The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:

Proceedings of the International Congress on Exploratory Meta-Living
David J. Keffer
(link to main page of novel)


August 1, 2018
While Stuart was undeniably pleased that Saint Andronicus had come to help him pray, he was curious as to how the nature of his need had reached the saint.

"Word gets around in the outer spheres," answered Saint Andronicus. "How else would the pleas of the righteous reach the servants of the Lord?"

Stuart did not remember consciously voicing any request for aid. He considered how best to delicately broach this subject. He need not have been so attentive to the sensitivities of the saint, for his visitor accepted the question good-naturedly.

"I suppose you accept that you are not in full control of your destiny?" asked the saint.

Stuart found this a peculiar reply. "If you mean that I acknowledge the pervasive element of chance in life, then you are certainly right."

"It is at least plausible then that a prayer escaped you unawares."

"Can prayers do that?"

"The mind engages in sundry autonomous processes," Saint Andronicus reminded Stuart with a surprisingly secular argument. He proceeded to enumerate a few, "Respiration, blood circulation, digestion... It would be rather provincial, don't you think, to exclude prayer from this list simply on the basis of ignorance or, worse yet, prejudice."

Stuart smiled. "I very much look forward to praying with you."

written while listening to:  Joëlle Léandre & Jean-Luc Cappozzo - Duet, A Woman's Work, disc 4 (Not Two Records, MW 950-2, 2016, Poland, cdx8,

August 2, 2018
Lord, let each in this couple find
in the other a complement.
Guide them to the discovery
of the portions of pragmatism,
which make life together easier,
combined with a due proportion
of the impractical, which enlivens
their united life, distinguishing it
from the intermingling of all others.

Let each bring to the union
the virtues required to remedy
the manifestations of the foibles,
which have also trailed along,
like a litter of irreverent puppies,
teething on the new furniture,
arranged, just so, in their shared home.

Lord, as soon as they are settled,
begin the work of blurring
boundaries. Let the one forget
what the other remembers--
where the keys were left,
to lock the front door before
heading to bed, whose turn
it is to pay the bills, and which,
being the more expendable,
should preferentially shorten
their lives by shouldering
the lion's share of daily stress.

written while listening to:  Joëlle Léandre & Lauren Newton - Duet, A Woman's Work, disc 3 (Not Two Records, MW 950-2, 2016, Poland, cdx8,

August 3, 2018
O Lord, dwelling in eternal
majesty, let those below, perceive
the truth: All things are not equal.
There is dying beyond
that of the body. Suffering
is most meaningful only when
it remains hidden and therefore
incapable of inducing action.

In the mortar of worldly tribulations,
grind these truths into them
with your time-honored pestle,
known colloquially as either
"Getting Along" or "Working It Out",
until the two are so thoroughly
mixed they become inseparable.

Then fire them in a crucible.
The alloy so produced possesses
an uncanny malleability.
It takes human form and poses
before the bedroom mirror.
There are two, we suppose,
though through the analysis
of their concerted actions,
they appear indistinguishable
in the glass, one life reflected
twice, the sacrifice once thought
to belong to one, a flame
in the eye of the other.

written while listening to:  Joëlle Léandre & Nicole Mitchell - Sisters Where (RogueArt, ROG-0055, 2014, France, cd,

August 4, 2018
When the two men had finished praying, Saint Andronicus embraced Stuart. There wasn't much to it, given the incorporeal state of the dead. Still the gesture managed to convey the intended sentiment.

The dogs howled. From a distance, Equinox whinnied.

"I will call the poem," said Stuart, "A Prayer for the Juxtaposition of Reflection & Self-Reflection."

Saint Andronicus seemed perfectly amenable to this suggestion, though he did not explicitly approve it. Already, he was staring again at the mountainous landscape that surrounded Stuart's hermitage, as if he still possessed a heart in which the yearning for the discipline of austere ways could yet be kindled.

"How do you stay so fat," he asked Stuart, "living out here by yourself?" By comparison, the saint was as thin as a rail, a trait which he had shared with his companions at the monastery.

As we have noted earlier, Stuart's healthy, well-adjusted appearance belied his continuous wrestling with the pernicious topics, which the leadership of the American Catholic Atheist Party had to routinely address. He said as much to the saint. "I liken it to the subcutaneous layer of blubber found in aquatic mammals who dwell in cold, marine depths. It serves a protective function."

The saint raised an eyebrow. This explanation allowed him to reconcile the differences in the two men's experiences. Certainly, he had not encountered any such conditions in the deserts of Egypt.

"Farewell, fellow traveler," said the saint to the mortal man. He did not add that he should see him again, come Judgment Day, because it remained somewhat unclear to him whether the path upon which Stuart trod could lead to eternal salvation in the land of the blessed.

written while listening to:  Joëlle Léandre & Mat Maneri - Duet, A Woman's Work, disc 2 (Not Two Records, MW 950-2, 2016 (originally recorded 2011), Poland, cdx8,

August 5, 2018
Stuart presented his third contribution to 'A Fractured Portrait of Iris' to the members of the executive governing committee of the ICEML. Predictably, they commended him on his good work. Various adjectives were dispensed in praise of 'A Prayer for the Juxtaposition of Reflection & Self-Reflection.' "Lovely," was uttered more than once.

Although, she was unambiguously positive in her reception of the fragment, Hebeloma privately harbored reservations. Foremost among them was the suspicion that, at this stage, any contribution would be lauded as a success. As champions of exploratory meta-living, the essence of experiment was an essential component to their process. If the outcome of each experiment was foretold, then the act ceased to be an experiment at all but was rather simply a mechanical confirmation of previously known observations. The ICEML president considered the question, "Could any of the remaining contributions potentially result in failure?" She examined her colleagues. They were well-prepared and deeply committed to the project. To varying degrees they embodied both academic and emotional intelligence. It seemed unlikely, almost to the point of negligibility, that one of them should blunder in the performance of their portion of the communal task. They had prepared too well. They had assembled a team too carefully. Would it fall to her to mar the process in ways that left a stamp of reality upon the record so generated? Was it her role to leave evidence of risk in the creative act?

Following this route of logic, the president contemplated betraying her fellow committee members. There was no particular hurry to an act of sabotage. It was not currently her turn to perform.

written while listening to:  Derek Bailey, Joëlle Léandre, George Lewis & Evan Parker - 28 rue Dunois juillet 1982 (Fou Records, FR-CD06, 2014 (originally recorded 1982), France, cd,

August 6, 2018
The tanager was flying again. The high winds slid frictionlessly over the snakeskin fabric of her red dress. The curve of her black wings manipulated the currents in just such a way that they provided an effortless buoyancy.

She had flown before. She would fly again and, before she flew her last, a hundred or a thousand more instances would arise. There was no novelty at which to marvel in the act, nor was there a repetitive monotony, for flying, like many aspects of life, could be repeated in a pattern without descending into drudgery. The trick was largely mental; the tanager maintained a frame of mind in which the action was interpreted in a positive light, where she was open to the instantaneous minutiae of the experience. To do otherwise was to become lost in a routine with a periodicity that threatened to suffocate her beneath a blanket of meaningless stagnancy. Her admission that the difference between finding joy and misery in an act hinged exclusively on perception suggested the need for a powerful application of apophenia. Indeed, the tanager invented the forces that kept her aloft; there was no shame in admitting it. Since she had long ago accepted the premise of apophenia, she no longer remarked upon it. The challenge now was only to do it. It could not be argued that, on some days, based on nothing more than a momentary fluke of brain chemistry, she felt like she might drop out of the sky.

Yes, there was a portion of the tanager's brain that found the entire physical exercise of flying simply tiring. It fantasized about plummeting to the ocean and being welcomed into oblivion by a terrific impact or, failing that, a subsequent drowning in the waters beneath.

written while listening to:  Joëlle Léandre - Solo, A Woman's Work, disc 6 (Not Two Records, MW 950-2, 2016 (originally recorded 2005), Poland, cdx8,

August 7, 2018
The tanager glided high in the air, her keen eyes occasionally scanning the ocean's surface below, lest an uncharted island escape her notice. For the most part, she traveled in solitude, though today she encountered a waved albatross at a considerable altitude. She admired the yellow of his beak, the curve of his neck, the eight-foot span of his wings and the grace of his flight. Matching his pace only with difficulty, she inquired as to the location of nearby islands, but the bird seemed to have thoughts strictly for foraging, indicating with a nod that barely disturbed his aerodynamic form where he expected to locate squid and crustaceans. Perhaps his reticence was due to the fact that he had not anticipated finding a tanager out at sea Certainly, Escarlata had deviated from the established migratory routes of her kind. Without so much as a wave farewell, their paths diverged. So it is with birds. As is also the case with some people, they may dispel with courtesies until their minds are set to mating, at which time they adopt an altogether different set of sensibilities.

The tanager favored seafood but did not follow the albatross. She sought instead a description of Iris, who, as was becoming apparent, had allowed the mystery of her being to be distributed in parcels across the natural world.

written while listening to:  Joëlle Léandre, Zlatko Kaučič, Evan Parker & Agustí Fernández - Duos, A Woman's Work, disc 8 (Not Two Records, MW 950-2, 2016, Poland, cdx8,

August 8, 2018
The tanager flew further out to sea until all hint of a terrestrial planet was submerged beneath a great, unending ocean. Free of earth, the tanager made do with the company of the other elements, the ceaseless wind, the featureless water and the alternating, distant fires of sun and stars. Evidence of man was scarce, but not entirely absent. At night, she witnessed pinpoints of light tracing arcs across the sky, the telltale sign of the passing of satellites.

When the island came into view, she was almost disappointed. The tanager had not yet reconciled herself to relinquishing the company of the inanimate. In a fit of pique, she ignored the island and flew past it. Once it disappeared behind her, she regretted her decision and, turning about, retraced her path.

She discovered that the island still waited for her, apparently none the worse for its near brush with rejection. To its credit, the island showed no sign of having ever been charted on sailor's maps. Perhaps, it nimbly positioned the clouds above it when satellites passed overhead.

Such thoughts endeared the island to the tanager. If it was hiding, she too might find refuge here. She circled lower, searching for signs of life. While flora covered the island's interior, indications of fauna eluded her. The tanager considered playing the role of a solitary cast-away. When her feet touched down on the beach, she briefly entertained the notion of throwing herself down and embracing the sand, as might one who had been lost at sea for weeks. A momentary movement of shadow at the edge of the forest caught her eye and prompted her to refrain from undue theatrics.

written while listening to:  Muhal Richard Abrams with Fred Anderson & George Lewis - SoundDance, disc 1 (Pi Recordings, PI37, 2011, United States, cdx2,

August 9, 2018
The birds, if birds they were, remained hunkered down in the shadows of the tree line running along the upper margin of the beach. Perhaps unwittingly, they adopted the attitude of soldiers, stationed on a remote island outpost, who, forgotten, had never been alerted to the fact that an armistice ending hostilities had been signed. Decades passed and the soldiers remained ever vigilant. It seemed that this species of soldier bird had waged an avian war with tanagers or one of their allies, for Escarlata was offered no greeting save an ominous rustling of the leaf litter lining the forest floor.

The tanager preened herself. She was, as may have previously escaped us, uncommonly attractive in her mannerisms and appearance. She might have intended to set the soldier birds minds at ease with these decidedly domestic actions. In any case, there was no arguing that a few feathers had been jostled out of place during her long flight. She straightened her dress as well.

Displaying a military discipline of which any general would have been proud, these wayward soldiers resisted the temptation to approach or even hail the tanager.

Some readers, knowledgeable in the ways of birds, may remark that we are making much ado about nothing; many species are skittish and refuse to reveal their presence at the approach of strangers. The tanager too recognized this fact. She smiled, not so much to convey her good intentions as to revel in her discovery of an island where the inhabitants were governed by instinct rather than duplicitous machinations of meta-living.

written while listening to:  Muhal Richard Abrams with Fred Anderson & George Lewis - SoundDance, disc 2 (Pi Recordings, PI37, 2011, United States, cdx2,

August 10, 2018
Eventually the soldier birds either gathered their courage or lost their patience, for a well-ordered regiment emerged from the shadows and marched as one, coming to a stop ten paces from the tanager. The tanager had no formal military training. She imagined that what these soldiers most wanted was for their parade (so it was considered by the tanager) to be admired. The tanager obliged. "How well your uniforms match!" she said of their drab, gray plumage. "How erect your posture! How stiff your steps!" Each trait she addressed, though she worried as the list continued that they would think her adulation insincere. She concluded, somewhat awkwardly, with, "How coordinated your movements!"

In the silence that followed, the birds peered straight ahead. Those positioned in the array directly before the tanager appeared to look at her, while those to either side stared out to sea. The tanager recalled a play in which she had once acted in a minor role. From this limited basis, she understood that the soldiers were awaiting the order of a commanding officer. However, she could perceive no medal or adornment of any kind designating one among them senior to the others. Finally, the tanager barked in what she thought to be a gruff voice, "At ease!"

The effect was instantaneous. The disciplined force suddenly transformed into a common flock of pigeons milling around in the disordered manner to which we are all accustomed. They cooed among themselves and pecked at scattered bits in the sand that looked like they might be appetizing.

Several gathered around the tanager, who, in her modesty, confessed to them, "Usually, I'm really not much of a leader."

written while listening to:  Daunik Lazro, Lê Quan Ninh & Michel Doneda - Concert Public (Vand'Oeuvre, 8903, 1989, France, lp,

August 11, 2018
"All things will, all things will, all things will end well," sang the soldier birds, a song almost as curious as that of the whip-poor-will. There can be no argument that the song suited the birds for the soldiers remained convinced that, despite the extended period of war, the arrival of peace was inevitable.

"The war ended a long time ago," the tanager informed them as they sheltered from the heat of the day in the shade of the forest canopy. In truth she had no idea for which particular war these soldiers or their ancestors had originally enlisted, but, in her experience, conflicts were a thing of passion, inflamed temporarily then forgotten. She felt confident that the struggle, which so preoccupied the soldiers, had long ago been resolved.

In truth, her declaration came as no great surprise to the inhabitants of the island. Who could reside for decades without a doubt creeping into their minds that the purpose to which they had devoted their lives had been satisfactorily concluded without them?

"All things will end well," they cheered as one. One plucky youth among them dared to ask, "Who won?"

Ever the soul of grace, the tanager replied, "Neither, of course. No one emerges from a conflict such as this the victor. Both sides have paid dearly. Time that could have been spent in joy cannot be retrieved. Those hard-won concessions thought to be secured are discovered to be ephemeral, or worse yet, obtained with a hidden cost, which, over time, proves more dear than any gain."

Their expressions fell. Their song of triumph subsided.

"Or," continued the tanager, "both sides won, for what is the experience of life but a series of travails from which we emerge, one hopes, changed for the better?" Amidst the cheers, she neglected to mention that an improvement in character caused by such an event is almost exclusively due to the wisdom garnered not through success but failure.

written while listening to:  Hübsch Acht - Metal in Wonderland (Unit Records, 4534, 2014, Switzerland, cd,

August 12, 2018
Several generations mingled among the soldier birds, for they had resided on this island for no insignificant period of time. The youngest among them knew nothing but this island as home. It did not cross their sheltered minds to ask what life might be like outside the framework of the threat of war in which they had been raised.

The eldest among them remembered life beyond their entrenchment on this island. For these birds, thoughts were rekindled of seeing again loved ones from whom they had been long separated. Too feeble to endure the extended flight by which the tanager has accessed the island, they perched upon comfortable branches and imagined old flames coming to them, perhaps strutting by beneath these very boughs. They thought to call out their signature song but halted ere the first syllable left their throats. Too much time had passed. Words, even in song, seemed incapable of spanning the gap.

As the realization dawned among them that rapprochement lay beyond their reach, they began to regret the arrival of the tanager. One among them said to her, "If your only message was that we have isolated ourselves for far too long to mend the damage done to those we love, why did you come at all?"

This question took the tanager by surprise, for she had merely wandered by, hoping to understand the nature of the extended silences that arose between Poppy and Iris. As for having any other ulterior motive, she belonged to a generation who did not place much stock in an over-riding purpose governing the collective actions of the living.

written while listening to:  Thumbscrew - Ours (Cuneiform Records, Rune 439, 2018, United States, cd,

August 13, 2018
One evening during her stay among the soldier birds, a festival of sorts was held. No one bothered to explain to the tanager the cause for the celebration, nor did the tanager inquire; she was not of a mind to question the need for parties.

Some among the soldier birds had formed a band, which performed from an arboreal stage to the pleasure of all within earshot. Dancing ensued, which included predetermined steps. This was not the sort of dance in which the tanager typically engaged but she was loath to be left out of the festivities entirely.

It appeared that the dance symbolically recreated the separation of the soldiers from their loved ones. At times the music took a doleful turn. However, threads of a light-hearted melody continued to be interspersed in the song until that theme began to dominate. The pace of the steps increased. The tanager assumed that the retelling had progressed to some point in the future where the soldiers would be reunited with their lost loves. Caught up in the momentum of the dance, she added a flourish of twirls to her movements.

To their credit, those in attendance said nothing of her faux pas, for that was not at all the intention of the dance. The band stoically played on while the tanager continued at odds with their true purpose. In the end, all were properly exhausted by the time morning arrived. That the tanager should never know the truth is, of course, not surprising. Of the many impenetrable secrets that dwell in this world, the motivations behind the peculiar ways through which individuals manifest their sorrow is one of the most well-kept.

written while listening to:  Thumbscrew - Theirs (Cuneiform Records, Rune 441, 2018, United States, cd,

August 14, 2018
The soldier birds gathered on the beach for the departure of the tanager. Both hosts and guest had enjoyed the visit and were ready to part ways. The tanager did not promise to visit them again; these were birds unaccustomed to reunions. In any case, the tanager had no intention of retracing her steps. In her extensive travels through-out the vastness of the sea, not a single island had she visited more than once. Instead, she thanked them profusely for their hospitality.

For their part, the soldier birds wished her safe travels. They offered no parting advice for they themselves were wary of external guidance, having benefited so little from it in their own lives. A warning that a storm gathered to the west sufficed for parting words.

The tanager ascended. From the viewpoint of those with necks craned upward on the beach, she dwindled in magnitude until she was overwhelmed by the intense blue of the sky. Left behind, they muttered amongst themselves in low tones, though the tanager was now well beyond the range of their voices. One youngster held a glass bottle in which a rolled sheet of parchment was sealed by a cork. "Why did we not give her the message?" she asked again.

"Fear," said an old woman who had argued vehemently, though unsuccessfully, against the consensus opinion to keep the missive to themselves. "We were afraid of the response we might have received."

written while listening to:  Frédéric Blondy & DJ Lenar - Play Mauricio Kagel Ludwig Van (Bôl̷t, BR POP02, 2011, Poland, cd,

August 15, 2018
From afar, the tanager transmitted her description of the island of soldier birds to the executive governing committee of the ICEML, where it was received with great interest.

There was discussion regarding the role of her passage as allegory. In fact, Poppy identified it as a literal allegory, a very idiomatic form of meta-fiction. Stuart, on the other hand, perceived in it an additional meaning beyond the literal and the allegorical. This he said was meta-living intercalated into the mesoscale structure of the narrative. Poppy, in a momentary lapse of impulse control, accused Stuart of being intentionally pretentious. Before the argument grew, Hebeloma interceded. "Of course," she said, "Escarlata's latest contribution can simultaneously fulfill both interpretations." She looked to the librarian for support.

Hong Samud preferred to imagine the perfectibility of the world, though he often found himself unable to avoid clear evidence of its flaws. It took no great philosophical insight to conclude that the flaws were an inherent component in the framing of the very question of perfectibility. Was the same not true of literature, especially marginal literature of the sort with which they now entertained themselves?

Oh, Gentle Reader, the expression on Poppy's face as he attempted to quell a second instance of poor impulse control so soon after the first was priceless!

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton & Joëlle Léandre - Duo (Heidelberg Loppem) 2007, disc 1 (Leo Records, CD LR 548/549, 2009 (originally recorded 2007), United Kingdom, cdx2,

August 16, 2018
Hebeloma received a phone call from Lefteris rather early the next morning. He asked how her manuscript was coming along, for she had promised to share it with him, when she had a passable draft. Hebeloma thought this a curious reason to call; the question was easily answered via email. She sensed in the tone of his voice that he had another message to deliver and within a few minutes her suspicion was confirmed.

"As I told you before," said Lefteris, "after we found the second chamber, I was very thorough in my search for additional passages leading off the main chamber. I had convinced myself that there were no others but, at the same time, I knew that the mine had to be much more extensive than what we had uncovered, so I broadened my search. I started checking the nearby hills above ground for signs of alternative entrances to the mine or even shafts that had been exposed with the passage of time."

"You found one?" Hebeloma asked with growing excitement.

Lefteris ignored her question, preferring to allow his story to unfold at his own pace. "It was just a small sinkhole, no more than a few feet across, but I watched the gravel dislodged by my steps slide into it and disappear. With only a little digging, I was able to widen the gap enough to slip inside." He paused for a moment.


"The width of the shaft is slightly narrower than the main shaft, but it appears to be in better shape and leads down a considerable distance. I haven't been able to determine how far and there are several open branches along the way. This entrance is not as well hidden as the other. It's open to the sky. If you want unfettered access, you should come now."

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton & Joëlle Léandre - Duo (Heidelberg Loppem) 2007, disc 2 (Leo Records, CD LR 548/549, 2009 (originally recorded 2007), United Kingdom, cdx2,

August 17, 2018
Hebeloma thought of spelunking as an interesting and somewhat exotic pastime in an abstract way. When she entered old, buried places, the excavations were typically carefully managed and well constructed. Even if the dimensions of the chamber were relatively small, there was no threat of claustrophobia and certainly the possibility of becoming lost underground was non-existent.

It was true that the primary cleromantic chamber of the mine had rough-hewn walls and that she had been forced to remove her pack and shimmy sideways to reach the second chamber. However, the entrance that Lefteris now proudly stood over could scarcely be called a hole in the ground. It was more like a crack at the center of a small, shallow pit. "Did you fit through that?" she asked him.

Lefteris sucked in his modest gut and patted it affectionately. "With some wriggling."

Hebeloma did not like the idea of having this ragged opening be her only connection to the outside world. "Can we widen it?"

Ultimately, Lefteris descended first. The fit was indeed tight, but it cannot be denied that he disappeared into the gap. Hebeloma lowered the hardhats, lanterns, rope, packs and other equipment. One by one each item sank into darkness. She looked skyward one last time before she too descended into the mine.

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, disc 1 (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-03-001, 2007, United States, cdx9+dvd,

August 18, 2018
A shaft of light fell from the opening overhead. To reassure herself, Hebeloma stood on her toes and touched the rim of the rock. The tips of her fingers barely brushed the stone; she would need help getting out. Either unaware or ignoring her discomfort, Lefteris distributed hardhats mounted with front-facing lights as well as handheld lanterns. By this light, Hebeloma investigated her surroundings.

They appeared to have entered a side passage at the point of a cave-in. In one direction, the tunnel was sealed by falling rock and other debris. In the other direction, the path trailed off into darkness. If it hadn't been for the fact that this area had been known historically for its mines, Hebeloma would not have easily recognized it as manmade. The walls were rough; the obvious signs of human activity present in the primary chamber were absent here.

It seemed likely that no one had entered this tunnel in thousands of years. The age unnerved her. "Is it structurally safe?" she asked.

Lefteris replied with a serious tone, meant to comfort his companion. "I performed a rigorous examination when I was down here by myself. The stone has held for millennia and I found no sign that it intends to change its mind any time soon." He added as a friendly afterthought, "I wouldn't have asked you to come down here, if I thought it might collapse on our heads."

Hebeloma imagined the mine sealing her in like a tomb. To avoid advertising the newly accessible ruins, they had told only Lefteris' sister. Of course, the committee also had an idea of her activities. If there was an accident, she wondered how much time would pass before the members of the ICEML exhausted their considerable patience. She and her guide would be long undone by then.

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, disc 2 (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-03-001, 2007, United States, cdx9+dvd,

August 19, 2018
It took what seemed like a disproportionate amount of courage for Hebeloma to follow Lefteris down the shaft away from the slender beam of light that served as their tether to the outside world. The angle of the decline was severe; there could be no mistaking that they proceeded farther under the Earth.

She managed to slow their process somewhat by holding her lantern up to investigate the walls for signs of archeological interest. Although Lefteris had a distinct destination in mind, he allowed her to satisfy her own curiosity. In his previous visit, he had found nothing of interest this close to the surface and soon Hebeloma reluctantly reached the same conclusion. If she were to truly explore the mine, she would have to continue deeper.

The passage was wide enough to accommodate two abreast but she fell a few steps behind her guide. He warned her to watch her footing, but her apprehension only increased when she stumbled on rubble. The path, which had been relatively smooth, was now covered in shards of stone. She lifted her lantern to the roof of the tunnel for signs that more rock might fall. It seemed only to have shrunk, though neither she nor Lefteris was yet forced to hunch over.

At the first fork, Lefteris marked their path with chalk on the ground and separate notes in his journal, using a technique common to those who survey caves or otherwise have an interest in speleology. His casual use of the clinometer filled Hebeloma with contradictory sensations of confidence and dismay. When she held the light so that he could read the instrument, she also illuminated the expression on his face. By the look of it, he seemed to be having the time of his life.

When queried on this point, he replied, "An unknown place leading to hidden treasures, wonderful company...Is it not a dream come true?"

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, disc 3 (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-03-001, 2007, United States, cdx9+dvd,

August 20, 2018
Lefteris claimed that, technically speaking, they didn't need the rope to descend the shaft before them. The angle was only thirty degrees or so, but the footing appeared treacherous. In places they would be clambering over and between boulders. When he suggested the line as a safety precaution, Hebeloma readily agreed. Lefteris secured a piton at the top of the slope and, after attaching his harness to the rope, carefully backed down the slope. Hebeloma watched him until his distance grew too great to be clearly perceived in the light of her lantern. She then imitated his movements as best she was able.

Although she managed to navigate the obstacle without mishap, the exercise had demanded considerable exertion. "I am not sure how much farther I can go," she said to Lefteris.

"Not to worry," he said. "We are close now."

As evidence he held up an inconspicuous, dusty object. At first glance, Hebeloma thought it an odd shaped rock. Lefteris handed it to her and she felt its heft. It was metal.

"Probably part of the head of a mattock that broke with use thousands of years ago," he speculated, "a remnant from the time when miners worked these shafts."

Hebeloma had little interest in old tools, but she admitted that the signs of human activity of one kind could lead to another. For the first time since she had entered the mine, she began to share in the excitement of her guide.

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, disc 4 (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-03-001, 2007, United States, cdx9+dvd,

August 21, 2018
Hebeloma continued to follow Lefteris down the tunnel with the guide regularly examining the walls of the shaft for some marker. It turned out to be little more than an X scrawled with white chalk, barely noticeable until he pointed it out to her. They slowly proceeded another few feet until the passage bulged on one side, creating a crude niche.

Hebeloma knelt beside Lefteris and studied the ground of this recess. How he had ever first spotted it was beyond her but, once her attention was focused on the spot, she could discern a pattern faintly scratched into the surface.

"Do you see it?" Lefteris asked her.

Hebeloma nodded. There could be little doubt that someone had attempted to recreate on a much smaller scale the same pattern that lined the floor of the primary cleromantic chamber. The elliptical shape was decorated with the outlines of fourteen skulls around its perimeter. The interior was divided by an approximate imitation of Voronoi tessellation into irregular polygons. Moreover, two rounded stones remained within the pattern, as if the last cleromantic casting had been preserved for millennia. Although no names adorned this version, if the arrangement held true to the original, the positions of the stones could be identified.

"Antimachus," said Hebeloma.

"Son of Euander," agreed Lefteris.

"And Hesione."

"Daughter of Celeus." Lefteris next pointed to the edge of the alcove. "And this."

Hebeloma picked up a small bronze coin.

"It is not here by chance, is it?" asked Lefteris.

"No," Hebeloma replied. "Two stones were cast determining the primary and secondary houses of the horoscope. Often a coin was also tossed, indicating whether the overall reading was auspicious or inauspicious."

"Predicting good luck or bad..."


"Well, which is it?" Lefteris asked.

Hebeloma examined the coin. It had lain with the side stamped with a face arranged upward. Presumably, heads was auspicious. Despite her uncertainty, she replied, "Good, of course."

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, disc 5 (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-03-001, 2007, United States, cdx9+dvd,

August 22, 2018
Hesione, daughter of Celeus, was selected by lottery to be sacrificed to the minotaur. Various reasons were presented to the maiden to solicit her cooperation in the events leading to her untimely demise. The authoritative prediction of the oracle was invoked. Her father next appealed to her sense of altruism. The Athenians were held responsible for the death of the athlete, Androgeos, who had been murdered in their fair city. His father, Minos, the first king of Crete, ostensibly the son of Zeus and Europa, demanded retribution. In order to appease the wrath of Minos and prevent war, Hesione was asked to lay down her life so that those whom she loved might be spared the horrors of strife and subjugation. The final argument given to Hesione was a legal one; no avenue of escape existed. Her fate had been decreed by divine means.

"What of my studies?" she pleaded, for her father was a nobleman and a scholar. He had persisted in tutoring her in the fields of politics, philosophy and medicine, despite her mother's objections that his efforts made her increasingly unsuitable as a wife.

The fourteen victims, all sons and daughters of the nobility of Athens, gathered at the docks to board a ship bound for Crete. Many tears were shed. In their parting embrace, Hesione revealed to her father that, before she met her end, she would conduct a new divination, in order that her fate might be altered.

Celeus, like many scholars, though of high mind and refined manners, lacked courage. He kissed his daughter on her forehead and turned to console his grieving wife.

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, disc 6 (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-03-001, 2007, United States, cdx9+dvd,

August 23, 2018
Although prisoners, they were allowed to move with limited freedom in the quarters provided to them aboard the ship, a lesser version of the famous Paralus, the sacred trireme of the Athenian navy. Of course, the maidens were not permitted to mingle with the young men, their virginity being a necessary component of their suitability for sacrifice.

Nevertheless, for a brief period of time, Hesione sat across from one of her male counterparts, Antimachus, who, until recently, had imagined that he would follow in the steps of his father, Euander, a merchant and an owner of a profitable marble quarry.

"My father promised to commission a statue cut from the stone of our family quarry to commemorate my virtue."

"What rubbish," said Hesione absent-mindedly.

Antimachus observed Hesione as she scratched with a nail a cleromantic pattern into the wooden table. In response to his queries, she explained that she was well-studied in many disciplines and that she was reproducing a chart for horoscopes by which she might seek guidance from the gods and unwind their doom.

"Rubbish upon rubbish," commented Antimachus, once he understood the nature of her plan.

In any case, they were separated the moment that they were discovered together, lest their exchanges turn more tender. Moreover, the first mate was displeased by Hesione's vandalism of the ship. She did not have the opportunity, while at sea, to complete her chart.

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, disc 7 (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-03-001, 2007, United States, cdx9+dvd,

August 24, 2018
As fate would have it, when the young men and maidens were arranged in two parallel lines to be marched into the labyrinth, Hesione was placed beside Antimachus. Flanked by Cretan soldiers, the young man was tempted to ask Hesione if her attempts at alternative prognostication had gone awry, but his better judgment surfaced and he held his tongue.

Into the darkness the pair marched, one attempting to imitate the stoic visage he imagined would soon be chiseled on a marble memorial, the other silently reciting the childhood songs, which her mother had once sang to calm her fears. When the labyrinth was sealed, Hesione and Antimachus too heard the ominous fall of cloven hooves resounding through the maze of tunnels. Neither could have been unaware of the rustling as some among their number sought refuge, or at least a temporary delay, by separating themselves from the larger group. A hoarse, bovine snort rang out and one among them began to sob, which seemed to serve only as bait, luring the monster closer.

Hesione grabbed Antimachus by the wrist and, without a word, dragged him behind her. He acceded all too willingly. The two youths groped their way along a passage in which the echoes of the predator seemed fainter to their ears. They found a niche, which offered no protection, for the monster was guided not by sight in the nether darkness but by sound and the smell of rank fear.

"It's not too late," the maiden said to the man. In the darkness, she found a stone and began to scratch out the pattern she had been forced to abandon on the ship.

As for Antimachus, he listened to the feverish grinding of stone against stone, intermingled with distant, inhuman bellows. He wondered not only how but if he should help her.

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, disc 8 (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-03-001, 2007, United States, cdx9+dvd,

August 25, 2018
In the darkness, Hesione placed her left hand on the ground in order to feel the marks that she had made and better orient her right hand to complete her work. When she finished, being unable to judge the pattern by visual inspection, she simply deemed it satisfactory by tracing it with the tip of her fingers. The mine was now deathly silent. Antimachus crouched beside her, seemingly oblivious to all but the rising and falling of their breathing.

Wasting no further time, Hesione selected two stones. She cast them into the pattern. They clattered against the floor and Antimachus shuddered. Blindly, she found the cast stones' destinations, which dispassionately held their fate. Heartened by the reading, she withdrew the coin, which she had hidden from all in the folds at the waist of her dress. She pressed the coin into Antimachus' hand, telling him, "For good or ill, your fortune too is tied to the whim of this coin."

This time Antimachus did not chide her; their demise was too near. They pressed the small coin between their palms, warming the metal with the heat that yet lingered in what life was left to them. Hesione withdrew her hand. Antimachus waited for her to peel the coin from his palm and toss it, for good or ill, as she had said.

He waited until her hesitation seemed strange to him. "Take it," he whispered. Thinking that she was petrified with dread, he reached out to calm her, only to discover that she was not huddled beside him.

He called to her in an urgent whisper, but she did not answer.

Antimachus had thought the minotaur would arrive with terrible violence. He had not suspected that each would be snatched away with the stealth of a spider or viper.

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, disc 9 (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-03-001, 2007, United States, cdx9+dvd,

August 26, 2018
Numismatists familiar with the coinage of ancient Crete know that a representation of the labyrinth often appears on the reverse side. On the obverse, coins with a spectrum of creatures have been found, ranging from the fully human bust of Minos, to the fully bovine silhouette of a bull, to something in between man and beast, the minotaur.

Antimachus felt the ridges of the maze as he balanced the coin on his hand. Although he did not believe in the magic of divination, he could not entirely reject the principle of fate, for much that had befallen him lay entirely outside his control. So, despite having mocked Hesione for her attempt to avert their doom by dabbling in the same questionable arts that had consecrated it, Antimachus flipped the coin.

The darkness was impenetrable. He was, however, rewarded by the clang of a minor piece of metal, worked by man, against endless stone, worked by the ageless churning of the Earth. Antimachus, to his credit, did not reach out and grope for the coin. He did not reveal his destiny by fingering the upraised features of the object he had cast. Instead, Antimachus rose to his feet and wandered deeper into the labyrinth. We refrain from describing this process as "becoming lost" because Antimachus had never possessed a robust sense of his bearings. In the darkness lurked the minotaur but so might Hesione, she whom he did not understand but upon whom he had come to rely. With his left arm outstretched he hoped to avoid crashing into an unseen bend in the tunnel. With his right extended above him, he warded off a drop in the ceiling of the cave. From time to time, we heard him call out for the maiden, issuing a challenge he knew to be preposterous. "Hesione! Hesione, I am coming to slay the bull."

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - Quartet (Santa Cruz) 1993 1st Set (hatOLOGY, 713, 2015 (originally recorded 1993), Switzerland, cd,

August 27, 2018
It should not be understated that meta-living can be a source of confusion for the uninitiated. While the field itself is limited to the cultural margin, to the scholars who dwell therein plentiful records exist documenting the wide range of mishaps that have occurred as a result of the mishandling of the subject.

Therefore, Gentle Reader, take pity upon poor Lefteris, a guide in dark places, but none so convoluted or opaque as the by-laws of the International Congress on Exploratory Meta-Living. He had dimmed the light on his helmet as he listened to Hebeloma recount the prophecy of Hesione and Antimachus. His proximity to what could well be regarded as their final resting place increased his susceptibility to the allure of her words. He imagined himself cast back until he assumed the role of Antimachus and Hebeloma that of Hesione. Unquestionably, the minotaur still roamed this abandoned mine, though it likely took a more abstract form in the modern day.

Even as he admitted to himself that he risked creating an awkward situation and perhaps invited ridicule, he could not wrest control of his own actions. Lefteris fell to one knee and, facing the general direction in which Hebeloma stood in deep shadow, declared that no cleromantic divination was necessary for him to realize that, through their shared exploration of these ancient shafts and chambers, Hebeloma had captured his heart.

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - Quartet (Santa Cruz) 1993 2nd Set (hatOLOGY, 714, 2015 (originally recorded 1993), Switzerland, cd,

August 28, 2018
Hebeloma considered her situation. She stood deep beneath the surface of the Earth, having descended along a path, from which she would not be able to extricate herself without the aid of Lefteris. To say that there was no element of self-preservation in her considered response would have been skirting the truth. At the same time, the appeal of meta-living was heady indeed; she was not entirely immune to the effects that now held Lefteris in thrall.

Hebeloma considered what Hesione what have done in her stead, had Antimachus ever caught up with her. Certainly, shared experience was the essence from which most bonds were formed. The intensity of the experience, either euphoric or traumatic, served to strengthen those bonds. Yet, not all bonds between a man and a woman need be romantic. Hebeloma remained standing in the shadows of the mine, her form the subject of Lefteris' patient scrutiny. Much to her dismay, a dull throbbing emerged from somewhere behind her left eye. That the body should respond with a physiological cue before she had composed her own conscious reply only served to remind her that she took too long to answer her suitor.

"Lefteris," she said, her voice a solitary creature, disturbing the silence of the mine.

He rose to his feet and waited, as if for a verdict.

"The minotaur..." she reminded him.

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - Quartet (Dortmund) 1976 (hatOLOGY, 557, 2001 (originally recorded 1976), Switzerland, cd,

August 29, 2018
It may be considered a statement of the obvious to note that, across the distribution of people, individuals feel different emotions to different degrees. One may feel anxiety more strongly than attachment, while another may experience protectiveness to a greater degree than all other feelings. That significant variation should exist among brains is only natural; while all such organs follow a common model, in each case the arrangement of one hundred billion neurons is uniquely determined.

We offer this admittedly superficial observation as an attempt to explain Hebeloma's reluctance to return the affection of Lefteris. Perhaps, she felt more strongly a sense of duty to the office of presidency than she did a stirring of her heart. She confides little to us on such matters so we are left to idle speculation. We like to think of her, as is the case with all the members of the executive governing committee, in tender terms. We imagine that her heart was moved, just not as much as Lefteris would have preferred.

As for her guide through the mine, he received the news stoically. Many clichés could be invoked to rationalize his response. Rome wasn't built in a day. Anything worth doing, is worth doing right. Perhaps, she was only playing hard to get. His desire for Hebeloma only grew as a result of this mild rejection.

Of course, Lefteris did not take advantage of what leverage he had in the tunnel. He had been raised by parents who adhered to the old ways, in which women could be pursued with ardor, so long as the suitor constrained his actions and words to a set of formal rules of propriety. As such, Lefteris safely returned her to the surface, all the while sharing in her excitement at having found an ancient artifact of a couple, long thought lost to myth.

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - Quintet (Basel) 1977 (hatOLOGY, 676, 2016 (originally recorded 1977), Switzerland, cd,

August 30, 2018
Hebeloma and Lefteris parted on amiable terms, though there was no denying that a new undercurrent of tension flowed beneath their relationship. Tension is an interesting concept. In the world of the inanimate, bridges and other structures are designed to endure tension over the course of their lifetimes. The strings of a musical instrument require a prescribed amount of tension in order to vibrate at a desirable frequency. Of course, if the tension becomes too great, the bridge or the string will fail. So it is with relationships, both general and specific. A tension between management and labor, each looking out for their respective interests, will ideally arrive at a solution that is satisfactory to both shareholders and employees. In the arts, social tension, arising from injustice, can give rise to new forms of creative expression, which serve to illustrate and, under the best circumstances, remedy the wrong. Individually, a tension between two people exploring the territory that separates them is ostensibly healthy. It acknowledges barriers and primes each mind to contemplate the removal or strengthening of those obstacles. Wonder can arise from this sort of tension. To be sure, Lefteris embraced this tantalizing source of wonder-to-be. Hebeloma, for her part, a creature of deliberate action, acknowledged the tension in a rather clinical manner, as an object meriting further study. Such is the danger of over-exposure to meta-living--one isolates the emotion from the act. Historically, the result of this disassociation is as often deleterious as it is beneficial.

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003, disc 1 (Leo Records, CD LR 402/403/404/405, 2004, United Kingdom, cdx4,

August 31, 2018
Hebeloma's return to the present day was facilitated with the aid of modern technology, which enabled video conferencing across several continents and time zones. She had organized her notes on Hesione and Antimachus beforehand, though little editing had been necessary. She distributed the passage at the meeting and then, as had become habit, she read it aloud in its entirety.

Her colleagues on the executive governing committee--the librarian, the tanager, the American Catholic atheist, the father and the dead woman--listened intently. As she finished, there would have been rumbles of discontent among them had any of them been given to rumbling. They were creating a portrait of Iris, a woman, who, like any other, was composed of an amalgamation of virtues and blemishes. While they had no directive to present her in an artificially positive light, at the same time they harbored a shared sentiment to reduce the sum total of misery on planet Earth. They desired the eventual fruit of their labors to fulfill such a role. In any subject, especially a human being, one could focus on a veritably infinite number of features. In the interests of amelioration, one naturally tended to reveal causes for joy in preference to sources of tragedy. All knew, of course, that Hebeloma was aware of this perspective. Her motivation for deviating from it was a matter of private speculation among them. Had her foray into darkness been an intentional, artistic act, committed in the interests of esthetic balance, or had it merely been a reflexive spasm in a moment of weakness?

written while listening to:  Anthony Braxton - 23 Standards (Quartet) 2003, disc 2 (Leo Records, CD LR 402/403/404/405, 2004, United Kingdom, cdx4,

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