Z.O.E. are the initials for zone of emergence, a semi-technical term in epidemiology for the place where an infectious disease first appears in humans. This short piece is excerpted from a longer exploration. Here the focus is on moments when something vast, wordless and terrible (which would turn out to be AIDS) begins to move just beneath the surface of things. The immensity and hiddenness of this subsurface current has made experience more fragmentary, somehow more dangerous, and any sense of identity arbitrary.

1)         "The feeling of personality considered as the organism's feeling of its distinction from its surroundings, of the conjunction between consciousness and a particular point in space, cannot fail, under these circumstances, to be seriously undermined." -R.Caillois

2)         Shafts of recessed light revealed trails of pale smoke drifting through the darkness of the bar and glittered briefly on the wet surfaces of a hundred hungry eyes. Eyes searching for a face, a glance, a gesture,  ghosts hungering for birth, yearnings unmoored and seeking out embodiment.

            Personal loneliness, endured in small apartments, in cars, in supermarkets, restaurants, movie theaters merged there into a larger spectacle of communal desire.

3)         "Something for the head?" asked a beautiful Apache half-breed somehow stranded there, relying on a certain charm to find a place for the night with one woman or other, and drugs for pocket money.

            I was talking to a girl I found attractive and she edgily transferred her attention from me to a make-up artist. I stooped to pick something up off the carpet, had the impression that I was slowly slowly falling. Then I was looking up at the girl and her new friend and some others, and had the impression that I had seen all this before.

4)         Then I was sitting at a table with the Apache drug salesman and a clean cut earnest young fellow who turned out to be financing his career as a cantor by selling grass.

5)         Later, the bar was closing. The lights were turned up and seemed like a deep yellow sun filtering down to the bottom of the sea. The bar itself seemed covered in an undulant layer of dust. The cook brought out all the left over food for those still there and an atmosphere of feast, camaraderie, and sadness prevailed. The survivors of that night. 

 6)         Which memory finds itself terminating here.




Douglas Penick has written novels that concern the 3rd Ming Emperor’s rebuilding an Empire (Journey of the North Star),and the search enlightened society amid social collapse (Dreamers and Their Shadows). He wrote libretti for King Gesar (Sony CD) and Ashoka’s Dream (Santa Fe Opera) and three book-length episodes from the Gesar of Ling epic (Witter Bynner Foundation grant). Shorter works appeared in Cahiers de L’Herne, Agni, Chicago Quarterly, New England Quarterly, Kyoto Journal and Tricycle, etc. In April, 2016, Wakefield Press published his and Charles Ré’s translation of Pascal Quignard’s A Terrace In Rome.