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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Fifteen Thumbs
by Brian Swann

Thumb I

She's reaching into her, searching
for change, scratching around at the bottom
of the bag, up to her wrist, up to her bangle.
What is she searching for? The bag says
help yourself, smiling, helping her in,
one hand smoothing the folds. It's all as
public as a bus-stop. Their eyes meet the glass,
behind which yours meet theirs. They cannot see you,
but they know you, and the man who holds
the glass he now turns round full in your face,
and what you see there is not what you've seen.
They're watching what's going on.
They're watching you.

Thumbs II

Nobody looks at anybody. But she smiles
at you, looking straight through
to where you're growing old, allowing you
something, if not much. So now you're
all round her, she has you in one grip &
she has you in another grip & is about to open
her smile wider to accommodate you,
but you, each of you, you do not look
at her, you do not look at each other,
you seem not to notice what is going on.
You are stiff & abstract. What would you do
if you were really there? Would you try to
concoct a story for each, all of you,
leaving you the freedom to displace the center
where she seems to run the show, or,
seeing there is no story, no chance of, no
point in, take a hike?

Thumb III

I find myself staring at the background:
electric clock, mirror, stereo, philodendron,
snowshoes, Picasso print, licence plate HIJ 754
on a shelf. I can't get the state. But probably
ALASKA., like beneath CEE 753.
Is this how they spend those long winters?
What would they be doing if they weren't doing this?
Both girls are pretty enough to do pretty much nothing.
The guy is like all the others. You don't even
look at his face, not meant to. He's all below-belt.
Not that he's wearing one. His face is anyone's.
But the girls -- each is different, each is particular
and anonymous. He is his prick.
They have a good grip on him.

Thumb IV

He's clad in sunglasses, indoors, in winter,
in Alaska. He's relying on the fact
that, naked, in sunglasses, his mother wouldn't
recognize him. That's probably how I'd do it too.
He's forgotten the licence plate, a dead give-away.
She could track him down. Maybe he's from
Dubuque or Piscataway.He doesn't look Alaskan.
But what's an Alaskan look like?
A pair of sunglasses could do the trick.
I doubt his mother would even want him back.

Thumb V

Anywhere in the world, but "Russian winter", it says.
He's in shirt and tie. Both women are in long
overcoats. Everybody is wearing a sensible pair
of highly polished shoes. The room is bare,
thin curtains drawn. It is a story. Frame two
has them on a bench I'd overlooked under
the window. One seems to be looking for something,
eye to his fly. The other--ah, she's found it.
The curtains have been pulled aside by an invisible hand.
There are shadows on the snow, and tree-trunks,
no bigger than second or even third growth,
straight and dark, leaving shadows on the snow.
You can't see their branches. There are no wolves.

Thumb VI

Despite the cherry-blossom branch all round
her long flowing black hair & lacy chemise,
despite the paper-thin screen in little squares,
and despite the large flower in the other girl's hair
as she leans over for her friend to insert
while she opens wide, it still reminds me
of a gas station. The guy, Caucasian, flat
on his back, seemingly asleep, is the prone pump.
One girl is the attendant, full service, who
places the nozzle in the other's tank,
which is at the wrong end.

Thumb VII

So sweet. Kind of pre-dinner apertif.
She has him in the corner under the cabinets,
his elbow on the counter beside the dishwashing liquid,
though there are no dishes in sight and the microwave
behind his head is firmly shut. He is staring straight ahead
in slacks and shirt, arms akimbo, while she takes a firm grip
on his zucchini. She is looking straight up at him,
daring him with a sweet smile--
What's this I found? What have we here?
But she cannot get a smile out of him. So she is backing
into us with sheer panties, about which a skimpy apron
is tied in a knot just below her long hair. The sink is empty,
the cabinets closed. She says, You're not going anywhere.
And we stay.

Thumb VIII

She holds on to make him more secure.
She's going nowhere. I want to be her hair,
her long hair, shimmering, her hand holding
him, as if she only makes it what it is,
as if it's something she's brought with her, some appliance
or part, or even a rose for her to put in water so it'll last
beyond its natural span, or even chocolate
to share. I want to be her silver necklace,
swinging, I want to be her earring, tight
against each lobe. I want to be each lobe.

Thumb IX

He's temple; they're buttresses,
frieze, caryatids that stretch
round out of camera range behind
the sofa, around the bleak garden,
so it all stays up. They brace his legs
with a free arm and hand. It's a pyramid,
but not one that can stand by itself.
It is bent like the one at Dashur.
They won't let it fall. Still, legs apart,
he is bracing himself. You never know.

Thumbs X

In our gym this would get you thrown out-
they almost threw me out for not showering before a swim
and for not wearing a cap, after a final warning
for not wiping down equipment after use.
Yet there are naked girls in my gym. That is,
they have to be under four in our changing room,
and with their daddies. Anyhow,
these shortless girls are buff. He must
have trained them well. One has no problem
lifting his dumbbell. She's generous too. Here,
she says to the other girl, you can lift this too.
I'll help you. There. Mmm. Thanks. There's enough
to go round
. As I think I said, this kind of thing
couldn't happen in my gym, populated by alterkakers,
sour women, middle aged men with their first child,
the occasional foul-mouthed adolescent, and me.
This gym is clean and empty. All except this corner
with the gleaming barbells, and the open window.
It must be spring.

Thumb XI

"Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you ...."
     (Genesis, 9)

"Hello," she'd said, shaking hands. "I'm Ava.
I have herpes." "That's nice," I replied, thinking she'd said Hermes,
not knowing what else to say, shaking hands and not knowing just a touch can pass it on. She toured the room like King Midas,
informing everyone.
                               On my desk Foucault's History of Sexuality.
Western sex, he writes, has become "discourse". Adam and Eve
on the cover are looking down in opposite directions
not speaking, or at best in dumb discourse. I laugh,
though there are no jokes in the Bible, unless you count
the story of Adam and Eve.
                                        Next to the book, print-outs:
a snake in an Eve, people all over a donkey, bitches covered
by dogs, a cock in a hen, five-legged horses, pigs, goats,
asses, monkeys, fish in a world engendered beyond Caliban's
wildest dream, or Prospero's worst nightmare,
a world where Prospero doesn't even bother to search for
his sunken wand, and is probably laughing up his sleeve.

Thumb XII

She's pulling it out of him, heaving with both hands.
She has the wide face of a Norse
death-goddess,wild blonde hair as if windswept
in the stall, eyes white as the eyes of statues
on Easter Island, black cores that come straight at you,
and past, going after something in the distance,
a mouse, rabbit, hare or deer, and still she pulls
and stares at us, wide-belly with stretch-marks,
sitting legs apart, as if to say, Take that, pulling at
the headless horse, pulling it all out, turning it
inside out, with huge hands that could strangle you,
thick knees that could get you one in each eye.

Thumb XIII

What chance transformation? Everything now
is what it is & no more. And what is it? Soup cans,
one after the another, millions of Marilyn Monroes.
What can you change a dick into? A dick is just a dick,
a dick, a dick. And pussy? Well, there they try harder:
bottle-holder, candle-stick, glove. But a hole is
just a hole. Nothing changes and nothing changes you.
Not like the way Stendhal was turned around
by Giotto's frescoes and Michelangelo's tomb,
almost going mad at the sight of Brunelleschi's
smooth round dome. Ah, the intensity!
(It can happen to you too, like it happened
to one Franz, engineer from Bavaria, who, at the sight
of Caravaggio's "Bacchus" had to be carried out
on a stretcher, excited, flailing, raving about "knees").

So I look & look, & look: stick figures twisted
like pipe-cleaners, frozen music of mannequins,
irreducible erotics of the banal. Yet I go on looking
as if the visible could turn inside out, turn me
inside out. But knees remain knees, themselves,
no more. So why do I look & wish I was there, slipping
through the glass? What would happen if I
broke through? Certainly in this context three
is not a crowd. But I pause. Once in, I'd probably
slink off into a corner, watch, take notes, maybe
polaroids, wishing I was somewhere else, looking
at the pictures, wishing I was there.


Thumb XIV

Had she just been scanning the business page
in next to nothing when in through
the french windows jumped
Tweedledum & Tweedledee both
in waist-length striped cotton shirts
so fast they forgot their pants?
Anyhow, there is silence in the daisies
full face & fragrant behind the sofa.
Silence in the headless males standing
arms akimbo. Silence in
the newspaper scattered beside her.
Silence in her legs apart as if
something was trying to scream.


She goes by on the side of a bus
half a block long, reclining on an elbow in
bra and panties. Then another, two of her.
And another heading uptown. There she is
on a wall, high as the roof, stretching block to block.
She's everywhere, huger than the mind.
If I could run I'd chase. If I could jump
I'd never stop leaping. But I broke my foot,
and now she's holding it, the big red toe
I thought gout, but she proved otherwise.
She strokes as she talks from the stool,
legs apart. There's a lot of diamond
on her left hand, which holds my other naked foot.
Who is that chasing her into the corridor
where the holidays are upon us, Christmas green
bedecking illustrations of feet and bones?
Not me. I sit posed, one frame following
the other, silent, until I look out the window,
and the frames continue: Dr Dawn along the side
of a number 5, around the hoardings of a new
erection, from corner to corner on East 3rd.

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