Joe Fletcher

Prester John

 

There was a chain hanging from beneath his kimono.

It was moist and thick with algae and dropped

 

between his bare feet and snaked across the cracked

concrete floor, disappearing into a backroom from which

 

escaped the sound of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” and in

the gloom of which I glimpsed a birdcage and a dented tuba

 

resting upright on its bell. His face was caked with greasepaint

and beads of sweat gathered on his brow and his temples; his

 

blond hair curled in sweaty loops. His eyes were squeezed shut.

He stood motionless, save for tiny jerks of his wrist, around

 

which was wound a leather leash that was fastened to

the collar of a naked baby crawling behind the crosshatched

 

mahogany strips of a lattice. Through an oblong window

the avenue was darkened by clouds. A golden retriever

 

slurped from a puddle in convulsive gulps. “Are you

The Norseman?” he asked, his eyes still shut. “I am he,” I replied.

 

“Fucking liar,” said the baby in a resolute voice from behind

the lattice. The man nodded, slowly. I imagined pinching

 

the baby’s smooth stomach, pinching and twisting and

stifling its howls with a lace-fringed pillow, stuffing

 

its limp body into the bell of the tuba and tossing it into

a Minnesota lake at the end of autumn. “Where have I

 

seen you before?” inquired the man, squeezing his eyes tighter,

as if reversing his gaze across the murky shoals of memory.

 

“This isn’t the first time I’ve crossed your threshold,”

I proclaimed, gripping the rubber shaft of my putter.

 

Then something began to pull the chain from the backroom.

His eyes flew open and he looked at me for the first time,

 

like a peasant on the gallows whose hood has fallen off,

and who recognizes his mother jeering from the crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMPORTMENT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A white fur throw over the couch, and a boy

 

pinching his cheeks to pinken them a bit, enliven his

 

only relative being. It’s not  magic, it’s work. Gendarme

 

clenching Genet’s tube of petroleum jelly. For the head,

 

not the hair. Pink the poetic ideal, but it’s always

 

a bit more tan than that. Sweat behind his ears, buttons

 

and unbuttons his shirt. Playing the role of a character

 

who plays a role. How’s the body?, the gendarme wants

 

to know, when did your father first make a woman

 

of you? Officer, most men stuff a specter: woman

 

is only a theatrical illusion, furnished by degrees.

 

 

 

 

 

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