Thursday, March 31, 2011

Švejk

The sun broke through the clouds like a schoolyard bully. The canopy above his head was abuzz with the scything whirr of cicadas, legs and carapaces rubbing anxiously together. Looking skyward he half expected to see a Focke-Wulf or a Hellcat. Instead he saw a Bockscar of crows dive-bombing sunbather’s, a sunburnt child holding onto her little pail and shovel with all her might. He remembered the grimace on his da’s face when he told him that he had no intention of following in the family business. He was going to learn ventriloquism and make a living as a cheat and a scoundrel. Or maybe he would join the circus and live the life of a juggler or Big Top stagehand. Either way he had no desire to gut fish or fell cattle with a hammer. Jašek Komuna, a one-man show who could swindle a gyp artist and clap thunder with his hands; the real thing, a rogue extraordinaire, he could learn the art of the scoundrel from him. He worked as a money-handler for the Švejk Bros., Ikarus and Ram, two of the most dangerous sharks in the business. The man could do wonders with his voice, never once moving his lips or gasping for air. He could throw his voice by simply breathing in deeply from the diaphragm, pausing, then letting it out like a pipe organ bellows, sending it ricocheting off rooftops and belfries, over heads and bell towers. He played his ribcage like a pedalboard, his neck like a Voix céleste and his belly like a wind chest, his tongue he used as flue reed, his teeth as the fipple, a diapasons timbre beginning in his throat and escaping through his mouth; a chirruping-chirruping-twitter. Men like Jašek Komuna are a rarity; dangerous and piffled as they are. His da warned him about men like Jašek Komuna; lowlife cons, debauchers, men with low morals. The sort of man who gives little and takes much. He listened to the cicadas sawing in the branches above his head; a piercing, rolling staccato, like the sound a corpse makes as the last breath leaves the body. His da would not understand; chiding him for his ignorance, which he inherited from his mother’s side, his small boy’s pitiful attitude. Too early he awoke, his mind racing like a man condensed by mere thinking. The last thing he remembered before awakening, too early and without warning, was a sentences: "Even in the depths of sleep, in which he had to satisfy his need for protection and love by curling himself up into a trembling ball, he could not rid himself of the feeling of loneliness and homelessness." (Bruno Schulz, Sklepy Cynamonowe). For the death of him he couldn’t recall where he’d read the line; thinking that it could have been in a magazine or book of short stories, perhaps a novella, though he couldn’t recall ever having read one, perhaps mistaking it for a long short story or a short novel if he had, which again he couldn’t be certain of, not now, with his thoughts condensed and racing. ‘you’re such a pitiful boy’ his da would say, hell-bent on ruining his life with spitefulness and malice. Too early too late, it really made no difference; loneliness and homelessness dogged him whether he was awake or asleep, condensed or enlarged, drunk or sober.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Slowcoach

Up righted the child stopped wailing, its red pinched cheeks settling into the bones of its pudgy face. Watching the woman cradling the now quiet baby in her arms he felt a rush of sympathy coursing through him, his legs, useless scrawny sticks made of fat and ligament giving way under him. It’s not often that on gets the chance to watch a woman holding a child in her arms; insufferable morose creatures. Just when you think you’re in like Flynn they burn your house down and think nothing of it. Whores! Cackling hens! ‘Get him; the bastard!’ they screamed, some with such boldness you’d think their throats would burst. Miscreant! El putero! He wed a taxi-girl with mouldy teeth. His great-grandfather pinched the cheeks of her arse until they blushed, a red tide moving along her tailbone and the down back of her thighs. He was the first to cackle and curse at him like an Irish schoolboy, inciting the others, some spitting and hurling mud, others making the sign of the cross and hissing like alley cats. If only he could get him to see the waywardness of his ways he would stop his whoring. Both fish and whores, these he made do with, never chipping in for gravy or napkins. They say he was shallow, like a pebbly riverbed, someone not to be trusted or put faith in. His father said little about his great-grandfather claiming ignorance and a failing memory. He’s not the kind of man you’d want to know he’d say grinding his molars. He watched the woman and child until the child, now fast asleep in its mother’s arms, showed little sign of life, then like a man who’d experienced a miracle he scarcely understood walked away.

Lela stood at the back of the queue counting how many people were wearing hats; thirty-seven, eight wearing more than one hat, seven wearing three or more, twenty-five wearing toques and a handful in bonnets. A woman in a sunbonnet was crocheting a muffler, a skein of multicoloured wool unreeling at her sandaled feet. A man wearing a telepathist’s vest was eating a pie, apples and cinnamon crumbing the front of his jacket. A puny boy missing an ear sat astride a sawhorse, his sister tugging dejectedly on his shirtsleeve. ‘Miscreant! El putero!’ shouted a fat man with a fat lip. ‘that’s not him...’ countered a skinny man with a pencil-thin moustache. ‘Oh yes it is’ said the fat lipped fat man. ‘I’m telling you it’s not him...’ said the pencil-thin moustached skinny man. Pointing like a fat-lipped birddog the fat fat lipped man said ‘Over there, behind the statue’. ‘that’s a woman with a baby, imbecile! ‘ said the skinny man twirling the tips of his pencil-thin moustache.

Mouth open Lela waited to accept the Host, a group of slowcoaches trying to push their way past the rector’s assistant and into the church. ‘damn you!’ scowled the rector’s assistant, a man wearing a leveret hair picot jacket trying to sneak between his legs. ‘damn you all!’ The priest instructed the congregation to pray, a freckle-faced boy sitting at the front yawning. ‘stop that’ whispered the rector, his eyebrow twitching like a squashed caterpillar. ‘and sit up straight’. The congregation said ‘Amen’, the rector giving the freckle-faced boy a stern look, two slowcoaches having made their way past the rector’s assistant standing like headless chickens in front of the altar.

Lela stopped in front of the Seder grocers to gaze at her reflection in the window, the glass distorting her gentle, child-like features. Out of the corner of her eye Lela saw the alms man rounding the corner, his head flinching on the gibbet of his skinny neck. Not wanting to speak with him she hid behind a stand of rotten cabbage hoping that he would pass her by unnoticed, an unpleasant vinegary niff buttering her nose. The last time she ran into him he told her about having to sleep propped up standing against a lamppost, his cap the only thing keeping him from freezing to death. Never underestimate a man’s competence for failure her father would say. A headless chicken has a better chance of making something of itself. A man’s failure can be measure by the size of his head: little head big failure, big head little failure, follow the bumps. She never did care much for what her father had to say, his mouldy, rotting teeth making everything that came out of his mouth sound muddled and spit out.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

el putero

He watched from where the road curved and met up with the fairgrounds, standing off to the side so as not to be seen by the men sharing the wretched ugly girl. The fat one pulled at her skirts, the skinny one held her arms, and the third one, not sure what to do laughed nervously. The first time he went to see the Herschel Liege troop his father drove the sedan into the ditch outside the fairgrounds. His father bought the sedan from a locksmith named Sorrow Příbor; a slight man with uneven teeth and a faint wisp of salt-and-pepper hair that grew from the centre of his head and lay flat against his cheek. The sedan was missing the back fender, the passenger-side door and the front grill; the locksmith offering to throw in a kissing pig if his father accepted the car as is. ‘what, dear sir would I want with a kissing pig?’

‘why you could rent her out; she stays put if you tie her hind legs and stroke her head every once and a while’. ‘enough!’ shouted his father. ‘I’ll take it as is’. His father never forgave him for letting him buy the sedan, saying it was his fault for not stopping him make a fool of himself. ‘a kissing pig; what in the name of God are we going to do with a kissing pig?’ The wretched ugly girl kicked the fat one squarely in the groin, his knees buckling, his testicles swelling into his pants’ pockets. The skinny one she poked in the eye, his nose dribbling snot and blood. As for the laughing one she saved him for last; taunting and calling him a midget and a coward. ‘maybe next time you’ll pick on someone your own size; now run home to your mamma coward, run!’ They pushed the sedan halfway, the front grill crosshatched with twigs and tall grass, until his father gave up and called for a tow.

He stared at a fat woman trying to untangle her child from one of the circus tent ropes. My goodness me (he said mutely to himself) but isn’t that a fine mess. Next she’ll have the poor creature kissing a pig. He double-clutched, his foot going through the floor. ‘kissing pig my arse!’ His father never did get the sedan to run properly or understand why anyone would want to kiss a kissing pig. ‘fucking rodent!’ he wallowed, the kissing pig asleep snoring in the mud behind the woolshed. Keep your head up young fellow lest you fall anyhow into the soaking wet mud. His father eventually sold the sedan to a corker who served as the town mortician after his license to practice medicine was revoked. ‘here it’s yours’ said his father angrily. ‘the pig too’. This was long after the Mercury Fish Co. and his great-grandfather’s gangrene amputation and the maggots they used to eat the rotten flesh and his great-grandmother rubbing salve on the stump-end so his great-grandfather could attach the wobbly wooden leg to the chucked one. ‘now run home to your mamma coward run!’ His father never forgave his father for being so bitter and giving his mother the evil eye when she asked him how his day went.

Rafael López, named after his great great-grandfather Rafael ‘el putero’ López, a womanizer and scoundrel, from Hammermill, a trifling place with a church, a post office and three whorehouses where the reek of sulfur and cod creel emanating from the back door of the second whorehouse made him ill, arrived on the back of a mule waggon with three ears of brown corn, a shovel and a pack of playing cards. When they found his great-grandfather skulking out the back door of the first whorehouse, where he spent his evenings drinking Málaga and smoking fusswood tobacco, he was the first to pelt him with rocks and bits of broken glass. He wed a taxi-girl with rotten teeth and an arse so big he could sleep lying on it like a suckling child. ‘el putero!’ yelled a woman carrying a weakly deformed child, the child’s head bobbling from side to side, the woman trying frantically to hold it upright.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bobalicón

One is better served when one serves one’s elf. When his father said this he cringed, seeing no reason why a man of such corporeal standing should substitute oneself with one’s elf. Or was it a mistake, an error in judgment? Perhaps he was making a mockery of him, seeing if he would pick up on the error, charge him with not knowing himself from a small hairless man. He expected this from an imbecile or an idiot, someone with little education, not from his own father. His father pointed to the headboard, das Wort Idiot whittled into the soft grainy wood; an admonishment of his lack of common sense. He called him my little Bobalicón, pushing him here and there like a broken wagon, scolding, rebuking his stupidity. You my boy were born with a dullard’s intellect; stupidity comes to you like God to a praying man. Never forget that. Your life will be much easier. Straddling the devil’s reredorter he grunts out an epistle of coppery yellow piss; smiling like a man who knows that God, to whom he has devoted his entire being, has rewarded him with a pass to the next life. Never mistake mans’ stupidity for cleverness his da would say; or his talent for making foolish things seem sharp. Dolores Enrique gives blowjobs to imbeciles. Wishing he was an imbecile he hides in the shoemaker’s cabin behind the Pig’s Head waiting for her to arrive, his legs trembling, the night sky cowling his fat piggish head.

Long after the sun, scuttled by night, had fallen, after the last straggler had made his way home, Poldy set out to find the missing whore’s glove, a jaundice yellow moon guiding his way. As today was Busman’s holiday he walked the distance to the fairgrounds behind the aqueduct where the Herschel Liege pantomime troop was in the process of setting up their tents. A mulish doggishness fallowed him like a stray, his dawdler’s pace more fitted to a sad sack than a man of proud bearing. Drawing closer to the fairgrounds he could hear the high-pitched hum of the riveters, the metallic clang of shovels, the tinny clink of soft metal against wood and burlap, a cacophony of workaday commotion.

The day his father left for good he slammed the front door with such force and cumulous rage that the hinges flew off the doorframe. Looking out from the upstairs window, her hair still wet, Epsom salts and bath soap stiffening her squared jaw, his mamma cried like a baby. He was glad he was gone; glad he wouldn’t have to put up with his repulsive helplessness, which had worsened since losing his job with the fish company, the hapless look on his face when he dropped something or tripped on the landing stairway; glad that he would have his mother to himself; the warm fruity smell of her skin after she stepped out of her bath, the tangled nest of viper black that she combed a hundred times every night before bed. He would have her. She would be his. His and his alone. No more nights cowering under the blankets waiting for his father to return home from the Pig’s Head, his breath rotten with pickled eggs and Stout, the door smashed to bits like a balsa kite.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Carnival of Animals

He hasn’t eaten a dog in years. Not since an outbreak of rabies culled the strays to a few runt lapdogs domesticated to fulfill the needs of lonely spinsters and friendless children. “…one sees every day priests and monks who, leaving an incestuous bed and without so much as washing their hands soiled with impurities, manufacture gods by the hundred, eat and drink their god, shit and piss their god”. (Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary) was written in a swirly calligraphic hand over the doors to the Pig’s Head. The chalkboard menu read: ‘Tartar lamb (Agnus Scythicus) with mint jelly and sprig marjoram’, and under that ‘if the meat doesn’t flake off the bone your supper is free’. Please shit and piss in the restrooms. Disobeyers will be sodomized.

He shook a dash of Lot salt on his leg of Tartar lamb, ‘brings out the flavor and juices’ he said ‘and softens the gristly bits’. He remembers his da hogtying him with his mama’s clothesline, leaving a crease round his reddened belly, his arms weigh-laid to the corner post. Gets easier the older you get; the red marks fuse with the lashing welts, the soreness with satisfaction, the bitterness with acceptance. Sodomizer’s will be stopcocked and left to rot from the inside out. Many was the time he felt the world creeping up on him, his feet nailed to the Melamine terrazzo, an oily smeary odor picricketing his nose. It’ll make a man out of you his da would say slapping him hard upside the head. Then you can call yourself something other than a boy. His da made him listen to Saint-Saëns’ ‘The Carnival of Animals’ over and over again, slapping him hard upside the head if he flinched or winced.

The restroom was a place of inexorable filth and squalor, a dispatch of grunting disobedience. Unbuckling his trousers he straddles the devil’s bowl, a beard of shit tarring the porcelain, the smell of other men’s dirt brachiating his nostrils. Grabbing hold of the cistern chain he flushes, speckles of indissoluble shit floating rebelliously to the top, a swirling eddy of foul effluence circling the dunny trap. The rector’s assistant unbuttoned his surplice and stood astride the reredorter, the trough spilling over with yellow coopery piss. That night the friar cook boiled up a pot of tripe and oxtail stew, the brothers eating until their bellies ached.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Puny Soul

After several attempts he managed to dismount from the stool, his left leg cobbled in the wicker backing. Laughing, the coffin builder wiped the perspiration from his tremulous brow, a stogy of soot darkening the back of his neck. Mouthing his words like a harp he said ‘I’s the only one in this place that’s daring enough to wear a lasso shirt with a fluted collar’. ‘shit down!’ grumbled a codger crossly. ‘or up’ said the coffin builder wringing the sweat out of his handkerchief. ‘or off!’ barked a fat woman in a sunhat. ‘enough!’ scowled the aleman’s wife flapping her skirts, a creel odor piling the besotted night air. He threw himself onto the floor like a dog hit by a truck, everyone except the aleman’s wife watching on with unpleasant bewilderment. ‘look his eye’s bleeding’ shouted the aleman’s wife. ‘must’ve burst a vessel’. ‘damn fool’ cussed the codger crossly. ‘man’s a menace’ whispered the coffin builder thumbing his nose. ‘probably has some kind of mental defect. Standing round with their heads in their hands. Seen this before when I was making deliveries to the Overnight Asylum. Not much they can do for them’. A chappy with a harelip ambled up to the bar and ordered a Pig’s Stout, his nose bobbling like an unmanned fire hose.

His da wore the same checked shirt to work every day, the buttons thumbed with engine oil, the chest pocket stuffed with his work credentials and passed due chits. He stood his boots upside down next to the boiler room fan, the day’s grease and sludge blackening the ankles and toes. He placed his sweat stained work cap on the hook next to his coveralls and left for the day, the sun rising above the Texaco sign yellowing the walk home. His da had watched as an outbreak of smallpox killed half the townspeople. Not knowing what to do he hid under the Seder’s awning carving boxwood talisman’s and money-foot--key-chains. The key chains he gave away for free, the boxwood talisman’s he sold for a dollar a piece.

No man’s an island his da would say falling into a drunken stupor, the front of his shirt covered in slobber. He never did recover after seeing the dwarf hung upside down from the rafters, the head nurse poking him with a curtain rod. His credentials said that he was a day laborer, the picture on his ID taken the year he had his leg amputated and cauterized with a copper welder. Long before he was told of the death and resurrection of Christ he watched his da tease his mamma about the size of her corset; laying claim to her sex and the bodice that hid it from his prying eyes. The priest read aloud from the Versio Vulgata, his lips moving along each verse like a cat stalking a canary. Saint Jerome of Vulgate, hiding his bruised knees under a surplice woven from newly ginned cotton, stood facing the sanctuary altar, the blossoms on his nose frightening the wee children seated at the front of the church. He remembered everything that happened that year; even those things it was not in his interest to remember; beatings and thrashings, hogtied and left to whimper like a puling calf in the crawlspace under the summer kitchen; the scalding pressure of his da’s hand as it lay welts into his backside, his brother sniggering as he lay claim to his puny soul.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Ultisols Guimarães

He stood at the back of the church staring at the priest’s gown, the purplish one with extravagant embroidery that draped his stout sloppiness like a cinema curtain. Lined up like Russian dolls, the children looking for something to wile away their time with, they waited on the priest’s first words. Speculating that it would have something to do with immoderation or indulgence, both of which he had partaken in in the last week, he relaxed and let his feet sink effortlessly into the floorboards. ‘God is watching’ said the priest starting the homily. ‘then He must need a telescope’ whispered a fair-haired boy. ‘He watches over you when you are awake and when you are sleeping…’ ‘and when you’re shitting’ said the fair-haired boy squeezing himself lest he break out in laughter. His da fed the pigeons that congregated in the parking lot behind the church; throwing fistful’s of a seed at them like a soldier attacking his enemy. João Ultisols Guimarães shits in a commode pot handed down to him from his great uncle Gaudi Ultisols Guimarães, a whoremonger’s son with a noticeable limp. He lives on both sides of the five-mile depending on his appetite for whores and black tea. The black tea he could easily do without. Having been brought up by a father who tutored him in the indelicate art of whoremongering and the sophistication of tea and scalding water a week never passed without him indulging in both. The Ultisols Guimarães’, from child to great grandparent, had little respect for things or people; taking what they wanted regardless of title or propriety.

“It is an age of exhausted whoredom groping for its God” (Ulysses, J. A.U. Joyce) Mór Matthew and U. A. Shakespeare, doctor of pediatric medicine, share a quart bottle of Pig’s Stout, the awning over their heads flaccidly flapping flipping. ‘I say Mór t’is a sad day now that Paddy’s gone under’. ‘Pushing dirt off the coffintop’. ‘All wormy’. Nether Stout dear man…and snap! Haven’t all day you know. People have little respect these days. Take what they want regardless of marker or politesse. Sad days. Indeed. The youth these days need a good thrashing. I’d say! It’s exhausting just trying to keep one step ahead of them. Catch up with you and, blam! Knock you arse over teapot. Godless hobbledehoy! Not an ounce of propriety. Poldy watched from his stool next to the fiddle hearth Mór Matthew belittling a boy fetching his da’s pail, U. A. Shakespeare, doctor of pediatric medicine, splitting a gut over a ball of rarebit and egg, his face a jubilant lactation. Indulge in both. Not a word of a lie. Serpent’s tail coiled round stool leg. Children begging the da to come home and light the gas. Blitzing carries a hefty cork. Pop the capper and down she goes. Frothy beards stubble with gin sores. The da laying claim to Pig Stout and wife cheating. Not a yard of decency. Shaves over the commode bowl with strop and straight. Lays the razor wetly in the jam jar beside the gleam paste. Da says man’s rights outweigh the ma’s. Keep an even keel. Bend her over the boxwood like a common whore. Bleeding hearts! Should stave their bellyaching. No amount of moaning will vary a man’s cheating. Take what they want regardless of proper etiquette. Tits over tea kettle. Bent over moaning like a gin whore. Cod cave reeks of toad roe. Poldy watched from his stool next to the fiddle hearth, quart bottle stacked and kneed, U. A. Shakespeare boasting about a whoredom where a man’s freedom is his canon. Toast all the sad buggers who think wife cheating’s a sin against God and spouse. Crack the spigot and down she goes. ‘All wormy’. ‘Pushing dirt off the coffintop’. Age of whoredom and groping.

Toad in the hole. Softens stool from the inside. Fetch a pail for the ailing da. Ma blistering over the organ pot. Likes his entrails skilletted. Gullet bribe. The ma adds the organs to the boil. The da hoisting a yard. Pig Stout and fried lamb’s tongue. Salt worsted. A smidgen’s worth. Pottage pillage. Lips smeared with the bottom of the pot. He remembers the day his da drank the Pig, his eyes flaming up like a Skankhill bomb fire. Fire in the belly. Shin fan the oven with the hems of her skirts. Otherwise the pot boils over. Keeps the smoke from quisling. Eyes go all red blurry. Keeps things on an even keel.

His great grandfather was buried in a wooded coffin with brass handles; the insides plush with coffin cloth and silk pillows. He watched as the pallbearers lowered the box into the dirt, his ma pulling her skirts straight, the da fiddling with a piece of ivory, a gift from his da when he was eight and close to dying from gangrene in his belly. His insides swelled up with bile gravy, the doctors saying he had a small chance if he stopped fidgeting and keep still. His ma said she’d only pay for what they took out of him; everything else she’d have to pay on credit.

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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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