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.
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.