And The Catafalques Are All Empty

By Marc Harshman

I am already dreaming about you, Russell Edson, wondering where you are, if you’re still tinkering with the language, leaving surprise packets in the unguarded provinces of our groins when Harold begins discussing the performance of a gifted pianist from Wilkes Barre who has just ignited Chopin in exemplary fashion.  Harold, however, pauses, obviously troubled that his wife, who’s just come through a breakdown, is not fully included in our conversation and so he asks if I know the Christ rocker coming next week, a performer his wife recommends, and just then a balloon descends showering upon us buckets of words, the ballast of fools, and I wonder if, though good for the balloonist, this isn’t really a bad diet for anyone to be ingesting when war is streaming live through our sets and the folks in Basra have for weeks sat to their lentils without khubaz, without mamounia.  Still, Harold gets round to winking successfully to his wife who then asks me up to their house for a white chocolate mousse after which, Harold says, we can go back to campus and hear someone named Russell Edson read something literary and I almost tell him about this dream I’m having about you but am afraid the curtains would forever close upon it were I to do so and thus, as you see, I did not say anything about it except that, after we were seated and you began to read, I had this weird feeling that I had, indeed, ingested too many unfamiliar words, words like catafalque and exequy and Aceldama and that it had been you, Mr. Edson, who had orchestrated this entire claustrophobic evening and so afterwards, when you were fielding questions, I wanted to ask just how much power you had in this corner of the universe — it appeared to be considerable — and whether you mightn’t do something about poor Mary’s anxieties, about the folks in Basra,  but perversely, instead, asked if Williams was still working the night shift and if he still kept his ear in the tree behind the tool shed and if he was the one who had pulled the blinds when the sun had come too near the feed elevator and so created that moment in Religion 101 when a pair of F-15’s outside Schuyler’s college window seemed ready to herald the end of the world and inadvertently supplied the only epiphany we had ever known besides that glimpse of Mona Richards in bra and panties – just ask Jones – but you had laughed and said “…not elephants but lions … and tigers …  and bears …”  And…. oh, why, hadn’t I thought of that, I thought!  It was then you handed me your mantle of tissues and so left this heaven for me to ponder alone with moist eyes and a dirigible, a dirigible — imagine that! — a dirigible filled with a menagerie of the happiest beasts, each of them fluent in the alphabet of the Laputans.  We were all to be friends, comrades, of this I was sure.  And to save the world we would start in Basra, transform the Aceldama into fields of plenty where exequies are chanted no longer and the catafalques are all empty and so end the breakdowns that afflict the body and the mind.  We would.  We will.  Mr. Edson, pray that we have.  And heal our Mary while you’re at it.  She’s a good soul and makes a fine mousse.

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About Marc Harshman

Raised in rural Indiana, Marc Harshman has lived his adult life in West Virginia where, for many years, he taught in a three-room country school. Periodical publications of work include The Georgia Review, Tuesday, The Bitter Oleander, Shenandoah, Atlanta Review, 5 AM, and The Progressive. He is the author of three chapbooks of poetry including most recently Local Journeys (Finishing Line). His poem, "In The Company of Heaven," recently won the Newport Review flash fiction contest. He is also the author of eleven children's picture books including The Storm, a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children. New children’s titles are forthcoming.

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