Climbing the People, published 2007 in Snow Monkey #18
I see them everywhere. I watch them leave their doorways and poke about in front of me. Their abundance makes them useful for climbing. But because they move their bodies so much, it's a little difficult to gain a hold and proceed from one to another. When i manage to, i catch only the delicate features that stick out. Their interiors're stuffed with discouraging fog.
But on the exterior the people're often pleasant, and sometimes even friendly. They say hello and smile. I return these faces, always the willing mirror.
Even if i wanted to, i wouldn't know how to manage my way through the fog to the real surfaces of these people. I can discern no pathways.
I can't imagine what these people might be harboring in their elegant courtyards, under such cover. Perhaps even my dreams'll never reach there.
Sometimes when i go to grab hold of a prominence, i find it necessary to knock something aside first, so i can get a secure grip. In this way i end up touching the people's food, music, shoes, cigarets, coffeemugs, whatever they've chosen to attract to themselves for the moment.
The local mailwoman arrives in her square, tin car, but she has no mail for me. "Are you sure?" i persist. She answers: "I'm sorry. Maybe next time." She's dressed all in blue, but her car's white, like the mail she carries. I watch the black tires trundle her off.
I don't bother asking explicit directions from people when i'm uncertain about where i am and how i should be proceeding in order to get to where i want to get to, because they always seem confused when i talk about directions. But when i describe to them what sorts of qualities i'm looking for in my journey, the people respond with animation, ably correcting my misconceptions. I change my direction accordingly.
But it takes so long just to get from place to place! Fucking christ, i think, how long today's project is getting to be! The people mirror one another tirelessly, but the proper destination is never in my sight, and no platforms yet offer me rest.
It's with much anxiety that i'm suddenly aware of the chimerical oiltruck approaching. I've been warned about these guys, but this is the first time i've seen them. I understand that they want to mine me for my crude. Probably they're aware that i'm poor and that therefore i can't fight them.
The oilmen clarify themselves gradually, and i know there's no stopping them. Even should i change my direction, it seems unlikely i'll be able to escape.
I grab hold of a girl who i can tell must be interesting, because of the peculiar sounds she draws in. These sounds give me little pulls just before they disappear, as if urging me to follow. I want to get closer, as the sounds do, and see what's inside, but i and the girl appear to be divided by certain kinds of knowledge, or else the lack of them. I think: If only i could find some way in to her, then she could become my destination, and i wouldn't have to climb any longer.
I assume, also, that were i able to get closer to her, or at least comfortably into her fog, then the oilmen would be more challenged to acquire me. But as has been the case with every person i've climbed, i can discern no accommodations for me either in or around her.
The mailwoman graces me again, but affords me no mail. Reading my concern, she says: "Don't worry; they're just prospecting today. They're not drilling yet." I want to believe her so that i can be soothed. I say: "Oh. Well, that's a relief. At least for now." She nods: "Just make sure you're not out in the open too long. Especially during workdays." "Right." "Maybe i'll have something for you tomorrow." "Okay. I'll see you then." I watch her leave, then i go on climbing.
The oilmen pass me by, innocuously. They don't even glance in my direction. Now i can relax.
But even after all the time that i've spent climbing, still i've found no landing. I wonder: Why're things so sparse, today? How much farther will i need to climb before a landing, if not my destination, finally catches me?
I ask people questions to this effect, but nobody seems to understand what i mean. When my words suggest to them that there're roofs to my journeys, they look perplexed. I have to conclude that their universe has no roofs. In their worlds, i think, no landings exist that need to be reached, several times a day, nor even people who require climbing. I think: I wish i could get closer to some of these more interesting people and their expansive, fortunate worlds! I look for pathways, but i can't find even one. I think: Maybe i have to practice my eyes. With practice, i might eventually start to discern the invitations. Everything humanity writes it writes in code, after all. I have only to learn.
When finally i spy a landing, i throw my dreams ahead of me, and they settle in right away.
Posted by Owen Kaelin