Manual of Constraints
Collection of tales.
I wrote Chameleomancy during and after the year that Wendy Walker and I spent in Morocco, mostly in Essaouira (Mogador), where the book is set. The protagonists are a pair of chameleons, Tetta and Haha, who were given us to drive out jnoon (evil spirits) from the apartment we were renting. Feeling very far from home, both delighted and terrified to be so, we became passionately interested in the lives of our chameleons and the problem of creating an environment for them and finding out what they liked to eat. The book traces the turns of that emotional roller-coaster ride.
Towards the end of the year in Morocco I wrote a poem about another chameleon, The Bold One, who came to live with us together with her sister, The Shy One. The Shy One returned to New York and lived out her life in trees near the sunny windows of our apartment, together with her companion, the second Bold One. They were free-range chameleons, and many of our friends and some of my students will remember them and the elaborate precautions we took in feeding them (live crickets) or in protecting them with shawl-draped screens from being awoken when friends came for dinner. But the first Bold One died in Morocco after a series of adventures associated with objects: a key, a pen, a cowskull, a basil plant, a shred of fisherman's net that she climbed on. She was buried on a hillside by the road as we were driving to the airport at the end of our year. Many of these objects went into her burial urn to help her to climb to the sky and become a star, the afterlife of chameleons.
Tools for Dying
The Chameleon's Book of the Dead
1. Bold one
Words are rooms and change aspects--it’s how they’re entered. Then happen differently and turn colors. Grow a tail and feet, independent eyes and look back ahead: ah, an exit, and turn themselves out it, boldly.
Creaturely--you’re answerable. Words are subjects, travel, and must be followed out through the garden hunting. The bold one stalks dangerous meat, launches a tongue with a bone in it. Swallows nectar, a venomous sting.
Follows the terrible juncture. Journey turns through agony, numbness, thirst, blindness. The stalk fails or the claw to grasp further. The bold one turns into the sky and scrambles toward what constellations small mortal lives make for the shy one to trace, but later. First away.
So shaken, others have lost their place or their hold on it and they developed. Turning out well, reflective, sweetness turned beacon. A blazon and as it were eyes; the bold one sees the night is turning. The way is not blazed. They set in horizon haze, eyes under lids dreaming.
As if paralyzed on the lip of a chasm and love were wanting. Wanting a monster. Fearing the place and bound to that. Plunge directly or revert to room.
Love places a turned night around the bold one. A jar. Find legs and all around a gate. There is no abiding place.
All that budded from the gardened heart and all that billowed from the trim-rigged and jaunty heart, all that suddenly blasted. Love the monster shrouds the inert subject in drapery of ladder; the bold one is bound to climb. Always.
It’s a rigging. Unmended, a raiment of ravelling lappets and strands trailing. It’s a net holding ways of escape. A playful cage and fugues play at this interment for no one is stranded after all--no bold one. Levity in lieu of grave translated volumes of implication through which to climb story after story. Endless, draw the anchor.
Stripped of hide, nostrils turned horns--for brooding. Petrus Borel! The black roquelaure--ah, basilisk regarding the garden, eyeing lanes. Standing off. Hatred--of that failure of nerve at the threshold--all turning back--the narrow known yet again, that corridor of closed doors. Bah!
“Desert the hardened chambers of the skull--loll in the orbit, blank--read yourself out. Afraid to die?”
The bold one answers--immediately.
The dictate of sentience, telling that...creaturely weaving, articulation finished in fringe, terrain of tangled parallels, strands. Hairy. Yarn--fitted to the grip, but best to trust to several versions and splay. Shift forward every which way with that bold lovable long reach. Trespassing.
Turns of phrase bound in a lone strand. Winding, wound, sliced across the fibers, they disjoining in space or sleep--what breaks beyond is a dark telling. Vacant, packed--pick a way. Turn it out. Then it goes on.
This fruit will not feed one’s hunger, no fit to it till that wing off where not easily followed. Then batten and fatten unread. Grow an appetite to tempt the tongue from its late sad rigid coil. Aimed as true as ever. Not missing at all.
So creaturely words shoot to snap up meanings buzzing hungry around what has turned from roundness. Only a decomposing excites the fresh thought, and the reader waits alongside the matter. It breaks open then, spends its currency, juices thicken, a rich residue to fuel the hasty aimless flight that ends on the tip of the bold one’s tongue. Sovereign fancies--uttered for once.
The dry fig travels still on its string. Unknotted. Seeds of flight packed in earth. It’s company for a body. It’s a memory opening alongside a reader: all climbing out must be a hunt. Not just legs: a present taste, a gaping.
What’s to come. Will it.
This is what has died. Bear it, long barren. Memory’s skin cracked, warped, rasped by salt weather, airborne sand--a figured crust, lifted off, grain bared and its bearings known. Clean and settled. Writhes without moving.
This boulevard goes nowhere. It’s a périphérique. Some place to get lost. Stuck.
Turn it to a wall: gesture of locked menace, the clutch in the way. Faced bourn. Then what flies will touch there an instant. Alight on the limit--block turns quarry. Now a stalk though fruitless will if headlong carry the bold one across. That bar thought avenue.
Born to long--stick to it then.
The lamp was dark; you were no place to be found. We touched the switch; the room swelled with shadows; nothing changed. We ferreted in corners where your bold sorties raveled out, when cold and night knit. Your known disguises passed in review; still we could not trace you. On the base of the lamp iron rods curved, twists of black. One with eyes--turning.
A key for you now–hammered shaft, wrought wards wrested, hand and pliers, to a match. The lamp flared and lit a brilliant lock. Light welled in it, entailing luminous fastenings. But you slept below the glare, your tail a firm coil. The artifact was a disguise; the armor hardly prison. Mimic a bar and curtail your sentence. The forged turns creaturely–an open door, the room falls a way.
9. Leaves and flowers
A gaiety. Scale the glacier. Then if you die if you die if you die reaching dying is no very matter. A volume opening and routes branch through your content burst outline and go. Legendary eyes quit petrifying and travel–along other lines. Leaving.
A transpiring surface. Your buddings draw winged weathers that you’re the very tongue to bind. Then extend.
Spike into the light cladding disclosing. Scales turn out contrafactual cases and fall, then the dance pours through the packed room and chords release excited temperatures--and you’re no bulkhead now. But breathe.
10. One string
Two kingdoms at each other, again, banded hairs sawing at a twist but that not severed, a pitchy bight, meted out and out, in time, things noted, a string and spans succeeding, expiring implications and never a gravid mass–a dance, a round, genial pandemonium in lieu of that.
Bound to be unbound–other loss. Rid architecture of its stark loves. Here the drag rides the course so this will yaw–it follows. The promised land we made ourselves is one back, no destination of happy littoral. The ocean is the lot. Of course there may be no choice. The base is not abandoned, the intention is not encysted, the dose is not the song; dream and memory join the fleet and scatter, quick as fast; the wheel is not lashed to the helmsman, that stern rigor, but directions abound, the string is a braided web whose center is nowhere, whose circumference is nowhere, whose chords and radiants lead to ends and bounds warped round to continuation.
It holds certain possibilities. It will turn out to be satisfying.
Dispensed from a gate, handed out of shadow by tattoos: bold wads of pink followed by eyes–reserved energies. Florescence in delicate fannings, sheaf of fine stems, and in your garden blossoms bulged to the light, bed for your basking spread out across massed slender resources–bulkless. But now but dry, bent brown, the water a rich tea. Something spent.
Passed out. Porous weave, flaws in the fabric, the surround draws the seepage. You strained through a weave of notyou into more and alter that. Instill it with your bold virtue.
Death is a steep cure. It became you–that bloom of breathlessness. You lost your grip and the world wore on–an eroding cradle, headlong gulch, pulling at the fringes of a field, draining rare precipitation onto a road below, opening a view of beasts and sky, hills between, steps for your gait. How could you rest in the one place?
12. Brown paper, black pen
The world ground on, any single site glancing into night. Coming unstuck one gives words away and they disperse writhing, reeling, skipping, scrambling, scrawling across the vital involute turned surface–plain evidence. Stamped.
Changing terrain: the very ground of symbols is skin. The writing-painter pointed that out. It figures.
The nib travelled always never lifting, pressing on. You rested your throat on that point and slept. The nib dinted your skin, dipped deep and drew upon your dreams. Stylish reservoir–you’re well on your way to the next page. Leaving: you boldly turned stylus engraving that long active character of yours.
You sleeping mark. All that passed no more but an inkling traced on brown paper–sheets crumpled in folds. Something wrapped removed till you made your way up those spines and slept. Hide turned out to dream. Well, your inky concentration at that altitude–took up new stations as day drained up and out.
Punctuated sky: other bold eyes open to receive your impressions.
13. Earth and impatiens
It’s an outrage! Not to be born an instant: the skin, the mimic hide the world wears and wears it till the field steals your face. The ground buries you till you can’t tell what you would be seeing. Mask of mirror, veil of view, O terrible–tear it. Make yourself an expressionless hunch. Swell huge and split it. Climb out. At last.
We gave you our word for it. Dying isn’t it. It’s not the last word after all. It lies in rags beside you. You’re out of it quick–tender jewel, a dark ground sets you off to perfection.
Planted in earth and you’re a planet now–we observe you. When we see nothing we still see you never still–rarer earth, the uttermost yet of us. You are our bold one–we love no end