Nothing remarkable here, no splendid courts, no spacious stairways...there is only rubble...traces of the Dorian burning, and the open graves...the menace is all the greater because it is never completely expressed. We are haunted by a presence which never completely reveals itself...
-- Robert Payne, The Splendor of Greece
He was coming from, I was walking toward. I was walking toward something, having arrived at nothing. He was crossing the avenue, my brother -- the remains of a boy crossing pernicious pavement channels. An easy task -- straight and steady steps of celerity -- aiming himself somewhere with an equestrian swagger that defied the shame of his body; hair matted, face distorted -- head cracked open dry, clothes drenched in water, a dark countenance masking a fragile frame.
I'd flown through a turbulent sky -- landed safely on even ground, a dazed survivor. Pushing back pavement with sturdy strides, people passing me, I wanted to continue roving and tending to the business of cohabitation with myself. Pockets filled with intentions -- tried to reacquaint myself with myself. Tried not to provoke the quake of dreams or trigger the eruption of things that have been sewn tightly into the lining of my stomach...an almanac of wars and cracked concrete shifting. But a litany began in the words rolled up in my fists -- gray pages printed in tones of black crunched between fingers, its calamities emblazoned onto my thumbs. The catastrophe of years resounded in sweat and ink: new skyscraper's lattice topples down, crushes skull of passerby; gash runs up neck of side street, civilizations buried beneath the rubble; cavernous pit swallows pedestrian caught in geyser; vestigial shrapnel rediscovered; wrecking ball crashes through centennial hotel; fiscal promises; mended flags.
The city was falling in the year of its reconstruction. The year of city renewal and city planning; of renaming streets and changing demographics, renovating buildings and erecting irrelevant statues, of sweeping fetid bodies beneath the gratings. Old graves were deconsecrated and cemented over with neon animation. New graves were dug for those who could not survive the metamorphosis of terrified urbanity. New buildings had been propped up, bronze and cast-iron plaques tacked onto their edifices, an eternal reminder of the dead in their absence -- but the dead were not absent -- the dead were everywhere monuments had been erected to mark their demise.
In the aftermath of war, dead men and dead women and dead children awakened to an attempted restoration. They walked among us, and where they walked they walked freely, through the tumbling of urbanity, through newly erected structures that had not been there before; they made pathways where pathways used to be, forged turns down avenues and up concourses, lost their step in search of familiar landmarks. The dead put their ears close to the ground, their hands to the walls, consulted with tenements, asked old buildings to tell them a story, old sidewalks to give testimony, to recall for them where they had once been shielded from the sun by the tall lean-back of an art-deco building's northern wall -- there, where the gate of merchants and buyers made music with the click of a heel and the stomp of a sole. The endless noise of limp arches lured to storefront windows. Hand-cut stones glinting behind glass on heavy velvet. They looked for their belongings in the aggregation of paper cups and napkins littering curbs, cigarette butts, a single gold earring waiting for its match, the sparkling silver of small change displaced among fast-food leftovers...all of it -- now swept up from sidewalks, washed clean.
The dead asked too that the streets recall for them the jeeps and the towing of artillery down sunken lanes; infantry and tanks and sleep deprivation; city dwellers ensconced in tight holes crowded with ammunition, water bottles, and prayers whispered in a thousand languages, the polyglot of bargaining with God. Evidence. The dead relied on the memory this city has been built upon, footprints and forgotten gestures layered in rock. The dead trusted the tenements to remember for us all: how we talked with our tongues, what we said through our lips, what we meant in our voicelessness.
My body was tightly girded, weighted down, silent -- an unrecorded history belted itself around my neck, pressured into my lower back, vertebrae by vertebrae, twisting each disk out of place, muscles becoming the consistency of granite. A sculpture of trash heaped upon trash (the journey back is an arduous one), but I was blending into a body of walkers who had also arrived at the end of their cortege, restrained walkers waiting for an indication of light to resume our hurried dance of the reprobate. All of us negotiating our way through, traversing cities across oceans, cold stone corridors, airports, and vacant lots landscaped in oblivion, coming back -- returning to the city of our youth. Alone, we were broken. Together we were intact; one body, one canvas of negatives and exposures, one state of immobility moving through a vast terrain, one unit intermittently balancing itself on a curb, waiting for safety.
He was moving on one side, I was on the other -- train tracks suspended above us shielding all glimpses of sky. A rapturous wind wrestled with him only, the rest of us strangled in dense petrified air, a staggering heat, our shirts melting into our chests, eyes losing sight with the sting of tiny acidic beads prickling optics. His fertile flesh wrapped itself around a skeletal frame, changing colors from sand to soil, and he stepped off the curb -- without invitation, into a perilous swirl of movement. We stood still as he charged forward, dove into the chariot of headlights, his shirttails fanning the rush of steel, his voice screaming above the roar of locomotion.
With an open wound on his forehead staring down at a yellow line beneath his feet, he stood there -- eyes following its distance. His body, broken into a composition of liberty, asked questions of the line and waited for its kind reply. He waited...for the ground to open up into a chasm on the axis of the earth and give something back to him -- waited for a cinder to fall down from the cornerstone of a landmark and grind him into the gravel, for fire to begin again without provocation, consuming the vanity of kept secrets. He waited for the city to speak of the atrocities that have occurred in its corridors, to bear witness and lay blame -- out loud. To justify what he's known all along. I stood on the other side of questions, blending into a body of walkers -- the sun slipped through the train tracks above us, and shimmers of heat drizzling through rails illuminated the sparkle of burning rubber scraping against concrete and bitumen. Cars shunting around him, he laughed through a cracked skull -- asked me a question from our divider.
Where this line go -- you know?
It maps the course of men who have crossed over miles of black flecked with glass fragments, men carrying paragraphs of questions, selective memory and swollen ego. It maps the frail flat feet of self-invention.
Copyright © 2004 by Kark Hancock Rux
Racine is a reserved young man, but his passion for music lights him up inside. He's just returned from Paris where he'd been invited by a friend to produce music, make recordings, and earn a living. The plan didn't quite pan out, and now he's back in New York, where fate, providence, or just plain chance leads him to a once-glorious brownstone turned into a squat by a few eccentric loners.
There's Manny, who wears sarongs and glitter but has no trouble attracting beautiful women, and Couchette, a gorgeous second-generation dancer whose mother has gone to Bali to live and bear a child with a man who built her a house in the midst of a rice paddy. What binds the characters is a deep sense of loss. Each is--like the city they live in--wounded and seeking healing and connection with and through the other housemates.
Rux's poetic fiction blurs the lines between characters' dreams, memory, and reality. Asphalt--the name representing the essence of the city and the hard, layered, yet vulnerable sensibility of its inhabitants--is part post-modern parable, part urban mythology, and altogether relevant to contemporary reality. Asphalt is daring and unforgettable, marking the arrival of an original and astounding new voice in American literature.