“Venice drowning! Venice drowning! Venice drowning!”
[On the occasion of the once-again flooding of Venice, this - a postcard excerpted from Escape From Venice - is a slightly different account of the relationship between that city and its liquid. Not that it matters, but this is probably NSFW, unless one works with trans mermaids, in which case, congrats and godspeed. The title, by the way, is a quote from Duran Duran.]
I had assumed that Venice, being an exact map of the human body (they won’t tell you this in school or army or even in Venice for that matter, the map won’t tell you for that has been steadily falsified by a cabal of Moral Men over centuries, crafty redrawn to look like a mauled-in-twain fish, but anyone with feet and time knows how that map is bent, torqued foully and it simply isn’t right, no, the angles are off, you must walk it and breathe in ferocious, you must feel the lungs in all their bronchial shaking as when puffing a Kool in a single huff, and sometimes you must lie on the stomach – both on yours and on the city’s stomach, guts en abyme, sprawl out like a shadowvane to foresee how it would be if your organs were 2,200 times larger then they are, whole kidney piazzas and spleen palaces and colon condos and it is hard to see especially when it is not dark because you are reminded that your fingers, chubby glee sausages as they may be, are a long way off from jutting piers, but then it snaps, it snaps the grid of our bones and the frame of the city, and at that point it becomes exceedingly clear that this place is nothing more than a maggot-stripped and repopulated skeleton of our giant ancestors, decadence built tottering low on the mightily already fallen, it faceplanted here and with all the shame of colonizers, we little pricks set about erecting on what had already built and so much grander than we might conceive, yes, it was a majestic titan, frosted from the sheer altitude, vault arias of the heart there were and when the corpse opened in rot a small whale swam up its canal and in the heart did it rest and sigh, and what do we do, we who give bees a bad name, we build a crap bell tower and splash on a bit of gilt and put it on list of the Top Sights You Have to See Before You Die, yes, from guts the size of lagoons we raise but a piddle spire and put it on a bucket list, and not even eaters of the dead are we, more like the condo developers of the dead, the hucksters, the funeral barkers, the mini-bankers) would be 90% water. That was totally wrong. It is way, way wetter.
Because Venice is just a thin, stoney slab covering a world of liquid, a scab over an infection beneath, it feels hot and looks bad but even so you have no idea and no way to tell so you squeeze or probe, roll it irritant between the finger pads because it is exciting to do so and to feel like there is something in a body that should not be there, lance it with a pin cleaned with a orange lighter’s flame and do not let it cool fully, getting off on the smallest hiss of it singeing the dermal protein and shoving through for there, under, there is the curdled, reeking custard heart of the coward’s matter.
What I’m trying to tell you is that Venice is nothing more than the rooftop garden on top of the tallest skyscrapers of the financial district of Atlantis.
By the way, that’s not a metaphor.
The canals just have no bottom because they are just the space between the buildings, falling hundreds of stories down. Of course, it wants to tell a different story so there are places where the sandled masses are more likely to drunken trundle forth off a step slicked with sea and puke and of course it would blow many covers if that humanoid lump was to sink, dragged fast by the profound anchor of a three thousand dollar camera and its accompanying memory all the way down, the bubbles rising to the surface, inside each lies a gelato-and-Peroni tainted exhalation and its rustle of the voice still finishing the phrase begun before the misplaced foot skittered free of the stone grounding and the body became a first a flight and then a sodden weight and then a tragedy that will mean guardrails will have be built, because first time is a tragedy, second time is an epidemic of American death, and the bubble bursting to plop out its last words … WHAT THOSE VENETIAN CHICKS ARE LIKE, BRO and were there no false bottom to the asshole-swallowing canal the gig would be up when divers find neither bloated corpse nor shred of polo shirt so it is necessary to install certain safety nets covered with silt and rock to mime the bottom of the canal to catch the poor fools as they cannot claw free of the weight that is filled with billions of pixels of a flea-bristling pigeon pecking bread crumbs out of the sweating hand of a now drowned pseudo-man.
But I knew, I knew. Before I knew I had my doubts because once while puttering around on a gondola I “borrowed” – he was asleep already, OK? and he didn’t need that outfit anyway, so by the way I looked super official and HOT – from far below came severe ancient currents, eddies that spoke of gods the names of which man has forgotten but even before forgetting them surely couldn’t pronounce because no mouth can make that many consonants unless you are Welsh and regardless the eldritch music of the roiling currents was not just ancient, no, it spoke a different language, one born in the last two centuries, it raises its smoke-piled mouth to heaven to petty scream, an insectoid, growling buzz and interrupting blares distorted by passage through thousands of feet of salted liquid and yet which could only be what it was and forever will be: the sound of a traffic jam at rush hour.
I being ever and always one who is not content to leave unexamined the manifold mysteries of this dark earth, who has dedicated himself to the pursuit of the unknown and obscure spaces from which the light of reason has been banned, I made the decision to penetrate the queer depths below(sorry for the messy ink, that all just sounds a little too, you know, queer) decided to go look at Atlantis. I considered the bathysphere for nostalgia’s sake but I also enjoy mobility so coin toss and tails and scuba-man it was and then was I and down I went and there it was.
At first it seemed like nothing just like swimming down the vertical wall of a canal that just did not end which is what it was anyway, it did not and it got worse as the light tapered off and in the sheer pitch of dark I came undone as though kicked into the infinite nethers of the tarry cosmos, I gasped and grabbed at myself for any point of reference, I clutched at the glass surface of the canal and nothing, nothing, I start to vomit in the dizziness of being nothing, without place or coordinate and whirling I sought vain any point of grounding and sudden I came face to face with the brightly lit 135th floor bedroom window, face to face with the nude Atlantian inside.
Faced with the sight of a wild-eyed diver busy contemplating the potential collapse of existence and scratching his unkempt nails at her window, she screamed. I vomited. She screamed again.
If in the past, I have been refused missions of a diplomatic nature – no, Snake, they say, absolutely not, out of the question, besides you don’t even speak French, and yes, I know what you’re going to say, yes, I know you kiss that way, and you, what… Snake, no, I don’t want to know what national way you do that and I certainly don’t think that is particularly French, not even Quebecois in… God, Snake, that’s disgusting, truly disgusting, Snake, where do you even come up with… oh fuck, I’m going to be sick, get out of my office, Snake, get out! – I have to say that I cannot blame them one bit. I have international incident written all over me. And I get it all over the architecture of those I’m trying to impress. Hence why I am told to stick to knives and to sticking knives in people. Like they say: you gotta stab the hand you’re dealt.
Hastening to escape detection, I dropped lower and lower, falling with the plankton and drifting skin of ex-fish. The zone of blackness ended as more and more lights of bedrooms and offices and bathrooms – though I stayed well away from those despite totally wanting to know whether or not aquamen and aqualadies have to sit down to pee – glowed through the grey and turning breezy slow while falling feather I looked at the spilling forth blocks and blocks of the monoliths, whole zones of towering titans of rectangular white coral and steel and glass and if Atlantis must have been around neither before nor after the start of Venice given that they are just different levels of the same city, then they sure got a transhistorical jump on Brutalism and some cold-ass modernity because it was like Blade Runner went to the Bruno Taut end of West Gotham and flooded it with cement and then handed the whole thing over to an Eastern Bloc housing council to go constructivisty wild with, that is, not that wild, and the only ornament consisting of the tremendous, virulent spread of blue and pink bioluminescent marbling and whorls and stripes and jutting angles that crept from the day-bright street up the gargantuan carved and stacked reefs of housing and industry alike.
In other words, it was the prettiest place I’ve seen. Like, prettier than Vegas during a solar eclipse.
I floated down further to that street below, landed light on my fins to pretend that one might walk here. There, across the street, was another scuba-diver. Aha! Busted! So others have known and never spoken, holding out on all humanity which is treason in my book. He was facing the wall and two lithe and curvy mermaids were behind him, all swaying in the shimmy of current, so he’s got in good with the locals and their lingo and then I got closer and they were moving, they were doing something, Something Wrong, him pinned against the wall and their laughter as they pressed close and jabbed and I knew, no no no they are killing him! and while I do not care particularly for the continued existence of my present species and I am a general traitor I will not leave an unarmed anything at the mercy of an armed something else so I swam behind them, the hair of the mermaids lilting red and black curls over bare back in the pulsing illumination and I prepared myself for the fight and I grabbed the shoulder of the one right behind him and spun her around and roughly said Now just hold it right there!
She held her dick in her hand, it bobbed up and down in front of me as if nodding. In front of her, the diver floated slumping against the wall, dressed in an naval officer’s costume with the pants nowhere in sight, legs ajar, his asshole a deflated sea anemone, wafting and blown out/in the drift, an exhausted smile on his glass masked face.
Well, aren’t you the impatient one? she said, looking suspiciously like Ariel, but in a sort of conscious cosplay way, and with much, much sharper teeth.
What, you want some of this, sailor? spoke the second, waggling her member at me, while looking more like the mermaid that Ursula transforms into when she tries to be sexy and get the prince and she is supposed to look evil although she just looks really damn good and again, in a way that was probably pretty intended.
I was mortified. And cleared my throat and tried to speak very loudly through my mouthpiece and I said to them
Excuse me! I did not mean to interrupt your… Ahem! Greetings, Atlantians. Hello, fellow landwalker. I bring news from Venice. I’m… uh… looking for the king of Atlantis. Have you seen him?
And they laughed sea-hoarsely.
The king? Hahahahah. Can’t help you there, buddy. Good luck with that.
Against the wall, the diver made a petulant mewling sound, as if drool itself had a voice. And then they plowed back into him.
I turned away, in part because a certain discomfiting degree of arousal. (thankfully hidden by my wetsuit!!) I didn’t mind the feeling (despite the wetsuity chafe) nor was I worried what that arousal would say about me or what you would think (we’ve been around the proverbial block a few times, you and me, and that block isn’t just one-way streets, in fact, we have dug tunnels under it and erected new walls also), only that I truly couldn’t locate which aspect of it gave me the yearnsome jolt: what in the scene was doing it for me? Did I want to be the one getting done, all gussied up like an extra from a Bruce LaBruce production of Potemkin? Did I want to be one of those mermaids, legless and slick, did I want to be an extra party coming behind like a caboose with nuts and teeth to complicate the situation, did I just want to be the sea itself, wrapping and caressing and slipping in and out of whatever opening possible, did I want to be a sea anemone, or was it above all that I just wanted to tell this to you, was the excitement the thought that I could write this card and say I have felt excitement and I do not know what is the cause but this writing is an effect.
(By the way, a brief note: all hitherto existing illustrations and popular culture descriptions of mermaids have totally fucking lied. Totally. Because they always show them as sexless and assholeless, as sexless as angels or cartoon bears, swapping out that Barbie-torched groin or fur pants for a convenient slinky dress that never comes off and keeps the down-below out of sight and more than that unthinkable because we have a hard time placing poles and holes if they aren’t placed at the point where limbs join, but of course the body is a unified surface and what about a mouth, huh, or a nose, both just put in the middle of the face for no goddamn reason and that’s why we can’t think of mermaids as sexed, sexy yes, tight fishy ass but sexuated and fecal no because once we started down that route of thought we’d have to start looking at noses as dicks and mouths, as, OK, as what they are often treated as, but to really embark on this would make all conversation tremendously awkward and/or hot. And so it is the representation of the mermaid which is the total heart of this conspiracy, this denial, they are the floodgate that prevents a tremendous, dick-dimmed tide of confusion drowning us as if we were already living in Atlantis. And so we think that mermaids just pop out of skulls – but that was Zeus! not Neptune! I hear you saying, rubbing your temples in sympathy with that split-dome god and in frustration at my inability to keep my gods straight, but don’t worry, I’m on it, I’m on it – or as if they were born in giant oyster shell, as though boning consisted solely of a tumorous thought or a grain of sand in the mollusky pink. Well ain’t that not the truth. Much as you have been lied to about Venice not being the top of Atlantis, you have also been lied to, systematically, for centuries, for millennia, about the genital configuration and gonadal absence of mermaids, and those two things being the subject of this postcard – Atlantis and the parts of the body where the legs might meet – it seems important to clear this up.
Because, actually, it’s all just there, as if stuck on after the fact. It’s disconcerting, frankly, because they aren’t the same color as the fishy scales. No, they are fleshy and wave in the current, labia and scrotum and everything and you’re trying to have a conversation and it’s very difficult not because there’s nudity but because the contrast in color between fin-tail-leggish mass and the nasty bits makes it so that there’s really nowhere else for your eyes to look, I mean it’s like a dick got free and affixed itself to a fish like a lamprey, as if the wind of the ocean was tremendous and a rogue vagina blew like tumbleweed or a stray piece of paper asking if someone has found a lost dolphin, HE IS VERY NERVOUS AND VERY LOVED, WE MISS HIM, PLEASE CALL WITH ANY INFORMATION, and it plasters itself over the space below your belt. And one has to wonder if its previous owner has gotten any news about it, and at some point that owner stops searching and just waits for something else to blow through the streets and get stuck and there you go.)
And so I was confused and flustered and I tried to hide this by letting myself drift away while calling back to them, Um, thanks, but I only have limited oxygen! And this mission is of utmost importance so I must hurry!
Really? Then why isn’t your mask connected? the black-haired one called with another laugh
Frantic I reached toward my mask, aware instantly that I had, without realizing it, never hooked the mouthpiece to the valve on the tank and that, being so distracted by the sublime sight of the city, I had drowned without even noticing, never realized that I was leagues below and already passed into the realm of the dead.
But no, but no. As I clawed at my useless apparatus, my fingers accidental hooked the openings on the side of my neck, my gills soft and bloodwarm which opened and closed in slow counterpoint to the frenzy of my heart, and I do not know for how long they had been there and I still do not know, I know only that I had drowned in a way I could not have imagined, flooded myself into immediate evolved adequacy with this city and this place and this light and these Atlantians and I will not be returning to Venice and all that it means, because my flight is complete, and they looked at me with eyes as cold and hungry as Parsifal’s and said
So what’s the good word, sailor?
After all, what’s a drowned world to do?