Table Thirty-Two: Joseph Suglia

Dusk is settling.

As you look furtively at the animals trotting and hopping through the commercial center of the city of Chicago, you ask yourself the following question: How have so many beasts of the field and of the air been harvested and transplanted to the city? The zoo is evicting its tenants, emptying the cages, ravines, and grottoes of their occupants. Evacuating all of the inhabitants of the zoo prison.

That is correct. But they cannot all be defectors, escapees from the zoological garden. There are too many of them. It is as if they have miraculously appeared, without cause or explanation.

No one knows where the animals have come from, but one thing is for certain: The animals of the Lincoln Park Zoo have been liberated.

Now, there are tigers on the loose, stalking the highways, their tails high. Last night, a black panther defected from its grotto and defecated on Lake Shore Drive. Now the owls are squirming out of their rusted cages, squirming free and then fluttering and then flying off upward. A sinuous leopard leaped out its enclosure. Zebra are galloping freely, like schoolchildren on vacation. Hippopotami and rhinoceroses are making their way into the streets. The entire zoological garden is in a state of revolt. Perhaps it was a lingering hatred of the self that prompted the zookeepers, aware that the city had been besieged by strange forms of vegetation and faunal life, to unlock the animals’ cages, a sense that things ought to be reversed, that human beings are those who should be subordinated to the bestial will. Now that the city is in upheaval, the animals have been set free. Or have they released themselves?

A bestiarium the city has now become—a roaring, wild bestiarium.

Zebra silently follow rhinoceroses at a distance. The zebra are succeeded by bamboo-chewing humans, humans chewing on bamboo stalks, humans now grown herbivorous. The zebra and rhinoceroses are not hostile to the humans. They seem indifferent to human life.

Ocelots and lynxes slowly move through the clothing store, uncamouflaged, surveyed by the vultures, buzzards, and other birds of prey that are lofting on the air ducts and lighting installments above them.

The cheetah lunges—its frame contracts, then expands spring-like, like a switchblade, again and again, as it sprints across the clothing-store aisle, running at preternatural speed toward the antelope, which stands frozen, surrendering to its extinction, as the cheetah runs in for the kill. You see a whirlwind of spotted gold and white fur and horns as the beasts tumble.

You look upwards. There is another tree. Squatting in the twisted crown of a banyan tree is a teenage boy. He is wearing bright red boots and has a crest of bright red hair. He is grinningly petting a serval exactly the size of the boy. The white cat is lazily stretched out on the branch upon which the boy is squatting. The serval yawns, baring its magnificent teeth. The boy grins toothlessly.

The jaguar pounces upon the tree. It scratches the tree with the protrusive claws that spring from its paws. Then it draws back, recoils, and bolts, darting into the lush green herbage. Nimble-legged and swift, the great cat runs with acrobatic grace.

As the cattle range the street, plucking and pulling the grass with their bovine teeth and lips, the jaguar roves. Its tail is swinging eagerly. Now the jaguar is ensconcing itself behind a fish truck. Its tongue dangles, meaty purple meat-flap.

A black nun is singing, serenading the wildlife.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It is then that you notice the spider-webbing of green leaves and vines beneath your feet. The sidewalk is greening.

How to explain the greening of the sidewalk? A bemused young woman passes on your left.

You think this spread of foliage might be mirage—no, it is quite real. Miraculous yet real. You stop walking. You crouch down. You palpate the velvety leaves, which feel like the velvety horns of an antelope.

A crowd is ahead of you, a crowd foaming with bodies. A crowd is gathering before a gift shop. It is then that you notice: The entire building is encircled by thorny branches and twigs. What is happening here?

You move with the throng close to the shop windows.

You look through the display window and see what there is to see.

The interior of the building is busy with great mobile plants with drooping green leaves.

A flurry and a flapping are overhead. Above you circle seagulls.

You rejoin Clark Street, which is absent of all moving vehicles. You tread over the overspreading carpet of green leaves.

There are buzzing insects—hornets, bees, and other flying buzzers—bustling in the leaves. Beetles are beetling over the leaves.

Look at the white rabbit. The white rabbit is feasting on grass and leaves that have grown in the street. Long swathes of grass blades are creating themselves through the tar and the pavement grey.

You lurch forward—you want to touch the snowshoe hare (or is it an arctic hare?). It would be nice to touch such an adorable animal. The snowshoe hare is a fluffy white ball and is dim-minded; the arctic hare is quicker, cleverer, and leaner.

Which is it?

The rabbit, sensing your presence, darts away.

There are white hares everywhere, springing into curved lines, sprinting in stripes across the grass, so quickly that they seem to be floating through the air, two feet above the ground.

White hares are floating by. Rabbit wind down the windy, winding streets.

Crawl-walking, the kangaroos are grazing upon the grass, foraging for succulent leaves. In standing crouch, the kangaroos are grazing across the lawn, meticulously picking at the grasses with their human-like hand-claws. The grazing macropods cover the distance.

(A macropod is a marsupial of the family Macropodidae.)

They are chewing noisily. You can hear their chewing, chewing the leaves. Some of the kangaroos are standing on their hindlegs, feeding upon the bamboo leaves.

A flock of emus succeeds the mob of kangaroos, pecking at the refuse left by the kangaroos.

Two kangaroos are licking their forearms. Other kangaroos are hopping into the grove of newly blossomed eucalyptus trees that has formed where the supermarket parking lot once stood. You hear the rhythmic thumping of the thumping macropods.

Other kangaroos are silently surveying the city. Bluebirds and blackbirds are bubbling up before you.

Whiptail wallabies are leaping across the fissured topography of the lawn. The red-necked wallabies are like tripods, their tails propelling them across the green.

A Tasmanian red-necked wallaby is leaping up and down in front of you.

To the left and to the right of you are streetlamps decorated by vines. The vines are fruiting. Growing on the vine is a whitish fruit, fruit that births, that secretes milk. White life-milk. The white life-milk seeps from the fruit and drizzles onto the street.

It is then that you notice the flowers. The city is emerging into flower. There are flowers flowering in all directions everywhere you go.

There are flowers sprouting out of the street.

All around you, flowers are erupting from the tar and growing tall. All around you, a floral eruption. All around you, a blossoming and overgrowth of orange zinnias and black roses.

There are sunflowers growing where you walk. These are flowers with corollas bigger than your head and with stems taller than you are and with petals longer than your arms. The flowers are oppressive—so many corollas, so many inflorescences. The sunflowers are mounting to the sky—the heliotropes are straining to the sun, a sun that is only partly visible through the leaves that are shooting up.

Lilacs and hyacinths are blooming. Staves of flowers, stabs of flowers. You see women and men and children plucking and pulling at the flowers. What a gleeful miracle of flowers!

You see a massive skyscraper in the distance. A tangle of yellow orchids and green vines is blossoming around the building, wrapping the building in its coils. Yellow orchids are garlanding the vertical plane of the black tower.

The vines are shivering so much in the wind that the building itself almost seems to be shriveling.

Intricacies of green vines, webbing the church that you are walking past. Another garden of sunflowers, those happy heliotropes, is reaching its petals to the sky. A great explosion: Crazy, obscenely large purple tulips are now rupturing the tarmac.

You inspect the apartment buildings on both sides of the street. The apartment buildings seem to be painted asparagus green, but on closer inspection, you see that there are coiling vines dangling from the roofs and draping the building walls.

Now, you notice for the first time that all of the buildings are wrapped in vines. The apartment buildings are covered in vines, the condominiums are covered in vines. Thick, coiling green vines.

Vines twist around the condominiums. Eagles, hawks, and ospreys make their aeries on the swimming pool rooftops of the greening city.

You see telephone poles that are engarlanded with lime-green vines and dark-green vines, vines that are bedecked with white flowers. The versatile tendrils of giant climbers are climbing and spinning around the telephone poles. Smiling koalas are climbing the telephone poles.

The traffic lights and street signs are overgrown with tall green weeds. Through the raspy weeds, asps slither.

The city seems to be overgrown with flourishing green plants. The city seems to be flourishing with overgrowing green plants.

A nest of serpentine green weeds and unearthly purple blooms is bursting through the tar. There: A man with white hair and mayonnaise skin gasps and backs away, gaping unbelievingly at this spectacle of flowering weeds, at this frenzy of flowing flowers.

Yes, the city is flowering, is emerging into flowers. Not merely into flowers, but into plants—plants of every species.

Barbellate ferns you never knew existed engirdle the apartment buildings and gas stations and churches. The world you once thought was familiar is now exploding into efflorescence.

Niggling, irritating vines are getting in your way.

A strawberry patch is glistening beneath you. You stoop down and smell the fructuous growth. The aroma of the strawberries delights your yawning nostrils. You pluck a strawberry from its nest. You taste the tangy strawberry meat, which gives to your tongue a tart tingle. The palate of your mouth is now a ruddy red.

Trees are blossoming in the city. Trees surround you. They border the streets. They are breaking open the pavement and tarmac. They are shooting upward, everywhere. They are propelling upward. You watch them growing as you walk.

These are strange trees. Some of the trees have aerial roots, roots that hang, dropping from their branches. Others have long, green-skinned, pendulous, sausage-shaped fruit that dangle from green stems. Banyan trees are stretching themselves upward and outward.

The trees are quick-growing, growing in minutes, with thick trunks, buttresses that hold intricate confusions of leafage, sprouting forth branches that look like claws. These are trees that are garnished with hard red-shelled fruit, with sessile flowers, orange and dark purple, that open and close like sea anemones. A jungle is rising to the sky.

Before you is a tree with fat green leaves, right in the middle of Clark Street. It is a gigantic tree of many branches. You push aside the heavy roots that are dangling from the branches like ropes.

Who is swinging from one of the long rope-like branches? A blonde girl is swinging from one of the long rope-like branches.

Beside her, another girl, brunette, is swinging from another one of the long rope-like branches.

As you walk down the street, things are changing before your eyes. The street is quick-transforming into a glade. On the perimeters, trees are growing. Serpentine roots, tortuous tangles of roots, anchor them to the ground.

You raise your head and look at the dark orchard growing alongside the street. In the dark orchard, cowboys in yellow saddle slickers are plucking green apples from the branches of apple trees. Across the milky street, young maidens are caressing the apples that they have plucked from the branches of the apple trees in an apple grove.

And there, one hundred feet ahead of you, is a great giant peach tree. Peaches are ripening quickly on the tree limbs.

An eighteen-year-old girl is plucking fresh peaches from the peach tree. She has a triangular doe-like face with antelope eyes, delicate cheeks, and thin but rubbery lavender lips that resemble twin garden snakes. There are no lines on her face, which makes her seem not merely young, but imperishably young. Her hair is ponytailed and moves flightily in the wind.

A girl of nine summers cups a peach in her palms and chews the peach meat.

Caressing the peaches in this Edenic garden, the maidens are looking sunnily into the distance.

Why does no one seem astonished by the spontaneously blossoming peach grove? Why do the police officers who skirt the streets not seem astonished by this sudden efflorescence? It is as if the culture that you have inhabited long since accepted the end of the world as a permanent fiction. The tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes—the seismic and tectonic tremors that shot through the early twenty-first century—have become normal to a culture that believes it will be forever stable, that regards any kind of challenge to its solidity as nothing more than a vicissitude. But what you—and what everyone in this culture—are witnessing is not the mere end of the world, but the transformation of the world that is known and familiar into a world that cannot be conceived on the basis of the known and familiar world.

Roots are fattening beneath your feet as you walk. The roots are moving. They are worming down the sewer grates, plunging through the shells of pavement and tar.

The tall trees are forming a confusion of closely-interlaced branches along the sides of the road, covering low green foliage, a vibrantly green awning.

Through the fenestrations of the trees, you see a young man and a young woman, both dressed in black, standing on the balcony of a three-story apartment building.

As you amble southward on Clark Street, you see a church that is fuzzed with green leaves. Over there: a Chipotle that is coiled in snaking green vines.

Beautiful, lush, tall bamboo trees enwreathe the museum and the high school. You can barely see past the green leaves and the yellow branches. And within, there is an explosion of greenness. Green foliage. Green leaves. They are wagging and waving at you through the glass, the green leaves sagging and the green vines drooping. The windows frame the greennesses and the yellownesses, a vivid tableau.

They are engulfing the diner, as well, the green and yellow bamboo trees. Where did they come from? They, too, must have grown overnight. Thrusting upwards vigorously, spreading aggressively, the great green bamboo leaves are shivering wildly, glistening in the sunlight.

Through the tangle of green leaves and yellow branches, you see the calm stability of the sky. It is a cloudless sable day.

The bamboo trees skirt the yogurt shop, their branches pulsing against the casements of the windows.

The pavement is cracking open like an eggshell. Bushes are pushing through the cracked pavement. The bushes are clumped together and bedecked with small red berries.

Progressively, the cityscape is dissolving into the naturescape. The cyberscape is dissolving into the naturescape.

Everything that you see becomes a part of you, as if you and nature were converging. You feel a greater affinity toward the naturescape than you do toward the cityscape. You feel a greater affinity toward the naturescape than you do toward the cyberscape.

The Protean city, with its vine-festooned balconies and flowered streets, embraces you.

Copyright 2014 by Joseph Suglia


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