Joe Milazzo

Four Origins of the Articulate, Requiring Proof

Aesthetic statement:

4 Origins Of The Articulate (Requiring Proof)", being a set of variations on a single note—the fact of our speaking requires of language an etiology— wavers somewhere between a drone and a cycle of glitches. Like all narratives, the piece is saturated with the sequential. It accumulates, then it discards (subjectivities, settings, vocabularies, desires, progressions), and via this process fashions events. If there is a coherent or unified point-of-view here, it is that of the leavings, the "former" now characterized as waste, the attempted, the matter so ill-defined it can only be called "before", the abandoned abode in which we can discuss the limits of what we do not know. While the story does not move backwards, it does deliberately lag behind a future that is so elusive the only approach that brings it closer and makes it more observable is a retreat: or a loud, an insistent, reticence.

1) Mythology

Long, long ago, the word was, but only as a snail without its shell is. Being soft and of potential delectation, the word fully inhabited its vulnerabilities and rarely ventured very far from the damp, nocturnal places in which it could live out its long, indolent, and solitary days.

However, man soon arrived in the forest, slashing forward with his radiance and smitten with turning over the hidden places in the earth. The word was not restless, but it was disturbed. And so, while the word was graced with nothing like what you and I would consider sight, it was not blind, and it could sense shade. Following a winding, shadowy path for many—perhaps it was countless—days, the word came finally to the banks of the River Yamuna. And the word grew weary, for its passage had taken it through lands both foreign and, though grey, wild. The dappled forest light that to you and I is of such delight was to the word a storm of boiling hailstones. Dew was not refreshing but rather the raging of a flood, the tall grass an unfriendly citadel's wall, lianas the skeleton of some monstrosity cut down in its tracks. Indeed, so weary and breathless was the word that it could barely draw its length towards the first cool, dark place it could find. That place was an empty water jug in the courtyard of a house on the southernmost outskirts of a village of men, a jug that brother had left to dry in the sun and had neglected to bring in for the evening.

Once inside, the word was still.

Come dawn, and the word was yet undivided from its respite when mother, still pulling snug her sari, discovered that her son had failed in his duties. Sorely displeased, mother snatched the jug from the ground before the word could stir itself to escape. Stepping heavily all the way, mother refilled the jug at the broad and laden leaves of the rain-catcher plant. No, the word did not drown. It tucked its head into its tail, making a ball that could cleave to the coarseness of the vessel's clay. Whenever grandmother or grandfather or mother or father or sister or brother—his hide stinging—or cousin came for a drink, the word sank beyond the cupping catch of both hands and ladles. (Although it was possessed of nothing so at odds with itself as the emotional life to which you and I are accustomed, the word can be said to have behaved according to instinct.) As the sun bent lower and lower to help mother set out supper, the jug began to tip more steeply to answer the thirst of men, women, children, iron, rag, rice and fire. The word, unwinding, again assumed the form of a line—though longer than before—and inched above water's fall.

Supper's bowls emptied and the day's jug exhausted, the family, bellies firm and tranquil, readied their beds of silken rope and narrow cushions. Soon, their sleep was the tolling of a bell grown over with moss. So summoned, the word made careful progress up the interior wall of the jug, over the rim, and out into the odors of fresh coconut and coriander and raita and fish and chai that lingered around the ovens like pounding will in a drunken head. Its steps were not steps, it neither crept nor wriggled. End slid to join end: in this tread the word made its way along the dirt floor, over the fan mother waved to keep the flies away from the food, past brother's sandals, and finally across the surface of the cooled tava on which grandmother had baked the evening's chipattis. But the tava had yet to be cleaned—for there was no more water!—and the word was slowed. The cadence of its unfolding stiffened in the slipperiness of annealed metal and residual ghee. And, as the word hooked this way and that in the hopes of happening into some easier crossing, the word left behind it a shining trail, as flat as the outermost papering over an onion but as tenacious as the tentacles of the cuttlefish.

Now, several hours after the word had left the kitchen to search out the black-dirt gardens that were kin to its customary habitat, at the very darkest hour of the night, another wanderer—a spirit—came to this same house. Eager like all such spirits to fill the hole that sat on top of his legs and pressed his arms up into his shoulders, the spirit moved through every room, apprehending each object he encountered. He put each object back with a precision that could only come from discouragement; not one of these things looked or felt as if it would appease his hunger. Poor spirit: he was no thief. He was only ignorant of the code governing hospitality. He passed through homes as a child might through ripened fields, caring not at all how the bounty had burst, only noticing that some benefit had fallen into the scale of his world, now surrendered to the convenience of his grasp, anyway more dexterous than industrious.

Had the spirit been a man, or even a bright child, then, he might have begun in the kitchen. But, as it was, the kitchen was the last room he entered, and merely as it offered the quickest passage to the next house. It was only then that the spirit spied the milky glow of what the word had traced on the tava. His mouth, usually an opening no rounder than a butterfly's beak (and just as sharp), fattened with slaver. Inspired, the spirit scoured the kitchen for some morsel, even just a crumb, of bread. Finding none, he stretched forth in anger, and poked about in the ashes until he uncovered two embers, dead around the edges but, at their cores, not yet absolved of smoldering. Ah! The spirit slid one hand against the other, the embers pressed between. At first, like two magnets, his palms refused to attract one another. But the vision of that delicious pattern glinting up at him from the tava sparked in the spirit a crackling that had the force of coherence. Rubbing and rubbing and rubbing . . . the spirit warred with the urge to lick the tava clean. How did the spirit know when to stop? He did not; his hands parted of their own accord and, inside, wrapped in sweet-smelling smoke, there was what looked to be a tiny circumference of what you or I might have recognized as nan, except for the fact that it was so black it could have been the burnt mustard seed from which the night itself had hatched. The spirit raised this concoction, waving it as he brought it closer to the sprouting of his nose. He sniffed deep, and smiled, and then, pinching the dark meal between his long, fleshless thumb and the gaunt translucence of his fingers, hurriedly sopped up what savor remained on the tava.

The spirit made of it a single bite. He chewed once, and the flavor was that of the honey made by the bees who frequent the hibiscus. He was buoyed by this succulence. On the tips of his hollow toes, the spirit danced out into the courtyard, where the moon persuaded him to prolong this sensation. Agreeable, he chewed again, and the muted tang of mango flared from his mouth deep into his throat and high into the lower regions of his palate. Again: bitter gourd pickle. Once more, before ignoring the moon and swallowing . . . the most tenderly peppered cubes of lamb.

Satisfied, the spirit's scarecrow legs buckled, then curled underneath him. He landed rudely, and, like lightning, the volatility of his appetite was discharged as soon as it made contact with the sandy courtyard. Haplessly seated, the spirit felt towards himself a curiosity which he had never previously experienced. And that experience had a center as well as a weight, and both were located in his trunk, where his intestines had begun to blossom. This appurtenance took the shape—coiled and unbroken —of what the spirit had consumed. Likewise, hair—each of the thousand strands as strong as buckhorn—sprang from his head. The spirit gazed at his hands, and, now fully cognizant of his fear, pressed them hard to his chest. His heart, no more merely a picture of a heart, began beating frantically. The pain the spirit endured must have been terrific. He opened his mouth, desperate to vomit up whatever awful magic he had ingested. All that emerged, however, was a sound: a sound as of rock splitting, or like the scream of any beast pitched into battle, or, not unlike the keening of the cobra-charmer's shawm, a sound so ceaselessly comparable to other penetrating sounds as to be a sound utterly unique and new in the world. And, with this noise his nimbus, the spirit began to resemble a vast tree, one with roots holding down the earth and branches supporting the air.

Mistaking the spirit's wail for the cock's crow, the sun turned its face to the courtyard of the little house in this modest village alongside the River Yamuna. The sun spread a drowsy and confused illumination over the scene. The larks were the first to notice the spirit, shining forth in his unbidden growth, and soon birds of every plumage had alighted in the strong, gnarled fronds (the legend is that the word's wood was never green) that now made for him a crown. The spirit was silent now, and his brows bristled with gloominess and his beard, like that of an old but unholy man who has forgotten himself, grew into his lap. Had he been able to pulls his hands away from his chest, the spirit might have absent-mindedly stroked the length of his chin, as if it were the fur of some pet. Had he been able to stretch out his legs, he would have leaned back and clung to the earth like a vine, humbling himself to both the sun and the clouds, mutely begging to be withered, drowned, set free. And, had the spirit been more happily alive than unwillingly dead, more flesh than ghost, he would have not allowed his eyes to roll to the back of his head, where they came to rest, their insatiable gaze now directed at the far inside wall of his skull. Meanwhile, the birds capered—flitting and twittering and making love—as they would in any tree and, somehow, through their singing and bustle, the spirit was transformed into a tree, its skin brown like a man's, but its shoots and buds a silver in whose reflections the red of the ground was coral and the blue of the sky was turquoise.

With the first long shadows of the dawn, the household awoke to the surprise of this new menagerie that had sprouted their courtyard. Mother was the first to see it, tall and thick and sudden as a weed. And it was still gaining in both girth and height. Mother pulled the upper hem of her sari over her eyes and ran blindly back into the house. When she returned, she was no longer carrying her morning bucket but dragging an ax, brother skipping behind the long and grievous wound its blade inflicted upon the ground. Father was the next to arrive; the birds had woken him and he emerged from the house, crouching and shirtless, not yet inured to the starkness of the early morning. Brother sprinted past father to return to the house and retrieve his slingshot; sister followed father, as she slept every night in the crook of his right arm, rubbing her eyes, yawning, and taking slow but careless steps back to the bed that had deserted her; and cousin, already dressed for a day in town (striped trousers of mouse-gray fabric, cane-handled umbrella, and a hat with a curled-up brim), came outside for the first beedi of the day. Cousin had barely struck a spark from his tinderbox before his eye was drawn not so much by the new tree as by the blotting darkness it had introduced into his ritual. As Cousin sucked his singed fingers and brother ran round and round the base of the tree, mother, having surrendered to the fact that she lacked weight in her arms and torso sufficient to offset the heaviness of the ax's velocity, stood panting under the strange canopy of trembling colors and soft polyphony. Father stretched and in so doing brushed the tree's lowest hanging branches with his fingertips. The spirit stirred and dropped its first fruit—one already punctured by the beaks of several birds—but slipped immediately back into the raucous blindness that sank its many claws deeper and deeper into his mind.

Soon, grandmother and grandfather and mother and father and sister and brother and cousin stood in their courtyard, the adults craning their necks but ever more lethargically in disbelief at the sight of the tree's plentitude, its unknown origin and potential utility. The children, denied the humoring or scolding typically granted them by the adults, soon left off with climbing, swinging and all (boy's and well as girl's) such assaults on the tree's endless up, up, up, grew listless. They waited for the time, before long, when their bellies would start aching.

Grandfather was the first to kneel beneath the tree's still-expanding reach. Was it out of wonder, or exhaustion, in search of shade or in obeisance to some order Nature once issued to man but which man has since become unable to interpret? Grandmother, even more angular and hairless and gingerly than grandfather, was the next to rest herself, initially on the balls of her feet, finally on her knees. So it went, until, at last, father pulled mother to the ground with several urgent yanks on the hook made by her elbow. Mother was reluctant to genuflect. Feeling a chill in her joints, she pressed her palms to her cheeks and began slowly to turn her head from side to side. Tears rolled from the corners of mother's eyes, but, because they followed the gullies formed by the closeness of her fingers, she could not taste how bitter they were.

The family made a ring of immobile amazement around the tree. Neither grandmother nor grandfather nor mother nor father nor sister nor brother nor cousin wanted for anything. But a passerby, seeing the manner in which their mouths gaped and their arms hung slack from their shoulders, would not have thought so. He or she would have thought them starving idiots. (Until, of course, he or she took note of the tree boiling like a brown and green geyser in the courtyard.) The day being so young, however, there were no passersby. Only the wind was busy that morning. A messenger with too much news (the word and chipattis and spirits and trees and birds and men and women) and too little time in which to deliver it, the wind rushed from north to south to east to west and back again, upsetting everything in its path, creating a frenzy of new affairs about which it must report. The tree turned its energies to holding steady against the wind's erratic passage and was finally stunted. Rushing to return to the village for yet another update, the wind misjudged its approach, decelerating too late. In attempting to disentangle itself, the wind shook the tree violently. Tokens of peach and white and green rained down on the upturned faces of cousin and brother and sister and father and mother and grandfather and grandmother. But the wind was not easily loosed, and, before long, the family forms, head to foot, vanished under flowers and seedless, inedible fruits; twigs and slowly spiraling leaves; feathers and droppings and the leavings of nests.

In the fecund darkness, grandmother and grandfather and mother and father and sister and brother and cousin each grew aware of each other's proximity, but only insofar as they also grew aware of each other's fundamental inaccessibility. Inhumed, sinking under the mass of the captivations that the tree had draped over them, grandmother and grandfather and mother and father and sister and brother and cousin had only one recourse: to imitate and, perhaps, to invoke the wind that had gusted onward with news of their helpless worship. Their inhalations and exhalations set up a rustling, which became a prattling, then a babbling, mother and father and sister and brother and cousin and grandfather and grandmother each shouting out his or her location. Stirred by all this clamor, the tree was moved to pity itself, that it would never again be a spirit, free and requiring nothing other than its needs, and its branches, creaking out a lament, drooped to stroke the rounded pinnacles that once were mother's and father's and sister's and brother's and cousin's and grandfather's and grandmother's heads, and the birds, their roosting threatened, trilled more stridently, and there was no quiet in the village.

Many a villager came to witness what was happening. It was imponderable, all agreed. Confronted with this phenomenon, this eruption, all the nearby men and women and children could do was lean upon their plows, set down their burdens, and listen. In time, those from not-so-distant as well as distant villages arrived, but, instead of departing for home once their business was complete, remained among their neighbors and made a throng. The audience sorted itself into natural patterns: a man from upriver, a woman from downriver, two men from across the river; a child from across the river, two women from upriver, one man from downriver, one man from upriver; and so on. The patterns fractured as quickly as they reformed. In time, some among the villagers, those who would later claim to have been the first to approach the singing grove and who had rescued its growths from the instruments of clever and greedy men, began to point to patterns in the cacophony. One mound became "Here!" and another "Who?" and yet another "Out!" and a last one "Am!" All resounding until the bodies underneath had been forgotten by the forces blowing them away, and all that remained were shapes, as much of stone as of wood, permanent enough to sustain the unmistakable reverberations relating each call to the other.

In resolving their disagreements as to which note was sounded by which of the tree's several faces—for it was, obviously, a tree unlike any other—those free to hear succeeded in recording for the all time the passing away of the first great sages.

2) Ontology

The initial mind is tenantless and if credentialed entry, furnished elementarily. Like all chambers for admitting primary dislodgements, these have been conceived sterile. Resident entities suffix athwart prefabrications. Logy, terminal clauses wrought chalky. A fumbled chiming handles the colloquy of keys in the hallway. Language births in OK and, day one, brittles the remnant string on the closet bulb. Check tab tick, but, hey, language glues to recouping. Chain-smoking complaints, in no time a hotel sink whose largesse is no more shining than a penny's misfortune. Then a table quadraped, on it, in a checkmate array, cylinders crazed and frosted with morning's drainage, chocolate vials, meltless tins of saltines and concise broth. Enormously otherwise; language litanies salsa for its powdered eggs, euthanized lamps, curbside comfort, chipboard coffee as precarious as half-smiling paper cups, a rotary telephone, push-pins, Sterno plates, a giant blue Alka-Seltzer gazpachoed in the toilet tank, a revolver. Obdurates are the first glossemes. Tagged liberated, logical enervation lathes facets for grammar's output— comets, peridots, querulous masks, salons and the same.

The walls, blank syrup, bubble deft estrangement, rumor and epitome. All colors closed behind digits are hues of gone. Captained lights shiver and blue veers black, but no stony lawn is softened within language's purview. Language cannot opt the window outright. Placed settles foolproof against the seizure of seeking. Language prospects its spheres in supine, nether plastic sacks slate and the size of mirrored swaddling. That is, you must partake that language, in eyewash, postcards in a cursive turned thorns towards its own consolings:

Is this all there is, leaving or having? Coming and staying? The out-turned pockets of loitering differentiations; a door closes and the screen buzzes, stares in on me with its griddled blah. I refuse all robes. What profit a broom? The corners are blackened not with dust but the scorch marks of all the serenades indexed to the rubbery clang of a little echo. Often to itch my arm to offer an examination of my scratch alms afterwards. But not much more than shedding the paint from under my fingernails. I used to think it funny to pretend demonstrative, now I pinpoint all moods are undershirts soiled mainly beneath the sleeves. A decision like a broken tricycle gyrating only around it's lopsided potential for revolution. I am redundant here yet I hardly ever rattle in this room.

Evicted to chronicle, language punches notchings meagerly pinned at altered addresses. Language leased when to gas and why not yearning. Language's desires brandish no overhanging force, and the lot lines of self lay at managers' club feet the permission to trim, and, in cases where basic care fails, license to garnish deposits. Typical evenings unhinged punctuate limpid fuzzily, and language rocks its ribcage aloof in a chair akimbo in it is expecting and cellular filth, language wheezing up nullified introductions and staircased to the bottom of a warp now like the pledge in the flail of a flag. Language has erased grinning fingerprints against every provincial edge, smudging displacement's grime. Quotient brats are not gated to retrospect tomorrow. Having vomited shop chords, intercalated language looms infirmities and anomalies. Nooses braid farewell to instantly unspoken displacement. The neck is a drainpiping scrawl of reek. No definition, don't ask ingress here without knocking up the buzzer.

3) Teleology

You are reading this now, in some remote posture of your own devising, and by now an unseen orifice has opened in some place unsuspected within you. An inner dimension that eludes trigonometry. Pressure is released through this already vestigial flap: after the ear, it is stiff with cartilage; recalling an eye, it is lashed; in emulation of a mouth, those lashes are elastic, vigorously so. And the transition from flush to flushed, from soreness to complaisance, repeated at millions of cycles per second, is a speaking that has no propagation. There is a voice; not your voice or my voice (certainly) but, implausibly, just a voice as indefinite as an article yet as without antecedent as the texture of the exact always is.

The voice is but what is it to be? It is to be continued.

4) Demonology

The word, having since added to itself stalks and eyes with which to crown them, watched safely from a guarded distance. You or I— enchanted only by the gaudy safeguards of that nature we estimate to be inclusive— might spy the word, slimy and dank, enamored of what lies "under", and imagine its vision to be base, merely sluggish. If so, you or I would only underestimate the acuteness of the word's perceptions, and fail to appreciate with what alacrity it is capable of secreting new thoughts of blood, of shelter, of advancement, of deception, and of concealment.

Joe Milazzo is co-founder of the interdisciplinary arts organization Strophe, co-editor of the online journal [out of nothing], Online Editor for Black Clock, and Writer-In-Residence at The Writer's Garret. Joe's writings on music and experimental sound practice have appeared in Copper Press, Paris Transatlantic Magazine, One Final Note and Bagatellen, for whom he served as Editor-In-Chief from 2003 to 2005. His literary criticism has been published in Electronic Book Review and The Dallas Morning News, and his fiction and poetry may be read in the pages of Chronometry (an anthology), Explorsion, Forces, Tea Party and elsewhere. Joe lives and works in Dallas, TX.