emergency almanac - summer 2003
 Checkpoint Economy

by Jayson Iwen

   We’re in a taxi.
   As we cross a bridge, your eyes cross a bridge.
   Below stretches a dry river bed, which your eyes now pan.
   Have your eyes found gold.
   They flow across the language.
   Until they stop at a question.
   Somewhere a river must also be flowing.
   I rose this morning, and with currency moved the hotel manager to let me leave, to leave my car in the shade of a tree, and to call a taxi for me
   I rose and regained my definition.
   With such movement prove time.
   Because I can’t be in two places at once.
   I must move from point A to point B to be in both.
   And what proves your movement, the driver asks.
   Between A and B are an infinite number of other points.
   We hear them echo in the valley of the city.
   Your movement makes narrative of our predictions.
   As we pass B, I see another me.
   Crossing another bridge.
   It is a narrative that pays for itself with time.
   In communication and commerce and love.
   An interest accrues within its frame of death.
   For the frame makes everything, that passes within, a limited resource.
   Money is, as they say, so ruthlessly astute, time.
   And interest the time of others' lives.
   Toll booths, checkout counters, credit reports, bills, examinations, dates, wages, plots, flesh, teeth, sphincters, etc.
   If you want to find these frames in the absence of signs, stop and listen for the humming.
   What a coincidence.
   Here our narrative provides several.
   A dusty mountain pass.
   A soldier sits beside a wooden shack in the late morning sun.
   His sleeve rolled up to his shoulder and beside him another man sits and, with a tattoo gun, transforms soldier thought into soldier flesh.
   The frame is a circuit.
   When you stand at the gate you complete it.
   You feel the currency of endeavor humming through you.
   The soldier is humming to himself.
   The gun is humming.
   The artist is too.
   His line is alive with current.
   You think you have a body and a soul that are separate, and distinct from those of others, the driver says.
   Yet you think you share an ineluctable national character with uncountable others.
   You think cells forget their membranes when they remember the colony.
   Men forget their friends when they remember their family.
   Frames make sides.
   And sides make lines.
   Over which stepping is taboo.
   Over which stepping is journey.
   Over which stepping fetishizes the local.
   Over which stepping is a tourist.
   ‘Knowing how to get through a checkpoint with your cool intact will distinguish you from other tourists and help you blend in with locals.’
   We slow to a crawl and the soldier rises and peers into the taxi.
   Can I see some ID.
   His eyes move quickly over me.
   Somewhere a river pours tumultuously into a sea.
   What’s the pass word.
   The magic word.
   What determines the frames for narrative and language.
   What’s murder by mispronunciation.
   When any Ephraimite, who had escaped, begged leave to cross, the men of Gilead asked him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’, and if he said, ‘No,’ they would retort, ‘Say Shibboleth,’ and if he said ‘Sibboleth,’ because he could not pronounce the word properly, they would seize him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan.
   I said to my son, a friend of mine will pick you up at school today.
   Why will you love women with bangs and glasses when you are a man.
   You haven’t met her before, so you won’t recognize her.
   What's your story, he asks.
   When she asks if you are my son, ask her for the password, and if she says ‘death,’ you know she is the one.
   What's in the suitcase.
   Let her take you home.
   ‘Keep in mind the following—try not to stare in horror at the automatic weaponry.’
   You are a condensation of natural order.
   You are one of many termini where chaos settles into order.
   You are one of many termini where bullets prove the laws of thermodynamics.
   You are, as states and their characters, asymmetrical, exclusive geometries.
   An idea of national economy framed in blood.
   When the state stops, the state trooper does too.
   When time stops, we all do.
   You greet me with your religion.
   With what you imagine lies outside language.
   Outside life.
   At Phalangist checkpoints, a soldier would hold a tomato in front of the driver and ask him what it was, and if the driver said ‘banadoura,’ they'd let him pass, and if he said ‘bandora,’ they’d add him to the pile in the ditch.
   You say tomato and I say please not in front of my children.
   Open the suitcase please.
   ‘Do not look nervous—an alert nonchalance is advisable.’
   A hundred patient snipers watch a hundred different lines.
   A dusky Belfast street from an abandoned flat.
   The green dream of the DMZ from high in a tree.
   Checkpoint Charlie.
   A picket line.
   A panty line through a tight skirt.
   A line drawn in the dirt.
   The line between fiction and non fiction.
   The line between ‘cot’ and ‘got’ once meant death in Yemen.
   Every site you visit puts you in someone’s sights.
   Builds your character in another’s database.
   Your characters.
   All flinch to the same name.
   ‘Slow down to a gentle roll and act as if you’re going to stop, but don’t actually stop, unless you’re told to, or you will annoy the soldier and set off a cacophony of horns from those waiting behind you.’
   Bodies traveling downward into deep ocean carry the transmogrified sunlight of their flesh into extremely low concentrations of sunlight, making them precious beyond compare in the economies of deep sea hunger.
   Barriers function only if concentrations of solute on either side are unequal, guaranteeing movement across openings in the barrier, as potassium concentrations diffusing across cellular gateways produces muscular movement.
   As checkpoints maintain labor gradients.
   Maintain the role of a national character in an international narrative.
   The flexing of many muscles.
   In Juarez I met an American who made drinking money teaching Mexicans to say ‘American’ without an accent.
   Such conjunction is outside all language by being exactly between all language.
   As a filament translates physical resistance into luminescence.
   As the kinetics of the many is translated into the potential of the few.
   The checkpoint turns matter to light.
   But shines in only one direction.
   ‘Under no circumstances take photographs in the vicinity of a checkpoint.’
   At what point is point B.
   At what point does check out end.
   At what point is love not.
   At what point is the skin officially broken.
   Check out the check out line.
   Are you out of it before you get in, and in it before you get out.
   Every living sense is a mobile checkpoint.
   In every sense of the word.
   The word.
   The toll booth asks no questions because your story is implied by your mode of transportation.
   She paid the toll with bruises.
   She paid the toll with teeth.
   She paid for life with the time of her life.
   She paid the toll with sleep.
   Here one crosses for reconciliation.
   There one crosses for business.
   Here one crosses for what times require.
   There one crosses for love.
   ‘Switch on the car’s interior light at night, particularly if there are no street lights.’
   Cross the bar.
   Cross the river.
   Cross your heart.
   What does Charon do with your gold.
   When there’s no gold standard.
   What does Lethe do with your memory.
   When memory is sold.
   All the world stops at a checkpoint for it's future to be divined.
   So the motion of the world might be translated into the mind.
   So narrative partakes of the lines of demarcation that score the earth.
   What concentration of the precious commodity are you.
   What tourist would pay to watch you eat.
   Watch you shit.
   ‘However, do not accelerate until you have received a signal that you may pass—this could be a wave, a raised eyebrow, an almost imperceptible movement of the head, or a slight twitch, depending on the mood of the soldier—watch him carefully.’
   He hears himself say move on, and continues to hear himself this way, even when we’re gone.
   What is it in us that moves when we don't.
   If A and B, then what between.
   How do we breach the sadness of the line
   The prophecy of future returns.
   The driver raises a storied fist into history and draws my fare across time.
   There’s no profit but an endless debt erased from history, he says.
   And at the end of one arm is a suitcase and at the end of the other is the door and then an alley and then another door and then a chamber full of others like myself, drawn here against all gradients because we are so unlike.
   All borders open into this room.
   We are here and we are everywhere we have ever been.
   Abstract as the many touching you at once.
   We are the living lines themselves.
   Full of the current of all that passes through us.
   Whenever we step, we step over ourselves.
   We frame ourselves with every move.