After Art School
by Spencer Dew
Every translation has a point of departure, an original text, however obscure. You observe that these three, standing in their sock feet on the carpet, could be brothers, pointing to similarities in facial features, the folded brows, vague noses. And so young, though none is as young as she, bus stop blonde and all of a runaway, surrounded by these bored men who twiddle themselves, pacing, waiting in turn, halfheartedly forcing her onto the forth, rectally, a pinion, a piston, a pistil. Each piece is associative, I say, opening into an unfolding lexicon, thesaurus, ridge of bone, the lock held down with sweat. In the third frame, she chokes, or simulates it. You note that such tattoos may prove to be mistakes, years later, if such a future is possible, by firelight, in winter, and not alone.
Group dynamics prove difficult. Many of the most hardcore scenarios require a bureaucratic mind, strategy sessions, pre-planning. In this image, the woman wears an airline stewardess outfit of another era, her sunglasses pushed back on her head. That she drinks sperm from a plastic champagne flute, you argue, necessitates a reading for politics. You're drunk yourself, and waving around Marcuse, ranting about how no one is ever secure, how there are no promises, no emotional states that remain, unchanging, constant, forever and ever, amen.
In a smearing of pixels, zoom, another face throbs over, occluded, a human countenance becoming something like a cobweb, something like glue.
Two dusty sunbeams expose the mechanisms of steam heat. She is as vulnerable as a radiator, and shaped accordingly. Our gaze is one, following the single strand of ensemened saliva, stringing from the bulge of the lower lip. Light preserves the traces of motion. An artifact of the instant. She is still fully clothed, and that, plus the style of the shoes, is what really gets me off. Layers in layers, you say, like who really wears a jacket for a blowjob, let alone one so languorous, so fucking meta, thick with intertext?
You pause and contemplate the means of production, how the man holds himself in his hands, as we hold ourselves in our hands, or an approximation. You compare the corner of his golf shirt to a swatch from a catalogue page, index opening into index, lawn ornaments, suburban landscaping, those fake stones by those circular fountains, installed on a layer of thick plastic, dug out in the mud. You're sore and would rather ask questions about my great-uncle, the Free Mason. You just saw a demonstration on the public access station, flag folding, that tight triangle, and I can't tell if it's rhetorical or not, the question you ask: Is that only for funerals? Is there really no other use? Increasingly, you pull away from my hand. Once, in public, over wine and cheese fries, you tell me that your childhood is none of my goddamn business. You write to one of the production companies, asking if the blood in a particular scene is cosmetic, a special effect. You tell me that we will not touch again until you are sure.
These days, you take your coffee in powdered form, mixing the dry crystals with sugar, eating it over cereal. Mornings are the worst for moods, you say, but also the most productive. You look sleepy, wearing last night's eye makeup like a mask or a metaphor, though you tell me, in that nasty, maternal tone, It's just mascara. Your current project is a rewrite of history, quite literal, on commission for one of the galleries downtown. You have five paperbacks and fifty black markers. You censor, page after page, in full.
My project lacks all distinction. If maybe once it had borders, rules, then they have been forgotten, swapped for an addiction to subtleties, a string of false lashes caught in a streak of jism, or, in one video, how the woman jolts out of her fake moans with a real squeal, going from uh, uh, uh, to oh, with an exclamation point behind. You talk as you blacken, about the emptiness of bathroom floors, how I should focus on the tiles, the grout, the decorative details, molded wainscoting just over her shoulder, the pattern of curlicues on the carpet under her knees.
All morning, I tweak a digital close-up of handcuff marks, zooming in on the imprint left behind, in flesh, reddened with a hint of purple, emerging from the deep. You work your way through a series of pogroms, break for lunch halfway down Hiroshima, the sky gone from a photograph, leaving only the unrecognizable ground, a clutter of concrete dust, occasional chimneys, structural pillars, wall safes. There is a survivor, tattered and stumbling, and breaking your self-prescribed method you lower the felt tip and, while asking me if I want a tofu burger or a veggie sausage, you black out the face - three quick swipes, rendering the original in a new language, at once more cautious and less precise.
We settle on tomato soup, condensed, spooning it from mugs, sitting on the front stoop. You ask if a bullet hole could create a camera obscura, if a dying man could project, through his torso, the scene of his murder.
In the afternoon, I run through a film loop of a woman sucking off a goat. You remove the Red Scare.
By dinner we are out of theory, picking reproduction gristle from our faux hot dogs, a bit of bone made out of water chestnut, celery veins. The sink clogs again, and it gives you the hint of an idea, draining, as a theme, bottles of liquid paper, pure white.
I have started giving names to the women in my picture collection, carrying out fragments of conversations, whispering assurances, endearment, as in one group scene, where the one man not wearing a ski mask seems to be saying something earnest and well intentioned to the girl, who looks like she's in shock, knuckles white, back bent at a painful angle, all her lower orifices far too full.
You start with your fingernails, then the palm of your hand, plastering it on thick, the liquid paper, holding the brush just under your nose. This becomes a means of survival, day to day, a way to shove off into sleep and the dreams there. We sprawl next to each other, in proximity but out of reach, panting to our own rhythms, surrendering. Each image and every story behind it vanished into a fog, receding farther and farther, a cottony bank of clouds, bleached. A glare. A dull euphoria.
Everything is too banal, you tell me, in the morning, itchy, as if there should be a resonance beyond, a meaning, an end. You can't stomach Arms for Hostages, decide to take the morning off, sitting on the sofa, reading about the Mirror Stage. I count black eyes, teeth imprints, sets of long gloves, cut to cover needle marks. I cull three photographs with bookshelves in the background, and, by zoom, render two backpacker's guides to Amsterdam and one copy of the Bible. I ask you if you think it's a sign of irony, but you keep up with your book, highlighting lines you like with the liquid paper brush.
About the author:
Spencer Dew lives in Chicago where he is working on a novel. Recently his work has appeared in Mad Hatter's Review, The 2nd Hand, VerbSap, and Word Riot.