Back to list

Download

PDF

Added
28/10/2011

Black Beauty

Joyelle McSweeney

Note: The following piece was commissioned by Writers’ Centre Norwich. Each year, WCN gathers up to forty writers and translators from around the globe in Norwich for the Worlds festival. Writers talk to each other about the art and craft of writing, spend time in each other’s company and join readers at public events. In 2011, Worlds focused on the notion of ‘Influence’, with commissioned provocations from Alfred Birnbaum, Maureen Freely, Natsuki Ikezawa, Gwyneth Lewis, Joyelle McSweeney, Christopher Merrill and CK Williams. A number of writers were commissioned to produce a literary response of their choice to the four day gathering.

 

1.
Of all the black beauty
of the Industrial Revolution
this mill was the finest

It shone like a bright camel saddle
through which the needle
must wiggle with its wealth

& now it pushes through.
This scratching of the historical record
releases black vinyl fumes. This virgin refuses

to hold up the roof. She steps out
of her ruined proscenium
waving a scourge

&

lowers it—thwack!—
on history’s backside

 

2.
Black Beauty:
Credit where credit is due.
The state collapsing into the arms of the goddess,

Debt, a numbered grave, a lower berth, a teenage prostitute
in black vinyl tube top, hemorrhaging
in a chip shop, a beauty, lately shipped in

via container ship, along with 4000 Barbies
& a pail to piss in. What luck
could that container ship contain? Only

irreparable damage:
how the universe signs for its purchases

 

3.

Then of course when there was less skill required
there was overproduction. Demand
withered up like an old man’s.

Curled up like a snail, an antler, a lens,
an olfactory whiff, a fallopian fen,
an irrigation, an embolism, an emblem, a fossile shelf,

a fossile, & a page,
a page, & a caved-in hutch, a hunch,
& a hunch

round a punched-in gut

 

4.
So the angel tucks up his quirt
climbs off his camel
withdraws into his yurt.

Straps on fishnets, girdle, stacked heels, then
emerges onto the stage, a ham, complete with cherry
and pineapple ring, one palm

on tassled hip, one
raised into the open disk of light.
His red lip curls

before the hissing microphone. Carcinogens
applaud inside his bones, a phone call
from the future, that ancient

alien home. He croons into the ruins
but can’t see them for the light
which brings each stain and blemish to light

 

5.
Some signs from the print shop:

WHEN THE GUILLOTINE IS IN OPERATION
NO PERSON TO BE WITHIN 1 METRE
OTHER THAN THE OPERATOR.

ENSURE CLAMP AND KNIFE ARE FULLY DOWN

PEN RULING:
THE INKED PENS OF THIS RULING MACHINE.
THE PLAIN PAPER DRAGGED UNDER
THE PENS BY THE CONTINUOUS BELT

GUM ARABIC
AMERI
CAN TYPEWRITER

(The infant on the fairy soap label
is wiped clean of facial features
and other identifying marks—

A perfect victim. Dump her in the fens.
But the type case is full of evidence:
muttons, nut spaces, thicks and hair.)

WITH 26 LEAD SOLDIERS/I HAVE CONQUERED THE WORLD!

Black beauty!

 

6.
A black letter day.
A gothic script with a grip
on the page.

For the word of God is toothy, fickle, fractious
for a fix. What does he want from us? Wheedling for attention,
riding in his fractal like a rocking-horse moon—

Where the ribs meet, the bosses grin like lozenges
thick with puns and information.
The polyglot bible is full of runes:

A hex for the barn                 & a pan for the brain
A pen for the hen                   & a blind for the hind
A shot for the pheasant        & a shot for the buck
A shunt for the skull             & a spike for the spine
A cake for the child               & a bar for the hand
A chain for the brain            & a chain for the bicycling heart

For that is a poor heart which
sheds its black robes
& flees its own chambers.

 

7.
The door unlocks by radar scheme.
Miss Loneliness, Marguerite Duras,
releases her valise and drops wearily to the bed.

Her mug wears lipstick, her cigarette,
stubbed out, wears the slouch and pout
of a gangster’s moll, prettily practiced

in the badge of a shot cop. The plot
unreels and reverses itself: refolds
into its envelope but is dropped

into the wet night grass. Whereupon a single rabbit,
like a magician’s prop, held aloft by a spangled, aging
beauty, becomes a herd and scales the black hill

as the eye goes compound as a fly’s. Black beauty.
A mini-hearse. It lifts off, riffs, carries its blackness
in specks to the sill of the mind. I select

from the wreckage a black valise,
a beauty, its skin rich as a sick
rumour and slick as a dirty mag. I slip

on the ravaged mask of Marguerite Duras,
stitch myself into that fascicle
as into a space capsule. A space age. Even maggots

raised in zero gravity will
abandon that wound
when there’s is nothing left to eat,

i.e. dead matter, Marguerite.
Are you grieving? Nah. You pick the locks
again, catch me picking my teeth

with my stiletto. You slice a lighting cue
into my back, breathe lines
into my mouth with your cigarette smoke

& are gone. The locks
snap shut. I finger the brass clasp,
put my ear to the valise,

its chestwall, still ticking,
hear the bony tumblers roll.
I clap the cuff around my wrist, click it shut

& step out into a silhouette so sharp
I could slit the town’s throat with it
& do. Black beauty

slicks the sleeping skins.
My name
on everyone’s lips.

Add new comment

Guest

Post as Guest