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Luca Penne

 

My Lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls

Except for her monstrous elf-ears, my favorite student’s beautiful as a landscape in Greenland painted by Rockwell Kent. Escaping the glare of her presence, I dash from classroom to men’s room where I lean into the mirror and confront the creases dawning in my face.

How crudely I’ve aged, like Auden but not like Auden, more like Somerset Maugham. Daunted by this sullen revelation, I can’t return to the classroom, although the dean is lurking there with his Red Sox cap to hear me lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I return, avoiding the dazzle of that lithesome elfin woman, and switch off the lights and project
a slide of the famous copper scroll. The lecture proceeds in varied shades of desert bluff and purples. Was Qumran an Essene stronghold, a monastery, or an entrepot? Why no bones of women spicing the dusty shallow graveyard? Do the scrolls evince the presence of a messiah, or merely an ordinary human teacher?

My beautiful favorite student snores gently. So does the dean. The Judean desert unravels its mysteries to taunt us with ignorance of which we’re mostly proud—our lust saved for the living, whose response occurs aloud, usually feigning pleasure.

 

Burglarized

After midnight I startle awake. The house isn't comfortable with itself, so I roam the hall and discover in your study a towel laid carefully where your computer had stood. Burglars have looted this room, toppling books about famous black authors and the history of the First World War. They've stolen the computer on which you've stored the draft of your critical and scholarly masterpiece and left a half-drunk glass of orange juice placed on a coaster on your desk. I'd phone the police but the phone also is absent, a washcloth folded neatly in its place. Vague sensations tickle the underparts of my brain. Thunder and lightning stumbled through the sky and ceased less than an hour ago. Burglars must still be in the house. Shotgun in my grip I rave the basement, and there, neatly squared on a table, are your computer, the phone, and three or four other artifacts. There I placed them in a dream I now recall, a dream of teasing you by pretending we’d been burglarized. Once again shamed by my dream-life, like Keats, I shamble up the stairs and lock the shotgun in its case and topple beside you on the bed. This time I'll dream of replacing the computer, reconnecting it, and using it to scan myself into cyberspace where nothing happens and no raw emotions dramatize themselves and no one ever compares himself to Keats and the ideal of dying young.

 

Dinner without the Rainbow Chard

We’re missing the chard, the rainbow, not the white, which is too gritty. Check with the chair to see that the chives are properly seated. In the corner, the wind plays chimes, while the vines wrap the bright cherries. What will become of my dinner and now who will recite their famous lines and bow their heads at the table? Who will recall their days sweeping the brig or spitting into the eye of the volcano after another bout with the bottle? Who will recall the dregs of a dress slipping from the unbelievable body and how long we could make love before we knew that’s what we’re doing?

We’re missing the chard, sautéed in olive oil, with a little gingerand garlic. It would so brighten the dinner. Simon complains about the lack of chard in the spinach, wilted with too much lemon.
Chuck throws in his chips. I can’t eat the salmon without my chard, he says. Something’s amiss without my swiss, Charlie adds, twirling her fork in mid-air I offer kale, such a ruddy texture, hardy as a potato, rugged as broadcloth, rich as money, but that’s not good enough, no rainbow in the leaves, no redness, no doves calling out for a piece of the green. We have onions galore, and so many berries that everyone should be berry happy or berry drunk—but sans the rainbow, sans the chard, we’re just not in business.

At last I give up and pitch the towel into the tent and take out the cheesecake, decked high, a graham cracker crust—in cream cheese and brown sugar we trust. That’s when everybody forgets I forgot the chard.

 

Ashes in the Urn

When I picked up the urn from the mantel, Dad protested, “Put me down or scatter me with your mother.” Dad had been a traveling salesman his whole life and had never been home for more than a few days at a time. On weekends he’d pass through the house like a big wind, the doors slamming, dishes breaking, knick knacks falling off the shelves onto the carpet. I placed him down. I didn’t want to engage in that conversation as Mom had floated away months ago, some of her ash and bone clinging to rock, some catching on the wings of the birds poking on the shore, some clinging to the scales of catfish that surfaced for only a moment and some determined to make New Orleans, where she might mingle with the molecules of Louis Armstrong. I cradled the porcelain teacup with little red and blue birds, the teacup that was my sister, and smelled the steam rising from the chamomile and lemon. “Dad needs to get out of the house,” she said. When I sat down on the red chair, Nasser, my brother, bellowed in pain as if I had hurt him terribly, so I jumped back up. “You’ve put on a good 20 pounds. Why don’t you get some exercise and stop eating all the desserts.” I jumped back up. “Nellie’s right,” he said. “You can’t keep Dad in an urn. His real home is Memphis.” And then I walked back into the kitchen to get some agave for my tea and suddenly Mom was back, holding a bag of groceries. “Better get Dad. Somebody’s gotta pay the bills.” I ran outside with the urn, tossed the contents up in the air, and Dad showered over the herbs and flowers—dust, bone and light. When I returned, the teacup had a crack in it; my brother had broken a caster, and the grocery bags were still on the counter. And for once, the whole family was strangely silent.

 

 

 

Lucca Penne's work has appeared in 2River View, # am and Otoliths among others. Contact author.

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