Song for Occupations

By Erik Wennermark. Posted in Creative Nonfiction and Issue Two. Bookmark the permalink.

The woman seems to operate in inverse relationship to the outside temperature as expressed by the equation y=|-x°|. Described compositionally: 3 pairs of long-johns retain sweat, scraps of feces. The resultant broth of green sap seeps out and stains her jeans. 8 scarves, 6 pairs of socks, 3 sweaters, a turtleneck constrict proper circulation and stifle her skin’s airing out. After unloading her multiple sacks proceeds a stripping down of layers, a sloughing that often leaves flakes of dead skin upon the table. She takes off her boots (hiking, Wal-Mart), uncurling and uncracking her toes tight in her multiple socks worn all morn/previous night. One, if making purposeful movements towards the MLs and MTs [Library of Congress Classification System: M: Music; subclass ML: Literature of Music; subclass MT: Musical Instruction and Study], stirs up the air and smells shit, or something that smells like shit; as if someone shit on the table or floor 2 or more days past and left it to ferment; took what turned out to be a shit of mediocre viscosity and let it drip and puddle, burning small rivulets, shit canals, into the carpet and wooden table.

Viewed out the window is a steeple wrapped in scaffolding. The snow falls and birds are flying. Sparrows flit in the air as if it were another continent that they flit upon. Perhaps the birds think they are in the skies above the fine Croatian city of Dubrovnik. One could imagine the birds imagining it is the fine city of Dubrovnik they flit upon. One could imagine oneself in the fine city of Dubrovnik too, after a stunningly good, shockingly good, mindnumbingly good dinner of octopus carpaccio and bread dipped in vinegar and oil, sipping a kava and reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in the interest of well-paced digestion; the bit where Joyce is talking about sparrows; those sparrows a full continent’s breadth away and on an island too; one could sip one’s kava and watch sparrows from a seat in the inner square of the massive white citadel; a swarm of black sparrows flying overhead, darting in and out of the soft blue darkness, the slowly cooling white buildings with red tiled roofs. One could do this while watching the birds wishing of Dubrovnik flit about the broken steeple—here, where one is—like J.J.’s birds minus the snow and the broken steeple, but one would still have shit to attend to, inhaling of and otherwise: sharpening pencils, straightening shelves, etc. The air is cut with vomit too.

It is doubtful that the woman actually vomited, on herself or elsewhere, but one must keep one’s mind open to any and all possibilities, free from artificially-placed constructs of class strata, financial background, and/or emotional/mental circumstance, and realize that it is entirely conceivable, though one is still free, even encouraged, to hypothesize on other more or less probable likelihoods such as: a) she slept in vomit, hers or other—accidentally, b) someone vomited on her while she slept—accidentally or purposefully, c) some amalgamation of events/scents/occurrences has combined to make the air be tinged with vomit under the more pervasive shit smell, if piquantly. In the interest of expediency one would be inclined to select (c) if one were familiar with the circumstances and surroundings and if one had the opportunity to be choked by the smell oneself whilst watching the flitting birds about the strung-out steeple on one’s way to fetch something from the MLs and MTs. One would. One might also be saddened by the pervasive smell as to its correlation with the snow, or less the snow and more the inverse relation with the temperature that facilitates the snow i.e. the cold, if one were so inclined but that would be optional and could be, if one wanted, justified either way as being an emotional response dependant entirely upon a respective level of empathy. This sensitivity to suffering (other) could very well be heightened by the fact that the particular woman who now smells so much like shit is present in the library everyday, so it will not be as if she is unfamiliar sitting in her familiar spot amidst the route of purposeful movement towards the MLs and MTs, so there is that: her familiarity. There is also the fact that one would do well to recall, in the interest of sustained humanity, that she does not usually smell as she does now; the phenomenon, as previously stated, seems to bear an inverse relation to the brutal winter months, or more specifically the temperature associated with the same. The way she smells now, like sick shit and vomit (re adjective sick re shit: sick as in unhealthy, sick shit as in not the shit of a healthy person but of one who is unwell, in all probability very much so), is somewhat atypical. One might have the sense, by virtue of the same familiarity, that she is going through a particularly rough time, is having particular difficulty maintaining societal norms for personal hygiene: a judgment formed courtesy her now-oh-so-pervasive fumes that have not always been oh-so-pervasive while still being fumes. Her daily activity could be a point of relation too.

The fact that she sits, everyday, in one’s path to the MLs and MTs (where one could be watching flitting sparrows) engaged in activity, namely the act of sketching. The fact that she sits, everyday, and sketches, copying from all manner of books, though predominately those of the N and ND variety [N: Fine Arts; subclass ND: Painting], could even foment whimsy within one. One could think: Gosh, isn’t it nice that she comes in and draws everyday! One could feel kinship and/or relation for one might enjoy drawing as well. One may even be of the opinion that the fundamental idea expressed in the act of drawing, namely the act of art-making, is the most worthwhile activity resultant of human consciousness, biologically speaking, thus one could feel good about oneself vis-à-vis the role one plays in her activity; the fact that one provides a service to the woman by giving her space and paper and keeping the books she uses to copy from in proper shape and letting her use the electric pencil sharpener one normally, in normal circumstances, wouldn’t let patrons use, but lets her use it anyway because she’s cool, and one like, knows her, and she’s in here like everyday, so, no worries. One could track her artistic progression, if one had an eye for such things, by noting her movement from the How to Draw series of books to her initial timid forays into the Italian Renaissance, Early and otherwise. One could glance at her Madonnas as they grew more confident, the Brunelleschi ramparts apparating in the interest of spatial definition, the folksy Giotto quality reaching fruition, the oh-so-sudden shift by way of Titian. This could go on for months, if one were so inclined. One could even grow impatient with her, in the interest of her flowering as an artist, and itch to suggest other, newer, artists from which to cop, but be forced to bite one’s tongue in the interest of professionalism and the unwarranted weirdness of the appearance of taking an overzealous interest in her output, not wanting to pressure her or scare her off. One could even hatch a plan to mix a Miró book into her hold stack, accidentally, of course, or absentmindedly leave a Rothko reproduction spread out across her table: that she be forced to deal with the progression of the visual arts over the last 500 years. One could mumble: l’art pour l’art, in passing, or sneeze the formation: Rauschenberg! Rauschenberg! One could use these and all other manner of subliminal tricks in order to expedite her transition from what one might view as relics, important relics no doubt, but relics still, before realizing that for it to truly be her flowering and not some artificially imposed construct of modernity, a force-feeding as it were, that she must move at her own pace and that it is not one’s own conception of validity in arthood that is her concern but her own gradual, at times tedious, process. This restraint will serve to make it that much more special when, some dull morning on one’s way to perform a rote task of which usage of the MLs and MTs is required, one might spy over her shoulder—from a respectful distance—what appears to be a book of Egon Schiele drawings, and the feeling that could be felt then might very well be described as heretofore unimaginable bliss, while taking note of the fact, at this moment of elated discovery, that one would do well to contain oneself; unhinged yelps of joy—doing handsprings—being inappropriate conduct in such a setting as one is in; nonetheless, one is free to appreciate—quietly and in contained fashion—the significance of her first forays into the German Expressionist oeuvre and reflect on the sea change from her academic, and frankly, juvenile illustrations of the past to the shorn existential figurations of Schiele and onward still to the post-modern antics of Beckmann. One may even feel the need to mark the day on one’s desk calendar.

This totally optional carefully obscured relationship to her artistic becoming, of course, could serve to complicate matters at the first whiff whilst watching flitting sparrows; the illusion of her as a responsible productive member of society being well-destroyed, torpedoed as it were, and a quandary arisen. The smell of sick shit and vomit spreading in all directions, the mephitic stench percolating straight through to the GVs [G: Geography, Anthropology, Recreation; subclass GV: Recreation and Leisure], is a consequence that, a priori duty, must be dealt with as to its relation to other—albeit less monitored in the transcendent beauty of their soul’s glorious awakening—patrons and their respective enjoyment of what is after all a public institution. One may realize, grimly so, that one’s responsibility in such a situation as one could unfortunately find oneself, would likely be the calling of Security, namely in the person of Library Security D. Sessions, in order to have her forcibly removed from the premises with her removal’s justification being that of poor personal hygiene, shuttling to the back of one’s mind not only her drawing and the interest one takes in her drawing, interest manifested to the point of at one time swiping a loose sheet on which she sketched and taking it home with one and pinning it over one’s desk at one’s home, but that she herself in all probability does not have a home or a desk or even a shower for that matter; likewise many other patrons in similarly dire straits one views in the act of crotch-washing when one is forced, by a serious need to pee, to use the public lavatory as opposed to the one reserved expressly for staff. This, of course, would be followed by the cruel tableaux visualized in one’s mind’s eye of the unfolding confrontation between her and D. Sessions—who himself is a wearer of far too much cologne, to the point of nausea really—in which D. Sessions explains, in the ever-patient manner for which D. Sessions is known and even well-loved: Bitch, your ass, it got a foul motherfucking stink; and imagining further still as she is booted out onto the snowy street, hand grasping some given informational pamphlet detailing, with illustrations, the manifold process of not only toilet habits but personal grooming and its activation in general; whereby she may reenter the premises when she has been thusly cleansed.

The subsequent sensation of chagrin, particularly if one has viewed her drawings with interest, could be marked. One will likely be aware, as to her lot, that she has likely been sitting there, amidst the route of purposeful movement towards the MLs and MTs, the same spot with the lovely view of the sparrows and the scaffolded steeple, long before one’s own time in one’s present employ and will likely be sitting there long after one has moved on from one’s current circumstance to bigger and better, or, at the very least, other, things, and one might have second thoughts about one’s prescribed course of action in the matter of informing Library Security D. Sessions, either via telephone or personally, a call or visit placed to the security booth in which D. Sessions often finds himself when he is not otherwise engaged in matters of security and/or genial horseplay with young female patrons and/or coworkers, of the woman’s stench and the distinct displeasure—the pallor cast on that most noble pursuit: the quest for knowledge within these hallowed halls that one is privileged to be an integral part of undertaking— it may cause not only for staff but other patrons. Not so fast, one might then be inclined to think, being of the ethic one would hopefully be of when hereby employed, one is still bound by duty, and one does have other patrons to think after: those patrons who do not wish to sit near her, in the same room even, or smell her at all, and one can find oneself in quite a pickle regarding her uncleansed properties. It is natural at this point, on one’s way to the MLs and MTs stopping briefly to watch the flitting sparrows, though still totally optional, to grow increasingly bitter and/or helpless and/or steeped in bitter helplessness in the face of such seemingly insurmountable obstacles as the smell of shit with pungent undertones—delicate highlights adrift the lip of scent—of vomit. This debilitating melancholia may then give way to righteous anger, possibly even furious rage, directed specifically at the woman or elsewhere. One may even choose to blame her for her own repulsive condition, its animalistic nature, while also noting that there exists a YWCA not more than a block away: if she were so inclined to bathe that certainly could be an appropriate, and also affordable, place to do so. One could then view her as a drain-on-society and/or as the symptom of a social illness to be eradicated. One might feel one’s blood nigh boiling, such disgust and abhorrence one might feel, and even the grotesque illegitimate birthing of, God forbid, what one might deem as racially-motivated bias, the construction of which within one’s heretofore unfailingly progressive mind being more abhorrent still: what a loathsome creature, one could say under one’s breath with the appropriate foreknowledge that these possibly unwelcome thoughts could serve to shock one, even mortally so; the period of reflection that may follow could be exceedingly painful in its brutish revelations: the discovery of oneself as a brute. One could be perfectly understood to throw up one’s hands in despair, right there in view of the flitting sparrows, and submit impossible, and necessarily unheeded, lamentations (depending on one’s proclivity) to the Almighty: Lord Jesus Christ, what of this stench in its relation to my present employ and the carefully maintained moral and social construct that I have so carefully constructed and maintained? Terrible Yahweh, what trial is thus imparted upon me, what devious plan is in thee reckoning? Merciful Allah, I beseech thee, what doth maketh me thus? Bourgeoisie Parochial Asshole: Whitebread, tis thee I sing! Lamentations then followed, optionally of course, by the act of falling onto one’s knees, arms raised in yet another (2nd —- 6th) futile plea to the heavens in the form of the shrill heartrending sob: Fuck me!

Having collected oneself, the sparrows forgotten, one will likely continue about one’s business, trying one’s damnedest to ignore the circulating odor, making no mention to one’s coworkers or supervisor, wishing the initial discovery upon them, that they may deal with it how they see fit, negotiating their own philosophical strictures, negating one’s own responsibility and thereby leaving one’s delicate balance balanced and sensible sensibilities intact, if artificially so, denying all sensations of the foul aroma and quickly vacating the premises in parallel movement towards the café and, once there, the purchase of a well-foamed cappuccino or latte of one’s choosing fully negating within one’s mind the known fact that the woman’s name is Mrs. P___ and her voice is soft and sweet and low.

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Once upon a time Erik Wennermark worked at a library in Baltimore, Maryland. He now lives in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where, among other things, he is documenting the production of a low-budget action movie. Check out for more.

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One Response to “Song for Occupations”

  1. Pingback: Song for Occupations @ Flywheel Mag |

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