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Green Integer Review

No. 10 (Nov-Dec 2007)
Poetry & Fiction, Interviews, Essays & Reviews, Bios, Links
Douglas Messerli, Editor

Jono Schneider [USA]

From There Was a Door

There was a door. Or, as I was saying to myself, "I will walk through the door and cross through to what's on the other side". But why "other side"? Were there only two? And what was I to do with it -- or it to do with me, for that matter? It was to emerge from the darkness -- at least that's what I told myself about it. I thought that by talking to myself I might create a way of changing my relation, that I could exist in darkness without the common fate that accompanies it; I could even claim a kind of happiness with my own words, the warmth of the world inside me because of the things I knew I could say, and even if that world was no longer what I thought it had been or even what I thought of it, I would always have those words as a testament to that momentary truth. Things could shift, the shapes could disappear, and yet I would always have what I knew as words inside me, and I could build a wall with these words, a wall within me which nothing could ever topple or even burst through, because the wall was all happiness, which cannot be destroyed, for happiness is the light that outshines all darkness and reveals all the corners of the earth, and every object and thing that tries to hide itself from the world will one day be conquered, even destroyed, by this terrible happiness. And all in the blackness -- though what I write when I write the word "darkness" is that there were no discernible shapes around things, that the background had disappeared, or there was only foreground -- it can be hard for me to think about the dimensions of the world when I am describing my experience of it, but I know that objects are real by the fact that I perceive them, they show themselves to me in a way that forbids me my denial of them, because what they show tells me that they are not me, and if I search among myself for what comprises them, I find nothing, and my hands are eternally empty. And I write this to say that words are the same things to me as the objects I try to evoke through them, that "darkness" -- the word -- and "darkness" -- the image -- both add up to the object "darkness", which wraps up all other objects within it and becomes the place from which these objects themselves speak to me. Yes, I feel them speaking to me -- for example, the sun does not "shine down" on me, but I know that what it shines is what it says to me about shining, although it uses words I can neither write nor speak, because these are terrible words, they fill me with the terror of truly knowing there is something beyond me whose ends remain beyond my own. And so I have come to see the world and objects in two separate, yet overlapping spaces: front and back. And yet in the darkness, foreground and background were indistinguishable from each other, and what remained was light compressed into a black background, such that the light removed itself, there was no more of it, all that remained was not light -- no light but what came in through the opening in space provided by the door. And yet there was no background. I could simply say that my sense of distance, of dimension, had been reduced, that every "thing" -- all the objects I could perceive -- had been reduced to a kind of singular density such that I could only find all matter impenetrable, impossible for me to make any kind of headway, there was no moving ahead, I could just simply remain. Yes, by remaining, I would avoid the difficulty that came from trying to fight matter itself, the immovability of objects that towered over me and the irrevocable actions that I would be forced to take in the name of this battle. The irony in all of this description is that I was on no journey, I had made no effort to remove myself and start that eternal pilgrimage west, where man and all others like him eventually rest when the sun sets, burning yellow in a pool of darkening sky. The sky eventually swallows man whole, but not until he raises his arms to the it in a kind of worship, but he does not supplicate himself to what hovers over him, he reveals his arrogance by comparing himself to this open space that supplants him. And this is how the sky takes him, and he cannot remain where he is, in the west, under a shining pool of yellow -- a turbulent, impossible, impassable yellow. And my remaining presupposed a basic internal condition, one in which stasis -- and by this I mean the state of things within me, there was no door, yet, seeing as I hadn't actually touched the world around me, I hadn't considered that, in there being a world, my actions were such that the world would either be brought closer, or recede, as according to my own movements, if they could indeed be called movements, since to move was to signal a relation between the mind and the body, and I had yet to arrive at the body -- stasis was the basic truth (By truth I mean that all the conditions for such an experience were present, and they could not be denied, and therefore, they could only be true) of my place in the world, I had balanced all the elements around me, and every object in my midst was to be used for this purpose or immediately discarded, some things I had even immediately forsaken before laying my eyes on them and they showed me their ugliness, because I could only internally adhere to beauty -- it didn’t seem to me that I had yet seen any beauty outside of the yellow continually spilling out of the sky into my eyes, until my eyes, too, were filled with this terrible yellow. And so these were the elements out of which I comprised my movements. I could use that word if I wasn't being still, and, if anything I could say was true, it was that I, alone in the darkness, was unable to remain absolutely still, seeing as in the stillness and silence and darkness, if I remained absolutely still, the door disappeared, I could no longer possess the thought of it, and it receded, as though the door was all of the world outside that I was trying to gain in silence. And I was thinking, again, of the sun, slicing through the scarlet sky, as though the sky were a wound which applied to all of mankind, every person who walked upon the earth thus could only feel as I did, the colors blending for long enough, the mind bending towards the outer world just enough, for the inner and outer worlds to meet and share in the riches this wound had to offer us, for it united us, even if only in mind, while we scattered our bodies across empty sands, across anonymous rocks, across gaping valleys through which open water streamed and washed away the remnants of the world that preceded us. But there was a door between these two worlds. "The door" itself was no more than a word to me, but I could hold that word -- or any word -- in my mind, and the value of that word as a thing expanded into the remaining space and subjugated all that surrounded it to it. The word came to dominate thought, was even the end of all thought as thought tried to bend itself backward into the empty space where no words reside. And I could feel my mind stopping, it was like the many times I had held myself back from entering the landscape, from hurling myself through space so that I could reach the end of it and land myself squarely on top an object and fasten myself to the landscape by keeping the object near me, even beneath me, if that were possible, to become part of the panorama itself, where all was purely spectacle, and my mind could roam freely, openly, emptied of all my own content so that I could center myself around it. I tried, too, to take hold of the word with my mind, even as it was at the center of my mind, to dissect it, as though the word were a living thing that could only be understood from the inside. But I knew that words didn't live, they didn't breathe like I did, words were no more than solid objects, whose direct purpose was no more clear to me than the purpose of stones. If I were to hurl each word -- even just one word -- with all my force against a wall to break it open and see what it contained, I would be left with what it crumbled into -- smaller stones, a clump of packed earth, grains of sand dissolving in the center of my hand until all that remained was my hand itself, no longer clutching at the meaning of the word but trying to make itself visible through the rubble and claim its own space as an instrument of action, of action as the end result of my own reflection, of that which I would undertake, a journey of sorts, in that I would move towards the word, the word itself moving such that I was not unchanged, I was different because of it. I would be leaving soon, nearing the door, then passing through it, crossing the threshold it represented to me, perhaps the door was all of the world itself, its entirety laid out before me, surrounding me with space, with that which was within space, and yet all that extended space beyond itself, even beyond me. Because there was something beyond me, I could see it when I looked out at the horizon every day, once in the morning, once when the sun hung at the highest point of sky, and once when night approached, its blackness spreading quickly and silently across the sky as the day descended and the sadness of its ending became known to me as I stood in a field defined by its distance from everything around me, the brown hard ground beneath me. Space was a word that never became solid in my hand, my fist clenched to clutch it came up with nothing by itself, I could feel my fingers and my palm and nothing between them but my skin itself - a slight soft pouch of puffed muscle to cushion the bone from rubbing up against itself - but there was no word there, space had eluded me, and I could make no meaning out of it but the meaning that left me open to further meaning, to further attempts at meaning for myself what I would have hoped the world meant to me and to others, wherever they were, under the same sky as the wordless one that hung above, that screen to which my eyes were repeatedly drawn in the great hope of seeing a large white shape appear; perhaps such a shape would, too, act as if it, too, were a door that beckoned my entrance, appealing to my most adventurous senses, for I was a nomad who had yet to cross the threshold of the journey that would possess him, although I knew what it meant to be possessed by something that could not be represented by any object, that eluded all but the most vague words, that stayed within me like an unimaginable and yet permanent image, one that appeared and reappeared in both darkness and light, in sickness and in health. And the door remained partly open for me, suggesting, too, a kind of blindness, perhaps that blindness was light itself and the space contained within that light merely suggested by that light, such that I could see it only by closing my eyes and thinking about what it was that I was seeing, almost by remembering, with my eyes closed, what I would be seeing when I opened my eyes, and then opening my eyes and remembering the sentences I spoke to myself when my eyes were closed about what would happen next -- because there was something else, I was certain of that, there was no end to my experience, it hadn't ended because I could think of something else, and thought meant hope, and hope meant the future, and in the future was action, even if that action was something beyond me now. And I was possessed of action. This was "the other side" where existence redefined itself to me, it opened itself to me and all that was revealed that now abided was pure mystery, as opaque and indeterminate as any word I cracked open in the attempt to find its essence, where a clear meaning awaited me. It was as if the events that were taking place, the signs I saw flashing towards me, lights intended to send a particular signal, a silent code, to me, and that signal was agreed upon long before -- but I was just coming to learn that a code remained, perhaps it was all that remained of the world around me, seeing as I had reduced words to crushed stones and the light outside me was now only the light within me, while around me all blended with the darkness and no shapes stayed the silence, or suggested themselves to curtail it. Because there was the silence that I lived with, the silence of the day to which I awoke and that I endured as the hours passed through the world around me, which was parallel to, and simultaneous with, the time passing through my body as the sky crept forward and the sun advanced to its highest point in the sky, and yet I knew that as I saw the shards of luminous sun through the cracks between my fingers (I was holding my hands over my eyes to shield myself from blindness), that the code was certainly beyond me at the moment, that the code related to the passage through the door and through the space on the other side of it, where a man would become a rider, and in riding, learn what the world meant to him as he moved across its surface and what remained behind him disappeared for the final time. And yet he would -- I would -- drive outward along the edge of the world, where the charred surface of the earth peered out at me from behind half-lidded eyes. swollen from the internal search for external meaning. The earth was only a face to me, but I knew from my own face that a face meant there was an inside, that the outside cradled the inner space very gently in the specified order of things, and that tenderness expressed something very dangerous about depth itself, and what was needed to maintain it. I mean to say that I knew there was something human in the earth itself, where what was within it wrote itself on its surface, as my own face spoke the same words I was silent about when I looked out on the world.

A murmur emerged from me, its energy not that of the sky, but the endless flow and trickle of water rushing onwards, in spite of the day that encompassed it, that surrounded it with the threat of its own sudden ending. Because the advancing words would one day end, perhaps only in the light of the day, and when all had ended, I would remain silent with all that had been said, with what I could retrieve out of the past, that which spread out all around me and named the clear air of each shining moment. I could feel this threat around me, the simplicity of the day, by which I would no longer find the means to speak, to say the words that came forth endlessly from me, my own continuous murmur just below the surface of that same world I had described earlier. The world was always earlier, perhaps before I could say that I saw the sun, before there was anything but blackness. At the very earliest, there were always words to which I attached myself, and in this affinity I could focus my vision, it became a kind of power from which my identity sprung forth, I could bore through walls and make doors and more doors, until the one that had been created for I and I alone appeared to me with the same kind of force as the sun that hung wearily over me in the open sky. I mean to say that the sky opened to me at that moment, when the door also opened to me in a kind of parallel action, where what surrounded me and what emerged from me were made from the same materials, and all was this same flow of words that I had always been speaking to myself, and to the world, I could be nothing but this murmur, this endless stream that split the silence into the inner silence of the world and outer silence of the self that I held back from the world. For what could I do with myself when I spoke to the world and all I heard back was the distant repetition of my own words, unanswered by objects, by even the space in which the objects cloaked themselves such that they, too, could only become background? That is to say, I remained silent, too, in a kind of absent space --perhaps the space was negative, but I was not taking anything away from what preceded me, there was no less substance now that I had begun to enter the space with my mind and challenge the sky, to protest it through my own expansion. Because I grew larger each moment -- I wouldn't be touched by anyone, there was no chance of that -- but I entered and eventually filled the empty space with words I shaped from stone into tools useable for no other purpose than to cast the darkness back into a time that preceded me, that knew nothing of me and what I had asked of every word I had written for my own eyes to see. But why "other side"? As though the world were in two parts, in even a million pieces that I, as a man who carried the code across time, was subject to repair, to make what was once the world whole again? I held shards of words in my hands, like smaller pieces of rock sheared from the largest stone, a silent black stone made from the charred earth the sun left behind, its burning yellow blistering everything at its core. And these shards themselves could not remain with me, I could not make them whole if I were to wait where I was, with the door open for a little while longer, with the door open long enough for me to place myself at its threshold and thrust myself through it, words in my hands, streams of words bursting from my mouth, my voice the murmuring of many rivers at once, a roaring force from which I could not distance myself, a strength through which I would conquer the distance and twist its form until I was the code itself and the distance yielded, and all was the black background behind me. That's where I was hiding myself in happiness, a kind of eternal glow in which things were bathed, the light that revealed them to me and to everything beyond me. Happiness was this same murmuring between the spaces of things, a voice that connected them to each other and to something that lay beyond them, what we might call the world behind the world, the world that lay the ground for the world, the permanent black background that suffused each image with meaning and sufficed to slash through the debris and create a clear path for the meaning of things among themselves. I could walk among everything now, since the sun that hung high in the sky like an everlasting eye was now shaded, its abstract glare altered, an open glow focused on the entirety of the world not reducing my place within it. Thus, flinging myself forward as if I could not exceed my own body and the outer world was the only clarity I could percieve, framed by what I could say and what I would next imagine myself to think by writing down these words and holding them in my hand, I reached a neutral space where I could rest myself, and my body felt, for a brief moment, as if no more were being asked of it. Because the question itself had vanished from the primal scene, I could think of "the other side" no longer, it held primitive concepts within it, and I sought advancement, to ascend the natural order of words by taking words and forming patterns in the air with them, the air over my head, between my hands, where I might be able to look back at myself and form my own face. I was building a cavern out of words in which I buried myself for the sole purpose of recognizing the sounds of my own words, where all was sound, a murmuring for the end of all things, and the beginning of objects against their own blackened setting, as if there were a stage on which they were to show themselves in a primary performance, with no life force but their own, and what I would seek to know of them was how I myself could be reflected in this dumb, inanimate show, where all was stillness, or all was attempted in this supposedly tranquil state.

Copyright ©2007 by Jono Schneider.

Jono Schneider attended New College of California, and wrote a novel, ...But I Could Not Speak, which O Books published in 2002. He lives in Oakland, California.
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