Wednesday, November 11, 2009
What Looms Inside My Machine
How willful is our denial, I have to wonder?
How carefully do we avoid the elephant rotting in the corner of the room?
When we sit, half-naked in the doctor’s office, our guts rumbling under the tenacious dull smack of the clock’s relentless hands – sending the minutes tumbling through an abyss lurking within our troubled hide – do we imagine the great Jumbo, his chest a red jungle gym heaving with feasting hyenas, his eye a black pool teeming with flies?
Do we face, in this horribly mortal moment, our natural collapse in the lively scheme of things?
Or do we see P.T. Barnum, counting ten thousand dollars on the lap of Queen Victoria, taking the chain about the celebrated pachyderm’s knee, leading him to his fated collision with a Canadian train?
Perhaps we see Walt Disney’s Dumbo, his great comical ears lopped and dried into chamois to wax a dictator’s car.
Or Pooh’s Heffalump – but a hollow leg, holding an assortment of broken umbrellas. Kipling’s Colonel Hathi, his teeth crying balefully at the thoughtless touch of a child lacking dedication to her lessons.
I’m not so much speaking of our colonization of the other animals – the jackass and the monkey alike, running our circus of selective hubris – rather I’m pointing to the fearful disregard we hold for our own corporal fragility, our dire impermanence in the shade of the evolutionary show.
How is it that we spend our lives almost completely ignorant of the workings of our own bodies?
So much so, that we treat those who spend their careers detailing the evisceration of the human form as magicians and saints – or high-paid vultures.
The surgeons, the forensic investigators, the coroners, the serial killers, the soldiers, the men who clean the toilets at the football stadium – they are all standing in the guts of mankind, twisting, pulling, plunging, prodding, embalming, suturing – putting the pieces together, tearing them apart – Marcus Welby, an even-toothed jackal practicing his grin, looming before a ceiling of blinding lights – Quincy, M.E., pouring drinks in his rocking houseboat – Jeffrey Dahmer, a celebrated chef – all receiving the cultural applause of an audience frozen with fear.
I think of the stupor on the face of the slaughterhouse jimmy, knackered from head to toe, his senses addled by the smells and the sights and sounds of the rendering factory – the automated bludgeoning, the blood-black pistons pounding, the fuck machines of death. I cup my hands to my ribs and I hear the tapping of Upton Sinclair’s keys, the cutting and stripping of flesh, the chopping of unwanted bits – the hooves and horns that hold panels to spaceships, the eyes and brain and balls gathered at the bottom of our soup – the skin that pockets our money – the gelatin that shapes the plastic angel, a credit to us all.
How cozy we are in our segregation of death, our agreement to devour on principal, our need to fantasize its sanctity.
When we eat each other, it is a last resort, a horror to behold, a humor unbound – John Cleese and Graham Chapman in a lifeboat – eyeing each other’s arms and legs, buttocks and thighs, shoulders and wings – winking under their rain-repellent hats – a rugby team diving up the frozen pieces of its dead teammates on an icy slope.
They could only identify her by her dental records, her x-rays, the black windows showing the form of her cavities – the peculiar slant of her last remaining wisdom tooth.
I turn on the television and it implores me to watch the dead – bodies carted like hogs, dressed in dark plastic, sexy examiners doing the limbo under yellow tape – and I think of the thresher of genocide coming down, the rush of stinking bodies, the popping, punctured flesh, the releasing of vital fluids to an indifferent sun, dark stains lingering where hearts and eyes and genitals used to be – the scavenging birds in a fury – beating black against the falling sky.
I think of Jumbo, broken before a bruised locomotive – of people laughing as a swinging neck breaks under a grand old tree – and I hug myself, trying to forget what looms inside my machine – lest it should come out to get me.