:: Article

Machineries of Oblivion

By Chris Moran.

Ben Spivey, Black God, Blue Square Press, 2012

Black is the color of night. It is the color we see when we close our eyes; when we sleep. And in sleep we dream, and in dreaming visions can arise. Hallucinatory dreamscapes are an invitation to the stratosphere of the mind, where awareness and perception exist as a whirlpool melting into each other, transcending the known. Ben Spivey’s Black God takes place in a realm where the rules are not fixed – it plays with the machinery through which the world continually creates itself. Every moment we are coming into being and passing away; this is our crisis of consciousness.

This is the dilemma of Cooper, the narrator of Black God, who lives by an infernal ocean and whose wife is slowly dying of a brain tumor. Cooper meditates on the ocean, the primal waters of myth, ruminating on transience, futility and loss, lest he perish – lest he dissolve into the universal emptiness without first finding lucidity and peace in the darkness:

I dreamed about a black god (hovering over the ocean. Standing on the tops of buildings. Hiding in binary code) placed a tumor in my wife’s head and it settled as an insolvable road map that led to only one place.

Sleep is like a tiny death; every metamorphosis is an imitation of death. This is the emptiness we carry through our lives. It creates a vacuum – a focused sense of urgency where waking life bleeds into the shadow world; where exigency can fuse with new revelations of being:

Her dreamy sleep induced by medications. Her pain dulled by the same thing. I thought: how much more? How much longer? There was a time when those concerns were relevant but that time had faded. I knew what was drawing near.

Black God is a reminder that darkness is our ultimate home. Darkness is oblivion – the ultimate nothingness from which we were born. This impossible discourse, this malady of the spirit evokes a beautiful sadness. The most appealing and singular parts of this novella express Spivey’s particular blend of depressive realism with hypnogogic fantasia. Black God offers alternate states of perception – awareness moving through unknown currents of elemental derangement. Time is more compressed and fluid. Time expands and contracts, as if it were more like liquid or air:

An ageless door swung. A clock ticked. The noise droned long after the hand moved onto the next second. That noise sustained too and the ticking (thickening) continued one onto another, another––the sounds and seconds stacked over each other, enveloping, encapsulating––another droned. Another moved, a tick. A clock hand keeping perfect time second to second, reverberated noise sustained, encapsulating. Tick. Enveloping continued.

Perception in Black God is a blur. This is where dreams take flight. Visions like the infernal ocean, violent waves, television static, swarms of crows, antique clocks washed ashore, and children with bird masks take on the significance of a chthonic reality just waiting for a full engagement. Substances like blood, salt and sand have a ritual potency. These emblems enact the dilemma of death in a world where shadows dance in the daytime, where the sublime reeks of pulsars and the ineptitude of time.

These altered forms of representation suggest a journey into a dreamlike psychic wilderness – what Swami Muktananda once called “plays of consciousness,” where vibratory patterns of colored light modulate between form and formlessness and lead into other dimensions. Whether this state is brought on by Cooper’s grief – as a sort of coping mechanism for his wife’s impending death, strengthening his endurance of loss – or whether this is simply how the world works in Spivey’s fiction, is unclear. But it still feels like something of a miracle: “Can you see me with your eyes closed? Yes.”

In Black God, abstractions feel tangible and interactive: “The nothingness of time sifted through my fingers.” Spivey is working with the machinery of oblivion – rays of black sunlight through which revelation makes itself known. This is a frequency, a supersensory signal intercepted by telepaths, artists, shamans, sorcerers, yogis and anyone else who is sensitive to it:

The rustic wood of the train and the aged wood of the home peeled away like skin and my vision played between what was there and what was also there. A kaleidoscopic transmogrification of the senses I’ve known – or felt to know since I could remember – into new signals, new stations that also felt real, were real.

Versed in the language of shadows, Spivey annihilates consensus reality and delves into the abyss of ulterior perception: “All of my senses were fading into another realm as I fell.” The focal point of Black God’s awareness is ever expanding, drifting toward a universal light that lies inside an abyss – a place of recognition and acceptance.

Chris Moran lives in Columbus, OH. His poetry and dream essays have appeared in places like Zhoupheus, West Wind Review, and red lightbulbs. He is the author of the chapbooks Night Giver (privately released) and Poison Vapors (Solar Luxuriance).

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, June 12th, 2013.