Harp & Altar
Joshua Cohen
from North Vain, Bluff

Evelyn Hampton

Lily Hoang
from The Evolutionary Revolution

Peter Markus

Bryson Newhart

Robert Walser
translated by Mark Harman and Walter Arndt

from The Evolutionary Revolution
Lily Hoang

Water World

A long time ago, long before man walked, this planet was filled with water. Its center did not derive of a core so hot that it melted itself; rather, the earth was a sphere of solid liquid. Above, the atmosphere exists as it does today, only cleaner, much cleaner. The surface of the water did not splash waves because there was nothing for the water to collide with except air. A long time ago, the water was so clear that man flying in the air could see directly through the water, straight to the other side of the planet, except back then, man had horrible vision. It was a rare exception if a man could even see the surface of the water because her eyes were so small. The mean size of the pupil was only 0.5mm, whereas the average diameter of the entire eye was scarcely any larger than 2cm. As such, man was forced to rely on her other senses, such as memory, kindness, and dream interpretation.

There was, in fact, a fairly extensive period of time, approximately an era or two before the Evolutionary Revolution, that man could hardly open her eyelids out of sensitivity to hydrogen. The moment she opened her eyes, they would sear with such ferocity that as a sub-species, man decided to never use her eyes again. As such, men would flap their little red wings to stay as stationary as possible as friends used strands of hair and mucous to seal eyes shut.

It is said that man started using her eyes again when a young girl named Emily heard the song of a merman twinkling from the surface of the water. She’d never dreamt of him before, she had no memory of his voice, and his song contained such sadness that out of kindness, she pried her eyes open with the tips of her talons, using all the force she could, and it is said that the tears from the tearing flesh melted the cemented spit enough for her to open her eyes, and from those eyes, she saw deep into the ocean, deep into the most tortured song.


Opened Eyes

Emily’s eyes, being unaccustomed to the hydrogen, crackled, but she was unafraid. Her eyes, being unaccustomed to wind and height, automatically barricaded themselves behind moist lids, behind darkness, but she, being the bravest of men, was determined to maintain strength.

It is said that the merman’s song seeped its melody deep into her liver, where all impurities are filtered and the contamination of her body by his song made her pry her eyes open with her toes, and when her eyes opened and she could finally see, she fell deep into the merman’s song. It is said that she was the first to fall, but this cannot be substantiated. Although she is the first recorded man to be lured by a merman’s song, oral stories offer many more examples of men who have ripped cement from their eyes, begging other men to bite off the seal, so that they could finally see what kind of being could create melodies of such penetrating sadness.

It is said that mermen dream only in shadow and light. Shapes are never definitive and sound is muted so that semblances of noise can be heard but never defined. It is said that mermen actively chose to dream this way. Mermen were particularly divisive and because they knew that man above the water could not see but relied solely on her other senses, mermen created dreams that man above water could not navigate. It was a strategic move.

The day Emily divided the atmosphere, falling freely, hydrogen cutting her freshly opened eyes, she was unafraid. She somehow knew that she would survive, that in the water, her eyes would no longer hurt, that his song would always be near, and even though she, our young heroine, wasn’t frightened, we know better. We know that even though she’s strong and unafraid, she most certainly ought to be. Yes, she would have known better, and even now, even now that she’s sinking lower than man has sunk since they lived under water, she should know better than to think she can still be a heroine, but she doesn’t.


The Extinction of the Poets & Philosophers

There was a time when all men lived in the water. Back then, there were more than ten species of human, some of whom have survived, such as men, mermen, and arguably, prophets and storytellers. There are many who have gone extinct. Poets and philosophers were the first to die off, their lungs unable to withstand the gravitational weight when they emerged from the deep ocean. They were delicate creatures and not particularly smart. They were much akin to goats and sheep of today. They would follow each other, without a clear leader, huddling in packs, pushing each other forward. It was the force of that push that allowed any sort of movement at all. If a poet was pushed westward, the whole pack would follow, and it was quite common for these species of man to be particularly vulnerable to bruises and skin breaks. Often, a poet or philosopher would cut his own skin and let his blood lead the pack, and they, faithful followers, would shimmy their loose bodies around the water, meandering behind the blood, until the blood, being thicker than water, floated upwards and upwards, until the humen felt their small bodies expand and contract, but they could not discern this as pain. They continued their mission, pursuing the strand of blood until their bodies started to retreat into themselves. First, their skin would sink into the muscles, diving deeply into their own pores. Then, the muscles would dissolve into the bones until even the bones had nowhere left to go. As the bones floated away, the surviving poets or philosophers would follow and follow until nothing remained of them but a large number of free floating bones.

It is said, however, that the souls of these poets and philosophers still reside in those bones, that they have managed to reincarnate themselves, but this is merely speculation, a rumor that we can neither prove nor deny.



As a species, prophets were much like storytellers. They didn’t have a specific body type to distinguish them from other species, but unlike storytellers, who were photocopies or clones of other existing bodies, prophets would find a body they liked and imagine death until life is removed and they would shimmy into the vacated carcass. Much like storytellers, it is assumed that prophets have been extinct for many centuries and eons, but this cannot be substantiated because they move from body to body without much effort.

According to the rumors of man, prophets were very cruel. He would kill another body before he has even made himself comfortable in the body just acquired. To maintain strength and insure that there would be no questions or strings, it was typical for prophets to eat the body left behind. Depending on the species he chose to live in, it could be quite difficult to consume another body. Man, for instance, is only accustomed to moon vegetation; flesh of any kind could make her quite ill, but the prophet doesn’t care. He imagines the body can chew through bone and the body does.

Prophets are a frightening sub-species. Long before they went extinct, all the other species had petitioned the Extinction Sub-Committee of the Evolution Council to ask that prophets, as a species, be removed from earth. Prophets, upon hearing this rumor through their man-spies, began to concentrate on extinguishing the Extinction Sub-Committee, and that was the end of the Extinction Sub-Committee. Unfortunately, they had forgotten to destroy the petition itself, and the remaining Evolution Council, upset at the great loss of their fellow council members, quickly signed off on it.

It’s unclear if any prophets survived this cleansing, but it would not be at all surprising if many of them simply disguised themselves, making their prophetic nature invisible for only long enough to survive. It wouldn’t be the first time prophets were forced into extinction.

Before the last, or seemingly last, prophet was killed, he was said to have said that there would be a great revolution based on evolution, that the councils will be to blame, if only in part, but there would be a clash of species, and many would die. He gave the revolution a time, far into the future, so far away that many ignored his words, but they did see the way he crunched his eyelids down so hard that there appeared a small crack on the ridge of his nose. Those that were there claimed that he cemented the future right there, right before his death, this last prophet decided to destroy the earth, just like that.


The Spreading of the Word

Word spread quickly that she had fallen into the water. Man by nature enjoys juicy news, and she did not hesitate to elaborate fantasies as to how it had happened. The story of her fall became so distorted that the merman no longer existed. One man’s version of the story went like this:

Emily was flying around as she was always flying around, you know, kind of crooked because she was a crooked kind of girl, and then a whole herd of rhinoceroses came charging at her and punctured one of her wings.

One man interjected, What the hell is a rhinoceros?

The storytelling man said, It’s a large bird with a horn the size of your arm.

The storytelling man said, Emily was so scared, flying with one of her wings hurt that she thought maybe she could take refuge on the surface of the water, poor girl. Without her eyes to tell her that the water wasn’t solid, she couldn’t know. How could she know? Poor girl.

The storytelling man was old enough to remember the day when man had eyes. She rarely mentioned it, but this was a desperate time. A man had just gone missing. For all she knew, the girl could be dead. For all she hoped, the girl was probably hurt pretty bad, probably would never fly again so she may as well be dead, but she hoped for the hurt. It made for much better stories.

Every man’s story was slightly different. In another version, some man was jealous of another man so she gouged out her eyes and tore part of her wing, only to realize that the man damaged was Emily, which was not the man she’d intended to harm. In another version, Emily picked a fight with a small pack of birds, thinking they were bees. She’d been craving honey, being pregnant and all. The birds pecked ferociously, creating holes in her skin and planting mites. The mites ate at her bone until she had no more bone. Luckily, the mites had damaged her nerves so she couldn’t even feel the heights from which she fell.

Either way, the story of Emily’s fall became renowned, and in every version, there was some mistake by some man because of their lack of eyes.

Within days of Emily’s disappearance, the Imperial Council held a public forum to discuss the future of man. Men were becoming increasingly fearful. This was the first disappearance in a century. Men were most frightened because they’d heard stories about the men that lived in the water, how vicious they were, how they ate the carcasses of decomposed men from above the water, how they could both see and sing. The Imperial Council met and discussed the options of how to attain better vision. Days later, the Council had not come up with a decision. Months later, they were still deadlocked. Years later, when men had forgotten all about Emily, the Imperial Council decided that they should stay exactly as they were. They should not open their eyes, they should not look for Emily, for after all, it had been years, and almost everyone had already forgotten her. The Imperial Council itself, after such a long deliberation, had forgotten why they had even started discussing using their cemented eyes again.

Of course, news of their decision spread quickly around the skies of the earth.