Massive, Kansas — John Trefry

A motel is painted over with matte gray at the geographic center of the United States.

“chandelier floors asway / linear hinterland / out proximity’s azure sprung excelsior / room enough”

—from “Ark 51, Rungs I, The Pencil Spire”, Ronald Johnson

A house, a letter to the editor, a bespoke Harrington with vermillion lining, the honing of a great stone into a mutable omniform—any cultural object with living in its striding—is a tomb containing a stillbirth of ephemera that—becoming tangible—is surrendering its ephemeral tenancy, improvements to the structure into a situation—a status of occupation—beyond habitability. The eradication of human potential is progress.

“But is weathering only subtraction, can it not also add and enhance? Deleterious consequences can be complimented by the potential value of sedimentation and the accumulation of detritus on a surface through the action of weather… Subtraction leads to final ruination and intimates, therefore, the end of the building as it would the death of the figure.”

On Weathering, Mohsen Mostafavi and David Leatherbarrow

The “Neighbor” is taking eminent possession of a retail husk in isolation on the scrubby outskirts of “the Estates”—1926 through 1929 Grade Road—by means of his mycelial interweavings with the municipal authorities and emeritus designation within the nominal Kansas settlement bureaucracy. Timber foundation reinforcement is necessary for additional loading of the structure, stockpiling of internal miscellany—sinks, cupboards, rugs, partitions, light fixtures, commodes—for alternative reintroduction to the built landscape. Crews inside the building are filling holes in the walls, covering the windows with translucent paper in preparation, hiding within the mask of the structure they are spraying the continuous internal surface with a debonding agent and a 5 cm outer veneer layer of granitic liquefaction in light grey with salmon pregnant with a catalyst and an interior 25 cm structuring layer of concrete with steel mesh reinforcement, leaving through a portal remaining in the roof and sealing the portal with a skimcoat of imitation granite over dense foam resting on a ledger. A separate crew is striking the external polystyrene foam structure.

The children of stalwart nuclear families are continuing to knock—in their inexorable canvassing rounds—on the thin concrete in doorframe protuberances—a distant stifling reverberation through the hollow body of the casting—at numbers 1926 and 1927 and 1928 and 1929 out of desperation to repopulate the horde of future angels, or an inheritance of vestigial evangelism, the emptiness of rooms—where families stare out of the windows with easy devotion to idle promises and deflections, the smell of tepid giblet and pickle soup and of walldrafts of mold spores—in the translation of phony megaliths heaping one on top of another, the photographic negatives of space, interior facing doorknobs are concave navels, architraves are incisions chiselingly latitudinal around the monument, foursquare sash windows are cruciform—Byzantine tapering resulting from easing away of the mould—extroversions, the emblematic features of nascent WPA construction are each vestigial architecturalizations of bespoke optimism, doors are mock tomb entrances to a giant sarcophagus, a mausoleum containing—but also concealing—the vain optimism of the masses lying in tall grass, echoes traveling hopelessly through the skies of abandoned Belleville for a complicit surface.

It is a law of nature, this separateness, and that it is impossible to take a bad picture of a Dollar General. Thriftway, you lesser than.

Casting of the object is completely clandestine. Insulation of duckdown and sago pith are lining the walls of the mould. Municipal authorities are onsite with notice of the mould striking, the exposure, the great concrete omniform—just a squat inversion of spaces to inhabit, a stack of forbidden caves honeycombing together—”Massive” is a casting of technology in Late Capitalism with habitual traces surviving in the odd details of a fossil impression caught in its surface or the zigzags of a wooden staircase running up one of its walls or the reliquaries of data sockets, an apparitional building with no door no windows no walls no roof but the shape of the air. The overall effect is the extremity of primitive simplicity, onlookers moving forward to touch its surface. The legacy families of Belleville, returning from their new homes in Wichita and Bonner Springs, are covering its surface with threadbare tarps just behind the crews striking the mould of bricks and mortar and windows and doors.

“Flatness was a result of this desire for an environment that was meant to be controlled, therapeutic, and iconic; the ambient air (with all its qualities) became a principle of life… the elimination of external elements designed specifically to retard deterioration through the regulation of the action of water on surfaces…”

On Weathering, Mohsen Mostafavi and David Leatherbarrow

Unlike other exemplars of monumental statuary—Durantes’s climactic Minaret, Salty’s pogonotrophic bronze head on a rosy granite plinth, the rosy granite sphere of Mary—mute with the suggestion that their supplicants and secular pilgrims are valuable only for troth and fealty, “Massive” is stubbornly unheroic and democratic.

“When the soil has become finely pulverized by too much working over, by the action of water followed by wind, or particularly, when the surface is blown dirt from a previous storm, the dust begins to blow with only a slight breeze.”

Farming the Dust Bowl, Lawrence Svobida

Rain—but really, in this aridity, not likely—is running and dirt, sediment, mold, and mildew are devouring the thin concrete. The opposite of human potential is the potential of weather.

The benevolent “Neighbor”—although communicating all specifications for the mould preparation and concrete mixture from within the vine swaddling of his cul-de-sac ranch house in reproductions of documents bearing his debonair and aristocratic handwriting—is striving for a mutable and transcendent manifestation, vacillating between solitude and sociability, inherent in the separate but abutting cells of the extant mould of the derelict building on the outskirts of “the Estates”, the erasure of an abandoned family business biography has been remade as an archaeological find, mutilation of retail domesticity in blank walls, blank windows are evoking the evil eye, an oddly simple vessel for the idle reflections and projections of passing or rubbernecking folks waiting on the corner to die or a few that are checking in at the kiosk for church booster pamphlets.

“As [dust] continues to rise into the air it becomes thicker and thicker, obscuring the landscape… a typical black blizzard… the very sun is blotted out… the dust has blinded you…”

Farming the Dust Bowl, Lawrence Svobida

“Massive” is a paradoxical concrete monument, the fleshfilling of negative space into something expulsive whose impenetrable interior is retaining the myth of intimacy, a construction of absence, an incongruous object that is far from where its reposing is appropriate, being a pronunciation of space in which occupation is impossible, a building whose space is outside its boundaries, a relic and a lode of aspirational fantasies about public life—what are secrets, what is honesty, what is joy, what is peace, where is home—a sculpture smooth with a deep sense of loss, it has the character of a tantalus full of ashlar.

“A trip for water to rinse the grit from our lips. And then back to bed with washcloths over our noses. We try to lie still, because every turn stirs the dust on the blankets. After a while, if we are good sleepers, we forget.”

Dust Bowl, Donald Worster

Even on the cozy pelt of Pangaea, Kansas was isolated. The population identifies as approximations.

The monument, “Massive”, at the geographic center of the United States is a concrete veneer mouldcasting of the inside of an entire obsolete privately owned retail structure—little resemblance is apparent to the public facade of an enduring identical structure occupying 1930 through 1933 Grade Road—a bald solidification of its intimate hollows is silencing the nudity of its secrets—the ground floor with four entry lobbies and piano nobile and attic story, including stairways and single vertex bay windows, but not the roof space behind the squat parapet. The late afternoon is mild—sun baking the gasping monument for the promotion of barometric respiration from its hermetic failures reeking of the tomb of the filtering arachnohypens and tepid mushroom soup. Distant barking dog.

“Comes then Conqueror Worm / come bones of earth / come throes of change upon us // summon the vale of flesh / through granite vein, call up / again first gaze”

—from “Ark 84, Arches XVIII”, Ronald Johnson

John Trefry is an architect and the author of the novel Plats, the caprice Thy Decay Thou Seest By Thy Desire, and the forthcoming novel Apparitions of the Living. More diminutive writings have appeared in various other outlets. He is the editor of Inside the Castle, a small press. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, and on Twitter @trefryesque.