Hook, Line and Sinker: The Handbook by Gertie Fornby

BOMB 68 Summer 1999
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Thar once was a cannonball named Parpian who shot right past my bridges and straight into my life. Oh a difficult feat, for I’d spent 25 years constructing those bridges.

A bridge is suspended between two points. In the history of myself, I can count at least 70 completed bridges, of which I am the designer, architect, and construction crew. I rotate from one bridge to the next, keep watch for potential foot passengers, and perform general daily maintenance.

See, here are the photos: There I am a troll with green skin, chin whiskers, and a dowager’s hump, and from under the bridge, I bark in a scratchy voice. Day and night I worked on the bridge; made bricks in the sun and then reinforced the anchorage at dusk. “Who’s crossing my bridge?” I’d growl. Oh, this is a good one, see, here, I’m a knight in armor, standing with a fierce-looking sword. It was so hot that summer, I was sweating like a pig under all that metal, but, resolute in action, I kept watch, determined as hell not to leave my post, and carefully sized everyone up who dared approach. “What do you want and where the hell are you going?” I’d menace.

This photo is of my mother and I, she’s explaining bridge construction and the most crucial elements of design and I’m thinking and thinking:

My mother, my spider. My mother, my octopus.

My mother, my head. My mother, my pimp:

Today, my mother is a mack daddy. She’s wearing a stained, brown felt hat; it’s tipped over her left eye. She’s smoking a cigar and when an ash falls on her too tight pinstripe pants, she gets very angry, even though the pants haven’t been washed in years. “You fuck-up, why don’t you go work in a laundry!” My mother screams at me. Rubbing the ash away, she cackles, “Goddammit, look at this shit. Did I ever tell you about the first date with your Dad? I was trying to look cool, it was my first cigarette and of course I dropped it and I burned a hole in his brand new pants. Ya know kid both yer dad and I were fat children. Yer dad grew up in Chicago, South Side, stealing cigarettes between stickball games. I didn’t have a date till I met yer dad and while I was not so eager to wait until our wedding night consummation, he insisted. The ghosts of his grandparents whispered Yiddish blessings above a single, stained mattress while he, determined to sanctify our wedding night, fucked Catholic girls in San Francisco. I went to San Francisco where your dad was working and where you were born kid, to see yer dad and he wouldn’t fuck me even though I showed up in a raincoat, underneath only my bra and panties. The bastard, I should have known. Yer a fat and ugly child, but at least all yer body parts are OK but yer gonna have our family thighs and family toes for the rest of your life. Don’t forget to take the kitty litter out, because if you don’t, I’ll dump it in your bed again and I mean it.”

A conversation walks into the room where my mother and I are sitting; my mother sizes it up and checks out the generous, protruding mound between its legs. The conversation just wants to talk, but my mother insists it needs a good fuck. “$500.00 for two hours,” my mother says smoothly, through a haze of smoke; she is more calculated than a bookkeeper’s convention.

“This, is the one you want,” my mother says. She motions to where I sit crouched in the corner, wondering whether to pounce or dig myself a hole in the floor. “She’s too young, just how it should be.” Overcome with surprise, the conversation grins wickedly and touches itself in anticipation. I become aware of an oversized line and fish hook in mid-descent from the ceiling; it is heading rapidly toward my upper lip.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”

I yell.

The exclamation has exhausted me; I faint into a heap on the floor and fall into a deep slumber. I dream that my mother transforms into a snowman, she is plopped on a platform directly above a small swimming pool. The sun rises and its heat melts her body into slow-moving tears. When the pool is full, I dive in and swim the backstroke.

Time immeasurable, I am covered in her water and now it is time to dry off. I regain consciousness and when I open my eyes, the first thing I see is the conversation directly above me; it has been trying to fuck me while I’ve been asleep. I kick the conversation away, it comes back, with a sharp thrust; it reels into the corner where my mother is sitting in her pimp suit. The conversation slips into her mouth. My mother gurgles and burps and then relights her cigar with a candle. Help me momda, help, help me momda. I was a flapping fish in your womb and I was released.

This last photo was taken the day a hurling mass whizzed by overhead, and landed about 100 feet away from me. It was a clown in full makeup, with a wily fox smile, mischievous eyes, and a peculiar nature about his person. In his presence, I felt as though I was sitting in front of a blazing fireplace. Together, we walked to the Brooklyn Bridge, hoping to get a view of the lunar eclipse; clouds were in the way of our eyes, but not our juicy, juicy lips. Starfish heart, starfish heart, between the lines, go back to start. This love is a reckless comet.

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Originally published in

BOMB 68, Summer 1999

Featuring interviews with Robert Altman, Ida Applebroog, Chuck D, Alvaro Siza, Joseph Chaikin, Peter Campus, Robert Pinksky, and Maryse Conde. 

Read the issue
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