Issue 12 – Summer 2007 – Joyelle McSweeney

Joyelle McSweeney

Aenied Book II, lines 469-505

In an entryway before the outerdoors, Chili’s Own Kid, Pyrex, is whooping and dancing in his paint and warsuit of gleaming greaves and feathers. Just like a serpent, when he’s been grazing on some bad grass, having hidden himself in the frozen winter earth to swell with venom, now, renewed, having shrugged off his old skin, and shining like a young man, into the day from the depths he explodes with his tough shining pelt towards the sunlight, and his triple-plaited, triple-plated tongue darts from his mouth. Now fierce Perry and Chili’s mechanic Autozone and all the Goon J.V. hit the roof and pitch flames at the very height of it. Pyrex, having picked up a double-axe, breaks through the sturdy threshold and busts down the bronzed lintels at the hinges; having splintered the oak he smashes the face of the door and makes a breach there like a gaping mouth.

Now the interior comes into view and the long hallway, the penetralia of the Principal and the bowels of an ancient football legacy, and the Goons lock eyes on the armed Texans standing in the first lobby. From deeper within a wailing and a miserable uproar rise; the women are shrieking within the polished, high-raftered courts; their agony beats against the tinsel stars left over from the Prom.  There the maddened mothers wander around hugging the doorjambs and giving them goodbye kisses.  Then strutting like Chili, Pyrex whoops the Goons up; neither the deadbolts nor the warriors are enough to stop him. The inner doors totter under the one-man battering ram, and the inner lintels crumble from the hinges. So Power makes its own roads; the Goons force their way in and slaughter the first team and fill the joint with their own toughs, every inch of space is crammed with them.

They pour in there even more harshly than a swollen river that, having burst its channel, explodes and swallows up any sandbags heaped up against it, and pours itself through the development in a flexing mass dragging the trees and mulch and the parked cars along behind it.  Then I myself saw Pyrex going crazy in the gore and Agamemnon and Meneleus like specks of shit on the thresholds, and I saw Hecuba and her hundred daughters and, through the vanishing point, the Principal himself, disfiguring with blood what he himself had hallowed with fire. Those famous fifty love nests, hope of grandsons, with their proud doors of imported gold and other precious spoils, now lie thrown to the ground. Where fire would have failed, the Goons succeed in ravishing.


Aenied Book II, lines 506-566

Maybe now you want to hear what happened to the Principal.

When he saw the collapse of his ruined city, the convulsing gates, the enemy under his roof and deep in his penetralia, the old man futilely lifted to his shoulders, shaky with age, his long unused armor, and he tied on his useless sword, and he bored himself, ready to die, out into the thickness of the enemy. In the dead center of the compound, open to the sky, there was a glittering altar and the most ancient laurel tree hung over it and its shade enfolded all the household gods.  Here Hecuba and her daughters clustered around the altar, just like doves whipped together by a dark storm, and they sat clutching the effigies of the gods. Seeing the Principal in the uniform of his youth she called to him, “Most miserable husband, what dreadful idea has driven you to take up these weapons? Where are you going? This is not the time for such efforts, not even if my own Hector were here.  Just come here; either these altars will protect us, or you’ll die just the same.” Having said this she gathered him to herself and made room for the old man in ancient glade.


But look, here he comes, Kid Paulie, having slipped away from Pyrex’s onslaught, the only one of all of the Principal’s sons, through the blades, through the Goons he flies along the long corridors and crosses the empty courtyards, wounded. But evil Pyrex flies right behind him, burning to wound him, and now, now he grabs his hand and now he pierces him with his dart. And now the boy comes into view before the eyes and face of his dad, and he collapses in a heap with his life and blood flowing out of him. Then the Principal, with death all around him, cannot hold back but hisses these angry words:

May the gods pay you back with interest for this sin you have just committed—if there is in fact a god left in heaven who takes care of these things—and make you a fitting reward, you who have slain my boy before my eyes and defiled the face of a father with carnage. Even Chili, whom you falsely call father, didn’t put me through that, though I was his enemy. He knew the codes, and he gave back the bloodless corpse of my son Hector so I could bury him and he let me go back to my kingdom.

So spoke the old guy, and he threw his harmless spear without strength, and it was immediately repelled by Pyrex’s resounding bronze shield, and skittered off uselessly. Then Pyrex laughed and said, “OK, go and tell this tale to my old dad, Chili. Remember to tell him about my pathetic behavior, the degeneracy of his true begotten son, Pyrex. Now die.”

Saying this he dragged the shaking old man up to the altar itself, slippery with the blood of the boy, and with his left hand grasping the old man’s hair, he lifted his long knife in his right hand and drove it into the Principle’s side.  This was the end of all possible futures, the final plot point dealt to him by fate, having seen Troy High burning and the city collapsed, he who was once the greatest highschool football coach in Texas if not the world. His body lies on some beach, a corpse with its head pulled from its shoulders and no name.
This was the first time such horror furled all around me. I was dazed; when I saw the Principal, who was about the same age, breathing out his life through that cruel wound, there came into my mind the image of my own sweet daddy; and I saw my wife all alone, and my house plundered and even my Own Kid dead! I came to myself and look down at the troops around me. All my comrades have given up the fight, and flung their bodies broken into the ground or weary into the flames.


Aenied Book II, lines 567-607

Now I was totally, utterly alone, the lone survivor, when I glimpsed at the Vestal threshold, lurking soundlessly in the shadow of the shrine, Helen!. The wild flames cast down light on me pacing this way and that and my eyes just boiling in their sockets. It was that woman, double curse of both Troy, TX, and her own Goon fatherland, now fearful of Texans enraged by the plundering of Troy, now fearful of Goon punishment and the rage of her deserted husband, now trying to hide herself and disappear by crouching like a little girl in a doll-sized altar! My thoughts flared; anger punched up in me to avenge my bleeding town and punish this dirty whore.  ‘Yeah, right,’ I thought, ‘Is this one going to get back to Goonland in one piece, to go like a queen in righteous triumph, and see her husband again and her house and dad and Own Kids dragging along Texan girls for escorts, Texan slaves? Was the Principal gutted for this? Troy, TX, roasted? Troy High football field watered again and again with blood? I don’t think so! For even if there’s no good name to be gained by beating a woman, and there’s no prize that goes along with such a victory, still I’ll be praised for knocking out this one source of evil and punishing someone who really deserves it, plus it will make me feel good to boost my spirits with some righteous flames and to avenge the ashes of my people.’

I was thinking these things and my blood was on the boil, when suddenly there flared up an incredible weird brightness of the kind my eyes had never seen before, and in a single pure bolt across the nightsky she arrived,  my mother, as plainly a goddess as when she’s out walking in heaven, as tall as ever, and grabbing my right hand she restrained me and these words rose in bubbles from her rosy mouth:

Boyo, what rabid wound is stoking this insane anger? Are you mad, or has your respect for me gone into hiding? Don’t you want to go see how your old dad is bearing up, or whether your wife survives, or your Own Kid? Goon linemen surround them on all sides, and if I hadn’t stepped in, they would have been borne off on waves of flame or the relentless swords would have gobbled them up! I’m not kidding! You can’t just blame Helen’s damned face or Paris for the ruin of everything and the downfall of Troy High when it’s the gods, the nasty gods behind it all.  Get ready, because now I’m gonna knock away each petty cloud that blocks your human vision, that veil that closes all around you, I’m gonna rip it down. Don’t be afraid of your mama or blow off my advice!


Aenied Book II, lines 608-633

Here, where you see big buildings pulverized and stones torn from stones, with
ghost-structures of smoke and dust rising everywhere, Neptune with his itchy trident is shaking the walls from their cracked foundations and bringing the whole city down. And there bitchy Boss June is spreading wide the main gates to Troy High and wild in her lady-armor she hollers to the Goons to send more men in.  Look back there, at the height of the city, Brat Minnie is alternately flashing her sexy legs and that Gorgon’s head she carries around. It’s Boss Joe himself who pours the Goons full with fighting spirit and sics the other gods on the shattered Texan side.  Get out of here, Own Kid, and drop this revenge act. I’ll keep close and get you safely to your dad’s front door.
                                                                                –She said this stuff and hid herself in the darkness crowded with ghosts. Then there appeared to me on all sides the dreadful faces and huge glowing forms of the gods who hate Troy.

Then truly I can see with my own eyes Troy TX capsizing in the flames, Neptune overturning this same town he helped build. It was like on a remote mountain where methed-up lumbermen swing their axes wildly and land their double-bladed axes double-time, in a rivalry to see who can bring down a doddering old ash tree; and the ash tree totters and, shaking, the shaggy hair trembles on its stricken head, while it moans with each blow until little by little, it’s overcome, it’s finished, and falls with a crash from the torn flank of the mountain. I hunch away now with my mom-god leading through the flames and the weapons; and the weapons withdraw for me and the flames make a place for me.




Joyelle McSweeney is the author of The Red Bird and The Commandrine and Other Poems, both from Fence, as well as Nylund, the Sarcographer, a baroque noir novella forthcoming from Tarpaulin Sky Press in Fall ’08. She teaches in the MFA program at Notre Dame.