A Day in a Dying Empire: An Intimate Fable on Current Events

Now, from America, empty indifferent things are pouring across, sham things, dummy life…. A house, in the American sense, an American apple or a grapevine over there, has nothing in common with the house, the fruit, the grape into which went the hopes and reflections of our forefathers … Live things, things that lived — that are conscious of us — are running out and can no longer be replaced. We are perhaps the last to have known such things.

–Rainer Maria Rilke

This morning, as with so many mornings, as of late, I had to undertake an agonizing, intricate procedure to pull myself together, simply to extract myself from bed to face another day.

Television, cell phone, computer glowed before me: The media nimbus boiled: its hypnagogia-like flux of imagery, its counterfeit immediacy and proffered flummery insistent to drowned out auras of extinction rising from veritable nature; the earth’s warnings rising like musical notes … swelling, reverberating, enveloping us. In the Gulf of Mexico … literally falling to earth as chemical rain.

I stood dazzled before the scintillating doomscape of the Anthropocene Epoch. It has entered me … It has made me and undone me. It tells me who I am; it holds me near, enclosing me in the thrall of the false intimacy of its endless spectacle.

Some mornings, I don’t think I can compose myself to face it.

But, most days, I make a start: Gathering up and patching together this tattered flesh-garment of DNA. Then: I call to order my swarming termite-cathedral mind … take a head count of this aggregate of disparate personage deemed me … attempt to quiet this nattering self nettled by formless dread … console this besieged I who awakens in redemptive bed … torn from reverie with dreaming-ocean cosmos to shuffle to toilet for Newtonian piss, to sink for anti-entropic teeth brushing, then commit to wave-particle duality decision of dressing … in order to meet the manifold machinery of the empire’s manifest death-urge revelry.

Awake, dressed, and partially reconstituted, I left the house:

The age of insistent junk rose to meet me: junk groaned and snarled past me on roadways; junk words — mouthed into junk cell phones; junk pixels — texted and twittered into meaningless air.

So many enchanted by junk incantations, staring at glowing, tinny appliances like idiots entranced by shiny objects … giving over the fleeting hours of finite life in the service of Lord Junk — as sky and sea choke in the miasmic wake of our joyless binge — and the earth’s entropic furies gather.

We stare at our glowing appliances while exquisite things are extinguished, forever … mistaking configurations of pixels for the breath and brilliance of the world.

I thought of Lorca; in truth, preposterously, I attempted to pray to Lorca who advised that one should listen for the heart of god beating within the monster of the world.

But I am losing heart searching for the monster’s heart. Thus far: finding only my own spleen. For this reason: our collectives striving and private equivocations seem the thanotopic dream of destroyer gods: The nightmare manifested before us as strip malls and shopping plazas … constructed of bones of extinct species; interiors of suburban subdivisions shuffling with resentful phantoms … estranged from the libido of culture and communion; dead zone freeways … the air shaken and riven by the roar of its death-enamered fury.

Before me: Atlanta Georgia, USA … glazed in asphalt inferno of late-June.

Yet, held in the heat-pummeled air above, I saw fuchsia mimosa blossoms hoisting defiant flags above the misery of traffic.

The effrontery of those spindly blooms of fuchsia, its colors as raw as my own nettled heart. It hurt deep within my chest even to gaze upon such a shade of unconquerable pink.

I want to shake branches of flowering mimosa in the faces of the ministers and minions of junk … to see … if they become stricken as I was — as tickled pink as I am.

Later, will I hear reports on the evening news of a million human beings in their offices and cubicles afflicted with seemingly out-of-context desires … suffering from spontaneous longings for the caress of blossom-scented winds … suddenly struck by an ungovernable need to emerge unto city streets and genuflect before the spindling glory of these seditious flowers?

So, in short, the ministrations of the mimosa convinced me to keep on living. But I had little appetite for the endeavor.

The meals prepared from this harvest of junk turned my stomach. I clamped my teeth tight against it. I kept searching for hope’s greenhouse — where blooms of human understanding open and breathe — but I kept wandering into the empire’s slaughtering barn.

I began to mutter, “awful.”

“Awful. Awful. Awful.”

Then I chanted it aloud, “Awful. Awful. Awful.”

Then and there, I decided I would make “awful” my morning and evening prayer.

“He’s awful, She’s awful — This food is awful — The news is awful — Our leaders are awful. You awful people have created such an awful mess by living out the awful implications of your awful lives that all mirrors should be renamed awful frames.

I ask you, Rilke: What awful angels swim through the poisoned sky?

Anticipating the question, Rilke, a century prior, answered:

“I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief —
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:

then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.”

So I riffed on it and rasp it, snarled it and sobbed it, whispered it to myself and posited it in public places. I warbled it and choked on it, laughed about it and wept over it.

I returned home laughing and sobbing. I could no longer keep the floodgates closed: The things of the world, massive and minuscule, tragic and preposterous, came coursing into my consciousness: giant squids and chihuahuas arrived, death camps and Dollywood arose, diamonds and Skiddles were proffered, world-destroying comets and blue snow cones hurdled through deep space, while killing sprees and hand jobs, inspired exchanges and insipid palaver, grace and goofiness transpired on earth as always.

My wife found me in this state, both yearning and mortified, hungry and queasy, desperate for solitude and yet longing to be touched.

She reached for me as the two fronts within me met, merging the moist breeze of the tropics and the cold wind of the Arctic … creating pelting hail and huge, warm raindrops … engendering weeping and caressing — as inundating sorrow mingled with torrents of desire.

All the while, I was stammering, “awful, awful, awful,” but the pleasure struck me momentarily monosyllabic and only an ecstatic “A-W-E” issued from me.

Shuddering … awestruck, awfully grateful, I collapsed onto her — awed by the sublime of our simpatico breathing — awed by the soft light of scented candles lambent upon her skin –awed by her generosity in faking her own orgasm concurrent with my own (sometimes there is surpassing grace in such small, selfless lies).

And of equal importance: awed by all the awful things that waited outside of our room that I resolved I would try to endure and transmute into song.

As I drifted towards sleep, I said Kaddish for my convictions. I dreamed my lips left impressions traced in ash. Braille sheet-music caressed me from the breeze of an electric fan. All of my points of reference floated away from me like transmigrating galaxies. Everything was adrift: mind, sorrows, heart and heavens.

Upon awakening in bed with my wife of many years, I turned to her and asked, “Pardon me, but have we met?”

I fumbled for conversation … wanting to make a good first impression.

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.

–Rainer Maria Rilke

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.

–Rainer Maria Rilke

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at phil@philrockstroh.com and FaceBook. Read other articles by Phil, or visit Phil's website.

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  1. Don Hawkins said on July 4th, 2010 at 6:14am #

    In the land of the freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee