Friday, November 11, 2011

Through a Glass Darkly

In class today we talked about Brian Evenson's "Contagion," about the long page detailing dozens of kinds of barbed wire. It felt, despite its tight focus, like a window onto a whole world. I thought of Bolano's 2666 and of the hundreds of pages that catalogue the deaths of women in Juarez. Again, the accumulation adds up finally, patiently, to a whole world. And then my thoughts turned, as they so often do, to the list of my brother's possessions at his death. For the second time (the repetition doubles the accumulation) I post the list:

31 July 1991, Orem   
            In the afternoon sunshine, John’s death certificate glows bright green on my desk.
            Never married.
            Sex: Male.
            Not a veteran.
            Autopsy, yes.
The sun transforms the books on the north wall into an ordered riot of colors.
The coroner told us John had never tested positive for AIDS. Otherwise his name would have been in a national database.
On the radio this afternoon there was an interview with a Utah AIDS patient. We all, he said, feel immortal for quite some time.

1 August 1991, Orem
I still have John’s things, but what sense does it make to keep them? I make a list under a rubric that feels like a pre-cut dress for a paper doll:

Personal Effects
A large black plastic clock with red hands. The face displays a stylized eagle and the words Miller Genuine Draft Light, Cold Filtered. The second hand lurches in quartz-driven, one-second segments around a brass post.
Greasy running shoes, the soles cracked through.
A pair of stiff, resoled, black-leather lace-up shoes.
One small khaki-colored can: “Emergency Drinking Water.”
A black-painted cardboard African mask.
A life-sized bas-relief plaster bust of a Roman soldier. He wears a gold-plumed helmet and a black breastplate decorated with a lion’s head.
Ash trays: 1) stamped metal, round; 2) white-and-black porcelain shaped like the collar of a formal dress shirt with black tie; 3) heavy glass square with a line drawing of a grotesquely earnest smoker and the text: Smoking is Very Glamorous, Idaho Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health.
Two unwashed pots.
A frying pan.
Two forks.
Three spoons.
Three wooden-handled cooking knives.
A stainless-steel butter knife with a red-brown substance burnt onto both sides of the blade.
A metal box stuffed with yellowed recipe cards.
Kitchen Consultations, Favorite Recipes of the University of California Doctors’ Wives Association.
One set of car keys.
A heavy ten-speed bicycle, both tires flat.
An aluminum bicycle pump.
A dirty green backpack holding several bicycle parts.
A black-and-white TV, encased in white plastic, and a separate rabbit-ears antenna.
A small GE radio, missing its battery cover.
A Dylan Thomas poem, typed out and taped to a cupboard: Do not go gentle into that good night.
A framed quotation from Ayn Rand: If I had one desire in this world, it would be to desire something.
One condom, still sealed in plastic; PRIME, Lubricated with SK-70.
Handwritten IOU’s for the Cactus Bar. $5, $10, and $20 denominations.
1990 Pocket Pal – handwritten addresses and telephone numbers.
Newspaper and magazine clippings in an imitation leather briefcase.
A manila envelope containing legal papers.
PUPPIES, a 1990 Calendar marked with several hand-written notes.
3 ballpoint pens and a blue plastic pencil sharpener.
A black nylon wallet. Inside, a photo of a woman in her sixties, a water-damaged photo of a red-faced infant, a Social Security card (585-46-4127), a Boise Public Library Card, and $203 in bills.
$7.12 in coins.
            A blue sport bag.
Masking tape. Written on the fat roll with a black marker: J. Abbott 1132 S. 4th #3.
Liquid Ivory soap.
A small bottle of Wella Balsam Conditioning Shampoo for Dry Hair.
Suave Shampoo Plus Conditioner for Normal to Dry Hair.
A small bottle of Listerine Antiseptic.
2 bars of Lux, The Pure Beauty Soap.
A large-toothed red plastic comb with handle and a matching red-handled brush with black nylon bristles.
A bottle of aspirin.
MAX FOR MEN hair drier.
A yellow toothbrush.
Curity, wet-pruf adhesive tape.
Four TELFA sterile pads and one band-aid.
Plastic sunglasses.
A one-edged razor blade.
A 100-tablet bottle of Advanced Formula Centrum, High Potency Multivitamin-Multimineral Formula. From A to Zinc. Expiration Date Oct. 93. There are 115 tablets.
26 grey, green, red, or white matchbooks advertising The Interlude Bar & Grill in Boise. A stylized young woman kneels to consider her putt. Her left hand holds her putter, her right hand a martini.
A green matchbook advertises Free Cash Grants: Call 1-900-USA-RICH. Valuable Money Making Information and the ABC’s of Receiving FREE Money from the Government. Now the one dollar per minute two dollar first minute charge is the first step to RICHES.
Nine Kent III Ultra Light Cigarettes.
A burlap-covered corkboard. Glued to the top of the burlap is a black paper cross. A hand points upward toward the cross. A pair of lightning bolts. At the bottom bold letters spell ONE WAY. Four magazine photos have been thumbtacked over the Christian display. Two of them feature similarly posed electric-haired women, one white, one black, both coyly shirtless. The other two photos show the shaved, blindfolded heads of two black women against a chain-link fence.
Two posters from the Monterey Jazz Festival, 1982 and 1983: trumpets standing on chairs.
A poster of a fantasy landscape: castle and dragon and hero and princess.
A 10” x 14” pencil drawing of a hooked trout.
A framed magazine photo of camels dark against fire-lit clouds.
A magazine photo of an eagle perched in front of a brilliant sunset.
A framed painting of a demure little girl with long red hair.
A spool of navy-blue thread.
A needle with a loop of purple thread.
An old pair of Levis; five patches sewn with meticulous stitches.
A worn satin comforter, rust-colored on one side, tan on the other.
A blue quilt tied with red yarn. Splotches of white paint, cigarette burns, and grease spots.
Three pair of black-and-white-checked restaurant uniform pants.
Two heavily starched white chef’s hats.
Two collarless chef’s jackets. Starched, with tightly woven cloth buttons.
Eleven pastel-colored knit shirts advertising the 25th Interlude Open. A young woman kneels with putter and martini.
A pair of grey sweat pants and a grey sweat shirt.
T-shirt: FALLIN’ ANGELLS SPORTING CLUB, Angell’s Bar & Grill, Boise, Idaho.
T & A CAFÉ T-shirt – Where the “ELITE” meet to “EAT.”
A wheeled brown vinyl bag with strap handles.
Three sweaters, colors faded, one unraveling at the left cuff.
A worn leather-and-canvas coat.
Two limp bed sheets.
Cassette Tapes: The Best of Judas Priest; Guns and Roses – Appetite for Destruction; Anthrax – State of Euphoria; Foghat Live.
A plastic ruler with geometric formulas and the admonition: Stay in School, Upon Graduation . . . Join the Aerospace Team, U.S. Air Force.
Twenty-six paperback novels, most of them missing the front cover. Eric v. Lustbader dominates the pile, but there are others as well:
Neon Mirage, by Max Allan Collins: Mob Justice . . . Another shotgun blast ate into the side of Ragen’s once-proud Lincoln.
Vision of the Hunter, by John Tempest: In his hands, his people’s future. In her eyes, the promise of a love stronger than time.
Burt Hirshfeld's Moment of Power: The savage new shocker. . . .
Superconscious Meditation, by Panda Arya, Ph.D.
Self Hypnosis: The Creative Use of Your Mind for Successful Living, by Charles Tebbetts.
Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man.
The Magnificent Century, by Thomas B. Costain.
Home as Found, by J. Fenimore Cooper.
Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness: Banned in the U.S. . . . Forward by Havelock Ellis.
Hoyle's Rules of Games, Second Revised Edition.
Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.
Readers Digest: Secrets of Better Cooking.
Basic Documents Supplement to International Law: Cases and Materials.
ETCETERA: The Unpublished Poems of E.E. Cummings.
The dust jacket of a Modern Library edition: The Philosophy of Kant. The book itself is missing.
            Five spiral notebooks: two of them green-and-tan; one blue-and-tan; one yellow; one blue. Notes and drawings in John’s hand throughout.


* said...

how time passes, 20 years ago... my condolences...

there is something about these lists, it reminds of the iliad's catalogue of ships and i remember baumgarten having written somewhere how those lists are a different sort of attention, but i can't remember anymore where...
i read your rilke essay about stehen und i like it very much.

Scott Abbott said...

The list is of real things, tangible things, inanimate stand-ins for the dead. They tell a story of badly paid work and sickness and a mind at work and of (distant) family. Although I chose the words and their order, the accumulation is almost untouched by my mind/language, with the exception of the statement about the Kant thing/book itself being missing.

Glad you liked the Rilke essay. If you're interested further in my work on standing, I could send the manuscript of the Kleist essay.

* said...

yes. and because the things so stronlgy show the person -- i don't want to say thing itself -- missing it's even more moving...

thank you for asking about the manuscript, i needed to think about this, because i am not sure i have enough time to do proper justice to it or let alone be able to say something smart about it, but yes, do send it please...

michael morrow said...

hello silence my old friend