Sunday, August 23, 2009

Schleswig's Bugleweed Paregoric

His uncle made potions and salves from the desiccated weeds and grass, mixing the brew with agarics and tonic water. When Schleswig was twelve he stole a bottle of bugleweed paregoric (tinctura opii camphorata) from his uncle’s desk drawer, heralding the beginning of his addiction to morphine and carpenter’s glue. Before bed each night his uncle Rex plants a watery-mouthed kiss on his wife’s melony rump. Schleswig took to covering his ears every time his uncle spoke, not wanting to be privy to his uncle’s sexual proclivities. Sometimes a mild paregoric helped deafen his uncle’s voice, other times a stiff draft of bugleweed tonic topped off with a menthol cigarette. ‘a melony rump’ Schleswig whispered to himself, ‘I’d give up breathing to get a look at that’. Schleswig fell in love with Maria Puglia, a textile worker from Foggia. Maria Puglia and Schleswig were lovers for three years, their tryst coming to an end when Ms. Puglia cheated on Schleswig with a lamplighter from Tuxtla called Gutierrez Chiapas Jr. After a series of unhappy relationships, one tryst ending with Schleswig hightailing it after his lover put a contract out on his head, Schleswig found refuge and safety in the town where he now works in the sanatorium emptying stool-buckets, a job he has held for the past 2½ years, almost.

Schleswig’s mother Peggy attended the Marchmont School For Girls. In her senior year she wed a delivery man for the Crompton Linen Co., one Albert Schleswig. The following year she gave birth to a baby boy. As his parents couldn’t agree on a first name, Peggy wanting ‘Hilbert’, Albert ‘Hulbert’, they settled on Schleswig, ‘Schley’ for short. Schleswig’s great granddad was a Midshipman on the freighter Elijah Stubb. Gabriel Bunger, the freighter’s captain, keelhauled whomever disrespected his commission. Being a cheek and short-tempered salt, 'Schley’s' granddad many a time found himself scraping the ship’s hull, his disrepute legendary among seafaring men. Vicente was in charge of keelhauling, a family tradition handed down from his great-great great granddad to his great-great granddad and so on, Vicente the latest in a long line of keelhauling seafarers.

…there are no Schleswigs, no midshipmen, no keelhaulers…! The Bunger School For Girls, 2727 Stubb’s Ave., a crow’s throw from Crompton’s gym, muscle-bound roughnecks putting the boots to poor old Elijah. …stomp stomp, don’t Lethem up boys, let’s keelhaul the fucker… heave ho even as she goes… Sternshipman said it’ll be more rigorous if we ketch ‘em over the bow, boys…


He dreams that he is in a one room schoolhouse watching Ms. Hicks write into’s and out of’s in yellow chalk on the chalkboard. He awakens, shakes the sleep from his head and jumps headfirst out the window, landing feetfirst onto the asphalt in front of the Church of the Perpetual Sinner. Shaking his head a second time he mounts the steps and walks into the church, the rector’s assistant sitting in the second to last pew. Clearing his throat the rector’s assistant turns and whispers ‘the truth is not in your head… when will you ever learn?’

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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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