Original Short Fiction:  "The Graveyard Whistler on Literary History and the Art of Irony"

Updated on October 25, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Short literary fiction is one of my areas of writing interests, so I dabble in composing short stories and flash fiction from time to time.

Irony

Source

Disclaimer

The characters in this story are fictional and resemblance to any person living or dead is unintentional.

The Graveyard Whistler's Introduction

Hello, my name is Belmonte Segwic, (a.k.a. The Graveyard Whistler, a handle I used in grad school), and I just recently earned my master of arts in creative writing from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. After achieving that momentous event, I decided I would go for a PhD in the history of letters. Thus I had to go searching for a topic about which to attach my literarily waning interest.

With a ton of doubt on my mind, I started rummaging the Internet searching for my focus of interest. Unfortunately, I am still searching for that focus, but I am happy to report that I found an interesting piece that caught my eye because its title contains the term "Irony," and irony is my very, extremely very, favorite literary device.

This little piece involves a spat between a brother and a sister. Apparently the sister is a nut case who fancies she's a writer and she has brother who won't take any of her guff. I came away wondering why he would bother reading anything she has written but then, well, she's not my sister!

(Disclaimer: I contacted that writer who composed this piece and asked permission to use it. I told her I'd need to reproduce it pretty much verbatim. She gave permission but asked that I change the names to protect the guilty. I do not bother to give her name but I did change the names of the brothers, and she then gave final permission for its use.)

No doubt when I do finally locate my permanent area of interest, I will work some of the concepts in this piece into my dissertation, but for now I give you the piece for your perusal. It gave me a chuckle or two. Maybe it will do the same for you.

Literarily,
Belmonte Segwic, (aka The Graveyard Whistler)

Sibling Rivalry

Source

O, the Irony!

This whole mess started when my brother misread and then rewrote my poem, "The Dumpfered Burdings." I offer the poem here in its entirety because I will comment on its contents later.

The Dumpfered Burdings

owed to Jonathan Swifts' "A Tale of a Tub"

The burdings have come round again, come round again
In nightmare after nightmare:
His son has a clamp tight to each ear
He floats in a moat of splayed gravity
Where the grass springs over his rake;

He gasps,
And sucks in the morning frost
While his wife flies sorely through the moist
And dies peacefully like a heart attack on a dead skunk.

The dumpfered burdings boom under his nose;
He smells the blood on the rigging and blows out tissues
Dripping from a dozen dangling seeds that sprout
Out of the mouths of old frosted men.

His eyeballs slide sideways in the cool
Afternoon and register a blank and bare stare.
Each window shines in the blown dust bowl.
To his own blank soul, he puts his money

In pockets, in back pockets, in front pockets
Jumps up and down and dances like Nazis
That have lost their tongues to other vultures,
Flags that flap commu-nazism over the land

Where corn and peas used to flourish:
He thinks he can; he can do to any a man
Won't let morning shiver on his shoulder,
While Big Gov eats his liver

Until he stumbles and staggers back to his hell-hole
Where he will pour an amber drink
And keep on drinking until each gulp
Has landed him another stop sign

He fears he will never grasp enough dollars
As he strains his brain and rectum
Listening to the cold clank of ice cubes
In his tin cup.

After some thirty years of taking no notice of anything I had ever written, my brother Alvin encountered "The Dumpfered Burdings" on my personal Web site and fixated on the idea that poem was about his friend, Dack and himself. Apparently thinking he could elevate himself in the eyes of family and friends, he set about to rewrite the poem and then claim that I had written it. So he put his change, which follows, on his Facebook page and attributed his clunky revision to me:

Dumbo Ass Dack

owed to Jonathan Swifts' "Man in a Tub"

Dumbo-Ass Dack come round again, come round again
In a nightmare upon a stick:
He clamped his ears to the rug
And screamed in a moat of splayed gravity
While Alvin made pretty water wings

Dack gasps and so does Alvin,
As they suck in the afternoon frost
While flies soar through the morning
And die a heart attack on a dead skunk.

Then Dack goes boom under his nose;
Sobs up the blood on the rigging and blows out rings
On a dozen dangling seeds that sprout
Out of the mouths of old frosted men.

Alvin's eyeballs slide sideways in the cool
And Dack registers a blank and bare stare.
Each window shines in the blown dust bowl.
To his own blank soul, he puts his money

In pockets, in back pockets, in front pockets
He jumps up and down and dances like Nazis
That have lost their tongues to other vultures,
Flags that flap commu-nazism over the land

Dacks corn and peas used to flourish:
He thinks he can; he can do to any a man
Won't let morning shiver on his shoulder,
While Big Groves eats his liver

Until he stumbles and staggers back to his hell-hole
Where he will pour an amber drink
And keep on drinking until each gulp
Has landed him another stop sign

He fears he will never grasps enough dollars
As he strains his brain and asshole
Listening to the cold clank of ice cubes
In his tin cup.

The Irony

What strikes me as the ultimate in irony is that before this mess about "The Dumpfered Burdings," I had never written a poem about Dack and also never written anything to or for Alvin. What an irony, right?

After all these years of paying little to no attention to my poems, Alvin went rummaging through my Web site, apparently looking for something with which to smear me, and he thought he found it by claiming to find his buddy Dack and himself in two poems that he had to rewrite and then stick those names in to make his ludicrous case (he also found Dack and himself in "The Mostly Monroe Doctrine," but he didn't copy, paste, or revise it for FB) that I had placed on my Facebook companion page to my personal Web site.

You might notice that he had placed Dack's name and his own in the revision to make it look like I had written it about them. I don't understand that at all. He lives 3000 miles away from me, yet suddenly he started to pick on me like it was his little sister, or something. Hell, I'm seven years older than he is!!

Why Does He Insist the Poem is About Him? Pressure at Work?

I still have no idea why he wanted to believe falsehoods over the truth, and then go so far as the rewrite a piece of crap to make me look bad. His poem is stupid and does not feature anything that makes sense, My "The Dumpfered Burdings" is a crock, but it's at least a well-constructed postmodern crock of insanity.

I speculate that because I was a big part of his past, yet now I do not fit into his thoughts of the past the way I used to, he deems me an evil piece of crap-character. I have always thought he was more interested in me than I have ever been in him. I know that he seems like a vague figure to me when I think about the past. I remember a lot of the stuff we did during the our childhood down on the farm in Upstate New York. But here is an odd thing: I do not remember ever talking to him as we were growing up. Of course, I remember he was there, we were part of the same family of five; we have a younger brother named Timmy, whom I do remember, even though he is ten years my junior, while Alvin was three years closer to me age. I do also remember that Timmy was a sweet kid, and Alvin was a morose pouter. But I never took either of them seriously because they both had very different interests from mine.

I also wonder if Alvin is having difficulty at work. I know his alcoholism once caused him some problems, but I thought he had settled down and has had the same job for a couple of decades. But I really do not know because we have not kept in touch.

Never Close as Adults

Of course, Alvin and I never went to school together, well, not exactly. Because I was seven years older than he, by the time he was in first grade, I was in middle school. I know I would see him after school walking home with his friends, and sometimes I'd catch up to him, and we'd walk the rest of the way home together. I cannot remember much about which we might have talked as we walked. Except I do remember one day he hold me that his friend, Marvin, had brought a frog to school and it got out. He started jumping around on the ground, imitating the frog on the classroom floor. I thought he looked so funny that I laughed and laughed, and suddenly he stopped and yelled, "What are you laughing at? That frog really did that." "OK, Alvin, so you weren't trying to be funny. . . I get it."

I went to Alvin's wedding ceremony, held at the justice of the peace's office near Chittenango. I do not think he attended my wedding at the Chittenango United Christian Church, but I am not certain. I cannot visualize him there. He is not in any of the pictures, but he still could have been there.

The point is that I have always felt rather neutral about Alvin, especially after we became adults. I felt somewhat motherly toward him when he was very young; he was so much smaller than I was. I think I felt that I had to protect him. But I never really became interested in anything that interested him. I hardly even remember what interested him. I've always thought our interests differed greatly because of the difference in age and gender.

I know I always thought it odd that he liked Annie Oakley, and he probably liked Annie Oakley because I did. He actually owned two Annie Oakley costumes which were, of course, my idea, because I was too big to wear them; they did not make them for big kids like me. I do remember his saying he wished he could wear them, but boys don't wear skirts. My mom told us to say the outfits were mine, if anyone ever asked. No one ever did!

Still, Alvin would become interested in things I paid attention to, but I cannot remember becoming interested in something because he did. As adults, the only thing we could ever safely discuss was our childhood, which always interested him much more than it did me. Even that subject can be dicey, the age difference makes it very difficult to find memories that are the same.

Negative Attention Better Than None?

The point of this speculation is to try to understand why Alvin so adamantly wanted those poems to be about him and his goofy buddy. Trying to jog my memory for things I might have done to upset him all these years later. Maybe negative attention is better than no attention, which is pretty much what I have always bestowed on him, and actually, I had long felt somewhat bad about that, until after I found out that he had spread really big lie about me, just before I moved to California to work on a script with a friend. It was years later that I learned the he had told people I was pregnant and went to California to have the baby. I got him back after I came back to New York and told the people at his office that he had knocked up a girl in high school. I think that might have started the big riff between us. But I don't know. We often pulled gags like that and lived through it, despite the fact that underneath we weren't really close. I finally realized that we just do not have enough in common to be close. But that also is exactly why I would not write a poem about him and his friend—he just does not appear on the screen of my attention for me to be motivated to write a poem about him. (I have thought more about Alvin during the hours in which I have composed this essay than all the years before this ridiculous event.)

Here is an admission that I had not revealed before, and which would probably only feed his obsession to have "The Dumpfered Burdings" be about him: on an early draft of that poem, I had actually placed the epigraph, "for my brother." But I later removed it because it would have given the wrong impression. I thought of epigraphing it for him because of the gibberish in the title and the other images that attach to the notion of gibberish. (Early on, he was assigned the nickname, "Gibber." Our parents said he used "gibber to himself in his playpen," so the name "Gibber" stuck.) I also thought of dedicating it to Timmy, but Timmy was not like the obsessive character in the poem either, so dedicating it to either of them would have been deceptive.

Under a very different, truly close sibling relationship, that poem could be perceived as funny—even if I had intended it to be about him—as with very close friends who can call each other names like "ni**er" or "bi**h," which only indicates the closeness and the love between the name-callers. When people know they share true common, strong bonds, literary hyperbole and other rhetorical devices are employed only for entertainment and to intensify those bonds, not to belittle, as those extreme examples do when taken literally.

However, such is not the case with us. We do not trust each other enough to use irony with each other because we have never been that close. And this is something I learned only after this mess: I have certainly realized that I cannot trust him. At least, that's what I think now. Who knows? Maybe we will get together at Christmas, exchange expensive gifts, drink some whiskey sours, and have a good laugh! Wouldn't that be a hoot??

Why Poem Could Not Be About Him

The interpretation of any poem can be a tricky thing, and in Alvin's interpretation of "The Dumpfered Burdings," he had to contort and distort, even rewrite to make the poem about him. For example, the man in the poem has repeated nightmares about drinking and drowning; does my brother have such nightmares?—I do not even know if he has those nightmares; if he does, then that makes a happy coincidence for his interpretation. But obviously, because I do not even know if he has them, I could not have attributed them to him in the poem. When I first asked him about having those nightmares in the first message I sent him regarding the poem, he did not answer.

(Later he said he has nightmares about his daughter painting grapes during the night at a sword factory, and somehow he seemed to accept the drowning nightmares as portraying his fears for his daughter. Of course, I did not even know about the daughter-painting grapes-nights nightmares. Obviously, his inability to read and interpret poetry has added to the mess.)

Alvin in one of the unlucky dudes of the world who lost his sense of smell after he worked in a paint factory. On the upside is that he got a small pension after some doctors claimed that the paint fumes caused him to lose his sense of smell. But he did respond when I pointed out that the man in the poem can smell: he said that "smelling blood" was always a metaphor and claimed that blood has no smell; neither claim, of course, is true, but again a happy claim for him to believe in order to keep the poem about him. So there is one metaphor that cannot point to him because I did not know if he has drinking/drowning nightmares, and one literal image "smelling blood," which also cannot point to him because he has been diagnosed with no sense of smell.

The man in the poem distrusts authoritarian statism, which is portrayed in various images along with the ironic assertion that he thinks he can, echoing the Cesar Chavez farm workers' slogan, when the poem character obviously believes otherwise, accounting for his nightmares; he fears excessive taxation, one of the reasons he feels that he will never "grasp enough" dollars. That is the opposite of Alvin’s political philosophy; he is pro-statism and he once admitted that he was the "yellowest of yellow dog Democrats." Yet somehow he thinks his political philosophy would result in nightmares that condemn the very philosophy that he swallows whole hog.

So there are at least three metaphors/devices/images that all indicate the poem is not to, for, or about him and Dack. Actually, minus the gibberish imagery, only the fact that he has a son and wife with heart problems makes him similar to the man in the poem, but then Timmy also has two a son and a wife who actually did die of heart failure.

Two Apologies

At one point in the discussion, I offered my brother a poem that I called "Persephone on the Brink" with an epigraph to him. He responded with an emoticon, whose meaning I could not determine; it was :--), a smiley face with a nose. But then he fell silent. To get him to respond, I sent him via email a silly, satiric apology, in which I lamented suppressing my feelings and thus not being aware that I was expressing my true feelings for him, and for that I apologized. Interestingly, he accepted the fake apology and yet berated me for suggesting I didn't know my own mind. It seemed that he would realize that if one part of the piece was outlandish, then the apology was just as outlandish.

Thus, more back and forth, until I posted in his FB comments a non-literary but real apology—I apologized for writing a poem that seemed as if it was about him. Again, no response. So I wrote him to make sure he understood what I was apologizing for, and he went ballistic, posting my parody apology along with the real apology to show my hypocrisy. I tried to defend myself in the comments section by explaining that the one apology was satire. Again, no response.

Stupid me!—I made the mistake of unfriending him on FB, and he deleted my explanation allowing only his claim of my hypocrisy to stand; I could no longer defend myself against his malicious shit! It was at the point that I reported his earlier copyright infringement by copying and pasting my poem on his wall. It was hell trying to prove that his revision of my poem constituted copyright infringement, but I was finally successful and FB removed his infringement, and the offending comments went with it. At this point, I have dodged as many bullets as I can stand.

Aftermath: A Suite of Nightmares

From this whole situation, I have reaped the benefit of a series of nightmare poems, which I include in my book, The Dumpfered Burdings & Other Poems. Trying to demonstrate how other versions of the poem might have worked better and not offended him by making him think the poem was about him, I wrote several revisions of the poem. Of course, none of them satisfied him, but I was left with a group of eleven poems that worked well for what I call "The Dumpfered Burdings: A Suite of Drunken Nightmares."

Mystery and Lack of Trust

It remains a mystery to me why Alvin finally decided to stop castigating me over the poem. I had apologized to him many times, even writing that silly, obvious parody of an apology, but none would do. After he made a veiled threat about spreading my poems over the Net, I tried one last time to apologize.

I told him again that I was sorry that he was hurt even though I had not meant to hurt him, and suddenly, he accepted that last apology, saying that's all he ever wanted, even though I had apologized many times before. Maybe I should have asked him why he finally decided to accept that apology, after he had spurned all the others, even at one point calling me a fraud. But at that point, I was exhausted by the whole thing and convinced that all he really wanted was to sound as if he had been correct; therefore, the apology he accepted is likely not the apology I offered, but to get this behind us, I have to be the one to let it go. It is not likely that he even sees the distinction between apologizing for writing a poem that he thought was about him and writing a poem that was actually about him.

We are currently suspended in what seems to be a state of peace and are relatively back to where we were before this whole mess began—which actually means we are back to not speaking to each other at all. Of course, I know we can never fully return to the days before this shit hit the fan. And it will remain a mystery to me why he wishes to believe in a falsehood that I suspect will continue to keep germinating only in his imagination.

In the final analysis, he is my brother, and I love him, and while I hold out no hope for any real relationship with him, I do wish him peace and harmony in his life. And I do continue to hope that he does not find himself in any more of writings which I have continued to place on the Internet.

The Graveyard Whistler's Final Comment

Sibling rivalry is a pathetic thing. (I used to wish I had a brother, but after running into a number of disgruntled siblings, I'm feeling pretty lucky to have grown up an only child.) Nevertheless, I do believe this piece offers some interesting aspects of trying to communicate with irony. The dim-witted sister probably should have known that the brother was just not literarily savvy enough to understand that her poem could not be about him. Even though he was pretty clever in rewriting her tangled, purple verse and then trying to attribute it to her, poor Alvin seemed to remain confused at every turn—of course, we only have her side of the story. It would be fascinating to hear Alvin's side of this mangled tale.

I am kicking around the notion of focusing my dissertation on letters of famous literary figures who have confused their audiences with "irony." I think that might work. I'll keep you posted as I continue to research this issue.

Thanks for taking this literary journey with me!

Literarily yours,
Belmonte Segwic
a.k.a "The Graveyard Whistler"

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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