An Ending by Thomas McGonigle

BOMB 33 Fall 1990
033 Fall 1990

“James Thomson was my great-grandfather.” (in his death’s week he went to visit the poet, Philip Bourke Marston, whose poetry gagged him—Once leaped my heart, then dumb, stood still again—This is the room to which she came that day—Then I knelt down, and dared to touch her hand—Those slender fingers—Her radiant beauty made my heart rejoice—and the sight of him … )


Marston, you fucker, the Scot’s nerve of you to claim you can’t see because you are blind, dead in the eyes, you say, blind as you say, you are—I’ll carve the eyes out of that skull of yours and then you’ll be able to see, see that I am not lying when I shout into your one good ear, I’m a tiger, not a leopard burning bright into the morning, but tiger burning, burning down this house, the one in which I’ve always lived, the one in which I’ll die, the one to which you think you’ve been able to send me like they’ve always tried to do: send me away for what is perennially said to be my own good: teeth sinking into your arm and I know it is an arm. I am not stupid and blind like you—because my eyes are open to the walls and I have my teeth into your arm and the blood runs warm, not as in the stories beloved by them sitting by the fire, waiting for Melmoth to come calling from his Irish bog … waiting, that is all they are good for and all I am good for, though that is all done with: this waiting because I shall gnaw on those full, female described, pleasure loving lips and I shall not dumbly suggest the cruel limitation of your supposed blindness, that darkness, turning the colours on and off in her cheeks, like some wretched sailor’s navigational guide.

My legs give flight and I have my arms outreaching, slung out for the touch turning my mouth into a portico to the mouth of the heaven or hell that does not exist but was said to open for my mother when she went to chapel and they were all singing every moment of the service, singing and hoping: this is the time of the year when the heavens will open and take them by chariot back to where they belonged and they do think this and I have you by the scruff of the neck and will take you back to the jungle and devour you at my leisure … all against the possibility, she felt, of the hell about to open at every step on the way to chapel.

Alas, poor Marston says he can not see and probably says he can taste the fear gripping him in the small pouch swinging between his legs … grabbing him for all he is not worth. I have him and he is a tasty meal, is not my precious Englishman, a tasty meal, is he not … for one and all and when the cannon opens fire I watch them fall over like so many nine pins before the gates of Madrid, was it or was it in Constantinople that I heard Januarius talk of the Bulgarian faces peeled from their skulls and how the Turks used the faces as so may rags to wipe the snouts of their hunting dogs to give the dogs courage when they went forth to eat the corpses of the dead Greeks which carpeted the floor of the Valley of Roses.

Marston, I shall turn you over because you are done on this side and the fire has not burned bright into the night and filled this room with enough smoke out which I shall carve my escape and back to Ireland and ease her from the earth and pluck her from the sea and lift her from the mountainside and lay ourselves down against all that is good in the supposed heaven of your Christian god who allows the young to drop into the earth with not a shudder and allows the young to be born with one leg or five hearts or three heads or joined to another and the two of them hobble along the street, a slivering creature too disgusting to exhibit and turn a pretty penny… how are they to fit a crust of bread into their mouth to nourish themselves against the cold always with us and always to be with us: we, this accident upon the face of ice and not allowed to rise up and smite the cheek of the creature that saw us into this earth because there is no such creature and there is no such spirit if you think you have me caught out … you have another thing coming to you and my fist will sink into your stomach and I will take up residence and away the morning light, bright morning light when all our dreams are seen as nothing more than that … morning light framing what is not left to us anymore. Show me what is left of your sister broken in foudroyant apoplexy.

Marston, scream for all you are worth because you are going to be carried into the place you have cried to be taken out of and again I am the tiger sent from the shores of the Ganges to carry you there and I will send you out to be eaten by the river… how will you like that … to be eaten by the river and to come back in the next life as a rock on the road that will trip a king as he makes his way. Can we not both hear the laughter rise up from the rock and the next time around I will be a cloud and I will cover the earth when alas, my poor girl, goes again into the heartland I will not rend some temple rag but I will cleave the very earth upon which they will walk back from the orifice which has received her body and which will be my destination as it will be yours and as it will be for all those who come after me … can you not hear them speaking with those funny American accents we hear more and more of each year: I will just get out of my coffin and walk across the lane and visit with Henny or he will get out of his box and pay a visit to me and Marion will probably count the silver as she is wont to do, as she will say after they leave … never does anyone any harm to count the silver after relatives like them leave the house …

To climb out of the box after they have screwed down the lid and stomped down the earth and grown the trees and the shrubs and the bushes which will obscure the stone from the visiting eyes.

You fucker, I know you are looking at me and those eyes are telling you that you have but moments to live and then you will be launched forth upon the poetic seas of your words and finally the words will give shape to the death you have longed for and which I have longed for knowing nothing will come after and the horror waits with me knowing it will all just start again and to have to go through all of this, again, and again, over and over again, that is the horror of The East, that is the lesson they have brought back from The East with the tiger, tiger: to be repeated endlessly and each time the mind knows it is being reproduced and each step has been taken and each fall has been raised up only to fall, just like last time.

And Marston whimpers, is that any way for a poet to behave … to snivel when he is being kissed by another who has come all this way to give you back the blindness you have long said you are possessed by and I would be possessed by it too, but I know that even to carve these eyes from my own head I would still be left with the stuff what a pathetic word, with the stuff which has already been accumulated by the eyes in their previous journey through these streets.

And I know they will come and pry me from your neck and they will be shocked but they are innocent of the ways of the world, not knowing it in the way that I know the world. They will be shocked and think they have seen the end of a man’s life and the beginning of a story. Notice the teeth broken off in his arm. How shocking!

That’s what really happened: they have been in on the making of a story and each will deny to the other the truth of what each has seen but I have been the one who has seen, the fur fell over my blotched skull and I feel the fur when I raise my hand to my face and I have to close my eyes because I wouldn’t want to tear my own eyes out. I would not be able to make my way through this earth to find you, Marston, there, as you are always to be at the end. Having missed the story when it began, you have once again been brought here…


Dead fuck that you are: who comes to call at your house, you who, think yourself so lucky that you do have a house and I who have the street am luckier than most because at least I know: no room can contain me any more unless it is a casket and I long for the wooden garb and the sure destination.

How I wish to be consumed by flame and for no reason. If I knew they will not allow me to be consumed as flesh. You are no pagan baby being sent to voyage on the river. You are born in these islands, you will be set free from these islands only to rot in the earth of this place.

And do not slopper out how you are just an innocent lamb who has been lost to the world and now you are found by him who is prepared to send you to a world I no longer believe in but which I am sure you do believe in. So where is the smile on your face as the angels begin to run against each other and send down their tentacles like some sea creature to take you back to your own true home, there midst the clouds and the constant motion of chicken feather and lurking fox coming in from the back of the shed to send these chickens to a further heaven where they wait to be sent further along the rail line to end up right where you are at the moment, about to be sent into the history of my life.

Give me another drink.

You say, you dare to say, there is no drink in the house and I ask where is this house you speak of: I see only two rooms and one of those rooms is blocked up with the life you are claiming to lead but which is about to take you over the hedge and there you will find me waiting with my mouth opened. Hungry I will have been all day, having been sent into the world without a decent cup of tea.

I wanted to be done with you, Marston, in the light and speed of the first sentence, Marston, you fucker, I will carve out those eyes of yours and truly then you will be blind and seeing all which is denied to us who have been looking for more years than we want to lay claim to but which twist us at the corners of our eyes and at the flesh which swims across our stomachs and consumes the knife.

No, I will not send you to your Maker because your mother and father are dead and ooze into the earth, lying upon the same bed in death that they lay upon when they squeezed one from the other the melting which became you and which became me and which became those who will live on after I am done into the ground.

I am down with it all. And have been done in by it all for all these years no matter what I tried to do and ain’t it a grand story, as the Americans said in Colorado when I told them of coming over from England. Ain’t it a wonderful story: him come all this way to entertain us with these stories about wanting to go back to streets so narrow two men can not pass without nudging one or the other into the shit that fills up the gutter and in which the little children dig and fish for the truth of their lives and are they looking for a song; that is not for me to say. There are far better people able to distill from the rubbish of the days the meaning of it all and out of which I am about launch us so that we no longer have to ask ourselves these dreary questions which come so complete with more answers than any sane person could ever want. An answer is created every moment for the sort like us: give us a moment and we will harden the answer up into a dogma and you will have another dogma to overthrow when the moment comes.

And Marston rises up and feels his hands pushing at Thomson’s shoulders which shake into a rage that drives Thomson back down upon Marston, and yet again Marston pushes back the shoulders and the face of Thomson slides off as if it were attached with some sort of rubber to the skull and Marston can see the face sliding off the bone of skull and Thomson’s teeth are mostly still there … that was what surprised Marston: Thomson has a full head of teeth. Now by all that is fair in the world, how did Thomson keep all his teeth. But now the mouth opens and the smell is as if the river rose up and dropped down in one small bucket right here next to the bed with a deep sigh and the wives of a tiger being led into the field by the little Indian boy and they prance and show their little stuff.

Of course Marston does not see. He has never seen anything and no one will see him in the couple of years when he goes to join the others in the card catalogue of the museum, just another card and will the cards get up and cross the aisle and have a friendly chat like the corpses do in the cemetery … picture postcard cute.

The room will be stripped bare because he will not be able to go back to it because he knows Thomson will always be lurking in the corner ready to pounce and claim those eyes for his own. There is no reason for how to understand Thomson wanting the eyes of a dead person … no, wanting the dead eyes of a person who has always been the symbol of friendly concern and Thomson is always heard saying: if he was the saint you are talking about why didn’t the angels come down and replace the eyes in his head.

I will tell you: there was no need to replace those eyes because there was nothing wrong with them. He could see better than most men who are born and walk along the avenues with an eye peeled for a loose coin. Marston saw everything and nothing was lost on him which is the way Thomson would like to be. He would like to store up this sort of treasure so in old age he would have something to do.

And if you believe this you are prepared to accept the earth being flat and we are all falling off the side of the place being held up to the cannibal emperor in the sky who only lunches on the flesh of innocent children.

I believe none of this and Thomson believes none of this and Marston believes none of this and we are all in this room which is the shape of the box to be shoved into the earth in Highgate to be swamped by the vines and the beautiful trees (say the words beautiful trees as if your tongue was covered with all the sugar of India).

The front teeth have finally broken off and pieces will remain in Marston’s arm. Blood is mingled. Thomson is saying, now we are Red Indian blood brothers and which way is the warpath and which way do we go to capture the spirits that are our due because we have not a snowball’s chance in the proverbial hell of the Christians of gaining entrance into a public house.

Thomson will live on. And not just in the scholars’ phrase repeated by the newspaper reviewer on a provincial paper. His flesh had been folded into her flesh as a joke by that scoundrel and now he would live on in flesh and not just in the yellowing pages lodged in the library.

Flesh and not a moment even remembered when this event happened. Frank Harris knew all about it. He often knew all about it and knew about it in more ways than a man was capable of imagining it. The final joke of the year: the poet of pessimism in a moment of drunken forgetfulness had his part folded into the receiving part of the girl and while it is not known if she knew what was happening … it was sure that the poet did not know what was happening.

Or so the story goes.

Another drunken evening in the lives of the poets.

And that will be enough for the night and for the day which is about to dawn, once again, the poet is speaking of pus and semen.

Thomas McGonigle, a patriot of Patchogue, Dublin and Sofia, has published In Patchogue (1984) and The Corpse Dream of N. Petkov (Dalkey Archive, 1987). Forthcoming is St. Patrick’s Day (1991). An Ending is from the book To Forget The Future. James Thomson, B.V., wrote the poem The City of Dreadful Night.

Tall Kafka and His Sisters by Cynthia Ozick
Franz Kafka

Originally published in

BOMB 33, Fall 1990

Featuring interviews with Al Pacino, Ian McEwan, Dr. John, Harvey Keitel, Vikram Seth, Dorothea Phillips, Thulani Davis, Victoria Williams, Bella Freud, Jo Shane, Campbell Scott, and Dorothea Tanning.

Read the issue
033 Fall 1990