Sunday, January 29, 2012

Los Graveda Grasa

He sat four feet to the right of the bust of King Olaf, just enough to ensure an unobstructed view of the sleeping prince. The sleeping prince, his eyelids aquiver with torturous dreams, had fallen asleep while awaiting the arrival of the circus. Feet unshod and sockless, his oxcart tethered to the lamppost unsteadily, he fell in and out of sleep like a drunken chump, the sort of sap men of good measure avoid at all cost. Vigo Darzere struck a match against the sleeping prince’s oxcart, and holding the flame jittery over his hatless head intoned ‘always loafing on the job those crazy Jesuits’. Tossing the extinguished match onto the ground Vigo let out a long drawn out yawn, the back of his throat scabbed with nicks from the stick he used to clear his throat. Rapidly he shoed the oxen and hightailed it northward, the oxen’s dung-scabby tails trailing behind them. As tomorrow was the day the Deacon gave his perennial exegesis on the Icon Rasputin, everyone was in a rush to get home before dark, even Vigo Darzere who had no interest in iconography and Russian sexpots.

‘if the sky doesn’t fall tomorrow I’ll take a stroll over to Middletown to see the new jakes… I hear it’s got a sparkling glass seat’. Long before it was unpopular he was reading books about magic and alchemy, folios and scholarly texts on miming and unconscious reasoning; he read until his eyes bled and his nose ran, he read and reread until he couldn’t feel the tips of his fingers, he read upon waking and before retiring for the night, reading in between appointments and school trips. He was well into his thirties before he realized that all that reading had ruined his eyesight, his eyelids twig-brittle from uncontrollable blinking. ‘nonetheless even should the sky fall tomorrow I will still make my way west to Middletown, stopping only to refresh my memory and slake my thirst’. Whenever he recalled these times he couldn’t help but laugh; all those wasted hours counting to one-thousand backwards, measly matters of choice and faulty reasoning. He’d much rather have spent his time eating or spotting turtles with an upturned rake.

(You might ask why so many characters, so many troubles, so much confusion and madness? Because I can and I must and nothing more will do).

Having no legs the legless man had no need for shoes or boots. He wrapped his stump-ends in cheesecloth, applying an oil when the chaffing became unbearable. The alms man suffered with Podiatric Dystopia, both feet pointing in the same direction (to the left) his toes barnacled with corns, some the size of plums. Molaño de Salamanca shoed his oxen and set out for Borgomanero y Lombardia, Castilla the fool close on his heels. Castilla would rather be at the heel of a fish cart eating ox tongue or spotting turtles with an upturned rake, anything but in the service of Molaño de Salamanca. Molaño de Salamanca and his abet Castilla were never seen or heard from again, Borgomanero y Lombardia enveloping them into her ivory bodice.

They whored for a fortnight and a day, backs bent double like lowly sinners. He was feeling blue moldy for a fight, all that bucking and her throwing back her head and the reek of boiled onions and unwashed clothes encouraging his ire. “Restitution of conjugal rights”
[1] he said loudly under his breath. ‘I heard that somewhere… on the bally it was, chappy bastard laid the comeuppance on me’. Daisy’s clap prêt near slew her, all her hair and eyelashes falling out. Never can tall wend nor hew. Last time she all muss lust hen eye. …whores its cruel out: coal enough fur kittens and a cat. Pull the ole muffler ova your knows bye Jesus. When he started to think like this, in circles and strays, he knew that the jig was up; it was only a matter of time before the wind would hearse him willy-nilly home, back bent-double staring starry-eyed at his shoes.

He found a letter in a coffee can outside his leaning lean-to. Still feeling blue moldy from the night before he put the letter in his breast pocket and went about his day. On cold days he sniffed sweet ether from a takeout bag, holding in the vitriolic gas until his neck muscles bulged.

The harridan came down with Scrub Typhus, ‘serves you right’ scolded her sister ‘you should be more careful with your mouth’. The apothecary agent dispensed an anti-agonist, cautioning ‘this is a cunt to get rid of… so keep your legs closed and your mouth shut’. Pull the ole muffler ova your knows bye Jesus. She made a poultice with Crum’s bleach and an old washrag. Placing it on her forehead she lay down lengthwise on the floor, her arms folded across her breasts. Daisy’s clap started in her shoes and moved end-to-end into her shinbone. It lay dormant for a fortnight, the chills and fever subsiding, then progressed into her sternum. On the second fortnight it moved from her breastplate into her jawbone, where it stayed for another fortnight and a half. From her jawbone it transmigrated to the crown of her head. And after another fortnight it escaped through a borehole drilled in her fontanel, the yellowy vile substance collected in a kidney-shaped saucepan held aloft her ear by the apothecary agent’s wife. ‘that’ll teach you to keep your mouth to yourself’ scolded her sister.

He glanced through the ‘Anniversaries and Gladtidings’ page of the Weekly, his eye fetched by the wedding announcements: Burchel, John and Driscoll Mary Castletownbere, Costello, Augustine E. O'Driscoll and Kate (or Catherine) Castletownbere, Crowley, John Driscoll (Minihane) and Johanna Castletownbere Driscoll, Jeremiah Harrington (Caobach) and Mary Allihies Finch, Brendan O'Driscoll and Ann Castletownbere, Paddy O'Driscoll and Katie Allihies Gortahig, Joe O'Driscoll and (Abbey Philomena) Kelly, Pad (or Patrick) O'Driscoll (Minihane) and Honora Cahirgarriff Lynch, Tade O'Driscoll and McCarthy, Edmund O'Driscoll and Catherine Adrigole, Patrick O'Driscoll and Patricia Castletownbere (owner and sole proprietor of the Grocery Shop, Fish Tackle, Radio/TV) McCarthy, Johnny and (Murt) O'Driscoll (Minihane), (O'Driscoll), John Houlihan and Mary Eyeries Cummeendeach wed in a group service at the Gorman Filing House just outside the Five-Mile Fence.

He walked from Appenzell Innerrhoden to Appenzell Ausserrhoden stopping only to eat the sandwich he’d packed that morning. After consuming the sandwich roll, delighting in the sharp cheese, he began walking again. ‘what a day’ he said to himself, ‘banal yet satisfying just the same’. Wrapping the crusts in the Gladtidings Weekly, Patrick O'Driscoll tourniquet to Honora Cahirgarriff, he retied his shoe and set out for home.

The Gorman’s Apothecary carry Dead Sea facial scrubs for the woman who needs a leg up in the morning, throat lozenges, ten-penny nails, syphilis tablets, one per customer, and bunghole mallets. The morning he was born his father fell from a great height. He fell into the street below, the draymen catching him in a blanket.

What more can one say when one has said nothing? He fell into the day from a great height, the draymen nowhere to be seen. Unaware that they were being watched, Aarschot and Brabant stood admiring the Admiral’s Duffy. ‘perhaps I could interest you in a lozenge’ said the person watching them, Aarschot staring at him suspiciously.

The morning he was born his da threw himself headfirst out the hospital window. The Seder Grocer, noticing a slumping in his awning called out ‘my God an angle has fallen from the sky!’ ‘sure enough’ said a man picking through a bushel of apples. ‘and straight as an arrow’ said another man, his hands shaking uncontrollable. Rolling himself off the slumping awning his da brushed off his jacket and hurried down the street, the grocer yelling ‘stop thief… you have an apple in your pocket!’

Not one to underestimate stupidity Dejesus threw prudence to the wind and asked for his money back. ‘surely you can’t expect me to accept this?’ It’s practically torn in half?’ ‘muerte blanca. Si hará el truco’ replied the agent. Not having the faintest idea what the agent was saying Dejesus again demanded his money. ‘you, sir, underestimate my fury’. ‘y usted, subestime mi mañosidad’ said the boldfaced agent. His removed his shoes and lay them on the mud-spattered ground in front of him. Breaking a twig from an elm tree, its canopy stretching as far as the eye could see, he dug the mud from the bottoms of his shoes. Clapping his shoes together like castanets, clumps of dirt falling onto the mud-spattered ground, he craned his neck upwards, the sun bathing his face in warmth and bliss. ‘tomorrow’s the 10th’ he mused. ‘the day before Boat Day’. Stretching out under the yawing elm, canopied beneath its chartreuse arbor, he said a prayer ‘God forgive me for I stole an apple from the grocer’s bushel’. Hearing nothing he recused himself, and basking in his ungodliness set out once again.

“Fiume and Abruzzi stole away in the guts of a scow, eating mangos and salted meat and singing as loud as their lungs would permit”
[2] was written on a piece of white tunic. Next to the piece of white tunic sat an elfin man, his eyes as black as coal. ‘I say’ said the elfin man, ‘who goes there?’ When no one replied the elfin man with coal-black eyes cleared his throat and said ‘Well whomever it is best keep to the other side of the road! I’ve killed a man for less!’

The sign over the door to the apothecary read ‘Quite Por Favor Sus Cauchos’. The sign over the lavatory ‘y, estaba por favor la esperma de sus manos’. ‘Gracias los caballeros y las señoras’ said the cigar store Indian propped up against the register. Of a sudden a parade of younkers and squibs stole in passed the dispensing counter, the apothecary assistant trying valiantly to oversee the oversight of having left the front door unbolted. Every year without fail the day before Ship’s Day fell on a Sunday. The sign over the cotton candy stand read ‘la esperma de sus manos’, anguishing those who hadn’t bothered to wear gloves and those who suffered from Quinsy’s Chill, known to grieve a man to pots, Dejesus among the unvanquished. ‘have you no mercy?’ cried out a man with a fine-looking cowlick. ‘shut the door and sit down’ quipped a woman, her ears turned out under her bonnet. ‘surely this isn’t happening’ said Dejesus, the cigar store Indian staring at him mockingly. ‘surely we are mistaken. Ship’s Day falls on a Thursday not on a Sunday’.

Marušić carried a picture of his mamma in a blue dress wearing a pair of the Vincennes Co’s. finest gloves holding a twisted nosegay. Alex Degrande and Simon Drogue tend to the animals, feeding the horses and oxen from nosebags. The Antinomianist’s congregate behind the Waymart. Marušić jacked the ball and called in nines, the fattest Antinomianist yowling ‘give it back you scoundrel’. Not one to be batfowled by simpletons Marušić let go with a resounding fart. ‘the library is closed’ announced the head librarian sternly, ‘so do go home please do’. The last time this happened the sky almost fell. The horses and oxen ate from nosebags, the dogs from plastic bowls laid out under the starlit sky. Alex Degrande and Simon Drogue congregate behind the Waymart, the Antinomianist’s having gone home. ‘Ship’s Day falls on a Thursday not on a Sunday’ said elfin man. The day had taken its toll on him.

Blattzinn & Stagniol stood under the Waymart awning counting clouds in the gray sky. Counting they recounted those they saw twice, but in different configurations and places in the sky. They wore tin-foil caps punched out and folded to fit snuggly on the crown of the head.

The Amazonas sisters dress in cockleshell blouses and ruby red shoes. Unlike the Kallisto sisters, Oreias and Erinyes, who sleep under a blanket of stars, the Amazonas sisters sleep underneath scratchy horsehair blankets. Dearest Aunt Alma makes the most delicious raspberry tarts. 25 pea a half-dozen a dozen a half-crown. Aunt Alma dear tucks the edges with the whites of her fingernails, curbing the bottommost crust with a straight razor. Her tarts are know far and wide for their oozing red berry filling. He sat puzzled and wet under the mutton gray sky eating sweet mouthfuls of raspberry tart. ‘tomorrow is Ship’s Day surely’ he quibbled, ‘...or the day after tomorrow or after that or...’. He offered the sisters a bite of red berry tart, the sisters giggling like schoolgirls. ‘--no thank you’ said the sisters, ‘…our stomachs’ are about to burst’. Upon awaking he reached for the last morsel of tart, his lips smacking. ‘bursting stomachs. I best keep my distance surely’.

The night came and went, leaving behind a skeletal trace of darkness. (Los Boyos abhor Los Détentes). Néstor Tolosa and his bride to be Elizabet Fernández live in a one-room walkup over los Partido Justicialista. Los Mambos De Rastreó, a well-received pantomime group, came and went, leaving nothing behind. ‘bursting stomachs. I best keep my distance surely’. ‘Giulia!’ shouted Néstor, ‘your stomach is bursting’. Giulia glared sternly at Néstor Tolosa, betroth of Elizabet Fernández, her eyes red as bloodshot. ‘how dare you sir, my stomach is none of your concern!’ The sisters giggled like schoolgirls jiggling their auburn tresses. Ships Day began, children queuing for funnels of pink cotton floss, the priest, his surplice in a knot, winking at his assistant ‘Mauris condimentum nisi in libertate filiorum captionem Candy’.

‘Ŝi estas ensorĉo graveda grasa’. The Seder Grocer hired a pale skin girl to wipe down the butcher’s counter. Her belly, swollen with new life, sagged below her hips, the grocer’s stomach pinched with beans and lentils, his wife having left the pot on the stovetop to simmer. She slept with her backup against the stars, a nosegay clutched in her hands. ‘my but you have such pale ashen skin’ said the grocer gaping at his new hire. ‘and such beautiful red auburn hair’. ‘ensorĉo graveda grasa’ said the pale auburn new hire. ‘yes I see’ said the grocer, ‘and what a beautiful swollen belly it is’. On her hands she wore goat skin gloves, and on her feet fish shoes. Unsheathed he wielded his epee “which the buckler could not protect against the clownish assault”
[3] and slew the monstrous ogre. Chiclana sleeps beneath the moon-filled sky. The Mulhouse sisters sleep with both eyes open. The Celbridge sisters of County Kildare fish for chub behind the Monument Creamery. The Stoutly Buckler sat beneath an apricot yellow moon, his awl sheared down to tin-ash. ‘ensorĉo grasa’ whispered the new hire, ‘estas graveda’. The congregates pelted Los Violadores with stones and broken bottles; expecting Los Graveda Grasa they were itching for a punch up. The Feast of the Redeemer ended with 27½ men downed by pelting and kicking, the ½ felled halfway to his knees and onto his back. A woman in fish shoes cobbled past, her hair pulled back into a straight-pin bun. ‘my my what pale ashen skin you have’ said the Stoutly Buckler. ‘Ŝi estas ensorĉo graveda grasa’ bellowed the Celbridge sisters of County Kildare, the moon-filled night aglow. On the 27th day of the 7th month the Sisters of the Immaculate Deception arrived for the Feast of the Redeemer, the congregates welcoming them with outstretched arms, a child with a nosebleed holding out a nosegay of marigolds and daffodils.

“…whether he was cured of his madness or still suffered from it, and then begged leave to continue his journey; in short, they all separated and went their ways, leaving to themselves the curate and the barber.”
[4] The carter yoked Catullus (who suffered with mono-onomastikos) to Cratylus, Dario and Argento bridled to the muleteer’s wagon. Giallo and Mulock swam the Guadix Channel backwards, Yolande Rose and Joséphine Cardinale inflamed over a lost glove, pilfered, so they believed, by Sergio Ferzetti who took off in a gallop on the back of his faithful Rocinante. ‘we have no time for this nonsense’ preached the Witness. ‘in times of strife and pestilence a man must find his cantor, not gallop off like a woebegone ass’. Awaking from his dreams he found a summons pinned to his lean-to flap. ‘The rector’s assistant requests your presence immediately. Please come quickly’. Throwing the summons into the rainspout he lay down and forced himself back to sleep, hoping that he could revisit the dream he had awoken from a few minutes earlier.

[1] Ibid
[2]Abruzzi et Fiume, Tales of Intrigue and Folly, 1889.
[3] Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
[4] Ibid

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Hospital for the Gravely Injured

‘Cat got your tongue?’ asked the voice sitting next to him on the park bench. He turned and came face to face with a woman who’s bulbar eyes had escaped his notice when he’d first sat down. The crookedness of her mouth made it look like she was whispering when she was in fact shouting. A man out walking his dog stopped and said ‘I’ll have none of that madam!’

An alms woman sits in the midmorning sun stitching hems with a bone-needle. The story goes that she found the bone-needle in a hatbox box under a pile of soiled clothes. It brought back memories of the things his grandmother kept in a coffee tin on her bedstead vanity: a promise ring given to her by a cheating suitor, a blind tinsmith, a small picture of a horse and rider. She dropped a stitch piercing her thumb, blood mixing with the meatiness of working flesh. ‘Some mornings’ she said to herself, ‘begin better than others.’

Appearing as if out of nowhere Albert Scrim yelled ‘Mrs. Crabstick of Upton eats ribbon-toast with cream cheese!’ Mrs. Crabstick actually preferred headcheese to cream cheese, so his declaration, though boisterous, fell on deaf ears. A purveyor of saltpeter and Plumtree’s arrowroot biscuits, especially the tinned variety, which she doubly liked, Mrs. Crabstick seldom complained about the salt. She liked what she liked. She bought cheese from the Barnstaple Maple Cheese factory situated in a small creamery overlooking the Greenock Inverclyde lochs. Overripe and blue she chose the cheeses she liked most leaving the rest to people with younger tongues and fatter change-purses.

She liked liking things like Plumtree’s biscuits and ribbon-toast. She liked freak shows and jar-lids that tighten round jars. She disliked bad freak shows and weak-kneed tightrope walkers and men who wore britches with link-socks and bowties tied in curlicues and bolos. She herself preferred culottes to Capri’s, red blouses to cable knit sweaters and bobby-socks to hoses. His grandfather liked her but from a distance, not wanting to incur her wraith which she displayed with equal parts anger and rage. He liked to espy her as she made her way along the sideways, her bobby-socks unraveling round her ankles. She liked to watch his grandfather from across the street resting his weary head against Upton Chemists storefront pillars, his chest heaving in and out like a church bellows. Word had it she read Meister Eckhart in the original German, her copy of the Laws found at a flea market just outside Gotha. Claiming the Laws made a muckery of things the Parnell brothers gave their depositions. One of the brothers had a snake-charmer's tan and the other a roustabout’s neck that bulwarked his skull. They wore charms on ropes round their waists to fend off evil and those that do it.

He espied Orofino standing cocksfoot his cap held aloft brim-side out. The first time he espied Orofino was behind Didier’s grocery after a rather ruthless cockfight in 1979. Orofino was holding a hatbox under his arm tied with ribbon. Orofino, Orofino cocksfooted Orofino he whispered to himself. The night of the cockfight he stood behind Orofino watching two cocks fight to the death, fiery cockscombs jumping in circles, talons like penknives. Cockfighting is merciless, he thought, feathers and fat and the Mexican hollering at the top of his lungs ‘kill kill scratch scratch!’ An abattoir he thought. Miserable how a man can get so riled up and red-faced. Pathetic. Shame on you shame on you!

He stared out the oilcloth window at the crescent moon. Cigarette paper. Brown. Yellow. Black lung his grandfather said. Comes from years underground. Decaying tissue; pink to black tarnish.

The beggar woman let out a wail, her hands trembling under the barrows of her go-round. They met at the Piazza del Tornado on a Sunday afternoon in July 1979. She was dressed in a gabardine jumpsuit and he in a cashmere sweater made from sheep’s wool. They spoke in Esperanto and Gaelic, neither understanding the other. Sometimes it’s the voice that doesn’t speak that speaks the loudest, a child’s whisper ‘scratch kill scratch kill!’ She lived in a world of make-believe.

He drank Mescal, the smell of wormwood burning the space between his nose and upper lip. He skirted across the blacktop, his feet, blood-blistered chattel-sticks, anchored to the corset of his ankles. ‘These are small times’ he said out loud. ‘Not a moments rest for the weary’.

He heeled it up the sideways, his black and red chequered shirt flapping unchecked. ‘Lord have mercy!’ he shouted. He took to acts of fearless contrition for the sins he’d committed and those he’d yet to commit. Sins, though inexcusable, were acts of indifference, and neither the sin nor the sinner was held responsible or the act considered praiseworthy or blameworthy. ‘God have Percy on my bowl’ he shouted attracting the attention of a woman walking her dog. ‘What’s that?’ she asked pulling on the leash. Losing his footing he fell, tiny cakes plummeting like bayoneted soldiers onto the asphalt ahead of him. Doffing his cap he sped in the opposite direction, the woman hollering after him. In his haste to make a clean getaway he stepped on the dog’s tail. ‘Look what you’ve done you scoundrel!’ hollered the woman. ‘Have you no humanity?’ ‘Algebra isn’t my forte madam’ he said. ‘Nor am I or have I ever been a member of the Crummiest Party, now shoo’.

Orofino’s great grandparents, peasants by birth, spent evenings with the other sombrero-wearing peasants at the cockfights championing a cock that rarely won. Cockfight enthusiasts with bad teeth and chin-beards pushed and elbowed trying to get a better look at the gladiator cocks. To him cockfighting was all that kept sombrero-wearing cock enthusiasts from turning on one another. With the price of soybean plummeting anything that took their minds off starvation was a welcome distraction. A rasher of bloodied-sausage and a flap of tripe, a breakfast fit for a penurious Queen.

A clochard hocked up a bleb of cows’ stomach, his jaw clenched taut as a screw-wrench. ‘E’s got the aboulia flu’ said his grandmother. ‘We best get him over on his side before he spits up a lung’. They rolled the clochard over on his side, careful not to bang his head against the railing, and loosened his threadbare clothes. ‘Cloppicare-cloppicare-cloppicare’ grunted the clochard, the pus boil on his neck weeping yellowy pus. ‘He’s got a pus boil on his neck’ said his grandmother wiping her hands on her floury apron. He helped his grandmother pull down the clochard’s trousers, which had twisted round his belly, his hipbones as sharp as a swindler’s wit. ‘Is he breathing? his grandmother asked. ‘Careful, that pus boil’s about to burst’ he shouted letting go of the clochard’s shoulders. The clochard opened his mouth and whispered ‘Cloppicare-cloppicare-cloppicare’.

‘Don’t tug at him like that’ said his grandmother, ‘you’ll rip his head off’. The clochard drew in a deep breath, held it for a second and exhaled, a clot of tripe forming a bubble on the tip of his tongue. ‘He’s going into shock by dimity!’ his grandmother said loudly, ‘pull up his head!’ He pounded on the clochard’s chest with both fists and then turned him on his side. A crow spun out from under the Seder’s awning caw cawing, its wings hotchpotch with tar and shingles. ‘Quick before it bursts!’ said his grandmother leaping up and running away, the clochard burbling like a wan calf. The clochard shook violently and then stood up. ‘He’s a wake’ said his grandmother. ‘Wake means dead’ he said to his grandmother. ‘and he’s definitely not that’. A passerby knocked into the clochard, a pocketful of coppers and face-coins tinkling to the ground. The clochard made a fork with his fingers and jabbed at the passerby’s eyes starting a scuffling that ended with both men bloodied and bruised. ‘Now he’s dead, or close to it’ said his grandmother. The clochard slowly raised himself upright and hobbled away mumbling to himself. The next time he saw him he was causing a disturbance out front of the Kingdom Hall.

He sat under a half moon sipping contentedly on a quart bottle of stout, the sky clouded over with crows and blackbirds. ‘That was a near miss’ he said. ‘Life is a gamble’. His grandfather met the harridan at the church bazaar under a generous full moon. She was arranging a table of glass figurines when the Witness, his face tighter than a pugilist’s fist, appeared to the left of her. ‘Life is a gamble’ he said, the corners of his mouth curling like a prepuce. ‘A near miss’.

She had short stumpy legs and long gangly arms. She stopped growing the day she fell down the front steps of the Church of the Perpetual Sinner, severing her spinal cord at the fifth vertebrate. The doctor diagnosed Acromesomelia Malevolencia even though she didn’t had rubella or a history of smallness in the family. Her mother figured it was a curse from God. When she turned eleven her legs bowed out so much they had to put a post between them fastened with screws. She skipped down the street her crutches striking the pavement like dud-matches, her mother hollering at her to be careful. He remembered seeing her sitting on a pillow with a picture of Nolan Falls stitched into the cushiony part.

Her mother wed a man named Brno Slocomb who owned a small hashery near the miles-end. She knew his grandfather but not his father. She spent her honeymoon in Nolan Falls backcombing lice out of her hair, the bed she shared with her husband overrun with bedbugs. She lay swaddled in the sheets like a calf in its mother’s belly, her husband’s cock creeping along the perineum of her ass-bone. They made the beast with two backs her hole moistened with spittle, her husband’s cock bent into her like a Bowie knife. She stared blankly at a wet spot on the ceiling waiting for him to finish. The innkeeper, a bicycle thief and dullard, spied on them through a hole in the wall. ‘I had a bicycle with a sparkly yellow banana seat’ said his father. ‘My granddad greased the gears with machinists’ oil and an old shirt sleeve. It had a sissy-bar’. The innkeeper’s wife made her water in a commode-pot. To the untrained eye it looked like a spittoon not a pisspot sloshing with stale yellowy urine. The innkeeper died at the hands of bare-knuckled men who fisticuffed him to a bloodied pulp.

He loosened a stone and reshoed his shoe. He shooed a quarrel of crows, a quorum of quail and a gaggle of geese. He shimmied his way down the street the loosened stone jangling. A horned fowl flew flapping overhead, its beak formed into a perfect O. He cast his eyes skyward and said ‘Pluribus excelsior’ the stone in his shoe jig jangling.

‘Begin at the begin’ said his grandmother. ‘There’s no beginning’ he said. ‘Then fetch me my umbrella’. The hole that let in sunshine also let in the rain, a wet yolky rain that never seemed to give up. His grandmother always put her ducks in a row, the kitchen windowsill an aviary of wooden teals and mallards. ‘My grandmamma had it right’ he said to himself, ‘line the ducks up and then get on with it’.

He cast his eyes skyward and said ‘ex pluribus abracadabra’ the crows scattering like mice. There were drifters in these parts who carried cudgels in scabbards and wineskins full of calf’s urine slung over their shoulders for good luck. ‘Them they’ll cut off your balls’ warned his grandfather. ‘One at a time’. Then the lights dim, one coulomb at a time, and they’re on you like a snake on an apple . ‘These are strange times’ he thought. ‘One affliction after the other’. He stood in the shadow of the Seder’s clock squinting to make out the littler hand, the one that tells time in affliction. At exactly 27½ seconds past twelve he let out a scream and retched up a stomachful of yellowy bile. ‘They’ll swipe at your belly with their cudgels’ warned his grandfather. ‘Uncoiling your intestines and cutting your bowels to pieces’.

Tonsured O’Malley stood admiring his reflection in the mirror over the sink. Exhausted from all-night vespers, he himself lighting no less than 27 candles, his thoughts were drawn to the Cartesian doubt he’d learned as an innocent years prior. ‘Our Father would not put up with such cockish shenanigans’ he whispered under his grapy breath. ‘Cocksureness has left it’s vile stench everywhere’. He remembered the soft yolks he’d had for breakfast and the holes in the sky left behind after a night of storminess. ‘What a sorry state of affairs’.

The Peacock Haberdashery sold porkpie hats with whistles. His grandfather preferred a rattan boater with an unadorned hatband, his grandmother a going-to-church sunbonnet with marigolds, dahlias and hyssops arranged in a nosegay on the top. On Sundays the pews were filled with women in church bonnets, some garlanded with feathers and others bunched with flowers. So many bonnets with embellishments and prettifications that the altar boys swooned with lightheadedness and dirty thoughts. The milliner’s wife sat in the front pew knitting her husband a winter scarf, the woman next to her fidgeting over a loose thread in her stocking.

Taqiyah panamas and Balmoral bonnets, garrison caps, wedge, rain and kepi, skullcaps and Kufi caps, Nasaq toques and Salakot berets, newsboy caps and nightcap caps, zucchettos and turbans, by the time he was twelve he’d seen them all. He knew the names for all the hats in his grandfather’s collection: fedoras, cowboy, boater, rain, bowler, porkpie and beret.

The legless man awoke to a phantom soreness in his stumps. The aches reminded him that he once had two legs, each with a foot and toes. His handcart needed a new wheel; the back one worn down to the steel rim. A tin shovel at the front added leverage and absorbed the shuddering between him and the asphalt. The legless man carried a three volume set of Russian philosophy on a shelf attached to the backend of his handcart. Embossed on the title page of each volume was an albatross circling an eagle circling a hammer and scythe, the Russian symbol for honor and vodka. He wore a porkpie with a visor to keep the sunlight in abeyance and rain off his face.

He slept on top of a piece of cardboard to keep the dampness out. Many was the night that an icy pox lay in his lower bowel. His guts were rotting from a rusty tin of sardines he found in a dumpster behind the grocers. He drank wine by the quart but the sour metallic taste remained. He remembered the spoonfuls of Castor oil his mother fed him and how it burned his throat and upset his stomach. The label on the tin read 'Cupper’s Finest Sardines, Man’s Other Best Friend'. He tried eating salted bread but the taste lingered in the back of his throat. He slept worryingly under a whorish yellow moon, a ghostly pallor bringing out the paleness in his face.

He grudgingly awoke and fetched the stick he used for fishing out old clothes from the dustbins and bit down hard hoping to assuage the niggardly pain that he awoke to each and every morning. He positioned his handcart to affect a bulwark between him and the outside world and mused on the day ahead. ‘Cupper’s are rot’ he mumbled, ‘rot and feces’. He saw the shamble leg man gambling and shimmying across the street his arms flailing like sailcloth. Empanada Del Amore strode defiantly across the street hissing and horning and making a general spectacle of herself. She tossed a bloodied butcher’s apron into the nearest dustbin and hurried up the downwash the harridan gibbering after her ‘sluttish slut whore’s belly afterbirth!’ The legless man bellied from atop his handcart ‘sluttish whore!’ A coxswains’ shuttle whirled past his head just missing his ear and caromed into the Seder’s storefront window. ‘Cupper’s… putrid fish’ he hollered at the top of his lungs. Empanada Del Amore tippled sideways, her feet marking the pavement like struck matches. ‘Never a moments rest for the incontinent’ she said loud enough to draw attention to herself.

The lamplighter lit the street lamps with a kerosene wick and ladder, his right arm steadying him from falling headlong into the pavement below. As he was a wobbly old fool the lamplighter seldom lit a lamp on the first try. He levelled his left shoulder with the lamppost and drew an imaginary plumb-line on the asphalt, his eyes straining to find the exact spot on the lamp-wick. His greatcoat was grackle with ashes, the tops of his shoes piebald with burns. Chadwick the town imbecile stood in the exact spot where the lamplighter lit his last wick and blew out the flame. ‘That’ll show him’ he grumbled. ‘The night is suppose to be dark not lit up like a Roman candle’.

He was higgledy and liked nothing more than to spend the day sniggling. His uncle Moesha taught him how to bait and shore-land squirming eels. More often than naught they caught dogfish, pulling them up hand-over-hand from the mucky bottom of the river. They cooked a shore lunch over a driftwood fire firming up the dogfish with salt and vinegar. His head was full of collusions and disruptions from exposure to gasoline fumes and an ungentle childhood. Without them he would be lost to thoughts of a less savory character.

‘Right now, this very moment, I am thinking about my own life’ he mused ‘a life spent in search of characters to fill the emptiness, the void, of my life’. All of his great uncles had raffish hair that gave them an oafish unruly appearance. Moving from one point to the other, his uncles great and not so great imagined they were majestic Lords on their way to court. The men on the other side of the family lived with the discomfiture of baldness, donning paper hats copied onto tracing-paper to hide their receding hairlines and smooth shiny crowns.

This squalor behind the bakery was startlingly off-putting. Half empty dustbins and rummaged through dumpsters left one with the feeling that hooligans had recently laid waste to the alleyway. All that thoughtlessness and unneeded disorderliness and upheaval.

‘Did I say he was old? Well I was mistaken’ said his grandfather. ‘He’s ageless and has been for as long as I can remember’. His grandfather cleared his throat and continued ‘Age tells us nothing about a person other than how useless they are. And that, my boy, is a tragedy’. He shouldered his kill-hammer and walked out onto the porch. ‘What we know doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. We’d do better to put our trust in alchemy or prayer. Did I say I was mistaken? Well perhaps I am just too old and decrepit to remember’.

The legless man had a purloined copy of the Venus de Milo hanging on the wall in his motel room. Lingeringly astraddle the sepulcher toilet he fixed his eyes on the missing arms. A Jackdaw, its wings cutting the sky like a Skinner’s knife, flew across the window. The legless man pushed his handcart out from beneath the Seder’s awning and whispered ‘Cupper’s Finest for the feign of liver’. As a farthing child he was forced to wear short-pants with cuffs that cut into his legless legs. His mother bought him short-pants made from Egyptian cloth that belled out at the bottom like flour sifters. They buttoned at the fly and had curlicue stitching on the back pockets.

He awoke to a rustling outside his motel window. He reached for his eyeglasses and walked to the door. Opening it a crack he peeked out and came face-to-face with a man wearing dark sunglasses. ‘is it raining?’ whispered the man. ‘My eyesight, as you can see, is horrible’. Not knowing how to respond he crossed his arms over his chest and took a step back. ‘Were a fire to burn it would burn brightly and were a crow to caw it would caw loudly’ he said offhandedly. ‘Bacliff’s a crone’s throw from the Bay-of-Figs’. Manly legs made from steel that could jump tall buildings in a single bound, not stumps that stank. Not legs that stumbled and made a nuisance of themselves. Fat legs with knees and meniscuses, aches and pains. Legs that curled up in a fetal position when he slept. Bowlegged legs. He would settle for white legs covered in hair like his granddad’s leg.

As it was Sunday she put on her sunbonnet with the paisley hatband. She had a church-hat she wore on Saturdays and days that had an E in them. On Mondays she went hatless. Tuesdays she slept in and preferred her toast unbuttered. Wednesdays and Tuesdays she spent in contemplation of what was to come and what came before. Saturday mornings she ate Monk’s cheese and biscuits and nursed a cup of chamomile tea. Sunbonnets and seafaring boaters and head-scarves made from whiskey-cotton or Egyptian linen. She had a fondness for Sufi scarves and handkerchiefs made of silk. Every second Friday she wore an Estonian Taqiyah securing it to her head with a red silk ribbon.

She volunteered at the Hospital for the Gravely Injured where she saw a man who’s ear had been torn off in a fistfight, a blood soaked rag wrapped round his head like a diaper. Another man had such a horrible cough that the nurse had to put him in a room all by himself. A woman with a swollen belly lay stretched out on two seats cradling her belly like a stone-child. A man with a nervous tick stared at the woman with the swollen belly. A man waiting for his wife sat in a chair by the window. A woman waiting for her husband stood next to the man waiting for his wife. She ran out of the hospital as fast as her feet would take her.

A stray lay basking in the sun, its tongue pulled back like a slingshot. A three-legged dog, its stump wormy with maggots, limped passed the basking stray. ‘Dogs sharpened their dogteeth on bones’ his grandfather told him.

A viral antibiotic, Gramicidin, is obtained from the bacterial species Bacillus Brevis purloined from dirt. Gramicidin is particularly effective against gram-positive bacteria (see Gram's stain). Because the drug is highly toxic it cannot be administered internally and so is used only on the skin as a lotion or ointment. It is used primarily in the treatment of infected surface wounds, and in eye, nose and throat infections. The American microbiologist René Dubos isolated the substance Tyrothricin in 1939 and later showed that it was composed of two substances, Gramicidin and Tyrocidine. These were the first antibiotics to be manufactured commercially. The prophet told his grandfather that in order to protect the flock from infestation and disease he needed to travel out beyond the five-mile and find the antibiotic he’d read about in Popular Mechanics. His grandfather had heard stories about dogmen that lived beyond the five-mile where the sun was so hot it blistered a man’s exposed head. These dogmen were known to kill small children and the sickly, heaving their lifeless bodies over the cliffs into the muddy river below their encampment.

His grandfather read about the American microbiologist René Dubos and his victory over infectious diseases. ‘The drug is highly toxic!’ cautioned the prophet, ‘and should be handled with the utmost care’. As prescribed by law the antibiotics had to be tested before they could be marketed for public consumption. And so they were tested on imbeciles and the homeless, many of whom died from toxic shock and respiratory failure. ‘One must first be at peace with penicillin’ the American microbiologist was heard to say, ‘then we can move forward with the manufacturing of Bacillus Brevis’.

He read about Tyrocidine in a Reader’s Digest he found in the trash behind the Waymart. Behind Stones bakery he found a rolled up copy of Popular Mechanics. He folded the magazines into an origami crane and threw it over the refraining wall between the Sears and the Waymart. His great uncle Maxus told him that the Asians ate uncooked fish with the scales still on. Mac Schreiber scolded his great uncle for badmouthing the Japanese ‘If it were for that Jap’s we’d still be listening to a Herrold’s’ he said gruffly, his bulging pockmarked nose bobbling.

Colin Wooster died in the Hospital for the Gravely Injured from Gram's stain the day after he was admitted complaining of stomach cramps. They found him in the pigeon house holding onto an advertisement for a cardboard submarine. He was wearing his best summer trousers and a paper hat. He also went by the initials W.C. When W.C. was eleven and a half years old he was diagnosed with the whooping and sent away to a sanitarium with no windows. He climbed out the skylight onto the roof where he laid out a three by seven foot patch of Astroturf and built a flowerbox out of old window-frames and straightened nails. He taught himself Japanese in between ECST sessions and learned how to fold crate-paper into origami cranes. He took to wearing woolen trousers and preferred his fish under-cooked. He knew of him from a magazine article he read in the Reader’s Digest. Popular Mechanics ran ads for X-ray glasses and how-to’s on building your own ham radio while Reader’s Digest ran ads for cardboard submarines and recipes on how to cook raw fish in its own gob.

‘These are dreadful crab cakes’ his grandfather complained. ‘now fix me something else now!’ His grandmother rarely listened to his grandfather’s ranting, turning him off like a Herrold’s. His great aunt Alma owned the first console television on her street. She never once missed her afternoon shows. When the antenna fell off the roof she sat in front of the console squinting like an onion cutter, her favorite movie stars fighting it out on a background of snow. The fishmonger prepared small, medium and large fish, some with worms and others with puff-out yellow bellies. He used a hose and funnel for siphoning fish guts and worked until the tips of his fingers bled and his eyes smarted from staring at fish all day long. He traded the gob and fish semen for butcher’s paper to wrap the fish in. Wives cooked chowder, intestine and guts simmering in a bath of cloudy sperm. The fishmonger worked until the cows came home and the roosters came to roost. He would have prepared mutton had he enough rope to hoist it over the transom. He kept a mongrel dog in a clapboard shack behind the cannery, feeding it fish bellies and lobster antennas. He took the dog for walks, yanking the ox-hair leash if the mongrel drove to the right or the left. He disliked things off-kilter and went to great pains to redress anything that might be perceived as a carom or a veer. As he was blessed with a straight back and equally straight legs, a gift from his mother’s side, he could rein in the dog if it mistook a “heel” for a “hightail” or a “come here” for a “fetch”.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Diospyros Genitalis

‘Those of you who have read De Animus have a good deal of forgetting to do’ said the prophet. The prophet cleared his gravelly throat and said ‘ex nixie animus’ the congregants looking on in awe. ‘You may begin now, if you have the courage to’.

The prophet sought out a doctor to cure his swollen legs. ‘I can perform a phlebotomy’ said the doctor. The prophet agreed, saying as long as it was done to ensure his prophesy, even bloodletting.

His mother made him wear culottes summer, winter and fall and a scarf that hid his face from chin to brow. He was legless, having fallen drunk into the path of an oncoming train, his legs sheared off below the hips. He moved about on a small board equipped with wheels, punting himself along with two wooden blocks, his stumps sleeved in a garment bag nailed into the back of the board.

Klickitat-klickitat he went his hands feverously paddling the asphalt. He drank from a bottle of oatmeal water balanced between the stumps of his legs, a lesson from another legless man with years of experience. He drank like a Mormon heretic cast asunder into the depths of hell. He took a long slow pull from the bottle, his lips encircling the fibrous glass. He knew the depths a man would go to outcross the cross so didn’t push it too far. He punted his way up the sidewalk not stopping for pedestrians or small children tethered to lampposts by impatient mothers.

He knew of other people but only in passing. He paddled his way across the blacktop pivoting his hips to lessen the imbalance. ‘My life is driving me crazy’ he murmured to himself, for even were there anyone in earshot they wouldn’t have given his protestation a second thought. Shingles and Tarpaper 4 Sale read a sign over a hardware store. ‘Tarpaper’ he thought ‘a man’s castle is his house’. When he was a child the legless man was cared for by an au pair with caramel yellow skin. She pushed him round town in a perambulator with a border on top. She spoke Esperanto and twiddled her fingers when she felt anxious, which she did most of the time. She took Dalasi morphine for pain which she kept in tinctures in her handbag.

A little sniff of dipole will do. His grandfather carried whole tunas slung over his shoulder with a hook. It wasn’t as easy as it looked. Given his lumbago it was a wonder his grandfather could carry his own weight. The men drove Pontiac coupes with automatic windows and bucket seats. The men threw fish guts into the giant smelter, the cistern-belly stretched to five centimeters, his grandfather poking the offal with a stick. He lay in the her belly, biscuits and whey-marrow, his mother cutting the crusts from the edges of his toast. She spread turnip-paste on his breakfast cakes saying it would bring out the vim and vigor in him. A stringy spat-cord, what tethers her to the bubo of his navel.

His mother carried low. She grunted and moaned, her eyes trained on the Douala’s forehead. ‘Stop it’ she demanded. ‘this is most annoying!’ She carried low, the turret of her pelvis pressed against the railing of the bed. ‘Such a shameless hussy’ she moaned. He corseted up the down, his grandmamma’s stern warning ever-present in his thoughts ‘there’ll be hell to pay my boy…more than a soul can cash and carry’.

Everything, the bluest sky and the greenest ocean, appeared in the mirror of her eyes. The eyes are not the mirror of the soul, as she had been told, but the lead backing. She thought of her father’s hands and a child’s thumbprint in a clump of soft mud. She weighed her thoughts taking care not to weigh them too much lest she faint. He mother fainted often, her apron snagging table legs and curtain rods. A child’s thumbprint in a galumph of mud. ‘Such a shameless hussy’ she moaned. The soul is the mirror of the eyes. His mother’s thoughts spun and spun weaving themselves into a latticework of agony. Lambswool blankets and her mother’s bee-bitten lips ‘shameless hussy am I’.

His grandfather made his peace with God. The rector’s assistants crossed himself and stood astride the altar picking a tooth. ‘Alms for the poor’ shouted a beggar-woman. ‘Shut your mouth’ hissed the rector’s assistant. She squatted on the steps of the church wrapped in Salvation Army blankets. ‘I am a person too’. He turned out the pockets of the priest’s surplice feeling for loose change, and finding none hung it in the sacristy closet. ‘My feet are numb’. Hearing the beggar-woman’s plea his grandfather unbowed his knees and exited the church. ‘Cunts!’ yelled the beggar-woman piquantly. ‘May you rot in hell! Every last one of you!’ His grandfather hurried to catch the tram, the sky overhead threatening rain. His granddad used to catch the very same tram every morning at seven o’clock sharp, only once missing it when his grandfather fell ill and he felt duty bound to stay home and care for her. Bendix Schönflies was the name of the trolley driver whom his grandfather said a cheery hello to each morning when he boarded the tram, smiling broadly as he made his way down the aisle to his seat in the middle. Molasses biscuits, his grandmother made them fresh each morning before his granddad’s seven o’clock tram. She wrapped them in wax-paper, folding the edges into envelopes and placed them in his granddad’s lunchbox with an apple. Next to them she placed a bottle of goat’s milk and a linen napkin.

His granddad carried a calculator on his belt that he used to weigh the cost ratio of cod to haddock. Taking into consideration the batter, which weighed less than the fish, he arrived at 27½. He set foot in the church only once, on the occasion of his niece’s christening, a commodious affair attended by his sister, two brothers and the priest.

His grandfather told him that ‘Dogs live outside the world of humans’ and ‘the dog-world is a world of sniffing and scratching’. The Slav butcher had a Florentine recipe for dog meat: a cube of Oyo and 27 ½ cups of warmish milk. The meat was marinated overnight in the milk and Oyo, skillet-fired and then left to simmer overnight a second time. He served it with smoked Gouda on a bed of wild rice. He cleaned his teeth with chicken bones, meniscus’ his grandmother said.

A fat moon sat low in the morning sky, the horizon overburdened with rain clouds and gulls. Some mornings the moon sat so low it resembled a crouching frog, sometimes a yellow disc and sometimes simply a moon. The northernmost star twinkled next to a daystar in the branches of a willow tree. ‘The star that corrupts all the other stars’ his grandmother said. ‘a few tawdry souls too’. (And souls made from morphine and aftershave). His grandmother made Doll pastries with extra icing sugar and almonds. The proof is in the pudding, Plumtree’s extra with lemon sauce and a hint of cinnamon. Before the accidental drowning his grandmother made pudding every Friday without fail; the drowning making the preparation more laborious. Barrel of Bass, owned and operated by the Ansell Brothers, sold Healy inkerasers a dime a half-dozen. His father boasted that he could out-eat anyone and would prove it a the Feast of Our Lady of the Mount. Those in the know knew that Phil Cockerel, known for his commodious appetite, would be in attendance and would most probably out-eat his father by a mackerel and a tongue.

The Westmoreland Brothers, owners of a Daguerreotyping shop and renowned for their own voracious hunger, were nowhere to be seen that day. Later it was learned that all three spent the day sniggling, two of the brothers falling head over heel into the water. His grandmother had bunions that splayed her toes like windblown branches.

When not softening bunions and applying plasters the podiatrist examined whores for bedbugs and headlice. In return for his prophylactic services he was given a girl on the house to do with as he pleased. His grandfather believed in the imbecilization of the masses, which he maintained was being carried out by the commodiously rich and parasitic. ‘Mark my words, the more television you watch the more stupid you’ll become… and imbeciles, my boy, don’t fare well in a machine world’. His grandfather believed that sooner or later the world would break in two, separating the imbecilic from the smart-alecky.

He drank black molasses Porter, his fellow imbibers slapping him amiably on the back, his grandfather replying with a frothy smile. ‘Imbeciles’ laughed his grandfather. ‘Soon they’ll see that all that reading was for naught’. He liked mincemeat pies and porkpie hats. His Brigham billowing his grandfather sat on the front stoop watching the world pass by. Penny seeds he called them, the black hirsute rolls running with them. Saint Albert and the Corrupter Sims, those two liked crab cakes and a nip of Paddy’s Bold. The proofing is in the mincemeat, his grandmother would say.

He dreamt he was dreaming, his eyes inside out, staring at a blanched spot on the ceiling. Dreams are for the restless, his grandmother said, ABEYANCE CULPA. Saint Albert and the Corrupter Sims ate crab cakes until their stomachs burst, Sims leading the way with a comity hiccup. ‘Thinking takes far too much energy’ he thought. ‘and the headaches are merciless’. ‘Give me a strong cup of bitters and one of grandmamma’s poppy seed cakes’. ‘What about piggly-wigglies?’ Dreams are the things that CAKES are made of you fool!

Weakfish in molasses, his granddad verily rarely missed a chance to pilfer a pre-prandial snoot. ‘So little time and so few bowls’.

As he sat eating his boiled meat sandwich waiting for his father he watched men in Fedoras and bowlers, panamas and sou'westers, hats that look like hats but on further inspection were really grapefruits cut in half, enter and leave the off-hour. A roundly thickset man with a melancholic smile disguised under a moustache, his ferry captain’s cap tottering, reached out his hand and rubbed the top of his head, saying as he did ‘that’s a good boy, I’m sure your da’ll be out soon’. Spy’s hats and Belizean cowboy hats, hats made from hemp and spun wool that sat like dishrags on scullery maid’s heads. Corsair commander’s hats with gold piping and chevrons, Bishop’s Miters coopered with frankincense and mums, snake-charmer’s hats and hats fashioned from elephant fronds and Moses reeds. He watched men with little regard for children and wife, Job and God, make their way in and out of the off-hour, some stumbling drunk, others fishing for coins in the bottoms of threadbare pockets, and coming up with nothing sang offensive songs bent on making fun of the less-fortunate and downtrodden. With this many hats to choose from his father always chose a simple boater with a silver thread merge between the brim and hatband. It was not hard to identify his father coming out of the off-hour, as his silver-threaded boater, now crumpled and at a tilt on his head, smelled of spiced rum and other men’s laughter.

He was raised by traveling circus clowns. Jocose and Bovina traveled with the Herschel Liege traveling circus, stopping in small towns and hamlets, cities and conurbations, anywhere where they were permitted to set up their tents and livery the animals. He was conceived after a night of debauchery, Jocose moaning, her clown’s nose splayed across her cheekbones, Bovina going-off inside her like a Roman Candle, her thighs thumping against the cabana walls. The hastily rolled prophylactic burst off the end of his penis hitting the roof with such force that it shook the cabana like a swift boot, the window frame clapping against the door jamb like castanets. He was spit out like a rotten oyster, a boil the size of a grapefruit on the tip of his nose. Having managed to wrench him free with a speculum the doctor noticed that he had two arms, ten fingers, two eyes, one brown one blue, and no legs to speak of. His father, rising from his barstool exclaimed ‘for the love of God what have we done?’

As legs are the stays that keep a body from topple over their son’s body was in constant topple. He caromed and swayed, listing like a broken metronome. What balance he had went to staving off obstacles and impediments which were many. His parents, figuring that a clown’s nose might prevent their son from toppling over, rigged one from ear to ear tying it at the base of his head with a reef-knot. His parents shunted him around the circus grounds in a wheelbarrow, his father pushing, his mother making sure his head didn’t bang up against the sides. He was a queer sight, arms flailing, his nose redder than the reddest tomato. Jocose and Bovina rented a small cabana with a makeshift portico and awning; they owned three lawn-chairs and a tree trunk fashioned into a coffee table.

They ate from the circus garbage, spoiled cottage hams and wieners, some so shriveled they looked like amputated toes, crusts of dry bread and things rotten but not so rotten that they weren’t edible. His grandfather knew of the circus family but only in passing, not giving them a second thought. The second time he saw them they were performing under the big-top across from the Waymart next to the aqueduct. Jocose and Bovina were running in circles, they’re hair combed back into ducktails. They pretended they were two cock’s fighting, backs ridged, they’re feet kicking up clouds of circus dirt. Their son sat astride his wheelbarrow suckling the end of a rubber glove his mother had puckered into a nipple.

His parents never read the Cat in the Hat to him or anything that made animals into humans. He preferred Popular Mechanics and National Geographic. He read folios and book chapters devoted to tightrope walking and circusry, how-to books and anything remotely concerned with weighs and balances. He read articles on scouting and editorials that championed the use of sulfas for trench-foot. He liked orange soda and Black Cat gum. He read for such long stretches that his eyes crossed in on themselves, his vision doubled and redoubled. His sight would reappear but only after he’d force himself to squint 27½ times without stopping. He knew a man whose eyes were so milky with cataracts that he had to wear a cardboard cutout over his face. When he took off the cardboard cutout to wipe the sweat from his brow he saw that his eyes were blanched with white dots, some no bigger than the head of a pin. He used a cane with a silver hogshead cap that he twiddled between his forefinger and thumb. He knew a woman with a stonemason’s jaw that clacked when she ate.

He awakened to a fiery yellow sun, its brilliance obliging him to squint like a Chinaman. Things getter hotter the hotter things get. On miserably hot days he headed for the coolness of the museum where he would stare for hours at a painting of Christ weeping next to a woodcut of the Last Supper. He would bring with him a ploughman’s lunch, two hard boiled eggs, three pickled onions and a persimmon (Diospyros Genitalis). He would sit with his left leg hooked round his right, take a small bite of egg and onion and a mouthful of persimmon. He ate in this manner until his ploughman’s lunch was finished

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Appalachian Banjo

His grandfather rolled Zigzag and Chum. He sucked on Popeye cigarettes putting the lit end in his mouth. He met a deaf mute at the church bazaar on a warm June night, the stars glittering like broken crystal. She was dressed in a rose skirt and sandals. She registered sounds through the vibrations they made. Everything was corporeal, a feeling.

The deaf mute had a scullery maid’s aplomb for rearranging sock drawers and linen hampers, which she did quietly and with steadied poise. She scrubbed other people’s floors with her bare hands and a bishopric-lye she kept in a tin underneath her bed. She’d rather they smile or smell the lilac of her neck, a place seldom touched by hands other than her own, than pay her. Her days were divided between scullery-work and stitching frayed pant’s bottoms and wayward coat-sleeves. She used a bone-thimble and a seven-gage sewing needle and thread so thick you could truss a chicken with it.

The florist made beautiful nosegays for the deaf mute carefully choosing each flower and arranging them into exquisite bouquets: Windflowers and Daffodils, Whortleberry and Venus’s Looking-glass, Toad-flax and Teasel, Sweet William and Silver-weed, Persian Candy-tuft and Narcissus, Mandrake and yellow Madder, Larkspur and Ladies’ Bedstraw, Jonquils and Indian cane, Hornbeam and Hawthorn, Goosefoot and Goats-rue, Foxglove and Dodder, Date-plum and Cinquefoil, Chaste-tree and Bugloss, Bladder-senna and Black thorn, Arum and Amaranth. He wove them together with the greatest care never once mislaying a flower. She like fruit flans, peach or currant apricot and anything that tasted like anis.

He was taught how to play checkers by a Quaker with hairy arms and a coughing laugh. The Quaker offered him tiny cupcakes with frosting. He ate anything that was put in front of him not wanting to appear ungrateful. His great grandfather and the Quaker delivered sermons to the lost and forsaken, the Quaker coughing and laughing all the way through. Neither his great grandfather or the laughing coughing Quaker gave a damn about the lost and forsaken; they did as they were told not once questioning their callings.

He met Delaney at the Lutheran crab fry on a sunshiny August day. Delaney sat over a table cracking crab shells with a nutcracker he carried in a scabbard on his belt. He espied him from a distance as he was in no mood for pleasantries. Once Delaney had you in his sights he would chatter on, the insufferable fool, and he did not suffer fools lightly. Most of the crab-eaters were either recumbent or in a state of decumbency, few were there who sat up straight or left their elbows off the table. Two congregants of the Lutheran church sat by themselves cracking crab shells. ‘This is strangely disturbing’ said the one to the other. ‘all these crabs and not a shell insight.’ ‘Don’t you mean in sight?’ said the other.

His grandfather smoked inhaling and exhaling at the same time. He tamped bungholes with a wooden mallet swung from the top of his shoulder, stopping only to readjust the spigot with the heel of his hand. His grandmother rode on a cushion that smelled of oxen sweat, the horses breaking into a gallop. The anvil-man hammered tacks into braided hair just big enough to slip through a bridle. The first time he saw her she was reading the National Geographic. He thought this rather odd, as most people simply read the captions under the photos.

‘The world is all there is’ his grandfather said. ‘vectoring nonsense’. ‘And the smell’ said his grandmother. ‘the bloody smell!’

When he was a boy his grandfather ate honey sandwiches with the crusts removed. He ate delicately taking small bites. His mother made him honey sandwiches with a butter knife she kept in a kitchen drawer next to the refrigerator. She spread the butter first then unspooled the honey with the end of a spoon. Sometimes his mother bought cone honey with bees’ stingers and twigs in it. ‘Dungarvan honey is the worst’ he’d complain to his mother. ‘it’s too sweet’.

‘Out of my way you!’ shouted his grandfather striding up the street on his way to the Kingdom Hall. A parade of people walking in single file made their way past his grandfather, his anger itching like poison ivy. ‘Out of my way I said!’ The single file broke down the middle, some pitching to the east others to the west, his grandfather making his way up the centre. ‘That’s more like it’ he grumbled, ‘show some respect for the old man’.

His grandfather wore his belt round his waist like a coil of intestine. He wouldn’t allow the sun in through the bedroom window until he’d said his morning prayers. He asked his grandmother if they ate Oats for breakfast, his grandmamma replying ‘My child you ask such stupid questions’.

His grandmother cut toast into fingers and pushed them into the porridge with the held end of a spoon. Everything tasted better once his grandmamma had touched it. ‘This is no life for a man’ muttered his grandmother. His grandmother’s cataracts were gray not whitish like most peoples’.

The doctor was concerned that the two halves of his skull might never join. A flap of skin was obstructing the two sides from coming together ‘and if it doesn’t fix itself the boy will have a soft spot on the top of his head’. ‘Can’t you do something?’ pleaded his mother. ‘Your son’s fate is in God’s hands not mine’ said the doctor matter-of-factly. ‘anyhow, madam, we’re not in the business of miracles’.

The doctor’s cure for stuttering was to stuff her mouth with cotton batten and use her tongue as a tiller. The elisions continued, bits of cotton finding their way into her stomach. Cow’s give more milk during a quarter moon his great uncle said. When his great aunt told him that this was as queer as a Quaker nickel his face went as sour as lemon biscuits. She told him many queer things but he never gave them much thought. She felt small when her grandmother looked at her and big when her father smiled. She emptied the commode-pot out the back veranda, tossing the night’s emictions onto the dewy grass. His great aunt’s life was unbending, the bane of being a Quaker’s daughter. Blood sickness and anemia, common to the Mormon calling, were uncommon in a Quaker home. The Mormon’s spurned medical intervention seeing it as a sectarian evil created by man. His great aunt refused to let his mother play with the Mormon children. One of the Mormon children died from blanching anemia, the prophet denying her a blood transfusion.

His grandmother ironed creases into his grandfather’s pants using a vinegar bottle filled with starch and a flatiron she heated on top of the stove. She rubbed goose fat into his trousers to keep the crease from coming out. He never did get the gist of the iron. He thought it a waste of time as his grandfather’s work made everything wrinkly, and besides, his poor grandmother’s back ached afterwards.

His grandmother, her hands covered in flour and half-risen yeast, larded pies with enough butter to choke an ox. She never once stopped to think that her pies might stiffen rickets in her children’s bowed legs. On Sunday evenings her grandfather played music with the men at the lodge, strumming his psaltery like a Appalachian banjo. His mother’s mother made Christmas pudding in a Chockfull of Nuts coffee tin. She pealed the label off with a paring knife and relabeled it CP for Christmas pudding. She boiled the eggs, flour, raisins and currants over low heat, adding the Brandy after it had simmered. His grandfather always stole a bowlful the day before Christmas. He added an extra handful of cloves which his grandmother frowned upon but pretended she hadn’t noticed. The year he was born there was no spectacular meteor shower like the year his brother was born. He remembered his mother’s disenchanted face. He remembered the doctor clearing his throat then the bright lights and the smell of ether. The following year there was a comet so bright and dazzling that it filled the night sky with heavenliness. The doctor told his mother to push, his tiny mucousy head crowning, his mother’s face labored with exhaustion.

Some people believe in a single god others in a multiplicity of gods, each with its own divinity, and some believe in nothing. His grandfather fell somewhere between the god of nothing and the many, and when he worried about death, which he did from time to time, he lifted himself into the first camp, the camp of one god, the god of transcendence and immortality. This god was a fearless god, a god of magic and alchemy, and simply knowing this made him feel less ill at ease and frightened. Sleep is like the devil, said his grandmother, always lurking in the dark. His grandmother said strange things that caused his grandfather no end of discommode. When she spoke in a soft whisper it always came out like a scream.

The day he was born it rained so hard the sky almost vanished. The sky was so blue and deep that you couldn’t see to the bottom. That day his grandmother made Mormon pickles canning them in Mason jars with flimsy rubber stoppers and screw-tops that never quiet screwed tight. The brine was so murky it reminded him of bull’s semen or curdled milk. She used a double-boiler with a tinfoil lid and an oversized wooden spoon that had teeth-marks in it. The smell of cucumbers and his grandmother’s fingers pitching the spoon up against the side of the double-boiler left an indelible impression on him. The day he was born the house smelled like Mormon pickles and the washing solution his grandmother used to sterilize the pickling jars.

When she was fed up with his ne'er-do-welling she would say ‘You’re sure to put me in an early grave’. He poached a handfuls of pickles and slid like a rattle out the back door. ‘You’re mule headed just like your grandfather’ she said.

Molasses, that’s what she like on her toast. Her mother told her that it would make her lips fuller and stop the trembling in her legs. It never did, but she put it on her toast just the same. She thought it funny that wives’ tales are told by silly men not wives. Wives’ tales are like fairy tales, she thought, a troubled beginning and a happy ending. All she saw was the troubled beginning never reading through to the happy ending.

The cobbler fixed old broken-down shoes and boots. He spoke in grunts and seldom wore the same soft-soled shoes twice. He knew of the cobbler but had never made his formal acquaintance. He couldn’t afford his services so had very little cause to. He stuffed crumpled newspaper in the toes of his boots sidestepping the need for professional shoeing.

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"Poetry is the short-circuiting of meaning between words, the impetuous regeneration of primordial myth". Bruno Schulz

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