1

HYDRA

"What's that girl done to you? We thought you were a fighting man."Acastus to Jason in Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

lThe psychologist

showed me a series of sketches, one by one, and told me to

make up a story for each. 2Por every drawing, I told several stories, experimenting aloud to find the narratives that made the most sense. 3Later, a written report accused me of trying to deceive the court-appointed examiners.

"Images, the testers seemed to be saying, can mean one thing and no more. Events the same, maybe. People. A flat world of prediction and control.

5My

friend met his deceiving wife-to-be where so much that ends badly begins: e-mails exchanged 7Their rendezvous as the day progressed.

online. 6Poreplay would begin in the morning with provocative from work that grew more emboldened as the police dispatch-radio

took place in hotel room 1022, which he - a career criminal - naturally recognized code for "disregard." He should have.

SPor "domestic dispute," the police-radio code was 10-16. For "arrived at the scene": 10-23. For "notify coroner: 10-79. 9"Women," my criminal friend said,

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"have lost their vaunted dignity, their earthly base. Men stand estranged from themselves, too - though for men it may never have been otherwise." outlaw. An eloquent

IOThe blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold, and it's overturned the order of the soul.

IIAbout women, I disagreed with my criminal friend. Especially I disagreed with him about ... her. 12She is a spirit lifter par excellence. She always knows what to give thanks for. 13Experienced in battle, she consoles me. I should not be surprised. 14Southern women have a natural relationship with the

earth. It may have been bred during the Civil War, when genteel ladies suddenly found themselves in charge of entire vast farms in the absence of their husbands.

lSI am new here, or was until recently. 161 hardly think of where I came from can
without the hunger to go back, without suffering again the impossibility, feels like it. 17What makes me not-so-much determination to stay. a newcomer anymore is the or what

181 know I need to release the past, as she recommends. Let go. Be where you are. And other bumper stickers. 19This tendency to hold onto things has led to its share of unprofessional moments.

20How would we be different if we had grown up free of the shadow of loss that stalked us? 21Maybe I was chased here by that shadow of loss. told myself kept echoing in my head.
21

Bitter lies that I

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23I'm glad I've stopped pretending to love people and the cities where people can't love themselves.

240f course, this last remark is false; disarming honesty is rarely honest. It's meant to disarm. 25When we think we're telling the emotional truth of a situation, we're more likely telling one possible truth, several layers up from the truth we may never know. 26People who claim to have stopped loving simply love too much. They're telling us about nothing other than their disappointment. 27Likewhen a clerk says, "We're out of those," or "We don't carry that," smiling, happy not to help. The smile of someone caught in the jaws of a larger animal, slowly dying.

281 wasn't trying to trick the psychologists; 1 was trying to avoid tricking myself. 29"Nobody should be afraid of his little bit of weirdness." Still, if they could solve the riddle of me, then 1 was interested.

30Thetest was "designed to expose themes as comprehended by assimilation with the sum of one's previous knowledge and experience." Isn't every act of speech and movement a test? 31 Sometimes things remain scattered. They stay unfinished. The pieces stay missing. In fact they almost always do.

32Tonightmerrymakers at sidewalk tables in the spring dusk see through me, past me, and beyond. 331 prefer to believe that my visage conveys immediately to strangers a sense of intelligence and approachability - a light air of the bon vivant, hail fellow well met. Though I know they more likely sense my cracked heart, seething with perversions.

*

4

34Sheis new here as 1 am, but less so. From less far away: a pleasant land of white houses, peaceful plowed fields and sluggish yellow rivers, but a land of contrasts, of brightest sun glare and densest shade.

35Wewoke to the leaf-tap whisper of rain. She rolled on her shoulder, faced me. It was the dim hour of dream recitals. 36y ou can usually be free some of the time, if you wake up before other people.

out my journal and read to her from October 11,2003. On that morning I had woken and made three entries. The first: "Regret became no longer active, but something like a museum piece behind glass that I could visit." 38Thesecond entry: "Fishing. A vision of us all with our lines in the water. Below the surface, not a single fish." 39Thethird entry: "Each morning, without me, my children became a little more of whatever they were becoming." 4°Half-mad with an audience, I read to her from the fattened old journal's pen-crackly pages. 41"Asmy parents sank into the wreckage of themselves, I lacked energy for my usual oneman skit about how great things are. Life, a series of deadlines that lead up to the big one."

371 dug

42Don't blame yourself, she told me. Let others blame you; they can be relied on for that. Make them do the work. 43Peopleare only ever ironic about things they don't feel ironic about, surely, but peculiar twists and reversals do happen.

44Howcan the word "custody" mean "keeping, guardianship, care" in one context and, in another context, "imprisonment, legal restraint"? My criminal friend lost both children in the divorce.

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45"Ithink I want a baby," she said. And, "No."

46Luciddreaming ... that moment at the end of sleeping or the start of waking - the space between these two states - when you're dreaming and aware. You introduce new people and events. Move them around. Determine the characters, the action, with a fluidity unknown in waking life. What would it be like if we could dream that way all the time? What if we could live that way? What if we already do?

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47 before, I am trying to answer all of their questions with stories, but now with a As single response to each. One response, no more. I've learned. 48Their figurative verdict, as before, will be decided in a distant room. My possible trickery speculated about.

49Grimymen huddle in piles of rags under the Freedom Parkway bridge. There. 50"Whenit's the real morning," she said, "remind me what I wanted to tell you." She rolled on her shoulder, turning away, and sank into the pillow and slept.

51Hetold me how, after the ruling that parted him from his children, he stepped over the yellow tape encircling what remained of their house and wandered from room to room, ending up in what had been the nursery.

52Inthis last room the father touched the wall and slid against it and the father was on the floor there looking up - through the ceiling the father could see some clouds convening, or were they clouds or something else.

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53 And so, when she woke, I reminded her of whatever it was she had wanted to say, which of course by now her sleep had erased, though either of us might have guessed the subject. Or both of us together, at once. It happened all the time.

We listened to the drone of Hartsfield's jets.

54Airplanes are something like angels. As passengers, we are closer to heaven than we'll ever get. This might explain why it's particularly devastating when they crash to the ground.

55Thecraft that brought me here proved sky-worthy enough, setting me down among strangers, some of them kind and open-hearted, others infected with black suspicions. Comfort found in dog parks, wine bars, coffee shops.

asks you how your day was and you have to pause, take a second, because her face has something in it, looking at your face -like it's a real face wondering how your day really was, and not just an extra-friendly coffee girl chatting up the customers.

56She

*
now we're reaching the end of whatever it was we started - you envelope finders, and me! Or else a new beginning. 58It would be a great risk for a public artist to make an individual statement without input from anyone else.
59 A

57S0

group of

people can create something bigger than any person alone can. When you're

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working with a group of people who do different things they all influence each other and feed into each other so much.

6°This is explained somewhere else better, but it's what we've tried to do with our project: join people, join stories, and advance both. Personally - though I've kept my personhood out of this, as much as possible - I've (re-)gained immensely, more than r believed possible in an experiment mixing elements never, as far as r know, been combined this way. 62Whatwas real didn't die, it just came back in different forms. Turns out, living in Atlanta has been good medicine.

63Thewoman? She remembered later what she wanted, and she told me. Of course, the basics were simple, and so like what the rest of us need, or want.

64Shewanted to open the refrigerator and see food that she didn't have to buy. She wanted to tum on the air conditioner in the summer without worrying about having to pay the bill. She wanted to sleep until noon, then watch TV all day.

65Morethan this, she wants us to make something together, with others involved, the world. We talk; we're still talking. I've started, am open, am ready. 66rconsent, because she consents to me.

At the same time: doubt.

hard not to think what the song says freedom is just another word for. 68I'm half-expecting my father to show up, just appear out of the crowd and walk over to me and sit down. 69Itreally doesn't take much to frighten me, especially because the things in scary movies can really happen.
67!t'S

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My father. The man I'm terrified 1 will be. "I like in the story how," she says, "you make your father character the 'friend.' As if you are trying to befriend your father, or the idea of fatherhood." She snorts. "As if."

70lncidentally, my first glimpse of nude tits had been in a convenience store with my father, where a tattoo issue had women with bright nipples holding guns.

*
71Thesun cast my shadow, a silky flow with its shine from the plated window. The hallway was dark. 1 walked from the bathroom to the kitchen. n"What's so interesting?" I asked when 1 could no longer stand the silence.

She is different lately . Weather between us has changed.

73Moming in the swamps, and another bout of storms. Or - the starkest alternative - this arid, raspy almost-nothing. 74Around us in all directions the wasteland stretched unrelenting, the ground twisted and bent in the heat haze, as if some mysterious, toxic vapor were venting from below the surface.

75Shedoes not feel free anywhere.

I listen to her and see my father's ghost over her shoulder. The misery before he left. The terrible drudgery of alcohol.

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76Hemade each day match the day before as much as possible.

77Right, I'm classically trained. And I draw on that, but also I rebel against it, when I think it's important to tell the story.

But no one is fooled. I tell a bad story. The story I tell is bad.

7SWhen I was growing up my father said something to the effect "very few things in life constitute an emergency," and I suppose that attitude got somewhat ingrained in me.

Why should this be? 1 can't say. He was only an intermittent voice on the phone. Somehow, a voice with more weight than the "real" voices around me. Still.

79 time passed, she began to feel the stress of no sleep. As

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SOl ike to relish what I'm reading. I'm still old fashioned like that. SIYou'll raise l your eyebrows in a show of disbelief. It's true: 1 find refuge in ... better stories.

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in summer - suffocating and damp. 83The lady out front is pulling her weeds. And the weather has changed between us again. 84Thank you, baby. Then the kiss.

82 Atlanta

1 understood what she wanted from me, and wanted the same from myself. a curious assignment, one 1 might have aced: Befriend the father. Be one.

851t was

He told me a story from his "callow youth" about the trouble in Reno. The job failure, destroyed equipment, fleeing into the desert. No question of picking up the final paycheck, or of continuing his studies, he said. 86To make matters worse, 1 now owed them a considerable amount of money! 87Depressed and confused, he took a leave of absence from college, went home to Illinois, and began writing fiction.

88It,S

wonderful and sad to have an 8-year-old brother who thinks you are impossibly cool. This is me talking. It was wonderful and sad. I lost his trail in Mississippi, the file sealed on his adoptive parents.

89Every

hydra head cut off yielded two more in its place. Heracles, though, with his nephew Iolaus, figured out how to kill the beast. Sever the head and bury it. Cauterize the neck stump with a torch. A wound "healed" and a regeneration prevented at the same time. Nothing like it has occurred since.

Our talks went on, the climate altering and shifting. My courage built, then dwindled. 90The music continued for many long mornings.

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Languish is the word she chooses for herself, during this time. (This period, disdainfully.) She spends hours balancing, then re-balancing, her checkbook. 91At least with a bank statement she can prove she was somewhere doing something.

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usually avoid this side of town. The skyscrapers and the people in suits. 93Luckily for us, it is a beautiful world we live in. You just wouldn't know from here.
921

At least they can't see - because they see nothing - the curse on me, the curse 1 have brought to her, to us. Of stoppage, the fear to continue. That if more of me, the one you love, comes to pass, the result can only be unfavorable. 94This is a very heavy thing to put on a girl.

95She

said, "No one in Atlanta walks anywhere." But 1 do, everywhere, sidewalks

or not (mostly not). Walk in an endless, straight-line circle, sweating the poison. For not much longer. Aircraft in the mornings and at night: trains. The Cabbagetown Express, rumbling past as 1 reached for her. 96 And what a train it was. It was the middle-of-the-night forever train. Our teeth rattled. Where could something so stretched out, so sustained be bound for? The front must already have arrived, yet the back thunders on, like history shoves forward the present.

*

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getting to that part of the summer where the air outside is actual steam, and the only real solution is to simply never go out there. Each morning she inspects the swell around her navel, as if to say: You work on your project. I have mine. Verdant is her word now. For the bushes, flowers, tangled vines. 98Ifivy were a human, she might have eaten all the rest of us by now.

97It,S

you get people interacting in this way, the city binds together. Or such is the idea, one idea of many, one possible story among every tale that might be threaded and intertwined to make a new thing out of my courage, always halting and faltering. Reaching. Which is what you do when you can't really do anything else. looEverywhere you go will be somewhere you've never been.

990nce

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Thank you to all the writers and artists:

6. Suzanne Van Atten, "Box of Stones," Gettysburg Review, Aug. 2010. 10. Leonard Cohen, "The Future," 1992. 12. Gina Webb, "And the Pursuit of Happiness," at 8 Hamilton Ave. (www.gswebb.wordpress.com). March 31, 2011. 14. Gray Chapman, "Tomboy," at Gray Writes (www.graychapman.tumblr.com). (www.accessatlanta.com). Dec. 31,2008. Jan. 2, 2011. May 25, 2010.

17. Jamie Gumbrecht, "The Newcomer," 19. Kate Sweeney, "Becoming

Real," at Room Sound (www.katesweeney.net).

20. Jessica Handler, Invisible Sisters, April 2009. 23. David Bottoms, "A Walk to Carter's Lake" (from Waltzing through the Endtime, Nov. 1, 2004.) 29. " ... weirdness." Robert Walser, "Nervous," The Selected Stories of Robert Walser. March 26, 2003

31. Hollis Gillespie, "Missing Piece," in Creative Loafing (www.clatl.com).

34. "a pleasant land ... densest shade." Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind, 1936. 36. "You can usually ... other people." William Stafford, "Freedom," Selected Poems, April 15, 1999. 52. Blake Butler, There Is No Year, AprilS, 2011. 54. Gretchen Hupfel, artist's statement, January 2001, Atlanta Contemporary (www.artpapers.org). 56. Terra Elan McVoy, After the Kiss, May 4,2010. 58. Charlie Brouwer, on his "Rise Up Atlanta" ladders project, May 11,2011 in Burnaway magazine (www.bumaway.org). 59. Dalton, Ga., native Monica Cook, interview: www.theartbiz.com. Foundation for the Arts (www.nyfa.org), 62. Eileen Drennen, "Mr. Imagination Warmack (www.blackartinamerica.com). undated. Rises Again," Feb. 19,2011, about Atlanta artist Gregory courtesy of the New York Arts Center The Way It Is: New and

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64. Karin Slaughter, Fallen, Jan. 31, 2012. 66. Jamie Iredell, "Authors on Art: Finding William Daniels in St. Petersburg," March 11,2011, in Burnaway magazine (www.burnaway.org). 67. Randy Osborne, "Beer & Blood: My Hell Night in Atlanta's Doomed Flophouse," Jan. 20, 2010, Open Salon (www.opensalon.com). 68. Elizabeth Dewberry, Sacrament of Lies, February 2002. 69. Amy McDaniel, Vouched Books Awful Interview with Laura Straub (www.vouchedbooks.com). July 22, 2011. 70. Blake Butler, Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia, Oct. 11, 2011. 71. Ben Spivey, Flowing in the Gossamer Fold, August 2010. 72. Josh Russell, My Bright Midnight, Aug. 24, 2010. 74. Winston Blake Wheeler Ward at The Five Hundred (www.the-five-hundred.com), Haze," July 12,2011. "The

75. Pippa McDaniel, "#64," on Write Club Atlanta's website (www.writeclubatlanta.comj. response to the Ten Stories High prompt, Oct. 20, 2011. 76. Pippa McDaniel, "Sins," on Write Club Atlanta's website (www.writeclubatlanta.com). 31,2011. 77. Bill Taft, interviewed by Jill Carnes in Sweet Pea Review (www.sweetpeareview.com). undated. 78. Susan Rebecca White, Simon & Schuster interview, undated. 79. Ben Spivey, "Tattered, Velvet, Ocean," at Robot Melon (www.robotmelon.com). undated. 80. Jamie Iredell, interviewed by The Big Other (www.bigother.com). 81. Jamie Allen, "Sensible," at Eyeshot (www.eyeshot.net). Feb. 10,2010.

In

Oct.

Issue XI,

Nov. 28, 2011.

82. Amanda Kyle Williams, The Stranger You Seek, Aug. 30,201 I. 84. Tayari Jones, Leaving Atlanta, Aug. 1,2003. 85. Amber Dermont, The Starboard Sea, Feb. 28, 2012.

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86. Joseph Skibbell, A Curable Romantic, Sept. 7, 2010. 87. Marshall Boswell, Understanding David Foster Wallace, Aug. 31, 2009. Nov. 28, 2002. undated.

88. Bunny McIntosh, www.meltingdolIs.com.

89. Davy Minor, Nothing is Beyond, Chapter Two at www.nothingisbeyond.com.

90. Laura Carter, "And Finally It Has Come to This. And Finally It Has Come to These Things." Everyday Genius (www.everyday-genius.com), April 1, 2010. 91. Jessie Donaghy, "2.15," at www.penandpaperrain.blogspot.com. Feb. 16,2012. Sept.30, 2011.

92. Laura Straub, Loose Change magazine (www.loosechangemagazine.org),

93. Marium Khalid, director ofRua / Wulf, interviewed by Henry Detweiler in Burnaway (www.burnaway.org),April10, 2012. 94. Caroline Huftalen, "To the Man who Ruined it for all Mankind," on Write Club Atlanta's website (www.writeclubatlanta.com). April 16, 2012. Issue Two, undated.

95. Gina Myers, Ilk Journal (www.ilkjournal.com).

96. Arrna Benoit, "One of The Best Decisions I Ever Made," at www.armabenoit.blogspot.com, Jan. 29, 2012. 97. Kat Greene, "Wednesday ego.tumblr.com, in Internet: Spies in Vaginas, Spies in the Desert," www.kats-alter-

June 13,2012. Feb. 24, 2012.

98. Heather Buzzard, "Hook Me Up to the IVY," www.indiefixx.com,

99. April Leigh, "What's the Most Elaborate Thing You Imagine for Atlanta?" by Debbie Michaud, in Creative Loafing (www.c1atl.com). Feb. 22, 2011.

100. Natasha Trethewey, "Theories of Time and Space," in Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Sept. 1, 2010.