My copy of Beacon Quarterly #14 arrived in the mail yesterday! It features my short story “The Dweller”, which is about the Health Museum and a lamassu.
It was so much fun creating art for Meat for Tea magazine‘s virtual issue release earlier this month. I also read my poem “The Fulfillment House”, originally published in MfT’s ’19 issue. I’ll always be grateful to MfT for picking up that poem, which I think is a very good one, and which I was having so much trouble placing that I was beginning to despair of seeing it in a magazine. It’s a new myth and also a Schubert lieder.
The fact is that damning sins are sad and silly. Paolo and Francesca wouldn’t be sliding birth-bagged around if they had really had a happy kiss. Real joy would have pushed its head up like a baby inside that kiss and they would have been saved.
There are other girls walking around like me. Miss Lana del Rey is hoping in the aquarium. It is true that I fear the pains of hell and the loss of heaven. I wouldn’t have slept with a one of those men if I were looking for someone to marry.
In the idiot hotel I slept with the man and then I went and bought holy cards. Look, look, you know what we are missing. Out of the chlorine comes the head with the Big Head eyes, two colored rings and an open mouth with water streaking between its teeth. The head is God and you know when it arrives.
King man in the black hotel. I’ve never met him. You know the way. The chill gets to be too much. Here’s what’s interesting. I am walking down the hill and it’s difficult because of the angle. My womb and ovaries bob and shake, red and white, salting blossoms. I am having surgery so that I can have babies and a lot of sex. I like the third-worst scene in Malena, where she is Mary in the race, shaking from the men’s shoulders, and crying.
I am disappointed in the bad news. The fact is that I am calling to the right man. I want the bad news in the black hotel on the prairie. Look at the line of traffic. I know that there are other women like me. I don’t ask for men like me. I only want them to be quiet enough for me to think.
I know how to love. It is one of the five things I can do. I am not talking about sex. I am saying love. I can love a man for forty years. All it takes is my deciding.
Who will bring me the bad news?
It turns out that men’s desires are mostly sorry. They are mostly memories from their childhoods. I could love this. When I decide to I will. But where is my big blue god, treading through the hotel’s roof like a granddad through a flooded basement?
Murder is boring, rape is boring, adultery and infidelity and drugs are boring. It is all habit. The movies are only reminding you of something. Here comes goblin-God, born in a peach.
Peach boy on the semen seas. Some god came in the water and the beautiful fruit developed. When it got near the shore it was big-toothed. Oh God. Oh God.
You know what I am longing for. The man in the long legs. Look at the long line of traffic from this hopeless distance.
Will you love me in the basement? Will you love me in the carpet? Will you come get me at the rest stop? Are you conscious of your sins?
Here is a second excerpt from the 2017 or 2018 story I excerpted in my previous post. Here, a painter named Absalom sits in a hotel room. Because this passage was originally split between two different chapters, I’ve added an ellipsis where its original break occurred.
As Palomar opened the window in Prague, Absalom asked for coffee on the phone in London. He thought himself shambly and stupid on the phone – in general and in this instance. He moved a finger over the batter-colored cord, bending and relaxing the joint at the knuckle with movements like a bird. He listened and thanked the kitchen and put the phone down.
In his mind Absalom moved over a hill. He moved through water. Absalom used his limbs to paddle through water. Absalom tried to use his arm like the spear of a canoe’s paddle, pushing with the flat of his hand and cutting the lake with the frankly mystifying physics of rowing. The sky was wan but pretty. There were some thin clouds. Instead, the sky was a brilliant stone blue and the clouds were distinct and spread as above the desert. A bee came down astoundingly, to the center of this lake from the sky, and hung before Absalom as he paused, treading. It was like a yellow spider on a web. The light caught it. The bee moved off sharply, without angles, to the right.
Absalom sat in the red chair and looked at the flowers. He thought about the apology to Pilgrim’s Progress but discarded it after only a moment. In his mind his hand moved over his books. He thought of Thomas Merton. He thought of John of the Cross and took his hand back before he was sure whether he had been in pain at the touch.
Brilliant roses the color of girls’ toys. Gigantic white roses. Red roses, ubiquitous. Big dinnerlike camellias. No one will ever see Absalom sitting here. Absalom moves like an animal entirely underground. Absalom and the stuffing, the ancient stuffing in the red chair. Absalom is the stuffing in the red chair. Absalom looked at himself as he habitually did, considering, placing and admiring or disgusted by himself. He seemed now to be a black stone, a black beryl bead or a miniature silhouette or one of Palomar’s scarabs set in an oyster-mauve slick bed, surrounded by a frame of bodyoid ivory, enclosed with a gilt lid and clasped at a woman’s throat. A blue silk bow at the end of a locket. A blue silk bow like a cat’s necklace, but very small, small as a mint.
Hundreds of flowers surrounded Absalom. The high-ceilinged room smelled of greenery but more pungently of preserved greenery and the ball-shaped food for plants. The flowers were beautiful. Absalom liked to sit with them stood out around him like this. He used to look at spools of thread in his mother’s mending box. This was like that.
Absalom thought of the camellias in the garden in Rome. Remarkably they fell still full, and lay in perfect spectrum-red blossoms, round and clean as dishes. These camellias here were blue. A good candy blue to which his eye returned and was happily surprised each return to be allowed to look, to have the time to look. The camellias beneath the trees in Rome, a remarkable fruit, so whole, so red. The blossoms on the trees bent their whiplike branches in pretty curves and the blossoms faced down. Bells. Mouths. The flowers in Stanhope’s silly love-and-the-maiden. Mostly the bounty beneath the tree, its impossible appeal, nothing of rot about it if comparable to some degree to mashed strawberries. On the whole: healthy and promising, suggestive of eternal life and movement from one stage to another in the same shape and beauty.
Absalom was enraged and the coffee arrived.
Absalom thought of Appalachia, which he had only encountered romantically, grotesquely in fiction. He’d no doubt that the real Appalachia was as various and moral as any place, and the photographs and films he’d seen of that country inspired feelings of reverence and joy in him, not the infected horror which green things seemed to suggest for others. Now he took himself through the horrible Appalachia, which compelled him.
His assumption of its real beauty – reliable enough, formed as it was by his own childhood in the North Country – and the pornographic romances of the gothics and his distinction, clarification of the hills’ real horror alongside other rural horrors he had known, all of this together provided for him a terrible, gorgeous allegory, real and unreal. He thought of inbreeding. He thought of an inbred boy. He thought with some wonderment of the possibility of genetic error. It conflicted with Absalom’s concept of the world, in which the unconscious things and the nonhuman things and the accidents of time generally harmonized on behalf of the active human. Absalom knew this was not the way of the world: this knowledge against his natural feelings were what amounted to his piety.
He reminded himself of the truth, that human misbehavior, sexual misbehavior, could result in the innocent and injured, maybe way down the line. Absalom imagined the inbred boy and dressed the scene. The boy, thin and weird-boned, jaw like a partially-melted cube of ice, sitting still as though in a state of uncommon attentiveness but eyes placid and warm like a drunk’s, mouth sad as teddy bears’ mouths suggest sadness. The boy sits shirtless, small shoulders near one another, muscular upper arms meaty as corpses, in the barn’s shady insides, face pointed that way, where you can be sure there is nothing. Sits on a crate. Without, in the sun, a rotted iron plow. The barn, the machine left to become useless, the cool silver-black of the shade, this high-romantic wretch in his symbolic idiocy spoke to Absalom. They spoke of carelessness and a lineage of wrong, unattended cruelties which did not naturally crumble. Absalom was interested to think of this evil which remains despite the changing of the seasons and the earth’s turning. Absalom placed himself in Appalachia and walked through rooms, imagining his own part in the evil of such a place.
Then said Pliable, Ah Neighbor Christian, where are you now?
Truly, said Christian, I do not know.
Here is a passage from a story I was writing in 2018, for my own interest and pleasure and never for publication. Palomar is a composer and musician. In this excerpt, he takes a bath.
The water shook itself over his feet. Silent feet. All his body silent, awoken from a dream of huge music, cacophonous or beautiful. The limit of his feet, place where his white skin stopped, seemed to also be the limit of motion and life. Before his feet there was the moving thing. His boundary was the boundary of life. He was utterly thick, entirely filled throughout all his form, and there was nothing living or alive within him. He turned the faucet and sank down.
The water was cool. The apartment was hot. The hours Palomar had fed to the pool at his school’s gymnasium, fed as you would patiently and gradually let rope down as it is needed. The vastness of the time seemed remarkable to him now. It was good time and not wasted. The noise came from the ceiling and walls, geometric calls and cracks and the slappings of steps and reverberation of railings striking and bouncing off the strings and spots of the lights on and in the pool. The lights of the water. He had gone so often to that place that they became ordinary and then indistinct and at last cosmically distinct, a daily and hourly table of information, and as these things go Palomar was made aware of how the food came to him and that it sustained him.
He had heard of men in the Himmalayas, Buddhas, who by great focus and selflessness and starvation become fully conscious of each of their breaths, to the point of being able to pause and reactivate their own blood circulation. That was probably like the sounds and lights of the gymnasium’s pool. Palomar lay in the tub, head on its rim, knees unusually relaxed if not straightened. It was a huge tub. Palomar lay in the tub and knew about himself. With his athletic habit and the other somatic qualities intrinsic to Palomar but mysterious to Palomar, Palomar knew the location of his body and its shape. He knew the distance from his shoulder to his hand, from his hand to his foot. The ceiling was white and the bath’s light covered it, moving like a snake in its new beautiful skin – the strange beauty of snakes, the sense they give you of moving while their bodies are still.
Palomar brought himself down. He lifted his feet from the water and set his ankles on the end of the tub. His body flew down like anything grabbed down underwater. Like the meat demonstratively offered to sharks in nature documentaries, grabbed by the huge blunt mouth as by a big hand badly, clumsily, & surely pulled down. His back made the huge brass-section rubbing blow against the tub as he slid. Now Palomar lay with his ears underwater. He listened. Music like none other. It visited him, whole and perpetual, and it wasn’t a question of imitating it later, or partaking in it as you would an inspiring thing, or of forgetting it was real as you forget intense feelings of early love are real, or working smoothly or indeed being inspired; though maybe it was healthy to sometimes experience and sometimes forget these things, there is a storytelling aspect to that forgetfulness: it is a story you tell yourself about how what you have seen was not seen.
It would not have occurred to Palomar to talk himself out of the memories of these sounds. To be visited by these sounds was like going definitely to the pool, and the experience he now had of being a man who had spent so many hours of his youth swimming: the visit had hard certain lines and was pleasing for the fact of its being itself, not its suggesting other things, though certainly it was pleasant in other ways and certainly it suggested other things. It was most like the year. It was like the year and the week, which Palomar synesthetically had seen as a definite location, a pale orange stripe, gradient, labeled with the days, or in the annual, a ring of places around him, its sites spent-time-at every year of his life. These, the days and year, he experienced with child good-humor, relying on it because it was reliable and unaffected by its superficial resemblance to dismal repetition, the repeating things which end people – things like Aida’s black door, which begets itself & begets itself simultaneously & forever & in this constant buzzing multiplication subsumes everything dynamic which touches it.
The air picked up through the little window; Palomar felt it move cool as a breath over his toes and inner knees. The new curtains must have been lifted into the room and up; the light in the lavatory, lain here as much as in the main room through the open door, turned green. The ceiling glowed.
I have written a chapbook about animal-human transformations in art. I intended to release it in the spring of ’20, but mysterious circumstances prevented me from doing so. I will release it when I’m able! For now, please enjoy this excerpt from my observation of The Boy Hidden in a Fish (the Little Sea Hare), David Hockney, etching and aquatint, 1969
The stones on the sea floor are solemn, and funny in solemnity. This stone here is etched with shadow as if shadow had the stone between thumb and forefinger and turned it quickly, maybe with irritation. There are sea plants like the shoots of yarn you are suprised to see in the braid of a birds’ nest. Across the long floodplain there is dark and sand and silt like college-ruled paper distorting just before it is consumed in flames.
There is a white fish who floats in fish-motion. It is humped as a hill but heads forward neither from its shoulders, as if suspended, nor from its base, as if pulled by a rope. It is most like a puppet zipping along the stage then half-sun out of sight.
The fish’s eye is blank as a Daruma. There is a space along its shoulder where its scales are made invisible by the light shining along the long mound of its side—and then the scales reappear across the boy, like stitching in a gauze bandage. By the fish’s mouth its scales are fine and small, and they grow to pass over the widening fish body, over the boy.
I vividly remember the hush of crying at the sound of rescue. The crying stops like a cat’s ear twitches. This boy seems exhausted to the point of calm. The line of the fish’s plump neck crosses the boy’s face, over the bridge of his nose, touching the tuck of skin beneath his eye, dividing eye land from nose land and mouth land.
The boy’s mouth is like the fish’s: white space delineated by a middle which climbs over the thumb. It has always disturbed me that the boy is so old, ten or eleven, and sucking his thumb. I suppose it’s natural when you’re scared, and moreover invisible and therefore private, to become a littler child.
The boy’s body is a little above the lowest limit of the fish at arm and hand. There is a white country of fish beneath him. I have the impression that the boy was stamped, somewhat crookedly, into the fish like an airport stamp into the square of my passport. At his knee and at the cuff of his bell-bottom the boy is almost flush with the fish’s line.
The boy is curled on his side. His eyes are distant, focussed and cross—not angry but abstracted. He looks angry because people look angry when they are focussed inward. That is how children look when they are tired and that is how adults look when they are praying in earnest. The tussel of scales at the flattening before the fish’s tail is dark because the scales are so close together, like crescent moons cast by leaves during an eclipse. The boy’s toe in the fish’s tail is like a hand in an overlong sleeve.
At last my Covid-delayed copy of Salt Hill’s megaissue has arrived. You can find two of my poems, “Heliostat” and “Gag”, in the black half.
I am working on a chapbook about human-animal transformations in art. This is an excerpt from my observation of Girl with Puppy, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1770, located in the Alte Pinokothek in Munich. Please check back periodically: I hope to have this illustrated chapbook available for purchase this summer (a lot depends on the loosening of COVID restrictions, when I will be able to visit printers in-person).
The canopy is a pod, like any interesting meadow-flower or vegetable. The canopy tilts graciously at the floor, over a crunch of vitamin-red fabric. A dress, maybe, or a dressing-gown, which of course she is not wearing.
Her hand holds her knee up with her wrist. The dog’s head goes down between its paws. The girl and the dog are engaging one another with the same digits of the face that humans use to engage amongst humans, on account of dogs’ and humans’ having co-evolved.
These pornographic Fragonards are nicer up-close: nearby, you see the Manetish oil-sketch strokes, curved, and a friendly Matisseian outlinelessness. All of this is more loveable than the just-washed, still-wet, ugly big blonde boy child of the Neoclassical, all those pink-skinned, leering fascists, which is what you’d think of glancing at the girl’s slick thighs, her calves, heels and toes.
All those giant-headed blonde boy children of my youth, the ubiquitous somebody’s-little-brother, discontent and stupid, preferred by his mother. The dumb limbless trunk of the fascisti, let roll off some giant palm into the river. In the river it gets made bland by the rocks and the currents and everything, smooth as the blade of a wind turbine. Now it is launched off the water into the town where humans and my body live, to bump and slide over us, murderously.
The dog’s coat is roiled like a sphinx cat’s. The girl’s hip is squeezed between her lifted arm and thigh. Her breast, the folds of her nightgown across her ribs. The pack of her hip shines on her nightgown, pleated with drawing-back. Her hip reflects the mustard canopy.
The French seemed to like this type of fat: to me, it signals slightly slow and immature 13-year-old girls, and maybe this was the appeal. Her hip and thigh are an icing sack as they lift toward her abdomen. Pull and roll, sourced at her center and expressed along her back.