Paul Piatkowski lives in Winston Salem, North Carolina. He received his MA in English Literature in 2011 from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His writing has appeared in journals like Fast Forward, Sheepshead Review, Nagautuck River Review, A Hudson View, 2River View, Liebamour, Lines + Stars, Tonopah Review, Poetry Quarterly, Inwood Indiana, and Caper Literary Journal.
The Youthful Taxidermist Gets His First Job
as scribed by his admiring biographer
“The traditional statement about language is that it is in itself living, and that writing is the dead part of language.”
-- Jacques Derrida
Fight it, though, Jack does, the corpses
need their injections—
Ring – ring –ring came the ring
tone. Old fashioned and made
from his antiquated vocabulary
(he had read too much of Bryant
and Melville[i] – was he a romantic
at heart, the reader may ask
after this interjectory note – yes,
an American Romantic,[ii] so he told others).
His style was wider,
he liked to think, rather than older,
for his vocabulary applied slappity slap
the vernacular of the day, but wrapped
all in spools of nineteenth century verse,
so when pestering critics deconstructed
a line here and there, the same statements
recycled the articles about his language
as ancient/dated[iii]. He spent days
poring over Eliot, Williams, and, later,
Ginsberg[iv], Komunyakaa. Finally he felt updated,
as recent as the new software uploads[v]
for his evolving techno-writing tools
: computer, blackberry, tablet.
to the phone ringing. (One should note —
to interject again – that his new techniques,
this intertextual adventuring into the present,
had not been tried true as of yet. He was still
experimenting and this job…) He picks it up,
the phone, and the voice tells him, “I have a job
for you – a tip top refurbishing that needs
your taxidermy, if you please. See you at eleven.”
Caller-ID claimed it to be a baroness[vi]
he knew to be in town in order to buy
a red wheelbarrow[vii] (made, not found).
Objects make the poem,
and the poems simply became them, after a moment
lost in the paratext,
so it was the young taxidermist’s job
to breathe a little mojo, some magic
into these objects,
birthing object life,
illusion of run-spot-run,
He dressed, and he left.
Promptly at eleven, he arrived at her flat.
He found the baroness chipping away
at the wheelbarrow with that same old
modernist style. Before he judged too harshly,
he examined his own tendencies, so Gothic
at times, so medieval.
Even his love of Hart Crane’s[viii] bridging
to modernity. No, the young hero
(yes, I am calling the taxidermist a hero)
knew that he needed to be
a muse of his age, after all, a muse of his age
after all. This meant his tongue
dragged across Gilgamesh[ix] to Pale Fire[x] and beyond
shuffling for the right tools
to fashion life from the dead,
though his reanimation was short lived
and his saliva dribbled haphazardly.
(Like the angel’s voice to S/Paul,[xi] Gabriel
to Muhammad, or even the big man
talking to JC[xii], one must assume that,
like them, the taxidermist knew
to change the pace, and hit shuffle, shuffle)
The baroness, now in tears,
allowed the young taxidermist to assist her
in standing full to her authority. “This, you see,
will just not impress my friends. We all read
Williams when we were matriculating, and now,
fully matriculated[xiii], my friends and me seek
that next new voice of the next new
Youthful though he was,
the taxidermist smiled at her painted face. “You
don’t want new.” “True,”
she admitted with reflexivity.
“Completely new would be frightening
After a refreshing spritzer (imported)[xiv], it was time
for the taxidermist to work. He took the depends and glazed
and chickens out, reworking the piece from the inside.
Soon, he had a draft.
Author-God[xv]– “Trigger[xvi]” –
Red – Wheel – Barrow.
Pushing. Words. (actions)
Out (prepositional) –
Head – Into (prepositional) –
Into (prepositional) –
Space (white no longer)
“Minimal. Eras(ur)ed. I like it,” she said.
She avoided too much dissection and trusted
that what the taxidermist had breathed into it
had elevated the wheelbarrow (levitated?)[xviii]. Difference,
she knew, was hard to come across
and she thought she could find it here if she looked
at the renovated wheelbarrow. The taxidermist left,
inflated by his first real job. Months passed. The baroness
returned to the City where her friends waited
(Europe? America? Would she go to Africa?[xix]
Asia?) and then the taxidermist received an envelope
and opened it.
Inside was a white, plain piece of paper. That night
he poured red over it, like syrup on a pancake, until
submerged in the red,
the page became color, became object,
a page of paper.[xx]
[i] It ought to be noted that the taxidermist did not just read Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” – no, he went so far in his love of Bryant to read his entire translation of The Iliad. Melville, well, he read his poetry some and got stuck in Moby Dick for a good year. Eventually he escaped, but not unscarred.
[ii] I often read that American romanticism, despite pulling distinctly and heavily from Wordsworth (an autistic, blind, tone deaf mute could still catch the similarities between his verse and that of the Fireside Poets) and Longfellow being named as a full-fledged British Bard, ought to be severed from its European romantic head like the hydra, which explains the many stems of American romantic thought that appeared afterwards (Mr. Emerson’s transcendentalism, for example).
[iii] The taxidermist had found his work published in four or five online journals at the time, and the critics mentioned were hardly Harold Blooms and much more along the lines of tweeters, bloggers, and MFA students.
[iv] Yes, he also read Wallace Stevens, and took more inspiration from him than from Ginsberg, but this humble translator of the taxidermist’s career believed Ginsberg would show greater variety in these two lines. From Eliot, it should be noted, the taxidermist left a heavily annotated copy of The Wasteland to further validate the heavy time put into his reading and rereading and rerereading and later partial recycling of the poem.
[v] This is a stretch – it has been documented by plenty of biographers that the taxidermist was consistently slow in acquiring updates for his technology. However, he tried to keep pace most of the time.
[vi] I leave the baroness as anonymous. Let it simply be understood that art needs patrons and this baroness was a patron (with more taste than most patrons).
[vii] Yes, you ought to know the red wheelbarrow. And the object tirade that follows follows the red wheelbarrow as you ought to know.
[viii] The young taxidermist, it should be noted, took a trip to Brooklyn and, in the safety of an old Saab, read and reread Crane’s poem while glancing towards the Brooklyn Bridge.
[ix] It should be noted that the taxidermist’s first attempt at adaptation came from his fourth grade reading of the Epic of Gilgamesh (a translated into prose version) which he adapted into verse only, years later, to find that the original was verse itself.
[x] Nabokov’s Kinbote’s Shade is essential poetry despite its lack of poesy and knack for simple prose.
[xi] I did not want to differentiate whether I refer to Saul or Paul since I refer to the same persona and the same scene.
[xii] JC = Jesus Christ, not Julius Caesar (though, from five years of studying Latin and some enthusiastic instructors, I fully recognize the importance of the first Caesar and his impact on everything from governmental policies like imperialism to social policies like globalism).
[xiii] This particular group had attended either Cornell or Yale and there was also a graduate of Ole Miss in their midst.
[xiv] This is the first recorded spritzer that the taxidermist is said to have drank. Some speculate that the baroness’ invitation was the root of the taxidermist’s lifelong love of spritzers and flavored seltzers for the rest of his life.
[xv] The taxidermist is using the term, I believe taken from Roland Barthes’ famous essay, “Death of the Author,” in order to create as well as erase the importance of William Carlos Williams in the “Red Wheelbarrow.”
[xvi] Some have argued that this addition in language alludes to Emily Dickinson’s famous “My life stood a loaded gun—” and others insist that the meaning here is layered within allusion, physicality, and philosophy.
[xvii] The taxidermist uses the Derridean “erasure” here to show that “red” is not the most fitting word, yet there is no existing word that better fits the needed meaning here either.
[xviii] A suggestion of the ethereal around the grounded physicality of the object perhaps.
[xix] It was noted by many historians and biographers that most of the baroness’ group would only go to Cape Town in South Africa and would sometimes suggest a sparse visit to Cairo. A few read too much Hemingway (they did love the modernists) and would safari.
[xx] Clearly this transition between perception, object, idea, and object is the central focus of the poem.