Search View Archive

SPRAWL, an excerpt

I make a diaper out of plastic wrap and ask Haywood to wear it, but he won’t. He is one resident who supports social distinctions. He says, “What do you have to say for yourself?” We sip green cocktails and wait. Family meanings inflect these conversations. We listen to one member of the family who talks about airport safety. Then we go into hidden parts of the house or yard and cross-fertilize like birds and squirrels or like the work in any bean-field. Pesky neighbors show up on our lawn after dinner. This is evidence of the demise of my easy world, which seems like it’s easy. For dinner I serve roots, pumpkins, radishes, and kale. I garnish it all with red onions and parsley and mint. We are culpable, hateful. We sit back and pick off spiders walking the circumference of our town during the autumn months. But sometimes we share a vision, we pick out a criticism, we plunge ourselves into compassions of indistinct sensation: change, transfer, dazzling. Dear Mrs. Moor, You are marvelously entertaining. For more than thirty years you have beguiled us. Mrs. Moor, you are scandalous and a monster. You are our classiest delinquent. The way you sit, Mrs. Moor, the way you eat noodles or curry, the way you serve a large piece of meat, and the way you always look so fresh. Mrs. Moor, you remind me of a girl I knew who woke up one night with a strange tingling in her mouth. She walked down the hall to the bathroom and opened her mouth and spit out a bee. What is your secret, Mrs. Moor? What is your favorite color? Warmly, etc. I am absorbed into a place where people make themselves up out of certain images or mediated public phenomena. I lose control of my speech and am forced to disentangle myself from organized group activities. In my dreams I pervade the planet; I wake up and yell “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” With the sunlight behind them, the leaves on the trees are awkward shapes. Someone in the town thinks of me while eating boiled potatoes, and then someone thinks of me while folding paper cranes. It’s a reckoning that usually happens in warmer weather. We find affection in courtyards, under rain or trees, or with satisfaction there is an ejaculation somewhere on the street when someone yells “t-tr-tr-tro-ooo-onk!” In this way the neighborhood is as entertaining as kittens or a cultural exhibition or the derivation of the word engastration (the stuffing of one bird inside another). Dear Mr. Surgeon General, I saw a puppy stuff his nose into the green grass. Everyone loved it. I stuffed my nose in the grass, Mr. Surgeon General, and it sunk down, motionless, and lay for a second on something vaguely round right down there near the path. I wanted to tell you, my body is an inhospitable host for any living thing—even colds. When my neighbors turn spotted and yellow and loll around with thick waxen bodies, I feel great. Sincerely, etc. I’m shocked to discover I don’t even want to accomplish my goals. I associate myself with the American frontier and sort of want to enclose myself in some small nomadic unit. I migrate over sidewalks and lawns. Then I supply sexually constipated and hypocritical natives with all kinds of bonuses and obligatory rituals. For example, there’s the fact that the most important part of me will never even be seen. I can say about it: “This is my own primary interest,” or “I’d rather be a goose in Canada.” This is what it means to be a national grown up. It’s a kind of supportive and spontaneous process involving naïve, imitative, and prudish culture. Its critics and creators seem to just go on living. At night, from my position on the front porch, I see it as a vast complex of apocalyptic foreboding. I twirl my hair and chew on the tips. Even in the dark my arms and legs and teeth are present; I talk with my hands and am portrayed as communicative or right or passive or contemporary or undefended or conscious or uncritical or disturbing or disinterested or dangerous or self-respecting or old-fashioned or a mixture of things, like network programming, depending on the channel and the time of day. In its way it’s hectic. I can’t open bottles for whole days, or then I can’t get them closed. Weird smells come and go. I’m unable to distill sections of my life I’d rather leave out. But inside the bottles? I don’t know which one to choose or how to tie it down. Meanwhile, the factory on the edge of town wobbles like a balloon. It’s helpful to imagine it in the yellow light of a hail storm. Then, on my way home, I bump into the strange newcomer who says, “I admire your hunger.” We say hello and good-bye in several kitchens. We stand in front of one table on which a green glass bowl, a silver bowl, an apple core, one cranberry, a brown stain, and a brandy snifter etched with gold are clustered in a corner. Around this time I speak frankly with many gentlemen of favor. It’s an apparently simple feat. Of course, every man I know knows much less than I know, which is why they want to know me; it means they’ll have difficulty performing without feeling foolish, for hours even. One man in particular is mute before me. He rejects everything that is “frivolous” and pretends to be a pilgrim. He sits on our couch with a glass in his hand and speaks of infrastructural development and assessment, other passions, his wife crawling over him. He gets up and mentions my charms: a gold and silver sun and moon combo. Talking about road construction, he pulls at his penis through his pocket. He does not have to be so unappealing. He should think about a reason to prove himself worthy of an expression on my features, on any one of them. So I excuse myself to feed my guests at the touch of a button. I feed them bananas and walnuts, and then I feed them turkey, rice, cream, horseradish, crackers, pork, French toast, cake, mushrooms, and green-bean casserole.


Danielle Dutton

Danielle Dutton is the author of Attempts at a Life (Tarpaulin Sky Press, March 2007) and SPRAWL (forthcoming from Clear Cut Press).


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2007

All Issues