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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