Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sauerwald’s Father

Or perhaps her name was Bolesław or Chwat. She worked in the patients’ canteen where Sauerwald made pop-siècle placemats and matchstick tugboats. She wore fleece-lined slippers and left nary a scuff mark or sound when she scurried round the infirmary. Or perhaps she did and no one was the worse for it. The Marmoreal Asylum where Sauerwald made pop-siècle placemats and matchstick tugboats and Celina ran the patients’ canteen was a pleasant place, an oasis in the eye of a stormy world. Across the street from the Marmoreal Asylum sits the Montessori Asylum, home to halfwits and dullards. Built by Masons and Quakers after the big war, the Montessori Asylum is home to Sauerwald’s father and great uncle, both men convicted of bestiality and ballot box tampering. The owner of the Vincennes Glove Co., an unpleasant man with boiled corn eyes battling the tertiary stage of syphilis, purchased the property across the street from the Montessori Asylum where word had it he was going to construct an amusement park complete with a rollercoaster and cotton candy machine.

Over his bed scrawled in dirty white chalk is a portion of his favorite book, “From the street I can hear the unpleasant screams of little boys. I lie there dreaming up tortures for them. Most of all I like the idea of afflicting them with tetanus so that they’d suddenly stop moving. Their parents drag them back to their respective homes. They lie in their little beds and can’t eat, because their mouths don’t open. They are nourished artificially. After a week the tetanus goes away, but the children are so weak that they still have to be confined to their beds for the whole month more. Then, bit by bit, they begin to recover, but I afflict them with a second bout of tetanus and they all expire”. (Daniil Kharms, Today I Wrote Nothing) He reads and rereads the lines every day upon rising and before falling asleep, the words taking on a life of their own, his thoughts taking leave of his body for the time it takes to reread and read it.

His father is a sickly old man, yes, but sickly well versed in ancient dialects and chalky lines. The first time the man in the hat met Sauerwald’s father was on a lime sunny day in July, the viola legs of crickets making an awful high-pitched din, Sauerwald’s father scratching the stubble on his chin with the tines of a fork. The second time he met him was on a Saturday afternoon behind the aqueduct, Sauerwald’s father rubbing his legs together like a cricket, the stubble on his face coarser than cracked pepper. The third and fourth times he was to meet him he forgot, Sauerwald’s father taking this as a sign that he was in fact a cricket and not a sickly old man. The Society for Moral Hygiene closed down the Montessori Asylum on a Thursday, the patients’ canteen closing the following Saturday.

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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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