Jim Elledge

From H

East adj. [<I.E. aues-, to shine, dawn]

H follows the Unseen down alleys behind and near his three-flat, all the way up to Belmont, others' junk his treasure—and his treasure glitters. H trails the Unseen beneath the L tracks that throw shadows all over the place. H wanders down sidewalks that line three-flats, red bricks in the fog (not dogs on a log), bas-relief flowers at second and third stories. He stands on the sidewalk, in the middle of a fog bank, looking up: petunias bloom overhead everywhere.


Gymnasium n. [<Gk. gymnazein, to train naked]

Loitering beside a kiosk that's crowded with notes offering rooms to let and services to buy, H imagines at least one handsome brute under every shower spigot, in every shower room, in every institution he's ever been locked up in—each one tense as a wishbone.


Shebang n. [perh. alter. of shebeen <IrGael sibin, bad ale]

It's not love that compels H to the scene of a good, four-alarm fire, but need—especially if there's an explosion or two first. He'll get out of bed and walk thirty blocks in the dead of night, tripping over cracks in the sidewalk or running into low-hanging limbs that should've been pruned weeks ago to listen to the flames' soprano and the fire trucks trumpeting. He'd walk cross-town, all the way from Webster to Howard, just to watch firemen stamping around in their uniforms in puddles the leaking hydrants make, to watch with what certainty they aim their hoses that erupt with forceful blasts. When he arrives, H stands as close to the inferno as the cops' barricades let him, the heat scurrying over his body like the hands of so may others also in need.


Tempt vt. [<L. temptare, urge]

Some mornings, H's clothes wake up, walk right out the front door without him, and go to work at Grant Hospital. Some afternoons, H's hands scrape the plates and swab (not rob) the bowls and glasses, put them into the washer racks, and press ON without him thinking it through. (The dishes go in one end, come out the other clean as a soul in and out of limbo.) Some nights, H's now-I-lay-me-down does not rise up through the ceiling but falls to the floorboards and rolls into the cracks just like the crumbs from his morning toast, his daily bread.


Toxic adj. [<Gk. toxon, a bow]

A horn honks, but H hears the clomp of horse hooves coming close. A horn honks, but H hears crucified children screaming and the crackle of conflagration inching closer. A horn honks, and H winces at the gurgle of the last breath in a child's throat wrung empty or the rip of flesh and the spillage of guts a knife makes. Get out of the way, you fucking moron! a stranger in the car screams out the driver's side, but stalled at mid-step, H hears, Save us! Save us, General Darger! Please!—a child's voice, but whether a girl's or a boy's, he can't tell.


Wild adj. [<I.E. wel, shaggy hair]

This late afternoon at Whillie's house on Garfield, where Whillie still lives with his mother and two sisters (his brother and youngest sister are married with responsibilities of their own), H's heart is a pewter bob dangling from his watch pocket (not locket) plumbing the fan's stirred breeze. His heart beats a hero's march, switchblade sexy down Michigan Avenue: a ticker-tape parade, where millions wave flags and cheer him on. This late Sunday afternoon, in May, the month's second full moon rises where the sun had been only seconds ago. H mouths Baltic Avenue! Baltic Avenue!, as he closes his eyes tight, crosses his fingers, and rolls.


X n. [<twenty-fourth letter in the English alphabet]

Ten. Multiplied by. Kiss. Christ. Here. Unknown. Nasty. Real nasty. Really real nasty. And H's favorite letter, one he uses to cross out each letter of each word on certificates of membership in the Black Brothers Lodge—men only—where he's co-president with Whillie. X sutures his identities, closes wounds, grafts him and Whillie from "co" into one—like branches of a family tree, like a bride cleaving to her husband.


Zanny adj. [<It. zanni, a clown]

When he gets to the Asylum, H studies all the boys in the north wing of the main building where he'll live for the next five years. Some are older, some younger, but all are taller than he, a stump among willows. He studies (not bloodies) them, wants to share his secrets with one the way a boy shares sweets with a girl, to share the flashlight game he learned from the night watchman with a boy this time, one limber as licorice on the playground and in the fields beyond.


Zilch adj. [<nonsense syllable used originally in the 1930s as the name of a magazine character]

Today, H follows his shadow. His shadow arrives before he does at Roma's where, when he finally arrives, he'll order a hot dog sandwich, the day's only meal. His slowness is beatitude en absentia, although H doesn't see it that way. But now as he crosses Kenmore at Webster, H sees his shadow, a panther poised to leap, feels its hot breath scurry across his throat, smells its acrid scent. H contemplates his shadow, now a raven, and at Roma's door, it flaps a breeze against his hands that cover his face. It pecks his fingers bloody. You'd think H were aboriginal, indigenous, the font of original sin, if you couldn't see him sitting in a booth at last, gulping a glass of water, sweating because he thought he saw Elsie again.