:: Article

jailbird jerky

By Deborah Birch.

(for Derek Raymond)

Gustave Rossignol, an orphan born in Strasbourg in 1846, a member of the zouaves at twenty, entered into the service of the Préfecture de police in 1875. A master of disguise, endowed with caustic wit and indefatigable zeal, he was the prototype of the ‘fin limier,’ the detective- bloodhound that features so prominently in Conan Doyle’s lexicon. The day after Pranzini, a notorious murderer tracked down by Rossignol, had been executed, our detective took himself to the Ecole de médecine where the students had been given access to the body. As was customary, Rossignol was to take a souvenir from the case, and so he left with a lump of chest, from which he excoriated a layer of dermis. He degreased this square of skin, applied alum to it, and tanned it himself, before enlisting the services of a wallet-maker, unto whom he rendered this still-hairy chest-leather. Curious questions were asked, but our detective kept mum. Two card holders were produced, which Rossignol, good hound for Old Bill (or we might say Vieux Guillaume), brought back for his superiors, Goron and Taylor. It is the sight, in the city morgue, of Dora Suarez’s carelessly brutalised skin that settles the resolve of both the detective in the black novel “I Was Dora Suarez”, and that of its author, Derek Raymond. He later stated, “Suarez was my atonement for fifty years’ indifference to the miserable state of this world; it was a terrible journey through my own guilt, and through the guilt of others.” Dionne Brand, the Canadian poet, said to an audience in Toronto: “Some part of this text we’re about to make is already written. For, that I am black woman, speaking to a largely white audience is a major construction of the text. Blackness and whiteness structure and mediate our interchanges. Verbal, visual, sensual, political. They mediate them. So that there are some things that I will say to you and some things that i wont. And quite possibly the most important things will be the ones that I withhold.” The connections, which are tenuous at best, revolve around skin and power, the side of the disenfranchised and the side of the powerful. It’s not much to go on, but it’s what I was thinking about when I wrote this.

One day, he says, I will hold all -nesses in my hands Bright white whiteness
All wildernesses
They form, in spectacle-circus-ring cant, coils

we can no longer decipher each other

The lion faces in his mouth the possibility
of a head, likely hatted
in all likeliness

and go

Clusters of neurones pass each other monoamines
in order to say, this time it’s different

One day, he says, I will hold you in my hands
Through seventy pushups with Dougie on his back
he wheezes I will hold you
A crosslegged yogi is the closest thing in this cell to a redeemer
Dougie says, will you bend your body in prayer?

They’ve taken his pictures off the wall
Bodies bend and build
Dougie calls and Pavlovian methods answer — can’t you hear it?
The chiming of bells

Dougie yogi on his back,
crosslegged chewing — i am a saviour bind my eyes — a tattooed finger

jailbird jerky

First-homeowner’s rebate in seven instalments
Dougie says, the body is a temple in another temple and that temple in another
A myriads myriad of palaces in which to store your mind, upon whose walls are inked
the names of those who own you

bind my eyes i do not need to see the name Dougie glisten with sweat

Seventy more
Seventy more

He has drawn in the place of the photos what the photos depict
One day, he says, I will crumble before you
Such a fine temple does not lie
about its own destruction

Dougie allows him one cigarette a week on his back
while Dougie does two hundred pushups
He must learn to cross his legs like maharishi mahesh yogi and not slip off on sweat

Agility is the prima ballerina assoluta, Dougie says

A voice that sounds like bells rings out in his dreams, the circus-ring draws closer,
a kindness to his skin
thank him thank him

In this cell hide suggestions to be inked for those who cannot read without glasses

He will know enough is enough when his cell
calls to be crumbled
upon whose flag will I lay down my life?
The lion’s head answers for Saint George, his teeth are ciphers
shaped by the bones of dragons

don’t you see will you never see?
We can only be read through our great sadnesses
They are the marks on all the walls of all our temples, the only marks

One day, he leans against his forehead,
I will hold all -nesses in my hands

It is for blindness that Milton wrote and Homer sang out to be sung to
What is limp and wretched in my wake will give you
the answer
You will not find signs of weakness looking at my strengths

Dougie never slips but he is the first to admit slipperiness as possibility
and therefore as friend

In the second before death with Dougie on his back
he understands the possibility of sightedness in blindness
The muse feeding Milton drops of milk from her coffee-coloured breast
and him reciting milk-pearls to his scribe

Will you promise to see truth in the many-coloured glass?

We come through the door in seven ways if it is open
and three if it is locked, Dougie says
He is given the art of facelessness and the gift of monoamines
when inside the lion’s maw

I will reimburse no-one

One hundred days of potters potting will not suffice for what is to come
The jury has reached its decision
Unanimously, we will amend the law of the dead

and so it is done

Fires lay waste to impeached bodies
Ashes scatter through olive trees while the living drink wine from funeral urns
He is still inside the circus-ring cat as his own exequies turn traitor
obsequious to the authority of those who own him

It is not the lion’s body — tauthaunched plinth-bottomed overriding sand —
that knows Dasein but his teeth, sharpened on the myths of dragons
and the grinding-bones of sacked mutton

his being-toward-death is not his own but another’s
says Dougie as the first and last cigarette of the week is smoked on his back

The lion does not know the myths under whose sole aegis he acts
Dougie, and his cross-legged almost-but-not-yet maharishi mahesh yogi,
who slips not in the condition of sweat,
acts under the star of Dougie

He covers vast and holy ground each millisecond spent
interfacing feline teeth,
dialoguing in a household à trois
Only vastness and holiness can achieve a two-way conversation between three

Who is carrying who?
Am I carrying you, God?

His priest does not dare recognise the humanity of his femme de ménage
Her dermis
welted red-black-blue signals a reimbursement
by needles and condomless congress for hundreds of bad daddy cheques
He ministers her sacraments from afar
shy of everything

he who has known no love since childhood, smile

Our muse will come from among the downtrodden
There is no other way to inside-out inversion-turn the vision of the world
whose veil is café au lait and stock prices soothsaying
I am all that hath been, and is, and shall be; no mortal can lift what is not there

See in your orange juice sein und zeit, says Dougie
A vast interest network — electron-filigree in permanent
lowest-price exchange — in exchange for an ordinary glass of OJ

You must break your breakfast apart in contempt of comfort
And fait attention that sympathy with the degraded
does not become love for what degrades them Dougie chews jailbird jerky
to remind him of frailness

It is Dougie now holds all -nesses
— as sweat to the warrior, as sight to the seer —
it is love without need that leads us there,
fury that returns us snapping awake as the lion unlocks his jaw


Deborah Birch is a poet and writer, primarily interested in fictional worlds and anagogical interpretation of the ordinary. She is also a researcher at the Sorbonne-Paris IV, working on the crossover between technological and scientific systems and mystical and occult systems. She recently took part in a livestream panel with Benjamin Thorel on cybernetics, tech-utopia, and paranoia, as part of Labor Zero Labor in Marseille, and presented a paper on the transcendentalist and cybernetic roots of the Whole Earth Catalog at the Bibliothèque Kandinsky’s Université d’été at the Pompidou in Paris.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, October 28th, 2016.