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The Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Edited by Andrei Codrescu
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the making and unmaking of person
The New Economics of Late Capitalism

The Man Who Threw Poetry at a Raccoon in the Ceiling
by Jonny Diamond

Wherein is Described a Man, Alone, Who Wakes in the Night.

A man alone, awake again in the dark, the dark of night. Light from the parking lot, a shape on the wall, the same shape always at the same time, cut through with the lines of a shadowy tree. A feeling of breath, of being breathed. Sound: of movement, of nervous struggle, breath caught, breaths catching; panic, animal panic. Sound, again from above, above in the dark.
     He has been reading, trying to read, reading Rilke, the Duino Elegies, those Elegies, that poetry (in the half-light of a Nazi cell Bonhoeffer reads his death in these coded words and in the coming darkness refuses to bargain, refuses to exchange questions for warnings--that poetry could do something, anything). They are full these words, these Elegies; so full, full of telling. But for him they are too full, filled up, tell nothing; they overflow, always overflowing. The Elegies leave no room for others, no room for him who reads them, reads them with the windows open in an empty room. The moon rises, rises in the east, again and again--and again, the noises from above. Like heavy wine on a hot night the Elegies leave him seeing the world from the back of a dark room.

Wherein is Revealed One of the Uses of Poetry

He holds a book of poetry in his left hand, sees Rilke standing there in another empty room filled only with himself and the idea of love, a love for her, impossible her. He (him, not Rilke) feels the slight weight in his left hand grown suddenly heavy (Bonhoeffer grown heavy at the end of a rope, at the end of the war), and recoils from it, this banal weight, throws the Elegies at the ceiling. The noises stop. He, the first man, alone, says these words, out loud in the night: "But I am not Bonhoeffer. I am not Rilke. I am not." He says these words, then realizes (smiles in the dark), realizes he has thrown Rilke at a family of raccoons in the ceiling (poetry that has done something, anything).

Wherein is Related the Day After a Dream and the Man Who Makes Bets With Himself

Sleeping now the man dreams of younger winters, and of a single shark's fin. The day after this dream (of a shark's fin, lonely and scarred above the grey snow) he leaves his house. He leaves his house and sees things, all things, as contests, wins and losses; so he bets, bets with himself, bets on everything, wagers on the outcome of each moment: the attitude of a bird upon landing, the bus seat chosen by a man who hurries, the change of a light from green to yellow to red, the shift of a cotton skirt, the next use of a useless word, a dropped glove, the clatter of cutlery on the other side of a room--everywhere the possibility of divagation; above all else the beauty of the aleatory.
     A need then, his need, to divide, to organize, a need to expose the rough seams of fate. The settling and resetting of internal wagers--a way to participate, a way to owe himself something. His debt mounts, he remembers everything and wonders at all this unobserved loss, wonders if it counts or not, if it counts towards something--he bets and loses, again and again, loses again.

Wherein a Part of his Past, a Beginning and Ending, is Revealed

He is on his side. Can feel the grit in the bed through the worn fabric of his old corduroys. She is eating toast with jam, goes to kiss the pale band of exposed skin that shines on his body from right hip to small of back. He can think only of the crumbs stuck to her lips, the crumbs that will stick to his skin. He recoils. She rises in silence and goes into the bathroom. This is the beginning of their last day.
     They'd met at the back of a large room, had both sought the same defensible position. She claimed as an ancestor a black baseball player who'd pretended to be white in order to play in the major leagues; he said he believed her and so was granted a single kiss anywhere on her body. He chose the palm of her left hand, and from there grew that which would kill them both.


Wherein Are Related the Urban Perlustrations of a Man Who Keeps a Record of His Loss

So he walks; he walks and keeps a tally in his head, a record of loss--as one marks days on the wall of a cell. He walks through painterly scenes, familiar scenes, scenes filled with light that he knows to be important and beautiful: great dark buildings at dusk etched round with empty streets; pale muscular women in shirt sleeves, yellow steam rising from their bodies; gapped-tooth train cars left alone, lonely at the edge of coppergreen forests; girning half-hidden faces, colourless behind panes of cracked glass. He walks through shadow, of different type and kind, with colour, without (an absence of light he knows to be important). He walks along many streets, never two so parallel they cannot meet. He tries never to repeat himself, on a street, in a scene; he knows this city, knows it moment upon painted moment, knows it cannot bear another instant of repetition--he knows all of this in the very fist of his brain.

Wherein Are Related the Generative Ruminations of a Man Who Walks and Sees Things in the Shadow of a Large Building

He walks, thinks of her, she, loved by Rilke, by him, by anyone; he walks, thinks of her, creates, begins to create, creates her (as one might create the noise of an animal in the ceiling or the weight of a hanged man in the left hand). He sees her there, a half creation, his, half-created, sees her in one shadow, then another, sees her there standing--he walks toward her, stands close to her in the darkness of a great building, their breath above them spinning.

Wherein are Related the Words Spoken by the Man to the Woman

He thinks, thinks these words, can only think these words: the face of my beloved turned to me at dusk: said nothing, said nothing. He thinks these words, finds now he is saying them, saying them in the dark of the great building, saying them, finally, to her. Finally and again to her.

Wherein is Related the Answer of the Woman to the Words Spoken by the Man

And she, in the dark, without light, answers, can finally answer; and so answering thinks, then says, says again, says again to him: each small breath, each small breath: imperfect rehearsal for imperfect death.




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