N A D A
I swear I had it in my hand. I could feel the folded plastic, the slight cushion of the shredded tobacco. I know it was here in the pile of unused clothes at the foot of my bed. I swear it was here. I stole them from my roommate fair and square. And I would stash them here in the pile of clothes so that nobody would find them but me. I stole them and they were mine to use as I pleased. But when I called the pack into service it was nowhere to be found. The fucker went AWOL. I swear it was here. I know it was here. Nonsense! It must have been one of those dreams again. I hate those dreams. Plan B. There should be another pack in my bag. A real pack, one of those cardboard ones filled with prerolled cigarettes. I grab my bag and empty it out and alas it wasn't there either. Nonsense! Another dream perhaps. This was no good. I make the slow and careful walk upstairs from the basement. I have done this before. I scavenge around the usually messy living room searching among my roommates' belongings looking for a spare cigarette. The living room was unusually clean this morning. She must have cleaned it last night. There was nothing to look through. Only an empty purse containing nothing that resembles a pack of cigarettes or cigarettes themselves. I checked the drawers and some of the usual spots. Nothing. I considered waking one of them up to ask for one, but that would be too low. My addiction isn't that bad. I considered leaving the house and buying a pack. I have some other things that I needed to purchase as well. It would have been a great reason for a small trip to the gas station. But I am not leaving the house unless I am expected somewhere. And at this hour I was not. So I scampered back to my room in the basement quietly closing the door like a little mouse.
There must be a cigarette in one of the empty containers piling up on my desk and on my floor. I have done this check before and it never turns out well. It's a last resort but must be taken regardless. Sometimes I will find a pack filled with the ripped off tips of cigarettes and with that I could fabricate one. But this time I am going for the gold. I want a real one, prerolled and everything. The checks are simple. First I lift the pack to feel if there is any weight in the there. Then I'll shake it to hear if one very light cigarette moves around. Usually I just hear the sound of a few bits of tobacco hitting the sides of the box. Then I open the thing and look inside as a final piece of insurance. I did this some thirty, forty times. Nothing. I think maybe there is enough loose tobacco to roll a cigarette. But I must be strong on this occasion. I am settling for nothing less than a real cigarette. I then move to check all the boxes on the floor. My brand of choice is usually Natural American Spirits. The ones with the native guy shown in black silhouette wearing a headdress smoking a peace pipe in front of a red circle resembling a rising sun. This is what I am trying to achieve. This is what they are advertising. And this is how I see myself every morning, dressed in black with a cigarette up to my lips feeling at peace at the crack of dawn. This is the dream. But for some reason this morning is the nightmare.
A line from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner plays in my head. "Water, water, every where, nor any drop to drink". It is maddening. I search through another thirty to forty boxes, carefully applying the same checking technique. Nothing. There is one pack left. A different pack, this is a pack of Export A's from Canada. I remember buying this pack on my last trip up north some two or three months ago when a colleague and I tabled at an art/book fair in the lovely city of Vancouver. And was only bought because the convenience stores lacked a supply of Natural American Spirits. My colleague was quick to inform me that they smoked Natural Canadian Spirits up here. I asked for those instead. The clerk said that they didn't have those, either because they were sold out or that they simply did not exist. My colleague later informed me that the latter was true. The stores don't keep there cigarettes on display, as it would quickly ruin the minds of the children, so a series of inquiries were needed in order to find the right pack. My third choice was Export A's as I was familiar with them having bummed a couple at the local pub from a mate who I promptly name "Canadian Joe" simply because his name was Joe and that he smoked Canadian cigarettes. He was not actually Canadian. Rather than showing a dignified silhouette smoking as his father probably taught him, the box of Export A's showed a rather chumpy looking white dude with the thick mustache of a porn star, or something like that, a receding hairline, and a boring light blue polo shirt unbuttoned enough to see the hole in his throat. The box quotes the man saying,"I wish I had never started smoking" and "I was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx when I was 48. I had to have my vocal cords removed, and now I breathe through a hole in my throat." He too probably smoked as his father taught him. So I picked the box and applied the same checking technique and on the third step results came up positive. If only this box was empty, maybe I would have considered quitting. It even offered a hotline to call. But instead I found resolve, I achieved my goal and I quickly raced up stairs to smoke a cigarette in the light of a new day.
It was November 10th, 2007. Mark Vonnegut was staring at the coffee pot. He found the soft gurgling sound of it brewing his morning coffee, accompanied by the warm smells of his single origin, shade grown beans wafting up to his nostrils calming. Mark never went into the office before 9:30, he liked to savor his mornings. With his coffee brewing at 8:25, he would have plenty of time to peruse the paper over a leisurely breakfast. His meditation on the brew was interrupted by the telephone ringing. He jumped a little at the sound, and then slowly picked up the receiver. “Mark, it’s Ivan. How’re ya doin?” He didn’t wait for an answer to the formality, “Listen, we need to talk about your father’s book.” Mark had been compiling a book of his father, Kurt’s previously unpublished works for the first posthumous publication by the celebrated author. On top of being a physician, Mark had followed in his father’s footsteps and dabbled in some writing of his own. When his father had died that April, he immediately went to work on writing what would become the introduction to a new publication of Kurt Vonnegut’s short works. It had been a good exercise for filling the void his father had departed, and returning his thought to the project several times a day had become a subconscious coping mechanism. Ivan’s hard and direct voice speaking of his father’s work made Mark uneasy. Though he had moved past his most intense grief, he still approached thoughts of his father with some tenderness. Mark cleared his throat, “Yes?” “Look, Sally brought one of the pieces in the book to my attention, and I’m glad she did. We can’t publish The President, Mark.”
“Why?” Mark turned away from the coffee pot and stared vacantly towards the ground. His heart was suddenly pounding. He didn’t like any disturbances in the morning. He responded in his most professional sounding voice, “We love your father’s writing here at G.P. Putnam’s Sons. We are very pleased to be publishing this anthology. But we do not think that The President reflects well on our publishing house.” Mark wasn’t sure how to respond. “I don’t understand,” he said. Ivan’s voice shifted back to his casual curtness, “I mean, c’mon, Mark. I get the whole Kurt Vonnegut thing. I loved Slaughterhouse Five, but we can’t publish a story about Donald Trump being President of the United States of America. Yeah, it’s satire, I understand, but with Kurt- well, with Kurt gone... we can’t be responsible for any backlash from Trump. You understand?” There was a pause while Mark thought over what he just heard. “Maybe we could change the character. Make him a fictionalized version of a business mogul, ya know like some of his other characters.” Mark had collected his thoughts by then, “I see where you’re coming from, but my father’s readers know, Donald Trump is just a trope to embody the actions of ruthless capitalism rising to control in the free world. I mean, the man’s such a megalomaniac, he’d probably take it as a compliment, assuming he’d actually read anything by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., which seems unlikely.” “So if he’s just a trope, why can’t it just be a fictionalized version of Trump? The guy isn’t exactly known for being able to take a joke. We can’t risk the controversy. No one wants to anger Mr. Trump.” Ivan took a breath, “Look, Mark,” Ivan’s voice took on a condescending tone, “Maybe you don’t exactly know these powerful business types like I do. This is not a risk I am willing to take here at G.P. Putnam’s Sons. End of story.”
Ivan clearly was trying to wrap up the conversation. Mark could tell the call was just a formality and that the publishing house would be omitting the short story no matter what. Still, he couldn’t help but rebuttal. “Mr. Held,” Mark imitated Ivan’s condescending tone for his final argument, “Do you really think anyone will take this story seriously? I mean, come on, Donald Trump as President of the United States? Donald Trump as a white supremacist, tax evading, sexual predator, billionaire, becoming leader of the free world? Even the Trumps would be laughing if they read that story. It’s a classic Vonnegut plot.” “Mark,” Ivan now sounded slightly irritated, “Let’s be serious here. This may be a classic Vonnegut plot, and we may be a major publisher within the Penguin Group, but what you’re suggesting is that we throw pebbles at Goliath and expect to walk away scot-free. Art, free speech, safety... none of that matters when you’re up against billions of dollars. That’s just the way it goes. Besides, there’s an election coming up, people have had it up to here with this clown in the White House that we’re stuck with for another year, this isn’t the time for a Vonnegut American doomsday story. I gotta go. Sorry, Mark, but that’s just the way it goes. Maybe try City Lights or something. They’ve got nothing to lose,” he quickly added, “but don’t send it until your contract with us allows it. Let’s be civil here.” “Alright.” Mark wanted to go back to his coffee meditation. The whole conversation was starting to feel ridiculous. “Fine,” He said. “Great, Mark. Thanks a lot. Sally’ll be following up with you soon. Bye bye now.” He hung up. Mark looked at the clock. Darn it, he thought. So much for the pleasant morning. He would now have to take his coffee to go.
I can’t say exactly why I get the compulsion to do this but every so often I resume combing through the Bible for rejoinder to those who would take the Holiest of tomes literally. I got nettled-up once again about a month or so ago after a conversation with one of those evangelists who screams on street corners with a huge placard reading ‘repent’ or something like that. Usually I just walk right past them as I would any other panhandler or canvasser but if I have a bit of time on my hands and enough booze in my belly I’ll take a moment out of my day, not for any kind of hostile confrontation but simply a friendly parley. When the mood strikes me I’ve found the Mormons to be the most congenial and least obtrusive. Green Peace would do well to take a page out of their book, so to speak. They’re good kids, those Mormon missionaries. They just ask if you’ve heard of the LDS church; if so, do you have any questions? I usually give them something hard like, ‘if the Lamanites put every last one of the Nephites to the sword, how come there’s no archaeological findings of mass graves?’ or ‘why did God punish the Lamanites by painting their skin red? Is not being a white person the worst punishment God could come up with?’ And every time these Mormon kids politely concede that they don’t have an answer to my question but they invite me to some meeting or whatever in case I’m interested in learning more about their faith. They’re good kids, those Mormon missionaries. They don’t choose to go on mission, they have to, and when they do they’re never self-righteous, holierthan-thou dicks about it. Let’s turn now to evangelicals. Evangelicals, among the beliefs they hold dear, is a belief that turgid bombast is vastly more persuasive than facts or reason and my attempts at catechism are nearly always met with mere volume. They also have an uncanny ability to twist scripture into whatever suits them at a particular moment. The fellow in mention had a sign which bore the words, ‘FEAR GOD.’
I politely counseled that for your average gentile layperson the word fear in all capital letters might be off-putting and distract from whatever point he was trying to make. After pontificating for a bit on his arbitrary interpretation of the word fear this wound its way around to him asking me what my religious affiliation was. I replied that while I did not subscribe to any religious doctrine I was a seeker of sorts. His response was, “Just don’t become one of those Muslims.” Me: That sounds very judgmental. Doesn’t Matthew 7:1 say ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged?” Saint Dude of the Immaculate Curbside (eyes blinking in rapid succession): No, what that means is, uh, you have to take it in context. After that it says, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” And that means you have to judge a person by their righteousness, not anything else. Judge me and you will see that I am righteous. Me: So, ‘judge not that ye be not judged’ means it’s okay to judge people? Saint Dude of the Immaculate Curbside: Judge me by my righteousness, not by the color of my skin or anything else but my righteousness. So there you have it. Like so many slings and arrows off the hide of Achilles, evangelical Christians, being the very apotheosis of righteousness, are impervious to the judgement of others. Matthew 7:1 only applies to unrighteous lost souls (non-evangelicals). True Christians (evangelicals that is) have license to judge whomever they like. Then later I got thinking on how to take Biblical literalism to its most absurd point: wanking, or at least the aversion to it. I thought I remembered something about the Lord being displeased when Onan spilled his seed on the ground. A brief diversion here for those of you don’t remember the story of Onan. Onan’s brother was wicked in the eyes of the Lord so the Lord slew him. But Onan’s dad still wanted his daughter-in-law to pop out babies so he made Onan go bang his brother’s widow. Onan didn’t want to have kids with his dead brother’s wife though so he’d always go up until the last second and then shoot it on the sheets so the Lord slew him too. I took my inquiry to Quora.com asking the following:
“In Genesis 38:6-10 we learn that the Lord is displeased if a man’s seed is spilt on the ground but does that mean female masturbation is still okay?” I thought the tongue-in-cheek nature of the question was obvious but somewhat to my disappointment I received two very serious replies, one presumably from an armchair biblical scholar and one from a self-described sexpert. The former explained that the Lord was displeased not by the spilling of a man’s seed on the ground but rather by a son disobeying his father’s wishes. The sexpert merely corrected me in explaining that aforementioned passages refer to coitus interruptus and not dinging the devil’s doorbell. I was going to have to dig deeper. It would turn out that of the preponderance of sexually themed websites on the internet, there are a surprising number of sites specializing in sex advice for Christians. Apparently it seems that Christians are in greater need for sex advice than the average person. Too much monkey business in the bedroom and you might earn yourself an eternity in the city of Dis. It was on one of these sites that I believed I had hit pay dirt. I was referred to the gospel of Matthew this time: “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart,” (Matthew 5:28 KJV) and herein lies the distinction between proper procreation and abject fornication: it’s not the fluids shooting into or out of or in the general vicinity of this or that orifice, it’s the naughty thoughts going on in that porn-besotted brain of yours. So, what have we learned? The next time you’re feeling the itch for a phallus-flailing or putz-pummling, or an old-fashioned twat-twiddling or shnok-boxing, a cock-cudgeling, slitsplitting or gash-gouging, or even paddling the pink pontoon to purgatory, just keep your eyes open and focus on some inanimate object like a hair dryer or a wet towel or contemplate some philosophical abstraction like predestination or objectivism and you shall not incur the wrath of the Lord. Happy wanking friends.
Parra was right, maybe we have to go back to the horse and buggy freak out and burn everything down; start to look out of the windows of transatlantic ocean liners into the bare night and never look away I donâ€™t know perhaps Prepare ourselves for the last battle between toby Keith fanatics and the fathers of commerce driving pick up trucks into infinity before it's too late: to throw the poets from Olympus and return language to birds buildings rivers, trees, hands in an empty field at dawn the bored face on subways those crying in suburbs desk chairs and overhead lamps the rings of trees in relation to the ring around the eye children greet hearses, patiently waiting for the twelve imam to return out of nowhere and show us that the will of the apocalypse is only flowers and the ocean, everybodyâ€™s happy or at the very least, smiling everything I write is some sort of deathbed lament and this is no different the three widows recede to the bedrock, It was Violetta who stared at the strange future from her bedroom and cried, but also laughed trusting herself completely by jumping out of a window before Donald Trump won an election the first time around.; there is nothing scary about death just confusion as to what comes next.
1. (‘That I find myself here and not in some other place’)
In the hours after the election I broke something, and then drank, and then went to bed. I woke up unaware of any reality, death wears a full cloud, or the robes of starlight. Sometimes it comes on trains. Fitting, but in the worst way, fitting in the way bodies in remote fugue states recompense themselves for forward marches; fitting in the way that one can be traded for the vain consequences of those deemed people, in a day where we have returned to ‘person’s and ‘non persons’. I am thinking of abject suffering and St. Petersburg. Inevitably I am daydreaming about Klemenov dying in Stalingrad from neglect. I am a poet, whiling away what little life I have left on cheap booze and paranoia. Naturally I live in basements and am in love. You could see this coming, in the faces of subways, in the waiting rooms of government offices. In my friends who, the closer to the waste basket they were, languished. The faces of those condemned, not to death, or even to fruitlessness,. instead the anxiety lined face of those select transfers from county jail to prison for their first time. Determination anxiety and fear are dangerous if taken altogether. We often falter in an uneven madness, you either wilt at breakneck speed or risk the impermanence of dying at the hands of someone else.
2. (Please don’t call me Negrodamus) The night of Brexit I got drunk with my roommates and watched the results come in. At a certain point in the night, early in the count, the ‘in’ vote was in a monumental lead. I had said drunkenly to one of my roommates who I was considering betting against to never underestimate the absurd lengths of self destruction that an ignorant white working class will go to out of an entirely baseless racism.
In the end he never placed his bet against Brexit actually happening. The United States is built on a cruel fixation with extermination, weird and dark and tied to a sexual expression not even Freud could wrap his head around. It is in no way surprising or even ironic that at the time of this writing ( early January), it occurs to me that the entirety of my participation in anarchist circles was shouting into a cave about a monster and then being eaten by the monster, and then or at the same time the monster began to eat all of my friends and then precede to destroy the symbols of what you could call my identity. The left, as it once was is dead and the sad realization that I in some ways wasted my youth on an idea that hasn’t been viable since the beginning of the last century is both bitter and noble. But, and to be perfectly honest, I’m too stressed out to wax poetics about my wasted youth in the ranks of radical left, which can best be summed up by the words a friend wrote, ‘if I was actually paid for the protests i attended in my early 20’s I could buy a house by now’; because I’m fucking living the actual end of the 200 year enlightenment idea of leftism, and more than anything I'm terrified, or in the perpetually and useless state of being angry at myself for not seeing this coming, and angry at the world for having to bear the burden of its collapse. To watch in real time the capitulation of national leaders to Trump each with the grin of a Romanov prince on his knees before stalin was, perhaps the most Nietzschean event I have ever witnessed. Marx had said that history never repeats itself, and ( contradictory) when it does, it does so as farce. The small dank dead holes that serve as eyes on Chris Christie's tired face as he wondered whether servitude was truly better to the destruction of what little is left of jersey, and the nation at large, was almost touching. His cheeks still stained by tears, an every man in a time of cowardice. And thus they all fell, one by one, as if the coup was real, and thus making it real, Trump’s twitter account is now equal to real declarations of policy. The idealist and contradictory concern on the left with pointing out lies or inaccuracy, until they realized ( and even now fail to fully understand) that the alt right has read 1984 as well.
The puzzled half smile of the nation's first ( and probably only) black president as he shook hands with a man who ( and to his almost divine credit) destroyed the very weak while simultaneously almost mystical idea of American democracy and exceptionalism ( and in a single election cycle no less). A sad smile, and tired look of a man that in his own way stood as a sort of bizarre last outpost of the dream of a certain black militant strain of thought. Mainly representation and power, but also ultimately a national retirement in the warm arms of a capitalist welfare state brimming with multiculturalism. Perhaps in ten years the nation could had begun to understand slavery and that probably would had been reparations. It looked as if he were about to cry, and also a sheen crossed his face of relief, in the way the terminal smile on Oxycontin, the end of the ideal.
3. (Still trying to find a pain pill for heart break) Intellectually I donâ€™t believe in hope without evidence, but Iâ€™m weak and vain and believe in lots of things that are useless and invaluable, that lead to poverty and decline, insanity and silence in the waste bin of history. Namely I am talking about poetry and love which is the mask of so many beautiful things. This will end badly for us, one way or the other. The other day I had lunch with a friend of mine and perhaps owing to the particularly grueling northwest shield of stone looming over us, it was sketched in the same yoke of semi clandestine movements before the outbreak of war or revolutions. The tentative movements during the first days of a coup. And in this time of hysterics we must remind ourselves that we dreamed of this. The coups of the future were always cast in the collective imagination as the subversive workings of unknown technology.
There may or may not be a tape of Trump being pissed on by Russian sex workers, held in possession of Putin. What is known is that Russia hacked the DNC and more than likely at the behest or in tandem with Trump, and let's just say it, probably with 4chan or the alt right, either known to one another or not, their actions move in the reflection of atoms in a black hole. Nothing is real, rather we live in a collection of mirrors made real. This will end badly because we live in a reality that is unnameable; there is no theory or even tongue for this epoch were the absurd had become a synonym of normality.
(If to love without illusions is still to love, I can say that I loved it) We fit ourselves into the strange normality of appearance. In Germany after the second world war their were men who had served from the inter war years through the Nazis and past it. The Senate approves men with rubber stamps and does its best to pretend that truth is not truth. That reality and illusion have fallen into a strange dialectic sublimated into the form of a joke to create something altogether fresh in history. Hegel or the Marxist dream of Hegel is dead. History is sinkholes and goblins, nightmares that stretch over a sky and become lived experiences, just look at the legacy of Amilcar Cabral, or the EPLF, failures, only because of the cruelty of being in given time at a certain and owing to nothing else. Perhaps this is the silver lining, that a future of cruelty and oppression is no less written than one of hope and love, that, as Chris Marker once said, â€˜There are still a few wild wolves leftâ€™..
ÂŠ 2017 Rockwell Press Collective, Seattle, issue 34
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pmurT rerhĂźF lieH llA
I can't believe we put his name on our stupid magazine