Anatomy of Melancholy

Lucy Doolin, first day on the job, stroked his goatee
and informed the seven of us in his charge
his name was short for Lucifer, and that his father, a man
he never knew, had been possessed,
as his mother had told him, of both an odd sense of humor
and a deep and immitigable bitterness. Also
that the same man had named Lucy’s twin brother,
born dead, Jesus Christ. These facts, he said,
along with his tattoos and Mohawked black hair,
we should, in our toils on his behalf, remember.

As we should also always remember to call him
only by that otherwise most womanly diminutive,
and never, he warned, by his given nor surname,
least of all with the title “Mister” attached,
which would remind him of that same most hated father
and plunge him therefore into a mood
he could not promise he would, he said, “behave
appropriately within.” Fortunately, our job,
unlike the social difficulties attached thereto,
was simple: collect the trash from the county’s back roads.

Although, given Lucy’s insistence on thoroughness,
this meant not only beer cans and bottles,
all manner of cast-off paper and plastics, but also
the occasional condom too, as well as the festering
roadkill fresh and ridden with maggotry,
or desiccate and liftable only from the hot summer tar
with a square-bladed shovel, all of which was to be tossed
into the bed of the township flatbed truck we ourselves
rode to and from the job in. By fifty-yard increments
then we traveled. He was never not smoking a cigarette.

Late every afternoon, at the dump, while we unloaded
our tonnage of trash, he sat with Stump McCarriston,
sexton of the dump and the dump’s constant resident,
in the shade, next to a green, decrepit trailer
we marveled at and strangely envied, since every inch
of wall we could see through the open door
was plastered with fold-outs and pages
from every Stump-salvaged Playboy and nudie magazine
he had ever found among the wreckage there.
Stump, we understood, was the ugliest man on earth.

Even had Lucy not told us so, we would have known,
by the olfactory rudeness within twenty yards
of his hovel, that he never bathed. And once,
while we shoveled and scraped, he took up the .22
from the rack beside his door and popped
with amazing accuracy three rats not fifty feet from us,
then walked to their carcasses, skinned them out,
and hung their hides on a scavenged grocery store rack
to dry. He was making, Lucy explained, a rat hide
coat we could see, come the fall, except for school.

As for school, it was a concept Stump could not fathom
and Lucy had no use for, on the truck’s dash
all that summer Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy,
a tome he said he’d read already eleven times,
this summer being the twelfth. We thought, in some way,
it might have had to do with something like the gallery
Stump’s trailer contained, the first word of its title
meaning something to us, the last nothing at all.
There were things about men we might be
unable ever to know, which we somehow knew was lucky.

And Lucky, incidentally, was the name of the cat,
fat and mangy, that, once Stump was back in the shade
with Lucy, began, one by one, to consume the hideless rats.
The town we came from was sinking into the emptiness
of a thousand abandoned coal mine shafts beneath it,
and rats were more common than hares
and universally despised. They shamed us, it seemed,
as we were shamed by ignorance and curiosity—
the bodies of those women on the walls, the provenance
of rats the very earth offered up like a plague,

the burden of a name like Lucifer or Stump,
whose name, as it was scrawled on his mailbox,
seemed to be Stumplin Reilly McCarriston, Esquire.
Of the seven of us, one would die in Vietnam,
one, after medical school, would hang himself
from a beam in his parents’ basement, the others
merely gone, vanished in actuality if not in memory.
Leaving me, alone, to tell this story. How Stump
would spend his last twenty years in prison,
having shot Lucy—one slender, flattening .22 slug

through the forehead—as he stood fifty feet away,
balanced atop the tub of an ancient wringer washer,
arms extended, like Jesus Christ, said Stump,
whose trailer was bulldozed into the dump itself
even before the trial, and who, no doubt, by some
court-appointed lawyer if not the appalled sheriff himself,
was forced to bathe and shave, to step into the unknown country
of a scentless white shirt and black businessman’s trousers,
in order to offer his only yet most sincere defense,
that Lucifer—Mr. Doolin, as the court insisted—had told him to.

More Poems by Robert Wrigley