Stripped and Despoiled.

by C.S. Kraszewski.

 

I

and suddenly it hits you there is to be no more becoming

you are no longer and yet

there you are

paralyzed, you are a soul sealed tight between pith and ray

in the sapwood of a palm tree on the Strip

never to reach the air and light at the opening spathe

legless unable to move though you so desperately would

lurch across the boulevard and throw yourself upon

that horse and canter far away from All That J-Lo Has

galloping madly away from Strip and Strip House Strippers and Strip Steak

catering to the taste of all five pretend boroughs huddling round

the troll-sized Lady Liberty the dwarfish manhandled skyline

but you can’t move as in a nightmare nor can that mare or gelding

that’s made of plaster and rooted to the spot the soul inside it

crying Ah, if only I were sealed inside the living stipe

of a growing real thing like those palms across the way

to grow inch by inch and century by century someday to overtop

this malebolge and gaze from the frondy summit waving

or even drooping in the alkaline heat across miles of desert sand

past the fearsome gate with the words carved in blood-curdling neon script

Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas per che si va nella città dolente

and soothe the burning eyes with the coolness of Mountain Springs

or the frankness of Calico Basin or the naïveté of the old Navy Gunnery Range

how fortunate those palms to be in Purgatory inch by inch

and age by long age escaping Paradise where I eheu eterno duro

escaping the zircon studded walls of bakelite that run the ambit

(340 square miles) of the New Babylon my Unhappy Home

with its tattooed preacher outside I Love Popcorn accosting

the souls borne downward on the sluggish elevator of Acheron and Company

so many souls I did not know dearth had undone so many

he at the very bottom with Bible and microphone and next to him a skinhead

with Corpus-less cross stretching upward from his groin

that cross firmly planted in his parade belt bloodless Christ-less

so fitting, that:

for Christ is not to be found here Christ is just

these souls cannot be saved, and none but I have interest in the same

the preacher wails, misquoting half-read books but speaking truth

like Balaam’s ass, whose engagement at the Sands has been extended

nor will any Beatrice set her glowing feet amidst these dark woods

plastered and painted over so as to imitate granite and verdigris Ah

grow ye palms grow, grow, finally to overtop Donnie and Marie

grow from your lush green irrigated beds so different

from the pink shag carpets and pink curtains

in the room at the Flamingo for thirty bucks a night

where a girl named Maryann with a broken yellow incisor

stumbles out of the pink bog in a pink panic whistling “Shit, Joe!”

lisping “Shit, Joe!” to the corpus collapsed crosswise on the double bed,

in her hand a First Response EPT still dripping with urine

“Joe! Shit, Joe! Wake up!” two lines, count ’em, in the easy-read window

Ah but Joe is floating in the cool black that precedes if only for a moment

the particular judgment and the perpetual hangover

following a night at the video slots

a night of competitive shots

and two or three Ninth Islands at Frankie’s Tiki Room,

“Aw Phhuck!” whistles Maryann as her shoves go for nothing

nothing more than sloshing Joe’s subcutaneous self Left Right Left beneath

a too-small Cancun T with a buxom long-legged silhouette in high heels

and the text for this week of all too ordinary time

Good Girls are Just Bad Girls That Haven’t Been Caught

“Phhuck!” says Maryann with no conscious irony at the ejaculation

and she slaps Joe on his exposed knish-like belly

(which will retain a flamingo-pink imprint of her despairing palm);

she sinks to the floor glancing one more time at the annunciation

which hasn’t changed since last time she looked at it: Positive,

she slumps to the floor and gazes out into the night

lit up by Effailed Towers and the blind eyes of violet ferris wheels

and spotlights from air-conditioned pyramids

winking cowboys and Montgolfier contraptions that never shall rise through this fetid air,

flashes and colorful probes and lanterns like bright viperfish

anglerfish and cookiecutter sharks trolling the thick black depths

enticing their prey with so much dead bioluminescence

that the very heavens are blotted out by them and though she search

quadrant by quadrant

through tear-filled eyes Maryann can make out no star

 

 

II

this is the place where mould is scraped off bread

this is the place where wine goes sour

this is the place where expiration dates

are filed off packaging, like serial numbers off gun muzzles

this is the place where skin is stretched like lampshade

where aged cabaret singers in trilbies smelling of formaldehyde

prance around stages on new hips and new knees

while sawdust spills from their exhausted vulva.

Deep in the fourth circle, before the water-jets

that writhe and tremble

then decompose

with sighs of relief

but cannot in fact escape the pain of recomposition

lashed into life to the moaning of Con te partiro the worst pain of all

because they never can or God Bless the USA or In the Mood or Ecstasy of Gold

Here Michael Jackson is condemned to walk backwards forevermore

in brohmidrosic spats, with sequined glove nailed to his crumbling wrist

Here the Coliseum floods anew manes circenses manes circensesque

and Celine Dion like a sobbing demon lashes out with her tongue

she can not let them rest in peace the Titanic dead

yet she too, ye poor pickled bones, is suffering

Well how the mighty have fallen hears Maryann

and someone on the neon sidewalk next her points aloft:

The Cure are doing Vegas now and how ancient I feel.

By the time they’re done with their engagement

They’ll have killed so many Arabs

that the Middle East will be as safe as Disneyland

and just as worth visiting

speaking of which the screen changes although the screen never changes

and its cyclically-refreshing pixels now proclaim the funnel round

that four Liverpudlian children of God

have been reduced (ah, serves them right!) to nightly concerts improbable

garish satin kimonos covering the jerked flesh of their animated limbs

the screen changes although the screens never ever change

and now threesomes copulate on black trapeezes

no disclaimer necessary adulthood is no more in this eternity

there will be no hectoring nor giving over to be hectored

but all shall be like the masturbatory avatars they’ve been all along

Ah and they are suffering too?

As Maryann crosses the river-wide boulevard

so many cubits wide a team of oxen can u-turn here with ease

but only one of this herd stops suddenly in the middle of the road

a black-skinned teenager who hisses Ugly bitch!

although why, although to whom, nor she nor we will ever know.

She enters the Cosmopolitan and there finds her Cousin Liz

engaged in latreia before a slot machine

She was of great age, let’s say forty-five

although nicotine and alcohol and bad platinum washes cry a biblical forty

she had lived with a husband seven years but now

she never left this temple but worshipped night and day

to which the full ashtrays and dead soldiers round about her bear witness

“I’m pregnant, Liz.” “You’re—” (bings, dings, flashing lights!)

and Liz’s one-armed bandit disgorges coin.

“MaaaarrrryyyyyyAaaannn!” she screeches, and throws her arms

around her startled cousin’s shoulders. “Did you see that?

As soon as you told me, I hit the jackpot!

You should get knocked up more often!”

and she sweeps the loot into her empty purse.

And Mary looks about the crowded flashing floor

at all the laughing young men in white shirts

and tight skirted girls with roofies in their hands

Why is the world unfair Why am I not like them

Where is my Folgers in the calm sunny kitchen

where comical crows fly into my immaculate plate glass windows

Where is my Lexus with the big red bow

they said I deserve it they were talking to me

What’s happened to truth in advertising

“Do you believe in angels?”

“Huh?”

“In angels. Shall we give it a whirl? Come on, you’re good luck!”

And Liz leads her cousin dead-eyed and hollow

over to another machine called Golden Showers

There a blonde angel with generous cleavage spreads wide her wings

on the blue and gold stained-glass case front;

in her long-fingered hands she offers doubloons

above her serene brow winks a star

 

 

III

among the carbuncular strays fouling sidewalk traffic in their chase of pocket monsters

among the bearded skateboarders and myriad other sufferers of puer aeternus syndrome

among the midwestern hefty bags of triglycerides and cholesterol panting at carnival hoops at Dave and Buster’s

falls the shadow

falls the cold shadow

amidst the queues patiently waiting in 100+ heat for a selfie at the median where three roads meet Bali Hai Klondike and Phlegethon

amidst the queues patiently waiting in 100+ heat who would never join the briefest queue to the communion rail falls the cold shadow all of a sudden or creeping up even from the lower extremities

And the civil engineers who periodically measure the tensile strength

of the i-beams and strip steel that prop up the Stratosphere

and the watch technicians who test the harness and shock cords that hang from it in the still air of Nebuchadnosor’s furnace

are all fighting a losing battle with the angel of entropy Ah cold cold shadow

and only the hesitant few who tremble before jumping admit the truth into the dark reptilian regions of the brain

None of our calculations mean a damn thing

None of our prophylactics is foolproof

None of our safeguards is worth the mealy paper of the waiver growing humid in my pocket

And yet they jump

And of those that jump

one or two suddenly feel truth shoot forth like a chameleon’s tongue

through the limbic brain into the neocortex

where sits on his black throne a sterner arbiter than God Himself

Of all I have done in my life and have left undone the ballast remains

the bilge that keeps some steady but pulls me downward at forty miles per hour

How far to the floor of hell I hope it’s very far

The ballast the accumulated sewage and no time left to purge it

But then the algorithms of non-linear elasticity kick in and the tongue retracts just before impact

and once back on the terra firma of Beverley Green the sermon of Jonathan Edwards who foresaw this whole farce by nearly three centuries is forgot

the loathsome insect detaches himself from the thread

and in a brotherly uprush high-fives the chance pedestrian the buzzing psychotic on his way to the gunshow,

trots off with heroic shuffle to nurture his tumors and polyps with red meat and acetaldehydes

pockets a hermetically sealed half-millimeter tribal fetish of latex to ward off the pallid trepanemic tupuquas and still brighter creations

which voodoo failed once already in Joe’s case, of which the squalls of a child of God named Jesse suddenly remind him

as they pierce the mucous-thick layer of blissful unconsciousness with wails from his filth-smeared porta-crib

“Fuck!” swoons unconsciously ironic Joe lurching up, phlegm-heavy, to sway at the edge of the bed

where his gummy eyes focus upon Maryann’s EPD which is his EPD too

Two lines. What that mean…? Number two, asshole. Deep shit.

and woozy with the effort of diving beneath his paunch to consult the plastic oracle he crawls past his wailing bantling to puke on the bathroom floor

his briefs befouled before and behind like father like son in saecula saeculorum as if time existed in this rocky arid plain over which flames and ash fall like snow

with a thick string of spittle suspending his soul over the greasy sludge filling the trap

he pushes himself up and stumbles back to fumble around for shorts and wallet and keys

before lurching again toward the door “Shut UP!” jostling the rashy infant with SBS irritation

but the door opens just as he’s reaching for the handle and there in the doorway stands Maryann

with their breakfast in her hands: two fresh packs of Marlboro, two cold cans of Rock Star

 

IV

Beneath the GPS

is the brain

pale and on the wane

that still knows the address

but already can’t get there on its own.

Beyond the iPhone

the hippocampus lies

diminishing in size

the more we transfer

its duties to her

(Siri, I mean, or Cortara, sorry I

can’t seem to remember…)

Beneath Las Vegas is…

something real that was there once, long ago

and must be there still:

brittle roots of sagebrush, creosote bush, miterwort and buckwheat,

desert poppy and rock cress, purple mat, fiddleneck, gravel ghost…

kerotinocytes and dry calcium from pronghorn and cottontail, desert tortoise and gila monster, spotted bat, bobcat, coyote and broad-footed mole,

chuckwalla, goshawk, Gambel’s quail and sage grouse, the humble translucent scorpion

all layered and mixed with the skarn and turquoise, the breccia, sinter, porphyry, gneiss, basalt

and crumbly red sandstone…

all of this smothered now by gambling halls strip joints and cathouses

steakhouses and ice-cream stands, bars and cabarets

none of which have pushed out over patient ages like the cones of the simple-leaf piñon from the four-square ancient castrum

as London spread over its mudflats tide upon age upon tide from the Roman bridge at Battersea,

or Tenochtitlan rising slowly from its lakebed

but all of this set down on freshly-gouged foundations where tiny severed limbs still twitched after the smooth pass of the deliberate backhoe

for chain stores and gas stations bordellos and casinos above the plastic grid of sewer pipes and power conduits

set down ready-made like Hell itself with its many tight mansions dead and self-enclosed, eternal, sprung full-grown from the head of some lying Miltonic idol,

the only movement along its moldy alleyways the thin newly arrived souls now ancient in a moment where the moment is no more and is everything

the dank blue eternal part of the damned set forever in putrefaction never more to see the sun shifting quietly

from the ground-floor of South Las Vegas and Paris Drive

to the sticky subterranean intersection of South Las Vegas and Paris Drive

hardly aware of the shit they wade through in their lost astonishment

What happened to that Cabo Wabo?

This is not the All Expense Paid Belialaggio Blast I was promised over the phone…

The bed is much too narrow I can’t even turn on my side.

I’ve been given no vouchers for anything more palatable than carrion beetle and calliphorid fly…

But there will be no satisfying reply forthcoming from the giant with the obsequious smile arising slowly from behind the reception counter

with Geryon on his brass nametag and in smaller letters Gehenna underneath;

Underneath the epidermis, somewhere beneath the muscle and fat and bone

the cartilage and inert grey matter and nerves and veins and blood of those who still catch their flip flops on the uneven paving stones of Hell’s Antechamber;

Along the dead canal that flows past the plastic Doge’s palace where Georg Trakl had his vision of the bobbing decomposing stew stirred by blue angels with bronze impassive brows

lies the stupefied soul that hijacks the rum-sodden brain in desperation at a red-lit side-table and lunges across to grab its partner’s hand with

“Didja ever wonder where the libraries are? You know I never saw a single church since we’ve been here?”

But just as suddenly the brain reasserts itself as Mephistopheles sways past in a short skirt and sparklers jammed in his ass A Plague on Her for a Hot Whore and the non-refundable ticket is punched;

No churches here but the odd Queynte Olde Wedding Chapel, where

— “Ohhh! Congratulations!” Liz squeaks sidewise, never taking her eyes off the scrolling numbers on the Gold Rush counters unrolling like a demonic Torah —

Maryann is headed with Joe in clean cargo shorts and T-shirt with Fuck You You Fucking Fuck in elegant Nicolas Jenson script,

“You can leave Jesse right here. They have a nursery just past the crap tables, Johnny was practically raised there it’s totally safe

I’m so happy for you both check out the Elvis Chapel if you haven’t already decided”

the Shemoneh Esrei finished she turned back for the Haftarah and Maryann departed having presented Jesse to the bored blonde custodienne with fingernail halitosis;

having stored these things in her heart and the illegible claim ticket in her back pocket and the bored blonde returned to her Samsung devotions

her back to the soiled romper room filled with future delinquents and dispensers of herpes;

Beneath the Queynte Exchaunge of Ye Olde Vowes at the Elvis Chapel lie gasping

the rags and tittle-lint of the Sacrament of Matrimony, which is administered by wife unto husband, husband unto wife

something quite different from the understandably popular Deluxe Elvis Package

where Jumpsuit Elvis sequined cape and all performs a marriage ceremony in sultry faux Mississippi accents as fake

and overstated as the blue-black hair of Elvis himself, and where gold-lamé Elvis performs three songs for the happy couple

“I Can’t Help” something or other, “Oh Let Me Be Your” whatever it was he was aspiring at back then can you Google Elvis Lyrics for me I was a bit hung over and

we couldn’t scrape up enough dough for the video-recording and the souvenir teddy bear in leather onesie

with marriage certificate thrown in printed on imitation sheepskin framed (at trifling additional cost) in an imitation leather diptych

with a real facsimile of the King’s Own Marriage License Oh

Do I make you feel special my sweetheart?

            Well you oughtta girl because you are.

Sure, in life you’ve been handed a bit part

            But right now you should feel like a star

 

 

V

They drove up the 15 with the hotel bill flapping on the cracked maroon dashboard Exiled from Paradise No More Room at the Inn

to spend their honeymoon Funny how certain dimly remembered traditions never grow stale only unintentionally comic

a “honeymoon” for two forty somethings who had been cohabiting for years after a “wedding” the happy groom only concocted

when caught red-footed How do I know the bastard’s mine anyway trying to slip out from under a piece of plastic weighing no more

than half an ounce weighing no less than the entire world It

was the first thing came into his head It’s about time and I’m off to see about a marriage license now elbowing How can I put this away quietly to the side We

have already mentioned his attire as for Maryann it was no big chore to find Something Old after all she was barely clinging to a counter job at Walgreen’s for

Something New she’d slid a pashmina scarf draped across a chair at the blackjack table into her purse as she passed it (occupant distracted) or

was that Something Borrowed for Something Blue she had her jeans.

Borrowed as well their honeymoon retreat a clapboard affair in Vegas Heights facing foreclosure (Liz could hardly keep up

with the water bills to say nothing of the mortgage) on a dusty street with low pink houses and others green, lime green stucco,

every other one of them with boarded windows.

An emaciated cockroach twitched its antennae at them when they scraped open the door (floorboards warped and in need of planing)

like a very small overthin dog wondering Did these people bring any food finally before scuttling off across the stringy carpet of the living room.

The house unaired since Zach was deployed and Liz transferred to the one-armed bandits kept alive by hops and nicotine

smelled like cold stew.

But here were no neon cowboys with eternal cigarette aglow,

no dancing waters or illegals huckstering passers-by with strip club playing cards extended helplessly from apathetic calloused hands

no naked cowpokes in tighty whities no Spidermen or Mad Hatters no

frumpy women from St. Paul in baseball caps lumpy khaki shorts and pink Sketchers

here was quiet of a sort even the road kill was somehow beatific and for the first time in many days a strange peace descended upon them.

A car might swoosh down Haskell now and then

a low-rider doppler-thumping Cypress Hill now and then

but that was it.

And when the desert jay would squawk her awake from its perch on the rusting clothesline T-bar,

Maryann would smile and stretch

And Joe would turn on his side toward her and smile back.

One day he repaired a cancerous hinge on the weeping aluminum shed out back with a ball peen hammer and a bent Phillips screwdriver he found

in a warped kitchen drawer after staring at it numbly, but sober, for two days slouched in a beach chair with fraying plastic bands straining beneath his butt

while Maryann fried hash browns in a dented pan she had to prop against the kettle to keep the canola oil from sloshing and starting another grease fire.

They would eat out back in silence staring at the legible rocky slopes of the Vegas range toward Hayford Peak (or so he thought);

they walked past the quiet houses in the evening that seemed to sigh and crack their sciatical backs in relief when the cool came on;

after a day or two the tired electrician across the way would wave at them when he got off his shift and slide the van’s panel closed in the driveway;

the frowning black folk on the corner porch noticed them no more now than a Navajo does a stray dog in Basha’s parking lot

but kept on chatting and chuckling amongst themselves as they walked past their white muscle shirts no longer stiffening in suspicion

and the crazy large moon bounced along the black ridges at night.

Joe even jerry-rigged the cable.

But they were so happy they forgot about TV imagine that;

happy enough just to share a six pack as the purple sky came on and listen to the dogs barking and the coyote howl once or twice;

from his perch on the beach chair with the fraying plastic bands Joe would glance over at the butterfly tramp stamp on Maryann’s belly beside him and imagine

what was churning beneath it with a smile; “I’m happy,” he said once, and when she looked over at him with a quizzical cock of the head

“I’m happy about that little bugger in there…” “What little bugger, where?” “Shit, Mair, the kid,” he said, nodding the longneck at her belly

and then raising it to his lips, at which Maryann froze

“Phuck, Joey, phuck! We left Jesse behind!”

(Three or four days is all even the most bleached human nature needs to reknit its synapses and mix up some adrenaline)

and off they lurched in the backfiring maroon El Camino toward the Strip.

They needn’t have worried.

No time had passed in the casino nursery; there is neither past nor future to be found among the despairing hordes of Tophet;

and at the parousia even this eternal present of bells and bad music with subliminal tracks and something called Budweiser

shall be taken from them but when that shall come to pass no man knows,

neither Harold Camping nor the Mayans nor Hon-Ming Chen nor William Miller; the planet Nibiru still unpassed through the vent of the Hen of Leeds

no bookie worth his salt is taking bets on that any more;

Liz was still at her Gold Rush and the woman at the blackjack table was still at her seat oblivious as Maryann deftly replaced the scarf she’d lifted

and Jesse was in his crib caked with filth

while the elder children (who could teach their own elders a thing or two) were cheating at Pokemon and laying bets round the Rock’em Sock’em Robots ring

or playing peep-show for a penny something more for a nickel the more adventurous swiping half-finished drinks from the tables

outside before the Ladies in Bathing Suits cleaned them up and replaced them with fresh doses like perverted nurses dispensing

sedatives among the drooling moribund.

Maryann lifted him up and pressed him to her chest and then held him out at arm’s length cooing “Here you are! Your father and I have been

so worried!” but Jesse just stared back at her with big calm eyes eyes such as have seen many things and intuited many others;

eyes with the wisdom of ages deprived of the happy animality of childhood eyes that have seen the cracked rice bowl floating upward

against the polluted stream

And Maryann shivered.

“Joe?” she said, “Joe, is it just me, or did he get bigger?”

as if anything but cancer and rot could grow here alas.

But did you see them pass?

Did they part the crowd on the casino floor and step out into the night where the parking lot lights reflect orange from windshield and oil drip?

Or are they still there with you, poor shivering soul shoving your last pennies into the cheap slots dumpster diving for discarded comps and vouchers

eyeing the coins in the blue depths of the fountains irritated at the laughing loungers Why don’t they get a fucking room already

your shirt sleeve already folded twitching hand itching for the plunge;

just that one quarter might turn your luck just that handful of tempting largess and you’d become… when

suddenly it hits you there is to be no more becoming

you are and ironically you are no longer

straining paralyzed like a piece of iron toward the pole star

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