I am naked, half-embalmed, like a worm at the bottom of a brown bottle,
Urania ripheus, infamous for copulating with different species.
Banished from one writer's colony for blowing the whistle ...
I'm singeing my toenails, tacking a pig's head above the door jamb, throwing a shoe onto the fire.
MORNING PROCLAIMED BY THE CRY of a car alarm and the whine of a salesman on the hotel cable TV. You are imitating the goddess of pouting, I'm waving my worthless magic wand. A boat ride down the Nile seems in order, far from the hoarse laughter of the sea and last night's flirtatious waiter who swore he magically spoke French after being hit by a Yellow Cab. You said he had the "upper body of an archangel." I'll remember that. "We'll go as far as the third cataract, then turn around when the first skull presents itself," I say to cheer you up. On board, I lecture passengers, explain, "This is a land of unassisted patricides and many stunted shrubs and bamboos." I have them really confused until the leathery head of a hippopotamus appears off the starboard bow, driving home the fear of being eaten. On shore, we separate from the pack and wander into the desert. "The touch of your breast," I whisper, "could soften a stone." But there are no stones, so I offer my worthless cheek. Rebuked, I stare lovingly at a burning bush, pretending it's your face. I take solace in the kindred nightmares we shared last night, knowing we may never make it back, grounded by the head butt of that angry hippo. What luck! Was it because I ordered "Item 666" from the Home Shopping Channel this morning, or just our need to escape and destroy everything over and over again? "Love's funny like that," you say, as we watch our wet, disheveled companions mount a distant dune.
NIGHT, NEW YORK ALL GUSSIED UP. So much to do, yet we're afraid to go out. Calf brains, hair from a wolf's tail, snake bone, even bits of a human corpse--ritually laid out on our bed. Love potions, uncocked concoctions to ward off suitors. We're waiting for a giant ape. "Do I look boxy?" Gigi asks, eyeing her hips in the bedroom mirror. She's just finished fashioning an ape-like man from sugar cubes, setting a pitcher of warm tea next to him. And why are we afraid? Has the young master lost his wits? It was my fault. Sick of puzzling over the lines on my palms and of diving into holy lakes, I wanted to find the tribe who invented zero. I mean, I was searching for The Secret. But we got lost in the jungle, then captured by hard-bellied, coffee-colored virgins, who smeared my body with resin and blew gold dust on me until I glistened from head to toe. Unfortunately, they were hitched to a giant ape, who himself fell hard for Gigi. He tried to hold her gently like a large banana, but bruised her egg-white thighs. "Unhand her," I yelled, reminding him of a basic, irrefutable Rule of Love: "Whatever nature forbids, love is ashamed to accept." The last time we saw him he was wearing a giant, silly wreath of orchids around his head and trying to swat rescue helicopters. "He smelled worse than that vampire," Gigi says, as she drops the sugar ape into the pitcher, watching him dissolve. Outside, small aircraft hover, then the rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun, and a hairy digit of flesh fingering our hotel window. "Do you think he's come for my magnifying glass?" I laugh, then leap onto the love potions, rolling on my back like a puppy.
The next day, standing next to a giant tabernacle of ashes, the ape's weepy tribal princess speaks to the press. "I would have taken him back with no arms or legs," she says, "even if he were a stump."
WE LAUGHED ABOUT THE PINE TREE laying its eggs, the blue fright wig I bought last Halloween, and then a little wine, and a little more. The bed next door began creaking a foreign, same-sex language. I was reading a thin book wherein a fat lady wrestles with nouns. A book taking sixty years to flower. Later, we stumbled into a tree-shaded courtyard where white marble lions drank from an albatross' basin. We had run out of booze, and I kept having to pee. "So go one last time," and "Okay, I will." The mean mosaic of the courtyard floor was making me dizzy, anyway. Off-season, the narrow streets were barren, the frigid, salt air from another century when wreckers scoured the beaches for boxes and barrels. "Gigi," I said, "in the fall the cows here often feed on cod's heads! Did you know that?" "And capybaras have webbed feet and are excellent swimmers," she replied, understanding my foreplay. We would have continued if not for a large poster of a petrified, Amazonian face eyeballing us from a tarred telephone pole. "The Fat Bitch Is Back," the poster announced. And we had to believe it, suddenly confronted by a woman dressed like a bird cage, and another like an umbrella. Really nice people, though, in spite of their cheap costumes. "Are we hungry yet? Are we downright famished?" Gigi nodded, knowing a loss is not a great loss, and that the liquor stores didn't close until midnight.
BANISHED FROM ONE WRITER'S COLONY for blowing the whistle on a certain Southern plagiarist, this is true. Booed at The Great Poetry Slam--also true. Not to mention a certain liaison with a long-stemmed reference librarian who slashed Gigi with a letter opener for reading our love letters . . . This time, they promised we'd be "drunken, expatriate writers" for two weeks, and that the roast beef sandwiches would be juicy. Just clean tables and look intelligent, they said, write a few poems now and then. So I grew a handlebar moustache to mimic the horny social-activist-poet who tried to skim the skin with Gigi while she served the sorbet. He had seen her play tennis and was, as he said, "overhauled by her overhand." I continued to clean the antique wooden tables of lettuce scraps and garbanzo beans, thinking of a good place to hide Gigi's racket. Fortunately, we were saved by a telegram announcing that I had won "The-Man-Least-In-Touch-With-His-Feminine-Side Contest." A strange contest indeed, especially since I didn't enter it. And the reward? Fifty dollars and two weeks in Geneva to study with the author of the trilogy He, She, and It--a man steeped in paternalia who wore no shoes or socks and enigmatically fingered his fly, asking over and over, "Who are you really, La-La Boy?" In a dimly lit room, he tightened leather straps around my wrists, tied a rooster to my desk and ordered it to peck out my eyes. But the rooster was really a French poet who'd been transformed into a rooster for sticking pins into chickens for the fun of it. The rooster-poet balked. "Who are you really?" my tormentor demanded, his white head looking as if it had just been fetched from the freezer, his almond-shaped hands quivering. Je suis Gigi, is what came to me. "Je suis Gigi," is what I said, and, as if on cue, her ancient, wooden racket came crashing, end over end, through my blackened window, signifying both triumph and rescue . . . Later, a stiff wind off Lake Geneva, Gigi stroking my hair, feeding me tiny chocolates stolen from a local confectionary. I'm staring into a white, head-shaped cloud, my universe running in reverse, my own head haunted by the vision of a half-stitched Frankenstein, searching the mountainside for his father. A strange thought, if not for the insight of our rooster-poet, who keeps reciting in impeccable French: "Even the dumbest dreams can astound us."
WHATEVER GIGI WANTS, GIGI GETS. This time it's the day-flying, cyanide-filled moth, Urania ripheus, infamous for copulating with different species. "Ugh! Yuk! There's a bug, squash it," I tease, not wanting to burst from my hammock-cocoon. I wanted to help, but had promised our host, René, that I'd clean the poison frog garden. But then I remembered this aphorism: "Universal hostility and fear toward a species are the products of ignorance." I also remembered Gigi's promise of a juicy love-bite to be given beneath a huge banana tree near the forking paths . . . Long-curved leaves the size of scimitars, bright green spikes of plantains, and a white-skinned woman, her bare breasts barely the size of serpent eggs, her dark eyebrows alert, like two facing centipedes. I'm adjusting my loincloth, then waving my butterfly net made from a clothes hanger and the thinnest of Gigi's panties. "Leaping lepidoptera. I got one." Two ear-sized wings fringed with golden hair, its underside red and veined like a tiny heart. Drip drop, drip drop. Then naked we lie beneath our banana tree, bold as two mottled stink bugs. I hold the moth between my fingers, then let go. "Erotic things occur in the rain," Gigi whispers, about to sink her teeth into my neck.
A WHITE POODLE NAMED GIGI. A fingernail red as the fire-breather's face, red as my sparrow's neck, which you sometimes touch. Louis XIV boasted, "I am the State." Rimbaud, "JE est un autre." But I respond, "Je ne comprend pas"--to come so far and stumble over a poodle named Gigi beneath an ancient fountain, beneath a tarnished Greek statue--his beard of seaweed, his baton and chiseled smirk. Impossible to be so sad beside this school of oversized goldfish and a poodle named Gigi. "Dear fated name!" So accustomed to miracles was Abelard, yet humbled by the pale of Eloisa's shoulders, her oval mouth, as I am also. How my Gigi-magician pulls silk panties from our hotel dresser, like colored tissues from a fancy box. How she mocks my cotton pajamas until I yell in protest, "Forehead," or "Foreskin."
This white poodle named Gigi, by a fountain, begging for a bone.
To whom shall I give it?
MOONLIGHT SOFTENS THE HARDWOOD FLOOR. A wind-blown, hundred-year-old dust ball scurries under the bed. And a fat black spider--our love child--awakens; its legs bloom, its web shimmers, like lace panties stretched tightly and held up to the sun. We are resting after a day of massaging my moods. "Happy love has no history," I whisper. But tonight that's hard to believe. Annoyed by the chi-chi shops and capitalists speaking Catalonian into their cellular phones, we went to the cathedral to view St. Eulalia's crypt. It was very quiet, and I told you I had no memories until the age of forty-one when I saw you step out of an elevator. Perhaps that's why you're so quiet tonight, naked except for a collar of Majorcan pearls. "If you come to Barcelona," I would tell tourists, "you will see this and you will discover that, and you will find my Gigi kneeling before the crypt of St. Eulalia. And you will think, Someone should tell their stories; someone should tell them they are beautiful."
"EVERYTHING IN THIS WORLD PASSES, but Love will last forever." If this is true, then where is my Gigi this morning? I am naked, half-embalmed, like a worm at the bottom of a brown bottle, a certain Black-eyed Susan curled around my leg, only the sound of my palomino weeping in the prairie grass. My battery is dead, my cactus has growing pains . . . We were searching for the Old Dutchman's mine, our guide Buck a consummate rough rider in every kind of saddle. Joe the Bad and Jim the Ugly brought up the rear. "Call me Blue or Coyote," I drawled, which made Gigi laugh. Or was it my Styrofoam pith helmet with the smiley-face decal on front? "We'll be breaking virgin territory," Buck grunted, but all I saw was a huge pyramid of cast-off microwave ovens. The day wore on, the sun dragging it westward like a withered foot. We shot a few elk and wild pigs, milked some rattlesnakes. At the hoedown at Apache Jack's, we shared campfire stories. "I had a cheesy childhood," I began, "one with many holes in it, and a heavy Thing, a Thing like the last tree left standing so you can build a house around it." "When you're done, Stretch," Buck said, opening a large, brown bottle of mescal, "can you pass the beans?" And what do I remember? The raw outline of a covered wagon branded on Buck's forearm, his red hair bristling like porcupine quills, then bushwhacked I was by a certain Black-eyed Susan, whose snoring now seems as cruel as hunger--the price to pay for going home with the wrong Gigi.
I'M SINGEING MY TOENAILS, tacking a pig's head above the door jamb, throwing a shoe onto the fire. Not even the eggplant stuffed with forcemeat, the plum brandy, or rum balls the size of walnuts can quiet my insides. We were searching for the Perfect Red, so embarked on a hemoglobular journey into the horseshoe of the Carpathians. Stegoica, the peasants called you, peppering us with paprika and sour cherries, driving us into the forest. Lost until we came upon a carrot-topped cadaver with a sheeplike schnoz who smelled worse than cooked cabbage. He asked you to ride with him, displaying a moveable horn on his saddle, which made me clench the hilt of my anxious sword. But we had to follow, enticed by the promise of a soft bed and crimson pillows. He changed your name to Gigushka, mine to Gyorgy. "Did you know, Gigushka," he said, "corpses are smaller than living bodies?" Why didn't you flinch? Then at daybreak he ordered us to gather buckets of raspberries and to search for a virgin riding a black virgin stallion. So when did the violation occur? Where is that stink bomb, Hungarian hedgehog now? "I shall get a steam launch and follow him," is what I said, but now I am afeard to leave this house. Instead, I trace puncture marks on your neck, stare into your zombie eyes, watch time tick off on a tooth-shaped bedroom clock. At night, listen to insomniac crickets chant his name: Nosferatu! Nosferatu! In the shape of a toad or a cockroach, he'll return for his Gigushka. I know this, and so practice waving a large Celtic cross, fashioned from potato candy and dried goulash. I'll sever his head, by God, come raging at him like a burning haystack on a pitchfork. I'll hemoflagellate him.