Whatnot by BJ Atwood-Fukuda
  Recital by Author
  Art by Alice Egoyan

'Present Tense'  2006 Alice Egoyan

Present Tense


I’m like, I’m like what? I’m like, whatever. I’m like, whatever you want. I’m like whatever you want at the moment. Whatever you want all the time. Whatever you want me to be, right now: whatever you say I am. Where now is forever, and ever is, for now, forever. Or, if you like, I’m like whatever you say you can’t stand, for now, or ever. We’re here, now. We’re present. We’re tense.

Not that we like to admit it in so many words.

Speak, memory? No: shut up. You’re over. You’re dumb. You’re old game. If, that is, we can speak of you at all. Yes, you’re fuzzy. But you’re past. Beyond recall, whatever that is. Beyond name. Alas, you say? I pass, we say. And so we do. Time and again, around and around we go, slipsliding across the same shrinking sliver of ice. Same t-shirt, different logo. Is this recycling? Is it fusion? We’re like, wow. We’re here now.

We’re nothing if not the writhing spawn of past and future, issue of a one-night stand we cannot mention without the aid, alas, of one or both of our parents. Either one of whom we struggle to wash down, if not spit out, even as we speak. Never mind that we invoke one or both of them every time we open our mouths. Even as we find ourselves drifting on a sea of time eternally splashing from the butt of one to the belly of the other and back. A prisoner of the tides, if you like. We can’t say if you will. Perhaps it’s not so much a sea as a lava flow. Where are we, though? In space, you mean? Or time?

However you slice it, we’re only a pawn in their game. Whether it’s a shard or the whole palace hardly matters. We’re not here long, unless it’s forever. What remains at the end of the day? How can we speak of remains at all, either of time or of matter? How can we end if we’re always beginning? Where do we begin, forever ending? My how we fashion, how we deconstruct! O the passion we marshal to quash the march of time, the parch of space! It happens not just every few hours, but constantly. Continuously. Consider that shrine in Japan they tear down and rebuild every twenty years. Every twenty nanoseconds, or days. Of course we’re not counting the false starts, the breathless escapes. The furtive glimpses of something like the past peering over the lip of our cup as we wait, mute, for the goodies to splash in, dark and fragrant and hot. Unless that leering face is the future, roaring like a tempest out of the teapot of the past into a present tirelessly trendy and cute. Acutely trendy. Trendily attired.

Does it matter? Without a past there can be no future. Without a future, we’re here now and always, the coracle drifting on the sea, the kettle on the flame. We’re the head on your glass of champagne. My how we boil, how we fizz! Get over it, I hear you say. But don’t you see? Here’s how it is: we cannot retrace our steps. Nor can we bumble or forge ahead. There is no such place. No such time. If we have a mantra, it’s Be Here Now. Or maybe, Don’t Look Back. Who knew, you say, because we can’t say it ourselves. Not new, you say. We know, okay? Now what? Now when? We cannot say. We have no comparatives, only imperatives. Carpe diem! Now you see ‘em, now you don’t! Go figure. Or don’t. Does it matter? See how clever we are? Yes, we’re present. And boy, are we tense.

How do we tell the story? Oh, we can flash it on a screen. We can sportscast it blow by blow, play by play: simulcast, I think you say, as it happens. But tell it? Conjure it out of events, real or imagined, already receding into that realm we dare not even name? Recall them, recount them in a language all its own? How can we do this in a regime of no reflection, no anticipation? We cannot put it behind us, you see. Nor can we pay it forward, if you’ll pardon the expression. We can’t pin the tale on the donkey of memory or dream.

The attic is gone. How about the basement, forget the cellar-door? Not anymore. We skid around on something like a greased contact lens. A shrinking sliver of ice. You can only hope we don’t melt in your mouth. Hope? Nope. Not when you’re on at any given moment. Not when you’re always en route, never there. Too bad, when you consider all the countless stories waiting, like ballots, for recount in words you can’t pronounce without a past tense. Words weighing us all down like ballast in the barnacle-encrusted shell of wunciponnatime.

Yes, we’re present. And boy, are we tense. See how we bribe the future! Watch us annihilate the past! Where nothing becomes because nothing finishes beginning, nothing can turn out to be other than, either, can it? What? When? How can you be in transition at all, when you’re everywhere at once? You can’t say than or then. Nothing can turn out to be at all, in fact. Not after the fact, not before. We are the fact: we are the world, baby. No past participles! No compound verbs! Whole tribes of adjectives, gone: forever decommissioned by the last two letters of their names! Ah, but we can’t say this. Not that. Not in a realm with no latter and no former. Not in a time when we ‘re eternally scaling some ladder, never reaching the top. Even as we pick at the crystals beneath our feet, peeling away blurred strata to reveal some kind of bedrock, we know not what. A big story we cannot quite touch. A saga just out of reach.

Ah, but we drift on a dark sea. We have no origin, no source. We cannot finish, we can only stop. We can only hint, en passant, at a host of possibilities now gone—out of the question, ever out of range. Mute. Invisible. Without a whiff of genesis, a taint of rot. If it’s not here, now, it’s not. Never was, and never shall be.

We follow no one. Nor do we lead: we make pronouncements. We command. We plead. We ask, however rhetorically. My oh my, how we multitask. We’re busy being born and busy dying! Watch us slipslide on a shrinking sliver of ice. See us dash to bits on the head of the pin of any given moment, time and time again. We’re here, now and always, as long as we last. Don’t mention the future! (Forget the past.) I’m like, wow. I’m like, whatever. I’m like, whatever you want me to be. Whatever you think you see in me, now or ever. We’re present, you see. We’re shallow. We’re dense. We’re way clever, aren’t we? And honey, we’re tense.