sex and sadness, time and toys
June 17, 2012 § Leave a comment
Reading Donald Barthelme might be fairly called a moral imperative for an amoral world. In his own nonsensical way he makes sense of things, maybe even the Big Things of Life, like sex and sadness, time and toys. He has been missed, even with so few having paid notice. That’s the way these things work. It’s not that the Great Ones are noticed after their death. That’s just happenstance. No. The Great Ones are those who are missed even when nobody knows they are missing.
The Dead Father’s head. The main thing is, his eyes are open. Staring up into the sky. The eyes a two-valued blue, the blues of the Gitanes cigarette pack. The head never moves. Decades of staring. The brow is noble, good Christ, what else? Broad and noble. And serene, of course, he’s dead, what else if not serene? From the tip of his finely shapoed delicately nostriled nose to the ground, fall of five and one half meters, figure obtained by triangulation. The hair is gray but a young gray. Full, almost to the shoulder, it is possible to admire the hair for a long time, many do, on a Sunday or other holiday or in those sandwich hours neatly placed between fattish slices of work. Jawline compares favorably to a rock formation. Imposing, rugged, all that. The great jaw contains thirty-two teeth, twenty-eight of the whiteness of standard bathroom fixtures and four stained, the latter a consequence of addiction to tobacco, according to legend, this beige quartet to be found in the center of the lower jaw. He is not perfect, thank God for that. The full red lips drawn back in a slight rictus, slight but not unpleasant rictus, disclosing a bit of mackerel salad lodged between two of the stained four. We think it is mackerel salad. It appears to be mackerel salad. In the sagas, it is mackerel salad.
Dead, but still with us, still with us, but dead.
No one can remember when was not here in our city positioned like a sleeper in a troubled sleep, the whole great expanse of him running from the Avenue Pommard to the Boulevard Grist. Overall length, 3,000 cubits. Half buried in the ground, half not. At work ceaselessly night and day through all the hours for the good of all. He controls the hussars. Controls the rise, fall, and flutter of the market. . . . The left leg, entirely mechanical, said to be the administrative center of his operations, working ceaselessly night and day through all the hours for the good of all. In the left leg, in sudden tucks or niches, we find things we need. Facilities for confession, small booths with sliding doors, people are noticeably freer in confessing to the Dead Father than to any priest, of course! he’s dead. The confessions are taped, scrambled, recomposed, dramatized, and then appear in the city’s theater’s, a new feature-length film every Friday. One can recognize moment’s of one’s own, sometimes.
The right foot rests at the Avenue Pommard and is naked except for titanium steel band around ankle, this linked by titanium steel chains to dead men (dead man n. 1. a log, concrete block, etc., buried in the ground as an anchor) to the number of eight sunk in the green of the Gardens. There is nothing unusual about the foot except that it is seven meters high. The right knee is not very interesting and no one has ever tried to dynamite it, tribute to the good sense of the citizens. From the knee to the hip joint (Belfast Avenue) everything is most ordinary. We encounter for example the rectus femoris, the saphenous nerve, the iliotibial tract, the femoral artery, the vastus medialis, the vastus lateralis, the vastus intermedius, the gracilis, the adductor magnus, the adductor longus, the intermediate femoral cutaneous nerve and other simple premechanical devices of this nature. All working night and day for the good of all. Tiny arrows are found in the right leg, sometimes. Tiny arrows are never found in the left (artificial) leg at any time, tribute to the good sense of the citizens. We want the Dead Father to be dead. We sit with tears in our eyes wanting the Dead Father to be dead — meanwhile doing amazing things with our hands.
— Donald Barthelme, The Dead Father