Nineteen Remarks on the Edge of the World
Nate Liederbach


The shores of a dead-silver Chesapeake Bay, October, but I'm dreaming the mist-thick Puget Sound, April. Or having just gently screwed my sleepy wife, the sensation of urinating after I've already urinated. A canopy of tornado clouds descending like Midwestern asphalt, stealing the heat, crushing the June bugs, urging the worms to a surface of sacrifice. Stoned on wet and they're nothing but rusty nails when the sun revives--no smell of earth, no taste of decay, the only ground packed between punishment and memory.


You cannot go hungry, though you cannot go full. You cannot be tired, but awake isn't possible, either. No. Stop asking. This is not a long trip or a short trip; the Edge of the World is dirty like brain damage, feeding, then wiping, on reminiscence.


But it's not as complicated as we're taught. This is what he told me. It's certainly not, so no point in GPS or Google Maps, no point in transportation or any manner of transmissions. Supplies?--No. Planning?--No. Forecast?--Give me a goddamn break, man.


"So what?"

"So when I'm close to the edge, when it comes down to details, no need to ask directions from suspicious locals, their eternal withdrawal, their voices all tinged with quick distrust?"


"Of my goddamn purpose. Come on, there's always a purpose--without purpose, no will, without will, no beauty, without beauty, no difference...."

"Shoot," he said, "shoot it all," and he cocked his jaw and spat.

Maybe what I watched wasn't what I was supposed to watch. It did not land, that dark ball of snot. It did not land or arch or make a sound, even as I waited and waited, our conversation repeating itself.


A handsome woman strains on a cold, public shitter. A legless man blows his appendix with a single, self-deprecating laugh. A fox terrier mauls an infant while dragging it from a house fire. All the while, very nearby, a teenager decides to save her virginity in a Zip-lock bag. Two weeks in, the crisper gives out. Her brother finds it half hardened, trenched with freezer-burn. He goes fishing. No bobber, no weights. He uses the wind to cast. It takes his line with frightening force, reel whistling, throwing smoke, all ten knuckles sliced fast while the poor chump fumbles for control. Above. Above, it's a wolf-fur sky and what's on the other end is not the point. The pole snaps like nothing and the kid has pissed his pants. He knows he's pissed his pants, but when he looks down he's surrounded by hungry ducks. There he is. Here we are.


Allegedly, the first person to visit the Edge of the World was Jonathan. There's a plaque: Jonathan--son of Saul, brother of Michal, brought to you in part by Samuel, the Book of...

--torn between the love of his father, mother and his sworn BFF, the noble King (well, soon to be) David, Jonathan refuses sustenance. For five days he cowers naked and pink-skinned amidst a herd of freshly sheered sheep. On the fifth day, thinking he hears David's wistful sighs in the song of a mourning dove, follows the call into a lush clearing. Instead of joyful reunion, Jonathan finds the sun-scorched corpse of the great Goliath. Delirious with unforgiveness, eyes dried open, Jonathan flings himself on the monster's sodden torso. His knees punch crisp skin and he proceeds to weep, to weep and slap and slap and wail, "It's your fault! It's all your stupid fault!"

Understand that not all of this is inscribed on the plaque. The plaque is not very large. Then again, it's difficult to determine its size. The thing only occasionally floats past (though comfortably at eye-level).

Or, then again, it seems to float, to drift, but at the same time it's moving quickly, throwing threads of air in its wake. The problem has been reduced to either kinetic or lexical, but no one has broached this binary. Many, however, claim there's been tampering, that Jonathan is really Joanie, and that Joanie lied. That when the girl picked up her mangled bike and realized where she was, so spun was she with terror, so obviously removed from her rustic hometown of quiet ball fields and shimmering-evening ice cream stands, that when the microphone appeared....


There are no plants here, no flowers. Roots, certainly, a plague of roots. They push up underfoot, splitting rock, crying out like blinded mice, threatening to crumble the lip. It is unclear if their purpose here is to collect nutrients. On my second visit to the Edge of The World, a chubby Irish boy wandered up. Dressed as an American Indian, he pointed at the ground and told me--condescendingly--that maybe the roots were simply aesthetic, had I considered that?

"Nothing in nature is simply aesthetic," I replied (saying it like a slap, picturing it as a slap, the slow-motion rattle of his jelly face, his coke-rot teeth spraying loose, loud even in flight).

I continued my lecture. "Aesthetics are purely human, purely psychological."

Looking pretty fucked-up then, he left. Or faded away with an unaffected shrug.


But I'll admit, I've never been great at sorting out the workings of the physical world. My first wife would point at hills and exclaim laccolith! or drumlin! or dike!

"Where?" See me slam on the brakes. "Where?" See me hunker over the steering wheel and scan the horizon. "Christ, honey, where? I wanna see it! Hell, I thought dikes were extinct in this part of the cuntry?"

"Really? I mean, really? For the thousandth time, you really think that shit is funny?"

Hurt is a root. Maybe that's what I could have told the boy. Maybe I could have dropped a kind hand on his shoulder and explained that he's probably right. Because this place isn't the physical world. It's not outside of it and it's not inside it, but it is different.

Right? I could have said, "Son, I'm really impressed that you know how to use a word like 'aesthetic' so accurately. Is that why you're here? The things you say, they're so accurate that no one goddamn gets you?"


The Edge of the World smells of silt. Fine long grains of scent. Traces snake up your torso, snort themselves into your sinuses. And they're so bright the eye is forced upside down. Tears filtered through hairline, emerging salt-less and dark as blood. But what is more beautiful than blood on the unwounded back? There's poison in everything. Even those things that end need, they are needed. Blood on the unwounded back. What says strength with more fuckin' chutzpah? What more clearly proclaims to those still unconvinced they're close, that they've made any progress at all?


Today (this time ... now) I brought a can of smoked baby oysters and a small packet of Wheat Thins. Help yourself. Sometimes I come here to sacrifice my thoughts. There's water too, so, again, imbibe. I've got no open mouth sores, no herpes simplex seven-pinkie promise.

Water. Do it. You'll find it's quite important here. No, no, not like that. It's not to drink. Try pouring it on your skin before the hues fade. They were borrowed, see, that's why. Borrowed or stolen or purged or hemorrhaged. The blush of your cheeks from that stranger your young mother rear-ended. The glint of your fingernails stripped from the thief who crushed your grandmother's nose in the vacant lot of yellow noise.


Yes, the ladder is tempting. Or, rather, it is temptation. And all who arrive at the Edge of The World are free to try it. But understand that no amount of truth will tighten its bolts and no manner of science can count its rungs. If the world determines up and down, right and left, and if space determines all the rest, to use the ladder means to relinquish any idea of use and uses. But hell, give it a go. Of course, even here, caught between the roar of soundlessness and the patterns of myth, those milky streets and cool summer shadows, even here there is free-ish will.


No, we cannot camp here. No, I will not play Frisbee. The fee-pay box, the bear warnings, the soot-sweet fire pits neatly wrung in iron--all of these things are accidents, or worse, habit. Or more than that even: they're context. Right now part of me is finished at the urinal, still unzipped but blinking at the tile and working my thumb around this hem of left nostril. If I ignore this fact, blood on my lip is the least of my worries. My father, he was one of those. Couldn't tell the Edge of the World from a daydream. That's what's left of his tent, right over there. See the poles? How he tried to rig them with fishing line? See the duck feathers? The dog-spit tatters?


Probably, she told me, it's nothing like that. Probably it's not acrophobia or suicidal thinking. Should you feel either of those urges, you're not at the Edge of the World. You already missed it. Oh well, oh boy. Not much else to do but remove your boots, lose your britches, shake free your penis and arrange all four on the floor (if you can find the floor) in the form of hope. But remember, she said, hope has no wrinkles and it holds all light. Vertigo is its sister, but a dead sister, unknown, miscarried, the greatest sense of entitlement that can never happen. Sleep with both sisters at once, and one will take your boots and the other will take your pants, and where does that leave us? A penis has its own ground, buried in its little semi-colon mind, there's the image of a house, of a lush yard, of a bouncing hound awaiting its arrival.


Once--minutes ago? Less?--a man with a faint goatee and mouth like a worn paperback stepped up beside me. He was smoking a joint and talking about John Cage. I told him I didn't know John Cage. "Motherfucker!" he exclaimed, and leaped into infinity. Then he was back. That's how it happens here, like Shoots & Ladders. Remember that game? It's frustrating now, after reading Derrida, to see no opposition between a shoot and a ladder. There's no game. That's how this cigarette man felt. "John Cage," he said, his entire face defeated, "well the dude made music into--not even into--just made it reality."

"I don't know if I'd like that," I said.

"Oh," he said, "oh, motherfucker, you wouldn't! You would not!" And he leaped again, this time returning with a mangled bike reeking of tornado.


Occasionally visitors get cold. This is to be expected. Shiver enough and, off in the distance, the great lips part. This place, believe it or not, cares. Not exactly unconditional love, but a real sense of humanity. Foam issues forth like a sudden growth of hair and even the children stop screaming. What's that sound, they seem to say. They cock their heads to the sky. "Plunk. Plunk," one says. "It's hollow and wet," another says. Across the clouds a comet, like a sparkling wedding ring, flies. Then it rains. It's not a perfect metaphor, but it will work. The woman pulls up her hose, ties her skirt in place. In the scratched mirror she's even more handsome than before, the queen of all biology, the rodeo princes has slew the minotaur and so returns to her lunch break.


Toss a cat off the Edge of the World and it will bounce. This does not mean Sasha's dead. Watch the claws, they go first, drawing in, then the paws, a fuzzy grape, drying, sunken and sucked into the leg bones, into the ribs, like teeth in a blender, the head rolling open, canines as horns, the slap slapping, but it's not the rough tongue; it's the nude blue tail's power line convulsing and the sadness of what's been done, not to the cat, but to your soul's tender youth, how it will now always remember this moment, holding it against you, growing up, growing a beard, losing its hair, but still blaming you for how it handles corrosion, using words like, "aftermath" and "influence" and, worst of all, the very ones that makes atonement seem downright dumb: "the fire was nobody's fault".


The jug of water, thank Christ. And here nothing's more colorful than water. Here you dash it on the arm, on the chest, on the gracefully arched shin, and in that moment, the sweetest muteness. Water is the context of the mirror, not the mirror itself. Many talk about Triton as if he were the union of Poseidon and Amphitrite, his great conch and sourgold fork, but this is like saying hydrogen and oxygen are water, this is like saying song and bird are flight, eye and steal are hard. This is like saying, Here I am! At the Edge of the World! The giant is dead, so what's next?


Yesterday, or the approximation of yesterday, a boy and girl arrived. The boy could not see The Edge of the World so he could not step off of it. The girl saw the edge and cried out to the boy, telling him to stop, to look down. "What?" the boy said. "You'll fall," the girl said, or, "why aren't you falling?" She reached out and took his hand, and he saw the edge but it was above him, already slicing him in two, so neatly, a notebook page, the girl drawing all their hands back, flipping his front layer free, every organ in-tact, at least for the time that remained, at least long enough for him to catch himself reflected in her cheeks: the liver and stomach, the large and small intestines, cuddled onto the dish of his lost-white skin. But the appendix--oh that impish bean of organ, indignant with its superfluous name--well, it attempted escape. It drifted, off into the ether on its angel hair ileum. The boy, thinking, in reflection, this bit of himself a bug, this bit of himself the enemy of all still and precious moments, crushed it in his fist. Later, years later, the girl, now a very hungry woman, recalls the sound. Unfortunately, though, she cannot recall the context. She could not recall where she had been and what, exactly, the value of a sound might be if, in your memory, its echo cannot be duplicated. So she returned to her driving, creeping those highway shoulders, in her passenger, half-asleep, dozing in the high desert sun, a stack of geology books.


Other times the Edge of the World comes to me. I'll be sleeping or cooking or brushing my teeth when some corner peels loose, some frame begins to shiver. "Baby?" my second wife says. "Baby?"

More about the ladder? They say it was designed by destiny, but she never used it. For three thousand years she stood between its gray-hot wrists, holding one foot out, arms folded, the child at the pool's lip. I won't do it. It's like to joke that I'm allergic to destiny, but what I mean is it blinds me with anger. But go on, give it your own shot. Step out deaf behind yourself and you will soon see what the world stands for and what the edge stands for. You will soon see that the thicker the sound, the louder the black-red light, the harder it is to finish.


Exercise: Walk along the Edge of the World. Something curious happens. There's the pile of rocks in the shape of a beach. And the old bit of garden hose. Keep going. There's the hallway. It will remind you of a wall in your own room, of the frustration that accompanies its familiar skin, its need to end that goes on and on like a want. There's the spot where your hands start walking like your feet and your feet lift up, almost painfully, to rest behind your head. There's the moment you feel so full of the future you want to throw it up, but you don't. You hang on, you fight it back down like the veteran drunk, drinking as much of the past as you can, drinking and drinking, and swaying in the recollections--your most random birthday, your brother's worst smell, your grandfather crying so hard he's laughing, and that laughter pushes against your spine from eight sides until the comfort is so much to bear you want to give your love to the first homeless woman you see. But keep going, you must keep going. You know why.


We have put up a sign. At first there was concern, but erosion is not a problem. Property rights are not a problem. Garishness is certainly not a problem. The problem is how to navigate its content and its discourse. We thought that in putting it up, not as a warning, but as a sort of Welcome!...Goodbye!, they would feel more, feel more about the edge of the world. But they don't feel more. How do we know? We can feel it in the movement of the ground as they pass, as they near without nearing. Someone suggested the sign was too large, but according to what? According to how soft it actually is? Someone else suggested we design the sign to not look at all like a sign but like a great, wet sigh--because that's something you can do at the edge of the world. Great idea! At the time, we were all for it, but as no one who's here is fully here, and as the edge of world isn't so much a place as it is a characterization of the actions between one place and the other, well, we completed the wetness with no problem, but the sigh itself never came about. It was depressing. We were depressed. In fact, we're still waiting. Or maybe we're not, as someone else, someone new, is about to point out; he's directing us to place our hands on our chests; he's directing us to wait patiently to be relieved.

Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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