Three Readers

Nate Liederbach

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Bon evening, gents, ladies, and willkommen to Benton Center’s Summer Reading Series! Because we’re ecstatic to have you. I’m ecstatic to have you! Me, well that’s one Tariq Bethany, your certainly propitious host. So I will tell you ever frankly that despite what you’ve probably heard, and regardless of the silly month I’ve been navigating—the repudiating of sectarianism charges, the attempts to revolutionize penology in America, the plummeting into a hanky-panky shine with none other than my divorce attorney, Big K Karen T. Houston, hell, even the flummoxes of my children, and their children, and those innumerable surgeries—despite it all, it’s no doubt my extreme pleasure to drowned my personal woes in this the precious act of introducing our first of tonight’s three guest authors. That man being the one, the only, the hands-down A-mazing NICK LAUDERMILK!

—Delightful your applause!—

Oh, but I’m sure the bulk of you are more than acquainted with Nick’s craftsmanship! Not in the least his debut novel? I speak of the illustrious tome, Stroking the Android’s Loin, but, and boy howdy, those of you who aren’t familiar, worry not, you’re in for a real T-R-E-A-T! Why, you dare ask…? To date, Laudermilk has authored four novels, and his second of those, Swarm Insemination. That’s right, THE Swarm Insemination, renowned as a finalist for the TROJAN® THINTENSITY® College Novel Prize.

But, and beyond even that—and I’m going to cut to the mustard, here, to the dark brown mustard—Laudermilk can’t even be called a mere writer, am I right? What we have on tap tonight is a bona fide CULT FIGURE. Hop on Wikipedia, folks. This guy’s got a special brand of fare, a style taxonofied as a genre all of its own.

Please, please, with zero mas ado, put your hands together in the warmest welcome for the father of Siliconnatative Gothroboterotica, joining us tonight from only the cleanest parts of Kansas City, Mr. Laudermilk!

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I’m. Wow. Flattered. Thanks. Hello, everyone, I’m Nick, and thank you so much, Tariq. Really. And your family. Gee, thank you all for attending tonight. Tariq mentioned Stroking the Android’s Loin, so what I’d like to read this evening is actually a lost chapter of that book. Truly lost, too, because an ex of mine stole it, and then blackmailed me … oh, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyhow, now that I’ve reacquired it, this chapter will appear as a prelude to the second section of my yet unnamed new novel (its working title being Notes of Survival from the Brink of a Hegel’s Wireless Belly) wherein I resurrect two minor characters from Android’s Loin.

But, before I begin reading, I should orient you. The year is 2052. Here we find that Amanda, a possible cybernetic werewolf—who loosely represents John Wayne and the American ideal of the uncommitted savior—has recently miscarried in a garbage-strewn field beyond the gates of The Colony. Hunkered over the muddy tissue, she’s wrestling an ineffable urge to consume the issuance, this at the same moment when Payo, the alleged father of either Amanda or the child, swoops down in a makeshift hang-glider, and Payo—as some of you will recall from Android—is a species of Mr. Bingley character (except he’s well into his fifties, a deaf mute, and rejects all notions of class structure). Anyway, Payo knows what Amanda does not: that if so much as one drop of the fetus’ blood interacts with her saliva she’ll not only transmute permanently into a monstrous beast, but she’ll forever suffer agonizing hip dysplasia. Right. Right, but before Payo can land his glider clips a nearby cottonwood and he plunges into the East Fork River. Broken, wet, he approaches her too late. Amanda’s already transforming, and all he can do now is attempt to reverse the process through coitus—effectively tricking her body into thinking it … well, that it didn’t actually miscarry:


(Clearing throat)

Thank god the adrenaline from the crash had Payo throbbing with sympathetic nervous desire. Thank god her fur-burgeoning crotch was already oil-slicked and gaping. But above all, thank Irony there was a tail snaking loose of her lower back that he could grip by the throat and jerk toward his shivering belly. The thought had occurred to him that he might be bitten or mauled, or worse, bitten or mauled to death, but it was as if he weren’t even present. Encased in the scent of bone smoke, uterine vomit and polluted river muck, his fingertips dug into the grind and pop of her mutating hips. But Amanda did not react to his presence; she was lost in trance, a different time, a different space, her muscles straining in stasis as they attempted to expel synthetics from her flesh. And yes, she was howling, howling the low tones of Nature’s vengeance. Metal, plastic and wire squirreled through her hardening hide, breaking open the shallow skin of her joints, excruciating, certainly, but the engulfing cry was also a song, something beyond man or animal—the song of Payo’s reckless devotion, the song of their disowned world, the song of the first man and woman and animal to come together with something more than selfish want. And though Payo could not hear the song, he could feel its tremor, the rhythm of its tenor undulating the walls of her clenching cunt. It egged his old seed, commanding those haggard balls to recall the glory of their youth. So, with head cast back, he howled too, that blank mouth gaping, that hot soundless breath pushing in a solid arching stream from his useless lips. Feet planted in sticky tissue and digital refuse, under that gravy sky of industrial bile, he howled and thrust, but, in the end, it did no good. Amanda, forever relieved of her human form, forever relieved of the foul technology that had, from birth, kept her from Becoming, craned her long neck. In an instant, she unpacked the piping of the man’s tautly exposed throat, gazing unaffectedly as his fingers grabbed against gravity. And with its body toppling backward, Payo’s cock boinged loose. Blushing, drooling freely, it waved a slow goodbye to the shadowed beast loping off on stiff hindquarters.

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Wow, Nick! Wow! Talk about A-plus for Action-plus! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Nick Laudermilk, everybody!

Next—let’s see—yes, next I have the incredible honor of introducing Amanda Cho. And as you may or may not know, I’ve been flying a great deal lately. Old Tariq’s been having to miss a great deal of work because of a series of family emergencies. But the silver lining is that it’s given me time to peruse Amanda’s staggering body of work. Did you realize that Amanda’s memoir, You Don’t Know Where My Dragon Sleeps, has just been released, as of last week—correct?—from Working Dog Press? And of her book Dragon, which is actually Amanda’s first published work, Publisher’s Weekly proclaims, “Cho does to the adverbial conjunctive simile what Beckett did to the dangling modifier”; The Village Voice writes, “Finally … A memoir with no memory!!”, and Maxine Hong Kingston, on the more-than-ample spine of Cho’s masterpiece, daringly declares, “This Boo-ya of a book is what can only be called a Tour de Fuck Yeah!”

Without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, Amanda Cho!

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Much love, Tariq. Much love, Benton Center. I’m honored to be here.

I’ll be reading from chapter eleven of You Don’t Know Where My Dragon Sleeps, and at this point in the memoir, about three-quarters of the way through, I’ve had some startling revelations about the awareness of my self-awareness. For one, I’ve decided my knees are foolish, disowned them, and, in their stead I’m auditing a wilderness survival course at the community college. This comes about because, in the preceding chapter, I had struggled with the guilt of possibly having to, in what seemed to be my inevitable future, finally admit I had no interest in learning Cantonese.

I feel I should also tell you that, at the time I was writing this segment, I was mostly listening to Chicago’s Greatest Hits and watching a good deal of Growing Pains reruns. Finding myself inexorably emotional over Luke Brower’s—if you recall he was played by Leonardo DiCaprio—adoption by the Seavers, I began, for almost a month, having a succession of Frank Chin dreams. Strangely, Frank couldn’t speak English, only some moribund language full of click consonants, but we were driving around the Midwest checking teens’ IDs and handing out Papa John’s coupons. In one of the dreams, Frank, who at this point had developed a serious hairline infection, turned to me and said, in perfect English—I mean as if he had descended from George Washington himself, “You, Amanda, you’re the real thing, baby. You’re grade-A-sian American!”

So, here we go… um, chapter eleven—oh, one more note, in attempting to erase any contrive Freudian impulses and to embrace Wittgenstein’s notions of the first person, I refer to myself, if I desperately must, not as “I” but as “this”:


Must build a lean-to therefore making it through the night. A lean-to and, likewise, a fire that roars as if the sun were merely afterthought. Nevertheless, shelter then warmth, for no cover does this littered field give, no cover except beside that near river of bleak trees and sour notes. The professor has left, the classmates then, scattered too, cast apart, cast as surely as those original thoughts of receiving a passing grade have now burrowed into the loneliness of this survival.

But what is that? A jet?—ah, a great bird! No crow, no eagle, but pterodactyl. Lungs jog, scalp burns. But, anyway, it is gone now, gone as soon as it appeared. It’s nested, to be sure, in the riverbank’s putrid green stalks, awaiting nightfall, skulking, hoping to find this exposed and thirsty, as a child in the high desert not quite newborn but well into its first week, mouth stuffed not with yellow breast but silver needle noodles. No crying then, maybe, but hell yes now: “You won’t have this!” Consequently, a fist lifts. “Look for your prey elsewhere, shit for beak!”

Henceforth, most henceforth, this drops to hand and upper shin, frantic now to scour clammy earth for sticks and stakes and plastic tarps. But moreover, what is happening! What are these talons fixed to ample haunches like the very fingers of Taoist decree? Oh, if only this had knees, if only they had not betrayed with their Western foolishness. Undoubtedly, it is too late! From the pink throat of dreams, like a great vulture of culture, Frank has found this. The hard roll of coupons in his pocket pushes like an adopted child into tender flank. But here now! Under this hand, a pipe, resurrected! It’s solid trust upon these fingers! Its sure kick the very teeth of Amy Tan and most hungry with dysentery. Frank falls, not a twitch. And certainly, as if gifted by the gods, here it is! Shelter: Frank’s long, lean form. Fire starter: his bottle-thick glasses. Dinner: each dim sum of not ten, but eleven, meaty fingers (wink wink). But this mustache, as if a thing in itself—what does this do? Remember, for an A, all of the animal must be used. Oh, if only it were larger, thicker, more masculine! If only this could drape such gentle woven lip hair in the cold of night, it’s warmth a song, lulling this to sleep, giving meaning, giving inspiration.

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Do jeh! Do jeh! Wonderful, Amanda! Belisimo so mucho! Amanda Cho, everybody!

And last, but certainly not least, all the way here with us tonight from Belize, and quite possibly the most controversial translator in the world, you guessed it… Babe Crow Dickerson!

Check this out, though. Old Tariq here just returned from Belize, I did. With my twins, and during a very complicated surgical procedure that I won’t get into now, well, I found myself in a discussion with a transgendered nurse who claimed that Babe is, to most Belizeans, regarded as a demigod—not only, understand, to his cache of devoted readers, but also to the bevy of young admirers with whom he’s publically shared his bed. Now, being an American, I don’t know anything about any of this, but I do know that, in the world of letters, Babe’s work has been at once denounced as “the sickest gimmick ever pulled on the comparative literature community,” and simultaneously praised as a “… a revolution in the literary chaos theory, and the last hope for unified pluralism.”

In an August 2005 interview with Poets & Writers magazine, Babe, when asked to elaborate on his techniques, answers: “Hello? What did you say? I didn’t hear what you said. I see woman with the opposite of nipples for nibbles. Tie them in a knot, shoot them with a bow. Can’t I? Nabokov, Hass, Hugo, Zorić, these are not translators; they’re the retarded teenager with the pillow between her ribs. And what is the pillow, OK? Sure, that’s what they think—Wrong! The pillow is where lexicon, the enemy, comes to rape the dreams of its pet people, OK? Here’s my rule: Stab the pillow. Stab it with your ancestors’ eyes, and remove one feather with the left side of your tongue. Swallow it. Now don’t shit for three days. Tell me then, wise guy, how to spell airplane, huh?”

Wow! Crazy stuff, huh? Please, put your hands together for our main event, for the night’s big closer, The Babe Crow Dickerson!

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Good. Good. Enough. Please people, stop clapping and let me do this…

Thanks. Really. OK, tonight I will read my sixth and final heterotrophic translation of Raymond Carver’s “The Love Mechanic at 4:20.” You should understand that the core of this translation grapples with the fact that Carver and I were sworn adversaries at the Iowa Writers Workshop where I was head of Humanities Security between ’73 and ’76. This was at the height of not only Ray’s illustrious sideburns, but also his propensity for removing his shirt and challenging female poets to absurdly complicated footraces. Much later, when he passed away, I watched the funeral procession from a motel window and sipped lemonade. There was a married woman with me. We only spoke Portuguese and made love through a still-damp hole mice had gnawed in the bed skirt. All the while Gordan Lish perched on the mini fridge and called out stage directions. Moreover, and FYI, that was translation number five, title, “Goodbye Love Mechanic.” Here’s—what I’ve got here for you—is number six:

 

“Holy Christ I’m fucked up!” I said.

“Hold my hand,” Ray said, “it’s getting dark in hear.”


(A side note: here “here” is spelled “h-e-a-r”, and that’s important, because in my fourth translation, from English into Mayan, and then back, I realized that there really is no TV set in Carver’s original version). So… where was I?


“Holy Christ I’m fucked up!” I said.

“Hold my hand,” Ray said, “it’s getting dark in hear.”

“It’s getting dark in hear? Oh, no, my friend, it’s been dark in here! Outside, too.”

“Let go of the novel, Bub.”

“That’s not a novel,” I said, “that’s my hand, baby.” I’d been having some crazy dreams. My lungs didn’t work. Everybody wanted more and more of less and less of me. I’d get out of bed, take twelve steps and the walls turned to gin. Then here’s this Negro and his dead wife in my bedroom. They want to go fishing, but me, I’m trying to get this suitcase packed.

“Where’s my wife?” I said. “Where’s my goddamn wife?”

“Your first or second?”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” the Negro said.

“I’ll tell you what real love is,” the Negro’s dead wife said. In the kitchen a dog began to howl, in the backyard, the shadow of a low plane. She held the baby to those rotten breasts, the thing’s little red fingers losing handfuls of bird-shit flesh.

“Bub,” Ray said, “tell me what you see.”

“I broke the plant,” I said, “during my haircut.”

My wife came downstairs in her nightgown. She looked like she’d been rolled in a field. She looked good, looked real, dirty, real dirty. “Don’t,” she said, “you’re hurting the baby.” The gown fell open, exposing her Episcopalian thighs.

“I can’t,” I said, “do this on my own.” My peacock had fluffed itself out and looked about twice the size it’d been when her gown was upstairs.

“She’s asleep,” Ray said. “That won’t get you anywhere, doing that to a woman who’s asleep.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, pressing my mustache into her ear. “For my sake and Ray’s, don’t worry.” Because she wasn’t asleep. Like all women, she was only waiting for her moment to strike. So we stayed there. We held each other. We leaned into the door as if against an army of rotting breasts and started sorting out our afterlives.

About the Work

Nate Liederbach

Nate Liederbach lives in Salt Lake City where he is a PhD candidate at the University of Utah.

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