They dripped cold; at first.
No one saw the ice spiral
into green-blue flames
Or the flames congeal
into red-yellow fire.
The world was gone.
And Audrey ran away,
covered the God-head with her body
(Audrey who fights God's battle:
"Let Him fight His own!")
The ground swelled -
Seven hundred thousand million billion
Every breath, every act, every muscle,
Spent upon the plane:
Tallowed, where essence
To do another substance.
Candle quills: the effort,
Of a trillion human souls,
reduced to blubber
on a world of power.
Fat meerschaum pipes
Little Hummel dolls
Fresh Lalique crystal
Maria Theresa thalers.
More wondrous than man himself.
And Shakespeare's plays
And Sophocles' trilogy
And Rembrandt's busts:
Burnt alive, all.
(The Mexican Princess managed to save Botticelli
two extra seconds, running through the melted hall
of her father's palace overlooking the bones of the
Audrey, who fights God's battles
("Let Him fight His own!")
Hid the God-head beneath her skirts:
To let it think
It was still in the world
As it was ten seconds ago.
When the grass was growing tall.
The grass is growing tall
Through cracks in the sidewalk
The tar is melting
As we walk through the mist
The smoke is painted blue
From the sky lost above
And on and on we go
And hold our arms outstretched
To the common denominator
Who lives atop the city
And showers us with bits
of paper parades and marching clowns
And breathes a hot breath
Filled with atom icicles.
"The idea," said the chairman of the ad campaign, "is to get people to buy dry ice. To that end we must promote an image of mist. Yes, mist must be uppermost in people's minds. They must conjure up images of romance, of mystery, of eternity, of salvation - yes, of God Himself - whenever they think of a cool mist rising from the ground. That's where we come in. Sampson's dry ice. The maker of mists. For only (we'll decide later how much) you can have your very own mist. In any room of the house. Or buy it by the convenient six-pack. And if you act now, if you take advantage of our special introductory offer, for a limited time only, you'll receive absolutely free of charge our sixteen page full-color guide to beautifying your home with hundreds of decorating ideas. Remember: Sampson's: The Maker of Mists."
"What do you think?"
(It went over big. In the final days of human existence, a billion orders were placed with the operators standing by at the toll-free numbers: 1-800-111-2222 [1-800-111-2223 in New York]. A billion cakes of dry ice rolled off the assembly lines of Sampson's plants at Cumberland, MD; Bloomington, IN; Danville, IL; Chattanooga, TN; Council Bluffs, IA; Waco, TX; and Framingham, MA; onto awaiting trucks; from there onto special air freighters. But never reached their destinations.)
The sky exploded. First, blue-green trickles froze; then, where the freezing reached the atmosphere, red-yellow flames burst across the sky. Every available atom of oxygen was drawn into the fray. A glut of energy. All the ciphoned energy of mankind. Mankind: long reduced to flaccid quills, energyless candles, unburning, awaiting their shipments of mist, until the energies extorted from them caught fire. And burned the earth to nothing.
Audrey, who fights God's battles
("Let Him fight His own!")
Running away from the end of the world,
The God-head tucked under her arm.
Let Audrey choose Order, and
There will be Order.
She has more power in her little
finger, than all the
potentates in all their armies.
She walks with a cane, and sniffs
out Life, however it kaleids.
(I do not enrich Life: I seek to
preserve it, a doctor on a tiny
Audrey tells us to behave
She speaks to us
of the real world
the way it is.
And we should not try to change it.
Just make a place for ourselves.
(But Audrey: how can we, when
they're out there siphoning the energies
we produce competing one against the other
for what little reward there is? Don't
you know where those energies go, that we
could be using to build a world big
enough to hold all our dreams? Audrey:
they go to feeding the potentates. Don't
you know that yet?)
Audrey knows the God-head must at all
costs be preserved. She heard in an ad on TV there
was a great hole of safety in the Mid-west,
where missiles are stored. She is making for
that, the God-head tucked under her arm. But
her cane slows her down. The encompassing flames
are drawing closer.
(She doesn't know it, but all she has to do is
stop, turn around, stretch out her hand,
say "Begone!" and the end of the world is put off.)
"Audrey look: a slip-on automobile seat cover. Install it yourself. No tools needed. It's only --" He never got to finish. He was standing, hawking seat covers on a street corner. Audrey ran past. Who knows? he thought: maybe she'll buy one. People buy things. The whole idea is to get them to buy. Everybody sells. Who knows? I might end up a rich man! "It's only --" But he never got to say how much. Audrey was past him, her shawl thrown over the God-head, for safety sake. The flames overtook the corner. The seat cover caught fire while he was holding it aloft hawking it. Then the hawker took to flame. The seat cover fell on his bones; it hadn't burned entirely: it was specially treated with a flame retardant to resist cigarette burns. No tools needed. But it was a proven carcinogen. (Life's a trade-off.) They had more, besides. They were a distribution franchise. You could get as many covers as you could hawk. Just go see the distributors. Up there in their penthouse room.
Up in the penthouse room
They sit and laugh
And play upon their harps
That have no strings.
For they have no hands
And sing with soundless cries
And on and on they play
Till with fingers limp
They climb upon their balcony
Where rain has turned to snow
And light has left a smudge
To be erased by orange grins
That tell of sleepless nights
Filled with atom icicles.
Oh Lord! thought the hawker as his brain smoldered to a meat patty perspective. I forgot to tell her it'll keep her warm in winter, cool in summer; and it's treated: there won't be lint. She can wear dark. And it resists stains. Oh Lord!
"It's unnatural for boys to love other boys.
The natural thing is for boys to compete
with other boys, fight, see who's best.
We go to a lot of trouble to prove that.
It's not always easy getting boys to do what's natural."
Audrey, who fights God's battles,
("Let Him fight His own")
Flew past the intersection
of Main and First, God-head in tow.
The light said Don't Walk, but
The sky aflame short-circuited its wires.
Audrey can go.
The palace in Acapulco
Of Senor Miguel, Prince of Oil,
Brought cool waters from the hills
To feed his orchids.
His daughter, the Princess,
Who loved Botticelli best,
Wore her hair after the fashion
And her dress in it.
"They have no bread," someone said.
"We leave garbage outside," she replied.
"Do not the garbage spinners - those
who weave from our crumbs
a way of life - do they not
collect any more? They do
with crumbs what we do
with wheat. Am I to blame
if God sends wheat to me,
crumbs to them? God
has decreed me better.
I and mine control the world.
Is this not right father?"
Miguel, Prince of Oil, wore
three pieces of suit, the
uniform of those who rule.
The Americanos had taught him
how to have it made.
"Indeed, my daughter, it is.
What we do benefits us.
What they do is for our benefit.
Our God is beneficent,
He provides: raw material.
Energy. The efforts of
the multitude. If they toiled
for themselves alone, there
would be no surplus for us.
There would be no palace
filled with cool halls
of Italian marble;
no Flemish tapestries
hung where we dine on rook;
no Persian rugs to bless our steps;
no Rembrandt's busts, no
Shakespeare's sonnets, no
Sophocles' trilogies. There
would be bread to go around -
but if all can have bread,
where is our distinction?
There must be garbage spinners
for there to be Princes.
It is enough if our crumbs
Two neighborhood boys whirled
their boyhood at each other.
Took turns kissing each other's.
Then went their way.
Deaf-mutes, they had not heard
it was unnatural.
(Or they wouldn't have done it.)
A twin spire
from the sky.
In tinned boxes.
To look at.
Their energies spent in ritual,
purging their days;
barely enough left standing
to seat itself
and fall asleep
Seal the mind; numb the fingers toes skin;
blast eardrums; sprinkle colors
across the air freshener; close
the circuit; recharge for
- But -
- There is hope -
- For a better life -
(Rest from their regimen, for there will be no work tomorrow. Their office will be candle wax on the pavement; office machines, bubbles rising to the surface. Policy, procedure and the time clock, fly's turds sinking.
"Two deaf mutes, a boy named Tim, a boy named Tom, were spotted in an alley performing unnatural acts. If anyone has any information concerning their whereabouts please call this toll free number: 1-800-222-1111 (1-800-222-1112 in New York). There is a reward for information leading to their apprehension. Thank you."
Aïda was at the opera
Brahms at the symphony
Swan Lake at the ballet
George Button's All-Star Revue on TV.
Michael dialed the Crittenden.
"How much?" he asked.
(He had often taken exception with Audrey,
doubted the God-head she kept)
"Forty-five," came the reply.
"So much?" he asked.
(He had often questioned the natural order)
"Black tie," it was pointed out.
"Not come as you are?"
(He had often wondered if things wouldn't be better
if beauty were spread more evenly)
"Special invitation. We are honoring Mr. Crittenden,
Patron of the Arts."
"I love Brahms First Concerto," he said.
(He had often felt that beauty was wasted
"Forty-five. Black Tie. Invitation Only. Good-bye."
Michael didn't really fit on so overcrowded
He was a soldier of fortune,
had tried his hand, variously
at being aggressive, being pushy,
being obsequious, being obliging,
flattering, charming, cajoling, demanding.
Failed at all. Too gentle.
Too careful of life. Too quick
to see the next man's point of view.
Walked too many miles in too
("How do you stab a man in the back
who's shoes you've just walked in?")
Solution: stick to your own shoes.
Michael never learned. Lived
in a cold-water flat all his life.
Snot on the front steps.
Rats out back.
Holes in the ceiling, holes in the floor.
Roaches crawling in and out.
(Although they say there are roaches
even in the President's palace.)
Michael never learned. He went down
To maybe get in as he was.
(He loved Brahms First.)
The world blew before he reached the box office.
Sending the Austrian conductor through the roof.
And the strings through the floor.
And the brass out back.
And the woodwinds over the front steps.
Beauty is as beauty does.
Audrey, who fights God's battles
("Let Him fight His own")
Passed Podunk Iowa all the way from her home
in the dust factory
where, with Michael and 80 others,
she worked in a room with 700
blistered cabinets whose drawers
were warped and wouldn't close or open
and a hot dog puke color carpet
the staples stuck to
and a brown paper bag full of
Christmas decorations which with her cane
and a little help from her friends
she put up every December 19th, took down
every January 2nd (Twas the Season).
She worked with Michael purifying
the dust the factory made
to be sold outside the circus
when it came to town.
Simpson's Dust Balls, shaped
any way a ball could be.
She carried a fine mesh screen
of nylon reinforced with steel, magnetized
for trapping metallic bits from the
old dust press.
The ceiling was torn, stained, disintegrating
like old foam.
The walls were carted in from
bargain basements, they were pea-green,
dried dingy peas their health hulled.
The windows were painted on.
"It's not where you work that matters, or where
you live," Audrey would say as she collected stray dust.
"Then what does matter?" asked Michael.
"Doing what's best for you," she said. "And leave
others to themselves. Don't worry what the
rich have. Get yours."
"Get mine? Beauty too is something
you have to buy? By the pound, or the
foot, or the dozen (cheaper that way)? There's no blue
as beautiful as the sky - but we're in here, where
we can't see it. No green as beautiful as fresh grass.
But our lot is paved over. No gold can match
the evening moon, nor red the morning sun. But
we're trapped inside a bus on the way to work, on
the way home. It's not enough they've gobbled up
the symphony, the opera, the theater - they must
hoard the sky, the earth, the moon, the stars too?
Is their greed God itself?"
"Don't speak against the almighty! He'll strike you dead!"
"And give up the chance to torment? Audrey, you
don't know God like I know Him."
But Michael was a smuggler.
Unbeknownst even to Audrey and her God-head,
he had a few spots of beauty in his room,
sheaves of color he could sit and behold
and some of the room would vanish.
He had a bright red plate, an azure scarf,
a green dish, a black vase,
Little by little smuggled in from the outside.
Before the law clamped down,
decreed it a controlled substance
linked it to income,
sold it at top dollar.
But the world was safe: the law
was amended to allow
for the confiscation
of anything deemed too beautiful
for the owner of it (by income:
the ultimate criterion).
Michael's treasures were the day before
the world exploded impounded.
Which was what sent him to the symphony.
"Tim, Tom: why did you boys do it? Speak up, boys, you're standing before a duly authorized representative of the government. Duly appointed. I have certificates, credentials. A commission. Tom, Tim: why did you boys do that terrible thing? Speak up!"
"You know, they can't speak: they're deaf mutes. This is why they're here: they were never told it was unnatural."
"Never told? Surely they don't have to be told what's natural, what's unnatural. This is something one knows instinctively. Right from the start. Why the very foundation of our law is this innate distinction between the two. That's why we call it 'Natural Law!' There's clearly something very wrong here. These boys must have been seduced by their kindergarten teacher. I'm issuing a subpoena for that teacher. What's his name?"
"Annax Astrolab, your honor."
"Get him here. Meanwhile these boys are being remanded to the care of Dr. Von."
"The eminent psycho-therapist?"
"Get them out of my sight, they make me sick, as does all intercourse with the unnatural. Next case."
"The state versus George Button."
"And the charge?"
"He, a thirty year old intern, fondled a sixteen year old girl in unspecified areas located under her blouse."
"How do you plead to this unnatural act?"
"Wrong plea. You're thirty, she's sixteen. The law is quite clear on that. Your sexual impulse is proper for a young maiden of twenty-one, but no younger. There can be no more than nine years difference in your ages. The law is very clear on that. I'm ordering you sent to Dr. Der for evaluation. Psycho-sexual abuse is nothing to sneeze at."
(No one had sneezed; the judge was just being whimsical.)
A man in a green chair that rocked in place
became very distraught the last evening
of existence, watching his TV.
He had been promised a rerun
of the best plays in centerfield.
Instead, somebody put a ballet on.
"I'm a poor man," he cried, "a working man.
I'm not for ballet. Sports is my thing.
God knows that. Mr. Crimpton of station
WAXY knows it. The beer sponsor knows it.
How could they do this? Oh God, oh God, how could they?"
This poor man opened a vein with the top
of a pop-top beer can: if he didn't
bleed to death
the aluminum would give him Alzheimer's.
His green chair arm fought to maintain the dignity
of its hue, but in the end the red won.
[The fool forgot that red and green
were the colors of Christmas; and nearly
jumped out of his skin when all at once
he heard a noise on his roof then saw
Santa Claus slide down his chimney
singing "Ho Ho Ho and a bottle of rum!" while
carrying a six-pack in his toy sack; but
he was too far gone to reach out to the brew
Old Saint Nick offered, so the big fat man with the white beard
walked over, lifted the dying worker's head,
and poured the beer down his throat;
then unzipped him, pulled out his peter,
and held the empty can so he could pee.
(What Santa didn't know was that he'd just
passed a kidney stone and couldn't pee.)
"Pee God damn you!" Santa cried in a rage
then threw the can against the TV screen and left
the same way he came.]
And by the sheerest coincidence,
just as the can hit the TV,
the prima-Dona slipped, broke her ankle. The rerun
was hastily spliced onto the reel. He looked
up and saw centerfield. He died a happy man.
"There is a God," he said.
"Who sent me the greatest Christmas gift a man could ever want."
(God orchestrated the Requiem. He would wear purple,
with black anklets - the vestments were always too short -
and a diamond brooch shaped like a cross. He had
picked out a Bach Mass. Flowers: of course; dahlias.
It was going to be so nice. But -
The world blew.
No one came.
The accumulated lost energies of man
were just too much.)
On the way to Dr. Von's, Tim and Tom ducked
down an alley and did unnatural things. Their
guard, upon finding them, spat bitterly at
his teachers, cursed his ears. The unnatural,
for that split-second, looked so right.
(He later told Dr. Von of this and was issued
a sedative for his panic.)
"He's maybe never heard of pair bonding," Tim
told Tom on his fingers.
"Male bonding," Tom half corrected his boyfriend.
They blew each other a kiss on their way to
the asylum. Tom was sentenced to shock
treatments, Tim to chemo-therapy. Dr. Von
wanted to see which method was best. The
results, in an affidavit, steamed from his hands
before he could read them.
"Olive drab. For so many years we've been trying to think of the name of this paint, and now it's come to us. Just like that."
"It's green," Audrey corrected her fellow worker, Michael. "You don't need to know anything other than that."
"It's not the same green as they have at the Crittenden."
"You don't worry about what they've got there! This is where you are."
Why doesn't that imperative move me? thought Michael. Why am I singularly ill-equipped to make the best of a bad bargain? Of course, I could always revert to regarding my fellows as beasts of burden. No doubt we all have it in us. They say, don't they, that good and evil reside in the human heart, in every heart, and that therefore the only ethic is the egalitarian ethic? We're all equally guilty. The egalitarian ethic. But only ethics: nothing else is allowed egalitarianism. We're all equally bad - those who rule, those who are ruled; those who oppress, those who are oppressed. But we're not all equally good. There are those with ability, with intelligence, with executive expertise, with cunning: they being better, warrant more. But we're all equally bad. And Audrey, with your God-head: you tell me to concern myself with my own green and leave others' greens to themselves. Because while bad is parceled out equally among us, good is unevenly distributed at the top. If only I didn't know that what we believe is merely what, of an infinite range, we choose to believe, then I too might content myself, I too might defend to the death. But knowing as I do, I cannot put my soul into it. When I know, given other circumstances, I might have gone dressed in pig skins, or in straw, or in rose petals, or gone undressed, how can I imbue the clothes I wear with the force of inevitability? how can I suppose the whole of existence conspired to tailor these garments? how can I pretend eternity sanctioned the cloth, immortality the thread, the absolute the weave, causality the cut? God did not sew these pants, or even the seat of these pants, or this shirt, or cobble these shoes: man did, where he might as easily not have. And if so with the very clothes on my back, how much more so with the conditions under which I wear them? This politic, this status, this division of labor - these particular modes: they have no more the weight and force of the universe than any others. How then can I act as if in the presence of something sacred, when they're no more than my pants or shirt or shoes or socks or undergarments? My own green, Audrey? You worship in the right pew, but the wrong church. For my own green is the green of everything; but this - this olive drab - is not my green. I did not choose it. And not having chosen it, I will not pray before it or thank God for it or die defending it. It is not mine. Mine is such that not even the fresh new grass can capture it, nor anything optical. My green is an emerald flash in the evening sky toward sunset, seen only from on high. That, and none other, is my green.
Miss Rachel of Simpson's, in charge of marketing, initiated an aggressive campaign. "There's a vast, untapped market out there for dust balls," she briskly snapped at her staff. "But they won't come to us; we have to go to them. I'm especially interested in the young professional clientele. That's where the money is. That's why we've developed our new silicone based balls. A revolutionary concept. Nothing like it, ever. Our research indicates the young professional market is ready for our line of Sili-Balls. And we'd damn well better be ready for them. And anyone here who isn't, better get up and leave now. Because we're here to work, to promote the greatest advance in technology since we made 'e' equal to 'mc squared'. I want to introduce to you Dr. Ramamahamalamasha, the developer of our Sili-Balls."
Miss Rachel wore a tailored three-piece suit from Royal Uniforms of Greenwich, Ltd. She paid sixteen hundred dollars for it. It matched her other suits to a tee, which in turn matched the three pieces of her counterparts at every other high-tech firm. She had come from Sampson's Dry Ice where, right in the middle of its biggest campaign, she was snatched away by Simpson's for a six figure salary, plus guaranteed bonuses. She had seen mist off the ground floor; now she would lend her drive, her ambition, her flair, her self-assurance to the faltering dust market. She had immediately acquired Dr. Ramamahamalamasha from an obscure plastics factory in India. She had already heard of his genius. She got him for peanuts, compared to what she might have had to pay. It was simple: she promised him total freedom, absolute control of his career, even impact into the decision making process.
He stood before the marketing staff. "Thees ting I make, eet ees bery gud. Eet mot assuredly ees - "
"Thank you so much, Dr. R, for joining us. We'll let you know if we need you again! Marvin!" Miss Rachel called. Marvin was the guard. "Marvin: show Dr. R to his laboratory. I think he'll be pleased with his latest project."
Miss Rachel was not merely a law unto herself; she was a first cause, an axiom, an a priori: a god's goddess. Phi Beta Kappa. Summa Cum Laude. PhD in Marketing Management. She knew how to handle even the most maverick teachers. (Of course, there were no maverick teachers in the School of Business Administration, only a few on the English faculty, whom she studiously avoided.) Her coming out party was the social event of the season. She was a girl who had made good. She understood the marketplace as no one before her or since. Her bold, aggressive style had cornered virtually every market. She was well on her way to the top.
-- On the day of the blast she could be seen gathering dust --
The faceless bureaucracy turned
"Where's my boy?" asked the widow.
"Where's mine?" asked the widower.
"Don't know," said the faceless bureaucracy.
"It's not my job.
I only work here."
"Well, who does know?"
Quistofer worked there, a small plump
black man with a toupee
that looked like plaited Brillo.
When he smiled his lips
caught on his teeth.
"Don't know either," he smiled.
He had to forcibly, with his finger,
remove his lip from his tooth.
"My Tom," said the widow.
"My Tim," said the widower.
Just victims of the system.
Never seen or heard from again.
Whisked away into some
where the boys' bodies
turned on an endless spit
on the chance they could be saved.
The Syntacticus Advertising Agency, in a metal building downtown, employing an editorial staff knowing English, Fortran, Pascal and Cobol, erected immense campaigns, total campaigns, all-inclusive campaigns: Campaigns with That Universal Flare. To promote anything that could be put to use. Earlier in the season, it being determined, by polls and other ultra-sophisticated means, that there were hints of an impending revolutionary movement and that The People did not care for revolution, a huge campaign was initiated to disparage all things of a revolutionary nature. Old-fashioned, traditional and the good old days became the watchwords, the nucleus of all promotion. Beer, wine and liquor suddenly were shown to promote old-fashioned virtues; candy bars and breakfast cereals sprang from traditional values; armaments became wholesome and reminiscent of the good old days, when we were strong, secure, peace-loving. A fabulous campaign. America became drunk on its past; dentistry boomed; wars were started in a thousand hot spots, places never dreamed to be so hot till Syntacticus spilled the beans. A successful campaign. Half a million perished worldwide before the season was half over. A wonderful campaign. Tim and Tom would have been sent to Central America until it was discovered from a detailed reading of their charts that they had committed unnatural acts. The government chose not to have such as those participate in crusades to save the world from Our Enemies. Syntacticus approved the choice as a wise one.
Audrey, who fights God's battles
("Let Him fight His own")
Stole a look at a lamp
bursting its arc
a halo of filament
choking smells of gas
crackling veins of spark.
The utility company
would have to be told.
The socket splattered
jagged pigtails crept up,
crept down, crept up,
crept to the side,
twisting as if testing
the circuits for limits
looking for old boundaries;
finding none, panicking,
screaming for rules.
"Electric god, where art thou?
How far can we reach?
How far? oh electric god
Audrey, running past,
poised her cane
Held up the godhead,
It seemed to calm the sparks.
Then she covered again her charge,
Michael had his lights turned off, to feel the dark.
His heat turned off to feel the cold.
His thoughts turned down, to feel his soul.
He carried home a rule book -
"All you need to know to work" -
He laid it on a hassock,
he sat back and watched it,
and when his eyes grew tired he listened to it,
and when his ears became numb he licked it,
and when his tongue got sore he touched it,
and when his fingers began to give
he took it up and read it,
and found it had no more impact there
than anywhere else.
"I conclude," Michael said, setting the book
in a tub of milk, "that rules
have no reality. But neither can I
account for my love of butterscotch
or my loathing of horseradish. I
will abide well enough by rules, from custom;
but never will I grant them the right
to cordon my existence. There is no sense
to them. Nor rhyme nor reason. Let us rejoice
that we shit downward and face upward, and leave it at that."
-- Shall I tell Audrey? he wondered --
Mia Macklin's father, Twinlon, and a janitor named Alouyshous both drank on the job. Mia Macklin's father Twinlon was an executive with the utility company, his job was good, he was good at it, and to it, he added ideas which added to the company coffer. He was deemed an alcoholic, alcoholism was deemed a disease; Twinlon was sent to a clinic to recover. The company paid. Alouyshous was dismissed from his job as a drunk, unfit to hold a job. Mia Macklin was not smart where social principles were concerned, but neither was she dumb. She knew what it meant. She knew all along. One man's disease was another man vice, depending entirely on where he hung his hat. Mia Macklin, who had all her life dreamed of becoming a nurse, hastily altered her plan to make that a doctor; then altered it again when it seemed as if she would lose too much in the interim. She decided to become either a stock broker or a banking investment consultant. She switched her major from medicine to Marketing. "How will I ever get a BMW as a nurse?" she wondered. "I'm scared. Even as a doctor I must wait. And isn't one BMW at hand worth five in the uncertain future? I mean, really scared." Mia Macklin, working her way up the corporate ladder from investment analyst to management consultant, went to Simpson's to be interviewed for an advertising executive assistant to Miss Rachel. Mia wore a traditional three piece woven suit, a bow-like gray tie against a white blouse. They were discussing the haves and the have-nots; someone had made a remark that a family of have-nots still lived in his block, the urban renewal had not yet gotten them out of the neighborhood. It was a scandal how slowly the machinery of city government turned, that a house full of have-nots still remained on a renovated block. "Where do all these people go?" it was wondered. "Some of them live underneath the city," it was mentioned. "Others move back to the country. They find a place beyond the suburbs." "Why don't they just disappear?" it was asked. "For all practical purposes they have," it was said, "now that they can no longer afford dust balls or anything of the sort." "Not so fast," interjected Miss Rachel, "no one's said they can't afford dust balls. You're forgetting our economy line, which, our survey proves, even a pauper can afford. We mean to have everyone in this country have his very own dust ball. That's our pledge. And by God we'll do it!"
--"Oh that's wonderful!" exclaimed Mia Macklin, who, heretofore, had sat quiet as a church mouse. She could tell she was going to like it here. It was her kind of place. Dynamic, aggressive, success-oriented. Her kind of place. And did she have a place there? Why, yes, she certainly did. --
--The job was hers --
Otis, a friend of Michael's, announced
one day near the end of the world
"I am setting out on a Quest,
I am determined to scour this land,
To search high, to search low, to search out
From among all the many things
There are here, scattered about this land,
Until I find what it is I seek.
I am setting out today in Quest
of Something Real in America."
("Good luck," said Michael to his friend.
"The world is richer for visionaries like you.")
The garbage spinners passed.
Senior Miguel's back palace gate,
closed to them, had, set outside it,
seven cans of waste, slop, crumbs,
oozing, spilling, dripping:
theirs for the taking.
The spinners, from all corners, all towns,
converged near Acapulco,
to be near their rulers,
to watch for droppings from their tables
as they passed.
They were magicians,
they conjured food from scraps,
they traveled in small bands,
they carried the scraps to
a multitude of small shacks;
there, they weaved a spell
of sight, smell and taste.
What they made they took
to all corners, all towns,
for the poor to eat.
If not for them the poor would starve
(or else rise up against the rich).
They did some good.
The Mexican Princess fondled Botticelli as she watched from the fourth floor window the spinners going past. She watched as they stopped outside her father's gate to collect their due. She saw them scoop out the slop and set it carefully, but swiftly, inside black vinyl bags, with each its own twist tie of dark green. She smiled, in recognition: they were using the brand of bags made from her father's petroleum from the Yucatan. All that petroleum, sitting all those eons: all belonged to one man. (How nice it was mankind had invented economics.) The Pharaoh could not have done better. But she couldn't watch long, she was jetting to Palm Springs for the evening, for a party given in her father's honor by the businessmen of California. Senior Miguel was known worldwide as a grand patron of the arts. (He owned tons of old masters.)
- George Button guzzled booze by the quart, but, alas, he was not known as a connoisseur of fine liquor. It takes a certain knack to get yourself honored for your gluttonies -
The tall man with wire-rimmed glasses carefully filled out all 20 spaces of the pale green 5 x 8 form (triplicate, yet without the necessity or the messiness of carbon paper) manufactured by Glassine Forms, a subsidiary of Syntacticus International. He was applying for a grant from the Foundation, for his organization. Friends of Makers of Revolution. A support group loosely affiliated with Makers of Revolution, a quasi-Marxist para-military guerilla operation dedicated to the overthrow of the present regime. Some 200 strong, with new recruits everyday. Friends, the support group, boasted an equal number. They were seeking money to try and promote the cause of Revolution. They felt that, in so big, so rich and so diverse a nation there ought to be greater tolerance for those bent upon leveling the system. Yet of course the Makers could not themselves apply for the grant for fear of arrest: for while almost everything could be handled through the mail, it was required to pick up the forms in person; the Foundation never mailed them out. An oath of loyalty was a requirement too, but that could be done through notarization; the applicant need not take the oath in person. Revolution being a fine-tuned instrumentation, it was deemed better to leave the whole matter to laymen. The man with wire-rimmed glasses was recruited to charter the initial chapter of Friends. He worked tirelessly. He was absolutely committed to Revolution. Because he was absolutely convinced that the poor had gotten an abominably raw deal. He championed their cause; by implication the Revolution. (Were they not synonymous?) The poor would be free of their burden of poverty. And - oh! the tales he could tell you! - it would make your hair stand on end! What the poor don't suffer for their lot in life. The man with wire-rimmed glasses could take you through any ghetto in the country and show you the horrors of poverty.
-- See? there? do you see? that snot on the lavatory wall? The rich are responsible. That snot
is on their conscience. The poor throw snot against the lavatory wall because they're oppressed.
-- And there - see? that gob of raw phlegm on the stoop? The rich again; they did it. In
frustrating the poor they did it.
-- And over there - there - right where you almost stepped: see? That broken bottle. Yep, that's
right: the rich. Poverty drives a man to throw the bottle onto the pavement once he's guzzled
-- Oh yes, my friends, these and more. The things I could show you! --
The man with the wire-rimmed glasses dropped the postage paid envelope into the mail box. It was on its
The Big Room housed the computer.
It was called The Big Room, by them.
The computer was called Golden Boy.
Everything that was Syntacticus,
Everything it did, everything it saw
Everything it knew, everything it was
Was housed inside the Big Room, by them.
Housed deep within the Golden Boy.
The top brass was pleased and said "It's good."
The middle brass heard and said "It's great."
The lowermost brass heard and said
"This computer shits gold - I mean gold!
Pure gold, golden gold, absolute gold!
It can do no wrong, it is perfect."
And to the workers the lowest brass
Said "You will find no wrong, so don't look.
Just make it work, it can do no wrong."
To which they asked "Why? How is it so?
When every other day it breaks down?"
To which workers came the reply back
"You are not to speak of this, for we
will not hear of it. The die is cast."
Unsaid: our jobs depend upon deceit;
If top and middle pronounce it good,
We will not spoil the grand illusion
With so unpleasant a thing as truth.
We are not paid to pronounce the truth,
Only to abide by the rules.
And into this computer went
All requests for foundation grants.
Friends of Makers of Revolution
Went in with all the rest of them.
And produced an exception card
Which had to be manually screened.
The man with the wire-rimmed glasses
Was summoned to review the card.
"Why have you sought a grant from us?
Isn't it rather strange to be
Seeking money from the ones
you wish to overthrow?" they asked.
"Why?" the man with the wire-rimmed glasses
Replied. "They have all the money,
Don't they? So why not ask of them?
Who else would I ask it of?
The modern army travels on
Its wallet, gentlemen. You see?
We have good cause to seek a grant."
A consultation, called, cancelled:
The Golden Boy broke down just then.
It had a big energy surge
Its wires could not reach its circuits
In time to siphon off the surge.
It went "Ker-plop" it went "ker-plop"
It went as dead as dead could be.
"Don't say a word!" the lower brass
Warned the workers. "The fault is yours.
You wasted too much time talking,
Playing, fooling around, loafing
When you should have been at your posts.
We're putting you all on notice.
You will receive your reprimands.
Meanwhile, we will certify this,
We will manually approve it.
You meet all the requirements.
Request granted. The funds are yours."
The man with the wire-rimmed glasses
Walked away from the Golden Boy, pleased.
Otis, near the beginning of his Quest,
(So near the end of the world),
Took a train to the City. It had snowed.
It was cold up there. He ducked into a building.
A skyscraper, with gleaming, with plush,
with beauty, with elegance, with taste.
Ah, he thought, have I so quickly found it,
what I seek? For is this not a perfect place
to house my fellow man?
"You'll have to leave," he was told.
They could tell by his clothes he didn't belong.
Ah, he thought as he returned to the cold outside,
it was not built to house man:
but to house money. He continued his Quest.
Tim, somewhere in a dungeon, kissed the tip of Tom's toe. Tom, recognizing in the dark his friend's lips, kissed the tip of Tim's tongue. They had found, from among the cast-offs housed beneath the System, each other, as they had always managed to find each other, wherever they were beneath. They loved at each other's bodies. They suffered each other's orgasm, in silence, neither moved by the other's moans but by the tingling in his bones. And lay in each other's arms, a billion light eons away from how dreadful their unnatural sin was. And fell asleep, half fearing they would wake moved again. But knowing they could find each other. No matter how many times. For what was right had the force of a thousand natures.
Quistofer the faceless bureaucrat knew where the boys, Tim and Tom, were stored. Under his brillo weave was a thousand other tiny secrets, which he kept well for the System. (Unbeknownst to him, his days were numbered. First and foremost, because of the end of the world. But, more subtly, because he was a black man and, even though he had helped keep the System turning even further, had helped steer it past his peers (at some personal gain), had done his best to keep "them" out, he was "scheduled" to "get the axe," now that, with his help, it had become "alright" to openly deny admission to the System to "them." Quistofer had forgotten that, sell-out or not, he was in the eyes of the Beholders (those who run the System) just another one of "them," and nothing more. He knew which part of the System Tim and Tom were beneath. He knew. He knew. But not which part he would soon be beneath.
[There was the Crittenden. There were the Beholders, going in. There was
the Conductor, bowing to his patrons. There was Brahms' First. Later. Do
you hear what he hears?
---Michael heard. And was ennobled. And resolved not to betray what
---"I want inside," he told the lady at the door taking tickets (though he had
none). "I want to ask them a question, the Beholders, those who rule, those
with the power, those with the authority, those whose word counts. I want to
ask them: When you hear the great music, will you say 'I will be noble when I
hear this'? And can you then turn and be ignoble when it's over? Can you
ever go back again to being ignoble? This is what I wish to get inside and ask
of those at the symphony. May I come in? Will the importance of the question
serve as my ticket?"
Sampson and Simpson were taken over by Syntacticus. The Makers of
Revolution saw in this a symptom (of what, they refused to say: the whole
idea of Revolution is not to be too specific). Sampson's mists were not
hampered by the merger, nor Simpson's dust balls. Life, as we know it,
goes on no matter what. Mr. Crimpton, of Station WAXY, programmed
a documentary on the decline of the working poor. Sponsored by
Syntacticus. It glossed over the issue beautifully, blaming the high wages
the poor often received for their plight. "We can't compete abroad," it said.
So wages, it was resolved, must be cut; and the salaries of management
raised: how else attract the best and brightest? "Would a man with an MBA
work for less? And why should he?"
(Michael asked of his co-worker Audrey in the Dust Factory if the poor should
work for less. She said that was not his concern; he should be out there trying
to get his. And not worrying about the poor, who were happy that way. They
liked to do without: they must - they did it so frequently.)]
Audrey, who fights God's battles,
(Let Him fight His own)
kept the god-head in her desk at work,
wrapped in cellophane and aluminum foil:
in the big bottom desk drawer, the double one.
At night she locked up; she put the key
on a string of twine around her neck
from where it would dangle near her heart.
The night crew once pried open her desk,
stole the god-head, stared at the god-head,
returned it the next night with a note:
"To whomever: you can have this back,
with our blessing. It won't fetch a dime."
Audrey laughed her husky laugh at the note.
For she knew that while it itself could not be sold,
no money could be made anywhere without it.
She never locked her desk again.
Otis left the city behind
Otis walked to a garden wall
Otis climbed the stucco and steel
Otis peeked to the other side
Otis was sure he'd found his Quest
What could be more real than a garden?
Otis leaped down from the high wall
Otis wandered among the trails
Otis saw bushes shaped like dogs
Otis saw them shaped like horses
Otis saw ten dozen odd shapes
What could be less real than this garden?
Otis continued his Quest.
Senior Miguel was at that moment making a point to his business associates, in his great florid office on the top floor of the bronze building in the center of Mexico City's business district. Standing on a rose beige carpet facing a beige rose curtain overlooking the city. He spoke at length of the measure of a man. He spoke for two hours, after lunch in his private lounge and just before racquetball on his private court. "Ask yourselves, gentlemen, why you are successful while the run of mankind is not, and you will find in your answer the whole truth behind the nonsense of exploitation and oppression. And that truth is this: you - all of you successful men, as myself - you are all willing to put in 18 - 20 - if you must:24 - hours a day! To your work. To your work you give your all. You do not whine, you do not keep one eye fixed on the clock, half your attention on the end of the day. You are at work to work, and you work, for as long a day as you must. We must learn, gentlemen, to ask of everyone who would accuse us of unfair labor practices: are you willing to put in 18 hours a day, every day of your life? Clearly, they are not. Now let us have a cocktail before racquetball. We have, as always, a long day ahead of us. And dinner this evening between 8 and 11 with the American refiners. Cheers!"
Sampson's Dry Ice Plant in Cumberland threatened to shut down forever (yes: businessmen are metaphysicians too; they know about infinity) - forever to shut down, unless its workers took a cut a pay. Three hundred workers worked there, making and caking dry ice, to make mist with, to sell to the consumer at top dollar. At a crucial point in the negotiations a local paper ran a story about Mexico, about the poverty there, about those who feed the poor. Pictured on the cover were Garbage Spinners, all twelve hundred, all waving for the camera, all wearing big sombreros and striped ponchos, and carrying, each, a vinyl plastic bag bursting with the raw stuff of their trade. They were subsidized by the central government in Mexico City. A silent threat to all who lost their wages. Unstated: It Can Happen Here. Your poor could also be fed food synthesized from garbage. The workers of Sampson's were bussed to the great grocery store in the new mall outside town, to wander the aisles, to see all they stood to lose. "Toasty-Woasties" breakfast cereals, enriched just for you with 8 essential vitamins and minerals. "Potatoe-Maters," au gratin sauce and cheese; you just add water, heat and stir. "Cokey-Wokies," tasty new snacks from the food people at National Petroleum and Soap Powders. And a thousand other fine products American technology had created, all packaged according to the colors and themes you, the consumer, had selected. This is what the recalcitrant stand to lose. The choice is simple. Isn't it? (The vote was overwhelming. They would accept as drastic a cut in wages as their employer thought necessary to save the plant. The "Toasty-Woasties" won the day.)
Otis had worked at Sampson's.
It never occurred to him that people
would ever be willingly less than they already were.
On that day, with that vote,
He stopped seeing, and knew he never again would see
His fellow workers as real.
When people choose to clasp the link about their necks
They cease to be anything real.
He went in search
Of something else.
To fill the void.
Carol Marie Klugg worked at Sampsons. She analyzed market trends in dust. She had a round, happy face (she was the model for the poster welcoming visitors to the factory); and she was plump, and had long light brown hair. She winced whenever she had to walk through the factory; she preferred her nice neat office where everyone got along the way people were supposed to, where no one disputed the rules or questioned the customs or bucked the system. She was happiest when everything went as it should. She hated the factory, where you might hear foul language or someone might be sitting there singing to himself or another might be talking revolution. It wasn't right. It puzzled her how anyone could do what wasn't right when everything had been so carefully spelled out since childbirth. (Nothing had prepared her for the day the world would end, so as she went smiling through the air straight for the giant dust press she took a second to try and comprehend. A waste of time, Carol Marie.)
The Poor But Proud met once a week. They conducted their meetings according to a rigid, frozen set of standards. Everyone had his assigned seat, and had better remain in it. "We can only survive if we stick together good," they always maintained.
- What do we want in life?
- We want life. We want to feel our own land beneath our feet. Is it asking too much?
Michael and his friend Otis attended one meeting. Being newcomers they were given seats at the rear of the hall.
"Yes," Michael stood up and said, "it is asking too much. Because land that is owned cannot be felt. And a man who owns is a man who has lost his feeling. A piece of nature owned is a piece taken out of existence; inevitably it will die."
"Are you a capitalist commie sympathizer?" they asked.
"Yes I am," Michael replied. "I take pity on fools."
"We just don't want no machines eating up the land we cleared, that's all," the Poor But Proud insisted. "We just want to plant and harvest and keep the varmints away."
"You won't share your crops with the coyotes who used to hunt there, the rabbits who used to graze there, the groundhogs who used to burrow there?"
"We grew it - it's ours!"
"Then tell me: where do you differ from the machines that gobble up the land?"
"We got blood and bones, Mister!"
"Which you use as if it were gas and wheels. You're no different from a tractor or a plow. Your relationship to the land is the same. You can no more feel for the land than the tractor can. The moment you called it yours you passed sentence on it. You drove its soul out. Then you picked its carcass. And you imagine that what you feel standing knee deep in gore is the life of your land. When all you feel is rot and decay."
"All we know, Mister, is we're tough, and we'll endure. We'll survive, no matter what. Let the rich oppress us all they want, let them take all we got, let them drive us right into the ground. You'll see us back again tomorrow, Mister, heads held high, walking our young beside us, waiting for a new day to dawn."
[The day the world ended they had given birth to thirteen new young 'uns]
"Courage and endurance: that's what we're all about!"
Tim and Tom's dungeon quivered; moved on its foundation; buckled against the National Bank Building next door. The timeless slime-green stones slithered apart like ball bearings. The wall where they were opened onto the street. They kissed then blew their guards a kiss, the guards had gotten caught on the bank mortar and were slowly scraping between dungeon and bank vault, they were screaming, their flesh was becoming the consistency of corn meal (the short order cook at the corner diner - his diner had moved from its corner to within a closer orbit of its life-giver too - the cook scraped the guards from between the rasping walls and made a corn pone; he mistook the dungeon for the bakery heretofore next door to his diner. He meant no cannibalism; it was a case of mistaken identity.) Tim and Tom left. They caught sight of Audrey running past, with her god-head between her legs. A wind parted her skirt a moment; Tim and Tom saw up to the god-head. And they think we're kinky! the two boys mimed on their fingers. As quick as a wish Audrey was gone, the street was bare, the boys held hands down the thoroughfare to the great boulevard. The sky blinked blue-green then yellow-red. Tim and Tom walked past rows of half-eaten corpses: old and young, men, women, and children, each with that special air about it which only the rich know how to exude.
(Something happened while they were in the dungeon.)
Mia Macklin, among the corpses, thought she saw her father, Twinlon, twitch a final twitch. But it was hard to tell, there were so many strewn along the street, and, half eaten, they tended to blur one into the other. Besides, her BMW was being eyed by a hungry mob. Her brand new BMW, just imported from Bavaria. A man munching on an ear was peeking in at the windshield. Careful! you're dripping wax on the finish! And another, gobbling a gall bladder, came to join him. Damn it! you're getting bile all down the antenna! Now a third, biting on a child's brain, came up to watch. "Uhm, nice car," he observed. Jesus Christ! you're spilling ganglia all over the hood! I'll never get it clean! She thought a moment. Well, maybe if I pay extra to have it steam cleaned. "Whose car?" the mob wondered. "Maybe it's hers. Ask her." Mia Macklin was asked if this car was hers. "We'd like to get in and go for a ride with you," the mob said. They were polite, all things considered. "We'll just nibble on your fingers and toes on the way. You got a cruise control, don't you?" This automobile, she'd have them know, had everything. "AM and FM? Stereo? CD's? Hey, can you get the symphony on it? Sure would like to hear a little Debussy. Makes good dinner music. Real relaxing." Don't get any blood on my seats, she warned. They're genuine leather. "Yeah? Not vinyl? Ooo-wee! Nice." The mob piled in back. Mia Macklin slipped behind the wheel. She started the engine. It purred. So quiet; and when she released the brake, put it in gear and started off, it rode like a cloud. The mob fell right to sleep.
Audrey had no need of a car seat cover
No matter what its virtues:
the street vendor should have known that.
She was just a lady on her way
(She didn't need a car for that,
let alone a lambswool cover).
Audrey, who still tries on God's battles
(Let Him wear His own hairshirt)
began, finally, as she approached the Pacific plate,
noticing the cannibalized corpses.
She undid her coiffeur
And hid the god-head beneath her hair
So it wouldn't see the shambles
somebody had made of etiquette.
"You don't eat people," Audrey muttered
underneath her breath. "You just don't."
- Don't ask me why -
Michael had told her though
"That day will come," he said.
"The poor will eat the rich.
What else is left to eat?"
"You don't worry about
what others have to eat!"
Audrey cried to Michael.
"You just worry about
you getting your own food.
Let the others worry
About getting their own."
The poor, whose bodies felt the lash of profiteering - who were overwhelmed with tumors and burns and vermin, and who were set out to fend for themselves - the poor, on that day of days, stole into the estates of the rich and ate their young.
[The moguls watched helplessly from a safe distance: it was better to let the people vent their anger on the young, who had not yet developed their zest for living. All the same, there went their little piece of immortality. Junior, on whose shoulders rested the responsibility of carrying on the family honor: now a paté. The moguls had their secretaries make a note: Mate...beget another heir...change will. It was a sad day in their lives. Not as bad as if they had lost their holdings; but almost.]
The poor wandered as if in a daze. How could they know their bellies would one day come to rule their actions? Their bellies: which after a time they'd forgotten they had. They picked their noses as they ate the young heirs and heiresses, and they threw the snot, together with the bones, on the lawn and out the windows onto the driveway. (It was because they were oppressed they did it. Oppressed people and undisciplined children always pick their noses. Likewise, they do not wipe themselves good after their bowels move. A sign of exploitation. The Makers of Revolution had theorized long and hard before arriving at this understanding. They did not make snap judgments.) The world seemed to them like a 3-D reel they were watching through a View-Master. The uncooked flesh of the aristocracy tasted bland; but it satisfied their hunger. They felt, momentarily, as if something taken from them had been returned. Then the hunger swelled their bellies again. They didn't eat moguls though, they only ate Yuppies, and the children of moguls, with a few upstarts thrown in for seasoning. Moguls were an elusive lot. When they did manage to catch one, they opened his father's grave, stuffed him inside, closed the lid. They recited the same prayer over each coffin before lowering it: "You, who spent your life doing homage to the grave, we commit you to your god."
Otis found another garden
Not five minutes before the end
There were flowers, there were bushes
There were trees, there were ferns and vines
There was life abundant and lush.
But then he saw: there were no weeds.
"Is it real? Do they grow this way?
Can there be gardens without weeds?
Are not weeds as real as flowers?
As real as trees or ferns or vines?
As real as bushes and grasses?
How then can this garden be real?"
Otis, with but two minutes left,
Continued his Quest.
"Life Goes On" (a Tale of Courage)
Mary Jo, whose cousin Carol Marie Klugg worked at Simpson's, had lived her whole life for this one day only. Her Wedding Day. "Destroy the world after that, if you want," she said, "but for God sake don't let it rain!" (It didn't rain. It didn't rain rain, that is.) The sky, however, was exploding all around. The guests were being incinerated, pew by pew. I just hope against hope, she thought to herself before the altar, it will hold off till after the wedding is over. My coiffeur is perfect - not one curl out of place! If those mighty nuclear winds muss my hair I'll simply scream! I'll simply scream, I swear I will! Now I will not have My Wedding Day ruined! The preacher asked if anyone there had cause to object to the union of these two, Mary Jo and Joseph Mark - because, if so, he had better speak now or forever hold his peace. Mary Jo peeked around to see if anyone was going to object. Though I can't imagine who, she thought. The last row was being engulfed by flaming tongues. There were no objections presented. "Then by the power vested in me I now pronounced you man and wife," the preacher said. "You may kiss the bride." Mary Jo turned to kiss the groom, but found herself faced with a pillar of saltpeter. "Oh dear! Oh dear!" she cried before her eyes ears nose and throat melted off. "Will it stain my gown when the wedding party explodes into mush?"
[No, it didn't. You need never have worried, Mary Jo. The solar wind was
wailing against you, not them, they exploded over the pews, not your gown.]
Qwistofer knelt and prayed, dear God:
"Just give me my little petty advantage...
My little petty advantage.
Stretch my ego over a chasm, over you,
over me, over my desk, over the bomb."
But he was fired. He was black. Then he was charred.
The strong fabric of his hair weave twanged, each one,
as it singed. He had been sent to Mrs. Simpkins'
Social Relief Bureau earlier in the day, so he could finally
be seen black.
"Lookey: there goes another one, gettin' his welfare!"
the secretary of the Poor But Proud called the world's
attention to the short squat Negro mole. Mrs. Simpkins
screwed her nose when he walked in. Mother of mercy bless me,
here's another! Jobs aplenty and they gotta come a-callin'
for handouts! Well, what do you expect from 'em?
The men all got too big 'a dongs." Qwistofer didn't.
The Poor But Proud were on their way to work when the earth exploded. "We just want a job; just want work. We ain't particular what kind. We just want to work." So the Sampkins Employment Agency got them work. Pushing dog turds off the sidewalks into the gutters with their noses. Dirty work, but it had to be done, and done according to the specifications laid down by the consulting firm of S, S, S & S. "Noses First," the project was called. "Well," the Poor But Proud said, "it ain't no rose garden, but praise the lord it's a honest day's work! Leastwise we don't have to humiliate ourselves takin' no welfare. Thank God we's not like them darkies, a-takin' welfare. Thank the lord for that."
[[The Poor But Proud died of massive third degree nuclear burns and pinworms.]
"Hey boy, you got that there turd rollin' down to an art, ain't you?" the vice-president asked the treasurer.
"Shit yeah! Ain't nothin' to it."
The supervisor overhead this interchange. "Hey you - and you: you're here to work, not to talk! I'm not paying you to talk. You talk on your own time - got that?" The vice-president and the treasurer both nodded "Yeah, we got it."
The sergeant-at-arms sneezed. The turd Mrs. Macklin's toy schnauzer, Gewissheit von Gegendenker, had just deposited on the sidewalk in front of the Revenue Bank flew against the cornerstone. "You - hey you:" the supervisor called, "get that off there. Use your tongue if you have to, but I want that cornerstone spotless - and I mean clean enough to eat off of! You got that?" "Yes sir, I got it." And, indeed, he did. The cornerstone had never been so clean; even the traces of auto emission and acid rain came off (and got lodged in the sergeant-at-arms' throat, eating a tiny hole through his windpipe, which enabled a loose cloud of radon to get down into his lungs and burn him from the inside as the main body of the cloud burned him from the outside. He was a mess.) And while he was busy licking the cornerstone clean, a trio of street people were busy eating Mrs. Macklin and Gewissheit von Gegendenker. The pooch put up a good fight (the German in him); the lady got sentimental right at the end and called the cannibals her sons (she had just finished reading Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard To Find"). "You got that right lady," the cannibals said. Then pulled the skin of her breasts loose and sunk their teeth in.
Audrey, on a cool March day,
took five seconds, by her watch,
and while the hand ticked away
her soul despaired of life
her heart turned against her God
her mind refused to obey;
she laughed at eternity
she cursed immortality
she sneered at infinity;
she shook her fist at heaven
she spat upon the God-head.
And when her five seconds had ended
She was a Saint.
They walked the children of their master.
Their souls were beaten dead.
They crept through the open gates
of their masters' palaces,
Or shadow-sneaked their way between the iron bars.
Their stock of fellow love had turned to quills
pointed out upon the world.
They had lain their lives upon the bottom
They had sold themselves for fast wages
Paid one by one by the hour by the day.
They slithered up the walls and through the windows
Into their masters' children's rooms at night.
"Shh," as they aroused the sleeping heirs.
"Your father has sent us for you."
One by one they took them by the hand
and led them away.
They had had to kill every impulse
In order to survive.
For a day's wage
for a day's work.
God was to blame, for making it hard.
Man was to blame, for wanting it all.
There was so little; but so little, in the hands
of collective man, became so much;
yet still so little, for a day's work.
"You're here to work, not to talk. Not to
think. Not to feel. Not to dream. Not to be.
Mister, you're being paid to work."
Day by day, hour by hour, silent, heads bowed,
building up treasure they confined their souls
for a pittance of,
they worked on.
Their dreams were forgotten.
The art of dreaming was lost.
And without his dreams - without the
precious energy of dreams -
man cannot tell meat from food.
They led their masters' children
to an open field.
The children became scared.
The children cried.
They took up the crying tots,
these the heirs of their masters
who had made them quit dreaming
in order to earn a living,
and ate them.
One by one.
Until there were no more.
(Let a man create, and he will never
feed upon your children. Exercise the power
you have gained over him, and you sentence
your heirs to death. All men have
a little of the artist in them; and no artist
has ever eaten his fellow man. Let them
eat their dreams. Let them be.)
From the deepest pit they came, into the deepest
pit their masters' children went.
Down in the deepest pits
There lies a billion men
Looking up through iron windows
That try to guess which way
The world will turn tomorrow
Or if the sun will set.
And on and on men pray
So hope will stay awhile
And night will stay away
Till day has been seen again
And light has passed along
The road that's made of clay
And sits upon bright feathers
Filled with atom icicles.
"Just give me my little petty advantage.
My little petty advantage.
Stretch my ego over the chasm,
over you, over me, over the bomb.
Dear God: this is all I ask.
"Miss Rachel. Oh Miss Rachel: the Dusty Blobs are here." "That was quick," Miss Rachel replied as her secretary handed her the invoices, "we just order them last week." "No, Miss Rachel: it was last month." "What? A whole month? I want those workers fired! I should have had them two weeks ago. Put the invoices in the computer bank. And send for Clavicle. Tell him I'm having a market strategy meeting in the Club Conference Room in fifteen minutes. Have Miss Macklin and Miss Klugg join us. I've lost too much time already. I want those Blobs before the public by Good Friday. Those ones shaped like that Jew on the cross: get them ready for immediate shipment! I don't care if you have to steal a boxcar, I want those Jew-boys on the shelves by Good Friday!"
[The irony was: the world ended Maundy Thursday.]
Otis boarded the Amtrak
He took a red seat
On the fifth coach from the back
He rested his feet
He watched the land pirouette
The cadaverous billboards
As if the trees were trying
To escape from their embrace
This lost ballet continued
For as far as Amtrak could see.
Otis disembarked his coach
Backstage at Boston.
He took a bus to Concord
He walked from there
To Walden Pond.
Here, he thought, I will worship.
Here, I will pray before
That which is the synthesis
Of all that is America:
Her noblest dreams and thoughts
Put in their purest form.
He found a plaque
Marking the spot.
A famous landmark.
Where they sold food and drink
But not a whisper of Thoreau.
"Hi. I'm Henry David,
And I once planted beans here,"
a magical puppet whose hands moved said.
The Kids of America loved him.
Otis shook his head
No you didn't plant beans here, because I did.
And left, to continue his Quest.
"God help us if it falls into the wrong hands!" "You mean..." "Exactly. If the Makers of Revolution should get hold if it, we're all doomed. It'll be the end of everything." So it was moved. From the seventh floor of Syntacticus's headquarters in downtown Manhattan to a great underground cavern in northern Virginia, off John Cabin Parkway, not far beyond Tyson's Corners. The chairman of Syntacticus, Otterbein van Seton-Schmight, a Dutch émigré who made his fortune selling data bases, signed the release form permitting movement of Syntacticus' great computer, the Syntactile Cignet - the swan that shits pure gold. Gently the beast was disassembled; its carefully labeled parts put on trucks specially sealed; carried down Interstate 95 to its new home beneath Virginia; there, re-erected, its circuits re-connected, its programming tested for fitness. Good: the program held firm, nothing had jarred loose. It needed no help; it knew everything it was designed for, and could do it again. All was right with the world. The Swan would continue shitting gold till the day God took over the reins of government. It needed no help from man. It was programmed to inventory; and it would continue to inventory. Till God Himself came and carried it to its heavenly reward.
[Oddly enough, the threat from the Makers of Revolution proved a straw threat. They had gained so much ground, what with half the aristocracy eaten, that Syntacticus selected a new campaign for its Spring season: Make Mine Charity. The Makers of Revolution wore chintz from India, of a vaguely camouflage pattern. Suddenly camouflage patterned chintz was all the rage. And things revolutionary became the new Americana. You were nothing unless you quoted Marx, Lenin and Mao and were highly suspect without a hammer and sickle bumper sticker. Everything was "the proletarian this," and "the proletarian that," for the whole season. Borsch was in; apple pie was out. Revolution was the thing - the only thing, and everyone in America wondered how they managed to survive all these years without it. Matrons at cocktail parties (if they managed to get to their penthouses without being eaten first by the poor) made vague references to "When we overthrow the capitalist pigs," or to "the petty bourgeoisie." They always turned up their noses when they said it. (So, too, did they always turn tail and run for their limousines when the party ended.) Only the poor were not caught up in the throes of revolution: as always, they were the last to discover the latest trends - and by the time they did, the world had come to an end, making revolution superfluous. Up to that time, though, the Makers were wined, dined, interviewed and, in general, made over the way the latest celebrities always are. "If we can't lick 'em, let 'em join us," was the sole rationale. And you know what? It worked. The rebels gave up their grenades for VCR's, their leaflets for testimonials, their guns for gold chains, their platform for fame, their hatred of the system for power within it. They kept only their camouflage chintz. (They couldn't very well give up their identity, now could they?)
Michael always knew revolution for what it was. Still, he shed a tear when he saw his prophecy come true. Michael was hopelessly romantic. And he knew it. Not idealistic, but romantic. Ideals come and go, they change with the seasons; but the romantic impulse goes on a lifetime. "I like to think," Michael reminded himself, "but I know my thoughts aren't worth a damn. Only my feelings count, and only because I can't control them: they control me. I can't change them to suit today's circumstance. Like them or not, they're with me till I die. Even the momentary impulses that repel me, I put higher than the profoundest idea my mind produces: because it's more honest. It's as close as I will ever come to being a real presence in this universe. And when the impulse inspires me, exhilarates me, I know that I have cheated the order of things, I know I have made my life mine, I know I have purpose and meaning."
How strange, Michael thought: after all these eons, men still do not realize the source of their own existence. They still await word from without. They still don't see it. How strange. They put their ears to the ground, to the sky, to their neighbors, to their country, to their God - just as they listen on ever more complex equipment for the sounds of Brahms when all along his music is in their souls and a Mickey Mouse phonograph would play the notes as perfectly for that ear as the most sophisticated system; it is inside them, the sound they seek, or else it is nowhere. Men toy with that very notion, and claim to know it; but go on building bigger and bigger receptacles for capturing fragments of sound and holding them long enough for their ears to pierce them. The real music Brahms wrote needs no artificial amplification; through any distortion, any warping, any wobbling it remains as clear as an unbroken beacon of light. That music, you hear in silence or you will never hear it. Next to that music, if you have ever heard it, the cheap noise of cannons firing or coins jingling or dogma shouting or flags waving or whips cracking is an abomination and an affront.
- "Make me no revolution. Pro and con are dog's turds along the footpath. I choose to go around, not to eat, them." -
Quistofer hated the Revolution. It undid all that the counter-revolution had done. The gains he made betraying his people were all lost. (He didn't realize they were lost already anyway - lost precisely because of his betrayal. He didn't seem to know that betraying his people made him only his masters' darling just so long as they still needed his example.) Quistofer lost his job at the Bureau. Plus, somebody, in a rage one day, pulled off half his hair weave, cleaned the toilet with it, flushed it away. Nor could he afford, without a job, to replace the missing pieces. Woe is me, he thought. I'll have to turn to welfare. Oh, woe, woe is me. They'll mistake me for one of those, when I'm not. I'm not a lazy, shiftless nigger like them, it's only circumstance makes me look it. Oh woe, woe! (It's only circumstance makes anyone look it: just another side order of reality Quistofer conveniently overlooked.)
Carol Marie Klugg hated the Revolution with a passion, insofar as she had the capacity for passion. It threatened the established order. Not that she knew the first thing about the established order, only that she clung to it as a child to a bought balloon. She, in her foam pants (the ones with way too much stretch) and her dainty white ruffled blouse. Any other life but the life at hand was unthinkable, and in the end not worth living. Why look for life when they had already provided you with one, ready-made? (It never occurred to her that life was a thing to be created, not absorbed. She lived and died and never knew a higher sensation than osmosis. Poor Carol Marie.)
The quarterlies never tired of featuring the great Patrons of the Arts. Michael grew weary but never so weary of the torment that he failed to read them. It was a reminder to him, should he chance to forget, how this world was constituted. This season the focus was on Otterbein van Seton-Schmight. He loved beauty. He said so. It made Michael laugh to read it; he knew what was what. He knew the mogul loved, not beauty, but possession. To love beauty is to know how vital it is to life, and how crucial to every living thing. The poor and the lowly, too, needed beauty, yet in a world constituted along the lines set forth by the moguls, they had none. It was all taken up and forged into a few wondrous treasures which, artificially rarified, held a very high premium, while the rest of the world went bare.
"You love beauty?" Michael posed the question rhetorically to the mogul. "Then prove it. Release it. Turn it back upon the land, where it came from. Give it up. Not just to the museums, in dribbles, but to all men. Let it be in their houses. Let them not have to look at cheap plastic trinkets every day of their lives. Let them look at beauty. Real beauty. Let them create their own. Give them back their lives so that their souls no longer shrivel but flower. Let them create. Beauty: you love beauty? Then renounce power. Because if you choose power, then you cannot choose beauty. The two cannot co-exist. But no, you who claim to love beauty, you love only power. You can live without beauty, but not without your power. And unless you need beauty to live, you do not love it. You only curse it. How can you love beauty and bring ugliness into the world? Answer that one, Mr. Mogul. How can you, loving beauty, bring about such ugliness? Please explain how. Please tell me. How can you intimidate whose who share this planet with you? How can you regard them as intruders on your land, aliens in your kingdom? How can you make them fearful? How can you make them dependent on your good will for their survival? How can you watch while their need to be clothed, to be housed, to be fed ensnares them in the deadly, hopeless, inescapable trap your power has laid for them? How can you bear to set the terms of their existence, to watch as their souls slowly die from disuse, to know that because you sought wealth and power their lives became something shameful and degrading, something to be hidden away behind their hovels, or in front of their televisions, or inside a bottle of rotgut? Their lives - their lives - the greatest beauty they could ever experience: something cheap and meaningless and damnable, so that you might sit in your palace and dictate terms to the universe. Their souls - their souls - the highest principle they could ever know: something vanquished and abandoned and buried, so that you might hoard the beauties of this world in your storerooms. You, Mr. Mogul, who have siphoned the lives and the souls of your fellow man out of them; you, who have drained their energies in a never ending struggle to construct a world of more and more and ever more worthless trinkets and useless gadgets and vile circuits and putrid, meaningless data; you, who have bled mankind of its every breath of creativity, and left worm-eaten hulks of skeletous rubble wherever you have fouled this earth with your presence - you - you! - you dare claim to love beauty? You!? The only beauty that will ever derive from you, Mr. Mogul, will be the ashes of your bones blowing across the obscene desert you have made of this place. That, and that alone, will be your sole contribution to Beauty, just as the ultimate dissolution of your foul kingdom will be the sum of your encounter with Truth."
Michael set the Quarterly down, alongside an article in the Newspaper announcing Syntacticus' acquisition of the last remaining business enterprise. Now, with the aid of a Special Super Fund, the source of which had not yet been revealed, Syntacticus at last owned every single company on earth. Everyone who worked anyplace on earth worked for Syntacticus, with the exception of government employees, who worked only indirectly for it. The new world order called for 95% of the Gross National Product (or GNP as those in the know like to call it) - 95% of it to be given to Syntacticus, the rest to be distributed as equitably as possible to the remaining 99.9% of the world's population. The salaries of government workers were determined by Syntacticus' think tank, the Traditional Foundation, which had been chosen sole arbiter on matters of labor. The Foundation decided that all workers could be unchained from their desks fifteen minutes a day for lunch - a rule strenuously objected to by the Makers of Revolution, who had always argued for twenty minutes, and still did. But a compromise loomed on the horizon.
[Actually, even twenty minutes would not have been long enough
to run out and eat a child.]
What will they eat,
in twenty minutes or less?
The borrowings of others.
(In twenty minutes or less.)
They will eat each other's shit
And drink each other's puke
the night after.
The Committee to Pity the Starving
was formed. Ad Hoc.
A steering committee.
The brainchild of the chairman of the ad campaign,
of Sampson's, out of Boston.
They vanquished, they saw, they took
They have all the land, all the
resources; and yet they starve.
There is not enough to go around.
And they sold their brothers into slavery for a few
baubles, for the land, the resources: the leftovers
of their brothers' left-over empire. And for a time
they prospered; then they all starved. And as they did,
the brothers they sold finally prospered. The slaves ate
while their betrayers starved on the land they
So a great Committee was formed.
Every third Sunday of the month
it held a potluck. After dinner
they all gathered in the den
and held hands in a circle
and gave a solemn Pity Party.
"One, and two, and three," and
they all sighed. "Ahhhhhhh."
And it was over till next month.
(Sampson's was given special tax breaks in recognition of
its deep social concern. The chairman of the ad campaign
was summoned to Washington DC, where the President-elect
awarded him the Legion of Honor.
On his way back to Boston he stopped at the precious
metal exchange in New York City to assess its worth.)
Audrey, still fighting God's battles
(Does He even care anymore about them?)
Narrowly missed being mistaken
for an aristocrat out for a walk.
The god-head she carried was seen,
wrapped in her work sweater,
as perhaps a side of beef.
But no: they took a peek,
Saw it for what it was
Blew their noses on the sidewalk
"Wouldn't feed a flea," they said.
"Woman you're wasting your arms
carrying that thing along."
Audrey knew better though.
She knew it would save the day.
She knew, too, that how you saw it
Was how much you believed in God
And the order traceable to His Name
(She saw it in all its glory.)
God Himself will apply balm
to your burns.
God Himself will set
God Himself will sew
your limbs back on.
God Himself will glue
your brain in place.
God Himself will reconstruct
your soul, in plastic.
Just as He put candy in the mouths
of the children of Guernica.
(Who else will do so much for you?)
A Parable For All Time:
Honest John was a used car man. Till the day
they came in. And said "Get this car to run
and we'll spare you."
No one knew where the side of beef in the front seat
came from. Or the blood in the crank case.
Or the bones protruding from the exhaust.
Or the tongue on the antenna.
The crowd moved on. On foot.
And a vast wave of drunken souls crowded into the Laboratory of Science and broke the bars of the animals' cages. The animals spilled out from their experiments, infecting their infectors with all manner of contagion. This sacrilege was not discovered until the early evening, when the master scientist came in. His scalpel protruded from his breast pocket. The animals, which he had not noticed until he was inside the lab and had shut the door behind him, crowded around him. He wielded his scalpel. Be gone!" he cried. The animals only stared. "Be gone I said!" Still they came closer. Unanesthized, without assistants to hold them down, they were too much for the master scientist. All his genetic engineering failed him. His experience, chopping flesh, proved worthless against the growing light in those wild eyes surrounding him. His notes, his reports, his theories, his precious data could not hold them at bay. This great master of science was no match for living creatures. He threw down his scalpel and ran for the nearest cage; he leaped in; he closed the door. He was safe. Two chimpanzees, made psychotic in order to study their behavior then dissect their brains, eyed the acetylene torch in the corner of the lab. They looked at each other, then looked down at a young hog, whose skin had been seared off his haunches so that burns could be studied, with the proper protocols. Then they looked at the cage, then back again into one another's eyes. They effected a laugh. They went and got the torch. Their nimble fingers succeeded in getting it lit. They came at the cage, howling their mad howl. Science's finest hour. It reaped what it had sown. But instead of torching the master scientist, they just singed his hair and beard. For now.
The infants will be incinerated
(Cute will no longer be cute).
Quills of fire will each one
For a split second
Grab out of their playpens
A billion babes on a billion spits.
Roasted to a turn
on daddy and mommy's
while the hourly wage,
fed into their formula,
ignites their little tummies from within.
Daddy had to say "sir" to the man
because the man was his boss;
Mommy had to take a cut in pay
because her work was of lesser value:
had daddy said "no" to the man's demands
had mommy said I won't work for less,
baby would have been saved
from the flames.
A billion tiny sizzling blobs
of talcum scented stench
in little heaps upon the ground.
All because mommy and daddy
believed someone had a right
to say how they should live,
and what their lives were worth,
and at what cost they must work.
(So great a price
for an hourly wage.)
Mia Macklin took the masses on a tour of her father's housing development. Her purring BMW, so quick to put them asleep in the back seat, lunged at Macklin Manor, that rare blend of city convenience and country grace. Debussy had gone from the Etudes through Clair de Lune to Le Mer; his music put water under the wheels. Mia Macklin's BMW swam the streets of Macklin Manor, glided past rows of full half-acre splendors, the siding almost looked real, the clipped shrubs docile and civilized, the lawn free of bloom, devoid of growth, Chemlawn trucks politely departing before the misters and missuses returned home. Young urban professionals lived here. Twinlon Macklin, builder, had cleared a space for them where before was nothing but a forest on the outskirts of the city. An old man haunted those woods. No one saw him, but everyone knew he was there. He did not belong there, he had no deed. He was plowed under with the trees, which also had no deed therefore no right to a situation on the parcel of ground the courts recognized as Twinlon Macklin's and no one else's. Just ahead was the house Macklin built for himself. "Wake up!" whispered Mia Macklin. "We're there." The masses stirred, lifted their heads, looked around, saw the exciting handiwork modern America had wrought, closed their eyes and went back to sleep. Mia Macklin parked in the three car garage, beside the Mercedes and the Audi 5000S; got out; went in the house to put on a fresh face and clothes. She had a dinner engagement.
The television kept blaring at the dead worker whose vein had been
opened all over his green armchair. He was a poor man, and an
absurdist of the highest order: he thought he was a worker, yet he
had never done a day's work in his life. He spent eight hours every
day of his life doing something so that he could collect a paycheck
every week, but exactly what it was no one could have said. It
wasn't work. It had nothing to do with the universe he inhabited. It
was something entirely artificial, designed by an economist so that a
surplus might be produced to have the excess siphoned off. A man
needed to eat, to clothe himself against the winter cold and the
summer heat, to provide a roof over his head. This was a life's work.
Instead, this poor unfortunate man done in with a pop-top beer tab
used up his potential for labor laying up a television, a VCR, a season
ticket to the new sports complex downtown, a vehicle which ran (on
good days), a steady supply of booze. It never occurred to him that
his bone-weariness at the end of the "working day" was an illusion -
it had no choice but to be, his "work" was illusory, "he" was illusory:
he had no choice but to be, his identity as a "working man" was an
(This is off the subject somewhat, but even his sex life was an
illusion, owing to the fragility of his identity. Not only as a "working
man" did he not exist, but as a "man" per se, his entire manhood
pasted upon his body bit by bit by the needs of the social order.
Besides which, he had done nothing but the "missionary position" for
twenty-five years, two times a week. He was bored to death with
sex; he only thought he liked it, and only because he was supposed
to think it. He had no idea there was any other way to do it but as a
missionary. This was how he was taught. What a mess this man let
be made of himself!)
The final irony: the very moment he expired, just as the existence
of God was reaffirmed in centerfield, the news flashed his game
off the screen. "We have a special report" (they're all special).
"In a daring daylight break, two dangerous criminals escaped
from their maximum security cell at the federal prison." (It wasn't
a cell, it was a dungeon.) "They are now at large. Posters have
just been released to the United States Post Office to be posted.
They join eight other mad-dog killers on the Most Wanted List.
If you hear anything, or know anything, or see anything, please
tell someone immediately. What you say will be kept in the
strictest confidence. There is a reward. We now return you to
an Evening with the Symphony." (That did it for centerfield
for that evening's prime time.)
Tim and Tom had at last made the Most Wanted List. No surprise to them: Tim had always been Tom's most wanted, Tom Tim's. It was about time society recognized what each meant to the other, even if it was, as always, a perverse recognition. But they were free, that was all that mattered. They had been sprung from jail. They had re-entered the real world; but a different world from the one they remembered. A boulevard strewn with corpses was nowhere in their boyhood memories. They looked as they walked past; nothing connected. So they assumed (rightly) that it had nothing to do with them. It was a bone-land; they were of the flesh. Once they had crossed the terrain of the aristocrats, and the tastefully sprawled half-eaten corpses were behind them, they went down on one another to celebrate their new found freedom and notoriety. They sixty-nined each other till they were drunk, then they embraced and caressed and kissed and fell asleep behind the bushes behind the cathedral behind the creator's ass. (This great cathedral had sprung full blown from God, legend had it.) They dreamed of being covered with hot prickly burrs, as if they had rolled under a cactus. Each was in the other's dream, though, so nothing could really hurt them.
A maniac had inadvertently been hired at Simpkins. A good paying job, too, one that might have gone to someone more responsible. Who knew? The woman looked sane enough. She had on the requisite three-piece tailored M'Lady suit; she had come from Harvard Business School; she parked a brand new BMW in the visitor's parking space. Who could have guessed? And, during the interview, she spoke of finding a young professional husband and adopting a little Waspish baby. She knew all about Lalique crystal, and Meerschaum pipes, and Hummel dolls and Maria Theresa thalers, and had been to the Hermitage to see Faberge's eggs. How was anyone to knew but what she was right for the job? She seemed the perfect marketing strategist. She was at once put on a new account - one of the biggest: Klopp Kookeries. They baked goodies for children, under various trade names. She worked a whole week gathering statistics, preparing her ad campaign. Then she presented it before Miss Rachael and the other VIP's of Simpkins.
"There's a little greed
in everything we make."
This was her campaign slogan. The conference room was aghast. Were they hearing correctly? Was it possible anyone could be so boorish and tasteless as to present so blatantly offensive a slogan? Surely not! They questioned her, at great length. It was only then that they discovered the truth. Her BMW was rented. Her three-piece suit was not from M'Lady but from J.C. Penney. She had gone to Harvard Business School only to spit in the eye of the Dean; she had actually studied the humanities at Howard University in Washington D.C. And she had come to Simpkins with the sole purpose of sabotaging their great work. Besides which, she made her own pottery, and smoked a corn cob pipe, and had never been to a museum in her life, except to shake her head at man's stupidity. Nor did she want a husband, nor did she want a convenience child.
The men in the white coats were quietly summoned. They put her in a straight jacket and took her away. Then they carried on with the business of the sane.
The garbage spinners on tour. Through one after another sleepy hot Mexican village, where babies ate each other's soft shit where it seeped from the small cloths over their bottoms, and old men and women feigned blindness to conceal that they knew the cockroaches they ate were what they were; and young mothers licked their husbands' cocks so that their bellies instead of their wombs might be fed; and young fathers ate the eggs which every month came from their wives pussies. The food the spinners made had grown famous; everyone wanted some for their next party: it was fashionable to form pretty hors d'ouerves from processed garbage, everyone who was anyone was into it. Klopp Kookeries had just signed a contract with the spinners, for an undisclosed amount (said to be six figures), to market their garbage under one of its trade names, Klakoo Cordials. Sixteen peasants were hired to process the additional food. The spinners trailed Mexico in search of refuse; but there were so few rich. Finally, they decided to cross over. The border, the Rio Grande. Illegal aliens, come to collect garbage from the young professionals, to take home to their factory and turn into foodstuffs for the American market. The border guards, alerted, were ready. A champagne reception at the checkpoint; dignitaries from north and south; press coverage; a key to Texas. A famous economist, interviewed live on the air, explained the virtues of the entrepreneurial system. An old socialist tried to assassinate the economist: appearing in the studio suddenly, he took out a vial containing every additive, every dye, every pollutant technology had given humanity; he threw the witches' brew at the economist who, seeing it coming, ducked; it spilled on the anchorman of the six o'clock news; it ate him up. A new anchorman, even handsomer, was brought in to replace him. The ratings went up, too. The old socialist was forced, for his crime, to spend a night inside the great gold depository at Fort Knox. He loved it so well he wrote an anthem to Gold. He gave up Socialism to become a lobbyist for Syntacticus. "Socialism was okay when we were young and naive and idealistic," he said in an interview. "But it's become a bore. Can't say why; it just has."
And on and on the garbage spinners roamed the land of the free and the home of the brave, in search of refuse. Through every up and coming neighborhood of every major city they trekked, their black vinyl bags at their sides, gathering the raw stuff of their trade. Wherever they went they were greeted with cheers, and wined and dined, and were the darlings of the six o'clock news circuit. In New York they were given a ticker tape parade down Fifth Avenue. One million tons of confetti spewed from the Manhattan skyline. When there was no more paper, people flayed the skins off one another's backs, cut it into strips and threw it from the windows onto the parade passing below. The event of the season. Tanks and missiles filed past the windows, saluting along the way. A maiden was offered in sacrifice, and a boy was castrated. An old man and woman were garroted. A baby rat was painted gold and placed under glass. Works of art, on loan from the Met, were paraded through the streets. Poetry readings were given. Macramé demonstrations. Local high school bands marched along. Majorettes who caught their batons between their legs. Football players. And, from Washington D.C., the President of the United States. Grand Marshal of the Parade.
The garbage spinners returned to Mexico the next day.
In the county jail
was a man without a hand,
a man without a foot,
one without an ear,
another with no eye,
another with no tongue,
a man without a cock
a man without balls
one with a claw in his gut
one with a pipe up his ass
one with a vise on his head:
and this was only
the beginning of the week.
Ten men, screaming, crying,
blood on their souls
begging to be let alone.
But this was a jail,
and this was a planet,
and this was a universe:
there was no one to let them alone.
The charge was to torture,
to make them talk,
or to make them sing,
or just to make them hurt.
They were caught
by the long arm of life.
There had to be victims,
to keep the torturers
from being idle
(and idle hands do the devil's work).
The torturers had a yen
The yen the torturers had
expressed to perfection
the need the rulers had:
what is omnipotence without pain?
what is majesty without victims?
what is ownership without torture?
In the world of man is perfect utility.
in a flawless maelstrom:
power rises, blood descends,
torture generates a vacuum
which holds the whole in place.
All the torturers were at their posts,
when the world ended.
They had in one hand their next victim,
in the other their waterwheel
set to work the tight features
of a million faces
to a loose something-ness.
They all turned, victim and victimizer;
a beautiful white light descended
from a steel blue sky gone red.
And freed them all.
The aristocrats need never fear.
God Himself will come down,
and with a golden spike
scrape their remains
from the walls to take home
with Him forever,
in a place of honor,
where He will look at them,
remember who they were,
converse with them on politics,
on architectural styles,
on a host of fine subjects,
discussing salient points of fashion and decor,
offer His opinion of Mogdilioni,
attend to whether ten million was quite enough
for Galileo Contemplating the Bust of Aristotle,
ask if they thought Swan's Way
the best of Proust's works.
And not be at all offended by the stench.
And pages and pages of novels
will curl, smoke, sear and cease
(all those lovely characters,
so well drawn,
exquisite, chiseled, so wonderful,
Will be one
with the leavings of mice).
== Where have all the souls gone: a quick peek at how it feels
to lose artificial intelligence ==
ARCH. JZVP. MLST. WYND. HEDO. GIOQ.
(And a thousand more where these came from. All pouring frantically from the Golden Boy. All the brainchildren of one man. Quistofer, the un-black, who worked for the bureaucracy half his life. Devising acronyms. From Words Destined For Oblivion (FWDFO). He could get initials from words like a bee extracts nectar from flowers. He often said so himself, comparing himself to a worker bee. His work was pregnant with new language, not quite computer safe, but halfway there. The essence of initials - first initials of words his masters determined were expendable.. The essence. Which he strung together according to a pattern appearing all at once on his monitor then keyed onto little cards to be sucked into Cignet. Each bit of acronym a blank quill punched from cardboard. Ready to be filed away. A thousand program names, extracted from half a million words. Discarded shriveled hulks, half a million strong, strewn along the soft carpeted corridors all leading to the Golden Throne. The essence of what in a million years man had evolved into, synthesized and extrapolated to identify with ease to Cignet what its etymology was. Some men cried to see their favorite words disappear down into the bureaucracy. Some ran out in terror. Some went mad. Some shook their heads and laughed. They all knew that their culture had been castrated. They knew that the day their words became fodder their lives atrophied. What they did not know was that the day their words became more important than their deeds they had summoned the inevitability of Cignet. They did not know that in letting their words slowly gobble their bodies they had sealed their doom. That it was a only small step, their having reduced themselves to their language, to having their language freeze dried for quick storage. Trapped inside their own invention, nothing remained to stop their being filed away inside Cignet. The essence of words, the fate they conjured decreed to be the essence of themselves too. Quistofer, the un-black, picking at his brillo-pad hairweave moments before he turned black again, did them their final dirt.)
"In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, Shakespeare and Goethe I pronounce sentence upon you." The jury having found the criminal guilty, the judge was instructed to pronounce sentence. Sift through your book of procedures, he was told by the jury foreman; through the Trilogies, through the Decameron, the Canterbury Tales, anyone else you wish. Then return from your chambers, your deliberation complete, and pass sentence, careful of structure, syntax, grammar and syllabification. We will await your return.
Seven days and seven nights the judge labored. He pondered the great philosophers (even the existentialists: they too contain sufficient rhetoric to damn a man). He let the classical authors fix his mind in the proper context. He studied the novelists, playwrights, poets and satirists, gleaming from each what it meant to rule. For a judge is the ultimate extension of rulership; in that, he is like God. No one can rule without someone in his employ to pass judgment. (Justice is anything but blind.)
On the morning of the eighth day the judge entered the courtroom, which was full of cigarette smoke, of the scent of warmed over hot dogs, of beer cans, of stale bodies. Everyone arose. The judge took his seat. The prisoner was brought forward, nailed to a cross (ten-penny nails, which barely held his tendons).
"You have been found guilty of disobeying every precept laid down through the millenia. You have blasphemed God, cursed the President, spat upon the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, scrawled your name across the steps of the Library of Congress, passed gas at the start of the aria from Aida, picked your nose inside Mrs. Smith's pie factory, and displayed your sex organs in front of St. Jude's Children Hospital. I hereby sentence you to hang on a cross of gold until your mother comes and with the flat side of a hammer releases you. Sentence is to be carried out at twelve noon today. And may God have mercy on your soul."
"Your honor," the court decorator pointed out, "a golden cross is somewhat garish these days. There is a revival in silver and crystal. Also, wood is big this year so far. Since you'll be using ten-penny nails, I recommend against the crystal - also the silver. May I respectfully suggest a cross of teak? The orient is 'in' just now."
"Very well," the judge agreed. "Let the record show the defendant upon a cross of teak."
As the cross the defendant was already on, a makeshift thing anyway, was of knotty pine, he was taken down and nailed to one made of the finest teakwood from Ceylon (Sri Lanka). His mother, on her way to take him down, slipped and broke her hip (actually, she had osteoporosis: the hip broke first, which was what precipitated the fall - not the other way around). He hung on the cross for forty days and forty nights while his mother's fracture slowly healed. During that time he had a vision. He saw a company of artists and thinkers and generals and judges gather around the foot of his cross; they measured him in every particular, to the n-th degree, then reported their findings to a group of potentates lounging on ottomans. Into that midst stepped God, who patted them all on the head then bent His own head so that they in turn might pat it. Then, at last, in walked the Supreme Potentate, who was rumored to be worth 100 billion. He dismissed the whole crew after thanking them for their help (except for God, who was allowed to remain). He approached the cross, kicked the man in the balls, then disappeared, leaving God to take the rap. The man, who in his youth had almost worshipped beauty, cried. Because among his tormentors he had seen Henry James, whose works he loved. (Even the escape from reality creates a reality too harsh to endure.)
Michael read of this case. He went to his bookcase and ripped every book to shreds. He left his record collection alone, though; but vowed that if he ever found the strength he would return to destroy them too. He related the story to Audrey at work (leaving out what he had done, since he knew she had already made a pact with reality to see just surface features). "These great men," Michael said to her, "these artists and philosophers and the like (even Sartre): they are one with your godhead, Audrey, in that they allow their names to be used to hurt people. With the possible proviso that they are dead and can't help it. Unless they look deeply, in which case they'll see in their lifetimes what will come of their works. Shakespeare's sonnets do not make nearly so fine a vehicle for higher truth as they do a handy bludgeon for keeping the peace. I know, too, Brahms has helped kill many a man with his First. But I'm weak, I cannot deafen my ears to his cries of ecstasy. What I should do, Audrey, is bring someone home and tie him to the stereo and, when I play Brahms, torture my guest to death. But I don't seem to be fully human. I can't do it. Maybe I'm from another planet."
"There is no other planet," Audrey confided in her workmate. "No moon either. They only make it look that way."
"With mirrors?" Michael asked.
"With styrofoam," Audrey answered. "And flashlights. They don't even need mirrors. It's an old trick they have."
"And God? Is He, too, a trick of lights and foam?"
"God is looking down on everyone of us, at all times."
"And He likes what He sees?" But then, thought Michael, He must: it's all done in His name. The grand potentates give Him no choice. He must be what they say He is. Okay, Audrey, I'll buy your styrofoam planets. Why should they be real? They were made in heaven. And heaven was forged in the political exigencies of man's imagination. Not as an opiate for the masses, though; but an opiate for the rulers. The victims need no justification for their deeds. But: so what?
Otis set foot on the sill
that stretched across the canyon
like the beak of an eagle
against the marauding sky.
Where he was he could just see
The south wall across the way.
Below, the Colorado
wound like a cellophane band
Awry astride old loaves of bread.
He knew there would be vendors,
Souvenirs for his pleasure,
Hot dogs - popcorn - and soft drinks.
What he did not know was that
The scene could suggest to him
the crassest of imagery:
cellophane? old bread?
Otis gave thought to jumping:
"How can I expect to find
What's real if I'm not real?
I must divert my Quest.
I must find first
Something within me
To divert my path
from cellophanes and old breads
Or else give it up."
On TV, just after the baseball game ended, was a live, televised official Shouting Match. It began right after a commercial for toothpaste. A celebrity announced her teeth their brightest ever, thanks to Toothies, the chewable toothpaste, the one with the clean, crisp burgundy taste. Then it began. The contestants lined up, squared off, resolved to shout one another down. The buzzer announcing the start of the contest sounded.
The honkeys cried "Nigger"
The niggers cried "Faggot"
The faggots cried "Whore"
The whores cried "Lezzie"
The lezzies cried "Gook"
The gooks cried "Wetback"
the wetback cried "Uncle"
The Uncles molested their nieces and nephews
The nieces and nephews stepped on the paws
of the cats and dogs
The cats and dogs bit the heads off the mice
The mice ran after the farmer's wife.
The head of a citizens' committee appeared before the Zoning Board, representing the inhabitants of an up-and-coming area of town. He asked, very simply, for unlimited power to zone his neighborhood.
"Our aim," he said, "is to keep out Undesirables: you know: those without taste or class or style, and so on. Those who take public transportation to work and to the store. Those who wear last year's fashions. Those who settle for kitsch. You know: unicorns and cherubs and overstuffed chairs and gaudy end tales with fake marble pedestals."
His name was Arnest Griswold. He was a man of middle height, slightly balding, developing a paunch (despite his workouts at the Athletic Club). He wore a three-piece gray-black suit. He told of seeing some of the very people, who had been displaced in order to rehabilitate the houses they had previously rented, wandering along the sidewalk in front of his townhouse (formerly a row-house). He explained how it had frightened his young fiance, who had just come home from her profession. She feared rape.
"These were black men," he said, "and they had on red sweatpants. No underwear. And the way they swung themselves as they walked: it just made my honey sick. I want these animals kept out of my neighborhood, whatever it takes. Do I make myself clear? I am a citizen and a homeowner, not to mention a taxpayer, and I expect to be able to walk my own streets without fear of being mugged."
A court order was issued denying the men in the red sweatpants access to the up-and-coming neighborhood. Eventually the order was broadened to include all up-and-coming neighborhoods. A special brigade of police was set up to enforce the order. And just to be sure none of the wrong people got arrested, the residents of the neighborhood never wore red sweatpants or participated in Mummers Day parades. (Life can be beautiful for those able to cover all bases.)
[The neighborhood, on That Day, fell to rubble. A black
man, passing, pulled out his tool and pissed through the
open eye sockets into the crushed skull of Arnest Griswold.
Then walked on to the end.]
"There is no discrimination," announced the head of the Sacred Human Rights Commission. Recently appointed by the President. Charged with investigating all allegations of discrimination. First, the black problem was looked into and dismissed. A cadre of black professionals was found, tucked inside otherwise all-white neighborhoods. These people never wore red sweatpants, always wore underwear, never swung their bodies when they moved, never called their street "the hood," drove BMW's, and leaned toward contemporary decor - "but tasteful, despite their color," the Commission report pointed out. "Specifically, there is no instance on record of 'early nigger' among these people's furnishings." They were given a clean bill of health: it would be unthinkable, and indeed impossible, to discriminate against these paragons of middle class virtues, manners and mores. Next, the gay problem was quickly dispatched, simply by pointing out that no other single group in the country was so solidly Middle-American. "The homo's exhibit the most extreme example of a full blown bourgeois lifestyle to be found anywhere," the Commission members all agreed. "Good food, good drink, good clothes, good cars, taste and elegance, style and decorum, plus a penchant for gentrification, not to mention a virtual passion for the produce of high-tech: this is what being gay in America is all about, regardless of race, color, creed, sex, national origin. Gays are with us, not against us: even the dying know the value of a VCR and, especially, a DVD. They've come a long way since the days of the T-Room. God bless 'em!" Now to dispatch Women, the largest of the officially recognized minorities. "Women overwhelmingly voted against the first woman candidate for high office. They as much as acknowledged that even the most monstrously incompetent man is preferable to a woman in high office. Besides, women have been admitted into the ranks of the professional class in droves. So now when you speak of 'the little woman,' you'd better make that 'the little aggressive, goal oriented, hold-her-own-with-any-man woman.' God love 'em!" Jews, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Native Americans were lumped together. Jews had a very good socio-economic standing; Hispanics were very Macho; Asian-Americans made damn good chop-suey; and Native Americans had the distinction of pre-dating the Mayflower. Altogether, a well-rounded and a winning combination.
"What of those among the minorities the report mentions who have not entered the middle class?" it was asked. The head of the Commission looked as if he had been made light of, as if the querant had just tried to put something over on him.
"When we assess minorities, it is assumed we mean people who count, for God sake," he replied. "Those who do not measure up to the high standards we have set for granting official minority status simply do not enter into the picture - how can they? Of what possible import is what happens to them? We must have standards or else just anyone'll waltz right in demanding fair treatment before the law. And then, of what value would the law be? In order to preserve the force and the moral weight and dignity of law, we must apply it with the most careful selectivity. To apply it everywhere, to all comers, just for the asking, is to dilute it to the point where it no longer means much of anything. I would have thought that much was obvious.
Out on the strait, a ship on its way to Constantinople caught a glare of quill-fire in its steel prow; and before transposition set in, it watched. Santa Sofia, mosque of the divine aesthetic, against a backdrop of tumble-down homes and shops, while the great bazaars of Istanbul filled with salt-mound bodies and cinder-rags of old silk and consumed produce from the country: a blend, heavenly mosque with the grand fortress, the Turkish prison, in the center of the city of the Bosporus, where east again met west, and the values that rose from ashes descended back. Santa Sofia, filled with treasure; the Turkish prison, discarded waste in courtyards and corridors and cells and sewers. Incense and stench, across town from each other. Santa Sofia and the Turkish prison. Mosque and dungeon. God and His Evil Twin. A thousand souls prayed, a thousand bodies flayed. Until a band of gold-green quills collapsed the illusion and left an indistinguishable pile of rot along the burning banks of the golden route. Mosque and prison, sublimity and scum, all as one. As it always was, save for the illusion illuminating one, darkening the other. The illusion is no more; beauty was seared to its beastly core. And the sky will cry one day.
The sky will cry one day
And winds will sing
And stars will turn away
And seas will sink
Into the deepest pit
Within the tattered earth
And on and on we fight
And kill and curse out
Against the ones who try
To fight and kill us too
And all the time
We look up and sink down
Into our cement holes
Filled with atom icicles.
III Don't Use Dung
(If You Can Help It)
[In the neighborhoods, the dogs were true to their
training: some barked and growled, some wagged
their tails and begged, some went their way.
Walking past, you knew their masters by
their dispositions. The front yard is a truer
window to a man's soul than even his eyes. His
pet evolves out of his fears and hatreds, out of
his weaknesses, or from his ideals and his
indifference. But no other source pervades.]
... Whatever the source, the leavings are the same ...
Audrey: carrying the godhead: with difficulty watched
Vermin peopled the earth.
Melted bodies slithered.
Teeth chattered, bones cracked.
Man was a lump of heated sugar
in a spoon.
With a speck of gray dust in the center.
Audrey sloshed toward heaven.
The remains of her fellow man
impeded her movement.
"Sloppy people!" she muttered.
"Leaving food to rot on the street.
Look at the roaches.
And on a baby's skull, a praying mantis,
No one told Audrey the end of the world
She still waited.
(In her exuberance to save the godhead,
she saved herself.)
No one she stepped upon was able to say
it wasn't what he ate but he who ate
which the bugs now scavenged on.
Senor Miguel was on the twelfth
of his eighteen hour work day
when, up in his office in Mexico City,
he took the end of the world
for a thunderbolt.
And when his air conditioning went off
and his recessed lighting went out
and his intercom went dead
and his telephone wouldn't ring -
he turned from the window
convinced a storm was on the way.
Thus missing the billion-fold
transmutation of mankind's energy
to hollow quills filled with fire.
He knew energy.
He would have liked
to try and harness
this molecular metamorphosis;
it could not be harnessed,
in its final form.
Man's bones: you can harness.
Man dreams, his hopes, his needs,
his fears, his hates, his loves:
can be harnessed.
But not the cosmic force
released when one gram too much
of effort is wrenched
from his soul.
Senor Miguel: not all his
scientists, engineers, metallurgists,
economists, philosophers, artists
working together a thousand years
could get it in tow.
Not this energy.
It came in quills
inside time warps -
a billion shafts of dream time,
arrows from the split-second
blend of past, present, future,
never, and always.
You will not, Senor Miguel,
- not - turn a profit this time.
Not even the greatest prince
can gain from absolute
The end of everything
doesn't go this much per pound,
or that much per second.
Real time is money.
Dream time is free.
The garbage spinners, on their way home,
filed past the last workhouse to close.
Sweatshop, factory, commune, office, store:
in combination, keeping alive
industry, commerce, exploration
(and perhaps even exploitation)
With a hundred thousand individualized
time clocks, and a hundred thousand
look-alike workmen, wearing
a hundred thousand personalized name tags
pinned to their hundred thousand overalls.
They made a little of everything, and worked overtime
three nights a week, but were off
Wednesday, when the number one rated show
and Friday, when the number two show, was on TV.
Their labor fed the world, high and low:
the rulers, the starving all depended
on their showing up for work.
On that day, no one appeared;
no time clock clicked
no name badge snapped
no overall rustled.
No work was done.
This the last of man's workhouses
expired, leaving the starving to starve,
the rulers to rule starvation.
The workers had not gone on strike,
they had merely gone.
Every quarter millionth quill
had a worker riding it home.
Only then, exploding against the sky,
did they realized their sin
[Their homes were looted by
the Survivalists, who, in the
final seconds of existence, sensing
the end, went around and appropriated
the goods of others, as the services
of these others had once been appropriated
by all mankind collectively surviving.
"If I must slit your throat to put food
on my children's table, I will!" the
Survivalists' leader had said.
(In his own charming way,
He imagined this principle entirely new.)
Of course, his children, baked to a turn
on quills, ended up on his table.
Strangely, he didn't seem to mind all that much:
"Man's gotta eat, don't he? Gotta survive.
Survive at all costs."
Ultimate heir to all thievery,
all butchery, all madness,
all existence: the leader
sat down to his last supper.
(Little Joey tasted okay;
little Judy was a little tough.
But papa bear managed.)
And as he dined on paté de jeune fils,
ten thousand warheads flew past.
The warriors were all stuffed
inside warheads and sent
orbiting the earth.
(They would know what it's like
awaiting the explosion which would melt them.)
In and out among the firing quills
the warheads burst apart;
the warriors came down
like bird droppings
out of the sky.
One landed on papa bear's head.
And like the cloth Medea wove her
presents from, it burned,
and would not come off,
until the Survivalist
had a head to match his soul.
And was chided posthumously
for leaving perfectly good food
on his plate go to waste.]
Mia Macklin and Arnest Griswold were engaged to be married: a June wedding. She was having dinner with him that evening, which was why she was in such a hurry to freshen up. The BMW, outside, with the snoozing masses in the back (she had removed the key, lest the masses awaken and make away with her new cay), Mia Macklin entered the house her father built. "Daddy?" she called in a half voice, thinking perhaps he was home all along and the cannibalized corpse back there, in front of the Simpson Building, was someone who, dressed like her father, merely looked like him in skeleton. He did not answer her call. On his bureau was a note: "Meet Mia for dinner." So that had been him after all. "I couldn't have met him for dinner anyway," Mia Macklin noted: "I'm going to Flaumbards with Arnest."
"We met him for dinner though!" a cacophony of sleepy voices pointed out to Mia Macklin. The masses had woke up and decided to come on in. "We're humgry," they whined.
"There's some wine and cheese in the fridge," Mia Macklin assured her guests.
"We were kinda hoping to nibble on you," the masses politely informed their hostess.
"I have an important dinner engagement. I must get dressed. Now if you want some refreshment, help yourself - in the kitchen! And don't leave a mess for the maid."
The masses guffawed over that one. "There are no more maids," they said.
"Sure, and I'm Tinker Bell!"
"Don't you believe us?"
"As long as there's money, darlings, I assure you there will be maids. And butlers. And chauffeurs. And cooks. And doormen. And every other description of servant. Now if you'll excuse me."
The masses went to the kitchen in search of hors d'ourves. "There aren't any maids though," they pouted, offended at not being believed. They decided they could not possibly eat her until they had convinced her things really had changed. (A hopeless task.)
[At that very moment the very same black man, wearing
red sweatpants, who had pissed in Arnest Griswold's skull
happened past Mia Macklin's bedroom window. He saw
her. He climbed through the window. He brought out
"I thought you guys all had twelve inches," Mia Macklin commented upon her guest's endowments.
"You don't like. Fine. I'll rape your mother."
"I didn't say that."
"She's out walking Gwissheit Von Gegendenker, I saw her." He was almost out the window.
"Come back, damn it! A women doesn't have to have twelve inches to be satisfied. At least, a white woman doesn't. She learns to...adjust. Besides, you're close enough. The only thing is, I don't have much time; and I have guests in the kitchen. Plus I have to be at Flaumbards at six. Arnest and I are celebrating the first anniversary of our engagement."
"You whites celebrate every God-damn thing, don't you?"
"'God damn thing'? What, no 'mother-fuckin' thing'" What's wrong? Cat got your soul?"
"Hey, cool it, white woman. I don't care if you are a hot number, I'll take my boy and go after your mama."
"Alright. Forgive the sarcasms. I'm just in a bitchy mood today."
"On the rag?"
"Does that turn you off?"
"Look, I already agreed to give it to you. I'm a man of my word. A deal's a deal - okay?"
"'A deal'? I think I'm a little better lay than that! At least Arnest says so."
"The less said about Arnest the better."
"You loath him, don't you?"
"You got that right lady. Now come on, I'm getting horny, I haven't got all day, I want to drop my rocks and be on my way. Let's fuck."
"I want to suck first."
"Then do it broad, do it!"
"By the way," Mia Macklin informed her paramour, "for future reference: when you've just pissed - and I can tell you have - wipe it with a piece of toilet paper. You can taste the urine."
"God you white people are a trip!"
"Well, I've got to finish getting ready now. Arnest doesn't like to be kept waiting."
"Trust me: he won't mind."
"You don't know Arnest like I do. You haven't slept with him."
"But I have been...intimate...with him. In a manner of speaking. Now, I'm going. Want to find me a nice miniature Schnauzer. Know of any - hey! just kidding! Your mama's safe."
"Mama can take care of herself. Hey - black man: you really don't need twelve inches to satisfy a woman."
"You're okay, lady. A real fox. We gotta do this again."
"Only thing'll stop us is the end of the world!"]
[Famous last words]
Otis came upon a book burning
ceremony in the middle-west
(Only Bibles were safe.)
The Haters of Revolution lit the torch.
By invitation, fifty-thousand strong,
The guests and VIP's, after a prayer,
were seated along the bleachers
of a super-duper-dome
where just the night before the play-offs
were held to find the best team around.
All the classics were piled high
beneath the opening in the dome.
All the enemies of all the True Truths
(which the Haters learned by heart
at their mothers' knees)
were set to flame.
Otis left in disgust, hopped a freighter
on its way west to San Francisco,
where the annual Booksellers Convention
had been carefully arranged
the night before
in the Cow Palace.
Fifty-thousand booksellers demonstrated
a quarter million books..
"They open like this."
Ahhh! the spectators were awed.
Then the parade of celebrities began.
Ten-thousand strong, they filed past the stands
Till each had come to rest beside
his own book, written in his own hand
(more or less).
Books on golf, books on gardens;
Books on how to diet and when not to;
Books on past, present and future
plans of movie stars
and running backs;
Books that showed how the famous
kept themselves in shape
(You could to);
Books at great length depicting
in great detail the impending
marriage of super-star and count;
Books which told how good
the good news really was,
and how bad the bad;
Books about heroines, books about heroes;
Books on how the rich lived,
Books on how the poor lived,
Books on how the middle-class lived;
Books on being black (you too could straighten you hair,
even lighten your skin),
Books on being white (you too could curl your hair
and tan like a bronze god);
Books on being positive,
Books on being negative;
Books on how to write books
(even how to want to),
Books on how to sell books,
Books on how to read books
(even so fast you head would spin),
Books on where to find books;
Books for those with bad eyes,
Books for those with no eyes,
Books for those with four eyes;
Books on how to get rich,
Books on how to be poor
(even proud and happy)
and where to find a commune,
and how to pass a test,
and what was best to wear,
and where the good dancers were,
and how to snare a mate,
and how to part as friends,
and how to raise the kids
to be intelligent, successful
and goal-oriented consumers
in a consumer-oriented culture
that loved to see its name in print.
Otis caught the first plane
back to Middle-West.
To follow that book burning ritual
to its conclusion.
[Evil empires ban and burn books;
America has celebrities...
"I have learned a great deal more,"
Otis told the Haters of Revolution,
"from the smoke and the smell
of the classics here
than from the books out there.
A word of advice:
if your aim
is to destroy all knowledge,
put out your bonfire,
go to San Francisco,
write your own books,
watch civilization die."
Before the Haters of Revolution could object,
Otis was gone, to continue his Quest.
Tim and Tom awoke to find the world on fire. A small squat bald-headed un-black man was running down the street screaming. His scalp smelled of singed chicken wire and the seat of his pants were on fire. His screams came in code: his whole life he had gladly encoded, so that white America could make better use of his skills, it was only fitting his end should come also in code. Then he passed, and the boys were diverted by the nearby sky. The top of the steeple of The Lord's Church was a smelter; the little bell-ringing bishop, who had issued an encyclical condemning homosexuality, had melted onto the big brass dome of the bell; his great mind steadily dripped onto the parishioners below. They were screaming; they thought a lunatic or a hunchback was spilling boiling oil on them, whereas it was only the seething ideas of a prelate pock-marking their heads. Tim and Tom saw the steeple, ablaze, cave inward. Will we perish too? they asked each other. Then they smiled at their momentary foolishness. We have never lived for the sake of death: to ask whether we will perish is an absurdity. We will live. We will not conduct a moment of our lives as if it were taking us to our graves. Perish? What is perish to us? We live.
Michael was walking along an alley when out from nowhere jumped a group of men, different ages and sizes, all naked. "Want to join us for sex?" they asked. "We've got some prime meat here - see?" "Who are you?" Michael asked. "We're the Society of Size. We're just what our name says, as you can see." They all posed their meat to best advantage for Michael's inspection. "Sex is sex to us," they said. "We like it hot and heavy. What do you say?" Michael looked the man over. He saw a few he liked the looks of, but none who had a special kind of look in his eyes. Plenty of bodies, plenty of meat; but no souls to speak of. Michael shook his head "no" and walked on. One man ran after him. "Hey!" he called. "I saw you looking at me. I can tell you're interested. Come on, let's do it, just you and me." "And when we're finished?" "You go your way, I'll go mine. I'm not into possession." "Me neither," said Michael. "Well then?" Michael shook his head "no." "Why not?" "You won't understand."
He won't, Michael thought as he watched the man go back to the group and disappear behind the rubble. He won't understand. If you've seen a man's soul, you can't be satisfied with anyone else's body. If you haven't seen his soul, then it was just a glorified hand job. Man or woman. It's not who you're with; it's that you're with who you're with.
"The Society of Size, eh? How much a man's got. But notice it's never how much of the intangibles he has, only what's easily measured. It's all volume; form. If the speakers are loud enough, you might pick up the meaning? If the paint is bright enough, you might see the image? If the page is clean and well-typed, you might abstract the essence? Keep trying. Maybe you'll be the first in history to succeed. Maybe you'll discover surface depth - the dream of the ages. And market it. Revolutionize culture. Make a fortune. Start a foundation. Answer the age-old question: how deep is deep? Twelve inches: give or take?
The sounds of sex came from deep inside the blind alley as the men tried to out-measure each other's measure. While, up ahead, a huge auditorium was rapidly filling with the dregs of humanity.
"Come one - come all!" the barker shouted. "That's it: pay your money, come on down, compete. Do your thing, and do it better than anybody else, God bless you. Compete. That's it. Pay up. Red-white-and-blue. And compete." Ten years in the planning, finally the stage was set. First, the government had sponsored it, but then, as it began running out of money, sponsorship was taken over by Syntacticus of America. "Let Private Enterprise do it" the nation pleaded. "They can do it best. And turn a PROFIT. And create JOBS. Let them do what they do best." The public clamor had paid off. Syntacticus assembled a Think Tank, overseen by Arnest Griswold; for two years the planning went on, now the fruit was ready to ripen. The First National Competition Emporia was set to begin, at eight P.M. sharp, in the newly constructed Universal Auditorium. Tomorrow night, a rock concert; then a wrestling match; then an antique show. Tonight: Competition Unlimited. Every man, woman and child with a fifty dollar admission price could come in and compete. And compete at anything, with anyone, on any terms, for any of a half-million trinkets the Committee had assembled to be awarded the winners. "Come help us separate the WINNERS from the LOSERS!" "Come show us the stuff you're made of!" Everyone was sure he could be a WINNER. "Hell! Ain't that what it's all about?" "Ain't we all better'n the next guy?" "God Himself said it best: 'To the Victor Belongs the Spoils!' I love God like He was another me, He's so on top of things! I just adore Him!" "God knew where it was at - He Knew! While everyone else was busy looking for it, He found it! That's why He struck 'em with alien tongues for working together. He Knew. It's competition makes the world go round. Not cooperation. My boy God knew. He damn straight knew!" "He wouldn't do nothing I didn't approve of - otherwise He damn well knows I'd be a-lookin' for another God to worship and love!" "He knows how important my prayin' to Him is - He ain't likely to do nothing to jeopardize that. No siree, Bob, not my God!"
Red, white and blue from a cardboard box special delivered by UPS. A team of interior designers, instructions in hand, assembled the decor. The cardboard box was put backstage, saved for later so that the decorations could be packed in storage till the next great competition, which had yet to be scheduled. The public clamored for a firm date, but Syntacticus awaited the tally of profits from tonight's event first.
"Ladies and gentlemen: the President of the United States. Let us bow our heads and give thanks we have a President and not a Commissar."
"I thank you," said Mr. President. "And I thank the chairman of Syntacticus, who so graciously invited me to preside over this evening's festivities. So, after a brief invocation, we will begin. The Reverend Prayerbox will lead us in prayer. Reverend."
"God Almighty, who gave us your only begotten son that we might be saved, we thank you for thy bounty, that we might compete one against the other for the lion's share of it. We thank you for showing us how to compete. We thank you for all those little tricks that give us that all-important competitive edge we need to come out on top. We thank you for those who, because they're best of all at competing, are able to make Profits and thereby create Jobs. We thank you we never went the way of the Commanists, who spend all their energy doing exactly as they're told. We thank you we have the freedom to choose just which factory we'll work in. We thank you for being a strong, people who do not let the little pip-squeaks in the Third World push us around and tell us what to do; nor will we tolerate the immoral among our own kind, be they blacks who lay back all day and get rich off of welfare; or women who won't take their husbands' names in matrimony as you have instructed all women to do; or Hispanics who want to foist so ungodly a language as Spanish on our fair nation; or homasexuals and lezbans who spread filth and contagion and corrupt our young. Lord, heavenly Father, we than you for our great values and our two good hands and our superior white brains, which enable us to out fight, out spend, out wit and even out class the whole rest of the G.D. world. Amen."
"Back to you, Mr. President."
"I just want to say that I'm up for re-election next year. And my opponent is rather soft on things no one should be soft on (all of which I'll explain to you at the proper time). But rather hard on all the things that made this country great (that, too, will be explained in due time). So now, let the contest begin - and may the best man win!"
Michael, standing in the nuclear winter outside the auditorium, listening over the loudspeakers to the invocation, offered his own.
"Tear off the arms from some more babies, Mr. G., why don't you."
Yes: competition made us great. But cooperation would have made us greater still - and less at the mercy of our own mis-spent energies. Competition helped build our cities, our highways, our technology - but only because we cooperated long enough to get them built. The good construction can be laid to cooperation: to a sense of building something our friends and neighbors could be proud of and feel safe in; the shoddy construction to competition: to a sense of getting the best of everyone else, of putting one over on our fellow man. When we worked together we produced of lasting value; when we worked apart we produced junk. When we cooperated, we completed a circuit: our energies were equaled by our creations and our rewards. When we competed, our energies went flying in all directions: we put more into it than the creation needed or the reward warranted. Our excess energies, which might have gone toward building a better world, were siphoned off so that a trillion cubits of worthless rubbish might be stock-piled in the warehouses of our rulers, for quick sale. We let ourselves produce more than we needed, without even asking why. The enormity of our silence is the measure of our fate. We will all perish because somewhere someone will make one too many widgets. And we won't have any idea why. Ten widgets and five blodgets a month would have taken care of anyone's needs; but we were harnessed to produce 10,000 of the one, 5,000 of the other, so that a surplus might accrue to our rulers' coffers. And we never questioned it, because every step of the way we were handed sufficient baubles to pacify our yearning for worth. We wished for meaning, we were given entertainment. We sought happiness, we settled for a VCR. And we are damned accordingly. The best and the brightest alone refused to sell their souls for a VCR. They sensed technology evolving and held out for a DVD.
"So please, Mr. G., one more baby's breath, while there is still air to expel. We like the way you do things, around here."
And even the vultures
will know then
what they robbed us of
and will weep vomit
Audrey sat a spell.
The godhead, she set by her feet.
She looked at the sky,
rising icen thunderheads
crackled and peeled
as they melted
to yellow-red flames.
She thought for a moment
She saw herself up there,
Traced in quill-relief
Where the melting ceased.
"Look!" she said. "Isn't that me!"
The godhead only laughed.
"By definition, dear," it said,
"That cannot be you: you're here.
Earthlings, despite your quaint myths,
are not lifted skyward, only gods.
Now will you please cover me,
I'm getting very hot sitting here."
"I'm not," said Audrey.
"The fire is all over us:
why are you getting burned
but not me? if you're the god."
"Godhead," it corrected her.
"There's a difference.
I pre-date god.
You have to have me
before you can have him.
Hierarchy, you know:
the greatest good
ascending to the fewest.
Though really, it's all one:
it's all one, Audrey.
The rulers, and all they have -
the masses, and all they don't have:
it's all one, Audrey."
"Then why the hierarchy?"
"Our little joke."
Audrey, for the first time
since time began,
felt like kicking,
or spitting on,
But she didn't.
She picked it up;
covered it with her skirt,
walked on through the flames.
Saddened to think
that when the fire died
she would be along.
(What would the godhead matter then?)
She nearly wept.
And never knew
that if she had,
the fire would have been extinguished,
such were her tears.
"Oh Michael," she said
"could it be you were right all along?"
[No, Audrey. Michael himself
would tell you no, now.]
The Golden Boy was moved
from his Big Room
to a cave hollowed out
from an earth beneath the world
where a hundred miles of growth
had been excised from the dirt
to house an underground shelter
in case the bomb was dropped.
Twenty thousand scientists worked twenty thousand man years to disassemble the giant Cygnet Syntacticus had made: the Great Computer Named The Golden Boy. Piece by piece, lovingly, down to the Hole, it was carried by a million men getting a hundred hours' pay, like ants foraging deep for gold dust. Bolt to nut to casing for a trillion billion circuits a hundred thousand technicians placed Cygnet along the cavern wall. The master mathematician threw the switch, a quarter million volts opened half a million veins, tiny infinite capillaries pulsed for air. The Golden Boy was on. Everyone left. In the dark, the diodes glowed red and simulated small shadows against the free cavern wall. And as the shadows reliefed what had cast them, the forms of valves gleamed beneath Cygnet's watchful eyes. All the goods in America worthy of the name were piled high the length of the cave, astride the Golden Boy. Archives. Jewels. Formulas. Tanks. Guns. Video cassettes (even a proto-type of a special DVD). Trophies. The entire Sports Hall of Fame. Dorothy's ruby slippers. Glassines of every known celebrity. The keys to all the cities. And more. A Garden of Earthly Delights, sans devils and demons, incubi and succubae, God and man. For the Golden Boy was pre-programmed to regulate everything: the right humidity (or humadiddy, as the poor folks and even a few of the Makers of Revolution were wont to say); the perfect storage temperature, heat, light, cold, wet, dry and dark. And should there be a nuclear accident - even a whole winter of nuclear accidents - Cygnet will automatically record the body count (and they say machines don't care).
The Ultimate Human Goal:
The Computer Used To Keep Track
Of The Dead.
The garbage spinners sat on classic toilets of Chinese porcelain encrusted with diamond chips Their haunches rested against silken seats. They were filthy rich. The had converted their outhouses to planters, per the latest design appearing in "Tasteful Floribundas of the North American Continent." The new quarterly, "Palace and Condo," was doing a feature on their villa, and as a quaint touch decided upon a candid shot of them all, lined up, seated on their toilets, spun garbage twirling from their right hands, a roll of sateen toilet tissue in their left hands. "Middle America will love it," the editor promised, "it's so kitsch." "Now say cheese!" "Cheese!" in flawless English. Perfect Print Every Time. (While, unbeknownst to the spinners, an army of house re-arrangers were eagerly awaiting a chance to make-over their villa while they were out spinning garbage.)
Little Quistofer, the bald-headed, poorly endowed un-black, in search of a new hair weave, strolled down the Ghetto street. He was told that if he could con six big black bucks out of patches of their pubic hair he could get a discount on his rug. "How much of a discount?" he asked, cross-eyed and cautions (just like he had observed the whites effecting). "Up to fifty percent, depending upon the texture of the pubes, and the quantity of course. The best comes from boys sixteen to twenty." Who could pass up such a deal? "I mean, how hard can it be to con nigger boys out of their pubic hair?" Quistofer mused. Up ahead were the six. Tall, strong young men dressed in red sweatpants. "Excuse me," said Quistofer. He was carrying six little glassine bags, and had a questionnaire attached to a clipboard. "I'm taking a survey. It's part of a contest. I'd like you boys to write in your names here, and your ages. A new marketing research is being conducted to determine which product is best for making Negro hair manageable. I'd like a sample of hair from each of you - but since we realize you won't want a bald spot anywhere on your heads, we'll accept a pubic sample." He pulled out a pair of scissors. "You can just clip a sample and put it in these bags. You could win up to one million dollars if your sample is selected in a random drawing. Let's just step in this alleyway." Quistofer handed the scissors to the six black men and turned his back to let them pull down their sweatpants and snip their pubic hairs. Instead, they grabbed him, pulled down his pants, cut his balls off, put them in glassine, dumped him in the alley, and went on their way. "We ain't nigger boys," the six called back to Quistofer, "we're black men. Too bad you didn't realize that in time to save your balls." (Now Quistofer was out more than a hair-weave.)
The Poor But Proud squared off against the Friends of Makers of Revolution on a simulcast. In stereo. The local rock radio station joined the local TV station to broadcast the exchange. The Theme: "Who Will Protect Our Rulers From Their Subjects?" The Friends emphasized a subtle shift of power now that so many aristocrats had been eaten. The thrust of their argument was that it was now the filthy rich who were the underprivileged, and that therefore, they were the were the ones in need of a Revolution. "We don't take sides," said the Friends' leader, the tall man with wire-rimmed glasses. "We feel now the time has come to throw our support to the aristocracy." "I thought you were Marxists!" countered the Chairman of the Poor But Proud. "We are revolutionaries first and foremost!" was the emphatic reply. "Wherever we see the need for a revolution, we're there to lend a hand. We are not strict constructionists, which is to say ideologues. We see our task as effecting change. We are above all change-brokers." The Poor But Proud cried a little at hearing this: they imagined they were the darlings of all revolutionaries, past and present, the first cause of all social protest. "We hate you!" they said. "We hope you die! And we hope your revolution fails! If we could just find that god-head, we'd beat the crap out of you with it!"
Michael heard the broadcast, and laughed. Revolution, he could have told them, had to do entirely with a redistribution of power, pure and simple, and nothing more than tangentially with any particular cause, however loudly espoused, or any social condition, or any one group. Whoever doesn't hold power wants it; whoever has it wants to keep it. How, then, to get the god-head to change hands becomes the only real issue - the be all and the end all of all human affairs. Love, and happiness, beauty, goodness, attainment, peace, even wealth has little or no bearing on life as man has chosen to live it. He has fashioned his highest value from his basest urge. He has made Id God; power - the mode of the Id - the god-head; hierarchy - the scheme through which the Id exercises power - the dogma. Now, the force fully unleashed, like the beast in the old science fiction movie, the Id has burned the world to a cinder; and still the debate rages: who's on first. Who's in charge here. Who's got power over whom.
Michael smashed his radio, gave his TV to the Goodwill. He had only his stereo, and his camera. He sat and wondered how long till he would have to destroy them too. (And what would he have left? No matter: he will have been true and pure to his ideals. Wasn't that everything?)
The masses climbed in the back seat of Mia Macklin's BMW, refreshed from their visit at her father's house. They smiled, contentedly, when her engine charged. "We like the sound of a well-oiled machine," they explained. Mia Macklin drove quite beyond the posted speed. "You're going pretty fast," the masses cautioned. "The fuzz might be out." "Fuck the fuzz!" cried Mia. "I'm late for my engagement with Arnest. "Who's Arnest?" "My fiancé." The masses had a good laugh at that one. "Who're you kidding?" they asked their chauffer. "We saw the way you were with that black man. Now your mother was good, but even in her prime she wasn't half the bitch you are! Besides: we bet this Arnest is white - right?" "Yes, he's white - why?" Again they laughed. "Then he can forget it, honey: once you've had black, you'll never go back!" "Well, there are other factors. Arnest is, you know, an up-and-coming young urban professional. On his way to the top of the heap. You wait and see." "We're telling you, hon: black is black. And you won't ever go back." "You're just prejudiced." The masses, highly indignant, said nothing more the rest of the way.
In a deserted store downtown
An old man shut his eyes and died,
having just put away the robe
the last monarch was buried in.
"Won't need it again, it looks like,"
he said, watching the reddened sky
drape in flames against his storefront.
"No more kings, no more queens, no more
starched little men in epaulets:
the hierarchy of uniforms
is fixed forever as it is;
highest to lowest, they will stand,
just as I've sized them on the rack.
The present order is final.
The spin of dice has traced a stitch
Down the front of eternity:
A good, tight, sturdy garment bag
to seal the ascending order.
I need never change the display again."
First was overalls, patched and soiled;
Next came work pants and shirt of twill;
Followed by polyester pants
and a shirt of crisp, clean cotton;
Leading to a blazer and slacks;
And then to the top of the flow:
A three-piece pin-stripe suit of wool.
Who you were was not yours to say;
but which costume you fit into.
And this was the key to it all:
Men bought these costumes with their lives,
For they told where their lives belonged.
Along that great mile-wide arc
Man had dreamed he saw God
Place around the earth.
A trillion men
Carol Marie Klugg carefully arranged the folds of her job description, so that each separate function was given proper distinction. She looked at her watch. According to her contract, it was time, at this hour, to take out her management guide, a huge book written by a team of analysts who had seriously believed their opus to be non-fiction. She had worked her way to chapter 600. The title here was "Making Every Moment Count." Religiously, she began reading. Suddenly, a giant worm appeared before her desk (something created in the seering radiation of the final moment, which in her cocoon she had not yet detected - but created, not as science fiction portrayed: not from a small worm many times enlarged; but from her immediate supervisor). This worm wore a coat and tie and talked down to her; from the mannerism, she knew it was someone permitted to dictate to others. It slobbered a kind of slime gel over her management guide as it spoke. "Go get the Umteenth File!" it ordered. "Oh, I can't do that, sir," said Carol Marie, "this is my hour to read." "Do as I say, not as I do, God damn you!" it raged. So Carol Marie, full of apprehension at having to subvert her clearly defined schedule, made for the files. At that moment, the office blew. She was propelled headlong into the very filing cabinet she had been headed for. Not only that, so great was the force of reality that she was stuffed into the very drawer and the very folder she had been sent to retrieve, becoming the final entry in the file.
(The worm melted onto her management guide, underscoring the title of chapter 600.)
A giant receiver at last picked up the start of existence, a faint hum that had been there all along, a tiny crackle of electricity. It had almost fallen into a black hole; most if had, a few harsh particles alone had managed to cling to the event horizon. This after-birth would have convinced humanity of the essential absurdity of it all. Speaking neither of creation nor evolution, neither of God nor the big bang, it told only of senselessness, of a static which was not merely a background but the thing itself. Existence was nothing but syncopation, a poorly playing non-tune gradually losing momentum, the rests taking an ever greater spacing, the notes compressing to an octave too piercing to be heard any longer. The giant receiver exploded before it could assess the meaning of this the final discovery of humanity - not from the discovery itself did it explode, but from an icicle shower passing overhead, which, catching like a bird in an airplane engine, clogged the mechanism. The received worked in concert with a giant computer deep underground; no men were needed. No men were left. No one could have studied the results anyway; they had all expired, victims of the energies their beliefs had siphoned away. The sound of existence, because men had accepted the madness as right, was never again to be heard on earth.
On The Greatest Good For The Greatest Number
Carlos Lopes, who stepped from a Brazilian novel called Zero onto the "real" plane long enough to quiver at man's stupidity, discovered his alter-ego, a Mr. George Button, a perennial unfortunate; then returned home. Meanwhile, George Button was walking along a deserted street near the end of town (though, in fact, every inch of town was now its end). Suddenly, something happened to him - something so strange he had trouble defining it. He had been wronged, in an almost metaphysical sense. A stray god-head (a mini, or demi, god-head, a derivative of the original which, of course, Audrey carried under her skirts) happened to be traveling by and hit him on the earlobe. It seems some careless church warden had been playing with seven little god-heads, interspersing juggling with a kind of baton twirl to perfect his act for the variety show his parish was holding next Sunday. One of the god-heads slipped and went sailing right into Mr. Button, causing him some consternation since he was a professional ear-ring model. (And that was his good lobe.) He lodged a complaint. First with the official Bureau of Complaints, which, finding in their handbook no listing for "assault by a god-head," referred him to the Police Department, which refused to subpoena a man of the cloth. Next he went to the Welfare Department; but as he was not economically, only emotionally, deprived, they could not help him. A week went by, during which he had visited literally every conceivable agency, even the SPCA - all to no avail. The wrong done George Button did not fall within the purview of any standards established by any known bureaucracy. Finally, after being told by the Catholic Charities that "God helps those who help themselves," Mr. Button collapsed in font of the cathedral and was taken to a private cemetery where, his being a man without a claim to anything his society could properly define, he was refused admittance. He was left to rot in a deserted lot. But the noise of holocaust aroused him; he opened his eyes, beheld the world aflame, got up, walked away. (Not being part of his world, he was unaffected by its annihilation.)
[Bureaucracies are set up to benefit the few or the many, but never one. Therefore, the world was doomed from the start.]
"My philosophy," said Senor Miguel, "is simple:
there are time-honored mechanisms
for the display of proper authority.
My subordinates know this well.
There is a very fine line
between respect and obsequiousness,
which they find.
To lean too far either way
disrupts the delicate workings
of the social whole.
They must give me my due,
but must not really mean it:
for it is not respect I seek
but subservience. I am the boss;
they, my underlings.
They feign respect, but not too openly.
It is their obligation to feign
that counts, not their respect.
The world as we know it,
deprived of this its inner core,
would come to an end.
The human order proceeds top downward.
Kiss my hand, kiss my feet, kiss my ass:
the greater their disgust, the more secure
the foundation upon which
humanity, with all its beliefs, rests.
Veneration is but a paltry trinket
alongside the gleam of subservience.
I do not want your love;
I want your recognition
of my superiority.
To be loved, I must be;
to be courted, I need only
wear a crown
and carry a scepter.
A world without the trappings
is not a world at all
but only a place to live.
My tapestries, my Botticelli's,
My Shakespeare's sonnets ...
and my crown:
Without which, life is but a process,
not an event.
And hardly worth the trouble."
Tim rimmed Tom, then Tom rimmed Tim. Each boy's tongue went deep into the other boy's opening, and gave yet another testament of their love. They knew, these most wanted desperadoes, the true meaning of gestures. They used nothing to desecrate one another's being, but everything to honor it. They would not have laid a hand on their lover's body other than to express their enchantment with its existence. These boys had no philosophy, lived according to no beliefs, obeyed no rules, worshipped no gods, bowed before no man. Therefore, when they kissed ass, they knew no shame, felt no envy, harbored no ambition, sought no favor, proffer no humility, feigned nothing. They lived, in that moment, in the joy of one another's anus. Their lick was clean, pure. Therefore, they were criminals. And had to be punished, that the world might be made safe for hierarchy.
At noon, every other day, everyone was given special permission to "Stop And Smell The Roses." It was decreed. It was official now. Life had at last become benevolent; society was attuned finally to the natural rhythms of the planet. Science had been commissioned to determine how often people needed to be exposed to nature to be content, how long each exposure should be and at what hour of the day they responded best to the wonders of nature. Years of study brought fifteen minutes at noon every other day as the ideal exposure. And since everyone loved roses, they were decided upon as nature's best representative; they were planted in cages in every building. You could not, however, wade the public fountains or watch an approaching storm or catch a few rays of sun or feel the grass beneath your feet, except on your own time. Yet, strangely, inexplicably, people began to hate roses with a passion. Half the populace developed allergies. The program proved a failure. "People do not, and it would seem can not, appreciate the finer things," it was concluded. "They are nothing but a pack of ingrates," was the official assessment. So the roses were removed - that is, the roses which had not already been torn to shreds. (So much for people's affinity to nature.)
A whole life
could be spent
to rise above
It wanted God
the urge to fly.
"Bring Back God
Into Our Lives."
They cannot have
the things they crave:
the business of
the world requires
all but a few
to live down here.
Not work, not play
can be sublime.
The surplus comes from the mundane.
Give them a God
so as to make
"Bring Back God
Into Our Lives."
Our deepest wish
for something more
must not become
a monkey wrench
in the system.
"Bring Back God
Into Our Lives."
And seal the door
that points the way
beyond the cages
we're forced into
before we find
our way outside
and soar above
the petty place
had deceived us
was our home.
"Bring Back God
Into Our Lives."
God is Great,
God is Good,
But most of all,
an air-tight seam
in our souls.
(He earns His keep)
Miss Rachael ran ahead of her subordinates, a third of whom had already roasted on fire quills coming through the big plate glass front of the Simpkins' Building in downtown Manhattan. In her hand was the final draft of Simpkins' newest advertising campaign; it had been commissioned by Stars By The Number, the great consortium of promoters, star makers and power brokers which ran the nation's entertainment industrial complex, headquartered in New York City 10001. New meat was needed: all the super stars had run off to India to help care for the starving millions. (On cocaine, anything looks good.) Young girls and boys had to be lured to New York in prodigious quantities on the chance that perhaps half a dozen would pan out. (The rest could become prostitutes if they liked - a very time honored occupation.) "You too...can be a star...don't be afraid of failure...don't be afraid of rejection...YOU...can be a...STAR!!!!" A magnificent campaign, in the highest American Tradition. Miss Rachael cold already see the children of this great land rushing headlong to their little young destinies - perhaps 50,000 strong. Raw meat. New meat. Young bodies, ready for the onslaught. On their way to stardom. With any luck, half a dozen would be found possessing that rare, magical, elusive STAR QUALITY. A campaign divinely inspired. The American Dream in its purest, most unadulterated form. How could it fail? The consortium had sunk a quarter million in it. Only in America could such big dreams drive such little children in such droves as to virtually guarantee success. Let the super-stars rot in drought-ridden Africa - who needs them? Or was that Bangladesh? Anyway, one of those dumb places. So let them rot. Miss Rachael is at work. Advertising is at work. America is busy doing what it does best.
[The first child arrived before the campaign even began: a weepy flame propelled from Podunk, Iowa (isn't it always Podunk that starts it all!] by a blast of nuclear heat. Definitely star quality.]
Otis went through
every piece of art
he could find:
And found reality.
So he thought.
Until, on the last day,
in the last moment,
he saw, through the remains
of the Acapulco palace
by the final flames,
the Mexican princess
running from the end of time
with her Botticelli in her hand.
That she, who had known
nothing but her own self,
could cherish such a work
reduced every piece of art
to a foul
fit for nothing but doom.
"If art is the product
of the imagination's longing
for a perfect work;
if it was created
to give a sense
of being in a world of meaning:
then having as its champion
those, who in their lust
for their own ends only,
carry it to their deaths,
dis-creates its very possibility.
Those whose sins have made
this world unread,
in claiming art as their own
and never having the claim challenged,
have destroyed reality."
Otis, saying this, laid down and died.
His body and soul fell into a cleaner void.
Michael mourned his friend's passing.
Tim and Tom bowed their heads:
never knowing Otis, still they knew
something sacred had left their world.
Even Audrey felt the sudden shift
in the universe's total volume.
Matter is eternal, a dead body
weighs as does a living one;
but when a man's Quest
goes out of the world,
a point of mass
capable of holding time together
And eternity is the poorer.
The world went mad, like a hen who, failing to recognize her brood, pecks them to death as they file past her. The world grabbed up its scientists, made them demonstrate how the great machines of the end times worked. It had gone after the computers, into which its every resource had been poured. All the wealth of the world was there, in diodes and levers and micro-chips and circuits and cells. The world, having been shown the way the computer works, force un-fed them. Forced work out of them. Forced from them feeding, clothing, housing. Forced the great machines to yield survival. In half an hour the computers all burned up. They, recipients of all man's knowledge, all his labor, all his world's worldly goods, could not produce a single stitch of cloth to cover his body, or a hovel to shelter him from the cold, or a crust of bread to keep him from starving. They expired in the forced attempt. The world then took up its scientists, those masters of matter who had created the machines, and made them disassemble the machines, dubbing them "de-maintenance experts." On a cement floor the parts were placed. Then, it being dinner time, and the de-maintenance men hungry from their good labor, they were served the guts of their creations. On silver platters. They were made to eat these the droppings of the laws of thermodynamics and physics and engineering. Their own words and formulas, which had coughed up creations incapable of serving even the meagerest of human needs: down their own throats. Until every scientist choked to death. And the world knew: it had surrendered its existence...for nothing. FOR NOTHING.
Mia Macklin wept when she saw the piss-stained skull of her betrothed. And when, on closer inspection, she saw a single red fleece, and knew that the man she had met in her father's house had done this, she laughed. She did not even bother resigning her position. She turned her back forever on her BMW, and set out to find her man. She walked through the world's flames, her tailored clothes seared from her body, her French perfume sent evaporating toward the sky. Mia Macklin, age 22: a woman. "I knew you'd come," he said. He had been standing on a street corner, against a lamp post. He stripped off his sweatpants and threw them to the fire. Costumes were no longer needed. A man and a woman embraced, turned, headed out of town, the simple elegance of their rainment their only protection against the holocaust.
Michael, alone in his room, tore into his records, and his few remaining photographs, and the poems he himself had written. All art must go, he mused as, one by one, he destroyed the last of his earthly treasures. All art must go. A futile, absurd gesture: but one I must make, he thought. Even futility if futile. There can be no world without art; but neither can there be one so long as art exists. Art is no less the destroyer of life than any other of man's creations. Were there no bombs, no guns, no rockets...poems would do, symphonies would do, paintings would do. Man creates nothing but weapons of war. His noblest ultimately the equal of his basest. He is forever trapped in his imagination, which has been forever fueled by his passions, which have never broken free of his instincts, which have always arisen in response to the same terms of existence. The first observation therefore becomes the final observation. And only now, when the world is ending, is it possible to cast off our chains. The chance of tomorrow keeps evil alive. Only the last day of existence can witness the triumph of good, for good is the flower that blooms but once in an eternity. And now, at last, it calls us by name.
And calling us by name
And feeding us with smoke
And giving to our minds
A freedom and a peace -
Blood-stained and chained -
We picked up and stole
From out the gutters of hell
As we walked on and on
Filled with the happiness
of atom icicles by our side.
Michael, his work done, walked full face into the furnace, where he met Tim and Tom and, farther along, Mia Macklin and the black man whose name, now that names had meaning only in reference to people and not reality, was Roosevelt Washington. Still further, way in the distance, was Audrey, carrying a charred cinder in the palm of her hand. "It took annihilation to reveal love," Michael said. "All had to be burned away for the truth to come. So long as one single definition remained, the truth could not make itself known. The touch of even one small restriction was sufficient to obscure it. One ulterior motive left standing was all it needed to maintain the entire network of falsehood. Love is not anything; it is itself. Truth is itself. Life is itself. If only man could have been himself, and not his creations. If only...."
They dripped cold at first
no one saw the ice spiral
into green blue flames
or the flames congeal
into red yellow fire
The night they fell the world stopped fitting. A cancellation of prose, bound to ensue, revealed, as if a top layer of parchment had seared off, a swarm of lyrics. Verses became what was left of life; clusters collected where keen points of tension squeezed from collapsing civilizations. Who kept the world standing? Whose life generated reality? What were, and where were, these tensile strongholds? In Cantos (if Cantos they are) a likeness of strengths began materializing. These words dripped from candles created of annihilated beings, things, ideas, coalesced into form, fast frozen when the disrupted earth spun a new orbit, cold and lunar, where it need never again be plagued with delusioned vermin imagining itself divine and indestructible. Now the earth is free, until the Sun itself blows streams of atoms to themselves freeze planets' drippings upon the black feeless texture between the Stars. Only the Sun gives, only the Sun may take. That which only takes exists in a limbo, neither alive nor dead, good nor bad, present nor gone. Existence is a page, whose topmost layer exploding atoms loosened: In a verse, thinking the verse other than a mere fantasy: its own, and only, creation.
"We were man." But look for us no other place than in our lyrics. For it is there we tacked our souls, while our bodies were given over to the generation of melting heat. "We are candles." Our story dripped flesh, coalesced, frozen, lies just below where we once stood. For whomever cares to read it.
the world is gone