When Will You Ever, Peace

[an abortive short piece from the archives, 1992]

My old dachshund, Johan, likes to curl up in the basement bathroom beside the cool porcelain underside of the toilet and contemplate the riches of his dog-kingdom and dream of cats on hot tin roofs of an August afternoon.

From the howl of the air conditioner my father turns on high every morning, with his smoldering cigars and soap operas, I seek refuge in Johan’s quiescent basement bower. And he is always glad to see me and invites me in with lift of snout and wag of tail. He smiles a melancholy, elf-reclining-under-the-toad-stool smile. I sit down on the best seat in the house and reach behind me for something to read: Gerard Manley Hopkins — Johan’s favorite poet.

I read, and Johan wags his tail between lines, signalling his approval. Hopkins said his poems were best heard aloud. And, I might add, better to be heard by sensitive canine ears.

My bowels release the manifold pressures of summer and I lean back and read aloud:

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs.

Johan perks up his ears and sniffs the air as I punctuate Hopkins’s sprung rythm with great flatulent gasps and rumbles out of my own burgeoning intestinal inscape.

And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.

And that’s what I come here to do as well, to brood and sit, until my butt takes on the circular imprint of the toilet seat and begins to resemble a flabby target, a fine fat place for Cupid’s archery practice.

Ah yes, love. I was in love regularly a number of years ago. A veritable pin cushion for Cupid’s darts was I during my college years. But these erotic interests never amounted to much. Cupid seemed always to be playing farcical tricks on me, sending me chasing after goddesses and running from mortals. Nowadays, however, I don’t seem to up to either chasing or running. Sitting is my specialty. I do not come to coo.

I take after my father in this regard; however, he does his sitting upstairs in the recliner in front of the TV (turned up loud to hear the cooings of soap-opera seductions above the rattling air conditioner). He’ll sit there like that all afternoon, watching General Hospital, All My Children, As the World Turns, and I know not what, switching to Headline News during the commercials to catch up on current events, sucking on his fat cigar like a big baby with a smoldering pacifier.

Mr. Bell: Mr. Hell, Mr. Smell, Hell’s Bells, Bats-in-the-Bellfry — these are the names by which he has been known to his students at Edgar Allen Poe Middle School for many a year. And, since I began teaching there last year, they have also become my names — although I sense a certain uncertainty in the students, a perplexion in the face of this generational reduplication, as well as a savoring of the unique opportunity for variation on a theme. Tinker Bell may, I fear, be looming in the collective adolescent unconscious.

The dynamic will fade soon enough, though, I suppose, since my first year at EAP was the elder Mr. Bell’s last. He has retired — to the living room and to his recliner to recline and repine the remainder of his days receiving in resplendant reception reruns of re-creations he recalls were redundant the first time round. He recalls and yet continues to recline. Such is his anguish. Ever since his wife, my mother, left last year, he has been stuck on the dime of her leaving and the television, unlike reality, costs not so much as a nickel, not even a penny from heaven.

Okay, I’m getting a little lost in word games here it’s true. Who am I to talk anyway? I myself am stuck down here in the basement, reading poetry to a dog and indulging in mental masturbation, if not, for all you know, masturbation of the more popular sort.

What my father is going through upstairs is a mystery, let us say, as is what I’m going through down here under him.

What my mother is going through is something else again. If I could get a fix on that then maybe the whole image would come into focus, grotesque but clear, the precise coordinates of our familial unhappiness triangulated and mapped, the wound discovered, the diagnosis made plain. But there is little hope of making such a breakthrough from my humble little porcelain vantage point — and what would be the point anyhow? Down here among the roots and the fungi, all truths come to rest. Who am I to disturb them?


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    Rufus,I now understand why you were so damaged.

  2. Actually, this was found in the water down by the Montlake Cut.

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