I am dying
Of all the pretty girls
all the pretty boys
all the pretty lips
and all the pretty hips
all the fit jeans
all the lit screens
all the lean meats
and all the thin eats
all the neat ads
all the chic fads
all the rad scenes
and all the mad memes
all the dim lights
all the grim sights
all the tight porn
and all the right corn
all that is wrong
all that is wrong
all that is sold & bought
for fuck’s sake
all that recklessness
all that heartlessness
all that disingenuous
speaking in tongues
I love them all
I love them all
all the pretty things
all the pretty things
We’re getting poorer
and fatter all of the time.
I think Heaven is a mouth that does not speak
and this city has no ears, no eyes.
Dear Mr. Weatherman, please;
Tell us what the sky holds
and for whom the rain falls—
we hear its music
and do not understand.
It is time. He steps up to the pulpit and adjusts the microphone. The eulogy is in his breast pocket. He shouldn’t need to have it out, he knows all the words, but he takes it out anyway, unfolds and flattens the pages on the pulpit. The first word is “I.” The second one is “loved.” He pronounces them in quick succession into the microphone, but the speakers put out a harpy’s shriek instead, an ugly electric cackle that makes everyone flinch. He takes a step back while someone from the funeral home fixes the soundboard. And when he steps forward again, he is suddenly aware of the quiet, the deadened calm, the reverent waiting. He searches out Emily’s face among those of family and friends and colleagues and other acquaintances, and finds her eyes unsympathetic. Yes. All she can do is stare inwardly at her own pain. She can do nothing for him, nor he for her, that which has bound them together all the long years is gone—their son is dead. But it’s not the same, he thinks, honey it’s not all the same, you’re not the one standing here expected to talk to all these people about Milton in the past tense, when he is lying just five feet away from me in the confined darkness of ash and oak, wearing the two-piece suit I had custom made for his eighteenth birthday, looking as though he’s just sleeping, except his complexion is all wrong, they’ve made him too pale, the morticians who worked on him in Seoul, they’ve turned him into an Irishman almost, when he had so much of me in him…
He opens his mouth, and his tongue is a fat ashen larva: when he speaks he will speak in moths, and they will flutter through the air and then fall dead on the carpet like last week’s rose petals.
He stares at the eulogy, all his words neatly typed out on five creased pages, single-spaced and back-to-back, written in the vacuum of time between the boy’s death and his body arriving at the airport, three weeks, three maddening, harrowing weeks that might as well have been three years. And it stares back at him, the eulogy, with all the sanctimony and indifference of Times New Roman twelve points. It is inadequate, woefully inadequate. Thirty years would not have sufficed, no amount of time would have, he might have tried until the end of time and still fallen short, miserably short, of doing his boy justice, of bringing him back to life, resurrected through language and love, language that is love, if only for the fifteen minutes that would take him to deliver the eulogy. It is one thing to talk about people through the miracle of fiction, through all its tricks and secrets and necessary falseness, but how to address a person whose sanctity you wish to preserve, is your duty to preserve, because that person is your son, and he has taken his own life at the beautiful age of twenty and three? How not to fall silent then, other than to utter utter bullshit?
So in the end he cannot bring himself to read from the page, or recite from memory, because it will be too painful to hear those words spoken aloud, because his heart is a wretched, fragile thing that can only kill him. So he wings it, delivers a meandering speech about how wonderful Milton was, how kind, athletic, smart, and visionary his son was, Milton he himself can no longer recognize, a Platonic Milton, expunged of all life’s shadows and delights, who is clearly not the same Milton that took his own life, because, how could he be, this perfect dead thing, his son? He was too good for this world, he tells the mass, though it was not pride, no, he was a humble person, always, since he was a child, but rather I think it was just a sense of… of unbelonging, a sense of being set apart, yes, you could say he was holy, in the biblical sense of the word, qadosh…
They were lying face up on the false bottom of a fishing boat. The river rumbling in their ears like a drawn-out thunder. Cold briny water sloshing about their backs. It reeked of fish and who knows what and it was dark but for a sliver of light trickling in every now and then as the the boat rolled. Barely enough to make visible the seams of the wooden plank half an inch above his face.
He opened and closed his mouth. The he opened it again and tried to find his voice.
I’m here, he said.
The boy breathed in the damp air and held it in. Then he pushed it out slowly with a low elongated hiss as if he was spinning a gossamer out of thin air.
What’s the matter, he asked.
The boy shook his head. He felt the boy’s wet locks on his arm. Like the inflorescence of a yorkshire fog after a day of rain.
Nothing, said the boy.
Then they just lay there silently like two waterlogged corpses. Waiting. Biding the time.
After a while the boy said: I’m scared.
You don’t sound so scared, he said.
Well what are you scared of?
The boy shook his head again. I don’t know. I just have this feeling… like something bad is going to happen. I don’t know what it is or what to call it or anything but I think it’s always been there and I think it’s getting worse all the time.
He waited for the boy to go on.
It’s my fault, isn’t it? First the train crew and now Mr. Haddington… It’s all because of me.
The boy started sobbing. He let him cry for a good long while. Then when the boy had quit crying he said: You need to smarten up. Don’t take on burdens that’s not yours to carry. It wasn’t your fault what happened. None of it. Do you understand? You can’t quench your thirst on other people’s tears and expect to live. You just can’t.
The boy turned his face away.
Besides, we don’t know what happened to Josiah. That shot could have gone anywhere.
What’s going to happen to me in Havertham, asked the boy.
He held his thought for a moment. Then he told the truth. I don’t know, kid.
It can’t be anything good, said the boy.
You’ll be all right.
Do you really think so?
I’ll be all right, the boy said in a mumble, and was silent again.