Airproof -- Albert Mobilio

(for Helmut Federle)

There is nothing in the air. No whispers combed by branches. No premonitions of change. No birds on the wing. The facts of its molecular composition aside, the air is nothing; the nothing we know intimately. The air is empty of anything but itself, and this, in a way, is a pure kind of emptiness. Were you to open a door into a room filled only with air, you would still call it empty. But, having opened that door and found the room empty, you might find yourself perplexed, perhaps suspicious of the lack of furnishings. You might then say, "There's something in the air" by way of voicing your sense of something imminent. Of something odd about to happen. But there is, in truth, nothing in the air. Rather, it's the emptiness of air which registers on your pulse. The something in the air you feel is the palpable consequence of there being nothing but air.

Let's say you step into this room, the small room filled only with air. You immediately sense its walls closing in around you. At once, this room seems airless and even though the room is empty it is experienced as full, too full to accommodate you and your need for air. You might then formulate a plan to uncrowd this room in which there is, in fact, nothing. You will "air out" the room. Strangely, to air out the room you must bring more air in. Bringing in more air by opening a window doesn't make the room fuller-the actual quantity of air doesn't change, only its quality-but instead makes it feel more spacious. You can breathe more easily. You drink in the air, and begin to gauge yourself a bit smaller: by swallowing nothing you enlarge its scope outside of you while your shrinking body collapses upon the void which you've inhaled. You are a vessel into which the room, the world, empty the emptiness of air.

As the room fills with more air, fresher air, air from outside, once again you conclude there's something in the air. Trees, the damp bark's scent, decaying leaves. The season's change. The progression of the calendar. Your own mortality. All of these things are suddenly, piercingly in the air. Yet there's really nothing in the air. The air is the same as it was-the same mix of countless molecules-although minute proportions of have shifted ever so slightly. But the air is the same empty air as it was before you opened the window. A micro-fraction more of sulfur dioxide or chlorophyll does not constitute mortality. Mortality is not in the air. The nothing that is in the air is not mortal; it has always been there. Even before the molecules that make up the air congealed sufficiently to be something called air, there was a limitless lack awaiting its form, its signifier.

Walk outside this once airless room to breathe deeply and you are said to "take the air." As you draw air into your lungs, you do not diminish the amount of air around your head, across the street, or in Sacramento. The sum of air is fixed. Indeed, the air cannot be "taken" anywhere since it is everywhere. And if you could take it, scoop out a palmful, the place of that air, the air pocket, would be instantaneously filled by the air around that place. You cannot make an empty place in emptiness. The air's emptiness is everywhere at once; it is an imperial emptiness. Yet it remains bound by its nature: The air cannot escape itself. Conversely, we cannot escape the air. You sleep in it, you inhale it; when you are happy, you are thought to "walk on air." The space you occupy is only "you" to the extent it is not air, not emptiness. We are airlocked and, perhaps, in this imprisoned condition, we grow airsick. There is nothing in the air and some of that nothing we feed to our blood. It envelopes something there inside us, the thing that isn't in the air, the thing called mortality. The air is not mortal yet it insistently gloves the whole of our perishable selves. It delineates our presence as thoroughly as its empty eternity smothers us.. There is nothing in the air. Except you, pushing through it, open-mouthed, empty-handed. Breathing nothing, breathing air.

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