Cheyenne Nimes graduated from the nonfiction writing program at Iowa and was a 2009 writer in residence at the Iowa Art Museum. She was the 2009 winner of DIAGRAM’s hybrid essay contest. An e-chap Coming Apocalypse Attractions has just come out on Gold Wake.
Prose poems- though labeled “fiction”- have appeared in Ninth Letter, Cannot Exist, Green Mountains Review, Hamilton Stone Review, First Intensity, Generator, Tinfish, Santa Clara Review, Red Rock Review, No Roses Review, Five Finger’s Review, A.bacus, Poethia, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, 580 Split, Xantippe, etc. and cnf is in the current issue of J Journal, Diagram, and the Sonora Review and forthcoming in Kenyon Review Online and Calamity Jane.
HOT WHEELS, the meteor had hot wheels. California custom made. Cold sweat, jiggling eyes, a kind of cinematic license when it tried to burn the Earth down. Come on baby light my fire. Meteorites were the first serial killers. Spurts of dark, red flame. No word was spoken. It is just there & knows what it is going to do. It is so perfect. How can you hate any story with the devil in it? The photograph might not look like a hand but I think it is pretty clear. It’s wild all on its own. I can't say it is from this world, nor that it isn't. & you have to know where to look. To draw the symbol over your body. The Earth’s gravity pulls the atmosphere toward its surface; we know this about ourselves, staring at one another from across the skies. Centuries we laid in wait. Sharp talons & a crossed circle signifies the four corners of the universe. When our backs are to the wall. A cracked blue billiard ball. Didn’t have much of anything this side of heaven. Cheap plastic crosses that glow in the dark. God is not in the dark. Just faint sound of cards being shuffled. Such light bodies we were after all. Glucose in the bloodstream. Your little box of being. What humans really want to know is that everything is going to be okay. A legend, or at least a good story. Like you were going to find some prize on the road that has your name on it. A fallen piece of sky. You’re not told what you’re not supposed to know. You have no concrete descriptions of the land, or the clothes, or the forest, or the castles. It makes the stories timeless & placeless. We are free in ways we never should be. We need data and more answers. Fast. It is, of course, a little joke. I’ll see your orbital belt & raise you one trajectory anomaly. No one has reported seeing it drop. That is the worst part. You never know when something's going to fall out of the sky.
I TOOK THE bait. I want to know where I left it. The aerogram, dispatch, kickback for being born. I remember how it look, not what it says. The Euphrates must dry up before this happens. They say. High-level sources. It’s not of this lifetime. Instead, we get left with exorcisms & a block of salt. The throat swells in this climate. It won’t be long now. You hear the empty rooms when they die, the four walls slammed closer together. The space between the sheets. Stars come both at night & day as though the titles for them & the sky were never separate. You want what they say where they go. Tracks & buildings were the river stops short. Such things are unknown to the unknowing. Such things are in the river, that paper floating by. These are the very last pages of your murder mystery. Who knows the sky from there.
Camera tripod rests on the desert. Motion blur: There is something under our feet moving. Changes in the earth’s tilt in space. Tectonic motion. A sudden river rise. Froze and watched the water. Underexpose if the ice is dark blue, overexpose if the ice is white–we knew that-- but you wouldn’t believe something that big could come in that close and be so quiet. Melting at both ends of the Earth. Carried to the ends of the Earth. Normally straight sane people are hearing voices out their air conditioners. Though I write this in the dark I know what I’m saying. Everyone in town headed down-valley, flammable objects. He made it plain from the podium, from the deadly backlighting, he’s going to be talking about the end of the world. Air of someone tired of pretending. Declaring it “No longer necessary.” Two gold tablets the size of a man’s hand. Don’t ask me that. Placing assault rifle in the blood. Paired with distinctive glossy red and black images. The iron in our blood. Double cross. These aren’t the same people I knew from earlier. Now I don’t believe anything. Churches burned down from the sun, things glittered like I’d never seen them. The cranium is more like a ball than anything else. Reflects light and heat. Salatorial. No one ever told me that. A slot machine’s gold sparkle were it it. The lower jaw falling. The tourists return to their country. After they say the iron in our blood comes from supernovas. That we’re not alone – thousands of other universes may exist. The light was going down but the screen stayed blue long before going white… A sideways light and subjects moving toward or away from the camera without more reference than themselves. Fire spread and carried everything down. Most of the city was finally abandoned. “Bleached.” You’ve only seen the beginning. It’s better to understand that from the beginning. Heat and naked. A dead hand reaches from. Final world. The last god. You must know what was before to have a feeling of what will be coming. There, in an instant, was the mouth. Whoever’s going to die is going to die, and whoever isn’t, isn’t. We will pass the night in the first village to which we come. Like movie cowboys in a deserted carved light, thick layers of sand and debris built up over the centuries. Crawl along the ground, a large flightless bird, as they slowly wave their arms two short rows of fires- I was going to shoot, but then you waved-. South of the world’s dividing line a remote tropical town. Big eyes, Big belly. A Gulf Stream offshoot. Stones coexist with bills and coins. The image merges in the original. They never saw us. Dark green fruit weighing several pounds apiece. The painted faces. Intrinsicality. People were in the area longer than previously thought. Is there someone I forgot I wanted to be? Some sudden drum beat. We were here first. Just that. The last flare fell behind. Burned down all the surfaces that are facing up. The waters? A blood bank. Sci-fi movie insects. Serrated teeth. An ending, a beginning, still going. Ain’t nothing here that won’t be revealed.
Great White Hunter.
A TYPICAL meteor comes from an object the size of a grain of sand. Then the mass of a nail. The mass of a lady’s gold bracelet. To the length of a newborn baby. You can look at it & know nothing else about it. That it casts no light and makes no shadows. Lies curled in its egg. Giant halo of eggs. Wind carries a whiskey breath, reptilian mixed in. It is probably the most basic human fear: getting attacked by a wild animal. It is just there, and it’s not predictable. It’s not foreseeable. It will happen out of the corner of your eye. It’s like a big game. You play games? It’s about gambling & love, an old blues trick. I don’t know him but I know his kind. Sharktooth necklace. He held my gaze with an intense stare. A little light in a straight shot. Red dots mark the meanderings of one. It didn’t follow the rules anymore. Vegas, Baby. Smell of human meat bearing down. Flesh toward bone. The unbroken pan across the skies says it’s only a few cell widths away; rock throwing range. He’ll have no difficulty finding the place. Everyone in this room- & I do mean everyone. Six billion-plus puzzle. The Ranch at the End of the Road. The heart’s continued beating is an involuntary muscle movement. It’s all we know. A floodlight revealed figures in yellow vests clamoring. There is only one answer to it. There is only one way out of this & that is to reach out & grab its hand. Some of you know these things, but perhaps you’ve never put it together: we have good horses, crossbows, giant bones that can be shaped into war clubs. Bowie knife. Cap pistol. Spears & spear-throwers. An overgrown six-shooter, live shells, love letters… an axe, magic, drug of choice. A big-block Chevy engine, canine teeth, or whatever surface is used. As if everything can get reduced to a physical explanation. But my hand shakes. You can have your three days of darkness any way you want to have them. But you cannot lean into sky. You can’t snatch it out. We’re playing way past that now… He has the air of someone tired of pretending. Seersucker suit. Underway toward. Acceleration. Lover’s Leap. After a long silence. Relishing what was clearly a well-rehearsed line. The day of judgment is either approaching or it is not. We could not have far to go.
COLD OPEN. Sometimes in these stories. Extract the
likeness out of your tongue, the totems. Fresh kills.
Writing anthems. I know your words line by line.
A story that’s been worked on so long it’s become
something else. The first is last. Fear not little
flock. Establishing shot: That we have been told
about since the beginning. Witless. Bright red.
Snapping. The neck is too small. Who were you
later and did you know it? Station Identification.
Black-&-blue mark. Blue baby. Full frame.
Primary colors. Underground bases. File footage.
Mo-HAV-ee. Restricted territory. A disaster picture.
Everything is taken down. What, you don’t remember,
but it’s there and it knows it. City, the. Detaching.
Emergency Broadcast Ststem. Gamy. And did you
finish the prayer? You decided words weren’t
enough… acts, powers, conditions, procedures.
Cities, towns, villages, districts. After the light
has waited, retake: shot or scene that needs to be
taken more than once. Reshoot action adventure.
Our black box. Reptilian green eyes, algae. Chase
Scene. Key light: primary light focuses on subject.
Grab the vine and climb the light. Trust in motions
that bring us closer to the glare.
Shooting stars aren’t stars that move for you, so don’t wish on them. They’re meteorites that fall into Earth’s atmosphere. Burn into a white flame-out. Some were warm-blooded (that’s how we got here). Here’s what happens: A solitary spark of light falls through a black opening into the vacuum of space, the great space between the worlds- blackbird wash- and disappears in an incredible burst of sound & speed; it’s not going to stop for anything, exultant at being on the loose- lightcurves- then one day Bang: it enters a new limbo- twisting just past us, opening wider to gulp in more and more sky, straining to draw itself back in its hole (these prayers became the soil shined off the seen wind)- before we- two hundred and seventy miles below it this whole time- hunt it down. For now, it bears the curse of discovery. All we had to do is dig in the area for some fast cash, huge tires webbed with chains, a power winch, densely packed teeth, bone saws, shotguns in the crooks of our arms, the Don of rocks. Until it’s ratted out, jutting rawboned out the soil. To it, we are a figure holding a bloodletting instrument. It will simply be carried off- how sharks go limp when inverted- asking for the sky and get Plexiglass, like a Christmas decoration hanging vertically with its mouth open, bathed in a halo of light, preserved by means of chemical injections, feeling as though it belongs to no one and everyone all at once, and hate everyone to the bitter end. At ShowWorld, each skeleton-meteorite bears a label of identification, a rating: R. Signs gleam a conspicuous white, remind you to be respectful & not take photographs. They can be loved to death by visitors who accidently break things. Of course, for some, all this is just a lure, and they saunter smilingly toward the rock like it’s a timid animal who enjoys being petted. “STOP” the signboards warn, same white fever. They swear up and down, the closer to the altar they get, sizing her up, love-struck. Spotlighted, propped up like a living-dead doll, sits and takes it. You can stare at the dead with an intense, close-up curiosity the living would never tolerate. They don’t know she’s wrapping her arms around herself, that no pay could ever be enough.
A “FALL” means the meteorite was witnessed by someone as it fell from the sky. Like so many people it saw before you, the sky saw they decorated themselves with ritual paint, secret formulas, charms, & songs. Hoping their names won’t go down on the list of those who gambled & lost. There was a sense of providence about it all. Petroglyphs, traces of humans seen poignantly fleeing. Don’t talk to her like you know her. Move so far out that there’s nowhere else to move. You will be completely out of the way. In a darkened room. Never try to catch one. It is not a contact sport. No one is supposed to be able to do a thing like that & survive... Holes in the earth: 170 & counting. The broken-open grounds. They circle around the wound afterwards. Getting to know each other face to face. Looking over your shoulder, checking the wind, you wait for night to fall, daybreak to rise. Your 5 second part. And you feel a great longing for it. Last year Americans sent over two billion postcards. You know the urgency of the situation. You understand the stakes involved. You know in your heart what home is like, & you want to go back there. People are made of the same thing as comets, the carbon in our cells. Almost have a kind of blood relative affinity. They are everything you want to be. Greeted like a rock star in a heavy garland. The same blood runs through their veins. That blood cannot be changed. Lump of dark material. In a blue sky that’s just a bit too light. Since when does anything come "out of nowhere"? Where is nowhere? And how do I get there?
One Mississippi, Two Mississippi…
Settled down with our backs to wind and watched. It’s where we’re looking at, it’s just that, the sky. Tied up with a big yellow silk bow. Bathed in a halo of light. Parasol. Long-handled pruning shears. Thank-you note. Copulations. Like so many sleeping drunks. Mill slowly. We’re dressed in their living best, all held together by mutual gravitational forces, gently feeling the curvature of the earth. They say they don’t know what it is and cannot see it. So even wild beasts could not see or smell him squirming around on its big yolk sac. The first postulate the most important one: make no assumptions about anything. Fringed with false-fronted buildings.
To find any of these, you must know where in the sky to look- at the place no one ever thinks to look. Faint streaks of light in a long telescopic exposure… one glowing speck at the inside edge of the film. Like a knife fallen to the ground, or a sparrow, following light. Disappeared before she ever appeared. Like a child on an Easter egg hunt. The obvious places to expect. He was still standing there, smiling at the spacious sky. Children led us to still more eggs. Some in the light, some in the dark.
Thoughts that creep up and are quickly dismissed before we even allow ourselves to think the thought fully. Its blade worn to little more than a sliver. Beautiful rock till it gets down here. Smiling and thrusts out her breasts. Slow stevedore. She has other things she wants to do. But I had a feeling and pointed. Émigré.
Something like a stiff wind passed through the numbers of low probability. Flare of sun color, the weak glint of the tail. “We’ll keep an eye on it.” Doll clutched in one hand, she can feel it falling. A series of relations, a straggle of thunder sounding long after you thought it was gone. Particles in the ionosphere light up. Before hardening into fixed meaning. A single point on the sky. Looking for a way into this dimension. No bright rock had been there before. Was it real? He walked outside. It was.
Something sensed for the first time. Prowling. At large. Asteroid swarm. Like an ever increasing flock of exhausted birds. Crosses mark their positions on images. Close shave. Vicinal. They could see what looks like a hand, but of course, they didn’t say that. However, you are left to draw your own conclusions. A flare on the rise. More substantial than light. Open sore that grows. Images appear, new meanings occur. She is well along in years but there is something about the way she moves. Boils down to luck, luck, luck.
It begins to go wrong. “The sky is low.” Built like a wrecking ball. Started to answer to a different god. He hurried to a back room and shrank. Each breath more labored than the one before. Places the picture face down. A red beam crawled to the edge of it. Light goes all the way up then all the way down. Moving faster than my eye could follow. Watching a ball game- and the large black smudge of the ball itself. With growing fear that darkness would catch us still out in the countryside. Needing definitions now. Target plane: A plane defined as passing through the Earth's center.
Testy. Red lithium flame. Firing range lights. Brightened to the threshold of human vision. Coagulating blood into a clot. A crystal globe as it breaks, shattering so continents are still recognizable? “It won’t really happen.” Sometimes the atmosphere temporarily steadies. Then comes screaming back. Long melancholy howl of a wolf. “Poorly constrained, uncertain orbit.”
Deep sense of something gone wrong in the air. “My god, it’s enormous.” There is no brighter object. Slanted at a precise angle. Close to touching. Can see the occipital ridge of us, footprints left in primordial mud. Kind of like returning to the scene of the crime. The last woolly mammoth. Then necklaces of primate teeth. Blood called to blood for blood down the ages. Bowing toward earth. Mountains are young in earth time, still forming as recently as 70 million years ago. There was a time before human time. Lateral gill slits. A new story is emerging but we don’t have a new word for it; the universal score is the same.
Suddenly, the whole world wants to be someplace other than Earth, or this Earth. We are here, nowhere else. Firebird. It’s not going to stop for anything. The President speaks slowly. Visibly uncomfortable. Everything that is moving comes to stillness except that rock. We were encouraged to turn our attention to God during the day by reciting short, even one-word prayers. Full blackout wartime regulations in effect. It’s practically in the backyard. And the question is not only when, but how. The earliest possible date it could arrive. Waiting room of the dead. Out-and-out. At some point these words ceased to have meaning: the future, next Christmas, safety. Someone is still selling tickets to something. Jersey Gumbo Draw. Protection schemes. To go off somewhere, can then be enclosed in a shroud preventing contact. Or chanting songs in a secret language, shaking coconut-shell rattles, to save your soul in another world. Those who are terrified and those who are dead from suicide.
Has grown more and dramatically empty. Not quite yet, not quite yet, not quite yet. It is a given that it is between noon and midnight. A shadow of a stick; crude sundial. Even as you watch a second tick away, it’s gone. Last minute shotgun weddings. White of the gown, dark of the cast shadow. The distance turning into a blue shadow. “Why us?” What we call ourselves now. Kind of a deliverance, in a way. Strange reports, underground news, fragments of a word or two. I think we’re hearing the other side. “Yes, we’ll gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river….”
We stepped out onto the top of the world. Done for. Turned the radio on and off quickly; we can last for just a sentence. Into the glowing cave of its wide open mouth. Shocked forward into the cloud of dust. Fleshy hands flew apart. Leftover hands. Sprawled facedown, hands and feet askew. Their last words. The dead zone.