Mice. Three white, three field. An Irish Setter. A wombat and live butterflies. A
hutch of rabbits (perpetually pullulating). A saluki (though where he found a saluki . . .)
and two tall tanks indyed with a fauvist fauna of tropical fish. One of each species of
lemur. A bulldog who ate from the bowl (clearly marked) beside the Setter’s. Two
fat tabbies. (The butterflies died young, so he got new butterflies.) A family of chimps.
More butterflies and a few brown moths. Fireflies, hummingbirds, an owl. A Saint
Bernard (who ate with the chimps). Geese and teal. A cockatoo. A cock and two hens.
A sperm whale (died in the tub, but he kept it). A baby giraffe. A vole. Two wolverines.
Innumerable stray squirrels and chipmunks. Gazelle and whatever the plural of moose
is (three and three respectively).
It was simply too many animals for a small, studio apartment.
So he let them go. (You can imagine how it broke his heart.)
So he let the rest of them go. He had to. If the acquisition of the animals (one by
one and few by few) were enacted upon a stage, it would have resembled Ionesco’s The
New Tenant—though one wonders how The New Tenant could have been enacted upon
a stage or even if it was ever meant to be enacted—animals like so much furniture. There
were more animals than living space in this 450 sq. ft. apartment. It was something of a
logical contretemps (to say nothing of the olfactory implications). So he let them go.
Me, he kept. I didn’t take up any extension of space. Perched on his shoulders.
Spoke into his ears. Remember the chimps?
It was of some consolation to him. Words reified his memory.
I’d crow like the cock or cluck like the squirrels or click and groan in imitation of
the burbled death rattle of the sperm whale and he’d just laugh and shake his head and
say nothing like an idiot child and I’d say,
`Why are you laughing like an idiot child? Though I knew it was because he’d
forgotten the sounds animals made.
He forgot what the animals were called. I’d say, Remember the chimps?
and I may as well have been saying, Remember the point of infinite density from which
the entire universe recoiled? for all he laughed and shook his head.
And then he stopped talking altogether.
His friends were alarmed by this. Why have you stopped talking
altogether? And while I felt the pressure to respond for him, I demurred. I didn’t like
his friends. They had no appreciation of my gift. (Try to have a conversation
about Heidegger or the The Byzantine Empire with his friends and you’ll see what I
mean.) So I’d try to change the subject.
It seems they’ve discovered life in the hells of hydrothermia where no sunlight
penetrates to sea fumaroles—and they’d say, Shut up, you! We weren’t talking
to you. We don’t give a flying fuck about the sunlight or what’s at the bottom of the
sea! See? See!!! And so I led him away without a word and for good. (It broke
his heart, but he was better off without them.)
And then difficulties developed in the workplace. (An aphasiac copywriter is
bound to have difficulties in the workplace.) I had to cover for him. Started wearing his
collared shirts and neckties. Wrote copy. Submitted it in his name. The hell is this?
the man to whom I’d submitted the apocryphal copy would say and I would, in turn,
inform him, words, and he’d say, you better shut that smart-mouth bird’s . . . mouth, and
I would commend his insults, which he’d take as further insults, but I haven’t cultivated
this elevated sense of language to write insipid jingles for troglodytes like yourself and
while I’m pretty sure he’d had only a vague notion of what a troglodyte was, he was
nonetheless incensed and informed his erstwhile employee that he should feel fortunate
this troglodyte hadn’t socked him in the jaw!
The loss of income was a source of dismay to his fiancee. (their first quarrel since
harping on his illogical menagerie) She insisted he find employment elsewhere.
I didn’t want him to find employment elsewhere and so in the hopes of waylaying his
mental energies, I began reciting poetry to him from the moment he woke in the morning
to the moment he let his dreams come. Eliot, Blake, Neruda, Emily Dickinson, etc. It
cured his aphasia (though his tongue was still locked in his jaw). I administered the lotos
fruit of poems for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He was my full fed goat. Had never even
gotten around to finishing his curriculum vitae. Needless to say, the fiancee left a Dear
John on the back of a phone bill.
And then there was the falling out with his father. You’ll blame me, but try to
understand. He was family, yes, I could have held my peace and pretended to take some
interest in baseball, automobiles, the mortgage, etc., but when he belittled the poor boy’s
resolve to be a broke-dick poet all his life, and insisted he get a job, well, I wasn’t going
through that again and so I told his father just how vacuous and inconsequential a life I
thought the old man had lived to that point—when beneath me, I felt the shoulder fly
forward as if the boy’d been struck a blow in the chest, and I knew I shouldn’t have said
that, but had no intention of taking it back and how could I have known the old man was
a few months from a cardiac arrest, as he turned tail and shuffled out of the small, studio
apartment like a hurt child.
The financial windfall of his father’s inheritance kept us in birdseed and new
books for quite a while and I would read him poetry in the morning and in the afternoons
I’d translate his dumb shows into literary fiction and in the evenings we listened to
Mahler and Satie and we’d doze off dreaming of Midsummer in the dead of winter and
Siberian prison camps in August and the universe expanded in word rather than outward,
recomposed itself into a fantastical realm of Supreme Fictions as all the matter beyond
our shoulder began to recede like the white slivers that wane toward a new moon, until
one day, his mien darkened in the middle of a Duino Elegy and in a confounded grimace
seemed to say, I’m hungry, as if this were a preposterous turn of events and I hadn’t the
heart to tell him the money was running out and then, as if in a logical progression, his
eyes shone and lonely, as if to be so were somehow enigmatic and I tried not to take this
as a personal affront, but I could see the world outside our shoulder coming into view
again like the moon rising into a rearview mirror and I couldn’t help but feel responsible
for this irremediable exile and isolation and so I asked him, a la Ariel to his Prospero (or
vice-versa) if there was anything I could do to make it up to him—some final valedictory
gesture to the dearly departed?
He pondered this. He thought hard. He considered it for a whole autumn and part
of a winter and one late afternoon he looked up from the flyleaf of a collection of so-
called confessional poems, took pen in hand, motioned for me to perch on his wrist and
mouthed the word,