How Beautiful without Shoes
Roisin McLean

Mark 7:32-34: They brought to him a deaf man ...
and he spat ... and said ..., "Be opened."

John 9:1-7: ... he saw a man blind from birth. ...
He spat ... and made mud with the saliva and said,
"Go, wash in the pool of Siloam."


On the bank of a river, a fox (and what is a fox, really?) is resting his back on an ancient banyan tree when immersed movement draws his eyes down from white-swirls-on-azure to azure-ripples-on-lapis-brown. He stares into the depths of nature's spittle at what looks like a fish (and what is a fish, really?).

A fish has been swimming in circles for so long and is so tired she doesn't know which way is upstream or down. She sees a fox but is so dizzy she does not trust that she could possibly see from underwater a fox on the shore. She sees red fur again ... and again. She stops circling to peer at a fox. He casts a line, the hook baited with words, which float, dappling the surface of the water. She shimmies up toward light to marvel at the words, familiar words (his or hers?), whose meanings waffle as they rock on the waves.

The fish shies, turns away, gazes back at the fox she is apparently seeing, who appears to be gazing back at her. She is hooked. She pierces her mouth on the hook baited with words and bleeds but does not mind--be it fright or a lifeline, it is new, it is now. He reels her in, but only so far. So it can't be hunger, or can it? What is this strange thing?

She thinks, If I were a beautiful young woman, not a fish, I would wade to shore and say, "Wordplay. Nicely played, sir. Masterfully played, Sir Fox." And she would bow her head in awe and humility and maybe peer with desire. But she is not a beautiful young woman. She is a fish. She swims close and flicks her tail, spritzing him with water. He spits on her.


In the middle of a living room, John Fox and Jane Fish (and who are they, really?) gaze into each other's eyes and smile. Their fingers intertwine. Jane's gaze drops to his lips, soft and supple, kissable, the portal of his treasured words. Vertigo lures her tingling lips to the abyss.

She blinks. She is chained to a black furnace in a sooty basement with an antiquated coal-chute. She spits on the furnace, and it disappears. She spits on her chains, and they disappear. (And what is the essence of spit, really, but water, which is mere water?)

Jane blinks and rematerializes in the living room with John. Her gaze falls to his parted lips. His hands fly out of hers, flail for a banister to grab. She rescues his hands, presses them to her breasts. Her right breast is too small. He does not seem to mind, but he does not say what she wants to hear, You are a Picasso sketch in true perspective.

Furnace flames burn and rise. Scientific fact: heat rises. Musing together, they smile into each other's eyes and lean in with open lips. Should she share secret insights or kiss this mad dream of love? Will her lips know what to do?


Brain and self-oozing Heart (and what are organs, really?) float free on Van Gogh swirls of azure and lapis-brown, no longer bound by sinew, flesh, and bone. From height and depth in this murky swirl of void, they reflect on the debacle to learn something, anything.

Brain is chastising Heart, "My lady, lips may sculpt exquisite words, but they also spurt flirtatious diddly-squat that accelerates desire and addles me--to wit, your brain."

"I am not owned by intellect," Heart says. "You are mine."

"Only when addled," says Brain, "when without my protection, you err--i.e., there was no love; now you are dead to him. The price of possession."

"Love is dead," Heart says.

"Love and dead are four-letter words," says Brain. "So are fuck and holy, and that's the crux of the problem, isn't it? Can't pursue both without losing one. Could you ever manage either well?"

"Time to find out, I suppose, one way or the other." Heart sighs, undulating the void.

"So what are you waiting for?" goads Brain. "Go scout out prospects at the pub, or find another fishing hole and focus on your soul."

"Sole?" Feet sing "O Sole Mio" in two-part harmony.

"It's now or never," Soul interrupts, singing high baritone.

"Feet and Soul, you're flat--shoo," says Brain. "Now, dear Heart. Focus. Pub or fishing hole?"

"Both," Heart says, pulsing faintly, issuing slow-motion ripples across the swirling void.

"To fuck is holy," Cunt clarifies.

"Oh my god, a twit," says Brain.

"You mispronounced it," says Sphincter.

"You're talking out your ass," says Brain. "Now blow--meaning scram."

"Is there a god in all this?" Heart cries, skipping beats.

"I am--" Cunt begins.

"Blasphemy," says Brain.

"--the mother of all children," Cunt finishes.

"We see what you mean," Eyes say.

"Does anyone smell fish?" Nose asks.

"More importantly," Elbows ask, "why are we swimming across the Milky Way?"

"Who let a funny bone in the joint?" Sphincter asks. "We're floating on a meniscus of mercury in a rectal thermometer."

"No, the organs perch in us," Lungs say, "and this interior monologue is making us wheeze."

"Mono-logue? At least we can count," Hands say, waving to Heart.

"Greetings, friends," Heart addresses the gathering organs. "Setting aside for a moment where this place is, does anyone know why 'we' are so ... so--disconnected?"

"Jane Fish has come unglued, as they say, resulting in my literal interpretation of the anatomy form of prose fiction," says Brain.

"That's convoluted," Shoulder Blades say. "This is a parallel universe."

"An outdated notion," Eyes say. "Look ahead--join us in the now almost-future."

"Hear here," Ears say. "But couldn't it be an alternate reality?"

"Maybe Jane is dead," Feet say, "since we can't feel ourselves."

"Ow," Breasts say.

"Pardon," Shoulder Blades say.

"Are we the only ones asleep here?" Feet ask.

"Will Jane remember this ... this--" Heart searches for le mot juste.

"Chaos?" Brain fills in for Heart. "Humans prefer to forget lost-love nightmares."

"Or is life the nightmare?" Heart inquires.

"Dear, dear Heart," says Brain. "Life is a dream. This is reality."

"Are we hearing you correctly?" Ears ask.

"Help. Dizzy. Faint," Heart blurts, wobbling.

"Now Heart," says Brain. "Calm down. Listen up. To the point: You cannot want both to fuck and be holy--both is a four-letter word."

Heart recovers a faint beat but sighs. "True, true, nothing left to do but redefine and hope."

"Yes?" Hope asks. "So glad you remembered me."

"Too crowded in here for anyone's tastes?" says Brain.

"I will not rise to the occasion," sniffs Nose.

"There's food?" asks Tongue.

Brain spits with exasperation into the swirling void.

The swirling spit splats on Eyes. "Now we're all wet."

"Oh, my, so am I," Cunt says.

"What is this--some kind of joke?" Brain asks. "Who authorized this parody?"

"Pair o' what?" asks Ears.

Eyes glance at Breasts.

"Don't blame us. We're uplifting," Breasts say.

"We. We've heard it five times now, and that makes six," Ears say.

"How nice," Hope says. "Inclusion."

"Did someone say sex?" Cunt asks.

"Parody? Seems more like a Menippean satire to us," Elbows say.

"Oh my God." Brain spits again into the swirling void.

The organs cringe and wait. Silence reigns. At the speed of light, Hope and Soul drift apart to edges of the void and alternate hefting it upside down and around.

"Goodie, double Dutch," Feet say. "And the feeling is coming back."

One Hand claps. One Eye winks.

"You're all bent," says Brain.

"A-L-L--three letters--like fox," Hope says.

"No, my dear, fucks is a five-letter word," Ear and Cunt correct in unison.

"You're all the epitome of four-letter words," growls Brain.

Heart sputters. "My dear Brain, word is a four-letter word. Really."

"Shit," says Brain.

"If you say so," says Sphincter.

"NO," they all shout, spitting on one another.

The void of azure and lapis-brown whirls into a vortex of swirling spit in which the organs merge, parts of one blurred whole joined by sinew, flesh, and bone.

SHALL IT BE MALE OR FEMALE? A bass voice pounds the void like storm-flung acorns on kettle drums.

"Female, please," Cunt says and then blushes fur red. "Sorry to be so direct. It's a matter of survival--me, humanity. Are mixed motives OK?"

"May she be sweet and fair?" Eyes ask. "And God Almighty beautiful, to take the breath away?"

"Shut the fuck up," shouts Brain.

Silence rains, diluting the spit.

"Now. Who are YOU, Entity Who Speaks in All Caps?" asks Brain. "And if you're here, why am I here?"

I AM. The words reverberate as rhythmic thunder through the void.

"Which question are you answering?" demands Brain.

"There's the rub," Cunt says.

At which the void stops swirling so abruptly that the head of the blurred whole slides into its vagina and rams the cervix, where melted self, slick as lubricating jelly, has advantages. Vaginal muscles massage, contract, push. And, pop, out you slide (and who are you now, really?).

"I am Word," you say.

You writhe rise soar dive writhe rise align.


The water in this river is mountain-snow sweet, and you sip, step ashore cleansed, naked, dripping fertile words on old earth awaiting seed. Descaled, deferred, humbled, hungry, you hanker without object until your eyes spot spongy grains on a path into the woods. You stoop, peer closer. Sprinkled on a swath of moss, little pieces of bread point the way from past to future. Shafts of sun thick with motes break through the dense canopy, exposing objects you now recognize. Fern. Redwood. Pine. Spruce. More crumbs. You follow. Crumbs of memory. Faure's Requiem. Rousseau jungles. Pints of Guinness. Salted, smoked, and fried sole (and what is sole, really, you wonder). All available for sensuous consumption--somewhere. You remember: at the local Internet café/gin mill. The one off Main Street. The only waterfront building of pointed stone. The "Bowssen Inn"--named for the dunking stool at the bulkhead out back and the medieval miracle cure for all that ailed women via submersion, clothed and shod, in icy waters until healing and wholeness occurred or, in zealots' hands, asphyxiation or hypothermia. You shudder, which is when you smell fragrant white pine and turn to a low bough where a lone bread crumb reminds you the inn's under new management, is no longer the "Bowssen Inn" at all. Now it's called "The Fox and Fish," a pub that promises a miracle cure of a different kind. You recall the red fox on the plaque out front, which swings creaking in breeze that sweeps cobblestoned streets, the dunking stool out back long gone. Deep in the dim of the forest now, luminous bread crumbs lead you to a clothesline between trees. You help yourself to jeans and a white T-shirt, relish the air-soft cotton on what feels like a fin on each shoulder blade, stuff pockets full of four-letter words for "just in case," pin one over your heart and one in your hair, scoop up bread crumbs that melt on your tongue, savour barefoot the moss path back to the river--aim upstream for town, people, angels, sun-warmed stone under your soles.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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