Underwood

Malcolm Poole, in the aftermath of slumber, felt exhausted, sapped of strength—depleted of emissions from a wet-dream (?)… unrecalled, beyond the lingering sensation in his groin and anal ring, as if molested by some sybaritic sexpot. Though dark, the bedroom’s Spartan furnishings were nonetheless visible, his writing desk in particular with its high-backed wooden chair, both aglow with an eerie light independent of that which faintly outlined curtains drawn at noon. Or was it midnight and a streetlamp was responsible for the glimmer all but swallowed by the drapery’s heavy fabric? Strangled sheets suggested fitful dreams between spells of fervid work, stints of driven prose followed by toss-and-turn insomnia.

Sweat explained the clammy dampness under Malcolm’s saggy buttocks; neither urine nor ejaculate, he confirmed, fouled the fitted flannel, though he did remember getting up, not once but twice, to pee. Except he hadn’t; he had repressed those urges, ‘dreamt’ he had taken leaks—contradicted by his bladder’s present lack of pressure... unless it was not piss of which he had been furtively relieved. Malcolm checked again; his penis showed no drool.

Though filthy and unshaven, he postponed a trip to the bathroom; there was something about his lapse from personal hygiene that catered to certain moods, certain morbid states of mind to the mood he chose to indulge, to prolong, to wallow in—faced as he was with the horns of a twofold dilemma.

The first of which protruded from his Underwood like a disaffected tongue, giving rise to his author’s insecurity about how to make the story riveting; the second of which harassed his motivation with concerns about ‘why bother’ (?).

Seven full-length novels Malcolm Poole, to date, had penned, in as many years, not one of them describable as “remotely publishable.” Was he talentless, thus unworthy of the paltriest acclaim? Would he never venture an inch beyond his dismal limitations? Perhaps the countless rejection slips that papered his bathroom walls (another disincentive to performing his ablutions) testified to the fact that one-and-all were justified, and predicted (by consensus of ‘assistants’ to Assistant Editors) that RORSCHACH (novel number eight) would represent no exception.

Persistence, as a virtue, could only be sustained if recognition was on tap for an author’s final chapter. Would the works of Poole, revisited, be seen as “diamonds-in-the-rough”; would his books be reconsidered, their merits reappraised? All he ever needed was a break, in his opinion (whereas others thought “revisions” or “wholesale rewrites,” by-and-large, would be  inadequate).

“It is with regret” began most letters from those who ‘skimmed’ his manuscripts. “Not right for our list” was a commonplace refrain. On rare occasions some sympathetic underling wrote a notice less generic, commented on the characters or critiqued (in brief) the plot, but even these were cursory dismissals cum run-of-the-mill rebuffs leaving his expectations dashed... over and over... yet he persevered, spilled his literary guts out with escalating fervor, seldom confident but always optimistic that THE MUSE would see him through; so fickle were Her favors. For some, Her arms would open of themselves... ‘like matches,’ was his image, one trapped between a pair, all three heads aligned, ignited at their juncture, the ‘limbs’ then slowly parting from their flame-enveloped ‘trunk’... awkward metaphors, vile protagonists, unconventional styles and seamy-sided themes; these, alas, were Malcolm Poole’s reject-able offerings... mailed first-class, speeding their delivery, posted book-rate, slowing their return... manuscripts sent in boxes, in boxes he retrieved (often after months had passed), waiting in line at the post office to fetch each disappointment.

Then, once, a large manila envelope from a publisher had arrived. Could it be a contract? He had torn it open, only to be straightaway disillusioned by its blanket salutation: “Dear Author.” A vanity press had blighted Poole’s rosy aspirations, inflicting additional damage to his sorely wounded pride.

And those had been the ‘good’ years, retrospectively, when hope had sprung eternal, when Malcolm Poole believed his ‘art’ was genuinely ‘fine.’ Had all that changed? Had his resiliency diminished in reverse proportion to his age; as he grew older had he grown less adroit at overcoming doubt, at recovering from each setback, at asserting new resolve? By thirty-five he should have made his mark, and his fortune, too. Instead, having just turned forty, he was virtually anonymous, and, to use his father’s phrase, “without a pot to piss in”—George Alexander Poole’s state unto the day the poor man died. His son “the struggling author” had composed a simple eulogy:

 

for my Old Man

 

The air today is cold

as is the cast of my father’s face

(morticians seldom get expressions right;

thank God for their inaccuracies;

it is important our dearly departed look like strangers).

 

Dad is trussed and tucked and groomed

and talcum-powder dusted

eyebrows, lids, and nose okay

(couldn’t straighten-out that beak)

but wrong, all wrong

in the humorlessness of his mouth

(sewn shut)

jowls flared

resembling, he’ll forgive me, an achromatic chipmunk.

 

I rest my hand upon his chest

and feel the prop.

 

I start to read “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”;

he isn’t listening.

I try again with “The Cremation of Sam McGee”;

he still isn’t listening;

no wink, no crooked smile of recognition

(he's dead, you see, and the dead can neither wink nor crack a crooked smile).

So I fold the copies of his two favorite poems

(recited throughout my childhood)

and stuff them into the left-breast pocket of his coat

(which no more fits)

and say,

“So long.”

 

...a piece Poole submitted to an obscure small-press anthology only to have it returned (six months later) rejected without comment.

 

 retreat        currydoglit        advance