It was cold in the lab and Celine wasn’t prepared. The icy air scratched with shimmer fingers, insinuating into any clothing crack. She’d thought the tension would keep her warm. Nervous energy agitated through her, twanging like the strings of a marionette. She’d dressed in light layers, the way her mother was always suggesting.
Celine went at night, a thrill time between shadows, when the world was not the same. Wearing all black, to avoid being seen, she let herself in through the hole in the fence and then a window that didn’t shut all the way. Darkness layering over darkness was all that could be seen. It was good to be small, no matter what anyone said. The physical exertion surprised her. She’d already scraped her knee – a woe which had not troubled her since childhood – and broken a nail. Her ribs hurt from resting on the shallow sill.
..........The lab was not at all as she would have supposed. But then none of it was. In her mind, it would smell – of fear and sadness and something baser to remind her of nature and degradation. But not so. The air was clean. Each animal had fresh bedding and full water bottles. The spaces they lived in were large. They had tiny snuggle toys. As she dragged her finger across the bars of the cage, her unsettled eyes took in stimulating pictures pinned against the inside.
..........It was all wrong. Kept like animals, she thought, although now she knew what that meant. She was taken aback, no doubt, but determined to continue with her plan.So what if their pelts had been brushed clean, until they shone, evident even by the low lighting from the underside of the cupboards? An animal shouldn’t be caged.
She wore gloves: brave but smart. No matter how cuddly they might seem, no rat wants to be moved in a cat carrier. Even if it was brand new, without the scent of a previous occupier. Their bodies writhed and swarmed together in a blur of fur. They squealed and bit, clawing and crawling over one another with nauseating undulations.
Getting out was harder because the carrier was not just bulky but heavy now. The animals squealed and snapped their jaws, scratching through the air mesh. Their little claws were like hands, pink on the underside, viciously sharp.
..........The night was against her; wind buffeted the carrier, banging it uncomfortably against her thigh and tripping her, as she stumbled once more through the hole in the fence. The movement of the animals swung the box against her. Her arm ached. She was tired. The pocket of her hoodie snagged on a claw of wire. She heard a dog’sbark, sudden and blunt, behind her. Shot through with energy, she ran.
...........Celine pushed the carrier into the boot of her father’s car and rested for a moment with her eyes closed, her hands ready at the wheel, trying not to hear the shrieks behind. Tiny claws rattled the bars – and so it was with the beating of her heart. All was anguish.
That night, she took the car back, dropping the keys where she’d found them on the front hall table. Sweating and panting, she released the prisoners at the back of her parents’ large garden, where the trailing willows lapped the grass and dropped into the water’s edge. The land rolled here, with secret holes beneath the undergrowth, crowded with overlapping leaves. There was nowhere for them near her flat. The rats swarmed in a shoal of liquid darkness, until they spread, separate and individual, scrabbling and slipping down the bank of the burn.
The first rat she found, identifiable by the blue plastic tag secured around its front, left paw, had been clawed, its intestines pulled through skin and fur. The gape writhed with maggots and, contemplating this, Celine was nearly sick. Frightened that her mother would see, she steeled herself and kicked its body into the burn, where it sank amid gloomy bubbles. She scrubbed her plimsoll against the lush turf to clean it.
.........The second rat was headless – the body concertinaed as though without bone. The third was ripped apart and laid open, skin and fur flapping like clothes around damp insides. The smell of blood hung heavy in the humidity of the summer garden at night. In the days that followed, more carcasses surfaced from the borders of foliage and flower, lying still – a final vulnerability – as though sleeping off the horror amid a tranquil Eden.
It was so early in the morning Vic Breen had trouble keeping his eyes open as he walked to work. Once he just missed tripping on a deep crack in the sidewalk.
“Wake up!” he scolded himself, smacking his forehead with the heel of his right hand. “Wake the hell up!”
A rare afternoon baseball game was scheduled today to make up for one postponed by lightning a month ago so, as a member of the grounds crew at Metropolitan Stadium, he had to report to work much sooner than he was accustomed. He wished he had gone to bed a lot earlier than he did last night but a couple of guys he knew from a tavern he frequented invited him to go with them to the dog track. It was a mistake. Not only did he miss three good hours of sleep but he lost almost two hundred dollars on the six races he put down bets. It was money he couldn’t afford to lose. Not these days.
“You’re up awfully early,” the doorman in front of the Dorchester Hotel remarked as Breen approached him.
“There’s a game today.”
“Oh, that’s right. I forgot.”
He crossed his fingers. “Let’s hope we can get a win for a change.”
“Go, Saxons!” the doorman cheered, tipping his top hat.
As he waited to cross the street, he took a few deep breaths, still trying to recover from the brutal losses he suffered last night at the track. They were, without question, the worst he had experienced all summer.
When he got across the street, he headed to an ATM machine on the corner because he needed to put something in his wallet. He was within a few feet of the machine when he noticed a card lying on the ground beside a Snickers wrapper. Right away, he assumed it was a baseball card because a lot of businesses in the vicinity of the stadium sold such cards. Smiling, he hoped it was a valuable one, maybe a Mickey Mantle rookie card, though he knew that was highly unlikely especially the way his luck was running recently.
As he bent down to pick it up, his eyes widened in surprise. It was a Visa Platinum credit card. A spasm of excitement raced through his stomach. Warily he looked around to see if anyone was watching him, no one was, so he seized the card and slipped it into his shirt pocket.
Finally his luck had started to improve, he thought, as he drove out to the outfield in an electric golf cart.
Always before a game it was his job to smooth out the dirt track located some fifteen feet in front of the stadium wall. It was there to warn fielders running back to catch a fly ball that in a few more feet they would collide into the wall. Back and forth he went over the 700-foot-long track, dragging a thin metal screen that was about the width of a porch mat. By the time he finished the track would be as smooth as a linoleum floor.
Finally, after he didn’t know how many weeks of making bad bets, something had gone his way, he reckoned, as he drove back to the tool shed. It was hard to believe, even though he could feel the platinum credit card in his pocket. Still, he took it out to make sure it wasn’t a baseball card someone had dropped.
Breen got the ancient power mower started on the third pull of the rope which surprised him because it usually took seven or eight pulls. Everything was going right today, he thought, adjusting the brim of his sweat-stained Saxons cap. Then he set out across right field, cutting the grass in the familiar zigzag pattern favored by Caleb, the head groundskeeper. He moved briskly, despite his sore left knee, determined to finish in half the time it usually took him to mow the outfield grass.
“You got ants in your pants?” Caleb asked, approaching him in an almost new golf cart.
He looked at him quizzically.
“You’re mowing so fast.”
“You sure as hell are, Vic, which is fine with me as long as you do a good job.”
He nodded. Today he had to work faster because he knew he had only a short time to use the credit card he found before the owner realized it was missing and called the bank to cancel it. He wished he could use it right away but he knew Caleb wouldn’t permit him to leave the stadium until his lunch break.
Vigorously, with a stiff wire brush, he cleaned the blades of the lawn mower after letting it cool off for a few minutes. As he did, he thought of what he might purchase with the credit card at the Macy’s store six blocks west of the stadium. The other evening he and Caelynn, his girlfriend the past eight months, were in the crowded department store, seeing what there was to see, and she mentioned she could use another handbag. One, in particular, caught her eye: a crocheted bag from Italy that cost nearly two hundred dollars which was a little steep for his pocketbook. Now, however, he could buy it for her if he were so inclined or, possibly, he could buy something like an expensive necklace that he could then pawn and use whatever cash he received to place more bets at the dog track.
What to do, he wondered, what to do?
Out of the corner of his eye he looked at his watch and saw that he had plenty of time to make a decision because lunch wasn’t for another hour and a half.
“You think we’ll get the game in today?” Royce, another crew member, asked Breen as they shared a drink from a garden hose.
“Sure. Why not?”
“There are some mean clouds heading our way.”
He looked up at the overcast sky. “It’s always dark around here. When’s the last time you saw the sun in the morning?”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
“I sure as hell hope so because I’m not eager to haul out that tarp.”
“Neither am I,” he chuckled. “I almost got swallowed up by the damn thing the last time we rolled it out.”
Posted in every clubhouse in professional baseball is a sign warning players, umpires, and club employees not to bet on baseball games. It is the most famous rule in the sport because anyone who violated it risked permanent expulsion from the game.
Breen bet on dog races and car races and horse races, on boxing matches, on basketball and football games but, so far, he had no bet on a baseball game. He had been tempted to on occasion, he recalled, as he raked the first baseline. And he didn’t really know if he could have avoided the temptation years ago when grounds crews were known to tinker with fields to benefit their teams. Caleb told him when he started as a groundskeeper he was told to slope the foul lines inward so bunts stayed in fair territory because the team he worked for had several excellent bunters.
“That kind of chicanery might well be the difference between winning and losing,” Caleb remarked, “and earn someone a sizable payoff.”
Someone like me, he thought, grinning thinly.
Not quite forty minutes to go before it was time to go to lunch, Breen calculated, as he sprayed another blast of cleaning agent across second base. Then he picked up a shoe brush and began to scrub the dirt and grime off the base. He knew he wouldn’t be able to leave until all the bases were clean enough to pass Caleb’s inspection. By game time they had to be as bright as fresh new pillow cases.
As he walked to Macy’s, he could not believe how tightly his shirt clung to his back. It really wasn’t that warm out so he hadn’t worked up much of a sweat at work this morning. But now he was dripping with perspiration which was why his clothes felt pasted to his skin. And he knew it wasn’t because of the slowly rising temperature but because he was nervous about what might happen when he attempted to use the Visa card.
Every now and then, when he made a hefty bet he wasn’t confident about, he experienced a similar feeling. His whole body felt damp and clammy as if he had just stepped out of a shower stall. It seemed whenever this occurred he lost and often quite significantly.
Turn around, he cautioned himself. Go back to the stadium.
He continued to make his way to the department store, though, ignoring his own advice.
When he entered the store, he didn’t head for women’s furnishings as he had planned but went straight to the customers service desk.
“Yes, sir?” a bored woman asked, looking up from her cell phone.
He set the credit card on the counter. “I found this outside on the sidewalk.”
“Oh, gracious, it must’ve fallen out of someone’s wallet or purse.”
Nodding, he stepped away, sure he did what was right but for the wrong reason. He was scared what might happen if he didn’t return the card.
Shelby Stephenson is the author of Slavery and Freedom on Paul's Hill.
The page means drafts of poems must be done.
.............Then morning, late,
It’s lunchtime, dessert, a sugary bun.
.............Too soon for ale.
The time shouts always store. Newspapers, books.
He thinks, “I need a library for looks.”
.............O my O me.
The round clock tocks to nap in room alone.
.............The poet feels mute.
“The Edge of Night,” TV, sings void of bone.
.............His breath seems moot.
I did not know him at all, old soldier,
except through stories my father told me,
how he loved to ride his grandpa’s shoulders,
his hands on his head for praises bolder.
I want to get as close to actual
predicaments and be factual,
unplanned, for grieving, I mean, is better
than not: how am I to feel debtor
amid the talk of toppling monuments
when we consider the stone’s dominance
at the warrior’s feet, just a small marker
to say, as descendant, my life’s darker
if I remove the stone with its etched musket.
Shall the seventeen slaves in their caskets
ever keep the back of the family
cemetery luscious with its muffling
crumble and cry for ghostly shrouds in
the numerals? One of nineteen children,
he gave land holdings to neighbors poorer
than he; July, the Slave Girl, her future.
In Memoriam, Manly Stephenson, Private, Confederate States Army
Jimmy lay in bed, on his side. The lamp burned behind him. His shadow reached over the bed and settled on his right hand. He studied the fingers and the folds between each segment. When he curled his fingers, the shadows shifted. The folds darkened. He cupped the hand. The fingers twitched. The hand dropped. He focused on the edge of his bed, where the creases in the sheet became elevations.
“Jimmy,” he said. “Jim. James.”
The bed squeaked as Jimmy rolled onto his back. He started at the ceiling. The stucco created patterns, which the low light accented. His eyes roamed the texture, the dips and curves. He lifted his right hand, and it dropped like a weight onto his chest. He closed the fingers, holding them for a few breaths before releasing them. The hand drifted. He started at a patch of ceiling. The hand reached his mouth. He inhaled the scent of soap mixed with his flesh. He pressed his lips against his fingertips.
“Jimmy,” he said, lips brushing fingers. “Jim. James.”
The hand left his lips and returned to his side. He closed his eyes. He inhaled through his nose and exhaled through his mouth. He frowned and rolled onto his left side. He curled his legs. He dug both hands under his pillow. The lamp burned on the nightstand. He frowned and tensed the muscles in his face. After some time, he resumed his curled position. After some more time, he pulled the sheet up to his chin.
In the car, he looked out the window. The underside of clouds trapped and held shades of purple. The rest of the sky looked pink. When he sighed, his breath fogged the glass. A finger scratched a circle in the fog. The circle disappeared when he sighed again.
His mom drove. He glanced at her. She glanced at him. She moved her head a few degrees, smiled, and then returned her attention to the road. Outside the car, streetlamps passed. Suburban houses stood in rows. The car stopped at a stop sigh. Jimmy peered down the intersecting street, which curved up a slight incline. Another house obstructed the end of the street. He sighed, again, and drew another circle on the glass.
“Okay,” his mom said, “that’s the third time. What’s up?”
Jimmy jerked from the window. He straightened and stiffened his back. He adjusted the seatbelt’s shoulderstrap, but it slipped and rested against his neck. He looked to his mother. She gave another smile. He smiled. A sound tripped in his throat. He coughed.
“Nothing,” he said. He looked at his hands, which sat in his lap. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” He ran the fingers on his left hand over the palm of his right. His cheek twitched. He smirked and blushed.
“It’s okay to admit you had fun.” His mom turned to him when the car stopped at another intersection. “See, I told you that you wouldn’t want to leave. You don’t need to feel embarrassed that you were wrong.”
She placed a hand on his shoulder. When he looked, she transferred the hand to his head. She ruffled his hair. The car accelerated. He leaned into the seat. He brushed his hair. From behind his raised arm, he saw his mom’s profile. He watched her and the scrolling scenery behind her. His body rocked when the car slowed and stopped again. After returning his eyes to the sky above his window, he brushed fingertips along fingertips.
Jimmy heard his mom call and burst from the closet. Out of breath, trembling, he answered. He checked over his shoulder. Andrea, his cousin, bounced out of the closet, pulling her shirt over her stomach. A rose color sat on her cheeks. Their eyes met. She grinned. His breath caught. His eyes shot to the beige carpet. In his periphery, he saw her slide closer. He turned his head, eyes landing where the carpet met the bed’s skirt. The collar and sleeve of an inside-out t-shirt stick out from under the skirt.
“Take it,” Andrea said, “and think of me.”
Jimmy’s mom called again. He swallowed. Straightened his back, and faced the door as he answered, again. He then turned to his cousin. She combed her hair with her fingernails. With her other hand, she reached and tickled Jimmy’s wrist. He nodded. Her grin grew and showed a few teeth.
Jimmy jogged from the bedroom and then ran to the stairs. Each step echoed. Two steps from the bottom, he jumped and landed in front of his mom. He kept his head down and peeked at her. She raised an eyebrow. She stepped closer. She dipped to the side and examined his face. He blinked and sniffed.
“Are you out of breath,” she said, “just from running down the stairs? Maybe you’re not getting enough exercise.”
His mom looked up, and he followed her gaze. At the top of the stairs with one foot on the first step, Andrea leaned against the railing. She waved to Jimmy’s mom, and Jimmy’s mom returned the wave. She then waved to Jimmy, who shrugged. His mom clicked her tongue. She shook her head. She placed a hand on his back, between his shoulders, and they walked through the house. When they passed Jimmy’s aunt, sitting at the kitchen table with a steaming mug in her hands, she and Jimmy’s mom exchanged nods.
Outside, Jimmy waited by the car. He watched an unmoving cloud while his mom searched through her purse.
“I usually don’t have to call twice,” he mom said. “You must’ve been having fun.”
The car beeped. He opened the passenger-side door and scrambled into the seat. He buckled his seatbelt, sitting with his hands in his lap. His mom sat behind the wheel, checked the mirrors, started the engine, and checked the mirrors again. After putting the car into reverse, she reached over and forced a thumb across Jimmy’s cheek. He winced and tensed. She chuckled. The car rolled backward down the driveway. Jimmy focused on the headlights rolling over cracks in the pavement. When the car backed onto the road, Jimmy leaned his shoulder against the window.
Andrea removed her lips from Jimmy’s. Mouth open, he stood and blinked. Saliva dried and cracked in the corner of his lips. He wetted his mouth. He inhaled the scent of her lips that lingered on his top lip. When he exhaled, breath whistled across peach fuzz. She planted her feet, shifted her weight, and ran her fingernails through her hair. He looked down and saw his fists tremble. The fingers released one at a time. The hands still trembled.
“That’s what teenagers do,” Andrea said. She gathered her hair and draped the bundle over her shoulder. Jimmy wiped the right side of his mouth. Andrea traipsed in a small circle with her arms spread likes wings. A spin lifted her hair. She faced Jimmy. He stepped forward and then stepped backward. She tilted her head. He did the same.
“That’s not all we teenagers do,” she said. She rushed at him and grabbed his hand. “Gimme you hand.” She lifted his hand and folded it, aiming the palm toward her. A chuckle crackled behind her grin. She pulled the hand. The space between her and the palm lessened. Jimmy gulped.
“Wait.” She stopped pulling. She looked over Jimmy’s shoulder, at the door. She twisted, still holding the hand, and looked at her closet. The open door revealed a black, unlit space.
“Follow me.” She went to the closet, dragging Jimmy along. She pushed Jimmy inside. He collided with shirts. Plastic hangers rattled. She closed the door as she entered. A strip of light appeared at their feet. Their breathing echoed. Her fingers found his hand and manipulated it. With her assistance, his arm stretched. His fingers landed on fabric, cotton. The fabric moved, revealing skin. She moved his hand upward. Their breathing grew heavier. He closed his eyes.
“We could get caught,” she said between breaths. A sound from her cracked. He made the same sound. He pressed his fingers. He bit his lip.
Shoulder to shoulder, Jimmy and Andrea left their moms in the kitchen. Jimmy’s mom said something, and his aunt laughed. Andrea rolled her eyes. She elbowed Jimmy and, when he looked, she rolled her eyes again. She grinned. She waved a hand through the air. In the next room, she skipped to a couch and dropped onto a cushion. She stretched and pointed at the television against the opposite wall. Jimmy, hands snug in his pockets, stood by the couch’s corner.
“We could watch TV,” she said. “You probably want to watch some cartoons.” Holding the back of the couch, she crawled across the cushions next to him. She grinned. He shrugged.
“You don’t have to act like you’re older just ’cause you’re around me.”
“You’re only a year older.”
“But that year makes a difference.” She fell onto the cushions and then rolled onto the floor. She stood with a small pop. “I’m a teenager, now. I’m different.”
She poked his chest. He rocked backward. When he settled, her finger pressed on the hard bone in the center of his chest. He swatted the hand, but she replaced it with her other hand. He rolled his eyes. He shifted his weight backward. She kept her hand suspended for a second before crossing her arms.
“You’re not different,” he said.
“Yes I am.”
“Then prove it.”
Her arms loosened. She raised her thumb to her lips and chewed on the nail. Hips swayed side to side. Shoulders dipped from side to side. She gasped. Her thumb left her mouth. Her eyes narrowed. She aimed a finger at Jimmy.
“I’m a teenager, now,” she said, and Jimmy shrugged. “And I can do things that teenagers do. I can show you, but you probably won’t be good at them since, y’know, you’re still a kid.”
Andrea snapped her hand and caught Jimmy’s. She skipped to the stairs, pulling him along. She took the steps two at a time. He watched his feet as he ascended, one at a time. After he reached the second floor, she grabbed his hand again and led him to a door which led to her room.
He stopped in the doorframe while she skipped to the middle of the room. He focused on her, standing sideways with her hands on her hips. He smelled perfume. She pointed at the door. He cocked his head. She rolled her eyes and walked past him. He stepped out of the way and noticed the perfume on her. She closed the door. He saw her hand linger on the knob, fingers poised on the lock.
“We can’t get caught,” Andrea said. “That’s another difference. Kid’s do kid things, but teenagers aren’t supposed to do teenager things.”
Keeping her back to Jimmy, she straightened her shoulders. She swiped her fingernails through her hair which she then gathered into a bundle that she lay over her shoulder. Her other hand dropped from the doorknob. He watched the hand fall and swing. He raised his eyes from her hand, to her elbow, to her shoulders, to the back collar of her shirt, to the back of her head, where a spot of scalp showed. She turned her head, revealing the corner of her eye.
“Have you kissed anybody?” she said.
“Of course.” Jimmy scoffed and looked away from her.
“I don’t mean, like, your mom. I mean a real kiss.” A moment passed. She face him. “See, you’re still a kid.”
Still looking away from her, he started to speak. The sound formed in his open mouth. Then, she rushed him. Her hands landed on his cheeks. Her lips collided with his. She took a step forward. He took two backward. His cheeks slid from under her fingertips. She looked at him without an expression.
“That’s what I mean,” she said. “And that’s not even the realest kiss. There are other kisses which are more real.”
He touched his lips. The skin stuck, but the adhesion faded. She moved closer. She eased his hand from his lips to his side. A second later, he jerked his hand from hers. She chuckled. She shook her head. She dropped hands onto his shoulders. He stumbled. As she moved closer, her arms encircled him. They overlapped on his back. She laughed. She swayed, and then he swayed with her. Beat by beat, their movements slowed. When they stood flatfooted, one of her hands traveled to the back of his neck. He relaxed his arms. He touched her back. She laughed once, her lips next to his ear.
“Maybe after this,” she said, “I’ll call you Jim.”
He gulped. He closed his eyes. The pressure on his chest lessened. He peeked. She, eyes closed, held her head to the side. He tilted his head the other way. Their faces drew together. He closed his eyes. He held his breath.
When they finished, their mouths separated. Andrea still held onto Jimmy’s neck, and he still held onto her back. They looked at each other. She blushed. He bowed his head and looked at their feet, less than an inch apart, pointing at each other.
“That was good practice,” she said. “Wanna try again?”
“Sure.” He voice cracked. He cleared his throat. He used a lower tone. “Sure.” They repeated the same actions.
Jimmy’s mom parked the car in the driveway, outside the garage. She exited. He groaned, opened the car door, and dropped heels on the pavement. He trudged to his mom’s side, and they walked to the backdoor. His mom opened the door and called. Jimmy’s aunt answered. He and his mom entered via laundry room. Jimmy lagged a step behind his mom as they continue to the kitchen. Jimmy’s aunt left her seat at the table and lifted her arms. The sisters hugged. Jimmy’s mom sat while his aunt went to the cupboard. She grabbed two mugs.
Footsteps sounded behind Jimmy. He pivoted and saw Andrea hop into the room. Beside him, she stretched and straightened her back, growing half an inch. Jimmy slouched. She pushed his shoulder with a playful fist. He groaned and inched to the side.
“It’s been a while, Jimmy,” Andrea said.
Jimmy gave his mom a look. She shook her head then shrugged. Jimmy’s aunt returned to the table with two mugs of coffee. After giving one mug to her sister, she returned to her chair. The two conversed in a tone one grade above a whisper. Andrea maneuvered in front of Jimmy.
“It really has been a while,” she said. “What’s new with you?”
Jimmy shrugged. Andrea chuckled. She skipped to the refrigerator, rifled through its contents. Jimmy shifted his weight. He looked at the grid pattern that the black lines of grout made between white tiles. His mom and aunt mumbled. When his mom gasped, his aunt laughed. Andrea danced around the kitchen, opening and closing doors and drawers.
“Mom,” she said, stretching the syllable, “there’s nothing to eat. There’s nothing to snack on.” She skipped to her mother’s chair and shook the back of it. Stopping, she drifted backward a few steps. She pouted.
“Why don’t the two of you,” Jimmy’s aunt said, “leave us alone and find something to do. Go watch TV or something. Just give us some privacy.”
Andrea smiled. She skipped to Jimmy and directed him, with a hand on each of his shoulders, toward the other room.
Hands in his pockets, twisting and untwisting his foot, Jimmy watched his mother search the counter drawers. She pushed aside pens, letters, and pads of off-brand sticky notes. She closed the drawer and moved to a ceramic bowl full of rubber bands and change. She hummed. She scratched her head. She slid the purse of her shoulders, dropped it on the counter, and checked the pockets.
“Why do I have to go?” Jimmy said.
“Because I like to talk with my sister,” his mom said. “Because I feel like I deserve these weekly breaks. Because I can’t leave you home alone.” She found the keys, jiggling them in the air.
“But Andrea will be there.”
“So? You two used to get along.”
“She still calls me Jimmy.” He slouched. He looked at the grid pattern the beige grout made between beige tiles. “My name’s Jim. It’s been Jim for a year.”
His mother bent and put a hand on his shoulder. The keys poke through his shirt.
“You’ll just have to deal with it, dear,” his mom said. She smiled, tilted her head. “Jim.” She turned him around and guided him through the backdoor. Outside, a dark but still blue sky appeared between two, large, gray clouds.
Harold Bloom, Harvard professor, literary revisionist, synergizes Freud, Gnosticism, and Cabalism in the service of poetic exegesis with respect to the poem, "Song of Myself" (hereinafter "song") by the American pantheist poet, Walt Whitman.
Although Whitman had a low opinion of the Greek classics ("those overpaid accounts") and presumably was less than enamored of the Greek language, Bloom embraces it to elucidate Whitman's song in the form of the following classification:
Sections 1-6 Clinamen, irony of presence and absence
7-27 Tissera, synecdoche of part for whole
28-30 Kenosis, metonymy of emptying out
31-38 Daemonization, hyperbole of high and low
39-49 Akesis, metaphor of inside vs. outside
(The suspicion grows that the inside or outside formulation of this category and the high and low of the immediately preceding may have epiphanized during viewing of a carefully pitched Gnostic baseball game. Whitman, himself, was a devotee of the game.)
50-52 Apophrades, metalepsis reversing early and late
Let us know turn to an application of Bloom's categories – and here I wish to emphasize that the applications are solely my own – my limited Greek having prevented me from reading his book and comprehending his applications. But if Bloom can appropriate from Freud, from Valentinus, and from Moses of Leon, I can appropriate from him. Such emulation, likewise, is entirely complimentary.
Section 2 of song contains the line
"Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?"
This jolted me so much that I jumped clear out of Clinamen and found myself wallowing in Tissera which, you will recall, is synecdoche of part for whole.
Section 20 contains the line
"Who goes there? Hankering, gross, mystical, nude"
Clearly synecdoche for, yes, Whitman himself. As confirmed by a later line in the same section:
"I wear my hat as I please indoors or out"
Although this sounds suspiciously like Akesis (inside vs. outside), it may very well be synecdoche for "I wear my pants, my shirt, etc., indoors or out." Why? Because in being clothed Whitman avoids becoming the hankering, gross, mystical, nude of the previously quoted line.
Section 24 contains the line
"Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son"
"Of Manhattan" is clearly synecdoche for "the Bronx," "Brooklyn," "Queens," and "Staten Island, as well, and the whole ("New York") synecdoche for the kosmos itself (and note the Greek k spelling, antedating Bloom).
This section also contains
"Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!"
Synecdoche for "Unscrew the whole damn house!"
Kenosis, metonymy of emptying out, seems to be confirmed by Whitman's line in section 28: "Straining the udder of my heart for its withheld drip."
With regard to Daemonization, hyperbole of high and low, we have in section 31 an example of low hyperbole
"In vain the ocean sitting in hollows and the great monsters lying low" Section 33 contains an example of high hyperbole:
"I skirt Sierras, my palms cover continents" and also "Speeding through space, speeding through heaven and the stars." Bloom is definitely onto something here.
Akesis, metaphor of inside vs. outside is confirmed by section 40
"Flaunt of the sunshine I need not your bask – lie over!"
Definitely an outside metaphor (with syntax perhaps borrowed from the Yiddish), probably for "beach" where Whitman liked to bask between stanzas.
"Every room of the house do I fill with an arm'd force"
An inside metaphor.
So far Bloom is vindicated. But then we come to section 41
"I heard what was said of the universe"
A puzzler, this. The universe is outside metaphor, but where did Whitman hear it, sitting on a tree stump (outdoors) or inside his lean-to (indoors). The next line only deepens the mystery
"Heard it and heard it of several thousand years"
I cannot accept this literally and suspect we are back in Daemonization in the person of a particularly high hyperbole unless it is Tisseran synecdoche for an even larger epoch. One is sorely tempted to throw up one's hands and move on to Apophrades, which I did.
Apophrades, you will remember, is reversing early and late.
"Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself"
The first line obviously comes in time before the second so that here there would seem to be no reversal. If the lines had read
"Very well then I contradict myself.
Do I contradict myself"
I would subscribe to Bloom's formulation. Alas, I cannot. The same difficulty arises with respect to the line
"I depart in air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun"
I contend Whitman departed before he shook, and not the reverse.
Howie Good is the author most recently of Stick Figure Opera: 99 100-word Prose Poems from Cajun Mutt Press. He co-edits the online journals Unbroken and UnLost.
Week At a Glance
Sunday stitches eyelids shut. Monday gesticulates with the soggy, chewed-up
end of a cigar. Tuesday loses a crap job
and never finds another near as good.
Wednesday hangs itself in the shower.
Thursday, when asked, can’t explain it.
Friday tosses and turns under glow-in-the
dark ceiling stars. Saturday tries to get
in the door without the dogs going crazy.
”How do you spell that?”
”Like God, but with two o’s.”
I could have been an artist,
drawn stick figures on toilet paper
you never know.
In the winter turn they say we can hear the mouth of god
I like to think it’s the earth struggling to breath
the soil a sleeping quarry –
pink worms the strands of our hair;
Breath can be found locked up in paint tins
rusting with the death-masks
made from reeds of dew and silver;
the gatekeeper broke up all the keys –
we could only slip through the fine holes
opened up by saint and sinner;
Hinges to the gate severed by too much light
allowing entrance only to those whose bones are hidden -
finding skulls glowing like Arthurian legend’s
above a burning pub fire somewhere in Cornwall;
Under walnut trees – our bones taken
handed out among enemy and stranger;
We never boarded a ship of fools
designed the sails and anchor
filled her with cheap man- made oils -
became the green waves that circled Atlantis.
Resistance is Not a Surname Given
Remembrance is not just a parade
the knot we carry in our stomachs –
it’s the skin we once touched
laughter that carried a memory;
a face always remembered
first tears in dark bedrooms.
Resistance is not a surname given -
in buildings like long lungs
the colour of charcoaled chews;
where a mother held her child
made a bird from bone and soil
placed it into her top pocket;
when the angel guilds her soul
she may fly to the highest gates
watch the blue earth fade below her feet.
ABOUT MATT DUGGAN
Matt was born in Bristol 1971 and now lives in Newport, Wales with his partner Kelly, his poems have appeared in many journals such as The Potomac Review, Foxtrot Uniform, Dodging the Rain, Here Comes Everyone, Osiris Poetry Journal, The Blue Nib, The Poetry Village, The Journal, The Dawntreader, The High Window, The Ghost City Review, L’ Ephemere Review, Ink, Sweat, and Tears, Confluence, Marble Poetry Magazine, Polarity, Lakeview International Literary Journal, Matt won the Erbacce Prize for Poetry in 2015 with his first full collection of poems Dystopia 38.10 and became one of five core members at Erbacce-Press in 2017 also In 2017 Matt won the Into the Void Poetry Prize with his poem Elegy for Magdalene and has read his work across the east – coast of the U.S.A. with readings at the prestigious Cambridge Public Library Poetry Series in Boston, a guest poet appearance at The Parkside Lounge and Sip This in New York City, and he read at his first U.S. book launch in Philadelphia and has two chapbooks available One Million Tiny Cuts (Clare Song Birds Publishing House) and A Season in Another World (Thirty West Publishing House) Matt was one of the winners of the Naji Naaman Literary Honours Prize (2019) and has read his work across the world including The Poetry on the Lake Festival in Orta, Italy, at the Poetry Café in London, A Casa dos Poetas in Portugal, New York, Boston, Paxos in Greece, Cheltenham Poetry Festival, and at various venues across the U.K. His second full collection Woodworm was published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in 2019. In 2020 Matt has a new collection of twenty-Five new poems titled “ The River Flows West When the Dead Are Sleeping” (Maytree Press). And is working on his third full collection “ The Alternative Hand-Book to Love & Disobedience”.
Taylor Pannell is an artist, designer, storyteller, and baker. She is the author of several collections including My Bible, Notes to Self, and The Traveller. Her work ignites the imagination, captures emotion, delivers its truths, and dares to ask out loud the questions we're all thinking. Paired with her own brilliant art, her writing will return to you that sense of wonder you thought you lost.
Prep time: 17 min
Time: 10:23 am
Pull off the thin sheet still sweating clammy trap stand
in front of the fan until I pass out get up again begin
frying breakfast. If its august and not a wednesday
almost think about you press my phone cut
an apple instead about the stiff dough in the refrig-
erator which was put there yesterday.
Set temperature 3-twenty-five fahrenheit regret
quickly on a cookie sheet put all six. Bake until it catches
in that nose plasticy melting tucked in smoke the
bread is in a boxed hell. Take extinguisher stuff
that furnace with white dont stay to watch it die.
Let cool out open panes pacing across
sidewalks while they interrupt showers piling
outside its a red and white spectacle. Try blocking
those thoughts headaches and press my temples tell
detective while texting you forgot but I couldnt the truck
backs away. Cut past my door a couple blocks its still too
hot get ice cream not like you cared thats my favorite we
ate it last week.
Note if you regret not telling that stayed to eat catch into sweating
sticky cream smoke you watched judged until today. Try I am not
an idiot I dont forget.