Anamnesis

—G.C. Waldrep


I

I have drawn a large circle
around the machine I use
to mimic the calls of birds.

Between the machine
& the edge of the circle
is where I live.

I imagine some walls.
I imagine some windows.

Mostly I sit very still, even
when the weather is fine.



II

About the machine: it is
of medium height, medium
build. It may use, but
does not require, electricity.

Sometimes I turn it on.
Other times I merely
admire the toothy precision
of its gears, its orifices.

I cover it with a variety
of cloths, on which I like
to watch the material world
settle: leaves, dust,
the wings of flying insects.

Sometimes I pull one
of the cloths over my head,
a blue one I like.
I am not a ghost, I repeat.

I am not a ghost,
the machine whispers.
It does not attract real birds.
That is not its function.



III

In the dark, I often mistake
the machine, covered,
for a body. I approach it
warily. Then I recognize it
& uncover the machine.

My brother, I sob, moving
to embrace the machine.

In the dark, my hands
pass right through
the machine, where I think
the machine must stand.

When I open my eyes
my brother is standing there.
His mouth is open.
I’m hungry, he says,
only it comes out, I’m freezing.

I cover him with the cloth.
One must keep a body
warm, in the woods at night.



IV

One would think, in spring,
it would be difficult
to distinguish machine-song
from actual birdsong.

My brother, disguised
as wind, paces the perimeter
of my circle, restlessly.

I take my small knife
from its sheath in my belt;
I sharpen the machine’s teeth.
Gradually a steady warmth
works its way into my
fingers, my hands & arms.

The forest contracts
like a human muscle.

Understand: it is not
the machine that is burning.



V

The history of the machine
is the history of the forest.
Once upon a time
a vast organism insisted
that we join it, so we did,
ghost-soldiers moving
through the trees. Memory
is not birdsong, is not
mere memory of birdsong.

Inside the machine is,
of course, another machine
which we cannot observe
directly, as long as
the machine is operational.

I move around the machine
within my circle. I eat,
sleep, pray, defecate, sing.
I observe minute changes
in the earth’s magnetic field.

The more one moves
around the machine,
the more machine there is.

The machine as a substitute
for memory.
I have written nothing
in the dust. I bind myself
to the machine, which glows.



VI

The ghost-soldiers all
want to touch the machine.
They can’t, because
they’re ghosts, & because
inside my chalk circle
the dead are not welcome.

That’s what the perimeter
is for. (Among other things.)

I aim the machine
at the ghost-soldiers
when I see them. They make
a curious sound in their
ghostly throats, as if
they were trying to speak.

Don’t try to speak, I implore.
Neither of us wants
to hear what you have to say
.

The ghost-soldiers all
want to touch the machine
because they think
it will cure them
of wanting to be human.

They’re right: it will. Only it’s
much too late for that now.



VII

The machine invites
the second hand to take
its pure rest,
alongside the first.

I’m shivering,
but I don’t say anything.

Speaking to the machine
only results
in more machines, &
my circle is only so large.

Pure rest, the machine
whispers. It wants a third
hand, a tongue, a lip.

Inscribe this psalm
beneath your own machine,
with the tool provided.

That’s what
the third hand is for.
Here, let me show you.



VIII

There is space inside
the machine. Some have
theorized a man hunches
there, a dwarf, a child,
someone in whose body
the mystery unravels.

There is no one inside
The machine is just
a machine. It thinks
machine thoughts. It
dreams machine dreams.

The fact that it is large
enough to contain
a body does not mean
that it contains one.

There are other fallacies
associated with the
machine, circulating
inside the forest.
They serve the forest
as a kind of blood.

With my knife, I stroke
the ghost soldiers’
lanky hair. With my voice,
I sing them lullabys.

They are comforted,
if only for a little while.



IX

In the moonlight my brother
inspects the machine:
knocks on it, adjusts
its flywheels & flanges.

The machine emits
a long, low cry,
a night-bird’s call.

What is that, my brother
hisses, tensing. That
is the machine
, I respond.

No, my brother says.
That other sound.

I listen to the silence.

There is no other sound,
I say. My brother vanishes.



X

The machine is not for sale.

The forest revolves
around its separate axis,
a miracle of photosynthesis.
It is, I am told, quite large.

(The ghost-soldiers sign
that the forest is large.)

Now & then I wonder
what the machine is worth.
As much as a horse?
As much as a hand?

Understory as birdweft.
I have two hands.
Would I trade one
to make the machine mine?



XI

It’s hard to accept
that the sky is not interested
in what the machine
has to offer. It seeps through
the canopy as moonlight.

Sky, breathes the machine.

We cannot all be heroes,
is one lesson
the ghost-soldiers learn.
Sometimes I read to them.
They make decent company
when the wind blows.

I place my one good hand
inside the machine, feel
a gentle pressure.
The machine is curious.

All is calm. Sky,
breathes the machine again.

For just a moment,
I recognize the machine
inside the machine.
Neither am I a hero, I know.
I pull my hand away.



XII

Without the machine,
my chalk circle would seem
a barren place.
No one would want to live here
in the machine’s absence.

Without the machine
we would nurse memories
of the machine, the machine
as we remembered it.

We would become frustrated
with the imprecision
of those memories, over time.

With the machine here
we don’t have to rely so much
on memory’s
uncanny mechanism.

We don’t know
how memory works, not
really. We cannot
inspect its moving parts.

The machine glistens,
bathed in fresh oil. Remember
to blink once for yes, twice
for no
, the body reminds itself,
adjusting its pulse-holster.

I am never hungry
when I am near the machine.



XIII

How to cure the machine:
the machine cures itself.
To cure & to repair
are two different operations.
The machine cures itself,
but it cannot repair itself.

Cure the machine
of what
, my brother asks.

In the twilight the machine
always seems slightly larger
than it actually is,
a curious optical illusion.
At such hours I turn away.

The forest is also
a machine, some say. If so,
am I then the man
inside the forest-machine?
Do I validate or invalidate
the experiment?

How to cure the forest
of the machine
, I murmur
to my brother,
but he’s no longer listening.

Perhaps I never had
a brother. Perhaps I, like
the machine, am blind.



XIV

The machine hovers
at the edge of the machine.
The forest watches
the algorithm unfold. Is this
death
, it asks, wonderingly.

No, I tell the forest.
It is not death.

The forest wants to touch
the machine’s ghost.
The forest sends its ghost-
soldiers to touch it
on the forest’s behalf.

A ghost can’t touch
itself, or another ghost.
This is part of the problem

of the machine, indeed
of any machine The forest
clutches at dead air,
what we call Time.
We keep breathing it in.

Like all ghosts, the ghost-
soldiers are less hungry
than thirsty for what hovers
outside the body, any body.
Even the machine-body.

No, I tell the forest.
It is not death.
You must find some other way
.



XV

The light inside the forest
is mostly electricity,
& also very small.
The machine scans for it.
The machine calls to it
in the language of birds.

Light never answers
a human call, the voice
of any living thing.
The machine is hopeful.

If light answers the machine.
If the body stumbles.

The forest covers itself
with the unbodies
of its ghost-soldiers,
the true believers.

They believe: in the forest,
the machine, everything.
I peel them carefully
from my circle’s edge.

No one is a citizen here.
I want to believe
I could be a good man.



XVI

I extract my heart
from the machine & replace
it with my other heart.
My brother approves. I can
see the scars on his neck.

I am pleased to have
two hearts. In this way
I move through time.

In the forest, abandoned
hearts evolve into
ghost-soldiers. They speak
from their wounds.

At one time I thought
the purpose of the machine
was to record their voices.
I was quite wrong:
the purpose of the machine

is to record their words.
The machine, in this
sense, is a cartographer.

I place my hands
on top of the machine,
absorb its warmth. Together
we rejoice, the machine
& I, in my second heart.



XVII

A ghost-soldier has no memory
because a ghost-soldier
is the agent of memory, a vessel.
They surround the machine.
My chalk circle keeps them out.

I want to love the ghost-
soldiers, I want to love the machine.
I jog in place, slap my calves.

I have misplaced the cloth
with which I am supposed to cover
the machine when not in use.

I wonder whether,
thus exposed to the elements,
the machine will rust,
come to some visible harm.

I ask my brother,
Will you cover the machine?
No
, he replies.

My brother is reading a book
entitled Extraordinary Happiness.
I hardly know him anymore.
Is he a vessel, is he a ghost-
soldier, I ask myself. What do I
remember from before, of Art.

The machine lacks
the natural desires of a man.
Praise, praise the good machine.



XVIII

My brother is birdsong
with a thin skein of language
running through it.
He is often sad, or angry,
or merely lost in thought.

Sometimes he asks me
What color is that, or
Where is it in the machine
you place your heart
.

For a time, I experimented
with the idea I had a third
brother: the forest, naturally.
Various experiments ensued,
disproving this hypothesis.

The forest corrects for itself,
that is, its own error.
The forest has no tongue.

Far away, vast seas
are moving ships this way
& that. I lick the sweat
from the backs of my hands,
invention’s sister-salt.

I have two hearts, but only
one body. My brother has two
bodies, but only one heart.



XIX

There is no manual
for the machine, or at least
not that I have located.
I am on loan
to the glass of cold water
resting inside my heart.

Which heart, you ask.

I can’t take your hand
because I’m already
holding both my brother’s
hands, along with
the machine (third hand).

(One would think
three hands is enough.)

See how beautifully
the machine goes on
being a machine,
its effortless precision,
its sleek composition.

I can’t drink from the glass
of water inside my heart.



XX

Guard me from this perfect
memory: I am on loan
to the machine, or
the machine is on loan to me.
(I cover both my hearts.)

As a creature
I am somewhat diminished.
I cut my own hair
with my silver knife.
This keeps the knife sharp.

When I close my eyes,
my brother studies me
the way I study the machine.

Will you put your heart
inside me
, I ask my brother.

When I open my eyes
I find a feast laid out
on the ground, within my
chalk circle. I move
among the platters. I have
to get to the machine, fast.
I have so much to tell it.

I will not commit myself
solely to dreaming, to dreams.

Scars are the body’s
public script, not a language.
They neither sing nor fly.









G.C. Waldrep‘s most recent books are Your Father on the Train of Ghosts (BOA Editions, 2011), a collaboration with John Gallaher, and The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral (Ahsahta, 2012), an anthology co-edited with Joshua Corey. He teaches at Bucknell University, edits the journal West Branch, and serves as Editor-at-Large for The Kenyon Review.