Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Unknown Soldier

by Luc Sante

The last thing I saw was a hallway
ceiling four feet wide, with a plaster
molding that looked like a long row of
small fish, each trying to swallow the one ahead of
it. The last thing I saw was a crack of yellow sky
between buildings, partly obscured by a line of
laundry. The last thing I saw was the parapet, and
beyond it the trees. The last thing I saw was his
badge, but I couldn't tell you the number. The last
thing I saw was a full shot glass, slid along by
somebody who clapped me on the back. The last
thing I saw was the sedan that came barreling
straight at me while I thought, It's okay, I'm safely
behind the window of the doughnut shop. The last
thing I saw was a boot, right foot, with nails
protruding from the instep. The last thing I saw
was a turd. The last thing I saw was a cobble. The
last thing I saw was night.

I lost my balance crossing Broadway and was
trampled by a team of brewery horses. I was
winching myself up from the side of a six-story
house on a board platform with a load of nails for
the cornice when the weak part of the rope hit the
pulley sideways and got sheared. I lost my way in
snowdrifts half a block from my apartment. I drank
a bottle of carbolic acid not really knowing whether
I meant to or not. I got very cold and coughed and
forgot things. I went out to a yard to try to give
birth in secret, but something happened. I met a
policeman who mistook me for somebody else. I
was drunk on my birthday and fell off the dock
trying to grab a gold piece that looked like it was
floating. I was hanged in the courtyard of the
Tombs before a cheering crowd and people
clogged the rooftops of buildings, but I still say that
rascal had it coming. I stole a loaf of bread and
started eating it as I ran down the street, but there
was a wad of raw dough in the middle that got
caught in my throat. I was supposed to get up
early that morning, but couldn't move. I heard a
sort of whistling noise above my head as I was
passing by the post office, and that's all I know. I
was hustling a customer who looked like a real
swell, but when we got upstairs he pulled out a
razor. I owed a lot of rent and got put out and that
night curled up in somebody else's doorway, and
he came home in a bad mood. I ate some oysters
I dug up myself. I felt very hot and shaky and
strange, and everybody in the shop was looking at
me, and I kept trying to tell them that I'd be all right
in a minute, but I just couldn't get it out.

I never woke up as the fumes snaked into my
room. I stood yelling as he stabbed me again and
again. I shot up the bag as soon as I got home,
but thought it smelled funny when I cooked it. I
was asleep in the park when these kids came by. I
crawled out the window and felt sick looking down,
so I just threw myself out and looked up as I fell. I
thought I could get warm by burning some
newspaper in a soup pot. I went to pieces very
slowly and was happy when it finally stopped. I
thought the train was going way too fast, but I kept
on reading. I let this guy pick me up at the party,
and sometime later we went off in his car. I felt real
sick, but the nurse thought I was kidding. I jumped
over to the other fire escape, but my foot slipped. I
thought I had time to cross the street. I thought the
floor would support my weight. I thought nobody
could touch me. I never knew what hit me.

They put me in a bag. They nailed me up in a box.
They walked me down Mulberry Street followed by
altar boys and four priests under a canopy and
everybody in the neighborhood singing the "Libera
Me Domine." They collected me in pieces all
through the park. They laid me in state under the
rotunda for three days. They engraved my name
on the pediment. They drew my collar up to my
chin to hide the hole in my neck. They laughed
about me over baked meats and rye whiskey.
They didn't know who I was when they fished me
out and still don't know six months later. They held
my body for ransom and collected, but by that time
they had burned it. They never found me. They
threw me in the cement mixer. They heaped all of
us into a trench and stuck a monument on top.
They cut me up at the medical school. They
weighed down my ankles and tossed me in the
drink. They named a dormitory after me. They
gave speeches claiming I was some kind of tin
saint. They hauled me away in the ashman's cart.
They put me on a boat and took me to an island.
They tried to keep my mother from throwing
herself in after me. They bought me my first suit
and dressed me up in it. They marched to City Hall
holding candles and shouting my name. They
forgot all about me and took down my picture.

So give my eyes to the eye bank, give my blood to
the blood bank. Make my hair into switches, put
my teeth into rattles, sell my heart to the junkman.
Give my spleen to the mayor. Hook my lungs to an
engine. Stretch my guts down the avenue. Stick
my head on a pike, plug my spine to the third rail,
throw my liver and lights to the winner. Grind my
nails up with sage and camphor and sell it under
the counter. Set my hands in the window as a
reminder. Take my name from me and make it a
verb. Think of me when you run out of money.
Remember me when you fall on the sidewalk.
Mention me when they ask you what happened. I
am everywhere under your feet.

Sunday, March 7, 2010