Thomas Denis Gibney

FICTION

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POETRY

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SOUND



“Amorous Lacoste alligators mingle with angels holding dynamite”
—Joshua Hammer







The Manuscripts

 

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Manuscript no. 2649 was received by The Sour Alligator’s online submission manager at eleven forty-nine and forty-eight seconds, p.m., on February 28, 2010. In total, it numbered 41 pages, each formatted landscape-style with two columns on each page, which were meant to replicate the opposing pages of a printed book. Counting each column, minus the anonymous title page, the tally came out to exactly 79—since the first left-hand column on what was really page 2 of the document (which in any other case would have counted as the first page) was, true to the art form, left blank—considering that all books (all the numberings of all printed pages) begin on the right-hand page. It clocked in at 40,343 characters (an approximate value). The text of the manuscript was written in Georgia, while the titles (including the table of contents, the titles of each individual poem, and the title of the book itself), were all written in Gill Sans Extra Bold. Also bathed in this latter font was an obscure—some might say gratuitous—epigraph taken from an apocryphal speech by Willie Mays, Hall of Famer and former outfielder for the New York and San Francisco Giants, not to forget a brief encore with the New York Mets. The manuscript was preceded by a polite but not overbearing cover letter introducing the text and the author’s wishes that it fit the aesthetic sensibilities for the The Sour Alligator’s 9th Annual First Book Contest For New And Emerging Poets, or at least that it fit those of the esteemed judge. When the submission had been successfully received, an acknowledgment page appeared that looked like this:


submissions


The manuscript was called Olde Time and three months later it was rejected in the first round by a junior editor and never seen by anyone else again.

 

~

5/29

- A story about a man who goes crazy after reading too many blogs, convinced he’s the guardian of a secret sect of literature. His journal.


5/30

- Actually: some pseudohistorical third-person [account] of his odyssey. [annal]   <----- stylized structural artifice, embedded verse, redoubtable and potentially complicit narrator, etc.

- A police sketch. A criminal profile. A portfolio of a writer on the run, a warrant for a literary outlaw, escaped to the dark ends of the literary universe.

- Styles acknowledged/copied:  Romancero. Ballad. Haibun. Mahayana sutra. Mashup of the Mesopotamian epic poem and late ’90s online wuxia fanfic. (?)

- As the story moves, bizarre encounters with a cadre of failed writers. The quest to find the right way.

- Who is the main character?

- What is the narrative voice like?

- Who is the main character?


5/31

Freewrite: First scenes

We open on an idyll of a character known only as Pedro Paraná. His murky origins are traced. First efforts to place him within the cosmology of writers he belongs to. Fantastical elements of this universe enumerated. Narration: omniscient; encyclopedic; slightly pandering, with occasional lapses into nursery-rhymish convention. The words ‘turgid verbosity’ come to mind. Later, suggestions of a more officious overtone. Title: definitively Cervantine.

 

I. Which Treats Of The Unexpected Manner In Which Pedro Paraná Set Out On His Own

Pedro Paraná was thirteen when, for lack of a better word, he ran away from his home on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, a slum village called Delganos which had a reputation for breeding death and all that comes along with it. His mother, always the insistent type, had raised him through many dark nights (a vaporous dark, the kind of dark that, inexplicably, leaves an afterglow—like the spots behind closed eyes), singing him to sleep with the lullabies she’d learned growing up along the Tigre river, lullabies which usually recounted gruesome things like rapings and pillagings, but always harbored a sweet ending, a kind of cathartic ending, if you will, the kind of ending that was a sort of loogie hocked in the face of the verses that had come before, as if to say, there, there, life is hard, yes we know, ya sabemos, Pedrito, las mujeres saben esas cosas, but we all prevail, don’t we, sooner or later? Her voice was like the voice of the Tigre river itself (or what little Pedro Paraná imagined the Tigre river to sound like): a slurred drawl, enervate and placating all at once, and just as strong-smelling. She occupied a sturdy filament in Pedro’s early life, at least in hindsight; that is, she was always a presence, in some form or another, throughout those impoverished, ramshackle years, through the only life he had known and therefore the only life he could imagine besides that of the inebriated river, babbling incoherently along toward so many undisclosed futures. But in the end it was her, wielding a bread knife glinting in a swath of moonlight, who chased him out of the dump of tarpaper and corrugated tin of their tent city, having gone mad at the death of Pedro’s older brother, whom he never saw except at odd hours of the night, sometimes bloody (this he could tell even in the dark, from his egg-crate cot, with one eye closed); who’d been for quite a while caught up with the AUC paramilitaries (the wrong kind of paramilitaries, no matter how you look at it); who got embroiled in a hit-and-run mission gone bad in a half-deserted alley; and whose body later turned up in Pedro’s mother’s bed in a state that we’d best not go into here.

The running wasn’t especially difficult—his mother collapsed shortly after the chase had begun—and before long it was only the patter of his feet that Pedro Paraná could hear as the hail of curses died down, or receded, or dissolved, or eloped into that crystallized vat of night. And with the obscenities slowly disappeared the battered strips of cardboard, the rusted rails, the blankets seriffed on clotheslines, the puddles of crumpled tarpaulin, the burlap tents, the makeshift fires, the trepanned brickwork, the glass teeth in the concrete, the shadowy faces, the indifferent faces, the faces which could have been anything, certainly shadows, certainly indifferent, staring out from under canvas roofs completely shrouded in shadow, without features, without expressions, without anything but indifferent fingers of fire reflected on their profiles, profiles which, if you looked twice, could have been optical illusions of the night, nothing more than the fabric of the vat itself, playing tricks on you by appearing to assume certain shapes, certain anthropomorphic shapes, which in the end were nothing at all but synaptic interpretations of what could, what might—what should?—be there.

Soon it all dissolved, all the features and the non-features, and the dew on the grass stroked his bare feet, in its own way catapulting him ahead—well what else can explain it? He kept running. He arched his neck toward the sky. Sprawling, undistilled: the same sky he’d seen for thirteen years, gazing up at it every night, through heat and through cold—but now it seemed different. The light pollution from Buenos Aires encroached from the left, but to the right the sky stretched like a tarp, a full moon cupped in its palms like a lone peppercorn. A great field blew before him. The grass was slick and comfortable. His breath was a thought he didn’t notice. And he kept running.

~

Four years later, it can be said, Pedro Paraná was still running.

In 2003 he popped up in the accounts of a certain Telmo Construction, LLC, based out of the capital—and just as quickly vanished after picking up his first two weeks’ paycheck. The nature of the work was unremarkable.

On July 14 of that year, his photograph appears on page 12F of the Municipalidad de Consternados’ Daily Consternado, sandwiched between a police notice and an advertisement for a 24/7 Filipino Singles Line. In the picture, his hair is cleft around the ears and scraggled. His lips are two sealed rinds, melon-tinted. The darks of his eyes, in the b&w print, are largely indecipherable.

The Filipino pictured opposite is practically drowning in fishnet.

After two months’ time, two separate police reports from the Consternados East Precinct mention a man named Pedro as a ‘person of interest.’ The interest in question surrounds a stolen ’66 Bonneville (black leather interior, manual drive) and a ’68 Chevy El Camino, semi-mother-of-pearl-off-white. [A second hand has drawn, in blue ink, a shaft protruding from two elaborately coiffured ovals and something hydrantile spewing into the immaculate Zaner Bloser flourishes of mother- . A ballpoint pen appears to have been employed.]

In 2004, a guesthouse in São Agostino reports to have noticed missing an entire closet’s worth of cachaça and passion fruit just two days after the disapperance of a ‘scraggle-haired, skin mud-dark’ kid who for a week straight had showed up every sunset hawking papers and fawning over the owner’s maracujá caipirinhas, generally ‘being a piss’ and falling in ‘all too nicely’ with every single one of the guests, ‘which I as the owner I couldn’t really do anything about, even if he did smell like ass. All the older married women kept buying him those goddamn caipirinhas.’

Later that fall, he is said to have been spotted in the mining village of Gozar Reinas.

Other sources place him around this time at a Chilean-owned pharmacy on the outskirts of Mendoza.

Still others contend that he took up residence in a particularly frigid corner of Ushuaia, clearing trails for the local conservation authorities and putting sizeable dents in the rangers’ cellars’ stock.

From May of 2005 through roughly September of 2006, the history bears nothing as to the goings-on of Pedro Paraná.

On December 14, 2006, a library card was registered in the capital under the name pedro, ________. When explained to him that there were many people with the name Pedro in the system, and that at least his family name was needed in order to set up his account, the dark-eyed boy who stood before her reportedly blinked once and told the clerk, ‘That is my family name.’ The clerk’s name is Lidia, the same name that was pinioned to her blouse that day she shrugged and set her fingers to work on the keyboard; and today she is a happily-married mother of two living in Belgrano, who never once has used an artificial dye to highlight her plumb blond hair.

According to some, Pedro could be seen thereafter around the wharf districts of Tapalcuya. Often, they will say, he was wearing a stevedore’s cap and an oversized faded denim button-down. Descriptions vary widely, depending on who you ask. But of one detail, disagreement is generally not to be found: above his right eyebrow, slashing down and across the lid of the eye, a soft pink abrasion streaked in gentle contrast to the mud-dark of his skin.

~

This Pedro Paraná, it should be noted, is not to be confused with a certain Pedro Paramo who that same year was making waves in literary salons from Buenos Aires to Malas Ondas, and in the ladies’ rooms of these, respectively. This Paramo character—his name now believed to be a corruption of the nineteenth-century Serbo-Croatian Paražo, Hispanicized when the man’s great grandfather came to Argentina by way of the hull of some ship, which in turn came by way of the hull of Europe (i.e., Serbia [i.e., the butthull of the Hapsburg Empire]), but how anyone in their right immigrant-coercing mind could fudge an m out of the diacritical Serbo-Croatian ž, (which when pronounced sounds like a murder of crows syphoned through a Cuisinart), Cyrillic-to-Latin transliteration notwithstanding, neither the freakishly-interested Paramo biographers nor the author of this dubious history care to figure out—this character burst on the scene like a hot checkered linoleum kitchen floor, tastemakers and domesticated consumers alike installing him in their bookshelves and bookbags and toiletside magazine caddies (see above, “in the ladies’ rooms of these…”). All because of a gaunt and highly digestible book called Blood Moon Rising, which stunk of so much melodrama there’s no wonder the places it ended up.

Paramo’s writing was crisp, haggard—a kind of Hemingway without the marrow. Snappy dialogue and brisk page-turning descriptions of various characters’ gesticular patterns were deployed to miserly effect. It cut the ice, especially among company in aforementioned salons whose brows arched so high it’s really quite believed that city ordinances regulated those salons’ ceilings’ heights as such for the express purpose of not having to be so perpetually repainting them because of scoff-marks. It’s hard to fit arches into low ceilings. Poor architectural vision, if you ask someone who knows. But the cutting of the ice really began when this Paramo was hovering at like one-foot-in-the-grave status, so poor and miserable and fetally bowled over on the one single chair on his own dust-bunnied linoleum, eating his one daily nocturnal meal of frozen peas [and they literally were frozen at this time, because he couldn’t afford gas in the winter so as to heat a pot of water so as to cook them (on this count he didn’t even own a pot), and so sometimes when he’d forgo the just letting the store-bought bag of frozen peas shirk its ice-cloak of its own agonizingly slow volition or when he just out of pure madness or impatience couldn’t bear to sit and watch them unfreeze molecule by molecule (and when he just couldn’t stand anymore, alternatively, to sleep with these bags of frozen peas under his blanket, so as to somehow defrost them overnight with the frazzled waves of his body warmth), and so he literally was eating them this night as he did many winter nights as the straight-from-the-bag, teeth-fracturing green pellets they were sold as], when the telephone rang—he had a telephone? yes, oddly, he had a telephone, wretched man—and at first he just kind of gawked at it, the drool-encased gawk of a man who has eaten frozen peas and only frozen peas for going on six or eight or thirteen months, it could have been a hallucination, in fact it probably was, he no doubt was thinking; in fact, he was no doubt thinking: was that oblong wiry plastic thing with a dented cheek not unlike his own even a phone? he was beginning to wonder—but yes, it most certainly was a phone, that much was certain, upon further review, and he almost didn’t catch it in time hobbling across the linoleum with his one foot stuck in the grave and he didn’t even find the strength in that moment to utter anything even remotely syllabic but to his surprise there gullowed the rounded authoritative voice of one who would later turn out in the flesh to be a burly, prodigiously mustachioed man who pretty much saved Paramo’s fourth-generation-Serbo-Croatian immigrant life, hoisted it right up from the grave and bought him some clothes and some food and most importantly published his book, Pedro, this book has mustard (which was probably a cruel [albeit unintentional] choice of words, considering Paramo’s hunger-stricken state) and Paramo at first not knowing what the hell this rounded, authoritative voice was talking about, The book, the book you somehow—how did this get in our hands? … And the title, Je-susBlood Moon Rising —he shaped the syllables in full, so beautiful and unbelievable to Pedro Paramo’s withered ears—  it’s a winner, kid. You there? …Hey, is this the Paramo residence?  and finally that was when the proverbial ice was cut—shattered—and if you ask anyone who may give tell about it, it was a knee-drop-to-linoleum kind of moment, they will tell you. Pedro Paramo was saved. Pedro Paramo: no longer a shadow, a sliver. He was Pedro Paramo, acclaimed author.

The mustard, the ice, what have you—it cut it. Blood Moon Rising leaped off the shelf. It sauntered around in the pockets of salonists. It popped up in airports, guaranteeing international traffic. It was one of those rare books that airport passers-through and high-browers alike fall for: the story of an Eastern European immigrant named Jelena, lured into the promise of opportunity and remittances for her destitute family back in Zagreb, who forwent the better urgings of common sense concerning a dubious personality named Nigel she’d met digitally on a ‘recruitment agency’ website, this Nigel assuring her he’d pick her up at Heathrow and set her up with a liveable haunt and have her working in the Intel call center in no time. But Nigel’s forked tongue was matched only by his forked switchblade. Once outside the airport, what had appeared to be an air-conditioned, limousine-quality Lincoln Town and Country turned into a mobile torture cell. She was gagged, lugged, and dragged into a warehouse on the outskirts of nowhere. Ways were had. There was the bedpost and there was the rope. One night—who knows how many nights, how many visitors, how many cold stricken palpitations—ways were had at the hands of a man with a fondness for vodka and black leather whips, which he employed to exacting service until he unwittingly let his post-coital guard down, the prism-like Ketel One bottle raised in mid-swig when it suddenly smashed against the bridge of his nose and upper lip at the hands of an uncouth foot, the shards of glass and enamel billowing, the visitor K.O.’d, supine, on the hardwood floor, the spine of his nose having javelined upwards, effectively impaling the frontal lobe—such a ruckus as went unremarked by those in the rooms adjoining, because it crudely wasn’t out of sync with the row that had carried on before—and a fortuitous, extra-long and -pointy shard of Ketel One glasswork falling in Jelena’s palm, affording the optimum scalpel with which to saw in short time the makeshift albeit sailorly-tied rope that had been her cross for who knows how many nights. This man too was fond of a little draft with his fornication, and so, with the window open, her oppressor like a broken kettle on the floor, she hopped the divide of that life and beelined it for the highway, finally chancing upon a good British Samaritan who made haste with her to the nearest hospital.

The rest of the story is amply redeeming, as one might expect… the fatefully-conjoined cohort of Jelena and her Samaritan savior, Helen, turns out to be quite the resourceful femme fatale duo. Together they retrace Jelena’s steps straight to the lions’ den, finding it deserted but not the lacking in a sloppy multitude of clues, not the least of which is a labyrinthine network of cellars where upwards of a dozen women are found left for dead. Cinematic sleuthing ensues. The tale, according to one gushing feminist reviewer, becomes essentially a Robin Hoodish quest (though that analogy was later questioned by a few) revolving around a compendium of retaliatory-minded characters who resolve to take the law into their own hands, and their manhunt to bring down an anything-but-flaccid network of traffickers, sex addicts, and incompetent or complicit authorities. Add to this a twist of greatest noir, when the battered but resilient Jelena falls in love with a eunuch cop, only to find, upon opting for the route of sperm bank, that Jelena too has been damaged to the point of chronic infertility, the dolorous reminder of which comes once a month when incapacitating menstration pains descend upon her body like an incubus (represented to wrenching detail in the scene which births the book’s title: Jelena, crouching with pistol cocked against the temple of one of her many former assailants, backed against the esplanade along the Merryworcester Hotel, the pale light of a full moon emergent upon her quavering profile, Jelena suddenly brought to her knees in an estuarine puddle of crimson, her emergent monthly Achilles’ heel bared beneath that lunar skylight, crimson tributaries streaming down her legs, thoughts of metamorphosis, salvation, etc.). These monthly visitations mirror well the lunatic fits of the werewolf, and indeed lend a fitting characterization for Paramo’s rabid, bloodthirsty heroine. As any triumphant character, she learns to control her bloodlettings, seeing retribution to its end in varying shades of red. To make a long story short, evil is dealt its just desserts; redemption is claimed by all karmically-endowed parties.

And so of course with the tumescence of Blood Moon Rising tumesced in tandem the life and career of this Pedro Paramo guy, swelling in a matter of months from a figure resembling more than anything a frost-choked pea pod to an esteemed and much talked-about figure of the South American literary circuit. The suits he now donned could cut the ice of a thousand Siberian gulags. The twinkle in his eye deflected the yellowed grout in his gums. He afforded himself the pleasure of full meals and, justly, even desserts. But if Paramo thought his newfound fortune generous (or perhaps deserved), he didn’t count on its being just as fickle, and it happened that at a book signing somewhere in the North or maybe in Uruguay or even Brazil (cause there’d been talk of his being translated), fortune turned its fickle tumescent rump on him when he unwittingly made an uncouth pivot from the dessert bar fitting of a power forward and smashed shoulder-long into the most prominent feminist literary critic of the Cono Sur, dousing her in a crimson wave of pinot noir, still-dripping chocolate-covered strawberries fresh from the fondue fountain, and a lemon pound cake that was, to be completely honest, moist to the point of liquidity, and thus splattered—no, practically bitch-slapped—Ms. Torres Morales the uncompromisingly incisive feminist literary critic, leaving her dripping, sodden, soggy, damaged—and it didn’t help that a couple college-aged kids with like no manners whatsover burst into like lunatic fits of laughter while everyone just sort of turned their heads and did signs of the cross or turned perfunctorily silent and shifting-about-like. Paramo for his part was horrified, at a loss for words, Ms. Morales turning swtichblade eyes on him and simultaneously turning the coats of a thousand book enthusiasts on this unfortunate rags-to-riches author. The very next week there appeared on the second page of the influential Palabras magazine an altogether derisive deconstruction of Blood Moon Rising, penned by none other than bitch-slapped and humiliated Sra. Cassandra Santa María Meheiles Torres Morales, patron saint of Latin American feminist literary criticism, debunking in blistering prose the pseudo-feminist framework of the once-untouchable novel, decrying the oversexualization of the female ‘heroines’, the femme fatale ethos which transformed them into phalloindulgent objects of revenge and violence, the pathetic and presumptuous manner in which the male author claimed to access the thoughts and explicitly female desires of these unconvincing characters, projecting onto them decidedly phallo-obsessive drives for blood and terror and intimidation and deceit, and deploring lastly the fact that Jelena had to, just had to, fall for one of the male cops, (even if he was a eunuch), when in fact the real romance of the story took place between Jelena and Helen, a relationship ripe with erotic potential but one which the positively ignorant and phallocentric Paramo obviously couldn’t muster the balls to conceive, afraid to take the plunge and actually draft a pair of characters who embodied a realistic, twenty-first-century lesbian romance, especially considering it was the obvious and natural consequence of the two heroines’ coming-together, denied fruition by an essentially sophomoric author with a penchant for storytelling more masturbatory than it was copulatory [i.e., bearing fruit].

And so it was that, like the linoleum-reminiscent manner in which he’d burst onto the scene, Pedro Paramo shrank faster than a cold post-copulatory member from the coveted linoleum stage of literary prominence. Book deals were retracted, talks of even maybe a movie or two quickly withdrawn from the table. Blood Moon Rising, once a fixture of those ladies’ rooms’ toilets’ magazine caddies, remained there as a sort of emergency back-up hygienic paper supply. And poor Pedro Paramo was left with a closet full of suits.

But this isn’t about Pedro Paramo. He’s not to be confused, as we said, with the Pedro Paraná of our eminent concern here.

 

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