“The way up and the way down are one and the same.” — Heraclitus
Bless you — it’s too late. During the convulsion of the sneeze, demons seize their chance. Spy with your little eye; take skeleton keys for bait; fish in the stream with a ribbon for your ghost. Sup with the Devil and use a long spoon; eat hot red peppers; capture bees in paper cups. Tell him about your grandfather: as altar boy he recited Adam killed the cat and brought it to the Mayor, instead of Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam, during Mass. This cracks the Devil up. He advises, If anyone opens the door to a castle for you, tip him five dollars. You have entire kingdoms inside you. Monks, firecrackers, dragons await. Request a debriefing, stick your shoulder blades out like little wings. Sometimes people do unthinkable things in order to come home. Sometimes maps are mirrors and sometimes mirrors are maps. Say goodbye in all the languages you remember. Your dead grandfather’s fingers drum on the ceiling above you.
One is for bad news: I dream that men are birds and they have something to tell me Two is for mirth: wake to find a huge crow, pacing to and fro Three is a wedding: drink wine in which a blackbird drowned Four for a birth: I bake a pie full of twenty-four naughty boys Five is for riches: serve it to the queen in the parlor with bread and honey Six is a thief: a bird with one wing steals my nose Seven a journey: I visit the doctor; he sews it back on Eight is for grief: the birds refuse to fly out of the pie Nine is a secret: why a raven is like a writing desk Ten is for sorrow: my heart in a baby birdcage Eleven is love: nevermore Twelve is joy on the morrow: I open my mouth; a bird flies out
Afraid of any sort of damage — missing buttons, torn book covers, broken cups — he refuses to look at his hands, eyes bright and blank. The imp of the perverse incites action; he sits on them to keep from waving in the air as if he were drowning. Even as he bites tissue, finger, bone, he has two kinds of secrets: those he keeps from himself, those he keeps from others — a pile of rocks that must be moved one at a time in front of the dragon’s cave. Missing a gag reflex, he says yes when he means no, eats foods he can’t stand, bites through a box of Kleenex. His heart beats without his consent, avoids touching parts that hold the lion’s roar. He knows a pure heart wills one thing, his left side is the devil’s. In the small cave of his mouth he bites off a piece of his tongue, offers the flesh of experience. The body has to find a cause — paper cuts, the saw’s ruffling teeth — we need the roar.
Isadora Duncan tells me, “Never use the word wife.” I try to behave like a hostess, rush out and buy her a croquet set. I play tennis with Ezra Pound every day; he crows like a rooster whenever he makes an ace. We have the same recurring dream: encountering an unknown island with three smokestacks in the middle of the Atlantic. Paul Bowles comes to lunch in a white suit looking like a doll, dainty and immaculate. He invites me to Ceylon, where he bought a little island. In order to get to it, one has to wade through the Indian Ocean. The waves wet one’s bottom. It’s terribly unpleasant to go about all day with a wet bottom. I excuse myself on the pretext of being drunk. Conversation with Samuel Beckett is difficult: it takes hours of drink to warm him up enough to unravel himself. When I ask what he’s going to do about us, he replies, Nothing. We drink several bottles of champagne in bed. We finish: Thank you. It was nice while it lasted. We are destined to be happy together for twelve days. Beckett has little vitality, though he is my favorite. We walk home from a party and come across a corpse in the garden. By the time we fetch a light the corpse has disappeared. I leave this demoralizing atmosphere, taking Marcel Duchamp’s valise: a little pigskin suitcase containing reproductions of his works. Yves Tanguy only does drawings in green ink: one of them looks so much like me I make him give it to me. It has a feather in place of a tail, eyes like a china doll, a broken head so you can see inside. He has hopes of a wonderful life with me, surrounded by luxury, gaiety, and Surrealism. Over my bed is a family motto in Latin saying, “Never too much.” My enormous fireplace has a strange effect: for years I’ve wanted to jump into it — where I wanted to be for so long, among the flames.
Prepare for a week: stare at the wall for seven hours submerge your hands in ice water whisper every bad thing you’ve ever done Place in a paper bag: a fistful of sparklers a donkey piñata of crickets Close the bag and shake vigorously. Add: the old-fashioned weapons: high heels and pearls (to exaggerate your motions and ward off paralysis) Combine with, stirring in gradually, until well blended: a pinch of ash from a cobra’s charred body a thin slice from the root of a full-blooming magnolia, ground in a nut grinder Blend until creamy: pepper creams and poultices clove tea and cinnamon (anything to heat the flesh) Melt and add slowly: a smear of glue stick to avoid apology in the eyes Heat, to the boiling point: iron to capture oxygen for stamina cobalt to sheath the nerves from excess adrenaline Add and simmer until glossy and red: the light of the last water you drank to attract the mineral smell of him Remove from heat and add: zinc to finger your genes copper to absorb the energy of the orgasm Never overcook: wrap in foil and cool until firm. Have ready a double recipe of: tiny Chinese oranges (imagine cupping his balls in the palm of your hand) This dessert may be used as a centerpiece, bedded on a shallow tray of cracked ice.
Deborah Flanagan’s work work has appeared in journals including The Gettysburg Review, FIELD, The Laurel Review, Hotel Amerika, and Poet Lore, among others.