This One Has Jaguars in It
The radio was on, blaring, preaching hell awake, some manic AM frequency with a roaring white-noise buzz of righteous anger, screamed lamentations. Down the driver’s side door, trailing back toward the rear of car, terminating with the rear wheel-well, was a thick irregular stream of vomit.
To the right a massive copper replication of Durer’s Praying Hands had resolved itself into mottled focus on the lawn of the Institution, appointed with little points of polychromatic light, reflections of the neon and streetlights that surrounded it. Praying for someone to dig the rest of him out of the ground, of course. This poor penitent colossus, this poor, insufficiently cannibalistic titan.
Underground passages there ran up to but never touched his body, little just-failed mines, little tantalizing punishments, little bunkers that could secret the City Fathers away there in safety, sheltered by him and by the earth that had swallowed him so long ago.
And oh, the City Fathers would not be any too happy to hear about this whole midnight joyride, this gallivanting escapade he’d decided to embark on, stolen car and all (his having been taken from him as punishment for insane driving), and even if they could get over the youth of his youthful companion and the gaudiness of her eyes, what would they say about the salamanders that filled the backseat, what would they say about the slogan spray-painted onto the hood of the machine, if they ever found out about any of it.
He executed a right turn through a red light steering with his knees while loading a bowl of marijuana into a small glass pipe all at about 23 miles per hour.
The girl was asleep, he’d say passed out, but she’d had the foresight to remove her shoes upon entering the car, and thus become immune to that accusation and the elaborate sharpie-drawn beard/mustache/forehead slogan he’d hoped and planned to execute, though whether this had been her plan all along or if she’d just been deferential to his Asian heritage or if they’d just happened to fall off in the midst of all her writhing and complaining it was hard to say or remember just now, if it had ever been clear at all.
“My third funeral in three weeks,” she’d said earlier, “was earlier,” teenaged girls this year having decided on getting kaput in big trendy groups rather than getting pregnant, for better or worse. “I’m so sorry to keep bothering you,” she kept saying, lingeringly touching his arm conciliatorily, constantly.
It was Wednesday.
II. The Rational Human Body Perfected
When Kim was thirteen she was visited by angels on seventeen occasions, each one disguised as an undesirable, from the reeking bum with the cyan aura who’d whispered in her ear one day, his rough and viscous tongue just slightly brushing her earlobe as he did, the smell of his hand on her shoulder overwhelming, that the time was at hand and she needed to open her ears and listen, to the insane, openly menstruating woman on the subway who’d explained to her in great detail that the geography of the world, the lines and structures there, was a script and scripture on a grand and gorgeous scale, not a map so much as a text, the DNA of something more massive and lasting than anyone would like to admit.
She’d become pregnant shortly after that, through a parthenogenesis that she considered divine and that no one was ready to argue with too much subsequent to the discovery of an intact hymen and prior to whatever else might happen, just to stay on the safe side.
Unfortunately, in the course of a final round of tests administered by the City Fathers to determine the authenticity and final interpretation of her malady she was thoroughly examined by a secularly-licensed OB GYN who found that she was pregnant only in the hysterical sense, and had somehow managed to will her body into concocting every evidence of a new life save one (that being the body to hold it, alas).
Distraught, she had sat in her mother’s car in her mother’s garage that night, in the passenger’s seat, cleaned up and shaved, arms legs and head and all, with the engine running until she’d passed out, died, expelled an unholy afterbirth of bile and intestinal distress all over the floorboards and removable transparent plastic mats there, and, presumably, given off such a psychic burst of pain or exultation upon passing that her father had been awakened, perceived the sound of the car running over the loud but intermittent sound of the house settling, and extracted her from the garage, slapping her face and forcing sparkling fresh air down into her lungs until she was revived and taken to the hospital.
The angels persisted, less insistent now, though, as though they’d learned something of their lesson from the near-tragedy. Now they just harmlessly quoted bible verses, rehashing the old favorites, careful not to do anything too avant garde or boundary-pushing, for fear it might once again induce in this precocious child the desire to overstep the limits of the traditional body/soul.
Also kindly, they’d visited her in her hospital bed, where she could hear the mountain lion in the distance, crying out desperately for her cub, which had been struck and killed by a car the week prior, an endless, deeply human voice, deeply sad.
III. Life is Just
Small traces of scoring on ancient bones. This is what counts as evidence of cannibalism amongst the earliest (or second-earliest) people of the American southwest. Finding it is what counts as a distinguishing even in the career of an anthropologist, and taking large amounts of money from anonymous casino bigwigs to never mention the fact counts as one of the many ways to get rich and not care one way or the other about academic distinction simultaneously.
Thus it was that his father had come into some money. Good investments (including playing his cards right with a few influential City Fathers and just plain playing his cards right (at those casinos where he always for some reason got comped a room and set up with some starting-out chips)) stretched this modest fortune into a legitimate one, and by the time his bouncing baby boy was ready to get out and take on the world there was no need at all for him to really bother doing that.
The old man, still fancying himself something of an intellectual, didn’t mind leaving the boy to the life of the mind, nor, when he died, leaving the boy enough money to waste the rest of his life with.
But bookishness, if it ever does induce intelligence, also pushes one back from the corporeal reality of the world. Things become abstracted and in a sense dead, and the most aloof and wordy of souls are often those who are most immoral, or amoral, if you’d like, with any authenticity of consequence having been forced back into the realm of theory.
So it was that after a hard day’s reading he liked to go out and go a little bit crazy, this boy, starting out around 2:00pm at the track, mint julep in hand, snappy hat on head, rooting on whatever horse’s name he happened to like the most that day. From there it was the bar, and from there the strip club, then on to one or the other of the debauched house parties that seemed to always be going on at one or another of his friend’s houses, or, most often, somehow, at his own, when he arrived back, intentionally or not.
He also, of course, drove fast and recklessly and crashed several cars.
The City Fathers, who had a lean on his house owing to several outstanding debts, had become de facto guardians at some point, and allowed him to live on in the manor they now owned, and to drive, from time to time, under strict supervision, one of the cars they now, also, of course, owned.
Just how this fit in with the disability checks they received on his behalf was unclear, since getting the checks required having him licensed as a certified registered car loon, a status the DSM-V classifies as a chronic, intermittent psychosis, centering around the operation and abuse of the automobile, whether this is expressed through violence, sexual deviance, or simple lack of regard for the rules and lives of god and man.
IV. Aurora Borealis
They met out back of the bestiary, he was walking slowly in the direction of downtown looking for a car to steal and she was sitting against the brick wall smoking a joint and waiting for someone to come by who would buy her alcohol so she could properly grieve this friend of hers, who most likely was real, even if there was a possibility that she was not dead at all, not in the world outside Our heroine’s mind.
It was 12 o’clock and raining and was cold enough for Christmas though it wasn’t even hardly Halloween, as they say. She was crying softly and he said to her, like it was a little factoid that he’d picked up somewhere in his wandering: “Jesus wept, too, y’know,” and jovially plucked her up and swung her over his shoulder, off to endless good times.
He’d found this car, an old-skool roadster, parked in the Long Term lot at the local landing strip and happily made off with it, still young then, still completely carefree, with this new girl on his arm, her gaudy eyes that kept wandering off into the distance, this new car, its plush leather interior, the salamanders that filled the backseat…
In a moment of inspiration it all became clear to him and he began to guide the car circuitously toward the abandoned amusement park. Built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground in the hopes that the sanctity of that land would protect the park goers in lieu of the owners having to buy costly insurance. For the longest time it had worked out.
Now it was a favored location for underage drinking and the sacrificing of small animals that so often goes along with it, little parodic versions of Satanist rites.
A kind, sensitive guardian, he steered her away from these temptations and together they laid waste to the bumper cars with “his” authentic, non-bumper car, sparks falling down across them from the steel wire brushes scraping viciously along the steel ceiling, and brakes peeled and things broke all around them. They held hands to celebrate their victory, and even though the top was down, its soft tan leather resting along the trunk behind them, they kissed for just a brief moment unafraid of being seen, watched anyway only by stray dogs that scavenged the park, and by the unblinking man in the moon, who must surely, in any event, have understood, and small sparks burned in the depths of her hair, embers exhausting themselves there in the tangles of her hair, where, if the moon saw them at all, he probably envied them more than the stars.
V. The Modern Pantheon
Safe at last, the pointed the car toward the overlooking mountains and drove up there, hoping that at such a great height they could get reception on the little hand-cranked television they’d found in a shop window.
It was an undeniably callous thing to do, when she held his arm, when she touched his leg, to start the car and drive away. But he’d done it anyway, leaving the amusement park to its own devices, leaving the girl, in all her sadness, to feel somewhat rejected too, but now, as he spun the tv to life, her face glowed in the light that swung rhythmically from bright to dim with the spinning of the crank, like a jack-in-the-box swinging back and forth on its spring, carrying its glee up close and then back away from you.
And as if drawn by the light or the murmuring noise, as the two of them sat facing each other in the car, he with the tv in his lap, she watching them, a little bubble of light in the midst of so much darkness, a little world unto themselves, the mermaids crept slowly closer, and silent, they watched, clinging together themselves, letting their arms rest along one another’s shoulders, letting each other recline into them gently, letting each other rest their heads in the hollows of their shoulders, stroking their hair where it shimmered in the television light, stroking their cheeks where they softly smiled, below, and softly, at length, beginning, in frequencies inaudible to human ears, to harmonize with the rhythmically louder and softer mumbling of the television, little love songs to one another and to themselves, and maybe to the kids in the car, too, who could not be comforted, but could be eulogized, or at least exposed, if unbeknownst to them, to some of the beauty that lingers at the very edges of this world.
And before his arm gave out he had started to laugh at the persistence of the Coyote, the singularity of his will, the shoddiness of the products he bought, when he could have been buying food. She had come close. Not laughing, exactly, but smiling with detached eyes, and when she reached out toward him she touched the screen, and not his leg, or even his fingertips that dangled so nearby.
He tossed the machine into the scrub brush and they drove back into town. She was drifting off to sleep, he began to eat pills, and vomited for a moment despite himself along the side of the car. He turned on the radio, he drank from his flask, he began to accelerate, he began to load a bowl, as if there are things you can’t even understand about yourself if they are divorced enough from everything else you’ve been and done.
VI. The Witch of Endor
“The problem lies not with a lack of faith,” the man was screaming. “It is the opposite of that. It is a surfeit of faith. Of misplaced faith. Of faith in the fleeting moment. The invisible. The hypothetical.”
He was screaming about the Witch of Endor. She was a ventriloquist, he believed, and spoke from her stomach, and convinced through these means several believers to no longer believe. Or rather, to believe in something else. Such is aural, he seemed to believe. “Moses couldn’t speak right,” he was careful to point out. “Eloquence is its own special kind of sinliness.”
And while the visible, the seen, is fit for belief, the incorporeality of the spoken word, its need to be remembered, to exist somehow untouched in a mind that seeks to do nothing but transform it into something more preferable, easier, the thing you wanted to hear in the first place, is the opposite. “Seeing is believing,” he screamed, exasperated, “but hearing is too, when it should not be, and it leads souls astray,” even though the whole vast universe is visible and seeks to prevent it.
The preacher moved effortlessly into a station identification and brief mention of sponsors. She stirred in her seat and he watched her for a moment, her halo, if she had one at all, no doubt worn with a roguish tilt, her closed eyes just small black grins above a constellation of freckles, above several wavering trails of mascara, the trails of desperate wounded tears that had bled out slowly down her face, pursued by bleeding hunter tears.
The City Fathers would not be happy about this at all.
He wasn’t even sure how he felt about it himself, tearing his eyes away from her, gripping the soft leather of the steering wheel furiously, the stitching in its underside smooth and substantial against his fingertips, thoroughly felt, the engine roaring up toward and away from the shifting of gears, the wind all around, the stirring of hair, the roar of the road beneath him.
Wild packs of dogs would pursue him for a while through the streets, baying and sprinting, until he accelerated away from them laughing, leaving them to amble back to wherever they’re from, dragging their shadows with them (the shadows that never quite seem to match, that never seem quite sufficiently inhuman.)
He was tired himself, as if he’d sprinted himself out, too. The car seemed incredibly dead just now, incredibly inorganic in its inexhaustibility, and for the first time anyone could think of, this seemed unappealing to him. Her hair stirred in the wind and he watched her, unable to live with himself. The preacher was screaming about waking up, and coming to Our senses, and discovering again what has always been and will always be real, but instead he was starting to fall asleep, and watching her sleep, and the car was starting to coast to a stop.
Poetry in Aldeburgh 2017
1 month ago