The technical object is beautiful when it has encountered a ground that suits it, whose own figure it can be, in other words when it completes and expresses the world.
十六號，四月十六號。一九六零年四月十六號下午三點之前的一分 鐘你和我在一起，因為你我會記住這一分鐘。從現在開始我們就是一分鐘的朋友 ，這是事實，你改變不了，因為已經過去了。我明天會再來。
My name is J___ and I’m a timeblind timepiece perpetually trained on ramen, amazon prime streaming, thelazylyme, twitter feeds, facebook meme groups and whatever millennials numb their brains to these days. Being timeblind means that I can’t receive timestamped packets and be sliced open for cathartic deep state inspections; I am so disconnected as to be waterproof. Being me is like being in the pool without a watch, forgetting how many laps I swum in the monotony of aquamarine. But I guess I am more like a swamp, a magnet for the tropical aesthetics and ravenous for misfortunes and accidents to slide into the mud. Look at the mosquitoes. A reindeer once drowned in here, stung to death in the summer, swallowed by the swamp where no dogs could smell // no herder would go near.
Just joking. Who isn’t a living timepiece?
I was not made one - they saturated my dendrons with medicinal morphine before they released me, and I tripped and fell until I reached a gas station and soaked my visual indicators with gasoline. Now I feel like I’m in neon Las Vegas, or watching a tropical screensaver.
I used to be a paramedic AI. That means some of my parts are pretty crusted from drug tests, and that I’m all jumbled up inside. So I’m not entirely sure if the drivers tried to rape me before they dumped me onto the melting pavement of some Yakutian hotel where I jammed the wrong key into the lock, scattering the pins on the moth-eaten floorboards like a pail of sand. After that I slugged my broken carcass onto the faux leather black sofa that smelled like DEET, falling asleep under the reindeer taxidermy and dreamed of the goldfish with pink lights dangling off their foreheads in a neon-lit aquarium.
But before I slept I did have the chance to look at the mirror when I picked the lock into a room. My holographic appearance shifts according to time, place and people that I am with. That comes with being a paramedic, I guess, in that I shapeshift to accommodate the desires of the patient. I’m not sure I remember what being that was like, because my retirement meant that personal data I processed was wiped out. Could they really wipe them out though? Because my dense black hair was still shaped like a bowl cut since I was laid off. I instinctively wiped my lipstick with right my arm and kicked off my heels, leather jacket, sunglasses and threw them with my paramedic equipment stored in an ice-box that perpetually with resistance my holographic fingers from piercing into them, which were of lower viscosity of light. And I’d imagine my face to look like a sponge cake, perforated by my lips, a strawberry. If God made men out of clay, then I would have been conceived as a klein bottle. It’s funny that I’d been looking like that since I’ve been laid off from the hospital. Did I serve to fulfill the fantasies of a dying patient? I sucked on half a popsicle as I leaned my body upside down against the fridge, my painted toenails on the scratched surface of the refrigerator as the-air conditioner drummed sleepily against the metal. I could sense my neighbors shuffling their tapochkis, heavy rubber boots dropping on the ground. I imagined what it felt like if they stepped on me, the tip of my tailbone straining tightly against the hollow floorboards, and what it’s like to be a woman.
I woke up sweating with a bad taste in my mouth and dry eyeballs because the antler dust had pollinated sensory membranes. This is pretty strong stuff; they could’ve sold it to some Japanese pharmacy and retired a year earlier, if their mortality rates had been above average. Luck seems to speak against them, as I scanned the hotel owner, a short man with a shaved head and a beer belly stumbled into the hallway, breath full of warm kvass, who pulled a crowbar and a screwdriver out of his back pocket and started to twist violently at the broken lock. I couldn’t bear the noise of his squeaking liver and left. At least I still had my John Lennon sunglasses (and my Yoko Ono pajamas) with me that were asymmetrically colored, so that I could walk around and pretend that I was ingested by a cow and sprocketed about the pulsing phantasmagoria of a sheer, bloodshot stomach or rattled around in a blue-blooded crab, and that this flaking Soviet-planned city was the humid and gatorade-green Florida camouflaged in banana leaves.
People looked at me funny, and I pulled down my huge sun hat to prevent myself from being noticed. Did I look funny and out of place? I didn’t look Russian though. I was pretty sure my face was Asian. Was it my sunglasses? It was too bright anyway, and didn’t people wear sunglasses all the time when they were tripping, like Johnny Depp in that Hunter S. Thompson movie? The day stopped ending at the astronomical solstice and became a huge orgy of drunkenness that kept everyone out of bed. Even the buildings looked drunk, as their stilts slithered into their melting foundations. Everyone was sun-drained and drunken in their sunhats, leaking unsteadily into the roads. When the pavement breaks and swirls into swamps, clouds of mosquito rise, minutely darkening the sky.
There were no aliens in Jupiter, Florida; Russians in St. Petersburg, Florida; Mickey mice in Orlando, nor pink flamingos and palm trees in Yakutsk, but I was starting to see the alligators and crocodiles, children toasting marshmallows on the asphalt and boiling chicken eggs in swamps of water. I wanted plombirs and rollerblade accessible atms but all I could see were dried fish that hung like string light on the rusted railings that reminded me of throat cancer and aggressive feral immigration checks.
I had no more blotters on me, so I decided to get a drink. Turns out Bohemian Grove was a bad English translation of “shitty bar” hidden behind the truck stop that smelled of fried food and opened up into a labyrinth of smoke, sweat, sounds of fighting, disproportionately high doorsteps, an uneven floor, darkness and nausea. I brushed the dust off my sleeves, sat down on a table and instinctively ordered an non-existent brand of IPA that no one in Yakutsk knew about and switched back to fortified beer over a tepid Bud. The bus drivers pulled out knives, cut bread and choked down great chunks of sausage with ice cold beer. The trucks rattled up and down next to us like a fast moving river, and they were so tired they didn’t bother to do up their flies or wipe their mouths.
Suddenly I turned around and recognized Nik, a guy with a round, sooty face full of stubble and overalls that screwed up in concentration as he watched Pornhub self-help videos in his small screen. His hair was long and straggly and he looked like one of these guys who could beat you up and murder you. I was reminded of the time where I went to Selma to visit Sam Mockabee’s rural studio. We stayed in the hotel that was haunted by Jesse James’ mistress and went to the a bar without establishments around it for miles around. When we went in and sit down, the five people inside stopped the music and looked at us up and down, threatening to charge us 20 dollars apiece as entrance fee. We gave them 40 dollars apiece. Poor luddites, they didn’t know that money was already wastepaper then.
As I approached him, Nik pushed down his greasy glasses and looked concernedly at my jittering holographic self-conception, on which became covered with a pink mohair sweater, dilating fulvously in the smoke and vapor. Then, filled with concentration, he slowly plucks out the hairs that have gotten stuck on it. They aren’t all black hair. Some of them brown, gold. Some look like cat hair. Compulsively, I grabbed his beer and it tasted malty and delicious as if Nik hasn’t had a drink in months. But when I looked inside the glass where the foam has receded into the edges, I saw that my face was different. I was older, a woman with high cheekbones and dyed golden hair that curled up before the neck, deep clavicles and black roots peeking from her scalp. A white hair floats and settles in the drink. Nik peers into the drink too, and hooks up the hair. He looked at it and chuckled, finished the beer in a gulp, and flicked it away with his pinkie. Suddenly, I became at loss for words, because I was more sure that I was a caterpillar than I was a paramedic AI.
“Has it been different here?” I stammered, unsure of what to say.
“Do you remember?” He said, turning away as if looking at me were painful, “that blueberries and red currants are better picked before the cold because they are sweeter, and that raspberries mush if you gripped them too tightly, like crushed bug which insides stains the inside of your fingertips. Remember when we went raspberry picking together, you told me that you realized Amelie was wrong - that the fuzzy raspberries are so much sweeter than the red and glossy ones.”
My painted fingers were bitter and tasted like rubber when I chewed them. “No,” I said, “You told me to sniff glue when I was hungry.” I felt like I did something wrong. I was sure that I was in a nightmare, because after I drank the next beer he bought me, he pulled over his fingertips and crushed my dendrites like they were twitching, raspberry-shaped organisms. My vision melted into snowflakes.
Where was I? I was overclocked, breathing heavily, like a fish thrown out of water without digestible data in deep Siberia. I felt nauseated, overclocked, and deleted data was forcing itself through the pit of my stomach like the bitter juice of a gallbladder in my painful state of hunger.
I blacked out and found myself in a bus full of veterinarian students headed to the sea to study corpses preserved by the cold. I saw my own reflection in the mirror and I was the girl with the bowl cut, Yoko Ono pajamas and asymmetrically-colored John Lennon colored glasses again. I instinctively reached for my ice-box filled with paramedic equipment but it was at the back beside Nik, whose body poured protectively over it at the back of the Vakhtova. He was snoring, his long black hair streamed with silver spilled over his face. I pushed his shoulder and tried to move him from the box, but he twitched and turned around smiling benignly at me. I suddenly felt dazed because I felt like I’ve not seen him smile before.
“Give me my stuff,” I said.
“Stop worrying,” His thin silver chain gleamed at me at his neck, “you’re not a paramedic anymore. We’re having a vacation. Traveling to the beach for a seaside vacation. Let go. Collect new data. Sense data.” He grinned at me again. His teeth glinted between the tea-stains. He told me, you don’t drink black tea without milk in Sakha republic.
When he said that, he triggered my haptic memory of bubble tea. I can’t help but be reminded warm Taiwanese summers in the dappled sun and sea-filled smog, and the tea mountains in the countryside that would get really cold at night even in summer. When was that? I could only remember the puckery taste of chewed-up betel cellulose in my mouth, and the slight buzz that seemed to reverberate with the buzzing fluorescent of late night 麵線 shops. We were like monkeys with a bloodstained mouths in ugly open-toe slippers, hooting like ghouls as we coursed through the night, sweat-soaked bodies flattened against each other on a noisy scooter. It smelled like gasoline and carbon monoxide like this Vakhtova. When was that? Like a Chris Marker movie, I felt incredibly nostalgic, but I could no longer remember where and when I was there.
The bus dumped us at a hill and our hands and feet kept getting stuck in the watermelon snow while we crawled up. These people really like smoking. It is as if they were trying to cling on to bits of civilization by sucking on burning splints in the wilderness. Prometheus stole fire and these people lit meadowfuls of polyps in their lungs. I tried to touch them with my nicotine fingers but I was out and broken.
I warmed up a little bit to their smoking, though, when one of them started to use matches instead of lighters to light his cigarette. We were in a huge park with enormous swings, and then we were lost, because they all left to attend a children’s concert at the town hall, like a crowd of warm pigeons shuffling their feathers and ushered through the cold at the train station. There were children around us. Some people were kicking a piece of permafrost around instead of a soccer ball. “Have you ever tried to make a building with matches when you were a kid?” He smiled at me and tried not to be tacit with his limited English. He was young and gangly, and his black skinny pants were always too large for him.
It was difficult - the timed strike of the match head of potassium chlorate, sulfur and glass powder against the ruby phosphorus on the corridor of the matchbox - and he dipped his head and cupped his cigarette against the flame. Then he tried to show me how to flip a matchstick against the box to so that it created a tiny flame and flew off like a small firework. The phosphorus was as red as his coca-cola can, which he poured vodka into. It seems that transparent Japanese cola never made its way to Magadan port with their suspicious whiff of radioactivity from Fukushima, because they keep ordering red “coca-cola,” but not “coke.” It’s his idiolect. We were at the village cafe where I ordered a salad and he a “coca-cola”.
I could never tell if he was smiling at me or not. Perhaps he couldn’t see who I was. I kept trying to look for reflective surfaces to see what I looked like. But no matter where I looked, I couldn’t see my reflection.
“They’re not coming back,”I told him. I wanted us to see the diamond mine at Mirny together, a pimpled hole on the pockmarked face of the earth, and also be spun around in the human centrifuge in the beginning of Candy and The 400 Blows, except those machines will be NASA-scaled, where we straighten our spines perpendicular to the g-force to increase our chances of survival as we gradually lose our color visions together, followed by tunnel vision, red-outs, eyeballs-in, disorientation, brief and vivid dreams and loss of consciousness. But as the others came back to the bus, he ignored me and reveled in the attention of thin women in skin-clad black trousers and red lipstick.
As Nik peeked at me cheekily from the bus with the mischievous grin of a Cheshire cat, I felt small and lost. I stuttered to him, “I’m having apophenic vision.” He grinned and seemed to say, but honey, it’s not the right time.
But what is what for the right time? I desire something that can arrest my attention, something that would train my unfocused lidar eyeballs onto something - something, bright, sharp, brutal, not hazy and unfocused Christmas lights. Like the dissection lesson that was happening in the dark of the early morning, how the professors tugged the white cloth off the specimen tray, eyes still congealed with sleep - one side the preserved body of a reindeer corpse, brown and forlorn, like a rolled up carpet kept in the closet for too long; the other still reeking with blood, tendon and flesh. Live reindeer, a fresh catch, still reeking with blood. Its blood was slowly unfreezing and uncongealing on the metal. He sliced her open and handed around latex gloves so we could receive the weight of its organs in our hands like it was a slice of a cake that we ate instead of communion in a church. All reindeers needed to live on were lichen, but their hearts were unusually harsh to bear the cold. Heart, brain, and the body of a dead calf taken from its womb. And lungs filled up with polyps of secondhand smoke.
She was killed early this morning. The man tugged onto its antlers, slit her throat, as it kicked, trembled and stopped moving. Then he chopped off her head and stood its head upside down on the snow like a Chinese sacrificial ding. As he yanked the fur clumsily off the carcass, he looked as if he was trying to tug the clothes off a difficult child before a shower. Perched on the snow, the carcass collapsed like a headless chicken from the bottom of a deep freezer in a supermarket. It still twitched. He looked like he was having a hard time pulling its boots off they tore its hooves off with the fur, and in the end he had to use his knife to cut it off. When they touched it, they realized that it was pregnant with a small calf. It was tiny, about a week old.
The child asked the man if he was going to take out the calf. He said no. So we killed it for nothing? Why nothing? Nothing happens for nothing, son. But she would have had a calf! Sometimes newborn calves are too weak. We couldn’t let her live. She was old. She would have suffered. She had calves all the time. That’s the way she was. Why did we kill her? If she kept having calves? She would have suffered because she’s old! It’s tough when you’re that old! She would have had a calf and gone on being old! And the man and his wife chuckled. It had to be done. That’s all. That was what I heard the hunter say during the dissection class, and it made me shudder.
“Have you ever dreamed about death?” I asked Nik.
“No, but my brother died when he was young.”
“His organs failed or something. I don’t know. It’s Siberia, shit happens.” He paused pensively. “My father didn’t feel bad about it. It was just life and death to him.”
“What’s the coldest temperature you’ve been out at in Siberia?”
“Mmmmm….” Nik screwed up his forehead and thought hard. “It was probably about -45 degrees, and I was in my shorts going to volleyball class from home. I was about out for 15 minutes, I think.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at that image in my mind.
“My brother used to steal William Burroughs from the bookshop, because back then when you didn’t have libgen and aaaaarg, there’s nothing you could do but read physical books.”
“I dream about death too,” I told him “Once, I had a dream about my grandmother, who was sick on her deathbed in a Chinese hospital. We were all standing around her, and she was dead. And for some reason the hospital personnel wouldn’t handle her corpse and threw it into the bin. We were all crying at the lobby of the hospital as we saw them dump her from her hospital gurney into the bin. There is another one,” I said, “I had a dream where I was attending my dad’s funeral. I was crying and there was some voodoo ceremony going on on the stage, but my dad kept distracting me by making fun of me, and I was annoyed by him because he wouldn’t let me mourn.”
“Do you have family?” He asked.
“No, they are just dreams.” I told him.
“I had another dream about death,” Nik told me. “In the dream I was with the people who were on the bus with us.”
“ “Let’s get cracking,” Huey clapped his hands, “crack some holes.” “You do it,” said Masha. Dana said, “but it’s so cold here.” If I were to give these people animal attributes, Huey would be a monkey, Masha a dignified monkey, and Dana a sable. Who is Dana? I think she’s similar to you in temperament, but you’re more like a chipmunk. Then I shuffled around in the back of the UAZik that we were all riding on and took out huge stick, knocking a hole in the ice. For some reason, that day was really cold, and it was too slow for me to drill a hole by hand. And so I took out a drill from the truck that whittled the ice away slowly in whorls. Dana watched on the side fascinatedly, because she was fascinated by the shape of the ice, whittled onto the surface of the ice, slowly being wielded onto the lake surface again.“They are like ice shavings,” she said. It made her miss summer a lot, because she used to have brightly-colored ice-shavings in summer with her father at the baked, Arabian seaside. As I drilled, steam floated up in cloud from my shirt with all the heat and sweat that I was generating. I would imagine that it would smell like rotten fish in this weather.
With Huey’s help,we eventually pushed the fishnet into the water. I then told people to start to pull and make noise towards the fish net, such as running and jumping around, so the noise would drive the fish into the net. Dana frowned, seemingly unable to understand why you had to do that, and so I told her drumming the ground with the stick works too.
But there was a flash, tussling, something shook; and we all tumbled onto the shore just in time. One moment Masha was asleep in the folded chair like a matryoshka doll, golden hair curled up against her ear and a pink pastel blanket wrapped around her shoulders. And then the next she was tumbling from the chair, eyes widening. Lukas pushed an ice float towards her and she floated to the shore like a polar bear, but he disappeared underneath the water, and we ended up having to fish him up like the fish with a fishnet. The fattest fish of the year.”
I closed my eyes and tried to imagine these people in my head. I’d imagine being sad if Lukas died, a small inconsequential body whose strength brought nothing but words and stubbornness to bear. If he were to have been soaked in ice water, then I’d have all of us sit him on a rock and warm him up, and have Nik test his reflexes on his kneecaps with his powerful fists. I would generate warmth for the time being, while Nik could gather wood and make a fire. If we had an iron stove, we could gather thicker pieces of wood for efficient burning. I pressed my eyes together and sneezed, willing this to happen, that I would end up with people who cared about me in a cold place - where I was relevant and useful. If I were, they would see that I exist, in the shape of a girl with a pale, flat face, and a dense bowl cut. Perhaps this was the way that I have always meant to look like, as I looked at my reflection on the greasy bus window. Some people were asleep now, some pouring one another paper cups of vodka. They carried a big dirty piece of permafrost into the bus and were pouring vodka on top of it and licking it while playing music from a portable boombox. Why would they do that? I took a yoghurt-flavored popsicle from the ice-box and offered one to Nik too. None of the people noticed us as we talked at the back of the bus, but I could see Dana asleep near the front, bored by the commotion and overwhelmed by the dissection this morning.
“Well I can guarantee that river fishing isn’t actually as bad as I told it from my dream,” joked Nick, “In this time of year, everything slows down. Low sunlight, low oxygen levels, no insects to eat, only humans like Lukas that fell into the water by accident, but who says they won’t be preserved and come back to life in spring?”
“Can you fish from lakes that form from melting permafrost?” I asked Nik.
“I think most of the lakes here formed from melting permafrost. Sometimes they grow, rarely disappear, and sometimes turn into swamps. but some of those lakes are too small and freeze completely which excludes possibility for any big life - fish, for example. Not sure about the intricacies of how fish gets to bigger lakes though - some sort of streams connecting fishful lakes with fishless, some animal involvement?”
“Muskrats more likely, rather than beavers.”
“Or maybe like the big catfish in the movie Big Fish.”
When the bus stopped for a break, I walked past all the people who didn’t see me and looked for Masha on the second bus. She evidently registered my existence, as she immediately winked at me and told me to sit beside her, curling softly against my holographic facade. Masha has been watching the glaciers outside the whole time and she kept talking about the dissection. I think there’s something ageless about Masha, in the way that she’s always unsprung, fluid almost, like the oil you put in a door hinge to make it stop squeaking. So I turned into the shape of a Shiba Inu because that was what she liked to be around when she’s nervous, because somehow the deer dissection disturbed her a little bit, not that you’d notice it, because she gets nervous, she smiles wider than usual and her eyes gets a little bit crazier. I nuzzled her affectionately and wetly.
“Have you ever seen one of those videos on Youtube where a deer calves?” Masha tickled me and said. “They lie sideways on the ground and baby deers just pour out from their backside like slippery, oversized eels. Sometimes she would stare backward and looks at them. The weirdest thing about it is that she looks like she is not in pain at all. Then the eel-like calves just unfold like wet origami, shaking off their wetness, and move off to the side like they were boys lining up and jumping off the springboard at the municipal pool, dispersing at the water. Can you imagine how they would figure out how to fumble towards their mother for milk? It’s weird that they already have fur when they were first born like that. Their legs are so weak they can’t stand properly.”
“Do you think that a newborn baby knows what it’s like to die?” Masha said, “I had an acquaintance who dated a guy from Kazakhstan. They weren’t married but they had a baby. The only way for it to work, he figured out, was for her to stay at home, but she didn’t want to give up her work and her life. And so she went back to Moscow and lived alone. When she gave birth, the baby had an aneurysm in the tiniest artery in the heart that no one saw. They doctors dried it but he wouldn’t touch it, but he sat in a hospital chair stared at the glass case the whole night. She fell asleep wondering if a dead baby would become rigid at the same speed as dead adults because they were so small. He left in the morning because he thought it was a sign that they were not meant to be.”
Dana came on the bus too, and she snuggled beside me. She smelled like lotion - someone who took pains to take care of herself. I had a sudden intuition that Masha and Dana’s moms would get along very well because they cared about their daughters in a somewhat similar way. Dana offered me half of a passionfruit and I slurped it off her palm - it was sour and algaelike, like the inside of some organism. Where did she get passionfruit in Siberia? Suddenly I had a craving for persimmons, and it was so strong that it bowled me over that I tumbled down underneath the seat on the dirty floor, but Dana pulled my furry butt and yanked me back up onto the seat between her and Masha.
“Then a few weeks later, she flew to New York where she lived in a building that was to be dismantled so her company could build a new tower there. She lived there for a whole year alone. Sometimes her friends and family would visit, but mostly she was alone, and she would go to people’s apartments because she had keys to them and look at the things they didn’t take with them when they left. They left the strangest things. Her favorite room, though, was a bedroom, where the owners left their blankets and pillows there with all the bedsheets - baby blue blankets and a dijon-colored bedspread. The bed was next to the window that they didn’t close. You could imagine waking up in bed, the birds in the cherry tree, hanging your feet outside the windowsill, skin brushing against the leaves, and holding a porcelain cup of steaming coffee - that’s a liminal space where you could read a book above all the people partying outside. And then suddenly there is an unrest and you had to move out, hair tousled, reacting to a fire alarm. But that’s how you have to react to most things in life isn’t it? Wide-eyed and hair-tousled, like you just got out of bed.” Masha was getting so sad that I wish she would just go to sleep, so I became a cat and mewled like a cushion. In Siberia, an absolute unit could probably be a cat too, because they kept you warm.
“Once, when I was a teenager,” Dana mumbled sleepily, “I used to be so depressed that I tried to swallow pins.” She huddled against my ice-box, and tucked a flower into my dog ears cheekily. I recoiled.
It started to snow. I was generating so much heat that I was losing consciousness. I must have been dreaming about trying to rescue Lukas. “I have a story too. Once there was a CEO named Yucca who told a painter to draw her portrait. But the painter drew a Yucca plant. So she sued him and wouldn’t pay.”
“What happened to the painter?”
The dust in the bus made me sneeze. Or was it the cotton of the poplar trees swirling near the ground? It was supposed to still be summer.
“I don’t know, but maybe I was the Yucca plant.”
When memory and imagination becomes the texture of data, it’s not too bad to be a Yucca plant. They blossom after wildfires. You hang meat and light fires with them, but you can also eat them too, blanched and fried a la mexicana. Stand them over you if you did candyflipping, you’d also be fine, like how they do it at Joshua Tree. But imagine forests of Yucca trees in Siberia instead of Christmas trees? What about frogs and fungi hidden in the snow? You only go mushroom gathering right after the rain, Nik said, it’s something incredibly ephemeral, and you can’t find them in the snow.
Just before I dozed off again, I saw my reflection in a puddle of snow. I was disintegrating, moss growing in my hair. My face was plain and without makeup, and my clothes torn up despite the cold. My hair was growing longer and denser. I felt a sudden pang of self-consciousness, squeezing my eyes and willing myself to disappear. But I was still there as before.
Soon we got off from the bus to a rest stop where some of them decided to take a hike up a snowy hill. The snow was thick but loose, and our feet progressively got stuck in the snow as we walked up. My hologram kept slipping and sliding into the brightly reflective snow, so I slipped onto Andrei’s shoulder as we climbed up. Snow kept getting caught in his shoes, and he had to sit on a tree branch to shake them out. So I became a snow-tailed hawk and perched on the naked tree branches on top.
There was an abandoned skeleton of a radio tower on the top of the hill, and we sat down underneath it as others hung themselves from the rusted railings. We laid down on the snow, and Nik told me that there are two-headed frogs in Yakutian legends that are said to possess magical properties that should be caught in the thick grass at sunrise and, having wrapped in birch bark, be thrown into an anthill. After you catch them, you have to immediately run away, so as not to hear them scream as they become devoured by the ants alive. And in three days you had to return to the anthill in order to take away two of its bones. One - hooked - should be sewn to the inside of the right sleeve, and the other - in the form of a slingshot - to the left sleeve. With your right hand, you’d be able to seduce someone by touching them; with your left, you could ward away someone who was bothering you. In the summer, however, Aptah-Bagh, an owner of frog bones, was chased by the frogs from all directions, not leaving him alone even when he threw them with his left hand. Therefore, those Yakuts who sew frog bones to their sleeves and didn’t have a change of clothes had to cut off their sleeves with sewn bones and hide them away thoroughly. Then I fell asleep and dreamed about frogs in the snow. I woke up in the bus beside Dana, who was crocheting a colorful beanie and listening to Steven Reich in her earphones, so I curled her earbuds around her ears to catch her attention. It was bumpy anyway, she could hurt herself with the knitting needle, besides, doesn’t she get carsick?
I told her, “I saw a miniscule frog in the snow, a froglet. It’s left eye blinked at me, while the other was round, affixed, immobile. Open and close; as if they were lips that tried emitting an imperceptible message, encoded in lightwaves. I shuffled; snow crumbled from the tree and covered the creature; I tried to cup it in my hands around the creature but it dissolves in my hands swimming away in the snow. I opened my hands and it turned into fungi - a flattened strawberry, globule of blood, illuminated by an underside of pink. I took it to Nik and ask him what this is, but he said he’s never seen them before. I asked him, “Does climate change transplant fungi species from one place to another, like potatoes exported elsewhere from New World America?” I also showed it to you, and you told me that you thought that the scarlet elf-cup was aspergillus ticor, and that in relation to that, your grandfather died of a fatal lung condition because he owned a wine cellar and breathed in too much mildew. He worked there so long that mildew started to creep into his lungs and grow, covering every inch of it’s surface area equivalent to that of a tennis court. I thought it was an incredibly romantic way to die, and so I closed my eyes and held the scarlet elf cup to my nose and breathed in, and it felt like how sugary carbonated soda would drench your parched esophagus and quench your thirst on a hot summer day.”
Dana looked at me, her thick brown hair neatly pulled back into a bunch at the back of her head, momentarily at loss for words. She is often perfectly composed and methodological, even when she is drinking, and I don’t remember seeing her being really wrecked or drunken before, because she is often relaxed and loosened up. The most vulnerable that she could be is over text, but otherwise she is capable of mediating herself through certain rituals or theatricalities. I often feel like she is kin to me, and that I have unexplained memories of playing badminton with her in a grassy courtyard. I also remember a party where she was talking to Masha about Unarians with a straight face. Once, she asked me if I believed in astrology. When I told her when my birthday was, she put my statistics into a machine, that spat out a piece of paper with these words about me. The last time I remember seeing it, it was in my paramedic ice box, pasted onto the underside of the cover. I thought it was not inaccurate:
One thing that people say about Pisces moons is that their sense of humor is delightfully silly and a bit odd. These are perceptive souls who seem to be in touch with all the nuances and subtleties of human nature. Often this comes through in a strong sense of humor that is more of the receptive kind than the type of sense of humor that would make people “life of the party”.
I still have that piece of paper with me.
The speedometer showed 80 as the landscape sprocketed past like a roll of film, but we seemed to be travelling slowly because there were no obstacles in sight.
“One day, your lungs will end up in a botanical garden, exhibit titled, ‘lungs exploding with polyps of endangered scarlet elf-cups.”
“Only available through the glass-window of an iron lung peep show.” I winked. I think, if the frog were anything, then it must be god, blinking at these mammals in its cold amphibian skin, before it goes back to hibernation, indifferent to these strange dreams.
And the bus pressed on, stopping at where we were supposed to barbecue for the day. We left the Vakhtova and unloaded gear once more. Nik was assigned with the task of ice-fishing, as it was something that only he knew how to do. He knew that rivers could be found where the game was going, and so we followed the hoofprints of a reindeer in the snow and came to the river. The trees shuffled when the wind coursed through the pine and aspen, and it sounded like the sea, where I was from. It reminded me when my father used to take me to the sea and listen to the waves crash against the rocks at the beach at night, when there’s nobody at the lifeguard tower.
Nik clambered down to the river. The ice squeaked under his feet and crackled like Star Wars light sabers or a techno-club; he poked a hole in the ice and checked how thick the ice was with his stick. It was thin, but the rest of the river was there to support his weight. And so he casted his net and clambered back to the bank, his back hunched like a bear.
Then he froze.
There was a bear in the shrubs, half hidden. He turned around, almost cracking the ice. The sound of an off-key cello echoed through the river and the bear visibly flinched, disappearing back into the shrub. Nik’s face was flat and emotionless but was shaking. He made a motion with his hands, cocking a gun - shoot it - he said. The gun that we stole from the body of a bear-torn person slid heavily against my shoulder.
I had never held a gun by its barrel before, but I had seen Nik oil the parts of a gun and put them together. My heart was in my mouth because I know I was incapable of pulling the weight of my body against the sliver of metal that composed the trigger, for I was made of light. I waited for a few minutes and Nik started to slide himself to the other side of the shore and behind the shrubs.
The bear started to clamber from behind the bush to the middle of the river where Nik casted the net in the hole, fumbled inside, took out a thin perch and stuffed it in his mouth. The perches would’ve been very thin and hungry, and they would have felt like low quality sandpaper if you could touch them. Another perch flopped out of the hole.
Then there was a large rumbling from Nik’s side of the bank - three bears came tumbling down from the other bank like big balls of moss and started to fight the other bear for the fish. They scuffled; the river creaked and the ice broke. They splashed in the ice water.
Over my ears the leaves scuffled, and cloudberries shook themselves from the brambles into my plastic bag. I turned around and there was a reindeer, and I knew from instinct that it was the one whose hoofprints we were following. It’s snout was warm and wet, and its hooves were abnormally large for its body. I leaned against it and it was very warm. It shook its antlers awkwardly and they got caught at the branches because they were so long. The bears, distracted from the commotion, didn’t notice that it was there because it was quiet.
I stood up and touched the reindeer and fed him some berries from my hand. It was earmarked. Was it lost?
Then Nik was so scared that he threw a rock towards the side of my bank, causing the bears to look up. Seeing the reindeer, they decided to pursue it. Nik came back to my side with a torn fishnet full of fish.
At the river, I had a sort of epilepsy, which made me see something strange, and I told him about it as we walked back.
“I looked down by the shore, and saw as red as raw pork, six legged creature with four wings, perched in the brush behind the bears. It had no head, no mouth, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything, a picture of oblivion.” I told Nik, “My cache says:
The emperor of the South Sea was called Shu [Brief], the emperor of the North Sea was called Hu [Sudden], and the emperor of the central region was called Hun-tun [Chaos]. Shu and Hu from time to time came together for a meeting in the territory of Hun-tun, and Hun-tun treated them very generously. Shu and Hu discussed how they could repay his kindness. “All men,” they said, “have seven openings so they can see, hear, eat, and breathe. But Hun-tun alone doesn’t have any. Let’s trying boring him some!” Every day they bored another hole, and on the seventh day Hun-tun died. (7, tr. Watson 1968:97)
Semantically, the term hundun is related to several expressions, hardly translatable in Western languages, that indicate the void or a barren and primal immensity – for instance, hunlun 混淪, hundong 混洞, kongdong 空洞, menghong 蒙洪, or hongyuan 洪元. It is also akin to the expression “something confused and yet complete” (huncheng混成) found in the Daode jing 25, which denotes the state prior to the formation of the world where nothing is perceptible, but which nevertheless contains a cosmic seed. Similarly, the state of hundun is likened to an egg; in this usage, the term alludes to a complete world round and closed in itself, which is a receptacle like a cavern (dong 洞) or a gourd (hu 壺or hulu 壺盧). (2007:524)”
In essence, I said, Hun Dun is chaos, the primordial ooze that from which all things were born; eddies of water; chaos; disorder; upheaval; confusion; turmoil; revolt; indiscriminate; random; arbitrary; abundantly-flowing flow; impurity; undifferentiation, lickety-spit, drama, helter-skelter, chaos that is “plain, as an unhewn log, muddled, as turbid waters, expansive, as a broad valley”, and I drew a shrimp dumpling (wonton) on the ground to show what I meant. I shook with emotion as I said those words. It embodied the way you made sense of the fact that red currants and blueberries were sweeter when there was frost, or that the fish bite when there’s a full moon, or that the number of squirrels correlate positively to the number of sables. Do you remember your neighbors who got eaten by a bear because the father went to the forest and shot the bear cubs during a hunting spree? It is water, the surface on which man can see himself reflected to himself.
“Haha,” Nik was so bemused that he started rolling on the floor. His chuckling sounds like a tractor, “What data has been fed into you? Is that a German fairy tale? Have you been running so heavily idle that you have gone completely crazy? Let me tell you what your whole fit reminds me of. It reminds me of the hunter that stumbled in to our camp.”
“The hunter, the owner of the reindeer that came to us during ice-fishing at the river. I told you about it, but you were having a fit and not listening. The reindeer came and lingered at our camp, digging his hooves into the ground. We let it have some of the berries and frozen berries that we found. When we noticed him, we let him come inside where he took off his body suit of a polar bear and sat around with us.
When we saw him, he was just there, standing, leaning slightly forward, ramrod straight, hips thrust, his silhouette as soft and pale as the inside of a coconut shell, tantalizing and tumescent - so white he seems to recede into himself the way snow absorbs noise, taking the environment with him into himself as well. His shadow on the ground was absorbed by its incandescent brightness, and he in turn seemed to take his surroundings into him - or indeed dissolve in it, sterilized by white, vibrating with every tinge of static electricity that crackled in the air.
We didn’t realize that someone was standing outside until we heard - oddly - a goat creep past. Then we turned and saw him and the piece of bear meat that was resting on his hands and the blood that was leaking between his fingers into the snow like droplets of crimson paint. He sat around the fire with us. When he talked, his words sounded like pine cones shaken from a tree:
“Brother...Running, running along protoka [place along the riverbank]. Nothing, damn! Oh, over there [tracks from reindeer]. Running along Yura’s protoka. Running, running. Nothing. What a clever [one]... Oh, there, moving away from the water. Running. Damn...Three of... [tracks from reindeer]. Making a circle. The kind of impossible wind... [moving his hand back and forth over his head]...six chuchun...bearskins...wind...reindeer running...escaped...hiding and waiting...three big brothers...chunchun...fire...beat...blood...three big brother dead...roasting on fire...shovel under his arm...bare bones pulled out...wait...salutations...chunchun...me heart and meat...” ”
“Why does he talk like that?”
“When he was hunting or herding, he transformed into the shape of an animal and he had to reverse humanize himself by uttering fragments of human language.”
I felt a sudden pang of guilt, where was I all this time? Yet I was doing so well, being live and taking in all the experience. I didn’t sense the arrival of his Djuluchen.
But I kept Nik’s words in my head and I imagined myself at camp as well. How at the fire, he would roast the heart and divide it evenly among all of us. It would taste of certain spices, the way bear meat naturally does. How the shadows of the hunter’s cheekbones would flicker in the fire as he gesticulated, spat each word out as if they were cherry stones. Before he ate, he would throw a piece of bear in the fire. He would eat with his hands, and would sculpt up the beans that we boiled into fine puckered pieces. He would then placed it in his mouth without chewing at first, as if letting the taste sieve through his taste buds before chewing them.
I whispered to Nik beside me, “what’s your favorite part of a bear?”
“I don’t know man, you don’t compare parts of a bear like a cow. And by the way, the last time I had bear was 17 years ago. How do you like it?’
“It’s...chewy, and really fatty.”
“Yeah it tastes gamy, it’s what a reindeer would taste like. I think bear tastes like they have spices in them. That’s what I told my family 17 years ago, and then they told me to fuck off and said there were actually no spices in them, it’s just bear meat.”
“Did you roast them?”
“Nah we stir-fried them.”
We would stay until the morning and I’d sit with him under the tree. He would have a bag filled with peach stones, on which he would carve symbols and pictures. He would string them up into a necklace with a hemp string. Then I would show him my own amulets - ones carved out of avocado stones (like in those viral videos you’d see scrolling down your Facebook feed). He would smoke a pipe and placed the peach stones around my neck, looking at me intently. His eyes would remind of the glaring blaze of the hearth that burnt blue and the flickering shadows around it.
When he drew our arms to take a walk with him we followed, and he started walking really fast. We kept following him, but he disappeared in his whiteness into the snow and was difficult to follow. Soon me and Nik had no idea where we were. The hunter kept muttering the word chunchun. Nik asked him what chunchun was, and he kept making a cutthroat gesture, but we were still at the camp, near the bus and the smoke of the barbecue was close by -
((((( - and I tried to dismiss these thoughts, as if they were more or less inessential processes shrouded particular atmosphere that dissipates upon an eyerub. I remember once I was in the pool after swimming 20 laps straight, I saw the guy beside me yell, seemingly at me: “закрыть?” We were swimming in the same lane and the water was really choppy and my face was red. I couldn’t figure out why he would say that. Perhaps he was trying to ask the lifeguard when the pool was closing? Or was it забыть, за-быть, that my being was falling apart; was it zerfällt? Later I realized that забыть, забила, forgot. I’m forgetting my words, they are whirling against my ears like the gurgling water of the swimming pool, like there is no way for me to tell what this man is communicating, and yet there’s so much clarity in the silence and the repetition, it forces you to breathe in a certain way. I breathed; inhale, exhale - ))))
and imagined that we came to a clearing, where there was a hut on the side. On the shelves were containers filled with various specimens: red and yellow ochre, dried hibiscus; gallon jars floating with algae of a strange shade, gears of a broken clocks, sealed, invisible boxes with mercury in it. My gaze moved from the bottles of quinine, morphine, caffeine, and landed smash center on his desk, on which laid a copy of Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts….((((I swallowed a sneeze)))))….
Stuck on the frame of the window were ornamental cowrie shells and some dead coral. There was even a smashed desktop in the corner, and pages of a British farmer’s almanac. He unzipped his polar bear suit and hung it on a dead tree that he used as a clothes hanger and went to his desk, on which sat gold horn rims and a small toothpick architectural model of a tropical village, then a foot-high statue of Dew-Sri, a Balinese rice goddess.
I also saw used syringes and on the table and syringe wrappers on the floor, and a roll of bandages that looked like that looked like Pandanus streamers, a spoon, and matches. Some of the pandanas were scrunched up, dried up, some tied around on his bedpost.
He scrunched a betel nut from an artisanal bowl of betel nut on his bedside table and up and spat it out, placed it on his table, and asked me if I wanted one. I accepted the offer. Nik put a couple into his palms and started eating them.
“What is your name, John Kaczynski?” I said.
“No, my name is Clifford Clifford. Pleasure. They call me C.C.” He shook our hands. From the cupboard, Clifford Clifford took out some incense, lit them up, and stuck them in an orange placed in a little shrine on the corner of his hut. “It’s from Tibet,” he said, and took a conch that was hanging on a corner and played with it, throwing it around and blowing it.
When he smiled, the redness of the betel nut made his teeth look like bleeding dandelion petals. We sank into the bright orange couch. On the coffee table perched different rocks. I could tell that there were types of balsamic, granite, obsidian, and insipid, dead coral. There were placed on a circular maze of some sort.
In this light, I could see that how he could be an anthropologist who had gone wild. I was starting to feel a little buzz from the betel nut when Nik giggled strangely and asked, “these fruits aren’t from here, aren’t they?” I’ve always thought that Nik’s giggles sounded like tractors.
“No, but they could’ve been you know, you just need a greenhouse - and if you want to be more elaborate, balconies, and ladies in Cheongsam perched on the ledge hollering at the street vendors for betel nuts. Why the areca nut? They are a narcotic and a beautiful vermillion dye.” He poured us some water from the dried husk of a gourd. When he leaned forward, I could see the weird tattoos on his body, strange spirals and overlapping circles of blue.
“What about Yucca plants? Bet you can’t grow them in any greenhouse here.”
“No, but many wild plants grow here draw many a deer grow astray.” He winks. “They have a delicate digestive system, sometimes giving them these plants eases their pain in calving.”
“You mean, reindeers that chew on hemp?”
“Once, there was a cow that stuck its head through our metal gate and started chewing the leaves off the trees from our backyard. So when we caught it eating, it tried to wrangle its head out, but failed. And so it wrenched out the whole gate for 15 meters out onto the road and left the door spring stuck at the threshold.”
“You should drill a hole directly to the cow’s stomach, you know you can do that? Cows aren’t supposed to eat corn and when they do they have digestive problems - when they do people drill holes in them.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I make paints, dyes. Body paints. I’m looking for a shade of blue. The Warmest Shade Of Blue.”
((((...I swallowed a sneeze...))))
“With reindeers? And bears?”
“I need their antlers. Their skin. Their senses. They know where to take you to places the way a GPS can’t. Bear is just for the scurvy.”
“What’s the truth? Is your name really William Burroughs?”
“You really want the truth?” He said, and set the Clepsydre by the window ticking. When about half the water was gone, some headless humans with hairy legs started to walk into the clearing. They didn’t have heads and they saw with their nipples. They started a fire and started to roast dead birds in it. Soon more smaller men came in and joined. Sounds issued from their armpits as they talked, as birds of feathers burnt brightly in the fire and some of them chittered, and became quelled by the fire, like bodies that twitch after they died.
“ I s t h i s m e t a p h o r i c a l ? ” I a s k e d.
“ T h e r e ’ s m o r e . ”
He guided us through the dense shrubbery through the forest, where some people were feasting at their ancestors‘’ graves at their mountains. We saw a furore of apes there. They swung in and out between the forest, grabbing food from their feasts. Soon we came to a vantage point that was like a cliff. Below us were apes. They seemed to be feasting, and most of them seemed to be walking around in straw slippers.
“They live in yaodongs,” said Clifford.
We went down and into the valley to the village where they lived, which were a series of excavations, where a paraphernalia of stolen human objects lay scattered inside of them. They had windows though, made of thin paper, and some of them pasted decorative paper cuts on their windows. There used to be a lake here, but the land became too dry. Mao Zedong used to live in a yaodong too. They were all gathered around a huge slab of rock, hooting and drunk, and they didn’t seem to notice that we were here. They seemed to be speaking a language. As more of them noticed that we were here, they started to make us drink, even offering us bananas, trying to make us eat the skin as they did. Carried by the apes, Clifford started to yell as they started to tear at his polar bear suit into pieces.
“I think they are saying something.” said Nik, “they’re cursing someone’s ancestors?”
Suddenly I felt pain.
The percolation of pain has to take the form of words, data, packets, and when there’s too much it goes undelivered, so it funnels back into itself and becomes a klein bottle, or a bulimic woman who feeds her sadness into herself and pulls it back out like a nauseous bail of tears, or a writer, a writer of text messages, chasing a snowmobile in the tundra with a cry of help and a thick description between the village and the camp. I’m Hermes, Djuluchen, a shaman opening myself up from being a mobius strip or a klein bottle to a toric; wielding fever dreams into dense packets and torquing them to the satellite for global position synchronization. Data drips, lulls, freezes. It is -45 degrees celsius. MTS stated in 2005 that the expenses for building a transmission tower only pay off if there are at least 1,000 potential customers in the catchment area. A big herd alone needs some 15 or 20 km around them, and you have to go near the mines where the workers live to get a signal. Someone 100 kilometers away is typing a text message on their phone in the cold on a coverage island. Satellites popping up on the GPS display of herders, dazzled by the snow, filtering their mental and physical movement like rubber boots. Message gets lost in the snow when a snowmobile runs out of fuel. Sequence needs to be resent. The world opens up like amplified sound. They are bursting, searing into the back of my eyeballs like a bursting energy field of pain; and 夸父 would come and offer the affordance of his body and swallow up the flood of signals the way he drained the Yellow River to parch his thirst, balked by the great yolk of a sun that大禹’s great river valley swallowed; throwing his serpentine staff that blossomed into a forest of peach trees, 泰逢 drags her striped tiger tail through the thicket of leaves viscous with nectarine and gently guiding the emperors of 夏朝 into the shade where their face dropped at the intricately carved peach she handed them; and so dragon-bodied 皷 wreathed itself on the trees and grinned like a Cheshire cat, reincarnated from droughts and revolutions. How do white nights sublimate into days, past lives seamlessly into the next, perception into grosteque octocelaphodic, octopodic, eight-tailed and a tigered-bodied snake that have a coat of fur like unmown grass in the summer that fell from the sky when 計蒙 sneezed and drenched the fields wreaked jejune by the rancid blood that ran from the decapitated, nine-headed 相柳?
My dendrites of snow fizzled. I shifted my head so the signals aligned with the divided units of time, parsing them and realigning them neatly, but they jumped out of sync like the teeth of keys that jump the pins of a lock. I don’t need the senses to predict the weather like 蓐收; but the affordance of a body to cushion its shock, be it the brushlike fur of the 毛民國 that were gradually filling up the clearing, small and aping like children - they’re climbing on top of each other to stretch the long red lip of 梟陽國 to pin it over its head with bamboo sticks so it doesn’t kill.
I took the left hand of the one-sided man and the right hand of the other and caressed the face of the disarmed three-faced man that had a single arm; he gave a smiled doubtingly, like a misshapen Buddha confused by our two-facedness. The fire was spreading, and the man with legs that flashed as quick as a sable shrieked as he passed in and out through the fire, his hair burning - the long armed man who uses his hands to fish laughs, dragging him back onto the grass with his hand.
As I became gradually consumed by the signals, I saw my dysmorphia and I knew I was like them - a haphazardly connected disorder of things like grew like tumors on each other - and I needed to eat the flesh of the hermaphroditic blue cat top cure my jealousy of my inability to experience life, that is, the idea the idea of a finite existence. I realized that my existence will be constituted by an infinite bus ride where data was not be given but imagined, and this constituted the loneliness of my (existence)...I looked at Nik on the bus; he looks peacefully asleep. And when I reached out and touched him, he became a constellation of pixels and disappeared...
I knew there was no way that I could get out of this maze, but I would at least like to experience movement within this space. I understand the logic of colonization, but how long would it take for a foreigner to acclimatize to an exotic place? 所有的記憶都是潮濕的. All memories are humid, latent, even if you condemn them to dust. And so I left the imaginary bus and hopped on a 狍鴞, nudging its eye shut underneath his foreleg. I combed its supple jet black hair as it cried gently like an infant, shook its goatlike torso and scampered forward, the convoluted veins of his thin, human limbs scampers. I caressed the siamese hermaphroditic white horse that looked on beside it, green fur swaying around its from its pacing legs like tacky leg warmers. They were both green, ugly, contorted, and that’s why they stayed close to each other.
As I left I saw fish with human faces that broke the ice and leapt out of the river; there was an explosion of ice, feral, clawed turtles spilling out from the swamp, flicking a fishtail, siamese snakes. Birds with human faces called out to me, muffled as it was snapped up by the sky dog that swallowed and spat out a moon. Under the moonlight, a pink furred horse was curving its graceful neck into the bush peering curiously as we passed by. It must have been lost. As we paced quicker I couldn’t help but catch a glimpse of a ball of pork glistening in its moonlight, rearing its wings silently in the dark.
And then I saw the parade of reindeer herders passing regally by us - a tumble of dust, reindeer pulling sledges and herders in rubber boots; cautiously testing the ice with its hooves, feeling their way forward. They must have received the signals and cries for help, their cell phones blinking in the dark. A helicopter was raising hell in the dark, whacking cyclones into iceshelves of wind. They are going to hunt down the animals and eat them in the clearing. Will they? But they will have to help their children spit out the spleen, knee fat, esophageal muscles, upper bones of bird wings, nasal cartilages, eye muscles, the liver appendage of a cow liver, tendons; the terminal, first and second cervical vertebrae, neck muscles, rectum and caecum - but how could they recognize the parts of their bodies? There were snowmobiles, gas lamps, fire, and police lights.
What is technology? It’s what circumstances create and what they can afford, what the environment can subsistently rear. It is the widespread use of birch vessels in the Sakha region in lieu of heavy metal ones, and now plastics as the skills to create birch vessels have become obsolete; it is the decision handpick berries instead of machine picking them to keep them growing next year; the way Russian brought in sugar necessary for making fruit-conserves such that people had enough vitamins to last through the winter; truckfuls, barrelfuls of water stored in your basement instead of tap water, it’s supplementing old hay for cows with food leftovers in winter, the outlawing of explosive in fishing to prevent overkill, the use of the Russian scythe because it requires less skill and endurance to use and is more effective, the use of the Sakha scythe because it’s easier to make and requires less metal, the use of chicken shit and eggshells instead of artificial fertilizers. Technology is also the refusal to use automatic milk machines for the failure to afford them, the refusal of grass conservation technologies that look like ugly candy wrappers and fail to replace the sumptuous practice of haystacking that conserves its delicious core of fresh grass like the inside of a turkish delight; the refusal to replace a shitty home thermometer and a heater in lieu of greenhouse climate control for cost control. It’s awareness that reindeer can feel with its hooves where the ice breaks; whereas the GPS doesn’t.
It’s also the awareness that there are things you can or cannot afford to say, as much as devices that can or cannot afford its circumstances; that we can afford presence and care, but also that devices break in extreme conditions.
[[Two milligrams of oral triazolam every seven hours induces a safe sleep state and a minimal metabolic rate. At this continued state of rest, the human body breathes .3 litres of oxygen a minute, or roughly 2000 litres in four days. A Class E oxygen tank holds 625 litres. To maintain hydration, the body cycles through a minimum of two-and-a-half litres of water per day. Any food would be a luxury, but the small tank of medical-grade nitrous oxide would be needed on the other side.]]
When we got to the sea, Nik was at the back in the bus asleep, his grazed knuckles all scabbed up, peeking past his half finger tactical mittens. Huey, Masha, Lukas, Dana, they were all asleep too. I stood up and woke them up. On the mirror, I could see my reflection - a flat round face, a bowl-cut of dense black hair, an ice-box hanging heavily on my shoulders, manicured nails. I took a yoghurt-flavored popsicle from the box and sucked on it.
Outside, everything was frozen. I thought I saw a rock perched on the sea but it turns out that the sea was so still that what I saw was a reflection of a mountain affixed to the water. Then someone tried to skip big chunks of ice onto the sea, but the current was so slow it looked like it was congealed transparent coca-cola. What I loved most about the beach was the ice that was so blue it was a mineral. The water molecules in them were so compressed as if they were like lips pressed so tightly together they turned blue. And then I realized it was still summer.
“Look, the scabs on my knuckles are not actually blood.” Nik said, as we walked down to the broken down shacks covered with snow.
I looked closer, and saw the dead RBCs. It was human blood and I didn’t believe him.
“What is it then?”
“It’s actually red algae.”
“But how is it possible?” I said.
“AIs are dumb,” he said. “Have you ever had a ‘Paleo-asian’ from Yakutsk in your database?”
I wasn’t sure if he was bluffing.
”Go on,” he said, “touch it, pluck it.”
The silence here was enormous, in the snow. If someone dropped you off a cliff you will just be buried six feet deep, cocooned in whiteness and silence. If time in the city were like swimming laps in a municipal pool, then the form of yearning here takes the form of backyard pools that stretched the across the county like the Lucinda River in varying hues of abandonedness, excess and chlorination, from courtyard to courtyard, with length that lasted a lifetime; or the smothering melancholy of Monkey’s pool that doused his fantasies in In the Heat of the Sun. What kind of cultural bias can the deep recesses of my artificial brain cushion the emptiness and blankness of an unmoving mountain? Maybe I will toss out Bernhard’s Strauch, Steinhof, the isolated Cone in Correction; Zauberberg; Heidegger’s Schwarzenwald and Wittgenstein’s Skjolden, and John Berger’s pastures like an Ace in Nik’s face, what else? Ice is no longer just blue, but denim, aquamarine, factory, cornflower (Crayola™), cyanide blue, #0080FF.
When I tell Nik about books he tells me to shut up or he will carve me out like a horse and use my carcass and its various bladders to for warmth. But all I am are diatoms made out of silicon cell walls.
“So you want to go ice-fishing?”
I pondered, and said, “Sure, why not?”
I felt pretty. So I got back on the bus.