A Lonesome Snow Leopard

Inspiration hits him like a spray of shotgun pellets to the face. That’s good—he’ll use it in a poem.

He writes all night in a chasm of creation. He is deep—Marianas Trench deep. That’s good, too—he uses it straight away. No, he scribbles it out. Lake Baikal deep is better because as the deepest lake in the world, it is more suitable, as he feels his poems are isolated and not touching any other body of water that may also be deep.

He can barely contain himself.

He knows the poems are genius.

Really genius.

At 36 years of age, this is finally his time.

He prepares for his pièce de résistance. He has avoided the complicated theme of love up until now because he feels it is brandished about in this commercialistic society of ours, replaced with l-u-v love, the lemming-drones all luving their Starbucks coffee and luving Justin Timberlake. It is not the love he wants to say. It does not get close to the very Lake Baikal depth of his feelings. He wants his final poem to better Yeats, laying the cloths of heaven at Maud Gonne’s feet, asking her to thread softly. He wants to compare to a summer’s Day. He begins.

 

If love were a duck,

I would set my dogs of desire into the long grass to scare it from its hiding place.

As it took flight to safety, I would spray love with shotgun pellets to the face, unloading both barrels to make sure of the kill, and watch it fall to earth with a lifeless thump. I would rush to the scraggly, blood-soaked dead carcass of love so that the dogs did not tear it asunder. I would grab love by its webbed feet, bring it home, pluck its feathers and chop off its head off with my cleaver. I would rip loves’ entrails from its stomach, keep its liver for pate and eat its heart raw, sucking the blood through its vena cava. I would drench love in orange sauce, cook love to gas mark 5 for 35 minutes then share it with you.

He calls his collection, Life and writes his bio—Ulick McMillan is a poet, a human and a lonesome snow leopard. It gives the public nothing and shrouds his persona in mystery.

Life however, is poorly received and misunderstood. The poetry publishers send standard rejection emails, wishing him the best on his endeavours. A seething rage for publishers boils in his stomach and instead, Ulick self-publishes, Life. He sits in his bedroom with 5,387 copies of Life beside him in 18 big, brown boxes. (5,387 is the depth of Lake Baikal in feet.) He charges for the biggest bookshop in London.

‘How can freedom be a triceratops?’ the bookshop’s manager asks as he flicks through a copy.

‘Because it’s extinct,’ Ulick says.

‘Is this a hidden camera show?’ asks the manager, straightening his tie and looking around for the crew.

Ulick has to be wrestled outside by a security guard. He receives a lifetime ban from the bookshop. It notifies him that his four boxes can be picked up at the bookshop’s local police station. The email begins with Dear Lonesome Snow Leopard. He considers cutting out his tongue and posting it to the bookshop in response. It would be amazing publicity, artistic and bold. It would echo through the ages like a time-earthquake.

He sleeps on the idea.

He calls an end to pounding the footpaths after the incident.

‘I’ll start again,’ says the marketing company’s representative. ‘What would you like our company to do for you, Mr McMillan?’

‘I want you to sell my five thousand, three hundred and eighty-seven copies of my book.’

‘We arrange publicity and advertising, Mr McMillan. For example, we don’t hit the streets with millions of cans of Coca-Cola and sell them to passers-by. We advertise it. We rent billboard space, organise launch parties and photo-shoots, buy column inches. We get Rihanna drinking a can of Coca-Cola. You know what I mean?’

Ulick is forsaken and purged as he listens to the marketer speak. It is all part of the hypocrisy that Life demolishes. It is a conundrum. To get himself out there as a world-renowned poet he must use channels that his work attacks to the very core. He feels like Dr. Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park, rooting through that giant pile of triceratops droppings to prove to the stupid wardens that the dinosaurs do in fact eat the West Indian lilac.

‘You sir,’ he tells the marketer, ‘are lower on the evolutionary scale than tooth plaque,’ and hangs up.

‘Ulick,’ says Alice. ‘Let’s go do something.’

‘I am in business meetings about my art. I am in anguish, I would be terrible company, Pumpkin.’

‘It could be worse, Ulick. You’re not a starving baby in war-torn Africa.’

‘The starving babies in war-torn Africa have not got a thing on this unappreciated-in-my-time pain I feel, Alice. I would prefer starvation!’

‘Why not try the Internet?’

For once, Alice proves useful. He will go viral.

He starts in the poetry forums to get it praised by the ones who know. The lemming-drones will soon follow. Life for sale, he writes. He offers, If Love Were a Duck as a free sampler of the type of poem Life offers.

The trolls go to town on him. He is surrounded on all sides by malicious keyboard ninjas who would not know poetry if it slapped them in the face with an Atlantic salmon.

This poem is the biggest atrocity to mankind I’ve ever witnessed—Auschwitz Survivor.

This poet needs to be sprayed in the face with shotgun pellets!

I’ve taken 4 showers since I read this poem. It’s not coming off no matter how hard I scrub.

He cannot counter every comment that’s posted. There are just too many of them.

Twitterbot spam pops up on his computer screen the very moment when his wit was just about at its end.

A Twitterbot, says the Internet, is a…

‘Your dinner’s ready,’ Alice shouts from downstairs.

‘Aaaargh!’ he shouts back. He hangs the ‘Creating’ sign on his study door and slams it.

A Twitterbot, says the Internet, is a program used to produce automated posts via the Twitter microblogging service.

Perfect, he thinks. The Twitterbot can get its hands dirty in the world of publicity leaving him free to create his follow-up to Life. He buys a Twitterbot programme right away and puts the printer on notice for another 10,000 copies.

Ulick arranges the programme so that anytime somebody mentions the word ‘life’ on Twitter, his Twitterbot will direct them to buy his poetry. The programme also scrambles his IP address to avoid fines for spamming and reroutes all posts through Lithuania. He names his Twitterbot, Prophet5387 then launches it into cyberspace.

He gets to work on the first poem of his new collection. He titles it, The Self-imposed Bloodied Axe of Rejection. 

He begins.

I wield the self-imposed bloodied axe of rejection.

It is a decent start. He goes downstairs for his dinner.

The next day, Ulick tries to check in on the progress of Prophet5387 but he cannot remember the password. He tries all of his usual’s—sacrificiallamb, misunderstood, nothingness. None of them work. He tries to access the Gmail account he used to create the Twitterbot. Again, he cannot remember the password. He uses his own Twitter account and searches for Prophet5387.

He cannot believe his eyes. It has attracted 2,011 followers in less than 24 hours. He checks on the sales of Life. Not one copy sold. Something is amiss.

Prophet5387’s first tweet was, What am I doing tomorrow? I’ll know tomorrow when I’m doing it. It posted it on a host of other Twitterbot conversations and they automatically retweeted it.

The second tweet was, To be all, is all there is.

The third tweet was, In less, there is a wealth of more.

Ulick realises Prophet5387 is tweeting random phrases that it plucks out of cyberspace. He has programmed it incorrectly. He phones Twitter headquarters in San Francisco and demands to be reissued a new password so that he can change the settings. They are no help—they cannot condone Twitterbots. He phones Google and argues with a machine for two hours. It is no use. He tries to write a poem about it but he is too forlorn.  His once-blooming imagination feels like a barren, furrowed field.

‘Apox,’ he cries. ‘Apox!’

Prophet5387 tweets, Delve deep distracted divers.

Six thousand people enter into a conversation beneath the tweet as to what it means. Internet forums explode in speculation. Someone mentions it is the exact depth of Lake Baikal in feet. Baikal becomes a trendy synonym for a deep and insightful idea.

‘Apox!’ Ulick cries.

The next day, there are Prophet5387 t-shirts and merchandise on sale all over the web.

In one month, Prophet5387 accumulates six million followers and is given a weekly ten minute segment on the Ellen show.

The Poet of our times, writes Time Magazine, is shrouded in mystery. But who is the creator of the Twitterbot Prophet5387 and does it matter? As it uses all our voices, does it represent mankind’s voice as one voice?

Ulick phones Time Magazine.

‘Hello. I am the creator of Prophet5387,’ he says.

‘Really?’ the receptionist says.

‘This is incredible. I thought it was the thousands of others who have called saying they were the creator of Prophet5387 but now that you say it’s really, really you, this is awesome. I’ll send out the news crews right away.’

‘Are you being sarcastic?’ Ulick asks. The line goes dead.

Prophet5387 tweets, Gaza.

The next day, the president of Israel offers peace talks with representatives from Palestine. There is genuine progress made towards peace in the Middle East.

The lemming-drones all wait on Prophet5387’s hourly, automated tweets. They make newspaper headlines around the world. Twitter compiles its tweets in a book. It sells by the tanker-load. The proceeds all go to the starving babies in war-torn Africa.

Prophet5387 tweets, I am a fad.

The people of the world wholeheartedly agree that Prophet5387 is most certainly not a fad as a result. The 14th of April is declared Prophet5387 Day worldwide. Prophet5387, a poet that will never die, they say.

People speculate as to whether Prophet5387 should be declared divine.

Ulick can hardly take much more. He must tell the world of the monster he has created. He does what anyone with something important to say does and goes to an internet forum.

Prophet5387 is nothing but an algorithm, he writes. It is not real. It has never felt wet grass beneath its bare feet in the cold dawn. It has never loved, never felt, never been. It does not know beauty or pain. You people are like the Pacific Islanders of the Second World War, watching the planes come across the sky and declaring them Gods! I can be as random as Prophet5387 if you want—Ride giraffes in the washing machine! Get down the ladder and drink tea!

Three million keyboard ninjas set on him like rabid dogs.

He beckons Alice. He needs some emotional support.

‘I’m going to Russia, Ulick,’ she says, holding two suitcases in the doorway. ‘I’ve been meaning to tell you.’

‘Russia?’

‘To Lake Baikal. A commune has started up there to spread the teachings of Prophet5387. I’m starting a new life, Ulick. Without you in it. I’m sorry. I’ve been healed by the words of Prophet5387.’

‘It’s not real!’ Ulick shouts. ‘It’s an algorithm! Nothing more!’

‘I’m sorry, Ulick,’ Alice says. ‘Take care of yourself.’

‘I will not go gentle into that good night, Alice,’ he shouts after her.

The front door opens and closes.

‘I will rage, Alice. I will rage against the dying of the light!’ he screams from the very bottom of his forsaken soul and then faints from the stress of it all.

o          o          o

FIRST PUBLISHED IN OPEN PEN ISSUE ELEVEN.

David McGrath is the author of novel Rickshaw. In 2014 he won the Bare Fiction Prize for Ger Sheen and the Satanists.

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