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Armies Cover
The Armies Encamped in the Fields Beyond the Avenues - 1977

The Armies Encamped in the Fields Beyond the Unfinished Avenues

            "It is absurd to resist what cannot be resisted," we said and hung the banners from every window. We did not know how arrogant the strangers would be. “Learn to accept the unacceptable and you will survive," they said, and began organizing us into labor gangs.

            Their first decree announced that the avenues would not be finished, and we knew that all absences were permanent, that our hands were to remain open like the cisterns in the ruins beyond the city, where flies crawled back and forth on the dry clay.

            In the manner of their speech, "absence" became the word we used to delineate those places where the avenues went unfinished, and "absence" also came to describe the ocean, where all roads end. The dog without a leash was no longer called "freedom" but "separation" and "rupture," for we now saw it tottering from garbage can to garbage can in the alleys, eaten by flies that fed on its mouth. Night, and the rooster who ended it, we simply called "sky," enunciating the firmament's changing hues with many synonyms, from "everlasting absence" and "cosmic separation" to "eternal rupture."

            But soon we were faced with an unsettling incoherence:  An old man, addressed by the new expression for "good morning," crumbled to dust.  A widow, calling her son to supper in a recently revised phrase of endearment, was ripped apart by a pack of wild dogs. And during the last election, mobs of voters, thinking they were obeying the new voting instructions, crowed the names of their choices like drunken choirs as they jigged and curtsied around the polling places. After this incident—a situation the strangers would not tolerate—plans for future elections were canceled, and whole neighborhoods were trucked into the desert, never to be heard from again.

            The new language was with us in our bedrooms and kitchens, as if it had been assigned to live with us for the duration, always foreign but always there, until each of us seemed to be occupied by a second self, or more accurately by two people, one whose presence we took for granted, and the other who we watched in terrified fascination, like a husband or wife you realize one day you have never really known.

            The rubble piled up: scraps of old letters, broken plastic clocks, buttons and old batteries, rusting springs. War was imminent, the strangers announced, which was a surprise to most of us, since we thought that war was what we were engaged in already.

            What would have happened had not the janitor discovered the armies encamped in the fields beyond the unfinished avenues is pure conjecture. But children were already stopping on the street and for no reason hauling down their britches and shouting words at passers‑by that no one could understand.

            “Where are you going? Back to your homes!" blared the loudspeakers on the trucks. "There is nothing there: no army! no fields! Absence exists beyond the avenues! Absence, separation—only that!"

            Some turned back, but most of the crowd continued on, and we heard the murmurs from the people in front spreading back to us like the sounds of a distant ocean, until all of us stood beyond the concrete pilings of the unfinished avenues, laughing, applauding, crying, and pointing at the field beyond, where the soldiers, whose uniforms we did not recognize and who did not notice us, seemed to caper as they went about their chores, singing the old songs of love and death in a dialect that was used before we were born, while their red, violet, and yellow caps bobbed in the sunlit breeze.


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