Willie Smith


                At the tiptop of a sapling the towhee perches, ruby eye sunkissed. Rasps her name. Rasps again and again her name. The name we the people give the towhee. The name the towhee calls poem.
                When I am thirteen, just beginning to ejaculate, having recently discovered in the morning on my sheets what the French call the Map of France, I first hear – while stargazing one summer night – from the wooded hill across the valley, where the developer’s bulldozer has not yet reached, the cry of the whip-poor-will. I’m sweeping with binoculars the Scutum starcloud, hoping to starhop down to the Lagoon...
                I lower the binocs. Listen to the mystery bird repeat her poem, till my whistle can copy the notes. The following morning I pull off the shelf from beside the star book the bird book. My whistle helps me find the name of the owner of this night-piercing cry.
                Five years later, I’m working as a logger in the Great Northwest. To create a nest egg for the coming school year. One sweltering August morning an old hand glances over his shoulder. Spots me urinating off the far end of the log he stands on, waiting for the rigging to come jangling back, so we can choke the next turn of logs to send up the canyon, to be loaded onto trucks for transport into town. “Hey, whatcha doin’?” he calls. “Fishin’ – or just skinnin’ what ya caught last night?”
                Calling to mind the whip-poor-will night, the night I first spot in binocs – in upper Sagittarius – the Lagoon Nebula, hung like a semen stain on a black sheet of galactic space. Causing the overwhelming urge, Tourette’s-like, to whistle the whip-poor-will. Discovering, in the ensuing frustration, the impossibility of whistling while pissing.
                The Lagoon glows five thousand light years away – from the towhee, from the whip-poor-will, from the reader, from the me. The Lagoon a star nursery. Stars getting born there. Or, at least, five thousand years ago, stars there getting born. There not there now.
                Usually the maid or an older sister discovers the stain on the boy’s sheet, while making the bed, or tearing off the bedclothes for the wash. The older female races through the house informing all, “Il a fait la Carte de France!” (He has made the Map of France!). Making all aware and proud the family line will likely not now end with the boy’s generation.
                I fail to learn this tidbit till – browsing through some book on European folklore – a good twenty years after myself making the Map of Columbia. When I make the Map, nothing gets said, I say nothing, nothing having evidently happened.
                Although one night I do overhear Mom hysterically whispering to Dad in the ink of their bedroom about these Maps she keeps finding every washday on my sheets. Shouldn’t Dad talk to their son about this filth?
                Dad grumbles something about all boys… happens… normal…
                “Filth!” her hiss snakes like lightning through the midnight house. “Filth, Bill, FILTH!” Dad bears the same name I bear, or I bear his name, or a=b, so b=a, and Mom bores on into the night about where do I get the ideas for such FILTH? Am I looking at magazines I learn about on television?
                Till I get bored with fear they’ll drive me to the clinic and have a doctor cut my dick off. Fall trembling and bored back to sleep, dreaming of my then fave bird: the brown thrasher. The whip-poor-will would be my fave – this night of hisses and mumbles only a few weeks after I find the Lagoon, plus first hear the eerie cry of the whipper. But hardly anyone ever sees a whipper; the nocturnal bug-hunter spends the day camouflaged asleep in the brush. How can you love a bird nobody ever sees?
                The thrasher, in the dream, is using his long honey-brown tail as a hockey stick to shoot the Lagoon puck up into the Scutum starcloud, where the nursery will be so well camouflaged as to drop from sight.
                Only moments ago I spot, while walking off last night’s beer on a Seattle bike trail, the towhee. I’m still standing here, all this thought crowding through my skull, or heart, or guts, or fingernails… (?)
                The towhee still rasping out her soul. Throwing her black, white, rufous body – somewhat smaller than a robin – at the panes of death. The morning sun mourning nothing. The sky blue – blue as a boy grounded for beating off, happy as a lark, ugly as sin, pretty as a picture, empty as all space and every time before God said: “Let there be compare, and compare beyond compare!”
                That little sliver of a moon I just now – overhead – spot. Fingernail paring, crescent of semen all but lost in the blue. Seat myself on a bench beside the trail. Cross legs. Adjust notebook on thigh.
                Lower head back down to continue inking the page so I can now – the both of us – read these thoughts spiraling thought on thought on invisible poem in unheard song; a poem sounding like itself, a song like itself looking.


                I was dreaming a harangue about a reaming when the phone rang.
                I was fixing an idea. I had a screwdriver, a nail, a bucket and a very pale face in the mirror at the bottom of an orange juice can. I had another screwdriver; held the juice.
                I picked up. Parted lips to say hello. But before I could huff the aitch, the earpiece sucked me in. Screwed up my eyes in time to seize a gimlet.
                The hell – I seemed to be in Hamlet, as interpreted by Laforgue, then ripped off by, but in the end ripped up by, Tough Shit Eliot.
                Horatio was dreaming a harangue about a reaming, when Ophelia Balls bounced into the courtyard. Polonius lay poleaxed under the porch, reciting comatose Die Lorelei backwards in Polish, doing his best to impersonate the Ghost of Christmas Past.
                Hamlet – played by Christopher the Plumber – screamed into the present. Bawled he didn’t get what he wanted. Horatio suggested he try some thyme. Ophelia saucily tossed her wimple, wiggled clit against chastity belt. Hamlet squealed he didn’t want titty. Just to fuck Mom for being such a pig with his drunk Uncle Claude Johnson.
                Then some member of the camera crew tripped into the picture. Remembered to erect himself.
                The director pondered flying in from Cuba Hecuba. Land her in Orlando. Ferry the queen in a glider up the coast. Infuriate authorities – everything in Cuba hot; but what was he to Hecuba…? As the director spiraled tighter into abulia, the crew member bent Horatio over the railing; fell to burgling philosophical turd.
                In a pinch our master debater Hamlet absorbed the scene. Grabbed Ophelia’s nipples. Whirled her around like a milker gone nuts. Slammed her heels into Horatio’s temple. Smacked the couple off the porch, effectively dismounting the member so he hadda get back with the crew to reality.
                Up the stairs primped Osric. Everybody save the camera stared at the ostrich on his outlandish hat wobble, as the rickety risers trembled under his komodo dragon skin pumps.
                “Lousy pimp!” snorted Ophelia, where she lay twisted against the drainspout.
                With a sneer, ignoring the slur, the waterfly offhandedly handed over the challenge. Our prince declaimed – ham that he was – the harangue disguised as an invitation to a poisoning.
                Some gravedigger, anterior to the above, flipped a skull into the salad. Hamlet dug the joker, while in the ribs the knave of spades dug him; when almost too late Laertes appeared to hop his dead sister.
                Cut to the showdown. Bodies piled up quick. Revenge chain reacted till Horatio, at the bottom, felt the rapier.
                Fortinbras – a travelling bra salesman moonlighting as a doctor of internal pocketbooks – arrived to make a killing off the plague on both closets.
                The phone rang. Picked me up.
                I was fixing an idea. I had a screwdriver, a gimlet, a hammer, a nail of the dog that bit this drill of a symbol of a crash; a hang, a over, a out.


                Word comes down Friday afternoon we get our frogs Monday. That same day our frogs get pithed. By us. Each student will be responsible for her or his own frog getting pithed.
                An ultra-humane procedure. Pithing permits vivisection without causing the animal pain. If we were Nazi doctors, our frogs would not get pithed. That’s the difference between Nazis and Americans: Our frogs get pithed. Brains blotted out at needle point. So during vivisection they feel nothing. Americans are obsessively humane.
                I slip out of bed after midnight. Leave the house without making a sound, carrying a paper bag containing items gathered earlier – a mirror, scissors, a ball of twine, a bilingual pocketbook of Paul Verlaine, a knitting needle purloined from Mom’s sewing box. Hurry to the cul-de-sac at the end of the street, then into the woods at the end of the housing development, rehearsing in my mind the scheme:
                I need to get to the bottom of what the imp perched on my shoulder has been whispering all day into my ear:
                “‘A frog getting pithed’ sounds like a French fruit throwing a hissy fit. Say the caviar wrongly served. Edge of the silver platter tarnished. Or the fish eggs float a dead cockroach. Or maybe the roach is just pithed, otherwise alive, legs scrambling for a purchase in the goo. If our frog is really going to get pithed, we need to experience the outrage; even if no pain is felt.”
                Grope through the dark into the pine thicket, where I come when I need to talk to myself, tired of hearing the imp, needing to talk over the babble, not wanting anybody to think I’m nuts or something, conversing with the surrounding air. When I’m deep in the thicket, only then do I click on the flashlight. Not that anybody awake at this hour. Just want to be extra safe. Same reason I want to get pithed: so I can practice extra moral safety; or extra mental safety; or anyway, extra safety.
                Scissor enough twine to tie the flashlight to a lower limb of the pine I’m standing under, so when I hold up the pocket mirror I lifted from Sis’s makeup case my face fills the glass. I place the point of the knitting needle against my right orbit, less than one silly millimeter onto the lid, steel cool on skin; after every blink need to readjust. Balance the flat of the foot-long needle in the palm of my hand. Begin to recite PARSIFAL. (Before rigging the flashlight I check the text; never hurts one last time to check before you start to recite).
                Verlaine is the handiest homo around. Of the French stripe, that is. I need a sure bet. It’s well-documented that Verlaine and Rimbaud enjoyed their same sex bodies. Their passion even boils over into Paul one day taking a shot at Art; misses his buttboy’s head by one ball hair – talk about getting pithed!
                Thing is, ‘natch, I need to have honest-to-god queer thoughts myself, before shoving home the steel. Otherwise things will fail to fall into place. And who knows – maybe I am a fairy. I’m only sixteen. Someday might be a doctor or a poet. Lots of doctors and poets turn out to be fairies.
                So I hold the pose – needle caught between palm and upper eyelid. Strive to conceive gay lust. To force to spring forth homo imaginings. May as well give it a fling. All in the interest of getting, like Socrates says, to know myself. I think Socrates is gay, too. Or I guess more correctly history sells the talktative old Greek as bi. Fail to see why I couldn’t be at least bi.
                Scott Swapowski minces into mind. Scott a classmate since kindergarten. From the get-go sports the walk: the primp, the lilt, the lisp. No Adonis – pimply, pudgy, giggles compulsively; but just the specimen for performing a sodomite thought experiment.
                I picture Swapowski in his underpants. Often where I start when masturbating to girls – frame a real one in fantasy underwear.
                At the same time wax orotund with PARSIFAL. Can hardly wait to reach the line about the buttboy voices echoing off the dome. The line Eliot snatches for THE WASTE LAND.
                Eliot ungay as they come. Two bona fide wives documented. Or that smokescreen? Oscar Wilde married – he’s gay… Anyway, guaranteed ungay in the sense of dour. Maybe T. S. isn’t het. Has more than one wife on accounta each left in disgust ‘cause she couldn’t make the guy come. Or maybe he didn’t have any sex – dour, sour, snooty, head too busy up his own butt to give and/or receive head. I really don’t know shit about Eliot. Read something somewhere about two marriages…
                Wait… do I have it backwards? Does a needle up through the eye get the frog pithed – or is it around in back through the nape of the neck? Do frogs have necks? The French have necks.
                “France’s national pastime,” the imp hisses, “is necking. How neck with no neck?”
                Could I get erect picturing cockstuffing Scott’s neck? He’s in my mind’s eye flaunting a two-sizes-too-tight Tricolor lycra Chinese noseguard. Nothing else, save that rhinestone pinky ring he affects. The flag never looked so French.
                The imp and me both francophiles. He’s more cynical about it – kinda creature hates to like anything. We’re tied for second best French student in the school. Another good reason I could turn out to be a fairy. Gotta at all times maintain an open mind. The imp himself – despite his pessimistic sarcasm – perenially keeps all doors stopped open.
                “‘Parsifal has conquered the girls!’” I boom in Frog at the face beaming like a moon in the mirror held in my other hand, the hand whose palm is not balancing the head of a knitting needle.

                The real moon has come up. Weaving silvery light into the thicket. The Romans called our satellite Diana. She’s just like me – a virgin, never been kissed. Also like me Diana hunts; she hunts deer, boar, moose. Me, I hunt truth. Right now I am about to spear the reality behind getting pithed.
                Could I kiss Scott? Mash my own lips against his – what the novelists call “full sensual” – lips? Stick my tonuge in? Or does he stick in his? Guess both lickers kinda swish around. Let gravity decide who’s the bigger sucker.
                He’s got nipples. Maybe hairless. With all that baby fat, plus a little imagination, virtual tits. Then I understand the anus…
                Ah, shit…
                The face illuminated in my left palm wobbles. The right hand weakens. Doors inside my skull slam shut. The needle to the forest floor drops. Stand a moment hearing the air alive with cricket-treefrog elevator-music.
                I’m not gay. I’m not happy. Just a horny het teenager destined to root out some frog’s brain. A frog I never saw before.
                “Hi. I’m Bill. Glad to meet’cha.”
                Just following orders. Doing my duty. Otherwise I fail biology. Maybe not graduate. Spend the rest of my life washing dishes, eating Welfare soup, inhabiting homeless shelters.
                I spend the rest of the weekend awake – either dreading cutting open a live frog or picturing parading in fantasy panties every girl in America. Well, come to think of it, guess I do grab about two hours sleep. When you total all the post-climax naps. Masturbation arguably the handiest narcotic in town.
                But fear not, dear reader. Our tale ends happily:
                Monday afternoon, when Mrs. Biology steps into class, she first thing announces with a long face, “Unfortunately the medical supply house in Chicago ran out of frogs. We have no animals to vivisect. This class reduced to poring over charts, in order to learn anatomy. Lousy substitute for reality. Well, kids: that’s life.”
                I slump in the back row stifling a smile. Sighing carefully in relief. The imp whispering into my ear, “As the French say, ‘Saliva!’”
                I wonder, briefly, why nothing ever perches on my right shoulder. Shrug. Open our textbook. Turn to the correct page. After all, I’m nothing, if not the kind of guy who is always on the right page.

P.S. The Saturday morning after the near self-pithing the imp argues it was all a dream, that I never left the bedroom. But how then explain the pine needle turns up in my underpants, plus the fresh mosquito bite on my left clavicle? Well, as you have probably by now guessed, the imp is not an accurate historian. Nor am I. Today, up here in the future, I just reread the preface to the Verlaine and I see Paul shot Art in the hand. Ah well, the headshot near-miss makes for a better story. I think that’s the imp’s attitude, too – reality be damned, so it’s a good story. That’s the trouble with God – or whoever is behind reality – He tends to tell a dull story, even when the makings are present for a real whopper.

Willie Smith's story collections SOLID GAS, GO AHEAD SPIT ON ME, EXECUTION STYLE, STORIES FROM THE MICROWAVE and URINE MY SEAT are all out of print. Novella OEDIPUS CADET and latest story collection NOTHING DOING are still available at Amazon. Electronic novella SUBMACHINEGUN CONSCIOUSNESS is free at semantikon.com.
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