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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