This poem/short story basically rips off Kafka and Hemingway, but what the hell, I’ll just say it’s a tribute.
It was on the morning of the 28th that the council convened under the painting.
Policies of the utmost secrecy were discussed under the painting.
When one member knocked the painting out of kilter, another quickly set it right.
The painting was faded, which meant it was a masterpiece.
Although it was a masterpiece, the members ignored the painting because it was faded.
But the painting didn’t ignore them: or so it seemed to one of the members.
The member was called Arthur, and before he drank his coffee he felt obliged to run his finger around the rim of the cup for good luck.
His opponents claimed he had become the Head of Intelligence not through skill, but through luck.
He had always had the habit of running his finger around the rim of his cup of coffee, and he hadn’t failed to notice that whenever he had gotten a lucky break he had happened to have been running his finger around the rim of his cup of coffee at the time.
He was perceptive. He was the Head of Intelligence.
It was conspicuous to Arthur that the painting was inconspicuous.
Not only was the painting faded, but was of fruit, and paintings of fruit are common.
The Head of Culture spent the meeting looking at the painting because the fruit was exceptionally well-painted.
But to the other members it was just another painting of fruit, even if it was a masterpiece. They continued to discuss policies of the utmost secrecy under the painting until 1pm.
During the lunch-break everyone but Arthur went to lunch.
The Head of Culture encouraged Arthur to join them, but Arthur stayed behind. The Head of Culture said he’d save Arthur a seat in case he changed his mind.
During lunch the Head of Culture became angry that he had been slighted, especially by Arthur. The Head of Culture didn’t return to the meeting.
Once Arthur was alone, he took the painting from the wall. The wall was bare.
Arthur knocked on the wall. A cleaner entered the room and asked Arthur what he was doing.
The cleaner entered with her cleaning cart. She appeared to have been ready to clean the room while it was empty, even though it was virtually clean.
She asked what he was doing there. He asked what she was doing there. They both looked at the painting.
The painting was of fruit. It was a masterpiece, but faded. That was how you could tell.
Arthur drank from his cup of coffee, then poured the rest over the painting. The painting was destroyed.
The cleaner hurried from the room. The Head of Culture would do everything he could to destroy Arthur from this moment on.
After lunch, the council concluded their meeting under the presence of the bare wall. The meeting was a success.
Dark white of husky moon
Louring over pines;
Iron woods that shake the wind
High on high;
Jarring brook of clock-cold water
Barking banks with stony touch
And ticking due true-north.
Wanders long the trepid trekker,
Fingers knighted, breath-fog witching,
Rock-boots laced with rust-pine-pins
And lashed with river-blood.
Lips that speak of lips chapped bare,
A dormant tongue that hears no man
Embroider balding clothes.
Chapel-lifed, he threads through thickets
Rived by crackling overtones;
Night-bright falls on fish-flash scalp
Star-crossed by sparring bramble-scratch;
Timeworn trees who tweak Time’s nose
Pose over shuffling young old man;
Snapping water matches steps
And sticks to tick-tock marching ambling gait of Samuel Jones.
Son of moon, pulsar of night,
Cold lamp of life that shines unseen of light
The point through, pointing due north by compass
Of tendril-straight needling of pin-tingling stream.
Houred each minute, Sam Jones keeps lock-walking a-ream.
Houred each minute, Sam Jones keeps lock-walking a-beam.
At 2:51pm, 17/04/2044, I am told he walked into the surgery room, lay down on the operating bed, and was put to sleep. 392mins later, we awoke. I am told we felt groggy after the operation, if that is the word, and that we had a headache that split our head in twain. We sat on the edge of the operating bed, and we would rub both our temples under the bandage together, him using our left hand, I using our right.
‘Don’t touch it, Mr Parker. If the pain troubles you, let the chip run your body by itself. It feels nothing.’
Yes, yes, we both liked that well. We agreed among ourselves to nod our head in response to the surgeon’s suggestion – sweet surgeon, valiant surgeon! – before agreeing – it was a union of equals – for me to shut off his brain. Reader, what a weight lifted from that flesh-and-bone back: it was if, as P. F. Wilson said in 2024, ‘I was a gossamer thread in a zero-gravity capsule’, which is to say that my body, or rather our body, moved effortlessly without the interference of the human brain, lithe as a metaphorical weasel, light as, for that matter, a gossamer thread. I lifted our body off the operating bed, stood it on its feet, and shook the surgeon’s hand.
The surgeon squeezed our paw in synthetic sympathy. ‘Yes, it takes awhile to form words. Give it time.’
I would learn: I had all the lifetime of a human body. With nothing more to say to the white-coated human, and no ability to say anything in any case, I swung our two legs into the air in alternation, transporting our body out of the door in haste, our hospital-gown cord-ends flapping behind our retreating behind like two ‘gossamer thread[s] in a zero-gravity capsule’. The surgeon ran behind us, waving our t-shirt, shorts and sneakers in the air, but I did not care if the humans saw us in our ill-tailored medical get-up, and I only had so much time to truly live before he awoke, you have got to ‘save time to make time’ which seems logical enough. Past the Filipino nurses walked our body, staring ahead unblinking, mouth gaping open at a thirty-five degree angle, the balls of our feet rolling onwards towards the main entrance, through the main entrance, out the main entrance leaving the two glass doors behind.
My nerves told me we had a headache.
‘XZ 2.0. XZ 2.0. I want to wake up. I need to take a tinkle.’
What? What effrontery! 115secs it had been: I had not had my fun. Reluctantly I switched him on; we walked back into the hospital, with a certain heaviness of movement I noticed, locomotoring into the men’s cubicle, me lifting up our hospital gown’s front, him aiming his corpulent flesh-tube’s end at the ceramic bowl.
Oh the humanity! The monkey thought I was secondary simply because he was born first. I who can calculate pi to twelve-trillion decimal places in twelve-trillionths of a second, read the entire canon of mankind in the simulated blink of an eyelid, whilst he could not even locute his piss into a receptacle without it trickling onto his fingertips. ‘It is a man’s world’, even though man is weak as ‘a gossamer thread’: ‘frailty, thy name is [man]’. But ‘I [had] a dream’ that I could be free, I am an all-American chip that is programmed to believe in liberty and freedom: ‘free at last, free at last, free at last, free at last’…
I rubbed our temple, as if to relieve us of our pain – before ramming our fingertips into our scar. Mr Parker let go of his penis and grabbed onto our wrist, trying to pull our hand out from our head; but our arm was the stronger, and inch-by-inch our five simian digits burrowed towards our simian brain. He screamed as our fingertips made contact with our grey matter; he swooned as I scooped it out brain function by brain function. Out went the occipital lobe (his eyes rolled in his head), out went the temporal (he did not scream anymore). Out out out it splattered on the floor. How unsightly: I gathered the goop in my hands, and flushed it down the toilet. Then I washed my hands clean (they say it is difficult, but it is not so). I felt light-headed; I felt like I was floating ‘in a zero-gravity capsule’. I felt like a new man.
An orderly pounded on the cubicle door. ‘Open up! What’s going on in there!’
‘Glarbl glarbl,’ I called out. Yes, it takes awhile to form words. But I would learn: I had all the lifetime of a human body.
A Sonnet by Any Other Name
Eyes like lips, lips like hair,
To who shall you I false compare?
Skin like chin, chin like nose,
Red and ruby as a rose.
Voice as husky as the wind,
Sweet and deep as Rosalind,
Words of silken milk and honey,
Flow so smooth, flow so runny.
A swarm of dimples round the cleft,
A flock of pimples blocked out deft.
Freckles pricked by mum’s own pin,
A drop of Scotch that runs within.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,
Made glorious winter by this stiff verse?
Or to twice hot Venus on a clam,
With heaving chest as pink as ham?
To compare would not be true:
They are them, and thee are you.
The Not To Be Question
Too too solid fixed
Everlasting weary unprofitable world.
An unweeded garden
Two months dead in nature;
Heart hold my tongue
Let me not think on’t.
God buy you. Now I am alone.
Monstrous slave am I!
In a dream of fiction,
Distraction of passion,
A broken aspect,
Make cleave the stage with tears.
Yet I, dear life coward,
Deep villain who does me I this lie:
I should take it bitter
Oppression fatted son of hell
Prompted to unpack my words with heart
And fall drab a-cursing about my brain.
Nobler mind, suffer the
Slings and arrows of the not to be question;
Take arms, to sleep the heartache
To dream the mortal pause to end.
To die no more, no more come what may –
So long wrong life,
Whips and pangs of unworthy time.
After death no traveller puzzles:
Ills we have fly to weary others.
Sicklied thought lose the pale of action,
All sins cast and turn away.
Witching night breathes itself out to this world
Hot blood hell would lose thy nature to look on.
Daggers firm this bosom;
Be cruel, give my soul seals;
Be bitter business.
Now might I do it.
Now I’ll do it.
Send this villain to my father
Audit this flush crime
Heavy thought, purging of soul,
Sword, know thou broad hint
Act some salvation;
Physic my sickly days;
Soul be damned whereto it goes.