Well now…here’s a Shard written a year ago last April when I was in the hospital for my second operation. I’ve been spending the morning pawing through scrawled Shards, a pile of loose sheets of paper, napkins, coffee coasters. I can’t keep up with it. Some find their way straight into the computer, others get thrown to the wayside and pile up. But they all seem like fresh news when they do find their way into the computer, and that’s a good thing. That’s one of the things that differentiate between news and the eternal booming voice of the universe. I’m saying this now because I’ll be going in for a third operation in about three weeks, and that will most likely spawn another generation of hospital Shards, and I want to give a little heads-up that there is bound to be overlap and backwash and even backlash with these Shards. It may become difficult to know which operation I’m talking about. And, while I’m at it, a few words on Death. Death skips alongside these operations like an excited little girl of seven skipping rope. It’s part of the package. The game. The story. The news that’s fit to print. So relax, kick back, open your arms to any death Shards that come along like you would to an old friend who appears in your dreams.
Which triggers another train of thought. I work on so many levels I walk around tongue-tied most of the time. I recently slam-dunked a novel, a kick-ass piece of work, lean like a hungry wolf. I’ve been doing the “find a literary agent” dance around the novel, firing off letters accompanied by sample pages and synopses, just on the off chance. A few of these agents have actually asked to see more, and after they’ve seen more, they pull out. Why? My theory is they are responding to unwritten laws. My theory is that there exists a cultural matrix that encompasses apparent extremes and contradictions. Within this matrix there’s room for Republicans and Democrats and Greens, college professors and ditch diggers and drug addicts, minorities and rebels and convicts. There is some unspoken thing that links them all. And if you lack this unspoken thing, you are ostracized on a subliminal level. So that I can have an agent at the Charlotte Gusay Agency write me: “You have a very unique style, which makes your work incredibly engaging. The subject matter is very compelling and unlike much I have read before. However, the actual narrative of the story and the perspectives of its characters are often lost to the often overbearingly dark storytelling…”
The italics are mine. What the lady means, without consciously realizing it, is that the story falls between the cracks; it has no acceptable niche in the culture. And the whole wild, crazy, apocalyptic dance will turn to palsy if such elements are given legitimacy. So that a writer like Junot Diaz, who is a fine writer, is readily accepted into the matrix because there is already a niche for him — minority boy from a Jersey ghetto makes good and winds up teaching English at M.I.T.
I just got turned on to Diaz yesterday. After surfing around to learn more about him and his writing, I went down to Brick Road Books and bought his latest. Then I stuck a copy of my last novel, Tire Grabbers, in the mail to him with the inscription: “To Junot Diaz — a story that falls between the cracks of Halden Caulfield and Oscar Wao” Oscar Wao is the protagonist in Diaz’ latest novel. Caulfield, of course, is the protagonist in Catcher in the Rye. There’s a university prof at Dartmouth, I think it is, who has been suggesting that Catcher is dated and perhaps should be replaced with Diaz’ book of stories, Drown.
It doesn’t much matter, in my book.
Okay. This has turned into a fucking essay. Here’s the hospital Shard.
(and, of course, pass along at will, respond spontaneously, and drop a line if you are some sort of publisher and would like to use any of this…)
Squeezing in Time
Here I lie at 5:45 a.m., 48 hours after a follow-up aneurysm surgery, squeezing in a few words between the wake-up pain and the pain meds. Between constipation and prune juice. Between Harry Potter in a sorcerer’s cap at age 12 and running naked down Broadway in pubescence.
I sing the song electric. 600 watts of pazam. A jolt to the nervous system. The truth will out but I tamp it down with wet blankets, like hot spots at the tail end of a fire. What does Harry Potter have to do with any of this? A sharp lick of flame, trying to burn down the house.
Saved by the bell. Here comes the nurse in magenta with a syringe full of joy juice, followed closely by a garish Rosita carrying a tray of the worst food in America. If you’ve been following closely, you can see how rapidly today’s culture shape shifts.
I’m lying under a small ring of neon wrapped in a grotesque swatch of cloth designed to expose my genitals. I have a raw incision from sternum to groin and I’m constipated. I’m not yet “on my feet” and I’m squeezing out Shards.
Squeezing out, squeezing in, squeezing hard and still no go–if I can’t produce a sausage-sized turd, they won’t let me out of here.
Ship for Hire
It is a brigantine, but below decks displays
the expanse of an ocean liner. You’ll be amazed
at the space, the scope of the swimming pool.
The captain’s quarters sport only one item
a curtained bed, inviting but isolate.
Don’t mind the rivulets of brine-scented water
rushing in through the cracks
undulating. They’re only hypnotized by
the moon’s pulse.
In the wheelhouse, two New Orleans
wrought iron patio chairs, delicate as wrists,
are strapped either side of the wheel
tête á tête. Either guest
may tend the wheel
beneath a wide arc of glass
inviting views of horizons
for easier steerage.
For the seasoned traveller of our unpredictable seas,
a word of caution: this crescent of light, provides paradox.
Here on the upper deck snow filters in from glaciers;
icebergs pile in corners,
layered, as waves hurtle
the hull. Still on deck,
outside the captain’s quarters, wait two wicker chairs
comfortable aside their intimate table.
You may order mint juleps.
For the adventurous, a third deck, acquired by
accessing the frozen stair, leads to the bow.
Beware this sharp triangle of fear, with its low railings
tempting with tripwires.
Adrenaline junkies: Take hold. The spearhead bowsprit
pierces sky or water, depending on tilt.
We are famous for tilt.
“Would you care to book passage?”
Robert Aquino Dollesin
My wife screams that we’ll have to move again if I don’t put it behind us and find work soon. The second time in six months. Once these kinds of arguments begin they never seem to end. The blame volleys back and forth until hurtful words finally reduce us to something smaller than we already are. So instead of replying I go outdoors and sit on the front porch. On the opposite side of the closed door my wife still shouts. The sun has already come up behind the houses across the street. Looking down past my bare feet to the bottom of the steps, I notice the red clay pot and my wife’s tiny grapefruit tree that grows inside of it. The leaves have yellowed. A single grapefruit bows one of the sickly branches. I have an urge to walk down the steps and pluck that grapefruit off the branch, peel away its coarse skin, thumb it in half and break it apart into segments. Then I‘d like to grind each of those segments between my teeth and swallow the bitter bites. But I don’t do that. Instead, I remain seated at the top of the steps, staring down at the tree, wondering how long before the branch finally breaks from the weight of the fruit.
Jan Oscar Hansen
Misty night seeps down
Averse sky pain for the sun
Green moss on wet wall
The northwesterly blows rain
Parasols seek shelter
Courageous are umbrellas
Joust November storms
Festive shop windows
Preen and vie for customers
Long after closing time
Fire-works on night sky
Cannot vie with shooting stars
Quarter past twelve
It’s more than Flesh Burning
Arms held out to you, from the top of a ladder, or an overgrown field of wildflowers; extending a glance from across the room, held out to you deep from the depths of the ocean or the summit of a mountain, tall and proud. Arms extended from a white flowing gown by someone without a face, the one you’ve been waiting for, the one you’ve dreamt about again and again.
You thought she had given in; revealed herself to you from behind her heart’s walls. It happened. Through the winter into summer; the warmth of her love’s embers burned through you as if she were fire, and you were ignited like the thin paper she had rested on.
And now…there’s smoke and you attempt to restart her, but the matches are wet and soggy—and the fire too difficult to light from the ashes of her arms.