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WHITE ON WHITE: a film noir — THE ROAD TO SUMQAYIT Jeff Wood
rufus corporation

THE ROAD TO SUMQAYIT

Abandoned beaches with charred concrete pads and picnic tables gnawed and smoothed at the ends like driftwood. Filament beaches of igneous grains, rubble, gravel and all manner of coughed-up lithic grind, glass beads and glass bottles, glass shards. Sloth and slush and strewnings of fabric weeds and muck compressed into a poultice of wound drained down from that cirque and lapped upon impotently by the sickened sea. Odd indiscernible objects and parts of objects and rusted objects and piles of burned papers and clothing, utensils, halves over lumber, leaves and strange cones. A few slick loons diving. Some kind of building, the former cabana rotting and piled with mountains of green glass bottles. Sewage running from pipes as though straight from the train and water running rusted from the roof and the shack seems to be dripping itself, weeping and bleeding from it’s pores. Ripped and sheets hung in the wet from the blown-out sun-room windows and a body moving across the dank interior. Somebody living in there, on the shore. They look and wave and disappear and I don’t see them again. And I don’t know whether my presence is clandestine, or whether theirs is. There is no sun, only a thin layer of rainy soot. No light or light source. Just an open sort of humming glow like a painter’s illumination of an ashcan. Palm frond umbrellas lined up in the sand, tattered and pitiful and just plainly unbelievable as though again sketched by some post-apocalyptic satirist. And beyond them, in the rendered depth of field, the off-shore platforms, crouched in the gloom their knees bent darkly to the inhuman floor, shoulders hunched staunchly hunkered on the field of liquid against the horizon like desperate visionary cities. A deep loneliness, these off-shore platforms. The loneliness of drones with no reprieve, the salt spray corroding away at everything and cold steel, these contraptions, the vastness of it as in the summoning of the dragon Alaska and the architectures of our remotest fears suddenly irrupting into fully individuated existential panic like a mad dog frothing and tearing ravenously at our temporary mortal comforts. It’s cold March and not a sound. A few seagulls over the water. I sit at the picnic table at the still-birthing sea, covered in the thick layers of my winter gear and goggles, watching it, through the looking glass of a Hopper holiday just after the blast. A white, black and white light. This moment, this flash of colorlessness, of metallic film, never ends. I pull an orange out of my pocket and peel the orange with my gloves and eat it slowly, to taste that exploding color at the edge of the end of the world. And I skip some smooth ovular stones. They travel quiet, spinning gently across the monochrome surface like one note of a piano pressed softly and evenly as they might be skipping in a vacuum once set in motion a chain reaction against the governing laws of gravity and entropy might skip forever and with equal force neither increasing or diminishing. Like a signal formed of stone. Behind me the TV tower planted on the crest of the hilltop on the jagged ridge crumbling and rusty. Like a thing from space from the future bombed and reversed. As if our understanding of our lives is lived backwards and determined by the future that has already ended it, and is remembered. That time is actually flowing backwards and the thing that has happened or become is actually lived away from itself toward those causes and conditions which led to its happening and becoming. That at no time was I more whole than as a whole child, and have since been unraveling. And at no time was I more whole than that, then when was I an idea that had not yet existed, and that is the moment that I remember now, like a gemstone, the projected total memory of myself after I have ceased to exist, which I remember collectively by myself, as imagined to be remembered by everyone, as I unravel in pieces around the whole memory, flowing backwards away from it in time, into the fragments that composed it.

Beneath the TV tower a squat pod-like building, which looks to me like a small bombed-out television studio of reinforced concrete now some windowless bunker, a pentagonal star of bare corners absorbed of dog-piss and the foul stench of urine of other men. And I stay in there for a time in the front room and build fires inside, behind the front wall facing the road, the fire glowing about inside the shelter like an enflamed temporal lobe, visited by the furies, orange light flickering in the cyclopean eye of the building like a skull. And I sit up on the wall and follow strange vehicles along the road full of steam and forget that I am in any country at all and search out pale stars in the asthmatic night sky and I think of Sputnik ensnared in cobwebs strewn across the atmosphere. I watch the square and angular forms of animals cast about the walls and dancing like the half-mooned projections of a solar eclipse refracting and replicating everywhere in broad lysergic daylight. And the populace of an Aztec city-state engaged in the commerce of the pueblo and the random patterns of life from an aerial view like ants in their megalopolis spread out across the concrete floor flickering with shadows in the firelight, spelling out some code which if I could decipher would answer those to things that cause me to wish that it never be morning.

The people in full afternoon dissipating as we push on through the northern outskirts of Baku city and the hordes of traffic in brown clouds cleaving off and paring down to single lines in the dust and the road opening to a long pluming ribbon. And with it the city changing perceptibly but not quite dissolving. Lying low like fat dogs at siesta the interminable block housing spreading out on either side of the road. The houses go on forever in waves over the brown barren hills of incendiary dust, as if it might ignite and explode and vaporize, neither desert nor steppe nor dump, but of one vast conglomerating construction site on the land once something else now razed and long ago rooted and embanked of house after house after house of block upon block. And it must be one big mudfuck when it rains like hell of dogs roaming wildly down streets, map-less and without name. Rounding over the carcinogenic hills. Broad carotenoid breasts of fossilized oceanography. Mountains of seashells piled in crustacean epochs, molluskan kingdoms sheaving off and disintegrating into the airs, unmaking themselves. We are inhaling a prehistoric ocean in the dust of the taxi and sweeping over the top of a rise, a gaping maul in the earth. A craterous valley yawning out into the haze. An ethereal light as though forced through a gauze. I squint to see into it, for miles. The land is like a mummy. Thick diesel strata in choking pigments. The road following down into the bottoms. A noxious lake. Oil derricks pocking the hillsides for as far as the eye can see. Autonomic pumps cycling their mechanical arms. Steel urns and domes and untellable lattice-works of wires and cables and lines leading everywhere in some great conspiracy of Promethean conductivity. The landscape is so war-torn, so razed and seared, so churned with smog and vapor that it is difficult to imagine exactly what is happening here. Winding and crisscrossed roads, paved and earthen, and railroad stubs rusted and buckled containers and tankers. Activity in the distance and miasma of trucks rumbling silently and churning rigs melding into total sonic din, constant and thunderous and discreet like a tinnitus of the ears. The earth itself is howling and the scale across the clay-tinted terran expanse is like a children’s geography set, or train yard, or diorama: apocalypse. There is no sky. Oddly positioned buildings wherever they need be, in confusing states. Are they being built or demolished? Are they inhabited or abandoned, for living or industry, family, company or state? The effect is disorienting and sinister. Children there, barefoot and shirtless riding bicycles along the gas lines and the gas fires with goats and sheep. So overwhelming is the total milieu that it wholly defies my comprehension. Like opening up oneself for vivisection and seeing what was not meant to be seen. It is rapturous. Herzog’s Faust. Swarms and swarms of blackbirds in vast operatic whorls. Blackbirds, starlings and magpies, two-toned Eurasian crows and ravens black as pitch hounding the ground, splattering the open like ink. Innumerable black feathered wings sweeping like stained psychiatric cotton swabs inscribing a chaotic thicket of mad lines and trajectories, a pattern of indecipherable visual code as if to reformat the mind and encrypt it with a demonic confusion of illegible scrawlings. Thousands upon thousands of them like locusts blighting, alighting on the ferric branchless acne, tormented and stirred to feverish agitation as if the earth itself were pained and maddened with contempt, bitterness and jealousy. And the strangest, most specific littering of trash I have ever seen, as far as the eye can see, plastic deli bags. Millions of plastic deli bags blanketing the land at random yet even intervals. As if placed there, by all symphonic forces. Every color, but mostly translucent white plastic deli bags. Having blown from every corner store and every other last business on earth, from every corner of the planet, drifted, sank and eddied and found their basin, here. All like things gravitating. How can I explain, that as far as is possible to see, I see plastic deli bags. It is spectacular. I am mortified, and deeply saddened, and ecstatic with sheer bewilderment. And taking brief refuge in abstraction, I remember Sputnik again and reconsider. Perhaps the plastic deli bag is the most far-reaching and poignant icon of human achievement. But the landscape is heavier than metaphor and the air is leaden, deeper than sadness, sharper than melancholy, and shallower, looking inhuman into the inhuman of that vivisection.

Walking among the bags and the blackbirds, covered still in my layers of winter canvas and wool, goggles and gloves, my boots sinking into the spongy sphagnum of gunk. Acidic, acrylic pools resinous with oily iridescent orbits, like the varnished wood grain in a cross-section of giant grandfather sequoia. Miscellaneous sheets of plastic spiraling sculpturally through the muck. Masses of indistinguishable collage, like fiberboard gelatins of degrading organic matter, food-stuffs perhaps, body-masses of things. A searing lemony drip in the back of my throat. Mucus also oozing from some collapsing brick wall. Bright moving clay-earth substances like Play-Doh. More pools painted of temperature and minerals like sulfurous heat-vents rich with sideshow organisms and mutations. And a mammal, behind the soaked and wilting cardboard boxes, a dog pulling itself on it’s forearms and lying still, with no ears. I pull some crackers from my pocket and he wails a penetrating moan, stay away from me. I circle around, and stack the cracker’s on a stone and I choke. I vomit a little, drawing tears at the corners of my eyes. And spreading out from my fingers a sensation drawing nerves across the nerves of the boiling land like some great reef, sentient and throbbing, and diseased. Cancerous acrid mist in my sinuses and a dull whine in my molars. I am faltering. Something moving slowly. The coins in my pocket are oxidizing. Spine twisting. Curling. Curdling. It smells sweetly of burnt opium. I am polishing myself. I am metallic and mercurial clean. I am what I see. It is a shining mirror. It is shining. I have dreamed that I saw the new city. The mountain parting. Splitting open with gemstones and geodes The new city sparkling of jewels and cyalume. Electric and benevolent. I dreamed everything was beautiful.

I am erasing myself.

Pipes running along the road, always pipes along the road, against the bitter waste and the block buildings and the lumbering incidents of livestock. And down the road, along the pipes, tombstones.

I am from that future for we have made it.
For we have remembered ourselves.

A cemetery sprawling against the buildings behind he pipes along the road, beneath the smoking towers.

What was your cultural matrix. I mean, what did you remember. What industry made you. I mean what industry gave you who you are. Look into that vivisection. Remember it.

A cemetery of tombstones beneath the smoking towers against the pipes running along the road. Behind it, beyond the valley of haze, the city of Baku.

Omega.
I have remembered pictures of the future.

A children’s cemetery.
Broken stone pieces.
Small broken stones.
Pictures of children.

I will not describe these pictures on these stones
of petrochemical children.

We have passed through the end of the world now.
And the world has not ended,
it outlives itself.

Remembering it in reverse,
I refuse to be from.

Because in the justice
of empathy and interdependence
at the end of the world,
we are from here.

Sumqayit, on the north shore of the Absheron Peninsula, and the valleys between, cradled against Baku, were listed in 2007 among the top ten most polluted places on Earth by Time Magazine, Scientific American, and the Blacksmith Institute. Some kilometers away is the Atashgah Fire Temple where in the 18th century Hindus built a wall of stone around flammable gas leaking from the ground. They set it afire and they worshipped it for purification, clarity and the pictorial poem of the living destroying fire itself. Now of course, the local women care-taking the temple will feed you tea as the question your intentions to take pictures. Then they will turn on the gas for you, light it, and if you pay, you may take a picture, away with you, of the fire.

by Jeff Wood