Saturday, April 30, 2011

Humphrey Champed

He ponied up to the bar and ordered a shot of Cutter’s Finest, the barkeep, the rag in his hand sopping with cigar ash and walnut shells, giving him the once over. ‘no skimping’ he said drawing in his neck like a tortoise. ‘a good one... or I swear I’ll have your heart for breakfast!’ Leaning backwards, his shoulders colliding with the shelf behind him, the barkeep reaches for the bottle of Cutter’s Finest and pours a generous shot, Humphrey Champed eying him from the other side of the bar. ‘now top it off!’ said Humphrey smacking his lips together like a slavering dog. ‘now place it in front of me... like this’ he said motioning with his hand to rest it on the wood next to his right hand, the one with three fingers and a half-shorn-off thumb. ‘now mind your business and get back to work! If I want another I’ll invite you over...’ he said pointing to the empty space in front of him, the barkeep having moved to the other end of the bar away from the hulking figure who would as soon eat your liver than shake your hand ‘then you can pour me another... and no skimping or I’ll have your kidneys for lunch!’

Her face, from jaw to ear, is covered in an albino white hair, filmily invisible yet obvious from the side or flank on. ‘Never underestimate a woman’s itch’ his granddad would say waggling his chin, ‘they’ll sooner eat you for breakfast than give an inch’. ‘they’ll?’ he asked making a face. ‘remember that!’’ll need it when you get older my boy’. Wheezing the sun rose over Sweny’s. The chemist, late as usual, cranked the toggle pryingly releasing the awning from its fusty hammock. He loathed the sun, claiming it made peach-skinned woman look haggardly, giving them a currish unwomanly appearance. Handkissing was forbidden; handshakes, one handed, two were considered unmanly, were permitted but within reason; the further one pushed the limits the further one found oneself flying on the skin of your teeth out the door. Every time Albert Scrim shakes hands with the devil the devil squeezes the blood out of his fingers. Some say he’s in cahoots with the devil; others that he just likes to hobnob with evildoers and cutthroats; and some think he pretends to be in cahoots when he just wants the attention that cavorting with the devil inspires. ‘He lives the life of Reilly’ his granddad would say wiggling his chin. (Brecht Gin: settles an aching stomach and shoe-blackens albino white hair).

His great granddad played checkers with Argyll Robertson, a brooding man with poor eyesight and crablousy hair. They slaked their thirst with coniine soda, his grandfather gulping and Argyll Robertson eructating, both men savouring the fizzy effervescence. ‘no Handkissing... makes a man look like a sissy’. ‘or two-handed handshakes... one will suffice’. ‘backcomb if you will... no need to make a rankle of the board’. ‘first infestation I got in Nolan Falls... sheets were crabby with the little buggers’. ‘bedevilled! ... crablousy they call it’. They talked like this for hours on end, the gaslight casting glove-puppet shadows on the walls and across the ceiling. His great grandfather never once cast a ballot or vote, saying democracy was a farce and them that got caught up in the hoopla dumber than the dumbest dumb animal. His da assassinated the baby rabbits and left the squirming gray pupa in a shoebox at the foot of the driveway for the garbage man and his helper who hung off the helper side door with one arm. Painted in bold black letters on the cab-side door was the following:

Be always drunken. Everything lies in this:
(Charles Baudelaire, Drunkenness)

Everything he did either turned out bad or didn’t end up the way he’d expected it would; all the tragedy and misfortune, the crushing hardship leaving him brooding and thinking of ways to assuage the niggling in his gut. His great grandfather warned him as much; saying that a man who doesn’t have the courage to drive a nail through his hand is destined to live a life of failure and sorrow, and is not to be shown any sympathy or pity. It lies in this he said: drunkenness and tragedy. Stay drunk my boy and life will be less tragic. Stay sober and it will eat you alive. His great grandfather wore the same shirt to work every day, the gray one with the gravy stain on the front missing the second to last button. The Sisters of Charity taught his great grandfather how to write cursively and take a thrashing bent over a habited knee, the ruler-toting sisters encouraging the head matron with catcalls and hoots. Had he known what he knows now, that a drunken stupor assuages a good switching, he’d never have put up with the beatings and Holier Than Thous’, or his father’s deep-knee-bends, taken from a leaflet that came in the post addressed to the occupant, done to Beethoven’s 5th, 6th & 7th, if he made it that far. The Sisters of Charity taught him how to steal wine before the priest blessed it and tell lies when he could just as easily tell the truth. Under the Mabbot Lane bridge lined up like flower-lasses at a pimp’s wedding, all that Handkissing and Mary has a little Ivy Divvy dose. Got it from the first mate, down on all three’s pulling his Mahout out through his fly-hole. Get the lockjaw when he won’t pull out; rake his fly-hole with your hangnails. He’ll jump higher than the mainsail crow he will.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fernando Botero - Abu Ghraib

Sack Street

Yellow means you like butter, nothing you like margarine. His grandmother made raisin tarts, primping the edges with a tea fork. His uncle Jim threw up at the supper table, leaving a path of spoil and desiccation spattered all over the dollied tablecloth. His grandmother had to use a wet rag to clean up the gravid smelly vomit.

Féile Scannán stood astride the Mabbot Lane bridge throwing scabs of bread onto the choppy black water, a gaggle of ducks nipping at one another trying to get a mouthful. The bumboats ferried in and around the mouth of the harbour, scouting for a quayside berth or shallow enough water to weigh anchor. His great great-great-granddaddy liked peach cobbler with fresh creamery cream and nutmeg. He worked as a coxswain on the Ivory Divvy, a whaler out of Mountjoy Prison. Oliver St John and Joseph Gogarty, skinflint and petty thief, worked the rigging and yardarm respectively; Gogarty known for his great round-biceps and St John for his thin chicken-lean neck. A man’s a man only when he can drive a plank spike through his hand without flinching. He had no idea why these men with hula girls on their forearms, salty dog men, didn’t just stay onboard their bumboats, play cards or trade tall-tales, fight over crumpled pictures of their sweethearts back home or get drunk on spiced rum. The sails were stitched from baleen and pytlovina and starched with Slivovice, Kontušovka if the menfolk at the Ceské Koruny Public House had drunk the Slivovice dry. Poldy never met his great great-great-great granddaddy or his great-great granddaddy, or for that matter his great grandfather, his father’s father’s father. The one, his father’s father, with the one leg, he met him; when he was twelve and angry that he had to sit in the back of the car all the way to the swimming hole under the bridge under the overpass behind the petrol station where his father’s father wiped the windshield clean of spattered bugs and grime. The other one, the one who sailed on the Ivory Divvy with Joseph Gogarty and Oliver St John, petty thief and skinflint, who liked peach cobbler with fresh creamery cream and nutmeg, he he never met; he only heard tall-tales about him from his father’s father, the one with the one leg and mean disposition. He tried driving the nail through the tight skinned palm of his hand but the nail slipped off and fell to the ground. He remembered his granddaddy saying ‘it’ll slip off if you’re hand is too sweaty... so wipe it clean before you drive it home’.

The sun broke through the clouds like a schoolyard bully pushing its way into the blue morning sky. He stood facing the back of his head; the Seder grocer’s window reflecting his image back to front. He noticed a whorl on the backmost crown of his head, a tonsure-like wreath that unravelled like a circle, leaving the impression that further tonsuring was inevitable. With this in mind he set out to purchase a new hat; one with a wider more generous top, a helmet or a brigade cap, something that would cover up the wreathing, allowing him to walk about at ease in the knowledge that his tonsured renunciation was his and his alone, not something to be stared at or made fun of. He knew a hatter who sold big, oversize hats, ones made for men with big heads and wide brows. If he could only remember where his shop was and how to get there. These past few months his judgment had been overrun with dower, useless thoughts, things that never made it beyond assumptions or simple conjecture. A new hat, perhaps that would levy his thoughts he thought, allow him to think more seriously, rid him of the uninspiring nonsense that tormented his thoughts day and night, night and day.

He was born in 1882, June 16th to be accurate. Then again in 1887 and 1901. In 1887 he was born and then died three days later; in 1901 he lived for days, three of which he spent smothered in the bosom of an aunt, a giantess with enormous russet brown areolas that squirted rather than trickled. (You may have Juan the race my boy, but your Carlos Onetti too many times). His grandfather spoke in ciphers; neutering phrases and severing sentences; deleting words he felt didn’t reflect his demeanour and adding those he felt did. When he spoke, which he did with bravura bravado, the tip of his gin blossomy nose twitching like a metronome, everyone within commonplace earshot stood up and paid attention, his great booming voice filling a field or park with an ear-splitting roar. He remembered listening to him reminisce about his experience at the fish company; regaling him with stories of walleyed catfish and rotten milkfish, neither fish he dare allow on his supper plate. As he was going down Sack Street, which he did Mondays and every second Tuesday, he stopped to look at a woman admiring her reflection in Sweny’s fanlight. What an odd woman he thought to himself tucking his shirttail into his trousers. Everyone knows you can’t buy pear soap at Sweny’s. They stopped stocking it after the Great Fire; razed half the block to the towpath. Funny how an old thought becomes commonplace once it’s thought about again. Suppose the day is full of them; just have to dot the t’is’ and cross the if’s. Like old hat like; but without the brim and chin-whistle. Mine was grass green and stuck to the top of my hair like a fly net; left bits of straw in my hair. Mom said it looked better with the chin-whistle done-up; made my face look less pudgy. Real cowboys wear theirs at a tilt; makes their heads look bigger; mutton chops and all. My granddad wore his straight-on; never ever taking it off unless he was sleeping or taking a soak. Same for my great uncle; ‘cept he kept his on when he slept, easier to make a get-away he said; husband can’t identify you if you’re wearing a hat. His great grandfather soaked his button-down jacket in saltwater and lye; gets rid of the fish guts and makes an old rag look brand new.

They drank their fill, the alewife bringing them four second rounds, at La Candelaria, spitting Whiskey and spiced rum at whoever got in their way. A plump fat woman wearing a flowered hat skips like a boulder across the dance floor, her cumbersomeness sending her caroming over tables and into unsuspecting laps. ‘her chin whistle... yank on!’ yells an colossus bellied man chewing on his thumbnail. ‘get out of the way, Lord Jesus... she’ll flatten you like a griddlecake!’ shrieks a woman eating a hunk of pulled mutton. Lela sat squared away in her booth, the tips of her toes touching the second and fourth table legs, her eyes squinting to make out the person leaning against the bar. Lord Murphy its him she said pulling her toes into her knees then clubbing them into doughy plugs. Leaning sideways against the bar, his head tilted slightly was Albert Scrim, rounder; a man with an iron heart and the morals of a defrocked priest. She held her breath and pulled herself deeper into the booth; hoping beyond wish that he wouldn’t see her, make her out. He ordered a third spiced rum, angling the glass to his mouth, a mouth beaten into a gory hole, and stared into the diamond-shaped mirror over the bar.

The last time she saw Albert Scrim he was forcing a boy wearing a propeller cap to kneel and lick the mud off his boots. The boy, his face torn between anger and fear was crying like a lost lamb, his propeller cap spinning round and round in circles. She pulled her knees into her chest to make herself seem smaller, invisible, the fan above her head wheezing like an asthmatic. Humphrey Champed, known for his crossed-eyes and wicker ear, stood admiring his phizog in the diamond-shaped mirror over the bar. Crossing his hairy ape-like arms and using them as a cowcatcher Humphrey Champed elbows his way to the back of the taverna. ‘you there!’ he says pointing a hairy finger at Lela, ‘what is your name?’

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Leopold J Dillon

Sallying he went, the sky over his head bickering with storm clouds. Overhead ahead he saw a gull, its wings riotously flapping, the turbulent twilight coil whitewashing the heavens bone-pale. It had been days since he’d last seen the harridan or her sister; or the alms man, who rarely if ever took a break from his lamming. ‘Must be something in the air’ he thought, ‘or I’m losing my eyesight; either way something strange is afoot, strange indeed’. He couldn’t recall the last time he looked under a big fat lady’s skirts, or the last time he got anyone’s attention other than his own. You could scream and roar but no one ever paid attention or turned an ear. You could get on all-fours or lay flat on your back, no skirt was there to look under or ear to turn. Legion of Christ! Magdalena Mary and Eve! His grandfather wore the same gum-soled galoshes to work every day, drying them upside down, the toe-box facing up. The other men made fun of him, cajoling him whenever he passed by. The head hand threw gut coils and trotter at him, laughing until his own belly fell open, his insides turning out onto the slaughterhouse floor. And for a pound Sterling more, She’ll stick her tongue in your ear. He threw himself into the day like a dog hit by a truck, his head skipping along the pavement like a wooden block. His da told him to stay clear of the bumboats ‘full of whores, stockpiled to the gunnels... and scalp lice bigger than your head‘. They got down on all-fours, Leopold J Dillon kneeling on top of the Witness’ father; the fat lady hiking her skirt round her hips, PK Purcell cracking a barrel, his hair combed and parted down the middle. ‘It’ll be a cold day in hell before I lay down two-quid Sterling on a two-bit whore’. The bumboats unload then set back out to sea, keel-hulls weighed heavy with spiced rum and ham trotter. He was mistaken for a whore’s pimp and beaten to a bloodthirsty pulp.

The quays were run by brigands of hard-nosed thugs, lowlife muggers and pickpockets, each meting out their own form of justice. His great uncle Jim refused to eat anything green, saying green was made from blue and yellow and not a real colour like red or black. The bastard never gave me a damn red penny. No one liked him, not even his own mother. The old cunt. Up and down the cellar seeing to her spice garden, prickly pair they were, my granddad and her. Said a man’s a man only when he can drive a nail through his hand without flinching. A nail for Christ’s sake. Mary and Joseph! Leopold J Dillon, chewer of prepuces drew the brim of his hat over his shady eyes and exclaimed ‘Mary and Joseph! Down on all-fours without a care in the world... a miserable sorry sight indeed! The nerve of her... flapping all out like a common whore’. Stockpiled to the gunnels the Legions of Christ set sail, a Mabbot Lane whore hanging lifeless off the portside gibbet, the first-mate saluting the gunny-side mortar.

He kept his personables’ in a pouncet-box: three shirts, two pairs of trousers, five hats, three panamas, two trilbies and a sou'wester, a canvas belt, buckleless, and a tin of Muskoxen plug. For the love of Leopold and Mary a nail for God’s sake! His great uncle bought his plug from a pug-nosed shopkeeper with a blind one-eye dog and a tailless cat. Up and down the cellar he went fetching tins of half-peaches and sweetmeat rolls, his coattails wagging airlessly behind him. This was not the first time he’d mistaken a half-peach for a sweetmeat, selling a half-tin of sweet-peaches to a lady who wanted a half-pint of sweetmeat filling. He dragged the pouncet-box scrappily across the deck, leaving a trail of nicks in the dark wood. He bit off a quid of Muskoxen plug, pinching it against his cheek with the tip of his tongue. Using his back teeth as a gristmill (his molars grinding the plug into oily shreds) he chewed and chewed, a thread of tar-black juice drooling down his chin. He remembered the farmers’ trucks, the drivers’-side doors latticed with black chaw spit, arms out the window, shirt sleeves rustling like corn husks in the late August breeze that came off the mustard fields like an Egyptian sirocco.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mabbot Lane

We start out dismembered only to die a whole corpse. Death and dying, the trick is to know which to do first. The Witness told him that we die the moment we surrender to God, then are born again and die again and are born again until we can’t die or be born anymore. The trick is in not dying the first time. Stay a corpse, that way dying is nothing more than dismembering until there’s nothing left but pieces. Once a corpse always a corpse he said laying his ink-stained hands on another feebleminded child’s forehead. Long live the weak-willed for they shall inherit this filth. The Witnesses’ father had been summoned by the standing council to bring an end to an outbreak of feeblemindedness that had enfeebled ½ the townspeople. ...said shut up; stop that! I said stop what? ...said pointing a finger; that. I coaly said never. Never. Once a corpse always a corpse. Now sit down and mind your manners. His da wore the same gumshoed boots to work every day, drying them upside down over the hot water ditch. The other fin-splitters made fun of his big round ears, spitting on his shirt when he walked by. ...fin-splitter they said! Get out of here! His father beat his father with a cow whip until he said uncle.

They drank their fill of brown Porter, Dreros and Tartarus did, the proprietress of the Cocytus taverna, eager to relieve them of quid and franc, offering them a third second round. On the mantelpiece above the coaly stove, the slipcase tattered from corner to crook, sat a well-thumbed copy of De Vulgari Eloquentia, a mock-up bust of Frank Duff anchoring the bookends. Bello Monto stood astride his jam jar chest unlocking her whalebone corset, Legion of Mary the paedo priests will have you sent to the laundry, that starchy bastard has a keyhole view. Leopold J Dillon and the not-so Dr. PK Purcell got off Scots free, knifed Annie Mack under the O’Connell bust, his granddad singing,

Leaves an oily taste in the back of your craw, pinch-bleached in boil-remover. His granddad said not to go down to Railway Street. And stay clear of Mabbot Lane, my boyo. Montgomery whores gather under the Burlo sticking out their livery tongues at passersby. Custom House fatties ‘ill beat the living tar out of you, gang up with the Montgomery’s, no shame at all. None! Legion of Mary, seen J. Dillon and that corker PK Purcell on all-fours, can’t get a good soap-down, not on a stub-man’s salary they say. He sallied forth into the night, arms sternly at his side.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

No Man is a Violin

His great grandfather hopped around on the leg that wasn’t sawn off and thrown in the alley behind the hospital. The straps, buffalo hide and pigskin, and the buckles, brass and plated silver, kept the wooden one from coming loose and cracking in half. He was a brutal sadistic man. A man who’s nose bled when he got angry. He bullied his way through life taking out anyone who got in his way. He wished he could forget the screaming, his mamma pleading with his grandfather ‘for the love of God’ll kill the boy’, and the fear that kept him awake, a reminder that he was just another boy with a bleeding nose and a black eye, but he couldn’t; he wouldn’t let go.

Poldy walked out in the day, his airman’s cap pulled over the flimsy cartilage of his ears. You’ll never have ears like other people, normal ordinary ears. Yours will always stand out, my boy, like a car coming at you with both doors wide open. His grandfather had round fleshy ears that set him apart from other men. Some of the fin-splitters on the slaughterhouse floor made fun of his grandfather, calling him droopy and mule headed. His grandfather never stood them down, saying that a man who takes a beating when he could have run away is no man at all. He’d rather he took a good thrashing, get his face smashed in, that way he could have at least one memory of him getting what he deserved. Time and better evidence might tell a different story. 'No man is a violin' his grandfather would say, the tips of his moustache coming together and forming a perfect circle under his nose. Or an isthmus. Remember that my boy, remember that I said it. All he remembered was the screaming, then screaming and the pleading, and the look on his face when he swung the belt over his shoulder like a cow whip, his father flinching like a beaten dog.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Campana Orbis

Casnewydd, professional trenchman, shoved his way past the rector’s assistant and into the sanctuary, Poldy eying him from the front pew. ‘smug cunts’ he hissed to himself, ‘offer ‘em a virgin and they take a whore’. Having heard tales of unspeakable cartelism, some so terrifying they made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end, Poldy hid his face in his hands and held his breath. There were cartels for tanners and shoemakers, cobblers and mongers, glovers and sackers; cartelism, the way of the future, so they say, those so saying the very ones who chartered and ran the cartels. None of this, trenching or cartelism, shoemaking or cobbling, which for many were the same thing, had anything to do with Casnewydd, but it did make an otherwise boring day exciting and worth the bother. ‘leave way!’ hollered Casnewydd pushing his way to the front of the church, his coattails flapping wildly, a boy in the front pew frightened out of his skin. Kindly leave your galoches in the sangkchoo-erree foyer; there is a wet mat provided for your convenience. The man’s hell-bent on making out lives’ a miserable mess!

Zeeman Landé stood admiring the dog’s reflection in the grocer’s window, his jaw a pockmark of syphilitic abscesses and scabbed over scars. Landé knew his da and his da’s da and everyone else that ever worked for the Mercury Fish Co. He used to be the night foreman in charge of the fishmongers and gutters, drinking himself to an early retirement and a whorishly large belly. His da’s da remembers slipping him Mickey’s of spiced rum to ensure he got the top slot on the gutting floor, the one next to the toilet where the men took their smoke break and shat stools pale with creosote and fish guts. The creosote was used to ease out the conveyor belt, which was forever getting choked with scales and fish guts, making the pulleys and rollers run awkward and off kilter. He was a lean lavender pale man with apelike arms and feet two sizes too big for his gumboots. This before the spiced rum and clap swelled his belly to the size of an sugarcane orchard. He thought it funny how when he remembered one thing he recalled another and another until he had an entire past present in his head. He hadn’t thought about Casnewydd or Zeeman Landé or the fact his da’s da was a real bastard and beat his da with his cowboy belt, not since the last time, and then he’d remembered things differently, not the way he remembered it now. This was not unusual; remembering things differently. It occurred after he’d spent the night carousing with the fat whores down by the railroad go-round, sharing flasks of oily dark beer and shoddily tamped cigarettes, the fat whores pressing their scarred bellies up against his scrawny chest and tickling him under his buttercup chin. He tried to remember things differently, like he thought they happened before he remembered them. He ended up thinking he remembered things when he had no evidence for remembering or thinking that he had, making him think he hadn’t experienced or remembered a thing at all in his life. His father wore the same flannel shirt to work every day, the one with the snap buttons and asbestos bib. That he remembered.

The sun fell over the rooftops like a gigantic yellow fireball. The ogress, tethering the corresponding foot to the analogous ankle stood admiring the sun’s reflection in the grocer’s window; a radiant ethereal feeling undertaking her just above the knee and below the hipbones. Some days begin quickly, others like an army under siege. Determining which is which, 'qui quae que quod quam', is best left to the Carmelites campana orbis. He generally found bell-ringers annoying; avoiding them at all cost. The Carmelites, they were a different matter; if you chose to shun them they retaliated, leaving you deaf and bleeding from the nose and ears. ‘puerperal’ he said bellowing, the insides of his eyelids fatty with yellowy grease. ‘can’t say as I ever heard of that. Must be some kind of disease: Lyme, Rickets maybe. Never can tell these days… always something new and horrible in the herd. Awful stuff Rickets… hard on the legs, go all bent and crooked. Come up with a cure… a salve or one of them magic potions. Sell it for an arm and a leg… straightened ‘em out by God it would’.

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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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