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Yes, and…


A tad jittery he leans over the table to show her what he’s scribbled on all those napkins: A parade of little machines in stumbling procession–a drunken congo-line swaying in every direction. Running through them all are bundles of cable in every conceivable color and size; connected here to a clip and there to a finger-tip or breast. Wires trail the ground and trace frantic lines in the air. The whole thing smells of ozone. Everywhere are the bits and pieces of general assembly (broken gears and ruined teeth, fingernails and spare parts to name a few). They are kicked about, scooped into baskets, swallowed, shat out, squished, ground into dirt and dust, uncovered, duplicated and forgotten.

And all of it so very noisy. Up and down the procession, all these sounds. So many fragments of numerous mouth-machines and bellows and strings all plugged together. One note per machine and that’s it until the next (and already here it comes). Pips and Doppler harmonies; the production of Markov chains, flitting vectors of plus or minus one. Familiar tunes speed off to the horizon as others approach from behind. And cries of pleasure. And simple jingles that flow in reverse to compound their doubles. Far away, a wolf-tone to witness the rise and fall of empires. Yes, and the air is fit to burst from all this noise.

This mumbling and tumbling about: Ear-machines and machines speculating on parts and length. Machines covered in moss, machines of a blazing fury. Smelling machines and explosive charges. A laser-jet printer, a music stand that squeaks when looked at. Yes and, and—Stacks of aging carbon copy that suck out the moisture of new rubber bands. Ballpoint pens on napkins busy scribbling an astounding variety of coincidences. A machine for converting paper to pulp and another to squeeze all that pulp back to paper. This one here for erasing and yet another for writing down. Excess, redundancy, moans and muscular spasm. A machine for spilling coffee; a machine for the infinite continuation of flesh in every direction. Yes and, and—Dotted lines of intensity that span the oceans. Tongues of fire; the boulder that hears and pours forth water. The contagion of proximity, the immanence of sweet nothings. Yes, and—

They wipe their sweaty brows with these very same napkins and then lick the ink-stains from each others faces.

Ben Conley



The Boy abides

The boy stares at the puzzle in a state of abject misery. The pieces arrived from somewhere else, in a brown paper bag, the way they always did. He has run his usual algorithms. He has confirmed that, at the very least, the pieces were produced in the same factory. Further analysis will reveal a complete set, plus or minus two, which should be plenty—and yet the image is unresolved. He abhors the thought of actually touching the pieces without their proper semblance, so he grabs his dirty fork from lunch and takes to prodding. Holding the fork at its very end he targets a single piece and pushes it gently through the pile, leaving a winding path in its wake—a city for worms. He bumps the table and the pieces shudder.

His fork is plowing new furrows into hungry soil. In the other room a beanstock sprouts from a fairytale. The plant’s leaves broaden as chlorophyll converts the rising sun into shade. Tiny indigenous people are churning out blankets. A chieftain takes a photo of his son’s bicycle. The television flickers and a gnarled hand changes the channel. The boy smiles. An image has resolved. He sweeps the pieces back into their crinkled bag and calls for lunch.

Ben Conley


It flies

If you look closely you will notice that many contrails appear a fraction of a second before their planes. Or at least this is what the man, well-dressed and handsome, told me outside the liquor store. Hats are for taking off, he continued, which today’s youth do not realize. Tell me more about the planes, I insisted, uncomfortable with the number of hats I’ve owned and never wore. He removed a notebook from his inside coat pocket and cleared his throat:

The real and imagined distances between our terrestrial lives and those in economy class are rarely bridged; these gaps in sensibility often contribute to a general confusion of velocities. Within the space of this confusion one can see — with careful scrutiny – the small ways in which cause and effect choose to deviate from their norms (though the whole thing tends to break down the moment one reaches for their camera).

I did my best to look incredulous without offending. He returned his notebook to its pocket and proceeded, with excruciating slowness, to point his other hand toward the sky. Before orienting myself to the line of sight he suggested I took a moment to stare at the fingernail of his extended digit — a carefully manicured inversion of standard form. Its edges came up to separate points and its tip receded back toward the finger. His nail resembled a pair of tiny abstracted horns, and were he to trace a shape in the sand, its lines would be doubled.

By resting my chin on his shoulder I could more accurately observe that which he was indicating: Neither the plane or its contrail, but a negligible disorientation between. After I gasped in mild astonishment he stepped aside, tapped his finger to his nose, and returned to the warmth of the liquor store.


Ben Conley


Bit of net

As has become my unwilling habit, I paced about at dawn and prayed to the purple light that sleep would come. When the fisherman came my way, I waved to him and asked him several questions. He proceeded to speak at length about the mending of nets, or rather he spoke briefly and I embellished the rest with metaphor.

You hear and do not hear, he told me. I related that this was why I could not sleep. You waste your time, he scolded me. I again explained that this was why I could not sleep. When I asked him to show how one casts a net into the ocean, he threw his upon me. In that very instant I fell to the ground and was unable to move for fear of becoming further entangled. The fisherman lit his pipe and stooped down to where I lay. This is the sort of thing that happens, boy, when you forget to take things literally.

Ben Conley

Finding the Particular

An old map

He held several iPhones in hands, shuffling them idly while keeping his eyes fixed on my forehead. I asked him about the state of the economy. Depends on the phase, he told me. Allow me to demonstrate. He laid four iPhones face-up on the table. On three of the screens were displayed images of American folklore (one being Paul Bunyon). On the fourth was a rotating model of some distant planetoid. The goal, he said as he lowered his eyes, is to find the particular.

Having stated the objective he flipped each phone upside-down with the practiced grace of a professional sharp. At times during the course of this game your eyes will swear these devices move on their own. You are allowed to believe what your eyes tell you in such moments, but only on the condition that you have not forgotten my one true name. At other times you will sit in awe before the wonderful deftness of my fingers, marveling at an illusion of complete control. Be warned! You are allowed to believe this only so long as my one true name is absent from your mind. If at any point your belief catches up to–or passes– itself, you will suddenly discover that you are alone. Behind you there is a fading map which I will take with me. In its place I will leave a litter of napkins and broken pencils for you to work out the figures, but your faith in the figure will be lost.

You may stop the delightful movement of these devices whenever you so choose, but your selection must carry with it the force of a wager. If the device you select is not the particular, all four devices will once more take up their dancing. This process will not end until you find the particular or I am forced to leave you utterly alone.

We will begin at your word.

Ben Conley

That Man

Man in profile with machine

That man over there is stacking tables too high by far. That man over there has put our hats on all the wrong pegs. He is not to be trusted. Do not trust him even when he breaks for coffee; that is not coffee he drinks. Look at the way he holds his cup: Watch him closely. Right there, did you see that? Troubling, very troubling. I suggest you move on. That man over there has confused his paperwork with the changing of the seasons. That man is not to be trusted.

Ben Conley


Yes, this here.

Let’s talk exceptions and the standard rule of measure. We have our orders; we’ve checked the sequence. This day (yes, this very one) is ours for to give and take. From any window you can clearly see there is much to be deployed as we circle the planet. Our course is exceptional (so too, all our team-members) and we have calculated the correct lines of deviation. We see that future, so carefully scried in every sphere. We know what we must do (for the memo is already on your desk). This alteration calls for the most exacting precision one can find in a bespoke universe. Yes, there will be celebration, but for the love of God please ignore the interns. They know not what they do.

Ben Conley




A child’s touch which brings to mind the dim wonderment of those early screens, but also a cactus whose thin needles guide you toward a thoughtful caress, releasing their private melody. It’s hot out. Too hot to brighten my phone any further. Too bright to have forgotten those knockoffs in my car. The hazy sight of your touch flits between a mirage and augmented reality. The unconscious squeeze of an empty Gatorade bottle serves to stimulate memory but also to aggravate my thirst. A padlock on the nearby pump does not move in the wind that does not blow. Twelve minutes down the road by car is where they have water and Mountain Dew in vending machines.

While driving I fail to remember how track five skips in the middle and that seven is an order of magnitude louder than six. I picture a thousand CDs scattered across the rocks of a petrified forest, or rather the trace of something 250 million years away. Will they crack the way a microwave can? My exit is Rainbow-something, which I miss. I drive in the wrong way but there is only one other car, windows tinted, Alaska plates. Vending machine is cheaper than I would’ve thought. Two bottles of water and a Mountain Dew. On a whim I open all three bottles and prepare to examine my sense of taste. Bottle one, bottle two, bottle one, bottle three, bottle two. Must’ve lost one of the caps. My car is still running, the A/C works well enough, and I wave bye to the man from Alaska even though I cannot see his face.

With my arm over the back of the passenger seat and my head turned to reverse out of the parking lot, I take a picture of myself looking away from the rear-view mirror and send it to you.


Ben Conley



Resting his head on a book of puns he asks me, What is the worth of a word?

I double check the figures on my napkin and give him my initial estimate excluding contingencies. His face tells me he can afford it, set in gold and ticking off the time in a strangely syncopated fashion. Opening a jar of jam he winks at our waitress, Excuse me M’am, but when is a door not a door?

Ben Conley

The Sometimes Sea


The boy holds a can of coke and applies just enough pressure to be gifted the pleasure of crinkling. He pours the drink into a bowl and sets afloat a ship of folded paper. He sends away the cat and with sweet breath gives the ship to spinning. The little paper crew unfold their hands and brace against the fury. A light comes to life in the kitchen and whispers thoughts of lunch. The boy lifts the bubbling sea and stows away its maritime dream. Thinning galleymen forget themselves and fall away to sleep.

Ben Conley

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