But because micromorts are a mathematically defined unit, zero does, in fact, exist. The micromorts of any given activity is calculated by taking the number of deaths due to said activity, dividing by the population in question, and multiplying by one million. Therefore, if any one activity has never killed a single member of the population, say, stubbing a toe, the micromorts of that activity is 0.
By that argument then, the risks of taking LSD and dying from a papercut are equivalent. Am I the only one who thinks that is stupid? Even better, they are both equal to zero.
But though the risk of dying for the modern human is remarkably small, death will come for each and every one of us eventually. Will she come as the Morrígan, phantom queen of the Irish Ulster Cycle, covered head to toe in the feathers of a crow? Until then, we entertain ourselves with illusions, foolishly believing that by hurtling through the air or by balancing on metal blades, we can challenge death itself.
Peter held the arrow that felled Wendy in his hand. “She is dead,” he said uncomfortably. “Perhaps she is frightened at being dead.” I’d like to think that, for a moment, Tinker Bell might have felt a twinge of regret. But J.M. Barrie knows best, and according to him, “fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for only one feeling at a time.”
Victory, then. Just victory, intertwined with death inside the fairy’s mind.
Furthermore, over the next several weeks the book began to sell (modestly) and was received by reviewers and public alike as entirely the work of Edgar Allan Poe, based on the factual account related to him by me--that is, by Arthur Pym. My dismay at this turn of events, my feelings of betrayal and usurpation, were nothing compared to a far more powerful feeling: that of obliteration. This was my text, this text was my life, and now it was another man's text and life--no, worse, I was now the invention of this other person. I was, in effect, dead. One could say murdered. For I discovered (too late, not having read the final proofs or the finished book with all its emendations) that Poe had added a long note after the narrative's last page, the page on which I describe the "shrouded human figure," enormous and white, that rose up before us as our boat plunged into what seemed to be a giant cataract. The note began thus: "The circumstances connected with the late sudden and distressing death of Mr. Pym was already well known to the public through the medium of the daily press."
Sudden death! Well known! Imagine my horror at reading these fraudulent words. What could have been Poe's motive in writing them? I was (I am) quite alive and well, despite the nervous condition brought on by my terrible ordeals. I immediately sought out Poe and found him in another dreary, dank pub, inebriated but entirely capable of reasoned discourse. He explained--as we shared a drink--that this postscript was another ruse: my putative death would serve to reinforce the truth of my existence. His slight Southern inflections lent an ironic melancholy to his words as he regarded me closely with that intense, haunted yet mischievous gaze. I stared back, suddenly dizzy from the combination of drink and bizarre paradox. I found myself drawn into those bleary-sharp eyes, almost as if I were falling, body and mind, into their depths.
The dogs were muscling their gaunt shapely forms from out of blind snow-bracketed banks, lanes, ditches, Detroit’s steel-girdered interstices — the inglenooks and modesties of Dearborn, slender brown skulk like clats of sinister inchworms on the eye. Their bellies cinched in dry lank starvation. Their ears and snouts and coats kinked wet, glossed, obtaining an august diesel sheen in the glaucous boreal light, blue kidney figments as though migrant dolphins come ashore on roaming silver-haired legs. A thousand thousand hounds surface loping along the grey march. Their tongues pink and exposed and ice-chafed, whiskered muzzles zebraic with facets of cloven white. Their gums scalloped a darker pink, their gums bared and gnarled a traumatic hue, their gums clustered with milky crescent teeth. Pelted and knickerbockered a variation of colour, a mottle of browns, reds, rusts, yellows, silvers, blues. Coats to pillow the eye. Lemons and whiskeys and jets and gold oxides all assembling in unpeopled streets striated fire-pure and barren with snow coral. Old winter-feasted trees, choke cherries and aspens ailing and sharded in the godless thaw, holly and gold hyssop and shimmering sneezeweed felled low before the raptured greening, now trembling to herald the arrival of the dogs.
Snowflakes wheeled loose from snickering branches. Skinny Dinners stood watch, binoculars slack in the curvature of his neck, his hands balled under his singlet, his heart aching with a sweet local thunder.
He was stationed on the arch above Michigan Avenue, the strange primal terrain divested before him, and he could see all the way westward over half-collapsed factory rooftops, past shuttered bodyshop compounds and looted junkyard plots, beyond needle-littered stripmalls and uninviting newspapered Miller bars, all the way to the green pasteurised waters of the lower soak of the River Rouge...
"When the favored horse finally falls,
it suffocates instantly under the weight
of its ridiculous white teeth,
and bauble nails,
while the gelding next door,
four winters starved,
keeps darling Death
a dust cloud always,
one long cough away."
"...This hood that covers, gives the same the trouble, the hood has over,
my nose, neck, and stressed shoulders.
Boulder sized soldier because boldness in my boney bones is bulging,
building compulsion to control composure,
but fuck that, every black boy has his explosions, maybe erosions too.
The Rose that rose from the concrete, not complete. Yet..."
"...Eye-level with the youth I outgrew,
my fingertips pressed against the glass, warm
as a father’s yawning throat, its unconscious grace,
I imagine someone taking my covers and smuggling
them to this hill in East Africa, as the air in my chest
thins, and all my adolescence abruptly erased.
What was I so busied with that incessant April?
How many souls perished each time I blinked?..."
Did you follow Socrates through Athens, learning to unravel
with a question all the reasons that oppress life
When did we try to kill you?
And in killing you, kill ourselves?
At sunrise, you are the giant peach surrounding
the rough ruby pit of you.
At sunset, you are the beating ruby pit, relinquishing
the juicy peach.
You are a paradox.
"...She was with me too, that morning, though she played a different role. For between the beds of rushes, naked and bluish-white, lay the broken body of the stranger from the sea.
"On other days the other girls would talk about the angles of his legs. You could feel the way his very bones seemed to wound him. Sometimes it was the dead-fish colour of his skin that they remembered, the look you see on drowned men when they wash up days after a storm. It was easy to forgive the others for believing he was dead. And for a few, those with good humour, it was his hair that stayed with him.
"What I remember, though, more than his storm-wracked body, was the spirit around him. It called to me. Where the others at once believed him dead, drawing back so as not to contaminate the holy robes, I sensed a will to live. I put aside my bundle, and touching my fingers to my temple, felt an echo of the shudder. Not for nothing had we half-drowned ourselves in search of octopus: I knew at once how to expel the brackish water from his chest, to pump sweet air back into this almost-emptied husk."
"Hollow winds shook town, street sign, broke windows as the denizens scrambled for their cellar doors, storm shelters. Stella hunkered beneath the church, watching the others click rosary beads in time with the clacking shutters. The meadow grew dark and across town the little house wobbled and creaked and Posey watched the sky glow with those supernatural southern lights. The green winds winnowed the grass, sprayed long arcs in the brook, bled through the cracks in the weather-stripping until outside and inside married in the space around her. Posey wrung a threadbare pair of ballet slippers in her hands, the rank, homey smell of feet rising to meet her. Both mother and daughter looked to the sky and Posey came to know her new friend in the dark."
"A turkey vulture drops a rope of intestine and lifts away into a hard blue sky. The dog at the roadside is some kind of mixed breed with a delicate snout and brindled coat. Mel eases the truck to a stop, and I clamp on my hardhat.
Overhead, the big bird carves a dark circle while Mel drags the shovel out of the truck bed. Even though I know the dog is dead, I squat to touch it just in case, but its jaw gapes, its legs are stiff as branches, and its milky eyes are open.
Michelangelo peeled the skins of cadavers. He was searching for a deeper mystery than how muscle attaches to bone. I am searching for something more too; not just a tag to name the owner of a dog. In the dead, Michelangelo found the underpinnings for his art. I haven't yet been able to name what it is I find in these still creatures."
"The longer he lingered in The Brass Tyrant, the less transfixed he was by the women and the more vested he became in verifying the allure of the old liars, in gaining their approval and so inheriting their secrets. They each possessed the whittled oblique face of a church fresco icon, a chalk-white bust like a Hans Holbein cameo clamped in a locket. Yet assembled together, they resembled an Early Flemish panel-portrait executed by the Brothers van Eyk, the Ghent Altarpiece of Time-eaten Gremlins. Their rickety pisshead clan behaved in such a way that Briggs was often privately reminded of the Muppets in the mezzanine, as if Statler and Waldorf had emerged with raspy scorn from the television set to crack wise about the state of his life. He didn’t need anyone to explain to him that these men were gangsters, the fathers of criminal progeny."
Prepare the feast
Ensnare the beast
Return to sender
Fringes to center
The mad monkey enters..."
"The vestigial remnants of a child’s egocentric universe mingled with the naïve hippie spirit of the times—just let it happen, and all will be well. I would return to Clarion in January, and serendipitous circumstance would deliver a wonderful, if momentarily agonizing, opportunity for my nobility to falter."