A little creature’s suffering, touched by desperation or melancholy or both, becomes surprisingly denser the quicker the birds fly and the closer it is to midnight. That is, there is a question, as from an old man who has kept his secrets for too long and now much bears the regrets of adaptive reclusiveness and compassionate acts of cowardice, what makes one respond with empathy instead of disgust? What makes us hold our breath as children cry or revile at the debris-covered victims of the street? Please, come in.
Dragged them like a kid drags a garbage bag, that parents have asked be taken out—reluctantly, garrote him with a cheese slicer, since beheading’s now convention of the popular lore, urban legends, how vampires begin and end in fountains of scarlet…
Close your eyes. Secrets that spill as a brother’s head is disconnected from its body with a tool that perhaps is also used to cut cheese. I looked on, saying nothing.
Be calm. Be calm. Bones crack. We read each other like stories tossed into the wind, pages from a code that does not let a woman create, but creations have a habit of winning out against their creators.
…so disconnected from nature that they cannot process the harsh realities of the natural world like the sight
of an injured animal. You couldn’t stay with your mother.
They are only a part of the story. Can disgust, like empathy, be adaptive? It is true, that under the dark patch of sky and the wavering neon lights, empathy does not always translate into action? It is not damnation that the rats or the brothers or the stupid unlearned little girls reproach in disgust at (rats squeal, humans contract their illnesses, and a source of discomfort might also become a type of fandom), but the bodily emanations of a mother, the bloodstained pavement once the chaos has been cleared away, the compassion, the consequences of taking a wild animal into captivity, the wild animal who knows to only take those who are ready, willing, already half-way there.
With conflicting signals of empathy and disgust, could you, not with your mother, not without her, since
(11 different types of diseases that rodents transmit to humans) forever she is freeze-framed in a bait-and-switch shot:
This is your last night, witch. Blade slices. Toppling of a head down the stairs. Clinking. Disgust is much more powerful close up. It is not so incompatible with relief, gratitude, forgiveness, love. You truly are a wonder.
You instinct is to hunt the powerful and protect the weak. I’d like to try and live that way. You can’t stay with your mother all your life, can you? Look forward, not back. Isn’t the present everything?
Her head for the old dude’s, the bald dude’s, the daddy’s (still in its infancy the hormone enhances trust and caring), head of the homosocial boy’s club, which bounces lugubriously down to the metal mockery of the fairground’s metal steps.
THE OMEN (1976)
In this lottery of synchronisms and diachronisms, an authorized face, set out to reconstitute a type of faith, the territory marked by a neckline, the whoosh of the pane of glass that suggests that the world has already happened and that we are nothing but echoes.
ECHOES! FROM NOW ON, EVERYTHING WILL BE MORE REAL! THE MUSIC! CONDEMNED TO DEATH! UNDERMINED! POLLUTED BY BAD FAITH! THE EPIPHANY IS MISSING! HOWEVER! GRATING AND RINGING! HIGH PITCHED SOUNDS! A SCREAM! STILL SCREAMING! MORE EXACT! SEQUENCES OF LIGHT AND COLOR! THUS!
He is surprised to find his own face in the picture, a head gazing at its reflection in his destructor: an omen, an outburst. Is it too loud in here? He looks in the mirror.
ALL OF THIS—
A FRAGMENT OF—
All illogical shadows are removed. If you find your faith, better hang on to your head. You will be unable to resist painting dew drops in which the whole picture, the spectator, and all the surroundings are anamorphically reflected. Everything about this painting reminds me of myself, you profess, but you look up too late. The very logic of the planarity dictates this: when planes intersect, heads will roll. Does the angle between two walls have a happy ending? Cubism, in this country, is highly illegal. A vast single sheet of glass slides towards you, angling for a kill. Now your head will have time to regard itself at last in the very glass that severed it. The crowd screams as it always does; the priest has his head in his hands.
THE DEVIL’S POSSESSED (1974)
There’s a new face upon the voice, wounded, flighty chimera,
Certain, to fix a text in our memory, I beseech you,
To walk through a mental palace and grant the color of an ornament,
From yellow to red, from red to blue, from blue to green, these matters of faith,
A certain irregularity that comes with an image’s limits,
Damaged, dirty, dead for weeks, we catch sight of the head,
Harpsichords crash to announce we need your head, request your head,
Tonight as we speak to our Lord of Blackness, our Favorite Chimera,
Our future’s assured, from concealment to revelation, hell, even Hell has no limits,
And so in the ruined abbey at midnight on the headstone the headsman will relieve you,
Of your head, and your head, prey to rapid decay, becomes the mouthpiece of our faith,
Your head chockfull of special effects, our faith’s fine ornament,
However, it doesn't end there, the head on a platter, a mere ornament,
The capacity to possess all the secrets of life and death by cutting off a head,
The capacity to lose oneself among conjectures, the certain irregularity of faith,
A waiting executioner in tights, little by little, echo of the chimera,
The head is swollen, their faces are swollen: this is obvious to you,
We should know how we are to act via the influence of the stars and fear’s limits.
Narrative art invades and subjects the image, limits
What’s revelation, what concealment, and what fine ornament
The mistress in her lilac veils, her jet-black headdress, will address you
And you will answer as it always does, from some platter, propped up, some severed head,
Gathered on the edge of the screen, the mistress and her alchemist chase a chimera,
But electronic noises signal the advent of the unworldly, whence our faith.
There is nothing to fear, warm head upon a cold stone slab, this is the price of faith,
Purple veil billowing and eerie music of the future, these are the outer limits,
A gesture to drop the blade, a gesture of death, a gesture of a mere chimera,
To see upon a silver platter, the secrets of immortality resounding from an ornament,
The remaking of facts merits further attempts at power, another moment, another head,
It is revealed, it is hidden, it is masked, it is given, it is finally taken from you.
For the duration of seven Saturdays and seven after, you
Will, in fair observance of the alchemist’s ventriloquism show your faith,
And sacrifice seven maidens on each day. Or so the head
Foretells. Nakedness itself as an ornament limits
The prophetic force of decoration, mise-en-scène, all ornament
To disguise the scarlet headman, or so intones a universal chimera
Wounded, flighty chimera, the headsman will relieve you,
What a fine ornament is the price of faith,
These are the outer limits; we need your head, request your head.
: : : : :
Janice Lee and Michael du Plessis are currently working on a collaborative project about decapitations in films. These poems are from that project, currently in progress.
JANICE LEE is the author of KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press, 2010), Daughter (Jaded Ibis, 2011), Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013), a book-length meditation on the films of Béla Tarr, and most recently, The Transparent As Witness (Solar Luxuriance, 2013), a collaboration with Will Alexander. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she is Co-Editor of [out of nothing], Reviews Editor at HTMLGIANT, Editor of the new #RECURRENT Novel Series for Jaded Ibis Press, and Founder/CEO of POTG Design. She currently teaches at CalArts and can be found online at http://janicel.com.
MICHAEL DU PLESSIS is the author of The Memoirs of JonBenet by Kathy Acker (Les Figues Press, 2012) and has written about topics from Goth culture to the French fin-de-siècle.