Ham & Cheese Appendices: Being Three, Unretouched Notebooks with Provisional Titles Containing American, Ham and/or Cheese

 

(BOILED HAM)

And all the many helmets of elsewhere—

Statues also die.

*

The godforsaken workaround on the broken path

To October—

Elsewhere, a habit is formed.

*

Ne’er broke.

*

Stand in contradistinction.

*

FIFTH AVENUE

THUNDER FUN

*

BOX & GLOM

*

Today’s tools include—

Ella Swings.

Hawk Flies.

Monk Stews.

Miles Cooks.

*

Brick & Mortuary

*

Robot Sliced Noodles.

*

Somehow summer.

Summer somehow.

April— nuggets from Das Vaterland

Mit Monsieur Arp in untranslatable concrete.

*

Here’s another dime for you, Mister Songman.

*

COLLECTING PHOTOGRAPHY BREAKFAST

*

Groinal— tight pants

On tasty ones.

*

Downtown breakfasts of long ago.

*

That is not the actress—

Disastrous as a dime.

*

Today’s family’s many splendored

Fingertips— spread wide across

The wooden keys.

*

THE WHOLE ENTIRE UNIVERSE OF ALL TIME

*

One eyed hot dog vendor winks hello—

Seeking lucrativity among the metallurgists.

*

The boys can live awhile

On cinnamon and macaroni.

An occasional onion

For some good measure.

*

Round up all the gents

With drinking problems

In the Composition Department.

Have them convene

With the delivery fellows.

Give them punch, should

They require it and they will

Require it.

*

Not as if love was as easy as capitol T.

Because everyone knows that love

Is the difference between blue and green.

(Add your mother)

*

Often, after

Reading awhile

I put my hand

Under my chin

For a little

Sleep or some such.

*

My horse is a bird.

So over the snow

And next week

Will be warmer

The songbirds

Are saying

That next week

Will be warmer

With a droopy groove

It’s a droopy groove

On the double tome time.

Look! Drunken lesbians

Leaving the strip club!

Times change daily!

Blowing into the valley

In midtown all the backdoor

Balconies.

*

That’s so funny!

You’re laughing me!

*

The rigorous filth.

*

Jazz bone behemoth.

*

The snow peas of thirst.

*

VICTORY HAS A HUNDRED FATHERS. DEFEAT IS AN ORPHAN.

*

Homeless Los Angelino on Grand Street in the pouring rain—

THEY GET TO SLEEP ON THE BEACH FOR 30 YEARS!

*

Day laborer

Tamale lady

Empanada lady

Iron worker

*

The conversation

You’ve requested

No longer exists.

*

Look!

I’m in the rectangle of New York!

*

These are animals.

I am an animal.

*

Off book—

In this cloak

I always feel awesome.

Most high, unholy

Hymning—

A snack in grandaddy’s hat.

The porcine portrait side panel

Of Flushing Meats’ delivery truck

Avenue D of a Thursday.

Crown Chicken

Church Chicken

King Chicken

*

Fragile compassion

Hymn plaque.

Hymn plague.

Hymns from the homeland.

The tomb

From Friday

Forward—

Homemade ham salad

And black coffee.

Like a grandmother

At Paul’s Diner—

Downtown

Homeland

1974

Tuna fish

And coffee.

Paul was not

Only the best Tuna

Sandwich in town

He was also the mayor.

Only twenty years later

Did I realize how good

The combination was—

*

British

Third Grader

Brandown

Butterick’s

Big Sister

Brenda

& Her

Gigantic

Bosoms—

Their father

Was a chain smoking

Lyric poet

Of some regard

In the north

Of England.

*

Second impulse to poetry— 1981

Super tight, dark brown corduroys.

Double date including Jimbo Durns, who became

A religious. Can’t remember her name.

Needed to fluctuate the entire date.

*

Flatulent “STEMS” of drums.

*

Third airline beer $18 left.

Airplane sausage

Airplane cheese.

Wind warning.

*

Empty Tuesday

On scaffold street.

*

Irregularities in screw & bolt fabrication.

We bend.

*

Almost feel

As if I’ve

Spent most

Of my life

In mourning.

*

Listening

To Canadian girls sing.

Listening

To bongo and banjo.

Eating cheese

From a far.

*

Dog named Barney.

*

CAPSTONE

*

ERSTWHILE

*

C: Is that the wonderful bridge?

T: We are monsters! We are important!

*

Blood Thinner Alert!

*

Is the money obscene in baseball?

Is the money obscene in the movies?

Is the money obscene in politics?

Is the money obscene in celebrity?

Is the money obscene in reality?

Then shut your yap hole about art.

*

I’m not the least bit disenfranchised.

*

At this level of acrimony.

Air fluff. No heat.

*

It’s not his fault he’s from Toronto

And the wind is brown with Adriatic teeth.

*

NULL SET

*

He rented a room

To draw in the dark.

That was his idea

Of shore leave.

Lucifer shone the light—

Torch-bearer, luminescence

Divinity in the latrines

Of Rome, the grip

Of a great white rock

Of a light that grows.

Maybe he played

The radio, perhaps

He blared the radio

Loudly. Only

The drawings can tell

And they are mutually

Uniformly

Unimpeachably

Mute. The news

Relates a crash

In oil prices.

He drinks a bowl

Of milk in the dark.

Other parts

Of the kingdom

Require robes.

The sagas relate

That way before

Leif Ericson, way

Indeed, before

Columbus discovered

Canada on my birthday.

*

Separating iron

From rock

Is called SMELTING.

*

They die too.

*

Nobody quits

While they’re ahead—

This isn’t France.

We toast

With distant Pabst

As well as the immediate

Future.

*

I chew my bloody Mary

Like a nook midget.

*

EKPHRASTIC TRIPTYCH

LEFT PANEL— where a large, bearded man

Halves a loaf of cheese and then halves it again—

Dirty hands leaving deep, groovy, prints

In the loaf’s malleable surface and edges.

*

Manual as a tube of royal blue.

*

The result being a painting

Worth retelling with words.

Echo Niner says the pilot

Through his relentless, static stutter.

*

Northern men in southerly climes—

And the difficulty of their times.

*

Solid like spring

Time when the water

Is a wall. When you know

The morning’s broken

In a sack full of plastic

Circles.

*

Perpetual trouble

Shooter’s manual.

*

Pile of plastic.

Big bag of wigs.

The children of sleep

Are cheap and the books

Of Jersey City are safe

As the central stairwell.

Stop at philopater.

Stop at wisdom.

Be better.

*

Got his in Michigan

From above, when

The clouds break

And a shore appears

Out of nowhere—

Like a zip line through

The evaporation of milk

That the sky was when we

Were struck rough by indignities

Of the old east flying fast

For a foreign sun, knowing full

Well it’s been dead the while.

And again an hour

Later, a new shore wavers north

In order that wheelwrights

Might steer their handiwork

Toward an end

To the argument of water.

*

THREE STANDING WOMEN

TWO SQUATTING WOMEN

SEATED WOMAN

GIRL BY THE BED WITH GLADIOLAS

*

And so it is that after

All these years

The light up high

Becomes a miniscule

Orange ribbon

Like one sewn

Into the oversized sleeve

Of a simpleton’s ceremonial cloak.

Stuck between the sweat

Of earthly cares and the bruising

Weight of smog from our supposedly

Spiritual delights.

*

That’s a lot of dead passengers up there

Says Mitch from under his moustache.

And that tiny wisp turns into a smart

Weft of tensile threads and disappears.

Abundant as the box

Of jack threads what fell off the truck

And just as suddenly the charm

Of color outs the sky

Leaving dust and sleep and a blue

That is widely described as black.

*

And so we rose west regardless

Watching clouds rolling west

Fast and toward the sun—

Knowing still the sun can’t run

But stands still amid the pile of white.

*

Billy Dollar on Juanita Street.

*

JOKES ABOUT BACON

RAINBOW ON THE CULVER LOCAL

JOKES ABOUT JEWS

JOKES ABOUT BEER—

I’ll have the Ass Burger, rare.

*

Coat smells like Hood River wood smoke.

*

T: Your treasure is our light.

C: So put this in mine treasure.

*

Eat a canoe!

Eat a surf board!

Eat a ski!

*

REMOVING INTACT ALL FOUR CORNERS AT THE EAVES

*

EVERY DAY DREAM OF AIR RIGHTS DASHED

*

Among the footmen

Among the many

Amidships, aplenty.

*

Velocity, volume, veracity—

Mannahatta.

*

Hand me that granddad-made spade.

*

Miguel! Bone to see you

Last son soon sir!

*

1965 club—

Empty can of bitter rain.

*

This I have seen

Dripping.

This I have seen

Dimming.

This I have seen

Sniveling.

This I have seen

Careening.

There I have gone.

*

Abby versus Abe

Lincoln.

*

JOSEPH CORNELL— THE TRUFFLE PIG OF FOURTH AVENUE

*

MAYHAP

*

FOR LOVE OF THE GLOAMING

*

Manhattan in May—

300 slate blue

Jerseys fell off the truck.

Dog sniffing decades

Of piss rusting on the hunter

Green RELAY MAIL box.

*

White man in a black shirt

Emblazoned TCHAIKOFSKY

*

Very white man—

As in translucent.

*

The world is Robert’s toilet.

*

Woman with a box

Of lemons, seeking

Fourteenth Street—

One station late.

Hikes her Husker shirt

Gets up so she can sit down.

The sailor’s face is rubbery.

The student flicks her proof.

Fire stops.

Green spots.

All along the bus route.

*

The amount of hard rubbish on a single

Street in Manhattan, walked twice daily

Thrice or more some days, could house

A village if repurposed. Today alone I saw

Four perfectly functional, full-length

Mirrors leaning against a dumpster

Near Eighth Avenue. That dumpster

Is always full due to the college dorm

It functions for— college kids— whose

Lives and reflections are disposable, apparently.

*

ELDERHELMSMAN, DUNKED

*

THINK

Hard as the sun

On skin.

Mean as the old

Old wind.

*

Young and naked

As the night.

*

Watch the workmen peregrinate.

*

That condo’s grown a helmet

Made of clay. The hut next

Is dormant with two ears

Of greener wood steam.

*

Wooden Manhattan (before electricity)

*

Or we could be in Italy

With all the others.

*

Gene Kelly’s greatest role—

An American Embarrassed.

*

Ah! Spring!

Stink-hole of seasons!

*

Walking the dog—

And there he was—

The devil in the front

Seat of a Pontiac sedan

Of some sort—

I was never good with models—

Only the make.

***

(THE DIMPLING CISTERN)

or

(MORE CHEESE PLEASE)

 

The dimpling cistern’s quivering meniscus—

The quarter moon drips like a sleeve—

Flimsy as the thermostats inside him.

Riding a small tractor, waist-naked

Dented helmet, cocked and dusty

From the dormant orchard and gullible

Garden grit—

The smithy cooling newly

Wrought wares in a barrel sawed in half—

Barrier full of rain, the bone mayor’s

Quarter moon dry as a plaster trophy.

Rent by the virid middle-far, afloat

In its own cyanosphere.

Over the river was a paper mill—

A paper will, paper nil.

Storm. Drag. Stroll. Hay road.

Lid. Waffle. Another waffle.

Batsmanship among tall trees

And balls. One should be prone—

Of the warmer holidays. One

Should allow the scud of alto

Cumulus in sky blot-hot—

Between lungs and terror.

Ducks eating dumplings.

*

Darkness and a mist settled grim

Upon the green. It was morning when

The dogs came smitten by their visage

In pools clustered low behind fell trees.

It was noon when the silhouettes appeared—

Black one in front and the darker in back.

It was after when the slight light torpedoed

An otherwise blue room all but slatternly red.

It was dusk as the rain began again in earnest.

It was night when the dogs left with both legs

Limping.

*

Checking today’s idle hour

For Vienna Sausages

An overhearing

That went a little some

Thing like he was a forge

Now eating ham

In his dotage.

*

In your brother’s basement

Bedroom, such and such a so and so—

Small, red guitar in flames, under a throne

Of falcons, under a three of door-fogs.

The drapery’s industrial mustard

Short as the window well it balconies—

Memorization of birds, pipes of famous

Men, wilted Hampshire cabinets in the steam.

As for lunch? All flesh. His stack is stag—

Up-rearing stallion in a world of mere horses.

*

Words were windows—

All lighted.

*

Also, being lost, without

Windows— words, light

The pier song’s way.

In an old tin bowl that held

Our potatoes like a hug.

Summer squeezed us too, a warmth

Like butter on corn, and welcome

As such delicacies in the bitter

Heat. Rages blazed with char

And wiped by sharper knives

Of meat. We’ve gone from bitten

Winter rumpus direct to these—

Boiling fumes.

No longer any

Spring, just hell freeze and hell

Fire. We’re still hungry. We’re

Still hunting while the train snorts

Not very far away from here at all.

Every train is a-hurry just like every

Bowl sings her best song with a spoon

Inside her belly.

*

The radio is broken— poor fool.

The yelp accompanying a triple.

Congratulatory minor-league wide-bands.

Helicopter ponds and awkward hawks.

Rat in the hopper of a chicken-bucket stop.

Healthier specimen of the genus—

Of the family, of the gene-pool, of the chain

The kingdom, phylum and class disorder.

He feasts on what the infirm and hungry

Let remain. Change your flag, old man.

Be wise, down deep, be wise. Get gas

With your chicken. Let the vermin rest

As the sky loosens to the flight of a knife

Through the soupy aires—

A millionth tongue, a tabernacle’s

Pageantry, a rich caress of cares

And a gout of kisses. Gallantry, snorts

Chortles, a nearer moon. Flash. Dapple.

Sweet ducks! Derriere. Sloop. Thunder

Blooming the Sunday room, decided

Darkness, then pouring the streets

With salt. Drum reports twice across

The echo floor, loose bureau, cavernous

Davenport. Puce bureau. Porous

Davenport neverlasting—

Grief as thief— blue

Ink common as a robin

In the deep, old grass

Of a summer’s middle—

Belly full of worms

And sturdy as the chalk

Brick buttress of below—

With a sharp fork

Inside the calm comfort of her mouth.

*

At the touch of a broken button—

So says the smoke in the rain—

Anything to see you naked again.

He hangs his nasty hat on the bannister

Against her wishes.

*

Steeled by good, crooked clay—

The cool rooms each born skew

In different bricks just past

The brush line in the window—

There is where a carnival

Does its parking. You can

Hear the music and cackles

Prim as the sticks

In this wall full of nestlings.

Lost music putting purity

Backwards. Imbrications.

Vortices wayward forward.

*

The mailman is a little old lady.

*

A basket full of babies— bright calls—

Trains are clear. Partly that they are so

Rarely seen, as much as heard, as clear

And partly cloudy is the enchantment of darkness.

*

Letters add up to sideways cartography—

Pure pyre meaninglessness. Robins mock

The venerable window wells which were

Swollen by the flood and brought the cellar’s

Eyes to pour forth lachrymose, copious

Horrible, silty rivers. But the babies bounce

Back, noggins of bedrock, ensconced in rubble—

Dreamless yet, despite the disposition of bliss.

*

She hammers the keys, an ivory saunter.

Her boutonniere itches menthol. Lime

Dangles in her gin soak, several days old.

She gave up prodigious for a gory life

Full of dropped kerchiefs, straps off

Smooth shoulders, bruised gropings.

Seven suns dot the micro-sky. The heat

Vectors, like knuckles on an owl—

A stray horn’s clarion din.

Taciturn terns at the taco shack

An honor of fossil fuel.

Cushions moist— of aging ocean done.

Deep sleep like syrup over the whole—

A drowsy dowsing.

*

Butterfly lost in the vestibule.

Hot dog. Dray horse. Dread nought.

*

Mountainside knife works of Pigeon Forge.

Come hear (from here) the jolly

Cries where folly lies—

Both ways down and dirty.

*

At men and their harms

I mumble. No charms, nor

Pipers neither.

*

Jesus Is Lord = Pother

We Buy Guns = Proof

*

Well-worn hill home

West of famous grass—

Head of a youth in profile—

Inside stands a vexed man

Who wants to cut

The hair of his first

Born son.

*

He needs a Getty martini.

*

Whoso is the god of this?

Wind splats the frontage.

Wind is fuel for the furnace—

The holy hallway full of uncles.

Tectonic, terrific, tricky.

*

Meats Cheeses Pickles Bread Chicken

Changed my mind but quick

She’s my buddy’s chick

Meats Chesses Pickles Bread Bacon Beer

Anchors, screws, nails, magic.

Magic, anchors, screws, nails.

Pastor with two different shoes.

Heart-shaped shorts. A bit of toasted

Pig and some liquid cow on bread

Or pain as the French talk it back

In the long gone away before good

Bye Brokeneck, before good bye fatso

Before good bye lispy, good bye other

Fatso. That is when the rocks were piled

High on the pillow dust called once.

Shrikes in flight surround the eagles—

A bell-tower claiming noon.

*

By comparison— there is none.

*

Value at half staff.

*

His boat is bigger than the sun.

&

Blue scape                   Stone boats

Sand scape                  Salt pillows

Green scape                Rock water

White scape                Cream stable

We mull the berries in the not sun.

*

Groan beds rolling

Like an ocean gone

Coaster. Rogue, sage

Booze or death—

Black Port end.

*

Wads

Worth—

What

You

Are not—

DEAD HEAT.

Bright as new lung.

We could weed it purple.

Bone chance.

Rustic as Rome.

Whereby the sky

Splits into arrows

And planets beam forth

As leaps across empty

Caves of teases

In starlight harking.

*

Violins and cheese.

*

Looking up a word

In the dictionary—

Haven’t ever heard

How knuckles grow hairy.

Wasting time, a dally

A tarry.

*

Two truck drivers eating

Salads at a gas station.

*

A plain explained— very

Mischief. Tesla at Sweaty Rock.

*

Sky bream

And grunty sleepeth—

At last.

*

PELLUCID

MANUMISSION

ISTRIA

*

The limpid reflection off cold

Water onto hot brick is the same

Visual as the rise of waves over

Boiling pots of water. As air, so

Water.

*

Brick-smack.

*

The honeybee that hovers

Over lavender, heavy

As the smell of children

Laughing.

*

Hill idyll.

Love lyric.

Dance across.

*

Guns are contrapuntal

Punctuation. Green gone

Grey. There’s a trio

And a wonder star.

*

Starlings dash the valley silly.

*

Just a touch of bloom sleep

Juice through a Slovenia of peace.

*

Garage jolly.

White, fresh seaside

With decrepitude

And gull-savvy boat

Scrotums float—

Escarpments bent

Around cement silos—

Cloud-ward glades

Over milky turquoise

Streams, remaining

Cloudless.

*

The castle was very beyond.

*

The water man eats a dozen peaches

For his breakfast. Lion

Says put your pants on.

*

Tingle tango.

*

Marble belly up, sleeps on a pile

Of coins, watched by a two-headed

Eagle.

*

Of yore.

*

Blind girl

With broken

Toe.

Thanks a thousand

For the happiest hunter

Green barnacles on the canal

At six of the clock—

Two gulls eating a pigeon.

Or as the songstresses

Of Calle del Cimitero

Always said— if life

Gives you lemons

Smoke a cigarette.

*

Hover over the pitkin ingle.

*

Doused in Greece

We misunderstand

Rome squeaky

As a daydream.

*

Thigh-bone skull cup like

A world class trombone

When all you want to do

Is play the trumpet.

***

(BROWNSVILLE)

or

(BACON)

So dangle delicate decades

Behind on the straight-aways

Just ahead on the curves like nuptial cans

Clanking with bent abandon’s microgrooves.

Blistered by hungriest sun bleach

Yawning, gaudy, exhausted ever after.

So we swerve onward and forward, on

The nose of same and the factory’s Russian

Enclave keeping poetry 900 years

Ugly. Super Eye with spent boat

And flamed out China bomb

Across the subjacent street where

Two boys bully a junkyard dog

Who stares through the pig

Worker fence-bulge in shame.

All nineteen men on the street

Are scavengers. At home again

The smell of Brooklyn halls

Has not changed these twenty

Five and counting quickly.

Yankee ninety nine give me

The Triple Animal (a sandwich–

Local pig, chicken and cow

Dash of salt with pepper) and smile.

That lump in your drum roll

Is bacon. That beggar is no

One’s brother. Liquored formica

Like a foot path to Shandaken

Circa 1929, in a poet’s tarnished

Pants, pants of worn tarnation.

Speaking of blemishes, the box

Of books, the box of books

The box of books. As such–

Whomsoever’s grief ever enters

Exits un-retouched in gelatin grays.

Howsoever their Koran stammers

Through in Spanish, howsoever

Their Torah knows of Zola or Lorca’s

Foible of fountains making

Mist from the tears of jilted retirees

Long departed these old breweries

Of Bushwick yon, the one nobody

Remembers. The rankled, dank

Brown stink hole and the like.

We mean 1929.

Rock Dove loose underground

At Broadway Junction. Lamp loose

Too bent for attention. And on

The return leg realize I like a little white

Lip or gully around and image

Because of stickers from the sport

Hood of childscape. Recall

Always also Throop like Norman

Like Alabama Avenue now.

Salvage yards mostly, exhilarate.

Abound, the flatbed, the open

Summer farm, gut north. Builder

Roman. News from Paris as regards

Boris on a cool and drizzly Sunday

Indoors, sorting at home. An American

Embarrassed. Coffee and cream

Salami. Interior with outré jazz.

The list is long of artists writing

Poetry and poets making art.

Their waiting room is crowded

And the lobby at their Hall

Of Fame is full to bursting.

How then to proclaim one’s tiny

Territory, blanched already

By middle May, buried by empty

Boxes. After a spank of flooding

The wood still un-warped. Stay

On top of your Stanley Dance

My son, keep the Duke in your

Front pocket. Wear your billfold

Like a middleweight on fight night.

Keep the muscles in flex, in situ

In excess, the maximal answer

To manhood. Keep the iron pigs

At bay, the tire fellows too are poison

To your sculpture, albeit golden

For your poetry. Go forth like a third

Baseman batting third in the order

With a count of two balls, two strikes

And if there are two outs Grandpa

Is happy in a heaven made

Of cotton flannel and chino.

Be a gong at the end of a long song

Whensoever of a Monday afternoon.

Ever the time, ever the day, ever

The month and if whenever only

Imperative the year, because

If it’s now it’s then. Blasé heat

Loosens minty back spasms.

Tiny empire full of windows.

Welladay! Welladay! Welladay!

Wellaway! Wellaway! Wellaway!

Oh Yankee Captain Beef hat

And ankle to hip adoration

On the west bound elevated

Day all fond and done unto dusk.

First there is a probing, akin, say

Perhaps to the opening salvo

From the expulsion of Ezra

From Pennsylvania proper

Boots caked with sewage raw

Gloves caked, each septic paw

A ruddy pummeling of oil, gas

Liquor, jazz, grease and charcoal.

Also a box of sepia chalk upon

The occasion the King’s been

Dumped on our streets again

Fat as the pigs yester-breakfasts

Pimped by groovy-aproned grannies

Grinning big for a decent duck egg

Once in a market while away.

Ice cold can of pants. As anchor

Leans gentle ‘gainst the iron wheel

The whole shack bolstered

By several dozen disused tires.

As the fence, so the swamp.

As the Bayou, so Brownsville.

Meanwhile and meanwhile

And meanwhile does the digger

Do its duty on the avenues.

Does the steamroller on its sag

And sloppy diligence jag.

Does the kerchief waver, bull-horned

Into corners made of tar and feather.

Furthermore and furthermore

And furthermore clanks the empty

Bullet, gold and silver slivers.

Look at Myrtle’s girdle if you can.

Clear spot a solace for this orchestra

The fidelity of originals, being Bingo

Mingus, and that’s why we hired

A sculptor, for his uncanny sense

Of space and all the records

He has on the skronk Actuel label

And his orange shoes, which match

The master’s old Mayday angles

From Snedicker and Van Sinderen.

Oh Atlantic dawn. Half tank house

Half bladder spasm. The cartographer’s

Poem to your name, your Monday name.

And then Mungo amid the yarmulkes

West bound full of beer and thick

Russian ankles, thick Chinese thighs

With an apostle’s holiness, goes

Through the gritty gorse of East New

York. Such coasts are storm drenched.

High test rain dog with a blue haired

Girl, so the muse arouses the siren

Who kicks the groin of morning.

To the end of the line, we take this

Train to be self-trained and take us

To the end of the line today.

Enter the green bump on a wave

Scented smoky like the cold hair

Of lanky, limbless dancers with heart

Cans in both hands. Crooked

Like a turnpike, limping like a punctured

Dirigible, like a slumping, tangled

Turnbuckle singing duende

On a Yankee dis-harmonica. Spank

Herman’s lobster sauce. All you

Jersey douche-nozzles. All you

Bitchy dolphin flippers. All you Florida

Tourniquet softies. Green bump.

How easy it is for the salient man

To hate the man eating an apple

In public like an animal. Mango

Leather. Even if that man is a woman.

Even if that woman is a manatee.

She eats the apple like another animal.

The peach inches. The travelogue

With a book per diem. Call it a sawbuck.

Call it a wooden book and a wooden

Notebook and call it a wooden watch

Made from benches of the 1923 Yankee Stadium.

New corridors between under

Ground and the ever loving street.

Good morning bright windy Monday.

Dolorous drear and endearing Thursday.

Wilson Avenue’s skinny ankle of sun.

Aberdeen dunks again. Dirt under.

Plod we our arduous way. How-so?

This same through movements south

And/or abroad? Naked Memorial

Sailors, that’s not music, it’s Althea.

All the goddamned gods laughing.

More balloon fire. Booming home

Barrel merging left says he doesn’t

Have any physical symptoms, just

Bad blood, an American embarrassed.

Weird American Wednesday. First

Taste is like spaghetti and meatballs

Second tastes like Orange Ceylon.

Just another long holiday weekend

Celebrating our pre-eminence

And no garbage men on Tuesday means

Just that kind of American Wednesday

Stench. We dance a fancy line. Give

Us this day our daily Drambuie.

Larger jars across the mahogany slide.

Old shenanigans of the morrow, the eager

Morrow, microgrooves of jazz-land.

The endlessly dented morning rhapsody

And the long night’s brutalist threnody.

Horse shit that’s a strike. What say you

Of the sharp end of the tournament

In Paris? My money’s on the young-blood

From Latvia. The green of goodness.

Such dreams whole cities scuttle for.

Such blown bridges, such clay-stained

Knickers, nothing dainty.

Nothing done.

***

SPRINGS & SUMMERS 2015, 2016, 2017

New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Portland, Nashville, Brownsville

 

Scott Zieher is a poet, artist and co-owner of the contemporary art gallery ZieherSmith with his wife, Andrea. His 5th book of poetry was published in 2016 to coincide with a solo exhibition of recent collages at Ampersand Gallery in Portland, Oregon. His latest work, HOLY DADA HOLY DAD was seen at Usable Space in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in May, 2017. With AMERICAN CHEESE & HAM, New Theory inaugurates the serial publication of the 6th of Zieher’s proposed 13 volume, book-length poem project, TRISKADEKALOG. He has lived and worked in New York City since 1992.

 


My Cup of Piss

 

I’m on my knees hunched over the toilet with a toothbrush in hand scraping black lines off the inside of the porcelain until they fade away with my dignity. It smells like shit and piss and Lysol. This is my daily chore at my halfway house in Beverly Hills.

I take off the long yellow rubber gloves, and throw them under the sink with the rest of the cleaning supplies. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, noticing I’m getting a little color back. Ninety days ago, before stumbling into rehab, I was the color of the gloves. But the whole time all I could think about was getting fucked up.

My short brown hair looks healthy again. The dark circles under my eyes are fading and my cheeks don’t look so sucked in. Bones aren’t poking from underneath my shirt anymore. I have on clean clothes, and my eyes are clear. I smile at this new face in the mirror, and turn off the light.

I make my bed and clean my room quickly so I don’t get written up by the staff. Then I walk outside and climb in my old grey Taurus on my way to Hollywood to buy some coke. I’ve earned it after being sober for ninety days.

It’s the middle of summer and hot outside. I start my car and Tupac blares through the speakers. Cruising Sunset Boulevard, the sun shines on the palm trees, buildings, and people walking. Some are shopping, others beg for change, women are selling their bodies, the homeless sleep on doorsteps.

I pass the Body Shop, a famous strip club where I once fucked a stripper on the sidewalk out front. The Viper Room and the Saddle Ranch where I’d drink whiskey and snort blow until closing. And The Standard Hotel where we’d rent the suite and party with porn stars until the drugs ran out. The memory nearly coats my throat with the taste of whiskey and coke.

I drive faster, weaving in and out of traffic, smoking cigarettes and throwing them out the window. I pull up to my friend Tim’s apartment in downtown Hollywood, a white one-story building on a residential street. I walk up to the front door and my other friend Mark answers. He’s pale with bony shoulders and brown shaggy hair, wearing sunglasses.

“Shouldn’t you be in rehab?”

“I graduated.”

“How long you been sober?

“Ninety days.”

“Why are you here?”

“To get fucked up.”

He pauses, lost in thought as I squeeze through the front door and walk to the fridge and grab a Heineken. I open it and take a sip and it’s the best Heineken ever brewed. Just the right amount of hops and barley. Mark walks into the kitchen and I ask, “You got any coke?”

He smiles and gives me that you-know-I-got-coke-look and we walk into the living room and sit down on the old tweed couch. He pulls out a gram and empties half of it on the dirty glass coffee table making a line and handing me a bill. I put it in my nose and bend over the powder, swooping down, bringing the coke to the bill like a sand storm. It burns worse than gonorrhea and I stand up and light a cigarette.

Mark and I talk about the last three months of our lives at Mach speeds. He tells me about parties and girls and booze. I tell him about rehab and chicks and God. I say how fucked the program is and how everyone’s crazy and that I have my life under control. Tim walks out of his room. He’s nineteen, heavyset with shaggy brown hair and gauged ears.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Celebrating my ninety days.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard. You need to leave.”

“No.”

“This isn’t what you want.”

“How do you know what I want?”

“Yeah, how do you know what he wants,” Mark interrupts.

“You guys are fucking children.”

Tim walks back into his bedroom and slams the door. Mark spreads another line and we drink beers until hours pass and I realize I have to be back at the house in thirty minutes. I tell Mark goodbye and walk into the sun, flinching. I get in my car and drive carefully to my halfway house high as a fucking kite. I walk in with sunglasses and a clinched face and sit down at the table with the guys. “How’s it going?” My roommate Devin asks.

“Fine.” I grab the salad.

“It’s not that bright in here; you probably don’t need those sunglasses.”

“Probably not,” another roommate says.

I shake my head and take off my glasses. My pupils feel like marbles. Devin shakes his head at me in disappointment but doesn’t say anything. I eat spaghetti that makes me gag while they enjoy their food. I know I need to get the fuck out of here so I get up with everyone watching and go into the kitchen and throw my food away and walk out the front door hoping they won’t rat me out.

I haul ass back to Tim’s house, but not before stopping at the grocery store and buying a twelve pack of Budweiser. Mark’s still there doing lines off the coffee table and somehow has more coke. “The guys at the house know I’m high,” I tell him. “Well you better get fucked up to forget about that then,” He says.

I sit down and he pours a bigger pile, making two huge gaffers. I bend over and snort mine coming up with a smile on my face. We spend the next few hours repeating this process every twenty minutes, drinking beer and smoking a cigarette every ten. Tim walks by giving us dirty looks on his way to the fridge for beer. We talk about things like hating George Bush, the movies we’re going to write, and what to buy with the money. Then we start getting paranoid, looking out the windows and yelling at each other for no reason, pacing around the apartment.

It’s been dark for hours and I realize I need to be back for curfew. I’m scared that the guys told my house manager I relapsed and that they’ll be sitting in the living room with my shit packed when I get there.

I step out the front door, surrounded by identical apartments and the long street lined with palm trees. My phone rings, it’s Osmin, my movie producer. He says he’s got a new girl for me to check out.

“What’s she look like?” I ask.

“Young and hot, that’s all you need to know. You available for an audition tomorrow?”

“I think so.”

I hear people walking behind me.

“I got some shit going on; let me get back to you.”

“OK.”

I hear footsteps behind me and turn around to a fist hitting my face and me hitting the ground. All I can see is a dark-colored person wearing a hoodie, not making out their face. It comes again and again while someone goes through my pockets. I try to hit them off me but they hold me down and I look up to a gun in my face. I lie completely still until the guy going through my pockets steps away, then the guy with the gun turns around and they both run off. I collapse to the ground and my jaw hurts and my ribs hurt and I’m completely fucking sober. I get up and all I have on me are my keys, which are wedged between my legs in my pocket. I limp to my car and get in, checking myself in the mirror. I don’t have a phone so I can’t call my house but I drive back as quickly as I can.

I walk in the door and my house manager Buck is sitting on the couch. He’s bald, 6’4” with wide shoulders and large biceps. A biker.

“Where you been?”

“I was mugged. They took my phone.”

He has a cup in his hand.

“I need you to pee in this.”

“I was mugged.”

“Rules are rules.”

“Make an exception, Buck.”

“No exceptions.”

I walk towards the stairs, he gets off the couch and blocks the entrance.

“Pee in the cup, Toby.”

“No.”

“Why?”

I pause. Look down.

“Because I’ll fail.”

“Then get your shit and get out.”

He points upstairs. I lower my head and walk to my room and pack one bag and leave the rest of my belongings. I walk out the front door slamming it shut and telling Buck to fuck off as I get in my car and drive away.

I get back to Tim’s house, where he and Mark sit, now both doing lines. “Can I stay here tonight?”

“What the fuck,” Tim says.

“I got kicked out.”

“You dumbass. Yeah, stay as long as you want.”

“Thanks.” I look at Mark.

“Can I have another line?”

He points to the pile on the table and I do another line and grab another beer. I spend the next two hours telling Mark how fucked it was that Buck kicked me out.

“I was almost killed.”

“That’s fucked.”

“Damn right that’s fucked.”

I take a sip of my Heineken. There’s only a couple inches left. It’s warm, tastes like piss. This is the piss test I’m willing to take. It’s my cup of piss and no one’s going to take it from me. It’s my bitter cup. I made the decision to relapse and I control my life. I will decide if I want to get sober again and I will decide if I want to keep drinking piss and die. No one but God can take that choice away from me.

 

 

 

 

 

Toby earned his Master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of San Francisco and a Post-Master’s Certificate in the Teaching of Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. He teaches Creative Writing and has been published in Knock Magazine, Recovery Quarterly Literary Journal, and Reed Magazine. 


The Doctor as Reluctant Actor in Six Acts

 

“The theatre, when all is said and done, is not life in miniature, but life enormously magnified, life hideously exaggerated.”

     H.L. Mencken

 

Act I:

After knocking on the door and entering his room with my team accompanying me, I saw him sitting comfortably in bed over the sheets and covers flanked by his parents. His hospital gown was on, a rather obedient move for a 14-year-old adolescent. He was neither skinny nor fat– rather, he was in the midst of the mid-adolescent, unpleasantly swollen stage, when fat deposits in the breasts, hips and thighs making certain boys more gynoid in habitus. His face was triangular, boyish, with wisps of thin facial hair on his chin, upper lip, and sideburns that were still tentative, only vaguely implying a future need to shave. He had a basin in front of him on the retractable table above his bed and spat in there every minute or two.

“Chief complaint–inability to swallow/intractable vomiting” it said on the census sheet.

As I proceeded with my interview, his disinterested replies to my open, deliberately non-binary questions didn’t exceed one word grunts. Digging further for somatic clues as to what was bothering him was to no avail. Shifting focus to the psychosocial aspects of the history, he continued to nonchalantly and curtly answer all my questions in the negative– no to bullying, no to sex, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, no to issues with sexual identity, no to any form of abuse, no to increased stress at home or at school.

His physical exam did not help either since it was completely normal. When I examined his abdomen, though, his eyes followed my hands carefully and he moaned ever so slightly, as if on cue.

I attempted to involve Mom and Dad in this crucial information gathering process, but due to their poor English it became immediately clear they were immigrants. They looked to their son for help describing what they thought he was experiencing. He refused to help his parents, and his disdain for their inability to communicate was obvious. I asked if they would like me to get the translator phone–dismissively they replied “We understand, we understand!” Despite my better judgement, I continued without the phone.

I noticed throughout this initial encounter the odd looks Mom and Dad had on their faces, looks that were disturbing in their affectation and the rapidity with which they changed. Depending on whom they addressed in the conversation, their visages switched between the Thalia/happy and Melpomene/sad masks of the theater, smiles of earnestness and obsequiousness when addressing me, and pouts of utter despair when addressing their son.

During the interview, when I mentioned the word “school”, his parents in unison looked at me with the happy theatre mask face and said “Good in school, good in school. ‘A’ student!”, to which my patient gazed at his parents with barely suppressed disgust. It wasn’t clear to me whether my patient thought his parents were feigning their linguistic shortcomings, whether he was bothered by the sycophancy his parents were displaying, or that he was just a regular, surly teen embarrassed by their parents no matter how they behaved. I felt sorry for Mom and Dad, but didn’t understand why their behavior was so melodramatic.

While I was reassured by the lack of any findings arguing anything life or limb threatening, I was quite disturbed by la belle indifference displayed by my patient. At this point certain tests were needed to definitively rule out any somatic illness, but I felt in my gut that this patient was suffering from a conversion disorder, the underlying psychopathology of which I had only scratched the surface. With this came some anticipatory tension on my part—a difficult conversation was in the offing.

After finishing the physical exam, the time came to communicate to the patient and parents my thoughts. My tension was peaking now. To allow me a moment to adjust and further formulate my rhetorical approach, I asked my team to offer their thoughts as to the patient’s diagnosis.

“Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome?” said one intern.

“Hiatal hernia?” said another.

“Mallory-Weiss tear?” chimed a medical student.

I solicited a few more possibilities from my team and pondered out loud their relative merits while adding psychogenic vomiting, cyclic vomiting, and some form of eating disorder as other remote possibilities. For teaching purposes I hid my baseline skepticism that this was an organic problem at all.

Then the senior resident asked me, “So what do you think?”

I answered, scanning the eyes of my team, then turning to the patient and his parents as I enunciated the words–“globus hystericus”.

The patient did not stop rolling the contents of his spittoon around as I communicated this diagnosis—his parents, on the other hand, listened intently to every syllable I uttered. I explained the reasoning as to why I thought what their son was experiencing was not due to anything physical, but simultaneously admitted I could not be sure without certain tests being done. Instantaneously after mentioning the word “test”, Mom’s eyes widened and her brows lifted—she hurriedly found her purse and produced a manila folder which she gave to me.

Inside the folder were the results of blood tests, imaging, and of an endoscopic examination, the bulk of which I was contemplating having done as part of the work up immediately following our conversation—every solitary result was normal. The doctor who previously saw my patient not two weeks before being admitted to the hospital had done everything needed to rule out any somatic problem. It was now my job to address the problem that did exist.

I explained to my patient and his parents that with this information in hand I was now quite certain that what he was experiencing was psychosomatic. I continued and related that I would not repeat any of the exams already done and that I expected him to eat and drink normally, in addition to tolerating his own saliva, all of which he had not done in the last two weeks. Lastly, I was going to bring in a psychiatrist to help expedite a transfer to an eating disorders unit.

Mom and Dad looked relieved—my patient stared at me unflinchingly and spat into his basin.

 

Act II:

The next morning, Mom and Dad asked me if I could speak with a family member about their son’s case, and I agreed wholeheartedly. I was paged by a nurse a couple of hours later to speak with this family member who was demanding my immediate presence. I was nettled at being summoned in such a way, but complied. As I approached my patient’s room this time, I was assaulted by the smell of cigarette smoke, the intensity of which increased logarithmically with each step forward. Upon reaching the patient’s bedside, I introduced myself to the source of this smell, the great-aunt of the patient, while stifling a most intense gag reflex. She was in her mid-sixties, about 5-foot-six-inches tall, thin and wiry, with masculine clothing hanging loosely over bony protuberances, sporting a boyish haircut, and bellowing a fetid stench consisting of coffee, cigarettes, and halitosis that challenged my ability to remain conscious while in her presence. She shook my hand strongly with her large, bony hand, and proceeded to make it eminently clear that she ran the show in this family and that she was confused and unhappy with how things had proceeded until now. I spent the next twenty minutes recapitulating the case while navigating random jabs and editorial comments that obliquely pertained to my patient’s predicament. On a dime, her attitude changed to one of cheery thankfulness and proceeded to take on the role of facilitator and translator for my patient’s parents, for which they were appreciative. We all (re)agreed on the plan for a transfer to an eating disorders unit, and I explained that I would try to speed up the psychiatrist’s arrival to push this along.

At this point, I saw a pattern forming—the overdone, exaggerated, and rapidly changing behavior was a form of manipulation this family seemed to have developed to a fine art, and I was going to have to navigate this as best I could in order to optimally benefit my patient. I mentally prepared for anything.

 

Act III:

The next day, late in the morning, the psychiatrist arrived, sauntering in with his $500 attaché case in tow. He was youngish, athletically built, impeccably dressed and coiffed, with one eye permanently inwardly deviated enough to be unnerving. As I explained the case to him, his responses were uniformly monotone, bereft of even a smile, despite my attempts to inject levity into the conversation. After I finished explaining the case and my need for his input, he agreed with the diagnosis without qualification and agreed to concur in writing to this effect.

I continued with my task list for the day and circled back to my patient’s chart in the late afternoon. The psychiatrist’s conclusions read: 1) Adjustment Disorder NOS, 2) Continue medical workup, 3) Reconsult as needed—in English, there is nothing wrong with this patient.

I called the psychiatrist up and made sure by my choice of words and tone of voice that I was in no mood for dilly dallying. He showed up several minutes later, and I sat him down.

“What part of our discussion earlier today was unclear?” I queried.

“I don’t understand your question,” he said.

“Were we not in agreement that the patient is suffering from globus hystericus, or at the very least, some form of psychogenic vomiting, eating disorder, or other somatoform disorder?”

“Yes.”

“Do you agree with this diagnosis?”

“Yes.”

“Do you agree with the need for a transfer to an eating disorders unit?”

“Yes.”

“Then why didn’t you write this in your consult?”

“Oooohh…. well…. I didn’t want things to get complicated medicolegally in terms of the papers needed for the transfer, so I thought it would be better to keep things out of the psychiatric realm.” I bit my tongue and did not respond immediately to this gibberish—a few hours earlier we had just agreed that this case was most definitely within the psychiatric realm!

“Well, if you agree with me diagnostically, I will need you to say so on paper as well so we can move forward with this transfer. At this point this will be a voluntary admission, but I envision the possibility of this becoming an involuntary one. In that case, you and I must be on the same page as the two physicians recommending the transfer. Are you OK with this?”

“Yes. Surely.”

“Great. Thank you.”

I never understood why the psychiatrist didn’t help move this case forward the first time he was consulted and I made sure before leaving for the day that he followed through—he did.

 

Act IV:

Once we got word that there was a bed available at the eating disorders unit, the next step was to get the parents to fill out the paperwork to effectuate the transfer. I gathered the parents and the great-aunt along with the psychiatrist, our head nurse, the intern and resident taking care of the patient, and we went to our conference room.

There I recapitulated the results of the medical work up and the evidence arguing for a psychiatric diagnosis being the explanation for my patient’s inability/unwillingness to swallow (he still refused to eat, drink, or swallow his own saliva, and had lost 6 pounds since admission to the hospital). Regardless of whether the precise diagnosis was globus hystericus, an eating disorder, or some form of somatoform disorder, I argued the utility of the transfer to the eating disorders unit. Mom asked about the nature of the treatment that their son would receive in this venue, which I addressed in detail, with the great-aunt translating everything (while I held my breath). The parents consented to the transfer and signed the papers. I let the social worker know the papers had been signed, and she informed me a little later that the transfer would happen the next day in the late morning.

Later that afternoon, I received a frantic phone call from my patient’s nurse—the family was refusing the transfer! When I arrived to the floor the great-aunt was accusing the psychiatrist and me of forcing the parents to sign the consent for transfer. Before I had arrived on the floor, she had bellowed to the nurses that she was going to sue us for keeping the patient in the hospital to run up his bill, given his good insurance status.

Back to the conference room we went, Mom and Dad, great-aunt, and me, with the consent forms that they had signed only a few hours ago. I started by saying that I was unclear as to why there was an issue with the consent, and followed by asking them if there was anything they wanted to ask or anything that I could clarify. The great-aunt grabbed the papers from the table, read them for fifteen seconds, scribbled a few indecipherable words on the forms, showed them to the parents who nodded, and all three signed the forms again. Satisfied, the great-aunt stood up and adjourned the meeting and walked out with the parents.

Thespianism, I now realized, ran deep in this family, and I was just privy to a grand performance. However, at this point, as long as the consents were valid, I would put up with any amount of grandstanding on the great-aunt’s part. It was academic to me who the family thought was running the show—I resented being manipulated, but I needed my patient to get the care he needed.

 

Act V:

The next morning, the time arrived for the patient to be transferred. The EMS personnel rolled the gurney onto the floor, and as I accompanied them to my patient we kibitzed about the traffic. As we entered the patient’s room, his parents and great-aunt were there. The parents had their Melpomene/sad mask face on, the great-aunt, playing her part, was stoic and strong. The patient had an untouched breakfast tray on his table next to his spittoon, and was initially oblivious to what was transpiring in front of him.

Several seconds later, my patient’s brow furrowed—he made the connection between the just-arrived gurney and the techs unbuckling the belts in preparation to have him climb on. Immediately, without hesitation, he proceeded to eat his breakfast–eggs, toast, hash browns, sausage–quickly, washing it down with the orange juice and milk on the tray. No theatrics– no gagging, no vomiting, no spitting.

I looked over to the EMT’s and said, “We won’t be needing this transfer after all, but thank you for battling the traffic anyway.” I turned to Mom and Dad and said, “I will set up a follow-up with our psychiatrists on an outpatient basis for your son–you can go home now.”

 

Finale:

About half-an-hour later I was sitting at the nursing station writing my notes for the day. I noticed out of the corner of my eye the patient, his parents, and his great-aunt walking together off the unit. The patient had his head down, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. His parents flanked him, their hands on his shoulders. With their Thalia/happy face on, they smiled at me. I smiled back politely. The great-aunt was behind them with a hand on each parent’s outer shoulder, looking down as she walked with them. I went back to my work and looked down. Once they passed the nursing station, I heard “Psssttt”. I looked up instinctually, and there was the great-aunt, head turned around, with a big nicotine-stained, partially toothless grin, winking at me and whispering “Thank you!”

I couldn’t help but think that those thanks were not for my services as a physician, but rather for my function as a supporting actor in the drama that was this family.

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Sidlow, MD, is a practicing pediatric hospitalist and seasoned medical volunteer whose essays have been previously published in Intima: The Journal of Medical Narrative, Blood and Thunder Journal, and Narrateur.


Another Distraction

 

My bladder is full of beer. It is an early Tuesday eve & already the sirens are loud. There is no reason for fire. A white French bottom scuttles away. Distraction is a daily nemesis of distortion & destruction that crumbles into wanderlust in all direction but south. Mystery is nowhere to be found outside the books of curiosity. It hides itself in the lines and letters without thought matter. A world charged with electricity runs through you, through your wild ideas, through your receptive eyes, through & through… captured in a rapture of rootlessness, you belong nowhere but also everywhere. It is a matter of choice to light up tobacco & inhale into a chest weary & consumed by excess and complication. Success is timing my uncle tells me. Do things at the right time & success will come your way, so how come my time is lost in the wet forest of memory and belonging?

 

 

 

 

 

Zen Shwery is a PhD candidate in English Studies and currently teaches 20th Century American Literature & Poetics to undergrads at the University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (http://zenpoetries.blogspot.ca/)

 

 

 


Untitled (Photographer Unknown)

 

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These images were acquired at a second-hand art supply and crafts store in 2015 in Nashville, TN. They are all 4×6″ color photo prints, all most likely shot on 35mm. Some of the images are dated on the back: “AUG 1989”. One is dated on front: “5 23 ’98”.

 

 

 

 

 

Zack Rafuls is an artist and curator currently living in Brooklyn, NY. He received his BFA from Watkins College of Art in Nashville, TN (2015), and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, through the AICAD Mobility Residency Program (2014). Recent exhibitions include solo show Tracings, at The Browsing Room, Nashville, TN; the 2016 Atlanta Biennial, at the Atlanta Contemporary, GA; As We Dig We Bury, at ZieherSmith, New York; High/Low/Middle, at Museum of Wisconsin Art, Milwaukee; I Wish I Felt This Way At Home, at Torrance Shipman Gallery, Brooklyn; and Anthology, at The Frist Center For The Visual Arts, Nashville. Rafuls is also co-director and curator of Mild Climate, an artist-curatorial collective and alternative exhibition space in Nashville, TN. zackrafuls.com // mild-climate.net


A Nanny’s Need

 

Before we had our driver’s licenses, my sister and I used to go for whispery cruises in my parents’ cars at night. There lies a letter somewhere, documenting her last gift, but too many cigarettes and probable fires have obliterated all that once was kind. We liked to step inside our shadows to sip the refreshing clean night air. Beside the wishes of sinking cans, starfish, and the ink of octopi. Beside you, Jennie. And all the streetlights still muted and secure. On a lonely little suburban street.

We can never be rebels again. But the rebel costumes were always ill-fitting anyway, the eyeholes beginning to droop.

I guess that was also the only summer when I actually had a male friend (i.e. we didn’t actually fuck!).

We must’ve looked funny shrunken behind the dash and steering-wheel, sitting on pillows. I’m still running inside somewhere. If I’m remembering the times: swans would fly over green velvet dresses. Then I still have to ask myself for a confession about the differences of friendship and love.

Sometimes a guy friend makes a move on me and I complain to my girlfriends about it (not like I had to kill the kids). I’d become a heavy drug user in the mid-70’s–which is something you’d tell your shrink to get his attention, then watch snake-bites blur in his bangs as I stir one hot finger in my cocoa. The shoelaces untie and put the broken children holding hands back together again. I’m a nanny. Did I mention that? But there are horrors somewhere, spiraling around at the bottom of the pond and untying my shoelaces to set me free of the drowning.

Were they ever really my friends? Not John. With John and I, he was always platonic. Evil wasps stirring in his pants; that was just my phantasy.

I shut myself away for the whole three years in Istanbul. And as I pack my bags to leave, I see the bridge shadow of no return. I wake alone and frightened, a blood-fattened mosquito hovering beside my split chin as the prayer call echoes out-of-sync across the Bosphorus. But I’m getting ahead of myself yet again in the thorns of thicker shadows.

Call me an au pair. That sounds such a candlelit mystery when standing beside the shrunken head in my nightie negligee.

That’s something you should tell your psychologist, I point out. But when my girlfriends aren’t there, I wonder why I was really complaining. Is it just that girls like to bash guys? Three felines come together in camaraderie. Treating them like an inferior segment of the species, and always only after one thing. It all sounds so stupid in hindsight.

Just one compliment: you were really a ferocious ghost chewing up the scenery of a telephone call forever shuttling back and forth through the dead television forest of nowhere.

A storm started up and my sister told me “quick, turn on the windshield wipers!” I leaned over and found the switch. They worked for a few minutes and then abruptly stopped, making a sound like a battery had died. She pulled over and panicked. I told her to turn onto a side street, massaging her shoulders as she wept. It wasn’t as though we could call our parents.

We’d been coming back from Phoenix Records in Dirtywater, listening to “Reel Around The Fountain” on the first Smiths record, stunned by the unique way Morrissey intensely warbled. I remember the cover with the jacked, half-naked guy in maroon sepia who looked like maybe he had been lifting while growing horny and contemplating a self-suck.

Jennie jumped out and fiddled with the windshield wipers, whapping them while kicking the bumper. I tied one of my shoelaces to a wiper and tugged it back and forth and back and forth.

There was a house to our right with all the inside and outside lights on. Two Dodge Neons were parked in the driveway and a brand-new jungle gym glowed.

“Or maybe we should just call mom and dad. The rain will hurt your hand if you stick it out the window when we drive.”

I can still smell my sister’s strawberry gum, her clove cigarettes, and the coconut oil she would put in her hair. It was like I was with her ghost, even then. I light another cigarette while swinging on the porch.

The nanny ignored our insistent knocking at first. Her eyes looked bloodshot as she cracked open the door.

“What do you want?” The nanny said. She gripped a crucifix around her neck intensely.

“…to use your telephone,” my sister said in a desperate, shaking voice.

“What…did your car break down or something?” the nanny said, sneering while lighting a cigarette.

The nanny motioned toward the rotary telephone on the kitchen wall. The wall had height marks and the names of children with cute misspellings, but my sister made no move.

I walk downstairs to the familiar breathing of the fireplace. The thing is: I don’t recall picking up the kids from summer camp today.

The kids at the house where I work as a nanny now are asleep and their parents are away. But just long enough for me to pull the nanny costume off. The tights. The negligee. The nurse mask with the droopy eyeholes. The bats swoop within the batting of an eyelash and I go dark, finally.

I never became like that nanny so many years ago as she went over to a squealing baby in a crib and aggressively quieted it by sticking a pacifier in its kisser. And nannies can’t nurse, but at least wet nurses can still drown in their sister’s tears.

The nanny turned to us sharply.

“What’s the problem? If you want to use the phone then use it.”

My sister explained to the nanny about how we were far too young to be driving and that she didn’t want to call our parents. She broke down and blubbered.

I will never forget the blazing smirk of recognition that then passed over the nanny’s face. She was the first and last person I’ve come to know that admitted to driving a car well before the law allowed it.

“I guess we’d better have a look-see then,” she said.

The nanny had me hold an umbrella over her after she’d popped the hood of the car and made my sister point a flashlight. She bent over and quickly pulled out a black elastic thing that was sooty and thick.

“Well, here’s your problem,” she said, trying to sound like a seasoned mechanic. She held it up to the flashlight, stretching it this way and that, and then said, “Hold on, I know just the thing” and then motioned us over to the garage.

She pushed the garage door button and then went straight to the back where she began to rifle through some cardboard boxes containing an assortment of little boy’s action-figure toys.

“Ah ha!” She said, lifting some kind of army propeller gizmo with a thick brown rubber band encircling it.

She forced it to fit with a few grunts and swears. Then she shrugged and said, “should work for now, but you really oughta get the proper part soon.”

My sister and I thanked the nanny as though she had saved our lives and performed a miracle. She was so tickled, in fact, that she couldn’t resist adding as we opened the doors of the car to leave:

“You can come inside now.” Only there was something about the way the nanny said this that made it seem more like a demand.

I am only a nanny and the children’s parents could turn on me and fire me in an instant. I could live under a bridge, forever running from a frozen forest and doomed to make love to the trolls for all eternity. It’s like a stake in my heart, but that’s what separates the flower petals from the rain.

I looked over at my sister in delight. She gave me a beaming look that seemed to say, why haven’t we tried this before?

We couldn’t quite shake the feeling that the nanny was about to giggle and make fun of us. She sat back confidently and acted like she had all in the power over us in the world.

John emerged from floating embers and thyme, but we don’t like to repeat that part of the history. Just as we will never speak again of the evil owls in the frozen forest. The air around him sparkled like maybe we’d just got stoned.

He brushed snow off his woolen trousers and walked over to the nanny. He unzipped his fly and pushed her head into his crotch. Her tongue slithered in the shadow on the wall above the cradle. After a little while he said, “ah jesus, you’re getting it all bloody.”

Jennie, can we tear down this scenery and run? We’re being hunted in the forest. They want our blood. Smeared on the petal of every flower, we left our scent. I froze the last meal that you made, Jennie. I eat a little bit day after day, sucking the freeze from the frozen you.

He zippered himself back up and pulled my sister by her hair from across the room. Rubbery hair can stretch for thousands of miles. They waded into the snowy forest closet with stacks of towels on shelves and a light bulb with a string hanging down which he yanked before slamming the door.

My sister didn’t talk about it on the way home. We got lost awhile in the snowy forest, but when we came back out there were rain clouds like before. I guess that night comes to mind when I think about losing her…the little voodoo dolls; the bloody bunches of hair (this was all before Narragansett). She dated him all through high school, actually. No, not the criminal. The crime itself. Like a locket stuffed with a fossilized child. That’s why nannies puzzle all the others. And why it’s so easy to remember all the bad times. When did the good times happen, Jennie, like in all those rock n’ roll and pop songs? It’s a rain that tears our hides apart.

It’s easy as clams when you brush there, which I can easily do all night. I don’t let myself grow comfortable. I guess that’s when you get hurt like a nanny. She just mumbled to herself and kept cooing to the baby. She even changed it twice like she had done it wrong the first time or maybe just some of the diaper got stuck to its skin. I remember many rashes, little cuts, welts, and red marks here and there. Of course I was one of the bridesmaids at her wedding and of course I had the most to say at her funeral. That’s something the love of her husband or the friendship of even her most long-lasting friends could never touch: our bond.

I wish I only remembered the best of times, but I’m a nanny too now. I guess that night was one of those impossible nights that you run from and get all torn up inside about when you feel yourself re-approaching it, losing control of that life you wanted to live, the sister whose hair you didn’t want to be pulled, the playing-house nanny you didn’t want to be, the bond you wanted to break free of now that she’s not there to support you with that look of the peculiar and the melodramatic, the inherited and the disinherited, the wise and the impure, the gelatin and rainbows, the bird cookies with funny faces, the breakups and makeups, the lost touch and touch-ups of quickly get in touch, the hometowns and last towns and lost towns and ghost towns, the look of camaraderie that didn’t make the moments sink so fast, always enough.

 

END

 

 

 

 

 

Nicholaus Patnaude grew up in the haunted woods of Connecticut. His illustrated novel, First Aide Medicine, was published by Emergency Press. His second book, entitled Guitar Wolf, was published by Eraserhead Press. He also serves as editor-in-chief at Psychedelic Horror Press.


Where All the Elephants Lie Down: Chapter 3

 

In the kitchen slurping cereal from plastic bowls shaped like Viking helmets, Shannon leans against the unused stove top, the little girl scoops with a spoon half the size of her head, her sprig ankles wrapping chair legs like creeper plants.

“I know what you are,” he says mid-bite, milk dripping. “You’re a memory I chased decades ago; an apparition, a compensation—you’re not real.”

She ladles milk back and forth. “I’m not real. But I am true.”

He snorts, she looks up.

“Or maybe I’m a necessary lie.”

“What’s the difference.”

She stirs, “One says, Look at me. The other says, Look away.

Putting down his bowl, “Well I’m looking right at you.”

She glares back, “So look away.”

He doesn’t. “Are you here to chaperone me.”

She considers, “No. I may not have your best interest in mind.”

They stare. She slurps.

“‘If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come.’”

“Who said that.”

“I don’t know.”

“Lenore.”

“Lenore did.”

“Lenore is my right name.”

“Quoth the raven,” he whispers.

She blinks.

He waits. “Lenore. Got it. After breakfast, Lenore, I like a morning walk. Join me if it suits you.”

“It isn’t morning, it’s midnight.”

Over the sink he reaches to pull at window blinds. The backyard is a bijou of shadows.

“Join me anyway,” filling his bowl with tap water.

“I can’t. I can’t leave the house.”

He turns, “Why not.”

“Because I’m a secret.”

He blinks, “You’re a secret.”

“I’m a secret.” They both blink. They both wait.

“But if I’m the only one who can see you”—

“I’m still. A secret.” They leer longer.

He turns, “Can you read.”

“Yes,” joining him in the main room. It’s tall bookcase is empty and they stare at it as if the emptiness is in error, to be remedied with a moment or two of patience. There is, however, a book of music on the piano.

“Can you read music.”

“I can read whatever you can read.”

He opens the book of Chopin’s Nocturnes to Opus 27 number 2 in D Flat. She sits, closing the book, hovers her hands over the keys in suspense. His eyes close. He imagines her fingers sinking down the keys and they do. She plays with elastic ease the quiet crisis of the piece, stretching it thin, relaxing it back, her one hand mumbling steady under-notes, other hand spry, brightening bolder ones. He stays to the wall listening, but the melody subdues him to the floor. On his back envisioning stars through the ceiling, he trembles as the nocturne trembles, and trundles on and Lenore lies down beside him. Together they imagine-off the entire roof, sky cold and immediate, flickering its lanterns into their open mouths.

He frowns. “There are parts of me that will never light up again.”

She does not roll her hand to touch his. They listen tranquilized as the nocturne lifts their weight into firmament; sky tracing them in among its celestial beings and beasts, until Chopin tiptoes off the piano into breath, leaving their bodies somewhere, surrounded by stars.

Shannon pauses in the dairy aisle of a nearby grocery store trying to discern what happens next. Go for the obvious. And selects strawberry-chocolate milk, fried cheese curds, honey butter, rice pudding, a carton of eggs, hefts it all into a shopping cart and notes a young couple further down the aisle scowling. Possibly at his orange windbreaker pants and pastel flannel button-up with “Sugar Mama” arched in red and green gemstones across the back, all buttons missing but the top one, his belly less hollow than before, though still shrunken enough to make the couple nervous. “An outfit like that could bring down property values,” they might be saying. “He couldn’t possibly be a Pieces.” Or, “Even Versace wouldn’t dare.” Most likely they are saying nothing at all, exchanging only looks, abruptly holding hands, straightening their posture, reviewing the items in their cart—which thankfully are none of his.

Shannon studies them back. Then takes out an egg from the carton, nimbly tosses it over the tile toward them like a bowling ball. It veers to the side, hits a shelf. They all watch it crack and ooze a dazzling marigold orange.

“DAMMIT,” he chides aloud, “I’M OFF MY GAME.”

And plucks out another egg.

Lenore at the apartment’s front window sits in sunlight, glass skewing her face into resemblance of an oncoming headlight. Shed like that, he thinks, I bet she would, and forgets to tell her. Instead he lumbers in with a boisterous greeting, unloads the groceries to the counter, into the fridge, then swings open the front door to smoke cross-legged in its frame. Lenore hasn’t looked up.

“Where’d you get the books.” Three or four are piled beside her in the sun.

“You got them. At the library.”

“I did,” lifts an eyebrow.

“You did,” turns a page.

“You know what I do,” taking a drag.

“I do.”

I don’t know what I do.”

“This is often the case with most people,” and reads to him a poem from John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, I Am a Little World Made Cunningly.

He takes a final drag, flicks the butt across the yard.

“You can’t be more than seven years old, yet you speak like an adult, why is that.”

“Because you need me to,” flips a page.

Nettled, he rubs his head with both hands, “I have a piano student coming by soon. So if you could, you know,” his hands frothing air.

“Be a secret,” she says, watching the shadow of her own hand on the page.

“Precisely.”

“Welcome,” Shannon opens the front door, escorts Jim’s neighbor to the piano. She is lithe and vibrant and over-earnest, encased in a floral bodice blooming into an opened umbrella skirt.

“Thank you, Mr. Wolf,” she says, “I’m Heather,” putting her wicker satchel at the foot of his bed, which Lenore has made. Badly. “I remember you’re playing from Jim’s last dinner party. I’ll be leaving for college in the fall and I hope to brush-up my piano skills before I leave.” The formality in her speech does not disguise the sly suggestion in her voice this is not the plan at all.

She sits comfortably, fanning out her petticoat into crunchy dunes slopping over the bench’s ends.

“Shall I begin with scales?”

Shannon nods in agreement.

Her fingers slither up the keys, she draws-in breath enough for a cake covered with lit candles, and leans the chords methodically, arching herself with each resonant press. Lenore approaches demurely, circling—hands clasped behind, eyes downcast like a humorless instructor listening for talent. And shimmies onto the bench beside Heather, hands courteously to lap, and tips in to sniff Heather’s petals. Shannon, too, can smell the lavender and cobalt blue Hydrangeas of the taffeta print.

Heather quickens into melody, Vivaldi’s Spring—notes dappling about the somber room like a cool brisk rain. And now he can smell the warm black soil between her Hydrangeas, can feel his hands gurgle deep into the grub and touch hot oxygen ruffling out. Hands to his nose, he can smell the mulch of rotting branches and compost; varnishes his face with the thermal mud, epoxies his arms and chest with gritty earth gumbo. Decomposing leaves clot like membrane on his neck and mouth. He stands, a swamp scarecrow waist deep in a kettle pond, sendimental sewage thrombosising his feet further and further into the waterhole’s suction.

He looks around—the woods are bouncing sun nimbly from leaf to limb to total light. He bends back into the pond and floats like a lily-pad. In the water pressure encasing his ears there is Lenore’s voice reading Donne, Pour new seas in mine eyes, so that I might drown my world… his face is covered over by the lake’s face. Or wash it, if it must be drownd no more, he bursts up, flopping back again, smashing the water with awkward desperate flaps like a bird washing up in oil sludge. The mud is heavy like a harness. With surface water he rinses his arms and face, his torso, and there under the smears are the Hydrangeas, in sooty blue storm clouds slick on his stomach.

He’s wearing the dress. Her dress.

Floral dunes on the piano bench. Reaching down into the muck, he pulls up the skirt, the closed umbrella skirt.

He’s wearing the dress.

And lunges for the embankment, trips on her hem while crawling up the ridge. The dress barely fits him and he can barely tear it off. He thinks of burying it, here, beneath the rocky clay. And scrambles to the dirt path, taffeta still in-hand. He thinks of dumping it, here, in the public trash bin. But grabs a balled-up grocery bag instead and crams the dress inside. Then walks. An hour or more. Back to his neighborhood, the apartment, front door slamming behind. The bagged dress at his back, Lenore tabled, they look at each other in mild alarm.

“Where’s the girl,” he pants.

“What girl.”

“The girl who was here,” points to the bench, “Right here, playing.”

“When.”

“The girl in flowers.”

“Heather.”

“Heather, where is she.”

“She’s gone.”

“Where.”

“With Jim. He fetched her.”

“When.”

“Yesterday.”

“How do you know.”

“We watched her go.”

“HOW DO YOU KNOW.”

“Call her,” pointing to his cell phone atop the piano.

Patting down his mud-stuck pockets, “Why don’t I have my phone.”

“You didn’t want to be found.”

He touches buttons for her name, makes the call.

“Hello? Mr. Wolf?” voice shining.

He ends the call.

Lenore grunts, “That’s not her dress.”

The crisping bundle betrays him, dropping to his heels.

She looks at it grimly, mutters, “It’s not what you think.”

“So why. Why would I think it.”

Watch beeps.

She looks away. “It isn’t noon. It’s midnight.”

Bathroom cabinet shuts, dress left to calcify in the sink. Wearing only damp trousers he sits in the tub’s far end.

Above it the moon shines through a moth grey veil the shade of bone on an X-ray screen. Why would I know that. And lights a cigarette.

Lenore sits on the toilet lid, “What are you doing.”

Shivering, he takes a drag, “I don’t know,” blows it out. Again. Then again. “You know things I don’t,” he wants confirmed.

She modifies, “I know things because of you,” swishing her legs.

“Do I know things because of you.”

“Yes,” legs stop. She holds her breath. “What do you want to know.”

“There were…” takes another drag, “But I’ve forgotten now.”

“Pervert, she heckles, “Monster.”

He ashes in the tub, not looking up, “What do perverts do.”

“There’s no statute of limitations.”

And the words, these specific words, propel the turbine in his chest to breakneck speed. His fist beats against it, to knock it loose.

“That won’t help.”

“What will,” cringing.

Her singing voice is young, very young—timidly touching air, straining to draw out a note, a word, sometimes off key, and is the clearest sound he can remember. Though with a hint of sorrow, is matter-of-fact, without vibrato, haunted with a knowledge all other voices lack. And will lack from now on.

As she sings she carefully climbs into the tub to sit across from him. A solemn boat forgotten at sea; an outlet in the middle of a shared private wilderness.

“Like
a
bird
on a wire,
Like a drunk
in a midnight choir,
I have tried
in my way
to be free.

Drawing up her knees,

“Like a worm
on a hook,
Like a knight
from some old-fashioned book,
I have saved
all my ribbons
For thee.”

With cigarette burning down between his fingers, he draws up his own knees and tries not to wonder what unspeakable need in him has conjured her, made her this way—so slight and secretive and lonesome.

“Oooh like a baby stillborn,
Like a beast with his horns,
I have torn everyone
who reached out for me.

“But I swear
by this song
And by all
I have done wrong
I will make
it all
up to thee.”

And suddenly the scene is too forsaken for him to accept. The moonlight on his skeletal chest, the tousled, neglected child with a lullaby in his bathtub, the bigness of her words bending the smallness of her voice, the stench of open earth with no flowers to be seen. Where is the shower curtain. The danger he might reach out to hold her, to make her stop, is compressing him like an aluminum can under a merciless boot—he almost lurches forward as if to vomit or cry out—his blood vessels all breaking at once, his mind like a flashbulb, finally popping, he collapses back to the tiled wall. Black crossroads of mildew embosses his face. He stares hypnotized at this inexplicable creature. Summoned by its rightful name. Neither demon nor angel saint. But with a will of its own, choosing him. How could he. How could he possibly know until here, right here. That whatever has made her so cunningly, is easily now unmaking him. Without malice, without remorse.

Thomas and Shannon sit in the afternoon sun in full tuxedos on Jim’s front stoop licking vanilla ice-cream cones covered in sprinkles. Shannon’s bow tie is undone, still looped about his neck. Thomas has sprinkles stuck to his cummerbund, bleeding specks of color into its white canvas.

“You know what it is about you, Shannon.”

If the man had not continued Shannon would not have noticed. Tipping up his face, squinting into the sun, Lenore. Shed like ice-cream. I bet she would. The folds of Thomas’ aged face pull back into fine and finer creases, his nose settled in amid the high thread count of his lived in skin.

“You’re like a recording device,” Thomas continues. “You sit there without coyness, flattery, or complaint. I feel like I could tell you anything.”

Shannon faces him, “The kind of things you might… tell a piano,” he proposes.

Thomas smirks, “Perhaps. If I played.”

Shannon licks the ice-cream. Licks it again.

Thomas laughs, shakes his head. “And the tape just keeps on rolling, doesn’t it.”

Brunch guests’ costly shoes clack the stone steps, passing the two men, a dozen voices fluttering various departures above their heads. A young woman dressed in a field of sunflowers squeezes Shannon’s shoulder with her lace-gloved hand, wicker satchel in the other.

“Mr. Wolf, I loved your playing this afternoon. You’ll have everyone ringing your bell for lessons,” a teasing wink.

I don’t have a bell.

Jim descends behind her, polished cufflinks glistering like direct light. “Now where did you lads find such a great idea.”

Shannon looks to Thomas who holds up a finger, signaling for silence. In the distance a sparkling solitary tune plays, distinct to weary tramp ice-cream trucks.

Jim laughs. “Next time we shall have an ice-cream bar at brunch.”

“King me.” Night shadows yawn across the butcher block table, the slant of streetlight neatly cutting up the shadows into repeating frames, piling them unto the square board where Shannon fastens a checker atop Lenore’s triumphant black one. She takes the last bite of ice-cream from her Viking helmet, waggles her feet under her chair. Crickets coo through the open windows. He thinks, Ice-cream trucks… are noon-day crickets. And slides a red checker down the board.

To Lenore, “What else does a bird on a wire sing.”

She considers. Then holds up her bowl like a challis and swallows down the warm pool of cream, wipes her mouth with a sticky hand, grandly places the bowl upside-down upon her tangled hair and sings with a voice more confident than before, still willowy.

‘“I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel. You were talkin so brave and so sweet. Giving me head on the unmade bed while the limousine waited in the street…”’

He stares widely.

Sitting up on her knees, bowl listing to one side, ‘“I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel. You were famous, your heart was a legend…”’

Taken by surprise with recall, Shannon sings on, ‘“…You told me again you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception.”’

She raises her gooey mitt as if in pledge.

He sings, ‘“And clenching your fist for the one’s like us who are oppressed by the figures of beauty, you fixed yourself, you said—”’

‘“—Well, never mind. We are ugly but we have the music.”’ She straightens her helmet.

He slouches back. ‘“And then you got away, didn’t you baby, you just turned your back on the crowd. You got away, I never once heard you say—”’

‘“I need you.”’

He leans in, ‘“I don’t need you”’

She leans in, ‘“I need you”’

‘“I don’t need you”’

She sinks back, ‘“And all of that… jiving around.”’

She slides a black checker from one shadow to another, sighing, “Next time, Chess.”

He lifts his empty bowl, turns it over on his own head. “Agreed.” And slides over a red checker. “King me.”

The public library’s lights have an undertone of pale seasick green; mint ice cream on its way back up. It’s minutes before closing—the tired, oblong voice in the tele-speaker has said as much several times. Shannon has been here all afternoon, a stack of books up to his chin, crowned with a plastic bag of chess pieces. He now stands at a CD rack studying a song list of Leonard Cohen. Each title reads like an omen: “Is This What You Wanted”, “Why Don’t You Try”, “There Is a War”, “I Tried to Leave You”, “A Singer Must Die”, “Take This Longing”.

 A man, the other side of the aisle, flips through records and EPs, glancing up at Shannon between the swish of a record landing in timber. Carelessly groomed in a meticulous way—two days of stubble and waxed eyebrows, clothes untidy but clean—he’s amused, and slinks over to Shannon, who looks up. “I’m Rob,” he says, looking at Shannon’s mouth, “And you should hear that man on vinyl.”

Up the porch steps early morning Shannon bounds in blinding canary yellow—T-shirt with silver sequins blinking “Prima”, buoyant sweatpants and beech flip-flops, several sizes too large like islands strapped to his feet. Onto the butcher block table he pours a brown paper bag of library goods—poetry, plays, music books, CDs, chess pieces—like legendary treasure, overflowing the table.

Lenore watches from her perch at the window. She hasn’t seen him since yesterday.

Flatly, “You’re in different clothes.”

Even flatter, “And you aren’t.”

From the table he gathers the goods, lines them up on the top shelf where Lenore cannot possibly reach, even standing on the bench.

“Why,” she asks darkly.

“It’s an experiment.”

She waits.

“I read one of these books walking here this morning. Which one,” he challenges.

She turns her head away as if in defiance, to square the sun full on her face, “He spat in my mouth and gave me visions of the future. Zeus did, to Cassandra.”

He pulls down the correct book, amused.

Do you see the future,” she asks.

“Do you.”

She looks to him, “I see what you can’t see.”

Closing the book, “Show me.”

Like a released slingshot, he turns, book in hand, and chucks it at the opposite corner of the room, smacking its plastic-wrapped against the wall. They watch it slide to the ground. A rather large spider on the wall remains, stunned but alive.

She fades her gaze out the window, “A neurologist once told you arachnophobia is a fear of being in one’s own skin. The spider with its eight legs touching the human body in so many places at once.”

He scoops up the spider, lets it crawl out the window, saying “I don’t dislike them.”

“I do.”

He watches the spider, she looks at the table. “Are those chess pieces.”

 Well into the game, both look as though it’s mind control that will move the pieces—unblinking scrutiny caged behind fingers cramped around their craniums like fossilized spiders holding up their faces, now sinking lower and lower to the board.

He moves a piece, “Would you want a doll.”

She moves a piece, “What would I do with a doll.”

“I don’t know.” He moves a piece.

“Maybe you want a doll.” She moves a piece.

“What would I do with a doll.” He moves again.

“What does anyone do with a doll.” She moves.

They study the board.

“What about crayons.” He moves, “Or paint.”

“Aren’t you afraid of what I would draw.” She moves.

“Yes.”

Lenore is once again attempting to make the bed, unfurling the top sheet like a wild sail of navy blue, only to have it furl back as a reservoir of waves beneath her hands. She has tried this from several angles around the bed. Shannon, standing hands on waist at the window watches her jerky figure’s reflection in the dusty glass, the night hanging like another solid blue sheet on the other side. He can hear her usual calm tightening emphatic sighs.

“I want to hear you laugh,” he says suddenly, gently. In the glass he can see her flinch, drop the sheet to the floor. She looks caught. He turns to catch her caught.

Her “Why” is almost a gasp.

He turns back to the window, unable to say it to her face, a face so startled and for the first time afraid.

To her reflection, “Today I heard children laughing in the street. And I wanted. I wanted that for you.”

Her shoulders twitch as though something is crawling between them. She shifts, shifts again, now frowning. “Do you know anything funny.”

He looks around the room, to the kitchen, out its window; opens the closet, ogles under the bed. Then sits down on the piano bench.

“No.”

Tucked in bed, bolstered up against the headboard, Shannon writes and erases in a book of Leonard Cohen sheet music, transcribing them from guitar to piano. He wears a pair of found reading glasses—lenses thick, doubling the size of his eyes; notes paddling around on the page while he mutters the melody, marks, remarks, erases, hums, shakes his head, begins again. At the foot of the bed is Lenore in a wood chair soldiering through John Berryman’s poetry book “Dream Songs.” She is reading aloud. Very aloud. He glares at her; she too is swimming around in his glasses like a fish in a bowl.

“When do you sleep.”

“I don’t sleep.”

“But you eat.”

She turns the page.

“Do you also”—

She amplifies over him.

“Maybe you should sleep.”

She pulls down her book, “Why would I do that.”

“Because. I want my dreams back.”

Like a released slingshot, she leaps at him so quickly with her hands now at his throat tipping back his head, he has no time to protest, to make a noise, before a crystal ball of her saliva is lowering down like a spider into his mouth.

The sound of her voice reading aloud wakes him. He’s still bolstered, music book in hand, Lenore is still reading aloud at the end of the bed. She stops to looks up.

“I WANT MY DREAMS BACK,” he demands, taking off the glasses, folding them up to the side, to show how reasonable he’s being.

“Why. Is something missing.”

He frowns, set off-course. “Yes.” And pads down the comforter about him, gets from the bed, a slow-moving panic stiffening his arms. “I can’t see it.”

“Take away what you can see.”

He pulls off his t-shirt, drops his pants, tears off each sock, pulls down his skivvies, punts them away, stands bare before the mirror.

“Eyes closed,” she prompts.

A moment later, “The watch,” he mumbles, clasping his wrist. Eyes open, “The watch, where is the watch.”

What is the watch.”

He rubbernecks, scraping every surface of the room with eyes, sharpened to see the small shape, calling to it with an empty open mouth. “I don’t, I don’t know. WHERE IS THE WATCH.”

What is the watch”

“I DON’T KNOW.”

He searches. Between, under, atop the few items on the nightstand, on the shelves, in the kitchen cupboards, the closet, knocking over the bat—Thatcher’s bat. “WHERE IS IT.”

What is it.”

In every limb of his body is rush hour traffic jamming at his chest where the motor wheel is spinning at a speed that will kill him, he’s sure of it, he’s going to combust. His torso contracting until his knees buckle, he falls to the floor, coughing out drool, body cramping again and again, tears from the pressure jetting from his eyes. He roars, is almost barking in pain. Brain hissing steam like a radiator, his numb arms hold tightly his whole howling form.

Lenore steps near, stands over his naked shaking frame.

“What is happening to me!” he croaks.

“Something beautiful,” she says without admiration or pity. “Now get up.”

And he does.

 At dawn Jim arrives and Shannon wears only a dressing gown. Tied in front, hanging to mid-thigh, not made of anything impressive—cashmere or silk—but terrycloth and second-hand, the color of well-chewed bubble gum. And the tie is slipping.

 Jim is also in a dressing gown—linen pajama’s beneath; button-up and draw-string, all pin-striped, scornfully coordinated. His Mercedes trunk is opened wide. Shannon would like to curl up inside that hatch, ride around for hours. How to ask it. Jim rattles a small cardboard box between them. Several watches scratch around inside, the watches are multiples. Jim pulls out one, hands it to Shannon, “How long have you been without it.”

“A day. More. I’m not sure,” strapping it on.

“Has anything. Come back to you.”

“From where.” Shannon is earnest. Jim is exhausted.

“Never mind,” Jim sighs, hand on Shannon’s shoulder, tossing box into trunk, slamming it. Another sigh, “I know.”

Shannon glowers, “What do you know.”

Jim stops.

What do you know.”

Jim stands stupid.

“You know I dont know. What don’t I know.”

Jim circles to the driver’s door.

“WHAT DON’T I KNOW, JIM.”

“You know… you really ought to find a more sizable gown, that’s what.”

Mercedes drives away. Shannon stands, robe opening completely. Uneven burn lines fractured across his body. Like that nude descending a staircase.

Now inside, Shannon thrashes through the nearly empty wall closet to pull out a red vinyl poncho, wrenching it over his head with vigor, throwing up the hood for emphasis. Squirms his feet to fit on the yellow flip flops. Lenore stands before him, timid, waiting.

He leans over to shove his face in hers, eyes snarling.

“Trust your anger,” she whispers, “Follow it.”

He blinks. Then leans his forehead closer, her’s, then closer, until she stumbles back. He stands, satisfied. Puts on black sunglasses, stomps out the backdoor.

Marching down the sidewalk, it seems to him all that is important to know is hiding, only to be called forth in the dark, by some special bidding, a language—no, an encounter, an impact. Shutting his fists, he spins as if the unknown were right behind him. “SHOW YOURSELF!” he thunders. A beige sedan drives toward him in the street, at twenty-five, thirty miles an hour. With expert timing and no hesitation, he steps out in front of the oncoming car.

In his robe, poncho off, swaddling petunias and dirt, Shannon stands in the front door of his apartment, weary tramp ice-cream crickets cooing behind him announcing his return.

Hanging from one hand are two small cans of paint, from the other a small CD boombox, freckled with layers of dried paint.

His knees are torn open and packed-in with earth, shins a melting fresco of blood and soil. His forehead is lopsided with swelling, a stain of blood forming like a lake off the side of his hairline; chin missing skin and nose split across the bridge, blood dried beneath it and on his lips, between his teeth. He smiles, holding up the gifts.

Below him on the floor is a life-size likeness of himself in bandaids. And the chalk body outlines are back, all of them the littlest body. In the midst of them, Lenore, lying on her back, hands as a cot for her head, stares poker-faced at the ceiling.

He lowers the loot, “What do you see tonight.”

Flatly, “The ceiling.”

Even flatter, “We can fix that.”

Through the boombox on the piano bench, Leonard Cohen tells why A Singer Must Die in tender tuneful laments while Lenore and Shannon sweep about their arms, their paint-soaked hands and bare feet in pistachio green and olive drab, marking, remarking the limits of the shower curtain, laid flat as a canvas. Their bodies circle around and around as tiny sleepy tornados, then swerve and drift more.

She murmurs, “I’m forever-ing in here bumping into walls then moving through them rolling on the shiny floor no trace of me.” He stops, nauseated, and repeats under his shallow breath, “the taste the first time I threw-up and couldn’t swallow and had to wash the shiny shiny floor no trace of me.” To quell his biliousness, he collapses along the rim of the shower curtain, pinching the edge. He turns over and over, until he’s spooled into a tight tube, head and neck out, feet kicking.

He sits—is precariously propped—upon the reading chair’s seat, when he asks—to see if it matters, if it makes any sense—to have a head, a body, a front and a back.

She slaps him. Hard. For a seven year old.

With her other hand on the other side she caresses his cheek.

“To experience pleasure and pain,” he says dryly, unimpressed.

“To experience somebody elses. Is to experience somebody; someone.”

He frowns. “What if the pain is bigger than my body is.” His eyes follow her’s over the burial ground of silhouettes. “Oh god,” blurting out the mathematics, “Is that why you’re here?” She won’t look up. “Is that why you don’t laugh?” She won’t look up. “NO!” writhing in his restraints.

As he struggles she walks to the kitchen, returns with a butcher knife drooping from her hand like a doll, and stands tranquil, as if awaiting instructions; they stare at each other thinking of all the unthinkable possibilities. And the thinking feels like a caress.

She slashes the curtain down one side, the other, up the bottom to his knees; arms and legs can bend now; points to the piano. “Play it.”

Beside each other on the bench, his hands poised and delayed on the white lake surface of the keys. The bottom three notes she presses—one, two, three. And it begins, Prokofiev’s “Suggestion Diabolique,”what he can remember of it—a ferocious tantrum boiling on the keys that springs up into sharper prancing, leaps into midair, stomps on thunder, bounds off to sprint at terrifying speed.

But now the piece is tripping over itself, tangling, rolling into something unprepared, something that snags like a claw down a curtain, the piece falling so far and so fast she covers her mouth with both hands not to beg him to stop, clenching shut her eyes not to see the piano.

Finally the piece catches on something in the dark and swings by its neck, slowing as it loses air, the swings echoing in the distance they have fallen, and in the boundless-below.

From there the piece digs sideways, face first, sucking down shadows until the dark loosens and collapses around one repeating note in F sharp, the F scattering flecks of light, flecks that shred the piece into a dozen hearts beating at odds, hurtling toward one pulse that will not hold before it spills over into laughter, into lavender, into relief.

In reverential shock he slowly removes his hands, as if not to disturb the air, the very liminal space they could be passing through. Watching the impossible, he thrived; watching it begin, she had drawn back, but now they both stare in idiotic wonder—ear-splitting red is glazed in fingerprints across the entire keyboard; sepia smudges drying on the keys’ curled lips.

They inspect his hands for injury—there are many. Palms, knuckles, backside—cuts and missing skin, but all marks are scabbing over with no fresh glinting dew.

“You made it bleed,” she whispers with dread, and does not rest her head on his shoulder.

His hands now hidden, “How do we make it stop.”

“We don’t,” bowing her head.

“Because it wants everything.” Bowing his.

He sits up, breaking through thin skin of a sleep with no underside. The wood chair is empty and the room dark. Above he can vaguely see the paint-marinated shower curtain hung flat along the ceiling as a tapestry of a busy, lathering sky.

Trying to slide himself up the pillow, he can barely move his torso without an accordion of pain squeezing into one stabbing throb in his chest. And it makes him wonder—if there isn’t a way to open up his chest like window shutters and reach in, jerk it out. He lifts the sheet to see bruises and claw marks haloing his lower ribs. Maybe he’s already tried.

He can remember the animal cry of the car’s breaks and the driver’s face through the windshield when his own face punched into it—a Goya portrait. When the driver incoherent with questions and curses had helped him to stand, Shannon had silenced him with two words. “Car keys,” hand outstretched.

Two small paint cans rolled back and forth in the passenger footwell, a sandy boombox in the front seat, glasses and sunglasses in the burst-opened glovebox.

It hadn’t surprised him then, the driver’s willingness to forfeit his keys at mere suggestion he do so. The man had seemed grateful. Perhaps it was stolen.

His head feels like a kicked-in soccer ball, his mouth rusty, still tasting of the watering can. He reaches for a pack of smokes on the nightstand. They are gone and his hand is shaking. A match strikes across the room, in the front door frame a flame and Lenore close in on a cigarette. Her first inhale is long and savored with the measure of a consummate smoker. Her stem of a wrist shakes out the flame, drops the match. Another full drag flows out her elfin nose and he can see her eyes get lost down an ally on the other side of town, eyes glowing with a danger she sees there. And a sadness. No. More than sadness. Devastation. Can a childs face show such comprehension and still remain a childs. The spread of nicotine in his body smoothes the shaking. And she turns to watch him, her face solemn again, completely child. Blowing out smoke through her nose like a baby dragon, “I can touch your soul now if you want.” And before there is an answer, he is asleep.

“Field Commander Cohen he was our most important spy…” Sunday late afternoon brunch at the grand piano, with patched paint like camouflage molting off his skin, collar unbuttoned and raised, blazer sleeves rolled and no bow tie, Shannon sings playing barefoot an arrangement of Leonard Cohen, his voice low, melodious, crackling like the paint on his neck, flaking behind his ears.

“…Wounded in the line of duty, parachuting acid into diplomatic cocktail parties….”

The guests are listening only because their eyes can’t seem to stay on him. Something like car wax, something that coats over time and keeps out weather is slipping their stares off him onto the polished lacquer of the piano, onto their own bare shoulders just as polished, onto the strenuous whites of each other’s athletic eyes.

“…Leave it all and like a man,
Come back to nothing special,
Such as waiting rooms and ticket lines,
Silver bullet suicides,
And messianic ocean tides,
And racial roller-coaster rides
And other forms of boredom advertised as poetry.”

It isn’t his lack of couture that seems uncivil; that could be forgiven if there wasn’t so much blood. Dried trails of it down his ankles, wrist bone nearly skinless with an aura of angry red around exposed cartilage; forehead blackened with clots, and his hands. What starving beast has feasted upon those hands.

“I know you need your sleep now,
I know your life’s been hard.
But many men are falling,
Where you promised to stand guard.”

Only one person is wholly facing him. A muscular young man with a tree trunk face, hard angles with soundless staying-power, a face that can be climbed. Oak strength is everywhere in him but his eyes. They are misplaced, wrong-headed; defenseless, openly suffering, unable to look away from Shannon.

“Ah, lover come and lie with me, if my lover is who you are,
And be your sweetest self awhile until I ask for more, my child.
Then let the other selves be wrong, yeah, let them manifest and come
Till every taste is on the tongue,”

Jim sharply sits beside Shannon with a slice of cake on a plate. Holding it up, “Shannon, have some cake!”

Shannon smacks it to the floor, passionately clutching Jim’s face, kissing him full on the mouth. Jim pushes back, pulls him to stand, “Let’s get some air,” leads him to the kitchen.

“Can we have the room.” Brunch folk apologetically disassemble.

Shannon is growling under running water at the sink faucet, soaking his head. Jim yanks down the faucet handle like a driving clutch, throws a towel over Shannon’s head.

Shannon stands.

“You missed your doctor’s appointment,” Jim begins.

“My what,” rubbing himself dry.

“Shannon, this isn’t negotiable.”

Shannon shrugs.

“It’s my fault,” Jim sighs, tossing his hand, “I’ll drive you next week myself.” Then points to Shannon’s wrist. “Where’s your watch.”

“It clashes with my feet.”

“GODDAMMIT SHANNON,” lowering his voice, “This isn’t a joke, it’s the goddamn law!”

The incomprehension in Shannon’s face is extraordinary to Jim. It’s mesmerizing.

“If you want to stay living on your own there are rules. Look, tomorrow is my mother’s piano lesson—”

“Not a good idea,” Shannon interrupts.

“And you canceled on the twins too, I hear.”

“Did I.”

“You were doing so well, Shannon. What’s happening to you?”

“Something beautiful.”

Jim could spit. “I’m driving you home.”

“I know my way.” Towel drops in sink on his way to the patio doors.

Whistling Beethoven’s Fifth, barefoot, past twilight, Shannon—taking his time like a bachelor on holiday at the beach shore— untucked, facing the wind, faintly grinning, without pain or fear or guilt. Unaware of the man following him a block behind. Who is also seeing Shannon on a beach, leaning on wind, face in stars.

Walking up his porch steps, Shannon hears first the soft rhythmic clicking of the bike spokes. The voice turns him.

“I didn’t appreciate your playing at the party. It was gruesome.” The carved man of oak from brunch is walking a bike, stops at the porch stoop to make it clear to Shannon.

“You look awful.”

Shannon’s face illuminates in the fire of his lighter. He takes a long and savored drag. Squints, waits.

The man continues. “They’ve been hiding you.”

Shannon grimaces.

The man cannot stop himself now. “They’re ashamed of you. But mostly they’re ashamed of themselves. Because they failed you.”

Shannon stops.

“I’m Roger Pearce. I was once your intern. Back when the city sung your name and wanted you sainted. Now we want you forgotten.” Shannon takes another drag, a hard, hasty drag. Even from here he can see the man’s eyes brimming with watery light. “You taught me truth at all costs. You gave your life to know. If you want to know what you got for it…” he holds out a business card, Shannon doesn’t move to reach it. Laying it on the bottom step, “…Talk to me.” He walks on, bicycle beside him like a small obedient pony. Shannon doesn’t finish the cigarette, flings it to the street, a new coldness in his chest, an electrical storm flashing in his forehead.

Shannon inside can barely close the door before Lenore tumbles into him, unable to breathe well enough for words, her body so convulsive with panic, it tears from its own silhouette again and again, multiplier her like an image in a flip-book.

“I’m not a secret anymore!” she wheezes. The comprehension in her face is extraordinary to him. Mesmerizing.

“What. Why?” Trying to block her body in it’s tumbling.

“SOMEBODY KNOWS ABOUT ME!”

He looks over his shoulder at the window then back to her.

“Who knows about you.”

“SHANNON! SHANNON KNOWS ABOUT ME!”

Squatting to grip her shoulders, “TALK SENSE TO ME, LENORE!”

“The swamping room!” she gasps.

“The what?”

“Ask him what happens in the swamping room!”

“What happens in the swamping room?”

“EVERYTHING! IT WANTS EVERYTHING!” Throwing her head back, wailing inconsolably, “HE’S GOING TO GIVE AWAY THE STORY.”

 

 

 

 

 

Kat Mandeville graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, is finishing her PhD in Philosophy & Critical Thought at the European Graduate School, and with Atropos Press has published her Master’s Thesis, Seduction into Life, Revelation with Strangers: Could Ettinger’s Matrixial Borderspace Answer Badiou’s Call for a New Philosophical Tradition? She’s published two books of poetry, with various poems published in various journals. She lives in New York City.


Racial Unity Through Mitleid: Lewis Nordan, Emmett Till, and the Five Stages of Grief in Wolf Whistle

 

In “Grotesque Laughter, Unburied Bodies, and History: Shape-shifting in Lewis Nordan’s Wolf Whistle”, Harriet Pollack explains that Lewis Nordan grew up in the same county in which Emmett Till was murdered. At the time of Till’s death, Nordan was fifteen-years-old, just one year older than Till. Till’s murder made Nordan realize that the white Southerners, including himself, were culpable in the death of all African Americans that were being murdered in the South. Unable to emotionally process this issue at such a young age, it took Nordan thirty-eight years and the loss of two sons (Pollack, 173-174, 186). The combination of Nordan’s personal history and the history of the South created an uncomfortable realization of the connection of Till’s murder and Southern heritage in Nordan’s mind. In “Growing Up White in the South”, Nordan confesses: “In the directionless fictional histories of the characters of Wolf Whistle, there are hints of what happened in my own history, and perhaps in the history of all human beings—death, heartbreak, betrayal, lost love, and lost hope” (299). Nordan drew on his own emotional suffering, recognizing his connection with Mamie Till-Mobley’s grief, and was able to return to his past and end his nearly four-decade long silence on the murder of Emmett Till. This emotional connection with Till and Till-Mobley will be expanded on through an explanation of the term “Mitleid” and the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Wolf Whistle lays the landscape of great loss through the five stages of grief as they are experienced by a young school teacher, Alice Conroy. It is through the acceptance of the grieving process, turning away from racism, and continuing to discuss the nonlinear past that American culture can begin to bridge the racial divide that exists within the United States.

Nordan’s emotional connection with Emmett Till’s history created a sense of Mitleid within him. “Mitleid” is a German noun that reflects a communal feeling requiring one person to bond with another. In English, Mitleid can be translated as “compassion”, “pity”, “sympathy”, “mercy”, “commiseration”, and “charity”. “Mit” is the dative form of “with” and “Leid” is “sorrow”, “grief”, “distress”, or “affliction” (Langenschiedt’s, dict.cc). To feel Mitleid is to experience a bonding moment over the afflicted person’s experience and a willingness to share the burden and take on the emotions ourselves. There is no direct English translation that encompasses Mitleid, for it requires more than sympathy or compassion; it requires that the suffering is acknowledged and validated as real. Additionally, Mitleid would not support the idea of a “white savior”. White Americans who practice Mitleid would not be there to rescue African Americans, because that would require being above them. Mitleid equalizes the levels, bringing the high lower and the low higher in order to find a middle ground where both parties can equally support one another in their suffering; united in mutual support and respect for one another.

Mitleid is not a stagnant point in time, nor is grief. The five stages of grief can happen in any order and we can experience most of the stages more than once. In “Stages of Grief, Loss, and Bereavement”, Dr. T.A. Olasinde states: “The five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. Everybody does not go through all of them nor are they in a prescribed order” (105). Racial disunity in America is the same. Progress has been made over the last few hundred years, but it is a slow progression that regresses some as it moves forward. Mitleid, grief, and racial disunity involve the past, present, and future in any given moment. In Wolf Whistle, Alice sees the symbolic stars and shepherds at the birth of Jesus Christ, the end of segregation, events during the Civil Rights Era such as the bombing of a church that killed four young girls, the march led by Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, the murder of Medgar Evers, and, in an interesting combination of true history and fiction, the murder of Emmett Till. All of these were “names, faces, geographies not yet known to her, for in the extremity of her pain and need, linear time disappeared and became meaningless, blood running alongside lost hope in the streets of many nations” (17-18). In “Gothic Undercurrents in the Novels of Lewis Nordan”, Mary Carney writes of the moment when Bobo’s, the Emmett Till figure in Wolf Whistle, body is discovered: “the murdered teenager and the swamp rats create a harmonic convergence of past and present suffering” (8). The suffering, or, the grief, is not a singular moment in history, but is representative of the nonlinear timeline of racial inequality and tension in the United States, a history extending back to the beginning of the nation. James Baldwin, in “White Man’s Guilt”, opines: “the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do” (1). The history of America is carried within every American and, through our subconscious, affects Americans’ attitudes and actions at any given point in time. The essence of what it means to be American is directly affected by America’s history as much as what is happening in the present. This means that the long, complicated history of racial disunity is irreconcilably interlinked with both the present and the future of American identity. As Matthew Ferrence explains in “Breaking the Filibuster of Race: The Literary Resonance of the Emmett Till Murder”, some racial issues may be considered resolved and in the past, but others will continually arise as quickly as a solution is found. This happens “because the tendrils of racism and white supremacy have grown outward in all directions, physically and temporally” (58), which can be traced through literature, both fiction and nonfiction, and “singular events like the murder of Emmett Till might reemerge in other places and times, as the haunting faces of our dreams” (58). Lynching and other forms of murder have greatly affected America in the past, it continues to affect it in the present, and will continue to affect it in the future. There is no escaping the past; it is a part of who we, as Americans are. However, there is the hope of working through America’s grieving process in order to reach the point of Mitleid and become a more unified and compassionate nation.

In Wolf Whistle, Alice Conroy is a prime example of the denial of ingrained racism. According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her text On Death and Dying: “Denial functions as a buffer after unexpected shocking news, allows the patient to collect himself and, with time, mobilize other, less radical defenses” (35). When someone experiences a loss, the initial realization of the loss causes emotional defenses to come up to protect the emotional and mental health of the person experiencing the loss. Alice sees the image of Bobo in the raindrop, but she, at that point, cannot face its racist implications. Racism is not emotionally healthy; it damages both parties, destroying relationships and causing the culture to have a codependency with racism and segregation. Alice is in denial of these racial issues. Nordan writes: “Her eyes would not hold to the spot. She looked away quickly, and then, when she looked back, she couldn’t locate that particular raindrop again” (80). At this point in the story, Alice denies the issues and cannot focus on them, because she is not yet ready to deal with the reality of her culture. When she catches a glimpse of the horrors her culture has produced, her instinct is to turn her face away, rather than confront the problem directly. This is common amongst white Americans; we are unsure how to confront the idea of white guilt, because it is uncomfortable to think that we can be blamed for something we did not do. Yet the culpability does not arise from having committed the act ourselves, but from turning our eyes away when a glimmer of inequality is observed out of the corner of our eye. We might turn our eyes back later, considering that, perhaps, something should have been done to prevent the injustice from happening, but by then it has been deeply buried. The problem must be confronted in the moment, rather than denied and left to blend in with the other “raindrops”. It is a form of denial, because the truth is so difficult to deal with that it must be shrouded in fiction in order to deal with it, in order to avoid the anger and depression that would arise from directly facing such a painful truth. This can also be a form of bargaining, which will be discussed in more detail later. However, this is not necessarily a mistake, at first. When dealing with particularly difficult situations, events that would drive painful pangs to our very core, the initial denial that shrouds facts in fiction is an important part of the grieving process. The human mind places protective barriers around itself to keep incomprehensible loss from destroying it. Denial can be the writer’s act of Mitleid, for it acknowledges that the reader might have his/her own loss that must be gently approached in a slow reveal, rather than coldly confronted with harsh reality.

After Alice could no longer ignore the reality of her culture, she moved on to this second stage of grief: Anger. Kübler-Ross states: “When the first stage of denial cannot be maintained any longer, it is replaced by feelings of anger, rage, envy, and resentment” (44). In the courtroom scene, Alice looks down from the balcony, where she is sitting with her class of fourth-graders, and sees a sea of white faces surrounding the eyewitness to Bobo’s murder, Uncle. She passionately exclaims to herself: “All those white people down there! White! Even to Alice it looked like an abomination of some kind. White, white, bird dookie, white, it was sickening, a pestilence!” (226). The irony in this passage is that Alice had just moved her class into the balcony pews, where “she was taking up seats that other colored people might have sat in, since the courtroom was segregated and there might well be a ton of black folks with just as much right” as the fourth graders and Alice to sit in those seats (225). Wrapped up in Alice’s anger towards the injustices of the white southerners is a firm denial that she, too, is part of the problem. She cannot contain her anger at the injustice that the murderers have been set free. She is forced to confront the racial issues in America and how unjust it is, which directly speaks of how Nordan felt about those very same issues.

The third stage of grieving, that of bargaining, is shown by Nordan through Alice eventually leaving the South. Kübler-Ross writes: “If we have been unable to face the sad facts in the first period and have been angry at people and God in the second phase, maybe we can succeed in entering into some sort of an agreement which may postpone the inevitable happening” (72). Alice could remain in the South, if only it would leave its racial prejudice behind. Alice realizes that this is not a viable option, as the South will not let go of its racial prejudice. Rather than facing the problem, though, Alice begins to renegotiate the bargain by convincing herself that leaving the problem behind and pretending it does not exist will help her find a hopeful place to make a home for herself. She forms this bargain after seeing Bobo’s mother in the courtroom. If she could leave the South, then perhaps she would be able to avoid the racism that was inherent in the culture. Alice thinks to herself: “Maybe it was true that life was better outside the South. Maybe, somehow, the world really was a place of hope and light, if only the geography were different from what Alice knew about. Well, it couldn’t be any worse” (243). She strikes an inner bargain, ultimately leaving the South at the end of the text, believing that this will make her life better, perhaps enabling her to be happy and settle down. This represents how, culturally, she cannot adhere to the racist ideas found within the South. However, this does not solve the racial issues of the South. Leaving it behind only ignores the problem and allows us to slip back into the stage of denial. The problems do not go away simply because we have walked away from them. The problems must, instead, be confronted with Mitleid so that a valid and permanent solution can be discovered.

The next stage of grief portrayed in Wolf Whistle is that of depression. This can be seen through the Blues music woven into the fabric of the novel as a whole, but is best portrayed by the depression that Alice experiences due to the loss of her lover. Alice lives in a world of fantasy, but when she is confronted with her separation from her lover she imagines him at home with his wife. Nordan pens that Alice “saw that Dr. Dust’s wife loved him and so this made Alice sad” (81). She feels the sadness, or depression, because she is beginning to move on from bargaining, denial, and anger and is confronting the fact that she will have to let go of her married lover and find a way of repairing the damages it has caused in her life. Later, this sense of loss and sadness is observed by the magical moment of Bobo’s spirit observing through a part of his murdered body; his eye dislocated from its socket. Bobo “saw a young schoolteacher. She was walking home from school, her heart filled with sadness. In this woman’s heart Bobo saw the pain of hopeless love” (181). Although it is healthy to understand the necessity of letting go of toxic relationships and realize that our object of affection is damaging us, it is still extremely difficult. Kübler-Ross writes of depression that it is a necessary stage in loss, even if the loss is a positive one. She asserts that in speaking with someone who is sad over a loss: “It would be contraindicated to tell him not to be sad, since all of us are tremendously sad when we lost one beloved person. The patient is in the process of losing everything and everybody he loves” (77). Alice felt that she was losing everything she loved, but she is, by extension, losing her detrimental relationship to the South’s racism and moving on to find emotional healing. The end result is positive for Alice and the rest of the United States (as a whole, not just in the South), but even letting go of something extremely unhealthy and damaging can be painful. It is still a great loss, because it is the loss of a cultural element that is deeply ingrained within the culture. It is a matter of breaking apart the culture and rebuilding it, which is extremely painful and would naturally bring about the grieving process. There is a deep depression that arises from losing a cultural heritage, just as there is a deep depression that arises from losing a lover. Yet, this depression is a very necessary stage in the movement towards emotional health, cultural stability, and social Mitleid.

The fifth, and final, stage of the grieving process is that of acceptance. This is not a moment of letting go of a traumatic event or moving on to never feel any pain over the instance again. The grieving process does not necessarily end with acceptance, as the five stages of grief, as mentioned previously, are not linear. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross states: “Acceptance should not be mistaken for a happy stage. It is almost void of feelings” (100). This is a stage where we are objectively aware that we are going through a grieving process and can consider the stages intellectually instead of emotionally. This is where Mitleid can begin to form, though may not be fully realized. Acceptance can be portrayed best in the moment when Alice’s Mitleid begins to form as she identifies with the African Americans in the balcony of the courtroom. Uncle sits below, amongst a plethora of white faces glaring their hatred at him, for he is preparing to testify that Solon Gregg and Poindexter Montbeclair are the murderers of Bobo. Nordan writes:

Alice saw Uncle look at his unfriendly surroundings. All white people. Everywhere. White. Uncle looked right and he looked left. White, white, all white, nothing but white, so help me God. Alice wanted to call out to him: Up here! The colored people are up here, we’re up here, above you! Of course Alice was white herself, and not colored—nothing’s simple (227)

Shortly after this, Alice begins to wave her arms to draw Uncle’s attention to the balcony. Uncle recognizes the act of support for what it is, saying to himself: “Well, that was all right. Didn’t make no difference to Uncle where they sat, the other colored people. Didn’t make no difference to Uncle if some of them was white, and only children. Uncle was relieved to see them at all” (232). In this moment, Uncle is making a rational decision to allow Alice to racially identify herself with him, though she is white. Uncle recognizes the beginnings of Mitleid are being expressed, which brings a “spiritual relief and redemption that suddenly the thought afforded all who cared or dared to think it” (233). It is through these beginning stages of Mitleid that a brief moment of community is created. Alice has accepted the untenable racial issues in the South and can now begin to progress towards the attainment of Mitleid, and Uncle has accepted Alice’s identification with him. Alice still loves her culture, for that was what she had been raised to know, but she knew it could not be supported anymore. In the same way, many white Americans today have accepted that racial issues in the United States cannot be sustained. The grieving process began many years ago and continues today. Reaching acceptance does not mean the grieving process is over, it is simply a necessary part of it. It does mean, however, that white Americans can now accept the past and present issues, intellectually process through them, and begin to work towards an equal society based on Mitleid.

Mitleid creates a unity and equality between white Americans and African Americans. When Mitleid is practiced, oppression cannot be supported, because there is no longer disunity. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire opines that “to divide the oppressed, an ideology of oppression is indispensable. In contrast, achieving their unity requires a form of cultural action through which they come to know the why and how of their adhesion to reality—it requires de-ideologizing” (173). The practice of oppression requires an ideology that one person is better than another, as was the dominate mode of thought amongst white Americans from the beginning of slavery, during the Civil Rights Era and, sadly, amongst some today. This issue has been rooted in the history of the United States since its conception, and it must stop. White Americans do not need to save African Americans from their mistreatment, either. This ideology is just as harmful, because it avoids the root of the issue entirely. Kübler-Ross exhorts: “I am convinced that we do more harm by avoiding the issue than by using time and timing to sit, listen, and share” (125). This does not require that white Americans come up with their own way of “saving” African Americans, nor does it require that either race pretends that the past never happened. It requires that the travesties of slavery, the long history of lynching, and the Civil Rights Era be acknowledged and that all address the issue of racial tension with open and honest hearts. It requires that white Americans practice Mitleid, which demands that we work towards unity and equality by listening to the tragic stories our culture has woven into America’s history and helping shoulder the burden of grief and suffering. In The Luminous Darkness, Howard Thurman explains this through a Christian ethic, providing multiple examples of Mitleid as a “spirit abroad in life” that “finds its way into the quiet solitude of a Supreme Court justice when he ponders the constitutionality of an act of Congress which guarantees civil rights to all its citizens” (112). Furthermore, Thurman points out that this same spirit “kindles the fires of unity in the heart of Jewish Rabbi, Catholic Priest, and Protestant Minister”, and it also “knows no country”, because it can be found within every person who has a heart that “is kind and the collective will and the private endeavor to make justice where injustice abounds” (113). To accept our past as a part of us is to recognize the guilt that comes with it; white hands have been stained red and there is no way to remove the history of white guilt. However, there is a way to move forward. It is through this sense of Mitleid that Thurman so beautifully expresses. It is through having hope that unity can be found in honest discussion and mutual grief over the losses of a long history of inequality and brutality.

Through the young schoolteacher, Alice Conroy, Wolf Whistle portrays the five stages of grief, as well as a sense of Mitleid, creating a hope that, perhaps, white Americans and African Americans can work together so that all truly will be equal in not just the legal eyes of the land, but the social and cultural eyes, as well. Whether Nordan intended it or not, the grieving process is throughout Wolf Whistle, like the Blues, woven into the very fabric of the narrative. All white Americans, like Nordan, must reach a state of acceptance in our nation’s grieving process and set aside savior complexes and personal feelings. The conversations must keep going and the voices of those who have suffered grievously must be heard, respected, honored, and remembered. It is through community and relationship with one another that racial unity, equality, and Mitleid can be achieved.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited:
Baldwin, James. “White Man’s Guilt.” Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White. Ed. David Roediger. New York: Schocker, 1998. 320-25. Print.
Carney, Mary. “Gothic Undercurrents in the Novels of Lewis Nordan”. Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South. 41.3 (2003): 78-91. Electronic.
Ferrence, Matthew. “Breaking the Filibuster of Race: the Literary Resonance of the Emmett Till Murder”. Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies. 41.1 (2010): 45-61. Electronic.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Bloomsbury, 2000. Print.
Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. New York: Macmillan, 1970. Print.
“Mitleid”. Langensheid’s® Standard German Dictionary: German-English, English-German. New York: Langenscheidt, 1993. Print.
“Leid”. Ibid.
“Mit”. Ibid.
“Mitleid”. English-German Dictionary. Dict.cc. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.
“Leid”. Ibid.
“Mit”. Ibid.
See previous annotation.
Nordan, Lewis. “Growing Up White in the South”. Wolf Whistle. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003. Print.
– – -. Wolf Whistle. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003. Print.
Olisinde, T.A., Dr.. “Stages of Grief, Loss, and Bereavement”. Online Journal of Medicine and Medical Science Research. 1.6 (2012): 104-107. Electronic.
Pollack, Harriet. “Grotesque Laughter, Unburied Bodies, and History: Shape-shifting in Lewis Nordan’s Wolf Whistle”. The Mississippi Quarterly. 61.1 (2008): 173-197. Electronic.
Thurman, Howard. The Luminous Darkness: A Personal Interpretation of the Anatomy of    Segregation and the Ground of Hope. New York: Harper & Row, 1965. Print.

 

 

 

 

 

Katie Ann Lee was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and she is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Literature and Criticism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her interests include, but are not limited to, speculative fiction, creative writing, film, and theories of writing the Unspeakable and the Unknown. Katie’s passion for people motivates much of what she does in life, as she continually seeks to understand, support, and encourage others in their own endeavors. When not studying, she enjoys having Wine and Bradbury nights, where she pairs a semi-decent Riesling with a Ray Bradbury Story.


Even Ugliness Delights

 

Beauty no longer matters. Like the barge that drifts
away from shore, life has drifted from beauty.

Everything is muddy. Even the water we drink from
the cooler is unclear-but cold. Layered up in parkas
thick gloves, and wading boots, we come to fish.

For bait, my parents had gotten some blood from a
slaughterhouse and poured it into a pan, and then
they’d frozen it, and after the blood had congealed
they’d set it all out in the sun until it had become a
skin. This is gruesome.

At home, my father hangs the catfish from a hook he
has nailed into an oak. He tears, with skinners

Detached from the fish, giving matter a tough
pornographic edge, after the fashion of naturalism
which drags up and bares only what causes sickness
and astonishment.

After they are skint, he reaches in without pity. But
don’t overlook voluptuousness

Corn spills from their bellies, corn and blood, that
strong image of God. The head slips off. Nothing
disgusts me. I don’t raise my lips or plug my nose
when my father slices them open.

The way the Mississippi moves removes whatever
disgust. I am disposed to ugliness. Engrossed in the
dressage of flystirred and dirty fleshiness, Love has
lost its meaning. This doesn’t at all express what you
want to be seen—the inmost and unnoticed from the
depths to the reddish flush of flares to the sound of
slow-lapping waves washing coldly on broken
stones: wet, bright and unnatural; radiant because of
the far off oil refineries

Beauty is only one way.

Dynamism is another. A beaver swims by. You love
his tail. How funny it looks-like a paddle a teacher
would use to spank her pupils.

The truth is not always pretty; sometimes, it is
sweaty pores, skin and apertures-after a day of
fishing, my mother runs her water. She gets in first.

When she has finished bathing, water, sand, aster
and yellow sedge fill the tub. Then she leaves, and
my father gets in. This is the same water!

St. Perpetua covered her pussy with her robe while
a bull was goring her bloody.

Isn’t life hard enough? Beauty is so rare.

But what if I told you, you could take this air going
hard against your face, this firmamental adhesive
that has scraped up all the skittish cumulous: dim
Connemara cloth, and John Wycliffe, roaring, who
gathers up the brownish water but as suddenly
dissolves in a sensitive bird. Wherever the river
quarrels, shy cormorants dive, keeping an eye out
for whiskered, smooth-skinned fish.

Intending to catch a fish, I draw up the head of some
ancient god instead.

A snail slopes along a decaying log. Leave that one
alone. Still, I get carried away with building a fire
and by the time I’m finished, waves of heat fan the
Cypress leaves above our heads, and I am afraid.

Night—nylon river. On the other side, a refinery
tower swells. The tower and the flame relate to a
class of tempting thoughts and perhaps to a part of
our nature that produces such unclean thought, too
unromantic, too big, too hard, too strong. Foam
frothed up from churning has a distinctive vinegar
odor.

Inside the station wagon is hot, therefore I lie among
rocks beside the fire and waves, washing orange
EVA floats back and forth. For my pillow, I use a
stone. I pray for detachment, but not from suffering.

Suffering may help you.

When morning comes, I walk across concrete and
quarry stone, which has been tinted red with iron
from rebar and broken brick. I can’t see the other
side. A Maersk-line container ship sits at the river-
end of a walkway.

Lichens and bunch grass shoot up from the asphalt
cracks in thickets. I am not disgusted by decay. Eat
and drink the river, its insects, worms, and feces.
Nothing is inedible. I am a child again. I was never
all that interested in fishing, that was for my parents.

I wanted adventure and irideous insects held under
glass. So I went kicking brack, near the river’s edge,
boots just below the surface.

A slick, lichen mat grows underwater.

I swallowed river the way I swallowed my mother’s
homemade wine, which gets me high but which
tastes like sand and shit, and dark gathered in and
almost closed. And there was nothing to hold. Until
I went down, caught a stone and pulled myself back
up. O. God, all my sudden swallows, my aspirant
face. I was afraid, but I didn’t tell my parents. You
have to be patient to tease out meaning.

My father groans domestically. Listen, you have to
be patient with those small bones, he says. He spits
them out with meal and grease.

After the plate is washed, will you eat?
No, it’s in my head. It was dirty and that idea is still
in my head. You should throw away these things.

Ugliness has no function except to act as a foil to
beauty.

Elizabeth Bishop didn’t seem squeamish when she
wrote “The Fish.” Her poem is not ugly though and
she ends it with a rainbow. Some would like to
vituperate all rainbows; others seem interested in
seeing life that way.

When my father reels in the line, his hook is empty.
Minnows have nibbled away the bait.

They say the Great Egret displays his plumes to get
a mate. Beauty, when you get down to it, is just
about sex and food. This makes you feel like a fool.

A fly lands on cutbait. Poetry may mean nothing
more than this: coarse prose, scummy earthworms
and mosquitoes.

An egret hears the little toad chorus and stalks the
muddy water.

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce Alford is a newspaper columnist and reviews poetry for Alabama Writer’s Forum. He has published fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. His first collection, Terminal Switching, was published in 2007 (Elk River Review Press). He received a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Alabama and was an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of South Alabama from 2007-2011. Before working in academia, he was an inner-city missionary and journalist. He currently lives in Hammond, Louisiana.


Entries in a Known Hand: On Being a Foreigner

 

un rèpertoire

11 août 199-     Weekend spent cutting grapevines at a country house in Pertuis. Mouches that took chunks of flesh of my legs, barely bearable heat, endless vignes sauvages, thorn bushes, weeds. The green grapes were incredibly sour, yet from time to time, I had to suck their bitter juice out of the need of pure thirst. It, with the sun anvil-ing on the back of my naked neck, makes for a painfully dizzy drunk that is one half immediate hangover.

Rain has begun again, wiping out the heat. Bubbles slide across the red tiled terrace. The sound of drops falling are in English. Addicted to the mother tongue, at night, sleeping on a terrace, a mattress bed enough, I surf the AM airwaves for radio programs from England, the Netherlands, Canada, Frankfurt, and occasionally Los Angeles. Some nights they come in loud and clear, even National Public Radio can be attained. But nothing is happening in America because, frankly, nothing ever does.

14 août 199-     People in the streets eye me with a modicum of suspicion and perhaps interest as I continue to deposit American mailbags of useless junk into their privately owned dumpsters. Dogs bark at me wherever I go. Morning light is uncharacteristically bright, sight itself can see too far, the scenery is empty with collines and trees and a swelling, tumescent sea. I toss and turn into a half-awake riddled sleep. What is the purpose of fear? The air from the sea is headstrong.

15 août Mardi    Day of the Assumption. No money to buy cigarettes. Daily arrangement of Zen garden of sand within the terrace flower box: sea stone, eroded tile, tree sprouts, a Christ from a crucifix. Some clouds above the sea. Nothing for the day planned. Future is nothing unless it includes being together with a someone, then a world. Night waves are too strong to swim in. Underwater living, if it is without remembrance, is a possibility.

16 août Mercredi     Mornings are most difficult. Men are working on the streets– beginning at 7:30 am jackhammers begin. I have inhabited a room divided in two by a pipe, raised, beyond floor level. My only access to the outside world is short wave radio. The reflection that greets me in the mirror: a stranger becoming more subtle in his disguises. Peut-être that age brings.

A seagull crosses the window. Time is in essence endless work to be done.

17 août     Jackhammer and clouds. Dreams of a fractured self replete with moveable jaw section. So bright in the mornings that I exist like a troglodyte under a pillow and blanket until the heat compels me to rise. Must join the real world to buy croissants, milk, bread, essentials. Realize that I’m keeping a journal toward some kind of resolution. In France, there is nothing to be resolved.

20 août     The night ends with too much wine. Had to pee so bad that I used a rainwater bucket and oh my gosh the noise it made (too afraid to use bathrooms not my own). Discovered a wonderful park nearby: 19th century buildings, palm and bamboo trees (in Europe!), ponds, cypresses, French bunker houses, bicycles from ages past, Monet bridges and catalpa trees made for lounging in. I count on the hours I’ll spend there, in the mornings, alone. No letters arrived today and unfortunately tomorrow is Sunday.

21 or 22 août     Functioning here is a problematic magnified. In the face of history and custom. An outsider. Unable to function at the basic level: to make a call; I cannot understand, though I hear, what people say to me. A hearing deaf mute. Will not eat today, something decided. Water is enough. The radio and maybe even sleep.

23 août     Les marteaux-piquers awake me again. Last night it rained like it rains in the midwest. Lightning close and fantastic. I have been called for jury duty in Utah. Have resolved to resolve nothing.

24 août     Someone calls and informs me that they have had an affair and it resulted in an already aborted pregnancy. Another friend lost a daughter to paralyzation due to a motorcycle mishap and I wonder if these things occur here, but at a much slower rate. Then I selfishly wonder if I have died and have been trapped in a joint French-Italian B-movie production.

25 août     The petit mistral has arrived to dust the city. In the morning, a trip to Samöens, what my limited mind envisions as the Rockies (only much better). It will be my second, after an airplane perspective, view of the Alps. This time it’ll be my turn to see if the passes rise unexpectedly and if the peaks aspire theatrically. Wordsworth in the New Age music of the Romantics.

27 août     In the Hautes Alpes. Much more beautiful than anywhere in the American West. Mountains have definite knife blade-like shapes as if they are sculpted to be sharp. Villages are not so touristic and are worth stopping in because they are as medieval as the fountains they contain. Above them in the distance limpidly hang para-gliders. It’s only fitting that Mount Blanc is obscured by clouds. Swiss chalets surround. The people are real and generous– we stay in a resort hotel (off season) for free! The air is cool and the scenery is movie-like for an American. Unfortunately, hiking is out of the question due to time constraints. A moving tour of paradise from a car window.

8 août     In Val d’Isère. The Alfa Romeo we were driving broke down. This morning, IT IS SNOWING. The surrounding mountains, for they are rumored to be there, are invisible in winter clouds. August. The hotel’s television features news in British.

29 août     Off a motor route, we stop for a picnic and I make a small fire because we are at six thousand feet or higher and it is cold. Almost immediately, men from the forest service discover us and make sure our fire isn’t too big. They wear kepis and are very cordial. We offer them glasses of wine and French bread sandwiches of sausisson. They decline and tell us to be careful. This is civilization. Under pine trees, mushrooms bloom.

2 septembre     Essence might very well be cigarette smoke.

4 septembre     The date is becoming harder to calculate. Have returned to Marseille. Sleep becomes difficult to leave. Went hiking. Here the air is semi-tropical. There are palms and gently swaying pines. My sister sends me a green tomato from her garden in southern California. I will patiently wait until it reddens.

8 septembre     Or perhaps it’s the seventh. No longer convinced of the relevance of time. Spoke to E. Ronsard at the Poetry Centre at the Vieille Charité while we smoked together. Thrilled to discover that Jerome Rothenburg will read in October. Outside, in the streets, an ambulance passes with its bleating of “Errrr-Errr”.

11 septembre     A blanket of clouds over the city and its sea. Discovered the Pastré– an old 19th century château that is now a museum for porcelain works. If the museum is of little interest, it has plantation like grounds that are unword-able. Acres of Aleppo pines and white rock hills, an uncovered canal that seeps through its acreage like a lost river, adjunct building in the form of an Italian mountain getaway. Today, underneath my window, a man went through the garbage can, making an inventory of the stuff I’ve thrown away. He laughed at the old plates, jouets, clothes I released from non-memory. And he didn’t take a thing.

15 septembre     I venture out to a free dental clinic where I am to have my teeth checked. Among the Arabs and Africans who speak French much better than I, there is a large contingent of homeless Poles, in need of care desperately. No one spoke much English. Afterwards, I take an intellectual trip to Les Arcenaux– what used to be a weapons storage facility on the water. It is now, drained ages ago, a very high class part of the downtown, just off the port. The building contains apartments for artists on its highest floors, and underneath a large bookstore/ expensive restaurant where the brightest and most moneyed dine. Pots of burgeoning plants line its cavernous entryway. I am at least three worlds away from the riches it contains.

17 septembre     Across the street from where I am living is a tiny atelier. It is called L’Estaminet, the definition of an artsy pub. Plans to go there and view the anonymous art it has to offer. The day promises to be cloudy but is not. Such changes in the weather can only be gauged in real time. Restaurants and bars packed at one a.m. The city is constantly packed with alive, living people. Bought some candy from a beach side vendor who I am sure weighed a part of his fat thumb in the transaction. The candy, mostly licorice, is exquisite.

18 septembre     It’s memories that cease to stop. I recall friends from childhood in a leafy river town, that I would have never until coming here. Europe is confusion and beauty and more of both. Leafy green and vines. The pond I ran away to once. Strangest thing of all, is that it is here. Manifold. Manifest.

21 septembre   The air here is as cool as a clean eating utensil. They are printing in the newspaper a lunatic’s manifesto in the States. I miss out on such freak shows. The mail threatens bills. I write letters to friends who never write back. The present tense is that: tense.

25 septembre     Mountain air. Sanity guaranteed: books en anglais at the public library. To converse again with Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, others many others is a relief. The loose tiles in the bedroom sound like a strike in bowling when walked upon. A modern art museum and park three blocks away. Today will be a day of collecting plants from the hills. They are such foreign, flowering calligraphies of green.

30 septembre     Despair due to erroneous job leads, boulots that sound good but pay nothing. Uncertain plans like when to go to Paris and not ever wanting to return there. Freedom of not having any money. Another sunny day daring happiness. A walk in the hills after another last cigarette.

3 octobre     A lonely day with only housework to do. The sea is magnificent, a mer agitée, sharp hills of waves, a solitary island swum to be visited by seagulls and no one else, except the dried body of a goat, disappearing crabs just when the eye finds them, straight white eroded nubs of cliffs surrounded by the very definition of blueness. Islands barren of all meaning.

6 octobre     Endless travail. Mopping, scrubbing, painting, lifting, moving, taking many breaks. Continuing the cleansing of an abandoned wing of the house. Thousands of plates (real china), saucers, one dead mouse, six soup tureens. Will paint the steps leading up from the entrance the shade of Matisse’s Red Studio and the blood of this will never leave my fingertips. Rained like rain will rain and I have thus been cordially introduced to the roof’s many leaks. Buckets everywhere.

8 octobre     Today it is London outside. A thick fog purges the city of its scenery and vividness. It enters the room and obscures the windows. It makes seagulls weep with pleasure.

14, 15 octobre     A slight drizzle in Pertuis. The Luberon rises over cloud, a margin indicating place or indicating indication. Appropriate raindrop hits fresh ink on the page. Friday and Saturday were grape picking days: four and one half tons. A sensual affair, sweet stickiness, a lot of sweat. Daddylonglegs live in the vines keeping lady bugs as their companions. Met Lolo the Provençal farmer whose skin was the color of earth. Washed, it would look the same. Two dogs, Beaucerons, slept near us, protecting us from wolves. Clouds kept it cool on Friday; burning October sun and Saturday. Hauled buckets of grapes, two at a time, forty pounds each uphill to a tractor’s cart, through sandy, sinking soil. Extreme aerobics. Saturday afternoon a glad escape back to Marseille to hear R. read and meet Roubaud of OULIPO fame. Driving back the sky was lit with pink neon fog. Walking through the Pertuis paysage, thyme grows to knee level, wild flowers bloom, grapes are bursting on the vine due to sexy ripeness. Sometimes the dogs get so thirsty they eat them. Birds do too.

18 octobre     The day is haze. Walking to the post office, where a game is played. The game goes like this: you give the attractive woman behind the glass (bulletproof?) your letters. She weighs and stamps them. Then, from her seat, fathoms behind the inch thick barrier of glass, she says a number. You, who can’t do math in your native tongue, must guess this number and replicate the guess in coinage. Sometime you even get it right. To celebrate, on the way home, buy bread.

20 octobre     When you don’t understand much of what is being said around you, the television babbles in a tongue of Babylon, voices on the radio are more like music than the music is, the brain, not having to filter out distractions, has much time to exercise this new found freedom. It obsesses, dreams up fantastic scenarios, takes the subconscious on adventures never ventured, turns to mortal thoughts. The frog who was residing on the terrace is gone, or has no comment.

22 octobre     Went swimming after a hike through the hills (mountains in my heart and lungs’ interpretation) of many miles. The rocks are blooming purple with heather and October has so far only yellowed the sumacs. Half fell, descended a cliff that afterwards on my hiking map should only be attempted with ropes. Here, in overcrowded Europe, the calanques south of Marseille to Cassis, a protected area, it is pure rugged nature ranging from desert-like rockscape, to bowers and forests of pine trees. There are no people at all. Found myself in a stretch, a tree-lined balcony of tall pines call the Wood of the Valkaries. Underneath the overhang is a rocky inlet that features a cave and what the map reveals to be a cistern. Over the hills is a water purification plant, so the water may be indeed polluted, and if it is so, then it is sacrilege. The sense one has being here, in this remote place, is utterly sacred, dream-like, a cliché of what a tropical paradise might be. Swam anyway, for the briefest of moments to cool down. There are only birds here and views of islands.

3 novembre     A cockroach crawled out of my sleeve onto my bare hand as I was having breakfast today. And I didn’t even flinch. The mistral visits and has been here for two days. It freezes the unsuspecting to the bone and throws up clouds of dust. There is nothing one can do within its midst except 1) talk about it and 2) complain.

9 novembre     Promise tomorrow of a voyage to the Var, then Mt. Peyroux in the southwest. The sun is constant sometimes brewing up a soup of clouds. The weather is cooling and this must be some type of sign.

21 novembre     Down to calling ads in the paper for a job. A possibility for a theatrical production: met an English woman, who knows an Irish man, and he knows of an Australian trapeze artist, and this might lead to a creative something. None of us speaks the same language. I have taken to walking the city much. On top of learning the language, I’m learning body language because in Marseille, gestures speak louder than words. Tonight’s projects: cut my own hair and superglue my shoes back into walking order.

2 décembre     Drive to Mt. Peyroux in bad weather: low slung clouds and bouts of rain. The countryside to me looks like Oklahoma because I can only see it a quarter mile in any direction. Stay in a friend’s magnificent, in the process of renovation, row house that has a ground level room for receiving visitors (including a piano and fireplace); a second floor that contains the kitchen and bathroom and a study; a third level whose ceiling is wood-beamed and offers a hallway with two sleeping chambers on either side. I have never entered a structure so small, complex, interesting, homey.

We visit a friend of a friend who is an art director for movies in England. Her house is even more medieval and more in need of (ongoing) restoration. She is incredibly beautiful, all the while knowing it, and tells us a story of her wealthy family back home put her furniture on lorries aimed in this general direction. Apparently, in one of her dressers, French officials found a questionable substance and confiscated both the substance and the article of furniture, but did not turn her in. She tells us that the confiscatable material is probably owned by the man she hired to move her stuff, and she is very gracious that the French innately understood this, thus freeing her from a sticky situation. While she tells us this tale, she must go upstairs and press– vocally and mentally– the men she hired to re-do her sleeping chambers according to her English schedule. Her place looks like either a magazine feature, or a period piece (early twentieth century) from a movie in production.

A dog wanders into the kitchen and poops in it. The English woman holds her head in her hands and rubs her temple. Our laughter ends up making her laugh.

After more glasses of wine than we should have had, we return to our friend’s home. We make an appetizer of tappenade and settle into the drizzly evening. We drink more and play songs on her stereo. We talk of America and how wonderful it seems so far from it. After our meal of ground olives, garlic, and anchovies, with bread and incredible cheeses, we retire to our room. On the wall is a painting, covered by a bed sheet, of a nude woman. Her hair, like our friend’s, is red. We ask no questions and sleep to the accompanying rain.

10 décembre     No mail for a week. No buses for days; yet another strike. Meeting with the dream theatre group and reading Shakespeare out loud, which must count for something. Walking the streets of Mazargues for there is nothing else to do or needs to be done. To live. To experience where you are. The lesson France has taught me.

Hiking the hills that are as green as summer. Perfect weather. Birds circle the downtown and rain the streets with shit. After exercising, one needs only to return to a shower, then catch a bus downtown to live the city life. A city rimmed by nature is existence made whole. Not to forget the always interesting painting that aligns the distance: the sea.

17 janvier     Eating store-bought cookies in the hills above the city and they taste like the golden apples of the moon.

18 janvier     Must admit that my bathroom of choice is the one behind the foot of the stairs. The sink supplies cold water only and the toilet is chain pull. There is no room in it for a northern European to move about in comfort. Yet in this tiny chamber, I find the utmost peace: listening to the voices of people in the bakery and the grocery store on the other side. To live privately, among others, like an unintentional voyeur, heightens the senses. I shave, wash my body, brush my teeth, in a wailing stream of ice.

19 janvier     The hills are seductive. I march towards them only to be turned back by rain. Nothing to write.

17 février     Life and its various happenings– too much to record. Cold wind blowing, sunny skies. 11-13C. Letters from the U.S. are becoming quite rare. My friends have forgotten who I am (was).

25 février     Found myself on the banks of the Rhône today. Arles. Comforting to see the familiarity of a large river. Repulsive too: same stink all rivers have, same monotony of the flow, the dull continuity of life made into water. Lion-headed bridge half disappeared. Tomorrow it’s to the Alps. Will try to go skiing in the mountains, if my knees will allow it. It will be such a different place that, already, I want to steal things from it.

28 février   Tonight, my nephew, who is visiting, says to me after I pull some feathers from his pillow, “Is there a bird in it.” He has never before experienced the concept of down.

24 avril   Ventured to Rousillon and absconded from there with bags of deeply red, fine sand. Finally crossed the Luberon by car. Have hiked maniacally through these white hills bordering Marseille. Once I reached the sea on a hellish track of pure talus, all downward, not thinking of the journey back. Once I got to its edge, ate a lunch of bread, cheese, saucisson and cursed the burning Mediterranean sun. The afternoon was hallucinatory in its clarity.

From the plateau of the deadman, I saw the city of La Ciotat, The mountain of Ste. Baume, and Ste. Victoire. These are visions meant for much greater persons than me.

Returning to the city in the same day, I go to the library and find books on Joseph Cornell, most of Kerouac’s better works, even John Fante! I could live like this forever. Each day is an unsuspected gift.

The unknown sea plants I am cultivating on the terrace are blooming purple and yellow flowers. Have never been the parent to such beauty before.

29 avril     All today, rain and clouds that tore themselves to barely expose the tops of the hills. Some hung like UFOs above the city and the nearest beach. A steady drizzle not even enough to make an umbrella worth carrying yet it brings out the colors and true smells of springlife. Flowers and trees and a solitary birch in the wetness and lights of an abandoned Parc Borély bore an ecstatic vision just moments before the night patrolman kicked me out.

2 mai     Clouds tear through the hills Japan-like. Sun occasionally illuminates the city and its humdrum of fog. Much mailing to be done. I’m in a fever of stasis. The doors here seem too heavy to ever dance with or hug.

19 mai     How the specificity of dates account for nothing. Days as constant ebb. For three miserable days, clouds capped the tops of the hills in a stole of cobweb. These clouds sometimes change direction and float in, landward. The weather is warming and one can swim in the still a little too cold water. Wildflowers, everywhere, fields of blood red poppies, activated and singing!

16 17 18 mai     Had an incident in which I nearly came to blows with the bakers who work below. The fact of the matter (to use such a phrase) is that they owe the family above years and years of back rent. Defended the family I live with. Three anonymous men of Marseille origin attacked me verbally, harshly. I cussed them out in bad French. Playing the role of husband, father man. The only pleasure from the incident came with this afterthought: what little some people have in life to become passionate about. For the first time in my life, I acted Latin.

25 mai     Days here are art. I find a tabernacle at a second hand store. The local museum is showing Russ Meyer flicks. There is an ancient, paint-stripped picture frame awaiting pick up by the garbage men that I intercept.

7 juin     These days pass like salt in urine. So many things have occurred: Céline’s funeral, letters arrive, finally, from friends, summer arrives in a day. Just like that. Stomach sickness: I ate severely fresh lamb chops at a nice restaurant and my body couldn’t handle it. Here, the voices of the living filter through the windows in the morning better than any chiming of an alarm clock and I wonder when I will able to truly join them.

22 juin     The unspeakable ambiguity that engulfs me. Have visited Toulouse where I walked that sad, medieval city’s bridges and quays. Some French Arabs ask me if I have a cigarette, to get my attention. They want to sell me hashish. It is a city so much influenced by American culture that it’s spooky.

Back in Marseille, days are spent underwater with marine life, my truest of friends. In the afternoons, I collect plants and firewood from the hills. The city is bursting in music and the temptation of night life. They are throwing a series of fêtes solely for the reason to celebrate life and have fun.

24 juin     Strangely cold day due to the wind. Lightning and thunderstorm, booming, like in the American midwest. Begin a project of peeling horrendous wallpaper, patterns straight from Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange, from walls in a room. The walls underneath are bright yellow. Letters to friends are written and perhaps there will be a trip to Dijon to see a writer who has befriended my strange existence here.

8 juillet     Summer downpour. Oddly cool temperatures. Strange cloudshows with no applause. Hiking the calanques, resting under umbrellas of pine. Reading much, things I would have never read– Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson. So desperate to connect with English it’s a process much akin to viewing pornography. Not real, but satisfying. Snow is reported in the Alps and the Pyrénnées. Nips of winter in the air that bite at the neck and shoulders. Nature’s attempt at foreplay.

12 juillet     Overwhelming joy– fixed the chain pull toilet so that it doesn’t drizzle on its occupant. Life made tons more bearable by such a minuscule victory.

13 juillet   Blue mountains, turning purple. Pizza on the beach. Rare grooves such as this…

27 juillet   Day after my birthday. Slight rain today- in America there’s an Olympic bombing and an unfathomable plane crash. In France, life proceeds as it always has. Terrible humidity, though, so I sleep on the roof terrace in a tent. Isn’t life swell/swelling?

 

 

 

 

 

Philip Kobylarz is a teacher and writer of fiction, poetry, and essays. He has worked as a journalist and film critic for newspapers in Memphis. His work appears in such publications as Paris Review and The Best American Poetry series. He is the author of a book of poems concerning life in the south of France and a short story collection titled Now Leaving Nowheresville. His creative non-fiction collection All Roads Lead from Massilia is forthcoming from Bequem Publishing of Adelaide, Australia, and his book now available from Brooklyn’s Lit Riot Press is titled A Miscellany of Diverse Things.