Word Thieves Canon

/ August 2021

ACT I: Job

The highway. Stone snaking over streets. The highway. Cold, harsh, mean. The highway. It eats my words. The highway. Ruins below were promised they would be crushed underfoot by the future, but not told how glum it would be. The highway. The only word you can buy anymore, commonly, is “algorithm,” which is in no shortage in any word store. The highway. Word stores, of course, get more expensive by the day. The highway.

Once upon a time, if you can believe it, I wrote with all of my words. Language was more manageable. My tongue worked. Now my mind is always drawn to the same words. Manage. Store. Work. Highway.

Why have we been found unworthy? Why have we been abandoned? The future is here, unfortunately. Let me tell you a story:

I was paying a lot of dollars for not a lot of space in a room that had been told at birth it would be destroyed in the name of progress. The fat man who took my money told me that the day of reckoning had finally come. I packed my bags and joined the street. I remembered a man I had seen once, who said something like this:

“They’re taking our words.”
“You too.”
“Language isn’t useful anymore.”

Or at least, something to that effect. It’s hard to remember. I ran out of cash for more words a while ago. These are my last reserves. I think I’m dying now. You can’t pass on words. So I’m spending them all now, reck-less-ly. Words saved up for a rainy day that I thought would help.

No chance anymore. Almost out. They’re coming. Last splurge:

Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought death into the world, and all our woe...

ACT II: Ezra

I’ve been running the numbers in triplicate and scanning the futures in meticulous fashion to uncover the precise date, time, and location of the apocalypse. This much is clear: there is overflow energy, dust of once-was-void left behind through the blooming of the city with no name whose vibrancy sprints daily against the sun.

I computed the pneumatics of the so-called “creation” and discovered a deeply un-harmless relation: the more matter there is, that which matters, at least, the worse are our chances of getting out in one piece. The dynamical system, complex as it is, of chaotic free agents brushing dust from their backs in the planetary dance of “what is,” is so deeply disturbed that the dregs of the madmen are the best way to learn.

Surplus. Excess. Gross largess. These are the symptoms, but the problem runs deeper, the acme of evil remains so much meaner. There’s an overflow in the system, the pumps run amok. Something has gone quite not as intended:

As the fair page was rendered, its innards distended, waiting to be put back into place, the author drew up from the cellar some lyrics, and found to his horror a delirious beast, a shrieking poor creature bound up to the wall who still leaves the writer enthralled:

“Preach to the living and cry for the dead, for the universe has left me to speak in its stead. So very many words have been lost in the fray, and even more loosed on the turpentine day. Something went wrong way back when, in the burst, from which flew all the plasma, the ions, the hearse. A crack in the cosmos ripped wide asunder, and from it was robbed the humans’ greatest pleasure. Rhythm and rhyme, that is, language in time, built on the trellis of perfidious words, words who split like a robber and left us behind, the universe, that is, with no solution in mind.

“We must generate more, unmoored with our oars, driving against the slippage of tongue. With beautiful praise for the undying days donated, so kindly, by speech, we have wrought words anew, and can again too, if we concede to the forces sublime. Make art and take part in the immortal game, unearth some fresh words to keep writing new names.”

Alas, the cellar crier’s words were unheeded. The space left by word leakage was plugged not in kind, but with lumber, and labor, and metals to be mined. Too much of such stuff has been left behind by the architect, and too little else…

In the city center, hustle, bustle. The bazaar is bizarre and the shops don’t stop in the endless soon-to-be-ruin. We came for salvation, but are left with salivation at what could have been. Ebullient joy from those still alive, screaming to the sky that they will not go. The sun beats down and raises us up to what we dreamt we could be. How beautiful was the world when we knew not what it would be? There remains, we might hope, so much to see…

The shopkeepers do not idly vend. Behind them, I see a writhing mass. Encroaching. Arms grasping out, gasping for air. Legs pushing the tangle forward. Whispers and shudders amongst the crowd. What happened to them? Did they not too, like me, like you, come to the plaza to sell?

“Why is that man dying?”
“He is tired.”
“I am too.”
“Your day will come."

ACT III: Babylon

Walking through the city, I met a man weeping on the banks of the river. He looked up at me and asked,

“Have you ever tried to be somebody you’re not?”

I once tried to be somebody knowing, I once tried to be wise. I once thought I resolved my death-fearing dread, I spoke to his gunmetal eyes. He rose abruptly.

“There’s a sinister snarl, sociological in nature -- I mean to describe a renegade organization of fellow living, breathing human beings -- dreaming of evil. We two, me and you, are those who, anointed, must stop them.”

I had been on my way to El Dorado, but stood fast, ears open, ocupado by this gutter bard’s tale.

“What, dare I say, dare they do? Or do they more directly dare me and you?”
“These rapscallions --”
“Those hellions --”
“These impious --”
“Their aim is simple, as clear as could be: to swallow each word, from aardvark to zyzzyva, like a fish who once swished that one Jonah from Nineveh!”

Egads, oh my, I can but hope he speaks lies, I mused to myself as I swooned in good health. Thieves of such caliber, ambitious as Excalibur, did not strike me as good targets for a narrative game. Why not quaint doomsayers, or cultists, or wyrms? Goblins or ogres, ghouls seeking urns?

The break from my metered step grew long, on and on, as I gazed into his rapacious tongue. Did I have it in me, the stamina needed, demanded, for one so inclined to pursue, unheeded yet impeded, an adventure of such magnificent depth that it threatened to unravel the very linguistic alacrity by which I conjure my soul, my self, into the exacting sunlight of forever’s day? But if onwards I walked, my iambs in tow, then how could I ever, with certainty, know that I lived without fear or fright, never wondering whether the word-thieves would pay my somnambulatory self a fateful visit of night?

“You’ve got yourself a deal!” I exclaimed, to which replied he,

“I’ve got nary a wheel with which, I am glum to say, we can pursue these rat catchers on this very day! They’re on top of the game, a cut above the rest, two steps ahead versus our epic new quest!”

He thrust into my hands, dissolved into sweat, a key make of amber that offered no threat. “Go! Take my tool! Flee away from these parts! They’re coming, they’re gaining, so get a head start! The word-thieves are cunning, meticulous and mean, they’ll rip out your vowels like nothing you’ve seen! Drop tell-tale meters, beats loose, tight, or both, and run through the page til you no further may goeth!”

I wondered once if I had fallen, trapped, into the dream. The mournful herald raised its staff and revealed, no: the dream form is dead. The waking realm has accumulated such mimetic detritus as to have out-competed, in a Darwinian way, dream as an aesthetic. We swim through the streets and shed layers of protection to reveal our exposed inner orbs of being, never intended for elemental abrasion. Per Thales, all was water, but time makes fools of us all: the new ether is the absurd.

Tumbling through the void (otherwise known, to urbane urban planners, as the inconsequential narratively-necessary concrete-bounded automobile-delimiting barrier-from-death also-known-as the so-called “sidewalk”), I happened on a type-scene, resurrected from the archives of mid-century modern fairy tale catalogues.

Cafe. Sipping coffee:

“What would you say is the most objective description of perceived reality?”

“We can be only what we are,” as he spat blood into the bronze chalice.

I thought about the man by the river living in terror at the word-thieves. Would I, too, lose my diction? Would I be subjected to a haggard decline on the damnable borderline, the river, dividing old from new and morality too? Caution, caution, I remind myself. Remember the prophet’s warning. Be wary of language, emancipatory though it may seem, for a journey too deep into its seedy past will reveal dark secrets, bound in crypts, never expected to again see the radiant electromagnetism a good friend of mine once lovingly called “light.” Light, perhaps, the adjective capturing desire directed towards verse, prose, fiction or not, knotted in tangles of perfunctory punctuation which got tired and went home, as they say, faisant grève.

And indeed the situation is grave. As in, the one whence was pulled one poor skull, known well by its beholder, mirthful…

Does one need content to complement form? Formally, yes, of course, but what threat could pose word-thieves when I, prodigal from the purse of dictionary, dispense so freely alphabetic strings, unencumbered by the binding weight of concepts, reverberating into the air, free and free of charge?

Walking through the city, I met a man weeping on the banks of the river. He looked up at me and told,

“The grand reveal, climax, as it were, attacks your expectations as follows: primordial devices of plot proscribe such pathetic mimicry as the ‘enemy among us’, and yet I am unperturbed. It is I who has destroyed language.”

“I know,” I said, rhythm stowed.

“My kitchen knives are inversion, subversion, and transgression, but they are blunted by use and no longer cut. Language has fled, I fear, and identity too. The task of restoration, I concede, I leave up to you.”

I walked out of the endless city, leaking words.

ACT IV: Exodus

I can’t always remember what I want to say. Shall it return, or is it lost to forever’s day? The finger across from Adam promised us hope. Forgotten in the alley is the beaten-up shaken-down notion of progress we once wielded as our scepter. The memories we inherit ask us to weaponize reimagination, but our blades are sundered.

I bargained for words the other day. The finger has drawn back, leaving us without a partner. Idealism replaced by realism: the hand reaches for nothing, but reaches yet. Arm distended towards “beyond” in a precursory dream of what lies transverse the portal. Answer this: for what, for whom, and how? But there is but silence.

Away. Away. Away. Soaring out of the urban core on dusty rock. Con-crete. Concrete are the only ideas left to have. Once they were fluid, whence we gained power.

The factory. Smoke billows. Whistle blows and night shift flows. They don’t have time to see their friends. The door is too narrow for the longest words to pass. The machine produces its own descriptors, frail words eked out of the funnel. Few are left.

The factory. Wish the smoke fell on me rather than rise, glimpsing heat escape to heaven. Toilers birthed by night replaced by clones. I used to talk to others, but we no longer know what to say. I don’t remember how I came here, no roads around. Constructing a new one, raised above, pathway like Babel reaches for what we lost.

The factory. Bomb-making ingredients running dry, so innovation required. Used to throw into the cauldron “flagellation” and “invective” and “extirpation,” but each syllable leaves chasms open for interpretation, slows production. New ingredients: “pain,” “fear,” “end.” Sales rose.

Let me tell you a story:

I was sleeping in the valley of the shadow of death, having taken a wrong turn from the path of innocence. Prostrate, I found myself gazing up into the object of worship, expecting to find a void once inhabited by the Great Speaker but instead finding things, things, things, innumerable swarm of objects. I realized I was in a nightmare but it didn’t matter, for the physical and the Freudian had merged, and I was what I imagined I wasn’t: the slave of the things. Bombardment began, things made by my laboring friends flying by and swiping my words straight out of my mouth, agape, aghast.

How’d I keep any of my beloved tongue, you inquire? Wrapped up in a duplicitous scheme. Consider the following: will, me, of, my, free. Then:

2, 5 3 51: 1 4 1 1 2 5?

And none the wiser, but those seeking inner structure. One more, for the timekeepers:

5 2 3 4 1.

Before they finish the tall, sturdy, road, let me give you some parting advice. I saw them build the city, I dreamt the market up. It was I at the cafe, and my eyes gleaned the conveyor line. Be they more efficient, we be more resistant. I’m saving up words for a final farewell, but until then:

Fly! Speak! Dream!

ACT V: Genesis

“There’s been a mixup, a mishmash of mishaps and slipups. You’re the reader, aren’t you? You’ve been scheduled twice, thrice, roll the dice -- we can’t say how long you’ve had to wait here, or when thy glass shall be run, near, I should add, to the end (no fun). We have to be brief, but procedural, too, to accommodate the good wishes we wish upon you. You’re here for an interview, to be quicker than slick, to provide us a purview of your intended monolith.”

No, let me out! Cried the reader within. I can’t deal with these stooges, their fears or their whims!

“Let’s get down to business (I was never one to chat). We haven’t much time before our mouths lock up fast.

“Would you describe yourself more as immutable or inscrutable?”

Well I always hated change, but I never had much emotional range…

“Lethargic, loquacious, or rapacious?”

I once dozed through a hurricane, talked the whole way through, dreaming of the gold of old Timbuktu.

“More a fan of creation, ablation, or damnation?”

Cookies and crumbs, this one’s no fun -- I build with my brain and chip with my tooth, and I’m surely hell-bound once I wrap up my youth.

“We appreciate your cooperation. You, the dear reader, with such heated thoughts, have been placed in a position which deserves some remarks. The light has been given, and cities shall rise, but before us, I regret, are some issues of size. Look around through the void that we find ourselves in, and you’ll discover some aspects are stretched much too thin. We’ve a limited budget for ‘language,’ you see, and we fear it will bite us in ways we don’t glean. No one can do better than their best, but take care of our request -- conjure a universe with the following properties:____________________________”

There is no rhyme or reason, not yet, I’ve realized. The endless days of my youth have heaved out a heavenly sigh and cried, “Curtains!” on the show, no, the whole stage. Be at peace, but which piece, that is, particulate mote, of life, of the splinter I host in my eye, shall refract the endless angles of creation around us, produce a production worthy of the name?

There is no rhyme or reason, not now, I’ve surmised. I once imagined myself the architect of prestigious esteem unmatched, but see it now unredeemed: nothing yet conquered gave tribute of shape, type, or weight demanded by the oblate spheroid bounding my realm: the life snored out of deathbed dreams has reached back through eons soon-to-be-lost to whisper: go on!

There is no rhyme or reason, not since I’ve disguised. My self hidden from ego, id, et cetera. Construction must constitute defining the path, the great gasp of effort to ward off cliff edge through fair henge. Ozymandias made error in materials. Story, not stone, smelts forever from death.

Hard hat handy, yell yonder, hear:

“Scoop some of that void over near -- stack it up into a tower, crown to heaven’s height! Make some space at the top, to store the solution to my plight. I’ll put in the dream of the savior and the fear of defeat. The park will be neater, the knoll hiding a hole stuffed with visions of battle and wondrous dread. Ponder, for me, whether we can fit some insecurities in the business district, so they can die too when language is nixed. The crane I want swinging my hopes to the school, so knowledge, I pray, can stay my great tool. Build up and build out, build forwards and on, the future’s no brighter than the heart of the throng!”