uncertain cities

words and sequences of them by Rhett Davis


He was driving in the city and he was past the zoo and it was the time of day when the cars come out, and so he was driving among the cars in the fading winter sun. He was playing music loud and Sonic Youth’s Youth against fascism came on, and he turned it up. He’d done this many times before, driven this road, driven this highway, played this song, turned it up. But never when he was thinking about actual fascists. When it finished, he played it again. He did this four times, as he drove past the zoo, past the tree-lined parade, past the university he attended an increasingly long time ago. On the highway he’d been thinking about emboldened, dark voices that were rising from the ground. On the highway, he’d been thinking they were all around him. That history could repeat. On the highway, they were in the cars passing him. Their neck sweat, their grinding teeth, their empty eyes, their purposeless yet remorseless spite. On the highway, he couldn’t get away from them. He was going to a book launch and he was going to listen and buy the book and drink a glass of wine and talk to good people. Late winter was wild and windy and the city was where it had always been. It had never been his city. It was cold and he’d only ever arrived and left. He’d never stayed for long enough. And yet it was there, up the road, where it had always been, sometimes closer, sometimes at his feet, sometimes too far away to see, and it was entirely new and familiar. The dust that settled on it was the same dust, but it had been disturbed by passing cars and humans and winds and money; had settled on different cracks and door jambs and footpaths and windows; had shifted the light. He passed a pub he’d been to decades ago. It was the same pub. But everything around it—the people with new faces, new clothes, the way they walked, talked, the air itself—had a different shape. At the traffic lights Sonic Youth sung about impotent jerks. The people in the car next to him might not be so different. And the people next to them, and next to them. He played the song again. And again. And again. At the lights, he turned right and tried to find a park, but it wasn’t that easy. History could repeat, but the dust always settled a little differently.