“Help (In 47 Languages)” by Denise Duhamel

Denise Duhamel


It is rumored that when the famous linguist William Jacobsen
was struck by a car, he shouted, “Help!” in 47 languages.


On the cover of the Help! album, the Beatles spell out a word in semaphore. One would guess—four Beatles, four letters—that the word must be “HELP.” Instead they are spelling out “NUJV” on the British album and “NJUV” on the U.S. release. Some conspiracy theorists say John was already dead in 1965, and that the letters stand for New Unknown John Vocalist. Others say Paul was dead—New James (Paul’s first name) Unknown Vocalist. Still others notice the image has been reversed—the Beatles coats are buttoned on the wrong side. When one holds the album up to the mirror, the Beatles are really spelling “LPUN,” which stumps everyone. Robert Freeman, the album photographer, said he didn’t have a message. He was simply interested in “the best graphic positioning of the arms.”


Zip the Clown lived next door. He was mean without his makeup, always yelling at his scraggly boys who were the same age as my sister and me. A midget who wore overalls stayed with them and straightened out their messy house. She tried to show Zip’s kids and my sister and me how to make balloon animals, but we were afraid of the squeak the balloons made when we twisted them. Most of the balloons exploded and the midget may have thought we were bursting them on purpose because she said if we were just going to fool around she couldn’t waste her special balloons on us. The midget wasn’t Zip the Clown’s daughter or wife, just someone he was helping out until she could get on her feet. Then one day she did get on her feet and Zip’s boys wore the same shirts to school for a whole week.

from Rattle #24, Winter 2005

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