Death within Color Revolution
“Cops, being neither human nor animal, do not dream. They don’t need to, they’ve got teargas. Don’t expect me to justify that. I mean, you know as well as I do that cops have got access to the content of all of our dreams.” — Sean Bonney, from Our Death
I had a dream where there was this TikTok sound that made the rounds where people were singing about all the different ACC College Football teams and naming them by their colors, blue and yellow, garnet gold, orange green, and even in the dream I couldn’t help but think of Rimbaud’s “Delirium” and his alchemy trapped in the geodes of vowels. But let me back up, because this is a dream I’m talking about.
I’m driving this woman home on the highway. We never know a stranger’s name in a dream, so I’ll call her Meredith. Don’t remember where we were coming from or why, or why she couldn’t drive her own damn car. I believe it was a school, she did give me a caring-but-severe teacher vibe, but that’s dreams for ya. I remember the light beginning to amber towards the end of the day. I remember the empty parking lot and a series of red brick buildings. I remember the steering wheel, the logo that shined so brightly in the sun that a rainbow draped itself over the wheel. As I drive her home, I’m trying to pull my credentials out of my ass, out the esophagus and into her chagrined ears. That’s right, I’m trying to convince her I’m qualified for a job. I’m not even sure what the job is exactly. Descriptions on forums and job boards never seem real. Probably some dreary paid internship pushing pencils into foreign soil and buying bad Italian-style coffee only to spill it on my shirt every Thursday. Meredith listed the places where she did her charity work: Czech Republic, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Moldova again, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and now Belarus again, she’s going back—and that’s just the post-Soviet states. Meredith heads the Slavic branch, after all. Branch of what? I dunno, it’s a dream. Probably doesn’t even exist.
All the while, Arthur Rimbaud is splayed across the backseat listening to music on cheap Skullcandys. He muses to himself as he tries to keep a tally of the different colors of the flags where Meredith used to visit. He hums a march to himself, and as he wags his finger like a baton, the fingertip changes color. Every time it turns green, it makes me dizzy. Thank god for rearview mirrors so I could keep an eye on the loon.
What is a colour revolution? “Nonviolent resistance” and a whole lot of zeros in bank accounts flitting in that big blue sky. But that’s just the scaffolding. It’s a color wrapped around the wrists of a demonstrator in a country where the proletariat used to win more than the odd Olympic game. It’s despots and authoritarians bombed for improving literacy and cost of living. A successful movement in brand only, faking it till the house falls down. Accusations of fraudulent elections and invitations for oversight opened and discarded at a UN office that has suddenly dissolved. Quite possibly the greatest grift the world has ever seen. Western powers find enough petit-bourgeois people, pass them off as working class to Americans, and help them fight against the democracy they never wanted in the first place. Outpour, but spelled wrong. “Marketing regime change.” There has never been a more American revolution—a western-backed puppet dressed in grassroots motley.
Morbidly curious yet hopelessly excited and nervous, I ask Meredith what I’d have to do during the job. I don’t even recall the vaguest detail, except that she says we get to show them an American alternative. The rainbow sprawled over the steering wheel winks as I shudder to think of what that could mean. I shouldn’t, but and what kind of alternative is that? She cocks her head inquisitively, as if this was a question she hadn’t been asked before, at least by another American. The democratic alternative, of course. These people rarely get enough to eat, aren’t allowed to read a lot of important books, and have nothing to look forward to in their home countries. Nothing: literacy in a language corralled by a lingua franca, heirloom potatoes, their scent, a smudged basketball hoop with no net.
I told her one of my tired facts about the Russian language, did you know that Russian has two distinct words for light blue and dark blue? I hear they translate literally to Democrats and Democratic Socialists. She asks me, so which one is lighter? And which one is on their flag? and at this point I’m ready to fling myself out of the moving Jeep and back into consciousness, not like it matters. The blue in the rainbow that sits on the steering wheel nudges the other colors away. The dark shade seems to settle at the bottom of the wheel like unshaken oat milk, bruised. The lighter hue of the hombre looks jaundiced in comparison. I think this is around the moment when the sun began to retreat from the sky to make way for a midnight preparing for some kind of event horizon. Too early for the time of day, yet many moons overdue. I flip the brights on.
She told me how she loved to teach the kids to smile. They’re all so melancholy at first, she crows, and terribly skinny, as if our overconsumption and obesity is better, or the local food scarcity is to be blamed on the “authoritarians”. I can’t imagine the horror of being a Soviet mother and having your child come home one day having learned to bare their teeth at strangers, afraid that they’re trying to instigate a fight. American smiles don’t translate well, or maybe, in a sick sense, this mismeaning is the goal. Pretty sure it was Thomas Sankara who said “He who feeds you controls you.”
Right on cue, we pass a tractor tilling the soil beside the highway, a work team building an irrigation dam. And who is on the tractor but none other than Sankara himself, whistling and smiling as a crane lifts the final support into place and the workers fetch the ribbon and scissors… “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”
They won’t last long, Meredith says. She looks up at me from her phone, her flawless white screen. Regime change is scheduled within a week. She looks straight out the windshield. Strange how her face shows no emotion, yet I can tell she feels and she doesn’t hide it.
I still picture the flag of Burkina Faso after we’ve driven past that stretch of road where the people worked from their tractors—revolutionary red over the green earth tethered by a small yellow star that is the guiding light of the revolution. The doer tethered to their environment by the deed. Reminds me of the flag they used to have for the temporary South Vietnamese government. The northern red commits the southern blue to revolution. It’s large star betrays a daunting task of its own. In Algeria, people pass a starved moon between them behind clandestine columns. The sky is stolen away from what they call the sky. Piece by piece. Shh.
The headlights illuminate something big in the middle of the road: men with machine guns on either side of an unassuming door. There are shadows where their faces should be in the dim lacklight, but I see their eyes waiting for a signal. I take my foot off the gas, but the Jeep doesn’t slow down. It seems to speed up, even as I pump the breaks. I don’t see their faces but I see sweat, anticipation. I feel dread for what they’re about to undo, all of the gains of struggle that will be lost, for the soon-to-be victims. I turn to Meredith and what I see isn’t shock, or guilt either.
But I do see her even eyes suddenly widen. Snapping my head forward, I swerve the Jeep, squealing the tires black against the cracked pavement. I swivel my head back around, frantically checking the rearview to see if we hit anyone. But there’s nothing behind us but trees and asphalt. Uncanny. Rimbaud raises an eyebrow at me in the rearview. You okay? I ask him, not realizing the car is still moving forward along the slight curve of the highway. Again, I don’t speak French. He says something that sounds like I regard the burning star in front of me, whatever that means. I turn to Meredith, who looks forward along the road like nothing happened. My body, on the other hand, feels like it’s unraveling at the joints and ligaments. But I look down at my hands on the wheel, still whole.
I remember Yugoslavia, Meredith piped up immediately, nonplussed. I was still green back then, still figuring out how to work with people, yknow? Student management seemed simple enough but everything seemed to happen so fast. And that thing with the bulldozer! She laughs as carefree as a rare champagne, licks her top teeth. I learned later that it was just a wheel loader, but it’s not like the average Joe can tell the difference. The Associated Press let that one slide. She tilts her head down for a moment, and gently rests a hand on her forehead. She leaves her smile open.
We pass a stretch of road where something is glowing behind the trees. Little white and yellow lights peer at us from either side. Dull roars of a crowd also emanate between snaps of wind. A chant begins in a language I can’t place. As I wonder what the epithets could mean, I notice a powerline running along the highway. There is debris of some kind woven into the wires. The light from the forest obscures the shapes that seem to drip something viscous.
I’ll tell ya, Meredith grins, I would have given anything, and I mean anything, to have been reassigned to Asia to work Hong Kong. I mean sure, working within the former Soviets has been a fantastic career, but the commission for Hong Kong? More zeros than I care to mention!
More lights outline the perimeter of the forest. The shapes stuck in the power line become more dense, more misshapen and gnarled. I look at them and wonder what it could be. The last hurricane was months ago, I thought they had cleaned up by now.
Meredith carries on all the while. And it wouldn’t have even been that much work, she continues. We had everything in place: young people at the local colleges who studied with us, relationships with entrepreneurs, I mean they really struck gold with the whole umbrella thing, it’s gotten so much traction we’re even seeing them used in Black Lives Matter protests. A setup like that is so perfect for what we’re trying to accomplish, and we came so much closer than before. It just…she trails off, turning her head towards the night…I get the feeling she’s said too much, remembering Bonney’s words, “The cops will not tell us what they don’t know and what they think we know.” They shouldn’t, if they know what’s good for them. That’s when it hits me.
As the Jeep moves forward, our perspective shifts just enough for one of the myriad lights to shine behind the pieces of fallen debris to illuminate the unmistakable silhouette of a severed arm. The light pans from right to left, hinting at outstretched fingers turned towards the mute sky, beseeching. Radius and ulna twisted to breaking, the arm zig-zags at an early disjoint before the natural one. Finally, there is the jut of bone where the flesh can no longer hide. Then, it’s gone. The moment passes into obscurity like any other on this road. But all the broken bodies hiding between the lights are still there, at once the teeth and chewed fruit. I wretch out the window, barely holding the steering wheel straight so the whole car jaunts in step with my stomach.
I close my eyes with a deep sigh and feel my fingers dig into my palms. Wait, my hands were around the wheel…I reach above me for the overhead light and look down again and see myself gripping frayed cloth between balled fists, jutting from the dashboard where the steering wheel was like a massive rotting take-a-number ticket. It looks to have been tie-dyed and bleached over and over dozens of times. Different patterns, designs, and colors have been added and removed over years, decades probably. While the fabric is worn and washed out to all hell, I can tell it was of high quality once. Feels heavy, like broken gravel in my hands. The brown splotches flap against my lap as the now-driverless Jeep continues to rip down the dimming highway. I start to tug at the cloth, which seems to come from somewhere inside the dashboard where the steering wheel was. This is certainly going to wind up as a manufacturer’s recall if this is Jeep’s excuse for an airbag, I muse.
The cloth extends like a lolling tongue, even as I pull armfuls from the fold of the vehicle. The kaleidoscope of discolors starts to pile in the backseat. I sense Rimbaud shuffling around back there as I zealously throw the unending cloth over my face as I claw at it, highway be damned. He crawls over and reaches from behind me to open my window all the way. The wind plucks the cloth from the Jeep like a sail that still unfurls. The vinyl scrapes against the car interior and suddenly flattens against the windshield with a thwack, and as I shrink back in surprise, my eyes widen at the broad block letters. Now I see it’s a banner. The letters “MO” slowly eek their way out of nowhere, regarding me like scales in a dragon’s underbelly. They are solid black against the spilling patchwork that takes up the rest of the banner. I turn to look at the window in time to see “D” flap against the back left window, as “E” is trapped between the window’s maw. I flip the words into order in my mind. DEMO?
Sorry, Meredith mutters with a frown, old work stuff. She reaches out a hand, then stops herself. I guess the jig is up. The banner, pulled taut by the whipping wind clawing from the Jeep’s window, now unspools so quickly it produces dust, a horrific squeal, and an acrid stench. DEMOCRACY NOW! flits so quickly against the roof of the car and out the window, I can’t help but let out a fearful laugh. Now I smell the teargas, can’t escape it as more slogans of STOP THE VIOLENCE and FREE [ILLEGIBLE] fly above me. I don’t care to keep track of all the words barely backlit by the overhead light. I just clench my eyes and hear the whine and the wind snapping.
Tears would have come with the laughter anyhow, mere inches from waking up from this nightmare. Getting even darker now, the weight of shades is beginning to sag the sky towards the earth. The words on the banner form a telegram that melts into the darkening surroundings before disappearing behind us—along with the road.
Since I was young, I’ve wondered what nonexistence feels like. I’ve always pictured it as being reduced to a viewer. The question then became what does one see? Because, I mean, who am I anyway? Am I just the one who’s meant to be in this roller coaster limbo sitting next to some NGO handler and some douchebag teenage prodigy born two centuries ago? Just to recount the funny story later? And what does Meredith want with me? She wants me to be part of a larger scheme—oil, power, capital, etc. What does that make me? A worker, I guess, a want. Someone with thin enough fingers to reach the crevices rich people can’t in their own machines.
So this job, I muster once the tears have passed and the sting remains, this line of work is bigger than both of us, huh? It hurts to keep my eyes open, but I swear her smile is almost coquettish. She has nothing to hide now. I don’t do the dirty work myself, but someone has to orchestrate the story, sell the narrative, advertise for god’s sake. Not even the US of A could back a counterrevolution without majority support. She scoffs at herself. Or at least majority ambivalence. Because that’s the thing—the best thing the populous can do for us is nothing. Business as usual is all I need to get the job done. Her voice prods me with a sick, playful tone. Certainly bigger than anything you can imagine.
And now I am ashamed I was so willing to sell her my fingers. What to do with them…
Well, I say, straining to look at her, I’m sure if I think hard enough, I’ll think of something bigger than that. The pain has reached a point where my grimace can pass for a smile. And I’ll bet I’m not the only one. She rolls her head back and laughs wide into the dark. Oh honey, I’m the one who got inside your head!
As if on cue with my frustration, with Meredith’s idea of bourgeois influence cloaked in a veneer of aid, with this clown car and simulation of a highway and ego death of a road trip with clearly nowhere to go, the radio began to play. It was the TikTok audio, the one with all the ACC College Football colors and now I clearly recall how it was to the tune of WAP. I don’t cook, I don’t clean becomes Blue and yellow, garnet gold, orange green, blue and—
Meredith becomes clearly anxious as the song seems to ramp up its speed. The landscape only loses its light more thoroughly now, not that I was paying attention to the wraparound FloriBama scrub on either side of the highway. She started to murmur the names of dignitaries, wire transfers, white threads, candidates who only exist on paper, paintings kept in kremlin domes and what is stashed behind them, the many ways the word “please” can fit falsely on the American tongue, yellow, garnet gold. There are only so many coups the human mind can hold. Her head is spinning like a top, and in her flailing, her hand brushes the radio dial and changes the channel. A voice says Maybe the NBA players should go on strike! again and again, orange and—
The steering wheel and speedometer have gone silent. Light seems to well in her eyes. What does she see? What does one see after death?
Veil, void, nothingness, I think these are all correct. The new sensation awaiting me was Opacity.
By this point in the dream, the woman has torn a hole wide enough in the darkness for me to slip without a sound into the vortex left in her wake. I somehow know she can’t take it anymore, this urge to pilfer from the nearest coffer. Her hands seem to grab at things and leave little holes of black where she touched. The highway is long gone, choking somewhere below my foot on the gas. I can’t even feel where my hands rest; there is no color that can be draped against this space. This is that Opaque death that I feared, where the future ends trapped in a dark window. But The End of History doesn’t quite do it justice, because this is not a reality for escaping, but shaping.
In this quasi-vacuum I can’t help but think Milan Kundera is behind me somehow, as if he had been sitting in the backseat next to Rimbaud, saying something about how any “totalitarian” Marxian narrative would supply answers where questions are needed. Even more aloof now, Rimbaud sits back into empty space and starts writing something with his finger where the window used to be. The rearview mirror is long gone and I can’t read French anyway, but I hear the squelch of the liquid against some surface. He was always writing. It’s like nothing has changed. Well now, here they are, the questions and answers fucking each other into a know-nothing uncertainty—Kundera got that much right. But the question-everything plan seems just as totalitarian when faced within this cavity of color. Am I flailing in the sinister truth of a dialectic or just more waking doubt?
So I do the only thing I can do to cope since childhood: sing and shake and shimmy my hands. The friction begins to part the vacuum’s folds, and I can see the ends of the Opaque unravel into shades of gray—maybe just a glint of yellow. It’s a start. In fact, if this is indeed Rimbaud’s Delirium, and the Merediths of the West is a force that can be thwarted, we can’t stray from one codified mass movement, one answer to every square-lipped question. That is how the Merediths lead us astray, conflating liberation with their own genocidal aims. We can’t let them.
But maybe I can push a bit further before I wake up. So I shimmy and sing a little harder, and the colors begin to thaw transparent. I can feel the pressure against my outstretched hands and voice as the Opacity spreads into pigments. They feel warm, oranges, yellows, reds, hues in the shape of webbed harp strings expand to reveal possible futures. This will be as far as I go, one small step forward…
Now I see, the warm colors come from cinders. Manila folders, defunct flags with green wreaths, pages of notes and lines, LA ORGANIZACIÓN COMUNITARIA EN CONTRA DEL glint of jackknives cutting barbed wire, an incidental smile slicked away with the thumb, glossy leaflets and quarter sheets, so many raised fists, all burning a smoke plume towards the stars as the Sheriff’s copter begins to peek its searchlight into an adjacent yard. The pigs can’t plant evidence where it’s already been burnt; this is the two steps back. The Opaque glimmers an anguished orange and singes my hands as the secrets burn, maybe I can poke my head a little further……and I hear a voice—my voice, or the voice of a much hungrier me—say I’m awfully sorry Meredith, but it’s you who has seen too much. By this time, I allegedly woke up.
Jonce Marshall Palmer is a nonbinary poet and organizer living in Denver, CO. They are the author of the funny-shaped chapbook Searching for Smoke Rings (Ghost City Press, 2020). Find them on Twitter @masterofmusix and more of their writing at https://jmpalmer.carrd.co.