e found our way
to the basement of the bookstore, which was cavernous, with a low ceiling,
a labyrinth beneath Cincinnati. We followed narrow brick passageways and
I spied a skull among the rubble.
In a wide, low, dirty space, we came upon a circle
of men. Pushing our way to the middle, we saw Dirk.
Wearing jeans and a torn tanktop, streaked with blood, Dirk, clutching
a sharpened hardbound copy of The Maximus Poems, was warily circling,
facing off a bloody undergraduate whose eyes were wild with rage, fear,
and a criticism his underread mind was unable
to properly articulate.
Scott, Rob said, Dirks going to kill
You could see the fire in Strattons eyes and
it wasnt pretty. The kid was some kind of business majora stockbroker-in-trainingyou
could tell by the cut of his ruined suit, whose silken shreds clung to
his sweaty muscular flesh.
Dirk noticed us then.
Oh, Rob, and . . . Rettberg. Youre here.
Well, you mind scraping up William from off the floor over there? He was
supposed to write a sonnet, but this with the speed of a cobra Dirk
grabbed the kid and forced him up against the crumbling brick wall, punctuating
his remarks by striking his opponent across the face with the book-length
poem, with wide slaps against the young business
majors cheek, scored some benzedrine and proffered it to the newspoet.
Obviously, it was some other drug.
My eyes adjusting to the dim chaos, I spied Williams figure sprawled
on the floor, and went over to him. He was lying beside an open notebook
and had apparently passed out halfway through writing a haiku - a bad
And a bad haiku:
when in cinci with
Louis Friedman I ingest
oh mighty oh
I didnt know how to react. I used to think that our project was about
writing well and helping the kids. Now I didnt know what to think.
Rob, meanwhile had gotten into the spirit of things. He had roused William
with a topical application of a pitcher of bad local brew to the head
and was dragging his lanky frame by the collar into a standing slouch.
Robs tirade into Williams sopping ear
was barely audible.
I heard fragments. Hemingways typewriter . . . four ounce gloves . .
. human chess . . . beloved 18th century.
Galvanized, William gathered Dirk into a huddle with Rob and suddenly
they spread into the room, barking orders at terrified
undergrads who formed themselves into three ragged rows.
William and Rob stalked from kid to kid with black Marks-a-LotsTM, grabbing
heads and writing capital letters on foreheads.
Back row. Q. W E. R. T. Y. Middle row. A. S. D. . . . Front row. Z. X.
. . .
They stepped back to survey their handiwork and Dirk faced the ranks of
quaking poetastery, rolling his neck and flexing his massive deltoids.
Dirk turned to me, face speckled with blood and frosted with a malicious
laugh. Rettberg! Sonnet! First line!
I drew a breath. When tawdry taps . . . um . . . have near run
dry . . . I ventured.
Dirk jumped forward to the back row and cracked the kid with W on his
face with a powerful left hammerblow Cantonese
martial artists call Dragon Drills the Cave. H got a roundhouse kick
to the groin. The young woman with the E on her head got an elbow to
the throat, a move sometimes labeled Lohan Seeks Redemption.
What Rob and William had delivered to Dirk was a human keyboard, an interface
of flesh, and I was writing poetry dredged from the sinews of the
That was when Simon Leis strolled in whilst buggering Larry Flynt from
behind his wheelchair. The room stopped and gasped. After them came Roxanne
Qualls who quickly resolved the problem by administering to Dirk a
sedative via a quick and easy suppository. She liked our politics.
Tarbell liked our style. Mark Mallory bought us all drinks and we returned
to our ongoing discussion of prison reform.