excerpt from I Fell in Love with a Monster Truck
Now, as you will see, I started with a simple premise – that if I contorted my body into certain physical positions, that they would evoke certain parallel thoughts. For example, I knew if I pointed my left arm straight up, and left my right arm to drape at my side, my mind would ultimately flash on lightning, or the inner workings of a musical instrument. But, you see, there is truly only one thought I seek to have. Competing with this idea is, of course, the idea of fitness – that by contorting my body I would not be breaking free but rather shoving and hollowing myself into modes of compliance. We all wish to be nurtured and adored. Therefore, I seek a spore. A mushroom spore of truth. And so I begin. There is a rabbit. Sometimes the rabbit lives in one field, and sometimes in another. Sometimes, when I march through one of the fields, I will see the little hare tumbling around or kicking up clouds of dry grass. The rabbit has lovely eyes, a lovely nose, an adorable mouth, and beautiful teeth. One day, I saw the rabbit and decided that I wanted to fit into this world. It occurred to me that I would start by buying a hat, so I went to a store that sold them. The lady who worked there (she reminded me vaguely of a walking antique trellis) reached up high to pull down several hats off of high shelves. None of them fit me, despite being very practical, and some very haute. Then the woman hinged forward at the waist to reach into some low drawers, and pulled out some very special hats that weren’t on display. None of them fit either. None of the hats fit. It wasn’t a matter of the size of my head, exactly. It wasn’t that the hats were too big or too small. They just didn’t fit. The saleswoman politely suggested that I consider, instead, a form of exercise. She sat me down squarely in the middle of the store, among the hats, belts, and scarves, and began to give me instructions. Round your feet through your heels and feel more connected to your feet. Straighten your back (this will create healthy internal organs) and reach your right knee over to your left. Stretch your left arm to the right, look under your left shoulder, and twist excessively. I hovered there as I felt imprinted with a new heart. I was becoming a better version of myself. When the woman saw that she had succeeded, she asked for a form of payment. Cash. CASH. And she sighed. I looked at her straight in her telescopic eyes and proclaimed: Dear lady, and while you were talking, I was trying to think, I was trying to think. The thought struck me. None of us shall profit from the suffering of others.
On that afternoon, my heart was silently bleeding as I knocked a hole in the shop’s wall in order to exit onto the street. No one teaches you how to live, so you have to teach yourself. I lived in a great big city but increasingly had found that I was having difficulty walking through doors, as I was having trouble fitting in them. Again, it wasn’t a matter of their size, nor mine, but of something else entirely. My biggest problem as of late was that I could not fit in into my monster truck with any regularity. My mobility was heavily restricted as a result, as I could only go most places on foot or by train. You see, I am one of those rare people who actually remember being born. It is the truth. In fact, it so happens I was born in the back seat of a monster truck. I remember entering the world with a tremendous sense of general well-being. Drawing in my second or third breath, and life was a river, I remember the colors of cars looking vague and illuminated like chewing gum, and there were rubber-star wheels, and the reviving tarry glow of the arena. Then I choked on – and I forget. Someone had to take my forearm and get me belly up. Still, some days I have the bittersweet luck of fitting into my monster truck, but today was not one of them. I was standing in front of my apartment building, near a chain-link fence. Another person who lived in the city happened to walk by and saw me struggling to get in the door. He had an anonymous face like a lagoon. This may be none of my business, he said, but perhaps you should try an exercise or two. He stood me down on the tepid asphalt and began to shout orders. I leaned back on my heels, locking my knees at the same time. My chest was up, my hands were above my head, and I kept kicking back with my legs, absorbing the sound of his voice, absorbing the sunlight. I kept going when my body begged me to stop. I looked like this. Like I wanted so badly to be in a lean state. There was a tingle in my back. I turned on my head. I dug deeper into my rotator cuffs, and produced rotation. At certain intervals I looked like sculpture. Landing softly with my feet, then pulling my feet in, reaching high overhead, now externally rotating my shoulders. Then my fists lined up with my elbows, and I slowly rotated one arm up at a right angle with an isometric tug. I felt completely neutral about being alive. The gentleman perceived this to be a perfect state of balance, as if I were strung up in the world exactly between two polarities, like a knot in the center of a very taught cord. Then he asked for payment. Mmmmm, he rubbed his chin. CASH. Sir! I exclaimed, if only you would take the following vow, as I have. I will not profit from the suffering of others. I WILL NOT PROFIT FROM THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS. Children especially.
Subsequently, I have a wish: if only we could see the effects of our actions in the world more immediately. When I had first moved to this city in my early-twenties, I lived in a very thin-walled apartment. I had a neighbor who possessed a fascination with reptiles and who, therefore, owned a pet snake. The summers were very hot and we did not have air conditioning in the building. Sometimes at around dawn, I was sure I could hear the snake wriggling in its cage, making a sound akin to dry glue sidling through sawdust, winking with his lower eyelids one eye at a time. My neighbor claimed that the snake blew kisses to friendly people. The snake was pale yellow in color. I really wanted to fit. My cheeks were burning. You could say my cheeks were scorching. I had successfully gotten on the train and had found an open seat next to a window where I had been sitting and focusing on the arch of my lower back. I rang for my stop, but when it came time to exit through train, once again I found that I could not fit through the door. I wish to remind you, I am quite average in size, and size was not the issue. The door simply did not fit. Being too polite to hold up the train, I ended up riding it all day until it was dark, past 2 in the morning, and the train had parked itself in the station for the night. The conductor was startled to see me sitting in my seat and at first mistook me for a tramp, or at least a run-of-the-mill lost soul. However, after I explained my situation, her demeanor softened significantly, much like an off-duty police officer’s would. All right, she said, we will get you through the door. Face your toes front and imagine you’re a chair. I did. Roll down to the floor carefully, with your hands relaxed at your sides. Now imagine you’re a bridge (I did). You’re stretching proudly from east to west. Get on all fours and imagine balancing a dinner plate on your spine. Plant your hands. Plant your feet. Feel your buccaneer muscles. Your razorius. The nasal-labium-tensor-fasciata fold. Your torso is a sash. Her eyes were lit like lampposts and her mouth suggested a vacuum tugging at the atmosphere, a recession in time. I felt like I could fall in love with inanimate objects – something that I, like most people, have been trained to do since the time of my birth. So many directives to propel the palm of the hand to touch metal. And then I stopped myself in my tracks. I WILL NOT PROFIT FROM THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS. I wish to be the beneficiary of a good, life-long career, and one that should not be in any manner exploitative.
Traveling used to be a favorite hobby of mine. Sometimes when I would be a passenger on an airplane, I would imagine a scenario in which I would look out the little portal window and see some kind of bird, like a blue jay, staring at me eye-to-eye. I’m extremely surprised that this has never happened. Nevertheless, ever since my “problem” began, I have not been able to successfully board an airplane. However, I had been longing to take a vacation somewhere serene, like an island with a volcano, for quite some time. Several people gave me recommendations, until I settled on the idea of visiting a volcano that was supposed to possess many rare qualities (apparently it made the sound of a human breathing in and out). I purchased a first-class ticket, and it was because of this hefty expenditure that the airline staff was especially accommodating and attentive when it turned out I could not board the plane. A group of about seven or so flight stewards and ticket-takers hovered around me, trying to figure out how the problem could be solved. As they stood, all dressed in the same uniforms (except that the men wore pants and the women wore skirts), huddled and tall, they looked like a forest of willing syringes. Then one young man stepped forward, obsequiously and professionally kind: why don’t we try to see if you can squeeze into your luggage? We all thought it was a great idea, and they all began to shout at me at once: it is primary that you reach the volcano. Alternate bringing your knees to your elbows and begin to count. And I felt it working. When I 8-9-10 and 1-2-3 and 4-5-6’d. When I looked at their faces. Side lunge, and touch down, as if you were cannonballing into water. Hop with your left knee dropped over your left toe. Feel yourself moving like a windmill, like a swimmer, like you’re in a jump suit. Domino from side to side. I 1-2-3 1-2-3 1-2-3’d. Like you’re swinging a kettle or belt in your right arm. Now add your elbow in more. These dear people earning a paycheck. And as a result of this particular bodily contortion, my mind began to produce very specific thoughts (like a taste for drag racing in my monster truck, for example, and a desire to have an immaculate track record with members of the opposite sex). In other words, my body – in only this position – became a very hospitable host to a certain and finite set of thoughts. But later I would regain myself. I will not profit from the suffering of others.
Road rage in the city is worse than ever, and I have been thinking of leaving this dreary place. A very dear friend wrote me a letter (that smelled of cologne) and suggested, no less, that I join a traveling carnival as a contortionist/moral advisor. You would be able to work, forage for the bizarre – as well as the world’s gems – scan the sky at your leisure, influence minds. But, dearest friend, I said, how would I ever fit into the tent, or the trailer, or the designated building? These days I’m finding it difficult to stay put inside my own skull. Why the other day, I wrote, I was watching some swans swim around a small pond during my lunch break, and I swore that for a brief moment I couldn’t fit into my own skull. This had nothing to do with size. I was unwrapping a sandwich and suddenly flashed on myself washing my hands with a stub of old white soap, which I had done about ten minutes earlier. Then for a brief moment I was convinced I saw my own thoughts steaming in the grass, and I thought the swans were vultures, but this didn’t frighten me in the least. All the world’s creatures, even we, have our necessary form of enterprise. If only we knew with certainty that our effect on the world was a good one. A mild-looking older woman who had been feeding the ducks saw my predicament and told me to lie down in the grass and catch my geographical bearings. Draw your shoulder blades behind your heart, she instructed, and lift your legs up about 30 degrees. Dive into yourself and streamline your speed. Your temperature should plummet as you feel yourself more maneuverable than ever. Inside your body another journey starts. The nucleus. Your muscles contract to keep all your thoughts suspended. Everything is bound together by membranes. The cavities in your bones are seeding points. Now grab opposite hand to ankle, extending each leg. I had to get it right. My body had to. It was a matter of rolling forward. From this position I could feel that every moment of life counted for something. Returning to my skull, I renewed the pledge that I have been uttering so frequently. Only, in that moment, I had forgotten how to speak the words.
I Fell in Love with a Monster Truck was originally published by Insert Blanc Press as part of their Parrot Series.
Amanda Ackerman is the author of the chapbooks The Seasons Cemented (Hex Presse), I Fell in Love with a Monster Truck (Insert Press Parrot #8), and Short Stones(Dancing Girl Press). She has co-authored Sin is to Celebration (House Press), the Gauss PDF UNFO Burns a Million Dollars, and the forthcoming novel Man’s Wars And Wickedness (Bon Aire Projects). She is co-publisher and co-editor of the press eohippus labs. She also writes collaboratively as part of the projects SAM OR SAMANTHA YAMS and UNFO. Her book The Book of Feral Flora is forthcoming from Les Figues press