Steinberg & Whitman
Steinberg one day felt a need for fruit.
"The need!" he called out to Whitman. "The need this time is for
Whitman was busy in thought. Thought tussled with Whitman with
little mercy. Thought had the upper hand and was revealing nothing
to Whitman. Thought gave no yield.
So Steinberg cackled on from his permanent seat. His body not
quite a prison, more like a sealed casque coming to his neck.
Steinberg turned his head this way and that in hopes of finding
something new in his sight (all these years and still his condition
agreed with him like an abusive lover). "Fruit! The fruit!" he
called, as though bananas and nectarines and spiny pear bobbed in
delicious yet teasing proximity.
Whitman twiddled his thumbs, first in a forward motion like a
wheel making progress. Then in reverse. Neither method gave up to
him the secret of making time pass. Whistle Dvorak? Not a chance,
not a chance, no profit in that—music was too precious and unique a
thing to be called up that simply.
Steinberg turned one way, turned the other. Steinberg was down to
two dimensions—left and right, left and right, left and right. Long
ago he gave up on up. Down, even worse. Ribs a memory, hip a memory,
metatarsus long forgotten. Back and forth at least offered him the
mundane, the sights he had seen in such plethora before. They let
him know he was still there to see them, and this allowed him
something like comfort, a warm reminder that he still knew what he
knew, no farther.
Whitman considered pottery, Play-Do, any kind of layman’s
sculpture. He could feel the need to have something cool, maybe even
wet or at least damp occupying the valleys between his fingers.
Steinberg felt his body release into the apparatus attached to
him for just such a purpose. Release was not quite the right word
for it—his body did hot hold, so in no holding there was no
releasing. What built up in him eased its way through via natural
process: gravity and other laws of space (the way a cup runneth
Steinberg’s release resembled more a neglected drip, a bad case
of dripping discharge, gonorrhea gone very bad.
Whitman looked at the rafters and studied their rigidity, their
tensile strength. What joy, he thought, to swing from those beams in
any capacity, in joy or mortal embrace! Either offered so much
distraction, so much avoidance from his present situation!
Steinberg wished so that Whitman would take his hand, despite the
lack of feeling, or for a friendly slap on the knee, or a look his
way. Steinberg forced his concentration and began a tremble in his
useless husk of a body, a vibration perceptible only to him, he
Whitman closed his eyes tight and crossed his arms. It was the
best way to hold the music when it came to him like this. Like a
dream, he could remember the time when it shuddered in his head over
again, this Beethoven, this "Ode to Joy." Such a simple melody. He
knew not from where it came, but it gave him something he could
focus on, if for a moment, outside himself.
Richard K. Weems most recently appeared in Eclipse and
Alkali Flats. He will be teaching once again at the
Winter Poetry &
Prose Getaway in Cape May, New Jersey.