the Remembered Saints:
My Life & Subsequent Death
there we were, the five of us, stumbling drunk and shuffling
single-file down the road, pink-lit by those horrid street
lamps, with Candy Tabitha Lewis, bearer of the Hard-Candy
Nipples, leading us all through the corridor of pink-tinged
darkness like half-hearted mendicants.
An odd night out, you'll say, early
spring morning in a nice suburban neighborhood and nothing
amiss and suddenly here they come like lost marauders—or
was it mendicants? Christ. You'll have to read that last
bit back—but no, let's keep moving or we'll never
get through—so of course, loping after Candy Tabitha's
wagging tail like a horny dog comes the dreadful, soul-denying
Woody Arbunkle—he who had secretly named CT's nipples
such after dinner, when the desire for a hard-candy mint
had somehow entwined itself with his effort to peek—no,
stare—down Candy Tabitha's top. At some distance
back, then, stumbled the Onions, Charlie and Cindy, bickering.
Myself, as always, in the rear, studying asses, though
slightly cranky from red wine. Red is so bad for the head.
Cindy (in a spitting whisper): Where
is this godforsaken place?
Charlie: Shut up.
Candy turning, Onions waving.
Ha ha, Cindy calls out. Lead on, dear
girl, lead on.
Granted, that last bit's not Cindy's,
it's mine, but I was drunk, and who am I, a man now dead,
to remember speeches among drunks?
on the fairway or some such, two hills coming together
and the five of us perched in the cleavage like sea birds
wandering over beached whales. Staring up, of course,
staring up and all of us wondering why, naming constellations
never noticed before, a man buggering his dog's bitch,
a woman beating the man later, next frame over. Constellation
cartoons. Sitting, I'm goosed by a ball; I toss it over
my shoulder and settle in.
Candy Tabitha is the first to spot one,
which surprises us all because for an hour we've spun
looking without finding, losing north and then finding
it and arguing tonelessly over how high twenty degrees
would take the eye over the horizon, and then, when we've
flipped the universe over our heads like a pancake, Candy
Tabitha is shrieking and pointing at nothing.
Where, where, where? we all say, children
Candy Tabitha: There, pointing.
Onion (to wife): See. Told you so. Right
where I said from the beginning.
Woody, over the hill, near where a nipple
might rest: So what. Shooting star. Big fucking deal.
call out to him, all but Candy Tabitha, who is supine
Please, we say, reconciling, you'll
Why? A chunk of cinder catching fire?
What's that? I've farted worse, he says.
Spurned by love.
We settle back, eyes returned to the
heavens, horny bastard atheist forgotten. If there's anyone
more likely to have poisoned me, let me know.
I'm so likable. At dinner, say, when he first arrived,
who was it that slipped Benny Goodman into the Sony? Your
humble. And who was it turned it up for the bastard Onion
had said loved jazz? Again: your humble.
More Than You Know, Arbunkle had said.
Adding, as a tossed-off afterthought: 1939. Helen Ward.
Snapping his fingers at me like he'd won a contest.
Blisterkunst, I'd said back (smiling;
extending the hand). English Department. Milton.
Not even a nod. Over my shoulder, Candy
Tabitha had appeared from the Corbusier-crazed kitchen,
and Benny and his magic clarinet were forgotten.
to complain but a tepid curry chicken with wilted wild
rice? And cheap red wine? And afterwards a mass of cheesecake
and this nonsense of falling stars? If it hadn't been
for Candy Tabitha, with her unexpected enthusiasm for
stargazing, we'd all have been snugly tucked and dreaming
dyspeptic. But instead it's this pair of heaving breasts
beneath us and a handful of shiny dots over our heads.
Yet magic: the Onions lie closer now,
hands touching. Candy Tabitha and the atheist have together
slid over the far breast.
Onion ( drunk from a stashed flask):
I swing my arm over the hill.
Tell them careful, he says. Guards.
No fear, I say. Father's a member in
He: Your father's been dead fifty years
if a day.
Member for eternity, I say, as a brilliant
ball of white blips out of the air above me and begins
an accelerating arc toward my forehead.
(rising): My God.
Me (lifting the golf ball): Blurbop.
Rubbing the knot, reptile-minded.
Laughter over the hill. Then the atheist
monster appearing, as from a burning lake.
He: Seeing stars, Blisterkunst?
you agree: the man who killed me, the man who sent me
questing into a cornfield, who flew a parachuted pill
via model plane over my head and dropped me dead next
to its note (eat me), surely this man is Arbunkle
and no other?
Yet I must admit: from this lofty if
featureless height, gazing down Zeus-like on my modern,
murderous Ganymede, I'm now strangely sudden-smit with
the boy's vigorous youth and, shall we say...horny spunk?
Really, he reminds me of Gerrod that time in Greece, when
he stripped naked and danced with the Greek boys with
the beach fire rippling copper over his bare chest.
But of course that's another story and
even the thought of that starstruck knot has made me too
upset to go on.
Meditation, Then Death
you ever found occasion to cross a field of young corn?
Green stalks head-high, golden kernels as hard still in
this early season as Candy Tabitha's reputed nipples?
It depresses one. There is about the place such a sense
of youth, of raw unthinking hope, that it chills one's
very soul. One feels with each step that one might part
stalks to find Shropshire lads lying flat against the
corn, pressing chest to chest. Lads who, upon discovery,
will not reach up the inviting hand but rather cover themselves
and flee. It is then, at that awful moment, that one sees
oneself truly, as others do.
I had entered this youthful, forbidding
field hopeful, it is true, with each step expecting not
love but knowledge, yet before I had crossed the first
leg it was the Yawning Chasm that I faced, unknowing.
My yellow suit doing nothing to repulse the sun that conspired
against me, an old man doing nothing so wrong, after all,
that he deserved death.
It was in the field's center, after
I had lost all thought of lads in love, that I heard the
plane: a droning, prehistoric bug. Spinning in the field,
compass points lost, time and history as never, as none.
Confusion, of course, then that bubbling chuckle one hears
in the movies when the treasure is finally found. For
it was Müller's plane, you see, a perfectly replicated
Liberator, tiny and bug-voiced, yes, but his nonetheless.
Dipping its wings at me, circling, dragging with it time
and history and my renewed expectation of unspoken knowledge.
Then like a dream the parachute slips
from its fuselage; plummets then catches itself in its
unexpected apron and floats hither and thither over the
field while I madly hop, heedless, headless: until together
we meet the two of us; hands outstretched, cupping my
A simple strip of white paper containing
two monosyllabic words and one tiny white pill.
Giggling, triumphant, immortality at
hand: I slip the pill into my eager wet mouth, feel it
fizz malevolently and then, with one throat-twisting gulp:
I swallow. Moments later, as the corn behind me parts
and a sneering shadow emerges, I fall to my knees, crying,
forward into a sun-splashed room, to the committee meeting
concerning my replacement. Candy Tabitha in cut-offs of
course, for it is late July and her legs glow caramel
with summer sun; handing out prospectives' cirriculae
vitae. Onion Charlie near the door, transfixed by Candy
Tabitha (slipping now into a chair, her legs spread just
enough to make the slender top muscles of her thighs flex
and pant rave pant rave protrude). Onion Cindy at the
chairman's side, wearing a new dress with a star-patterned
collar and secretly desiring a private session with our
slender, pedantic chairman, but for reasons yet to be
discussed, worried about the outcome.
Chairman Mao, I used to call him. Proclivity
for Nehru collars and laceless shoes you might see on
—We are here, of course, to replace
our fallen comrade Blisterkunst, he intones. Slipping
a paper clip over his CV stack, glancing around the table
Collective sigh; uncomfortable shuffling
from the formalists' side.
—A fallen brother, he adds, struck
down in his critical prime.
Lying, of course, lying and for his
benefit, not mine. Except for my secret scribblings on
poor dead Müller, I've ridden wordlessly through
life on impregnable tenure.
More shuffling while each of the nearsighted
buffoons—the Marxists, the semioticians, the feminists,
the gasping, hoary remnants of the formalists—wishes
secretly for another of their own.
I suggest we look only among gender
studies, one of them suggests.
Hoary Head of Formalists: Never.
—And why not?
The Hoary Head guffaws, exasperated.
Looks to fogy comrades for support but finds them jaded,
unwilling to fight.
Twist of the doorknob, heads turn; enter
Second Suspect, dressed in black and limping. Yes limping.
Late and limping because of a twisted ankle that won't
mend, an ankle twisted on that afternoon when I died ignominiously
among the corn stalks. (And where were you, Second Suspect,
covetous of poor dead B's chair, where were you when he
wept his last? Don't write off young lad Arbunkle yet,
I've been thinking just now.)
Chairman Mao: We're replacing Reginald,
dear boy, get your CVs from Candy Tabitha and please join.
Second Suspect: Oh lord not him again.
Let the dead remain so.
Limp limp, hand out, head nod, limp
Mao: Quite. Fallen comrade, etc. Discussion,
Ensuing battle, outcome uncertain but
the Hoary Head of Formalists staging a remarkable underdog
fight, like an asthmatic terrier, wheezy but spunky. Under
the table, Cindy's leg brushes against Mao's slender ankle;
Mao distracted, unnoticing; again, brush brush, insistent;
Mao turning, neck hair scraping Nehru: scowl. And then—gasp!—Mao
thrashes out, catches Cindy on the shin with a tip of
Mr. Lee. Cindy stiffens, then faces resolutely forward.
The meeting ends; nothing resolved,
though it never is. CVs under wing, they flee, fresh air
now and talk of the dead over, thank God, we never liked
him much anyway.
Onion Cindy to Onion Charlie, at the
door in a terse whisper: I want a baby.
suspect!?! What in God's name happened to the first?!?
Patience, dear reader, patience and sleep easily: those
pigs in blue have already arrested that poor Arbunkle
lad, tackled and dragged him from that horrid Pizza Hut
Delivery on the North Side, where he, no journalist slots
in sight, has been forced to make his way through this
My lawyer! poor Arbunkle cries, handcuffed and kicking
over a vat of the Thin 'n' Crispy sauce.
Cops unmoved, pudgy in polyester. Pizza
foremost in their proletarian pig minds as the smell of
garlic and oregano wafts up heavenly from the floor.
Cop #1 (to acned worker): I'd get a
mop for that, son. And I'll take a large pepperoni with
extra cheese to go.
Cop #2 (leading our hero, now sobbing
quietly, a broken dog): Make mine jalepeño.
Cop #1: Jalepeño?
—Why, why? from poor Arbunkle.
Cop #2: Because I've got a cold and
the spices clear my nose.
Arb.: No, I mean...oh never mind.
in this wretched darkness I call my high seat, here, finding
in death a quenchless, unexpected love for you, dear boy,
I can do nothing to help. Freeing you now would be like
shutting off the sun: it simply can't be done, I'm afraid.
That's what death is like, among other things. Epiphenomenalism,
the philosophers call it, only here the world at large
is my eternally out-of-reach body, and all that's left
of me is this feeble old-man's mind.
Yes, dear reader, dead but smitten.
who is this Second Suspect?
Dead Man's Response: He who wears the
black gloves; he, perhaps, who kills?
But it's facts you want, isn't it? A
fellow Milton scholar, then, younger and more ambitious
than I. Frederick Huston Eager shall we call him? For
his real name is too cheap for this, my final tale.
EAGER!?!? Oh please.
Very well then. Dispense with mere mortal
monikers forthright and call the devil by his proper.
The Dark One, I shall call him. For
such he is.
In the meantime, while you and I quibble
thus over names, sadly fallen to this, yes, dear Arbunkle
lies forsaken in a cell.
perhaps this is all a lie. Perhaps I, not dead and gone,
sit merrily at my desk, sherry at hand, red robe wrapped
snug around my freshly powdered neck. Having one over
you then, sip scribble sip, ha ha, what ho, I say: they
are fooled, what? rather, etc.
But I do not lie, nor shall I: dead
I am; in joy take that. Stuck in this ageless, lightless
box with no sustenance but these words and their memory
of lit worlds.
Yes, I, like Arbunkle, the sweet prince,
in prison lie.
Arbunkle (after three grueling hours
with Detective Wayne Duty—he who, because of his
seniority and his fame for having cracked the Ferris Wheel
Murder case, has been assigned the task of finding the
bastard who put your humble in this horrid black hole):
Onion? Onion? Is that—is that you, Onion?
Onion (at arm's length, brushing off
Arbunkle's efforts to hug): Of course it's me. You owe
me a thousand bucks and don't tell Cindy. And by the way,
you're a free man.
For the moment, says Onion.
Thank God, says Arbunkle (dropping to
his knees). Oh thank God. I'm a changed man, Onion, changed.
Onion: Innocent. Innocent, not changed,
you idiot. Talk like that around here and they'll hand
you a bible and throw out the key.
Arbunkle (rising, dusting his knees):
Right. Of course. I didn't kill that faggot, you know
Onion (handing the guard a bond receipt):
upper lip, Blister, stiff upper. Perhaps if I'd remained
topside, walking among the lit, I might have persuaded
dear Ar to try the world my way; taught him to enjoy the
backwards glance. But no more of this talk of faggots,
it goes through the bones like dull knives. Imagine rather
the two of us as Shropshires, chest to chest: imagine
that it is we two who lie discovered in the field, and
that it's the dreaded Dark One, not I, that crosses the
field to his death. Much joy in that scene, yes, almost
as much as if I were merely lifting the sherry, pausing
the pen for brief meditations between these sentences.
Such pleasant thoughts.
Only after the road has ended do the
Frost thoughts come; the roads not taken and so on. One
discovers, from the final hill, that there were so many.
is, of course, the matter of the shirt, that plain white
shirt tucked beneath pizza polyester and adorned with
what the cops gloatingly knew meant guilt and the rope:
eat me. Poor Arbunkle, staring down uncomprehending
at his Shropshire chest, while the cops wonder why a white
rabbit should spew such porno filth.
Lord: Free At Last
shall not linger long in this room, where the shades are
drawn and the Onions grunt with such unappealing effort.
Merely note in passing: afterwards, while Charlie washes
himself obsessively, the Cindy creature (so repulsive
now without her clothes; cover your eyes, lest ye see
nay more) lies with a pillow beneath her, legs lifted,
the Charlie spunk drip-ooze-sliding into her wellspring
of life and finding itself alone and eggless.
above them our hero and his intended, she of the hard
etc.: two-back-beasting it with fervor and sweating, though
silent. Grunt wince grunt wince grunt wince ah. Rinse
and repeat. Afterwards our hero unrolls the two lime-green
Trojans to their ends and drapes them over the toilet
as if they were laundry in a cheap tenement. A child's
leggings, perhaps. And it is there that they are forgotten
until the next morning when Onion Cindy, sadly childless,
pierces the empty air with a savage bellow.
how came our beloved to dwell (and screw) under the Onion
A single line, in answer to a simple
Charlie (in prison parking lot): Where
will you go?
Hero (shrugging): Drive around, I suppose,
look for a place to shit.
A line that warmed Onion's shriveled
insides, re-animated friendships long dormant and somehow
even made him remember the smell of falling leaves in
want him gone! a phone-trapped voice now shrieks,
so loudly that Charlie, clutching the office phone to
his ear, hears only I won and thinks for a brief
moment that his wife has won the lottery. Problem solved,
enough of the greens to buy a brat if it comes to that,
no more of this insanity with the pillows and thermometers
and lifted legs like fallen bugs. I'm free, he shouts
to his soul, his withered cellmate, I'm free at last.
—Now, she adds. Do you understand?
She repeats herself, low enough to understand.
Drop a stone over the Grand Canyon and
it will fall no further or faster than did Onion Charlie's
heart at those words.
In a sigh: What has he done?
—It's that bitch-in-heat, defiled
our domicile, etc.
These things are so tiresome. Watching
them, I no longer miss life. But we've all been there,
haven't we? Fill in the blanks, then. I know I'm skipping
a lot in this transmission but it's all so boring, suddenly.
I'm beginning rather to like it here, and frankly I find
your interest tiresome.
To summarize: He-Onion home lickety-split,
forking Trojans into the toilet, arms-length, she-Onion
presiding while, unbeknownst and neglected, this month's
egg slides into place with a microscopic thud.
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