Spyglass against the locomotive’s fenestella: a soldier’s backend leaks chestnut puree, another with a boot on his back, using a pocketknife to saw the head clean off, chin rankling to the beat, eyes subtracted, shook into urination, matted turkey-feather scalp. The standing soldier mutters a series of numbers. The cock, done with him in throes, pops free of its sheath, stiffens, spasms slack again. The arms twitch, a bizarre martial art. Cow herds click to action against one another. Rifle reports and that soldier plummets into his own hole. His pickelhaube scatters. Uniforms cake with dirt. Hard to tell who’s who. Germans put a point on the top of their boiled leather, a seat for detachable plumes.
Next window: through a pillaged town, pants unclasp, belts slither, shirts hang from a yew tree above the rape. Hollow red berries overflown with mud drip down sweaty. Dog ears flatten, yipping at piles of legs. Fucked on concrete floors, the pectinate line cracks its crescent, assholes skewing. Bellies quiver, reflect in metal, necks jerk. Webbing of barbed chains, sprouting pupils ripped from lids, shriveled brawn weeping pendulously. All movement is the manufactured orgasm of death. The serpent’s smirk dried in salt.
A hydrant-headed German sits across the aisle. He stinks of pork knuckle and pollock, too much spreadable wurst between the gums. He grabs at his groin, eyes a couple of rupturing cowberries.
“View’s better than a Turkish bath.” He’ll lie, chalk white, chopped like a barnacle. His scan trembles between me and the window. “Each bomb jangles like coins in my pouch.” A shriveled paw sticks out. Enclosed in a mausoleum, I show my remaining teeth. He yammers on: “I enjoy capital because I know its origin: the darker nations of the world, you know, Central America, Africa – wealth is like quicksand: velvet, sensual, when stepped on.” He tongue-ties the ligature of his own hanging. The torpedo above his brain is a dud. I coax him onto the deck with a handful of tobacco. Tomato skin cheeks, wringing his arteries done while the train whistle toots. Discard him over the moving rail into a trench. The ridge is composed of standing shovels. I smell explosives, gun oil, burnt hair. Filthy Germans, hardly mammals. Stuff the tags in my socks. Gulp rations, taste swamp. Gargle his blood to hold it in place. The starch lubes my subconscious. Track racket bounces the clouds back.
A soldier nods upon weightless hazes, legs blown clear at the base, stubs in a tourniquet. Faintly staining, feeling his fantasies fade, gagging on their placebo, he screams when conscious, shreds the chords upon waking. Men glide by, flick butts at the soggy bandaging. Only the rain will clean his wounds. I’m face down, lapping up the streams he leaves, counting rings. We drive iron into iron, ground under gears. Madmen shoot tank engines to speed them up. Shouts lost to the rumble. This is war now. Mutiny would be pointless. Blasted jawlines, one language reshaped. Prescribed suicide, a communal tune. Global bedlam, the last consensus: earth orders more of its own stuffing. My weapon’s dry, but I haven’t sighted down enough fathers, Cassiopeia amiss. Now it’s my turn with the spiked club. Difficult to retrieve from an enemy’s forehead. I let them drag. Walk my dogs.
War lures us from civic restraint, decorating the fallout with propaganda. My compulsion has been readied across a primetime Victrola. A little imperial salt in your wound devalues the aesthetic of what’s been torn there. Corpses pour into mass indentations, skeletons milked with boric acid, embalmed and festooned together like children holding bacon, wax slushing along the grave’s embankment. Men develop rare athletic feats behind a trigger. Fled through the provision of a wife cuddling her mange, his new purpose befits him. Still, he believes there is a side to pick. Our comrades pass in chunks, clothing blown free. Concussions batter them erect, skewered domestic again, shaped by shrapnel, jogged through their own retch, meals diagrammed outside of the torso, splintering replicas even the flies can’t pardon, paralyzed midair, vertebra masticated via conveyor, they paw the tongues from their throats as if to extract the gas, twist themselves deep beneath rubble, only brains protruding, jellied, half-submerged like platters out of a sinkhole, splotched yellow almanac of thoughts gone by, screeching, muffled, underground, rejected artifacts, relics of when burial existed, penny a showing.
I regain my footing, step in effluence. The spittoon never empties. My women bob in the safety of their pots, formaldehyde stew, blessed petrol. What’s the point if everyone owns a slave?
— David Kuhnlein’s writing is featured or forthcoming in NOON, 3:AM, Tragickal, and others. He edits the literary review column Torment, venerating pain and illness, at The Quarterless Review. He lives in Michigan and is online @princessbl00d.