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.

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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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