57 Octaves Below Middle C
Kevin “Mc” McIlvoy
The 17th century poet Basho selling a nearly-new lawnmower. Aisle 4 of Mini Bob’s Mart (not Bob’s Mini-Mart). The good fortune of seeing the back of a woman’s sweater as she leaves. An attempt to name the device, “the foot ruler thing,” shoe stores have. A cleaner of Ladies’ and Men’s rooms in three Asheville bars. These are the ensorcellments that McIlvoy’s dice-throwing mind invites us to explore. From “snow-golfing” in “ultramarine Sansabelt slacks” to the odd couple of a homeless but newly-anointed newspaper bundler “Captain” and Bee, the more experienced bundler who anoints him, as they establish their friendship with her purse sitting between them on the city bus, “the zipper closed around the nose of a gun barrel,” 57 Octaves Below Middle C offers a window into unlikely corners of modern life.
Affirming what John Berryman called “the stance of wonder,” these stories, prose poems, and short-shorts are fool’s koans, inside-out riddles in which we get to spend a while, emerging a little older, a little more vulnerable, a little more transformed. Part Muddy Waters and part Russell Edson, with more than a nod to Lydia Davis, Jean Follain, and Henri Michaux, 57 Octaves Below Middle C descends like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince to find the wonderstruck child inside the world-weary adult. Yet this is no work of whimsy or fancy: for all McIlvoy’s verbal riffs and musical interludes, he writes from deep pathos, attempting to peel back the constructed selves we shell about us in our daily lives. He makes us stranger to ourselves so that we can see ourselves again.
From “You want to know—,” from 57 Octaves Below Middle C:
—why I hate you.
It’s that you no longer let me learn my way over you, my singular chronic harassment, my particular persistent curse. You no longer let me lay my eggs like a louse in your pulse, traveling, unwelcomed, with you everywhere around and also far from this filling station in Extraellaville.
Me, the cause of your tics, dear Jay, the mite skating over your eyemeat, blade-blade – glide-blade-blade.
It’s a wonder I never came off in the wash or here at our workplace or from your unnatural hairpiece. Have I ever mentioned this: how I hated nothing about you – not the back rash, not the butt lint, not the rubber-black rug riding low on your forehead? As if you could cover what had recessed and recessed and been replaced by bald folds (practically flaps) of something I never once saw as ugliness.
Buy a ball cap, would you?