-My sister and I fucking against the side of the house-
Because my sister is ten years older than I am, she’s always existed in a state of greater maturity than me. Unlike siblings close in age we weren’t forced by circumstance to interact very much. In fact, we shared little except the roof over our heads. It’s odd to think about but I’ve never experienced my sister as she was when she was a child. I’ve never witnessed my sister be innocent, act playful, or overhear her ask a naïve question—she is forever an adult to me. I talked to her on the phone today. Her friend’s marriage is falling apart and she doesn’t know how to help. She feels helpless.
I cannot remember how old I was when it happened, eight or nine, but my soccer coach (and family friend with two sons of his own that were around my age) molested me. He’d been grooming me for a while: covertly exposing himself with others present, scratching my back during sleepovers, reminding me I was the best player on the team. The last time I saw him was after what took place one night in a tent on a lakeshore: my little trousers scooted all the way down, his sons asleep on either side of their father’s body as he hoisted me into the air using his grownup muscles. As he drove me home (he dropped his sons off first) he told me not to tell my parents what happened. I won’t forget his eyes framed by the rearview mirror when he spoke those words and how the backseat seemed to be expanding beneath me as he talked. The minute I walked in the door I told my parents what happened in the tent and in a whirlwind of several weeks I can barely recall my coach was promptly investigated, tried, and imprisoned. Soon afterwards his family left town. Some days I think: I made a family vanish.
-Throwing a boy over the railing and into the tiger exhibit-
I was in the tenth grade when American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis was published. The only reason I knew that the book existed was because my debate-class teacher mentioned it in passing, joking that it would make for a good debate topic. When I asked him why, he said it was “controversial.” The next day Mr. Furo walked into the classroom and saw American Psycho on my desk. He was mortified and told me not to tell my parents where I got the idea to purchase the book.
Well before reading American Psycho and being transfixed by its depictions of ultra-violence, I was intrigued by the body’s ability to blossom into viscera as a child. Since I was allowed to watch R-rated films at a young age, I found the corpse a tantalizing object and I remember entering bookstores and running to the magazine rack, sitting on the floor, and looking through Fangoria Magazine. In college, driven to learn more about the body’s willingness to break and leak and fall apart, and to explore the aesthetics of violence, I read (and still return to) Julia Kristeva’s “Power of Horror; An Essay on Abjection” and most recently I’ve been watching films some refer to as New French Extremism. My interest in the body defiled has also led me to Action Books and the work they produce, headed by Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Göransson. In addition to their captivating blog Montevidayo and their many publications, the world’s spasms of decay also get articulated in what they call the Necropastoral, which I believe most readers will be familiar with, but if not I would sum it up as a graveyard where coffins pirouette on algae covered headstones; or sublime brutality; or seeping appendage. Right now, I’m reading Wet Land written by poet Lucas de Lima and it’s a perfect example of the Necropastoral. In it, the poet’s language is in a constant state of melting and transformation. No idea or concept remains static in Wet Land. This poet even conceptualizes the book as a sort of body, as in a literal “body of work”, and the work de Lima has created is a bizarre freaked-out elegy to the poet’s best friend tragically killed by an alligator in central Florida, where ironically I was born and raised. In fact, it reminds me: there’s this neighborhood called Sausalito Shores, situated on the edge of Lake Howell outside of Orlando, and like most lake communities in Florida the developers built a ramp to launch boats from and they erected a dock for people to enjoy. Although my friends and I didn’t live in Sausalito Shores, we’d sometimes go there at sundown (often on LSD) and sit on the dock. When the sun vanished behind the pines signaling dusk, something odd would happen: the lake’s surface would slowly become sequined with strange orbs of lights, organized in perfect orange pairs, and while we already knew the nature of what we were seeing, each time felt like the first: the luminosity dotting the lake belonged to the eyes of hundreds of alligators staring at us.
-Tonguing a deer’s blood-stiffened mouth on the side of a highway-
Mice have infiltrated my attic. Nights filled with their scandalous claws. Quick inspection of the attic reveals bits of mice shit scattered about in no particular design. A mouse’s skull is the size of a dime and since their bodies are so elastic these creatures can enter one’s home through the tiniest of spaces and despite their benign size mice can cause structural damage to one’s home. There’s a passage in Justin Marks’s You’re Going to Miss Me When You’re Bored where the speaker confesses to how many mice he’s recently had to kill in his home. And the speaker makes clear that these killings weigh heavily upon his conscious. When I initially read this passage, it came through as very over-dramatic and I thought, man up, but now I understand what he’s talking about. After baiting and setting numerous traps throughout the garage and attic, I waited a few days. When I went to inspect the first trap, I saw that it was on its side. Getting closer a black eye glistened, a dead dot in one of the most adorable dead faces I’ve ever seen. In those rare occasions when I’ve needed to be heartless I can do it, like the time I sprayed to death a family of yellow jackets as they slept. And yet not this time: this mouse’s death upset me. But not because I had killed it, but how I killed it – by setting a trap.
-Ripping the orange apron off the elderly employee at Home Depot, yanking down his pants & jerking him off against a wall of light bulbs-
My head is a beach chair in the basement under a utility sink. My head feels numb as a darkened husk of corn at night. My head is a movie explosion on pause. Head is a process not of my choosing. It feels like hundreds of views of a tent spike pulling from the ground. Head is a group of children kicking a music box, head is an RV rolling backwards into a lake, the muzzle flash in a lion’s face—head wants nothing from itself: I am a knocked-out tooth from God’s punched in face, a neck blossoming into dungeon
When some see blood they run. Others run to grab a rag. Turns out I just stare. To the suicide I saw I write these words: those fibrous sutures that fused your infant skull burst forth and hatched a birth of blood like a gelatinous Athena leaping, instead of some inept altricial bird. Around your head a tidal pool of grume and hair slurred away as sunrays pressed through squinted louvers latched against the glass of tall windows (stoic in the alcoves) and casting vents of light across the wad of valvate flesh, a slop to feed my panting eye.
-Putting out my cigarette in the g-clef tattoo behind your ear-
I tried to remain present prior to the moment I felt that the stormcloud above the bog was beautiful, but couldn’t. The stormcloud was so amicable, so quick to accept my sentiment, that I eased into it a self forgetting, healing, until a thought intruded: the stormcloud will not fix me with the same intent that I fixed to it and then I saw the stormcloud as very very ugly, benign in fact, which it was also agreeable to being, then rain rain rain
-Walk into Quest Diagnostics carrying the severed head of a police officer-
I once blew so many kisses to my daughter so fast it looked as if I was slapping myself. At night a police cruiser passes my house and it’s so dark outside it looks as if the vehicle is consuming its light instead of casting it.
On the side my head is a volume knob and each moment is a beak that turns it slowly up. When the volume of the sound inside my head is too loud for me to function I go to a room where voices talk about their sound, their beak, and as they speak about their crippled heads the room becomes a claw that turns the knob on the side of my head back down.
-Getting fucked by the homeless man as he lectures the stars-
A prude. I’ve always been one. Sometimes I blame it on being raised in a home where music was never played. I’ve never been at ease with the sexual. My genitals feel like a drawing of a boat scribbled out. The sensual frightens me. I come at her awkward and as a staggered wish and she turns away. Confidence in skin blisters the closer I get to skin. My desires are astronomical. If my sexual urges are seen, become known, I worry I’d simply die. On the sofa we watch movies and sit. Sometimes a character removes the clothing of another character and I feel exposed watching this with her, a kind of shame, and I feel the sofa beneath me slowly inflating and the ceiling getting really close to my face. I want to dive off the sofa and into the corner of the room where the vacuum can’t suck and where its bar of light shines into the crevice where beetles go to rot but never do.
John Ebersole’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Brooklyn Rail, Powder Keg, inter|rupture, BOAAT, The Battersea Review, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere. He is poetry editor of The Philadelphia Review of Books.