"Between Reality and Understanding" by Rich Ives

Rich Ives

Rich Ives

Rich Ives has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. His writing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, Fiction Daily, and many more. In 2010 he has been a finalist in fiction at Black Warrior Review and Mississippi Review and in poetry at Cloudbank and Mississippi Review.

Between Reality and Understanding

There's a mouse in this memoir, and he doesn't understand the questions I'm asking, so he can't find his way out. There's a light switch on the wall, but that too is only a matter of words to a mouse, so we can only see what we say is in the room, which allows the room to exist, even though it doesn't, which confuses the mouse.

And even though the room doesn't exist, there's a big load of history out back. I need to get it worked into the soil before it starts to stink like it always does. I wonder if all those seeds of the future sustenance of my sentences have any idea what feeds their ability to feed me. Do they have a clue how it all starts and ends in ideas I've been digesting and want to poop out in nice little bundles that can't be ignored? But then, I think, it's not new, it's not even really my shit, it's the same thing lots of others have digested a little differently before me. Until I remember selecting it, and hauling it here, and consider all the labor I have waiting for me in the garden, trying to work it in with the rest of the ideas I planted there that also need to be fed.

There are lots of mice in my garden, and none of them know what words are, but they listen when I speak, and they listen when I suggest the sighs in between the words, and they don't ask any more questions after that. I'd like to think it's because I have suggested the answer to questions they haven't asked. I'd like to think that.

Someday I might flip the switch that would allow a different mouse to enter the room in the house with all the words on, and each one subtitled in Mouse. Or maybe the other mice surrounding that house might keep me inside like a little doll of myself, almost but not quite like another word for me, outside the rest of my head, with its history of switches that seem to bring me further inside, where the traps are all set by someone with only one more thing to say.


I lead an ordinary life. It's more exciting than I wanted. I don't know how to thank anyone for this.

This is where the dog runs. This is where my god sleeps. I have nothing to say that has to be said. I say it anyway, and I love it deeply.

What shall we do about all this happiness?

This is a world in which the large and the small will both live too briefly and notice too little. It has a life of its own. I'm thankful to be here, but I don't know why.

Here is a house of sun in which the dog sometimes forgets.

I can still remember when I used to envy my god nearly as much as I envy the dog. I'm older now. My dog's a different dog.

I know how to sleep.

We're in my god's place of rest in which god sometimes forgets. There is a local universe assembling consequences.

If the universe forgets, the dog will still sleep.

If I wake up, I will pretend we are different.


I guess I imagine him cute, the little boy I was, though that probably isn't completely true or at least not as true as I imagine, which I don't realize I'm doing because what I'm doing is shaping my life based upon stories that I tell and retell until another life emerges, the me I am when I'm the one telling the story, not living the story, while the me I still am in the stories of someone else, the stories involving who I was as they remember it, which wasn't really me either, stands up and walks away when the teller does, unless I pick him up and take him with me and play with him until he wants to go back home, and then I realize I don't know really where that is, and that's a new story I will tell when the cute little boy is older and has gotten hungrier for himself while he's staring at me, that little boy, like he doesn't know who I am, and I know he's going to tell someone what I've become, which interests me because I realize, as he's watching, that he probably sees me differently than I do. So I write that down and sign the boy's name to it.

I still don't know who I am, but I understand a little more about who I have been.

Carlos is a chair, empty, and Rich Ives is sitting in that chair made of parts, and Carlos wants to be better than the parts of which he is composed, and Carlos knows not what he sustains (Rich Ives) while a curious fly sniffs the evidence (whatever has been written by one of them (which is escaping (and can't be fully read by a fly))) as if it contained something to sustain its progeny (the Rich Ives which is not the one he thinks he is but the real one), who have come into this world more innocently than either possibility, and now sits quietly inside the singular words that are not finished expressing the difficulty of creation, nor the suspect beauty of innocence once held in the early and wordless Rich Ives, known then as “Dickie” and in the molder of first grade mud pies upon the faraway playgrounds of Aberdeen, South Dakota in the territory of Hokum, (not far from the arrogance of including his own name so many times in something not even really for the moment about the named) where the pretentious expression contained in it continues passing through the words, unhinged by indirection and the parts of the fly, which escapes.

Many human beings carry a certain fungus, which cannot grow inside a fly. That, however, is not the reason for the fly's success, nor does it account for the confusions created inside the fly, resulting from the temporary form of “maggot,” which the fly must participate in.

A colony of flies should be called a desperation.

Must “Rich Ives” have created, then, the “Carlos,” which has created this particularly complex version of “Rich Ives?”

Of course.

Is the fly too then a product of this creation?

Flies are real.

Why, then, must we “create” one in a memoir?

A single amplified fly speaks clearly of his homeland, which he cannot remember, but misses anyway. We have heard this in the sound children make when they disappear.

How, then, do we account for the presence of that fungus in the abdomens of flies? The females look almost exactly like the males, but have no equivalent difficulty in mating frequently. It is not known if a clutch of maggots contains the DNA of more than one mate, just as it is not known why this is not known.

One may speculate.

Flies may be removed from certain considerations with “adjusted” sticks, or deception, although the deception must be frequently replaced and generally becomes a dimension of the resulting game, which often cannot be played fast enough.

Counters of Flies have been known, in times of relatively limited physical activity such as winter, to reach six figures before losing their place upon the carcass of a single large dead thing. Such careerists frequently suffer from fungal invasion symptoms themselves, as flies often return to the vicinity of previous satisfactions to shelter in cold weather or to propagate when food and other “satisfactions” are more plentiful.

Perhaps you didn't know that it doesn't take all that many flies to disable an automobile engine. Perhaps you didn't know how many kinds of flies have been smuggled into the United States by butchers. Perhaps you didn't know that a fly's fear mechanism is not as highly developed as a human's. Perhaps you didn't realize how much this explains.

Somebody said something I regard as particularly quotable once, no, probably more than once if it was really that quotable, but the other times it may have been somebody else saying it, only I can't remember what it was, so I guess it may have been quotable, but not memorable. So how did anyone ever remember to quote it?

I do wonder things like that, and I repeat them, which means they were memorable, if not quotable, because I never remember exactly how I said it before, and sometimes I even think I remember somebody else, who said it, which seems to delight me. There's a period at the end of such statements, but it's a death sentence, even though it contains an idea that's finished now because the idea wasn't death, and even if it was death that it contained, what is there when death is over, huh, what is there?

My foot's in a bucket, so I don't walk unless I decide to put my other foot in a bucket, and then I have to do that, not just decide to do that, which is a subtle distinction for someone like me because some people don't have a heart that leaps out of that person's chest, but I have such a heart. I don't know how I ever get it back again, but I do, and sometimes there are many people here, who I could imagine being friends with, but I don't do that because I don't imagine doing that, only what it would be like after it was done and friendly.

And you can't come in now if you want to. I'm not out there waiting because I don't imagine who you are although I seem to be able to imagine who you were, and I know that's not who's out there, where I wasn't imagining no one, and sometimes there aren't any more friends, and sometimes there aren't any friends more than I was.

I suppose I had a father made of leather, and the dead man's voice was deafening. Amid the delicate green mush of cut grass, which is mother's perfume, he's trussed up like a seal and bouncing a beach ball on his nose. Me, I was busy exaggerating my dream girl's littlest doorknobs and intent.

Here and there another grammarian seemed to be tidying up. When did a son's voice breaking ever stop anything?

How could you be so cupid? Don't get impatient, she's on her way. If you were married, you might not be treating yourself this way. Marriage is full of innuendo, said the father. Life is most certainly not not there, but I do believe that it is merely there. There are creatures still capable of doing what I did, observed the father.

Is it not fascinating, said the mother, what can be done with my absence? (attached to a hair dryer and her salad dressing uncomfortable, a face like a stagnant pond, and finding here my particles uncertain (stirred the turkey soup with a turkey bone, the eye out and swaying like a caterpillar)).

I appreciated my duffel bag for the vast amount of duffel it allowed to remain in my plans for departure, which I kept in the closet, so as not to restrain the new plans, which I was likely to make in light of the implications of my far-reaching discoveries.

My mother was upset. She wasn't allowed to serve the gorilla tea.

I was thinking about it, and I forgot my laptop. I never forget my laptop.

You need the dusty white bricks to hold the sun back (a dusty wooden box of plums perched on the tailgate, fat ghostly blue eyes from a tired army marching in place).

I had been studying the mating flight of woodcocks and a leafy passion shedding its speckled forehead. A small white animal the size of a kitten softly purrs through the entire scene, sometimes drowned out by children's laughter.

The scene is a snowy small town in South Dakota, wind blowing the dry white particles, piling them against buildings, cars nearly covered in smooth heaps that threaten to erase them. There's an apartment with no stairs, reached only by the fire escape. Black and white checkered linoleum covers the floor, badly worn. An imitation mohair sofa waits for someone to occupy its deeply impressed body shape. A crank telephone waits in the hall. An inviting hole in the wall waits quietly, with piles of dirt placed next to it. Someone with short legs and big feet is dialing the wrong number. Calliope music escapes from the gramophone.

I Don't Get Around Much Anymore.

A tall young man with graying hair listens to an alarm clock that goes off every hour with the sound of a piglet squealing. He waits patiently for the next installment of that fascinating story.

A light fever brings back fragments of a conversation I had last summer.

Oh, it just does that.

I'm afraid I might fall on it.

The voice in my memory is mine, but I did not say these things. Why do I attribute confusion to myself?

The sound of a jackhammer on the other side of a wall.

What do ya know about, boy?

The boy staring doesn't answer.

The man's frozen smile doesn't answer.

Could we talk in private?

There's a baby for you, now go on, and do what you're going to do.

Cave-like echoes of opening and closing doors.

Pendulous eyes, a snuffbox, vaporizer, the baby wheezing.

You don't really mind about the baby, do you?

The man holds his hands in front of him like a rabbit, tilts head, laughing outrageously. A shiny ball of red mud on the upper shelf. The baby's mouth, open as if the wind were wailing through it. A small model on the nightstand that duplicates the outside of the building, a box over the top of it that the man lifts to adjust the toy people inside.

The man sitting dutifully, hands folded.

A slatted wood bed-frame with slits of light coming through in green from the Drugs(tore) sign.

1) When I was young, I was kept away from it.

2) She was never the one I wanted.

3) There was always more than I could handle.

4) We never had any reason to leave.

5) It was a long time before anyone found us.

6) The lights would go out for no reason.

7) Some of us had jobs to get to.

8) There weren't any scarecrows left in the gardens because they had all moved into the


9) My apartments never open up to me.

A large Zenith radio spilling reports and then Can I Sleep in Your Arms Tonight, Mister? embarrasses him.

She's watching him and holding a baby bird.

A piece of another song from the Zenith.

You don't have to go there to get in, but you have to leave there to get out.

Thinking about a child who pulls a wagon with a small leafless tree sticking up out of a mound of dirt, everywhere he goes.

The man's hands fidget nervously.

The woman sits in front of a geranium with a single blossom growing from a mound of dirt on a plate. She tries to give it to everyone who approaches.

No one will take the flower.

Outside, it's spring again in the fall although winter will not be patient.

The man is thinking of an assembly line, rubber tubes moving from one worker to another, who apply techniques to them that make the workers squint. The tires appear not to have changed at all from one worker to the other.

The boy is thinking about how the man takes his arm off and tries to give it to him. Soon he is no longer a stranger. This seems to please the man, but not the boy.

In the corner of the boy's room, there is a small alcove above the refrigerator with a religious icon of a badger. The badger appears to be waiting.

I'm thinking about a coyote like a rag with legs and ears and a heart stolen from me with a peanut butter sandwich attached to it by sleeplessness.

As far as the corn sighs, every bit of darkness is in its own courtroom.

Another boyfriend she had, before the husband and the children, that dead sister in the imagination of the imaginary Carlos, a man who had followed her through elementary school named Cooter, a local Carlos knew nothing about except which day of the week she visited him and told him to ignore her the rest of the week.

What had Carlos done when suddenly she had every day of the week free? Why was there someone working as a janitor years later in the same school with a dog that answered to her name?

Flaccid trucks of the possible wander through Amen and parlor games, clogging humid gazebos with improperly conceived left-hand turns. Wanted his nasty parts, the strumpet. I have several of them, and they all are valuable though I don't seem to be able to adjust to what they're used for.

Crop Dusters 4 Jesus and a lizard named Pork.

Drifting off in Starlingtown.

Will I ever be worthy of my shadow, whonk whonk?

I was eating coque au vann with Carlos when she said it, and my face and I were livid with a memorization sequence for the history of the common housefly, but deadpan isn't really neutral, I was thinking.

Too far away from the junkyard now for my car to find itself and something delicately balanced arrived.

My dustpan needed dusting.


I meant to say how comfortable I have become with the moment, which is all you have left when you become as forgetful as I have become. The moment changes, moment by moment, so to speak, which makes each moment valuable, but not as unpredictable as you might think. You get a feel for the next moment, and maybe that comes from getting more forgetful about the last one, so that the coming moments seem fresher, even if they aren't, from their lack of similarity to anything you can remember.

For example, I don't remember the name of a drink, but I remember that I drank it. I might refer to it as that drink that made me feel like I thought X did when it really was called Y. Actually, it was something I observed happening to Z, who remembers it differently, in a way more advantageous to his perception of himself, which we both might remember having laughed about when actually we hadn't. The difference is that Z remembered it wrongly, and I simply forgot it, except for a feeling I thought I might have had, which I used to create a story to describe it, using just enough detail to make the description plausible. Which may be better than any truth that might persist in the details of its questionable appearance.

And I forgot to tell you about the time I traded punches with a very tough dwarf on a trawler off the Gold Coast back in '97. If I hadn't forgotten to tell you, I probably would have forgotten to tell you the story isn't true. Unless I forgot that it really happened and just began to think of it as a story, which happens to a lot of things in life, maybe most of them. Which reminds me of what I should have told you about the moment. I've come to believe that it's necessary to reshape yourself using the way you remember what happened. It's a kind of exchange that goes on between reality and understanding, only if you forget, like I do, you tend to get the essence of the forgotten moment without the moment itself. I'm not sure how this is possible, but it allows me to feel as if I haven't really lost anything.