Cover of Skid Row Penthouse

The writing of Richard Gessner

Excerpts from the diary of a Neanderthal Dillettante by Richard Gessner
January 7, MIDDLE PALEOLITHIC ERA

We completed the tiny papermache mastodons today and are about to display them on our prominent eyebrow ridges; many of us fear that we will be subjected to ridicule because inexplicably the obtuse beasts will grasp our satirical intentions…

January 9, MIDDLE PALEOLITHIC ERA

Today our history of groupies teacher gave a lecture on the inevitability of geniuses throughout the ages building a spaceship from the countless autographs which have been requested of them; I must confess that I don’t quite grasp the concept of remarkable beings in a flimsy paper construction exploring the vast frontirs of groupies, lackeys, and dabblers in other solar systems; but I don’t let on to anyone about this because if I did I would undoudtedly be taken for something less than chic and maybe even placed in the same category as those who are still diagramming cave drawings.

January 23, MIDDLE PALEOLITHIC ERA

Just recently we have been learning to draw picasso running towards us holding a small pad of paper; who or what picasso is remains to be seen; according to the professor he doesn’t exist yet. This evening I decorated several caves with thousands of images of this unknown figure and find it hard to suppress extreme satisfaction in doing so; I just hope that my feeling of mirth are not unjustified because as the professor said, who or what picasso is still remains to be seen. Since I, the professor, and my fellow students will all be fragments preserved in glass cases in natural history museums by the time picasso is born, we have no way of knowing whether or not he was somehow involved in the arts. Perhaps I should be more skeptical, for all I know picasso might be a ne’er-do-well who lives at the Y.M.C.A. who is in a constant state of trepidation over the fact that he might be an immense ruffled pair of anthropomorphic bloomers in a world overpopulated by omnipotent seamstresses who are vehemently against ruffles.

February 5, MIDDLE PALEOLITHIC ERA

Today there was a long dispute among some students over whose vertebrae in whose spine would make a better set of dominoes, the neanderthals’ or those of modern man; soon this frivolity turned into a rally protesting against the spine becoming erect through the passage of time; the viable alternative presented was to reverse the process of evolution so that the spine will become so curved that it could easily be mistaken for a hoola hoop–I still don’t undertand why such grave issues must have such frivolous conclusions.

Copyright(C) 2005 by Richard Gessner. All rights reserved. Published in COE REVIEW and Excerpts from the diary of a neanderthal dilettante & the man in the couch in Bomb Shelter Props 1991

The Sleepwalker by Richard Gessner

Across frozen puddles a sleepwalker glides on one foot, fitted by prankish hands with an old rusty ice skate-

Nodding, bending, pirouetting in the cold wind with fluid precise ballet-

Opaque eye slits blind to an inky tutu fungus of old newspapers encircling his waist, flaking into yellow dust with each thrust and turn-

Migratory birds flying to warm childhood memory rest on the stubbly promontory of his lower jaw-

Stratospheric tooth fairies play sky dominoes with long fallen upper rotten teeth, unravelling the riddle of the bright boy so full of promise who fell asleep-

Oyster shucking insomniacs about to crack open the sleepwalker and drink his pearly nectar to go to sleep, get stuck reading the ruse of brittle tutu newsprint-

Trauma of old news increasing their insomnia a thousandfold-

Ruffians without thumbs opposable, unable to grasp him, freeze into thwarted bully icicles shattering in the random path of the nimble thrusting ice-skate-

Across frozen puddles rising into glaciers, the sleepwalker glides on one foot, impervious to malignant intent-

Ugly laughter of all who tried to scar him twisting into coddling nursemaid lullabies warming his frostbitten ears, driving him crookedly over the north landscape-

Nimble rusty ice-skate glittering with an aurora borealis of prankish blue fingerprints-

Flaking trails of yellow tutu fungi dust blowing in the wind attracting intrepid wolves-

Copyright (C) 2005 by Richard Gessner. All rights reserved. first published in HAPPY # 11r

The Hermit by Richard Gessner

My tree is tall and hollow. I hide in a grotto of roots in the trunk, half buried in dirt and rotting wood fiber. When I want to remember my past life in the outside world, I look up at a thin bar of light coming through a small hole above me. A bird’s nest is stuck between a crevice of bark near the bar of light. The faint rustle of feathers is the sign of the bird passing through the hole while returning to or leaving the nest.

My head is covered with an accretion of bird droppings which has slowly become a helmet which grows an iota thicker each time the bird drops on me. The helmet has begun to extend down the sides of my head, sealing over my ears and drowning out the barking pursuit of bloodhound-stigmata encroaching in the distance. I am resigned to dining on grubs and termites-a humble repast which grossly offends my rarefied palate which desperately oines for a crepe suzette or linzertorte. Fate is the absence of luxury.

I keep track of time by measuring the minute gradations of my helmet’s thickness with a notched root torn from the grotto with my teeth. Gnawing on the root in the darkness I have covered it end to end with rows of notches, the root turning into a functional braille ruler which I read with my finger tips in the darkness. I hold the root against the edges of the helmet near my cheeks and forehead, measuring the distances between my skin and the top strata of the helmet.

I take into consideration that everytime the bird drops on me, falling down the length of the tree, the droppings do not neccessarily land on my head. For each one of the bird’s misfirings I make a note of the demerit by subtracting a notch from the root, running it gingerly between my molars until feeling a tiny loose wood bump on my tongue. In my dogged quest for precision, I have calculated that two inches of bird droppings accumulate on my head per year.

New notches of measurement are carved in the root with finger and toe nails. Toe nails for deep notches, pinky nails for shallow notches, index fingernails for moderate notches. Spare demerit notch bumps are pouched in my navel marsupial style-blurring my fingerprints-hexing the bloodhound stigmata. In five years my helmet will be as wide as the diameter of the tree trunk, the helmet growing into a mausoleum headdress which will get permanently jammed between the inside walls of the tree trunk. Fate is pain without repentance.

Once, in my arrogance, I thought I could usurp the bird by shaking the tree and causing its eggs to fall from the nest and smash on my helmet-the vanquished babybirds adorning my helmet like the chevrons on the military uniform worn in my youth.

I have grown to accept the inevitable mausoleum headdress with grim abandon. Grandiose dreams of stuffing the vanquished babybird beaks with spare demerit notch bumps have been cast to the winds along with distant memories of pageantry and fine clothes.

The headdress will still my absconding retirement plan for good-bringing my intense and static secrecy to an end.

Not a bad fate after running half my life. You see, we exhausted the flesh to break free of the bone-

a bone to abscond will thwart a bloodhound stigmata-

a dead baby chevron hidden in a linzertorte will be the bone of temptation for a bloodhound stigmata-

To break free of the bone riddle a crepe suzette with a fusillade of spare demerit notch bumps on a misty night-

To exhaust the flesh abscond with the bone of a bloodhound stigmata-

To catch a deposed king swaddle him in crepe-chevron-suzettes-

When a machine goes up in flames donate your grotto to science-

Chevron stigmata will break free of linzertorte exhausting the bone-

Linzer-bumps in crepe roots brings nodes of demerit-to torte suzettes-

Spare demerit notch bumps pouched in machine will make all marsupials hide my fingerprints in a bloodhound navel- A deposed king will find pageantry in a grotto of roots-linzer-bumps and torte-suzettes grub machine grub-grub machine grub- root is the better part of precision-precision is the roots of bloodhounds in vacuum packed tin cans-continent to continent- across the ocean-ocean to tree-tree to land-land to bog-dull government scalpel knives rusting in a peat bog-bogged down in fading newspaper headlines of a king at large-tall tree tales do not a cryptic ghost make-nodes and modes of identity are protean fakes-protean ghosts carve a stigmata in the bark-protean ghost kings are waiting for a thin bar of moonlight-

Copyright (C) 2005 by Richard Gessner. All rights reserved. Two versions of this work are published in ANOTHER CHICAGO MAGAZINE #23 & 580 SPLIT issue 2

Vanity by Richard Gessner

I was dead, lying inside an opened marble coffin, as the mortician injected embalming fluid into my body with a syringe.

The inside of the coffin was lined with pink satin. I pulled at it with my fingers and looked up at the mortician as I spoke in a critical tone: Well, what if the worms don’t like this?

The mortician pretended not to hear me. I stared at his syringe as it penetrated my skin. The embalming fluid felt cool as it rushed through my body like a refreshing drink of gatorade on a hot day after baseball practice.

Again I looked up at him and spoke: But I don’t want to be preserved! and how are the worms going to get into this marble box after you close it?

And what if the worms don’t like the taste of the embalming fluid- just like children who won’t eat their vegetables?

I really do want to smell my own flesh putrefying!

The mortician looked at me smugly as he spoke in a philosophical tone: My friend, you are addicted to sensual pleasures; you are so attached to your own gratifications that I don’t believe you are ready for the spiritual plane.

I sat up in my coffin and waved my arms about as I spoke: But you’re depriving me of my natural processes and desires!

My desires! I had wished to view my body as it decomposed and to take photographs of each stage in the process.

I took my expensive camera from my pocket and held it up so the mortician could see it. Surely, this is not an impractical idea, is it? surely it can’t be!

My needs are no different from those of parents who photograph their children at different stages of maturity so they can look back and see how all has changed!

The mortician stood motionless with his arms crossed as he shook his head, saying: so vain, so very vain…

Copyright (C) 2005 by Richard Gessner. All rights reserved. first published in AIEEE & Excerpts from the diary of a neanderthal dilettante & the man in the couch – BOMB SHELTER PROPS 1991

THE ZOO-BRARY by Richard Gessner
Beneath a muti-leveled library is a basement zoo where the writers of the books above are kept.

The zoo has a honeycomb structure sectioned off by narrow hallways running between cirular rows of cells filled with a diverse collection of writers.

The zoo has an optimum cross-breeding design. Writers of different type, ability and degree of stature are paired up in opposite cells with facibg bars so they can view only each other.

Parking-ticket scribblers face classical versifiers- Subpoena makers face street poets to produce spontaneous legal writs- Seminal “inventives” face shopworn “derivatives” to make an accessible would-be radical with a pioneering gloss- The forgotten face the immortal- The touted face the neglected- The baroque long winded face terse aphorists- Scholarly treatise writers face gossip columnists to male high pulp crops of academic sensation-

A zoo-breeder wanders through the maze of hallways listening to the congress of burgeoning tete-atetes caught up in an infectious meld of snowballing ideas.

The drone of voices reverberates, causing the caked stratum of upper floor tome dust to shift ever so slightly. Snatches of conversation overheard by diagonally opposite cell occupants are stolen by a web of intersecting plagiarism spreading throughout the honeycomb.

Jewel-kernels lost in the generic stew of blended voices are fished out by the zoo-breeder and developed in the throes of invention while the idle plot to break through the ceilings of their cells, invading the upper floors to rewrite the books of their neighbors.

At the center of the honeycomb is an incubator where the pairs of the most promising writers chosen by the zoo-breeder are placed to mate and give birth.

When the babies are born the parents are returned to their cells. The zoo-breeder raises the children like a pedantic wet nurse, bringing them to the upper floors for the daily rigors of learning and tome dust castle building,teturning them to the incubator where they work themselves up into the prime white heat of prodigyhood-producing seminal works for all posterity to feed off of.

The slow runts who fail to make their mark early are culled from the revolutionary litter and doomed to wither in a feral state beyond the Zoo-brary walls.

When the fresh crop of genius comes of age, they are placed in their own cells opposite those of a different type, ability and stature.

The writers are rotated in their cells each time a new generation in added so new pairs face each other.

The inept and barren are weeded out to make room for the new. The promise of future progeny born of fresh pairings keeps evolution inching forward… As the zoo-breeder puts the works of the new generation on the upper floor shelves, he looks out a window watching the culled orphan from a gossip columnist/classical scholar mismatch who roams the Zoo-brary grounds waiting to be let in. Copyright (C) 1991 by Richard Gessner. All rights reserved. First published in AIR FISH and “Excerpts from the Diary of a Neanderthal Dilettante & the Man in the Couch” BOMB SHELTER PROPS. 1991

The Ball

A line projecting from a man’s forehead is all oiled up, slippery and infinite, flowing from a far off source, inching backwards on his pate and vanishing against the horizon in the opposite direction.

He cups the line to his ear, listening to the sound of taut sputtering machinery operating in unison. He then follows the line to its terminus or wellspring, traveling by foot until coming to a swivelling metallic ball looming at the center of a city.

The man stands before the ball watching his line run through the walls far above him. The ball is threaded up with a network of hairlines projecting outward in all directions from the hub, octopus style.

The lines run to where they are rooted in the foreheads of men with varying degrees of baldness who move freely, untethered by their threads which they pull while going about their daily business keeping the ball swivelling with each and every movement.

The man, never passing the others of this rooted set on his way to the ball, walks around it banging on the tinny walls, finding the entrance hatch and pulling his line in with him.

The interior apparatus of the parietal structure, or, jargon aside- the innards of the big ball; is a huge control room with rows of floodlights lining a curved ceiling and circular walls all speckled over with tiny openings through which the lines run in and out.

At the center of the room, wedged between floor and ceiling, is a grillwork partition where a cadre of line operators are maneuvering the lines through the openings in the walls as they unwind from slow, moderate, and rapid receding spindles and run through bottles of cure-via-cause oil.

The rooted set go bald on this oil conveyed to their pates via the lines which shorten as they absorb them, getting pulled towards and into the ball by the line operators.

The ball is a generic umbrella toupee, causing covering and hence curing the bald, who become line operators, causing the baldness of others. The lines are the heavenly elixir of all good men. Overlapping genetically & commercially so that infinitely receding families willing to do business, can get a roof over their heads and benefit from the cure.

The man steps through the glistening webbed network, feeling his line well up inside him, oozing in through a cranial pore, soothing his whole head and face the way cool tonics and aftershaves do.

He watches the operators maneuvering the lines through the openings in the walls. Some operators sit at tables adjacent to the grillwork where they scribble down jargon in little pamphlets, while others thread newly wound lines through bottle and wall openings, pulling them out of the ball and rooting them in the foreheads of the populace.

Still other operators stand facing the inner walls of the ball pressing their eyes against the openings and peering out of them as though through telescopes, scanning the terrain of the city until spotting the rooted set moving closer to the ball.

Sometimes several days pass before one is spotted, while waiting the operators watch the distant traffic and crowds of pedestrians as well as an occasional mischievous child who throws an egg at the ball and then hides, watching from a distance to see if the operators will emerge to come look for him or her.

Sooner or later, the rooted set come into view, one by one at intervals going bald simultaneously at different rates; the operators pulling them towards and into the ball gently, without tethered coercion, guiding them in through the entrance hatch.

As the man threads a line through an oil bottle he watches another operator shackling a rapid receding spindle in rubber encasing so it won’t get out of his control, snapping its line in mid-process, the man at the other end disappearing into the city with a broken thread trailing from his forehead in the wind.

NOTES ON THE BALL Richard Gessner

The Ball is an exploration of the cyclical processes in the growth and death of hair.

Baldness is death, the growth of hair is infinite, continuing to grow even after death.

The ball is a place of birth, death & infinite regeneration-a womb in which to recede into.

Within the confines of the Ball-world, baldness is perpetuated via the infinite growth of hair.

The Ball is comprised of a network of synthetic hairlines which cause baldness on the pates of men.

The Ball is a nucleus of receding;a container of ceded men: the rooted set who become line operators once thet enter the ball.

The Ball is an exploration of the contradictory notion of hair as a force of impotent virility.

It is a male world which cures its own impotence by covering bald-pates, yet robbing the owners of these pates of their freedom & virility by tethering them with lines which make them passive & dependent on the mother ball.

Hence the conundrum: CURE-VIA-CAUSE-oil: the ball cures baldness by covering it with the very same lines used to cause baldness.

Copyright (C) 2005 by Richard Gessner. All rights reserved. Published in THE ACT and Excerpts from the diary of a neanderthal dilettante & the man in the couch, BOMB SHELTER PROPS 1991