kathryn l. pringle

kathryn l. pringle is the author of Temper & Felicity are Lovers (forthcoming 2014). fault tree (Omnidawn, 2011), RIGHT NEW BIOLOGY (Factory School, 2009) & The Stills (Duration Press, 2006). A new book is forthcoming from Omnidawn in 2017.

The Helicopters

At night, the number of helicopters in the sky was supposed to be kept to a minimum—a courtesy more than law. But on this night they could be heard chopping the night sky without break—a never-waning blare that was not only sound but also feeling. The blare penetrated the sleeping bodies beneath; the hands and lips of the bodies of living humans shook beneath their surfaces. It was so close that the walls and windows encasing the bodies and the inanimate objects associated with the bodies—the plates and bowls, the glasses and cups, the plants—quaked in a subtle but mercilessly infinite tremor.

The minds inside the bodies of people who had never been to war marveled at the enormous ceiling of sound. They had grown used to days under blades, but nights? Nights had been their only reprieve— a time when fragments of normal were allowed to return to them. When they could watch their situation comedies or their much neater crime dramas—the perfect people placed in less-than-perfect situations but always finding the perfect solutions—and head into that hope that is sleep with their torment momentarily forgotten, having been replaced by prescribed humor and easy justice and maybe a few glasses of wine.

The minds that knew war were not so lucky. Their muscle memory was not so short and in full effect. Of course they were grateful not to hear bullets and explosions and cries for help filling the spaces around them, but they didn’t have to. The awful sounds of war were accessible from within them and once triggered no longer as remote as they had once been—the veil of trauma had been lifted by the helicopters’ blades.

Enhancing this fear and connecting to its root were the authority figures. The authority figures existed to explain as everyone knows that whomever holds the explanation for something is the authority on that something. The authority figures were trained to explain, in a convincing yet earnest way, the purpose and perspective of the helicopters. They read any given topology as data. But the situation from and in the air never aligned itself with the situation on the ground.

The data didn’t match up.

Or the readings didn’t.

Events in the street didn’t translate as well onto the screen as they did from above. The citizens of downtown were told the things they saw were not happening the way they saw them happening. They were being fed a narrative they could only escape from by entering the streets. But the narrative of the streets was also problematic, even though it more closely resembled the truth, because it didn’t feel like reality.

The helicopters pumped inside their chests. The helicopters controlled blood flow. They controlled matter. They were circling beneath. Inside. Overhead. All rattled.

Living was more amenable for those with lives removed from the sustained sound feeling of the invasion. All those fortunate citizens need do was go to their news sources of choice and read about the various fires ablaze in the area set by the strikers who were, for reasons unknown, turning violent after months of peaceful efforts. Having physical remove from the area and little invested in the strikers or the businesses being picketed, these citizens could and did easily go about their days. They turned off the news, minds well made, and meditated on the dangers of city life while enjoying their helicopter- and smoke-free skies.

The immense uncertainty felt by the citizenry living inside (some felt underneath to be a better descriptor) the surveillance zones as they were now called was not just about the helicopters—circling, circling, and circling—above them, but the message. For them, certainty could not be gained by venturing toward a news source of choice. If anything, such an act only exacerbated a growing feeling of impossibility. No amount of stating that the city was burning, half the city was burning, a bonfire was burning, a trash can was burning, etc. could convince people that there was a fire in an area where there was no smoke. They could see for themselves that there was no fire. The reports could not be affirmed by their senses. No one could see smoke or smell it, and yet the city was on fire, half the city was on fire, or a bonfire was burning? A burning trashcan seemed plausible enough, but why would the media need to have five helicopters circling overhead for a burning trashcan? How could it be considered news?

What the people did see were thousands of bodies marching, talking, eating donuts, and milling about, waiting for some other body in a position of authority to grant them something—or maybe just acknowledge something—the people weren’t sure. They only knew that everyone was waiting for something to give.

Independent from the helicopters, but just as present, were the cameras.

Lingering over the surveillance zone in the place of smoke was an ever-increasing and desperate tension. With each passing day, the tension became larger and more penetrating. The people were getting angry, yes, but they were also beginning to feel terrorized in that slow, self-revelatory way like when you realize you’ve been paying too much for something for years. Instances of domestic violence had been on a steady rise since the arrival of the first helicopter several weeks ago. With each additional helicopter, a new violence was perpetrated. Those not prone to violence either fell into an angry despair or became obsessed with ideas of truth. Nothing was matching their truth. Not the media, not the strikers, not the company, making it all the more difficult for many to figure out what the truth—their truth—actually was.

The feeling was made worse by the pervasive sense of helplessness accompanying the tension spreading over the citizenry and interrupting their daily lives. Doing things like brushing one’s teeth or washing laundry were beginning to feel like acts of novelty—the norm consisting more and more of walking for hours throughout their city chanting and confronting police in riot gear. A person could never be sure if, upon leaving the house, that he or she would be back by a reasonable hour—or at all. The usual was becoming more and more unusual. It was in this way that the media had reported the news accurately: The city was burning. But the fires were within the citizens themselves and the helicopters only intensified the flames.

At six a.m., the sound increased a few decibels; reinforcements arriving for morning detail. Lewis lies in bed listening to the helicopters for approximately thirty-four minutes. He is trying to convince himself that he can fall back to sleep if he only focuses his attention on his breathing, but on the thirty-fifth minute he rolls over, turns off his alarm that had been set for 8, checks the local news on his handheld device, reads the usual about fire and smoke, gets out of bed, and makes coffee.

The local news has told him that the strike took a violent turn overnight and that police had been called in to disperse the crowd. Lewis knows what “dispersal” means. He knows that the dispersal had to have been more than just police officers with bullhorns and several warnings—the helicopter blades spoke volumes. He also knows it is very unlikely that any fires were set last night worth any kind of attention.

Lewis’s response to stressful stimuli is to iron his work shirts, all of them, before drinking his first cup of coffee. One at a time he pulls them out of his closet, removes them from their hangers, and irons them. It does not matter to Lewis that each shirt is already wrinkle free, having been pressed and ironed to perfection just twenty-four hours prior. He needs a defined set of parameters within which to act. He needs anything that can resemble familiar and normal. It is a comfort to him, ironing is, and he sets about each shirt as if they had been laying strewn about the floor for weeks on end.

When each shirt is returned to its proper place within his closet, Lewis gets himself a cup of coffee and sits, still naked, in front of the windows of his apartment with the blinds full up and the lights turned off so people in neighboring buildings cannot see him.

There is a lot less to see than there is to hear. Lewis lives on the top floor of his apartment building and five blocks away from the section of the city that is supposedly on fire. The sun is finally coming up and Lewis can see clearly there is no smoke in sight. The helicopters, there are at least five, are not always in view, but swoop into view often enough for Lewis to know, as if his ears aren’t enough to tell him, that unlike the smoke, they are really there.

Lewis moves his chair a few steps away from the windows as the sun comes up. He tries to look into the open windows of neighboring buildings. He wants to see what they can see. He wants to know if anyone else is like him. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if he spots another person sitting naked in front of his or her window looking for someone too. He probably won’t do anything. Or maybe he’ll just close the blinds, slowly rejecting the other. Somehow the thought of that rejection comforts Lewis. He does not wish to be beheld. Or beholden.

Lewis has now been awake sitting at the windows to the rear of his apartment watching the skyline as the sun came up, and now well up, for hours. He is surprised when he sees, thanks to one of the four digital thermometers he keeps at each wall of his apartment living room, that the temperature has actually decreased by four degrees since the sun had come up.

Indeed, Lewis feels uncovered by the sun, and, realizing he is still nude and all his work shirts have been freshly ironed, he lifts himself slowly from his chair and moves into the bedroom and do something he has yet to figure out completely. The chair has made his ass and the hamstrings of both his legs fall asleep and it takes a concentrated effort for Lewis to get to his bedroom without falling face first onto his hardwood floors.

Lewis lives alone. He has no living creatures—not even a fish or a houseplant or the painting of a fish or a houseplant can be found inside his apartment. He wants to care for nothing and so he keeps nothing and keeps it quite tidy, too. His dishes are flawless, matching perfectly to their cups, and always neatly inside their cupboards; only taken out for use, after which they are immediately washed, dried, and put away. The same goes for everything else in Lewis’s apartment. His style is not Spartan but it is spare. His décor is tasteful but not pretentious and not cheap. It bothers Lewis that he even went to the trouble of putting art on the walls of his apartment as he has no intention of allowing anyone up into his space and he doesn’t especially care for art and all its lines and angles, but he is loathe to be considered in poor taste and feels his apartment frames him, constructs him, and for him to wake and move about in an apartment filled with empty space would constitute he himself as empty space. This makes Lewis uncomfortable. He is afraid it might be true. So the art has lines and angles and serious color, but no words and no living creatures.

Lewis is not as bothered by the existence of numbers and so various clocks and digital thermometers can be found throughout his apartment—but not in the art as that would confuse something which Lewis loves with something Lewis cares little about and that, too, makes him feel uncomfortable and question his reality.

This reassertion of himself is hugely important to Lewis. It is the only way in which he knows how to be a person. Everything outside of him has to support what he believes to be inside of him and he takes that belief system with him everywhere he travels and to every person he comes across. So if he came across a person with a wrinkled shirt or filthy, dirt-stained sneakers, he would know that person to also have a questionably maintained apartment and therefore a questionably maintained psychological being—not someone with whom to do commerce.

As a result, not many people appeal to Lewis.

Lewis gets dressed. He will walk around the lake on his way to work today. Maybe he will find that smoke the helicopters search for every night. Maybe he will find a reason not to go to work.

Lewis walks through his front door, turns around, locks all three locks, tries the knob twice, and turns toward the day.

from Civil Engineering

there is an alternative
to rupture
but since we
are attached to breath
let it go unsaid
one tenable gasp
for us to hold
tension’s surface : a void pulled taut

i keep choosing inaction
watching it all cede
my skin a shoreline forever giving way
each moment a slipping

there will be so much less of my present self soon

not a drowning
an erosion

some would rather burn
as if we get to choose

but some would rather

i keep letting things go

perhaps foolishly

or needlessly
i was taught it poor manners to take
no matter how desirable
something from someone

anything from someone
but mostly something
this particular tendency has resulted in my own diminishing
at one point in this story, i was magnanimous
you will have to take my word for it

beyond reproach
incredibly pure

i was radiant
we gathered not

a struggle

if there is no space

as established prior, there is no place

then either one vanishes
or moves elsewhere
which amounts to the same thing from the other’s perspective
although, vanishing has its more painful consequences:

neverness, being the most formidable

how to get someone to speak what’s true
i just wants
resilience – vulnerability = cold

maybe it is permanent
           practicing silence
           or refusal
yes, no.


i am trying to neglect you, self.

you want too much
expect it even

wholly undisciplined, you are

raw nerve walking
seriously, though
you should be alone
enough of this

whatever it was is not

whatever imagined

will not

be done, already
sitting in emptiness is not the same as sitting in void

there is no abyss, except for maybe the internal
nothing is so quiet as when a writer sits in emptiness

in and with

another writing in another room of the same house sitting in the same emptiness

is it the same?


we made it together
the beginning of things was perfect
we devolved
from there

it will take one revolution to get back to that

yet unshared emptiness
should it be


but no
that would make a place
out of the emptiness
a place in the space of it

and we are reluctant writers

on this morning

would we choose each other again

if this emptiness is a new beginning

not the impetus
not the energy
made for revolution
will we
will we


one word

has come of the empty

not-words, purposeful not-words

the folding amino acids of our sentence
during this time, i have learned the ceiling is discolored

birds are raucous morning creatures

the neighbors like to yell FUCK more than they actually fuck

somewhere nearby there is a screeching monkey
out the window is a gray Oakland

the city of my displacement

the daily decentering of me in such geography

it has caused age to surface on my skin

and hair

it is beautiful


or maybe i have resigned myself

given notice to who i was


it reads

For Rebecca Stoddard

today the rain
is belled


a slant

                      wind & the
                      timing of it
at point

when living becomes

(all sever & stanch                                    only

: superstition

a mirror box
a tourniquet
a relief

the painting
of what is
over what was

the painting
of what is
under what was

the painting