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jim carroll's rimbaud scenes from the book of nods


"Carroll didn’t read Rimbaud until well into his 20s, but Henry Miller’s biographical study of Rimbaud, The Time of the Assassins, was extremely influential in Carroll’s decision to become a rock star. ."

-Cassie Carter, proprietor of Carroll's website


Rimbaud Scenes

by Jim Carroll

from his 1986 Book of Nods

Rimbaud's Tooth Ache

Arthur had waited too long. Even the blue light of opium no longer countered the pain. His teeth throbbed with it, like the veins of a young soldier in the heat of a battle already lost. He wailed alone at the night in the painter's loft, until the old man living one flight up, a pedant with dry blood between the many crevices in his forehead, knocked on the door and inquired what the trouble might be. Arthur, too tired to shield himself behind his usual wit and insolence, made a gesture toward the swollen jaw, and the old man insisted he accompany the youth to a dentist he had known to be "quite reliable and competent," and who had offices nearby. He would be by to call on him following breakfast the next morning, and, if Arthur had no money to cover the expense, he insisted on arranging payment himself with the dentist, who, he added, was a longtime friend and an understanding sort.

Rimbaud could not deny the comfort he felt in the idea that at this same time tomorrow the ache would be gone, yet he could not help but lie back on the bed and regard the old man as a fool. For the wailing that brought this neighbor to his door had little to do with the pain upon his teeth. He wailed for a young girl who sat that day by the fountain he passed daily as he walked. Her dress was trimmed with lace, white as the veils of children in processions back home.  How the spray from the fountain pressed the lines of sun deeper and deeper into her hair until the light remained beyond the cursed evening! "How will I ever dream again in daylight," he thought, "when I know she walks the streets of this city, and breathes the air?" The darkness was already full as she rose to go her way, and as she passed the bench where th poet had set himself, he drew a ragged notebook from his vest with great haste and pretended to read from its pages, which were empty. And she passed right by, the last drops of light sliding through the hair across her shoulders. At his feet. His fingers quivered with an unbearable longing. To touch. This was the source of the pain which the old man heard this night, sounding through the floor beneath him.


Rimbaud Sees the Dentist

As he had promised, the old man knocked at Arthur's door early that morning. Rimbaud was ready, and together they passed down into the fresh blocks of sunlight on the sidewalks. Rimbaud was neatly dressed, though his frail black ties, which was more like the lace of a boot, could not conceal the lines of dirt along his collar.

"You should hold no fear of the pain one often takes for granted on the way to the dentist," the old man explained, "for this particular one has been experimenting with a strange new form of gas, called nitrous oxide, which is, to all reports, quite successful in eliminating such discomfort."

Rimbaud nodded to that, though, as things were, he was rather looking forward to an experience which involved the purging of one pain by means of another, even greater, pain. By the time they had reached the office, however and the old man had made payment and Arthur had been seated in a chair not unlike that of a barber, he had grown curious about this new gas and asked the dentist if he might inhale some as part of his treatment. The dentist, who was fat, with a stale yellow beard, was delighted this young man knew of his innovation, and he began to attach, somewhat clumsily, a black mask shaped like a cup over the poet's mouth and nose. A long rubber tube ran from the mask to a cylinder placed behind the chair. He turned the knob on the mouth of the cylinder, readjusted the mask, patted the young man's shoulder and told him to relax, that he would return in a short time. "There is no time to speak of that is short," Arthur was mumbling. "And there is a tiny German whose clothing is in flames running in circles along the back of my jaw." The dentist chortled and walked through the door to his outer office; he knew the drug was already at work. The old man had told him his young patient made claims to writing poems, and now he would allow some time to pass before he began extracting teeth, and he would let the poet dream.

So Rimbaud dreamt the nitrous dreams. Of women with black skin whose lips were like drums. Of rodents sealed in kegs of blue water. Of lightning shaped like freight trains passing vertically through the branches of a tree. Whose leaves were knives falling to the earth and standing upright. There was a speed in these visions, each dissolved into the next with thin wheels in flame dropping from the sky.  And there were words painted in many colors across the foreheads of women whose arms linked like a chain. The smell of burning rubber clung with thorny fingers to the ceiling of his skull.


Coming Soon: More from Carroll's Rimbaud Scenes: Walking in a Painter's Loft in Paris and Rimbaud Pays Homage to Saint Helena.


The Book of Nods is currently out of print. Stop by the Drunken Boat Bookstore for links to hard-to-find booksellers.
Jim Carroll is the author of numerous books including THE BASKETBALL DIARIES, THE DOWNTOWN DIARIES and LIVING AT THE MOVIES. Carroll is also a musician in his own right, having recorded several albums including CATHOLIC BOY and DRY DREAMS. For more on Jim Carroll, check out his official site run by Cassie Carter @ www.catholicboy.com


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