Is That A Gun In Your Pocket?

originally published in Coe Review
later republished in
Coe Review Chapbook Series


Rewinding the last reel while Hitchcock takes another bow on screen, he finds himself in the projection booth, at the end of his own personal loop. Like the movie, the marriage is over. Time to switch reels because Marilyn Monroe's skirt has just blown up. The story is done.

The father is dead.

Hitchcock takes another bow. He places the reels back in the case, checks the projector one last time, picks up his copy of Film Criticism, flicks off the lights, and leaves the booth as Chaplin hooks his cane under another dress. The two old derelicts have long since left, leaving him alone in the theatre with Hitchcock, who keeps taking bow after bow.

He walks into the manager's office, unlocks the desk drawer, lifts out the cash box, takes out two five dollar bills, and relocks the drawer. Hepburn purses her lips even tighter. Then he locks the manager's office behind him, goes into the lobby, pushes through the front door, locks it, and then heads across the street to Pearson's Drug Store, where he sits down at the counter and drinks coffee, reads about Lacan and Freud and the film as Platonic metaphor of the unconscious, and flirts with the drugstore sodajerk.

Daughter of the local Postmaster, a dropout from Bennington whose boyfriend recently enlisted in the Marine Corps, the sodajerk falls all over him when he asks her out to a movie. Hitchcock takes another bow. Wild for touch, crazy in lust, and impulsive in hunger, she demands continuous service and constant affection twenty-eight times a day because Marilyn Monroe's skirt just keeps blowing up. He begins to live on raw eggs, clams, oysters, and liver; she continues to live on ice cream sodas, banana splits, hot fudge sundaes, and coconut cream pie. Meanwhile, Chaplin hooks his cane under another dress.

He gets lean and hungry; she gets bigger and softer and juicer because Marilyn Monroe's skirt just keeps blowing up. Her Marine Corps lover comes back, finds out about their affair, storms the theatre, screams and yells, draws out his saber and submachine gun, chases him up and down the aisles, finally catches him in the projection booth, riddles his body with lead, cuts off his head, slices his body into tiny pieces, and then stuffs him into canisters of film.

He turns into celluloid; when the new projectionist reopens the 35 mm canisters, threads the projector, and shows the new film, the molecules of his demolished body regroup and reform on screen. Hepburn purses her lips even tighter. His brain patterns return; his body refashions itself inside a dumb and dumber film that mimics an internet hypertext about an OOP C++ poet who has just figured out a way to photograph reality in four dimensions and store the information inside interactive poems inside the picosecond it takes for Marilyn Monroe's skirt to blow up.

Unfortunately, the young poet runs into a young sodajerk Madonna at a software slam who seduces him and then has him killed by her lover, a Russian KGB poet whose chief claim to deconstructionist fame is a nose as enormous as Tim Holt, who rides into town once again under that dumb white hat.

Hitchcock stares into the camera, Monroe giggles, Chaplin arches his eyebrows, Hepburn lifts her nose, Tim Holt falls off his horse, Bugs carrots Fudd, and Garbo sighs, but unfortunately for Madonna and the KGB versifier, the poet has stored 28 four-dimensional photographs of himself in an Intel parallel poetic processor he has hidden in a cave outside the town of Sodom.

The poet has programmed the superpoem to activate a new wave poet as soon as the old wave terminates because Marilyn Monroe's skirt will always blow up. Consequently, another poet leaps out of memory banks and wanders down to the town of Sodom; the KGB versifier and the cloned poet confront each other in Angola, El Salvador, Libya, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Cuba, and finally Iraq, each poetic confrontation microwaved around the world by CNN and narrated by Peter Arnett while Chaplin, in the background shots, hooks his cane under dress after dress. Decades pass like pages on a 1940's movie screen. Hepburn purses her lips even tighter. Finally, the wall collapses, the KGB poet dies of old age, and the great poetic chill ends, sending the cloned poet back to Sodom where, in a fit of deconstructionist rage, he erases himself. Meanwhile, Chaplin hooks his cane under another dress. And sure enough, out pops another young poet who reads the exploits of his former clone and decides to wander down to Sodom as Tim Holt rides into town once again in that stupid white hat.

Re-enter the heroine, a recombinant clone of Marilyn Monroe, the sodajerk, and Madonna, who is now a sixty-nine year old grandmother biker and the sixty-sixth ex-wife of her past selves. Exaggerating each of the six degrees of freedom in virtual reality, Chaplin looks left, glances right, takes a quick peek over his shoulder, looks ahead, looks up, looks down, and then hooks his cane under another dress. After many tedious Last Year at Marrienbad recollection scenes, Madonna, jiggling in chains and squirming in olive oil, confesses her part in the oral epic plot and begs the poet to have mercy on her.

He takes her back to his secret poem, releases six other poets, and together they code her memories onto compact disks. Will Bugs Bunny blow Elmer Fudd's head off? Then they call seven of her younger selves back to flesh and experiment with the bodies of cloned poets and singers of song until Chaplin hooks his cane under another dress. The film ends with all of them, even the wicked old singer of tales, working feverishly to recollect the versifying villain with the big nose. Hepburn purses her lips even tighter. The house lights come on and people move toward the exits as Tim Holt rides into town once again under that dumb white hat. He can hear them mumbling as they leave. Hepburn purses her lips even tighter. Someone shuts off the house lights. He waits in total darkness.

Finally, the new projectionist leaves for the night. Will Bugs Bunny blow Elmer Fudd's head off? He waits until the last echo of the closing back door has long died; then the poet reassembles a new form, dematerializes from the screen, and reappears in the projection booth, rewinding the last reel. Hepburn purses her lips even tighter. There's a knock on the door. Gretta Garbo dies once again. He opens it. Hepburn purses her lips even tighter. In comes the soda-jerk. In comes the Marine. In comes the Postmaster. In comes the owner of the movie theatre. In comes the Sodom town council. In comes Lily, the Madame of the local brothel. As Tim Holt rides into town once again, they crush him up against the back wall, demanding to know what's going on. Will Bugs Bunny blow Elmer Fudd's head off? He tries to tell them that he's a mere projectionist, an innocent follower of Freud and Lacan, with a passing interest in movies and smart bombs, but they refuse to accept his explanations because, just then, Tim Holt rides into town on his white horse under that spattered white hat. He's been chewing a plug of Red Man tobacco and spitting the juice all over his white horse and white hat, so that the horse looks like an Appaloosa and his hat looks shot through with holes. Again, but this time in front of everyone, the sodajerk milks him dry, the Marine cuts off his head and stuffs him into film, and again they show the film on screen. Gretta Garbo expires, in excruciating boredom, and this time he finally understands that he's caught in an infinite poetic loop; that this mindless sequence of refrains will occur over and over again unless he comes up with an endstop couplet.

Marilyn lifts up her skirt and pulls a flask from the upper thigh of her nylon. Hitchcock sneers. Chaplin goes ballistic, Hepburn arches her neck, Holt's eyes bug out, "What's up, Doc?" sez Bugs, and Garbo weeps. He finds himself in an airplane; the airplane crashes; he finds himself in a jungle in South America, coiled up in a giant Douglas Fairbanks anaconda; someone rescues him, brings him to a clearing in the jungle; people stand in a circle around a vat of Jim Jones Koolaid; someone offers him a taste; he finds himself in a mass grave that turns into a tunnel; he crawls down the tunnel for days as Tim Holt rides into town once again. Finally, he notices a light, crawls faster, claws out of the tunnel entrance, and emerges into the blinding blue bullet a Vietnamese soldier has just aimed between his baby blue eyes. Hitchcock takes another bow. They toss him into the Mekong River as Tim Holt rides into town once again. He floats downstream, drifts into the ocean, bobs about in the waves. Will Bugs Bunny blow Elmer Fudd's head off? A US Destroyer in the Persian Gulf spots him in the water and spears him with a Tomahawk; then he wakes up. Gretta Garbo dies once again. The film has ended. Will Bugs Bunny blow Elmer Fudd's head off? He's alone in the projection booth, rubbing his eyes. Hitchcock takes another bow. He listens. Will Bugs Bunny blow Elmer Fudd's head off? No one knocks on the door.

He picks up the reel of film, squeezes it, then punches himself in the head because Marilyn Monroe's skirt has just blown up. Looking around the room, searching for the edge of the screen, he opens the projection room door and finds himself in the projection booth, rewinding the last reel. Will Bugs Bunny blow Elmer Fudd's head off? The movie is over. Gretta Garbo dies once again. The marriage is over. Hitchcock takes another bow. The story is done, but he needs an endstop. Gretta Garbo dies once again. The father is dead because Marilyn Monroe's skirt just blew up while he was watching tv. He places the reels back in the case, checks the projector one last time, picks up his copy of Film Criticism, flicks off the lights, and leaves the booth. Gretta Garbo keeps right on dying. The two old derelicts have long since left, leaving him alone in the theatre. Chaplin hooks his cane under another dress. He walks into the manager's office, unlocks the desk drawer, lifts out the cash box, takes out two five dollar bills, and relocks the drawer. Then he locks the manager's office behind him, goes into the lobby, pushes through the front door, locks it, and then heads across the street to Pearson's Drug Store, where he sits down at the counter and drinks coffee, reads about Lacan and Freud and the film as Platonic metaphor of the unconscious, and flirts with the drugstore sodajerk. Garbo dies, this time for real.

The marriage dissolves.

The father dies in his sleep.

End of loop.

Rewind.