A Kirschnerian Howl

by Elizabeth Kirschner

In me is a howler, screeching, half-mad, possessed. Her screams are lightning bolts exploding in my spine. She is shrieking louder than a cacophony of crows, very black rapacious crows. Still young, she wants to kill me, bludgeon me with a meat hammer, pound flesh till it thins, spurts blood which spatters my walls. A blaze of black violence, Gothic, demonic.

For now, she has shackled me to the writing desk, is the dictator of a hellish dominion and I must screech the pen across the page, eat her words, spit and spew them back up. I am to do this all day and into the night without surcease, I am her sluttish slave, must eat only that which is half-rotten, crawling with maggots.

I am her ghost writer and her anger is righteous, a searing of the very veins she’d like to slash. Her rage is so monolithic it is venomous, dangerous and my fear of her is rabid, something gone amuck, Lorca’s scorpion tails stinging with the sound of whiplashes.

That I have failed her abominably, horribly and horrifically is something I cannot live with. Her youthful brilliance came with thousands upon thousands flashes-in-the-pan. Stories tore out of her, they rippled with a muscular violence, landed with a deadly blow. Her talent was hot, spread like wildfire. She was courted by agents, editors, elite magazines. One editor of a big, big press glued herself to those wild talents, hovered over her, was nearly gluttonous to have her as one for whom she could be conduit, circuit, who could kick-start her career.

But now that young woman is kicking the barn down. She whose physical strength is such that it could make her brutal, murderous, she who dances among stallions, mucks stalls, tosses fifty pound bags of grain like tiny sugar sacks, runs round the paddocks in hard cuffs of soil, hauls water, bales hay, splits wood.

She wants an ax now. She wants to slaughter the old red barn boards as though they could bleed. She throttles the door with her fists, rams it with swift kicks, punches out cracked bull’s-eye window panes with her bare hands. She keeps at it for hours because she is burning with destruction, longs to tie herself to the stake, go up in a fury of flames, be a martyred writer.

She does this because the editor who groomed her thoroughbred bones, thoroughbred sentences, her nearly apocalyptic stories for too many years to count, this editor with whom she had entrusted her first book, a short story manuscript long labored over has returned her humble gift with a poisoned pen letter, the obsequious, deadly formal rejection slip. Within minutes, the brilliant young woman would be stripped of story writing for good. What ensued was a blow by blow massacre of each of her writerly blood cells till her heart was dammed with pus and the death rattle rose like snake hiss out of her lily white throat.

Down, down, down she went, but the old barn flew away like a rusty cage full of screaming banshees. Earth was grazed, the yard a killing field blooming with bloodied skulls glowing like vermillion moons. She lay down amidst the death stench, dabbed it on her wrists and neck, went into rigor mortis, grew stiff as stone.

Days, weeks, a century passed. No one noticed her absence, no grave marker was erected and no trail of sorry grievers ever appeared. Instead there was wind, wind that scalded her bones, wind like a train wreck flattening everything in sight—cardboard houses, picket fences like bald white stitches, trees that were careening crucifixes and the damage was massive.

Even though she was dead, she still starved herself, had a wolf with bared fangs slinking inside her ghost and her word smithereens were scattered like a mountain of black ash. Never again would a story be written. Forevermore the haunting cries of Flannery O’Connor’s peacocks, their tails ragged, their majesty somehow demolished and impoverished.

Instead the lame footed poems began with heavy ball and chain lines. Books appeared like makeshift fish shanties, shacks in the black forests, mountain huts the mystics abandoned. They smoldered like time bombs, grew waterlogged, sank down into depths so black and bleak the soggy pages were gummed together, smelled of toxic mushrooms. They slipped off precipices, were executed by that trained assassin, the critic.

And in that ramshackle grave, the dead one gnawed her bones until they were raw, let the leeches cup her blood. Her carcass was wrapped in fly paper, her teeth grew into carnivorous caves, her face was dessicated wood twisted with worm holes and her soul was gruel.

Not long ago, I wiedlded a spade, dug into dirt, dug again, heaved bloodstained earth into wind that blew it back in bits of shit. I dug for days, a week, a century, heard the song of Lorca’s stinging scorpions, moaned and groaned like a captive animal and when I finally struck her clavicle, the shovel clanged.

Since then, a surgical archeological dig, the sifting through ruins, the splintered bones unblessed relics. There in dust and blood, I try to shim her together, plug bone into socket, electrify her brains, shock her into being with frayed hot wires and bring her into a home she vehemently hates, but not nearly as much as she hates me.

She wants to claw my eyes out, sever hands from wrists, drive hooks into my tongue. I am nothing but old to her, a has been writer, my lame footed poems the greatest injustice done to her hot-headed talents. Those I know are only decrepit, their work death warmed over. Even my son is an object of disgust to her as he is the apple of my eagle eyes, my piercing black eagle eyes when all she wants is to train me in her gun sights, hold me hostage till I learn to write as well as she which never will be.

She has already given up on me. This morning she wanted me to heave my computer through the study window the way Lillian Hellman did her typewriter. I am unplugged from it, the phone, other people. I am under her imprudent jurisdiction and she will be sure to make me suffer for writing those lame footed poems, waterlogged books, for not making good on her early promise, for my life in her hag shadows, my word drippings her scurvy.

Imprisoned for life, my pen with its shark’s tooth nibis the very tool of my undoing. Now I must enter her hinterlands, stay there forever and beg for her mercy but she is a ruthless, tyrannical god with ungoldly power and her story, her buried alive story is a tour de force that that ends with a crack of the whip upon my back and although the whip can’t sing, it does know how to howl a Kirschnerian howl that thunders the heavens till even the angels cower.

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