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George Sparling

Spitting Quasars

I walk down to Arcata’s plaza, and I see on the sidewalk a fragile, one-legged man passed out, most pedestrians moving past him, but they cast long gazes at his splayed form. He’s not moving; his ships in the harbor are unmoored, drifting like words floating through a glimmering paradise where white wolves dream of oceans, of herons dipping their wings flying above him. His hand grips the neck of a pint bottle through a brown paper bag as if the Statue of Liberty squeezed a hollow torch full of Jack Daniels. I wonder where his crutch is. He’s dead drunk to the pixel-silicon world, its queerness he’ll never surmount.

I love his cap; it reminds me of Jack London’s with its brim covering this guy’s face, pulled low over a dirt-streaked puss. It’s as if he wishes to conceal a besieged identity, convinced that he’d committed terrible crimes during a raging night of delirium. I stand near him, conjuring how he’d look in Pelican Bay Prison, as if he’d really pulled off a major felony sometime in his past. I recall Pascal’s vision of life as a prison, inmates watching the guards with bloody knives slowly dragging out prisoners one by one from cells, and then cutting their throats, captives bleeding to death. Is gullet-gashing or the act of ogling gore-rituals the real punishment?

A frayed, stained coat carelessly thrown open reveals his anachronistic life; it’s a sixties’ sport jacket, the thing must’ve hung scaffold-like on a rusty, Salvation Army hanger for years. But, I don’t believe, as do misanthropes, from skinheads to well-educated physicians, that some living human beings should die because they’re “useless eaters” needing to be ground up, then used for mulch to grow daffodils on huge commercial farms. A single, redolent, plangent flashback in this man’s mind, no matter sober or drunk, of smelling the cliché of a hot, fresh-baked apple pie his mother had made is more than enough emotional truth to let him live, and go on living until his auto-immune system depletes entirely.

If I could and didn’t think I’d be arrested, I’d search his pockets, perhaps finding them filled with lint, a three-year-old bus schedule, a ratty handkerchief, a sticky Reese’s wrapper, a Boy Scout pocket knife, a tattered church program from last Sunday’s service he attended to get a free meal afterwards. All the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy might congest the fabric, its red-eyed-blink-blink nostalgia heaven-sucked. The man’s dark energy made cosmic because of his openhearted, though passive intimacies shared with me in hypothetical dreamtime after I’ve pulled out all his pockets’ paraphernalia onto the inevitable concrete surrounding him like 200,000,000,000 stars.

If passers-by knew how his life has blurred like speeding Quentin Tarantino movies, like vanished, cupola-topped, wooden cabooses he remembers as a boy; how train crews gave him thin, delicious hotcakes when he came hungry to their “crummy” -- but all his past lies now like ulcers in the craw of his stomach. Bitter Valhalla the time he spent drinking liquor last night, its visceral panacea laying waste like wild red riders whose one faith must be war always against his stalled life. He’s been ghosted out of strip malls, out of TV commercials, shunted into time-shocked paltriness: USA’s unconstitutional free enterprise’s lofty, towering money tree doesn’t blow wind-fallen, tiny green leaves into his hands, for the only truth in Bill of Rights is America’s intolerance with failure, our citizens afraid of it even more than death itself. I envision him a deeper poet than Dante; I’m certain he’s dreamed up some Big Poems, like chartered trips to Alpha Centauri at exalted, smashed, utopian, high noon.

I hear tanks crush robins’ eggs; he’ll be next, hard-boiled and noirish, realer than the best-selling Oryx and Crake fiction as he screams beneath the treads. He makes my calcium-bone-lit-alleys narcotic-strange, yet still he doesn’t tremble, not even slight tremors, is silent, liquor stupefied. In bed, before I go off to sleep, the day scrolls through my hippocampus. The drunken, unconscious man won’t let go. His scraggily existence imbues me with hope, in spite of the pathos, the decay. I must not succumb to crumpled ruination -- we’re all connected. I could’ve licked DNA from his lips. Who knows the fate of our bones or how many times we’ll be buried. Drifting off, between the last moment of wakefulness and that faraway sleep of reason when anything might happen, I mind-talk to him that if I could, I’d spit quasars, the hottest objects in the universe, into the world to incinerate fear, sear away paranoia, scorch away doom.

©2003 by George Sparling

George Sparling has been published in many literary magazines, including Paumanok Review, Potomac Review, and Snake Nation Review. He has a degree in English Literature from Iowa Wesleyan College, and recently worked scuba diving for placer gold in the California wilderness. He notes that "It's no cliche: one can go mad living too long in isolation."

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