Four Sins Wanting Pardon
There are junkies here, with hands like summer wounds. A man who
is a member of the band makes love to the saxophone with his mouth.
Gang members hang around, loitering inside and outside. They call
themselves la guardia, and I am told that in Spanish this means
the guards. There are girls who sell a soft, velvet prize--they
dont look very well until you move off a few feet. They do a lot
of talking to a funny-looking man; he looks like a Bird of Paradise.
Behind the bar is a fat man with a mustache in magnífica
la tradición of the neighborhood. He doesnt smile often;
when he does you quickly see he lacks teeth. He shot a man once,
a fool who tried to rob him. You can buy from him all kinds of hashish.
The band wants to play all night. The drummers hands are bleeding
and the bassist puts his shoulder out smashing his guitar into an
amp. He is messed up on something, all right. His claims, that he
can dislocate that shoulder at will, rise with the smoke of ruined
Lots of people come in and dance, and the guy tonguing the sax
starts to cry. The band has to quit at 1:30 a.m. so he can deal
with his emotions. It doesnt seem like an easy thing for him to
do, managing this river of tears.
Around six the place clears out, except for a few fixtures: the
mustache, the parrot. They share Anis Dobla de Mallorca and its
licorice bite--and the sun has risen outside.
La guardia, go home! Its time for you to sleep!
The sun is up and weathermen have predicted highs in the mid-nineties,
with humidity approaching one-hundred percent. Families emerge from
their automobiles and trek through the gravel lots in dresses, ties
and wingtips, to the front steps. A man greets them at the immense
Like most who attend, theyd rather not be here. He senses this,
smiles, greets anyway. They will be happier inside, where the air-conditioning
is on. Later today, there will be thunderstorms. Weather here is
volatile, as if the gods are shooting dope.
Men, women and their issue crowd the hard pews and make small,
simple talk. He seethes, narrow-eyed. He is tall, without sharp
wits, and habitually runs his hands through his hair from front
to back in a greasy, sweeping motion. Its a nervous habit. He has
worn the same suit every Sunday for six years.
Service begins with the Call to Worship. His flock observes the
Call rotely, which further angers him. He knows some of the men
have hangovers, and some wish they were cutting their grass. Others
wonder what kind of season the Crimson Tide will have, and he knows
this too. He hopes the Tide will have its worst season yet--maybe
Munro will bash in his wifes eye again. She can say she hit it
on a cupboard door left ajar.
Singing hymns is his favorite part, so he starts a song. Members
of the congregation stand erect, singing--some with very nice voices,
others croaking like creek toads--while young boys make devil faces
at each other and let farts seep out under cover of music.
The sermon is about traditional values: Do they have meaning in
todays sophisticated world? Yes, he admonishes--they are timeless.
Then the sermon is over, and a final hymn is sung, more exuberantly.
The benediction comes down a Detroit assembly line: Go out and behave.
They exit by twos, hate for them roiling out of him like the sweat
darkening his shirt. Although he smiles, fury tugs at his cuts.
Minister! Jump out of your skin! God!
You pack a pipes bowl so carefully, wanting no shreds to fall
out into the strands of your beard. The dried leaves of Eritrea,
Columbine rifleshots, souls and sinew of Bangalore and Mumbai, a
Managua Day of the Dead attended by automatic machinepistols. Look--there
are the broken backs of gypsies, Jonestown, lye-soaked mass graves
of Kosovo, Manifest Destiny. Pack it all in.
In dark evenings, in African valleys you evolved. Slowly, and then
like a paroxysm, you raged over unbearably raw flesh--gazelle, gemsbok.
You grunted and gesticulated, asking how to hew the meat away from
the animals chassis. How? Every year we find pieces of you that
cannot be so pleistocene, so old. They flake, almost mineral themselves
in cryogenic strata of mineral around them, and we clean flecks
of matter from you and wave our prizes in the air. We have rediscovered
You smiled on the savannas, four feet erect in the steppes. The
hot sun pushed down onto you like a judgment, onto the hair of your
back, onto the absence of your forehead. Your eyes squinted out
at us as you made tracks on the sandy bank of a waterhole, across
eras, from beneath soviet brows. Your teeth were blunt and frustrated,
and your mouth clacked together and came apart again as you repeated,
How do I get this goddamned meat off the bone?
Then it must have occurred to you to articulate your fine opposing
thumb and dexterous, servile fingers in this way: fashion! And you
did, friend, fashioning tools of stone and bone, tools for bone
and flesh. This is how to hew it from the chassis--this!
Reason dawned, and let me show you a list of what came after:
Henry VIII, that fabulously girthed beheader of wives;
Mussolini, Il Duce is in the strike zone, high and inside;
Plato, historys very first fascist;
Pol Pot, on a Khmer pyramid of love-drunk skulls;
Mobutu, who sucked Ikes cock while Ali and Foreman traded blows
in Kinshasa, Patrice Lumumbas men in shackles below;
Cortez: Montezuma, may I see your zoo? Ahhh, buena;
Papa Doc, Weep O Haiti;
Each and every Holy Prelate, because the Vatican knows whats best
Jefferson, deist, founder, slaveholder, your seed pumped into Sweet
Sally--the African race blanching;
Little Adolph, you nasty nasty boy, look what you have painted;
And all the other Medicis, my friend, my father, my lover, my australopithecine.
Is that you I hear crying out Oh, to be Methuselah? Do you see us
lifting soft hands to ptolemaic skies, expecting the reward of a
No! Our hands now are filled with fine gemstones. We grab with
skilled talons. These are the trappings of our century. This is
the great expanse of sour water between us and God: we are our own
Anthropologists--your children--avoid thoughts of you. Our teeth
have grown long and disturbing. Diamonds, teeth, razors, decay--these
are our music.
Draw in on the bowl, old man! Take into yourself an epoch of smoke!
And then we come, gasping and gasping, lengthwise, to birth.
In a sterile room a new child mother sucks in wet air, yanks her
knees back and shouts. She curses the boy who stands transfixed,
knees weak at a vantage that had before produced what he--they both--mistook
for strength and virility and the rushing of procreative blood and
fluids. He watches, one eye squinted as if through a surveyors
glass of penury, as her mons, misshapen and throbbing, undulates
like heaving earth. He forgets everything forced upon him in the
Lamaze classes; where he is supposed to coach, he stares. There,
where he longed to place himself, it is transformed into an oozing,
pulsing, draining fusillade of question.
A doctor or nurse--he isnt sure which--elbows him to one side
and barks instructions at the mother. It will be soon now.
There, crowning like a great, bloody mushroom at the orifice bedecked
by twin elastomer lips, irrevocably dilated: the beasts head. Name
all species of Agaricaceae you can imagine, Liberty cap, Caesars
amanita, stinkhorn, chanterelle, giant puffball, short-stem giant
clitocybe, Périgord truffle, false morrel, Boletus satana.
The crown of these fruits is the crown of his daughter or son, emerging
there through gouts of amniotic ichor, lifefluid runlets.
He suffers a macabre harbinger, knowing that as the offsprings
torso slips free, as it rockets from the watery stew of all life
dragging itself, something will be horribly askew. The small beast
will trail a satyrs legs rather than lipid, smooth human skin.
Below the torso, there, a fishtail, carbuncles, the sucking tendrils
of some freakish bivalve. The face squeezes through, nose blasting,
eyes the seams of two stitched cuts. The shoulder slips across the
rubicon of an open and impossibly stretched soul valve. An arm emerges
with the hand already enraged in a fist, prepared. The body of this
animal slides out onto the sopping red sheets chest up, and the
boy sees the genitalia, huge--half the storming cheese-caked beings
size, it seems. It is a gyrocompass, this thing there, the cock
and balls of his own son, his own little monster of trespass, iniquity
latent in the birth and afterbirth of it, the very first squall
that shouts me me me.
Just try and imagine it: the boy father, a man now, stands like
Kronos waiting for his Zeus, lips quivering and gullet at the ready,
appetite primed. Eat it before it sins! Eat it!
Come here, my little Zeus. Come to Daddy.