Queequeg, Cleopatra, and Xerxes Walk Into a Bar

We were poor. Number 10-sized cans of mealy, sinewy, chicken guts, peanut butter, and powdered eggs. Embarrassing standing in line to pick it all up.

We are in a battle for dominion over our body. How many viruses have occupied me? If any of them were cyanide, I would be dead in seven seconds, every cell in my body appropriated and excoriated. Bubble foam seeping from my pores, gilding of white. Melanin is a lie; all bodies are grey. We only borrow them, anyway. The cold did never bother them.

Cyanide kills by preventing every cell in the body from receiving oxygen. Death from cyanide typically happens between two and ten minutes — a game of telephone between 37 trillion cells.

My head won’t get out of the way. Is that why they called me ‘fathead’ as a child? Cruelty is learned behavior. Him banging my head against the wall wasn’t inevitable. The white sheep in a family of black ones became a monster of the machine. Joking about wetbacks. Laughing at the poor.

We were poor. Number 10-sized cans of mealy, sinewy, chicken guts, peanut butter, and powdered eggs. Embarrassing standing in line to pick it all up.

What did we know of Cleopatra and Xerxes? Where did those cat names come from? Cleopatra Click Click. Xerxes, a boy with a club foot.

A snake is swallowing a frog in slow motion. Not every child who kills a model airplane with lighter fluid will become a serial killer. Putting out the fire with a toy. Everything and anything burns. Match heads in an abandoned chicken coop become a stink bomb. Copper pipe propped up by a coat hanger is a cannon. Every day was science Friday.

Not everything I remember is true. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Cruelty is a cry for help, they say. Does everybody go home again in the end?

What do you get when you introduce a quart of semen to a bucket of shit? A quart of semen and shit.

The kids are running the asylum. The kids are in the hen house. The kids are all there is. The kids outnumber the parents and could easily overpower them if only they realized it. If only they worked together. Formed a union. Of bystanders, witnesses, and informants. Joined together in a witness protection program. The names have been changed to incriminate the neighbors.

Look, they couldn’t help themselves. Could they have? Any of them? Any of us? We did what we were told. We did what was done to us.

Who am I this time? I’m seven years old, trying to remember something that happened to me when I was sixty-two. I was trying to become my destiny before I knew who I was supposed to be. I’m a bumper sticker, “Believe the Children.” The little fuckers. Is that projection?

I was five when my mother gave me my first cyanide capsule. She didn’t tell me what it was for. This is all she said, “You’ll know what to do and when to do it.” I wanted to put it in a safe place but couldn’t find any. I couldn’t find one. I was The Marathon Boy. No, I was a dentist. Ever since that day, I have asked anyone who’ll listen, “is it safe?” Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead cat’s eye. I am the Yeggman.

When Dorothy said three times, “There’s no place like home,” I knew she was lying. She was only telling her creepy uncle what he wanted to hear. The only uncle I had who wasn’t creepy wasn’t my uncle. I had never made the connection before, but his name was Walter. But his name was Wall-e. Years later, or was it daisies?

I had a cat named Walter. It wasn’t his, but I gave it to him anyway. Walter was the essence of a cat, meaning he hated everyone and everybody, and I loved him for it. Walter was mauled by a pit bull, and it cost me two thousand dollars to put him back together again. He wasn’t Humpty Dumpty, but I did it anyway. Walter was reincarnated because of a curse, but he eventually died forever again.

I meant to say creatures because things can’t die. They can only transform.

Walter came back to me as a hundred and eighty-pound hunka-hunka burning love. Have you ever lived with a zoo animal? You do nothing but care for them, feed them, wipe their mouths, teach them how to shit in bushes, so you don’t have to pick it up, and they turn around a few times and sit on your lap.

Walter was my “god father.” Walter was my nemesis. Walter was my secret protector. Walter was my spirit animal. A god father? I thought he was the original father, so how could he have one? And was he mine, or was I borrowing him? Oh, Walter, I hardly knew ye, I hardly knee you. I kneed you. I don’t need anybody! Get off my lawn! Daddy, will you drive my friends home? Yeah, that’s right, I was telling dad jokes since before I was born. D(e)ad Father jokes.

Do you remember Queequeg? He was that guy in Moby Dick with a map to his home tattooed on his belly. Moby Dick? Ha ha, I get it. I didn’t at the time but looking back, looking now, it’s obvious, isn’t hit? He had a Moby Dick. The whale was a stand-in for Uncle Dick. Moby, the whale. Anyway. This whole thing is an any way. Anyway, I realized many years later that my tattoos are a map.

Tattoo, tattoo, the pain is short, the memory long. Tattoo, tattoo, take me home, to the place I belong, Mountain Mama, take me home.

The light of the sun embedded in the grey wood warms my skin. That picnic table was my comfort. Consecrated by the blood of a Garter snake, it wrapped me in its grain like the mother I never had. I was rail thin, mostly skin and bone, with some hollow inside. The heat passed right through me, from above, from below, from outside, from inside, nothing but the sun.

This is how it worked: thumb in the mouth, fingers caressing the soft folds of the worn sheet. Peace at last in the still and the dark of the night. When you’re dead, it’s safe to sleep. I still do it to my beard. I am still wanting waiting to sleep.

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Jamie Larson
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