Monday, April 12, 2010
My father is a beautiful alcoholic in old age. A receding cigarette hanging from his whiskey wet lips. Skin thick from sun, wrinkled, dark and tight. His hands large as watermelons, fingers like tree branches, knuckles like walnuts. He was a man born in the wrong decade, the wrong millennia. A gladiator without a coliseum. That need for blood was inside him. The need to push metal through meet. My father is a beautiful alcoholic in old age. But as a young man my father was just a butcher with wet lips and knuckles like walnuts.
As a kid our house always smelled of lard, whiskey, garlic, and pipe smoke. My mother was a slender women but it was hard to tell because she was always hunched over scrubbing or cooking something or making soap with the lard my dad brought home from work. I cannot remember what it was like to feel my mothers hands. I have for years tried to think of one time she touched me when not wearing rubber gloves. But that is all I can remember. The cold wet slime of soap and rubber gliding down my cheeks.
As a man I have often times tried to recollect what the inside of our house looked like. But I have come to realize that I did not spend enough time their. I remember the large wooden butcher block that took up most of the kitchen. I remember my father bursting through the door and dragging it out of the house the night the lightening struck the roof and almost burnt the house down. I can remember him grabbing me under my arms and lifting me up, sitting me on the edge, and teaching me the different cuts of meet as he worked. His cigarette flapping from his lips but never dropping an ash. He’d show me a rib roast small end, or large end. He’d talk about the difference between a top sirloin steak, or a sirloin steak round bone, or flat bone. He’d show me where the chuck would come from, or the brisket. How to trim enough fat but not too much. Then when he was done he would take a long sip of his drink, throw the meet in a frying pan till the outside just browned. Then pull them sizzling off the stove and place them with a fork and knife back on the butcher block and we would eat them straight off the wood, the cold blood of the middle dripping off our chins.
My father once worked at the Armour packing plant. He didn’t like the job but it was pay, and during the depression pay was often all one could expect. He was a puller. After the steer had been hung, his artery slit, head removed and front and rear feet removed, the cow would come to my father. He would make two slits. One from each rear leg, down to the middle of the belly, then back down to the tip of the front leg. My father then would work with another man pulling the skin down and away from the animal and then sliding him down the line to be deorganed and inspected. The plant was supposed to provide hot water for the workers but during the depression they cut that to. My father worked third shift so before I left for school in the morning it was my job to boil the water and fill the washbasin in front of the fireplace. My father would then come home. My mother waiting outside to hand him a towel and watch him strip off his blood smock, boots, and scrub pants. She would then hand him a towel and a piece of homemade lard soap and he would go into the kitchen and scrub himself raw, or until the water cooled. My mother would then take the bloody soap water and dump it off the side of the back porch. In our backyard there was a small three by five patch of bare ground where grass would never grow, and where the mud was always a dark red.
During the day my father spent most of the day in Schaller’s on Hallstead. There were speakeasies all over the town but few of them weren’t controlled by Capone or doubled as brothels. My father was willing to do almost anything for a beer and whiskey but he was a stubborn man who had rules that never got broken. And so Around two or three my father would return home, sit in his chair in the living room, and smoke his pipe until it was time for dinner.
This is where I would often times find my father. I could tell if it would be a good or a bad night the moment I walked in. If I came in and my mother was cleaning or cooking, then my father would be sleeping, his pipe still smoldering dangling limply from his hand. But there was my other father. The blood thirsted bear handed man who would drink himself angry. It wouldn’t take much. The door slamming to loudly behind me. Or my mother asking a question he didn’t want to answer. I never saw him hit her but I knew he did. I would hear them upstairs or in the kitchen. The yelling. The sound of his hand against her. On these nights my father would sit me up on the butcher block and tell me about the cuts of meat. My mother stairs soaking the bruise off her cheek.
I remember two of these nights clearly even today. The first, after my father and I finished eating, instead of taking his drink and going back to his pipe my father stared at me a long time.. Then quickly he finished his drink and grabbed me and put me back on the floor.
“ Climb under there boy, come on. Climb on under there and tell me what you see. Nothing, ha. Your not looking hard enough, look up. Ya, see it. Yes. What’s there boy. That’s right. D.B.G. Do you know what those are? That’s right, those are your initials, but you didn’t put them there did you. That’s right, you couldn’t have. No that was your great grandfather. Your great grandfather came here from Scotland. He came here with nothing but his pregnant wife and a small bag of money. And when he got here he settled in Virginia. He worked for three months building a house for his wife and child. And on the very day that he put up the very last board his wife went into labor. And she bore him a son, my father. Now that night a rich plantation owner was having a party. And he had asked your great grandfather to come and slaughter the best pig he had for him. So your great grandfather put my father and his wife into bed and got on his horse to travel to the plantation owners house. Now he could not have known that the storm was coming. But that night there was a terrible storm. One that picked entire trees out of the ground and flung them clear halfway across the state. Now the plantation owner had a deep root cellar and begged your great grandfather to stay, but your great grandfather refused and headed out into the storm. But as he rode the horse began to get spooked by the wind until finally it threw your great grandfather and ran off in the opposite direction of the storm. But your grandfather wouldn’t stop he ran as fast as he could, pushing himself against the wind. He promised god that if he protected his wife and child that he would kill a hundred cows and fifty pigs and he would give all the meet from them to the poor. Now your great grandfather made it back to the house just as the storm was clearing. The storm had ripped the house clean off the ground and dropped it in pieces all over the land. But there, this table was, unmoved. Your great grandfather ran over and there underneath the table was his child, unharmed. Now your great grandfather searched for three days but never found his wife. On the third day he went to the plantation owner and asked to borrow a horse and a carriage. And he took his child and that table and headed north. Do you understand what I’m saying to you? Come here, look at me. Come close. Do you see these eyes. Look at them, do you see these eyes. These are they eyes of my father and his before that. These are the eyes of our family and they go back all the way to the very first year, on the very first day, when the very first crack of sun rose over and breathed life into them. And these eyes have seen the world rise, and the world fall. They have seen storm and sun and they have never back downed from anyone. These are the eyes of America, of Chicago. Do you understand? These are your eyes, and with them comes everything from before.”
And with that my father poured himself another whiskey, and went into the living room, and never talked of storms again.
The second night could not have been more than a few weeks later. My father came home, after I had been back from school for over an hour. His face was puffy, his eyes red. The smell of the whiskey over took the room and he stumbled into the kitchen. Years later I will look back on that night and wonder why it was that my mother said what she said. Maybe she was finally tired of it. Maybe it just slipped out. Either way my mother looked my father straight in the eye, put a finger in his chest, and said. “Where the fuck have you been.”
At first my father looked like a dog that had just been hit in the jaw. Tail tucked behind his leg. Eyes wide, pupils swollen. He may have even taken a step backwards. But then the alcohol rushed forward through his arms and into his fists and they squeezed into balls as big as tires. My father had slapped my mother a hundred times but I have never seen him hit her. She flew backwards, sprawled across the floor, blood trickling from her cheek. My father turned towards me, grabbed me, dragged me into the study and shut the door screaming for me not to come out. It was quiet, then I heard my father yell, and my mother run upstairs.
I sat there in the study for what seemed like an eternity. Then, my mother came in. Face now cleaned up, a new dress on and her hair and make up done as if nothing ever happened.
“Your fathers been hurt, I need you go to up to mommy’s closet and get her sewing stuff.”
I came back down to the kitchen to find my father sitting on top of the butcher block, a kitchen knife stuck in his side. He looked like a giant kid there, feet dangling above the floor, head swung low, hands resting in lap.
“Now go back on upstairs honey, mommy will come get you when its time for supper.”
And that night we ate supper together in silence. And I was dismissed to my room straight after without having to do homework. And that night I heard my parents make love for the only time in my life.
The next morning I woke to heat the water for my fathers bath and went downstairs to find a chair tipper over underneath my mothers feat and her neck tied to the rafters. My mother had hung herself.
My father waited fifteen minutes on the front porch waiting for my mother to come collect his clothes and bring him soap before he knew something was wrong. He plowed through the door and came racing into the living room. My father did not cry, or at least he did not in front of me. He instead went to the kitchen and grabbed a knife. Cut her down. And sat in his chair with her curled up like a child in his lap, rocking her, as if he was putting her to sleep.
That night when the policemen came they saw the bruises on my mother and arrested my father. A large fat officer took me to my grandparents house and told them what had happened. They fed me cold meat and sent me to bed and the next day when I asked to go see my dad they said there would be none of that. My father could not read or write and he refused the charity of a public defender. The judge sentenced my father before he could speak a word. Thirty five years.
My father got out in twenty three for good behavior but I haven’t seen him in at least ten. He called last night and told me I had to come to the house. My father is beautiful in old age. A receding cigarette hangs from his whiskey wet lips. His skin dark and tight. Hands like watermelons, fingers like bananas, knuckles like walnuts. He is sitting on the front porch on a small wooden stool tilted back on one leg to that he is resting his head against the side of the house and his feet on the railing in front of him.
We exchange handshakes but now words. He motions over his shoulder for me to come in and then flings his cigarette butt off the side of the porch. The house still smells of whiskey and pipe tobacco but it does not appear that anyone has cooked in here in years. My father takes me back to the kitchen turns around and looks at me.
“I heard you’re a writer now” my father says to me “ for the paper. And that you got a book of poetry coming out.”
“Yes. That’s correct.” I say back not knowing where this is going.
“Well who would of thought. A poet the son of a butcher.”
And I allow the silence to fill the room so that he knows that I am here because he asked me to and not for pleasure. My father puts his hand on the butcher block.
“You remember what I told you about this, don’t you?” he says. And I nod quickly and then feel embarrassed that I refuse to talk to my own father so I quickly lock my eyes on the ground.
“Well then, you take it. I don’t want it here anymore.”
And without saying anything the two of us carry it out to my truck. And my father ties it down with two bungee cords that I had in the glove box. And when this is done he slaps his hands on his hips as if he is washing off some dust and pats me on the back and says he hopes to see me around.
The entire drive home I think about turning around. I keep asking myself why I didn’t turn around to say anything back to the man. Instead I left him there, sucking on dust and fumes from my truck.
When I get home my wife comes out to ask me what he wanted.
“What’s that in the truck.” She says
“It was my great grandfather’s”
“He just let you have it? Well alright, we can make room for it in the kitchen later but tonight put it in the garage.”
And I do. And I sit at dinner with my family. And no one asks about my day. And I go to be and make love to my wife without once thinking if my kids were up listening to us, or if my father was still standing there in the road, his thumbs stuck in his pants, wondering if I am coming back.
And I wake up the next morning before dawn. And I go to the garage and grab the butcher block. I take it into the back yard and then go back into the garage to grab the can of gasoline I use to fill the lawnmower. And the earth is grey with dawns first light. And the backyard fills with the smell of gasoline as I douse the old butcher block until its soaked through and my head is light from the fumes.
I strike twenty five matches and watch them burn themselves down to my fingers. Twenty five matches and I cannot throw one. And there is no wind, there flames all burn bright. It would take one toss and all of it would be gone. The screen porch door opens and my son comes out to ask me what I am doing. Nothing I say, and he tells me breakfast is ready.
I turn around and tell him to come here.
“Climb under there” I say, and he tells me no because it stinks of gasoline.
“Its okay, hold your nose, go climb under there.” I say, and he does, and when he sees what he is supposed to I tell him to come back out. And I wrap my hands underneath his arms. And lift him up. And cradle him against my forearm and shoulder.
“Now look into my eyes” I say. And he does.
“Who wouldn’t save his brother
in a poem if he could?”
I will not let this be a warning. My hand has been shaking now, slightly, for three weeks. I pretend this is organic. I pretend this is magnetic. If I pretend, that this is not a warning, I sleep well at night.
I visited Stonehenge recently. I listened to the guided audio tour. I am not a fan of guided audio tours. I am a product of an ADD society and therefore often do not have the patients for the low slow voice of a historian narrator. When listening to a guided tour that has a British accent the condition is worsened. The makers of these guided audio tours have tried to combat the lack of a tourists concentration ability by adding in sound effects and different voices that ask rhetorical questions to the listeners. (Side thought: Can a question be rhetorical if the asked cannot possibly respond.) The overall effect of this is a cheap collage of studio effects and underpaid narrators. I turned the tour off before I had even reached “key interest point 5”. Therefore I am not an expert of Stonehenge. But what I do know is that:
1. There are two different types of stones that built Stonehenge. A local sandstone and a foreign bluestone.
2. No one actually knows what Stonehenge was built for. They know it is old. They know it would have been hard to build. Some speculate aliens.
3. The bluestones are valued for special magnetic properties they posses.
4. Stonehenge sits on a wide field of magnetic lines, known as lay lines. It is because of these that many suspect that Stonehenge was used for healing powers.
5. When I visited Stonehenge I could not touch it
6. Twenty three years ago when my parents visited you could touch it. You could climb it in fact. My parents said that if they wanted to the probably could have chipped a little piece of it off and taken it back home.
When we visit Stonehenge my teacher gives us metal rods and explains how to walk with them loosely in our hands so that we can see the effect of the magnetic lay lines. I do not participate. My hands are to shaky. I recently found out that every body of water, even the most tiny puddle, has a tide. Adult men are 60% water. Our bodies than must be tidal. Then to cant our hands react to magnetic fields. I pretend this is not a warning. I pretend this is magnetic.
In Chicago they are building a new skyscraper. This is a statement that I can always make as they will always be building new skyscrapers in Chicago. Edinburgh Scotland had the first skyscrapers. Because land was relatively limited they built fourteen story stone towers that were the predecessor of the modern day apartment building. When they built Old Main, the oldest building at my college, it was the tallest building in the Midwest. It is three stories tall. Now the build skyscrapers out of steel and glass. Steel is not magnetic, though it can be magnetized. We do not build to heal anymore
My brother is an addict. Yesterday was the one year anniversary of him entering rehab. I expected his head to shake, or his leg, or his hand. But my brother is good at hiding these things.
I know my brother is an addict. He has admitted that to himself. This is step one. Step two is to admit that a power greater than yourself can restore your serenity. My brother hasn’t done this. My brother is like me, he is always looking a head, Step five is admitting to this higher power the exact nature of ones wrong doings.
I believe in god, and I believe in the trinity. But which of these is my brother confessing to. Does he confess to god the ghost, or god the father, or god the son. I could not confess to my father that I smoke cigarettes, and should fathers ever confess to their sons.
So we will confess to ghosts. My grandmother died when I was three. I do not remember what she looked like. But, quite frequently, I see her in the corner of my eye. These “sightings” are not recognitions of physical forms but more of a darting presence. As in an space just empty now is taken up by something I cannot recognize. I know it is my grandma because I am not afraid of this presence. Not like the time I dreamed the devil was in my room.
I smoke grandma, and I told my brother I would quit if he did. But he hasn’t and when I see him use I need a cigarette. And when I see him I need a cigarette. And I need a cigarette. I’ll quit tomorrow.
I have believed for the past year that every time I get a call from home my brother has died. My brother has been climbing buildings again. He sits, stoned, watching sunrise, sunset. I want to tell him that there is no healing powers in metal buildings. I want to take him to someplace magnetic. But my brother is a ghost. And confessions to ghosts are rhetorical.
When my brother and I were children we would stay up late playing Peter Pan. We had trundle beds. He had the lower one, I the higher. We would stand on the high bed and jump, eyes closed, laying flat in the air, and thinking happy thoughts. We didn’t fly. Each time crashing on the mattress an unwanted realization was made. We were not Peter Pan. We were not going to fly. But each time we got back on to the bed and tried again. Fairy tales died when we got old enough to be lost boys.
I am twenty three, I still have flying dreams. Sometimes when there is a strong breeze I dream of lifting my legs up and just blowing away. I dream of tornadoes but a church in Galesburg has a relic from a saint I do not know. They say that this has stopped the tornadoes from touching down here.
Last Tuesday was the first Tuesday of the month so at 10:00 Am they tested the warning sirens. That night my teacher asked the class what life would be like living inside siren. As in, the first reaction we have when we hear a siren is when will it stop. If siren never stopped where would we be trapped. Would we relearn to panic? The noise eventually just blending into background. My brother lives in a siren state. Every pebble on the road a reminder, a craving, an excuse. In a state of siren our hears cannot hear people telling us its okay. We are disorientated. We must not forget the meeting place.
Day by day I am convinced phone calls reporting the fallen are coming. I should have seen it coming. Fall, after fall we climbed back on top of the high bed just to fall again. But his hand wasn’t shaking, or his leg, or his arm. His hand wasn’t shaking? Or his leg? His arm?
I will not let this be a warning. I refuse, I must sleep.
And when you slip, I will write stories that do not end with falls. You will slip but I will not end in fall. I will write without fall. Stories that freeze on the edge. Your face stoned calm. A calm, stone face. Face calm, staring stoned at the sunset. It will be a calm sunset. With skin to warm too be dead.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Tonight, he’s having everyone over to his apartment.
Now god doesn’t charge for booze but asks
That you pick up a copy of his demo tape
And pass it on to a friend
When we get there
The living room is pitch black
Except for Christmas lights that god has scattered about the floor, walls, and ceiling
To set the mood.
god starts the night with well known classics
Hip hop that was only ever released on vinyl’s
The type that all the young kids are buying up
Cause its hip again to look poor
Sun comes in fashionably late/of course
but gets the party started.
She wears a fitted red dress but lets her bra show
Her hair is in a bird nest bun
that’s wet like she just left bed
she begins to dance and all heads turn towards her.
But her eyes are stuck on moon.
Whose slowly rotating around the room not quite sure if he’s ready yet
And in between them is earth, and he is trying to get moon to walk to her
While at the same time being an annoying third wing
And earth is one of those guys that just isn’t really cool
Except that he’s got this really sexy haircut
And wears patterned shirts with ties that wouldn’t match
On anyone else but make him look artistic, or stylish
And its clear that this isn’t really his type of party.
Atmosphere and gravity are in the kitchen
Passing “fuck me looks” but gravity’s got
Bad breath so they keep there distance.
The tension between the two of them
Makes everyone heavy.
And the hot July air drips from our arms
And gets stuck in the back of our throats
So we rotate around the room splitting time
In front of the only open window
But everyone’s pretty drunk
So the orbits become elliptical
And god steps out for a cigarette
but knows this weekend his records are fresh
And his needles are sharp
That the music will keep spinning
And the party pulses.
A poem from Lorca to Emmet Till
In the sky there is nobody asleep.
Nobody is asleep.
In a river the corpse
Moaned for three days.
In Mississippi two fisherman
Had fan belts stuck in their nets.
Nobody is asleep on earth.
Everybody was sleeping
When two men melted his face.
Pot holed his body.
Lynched his neck with a fan belt.
Left him strangled by moss.
And now nobody is asleep, landscapes of open eyes.
All who cover their eyes will landslide
To his mummified hand.
His face was clawed by thunderstorms,
Bound by lighting.
Our hands are stained with your blood
They will not shed its maroon crust
No matter how panicked we scrub.
No one is sleeping.
We huddle over sinks.
Sand paper ourselves with soap.
To the ground
To weigh light on you.
Nobody is sleeping in the sky.
Nobody is sleeping on the earth.
Nobody, no where
No one is sleeping.
In response to David Rivard’s
Leaves above me dry red,
8:30 one morning, you died,
and in the hours after
I am drawn to my brothers closet.
Cramped between old Halloween costumes,
Is my brother, balancing a picture of you on his knee.
I want to believe
Leaves will crawl back onto trees.
Dirt will not freeze
Buds will push bloom
But soon it will be fall
Leaves will drip,
Ground freeze until cracked.
And pictures keep rolling of knees.
I am unable to watch green before orange.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Riding The Green Line
The woman on the train has ash for elbows. Pockets for teeth, bags for skin, and I want her. I want to sit in the caves etched into her gums. The puss cocooning me a mothers womb. I want to listen to her stories of a city I do not know. If I walk to her will she hold me? Swing me? Whisper? My body memorialized in a blanket of her ash.
Frozen in the grotesque glee of discovering her smell is almost mine.
The train yard
I thought I could paint the world a heaven.
But mine is a world where lines do not meet, color suffocates in rust
my canvases are always moving, my heart is a can of paint.
We sit with city draped across our shoulders and trust
that in the shadows of freight yards our lips will giggle
like swing sets. But lips never meet. Our blush fades with rain.
The train moves before I am finished:
how could I have believed we would be safe
inside the lights orange glow?
Now we are homeless and hunted.
I want to love you inside orange glow
but the world is never as safe as shadows
and I cannot make lines meet or colors breathe.
Heaven is no place for shadows.
And you are always moving, my heart is a rusted can.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
So Dylan Thomas wrote an amazing story called "After the Fair". So it inspired me to write my own version. This is the draft before the rough draft, wrote it yesterday. I'm kinda diggin where its going.
The fat man and the carousel
The world slips past as if pulled by rope. It passes as a blur of brown. Telephone poles swiping across with a rhythmic dip in their carried lines. This is a land without horizons. Each passing field revealing more flat fields of dead things now yellow, or brown. Grass grew here once but now only as markers between properties, or as road, or as a place for cattle to graze. The fat man looks from his small, porthole, window. His breath steams the cool glass. Watching the land blur.
The train is not particularly hot but the fat man is always hot. So he presses his soft cheek against the cool of the glass. Ahead the bearded women is applying her makeup in a mirror. The bearded women must have been beautiful once. She is slender with round hips. The fat man often watches her from afar, picturing the hair removed from her face, a bead of sweat lodging itself on her chest, right where her soft breast meet her strong pale sternum. He closes his eyes and pictures her spilling out from her shirt. Resting herself upon his stomach, her ear pressed against his chest as she strokes his nipple, or plays with a tuff of his hair between her fingers. He dreams of sex in the way through a series of perfected calculations, no room for improvisation. He is careful to make sure that each maneuver works best to hide his size. It is possible than that because of this, when he does have sex with women, they often stop him, leaving, laughing at his fumbling and poorly targeted kisses.
The train slows down. Town approaching. The driver begins to blow his whistle and megaphones hung underneath the cars begin to play the big top music. The performers all make their way to the golden spiral stairs at the end of the car. All except for the fat man. The fat man simply walks to car and sticks his head out of the one large window. He is too fat to climb the golden stairs. Above him a trap door opens so that the performers can stand on the flat railinged roof of the car and wave to the children as they chase behind. The children scream “When will you be back” or “Why aren’t you staying?” with smiles stuck like summer ice cream stains across their faces. The brave older children, who no longer believe in clowns, or laugh at elephants, wait on top of a bridge and throw stones at the performers. The bearded lady, the man made of rubber, the dwarf, the fat man, all duck down as the older boys laugh and the older girls grimace. As they had pass through the other side of town the driver blows his whistle again and the performers file back into the car as the train speeds off into horizon.
It is night before the train stops. The air now cool and filled with the living smell of mold. All around the train men are hard at work. Some are leading elephants, others moving carriages. Soon the ground is flooded with light from the ten tall portable stadium lights. An army of men begin to erect the big top, the light casting shadows as long as football fields. The train is still playing big top music. Small children hear the noise and ride their bikes over, peering through the chain linked fence at men who look like giants. The fat man finds his trailer, and goes inside. This trailer was made before the turn of the century. Hand painted, hand carved. There is a small bed hung like a swing chair on one end, but the fat man is too large for it so he sleeps on a mattress stuffed with old clothes and rags on the floor. On the other end is a small kitchen. A wall with a sliding door divides the trailer long ways in half. When the ringmaster rings the morning bell the fat man slides the door back. On the other side is a stool. The fat man sits there waiting for a ticket to slide through the slot. As soon as it is, the fat man cranks the lever to his left rolling up the canvas wall in front of him and exposing the face of a disgusted and bewildered child. Sometimes mothers would cover their sons faces and sigh in disgust, others would throw food at the fat man. Either way the fat man sits on his stool, shaking his belly or rubbing his breast, bellowing “ I am the fat man, have you seen any fatter? Gaze upon me…be amazed!” until the chime chimes indicating that time is up and he could roll down the canvas.
At the end of the day the fat man collects his tickets and takes them to the collection man. For every ticket the fat man is paid fifty cents. After the collection man has counted and verified the fat mans tickets the fat man puts the money into his pockets. He has been saving money now for three years, almost 5,000 dollars saved up now. Now is the time that the fat man is happiest about being the fat man. Most people have to spend their earnings on food, unless they are satisfied with eating the stock bean and ham soup. But the fat man never has to eat the stock food. The fat man always gets to dine with the ringmaster.
The ringmaster is a tall slender man whose hips are exactly as wide as his shoulders. The ring master can always be found in his long red tailed suede jacket, the one with the hand engraved gold buttons and the gold sashes on the shoulders. Often he wears his tall top hat to hide his almost bald head. Tonight as the fat man enters the ringmaster’s tent he finds him sitting, spread eagle, his crisply creased cream pants slightly unbuttoned, his suspenders loose around his hips. The ring master is slicking back the three or four small strands of black hair and twiddling his large curled mustache with a small ball of wax. The ring masters brow is dewed in sweat and his undershirt is yellowed. The entire tent smells of stale man and pipe smoke.
“Come, sit fat man. I am glad you are here!” the ring master says as he points to a chair close to his. The fat man moves clumsily around the table and squeezes himself into the normal sized chair, fearful that the creaking wood will eventually release against the strain.
“I was thinking of your parents today. I remember when they joined our troop. They were good people, you know.” And the fat man nods his acknowledgement. The fat mans parents were trapeze artists, the best there every was, the ring master would say. But they like all people got old, and their bodies no longer moved like they used to. People stopped going to their tent. One day the ringmaster told them they had to leave. The fat man was just a small boy then. His parents knew that without trapeze they had no way of providing for their child. So they left the fat man with the ringmaster. The ring master quickly put the fat man to work as an elephant handler. As the boy grew the ringmaster began to notice his immense size. He would burst through the bottoms of child’s jeans, he couldn’t button the middle of his shirts, he began to grow breast before the girls did. And so the ringmaster had decided that the small boy would one day be the fat man. For years the fat man was just a fat man. At night the ringmaster growing frustrated with the fat mans lack of growth would sit scowling and yelling, demanding the cooks bring more food. Watching as the fat mans face filled with sweat, his eyes with blood, his belly spilling over itself until finally it could stretch no more and the fat man would collapse on the floor from cramps.
“I had a dream last night, no more of a vision I suppose. I saw the circus, as it will be five years from now. We will had two more big tops! And a train that will stretch for miles so that children in one town can welcome us while children in another town can wave goodbye. And the will come for miles fat man! They will come to see you, or the bearded women. They will come to see me stick my head in a lions mouth. They will flood the gates and we will run out of tickets and they will leave with smiles and begging for more…I had a vision last night fat man, and now everywhere I walk I cannot help but see it!”
“Sir?” the fat man said quietly.
“yes what is it? Come on boy speak up now!”
“Well sir, it just is, well you don’t have any children sir. And, well three big tops sounds wonderful. But who will you leave this all to?”
“ahh, fat man, you know me so well. I too have been wondering who I will leave my legacy to. I assume then since you ask that you have a suggestion.”
“Its just that, well sir, I have been practicing. And, well I can get the lions to sit, and I can crack a card with a whip, and sir, its just that, well I thought maybe I could be the ringmaster one day.”
The ringmaster began to laugh. A low rumbling laugh that comes from the intestines and snowballs its way out of the throat. The ringmaster laughed until he saw the water welt up on the edge of the fat mans eye. “You are serious? You can’t be serious.”. Suddenly when the ringmaster saw that the fat mans’ expression had not changed he grew angry. Dinner was over and the fat man was quickly dismissed to waddle back to his trailer, that creaked and moaned as it bared the burden of its swollen master. The fat man felt a sharp pain in his arm. It passed quickly, this had been happening more and more frequently. The fat man went to the back of the trailer and pulled from the corner a metal trunk filled with his most prized possession. From the trunk the fat man pulled out an old tattered red coat. The coat hadn’t fit him so the fat man had cut the back in half and stitched in red bandana’s and cloths to expand it. He pulled out a top hat that had no top, and a long worn leather bull whip.
The fat man turned and stared at the stool that had now become a lion. Back, back he would say as he cracked the whip just above the stools seat. The fat man circled the stool imagining backing it into a corner. Back, back, he would say the cracking whip piercing the silent night. Finally the fat man could feel the last bits of air squeeze from his lungs, so he put the whip on the stool and sat down on his bed.
The fat man awoke not sure how long he had been sleeping. There from his door came three quick quiet raps.
“Whose their!” the fat man demanded but received no answer so he laid back down to try and sleep. Shortly after his eyelids begin to lay heavy together another quick and quiet three raps echoed from his trailer door.
“Whose their!” he yelled, though this time slightly more frightened. “Can’t you leave a fat man alone. I am tired! It has been a hard day.” Yet still no answer. The fat man now pulled his blanket high over his head and tried to fall back asleep. Just as his jaw began to relax and the faintest roar of a snore escaped from his lips another three quick and quiet rasps rapped against his door.
“ I want to be left in peace!” the fat man screamed as he leapt from his bed. The trailers old springs squealing like a struck pig as the fat man barged from his bed to the door. When the door had been swung open the fat man launched himself out the door proclaiming “Who are you, what do you want. Why have you come and disturbed me!”
In front of him was a small slender girl. Whose skin was moon pale and seemed to slice through the night surrounding her. Her lips were blush red and in her arms was a baby who was nursing on a perfect pink nipple. The fat man stunned fell backwards and landed on the stairs of his trailer with an echoing thump.
“I am sorry to disturb you” she said “ but my daughter won’t sleep, I was hoping we could ride the carrousel.”
The fat man unable to stop choking on his words simply shook his fat head and pointed towards the carousel. As they walked the girl wrapped her slender arm around the fat mans massive forearm and rested her head against his soft bicep. The fat man was suddenly overly conscious of the beads of sweat beginning to form on his forehead and nervously tried to wipe them off without her noticing.
The fat man helped the girl onto a horse and darted his eyes to the ground as her small pink cotton panties glimpsed through her thin white summer dress. When her and the baby were seated he went and turned the carousel on. The music rolled off the surrounding tents and trailers and bounced across the fields. The lights cast deep shadows and suddenly the circus around them was cloaked in darkness’s shadow. The world was now just carousel.
A smile spread across the girls face. The small breeze of the spinning carousel caused her thin white dress to stick to her small round breast. The fat man grew even more embarrassed, but he was unable to turn his head from staring at her emerging pink nipples.
“Here” she said, “Will you hold her?”.
The girl placed the child in the fat man’s giant arms. The baby only as big as his forearm. The fat man curled her up against his breast and laughed as she tried to nurse from him. The girl wrapped her arms around the pole of the horse and leaned back letting her hair drag in the wind. The fat man walked a few steps away and sat down in a large wooden sleigh. He cradled the baby against his chest singing
“Hush-a-bye don't you cry,
Go to sleep-y, little baby.
When you wake you shall have
All the pretty little horses.
Blacks and bays, dapple grays,
Coach and six white horses.
Hush-a-bye don't you cry,
Go to sleep-y, little baby.”
And the baby grew soft in his hands. And the baby laid tight against his chest. And the fat man leaned back, the cool air rushing over his warm sweating forehead. Ahead of him the girl squealed with laughter as the swung back and forth from the horses pole.
And in the morning the ringmaster found the fat man sleeping in the sleigh. His arms wrapped as if holding a baby. His red jacket wet with morning. The fat man was singing
“Hush-a-bye don't you cry,
Go to sleep-y, little baby.
When you wake you shall have
All the pretty little horses.
Blacks and bays, dapple grays,
Coach and six white horses.
Hush-a-bye don't you cry,
Go to sleep-y, little baby.”
And the world was just carousel.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Rooftops, meteors, and watches.
By: David B. Gilmer
The night was sticky. A hot August Chicago summer. Joshua hoped he could escape his sauna bedroom by going to the rooftop of his apartment building. He rolled out of the thin wet bed sheet and began to pull on his boxer shorts; they stuck to his thighs. His girlfriend was sleeping naked in the bed. Orange light crept in through the partially closed blinds from a street lamp outside their bedroom window. A window fan was the only noise in the room and the warm air being blown around was just cool enough in the swirling smog of the apartment to give goose bumps to the naked girl. Joshua sat next to her gently, not wanting her to wake and brushed his fingertips against her sweating stomach. Her goose bumps briefly disappeared before she rolled over and back into her deep sleep. Joshua walked through the narrow hallway that was painted chipping avocado, décor left over from the seventies when the apartment was new. He walked into the bathroom and splashed cool water across his face, the relief was temporary. He grabbed a wet
t-shirt drying on the shower rod, put it on and headed into the kitchen. He grabbed two beers and a plastic lawn chair and headed up the back stairs for the roof.
When Joshua reached the roof there was not as much of a breeze as he would have liked but the small licks of air against his wet t-shirt made his skin tingle. All around him were apartments just like his. Each with their flat black roofs that in the warm summer filled the city with the fresh smell tar. To the east the skyline stretched high like fluorescent mountains and gave off the light of a red October moon. Joshua placed his white plastic chair near the edge of the east side of the roof, stretched his legs out, opened his beer and took a deep breath hoping to smell the distant lake but the air was only tar.
Joshua’s parents did not approve of him moving to this apartment. He was twenty six and unable to work, his girlfriend was trying to become an artist and only worked a few hours a week so most of their bills were hidden away in kitchen cabinets. The apartment was nice enough but he wished it was located a little farther east. Tonight though he loved it. The flat roofs and a landlord who didn’t mind what his tenants did as long as they paid rent. His girlfriend had hoped to stay awake tonight but the heat had finally gotten to her. There was going to be a meteor shower later, probably in an hour or two but Joshua was not quite sure what time it was. A few feet from him on the left was a picnic blanket and two sleeping bags that they had planned on watching the shower from. He thought briefly of waking her but was enjoying the peacefulness of his rooftop.
Joshua loved the way the city sounded at night. The mechanical rumble of the “El” trains. The pitter-patter of late night wanderers on the streets below. The far off hum of the expressway. Some nights he would come here and watch the fireworks by the lake. The high spark glow bouncing off the windows of high-rises, the bang pin-balling through a maze of steel and glass. Tonight though was almost quiet, as if the city was holding its breath for something. Joshua finished his second beer and began to feel warm inside. He was not sure if it was the beer or the procedure but he began to feel quite funny, the doctors said this could happen. So he made his way over to his sleeping bag and fell asleep.
The hospitals walls were all painted the standard hospital eggshell white. A purple wallpaper border about two and a half feet wide was stretched over each wall slightly below the half height mark. Every place that wasn’t already occupied by a gurney, or a cart, or some sight of storage for medical device was a plant, and each desk had atleast one plant on top of it. Joshua briefly wondered whose job it was to wash all these plants and then he began to imagine that at night when everyone was asleep a janitor stood underneath the fire sprinklers with a lighter and let them burst and water all of the plants at the same time. Joshua was only twenty five yet had spent enough time in hospitals that he already new there interiors well, which was saying allot considering his condition.
Hospitals were always a place Joshua was uncomfortable in. They were too clean for him. Whenever Joshua was in one he always had the urge to move a cart or tip over a flower pot, something to make them less plastic.
The doctors had just gotten through explaining the procedure. Joshua was nervous but knew this was his best option. His was a rare case of Family Alzheimer’s. Usually people don’t start seeing signs until they are thirty or older. Joshua’s began when he was twenty three. It was slow at first, his coworkers and girlfriend blamed it on his lack of sleep. Joshua would have a hard time recalling facts, could easily become confused, and his usual daily work took him much longer. Then one day after work he drove back to his parents place instead of his apartment. It took his parents twenty minutes to help him remember that he had moved out almost four years ago, they assumed he had hit his head and was concussed which is why they took him to the doctor. That was when it was first diagnosed. His girlfriend took it the hardest, but she also put in the most hours trying to fix it. She was the one who stumbled upon the experimental procedures that the University medical center were conducting. Doctors had walked Joshua through the procedure a thousand times but all he could remember was that some hormone or protein was being injected into his brain, he thought it was called cytokine.
The doctors had left Joshua one of those thin paper hospital robes. As he took off his clothes he kept sneaking glimpses at his girlfriend hoping she would be looking back at him, every time he was disappointed to find her eyes stuck to the ground, he wondered if she was nervous to.
He had seen his mother once go in for a root canal and before the anesthesia made her fall asleep she slipped into hysteria, laughing, spilling secrets and intimate thoughts. Joshua didn’t want to be made a fool before he went into brain surgery. If he didn’t make it he at least wanted to be remembered as someone who went under brave and in control of his life. So he wrapped his hands around his chest and began to massage his armpits. Something, anything to keep his mind as alert as possible until he went under.
The doctor who had invented the procedure first attempted it on his wife. The doctors wife had been a watch collector before she was diagnosed with the disease. As they disease deteriorated her brain she was no longer able to repair and restore the intricate parts of pocket watches and had to give up her hobby. After the operation the doctor gave his wife a small golden pocket watch. The face a tarnished brown from years of finger grease. On the back was inscribed “D+M”. Every morning the doctor would ask his wife to take the watch apart. To place the individual parts around the house, and then as the day goes by to go around and try and put the watch back together. For the first few weeks the doctor would come home and the wife would have forgotten about the watch entirely. The doctor and her when then spend there nights scavenging the house trying to find the lost pieces. After a month she would remember that she had taken the watch apart, and was beginning to find one or two pieces. After three months she could find most of the pieces, and after almost a year she was able to put the watch back together entirely. One night almost a year and a half after the surgery she looked at the doctor,
“ This is my father’s watch isn’t it? I thought I had lost it years ago.”
As tears swelled up in the doctors eyes he hugged he hugged her close, the watch trapped between there chests.
As Joshua slipped away he thought about the watch. Tried to picture it in his hands, feel its gold metal face ticking, moving, alive.
Waking up from anesthesia is like coming out of a long dark tunnel. At first all the light is too much for your eyes, then slowly figures begin to take place. Joshua does not remember but his girlfriend told him that when he came to he thought she was the doctors wife and kept asking if she had put the watch back together yet.
When Joshua woke up the sky was white and for a second he thought he was back in the hospital. He quickly realized that the meteor shower had begun and he had woken just in time. Joshua was sure he had never seen something so beautiful. Streaks of white light were moving across the sky like trails of vapor from planes. On the edge of the lights a green wave trickled across the sky like the wake from a boat. Joshua was so memorized by the light show above that he did not notice the woman on his roof until all the meteors had passed.
When the shower ended the city suddenly seemed draped in darkness. Joshua noticed what he thought was a woman lying near the edge of his roof but his eyes were still adjusting to the new formed darkness and all he could make out were shadows. As soon as his eyes had comforted themselves in the new light he saw that a woman was lying naked right on the edge of the rooftop. Joshua assumed he was hallucinating, the doctors had told him that could be a side effect, but after blinking his eyes and slapping his face he was quite sure she was real. The woman was beautiful, slender but not skinny. Her skin was so pale it was almost translucent and in the light of the night she seemed to almost glow blue. Her hair was short and blonde and though she was lying naked on a roof it seemed perfectly kept. The only flaw Joshua could find on her body was two silver dollar sized scars, one on each shoulder blade.
Joshua called out to the woman but there was no response. He considered going inside and waking his girlfriend, figuring it better that another woman deal with the naked girl on the roof, but found himself unable to pull his gaze off of her long enough to go back downstairs. Joshua continued to try and wake the woman but he was unable to speak in anything more than a whisper, afraid a sound much louder may break the whole situation apart. Finally after his numerous attempts at waking her had failed Joshua slowly crawled towards the woman and placed one hand gently on her shoulder.
The woman rolled over slowly as if she was expecting him to wake her. She did not hesitate or try to hide her nakedness from Joshua, which with any other woman he would have found strange but here he was quite comfortable. She looked up at him with eyes that seemed almost entirely black and did not speak a word. Joshua sat back and leaned on his hands and soon the woman was sitting up. He wanted to ask her who she was, what she was doing naked on the roof, but he was as sure as he was about anything in his life that no matter what question he asked her she would not answer. So Joshua kept staring in her eyes. The longer he looked at her the less he felt the need to speak. Then Joshua head was flooded with memories.
He was no longer on the rooftop. He was next to his mother as she was birthing him looking up at the clock waiting for his father to arrive. He no longer smelled tar, but instead his nose was filled with the wet smell of warm birth sweat.
He was at his first birthday watching his family jump up and down after the bears had won. He was watching his brothers being born and his sister. He was in the grave on a rainy Sunday with his father looking up at a family he hardly knew. He was with his mother at the bar the night his grandmother died. He was in the car with his brother when he got into an accident. He was watching his sister graduate, he was meeting his girlfriend, he was in surgery, he was having sex, and then he was falling onto his roof from the sky and landing in his sleeping bag.
As tears began to form on his eyes he forced them back into what he could only imagine where two large water tanks behind his eyes. Joshua began to think about where tears go if you do not cry? If they sat on his eyelids long enough would they simply evaporate and join the world as a cloud or a fog? Was every rainstorm some mans repressed emotion? Was every sip of water a fathers death, a child’s disappointment, the loss of a friend? Soon it began to rain and Joshua felt himself slipping away as if he was under anesthesia again. The woman seemed to sense this and brought his head to her shoulder. His head was getting heavy and began to fall down her body. As his head came closer and closer to her lap he felt himself getting lighter and lighter until suddenly he was lying on her, her arm embracing him and he felt as if he was flying.
Joshua was not sure how long he had lied there but the next thing he remembers is standing on the edge of the rooftop with the woman looking down at the street below. The air once again was filled with the smell of tar and in the distance a translucent green had begun to form around the horizon and Joshua expected the sun would be rising soon. The woman was holding Joshua’s hand pointing down to something gold and shiny on the sidewalk and as soon as Joshua realized it was a pocket watch the sky lit up again with another meteor shower.
When one wakes up it is like coming out of a long and dark tunnel. Joshua was sure that the meteor shower was still going on, all around him was white light that his eyes couldn’t take in. He was lying in a warm sticky liquid on something hard. As is eyes adjusted he noticed people standing around him, they all looked too afraid to say anything. A throbbing sensation started around his knee but when he reached down to touch it he found his leg to be the consistency of dried mash potatoes. He looked over to his other arm and his elbow was up around his shoulder. Behind his shoulder was his right ankle pointing out from his body like a wing. His head wouldn’t move much but he moved his left arm in hopes of finding the strange woman somewhere near. He looked up to the rooftop but there was not even a shadow. He continued to flail around his hand trying to yell out for the woman but all he could manage was a whisper. Now there were blue and red lights and two men were hurrying towards him. He was sure she was there, just outside his reach, he was sure he could feel her. But all his hand could find was something cold and metal.