The Blues Singer

Excerpt from an email written by Clackshaw Babbage[1] to Alice Koonz,[2] dated January 6, 2013.

…so there I was in a blues club called Grace[3] where I sat alone at a corner table, staring blankly as the red velvet curtains, which had formerly flanked the stage, conflated to hide the jazz singer who sat on a stool staring just as blankly back at me. She’d suffered a stroke I imagine some years before. Half her face sagged, making her a half-melted wax sculpture of herself. She was indeed a ghastly creature who tried to attentuate[4] her countenance by bobby-pinning a blue hydrangea to her hair.

She’d clearly capitulated to a life of solitude, and no doubt it was her solitude that gilded her blues ballad with an ecstatic truth[5], which, in turn, turned the horror of her face into a strange and perfect beauty I’ve yet to rediscover.[6]

So, as I said, I sat staring at the curtains, now tied closed with golden rope by the emcee. I longed to applaud but remained still, suffering a palsy of my own. Applause, after all, would prove utterly ineffectual as a means of appreciation in the burning face of sublimity. The sublime requires silence; further pondering. So instead I simply remained seated in total silence, thinking sad thoughts, and my thoughts floated from my head and were whisked away by the collective exhalations of the jazz club patrons, funneled and swirled and lifted up, up, up, unfurling with the ascending cigarette smoke.

Weightless, my thoughts moved higher, penetrating the ceiling of Grace[7] onward flying toward the tops of city’s tallest buildings, which tickled the belly of the sky. Higher still they floated, eventually sticking to a jagged shard of starlight where they could be easily grazed upon by a herd of cumulonimbus clouds. After consuming my thoughts and others like it, the herd of clouds got startled by the distant moan of a train whistle. Westward they wandered, glutting on other sad thoughts along the way until they were so full, they burst, the sadness spraying down inside little raindrops along the marshlands below, contaminating—among other things—a nest of magpie hatchlings.[8]

In its old age, the runt of these hatchlings would grow so glum, it would fly dolefully into the propeller of a single engine Cessna, and an explosion of black magpie feathers would spill down to the earth just as my thoughts once did…

[1] Clackshaw Babbage (1980-2013) is most notably known for his works of magical realism–particularly for Anamnesis, his collection of short stories, which was discovered and published along with the rest of his oeuvre a decade after his death. He’s also the posthumous recipient of the much coveted Gabo Award and was given an honorary lifetime achievement award by the North Carolina Society of Arts and Letters.

[2] Babbage’s lifelong friend who went on to become North Carolina Poet Laureate (2041-2043). Koonz kindly permitted the publication of this excerpt.

[3] This was most likely a jazz club in Raleigh NC actually called C. Grace.

[4] Babbage most likely meant attenuate here. The email seems to have been typed feverishly so this misspelling is forgivable; yet, still, the word choice doesn’t seem quite right.

[5] Babbage most likely borrowed the term “ecstatic truth” from documentarian Werner Herzog, though his use of it is slightly bastardized.

[6] Both Babbage’s works of fiction and nonfiction obsessed over what he calls “literal pulchritude,” an “honest beauty” that can only be achieved by “surviving horror” and “cultural subjugation.” Only an elite few among the ugly and/or poor could be beautiful by his estimation. He felt there was something unique that happened in the souls of those who not only suffered from but overcame whatever their adversities might be. By contrast, the conventionally beautiful (whom, he felt rarely if ever encountered adversity) were in actuality quite ugly. It should be noted that Clackshaw Babbage himself was not conventionally handsome.

[7] It’s assumed he means both the literal blues club ceiling and a figurative ceiling to “Grace,” past which sadness, desolation, literal pulchritude reign supreme.

[8] Magpies were key players in the Babbage mythos. They appeared time and again in his work, usually symbolizing depression. In a rare state of good humor, Babbage had Heckle and Jeckle tattooed on his inner thigh.


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