R. Nemo Hill lives in New York City, but travels frequently to Southeast Asia. He is the author of an alchemical novel, Pilgrim’s Feather (Quantuck Lane Press, 2002), a poem of horror, The Strange Music of Erich Zann (Hippocampus Press, 2004), and a satirical chapbook, Prolegomena To An Essay On Satire (Modern Metrics, 2006). His poetry and fiction have appeared in such venues as Poetry, Sulfur, Smartish Pace, Shit Creek Review, The Chimaera, and Big City Lit.
PERFECTLY WHITE SHOES
the night sounds its car harp
and whoa! dance starts its slop.
the whole statement lets her brass bowl of diagrams overflow
where the heart has previously spilled.
for here’s the man, little man, and smaller.
what, tell me, can clean the air, tell me,
so fast as here man’s breeze and tongue?
it’s clap, mother, clap!—help help the sky
to raise herself further up up upon those tired legs and columns.
wheeze! ho-o! cry! then fall again!
I never understood traffic or video tragedy
until an old woman in a L-A-U-N-D-R-O-M-A-T
whistled a nearby moisture. listen. listen.
our hot oiled air spinning
behind the little round windows of her eyes, her
and LaundroMan’s nude air shining bright breath drying death defying in and
out the lungs.
it’s captured! it’s captured!
closing the skull, however, that will be the problem . . .
arranging a string of colored lights or colorless lights
all along the perimeter which resumes
its uninterruptible flight
there at the bottom of the precipice
from which we’ll have fallen—
still wrapped in the deadly grinding of jaw ‘n bone.
you must think I am awful for wearing
THESE PERFECTLY WHITE SHOES.
like a virus,
an earful of bacteria
night, in a new incarnation,
unfurls across the earth and distance—
a dark and brooding plague of sweat
upon the worried brow
of an old, old clown.
and now a wind arises. aha! ah hear!
a wind to cool our dark and feverish clown
with a crust of water
and a half-devoured ring of greasy petals.
talk springs from the box in the garden—
the popped lid snaps and yawns,
the jaw breaks,
the wire spiral rings and tells, and fizzes.
inside the box
she is still bound carefully with sharpgold threads—
her body pale/her body circular.
there is no doubt that the tropical cloth will soon drop
and reveal all those flames
that rhyme and hunger for her ever-averted face.
that our breath
might witness such a final flake of fire’s sound,
and go on
what so convulses a landscape
as to ring it round and round
with these metal tubes and real glands?
blood, you say, is what animates you—.
and chalk is what arches your spine—.
now here is the man, small man, small man.
what, tell me, can step through a struggle
so fast as unman’s stolen steam?
mother in her perfectly bloodstained shoes?
or those wooden animals dressed as children?
box of closed eyes?
all of these perhaps?
all laughing, all moving, hands joined,
in a tiny joyous circle—
some still lingering scrap
of the ancient startled. plus
and never forgotten—the wind that made breath
and that breath now emulates
as if the lungs could ever be that idle,
that lost in the familiar.
I want to write and go about my business at the same time. I never sit down to write;
I stand up, holding the paper at arm’s length. Forgive me, I was joking: I always write
lying in bed with a box of bitter-sweet chocolate at my elbow—
(Kenneth Patchen—The Journal of Albion Moonlight)
One high white stone wall in the foreground
crowned with a single strand of rusty barbed wire.
Portions of the House of Highest Tension are visible nonetheless:
the large broken attic windows,
the north corner of the unevenly shingled roof of the porch,
and a small section of ruined tea-garden.
There is a broken trellis—. No roses—.
And looming up just beyond that absence:
one disproportionately large insect
poised on its slender hind legs,
preparing to speak at some length.
The surface of the lake remains undisturbed.
Fierce vegetation is in evidence right up to the shoreline
where it stops abruptly—
fearful of the stillness in the water.
One of our horses slowly drops to its knees
then falls completely over on its side.
Sunset threatens the children—
they run off through the darkening wood, nervously, laughing and quarreling
as the horse breathes its last few painful syllables on earth.
The children do not return
and shadow cloaks the pasture.
The moon is full, though we cannot see it.
The snow has been falling heavily all night.
Now, nearly morning,
all our familiar landmarks have been obliterated
—blanketed white and hidden from sight—
all except the large stone appliances Kenny constructed last summer
when the neighbors were ill,
when he had nothing else to do but care for them
and take long walks between experimental injections.
To my right, an orderly stack of papers.
To my left, the stomach and parts of the legs.
The goddamned telephone rings—
startled, poorly balanced twilight falls at last,
spilling the crucial ink
in which all false details fade to black.
Making its way slowly slowly across the cracked plaster of the last wall still standing
comes a small spider
dressed stylishly in bright vest
and very yellow boots—
and pulling a tiny wooden sled filled with the fruit of the damned,
each piece of which has been branded
with the mark of the stethoscope.
IN DEFENSE OF ALCOHOLISM
1. Green Dress
When everything is trembling, when everything has had a drink and is trembling with its own expectancy of itself. Everything—pots, pans, staircases, suitcases, scissors, and long leisurely lines of print—trembling. Then, and only then, do words rush forward to fail me.
An attempt will be made to remember the room as it was, exactly as it was. An attempt will be made to re-examine the embrace that flapped round the table like a bird with one wing. And finally—an attempt will be made at an analysis of our amazement upon discovering that each vessel is filled with wildly celebrating creatures, our amazement at what a great and strange place this must be, our amazement at the tremor that passes through the playing field as well as through the bodies of the individual players. Yes, our amazement will be given liquid form, and a woman in a not quite deep green dress will arise from her seat at the head of the table and propose a toast. Her plea will fade away unheeded. In the dim light the fabric of her dress is the color and consistency of a cabbage, and the bartender yearns for his adolescence.
I can imagine, if I wish, that the woman’s dress is made from a strange and exotic fruit speckled here and there with slight traces of mold. Endless days in endless sun gather beneath its thin skin. A long leisurely wait for someone who will not arrive forms a miniature whirlpool about its brittle stem. We all wear its leaves in our hair—they rustle as we turn our heads to glance at a passing stranger, and they roar in the wind that guards the street corners on which we wait to live.
Anything that can lift the pen from the page that swiftly and then slam it back down again that precisely is not a force as we know it but rather an infiltrator of forces that’s we’d hitherto seen no perilous passage through. This is because anyone at all may fall deeply in love with this woman—take her home, sit with her, comfort her, contribute to her decline. She is beating you wildly in the face with her open palms, and her voice startles you like an insect that has flown too close to your ear. The smell of gin, the color of the air in a dense silent forest, the measurement of assorted angles and arcs, the number of thoughts in half a bird’s flight—all these manufacture their own special redemptions.
I can imagine, if I wish—and I wish so much, so often—that the dress is wrapped around the evening like a great green bedsheet, or that it is perhaps not a cabbage-colored dress at all but rather the earth itself—tucked beneath the greasy chin of a quarter moon like a great grassy napkin upon which we are all dropped and scattered like scraps from some distant banquet. The guests were huge! Big tree-legged pacers of the universal borders! Big totem-bellied playmates of the too much! And left behind them? All we suspiciously animate crumbs! As well as the Formula—liquid, instructionless.
Even children and dogs can feel the tremor passing through the playing field. An insect wearing glasses does an elaborate dance of welcome, but no one arrives. While in the air the bird with one wing forgets to fly and falls precipitously to earth—splattering against the glaring green and gold neon of an all-night bar. Hours later, the concrete opens like a tin of sardines to retrieve its inanimate and asymmetrical messenger.
Inside, unsaid, the brain of a frog is passed from table to table. A proposed toast breaks the unbearable silence. The woman behind the green veil bolts upright from her seat and shouts aloud. Her exclamation goes unnoticed. Suddenly she realizes she is dressed as a zucchini.
The author bursts into tears. Zucchini is his least favorite vegetable.
2. The Room Exactly As It Was
A seventy year old man wearing a small boy’s short pants is busy adjusting the lighting in the room, screwing in a single ten watt bulb. Someone is playing a piano rag in the basement and the music floats up in tatters through an open trapdoor along with an endless relay of bottles passed from a man below to a man in a white apron above. More than a mile away, on the other side of the room (which is actually a long corridor) the window facing the street is fogged and cracked. From outside, a woman peers in momentarily. The seventy year old man in a small boy’s short pants gestures to her impatiently with one bony elbow—“Away! Away!”—as the single ten watt bulb escapes from his grasp and shatters on the floor. The woman in the window disappears. The man in the white apron is grumbling as he sweeps up such thin fragments of glass. The trap door slams shut. The piano player returns home to meet his wife for a rapid and tasteless dinner. He eats his empty omelet. He drinks his first glass of ice cold beer. He drinks his second glass of ice cold beer.
There is a piece of wood in the room which has been collecting fingerprints ever since it descended from a dense silent forest. There is a piece of metal in the room that has been repeatedly sprinkled with foam ever since it was consumed and then reborn in an unbearable heat. There is a woman in the room who has been disguised ever since she ran through a vegetable patch at midnight—a million nights ago, when she was still a child and her breasts were flat as checkerboards and her eyes were wide and wet as a pair of puddles.
There is someone else in the room. Someone whose brow is pale though hidden in shadow. Someone whose skin is clear though claimed by clouds. Someone whose voice is loudest when it is most difficult to hear.
All at once THERE IS A GREAT CROWD IN THE ROOM—lured by the Formula, chattering in near-sincerity. In the curved surface of the nearest bottle of deep green glass a man or a woman is suddenly or gradually reflected. And deep in that deep green glass he or she struggles in the interval of time that separates one lung from the other, that same interval of time which also insures that a man or a woman is unable to understand a fish or a frog swimming through or crawling along the edges of pre-historic liquids.
Under one of many tables a turtle is feeding contentedly upon a few neglected shards of the shell of the shattered light bulb. Winds fill the sky, or at least half of it—the remainder is reserved for the appetite of a piano player whose dinner knocks upon the unlatched door of an empty room.
Everyone feels they must eventually return to the meaning of one place. Everyone.
(Fat reddish men with polar bear ears, men who have been unfairly penalized with ill-fitting shoes, men with suitcases, men talking too loudly in post offices and theatre lobbies and bankrupt pet shops, girls with persistently dry hair, a man with a large mole, women whose lemons and limes lie outdoors in dark wooden bowls, women denied surgery, children with scraped knees and elbows, a lady with an aluminum cane, a man who burns his mouth on scalding-hot coffee, children watching mother undress, elderly scuba-divers, tourists, men and women in newspaper photographs, chickens and goats, customers in a seafood restaurant, spectators at a racetrack in the rain, you with the lipstick-stained handkerchief.)
What might once have been a round table is ringed and hemmed and haunted now by the ghosts of mythical warriors. Once round, it is now any shape at all, any shape necessary, any shape possible—amoebic. It is littered with cast-off armor. Polished insanely, it proves a merciless reflector of each and every flaw, each dark flip-side of each cripple’s redemptive dream.
When the crimson fat man with the little polar bear ears places his arm around a woman with persistently dry hair = a fly resting on the back of a chair is disturbed and rises into the air before settling back down again on the rim of a cup of scalding-hot coffee.
When a man suffering in his own shoes gives directions to a tourist, he makes an error = the suggested path is blocked by goats and chickens.
And so on. Until a man with a large mole the color of an unripe melon recognizes an ancient female scuba-diver from her photograph in a local newspaper = an invitation to a seafood dinner the following evening during which glasses and dark wooden bowls are raised in a toast.
All of the assembled diners drink to the completion of the embrace, that embrace which the room cannot possibly endure, and yet does endure, night after night after night. One feather at a time is painstakingly added, row upon row, layer upon layer upon layer. Thrust into the wind with one thousand sleepless nights just behind us, of course blood spirals! Of course it descends through the all-night whirlpool, green and gold neon glaring, sirens wailing, each rising sigh or sob beaded onto a string as unbreakable and immeasurable as that garland of breath, in and out and in and out and in and out, that adorns each single figure in the room.
Men with overstuffed suitcases would never dream of hopping up and down on one foot in the middle of a great crowd of tired yet still open eyes—. And yet they do! They do! They smash their way into a darkened department store late one night, and they steal dozens of tubes of bright red lipstick and huge ugly lampshades. And as the burglar alarm resounds through the night air, they are running down the street to the nearest bar—lampshades perched grotesquely atop their heads, battered suitcases trailing soiled linens, and great greasy lipstick hearts bleeding hastily across their stained starched shirt fronts. A bunch of real clowns!
Let the idea of man’s split brain be a grace note among the
If you believe in the invisible
then the man in the photograph never quite belongs to me.
Though I told him to wave,
though I told him what color his shirt would be on backwards—
he didn’t know, he didn’t care.
Though I cast the shadow on the wall behind him—
he didn’t suspect my crime, he didn’t object to my equipment.
I swear this to be the truth:
it did not occur to me to laugh at him.
Until later that night
when (if you believe in all of this)
I heard him rolling through changes anonymously,
entering other mirrors and mugshots.
And I awoke with insects bites all over my body—
and a stain too near my pillow.
I refuse to be embarrassed
if I am not quite the man in the photograph—waving
at what he thinks I think he sees
in his hurry to return to the relative obscurity
of no camera.
(New York City—2006)
New Queen Of Sorrow
Partial Records of the Moon’s Hidden Phases
Flicking the last remaining crumbs of fall-out from her nose and eyelids, she arose from the rubble of World War Seventeen and continued on her way to the aviary. There she found the birds, just as they had been before the holocaust—their brightly colored feathers, their vacant eyes and repetitive songs. They watched motionless from their artificial treetops as she stepped over the last few dismembered bodies that lay between her and the hot wet interior, and slid silently into that glass house in which she had become intelligent so many unfortunate years ago. “The birds, the birds,” she whispered softly to herself, “the birds with their bold tail feathers, the birds with their blue green quips and cackles, the birds with their symphonic beaks and crested brows and backs all spattered now with radioactive dust and grease...ohhh...” she moaned on and on with some degree of sexual monotony, dropping first to her knees, and then stretching out, spreading like melted wax on the concrete floor, “I am home...I am home at last...”
The sound of the weeping woman caught the attention of a small golden falcon perched on a limb all by itself, high above anything else in the aviary. It stretched its neck, as if attempting to swallow, ruffled its feathers, and raised its wings into the air. A moment later it was resting on the floor alongside the woman’s face, the click of its claws as they struck the concrete still echoing through the room, telegraphed back and forth between one pane of dirty blood-smeared glass and another.
The woman ceased weeping at last—and the falcon, after regarding her for several silent minutes, twisted its head round to gaze at the doorway through which she had entered. A dark orange rectangle, it hung in the air like a curtain of flame, suspended in space like the moon reduced to an angry equation. It was not until the woman sat up, startled by a memory of distant gunfire, that the falcon darted forward and pierced her left eye with the sharp tip of its curved beak. All throughout the glass house, parakeets began to sing insanely, drowning out the woman’s screams. The falcon devoured both her eyes, and then returned to its perch high above her.
For several months the woman lay there on the floor, blind, awaiting the arousal of the Queen within her. Small songbirds pushed bits of dead insects and crumbs of bread into her mouth to keep her alive until the Coronation.
The Eyeless Queen of the New Inner Limit tiptoed through Fern and Poppy and Aspirin Blossoms until she reached the arena. She raised her hand to her face to cover a sneeze, but it could not be contained—it shattered the glass walls around her. Head bowed, she wiped the snot from the palm of her hand against her royal purple thigh, and awaited the descent of the golden falcon, which was perched, moments later, atop her head. This was the signal for the games to begin.
“What I cannot see,” she whispered to her bloodthirsty crown, “you shall describe for me.”
At a single cry from the falcon, the glass house re-arose all around her, and a shout was heard all through the land—”Hail Queen! Hail Queen of Sorrow!”
“Don’t wake me,” she cooed to her bird of prey, “don’t wake me till tomorrow.”
Legend has it that tomorrow never comes, that she sleeps on to this day beneath a canopy of voiceless parakeets—each of which has a gold or silver bullet lodged in its tiny beak, so that it can neither sing nor speak.