Forget Beowulf. You can watch Beowulf. He’s in the front row wedged into a desk, hunchbacked over a Boston butt purchased to help a child with autism swim with dolphins on Dauphin Island. No utensils. His mighty penis fingers performing a kind of surgery on the Boston butt. Meaty fingers like shredder claws working with attentive dexterity, transforming the pig into pulled pork, attentive spider fingers like a sweat shop in China were they make Easter gear for Target. That Easter gear from Target is single-ply. A kind of surgery put on by a primitive medicine man. The sperm whale sound of a man hocking up a loogie, licking his fingers instead of any latex gloves as he pauses to behold the screen as if it were a crayon replica of a Sistine ceiling. Check out Beowulf. Muzzle glistening, shiny atop the five o’clock shadow in this morning class. He shouts a story over his shoulder about his younger days as a boxer. 3 out of 35 students listen. Despite his age he could pummel each one of them with a slab of ribs hidden behind his back. Kind of character only the Mid-South can produce. Kind of refugee who migrates to Title Town for an Olympic cycle and then rolls on to a community college outside Jonesboro. It’s kind of a catch and release program for English teachers around here. English Departments are anomalies loaded with a bunch of refugees who somehow snuck on to Noah’s Ark before the storm. Noah don’t know. Noah’s blotto. Chair of the department is like a game warden who works for Noah. The teacher of Beowulf spawns with a fellow migrant after a night of drinks at Big Al’s, an athletic screw without all the baggage carried by youth. Game warden can’t stop nature from taking its course. A cleansing grind, a ritual of two large mammals who know the moment will quickly dissolve like single-ply under the eye of a dripping faucet in Hackberry Apartments. Apartments with loud window units that somehow still cool. A Boston butt is a shoulder, a front shoulder. Hooked ashore on a nine-month contract, a maternity cycle, and dealt a hand of classes. The Chair is like a card dealer with a game warden’s badge. Like Shiva, dealing with an educator and then reporting back to Noah who is all blotto and will not go below deck because of the stench. Two-by-two in the lonely offices of an ark, nestling and cooing their spendings. Education should be sacred. Heroic mythology of man unwoven from beast. It’s bound to happen in a society as rich as ours that students will buy their papers. A whole generation of college graduates who have never read a book or written a paper. What’s the highest form of life to live? I’ve come to see that it’s one of reverence, but we’ve got to yawn in church a little. Got to stretch our understanding about what to revere. Teacher sounds like Alka-Seltzer from the depths of a pint glass talking about epic heroes. The big personalities that walk among us never to be staged. The chef with a golden pony mane, looking like a sedated hawk. Pontificating. A cigarette like an eleventh finger. Just the sort of sedated hawk look and pontificating about Pound with an eleventh finger, some sort of poetic freak show we’ve got going on down here. Nothing like Concord. And the sedated hawk, his debt just growling. Inflated ego of any man of words in a society where money talks. But a man will compete in any pissing contest flowing out of a watering hole in a football town with a writing problem. But it begins with what is epic, not heroic. Epic party. Epic game. Me amigo and me we scratch out an epic splicing rhetoric of Dulcinea, our dowry brought to the bridegroom above us: that burning man. Say no more. Belgium got blasted today. Got to better secure the walls of Troy. You know how the Greeks got in. We’ve had Nords here whose laughter was a hammer. Balzac is underappreciated like a Kiwi was underappreciated for not being able to fly. Like anybody is underappreciated who can weave a home out of Hackberry Place.
The scroll is rolled up like a yoga mat tonight. And it will be like this for the remainder of the century. Can you hear the music being made within Reed Street? The word is a broken pot on Queen City. Blithely I hiccup in the thick light. The imagined word glues Tuscaloosa to a banal eidolon. Words and generations. Amigos, you and I are but spindrift here. Words and generations they will continue to migrate, I suppose, hoping for fame. That would make us a Hollywood of sorts. Easter approaches, so I, an older man, must unfolded the white linen and dust off the Blake. And I miss Crift this Easter. I miss Crift and mi Amigo fighting for the love of my then innocent children by the size of a chocolate bunny. And Crift winning because Crift holds money in like flatulence on a first date. Crift’s odd austere grace breaking forth out of nowhere in the form of a cheap chocolate bunny the size of Beowulf. Epic chocolate bunny. Tuskaloosa is not a hollow Easter bunny. My daughter, then, still a bonnet wearer and with my meaty fingers transforming the bunny into chocolate. Brown smear on a bright smocked dress is Easter in the South. God is not in the object but in the witnessing of the event. I’ll continue seeking my resurrection on Palm Sundays. Children with green condor wings flap down the aisle. Green leaves like over-sized oars and armed children flapping ferociously to reach the surface and breathe. What you are hearing is true. Noah is a hedgehog. Noah is blotto. They loaded us into the U.S.S. Alabama, shut the door, and only then mentioned the part about meritocracy when it comes to health insurance.
Scott McWaters has been teaching in the English Department at the University of Alabama since 2002. This piece is from a recently completed manuscript, Tuskaloosa Kills, co-authored with fellow teacher Abraham Smith. Their book contains lyrical ballads about living, teaching, and growing a little older in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.1