Short End by Klaus Kertess

BOMB 35 Spring 1991
035 Spring 1991

The letters looped lackadaisically, loosely tumbling into and out of configurations of words, some times legibly, some times not. Often they just gave in to the gangly grace of their right-leaning locomotion. Often meaning was completely erased by the auto-erotic pleasure that the letters released in the wake of their wayward trails. There was more joy in his left hand than in his right; there was drawing in his left hand. There was also occasionally a violence he had never seen before. It was that time in August when summer became finite. He was trying to write with his left hand. It looked like drunken calligraphy.

The summer had been like that: wayward, fitful, often quite painful. He remembered spending an undue amount of time visiting a close friend in an emergency room, brooding on that institutional purgatory and what a bad name it gave to death. The friend was filled with so much love at the end that maybe that was what killed him. Others had died, too; but they weren’t as close. He had spent so much time in the city this summer that the sound of the ocean and the sound of the subway merged into a rolling hiss of fuck shit piss fuck shit piss. And in the subways, where were the homeless and the rats? Had the rats eaten the homeless or had the homeless eaten the rats? Was the stumpy, ponderous carcass that for so long refused to be washed away by the tide, that of a mutilated seal, as most claimed, or was it the bloated body of a homeless-eating rat?

His left handed writing interruped his homeless narrative with dreams of Peter. Out of control e’s and y’s turned into a cascade of piss. Peter standing at the top of a narrow stairway and urinating in a giant arc down onto him. “I am the piss Christ baptizing you the censorious senator.” And then outrageous laughter. Something like that but less topical was the way they had met, more or less. Him picking Peter up; and Peter sucking his reluctant sexuality fully into the open for the first time, then staggering drunkenly through darkness in search of a toilet only to piss all over his host’s bookcase-claiming a territory he would not soon relinquish (perhaps, would not soon be permitted to relinquish). Peter not only had permitted him his sexuality but permitted him to laugh. They laughed for four months before they settled down to the serious interchangeability of I and he, lived and written.

Warily he walked down his building’s stairs, arousing his defenses for the subway and the emergency room. Through the iron grate of the gate to the street, he saw a dazed sparrow flapping on the sidewalk, then a big black boot purposefully crushing it into a brittle crunch of grayness. Simultaneously the sneering shaven head that belonged to the boot turned to him and spat out “faggot.” At least they weren’t going in the same direction. In the summer, small favors were the most the city could offer.

Another voice. All summer he had been looking for another voice, and now August was calling to autumn and Peter was still able to gnaw at his present. There had been no Peter since Salvador-not in Berlin, not in Costa Rica, not elsewhere. Quite some time had actually passed since they had stopped inventing each other; but, although much of Peter had been banished from the realm of I into a more anonymous he-ness, he still clung tenaciously to some precipice of the imagination. Who was it that had taunted, “A painter can paint like the ocean but you can’t write like the ocean.”? I or he? Maybe the look meant more than the meaning; but, of course, no one would ever see his lefthandedness. No one would see those vagrant w’s flapping awkwardly like the whooshing wings of mourning doves. Maybe that was the point.

On the way to the subway he saw a butterfly maintaining a precarious grip on a hairdresser’s window behind which a bromeliad bloomed. “Too poignant,” he thought. He didn’t recognize anyone in the emergency room.

Klaus Kertess has recently completed a book on Brice Marden and is working on a book of short stories.

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Originally published in

BOMB 35, Spring 1991

Featuring interviews with Kathy Bates, Philip Taaffe, Lynne Tillman, Kid Capri, Luisa Valenzuela, Meg Cranston, Melissa Kretschmer & Maya Lin, Zhang Yimou, Keith Reddin, Ira Silverberg & Amy Scholder, Jennie Livingston, and James Wines.

Read the issue
035 Spring 1991