Sunday, May 23, 2004
Abrecocks & Zawns
I fell asleep an insect and woke up a man.
Back at the beginning, I must have been spawned for a span of incubation, short periods of which I can but vaguely recall. No doubt, human beings have vivid memories of their conception as a seed of life. I and my kind are simply tiny black wisps of living cotton-thread, but a human existence must literally flood in from the mother-body in which the pre-human was temporarily egged. It had a direct current, thereby, to her brain.
But when a human dies, it really does die. After our own death, we insects live on for at least a while in the motes of the air like illegible dot matrix, thus receiving compensation for our share of existence when all's totted up.
When both light and dark were at their thinnest, Tokkmaster Clerke of Clockhouse Mount kept vigil in his Council bedsit. The non-resident drinkers at the Pail of Water pub had long since tumbled home; & the double-deadended culdesac, which Clockhouse Mount intrinsically yearned to be, settled into its own foundations for the bearing of night's long residue.
His erstwhile companion, Ervin, had long since departed the meat-haven of a body; so Tokkmaster watched alone, with merely the sounds of his own rattle-bladder bubbling against the stop-cock. He picked his favourite apricots from the tree-mantle beside him & munched. He had lately recovered from a bout of vomito & needed to apply a sanitary poultice soaked in virgin's milk to the red buttock-between—thus to staunch the uglesome pain. His box-camera eyepiece was tri-podded at sight-level. He kept the lens positioned towards the unlit sky &, as the early spaceships freckled the mid-distances, he flicked vigorously at the shutter.
Tokkmaster Clerke cursed mildly at the churnings in his venomed stomach—excitement often giving him such utterly butterfly flutterfuls. Yet he gobbled further apricots (stones & all) to stay their sucking convolutions. The star fleet grew brightsome above Clockhouse Mount, creating a Turk's turban of dervish-light above the treefalls, above the reach-me-down shops and above the black flags of the derelict golf-course. The time, albeit shrunken with small hours, had duly come. If only Ervin were there, Ervin would have jumped for sheer joy with Tokkmaster & lurched across the Long Lands & Rich Lands to encounter the aliens leaving their craft in Big & Ruffet Woods.
Ervin had indeed snorted out his wriggling brain during the sudden fleshquake of a disease that had befouled his well-being since the relatively recent visit of the stone-priests. Those priests had seemed a swell-mob, but Tokkmaster had suspected they had brought a germ within the bulging folds of their cassocks. He had sworn to wreak vengeance, if ever the opportunity arose. Meantime, with Ervin gone, Tokkmaster himself had suffered side effects: Barbadoes Leg & Rattle-Mouse in the pissworks. He easily recalled the visit of the stone-priests to the Mount, whilst, tonight, he shuffled upsee-Dutch towards the evident landing-place of the multitudinous spacecraft and their alien contents. Such recollection of previous events was so slipstream-easy because the swelling dregs of disease in his belepered body blurred his vision of the otherwise more up-front present moment.
It was as if Ervin had arrived off the street, uninivited, unacknowledged, unnoticed. Stretching before him was a huge hall, gloriously swagged with chandeliers and oil paintings—rank upon rank of resplendent, goblet-winking tables, all dressed to kill. Multitudinous mouths framed by chops and chins were set upon dinner-jacket stalks. They muscled into the food. Their eyes reflected the silver platters as they turned towards a figure who had stood up. An after-dinner speech was evidently on the brink of utterance. Most was padding, ending with:- "So, as is proper with all our sales conferences, I propose a Loyal Toast: To Her Royal Majesty The Queen..." The speaker held up his glass as if it were the Holy Grail and all the other mouths-on-trousers ranged along the tables also stood to attention and raised their glasses:- "To the Queen," roared round the hall with a manly gusto, and returned just as quick as if it were scared of the echoes. Black bows bobbed on adam's apples, as each guzzled more than a mean mouthful of bubbly. As if it were a matter of course, they all then turned towards Ervin! He was standing dissheveled at the head-waiter's side. The Toastmaster motioned Ervin to start and Ervin knew Ervin must be the token commoner, come to partake from the edges of their plates. So, Ervin lapped at one gent's finger-bowl. Sucked at another's bones. Snorted the crushed cigar butt of a young razzamatazz go-go high-flier who chattered intensely to his buddies without even deigning to cast Ervin a glance. Spat into some old fogey's mouth who had no doubt recently suffered a heart attack, from over-indulgence. Finally, Ervin raised this dead gent's half-empty glass and thundered:- "I suppose it is at times like this, when a little after-dinner humour will not go amiss, especially as you've already been bored stiff. So here goes... I THOUGHT at first that you all must have something inside your heads. Well, you know what THOUGHT thought? He thought he had shit himself ... and, behold, he had! And, what is more, gents, that substance inside your heads, it's not inside your heads after all: it's under your chairs!" Awkward laughter ran round the tables like an invisible tickler. Ervin finished off:- "I give you Grace—to God and all who 'sale' with Him!" This was the signal for every guest (except the dead gent) to drag the chamber-pots from under their dining-commodes and to upend the contents down their gurgling gullets, the Toastmaster included.
But, in the beginning, when present moments were more ancient, if not, redolently antique, baby Ervin had come into the world with a blubbery caul across his face, a veil blurring and slewing his normal features beyond recognition. Bones clicked loudly as he turned restlessly in the cot. His sounds were like a coal miner's hopeless wail for help in a distant collapsed working and, at times, a canary's dying gasp.
As Ervin grew, as grow he surely must, he wandered the deadfall trees of the Clockhouse Mount amid the Surrey Badlands and Southern Mysteries—muttering to non-existent companions about nights of Elder Panic that were bound to renew themselves. One among the locals, big old Tokkmaster Clerke, self-appointed leader and cheer-master of the Surrey community, spoke often to the boy: "Toddlekin, eat up yer turnip-tops and spatling poppies, make a man of yer" or "We'll one day stride the fields when the Great Old Ones come from upper sky" or "We'll stand on yonder bank's feranda, a-gnawing at nut-bones at early twitterlight" or "No good being underwitted, Ervin me lad, it'll be us humans the Great Old Ones'll want to say things to."
Whether Ervin understood the words or even heard them at all, the Undistributed Middles of Tokkmaster's speech rhythms must have set up significant chords, since Ervin followed his big aged friend everywhere, the painful cathedral of his still growing bones cracking and splintering the vesperal lateness of the afternoons.
One special night, which several Surreyfolk had predicted would come, the Earth itself shook to its roots. Could the long expected visitors be approaching not from the sky, as futurists expected, but through the actual crust beneath such Surreyfolk's feet? Ervin relieved himself into a nettle-bush; he did not seem to care that the cross-currents of truth-and-lie had at last centred on that one parahistoric flashpoint of time.
Out of the ground, there rose giant round heads, jolly bearded planetoids which bounced like hot-air balloons across the Badlands, and then played tag with meteors throughout the skies of the Southern Mysteries: an interplay that bedazzled Tokkmaster Clerke, who crumpled to the ground, head first, and made crazy jokes with the insects which crawled along his nether lip. But Ervin came into his own, his own body growing from the ground along a solidifying stream; the flashpoint flourished as if it had just been planted in fertile mulch. He was endless bubble gum, as he reached for the bobbling punchies and judies in the outer reaches of the sun-go-down. Ervin's structure—his tessellated lattice of bone-domes and flesh-chimneys—became a translucent crystal palace above and around the sleeping Surreyfolk. He left the bony-meat haven, as soon as another one was ready vessel for his wondrous Ervinish soul.
Tokkmaster's last words to Ervin's old body were: "It be a shame Ervin be not now near to cuddle him to me, but give him Grace. He were flesh from our flesh, brain from our brain, but his sprung bones be stronger in Heaven and thus we go on, a rat race apart..."
Transfigured by a new body-glove, Ervin's trek to the City of Fortunes must have been a sight to hear of: a slow, wordless pursuit of a misconceived goal by one who communicated only with the dossers along the way.
"Mark ye that Ervin who passes here," said a dosser called Padgett Weggs. "He will only want to cuddle those Cityfolk who want to cuddle him, but slip a banknote between the kissing bones of his spine, he'll even cuddle you..."
Ervin told Padgett Weggs about some ambitious creatures, without legs or arms, but amply supplied with wings as big as the biggest City Park, who dove down upon Churches, in the hope of reviving soldier-spirits steeped into the very stone bones with which such Churches had been built all those centuries ago.
The mighty dome of St Paul's Cathedral was beyond the next but one horizon on his journey. The Cat's Meat Man, who thought himself nought but a patch of Holy Urine on God's pants if he thought at all, spoke of tags and pieces on damp walls in far Northern Cities where they, whoever they may be, tried to build other mighty domes. They tried to build them with bent coinage, the milled edges of which were engrained with coal-gum and broken toenails.
When Ervin viewed the visionary towers of the City, he stood be-dumbed and unfounded for many an hour. The tallest towers and squattest domes cuddled as lovers along the timeless river. The planetary forces pushed Venus into an impossible obtuse angle with Mercury. As Ervin's facial veil slipped off to reveal the scarred fleshy outline of Britain's map, each and every Mansion of the Zodiac snapped shut their frontiers against the coming smuts and smudges of alien solar systems, involving round-headed moons, asteroids with squealing sucking lipless mouths, shooting-stars in fearful orgasmic pain, living mountains of blind dream, and Old-timers.
Ervin entered the City, barebacked, just when Ludgate Circus was being photographed for an old black and white History Book. St Paul's Cathedral was bigger in those days—more imposing but, for all he knew, just another Church among several similar. He did not know why there were many figures clambering across its dome on clumsily fashioned scaffoldings. The Century had come to the turnstile when all tops of buildings needed to be stiffened against the dangers that many thought impended from night skies.
A buffer, not unlike his old friend Tokkmaster Clerke, befriended Ervin in a pub and told him things without remembering why or how he understood them: "When the scaffolding first went up, we all wondered, but it was more serious than that. The roofs softened, bellied in like tent-tops; the brollies scabbed over and gristled down like black beetle leeches into the heads beneath them. Skulls, like bowler hats, bounced along the City streets on Easter Parade, but hands on creeper-crawlers unwound from River Thames and made grabs for ankles such as mine..."
Ervin, for a time, played ignorant. Yet he read the sky like a mandala or mantra ... and as his new body knit firmly into the fold of the Ervinish soul, he shuffled his own bones like cards, to tell the timing of the slumps and surges in Fate.
London Bridge had long ceased to bear traffic, since many feared that its substructure was slowly submitting to the insidious slippage of the Earth. The weekly coster-market was now held upon the scaffolding that webbed St Paul's mighty dome; and those who could afford it passed pennies around, like whispers, for the wares there displayed: peeping contraptions, with cloaks; box-cameras with shutters like Hell's gates, to view the foreboding patterns in the sky; open-hearts in sausage-strings; cat-bands and elbow-tongs; door-frames and Wendy Houses for terraced streets in Northern Cities; wild bees' honeybags in succulence for the third night after Christmas Eve; imrich soup bowls for pod-lovers, for cheesemongers and for those who sorted morling from shorling wool; tosspots of blackest thickest stout to steep your dead mothers in; curdled cat's meat for canary-headed dossers...
Ervin loitered down Cannon Street, after a number of lengthless hours at the Monster Exchange on the Left Bank. He had a pocketful of loose change safe from the pycke-purses and some paper-clips. His voice was sore from screeching Commodities and Futures across the Bidding-Floor. No such things existed, but were valuable nonetheless: like make-believe.
Yet he had the energy to converse with another pubman who reminded him of someone he once knew even before Tokkmaster Clerke was born. Ervin spoke as if he were continuing something he had already said: "...to steep your dead mothers in, curdled cat's meat for canary-headed dossers and also many fine examples of sunflower oil-paintings. Get up, for tonight's the night, and all that I've told you about History, young oldster, is about to come true."
Ervin later recalled the real Tokkmaster Clerke and his eyes weltered in pools of tears. And Padgett Weggs. And Blasphemy Fitzworth the Catch Meet-Man. Tagsters all. Chasers. Old-Timers. Gossipers. Go-spellers.
The Great Old Ones not only came from up the sky and down it, they scrabbled through the under-scaffolding of the Earth itself, passing like giant leathery sperms through the cream caches of the spitting Core, having collected in geomorphic pockets of stone and nosing on like insect-scaled torpedoes, ever hungry for folk's undersides and trotters. At the lowest City pub that night, this night, the locals and strangers spoke of "nuddyn' else, over pots of blackest stout".
One Old One—with a body combining all ancient gossipers—said: "Ervyn, he pysses and he pysses, hys lyttle body vysybly shyfryng and goose-pympled o'er."
And as the night began to never end, the last thing heard and would ever be heard by Ervin was the visibly unseen snicker-snacker of giant and ancient jaws. And even make-believe melted down into memory.
The spacecraft beacons flickered like computerised water across the darksome deadfall trees of Clockhouse Mount & specked the undersky with squawking yellow-yoldrings & chitterling canary-lamps—making an aviary light-show.
Tokkmaster squinted to distinguish present from past. His box camera forgotten, the rats in the walls of his stomach forgotten too, he simply stood hunchbacked & baked with frost, watching, watching, for the aliens' eventual disembarkation.
Gradually they appeared, skew-whiff & bowsie, during tentative footings from the craft: bespattered & bescumbered by their journey. But they became right and stately, not unlike the stone-priests on their visit from the cathedrals. At last, they emerged, amid lashings of lasers, from cast caverns of camouflage, from once zany zawns of neanderthal night, & were human-seeming, legs a-spawder, with private parts (unnaturally elongated & widened & upraised) under ill-positioned plastic mackintoshes.
Tokkmaster gulped & blinked. The confluence of mushed apricot and excited belly-juices threatened upheaval &, doubtless, all his internal organs were to volcano, too. He was embarrassed, to say the least, when he realised that Earth's very first visitors from outer space had evidently, whilst engaged in the complicated process of making landfall on Clockhouse Mount, tuned in to the sex channels on satellite television.
For him, Ervin had died. Tokkmaster was about to. Slowly, but how soon. The aliens stalked to the environs of Cullesdon town, as horny as rhinoceri on heat, yet meditative. In the end, they decided the place was not for them. They plucked a few apricots from old Tokkmaster's shrivelling tree-mantle, but discarded them pointblank (together with the virgin's milk) down the toilet bowls which they deemed open sewers & not at all healthy. They left amid the clucking & cheep-cheering of a well-heeled dawn—the aliens' first and last.
We, the innocent we, each in his or her own body-glove of a bony meat-haven, we each ask: "Am I Dying &, if so, As I Die Slowly, Am I Dying Soon?" Whether it be in or of ignorance, little does it matter. Squatting & brooding, squatting & brooding—naming countless abrecock-stones, tinker, tailor, tokkmaster, thief—awaiting more dawns from A to Z—yet the dawns dimmer rise (unnaturally elongated & widened & thinned out), one after t'other, till they're zawns themselves. And in slow wind-down, an elbowy creature upended a china urn of slime into its black shiny belly, slime which transmuted itself from pure white to an even purer brown even as it slowly drank away down the tarmac-coated hose: a huge dollop of kingdom come, entropy without end, for Ervin & Ervin, Amen.
The egg's baldness sprouted the wild hair of my limbs, and I began to drown in air, as my tiny bubbly lungs slowly flexed themselves for the first intake of the new medium. I had thought the circumscribed slime in which I had been jellified was the whole unending universe. Now, I knew it was nothing but the sweat of birth. Later, I yearned for the return of its sweet over-ripe putridity, as I scuttled between the gargantuan garden flowers of unbearable wafting seeping scents and listened to elfin twinkles in the sky.
Something told me that I needed to seek out the red-tipped dugs of my mother's bristly under-flank. But she seemed dead to my world, having given everything in hatching her children. Black pus fountained from her still tweaking pincer-mouth, upon which I proceeded to sup as a replacement for the bloody milk that had dried up within her, there being next to no animal droppings in this garden which would have provided stomach cuds.
I crawled into my cottish mother's split sump to complete an incubation which, during interminable dozing dreamless days, I realised had been foreshortened by her crazy drum-beating with a cankered proboscis upon the egg I'd been in. The next thing I knew, after sleeping off my second birth, I found myself having been wafted—or fluttered by wings I did not realise I had—upon the eyelid of Toastmaster Clerke. Starting in his sleep, he swatted me with his fist and gave himself a black eye, at least a smidgin of which blackness was caused by my squashed body.
That's how I fell asleep an insect and, by waking, woke a man.
First published 'Vollmond' 1989