by: Nathan Hirstein

1. I was sick. My body was wracked with spasms. I lost control of it. My mouth constantly spewed the things found most despicable by my neighbors. My body bent double & finally triple, limbs contorted near to breaking. The sweat I sweat reeked of poison. To all those who still came near me it acted as poison, for I could see them hating me, my body & my sweat. They hated me as the poisoned hate the poisoner. They hated me as the healthy hate the invalid. To look upon me was for them to look into a mirror in which they could see all their past & future diseases visited upon them at once. They hated me until I made a blanket of their hate.

2. I lay under the blanket in a tiny basement cell alone. Even then the constant wailing of my tortured body & all the other things that came out of my mouth disturbed my neighbors. They could always smell me & they could always hear me.

5. I was dirty. I mean, I was sick. My body was not under my control. The specialists rubbed my body with steaming stones. They put slim metal pieces in my back & left squid trails. A woman uncovered scenes I had buried. No one can imagine the showers I scrubbed. None of them found it. I think it was my basement. I mean, I lived underneath. I sensed others with me: wine flies, spiders. I never saw the rats but their scattering menaced my sleep & I found them ripe on the street, split open like summer fruit.

7. In my possession were several texts of power. If softer tissue became scarce I believe my neighbors would wipe their assholes with these pages without regret. If I had peers or even colleagues I believe they would be unable to agree whether the words inscribed within should be classified as holy or demonic. After deep reflection & much study I have come to believe such a binary is false, & also that I have no peers or colleagues because I abhor taxonomy.

8. For want of a shelf, I piled these texts on the filthy concrete floor of my basement.

11. The basement was a trap. Even the flies couldn’t find their way out. No light came in but that which I pumped through the walls. Of course I could see nothing by this but my own shadow & a fly-paper chandelier orange & black with bodies, looped round the bare bulb. My body bumbled into an accretion of objects, each a demon. Together the demons made a cacophony of ugly information surrounding me, filling the emptiness I sought, robbing me of any peace. The floor glinted broken glass & shone with foil, the shells of what I put in my hole: soft batch, English tea, grasshopper. The clear plastic wrap of cigarette packs.

17. Like the terrible magician of storybooks I kept my soul in a glass jar. But I filled my jar to the brim with black ash & orange butts, the remnants of my only small pleasure.

18. I collected tomes of great power & they collected thin sheets of the skin I shed & thicker, irregular blankets of the skins of what I ate.

22. I crushed a fruit fly on my neck or a mosquito. It wasn’t the right season, but flies leave no bloody trails. All I saw were parasitic demons. They hovered in my head like insect birds with their above sounds.

23. The demons howled & taunted me. They crept closer. First they crawled up & squatted on my only table in piles of disorder. They looked like rats dressed in the clothes of my neighbors.

28. My neighbors were closing in. There were once walls between us I remember & a door with a lock for which only I had the key. In the basement no one locked their doors. There weren’t doors; I propped a moldy mattress up to close me in at night. I woke & found my neighbors staring. They asked to borrow a cigarette or a portion of my meager foods. Though I despised them they were too close to refuse. They had become part of my landscape, my nature, inexorable. Mountains or creatures, they scavenged of me. Night couldn’t even get in past them.

32. I went down into my basement. But demons breed in forgetfulness. When I awoke I could see: a moldy mattress wedged between the floor & ceiling made my fourth wall, a suitcase propped open against the wall spilled crumpled garments, empty bottles accumulating.

33. I begged my neighbors for medicine. At times they pitied enough to give what they would. Other nights their black eyes reviled my prostrations or blinked, uncomprehending.

41. I wondered how it was that I—who have always done right by my neighbors, who considered the state of my neighbors above even my own state, whose mouth is full of rotten teeth but has always spoken sweetly—I wondered how I came to be in this basement, this prison, my body.

46. Perhaps as I descended I had drawn a map. I ruffled sheaves of paper. The scrawls looked like insect trails: indecipherable.

50. When I emerge from beneath I will have changed. When I rise I will be cured.