Monday, November 1, 2010


Hey, this is home. I think this is home, I wonder and heave as I stare at a strange shape that seems to breathe with dark smoke, pulsing, expanding and contracting. Eyes like windows. Doors that open with each inhalation. Home. A twisty multicolored spiral ending in pools of black water. I can see the nostrils, flaring. This beast. A wide mouth with wooden doors and thin glass panes. A painting in the living room that looks at me with wide questioning eyes. I stare back, unblinking, who are those pale women in straw hats? Their skin smells of roses and oxygen-filled water.

Home. At least that’s what I tell myself. If this is not home, then I'm lost. I’m an orphan in a cold world that smells of dark gray and burning charcoal. Was there another? Another place that could have burned with memory and scandal? I can’t remember where home used to be, how it spun or smelled, if there really was one that had a different sort of beast in it with scaly flesh and a cold double tongue to wipe me clean. Home. A place to hang my feathered hat, the resting place for my heart, waiting, beating for a cavernous chest in a messy underwear drawer...

I have plenty of hearts. Some rapid, some barely a flicker on the tin drum. If this is that place, the place of the beast, the place with my waiting heart, well, then this is home. Isn’t it? I look for my hat, that pale gray wool one my grandpa gave me. I grope the hooks on the wall, searching, finding only peeling wallpaper. Forget the hat, I might not have a head.

In fact, I’m pretty sure I had to loose my head to get here. And what about my heart? Is that a muscle with two important valves that pumps blood through a corporeal body, or is it something that looks like a leaf plucked from a clover, used to signify the presence of certain emotions usually linked to reproductive drive and familial relations? I don't want to rule out the possibility of having one, but as far as I can tell, I may have lost my heart as well.

I thought I had dozens, but I grip my chest and find just a cold hole. My fingers are sticky and I see dark footprints leading towards the basement. What part of me sees with no eyes? Don’t loose your head, don’t loose heart, or sometimes, take heart or use your head. These old axioms offer their council, written down on the back of a napkin like driving directions obtained at a Denny’s from an old trucker sitting at the bar over his Grand Slam and black coffee.

All I am sure of is that it got hold of one of us. And all I can say is “it” because I don’t have any other words to use for what “it” is. How can I think with no head? Even if I had a head, would the words be meaningful or hollow without the heart guiding them gently like a Sherpa swathed in wool? Empty I say. You could drop a coin through their vowels and never hear it hit bottom, just wait for it to come out the other end and put out a Chinese man’s eye. (Lucky fellow has a head.)

You can give me a good scrubbing, but I'll still need that head. Strip the flesh right off my bones with one of those metal wire brushes used for scrubbing oil stains off driveways, I’ll go on, but the head...I’ll always long for, always lament the loss of the head. Like the scarecrow, I’ll get torn apart by flying monkeys for the chance to think deep thoughts.

Still, who was worse off, him or the tin man? Ah, if I only had a heart! I’d be tender, I’d be gentle and awful sentimental regarding love and art... But somehow, I adapt to the loss. How often it is like that. We think that we’ll simply die if it comes to this or that, then this or that comes and we go on, altered but still in motion.

For example here I am, wherever here is, (It must not be home, I’ve searched the underwear drawer and under the bed, but still no heart...) My fingers do the seeing, my toes the thinking. They stamp out my thoughts like an ecstatic mime desperate for an audience. The crowd claps and it seems the theater seats are almost full and I am encouraged to go on, flopping like a fish when my legs go numb and the toes are mute.

There’s my grandfather in the front row with his crooked banana of a nose, clapping appreciatively. Naturally he is biased, and at this point he is the only one enjoying the show. The hecklers start booing and howling, “Off the stage!,” which is bad enough, but to my embarrassment my grandfather tries to defend me, “Hey, you should do so good, with no head and no heart!” He is still yelling at the crowd when the proprietor hooks me with the curved cane and I convulse spasmodically, looking more than ever like a speared salmon. He drags me off stage and leaves me in the gloom behind the curtain, tired out from my elephantine efforts.

This place, with the smell of spilled soda pop turning acrid like vinegar and peanut shells and stale popcorn, is this home? It seems plausible enough as I have been here for a very long time listening to the mice scurrying over the rumpled heap that I generally regard as “me.” There may be a hat here somewhere, on the prop table perhaps, and hearts were broken over there, just beyond my reach under the bright lights. Maybe not real hearts, but pretend hearts, which must hurt as much as the authentic versions because actors' tears have stained the wooden planks of the stage leaving it splotchy and discolored. When you have it, you have to work it to keep it, and if you haven’t got it you pretend to work it until you have it. Very simple. But now it seems that I’m being pushed out with the rubbish by a custodian wielding a shop broom, and no doubt this bright revelation will be lost.

I just got to know the world of the damned. It’s colored like a rainbow and the red moves with flames. We drank rank tea with scaly men, men with rubber skin and yellow eyes. Men with white long beards and penises that dangle to their knees. They gave us tiny cucumber sandwiches on embroidered napkins. They were gentlemen until we started to sway. Then the trouble began. The sweating. Didn’t I mention that I get in trouble? Haven’t I been in trouble before? This was no worse.

Getting on in the place that night, with those scaly men, getting up on the shiny grand piano. And I, the singer for eternity. They sang along, crying, their tears pouring into their empty floral tea cups. They gathered what fell, then drank it once more, sharing their cups among themselves. Sipping ceremonially, just tiny sips. Salty. A gift from the body in this place of electric rainbows and flaming rivers. Tears that sprouted a heart which grew full and round and vibrant, booming with a resounding thump like the cry of a war drum. Music crawling its way up a multicolored twisting spiral ending in pools of black water. My men, swaying and sweating, a dozen sweet hearts restored to their abode in my chest, and if they don’t have me, then they are orphans in a cold world.

Wait. The bare breasted women in straw hats have come to roost like a flock of swallows under my eves, protected by my sheltering consciousness. They have all come home to hang their hats in my head. What place of rest do I need? What sanctuary that is not in me? A wide mouth with wooden doors and thin glass windows. Geraniums in terracotta planters. I deal with the cold. I am the beast, so that my people can hang their hats and warm their hearts around my fire. It’s not much, a small barony in an abyss, but hey, it’s home.

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