Empire of the Senseless by Kathy Acker

BOMB 19 Spring 1987
019 Spring 1987

Rape by The Father (Thavai speaks)

This is what Abhor, who’s my partner and part robot, told me was her childhood:


1. My Grandmother

She’s my father’s mother. He came out of her. And she came out of a German-Jewish family which was real wealthy.

But when she was still a kid, cause of all the pre-Nazi nationalistic shit murkiness in Germany, you know about that one, her family had to leave Germany. Not exactly political exile. Voluntary … political exile. In order to escape from those pre-Nazi ghettoes the family had to pay, with its wealth. Wealth was the price and cost of political escape. Wealth was the price and cost of capitalism. But now they’re multi-nationals. Nana (my grandmother) arrived in Paris with her mother and father, penniless.

Like a lot of poor people do, her parents put her out on the streets to pasture. To make them money. She was the right age, about ten. At that age my grandmother was beautiful. Almost as beautiful, even as a child, as she was stubborn and determined to make someone of herself and something of her life. She wasn’t going to prostitute her whole life. As my grandmother got older, she got more stubborn and determined.

I’m stubborn and determined too.

There was a young boy, a teenage worker. He looked like a shy fox; his eyes almost came together while a thin mouth stretched from huge ear to floppy ear. This boy, almost as beautiful as a strand of my grandmother’s cunt hair, from a distance and in fantasy loved my grandmother. He watched her go from John to John.

After some time, the time it takes for desire to overcome shyness and distance, as there is always time, the boy and Nana would walk down the streets, hands tightly clenched, so that in that heat sweat dripped on to the ragged street, in between her jobs of walking the streets, in between her bloody periods of hard labor. According to Karl Marx, this continent opened up a hundred years ago. What continent? The continent of the end of the capitalistic or teleological world. In the 19th century western world the people who ventured into this new continent were the militants of revolutionary class struggle. Knowing this the Vice-Squad Captain who patrolled these streets thought that both Nana and the boy, since he was her pimp, were terrorists.

Actually Alexander, the boy, was innocent. When he had been about six, he had naturally fantasized that his great-great-great-great grandfather had been Alexander the Great. He loved snakes. His mother, a real snake, had been a lousy mother. She had mistreated him by alternately screeching everywhere and as loudly as possible whatever she felt at the time, a thoroughly narcissistic bitch, and by smothering Alexander as if he had just died with all the weepy affection which he didn’t want. Just as two warriors fight to death, he had to adore her to death. He grew up in this war. He grew up in war. He grew up or, rather, refused to grow up both totally suspicious and as unformed, as open as a wild animal. This is why Alexander resembled a young fox whose eyes (I’s) are permanently crossed.

Being simultaneously unable to perceive anyone other than himself and overly romantic, Alexander loved my grandmother by hating her. He loved her by wanting to kill her: to carry her out of the slum which is prostitution. Alexander wasn’t a pimp. But he was broke and the penniless, historically, are helpless.

Nana and this kid walked through the sun-burnt brain-burnt streets, holding hands tightly. If they could have, they would have killed each other.

The Vice-Squad cop did it first. One night, since he needed that day to fill his arrest quota in order to keep his creepy job, he busted my grandmother. And busted what, not whom, he thought was her pimp. Bust the whole lot. Scum. Get poverty off the streets and back where it belongs. Dead.

Now Nana was in business: her real pimp got her out of jail. After 24 hours, just so that she remembered her place in the scheme of things. If there is a scheme of things. My grandmother never forgot anything. Since Alexander was innocent, or, not a businessman, there was no one or pimp to buy him out of jail.

Alexander was innocent beyond the point of real innocence to that of stupidity. For he believed that he was innocent. Perhaps he was, but he had this world wrong. He believed that since he was innocent of pimping and the courts were just, he didn’t need to give a lawyer money. He believed that lawyers earn money only off of guilt. But the court forced a Legal Aid lawyer on the boy. But since the Legal Aid never showed up in Court, or for that matter never anywhere else, Alexander was able to plead his own innocence. Then the Vice-Squad swore whatever the Vice-Squad swears in order to maintain the scheme of things. Which might or might not exist.

The whole thing, case, took exactly five minutes: the judge said numbers to the prosecution; the prosecution said numbers to the judge; back and forth for five minutes. Finally the judge said some numbers. A man who should have been more than an extra in a monster movie ushered, to put it politely, Alexander through several doors and into an empty prison cell.

After several weeks he was ushered out of the prison cell and on to the street. On another street he bought a sawed-off shotgun off a pawn, then stuck some sharpened kitchen knives in his belt, and walked back on the street. He went for the whole Vice-Squad. He tried to kill every Vice-Squad cop. He was 19 years old. A romantic. He managed to kill four of them. Literally the cops had to nail him to a wall in order to keep him: madness had made his strength so great.

They (the courts) condemned the boy to death.

It was one of the final revolts of the non-existent against their economic controllers. In a sense, Nana when she was a whore had been one of the final causes.

Parts of the police’s duty has always been to combine against all who aren’t them and their own. For a copy, duty’s nature. The flics made sure that the judge, who was one of their own, condemned the boy to as an immediate death as possible.

The light on the night of the boy’s execution, the only light, was pink chair light green violet violent flesh. All the people haunted by crime and misery, living in the Section of Desolation, converged upon that spot: the jail in which they made their electrocutions. On two sides of the jail, bourgeois houses, unable to see with their eyes anything which wasn’t on television, were holding their eyes tightly shut. They said: “What you don’t see, you don’t know.” Beyond the prison’s other two sides, walls so thick and tall reached up into the centers of the gods’ eyes. If there are gods when there are poor people. Beneath the walls, the cripples and the mentally crippled, the lonely, shuffled their huge feet.

Cops sitting on monstrous black horses forced the desolate back against the walls. But the mass was too pissed-on and pissed to be controllable. Neither black beast nor human beast could break through the throng of human filth.

When the light was the water, at dawn, there there was no water, when instant electrical waves cursed and coursed like water through the boy’s body: the mass like a tidal wave roared. “Murder. We are murdered.”

The cops moved in on them like a wall which moves. Everything becomes something else. In blood and change, my childhood began.

Being poor Nana had learned that society is only a filthy trick. Being totally stubborn and determined not to become a filthy trick of the rich, dead, for that is not a human life, according to her own lights Nana succeeded. She married a rich man who owned part of the garment district. The poor can reply to the crime of society, to their economic deprivation retardation primitivism lunacy boredom hopelessness, only by collective crime or war. One form collective crime takes is marriage.

I think that because I perceived what marriage was for my grandmother and because I loved her, I am not able to sexually love another human being or accept another human being’s love. If I have to love, out of desperation or desperately, I know love only when it’s allied with hate.

Robin Winters, Life Full of Holes, oil on canvas, 72 × 60 inches. Courtesy of Michael Klein.

Robin Winters, Life Full of Holes, oil on canvas, 72 × 60 inches. Courtesy of Michael Klein.

2. Daddy

Thivai. The beginning of any person must be the beginning of the world. To that person. That’s how it is for me.

First, Thivai, there were no animals. That is, no wild animals. Oh there were cats and dogs who are somewhere between humans and real animals. The cats were so thin they looked like knives. Predatory knives ran down the streets. Just like in Detroit. No human could walk on the streets without blood covering her limbs.

The streets were really one street, a bit of pavement running parallel to the coast almost all the way down its bay.

Behind broken bits of pavement, shrubbery dense from being all different shapes without any possible passageways for humans, twisted out of the rock which was the only earth and harder than anything: this rock-earth occasionally rose right up into mountains, and then to and into air.

Rock became sky.

The first light which was air sat on the sea. It appeared to be weird. Or a haze which resembled human nausea. Then the tops of the water, as if they were and there were waves but there weren’t, were light. These tops were dapples of changing color; there was no other light.

Not in the way rock had become sky, the light moved into water. The tops of the water were valueless jewels. In the distance the risen rock was haze. All was hazy and resembled human nausea.

The day after the beginning of this disgusting world, the rock formed a cave. The cave was big enough for lots of people. There were several large black worms and their feet were white. They crawled into the holes at the ocean floor’s bottom. In the full late sun, a burro had fallen asleep. His large head lay next to a sleeping dog’s larger head. The bees were bigger than horses.

Daddy was Nana’s only kid. She adored him. She gave him everything she could. He, in turn, turned to her as a mother turns to her child. They formed a closed world.

By the time daddy was born, Nana was very wealthy. He was a beautiful boy: his hair was thick black and his eyes were big black. Since he had turned to grandma rather than outward to the world, he had no morals, for any morality presumes a society. Since my grandmother loved him, she saw no reason to teach him anything or that he should learn anything.

This substitution of primitivism which must be anarchic (in its non-political sense) for morality gave my father his charm. His charm blinded not only his parents but even every old farty schoolteacher to both his complete lack of social awareness and of education. Politics, for my father, was, always, a hole. Parents and teachers scolded him only in the way a child reprimands a favorite fat cat; when my father was being punished, he knew he was really being praised for being unlike other humans. When he was ten years old and unlearned, my grandfather, whom everyone considered a saint, and Nana together killed themselves: they couldn’t live without each other.

Daddy was coming into puberty. He inherited six million dollars. These two—money and sex—must have had something to do with each other, cause from the night he lost his virginity, daddy never had trouble finding lovers. Lovers were men and women to whom he gave gifts, not love or need. Daddy, being daddy, needed no one. He wouldn’t consider, just cause of sex, being tied to any other human being.

As he got older, he got even better looking. When he was 40, he got married because he wanted to propagate himself once. Sex was joined to money. She married him because her mother desired this marriage because his family was wealthier than theirs. She was 15. Like my father, she worshipped her mother.

The only man she ever worshipped was my father. He didn’t care about her. He married her to have me. He cared about me. By him. His. He educated me. I was educated the way he had been educated.

I looked like him. I smelled like him. I learned like him. My father had propagated.

As a result of this education I don’t know anything about politics and I never read newspapers. As a result of this education I just like trouble. As a result of this education I don’t know anything about the world. As a result of this education I’m dumb.

My mother hated the way I was. I felt she hated me. I felt she wanted to kill me and I felt since she was my mother she must love me.

Out of confusion which resembled nausea, I complained to daddy that my mother didn’t love me and was cold. He informed me coldly, in front of her, that she loved me of course because she was my mother. Since he was glaring at her, she had enough intelligence to know that she should never open her dumb mouth again.

Daddy played all sorts of games with me. He taught me how to throw a real football. He taught me gymnastics. He trained me into total physical perfection.

Then he taught me a final trick. He showed me how to insert a razor blade into my wrist just for fun. Not for any other reason. Thus, I learned how to approach and understand nature, how to make gargantuan red flowers, like roses, blooming, drops of blood, so full and dripping the earth under them, my body, shook for hours afterwards. During those after hours, I fantasized my blood pouring outwards. This was relief that there were no decisions left.

Daddy left me no possibility of easiness. He forced me to live among nerves sharper than razor blades, to have no certainties. There was only roaming. My nerves hurt more and more. I despised those people, like my mother, who accepted easiness—morality, social rules. Daddy taught me to live in pain, to know there’s nothing else. I trusted him for this complexity.

Otherwise I was innocent. I actually thought a man and woman got a baby by rubbing their asses together. What this looked like I didn’t actually know. The woman would do something like shitting. Doing this or having a child was something I certainly didn’t want to do. Ever. The only person I wanted was my father.

One day daddy said he had something to tell me.

“What do you have to tell me?” I was so quiet, I was dead. My nerves were as sharp as razors.

“You know your mother?”

I didn’t want to know my mother.

“Your mother isn’t your real mother.”

I didn’t care. “Who’s my mother?” I asked without caring.

“You don’t remember her. As soon as you dropped out of her cunt, she gave you to the hospital. Nana and I took you. She never tried to see you. Ever again.”

“We don’t talk about her,” said my mother who was now fake.

“We don’t talk about her because she was mad, Abhor. She was the only woman I’ve ever loved. You look exactly like her. You remind me of the woman I loved, Abhorra.”

This mother who was fake no longer existed. I existed.

I realized that my father hated and loved me because he had to. This mixture of total attraction and disgust calmed my natural fears and drew me more and more toward him. I was his mirror. I was his knight. I was strong daring loyal questioning. I would do anything to be loved as long as love or adoration didn’t involve closeness. The fake mother had long been banished to her bourgeois summer house.

When did I start to fuck? Oh, I started to fuck, Thivai, when I was 14. At that age I didn’t give a damn who I fucked cause any boy who fucked me loved me. Fucking was love. Since I don’t think it is anymore, I don’t fuck around anymore. Now I know that we, all of us, know more than we know we know, this is human knowledge, cause I still didn’t exactly know what fucking was and I didn’t know how my parents felt about my fucking and yet I knew I was evil cause I was fucking. So I knew daddy would kill me if he caught me fucking. I don’t know how I knew this. I was in the bathroom, fucking some boy. Daddy came home. I heard the front door close. I threw on my clothes and ran up to daddy. “Hi! Hi!” I kissed him. There’s only one picture I have left of me as a kid. I’m three years old. My arms close around my father’s thighs. “Shall I get you some Jack Daniels?”

Daddy wasn’t an alcoholic. He drank the usual six martinis at night and mommy, she was a moralist, kept telling him he was an alky.

I knew he’d say ‘Yes’. Daddy could never reject Jacky Daniels. They were a bunch of homosexuals. When daddy went off to his bedroom, I opened the front door and snuck the boy I’d been fucking out.

I returned to their Parisian apartment with the JD. I handed it to daddy.

He was holding up a boy’s tie which he’d found in the bathtub. He didn’t believe my lies. He sat down on his bed where he always sat. My daddy was almost crying.


My limbs were frozen with tension.

“Abhor, I know what you’ve been doing.” Lies never work except as lies. Like language and love. My mother taught me this. Like love. “These men don’t respect you, Abhor.”

How could I explain that I cared neither if they respected me nor who they were.

“Abhor,” daddy explained. “I’m the only man who’ll ever take care of you properly.” His hands were reaching for my breasts while tears were coming out of his eyes.

“Why don’t you do it with mommy, daddy?”

“We’re too old. We don’t do it anymore.” His right hand was rubbing my breast.

“I’m going to phone mommy.” Over the phone, I told her that her husband was trying to do something to me. I didn’t use the word ‘fuck’.

She said, “Let me speak to him.”

“Daddy, mommy wants to speak to you.”

I don’t remember if his hand left my nipple. I don’t know what they said to each other.

After he put the phone receiver down on the table, he put his cock up me. There was no more blood than a period.

Part of me wanted him and part of me wanted to kill him.

So I stayed in their apartment and that night I dreamed that the blood lying over the ocean in front of my eyes was light. The light by which I could see. The fishing boats sink or stink.

The German Romantics had to destroy the same bastions as we do.

Logocentricism and idealism, theology, all supports of the repressive society. Property’s pillars. Reason which always homogenizes and reduces, represses and unifies phenomena or actuality into what can be perceived and so controlled. The subjects, us, are now stable and socializable. Reason is always in the service of the political and economic masters. It is here that literature strikes, at this base, where the concepts and actings of order impose themselves. Literature is that which denounces and slashes apart the repressing machine at the level of the signified. Well before Bataille, Kleist, Hoffman etc., made a trail of Hegelian idealism, of the cloturing dialectic of recognition: the German Romantics sung brazenly brassily in brass of spending and waste. They cut through conservative narcissism with bloody razor blades. They tore the subject away from her subjugation to her self, the proper; dislocated you the puppet; cut the threads of meaning; spit at all mirrors which control.

I knew that pleasure gathers only in freedom. For I was soaring through the sky, my huge white and gray wings stretched out to the horizontal limits of my vision. I was alone. In the sky. I was almost white.

I flew downwards, hollering with pleasure, swooping as if into the slate of water. But I didn’t. Then swooped directly into the cold of that ocean, it was the light of morning, as directly as if I was going for food. Out of the tunnel my body had carved in the water, a fountain of light burst upward.

The city awoke. Bursting. Angels sat on its head. Everything burst. Carolled. There is only glory. Because I know there are angels and visions, there is freedom. Only in real living human life. After years of regular torture, boredom replacing all other mental activity, continuous fear, forgetfulness of all dreams to the point of inability to dream, to have visions, after years of being driven into the corners of rats, of garbage cans filled with plague, of cut-off limbs, driven into every form of living which is death: suddenly the people in this city were free. They were free to experiment.

This is what the people said to the sky. “Now the mad bird has won. Now even criminals can fly.”

But (in my dream) thousands of tiny fish were translucent and looked like worms. They leapt, with their tiny sharp teeth, out of the water at me. The teeth bit through the thin feathers into my flesh. From me the little teeth were red. One baby fish leaped so high, he bit through my rotting teeth with his teeth. Then through my tongue tip. Many fish tore my wings off me out of hunger. Me actually courageous I tried to keep my life by screaming swooping dodging. Nobody and nothing came to my rescue. There was no such thing as rescue. There could have been no reality. I had only myself to save myself. I couldn’t save myself. My wings were more torn than dishrags, they were sick, and the tongue was so torn it couldn’t speak. I could neither fly nor cry. Nor could I stay alive.

Inside my mind I scream aloud; inside my mind, the world, I scream aloud. Somewhere I am a female and I have long hair and that hair is floating over the soil so dry, for centuries, that nothing ever grows in it. Here there is only emotion. I scream when I die. Then I sink into black. The rest of any living is nights. The cities have died. The cities are full of rats; the rats are bored; people seem as lonely as they are bored.

After that night I was so unsure of myself, I desperately made love with anyone. Since lots of boys fell wildly in love with this double material sex and mental lack of me, daddy was jealous. “If I was a young boy, I’d knife a boy who fucked you.”

“I don’t like knives.”

“We’ve hit bottom.” Daddy knew how low love had brought us. “We’re downwind from even from where the rich spit. Any man would do anything to prevent our joy. But they’ll all be sorry for their rules which are crimes. If by any chance, there isn’t any real justice, if we have no rescue: I hereby invoke all the gods or Energies who sanctify our love or so-called crime to make these men suffer the horrors of hell. May their suffering equal God’s.”

“I didn’t know God existed.”

Not only did this monster to whose force I had, by force, yielded hate even the notion of my fucking a boy. He also, was even more, frightened that other people, society, would notice his ridiculous restrictions of me and question why. He realized he had to give them, society, a reason why he was shutting me up.

All daddy cared about was what society thought about him. He didn’t care if he was really evil because he didn’t have any morals. He was free to do whatever he wanted as long as he was secret. He was a moralist. He just didn’t want society to think him evil.

So he gradually let it be known I was a cripple. For this reason, he was shutting me up for the rest of my life. I was a genetic cripple: I was weird. Also I was dyslexic and autistic. I was too crippled for anyone to love me.

My mother knew I wasn’t a cripple. She was real dumb. So daddy gave her the one reason for my life imprisonment which could penetrate her thick skull. He, he explained, was saving me from marriage; marriage is the worst life any woman can have.

My mother agreed.

“Marriage,” my father said, “turns woman into whining passive-aggressive liars while the men become narcissists. Whatever good is possible between any man and woman marriage destroys. For the woman becomes lobotomized and the man acts like a bad actor acting the part of President Reagan. My one goal in life, darling, is to allow your daughter to be as intelligent and fully realized a human being as possible.”

“Yes,” my mother dared to open her mouth, “males are creeps.” But as soon as her husband walked away from her, my mother, I hated those words, reverted to her usual inability to accept the truth. The truth, being complex, always hurts. She whined to her mother, because she always turned to her mother, what her husband had said.

At the moment my mother was whining, daddy was smelling my cunt. “I’ve reached the best moment now!” he explained. Now I was sure what he was referring to. “This is the moment of truth! ! ! … I’m going off off off jacking it off!!! … my hands’re gonna be broken from this one!!! … I don’t even recognize my own body!!! … and it doesn’t matter!!! … I know you’re mine!!! … I made you!!! … I’m making you!!! … I swore I’d live for pleasure!!! … My tongue is fucking enormous!!! … feel it!!! … it’s reaching down to my waist!!! … you’re seeing your actual father in his moment of truth!!! … God almighty!!! … nothing matters!!! … you’re my God!!! … my daughter: I worship you!!! … I beg you to do it, show I can please you!!! Now look at it, it’s big in my corkscrewing hand!!! … kiss it!!!”

My father explained again, “I am fucking God and I made God!!! …

Holy Shit!!! … all I have to do is look at God and God is happy cause I’ve made God come!!!

“God is in heaven I’m in heaven I’ve died the whole world in heaven!!! …

I’m coming all over your face!!!”

I licked up his sperm.

My grandmother, unlike my mother, wasn’t a dope. She didn’t do dope. When mommy wimpered to her that her husband (whom she loved more than anything on earth), that this husband was keeping me in a private prison and privately whipping me, grandma replied that this couldn’t be good for my welfare. This couldn’t be for the sake of my welfare. My father couldn’t be whipping me for my good. So he must be acting for his own good, because there is always Good. No one was sure what that might be.

My mother’s mother was a dominating old bitch. With her shaking flesh she wobbled via taxi over to my father. “Bud,” she asked him. “What’s this shit about you not letting my granddaughter fuck for money? I mean, get married?” Grandma always got her terms mixed up. “Do you want your daughter to be a freak? After all, she carries our name.”

“I don’t have enough money to let her marry, Florrie. Marriage’s too expensive a business.”

“I’ll finance it,” grandma replied.

“If you finance her fucking for money,” said my father whose IQ was 166, “I’ll let her do it.” My father knew his mother-in-law was the cheapest thing on earth, even cheaper than himself.

“I’ll finance it.” Then grandmama huffed and huffed on to the uppitty hotel she called her home, but by the time she had walked into her gray red and black clown study, she had forgotten everything because she didn’t have any middle-term memory.

For the moment my father and I were free to fuck each other everywhere, in every bathroom in town.

Robin Winters, Block Party, 1986, mixed media on paper, 72 × 72 inches square. Courtesy of Michael Klein.

Robin Winters, Block Party, 1986, mixed media on paper, 72 × 72 inches square. Courtesy of Michael Klein.

When daddy wasn’t with me, he lived in a brothel. A sex-show was the brothel’s front. Since the sex show actors had only fake sex, this sex show’s legality acted a cover for the rest of the filth which went on.

The desperate voyeurs who sought their sexual gratification in the masturbatory contemplation of a remote object of fantastic desire and an array of attendant secret fetishisms; the exploitation of sex for commercial and assorted equally venial reasons; the way in which patrons of this seedy burlesque house fell prey to its psychotically disturbed perverts; the degradation of the performers who not only put their flesh and minds on parade in the tradition of the Miss America beauty pageant but also were forced to watch this deterioration, this deterioration of themselves, so that they, like the other objects, were simply objects of scorn to the ‘fans’ … Their buyers … This sex show had nothing to do with pornographic voyeurism. None but the most callous of males was unconcerned enough to be voyeuristic. Most humans felt totally disgusted by and repudiated both what they saw, what they felt, and the whole system of values behind the sex show and the pornographic magazines and especially novels sold outside the ‘theatre’. In other words, the primal urge of sex had become a revolting phenomenon.

Here language was degraded. As daddy plumbed and plummetted away from the institute of marriage more and more downward deeply into the demimonde of public fake sex, his speech turned from the usual neutral and acceptable journalese most normal humans use as a stylus mediocris into … His language went through an indoctrination of nothingness, for sexuality had no more value in his world, until his language no longer had sense. Lack of meaning appeared as linguistic degradation.

This is what daddy said to me while he was fucking me: “Tradicional estilo de p … argentino. Q … es e. mas j … de t … los e … dentro d. la c … es m … indicado p … entablar g … amistades o t … tertulias a … es m … similar a. estilo t … sec … la c … con l. palma de la m … y s. apoyan l … cinco d … se s … y s. baja l mano, l … de e … manera y. el c … se h … hombre. origen e … profundamente r … y s. han h … interesantes t … en l … jeroglifios e … y m … Es e. mas r … para d … de l … comidas p … no c … la de …” He had become a Puerto Rican.

One night I dreamed my mother had a lover. She realized how powerful and addictive fucking is. Then I was free to be.

I told my father my dream. Even though he despised her, he cared so much for me, he determined to find her a lover.

He picked up a young anarchist. Since this slut had problems with vermin, fleas, and crabs, the slut needed money to delouse himself so he could be a successful slut. He was too poor to buy any medicine. The parasites were so numerous at night he often dreamed that he was attacking a young girl. His right hand became a claw and tore at her face. Worms reared out of the skinned female visage. The anarchist, waking, wanted only to stick razors into himself. My father explained to the boy that it’ll give his wife only pleasure to take a lover.

The anarchist agreed to fuck my mother. My mother, being weak, was so desperate to talk to anyone she let the anarchist fuck her. Then she became a nymphomaniac. My mother took one drink and fucked everyone in sight.

On account of the degeneration of language. Slut.

My father went to Greece. One night he was sitting on his yacht off the coast of the island of Ithaca, from where Ulysses had set off on his own to find out the truth. At night the water the sky and the few buildings of the nearest town were many different colors of black. There was only black. My father saw a shadow on the other side of his yacht, took out his pistol, and shot. The shadow fell, dead, down to the deck. In the law court, my father declared that he hadn’t recognized the young man whom he had killed.

The blood lying over the waters was light. The fishing boats sank. Pleasure gathered only in freedom. According to the law court, my father had murdered. My mother and I were unable to do anything. We wrote letters, pleading daddy was insane. Mommy thought he was insane. I was so scared I came from an insane family, I stopped writing. I had to. Insanity, in my blood, was poisoning me. I was going to spend my adult life screaming to the moon.

The family wealth succeeded in getting daddy six months in the looney bin on a lunacy charge. Then daddy, desperate to find out what had happened to me, escaped from the madhouse.

He wandered through the streets he didn’t know, looking for a cab. Six youths who were armed stopped him and looked through his body for money. Daddy grabbed one of their knives and got three of them before the others stuck it into him. They left him without money and bleeding all over the sidewalk.

Desperate, daddy began to pray. But he had no one to whom to pray. Meanwhile my mother had killed herself cause, though she hated daddy, she was unable to live without him. Once his restraining hand had been gone, she had blown all her money. She faced poverty and took sleeping pills instead.

I saw my mother’s dead body in the morgue on Christmas Day. It was the first dead body I had ever seen. The two cops there were anxious to return home to their warm Christmas meals. They told me to identify her.

I wanted to kill myself just as my mother had killed herself. This is my madness.

Meanwhile daddy realized all he had done, all he had destroyed through lust. He began to cry. Two tears ran down his cheeks. He raced to his only possession, his yacht, which moved, and moved off. Into the bloody sea. No one’s ever seen him again. I don’t know what happened to daddy. I decided to keep on living rather than kill myself.

Kathy Acker is the author of Blood and Guts in Highschool, Great Expectations, and Don Quixote. Her collected works will be published by Grove Press, the first volume of which will appear in the Fall of 1987.

Kathy Acker by Mark Magill
Acker 01
Moby Dick in Hollywood—Orson Welles by Pierre Senges

Finally back in the fold of Hollywood—one imagines him advancing mistrustfully, mistrustfully looking up at the high and useless palm trees (an immoderation which serves no purpose: the palm trees “planted on both sides of the expressway in order to purge an already pure sky”).

From Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba
Andres Barba Bomb 1

Translated by Lisa Dillman

from Atlantic Hotel by João Gilberto Noll

I got on the bus and saw that my seat was at the end of the aisle, next to a very pretty blonde. Typical blonde girl’s freckles under her eyes. She was wearing a black sweater and blue velvet pants. Her seat was next to the window.

Originally published in

BOMB 19, Spring 1987

Willem Dafoe, Ross Bleckner, Janet Hobhouse, and St. EOM.

Read the issue
019 Spring 1987