S E E (THE MAKER OF IMAGES)
Naked by the meandering river. Murky water duplicated me. I said to the copy, “It is you I first see this morning of all mornings. Walk with me awhile. Bear my burden of the world. Will this day be better than yesterday?”
The dirty water rippled laughter at me.
The dirty water me laughed and said “You are a sad one, naked man. You see much more than a man should see. You feel much worse than a man should feel. Luckily, you have such broad shoulders! Bear your own burden!”
“You wait and see,” I said without much conviction. “Wait ‘til you see what I see.”
The taunting echo of rippling water…
I donned the colors of many coats. Blank canvas. I reached with the longest arm for the sacred weapons of my warfare. Easel, paint, brushes…
I mouthed the magic words and the magic words mouthed me. I waved the wand of unquenchable visions. A leftward mouth…I drew a leftward mouth and the promise of words.
I dissolved into a…
The dream. I dissolved into the dream…I dissolved into all dreams.
At the corner of entry by the fount of shades in a blurry shrine under the hereafter tree at the crossroads of hysterical shrieks, Eshu lurked like a night in the thief. He hollered a warning. “I shall always be near you. Beside. Behind. Before. Everywhere! You’re in my world now, Maker of Images. That spells trouble. I shall always be near you.”
I didn’t want the crafty one dragging impossible shadows after me. Valium in a greedy gourd. I poured palm wine in his mouth. He drank himself into a stupor. The sediment unveiled a track. I ventured fearfully into a waiting world of open doors.
Sudden space kills the unprepared mind.
Sudden death to sudden space.
“Magic,” I whispered, “Magic.”
With a flourish, I pencilled a war ship at the distant edge where the waters cascaded silently into eternity’s open mouth and the bashful sky kissed the sea’s wet lips. War ship flying the triumphant flag of recent conquest. War ship.
“Worship here long?” the round woman in the round hat asked.
“Not long. Not too long,” I replied.
“You’re Margaret, aren’t you? From across the canal?”
And I fired right back, “Don’t call me Margaret. It a woman name.”
And she said, “Well, what are you, sweetheart?”
And I looked at me just to be sure she was crazy and Lord God Almighty in the Heaven and everywhere two breasts ballooned before my eyes and one of them was stuck in a junior’s mouth and I cried, “Dearie, dearie me, the Lord God Almighty in the heaven and everywhere He goan do it once again! Jus’ like He made water into sweet-tasting wine hallelujah, He goan perform a sex change. And would you know He didn’t even ask my permission?”
And she asked incredulously, “You was a man?”
And right back I said “Sure, Lord God Almighty in the Heaven and everywhere. In another life hallelujah! There was a life before the life we living now, dintcha know?”
And she opened them lipsticked lips and she said, “Tell me, who your man?”
And I let loose my gone-crazy laugh and the black teat it pop out of the junior’s wet sucking mouth and I said, “My man him the father of my baby hallelujah. But don’t you go reminding me of him. He jus’ a memory now. He gone with the war.”
And her eyes grew curiouser and curiouser. “Which war’?”
And I said right back, “The war. Any war. All wars don’t change. All wars the same. They goan take away the man of all the womens and the father of all the babys.”
And so I sketched a footbridge into the dark city. The sour memory of forbidden pleasure stormed in space. The clouds squirmed sickeningly in unvoiced protest. The fumes looked unhealthy, contrived, special effect smoke from machines hidden inside the clogged bowels of countless chimneys. I poked the clouds with a dithering finger and there was rain.
The unclothed children who hadn’t seen water since they were manufactured laughed and played in the black rain until they died of pneumonia. Their producers copulated and brought them back to life to breathe recycled air.
A faint breeze raced out of nowhere. A giant bubble followed the faint breeze. Several giant bubbles followed the giant bubble that followed the faint breeze. There were people trapped inside the giant bubbles that followed the faint breeze. Hunger had etched its trademark scars on their faces. They looked grotesque in their anguished clawing for breath…for food…
I dipped my hand in a river of blood. I hefted a saber of light. I slashed the bubbles and set the people free. They floated in disembodied grace. Above all woes. So light no pain could chain. They did obeisance to me. They said I was God.
…into the city.
I saw a broken man. I followed a broken man. His blotchy face framed blood-filled eyes. He cradled a listless faith that shuffled between the left the right the center. He spoke to me. He said “I used to love women and full breasts. Then I met a wo¬man with too many breasts. She said she loved me. I ran.”
I told him that wasn’t my business.
He said “Can’t you be your brother’s keeper?”
I said he wasn’t my brother. All my brothers died at birth and the last one took my mother with him. I am brotherless and motherless and just plain less.
“I could be your father figure…”
He stole that from a song. I accused him of plagiarism.
“Do you want to know why I’m so thin?”
I told him I didn’t care much and it wouldn’t make any difference.
He told me anyway. “She took too much. I said take a little and give me the money. She pushed pursed lips into the crook of my elbow and sucked so hard. She sucked too hard. Her cheeks swelled until there was no more blood to suck. She said my blood would save another life better than mine. And she didn’t even give me the money. Do you want to know why I’m so thin?”
I assured him he’d told me already. He cried.
The broken man cried.
He said he needed a flyer.
Money. No money.
He needed a lift. A push. Something honestly high! A series of protracted explosions in the bloodstream. A flyer. Just a little height. Swish the shadows swash the light. Align his colliding senses. A little something from the something man!
I couldn’t help him. I told him I couldn’t help him. I warned him we were getting close to a marketplace. He looked like a mad man. I warned him they could stone him in the marketplace.
I saw his moment bent out of shape by the passing heat of warped time. He had little
The broken man inched up to his feet. The earth was quicksand sucking hungrily at his wobbly legs. He failed to rise beyond the knees. He crawled into the road into the distance wailing, “Give me money!”
A young lady walked faster, panicky, clutching her tiny bag as if to give a cold heart some heat.
“See your morder the morder of a witch like you please gi’me money chewin’gum money pleeeeeaaaase!”
The young lady ran into the road into the distance.
The street ran.
The city ran.
Gravity unchained what was left of the broken man’s mind and he drifted to the periphery of dimensionless thought. He crawled past one million beggars who held out their cracked cups for him to fill with whatever remained of his emptiness.
I hastened up from the sand to listen. The wind was talking. The distance-cracked rumble of heraldic drums. A forgotten village urgently summoning its scattered children to the village square.
Charcoal on youthful skin, he stirred in the writhing stomping kicking frame of a warrior painted for war. “The Milky One has been sighted in the area!” he bellowed. The women and the children retreated from the fire in his eyes, the eruption that was his breath, the whiplash of his many gesticulations. “You know him. Tales of his deeds have followed our race through several generations. I’m talking about the Milky One who shook long hands with the people of Tunmida just before all their able-bodied where stolen like common cattle. He has come to offer us that same long hand…in friendship he says. Are there invisible cracks in his smile? Should we take the hand or should we cut it off?”
“…Take the hand…cut it off… ake the ha…it off…the ha…t off…e ha…off…ha…”
Feverish feet stirred the dust to grab suddenly frenzied winds. Interest was the rampaging horse exciting every tongue. A scrawny youth collapsed, jerking spasmodically at the fitstool of epilepsy. A shuddering mother hugged her left breast and coughed into the embrace of her ancestors.
And then all froze as Old Age spoke.
“We shall take the hand.”
Transit to sudden speech. The horse that was interest rampaged again and excited every tongue. The roots and plants earnestly discussed their fate. Barks expanded. Fingery roots probed beneath the earth’s coy wrapper. Green talk. Green walk.
The writhing stomping kicking frame of a warrior painted for war stiffened. He could hear it. The people could hear it. Old Age could hear
“Perhaps I should stir the memory of you who do not remember. Many seasons ago, they captured our fathers. They put them inside great vessels that sailed endless waters and they were never seen again. I say they may do it all again!”
Green talked again. The talk was peace. Green walked again. The walk was peace. The writhing stomping kicking frame of the warrior painted for war could hear it. The people could hear it. Old Age could hear
Old Age looked into their eyes. Old Age spoke wisdom directly to the fears in their eyes. “Time closes even the biggest of all wounds, little children. Let us take the hand.”
The writhing stomping kicking frame of a warrior painted for peace. “Go to the great drum. Speak to the land. Tell the Milky One that once again, our arms are open wide to embrace him. We hope, unlike his forefathers, he will not clasp them in chains.”
The Milky One came.
As once did his forefathers, he clasped them all in chains.
That was just his way.
Soon after the sun had turned to ice and the moon was disintegrating sand, the tortoise zipped right past the hunter’s dog as a snail over¬took my runaway shoes. The oil-soaked brush gave the unicorn life. The unicorn flapped angeldust wings. The unicorn ripped off my Jimi King but left the Hugo Boss. I carried the unicorn and we climbed the sky.
My outspread hands scooped and swept space aside, propelling us faster, farther, away from the precipice of uncertainties, away from the horizon of insanity. The wind tried to hinder us, but the unicorn was awake and the unicorn pierced its heart with a golden horn. The unicorn said power was mine. The unicorn said power had set me free.
A big black bird with bleeding eyeballs watched me.
A big black bird with bleeding eyeballs watched the unicorn.
The unicorn said its work was done.
The big black bird with the bleeding eyeballs watched me. Blood from its leaking eye colored the sky. Its windstorm breath whipped up timeless decay. Bulldozer jaws unlocked to reveal bulldozer teeth. “How tall are you?” it cracked the pod of a riddle.
“Tall enough to touch this sky,” said I. “Tall enough to be free. Tall enough to deserve respect. Tall enough to be me.”
The big black bird eyed me warily. “I see you now know the way of the world. I am as tall as you,” it pursued.
“I am as tall as none,” I said.
The big black bird lost its wings.
The big black bird continued to bleed.
The big black bird ceased to breathe.
The big black bird said its work was done.
I erased me from its dwindling memory, but the big black bird’s eyeballs had recorded me in blood and would not could not did not unfreeze. I plummeted back to earth. I thought I was still free.
On the projectile path, I saw mountains wearing wigs of tainted snow, sandpiles shifting sluggishly in the breeze, a sun trapped in a fleeting blink, waters drilling subterranean passages, volcanoes puffing on giant cigarettes, valleys spreading willing thighs…
My senses enlarged to encapsulate the boundlessness of everyplace, but the wings of freedom dropped off and the sand that was not hot found my feet and the sand that was not cold found my feet and the sand that was not hard found my feet and the sand that was not soft found my feet and the sand that was not sand found my feet and…
I found my feet.
On the right, a limping scorpion scratched the sky with oil-blackened pincers. The scorpion cried. On the left, a white-cloaked prayer warrior scratched the sky with supplicating hands. The man cried.
See, they wailed in one torn voice.
I met two handicapped dreams, neither of which I could recall. They chorused, “We used to be yours! You wanted to change the world! You promised to feed the hungry! What happened to you? You deserted us!”
A jumble of images flitted at high speed across an incoherent mind.
Asleep. I was not awake.
I didn’t have to answer. You don’t always have to answer when you sleep.
The images pummeled with the persistence of oceans hitting the land since time’s morning. I opened doors and flooded
drowned my mind.
Currents cruel slapped me awake.
The dreams were dreams.
I held tight the symbol of speed.
In my haste, I scurried past Time, that vast and restless entity, without the customary salutation. She sent Weariness to claim my feet.
Time filled a much-repaired throne, her face as wrinkled as the folds of forever. She was a woman with a woman’s resilience, a being of scars who had discovered a tolerance to unfathomable pain.
“As expected of a child who didn’t wait nine months in the womb, you lack manners.”
Of course she knew my history. “Forgive me, Seasoned One. I have so much to do and that is why I hurry.”
Scorn. “You hurry.” Scorn. “You must hurry.” Scorn. “So long as you ignore me, you have to hurry.” A pause. “What ails you?”
Displeasure clouded her face. “Specifics, Maker of Images, I work with specifics. Figures, facts, names!”
“Age,” I said. “Senility. Impermanence. Generation and regeneration. Beginnings and endings. Death.”
“All are my little retainers. Even a bored woman feels that occasional need to cause a stir.”
“Seasoned one, I am in pursuit of tomorrow and the time you gave is short. Please get them off my trail.”
“Come now, Maker of Images, think awhile. Even EarthWest consults me as it eternally chases EarthEast. I am the beaten path! How do you hope to grab the revelation in ignorance of me, the genesis?”
“I do what I must do, Seasoned One. Do unchain me, please.”
A smile? Was that a smile?
“I admire courage, Maker of Images. I admire you. But I am Time and I will know someday soon if you’re just another lie when your buttocks are blown wide open by the winds of another truth. Proceed on your quest. And for the moment, consider me a friend and ally.”
My feet again reached, found wings, guided by the seasons. I found the symbol of speed. I pushed forward
through the countless molecules of the canvas, dragging my palette that dripped only blood and all the favorite colors of unorganized existence. I moved swiftly past the silhouette of unending Time past the central nervous system of a collapsing galaxy past the heaven of little children past the hell of Satan’s oven past a screaming sunspot past Humpty Dumpty’s shuddering pieces past a black hole
bloody hole all kinds of impossible holes past a fringe planet inhabited by vacuum past a tipsy wall at the end of everything past a baby god learning how to kick the planet Earth ball past a metallic womb past a nightmare laying fresh eggs in someone’s backyard past a weightless directionless limitless past…
I found myself behind the wheel of a planet-mover.
I shoved myself into another realm.
I ordered the palette to cease spilling red.
Blood continued to flow.
Into a dark jungle full of screams.
The creatures in it were not in it.
They had been extinct for a million years.
Ghost light. Ghastly night. Scores of sick glows dotted the grim surface of every diseased leaf, blinking lamely, a zillion fading stars hanging out on a worn-out night. A long time ago, the sore in the mouth of a distant crater had burst open to rain corrosive pus on the jungle and its now obliterated breath.
I saw a river.
I saw a river black.
I knew it was my destiny to cross the river black.
I hopped from precarious rock to precarious rock until jittery feet left the bridge to find security on the black wet sand. I saw a mutant child. A charred child in a basket by the riverside. I saw a mutant child. She was all torso. No legs. No arms. Just a wriggly naked torso. No expression on her expression. All painful torso. A mutant child. She drooled all over a toe sucked sore. All torso.
“Who are you? Why do you hound me?”
I opened my mouth to answer. Nothing came out.
I answered. I knew I answered. Nothing came out.
“Close your mouth,” her voice boomed again. “Open your mind.”
In my head. She was speaking in my head.
“Yes, I am speaking in your head. What do you want here?”
I closed my mouth and spoke in my head. “I’m looking for God.”
“Don’t look here,” she rasped irritably, as if too many apparitions had stopped by on the same stupid quest. She sucked on the toe. Smoke clustered ominously above her hairless head, a silky noose poised to drop. “Not here at all.”
“Where can I find Him?” I wanted to know. I needed to know.
“Recalled. She’s been summoned for debriefing. That’s diplomatese for psychiatric help. Overload, you know. Broke down. This is the interim. You’re between Gods now.”
“Aha!” I exclaimed in my head, “There’s no one in charge! That accounts for the chaos. It explains this. It explains everything.”
“Nothing explains anything!” She sucked on a toe. “Nothing explains being left here all alone. Nothing.” She sucked on a toe.
I said “How do you do that without arms and legs?”
She laughed. The laughter was full of holes. “Practice.” She sucked on a toe. “Perfect practice.” She whipped me with the strands of a wordless song. It peeled my skin. I did not bleed. I had no blood. “Ah,” she began again, “I see the holocaust got to you too.” She sucked the smoky toe. “She left me.”
“Who? Who left you?”
“Use your head, stupid! If you can’t use yours, have mine!”
She flipped her head into my hands. It was hot. Sticky. The skin was dirty wet leather. I dropped it.
It veered sharply towards the sky.
Her body jerked upright. The windpipe sucked a toe. “Give me my head, stupid!” she shrieked. “What did you do with it?”
“I…I’ll get it.”
I followed the head into the sky. She grabbed my legs.
I said to her in my head, “How do you do that without arms and legs?”
“My head, stupid! Get my head!”
We were too heavy for the sky.
I lost the sky.
We fell into her basket.
It was a dark jungle full of screams.
Discarding all hints of substance, I magicked on a stray hipbone into the graveyard next door. I saw a hole forcefully scooped. A rectangular meteor had dug itself a grave.
The meteor was a man.
Around him in the musty hole was a heap of graying skulls with their teeth grinning clattering emptily. The meteor man had a skull head that slowly grew out into the black earth. Roots and creepers crawled out of his earsnosemouth. A dead rat poked its worm-eaten snout out of the meteor man’s vacant eye socket. The rat had no eyes.
“Who are you?” the rat asked.
Said I, “I am Oriade, the head that wears the Crown.”
The black rat tweaked black whiskers. Strands of hair and flesh dropped off. “The Crown has no business in the grave,” the rat said.
I laughed my wise laugh. “Even the Crown must bow to the grave. The Crown has business wherever the Crown chooses. That is why the Crown is the Crown. Besides, my people are here. I have come to see them.”
The black rat stretched black lips to sneer. I saw black maggoty gums and teeth. The strain was too much for the cankered snout. It disintegrated. The black rat scuttled back into the skull head, screaming for the maintenance department.
I followed it because I still had questions to ask. The ghosts and dead trees and skulls in the graveyard called my name. Said I, “Why do you call Oriade, the head that wears the Crown?”
And they cleared the topsoil on a patch to show me the passion buried amidst the crumbling rows. Guilt. Hate. Dread. Faith. Filth. Grief.
Said I, “Don’t you have anything with a happy ending?”
And they cleared the topsoil on a patch to show me my corpse.
I laughed my wise laugh louder than ever before. “I read the Daily Times this morning. I know I’m not dead.”
And they cleared the topsoil on a patch to show me my obituary. The newspaper carried tomorrow’s date.
“Well, what if I die?” I said boldly, “I shall only come here to rest with you all.”
And they cleared the topsoil on a patch to show me they could not rest in darkness.
“What do you need the light for?” I queried. “The dead see no light and the living never
stay here long enough to become lost in the night.”
Cold conference. They clustered in the shadow and held a cold conference. And so I asked the meteor man, “What killed you?”
“Loneliness,” said the meteor man.
“Brief illness,” said another voice unasked.
“Hunger,” said a third
“Death,” said the faraway dead.
They tried to drown me in the deluge. I plugged my sensitivity until I’d killed all sound. In the sudden silence, I met another who looked like joy mortally wounded, slowly changing into pain. She cackled piercingly, “Don’t you want to know what killed me?”
“I know,” said I. “The world.”
She diffused into the shadow I saw the shadow I saw someone something slow dying in the shadow said I to the someone something slow dying in the shadow, “I am Oriade, the head that wears the Crown. Speak!”
And the shadow I saw the shadow I saw the someone something slow dying in the shadow turn into the ghosts the dead trees the skulls. And a grainy voice haltingly asked, “What drove the Maker of Images into frenzy?”
And I laughed my wise laugh loudest. “The no-name-no-cure disease. The no-name-no-cure disease ate up his lungs his intestines his heart and when it was done, the no-name-no-cure disease ate up his brain, leaving emptiness behind. Eat my sins and hope to die. The no-name-no-cure disease drove the Maker of Images into a creative frenzy.”
And the ghosts the dead trees the skulls nodded soberly. “Now that you know, tell the world,” they chorused. “Tell.”
I fumbled in the blankness of cold smoke for the tear in the universe through which I’d dissolved into the dream. My heart boomed patternlessly. Each beat juddered me. I tried to moan the moan of weary conquest. I didn’t. There was no more room for sound. The snail’s gone away. It left a shell behind.
At the comer of exit by the fount of promise in a blurry shrine under the hereafter tree at the crossroads of hysterical shrieks, Eshu hollered his grudging welcome.
“You outwitted me this time, Maker of Images. But your night will someday fall. And then you will sleep and never wake. You mark my words…Your night will fall.”
I exploded through the universal rip.
The rip healed as I found oneness with the flesh.
And there it was, the undying child of imagination and tempestuous heat. Spawn of reverie and galloping shadows. Momentsblotsgreenspathswindsmudgestunnelsgroans. Dark forests. Bloody skies. Stained sand. Talking graves. Seedy nights. Bowed heads. Cosmic scumheaps. Stolen days.
Fugitives. Fugitive pieces. A compendium of fugitive extracts. Fugitives. A choking canvas.
The war. Mutant children. Sickly suns. Unicorns. Cold conference. Recycled air. All torso.
The colors were not bright. The colors had no laughter. The colors were no more colors. The colors were dark and depressing and spoke in haunting whispers of vacuums and shrieks seeking the portal of escape. The feelings were edged, primal, excruciating as birth, barren as death.
The unreal was real. Commonplace.
I looked at what I’d wrought.
Hallucination, first born offspring of a daze.
But the work was done.
The fire I felt the fire I felt the fire drain away like so much rain water dripping dropping off tired leaves the fire I felt the fire…
I reached for my brush again.
At the bottom of the crowded canvas on the shocking black patch below the mouth I scribbled a word shocking bright.
Even the night could have its name written in light.
That’s what I named it.
Now the world will know.
© Sola Osofisan