COLONIAL INSECTS OF AUGURY: On the Impossible Motion of Sleeplessness

November 2, 2014

In the thin light of a colorless winter afternoon, the raven not speaking, the fencepost unrattling, we stumbled upon an ant hill by the dirt road adjacent to the high-tension powerlines, and we watched their inexplicable silent frenzy of motion with horror, realizing the patterns of their movement seemed to match the pulses and lulls of the insidious humming sound the powerlines emitted. Were the powerlines a deity to these ants, did they dance in worship of the humming sound, like the sun was a deity to our own kind long ago, and perhaps will be again in some distant future? We stood there staring for a long time, failing to comprehend their logic but sensing nonetheless that it existed and we could discern it from this neverending motion if we stared long enough, that we could perceive the faint outlines of a reasonable interpretation, sensing the sun swelling our minds, sensing that we were losing our grasp on the cold and non-sentient essence of the day, going insane and hearing the speech of the unspeaking world. Finally the ants spoke:



We could outline no procedure by which any other could derive this message, but its existence was clearer to us than the featureless sky, in which clouds had once formed but had now diffused to such an extent that they had become a homogenous translucency, revealing nothing, concealing nothing. We thought: what context exists for this moment? To what afternoon of our childhood does this refer; what sense memory pervades us? And we found nothing.

The ants, we thought, must have a messiah, who, although we hear nothing, is in his or her silence screaming at them, a screaming that invokes in them a relentless energy, a capacity to be transformed by crisis. Perhaps he is a monster. Perhaps he screams at them that the high-voltage powerlines demand sacrifice, claiming that only he can understand their humming.

Once it began, we knew, of course, it would never end. There was no limit. As we walked home we could read augurs in the yellow leaves of bigleaf maples scattered—at random, by all appearances to any other—on the dirt and gravel road and we could hear secret messages in the croaking of the frogs that occupied the wetlands by the railroad tracks. We went into our home, lay down on the floor, and listened to music in another language—I think it was Estonian; choral music of some kind—and we heard the voices chanting our ruin as we stared out our window at the season’s weak memory of the once-warm sun.


In our home there were warm hazelnuts, their skins dark from fire; the vague smell of cedar from the wood piled by the stove; a disarray of blankets and clothing on the bed to weather the incessant chill; field guides, ethnographies, natural histories, and novels on every surface in small piles; and in the corner, leaning up agains the wall, a gun.

We did not know the moments from our life that are so rich with nostalgia would be so when they occurred, but now as the moments fleet past our eyes, each one unbearably rich with meaning, each one glowing with a golden excess of warm light, we see with certainty the shape of the scars that time has etched in our skin, and we whisper to ourselves those things we did not know defined us until now: “I am sorry I hurt you . . . I never should have left here . . . I do not know what I was thinking . . . I was so young . . .”


I can not even claim to know of whom this “we” consists; I do not know you, my companion, or companions, can not tell if you are friend or foe. I can not see you, have no means of proving your existence to myself or any other, only sense your presence. Perhaps I have seen, or at least heard described, your vague outlines. Once, a lover told me that while I was away working for the day three elongated figures came and stood above her in bed—shrouded, colorless men, faceless but nonetheless recognizable as my kin—and evaluated her, intimidating, perhaps, but not threatening. One of them held a seed in his long dark fingers. Perhaps these men are you. Perhaps you were warning her of something that can’t be spoken about, and so you tried some means other than language, or perhaps you, like ants, are mute.


A thing said is ephemeral, diminishing with time, diffusing in the currents of air, bending into nothing in the wind; a thing said thrice, however, is indelibly etched into the world somewhere, like our actions, a thing we may come to regret or to cherish as we lie on some bed in some distant moment losing our minds and sorting the events of our lives.

We have not been sleeping. You will offer no narcotics; no warm milk, even; no kind words; your gentle hands will not soothe my furrowed brow. That is not your purpose, you three. Were you, my three fathers from long ago, stronger in whatever lands you lived in than you are here? Did you still have the power of speech before you followed me across the sea? Or is the notion that a man belongs to a place untrue, like so many other things for which people will offer their blood?

As I grow older I grow more solitary, and I notice, if not that your presence is more palpable, that I am becoming more like you, and thus your nature is easier to infer from my own. You are not here to close my eyes. You are here to guide my hands in what comes after my eyes have been open for unbearably long and the visions come.


Inside my dark room, a sun is rising, its light golden. My bed is overrun with vines. My face, once young and pale, is bearded and obscured by its own shadows. The rivers of my memory run with dark waters. Above me, a painted wood bird hung from the ceiling in some moment of my infancy, when my perception was still emerging. Beside me, a red monster, shrieking obscenities, of impossible fragility: one gaze and it will shatter. In the sky, a god. In my quiver, tiny arrows, which I fashioned from sticks and fired with bows made of rope and branches when I was a boy.

Guide my hands now, fathers, as I take aim at this god who has claimed dominion; guide my hands as they in a single motion snuff out the candles, rattle the windows, shatter the mirrors, slay the bull like Mithras and spill his fertile blood. I want to extinguish the stars this tyrant, this petty demiurge, painted over my eyes, tear the fabric of the sky he imposed, and craft a new world, one fertile of soil rich with the red blossoms of opium, one where the heaving tides of the ocean always deliver strange wreckage from far-off lands, and the serpent wends its way across the valley and through the seasons and I, oblivious to its undulations, sleep.

One Response to “COLONIAL INSECTS OF AUGURY: On the Impossible Motion of Sleeplessness”

  1. george schroder Says:

    thank you

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