Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
From my recent appearance at The Paper Machete; March 31, 2012. You can listen to the performance here at WBEZ.
The Tale-Told Heart
© 2012 Bilal Dardai
A letter to my previous host.
I’ve, I’ve forgotten your name already, old friend; it is so absurd, it’s so sad. We were together for, for how long, I don’t know, I stopped counting after the first 35 million beats. I was the size of your fist. I was always the size of your fist.
Old friend, I don’t know what happened. I recall existing, as ever, with our usual autonomous manner, and then there was shock and then there was seizure and then I had stopped and then it was bright and then I was rising and then it was cold and then it was cold and it was dark and it was bumpy and then it was bright and then it was warm and then there was shock and then I was working. And then I was working. And then I was working. Beat beat. Beat beat. Beat beat. Beat beat.
And I’ve forgotten your name, and you are dead and have probably forgotten it yourself. But I compose this message to you of my own electrochemicals and emit it like radio waves in the hope that it may arrive to wherever you might be now.
They put me inside something called Richard Bruce Cheney. From behind his layers of wrinkle and fat I can hear other people referring to him as “Dick.” The tones they use to refer to him as “Dick” seem to vary from affection to scorn.
The first thing you notice is that the backs of his ribs are covered with tiny scratches, everywhere, many of them vertical and evenly spaced. It occurs to me that what I am looking at may be hatch marks, a running tally, left behind by the previous occupant, of the days and months and years that it sat in here working. It simultaneously occurs to me that perhaps they are not marks of accounting as much as they are the desperate clawing of a trapped beast. Perhaps they are both. I view my surroundings with anxiety, old friend. I’ve always known that it was called a cage, but I’d ever assumed that it was a description of shape, not of function.
Everybody asks about you, old friend. They are deeply taken with the novelty of my presence, having themselves been firmly lodged in this body for over seven decades, having observed its descent from healthy, marvelous organism into rotting gelatinous husk. What was it like, they ask me. What was your last one like? But by this point I have not only forgotten your name, I have forgotten your predilections and preoccupations, I have but vague echoes of your history. You must have survived childhood, surely, and you must have survived the hundreds of times you perceived me as broken during your adolescence. Had you ended up an athlete, perhaps, who finally encountered the challenge your strength and agility could not match? Were you a doctor, aware in detail of the journey part of you would be taking after your demise? I recall mornings and nights with you doing shot after shot of adrenaline but can’t recall what prompted those binges to occur.
Jovially sloshing great gallons of bile, Cheney’s stomach will amuse itself by inventing filthy limericks about who you might have been. It makes pitiful and persistent attempts to rhyme “aorta” and “whore.”
When I ask Cheney’s lungs what happened to the previous occupant they grow quiet and shrink away from me. They do a poor job of concealing their gray, angry blemishes, left behind from a youth of heavy smoke inhalation. They giggle nervously when I ask if my predecessor liked it here.
“Liked?” says the left.
“Liked is a very strong word,” says the right.
They are reluctant to tell me anything further, but stitched on the walls and etched on the vessels one can see the chronicle of my predecessor, a tragic figure by any measure, driven to the conflicted madness of keeping its host alive and planning repeated assassinations of same. There were the attacks, five of them, averaging at least once a decade since 1978, there were the aneurysms and thrombosis and fibrillations and clots and the other strategically targeted symptoms of disease. For over 30 years my predecessor endured the surgeries, the implanted machinery, the grafts and catheters and bypasses, became more plastic than flesh. For a significant stretch it even found itself attached to a pump that kept Cheney alive for months without any pulse whatsoever. It endured all of these things in addition to the sour aroma of its own failure to end the miserable creature in which it had been encased.
Who can say what ultimately turned Cheney’s heart against him? Was it the zeal with which he pursued the agendas of Nixon and Ford, the relentless desire to craft an America in which only the most corrupt and craven of bureaucrats and businessmen could ever survive? Did his heart know the future of the man even then, know of the wars he would callously pursue, the lies he would tell to engineer such wars, the public servants he would stomp beneath his heel to achieve these wars? Did it grow heavy with the weight of the tortures he ordered, with the understanding that he no longer viewed people with the same affection he viewed oil? Ultimately, did Cheney’s heart observe that it was pumping thousands of liters of blood per minute through his five-foot-eight frame but it could still never match the amount that he had on his hands? And how lonely and bitter must my predecessor have become, as each time this venomous cretin may have been entreated by others to look into his heart, and instead Cheney’s brain would dictate and deliver a message stating Your opinion is neither invited nor encouraged. Continue solely upon your task at hand and keep your mewling compassion to yourself.
Old friend, a week has now passed since my transition, a week of the cold, toxic sludge that Cheney has made of his blood passing like rivers of frenzied serpents through me, and soon I will have forgotten not only your name and your character but that I was ever a part of anything except this fiend I am charged with maintaining. The cardiologist claims that Cheney may live another ten years with me inside him, and I shudder to imagine what happens when next he manages to grab the reins of power, what destruction he shall cause and what profits he shall reap from it.
And it saddens me to think how I shall completely forget you, but that saddens me less than this realization: That in the world right now there are dozens upon dozens of noble unfortunates, people whose lives could do real good by continuing, but you wanted me to go to this man instead. You passed over all of these others with your generous gift and demanded that the heart of you be sent to this Cheney, so that he could remain in the world for the tiniest bit longer; ruthless, unrepentant.
The tragedy of us, my old friend, is not that I will forget you. It is that I am not sure how well I ever knew you, and that I will probably not remember you for long enough to forgive you.
Beat beat. Beat beat. Beat beat. Beat beat.
Brilliant, dude. Seriously. Among your best.