After Mulholland Drive
Pacing the dim stage, a man said, It’s all recorded.
Two people walked to their seats. Where I was,
It’s all recorded came from the speaker. On screen
two people flinched in the aisle from the voice.
He gestured at the red curtain. I watched as they
watched. That’s not it. They watched the bare stage
fill with fog, muted trumpets, an exhausted song.
I watched the stage undo itself and carried within
me the undoing like a tape carrying within a fiction
it makes into fact. The fog cleared. On stage,
a microphone. The man echoed, It’s all recorded.
The two characters were in disguise. The same
disguise actually. They changed their names. One
or both were dead. Silence seeks a space inside
the flesh when one sense burns for an audience
for its burning. Above the curtain, a plaster arch,
and above that another arch ate into the ceiling,
so the curtain seemed to extend beyond the scalloped
roof into the sky. It was an arts theatre. Static
crawled down the walls, and the projector was on
its last leg. I forgot how long I sat in the theatre.
I turned to the others. I heard their gasps—a certain
removal triangulating uncertainty. Earlier, an actor
sang in a recording booth that wasn’t a recording
booth but a set for a film and her singing a recording
of someone unseen. I was dazzled by the timing—
like an uninterrupted track the actors memorized
so their movements and the sound would sync.
Now, I know in the back of a theatre there are
technicians who bridge the stage and auditorium
with the soundtrack. But this is a movie. So no
technician. The actors pretend; the sounds dubbed
in. In Hollywood, everything is mediated. I’m not
in Hollywood. I was once, and there was no glitz
except what I superimposed over campers parked
along turnpikes. I stared until the world rippled
with blue and white lights on top of the curtain
on screen. I thought, Is this not an act? I gripped
my chair. Heavy fade, the microphone whisked
away. The low rumble of breath within, a brief
pause between. It is so hard to tell what is and isn’t
an act, what voice within a tape, a machine,
and an audience within a voice without a part
to play and whose silences orchestrate inside
the flesh a fiction. Then two hands thrust
through the curtain, facing opposite, ready to
split the curtain and reveal a chest heaving
under a sequined shirt. This didn’t happen. Or
it did, but only in my imagination. The curtain
parted, so too the hands drifted. The hands
of two people who practiced matching speed.
Between them, a stool, a radio, its antennae
extended. A third hand appeared. It turned
the radio’s large knob: music distorted beyond
recognition until all was the warbling of AM
prophets. I’m so far from the film—my mind
a nesting doll inside another inside another.
The hand fiddled with the knob until the sounds
crystalized. Then the radio clicked off and rumbled.
Brian Clifton is the author of the chapbooks MOT and Agape (from Osmanthus Press). They have work in: Pleiades, Guernica, Cincinnati Review, Salt Hill, Colorado Review, The Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, and other magazines. They are an avid record collector and curator of curiosities.