Caleb Puckett

An Explanation from Jimmy the Greek

Writers tell us that the Gigantes once scaled the sky in a bid to reach Olympus. They did this by piling up the mountains, step-by-step, measure-by-measure, peak upon receding peak. Suffice it to say they were a grotesque lot of idealists. And, as befitting all bestial dreamers measuring their worth against gods, they were broken by their betters. Every semi-articulate dream was driven to babble and every height was split into a pile of rubble. Eventually, their bones became the stuff of bridges for a race of midgets, and their towers of aspiration and invention became storehouses for untold riches. The midgets, who knew little potential before this discovery, learned to mine these defunct monuments and make a modest wage for their efforts. They were the first to exploit the legacy of the Gigantes and are credited with exposing the very jewels and metals that still inspire men to destroy one another in an attempt to ape the very gods who frustrate every wish with insurmountable odds. This timeless tale, according to a recent scholar, also illuminates several contemporary mysteries, such as why credit cards are issued to children, why corporations offer watered down stocks to responsible citizens, and why casinos keep their clientele far away from the sun, moon and any sort of clock. As Jimmy the Greek related this story, his diamond pinky ring shone like a star perpetually struck and I came to understand why the state funds so many of his intellectual scavenger hunts.

Unappeased in Pisa

          The tourists and hawkers thin out with dusk but you remain transfixed by the tower’s tilt—that tragic, irrational plunge into the silt and rubbish. You survey the area and ponder plausible solutions, ways to bend back time, ways to refute this corrupted symbol of the sublime. Yet despite your best efforts, that foolish tower insists on tilting to the right and making a mockery of propriety. How could you possibly set it straight or at least orchestrate some shift that would bring consolation to all those generations of perfectionists who cringe at such a fate? For hours you push it left with a constant urging from your eyes, trying to right an ancient wrong, wishing for purely symmetrical delights, but you’ve had no luck at all. The foundation was flawed from the start—no easy redress. And the modern world—a world of wonderful arrears—has done too little to manage this famous muck up. It is due. It is high time. Someone must come through with something more than jacks, rods and half-meant promises. Ah, but even with so many centuries of subtle adjustments of sight, what immortal would even have the strength to pull this tower and its thousand horizons wholly upright?
           You try and try, but all of your architectural benevolence remains unrequited. And like all true lovers you lack the objectivity and willingness to let it simply lie. Such hopelessness must not be acknowledged. Such destruction must be denied. Perhaps it isn’t even that bad—a minor error—exaggerated by your expectations and habits. Yet it suggests such a sad disarrangement of the future, proof that though posterity exists it exists without perfection—a nagging failure. You wonder about those blundering builders who staked their lives on this enterprise. Their heads surely rolled with every roll of the eye, every contemptuous glance by proud passersby. What a wonder indeed—a crick in your neck may be the only lasting impression that this precious tower leaves. Perhaps your head will permanently retreat to the right, mimicking the tower, looking as if some question persists in your mind, some question half-held and never satisfied. And as you remove yourself, seeking true north once again, you spiral in wide circles, touching that bit of heaven they aimed for before crashing back into the city’s smog and scraping your face on the filthy sidewalk. Of course you could always walk around the tower in an attempt to change the angle, but you know that there are no sides to a circle. Left, right, from and into—the tower will always find a way to ground your efforts. Wiping away the streak of grease on you nose, you understand that Pisa offers no appeasement, only loss. So you walk away, fingering a glossy guidebook, imaging the florid aspirations of France, imagining an Eiffel never exposed to failure, never left open to chance.

A Magician’s Commiserations

          The mirrored stage leads to the smoky threshold where we confuse the crowd with a thousand manipulations. The wand pulled from my kerchief turns into the shotgun that strikes the dove down upon the paper flowers that pad the rabbit hole where ghosts rest en route to the knot in the rope that ties itself around the neck of a clown. The red sequins of the shrieking dove reflect white on your earlobes which are noosed with strings of gold coins that disappear with a wink that brings applause. Yet our minds reverberate with accusations of self-love and secret retreats, so we lose much of our intimate knowledge, defiling the contract between magician and assistant, that otherworldly contact that verges on belief. Yet we know of necessity, know of successes that must be, so we continue to perform our miracles for the crowd as if they cannot know, cannot see. But soon the saw that renders us immortal in show bends into snarled teeth and the crowd bursts through the seams of my suit and your leotard. Our greed has blinded us to their lust, and they strike for blood. They capture and consume everything but our heads and hands, boxing those up with the broken locks that Houdini once held in his palms, and post the whole mess to Quartzite, Arizona—the site of our eternal confession. And now the sun exposes the rest of life’s hocus pocus and stunts our growth as we seek to rebuild the bodies they stole from us. Here we find no El Dorado but that bound to greed, hope—tantalizing and insatiable goals. Remember, Lucero, only one shout of protest came that evening, a single voice stifled beyond the balcony. It echoes even now along the margins of this country. Lucero, can you hear me?
          Caught between the beaks of crows and the stingers of scorpions, we struggle with our arms and legs, infamously old among the travel trailers and makeshift homes. We are now grey creatures limping through hoops flaming with idiot laughter, a circuit of farces held in a land of glass and stone—the materials of a heartless hereafter. Remember how we strolled silk and diamond sidewalks beside barrooms in Mazatlan with a troupe of Russian acrobats, rich and regarded with envy even by our enemies? Once we even had the audacity to attack an actor who knew the tricks of the trade. We had the officials fooled and we had to maintain our sanctity. Yes, we even attained greater power with his silence, eating his knowledge, feeding our mysteries with an omission, an uncrossed minus in a world of addition. Remember how clever that cabinet was, how they never found his body? But then, after we wowed Mexico City with tricks that suggested the darkest sorcery, we found ourselves tripped up among all our transferences and trapped by our own surprises. The motor oil burned black that night as we exited the theatre. The engine caught fire out in the jungle and our kind bows became a matter of sleight of hand, a standard gesture that meant nothing to those people in the villages. We never regained our sincerity. Where was it, Lucero, that we first learned that a civilized audience would no longer suspend their disbelief? Was it after we crawled into the heat of San Luis? Was it there that we stopped stirring the air with our smiles—the most difficult of deceptions, the most innocent of wiles? Yes, I think it was there among the few silver watches and bracelets that shone through the cigar haze like nails in a coffin that we lost that sense of showmanship that makes each gesture seem genuine, connected to actual life and death odds. Lucero, my café grows cold and there’s a stain on the pillowcase. Lucero, somewhere the saints are mocking all our little games. Lucero, we are low on groceries and your mother called. Lucero, the saints say we cannot be considered and the cards say that we cannot be consoled. Lucero, this is our only threshold.

Caleb Puckett has writing in The Shore Magazine, Teeny Tiny, Philament and other publications. He also has pieces forthcoming in Noo Journal, Colloquy and HoboEye, as well as a chapbook, Desertions, scheduled for a spring release by Plan B Press.

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