Deborah is the woman who killed my wife in a surge of conjured flame, an explosive in the microwave. She is the Arsoness, daughter of the great arsonist Henry Kissinger. "Fax these," she squeaks, blowing her hair from one part of her face to another. I look down at the documents, the crumpled stack of childish drawings she has handed me. Blue elephants balancing primary colored beach balls on their trunks, two story homes with black smoke rising cleanly from the centered chimneys, framing an indefinite orange ball of sunset, a Corvette in flames, driven by a solemn Buddhist monk, and hastily drawn traffic piling off toward the periphery. We are truly lucky to have Deborah around.
"You bet." This thick manila paper will surely jam the fax machine. I smile (candidly or prophetically?) as I walk the corridor that separates the east cubicles from the west, leading to the altar of fax, copier, coffee, clock. Fax these, Fax these, Fax these: a two-note chorus in my . . . .
"You bet." This thick manila paper will surely jam the fax machine. I grab the documents and engage the forward momentum of my reach. I step behind her desk, into the security breach area of her Personal Executive Space. She reddens and guffaws, words coming. Outside her triple-paned window, I believe I can see a Great Lake or two. Helpless traffic, heavy commerce, my eyes are the buses wandering the streets.
Six days ago the Fuhrer had decreed that Martin Luther King, Jr. be shot. They drove the arraigned to Memphis in a not so solemn motorcade. There were beer trucks with swimming pools dug out on top or attached by trailer, populated by cheerleaders, toned and tanned councilmen and sailors in uniform. All along I-59 there were families in sunhats, singing old Negro hymns and chuckling giddily. Helicopters fed slightly turbulent footage to all the major networks, a six-lane freeway framed by parasols and pines.
Before this, there were only three men and they scavenged for berries between the Tigris and the Euphrates. One went east and he became the Chinaman, and one went north and he became the Norseman, and one went south and he became the black man. And then there was America, and there was one man there, scavenging for furs on the banks of the Ohio. And there were virgin births. And there were less than immaculate conceptions in haystacks and barns throughout the Carolina Piedmont and the Holy Land. There were asteroids and there were fires, punctuating epochs, ruining plans. The Fuhrer keeps an arsoness to sensually lull the past to sleep with flame, to weld together its parts, to blow, bend, and break it like glass.
I am a partner of the great and only German-born Mr. Oklahoma, Heinrich Hess. We are Co-Secretaries of Human Cargo for the arsoness, for her ministry. Hess, I imagine, was settled under a motel comforter with one immaculately shaven leg stuck out under the lamplight. White Sands, N.M. The wind torturing the desert, bringing the temperature down, and the afternoon fizzling into the sand it had kicked up. Four, five, six o'clock. The burnt light reflected off the unplugged television screen suggesting evening and the air clearing into the suction of silence that immediately precedes the ringing of a phone.
"Hi there, Hess here," breathing heavy all over the receiver with his endearing accent.
It was me, inhaling; I refused to exhale until some sort of clarity came to me, something like a plan for having a plan.
The shipment, Hess confirmed, would be crossing the border at 4:45 A.M. Three truckloads of former Nazi officials and S.S. members, weary and shriveling from half their lives spent in Mexico sitting patiently in courtyards, waiting for dinnertime and then the cleansing bubbles of their baths as night enclosed Cuernavaca with its descending palpitations, the equatorial stars forever hazy on the horizon. It would be a cinematic scene in the overlit asphalt lot behind the Chevron where all the truckers sleep tormented, clutching their clutchable items. I would be there in all black and slicked hair, accompanied by an entourage of thirteen-year-olds with bayoneted automatic weapons, decked out in the same black attire, perhaps with blue reflective sunglasses holding back the hair on their nearly hairless heads. The rigs would be opened simultaneously, the rear doors swinging up like industrial garages to reveal human piles of old men with ominous facial bones, white hair or hair dyed black, their dilated pupils shriveling rapidly into their blue and blurry cataracts as light flooded in on them and their pressed and ancient woolen suits, looks of joy indistinguishable from looks of scorn. One by one they would be led by the thirteen-year-olds to missile silos, frozen, and left to bathe indefinitely in glass-encased swamps of green xenon gas like the Declaration of Independence.
Punctuations, A Note on my Condition
Punctuations mostly, a disrupted biography. My childhood was funereal, the equivalent of a wood-planked dance floor, empty and creaking in swirling piss-gold light, a forgotten country song playing, one older man sitting in shadow at the bar, his sweatpants riding up his purpling ankles, and an affectionless bony hussy approaching the center with a soiled and useless mop. I suppose she would be my mother, who sang me nightly to sleep in monotone with breath of vomit and forgetability. And the man, the belly with sweatpants and chins, he must be my father. And then me, behind my own levitating eyes, maybe fifteen, as yet vacant of meaningful memories. Five years after dropping the bomb on Moscow, the Japanese empire had reached the Aegean. The U.S. mail had resumed service and I received a 'Bury your Father' notice addressed to my name. I ate a dozen pruning grapes with the solemnity of significant undertaking, and then roused dad with the foghorn. Understanding the circumstances, he came resigned into my room in his church-worthy Oxford button-down, dragging the shovel behind him, a dull screech bouncing with his stride. I sat Indian- style on my bed, the motionless ceiling fan above me, a fading poster of the earth's moon behind me, memory a symmetrical beast, a two-man procession into the dense moonlight of the backyard. Dense and peeling the green from the elms, the yellow from the lab, funneling it into my watering eyes, out of the deepest night of the six-foot hole. Car wheels on gravel momentarily filled the silence, and I could hear the dandelions pushing up through the soil, the low hum and shuffle of causes and effects, the meek coughing of my father as I covered his composed grin with mud, his squinting eyes, his ruffled shirt, sweated through to expose the pink upholstery of his flesh. I re-earthed my father with wet and wormy dirt.
My father squeezed my shoulder on the tarmac, proud to see me off onto the warbound plane on the most perfect, infinite late August afternoon. My mind, my history, inversions and manipulations.
Digging my way up through the soil, I rose from the terrain of my backyard gasping desperately for oxygen, pushing up like a sprinkler head, my white shirt now golden brown and moistened by transient snails. With mud still in my hair, my arms outstretched on the kitchen table, my back painfully straight, I sat the way my father did when he took his coffee and watched the sun struggle to rise. I heard the faucet running in my parents' room, my deathly peaceful mother shriveling in the tub, my father with the shovel still in hand, the window was open to the dewy morning air. I sat next to him on the unmade bed, and our four white and dilated eyes watched the weatherman point to an animated depiction of a winking yellow sun with a toothy smile positioned directly over Kansas City.
The armpits of her white t-shirt were stained yellow and she had new burns across her right cheek and chin. Hess and I stood in mid-curtsy until she relieved us with the batting of her eyes. She fixed her gaze at the computer game on her laptop and spoke, "Down in the cargo hold," and we nodded attentively, careful not to look past her, "Box 'em up."
In the cargo hold on Basement Level C we were confronted with America's Paralyzed Veterans. They had been deprived of their serum for forty-eight hours so that most were dead or unconscious, but a few issued muzzled yelps of resentment or pride from the rancid pile of bodies. We folded their limbs and contorted their torsos until each fit into a medium-sized cardboard box. Thirteen-year-olds inserted scorecards into each box, some marked 'sympathy,' and others marked 'lamentation.' They taped them up, and slid them up the ramp and onto the rig.
In the cargo hold on Basement Level C, Deborah doused America's Paralyzed Veterans in 91-octane gasoline. Our throats constricted with the acrid scent of burning hair and flesh, and the cameraman covered up his wheeze with feigned laughter. 'Pyrotechnics'. . . .
In the cargo hold on Basement Level C, we spoon-fed apple sauce to America's Paralyzed Veterans. We showed them grainy cartoons from Deborah's collection and attempted to fill their immobility with a false sense of purpose, motivational speeches, displays of weaponry, spectacles of triumph at their expense. Their blank eyes tremblingly followed the images of ducks and coyotes, and neither they nor we heard a word we were saying.
Punctuations, A Note on my Condition
Punctuations mostly, a disrupted biography. My childhood was funereal, punctuated by three terms at the seminary scouring ancient books and sleeping on springless mattresses, concealing my desires behind a miraculous facade of self-hatred, wrapped tenderly in the wet dreams that God is made of. Dusty chromosomes, criminally denied, lacquered mahogany and high ceilings, pews and altars. Staring God in the face is the purest and most troubling engineering of one's own atheism, and I still do not know who I am, how I am, what is belief, what has conspired to put me here, and what will conspire to bring me back. What is the source and what is the destination. Dizzied and timeless I seem to be drifting back and forth.
May I slip into your plans for the days of no more plans. May I make with you the arbitrary into the ordered, into the indisputable, into law. May you dictate our direction, define, synthesize the future. Pluck it out of chaos, refine it out of the past. May you caress my head with your paternal hand, your paternal shove.
Love, Love, Love, . . .
Three terms at the seminary were punctuated by my marriage to the great suffragette Pocahontas, the great architect Heather Locklear. Our marriage was sexless but full of love, abdominal twinges, throbbing kidneys. We had a brick house with a regulation red door on the former frontier, the Kansas side of the Missouri. We recorded each other's faults on Post-it notes that we inconspicuously displayed on the refrigerator door in the predawn hours. I took my job with an insurance company underwriting. . . .
I took my job with the arsoness underwriting fires, turning the wheels for the Fuhrer, human cargo, living freight. I flew home from the Chicago office on those weekends I was not out on fieldwork, home finally to her bubbling skin, her charred organs, the rattling bones of the controlled blaze of my home. Deborah was in the lawn, bowing manfully, her cheeks bursting with a deep giggle of accomplishment. Portable bleachers had been erected in the street, sat upon stoically by the Fuhrer's undermen: top-hatted councilmen, diplomats, and teen heartthrobs. Deborah, it is an honor to serve you. Hess was there with an extra sherry glass for me and I counted two new wrinkles at the sides of his eyes, what staring at fires will get you. With a rehearsed expressionlessness, I emptied my glass and accepted proud handshakes from gathering neighbors. I sharpened pencils all Sunday morning and fed them to termites in the burned-out attic, the quick creation of slow, nourishing destruction, the shimmering yellow sun affirming from high above Kansas City.
Guiltily, I allowed myself to be half an hour late to work on Monday. "Hello, Deborah." Fax these, Fax these, Fax these. . . .
The great arsonist Henry Kissinger once told me that history is as malleable as the mind of an infant, that we can teach it any and every language we choose.
The great arsonist Henry Kissinger once told me that his daughter was missing, to find her at once. I found Deborah in Iowa City, in the forty-fifth Home Depot I had searched, playing with power tools, drooling relentlessly.
And Jesus laid four eggs. . . .
Jesus put on his Sunday best and crawled into his bunker, crawled underground and shoveled dirt on himself. Rose and fell, rose and fell.
The mangled corpse of the great pontiff Ronald Reagan is being loaded into an ambulance, his motorcycle lying broken and lonesome a quarter mile down the highway. Bullets are still whirring through the cornfields. Napalm or oxygen, thunder or air cover.
From the smoldering beams of the attic of my former home, I can see the Sino-Cuban alliance laying siege on the Alamo. I drink a Dutch beer and concentrate on the wisps of cirrus clouds in the sky, the beards of bygone great men and the beards of great men to come, dissolving and being dissolved by the greater blue.
Two nights ago the Fuhrer lumbered into his bunker and shot himself between the eyes, collapsing onto his massage table, and blood thick with brain cells trickled onto his mustache and glossed his lips. The love letters kept rolling in.
With Hess in tow, I thaw out the Nazis with a hairdryer, I take America's Paralyzed Veterans out of their boxes and release them from my cupped hands to fly away like unwounded doves. I eat the memory of my father and wife like tomorrow's ice cream.
Plutarch is indisposed, Mr. Oklahoma is waxing his pelvic region. Birds are flying into these immaculately Windexed windows, transparent through time and space. Javanese trees in Golden Gate Park, bigger than Javanese homes. Underneath, white couples waltz on the steaming fresh volcanic black rock, beginning, ending. Pterodactyls and cormorants, brand new viruses. Cue the rain.
Rain, 40 nights, 41 days. Evenings flinging mollusks at the rooftops that float above the waterline, and a dog is barking, muddled and gurgling bubbles rising from the depths. America is reinventing itself underwater, drowned and still waiting for the flood. God, charmlessly defecating history.
In the Brady Bunch living room, I center myself on the loveseat. Deborah is frying an egg in the kitchen, spattering oil and cholesterol over the burner. The carpet couldn't be any more vacuumed, the time couldn't be any more indistinct. I am staring blankly at a newspaper, looking through it with unfocusing eyes at the great tugboat captain Lyndon Johnson selling used cars on the muted television set. I have a leather Roebuck's briefcase full of insurance policies and a daughter losing baby teeth like clockwork, I have a song that has lulled God to sleep and a dance that is as dimensionless as He. But I have dimensions, I have directions, I have the tree-lined future on my mind. All my Love, . . .