Sunday, November 06, 2011

Diospyros Genitalis

‘Those of you who have read De Animus have a good deal of forgetting to do’ said the prophet. The prophet cleared his gravelly throat and said ‘ex nixie animus’ the congregants looking on in awe. ‘You may begin now, if you have the courage to’.

The prophet sought out a doctor to cure his swollen legs. ‘I can perform a phlebotomy’ said the doctor. The prophet agreed, saying as long as it was done to ensure his prophesy, even bloodletting.

His mother made him wear culottes summer, winter and fall and a scarf that hid his face from chin to brow. He was legless, having fallen drunk into the path of an oncoming train, his legs sheared off below the hips. He moved about on a small board equipped with wheels, punting himself along with two wooden blocks, his stumps sleeved in a garment bag nailed into the back of the board.

Klickitat-klickitat he went his hands feverously paddling the asphalt. He drank from a bottle of oatmeal water balanced between the stumps of his legs, a lesson from another legless man with years of experience. He drank like a Mormon heretic cast asunder into the depths of hell. He took a long slow pull from the bottle, his lips encircling the fibrous glass. He knew the depths a man would go to outcross the cross so didn’t push it too far. He punted his way up the sidewalk not stopping for pedestrians or small children tethered to lampposts by impatient mothers.

He knew of other people but only in passing. He paddled his way across the blacktop pivoting his hips to lessen the imbalance. ‘My life is driving me crazy’ he murmured to himself, for even were there anyone in earshot they wouldn’t have given his protestation a second thought. Shingles and Tarpaper 4 Sale read a sign over a hardware store. ‘Tarpaper’ he thought ‘a man’s castle is his house’. When he was a child the legless man was cared for by an au pair with caramel yellow skin. She pushed him round town in a perambulator with a border on top. She spoke Esperanto and twiddled her fingers when she felt anxious, which she did most of the time. She took Dalasi morphine for pain which she kept in tinctures in her handbag.

A little sniff of dipole will do. His grandfather carried whole tunas slung over his shoulder with a hook. It wasn’t as easy as it looked. Given his lumbago it was a wonder his grandfather could carry his own weight. The men drove Pontiac coupes with automatic windows and bucket seats. The men threw fish guts into the giant smelter, the cistern-belly stretched to five centimeters, his grandfather poking the offal with a stick. He lay in the her belly, biscuits and whey-marrow, his mother cutting the crusts from the edges of his toast. She spread turnip-paste on his breakfast cakes saying it would bring out the vim and vigor in him. A stringy spat-cord, what tethers her to the bubo of his navel.

His mother carried low. She grunted and moaned, her eyes trained on the Douala’s forehead. ‘Stop it’ she demanded. ‘this is most annoying!’ She carried low, the turret of her pelvis pressed against the railing of the bed. ‘Such a shameless hussy’ she moaned. He corseted up the down, his grandmamma’s stern warning ever-present in his thoughts ‘there’ll be hell to pay my boy…more than a soul can cash and carry’.

Everything, the bluest sky and the greenest ocean, appeared in the mirror of her eyes. The eyes are not the mirror of the soul, as she had been told, but the lead backing. She thought of her father’s hands and a child’s thumbprint in a clump of soft mud. She weighed her thoughts taking care not to weigh them too much lest she faint. He mother fainted often, her apron snagging table legs and curtain rods. A child’s thumbprint in a galumph of mud. ‘Such a shameless hussy’ she moaned. The soul is the mirror of the eyes. His mother’s thoughts spun and spun weaving themselves into a latticework of agony. Lambswool blankets and her mother’s bee-bitten lips ‘shameless hussy am I’.

His grandfather made his peace with God. The rector’s assistants crossed himself and stood astride the altar picking a tooth. ‘Alms for the poor’ shouted a beggar-woman. ‘Shut your mouth’ hissed the rector’s assistant. She squatted on the steps of the church wrapped in Salvation Army blankets. ‘I am a person too’. He turned out the pockets of the priest’s surplice feeling for loose change, and finding none hung it in the sacristy closet. ‘My feet are numb’. Hearing the beggar-woman’s plea his grandfather unbowed his knees and exited the church. ‘Cunts!’ yelled the beggar-woman piquantly. ‘May you rot in hell! Every last one of you!’ His grandfather hurried to catch the tram, the sky overhead threatening rain. His granddad used to catch the very same tram every morning at seven o’clock sharp, only once missing it when his grandfather fell ill and he felt duty bound to stay home and care for her. Bendix Schönflies was the name of the trolley driver whom his grandfather said a cheery hello to each morning when he boarded the tram, smiling broadly as he made his way down the aisle to his seat in the middle. Molasses biscuits, his grandmother made them fresh each morning before his granddad’s seven o’clock tram. She wrapped them in wax-paper, folding the edges into envelopes and placed them in his granddad’s lunchbox with an apple. Next to them she placed a bottle of goat’s milk and a linen napkin.

His granddad carried a calculator on his belt that he used to weigh the cost ratio of cod to haddock. Taking into consideration the batter, which weighed less than the fish, he arrived at 27½. He set foot in the church only once, on the occasion of his niece’s christening, a commodious affair attended by his sister, two brothers and the priest.

His grandfather told him that ‘Dogs live outside the world of humans’ and ‘the dog-world is a world of sniffing and scratching’. The Slav butcher had a Florentine recipe for dog meat: a cube of Oyo and 27 ½ cups of warmish milk. The meat was marinated overnight in the milk and Oyo, skillet-fired and then left to simmer overnight a second time. He served it with smoked Gouda on a bed of wild rice. He cleaned his teeth with chicken bones, meniscus’ his grandmother said.

A fat moon sat low in the morning sky, the horizon overburdened with rain clouds and gulls. Some mornings the moon sat so low it resembled a crouching frog, sometimes a yellow disc and sometimes simply a moon. The northernmost star twinkled next to a daystar in the branches of a willow tree. ‘The star that corrupts all the other stars’ his grandmother said. ‘a few tawdry souls too’. (And souls made from morphine and aftershave). His grandmother made Doll pastries with extra icing sugar and almonds. The proof is in the pudding, Plumtree’s extra with lemon sauce and a hint of cinnamon. Before the accidental drowning his grandmother made pudding every Friday without fail; the drowning making the preparation more laborious. Barrel of Bass, owned and operated by the Ansell Brothers, sold Healy inkerasers a dime a half-dozen. His father boasted that he could out-eat anyone and would prove it a the Feast of Our Lady of the Mount. Those in the know knew that Phil Cockerel, known for his commodious appetite, would be in attendance and would most probably out-eat his father by a mackerel and a tongue.

The Westmoreland Brothers, owners of a Daguerreotyping shop and renowned for their own voracious hunger, were nowhere to be seen that day. Later it was learned that all three spent the day sniggling, two of the brothers falling head over heel into the water. His grandmother had bunions that splayed her toes like windblown branches.

When not softening bunions and applying plasters the podiatrist examined whores for bedbugs and headlice. In return for his prophylactic services he was given a girl on the house to do with as he pleased. His grandfather believed in the imbecilization of the masses, which he maintained was being carried out by the commodiously rich and parasitic. ‘Mark my words, the more television you watch the more stupid you’ll become… and imbeciles, my boy, don’t fare well in a machine world’. His grandfather believed that sooner or later the world would break in two, separating the imbecilic from the smart-alecky.

He drank black molasses Porter, his fellow imbibers slapping him amiably on the back, his grandfather replying with a frothy smile. ‘Imbeciles’ laughed his grandfather. ‘Soon they’ll see that all that reading was for naught’. He liked mincemeat pies and porkpie hats. His Brigham billowing his grandfather sat on the front stoop watching the world pass by. Penny seeds he called them, the black hirsute rolls running with them. Saint Albert and the Corrupter Sims, those two liked crab cakes and a nip of Paddy’s Bold. The proofing is in the mincemeat, his grandmother would say.

He dreamt he was dreaming, his eyes inside out, staring at a blanched spot on the ceiling. Dreams are for the restless, his grandmother said, ABEYANCE CULPA. Saint Albert and the Corrupter Sims ate crab cakes until their stomachs burst, Sims leading the way with a comity hiccup. ‘Thinking takes far too much energy’ he thought. ‘and the headaches are merciless’. ‘Give me a strong cup of bitters and one of grandmamma’s poppy seed cakes’. ‘What about piggly-wigglies?’ Dreams are the things that CAKES are made of you fool!

Weakfish in molasses, his granddad verily rarely missed a chance to pilfer a pre-prandial snoot. ‘So little time and so few bowls’.

As he sat eating his boiled meat sandwich waiting for his father he watched men in Fedoras and bowlers, panamas and sou'westers, hats that look like hats but on further inspection were really grapefruits cut in half, enter and leave the off-hour. A roundly thickset man with a melancholic smile disguised under a moustache, his ferry captain’s cap tottering, reached out his hand and rubbed the top of his head, saying as he did ‘that’s a good boy, I’m sure your da’ll be out soon’. Spy’s hats and Belizean cowboy hats, hats made from hemp and spun wool that sat like dishrags on scullery maid’s heads. Corsair commander’s hats with gold piping and chevrons, Bishop’s Miters coopered with frankincense and mums, snake-charmer’s hats and hats fashioned from elephant fronds and Moses reeds. He watched men with little regard for children and wife, Job and God, make their way in and out of the off-hour, some stumbling drunk, others fishing for coins in the bottoms of threadbare pockets, and coming up with nothing sang offensive songs bent on making fun of the less-fortunate and downtrodden. With this many hats to choose from his father always chose a simple boater with a silver thread merge between the brim and hatband. It was not hard to identify his father coming out of the off-hour, as his silver-threaded boater, now crumpled and at a tilt on his head, smelled of spiced rum and other men’s laughter.

He was raised by traveling circus clowns. Jocose and Bovina traveled with the Herschel Liege traveling circus, stopping in small towns and hamlets, cities and conurbations, anywhere where they were permitted to set up their tents and livery the animals. He was conceived after a night of debauchery, Jocose moaning, her clown’s nose splayed across her cheekbones, Bovina going-off inside her like a Roman Candle, her thighs thumping against the cabana walls. The hastily rolled prophylactic burst off the end of his penis hitting the roof with such force that it shook the cabana like a swift boot, the window frame clapping against the door jamb like castanets. He was spit out like a rotten oyster, a boil the size of a grapefruit on the tip of his nose. Having managed to wrench him free with a speculum the doctor noticed that he had two arms, ten fingers, two eyes, one brown one blue, and no legs to speak of. His father, rising from his barstool exclaimed ‘for the love of God what have we done?’

As legs are the stays that keep a body from topple over their son’s body was in constant topple. He caromed and swayed, listing like a broken metronome. What balance he had went to staving off obstacles and impediments which were many. His parents, figuring that a clown’s nose might prevent their son from toppling over, rigged one from ear to ear tying it at the base of his head with a reef-knot. His parents shunted him around the circus grounds in a wheelbarrow, his father pushing, his mother making sure his head didn’t bang up against the sides. He was a queer sight, arms flailing, his nose redder than the reddest tomato. Jocose and Bovina rented a small cabana with a makeshift portico and awning; they owned three lawn-chairs and a tree trunk fashioned into a coffee table.

They ate from the circus garbage, spoiled cottage hams and wieners, some so shriveled they looked like amputated toes, crusts of dry bread and things rotten but not so rotten that they weren’t edible. His grandfather knew of the circus family but only in passing, not giving them a second thought. The second time he saw them they were performing under the big-top across from the Waymart next to the aqueduct. Jocose and Bovina were running in circles, they’re hair combed back into ducktails. They pretended they were two cock’s fighting, backs ridged, they’re feet kicking up clouds of circus dirt. Their son sat astride his wheelbarrow suckling the end of a rubber glove his mother had puckered into a nipple.

His parents never read the Cat in the Hat to him or anything that made animals into humans. He preferred Popular Mechanics and National Geographic. He read folios and book chapters devoted to tightrope walking and circusry, how-to books and anything remotely concerned with weighs and balances. He read articles on scouting and editorials that championed the use of sulfas for trench-foot. He liked orange soda and Black Cat gum. He read for such long stretches that his eyes crossed in on themselves, his vision doubled and redoubled. His sight would reappear but only after he’d force himself to squint 27½ times without stopping. He knew a man whose eyes were so milky with cataracts that he had to wear a cardboard cutout over his face. When he took off the cardboard cutout to wipe the sweat from his brow he saw that his eyes were blanched with white dots, some no bigger than the head of a pin. He used a cane with a silver hogshead cap that he twiddled between his forefinger and thumb. He knew a woman with a stonemason’s jaw that clacked when she ate.

He awakened to a fiery yellow sun, its brilliance obliging him to squint like a Chinaman. Things getter hotter the hotter things get. On miserably hot days he headed for the coolness of the museum where he would stare for hours at a painting of Christ weeping next to a woodcut of the Last Supper. He would bring with him a ploughman’s lunch, two hard boiled eggs, three pickled onions and a persimmon (Diospyros Genitalis). He would sit with his left leg hooked round his right, take a small bite of egg and onion and a mouthful of persimmon. He ate in this manner until his ploughman’s lunch was finished


Pearl said...

much longer chunks than before.

love: " The eyes are not the mirror of the soul, as she had been told, but the lead backing."

saw the people in Italy navigating on skateboards without legs.

Stephen Rowntree said...

Thanks, Pearl... I saw a legless man punting with wooden blocks when in Bogota this summer.

As for the length of posts: second drafting. The second of many, I'm beginning to feel.

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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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