n a t e    l i e d e r b a c h

Studies in Personal Post-humanist Essay


Oh This? It’s Nothing, Really.


My husband can no longer swim—it’s as if his limbs are encased in concrete—and I tell him it will return in time, to give it a rest, maybe take a hiatus, but no; it’s that determined German, that three-quarters stubborn Irish. To use our pet, he’s acquired special permission from the County Recreation Board and League of Aquatic Safety Guards. He’s outfitted Norman with a narrow boogie board, rib-shadow straps and four rubber-less, thrust-sensitive hydro fins. Their wake is substantial, the sound richly industrial. Inevitably my husband swallows a great deal of water, his goggles often dislodging and, thinking of this, I’m always reminded of the these lines from Lex Galvin’s poem, “Blue Rain”:

See, another beast struggling to be like man.

See, another man struggling to not manually un-man himself.

Their joint movement (towing, dragging, twisting, panting) occurs in the deep evening. One hour and a half minimum, then, after the feathery echoes of toweling off, after a solid minute of chlorinated vomiting on Norman’s part, my husband lathers our pet in oatmeal mush and gently rinses him. They cruise home through low-yellow backstreets with the windows down, Enya’s synth-layered moaning parting the night. Once the headlights die, two shadows skip across our lawn and I inevitably find myself recalling Virginia Woolf’s “Street Haunting”:

The good citizen when he opens his door in the evening must be banker, golfer, husband, father; not a nomad wandering the desert, a mystic staring at the sky, a debauchee in the slums of San Francisco, a soldier heading a revolution, a pariah howling with skepticism and solitude.

But it all began when Norman was found to be suffering greatly from Colossal Spleenworms. The spleen, we laymen are told, is essentially a huge lymph node. A lymph node, we extra-lame-men are told, is a micro-trash trap. We’re full of them. Pets, too. Colossal Spleenworms look like garden rotini, but a hundredth the size, bringing to mind the old gospel hymn:

Hoe Emma Hoe, you turn around dig a hole in the ground, Hoe Emma Hoe.

Our homeopath recommended small incisions wherein triangles of ginger were wedged into Norman’s hammy flesh. This did not work. Neither did triangles of the following: angelica, sassafras, cassava, yam. Neither did conventional pharmaceuticals. In fact, pharmaceuticals merely encouraged the body’s denigration, and soon Norman could not rise, could not muster the slightest bark and I could not think of anything else but my own weakness and how, in Homer’s Odyssey, the goddess Circe chided the bullheaded protagonist with:

‘There you go again, always the hero. Won’t you yield even to the immortals?’

And so it was that, in the pre-dawn morning of the Monday wherein Norman would be arranged frail and mostly furless on a coyote pelt in Emigration Meadow and administered (by, we decided, our joint hands) a lethal dose of thiosulphate concentrate, my husband sat motionless in our lavender scented den, lost in concentration.

Dicen que está en el fondo del lago. ‘They say it’s at the bottom of the lake.’

However, this was no usual meditation on my husband’s part. For three days he’d been retaining a bowel movement—for three days and while in no way altering his typically opulent diet—but, luckily, the trick proved effective. By 3 a.m., just as Tomislav Leitner describes in his Incantāmentum del Klērikós (an abstruse, postmodern treatise on religious enchantment), my husband was visited by St. Francis of Assisi in the form a wingless green fly. Drawn by the now ubiquitous scent (of what my husband, when manic and caffeinated, refers to as his “log wind”), Assisi was captured, pinned and suffered the loss of three legs before he divulged the secret.

But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. James 1:14-15

With the secret, my husband—for Norman and I were asleep at the time—drove to the West Jordan River, and, precisely where the buzzing saint had directed, waded naked into the oily current. Also, as directed, while breast-stroking upstream, my husband, the martyr, twice the humanitarian I’ll ever be, managed, with tremendous effort, choked breath and tear-clouded eyes, to let free the compacted contents of his intestines, and, when I hear his story, I’m standing on the banks and half-cheering; it’s as if Charles Lamb is there beside me whispering his superannuated man voice right into my half-clogged ears:

I could only apprehend my felicity; I was too confused to taste it sincerely. I wandered about, thinking I was happy, and knowing that I was not.

At this moment, regardless of how the fine man kicked his legs or rowed his massive arms, he sunk to the silty bottom and succumbed to unconsciousness. But then…

…as freed blood wants nothing less than to dry…

Having constructed an elaborate catfish net from discarded six-pack plastics, a kindly homeless woman squatting under the Fast Street Bridge—and described by my beloved only as “maybe Cuban but definitely expired yogurt and hot jazz stomp,”—tugged him ashore, revived him with an overly ripe cayenne pepper, told him (in perfect English—maybe a touch of Chicago accent), “I knew you were not my dinner. I knew not by weight and feel, but by time. The catfish, she sleeps in on Mondays. Only the ones who forget are caught. Small and mush-fleshed, if I eat one of those, the river takes my bridge,” and easily pointed my husband

Art is a marriage of the conscious and the unconscious. —Jean Cocteau

in the direction of his car. No sooner had he turned onto our street did Norman’s eager noises fill our foyer. It was at this point that I awoke, hurried down the hall and, in my wonder and alarm, forgot the seam where our original wood flooring meets the new Pergo flooring of the dining room. Here I tripped, was flung forward, and remembered the indomitable words of Maria Edgeworth’s “The Noble Science of Self-Justification”:

Extend the rage for vindication to all the objects which the most remotely concern you; take even inanimate objects under your protection. Your dress, your furniture, your property, everything which is or has been yours, defend, and this upon the principles of the soundest philosophy: each of these things all compose a part of your personal merit; all that connected the most distantly with your idea gives pleasure or pain to others, becomes an object of blame or praise, and consequently claims your support or vindication.

before clipping my forehead on our fichus pot. And that’s pretty much how it happened. It was a good bit of blood, but only four stitches.



NATE LIEDERBACH is a Ph.D. candidate @ University of Utah, author of Doing a Bit of Bleeding (shorts), and his work has seen publication with, among others, Quarterly West, Pindeldyboz, Fractured West, Mississippi Review, Corium Mag, and Permafrost. He recently edited the anthology Of a Monstrous Child, available now from Lost Horse Press.

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