We are delighted to announce the release of Beatdom #17 – the POLITICS issue. This latest issue marks the ninth anniversary of the founding of Beatdom Literary Journal – a great milestone for a small publication. This time we’re bringing you essays related to the topic of politics and literature, with a focus on Beat writers who are less frequently featured in the pages of Beatdom. Continue Reading…
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The new issue of Beatdom is now on sale!!! You can buy it HERE.
The Burroughs Millions – David S. Wills
The Debt Collector – Neil Randall
Herbert Huncke Excerpt – Hilary Holladay
Finding Ferlinghetti – Calvin White
Ginsberg in the Underground: Whitman, Rimbaud and Visions of Blake – Delilah Gardner
Nothing is Perfect – Bob Pope
A Negative Score on the Happiness List: The Economics of Hustling in Bonnie Bremser’s For Love of Ray – Katie Stewart
The American Dreamer Goes the Way of the American Hobo – Gina Stritch
Telling All The Road – Max Bakke
Review: At the End of the Road
Beaten White – Alyssa Cokinis
The Surrealist – Brandon Lee
Review: The Whole Shot
Reconsidering Kerouac a Half-Century Later – Richard Kostelanetz
Cover by Waylon Bacon
We are delighted to share with you the cover of the next issue of Beatdom – the WAR issue. Designed by the wickedly wonderful Waylon Bacon, we feel it illustrates the horrors of war across the ages. In the magazine we will explore war in all forms, from Burroughs’ intergalactic wars, to the brutal realities of WWII and Vietnam, as viewed through the not-so-rose-tinted glasses of our Beat icons.
It’s here, it’s here, it’s finally here!!!!
That’s right, ladies and gentleman. Beatdom #12 – the CRIME issue – is now on sale. You can purchase your copy on Kindle or good old dead tree format, both from your favorite industry-crushing internet monopoly. The Paypal link from Beatdom Books is coming soon…
If you’ve read Beatdom before, then you’ve probably already placed your order for this new installment. You know what to expect, as we always deliver the best of the best of the best. But for those of you out there who have never before set eyes on the beatest literary journal around, let me give you a run-down of what to expect:
Firstly, let’s talk about the interviews. Beatdom editor, Michael Hendrick, has been busy talking with Patti Smith and Amiri Baraka – two of the biggest names in their respective fields. The conversations span politics, pens, and poetry. David S. Wills talked to none other than Joyce Johnson, one of the key influences in bringing to light the women of the Beat Generation. She discusses her new book – The Voice is All.
Then there are the essays. As always, you can count on Beatdom to bring you the finest in literary criticism and history analysis, and this time we have once again triumphed. We start with David S. Wills’ essay, “Beat Rap Sheet,” in which he highlights the criminal records (or unrecorded criminal activities) of the Beat trinity- William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. Matthew Levi Stevens takes it from there with a deeper look into the criminality of Burroughs, whose psychologist once referred to as a “gangsterling,” for his juvenile obsession with bad guys. We take a slight detour from the Beat route to look at Raymond Chandler and his portrayal of Los Angeles’ infamously mean streets, before returning to the Beats with essays by Chuck Taylor and Philip Rafferty, who discuss the value of Kerouac’s poetry and the extent to which the Beats were truly Zen, respectively.
Poetry is always a huge draw for our readers, and this time around we’ve packed a lot of quality verse into our little magazine. Our poets for this issue are Jamie McGraw, Catherine Bull, Michael Hendrick, Velourdebeast, Kat Hollister, Holly Guran, MCD, and Alizera Aziz.
We have fiction from Beatdom regular, Zeena Schreck, who has given us her theatre monologue, “Night Shift, Richmond Station,” and also from newcomer, Charles Lowe, with his tale of life in China, “Baby American Dream.” Both continue our exploration of the criminal element.
Jerry Aronson, director of the magnificent documentary, The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg, is back with a special Beat photo, and Spencer Kansa, author of the first ever Beatdom Books publication, Zoning, recounts a visit he paid to the late Herbert Huncke – the very man who inspired Burroughs and co. to their own criminal exploits in the 1940s.
We also have a review of Ann Charters and Samuel Charters’ book, Brother-Souls, which examines the life of John Clellon Holmes. The review functions also as a biographical essay, detailing some of the more interesting aspects of Holmes’ life.
Finally, we wrap up this outing with yet another piece of artwork from the one and only Waylon Bacon, entitled “Rogues Gallery.”
We certainly hope that you like to look at pictures – because this is about as many as we think we can squeeze into a single post. ***in June, 2016, all photos were wiped from our website
The idea is to show that, while the ebook and kindle formats are handy, Beatdom is still fun to have your own personal copy of, like in the old days of the literary journal, when you stuck it in your pocket or bag and pulled it out to read while on the bus, at the doctor’s office or in a crowded movie theater while some delinquent threw JuJubes in your hair.
While we all know you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, anybody who is familiar with French poet Arthur Rimbaud and the poem, ‘After The Deluge,’ from his earth-shattering collection ‘Illuminations,’ will spot him right away, That is thanks to the keen handiwork of multi-faceted artist Waylon Bacon, who graced the front cover of this issue with his brilliant dexterity and use of color.
It is a treat to get to see him do something for us in deep rich tones, since he has had to restrain himself to using black and white ever since we changed the format to that of the classic, standard old-style 6×9-inch black and white format, used by most literary journals.
In the following story by Katy Gurin, ‘Grizzly Bear,’ you can see more of Waylon’s work, only in the b/w format. This is still another excellent short story by Katy, about what can happen when people commune a little too closely with nature. This tale showcases her usual splendid imagination and wonderful gift for detail. Stuck in between there, shown on the back cover, since most people look at the front and back before opening it, is the advertisement for the next fiction release from Beatdom Books, ‘Egypt Cemetery,’ a memoir by Editor Michael Hendrick, which will be available soon at the usual outlets.
It is also worth noting that Katy will be publishing a full volume of her short stories with Beatdom Books, later this year. That volume will be illustrated by Waylon, since the two of them make such a great team for two people who have never even met each other. As Katy’s story continues the partygoers dressed as bears start to act more like bears just for the drunken fun of it.
Waylon not only provided the fine images you see here – but also managed to include some of his favorite monsters, like Frankenstein’s monster, his Bride, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, and some weird looking what-cha-ma-callits, that only he sees when he closes his eyes at night.
Bears like to catch fish but fishtank owners are not always appreciative. As you can see, our half-drunk pseudo-bears wander out into the Halloween night and do all the things bears are wont to do, until they are confronted by a real bear. How Katy thinks this stuff up is a mystery to us but we have been lucky enough to have her writing such inventive stories with truly absorbing plots since she was kind enough to provide us with her very first and fabulous yarn, ‘Meat From Craigslist,’ back in Issue Number Nine.
Next we have a look at the life of William S. Burroughs during his days as a farmer, written by Editor David S. Wills. Burroughs didn’t do so well working the land but Mr. Wills has been farming up quite a bit of information on the pistol-happy author while lurking about the Burroughs Archives at the New York City Public Library lately. Watch for more!
Somehow, archaeologist, activist and Beatdom regular Robin Como managed to find time to write two more of her intoxicatingly exquisite poems for your pleasure and if she doesn’t run away, we hope to have her back with more in our next issue!
Michael Hendrick tracked down Shelton Hank Williams, aka Hank Williams III, aka Hank3, on Thanksgiving Day morning last year, forcing him to hold a copy of Beatdom Issue Nine and interviewing him on topics ranging from going to Hell, to how his grandfather wrote one of the first recorded rock songs before rock’n’roll was invented, to the Right to Bear Arms.
Taking time out from his extensive studies, returning writer Rory Feehan penned this account of still another famous sharp-shooter, Hunter S. Thompson and his ventures and misadventures while living a not so quiet existence at perhaps California’s favorite Beat retreat, Big Sur.
While everybody was awaiting the release of the film version of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road,’ Mr. Wills tracked down the last remaining live male character depicted in the movie, Al Hinkle, who Kerouac called Ed Dunkel in the book. Mr. Hinkle is delighted to appear here.
Assistant Editor Kat Hollister, who labored intensively to help put this issue together marked her first appearance in Beatdom with the poem you see below; her efforts were rewarded by the dubious distinction of having it placed across from a poem by returning Beat literate Chuck Taylor, on the dodgy subject of his erection. Mr. Taylor dug up the old form of ‘doggerel’ to justify it, along with the fact that we are the only journal who would risk publishing it.
Where have you seen this face before? On the cover, it’s Arthur Rimbaud again, next to an essay by poet Larry Beckett, who takes apart the aforementioned poem, ‘After The Deluge.’ It is an insightful look at one of Rimbaud’s best know works, and also gives us a glimpse at the fantastic style of literary critique to be found in Mr. Beckett’s upcoming offering from Beatdom Books, ‘Beat Poetry.’
Matthew Levi Stevens is a new name to Beatdom readers and here he presents us with a review of the latest collection of letters written by William S. Burroughs when he was still living as an expatriate.
Kat Hollister, following the indignity of having her poem placed facing Mr. Taylor’s doggerel, was happy to find a spot next to this wonderful photograph, ‘wetlands in march no.2,’ by well-known nature photographer, g. thompson higgins.
Artist/Photographer/Musician and Writer, Zeena Schreck returned again this issue, with this touching and enlightening article. She writes of how she and multi-talented husband, Nikolas Schreck, stepped up and acted to save the lives of eighty wolves, diverting their carriage to safe habitat as they were being sent to an otherwise slow and cruel death.
Ann Charters, a name familiar to everybody in the world of Beat Literature and Literary History spoke with Mr. Hendrick, on working with Kerouac, the beginnings of Beat, her meeting with Alene Lee and the importance of John Clellon Holmes to the Beat Generation.
Internationally renowned poet Michael Shorb, a strong voice on environmental issues, was kind enough to grace our pages with this, his first appearance in Beatdom.
Reaching past Rimbaud to William Blake, Mr. Wills weighs in with a quick word on the literary influence of one of the most visionary of voices and his influence on the Beats.
When we think of Beat we think of the road and it is hard to think of a band who pounded the pavement harder than the Ramones. Richie Ramone, the fastest of the fast, spoke with Mr. Hendrick about life on the road, his forays into the Big Band sounds of the Drum Gods and his activism on behalf of pooches in peril in Los Angeles.
As usual, Waylon won’t go back into his cage until he gets one last bite on the hand the doesn’t feed him, so we leave you with him and his now traditional ‘last page, last word.’ This one, Waylon aptly titled ‘Sometimes Eye Gets Crazy!’
The next issue of Beatdom is nature-themed. Here’s the cover, featuring Arthur Rimbaud:
Art by Waylon Bacon. Beatdom Editor Michael Hendrick conceived the cover based on Rimbaud’s poem, After the Deluge, and Waylon brought it to life, sort of. Inside Issue 11, Larry Beckett, song-writer and author of Beatdom Books’ soon-to-be-released volume, Beat Poetry, looks at the poem in a new essay. Rimbaud has influenced everybody from Dylan Thomas to Bob Dylan and, who knows, maybe something may rub off on you! Pre-order a copy or pick it up when it comes out in about a week or two. The printer liked it so much that they shut down shop just to read it, so we are waiting to get a copy for ourselves!!!
Greetings, Dear Readers!
We know you have been waiting for the new issue of Beatdom to come out. Well, it is here and it is available and a lot of you have ordered your copy already at the crazy low cost of only $9.99 . Here are a few photos of the innards of this portable literary salon!
You will first notice the excellent cover art (above), which is a likeness of Krishna painted by Ed Terrell of the A.C.O.R. Gallery in Reading, PA. It is part of his series of portraits on Indian deities.
Hinduism: A Different Beat by Ravi and Geetanjali Joshi Mishra
Here we have a very interesting essay to go with that wonderful cover. Ravi and Geetanjali Joshi Mishra tell us about Hinduism and how the roots of the Beat movement actually spring from Hindu texts…which trickled down and eventually became the basis for Buddhism. The Mishras explain and show us why particular trappings of traditional Hinduism, such as same-sex relationships and the smoking of ganja to honour the Divine Entities, would appeal to our Beloved Beats.
A Short History Of Buddhism In Berlin by Zeena Schreck
Then, while you still have your Buddha on, check out what dharma has to do with the death of a fly in a new story by one of our newest contributors, Zeena Schreck. Zeena also gives us a tale of Sethian Awakening in another short story, called Lost and Found. These are great stories and we are sure you will enjoy them! Zeena is spiritual leader of the Sethian Liberation Movement and you can learn more about that at www.zeena.eu
William S. Burroughs: My Confessional Letter to the Western Lands by Nikolas Schreck
Also onboard as a new contributor is Nikolas Schreck, Zeena’s husband. The pair collaborated on the narration of the film Charles Manson Superstar. Here, Nikolas writes a letter to William S. Burrroughs, in which we learn, among other things, that David Bowie used Burroughs’ ‘cut-ups’ method of writing in his rocking LP Diamond Dogs, which was news to us! You can always learn something new in Beatdom!
Kitty Bruce on Lenny Bruce, Religion and Recovery, with Michael Hendrick
It seems like hardly an issue of Beatdom goes by that we do not mention Lenny Bruce, so this issue we are delighted to welcome his daughter, Kitty Bruce, to the pages of Beatdom. In this interview, she gives us the skinny on why Lenny had it in for religion, what it was like to grow up in a legendary showbiz household and what she is doing to preserve and celebrate the memory of her father. Comedy would not be as near the cutting edge as it is today, if not for Lenny.
Forever Stung by Michael Hendrick
Something that runs through every issue of Beatdom is wonderful artwork. The sketch of Lenny Bruce, as well as the illustration for this story, were penned by the magnificently ghoulish Waylon Bacon. This story tells how one of our beloved editors was not always a worldwise, bigtime publisher…he was a kid who fell for one of the oldest tricks between the two covers of the Bible, the lure of the Christian cult. Fans of TV’s Seinfeld will note that he was a member of what became the ‘Christian Brothers Carpet Cleaners’.
Eating The Beat Menu by Nick Meador
Since we are mentioning Art, we find still another new contributor of artwork in Kaliptus, who joined us to illustrate this story on Jack Kerouac by returning contributor, Nick Meador. Nick looks at the Jungian implications of Buddhism and Catholicism and the effect they had on Kerouac as a writer, a person and a speck of the universe.
Tristessa: Heavengoing by Paul Arendt
In a similar vein, we present you with another scholarly study on Kerouac, and the schism in his life created by his divergent beliefs in both Buddhism and Catholicism. In this essay, Arendt uses a lesser-known work of Jack Kerouac, Tristessa, to make his point and to pull examples from. If you have not read Tristessa, this will make you want to. It will also enlighten you as to Kerouac’s state of mind when he wrote it.
One and Only By Gerald Nicosia reviewed by Michael Hendrick
In some issues, certain Beats seem to get all the attention and in this issue Kerouac is King, it would seem. The absence of material on Ginsberg does not mean we forgot him. Nicosia’s book is subtitled, ‘The True Story of ‘On The Road,’ and in interviews with Luanne Henderson, who memorably rode in the car with Jack and Neal Cassady as they criss-crossed America, we find out how Kerouac’s famous novel became his undoing and how Neal became trapped in the image of ‘heroic entertainer’.
The Weird Cult: How Scientology Shaped the Writing of William S. Burroughs by David S. Wills
Back to Burroughs, here, Beatdom’s Editor-In-Chief reports on how William S. Burroughs got pulled into the web of Scientology, how it affected his writing, how he eventually because disenchanted with the sect and how he went after the group’s founder and leader, L. Ron Hubbard in a very public way. Mr. Wills continues research on this topic and will release a book on his findings, probably next year by Beatdom Books. What follows is another photo from Mr. Wills’ essay…
Then just to show that not all is serious and based on fact, we have another short story by Velourdebeast, about what can happen to a person when they have no faith in anything at all and throw themselves at the mercy of the world. Velourdebeast is a mysterious contributor from points West, who was literally born on the pages of Beatdom!
Maggie Mae and the Band by Velourdebeast
There is much more to this issue than the photos above, but we can only put so much in one post. There is lots of poetry and art that we just do not have the time or space to explain here but, on that, we shall leave you, as Beatdom does, with this last-page illustration by Waylon Bacon! Just remember that this is a print journal. While many of you enjoy it on Kindle and other platforms, there is nothing like seeing it in print. We took these photos to show that, and while some of them may not be in the best lighting, etc, we trust you all get the idea.
Words by Velourdebeast; illustrations by Waylon Bacon
A bowl of oatmeal slithered through Sarah’s guts, slippery like a water weenie, as she cleared out her bookshelves. Her stomach grumbled as she threw On the Road into a big brown box. Most of the books she was giving away she had loved as a teenager and they were books Sarah’s parents had loved in their youth. When she was sixteen, Sarah’s dad gave her The Dharma Bums and she cut classes to go to the library and read it. She cut class once to go the park, sit under a tree, drink hard cider she’d made in her closet and read Richard Brautigan’s The Pill vs. the Springhill Mine Disaster. The cider was very hard and she passed out in the shade, awakened by a cop who was worried she had died.
None of Sarah’s friends were as passionate and interesting as the Beats. Sarah often imagined modeling her life after the guys in their stories. She gave drunken rants. She wanted to imitate Jack Kerouac and hitchhike across the country or climb mountains and live life with the purity and purpose she felt while reading Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island. She tried to be as dreamy and sweet as the hero of Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar when he said:
‘I know a river that is half-an-inch wide. I know because I measured it and sat beside it for a whole day. It started raining in the middle of the afternoon. We call everything a river here. We’re that kind of people.’
But these books often made Sarah feel defensive. When she reached her late teens she realized that she was annoyed with the way these authors wrote about women, she stopped making excuses for them. She was tired of the beautiful ladies Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder stuck in between their pages like baseball cards in the spokes of a bike. She thought Richard Brautigan wrote about women like a cat would write about a toy mouse.
When she graduated from high school, Sarah moved out of her mom’s house to live in a university town seven miles away. It was her first semester at college. She was nineteen. She lived in a house with three other college students but she had her own room which she arranged and rearranged constantly. She loved getting rid of old things. She wedged The Pill vs. the Springhill Mine Disaster into the big box destined for a thrift store and she looked over at her bookshelves, which now held field guides and science and math textbooks. With her stomach growling like a hot refrigerator, Sarah turned on her computer and went to Craigslist for some comfort.
Sarah got money for school from the government. It was more than enough to live on when augmented with some part-time work and thrift. Sarah loved being thrifty, and she frequented the free section of Craigslist. That Saturday night, Northern California’s rural Humboldt County had an excess of the usual things – baby clothes, exercise equipment, pianos, and male animals: mostly ducks, roosters, goats, and rabbits. Their owners were giving them up because they were loud, aggressive, or just plain useless. Some of the postings specified that the animals not be eaten but many encouraged slaughter. One author said she didn’t care what happened to their aggressive horny rabbit as long as it was no longer around to hump her ten-year-old daughter’s arm every time she reached into his cage to feed him. According to the advertisement the bunny was probably tough but he’d taste good in a stew. The thought of rabbit stew made Sarah’s mouth release a pulse of saliva. She loved eating meat but the free range organic meat she liked was expensive. She realized that Craigslist could provide her with an abundant source of food from local, free range animals that were raised without growth hormones and antibiotics. She looked through her cookbooks until she decided which kind of meat she wanted, then called a soft-voiced woman who wanted to rid herself of a drake.
The next morning, Sarah rested her hand on the chilly steering wheel of her station wagon and drove east towards the hills, turning her back to the Pacific Ocean. She passed a marshy field full of cow pies, egrets, thistles and little brown birds, who called out as they flung themselves from brown branch to brown stalk. Growing along the side of the road were willows with soft grey catkins and long tassels of yellow pollen on their branches. Coltsfoot was just starting to open up; it looked like flowering vanilla ice cream cones a foot in diameter and smelled like buckwheat pancakes with honey. The sun was still very low during the day. For the past week a sheet of grey clouds had covered the sky, pouring rain steadily and patiently. Rain washed oil drippings and trash from roads and neighborhoods and into muddy streams that slipped off to die in the greatest ocean in the world.
Sarah drove through a neighborhood of single family homes built in one big spurt after the redwood trees were cleared in the late 1950s. College students and hippie families were tearing up driveways to make room for vegetable gardens and letting their lawns grow wild. As she headed further toward the hills the streets were no longer on a grid but followed the deep valley folds. It was a clear day but the hills blocked the sun. Second or third growth redwood trees grew close to the houses, brushing roofs with their boughs like tall humans reaching down to pet little dogs.
The address Sarah was looking for was near the end of the cul-de-sac and just past the road unmarked footpaths began and quickly disappeared in the dense redwood forest beyond. She parked her station wagon in front of a big, blue house, next to which was another lot full of long grass, an apple orchard, a brown pond and a duck coop. There was a solarium on the sunniest side of the house and, inside, it was paneled with wood and full of easels, books, yarn, tapestries and house plants. Sarah thought it would be nice to sit in the warm solarium and listen to the raindrops splat on the glass. The house was tidy except for a pane of glass on the solarium that was cracked and traced with duct tape. There was a fence around the yard and outside the fence a mosaic was being built on the pavement.
One of the panels of the mosaic showed two hands opening a curtain to reveal a flaming heart, while another was made from broken white porcelain bowls with tiny blue flowers painted on them. The mailbox was also covered in a mosaic and Sarah imagined that with time the people who lived there would decorate everything that didn’t move, encrusting objects with pretty glass in the same way that moss or mushrooms covers fallen debris in the forest. Blue and purple flowers grew in between red bricks in the front yard and a camellia dropped big, pink cake-frosting flowers on the other plants in the flowerbed. A hen-and-chicks succulent climbed like a scaly lizard out of an oversized teacup. Herbs grew from an old toilet.
Sarah walked up three low broad brick stairs and knocked on a blue door. A thirteen-year-old girl opened the door, introduced herself as “Violet” and told Sarah to wait while she found her mom. Violet was very articulate and Sarah assumed she must read a lot. She wore makeup, a tie, and a blue shirt with tight blue jeans. She disappeared up the stairs and reappeared with her mom, Victoria, who also wore blue. Victoria’s eyes were watery, and her voice sounded weak, as though she was talking for the first time after a long bout of crying but Sarah soon realized that this was a result of gentleness – not weakness or sadness. Victoria invited her into the house and Sarah was glad to step inside. The house was clean but not fastidious, full but not cluttered. She knew without asking that no men lived in the house.
In the backyard was a duck coop painted blue and shingled like the house, with glass-paned windows and a peaked roof. There with a high fence around it and on either side of the fence were mallard ducks. “We keep the drakes inside the coop,” Victoria said. The ducks inside the fence paced, looking out through the chicken wire, while the ones on the outside seemed more relaxed. Some of them lay down with their beaks tucked under their feathers, while others shuffled through grass and leaf litter, their bodies gyrating like clay on a potter’s wheel as they walked.
Violet leaned against her mother and Victoria casually put her arms around her. “We bought the chicks from a feed store and we were promised that they were all hens but it turned out that four were drakes,” Victoria said. “After that we started ordering from a farm in Idaho because they guaranteed hens.”
“You can tell the sex by holding the egg up to a candle and looking through,” Violet said. Then, all of a sudden, she seemed skeptical. “At least, that’s what they said, but I don’t know how that would work. Before they were sent, we got a message saying that we’d have to wait a week later, because our order hadn’t hatched,” she said, laughing.
Sarah remembered being shy and awkward when she was Violet’s age and she envied Violet, who seemed completely comfortable with herself.
“So, we got all these drakes by accident,” Victoria said. “We wanted to keep them, because we raised them from chicks, but they’re harassing all the other ducks. Especially Strider, the one we’re giving to you.” Victoria said the drakes were separated because they relentlessly chased the hens around the yard, trying to mount them. One day Strider startled a hen into flight and she collided with the glass solarium and broke her neck. Violet saw it happen, as well as the drake trying to copulate with her dead body. Violet chased Strider away and called her mom at her work at the County Social Services. “I came home from work and we buried her,” she gestured towards a little mound with some lettuce planted on it.
“We planted lettuce because that was her favorite,” Violet said, still leaning against her mom.
Sarah followed them to the coop. It was fragrant with fresh hay. The drakes didn’t try to get away from them. “They trust us because we fed them all by hand when they were chicks,” Victoria reminded Sarah. Victoria easily grabbed one of the ducks, pinning his wings against his sides and holding him tightly. He moved his head back and forth, tilting it to look at all three of them. He pointed his bill forward. His long neck curved into an “S” and settled down into his shoulders.
“So now you know why we want to give him away. Do you have any ducks?” Victoria asked Sarah.
“No. I think I’m going to eat him.”
Victoria glanced at Violet, who frowned and looked down at her feet. “Okay, we’d hoped to find someone who didn’t want him for meat, but then again I’d hate to let him loose on someone else’s hens and have the same thing happen. He’s too aggressive. And he’d be too lonely by himself – he lives to mate with those hens. Best to just put him out of his misery.”
Sarah never held a bird before. He flapped wildly when Victoria handed him to her. She held him at arm’s length until Victoria showed her how to trap his wings against his sides and hold him close and he quieted down again. His feathers engulfed Sarah’s fingers. It was cold outside and her fingers were half numb but the warmth from the drake’s belly revived them. She could feel her pulse returning to her fingertips, splashing in her hands like a wake from a boat breaking against the shore. He turned his head and looked at her with brown, oval eyes – first one, then the other. He had tiny eyelashes and his beak curled up into a very slight smile. The feathers on his head looked like green satin… material from a prom dress. He started murmuring as if he was trying to talk a baby into falling asleep. He pushed his head underneath her sleeve and nibbled at her wrist.
“He won’t hurt you. That bill is pretty useless for biting,” Violet said. They walked with Sarah and the duck out to her car and helped her put him in a box, solemnly closing the flaps over his head. Sarah wanted to ask if she could come over and hang out again but, instead, she thanked them too many times and drove off. She was embarrassed about her car, which had coffee stains on the seats and Styrofoam cups and candy wrappers forming a deep litter underneath. She looked out her rearview window, sad that they had already turned around, that they didn’t watch her leave.
Sarah drove back out of the hills, down the gentle slope to the bottoms where she lived, in a little, curlicue cul-de-sac of 1960s suburbia surrounded by cow pastures. She made a pen for the drake out of spare chicken wire and put it under some apple trees in her backyard. Apple blossoms fluttered down as she lifted him out of the box. Some of the pink petals landed on his head. She gave him water, lettuce and slugs. He jumped into the water bowl and squatted to get his belly wet and soon knocked most of the water out. Sarah filled up a big clear tub and he floated and dunked joyfully in it, flapping his wings when he surfaced, bobbing on the little waves he created. Sarah watched his feet paddle through the clear plastic. She saw him dive and open up his wings under water, flinging water over his back as he surfaced, then, nibbling at his feathers, straightening them in spastic bouts of preening.
Sarah had no idea how to slaughter a duck so she searched the internet, looking for the most humane way she could find. She decided that she would try to bleed the duck while hanging him upside down, restraining him in a modified traffic cone. Her knives were dull, so she went to the store to buy a whetstone. While she was out she stole a traffic cone from a construction site. When she got back home, she cut off the tip of the traffic cone so that it was the right size for the duck’s body, then sharpened a knife for the first time in her life. She held up the cone by fastening it to an apple tree with some wire, so the cone’s tip was level with her chest and she could use both hands to cut the drake’s neck.
Sarah lifted the duck out of the pen and held him against her belly. He nibbled on her arm, pulling softly at little hairs. His touch made her mind hum the same way it did when her boyfriend played with her hair. He cocked his head and looked at her with one oval eye. She tucked him under her arm and he felt warm against her side. She worried about how empty the moments after his death would feel. They both looked ahead as she walked towards the tree with the cone. It was foggy. The fog made the world seem small and immediate, as though choices made now were different from choices that had ever been made before. “Sorry, hun, but you did this to yourself,” she spoke softly to him.
She tied his legs together with a shoelace and stuck him in the cone so that he dangled head down from the apple tree. He relaxed. She picked up her sharp knife and doubted herself. She wondered what would happen if she wounded him but was too weak to end his suffering. She felt alone, knowing that none of her friends would want to help.
Sarah put her hand on his bill, and then she sliced into the neck just under his jaw, successfully missing the windpipe. Blood ran out slowly but he didn’t seem bothered by the cut. Sarah watched for minutes as his heart slowly pumped blood out of his body and onto the grass and apple blossoms below. She was worried that it wasn’t working, so she opened up the cut and the blood flowed a little more quickly. He squirmed slightly, as if he was waiting in line or wearing tight pants. Several more minutes passed. He pooped. His muscles clenched. A few seconds later he went limp. Sarah jiggled his body and his head swung back and forth freely. She was disgusted with herself for a moment but the feeling passed and she realized she had done well.
She heated up some water on her stove and dunked the carcass in it several times, making the feathers easier to pull out. She plucked the body, saving the down. She took the carcass outside again and upended a round log. She put on some latex gloves and set the plucked body on the log, cutting a slit just below the breast bone. It unnerved her to reach inside the body cavity because she didn’t know what it would feel like inside. She pulled out the guts, after first breaking a taut spider web of tendons.
She cut carefully around the duck’s cloaca so that she could get rid of any feces that remained. She wondered what would happen if she did this wrong and poop squirted out. If it got on the meat, would she have to get rid of it or could she just wash it off? What if she didn’t butcher in the right sequence? She cut the oil glands from the tail, again worrying that they would explode in her hands and send mysterious foul juice over the carcass. She pulled out the heart and lungs, saving the liver in a little plastic bag. She twisted off the neck.
Sarah’s roommate Amy ambled out the back door with a beer in her hand, shivering in a dress she had bought in LA. “What the fuck are you doing? It looks like hell out here,” Amy said, repulsed by the bucketful of guts, the bloody knife and feathers rolling across the yard like tumbleweeds.
“I’m going to cook this duck tonight. You should invite some people over,” Sarah said.
“I don’t think I can eat that. I’m thinking about being a vegetarian and Jim and Todd and me are leaving for Jessa’s party soon anyway,” Amy wrapped her arm around her belly and went back inside.
Sarah chopped up the drake and simmered him in a spicy curry sauce. She was very hungry and tired. The meat seemed completely different to Sarah than any meat she had eaten before; it was dangerous and potent. She didn’t like eating by herself. Part of her was afraid to eat the meat. What if it had been contaminated somehow, what if the duck had eaten something it shouldn’t have?
The simmering fowl steamed up the windows. Sarah poured herself a glass of wine, which made her cheeks turn red. She sat alone at her kitchen table. She dished herself up some chapathis, rice, curried vegetables and the breast of the duck. She took a bite and imagined the muscle clenching in her mouth. She peeled thin strings of tender meat back with her canines, then she held them in between her molars and bit down a little, letting the juices from the meat mix with saliva so the taste would reach every bud. When she was done, Sarah called a number she found on Craigslist.
The next day she came home with a cock.