Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Conurbation

His mother played pinochle with the gasfitter’s son; never once winning a hand. His da threw craps with the stevedores; rolling snake-eyes seven times out of eleven. His grandmamma tatted doilies with a whalebone hook, weighing her Gin in the barrows of her skirt, a look of deepest absorption on her hag-wearied face. His granddad spent Sunday afternoons sloughing the pump out back of the Hogshead, the proprietor promising him a slow pint and a package of saltine crisps, the stink of cabbage thickening the nighttime air, the unclipped hairs in his nose billeted with snot. He was born on the butcher’s block in the summer kitchen, the tiny hairs on his skull dewy with placental wash, the doctor stinking of saltine crisps and washtub Gin. His grandmother held the bottom half, his da the top, his mother squirming like an eel. His cone-shaped head was the first part of him to appear, the doctor callipering his skull with his grandmother’s corn tongs, then his shoulders, the umbilical cord twisted round his throat, his mamma screaming bloody murder. The doctor said he hadn’t delivered such a bad-tempered baby since he was held at gunpoint by the littlest dogman, his currish mother giving birth to a hirsute baby with gigantic ears and the remnants of a caudal tail.

The doctor delivered most of the children of the conurbation; many of whom grew impatient with life inside the tenements, leaving to find fame and fortune beyond the five-mile, only to return, cap in hand, to a city overrun with swindlers and cheats, a city on the verge of ruin and despoilment, where dogmen roamed the streets like packs of wolves and children begged for scraps under a yellow sky, their noses billeted with snot. The day the alms man was born his father swaddled him in burlap, loaded him into the back of his mule cart, and sent it caroming over the crags into the aqueduct.

The dream tells him little other than he is doomed to an unimpeachable dullness; a life of sorrow and debt. The dream: he is at home minding his own baseness, doing whatever the baseless do to wile away the time, when his older brother arrives on the doorstep, a squad of rowdies in tow. We want barbecued ribs! bellows one of the rowdies, what little hair he has on his head standing on end. Smothered in sauce! bellows a second. But how are we to spit them? asks a third. Why not use your brother? says a fourth. Yes, your brother says the second. We could push coat hangers through his shoulders. They’d make a fine spit. Fighting off the rowdies as best he could, threatening to stab his brother with a kitchen knife, he is overpowered by the rib-thirsty mob. While two rowdies hold him, the second and third pierce his shoulders with straightened coat hangers, his brother, a sibling grin on his bewhiskered face, watching on. They suspend him a pit of glowing coals, his arms and legs bound with basketball mesh, prodding and pushing him over the coals like a skewered pig, the hiss and sizzle of roasting flesh rivaling the heathenry of the Inquisition.

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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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