Exquisite Corpse - Issue 3
HomeSearchSubmitCorpse CafeArchivesCorpse MallOur Gang
EC ChairCritical UrgenciesBurning BushFiccionesSecret AgentsStage and ScreenLettersGallery
by Greg Bottoms


Locked away, my brother began his education. He had time now to learn, after years of avoiding it. It was written in the letters I never answered. He was full of knowledge.

He learned math in a classroom the color of slate, chalk squeaking out numbers and signs on a blackboard. A fat man, an inmate, a man who did something illegal to his own children long ago, sweated and talked about theorems, formulas. Numbers, in the abstract, my brother found difficult. The fat man, he wrote, was smart but a bad teacher, full of water and ideas and terrible secrets, unable to fully share for fear of revealing a dark part of himself. My brother worked hard, though, to prove something. At lunch he counted men like children do apples or spotted cartoon dogs. He learned that two men were most likely able to overpower one, that three men could always overpower one, no matter what you might hear, and that it was better to be one of the three than the only one.

In wood shop he made a  clock, a working clock he was proud of--tick, tick, tick, I could hear him saying--that someone smashed when he wasn't looking. Then he made a shiv for when he found out who smashed his clock, which, I believe, had come to symbolize, in some vague way to him, his progress as a human being, his ability to do things people on the outside might consider productive. He needed to kill the fucker who crushed his human progress. He stabbed someone he didn't like, hoping that he was the crusher of human progress.  But it was the wrong man. Inside, these things happen. All is flux. The right man and the wrong man are the same man; it's all about intention and revenge, the means not the end. Someone deserves it; someone gets it; if they're not the same someone, who really gives a fuck? For this he slept in a dark room for 45 days, until his eyes were glued shut and his lips were cracked and his skin was the color of the squeaking chalk the fat man used for the theorems he wouldn't share. He counted the days in cold, soupy meals.

In the letters he misspelled the crucial words. He spelled "niggers" with one g and "spicks" with an x. I fixed his letters and put them away. P.S., he wrote, please write me back, brother. Please. He used the word "please" like a weapon.  I hated him the way you can only hate someone you love, hated him so much it burned bright red inside me.

He learned quickly that blacks hated whites and whites hated blacks. A fact, like natural law. There was no compromise. A compromise would get the white compromiser killed by the rest of the whites. The same was true for the blacks. Hispanics, however, were different; depending on their skin tone they could go, occasionally, either way, if they knew the right people, although mostly they stuck together, too. It was different in the west, he had heard, where there were more Hispanics. But in Virginia, he wrote, the spix are few and can go either way. Inside, he wrote, it would not be bad to be light brown. He longed, I imagine, to be unidentified.

He also learned, slowly, to read and write. Just a few years ago. In his thirties. Then came the letters, like a killing flood. He wrote all the time, to me, an old girlfriend, our mother, filling up our desk drawers, boxes. He wrote and wrote and w rote, manic with the power of language, roaming back and forth through his whole life, remembering, inventing, reinventing, shaping, trying to articulate, looking...He read the Bible. It was the only book they'd give him; it was the only title he could remember. It took him a long time to read it, but he found it both cryptic and intoxicating. So he read it again--and again and again...Later, he felt God in his fingertips and was sorry for so many things that he could not stop crying. He lived in a sorrow you can only find in a dark place without freedom, a place where time meant everything and nothing and space was a myth passed around for comfort. He learned that Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins and that on the third day he rose from the dead. He liked that, rising from the dead. He liked the idea of Heaven, he wrote me, of just dropping your body and moving on. He liked that the end of the Bible became dark and cautionary, warning of a preordained end to us all. He said he liked St. John as much as  Jesus, maybe more. The Bible made him feel small, though. It was so big, so beyond him. He professed his love for God, which helped, but only some. He had been an empty vessel up to now, he wrote, misspelling the words, and now he was ashamed.

As a Christian, after learning about the death of the body, of all bodies, he did not so much mind the things he did. He had learned early on that it was best to choose--as much as one was able to choose--a group of men that you did not mind having sex with. This way, he learned, sex was paid for by protection from others that might want to have sex with you. He learned to give himself to a few to be saved from the many--he thought of this in instinctive mathematical terms. He learned that he was probably not a  homosexual but was capable, in certain circumstances, of acting convincingly as one. He learned one day that being raped was a terrible, violent, humiliating thing but that fighting it often made it worse; fighting it made it all violence and no sex; pretending was the way to go; pretending was self-preservation. He prayed every night. His asshole bled. He never got an erection again, never, he wrote, even when he fantasized about women, the ones that seemed almost fake, the ones from magazines with giant breasts and white-blonde hair, the ones that used to work for him every time, the ones that now turned into smiling men right there in the middle of his head. He had become, he wrote, a woman, a whore. He cursed God and then apologized. He bit his lip, tasted blood. It wasn't him they wanted to destroy, he reasoned, staring at a ceiling the same cold color as everything else; it was his body, and the body, he had learned from Jesus Christ himself, was temporary.

He learned, then, to cooperate, sacrifice.

He learned from a priest, the same man who taught him to read, that having killed another human being (pointlessly and intentionally) considerably lessened his chances of being saved. It doesn't just happen, the priest told him, you have to work . His last letters are about the difficulty of being saved.

He needed to work harder than he could.

His body was tired.

He learned, when he was exhausted, that drinking cleaning fluid was not good enough, that they could pump your stomach, bring everything up in a blue stream. He learned that it was hard to leave your body in here if they didn't want you to.

You did not own your body in prison.

Please, he wrote me, please write me back.

I own boxes full of pleading.

He learned that a belt, even if you could get one, was not the best thing; buckles are made of different pieces, and different pieces, as a rule, eventually come apart.

The last thing my brother learned, after so much trying: A shirt, or a sheet, tied in simple slipknots, was the best thing for the burden.



Cadavar Exquisito
ec chair | critical urgencies | burning bush | ficciones | secret agents | stage and screen | letters | gallery
home | search | submit | corpse cafe | archives | corpse mall | our gang


Exquisite Corpse Mailing List Subscribe Unsubscribe

©1999-2002 Exquisite Corpse - If you experience difficulties with this site, please contact the webmistress.