Selected Poetry: 1974-
THE LAND OF GIVE AND TAKE
a story by
Paul Seifert, M.D.
On a chilly, mid-winter day, Raphael Galitzin was sitting at his table when his right arm disappeared. The disarticulation was sharp, the limb severed cleanly at the elbow. Examining the smooth stump, Galitzin marveled at the absence of clots, dangling nerve endings, or even any line of discordant sutures. The work had obviously been effected by a craftsman of the highest order of surgical skill, an artist who had managed to avoid the loss of a single drop of Galitzin's blood.
Soon, word of Raphael Galitzin's misfortune got out. When the emaciated specter of ill tidings made its nefarious rounds through the mud clogged village streets, the more vocal of Galitzin's neighbors expressed dismay--in some instances even outrage--at the "accident" that had befallen their comrade and friend. Still, submission to such strange quirks of misfortune--which often overtake the mind in sad waves of leaden impotence--was an admirable characteristic of those who once lived in the Land of Give and Take.
Speculation slowly abated, until Raphael Galitzin's left lower extremity disappeared--during sleep--seven days later. The disarticulation of Galitzin's hip presented problems of a quite serious order of difficulty, since the loss of an entire lower limb immobilized him--at least temporarily. Rumor now rode a wild horse through the adjacent valleys. Witchcraft became a word whispered cautiously like the voice of an angel drifting in a tainted wind.
Several young peasants from the neighborhood were recruited to assist the hapless invalid. Galitzin’s nursemaids found it necessary to tie the master to his chair to avoid an embarrassing list to the left, which became increasingly noticeable in the days that followed. Galitzin's remaining sound upper limb--holding a rusty fork as an instrument of percussion--pummeled the tabletop in the dining room where he had once held court with the singular abandon of a virtuoso wrenching to life a sonata by Liszt.
The authorities were finally consulted on that threatening day some weeks later when Galitzin's jawbone melted away before his wife's terror stricken eyes, as the pair sat drinking a bottle of cheap vodka. Galitzin's speech was arrested in mid sentence, his no longer efficient tongue dangling and hissing like that of an angry serpent within the black hole that abruptly appeared beneath his maxilla. A row of pearly teeth now hung visibly like a file of inverted tombstones from the roof of Galitzin's mouth, the cavernous immensity of which oddly resembled the foul, gaping abyss of Lake Avernus, over which not even a solitary, dark hearted bird may fly.
The authorities concurred, of course, with the impassioned opinion of Galitzin's wife that the problem was becoming serious and that indeed a solution must be found. In order to possibly effect this latter happy event, the distraught young woman was privately deposed for hours by the Chief of Police in a back room of the house. From this ersatz interrogation chamber, certain immediately identifiable sounds emerged at intervals, sounds that dilated the pupils of Galitzin's ferret-like eyes, and that narrowed the lids of those eyes to slits which gave evidence of cold, unmitigated, yet impotent fury.
When Galitzin's two remaining limbs dissolved without warning ten days later, his trunk was bolted to a two foot square of plywood fitted out with roller balls. With a deft flick of her foot, Galitzin's wife could slide him beneath the bed, when his garbled protestations of rage over the unexpected turns his life had taken reached a disconcerting and intolerable level of intensity. From his new lair beneath the bed, Galitzin was forced to monitor his wife's generous repayment of the young peasants who had risen to the occasion of her increasing need for assistance.
Raphael Galitzin did experience a soothing sense of vindication--even gratitude--when the disarticulations began to affect others. He hissed in glee, in fact, at the loss of his wife's first breast--her left. He was particularly amused to witness--during a profligate act of shameless carnality--the sudden disappearance at full penetration of the sexual organ of the most arrogant of the neighborhood youth. This tall and very muscular lad had taunted Galitzin without mercy, describing in detail each orgasm Mrs. Galitzin achieved in consequence of his youthful and Dionysian, but completely amorous ministrations. The appearance of a gaping hole where the young paramour's nose had once been--this new deficit following closely his penile amputation--lent a leprous piquancy to the facial features of this former Adonis. Galitzin was overjoyed with the changes in the stripling's appearance.
The pace of the amputations and disarticulations reached a crescendo with the coming of the warm days of a magnificent spring, as if some chemical reaction were being charged by the increase in heat. The collective functions of the community were undermined, as arms, legs, eyes, and other body parts dissipated into the sunlit air like bursting soap bubbles impaled on needles in forests of efflorescent pine. Every effort possible was made to explain the phenomenon, but without success. When science failed, the populace reverted to the propitiation of malevolent influences. Ancient pagan rituals were re-instituted. Sacrificial ceremonies were dutifully embraced. Recently ordained priests piously slashed open chests and held still beating hearts in their newly anointed hands until the convulsing organs were still.
Then--in mid-summer--the first acquisition happened. A third cyclopean eye suddenly appeared in the center of the forehead of a young girl who was being sacrificed upon a public altar in the village square of Galitzin's town. The hushed crowd fell to its knees in the dust. An ominous pall settled over the square. Orisons took wing like black birds rising and cackling into an encircling dome of pestilential air.
The pace of the acquisitions increased dramatically in the ensuing weeks, complementing the ongoing and pitiless amputations. Villagers with extra arms, legs, eyes, and noses could be found in all of the towns, joining in strange complementarity those who had lost similar appendages. Militants with multiple limbs marched beside those who crawled, slithered, or clawed their way along the fetid gutters of the city streets.
Jacobus Verensky was among the more fortunate of the acquisitive. Perhaps as the consequence of some act of grace, Verensky acquired four penises on a single morning in early fall, two of these protruding when erect from each of his knees.
Verensky eagerly sought out one of the kiosks the entrepreneurs had quickly established, where pelvises, breasts, and partial faces hung from meat hooks like pork loins, or the torsos of plucked fowl. One of the more alluring genital ensembles on sale had once been a part of the wife of Raphael Galitzin, stolen for profit during the dead silence of a mournful night. Fingering the gossamer maidenhair of this specimen--one of the very finest--Verensky, with the sensibilities of a connoisseur, obtained his playthings for a few pieces of tarnished gold.
Rushing home from the kiosks, clutching his purchases in four of his seven twisting hands, Verensky anticipated the most pleasurable evening of his life. He was denied his night of angelic, sybaritic bliss, however. The collector of pelvises was assassinated one block from his home by a young man without a nose and a single eye, who appeared to be in the service of an amputee on a pallet who was missing a jaw. One of the specimens purchased by Verensky was taken away by the pair. The recovered and beloved pelvis of Raphael Galitzin's wife was gently laid over the mouth and nose of the limbless man by the younger of the two. Both assassins moaned hysterical utterances that may have been poems directed to some immortal beloved. Galitzin had forgiven his wife her unfeeling infidelities. Mercy had grown in his heart like a prolific flower, pollinated by gigantic bees flying stiffly into a mighty wind.
As autumn bulged big as a pregnant maid in golden fields languishing beneath a harvest moon, the selling of anatomical specimens continued at a lucrative and profitable pace. Spare breasts, forearms, ears, fingers, and kneecaps became talismans of honor and success on a black market in body parts. Sadly, however, a short period of relative calm did not long prevail. In time, those who had acquired two or three feet insisted upon kicking to death those who had no limbs at all. Raphael Galitzin was strangled upon his pallet by a deluded citizen with eight strong, but misdirected hands. Soon, those who had acquired new appendages set out upon the merciless extermination of those who had lost them.
The strange metamorphoses, the acquisitions, disarticulations, and the dissolutions and the genocide, torture, and exploitation continued for three explosive and disruptive years. Creatures resembling Argus appeared, with a thousand peacock eyes. To avoid the blinding consequences of an input of light as intense as that from an exploding sun, many of the ocular endowed plucked out their eyes, as if these were over ripened grapes, or pierced them with finely sharpened needles of ivory or cold surgical steel. Others were plagued by the strident sounds attracted by a multitude of ears. Attempts were made to ward off such an overload of sound by plugging auricles with fingertips purchased in bulk at the kiosks. Myriads starved in the streets trying to fill the gaping needs of scores of ravenous mouths. Some killed themselves when assailed by the inescapable and putrid smells funneled proficiently through ranks of olfactory protrubances. Commercial transactions in the Land of Give and Take waned like the slow descent of a blood red harvest moon. The authorities were unable to meet the insatiable needs of citizens endowed with two thousand demanding hands, or resolve the cross purposes of those responding to the conflicting dictates of six hundred feet.
Life gradually came to a halt in the Land of Give and Take. Now, only bones remain, bleaching slowly beneath a merciless sun. The ischium of Raphael Galitzin's wife lies near a skeleton with no limbs, missing the jawbone of a simple ass. Stranger forms abound in the barren valleys of the Land of Give and Take, eerie remnants of creatures with six thousand ribs, four sets of vertebrae, and thirty-six skulls. Great mounds languish in the stifling heat. From these, multitudes of limbs protrude in grotesque and twisted postures of anguish, like figures sculpted in driftwood lying desolate on some lonely North Sea beach.
A blood run sun sets upon the Land of Give and Take. Shadows descend into deserted valleys filled with bones. The bones are very many and the bones are very dry, but no prophet calls upon the four winds to breathe life into the bones of those lying slain, or into the bones of those washed only at intervals by droplets of slowly falling rain.