Woody Eisenstein’s Memphis

Something grand in this city like a kernel beginning to pop. Buttery and unassuming. Steam shoots out from under manhole covers downtown, and midtown Woody sweats in bed. There’s a sun above that roof overhead, and two states away, Debra still doesn’t like the direction of Woody’s project to chronicle the history of Memphis. It’s too personal. But this city is an itch in Woody’s spine, and anyway it’s ticklish to write.

The unhappy third anniversary of his wife (and agent)’s departure, mind you, with tubby rival landlord. So here lies Woody, steaming in his mo[u]rning bed like a petrified phoenix. Out of socks. A cartilaginous string of beef jerky from last night’s snack. Something foul in Woody’s mouth.


But Debra dead?
Left or together still?
Have you a ring, Woody?
Woody, a ring?
Searched in dirty tub.
Woody, old octopus: do you?


Had something brewed, and then dwelled on Memphis a while from the safety of his studio apartment, he thinks.  Wrote my introduction today, he continues telling himself.  So and so billion years ago, Woody’s life began depending on how you look at it  beautiful, historic Midtown Memphis birthed him, at six pounds nine ounces, in the same woods, Evergreen, a herd of fifty plus triceratops roamed so and so billion plus years prior  Five miles from the Mississippi River, which flooded [spot the driftwood] November 6th, 1937  it will not flood like that again predict engineers and meteorologists (river->swamp->woods->triceraproperty->wild oaks->placenta


Evenings, Woody pops Tylenol and twelve other pills. Nutrient uptake, waste elimination, gas exchange. That is all he has as far as introduction goes and the rest of his history. He landlords during the day and writes at night. Scribbling about triceratops, ancient tricepteri, always having fun with plural invention.


Whisks through his first name dismissively, short for Woodruff.  He pronounces his last name EI-zen-steen.  Prefers the long e to the long i of the final syllable because in Memphis pronunciation matters, as if a ‘steen’ could “get further” than a ‘stein’ and Woody thought perhaps that was true, (after all look at his accomplishments; call me Eisenstein) even though the Memphis Jews moved East fifty years ago and Woody stayed midtown.  Stop the driftwood.


Knock, knock.  Still in bed.

Woody, the door!, feels his head begin to migraine.

That tan booming flash comes curdling back in the midst of yet another massive popping of pills all at once, Mothership Memory—young girl from the college, Woody, wants to know if the house on McLean is still for rent.

Yeah, yeah. Still for rent. Eleven twenty-five. Who is it?

Some kid from the college. Thursday morning.

Christ, says Woody and three minutes later, bit of toothpaste clinging to his collar, door still screaming, he’s down the stairs, crossing arthritic fingers hair brown and flaxen like a lady?, looking through the peephole at his new client. Wild-eyed, cavalier Woody.

Examine the beauty of this girl. Powdery smooth and luscious as a lemon. Waste no time:  Rent you the west wing? introspective Woody wonders. Closer to the uncurtained window. Woody don’t snap old boy. Purple the thighs under Woody’s strong jaws.  Things bursting out of each and every seam and stitch in this girl’s blouse. Do not lie about your age, Woody, or produce a phony birth certificate.  The pantyhose performs particularly well in tightness. Don’t inject her with flunitrazepam, Woody, don’t you even think about it not for one second you pervert you uncontrollable dolt you unshaven teething scoundrel.

Are you Mr. Eiseinstein?

Hair brown and flaxen

Half-baked Woody:  I am.

Proud pink lips

My boyfriend and I would like to move as soon as possible. Before it gets rainy.

She knows!  She can sense it boiling up inside me! Lachrymose Woody, clutching cryogenic crotch, says to try downtown, that they always treat new couples well, that the market is down, but the energy is hot, there’s not a lot of renters, and if you act fast now . . .
We’d like to live in Midtown. This place is close to the school . . .

And Midtown really has so much character, Woody says. It is prag- and prismatic.

Too much chortle in there. Mucusy cough spills Advil chunk.

And you’re probably right about the rain, he desperately continues. You’ve got about, she didn’t notice, another week.


Dark forecasty clouds huddle above. Woody waits with bated breath. Bird squeaks, and then rings the cell phone. Bait your breath again, Woody, and take off that rosary who do you think you are. Proud pink puckering lips and my prick. Take it off, Woody. You’re a Jew. You don’t have to think, What Would Jesus Do?, but unwrap that thing from your dick you filthy man. Still, the Jews moved East fifty years ago right so fuck ‘em! You’re a new Jew, Woody, the kind who can say Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord and really mean it.

Didn’t that damn phone ring?


Too much wood for the morning. That girl living on McLean now, beefy beau in tow. Cross-eyed prick with a dick the size of a kid’s thumb. Flicks the thick, then reaches for the rosary. Dwell awhile on the backside. Next to Woody’s hand hisses some territorial roach. Ruins it.


I is not here, Woody types, staring at his inkblot. Debra says I is and that the project will fail but I, sweating less than this city, will not fail. I absorbs. And Woody will hitchhike downtown in the end if he has to.


How could he [male triceratops] have imagined that his seed—would grow three horns, yes, but not populate the globe because red sky and flat earth collide and destroy tricepteri and then amoeba crawl from Mississippi (dino-bone driftwood!), no longer afeared of greater beasts, and make Woody—would produce Woody, thematically, and because of chimerical fate.


Leaky pipe on McLean.  Bring string and a five gallon bucket should do it.


Became stagnant in his work. Woody “in shackles”:  no free will, no incentives! No chance for upward mobility. But shame on you for alluding, for even suggesting a metaphor. Fool me twice.


Lispy fat sweaty Mexican gas station attendant!  Holding a cat and petting it with two massive paws of his own!

Give me forty cigarettes! Snarly Woody backs away from the counter, clawing open a pack and jabbing one into his beak.

You can’t smoke in here sir, attendant fat-rasping for breath.

Up yours, you bottomless pit!


Woody, too, is prismatic.


Ambles Woody upstairs taking two at a time. What wonders wait behind Door #1? Zippo tip still hot. Cigarette a-blazin’, catches quick a cuticle.  Doorbell buzz.

Woody: Ow!

Opens electrically fast, wet in a towel, she’s at the door.

Here about the leak—weak Woody.

Where’s the string and the five gallon bucket? How’d she hear about that.


History goes slowly, but Woody’s especially snails. Then, all at once, the lightning bulb attacks. Falls off his high-chair, re-rights himself. Woody stabs at the page with his good hand, pen pulsing like a jackrabbit.

Andrew Jackson came to town,
riding on a pony—
shoved a needle up his ass
and called it Berlusconi!
Andy, yank the needle out;
yank, you fucking pansy.
Stick it in Boss Crump’s IV
and pump him full of tansy!

The style, he knows, ebbs and flows. Could use a bolster, a citation or ten. Woody himself ebbs. No more timesheets, no more deadlines. Papers flowing down the drainpipe. And no word from Debra in seventy-eight fortnights.


Hello, Woody?  Hello?

So and so billion years ago

What? Yes. That’s me. I’m Woody. Who are you?

Mrs. Rumbelow, dumb shit. It’s 4:30.

Language, Rumby. Hold on.

Kicks back the sheets, witnesses the devastation of last night’s binge.

O! please let me go from the cocaine dynamo!

Do we have anymore of that fruitcake left over in the fridge, Rumby? I seem to have, uh, I mean, I don’t really know how to say this . . .

You dim motherfucker, croaks Rumbelow. I’ve got a house for you to look at downtown.

Downtown! Woody lights the apple core.

Now don’t go tinkling yourself just yet. There’s a reasonable asking price, but maintenance is going to be a bitch. The whole fucking roof caved in last week because of the rain.

Do you hear what I hear, bud?  Downtown, bud?  Did she say it?

Rain, schmain, Rumby, a pox upon it. I fuck rain for breakfast!


A million six packs later, Woody rots in his cellar. What is that on the old sack? A huge fucking nutria beneath a top hat, frowning like a young virgin devoured by Woody! Bends its way out of shadows. Salt-and-pepper gray. Shakes a bony fist at barfing Woody.


His penis has poet envy; his pen wags.



Woody: Fuck these particles. Pure acid; adept at mutilation.

Nutria:  The cloudburst.

Woody: I forgot you were here. You’re looking a little too cozy propped up on those haunches.

Nutria: Well.

Woody: Here it’s all pressure and no plummet.

Nutria: You need to hitchhike.

Woody: Who told you to talk?


Woody: Who gave you that brick? My mother carved her ancient name into that brick!


Woody: You’re making me sick the way you’re eating that cheese with one swollen cheek.

Nutria wags.

Woody: There’s a whole pack of dogs ahead, and one of them looks exactly like you. How’s that, you rat?


You shapeshifter.


Isaiah Swanson lives and writes in Memphis, Tennessee. Some of his work may be found in print and online at The Atticus Review, Digital Americana, 100 Word Story, and MudLuscious Press. He also serves on the chapbook commission for NAP Magazine and may be reached at swanson.isaiah@gmail.com.