The following is an extract from the novel Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. The chosen prose imagines a world seen backwards, visualised by the books hero Billy Pilgrim and will form the premise of my final poem for this website.
Billy got out of bed in the moonlight. He felt spooky and luminous, felt as though he was wrapped in cool fur that was full of static electricity. He looked down at his feet, they were ivory and blue.
Billy shuffled down his upstairs hallway knowing he was about to be kidnapped by a flying saucer. The hallway was zebra striped by darkness and moonlight. The moonlight came into the hallway through the doorways of the empty rooms of Billy’s two children, children no more. They were gone forever. Billy was guided by dread and lack of dread. Dread told him when to stop, lack of it told him when to move on again. He stopped….
Billy Pilgrim padded on downstairs on his blue and ivory feet. He went to the kitchen where the moonlight caught his attention to a half bottle of champagne on the kitchen table, all that was left from the reception in the tent. Somebody had stoppered it, “drink me” it seemed to say. So Billy uncorked it with his thumbs. It didn’t make a pop. The champagne was dead. So it goes.
Billy looked at the clock on the gas stove. He had an hour to kill before the saucer came. he went into the living room, swinging the bottle like a dinner bell, turned on the television.. He came unstuck in time and watched the late movie backwards, then forwards again.. It was about American bombers in the second world war and the brave men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy the story went like this.
American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards and sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.
The formation flew backwards over a German city in flames. The bombers opened their bomb pay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own. They were long steel tubes that were used to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes….
When the bombers got back to their base the steel cylinders were taken from their racks and shipped back to the United States of America where factories were operating day and night, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anyone again.
Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922 and studied biochemistry at Cornell University. During the Second World War her served in Europe, was a prisoner of war and witnessed the destruction of Dresden by allied bombers.