Brian and Louis Hitler are the American-born grand-nephews of Adolf Hitler. They are also the sons of British-born William Patrick Stuart-Houston (né Hitler), son of Adolf Hitler’s German-born half-brother Alois Hitler Jr. Brian Hitler is said to live on Long Island. This is all said to be true by various internet sources of which I am not interested in naming. None of the sources seem reliable in the sense that I would swear my life on them.
There are rumors of Brian and Louis forming a pact to never breed, so as to end the Hitler name and bloodline once and for all. This remains a rumor. The Hitler brothers have maintained a private life, choosing not to speak to the media. It seems to me that if the rumors are true and Louis and Brian intend to end the Hitler bloodline, the easiest way to do so would be to commit suicide immediately. But this hasn’t happened. Brian and Louis Hitler remain alive, as far as I can find. There is some notion inside their brains that prevents them from committing suicide, though I’m sure they’ve both considered the possibility. They are hidden. They may have even changed their names by now. Maybe they are Brian and Louis Hiller or Hall or Hadley or Miller, my own mother’s maiden name. The fact that these men continue to live suggests that life is not something so easily abandoned, despite what one’s existence might represent. One must imagine Adolf Hitler’s own decision to finally end his life in that bunker in Berlin, how that decision arose from a lack of hope for Adolf, the presence of a hostile army at his doorstep.
Can evil be passed down through bloodlines the same way that eye color or body type are passed down? Is that why these men may have chosen not to breed? I have my father’s eyes and my hair is like my mother’s. I have the build of my mother’s father. In terms of personality traits I have the cynicism of my mother and my sense of humor, like my father’s, might seem aloof, but only because the aim of its jokes lies more in the realm of self-amusement than anything else. My parents are not evil people and their parents are not evil people and so on until the previous generation, after which I have no idea. I never knew them. I don’t know that my grandparents knew any of them either.
Once while waiting in line to buy tickets to the recently opened Georgia Aquarium, I asked my Georgia grandmother if our ancestors ever owned any slaves. She said, “No,” and smiled in a way that said, “Don’t be ridiculous. We are good people, us Millers.” I said, “Are you sure?” She said, “No one that we’re related to from that period of time had enough money to own slaves. Your granddaddy’s family was always very poor and my family was in Indiana until not long before I was born.”
The aquarium was impressive. It remains the world’s largest aquarium to this day. The aquarium is famous for its 6.3 million gallon tank that hosts whale sharks, the only institution outside of Asia to do so. The tank is so large that, at times, one can lose sight of the whale sharks, the world’s largest fish species, over a deeper, murkier horizon than the ones we see on land. It seems like it would be impossible to lose sight of a fish like this, like losing the Space Needle in a haystack. Eventually the whale shark returns into view, floating slowly through the tank, almost at a hover, paying no mind to the myriad smaller fish pulping the water around its body. My favorite exhibit at the aquarium is the beluga whale tank in which four beluga whales seem to express the human condition, trapped within a tank that seems a splinter of the size of the whale shark’s. Their faces seem to mime every possible feeling as they dance and spin in the water like globs of oil defying their imminent rise to the surface. One must wonder about the limits of the captive, where captivity begins and ends, my own desire to be on the other side of the glass with the whales. I imagine how much bigger and more powerful these creatures must be in the wild despite the fact that they must hunt for meals, their ocean an ocean in which the life is not the wet-suited bucket-wielder from above, in which the vast ocean extends into a room of human beings and a small food court in which one can sit and eat in wonder of the beluga whale or in total indifference to the alien creature held captive on the other side of the glass. I imagine how much damage a beluga whale can exact against the glass of its pool, and how alien is one life to the next? Even on my own body, do the mites and microscopic organisms stand a chance to evolve when the life they find in my eyelashes and on my skin is so accommodating to them and so unnoticeable to me? They make my body their home and I have never seen them. As the center of their universe, must I unceasingly spin around in circles so that they can keep track of the days, months, weeks?
Sometimes it breaks my heart to think that anything would ever rely on me for anything.
At times it seems that none of the world’s creatures are aware of the presence of all others, or at least indifferent. This to the extent that our bodies nearly become the boundary of our awareness. Our senses give us greater reach but even our senses don’t allow for true empathy or true understanding of what makes the beauty of life continue. Our vision cannot split matter into its true parts, like atoms whose constant motion would more than likely be maddening to the average human. Some say with the help of psychedelic drugs it is possible to see the true nature of reality. Others believe that fasting can create a religious experience. Jesus of Nazareth is said to have fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the desert of Judea. In his fast, the devil appeared to him, offering to turn stones into bread, to give Jesus of Nazareth power over the world. Jesus of Nazareth refused these temptations and was then cared for by angels. The American slave Nat Turner is said to have seen a solar eclipse as a black hand stifling the white sun. He interpreted this as a sign from God to incite a rebellion that very day in which Turner and his fellow slaves killed 60 men, women, and children in Southampton County, Virginia.
On calm days in any season of the year Brian Hitler likes to walk through the park singing his name into the sky, which he calls the Heavens. When his name echoes back it’s like the Lord has replied with approval.
My vision is what keeps me. In seeing I am given the option to believe what I have seen or to not believe what I have seen. I have always believed. I often have moments of doubt. On my way home from work I imagine my wife at home. Maybe she has discovered, by accident, something about me, something in my stuff, that is hurtful or that she doesn’t like about me, something about my own life that I’m not even aware exists, something that blasts apart the image of me that she has chosen to love. Maybe I don’t get to choose my own life. Maybe I am fated into this and if so then I am at the mercy of God or whoever decided what would become of me. Maybe I am a mirror choking the blossom of its own image, a sapling shadowed over by the tree that dropped its seed into the earth.
My main goal is to live life and then die in a way that causes the Westboro Baptist Church to show up at my funeral. I’m sure that this sort of ceremony will not be a difficult thing for Brian and Louis Hitler to accomplish for themselves, if only because of their name. Whether the Westboro Baptist Church would give them celebration or damnation is yet to be seen. Or perhaps celebration and damnation are the same thing. In damning another’s life one gives weight to the damned qualities, magnifies them. I once watched a child dam a shallow river with rocks and nearly lose himself in the depth that he had created on one side. On the rapid side of the dam he couldn’t maintain a steady stance to continue his building. On the calm side the water became too deep.
Upon death, our bodies feed the earth, the trees and the weeds sing of our past-doings, of our loves and our sins. There are still names and memories: I have friends, lovers. There are artifacts: the apartments I inhabit, the shoes that I wear, the pages that I write, how I have altered the earth. One can only blank the world by blanking the self, can only blank the world for the sake of the self. I used to search through cornfields on my ex-girlfriend’s parents’ property for arrowheads. We found many arrowheads and small blades made by human beings who continue to exist through these artifacts used to destroy the lives of animals, animals whose memories continue to exist through the memory of those who used their bodies and through the continued existence of their species and through the artifacts used to destroy them. There still remain the same species of deer in this area, which is covered with signs, shaped similarly to arrowheads, warning drivers of the animals’ presence.
When we die our blood becomes the afterbirth of angels. I have seen this in a dream. We become empty, our bodies discarded like shells on the beach. We have only our own blood to escape, to be born out of, like a river whose force pulls its debris downward. The river is force. The river does not live. It does not attempt being. It is a force that is the accumulation of all energy. Escape from this river is heaven. In this dream the angels, the freshly deceased, erupt from the blood like a cloud of mosquitos blanking out the sky with their light.
The half of my life spent sleeping is the half I have mostly forgotten. Even so, I have forgotten more of my waking life than I have remembered, so much so that certain aspects of my life seem untrue to me. In my sleep and in my dreams I have died and it felt like nothing. There was an emptiness in the violence with which I was killed in dreams that seemed to me like a space to inhabit, like a new terrain in which to live, free from emotion and from physicality. The physical meat of my dream body having been altered into uselessness, for the few remaining seconds of my dream I was nothing. Nothing as a way of being in which everything holds the power and unknowable comfort of blankness. If Louis and Brian Hitler truly believe that they can erase “Hitler” from being then they can do so, but only at the cost of their own being, which will not cease for anyone but themselves. They will be remembered as two leaves on the tree that grew above them in their sleep. They will be remembered as the ant that ate the leaves and the blood of the ant. Though, none of this really. They will be remembered the way that many of us are remembered, as a mess of bones inside a coffin. And the coffin will deposit its varnish into the soil. Or they will be cremated and they will release so much mercury into the atmosphere that their goodness will seem small and pitiful.
Knowledge of such profoundly evil works as those perpetrated by Adolf Hitler cannot be easily erased from culture’s memory. Violence sticks like sap. The dreams I remember most vividly are the violent ones. I remember riding in the bed of a truck through a landscape like a bombed out spider’s web stretched across the earth, an army of children chasing after the truck, while I and my comrades, my friends and my family, gunned the children down. I remember a decrepit mansion and my machete and hacking my way out of the mansion through swarms of snakes and spiders, fleeing their presence and not their advances. I remember standing in a knee-deep puddle outside of the mansion, reaching my hand into the puddle, and lifting a squid shaped like a human heart out of the water, holding it in my hand as it pulsed until it stopped pulsing and then waking up. The squid’s ceasing pulse is what triggered my physical body back into wakefulness.
If every morning the sun rises in the East and then every night sets in the West, then the earth is truly the most constant and reliable thing I have ever touched. I think about the vastness of space. I wonder how a planet the size of the earth can maintain its course in the nothingness of space, how one celestial body’s gravity can hold on to another body in a void. How the numbers to explain the event are too much for me, so much so that a better mind than mind could spend its entire life focused on completing that sequence of numbers. Or maybe it’s not that hard to comprehend and I am just too willing to give into the notion that I will never understand. I think of touching the earth. I remember a church in New Mexico that claimed its dirt was healing dirt. I pinched some dirt from the tray and rubbed it into a cut on my finger. Outside the church, in the parking lot, I climbed onto the short cement foundation of a streetlamp and took a picture of purple flowers sprouting from cracks in the parking lot’s pavement. I remember a distinct feeling of something like I was witnessing an undoing of will, like there was no threat that the earth could not handle, except of course for stray bodies of matter floating through space with the potential to strike and shatter the earth. Even so. Over the next few days the cut on my finger swelled, blackened. I reopened the cut with a small pocketknife and cleaned it thoroughly using soap, hot water, and Neosporin. Sometimes I believe that a human being is the most unnatural of nature’s creations, that we, in some way, exist only to destroy God’s will.
In the seventh grade I took a home economics class. During the cooking unit I was in an assigned group with three people I will keep nameless. I choose to keep them nameless in hopes that by not naming these people, by not naming myself or whoever else is in this story will no longer exist in this story, that no further harm will be done, no past trauma reanimated if these words end up in the proper hands to do so. The group consisted of myself, a girl that we’ll call Z, a boy that we’ll call H, and a boy that we’ll call B. These seventh graders would sit and work at small round tables in a room of stoves and ovens and refrigerators, the room lit up like a bleached photograph. One day around this small round table B began making comments toward Z, comments of implication and of desire. At first Z laughed these comments off. She was a popular girl and was used to being flirted with. H joked around a little at first not realizing how far the joking would go. As classes went by the comments become harsher and more violent, the implications became suggestions, threats. Z began to act physically distressed by the comments, even once grasping my arm comfort. Both H and I didn’t know how to react to B’s behavior toward Z. We were however old you are in the seventh grade. This was new territory. The comments and threats continued throughout the semester until one day I was called to the office. I was asked questions about what B had said to Z throughout the semester, specifics (none of which I can remember anymore, perhaps because I’ve blocked them out, perhaps because sexuality was still an abstraction to me), how long this has been going on, etc. I answered each question as best as I could. I was informed that Z would be switching school districts because of what happened and that B would be suspended for a week. I was told that I could go back to class, though it took a few minutes before leaving the office to stop crying. I had never heard anything about the matter ever again, never spoke of it until recently while on a euphoric trip with two close friends in which I felt comfortable talking about anything I’ve ever experienced, being able to feel the emotions felt as if they had already been experienced by everyone I knew and didn’t know. The memory was triggered by a pillow I made in home economics back in the seventh grade. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve even thought of this period of my life more than twice since it’s passed. I still have the pillow, patched on one side with Pinky and the Brain patterned fabric, puff-painted on the other side with Rocky the flying Squirrel. I still wonder if I could have said or done something to prevent these events before they happened. I remember the first time I met B. It was in the first grade. I was playing by myself. B approached me in a ski mask, told me to move a giant log. “Over there,” he said, gesturing. I refused to move the log so B moved the log for me, like a baseball bat into the side of my head. I remember alternating kindness and cruelty from B throughout my childhood: being invited to come over and swim in the lake that his house backed up to, to shoot baskets on his driveway that was painted to look like the home court of the Indiana Pacers, being constantly threatened in the hallways of school, of riding to soccer games together in the back of his mom’s suburban. I always remained casual friends from different circles with H. We saw each other occasionally in college and once had a long conversation at a bar, though the subject of home economics was never breached, just what people we know from high school are doing these days, how one was delivering and installing carpets, how another drowned in Eagle Reservoir over the summer, how another now plows the streets of Fishers in the winter. H and myself are not the kind of brave human beings who could’ve stopped B, especially at such a young age. We were meek. We hadn’t been equipped with knowledge of how to face such things, or we had to experience such things to learn how to face them. Upon Googling the characters of this story, I find that Z is doing well. She is working as an actor/model and was even once si.com’s college cheerleader of the week. B is now working at a media management firm in New York City. He wears a suit and his hair is slicked back, his visage in a row of other men of the same breed. Nothing on H could be found other than that he worked at a Johnny Carino’s while in college. I am doing alright as well. Seeing the characters now, one can even wonder whether any of this ever happened. It appears as though we all made it out of home economics without too many scars to show, though despair works in silence, and time often works only as a sedative. Perhaps, for some, this event is ongoing, continues after work, alone in bed. Perhaps, this was the most minor moment of any of our lives, but mostly I am kidding myself. Mostly I am telling a long, elaborate joke by speaking of anything, by not staring at the sun or saying anything but shouting my own name to no one.
In viewing Z’s modeling/acting page I watched every commercial acting role the agency’s website gives us of Z. In one commercial for the Hoosier Lotto she is handed a Christmas gift before the camera moves on to the next in a long succession of characters. In another she praises the Febreze flameless luminary and shows how it flickers like a real candle. In another she joyously runs through a grocery store adding turkeys to her cart. Z, for those who have never met her, has come to represent the joy of the product, speaks only of the enhancement our lives can experience with the help of objects. And yet, we know nothing of Z. She is a human being and we have witnessed a part of her life that she now probably keeps secret. Or maybe she uses it to define her strength. Perhaps a fellow cheerleader dropped her on her head, forever damaging only the brain cells that contained the memory of B and H and myself, the memory of three cowards.
It has been proven quite harshly throughout history that the human is simply an object, a thing to use or discard in one way or another, an undigestable piece of meat. I have had friends that I have lost touch with, not because I only needed their friendship at the time, but because circumstance has estranged us, and maybe because I only needed their friendship at the time. I have discarded the old friends and replaced them with new friends. I have lashed my anger upon those I found deserving, or that I’ve at least found to be easy targets, those I never knew. I have lashed upon those I’ve loved. There is a day and then another day and each day seems to serve as the continuation of a rut or as a beckoning toward change. Some days I don’t even think. Potential is invisible with routine. Each day, I wake up and walk the dog while my wife eats her breakfast. We sit in my grandmother’s basement, where we are living while I try to find a job, and I check Facebook or Tumblr. When she goes to school I spend the morning reading or working on poems or a crossword or thoughtlessly exploring the internet until I feel moved to take a shower. I Google for mention of my own name more than I care to admit. In the afternoon more of the same, though I’ll search for jobs and maybe even apply for a few if they seem worthy of who I have become. Around 2:30, I’ll walk the dog, maybe drive to the Racetrac to purchase a 32 oz. mix of Dr. Pepper and root beer and I pass the same trees every day, past the same assortment of McMansions without a thought, without an understanding of past or future potential in anyone or even myself. In the evening we make dinner. Each day is a flameless luminary. Each day I replenish the water that I’ve lost in sweat or piss. Each day I am the room of me and all these shifting rooms in the neighborhood I live in have no doors or their doors are broken or the room is too small to fit anyone but the one born inside the room. And despite all of this we try. Like the beluga whale we become a part of all the other rooms because we are on exhibit. We give witness to other rooms, try to peer through the windows while walking around as bright but less visible or just as visible, our appearances so much like the appearance of everyone else, yet just alien enough, that we cannot find the desire or the imagination for empathy, to reach out and tell someone who we are, how horrible we can become, how beautifully horrible, like the end of a joke .
Daniel Bailey is the author of three books of poetry: The Drunk Sonnets, Hallelujah, Giant Space Wolf, and Gather Me. His most recent collection, Gather Me, is now available from Scrambler Books.
Justin Duffus grew up in Pasadena skateboarding and is currently living in Seattle. He studied painting at PAFA in Philadelphia and has continued to explore this medium in a variety of approaches, the paintings featured here are from his latest show “Sleeping Arrangements.”