After At Swim-Two-Birds, by Terrance McDonough
Examples of Three Separate Openings
The First, a Civil Cavatina:
My first beginning is concerned with the Pooka MacPhellimey, a member of the devil class, minor dignitary, appearing in various forms, often invisible, bringing trouble and dog-ears to pages and chapters, one time proprietor of The Gold Ring, both a tavern and a tune (jig), and possessor of an actual magical ring, found in The Green Meadow under a grand piano, perhaps Bosendorfer but more likely Knabe—let us say he is about, with a hefty bag of prepositions, ready to make mischief, certainly foundation and framing, but willing to subcontract the dry walling, painting and windows.
The Second Opening:
My second beginning introduces the man in the yellow bow tie, Paul Auster, aka Wisteria Trellis, long suffering author of The Green Meadow, inventor of both Mouse Q Bunny and Donald Trump—half-Homer, half-Hedda Hopper—who every morning opens his violin case, takes out his office chair and with quill pen and keyboard, and several spare yellow bowties, both clip on and tie-yourself, courtesy of page 732 of the Ashley Book of Knots, serves out his characters, courageously filling pages with them, setting them on ice floes upon the Wine Dark Sea, the Sea of Azoff, the Sea of Tranquility, the Black Sea, the Red Sea, the South China Sea, the Green, the Salt, the Saw Sea. Never say etcetera.
The Third Opening:
My third beginning must introduce that legendary hero, the present tense, huge as a giant wooden figure or Finn McCool—he is the moment in which past bumps future, like getting a tow from a good Samaritan on some freeway in Milwaukee where the gold paint frays and fritters on church domes. He is so legendary and so present, he scarcely exists. Here follows his physical description: he has no head, and his right thigh ends above the knee. His left leg ends below the knee. Did I say no arms? Do not ask me about his head. His shield is seven layers of cowhide and one of bronze. The gods for the most part leave him to his own devices. The present tense has no arms or legs. The present tense has no memory. There is no da capo when your head is missing. The present tense is a large stone, falling. Do not look up.
Now I am, as often is the case, alone in my house. Julio sleeping on the campaign frame in the room behind me. The door, hung with a great plot of an unpublished novel, is always open. Julio often takes the guise of a white poodle with a fondness for the tissue I have just used to blow my nose. A day scarcely goes by without praise from passers-by for the beauty of Julio, tail erect and plumed, four legs prancing like the white horse in mist whose hooves do not touch the ground. Julio must have her paws washed mornings after she follows me to the schoolyard. Julio does not mind my books, my Du Fu, my Berryman. Julio has ears that catch up leaves, burrs, and brambles. Yes, it is I who brush them.
My arguments are with the same gods who did not aid the mighty present tense. My arguments are with chainsaws and lawn mowers. They circle me and I them. Noise does not rhyme.
Here I dwell in the crisply frying snarl of my tinnitus, my 14 missed calls, the afternoon glow I allow into the room with its photographs of children smiling in ignorance of trouble ahead, a poem or two taped to the wall. I am living with ghosts, with objects forgotten in drawers. My mind is one of those drawers; you can pull the drawer out so far it falls on the floor, ruining its secrets.
Example of same: a man pulls out the center drawer of his desk all the way, and it dives to the floor like a Lazy Ike. Nothing falls from it. Rather, all the pencils, spools of thread, photographs, and paperclips float in the air like dust particles. He goes into the other room and brings back a broom. It is difficult to sweep up objects hovering in the air.
Here is the phone call from the IRS. I am to be put on trial, my wages garnished, but I have only to call an offered number for relief. The caller’s accent is vaguely Indian or Pakistani. He seems sad but determined. He calls me often with troublesome news, taking time off from his day job selling Viagra. After I delete his call, I wonder if he would be interested in a class in creative writing, or perhaps flute lessons. Writing lies for strangers is more honorable than phoning them with lies. My guess is that neither undertaking is profitable. Flute lessons. I like to think of my caller trying to get a sound from a flute, perhaps rented from a place called Flute World, Flute Depot, or Flute Shack. He blows until he is dizzy and the only sound is the beating of his heart. He does not think to say this experience is like holding a fish. Some fish are easier to hold than others. A dead fish, for example.
Extract from ongoing project concerning the exploits of Finn McCool, aka the present tense:
The legendary hero then, questioned, let us say, by a distant admirer, perhaps an employee of Fox News: “Tell us of your adventures with the tree spirit Totoru, O, mighty wooden person.”
“I will relate: in the milkweed field, not the green meadow. The trees that had been cut down were various: oaks, maples, poplars, willow and black locust, red oak and white oak, poplars planted in both clumps and rows, and camphor.”
“Is the camphor tree native to the milkweed field in the place and time you relate?”
“It is not. Nor were the gullies and muskrat holes. All to the horizon were weeds dry and waving or sodden with snow. The hero was a child, myself, set loose upon the countryside like a moth or greenhouse whitefly. I there battled earwigs and silverfish. In the streams and standing pools I found the whirligig beetle. . .both large and small, and battled there. I the small and large flat diving beetle, the marbled diving beetle and the Eastern Toe-Biter. I confronted there the giant diving beetle, the water boatman, the giant water bug and the Ferocious Water Bug. In all those battles I was victorious, using as my weapons various sharpened and broken bones and limbs, taken from my enemies.
My own limbs (before the ravages of time erased them) were scabbed and scratched, my eyes poked, and my clothing torn.
I heard certain sounds: the fidgeting of spade foot toads digging themselves deeper into the earth, the lamenting of chained dogs, the soft slough of clouds overhead adjusting their uncomfortable parts, the song of a meadow lark, herewith described: pitch of short duration too high to notate, the words “twitcher, twitcher” sounded as if spoken by a bird. Various inaudible clickings and hummings. I heard also sirens in caves complaining of the wet wind, of flying sand. I heard the groundhog in his burrow, slowly counting. I heard narrow sliding, snakes expectorating. Pigeons and killdeer flew over me.
Is it true that you have neither arms nor legs in the present tense?
It is true and it is not. An image of me in my guise as Ajax does not possess arms, legs, feathers or stinging tentacles. I gaze at it like Narcissus. I also manifest as a bouncing head.
Relate further for us, said the Fox News Employee.
It is true that I will not, said Giant Wooden Finn.
With that he rose to the height of Toturo. And Toturo handed him the umbrella of a little girl. Between them passed the parasol / parapluie in times numbered several. Toturo made roars that rocked the terminator and scalloped weather fronts. Finn was wide as an ark and from his pockets tumbled mushrooms and mushroom spirits house-sized and some castle-sized. His teeth glinted like the grace notes of orchestras Wagnerian and he stepped out into the night.
How is it that we do not speak of The Present Tense in the present tense? asked the Fox News Employee.
I will relate. It does not please me to be spoken of in present tense, I who am present and Present Tense. I am tall and wide as this Camphor tree and my bones are like to its main branches. When I roar, pages turn. Rabbits stumble and limp. Commas and periods hide under the very stones I have thrown into the next county, crowding with pillbugs, and black beetles. Every story, losing its articulation, becomes a poem.
Toturo snored in agreement; rose like the moon into the night.
I am asparagus, said Finn.
I am the path of snails.
Bells clap my song into bell holes.
I am a dozen books of poetry,
the pages fluttering.
always from the second stanza.
Toturo drifted away in the flailing night, covered in demi-spirits like fleas. Finn stretched himself upward and outward. He was painted in bright shades of blue and green and he held up to his lips a goblet of bronze, sufficient to bathe a wild hog. Drinking from it noisily, he blessed the fairies, even to the children they abduct. He was mighty and present in the moment. His voice rang like a violin made in Milan, Italy, circa 1700, its author Carlo Guiseppe Testore, and so labeled illegibly.
I am the harp string breaking.
I am the Lament for Terance MacDonough.
I am The Butterfly and the Fairie Queene .
(He sang to the fairies gathered round like fireflies.)
The music may begin.
And bring more ale.
Relate us further, said a voice well modulated.
Who is it? said Finn.
It is I (then unintelligible), even of Fox News.
It is true, said Finn, that I will not.
The night sat on its flippers, and Finn made his mouth wide so the pegs within glowed like silos at dawn. And upon them he poured more ale in drafts and gusts.
He dove into the night as if it were the sea and swam among the mosses and seaweed, scraping and chewing. His mighty wooden self he made to undulate, and his eyes, wide-open, saw all things a Galapagos iguana might see.
What are advantages to Finn’s people?
Who is it? said Finn, echoing from the present.
It is Walter Cronkite. Yes, that’s it.
I will relate three things and nothing above three, said the mighty wooden figure. First, you may find gold by looking through the thigh bone of a Basilisk. But bring a dog to dig for it because it will be gone tomorrow. Next, you can get wisdom by eating the pages of a book—so say Aristotle and Umberto Eco. And last, a man can defeat his enemies more easily if they have not arms or legs.
Relate for us now the tale of Humoresque, of the woman walking into the sea during tedious music of violin and harmonium.
I cannot make it, said Finn.
Then the tale of Shane, the warrior who dances square, vanquishes his enemies with loud noises, and is pursued by children whining and crying.
It goes beyond me, said Finn, I cannot make it. Ask Woody Allen.
Then the tale of The Big Chill, of feasting and music, of lust and bat chasing.
It is true that I will not, said the great painted figure, imagining his appendages.
What then will you relate? said Walter Cronkite.
Am I not the poet Finn? Have I not made the story of The Jolly Seven in which the Toad Band was swallowed by snakes? Have I not related A Bright May Morning? Did the skeleton not fall down the cellar stairs? And I made the story of The Butterfly that carried away the toad bug known as Mickey. All these and more made I, and in each a slaughter and crashing of blades took place. And each one played reels or jigs. Even hornpipes.
I am asparagus.
I am beans and rice.
I am the dog that digs rainbows.
I am Ajax and Ulysses.
I am a thousand heroes.
Ten thousand poems am I, hard spoken,
well sung, thrown over walls,
both melodious and harsh.
I am Finn.
And after Finn spoke these words, frogs made communal and rusty clamoring.
Conclusion of the foregoing.
Biographical reminiscence, part the first:
I was charmed by the reading of a book by Paul Auster which followed the exploits of a canine, perhaps a dog—the book was called the name of a city. This animal seemed more human than his human who died early in the proceedings searching for his home or for the plot of a novel, leaving the dog,
Mr. Mandible-Malleus-Incus-Stapes, a large number of chapters to exercise himself in.
So charmed was I, my own story most follow, and, following logic which now escapes me, was titled One-Handed Clock. My dog was called Beemer, a name that suggests to me a lively yet not so introspective spirit. I wished a happy ending so I could not kill off my human. All I could do was make him a musician and give Beemer the option of singing along with jigs and reels (he was particularly fond of reels). Dog singing is apparently more charming in real life than in concept. Spelling out a series of howls is the sort of thing only beginning writers essay. And then, there is the matter of notating the pitch. Paul Auster left me no clues for this. I allowed Beemer to run away after chasing a snake that somehow had secreted itself in the one-handed clock. Plots often get the better of me. Then Beemer was captured by a villain (taken from daily life) who kept the poor creature locked in his backyard garden. Then a coyote. . .
It is understandable that my dog-pov experience led me to drink.
Extract from literary reader (The Frog Book):
Spotted salamanders one year old. Black and yellow. These are typical representatives of the Urodela which together with the Salientia, or frog-like forms, constitute the two classes of the North American Batrachia.
Now it is well known to Finn that salamanders do not cry out in the night like so many crickets. And the photograph of them is unavailable. I will describe: two black slug-like forms seem to cling to a rock. They seem also to be waiting for something. An argument cannot be made that they are silent. If they are singing, it is unlikely the words would be intelligible. But the melody could be lilting.
Drinking Story: Readers are advised to adjourn to a public house, and there to drink something dark, and healthy like stout or anything brown. Too much drink in my experience, may lead the inexperienced to empty the contents of their stomachs, never a pleasant experience; however, in some cases, a refreshing nap is the result.
Tour de Force by myself while my readers are absent fulfilling the previous assignment.
I take up my flute, its several (six) keys not engaged by my egregiously arthritic fingers. Beneath the folder of tunes received from Paddy O’Brien (County Offaly) is a folder of tunes received from Paddy O’Brien (County Tipperary). Have a Drink with Me is a slow jig which resides in the lower tessitura of the flute in its initial section. First I take a breath that draws air from this room and the next. If mighty Finn were within earshot he would be pulled from his feet though he be waist-deep in bog turf. Then placing blackwood to my lips almost in the manner of a loving sip from a two-handed flagon, I sound the first of a thousand notes. Pipers despair. Harpers plunge and bound. My fingers forget themselves. All the world is the color of a single tune. I will never have to breathe in again.
Biographical reminiscence, part the second:
Having read Dylan Thomas’s blurb, “This is just the book to give your sister if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl,” and having no sister, I read the same book. Making little of it, I read it again. It is not so much language as ululation, I concluded, and it begs to be translated. As Chekhov’s translators had little regard for the sanctity of the present tense, and allowed poor Gusev to sink into the sea under the careless eye of his maker, in all the varieties of tense, as well as of religious experience, I resolved to make my own stew of it, following the recipe as well as I can remember, having lost the book on one of my visits to the school yard with Julio. What book is that? you ask. It is the name of a place I believe, where once birds swam in some number not great and when the present tense was present. This led to the foregoing and the after going.
Now for the ongoing:
Paul Auster, the man in the yellow bowtie, having written himself into as many of these stories as he can count, has taken his writing time to nap shamelessly, leaving his characters to their own devices.
There are no indifferent gods Homeric or otherwise for us to consult, said Mouse Q Bunny. These pages bind us lock and key.
Not so, my friend, said Richard Brautigan Bunny. Take of this dooby and smoke. This is old. This is mellow. This will transport us to The Green Meadow where we can gather whimsy and run with it.
Lord Peter? asked Mouse.
Look around you, said Brautigan.
Why, we are in The Green Meadow, a jig to be found in O’Neil’s Music of Ireland on page 63.
Along with O’Reilly’s Favorite and The Merry Maiden, said Brautigan. But let us find our fellow creatures, Sam and Sadie Snake who swallowed the Toad Band, Beamish’s Goat who devoured the constable’s bicycle, The Reverend Doctor Mr. Carl T. Skunk, the pious Mustilid, and his cohorts Shamhat Skunk, Goneril Skunk, Regan Skunk, Cordelia Skunk and Ophelia Skunk.
Do not neglect, said Mouse, the three skunk pups, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego Skunk.
You can never have enough skunks when you are planning trouble for that stink badger Yellowtie, said Brautigan bunny, taking one last unrewarding toke.
A shimmering blur rose before the two amigos, perhaps a swarm of midges, perhaps gnats. Not taking any chances, Mouse Q. froze in place, becoming instantly (theoretically) invisible.
It is The Pooka MacPhellimey, certified member of the devil class, Kiwanis, Author’s guild, Plasterer’s guild, and many others, said a voice coming directly from the shimmering blur.
Whoa, said Brautigan Bunny. I see the shadow of the Hindenburg.
No, you twit. It is I, Fergus MacPhellimey, at your service. I believe you are at the mercy of an author, known in these pages as The Man in a Yellow Bowtie.
Shouldn’t it be “the” Yellow Bowtie? interjected Mouse Q, who had become visible again, probably because of the clump of clover he had noticed during his invisibility and which now he was enthusiastically ingesting.
Silence, instructed the Pooka McPhelimey, member of the devil class, never say etcetera, giving both woodland creatures a brief and actual view of himself.
Here woodland creatures recover from a terrible shock and confer with the magical being concerning revenge.
He is sleeping now, said Brautigan Bunny. The standard plot device would be to pull the ceiling down upon him, breaking and exfoliating his various parts.
Here, here, said Mouse.
Change of scene: the writing chamber of Paul Auster, aka The Man in (article definite or indefinite) Yellow Bowtie. Mouse Q Bunny, Richard Brautigan Bunny, the Pooka Fergus MacPhellimey. A version of this scene including various mustelids was found wanting in revision.
I believe this story is out of control, said The Man in the Yellow Bowtie. I’m going to shelve it until I can get rid of this auditory hallucination of the sound of dragging chains. An undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard. Mendicant Mouse. My mind is the bottom of a birdcage.
Let us go! A shimmering blur seemed to knock several books off the desk and voices spoke variously about prisons of pages, heroes living naked in the upper branches of trees.
Another voice from outside the window claimed to be the poet Finn with some grievance about asparagus.
Yellow Bowtie thought to pour water on Poet Finn but he tripped on something that grunted like a pig, and then the ceiling fell upon him, failing to entirely crush him because of the pig fall, but breaking nonetheless many of his body parts, staining his bowtie, and leaving his writing room a swirling morass of pages and plaster dust.
Get off me, cried a voice which identified itself as Fabelhaft Pig, who claimed to have been marooned for months, perched on a telephone wire until he was rescued by the poet Finn.
I did not write the story of a flying pig, shouted Yellow Bowtie.
Come to this window and deny it to my face, called Finn, whose presentness was becoming more and more tense.
The good news and the bad news is it’s always now, he declared in his most resonant poe voice.
Yellow Bowtie aka Paul Auster aka Wisteria Trellis gave a weak groan but was not able to raise himself because of a slippery substance left behind by Fabelhaft Pig, a substance most foul. However, the Pooka McPhellimey transformed himself into a brindle pit bull terrier and made a ferocious charge at the distinguished author. Bowtie on hands and knees plowed through Fabelhaft’s dung perhaps giving some of his attention to the legendary Bonacon, who, according to Pliny, was able to project its dung as far as three jugera and it burned as fire burns or hot lava lavas.
There at the window, Bowtie was able to right himself, but the Pooka McPhellimey, now become the daintiest of humming birds, perched on a corner of the bowtie, upsetting the writer’s balance. His arms began to windmill and Finn McCool below continued to poe.
I am asparagus, he ejaculated with much feeling, when Auster / Trellis / Yellow Bowtie fell into street like a large dollop of night water. Gardyloo called the Pooka never say etcetera, showing briefly his terrible countenance before disappearing entirely.
Examples of three separate endings – the first:
A large section in Gaelic with Welsh subtitles has been removed, having allegedly to do with complaints of plagiarism by the estates of Dylan Thomas and Brian ó Nualláin.
Ending the second:
Also removed, a section titled A Skeleton Key to the Poetry of Finn McCool.
Ending the third:
For me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him. . . strike that.
First I put my arms around around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel. . . strike that
Is it about a bicycle? he asked. Nearly.
Seated at his jigsaw puzzle, Bartlebooth has just died. Strike that.
Charles Wyatt is the author of two collections of short fiction, a novella, and two poetry collections. He lives in Nashville, TN where he served as principal flutist of the Nashville Symphony for 25 years before he retired to become a migrant fiction worker.