Here in Mirror, Obje is an App, image by Daniel Y. Harris
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A POET’S SON
When more involved strategies failed we put together a low, sad manifesto with our hands, which by this time had come to resemble little blue orphans made of glass. We had to get the people on side. Our hands had been through rougher times, but it was only recently they had come to resemble ornamental blue glass orphans. Did they taste of anything? No. Just the blank taste of glass. My wife and I took the tents around the wide-angled Shark Museum and set up camp with Derek and the kids. The kids had a toffee apple each, but the baby had a can of table-scraps the size of a car. Derek liked to spoil the baby – and there wasn’t a damn thing anyone could do about it: it was in the Bible.
We waited for the votes to come in, but secretly we were thinking of other things. I, for instance, was thinking of “making love” in the catacombs of “afternoon sunlight”; and some stupid advert for yellow paint which had been going on in my head for days and actually, I realised too late, was the same thing. Such is the power of the id when you wire it up just so. I was thinking of putting something about that in the manifesto, but Derek gave me that don’t try to be too clever look again. The others were thinking about their castles, back on the Hills – too small to really stand up in but handsome from a distance, backlit like pumpkins the way they liked to keep them. All of which was very good.
The Shark Museum was open, just like my father used to say. Derek made the sign of the cathedral and we all started counting the votes: one vote, two votes, three votes. Isa took the kids round the Shark Museum and they saw lots of sharks, alive and dead, but I was too busy counting the votes with my little blue glass orphan hands which gave off flashes of blinding light every time they touched something.
That made counting the votes pretty hard.
Derek lost heart after just ten minutes. ‘The hell,’ he said, dropping his match-girl tray of votes and letting the splinters calibrate and recalibrate all over the grass. ‘I can’t see a thing with these little blue glass orphan hands giving off great gouts of light every time I so much as pick up a ballot paper. I’m going to the doctor and see if he can’t do something about it.’
I tried to remonstrate with Derek, to tell him that the best thing he could do would be to tell no-one about the blue glass orphan hands – a clear loss leader – and keep them under a pair of thick gloves and hope they would go away and, if possible, not to touch anything as the blinding flashes of light tended to attract attention. ‘It’s a clear loss leader,’ Derek, I told him.
‘You may want to live like a stinking hermit whom everyone hates,’ said Derek, ‘but I’m going straight to the doctor and getting these horrible aberrations-’ here he held up his little blue glass orphan hands ‘-sawn off. Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!’
I watched Derek walk all the way to the horizon and fall off, then I went back to counting the votes, this time picking them up with my mouth and dropping them on the floor once I’d counted them. One vote, two votes, three votes. Damned if I could remember who the votes were even for anymore: it was beyond satire. Then the kids and Isa arrived back wearing shark hats and one of them was singing a shark song.
‘Your poor hands,’ said Isa.
‘I’m going to tell you a story, Isa,’ I said. ‘It is a story about why I insist on enduring, even in the face of hardship. It is called LAWN BOWL HISTRIONICS, and good luck with it is all I can say.’
Isa sat down obediently and crossed her legs in the manner of a school assembly and bid our children to do likewise. I cleared my throat.
“It was Sunday and I climbed from one side of the quarry to the other – this was a result of correspondence between me and another disaster outside of town. (EXCERPT: Performed by a raft. Sandbox gentry. What time do you call this? Grunts of the old guard. Some plasterboard Reykjavik you turned out to be). I arrived at the reception with my tartare sauce and screwy bow-tie emitting weak jokes under my chin. The groom was well-travelled and I respected this, enviously. I wanted to be just like him, but not in every single way – I hadn’t given up on myself yet and I wasn’t about to fold what were, let’s be honest, some pretty good cards.
“The night of the wedding, I was so convinced that I was secretly evil I couldn’t look anyone in the eye for very long. The little roast game birds came round on round trays. The drinks sent spirals of bubbles up themselves and the buttonholes didn’t so much wilt as become solid and feral, like an empty theatre full of hastily abandoned violins. What I remember most of all is the crunchy sound under my feet when I danced to ‘What a Great Way to String Out a Novel’ – that old Charleston number my Grandfather balked at in the newspapers back when they really told you something.
“It was a long song and I closed my eyes halfway through, only opening them again once the music had stopped – and I noticed that the room was empty and the tables had been pushed away, the chairs stacked on top of them and the lights were off and the car park, when I rushed out into the rain, was also empty, so there mustn’t have been any music for some time. ‘What a joke. They just left me here dancing on my own? Well fuck them.’ I said out loud. But then scores of little children armed with glue-guns and glitter capsules entered the room and I expected some form of reprisal. They ignored me at first and I was halfway out of the door before one turned on me and glued some glitter to my suit. ‘Get off me you brute!’ I yelped and, to his credit, he did. I had to call a taxi – which was humiliating – and the driver talked to me about the invention of Talcum Powder and that it was a kind of radioactive thing. He dropped me off at my house and, when I tried to pay him, said, ‘No, no, it’s nothing of a journey, I can’t charge you for that.’ I pocketed the twenty and bid him goodnight and he said, spitefully, ‘Yeah, that’s right. It’s the middle of the summer,’ out of his window.
“I wasn’t sure what had provoked this outburst, but swore vengeance on the cabbie. ‘Curse you, cabbie,’ I cried, ‘You’ll have a bum for a face in the morning, see if you don’t.’ And with that, we parted ways for good. Naturally I stuck my key in the lock and turned it three times and there was a letter addressed to me on the mat, inviting me to the same wedding again, tonight. I could scarcely believe my luck and ran upstairs to change into my B-suit. Thank Goodness for Everything were playing a benefit concert on the TV – but it was being filmed in the municipal gardens right outside my window, so I could watch it there, too. Something really nasty happened which I’m not in the mood to record at the moment. I took a draft of sherry for luck and checked in on Auntie Laura in her “room” – which she had converted into a little football pitch with proper grass and pitch markings and a football. I think that’s great and I tell her so frequently. She was asleep in the goal, so I left her to it.
“Out in the street I hailed another taxi – and this one was driven by a beautiful woman with what appeared to be thick, cat-like whiskers growing out of her face. ‘Wow!’ I said.
“Two minutes later I was back at the same wedding, and I didn’t think I was evil anymore, best luck, so I made startling recoveries and conversations out of them all and didn’t stop drinking until someone told me to. It was the groom. I had been dancing with his wife all night – holding tight to her arms and not letting her go. He explained that she was too polite and too scared to complain and that, while I could be forgiven therefore for not realising that she would rather be dancing with her husband on their wedding night, I had to admit it was pretty unreasonable all the same and a wonder nobody had said anything so far (we had been dancing for three hours). It’s obvious how I responded – but not very nice and I’m not sure it’s reasonable to talk about it. Oh, go on then. I grabbed the bridegroom by the face and kissed him long and hard, swirling my tongue around a) his mouth and b) his nose once he had successfully pushed my face off his mouth. He said, ‘Gah!’ By this point everyone was pretty horrified with me and a man walked right up to us and kicked me repeatedly in the stomach, saying that I had it coming and that I was a big fat piece of shit – which made me laugh because I’m actually quite skinny. So anyway, I went outside again and there was blood sort of pouring from my mouth like a tap turned on a little bit and a tramp said, ‘You don’t look so good. We oughta get you to a hospital.’ He took me to a hospital, but the sign we followed said ‘CAUSALITY’ instead of ‘CASUALTY’ so I didn’t hold out any great hope for myself. Indeed, I failed to stay conscious much longer and awoke to a horrible bone-like smell and bright lights grinning off the doctor’s shiny hat. I could hear the laughter of many doctors and one doctor, crying with laughter. There was a long ache in my arm and I passed out.
“I awoke in darkness, but a little party had gathered around my bedside with banners. This was lovely and I mumbled to thank them, but found that I couldn’t speak. And anyway, when I managed to focus on the banners, they were covered in really nasty swear-words and portmanteaus of frankly impossible acts. I looked at their faces and their expressions were hauntingly cross, some smiling, as if justice had been done. ‘What a welcome,’ I thought. And then a mirror was produced and I saw that the doctors had made lots of holes in my face and inserted little glowing rods and miniature twizzling satellite dishes. Instead of a mouth: a dog’s tail. You ever tried speaking out of a dog’s tail? It’s no wonder I couldn’t speak. And the satellite dishes picked up all manner of sounds and I couldn’t shut them out. I tried to wipe the sweat from my brow, but both of my hands had been replaced by seagull’s tailfeathered cloacas. I was becoming increasingly annoyed by this when a butler arrived and said, ‘Sir, you have been chosen to appear in an anthology of young poets; may I be the first to congratulate you? May I?’
“The anthology is called ‘I AM MARGINS!’ The mind is a mansion and I realise that now – what’s not to realise? I want to know what every word means, not catch a bus to Mr Circadian’s house. But I have to do the things that have been given me to do, just like lines get stretched from margin to margin: I am margins. So I get on the bus and I hand over a photo of a naked horse instead of a ticket and the inspector goes red and says, ‘That’s all right, sir, I’ll tell the constable,’ which is a code for something. What a lovely bus – it goes dub-de-dub-de-dub-de all through the town, the raindrops running down its windows like big weeping mourners. I have no patience with mourners. I always want to say, ‘Come on, mourners! Don’t be so negative! This is Saxony!’ It’s a tradition that goes all the way up, my tradition: that hopeless tradition of mashed bananas for tea and a lot of talk about the New Art before bedtime. Dad always said I was going to re-structure the whole world in everyone’s head and he wasn’t far wrong. The best wars are fought in heads. I’m so hungry I could join the mourners – and that’s saying something!
“MEMORY OF THE PAST: A big banging sound and the leatherette goons are weeping up my living room window, bike chains in their pudgy hands, chewing other bits of bike. I have no statement for their cross-wired Dictaphones, so I just let them get on with it. I’d clearly like to be somewhere else, though – look at those sparkly tears in my eyes! Look at those real teeth!
“So the bus pulls up right outside Mr Circadian’s mammoth place – an old Pasternak style house resembling nothing so much as a big top with a house blown all over it like a dribble-castle. Apposite, as Mr Circadian is “English” for Dribble Castle. Outdoor anthems and red martinis are the order of the day here, and talking in low-cut voices about high-end things. Mr Circadian likes them incongruities. So I get to talking to a pretty little thing in a plant pot then I get me own red martini and a chance to take the microphone.”
‘Please, for the love of God, stop,’ said Isa, crying a little bit. ‘My legs hurt and the children are so bored they’ve started to tear up their shark hats.’
God bless her she hadn’t moved a centimetre and I felt, not for the first or last time, grateful.
‘I’m almost done,’ I reassured her. ‘“So I take to the stage. ‘I’d just like to say how sorry I am!’ I say, happily. ‘I am margins! There’s no getting away from it!’ Then big chief Mr Circadian wrestles me to the ground and wrestles something into my mouth. It is a living shoe – the leather somehow reanimated so that it is breathing and a warm heart beats somewhere – a remote heart. The band plays reggae and ska and it sounds like sliced bread and Piggy’s Marmalade on an Autumn’s spoiled boiler afternoon: depressed Mather spending all his money on Monday’s Child ointments and code-breakers which turn out to be ovens with football watches attached and not a code to be broken in sight. We talk about Los Angeles – which is the remotest possibility, that we will go to Los Angeles, or “Los Aye!” as the locals call it.
“Somebody is making a breakfast movie again – one of those movies you watch while you eat your breakfast, and they want me to star. ‘Well, I’ve heard that before, really,’ I say. ‘It’s not my fault if I say no. I’m just trying not to be disappointed again when all I ever wanted was my own skiff and barge and a businessman to take care of the business end.’ The pies are little and short-crust. Sometimes I can see paint-spattered dogs lilting towards the aqueduct. The red martinis have gone right to my head. The breakfast movie is going to be called Toxic Proxy Funeral – which doesn’t sound like a good breakfast movie to Mr Circadian – who is also called Little Coco Bean. And here is a fact about his family: they stink. Steamed Dave is pretty steamed about that – he’s the producer – but then he wouldn’t be called Steamed Dave if he wasn’t always getting steamed about something. My therapist calls that a self-fulfilling manatee. ‘Give me some of that red martini,’ says Steamed Dave, the steam rising off his shoulders. He pours a whole trough of red martini over himself and then says he don’t care what nobody says: he gonna make this breakfast movie till the eyeballs fall out his head and every breakfastland in the tri-county area will ring loud with the sound of a new belle: Toxic Proxy Funeral will win eleven Oscars, he predicts. But that’s Steamed Dave for you: an optimist. Here is a fact about his family: he doesn’t see them very often and it is said by some that they have disowned him.
“As you can see it’s a depressing business meeting for Mr Circadian’s literary garden parties, all of us with our crushed dreams in our little trousers and the food being so useless. I regret ever being present in his life, Little Old Coco Bean, as I have found myself calling him too even though I despise the name and the way it makes my voice sound when I say it. My Napoleon hat is the same as everyone else’s. You make friends with these awful people and then they make friends with you and it’s like we’re made of clay, exchanging happy stories: Did you hear about J Edgar Steamed Dave thinking he was going to Spain when really he was on his way to Mexico? It took him eleven years to get the stains out! We roll about the hills when we can get the money together for a taxi, but usually it’s the usual chips on a serviette, children’s group representatives to give us some social conscience and a kind of whizzing noise coming from the horizon. The Forearm Show, that’s what they called us at first, but now they’ve lost interest. It’s the same story on any estate: ‘Stick it in the mud! Stick it in the mud! Hooray! Hooray! Hooray.’
“Then it was a parade: Can’t argue with a parade. But that didn’t stop other young poet and my arch-rival, Football “BAP!” Stevens from trying. He laid out all these china dolls on the roadway and built up a wall of them high as a man. I want you to actually see those china dolls in your mind’s eye – a six foot high wall of them. Their cracked faces, their green eyes and sometimes red lips.
“And yes, the parade came to a halt and they choked on their brass lozenges, the lot of them, wheezing and spluttering to an early bath. Football “BAP!” Stevens bought a new house with the proceeds and even married a woman – Twirly Clan na Gael – which meant she was brother only to the winds of chance and wouldn’t betime the spirits of hell itself visit his face too roughly; that’s the kind of gal she was, gawwwwds look kindly upon her and pay the king a blender. And they spent three years paying other people’s bills out of the kindness of their hearts, plinky-plonky mass-murderers though they be. ‘What’s all this about a bleak world view?’ said Football “BAP!” Stevens, whirling around. ‘Have you seen the fuckin’ world recently?’
“They went global after that and there’s not much left to say about it. I met them both for lunch yesterday and that’s where the fun really starts. See, I was hard-pressed to understand their behaviour recently and it was for that reason I set up the meeting. The little brasserie was gloriously naïf, dearie, serving only turkey dinosaur shapes and frozen peas and there were Bugs Bunny prints on the walls: literary fiction was the owner’s strong suit and he’d written several incendiary literatures all by himself. Ain’t got it published, though: too conservative. He’d just as soon pule a chicken than do that, he said. Too conservative, like I said; there’s Voice Workshopping for you.”’
I stopped. The children had drifted back to the Shark Museum like electrons leaving a crispy coated shell, even though children never like to go to the same museum twice in one day. I made a note to add that to our manifesto. But I was happy when I saw that Isa sat apostolically before me, dutifully gazing into my eyes like rain. ‘My darling Isa,’ I said.
‘And then what?’ she said. ‘Why did you finally decide against appearing in the breakfast movie when it was clearly a good career move? Why did Football “BAP!” Stevens fall out of favour with his small but dedicated audience? What was that sound of letters hitting a welcome mat? At what point did Steamed Dave settle down and get over his rage? And is this why we have all of the broken quarry machinery in our garden? Why don’t you still have the little radar dishes embedded in your face if, as you claim, medical science put them there? And who murdered Mr Circadian just before he was about to finally get his day in court?’
I smiled at Isa. And then I smiled at my little blue glass orphan hands which were hot to the touch and seemed, finally, to be at rest.