First Thought, Last Breath

So, I’m getting out of work. I walk toward Debbie. There is a loaf and a half stuffed precariously in between my left arm and torso. With a bag of small rolls in my left hand, and books in my right, I have my hands real full. I cautiously walk to Debbie.

I have her keys wrapped around my fingers and thumb. My old phone is in the palm of the same hand. This is my right hand, and I gently rotate the wrist. The key is stuck. I wiggle it. It won’t work.

Without much grace, and with some effort, I somehow get my books from underneath my right arm and place them on top of  Debbie. It’s a good thing there was no rain, because I forgot to close the sunroof again.

I flashback to that time covered with rain, where my lips touched hers. In one fluid act, our tongues mixed saliva with the rainwater that seeped into our mouths. It felt good.

I earned eight dollars in tips at work today. I put the cash in between the two ends of my beaten flip phone. Enough to buy a new pack of cigarettes and pay my friend back for buying me lunch earlier. A processed chicken square in the middle of two bleached buns -a staple product of  the high school cafeteria. It’s all I ate today. Which was some time before noon, and my remedy for the plastic taste was to drench the chicken square in hot sauce. Now, it is only a few minutes after ten.

So there, my aged flip phone is up there with my books and the money is securely stashed within. Once again I insert the key into Debbie -a broken memory of a future once taken for granted, but now permanently lost.

No. She is just a car. A sedan i inherited, yet I still had to pay for. I worked hard to acquire her, and I nearly depleted my bank account fixing her. I used to have a few thousand saved up, not anymore.

I finally enter Debbie. Swing the door open with my left hand. Lift my right leg and climb on into her. That’s what I like to feel.

I turn the music up. Take my pack out of the center console. Lucky is the only one left. So I check the mirror and put Lucky in my mouth. Insert it until the filter is halfway passed my lips.

The final time our lips touched. That was good. You never think it’s the last, although I asked her for one last kiss. It was probably our best, yet there were so many times that I don’t really remember all that well. We were both crying. Our tears slid down our cheeks. Dripped into our cavernous mouths.

Okay, check the mirror, I’m parked parallel. Turn the steering wheel all the way to the left and quickly jolt her back about halfway. Light Lucky, and I’m off.

The pedal is touching the floor. I don’t know. All I know is I want to get away. I’m not far down the street when I notice some pedestrians staring at me. I stop abruptly, and then pull into reverse a bit, then park in the middle of the street. I jump out of her.

The money is scattered all across the street, while my phone and books are flipped open in the middle of the road. The binding is ripped on one of them. The phone is still alive.

I can’t find all the money for a few seconds but then I do. Meanwhile, a lady in a black dress is staring at me. So I stand there for a good two and a half seconds while I take a drag of Lucky, and stare back at her.

Hop into my Debbie once more. Now there is a car behind me. They think I made an ass out of myself.

So I get out of there real fast. Nobody can drive her like me, and I’d be upset if they did. While turning right, I begin to notice a noise. Something rolling with the turn. There is a bowl in the backseat. I can see it in the corner of my eye.

It’s been rolling back and forth, like a pendulum in accordance to Debbie’s movements. The spoon is laid bare in the open. A foreign object, all alone. At times the bowl rolls over the solitary utensil, reminding it of where it longs to be, but never letting it achieve former happiness. I take a long drag of Lucky, and I drive.

I’m exhausted. Another day of school and work. I can’t wait to collapse onto my bed and dream. Never wanting dawn to come.

I run up stairs and into my room, falling so gracefully. It’s only fifteen minutes after ten, I don’t care.

I just want to dream, so I start off with fantasies, and then let it all drift. I can never tell when I switch between states of being. I can only tell when I am fully immersed, since it’s all too good to be true, and yet I trick myself every time.

I know this now, because instead of haunting me like it did during daylight, the bowl is reunited with the spoon. The utensil is in my hand, while my fingers force it to twirl the broth in her.

I look up and stare into her eyes. Those sunflowers resting against the azure sky. I don’t ever want it to go away. It is only my mind, sitting in this ambiguous, empty setting with her.

That doesn’t really matter. Nothing else matters at this exact moment. This moment that barely exists. This fleeting, arbitrary space, a cafe’ perhaps, but one I’ve certainly never been to in my actual existence.

It’s so empty.

This is how I’m asserting my values. This is the meaning of my existence currently: something I had once taken for granted, and now can only dream about.

Dawn is here, and so I wake up, and start it all over again.

No Atonement For God

In Atonement, Ian McEwan intricately weaves various conceptual threads, including psychological realism, subjectivism, irony, and Christian philosophy, into a contrived metafictional web that literarily simulates the human mind.  McEwan begins this intricate web by using stream of consciousness and alternating points of view(most notably through Robbie, Briony, and Cecilia), in order to establish psychological realism.  The form of psychological realism McEwan employs evokes the theme of subjectivism, which is interwoven with Christian concepts of atonement that guide the reader to Atonement’s ultimate question, “…how can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one …she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her”(McEwan 350).  Briony, therefore, mirrors mankind by attempting to install order in the chaotic world of Atonement.  But she eventually realizes that her attempts at playing God are completely contrary to the harmonious world she desires, which she then attempts to redeem by creating a good, fictional world.

She ruthlessly subordinates everything in the real world to her need to serve the demands of her own fictional world.  Raised on a diet of imaginative literature, she is too young to understand the dangers that can ensue from modeling one’s conduct on such an artificial world.  When she acts out her confusion between life, and the life of fiction, the consequences are tragic and irreversible.  Thus, she attempts to use fiction in order to correct the very errors that fiction helped her to commit. But the chasm that separates the world of the living from that of fictional invention ensures that, at best, her fictional reparation will act as an attempt at atoning for a past that she cannot reverse.(Finney)

Briony’s selfish desire for order is first discovered through her attempt to “…guide (her older brother Leon) away from his careless succession of girlfriends, toward the right form of wife, the one who would persuade him to return to the countryside, the one who would sweetly request Briony’s services as a bridesmaid”(McEwan 4). She does so by directing her cousins to act out her play, “The Trials of Arabella”, for him.  Briony’s description of her controlling need for fairy-tale harmony rapidly transmute into obsessive, methodical implications regarding her toy “cowboys, deep-sea divers, humanoid mice-suggested by their even ranks and spacing a citizen’s army awaiting orders”(McEwan 5).  Briony’s three paragraph, direct and indirect characterization of her younger-self, ultimately changes into a ironically prophetic contradiction, “Her wish for a harmonious, organized world denied her the reckless possibilities of wrongdoing.  Mayhem and destruction were too chaotic for her tastes, and she did not have it in her to be cruel”(McEwan 5).  These sentences first appear to be simple, direct characterizations, but actually allude to ironic contradictions  once Briony’s wrongdoing is revealed.

Her desire for a harmonious world causes the destruction of Robbie and Cecilia’s love, and forms the paths they take to their deaths.  Briony devastated their lives by causing the loss of each other, that only remained connected through abstract love: a recurring theme in McEwan’s novels(Jensen). It is also clear that (in the words of another critic), childhood Briony “…lacks introspection and broad vision… and she’s most concerned that life line up in the order she prefers”(Vidimos).  Thus, Briony’s childish fantasies that seek harmony, ironically cause utter chaos she cannot control any other way in her mind besides completing herself through atonement(by creating an alternate fairy-tale with a happy ending for Robbie and Cecilia).

McEwan primarily establishes Briony’s carefully orchestrated point of view, because it “…manages to make the state of mind that leads Briony to make her false accusations against Robbie plausible, if not sympathetic… her willful naivete and self-dramatizing imagination lead her to ignore the truth, the ways in which her ignorance about the grown-up world would result in a terrible crime…(that) she will later try to expiate through… gestures of atonement”(Kakutani).  The crime Briony commits is persuading herself and the authorities that she witnessed Robbie rape her cousin Lola,(connecting it with events she childishly misunderstood between him and Cecilia) consequently sending him to jail, and separating him from his love, Cecilia(McEwan 169-175).  McEwan’s use of psychological realism subsequently develops into the theme of subjectivism, which is ultimately accentuated by his revelation that Briony is the fictional author of the novel, attempting to atone for the crime she had committed(McEwan 330).  Briony writes with self-consciousness, hence, she characterizes her younger-self with immaturity and a destructive desire for control-both of which compel her to stand by what would be a seemingly arbitrary lie(if it wasn’t for Robbie’s sexually explicit letter to Cecilia).

Although Briony seeks atonement for her sin, she cannot change that, in reality, Robbie died at Dunkirk, and Cecilia was killed by Luftwaffe bombers(hence they never reunite), except for her writings(which she explicitly confesses), “…I’ve made a huge digression and doubled back to my starting place.  It is only in this last version which my lovers end well…”(McEwan 350).  Hence, elderly Briony incorporates a subtle Christian element into the narrative, which introduces a whole new theme to Atonement.  First and foremost, Robbie is an apparent Christ figure, most notably when he shepherds the twin cousins back when they run away(an allusion to The Parable of The Shepherd that is expanded upon in Part Two), only to be wrongly arrested on arrival(McEwan 171).  The Christian Satisfaction theory of atonement, that Jesus is sacrificied for God’s plan, parallels Briony’s sacrifice of the innocent Robbie in order to fulfill the harmony of her dellusional fantasy world(Robinson).  Yet when Briony matures and realizes her catastrophic sin, her role changes to “…the individual Christian believer seeking wholeness”(Robinson) in the Moral theory of atonement.

Consequently, McEwan threads Briony’s psychologically realistic use of literary devices into her self-conscious, subjecive, and tragically ironic account.  Briony then supplements her literary devices with underlying Christian theories of atonement, in order to create an even more psychologically realistic portrait of herself. Thus, Briony’s Atonement is knowingly “…a philosophical novel, pitting the imagination against what it has to imagine if we are to be given the false assurance that there is a match between our fictions and the specifications of reality. The pleasure it gives depends as much on our suspending belief as on our suspending disbelief”(Kermonde). Briony’s Atonement is futile, but is necessitated by her moral obligation to repent for the sin she committed against Robbie the Christ-figure; hence, there is “No atonement for God, or novelists… It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point. The attempt was all”(McEwan 351).  In Briony’s point of view, her life-long attempt at atonement, by writing Atonement, has  helped to redeem her, which alludes to the meaning of the novel: that atonement is the mind’s own self-satisfying and subjective product.

Humanity is a Machine

oil dropped from the petals

grabbing the scent unloved

and leaning on failure

offering nothing sane

and leaving us with black

leaves growth hindered and dry

why do we eat nothing

tell me something i know

so i can hear again

and see if we can be

so easily altered

or else have faith in lines

twisted and broken and

swimming in the red sea

where the throngs of people

never crossed but it won’t

make for a miracle

if we wade through reed ponds

lamenting the day our

stories are told and not

believed by the young ones

a new tale has been formed

telling ourselves we’re dead

already we say our

end is near we’ve given

up our hope to ancient

traditions that never

existed while helping

the conglomerates sell

our lives to us faster

staring at screens with blank

faces that hold no sway

over the monolith

with laws for fingers and

guns for hands blood on wrists

that don’t need to be wiped

waiting for the metal

box passenger to walk

up the lonely oak where

the peninsula breathes

water the color of

concrete because it knows

the decadent will hold

mother down and rape her

tearing her into peace

because that nothing has

something and that is rest

because i know that ruin

beautiful but decayed

leaves out ugly context

how those many billions

are nothing now but dust

how the plagues swept through minds

deducing the objects

this plane holds a certain

reality that we

see in our palms but can’t

read the awakening

because linear paths

are really strings that flow

through our bodies and through

forever carrying

life on feeble bent wires

the mayor knows he is

fat and loaded with lies

chemicals feel better

than facts gripped by eagles

sucklings submissively

draining knowledge from it

that intangible block

saving the objective

diving into the dark

matter to nothing but

nothing is arbiter

of god who will not care

keep the rain for the limp

not sensing thirst in lambs

because there is no one

sensing anything more

than us that we think of

and the vicious circle

has no room for the sheep

judas could not die both

on the ground and hanging

there must be resolve and

why shouldn’t we rant our

raving minds withering

in fabrications of

ourselves we make up most

words for things we have made

and lie to our children

about fantasies we

so lovingly received

and we will not know now

but soon there can be hope

in transcending ourselves

not in faith for the fake

machines are so tempting

behind them is a god

the sustained will breed

bringing a new hybrid

homosapien hell

will be diminished now