Stock Genre from Random Auction Pieces
October 19, 1999
On the Europa settlement, the most prized object was an elaborately carved camphor wood chest. Richard Maitland kept it in the back of his closet, covered with a light fabric tarp to keep the fine dust from marring the chest's smooth finish. On tuesdays and thursdays and every other fuzzle day, he brought it to the meeting house early, long before sunrise, and sat at a makeshift checklist and a quarter teaspoon measure. As the Europa settlers rose, they stumbled up to Richard, and cupped their hands so she can throw into their hands a 1/4 tsp of the precious dust kept so guardedly within the chest. Then within seconds--poof--like that--their gender was reversed for the day. Man became woman. woman man. And Richard, alone androgynous, presided over the unveiling.
Richard felt he had the best of all possible situations. As an androgynous member of the Clauthor sect, and as a priest, he could request the services of any of the Europa settlers. As the settlers passed before Richard and their genders were reversed, Richard selected the most attractive Europans with a gesture not unlike the sign for "I implore you." They seldom refused. Those who did were thrown to the talazars--not a bad late night snack. But there was one--one who refused, and survived the vicious talazars, with their extended jaw-fist apparatus. And Richard knew then that he had seen, in the face of a brave young Europan, his only rival.
Ravasa was her name, and since her escape from the frumious clutches of the talazars, she had existed at the edge of the settlement, facing dangers less familiar, perhaps, but favored after her dash with Richard. Ravasa, indeed, was known for her appetite, and her resistance to Richard included, now, her rebellion against the ritual of the gender reversal. Other than Richard, Ravasa was the only Europan to resist the ever-new intrigue of the change.
Richard wondered what she possessed to give her the same strength that he had, only his was derived from an absence--to forever be here nor there. He coupled with both sexes in their trans-state, and rather than feel like he was lover of all--instead felt a derision of both that came from too easy familiarity. Only Ravasa had a mystery he could not unfold. How was she so sure in herself, to not want the experience of the other? To be able to see herself as men saw her--why didn't she need that knowledge? He schemed. The powder was most potent alone--but he was willing to squander a whole cup to mix secretly into Ravasa's gruel.
"Framed oil on canvas, snowy landscape with skies", signed R. Byers, shortly before the fuzz arrived, although in the shape he was in he couldn't discern the sirens or door-knocking from the voices in his head. mouth hanging open as if on wires, rubber cord still around his arm. also hanging there, while his mind went white as the painted snow, as blank, as fake. POEM Let wisdom ride the swan, The artist said. He carved into the woodblock's flat fat face, blade strokes like words of hope, The feathered grain smoothing under his thumb like the cheek of a warm bird. But the wood chafed under his touch asserting itself with knots and burls its identity not defined solely by its grain It could not be shaped, completely, not without the perfect reason. Let wisdom find the dawn, The artist said. He asked the wood to play along, blade strokes to find the grain and meet it. The blade met only Grain, no reason There, no wisdom. The swan rode (a warm bird) Its own neck its only dawn. Wisdom found the rain. and whereas rain washes, wisdom held dirt behind her ears, fearlessly refusing to relinquish that which was rightfully hers-- rain passsed by wislomly (?) nodding ascent The swan rides wisdom in the rain. The blade cuts gently on the neck in Spain, where the grain flows without reason. Relinquish your swords, oh swans, let the printmaker's skilled hands Open your wings to the wind. And we say Amen.
what I want to know, jenny, is this: don't you remember the day we fell right into the gilted framed blue and white porcelain plaque of a fairy and flowers? you sneezed because you were allergic, but the fairy swept you into her belly of rose dust and we became a hot air balloon, rising above the gardens, swishing along the currents of air over houses in other people's towns. once we landed on our own doorstep. oops, we said, idiots live here--and leapt into the current of fairy movement again!
Yes, I remember that day well. The sun beat down on the plaza, and as we stared at the plauqe we were lifted like two feathers, and flying over our own town we could see into the kitchens and bedrooms and sunrooms, and into the shops and warehouses where the people were going about their business. Don~a Sanchez was making her famous mole, and Pedro--foolish Pedro--was singing in the plaza, where the sun brought rivulets of sweat dripping from his brow.
But do you remember, Jenny, the song Pedro was singing? Do you remember that pious hymn floating, circling our heads like a chilly wind rapping against the building like dried leaves, dried flower petals? It was a hymn to wartime, for our cousin Sal, who was still in battle. When he came home that summer, no amount of washing would get the smell of sage out of him. His shorn hair and darkened eyes told the story only in part. In a strange way, he became more like us for his silence of foreign fields, the smell of gun-metal and the wracking (?--ed) cries of battle, only our silence has the secrecy of girls already known to be given to flights of fancy. So it was, Jenny, that we took flight that day, with little thought of ever landing again.
But so many years later, after the love ebbing and anger flowing over us in ecstatic tides, after the birth of 10 girls and deaths of five sons to the coughing sickness, when we both discovered each other in the mad embrace of others, what drove you to serve a greasy mutton on that delicate plate? The grease and gravy streaky (?--ed) the fairy agon (?--ed) set plate in front of Muchocko, the 3-legged dog that haunted our hope. And the way he looked that night after the mutton was gone, his cries rising to the trees and moon, sounding back like Pedro's song, ringing in the night air and weaving with the crickets' lonely sighs, an end to evening.
When Helen walked into the drawing room that grey afternoon, she saw that the Van Briggle table decorations had been reduced to a heap of shards on the Oriental rug. At first it seemed as if nothing else was amiss, but then she noticed that a window was open, and that her favorite oil painting, a barnyard scene with chickens, which normally hung above the mantle, was also missing. Distraught, Helen searched her entire estate--her pearls, her diamond broach, and her tiny renaissance sculpturette were intact, thank the lord. But most peculiar was the fact that upon re-entering the drawing room, her favorite oil was back above the mantle! Had she been hallucinating? No, the Van Briggles still lay in shards. Disbelieving, she stared at the oil painting for clues--for anything. And most shocking was her next realization. The painting was back, oh yes... but the chickens themselves had been displaced!
Faint, Helen staggered toward the silk rope in the corner. She pulled it urgently and heard her man-servant come at a clip toward the drawing room.
"Henry, Henry ..." she called.
"Yes, Miss Helen."
"The chickens, Henry ... They've ... They've been moved!"
"The chickens, Miss Helen?"
"The painted chickens ..." murmured Helen and passed out of consciousness altogether.
She awoke in a strange yet familiar place. The sunshine was so intense, even though she was partially shaded by the oak tree. In the distance, she could hear the creaking of what she knew to be a windmill. It was hard to see that far, the light was so bright and so white. Where was she? She'd had her ground landscaped year (?--ed) in a cunning copy of Versailles gardens. The neighbors had similar fantasies foisted on their English woods.
Suddenly, she realized she was in the chicken painting, sans the chickens. Ah--she must be dreaming, but here at least was a chance to find the missing chickens. She shielded her eyes from the brilliance of the sun, and soon could see well enough to sit up and find the barn, behind the oak tree. That would be the place to begin a proper search. She made her way down the hill and entered the cool darkness of the red wood barn, excited to see what existed of her favorite scene outside the painting. The sheep appeared to be intact, if a little out-of-focus. The big brown cow to the left, however, was a horse of a different color; its body quivered, this way & that, as though it were not a single creature but a whole flock of chickens, skwawking.
Gentle Reader, perhaps you will not forgive me when I tell you that Charles Angerstoll, a gentleman of Rutherford Lane who sported a fine black velvet cap, topped with the whitest of off-white tail-feathers of a rock dove (whose haunting coo can sometimes still be heard above the estate), explicitly stated to me that his adventures, contained within this volume, concerning the pair of Egyptian limestone figures of standing female goddesses with heiroglyphic inscriptions and raised on rectangular plinth bases, should not be repeated to anyone under any circumstances; however, as I am right now at this very second at the verge of my death, this having followed my elaborately dreadful demise, a demise on which I dare not dwell except to say that it took place in the way that any poor and unfed artist falls pitifully by the wayside of those--such as one My. Charles Angerstoll of Rutherford Lane--who claim success to be unrightfully theirs--or if pocketbook produce the right--than certainly most rightfully in deed, I must say that Sir Angerstoll's adventures (and they are very salacious adventures indeed) must bear retelling. For I am no ordinary author--no, I was not schooled in even the most fundamental principles of grammar, nor in the classics--I, as a ma tter of fact, am an entirely self-taught master of piracy. My methods, or should I say rudimentary knowledge as I know so very little about the trade which I found myself pursuing, began many years ago which I worked under a belligerent sea-captain aboard the wretched ship, Her Majesty The Queen's Pawn. For months we sailed, through swarthy seas, raging storms and anything unpleasant, if only to escape the horrifyingly tedious drudgery of the everyday existence of a spinning jenny operator in the Sheffield textile mill...
It was there that I first encountered a spry young Charles Angerstoll, en route to a polo tourney with his elegant Madame Winnifred, chastising his foreman, quite forebodingly twirling his riding whip...
I still weep when I see that woodblock. Although it has been years since his death, years since the once blossom-laden avenue was repaved and the little candy store on the corner torn down. I still weep...but through saline prisms, I can see--ever so faintly--the path Hiroshi and I used to take down that sunny avenue. And still, as clear as my tears, is that moment amongst the blossoms, the moment when he--when we--when we first kissed under that cherry tree.
But a love story, like love itself, must unfold gently into its destiny. The mystery which spreads wings like the first snowy crane of spring, like the bursting open blossoms of the tree we loved so passionately, almost as we loved one another.
Hiroshi was my school tutor, and I a mere girl of sixteen. I remember his flashing dark eyes as he sat across from me over school books spread open, as I dreamed of being spread open by those white tender hands, his burning intention. I flunked my tests to spend more time with him, though promptly and correctly answered all his questions. I began to wonder if he suspected my love--or dare I hope--shared my love. Our deception brought us closer together, as close as seed and earth in their eternal yet transient embrace.
One day, after a particularly poor showing on one of my exams, Hiroshi walked beside me down the avenue, gently clicking his tongue in shame. I was torn, as always--would he think less of me for doing poorly at my studies? But his response--the soft crunch in his forehead, the sweet raising of his inquisitive brow--was all that I needed to remember that he had always been open, so giving, never judgemental.
"Julie, what are you doing here?" He smiled and pointed at my essay--I followed the line of his finger, the smooth skin glowing in the light of sunset.
"I was trying to say that the narrator, by repeating motifs of nature and masculinity, reveals her own most secret desires," I said, repeating verbatim the sentence he was caressing.
He turned his finger toward me.
"Then, Julie, repeat my nature. Meet my masculinity. Be my narrator."
(at that moment, out of nowhere, a dislodged nuclear weapon fell out of nowhere or the mojave desert--at his direct location--obliterating dear Hiroshi--leaving me unscathed.)
Stage: a woman's slip rests on a kefuno rhythm pounder (to keep beat at a funeral). In the corner, a baseball hat sits askew on canopic jars, a cremation box serves as jewelry holder on the dresser.
Enter Mother, who throws open heavy drape.
Mother: "Honey, it's time to wake up for school"
Grace, a 13-year old girl, raises her head.
G: "Mother, it's Saturday."
M: It's hard to keep track of these details, dear. But get up anyway, we should visit your father. Like we do every week.
G: (stirring, lazily) Okay, if we must. (Slipping out of her bed and walking slowly to the tall windows.) But I'll have to wear my lizard--I can't see father without it.
Grace moves, stretching, to the corner and removes an elaborately carved wooden lizard pendant on a thin silver chain, then fastens it around her neck, checking the mirror to make sure it falls just right.
M: Well, all right. But for heaven's sake wear it properly, my dear.
(Mother reaches over Grace's shoulders to rearrange the pendant, 180 degrees. Grace scowls, and turns if back around as Mother turns to go.)
From stage right locusts descend and a Job-like characted wearing white sheet robe and a gas station attendant's jacket labelled Exxon on one side and Job on another walks through, tipping her hat to the ladies. Young girl glances, stares, gasps, licks h er bottom lip seductively. Mother does not notice.
Girl: Mom, do you know how to move like a lizard?
M: Yes, dear, I once practiced the fine arts. But I am no longer slender and flexible. It is now up to you to carry on the family heritage. (she pronounces the word "heritage" with great profundity)
Girl: Mom, no one uses that word anymore. Anyway, my girlfriend Job is here to practice reptile poses with me. Gotta go!
M (wearily): Grace--we must visit Father.
Suddenly and unnecessarily, Mother and Grance are tragically and mysteriously killed. Job-figure reappears on stage, as does Father.
Father: Oh my god! My wife and daughter were just unnecessarily tragically killed! What will I do? My god, my god, my god!
Job: (comforting the father) There, there, god can't help you. (Picks up kefuno rhythm pounder and begins to play, slowly.)