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Authors: John Domini

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BOOK: Bedlam and Other Stories
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In reciprocal cycles of birth and death, like the swooning tranverse vibrations of radio waves in space, we left and returned to the World Soul. Through love of philosophy we could visit it also during our “lifetime.” Moreover the World Soul, or something similar to it, was responsible for the special tug one person can feel, from time to time, towards another. In the
Symposium
Plato had Aristophanes explain for him, you must remember this, that our bodies were once androgynous: “a circle, with four hands…, one head and two faces, two sets of genitalia….'' But we were all then split in two.

In fact beliefs of this kind, beliefs in a cosmic Body of which all other bodies are dismembered parts, turn up everywhere. Back, well back before Plato. To start talking about a body that's split and yet still living is to plunge beyond any measurement we have for historic time. Osiris for instance, in the remnants left of Egyptian mythology. Osiris may or may not have been torn into fifteen pieces by his rival in love; but according to every version of the tale, the separated bits of the god thereafter came back to life.

And go deeper still, try for something firmer still. Nature itself is dismembered, bodies split and sent flying. Caterpillars and mushrooms turn to butterflies and psilocybin. The land itself can rescue a person in one form while betraying him in another. There's a river the name of which I can't recall at the moment but which lies in Western China. Not that I've ever been to China; not that I've ever traveled so far. But many famous fossil hunters did try to find their way to their digs by following this river. Only the river kept disappearing. I remember reading, especially, the exciting accounts of Roy Chapman Andrews. A mere few hours earlier, the scientists had carefully marked and numbered fragments they'd assembled thus far of vast, vague skeletons. But then en route back to the boneyard, the river would suddenly disappear, “in the shifting sands of the Gobi.” Name begins with a T?

But to root Astral Projection in mud and sand provides a foundation of a mere few million years. If someone should care enough—if you and I would just care enough—we could link the magic up with the very system of the earth in the sky. Because when I hear these stories about dismembered existence, in two places simultaneously, I am hearing about the moon. The moon is dismembered night by night. Part of it exists forever in darkness and part in light. When a boy and girl join hands while looking up at the moon, without realizing it they chase down the first thrill that passes between them with harder stuff: the sky's luminous proof of decay.

WHAT I DID
AN EXAMPLE YOU COULD GIVE

“Listen honey: nothing is going to convince me you can do Astral Projection.”

…


Listen
, you can do all the reading you want. Oh yeah, you're very good at that. But honey babe, no way. It's like asking me to care about somebody when I'm not even sure what happened to him.”

CONNECTIONS

And Astral Projection is often compared to sex. I'm thinking again of Plato, and of those other classical thinkers who claimed that during a kiss the soul went out at the mouth. And Dante also comes to mind, naturally. John Donne, Walt Whitman, some passages from the chapter “Night Watch” in Djuna Barnes's novel
Nightwood
. Possibly also the contemporary writer…or is Djuna Barnes still contemporary? Alive or dead? Whatever, I believe these authors all speculate along the same lines. Leaving your own body, entering another body….

Now there is a man, a contemporary, who claims to have had sex while in the “Astral body.” His name is Robert Monroe. He's not a writer, but rather a successful business executive. Yet since his first out-of-the-body experience back in the ‘60's he has conscientiously investigated Astral Projection, journey after journey, and he claims that his work has involved a great deal of sex. He has a theory. We in this world of physical details are overstuffed sexually, he explains (“the one satisfaction most often denied us”). Therefore upon reaching the other world, our first need always is to unload. What precedes sexual fulfillment in the Astral sphere Monroe doesn't hesitate to label Hell; Heaven lies beyond any lover's desires that might be left over from the physical plane.

Yet Monroe too, for all his experience, in the end leaves us confused. He says that during Astral intercourse he feels no tug on the heavy overlapping muscles of the penis, no tightening of the scrotal sack, in fact no rush of blood or any other sensation whatsoever in the area of the male genitals. Then is this describing sex at
all
? He says that a person experiences Astral encounters more or less in the upper trunk, and that they are “like an electrical discharge.”

Connections? But how can I pin it down?

Sex is compared to so much, so much: playing cards, a Chevy Corvair, the sort of close reading generally associated with poetry, playing chess, a Ford Edsel…. Except that we actually do it from time to time, we might lose track of what sex was altogether, in an oblivion of comparisons. And along with it, Astral Projection. I remember that once, several years ago now, a
Newsweek
critic wrote: “Sex hovers over the movie
Five Easy Pieces
.” But, suggestive as the phrase is, he wasn't thinking of Astral Projection.

PHYSICAL DETAIL

There are, in the last analysis, no physical details in Astral Projection.

AN EMOTION

fear

WHAT IT IS

Yes fear. “This soul of yours,” Dr. Joy says, “
whee
! Have no fear—” stop
stop
, I want to say, or scream. I want to punch out the radio's clockface. Because on all the talk shows, all the phone-in shows, all, they take our ghosts and turn them to clowns. Yes fear, because their yammer even now fills the dial. Repeats endlessly, as we run the needle round the cycle. We run faster and faster and get nowhere. Don't pretend you don't hate them the same. Gum chewers, bonehead goobers whose idea of passion is going one-on-one for a Michelob Light. As for what can be discovered in the gray weekly newspapers, in the hollow behind the checkout counter, it's too painful even to think about. Only keep searching through the dismal closed circle of stations and we will find them. Oh, on that you can rely. And then, finding them, I find what I fear: the insinuation of their voices. Powerful voices, an undertow of tongues, something logy and liquid and flattering that hauls you in deeper. I hate them, but I pay attention to them. Though they cut against the grain with every vapid word. I think they must deliberately pitch themselves off-key, in order to project in a way that's so habit-forming, in order to engage your curiosity and get you drowsy at the same time, in order to send such unlikeable yet spellbinding voices over the incalculable miles of airwaves, in order to continue sounding alien even as their whispers penetrate deeper and deeper into our ear as we doze off with the sleep-switch set. Weird saturation. Painful to keep listening and yet we keep listening; weird weakness. The outsider gets let in as the rest of us tumbles away and down into the distant parts of sleep, until that voice seems to have threaded the very wrinkles of the brains, though we know it's talking trash, idiocy, babytalk, like singing babybabybaby…and the talk runs wild like a strip of golden infection out even to the barely sensory palms of our hands, as if we could hold the sound, feel its weight, and it runs farther because we've nothing left to resist…and therefore
fear
, yes,
fear
is just the word.

WHAT I DID
ANOTHER EXAMPLE YOU COULD GIVE

“Hey, nobody dies of a broken heart. Don't give me that. It's not like Humpty Dumpty around here.”

…

“I mean, look, I read about that Robert Monroe. They had an article about him—it was in
Penthouse
. Now look, what do you think
he
does, once he gets back in his body? I mean, he could have been to Hell, honey babe, it's still the same old story. Robert Monroe comes back, he picks up the phone. ‘Hi. What're you doing tonight?'”

PLACES

Monroe has written a book,
Journeys Out of the Body
(Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1971). There, he separates the Astral world into three distinct “Locales.” Each Locale has its own set of rules and creatures, and its own threats. Locale I is here, meaning right here and now, but made for another set of hands. The walls, for example, become like erect sheets of water, that effective and that much fun, and within your own familiar walls there may be other “non-physical beings.” Ghosts, those would be. Locale II is the dominion of Heaven and Hell, the place where Monroe had all the sex. Locale III is another universe, which he believes is composed of anti-matter. This third Locale possesses unusual tools and no electricity, but while visiting the place Monroe experienced adultery (in this Locale sex occurs without electricity), loneliness, failures to communicate, and the pain of growing old. He concluded that in all important respects it was a universe the same as our own.

Monroe…hold on to him a while longer, a moment longer please. Granted, he's a terrible writer, but please.

Certainly we have no way of demonstrating once and for all that he's wrong. At least not so long as we remain in this world, in this body, asking ourselves what's the physical proof, asking in which incident can we at last get hold of the
proof
and cuddle up to it tight, tight—in what incident, what detail? Certainly, against the unrelenting static of such doubt this man Monroe's worth another moment at least. Just imagine, he travels alone. What a person. A star of the strangest magnitude. In his case there
is
something incredible about Astral Projection. He discovers: demons like immense hard-muscled thumbs; angels as ready to roll in the sack as any whore; the Cheshire cats of previous incarnations, grinning and grinning; the barrier at the end of the universe where all travelers, even the most sophisticated, come crashing to a stop; and other people's dreams, which he can visit like the recurring image of a lover. He has rested in the infinite chamber that waits, reserved eternally, as his personal heaven. Granted, granted, the man then ruins the effect by comparing nirvana to a heated swimming pool, with colored lights and underwater stereo speakers. But…just the idea that we each have one…. And Monroe has braved the worst inferno of all, the whirlpool of armless sharklike souls. These spirits will remain forever unfinished, alive or dead, and they seek forever to mutilate like themselves any whole being who wanders too close.

Places, connections. Time goes by and these joints become curiouser and curiouser. I wanted to weight my story like lead holds down a line, but by moonrise I find that the harder I try to reel in the taut nylon, the faster I'm circling round it, hooked and circling round a metal I managed not long ago to carry out here inside my coat.

PLACES

I wanted to send up my life like a kite made from Scripture, but now the Gospel itself has turned to papier mache—half the King James edition was used to make the feminist erotica I saw at the Institute for Contemporary Art. Was that my own drama, embalmed inside those vulva-shaped pages?

But you've worked at your habits, sinking habits through the visible hours like the
Times
sculpts a Sunday. The habit of reading, the habit of sitting studying some unknown woman when you should be reading…. Myself, actually the voices on AM spook me too badly; actually when that clockface lights up, I'm a man for the FM. “The More The Music Changes The More You Need WBCN.” Oedipus cues the local group, Shane Champagne, “(Living In The) Shadow World.” This weekend they're at The Underground, used to be called Lucy's In The Sky when I went there, now it's got a new form…Oedipus speaks “you” into his mike and that hooded syllable becomes “me,” someone that wasn't meant yet has been made from the name, like the Mock Turtle…

What proof? What incident? What detail?

Places. Outdoors at the seashore, nearby here, on a rare afternoon with a powerful cold wind but a brilliant hot sun, with the moon so visible it was as if the sun were shining in the middle of the night, I once encountered a man and woman together, on the ground. I have a habit of walking alone, compounded by a terrible habit of not watching where I'm going. The woman was naked only from the waist down. Blonde and healthy, she wore a sweatshirt with a brand name printed across it in French. He wore a gray gym T-shirt marked between his large back muscles with dark smudges of sweat raised, even in this weather, by the exertion of the act. They'd had a blanket but they'd kicked it off. The air thickened with their odor. They lay in the hollow behind a dune crowned with short blasted yellow stalks. Yet this was a historic site; nearby the couple stretched the shadow of the new wooden tower commemorating Marconi's original iron one, out of which he'd sent the first transatlantic wireless message, a flowery address filled with philosophy. A message from a President, for a King. Only the roots of the old tower remain, the stubs of iron and concrete nearly out of sight in the sand at the edge of the sea. Therefore it must have been a sightseeing impulse that had brought the man and woman out here originally, but then one or the other had felt the lowdown and habitual tug. Now they'd finished, and their hands lay curled for warmth under each other's armpits, so that for a moment they seemed nothing but two empty shirts: still soggy from the wash, still connected by the bit of colorless line that had been torn free, with them, by the wind. I got out of there before she recognized me.

So…I say “so,” but rhetorical connections drop off to sleep as well…rhetoric and logic and argument as well. Without a move we slip into the tick-tick-tick.

So…and…have I stiffened in my habits till I'm some kind of human playing card, finished while half-formed? Would a kiss flesh me out beneath the belt? Just a kiss, just a sigh…no. You
must
remember: this is no Disney. Nowadays I don't even care for Disney. My ears howl with the sea wind. So…and…have I broken up now, here even before my next part, my Part Thirteen (won't it at least contain bad luck, my Thirteen? at least never repeat, like AN EMOTION, so many stiff pages back?)—have I broken up now and here into my last locale? A
conte a clef
in which the
clef
is a cunt. Squirrel away the memory, fish it out for a cold night beside the radio. Any hand which once held that spot soon enough holds nothing except its own.

BOOK: Bedlam and Other Stories
7.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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