f i c t i o n f r a n k m c g u i n n e s s
There are 8627 ways of saying the name, Jesus. My mother knows each and every one of them. It has been her life’s mission to record the variation of how we pronounce the divine utterance. When she dies, I will consult her missal and perhaps it will provide her son with the way to his salvation. I have begun to practise already. In company I restrict my speech to silence or simply to utter the single word, gosh, and yet in my head I am plotting how to control each and every conversation by the repetition of the word, Jesus, in as many forms, as many permutations, as many diversities, as many disagreements to accompany as harmonious or disharmonious, every sentence, every work, every syllable of discourse. I may give the impression of indifference, acquiescence, invariance, inflexibility – I lack contact with anything but my own creation, my own society, my own self – but through the protection of my Jesus, I am a priest and a prophet and I paint only icons. That is my way of introducing myself.
God gave me my youth. That is why I go to the altar of myself and give thanks. As I have said, it is in the name of the Lord, the name of himself, that I find help and solace. That is the kind of guy I figure I am. He has been a great asset to me. I adore the way he manifests his sacred presence in the most unusual manners. Take for instance that young man who delivered flowers once to the Factory. I saw Christ in his shoes. The laces were, I confess, truly delicate. I could have bound him hand and foot were I, or he, that way inclined. He soon made clear he was not. When I poured him coffee, he talked about his girlfriend and how they planned to move to Canada. One day. The wilds of Canada. The flat, snowy plains of his fair flesh. The white and red of his hard muscles. I asked his girl’s name. I admit now I forget but I do recall that he might have said it was Jimmy. That was what he called out as we made love. Yes, the child was in denial. In that holiest of rivers I bathed him in the champagne of what I do not shed over his body. I bless him and dress him and beg his forgiveness – I have wounded him with my worship, but he has his revenge. He hangs onto his shoes. I confess my disappointment.
Does he bless me? Does he praise me? Does he adore me? Does he even thank me? I doubt it. I’ve never heard a word back from him. Perhaps he did go to Canada and get married. That is what I would have advised him to do. It is a useful way of getting rid of agreeable young men when they cease to resemble Jesus in any shape or touch or smell. I am such a fool to glorify these stinkers. I could call them much more foul names, but I have been taught to forgive and so I find it wise to avoid the vulgarity of hatred. This had led even my closest friends to accuse me of a lack of intimacy. They may want more from me than my gift of acquaintanceship. One Christmas when we decided to rationalise the cost of gifts, I gave them socks, beautiful socks, each one paired with its exact opposite – I took so much time to mismatch – and they looked at me with what they might describe as horror. It was as if I had shat in their socks. I sincerely believe they thought I was insulting them. Their first word on seeing my presents was invariably Jesus – Jesus. Now, of course, they were not addressing these words, this appellation to me. And yet I was in a definite way implicated. Perhaps because I had worn the socks and not washed them – but was that not my right? Shoes are my passion. Socks are next to shoes. Friends wear shoes. I do not steal from my friends. I give. I glorify the gods beneath our shoes. That is why I make – I made my singularly appropriate tokens of love to my friends. It was my way of saying to them, I believe.
Why should I feel it essential to say I am a believer? Essential – is it only so to me? Is it essential to my mother? If I am to convince her I am something more than a bum – Andy is a bum, she used to dismiss me, Andy Warhol is a bum – then I need to let myself know that my faith stems from something more than the desire to tie a sweat stained lace around a limp cock and let the friction of that sensation breathe life into the old girl between my legs. I sometimes talk to this lady. She smells like a bottle of vodka. She throws in a little brandy. She would not mind a little pint of Guinness. And yet she is teetotal. Not a drop will she accept. The merest rivulet will not press from that sweet little hole in her centre. She is a good girl who will behave as she believes she should. She is a beautiful woman trapped between the scratchy balls, the hairy ass, the shitty stink of a man. He is on heat and lady dick is disgusted with himself for the way he confesses which hand should touch his body and harm her into being what he believes she is, she was, she will be now and forever, till death do me part into the holy union of man and man. When I go to a wedding, I long to dress in white. I long to take the bride’s face and kiss it, and to leave my beard imprinted on the woman as Christ’s face was on Veronica’s veil on the way to Calvary. You do not have a beard, you accuse me, but we do, all men do – that is what my mother always maintained – they can grow inside their skins. They are hairy as Jesus is, engraving his image sweat on the white of Veronica’s headwear. All men’s beards, be they dark or fair, their beards are red. Their beards are blood. Believe in blood. Believe in flesh. It is not only Esau who has hairy. So was his mother Rebecca. Her wisdom depends on shaving the scripture on her arms, above her lips, behind her knees. She is clear as a wife, the wife never had. She puts wisdom to her mouth. I draw breath. I blow it through her whistle. And I collect the sounds, their fragments, join them into a name, Messiah. My prayer, my petition. Shall I tell you what it is I have hoarded in my heart?
I sometimes have to laugh when I read what Jesus believed before he left his life. Was he being sarcastic? Is it possible that the divinity should avail of the human gift of satire? No, not satire – perhaps it is more accurate to state that the fucking proof Jesus could not be Jewish is that he had no sense of humour? One day in Central Park I was sitting smelling the feet of the people of Atlantic – this is my secret but everyone had fins and stank of seaweed – didn’t I come across two young Mormons – a boy blond as a cloud, the girl his twin – who wanted to talk about the Saviour. He was – wasn’t he – Semitic? Do I mean Israeli? Is that how you’d phrase it? Do I mean Palestine – is that what you prefer? We do not know. I asked them, would you believe in Christ, the Israelite? Believe in Christ the Palestinian? Would you believe in Jesus if he made you laugh? He does make us laugh, they insult, his parables make us happy. No, I don’t believe you, he is the reason you are cruising through the Park. That is why he is not in the midst of us. I ask the Mormon boy and girl if I have ruined their mission. They look at each other. They do not know how to answer me. They ask if they may read me a letter, sent to them from mission control. I ask them in the middle of Central Park to disclose the contents of their epistle.
The letter consists of nothing more than the babblings of some prophet. He has promised onto his believers whatever it is prophets usually promise. I decide I have listened enough to these mad deliberations, but they keep reading. I walk away, they follow me, still chanting of angels and heaven that they imagine will be like the milk and honey of their hair. I have long learned that in case of emergencies while in public places, it is always useful to carry a candy bar. I take it from my pocket, crumble it and throw the chocolate over my tormentors. The extraordinary thing is this attracts birds – birds of many shades of grey and black. This multitude of our feathered friends gather about the melting brown of the beautiful Christians and gather them into their ascending flock, as I make my escape through the Park. What happens next is true, Gospel true, I swear it.
When I look back, I see the creatures of air carrying well fed Mormons into the skies, light as if they were the birds’ feathers. I can see burning candles in their hands. The breeze about me has the sickly sweet of incense. I hear human voices sing from the heavens, their crescendo increasing, culminating in the mighty roar of Convert, Convert, Convert. This is a sign I must mend my ways. I look down at my clothing and find I am dressed entirely in white raiment that touches me like my skin. I discover I am naked in Central Park, protected only by the beating wings of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of pigeons, blackbirds, seagulls, rooks, the odd linnet, the rare osprey and since this is a divine vision, I do believe a dodo has just entered from Fifth Avenue. I rejoice in the fact I am chosen to receive this magnificent present. I express my thanks by turning my face into full assembly of this multitude and I say, gosh. They greet me back with a prolonged demand to convert, convert, convert. Should I do so, I suddenly realise I will be spiritually obliged to donate some of my income to the Mormon church. That is not in my nature. I decline their kind suggestion, pull on a pair of pants and a shirt, then I dash off, leaving no forwarding address. I am a hustler. I will not be a pilgrim to Utah. Too much salt in the water disagrees with me – it leads to strokes and heart attacks – so that is not and never will be my city by the lake. Wham – bam, thank you Jesus, but I have to make you another type of offering. Could it be a secret – a big one – my biggest? Is that what you want? Or am I just teasing you? Would you like to find out?
It must have been twelve, or thirty after twelve. It was definitely afternoon. Maybe I was ill and home from school. No, that was not possible. I could smell the kitchen cooking. I think I was hungry. We were not usually silent, myself and her. Only when there was something wrong. That was not often the case. I prided myself on being a good boy. I can only report the conversation as follows.
She Do you know – could you guess – who called here this morning?
She The cops. That’s who. They wanted to see you. It was about something.
Me What was it about?
Me Why me?
She They’re not happy with you.
Why are they not happy?
What you do. The way you put your hand down your pants. Poking at yourself.
What are they going to do to me?
They won’t put you into jail. But they could take you away.
Where would they put me?
They’ve got a big, black hole for boys who do that. They would leave you there. You’re seven years old now. You must stop doing that. It is dirty. Nobody likes it.
It is as if she has put a bullet up my dick. My boy’s body is paralysed. I hear my mouth make a noise I do not recognise. I cry nearly every day but not like this. And I do not recognise what is pouring from me. It is not the water of tears. It is not easy as tears. It is my house, my family’s furniture, its tables and chairs, its icebox and cupboards, the very kitchen itself trickles through me and out of me. I realise then why I’m smelling the way I do. It is because there is soup running from me and staining all my flesh. I am convulsed with fear of the cops, and I cannot stop soup, torrents of soup nearly suffocating me, pouring itself out from every part of me. I say I am sorry, really sorry, it is just that it hurts me, it hurts me so much, that’s why I have to touch it so that it stops hurting me. I say my shorts hurt it as well, my Jockey shorts hurt it. It hurts when I walk and it hurts when I sit and it does all the time. But I promise to you and to God that no matter how much I am in pain down there, I will never poke again, I will never touch myself ever again. Please tell the cops that. Please don’t let them put me in the black hole where I will not be able to see. I keep repeating and repeating myself and then I notice my mother is crying. She says, why did I do that? She is talking to herself – what possessed me? Then she speaks to me. Come on, be a good boy. I won’t let anyone go near you. You know that. If you’re tempted again, you just think of God. Make that sacrifice. She keeps going on about sacrifice as she bathes me clean. She tells me Jesus made so many sacrifices I could surely do this out of love for him. Out of love for him. She makes no mention of the miracle of the soup. She treats it as if it were a regular bath night. But I can see the colour in the water in fifty-seven different ways. I know something strange has happened. Only I can discern what is coming from my filthy body. My mother is oblivious to my mess. I am afraid it will block the drains but say nothing. She asks me if it is nice to be clean and comfortable? I answer, yes. She asks if this is all I have to say – what is the magic word? Thank you, I reply, but that is not the magic I can now perform. I am looking at my mother’s face in the bathroom mirror and I turn the mirror into another mirror so my mother’s face is repeated 8627 times, as many times as there are ways of saying the name Jesus. She does not know that I have multiplied her as I curse and blaspheme against my mother, against Jesus, against the cops. If they expect a sacrifice from me, I will refuse. I will poke myself. I will bless myself with what flows from me. It will be my mother, my son, my ghost. I will conjure strange victuals from my soup. I will dine on myself. And I will taste other men. Even cops. That will be my sacrifice.
I disdain too much contact with straight men. It is nothing personal. It is just that I cannot give them the commitment they require. Well, as a rule, they require. They find themselves attracted to me because they know that my wealth, my art, my status, my detachment ensure I will not be any burden to them. The lightness of my company is eventually irresistible. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to comfort these poor souls. I do not show any visible signs of affection. That might unman them. That is the last thing on my mind. No, instead I caress the darlings with my eyes. When I am in their company, I do not let them out of my sight. And it is as if my glance conquers them. I see them open their lips. Their tongues are ready, I feed them the sacrament of my virginity. They dine on its delicious grace. It cleanses them anew. I sent them back to wives and sweethearts changed men. So keen are these – my priests – to prove their love of ladies, I know of one who tastes the very breath of his beloved, leaving teeth marks on her breasts, the silly bugger. I cannot be blamed for this mystical excess. Did he not remember it was a sin to touch the holy of holies with anything but the tongue? But let there be no retribution. Now is the time for breathing easily. Letting it all hang out. Forgive and forget. What point in singling out what is probably a blameless guy and lashing him, why did you do it? Why did you track my mother down and force her to put me through hell? What devil did you embrace to do it to me? Was the Sabbath black when you did invoke malign spirits to your aid? Did you spit out the host and hurl it to the earth? Did you curse your own mother? Do you threaten to damn my mother if she did not castrate you? Is it any wonder that straight men find it difficult to consummate their desire for me when I would devour them, knuckle and thumb, shin and sole, nail and hair? Can you blame me if I refuse their attentions, knowing as I do since I was seven years old what it is like to have the cops after you? I pray to the moon, I thank it for my survival, that silver balloon rising through the mists, myself and that cold goddess ascendant as if like cats and dogs in unnatural communion. However, no-one can accuse me of owning cat or dog. I am allergic.
That allergy is extending from animals to people. I find it impossible now to stay too long in once place. It is why I must travel from city to city, party to party, keeping myself to myself, attended by servants who know which side their bread is buttered and are content to smell the coffee and never spill the beans. Why do I turn to food for my metaphor? Is it because I no longer eat? I do not so much diet as digest the air and can live on my own silent breath. It is difficult to observe the barbarians chewing meat and vegetables, rinsing their foul mastications with the rot and wet of wine. They flatter themselves. I imagine their bowels scattering, their kidneys emptying. But they are wrong. I have never listened to dirty stories. I would never kick in the bathroom door. I do not own the necessary steel capped boots the men in my family prided themselves on possessing. Well, occasionally I do put them on my feet, but they do not fit. Too small, too weak, too silly, too cissy – yes, that monstrous word the school would use to torment. I can use their torture – I am an artist. Torture has made me what I am today. Had I not been like a girl, had I not have to – absolutely have to touch my dick to insist to my doubting brain my body was a boy – had I not to take pleasure in my revenge against you all – had I not been able to bleed you dry with my thirsty painting, had I not the enjoyment of convincing you, you could do as well, but not better, had you not believed you couldn’t because I did it first, then I could never have given thanks as I expect you to do when I said, the mass is ended, give thanks to the Lord.
Or as they say in the old country – Ite, misse est – deo gratias.