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.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Not I


She knew of two such friars who were excommunicated for their sexual assignations. Both rode bicycles with tassels on the handle grips, their smocks clipping in the spokes. Brother Von Romani worked in the monastery creamery where his job was to separate the curds from whey. He ladled the cheese, a marmalade of fermenting milk and hardened cream, guarantying a good ratio of whey to curd. The friar in charge of the creamery, Brother Ripoll, swaddled the cheese in hemp and sent the rounds by oxcart to market a few miles down the mountain. The friars made old cheddar, staying clear of complex cheeses as the oxcart could only accommodate light cheeses, anything heavier or more complex would have busted the axel caroming the oxcart into a frenzied cartwheel. At the market one could buy a variety of local and foreign cheeses:

Blue, Roquefort, Camembert, Swiss, cheddar, nippy, sharp, Brie, Oka, Gouda (smoked and rawboned, rind and paraffin), Granston Blue (Llangloffan), Landsker Blue, Soft Blue (St. Florence), Gorau Glas (Quirt), Caws Preseli (Pantmawr), Perl Wen (Caws Cenarth), Cheddars and Cheddar type - Aeron Valley, ACC Llandyrnog, Hufenfa De Arfon, Llangloffan, Llanboidy, Cilowen Organic, Lancych (Caws Cenarth), Merlin, Little Acorn, Caws Celtica, Caerffili, Caws Cenarth, Caws Nantybwla, Caerfai, Teifi, Castle Dairies, Celtic Promise (Teifi), Saval (Teifi), Caws Cerwyn (Pantmawr), St. David's (Abergavenny), Dansco Mozzarella, Teifi range, Caws Cenarth, Cheez Whiz, Egyptian Sardo, Testouri, Caravane (camel milk), Bokmakiri, South African Kwaito, Japanese Sakura, Palestinian Ackawi, Basket cheese, Labneh, Jameed, Jibneh Arabieh, Bergkäse, Lüneberg, Tyrolean grey cheese (or Grau Käse), Brusselse Kaas, (Brussels, cow’s milk), Remedou cheese (Belgian cow's milk), Kaškaval or Kashkaval (Bulgarian and Macedonian), Olomoucké (Czech),Bavaria blu, Anthotyros (Greek), Slovak salty Liptauer, Italian Bocconcini, Pljevlja (Serbian Cyrillic: Edam (Edammer), Jarlsberg, Polish Bryndza, Brazilian Requeijão, Romanian, Russian Tvorog, Serbian Caciocavallo, Slovakian Oscypek, Spanish Garrotxa, Swedish Blå Gotland, Swiss Sbrinz, Schabziger, Quebecois Bleu Bénédictin, Nova Scotia Dragons Breath, Le Riopelle de l'Isle, Mexican Añejo, Farmer cheese, Tillamook Cheddar and Venezuelan Queso Palmita.

Dr. O. Pfister oversaw the ward in the Overnight Asylum where his uncle lived. He suggested ECT and diabetic shock claiming that they were scientifically proven to encumber the progression of dementia and foul thinking. Over the door to Ward 7, the ward where his uncle lived out his last days mad as a coot, was a sign that read: “How terrible to become caught up in the great machinery of the world’s expectations, simply because we have not exercised the right to have a personality!” (Carl Jacob Christoph Burckhardt).

A Druid bore-cart sped past, a monk dressed in a surplice and leather toe-sandals pulling hard on the reins, the horses snorting and faying, toppling over the friar’s oxcart sending wheels of ripe cheese into the air. The Druids produced a low-grade Quebecois Bleu Bénédictin that smelt like boiled rags. They lived in a stone creamery on the other side of the mountain and spoke a Gaelic dialect that was consonant and guttural. The head Druid, a monk by the name of Smith, oversaw the cheese production making sure it had that overripe necrotic saltiness to it. There was talk among the cheese-makers that the Druids used bone-clips and some slippery substance that resembled oil of castor. The friar’s turned their noses up at the Druids, finding they’re alchemy highly suspect; and besides they’re bicycles were rusty, the tires threadbare and worn through to the rims.

His uncle wore a hat with a feathered hatband that he twisted at the front to form a bow and tassel. He’d seen the Druids do the same thing but with a four-cornered hat. The Druids’ hats also bore an insignia that resembled a Papal thumb. His uncle had seen this once before in a movie where a monk bent over a dying man, his four-cornered hat tipping sideways and falling onto the dead man’s chest, the crowd of onlookers wailing, one obese woman with a furriers hat weeping uncontrollable, her face flush with tears. To his eye there appeared to be a society of capped men, some in bowlers and berets, others in fedoras and boaters with numbered cards in the hatbands. The Druids stuck out, as they’re hats were made from a poor quality felt and seldom fit properly. Among the Druids blood boils and an unassailable itching were common complaints, although dandruff, a common affliction among the friars, had yet to affect the Druids, they were hard of hearing and prone to eczema while the friars were not. The Eleatics lived in a small village designed and built on modal logic and mathematics. Unlike the Druids, whom they considered lapsed, they wore shirred robes, the logicians permitted a belt or a length of rope.

A pattering rain soughed his cutout cardboard mat frizzing what little hair he had left on his head. A clap of thunder brokered his thoughts, casting him into a world of elfin ears and crooked smiles. He had vague memories of his brother’s firemen’s wagon and a man who wore a monocle. The rain and thunder called to mind a time when he climbed trees and scaled bridges made from logs and mud. The wicked witch’s stockings and the cowardly lion and his brother’s wagon stowed in the woolshed at the back of the house where the garden that never grew sat in defiance of reason and common sense. Rain brought out memories best left untouched, memories hidden away from consciousness.

The dog slept in the woolshed next to his brother’s firemen’s wagon. It ate bones and rawhide toys and grass. His brother pulled the dog around in his firemen’s wagon saying to anyone who would listen ‘my dog has no fleas.’ Most people simply ignored him, but some, those with small children in tow, hurrying passed, they’re children peeing and snorting like pigs.

When he told his friends about the old man next door they broke out in a chorus of laughter, one of the boys saying ‘Turtles carry diseases… a boy in middle school died after touching one’. ‘And anyhow’ said a second boy ‘Its old news’. ‘Does your dog eat its own feces?’ asked a third boy cleaning his eyeglasses with his shirtsleeve. ‘Yes and others too’ replied the second boy trying not to laugh. ‘We had a Beowulf’ said a fourth boy ‘with such long fur you couldn’t see its eyes’. ‘Our dog was run over by a car’ said a boy standing at the back. ‘it’s body curled up like a fist’. ‘Did you eat it?’ asked the second boy.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Kingdom Hall

She slept in a daybed, which to the untrained eye could be mistaken for seabed, beneath a photograph of her grandfather. She had not read Neruda who she said was altogether overrated. Her younger brother Rudy died from measles, the middle one, Leopold, from rubella. Left unconcernedly a cigarette smolder into the ashtray. Her grandfather’s devotion to the scriptures made him unbearably faithful. Never did he lay a hand on her other than to exercise the demon that lived in her belly. Sundays and Wednesdays he prayed at the Kingdom Hall, the prophet encouraging him to pledge half his weekly pay packet to Jehovah. Like his father before him her grandfather never wore his hat to the Kingdom Hall. Hats, which the prophet frowned upon, were allowed only when it rained or a man’s baldness made him uneasy around others. Her grandfather had a closetful of hats that he kept for special occasions like funerals and weddings.

Her mother made a starch bottle out of a cream jug. She ironed her grandfather’s shirts and handkerchiefs. She claimed to have met Joseph Brodsky at the church bazaar, the Nobel poet spreading rumors about God and Stalin. He traveled abroad with a paraplegic, the two sharing the same motel room. When Brodsky wasn’t giving a lecture he drank abundantly. Her grandfather made her stand for hours balancing the Quaker Bible on her head. He said it would stop her from wetting the bed.

‘When I was a boy I was tortured by the NKVD’ said Brodsky. ‘My mother beat me within an inch of my life’ said an imbecile who happened by. ‘…with a stick’. ‘They made us eat feces’ said Brodsky. ‘Oh dear’ said the imbecile. ‘My mother was raped by a Stalinist’ added Brodsky. ‘And mine a blind mute’ said the imbecile. ‘…long before she realized he was dead’. ‘Mine dated two dead men, one more dead than the other’. ‘The days of the Katorga are long over’ said the imbecile. ‘…get over it man’.

A jaundice moon hung in the sky like a whore’s belly. The bricklayer Feuerman and the journeyman Culver returning home from a day’s work stopped at the local inn to share a pint of Stout. ‘The moon brings out the wolf in me’ said Feuerman. ‘And I’, said the journeyman Culver, ‘see no end to this’. ‘Nor I’ said the bricklayer Feuerman. ‘The sky is falling’ said the bricklayer Feuerman. ‘So it is’ said the journeyman Culver. ‘So it is’.

Bone on fat her thighs sung, her hipbones trucking the fall of her dress. She never wore skirts that drew attention to her waist. He dreamt of the soft talc of her skin, the womanliness of women. He fantasized about her teeth, incisors and bicuspids, those hard to reach molars.

His father told him that he would amount to nothing and even if he did he still wouldn’t be proud of him. When his father wasn’t at work he drank at an afterhours club. The proprietor, who’s clothes looked like they were rotting off him, charged double the price for a glass of beer or a shot of old rum making money hand-over-fist on the backs of hard working men like his father. For a quarter you could buy a rancid egg or a pigs’ tongue writhing with maggots. He refused chits, saying he didn’t trust anyone, even his own mother, and cut off anyone he thought was above him or didn’t like.

He remembers standing outside the afterhours club waiting for his father, his mother at home giving birth to his soon to be brother. The midget would bring him boiled meat sandwiches wrapped in wax-paper, leftovers from the night before ‘you be a good boy and stay put, you’re daddy’s as fine a gentlemen as I’ve ever seen’. He would chew slowly and think of numbers and calculations and how much things he couldn’t afford cost.

The old man next door who drove a truck for the City kept snapping turtles in a child’s play pool in his backyard. ‘He feeds them creepy-crawlies and June bugs’ said his uncle. 'I caught him swimming in the child’s pool once, one of those old-fashioned men’s bathing suits on. His bathing cap reminds me of the cowboy hat with a whistle I had as a kid when I was no more than your age'. He remembered the cowboy hat and cheap plastic whistle and the perforations that kept the heat in and the coolness out. His uncle was the kid who always got the plastic moustache in the box of Cracker Jacks, the one that pinched your nose and made your eyes water. His father despised his mother’s brother and wouldn’t let him step foot in the house. His mother met her brother after Mass behind the church, the other parishioners loading their children into cars and heading home for lunch. He knew a kid who swallowed the plastic whistle and nearly died. ‘I saw him touching himself while the neighbor’s daughter watched from over the fence. I called the police, swiftly I might add, and that was that.’

A friar on a bicycle whizzed past frightening a cat lazing in the afternoon sun. As it was fish-day the friar took it as a message from His Holiness and bowed his head in strict observance. Then a moment later Brother Von Romani wheeled past, his surplice flapping unkemptly behind him. The Italian monastery sat on the hill overlooking the valley. As a girl she swung on a tractor tire hung from the branch of an elm tree, her summer dress lifting into the warm August air. Her great uncle owned the property next to the Italian monastery where she spent her summers away from the repressive heat of the city.

A harvest moon sat low in the night sky. The monks, all but Brother Von Romani who had been censored for falling asleep in vespers, lined up outside the monastery gates and stared awestruck at the moon. That corn that year was ungenerous, the monks having no other choice than to sell it as silage. Alone in his cell Brother Von Romani dreamed of riding his bicycle, the smell of oven fresh bread and the friar whom he had a crush on.

Monday, July 25, 2011

E. J. Salamander

The Romanian sisters slept together in the same horsehair bed their mother gave birth to them on, their faces touching on the pillow. Their mother’s grunts were heard far and wide, waking the rector’s assistant who called the constabulary to complain about the awful racket. The midwife who delivered the sisters smelled of cloves. She said she worked naked because placental blood was hard to wash out of good cotton. She remembers her mother’s graceless features and angry stare.

Dejesus stepped onboard a ship destine for the New land. They met three days later under less than auspicious circumstances. He spat up an oyster barely missing his shoe. Dejesus was the first to speak. ‘Where am I?’ He wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve. From his inside coat pocket he pulled a piece of torn paper and began to read. ‘Ex pluribus menses glorious in excelsior’. Not knowing how to reply he smiled and nodded goodbye. He was the first to eyewitness the stigmata, the vassal squinting to make out who was standing in front of him.

He lost control of thought. ‘I am nothing more than a petty demon, a minor player. I am nothing’. This, you see, is the problem: the words come but the meanings remain hidden. E. J. Salamander, coopers assistant, wears a chin-string to prevent the wicker from flying.

He met E. J. Salamander at the shell bazaar; the church renting space to shell-collectors twice a year. He set up his table next to a fat woman who sold shells of all shapes and sizes. A man, recently retired and living off a meager pension, upended the fat woman’s table sending her shells flying. Seeing what he had done, and the mess he had made, he broke out in a sweat. ‘I had no idea I was so close. Please forgive my clumsiness.’ The fat woman collected her things and sighed.

Every Thursday he ate a hard-boiled egg. When he was little his mother served him soft-boiled eggs in a cup. He allowed himself one cigarette which he smoked like a man facing a firing squad. He exhaled through his nose, a web of smoke issuing from each hole, and inhaled through his mouth. He snubbed the butt out into the pavement like a bug.

That morning while out walking he watched a three-legged dog running like it was a four legged dog. A woman out walking her cat shifted her bag from one shoulder to the other, a black hole between her bicuspid and a loose eyetooth. Having earlier that day lit a votive candle for the Pope, the Papal candles costing 5 cents, the poor 3, he felt an uncommon airiness impassioning his step. He came across a sack of flour behind the church, the makings for deified biscuits or the pancake breakfast the woman’s auxiliary held every Saturday morning. He inhaled a mouthful of organ sough, the odor of forested pump air assailing him. Earlier that morning he had spat up a gob of eel-black spittle. ‘if dogs could fly they wouldn’t need legs’ he said clearing his throat. The woman walking her cat sneered at him, the black hole in her mouth making her look angrier than she was.

Dejesus’ refusal to acknowledge the existence of God angered many. Those he angered said his stubbornness was due to a rotting tooth, others that he believed in nothing, neither reason or intellect. Catholic, Jew and Jehovah alike they all believed that bread and wine were quiescent until blessed by a priest. To Dejesus this seemed silly. He knew a baker who made dinner rolls that looked like the Pope’s hat and baguettes that had an uncanny resemblance to Mother Theresa’s nose. That bread could be made into flesh and wine into blood was scandalous indeed. He accepted nothing, quiescent or enlivened, that he couldn’t see with his own eyes. The New Providence of the Society of Jesus banned Dejesus from all church and secular events, claiming he was a depraved unapologetic atheist. Catechized into a life of unquestioning vassalage the brothers of the New Providence of the Society of Jesus lived as anchorites. With the exception of brother Ignacio, who had a predilection for young boys, few strayed beyond the ivied walls of the monastery.

Ship Day was observed every seven years. Confederate with Ship Day was the Day of the Locust, rivaled only by his grandfather clearing his gravelly throat and spitting. His grandmother, unable to assuage her husband’s coughing, took to plugging her ears with wax; her husband’s coughing and spitting up sounding like a death rail. Junkers arrived one after the other, sailors jumping ship on the hunt for rum and the chance to prove their manliness. Ship of Imbeciles. Sailors stealing from whores and whores stealing from sailors, the docklands run riot with imbeciles and whores. Cecil Siècle, the docklands superintendant, was heard to say ‘Never in all my years of superintending have I been witness to such total disregard for life and limb!’

Seldom did his mother have a sensible thought. Harkening back to the fate of her grandmother who spent the rest of her life in a hospital bed after making a hasty decision, he implored her to stop with her insensibleness. She said that she was his mother and could do as she wished. She spent Ship Day drinking and carousing unabashedly with the sailors, his protestations falling on drunken ears. Defilers he called them, his mother taken advantage of by ship-jumping dogs, her cotton skirt manhandled over her head, a peg-leg whaler with scabies mauling her like a ragdoll. ‘Horace!’ the others yelled, ‘You’ll do better to throw her over your shoulder. That’s it, now flip her on her back!’ An Egyptologists who had booked passage on a whaler exclaimed ‘Let her be man… can’t you see she’s insensible?’ The others, laughing, said he best keep his mouth shut. ‘We’ll do you in old man, then you’ll never see those blasted pyramids you’ve be raging about!’

A barrel-maker by the name of Sims, resisting the urge to bite one of the whores who had robbed him of his dignity, climbed aboard his scow, his uncrowned chemise soiled with rum. ‘I’ll see you under the channel whore’ said Sims angrily. Even though he had a fondness for hairy women he restrained himself. In the past his rebelliousness had gotten him in hot water, a seamstress once accusing him of foul language when he saw her manly feet. ‘For the love of Joseph and Mary’ he exclaimed. ‘…you’re cunt must be cavernous’. A patulous wound between her navel and pelvic bone made her nakedness all the more horrific. He figured the scar was remnant of a caesarian birth, the child’s coning crowning head covered in talc and feces. ‘I’m not untouched’ said Sims. ‘But I fear I’d get lost and never find my way back out’. The hirsute seamstress huffed and threw herself into the river, a buoy dragging her, her manly feet kicking, out to sea.

Watching her disappear, a speck on the ocean, he recalled his father’s passion for flying-machines; a rarity back when a horse drawn carriage was considered a luxury.

His father was known to associate with hoodlums and spent his evenings robbing syphilitics and blind beggars. Begging for mercy the blind and the syphilitic fell prey to his father’s thievery. Mumbling about flying-machines he robbed them blind, warning them that if they spoke a word, even the beggars, he’d cut out their eyes. ‘You there who said you saw a flying-machine. Show me… show me where!’ The blind beggar raised his arm and pointed, his father squinting to make out a tiny speck bobbling on the sea.

He stopped to listen to a boy’s choir sing Wagnerian arias, tiny Gaullist helmets on their tiny heads. He stopped to buy a nosegay of flowers, the Groceteria crawling with mothers and squealing children, the proprietor ringing the cash register like a funereal bell.

She poisoned the rats that lived in the walls with potassium hydroxide. She’d had enough, the gnawing turning her stomach like a Ferris Wheel. She smoked a cigarette held nimbly but firmly between her thumb and index finger. She overheard the woman in the flat next to her tell her friend about the tenant across the hall with the disfigured face that kept her housebound and that at night she could hear her weeping through the crack under the door.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


She wrapped herself in a woolen blanket she found in the trash, a Christmas gift thrown away like an unwanted child. She pulled her knees tight into her chest and dreamt of magic gardens, of what could have been, of a past that she couldn’t forget. She slept in the murder of her thoughts and waited for morning. The yellow sickness. The wind tore through his head. Men gutted from pyloric to sternum. Perhaps the sky will fall.

He found the glove behind the Jewish grocer’s. He put it in his greatcoat pocket and thought nothing of it. He met a man who claimed to have found the matching glove. He offered to barter for the left one as he had the right. He was a secretive person and seldom did he let on that he knew anything for fear of knowing something he shouldn’t. And as he had a metal plate in his head he had trouble differentiate between what was real and phantasm.

When they found him his head was split down the middle, the team of doctors deciding that a metal plate was in order. After the surgery he claimed he could hear radio frequencies under his right eye. He pinned tinfoil to the underside of his cap to keep out the frequencies. One day he forgot his tinfoil cap at home putting himself in absinthial risk of frequencies. Without his fouler he was weakened by life’s intoxicants. He awoke relieved that he hadn’t died in his sleep.

They first met at the soup kitchen. They sat across from one another knocking knees. He rubbed his pyrrhic gums with clove oil. He smelled curial and peppermint. The soup kitchen was abuzz with men, some with scarves knotted round their necks like woolen garrotes. Hats were for men with small heads. These he referred to as the small men. Some heads don’t suit a hat either because they’re too large or the hat sits awkwardly.

He stopped to look at a display of hats in a hatter’s window. Sunbonnets with ribbon chinstraps, overly-ornate pillbox hats, hats for all occasions and hats he couldn’t identify but knew were hats just the same. He suspected that the glove belonged to someone’s mother, though couldn’t prove it. He sat the glove on the bedpost and stared at it for hours. He imagined it covering the tiny hand of a magician’s assistant.

He remembered his mother dressing him in knee-britches and long socks. These were memories he’d rather not have. He remembered sleeping with a gypsy who’s breath smelled like onions. She spoke Romanian with a Russian accent. She had fine black hair on her stomach and arms. Her eyes were black, the whites egg yolk yellow. She had loose skin under her arms and chin. She hooked her legs round his neck and screamed in his face. A plagiary of callused skin covered her feet and the back of her hands. He tried pushing her off but she refused to declutch. He fell asleep with her laying spent on top of him. ‘INTROIBO AD ALTARE DEI’ he whispered in her sleeping ear, 'DEI ALTARE AD INTROIBO'.

His father ate blood sausage for breakfast. He once ate a cow’s head, ears like prepuces, a dead fly in the snout. He told him that gypsies ate calf’s testicles and boiled the scrota in the same pot with the cabbage. 'GOD BE WITH YOU' he whispered, ‘DIEUS EX PLURIBUS IN HASIDIA’. His own mother pushed him out like an unwanted organ.

A man on stilts stepped over the curb and onto the street. An elderly woman lost her balance and faltered to the sidewalk, her handbag clutched to her chest. The stilted man shinnied over her clacking his stilts like castanets.

The elderly woman pulled herself up and continued on to the market. He watched her disappear round the corner and up the street. His grandmother made applesauce, the meat falling off the core like flayed skin. His mother fed him castor oil, pressing the spoon against the roof of his mouth. She said if he wasn’t careful he’d end up bedridden. His grandmother read aloud from the King James Bible every night before bed. She hid it under the bed, safe from his grandpapa who used it for roll-your-owns. He walked through the house with Bible pages sticking out of his shirt pocket, smiling, his dentures black with ink. When he wasn’t sleeping his grandfather wore boots with metal catches. At work he wore leather gloves with nickel coins sewn into the palms, making it easier to swing the kill hammer over his shoulder ensuring a clean decapitation.

He spent the day knee-deep in offal, his waders splashed with cattle blood. Never did he feel shameful. He preferred old steers because they lost breath quicker. He wore a woolen cap with earflaps to keep the bone from getting into his ears. He pulled the rope through the tackle and fastened it to the block with his free hand then swung the kill hammer over his shoulder and across his chest, oftentimes snagging his shirt pocket with the blunt end. He hankered down and swung, hobbling the old steer to the cement floor, its head split clear down the middle. Grandpapa never made any excuses when he missed the mark and sheared off the side of a cow’s head or when it took two swings to bring it down. He remembered his grandfather bailing wet hide and the smell of hurried death and fear.

He used catgut to shore up the weight-bags, skin and muscle settling to the bottom. He sold the innards to a pig farmer who ground them up with wet millet, heaping bucket-loads of it over the hopper and into the sty. He preferred the lower guts as they stiffened the blend making it easier to hoist over. His grandfather used the money from the weigh-bags to buy whisky and rock candy for the children that came round to watch him fell cattle. The pig farmer traded his manure for credit at the grocer’s where his wife bought winter blankets and lantern oil. Never once saw did he smile or unlock his jaw.

She sat with her tongue out in the rain wishing. Her thoughts crowed. She remembered her uncle Jim pressing her against his chest, his porcelain eye half out of the socket. Her uncle Jim lost his thumb cross-sharpening a grass scythe. He had no mind for common sense. He preferred things a man could do without having to think too hard or pretend he could read.

Night fell. He felt the pressure building pressing in on his eardrum. There was much in the world he didn’t want to hear, like bawling children and the old complaining. He cared little for opera and detested the trombone. An elm grew behind the Waymart and a hedge alongside the aqueduct. A blue spruce flourished in front of the post office. He counted the change in his pocket, three dimes and the fifty cent piece his grandfather gave him when he was twelve.

The year his grandfather gave him the fifty cent piece he found a tortoise shell in the sewer behind the aqueduct. It was green and brittle where it had run up against the wire fencing. He kicked it with his boot releasing a hatchling of flies that have tunneled into the soft yellow underbelly. He kicked it again and the flies scattered, a coil of pink intestine spilling out onto his boots. These are the days that go unnoticed. When he told him about the tortoise shell he said ‘I’ve seen my fair share’ and left it at that. I didn’t matter.

The midday sun cut just below his hairline. He stropped his razor, and holding his face in the palm of his left hand ran it across his beard. When he was a boy a Jehovah’s Witness told him that shaving would make his beard thicker. The Jehovah’s Witness stayed in town for a fortnight waiting for the shoemaker to remove a nail from his shoe. He wore calfskin wingtips. He had to shift his pamphleteer’s bag from one hip to the other. If there was a heaven he’d find it on his own. His uncle said the Bible blackmailed sinners and was full of consonant names. ‘I witness nothing’ said his uncle. ‘and even if I did it wouldn’t change a damn thing’. The Witness left behind traces of himself that would not become evident until the tertiary stage. Those who had been touched by the Witness fell ill, the disease progressing painfully. In the pamphlets he left behind there were prohibitions against self-pleasuring and sex with beasts. He was accused of having sex with beasts. ‘Have you no respect for the Sabbath!’ ‘We are Christian not Jews. The Sabbath means nothing to us’.

When he was five he had a steel rod fastened between his legs to keep them from bowing. The metal rod was attached to a plaster cast that went from his waist to his ankles. He was found with twelve cents stitched to the inside of his coat pocket.

There was a rumor circulating that syphilis was found in the stomach of a dead woman. The hospital where the corpse was taken was burned to the ground as a precaution. He carried a trenching tool with him tied to his back. If need be he could use it to excavate things or as protection against vagrants. Her mother told her never to trust her father.

She fell madly in love with a butcher with rotten teeth and a hooked nose. She kissed him with her eyes closed. The butcher’s uncle Ignatius worked as a snake-handler for a traveling Episcopalian mission. The butcher’s father, a Presbyterian, had no patience for Episcopalians. The butcher was known to slice through a bull’s scrotum without blinking an eye, blood splatter collecting in the folds of his apron.

His grandfather celebrated the bicentenary of Parnell’s birth with a fist-fight with a Presbyterian minister.

Her great grandfather, a phrenologist, measured people’s heads to establish whether they were dullard’ll or stupid. He set up in cafes and soda shops, laying out his measuring kit on a table at the back next to the commode. He was well disciplined in the sciences, having learned phrenology at time when it was still being practiced in asylums and mental hospitals. They came to see her great grandfather hoping that he could cure them of headaches and craniofacial abnormalities. Fed up with their child’s simple-mindedness parents allowed her great grandfather to bore a hole in their child’s skull, the child leaving worse off than when it came.

The two Romanian sisters lived in a cottage with their crippled half-sister. The half-sister had lost all sense of balance needing both half-sisters to help her get around, each taking hold of an arm and steadying her one step at a time until she reached her destination. She fell down often. He was acquainted with the sisters and the half-sister, having met them at the church bazaar the year previous. Unlike the bow legged man who avoided the sisters at all cost, he saw no harm in greeting them whenever their paths crossed. The half-sister sister had yet to figure out a way to sleep on her back without falling to the floor. He met the sisters lamping for night-crawlers in the park behind the aqueduct. They exchanged un-pleasantries, the sisters saying ex pluribus minatory. He had a pocketful of IOU’s he had no intention of honoring.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dead on Absinthe

He awoke to a dismal gray sky. I will meet the morning headlong, he thought. I will catapult myself into the day like a trebuchet. His father would never have approved. His father’s father wore a panama and smoked cigars that smelled of clove and allspice. Fish smell and his father’s arm slung out the window like a weather sock, ash boot blackening the stubble on his unshaven face.

Why is it that Beckett has all these crazy people riding bicycles? They sit on benches thumbing through discarded newspapers and other people’s hastily eaten lunch. Why do they never get where they’re going? Do they go anywhere, anywhere at all? Where do they go when their gone? Do they go anywhere but away from where they are? Where do they go, with those garish elastic bands and weakly legs? Beckett must have been mad, quite mad. Finding the heat offensive he sat on a bench and unwrapped his lunch. He ate unhurriedly.

He awoke, or so he thought. He felt a crick in his neck where the vagrant had cracked him when he refused to share his soup. He coddled himself from bed and lit a half-smoked cigarette. The plastic tarpaulin was flapping, a windsock in a hurricane. The linoleum curling up from the floor a fetus left to shrivel outside the womb. He felt an anger swell up in him. He had felt this way before but not with such urgency. Life is corrupt. I am the symptom. He lit a second cigarette with the one still in his mouth. Today I will see what I can do. The tarpaulin flapped madly. He snubbed the cigarette butt into the linoleum and went back to sleep.

He awoke from a deep sleep and shook his leg free from the covers. He slept like the dead. He drank tilting his head, the ulcers eating away at his guts like rats. Some say that sleep is the thief of wakefulness; I say it is the penitence we pay for consciousness. He remembered hearing about men drinking themselves to death on absinthe. The shamble leg man trundled on two legs, one hidden beneath the tail of his great coat. His leg weighed heavily on him. He came across a beggar sitting on the sidewalk. ‘Those yours?’ he asked.

The sky opens up like a malignancy, his grandfather commandeering the Mercury Fish truck, pedestrians clutching windblown hats screeching. The clochard smiled toothlessly. ‘Good bye, and may God be with you.’

He passed a woman dragged a dog behind her wearing a sunbonnet. He had a hankering to snatch the hat from her head and throw it into the gutter like a stray animal. But he had better things to do, principled things. His was a conscientious life, not one of opprobrium. Life is short. He met a woman. He approached and stood to one side of her. He knew from past experience not to push beyond reasonable limits. ‘Might I have a minute?’ ‘Why not?’ ‘This might sound insincere.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Could I buy you some teeth?’ The woman smiled a black hole. He reached into his greatcoat pocket and took out a card with the name of a dentist on it. ‘I’ll make an appointment for you. ’a checkup?’ ‘an appointment for you to get teeth.’ He slid the card back into the pocket of his greatcoat. The woman smiled blankly.

We never are but are always coming into being. These are the words of a madman. The thoughts of a lunatic. He met her at a rally. He knew she kept a knife under her skirts where the skin was leathery. She had memories of beatings and humiliations. When not laboring over ledger entries her father beat her unconscious.

As it was raining he chose an umbrella that fit firmly in his hand. He overstepping a puddle. The sky shouted rain. He met a man wearing a crown and asked why. ‘Because I am a fief’. This saddened him. Perhaps my judgments are for nothing. Walking is less enjoyable when the umbrella, a coleus of spokes, vexing encumbrance, has to be manhandled.

There is a natural regress from birth. If this is true, we are regression.

The woman lifted her skirts and peed. When she was a girl her mother slapped her for urinating in the park. The sky is a leprosarium and each cloud a fallen off nose. He fixed himself supper and forked it into his mouth. He rolled a cigarette and sucked on the bitter root.

She cocked her head and stared into the sun. When she was a child she stood for hours in the hot sun staring. She thought of her father’s cigarette threading a blue line of sky. She slapped her with the back of her hand leaving a red line on her cheek. She called her a little cunt and made her stand in the corner. He awoke to a half-spent cigarette smoldering in the ashcan. He smoked in defiance of common sense. She opened her legs, a boar of pubic hair caught in the elastic of her underpants.

These are the days of wreckage. When he was a boy his father denied him toys so he made his own out of wood and paper. He remembered his father’s vacant stare, lost in his own sadness. When he grew taller than the pencil marks on the doorframe he would leave home.

He knew a man who spoke in tongues. A man must take a stand and make the best of it. He remembered chewing tobacco that was nothing but shredded coconut. ‘You have a thief’s heart’ he said to the owner of the store. The store owner threw him out the door. ‘Molester!’ he shouted. ‘Molester!’ He awoke ambivalently. He lit a cigarette. His father smoked shag tobacco he swept off the lunchroom floor.

When he was a small boy he had wanted be a ventriloquist. His mother forbade him saying it was imbecilic. He strung a rope from the porch banister to the elm in the furthest corner of the backyard. He learned how to walk the rope using a rake to balance himself. He read in the back of a comic book, where advertisements for spyglasses and submarines caught his eye, that tightrope walkers were considered champions among ordinary men. He practiced holding his breath. He checked his pant’s for the washers and he’d put in his pockets for balance. He calculated that the rope could accommodate eighty-five pounds.
He shook his head and lit a half-smoked cigarette that looked like a peg. A grey sky hung in his thoughts like a dumbwaiter.

A bruit wind trumpeted in his ears. He had awakened to intrusive thoughts. The sky above the his lean-to threatened rain. He remembered a time when it never rained and the sky was always blue. He prayed that he wouldn’t catch his death of cold or die by drowning. His mother made pies from recipes copied out of the pages of women’s magazines, her face a battlement of confusion. He remembered sitting on the cold linoleum floor watching his mother trouble herself with motherly things. A ketchup bottle with holes, his father’s shirts stained with sweat and aftershave, the cuffs split where his wrists strafed the desktop.

She was baptized at the Church of the Perpetual Sinner, the steeple visible from the highest branch of the willow tree. Her mother thought it would stop her stuttering. The rector stank of whiskey and smoke. He connived her into the sacristy closet, removed his surplice and forced his hand up between her thighs, the floorboards cricketing under the weight of his desecration. From that moment on she knew that her life would never be her own.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Over River

The cremator Over River arrived Thursday to prepare the corpse for a Friday burning. The grievers, on foot and by wagon, two days later. The Wake was held the following afternoon. The corpse was laid out in an oatmeal gray overcoat and flannel trousers, a white linen shirt and black necktie. The missing leg made draining the corpse easier, the cremator able to get at the stomach cavity without having to straddle the table, his back crippled from years of heavy lifting. This freed up the rest of the day for digging a wood splinter out of his thumb. An enormously fat woman pressed next to him on the bench in the foyer, her fatness making him sick with disgust. The splinter disinterred the cremator left through the side door, the melancholic woman distributing her obesity cater-diagonally across the bench. The cremator Over River felt there must be a hierarchy of humanness, the incurables at the bottom, the miserable in the middle and the half-witted near the top. There were days he felt that he was somewhere between the miserable and the incurable. When it rained he fastened a kerchief to his hat; a provision against pus boils. Never wearying he trudged on, his galoshes wetly sloshing. He knew a woman with a nervous tick and a legless man who punted himself round in a pushcart, his coattails dragging in tatters behind him. When out walking one day he saw a three-legged dog. He let it be. Some dogs are just not worth the bother. Life is a random series of reoccurring events. Life is unnecessary. (I assure you I am not making this up but simply recollecting for someone who prefers to remain anonymous).

While out taking his daily walk he noticed that things, the world of facts as he understood them, were green. As long as greenness contains itself to trees and bushes, grasses and flowers, I will be as content as a discontented man can hope to be. Not gangrenous, the augury of rotting and death, or purulent with ulcers but a natural green, a green that invites wonder and joy.

He watched a cripple polder down the street like a staggered calf. Caudal tails and miserly legs, wee stumps. He remembers a little girl from his childhood who had a hearing box strapped to her chest, an armamentarium of wires held in place with a leather halter. A droning staccato like bees hitting a windshield emanating from her chest, a cybernetic ritornelle she controlled with toggle attached to the front of the box. The girl with the hearing box heard no birds warbling, no children squealing with delight, tiny feet carrying them across paddocks shimmering with summer rain. She didn’t hear the cars whizzing past, tires fluting gravel onto the neighbor’s front lawns, lawnmowers spitting out stones. All she heard was a low murmur, vibrations bouncing off her chest, straps caught in clothing too big for someone so small and inelegant. Perhaps he could share his lunch with her, cut it into pieces small enough to clutch in her tiny nail-bitten hands.

She lived with her mamma in a walkup over the market. Her mamma cold stored perishables on the ledge outside the bedroom window and cooked stew on a hotplate she’d found in someone else’s rubbish. When she hadn’t any money for food they ate at the homeless shelter. They ate alone, bent over their plates, her mamma’s feet jerking fretfully beneath the table. She dreamt of pastries, buttery crusts spilling over with mincemeat. Her mamma carved up picnic hams in her sleep. She drank avariciously, her tiny nail-bitten fingers clutching the bottleneck. She dreamt of crackers barbed with sesame seeds and chilies. One time a man sitting across from them, his nose splayed diagonally across the tomb of his face, spat up a mouthful of creamed corn, his dentures receding into the catacomb of his mouth. Another with a pear-shaped head spun a tale of abuse and maltreatment at the hands of the police. Paranoiac gibberish. Men wearing hats pilfered from other men’s heads while they slept. Globs of dry sputum, nightsticks batting in feeble skulls, faces pockmarked with yesterdays throw up. What were these men being sheltered from, certainly not themselves.

One morning he awoke abruptly, his heart racing. He clutched the bedpost and waited for it to stop. It didn’t, it never stopped. He longed to see the beauty in things, not ugliness and want. He yearned for joyful smiling faces. But all he saw was poverty and disfigurement. He heard bawling children and saw mothers with more ink on their arms than words in the Bible. The antagonism and bitterness of savages.

He was losing his mind. He saw spiders. Everything is accidental. Nothing happens for a reason.

‘You want your soup?’ ‘No, Jell-O'. You are welcome to the Jell-O but not the soup’. ‘Not the soup?’ ‘Not the soup’. ‘Jell-O’s better… the soups anyways too hot’. He swung his left leg over his right and pushed his plate across the tabletop. ‘I see’. ‘You want?’ ‘Jell-O’. He swung his right leg over is left leg and sighed.

The sun, he thought, is holed up in the barrows of a whore’s skirts. The clouds are the sky’s pimps, feathered hats, pigskin eyes, hogsheads. The rain and brusque wind oblige him to skim across the top of the pavement like mercury. He moves like graffiti, curlicues and haloes of colour. There is nothing more inveigling, he though, than the truth. The truth being what one is accustom to. Hogshead soups, brothel gumbo, bouillabaisse, mutton ladled into outstretched bowls.

A soup bone gray day, his thoughts on veal chops and chicken legs, figs. The haberdasher was of a pale brown complexion. He wore a fez and seldom spoke unless spoken to. He made extraordinary suits, serge and gabardine, double-breasted and single, fob pocketed. His wife had one eye, the missing one gouged out. She smoked long slender cigarettes pinched between her thumb and forefinger. The haberdasher tailored suits from hemp, smoothing out the wrinkles with a steam iron that hung from the ceiling. ‘May I ask what side you dress on?’ ‘Either side, it doesn’t matter’. ‘Might I suggest to the left? The haberdasher reached for his chalk, closed one eye and drew a curved line along the inseam. ‘You are too kind’.

He recalled a woman whose father forced her to eat blood pudding stirred with a fork for breakfast. Her children sat in squalor reading takeout menus and other people’s mail. Eaton’s sells blood pudding casing, twenty-five to the dollar.

His good eye flittered like a tiger moth. The bad eye he lost in a sawmill accident, a wood splinter piercing the cornea. His great Uncle slurped his soup.

She boiled burlap sacks in yeast and vinegar, sewing the sacs together with a bone needle she kept in a box on her dresser. She called them chattel dresses. His mother wore sac-cloth dresses with uneven hems. She took thalidomide and spat out her son like a rotten oyster. She died from blackness.

Out for a walk he came across a beggar. ‘why are your hands crossed over your chest?’ ‘so my heart doesn’t jump out’. ‘a fast heart?’ ‘diabetes.’ He looked down at the beggar. ‘Might you have a spare plastic bag for my head?’ ‘You need some string for that?’ ‘good idea’.’ ‘You can use it to tie it round your chin that ways it won’t blow off.’ He had a fear of old people.

I will organize an old person’s fair, he thought, where they could show off their infirmaries. There would be dancing and jumping and a table reserved for confectioners and podiatrists. And a potluck dinner with beans and salt-cruet and sappy meats, like boiled pork shoulder and picnic ham, wafer-thin after-eights and crème de menthe. Should his bad leg permit he would ride a unicycle to disprove the theory that all things seek they’re fatigue, they’re entropic fatality. Like a Nietzschian tightrope walker on one wheel. A codpiece, yes, cupping the foppery of his trousers, bunghole tamped. The monocycle, yes, the tires worn down to the rims, burrs of steal clacking the pavement.

He awoke one morning and thought, what if I am dead but don’t know it? What if I awakened dead, how would I know the difference? What if what I took to be living was death? Could one live with that, having it backwards? Maybe I’m dead and waiting to wake up, to begin living. If I have this all backwards, back to front, what then? Where to begin, so much turmoil and puzzlement.

His pineal gland had taken refuge in his hypothalamus. He had heard about this eavesdropping. The one busy picking a scab from her finger said to the other ‘you know the pineal gland is wont to travel’. The other, nitpicking at her finger said ‘no.’ He extrapolated from what he overheard to how he felt, how he should feel but didn’t. When he felt like this, which he did though infrequently, he would apply a mustard poultice to the back of his head. He would eat asparagus with vinegar. By smacking his lips together he could alleviate the sting and canker in his mouth. His great aunt Alma showed him how to edge a pie crust with a fork, his eyes trained on the copse of her forehead, a curl of gray hair tucked behind her ear. The sky through the kitchen window was always blue, mallard blue.

Graves are deeper around the edges. His grandfather drove for the Mercury Fish Company. Having one leg he double-clutched with a dowel attached to the pedal, shifting gears with his right hand, the left one grappling with the steering wheel. His father rode along with his father on a crate screwed into the floorboards next to the driver’s seat, his father pushing the knobs of his knees hard into the dashboard, loose screws and bolts leaving divots in his kneecaps. Cods’ tongues and Haddock, blue airbladders. The fish truck swerved and coddled through the city streets, his father holding on for dear life, knees buckling, the smell of fish salt burning his nose. He never took his eyes off the road, fearing that if he did his father would careen into a lamppost or up over the sidewalk, taking out a shop window or passerby. He never did like fish. He hated driving round with his father.

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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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