Can you prove supremacy empirically? To what extent does racial and social control of diversity force the ones in power to keep their throne? Do minorities ever really fight back to disprove the hierarchy, or do they just wait for a savior from the rung above? Brian Alessandro's "The Unmentionable Mann" (Cairn Press) explores one family's external "duties" to their race while their internal fracturing threatens centuries of privilege. Terrance Kelsey's artwork provides faces to the nameless martyrs in the struggle to maintain the status quo.
"The Unmentionable Mann"
By Brian alessandro
Katherine thought magically; to hug him into boyhood again was to save the future. If she possessed such transformational powers, such sublime thinking, she would have hugged and loved with tender logic, but she possessed nothing but grievous imagery: a cleaver into the crown of his head to end the awful adolescence. Loving him. Killing him. It all came from the same place, manifested the same way. She missed his affections, his hanging from her arm, his nuzzling against her thigh.
Zachary talked about the Indian boy as though he were still a variable. He sought him out in the halls, visited bedrooms, expecting him to be there. He talked about girls in obligatory exclamations. The assertions were meant to prove things to Victor and Katherine, the same way she needed to prove her positions, telling Victor that her betrayal of Zachary was engendered by her horror of the bestial act, not the beast with which he engaged it. Lies. Augustine too had shifted slightly. He had grown quieter and more temperamental, less patient. There seemed to be a sense of spite about him, some rancid enzyme breaking down inside, stirring up bad feelings.
Stranger still, the bawdy, boisterous regressions struck Zachary in ways that turned him deranged, but only at home; in the world Zachary was a refined citizen, an eloquent gentleman. A Jekyll-Hyde dissociation.
Zachary’s yowl was the catalyst of some awful visit. He trundled down the hall rolling and barreling like a steamroller. Victor heard him talk to himself, saying things about his place in the world, about God’s good intentions for him, about his singular placement. He had gotten a hold of Baudelaire. He quoted passages. “There were sounds as of victims sacrificed: behind him all the dark was one long cry.”
He was a precocious, precious cretin, thought Victor. Zachary talked so quickly that sometimes he forgot to breathe and when he did it was with a sudden suck of air. Catching his breath, he went on at a rapid and booming pitch, shouting at his parents maniacally, eyes bugged, veins bulged, his body twitching and contorting and rising and moving. The restlessness scared his mother. It spooked Victor, too.
He bayed at the wind in the courtyard. Flicked the testicles of the stone men. He howled into the breeze. He communed with something divine and something debauched. He screamed into the mouth of memory and meaning, condemned the stars, growled at Heaven and at himself. The fury was fulfilling. He barked like a rabid mongrel at the large indifference of it— of oblivious things, of oblivion itself, all that rendered him impotent. Victor took more notes. Noted the assumptions. He knelt prostrate.
“Showed to the souls who wandered in the sedge; the evil son who scorned his hoary hair.”
And those times when Zachary was quiet, staring into the trees, blurring the greens, muttering something unintelligibly, were scariest. During those disquieting moments, Victor returned to his memories of his son as a younger, more innocuous boy, something pre-hormonal, not yet forming a personality and desire.
Zachary and Victor ran along the Charles Bridge in Prague when he was ten. They slipped on patches of black ice. Impossibly huge snowflakes fell around them. Ice castles drifted in the air. They were inured to the chill. Christmas carols played in Czech, and tourists huddled with coco and warm pretzels before a towering cuckoo clock.
“But, staring at the vessel’s track alone, Bent on his sword the unmoved hero stood.”
Katherine, too, replayed better times during the less frenetic periods—that occasion when she took the boy for a trip into the country for a weekend. He was twelve. It was their wintry ritual. They walked through the woods, into a maze of stripped birch trees. They watched Christmas movies in the cabin at night with a fire cracking behind them, the embers billowing. Distant family appeared like extras in a movie for the holidays. Christmas songs played. “Do You Hear What I Hear?” was a constant. Katherine hummed it in the kitchen, refilling her apple martini. Alcoholism and prayer raged on.
In Chelsea, the gay men seemed younger than they really were. It was a spectacular, seedy place of perpetual youth, of buffed queens with Peter Pan syndromes, Capri pants, and spray-on tans. The music deafeningly blared Madonna, Robyn, Nicki Minaj, Lady GaGa, and sometimes Diana Ross as the streets steamed in the mix of sugar daddies and crack babies. Methamphetamine. Ecstasy. Poppers. They all played hard. Used condoms adorned the curbs and cobblestone streets were shot through with diluted blood. Someone had turned a hose on the defilers.
In the rooftop gardens, community sustained parks, and wrought-iron balcony potteries, of fairies and of matrons, of cup-cake makers and of trendy infantile celebrities, colossal worms turned and rolled, into and over, throughout and between themselves, rocks, soil, geraniums, and hyacinths. A new planet spun elsewhere.
The clubs and bars themselves seemed to worm into tunnels that reeked of cologne, cigarettes, and semen, and from striated sphincter-shaped entries there spilled obscenities and climaxes.
Anand found himself inside one of the dreary speakeasies in an unassuming locale, a cave of halogen bulbs like Gilded Age candles, hulking bartenders in orange rayon briefs, and sequins drapery. Some wore crinoline. Others sported cashmere cravats. He stood at the entrance, waiting for a signal, a friendly handshake, a vile suitor. And all their eyes found him. The patrons, decadent saints and perverted angels, were uniformly dressed in fitted polo shirts, snug Diesel jeans, loafers without socks, lip-rings, and rings for parts that were too private for polite public discourse. They averaged forty-five, though in keeping with their neighborhood’s unspoken coda appeared as twenty. They were a surface tribe.
Serbian, Italian, and Venezuelan male models made a pornographic epic in the corner. They joked about the word “slave” and how it originated from the word “Slav” as in Slavic people. The Serbian brute blushed. Synthetic muscles and purple and tawny appendages popped and flopped about. There was stubble and expensive underwear, condoms and lube, ranunculus and flags. A fat old man shot them with an 8mm Bell & Howell camera. Anand imagined being the recipient of their disposals, the dirty streetwalker deserving of their showers. The thought was crude, and was not like him. He was frightened by his own interests and curiosities; they were new and felt treacherous.
A gentleman with a dainty gait, strapping stature, dressed like a sailor in paisley, easily sixty, slid into the boy; his craggy skin, sun-scorched, permanently ruined, leathery, glowed and turned ginger under the heavenly lights. His veneers blinded when he smiled. Uncannily white. His soft, powdery blue irises conjured an infancy, something newly conceived, seeing others for the first time. He sought the ones who would validate how he felt about himself. He smelled shit.
The baroquely arranged man leaned forward, whispering with cognac and Chambord on his breath into Anand’s ear, “Hello, Habib.”
Anand pulled back, looked at him. “My name’s not Habib.”
“You’re all Habib to me.”
The room closed in on the subjects and their experimenter, and the rugs rose. The Spanish girl crossed her legs, her hands clasped over her knees. She leaned forward gingerly.
Lucinda was an 18-year old Colombian born in Bogotá, but raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, whose severe bob, soft make-up, and floral petticoat gave her the appearance of an Anglican’s reinterpretation of Latin women.
“I’m doing this because—” she began.
“No, no,” quipped Victor. “I don’t need any reasons. Don’t justify anything here.”
“I’m not justifying anything. I would really, literally, obviously, do anything for school. My mother, she’s single, raised me by herself. My dad ducked out when I was a kid. My mother always told me that school was the best thing, the most important thing. This is for that, too, then. Also, the money I’m getting will help me pay my tuition and maybe even buy a new laptop.”
She took off her coat. The flowers folded and creased.
“You have cats,” said Victor, sniffing, staring. White fur stood out against her black cardigan. Not even the effort of running a lint roller.
“Yes, two. Turkish angoras. Tabitha and Theodore.”
Victor grinned, grimaced. ”We once had cats,” he said. “And a dog.”
Lucinda’s smile was nervous. Victor stared into her cleavage, pronounced in the clingy top. “Let’s get you started then,” he said, sorting out her paperwork, release forms. She smiled again, without fear.
Victor produced his estimable essence, a beaker and the smoky milk coagulating within. Gloves. Sanitary mask. Surgical gown. The naked Spanish girl spread her legs and there came a turkey baster with a blast.
Pei Pei was an 18 year-old Chinese art history major at Columbia University’s girl school Barnard College. She was taller than average, thin-boned, sanguine-cheeked, and had small features, though a prominent top row of especially white teeth. Born in Shanghai and raised in Flushing, Queens: New York’s actual Chinatown.
The girl, so absorbed and absorbing, and ready for Victor without reservation, offered no motivation. “I’m only curious about what my awful, conservative parents are going to say when I get to challenge them with my only desire to contribute to a major research project. They’re like these Mandarin-speaking mainlanders who view American knowledge bases as something like fucking divine. It’s sure as shit going to pose a difficult moral conundrum for them. Can’t wait.”
Victor reviewed her meticulous handwriting—the characters looked typed, impossibly neat. The mouthy oriental girl waited with crossed arms. He studied her knees. Her glare intimidated. The room, the same, was different with her in it, somehow smarter, even amid the mess of poor design and dereliction.
“I’m ready, doctor.”
Victor uncrossed his legs, crossed them again; Busby Berkley-style motions. “All ready?
“What’s there to question? Your explanation was quite thorough. Let’s get to work.”
“Undress,” said Victor, rising with rubber gloves and goggles.
The naked Chinese girl’s name was mispronounced by so many. Pee Pee. She opened herself to knowledge and advancement. An echo bellowed. Another flat-headed blue serpent darted in. A new bud bloomed.
Aziza, 19-years old and Somali, was brought to the South Bronx when she was seven by her father, her mother having succumbed during the labor that would bring her into the world. A long neck, crew-cut hair and aquiline nose, combined with small breasts, a naturally flat stomach and curvaceous thighs, helped her secure enough modeling work to pay her bills, tuition, and occasionally loan friends and family some money.
“I am not participating in this study for the payday,” she said with so much righteousness that Victor almost rolled his eyes. She was working on a bachelor’s degree in psychology at NYU when she found Victor’s ad and knew right away that she would be proud to birth a baby and be counted as one of the fortune four to have her precious and regarded mental state measured through her child’s evolution. It would serve a dual cause—to give life and to be celebrated for doing so. “And within a noted New York-based psychologist’s journal entry, no less. I will be the crown jewel of my neighborhood,” she said, smiling at the ceiling, into an imaginary spotlight, as though she weren’t already the diamond in her hood, with spreads in Vanity Fair, Vogue, and American Apparel.
Rumpled tartan frocks obscured her obscene frame. The black girl was a hazy rustle of a creature, boasting a chameleonic quality. She blended in even as she stood on everyone. The room that time was alien to Victor. She turned things foreign for him. And she looked at the crude pattern the crud assumed on the windowpanes. The white light billowing in through them cast geometric grids across her face. They slinked. She slinked.
“Doctor Mann,” she said when she turned back to him. “I am the only girl on my block that is not pregnant yet.”
“But that’s not why you’re doing this. You said—”
“Yes, no. I know. Motherhood is power. I am power.”
“Ethnic minority groups hate themselves because they’ve not been able to stop us from upholding our power structure and maintaining our sovereign system for so long,” said Walter to Anand in a private greenhouse atop the old man’s townhouse. “Oppressed people eventually move beyond hating their oppressors and begin hating themselves for being too weak to prevent their own oppression, you see?”
Anand stared at the outsized brass and ceramic planters that surrounded him; they grew flora of unimaginable beauty and impossible color. Not even India had colors so rich, so unearthly. The patina of the steel-structured greenhouse incubated the most exotic botanical garden Anand had ever seen, even as a child playing in the jungles of East India.
With delicate hands folded over her salmon Hermes Birkin, and a disquieted, vacant stare, Edda Schiller sat on a ceramic bench between bales of elephant ears and birds of paradise. Her wheelchair and black nurse waited beside her. The skeletal old queen stared at a suspended garden of petunias mixed with pansies. She was a Dutch master’s dream. “Senescence in Repose.” Anand considered her for only a moment, wondering what sort of things a woman of her wealth and status and race thought about during such pensive moments. And the old lady revisited the words of D. H. Lawrence, the man who made one as small and crushed as her feel preserved and dignified in her crushed smallness.
His own thoughts made their way in—thoughts of Zachary, insisting upon being recognized. Anand countered the intrusion as best he could with rationality and reassurance. Zachary had only offered friendship. Surely, he, Anand, the boy with wit and good, charming looks, could make more friends, new friends. Better friends. Sex was nothing special, he had come to learn; it’s something that could be done with anyone and anywhere, regardless of love or dedication. He reminded himself that one person was not as important as the promise of security, a future, and family. The logic was easy. Too easy.
A black butler with a shining bald head, ivory white teeth, and starched tuxedo appeared behind Anand and Walter; they turned to him. He waited.
“Nothing for me, Reginald. Anand?”
Anand stared at the black butler, the dark servant. He assayed his pock-marked face the way Katherine had often studied Augustine’s, with equal parts tentativeness and certainty.
“I’ll have a hamburger—medium raw—with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, and ketchup. And a Pepsi.”
Something small stirred inside of Anand, a tickle, a kick. Issuing commands felt right. Existential nervous breakdowns sometimes looked like transformations. The black butler nodded and set forth to follow his new master’s order.
“Life only provides the cage; you step inside on your own,” said Walter. “Being in the cage is quite boring, very disappointing; it chips away at your spirit, deforms your character, and causes you to hate your own hopes and turn against your own aspirations; it weighs, makes you heavy and cold and wretched and ugly. It’s a slow quiet burn into old age with traitorous thoughts; we betray only ourselves. We break ourselves against nature, the natural disorder of things; the more we attempt to wrest control the more we fail.”
“Yeah,” said Anand. “We all get old. I got it.”
Walter snickered, looked at his daydreaming wife, measured the bursts of bloom that engulfed her. Edda suddenly wondered where her brother was. She was certain that it had been decades since she had last seen Ernst. In fact, it had only been two weeks. Walter resigned himself to the unfortunate new fact that weeks were misunderstood to be decades.
“The oppressed must take a decision when opportunity presents itself, my boy. They can go on hating their oppressors and themselves, remaining in limited capacity as human beings, or they can stop hating their oppressors and continue to hate only themselves, their kind, and make the most of what imperial money offers. Don’t make me regret Zachary’s birth. Don’t make me regret buying all those pro-life laws, child.”