The Raven

The Raven

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Dream Life of Balso Snell Nathanael West

While walking in the tall grass that has sprung up around the city of
Troy, Balso Snell came upon the famous wooden horse of the Greeks. A
poet, he remembered Homer's ancient song and decided to find a way in.

On examining the horse, Balso found that there were but three openings:
the mouth, the navel, and the posterior opening of the alimentary canal.
The mouth was beyond his reach, the navel proved a cul-de-sac, and so,
forgetting his dignity, he approached the last. 0 Anus Mirabilis!

Along the lips of the mystic portal he discovered writings which after a
little study he was able to decipher. Engraved in a heart pierced
by an arrow and surmounted by the initial N, he read, "Ah!
Qualls...Artifex...Pereo!" Not to be outdone by the actor-emperor, Balso
carved with his penknife another heart and the words "0 Byss! 0 Abyss! 0
Anon! 0 Anan!" omitting, however, the arrow and his initial.

Before entering he prayed:
"0 Beer! 0 Meyerbeer! 0 Bach! 0 Offenbach! Stand me now as ever in good

Balso immediately felt like the One at the Bridge, the Two in the Bed,
the Three in the Boat, the Four on Horseback, the Seven Against Thebes.
And with a high heart he entered the gloom of the foyer-like lower

After a little while, seeing no one and hearing nothing, Balso began to
feel depressed. To keep his heart high and yet out of his throat, he made
a song.

Round as the Anus
Of a Bronze Horse
Or the Tender Buttons
Used by Horses for Ani
On the Wheels of His Car
Ringed Round with Brass
Clamour the Seraphim
Tongues of Our Lord
Full Ringing Round
As the Belly of Silenus
Giotto Painter of Perfect Circles
Goes...One Motion Round
Round and Full
Round and Full as
A Brimming Goblet
The Dew-Loaded Navel Of Mary
Of Mary Our Mother
Round and Ringing Full
As the Mouth of a Brimming Goblet
The Rust-Laden Holes
In Our Lord's Feet.
Entertain the Jew-Driven Nails.

He later gave this song various names, the most successful of which were:
_Anywhere Out of the World, or a Voyage Through the Hole in the Mundane
Millstone_ and _At Hoops with the Ani of Bronze Horses, or Toe Holes for
a Flight of Fancy_.

But despite the gaiety of his song, Balso did not feel sure of himself.
He thought of the Phoenix Excrementi, a race of men he had invented one
Sunday afternoon while in bed, and trembled, thinking he might well meet
one in this place. And he had good cause to tremble, for the Phoenix
Excrementi eat themselves, digest themselves, and give birth to
themselves by evacuating their bowels.

Hoping to attract the attention of an inhabitant, Balso shouted as though
overwhelmed by the magnificence of his surroundings:

"0 the Rose Gate! 0 the Moist Garden! 0 Well! 0 Fountain! 0 Sticky
Flower! 0 Mucous Membrane!"
A man with "Tours" embroidered on his cap stalked out of the shadow. In
order to prove a poet's right to trespass, Balso quoted from his own
"If you desire to have two parallel lines meet at once or even in the
near future," he said, "it is important to make all the necessary
arrangements beforehand, preferably by wireless."
The man ignored his little speech. "Sir," he said, "you are an ambassador
from that ingenious people, the inventors and perfectors of the automatic
water-closet, to my people who are the heirs of Greece and Rome. As your
own poet has so well put it, 'The Grandeur that was Greece and the Glory
that was Rome'...I offer you my services as guide. First you will please
look to the right where you will see a beautiful Doric prostate gland
swollen with gladness and an over-abundance of good cheer."
This speech made Balso very angry. "Inventors of the automatic
water-closet, are we?" he shouted. "Oh, you stinker! Doric, bah! It's
Baptist '68, that's what it is. And no prostate gland either, simply an
atrophied pile. You call this dump grand and glorious, do you? Have you
ever seen the Grand Central Station, or the Yale Bowl, or the Holland
Tunnel, or the New Madison Square Garden? Exposed plumbing, stinker,
that's all I see--and at this late date. It's criminally backward, do you
hear me?"

The guide gave ground before Balso's rage. "Please sir," he said,
"please...After all, the ages have sanctified this ground, great men have
hallowed it. In Rome do as the Romans do."
"Stinker," Balso repeated, but less ferociously this time.
The guide took heart. "Mind your manners, foreigner. If you don't like it
here, why don't you go back where you came from? But before you go let me
tell you a story--an old tale of my people, rich in local color. And, you
force me to say it, apropos, timely. However, let me assure you that I
mean no offense. The title of the story is

"A traveler in Tyana, who was looking for the sage Appolonius, saw a
snake enter the lower part of a man's body. Approaching the man, he said:
"'Pardon me, my good fellow, but a snake just entered your...' He
finished by pointing.

"'Yes sir, he lives there,' was the astounding rejoinder.
"'Ah, then you must be the man I'm looking for, the philosopher-saint,
Appolonius of Tyana. Here is a letter of introduction from my brother
George. May I see the snake please? Now the opening. Perfect!'"
Balso echoed the last word of the story. "Perfect! Perfect! A real
old-world fable. You may consider yourself hired."
"I have other stories to tell," the guide said, "and I shall tell them as
we go along. By the way, have you heard the one about Moses and the
Burning Bush? How the prophet rebuked the Bush for speaking by quoting
the proverb, 'Good wine needs no bush'; and how the Bush insolently
replied, 'A hand in the Bush is worth two in the pocket.'"
Balso did not consider this story nearly as good as the other; in fact he
thought it very bad, yet he was determined to make no more breaks and
entered the large intestine on the arm of his guide. He let the guide do
all the talking and they made great headway up the tube. But,
unfortunately, coming suddenly upon a place where the intestine had burst
through the stomach wall, Balso cried out in amazement:
"What a hernia! What a hernia!"
The guide began to splutter with rage and Balso tried to pacify him by
making believe he had not meant the scenery. "Hernia," he said, rolling
the word on his tongue. "What a pity childish associations cling to
beautiful words such as hernia, making their use as names impossible.
Hernia! What a beautiful name for a girl! Hernia Hornstein! Paresis
Pearlberg! Paranoia Puntz! How much more pleasing to the ear [and what
other sense should a name please?] than Faith Rabinowitz or Hope
But Balso had only blundered again. "Sirrah!" the guide cried in an
enormous voice, "I am a Jew! and whenever anything Jewish is mentioned, I
find it necessary to say that I am a Jew. I'm a Jew! A Jew!"
"Oh, you mistake me," Balso said, "I have nothing against the Jews. I
admire the Jews; they are a thrifty race. Some of my best friends are
Jews." But his protests availed him little until he thought to quote C.
M. Doughty's epigram. "The semites," Balso said with great firmness, "are
like to a man sitting in a cloaca to the eyes, and whose brows
When Balso had at last succeeded in quieting the guide, he tried to
please him further by saying that the magnificent tunnel stirred him to
the quick and that he would be satisfied to spend his remaining days in
it with but a few pipes and a book.
The guide tossed up his arms in one of those eloquent gestures the latins
know so well how to perform and said: "After all, what is art? I agree with George Moore. Art is not nature, but rather nature digested. Art is a sublime excrement."

"And Daudet?" Balso queried.

"Oh, Daudet! Daudet, c'est de bouillabaisse! You know, George Moore also
says, 'What care I that the virtue of some sixteen-year-old maiden was
the price paid for Ingres' La Source?' Now..."
"Picasso says," Balso broke in, "Picasso says there are no feet in
nature...And, thanks for showing me around. I have to leave."
But before he was able to get away, the guide caught him by the collar.
"Just a minute, please. You were right to interrupt. We should talk of
art, not artists. Please explain your interpretation of the Spanish
master's dictum."
"Well, the point is..." Balso began. But before he could finish the guide
started again. "If you are willing to acknowledge the existence of
points," he said, "then the statement that there are no feet in nature
puts you in an untenable position. It depends for its very meaning on the
fact that there are no points. Picasso, by making this assertion, has
placed himself on the side of monism in the eternal wrangle between the
advocates of the Singular and those of the Plural. As James puts it,
'Does reality exist distributively or collectively--in the shape of
_eaches, everys, anys, eithers_ or only in the shape of an _all_ or
_whole_?' If reality is singular then there are no feet in nature, if
plural, a great many. If the world is one [everything part of the same
thing--called by Picasso nature] then nothing either begins or ends. Only
when things take the shapes of _eaches, everys, anys, eithers_ [have
ends] do they have feet. Feet are attached to ends, by definition.
Moreover, if everything is one, and has neither ends nor beginnings, then
everything is a circle. A circle has neither a beginning nor an end. A
circle has no feet If we believe that nature is a circle, then we must
also believe that there are no feet in nature.
"Do not pooh-pooh this idea as mystical. Bergson has..."
"Cezanne said, 'Everything tends toward the globular.'" With this
announcement Balso made another desperate at tempt to escape.
"Cezanne?" the guide said, keeping a firm hold on Balso's collar.
"Cezanne is right The sage of Aix is..." With a violent twist, Balso tore
loose and fled.
Balso fled down the great tunnel until he came upon a man, naked except
for a derby in which thorns were sticking, who was attempting to crucify
himself with thumb tacks. His curiosity got the better of his fear and he
"Can I help your he asked politely.
"No," the man answered with even greater politeness, tipping his hat
repeatedly as he spoke. "No, I can manage, thank you...
"My name is Maloney the Areopagite," the man continued, answering the
questions Balso was too well-bred to word, "and I am a catholic mystic. I
believe implicitly in that terrible statement of Saint Hildegarde's, 'The
lord dwells not in the bodies of the healthy and vigorous.' I live as did
Marie Alacoque, Suso, Labre, Lydwine of Schiedam, Rose of Lima. When my
suffering is not too severe, I compose verses in imitation of Notker
Balbus, Ekkenard le Vieux, Hucbald le Chauve.

"In the feathered darkness
of thy mouth,
O Mother of God!
I worship Christ
The culminating rose.

"Get the idea? I spend the rest of my time marveling at the love shown by
all the great saints for even the lowliest of God's creatures. Have you
ever heard of Benedict Labre? It was he who picked up the vermin that
fell out of his hat and placed them piously back into his sleeve. Before
calling in a laundress, another very holy man removed the vermin from his
clothes in order not to drown the jewels of sanctity infesting them.
"Inspired by these thoughts I have decided to write the biography of
Saint Puce, a great martyred member of the vermin family. If you are
interested, I will give you a short precis of his life.
"Please do so, sir," Balso said. "Live and learn is my motto, Mr.
Maloney, so please continue."
"Saint Puce was a flea," Maloney the Areopagite began in a well-trained
voice. "A flea who was born, lived, and died, beneath the arm of our
"Saint Puce was born from an egg that was laid in the flesh of Christ
while as a babe He played on the floor of the stable in Bethlehem. That
the flesh of a god has been a stage in the incubation of more than one
being is well known: Dionysius and Athene come to mind.
"Saint Puce had two mothers: the winged creature that laid the egg, and
the God that hatched it in His flesh. Like most of us, he had two
fathers: our Father Who art in Heaven, and he who in the cocksureness of
our youth we called 'pop'.
"Which of his two fathers fertilized the egg? I cannot answer with
certainty, but the subsequent actions of Saint Puce's life lead me to
believe that the egg was fertilized by a being whose wings were of
feathers. Yes, I mean the Dove or Paraclete--the Sanctus Spiritus. In
defense of this belief antiquity will help us again: it is only necessary
to remember Leda and Europa. And I must remind you, you who might plead a
puce too small physically, of the nature of God's love and how it
embraceth all.
"0 happy, happy childhood! Playing in the curled brown silk, sheltered
from all harm by Christ's arm. Eating the sweet flesh of our Saviour;
drinking His blood; bathing in His sweat; partaking, oh how fully! of His
Godhead. Having no need to cry as I have cried:
"Corpus Christi, salva me Sanguis Christi, inebria me Aqua lateris
Christi, lave me.
"In manhood, fullgrown, how strong Saint Puce was, how lusty; and how his
lust and strength were satisfied in one continuous, never-culminating
ecstasy. The music of our Lord's skin sliding over His flesh!--more exact
than the fugues of Bach. The pattern of His veins!--more intricate than
the Maze at Cnossos. The odors of His Body!--more fragant than the Temple
of Solomon. The temperature of His flesh!--more pleasant than the Roman
baths to the youth Puce. And, finally, the taste of His blood! In this
wine all pleasure, all excitement, was magnified, until with ecstasy
Saint Puce's small body roared like a furnace.
"In his prime, Saint Puce wandered far from his birthplace, that hairsilk
pocketbook, the armpit of our Lord. He roamed the forest of God's chest
and crossed the hill of His abdomen. He measured and sounded that
fathomless well, the Navel of our Lord. He explored and charted every
crevasse, ridge, and cavern of Christ's body. From notes taken during his
travels he later wrote his great work, _A Geography of Our Lord_.
"After much wandering, tired, he returned at last to his home in the
savoury forest. To spend, he thought, his remaining days in writing,
worship, and contemplation. Happy in a church whose walls were the flesh
of Christ, whose windows were rose with the blood of Christ, and on whose
altars burned golden candles made of the sacred earwax.
"Soon, too soon, alas! the day of martyrdom arrived [0 Jesu, mi
dulcissimel], and the arms of Christ were lifted that His hands might
receive the nails.
"The walls and windows of Saint Puce's church were broken and its halls

flooded with blood.
"The hot sun of Calvary burnt the flesh beneath Christ's upturned arm,
making the petal-like skin shrivel until it looked like the much-shaven
armpit of an old actress.
"After Christ died, Saint Puce died, refusing to desert to lesser flesh,
even to that of Mary who stood close under the cross. With his last
strength he fought off the unconquerable worm...."
Mr. Maloney's thin frame was racked by sobs as he finished, yet Balso did
not spare him.
"I think you're morbid," he said. "Don't be morbid. Take your eyes off
your navel. Take your head from under your armpit. Stop sniffing
mortality. Play games. Don't read so many books. Take cold showers. Eat
more meat."
With these helpful words, Balso left him to his own devices and continued
on his way.
* * * * *
He had left Maloney the Areopagite far behind when, on turning a bend in
the intestine, he saw a boy hiding what looked like a packet of letters
in a hollow tree. After the boy had left, Balso removed the packet and
sat down to read. First, however, he took off his shoes because his feet
What he had taken for letters proved on closer scrutiny to be a diary. At
the top of the first page was written, "English Theme by John Gilson,
Class 8B, Public School i86, Miss McGeeney, teacher." He read further.
Jan. 1st--at home
Whom do I fool by calling these pages a journal? Surely not you, Miss
McGeeney. Alas! no-one. Nor is anyone fooled by the fact that I write in
the first person. It is for this reason that I do not claim to have found
these pages in a hollow tree. I am an honest man and feel badly about
masks, cardboard noses, diaries, memoirs, letters from a Sabine farm, the
theatre...I feel badly, yet I can do nothing. 'Sir!' I say to myself,
'your name is not Iago, but simply John. It is monstrous to write lies in
a diary.'
However, I insist that I am an honest man. Reality troubles me as it must
all honest men.
Reality! Reality! If I could only discover the Real. A Real that I could
know with my senses. A Real that would wait for me to inspect it as a dog
inspects a dead rabbit. But, alas! when searching for the Real I throw a
stone into a pool whose ripples become of advancing less importance until
they are too large for connection with, or even memory of, the stone
_Written while smelling the moistened forefinger of my left hand_.
Jan 2nd--at home
Is this journal to be like all the others I have started? A large first
entry, consisting of the incident which made me think my life exciting
enough to keep a journal, followed by a series of entries gradually
decreasing in size and culminating in a week of blank days.
Inexperienced diary-writers make their first entry the largest. They come
to the paper with a constipation of ideas--eager, impatient. The white
paper acts as a laxative. A diarrhoea of words is the result. The
richness of the flow is unnatural; it cannot be sustained.
A diary must grow naturally--a flower, a cancer, a civilization...In a
diary there is no need for figures of speech, honest Iago.
Sometimes my name is Raskolnikov, sometimes it is Iago. I never was, and
never shall be, plain John Gilson--honest, honest Iago, yes, but never
honest John. As Raskolnikov, I keep a journal which I call The Making of
a Fiend. I give the heart of my Crime Journal:
--Crime Journal--
I have been in this hospital seven weeks. I am under observation. Am I
sane? This diary shall prove me insane.
--This entry gives me away.--
--Crime Journal-=
My mother visited me today. She cried. It is she who is crazy. Order is
the test of sanity. Her emotions and thoughts are disordered. Mine are
arranged, valued, placed.
Man spends a great deal of time making order out of chaos, yet insists
that the emotions be disordered. I order my emotions: I am insane. Yet
sanity is discipline. My mother rolls on the hospital floor and cries:
"John darling...John sweetheart." Her hat falls over face. She clutches
her absurd bag of oranges. She is sane.
I say to her quietly: "Mother, I love you, but this spectacle is
preposterous--and the smell of your clothing depresses me." I am insane.
--Crime Journal--
Order is vanity. I have decided to discard the nonsense of precision
instruments. No more measuring. I drop the slide rule and take up the
Golden Rule. Sanity is the absence of extremes.
Crime Journal Is someone reading my diary while I sleep?
On reading what I have written, I think I can detect a peculiar change in
my words. They have taken on the quality of comment.
--You who read these pages while I sleep, please sign your name here._
John Raskolnikov Gilson
--Crime Journal--
During the night I got up, turned to yesterday's entry and signed my
--Crime Journal--
I am insane. I [the papers had it CULTURED FIEND SLAYS DISHWASHER] am
When a baby, I affected all the customary poses: I "laughed the icy
laughter of the soul," I uttered "universal sighs"; I sang in
"silver-fire verse"; I smiled the "enigmatic smile"; I sought "azure and
elliptical routes." In everything I was completely the mad poet. I was
one of those "great despisers," whom Nietzche loved because "they are the
great adorers; they are arrows of longing for the other shore." Along
with "mon hysterie" I cultivated a "rotten, ripe maturity." You
understand what I mean: like Rimbaud, I practiced having hallucinations.
Now, my imagination is a wild beast that cries always for freedom. I am
continually tormented by the desire to indulge some strange thing,
perceptible but indistinct, hidden in the swamps of my mind. This hidden
thing is always crying out to me from its hiding-place: "Do as I tell you
and you will find out my shape. There, quick! what is that thing in your
brain? Indulge my commands and some day the great doors of your mind will
swing open and allow you to enter and handle to your complete
satisfaction the vague shapes and figures hidden there."
I can know nothing; I can have nothing; I must devote my whole life to
the pursuit of a shadow. It is as if I were attempting to trace with the
point of a pencil the shadow of the tracing pencil. I am enchanted with
the shadow's shape and want very much to outline it; but the shadow is
attached to the pencil and moves with it, never allowing me to trace its
tempting form. Because of some great need, I am continually forced to
make the attempt.
Two years ago I sorted books for eight hours a day in the public library.
Can you imagine how it feels to be surrounded for eight long hours by
books--a hundred billion words one after another according to ten
thousand mad schemes. What patience, what labor are those crazy sequences
the result of! What starving! What sacrifice! And the fervors, deliriums,
ambitions, dreams, that dictated them!...
The books smelt like the breaths of their authors; the books smelt like a
closet full of old shoes through which a steam pipe passes. As I handled
them they seemed to turn into flesh, or at lest some substance that could
be eaten.
Have you ever spent any time among the people who farm the great
libraries: the people who search old issues of the medical journals for
pornography and facts about strange diseases; the comic writers who
exhume jokes from old magazines; the men and women employed by the
insurance companies to gather statistics on death? I worked in the
philosophy department. That department is patronized by alchemists,
astrologers, cabalists, demonologists, magicians, atheists, and the
founders of new religious systems.
While working in the library, I lived in a theatrical rooming house in
the west Forties, a miserable, uncomfortable place. I lived there because
of the discomfort. I wanted to be miserable. I could not have lived in a
comfortable house. The noises [harsh, grating], the dirt [animal,
greasy], the smells [dry sweat, sour mold], permitted me to wallow in my
discomfort. My mind was full of vague irritations and annoyances. My body
was nervous and jumpy, and demanded an extraordinary amount of sleep. I
was a bundle of physical and mental tics. I climbed into myself like a
bear into a hollow tree, and lay there long hours, overpowered by the
heat, odor, and nastiness of I.
The only other person living on my floor, the top one, was an idiot. He
earned his living as a dishwasher in the kitchen of the Hotel Astor. He
was a fat, pink and grey pig of a man, and stank of stale tobacco, dry
perspiration, clothing mold, and oatmeal soap. He did not have a skull on
the top of his neck, only a face; his head was all face--a face without
side, back or top, like a mask.
The idiot never wore a collar, yet he kept both a front and a back collar
button in the neckband of his shirt. When he changed his shirt he removed
the collar buttons from the dirty shirt and placed them in the clean one.
His neck was smooth, white, fat, and covered all over with tiny blue
veins like a piece of cheap marble. His Adam's apple was very large and
looked as though it might be a soft tumor in his throat. When he
swallowed, his neck bulged out and he made a sound like a miniature
toilet being flushed.
My neighbor, the idiot, never smiled, but laughed continually. It must
have hurt him to laugh. He fought his laughter as though it were a wild

beast. A beast of laughter seemed always struggling to escape from
between his teeth.
People say that it is terrible to hear a man cry. I think it is even
worse to hear a man laugh. [Yet the ancients considered hysteria a
woman's disease. They believed that hysteria was caused by the womb
breaking loose and floating freely through the body. The cure they
practiced was to place sweet-smelling herbs to the vulva in order to
attract the womb back to its original position, and foul-smelling things
to the nose in order to keep the womb away from the head.]
One night at the movies, I heard a basso from the Chicago Opera Company
sing the devil's serenade from Faust. A portion of this song calls for a
long laugh. When the singer came to the laugh he was unable to get
started. He struggled with the laugh, but it refused to come. At last he
managed to start laughing. Once started, he was unable to stop. The
orchestra repeated the transition that led from the laugh to the next
bars of the song, but he was unable to stop laughing.
I returned home with my head full of the singer's laughter. Because of it
I was unable to fall asleep. I dressed myself and went downstairs. On my
way to the street I passed my neighbor the idiot. He was laughing to
himself. His laughter made me laugh. When he detected the strain in my
voice he grew angry. He thought that I was making fun of him. He said,
"Who you laughing at?" I became frightened and offered him a cigarette.
He refused it. I left him on the stairs, struggling with his laughter and
his anger.
I knew that if I did not get my customary amount of sleep, I would suffer
when the time came for me to get up. I was certain that if I went back to
bed I would be unable to sleep. In order to tire myself as quickly as
possible, I walked to Broadway and then started uptown. My shoes hurt me
and at first I enjoyed the pain. Soon, however, the pain became so
intense that I had to stop walking and return home.
On regaining my bed, I still found it impossible to fall asleep. I knew
that I must become interested in something outside of myself or go
insane. I plotted the death of the idiot.
I felt certain that it would be a safe murder to commit. Safe, because
its motives would not be comprehensible to the police. Policemen are
reasonable men; they do not consider the shape and color of a man's
throat, his laugh or the fact that he does not wear a collar, reasonable
motives for killing him.
You also, eh, doctor, consider these poor reasons for murder. I
agree--they are literary reasons. Reasoning your way, dear doctor--like
Darwin or a policeman--I am expected to trace my action back to some such
things as the desire to live or create life. Because I want you to
believe me, I shall say that in order to remain sane I had to kill this
man, just as I had to kill, when a child, all the flies in my room before
being able to fall asleep.
Nonsense, eh? I agree--nonsense. Please, please--here [please believe me]
is why I killed Adolph. I killed the idiot because he disturbed my sense
of balance. I killed him thinking his death would permit me to regain my
balance. My beloved balance!
The fact that I had never killed made me uncomfortable. What was this
enormous crime I had never committed? What were all the horrors attendant
on this act? I killed a man and discovered the answers. I shall never
kill another man. I shall never need to kill another man.
Let me continue with my confession. I decided not to plot an intricate
killing. I was afraid that if I attempted a complicated crime I might get
entangled in my own scheme. I decided to have the murder consist of only
one act, the killing. I even resisted the desire to look up certain books
in the library.
Because the idea of the killing involved the dishwasher's throat, I
decided to do the job with a knife. As a child I always took pleasure in
cutting soft, firm things. I purchased a knife about fifteen inches long.
The knife had only one cutting edge; the other edge or the back of the
knife was about half an inch thick. Its weight made it a perfect
instrument for the job.
I did not want to commit the murder too soon after purchasing the knife;
but on the very night that I brought it home, I heard the idiot come up
the stairs drunk. As I listened to him fumble with his key, I realized,
for the first time, that he locked his door at night. This unlooked-for
obstacle almost made me give up the idea of killing him. I rid myself of
my misgivings by thinking of the torture I would have to go through if I
frustrated my desire to commit murder. I decided to do the job that very
evening and have it over with. I put on my bathrobe and went into the
hall. His door was ajar. I went to it carefully. The idiot was stretched
out on his bed, drunk. I went back to my room and took off my bathrobe
and pajamas. I planned to do the murder naked, so that I should have no
blood-stained things to wash or destroy. What blood I got on my body I
could easily wash off. Naked: I felt cold; and I noticed that my genitals
were tight and hard, like a dog's, or an archaic Greek statue's--they
were as though I had just come out of an ice-cold bath. I was aware of a
great excitement; an excitement that seemed to be near, but not quite
within me.
I crossed the hall and entered the dishwasher's room. He had left his
light burning. I walked to him and cut his throat. I had intended to do
the cutting with several rapid strokes, but he awoke at the touch of the
steel and I became frightened and sawed at his throat in a panic. When he
lay still I calmed down.
I went back to my room and stood the knife up in the sink, like one does
a wet umbrella, letting what blood was on it run into the drain. I
dressed quickly, obsessed by the need for getting rid of the knife. While
dressing I became conscious of a growing fear. A fear that as it grew
seemed likely to burst me open; a fear so large that I felt I could not
contain it without rupturing my mind. Inside of my head this expanding
fear was like a rapidly growing child inside the belly of a mother. I
felt that I must get rid of the fear or burst. I opened my mouth wide,
but I was unable to give birth to my fear.
Carrying this fear as an ant carries a caterpiller thirty times its size,
I ran down the stairs and into the street. I hurried west toward the
I let the knife slip into the water. With the knife went my fear. I felt
light and free. I felt like a happy girl. I said to myself: "You feel
like a young girl--kittenish, cuney-cutey, darlingey, springtimey." I
caressed my breasts like a young girl who has suddenly become conscious
of her body on a hot afternoon. I imitated the mannered walk of a girl
showing off before a group of boys. In the dark I hugged myself.
On my way back to Broadway I passed some sailors, and felt an
overwhelming desire to flirt with them. I went through all the postures
of a desperate prostitute; I camped for all I was worth. The sailors
looked at me and laughed. I wanted very much for one of them to follow
me. Suddenly I heard the sound of footsteps behind me. The steps came
close and I felt as though I were melting--all silk and perfumed, pink
lace. I died the little death. But the man went past without noticing me.
I sat down on a bench and was violently sick.
I sat on the bench for a long time, and then returned to my room, sick
and cold.
Inside of my head the murder has become like a piece of sand inside the
shell of an oyster. My mind has commenced to form a pearl around it. The
idiot, the singer, his laugh, the knife, the river, my change of sex, all
cover the murder just as the secretions of an oyster cover an irritating
grain of sand. As the accumulations grow and become solidified, the
original irritation disappears. If the murder continues to grow in size
it may become too large for me to contain; then I am afraid it will kill
me, just as the pearl eventually kills the oyster.
* * * * *
Balso put the manuscript back into the tree and continued on his way, his
head bowed in thought. The world was getting to be a difficult place for
a lyric poet. He felt old. "Ah youth!" he sighed elaborately. "Ah Balso
Snell!" Suddenly he heard a voice at his elbow.
"Well, nosey, how did you like my theme?"
Balso turned and saw the boy whose diary he had been reading. He was
still in short pants and looked less than twelve years old.
"Interesting psychologically, but is it art?" Balso said timidly. "I'd
give you B minus and a good spanking."
"What the hell do I care, about art! Do you know why I wrote that
ridiculous story--because Miss McGeeney, my English teacher, reads
Russian novels and I want to sleep with her. But maybe you run a
magazine. Will you buy it? I need money."
"No, son, I'm a poet. I'm Balso Snell, the poet." "A poet! For Christ's
"What you ought to do, child, is to run about more. Read less and play
"Forget it. I know a fat girl who only sleeps with poets. When I'm with
her I'm a poet, too. I won her with a poem.
"0 Beast of Walls!
0 Walled-in Fat Girl!
Your conquest was hasdly worth
The while of one whom Arras and
Arrat, Pelion, Ossa, Parnassus, Ida,
Pisgah and Pike's Peak never interested.
"Not bad, eh? But I'm fed up with poetry and art. Yet what can I do. I
need women and because I can't buy or force them, I have to make poems
for them: God knows how tired I am of using the insanity of Van Gogh and
the adventures of Gauguin as can-openers for the ambitious Count
Six-Times. And how sick I am of literary bitches. But they're the only
kind that'll have me....Listen, Balso, for a dollar I'll sell you a brief
outline of my position." Balso gave the dollar to get rid of him and
received in return a little pamphlet.


Yesterday, while debating whether I should shave or not, news of the
death of my friend Saniette arrived. I decided not to shave.
Today, while shaving, I searched myself for yesterday's emotions.
searched, that is, the pockets of my dressing gown and the shelves of the
medicine closet. Not finding anything, I looked further. I looked [first
smiling, of course] into the bowels of my compassion, the depths of my
being, and even into the receding vistas of my memory. I came from my
search, as was to be expected, empty-handed. My "Open, oh flood gates of
feeling! Empty, oh vials of passion!" made certain and immediate the
defeat of my purpose.
That I failed in my search was for me a sign of my intelligence. I am
[just as children choose sides to play "cops and robbers" or "Indians and
cowboys"] on the side of intellect against the emotions, on the side of
the brain against the heart. Nevertheless, I recognized the cardboard and
tin of my position [a young man, while shaving, dismisses Death with a
wave of his hand] and did not give up my search for an emotion. I
marshalled all my reasons for grief [I had lived with Saniette for almost
two years], yet failed to find sorrow.
Death is a very difficult thing for me to consider sincerely because I
find certain precomposed judgments awaiting my method of consideration to
render it absurd. No matter how I form my comment I attach to it the
criticisms sentimental, satirical, formal. With these judgments there
goes a series of literary associations which remove me still further from
genuine feeling. The very act of recognizing Death, Love, Beauty--all the
major subjects--has become, from literature and exercise, impossible.
After admitting to myself that I had failed, I tried to cover my defeat
by practicing a few sneers in the bathroom mirror. I remembered that
yesterday I had used Saniette's death as an excuse for not shaving and
added in a loud voice, "Just as more than one friend will use the
occasion of my death as an excuse for breaking an undesired appointment."
Heartened by my sneering reflection in the mirror, I pictured the death
of Saniette. Hiding under the blankets of her hospital bed and invoking
the aid of Mother Eddy and Doctor Coué: "I won't die! I am getting better
and better. I won't die! The will is master o'er the flesh. I won't die!"
Only to have Death answer: "Oh, yes you will." And she had. I made
Death's triumph my own.
The inevitability of death has always given me pleasure, not because I am
eager to die, but because all the Saniettes must die. When the preacher
explained the one thing all men could be certain of--all must die--the
King of France became angry. When death prevailed over the optimism of
Saniette, she was, I am certain, surprised. The thought of Saniette's
surprise pleases me, just as the King's anger must have pleased the
Only a portion of my dislike for Saniette is based on the natural
antipathy pessimists feel for optimists, cowboys for Indians, cops for
robbers. For a large part it consists of that equally natural antipathy
felt by the performer for his audience. My relations with Saniette were
exactly those of performer and audience.
While living with me, Saniette accepted my most desperate feats in
somewhat the manner one watches the marvelous stunts of acrobats. Her
casualness excited me so that I became more and more desperate in my
performances. A tragedy with only one death is nothing in the
theatre--why not two deaths? Why not a hundred? With some such idea as
this in mind I exhibited my innermost organs: I wore my heart and
genitals around my neck. At each exhibition I watched carefully to see
how she received my performance--with a smile or with a tear. Though I
exhibited myself as a clown, I wanted no mistakes to be made; I was a
tragic clown.
I have forgotten the time when I could look back at an affair with a
woman and remember anything but a sequence of theatrical poses--poses
that I assumed, no matter how aware I was of their ridiculousness,
because they were amusing. All my acting has but one purpose, the
attraction of the female.
If it had been possible for me to attract by exhibiting a series of
physical charms, my hatred would have been less. But I found it necessary
to substitute strange conceits, wise and witty sayings, peculiar conduct,
Art, for the muscles, teeth, hair, of my rivals.
All this much-exhibited intelligence is but a development of the instinct
to please. My case is similar to that of a bird called the Amblyornis
inornata. As his name indicates, the Inornata is a dull-colored, ugly
bird. Yet the Inornata is cousin to the Bird of Paradise. Because he
lacks his cousin's brilliant plumage, he has to exteriorize internal
feathers. The Inornata plants a garden and builds a house of flowers as a
substitute for the gay feathers of his relative. Of course the female
Inornata loves her shabby artist dearly; yet when a friend passes, Mrs.
Bird of Paradise can say, "Show your tail, dear," while Mrs. Inornata, to
her confusion, has no explanation to give for her love. If she is in a
temper she might even ask Mr. Inornata to exteriorize a few internal
feathers. Still more, the Bird of Paradise cannot be blamed for the
quality of his tail--it just grew. The Inornata, however, is held
personally responsible for his performance as an artist.
There was a time when I felt that I was indeed a rare spirit. Then I had
genuinely expressed my personality with a babe's delight in confessing
the details of its inner life. Soon, however, in order to interest my
listeners, I found it necessary to shorten my long outpourings; to make
them, by straining my imagination, spectacular. Oh, how much work goes
into the search for the odd, the escape from the same!
Because of women like Saniette, I acquired the habit of extravagant
thought. I now convert everything into fantastic entertainment and the
extraordinary has become an obsession...
An intelligent man finds it easy to laugh at himself, but his laughter is
not sincere if it is thorough. If I could be Hamlet, or even a clown with
a breaking heart 'neath his jester's motley, the role would be tolerable.
But I always find it necessary to burlesque the mystery of feeling at its
source; I must laugh at myself, and if the laugh is "bitter," I must
laugh at the laugh. The ritual of feeling demands burlesque and, whether
the burlesque is successful or not, a laugh...
One night, while in a hotel bedroom with Saniette, I grew miserably sick
of the mad dreams I had been describing to amuse her. I began to beat
her. While beating her, I was unable to forget that strange man, John
Raskolnikov Gilson, the Russian student. As I beat her, I shouted: "0
constipation of desire! 0 diarrhoea of love! 0 life within life! 0
mystery of being! 0 Young Women's Christian Association! Oh! Ohl"
When her screams brought the hotel clerk to our door, I attempted to
explain my irritation. In part I said: "This evening I am very nervous. I
have a sty on my eye, a cold sore on my lip, a pimple where the edge of
my collar touches my neck, another pimple in the corner of my mouth, and
a drop of salt snot on the end of my nose. Because I rub them continually
my nostrils are inflamed, sore and angry.
"My forehead is wrinkled so hard that it hurts, yet I cannot unwrinkle
it. I spend many hours trying to unwrinkle my forehead. I try to catch
myself by surprise; I try to smooth my forehead with my fingers; I try to
concentrate my whole mind to this end, but I am unable to make smooth my
brow. The skin over my eyebrows is tied in an aching, unbreakable knot.
"The wood of this table, the glasses on it, this girl's woollen dress,
the skin under it, excites and annoys me. It seems to me as though all
the materials of life--wood, glass, wool, skin--are rubbing against my
sty, my cold sore and my pimples; rubbing in such a way as not to satisfy
the itch or convert irritation into active pain, but so as to increase
the size of the irritation, magnify it and make it seem to cover
everything--hysteria, despair.
"I go to a mirror and squeeze the sty with all my strength. I tear off
the cold sore with my nails. I scrub my salt-encrusted nostrils with the
rough sleeve of my overcoat. If I could only turn irritation into pain;
could push the whole thing into insanity and so escape. I am able to turn
irritation into active pain for only a few seconds, but the pain soon
subsides and the monotonous rhythm of irritation returns. 0 how fleeting
is pain!--I cry. I think of sandpapering my body. I think of grease, of
sandalwood oil, of saliva; I think of velvet, of Keats, of music, of the
hardness of precious stones, of mathematics, of the arrangements of
architecture. But, alas! I can find no relief."
Both Saniette and the clerk refused to understand. Saniette said that she
understood the irritation I was talking about was one of the spirit; yet,
she added, the only conclusion she could arrive at--a gentleman would
never strike a lady--was that I no longer loved her. The clerk murmured
something about the police.
In order to get him away from the door, I asked him if he had ever heard
of the Marquis de Sade or of Gilles de Rais. Fortunately, we were in a
Broadway hotel whose employees are familiar with the world. When I
mentioned these names, the clerk bowed and left us with a smile. Saniette
was also of the world; she smiled and went back to bed.
The next morning, remembering their smiles, I thought it advisable to
explain my actions again. Not that it was necessary for me to
differentiate between the kind of a beating alcohol inspires a
temperance-cartoon drunkard to give his hard-working spouse, and the
beating I had given Saniette; but, rather, that I found it difficult to
illustrate the point I desired to make clear.
"When you think of me, Saniette," I said, "think of two men--myself and
the chauffeur within me. This chauffeur is very large and dressed in ugly

ready-made clothing. His shoes, soiled from walking about the streets of
a great city, are covered with animal ordure and chewing gum. His hands
are covered with coarse woollen gloves. On his head is a derby hat.
"The name of this chauffeur is The Desire to Procreate.
"He sits within me like a man in an automobile. His heels are in my
bowels, his knees on my heart, his face in my brain. His gloved hands
hold me firmly by the tongue; his hands, covered with wool, refuse me
speech for the emotions aroused by the face in my brain.
"From within, he governs the sensations I receive through my fingers,
eyes, tongue and ears.
"Can you imagine how it feels to have this cloth-covered devil within
one? While naked, were you ever embraced by a fully clothed man? Do you
remember how his button-covered coat felt, how his heavy shoes felt
against your skin? Imagine having this man inside of you, fumbling and
fingering your heart and tongue with wool-covered hands, treading your
tender organs with stumbling soiled feet."
Because of the phrasing of my complaint, Saniette was able to turn my
revenge into a joke. She weathered a second beating with a slow, kind
Saniette represents a distinct type of audience--smart, sophisticated,
sensitive yet hardboiled, art-loving frequenters of the little theatres.
I am their particular kind of a performer.
Some day I shall obtain my revenge by writing a play for one of their art
theatres. A theatre patronized by the discriminating few: art-lovers and
book-lovers, school teachers who adore the grass-eating Shaw, sensitive
young Jews who adore culture, lending librarians, publisher's assistants,
homosexualists and homosexualists' assistants, hard-drinking newpaper
men, interior decorators, and the writers of advertising copy.
In this play I shall take my beloved patrons into my confidence and
flatter their difference from other theatregoers. I shall congratulate
them on their good taste in preferring Art to animal acts. Then,
suddenly, in the midst of some very witty dialogue, the entire cast will
walk to the footlights and shout Chekov's advice:
"It would be more profitable for the fanner to raise rats for the granary
than for the bourgeois to nourish the artist, who must always be occupied
with undermining institutions."
In case the audience should misunderstand and align itself on the side of
the artist, the ceiling of the theatre will be made to open and cover the
occupants with tons of loose excrement. After the deluge, if they so
desire, the patrons of my art can gather in the customary charming groups
and discuss the play.
* * * * *
When he had finished reading, Balso threw the pamphlet away with a sigh.
In his childhood, things had been managed differently; besides, shaving
had not been permitted before the age of sixteen. Having no alternative,
Balso blamed the war, the invention of printing, nineteenth-century
science, communism, the wearing of soft hats, the use of contraceptives,
the large number of delicatessen stores, the movies, the tabloids, the
lack of adequate ventilation in large cities, the passing of the saloon,
the soft collar fad, the spread of foreign art, the decline of the
western world, commercialism, and, finally, for throwing the artist back
on his own personality, the renaissance.
"What is beauty saith my sufferings then?" asked Balso of himself,
quoting Marlowe.
As though in answer to his question, he saw standing naked before him a
slim young girl busily washing her hidden charms in a public fountain.
Through the wood of his brain there buzzed the saw of desire.
She called to him, saying:
"Charge, oh poet, the red-veined flowers of suddenly remembered
intimacies--the foliage of memory. Feel, oh poet, the warm knife of
thought swift stride and slit in the ready garden.
"Soon the hot seed will come to thwart the knife's progress. The hot seed
will come in a joyous burst-birth of reeking undergrowth and swamp
"Walk toward the houses of the city of your memory, oh, poet! Houses that
are protuberances on the skin of streets--warts, tumors, pimples, corns,
nipples, sebaceous cysts, hard and soft chancres.
"Like the gums of false teeth, red are the signs imploring you to enter
the game paths lit by iron flowers. Like ants under a new-turned stone,
hysterical are the women who run there clad in the silk tights of
pleasure, oiled with fish slime. Women whose only delight is to rub the
jaded until it becomes irritated and grows new things, pimples of a..."
Throwing his arms around her, Balso interrupted her recitation by
sticking his tongue into her mouth. But when he closed his eyes to
heighten the fun, he felt that he was embracing tweed. He opened them and
saw that what he held in his arms was a middle aged woman dressed in a
mannish suit and wearing hornrimmed glasses.
"My name is Miss McGeeney," she said. "I am a writer as well as a school
teacher. Let's discuss something."
Balso wanted to bash her jaw in, but he found that he could not move. He
tried to curse, but could only say: "How interesting. On what are you
"At present I am writing a biography of Samuel Perkins. Stark, clever,
disillusioned stuff, with a tenderness devoid of sentiment, yet touched
by pity and laughter and irony. Into this book I hope to put the
whimsical humor, the kindly satire of a mellow life.
"On the surface Samuel Perkins: Smeller [for so I call it] is simply a
delightful story for children. The discriminating adult soon discovers,
however, that it sprang from the brain of a kindly philosopher, that it
is a genial satire on humanity.
"Under the title I intend placing as motto a verse from Juvenal: 'Who is
surprised to see a goiter in the Alps? Quis tumidum guttur miratur in
Alpibus?' I feel that this quotation strikes the keynote of the work.
"But who is Samuel Perkins, you are probably wondering. Samuel Perkins is
the biographer of E. F. Fitzgerald. And who is Fitzgerald? You are of
course familiar with D. B. Hobson's life of Boswell. Well, E. F.
Fitzgerald is the author of a life of Hobson. The subject of my
biography, Samuel Perkins, wrote a life of Fitzgerald.
"Sometime ago, a publisher asked me to write a biography, and I decided
to do one of E. F. Fitzgerald. Fortunately, before commencing my study, I
met Samuel Perkins who told me that he had written a biography of
Fitzgerald the biographer of Hobson the biographer of Boswell. This news
did not discourge me, but, on the contrary, made me determine to write a
life of Perkins and so become another link in a brilliant literary chain.
It seems to me that someone must surely take the hint and write the life
of Miss McGreeney, the woman who wrote the biography of the man who wrote
the biography of the man who wrote the biography of the man who wrote the
biography of Boswell. And that, ad infinitum, we will all go rattling
down the halls of time, each one in his or her turn a tin can on the tail
of Doctor Johnson._
"But there are other good reasons for writing a life of Perkins. He was a
great, if peculiar, genius with a character that lends itself most
readily to biography.
"At an age when most men's features are regular, before his personality
had been able to elevate any one portion of his physiognomy over the
rest, Perkins' face was dominated by his nose. This fact I have
ascertained from a collection of early photographs lent me by a profound
admirer of Perkins and a fellow practitioner of his art. I refer to
Robert Jones, author of a book called Nosologie.
"When I met Perkins for the first time, his face reminded me of the body
of a man I had known at college. According to gossip current in the
girls' dormitory this man abused himself. The source of these rumors lay
in the peculiar shape of his body: all the veins, muscles and sinews
flowed toward and converged at one point. In a like manner the wrinkles
on Perkins' face, the contours of his head, the lines of his brow and
chin, seemed to have melted and run into his nose.
"At this first meeting, Perkins said something that was later to prove
very illuminating. He quoted Lucretius to the effect that 'his nose was
quicker to scent a fetid sore or a rank armpit, than a dog to smell out
the hidden sow.' Like most quotations, this one is only partially true.
True, that is, of only one stage in Perkins' aesthetic development--the,
what I have called quite arbitrarily, excrement period.
"It is possible to explain the powers of Perkins' magnificent sense of
smell by the well-known theory of natural compensation. No one who has
ever observed the acuteness of touch exhibited by a blind man or the
gigantic shoulders of a legless man, will question the fact that Nature
compensates for the loss of one attribute by lavishing her bounty on
another. And Nature had made in the person of Samuel Perkins another
attempt at justice. He was deaf and almost blind; his fingers fumbled
stupidly; his mouth was always dry and contained a dull, insensitive
tongue. But his nose! His nose was a marvelously sensitive and nice
instrument. Nature had concentrated in his sense of smell all the
abilities usually distributed among the five senses. She had strengthened
this organ and had made it so sensitive that it was able to do duty for
all the contact organs. Perkins was able to translate the sensations,
sound, sight, taste, and touch, into that of smell. He could smell a
chord in D minor, or distinguish between the tone-smell of a violin and
that of a viola. He could smell the caress of velvet and the strength of
iron. It has been said of him that he could smell an isosceles triangle;
I mean that he could apprehend through the sense of smell the principles
involved in isosceles triangles.
"In the ability to interpret the functions of one sense in terms of
another, he is not alone. A French poet, in a sonnet of the vowels,
called the letter I red and the letter U blue. Another symbolist, Father
Castel, made a clavichord on which he was able to play melody and harmony
by using color. Des Esseintes, Huysmans' hero, used a taste organ on
which he composed symphonies for the palate.
"But can you imagine, new-found friend and esteemed poet, how horrible
was the predicament of this sensitive and sensuous man forced to
interpret the whole external world through conclusions reached by the
sense of smell alone? If we have great difficulty in discovering the
Real, how much greater must his difficulty have been?
"In my presence, Perkins once called the senses a treadmill. 'A
tread-mill,' he said, 'on which one can go only from the odors of
Indian-grass baskets to the sour smells of Africa and the stinks of
"Rather than a tread-mill, I should call the senses a circle. A step
forward along the circumference of a circle is a step nearer the starting
place. Perkins went, along the circumference of the circle of his senses,
from anticipation to realization, from hunger to satiation, from naiveté
to sophistication, from simplicity to perversion. He went [speaking in
Perkinsesque] from the smell of new-mown hay to that of musk and vervain
[from the primitive to the romantic], and from vervain to sweat and
excrement [from the romantic to the realistic]; and, finally, to complete
the circuit, from excrement he returned to new-mown hay.
"There is, however, a way out for the artist and Perkins discovered it.
The circumference of a circle infinite in size is a straight line. And a
man like Perkins is able to make the circle of his sensory experience
approach the infinite. He can so qualify the step from simplicity to
perversion, for example, that the curve which makes inevitable the return
to simplicity is imperceptible.
"One day Perkins told me that he was going to be married. I asked him if
he thought his wife would understand him, and whether he thought he could
be happy with a woman. He answered no to both questions, and said that he
was marrying as an artist. I asked him to explain. He replied that the
man who had numbered the smells of the human body and found them to be
seven was a fool, unless the number was used in its mystic sense.
"After studying this strange conversation with the master, I discovered
his meaning. He had found in the odors of a woman's body, never-ending,
ever-fresh variation and change--a world of dreams, seas, roads, forests,
textures, colors, flavors, forms. On my questioning him further, he
confirmed my interpretation. He told me that he had built from the odors
of his wife's body an architecture and an aesthetic, a music and a
mathematic. Counterpoint, multiplication, the square of a sensation, the
cube root of an experience---all were there. He told me that he had even
discovered a politic, a hierarchy of odors: self-government, direct..."
By this time, Balso had gotten one of his hands free. He hit Miss
McGeeney a terrific blow in the gut and hove her into the fountain.
* * * *
The wooden horse, Balso realized as he walked on, was inhabited solely by
writers in search of an audience, and he was determined not to be tricked
into listening to another story. If one had to be told, he would tell it.
As he hurried down the seemingly endless corridor, he began to wonder
whether he would ever reach the Anus Mirabilis again. His feet hurt badly
and his head ached. When he came to a café built into the side of the
intestine, he sat down and ordered a glass of beer. After drinking the
beer, he took a newspaper out of his pocket, put it over his face and
went to sleep.

Balso dreamt that he was a young man again, lurking in a corner of the
Carnegie Hall lobby among the assembled friends and relatives of music.
The lobby was crowded with the many beautiful girl-cripples who
congregate there because Art is their only solace, most men looking upon
their strange forms with distaste. But it was otherwise with Balso Snell.
He likened their disarranged hips, their short legs, their humps, their
splay feet, their walleyes, to ornament. Their strange foreshortenings,
hanging heads, bulging spinesacks, were a delight, for he had ever
preferred the imperfect, knowing well the plainness, the niceness of
Spying a beautiful hunchback, he suddenly became sick with passion. The
cripple of his choice looked like some creature from the depths of the
sea. She was tall and extraordinarily hunched. She was tall in spite of
her enormous hump; but for her dog-leg spine she would have been seven
feet high. Moreover, he could be certain that, like all hunchbacks, she
was intelligent.
He tipped his hat to her. She smiled and he snatched her from the throng,
crying as he took her arm:
"0 arabesque, I, Balso Snell, shall replace music in your affections!
Your pleasures shall no longer be vicarious. No longer shall you mentally
pollute yourself. For me, your sores are like flowers: the new, pink,
budlike sores, the full, rose-ripe sores, the sweet, seed-bearing sores.
I shall cherish them all. 0 deviation from the Golden Mean! 0 out of
The Lepi [for so did he instantly dub her] opened her mouth to reply and
exhibited one hundred and forty-four exquisite teeth in rows of four.
"Balso," she said, "you are a villian. Do you love as do all villains?"
"No," he answered, "I love only this." As he spoke, he laid his cool
white hands upon her beautiful, hydrocephalic forehead. Then, bending
over her enormous hump, he kissed her full on the brow.
Feeling his lips on her forehead, Janey Davenport, [the Lepi] gazed out
over the blue waves of the Mediterranean and felt the delight of being
young, rich, beautiful. No-one had ever before forgotten her strange
shape long enough to realize how beautiful her soul was. She had never
before known the thrill of being subdued by a male from a different land
from that of her dreams. Now she had found a wonderful poet; now she knew
the thrill she had never known before...had found it in the strength of
this young and tall, strangely wise man, caught like herself in the
meshes of the greatest net human hearts can know: Love.
Balso took her home and, in the hallway of her house, tried to seduce
her. She allowed him one kiss, then broke away. From her lips--overhung
by a moist eye and under-hung by a heaving embonpoint--there came, "Love
is a strange thing, is it not, Balso Snell?" He was afraid to laugh; he
knew that if he even smiled the jig would be up. "Love," she said, "is
beautiful. You, Balso, do not love. Love is sacred. How can you kiss if
you do not love?" When he began to unbutton, she said with a desperately
gay smile: "Would you want some one to ask of your sister what you ask of
me? So this is why you invited me to dinner? I prefer music."
He made another attempt, but she fended him off. "Love," she began again,
"Love, with me, Mr. Snell, is sacred. I shall never debase love, or
myself, or the memory of my mother, in a hallway. Act your education, Mr.
Snell. Tumbling in hallways at my age! How can you? After all, there are
the eternal verities, not to speak of the janitor. And besides, we were
never properly introduced." After half an hour's sparring, he managed to
warm her up a bit. She held him to her tightly for a second, capsized her
eyeballs, and said: "If you only loved me, Balso. If you only loved me."
He looked her in the eye, stroked her hump, kissed her brow, protesting
desperately: "But I do love you, Janey. I do. I do. I swear it. I must
have you. I must! I must!" She shoved him away with a sad yet determined
smile. "First you will have to prove your love as did the knights of
"I'm ready," Balso cried. "What would you have me do?"
"Come inside and I'll tell you."
Balso followed her into the apartment and sat down beside her on a couch.
"I want you to kill a man called Beagle Darwin," she said with great
firmness. "He betrayed me. In this hump on my back I carry his child.
After you have killed him, I shall yield up my pink and white body to
you, and then commit suicide."
"A bargain," Balso said. "Give me but your stocking to wear around my hat
and I'm off to earn the prize."
"Not so fast, my gallant; first I must explain a few things to you.
"After listening to Beagle Darwin recite some of his poetry, I slept with
him one night while my folks were visiting friends in Plainfield, New
Jersey. Unfamiliar as I was with the wiles of men, I believed him when he
told me that he loved me and wanted to take me to Paris to live in an
artistic studio. I was very happy until I received the following letter."
Here the Lepi went to a bureau and took out two letters, one of which she
gave Balso to read.

Darling Janey:

You persist in misunderstanding me. Please understand this: It is for
your own good that I am refusing to take you to Paris, as I am firmly
convinced that such a trip can only result in your death.
Here is the way in which you would die:
In your pajamas, Janey, you sit near the window and listen to the gay
clatter of Paris traffic. The highpitched automobile horns make of every
day a holiday. You are miserable.
You tell yourself: Oh, the carnival crowds are always hurrying past my
window. I'm like an old actor mumbling Macbeth as he fumbles in the
garbage can outside the theatre of his past triumphs. Only I'm not old;
I'm young. Young, and I never had any triumphs to mumble over; my only
triumphs were those I dreamed of having. I'm Janey Davenport, pregnant,
unmarried, unloved, lonely, watching the laughing crowds hurry past her

I don't fit into life. I don't fit into his life. He only tolerates me
for my body. He only wants one thing from me, and I want, oh how I want,
The ridiculous, the ridiculous, all day long he talks of nothing else but
how ridiculous this, that, or the other thing is. And he means me. I am
absurd. He is never satisfied with calling other people ridiculous, with
him everything is ridiculous--himself, me. Of course I can laugh at
Mother with him, or at the Hearth; but why must my own mother and home be
ridiculous? I can laugh at Hobey, Joan, but I don't want to laugh at
myself. I'm tired of laugh, laugh, laugh. I want to retain some portion
of myself unlaughed at. There is something in me that I won't laugh at. I
won't. I'll laugh at the outside world all he wants me to, but I won't, I
don't want to laugh at my inner world. It's all right for him to say: "Be
hard! Be an intellectual! Think, don't feel!" But I want to be soft. I
want to feel. I don't want to think. I feel blue when I think. I want to
keep a hard, outside surface towards the world, and a soft, inner side
for him. And I want him to do the same, so that we can be secure in each
other's love. But with his rotten, ugly jokes he keeps me at arm's length
just when I want to be confiding and tender. When I show him my soft side
he laughs. I don't want to be always on my guard against his laughter.
There are times when I want to put down my armor. I am tired of eternally
bearing armor against the world. Love is a merging, not an occasion for
intellectual warfare. I want to enjoy my emotions. I want, sometimes, to
play the child, and to make love like a child--tenderly, confidingly,
prettily. I'm sick of his taunts.
Pregnant, unmarried, and he won't marry me. If I ask him to, he will
laugh his terrible horse-laugh: "Well, my little bohemian, you want to
get out of it, do you? Life, however, is Life; and the Realities are the
Realities. You can't have your cake and eat it too, you know." He'll tell
his friends the story as a joke--one of his unexplainable jokes. All his
smug-faced friends will laugh at me, especially the Paige girl.
They don't like me; I don't fit in. All my life I have been a
misfit--misunderstood. The carnival crowds are always hurrying past my
window. As a kid, I never liked to play in the streets with the other
kids; I always wanted to stay in the house and read a book. Since my
father's death, I have no one to go to with my misery. He was always
willing to understand and comfort me. Oh, how I want to be understood by
someone who really loves me. Mother, like Beagle, always laughs at me. If
they want to be kind it is, "You silly goose!" If they are angry, "Don't
be an idiot." Only father was sympathetic, and he is dead. I wish I were
Joan Higgins would know what to do if she were in my position--pregnant
and unmarried. Joan fits into the kind of a life he and his friends lead
better than I do. Like the time Joan said she had gone back to live with
Hobey because it was such a bore looking for healthy men to sleep with.
Joan warned me against him; she said he wasn't my kind. I thought him
just my kind, sad and a poet. He is sad, but with a nasty sadness--all
jeers for his own sadness. "It's the war. Everybody is sad nowadays.
Great stuff, pessimism." Still he is sad; if he would only stop acting we
could be very happy together. I want so much to comfort him--mother him.
Joan's advice would probably be for me to make him marry me. How he would
howl. "Make an honest girl of you, eh?"

You can see the Café Carcas from the window. You are living in the Rue de
la Grande Chaumiere, at the Hotel Liberia.
Why don’t I fit in well at the Carcas? Joan would go big there. Why don’t
they like me? I’m as good looking as she is, and as clever. It’s because
I don’t let myself go the way she does. Well, I don’t want to. There is
something fine in me that won’t let me degrade myself.
You see me come out of the café, laughing and waving my arms.
I hope he comes upstairs.
You see me turn, and come towards the hotel.
Just as soon as he comes in I'll tell him I'm pregnant. I'll tell him in,
a matter-of-fact voice--casually. As long as I keep my tone casual he
won't be able to laugh.
"Hello darling, how are you this morning?"
"All right. Beagle, je suis enceinte."
"You're what?"
[Oh, damn my pronunciation, I spoilt it.] "I'm pregnant." Despite your
desire to appear casual you let a note of heartbreak into your voice. You
"We'll have a party tonight and celebrate." I leave the room, shutting
the door behind me, carefully.
I hope he comes upstairs.
You see me turn, and come towards the hotel.
Just as soon as he comes in I'll tell him I'm pregnant. I'll tell him in,
a matter-of-fact voice--casually. As long as I keep my tone casual he
won't be able to laugh.
Hello darling, how are you this morning?"
"All right. Beagle, je suis enceinte."
"You're what?"
[Oh, damn my pronunciation, I spoilt it.] "I'm pregnant." Despite your
desire to appear casual you let a note of heartbreak into your voice. You
"We'll have a party tonight and celebrate." I leave the room, shutting
the door behind me, carefully.
Perhaps he'll never come back...You run to the window--sick. You sit down
and prepare to indulge your misery. Your misery, your misery--you roll,
you grovel in it. I'm pregnant! I'm pregnant! I'm pregnant! You force the
rhythm of this cry into your blood. After the first moments of hysterical
anguish are over, you wrap your predicament around you, snuggling into
it, letting it cover you completely like a blanket. Your big trouble
shelters you from a host of minor troubles. You are so miserable.
You remember that "life is a prison without bars," and think of suicide.
No one ever listens to me when I talk of suicide. The night I woke up in
bed with him, it was no different. He thought I was joking when I said
that I had frightened myself by brooding on death. But I told the truth.
Death and suicide are never far from my thoughts. I said that death is
like putting on a wet bathing suit. Now death seems warm and friendly.
No, death is still like putting on a wet suit--shivery.
If I do it, I won't leave a note behind for him to laugh at. Just end it,
that's all. No matter how I word a farewell note he will find something
to laugh at--something to show his friends as a joke...
Mother knows I'm living with a man in Paris. Sophie wrote that everybody
is talking about me. If I were to go home--even if I were not
pregnant--mother would make an awful stink. I don't want to go back to
the States: a long dull trip followed by a long dull life teaching
elementary school.
What can I expect from him? He'll want me to have an abortion. They say
that on account of the decreasing birth rate it is hard to get a
competent doctor to do the operation. The French police are very strict.
If the doctor killed me...
If I kill myself, I kill my body. I don't want to destroy my body; it is
a good body--soft, white, and kind to me--a beautiful, happy body. If he
were a true poet he would love me for my body's beauty; but he is like
all men; he wants only one thing. Soon my body will be swollen and
clumsy. The milk spoils the shape of a woman's breasts after an abortion.
When my body becomes ugly, he will hate me. I once hoped that having a
child would draw him closer to me--make him love me as a mother. But
mother for him is always Mammy: a popular Broadway ballad, Mammy, Mammy,
my old Kentucky Home, put it all together, it spells Mother. He doesn't
see that Mother can mean shelter, love, intimacy. Oh, how much I want, I
need, love.
If I wanted to make a squawk, mother would force him to marry me; but she
would scold terribly and make a horrible scene. I'm too tired and sick to
go through with a shotgun wedding.
Maybe I passed my period because of the wine--no, I know. Where did I
read, "In my belly there is a tangled forest of arms and legs." It sounds
like his stuff. When he left, he said he'd give a party tonight in honor
of the occasion. I know what kind of a party it will be. He'll get drunk
and make a speech: "Big with child, great with young--let me toast your
gut, my dear. Here's to the pup! Waiters, stand erect while I toast my
heir." He and his friends will expect me to join in the sport--to be a
good sport.
He claims that the only place to commit suicide is on Chekov's grave. The
Seine is also famous for suicide: "'midst the bustle of `Gay
Paree'--suicide." "She killed herself in Paris." There is something
tragic in the very thought. French windows make it easy; all you have to
do is open the window and walk out. Every window over the third floor is
a door into heaven. When I arrive there I can plead my belly--oh, how
bitterly cruel the jest is. "Jest?" He would correct me--"not 'jest,' my
dear, but joke; never, never say 'jest."
Oh, how miserable I am. I need love; I can't live without someone to
treasure and comfort me. If I jumped from the third floor I might cripple
myself--lucky this room is on the fourth. Lucky? [Animals never commit
And mother--what would mother say? Mother would feel worse about my being
unmarried than about my death. I could leave a note asking him, as a
final favor, to write her and say that we were married. He would forget
to write.
When I'm dead, I'll be out of it all. Mother, Beagle--they will leave me
alone. But I can't blame my trouble on him. I got myself into this mess.
I went to his room after he acted decently in mine. I was jealous of
Joan; she had so much fun going to men's rooms, and all that sort of
thing. How childish Joan and her follies seem to me now.
When I'm dead the whole world as far as I am concerned--Beagle,
mother--will be dead also. Or aussi: I came to Paris to learn French. I
certainly learnt French. I wasn't even able to tell him in French without
turning my trouble into a joke.
What love and a child by the man I loved once meant to me--and to live in
Paris. If he should come back suddenly and catch me like this, brooding
at the window, he'd say: "A good chance for you to kill two birds with
one stone, my dear; but remember, an egg in the belly is worth more than
a bird in the bush." What a pig he is! He thinks I haven't the nerve to
kill myself. He patronizes me as though I were a child. "Suicide," he
says, "is a charming affectation on the part of a young Russian, but in
you, dear Janey, it is absurd."
You scream with irritation: "I'm serious! I am! I am! I don't want to
live! I'm miserable! I don't want to live!"
I'm only teasing myself with thoughts of suicide at an open window. I
know I won't do it. Mother will call me away: "Go away from that
window--fool! You'll catch your death-cold or fall out--clumsy!"
At the word "clumsy" you fall to your death in the gutter below the
Horrible, eh? Yes, Janey, it is a suicide's grave that I saved you from
when I refused to take you to Paris.
When Balso had finished reading, she handed him the other letter.
Darling Janey:
You did not take offence, I hope, at my letter. Please believe me when I
say that I tried to make my treatment of your suicide as impersonal as
possible. I did my best to keep the description of both our characters
scientific and just. If I treated you savagely, I treated myself no
gentler. It is true that I concentrated on you, but only because it was
your suicide. In this letter I shall try to show, and so even the score,
how I would have received your death.
You once said to me that I talk like a man in a book. I not only talk,
but think and feel like one. I have spent my life in books; literature
has deeply dyed my brain its own color. This literary coloring is a
protective one--like the brown of the rabbit or the checks of the
quail--making it impossible for me to tell where literature ends and I
I start where I left off in my last letter:
As Janey's half-naked body crashed into the street, the usual crowds were
hurrying to lunch from the Academies Colorossa and Grande Chaumiere; the
concierge was coming out of the hotel's side door. In order to avoid
running over her body, the driver of a cab coming from the Rue Notre Dame
des Champs and going toward the Square de la Grande Chaumiere, brought
his machine to a stop with screaming brakes. The concierge, on seeing the
cab stop suddenly, one wheel over the body of a tenant of his, ran up,
caught the chauffeur by the arm, and called loudly for the police. No one
had seen her fall but the driver of the cab; he, bursting with rage,
called the concierge an idiot, and pointed to the open window from which
she had jumped. A crowd gathered around the chauffeur and shouted at him
angrily. A policeman arrived. He, too, refused to believe the cab-driver,
although he noticed that the dead girl was in her pajamas. "What would
she be doing in the street in her night-clothes if she hadn't fallen from
the window?" He shrugged his shoulders: "These American art students."
Beagle, on his way to the Café Carcas for a drink, turned to see where so
many people were running. He saw the gesticulating group around the cab
and went back, grateful for any diversion on what had been such a dull
morning. As he joined them he kept thinking of Janey's announcement. "I'm
pregnant." It reminded him of another announcement of hers. "It's about
time I took a lover." "I'm pregnant" demanded for an answer, Life, just
as "It's about time I took a lover" had been worthy of no less a reply
than Love. She made a habit of these startling declarations: a few words,
but freighted with meaning.
He knew what "I'm pregnant" meant; it meant canvassing his friends for
the whereabouts of a doctor willing to perform the operation and writing
frantic letters to the States for the necessary money. Through it all,
Janey, having thrown the responsibility on him, would sit in one corner
of the room: "Do with me what you will"--the groaning, patient,
all-suffering, all-knowing, what has to be will be, beast of many

As he pushed into the crowd, someone told him a girl had been killed. He
looked where the chauffeur was pointing and saw the open window of their
room. Then he saw Janey under the cab; he could not see her face, but he
recognized her pajamas.
This was indeed a solution. The problem had been solved for him with a
vengeance. He turned away and hurried up the street, afraid of being
recognized. It had become impossible for him to take his drink at the
Carcas. If he went there some friend would surely come to him with the
news, "Beagle! Beagle! Janey has killed herself." He wanted to go
somewhere and prepare a reply. "Here today and gone tomorrow" would never
do, even at the Carcas.
He went past the Carcas up the Rue Delambre to the Avenue de Maine. On
this street he went into a café hardly ever visited by Americans and sat
down at a table in the corner of an inside room. He called for some
cognac and asked himself:
Of what assistance could I have been? Should I have gone down on my knees
in the street and wept over her dead body? Torn my hair? Called on the
Deity? Or should I gave gone calmly up to the policeman and said: "I'm
her husband. Allow me to accompany you to the morgue."
He ordered another cognac--Beagle Darwin the Destroyer. He pulled his hat
down over his eyes and tossed off his drink.
She did it because she was pregnant. I would have married her, the fool.
I hurt her when I made believe I didn't understand her French. "Je suis
enceinte." My "what" was one of the astonishment, not the "what" of
interrogation. No, it was not. You said "what" in order to humiliate her.
What is the purpose of all your harping on petty affectations? Why this
continual irritation at the sight of other peoples' stupidities? What of
your own stupidities and affectations? Why is it impossible for you to
understand, except in terms of art, her action? She killed herself
because she was afraid to face her troubles--an abortion or the birth of
a bastard. Absurd; she never asked you to marry her. You do not
He crouched over his drink, Tiger Darwin, his eyes half shut--desperate.
I wonder if she was able to avoid generalizing before she killed herself.
I am sure it was not trouble, that was uppermost in her mind, but the
rag-tag of some "philosophy." Although I did my best to laugh away finita
la comedia, I am certain that some such catch-word of disillusion was in
her mouth when she turned the trick. She probably decided that Love,
Life, Death, all could be contained in an epigram: "The things which are
of value in Life are empty and rotten and trifling; Love is but a
flitting shadow, a lure, a gimcrack, a kickshaw. And Death?--bah! What,
then, is there still detaining you in this vale of tears?" Can it be that
the only thing that bothers me in a statement of this sort is the
wording? Or is it because there is something arty about suicide? Suicide:
Werther, the Cosmic Urge, the Soul, the Quest, and Otto Greenbaum, Phil
Beta Kappa, Age seventeen--Life is unworthy of him; and Haldington Knape,
Oxford, author, man-about-town, big game hunter--Life is too tiresome;
and Terry Kornflower, poet, no hat, shirt open to the navel--Life is too
crude; and Janey Davenport, pregnant, unmarried, jumps from a studio
window in Paris--Life is too difficult. 0. Greenbaum, H. Knape, T.
Korn-flower, J. Davenport, all would agree that "Life is but the span
from womb to tomb; a sigh, a smile; a chill, a fever; a throe of pain, a
spasm of volupty: then a gasping for breath, and the comedy is over, the
song is ended, ring down the curtain, the clown is dead."
The clown is dead; the curtain is down. And when I say clown, I mean you.
After all, aren't we all...aren't we all clowns? Of course, I know it's
old stuff; but what difference does that make? Life is a stage; and we
are clowns. What is more tragic than the role of clown? What more filled
with all the essentials of great art?--pity and irony. Get it? The
thousands of sweating, laughing, grimacing, jeering animals out
front--you have just set them in the aisles, when in comes a messenger.
Your wife has run away with the boarder, your son has killed a man, the
baby has cancer. Or maybe you ain't married. Coming from the bathroom,
you discover that you have gonorrhoea, or you get a telegram that your
mother is dead, or your father, or your sister, or your brother. Now get
the picture. Outside, after your turn, the customers are hollering and
screaming: "Do your stuff, kid! We want Beagle! Let's have Beagle! He's a
wow!" The clowns down front are laughing, whistling, belching, crying,
sweating, and eating peanuts. And you--you are back-stage, hiding in the
shadow of an old prop. Clutching your bursting head with both hands, you
hear nothing but the dull roar of your misfortunes. Slowly there filters
through your clenched fingers the cries of your brother clowns. Your
first thought is to rush out there and cut your throat before their faces
with a last terrific laugh. But soon you are out front again doing your
stuff, the same superb Beagle: dancing, laughing, singing--acting.
Finally the curtain comes down, and, in your dressing room before the
mirror, you make the faces that won't come off with the grease paint--the
faces you will never make down front.
Beagle ordered another cognac and washed it down with a small beer. The
saucers had begun to pile up before him on the table.
Well, Janey's death is a joke. A young, unmarried woman on discovering
herself to be pregnant commits suicide. A very old and well-known way out
of a very old and stale predicament. The moth and the candle, the fly and
the spider, the butterfly and the rain, the clown and the curtain, all
could be cited as having prepared one [oh how tediously!] for her
Another cognac! After this cognac, he would go to the Café Carcas and
wait for a friend to bring him news of Janey's death.
How shall I receive the devastating news? In order to arouse no adverse
criticism, it will be necessary for me to bear in mind that I come of an
English-speaking race and therefore am cold, calm, collected, almost
stolid, in the face of calamity. And, as the death is that of a very
intimate friend, it is important that I show, in some subtle way, that I
am hard hit for all my pretence of coldness. Or perhaps because the
Carcas is full of artists, I can refuse to stop dreaming, refuse to leave
my ivory tower, refuse to disturb that brooding white bird, my spirit. A
wave of the hand: "Yes, really. You don't say so?--quite dead." Or I can
play one of my favorite roles, be the "Buffoon of the New Eternities" and
cry: "Death, what is it? Life, what is it? Life is of course the absence
of Death; and Death merely the absence of Life." But I might get into an
argument unbecoming one who is lamenting the loss of a loved one. For the
sake of the waiters, I will be a quiet, sober, gentle, umbrella-carrying
Mr. B. Darwin, and out of a great sadness sob: "Oh, my darling, why did
you do it? Oh why?" Or, best of all, like Hamlet, I will feign madness;
for if they discover what lies in my heart they will lynch me.
"Beagle! Beagle! Janey has fallen from the window and is no more."
"The girl you lived with is dead."
"Poor Janey. Poor Beagle. Terrible, terrible death." "And so young she
was, and so the cold street she lay."
"Bromius! Iacchus! Son of Zeus!"
"Don't you understand, man? The girl you lived with is dead. Your
sweetheart is dead. She has killed herself. She is dead!"
"Bromius! Iacchus! Son of Zeus!"
"He's drunk."
"Greek gods!--does he think we don't know he's a Methodist?"
"This is no time for blasphemy!"
"A little learning goes to the heads of fools."
"Yes, drink deep of the Pierian spring or..."
"Very picturesque though, 'Bromius! Iacchus!' very picturesque."
"'0 esca vermium! 0 massa pulveris!' Where is the rich Dives? He who was
always eating? He is no longer even eaten."
"A riddle! A riddle!"
"He is looking for a friend."
"He has lost something. Tell him to look under the table."
"He means the worms have eaten Dives; and that, in their turn dead, the
worms have been eaten by other worms."
"Or quick tell me where has gone Samson?--strongest of men. He is no
longer even weak. And where, oh tell me, where is the beautiful Appollon?
He is no longer even ugly. And where are the snows of yesteryear? And
where is Tom Giles? Bill Taylor? Jake Holtz? In other words, `Here today
and gone tomorrow.'"
"Yes, what he says is but too true. An incident such as the sad demise we
are now considering makes one stop 'midst the hustle-bustle of our
work-a-day world to ponder the words of the poet who says we are
'nourriture des vers!' Continue, dear brother in sorrow, we attend your
very word."
"I shall begin all over again, folks.
"While I sit laughing with my friends, a messenger stalks into the café.
He cries: 'Beagle! Beagle! Janey has killed herself!' I jump up, white as
a sheet of paper, let us say, and shriek in anguish: 'Bromius! Iacchus!
Son of Zeus!' You then demand why I call so loudly on Dionysius. I go
into my routine.
"Dionysius! Dionysius! I call on the wine-god because his begetting and
birth were so different from Janey's, so different from yours, so
different from mine. I call on Dionysius in order to explain the tragedy.
A tragedy that is not alone Janey's, but one that is the tragedy of all
of us.
"Who among us can boast that he was born three times, as was
Dionysius?--once from the womb of 'hapless Semele,' once from the thigh
of Zeus, and once from the flames. Or who can say, like Christ, that he
was born of a virgin? Or who can even claim to have been born as was
Gargantua? Alas! none of us. Yet it is necessary for us to compete--as it
was necessary for Janey to compete--with Dionysius the thrice born,
Christ son of God, Gargantua born 'midst a torrent of tripe at a most
memorable party. You hear the thunder, you see the lightning, you smell
the forests, you drink wine--and you attempt to be as was Christ,
Dionysius, Gargantua! You who were born from the womb, covered with slime
and foul blood, 'midst cries of anguish and suffering.
"At your birth, instead of the Three Kings, the Dove, the Star of
Bethlehem, there was only old Doctor Haasenschweitz who wore rubber
gloves and carried a towel over his arm like a waiter.
"And how did the lover, your father, come to his beloved? [After a warm
day, in the office he had seen two dogs in the street.] Did he come in
the shape of a swan, a bull, or a shower of gold? No!' But with his pants
unsupported by braces, came he from the bath-room."...
B. Hamlet Darwin towered over his glass of cognac, and, in the theatre of
his mind, over a cringing audience--tempestuous, gallant, headstrong,
lovable Beagle Dionysius Hamlet Darwin. Up into his giant heart there
welled a profound feeling of love for humanity. He choked with emotion as
he realized the truth of his observations. Terrible indeed was the
competition in which his hearers spent their lives; a competition that
demanded their being more than animals.
He raised his hand as though to bless them, and the customers and waiters
were silent. Gently, yet with a sense of mighty love, he murmured, "Ah my
children." Then, sweeping the Café Carcas with tear-dimmed, eagle's eyes,
he cried: "Yet, ah yet, are you expected to compete with Christ whose
father is God, with Dionysius whose father is God; you who were Janey
Davenport, or one conceived in an offhand manner on a rainy afternoon."
"Cognac! Cognac!"
After building up his tear-jerker routine for a repeat, he blacked out
and went into his juggling for the curtain. He climaxed the finale by
keeping in the air an Ivory Tower, a Still White Bird, the Holy Grail,
the Nails, the Scourge, the Thorns, and a piece of the True Cross.
* * * * *
"Well, what do you think of them?"
Balso awoke and saw Miss McGeeney, the biographer of Samuel Perkins,
sitting beside him at the café table. "Think of what?"
"The two letters you just read," Miss McGeeney said impatiently. "They
form part of a novel I'm writing in the manner of Richardson. Give me
your candid opinion: do you think the epistolary style too

Refreshed by the nap he had taken, Balso examined his interrogator with
interest. She was a fine figure of a woman. He wanted to please her and
"A stormy wind blows through your pages, sweeping the reader
breathless...witchery and madness. Comparable to George Bernard Shaw. It
is a drama of passion that has all the appeal of wild living and the open
road. Comparable to George Bernard Shaw. There's magic in its pages, and
warm strong sympathy for an alien race."
"Thank you," she said with precision.
How gracious is a woman grateful, thought Balso. He felt young again: the
heel of a loaf, a piece of cheese, a bottle of wine and an apple. Clear
speakers, naked in the sun. Young students: and the days are very full,
and the nights burst with excitement, and life is a torrent roaring.
"Oh!" Balso exclaimed, carried away by these memories of his youth. "Oh!"
His mouth formed an 0 with lips torn angry in laying duck's eggs from a
chicken's rectum.
"Oh, what?" Miss McGeeney was obviously annoyed.
"Oh, I loved a girl once. All day she did nothing but place bits of meat
on the petals of flowers. She choked the rose with butter and cake
crumbs, soiling the crispness of its dainty petals with gravy and cheese.
She wanted the rose to attract flies, not butterflies or bees. She wanted
to make of her garden a..."
"Balso! Balso! Is it you?" cried Miss McGeeney, spilling what was left of
his beer, much to the disgust of the waiter who hovered near.
"Balso! Balso! Is it you?" she cried again before he could answer. "Don't
you recognize me? I'm Mary. Mary McGeeney, your old sweetheart."
Balso realized that she was indeed Mary. Changed, alas! but with much of
the old Mary left, particularly about the eyes. No longer was she dry and
stick-like, but a woman, warmly moist.
They sat and devoured each other with looks until the waiter suggested
that they leave as he wanted to close the place and go home.
They left arm-in-arm, walking as in a dream. Balso did the steering and
they soon found themselves behind a thick clump of bushes. Miss McGeeney
lay down on her back with her hands behind her head and her knees wide
apart. Balso stood over her and began a speech the intent of which was
"First," he said, "let us consider the political aspect. You who talk of
Liberty and cling to the protection of Dogma in the face of Life and the
Army of Unutterable Physical Law, cast, I say, cast free the anchors, let
go the moorings of your desires! Let to the breezes flap the standard of
your revolt!
"Also we must consider the philosophical aspects of the proposed act.
Nature has lent you for a brief time a few organs capable of giving
pleasure. Among these are to be listed the sexual ones. The organs of sex
offer in reward for their intelligent use a very intense type of
pleasure. Pleasure, it is necessary to admit, is the only good. It is
only reasonable to say that if pleasure is desirable--and who besides a
few fanatics say it is not?--one should get all the pleasure possible.
First it is important to dissociate certain commonplace ideas. As a
thinking person, as an individualist--and you are both of these, are you
not, love?--it is necessary to dissociate the idea of pleasure from that
of generation. Furthermore, it is necessary to disregard one's
unreasonable moral training. Sex, not marriage, is a sacrament. You admit
it? Then why allow an ancient, inherited code to foist on you, a thinking
being, the old, outmoded strictures? Sexual acts are not sins, errors,
faults, weaknesses. The sexual acts give pleasure, and pleasure is
desirable. So come, Mary, let us have some fun.
"And for the sake of Art, Mary. You desire to write, do you not, love?
And you must admit that without knowing what all the shooting is about, a
sincere artist is badly handicapped. How can you portray men if you have
never known a man? How can you read and understand, see and understand,
without ever having known the divine excitement? How can you hope to
motivate a theft, a murder, a rape, a suicide, convincingly? And are you
ever out of themes? In my bed, love, you will find new themes, new
interpretations, new experiences. You will be able to judge for yourself
whether love is only three minutes of rapture followed by a feeling of
profound disgust, or the all-consuming fire, the divine principle, a
foretaste of the joys of heaven? Come, Mary McGeeney, to bed and a new
"And now, finally, we come to the Time-argument. Do not confuse what I
shall say under this head with the theories so much in vogue among the
metaphysicians and physicists, those weavers of the wind. My 'Time' is
that of the poets. In a little while, love, you will be dead; that is my
burden. In a little while, we all will be dead. Golden lads and
chimney-sweeps, all dead. And when dying, will you be able to say, I turn
down an empty glass, having drunk to the full, lived to the full? Is it
not madness to deny life? Hurry! Hurry! for all is soon over. Blown, 0
rose! in the morning, thou shalt fade ere noon. Do you realize the tune
the clock is playing? The seconds, how they fly! All is soon over! All is
soon over! Let us snatch, while yet we may, in this brief span, whose
briefness merely gilds the bubble so soon destroyed, some few delights.
Have you thought of the grave? 0 love! have you thought of the grave and
of the change that shall come over your fair body? Your most beautiful
bride--though now she be pleasant and sweet to the nose--will be damnably
mouldy a hundred years hence. 0 how small a part of time they share, that
are so wonderous sweet and fair. Ah, make the most of what we yet may
spend before we too into the dust descend. Into the dust, Mary! Thy sweet
plenty, in the dust. I tremble, I burn for thy sweet embrace. Be not
miserly with thy white flesh. Give your gracious body, for such a short
time lent you. Give, for in tile giving you shall receive and still have
what you give. Only time can rob you of your flesh, I cannot. And time
will rob you--it will, it will! And those who husbanded the golden grain,
and those who flung it to the wind like rain..."
Here Balso threw himself to the ground beside his beloved.
How did she receive him? At first, by saying no.
No. No! Innocent, confused. Oh Balso! Oh Balso! with pictures of the old
farm house, old pump, old folks at home, and the old oaken bucket--ivy
over all.
Sir! Stamping her tiny foot--imperative, irate. Sir, how dare you, sir!
Do you presume? Down, Rover, I say down! The prying thumbs of insolent
chauffeurs. The queen chooses. Elizabeth of England, Catherine of Russia,
Faustina of Rome.
These two noes graded into two yes-and-noes.
No...Oh...Oh, no. Eyes aswim with tears. Voice throaty, husky with
repressed passion. Oh, how sweet, sweetheart, sweetheart, sweetheart. Oh,
I'm melting. My very bones are liquid. I'll swoon if you don't leave me
alone. Leave me alone, I'm dizzy. No...No! You beast!
No: No, Balso, not tonight. No, not tonight. No! I'm sorry, Balso, but
not tonight. Some other time, perhaps yes, but not tonight. Please be a
dear, not tonight. Please!
But Balso would not take no for an answer, and he soon obtained the
following yeses:
Allowing hot breath to escape from between moist, open lips: eyes upset,
murmurs love. Tiger skin on divan. Spanish shawl on grand piano. Altar of
Love. Church and Brothel. Odors of Ind and Afric. There's Egypt in your
eyes. Rich, opulent love; beautiful, tapestried love; oriental, perfumed
Hard-bitten. Casual. Smart. Been there before. I've had policemen. No
trace of a feminine whimper. Decidedly revisiting well-known, well-plowed
ground. No new trees, wells, or even fences.
Desperate for life. Live! Experience! Live one's own. Your body is an
instrument, an organ or a drum. Harmony. Order. Breasts. The apple of my
eye, the pear of my abdomen. What is life without love? I burn! I ache!
Moooompitcher yaaaah. Oh I never hoped to know the passion, the
sensuality hidden within you--yes, yes. Drag me down into the mire, drag.
Yes! And with your hair the lust from my eyes brush. Yes...Yes...Ooh! Ah!
The miracle was made manifest. The Two became One. The One that is all
things and yet no one of them: the priest and the god, the immolation,
the sacrificial rite, the libation offered to ancestors, the incantation,
the sacrificial egg, the altar, the ego and the alter ego, as well as the
father, the child, and the grandfather of the universe, the mystic
doctrine, the purification, the syllable "Om," the path, the master, the
witness, the receptacle, the Spirit of Public School i86, the last ferry
that leaves for Weehawken at seven.
His body broke free of the bard. It took on a life of its own; a life
that knew nothing of the poet Balso. Only to death can this release be
likened--to the mechanics of decay. After death the body takes command;
it performs the manual of disintegration with a marvelous certainty. So
now, his body performed the evolutions of love with a like sureness.
In this activity, Home and Duty, Love and Art, were forgotten.
An army moved in his body, an eager army of hurrying sensations. These
sensations marched at first methodically and then hysterically, but
always with precision. The army of his body commenced a long intricate
drill, a long involved ceremony. A ceremony whose ritual unwound and
manoeuvred itself with the confidence and training of chemicals acting
under the stimulus of a catalytic agent.
His body screamed and shouted as it marched and uncoiled; then, with one
heaving shout of triumph, it fell back quiet.
The army that a moment before had been thundering in his body retreated
slowly--victorious, relieved.


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