Hotel Palenque /6 — Louis Armand

– , 11 February. Standing at the summit. The ruined temple behind me. Trees growing out of the temple. I’ve climbed the mountain. The great pyramid. Each step one more decade century epoch added to extinction. But I haven’t gone far. The air’s cold. Still. Everything, the road, the trees, the gate, the house & the fields beyond it stand out in pale relief. The moon raising up the dormant & sentient objects. The silent swarming insects. The heaving oceans of dark maize. The mountains are rigid, incising the sky. The pale lugubrious flesh of the sky. Something moving beneath the film. The cicadas, rasping again in the garden. Beneath that sky the garden seems overly “exposed.” A raw nerve setting everything one edge. Petrified. An arrangement of grey stones set out against a white stage. Their mutism. What are they trying to tell us? Figures carved into the stones attract our attention by other means. (The simple presence of a body which calls into question all that’s assumed.) The other, sitting naked in the window, swaying back & forth. Flexing. Arms stretched above the head. Fingers wound about a large metal latch. A tableau vivant describing a series of repetitive, almost identical movements. One half of the body reflected in the other. A symmetry of rhymed gestures. And this fluid mechanical operation interrupted by a sudden rigidity. The features hardening. Nostrils flared. Hair raised on the back of the neck. Dilated pupils. The glandular metallic reek of the sex. Rearing up. Lunging. Hostile mouths projecting in a blur. A high-pitched hissing between barred teeth. The window was empty. The boy, who seemed to be there only a moment ago, has gone. In the courtyard the parrots continuously turn their heads from one side to the other. The old man’s shadow falls between the doorway & the edge of the garden, but he himself does not appear. The bark of a spider monkey. The parrots, silent all morning, begin to screech. After some time there are footsteps. And then more footsteps. Nothing else happens. The shadow has not moved but has become the shadow of a banana tree. A grating sound comes from within the house. He tries to look around. It has grown darker. The door to the corridor is closed. There’s no-one. In the courtyard somebody has placed hessian covers over the bird cages. The curtain shifts weightlessly in the window. Mentally he raises himself up. He lifts his head. His shoulders. Pivots slowly on his right elbow. The hips. The legs heaving over the edge of the mattress. Knees on the concrete. He crawls, slowly, to the other side of the room. A bucket. A mirror which has fallen on the floor. A pile of soiled clothing. The butt ends of cigarettes. A pool of brown liquid. A plastic bag. His elbows are trembling beneath his weight. Closes his eyes hard & opens them again. He looks down at the mirror, smeared, covered in white film. Dragging an index finger across the glass. The streaked surface forming the initial letter of his name. An articulated pyramid. A disembodied eye looking out from the centre of it. What it appears to stand for. Some other consciousness, equally to be used. Penetrated. Exposed to the crudest forms of exact knowledge. And in knowing, to enforce a suture. A closing-off. After the initial injection the intensity of symptoms appears to diminish. Pain knotted at the temples. The veins bulging & muscles contracted around the jaw into a visible ridge. A wave. An ocean roaring in the sky. How long had the room in which he was lying ceased to exist? The strange hollow sound of internal speech. “Everything will’ve been said before.” I was going towards you. I was moving perpetually into the light. But it’ll take a lot of blood to make the geriatric corpse sing again. Fucking a fistful of mamey pulp. Rancid fruit smeared over his face. Bloodied threads of yellowed come knotting his hair. And after, the hair shaved off. The naked scalp. The shrivelled & peeling skin hatched w/ scars & old age. The tall mirror stands on his right as the priest draws the blade across the leather thong, the razor working quickly in the priest’s hand. “Before land was the sea. All nature in chaos.” It’s necessary to envisage somewhere far removed from here, beyond the water. Membranous. Translucent. Stretched across the fleshpale rocks. Sea hair. Wash of seaweed. A languid caressing. Parting the water. Arms slowly arched over the head & swept downwards. “Time’s a circle. The descending arc is the past, the ascending arc the future. There’s only the present.” The sun’s corona burned into the iris, a black outline. Across the bay, the old Spanish walls of the arcades & hotels. The Malecón crowded w/ vendors & street hawkers. Newspaper stands. Taxis. Daytime hustlers. Boys lounging in doorways. In the hotel room there are two mattresses, one beside the other. Both are wet. Both have the same stale urine stink. Mildew. Dissolved body-fat. A pair of rusted window frames bleeding down the wall. The stigmata of two enucleated eyes. The eyes of Constantinus gaping into the night. A third window w/ missing slats opens onto a long tiled corridor. On the further side, a row of glass partitions. The dark green of tropical vegetation pressed up against the glass. Mosquitoes hover below the ventilation ducts. A sign encased in wire netting. EN CASO DE INCENDIO SIGA EL PLAN DE EVACUACIÓN. There are steps leading down. A narrow landing beyond which the corridor continued to descend. Steel doors stencilled w/ warning signs. Skulls & crossbones. Air vents w/ huge, motionless fans. Cylindrical wells drilled vertically into solid rock. Coils of electrical wire. Metal piping. Large black plastic tubes throbbing w/ noise. The concrete walls have given way to stone. Wooden scaffolds. Seemed clay. Water drips from the ceiling & gathers in black pools on the ground. The sound of running water gradually more & more distinct, louder, a deluge, a tunnel opening beneath a cataract. And just as it seems the noise is about to become unbearable the corridor comes to an end. A small chamber w/ a low ceiling. It’s closed on all sides except for the narrow entrance. Against the far wall, an iron bed frame. To locate an action in a specific time & place. How’s that possible? I lie awake, I stare up at the ceiling, at the discoloured plaster. It’s raining. The two small windows at the top of the far wall are broken. There’s water pooling on the floor, the sound of mosquitoes. Background noise. Television voices. Neon-red passageways. Grey & white concrete floors. The thousands of steps leading down through excavated strata. A window rushes into the dark tunnel. A starry night of pin-eyed halogen. Dripping water. Roots hanging from the concrete ceiling. The compartment’s an extension of the body, an eye thrust down into an inner space. The structure of the city above disappears. There’s no longer the sense of being in a train running beneath the streets. A cold shudder running through an intestinal tract. We reached a terrain unlike any we had ever seen before. It was composed of rubble & blocks of unfamiliar stone. The air was still & crystalline. The sky glared overhead. It hurt to look at it. Each pin-prick of light seems directed at the retina. It enters. Frame by frame. In slow motion. Piercing through to the back of the skull. The subject of the representation is scored across like an abscessed liver. The hands trembling as they hold it out. Still warm. A basement room w/ a bar & tables. 2:00 AM. And the place is empty. On the wall are bullfight posters. CORRIDA DE TOROS. Blood on the sand. A strip along the bottom half of the wall is painted arsenic green. A violent burst of mirthless laughter. An electrical metre ticking outside the door. The threatening tick circled like an invisible, malevolent insect. The air was thick. Acidic. The pungent, citric stench of urine. In the stairwell a moronic voice intones a baleful chant. Ancient figures rocking backwards & forwards in wheelchairs, armchairs, toiletchairs. Radio hiss. Food trays clatter to the ground, spilling an indescribable mess over torn linoleum. The off-white paint is peeling in ragged strips from the tops of the walls. The ventilation ducts wheeze humid de-oxygenated air. A pungent staleness mouldering in the room. Sour milk. A mattress on the floor amidst pages torn from books. His eyes had been shut a long time. A heavy eyelid twitching in the dusk. “Why do you stay w/ me?” The room was silent. The light outside a deep orange red. Light falling in long vertical shafts between tree branches & leaves. Falling through the open doorway. The thin strips of palm fronds & gauze of mosquito netting. “Why don’t you ever answer me?” His skin was heavy on his bones. Tongue cemented to the roof of his mouth. Thick as papaya juice. The air, the body’s humidity. The shadows falling. A hot mouth brushed his shoulder. Skin a swollen rind. He sank further into the mattress, collapsing inward. “I can’t see yr face. What’re you thinking? Why did you turn away?” Inert. Eyes shut against the fluorescence. Knees drawn halfway up to his chest, then forgotten. Even if a thought occurred to him, he’d be incapable of giving it form: the necessary words had long ago deserted him. Captive to the idiotic picture show in his head. The soundtrack flowing out in an unrelenting vomit of cliché like a river into a sea. From something that might be the beginning of something which might be the end. A poultice of descriptive detail applied to bare existence. In order to draw out its basis in antagonism. But what if the illness in his dream really was his illness? To undergo an experience of something means that this something befalls us. Strikes us. Comes over us. Overwhelms & transforms us. The wet heat in the room had grown unbearable. Torpor. Negativism. Catatonia. Paranoias. Screaming w/ laughter at the slightest provocation. All of a sudden horror rigidified my limbs. And I knew, now it’s going to turn out badly. I’m going to end up like something on the front page of ¡Pásala! UN HOMBRE BAÑADO EN SANGRE. As I switched on the light, the staircase leading from the corridor appeared to flame up from step to step. The word HELLISH went through my mind. In the square the clock struck, the bell tolled. From the balcony it was only possible to observe the roofs of other buildings. The street below. The sky was dark. Its darkness made everything too familiar & unreal. They could be anywhere. Desert landscapes. Terraces. The flickering fire of neon & streetlights. Constellations punctuating the visible night screen. A succession of towering, Baroque vaults. A landscape of monoliths. Towers staggered behind & beside one another. Rows & rows of windows. Again the foundation was missing. The impression of floating. Suspended within a type of apparatus. A system of masts & ropes. Ghostships. An evening sky of an unbearable pale blue over the dark roofs of a colonial backwater. A peculiar feeling of anticipation. All at once the stars flared up, like streetlights hung in the sky. Amassed. Turned to a dense rain that streamed towards me. Like overripe fruit they’ve fallen away from the tree. A garden w/ red, yellow & green trelliswork. The calyx hollows out. At the bottom two violet pistils lean over a red blue stamen. Blue tradescantia ionised by strange radiations. An ever-expanding, contracting spiral, opening from an orifice cut out like a hole in the firmament. He wants to see what “it” is. In his delirium he uttered the phrase repeatedly, in different intonations. As a question. As a statement. Quietly. Loudly. Thoughtfully. Absently. Uncertainly. Its alienating effect consists in turning the object from something ordinary, familiar, accessible, into something peculiar, unexpected. What’s obvious is a system of operations, designed to bring about a result. To exhaust compulsive definition & redefinition. To proceed, neither from nor toward. Negatives, absences, lost or stolen objects. Undiagnosed illnesses. False symptoms. Crimes w/out motive or victim. In his dream he’s running underwater. The artificial, retarded movements of the body. He turns to see if he’s really being followed. “It’s the body that sees, knowing itself pursued.” The weight of the limbs. The onset of rigour. They’re listening in on his thoughts right at this moment. Recording them. Writing him down. Right down to the last detail. Forcing him to go back. To the precise moment. Place. The exact pattern of breathing. The influence of planetary conjunction. Cosmic accidents. The shape of things to come. Sensations emanating from the bodily organs. Blood pressure. Acuteness or impairment of hearing. Vision. The consistency & temperature of the stool. Colour & precise odour of the faeces. Were the hands clean? Did he wear shoes? What did his posture cause his body to resemble in profile? Did he anticipate the moon rising at that particular hour? Was it light outside? Was it dark inside? How did the room smell? Did he enter immediately or did he pause to reflect, casting doubt upon his actions? What was the trajectory of the first blow? Of the last blow? How did one succeed another? Why did he cry out? Was the voice familiar? What did it say? Was the mirror empty or bleeding? Were the curtains open or drawn? Was he afraid of the broken glass? Did the semi-naked body provoke him to laughter? Ridicule? Did he pursue? Was he in turn pursued? Consider the following: Suppose you see someone on the street. You hesitate to follow him. A quarter of a second. How do you convey this hesitation? The question: “How to approach him?” Which serves also to make explicit another question: “Am I going to fuck him?” Disclosing the unforeseen by an operation analogous to that in mathematics which makes an unknown entity evident: “Am I going to kill him?” But if words define experience, behaviour becomes subject to the problems of language, tautology, paradox. The vicious circle of death, resurrection, dissemination. It might even be doubtful that he’d spoken at the moment when he seemed to address you. As if, sensing the tension in yr gaze, he anticipated yr desire. Turning back towards you w/ the hint of a sneer: “It’s I who am going to kill / fuck / eat you, cabrón.” Is it necessary to be dead in order to be loved? Behind the general motif of nothing or nothingness, a particular nothingness is always present. A point, which is a set of co-ordinates. It’s a way, an approach. But in place of a path I find only a meridian, drifting further & further south. I run one hand slowly down over the back. Following w/ the other hand the curve of the chest. Down over the flat brown stomach. The other smiled & lay down on the mattress. Later we smoked a cigarette, our shoulders touching. This movement of the imperceptible between the mobile & the immobile. This movement of the imperceptible where what moves has already stopped. A man or a stone or an atomclock. The skin cells of the fingers scale off when you lightly stroke the human body. The too familiar strangeness of a disquieted fascination. The jungle forever expands around it. The rivers multiply. Canopies stretch ever upwards like pyramids atop which the ever seeking eye casts its raiment. “Upon the nothing in which we struggle to see ourselves.” Mist, smoke. The fine needles of rain impinging upon the still smouldering earth. Opening onto a passage. A stairway descending beneath corbelled vaults. Atalantian figures support the ceiling on their heads. At the foot of the stairs we found another passage, blocked w/ masonry. Sacrificial offerings among clay vessels. Red shells. Earrings. Small pieces of jade & pearl. Such things were spread out before this wall. Who sleeps in the closed room beyond? Waking in the middle of the night. Figures draped in white linen filing through the doorway. The body rigid, mouth & eyes wide open. They raise him from the bed. Carry him out onto a narrow platform. Held aloft, it seems he’s falling & falling further. The ground far below him now. The more he falls the further away it becomes. The world itself recedes into a distant zero. “What’s imperceptible is by extension more immobile.” Relating now the means by which he arrived here: Something hard in his mouth which he can’t extract. Teeth glittering in the jaw of the skull. He looks for clues. The directions give only the minimum of detail. In the following scene he’s standing in the midst of a desolate landscape. A wide-open expanse. A plain stretching in all directions to an horizon both uniform & nondescript. Red. Brown. Ocherous. The sinewed folds, tendon-like, clenching & uncoiling. From which derives the impression of a carcass slit open from the gut to the throat exhibiting its entrails. Whitened intestine parched by the sun. Wind. The texture of the surrounding desiccated flesh. Grain of old agave root, petrified by dreams of water. A needle thrust into the earth & dawn back up: an improbable moisture erupts in veins that have long become desert. Suddenly you begin to flow again. You redeem yrself by flowing to yr death. And from that moment you contemplate yrself w/ tranquillity. You were dead & now you find yrself alive, at last capable of dying. We are walking along a dry, white road. Entering the borderland. ZONA MUERTA. There’s danger here. A dry, brown, vibrating hum or frequency in the air. Like the rubbing of insect wings. “I felt a cold fly moving between my fingers. And the soft crunch as I delicately crushed the head. Finally letting it drop to the floor, spinning like a dry leaf.” We pass a village. Mounds half a metre high. Black cloth over wire frames to construct artificial hives. Everywhere is defined by a dry hum: not a sound, exactly, but a frequency. A wavelength. Telepathy. The sky’s unravelling & nothing seems to join up to cover the glitched signal beneath. White’s invading the picture from all sides. On the wide plateau under a large sky. Everything quivering. Inanimate objects become animate. Lines of haze, static, overlapping. Threads pulled from the enormous tapestry. Exposed wires. Reek of singed hair. The sky’s all of a sudden a wall, thrust up close. Thrust up into the retina. The muscle tightening in the neck. A shoulder blade arching across the spine. Mountainous. Scalene. It’s a sky difficult to breathe in. Far below, a former self like dust in a remote spiral. Dust devils patrol the horizon. A yellow smear. El Norte. Rivers of shit flowing inexorably south. Anus of the World in the Eye of the Sun. (Would there ever be a wall long enough?) Earblind, bleeding from a burst drum. A tin can w/ holes shot through. Blue mangroves dangling from the bottom of the sky. A 747 drags its pale umbilicus, bawling silently in the zero of altitude. Red eyed. Nosing the re-entry point. A dog’s bloodied hind quarters, scenting the mongrel crowded streets. The present physical environment is increasingly difficult to endure. As one, scratching at the earth to dig a hole in which to hide. Bury the expired self in dreamt-of resurrections. Incest totems. Cave paintings in a room above a city. He stood at the window, the street below led onto a plaza at one end & the sea at the other. The plaza could’ve been any plaza. The sea could’ve been any sea. Mirrored on the black surface of the water: “The city lights which occupy the visible background of the sky.” Shaped like an upturned washbasin into which everything is made to capsize. Like a hieroglyph which symbolises its own effacement, written in thick residues of lime-scale & rust, or the contents of an ashtray dumped upside-down onto a chair to be read. Divinations of entropy. The carpet’s bluegreen like seagrass w/ a door opening out from it & table resting on none of its legs. I stare at the flickering mirage of the surface, moths swarm all over it. I can’t breathe, I’m floating through the pain. What am I doing here? Someone’s looking down at his exposed cock slick w/ jism. “I’ve spilt something. It’s pouring out.” The room, luminous & opaque, a skein of yellowed membrane across the eye. Swelling, filling w/ puss. He can’t close his eyelid. They’ve pinioned his head in a vice, keeping it rigidly in place. Arms, legs, strapped. A surgical glove parts the membrane to its widest compass. Above him, they’ve prepared a long needle-like apparatus w/ tubes & valves, monitors, a proboscis extending inexorably down into the aqueous humour. Synapse cathedrals. A catheter w/ light pouring out. Set adrift in zones of non-sleep, to see performed the organism’s secret wish. Innocence frayed by culpability. Ankles tied w/ duct tape to chair-legs. Mouths smashed in. The smell of cooking oil. Latex gloves. Shadows of varying darkness shift & from time to time obscure the scene. “The circulation of the blood produces this very same condition. But qualitatively, at the level of the cerebellum. The front, solid. Behind, transparent. Surrounded by…” Bruises & small lacerations could be discerned on the inside of the thighs. An asphalt graze on the left hip. The room stank of dirt & a vague pharmaceutical smell. “I’m unable to give either a purely historical or a purely thematic account. I can write a history neither of the treatment nor of the illness.” Crepuscular suburbs. Crossing a dual-carriageway, heavy traffic streaming. On the far side three monolithic towers framing a square plaza. At the base of one of the towers about a dozen people are standing in a circle. They’re looking at the body of a man. Face-upwards. It’s cold. A cold corpse slowly becoming rigid on the cold ground. The words COLD FEET come to mind. Someone attempts resuscitation, pushing down on the chest. Hand over hand. The torso jerks under the arrhythmic force. Who’s victim & who perpetrator? A Socratic pretext to Platonic disavowal. As one who communicates unexperienced emotions. An impersonated actor in the theatre of Ataraxia. During the course of the ceremony, the crowd continues to grow till people throng the entire plaza. Viewed from above, it resembles a luminous Rorschach inkblot. An overly-contrived symmetry in which shapes emerge whose only apparent certainty is that they’re part of the same object. The object-of-seeing. Lying w/ his back on the a stone floor covered w/ moss in a ruined temple. Torso naked. Part of the roof had caved in bringing w/ it trees & broken slabs of grey-black limestone. The spectacle of a world in the frozen recoil of collapse. Because he no longer understands anything. Feeling the obsidian knife trace the precise contour of the glans. The gauge of the wire binding his hands & feet. The trepanning drill. Cortex & gelatinous matter. When the new civilisation came into being, god would be dead & everything would be sacred. Yes. And nothing would be sacred. A goat-like laughter among the ruins, a potlatch of complicity. Incapable of looking at anything w/out our look adding to it, reading into it more than it “contains.” A landscape w/ mountains. Ruins. Rocks. Jungles. Great plains. Hills, valleys, primordial figures in violent action. Scribbled on the inside cover of an old medical journal in faded green ink. – , 7 October. Last week the first 200g of the new drug arrived, whose investigation I wish to take up. It involves the seeds of a mimosa (Piptadenia Peregrina Benth) used as a stimulant by the tribes of the Orinoco. The seeds are ground. Fermented. Mixed w/ the powder of burnt snail shells. This powder (called niopo, yupa, nopo, cojoba) is sniffed through a hollow, forked bird’s-bone. The drug is used by the Otomaco to an extensive degree. It’s reported in a monograph by P.J. Gumilla, Orinoco Ilustrado, 1741. “The Otomacos sniffed the powder before they went into battle w/ the Caribes. This drug robbed them completely of reason.” A thin layer of smoke hung in the valleys. Indians burning the milpa for maize fields. The buzzing of chicharras. Locusts. Crickets. – , 12 December. “Dear X, on the one hand I’ve a great desire, besides the scientific investigation of hallucinogenic substances, to research their use during ceremonial rituals.” 

Louis Armand is the author of THE COMBINATIONS (Equus, 2016), THE GARDEN (11:11, 2020) & VAMPYR: A CHRONICLE OF REVENGE (Alienist, 2020). He lives in Prague.