wake up; smell the ocean. Say a prayer for your dead friends. Go to the YMCA. Put on your goggles, your suit. Swim laps in the freezing chemical blue water. Empty the pool with your mind; make another hole.
Kaj Tanaka’s writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Electric Literature, The Master’s Review, The Collagist, and Joyland. He is the nonfiction editor at BULL Magazine.
Photo by Ethan Hickerson