We are now accepting submissions for our second issue, Summer 2012. Guidelines and submission information can be found here. The deadline for submissions is July 31.
A birth is as self-explanatory as a death; embellishment will add nothing to the fact. Therefore: the Spring 2012 issue of After the Pleasure Party.
“The Falconer,” by J. Boyer
“Heteronomy,” by Max E. Keele
“Utopian Fiction,” by Sarada Holt
“Too Much Exquisite Petrarch,” by Jack D. Harvey
“Breasts Poem,” by Paul Hostovsky
“Wincing at the Beautiful,” by Paul Hostovsky
“Headlines,” by A.E. Reiff
by Sarada Holt
As a traditional bibliophile, it was with great suspicion and distaste that I approached the idea of electronic text. Mine is a world of lovingly overcrowded bookshelves and “to-read” piles that are in constant danger of toppling from cats’ tails. I watched a couple on an episode of A&E network’s “Hoarders” who could barely move through their literary labyrinth of half a million books and I found myself thinking, “What’s the problem?”
I can name at least one positive development from the technology, though, despite my resistance to change. It’s this: Extremely rare books which have fallen into the public domain are now available in electronic form. This renders them easily accessible to the general public for their first time, and readable on devices that do not chain you to a computer desk or a microfilm reader in a library basement.
As a reader mainly of pre-1920s fiction, most of the books I want to read are not readily available unless they are literary classics. Sometimes they will go back into print briefly, or they can be ordered through various print-on-demand services, or borrowed through interlibrary loan for a week. Otherwise these rare tomes were the domain of the collector who could put down $500 for a book that might be too fragile to read. They are certainly too fragile to read in the bathtub or the woods – two of my favorite places for reading, personally.
An entire world of “off-limits” books has opened up, and hopefully their status as public domain will inspire more publishers to put them back into circulation on honest-to-goodness paper for those of us who relish the reality of a proper book. Gothic literature publishers Valancourt Books, ghost story specialists Ash-Tree Press, and crime and pulp specialists Ramble House are among the devoted publishers keeping interesting fiction in print, but there is a wealth of material still waiting to be unearthed.
One surprise has been the wealth of “utopian” genre fiction that was written before the 1920s. Many of these are hollow earth novels dealing with underground civilizations, some are “lost race” tales in remote, unexplored corners of the world, and others are early science fiction involving space or time travel.
A search of documents available through Archive.org with the keyword “utopia” will unearth a vein of forgotten literature about which almost no other information is available online, but these texts are all over the Internet, waiting to be read and written about. And hopefully republished.
Titles like “Across the Zodiac, a story of adventure” (Edwin Pallander), “A.D. 2000” (Alvarado Mortimer Fuller), or “The elixir of life: or, 2905 A.D.; a novel of the far future” (Herbert Gubbins), suggest 19th-century ideas of possible futures or civilizations on other worlds. Other books describe peaceful, idyllic societies where there is no want or conflict, right here under the surface of the earth or in unexplored regions.
“Pyrna, a Commune; or, Under the Ice” by Ellis James Davis (1847-1935) is of these novels, describing a subterranean civilization beneath a glacier. It was published anonymously in 1875 by Davis, a British barrister, according to the reference work “Science Fiction, the Early Years” by E.F. Bleiler (1990, Kent State University Press).
Bleiler’s compendium is one of very few resources where detailed descriptions of these forgotten books can be found. For the science fiction enthusiast not able to invest in this pricey volume, however, portions are visible online as a preview at Google Books.
Bleiler calls “Pyrna” a counter-document to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s “The Coming Race.” Bulwer-Lytton’s classic 1871 hollow earth novel describes a utopian society that becomes ruthlessly protective of its perfect world and powerful energy source. The human decency of this species suffers in this environment, as do culture and the arts.
Unlike the Vril-ya people in “The Coming Race,” though, the ice-people of Pyrna do value the arts. Music and architectural beauty are part of this icy world, though the spirit of these people seems as cold and unyielding as their frozen environment.
Like many utopian novels, a large portion of the narrative involves a guide recounting the social structure of the world to a visitor. And like many of these novels, the society resembles that of the communist state so feared by capitalist societies, where the government controls every aspect of life, and free will is sacrificed for universal well-being and equality. Children are taken away from their parents for the first five years of life and loveless marriage is the rule, for the good of all.
The two biggest novelty factors for this book might be its frozen setting and the fact that the inhabitants move around on roller skates. The narrator does not seem to be in peril, and at the end of the book we are given to understand that it might have all been the product of delirium from getting knocked on the head while mountain climbing.
A different kind of utopia emerges in “Thoth, a Romance,” by Joseph Shield Nicholson (1850-1927), published anonymously in 1888 – the same year Edward Bellamy’s well-known utopian novel “Looking Backward” was published.
Bleiler also described Nicholson’s work as descended from Bulwer-Lytton’s “Coming Race.” Nicholson was mainly known as an economist but he wrote three fantasies alongside works like “Principles of Political Economy.”
Information on these novels is scarce outside of the Bleiler book, though each receives a blurb on the indispensible Lost Race Checklist at violetbooks.com, the website of author and book collector Jessica Amanda Salmonson. The checklist describes Thoth as dealing with “scientifically advanced, culturally stunted physical giants,” while another of his novels, “Toxar” concerns “a remnant of a far more ancient race with supernatural abilities and a third-eye organ in their foreheads.”
“Thoth” is set in an ancient world where a small group of Greeks developed an advanced society inEgyptbased on science and, horrifyingly, misogyny and eugenics. The population is made up of pygmies and giants, and communication with distant ancestors is effected through their preservation in a state of suspended animation.
This world is described to us by a descendant of that ancient race named Thoth, who traveled toGreecelooking for a mate to improve his degenerating bloodline. Amidst a plague inAthens, Thoth and his countrymen remove strong-willed Daphne and a group of other maidens, but only Thoth and Daphne arrive alive inEgypt, by means of a flying machine.
The society he reveals to her is one of scientific advance steeped in a cultural, ritualized abuse of women, and his own goals appear to be nothing short of world conquest with Daphne at his side. Thoth’s transformation into a compassionate being is too late for Daphne, who despises his world and demands an end to its practices and her own return toGreece.
The world of Thoth’s people will be distasteful to modern readers (and hopefully to the book’s original readers as well) but the heroine of the story shares our distaste, and the story shows no mercy to Thoth and his bloodline.
Another short novel I discovered in my utopian search is “The Land of the Changing Sun” by William Harben (1858-1919). Published in 1894, it combines some of the most enjoyable clichés of Victorian balloon adventure and the lost race novel, but the “changing sun” at the center of this book is fairly unique in my reading.
When a pair of balloonists find themselves transported to thelandofAlpha, they are perplexed by the fact that the sun changes color throughout the course of the day. As the reader discovers the reason for this change, which is mechanical in nature, it becomes even more marvelously unlikely.
Although not the best written piece of adventure fiction of its day, I admire the writer’s fanciful idea and dedication to the idea of a rainbow-hued sun. I imagine him struggling to justify its inclusion and invent the mechanisms by which it would be wheeled across an underworld sky. As a lover of colorful writing, I enjoy the writer’s attempt to find excuses to write about the changing sun and all of its hues.
This book was more of an adventure novel than a piece of social criticism or an attempt to describe a utopia. It’s just a jolly good romp, but after reading a few books that basically catalogue the characteristics of utopian civilizations, a good adventure story is sometimes in order.
In exploring what public domain websites have to offer, I used several guides. At manybooks.net, works are divided into genres, including science fiction, ghost stories, gothic and adventure, making it easy to just click through and grab everything, then sort it out later. Archive.org and Gutenberg.org require a little more advance preparation for the literary explorer armed with a wish list of authors or titles. I have not been able to find many keywords that yield up as many results as “utopia,” though “ghost stories” sometimes works as well.
One strategy I’ve used is to study literary websites’ lists of genre fiction for my reading lists. For my utopian/dystopian and hollow earth searches, I have long valued the “Lost Race Checklist” at violetbooks.com. I have been searching for these books in print for over a decade, but just being able to read them at all while I wait to hold a printed copy in my hands, has been an enjoyable pursuit. The Literary Gothic is another great resource for fantastic literature, at litgothic.com.
When I was fortunate enough to work in an interlibrary loan department in a library, I would find out-of-print books of literary criticism full of descriptions of books that I could then take out from libraries around the country. “Tales of Terror” by Edith Birkhead is one such work, and since it is in the public domain, I was able to read that as an etext and take notes along the way on the development of gothic, horror and fantastic literature over the centuries.
Whatever damage our technological advances might be causing to the spirit of mankind, to our attention spans, intelligence and empathy, I hold out some hope that it can do good as well. By making lost books available to the general public, hopefully they will disperse well enough through the world that they won’t become lost again. More literature is never a bad thing.
Gustaf Hildebrand has been dabbling in digital art and photo
manipulation for almost as long as Photoshop has been around,
preferring to take existing photographs and transforming them into
dreamlike, surreal and celestial vistas. While inspiration doesn’t
strike nearly as often as he’d like, his work has been used on several
album covers of his own design. He lives in Sweden where he is
currently studying Information Design.
by J. Boyer
I. At the age of twenty-seven, Morris came to work for Lord and Lady Adderley as a falconer and when the lord of the manor died and his wife closed the rookery, she provided for Morris by allowing him to stay on in the small but comfortable quarters above the multiple car garages, this in return for becoming her chauffeur, believing as she did that a display of charitable conduct to the lowborn was required of their betters once there’d been a suitable display over time of their loyalty. Morris mastered early-on how to make himself a fixture in her particular station of life. Lady Adderley would have thought nothing of undressing before him or disclosing her dearest secrets to a lover while Morris stood at her shoulder, for, on duty, he had no more human presence than does an expensive potted fern beneath an elaborate porte-cochere. Morris, in other words, had mastered the art of servitude and become during twenty years as her chauffeur what might appear to outsiders to be a nondescript, middle aged man, but to those who appreciate the intricacies of what remains of British manor life, he had become, instead, one of the staff.
The ready-furnished quarters in which Morris lived were part of a highly prized mews on the Adderley estate, that is, an area that included stables and carriage houses as well as conversions done in the 1920s for garages and autos, all built around a cobblestone courtyard. She was housebound by this point–Lady Adderley, that is–an invalid, and with no one to motor about any longer and all but one of her cars sold off, this a four-door Buick Regal, Morris had learned to fill his days with a list of small and still smaller domestic tasks, such as scrubbing the floors or repapering a guest room. Round the clock nurses had become impossible to keep and he was counting out her dosages of medicine for the week ahead, organizing a myriad of pills and capsules into intersecting lines so that they mirrored the pattern of the cobblestone below, when he learned that he was to take the car to London and fetch a new girl from Marylebone Station who had, for whatever reason, agreed to make her home here.
When he opened the passenger door she went around to the other side and sat in the back, and after that they exchanged but a very few words until an accident between a lorry and an ancient Triumph Spitfire forced them off the M at Leamington Spa. Morris was negotiating the narrow lanes ofWarwickandCoventrywhich, through some inexplicable phenomenon of mass self-deception, are locally regarded as thoroughfares.
“How do you come to be doing the meds, Morris?” the girl asked.
He explained. With an unaccustomed candor, he discussed how he’d come to the Adderley estate to begin with, describing the lord as a high old bird of colorful plumage and his wife as a decent sort who rewarded her most trusted and trustworthy staff less in her time on earth than later, believing they should go to a better reward at the same time she did hers, albeit hers of a different sort.
“So she has you in her will, does she.”
He answered, “You’re new then? FromLondon? Did you nurse as well inLondon?”
“I couldn’t find work. I worked in a scent shop. What’s out there in those fields?”
“You know. Out there.”
“Rabbits. Sometimes there’s rabbits. Why?”
“I’ve never seen a rabbit in a field, that’s all.”
“You will, now that you live in the country. You’ll see them all the time.”
“Will I? White whiskered rabbits, like in nursery rhyme books? Mostly what I’ve found in fields in the country so far is rubbish, not rabbits.”
“It’s because of the tourists. They leave it behind. They’re a piggy bunch, tourists. The Germans are worst.”
“Are you married, Morris?”
“No. Never been.”
“But you have your own place.”
“Yes, I have my own quarters, you will as well.”
“So you have your peace and quiet. All by yourself. Out here in the sticks. What’s she like, the old girl, tell me some more, rich as all sin?”
“We could kill her, you and me, and divide all the money.”
Morris’s eyes caught her own in the mirror. He was shocked to discover that he felt a pleasurable flutter of excitement at such a ridiculously inappropriate remark.
“Relax. It was just a joke. You look like a rabbit that’s been caught in two headlamps. You should see your face, imagine!”
He said, “You’re not the sort I’d picture working as a live-in. What brings you out to us?”
“I’m no angel and it seems a cozy place to work. Besides, it isn’t forever.”
Morris said, “It’s not always easy to find another situation. A job’s a job, right. Clientele mostly women, where you worked in your scent shop?”
“Mostly men, actually, buying presents for their wives. Confidentially, there was lechers right and left. Most of them hovered over you, trying to see what they could get, you know.”
“Well you won’t have that with us.”
“I could do with a few more girls my own age, I suppose. Leaves me no one to talk to.”
“You could always talk to me. What was it like, selling scent?”
“I mean, just give it a thought. A snotty scent shop, right? It’s so not me.” She leaned forward in the backseat so that her arms and head were up in front with Morris. “Say, who are you, anyway? What’s any of this to you, huh?”
“I’m the police.”
This seemed to amuse her. She said, “I thought you were somebody else.”
Nora, her name was Nora, wasn’t pretty exactly. She had large brown eyes beneath a pale broad forehead that seemed out of proportion to such a thin anemic face. But she possessed that shining vitality of the young and unfettered, and he felt sufficiently starved for vitality to begin observing the girl from afar as she struck up flirty little relationships with two of the gardeners and several of the delivery men.
Since he’d never really entered into commerce with women when he himself had been young, Morris did not understand the shrewd intelligence with which someone Nora’s age can be on a guard against a man to whom she thinks she’s revealed more than she meant to. Nora spent her days waiting on Lady Adderley hand, finger, and foot, not oblivious to Morris at all. She knew his every step. They negotiated the estate at a safe but wary distance from one another, much as the two proverbial ships are said to pass in the night, and the whole business might have been plain sailing had things been otherwise than they obviously were.
Weeks could go by during which they would not exchange more than two or three words in the course of a day and then at some unexpected and often inopportune moment she might confide to him with an air of unbridled intimacy a hairline fracture in her quite obviously broken heart. Shamelessly, he was a comfort. He was fascinated.
In Morris’s world there was a place for everyone and everything, hence everyone to their place, while in hers, well, Nora was her world. So fully did she occupy each inch of its earth and take its air into her lungs! So near as he could tell, she was incapable of pity of others, indifferent to any suffering but her own, contemptuous of all good intentions that did not in some way bring about immediate personal benefit to her and her alone. While the rest of us toast ourselves over the fires of human companionship, she was cold to the bone. She was petty, ruthless, and scheming. She was predatory. At the thought of any injustice real or perceived, her pupils opened and hardened, and while this was no doubt impossible, he had the impression that her neck stiffened as well so that, like that of a fowl of prey, her head seemed to turn on its stem as if held in place by a bolt and a screw.
To have her in his presence was to be no less alone than when he was completely without her; she lived apart from him or anyone else, untouched. She said ridiculous things, in ridiculous ways, “Get your butt out of tinsel town” or “Totally have to;” yet he looked forward to having her with him with a growing and sometimes insatiable hunger. Never before had Morris encountered any human being of her like. In a world of the inchoate, he was partial, Nora was whole.
She was also felonious. She concocted farfetched schemes to get the better of Lady Adderley, all with Morris as her accomplice, some of them frivolous and comic, but others so thoroughly thought she had them down to the detail. None of these he embraced, of course, but once Nora was out of his sight he found himself troubled and moved. It was as if Nora had meant to turn his attention to erosions in the mortar of a wall, when all Morris had been able to perceive was the pattern of the brick. Working for the rich and the very rich particularly is to be daily reminded of how unevenly the pleasures of life are distributed and how much is an accident of birth. Grooming a falcon does not teach one to fly, after all; rather it reminds us we are bipeds. And something similar might be said about observing the young and the casually in love when one is middle-aged, living by one’s self, a chauffeur driving an American Buick.
For the first time in his life, Morris swaddled the suspicion that he’d been brought this close to great sums of money through an intricate and well-wrought design. He knew there were cheques about the house that arrived each week in the post. A cheque could be washed–or so he understood–so that a draft made out in one name could be made to appear to be meant for someone else. He fantasized an intricate scheme whereby he established a new identity altogether, several identities, actually, respectable identities, a businessman, an architect, moving from village to village, from bank to bank, but the scheme was always more clear in his mind than the intricacies themselves. Morris had a forger’s desires–not one’s polish. He simply was who he was. He could not quite shake the newly found feeling that he’d been meant to be a rich man, one of those men whose ship has come in, yet he could get no closer to his than this scheme, for every time he tried to imagine himself appearing before the cage of a teller dressed to the nines, his hands and wrists seemed to dangle out of the jacket he was wearing. He wasn’t cut out for thieving. No matter how long he tried to make his trousers, they were never quite long enough.
“Nora,” said Morris, “enough now, this is madness you realize. It’s completely, totally mad. I don’t want any part of it. Any of it.”
“It’s wrong, all of these schemes of yours, they’re wrong simply wrong. I don’t know what could have been going through my mind. Or yours.”
Morris, it seems, had that peculiarly English belief that generally passes for honesty or a respect for the law, namely, that while it is humiliating to beg on the street, it is more humiliating still to steal. He was casually fascinated–aren’t we all?– by people of doubtful occupations and shifty purposes, but crimes of this magnitude were to him what a naughty snapshot might be to a boy who abuses himself in bed each night in private beneath a tent he makes of knees and sheets, strange, exciting. Good enough for a toss-off.
“I know,” said Nora. “I know.”
“I can’t go through with any of this. I hope you see that.”
“Oh Morris, it was only a game—I thought you knew that.”
“Well game or not I’m finished with it.”
“That’s it then Morris? That’s that?”
“That–my girl–is definitely that. I’ll hear not another word. Now Lady Adderley is calling you and she’ll expect you straight away.””
II. Yes, the whole business might have been plain sailing had Nora not appeared at his door that night unexpectedly with tears in her eyes.
“Can I come in?”
He’d put himself to bed at a reasonable hour and, awakened from his sleep as he was, Morris’s hair shot up from the middle of his head like a geyser. After cinching his robe and plastering this ridiculous spout of hair to his skull with the flat of his hand, he answered, “What is it, Nora? Of course. Yes of course you may. Here. Come in.”
“I’ve done an awful thing.” She said this as she passed him, then collapsed in a chair and buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders quivered. He offered her a handkerchief.
She blew her nose with a honk. “Oh Morris,” she sighed, “it’s clear I haven’t had one drop of common sense until now, have I. We were almost caught. Don’t you see?!” For a moment Morris assumed she meant these schemes of hers had somehow been exposed to Lady Adderley, or at least to some of her staff, but Nora told another tale instead.
She told a confused tale of meeting one of the gardeners in the tool shed. The point of this tale was that she’d been badly used in some way or other, of being two-timed or jilted or simply seduced then abandoned, but it was impossible to say for sure, just as it was impossible to say which of the two gardeners she’d met, and, having nothing of use to say in return, he cooed at her as long ago he’d cooed at his peregrine falcons. Surprisingly, it worked. He began to put a kettle on for tea as though they might be speaking for the rest of the night, but she curled into his arm like a child and they fell asleep instead.
“I think I may have lost my house key, on top of everything else. I must have dropped it in the tool shed.”
“Where’s this tool shed, Nora?” asked Morris.
She described it. “Oh that,” said Morris. “That’s the old rookery.”
Thus began the next phase of their relationship. Nora would appear unexpectedly at his door in the middle of the night and ask Morris if he might let her in. She was too frightened now she explained to spend the night by herself.
He would awake next morning before dawn in his pitch-black room to find that Nora was gone. Apparently she’d let herself out at some point in the night, and while he came to expect this, there were moments when, just an instant, just when he was opening his eyes for the first time of the day, he thought he saw her there perched on the arm of his easy chair, perfectly balanced and completely at-one with the moment, but hungry most of all, ravenously, insatiably hungry.
At what point he began feeding her with his fingers is very hard to say. They began slipping away in the afternoons to take walks in the nearby fields and it was no doubt during one of these leisurely outings that he tucked a bit of lean beefsteak he’d nicked from the kitchen into her mouth, then—as if this were the most natural of things to do–covered her eyes with his hand while she swallowed. In any case it was during one of these walks that she first took flight. They had reached the point where Nora starved herself, refused to take meals, refused anything and all, and if for some reason he had not remembered to secure meat from the cook, she would fly a few feet ahead of him, often in dangerous, arching patterns. He would let her pass by him upon her return, perhaps producing a bit of beefsteak after all, or mutton or hare or fowl, it didn’t really matter so long as it came from his fingers, this time on a lure, always careful to put it out so that she might readily seize it and feed.
It was while he was snatching the lure away one day that her talons broke his skin and that night Morris dug to the bottom of his closet and found in a long forgotten trunk the thick leather gauntlet for his left hand. Within the month he’d found a farrier nearby who cut from a set of old bridles the leather for the jesses and rufter hood, braided the leash, cannibalized from an old farm implement a very usable swivel, even found a bell. Perhaps no man has ever known a sweeter or more romantic moment with another person as Morris experienced fitting the first of the jesses they’d made to her ankle, or slipping the hood over her head while her eyes remained open; he closed them, making this sweeter still. There is a point, you see, where Heaven and Hell touch the soles of their shoes, where the darkness is light, where unbridled appetite seems demanding of all human rein, and this, for Morris, was very much that point. It was the cruelty of it, the fitting of that hood, how the braces could be drawn to keep her head from jerking. He found himself listening to a sound of his own making, a peculiar mix of click and whistle that he was making with his lips and his tongue, a sound he’d learned to make long ago
III. It was Nora, not Morris, who brought up the rookery first. She was becoming restless with her normal duties in the house, restless in the house itself, and frustrated with the padded pole he’d had built for his room where she slept now each night, fully hooded, fully fettered. When he least expected her to she might perch herself on the roof of a shed or take to the branches of a nearby tree when he snatched away a bit of meat by jerking on his lure. It was Nora who wanted to sever their ties with the everyday world and their everyday lives, it was Nora who demanded he train her. She preferred the leash to being left at hack. She longed for the hood; the crueler the fit, the better, Morris thought. It was as if she wanted to be tamed and broken the more blood-thirsty she became, the quicker he moved her along to larger and wilder game in the open. First he would hood her. Next he would remove the hood and rub the prey across her feet, inducing her to feed, brushing it across her legs, teasing her mouth. Then, as she picked at the flesh, Morris removed the hood, replaced it as she fed, removed it again.
Dorothy Parker once remarked that the difference between a pervert and the rest of us is that a pervert does the one thing in bed we won’t—such are the games lovers play. This might have remained such a harmless lover’s game had it not come to a head one drizzly, dank afternoon. As Nora was counting out the medicines she overheard two of Lady Adderley’s solicitors discussing the old lady’s will. For the past six months, since her latest stroke, solicitors fromLondonhad been arriving then leaving on a regular basis, but these two were new. They spoke about Lady Adderley as if they knew her only by description, yet they seemed perfectly decided in their opinion of who they would find, a difficult, demanding, and generally insufferable creature, who, as near as Nora could surmise, had gotten it into her head to leave everything to a charity, right down to her buttons. Nora took this directly to Morris.
Morris was pissed. Understandably. Nevertheless, it
was at Nora’s suggestion—not his–that they went into Londonon their first day free in common to see a solicitor of her acquaintance, someone named Dymer. Dymer, this white whiskered rabbit of a human being from the shadows of her past, told them Morris hardly dared hope to get so much as a penny, what a pity, the devil was always in the details, wasn’t it; pity the honest man. It was all the old business from this chauffeur’s point of view unless they seized the very moment and did all that they could to make ample amends that put him in line for what was hers, in whole or in part–which was to say, and in this sense, potentially, his in addition.
“What sort of ample amends?” asked Nora.
He told the couple about a little used provision of the law meant for those who realize they are losing their marbles, a Prohibitum of Perepeteia, that is, Prohibition against Reversal, which, Dymer explained, came first into being with mad King George. Superceding any will and testament drawn before it, it superceded as well all that might come after.
“All we need is her signature?”
“All you need is her signature.”
“How are we suppose to get it?”
“That’s your affair, not mine.”
“She’s not herself since she’s had her last stroke.”
“I’ll leave it undated. An oversight.”
“Who’d be fool enough to grant it, without having her present?
“I’ll take care of that.”
“Who’d be fool enough to believe it?” asked Morris.
“You’ve been with her twenty years, you say? It’s not out of the question.”
“Her children won’t sit still for this.”
“Let them,” said Dymer. “They’ll make their case, we’ll make ours.”
“How long would this take?” asked Nora.
“Not more than a fortnight.”
Said Nora, “We’ll come back in a fortnight.”
They caught a bus at the train station upon their return. The bus let him off at a crossroads and the pair returned to Lady Adderley’s estate following the sandy footpath along the ever-familiar roadside, facing south toward the horizon where mowers were at work in a field on the edge of the estate. On a hill in the distance, two women in skirts who were more concerned with cruelty to animals than they were with how human beings could be cruel to one another were watching the workers through field glasses. The grass was high nearest the roadside, and alive with hundreds of newborn rabbits, some trusting enough to get near them. Settling into committing a crime you never thought yourself capable of is one of the few truly freeing moments in a person’s life; Morris returned to the estate as fresh as if he’d slept, enjoying the beautiful day with its thick clouds and a grayish sky with the sun breaking through.
“It’s time we re-opened the rookery,” said Nora.
“Yes, Morris. Now.” She explained what she wanted. A basket—perhaps a hamper—filled with straw. “Let’s go there. It’s time we went to the down.”
Over the past few months he had been training her with herons and rooks at the down, the darkest and remotest area of Lady Adderley’s estate. The first she’d take from his hand, the second he would kill by wringing its neck then toss into the distance, and the third he’d release on its own, letting her have it as her prey as he spun out her leash on its spool. Never had he dared to release her on her own. He knew there’d be no going back after that.
For the first time since the training began, he removed the leash and she soared, a flight of beauty, with all its predatory grace, their fates how tethered as one. All that was left was the rookery.
It is said, you’ll recall, that no falconer can stare into the eyes of his bird since all the desires of a falcon are the color of flesh? One recoils or goes mad? Perhaps there is something to this, for as Morris awaited Nora’s return, he opened the rookery for the first time in twenty years. Spider web hung from the roof not in cylindrical designs but rather in sagging sheets, like ragged, yellowish linen. He found himself wiping it free from his face, disgusted by the touch. After this he began on the clutter. The rookery had become a center of gravity for anything on the estate no longer in use but too good to throw away, and it was only after he had found a new home for the likes of broken milking stools and tilling implements that he learned its timber had been sorely used by dry rot. Virtually empty now, much about the rookery was so loose it looked as if it would come apart when given a tug, and the wiring had been so ill effected by the foul damp that each lamp would have to be done anew. After hammering nails until his hands rung, he set about mending the wire. He stuffed the cracks between the boards with newspaper and cleaned the floor as best he could, reminding himself of a pattern on his mattress that he used to be aware of while counting out meds. It was primrose he thought.
J. Boyer teaches in the creative writing program ofArizonaStateUniversity. “The Falconer” has previously appeared in Gulper Eel, and in The Seventh Deadly Sin.
They Were All in Love With Dying, They Were Doing it in Texas:
Riding a Wave With the Butthole Surfers
by Roy K Felps
The best album the Butthole Surfers ever did, LOCUST ABORTION TECHNICIAN, was released 25 years ago this March. This startling anniversary has reminded me that not only were they once one of my favorite bands, but that for a period of about three years — from 1984 to 1987 — they were possibly one of the best and most unique bands to emerge from the U.S. punk scene. Those whose knowledge of Los Buttholes extends mainly to their 1996 hit “Pepper” and the albums of their major label period might be surprised to learn that they were once considered a punk band (albeit the weirdest of all punk bands), but their punk and hardcore roots are stamped all over their early albums. Today they are primarily a nostalgia act (something I would have never imagined possible in their heyday, although I was prescient enough to predict as far back as 1987 that they would someday have a hit record, a suggestion that was generally met at the time with incredulous stares and outright derision), appearing in public once in a blue moon to trot out a well-rehearsed set of fan favorites. They now command a considerable fee (in the neighborhood of $25,000 a show) for their live performances, and while their live set is still legendary and spectacular, it has nevertheless ossified into a predictable ritual with none of the real, genuine danger that used to accompany their early shows. They haven’t bothered to release an album of new material in over a decade — almost certainly a reaction to the sordid spectacle of their ugly lawsuit with Touch ‘n Go, the label that released all of their best work, as well as equally sordid debacles while toiling away in the major label vineyard — and show no inclination to do so ever again. Nevertheless, the three albums they released in the mid-eighties (and their first album, plus 1988’s HAIRWAY TO STEVEN, if you’re feeling generous) remain some of the greatest and most twisted music ever to be foisted on a dazed and unsuspecting public.
The band with the name most newspapers wouldn’t print in its entirety until the mid-90s got its start inSan Antonioin the late 70s, whenTrinityUniversityaccounting students Paul Leary Walthall and Gibson Haynes discovered a shared enthusiasm for weird music, bohemian tastes, and mind-altering substances. This led to a variety of peculiar diversions — a perverse zine, STRANGE V.D., dedicated to gruesome medical photographs accompanied by fictitious diseases, and a temporary spell selling homemade clothes featuring the likeness of Lee Harvey Oswald — before they settled on music as a way to avoid the tedious drag of actually working for a living. Their earliest shows, featuring Gibby Haynes acting like a lunatic while Paul Leary played ugly, atonal guitar noise while backed by the Quinn brothers on bass and drums, were closer to performance art than actual music, and the band played each show under a different name (some of the more colorful ones include Ed Asner’s Gay, Ashtray Babyheads, and The Inalienable Right To Eat Fred Astaire’s Asshole) until they settled on their now notorious sobriquet. A brief show at the Tool and Die Club in San Francisco in 1982 led to a record deal with Alternative Tentacles, and after running through several drummers and bassists, including drummer Jeffrey “King” Coffey (who arrived late in the recording sessions and has remained in charge of the drum throne since), the band’s first, self-titled LP arrived to addle the public consciousness in July 1983. Comprised of seven bizarre songs ranging from absurdist punk (“The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave,” “Suicide,” “The Revenge of Anus Presley”) to bizarre experiments in otherness (“Bar-B-Q Pope,” “Wichita Cathedral”) and catchy psychedelia (“Hey,” “Something”), the album was a respectable (if deranged) announcement of their perverse intentions, but still only a hint of the majestic weirdness yet to come.
The album turned a few heads, but made the starving band hardly any money, and as sessions for their first full-length album dragged on (delayed by hassles over paying for the recordings), they resorted to desperate measures by releasing a live album, LIVE PCPPEP, in March of 1984. By this time they had expanded to a five-piece band with the addition of second drummer Teresa Taylor (aka Teresa Nervosa), so with too many mouths to feed and not enough money to buy food, they released an album that was essentially a live version of their first album. (They replaced “The Revenge of Anus Presley” and “Suicide”with “Dance of the Cobras” and “Cowboy Bob,” but otherwise the track listing for both albums is the same.) Outside of its status as a stopgap measure, the album’s real significance is in establishing a core lineup that, aside from changes in the bass player slot, would remain intact until Teresa’s departure from the band in 1989. The album’s meager sales (and the touring that accompanied its release) did manage to keep them afloat long enough to sort out the issues with their first full-length release, and that album’s appearance at the end of 1984 marked the beginning of the band’s most fertile (and, at least on stage, notorious) period.
I first came face to face with the sonic puzzlement that is PSYCHIC… POWERLESS… ANOTHER MAN’S SAC while thumbing through the LP racks in anArlington,Texasstore called Fantasia Records. It certainly had a strange and eye-catching cover — an anonymous portrait on the front vandalized by crude marker inscriptions, an enigmatic angel on the back — and between the band’s pungent name and the mysterious title, I was compelled to buy it and take it home. I didn’t know what to make of it at first; some of the songs, like the surprisingly catchy “Negro Observer” and the hypnotic “Cherub,” were immediately accessible, while tracks like “Mexican Caravan” and “Butthole Surfers” were bursting with hardcore energy. Other tracks were considerably more inexplicable; “Concubine” was nothing more than a lurching rhythm accompanied by noise guitar and Gibby screeching like a goat being castrated, and “Lady Sniff” at first glance appeared to be nothing more than a series of farts, grunts, and other peculiar sonic effluvia accompanied by equally bizarre lyrics. I spun the record a few times, scratched my head a lot, then put it away, as yet unconvinced of the band’s greatness. Something must have seeped into my consciousness from the very beginning, however, because six months later I pulled it out again and all of a sudden it made perfect sense. A hideous sort of sense, true, like staring at a pattern of blurry dots that suddenly coalesces into the picture of a bloated corpse, but… sense.
It wasn’t until their second album, though, that their twisted genius hit me with full and complete force. Released in April, 1986, REMBRANDT PUSSYHORSE was a masterpiece of amazing playing, psychotic sensibilities, and highly memorable songs. As it happens, I bought the cassette version, which tacked on the four tracks from the CREAM CORN FROM THE SOCKET OF DAVIS ep. Opening with the bizarre piano-driven sing-along “Creep in the Cellar” and ending with the whirling drive of the aptly-named “Tornadoes,” every song was a masterpiece of eccentric genius. Songs about selling sailors selling Quualudes to monkeys, holding time hostage in Florida, twisted deconstructions of The Guess Who’s “American Woman” (complete with lyrics shouted through a bullhorn) and the “Perry Mason” theme… every new track peeled away another layer of the band’s baroque psychedelic madness. (Copious amounts of drugs certainly didn’t hurt.) To this day, the album remains one of the strangest and most surreal musical artifacts ever recorded, second only to Captain Beefheart’s TROUT MASK REPLICA (surely a major influence on the band’s sound) for its sheer inscrutability. You either get it completely or not at all. Most didn’t, but those who did, like myself, became diehard fans of the band. The growing spectacle of their increasingly brain-damaging live show — by now including disturbing films broadcast over the band and the stage, the sheer spectacle of the double drummers flailing away at their kits like monkeys on a stick, the liberal use of fire for entertainment, strobe lights designed to make neurons misfire, a naked dancer, and the wildly unpredictable (and sometimes genuinely dangerous) antics of their increasingly frenzied singer — only sealed their growing reputation as the wildest act in rock music.
As their technical talent grew thanks to endless gigging (by the band’s own estimation, they spent the first three years of the band’s existence perpetually on tour, living in a van and frequently eating stolen food), their steadily increasing consumption of drugs and alcohol in absolutely stupefying quantities resulted in the album that most fans claim to be their pinnacle. Released in March of 1987, LOCUST ABORTION TECHNICIAN opened with a lilting synth drone and a man answering his son’s question, “Daddy, what does regret mean?” — a monologue with an ending so famous that even those unfamiliar with the rest of the band’s oeuvre can quote it: “… and by the way, son, if you see your mother… tell her… SATAN! SATAN! SATAN!” While you’re still reeling from that abrupt command, the band launches into “Sweat Loaf,” a gruesome deconstruction of Black Sabbath’s ode to their favorite drug (as well as that of the Butthole Surfers). The tracks that follow include two versions of the eerie “Graveyard,” the manic sonic combustion engine that is “Human Cannonball,” the deliberately hideous “U.S.S.A.” and its spiritual cousin “Kuntz” (essentially Gibby chanting a certain rude word over a “borrowed” Thai record), and the raging speed-metal of “The O-Men.” The album closes with what may be the band’s most disturbing song, “22 Going On 23,” in which they plaster the walls with grinding walls of demonic sludge over a sampled radio show featuring a woman talking about being sexually assaulted. Unquestionably the band’s heaviest album, it’s a highly unnerving work of art that defies easy encapsulation. (It’s also the album that marked the debut of bassist Jeff Pinkus, who remained with the band for the next decade or so, and is currently participating in the band’s current off / on touring cycle.)
Fast-forward a decade and the the band with the name that separates the rude from the shy found themselves in an interesting paradox: on one hand, they were riding the wave of their huge hit “Pepper” and suddenly famous; on the other hand, they didn’t appear to be having much fun. Bands and labels outraged over the fallout of their lawsuit with Touch and Go (which eventually led to their control of the back catalog, not to mention their departure from the label) were hating on them in the press, which in turn was gleefully airing the band’s dirty laundry in public. Writers in the music were painting a picture of them as money-grubbing assholes. They were mired in hassles with Capitol Records over their forthcoming album AFTER THE ASTRONAUT, which finally saw daylight as an album that was finished then withdrawn from release (but not before some promotional discs ended up in the hands of a few lucky music reviewers). The band’s dog died. So did Paul Leary’s mother. For about two years in the late nineties, the Butthole Surfers were not only one of the biggest bands in America, they were also a prime example of just much sudden money and fame can really fuck up your life.
The band eventually emerged from the long, draining horrorshow with a new label (Hollywood Records), a new album (WEIRD REVOLUTION), and a rejuvenated (and re-jiggered) band. And then, like a room slowly filling with smoke, the Butthole Surfers disappeared. They largely gave up on making new albums, offering up two compilations (THE HOLE TRUTH… AND NOTHING BUTT, itself a bootleg of a bootleg, and HUMPTY DUMPTY LSD, which collected up nineteen rare and unreleased recordings, including outtakes from the REMBRANSDT PUSSYHORSE sessions and various other studio oddities) and a remastered combo version of the first two eps plus a few other rare goodies. They went their separate ways as a band, focusing for a while on solo bands (including Gibby Haynes and His Problem, Honky, and Drain), convening infrequently, and for a while in Austin, whether or not the band was still a functioning band depended on who you talked to and how much they really knew what they were talking about (which, as it happened, was not often). In 2008, the began to take shape again, but only as a live band, touring when the mood struck them, playing where they wanted to play, and playing what essentially amounted to a greatest-hits set designed as much to promote their back catalog as to entertain crowds. Their fortunes began to improve; they released their back catalog on their on their own label, Latino Bugger Veil, continued to intermittently tour, and settled into their unorthodox niche in the rock cosmos.
Of course, the catalog on Latino Bugger Veil ends at PIOUHGD — their last album before moving to Capitol, originally released by Rough Trade and considered by many (including moi) to the be the weakest of the band’s full-length albums. It’s a problematic collection of albums and eps, but one worth considering for a moment, as that quixotic jumble of recordings documents how the same band responsible for something as legitimately unhinged (and, one would think, uncommercial) as LOCUST ABORTION TECHNICIAN ended up making an album with a bona-fide number-one hit. Setting aside the two eps from this period — WIDOWERMAKER, THE HURDY GURDY MAN — the two full-length albums, HAIRWAY TO STEVEN and PIOHGHD, found the band sounding better, thanks to improved recording conditions, but moving in retrograde where the creativity was concerned. The largely pastoral HAIRWAY TO STEVEN was a startling change of pace after the previous album’s disturbed, diseased-sounding songs, but it was ultimately too placid for its own good, and the album after that was a muddled mess with a subpar mix that somehow managed to make short songs sound long, and not in a good way. The album’s tepid reception may have had something to do with their decision to make future recordings in the studio rather than at home. Unfortunately, while this did result in a marked improvement in the band’s sound (and make them more listenable to the great unwashed), it eliminated the possibility of the “happy accidents” that made the band’s previous recordings so unpredictable and surreal. To many, the band lost more than it gained, creatively speaking, when they moved on to recording in a more professional, but considerably less spontaneous, studio environment.
The albums they made in this new manner — beginning with INDEPENDENT WORM SALOON and ELECTRIC LARRYLAND — may have been creatively stagnant by the standards of old-school fans, but they still had plenty of weird songs, and now the weirdness was channeled into catchy songs, none of which was more catchy than “Pepper,” the jaunty sing-a-long from ELECTRIC LARRYLANDs that may be the only song about death, delusion, and football player rapists to ever be a hit single. Immensely improved recording conditions and songs that sounded like actual songs rather than acid-freak meltdowns may not have gone down well with the indie cognoscenti, but they immediately made the band more palatable to the general public, who bought their albums in droves (for a while, anyway). Despite this newfound success, squabbles with their label resulted in their next album being shelved and the band jumping ship for Hollywood Records, who released their last (so far, anyway) studio album, 2001’s WEIRD REVOLUTION (an album I can’t comment on, since I haven’t heard it). It wasn’t long afterwards that the band lost its appetite for the studio.
Those pondering the creative and commercial gap (and the changes in aesthetic sensibility) between the band then and now would do well to consider much time has elapsed since the release of LOCUST ABORTION TECHNICIAN. The young art-punk reprobates who made the album in 1987 are now considerably tamer beasts, men on the long end of middle-age leading far more temperate lifestyles; their transformation into a traveling art-punk jukebox emphasizing music made, in many cases, before most of those in their audience had even been born, should come as no surprise to those fans being slowly but inexorably subdued by middle age themselves. Their more original work may be well behind them, but that legacy of brilliance is still sufficient to provide enormous amounts of stellar material for their live show.
Too Much Exquisite Petrarch
by Jack D. Harvey
No more loud cry;
death is dumb.
Laura is lost;
The tortoise of creation
marks time and space,
smoky fog summer
Babylon and Avignon;
in summer’s makeup.
By the river
they tore down the
and like Dagon slain
among the gantries
the quaking guts
paint pots of color
Laureate, Laura is green;
a green tree,
a green dress,
a breath of air.
La muerte es una mujer,
Laura by name.
More and more
she loves me,
by the lake,
by the long cool shore;
March, sunless, lifeless,
no runaway wave
rolls rainbows by
in the boathouse;
the waters still
as the tomb.
Night comes and
the evening star.
Alluring, my Laura,
in her sunglasses,
becomes queen of
the ravishing moon;
around her aura
violet lunas, pale lilies
in magnificence flourish.
On rough temple walls
a hundred enchanted animals
beckon and betray;
but May, spring’s troubador,
admiral of summer,
Laura with her tears,
beseeches naked Thalia
in the bath.
Soft maid, wet
hands full of flowers,
yields flesh to
in the sky.
A loud cry,
a quick change
in the dome and
her perennial child
Hot times, hot tears
the common sense of spring;
leave Laura, leave;
Now retired and in the sere and yellow leaf, so old enough to have been properly educated in the classics- these days a ruinous shrine since Greek and Latin are considered “irrelevant.”
Over the years, my poetry has appeared in a number of magazines. I have been writing poetry since I was sixteen. I live in a small town nearAlbany,N.Y.