Songs on Turn Me On, Dead Man :

1. Big Business (2:52 )

2. Skinner Box (3:54 )

3. Riverrun (4:08 )

4. Emperor Worm (4:58 )

5. Crisscrossing the Moonlight (3:38 )

6. Magnificat (4:18 )

7. The Weird Allure of Wooden Birds (4:48 )

8. Tightening the Screws (4:27 )

9. Tearing Up the Planks in the Party Platform (3:24 ) [Instrumental]

10. Bullroarer (4:57 )

11. Blind Men’s Madrigals (4:54 )

12. Clean Sweep With an Iron Broom (2:44 )

13. Operation Hope Not (4:36 ) [Instrumental]

14. Hairball Oracle (4:00 )

15. Blowing Smoke (3:04 )

16. How High Do You Hang the Scented Soap on a Tree You Don’t Want the Deer to Munch? (3:08 ) [Instrumental]

17. Fevertree (5:12 )

Lyrics:

Big Business

This is biiiiiig business. You’re new to the corporation, Dithers. You’re rattling my cage bars. You’re jiggling me like a ventriloquist’s dummy on your knee. But when you feel the whickering mallet come slamming down on your head, like a sunning lizard with a cigar screwed into his mouth and that lonnnnnng ash dropping off in your employee’s face, you’re gonna squeal like a piggie with a notched nose. I’m George Grosz. I want a chicken in every pot! You’re gonna feel like a bad moon risin’ in this corporation, son. I’m gonna stub out my Tareyton in your left eye. You’re gonna be a dissected crayfish, and I’m gonna be the man in surgeon’s greens wiping your entrails across my lapels. You’re gonna douche with Janitor-in-a-Drum, you’re gonna suck the spit bubbles right off my gums, this is biiiiiig business, Dithers. Listen, maggot brain, everybody here’s gotta talk to the Board of Directors. Heads will roll, Dithers, like Kennedy’s car flippin’ end over end and settling in the mud of Chappaquidick. It’s like a crumbling Zwieback in a baby’s mouth that melts to nothing, Dithers. Your paycheck…evaporates. It’s like the slow collapse of your mortgage. It’s like a lifetime in a hobo hotel. Dithers, it’s my breath hissing through clenched teeth. On your hands and knees, Dithers! Puffy cheeks where the veins collapse. You’re just a zero, you’re a rhythmic zero, it’s biiiiiig business.

Mark Dery

Skinner Box

New guy? Glad to meetcha. Welcome to the Skinner Box. First thing you gotta learn is, when the slicer jams, turn off the power, turn off the power, turn off the power, and don’t let ‘em turn it back on. Then open the machine, roll up your sleeves, and dig in, unclogging the scaly, shredded skin by hand. It’s easy. Done it a thousand times, myself. This here’s the line. Worked right in this same spot. Job’s weird, but you’ll get used to it: the sucking discs on the tops of their heads; the weird, swollen glands; the fringe-like projections; the flattened heads; the cylindrical bodies with rudimentary legs; the upward passage of gas through holes in the scalp; the rapid, jerky movements of their little eyes. You’ll deal. You’ll find a way to keep on keepin’ on. You’ll say to yourself, “Hand, perform that motion; hand, perform that motion; hand, perform that motion”—the same motion, over and over, a thousand times an hour, ten thousand times a week. No breaks in the Skinner Box. No breaks except for when the chain breaks. And you’ll pray for the chain to break. Oh, you’ll pray alright. Or for the slicer to jam. But just don’t do what I did: keep your hand in there too long. Guy down the line flicked the power back on, blade whirred into life, whackety-whop, four fingers came off, just like that. That’s life. In the Skinner Box.

Mark Dery

Riverrun

The house of death

is floating down the river.

The hills roll by,

the grass like antique doll hair,

and snow is falling

softly on the sleeping,

blanketing their shinbones,

nibbled clean by field mice.

The house of death

drifts down the flooding river. It will

float from here to Cairo

with its eyeless upstairs windows, past

one-horse towns where loafers soak

a stray dog’s tail in turpentine

and set him blazing down the streets

to run himself to death.

Death stands smoking

in an attic window,

his nervous fingers stained a

dark nicotine yellow,

striking noble poses for the

shade of Matthew Brady

who hides beneath a black silk hood and

fires off flash powder.

The house of death

is listing to the starboard. A

grizzled man in womens’ clothes

is bobbing off the lee side.

The house of death

slips silently past churchyards,

headstones adrift in snow, the

first snowfall this winter.

And from the farthest shore,

an axe blade starts a casket;

it flashes, falls, and bites young pine,

and then you hear the echo.

Mark Dery

Emperor Worm

There was a time. My wife was hard and cold as a green bough and the old women laughed behind their hands because there wasn’t any blood on the sheets of our wedding bed. Now, let us say that I was sad. And let us say that I went walking. Walking and walking and walking, out to where the termites swarm. One foot after another, slowly, to keep from falling off the edge of the earth. Now, let us say that I came at last to a great termite mound, where a man stood buried upright. And sitting in one of the dead man’s eye sockets was the king of termites.

God is great, I said, bowing low to the emperor worm. God is great, said the termite king. What can I do for you, son of man?

My wife lies back, stiff as a board, I said, and I’m tired when I wake up, as if someone were sending my soul on errands while I sleep.

Ah well, said the emperor worm. A man can’t help being born with witchcraft in his belly. There’s a wolf in yours, sleeping upside down. You must cut off the wing of a bird, a bird that died in the name of a witch, and you must thrust it through with a small, pointed stick, spreading out the feathers in the shape of a fan. Then you must open your mouth very wide, and when the wolf pokes his head out to look around, you must throw the bird over the edge of the world, and the hungry wolf will follow it, all the way down. There now.

God is great, I said, bowing low. God is great, said the termite king, and he went down, into the womb of the Earth.

Now, let us say that I did as he said, and when I came home, the arms of my wife twined around me like the branches of a willow. And her hair was like wind-talking leaves.

Mark Dery

Crisscrossing the Moonlight

I arrive

perpendicular,

propellers dripping

in the icy night. The raindrops

sound like drum-taps

on my rust-streaked hull. Water rises

past my gunnels, spilling

over, making puddles

on my deck. My forward funnel

topples over, striking the sea

on the starboard side

with a plume of sparks

and a shuddering crash.

A prunefaced corpse,

his features blurring, sits crosslegged

on the ceiling

of my ballroom, warming his hands

by the chandelier. I arrive, perpendicular,

propellers dripping in the icy night.

Pencils

of rain

draw diagonal lines

across the choppy waves.

Fathoms down, my deck lights burn.

Fathoms down, my deck lights burn.

Fathoms down, my deck lights burn.

Fathoms down, my deck lights burn.

Everything here is still floating, glowing

as if dipped

in phosphorous.

A pair of beady eyes

and barnacled claws goes scuttling up

the vertical floor,

crisscrossing

the moonlight

more often

than not.

Mark Dery

Magnificat

I believe in the whisper-soft. I believe in the sandpaper-rough. I believe in the fly ash dancing up the flue of the furnace, in a plume of smoke. I believe in the ripe, in the bursting, in the pocked, in the pitted, in the ossified, rotten, the bruised and the wizened. The skirl of distant bagpipes. The scree of red-hot steam pipes. Of boiling water whooshing through the elbow-joints of plumbing. And I believe in the snicker-snack of clippers shearing off the ears of topiary rabbits. And I believe in the curl and thump of waves, the caw of circling vultures, the swish of broken wipers, in dead bolts and linchpins and rail spikes and corkscrews, in the withered tiny testicles of long-dead tyrant lizards, in the tweezers, the scissors, the hose that’s knotted, swelling, splitting, scattering wet shards and slithering to and fro. I believe in the Pope’s goatee growing between the legs of a gray-haired stripper. And I believe in a God who snores. In the wink of silver fixtures on a pauper’s coffin. The surgical tool for scraping bone, the circular saw for skulls, the scalpel and the hacksaw and the trepan and the lancet. And I believe in the undone fly, the unsnapped bra, the sound of partridges departing for a better world than this.

I believe in the gravel, the grit, the grunts and gasps, the spat-out rinds, the shat-out pits, the amputated limbs. And I believe in sunlight soup made from boiled shadows, the dwarves who guzzle midgets’ milk, eat turkey stuffed with sawdust. And I believe in the nonsense songs sung by Irish schoolboys, the hirsute man with the six-inch tail in a Chinese jail cell, and I believe in the next five minutes, I believe in the end of time, I believe in the moon-faced freak, the baboon with the blowtorch.

Mark Dery

The Weird Allure of Wooden Birds

Dear Ilse:

It was a gray day today, drizzling rain all day long, from noon on, and the smell of truck exhaust and moldy stone is heavy in this room as I write to you. It gets lonely here, my dear, in this 10-by-15 cell, watched over by a rotating guard of American, British, French, and Soviet troops. It’s been a lonely 41 years, even when Speer was here, and now it’s lonelier still, having had the whole prison to myself, as you know, since 1966. I don’t know what I’d do, Ilse, without the pigeons who beg for crumbs in the courtyard below. They understand why I’ve done the things I’ve done, better than anyone, even you, my dearest Ilse. I explain, I rage, I castigate, I screw my dark eyes up under beetled brows like burnt currants baked into my doughy face, and they listen, my only friends. I tell them everything, and they cock their heads and look at me sideways with their beady, lidless, unblinking eyes. You know, Ilse, I read the other day that birds evolved from reptiles, and looking into their flat, black, sequin eyes, I think I believe it. Their bobbing heads slash and peck the crumbling stones. I’m all alone. And later, in my cell, I whittle and buff a dozen pigeons like them, these of balsa wood and glue. The glass-bead eyes, the upturned beaks: if they weren’t made of wood, I just know know they’d speak. I varnish their tailfeathers, sandpaper their chicks, I make their strutting feet out of painted toothpicks, explaining as I work why I made that flight that night of May 10, 1941, parachuting onto Scottish soil from that borrowed Messerschmitt, bailing out over the Duke of Hamilton’s estate. Look, I tell the model pigeons gathered at my feet, I thought that British nobles would see the error of Churchill’s ways and side with the Reich. All right, all right, so it was an idea long before its time (though I know they’d probably see things my way today). I’m alone, alone, Ilse, as you know, and I swore I saw the wooden birds bobbing, squinting in the graying light. For awhile, Speer was here—did I tell you this?—but now he’s gone. And tomorrow, I’ll be, too. Gone, that is—dangling from those wires hidden underneath my pillow. Please be sure they box the birds in plenty of excelsior and ship them to Bavaria. I know the grandchildren would love to play with them when they summer there.

Mark Dery

Tightening the Screws

Squeeze it out. Squeeze it out. Squeeze my head till it pops. There’s nothing I like better than a bowl of warm lard, shuddering in the sun. Gonna suck the Crisco up, gonna brilliantine my hair till it lies back on my head like an ocelot’s belly. Stitches decomposing in the soft white underbelly of a Moray eel. That’s right. He was a little man with a little plan. Usedta unscrew the receiver and pour boric acid in his boss’s ear. That’s right. Pleased to meetcha. That’s right. Nothing I like better than sucking Naugahyde. I like to chew gum that’s already been chewed! That’s right . Pleased to meetcha. That’s right. Fillings ringing in the back of my head. Vulcanize my belly and send the dentist’s drill boring through the back of my neck and right into the chair. That’s right. Pleased to meetcha. That’s right. Why do I look this way? ‘Cause I got in an argument with 10,000 volts and lost; that’s what you get for puttin’ your dick in a three-pronged socket! That’s right. Pleased to meetcha. That’s right. That’s right. Pleased to meetcha. That’s right. And I’m smilin’ this way ’cause my head is in a vice and two big metal planes are squeezin’ in from the East and West and that poppin’ sound, like popcorn kernels, is the sound of my molars and my partial plate bouncin’ out and my eyes buggin’ back and my ears swingin’ out like the doors of J. Paul Getty’s Cadillac. That’s right. Pleased to meetcha. That’s right. Pleased to meetcha. When I get up every morning. I floss with barbed wire and I clean my ears with a cattle prod, and I suck a little Crisco, and then I’m ready to meet my boss and say, “Have a niiiiiice day, Mister Stevens.” That’s right. Pleased to meetcha. That’s right. Pleased to meetcha. Sell Dow. And I’m honored. To have your wingtips. Do the two-step. Up and down my sternum. And make chilly little Moray eels do the rhumba. Up my spine. That’s right. Pleased to meetcha. That’s right…

Mark Dery

Bullroarer

Papa stopped the Ford so all of us could see.

Papa stopped the Ford so all of us could see.

Watches whose faces were covered.

Clocks that were left unwound.

The Devil winds his pocket watch and straps it on the puppet hand,

covers his mouth when he laughs.

Not really a laugh but more of a gurgle.

Papa

remembered

the driving of the Golden Spike

through Ebenezer’s second wife;

the smell of seared and rotting pumpkin

the morning after Halloween;

Satan

with a turnip

dandled on one knee,

wrapped in swaddling cloth,

coo-cooing baby talk.

Papa stopped the Ford so all of us could see.

Papa stopped the Ford so all of us could see.

Hang down your head, the Devil said,

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley,

before I squish it like a grape.

A starry-nosed mole lay dying by the highway.

Papa stopped the Ford so all of us could see.

Papa stopped the Ford so all of us could see.

There’s a meanness in this world, sir,

a meanness in this world.

And it whittles men like human soap and it scrapes

the wombs of women clean

and Satan

makes music

with a banjo on my knee.

Bullroarer, bullroarer, deliver us from evil.

Eye-gougers, spine-rollers, here is the church

and here is the steeple;

open the doors and out come the people.

Not really a laugh, but more of a gurgle.

Your cat is dead,

the Goat God said, the bird bones

sliced his tripes.

And then stepped

across the rooftops

walking upright

on his hindlegs

in a swallowtail coat

and a stovepipe hat,

curried with mercury and shining in the dark.

They named the first electric chair “Old Sparky,” he said.

I remember

me ‘n’ the screws

usedta laugh

when they threw the switch

late at night.

There’s a meanness in this world, sir,

a meanness in this world.

There’s a meanness in this world, sir,

a meanness in this world.

Papa stopped the Ford so all of us could see.

Papa stopped the Ford so all of us could see.

Look at me, I’m dancing.

Where have all the flowers gone?

Look at me, I’m dancing.

Gone to battle, every one.

Got Mussolini hangin’ by his heels in the air

and the Devil might be hidin’ in the warlock’s hair,

better iron out the wrinkles in Billy Sunday’s soul,

gotta write a little letter to the Powers That Be,

better run, better run, better run for your life, and the Devil

lost his tail to the carving knife.

There’s a meanness in this world, sir,

a meanness in this world.

There’s a meanness in this world, sir,

a meanness in this world.

Mark Dery

Blind Men’s Madrigals

Trepan my skull, remove the bone disk.

It’s the end of an era and the soft grey fist

of my brain is closing with a tight little squish

on thoughts of binding babies’ heads

and dancing priests in peopleskins

praying to a god whose eyebrows join.

And they’re consecrating wine and armpit hairs

while the pope is taking tea with Waldheim’s wife.

It’s a strange

strange

strange

place; people disappear

withouot a trace,

just a plop, a swish, a lazy string of bubbles

in the amniotic fluid

and the buddhists writing sutras on a single grain of rice

while a daddy longlegs dangles near the meditation candle—

closer

closer

and then he’s gone, a wisp of smoke, it’s

the end of everything. Let’s

open up the beast and see what’s in his belly.

We’re all millenarians in this room

so shake the thunder sheets

and rattle rumble strips

to usher in the rapture

and the apocalypse

while the death star is approaching

and the quarks are smashed to bits.

And somewhere in a forest of grass, a garter snake

and a toad engage

in chemical energy conversion

and nobody has anything to say

and nobody wants to listen

and nobody has anything to say

and nobody wants to listen.

And there’s Dionysian rites in the operating room

and the blind men’s madrigals are whistled down the wind,

fragile as the feathers of a prehistoric bird,

and the soft, mottled tongue

of a male Sphinx moth

is lapping acid rain

from the open stomata on the belly of a saint

whose tongue licks bees

from blistered lips

as a woman wearing necklaces

of living insects

leads what’s left

of the human race

to an irradiated town populated by

the lookalike descendants of Rudolph Valentino,

where religious fanatics

wash a stairway spotless

using nothing but their tongues,

all watched over by a chicken smoking cigarettes.

It’s the end of the century

the end of the century

the end of the century

the end of everything

and tombstones where humans used to weep

are peed upon by passing dogs

and the lunchbell rings

in a nuclear reactor

but nobody’s there to hear it.

The machines smash atoms

and the cyclotron spins,

The machines smash atoms

and the cyclotron spins,

The machines smash atoms

and the cyclotron spins;

it’s such a nice story

with such a happy end.

Mark Dery

Clean Sweep With an Iron Broom

Clean sweep with an iron broom.

The rendering of glue from bones.

Green grass fertilized by human ash.

Horses whinny, whammybars squeal.

Dan Quayle’s pink-cheeked head

drops into the wicker basket,

still talking.

Thoughtcrime—the essential crime

that contains all others.

The hands spin backwards

on a clock with no numbers.

America, it’s time

to check your shorts for stains.

Mark Dery

Hairball Oracle

The hairball oracle.

A hard knot of hair

coughed up by a dying ox. It

whispers thickly, spitting

out sibilants

wet with tobacco juice.

Conjuring, conjuring,

black bubbles bursting

in a hot tar road.

The hairball oracle.

Hissing, squeaking,

witch pie burning

in a potbellied stove.

Pillows stuffed with graveyard dust

from a medicine show.

Quack doctor

riding out of town

tarred and feathered on a rail.

The hairball oracle.

Nightcrawlers wriggling on a fishing hook.

Catfish whiskers fanning Mississippi mud.

Leeches clinging to a flutterkicking leg.

The drowned boy’s clothes

found folded by the levee.

The hairball oracle.

Its golden voice

melting into bumblebee applause,

honeying the lining of the

bee-keeper’s coffin,

muffled by

the shovelfuls

of dark Delta dirt

thudding on

the oaken lid,

silencing

the summer.

Mark Dery

Blowing Smoke

She’s mine. And I’m hers. We do everything together. And when we have nothing to do, we do that together, too. We have a nice apartment in Bensonhurst. Her folks lived in it, before they passed away, and now we live there. Chocolate-brown rug, chocolate-brown sofa and Barcalounger in the TV room, chocolate-brown Queen-sized bed with quilted brown coverlet and light brown pillow cases—it’s all color-coordinated. Bathroom’s color-coordinated, too—dark brown toilet and tub, brown hand towels and face cloths, and a tray of soap balls shaped like Hershey kisses. Those were her idea. She likes Hershey kisses. Likes all kinds of food, I guess. She weighs about 285, has these thick, white rolls of flab that ooze over the waistband of her stretch pants like uncooked dough. I don’t like to think about that, though. We all have our own little vices, I guess. She has her pleasures, and I have mine. Now me, I like my before-bed cigarette. Kick my shoes off, pour a few fingers of scotch, toss in some rocks, and sit in the dark, surrounded by the geisha dolls in glass cases her old man brought back from Japan. He was over there in the Big One. I’ll sit there, just blowing smoke, thinking about my job selling ballpark franks at the games, how those young punks tease me about my operation, and about those ratty magazines I keep on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet. Weekends, when she’s away at the fat farm, I look at the pictures. Why not? It’s my only real pleasure. In a way, you know, I don’t like her too much. And I don’t think she likes me. But we’ll have kids someday, I guess.

Mark Dery

Fevertree

Sweat beads dew your upper lip. You toss in your sleep, winding the sheets tighter and tighter around your body, like Lazarus’ shroud. The blacksmith of dreams holds white-hot laughter in soot-blackened tongs and hammers it flat, sparks drizzling down, winking out. A baker pares the doughy, white flab from a fat lady’s arms, the curdled cellulite from her thighs, letting each blob plop, with a poppling, frizzling sound, into boiling oil. The darkness pants, the ceiling sweats, your breathing sounds impossibly loud. The chemically preserved body of a proboscis monkey floats on flocculent cotton, like a Rubens cherub asleep on a cloud. The hi-beams of passing cars knife through the Venetian blinds on your bedroom windows, play along the faded wallpaper, make the mirror wink. A laboratory worker in a white smock electronically stimulates a neuron in a dead squid’s brain, making its mantle move. A silver string of bubbles, no bigger than pinpricks, streams from grandpa’s gallstones in the fruit jar by the window. You bury your face in the pillow. Two marine biologist are forcing air through the blowhole of a dead porpoise in an attempt to discover the source of the animal’s squeaks, trills, and whistles. A sticky, iridescent mass of eggs oozes slowly out of the hole in an insect’s abdomen. You roll over and over and over, flailing the covers like a drowning swimmer. Your hair is sodden with sweat, matted against your face. A bird twitters in the throat of a tracheotomy patient; he coaxes it out of the hole in his windpipe, onto his shoulder, down his arm, into the palm of his outstretched hand, where it sits, ruffling its feathers and preening. Your ceiling fan stirs the sluggish air. The sheets take on a rustling, writhing life of their own, like the petals of a flower in a time-lapse film. They draw noose-tight at your neck, suddenly constricting with a dry whisper. Frost flowers form in the still, slowly freezing fluids in your brain. Black with blood, your eyes bulge, blind. A ticking clock, its hands whirling counterclockwise, floats past you and is gone.

Mark Dery

(Note: “Fever trees,” such as the blue gum, are believed to be a source of febrifuges. My fever tree produces the opposite effect, inducing a delirium rather than alleviating it. — M.D.)

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