Muck And Mire

by Phil Rockstroh

July 7, 2003


"Ah, whom can we ever turn to in our need?
Not angels, not humans, and already the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in our interpreted world."
--Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies *

Part 1: Mire

Widow's veils of steam rise from the blacktop highway. The sullen air
still grieves its loss. Years ago, men drained the swamp to put through
the old state road. It receded, but this was simply subterfuge: It
doubled back on us and its brackish water seeped into the lowlands of
the coastal basins of our minds.

We may have burned back the swamp's dense, green canopy, but still its
cacophony clutters our thoughts: Billboards, TV commercials,
telemarketers, junk mail, spam swamp our awareness: Our identities lost
amid its enveloping, virtual foliage: We have been sold the swampland of
our impenetrable lives by fast buck artists; we are surrounded by the
ersatz mating calls of the mass media, with its sales-pitch
stridulations, its croaking come-ons, until the trilling of ubiquitous
advertisements pervades our minds like the saturating emanations of
crickets, frogs, and nocturnal birds through a summer night.

Our own dreams have been diminished, have become as torpid as heat-dazed
alligators, Our capacity for introspective thought has grown sluggish in
this swamp, Our words, sodden with ennui... sentences slog through
censorial silt then sink into aphasic muck -- but this is deceptive:
Violence in a swamp comes suddenly and without warning -- then just as
rapidly returns to the illusion of stillness. So reports the six o'clock

The swamps congress of chaos has seized us where we don't live: In the
hidden places within us that are kept secret even to ourselves -- There,
we have taken to wearing the swamp's green canopy as a cape -- We have
adorned ourselves with its small shards of sky like costume jewelry, a
shattered sky we have only seen in glimpses through the dark,
encompassing tree tops. Beneath the level of our preoccupied
perception -- we are perpetually on the prowl, We wear copperheads,
cottonmouths and coral snakes like mardi gras beads. Any obstruction we
meet along our way only intensifies our coiled aggression. We have a head
full of snakes: We hiss at traffic -- We will kill for the territorial
imperative of a parking space.

Near dawn, we stretch in our sleep, opening our arms, and, in an act
unbeknown to ourselves, release a billion humming birds. Such vast
numbers of them pour forth from us that they darken the morning sky --
and with the billions upon billions of individual flutterings of their
billions upon billion of individually beating wings -- they create such an
immense windstorm that it flattens the Walmart on the outskirts of
town -- The very structure they drained the wetlands to build. Of
course, everyone believes it was a hurricane that caused the carnage,
but I know that explanation is only a comforting cover story -- because I
saw the towering nimbus, comprised of tiny emerald birds, gather in the
treeline then rise from the wilderness of our unlived desires.

Part 2: Muck

Now: We muck about, searching for an explanation for these perplexing
days of terror and endless war, for these treacherous times of ascendant
tragedy that have swamped us with anger and apprehension -- But there is
not a granule of novelty in this news, all you denizens of history will
avow: Only a variation of the same inanities -- that for brutal
millennia, after brutal millennia -- the ignorant have attributed to the
endless anger of the desert God, of his snit-fit Jihads, of his fever
dreams of Armageddon, of his unceasing cosmic conflagrations enacted
beneath a limitless sky....

We clutch these desiccated myths close to ourselves, as the swamp
silently spreads around us, surrounding and devouring another dying
empire, overtaking and covering us like the rock carvings of forgotten
gods, now overgrown by jungle foliage.

The veritable swamp stands in testament that we are deluded yet again:
It whispers from the solemn waters of its black bayous that these
unfolding events are unfurling as quickly as hot-house orchids for all
the usual reasons, in all the usual ways: Do not look skyward, the swamp
suggests, but deep within ourselves: For when we fear the exploration of
the bewildering landscape of our own dreams, motives, and desires -- we
attribute that wilderness to the actions of others -- and then we set
upon one another, killing and being killed, until the moist ground is
composted with corpses.

We may even kill all of our enemies, but the swamp within cannot be
subdued. It has woven our future in wisteria and draped our dreams with
Spanish moss. It has sketched our portrait on its canvas of umber;
there, our lives limned in lichen, the swamp avers: The impersonal
leveling of the everyday narrative of decay may very well be the only
omnipresent God.

Born in the fury of a gnat-flurry, spontaneously composed and decomposed
as an aria of rot by and for singing slime mold, our fate is the fodder
of schadenfreude for sea slugs and refulgent mirth for fungus -- while
prairie, ocean, tundra, mountain, and swamp swap antidotes of our never
ending folly.

But you didn't hear any of this from me, I'm far too mired in my own
swamp of self-absorption to be allowed in on the joke.

*  (Excerpt from "The First Elegy," translated by Stephen Mitchell, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1992)  (back)

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Phil Rockstroh, a self-confessed gasbag monologist, is a poet and a musician who lives in New York City (Manhattan). Rockstroh is co-author, with Chris Chandler, of Protection From All This Safety, (Portals Press, 1997, ISBN: 0916620301). He's had short fiction published in Silver Web Literary Magazine, Thin Ice, Brutarian, and poems included in a few anthologies, such as "From a Bend in the River." Owed royalties galore by various publishers, Phil Rockstroh sent his first contribution to Swans with the queasy relief that he would not be financially compensated for it.

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Published July 7, 2003
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