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.

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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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