The Factory

Review of Hiroko Oyamada’s award-winning debut novel, The Factory.
The year was 1936, when an indefatigable tramp served as a working-class Virgil in guiding audiences through the hellscape of big business industry and assembly line madness. The tramp, of course, was Charlie Chaplin in his iconic film, Modern Times, which applied fool’s wisdom in overlaying its satire with calculated mania, circus-like antics, romantic aspirations, and a punch-drunk heart that refuses to throw in the towel. There is a visually brilliant scene in which the tramp gets swallowed up in the machine on which he’s working, a hapless Jonah churning within the gear-heavy belly of the industrial whale, and this image metaphorically underscored what Chaplin saw as the threats of dehumanization confronting “modern man.”
Review of Hiroko Oyamada’s The Factory at Riot Material magazineFast forward to contemporary society, in which a sprawling factory, a city unto itself, is regulating, ordering and arranging its brave new world one rote directive after the next. It’s easy to imagine an emaciated Kafka stooped over one of the desks, half-obscured behind a tower of documents, staring out bleary-eyed at the ledge of a window where black birds are gathering. Across from him a nerve-bitten Nietzche, paces, furiously smoking a cigarette, and refashioning his notions of the abyss to fit the conditions in which he finds himself atrophying. The abyss, now an omnipotent complex, an unnamable morass with a bottomless capacity for soul-feeding. People are no longer staring into the abyss, they are wearing it, breathing it, speaking it, and perpetuating its slow-drip filtration to the staccato of the walking dreamless dead. And while Sartre might be hiding out in the basement decrying — Hell is other people — some asthmatic clerk on the fifth floor counters by scrawling on the wall in red marker: Purgatory is the void manifest as something you clock into and out of. That being said, thousands are employed here, including the three whose lives are chronicled in Hiroko Oyamada’s mordant fable, The Factory.
Read the full review at Riot Material.
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Free Play

We live in a world
of alchemy and swing,
a freeform board game
for sounding and experiment,
and anyone
that tells you any different
has simply forgotten
how to engage the play
of their lives,
or sow the grit, resin
and bones of their
mineral-rich interiors
into viable grist,
the truth is,
every ounce of material,
no matter what its contents
and effects upon you,
carries within it the seeds
of an alchemy
seeking practitioners
willing to sync up
and align
with the everchanging
timeless course
of scat, swing and bop,
or to borrow and remix from the emcee
whose old-school gospel
made ceremony out of ash and siege,
If music
be the food of love,
play on you
alchemical romantic chefs,
play on.
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Homing Device

The soul doesn’t calculate,
it syncs itself to the legend
of its origins,
the glyphic runes and white-hot bones
of constellational remains,
where we, in costumed exile,
linger and tow the fasting freight
of dreams,
upon which our lives are based
to err humanly, and bask divinely,
before we perish softly,
and settle softer still.
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Starstuff

Mariko was a photographer of stars. It feels funny to put it that way. It sounds as if she photographed celebrities.She only took photos of stars in the night sky.  She said the stars were her real home and that’s all she cared to take photos of. Her way of memorializing her origins.
A photograph is a secret about a secret.
This quote by Diane Arbus is posted in red ink above Mariko’s desk.
Accompanying the quote was an overexposed photo of stars, one of Mario’s happy accidents, in which the night-sky looked like a vaporous milk-bath and the stars indigent glyphs.
Mariko passionately opined—People make time travel way too complicated. But really it isn’t. You want to be a time traveler? Raise your eyes to the stars and you have traveled back in time. What you’re seeing isn’t really there, they’re images from 100,000 years ago. That’s how long it takes for starlight to reach us.
I am taking photographs of photographs. What I’m seeing is not what I’m seeing. The night sky is a scrapbook of old photos, a repository of glittering relics, a museum of illuminated nostalgia.

 

 

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Mariko

I knew from the beginning that Mariko was haunted, but there was nothing I could do about it. My only choice was to love her, and until the very end.
I have five photographs left of Mariko. I burned all the rest. These five photos capture the mercurial quintessence of Mariko, her Mariko-ness. They were taken at a photo shoot when she was nineteen. All of the photos are black and white close-ups of Mariko’s face. The lighting is stark and dramatic, with gradations of tone ranging from luminescent to ashen.
I burned all other photos of Mariko because I didn’t want there to be too much of her. Didn’t want to get lost in a sprawling inventory of Mariko, when those five photos contained the essentials of Mariko, the staggered verisimilitudes, and did so in a compressed manner. Not only by the fact that the photos were only five in number, but they were also small, each one about 3 x 5. I thought of those five photos as producing haiku cinema, starring Mariko in a house of mirrors.
She is all there, a jigsaw panoply, a series of jazz cadenzas. Upward eyerolling petition for mercy, for beatific interference; unflinching gaze lasering straightahead like a death ray; desultory, dreamlike, bewitching, contemptuous, feral.  Eyes crowded with contempt, harboring equal parts suicide and murder.
In none of the photos is she smiling. Her mouth is severe, solemn, stoical, inveterate. Her lips are pursed, an airless church. It is a mouth that you can easily imagine drawing blood from your lip, or lips from your mouth, or chewing off a finger in a fit of desire. Mariko used to threaten to bite off the tip of my pinky in an act of furious love, as a tribute to fleshy devotion. She never did this. But I always held out hope, mingled with the right amount of fear, that one day I’d see the severed tip of my pinky, lodged like a pulpy pellet, between Mariko’s teeth.
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Raspberries

 

Mariko knew a lot of interesting things about space. For example: astronomers theorized that, based on its chemical make-up, the dust from the nebula that gave birth to our sun would taste like raspberries. And that the closer you get to a black hole, the slower time runs.
I applied Mariko’s astral pearls to my own line of imagining: Following someone down a rabbit hole can also double as following them into a black hole, where the closer you get to its mysterious center, the slower time runs, and eventually you reach that point of no return, the event horizon, and watch yourself freeze into a phantom imprint, or the X-ray of a void, and it is this dissolved incarnation of you that continues plunging into the dark wonder, the atomizing tantalus of the abyss.
And all because you once tasted ripe warm raspberry on her lips and skin.

raspberries

 

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Growing Legend

Metamorphosis makes demands on us all, and imposes its necessary will,
but love, rooted in omnipresence, is not subject to change.
It is a legend, limitless in freight and scope, and famous for its radiant center.
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Autumn Leaves

Grieving,
the swoonlit swans,
crying last songs
softly into autumn’s
russet and moonfed
belly.
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Frost

There is a specific tenor to dreaming in a silent and snowy land. It’s that place where your voice grows brighter, then brittle and glassy, before shattering into a choir of a thousand birds, and everywhere the echoes attempt to muffle the whitehot roar and null of silence.
It is the tenor of distance, how a dreamlife does what it can to make you real, it mostly fails, as you look out past slow blue edges and see yourself, a silhouette, mounted on a glacial floe that is drifting farther and farther away from you—you, the watcher, you, the witness.
You want to say something. Want to speak the kindest most useful words you can to the exiled you. Nothing comes. You wave goodbye to yourself.
A third version of you, echoed in a mirror of burning ice, sees you waving goodbye to yourself, and sadness comes. There is something about that naked hand, waving.
Glacial pools are also mirrors of fire.
This comes to you and brings a measure of comfort.
You recall the words of that young Italian boy, Leolo—Because I dream, I am not.
This, too, a measure of comfort.
It seems you are attempting to collect and accumulate small comforts, perhaps hoping to string them up like talismanic beads on a phantom necklace, perhaps this is how one wards off the night-moths of memory.
What is the right tenor for a dreamlife in a silent and snowy land? A place where turning back is the same as doing nothing at all. You hear low humming voices coming from your throat. You imagine these are small, forgotten animals in dire need of oxygen.
You open your mouth. The silence of the landscape rushes in, a jetstream with teeth. You check your mouth for blood. None.
Glacial pools are also mirrors of fire.
You are beginning to understand a few things now, but really what’s the use?
You think you can make out the glacial floe upon which you have been sacrificed, a floating bloodless altar destined for god knows where.
You wave again, sort of. More like a meek frozen flower that is afraid to exert itself.
You know that the eyes that are on you are your own, and you feel ashamed to bear witness in such a way. It feels wrong, like swindling or cheating.
Glacial pools are also mirrors of fire.
These echoes and wraiths may be the death of you yet, who knows?
What kind of tenor is required to dream the right kind of dreams, the useful ones, in a land of silence and snow?
The worst kind of death is to die before it’s your time.
If a lot of silence and snow becomes enmeshed elements in your dreamlife, so be it.
Do not ask for anything, do not complain. Never demand. Cross that off the list right now for good and all.
There is something sad, something beautiful and tragic, something ancient and archetypal about the solitary figure, claimed by frost and silence, continuing to seek a sort of eternal childhood in the land of dreams.
Something sad, and deeply touching…

 

ice text

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Ghosts

It began in a feral and unnamed country, which was the nerve-center of dreaming.
Telephones wires hanging down like snipped umbilicals, like severed hyphens that had lost all sense of meaning and purpose. The telephone poles doubled as crucifixes.
You didn’t see the crucified posted there anymore, but they had been, and would be again.
The ghosts of the crucified were in the splinters and knotholes of the poles, they were deep in the wood like spectral termites. And they were in the ruptured cables. And in the electrical surges and currents that carried the voices of your friends to you, your voice to them, the entire freight of voices and exchanges and transferences, all of it haunted by the ghosts of the crucified.
If you ever felt like someone was listening to your conversation, that someone was eavesdropping, you were right. If you ever felt inexplicably guilty or ashamed or fretful when talking on the phone, that was because of the ghosts of the crucified. Your conversations, your talking and listening, implicitly carries the renewable seeds of a serialized haunt and pall.
They, the ghosts of the crucified, are with us. To open your mouth, to utter a sound into the mouthpiece of a telephone is to cardinalize disgrace. To speak is to implicate yourself in unspoken crimes.
The telephone poles were designed to model crucifixes colonizing landscapes, a proliferation of totems representing persecution, mania, ill communication.
There is indeed something rotten in Denmark, and next time you pick up your telephone, if you listen closely, you will hear exactly what it is.
(Note: This piece first appeared in ­­­­­______, in the year 19___. Its applicability has shifted, with the viral spread of cellular technology, and therefore crucifixes have been reduced to sideshow relics and anachronisms that will continue to diminish in relevance and tangibility, until eventually there is nothing left and the guilt and shame and sense of unease will become floating fossilized digits in a series of wrong numbers and disconnected lines. Thank you for holding….)

telephone-poles-1

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