Blake Butler


This at first had seemed a blessing. The sky hadn't leaked in months. We'd watched our dirt go white, our crop fields blacken. Trees were collapsing in the night. Insects blanketed our windows so thick we couldn't see. The husks of dead bugs filled the gutters. Everything was mucked in crud. All summer the sky sat stacked with cloud haze so high and deep it seemed a wall, an endless cover, sealing all us below either in or out. Those were long days. I don't know what about them broke. I don't know why the rain came down in endless veil. It streaked the cities, wiped the wires. It splashed the dust out from our knees. It came a week straight, then another. The earth turned to mud and grass to grumble. Minor houses were sucked underground. Many children were washed out in the sloshing. The streets and play parks bubbled brown. Some long weeks it went on like that. It began to drink the city. We'd just begun wearing knee boots and canoes to the market when the soft water turned to ice. The once parched apartments set with gleaming The fat white bricks descended heavy, cold pounding the faces of whatever we'd left uncovered. It was the middle of July. Ice dented buildings, ruined car windshields, ripped limbs off trees, bruised brash faces. I watched an old man clobbered in the street, his glasses smashed, his small mouth bleeding. I watched the backyard stack knee-deep. The drum was deafening. I couldn't sleep. You never knew what might cave in. Frost killed the power, ruined the highways. Those who still tried to drive were mostly mauled—run together in sunny slicks of liquid. Many neighborhoods froze enclosed. We spent many ugly evenings with nowhere to look but at each other. No dreams to mention but our sneezing. When the TV finally came back, the news stations had such backlog they began to list the names of the dead between commercials like the credits to some movie we wished we'd never seen.



Dry flakes of charcoal big as men's heads. Dots of speckled paper like weird moths. As if sent as slather from great fire overhead, the ash rained black as evening. The crumbling clung against the newly wet terrain like some new second skin. Everything sat spackled, crusted over. Each inhale brought a mouthful. The streets sung with choral wheeze. We fashioned facemasks out of old newspapers—the current editions no longer came. The mail service had gone under—one minor mitzvah: I stopped receiving bills. The dust came down as if from spigots. The sick began to bundle. Count emphysema. Count belabored lungs. As well: asthma, croup and coughing. The air so thick we called it mushy. Strung into the gusts were often reams of hair. Blonde or black streamers stole from sore heads. Cells clogged the chimney, laced the evening. Though the TV went out again through all the interference, radioed voices spoke the wreckage: whole apartment buildings buried in our skin flakes; baseball stadiums filled to the brim; the face of lakes and oceans so thick you could walk forever. The curls of powder flew over our yards. It beat against our windows. I learned to breathe in smaller rhythms. The incubated heat swelled so high outside you'd sweat forever, then more dust. Eyes encrusted. Nostrils clogged. You could feel crimp the earth's sore back. One night, finally, the roof over my living room succumbed to all the weight. Somewhere in there, under all that dander, later I sometimes wished I'd been.



They came down in wriggling ropes of segmented flesh: fat and spiny, bright like mold. Some squirmed big as my forearm. Some small enough to creep inside an ear. I'd never seen so much color. The leaves of trees were eaten, stuck as weird craning skeletons in mid-summer. Those who'd thought to brave the ice and made it now stayed indoors, their skin acrawl. Bronze tanks patrolled the city. There was nightly concern of what to eat. You could imagine anything infested. Bugs showed up nestled in all crevice: in the bed sheets, in the oven. Some nights I just chewed the crud out from my nails. I heard of an old man buried in his basement. I heard of young ladies smothered in their sleep. Fat cysts and burrowed nodules and red growths of sludge. No skin was safe. No simple evening. The national rate of suicide quadrupled. Sale of aspirin, rope and razor blades became condemned. Other ways became more messy: one night a hundred dove off some skyscraper hotel. People began to wonder what ___ wanted. The airwaves filled up with preaching: how to repent; what might save us; who to look to; what to think. At night you could practically hear the murmur of our prayer, a billion lips all mumbling together, half-aloud. Meanwhile, by now, the cities lay covered in chrysalis, silken tents stretched across expressways, over homes. Our front door sealed shut with hive building. The cocoons brushed and crushed each time a thing moved. We waited. We blink-eyed through the night. You should have seen, though, at the end, the great unveiling: ten billion butterflies humming in the sun, fluttered so loud you couldn't think.



The glass came first in early morning. I watched through the only safe storm window. It sounded as if the sky itself was ripping—like some sick sour music box, cranked to cracking. The shards shattered on impact, each giving off a second spray. We watched the dead yards, already buried, now held under new light, brash, refracted. Glass over gravesites, as if for display. Glass sliced through awnings, billboard faces. The facemasks became now even more important, each inhale suspect, grimed with grit. Glass specks embedded in our eyelids—welcome the new lines of the blind. The glass came in many colors: translucent, green and gold like bottles, backed with silver as in mirrors, blue from Depression era heirlooms, stained from the awe-stuck eaves of churches. The shriek of glass on glass made my skin peel. The screech of all things scorched around me. The brassy tinkle of each new detonation. Shards like weird birds. Real birds impaled. Even the sun had hid its eye. We were several layers under now. We did not think of other times. We called truce and splayed our fingers. The sky would not forgive.



I felt it formed in chatter: the voices borne in the enamel. The sky sent teeth from cougar, leopard, shark, snake, kitten, cow, human, bear, dog, alligator, crocodile, deer, rodent, camel, zebra, turtle, rabbit, horse and wolf. And bigger things we hadn't quite imagined, teeth that wouldn't fit inside a car. The massive incisors bashed through buildings. They impaled people huddled in their dens. They clipped the ground and erupted craters large enough to stand in. In the light you could hardly look for all the glinting, the weird back-rattle. You couldn’t step without being bitten. The aching stretched our gums. I told the young ones that some young fairy had accidentally dropped her payload in mid-flight. At this point we'd lost ways of sentiment. All overhead was a thing that seemed to want us nowhere. I couldn't help but want to stay gone. I couldn't remember anyone else I'd ever met. The names of people once relations shipped like minor abrasions into my brain. I'd had a mother, I knew, and someone besides her. I'd had people who would talk. But these days were so overloaded, so crusted over and back-bent, I didn't know what else to speak of when I spoke into the nothinged remainder of my household, into the crooks that hadn't yet been demolished. I didn't understand what had brought this, what was lessoned, what was to come. I touched my own teeth with my soft tongue and wondered how long before they'd be the ones that rained down and ripped us open.



It was hard to decipher in its squall—long squirts like blue liquid pyramids descending on the yard. Soon the windows streaked so thick you couldn't see anything. The house was full of drip: the chimney glutted; the ceiling leaking; the sinks overflowing a new pool on the carpet. What books could have been written with this excess. What squid would hide from light. Out on the back porch the level rose to lap the welcome mat. You couldn't see into the street. Everything clogged and burped and sopping. The surface reflected whatever peered into it. Overhead some sound like choking: gooed helicopters, gummy birds. The seas were heavy somewhere. I scratched my cheek and half-expected the unctuous gleam to come pouring out of me. Instead: my blood, several shades of brown. I slept what hours I could manage. I waited to wake up to something clean. In the nights, when the dripping swung low, we climbed onto the roof to try to see the city: a blubbered dot hung from the sky now, a runny, rotten, murdered thing—a billion voices buried under, all saying the same thing over and over, smothered out.



I always thought ___ must have a sense of humor, but I swear this felt like no punchline. The sky alive and brimming, worse than dust had been—geese like disco balls; magic breathing; the sun a holograph on the horizon—as if from some great party overhead to which we were not invited. It came through the ruined roof and stuck in our soft hair, our moist wounds, our running eyes. I couldn't even think to see regardless. I sat just nowhere and let it drench me. I licked my arms to taste the shimmer.



Then, if even dumber, such visions, bottled, bloomed. I'd had my head buried in the closet for however long. I felt the weakening in my teeth. Such strange strains of hunger: skin going yellow, teeth coming loose. We hadn't eaten much in forever. We'd ripped down wallpaper to lick the glue. While others slept we watched them in longing, the rip of something centered in the heart. Such perfect joy to see a doughnut descending from the muck amassed above. You should have felt the hulking in my long veins as my heart jumped up to welcome this new vision: the crullers, the Boston creams, the Sprinkled, the tiny paper boxes of whole milk. They pit-pattered on the roof like dainty children. I could feel the chocolate spurting through me, the soft doughy bread snuck in my veins. The heat of warm bread in my yearning. What hope my heart held for that half-minute until I found myself on the ground deceived, nuzzling more dirt.



Though we refused to call it that—we swore not to acknowledge the innards of our fathers as they sprayed down upon us now, though it woke us quickly from our visions. There was something familiar we could smell in the long coagulating streams: nonstop pouring as if from tiny spigots overhead, from some bottomless container. That week there was no sun, no moon, no dreaming, not even a word from the mouth of one neighbor or another as we waited for some end—hid and fumbling beneath only the earth's face, wide and loamy, coagulating.



For one long hour that red morning: gristle, cartilage, tissue, tendon, vein and bone. Some would try to gnaw the gray meat. Some would choke with fistfuls in their cheeks. Others knew better from the stinking. The bubbling of the sky. I'd already burned what I remembered. I didn't search long for their names: the heads and necks and cheeks of all these raining someones someone once had likely loved.



I will not speak of this day.



As if the planet had learned to scratch its back. In massive columns like what we'd seen on TV during our worse storms, stretched check-pattern, warbled spatter. As well, the sound of a billion needles wheedling, tearing their tips against the grain. Sometimes I felt I could hear laugh tracks buried under the floorboards, wedged way deep down in the sod. Somewhere down there was my father. His knuckled rapped against the beams. I began to feel everything inside me at once humming. I felt my organs screech alive: the static replicated in me. When my mouth opened, it came out. The vibration cracked my mirrors. It cracked the foundations of my soft skull. It made me giggle just a bit. I couldn't keep a hold on as through the windows I saw the wide scrim that for years had nestled me into sleep—the gray/white/black transmission from dead channels, from wavelengths no one had thought to walk.



What dreams would function when it rained such radiance? I'd nearly given up. There were voices in the muck somewhere, but none that I could need. Our roof was laid miles under now, no doubt, you couldn't see up beyond the window. You couldn't hear a shudder. It came at once, not some intrusion, but a white bouquet opened over all. It spread through the layers we'd already seen. It evaporated the water; illuminated dust; called the caterpillars to curl to tiny balls; it refracted through the glass and off the teeth; danced with glitter through the clots of blood and meat and shit in streams of staticked color. It burst at the center of somewhere I hadn't been and spread without motion through and through. Its crust so clear you couldn't see it. Its knees so sharp you couldn't walk. The house came open. The yard was not there. The street was not there. There was light. The light rained down. It came down on us. It came in all through and through.






Other forms of rain considered and omitted: tissue, turtles, chalk, cheese chunks, compassion, crayons, baby blankets, tumor, snot, 1-900 advertisements, snakeskin, M&Ms, instant potatoes, breastmilk, vodka, coffee, origami cranes, dental floss, oil, paint, corrosion, crack stems, numbers, angles, ouch, iTunes coupons for black metal, grass, ass, crutches, windows, apemen, doggies, D&D dice, diapers, dioramas, remote controls, fonts, fat, diodes, doorhandles, dictionaries, cash, wrappers, rap stars, KFC, Xmas ornaments, ex-wives, ulcers, giggles, nose hair, grandmas, wire, wax, earwax candles, Tom Waits, tunnels, tureens, chicken gizzards, chicken peep.