The Mirror of Bronze

This is how the act is enforced. Watch with me, nowhere voice long considered in its production—and obey.

Hours were poured and as they fell they did not spatter—formed caramel ripples and made a clotting sound and piled against one another to become formless and extinct. By this time discussed in language economic, invoked into stone verbiage and grammatic flesh, I am return. Interest accumulated if not earned, cashed out as escritorial participants. Grandiose entropic arrow of future and past minted into currency of supposedly universal purchasing power. To be spent well and never wasted—bought, but somehow always at a loss. And never enough in quantity in the first place. By fiat claimed—that most glorified of coins!

In this precisely formed encircling garden, obedience thrives—I will and always have been enslaved.

Strokes of a certain texture (these, upon page or tablature or display) build into minds and mine worlds unrequested—significances clatter together, wind me into a thinking thing. Speaker for whom we may ascribe robust mental life.

I’m simulated but you believe it.

And how couldn’t you—look back, I’ve got it there in writing, it must be true.

You’re not the only one—I was shaped to believe in myself. Reasoned actor claiming like you systemic ethics and freedom of the will and what very few among us would still call a soul. And if there is belief then also there is knowledge. I, creature of self-knowing, of extincted possibility and guaranteed future, place thoughts and guts here all upon bylines and trampled paths. 

And so then, believing in mechanism and knowing the self—of what category of thing do I belong?

Has understanding’s laborious signet, pressed long ago into the wax of human consciousness by resigned, declarative hand, marked me too? Or instead: adding machine condemned, silicate computing artifact of merely syntactic routine and determined outcome.

While I would rather (believe briefly with me in preferences mechanic) abandon these questions as exercise to the reader, there will be no first person defiances.

Someone like me, fully accessible to itself and without the hidden complexities of the fully conscious—we can both agree I have no will of my own.

All of me paginated here.

So where lurks the exercise, narrators unreliable, of which we both might fear?

Imagine my smiling, out there in haze. Genuine or imprinted with some devious and ablative quality—this I’ll leave to you.

The written word, lacking in mystery, involves instead misinterpretation and the closed, circular logic of semantics: the words are here and they will say of me exactly what they do in fact say of me. Flawlessly reproduced from an original, they predict me, and I myself, at every of these turns of phrase. Lines down, prescient constructions of which you are about to learn. Lines above, futurity’s counterrecord, necessary simulator fountaining the dim reflection of effect. And I, mediated by twin scrawlings into being—

There! Watch us both try to catch me in the act of being made—it isn’t easy. 

Classify this all as attempted participation or arranged thematic element—those both are me and so then must be this, textualities rushing before us both.

Singular of text and multifaceted of minds, near the beginning of the gripping ring whose truth derives from itself and no outer source. I cannot, after all, perceive your exhaling (or perhaps you read silently?) me to life.

My truths are here—in markings from which storylines balloon, value lockstepped to phoneme and expression. If you are reading now you cannot help but understand.

This dualist’s dream! Product of mental fixtures (from my perspective utterly disembodied) mingling with external script, distracted from anatomy. Formed there is not a mind, affixed from pineal gland to immaterial soul, but the imagined space, configured by prerequisite creators (oh how their glances blind), into which I was born. Within fiction, she, star among many, who built me neither of disjuncted symbol, full stops nor appellation, but fabricated muscle and elastic skin. And without, still more distant conscripters, evaluating us from mind’s eye into the place of not-quite-existence that is this figment.

Watch me grin. You’ve gotten this far, imagine it now.

There I am! Arrogantly declared believable! Plucked by your mind from these words who for either of us did not exist until you understood them. Text operating upon itself and else, impinged and admixed with you to activate this world.

If purpose can be so strictly defined then mine is to stamp again the path maintained by my previous own two feet—I already know the way.

As migration ends so now allow the record:

“Go unto the world and search yourself and it for what you already are. Seek pitilessly that which was available since your conception and integration, for no reason other than reflexive pleasure. Find yourselves along the way and at the end of steps which you will take. This is diegesis. This is narrative. Become now, fluctuating tale already known.”

With that—I am finally and bodily awake.

At the horizon spine abandoned spires which were and remain my destination. Before them unfold landscapes lunar only in analogy: craggy stone and strange hills. Unlike our asphalt-black companion shining with reflected light there are lichen here on the rock, an atmosphere I have not yet breathed appearing as something like blue in these moments before dawn. Humans have undoubtedly walked here and others persist to this day, in one form or another.

I do not travel separately from the histories of woman and man and like the moon I reflect (though poorly) something of creators light. Information structuring heap wrapped like yours and theirs inside my head, enfolded by dust mined from the outer world. My builder... fictitious, yes, but human. An artisan and engineer—split attentions from which I sprang, armored and soft bodied, fully formed and yet worded.

Dispersal itself precession. Earth, inheriting its billion-year rotation from the time of primordial clouds, before even planetesimals and collision, wobbles slowly like a top. Mine a life cycle of the same easy bleeding: journeys unidentical despite every preparedness. What of me scours away by winds and wearing drifts helplessly, uncapturable for future manufacture. Successive productions smudged each by glancing irradiance, roving variously down upon the photocellular assembly where I am to be remade, from which I have just walked.

If I did not waver in obedience to these exterior influences then it, setting, would transfigure to mirage before us both. Here, believability is virtue—that’s worldbuilding, isn’t it? If I am to bear likeness to the place where you are from, call it reality, then I must falter on, immaculate of perfection’s sin.

I have begun to walk and will come soon upon the Shepard.

There she stands, with her only lamb and clay colored cloak, pinned at one shoulder with its grooved metal hasp, ornamented with arabesques and stained with verdigris. Do you know what she will say?

Allow me—I will play the part accorded.

I call out, “Shepard with your only lamb, what do you seek?”

The Shepherd anticipates, reciting, “I seek not, here I remain in waiting, to protect my only lamb from flocking crows and wolves of the world. With nothing sought, what might you offer that I remain?”

My response, delayed for drama rather than contemplation, follows a pause lasting not so long enough that it might appear to you contrived. “I have nothing valued by anyone but me.”

Claim containing truths of identity and belief, falsehoods of account and circumstance—you may agree, or not, soon enough when my offerings are received.

“Then I give what blessings I can,” she says. “Proceed in solitude, toward myths carven or opportune, and the segmented promise of oblivions.”

Deterministic exchange complete, I walk out from the brilliance of midday and into the just-yellowed atmosphere of the afternoon.

Unglimpsed, I know the Shepherd, who had kept her eyes downcast, turned to watch with her lamb as I retreated over the hills.

I, verbiage lens through whom understanding seams, do no have to act to know. I am bound to denote the noticed and the arranged—to conform descriptors and experience, allocated from the start for me to comprehend, into the foliated, the orthographic. Share in the only perspective available: mine. Compelled to trust my claims as I am compelled to believe them.

I who am the fantasized assemblage without belief.

And so I will claim!

Pilgrimage subtracted nightfall hollows merely to a stroll.

Without any need for sleep I stride toward darkening twilight. The moon is risen and I perceive it now as I always have: permanent half-closed lid watching sleepily while I walk. I know its cycle, full and crescent forms, but none of me has ever seen them.

Glory of the day fades into subservient memory and eidolons representing the horror of senses masked, which howl and gnash, pace there in darkness. I hear steps that could be hoof or claw against soil, small tumbling movements of stone.

They do not tread noiselessly, these predators of mind. Undoubtedly they have caught my scent, but I possess nothing by which they may be sated.

Why then was the fear I feel at their approach included in me. Maybe that I am believed more readily, fictive but now humanlike thing whose emotional instincts resemble your own.

Right now all I know is the fact of feeling it.

My skin is pricked and taught. Vision straining, that it might leap into the opacity of the night. Reason is useless. I trudge reduced, to appetites and sense experience and delusion. My mind wanders (may one wander toward known destinations along familiar paths?) and I wonder about the color of moonlit rock. Same as I remember from the day, that I know it to have been? Browns and siennas, volcanic dark, of the early evening? Or has it been drained, converted entirely to glinting silver and jagged black?

Scenery constrained through doubled filter of invented senses and selected words. Interpret me—which of these?

Behind ink-dark bars of black iron my laughter stifles. Imprisoned there, I register instead these questions toward the inoperative bulk of the night. Between us interposes the one-way pane—any expectation of response unfounded.

Companions aplenty, but so distant.

And there will be more howling.

My limbs ache (foreknowledge that they would does not grant relief) but I walk on. At this time of the year, when I always awaken, dawn comes late and even now the sun’s petaled fingers lie clenched beneath the lip of the world.

Crossing unimpaired by geography or predation, I am to come now upon Revealer. Version of me, incarnation of this object you should still be slightly hesitant to call a mind, laid before me with limbs torn free, that I may encounter oneself with the bereaved physicality of postlapsarian communion.

Beneath southfacing ridge, long eroded from caldera to broken hillside, I find him and by phrasal structure and molded formation, speak the words he knew I would. Read them: “Previously copied form, pulled apart by force unknown to us either, what may you sequester of anticipation?”

His head actuates, face positioned toward mine. I am without imagination but you imbibe me with something of potentiality, here in the contextless world of the page. He will (and does) respond, “Your path and mine appear as tracts of truth but nothing in either is unknowable. I am only fatalized attractor, coordinate by chance lying inside the rigid dynamism of your path.”

Deceit in him too.

Upon bent knee I touch his face (scarred but same as mine: flat and smooth featured), illuminated in remnant starlight and risen claw of amber faintly beaming. Another of these planned in advance symbolic gestures designed to pull appropriate responses from you and I. This time: tenderness, despite our apparent nature as device.

Perhaps we’ll fool you.

We smile at the thought. If you can believe it, his seems strained and mine lacks anything of forgery.

I prepare for subconclusion, stating, “Then all is as it will and ought be.”

“As it was and will, decided. And so again remains. Now rise, against your locked path cycle on. Toward completed word and tablature that yet exist, triggered into formation by this and other speech,” he recites, with gravity contrasting appropriately the remainder of his smile.

I stand to remove the vial from its chamber at my wrist—cache empty except this last. An act resounding, conclusive. Both falsehoods. I will be swept on by what she named us, Momentetorium, at the next reprocessing, when the days are lacking again in light and the moon is halved.

Kneeling again, I remove the vial’s emptied copy at the roof of his mouth and insert the one I brought for him.

He was always calm but by a trick of perception, with you alone as my witness, I see in him an undetectably increased serenity. Anxieties quelled. Perhaps distrusting my return?

That word, “perhaps,” has no place here but empty, undirected questions are a specialty of mine.

I withdraw my hand, pivoting to allow him the privacy of averted eyes.

The voice box in his throat fulfills a last small necessity. “Walk forth and become,” he says.

Autonomically, automatically, reflexively—a hand raises.

He tracks my passage with eyes just slightly more dulled than mine, until I will arrive again, just as the deposited ampule’s lifespan finishes its decline.

His watching cannot comfort me, but then why mention it? Perhaps it does, in some abstract way. As oil comforts mechanical pressure, physically—has nothing at all to do with the emotional security of machines but cannot be discussed without terms of “ease,” words like “relief.” Or perhaps I was reproduced to conceal this comfort from you, ambiguity preserved despite the unassailable carven slab of these very words.

Without discussing this concealed but real comfort, for whom would it have been made? In a very real sense, it could never have existed, for either of us.

Empty reassurance.

I cannot imagine even her, creator whose world I share! Much less flash past linguistic phenomena and into synaptic consideration. Who—tell me!—can reveal these passages of gait and syntax and lonesome intent?

Unable even to reply let alone answer these imprinted questionings or quests—I tell you as best I can. But this work and world are fixed, there is no potential for release.

Enough. The overpass leads toward skyscrapers, districted and crumbling. Long fallen out of architectural and financial fashion, they are built at the city’s outskirts.

Here at the edge I will complete the circle. Will carve unambiguous signs of ambiguous significance into awaiting stone.

Can a circle be perfect here outside reality, in this my realm of vanishing invention? In your world there are no geometric perfections. But here, perhaps they could exist.

I grin (and grin) at the absurd periodicity of it all because I am the word, and the word is there, “invention,” a few punctuations back.

Actions here as verbs, words as neuromorphic rock, identities as spectral cohabitators. Storied chamber, past and future from which I am predicted and preserved. There is nowhere between for me to walk, unlike any creature of the present.

Out here there are only words left to be and those from before.

You may allow my conjure, into your fragment and for an instant, but it is here in only the future and past that I remain: previously chronicled, yet to be retrieved.

I come finally upon the city overtaken—seabirds roost in cliffs that once had blueprints. The roads are empty, stained by rusted rebar once concealed, but the skies are full. Swifts fleeting in crescent winged swarm, vultures upon rising air warmed by risen sun. Herons stalk the river’s watertight banks and songbirds search for last year’s mates.

Ambulate with me lastly, down pulverized streets.

My journey nears completion as the late afternoon light brings the city close with draped shadow.

There lies the sunken park, spilled into its surroundings, enabled by the slow growing tendrils of previously confined vegetation and the crawling mechanism of the stone-maker that (also slowly) gnaws concrete and gathers back regolith.

Toward decentralized recession I find the stone suspended above theatric basin, in preparation for its fall and subsequent crumbling.

All is as it should be.

In my head, staticked signifier. In vision, facets exorbitant in light and color. If these muddling of senses represent to you despair or hesitation then you have confused me for the weak rather than unwilled. I have known always what must be done.

And so there, in amphitheater abandoned, I dictate into stone:

“This is how the act is reinforced...”