10 thoughts on “Celestial Inventories – Steve Rasnic Tem


    “, breast feeding of the dead”









    Published in 2004, this is an amazing portrait of an old man on the brink of death as he sees it – pondering his life over the years, his now dead wife, his mother, his daughter, but mainly his wife and her death, by describing the objects above that somehow now featured in his past life, and you will not believe these objects and how they work and how they have become part of his thought patterns today with perhaps different names, making his whole life one litany of imaginings competing with madness, or whatever. IT WORKS! THEY work! They all come into my mind and I, as an old man myself, believe the world of life I have lived has always been in battle with how I experienced it. And now perhaps for the first time, I understand something I did not understand before. A litany as inventory.

    “But reading the papers day by day one could lose sight of the even distribution of fates. Some days a succession of truly terrible events might occur. Enough such days and a person might forget anything good ever happened.”

    “[[“What has happened to my daughter?” he asked the plant computer. In answer it grew and grew, quickly doubling its size. “How much does she love me?” was his second question. In reply the plant computer doubled its size again. “She’s mine!” he shouted at the plant. “Where is she?” And the plant uprooted itself, casting itself out through the window, where it joined the endless greenery below, becoming indistinguishable from the mass.]]

    No idea why I just chose those two quotes to quote. The whole work of novelette length is a teeming series of such quotable quotes as mental configurations now become unlikely physical objects of use and misuse and disuse: end to end objective-correlatives. Based on what I have managed to unearth of this author’s massive canon of literature in the last few years, it overflows with such wondrous finds, many near lost or forgotten.


    “He did not know when hospitals had become places of such quiet.”

    A disturbingly detailed, almost academic, account of Jerome the disease artist and of his lover and business partner Mickey. A portrait of suffering serial diseases as a performance art. The control of body amid concerns for cleanliness and medical supervision. This is a ground-breaking panoply of showmanship that leads ironically to the least spectacular disease of all as the one that finally ends his career. Knowing that fact is not an infectious / contagious spoiler for this laterally thought-out performance of a story or its audience, a story that is uniformly remarkable throughout its length, an enlightening one regarding catharsis and posterity.


    A highly tantalising story, I seem to recall, about a street of eight houses whose history or appearance make the street a particularly spooky place for children to visit trick and treating on Halloween. How one such child becomes a denizen, as an old woman, of ostensibly (by its appearance) the LEAST spooky house of all eight defeats me — or if I had known how she did become it, I now no longer recall. I shall have to re-read it, if it is still there to be read.


    “To fill the space, to put our mark down, and then to erase it. That’s what we human beings do. That’s all we know how to do.”

    This is the most exquisitely poignant down-sizing, not in bodily size so much as the things one has accumulated over the years as a married couple, watching the family home — lived in for a communal lifetime by both of you and by your now grown-up (but still children) children — watching it attenuate and show its own contents to those outside. The descriptions here of further listings or inventories of a lifetime’s ‘stuff’ are absolutely shockingly brilliant. It is utterly perfect. I say that with heartfelt certainty of understanding such emotions even more deeply now. How can I have not read this work before? Or perhaps I have read it before but blocked it for bringing this apotheosis of heartbreak into such potentially beautiful post-existence, so beautiful that it seemed a shame to pollute it by giving it a berth in my corrupted soul? ‘But what story?’ I shall (with real-time having moved on) ask.


    “He rested his hand against the smooth wood of the door, his thumb caressing the grain one could see but not feel, the grain of a dream.”

    I never have strong enough or simply ENOUGH superlatives for Tem. I often think to myself that each collection when I read it must surely be the best of the best. Then I pick up yet another collection of his work and realise it is possibly even the best of the best of the best. Where will it end? This story is a case in point, a woodcarver, his wife and their son Alejandro, where the wood is church and house and life’s props, heart and doorbell and the wood of each word, in the good sense of wood not the wooden of stiltedly acted, each wood or word having a grain of sorrow as well as a hoped for reclamation of love and happiness when death happens to intervene. Even the visit by the son to ask the witch to heal his father’s sorrow, is ripe with every innuendo of good and bad, with milk of kindness, too. Just to hold someone again after they’ve gone. No way I can do justice to this work. Nothing works other what wood or words work by having been engrafted therein TO work. I am just chipping away at the sides, tugging at tiny wooden vestiges of an udder, while the real heartwood’s within whereto only YOU can reach for yourself.

    “Alejandro spoke to the house and his father spoke to no one. The house drank his father’s tears and held its wooden tongue.”


    “It would be an odd thing to say, and he knew he had a reputation for saying odd things, although no one had actually told him so.”

    Well, I have read and reviewed this story before as shown below in the then context of the Tem collection FIGURES UNSEEN.
    But I have just quoted a new quote above from INVISIBLE in the light of my review earlier today of Eloise C.C. Shepherd’s story here.
    And this Tem story takes on a new slant, particularly in the light of the art of painting, in a chance simultaneous review today of a novel called SIGHT UNSEEN here! You can’t make it up?

    In the Tem: “These haloing strokes appeared hesitant, as if part of an unsure painting. It was the kind of light he imagined you would see at the end of the world: a sad, quiet fading of form and colour, as if all earthly materials were dissolving from a mass failure of conviction.”

    My previous review last May:

    “It was the kind of light he imagined you would see at the end of the world: a sad, quiet fading of form and color, as if all earthly materials were dissolving from a mass failure of conviction.”
    “At some point they’d stopped authenticating each other’s sadder perceptions about their places in the universe.”
    You feel alone, ignored. This is how it starts, and this is how it ends, if in different words. A work of utter attrition and, paradoxically, even a work of conspiratorial inspiration from self-recognition at such attrition in your own life. You and your family, wife and daughter, gradually more invisible to others. All the signs are increasingly there – a form of inverse spirituality, inverse synaesthesia. Till you even find yourself, as it were, in a church of others like you. Your wife wrinkling away, till her empty bed is the only way to recognise her, and your daughter hardly recognising you on the phone, indeed hardly seeming to recognise herself. The apotheosis of such figures unseen. Perhaps the only consolation is that you are not alone.


    This is a rêvelation, particularly for those Big-Headed People among all us dreamers. It is not only skull-shattering but brain- and mind-shattering, too, and I now realise that I often feel my own head split apart by some of the stories I tend to read as aligned with the gestalt real-time-time reviewing I create about or for it as attempted healing or hawling. Description, interpretation, evaluation. Triangulating the coordinates or inventories of self in the guise of all of us.

    A head explosion as art form…
    “After a couple of minutes the bits of floating head and bone, flesh, blood, and grey matter settle down, arranging themselves into an aesthetically-pleasing object resembling an exotic plant or abstract sculpture. After this event, we are told, the brain and sensory apparati, although profoundly altered, continue to function, albeit differently. […] In a sense, I suppose, I’m lucky. And I don’t mean just because I’m alive, or that without an artistic bone in my body I became art.”

    And this is the way this story (published in 2007) works in our era of Terrorisms and Trumpisms as aids towards such ironically constructive repercussions.

    “People are willing to believe any damn thing, because people feel, perhaps rightly, that nothing and no one can be trusted. Particularly the government which is supposed to serve at our will.”

    Reading as an art of transgression as well as creativity in this age of the New Normal — the only way possible when, when we and, thus, I “forget people’s names, but I was starting to forget people’s names before the incident. It’s a natural part of aging, I’m told. I’ve retained most, although certainly not all, of my previous memories. But I’m hardly the same person.”

    “If you sculpt chicken-flavoured cat food into the shape of a rose, it’s still chicken-flavoured cat food.”

    “Nourishment is taken through that inarticulate, sewer-like ruin my throat has become. But I’ve traced my voice to a freshly sprouted bulb near the top of a tall, gently waving structure approximately where my right ear used to be.”

    “I fall asleep in front of the TV as I do almost every night. I wake up with the sun coming through the window again, warming my leaves. There is a comfort in the sameness of this routine—it reminds me of the days before my head exploded, when I was a father, a husband.”

    God save me, but this, against all the above odds, is another ITem of faith in self’s permanence. Another classic for which my life now is, perhaps paradoxically, richer and more certain to be me.

  8. I reviewed the next story in 2010, and below is what I wrote about it in its then context…


    Chain Reaction by Steve Rasnic Tem

    “You cannot believe things were always this bad.”

    I’m glad I’ve started my celebration of the second anniversary of my inception of real-time reviewing with this classic-to-be story.  It is in itself a real-time narrative (literally) of a major statically-serial car pile-up — as  a result of an avalanche (I think) — a piecemeal visitation to each constituent of the pile-up by one of its victim drivers, reminiscent (but not all that much) of Jean-Luc Godard’s film ‘Weekend’ (1967)…but that comparison gives you the idea.  It is well-written (and although I rarely mention artwork in my real-time reviews, brilliantly illustrated by Dave Senecal) – and the story itself, without giving anything away, sure collects the leitmotifs retrocausally towards its own plot gestalt (a process that has recently become a personal obsession of mine).  All life is here, absurd, horrific, poignant, itemised, surreal, caricatured… Loved the Suitcase Man, just as one example. And I also enjoyed what I interpreted as a seasoned authorial man’s view of life that does not only have entropy individually for each of us but globally for our way of life itself as a slow downward path from civilization’s beginning to where we are now and, later, to where we will be in a few minutes’ time…..  Hey, loved it! (7 Nov 10)

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