In the Foreign Country
There once was a kingdom in the foreign country, but then its leader, who the people also worshipped as a sky deity, mistook his purity for power, entered a war, bankrupted the national treasury, and fell from grace. All kingships were abolished. He was stripped of royal dressing and made to roam about town as a pauper. This act is commemorated each summer on All Beggar’s Eve, where townships leave tents, gloves, scented soaps, and baskets of fruits and bread on church stoops and street corners and in public parks. Do not be fooled, however: on all other days the homeless are deeply reviled and may be kicked or even shot at with impunity.
The people of the foreign country believe in something called smrtzy, which is like the Fall of Man, only it happens to everyone individually, and at different times. To some, it is believed, perhaps, not even at all. These people aren’t considered lucky, but sad. There are no burials or cremations in the foreign country. Dead bodies are carried to mountaintops where they are guarded by boys for three days from birds and bears in a national rite of passage called A Man is a Mountain. Recently girls have overtaken the rite and boys merely drink cheap beer and visit whores, like everywhere else. The people of the foreign country lament this as a sign that the times are changing, and for the worse.
There is near universal housing in the foreign country. The government is a form of post-regal pseudo-anarchy. All officers of the law, the court, and the police are deeply frowned upon, and must go about cultivating a sense of ironical self-deprecation. “Oh, you know, this is what it’s like to give you a ticket, silly system and its bureaucratic hegemony or whatever. Sorry, but that’ll be, like, 90 pfefnerrs.” The foreign country’s currency is worthless elsewhere, and is understood as the world’s first self-consciously fungible money, which, consequently, makes it not fungible at all.
No one drinks water in the foreign country. At least not publicly. Some sniff at lakes or puddles, make cupping motions with lambent hands.
I adopted their habits—woke at 9, ate breakfast with the large crowds of milliners at the local cafes, and then quickly after ate a bigger lunch with the mechanics, was home by 4 with the hordes of female doctors and slept from 8 until 9 again just like the teenagers—but never felt at home.
Many years later, dying in my beloved homeland, I know it is not from old age or the sick next generation that my ailment comes. Though I left the foreign country after a brief fortnight, it never truly left me. I took with me from it a certain kind of klpnrz, a word from the foreign country that can mean a stillness, or an illness, or a one that is the other.
The doctors do not understand. The doctors say it is my liver; they say it is an old krank’s perennial delusions about the next generation, or possibly just old age. But I know that I am dying of something I contracted long ago and something that I could only have gotten from the foreign country.
Garrett D. Geist is an American writer and artist.
Art, with gratitude, from:
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library.