In the beginning, the word was misused like a rag is misused when stopping up the mouth of a hostage. Nobody wanted to hear it. Yet, if a word was misused properly — such as describing a ziggurat of spheres or a pyre of finger nails — the mistake would be forgiven and immediately added to a ceremony, sung as a painful necessity. This is how life started, one mistake after the other, until someone shouted they’d had enough and actually held forth. Then there was thought, the exaggerated word having its way with the ones before it — and making sense, too. Years passed without anyone writing anything down except illustrating how to kill and maim.“There must be more,” were the first words ever written, scrawled in flint-rock on an animal skin. This never took off until it was put to music. A deaf man wrote music that spoke to everyone and still does. He never cut his hair and bobbed his head when greeting people he thought understood. The bobbing was imitated, but never reproduced and a bust of him is now hung from rearview mirrors everywhere.
The Responsible Legion
Loaves of bread that have risen from their pans screaming about democracy and American blondes, barbecues that are attended by manufactured limbs and children who still think their names “mean” something: All things that were never intended to be discovered, but accidentally ended up in an issue of Harper’s, not as illustrations, but as advertisements. No one knew who was responsible, or why these things were exposed to begin with, except for a myopic intern from Katmandu who had recently traded all his insects for a membership to the Responsible Legion — a coup waiting to happen if there ever was a cool happening. Several material witnesses were conjured and sent away. A mysterious massage was ordered for the intern and he was hushed up. The ads ran for several weeks, never reaching their intended audience — suburbanites — were cancelled, and sent back into obscurity, where they wanted to be in the first place. Enough of this was reported in a New Haven newspaper to convict someone for defamation of caricature or rubric indecency, but the article, an ontological disaster, was printed in tongues, leaving the story untellable. Afterward, everyone involved scrambled to associate themselves with a legacy they could understand, and later, in a dark corner, fell into something like a deep sleep.
Superfamily or Nothing Always Happens
So what if there’s a genus from nowhere that accounts for more superfamilies than any other popular phylum or distinctive order. (Yes, a closer look at their origin would reveal something like a cipher, but we’ve already seen what happens to ciphers and their incessant hand jiving.) My intention is to ignore this gene pool as much as possible — a second too late and my offspring could be from nowhere as well. The superfamily I thought I belonged to was from the desert outside Las Vegas. It’s arguable whether or not we were a superfamily because our ancestry was traced out and laminated as a place setting, but nevertheless our missionary lifestyle challenged dogmas and lashed out even during times reserved for drum circles and celebratory discerning. My favorites were the nights we suffered heavy losses to warring tribes who were themselves not superfamilies, but imitative fallacies lingering out of reach of our camp fires’ light. “Camping was a boon and I a Swiss Army knife,” I liked to sing as we buried our dead. Cross-sections and diseases left most non-families without tariff acts and rifleman. Ours was the closest any pseudo-clan ever came to competing with “the unkowns.” Several of us wrote what we thought should’ve been a story or two about our history as an ongoing one, even though, as we were reminded again and again by chance and the cryptic drag marks circling our village, narratives were reserved for those who knew nothing. It was the nothing that always happened just beyond our foreseeable future that stopped us playing craps in the narrow hallways of our carpeted homes and started a general lack of attention. We became autoresponders in the best sense of the word. We maintain a mimeographed silence to this day.
He received his honorary juror badge in the mail the other day, along with some incorrectly addressed envelopes that should’ve been delivered, as usual, to the local record store. Somehow, though, it seemed pertinent to immediately pin the badge onto his sleeveless shirt, strap his gun over his shoulder, and make a beeline for the mall. He proudly wore the small square piece of official paper, brandishing it to most passersby. It read: “You are juror # [and then a bar code]” He liked that. He needed to be scanned and identified every now and again because he often confused his nom de plumes for his Christian name, making it almost impossible to be notified of pending catastrophes or — as was the most recent mix up — class reunions. Luckily though, he knew the mall had such devices, scanning ones, and it was all he could do to contain himself — the clothes and other products that filled the mall also excited him. And as he did every time he found out who he was or had been, he would treat himself to some sweet smelling cologne and a pair of leather pants. Unless of course it turned out his name was Ivan or Moloch then he would buy earmuffs or something.
To the Chagrin of Tom
Nevertheless, Tom Schlesinger, long sequin pants and all found solace at the end of his block — near the red broken down car that was always there, he had 15 pence and an industrious young mannequin under his arm. He attempted to steal the car last Friday, but Maddy — his wooden companion — was unable to perform her usual left leg right leg wrap-around mantra — this being most important when distracting the neighbors. More than just everyday car thieves, Tom and his girl have committed notoriously well-known crimes such as larceny, reckless endangerment, and most recently a serial attack on everything sacred. Tom spent two years “resting his heels” in a state penitentiary for hot wiring grocery carts on the West Side. Nobody was injured, but the judge had better things for Tom to do than “make good on his promises.” Maddy had only been a fragmented block of particleboard when Tom was doing time, but things were, as put by Tommy’s mother, “to be as they became.” Not even Tom’s mom could’ve known, at least not with any true vision, that the couple would, not only join forces after Tom’s release, but end up at the corner of Lexington and Mulberry admiring an abandoned automobile, even though earlier that day Maddy had, to the chagrin of Tom, changed from her black wig to a red one.
Michael Brooks Cryer teaches English at Arizona State University and is an occasional freelance music critic. His poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Quarterly West, spork and others. His dog Archie is sometimes Chinese and goes by the alias ‘Long Tung Tu’ when he carouses the neighborhood in the early morning hours.