was not weaned on literalism. My parents did their best. They decorated Christmas trees and introduced the terrible mysteries of multiplication tables and insisted I get along with my school peers because the world required compromise. I heard and saw and nodded dutifully. But I knew differently. I knew, for example, the bookshelf in my room was just a bookshelf in disguise, behind which began the world of Me, Mine and More, near the Cave of Ears, below the rooftops of the city of the telephones whose residents skimmed from place to place on grandly gilded wires that had the power to govern velocity. If a wire said faster, a person went faster. All was in the word and the order, with no multiplication tables necessary.
When I did poorly at school my parents sent me to child seer, called an analyst, who believed he knew his profession but I knew better. I used my special powers to lift his hair from his head and makes his chair swivel round and round so much so that he became dizzy and left me alone in the room where I looked at his moving books and spoke to his couch, which explained its secret language concealed in cushions with zippers made from the fast teeth of little reptiles. I told the doctor all this but he didn’t listen, nor did my parents, instead speaking of the remedial measures to come.
I imagined these as remedies, or ripples, or, most likely, rhinoceroses, which the residents of the telephone city said were the words that most began in “r” and required concentration when adults imposed their fiendish plots. Another plot was vegetables, not in the garden but the ones to eat, which I refused, hiding instead behind the Oar Door of the Bookcase and drawing big sketches of tanks by candlelight.
At night I was in the military, a corporal in the hills near the town of ocean liners and beaks whose birds spoke Persian — a kind of bugged rug — and every dream anyone dreamed came with hoofs and craters and mounds of crunchy stars, the kind you could snack on when hungry, hot and wise sustenance awaiting the time when all words began in “s.”
I told the doctor this as well, that the “s” time was near (and far), but more remedies followed, or were threatened, so I found further acres of separate space — the roof, the attic — where only my rules applied and each hand held a tuning fork to measure rainfall and hissing.
Once, my mother said, “What’s wrong with you?” — not a question but a statement, so I responded with the text of the chronicle of telephone poles and grappling hooks, making many sounds to stand for them, then running (as ordered by my captain) into the branches of the pine tree where I harvested order. My mother stood below and sobbed.
Was I incorrigible, someone — not my father, perhaps a teacher — asked the doctor when I had a birthday, or what they called a birthday, to me the Surest Day of Tints and Sugar. I knew the answer before the question. I knew my name and rank and how between each blade of grass mites and miters charged upward of the south in search of new worlds, and boys to conquer. But how to tell them this? I couldn’t. No one could. None of them spoke in couch. None knew the music of speed along the tips of braided phone lines, and the way a different riding of each one produced a different result and a different destination, each one sizzling, sly, simple. I knew the “s” words and their destination. No one else did.
At age nine the doctor lost his eyes in my flood and insisted I be placed in a school where whims were pulled like teeth. This is when my father suddenly intervened with the Miracle of the Then. “My son is not a literalist,” he told the doctor. “He has a mind of his own.”
After which I learned the tables, and the word antediluvian, while never straying far from my flood.