(an excerpt from a work in progress)

DISCUSSED: The Fix, The 65 Breaths, Pioneer Families, The Covered Wagons, Talk Radio, The Hand-Jobs, The Gods, Animal-Lovers, The Frontier, The Casino, The Poets, Muscle-Memory, The Mirror Stage, Captation, The Womb, The Miracle, Pee Paw, The Chuff, Pee Paw Lester, Mee Maw, Various Animals, Alpo Hesky, The Queer, Known Collaborators

The following chapter is from Agony: A Proposal, which is a work in progress. Agony is a game played by three teams, referred to as “Families”: The Gods, Talk Radio, and The Animals. Agony is played once every three months. The chapter below concerns “The Covered Wagons,” which is a term that refers to three months of television preceding the day of the game itself. The members of the three Families, during The Covered Wagons, are referred to as “Pioneers,” and they are televised every day. Pioneers dwell within “The Frontier,” which is the stadium in which their Agony will be played out. The Frontier becomes “The Casino” on the day of Agony (also referred to as The Day Of Gambling), once the Families have moved out on to the field of play.


The spectator never sees The Covered Wagons moving—never sees The Covered Wagons from afar. The spectator sees, through a peephole, into The Covered Wagons. What does he see? He sees the Pioneer Families apart from, but bound into, Agony. His seeing begins seven days after The Fix and continues on until noon on The 65 Breaths.

Pioneer Families have long been a great source of entertainment.

Most of a spectator’s days are nothing less and nothing more than a shifting glimpse of the Agony-bound life that The Covered Wagons give shelter to. The bulk of a spectator’s life is spent looking into preparation for a spectacle that never keeps him long. Whether or not we recognize this fact—and if we have recognized it, how we proceed to shoulder the burden of the myriad dilemmas it gives easy birth to—tells who we are, or at least who we have pretended for the longest time to be.

While Families may be distinguished during Agony by the color of their torsos, before Agony they are distinguished by the manner in which they are accessible in the peephole.

Talk Radio are the most familiar of the three Families; within The Covered Wagons, they are broadcast fully and plainly, which is to say, with clarity of image and audio. They wear the formal attire that they are provided with, except during the first eight days of The Covered Wagons, when they are naked. Their only unclothed appearance is in the first fifteen seconds of their being on air (during The Hand-Jobs, which are discussed below). When an Agony begins, their faces, voices, and worldviews are familiar to most spectators, or at least considerably more familiar than the faces, voices, and worldviews of The Animals, and certainly more familiar than the faces of The Gods.

The Gods, while they may at times seem almost as familiar as Talk Radio, are decidedly more elusive; within The Covered Wagons they are only ever heard—they are never seen. There is one exception: during the first fifteen seconds of their being on air, during The Hand-Jobs, each God is visible and audible. Once The Hand-Jobs have finished, The Gods become invisible. As The Covered Wagons roll on, the voices of The Gods, uncomplicated by their Animal-like (i.e. naked) bodies, seem to spectators to lack the complication through which the proper dissonance of reality might be implied. This lack of complication—this false clarity, we might say—saturates spectators’ perceptions of The Gods. Thus, for The Gods, when The Day Of Gambling comes, it is among other things an opportunity to demonstrate that they are indeed real, despite impressions to the contrary caused by their lack of appearance in the peephole.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Joe Wenderoth has published two books of poems with Wesleyan Press, Disfortune and It Is if I Speak. He has also published two books with Verse Press (now Wave Books), Letters to Wendy’s and The Holy Spirit Of Life: Essays Written For John Ashcroft’s Secret Self. He teaches in the graduate creative-writing program at UC Davis.

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