Norman Lock


In its tubes' glowing towers, the ancient radio stored the world's uproar: a Babel of voices raised in song or anger, promises, rumors, instructions, vociferations—sounds that rode like squadrons through an ocean of air to rendezvous in a room that might be, at this hour, awash in shadow unless night had already fallen and mobilized the lamps to turn back the invading dark. This radio, whose capacitance had suffered a scarcely possible increase (let us call it miraculous to acknowledge its unseen power), did not empty itself of sound with the turning of a dial, but instead continued to draw—from every corner of the world—the least noise, the smallest fearful whisper, until all the world was silent.



Doubtless, its black carriage and bell tolling each line's natural span inspired them to tamper with the antique machine: to derange a simple causal system whereby a man or woman, with only a slight pressure of the fingertip, could incarnate in ink on a sheet of paper the signifier lightly incised on a typewriter key (this lower-case b, for instance). Now, regardless of what was typed, only a last will and testament would scroll from the platen after the final bell had tolled—naming a complete stranger to inherit the hapless typist's property.



Uncertainty of the subatomic sort might be introduced during the manufacture of bullets so that—no matter how skillful the marksman taking aim—the target will be replaced, as a consequence of Heisenberg's principle, by an unintended victim such as him- or herself.



In the old cosmologies, chains forged of unassayable elements held the moon within Earth's sway and waves inside ocean's granite cup and also humankind between angels and animals (at war with both). Just so do staples hold in orderly collations documents against the forces that would disperse them—all except these, designed (with who knows what cunning and to what purpose) to unfold their zinc-plated legs and let go of the regimented pages. While not so catastrophic an end as would be were the moon to escape its orbit, the ocean overwhelm the town, and men and women forget their place in the Great Chain of Being, chaos would soon be loosed among the filing-cabinets—difficult, if not impossible, to put right again.



Against the world's disorder, an ancient music box unlocked sounds inaudible to human ears (like a strain of vibrations Laplace might have described logarithmically) that caused rocks and stones to move in concert with the grand procession of the stars—silent, or so it seemed, in a night sky draped over solitary houses where people walked restlessly inside their dreams, but in actuality singing in solfeggio their alien and imperturbable harmonies.



There was a book whose barbed typography scratched out the eyes of anyone who thought to read it, for none may know the meaning of their lives, which had been inscribed in that book (so fierce in its comprehension of our days and ends).



A light bulb (as inconspicuous an object as a clay pot in which yellow chrysanthemums announce a flagrant beauty) was remarkable for how it drained light from every street save that on which it darkly shone. The inhabitants, oppressed by so pitiless an absolute, could not defend themselves against a night without moon or stars; no, there was not so much as a faint mineral gleam of mica to make them less afraid.



On the island of Murano, a Venetian coated a sheet of glass with bismuth and an unknown substance believed to be another of the heavy elements, to produce a mirror in which light slowed as if it had to carry a reflected image not through glass but thick ice. This "delay" caused the face of anyone gazing into the mirror's depths to remain there briefly after he or she had left the room. Vulnerable, we might at that moment lose ourselves, our identities—becoming (if the door were to close, separating us from the room with its mirror) faceless.



By the time she reached the top of the stairs (having mounted the first tread so many years before, purposing to visit her mother on her sickbed), her mother had been lowered into the ground by mourners and she herself, become an old woman, was ready to take her mother's place in that same bed on the second floor.



In that moment of suspension at the end of its unspooled string, it hummed—nervous with anticipation and desire. Or was it fear that it would remain forever a captive to gravity? But in another moment, equally precarious, equally impossible, it returned—gravity overthrown—reeled in by a hand as peremptory as any Creator's, which might have set Earth spinning on its axis like this same yo-yo (trivial and absurd).



To bend one of its tines upwards is to make of an ordinary fork a singularity if for no other reason than to remind us that a strange beauty can sometimes reside in objects impossible to categorize, profitless to reproduce, empty of meaning.








For many years, I wanted to create a literary equivalent of M.C. Escher's graphic fancies or the Impossible Objects of Oscar Reutersvärd and the Penroses. I thought at first to describe imaginary machinery and failed to go beyond the willful and dull, if necessary, schematics of science fiction. But a recent rereading of Francis Ponge's prose poems showed how I might modify ordinary objects to comic, satiric, or metaphysical ends. In Impossible Objects, I have imagined devices and technologies to exploit phenomena and—more often and more to my purpose—metaphysical conceits.