Sunday, October 4, 2009

Urban Thoreau (Fiction) by Richard Osgood

Urban Thoreau
by Richard Osgood

Outside my window, the edge of traffic, the pedestrian curtain, the glass towers of Capital—altars for the sacrifice of guilt—a man in a black pinstripe suit stands behind a crouched woman guarding a wire mesh walk-along, a brown paper sack lining the wheeled basket, swelling with cabbage heads and carrot tops, and I watch the man hail a yellow cab, then step around and in front of the old woman as if she is one among a regiment of steel barrels (property of City Works) emptied at the break of each new day—rain, sun, sleet—by subterranean brutes in soiled overalls and swallowed words.

I need a walk. I need Benzedrine. I need coffee. I need someone to talk (to), so I seek Benny Broussart, the French-Canadian son of an overbearing wash-woman, who wanted nothing more for her son—the fatherless child of an errant merchant marine—than to be a conformist; Benny Broussart, who recently returned from Mexico by way of Denver, where he hooked with Ike Black and Dean Karibo . . . and sank the night smoking tea and reincarnating Rimbaud.

A table of beers, Benny is at Hebe’s on the corner of 121st street and Amsterdam Avenue, with Ray "The Shadow” Litzinger, a saxophonist who breathes notes of contemplation until the cosmos weep at his feet, and Buddy "Shallow Pond" Armontrout, a plains hobo who claims he is half Blackfoot and who first introduced us to the magic button—and YACKETY-YACK YACKETY-YACK sparks of insight and noble incantation electrify the loft only to cower beneath the yellow morning strain, a feeble calliope of gibberish.

From a table in the corner rises the goddess of Flatbush—Anna Weis, our virgin—Anna Weis, our Aphrodite, in whose honor we erect phallic towers mortared with drunken enchantment of Absolute Reality. Anna Weis, whose flesh we ravage in turns, but we cannot soil her essence, her purity, which returns each new day like layers of Gesso upon tainted canvass, and where (one day) such canvass will be painted the geometry of black, red, and blue—abstract concepts of heartache, abuse, despair—but for the present she is Anna Weis, our virgin, and she tosses onto our table the day’s issue of The Times, with a photograph of a train wreck on the cover and the headline reading "On Route to Cheyenne, Forty-Seven Perish in Freak Accident."

I think of last summer in Wyoming, where two Shoshone Indians walked the depression between the iron line and the dirt road, appearing lost in the world of their ancestors, whose bones lie inches below the surface, where legacy settles in homogeneous indifference like dust upon the infinite prairie (an infinity limited by the inability to see beyond one's horizon) and the faces, the same forward-looking blur-faces in the passing silver bullet thinking only "point A. . . " and "point B . . . " and they see nothing of the plains.

Anna asks, nodding at the cover of The Times—How do you think it happened? I imagine a solitary bison standing on the iron rails, the burning anger in the eyes of the conductor as he lurches against the brake and sacrifices Well Being, Pullman cars collapsing into one another; fear, terror, twisted iron and steel, bone dust (from the first inhabitants of this land) settling upon gashed flesh and crushed limbs. I don’t know, I say. Perhaps they died of shame.

Author bio:

Richard Osgood likes to curl up the ears of beagles and rub them against his lips and nose. They are warm and soft and smell like cheese popcorn. Publication credits include Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Hobart, Write Side Up, Muscadine Lines, Shine Journal and The First Line. He continues to mourn the deaths of Steve Marriott and Syd Barrett.

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