A black sun dawned over the horizon. Human ashes from the 15 ovens of the crematorium had been scattered as fertilizer on the surrounding fields. When the wind carried the smell in the wrong direction, babies bawled, horses screamed, and birds fell dead from the sky. Meanwhile, the higher the sun climbed, the darker the radiance. Prisoners would be marched out the main gate to an old-growth forest, where they cut down trees and then burned the stumps. An occasional murder helped enforce work discipline or relieve the boredom of the guards. We tell ourselves we aren’t those people anymore.
I dreamed that dreaming had been banned. In an underground bunker, men and women in gray-green military jumpsuits sat at long tables in front of computers, monitoring the four stages of sleep. Anyone they detected having ambiguous brain activity was visited by special police. I watched as a medical officer made a hole in the top of a man’s skull with an old-fashioned crank hand drill. A hissing flame shot up out of the hole, and I jumped back in alarm. Relax, the officer said with a chuckle, it’s only a memory. There was a regrettable smell of burnt meat.
The voice in my head that used to offer timely advice has turned implacable, menacing. Unlike the characters in TV commercials for medications with arcane names, no pill yet developed in a lab has enabled me to go skydiving or
whitewater rafting or on an African photo safari. Some days I can’t even make it out the front door. I feel the kind of paralyzing fear I imagine many must have felt during the Revolution when the Committee for Public Safety arrived in town with a traveling guillotine.
Rather than reasons for hope,
we’re given pills in all shapes
and sizes and colors. Not much
here can be regarded as natural.
Fifteen billion trees a year are
sacrificed to make toilet paper.
The Wampanoag, the tribe that
helped the Pilgrims survive their
first Thanksgiving, still regret it
400 years later.
BRUNO SCHULZ ON THE STREET OF CROCODILES
The pills I take at night to get to sleep leave me feeling dazed all morning. I stare stupidly at the white screen of my laptop while rubbing my head in a forlorn attempt to stimulate the language center of the brain. I think once again of Bruno Schulz. Only the first sentence of the novel he was writing when he was murdered survives: Mother awakened me in the morning, saying, “Joseph, the Messiah is near. . . .” A Gestapo officer shot him down in the street in broad daylight. It was a kind of hobby, to be honest.
SCENES FROM A DRINKING LIFE
He told everyone his name was the first three letters of a foreign alphabet. Once while drunk, he gouged the letters into his girlfriend’s butt cheek with a church key. He loved to be photographed, prose hair and all. I have one of him standing on a street corner under a pearl-button moon, his head crooked to the right, as if listening to the Carter Family sing “Wildwood Flower” via his metal fillings.
Howie Good is the author, most recently, of the poetry collections Gunmetal Sky (Thirty West Publishing) and Famous Long Ago (Laughing Ronin Press).