A mixture of poetry and prose.
by Robin Wyatt Dunn.
(Have at you!)
I met him on the leaves road
That great bowl of a man
Never too troubled by the rain
Or by the epiphanies he had
He was always ready for sparks
Always ready for the next roll
And the next cut
And the next die
To cast the season of us
Into both iron and doubt.
He could cement anything.
No one the wiser.
No one even trying.
He blew our storm well about him.
Knowing it for what it was,
Knowing he had come about it
Without a care
And it cared for him
Since he did not care,
Made him its prize
Like a king sans asking
Appointed by nature.
I knew him when I was young
Not long ago
But long enough.
I knew him well.
There were many things we talked about.
When we went riding
Like Monty Python
Sans even coconuts
Our horses just distant stars
Or our conversation
In the wind
And the bones of the earth
And the tribes of hateful men
Set to in their dugouts
This was war, you know.
But you didn’t have to participate in it if you didn’t want to.
Or rather, you didn’t have to carry a rifle if you didn’t want to.
But you still had to participate in it.
You had to share in its glories and revulsions, same as any man, or king,
In as unequal a measure as any man, or king, some with more blood, and some less.
There were things we talked about at night
After the guns stopped
And I thought we could go on
But Mr. Gaerhearty would say it was time we had salad
And so we’d hunt for it
Some miner’s lettuce
Or a wild onion
And the water from our spring
Which we took extra pains to conceal from the other men
So that it might be ours alone.
“I suspect you’re wanting to leave,” he said
And I said, “Yes.”
He told me about his home town, which was Mozambique.
I said, yes, I’d heard of it.
He said I had not, that he had made it up.
I told him he was a joker.
He said, “I have a proposition for you. Take me to London, and we will make a carriage there, and fill it with the right sorts of men. And it will be something to see.”
“No women in your carriage, Mr. Gaerhearty?”
“None,” said he.
And so we went about it, hitching rides on the submarines that departed almost hourly from that region of New York, holding our breath when they dove and spitting the water into the air when they resurfaced, trying not to growl at the dolphins as they laughed at us, trying to laugh with them.
It wasn’t appropriate what they did, believing they had everything right, and that we had mistaken everything for something it wasn’t. They’re right, of course they’re right, I know they are, but they mustn’t insist on it. It’s wrong to insist on it, it makes the whole thing, submarine, God, country, wife and magazine seem wholly pointless and the dolphins needn’t dwell on that, it won’t serve them.
It was almost night when Mr. Gaerhearty told me why we were really going.
“To see my wife,” he said. “I haven’t seen her in twenty years.”
“She’ll be happy to see you,” I said.
“She’ll murder me.”
“Will she really?”
“That’s why I’m going.”
It wasn’t an easy decision, going across the Atlantic. I write it like it was, but it wasn’t like that. We had to take careful breaths, so that we could be sure to survive each dive, and the captain assured us no dive would last longer than four or five minutes, but some of them did. Some of them lasted a very long time. So long I feared I would die.
I remember almost none of it now. Except the look on Mr. Gaerhearty’s face.
We arrived in Canterbury and took up residence, putting it on the King and his Agents to take care of our bodily needs so that we might attend to our spiritual ones in peace. No sooner had we put the welcome mat outside our little apartment than the cat arrived, announcing himself with his tail from a great distance, perhaps two miles, so that on his finally arriving at our doorstep, and having watched his approach over the fields, we felt we knew him rather well already. We called him Winterbottom and for a cat he was not at all picky, being fond of sardines especially, but being willing to eat much of anything when we were short of money.
I realize I’ve told you almost nothing of our journey north, even though that was the ostensible reason for our visit, to see Mr. Gaerhearty’s long suffering (or long forgotten) wife, but that trip was so painful for me I realize I shall have to wait before writing of it, and tell you instead about a man I met there in Canterbury, a former monk who had taken up with a rock and roll band, with a really supreme purple mohawk on his head. His name was Eddy and he had a beautiful voice and would sing in the street without warning; the girls loved him. He was incredibly shy with the girls but the bold ones would still take him back to their rooms and make love to him while I waited outside, hoping I might make an impression on one of the girl’s roommates, or just waiting so I could talk to Eddie some more, since he’d been to several countries and worked in them and had a way in the world I found pleasing: relaxed, and cantankerous, and thrilling.
It wasn’t right, what we did, Mr. Gaerhearty and I, I know that now. Destroying the whole world, the way we eventually did. I know it shouldn’t have been done that way.
I know it was immature.
But it was hell. We just wanted to speed things up.
If you’re going to hell, you want to speed things up, you know what I’m saying.
That was why we bought the guns.
Guns are hard to come by in England but you can locate them if you try, for the ones who do want guns in England are very serious people, not at all like the gun nuts of America. England has no guns nuts, not really, only some men who are keen on shooting other men, and that’s what they use those guns for.
We decided the King was a logical target and so set about plotting his movements.
We knew he was fond of the cinema, and since the monarchy was already more or less on its way out (so they kept saying, for a long time, but don’t believe them), in any case, since they were eager to appear as normal as possible, every Thursday the King would go the movies on his own, accompanied only by his valet, and he was fond of the classic matinees, which was where we shot him, staring up at Clark Gable, jetting his brains and skull pieces over his valet’s handsome dark jacket. We did offer to clean the jacket but the valet wouldn’t hear of it, and he said it was a shame we’d done for the king that way, seeing as how the monarchy had already been on the way out.
“Well it’s done now,” I said.
“Yes, we’ve been wanting an American to do that for some time,” the valet said, and we shook hands and accompanied the man to the pub, where we bought him pints while he cleaned his jacket in the pub sink.
“The King is dead,” the valet announced, and there was a heavie ho in the pub, men standing at once together and swaying, like at a football match, not singing, only swaying, to feel one another’s bodies and to remember the night.
Later the women came in and we started dancing and I tried hard to get a short feisty little woman to follow me back to the apartment I shared with Mr. Gaerhearty, but I failed miserably, and after a while I walked home alone, watching the stars, cursing the King of England, though he were dead by my hand, and cursing Mr. Gaerhearty, that he should ever have thought to seduce me into his ways.
Gaerhearty is not his name of course. He is a liar and a cheat, but he is my liar and cheat, so I feel it is just to call him by this fake made-up name rather than his true name, for why should I honor him with his true one? He betrayed me, and more than once.
So I came to know in those times how long and how lonely life is, something which I had often read about, but which I was finally getting some first hand experience of. People say it’s good to be alone, rather than be with people you don’t like, but this strikes me as specious reasoning. I have always preferred company, even terrible people, to the mind crushing debilitation of loneliness.
It was August when we left Canterbury and headed North. This was before we killed the King, though it felt much later than that. I wore my bowler hat and Mr. Gaerhearty wore his second best suit, and we went in together on some flowers, it being decided it would be improper for Gaerhearty to visit his estranged wife of twenty years without any offering, even if she had done him wrong.
I waited outside the apartment building while he made his rounds of her bed, squealing like a pig, and oinking affectionately, reciting poetry and random bits of Shakespeare, all to the insufferable groan of that woman, his wife, and her insults of him personally. I could see why they had divorced – or separated – and it seemed cruel to go through all this rigmarole now, and for what? The sex, or the property, I didn’t know.
Probably it was the sex, as Gaerhearty was almost as hard up as I was.
When they were finished I decided that the cat Winterbottom had been right, we did need to descend into the underworld, and Gaerhearty’s excuses were just as flimsy, I realized now, as Winterbottom had always insisted they were, just cowardly maxims he had thrown in our ears as though we were children:
“I am not Orpheus,” he had said, “And the underworld does not exist,” which was something both of us could see just as well for ourselves, without him saying it.
I wrote at once to the landlady, asking for Winterbottom to be sent North on the first train, where we would meet him at Sheffield at ten past one in the morning, Hades permitting.
I received a reply almost immediately:
“The cat is on its way.”
If only certain other things had gone as well in my life as they did with Winterbottom, I should be a happy man.
In truth there was a connection between Gaerhearty’s subtle urge to cross the Atlantic to visited his estranged wife and my instinct to seek the Below Countries in the company of a highly intelligent cat: we are ruled by the stars, something once even any fool knew, but which now only the wisest and most honored of men dare utter without being thought petty, and common.
Yes, it is petty and common, but it is also cosmic, and I would not bother to write any of this down at all if I did not think it were important, if there were not something in the subsequent examination of events, even after Homer and the doings of god and men, if there were not some usefulness to be gained from these labors, though we already know the story, that I kill Gaerhearty out of sexual jealousy, and that he sang a long and disturbing song in the underworld which not only made Hades cry but laugh—though we know the plot, or even though we may not care to remember it, these petty words have value for me, and for you, in the reasoning after them, the questioning of their purpose, and the purpose that led to the words at all.
No man is happy without a cat.
I have been with happy dogs and been miserable, though I loved them.
But with a cat I am always happy.
We stormed the earth like serpents the sea, and it opened to us like a fortress to Caesar, displaying her beauties and treasures to us like a milky virgin to her lover, nurturing our wide eyes with her subterranean forests and leaves, and on our road of leaves my companion and my cat were born, not again, but for the first time, into the world.
We knew one another and were saved, not from death or destruction, not from enemies, or one another, but from extraordinary things, for in the dirt we knew at least how ordinary we were, and how glorious that was.
No one is happy without a cat, and call no man happy until he is dead, and now I was doubly happy, for one cannot enter the underworld without being dead, though it is possible to be revived.
Gaerhearty the zombie was a sight to see, one I am not so fond of remembering, though. He groaned and lurched and had a terrible craving for flesh, which I dissuaded him from satisfying, reminding him we had an appointment Below.
It is not pretty to remember but I must, because I knew something Below that I have kept with me, though it is hard to put into words. I have even put it into words before, I know I have, but after I did the words seemed not the right ones, or perhaps the thing itself that I had known and put into those words had then changed, by having gone and put it into words, and so would have to redescribed, when I again had the energy. Probably it is like that. Language is a terrible illusion, but one I have not yet been able to divest myself of.
Gaerhearty was not quite dead, and this offended the King of the Underworld, and unlike the King of England, who, for “provincial” American reasons I had had some motivation to destroy, with Hades I had no such compulsion. Gaerhearty did, however, and this caused him to sing, though as he had admitted, he was no Orpheus.
He sang and the King wept and the land went mad, and then G. sang again, a bawdy sea chantey, and Hades laughed. His laughter was by far the worse of the two sounds, but even now I can’t remember it. Don’t make me.
It was the weeping that we remember, that being the emotion Orpheus records having experienced there in the Deep, and it being a terrible and omnipresent thing, I can attest.
As though the whole world knew of it. Which it still does. Death weeping is no mean discourse, it is a great wide fruit, but one of which you must never eat.
Winterbottom then advised me well:
“Get the fuck out of here.”
Cats do not speak English on Earth but in Hades they can when they deign to. That Winterbottom cared enough about my skin, in addition to his own, to warn me, I remain, I hope, grateful.
He is a good cat, and friendly, to strangers and old haunts the same, being a wise and careful cat, with still a playful sense, of the wonders of the world.
Gaerhearty left me later that year, after he returned from the Underworld. Matters, legal and otherwise, were not settled with his wife, but then I do not think he had wanted them to be.
England is a republic now, like America, and perhaps poorer for that in some ways, and in other ways greater, for England remembers its one republic, from the last time they killed their king, and so there is a feeling in the air—a religious one—that all things are possible, and all things can come to pass if only we wish it.
I wish I had remembered not to follow the road of leaves, a road I had been warned against in dreams, but I did.
I did, and look what became of me!
Without a home, or wife.
Without even a star to follow, though I can follow many if I wish it.
I do wish it.
Perhaps I follow you, star, where you are leading.
Tell me, is it this way to the fair?
I have been wanting to see some maidens open to me.
As the sky opens when we greet the Lord.
As the road opens, to anyone insane enough to make it.