For sure Y has picked his nose before, often enough, but today, lying on his bed, searching into his right nostril, for the first time he finds a champion lode. He scoops, he pulls. Hard to believe, but since he is touching it, we must admit it’s real. As the thing stretches, more and more slithers out into the light, of just the right tensile strength and elasticity. Y has a gross volume in hand. He goes for his left nostril, and once again the principle of symmetry doesn’t disappoint: there Y finds an equally rich vein. Together, both masses coalesce into an oysterish blob on his left palm. As Y considers what to do—one way or another, material of this quality ought to be preserved—he resumes reading the book on his lap.
He has lost the page, but, hands otherwise engaged, is reluctant to retrieve it. The book, thin, smallish and white, back cover uppermost, rests on his lap. Y reads:
Because there is not enough money in the world, people steal; because there is not enough power, people do violence; because there is not enough recognition, they make art.
Y’s first thought is, “Because there aren’t enough boogers in the world—” His second, “But what on earth could this possibly mean.” He scratches his head with his right hand.
Y has scratched his scalp countless times before, not only as a reaction to puzzlement but because it feels itchy. Seborrheic dermatitis, some doctors diagnosed; a bad case of dandruff, has been the verdict of others. He is used to scratching and peeling off scabs with his nails. But this time something unusual happens: Y discovers on his scalp two protruberances, two peaks, like the two horns of Michelangelo’s Moses. But their consistency is nothing keratoid; rather, they feel like sand mounds on which a freezing rain has fallen, and they crumble under the nail into a squamy powder which Y gathers on his right palm.
Not enough money, people steal; not enough power, people do violence. Boogers, dandruff, there’s certainly enough, and now they come together on Y’s left hand, and they prove pleasantly amenable to be kneaded and cemented into a ball the size of a mib playing marble. Y places it carefully upon the back cover of Poetry, right where it says, “Founded in 1912 by Harriet Monroe,” and a few inches above the explanation of why people steal, do violence and make art.
Y wonders why do people so enjoy pulling stuff off their bodies—their orifices, their skin. Does shedding evoke rejuvenation? Is it something embedded in our reptilian brain? Well, anyway, he, Y, enjoys it; perhaps other people don’t. Poets, for example, don’t care for that kind of thing, being so taken with hiatuses, synaloephas and caesuras. But Y cannot be sure, for on another issue of Poetry he has seen a long section devoted to fake avant-garde manifestos, a tongue-in-cheek exercise of invective and nostalgia, where everyone is either smeared with excrement or covered with shit. Granted, an individual may be at ease within mountains of caca but be averse to snot and scalp detritus. Y is inclined to believe that may be the case with poets. Shit has ampler metaphoric and metonymic resonance than snot by a long shot. Still and all, how should one understand this dictum, bold on the back cover of Poetry’s latest issue?
Living is a meatloaf sandwich.
Chewing on that, Y sticks his little finger in his right ear, and to his utter, otic surprise he touches a yielding mass, part of which he brings out to the light of the high-intensity lamp on his night table. As far as Y remembers, he has never found so much wax in his ear—and that’s not all: he goes in again and finds more, and after that he goes into his left ear and finds still more—oh, there seems to be no end of it! And naturally, effortlessly, the idea comes to Y to add this new mass to the previous ones. Masses, as has been known ever since Newton’s light pierced the thick medieval dark, tend to attract one another in inverse proportion to the square of their distance, and Y feels satisfaction at the thought that he will be acting according to the law of gravitation, just as, not long ago, Communists felt the satisfaction of knowing they were acting in harmony with historical forces.
Y kneads the ear wax together with the snot and the dandruff into a brown-pink stildegrain ball the size of a taw marble, and stops to consider it from different angles. That’s the beauty of it: a ball looks the same from anywhere, and no matter from which angle Y looks at this one, he marvels—he marvels at his own escence, his very self, being turned into a ball. Parmenides must have felt something similarly wondrous when he contemplated capitalized, metaphysical Being as a (big?) ball. Only in Y’s case it is subjective, it is he, Y’s self, as Being, that’s been turned into this rather small ball. Y places his spherical essence back onto the glossy back cover of Poetry, right on top of the word recognition (the scarcity of which is said to be the moving force behind art), and by ever so slight and accurate tilts he causes the ball to roll from r to n and back, and then, with more practice, all the way from Adam Kirsch to Because. Y is perfectly aware that what he and the ball—but aren’t he and the ball one and the same entity?—are doing is amazing: the smooth and controlled roll upon the paper can be only partially explained by the fact that the ball has a good proportion of ear wax and the paper has been coated with some sort of delicate clay. There must be more to it.
While Y is wondering, X, Y’s sister, comes into the bedroom. “Have you seen my hair dryer?” she asks, and then, “What’s that you are holding in your hand?”
Y replies that he has not seen the hair dryer, then explains how the ball has come into being and is now resting on his hand. At which X becomes angry. “You will never grow up! There you are, a lazy, dirty, fat old man lying belly-up on your bed, playing with snot as if you still were an eight-year-old, back when you were flipping boogers at me—or do you think I’ve forgotten?”
Y starts laughing. That his sister has never forgotten those boogers he flipped at her when they were little and slept on nearby beds, while the magic-eyed, superheterodyne radio played Viennese waltzes and chacareras in between, fills Y with delight. He can’t stop laughing now—the thought that his booger flipping has achieved haunting status, the blessed unforgettability held so dear by the poets, if only in his sister’s mind! “Yes, laugh, go on laughing, just like you laughed back then—ah, you make me sick!” says X, bitterly.
“You want to know how being sick in your stomach feels really like?” Y asks, “Then listen to this.” Y reads Kirsch’s scarcity scheme aloud, followed by Ashbery’s witticism, and a sample of the manifestoed shit from Poetry Magazine. “Now you see,” Y gestures imperially with his orb-holding hand, “how much more repellent this is than what I do, which is simply to poke my finger into every secret hole, caecasque latebras insinuare omnis, as Lucretius put it. These people shamelessly show the rottenness in their brains, where no finger can reach and no nail can scratch.”
X sits on the edge of Y’s bed, takes Y’s hand in hers, and says, “Poor brother! Yes, I see what you mean. It must be awfully hard for you to accept that there are closed spaces where your fingers can’t go and can’t poke, and where your boogers can’t stick. When we were little and you were bothering me with your stupid flipping, your throwing your scurf and scum at me, I’d get mad and raise hell. Then—remember?—Daddy would get up from bed and rush to our room with his flapper-slipper, angry as hell—we had disturbed him at his own nose picking—and he’d slap you hard and thick on the buttocks until you screamed your head off. Remember? And then, after Daddy left, I would sit like this, on your bed, and you were crying, and I asked, ‘Did it hurt?’ And you would say, “Ouch! Ouch!” and cry some more, and then, all of a sudden, you would burst out laughing, and I would laugh with you, because the whole thing was so funny.”
Yes, Y does remember, and he falls asleep like a baby. X picks up the issues of Poetry Magazine scattered on Y’s bed, and takes them to the garbage, together with the ball which Y fashioned and believed, for a moment, to be his very self.