A library


A bucket the bucket this bucket becomes my closest confidant in this octagonal cell. Instead of bars, I experience books—translated from misunderstood languages, dispatched from distant satellites. Thousands of years have burned language into a strange nothingness. A wounded Neanderthal scrawls The Epic of Gilgamesh in his own blood while munching on a roasted Homo sapiens arm. And so each syllable presages its own death.

Bastardized copies of The Book of Maneuvers bruise my legs. Misplaced dates, contradictory passages: Fulcrum Maneuvers carrying his child-bride, the Woman without a Name, over the lake-bed threshold. That first Cultist winter: 2000–1. Maneuvers falls prostrate into the warm mud of a boiling puddle. Rolling naked in bitumen pools, a foreign particle succumbing under an ocean of nacre. Submerged, he dreams of crystal conglomerations, of primeval Umma-Segnus twisting, of World Worm rising.

The blind Cultists centenarian, the patriarch Benjamin Benjamin, testifies in his diaries that the Worm-as-nether-demon rules from an ancient, hoary nest, a sibling of Marduk, a peer of Cthulhu, an alien consciousness foreign to the considerations of this planet but interwoven over incalculable aeons to the genetic empires of the senseless: exploding dinosaur lungs flaming in ancient meteor heat; star cyclones banishing primitive creatures to the oily depths of the planetary bottom; continents exploding tectonic pustules across the face of raging oceans; cosmic lava resting on the slide glass of our temporary human microscope. This world, then—of planetary change, of climatic puberty—nothing more than a landing pad for this Worm to arrive, a bloody mess of salty, annelid afterbirth. Exasperated, I scan The Book of Maneuvers for the hundredth time, parsing each line backward, shifting vowels, replacing each noun with the seventh subsequent noun, holding the leaves to a mirror and tracing new pages to be held against a second mirror, coding each sentence into dead computer script (COBAL, BASIC II ), transmuting the words into numerical digits to discover the vicissitudes of the tetragrammaton; I coerce bookworms that craw like maggots over the text into eating certain pages, specific letters, the most ornery serifs; tiny maggots digest the font as plankton devour an oil spill. The mistake, I have discovered, is to look for what a text means as opposed to what it says. The age of metaphor, dead.

—the desert turns a shade of pure blue—

A library marks time in the turn of pages. Proceed in an orderly manner and you collude with the world’s linearity. But read from the back, randomly sample, and you confuse the procession of reality. Phrases slip full grown through the spout of a dead sperm whale:

—orange is the color of her dress, then blue silk—

A library marks time in the turn of its pages. Letters no longer safe in the comatose folds of subject and predicate.

—that is, except Ghoul, who by its very nature, defies what is—

A library marks only its time in the turn of its pages. So stop marking time. Remove you from the equation. Read where the eye falls. Proceed only from desire. If consciousness carries you to the end of the page, rather than advancing, you retreat, or not at all. Close the book; throw it to the floor.

—and so the cocks began to crow—

One tale concerns early rhizomatists, an ancient guild schooled in the use of herbals—illustrated codices of botanical magic. Rome belches forth Dioscorides and Apuleius, adepts in the use of nightshade, of bile simmering from the inhabited corpse a fortnight after its bloody death. Wands of poison weed, wallflower with dodder, campanula and calla lily, crushed ayahuasca bark and moon’s bane. Theophrastus then; to Craetuas the dung monger; followed by the works of Cassiodorus, chancellor of the Germanic Emperor Theodoric the Goth. Alchemists all, rhizomatist witches, devils. The Moorish Opprobrium et Significum Logisticar of 1123 details a plot to overthrow the kings of Aragon and Gaul through elaborate topiary totems and tinctures of elecampane and cowslip planted in secret gardens set against the offending kingdoms. Once these herbals had been ingested by the populace, the rhizomatists would rule distant genetic lines—introducing a mitochondrial destiny, vegetable in design, springing from rings of glowing mushroom caps rooted in skull of the magical adept who.

—fades further and further into the distance of a displaced cell—

The Revolutionary Council of Learned Spirochetes round up one hundred seventy-three rhizomatists in the caves outside of Granada. They burn the bodies in a pit dug by specially incensed boars slaughtered immediately after, in the same pit, to prevent further infection of the region’s emaciated livestock. Melting into a mass of swine and flailing appendage, the conglomeration of immolating rhizomatists effects such a stench that a pathogen worse than the germ of the bubonic plague consumes exactly three times their number, five hundred fifteen, in a third as many days. Alarmed, Rome sends a contingent of priests trained in vegetable exorcism to the region—led by the dynamic Dominican Jean de Authorius. All three envoys disappear after leaving papal territory. Exactly one year later, on the evening of February twenty-second, 1125, three complete vestments return to the Vatican, entirely overgrown with a kudzu vine filling the cloth with the facsimile of their bodies, except in the case of Authorius, whose clothing, also infected with various unidentifiable vegetal spores, weaves itself over a legion of decomposing swine.

—such is man rising from the world of plants—

Toss enough books to the ground and so construct a ninth library wall. You have stopped eating, and so disappear trays of gruel, mixtures of dry oats and murky water, margarine baked into soft clay. The dried flavor in your mouth assumes the yeasty zest of old cellophane; concentrate tongue muscles as a printing press might bear down on hot metal slugs and squeeze a droplet of condensation mixed with bitter sand.

—fall in a stroke to the floor where you are eaten by a hog—

Collapse the plot of discarded texts. Leaves of a book. Leaves from a tree. The so-called world of genuine flowers spreads gruesome disease, language blooms from inimitable grunts. You cut out the first primitive voice box from an australopithecine corpse with a rusty scalpel, unwind it with hair-covered hands. Too late. A second precursor burbles its own death with your arm down its throat; a third sprints toward the bushes to repopulate the pack.

Weeks pass. Fever dreams. Spirit country. The hunger strike fails. Books suspended by spines in midair. You cannot bend your arms, your legs; you are a stiffened ghost removed from the world but tethered to the flesh, to the Morse code of a single one good eye, blinking incessantly as a wave of books crushes your body, knocking you into brilliant aphasia. A random page scrunches against the upper incline of your cheek, its words obscured in awkward angles. What you see, as you slowly blink . . .

uls via a zigzag bridge. A long
l but extending from the second
second island thus oaxes dreams
s who travel only in straight
meander. Leave silence behind,
death in purple-veined petals
17th year of cherry blossoms.
ious. Under weeping willow
nging branch, a tiny muskrat
ank. Other animals turn ghostly
-key in the warm wind. Such
of spectral sheep perform their
of the sun and the throbbing of
r of hoof looping through purple
is second Island; dreamers
spirits, eyes wide at smoke rings

Dooger’s island. Your right cheek against this page. A rosy flush. The left eye remains closed, sutured shut.

—who takes up an erotic theme is a voyeur—

The room grows hot, a tropical jungle where toothsome conquistadors roast themselves on a spit turned by the slow movement of their traitorous horses around a mechanical contrivance. No humidity but the dryness of the intestinal cavity, furled and dark, a tunnel blasted by a galaxy of sand as your head, leaden, falls upon on the nearest open page…

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Davis Schneiderman is a multimedia artist and writer and the author or multiple print and audio works, including the novels Drain, Abecedarium, and Blank; the co-edited collections Retaking the Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization and The Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism’s Parlor Game; as well as the audio-collage Memorials to Future Catastrophes. His first short story collection, there is no appropriate #emoji—with collaborations from Lance Olsen, Cris Mazza, Kelly Haramis, Stacy Levine, Tim Guthrie, Andi Olsen, and Megan Milks—will be released in 2020. He is Krebs Provost and Dean of the Faculty--and Professor of English--at Lake Forest College.

3 responses to “An Excerpt from Drain

  1. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Davis! Davis, Davis, Davis! Welcome! Okay, now I’m going to go read and be right back for comments ….

    • Okay, and you know I have to read this more than once because you’re too brilliant for me and because lines like this – “exploding dinosaur lungs flaming in ancient meteor heat; star cyclones banishing primitive creatures to the oily depths of the planetary bottom; continents exploding tectonic pustules across the face of raging oceans; cosmic lava resting on the slide glass of our temporary human microscope” — are so good reading them is like devouring chocolate (yes, I’m still thinking this even with the bile and maggots and afterbirth etc, etc). Looking forward to reading DRAIN in its entirety. More please!

  2. dwoz says:

    You could scarcely slip a compressed and calendared scrap of cellulose edge-wise into the space between transgressive and word salad.

    Last night, I confess, I read this while bone-tired. In that reading, I felt that it was I who was transgressed, standing in solidarity and sympathy with the English language. It actually put me into a deep depression (seriously). Depressed, because it seemed the output of some clever text generation algorithm, and a distinctly self-indulgent one at that. Depressed because if this snippet garners praise and adulation, then I surely am entirely bereft of compass, a madman in an insane world. Deep depression.

    This morning, a new day, with refreshed faculties. I am not a man of cowardice when it comes to auditing my personal inventory, so I felt a revisit was warranted. If only for validation.

    But validation was not forthcoming.

    The age of Metaphor, dead…metaphorically speaking.


    What last night seemed a little too self-consciously clever and self-indulgent by half, today somehow morphed into a coherent canvas…albeit one painted by Jackson Pollack…that was satisfying and intriguing. Transgressive and word salad DO share a common boundary, and you walk perilously, careeningly near it.

    I’m confused by this. I suppose there’s a deeper meaning to be extracted from the experience, but after all, we are admonished to read for what it says, not for what it means…therefore my only conclusion is “don’t read Drain when you’re tired.”


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