by Mathias Svalina
I was arrested for a crime that did not exist. I asked the judge to explain the crime so I could demonstrate my innocence but she informed me that not only did the crime not exist, it had no definition. Everyone was certain of my guilt. My lawyer had me dress contritely & kneel, pleading guilty at the feet of the court. In prison, when other inmates asked me what I'd done, I explained to them it was impossible to explain. I was mysterious—a cult of personality arose. Because I knew nothing of criminality, I grew sneaky like a snack-cake. They adorned my cell with bird bones, with glittering knick-knackery. In an urn on a shelf I kept a constant supply of simple sugar. But what is a tool without angst? Is there a realm of unconcealment that splits entities into characteristics & sheer reality? I fill my cell with pencils & keys & ice-balls & snakes but as I sleep the judge removes them. I watch the sullen prisoners drown & collect the bubbles of their last breaths, carefully conspiring them across my shelves like snow-globes. And even this is not enough to make a thing. It's like the privilege of solidity is just the allegory of the laundromat. At my parole hearings every two years I can never prove I'm rehabilitated of a crime that cannot be envisioned, so I remind them to never forget the sky has nothing to do with the sun or moon or cornfields. Angst needs no pencil or ice-cube. Every morning when I wake I try to touch every part of my body. I shove my fingers down my throat. But as I walk to the cafeteria there is nothing in front of me & I can feel it move to make space for me.
I've been trying to discover a poem in which I can use "guillotine" repeatedly. Picture it: guillotine! guillotine! guillotine! Am I right? I checked my bank account & it looked like calluses scraping on a raw cement floor. But then a woman walks by in an inscrutable dress &, really, what is it really like to be a microprocessor? an ink-jet printer making all these plastic componencies into poems? I got Dana Ward's book & I think it's really good, but he has this rhetorical tic of burdening outside things, like people, with his poems. I don't want to make anyone carry my poem around with them. I did that a while back with a poem called "Brandon Som's Lonely Hotdog"; it's on Blackbird if you want to read it, though it is pretty weak. Now that poem comes up fourth when you google his name. I'd always been told that Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the inventor of the guillotine, was killed by that very machine. And isn't that perfect? Don't we all want the ending we begin? Picture the people of Paris laughing at the irony. Picture Depression-era newsmen in horny hats cackling into telephones & inventing clever headlines. But Wiki says this about the invention of the guillotine:
Laquiante, an officer of the Strasbourg criminal court, made a design for a beheading machine and employed Tobias Schmidt, a German engineer and harpsichord maker, to construct a prototype. Antoine Louis is also credited with the design of the prototype. An apocryphal story claims that King Louis XVI (an amateur locksmith) recommended a triangular blade with a beveled edge be used instead of a crescent blade, but it was Schmidt who suggested placing the blade at an oblique 45-degree angle and changing it from the curved blade. The first execution by guillotine was performed on highwayman Nicolas Jacques Pelletier on 25 April 1792.
And Dr. Guillotin, as you may know, died in bed of a carbuncle. I'm not certain who Laquiante is in this story, but eleven hours ago Laquiante Bone tweeted this: "'@sierra_redd: At this game screaming for @LaQuanteBone :-)' You suppose to!! Too bad I didn't hear you lol." And then online I read this:
The only way to tell the difference between real jewelery and fake jewelery is to take it to a licensed jeweler and have them check it out to verify the quality. Especially if it is diamond or gold you would need to be extra sure.
But I am searching for the chasm I will regret falling into. I have always been a licensed jeweler. What I'm getting at here is how can there be anything at all in a bank account? It's all but the dream of an Erlenmeyer flask. And if we're really looking for facts Jacques Nicolas Pelletier invented the guillotine. And Hamida Djandoubi did too.
The part of the day the parade dreads is finding a place for lunch. Some paraders inevitably are vegan or wheat-free or don't like Indian food or won't eat from buffets & the debate continues until everyone is ratty & they end up at a Burger King or a Taco Bell & no one is happy, unwrapping their food with spiney fingers. And then, not too long after lunch, they begin burbling about dinner. Morning is the time the parade loves. All the attention of the paraders is on the parade, on processing, waving, spectacle, marching, twirling, & all the other actions that classificationally transform a mass of people into a parade. The parade knows how slight is the difference between a mob & a parade & so her paraders must stay happy, focused for her to exist. Her father devolved into a mob & then that mob into a riot & he was unrepairable. The whole neighborhood consoled her, but not one again after popped in, or invited her to the Sunday potlucks. But now it is night & the paraders are yawning & sweetly rubbing their blinking eyes. The parade guides the paraders into a dip below the viaduct where the wind is not so strong. As she brushes her teeth & washes the dirt out of her wrinkles, the paraders group together in piles & grunt & snort themselves into sleep. And let's leave them like this, the streetlight buzz almost mistakable for insects, the cool night air compelling them to burrow body against sleeping body for warmth.
As he does every night, a boy enters his father's study. The assembly of leather & paper & smoke. He approaches his father's still form in the enormous chair. He unbuttons the buttons of his father's shirt, finds the little handles—always so warm as to almost seem malleable—& opens the cabinet doors. He removes the fine crystal glasses one-by-one, polishing away any build-up & dust with a soft white cloth & then setting them carefully on the desktop. He removes the familiar vases & bowls, using two hands with the heavy one, & wipes them down. He sprays the aerosol solution & reaches in arm-deep to clean the wooden shelves. Examining his work, he notices a few spots & rubs them with the cloth. He swings the cabinet doors back & forth & listens for squeaking but there is none. After replacing the crystal glasses & vases & bowls, he closes the cabinet doors & rebuttons his father's shirt. His father takes a deep breath, holds it & then lets it slowly out with a low groan. Thank you, he says, as he says every night, My little wonder, my little feather-on-a-string. Where would I be without you? The boy nods & turns & exits the room, his bucket swinging lightly in his left hand.
This morning I bloomed, which I was never aware was going to happen & yet, when it happened, felt so apt. The thing I always thought was my head unfurled into five bright red petals. In the center of the petals sat a grey, sticky & covered in bristles. I reached my arms up & stroked the skin of my petals. It felt both solid & thick, like a painting of fur. Insects big & small came to me & stroke themselves against me & drank from me. It tickled when their proboscises rubbed within throat. I spoke to them. I told them each how much I loved them. I held them with both hands & brought their dusty wings to my lips. Then Saint Rita arrived. She asked after my parents & I said they were fine, nothing too exciting, which is a good thing at their ages. We talked for hours, for days. Over the course of our conversation all my petals wilted, then dried into curls, then fell off. We ended up at a green park bench facing a busy avenue. Bees entered & exited her mouth gently & without injury. When I stood up to go home, she put her hand on my arm, wordlessly. I looked down & saw the roots of her fingers twirling into me, my skin, my flesh crumbling apart into rich black dirt.