I learned God by a backhanded slap to the face when I was fifteen my father says to me suddenly, his voice flaying the happy silence between us. We are driving to the funeral of my grandfather’s brother, my granduncle, a man I never met & feel nothing toward. Aged ninety-two, he died alone, estranged from the family, both his younger brothers already dead. These days fathers aren’t supposed to hit sons—aren’t supposed to hit anybody, I guess—but just that once my father hit me my father says to me. I say nothing. My grandfather was a pastor, I know, but I barely knew him either, with his passing when I was just eight years old. All I remember is craggy flesh & cigarette smoke &…cioppino? I’ve been told he used to make cioppino & I would tolerantly sit in his lap while he spooned it to me. The taste is lost to me now, as is most of the memory. There’s something like prayer I’ve always bit on my tongue but then I can immediately taste the blood afterwards. You’re old enough to know now my father says to me. I say nothing, think bad taxicab confession, think overwrought Romantic poetry. My father’s face has several major areas of resistance: in the eyes, on the chin, nestling across his cheeks & jaw & upper lip. Inscribing the lines on his forehead, their futility ardent. He is the type of man who perpetually has a gleam in his eyes that no one ever wants to buy. Talking to my father is like trying to teach a statue how to walk. Day after day you clasp the collar & leash on, ready the whip; day after day you find that in trying to teach it, you yourself are clumsily unlearning everything you once knew instinctively about mobility & grace.
Maybe they crucified Jesus on the moon and we’re all still searching its dark side for the remains he says, reciting some unknown script. A failure of narrative & a failure of history, of understanding. People don’t really talk like this I finally say. I mean, I’m twenty-three. My father says nothing.
My granduncle’s middle name was Holland, which is—surprise, surprise—my middle name also. I hate middle names, all of them. They invariably make you feel like more of a stranger to yourself than you already are, still darker curtain to the fraught manufacture of selfhood. Day by day my ears have a different destiny than my feet, my head, my lumpen blue eyes. But Holland.
My father has his hands firmly on the wheel, ten o’clock & two o’clock, & we stay exactly at the speed limit, not a mile over or under. No cruise control necessary. They say there are ten different kinds of fire in hell—some cooler, some hotter. Some less fiery than atmospheric, there to provide the necessary hellish ambience. They say. Reading with his feet, Jesus walked down a thousand different trails my father says to me. I say nothing. Outside the window all’s a blur building into nothing coherent, frantic collision of motion. The swirling circus of unhappiness, its immensity. & the imaginative prowess that actual happiness insists on each & every day. My name is Terrance Holland Victure. Sometimes people even call me Terry.
Jeff Alessandrelli lives in Portland, Oregon. His most recent book is And Yet (Pank). He directs the nonprofit literary record label and book press Fonograf Editions.