"Steady Hands at Seattle General" (from Jesus' Son)

Denis Johnson

Inside of two days I was shaving myself, and I even shaved a couple of new arrivals, because the drugs they injected me with had an amazing effect. I call it amazing because only hours before they'd wheeled me through corridors in which I hallucinated a soft, summery rain. In the hospital rooms on either side, objects -- vases, ashtrays, beds -- had looked wet and scary, hardly bothering to cover up their true meanings.

They ran a few syringesful into me, and I felt like I'd turned from a light, Styrofoam thing into a person. I held up my hands before my eyes. The hands were as still as a sculptor's.

I shaved my roommate, Bill. "Don't get tricky with my mustache," he said.

"Okay so far?"

"So far."

"I'll do the other side."

"That would make sense, partner."

Just below one cheekbone, Bill had a small blemish where a bullet had entered his face, and in the other cheek a slightly larger scar where the slug had gone on its way.

"When you were shot right through your face like that, did the bullet go on to do anything interesting?"

"How would I know? I didn't take notes. Even if it goes on through, you still feel like you just got shot in the head."

"What about this little scar here, through your sideburn?"

"I don't know. Maybe I was born with that one. I never saw it before."

"Someday people are going to read about you in a story or poem. Will you describe yourself for those people?"

"Oh, I don't know. I'm a fat piece of shit, I guess."

"No. I'm serious."

"You're not going to write about me."

"Hey, I'm a writer."

"Well then, just tell them I'm overweight."

"He's overweight."

"I been shot twice."


"Once by each wife, for a total of three bullets, making four holes, three ins and one out."

"And you're still alive."

"Are you going to change any of this for your poem?"

"No. It's going in word for word."

"That's too bad, because asking me if I'm alive makes you look kind of stupid. Obviously, I am."

"Well, maybe I mean alive in a deeper sense. You could be talking, and still not be alive in a deeper sense."

"It don't get no deeper than the kind of shit we're in right now."

Copyright 1992 by Denis Johnson

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