I enter a pub in London, thirsty but nearly broke. What’s your cheapest cask ale, I ask the bartender, who happens to be the comedian Margaret Cho. This one’s only a pound a pint, she says, pointing to a handle with an iron cross logo on it. No one wants to drink it because it’s racist. Gosh, I say, I’m not a racist, but that’s really cheap! It’s also very tasty, she says. Classic English bitter. She pulls a pint for me and I take a sip. It certainly slips down easy. But I’ve barely finished it when she announces last call. I order five more pints and start tossing them back. Oddly, I can’t feel the alcohol at all. I mean, sure, I drink mainly for the taste, but I enjoy a bit of a buzz, too. Apparently even where racism is concerned, you get what you pay for. I notice Margaret looking intently at me and writing something down on a small clipboard. I wake up thinking: What excellent casting! Who’d ever have thought to have Margaret Cho play the devil?
among the flowers of evil—
the bees are all dead
I dreamed I had sex with a two-headed woman. One head was normal; the other was faceless, hairless, blank, like a lightbulb of flesh — or, Lord knows, the head of a penis. The normal head belonged to a former lover. I wanted to ask how long she’d had this second head, but was too embarrassed to admit I’d never noticed it before. I woke up wondering whether I should’ve kissed it. Rain was drumming on the roof.
The next night I’m writing a poem in Spanish, searching my dusty memory for the right word: Is it muro — wall — or pared — wall — or muralla — wall — or barrera — wall — or tapia — wall? La pared, I think. The word must end in a consonant, tongue vibrating against the alveolar ridge. Se prohibe la entrada. “Something there is that doesn’t love…” But those words aren’t in my dream. Solamente el muro y la pared. Words for what refuses communication.
I’m carrying a sick vulture in a box. It weighs almost nothing. I’m worried it might vomit — what unspeakable things might come up? — but I tell myself that vomiting is something turkey vultures only do when they’re well, to cool down their legs in the summer. I stroke its black feathers, tell it everything’s all right, even though we both know that isn’t true.
I carry it into a natural history museum and it comes alive, half-opening its wings and trying to climb out of the box at the sight of so many dead stuffed animals. But the PA system comes on to announce they’re closing soon and I push the vulture back down, folding its wings like an origami crane.
Outside, we run into a two-headed mob shouting at itself. The only thing they all seem to agree on is that Trump is due to make an appearance at any moment. But he doesn’t. I sit down on the steps, unable to join the protestors in their hey-hoing at the supporters because of the vulture, who looks bored at this demonstration of health and vitality in the body politic. We hunker down.
Hours pass, and the crowd’s chanting comes and goes like surf. The vulture closes its eyes in two stages: first the nictitating membranes like fogged-up windows, then the eyelids proper like shutters. I try not to think of the lice that co-evolved with its species, its body their whole planet. Parasites! The only creatures more ignoble than eaters of carrion. If only we hadn’t evolved as scavengers ourselves. If only we could have a true predator’s implacable heart.
Having taken our leaves of Sir W. Batten and my Lady, who are gone this morning to keep their Whitsuntide, Sir W. Pen and I and Mr. Gauden by water to Woolwich, and there went from ship to ship to give order for and take notice of their forwardness to go forth, and then to Deptford and did the like, having dined at Woolwich with Captain Poole at the tavern there. From Deptford we walked to Redriffe, calling at the half-way house, and there come into a room where there was infinite of new cakes placed that are made against Whitsuntide, and there we were very merry. By water home, and there did businesses of the office. Among others got my Lord’s imprest of 1000l. and Mr. Creed’s of 10,000l. against this voyage their bills signed. Having wrote letters into the country and read some things I went to bed.
The tide went from ship to ship
like a captain at the tavern
calling at a room
where there was infinite cake—
water in the reeds,
a voyage into some bed.
As hard as I pluck the strings, they will not sound. I add a capo, but it only produces a higher-pitched silence. The neighbor’s dog begins to howl. It’s broken, I think. The tree it was made from has taken back its birds. But then I remember the blues, and fetch an empty beer bottle from the recycling bin. As soon as the bottle’s neck hits the strings, they begin to wail. I slide it around, searching for the right three frets. But now I am overcome with a craving for pickles. I don’t even care what vegetables they come from, only that they are pale, crisp and briny and go well with rice. I want to taste the ocean. The bottle, I notice, has a message inside, the size and shape of a fortune cookie fortune. You may already be a winner, it says.
A black dog wanders into the woods at dusk and comes back with a flashlight sideways between her teeth, its halogen bulb casting a bleary beam. What a good dog, I say. Who lost a flashlight? Nobody, says our host, rattling the ice cubes in his drink. The forest is full of lights this time of year. We go back to talking about the situation in the Middle East.
I’ve lost my bus ticket home along with my billfold, which I suspect a pickpocket of having lifted. Nevertheless, I try to retrace my steps — a daunting task. How long have I been here? There’s hardly a house or shop that doesn’t seem familiar inside. I remember even the houses that are no longer there, their contents removed for resale in a junk shop that occupies several floors of a crumbling old hotel. We wander from room to room. Chairs hang high on the wall; a group of antique gramophones are gathered in a corner like musicians practicing their silence.
Back out on the street, I find an old roommate leaning against a car. I had heard he over-dosed in his bathtub after three tours of duty in Iraq. Can I get a ride, I ask. Of course, he says. We’re leaving in half an hour. I notice my wallet on the roof of his car, where I suddenly recall having set it down that morning. It’s been flipped open by the wind or some other thief. All my money and the ticket are still there. But it has other pockets I’ve never known about, like a book with pages omitted from an initial printing. It opens and opens. The thief has been thorough, but what exactly he took, I cannot say. I have a lucid moment and think: this dream is not about me. Mine is only a supporting role. Soon the stars will arrive, flashing their immaculate teeth.