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BLAZEVOX[BOOKS] Buffalo, New York
BlazeVOX 13 | an online journal of voice Copyright © 2013 Published by BlazeVOX [books] All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without the publisher’s written permission, except for brief quotations in reviews. Printed in the United States of America First Edition BlazeVOX [books] Geoffrey Gatza 131 Euclid Ave Kenmore, NY 14217 Editor@blazevox.org
p ublisher of weird little books
BlazeVOX [ books ]
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Table of Contents
A.J. Huffman bruno neiva Gila Mon J. Chester Johnson Piper Daugharty Craig Kurtz Zachary Scott Hamilton Chris Suda Eric Mohrman Heather Ceja John Raffetto Kyle Hemmings Marcia Chicca Mitchell Krochmalnik Grabois Michael Starr Tyler Drenon Walter William Safar John Greiner Benjamin Quigley Clinton Van Inman Holly E. Dunlap Justin Vicari Robert Kendrick Riley H. Welcker Brandy Hickey Douglas Korb Erick Verran Jim Murdoch Maggie King Louis Armand Mark Mihelcic Mouse Juno Mak Terry Ann Thaxton Raymond Farr
Fiction & Creative Non-Fiction
Clarissa Grunwald Benjamin Rader Allison Talucci Elizabeth Alexander Kailyn McCord Sheikh Saaliq Tariq Shah Joan Fiset M. E. McMullen Megan Schikora Jennifer Lesh Rudy Ravindra Sonia Saraiya Derek J. Douglas Danielle Brawand Elysium An Evening Special | Lucid Phrases Apology Transpositions Transcript #2951 The ‘Hanging’ Felix and Pauly White Streak Desperate Horseflies The Paris Problem The Vineyard Pandora’s Box West Indies Anchors Aweigh The Toe Sucker
15 Questions | Interviews with BlazeVOX Authors
An interview with Larry Sawyer An interview with Krystal Languell An interview with Burt Kimmelman An Interview with Paul Sutton An interview with Barbara Henning An interview with Alexis Ivy An Interview with Wade Stevenson An interview with Nava Fader
Wednesday's Poem: Video Poetry Readings
Nate Pritts Roger Craik Geoffrey Gatza Morani Kornberg Kristina Marie Darling Michael Kelleher Michael Boughn Peter Ramos Matt Hart Paul Hogan Wade Stevenson David Hadbawnik Leah Umansky Nava Fader Celia Gilbert Goro Takano
Hello and welcome to the Fall issue of BlazeVOX 13. Presented here is a world-class issue featuring poetry, art, fiction, and an arresting work of creative non-fiction, written by authors from around globe. Fall Matters: We are pleased to present our regular journal issue and we are pleased to announce our new BXtraordinary section to the BlazeVOX web site. Our journal features 34 poets and 15 prose writers presenting some spectacular work. Our BXtraordinary section has sixteen Video Poems and eight interviews. The video poems consist of two full-length poetry readings from around the Buffalo poetry scene and our Wednesday's Poem series. In these short video readings, poets read from their BlazeVOX book. We have also gathered up our Friday series, 15 Questions into this issue. In this issue we have eight interviews consisting of fifteen questions with BlazeVOX writers. This is a wonderful way to bridge readers and writers and hopefully open a connection. Tune in each Friday and Wednesday for new installments of our interviews and video poems. We plan to keep on adding in new and interesting content on a weekly basis, so hurray!
WORD FOR WORD POETRY PRESENTS: BlazeVOX BOOKS Bryant Park Poetry Reading
I am very excited to make an announcement for a big BlazeVOX [books] poetry reading in NYC. The Word for Word programs takes place under a canopy of London Plane trees in Bryant Park. Bryant Park is located at Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue) and 42nd Street. The visual landmark at the east end of the park is the New York Public Library. The poetry readings take place on Tuesdays at 7pm. We will feature five poets, Michael Kelleher, Amy King, Kristina Marie Darling, Leah Umansky and Geoffrey Gatza. Each poet will read for 15 to 20 minutes.
In case of heavy rain we will move to their rain venue, the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, 20 West 44th Street. It’s a couple of blocks away from the park but we move together as a group so no one gets lost. After the reading we move the group to the Bryant Park Café for refreshments and a post mortem of the reading. We have an exciting event coming up in a few days. BlazeVOX is having a reading at the Word for Word series held at Bryant Park. This is the park that is right behind the New Your Public Library, the one with those two glorious lion sculptures facing out to 5th Avenue right near 42nd street. The idea of being a poet and a book publisher blossomed right here in Bryant Park when I was a young chef. I was working furious hours for very little, or often, no money. I learned a great many things about life during that time. I also learned many things that have nothing to do with life, items like frittatas or fish sauces that are not in fashion anymore. But when I wanted to find peace and quite by loosing myself in literature, I went to Bryant Park and the library. It was the only place in the whole city where I felt I could think clearly. Rather than hiding in my book on the train, my closet that was listed as an apartment, or mingling in overly crowded coffee shops, which were very much in vogue in those days. When I left NYC to go to back home to Buffalo eighteen years ago I had every intention of returning. As things work out, Buffalo treated me all right. So this reading is a nice way to come back and show the land, the trees and the old guys playing chess the seeds that Bryant Park planted within me and grew. With that in mind, if you are in NYC please come out and play a game of chess, listen to fine poetry and have a drink with us :-) If not, no worries, I will be recording all the performances and broadcasting them in our BXtraordinary page in the coming weeks. Hurray!
7:00pm – 8:30pm | Bryant Park Reading Room Featuring the Poets of: BlazeVOX Books Join the Event on Facebook www.blazevox.org www.bryantpark.org
Michael Kelleher To Be Sung | Human Scale Leah Umansky Domestic Uncertainties
Tuesday, September 24, 2013, 7:00pm - 8:30pm at Bryant Park
Amy King Slaves to Do These Things | I’m the Man Who Loves You | Antidotes for an Alibi Kristina Marie Darling Petrarchan | THE MOON & OTHER INVENTIONS: Poems After Joseph Cornell Geoffrey Gatza House of Forgetting | Apollo (Forthcoming)
MORPHEUS: A Bildungsroman by John Kinsella
"A lyrical tour de force. Literate, impassioned and often downright gorgeous, the prose sings with wit and vigor. Add a little Dr. Benway to Stephen Dedalus, with a touch of Genet's Divine, and you have a glimpse of Kinsella's Thomas Icarus Napoleon, the hero of this literary drama. Awesome." —Jeffrey Deshell, author of Arthouse (FC2) and The Trouble with Being Born (FC2)
Oops! Environmental Poetics by James Sherry
What poetry can change is the will to change. James Sherry finds “real correspondence” between poetry’s conditional truths and the great out there, and he definitively places poetry at the center of our being-in-ecology. For a beautifully detailed understanding of poetry’s possibilities in apprehending the deep bonds, niches and connections of us-we-there-them-where-here, read Oops!. –Marcella Durand, author of Traffic & Weather
BRUSHES WITH by Kristina Marie Darling
Some facts: there is "white residue" on a windowsill. In a novel on the brink of being written, someone walks out the door then reappears on the edge of a lake. To "recollect." To "glide." To "wake up." In a work that is reminiscent of Jenny Boully's The Body -- a blankness accompanied by footnotes -- Darling's Brushes with performs a narrative of sexual betrayal and peculiar [excruciating] loss with a delicate and pressing hand. In the appendix that closes the collection, the "interior of a burned house" is transposed with the figure of a sky filled with "dead stars." Is the heart a burial ground for domestic desires? Darling has written a work of caked trace in which the longing for a shared world is already a part of the counterfeit, damaged and "circling" past. Trace, in other words, does not function in the usual way. It is not light. It is not something you can look through, like holding an ice shard up to the sun. On the contrary, it is "unsightly." It is a dark weight in a little book that felt, at times, like an act of beautiful revenge. —Bhanu Kapil, author of Humanimal
The Unfinished by Mark DuCharme
Mark DuCharme's beautiful poems teach us to read all over again: mystery, the situation of person, the texture of dream and the texture of awareness: The Unfinished is a tough book, a necessary book. —Joseph Lease
Truth Game by Tom Clark
On Tom Clark's poetry: "Very exciting... The poems have the 'now' sound of current experience; they enable one to see a little further into life as it's presently being lived." — John Ashbery
for Holding Silence by Nura Yingling
Yingling’s poems in for Holding Silence map the direction out of Lost up each scouring step to Found, or at least to the essential human truth that “the woman who could be you, is.” Rigorously raw and personal, they yet show us ourselves —in spite of all the wily ways we try to avoid such mirrors—with music, vision, and great compassion. “No need anymore for efforting,” she discovers in Eleven, “Here in weightless stillness is what/ you've always wanted.” Human poems opening out and up. — Sheryl Robbins
Does the Moon Ever Shine in Heaven? by Chuck Richardson
In Does the Moon Ever Shine in Heaven? Chuck Richardson sends Dostoekvsky's Notes From Underground into the information age: angst goes surreal, beyond identity, meets pop culture in the form of Captain Beefheart, Diane Sawyer, Ayn Ran, Michael Corleone and the beat goes on. A rampaging rip of a book that throws all expectation out the window—including normality itself. If you can handle the raucousness Richardson throws your way, you will laugh out loud. I did. —Jefferson Hansen is the author of a book of poetry, Jazz Forms (Blue Lion), plus a novel ...and beefheart saved craig (BlazeVOX). He edits AlteredScale.com.
Flux by Jane Joritz-Nakagawa
In Jane Joritz-Nakagawa's FLUX, we encounter a poetic temperament equally at home in the openness of the personal lyric and the laser-sharp probe of social commentary. In her dexterous handling of lineation and compression, the poems oscillate— challenging us to reconsider just about everything we hold dear. Some things, as she says, cannot be translated; yet, with the help of these poems, we are better prepared for what the strange world offers us. —JENNIFER WALLACE
Transversales by Michael Gessner
The poems in Michael Gessner’s new collection, Transversales, are formally dazzling—incisive, witty, and smart—but compassion tempers linguistic brilliance. In a series set in Paris, for instance, a visit (against advice) to the “labyrinth of tented markets,” the now-dangerous Market of Seine-SaintDenis, is punctuated dramatically by fragmented quotations from Victor Hugo’s diary kept during the siege of Paris (1871). Quite simply, I am hooked on this book. Gessner’s poems are glory. —Cynthia Hogue, author of Or Consequence
Robert Browning's The Pied Piper of Hamelin, A Child’s Story
This facsimile of Robert Browning's The Pied Piper of Hamelin, A Child’s Story is beautifully illustrated and colored by T. W. Craik and W. A. Craik. BlazeVOX presents for the first time this wonderful edition, originally created in 1959 as a gift by the illustrators to their young son. Robert Browning's poem captures the mysterious nature of the Piper legend and the resplendent, rich time period in which the tale took place, which has inspired many great illustrators such as Kate Greenaway, Arthur Rackham, Margaret Tarant, and Maxfield Parrish. The dramatic events that Browning recorded in 1842 marvelously unfold in the Craiks' illustrations. The pages have bold, imaginative drawings, deep lines, rich colors and fine (often idiosyncratic) details. From the pillaging rats to the gluttonous council members, every pen and brush stroke brings Browning's moral home. This work contains over 40 illustrated pages with hand lettering and includes a foreword by Roger Craik detailing this book’s creation by his parents. This unique book is intended for all ages.
an online journal of voice
C The moon, not the only white around. From inside a battered wallet your greedy hands surprise, baggies can be that small? I thought my eyes would… POP right out and land in the sea of garbage my feet are drowning in. I am trying and I am failing at becoming part of the ripped seats. I want to jump, fling, throw! myself from this car, from you. But, being rid of you? I fail at that too. With disturbing confidence you inhale deeply, quickly an odd look in your eyes.
A house key is shoved in my face, full of negative consequences. Do you think about your family? I should do that more, and then I deeply inhale.
Imagining your body wet with rain, my own glistens as through the ceiling comes the rumble of my neighbor's snores like the still far-off thunder of an approaching storm.
Found Poems from Alcoholics Anonymous' Big Book
1. I made the coffee and later I called my former lover, which really meant I went to bed with a knife. Drinkers are like that. Beer cans, bottles, and dirty clothes, bruises like different-colored costumes, and I understand years of darkness, thousands of miles, the end of everything. Ask me about the bruises. 2. That night, I vomited, and I loved it. I really am-- like all of us, an appalling thing. 3. We think the 'why' is not important; That is where we are really fooled. 4. I did not fall in love with the first new leaves. I did not remember. Besides, my gin would last longer. 5. How can I know how many thousands of men and women suffer too? I read everything I could and I muttered my name aloud. I will never know.
I would like to express my deepest apologies to [name withheld] and his family for all of the problems I have caused for them in the past few weeks. Yes, it’s true, my actions were completely inappropriate that Saturday evening. It was wrong of me to wear that bold white dress that night out to that bar. I should have held my hands down to my sides before I left the house, to be sure that the hem didn’t rise above my fingertips, but admittedly, I was only thinking of myself that night. I was caught up in my own vanity – I just wanted to be noticed. My shoes, in retrospect, were completely out of line. I still don’t know what I was thinking when I put those high heeled boots on that evening. I wore such a bright shade of red lipstick, and my eyes were dark and smokey underneath my dirty blonde bangs. God, what was I thinking? Moreover, I would like to apologize not only for my appearance, but for my behavior, as well. I had a really long week, and thought I could just unwind for the evening. It wasn’t my intention to ever smile at you the way I did. No, I should have never smiled at you like that. What were you to think? I was completely out of line. My careless actions violated the unspoken rules of friendship; I should have kept my eyes pointed downwards at the glowing screen of my phone, and only acknowledged you occasionally with a slight nod of the head as the evening went on. There absolutely should not have been eye contact, or laughter, or deep conversation at any point in the evening. I know that sometimes I can be rather charming – it’s been an ongoing problem of mine, and I’m trying hard to change that now. I shouldn’t have accepted the drinks you kept bringing over to me as I sat at the end of the bar, fighting to keep my head up over my shoulders. I’m sorry that I was too drunk to get home on my own, and that you had to
take on the burden of helping me from the bar to your vehicle as my eyes rolled up in to the back of my head. I should have clearly articulated that I wasn’t interested in anything more than friendship as you pulled over behind that abandoned building outside of town and yanked my dress up over my hips. I’m sorry for calling the police on you. In my state of mind, still drunk from earlier that evening, I was clearly making some bad choices. I didn’t understand at the time exactly what effects my accusation would have on your life, and I was being selfish. I didn’t mean for your reputation to be tarnished, for two of your many friends to stop talking to you, or for your family to feel shame. I understand that my apology will do nothing to change that, but I want to let you know that I will never hurt anyone again the way that I hurt you. I am taking active steps to change my behavior. It has become clear to me through all of this that I am a shameful human being. No, I don’t leave my house anymore, choosing rather to focus all of my attention on changing everything about myself. All of our mutual friends have stopped speaking to me, so I have a lot of time to contemplate how I might atone for what I’ve done. My thoughts never turn from that night when I just assumed it was okay for me to wear a nice dress so carelessly, and to drink a few drinks without first thinking of the people around me. I’m sorry, [name withheld], and I pray every day that you are able to recover from this terrible pain that I have caused in your life.
Birch Bark Paper This will explain my first love: humans radiate at changing frequencies but trees are a constant four so safe green spaces may be as effective as prescription drugs like how our eardrum acts like a covering called ‘resonance’ instead a shred of character pulled thin from the base, with what were called eyes in between I sprouted rectangular so there may be some science to becoming a hippie.
(spaces) slowly but surely there will hum a time in leafy vein growth where slaughtering, coleslaw-tearing mixed-up skeletons F A L L you’ll probably dig your nails in, those keratin claws with white bruises and you’ll let go with everything else but that icy window sill I’ll jump off the deck and for a moment we’ll all believe in flight and then I will prove to you that God exists—my god, we say, my G O D if she does, only I will know it and then it will be too late to prove anything, which when proven, means nothing except a point accepting sweating human nodes, the only space between is between cartilage but even those are dust in salt water, not free living spaces paradise was never in the moment, was it? this attempt to explain the geographical
ANEMONE or you, perhaps, off in Greece, in the rain, ingratiated to ruins pulling at your skin like a banana you can't figure out you've already peeled, bruised beside the static sea, beneath a grainy sky breathing sand bedazzled with gritty schizophrenia & torn hands that bleed sunburn: the consequence of rummaging through remote memories slink from the light, they become secrets, they thank you for your vigil but never your vigilance
beggars in the streets, shadows rich with ragged hunger, or you, lined up shirtless against the wall with the other women behind the church, staring at the stucco, feeling its pricks in your palms while kneeling men drink from spinal taps your gaze hazes—Aegean gleam—gleaning a biography that aspires to credible, cobbling together a repertoire of catacomb mannerisms the cracks in the walls the crumble dust of disrepair around the walls the graffiti spit lovingly on the walls the patterns of pale streetlamp patchwork gilding the walls the grunts & groans & misogyny & moans coming through the walls the spilled blood or wine or smashed garnets staining the walls the speckles in the mortar forming constellations upon very close inspection of the walls all offer clues to the correct & essential interpretation of troubled dreams, faint
liaisons with men appointed as caregivers—they wear crystal robes immune to insignia, they finger their chest hair like golden fleece, their pants cost far more than the whores who tug them off, or you: a flicker & a fuck with bloodshot eyes like fig insides, repeatedly retracing your circle of footsteps in hot white sand as it climbs up your shins & thighs & cakes on thick & the slum momentum of repetition, the authority built on guilt & rote, the drunken gulls blotting the overripe sky with silhouette spatter, or you, as a girl, lulled into a false sense of secularity
by elders, their shadows rich with roundness, who ushered youth through shadow gates into the shadow gardens of their shadow mansions & fog rubs itself over the ground like self-entitled men taught you the impossibility of filling an empty glass just by tipping it to your lips wandering insomniac night through dawn while rain drips up from puddles & mists into steamy ejaculation, you smile at the conception of the sun & abort it silently & borrow a bathroom, where you rinse the hair off your head, teeth clattering onto smirking tiles, you pluck them up, wobbly, pocket them in lieu of currency & leave but you effortlessly pass for beautiful in the daylight
pausing to consider your reflection in a puddle—a momentary diptych moving on, mouthing unspeakable obscenities at the skeletons inhabiting labyrinth alleys, they give you chills & weep steam from sockets & whisper the meaning of your name as you go by
TWO YOUTHS Translucent cloud parts the slimming quiot's light, lambent, vertebral threads to bloom respired, lacquer mail on columnar frames. Clean-skinned braeburn rockets lurch in ascending squalls of loving, dull-eyed din. In bends of spotty lavender opaque where a visitor's unzipped, tensed jilts prune reef flowers, crouched in brush. Trading wads of buttonwood, two youths dander into view, bodies damp with barm. Dour adolescents stanchion waves of daily celerity and all earth's lowing maw to shirk aphetic day, in whose cemetery hands monosyllables irradiate and sear. On television a ditch of faux-jolting rabbits overflows. By fourteen I'd forgot the continent stare in glass reflecting and the weight of sea-aft fruit; reserved a breast-red poppy for coming long-suspended dark, when every seventh second's lost to quiet scrutinies of lust.
Apple Bulbs Eaves sparrow perch hillocks frothed, clustering earth a cache of apple bulbs. Patient sward a wind’s soft walked upon. In freshman year, could our pockets blush.
THE GLADE BELL Rescuing the held aerie was arduous, removing from slow path of honey the composed cloth and mineralized aluminum matter. A humid knot is left in little-strewn trees; the hazel’s low, aggregate anthered boughs cradle confessing summer and wet hearth. Fingers sunk in the recovery effort broach a zone of cashews apart, the cleft brood newly cracked, with one distending fetal wing. The gentlest epaulette of artery and draped rosin walled in dimly-marbled ore, which we spade through with nails to Hisarlik. Canopies plaqued with comb keep their dripping aspergil or glade bell lodged in lonesome apolune. Its outreaching echo spoils with growth in a minor river-farer’s bethel, where kayaks skim sidelong its camber and our ambry, mossed with decay. The level yard of lawn soon rose bronze, but it hales with limit. Neighbor organism is sedate but for rustle of purple spore, orange saffron, huddled mushroom cups parsing heather fog. A shadow ambulates. I wonder at the sun till I see the hive, swaying shade and chords of ichor.
Mitchell Krochmalnik Grabois
Copperhead God sent a copperhead rattler to bite the man who lives down the street the man who never shaves anymore and comes out with no pants on and shows us his ugly grey wiener the boogyman my big sister said My mother said: Shut up he’s just demented Ain’t no boogyman ain’t no Chula Vista what they call the boogyman in Mexico half-man, half-goat, all devil God sent the snake like He did in the Garden but this time the snake was on His side because He took pity on the old man who’d lost his mind and his manners Old man’s daughter looked out the kitchen window saw the act of biting saw the head draw back then launch forward saw the gleam of the fangs
through the ground fog said: Oh! Oh! Her daddy fell down She ran out Her husband followed She said: Throw him in the car Take him to hospital get some anti-venom in him Her husband packed his pipe took some time about it She jumped up and down He lit it, took a puff said: Why would we want to do that? God sent that snake to put him out of his misery You think he likes living as a total fool? So the couple dragged him inside laid him on the living room floor watched him convulse watched him die waited a while called 911
Clinton Van Inman
INVITED It was no accident my coming here For they must had known long before I wandered to their farmhouse near That soon I’d knock upon their door During this darkest season of the year. Call it more than a good neighbor’s sense In snow to leave a porch lamp lighted Or post the sign upon the picket fence For those in need are all invited Even if I thought it mere coincidence.
SYLVIA I hear they have placed A pretty blue plaque High above your flat So that tourists can find you And say that this is the spot Where you killed yourself. Lucky girl, you modern Sappho To take the quantum leap Like a comet to take your place Among the darkest regions of empty space With a brilliance that few can keep And even less the mind to know Where no dull planet can perturb you As fallen flowers have no faces.
THE LAST OLYMPIAN Across wet glass we rub our noses And paint a picture that presupposes Like confused footsteps that reach Across some worn and weathered beach. Words that fix you, words that find you, Words that bind you, words that blind you, Words that lead you to a trance Or spin you round some sacred dance. Your fingers cannot perturb The pliant petals of a rosebud Within the jar the question lingers, While you count with broken fingers. A mermaid sings in a distant sea. Like the stars she cannot be seen directly, Etched in moon glow beyond all proof Like some last Olympian, proud, aloof.
FRANKENSTEIN Color coded complete with picture I.D. We’ll teach you to be like us. Give you a turtle neck or bow tie You will be our kind of Mensch We’ll give you a new brain, doesn’t Matter whose for they are all just the same, Complete with certificate of authenticity Credit rating and charge account, Security, savings, and even disability. We’ll teach you how to walk and talk In circles as if you had some sense. We will give you some brand named shoes We will give you a new name like Frankie, But why are you still reaching for Flowers?
THE REAL MISSING MASS They say that most of you is missing Perhaps even from your private places Something more than just an arm or leg And deeper than your darkest spaces. Researchers conclude as much as ninety percent Lost deduced from a long line of X’s and O’s But it takes no greater science to tell me Your muted mysteries no one knows. I too have peered down your opaque passages Have felt your fractal pulse dimensionless Have seen your eyes hidden in a veil of stars And knew that you are quite featureless. Like staring at the stars You cannot be seen directly As your skies are blue only from a distance Because you are a tease only.
DRESSED RIGHT They said that you were dressed right In your blues, your red and white, The fresh cut flowers were neatly laid, The flag folded as the band had played. We stood and watched with Sunday’s best In places not for playing you would rest, Momma fell sick, said it was the heat When they lowered you under our feet. They said that you were dressed right With your blues, your red and white, But none of those names engraved in stone Or those flags waving for some proud cause That gives the grownups much applause, Or your medals matter—because you are gone.
swimming inside of our bodies there is nothing else left. heartbeats of fresh grass, flakes of clouds in our fingers. the light, warm shadow of your legs, and your hair, your soft ocean of breasts. we are swimming inside of each other and there is nothing else left. our breath, our skin,
our only roots. there is nothing else left. the sad river bank disappears and every river we ever crossed is flooded in each of us, a noise on the crest of a wave. the vines in ourselves are untangled, dangled, and our blood rushes to the soil, our fingers, cups to bathe the stones. and there is nothing else left but this body. a woman and a man,
we’ll never know the sky or even the sun and soil. it is this dream that lives!
rectangles, wires, boxes buildings, cars my breasts are the saliva of the roots of trees my eyes, like the apples that have fallen in the grass. an ocean of rectangles, boxes, cubes wires, signs, buildings, cars my heart is collected there and my skin is in the earth. there is an aura in death and in life; no matter how confused, there is a communication with what’s left of ourselves in each other.
I wish I could
My body is not my own It is a suit An aura that contains me My body is not my own It is a shell That touches the outside of things for me It is rain It is the beginning of the outside of a dream It is a chest I will never reach it I will never eat the flesh of its ribs My body is not my own A cold grove in my heart its bundled trees thick and bare so far away from the sky I wish I could
I wish my blood would spill over my skin My body muscular My dreams spread apart I wish I could touch it with my hands
after twelve weeks of working the broiler and grill at lone star steaks and watching too many feeders drown well done porterhouses and t bones in standing pools of 57 and A1 before holding their forks like torque wrenches and pounding it in one load at a time I asked to be moved to the dishwasher our regular guy darrell didn’t show up the same day bloomington pantagraph had him in the blotter for felony theft so it was an easy call for the manager who could swing the grill until he found a new cook and needed someone in back that shift between the slaughterhouse and the grill station it had been six months of blood and raw flesh and what I needed was a steady stream of hot water shooting from the sink hose and the rubbery violet and cream smell of soap in a room where no one would fuck with me as long as I cleaned up everyone’s mess every night was a sequence of bus tubs
filled with the evidence of customers grown fat on overgrown cattle and corn leaving folded wads of potato skin mâché wrapped around butter sodden lumps of starch or crusts of bread left next to the bones and bricks of dessert from the bar that burst in streaks of flamingo pink and astro turf green on the white ceramic plates or left roach sized chunks of oil slick black resembling chocolate between flattened ranges of industially whipped air water hydrogenated vegetable oil high fructose corn syrup polysorbate 60 also used in condom safe sexual lubricants and artificial vanilla flavoring the cornucopia had been put in reverse everything was coming back partially disassembled and fully reconstituted gasoline from gulf coast refineries nitrogen fertilizer and feed grain from the funks and archer daniels midland laboratories down the road in urbana tractors and combines from caterpillar a few miles down 55 in morton diesel fuel and peterbuilts and trailers to haul the final product of angus beef I may have slaughtered in peoria all travelling down their inevitable path to my spot at the narrow end of the horn
I took the stream of table service salvage bins the waitresses dumped at the door and played each one like a one minute puzzle ordering dishes and plates and cups and bowls in 10 line stanzas of 10 unit lines then gave them a scalding before sending them down the six foot conveyor and through the fingers of the green plastic curtain to vanish into the hiss hum and squeak of past purging steam and industrial cleanser and come out moist and glowing on the other side I’d stand and watch the last rack of the night emerge from the heart of the washer each piece already starting to lose its shine the traces of water turning to vapor and the green pigment around the edges one work day closer to vanishing the bonds of kaolinite feldspar bone ash and clay in the porcelain oxidizing to bring the keramos back to burned earth and everything kept moving off the company clock atoms decaying of their own sweet will to rearrange this corporate disorder though I wouldn’t be around to see the result I pictured the pile of rubble and rust and smiled then whistled while I worked like a good dwarf as I mopped the floor before closing and guided the grease and the dirt down the drain
Nous/e It's a false universe of prison Trying to grow up and make itself anything. Trying to fill the chasm it made Scratching through a pinhole. It's a braided hill of worms Crazed by voltage and genesis. Folding into itself Like the ocean chewing earth into sand. Rolling as a sluggish sphere Only shuffling a momentary belt across the desert.
Blood Orange Deserted skin in a bowl watches the unblinking tomb of the crux open up. Loose from it's bulk, scored and hemorrhaging. Hunks of pulp seizing in acid. Family vapors waltz and wax gestalt. The swallowed wombs' immune energy opus digs in. Roots audit the Earth from a pile of shit. Burst from a flowering stalk and spin with it until its spread too thin.
Sciencish Oak silhouettes carve the slatted blinds to bone Where they sag, kissing the window. Segmented and relative concretely, But hominiform with the soft curls of bended light. Don't just sit there. They could shiver and fall on the floor, If life could forgive itself for being. They could burst there Into a chalky cloud of vinyl And recreate the genesis of the universe Eddies in eddies in bigger eddies Or the tumult of an atom, If there's any difference. They could fan out like a wing from their stations And skim jagged waves Through the billows of orbitless dust Cropped in the beam of their projectors. They could scrape against themselves In bowstrokes of dead skin and plastic. But they won't.
"Weathering the Storm"
A storm is coming I can feel it inside, The memories strike like lightening, The rain releases through my eyes, My fists pound like thunder releasing the rage, Of all the pain I remember from my yesterdays. On the horizon the dark clouds start to roll in, Changing the day into a deep night again, Darkness surrounds so the demons can play, Whispering the weakness my soul cannot shake. This is the calm right before the storm, Before the sky opens and the rain begins to pour, Causing the banks to fill past their brim, And drowning all the feelings of hope that were here. Go seek out a place to weather the storm, Where the chaos cannot reach me a shelter from harm, If I board up the windows and lock the doors tight, Maybe I will find a way to survive through the night. No matter how deep I hide from its fury, Flashes of lightening reveal my secrets to me, Bringing to light the pain that I carry, As the storm showers its wrath of truth and misery.
The gnashing of the wind begins to take hold, Dizzying my thoughts and I lose my control, Getting swept away in the abyss of the chaos, Just hoping the wind will bring a calm once it’s gone. Finally the clouds are starting to break, The sky opens up and the sun begins taking shape, I have almost escaped the storm with my life, But I have to find footing before I find peace tonight. The debris of memories are put back in their place, The windows can be opened to greet a new day, I can emerge feeling drained but somehow renewed, Having weathered pain’s storm by simply making it through. I step outside surveying the trail of destruction, Hoping one day this storm will cease to do harm, But looking out past the blue sky above, On the horizon I see new dark clouds start to form.
The shadows dance around me, Mixing with my fears, Of never going nowhere, Of being trapped with all the tears. Demons from the memories, Of past regret and broken dreams, Then unleash them down upon me, Giving me no hope of getting through. I cower to hide my sadness, The heartbreak and the shame, Of all the time I’ve wasted, Refusing to give a voice to all my pain. But somewhere in the darkness, A light comes shining through, To guide me to a place, Where the memories of the past, Won’t be all I know. His hands are ever gentle, He whispers softly in my ear, My dear just hold on to me, Your invisible man will give you strength, So you can conqueror all your fears.
Sitting in the silence as I often do, The whispers surround me speaking the truth, No life can hold meaning being alone, Love must be expressed, it has to be shown. The emotions begin to take control of me, Guiding my thoughts and forming my dreams, And in the quiet he begins to appear, A man of my dreams or maybe my fears. To create someone who will always be near, To quiet my pain and calm all my fears, My fantasies would never again measure up, To my realities manifestation of all that I want. More than a lover, more than a friend, A complete equal in body, spirit and heart, Leaving out all of my flaws that drive love away, True love would we find when we finally embrace. This fantasy my love desires to create, Would think we are perfect, designed by pure fate, No flaws would this invisible man ever see, Our separate hearts beating in seamless harmony.
IT People used to look under rocks or down the back of the sofa or in their underwear drawer. Some even prayed to God above for the chance to remember it. Now we can simply google it and download it to our hard drives along with all our MP3s, e-mails and photos of the kids.
An Honest Poem
Here's the deal, mate – we might as well be up front about all this – what you need to do is read this and forget it. It shouldn't be so hard. I'm sure you've read and forgotten hundreds of poems, dozens at least. So, let's cut to the chase – yes? – and not waste each other's time.
Do the Right Thing There is nothing sadder than a poem struggling on a page to try and say what its author was incapable of. The only decent thing to do once you realise this is to tear it out and put the thing out of its misery. Quickly, while no one's looking.
Suburbia II People lose their way from time to time. They wander along familiar streets, step on and off the same old buses, sit on tired sofas, eat their dinners and watch the telly then say their prayers, crawl into bed, lie to their partners and then to themselves before falling asleep to dream that they know how to fly though there's nowhere left to fly off to.
Break Beauty break my back me beneath it and it’s always you who smile.
Ocean Crossing Bundled tight
in typewriter ribbon, she was an anomaly in the middle of the quick caught, easily lost lot in modern mode. On Sundays she smelled of charred strip steak, the rest of the week she perfumed herself with gardenias shipped from South Africa. I visited her on the Wednesday when she bit her lower lip while waiting to open her grandmother’s boxes brought from Poland or Portugal, from which she wasn’t sure. She wept, tormented by sad the truth that all of the boxes that her grandmother packed had been left unopened longer than any row boat ride or plane trip would have taken. Never having known her grandmother, I felt no remorse. I left the room with her father’s silver dollar in my pocket and the hope of making it to Webster Avenue and East 233rd Street before the wailing women arrived on Thursday morning, ready to taunt Melville with their tears of the sea. She showed little concern when I left and reminded me that we were all islands, or at least noonday fetishes
that would never be fulfilled until all the paper ships sunk and their cargo littered the bottom of the ocean.
One Thousand and One Nights Falling through one thousand and one nights not savored and on the one thousand and second day got lost in the sorrow that was lost in the night. Every song comes to the same refrain. It’s the bridge you’ve got to keep your ears open for. I cover my eyes and watch the blind hours, each and every one of them the same.
Slash Stressed syllable dom of the dom cum crater moon
heavy the bore
on sit still king Slash ///////// faced to grave mean t in g machine on the lap
in the race this now these
two & & &
scarred that never those
what was what really
I knew from the very beginning that it would have been better to just lay back and mutter without worry of con dom nation never no getting ahead Nothing to do but fill the pockets with a million penny ante horrors I’m the out classed conscious linguistic hardball ran dom lie dropped
a Judge and jury hungry for my whisper to falter derided silent sleep Stressed syllable heavy on the bore dom Slash the accent mark & meander ///////// Tongue tied and then
She Who Bathes Her Knees Not a day over twelve, long hair in braids, as black and as sheen as a roach, lips smooth and matte as rust-smeared clay, decorated with the most exquisite baubles of the land. Small, gold medallions aligned where your nipples fall— cheeks, forehead, scalp marked red. Do they call you that because he beat you red? When he drank the fire poison-water, did he drag you by your mane? Leaving black jagged rocks embedded in your knees? When no one was looking, did you allow tears to fall weaving rivers down the ridges of your swollen cheeks and lips? Did he rage on you because the white man took his land? You resented feeling ugly on the inside—getting decked then dressed up and decorated. On your wedding day, all you remember is noticing how beads of sweat decorated the crevices of his leather-worn skin, how the sweltering heat rose from the red rock mountains, how your father so easily traded you for a fertile slice of land. As the shaman sounded the calfskin drum, pungent smoke swirled from incense burned black. The bridegroom took you by your heart-shaped face, planting his cracked lips there upon yours and in that moment your spirit sank with nothing soft to break its fall. Do you think they believe you? When you say your wounds come from a bad fall? Passing by, do you notice how the gaiety drops and conversations become decorated with under breaths from hushed lips? You’re not fooling anyone, little bird. For it is read all over the map of your face. You stare blankly as you shuffle by and we notice the black shadows on your skin, as you pretend to be interested in something in the distant land.
As evening’s violet and navy blanket the land, the sun retracts the comfort of her light. The fall of night, you know the time, when the black holes in his eyes swallow the irises and any inking of calm that decorated his face is lost. All he can see is red as poison-water glistens on those cracked lips. Hate spews from his shriveled, twinkling lips. Those rock fists, so hard, they break the skin where they land. The divots of red Return to your soft, fawn skin. Pride keeps you up for so long before the inevitable fall. Then you try to lie still and shut your eyes, though your mind carousels, reach rotation decorated By recollections of more hopeful times and you find some comfort in the black. If you came upon a mirror, would your recognize yourself with black eyes and battered lips? You wonder how you became decorated with so many scars after so few years on land— how the days fall and end blood red.
The Old Maid and the Sea Three decades since you left Three sheets to the wind I am Standing here on the edge Trying to find meaning in your missing Looking for a message in this bottle Married to la mar You are Everything she wanted She is your master I am your barren moor She’s see through My sea view I see She is measureless and mystical I am carnal and corporal She is saline and sediment But I am bone and blood
Eulogy for Anita Berber I painted a picture of you, futuristic. Head on a perpetual tilt perhaps to allow the white rail drip, made obvious by your dragon nostrils. Shrugged off the shoulder, and draped in demise— an eye contact evasion aficionado. You never would have made it to the Red-Hat Society, but I painted you the way you painted Berlin. Grotesque and gaunt, gyrating for Germans, pirouetting on pelvises, androgynously en travesti. A show time show-off. Sour-puss’d & puckered, Cupid’s bow-painted lips paid for tricks. Caked on & drawn in; a pantomime’s paramour chewing white, ether-soaked rosebuds. Gut distended from coke-bloat, disguised as African infant starvation. I painted you, killing time.
Elysium If you’re good, you get a wish. Just one. He didn’t even have to think about it. He stood in the middle of a field of yellow flowers and said, “I want to be with her.” Not a particularly unique request, but there are things more important than being unique. And she was there. Still twenty-three years old, blonde, smiling the way she always smiled, with her eyes lit all up the way he imagined they’d been just before she died, dark and shiny with wind and fear and falling. He could imagine the sound her voice before she spoke, that feathery singer-voice. She said, “What happened to you?” “Cancer,” he replied. “No, I didn’t mean—” “Oh.” He looked down at his hands, blotched and knotted. “I got old. Were you—were you waiting a long time?” “Didn’t seem like it.” “I’m 76,” he said. “I thought—well, I’d been hoping—Well. One wish only.” “It’s fine,” she promised. “It’s fine.” So they talked, and walked through the fields of yellow flowers, and held hands. And she fell asleep under the moon and he curled up besides her and listened to her breathing. She was just the way he remembered her; she was perfect. She was just the way he remembered her.
If you’re good, you get a wish. Just one. She was twenty-three years old. She hadn’t died by accident. They gave her one wish. She had no use for an afterlife. One existence had been more than enough. So she stood there, patiently, and she was probably smiling with her eyes lit all up as she disappeared. Her footsteps uncrumpled, leaving nothing but yellow flowers, for miles and miles and miles. Fifty-one years later and he arrived, said, “I want to be with her.” But she was gone, gone, gone. “What happened to you?” her shadow whispered, but there was nothing left to block the sun.
They Navigate by Constellation What tempestuous destiny rushes at them Who captain their lives, with honor flying as standards, But with minds as holds, full of millions of worms? Their houses are full of boxes never unpacked from the move, That nation of plagiarists, And the gray glow of computers as they read in bed Is finally painting their own blue and brown eyes gray. The indifference of the trees to their ennui, The swagger of their overfed cats, The thoughtlessness of what is rotting on the road... It can swallow a generation; we just know this. That is its breath they smell when they are microwaving dinner. Later over the speakers the iPod shuffle-stumbles To a Segovia waltz or an old song Their mothers used to sing, as they twist In the bed sheets together – recalling The Polaroid memories of their childhoods, but reflecting How the film for a Polaroid just isn’t made anymore.
Ember Nocturne The sky becomes a hand and tosses all street walkers, trophy husbands and concubines to the same burning wet place as the other expunged criminals, those who now cower under the parapets of a dream god's palace. Can any verse be found out in the dunes? Depends what bulldog wind Is gnawing on us now, what wind is blowing the statue girl’s stone gown. She carries her hundred years well, her only sign of age the moss growing in the crevices of her face and cape as a shiny dark fly hikes our leftovers. Embers of old grudges, will you fall away as easily as the blue from our eyelashes? My toes are cold, cold in the horny weight of rubber treads. It is these memories that endure under our skin like splinters, of her sleeping in the shotgun seat, of her crying at your door, of another in her place, of an ugly question that defines, of a falling fork, of an empty doorway.
Collie Elegy To remember the last days with Sandy blows leaves over the tidy, brick walkways of my teenage memories. I could barely breathe when my collie's blind and bloodshot eyes finally closed. How do people write about the past with such patiently observed calmness? I don't remember one moment of real calm in my entire life, just a spinning nickel that sometimes lands tails for horrible sorrow, and sometimes lands heads for friendship and drunk glee. When I tell stories they fall too fast, like those plastic paratroopers, or I accidentally let go and they fly off like birthday balloons. If only I could tie the stories together, create buoyancy... but: how can I write that my brother and I are trading puns and howling laughing, because yesterday we were weeping?
Esoterical Space belies physics. Gravity. Comprehension falters. In a blink minds divide. The law from the logic. Sink ing metaphysical teeth into loopholes that cannot hold anything. (But their weight in water?) Obsoletrical observations about inside the idea of institutionalism. That's why the bars are banded in shades of 3 X 3 X 4. The doors are all left open. It is freedom. That is the lie.
R E/P M Skydiving naked in a mind field ing moonbeams like bullets (matrix style – all slow-motion black patent sexy), I dial escape. Screaming winds respond with a synthesized version of my own voice that could never be described as an echo. Thank god for rip cords. Way to overstate the obvious. I swallow our mutual fear, continue to free fall into this quasi-dark ness that doesn’t feel anything like sleep.
The Elastic Gait of a Memory The rain is like a screw, twisting its sound to undertake the moon. It settles, a kinder tension – ash-like in its accrual. It abstracts the steps of pressure. Every drop institutes a re-active response. Trigger is the echo of elemental automation: Midnight’s cloud disseminating. A new filter formulates . . . adjusts/converts/segments nothing more than the dusty expression of a star’s silent stare.
course typing burst out as described: a column of ten o’s plus a comma (a double space preceding the next character
motel room undeniably bald, laid fat, godlike thumb his wallet, she wonders
tiles a rather modest appearance but perhaps in any case shunned like plague such a tile ( certainly so
Zachary Scott Hamilton
SHARE YOUR SILHOUETTE WITH ME |I.| We've arrived at ten o' clock, stained glass in a tongue table, we sort genes from within sift and surf – in our shallow decay, laughing roses spilling out neon worms, we live along a “Sorry, We're Closed, Yes! We're Open!” Sign, tubed in our sleeping quarters and a yo-yo thin dawn – withering juice – lines of thread drip window from the sweater of the onlooker. Growing a fertile pathway in a mattress, every fog is a cobble-stone clock, empty fur of flight, kale seed drifting in thunder. Crochet-needle-deep, a spirit driven to safety by Portuguese eels
|II.| In the flight of a symphony, the ruby notations are a calm stitching of wings. Neon leaks in, to touch these shadows. Burgamot steps leading shadows up cotton tail lights, steady pictures in the rose, beyond their diffused roots reach for the wooden ladder of nasturtiums, and Saint Johns Wort near an entry-way, morning pressed. Dreamed by hands, emerged on ladders, Chlorophyll in TV's, leaking from a house, four eyes, mint in the dream of a Cadillac converter with steaks pressed down on the tin foil roof, hammer raised high. A window door frequency installs perception thick in mediocre memory, but eyes are not the only serpents and littered Kangaroos that party in the back of the hat. More TV's against the county-fair, six donkey's wings are Willows, six donkey's wings are Sycamores. Children climb horizontal – a fort inside of those wings, sending wires out to play telephone with Grouse – six with ruby lunch in a paper sun, overflowed from the pockets of sunlight pouring down whisper onto alleyway. Glass and rabbits rise in pulleys to the surface of our dawn, through electric wires, sent in (Morse code,) to the tree house window, eight notice the fiber-optic birds, chasing out donkeys from an oak habitat. Nine at the edge blur that comes with a distance, in a magnified flower Rolling into the stairway of a geranium blossom – our eyesight horizon. Ten ruin birds, sent laughing in the reflection of the galactic centre, this neon motion, rusted alloy of rose petals – razor blades, knives. Breaking Reishi lamp shades in their paintings, hanging rose, from room to room. The skillful infrastructure of the rain in the hang-gliders, up in flowers, down in crashes. A damp, orange satellite, high perched neck line of catacombs, not yet ruined by the Albatross. |III.| Of herds, an ice, an orange nesting pearl of nightmares, alone. String along chalk. All sheep wings going inside a floor. Down bath, on elevator curls. Her hair is a diamond knife in winter steps, a long whisper, a bridge of leaf and socks – under a tear a skin and hands a wind. Her neck is frozen centaur, and wings of necklace, and knots of thread at her spine, making half of the world scissors, shaken down by the rust on warped fins, the ship sails lasers. A turtle sky, unfinished by marble, and pearl stalactites, the peddlers on string, a star, or fish in this glass maze –
|IV.| Shout ribbons to the thought brigade, dressed in a dinosaur rosary. The same movement whistled at the ceremony, dithering La Cruz, for we, we dine now with the roses, sleeping over so symbolically beneath the pure form of gold – Twice emptied in the yellow horizon, lifts entering space, turning amongst our favorite selves, private unearthing. Tea kettle, and cups, down there, where rest remains – exiting – we are paper, letters of the alphabet, we are earth again, entering not afraid to form our minds to bells |V.| There, a snow fox drifts. A Mexican-soft-paper-maze we boat to, sewn in the breeze. The safety maze, poplar buildings – entrance speaker in mirrored nasturtiums, in shadow, a blurred on “three extra” Red to left over, Lake Oswego, cross. A three transversal-satellite-copper. Auto body recording in fast wings No parking on the eight minds of compost generation – right turn to dolphin inks. The cigarette is separate of moss and microscopic they grow and during glass fields. The chewing parade is fertile flights of G street purple, barking yellow flags in pebbles, receiving statue/ mail. |VI.| The concepts of an eating station were emerging Two-tone vile segment inching along the alabaster weekends, merged with birds to men. The chair leaks out of my hand. I am an orphan sail in this cathedral of lights – whispers, the language of these rooms A girl once watched me enter from shadows. Her pastel Rosemary, her scrutiny, stuck into the wood of the table her aluminum body, razor sharp against the clocks that I had brought with me. Paper confetti birds lighting the room.
|VII.| A wheeled in playground of children – pure neon and stitched with the parade, lit in needles. Costume light for poor-cabled-donkeys-hair. A static that brought down the moon, those tilted machines hang ice pinball in spring, a loaded dawn – tubes of our homes glow, a shower crushed of glitter jungles, fruit of stereo boats, and peel a chair now. Shape crimson viper digital storms, and clocks to cartoon strip background. The bridge, over a leak in diamond, you have a plethora of characters to chose from, a “Cosmetic Motion Site”, the palace mirrors designed to be inverted with wired geometry and wolves. T.V. ho.ur-spade, inside my wrist watch shoveling weeds, quiet, couldn't grow in the ivy of twelve hours, a switching of skies that 'stage hands' adjust, or fish swimming around a school yard. Calculations pass over our sleeping. Umbrellas open to the flooded towns we rise from. Lingering in a string bag under caged oceans. A new collection of salt has arrived. “Posing near the remains” of an old storm – Arguments turn the TV show inward. Wrestling the television in a rink, the hammers tucked in conversation. Long indications, woven when spoken. Their military tongue is a calm storm, places where Hexagram theaters are remembered, blind in willow tree walls, hairs emerging through basket woven skies, the rolling lake of mirrors on the ground reflecting shattered marble crypts, and casual heart beat of root push Eucalyptus birds from a tapestry of beaks.
They clutch yarn at the entry of their cave, maybe eating colors of this moment Passion flower, granny smith, Amazon – Crochet needles “shoe-scuff” across the crack in a tile, elongated skeletons emerge from ivy; skeletons that hold birdies up, strumming to the sky.
Riley H. Welcker
The Undying Love of a Dying Snicker She laughed and giggled as she took me in her hand and dashed toward the garden gate and opened it and burst inside and glanced about to see that we were all alone. She listened. Satisfied, she smiled at me, peeled back my plastic wrapper, leaving me half naked to the sun, and gazed on me behind the ivy wall. She lifted me to die upon the violet dips of her full lovely lips. The place where lovers meet is never quite as secret as you think. The gardener clipped the hedge beside us, breaking our embrace. I fell into her livid orange flesh that bloomed bright red in her surprise. She raced toward the trellis, my right arm dangling far behind, my left arm battered by her bracelet. I cannot say I did not love it. I admit the truth. Our love was murder to her body, a violent danger to her health. I felt the weight of it, the rolls, the pounds. I knew as well, that it would only end in death
for me. Although death was not a fear I felt—I longed for it upon her lips— I feared what it would do to her frail frame, destroy the body of my love, destroy our lovers’ game. My love could only harm her figure, love would only ever shame. I could not love her if I loved her. I could not have ever loved her if I died to satisfy her love. She held me close. I heard her pump sack beat within her breast. I felt the warmth of her tight squeeze, the thrill, and suddenly she lifted me. I flew. Rising higher, ever higher, I stared down the pit between her collar blades. We hid together, she and I, inside a trellis hall, a great gazebo made of trellises buried under ivy, poison ivy, wild grape, Virginia creeper, netting vines and leaves so fierce and thick we were entirely hidden from all eyes. She sat cross-legged in the dirt beside a cedar bench and looked at me and smiled as I fell in her lap. She looked around again. She spied out our surroundings, leaned forward from her hips and rocked and swayed, until she sealed all possibilities that we might be discovered where we were, buried in the arms of our gazebo cave, well hidden from the warmth and light of day, crouched together, wrapped in deep, dark, secret love, our love as violent as a storm, as rich and zesty as a chocolate orange. I dangled from her fingers as she lifted me up in her arms, her shoulders curled around me, the smells of cedar, peat moss,
moldy cloth, and downy dryer sheets thick and heavy. I moved past that dark mole at her neck, moved past her chin, her mouth, to meet her aching, arching eyes, those eyes as blue as the inside of shattered quartz. Then slowly she brought me toward her lips again. Her breath was stilled. I felt her pause, her lift, her lips collected. I trembled, wanting her as much as she me. Knowing I must refuse. Knowing, if I did not, I would ruin her forever. I would obliterate the figure of my love. I would be the cause of her digression. No don’t! I touched her lips. Don’t do it. No! Her hand stopped. I dropped. Stilled. Silent. A noise, a ticklish sort of noise, like feet on gritty pavement or a rusty wheelbarrow, broke our singularity. She listened as she waited. In her hands, I quivered wistfully. I craved her clutch. I craved to trace her lips and die upon her mouth. I craved her touch like polish wants its wood, like a grape desires to be broken open, like a shiver yearns the north wind, like the stars that pierced the darkness of our hiding place, that pierced those violent vines, our secret love, our mutual ecstasy. A hoe, a rake, or something, struck the ground two feet beside the trellis. We were found. She sprang onto her feet. She jumped so fast, I tumbled through the air and smacked the earth and crumpled where I lay. I saw the last of her— heels that darted from our pinpricked cavern.
Swallowed by the vastness of that garden palace, struck down, shattered, silent, still, with peat moss in my face, I tried to cheer myself. I tried to say that it was good that she was finally gone. I tried to laugh. I missed her fiercely. In my caramel, I lied. I loved the way she loved me. But even as I dreamt of being held by her again, I knew that I had made the greater sacrifice, the sacrifice to live, to live and let her leave me. I never did a single thing that I could say that ever hurt my gorgeous love. It rained. A foot pitched dirt. It rainbowed me. A hand swooped down and carefully retrieved my mangled form and saved me from the peat moss. My insides gave a leap, believing it was she. But no. It was the gardener. And here he tossed me on the shelf, to die anyway, in this infernal cedar shed, this sweltering cedar coffin, buried in burlap beside all of you ugly nuts.
From Astarte My Goddess, Astarte My Ghost: Sonnets
What hubris to imagine her, goddess Astarte, waiting for you like a never-kissed wallflower clutching the promise of an egg-blue brooch. Can you picture Astarte girly, naïve, without the armor she hammered from bronze, that Carta she wrested from kings of lore? She will not wait, no -- but send psychic vibe of a radio hit, mix-tape of songs whose auras rend your spine and crush your nape in quandaries of paranoid, untranslatable entendres of the void. *
A regimented life becomes the dead. The living can never compete with their sober order and diet, their headless deficit of pleasure and of despair. I have been blob, I have been bone, poking for ingress and egress aggressive, with soul I imagined cased in chrome, but mulched changes like moth rot. Sieve survives the boiled broth poured through its mesh. I could not make myself stone enough to negate what I knew I knew: calm is death, peace hell. Pain alone flows savor through the veins, makes me feel the sweet dissolving of my chains. *
Tall lovely woman with her game-leg limp hops along the Heroes’ Avenue at dawn, using the gutter as a mirror to primp the curls that conceal her ears of a fawn. The birds inside the buildings wheeze louder as she passes. They see with one eye. Their cages are paid for with rent subsidies from the relief-aid department of the sky. Who is the man I see hobbling beside, bone fingers clutching her Bakelite hand? In tandem they almost glide two good legs between them. I understand her need for him, and why he loves her most, that tall lovely woman: Astarte: my ghost. *
Astarte’s in the shop, sipping watery coffee, plugged into Wi-Fi, yawning, now and then barking at a clumsy busboy, “Get off me,” sighing for Frankie Blue Eyes on the system. -- But what are you doing here, Astarte? Unrecognizable, incognito, demanding no better service than the rest, leaving no worse tip. Full of foreboding I hug the seat across from her like a life raft. She says the dove is on the move, love spread so thin it’s forced to bottom-feed mud like Beluga. The downwards dove tidies her portfolio, “Want what you already need,” pragmatic as the waves that once beat the hours. A couple in the sand -- a prospect of flowers. *
The morning subway is a cattle car and all the headsets’ muffled blares are lowing. We sleep standing up. We lean, too far, against each other. Apathy is growing between what we planned to earn and the prudence we hope to deserve. And scraps come spilling, like the beats blowing from the student’s earphones, the copper coins leaking from the working mother’s tote bag, looking for eyelids to settle. But not enough for all these eyes, shut dead. Our ferryman is friendly to the kids, noshing poppy seeds to ace the corporate piss tests. Some nights he drives Miss Suburban Prose to the end of the line, where she sucks his toes. *
My goddess Astarte -- is that you? My ghost? Did you really think I would forget your birthday, you heart attack! Have some toast glazed with triple butter. Come, come this way, for your divine lips I will spread marmalades with a tiny silver spoon -once used by a baroness to sniff her headache powder. No one keeps track of years on the moon and this is where we find each other somewhere between lune and nook as you are somewhere between friend and mother, radiant if I give you a look, if I think of you. Astarte, why didn’t you ever smile on my loves with such sweet knuckles as to need no gloves?
Holly E. Dunlap
Morning winds turn the leaves to their underbellies and my mother's yard is green this time of year with hints of lavender rosemary yesterday's rain flip squirrel leftover seeds of my thoughts hanging upside down from trees feet gripping
Needmore Road You peer into darkness listening to river sounds; "It's really high tonight, way over the banks." But you keep staring at it until the sun comes up, like it's gonna go away talking about the tree that used to be over there growing above the water, how you climbed it. About walking through the river, about being there with Michael and Holly and how this mountain laurel, (you point), and that rhododendron and that kudzu weren't there before. You tell me how you signed a petition to keep them from paving the road next to this river. And how you rode bikes 6 miles down this road with your neighbor. How you want to stay here get so drunk you sleep in a hollow log.
Don’t make me do it. (or Ode to Someone) I want to take your face and smoosh it up like putty, soft clay watch your features change listen to the splotch of gums against teeth lips touching nose breath becomes a whistle. I want to twist your earlobes pinch your cheeks till they're purple. Bite your lips till they bleed. If you have any sense at all you'll know you need to listen and not say a word.
If I could, I'd write a letter to you with my feet that says, "I wrote this with my feet, because my hands aren't good enough for you." but then again, neither are my feet. OR If I could, I'd write a letter to you with my feet that says, "I wrote this with my feet because my hands are too good for you." but then again, so are my feet.
Single mom living with parents We are whooping it up around here, like a nursing home on Lawrence Welk night. We know how to have a good time: big hair, bright suits, matching makeup and gospel choir for a full hour. We shake our groove things and laugh at ourselves, knowing how we look. When it's time for Antiques Road Show, we all wind down, and when the yard guy comes in, we are a bit embarrassed. We’re not that old; it's just that sometimes we have to stop watching the bad news. Sometimes we have to dance with the baby. Sometimes we just have to laugh at the funny outfits and the cheesy music. Sometimes it's better to live the strange, the obtuse.
demented 37 years later, my voice is a mother voice. I have a care.taker. face. Glowing in the dark means something new now, and “Mommy” means me, in that perfect, precocious way she speaks of her Pops at only 2 years old: “Mommy, we need to help Pops.” Pops became a character from a short story I wrote years ago: He might as well smoke cigars and play chess naked, think the teenage girl next door is his wife, but it’s me he forgets, my daughter too. His dementia changed his face, his eyes especially... hollow eyesand sometimes I like to pretend they are still full and he can still be him, and I can be the old me. Mom became almost blind, and deaf. She jokes she’s Helen Keller. I am cataclysmically changed ...have ugly, patchy yellowed wings emerging, flying for them.
I stop my day to watch her work the ground. Her father’s garden formalized the home I’ll never know too much about. Her time tended his behind doors made of more than just wood; grandma always watched through the porch screen. I stop my day to watch her work the ground. The clay unmasks her hands for me, the air sorting each finger sketched in womanhood. I’ll never know too much about her time when she was twenty-four, my age, smoked out by the matter-of-fact tenor in his voice. I stop my day to watch her work the ground. She’s humming now. Her lips purse together as she lures hydrangeas toward the terse clay. I’ll never know too much about her time spent waiting to hear good news about each time he slipped past life’s cold back and forth. I stop my day to watch her work the ground— I’ll never know too much about her time.
A Musician Never Has it Made
“A man’s will can be his paradise, but it can also be his hell.” —Icelandic Proverb Too late to question what the dream had meant we stood on stage, naked, feeling their pulse. Trimmed light falls off the stage then on to me, I think they all just want to be impressed. Naked, we stood on stage, feeling their pulse Without a need to know who’s watching us. They all just want to be impressed. I am The figure waiting patiently to be drawn without the need to know who’s watching me. A jester life just turns a man into a figure waiting patiently to be drawn. We’re on the table etherized, undone by jesters framing artists into something raw or sortable for them to taste. We’re on the table etherized, undone until we notice strings of clapping palms turned raw between a sortable array of Jack, Jamison, nearly every need. Until they notice strings of clapping hands we won’t be singing songs too long tonight.
Late Fall Pruning
My profit was her innocence. Each shade of staying power she tossed me mimicked the paint against our walls. The war was still alive in us. We hid each other’s youth between our tongues. The dew leaning against the grass began to slip inside the breeze above the yard. At the Sycamore’s girth, wisteria secures then digests its coat, edging rows into the bark. Strands of our lives began to wing around the dead flowers beginning to undo themselves perfectly. Inside the house no blinds will saw the light, but flaws outsell themselves tenfold. I forget some birds have useless wings.
I took it all down; leaving nothing to be left removed: the space between our shins, wrists even the gaps between dwell times of the subway doors (perhaps even loss is lending Me more time.) Some things are overdue-grown thin she lipped while letting her cauliflowered cheeks fall atlas flat against her barreled knuckles. The hallmark of this trip was stained clear when my eyes were stapled to a baby boy gumming his mother’s hair, peering at all the foreign suchand-such without a concern of clarity, without even a finespun whimper to the palpable god which held him up. At that point I felt the subway doors sock shut, and recalled when innocence ran a soundproof film across my eyes.
His Rope and Darling Chair
First, there was a kink below your chin inside that aging house we all rumored as home. You scaled your final stairs unobserved by all of us together at the table, eating supper, telling jokes then chewing with our mouths closed. Your image hurried off too quick for me to answer back.
Who’s watching? You make yourself into a window, collecting motion pictures, cynically adroit. The popular theme for today is pixellated fish, eco-weaponised – comforting subliminal blips hold the walls in place: a room with coinslot air supply, small holes for thought bubbles devoid of proprietary content. The anaesthetist dreams of a Kafka-themed whorehouse – body’s there but can’t feel it. The cold begins further down, stuck in the anxiety loop, eyeball-to-eyeball with an idiot picking the anomalous asphalt from your ears. Someone arrives to fix the airconditioning – a blonde smoking a cigar like a piece of anatomy obscenely cauterised. You’re running in a pair of lead-heeled stilettos, through the ash-fall, a grinning sales team egging you on: you’re the little man overcoming the odds, the human success story, beating back the self-styled miasma. You’ll still be there when they switch you on again – playing your theme song, about the one that got away.
A landscape, spied through the anecdotal keyhole. You keep it all barely ticking over – a one-eyed strabismus Roman holiday – how many times must X be said, before heard? The weather’s grey – realism’s last word creeping up the drainpipe. Another emergency ripples the fishbowl: death to quotation marks! People you know don’t always like each other. Vague evocations of the mystified quotidian. The wilderness and foreignness of life de-dramatised? Preferring the counterfeit, the evening’s amorousness settles in.
Anxiety of the Hypnotist
Messages home into a separation. Life’s full of unadmitted failures – the glad hand, the welcoming committee bored with its lot. And you already in your hole – a pocket-size dime store sarcophagus. The spirit-level tips and jolts – all the contested middle terms, like isolation boxes in third world coup d’état. Grist for the mill. Hung above the square windowpane and the moon’s four humours – a child’s mobile with hemispheres and stars bides time against the little voices inside the clock… A host of circus dwarfs shouting down from tightropes and trapezes – a synod of guffaws, Empedokles’s strife disgorging its half-chewed morsels… We were young then, a little tooth for a little eye – if only the moon were a giant tse-tse fly. To redeem the erotic joy of theft, or make a stringency of wronged obedience. Confirming all the equally ugly myths about you – poetry has a license
to lie, doesn’t it? Watching as always from the threshold – such anathemas are not intended, the departed sleep of a room grown cold, the folded shape of something out of place. And a black weight set upon it – pressing down upon the surface of a dream that won’t pass. Or the resistance of a hand pressed palm upwards – against the surface of that surface.
Living in the allgone shoe, the five a.m. dustbin man, the traffic light, the sermon on the mount, the rain and nothing new. To you I’ve been that stone in a field you can’t walk around. How many mothers does it take to make a man? The ground under the feet and the feet under the ground. Listen, something’s trying to tell us something – Swing low, sweet… A penny’s too much. Are these the ceremonial customs of an extinct race? Blisters in your ears, sand between your toes, and up all night, and all day, and the weather, and the sides and angles in ratio, and time ain’t kind, time ain’t nothin’. Oh my love, the sky trembles yellow. Oh my back, it’s broken. And those were the best, the golden, now only mouths unfed. After all this, never asking, because already knowing. There are stranger things than paradise. Who who who goes the hoot of the owl in the house in the allgone shoe.
The Demon of Inessentials
It was evening, the tribe had lit their fires on the edge of the territory. There were signals, codes, to be silent, wait, bide our time. But we, the little ones, would sink the whole elastic world in prodigious gestures of insouciance – like a child in a sandbox pummelling its God into fragments, molecules, series of chemical transactions – unable not to imagine a giant at the door, with its ragbag, a bodied tumulus, amorous for blame. We struggle on, under the night’s big glow, returning the way we came, uncertain who stages these performances for us. A face all cut with glass behind a windowpane – words raving in a wild infinity. The ritual lapses into each of its parts, naked before the assembled crowd. Love, they said, and be patient – staring into the vertiginous transparency of night, wide-eyed at the great wheel’s stillness.
J. Chester Johnson
LATE MORNING MOON They will come into sight: illumination and host; few, if any, questions will have to be asked, and things will fall into place, and things to be done will levitate into more perfect shapes. . . Stay the road, opalescent weather rings, and an ultimate way extrudes into the distance – without combative canards, without oblique trials or unwanted fever. . . Remember those to whom you wish to be compared. They have a simple loss, and nothing’s misunderstood; simple lessons taught through simple feats, each time at each speed. . .
EXILE IN PASSAGE When a low chorus, emboldened and at hand, trilled in seduction; when afterwards hid in natural cover, youthful fare, rhymes; when translucent voices had aired without far-flung echo. . . Now, Exile, now nestling in fresh suburban folly, now surveys awkward oaks survive, survive thousands of miles, thousands of days from a place that destines him Exile. . .All he had or could avail, out of context. Length with its quirks, he ceded, as Exile greets a glaze rising concordantly over a set of invaded hands; flesh wears down and starts to illume from an excessive rub independent years perform. What we were guides what we will try, and what we are will carry pieces of both. After forty, he’ll take fewer notes and rely on code. . . Don’t push too hard – it shows; and he can’t be as ambitious either, for that’s bad form. . . And he should stand flat-footed more often – to make it look easy, so he’s welcomed everywhere. Exile looks back in lust to tour again, even again. What consensus events with crowds, on their feet, raving for access that could fly. . . Where an athlete who’s never forgetting and a politician who’s not to adjourn protuberant chants – with congratulations that shorten all doubt.
Collectively, most shift toward commonality, for there’s safety in numbers. Together, they also reminisce in delectable reprise: Distant pleasures keep memory close. To stop at the liminal trek and accept endurable harvest – that’s the trick: Not to lose a message gained. . . Gather the essential ascent, a curvature that shows no compromise: One world, at last? Exile probes through another sly glance into fading autumn; he spies for one transfiguring aside. In normal times, to be normal requires give and take and survival on each count. That’s the way it shall be: Survival above all else; and only decayed amusement at the margin.
BY BUS TO TRANSPOSITION Among the many standard passengers, we hear clamors of dissent once a usual claim could be had, as the wheels sing in collaborative dissonance, or as longer trust encounters broken symmetry. Still, it may be said the one hallowed place, ahead of us all, should have been foreseen, though none foresaw to join this portentous trip, it would transfix at a different point and harbor a different route to the abrupt crest, where things curb in an uneven slant, where one halts at an awkward curve, where one knows permutation stops short to make a full field flat. . .
THE INCIPIO GENE
There is a simple rule we learn early: origin has but one nature: to fill its self into abundance. It shall not loose swells of confusion nor powers of banality to satisfy an intellect or voluble plan. Without humor or debate, a fast crush grinds to a single cause, as craze has forged the drive. Yet, idylls of every favored player must be broken: nothing – not a cell nor stem nor trait – naturally grows endlessly. . . The early blossom, receding in stasis, must decay to a state of entropy, a postscript and also legacy. . . For deep within the seed to abound forms an end to the unending, a germ of breach, a famishing.
99.44% Pure It’s late afternoon when Edna Cade runs a bath in her mint green tub. White bar of Ivory Soap between her hands she works up a lather, discerns the fragrance, scarcely there and clean. This soap will not sink; she can trust it to float. White. Until. Whiteness remains. When carved the rectangular bar will not splinter or crack. Her kitchen knife fashions alabaster translucence as the bar’s soft texture permits small cuts: torso, legs, tail, udder, face, and ears. In the turquoise ashtray curved like a lily, slots to hold cigarettes cover over with residue of sculpting. Bovine purity meets her eyes. No fever in the room. Her hosiery remains secure Seams straight, she casts an eye toward the kitchen. Time to think about dinner. Time to get it going. Upon her ashen floor purity purrs upon leaving the soap. This separation from whiteness causes Edna dis-ease. What of the other 56 one-hundredths per-cent? Impure essence she trusts to float, where does it hide, troll under the bridge, fly in the ointment, wine stain on the white Communion cloth. Is it the scum of her bathtub ring’s grimy surround she scrubs away with Ajax Foaming Cleanser?
This filmy scoria may be it, tiny fraction of clouded befoulment her unbesmirched bar contains. This whiteness without injury holds within minuscule seeds of scum she cannot know derive from talc: In its loosest form talc is the widely-used substance known as talcum powder. It occurs as foliated to fibrous masses. Its crystals so rare as to be almost unknown; it has a perfect basal cleavage. Folia are non elastic, although slightly flexible. The softest known mineral, talc is listed as 1 on Moh’s Hardness Scale. Easily scratched by a fingernail it is also sectile and can be cut with a knife. It possesses a clear or dusty luster, translucent to opaque. Not soluble in water its color ranges from white to grey or green, and has a distinctly greasy feel. Its streak is white. An echo summons. Edna believes it possible. First Communion. White veil, dress, white stockings, and shoes. May you always feel as close to Jesus as you do today. Blessed by the Holy Ghost she dons her gift, St. Francis of Assisi on a chain.. Meatloaf. Tuna casserole. Salisbury Steak. Pork chops. Creamed corn. Del Monte Fruit cocktail with strawberry Jell-O. Purity’s trusted corridor; piecrust, cake pan, Wonder Bread slices. Seamless. White as the cow almost. No address for the envelope. Outside snow. Over the sidewalk into next year. Realm of kitchenette. Marbled yellow Formica. Roosters on the wallpaper. Breakfast nook. Flapjacks in the pan. Purity attends the morning. Sharp edges around her eyes. She remembers photographs of snowflakes in science class, her teacher far away talked about crystals, each unique as a fingerprint. Around her branches fractured. Split under the burden of too much snow. Heaviness of hands pushing down, each one expecting something different. And once in a museum the skeleton of an unborn bird still inside the egg. Part of the shell had been removed, and there it was, folded over as if in prayer, head bowed, wings still
protecting it. She wanted to place her arms around something that would welcome a single embrace, light as the sift of snow when it first began to fall. Just a dusting around the shoulders, barely there. Into the air she watched her breath lift white and disappear. Dishes in the sink. Day darkens. Night’s shadows deepen to a fairytale where Edna wanders, hums the song she’s always sung below the songs her mother knew down the road should the cow come home.
Terry Ann Thaxton
Getting it Right You say, Look, there are people, friends walking beside you, but all I see are caskets, each one a heavy silhouette, beyond recognition. I want to lie down, drink wine, listen to my dog breathe. You are a television set falling from a five story building. You beg for me to get it right, to sing for you, but I am not that woman any more, not the woman you married at the under the gazebo among friends, a violin, drums, jasmine sprouting up the sides of the house. I carry my dog on my back to the park behind our house. You drive away from our house each day because the air inside this house is filled with handprints, leaking cans, sparkles of blood, unlit candles, disapproval. This is where I’ll die. It’s where my arms died, my wrists, my innocence, my face, my iron pot. I’ve not yet held an infant across my lap. I put your pills inside plastic containers: M-T-W-T-F-S-S. I insanely dish them out to you. All I’ve ever wanted: a feathered hand. Here I am cutting onions on the board in our tiny kitchen where friends we do not have ever visit or talk. Friends who cannot touch my hand, to say, “Leave; get out.” We are like cracks in a dried marsh bottom with no rain in sight. Sometimes I want you to kill me, not be the man in my bed. I want to applaud when my dog jumps through the window. I want to follow him. Or sip tea again in the asylum’s veranda. I want to bury myself. Instead I leave my face at the door.
Map of My Room There’s no mirror in this room to melt the air, so I watch the wind float past the window or stare at the black postcards that keep landing on the wall. This room was once an anchored boat, and I was shaken by the words pinned against my chest. Now I wait to be struck by the wing of a sandhill crane coming from the mouth of the sky, Waiting like this blinds me. I cannot see the house where dirty laundry weeps on the floor. The cranes stand knee-deep in water, or is it my mind, and I cannot think of what it is beneath us that hums and taps its own fingers as if water were a drum or a sleeve anxious to be tucked into its own life.
Dead Owl No one understands the sinkhole problem. I gawk. I keep stones in my ears, though sometimes I breathe pebbles into tree branches. I do not know if we should leave it here or take it home, stuff it, and admire it. Unless you’re dying to preach to me or swing from the top of the tree house, don’t bother coming to rescue me. I thought all that was left was ash and bone fragments and a stranger’s black pajamas in the ditch. The sun burns everything, and my right hand has slapped a boy’s cheek. I sit near the cloud of discontentment. I just wanted to hear myself ask the question about the neighborhood of weak houses. Each day clings to my jeans. Each day I have to stomp out my boots on the road. I laugh because I know I’ll die someday, too. The sun takes away the shadows of your eyes. My head is only present because I recognize the highway. Each day is an unmarked grave filled with muck and insects. Sometimes I think I’ve been away my entire life.
Escape If you find yourself in the swamp, clap your hands or wave your feather in the dark and turn your face toward the tiny cup along the rim, and imagine rain reaching down like a swing that rescues children on hot afternoons, careful to not stop boasting about your walk on the trail where you wanted to crack open a window as if a toad wanted in, as if it was groaning like a stranger who swaggers into your head and hides in your sweater or who wants to fill your mouth with lace because there is no doubt that you can handle the past the same way you pour soup or the way a rabbit might gaze at the garden and ignore the cabbage, and if rain injects the day or your desk harbors secrets that listen only to the fingers dressing themselves in afterthought, because it’s just as easy to juggle the badges you imagine to be worn by moths, by then you’ll want to persuade the cemetery to go under, to sniff the dead frogs that fell from yesterday’s rains or to rush past the field and spread open the flag, being careful not to vanish when they close the gate.
Walter William Safar
THE HAND Yes, I have lost the battle, But not the war, My heart is still beating lively, It knows all the paths of darkness and light. It is like a warrior that won't admit defeat, While I am down on my knees, Longingly looking up Into Life's beautiful face. When the dark clouds are looming, I am ready for a new battle, To follow my heart Into the heart of darkness, Woven around me by a dark spider Conceived in the silky web of the system. I have to admit it, life, I was cloaked in darkness so many a time, It took me straying off the beaten path, While my broken heart was in love with sorrow. I never wanted to break hearts, But if that was true, I wouldn't be on my knees now. There is no one Who hasn't been on his knees, if only for a moment, No one who has not broken someone's heart, If only for a moment.
I have to admit it, life, that I am weary on the inside, That I am fed up with rising and falling, But I remember the angelic voice of Patti Page, With the song's fluting harmonies roaming my memories, The Tennessee Waltz. My heart is pounding like it never did before, Yes, life, my small heart is a great fighter, I know it now that I am standing on my feet, And my small heart keeps me running To reach out to the broken heart, Because when you help someone up, You are helping yourself.
MY LITTLE CARDBOARD HOME I never meant to call for hunger, but it calls for me, endlessly faithfull and accursedly hones, it leads me, like any given day, into the soup kitchen of the darkest street in the world. Everything around me is so unreal, the smiling faces of those who pass by, the full restaurants spreading the scent of food, and the rustle of money bills, so unknown to me. To many people, this is the brightest street in the world, but it is so painfully cold and dark ti me. I feel like a wingless fly in the silky home of the biggest spider of the world when I walk it. Outside, the sun is gildening the leaden faces of those who pass by, those who headlessly chase after their own bright dreams, and it is so dark inside, yes, Lord, how could a soup kitchen be bright, when its most frequent visitor is poverty. The breath of hopelessness spreads around me, and of horrible apathy, as if I entered a coffin that even death does not want to enter, but I am not afraid that their hopelessness might kill my hope, because it died long ago. It's all the same in this coffin of human hopes, the same poverty, the same food, the same nuns, the same thick opaque glass that keeps gazes from mixing, there's only less homeless people, because the long cold nights do not forgive poverty, and while I drag my heavy leaden legs towards the altar of my shame, I can hear an unusually lively young voice, a straying child singing a lullaby to its teddy bear. Oh, Lord, can poverty be so hungry as to even take away dignity from such a young being? I am looking into these big, bright turquoise eyes of a child, so dignifiedly spreading hope around him.
Nothing about him or within him reveals that he is a victim of recession, that he has lost his father and mother early. Even though a big pearly tear slid into his empty plate, spreading the echo of endless pain, he is still patiently waiting for his piece of bread hard as flintstone. I am hiding from his gaze, fearing that my apathy and hopelessness might kill his hope. You know, Lord, that I would give everything to help this dear little being, but how can a hopeless man help him? If my help is the escape and the hiding of my own inability and hopelessness, I agree to remain hungry, because there is no desire left in me to fight dilemmas, because I have long since been without hope, and so it is time for me to return to my little home without light and hope, into my little cardboard home.
BROKEN HEARTS When the copper bell tolls, Many a broken heart Shall quietly bid farewell to life. Like a wall clock imprisoned by solitude, A broken heart is never late for a date with death, Whether the day is rising Like a purple curtain, Whether the night is falling Like a silky black blind, Broken hearts always have the same role, To open the doors Of hearts much harder than they are. Echoes of broken hearts are heard beyond the heavenly dome, Much louder than down below, As if they promised themself to angels Before death had arrived. When the petals of a young rose fall to the consecrated ground, Broken hearts rise up to heaven To sing with angels In praise of the Lord. There isn't too much joy to darkness, The home of solitude, The earthly shelter for broken hearts, That are flying up to heaven so joyfully now, To adorn themself with heavenly freedom Like a prince with his crown. When you hear the wind's merry whistle, Know that another broken heart flew off Into blue infinities, To obtain its angelic wings.
ARENA The yearning that is born Within the inexhaustible well of life Is emerging into reality now. Who can life a life without yearning?... Is there anyone who doesn't want to be a winner once? I dare them to curse me. When in stormy nights My cries melt into a thundering scream, The scream of mankind, Then even thunder is but a silent witness In the arena, Where only life and death Have the right to call themself judges. All I want is to stay alive for as long as possible. In the arena, There is little mercy for the weak, Each step is much more than just a step. A wrong turn Will bring you to your knees. I love that game. I would be lying if I said That I would like to wake up outside that arena, Because just like everyone else, I am made to fight In the arena Where only life and death Have the right to call themself judges. My steps are slowing down. Even though I am in no hurry, Death is much closer today Than it was yesterday. Life authors paradoxes. Prince or pauper, The slower you are, The closer you come to death.
I shall not give up, There are still sparks inside me. Many a shadow shall lie upon its crimson hearse With their man Before my shadow lies upon its crimson hearse, in the arena, Where only life and death Have the right to call themself judges.
THE LAND BEYOND THE RAINBOW You are calling out for me, road of dreams, To the land beyond the rainbow, Where losers become winners. You are calling out for me, road of dreams, To where reality was conceived from thousands, Tens of thousands of dreams, Dreams that nourish souls, Dreams that arouse hearts Of dreamers from around the world; Oh, you are calling our for me, road of dreams, To the wonderful land of dreamers, But I am tired, My mornings are entirely different now, Full of extinguished sparks And scents of tired nights That lay beside you now, Just like night birds, Your tired wanderers, Whose passion has seeped off Into life's inexhaustible well. I admit it, road of dreams! I knew that the poor get trampled upon in this world, And humiliated, that they are victims, And so I, your faithful child, your lonely dreamer, Did not want to grow up down at the bottom, Not at any price, Not even at the price of solitude. You are calling out for me, road of dreams, When the crescent moon kisses your seductive face But I am so tired. Do you despise me now That I have admitted to giving up? Do you know, road of dreams, how hard it is to wake up alone, In the company of silent shadows. Do you know, road of dreams, How hard it is to live in one's imagination
While beautiful roses are blooming all around, Waiting for me to put them into the hands of my beloved. You do not acknowledge losers, You are calling out for me even though I am on my knees, In other words, you won't accept my surrender! You are showing me a place beyond the rainbow, The capital of the land of dreamers, Where everyone has their place under the sun and the stars, Where wealth is measured by spirit insted of money. Yes, road of dreams, You are showing me the capital of dreamers, Where the woman of my dreams is waiting for me To put a beautiful rose onto her palm. I was on my knees, Road of dreams, Until I have heard your call again, And I have risen, Determined And full of faith, To run to the land beyond the rainbow!
THE DAY WILL COME My departure does not mean betrayal, Please, my darling, understand, One who was born under the starry sky Cannot do without wandering, Just like the star That baptized my birth. My departured is not an ending But rather a new beginning, You know it, darling, You can feel it, darling, can't you? That I shall return with the same wind That I departed with, Although I have chosen solitude And sacrificed love for the sake of wandering, I still love you, I am kissing you in my dreams More than I ever did! I am searching for the gaze of your yearning eyes in the stars, The sanctuary of my love and comfort. Believe me, my darling, Because a man won't lie waking At the deathbed of his solitude. When your tear rolls Into the brilliant stream of a spring day, You shall hear the wind whispering Fly free!... Fly with me!... Into a perfect spring day. The best memories are those that teach us of love, This I cannot deny, Because you will always be the first in my memories, Yes, darling, even before the wonderful starry sky Under which I was born, Alone and abandoned, Like a child of solitude.
Darling, you know that i am not lying, Because that wonderful memory was born in an angelic craddle, In longing, From thousands of separate gazes Of your yearning eyes. I know, I feel, my darling, that you understand, And you are still waiting in that lush splendor of your gaze, That awakens and falls asleep under the rainbow day after day. I might be thousands upon thousands of miles away from you, But our hearts are closer to each other than they ever were. Yes, darling, only a man who truly loves Can feel it. Yes, darling, the day will come When our blazing and yearning gazes Shall once again join under the rainbow, Under the same rainbow Under which we used to build our road of dreams. Yes, darling, the day will come, Our day, When that rose petal That the two of us had planted in our small garden Shall quiver in your hand once more, Just like my hand In your hand.
Synth Concert with Numerical Significance Words fail me, amber shells Truth speckled delicately across the battlefield Just imagine, stripes of falling spritzed cedar Devaluation Evolution Timid revolutionaries Meat Zippers and padlocks Handfuls of meat! Disposable varieties Bastion, toothpicks protruding Thorough electrical tape Nickeled Perfect spheres of dried grass Dissipate in the wind
Vin Intoxicating, The woman’s bosom squished and squeaked Across the windshield of his roll cage.
Plastic Farm Houses, Or: Empty Hammer, Nails Too Far This silent brigade of tweeters Birds, id est, Could be finches Wither their beaks, taped shut Tape’s small/cut Off-plastic “It’s that plasticky kind of magnetic tape” Abutting this stone-silent army of winged lungs Read like a pirate: Couldn’t be too hard They huddle together for warmth Insides a cage whose wire walls Are made of rusty nails The cage is knocked sideways and the birds Are forced to perform aerobatic Miracles that would make Madonna go, “Darling.” Collisions with the walls cannot be altogether avoided. However, collisions with the walls are startling. “It’s like being hit over the head with a piece of wood” The kind that doesn’t give you a concussion or make you pass out On the way to the floor On a bed of nails (gentle landing). For, to tell you the truth, dear friend, The story of our birds ended not when the cage was built or even When its construction was first planned out, Or when the husband brought home the wife Chocolates filled with Hawaiian vacations, But when he said addressing the matter was of no importance For the time being. For the fact of the matter is His bubbling, ebullient singing meant nothing to her And so the fine, parallel walls of the birdcage came crumbling in Piece by piece, said crumbling likened perhaps to the wall rot of a gnome hut (Underground). Know wind to dry it out but not for handfuls of crystals: Calcium sulfate, Calcium carbonate Zinc Mangaperthiosulfonide (residue) Lime
Salt Rustic sculptures worn through time by nature’s hand, itself powerful Worn by frequent attentive details Who managed to grow through the permafrost. Because the house is gone and it’s only planes, now, of ice, tundra, thunder storms, Or dirt. Endless planes of the finest, richest soil sitting there, Staring you down, saying, “Look at me, I hold your sustenance,” Yes, Dear audience, Shouting something vaguely religious or glowing like that. Fine moments in the English chocolate shop down the road Hamsters alike Released from that cage Let animal instincts flow A river tenderly caressing Curves of hillside, mere cats smoking in the lounge at dusk, Dawn, for millennia, till kind words melded wall-to-wall, floor, and ceiling Until soil grew stale, Colorless, turned to sand Nonsense phrases of affection wind-washed Knotted throats in the lovers buried their forevers “Lovers > Knotted throats > Forevers: Buried” (Good) Until! *gasp* sea levels rise and the house On the farm with the dogs barking out front to greet guests lovingly Turns into a painting worth not all too much, to be frank, according to popular Opinion at the auction house. Pending delivery of sufficient funds, those families eagerly awaiting The paintings of their own damned houses to hang on their deliberately colorless walls. Of their houses, a plurality (inside, outside barred) shall see no thunder. Feel? No. No meaty, mealy ground mush in the kitchen for some sort of pancake Or dinnertime meal. It’s just the things that people do That aren’t quite enough, And the sparrows who painfully meet their demise as the walls collapse. Yes, they are sparrows now.
Boring Chestnut The boredom manifests itself as a chestnut That can’t be opened. It’s just sitting there, on the middle of the table. What’s the table made out of? No words, no instructions. Norse Viking gods! No, none of that. Valhalla sends it heroes with golden wings To crunch on this chestnut for me. How kind of them. Absurd, its delivery. No cracks in the shell to exploit. No machinery available. Know why it sits there. Know how it will be removed. Know on what day, At what hour, minute, and second its meaty insides will be Displayed on a poster. “This could be yours.” Lies. Worst of all, to know it, you have to swim in it. Wade in it, really. Distance traveled isn’t measured. Just how long you sit there With your water wings in this warm swimming pool, Hair and pieces of dust and dirt floating by. Drink the water, Get hair in your mouth. Nothing stopping that. No filter over the shower drain that you have to scrape out with your fingers Because your housemate is female, a hippy, and an Indian man. Transvestites produce the most hair. And even he/she doesn’t know How to crack this nut open. So I just sit there, my mind salivating At the treasure hidden behind those brown, wrinkled walls.
Temporary Title: Tenderoni; Permanent Title: Use of Colon Cancer in a Critique of Capitalism Temporal Jumps Bend A: Fortification Of: Cellophane panic Method: Remote control Marketing: It’s all the rage, latest brand Of: Cellophane Price: Ten cents Split: Between the angel investors Funded with: Blisters, aerobic workout shorts, & saline On: Concrete slabs, pasted. Foliage. Jamboree of: Bicuspids, tricuspids. Ventilation enchanted strawberries. Barnacles as far as the eye can see. Terrible aroma of synthetic pearls. The arts and crafts store, shut, possesses few: Ghosts, Nightmares, or goblins. It sleeps tenderly on the hilltop, Fed with the summer’s finest sunlight. Debriefed under stormy night, Military officers ponder bow color match. Fine: Grain, weight Exquisite: Tensile properties The paper, under inkwell Phonetic: Damper Rubber: Stop Shards of: Perfume bottle Restlessly juggled in the kitchen For hours
An Evening Special
A local news team was coming around to do a few minutes on the house. Channel 17. Karen told me this right as I walked in, before I even could get out of my work shirt. She goes “camera’s, lights, the whole thing” she goes, “a special for the news, can you believe it?” She turns back to the mirror and goes to herself “A real live reporting crew. In my house.” And smiled... Not to me, to herself. The special was titled Junk Trunk, or something big like that. It had flavor. Karen got out her best sweater for the deal, earrings too. She thought it was a real special something. Her very own fifteen minutes of fame. I was still trying to get my head around the whole thing. I wen’t downstairs and took a seat in the middle of the couch. My elbows were held up by a box or two. You wouldn’t think it would be, but it really was a comfortable couch. I thought about making coffee. There was a pile of newspapers on the coffee table and I picked one up and wen’t through it. I’ve always had a thing for papers. Show me the local section and I’ll show you the happenings, the up and up, the going ons. Real racy type stuff. An ad for a shoe warehouse out in the city did it for me and I circled it in pencil. There was a knock at the door. There it was. I called up to Karen to tell her. This wasn’t my thing, man. She calls back “Go on and open it up, would ya hun? Offer them some coffee” I threw my cap on. Me and the people from TV, well how do you like that?
“That’s a fine looking pony tail you got there” I go to the camera man. And I turned my head, giving him a solid profile. Besides for that he was a regular looking man in cargo shorts. I invited him in. He goes, “Yep. 5 years and runnin. The other guy should be here real soon and we’ll get started.” I shook my hands in the air, “It’s not me your looking for...” And pointed up...”Her” He understands. And just then Karen comes waddling down the stairs in her best sweater, with these tiny bells sewn on the chest. She’s done up her make-up real nice, styled after one of those oriental queens, with the long eyelashes. The cameraman goes, “Didn’t you say somethin about coffee, Bill?” “Coffee...? Well how’d you know my name?” He throws a finger at my shirt, and then I get it. He’s a real observant one, this cameraman. Karen and him start chatting and hit it off right away. The cameraman stands in a little open space in the room, and gets on his knees to start setting up his equipment. A second knock at the door and this thing is off and running. Only, here’s the thing. This second cameraman is sporting a pony tail too, and a camera! Two cameramen with pony tails? That makes three, in my house? I couldn’t do it, it was too much. I guess I’m not cut out for television. Karen goes, “And this is where I keep the calendars.” While I grabbed the newspaper and slowly backed my way out of there. The bathroom was in the back of the kitchen and when I got there I thought well hell, why not go the whole nine. I grabbed the keys off the little cow-holder on the wall and slipped out the backdoor. In the other room bells were ringing and the cameramen were laughing. They would get along fine without me. I went over to the side of the street and saw the news van next to the car. It was channel 17 all right. I hunched down into the car, adjusted the seat, and rolled down my window. The paper with my pencil mark was on the seat over from me, and from time to time I looked at it for the the address. I hit traffic on the highway and smoked cigarettes. There was a Steely Dan tape at the bottom of the glove compartment and I popped it in. You ever listen to Steely Dan? Real talented musicians. They always bring it, and bring it good. Hell if I wasn’t grooving by the time it let up. We started moving again soon after, and for some reason or other my exit was blocked off and had to take the next one about six miles down. My watch read quarter till seven by the time I made it into the city. Karen must
have been showing those guys a real good time by now. Maybe they were on to the picture frame’s, or maybe it was key rings. I couldn’t say. The building’s on my right, but there’s no parking on the street so I circle around looking for a pay-lot. A man in a purple jacket waves me in and leans his arms on my window. “How much?” I asked. “For you?” He looks up and down the street. “Twenty-five” I didn’t like it. “Any other lots around here?” He shakes his head and spits. “Not for ten miles, easy” The man had me. Had me good. I grabbed the paper from the seat over and paid the man, and left the car with him. The place wasn’t more than three blocks from the lot, and I zipped up my coat and set out. When I got there I pressed the room’s call button and waited. No one answered, and I made sure I had the right place. I tried again. I got a buzz in, and walked inside. I’ve never trusted elevators so I took up the stairs, and when I got to the door, it was barely open. A tall skinny woman was smoking a cigarette, leaned up against the back of a chair. There was a patch stuck to the left lens on her glasses. You know the medical kind? “What’s that patch for” I go “Don’t worry,” she goes “thats for the doctor” I nod my head, “what’d you do?” “Tugs mostly...” she goes, “but I suppose... we could work somethin out” And drags long on her cigarette. “Tug’ll do” She stamps out the cigarette on the bottom of her shoe,drops it on the carpet, and points towards the chair. A real ugly thing.
I sit down, and she pulls out another one of these slim cigarettes and lights up, kneels down beside me, and starts on her business. The smoke is getting all in my eyes, and behind that patch her eye starts twitching, but I close my eyes and focus in. She works up to a good speed, and I’m in it and she starts making these real loud squeaking noises out of the side of her mouth, and she’s got this vein on her wrist, throbbing. I take a good hard look at that eye patch and below it I see these tiny flecks of grizzle at the bottom of her neck. And I look up a little closer, and I see her hair sort of ride back on her head, and that veins pulsating, and she’s grunting. Until it hits me, you see? I figure it out... But what was I gonna do? She already took the money. I wasn’t going to waste it. So I closed my eyes and thought of something else.
There is beauty. Such warm, true beauty. But not the beauty of a landscape. If you could be apart of the definition, apart of the actual word beauty, this is how you feel. Falling gracefully between the letters––above the tree’s, through the grass, up by the sun and moon: You are both. You are the creator, the benefactor, the dweller. You’re soul leaks out in colors and sounds and smells known to you from a different place. Everything feels as if its happened before. And it might have. Beyond what can only be defined as beauty, underlying and overtop and in between this sense of undefinable peace, are the soft minute pulses, the rhythmic beats of times’ passing. These aren’t heard. They’re barely felt. An intuition perhaps, but still they are unmistakable. For a moment you feel complete. You feel safe. You’re reminded of something that you can only now define as gooey, perhaps even aquatic, but as the process of defining takes hold these mnemonic beats escape you and the entire scene. You try and remember. Eventually you find yourself between the letters again. Completely at peace. You’re sitting atop a hill gilded in soft dense fern. You look out toward the sun and below you see nothing but curves and lines and mounds of giant earth. You are nude, but the sun notices this and cloaks you with illumination, with warmth. A woman’s voice echoes in your mind, but only as a sound. The language is foreign to you. And within the second it is no longer there. Something A terribly loud screeching sound cuts through the sky. If it is a sky you’re not exactly sure. You only know wherever you are is completely and utterly natural and safe and calm and anything else you might know drops out of your mind. Almost simultaneously, this obtrusive sharp scratching of the sky sets off a series of reactions and in your mind an explosively urgent feeling rises, but you can not bring it to thought. It is there just an inch out of your grasp. An internal itch on the surface of the ribcage which you can not ignore nor relieve. When the sound stops so too does your mind. You look around and see the infinite possibility of shade and texture and color. A hodgepodge of everything you have ever absorbed, both internally and externally, flowing out of you in streams.
Like Everything reminds you of something. A quick jagged image forms in your head, but as you mentally try and grab it, try and process it, you find yourself empty handed, falling between empty space. The screech sounds again. It rings out beyond the valleys and the hills echoing between the mountains. At first the sound starts off slowly, quietly, but as you are more aware it rises; crescendo’s up to a point of which you are not exactly sure. Violence might come to mind. Violence. If sounds from the place which you presumably know that you are apart of can be used in describing this one, you might say it sounds like a plane accelerating, or the grinding of gears, but you know it isn’t either of those. You aren’t sure, but you are acutely aware that the beauty and the peace and tranquility that you felt so recently before are leaving, quickly, and where their presence was now has formed into an absence greater than anything you knew. Still, it all seems strangely familiar, as if you’ve done it before and you are doomed to do it again. Caught in a vicious cycle. As it would seem. You close your eyes for a moment trying to place this –– again sounding –– shriek from the sky. When you open them: the tree’s are gone, the mountain beneath you is shrinking; you’re falling and your falling fast and you can’t stop it ––
Agraciana whittles the deep-red, bone-in manzanita branch. Deer hide stretched over her lap to protect her Lady Bic legs from the obsidian blade. Antler-yielding hot soccer mamacita, front porch and for seven years cross-park hollering at Cosima, who still don’t know who she fucking with. Blowout game-night evening quinceañera, all-designer black-on-pink Raiders gear, she is dancing over saints six feet in the yard. Her knuckles are garbled; wrap this around the wrist for a tighter fist. Her Yucatan text is unreadable. Try changing. Cosima says you afraid.
Paper Toss The lawyers of the east bear secret offers to one aforementioned. W-2s cough in from the north to murder me in my lunch. The copper-eyed pigs overthrow the ‘76, gnash at the map that lead us through these western lands. Trash-dotted and peppered on the yellow U-turn, I and thee differ. Who serves these papers? Who rends Petitioner from Respondent? Who forgets what’s her nametag? Hubcap head-wound obedience. I invoke Marty Robbins and his Hell on Wheels. Try this ballad–Starry Quickness on Fuel. Here’s something red and flashing, nothing new, time borrowed, something slammed, something blue. A turquoise bandage in her shoe. Hairline fractured asphalt gazes at the bitch. The muscles break it down. I spell out all the hurtin' words And turn my head when I speak
Toe Rings Her name, spoken like phlegm, collects spit at -schenputtel. Towards the corners of his mouth, she bends. He was, after all, the kingdom’s premier chimney sweep. She scorches her fingers with stone glowing. Like beauty’s mischief, she cradles a grief perfected from decades of jewels mined from the bloody stumps of her sisters’ feet. The crowd in Edgewood stares at her gauze; the birds explode under the weight of her whistle. She takes a blue feather to pen her dying thought on a stained-glass table– I am moving back from cinder to ash. I am burning down Suite 225.
With her arms folded about her, she walks around her mountain home. This was the home that Richard found for the two of them. It was to be a fixer upper and a place to contain their dreams. Everything is still here, except him, just as he left it. He first started on the interior of the house, ripping out all of the old gray carpeting and starting to lay down stone tiles. Having completed half of the living room he stopped and then began to work outside planting a vineyard. After six years, the vineyard was finished but the house never was. Gwen now lives with half tiled cement floors and half painted rooms. He calls, weekly, to check on the half done things. The monuments to his changing moods and inclinations but never the life he has left behind. He makes sure that she is watering his vineyard. He makes sure that what little he has done is being maintained, pending sale and distribution. “Are you OK?” It never passes his lips. Her aloneness, within the house that he bought, does not concern him. She awaits the day that none of this matters. The day when some one else decides to buy a “fixer upper”. She awaits the day, when every memory and every emotion, that came with this place dies along with the vineyard.
She watches now as the birds eat the grapes that she would not. She lets them wither into the raisins that are what is left of this life. Some of the vines have died. The leaves are turning brown, shriveling up and dying long before it is time. That’s when she decides to take a walk around the vineyard, and notices the weeds and grass around the bottom of the vines. “Water them more,” her ex-husband suggested, when she had called to tell him that his vineyard was dying. She did, but some still died. She hadn’t even thought of offering to weed the vines. It hadn’t even crossed her mind because he hadn’t suggested it. Plus, she didn’t want to be bothered weeding his vineyard and dealing with the goat-heads, and tumbleweed. It felt good to let some die, as a sacrifice for his neglect and his breaking of the back gate upon departure. He never looked back. Not even in the rear view mirror. She dyed the gray out of her hair a week after his leaving. And now she kept it long. Long hair always made her feel younger. Maybe, she will visit the dermatologist a friend had recommended, knowing she really can not afford a face-lift, knowing she really would never get toxic injections in her face. But it helps her to think about the possibilities of erasing the lines that are there in her face, the lines that show her where she has been, every time she looks into the mirror, instead of where she would like to go. The mourning doves live on the roof of her ex-husband’s “art” studio. They swoop down and pick at the grapes, before perching upon the wire that supports the vines. She remembers that when they had first come to live upon the mountain; one of the locals had said that having mourning doves living on your roof tops was a sign of luck and prosperity. She wanted to ask this weathered looking local what it meant if you also had a band of pigeons living on your roof as well and what it meant when every morning she would find one of them half eaten by some predator.
Her friend Anne, the one that suggested she start thinking about Botox injections, just got large amounts of neurotoxins injected into her primary chewing muscles. The injections are supposed to slim the jaw line. Her friend also suggested an electric facial to help make her face appear plumper—“youthful fullness is all the rage,” she clucked, as she continued to lecture about now was the time to consider a filler session in the attempt to regain some of her youth. But, what if she didn’t want her youth back? What if she wanted to try and grow old, gracefully? If that meant she was never going to find love again, well, maybe she didn’t want to invest so much money into the game of finding it again. Why couldn’t she just let time take its course, and deal with it? Her friend had whined. “You will die alone and unhappy and nobody wants that.” She didn’t take her friends comments seriously. She knew that this was Anne’s way of dealing with “emotional crisis,” a term she had pegged years ago, when her husband had died prematurely at the age of 45 from a heart-attack. “Not doing what he loved”, she had joked, but working late at the office when he dropped dead. After the anger had settled and the remorse set in, Anne had tried talking with a therapist about her fear of growing old without finding love again, but all he wanted to do was load her up on anti-depressants. She had yelled at him, “Of course, I am fucking depressed. My husband just dropped dead.” She didn’t need a therapist to tell her that she was lonely, heartbroken, and sick with the need of finding someone to hold her. Wasn’t that enough to justify depression. The therapist had suggested a long vacation and some valium. Anne took both and then found her dermatologist, who introduced her to a plastic surgeon. She had confessed that she is feels better with each injection. She feels that each surgical procedure erases some of the memories, which, in her mind, helps with the grief.
She made an appointment with the plastic surgeon. It would cost $4,500 to have a mini-lift and the results would last for 15 years. She would be back to work within two weeks after the in-house procedure. The thought of someone cutting into her face and possibly making a huge mistake terrified her. She decided that, instead of a face lift, she would start to weed the vineyard. That was also after Richard called to tell her that his new wife was pregnant. She wonders now, as she examines her face in her bathroom mirror with the cell phone pressed to her right ear, talking to the man who always made her feel so sexy, when did her jaw began to sag a little? When did the lines around her eyes appear? And when did she begin to feel so alone with herself? The creases around her mouth make her feel old. They make her feel as if she is running out of time. When had they formed? Why had she not noticed them until now? Or is it just that she hadn’t bothered to notice them until her ex-husband confessed to her that he wanted out of their marriage because he had fallen in love with someone else, who could give him a baby. “You know, Gwen, I’ve known Beth for some time, and we both want the same thing,” he had said flippantly while standing in their unfinished living room, not looking at her, but folding and unfolding his hands. A trait he had when he was nervous, and something she always found annoying. “And when did you contact her?” She demanded, not really wanting to know. Just something she thought she should ask, more out of formality, fighting the numbness in her heart. He never answered. Three days later, he was gone. She laughs now, as she listens to the man on the phone who is not her husband, but a man from her past, a man that she had contacted more out of curiosity than loneliness. She walks around her house that now holds only memories. Her childhood trinkets line the shelves. Pictures of a life before marriage line the walls of her living room. She listens to her old friend, Ray tell her about
his life over the last twenty years. They fill in the blanks of time and yet she does not really care about what he has been doing for all of those years. All she really wants to know is if he has ever thought of her in the last two decades. Or, if he ever stopped, from what ever he was doing, and thought of their first encounter. Did he ever wonder about her, as she had wondered about him? She does not ask. She would rather that he confesses it to her. But as he rambles on about his life with his music and how he never got married, she knows by the tone of his voice that he is more shocked that she called, than any interest in commiserating about their youthful past. Why had she called? Was it to reconnect to something that she thought was so very special? But now, she knows time has passed them both by. The lines of age that have begun on her face have put the events that once held so much promise, into mediocre perspective. It meant nothing to either of them. It was a moment, a space inbetween. It was nothing that would have equated to longevity. And yet, as she listens to his voice, she tries so hard to remember what it was she had held on to for all these years: the possibility of something? There was no real explanation of why she was talking to Ray at that moment in time. Maybe she was bored, lonely, or searching for his voice to bring back that specialness that can only be created when two people have nothing better to do than get it on and enjoy the moments of youthful glee. No worries of house payments, divorce, or fatal illness. What were their worries back then: To get through college, to get laid and possibly find a summer job? She smiles to herself as she remembers what she was like back then. So self-assured and so knowing of what she wanted out of life. She was going off to England to study at Cambridge. She was going to get her Ph.D. She was going to write books and marry an Englishmen. And Ray: what were his big plans? He wanted to have his band touring out west. He wanted to be a Rock star. And did he become a rock star, and did she marry an Englishmen when she studied at Cambridge? No, he still does music but has “a real job” as he said on the phone, with a laugh.
She had not married an Englishman, and never completed her Ph.D. in English history because she had fallen in love with an ordinary guy whom she had known most of her life. She knows, too that her recent obsession with her sagging jaw line and its sudden appearance has to do with her divorce. When she was with Richard she didn’t care much for her appearance. Richard talked of beauty only as symmetry of lines, because he was an artist who looked at faces as if he were breaking them down into important segments instead of appreciating their beauty. She never worried about her face and its imperfections, when she was married. She was pretty but not beautiful. He told her that her eyes were “striking”. “You have movie star eyes,” he would joke. He could never really draw her face. He never got it right. She complained to him that he made her nose too large and her face too round. She wanted him to soften her look on canvas, to make her appear prettier for posterity. Because in her mind, later, when she was old and wrinkled, she could look upon the paintings of her youth, think back and believe that at one point she was beautiful. And she would always be beautiful on that piece of canvas. And yet, the only painting that Richard has ever done of her hangs in the spare bed-room. She likes the full lips that he has given her in that painting. It is a pastel. She is smiling with a whisper of her youthful face. There are no lines of despair. The dust of color softens the truth. Her eyes are shaded, wanting the viewer to know that something, at least for the moment, was captured for posterity. Weeding the vineyard each morning after her morning coffee has become a ritual. She dons her big sun-hat, puts on a long sleeved shirt and layers her face and neck with sun screen. Richard had always said he never wanted to be married to a weathered-looking wife. He never wanted her face to turn all leathery and brown like an old,
worn out horse bag, like most of the women in the southwest. The sun here dries the face, neck and arms to match the brown sand. It sucks all moisture out of the pores. On her knees she pulls at the weeds. She likes the smell of the soil, the juniper and fermented grapes. The doves are purring above as they watch her progress, at the base of the vines. Her body feels good stretched or bending. A youthful suppleness is still there. She pats the soil smooth, evoking memories of when Richard had begun to plant the vines and tried to explain to her the different types of grapes that would be produced. They stood out in the middle of this stark land, hugged by the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, and she had asked him if grapes would grow in such infertile soil. “Anything is possible,” he said continuing to dig his holes. She had not been interested in knowing back then what types of grapes he was planting, but now as she looks at the brown vine so rooted in this poor soil, she wants to know what it will produce next year. She wants to know what makes it so tough to take root in infertile soil, and yet produce something so beautiful. She wants to know the secret and then transplant it into her own body. Standing there together, neither she nor Richard knew that she could never bear a child. Months later, with another failed attempt, it was explained to her that she had a double uterus, and that is why it would not be possible for her to have a baby. She felt relived at first, that it was not her fault. And when she asked what it meant to have a double uterus, the doctor had explained that there was a membrane through the middle of her uterus which caused the division. Like a vine, she had thought, like a strong grape vine, except hers was unable to bear fruit. The heat of the day is upon her back. She feels a sense of accomplishment from tending to the vineyard. She checks the irrigation lines to make sure all grapes will get their needed water supply, so next year they won’t wilt and brown before the end of the summer. She thinks, when she was younger, it was all about how love intruded upon every moment of her waking hour and how she lived off the intoxicants of falling in love. She laughs at
herself for calling Ray and she laughs at herself for thinking that she has the power to stop time from making little notes upon her face. At her age, her belly is still flat, and her breasts are still firm. She has strong shoulders and arms, and her butt still looks good in a pair of faded blue jeans. Let the lines on her face tell a story. Let the lines be her coat of arms, her vineyard to herself, a testament to her journey.
As clocks strike twelve Often as I watch the last minute on the table clock turns into the start of another day, then near-simultaneously, the figure of date jumps, the day of week changes, and after thirty one, thirty, twenty nine, or twenty eight nights, comes a new month. The table clock is passing the new-born minute as my laptop and wristwatch loosely follow it, steadily pace over the midnight. The clock-strikes-twelve moment that repeats itself for three times is not chased by any prince holding a glass high heel in his hand. Not making a sound, on the calendar a shift is made. No magic, it’s only cold machines operating the time of clocks. I stare blankly at the flickering dots : : : but there is no tick-tock. No sound is transmitted to clean up my thoughts. Nothing has changed in my life but another day of battery-life is consumed.
A way Here is a simple fact: I need to find a way out. I want to go back. To where – to home I guess. w a So I turn right, turn left, l k straight ahead, again to the left, i n g lost, I need help. I stand here opening the map, people come and want to talk instead. They may be nice, but I just tell them: I want to go desperately mad.
And I continue with my W A L K I N G until I come to a door R U N followed by another N I N G yet another r u n but never n i n g come to c r a w AN l i n g
c r a w l i n
Everything about you now reminds me of nothing, but like a stranger’s smile, a shivering glitter of dust. Reminds me of nothing, but those happy deceptive moments – a shivering glitter of dust – and you fooled my sentiments. Those happy deceptive moments, when I rose to a figure in surprise, and you fooled my sentiments, your eyes turned into lies. When I rose to a figure in surprise, I no longer trust your existence. Your eyes turned into lies, wicked and distant. I no longer trust your existence. Everything about you now, wicked and distant, like a stranger’s smile.
Remembrance I find myself returning to the same dimension where nothing but memory exists, like throwing a boomerang to the shore with waves crashing into dusk; I try to stand still and sing to your silent heart. For if you cry, and families and old men on the news cry by their muted children, asking why, - with reporters giving nonchalant comments, I will try to pin my teeth on my pale lips hard; For as my favorite orca dies from that stage she didn’t even belong, - I see her returning to her resting place, her smooth shallow beauty slowly fades, a part of my childhood dies too; For if a car crash happens in front of my eyes or a man jumping off the rooftop falls from the rainy sky - these indelible marks can hurt me not, I shall think of nothing but you; Even if the siren sings her endless songs and echoes fill this raging sea - I will not be enchanted, as all my heart is occupied in the past, your voice, the lingering sound of sorrow will continue. When I gaze at the window of your room - where you no longer live, this melody will always keep me home and fill me with remaining pieces of yours, as memory puts its hands around me, shake me, ruin me
Mo u, mo do re na i.* I do not recall you in my early memories; I do not remember us having that conversation at all. But let's sing our song once more and don’t reminisce, don’t slip away from the present - which for the million times I already have. * Means We cannot return anymore in Japanese
COLORADO CENTURY I was trying to plow granite soil with wooden blades; thin atmosphere exhausts me as I fight the horse to a stalemate. A hard wind throws sand And sunlight into my eyes Blinded by fatigue. Why am I here? No wife or Children to help. The distant mountains disperse rain clouds Grasses form short interruptions In taupe starkness. The train is beyond sight Beyond home I am tired weak As I sit in a wooden chair In a dark room Counting lifetimes into one. How far did I go until today is finished?
CANYONLANDS UTAH Mysterious red moonscape alone with smooth light arid winds in radiant silence. Time evaporates as stars move in slow circles as vacant light penetrates a desert canyon. A swamp of green fossils wash voices beyond the promise of the day.
TROUT RIVER NEWFOUNDLAND Western outpost of sailors and fishermennow idle. The salty cod vanished in greed waters. Fishing shacks faded maroon paint peel off into the wind near the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Weathered lobster traps and buoys stacked neatly, wait for another season, as a man with red calloused knuckles slowly stretches a fishing net to drystares at the man with the camera. The cramped grocery store has frozen ham steaks and canned vegetablesalong with bandages and tobacco. Elderly men sit near the door in wooden chairs and observe all, saying nothing only a barely perceptible nod as someone passes. A man repairs a pick-up truck in a beat aluminum garage, stops to watch someone walking on the muddy gravel road. near an idle lumber mill. The majestic fjords draw tourists who pass through town
quickly and leave with photographs. The one story school braces for September as children will soon gather, later to flee for jobs and city life, all who remain just sit.
FRANKIE I told that punk Sinatra Not to bother me With egg salad and chopped onions Mange you bastard I’ll get you a Jack Daniels And we’ll toast A salute! Motherfucker. Nelson Riddle is dead So are Sammy and Dino No thanks to you and your Booze and cigarettes. My women are not for you. Blonds, Red-heads And sultry black women. One looks like Billie Holladay With no needle marks. Ha! You seem interested Frankie While you struggle to remember your lines. I’ll repeat them for you Until you fade from washing the dishes Now go to bed alone and get the fuck away from me.
NIGHT MUSEUM 2 am A cacophony of silence follows moonlight an empty train makes all stops the pace is swift along narrow streets no one to hear the fury or witness lost apparition of grandfather spirit who watches and calls. 2:30 am Into the night museum of long musty shadows alone to wrestle blindness the supreme force upon stark galleries where hallways extend beyond misty rooms as blank faces watch my slumberless mirage as a clock ticks. 3 am Time stands motionless a Magritte echo floats past silouettes I recognize yet don't know endless in a silent tunnel where distant light offers hope through a tangled pornography of memories.
3:15 am I ramble on with dead people alpha ghosts and beta dancers who pace back and forth soft snow covers me in sorrow as frost forms on my exposed limbs smother eyelids that never close a rapid heartbeat a shortness of breath a tasteless desire while lonely eyes of gray faces scold me good-bye. 3:30 am Tears of childhood engulf streets the silent streets moonlight mist of a willowy figure that disappears in amusement park mirrored arcades barkers call to unanswering dead who laugh a cold laugh. 4 am The night museum has no gifts only burning escape through cloudy exits. A long white moon swallows all insomniac dreams welcome the forgotten and forgiven the desperate and desolate
How far can you go at 2am? Apparently farther than imagined.
OUTPUT PROTEIN PASSWORD
"They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type." — Edward Snowden.
From caves to telephone booths in the flick of a dial but we still think like weeds. Don't touch the antennae with invisible words or unspooled coils. The typewriter knows your name, the lightbulb's got your number — speak clearly into the telescope please: your insignificance is now on file.
The headphones have erased the umbilical — your thoughts have been prorated. Totalitarians are tiny people. The political is subliminal, the personal is apocryphal. The adjusted is contrasted: 1,000,000,000 watts ingeminated.
Insert coin for weight age fortune — the microphones are in the food. Retroactive got intercepted — your face is a fraction, refrigerated. Brains in bottles:
no deposit no return. Love the lens for acknowledging you.
Roll of silent reduction is living w/ time zoom — decommissioned molecules, decompensating patterns affix stimulus to gas tension.
I got my reasons.
Destablize the amaranthine w/ embedded unsubstantiated — serotonergic displacement, genetic discrepancy acerbates subsequent extrinsic.
Shortwave of tensile narrative misadapts patented disquisition — retroactive capitalization of collateral alterity superannuates sentience, vacuum-packed.
Your name here.
Deregulate the universe w/ unabridged appurtenance — interpolated probabilities, requisitioned corollaries intromit neurologic octaves.
Affix unsubstantiated time w/ subsequent debunking reduction — sentience tension, collateral patterns plagiarize genetic capitalization.
Examine coupon stop.
I started off life hopeful; I didn't notice the infinitesimal was so small.
Description was a rhythm; congruence, a guess.
I started off life exceptional; I hadn't surmised assurances were negotiable.
Appearances were italicized;
I started off life provisional; then I suspected consensus wasn't rational.
Correlation was dichotomous; certitude, mercurial.
I started off life a genius, reasoned with each season & ended up nocturnal.
conjectural; the conclusion measured in decimals.
Creating unicity is adjusting context & pullulating private info loops. Twist the lid to listen.
Auditing repertiore is designating aperture & inviting consanguineous echo seeds. Turn the toggle to edition out loud.
Making haecceity is encrypting beacons & retuning conterminous overdubs. Switch on
Filtering spectrums is selecting syntax & denominating equiformal data drums. Unsocket cycle to microphone now.
Creating confidential is verifying funnel & synchronizing contrapuntal ratio code. Broadcast quiddity.
"Meaning something is like going towards someone." — Wittgenstein.
Subbulu asked her son. “Ganesh, what are you looking for? You have seen some very beautiful girls, all well-educated. But none of them appealed to you.” “I don’t know, Mom. The girl should be modern. In America, one should be modern.” Subbulu was frustrated. She and her husband—Sivaram, with the help of relatives and friends, arranged many ‘bridal showings’. But, Ganesh was unmoved by the bevy of beautiful brides, not even a flicker of interest on his pleasant face adorned with dark curly hair. Subbulu hated for him to go off to America without getting married. She didn’t want him to be all alone in that faraway land without a companion, without a wife to cook and care for him. She didn’t understand her son’s fascination with modern girls. It wasn’t clear to her what modern meant. Did it mean wearing those tight fitting jeans and T-shirts, exposing all you had for the whole wide world to gape at? Did it mean chopping off one’s hair, and get one of those bob cuts, hair falling all over the face? Did it mean drinking and dancing in those sleazy bars on Brigade Road? She was at a complete loss. She asked Sivaram. “What’s all this modern rubbish?” Sivaram looked up from The Hindu. “It can mean many things, actually…..for instance…..”
Subbulu cut him off tersely. “I didn’t ask for a long lecture. Just tell me in a few words. Ganesh is so…so…so…” Sivaram, used to his wife’s brashness, was unfazed, “You mean taciturn?” “Don’t use all those big, big words. I’m not one of your students!” “Okay, okay. I mean Ganesh doesn’t know how to express his feelings, yeah?” Subbulu wrung her hands. “I wish that boy…..he’s so difficult…..all this America going….” Sivaram said. “Why don’t we let Ganesh meet a girl by himself? None of that old-fashioned stuff, the girl wearing a heavy silk sari, all that gold jewelry. Let’s avoid the conventional approach of a bride meeting the groom in a traditional setting, amidst parents, a bunch of aunts, uncles, and other well-wishers, watching each and every move of groom and bride. Just the boy and the girl….let them meet at a restaurant, let them talk…..you’ll never know….” Subbulu was aghast, put her hands to her face. “Toba, toba, that’s not done…..never….that’s completely against our customs……” Sivaram said. “We need to move with the times. There’s nothing wrong in a harmless meeting. C’mon, think modern….” So, Subbulu went back to her list of candidates. As she was leafing through the bio data and pictures of prospective brides, one pretty girl in a simple salwar kameez with her silky shoulder length hair, caught her attention. Subbulu lost no time in contacting her parents who lived in Cox town, a posh neighborhood in Bangalore. A meeting between the boy and girl was arranged. Ganesh fell for Manjula, her lustrous hair, her lithe figure, her form-fitting jeans and high-heeled sandals, her posh convent-educated English, so much different from the other girls who didn’t have the good fortune to
attend those expensive, snobbish schools. For her part, Manjula didn’t find Ganesh all that hot, but he looked quite benign, and kind of cute. And she went along with her parents who were impressed with Sivaram’s name and fame and his vast ancestral property, and agreed to the marriage. * The couple flew to Cleveland, Ohio, and settled in a one-bedroom apartment. Manjula was bored stiff, sitting in the apartment whole day, watching TV, waiting for Ganesh to come home. She couldn’t go out as it was too cold, and a month after their arrival, heavy snow made it all the more miserable. Added to this gloomy weather, Ganesh didn’t know how to entertain his bride. He never took her sightseeing, never took her to a park, never took her to an art museum, never took her for a stroll on a Sunday afternoon, never took her to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, nothing. He used to come home late, rather tired after his classes and laboratory work, have a beer, eat, and watch some dull programs on Civil war or global warming. Before sleeping, he used to make love to her. No romantic music, no candle light dinners, no flowers, no sexy lingerie, all those things Manjula read in the Mills and Boon novels. Ganesh just didn’t know anything about such things, his reading was strictly confined to engineering subjects. In the darkness of their bedroom, he kissed her clumsily and did his thing. He didn’t know how to approach a woman with finesse, and no one gave him a copy of Kamasutra, the quintessential love manual—a must read for every married couple. He didn’t know how to arouse her with subtle caresses and kisses, had no idea of her erogenous zones, let alone G-spots or other elusive aspects of the female body. Also, he was remote in his manner, always in his own world of computers and robotics. While she made it easy for him to penetrate her private portal, it was hard for her to penetrate his private thoughts. The marriage failed due to a complete lack of communication. After a few months of enduring the dull life she ran away, back to her parents, back to her familiar and comfortable
world of Cox town, and back to her Brigade Road gang. Manjula claimed that Ganesh neglected her, drank like a fish, and consorted with other women. When Subbulu came to know of these allegations she said. “That’s what we get with these modern girls. Modern, my foot……that boy, he hankered after a modern girl, look now what happened. She ditches him and comes back home. What audacity, to spread all those baseless rumors about my son. He is a well-behaved boy. Didn’t even have a girl-friend, like some of his cousins. Always buried in his books. Who’ll believe her?” When his father called him from Bangalore, Ganesh was surprised as all along he was under the impression that Manjula was visiting her cousin in New York city. He was shocked that she said such horrid things about him. He told his father that he had nothing stronger than beer in his apartment, and he didn’t have the time to meet other women, let alone have affairs. * When he knew for sure that she wasn’t going to return to Ohio, he cleared out Manjula’s chest of drawers, to pack up her clothes—panties, bras, blouses, T-shirts, and jeans and ship them to Bangalore. At the bottom of one of the drawers was an ornate gold plated wooden jewelry box, containing a pair of ear rings, a gold chain, and a strip of contraceptive pills. To the best of his knowledge she didn’t use those pills. So, what were they doing, tucked at the very bottom, underneath her clothes. They were manufactured in India and expired only recently, suggesting that Manjula must have got those pills while in India, before her marriage. While it didn’t prove anything, a suggestion came to his mind that she was screwing around happily before marriage. Then, as it happened in some Bollywood movies, in a flashback, his mind raced back in time. He remembered some of the incidents he didn’t attach any significance until this dastardly discovery.
Manjula said, “For God’s sake, Ganesh! I am your wife! Why use it? It feels so yucky……that rubber……disgusting.” “But, Manjula, you can’t get pregnant now, so soon after marriage. Certainly not now, not while I’m still a struggling student. Once I complete my Master’s, I’ll get a job and then we can……” “It doesn’t mean that if you don’t use a condom, I’ll get pregnant right away. It doesn’t work like that. And condoms are not foolproof, for your information. The best contraception is abstinence. There, let’s not fuck until you get your degree, okay?” “But, we need…..need……you know what I mean……” “Why can’t you say you need a fuck? Why can’t you be a real man and come to me without all those preparations? First you get the Vaseline, then the condom, and slobber all over my face. Why can’t you be spontaneous, for a change? Everything’s planning, planning, planning. You won’t even die without planning, I know you……I know you don’t care about my feelings, whether I……” She sat on the couch, crying. When he tried to comfort her she rebuffed him. “Don’t touch me! You are a fool! Don’t know how to treat a woman. Go back to your fucking books and experiments. Get lost!” At that time he didn’t pay any attention to her rants, but now in view of the damning revelation, what she said made sense. Many questions popped up in his brain, just like flash bulbs. She must have known how it felt without a condom, otherwise, why such vehement opposition to its use? Many times, she used to drive him crazy with her moves, which in retrospect, she must have learnt in her previous liaisons. He never taught her those things, but then again how could he teach her, if he didn’t know them himself? And kissing, she was an expert….oh….those kisses….how he missed them. And her shapely slender hands with long tapering fingers, she knew how to use them. Seeing those pills made him angry, jealous and inadequate. He was a fool not to have had
prior experience, and a bigger fool to think that he married a virgin, while she was anything but. No wonder she despised his naïveté. Obviously he didn’t measure up to Manjula’s standards. Was that why she left him? In disgust, he threw the pills in trash. Good riddance. But at the back of his mind a nagging doubt lingered; if only he didn’t use those condoms, Manjula might not have left him. Oh! What a shame! She was beautiful, smart and sexy. If only, if only……
“From the clutches of darkness will rise the true resurrect.” Time: Ere break of the day My hands are tied to my back and I see a white rope in front of my eyes. I had heard people saying about how a noose looks like. They said it is usually manufactured in Nagpur from the richest fiber they produce in their country – for it holds your body long enough till they hear your neck break. These thick walls seem no alien to me. I have already spent more than a decade behind these walls – in a self-confined chamber. Twelve years to be precise. Oh! I forgot. It is called a Prison. They have also assigned a number for it – ‘Jail no 3’. I see some people in front of me. I won’t count them but it looks like they might be a pack of eight. One among them is wearing a white gown. Even I used to wear it once. That was a long time back. Standing next to him is a well attired gentleman holding a small clock in his hand. He looks calm and composed. Not even a mere expression on his face. The other six are no unfamiliar. In tanned uniforms they stand at a corner, staring at me. I wonder what they must be thinking this time – for a human soul will turn into a mere ‘Dead Body’ soon. I guess they are nervous. Some of them might be witnessing this scene for the first time in their life. Behind me is a person. I haven’t seen him yet. To what I have heard, he must be wearing a stripped white and black uniform with a skull cap on his head. If not all this, I am sure he must be having moustaches’. This is what they – the prisoners, usually talk about inside the cell. I only felt his touch when he tied my hands. I didn’t even feel his shiver whilst he cuffed me. I guess he is no new to this Job – for they have recently done something same to a person. Yes, to a foreigner. He was ‘across the fence’ inhabitant. The time is ticking fast. I know for what. I was informed about it in the wee hours of sun’s radiance but who knows what tomorrow morning they will carry in their newspapers – as they have a trait to change the actual happenings. I bid an adieu to my mates. Some of them were asleep, dreaming what they have been aspiring for, since they became a part of these walls.
I had asked for a pen and paper earlier. Fortunately this wish of mine was considered for approval – for I wanted to write. Write for my family, a million mountains away –who in this winter chill, will be sipping Nun-Chai at this very moment with their arms cuddling a Kangri. I wanted to write for the apple orchards, in which I once used to roam, breathing open air with much pride – for I was free. I wanted to write for my son, who wants to be a cardiologist. I wanted to write for his smile. I wanted to write for my wife, her love and her support. I wanted to write for the narrow boulevards’ of my village, the calm and steady Jhelum, the sky high mountains and the spring blossoms of Almond. I wanted to write for my country. My Urdu has never been so good. I often do mistakes in my writing but this was a free flow. A few lines and I was done. I put the time and date at the very top. It was 6:25 in the morning, 9 February 2013. I hope the date will be remembered. As of now my mind is thinking of every possible thing. It roams back to the alleys where I come from. I can see Tabassum holding Ghalib close to her breasts – giving him the utmost care a son carves for. I can see my house. Its balcony painted in different colors. Its old windows waiting for an arrival. I can see my people, some of them in long black Pherans’ wearing skull caps. They are waiting in a queue outside my home. No they must be not waiting for an arrival – for they know the Country I am kept in all these years has a long history of not returning back people where they belong to. My people already have waited 28 years in hope, for an arrival. Mahraaz is yet to arrive. My bare feet on the wooden planks give me a tinge of coldness. I stand tall, waiting. They ask me to hand them my spectacles – which were a companion to me since I became a guest in this land. I can see some people talking. I hear their whispers. I guess the time has come. I thought of what I did these years. It was a mere 20 meter Journey. A Journey from one room to another and this being the last – of no return. The cold walls of the cell carry a sodden look. They want to speak something. I guess they want to tell me how they, 28 years before saw a handsome stature in a same dress in which I am now. I know they are witness to a Murder. The walls don’t lie like humans. They are testimony to what has happened before. They have already seen a burial. It would be no new to them, again. But they will treasure this witnessing – for they have to speak, Someday. Inside, I am humming the holy words. They give me courage. I stand tall – for I won’t bow nor will I cry. Isn’t this what I wanted? I will be a hero, soon. My name will be chanted to the loudest in the streets where I come from. ‘Shaheed’ is what they will call me. He calls me ‘Baba’ - my son Ghalib. Far from her mother this time, he is sleeping at a relative’s house. I wonder can I get a last chance to see him. Tabasum also must be busy with her daily chores. I don’t know when she will get the news. I fear dying an unknown death. I want to see my family. One last glimpse will suffice but I know I will be deprived of it. The cold walls of the cell will be the last thing I can see. The person standing behind me holds my arm. His touch is cold. He positions me like they want me to – a black cloth is put over my face.
I know I won’t die – my people won’t let me. My name will live – forever. It will light a torch – a torch of Revolution for the times to come. I won’t die for nothing. With this thought I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I can see Kashmir. I can see my hometown. I can see myself smelling the apples of our orchard – their fragrance intoxicates me. My Kifayah around my neck flutters in the air. Ghalib, from a distance is running towards me and Tabasum is smiling. She looks so happy. Her smile is enchanting. Ghalib insists me to play with him. He gets hold of my arm and hauls me with him – for he has waited much long to play cricket with his ‘Baba’. I can hear him laughing. His laughter is endless – It reverberates. I am smiling. I can feel something on my neck. The noose has been tightened. My heart turns heavy. The muteness around is broken by a rigorous sound. The lever has been pulled. Silence falls. My feet turn cold – let loose they swing in the air. I am hanged.
P.S: According to a friend, whom I met in Kashmir University: My cousin was lodged next to the cell of Shaheed Afzal Guru Sahib and he in a meeting with his family members in the Jail said, “The authorities of Tihar Jail told Shaheed Afzal about his hanging only after the breaking of dawn. Infact when other inmates were transferred to different barracks till the hanging was completed; Shaheed Afzal Guru Sahib personally met him and bid a final goodbye to all other inmates.”
NOTE: Afzal Guru was a Kashmiri citizen who was hanged by Indian Government on February 9, 2013 on the charges of attacking the Indian parliament in 2001. Many renowned activists and Journalist across India and whole Kashmir still believe Afzal was innocent and was framed in this guilt by Indian government. (The work is a piece of Fiction.)
New Worlds are Old News
The pilgrim in Stop & Shop: broad hat, cloak. In the cantaloupes, the pilgrim. No fruit coaxes. Nothing ripe on sale looks new. When I shout "extra safe!" my wife cries for Saint Benedict, learner confirmer. Who will not lie nude? The sunburn in Stop & Shop: flip-flops, bikini. Seagulls flock each unsunburned spot. Cabinets of milk. The crotch is an animal knot. I bitch out the loud window AC unit while asleep, sleep-bitching evil dream starfish with teeth. They bite. Who knows the oceans of our blood? In Stop & Shop the kid calls a kiwi a split cooter. White Keds, Atlanta Braves cap backwards. The man-kid. But fruit is edible sex. Parked in the Stop & Shop lot post gym, I'm sopping sweat, I'm hard up, craving chicken. In a bind: a coop. Any cooked muscle is chicken.
The pilgrim forgoes all cantaloupe. Stop & Shop is a bad rock to Plymouth. The pilgrim doubts bargain fruit. A good pilgrim will self-check out. In my hands I have two hands. Our hands. Hot palms planted in the pulp of us. Juice pilgrimage. Fuck Stop & Shop. The best fruit is never bought.
My Own Dead American
Diana, was it the time, Diana, the note to buy vitamin B-12 plus hummus and more Post-It notes you wrote, Diana, on the pink Post-It stuck to your dash, the last pink note that flew out northbound around six one morning, any morning, name a morning, Diana, when you smoked Virginia Slims and woohooed shooting free of a cluster fuck and gunned the unfailing white Corolla to make up lost time as always, Diana, as you always said, was it then, when the reminder slipped into your fuming wake and the blue seizure of a siren foretold the young bald officer who scolded your pink litter and spoke of citizens keeping shared roads clean without care, Diana, for the overused excuse of being late, slipping you the yellow paper, three hundred bucks and so we never did go for Moroccan at the spot we called our perfect own with the rainbow mosaic fountain and Zaalouk that put you in a family mood, Diana, the mood I wanted to give you soon: was this the time you first decided to yank the power brake stiff and split? It’s okay. Looking back, as we say, I have to keep saying, So. To keep going, I say it. Exit ramps lead to the same destinations, our staunch haunts
founded on stock faith made to survive us. Diana, I sold the Corolla. My Infinity flows into the artery of I-95 at the same dark hour you did mornings, name a morning. I dine solo after work now, relishing the duck nachos at the not-Moroccan spot we chose whenever the appetite for birds got unbearable, and I still call each bite of meat a devoted mallard couple: their love born from calm lakes never died. Their bodies mingle inside me. You hated me joking that way. You took a trip. You went somewhere free with no traffic and no speed limits. Diana, I must be almost all space these days, a beat-up naked parking lot, the same lot you parked in for the Jacuzzi at the spa where you left the final body of your message. Blood in the warm jets. It’s okay. Your pink note flit like a neon bug and landed in road kill, Diana, before you had a chance to fill the damned shopping list. Each morning I wake feeling what you needed to remember more than you ever did or will, and I’m so dumb for it. I’m sorry, Diana. Some crow ate the road kill I’m willing to bet and the Post-It by accident. Carrion message, ha: white shit in the Eureka state somewhere the relic of your climactic memo. Automatic animal urge brought the crow down from clouds. And you were always late, Diana. Dramatic entrance, you always said, cliché, but you never wrote reminders for time. Today, a common hot morning reminds me of the blue flicker on the highway behind you more than our short fires in Hawaii, Key West, Arizona, Cape Cod, Savannah and the Best Western near abandoned Bodie, even if both kinds of light twitched as if dying. Before the cop got you, Diana, the blue convulsions
of a squad car made you feel anonymous and repeated, like life; no, like lightning, you said, weaving a bright cat’s cradle between unseen canyon walls. That was in just underwear one scalding June night after Moroccan when we fucked and promised each other kids then fucked. Now you’re another dead American—no, my own dead American. I’m stuck in the slow hemorrhage of morning traffic in America. My visor blocks the heartless sun. I never change lanes. I coast well behind the cars before me. I never brake, Diana. I follow far behind. I realize where this wide vein leads, its distance, the braided capillaries that feed its curves—how it bleeds into the great stained bowl of L.A. It’s much too early for you, Diana. I was too dead set on the regular direction. Sex. Sex is easy. Sex and eating. Did you look ahead one morning and see humdrum bumper-to-bumper days of waiting, hoping, waiting, hoping? I followed too far behind your gaze. Diana, this is no plea bargain. I’m trying not to breathe exhaust. Please listen to my late mourning. Please. This is no excuse, not to the dead-to-soon. This is the obvious road sign to you I always missed. You’re gone, Diana, and America is long and lonesome.
Scene Likely Needed (Scattered, Smothered)
sunrise Toast Red
traffic jam. in hands.
booths. Bad music by overproduced teens. Onions. Bad lighting. No mention of love all night. Shredded hash browns. Ketchup stains. The slanted rain will not stop. No plans for this movie. No apologies. Taillights bleed to exits. Commodes flush. No sleep all night. But who can blame anybody or what over a bad instant coffee
along the highway in a wet red reluctant state?
Asifipede (All Small Things)
As if a cut eyelid with lashes glinting yellow mascara fell off a face and stuck to the mildewed grout between wall tiles. Without pause we crush it: bug! Now say another clings to the shower stall: a peripheral mustache in the mirror till a hundred legs fan out, rippling as if a miniature fern in a breeze. Where do these come from? Up from tub drains we bet, grown plump from excreted grime, dead skin cells, pubic helixes and saliva mixed in rivulets of secret come. No blood when we smack them with magazines, only dry bits flung as if dust balls exploded. Slam a glass over the crawlers, they whip as if cursing fate in the full-bodied cursive of tragic
parasites. They mean to stay, brittle things hatched into quick being on the nutriments we leak. They worm up from the clotted mulch of us into the light where they die. But why must we be made to wonder how such house invaders born in gunk survive climbing our pipes against each flood of muck we flush? We mean to floss and brush, gargle, spit, waste private time for a time—to piss and pass our clogged lives. But still, as if with infinite feelers, guilt creeps over me when I snuff each creature fed on my droppings. As if my own flesh scattered the buds to germinate vermin in a slick asexual coup of the human evolution that enables my brain to think and shampoo simultaneously. Guilt springs from kindred feelings. As if these creepers lingered to be near me, finding likeness in the skin-made hairs clung to my skin. Did the bugs breed chameleon tricks to mimic the mini happenings of my days: the squirms of grass or shudders
of leaves or the sun patting down fuzz on cheeks or the serial dust and hairline cracks expanding across the floors I cross? An insect pedigree reaches back to the minute mites in my lashes, bacteria in my gut and mouth. They might crawl into my home to call to the swarms of me. Insinuate how a microscopic zoom will show my biped shape to be polypede. Nature both imitates and exterminates nature from the deepest microbes up. It seems. So when a sliver of shadow bristles and slithers, I will stomp to deny what thrives on us, in us—invisible millions. After, I will move from room to room, and all small things at the edges of my vision will begin to writhe again: pencil, spilt coffee grounds, twist tie for the bread bag, shoelace. I will try to slaughter my gathered lint and loose power cords. I will kill any safety pin.
The Toe Sucker
I’d heard horror stories on several occasions about the messes made by friends and family on their 21st birthdays. I don’t actually remember any of the stories; they’ve all fallen into blurs of flashing images of puking on bars and showing more genital than the intended leg. So while I slid my way into a skin-tight dress and tried not to giggle at the face my friend made while she put eye shadow on my lids, I told her I was going to keep it under control that night. “Yeah, sure... that’s what we all said”. Her reply showed the same amount of faith all of my other friends seemed to have in my self-control for that evening, but I’d made up my mind; I was going to tie up my lady gettin’ boots, strut into that bar, and hold my martinis like a champ. The beginning of the evening felt a bit uncomfortable, but after a few drinks and a lot of new friends arrived, things settled into a comfortable flow of conversation and interaction among the variations of people I’d invited. As the night progressed I started to realize that my tongue was just too large and too dry to articulate simple utterances (an issue I also find when talking to attractive women). In feeling the onset of drunken selfconsciousness I decided to focus on the intoxicated activities of those around me. I sucked on the tip of my cigarette, forgetting how it’d found its way into my hand, and tried to interpret the body language and slurred conversations of my friends.
A woman with whom I’d had a few writing courses had shown up a bit late with a man I’d never met. I was excited to chat to someone new until he opened his mouth. My friend had introduced him as her ‘successful blogger friend’. I was elated to have the opportunity to talk to someone that found some success in writing. The world of publishing and actually creating a career with writing has always seemed like winning the lottery to me. I’d heard so many times that I had a better chance of being struck by lightning than making enough money to live on with a writing career. I didn’t want to jump right into picking his brain, so after our introduction I asked him a few questions. “So I heard you’re from New York! How do you like living there?” He paused, furrowing his eyebrows and gazing off into the distance as if I’d asked him what his philosophical theory of being was. “Wellllll [pause] I always thought New York was going [pause] to be a lottt of [pause] fun. But being famous there is soooo overrated.” He had that pretentious, nasal quality when he spoke, and uttered each answer to any question I asked him with unnatural pauses like an over-forced, amateur slam poet that thought he was God’s gift to each open-mic audience member. I knew he was a blogger; I didn’t know he was capitol F famous enough to self-proclaim this. I tried again. “Do you like writing? How’d you get into it?” “Oh the actual [pause] writing part is [pause] welllll [pause] it takes soooo much time. Trust me [pause] you’re better off living here and [pause] not writing.”
During these uncomfortable pauses he continued the eyebrow furrowing with almost-impressive intensity. This made him seem less intelligent and more like he had really bad constipation. It forced his face to look unnaturally small and puckered behind his over-sized (but trendy looking) reading glasses. While I allowed him to continue his description of how “it’s so overrated to be famous” I tried to decide exactly what it was that he reminded me of. I was proud of my drunken mind when it finally came to the conclusion that if the most selfinvolved insect in all of the insect kingdom were given a day to tell humans why they were much farther evolved than us; it would turn out exactly like this guy. I’d forgotten about him for a while through the movement of the evening, but as I blew the smoke out of my lungs (trying very hard to believe I had the allure of Katherine Hepburn) I could’ve sworn I heard him say two words I’d never actually heard in consecutive order. When you’ve gotten a bit of alcohol in your system it’s hard to ignore a grown man’s voice say the words “suck” and “toes” in a public place. I looked over to see he’d cornered my good friend and by her closed-off body language and the look that was screaming save me I could tell poor Brooke’d become the nasalizer’s victim. I listened to him repeatedly proposition her with different toe-sucking scenarios for at least a good five minutes. I imagine that this sort of proposition from an attractive, well-spoken male might also elicit an uncomfortable response from most women; but the fact that this guy was actually trying to convince my most attractive friend to let him suck her toes: well it was just too much fun for me not to enjoy. Brooke and I had actually dated for a brief period of time over the Summer, and so I took an extra moment to enjoy listening to him try to get a woman into bed that I’d successfully courted. I may not make any money off of my writing, but for this moment I can be sure that I have succeeded where you will definitely fail. I let this moment of triumph sink in a bit before I decided to check if anyone else had caught onto this interesting encounter. My eyes darted from person to person; no one else seemed to notice. The fact that he was saying all of this like he was talking about the new dishtowels his mother bought him just confused me more. Brooke tried a few different tactics to remove herself from the lovely monologue this guy was spewing in her direction; she’s always
been a great social navigator, but even her attempts to start a different conversation, or talk with other people, wasn’t enough to get her out of this obscene entanglement. She was constantly interrupted by a grab of her arm and a, “you knowwww Brooooke...” and when she said things like “it’s not going to happen” they somehow seemed to form into “tell me more about this scenario” by the time they reached his ears. Eventually I took pity on Brooke and decided it was time to step in. The thought crossed my mind that I might want to handle the situation with subtlety, but the booze seemed to push that idea out of my mind right before I hollered at him. “Dude! She’s not gonna let you suck her toes! Drop it.” His face went flat, and he sat back in his chair, looking surprised, but I can’t imagine his persistence had ever been well received; someone needed to put mister toe sucker back in his place. The moment passed, though, and the rest of the night swept us all along a path of perfectly strange events. Later that night my best friend Annie decided to stand up and give a speech. “I would just like to say a little something...” (this sounded so eloquent from the crazy girl that had once explained that the blues clues tattoo on her ass had the important effect of being able to exclaim the puppy’s famous tune of “bow bow bowww!” Every time she dropped her pants.) “Twenty-one years ago today, my good friend entered this world by coming out of a vagina...” (oh O.K. here we go...) “And now, twenty-one years later, she is following the quest to get into one.” There was a roar of laughter. I blushed and thanked Annie, letting her know that her speech was utterly heart-warming.
After she sat back down I headed over to her side of the table and she fulfilled her self-proclaimed title of a ‘loving drunk’ by telling how proud she was to be my friend. We reminisced about the hours we spent at the local Village Inn, smoking cigarettes and eating dino-fries in high school. She told me how glad she was that we were still friends. About five minutes and three hugs into this conversation we decided it was time for a run to the ladies room. We invited Brooke along; I’d hoped to introduce the two to one another, figuring their shared excitement for just about everything would bring them together. Five minutes later we were all groping one-another’s breasts in front of the sinks in the women’s room. After telling this story on several occasions I’ve found that my male friends are always baffled by the simple question of how the hell I managed to get myself into this situation. I never really know what to say... Brooke and I were talking about how we’d never been with someone with nipple piercings (I cannot for the life of me remember how this topic came up) and Annie proclaimed from inside her stall “Heyyyy! My nipples are pierced!” She came bounding out of the stall and washed her hands. “It didn’t hurt a bit; they’re a lot of funny actually! Here, feel!” she grabbed my hand and pressed it up against her boob. “You wanna feel too Brooke?” So there we were. Me, awkwardly standing there with my hand on Annie’s breast thinking that I’ve never had such a scientific experience with boob; and Brooke feeling around and asking questions like this was absolutely no big deal at all. I decided to try and take the attention off of the fact that my hand was on Annie’s boob. “Hey Brooke has like the most amazing boobs I’ve ever seen in my life. Women pay for breasts like hers!” So then Annie was grabbing around Brooke’s chest.
This was when another woman walked into the bathroom. She stopped for a minute and looked at all of us, standing there awkwardly with our hands on each other’s breasts, and then she giggled and walked into a stall. This created our collective decision to return to our table. When I walked back to the table I noticed that a girl I’d been obsessing over for months had found her way over into my chair. I looked at her with my best Clint Eastwood scowl; she giggled and said she wasn’t leaving so I’d have to hold her “sorry ass”. I was more than happy to fulfill the request, even if I spent the majority of the time with her sitting on my lap thinking about where the hell I should put my hands; it was still exciting and fun and well...awesome. Around one, the party started to wind down and my friends began to shuffle their way from the wire furniture on the patio out onto the sidewalk to head home. I’d purposefully chosen Charlie Browns as our spot because they were notorious for covering the tab for people on their twenty-first birthdays, and it was also within walking distance from most of our homes. I’d already offered to share my bed with Brooke; we’d created a sort of ritual of spooning at night without making anything of it the next morning. As we finally stumbled our way through the door to my apartment we were both shivering from the cold of a late September-night’s walk through Capitol Hill. I ran the bath and we both dropped our clothes (I hadn’t even had the sobriety to consider the possible sexual implications of this moment; we’d been naked before and had moved past the sexual tension phase). I was so excited about the idea of a bath I could hardly contain myself. “Ohhh do you want bubbles?” She looked at me with a mocking stare, her hand resting on her hip.
“Duh I want bubbles.” I giggled. “Alright.” I lit a couple of tea-candles that I keep on the ledge and we both hopped in. After all of the whining about how hot the water was we settled in on opposite sides of the tub. I awkwardly scrunched my body up so I could dunk my face in the water and when I came up Brooke started giggling at me. “You look like Santa Claus!” I laughed and decided to pursue the image by adding the bubbles to my face; Brooke followed suit, making a long, hanging beard, like one of the members of ZZTOP I remembered seeing on the cover of one of my Dad’s albums as a kid. After we hopped out, we threw on some pajamas, went out for one last smoke, and then settled into bed. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was Brooke putting a glass of water on the nightstand next to my head. “You’re going to need this.” * In the weeks following I’d decided that this was exactly what a twenty-first birthday should look like. I’d had playful moments of awkward sexual tension with friends; I got to pretend the girl I’d been chasing was mine for the whole entirety of the ten minutes that she sat on my lap; I even got to finish the night off with a simplistic friend-spoon that would leave me feeling loved (instead of dirty) the next morning. The problem, though, is that while the memory of that evening has faded as time has passed, I can not get the image of that god-forsaken toe sucker out of my mind.
I keep thinking about how the woman who brought him to my party had been telling people that she was choosing to surround herself with “successful people”. I’m sorry, but successful or not, that guy was a combination of forced eccentricities and unoriginal projections of what “trendy” looks like. Throw the whole toe-sucking incident into the picture and I’ve got a problem. How could this guy ever be the image of success? The simple truth is that this blogger degenerate represents everything that terrifies me most at this stage in my life; maybe I don’t understand the rules, or the world, of what it takes to be “successful”. So whether I like it or not, I know that my first night of public alcohol consumption will not latch to my mind as a night of perfect debauchery (even if it was). Instead, the thing I will always remember most about my 21st birthday will be the toe-sucking success story that embodies all that worries me about my future as I step into my adult life.
Why Dr. Phil Didn't Want Me on His Show I was a latchkey child with borrowed personality. After I gave it back, I had no personality. I was so ugly my mother dreamed of sad alligators on leashes. The psychiatrist told my dad that "his mud drawings are abstracts with meanings that cannot be extracted." Girls mistook me for scrap metal or bad leakage on a rainy day. I was hoping to become a sailboat in their beds. When I did grow up, I became the dirty water in their basements.
She’s a Sucker for Me If you admit your love for me is as deep as the dreams of an ocean-boat blue whale that swims close to surface, would you pluck out your olivine eyes, would you mute your own seashell-thin voice? & I would keep untying your shoelaces & you would keep falling getting up & falling falling because you still can't see.
After Prison You return to the club, named Tin-foil Lilies. Some might consider you a celebrity. After all, you were caught selling bad dope to a gay porn star. Nobody loved the porn star, not even his wife. At open mike, a cabaret performer jokes about so many bones buried beneath the basement. Then he belts out a raspy rendition of Eartha Kitt's "Where Is My Man?" Most of the faces here are new. You feel older than everyone. The bartender pretends that he can't see you or he disappears downstairs claiming the seltzer is out. Not even the aging drag queen, asleep at the end of the bar, would want you if she awakes.
Ingratitude I built you from the wood of box trees, of figs leaning toward the night. Threw in some bay leaf & star anise for good measure I gave you the soul of my wife, boxed in red-brown acacia. My wife who could never flip an egg without breaking it. She was crushed by the sky. I said breathe. You rose dreamy-eyed, walked away, & never bothered to thank me.
A Girl Named China Is Your Brittle Future She was taking care of her terminally ill mom and a set of potted silk plants. Her words were crazy trains rushing past me, over me. We spoke between classes or when the bus broke down or under trees hiding fat squirrels with eyes that knew us. Weeks passed like slow flames. Her mother was sleeping more, talking less. I came over twice a week, brought several shades of neediness. We did it quietly in her room while her mother remained dreamless with her mouth open. I felt dizzy in that house, un-knowing myself or my motives, made stupid jokes about growing onions upside down or how during sex, our bodies made sucking noises. China didn't laugh. Her dark eyes remained frozen, unreadable. Evenings became strained, more humid. I wondered what it would be like to plant myself in her shoes. Which way would I grow? Her mother's body had became a mysterious void.
China jumped at the beep of a feeding pump. She was becoming more obtuse, saying that she didn't believe in the word "decompose" or "dead". She said bodies evaporate the way liquids do in our experiments for Mr. Hennessey's Physical Science labs. I suspected she had a crush on him because ugly men to her were a challenge. They needed merciful weeding and make-over. They needed a patient gardener, sensitive to root need. When her mother finally evaporated, China disappeared for weeks, her rooms closed for sex. My nose itched. I gave wrong answers in Hennessey's class. My mother bought powdered milk because she believed it was healthier. When China did return from whatever state of matter or not-matter, she was mute. My thumbs hurt from planting vegetables.
Time Un-Warped She wasn't the kind of girl to plant tiny daggers under the sofa, dead ants in the pants of the boy whose eyes were perfect pools of her horizontally bloated childhood. When she did snap some twenty years later there was nothing to lift but glass.
The Queen of Late Nite She was on Jimmy Kimmel two weeks before she died. The great star of 60s soap opera, the TV mother of an 80s outcast. The audience [was?] [must have been?} instructed to applaud when she joked about her "monstrous blond wig." There was a silence. I reached for more hot sauce Kimmel at a loss for words.. The audience-I wanted to read their faces
Mute Replica Beauty I don't suppose that trite expression "you die a little each day," will turn any tulip heads in grandmother's forgotten garden bed. And although her plastic flowers by the west window lean sickly, they remain healthy.
Derek J. Douglas
Thirty feet from shore I felt an incoming wave, drawing me further out into the sea. I was, at that moment, at the will of the ocean. The pull became stronger until my chest was met by the crest of the wave, pushing past and releasing me. I convulsed, and the trance was broken. I snapped upright, suddenly aware of my body’s firm connection to the sand beneath me. My legs still pulsed with the ebb and flow of the crashing surf, and convinced my mind to follow suit. I was afraid the sea had not released me. I looked over at Cody, who was also sitting up, arms stretched out behind him to prop up his long torso. No man’s shoulders appreciate being put in this position for long, and so Cody’s shoulders vengefully drank in the sun’s rays, slowly turning red in response. I scanned the horizon, aimlessly searching for something to fix my sights on, settling for a moment on a small boy in a white tee shirt and black shorts. “I feel like the ocean is still tugging at my legs,” I said. “Yeah,” Cody said, exhaling, “me too.” The uneasiness of the moment was shared between us. I felt detached, I couldn’t help not to. My place in the world felt foreign, but I knew I wasn’t lost. It is in these times of sensory confusion that we become aware of the autopilot which guides our daily lives: Was I really just out in those waves for the last two hours? Did I really drive three and
a half hours to get here? Do I really have these relationships with other people, my friends? People who are thinking of me, even when I’m not around? Is this really me? I do this? All the time? The sum of these thoughts and their reasons for being is to be lucid. I blinked. Nothing. I was certain at this moment that I had contracted some obscure form of motion sickness, brought on by my choosing to take the form of a stubborn piece of driftwood the last two hours, refusing to wash ashore in a storm. My eyes shut for a moment now. Once again I felt the pull of the sea on my waist as a mountainous, turquois wave sucked me into its barrel and crashed down on top of me. You wouldn’t see a more beautiful wave in a surfing video. If it was real, I wouldn’t have had time to be afraid. Unfortunately, it was not. Shit. I thought I felt like I did the first time I rode a rollercoaster, in fourth grade. I was absolutely terrified, but willed on by the thought of my crumbling social status among the class if I wussed out. The line folded upon itself so many times that my ten year old mind was confident we would never be forced to board anyway. When you see the entirety of a journey stretched out before you it is incomprehensible. After step by agonizingly individual step through the line, we were however pushed through the rickety turnstiles and onto the loading platform. I managed to keep a brave face until the shoulder restraints locked in place, sealing my fate and inevitable doom. I was forced to swallow my heart with every breath as we slowly clanked up the first hill, “lucky” enough to have gotten the very first car. A handful of back-to-back loops and barrel rolls later my body took the form of a recently struck tuning fork: an intense vibration radiated from my core to the very ends of my fingertips, and I was rendered just as rigid. Stepping off the ride, I could shuffle my feet no more than three or four inches out in front of me at time. I learned later that this gave several of my classmates observing from line the impression that the ride was so intense that it had turned me into a zombie.
“What is wrong with you?” Alex said, taking a few steps wide of me. Whether this was to observe my ridiculousness better or out of fear for my Tyrannosaurus-like plodding, I do not know. “Nothing!” I said, “I just feel a little funny, that’s all.” I looked up at the sky and pleaded to at least appear normal in front of my friends. “You’re not going to be sick, are you?” he said, flashing his gap-toothed grin at me. “No, I don’t feel like that,” I said, “I just need to stop for a minute.” “You’re so weird!” I braced myself against a chipped, red railing that smelled like metal. It was warm from the sun. Propped up like a lush, I allowed my muscles to relax as I slowly melted in the space between the bars in the railing. Sweet relief. My entire body tingled, it almost felt good to embrace it. A warmness ran from my core to the very ends of my toes on my sandal clad feet. I’m pissing myself, shit. I couldn’t turn around to face my friend, so I clutched the railing even more snugly. I suppose it was the ankle-deep puddle around my feet that gave me away. “Oh,” Alex said, kicking empty air to dry his foot. “Let’s go to the waterpark for a little bit, it’s just over there,” he said, pointing. I looked down. This time was different: I hadn’t pissed myself. My anxiety to end this situation only fueled my relentless sub consciousness’ hold on me. In an attempt at logic I decided that I was exhausted and dehydrated, caught only just beyond waking consciousness and immediately before sleep. Unwilling to commit to sleep in a public setting (I had a negative experience with that, too), the meditative purgatory I found myself caught in was haunting. A tune floated across the salt breeze, just as the kites above the beach did: When I turned the page The corner bent into a perfect dog ear
As if the words knew I'd need them again But at that time I couldn't see it I would read that page every day for the next year She sang a short tune And I came from her soft touch and slept We sat on a shoreline watching wind scalp the white off the waves Sitting on a shoreline, and if I could do it, I'd dog ear this page We spoke about growing old and filling the future's empty stage She sang a short tune And I came from her soft touch and slept The lyrics bounced around inside of me until they broke the chains that held my eyes shut. I rose! Like a younger Frankenstein I rose up, escaping from my anxiety built prison cell. I looked over to my right, and was not surprised to see Cody standing as well. A chill washed over me: this was not normal. “I’m going back out there,” Cody said. His face gave away his reluctance, but he grabbed his bodyboard from the sand regardless. We had already been at the beach for eight hours, but he didn’t want to waste a second of it. I decided that I was tired of being wet, I knew he had too, stubborn. “You have three dollar bills?” I asked. “Three dollars?” “Yes, three bills.” “Yeah,” Cody said, “I think so.” “Fork them over then, I’m getting us water.” He was already digging through his sandy, dirt colored wallet, peeling apart crusty tens and twenties. God, did this make me feel cheap. I did buy the first round of waters, but I was already indebted to Cody for some of the
trip expenses we agreed to share. I only had plastic money at this time however, and in America convenience is a commodity stronger than debt. I promised myself I would make it up to him later. Paper in hand, I folded the bills on themselves once, hamburger style, and then again before slipping them into the pocket of my board shorts. I gave Cody a nod and we set off in opposite directions. With the exception of talking to a middle-aged woman with two broken arms from a “moonshine night,” I had been keeping to myself. Conversation eventually found me on the diagonal planks of the seemingly endless boardwalk. “Zzzzzzzz.” “What? No way!” I said. Zzzzzz…zzzzzz…zzzzzz.” “Ah?! Take my dollar, you little fucker!” “…zzzzzz!” I inspected my dollar. It was slightly damp, but otherwise, a fine specimen. “Only slightly,” I mumbled, eyes narrowing. I engaged myself in the delicate primping of the two corners destined to travel face up into the maw of this cold-hearted beast. I began to cackle to myself with delight. “Zzzzzt...” “Yes!” I said, raising my arms in triumph. “…zzzzzz.” “No!” I said, “Curse you karma, curse you wet pockets!” startled, a young mother withdrew her tribe of children from my immediate vicinity. “Worse things happen at sea,” an old man said. He was dressed in yellow rubber rain gear, from mildewed bucket hat down to his reinforced-knee pants, neatly folded just before resting on the tops of gouged, weathered
boots. A full gray beard and crows feet worn deep underneath his temples accentuated the caricature of his person. I smiled at him as he continued plodding down the dry boardwalk. “That seemed dramatic,” I said in the young mother’s direction. I shuddered at the thought of worse things at sea. “Zzzzzt.” A blanket of clouds enveloped the previously blue sky, bringing with it a haze that shrouded the furthest hotels down the boardwalk from view. The air stayed warm, but the lost sun turned the ocean cold, at least for our goose-pimpled bodies. I tried to rejoin Cody in the surf with my board, but I couldn’t force my body above my knees to commit. The repeated rubbing from the sand and my board had completely rubbed off two of the moles on my stomach. I didn’t know this was possible, but I hoped that it meant I had two less to be scanned for cancer someday. I sat in the wet sand and drew the names of people I loved with my finger. Eventually a wave would come and fade them away. After two or three swept in, they existed only in my memory. I planted my hand where the names had been, and returned to our towels. I watched beach goers turn into beach goners as the more privileged vacationers quietly formed a queue at the foot-wash station beside the bathroom shack. They have dinners to go out to, hotels to freshen up in and lounge, and beach cruisers for their children to occupy themselves on, excited for their first opportunity of freedom and exploration away from home. A raindrop collided with my cheekbone, prompting me to think that one of the sea vultures circling overhead shit on me. I wiped the droplet off with two fingers, and returned it close to my face for inspection. Everything checked out, so I returned it to the world with a flick of my hand. I found myself back in a trance, thankfully focused on something beautiful. My stare was set on a Mexican family of either six or thirty, huddled underneath a series of umbrellas, or a circus tent. The rain continued to fall
with increasing frequency as the family huddled around a small city of coolers. Madre smiled, cradling a small cardboard box. I couldn’t be certain if she was twenty or forty-five as she laughed and handed out chip bags to each member of the family. Abuela placed a mottled-brown cast iron pot on top of the lowest lying cooler and removed the lid. Everyone was already holding a tortilla occupied paper plate and lifted their butts off of their chairs in anticipation. It was hot, I know that it was. I know that grandmothers possess a magic the rest of us do not. They make every meal the perfect temperature, every game of dominoes the perfect way to end the night, and every quilt the perfect pattern of fabrics to push you off into a pleasant dream when you stay over for a weekend. For these reasons and for many more, a grandmother always appears to be the age she has earned. The warm carnitas continued to captivate me. The scene was so vivid that I felt involved, I was either the seventh or the thirty-first participant in their surreal dinner picnic. My eyes were drawn to a child, the smallest of the children, who stood in black and white while the world around him was glowing with color. Mejo was painted with layer upon layer of sunscreen, which were in contrast to the single depth in his burning, brown eyes. I couldn’t help but feel that his true identity had been literally ripped off of his person, the dried epoxy left on his skin the only proof of its prior existence. I realized then that I was not the only one staring. He was looking back at me with matched intensity and a look as dark as the midnight sea. I couldn’t tell then if he was six or six hundred. What felt like a bead of ice water trickled down my spine, and I became aware of the illusion that was holding me captive. “If I can’t belong than neither can you,” his stare said. His face became immersed in a pool of insidious shadow. “Why?” I asked. The hope I hadn’t found that day still eluded me. “All who choose to wade deep into the sea inevitably become lost,” he said, slowly rising above the horizon.
“But I respected the water! The power of breaking waves, the currents that rip you away from shore, the depths you can’t live to see. I knew about it all! I was careful. I didn’t want this to happen, not to me.” I could see Cody swimming in the water behind him. His laugh crashed down like thunder. “Some give themselves in carelessness, this is true. And some are destined to be swallowed in the rising tide. Now drown.” “No.” “Yes.” Thirty feet from shore the ocean floor is littered with small rises and depressions. I took a step from the sandy hump that characterized the thirty-first foot, my outstretched heel catching nothing but water on its descent. Panicked, I floated in place for a moment and prayed the ocean floor would rush up to meet the bottom of my foot and keep my head above water. Long, cold fingers wrapped around my ankles, the sharpness of their ridges biting into my skin, ripping flesh away as they twisted tight. The top of my head submerged beneath the waves. Water poured into my lungs as I tried to yell for help. Arms extended towards the retreating ceiling of light above my head, I was sunk to the depths unknown.
The sea rises up, up as mountains form over the course of a million years The powers both hold push hidden from within But where mountains erode grain by grain into the sands of time The sea protests and takes the grain of others
M. E. McMullen
Let the horsefly fly, eh? Didn’t happen that way, but that’s what was being said at the time because horseflies have rights. Let them mess with horseflies. Say nothing. Next thing you know, they’re messing with you. You think horseflies lost their rights when they decided to become horseflies? Guess again, pal. All living things have a right to live under the new constitution. There are exceptions, sure, but if you kill something without the right permit, shame on you. Unless the death has some overriding purpose, with all permits in order, everything has a right to live, if it had parents. Under the new constitution, I’m speaking about. Some say it’s a call of the reverence for life crowd’s bluff, but I don’t necessarily agree. Technically, I suppose, I’m part of that crowd. I know that, among us, we agree about very little, especially when it comes to setting limits on our reverence, lest we trod on someone else’s. You didn’t hear about this? Under the new constitution, you can get a permit to kill all manner of living things, including horseflies, but the permits are expensive, and there’s a line. Mostly responsible is this new breed of thirty somethings, hanging out at the stables, not happy unless their lives are hopelessly bound up in chaos, alienation, betrayal and confusion. Turns out that they are the ones most affected. Someone, not me, said that their thirty something lives are a soap opera on steroids. Let the horsefly fly, eh? Wait in line down there for a permit sometime, see how that goes, before you go committing to letting the horsefly fly. Should the horseflies be able to go where they want? Become what they want in their horsefly lives? My
own personal Moral Compass, my assigned conscience, under the new constitution, is a person whose name I’m not allowed to say. He’s my personal life guide, available Tuesdays, two to four. Shame on me, if I fail to report. The check in usually goes like this: “You still working?” “Oh, yeah.” “Stay clean.” “Gotcha.” One click and I’m clean for another week. Understand. I’m not a criminal or anything. I got a post card from the MMCP, the Mandatory Moral Compass Program. Had to do with my low test scores in school. I figured it was like jury duty. Turns out, the only time I ever really needed a Moral Compass was the day I murdered the horsefly without a permit, which was also the day that I didn’t get through to my MC. If you don’t get through, by the way, you’re supposed to keep trying. I put the phone on redial, lit one up, sat back to wait. Turns out, there’s some kind of a test of the system, which really wasn’t fair because I wasn’t notified, and neither was my MC. How they were able to translate horsefly moods and activities into multimedia events I’m not sure. As I understand it, there’s a process that involves sedating the horsefly and wiring it up with micro-circuitry and all that. How a particular fly is selected from among the many available I don’t know. How the fly is isolated from its fellow flies to audition for these experiments, I cannot guess. Apparently, the selected flies are equipped with a number of micro devices, including head and belly mounted micro 180 degree `Super-Swivel’ 3D color cameras, sound recording devices and microchip hook-ups capable of monitoring various components of the fly’s psychological and physical status at any given time, sending the data by wireless to receiving stations at the Office of New Constitution Implementation (NCI), who will say only that the flies have been sent to engage selected citizens as part of a test of a secret anti-terrorist monitoring system. Our call came in a little before five. Short and sweet. Large horseflies harassing guests in the great entrance hall of Wisteria Manor. Swatters only, please. See anything in there about letting the horsefly fly? Anything about considering measures short of swatting, it being generally understood that swatters kill? See any mention of a permit?
So, there we go, the aces from Maintenance, up to the great alabaster hall on the hill. Aunt Margaret grabs two big swatters, takes the lead, I follow in close order. We’re on our way to the crowning jewel of this venue, the great Wisteria Manor House and Grounds, a magnificently domed grand ballroom in the Hollywood Hills, rendered in the style of the Sistine Chapel by the press agent of a young starlet famous for her scrapes with the law. We take the southwestern entrance per the floor plan, where great rows of windows line the entire south wall, `pimping the Vatican layout big time’, according to press reports. This is our turf. When Uncle Luke was alive, we were the three musketeers. Now, it’s just Aunt Margaret and me. By the time we arrive, ladders are already in place, left by the painters. Scaffolding as well. No mention of permits. The thirtysomething contractor in charge of the redecoration is more interested in hitting on the comely young receptionist than in dealing with us, so, we trudge straight through, with nary a whisper about letting the horsefly fly. That little act of forbearance, letting them fly, as it were, is that intended to relieve somehow the desperation in their erratic horsefly lives? I said to Aunt Margaret, talking very, very loudly, and at close range, “Hey, they’re stupid little bugs. They don’t know the difference.” “But we do,” she said, shouting back. “It defines what we are.” Imagine. Being defined by the fact of your living in the filth around stables? Congregating with your fellow creatures around piles of horse shit? Well, this new breed with their new creed has the answer: ‘Let ‘em fly. These thirty somethings, who dream up these new rules, still mostly hormonal in their motivations and reactions, who would indulge in any deception to get what they wanted, fill their own stables to the brim, if they had stables, with piles of fake emotion, piles of convenient denial, piles of petty selfishness, until the horseflies themselves would do just about anything to escape; aren’t they the true source of desperation around here? Any workers who might have been harassed by the flies are long gone, needless to say. No one around to check with anyway, because this is, after all, a secret test. Nobody even willing to get involved with the horseflies, except Auntie Maggie and me. She pulls spectacular green curtains aside, revealing the magnificent gold framed windows and breathtaking view of the south gardens, the vineyards and the great Pacific Ocean. “So-called `stable flies’ and `horseflies’,” she says, “are generally larger than common houseflies. If there is a more vexatious and annoying creature on the face of this earth, a creature less deserving, I don’t know what it would be.”
Aunt Maggie often spoke to Uncle Luke in this fashion, as a kind of prelude to the extermination funk he worked up in order to kill indiscriminately. She used to climb, but hasn’t for a while now. When Uncle Luke was alive, he did most of the climbing. She climbed occasionally. When he died, I started climbing. Maggie preferred it that way. You maintain these places, somebody has to climb, I kept the swatter out of sight in my left hand as I’d seen Uncle Luke do. If the flies saw the swatter, they were apt to scatter. “Don’t think they don’t know what it is,” Uncle Luke used to say. Aunt Maggie was keeping me posted on the horsefly’s ever shifting position, above and to my right. The light was good. I was moving slowly, making sure of my footing. I could hear the buzzing up there as the flies dashed back and forth against the top of the glass, noisy little sideways skaters, looking for a way out. Below, Aunt Margaret continued to call out the closest fly’s position as I edged upward rung by rung, clutching the swatter. The horseflies, sensing the danger, began to flit about more intensely, managing to keep just out of reach. The nearest fly sensed me closing in. He began to thrash desperately against the glass, more violently and vigorously terrorized than before. “These horseflies have a healthy sense of self-preservation,” I screamed down. Aunt Margaret, deaf as a stone, smiled and nodded. I’d measured the distance, extending my arm, leaning out from the ladder in the direction of the closest horsefly, coming up a tantalizing three or four inches short, which might just as easily have been a mile, since leaning out any further was bordering on foolhardy. Still, Margaret urged me to stretch. “Reach for it, Reg,” she cried out. “Reach for it.” Now, I stretched out as far as I could. Standing on one leg, hanging onto the edge of the ladder with one hand, I reached into space, getting the edge of the swatter very close to the area where the closest fly was surging back and forth across the glass. Now, the little beggar was taunting me, dancing just beyond my reach, and Aunt Margaret’s voice grew huskier, more intense, as she urged me on. “Get him, Reg, get him,” she called out. Now, the horse fly was buzzing and dancing more and more erratically, drifting toward the zone that would put him in my sights. “Reach,” Aunt Margaret called out.
Reach I did, up and out as high as I could, stretching my arm as far as it would stretch. When I managed to look up, there he was, just above me, sweeping the glass, back and forth like a bug on an invisible string. Moving up and down, back and forth, he was trying desperately to get beyond the glass and fly away, off into the blue. The ladder was shaking as I reached. Margaret’s cell phone went off below, that crazy ring tone, the Flight of the Bumblebee, on the extra loud setting. That might’ve distracted me normally, but I was in my killing mode, and focused. He danced tantalizingly close, ever closer. Now, ---I paused to savor it. He was within reach. My heart was beating fast. All that was stopping me from swatting the little son of a bitch was my reverence for life. Asinine foolishness? Maybe, but my spine was tingling all the same. My toes were curling up against the aluminum rung. A horsefly was inside my kill zone. Other horseflies, desperate for sustenance, yearning to be free, may’ve drifted off to other parts of the estate, but this one was mine. In those last few seconds, I felt a joy I’d never known before, the joy of the kill, even if it was only a bug. As quick as this hunter’s mood came over me, that fast did it vanish. As will happen, Nature allowed for an epiphany, letting me see the wretched horsefly for what he was, a complex creature of God, a terrified little dipteran trying desperately to fly to the blue sky that lay just beyond the unyielding pane of glass. Like any of us, he wanted to see tomorrow. Now, my arm drew back. I gripped the ladder with my loose left hand. I let go of all merciful thoughts. The horsefly was desperately looking for that elusive hole in the glass when I blasted him. If I went just a little higher during the coup d’ grace than was prudent, just a little farther out, it was because the hunter’s joy had overtaken me, made me temporarily one with my hunter side. The fly was dead. His guts were splashed on the glass. The last thing I saw was his little body dropping toward the floor, just as the ladder tipped. I was not far behind him, going ass over appetite, as they say, into the middle of the air. I called out, ‘Timber,” as I fell. “New directions,” Aunt Margaret had said, clicking her cell phone shut. Gripped by my killing lust, I’d shunted the message to hold in my brain. “They’ve decided to let the horseflies fly, set them free.” I tried to call ‘too late’ but the words caught in my throat. I was down. Rather severely shaken, I might add. Lacerations. A broken arm. As I was telling my MC Tuesday: “God knows, I might have been killed, if dear Aunt Margaret hadn’t broken my fall, rest her soul.”
Felix and Pauly
The other evening I had a terrible dream that has managed to cling to me; even now, as I write this, I still discover threads of it– in the mirror when I shave, crawling under my shirt or when I slip away for an evening smoke. Even when I walk to work it’s there, this nightmare, trailing at my ankle like a cobweb, or some leash woven from a broken braid of witch’s hair. -I woke up spooked. Wet-templed, bell-rung by a deranged yellow gush bursting in from the window. My tongue hurt. Despite my perspiration the only cool position I found resided beneath my blankets. It’s an eerie thing to writhe around in bed, wide awake. The alarm clock read 10:11. Already I heard Felix griping, in his way, on the phone downstairs. The deliberate patience in his voice, wafting up the staircase, the gradual, patient cadence of speech–it was meant for a five year old; he was dealing with the idiot plumber again. I didn’t want to move but stillness submerged me in misery. I gazed into the white of the ceiling and studied the icicles of dream I was still able to conjure, before wakefulness reduced any color and it all became another dark pattern in the carpeting. A matron, my sentence in her throat. A glowering throng, horseshoed around me. A netting of futile avenues: Even if I killed you first, you’d only have 10 minutes.
She spoke it at me, into my face. It was her hellbent declaration. My eyes opened and the despair seemed overwhelming to me for one panicked moment, like a pierced artery: that this unblemished day would be strangled to death before it ever left the cradle.
Let’s not dwell on dwindling shocks. It’s not the end of the world. Something Felix would say. My phone buzzed on the nightstand, rattling the rings I’d flung there last night. The dregs of my ginger lemonade quivered within a goblet. I snatched it up and threw the liquid down my throat, which was unwise, then looked to see who rang me–another unknown number. I laid back down and spent a minute gathering a plan for the morning, but they never remained in place–they slipped from my grasp whenever I came near enough to touch them. Like elusive little koi. “Paul.” Felix lobbed my name into bed with me. “So, I think we have a problem.” “Any idea where my glasses went?” I asked. He smiled where he stood, pitying me from the doorway before sauntering, arms folded, to the center of the bedroom and picking them up. “Keep telling you we have a gnome situation,” I muttered. He placed them on my face. “What do you think about an organ at the top of the stairs?” I asked, scootching up in bed and quickly recoiling on account of the agony. Felix sat down next to me. “A pipe organ that went up with you as you ascended.” “We’re getting scammed,” he said, folding his hands in his lap. “We have a contract. It will be fine.” I sprawled out, imitating someone’s chalk outline. “The contract does not account for indolent day labor.” “There is some thing in my brain. It has a bullwhip of lightning.” Felix eased off the bed and closed the curtains. He goes, “I wish you’d get up. You have a lot to do today.” “It’s a holiday.” “Saturday is not a holiday.” “Bastille Day, Señor.”
Felix looked me in the face without expression. His hand drifted in towards the edge of the bed. I tracked him where I laid. He slowed further. He stopped. Then he tickled the bottom of my foot. I immediately retracted into a ball. There was a lag, then an invisible tidal wave of pain crashed over me. He gave a laugh and smirked. “Even if it’s Bastille Day,” he sang from the hall, “you only have 10 minutes before Contractor Bob arrives.” He retreated downstairs. One minute I was surrounded, the next I was marooned. “Was that a warning?” I whispered. I spoke to Felix; I spoke to my Dream Doyenne, my Sentencer, dripping in emerald paisley, from the throne room of her disintegrating continent, somewhere just twelve minutes ago. I sat up. Popped a pill. I glanced at my cell. Voicemail. Stranger. I was unprepared for this late morning barrage. Draping on my robe, I left to greet the garden. -----There is something august about July mornings. Barefoot on the patio, I stretched my toes and waded through the puddles that formed, shallow and clear, from the sprinkler’s scattershot yesterday evening. It felt like it cured me of something. “Hello Jonquil.” “Hello Avocado.” “Good morning, Bougainvillea.” Perhaps it was just the Advil. Across the street my neighbor, Dean, came out on his porch and glared towards the sky, the sun a kind of nuisance to him. He didn’t notice me from my vantage point behind the ersatz floral camouflage. A rogue breeze nudged a daffodil towards my bare shin and it was the most soothing thing to happen to me in a decade of mortifying weekends. I knelt in admiration, tickled the daffodil’s chin. It all rapidly soured, though. I felt corny. The mind loiters where it will. Invokes its own phantasms, real as anything. Drawn to jeopardy, mine orbits the peril, confusing the tar pit for the birdbath every time. Tell yourself whatever you want.
Now you see it now you don’t. Felix watched me from the windows above the kitchen sink. 10 minutes. Dean ripped back the cord on his push lawnmower. The engine turned over with a puff of blue exhaust, shooting beige, withered grass clippings into the air like a blast of confetti. “Ah…. Paducah.” -----Inside, over coffee, I let Contractor Bob drone on about the roofing and menaced Felix with the details of my dream, mumbling to him when the mug was near because I liked it when the steam licked my face. He was a sport about it; as much of a pest as I am, he deserves a gold star for merely groaning during Bob’s presentation. “It is time for you to shut up,” he stated. His face darkening. I stuck a finger in his ribs. He swatted my shoulder. “Thank you Bob. We’ll take a look at the slate and the terracotta, and let you know what we think.” “Have you ever had a nightmare that, in some way, spoke to you?” “Pauly, I’m married 17 years.” Bob gathered his blueprints and materials went on his way. -----When he’s confident no one is watching, he’ll run his fingers along the fine grooves of his face. Trace the regal, aquiline plunge of his nose. The deepening twin crevices arching down his cheeks. As if to mold it all back to its younger form. I see it as a form of therapy. “God’s Country.” Felix said nothing. He kept his eyes trained on Dean, dismembering the weeds along the driveway. “Yeah he’s an asshole but it’s not easy weed whacking and smoking at the same time.”
He shook his head and laughed. “You have a big mouth.” He let out a long breath. “I’m glad you’re over it. But maybe if you could learn to set things aside, Robert wouldn’t have to make six thousand trips out here. Gasoline is expensive. “ He stood up and searched the cabinets for the sugar. “I mean he plays it off like he doesn’t mind but of course he minds. Anyone would mind.” I didn’t reply. The silence was enough. When it seemed most damaging to do so, he bent to the truth at the heart of the matter, divining it preternaturally, like a bloodhound, and it floored me every time. He took the licks he’d earned. Felix was a man. I was just another charming dodger. “You’re just scaring yourself.” I found myself nodding along, as we sat in the kitchen, letting whatever it was about today gently settle into the background of our immediate concerns. Terracotta. Simple syrup. Retuning the piano. I made some toast. Eventually the mail arrived. “Someone called this morning. She asked for you. I said you were sleeping.” “What did he want?” “She wanted to talk is all, I suppose. Number’s on the fridge. Didn’t recognize the voice.” I mentioned he could have told me sooner. “I’m an architect. Not an answering machine.” “Do I call back?” “Toast’s burning.” “I like it a little burned.” “Maybe text her?” “So it’s a her? Are we sure about this?” “Look at you!” “This whole thing began so tragically and now look! Non-stop laugh-a-thon.” “Call him back.” “I’m going to call. After toast.”
“Post-toast chit chat.” “Gabba gabba.” “Even if I killed you first, you’d only have 10 minutes. That doesn’t even make any sense,” he adds. “The weight of this prophecy in her tone of voice. That came from me, somehow. She was nonchalant –like Auntie Helen, declaring she’s driving out to Oahu next Christmas. She pointed her finger at me. And a tone of finality to the exchange. It was inevitable.” “Inexorable. Grim.” “Super grim.” “We won’t let that happen.” -----I strolled outside again. The afternoon had shaped up nicely: after eviscerating a few hundred dandelions, Dean took to washing his minivan, sloshing buckets of hose water over the roof and scrubbing it with a mop-handled cloth brush, like he was bathing an elephant. A few other neighbors went about their business as well: The Murphys unloaded groceries, hauling the paper bags into the garage refrigerator. Hoffman down the street blithely nursed his screwdriver, his sun-slackened face like a dozing kitten’s in the shade of his tacky plastic gazebo. He saw me and raised his glass. “Bastille Day,” he proclaimed. I nodded to him in solidarity. I realized I was wandering down the street in nothing but violet terry cloth. No one bothered by it. Hoffman’s granddaughter–Becky? – gave me a funny look as she biked past me up the hill. That’s it though. I shuffled along, following the meandering strip of grey her bicycle painted on the asphalt. The phone was in my hand. My hands were in my pockets. At the top of the hill I paused for a moment. Standing on one leg, I brushed the gravel from one foot, then the other. You could see the clouds gathering, closing in on the sun like it was a wounded animal, its injury bleeding light in vast lakes of Chablis across the sky. It seemed too early for the sun to set. By instinct, I gripped the phone tightly, meaning to note the time, but I held off. Plenty of time for that at the bottom of the hill. I followed the road down. A pickup truck drove by. The driver spat towards me from the window. Black Sabbath temporarily suspended in the air.
Walking barefoot on asphalt makes one lonelier, somehow. Maybe it’s just me. The world is immeasurably quieter, its impenetrability more apparent and unforgiving beneath the meager plant of a naked sole atop it. The world could care less. Two squirrels regarded me, puzzled, from the branches of a maple standing sentry at the entrance to the subdivision. They eyed me. I eyed them. It could’ve been the IRS. Then again it might’ve been the family up North, whom I adore but can’t stand. It could’ve been some telemarketer, some sweepstakes spokesman. Perhaps a check didn’t clear. It was Elizabeth. Elizabeth from 11th grade French. She was leafing through the yearbook and feeling adventurous, whimsical, disconnected and drunk. She remembered how we giggled every time klutzy Mr. Bittles leaned against the chalkboard in his charcoal or cranberry turtleneck and turned and unwittingly revealed the dust of his notes powdered all over his back. Who couldn’t help grooving to the funk of Trigonometry. That was so long ago. That was 1983, two years before I ran into Felix at the Double Door and nearly broke my spine on that icy staircase. I stood still for what seemed a long time. I thought it was silent but I realized I was wrong: all I could hear were air conditioners, and distant jet engines. A minor, seething motor underneath the regular cacophony. High in the sky, a platinum birthday balloon rose and cruised off, fleeing the houses and I watched it and it made me a little blue, a little envious, and just a little magical. I would call tomorrow. Tomorrow morning. First thing. A task for Sunday. Let it slide. Face the music. I’d tell Felix something. Voicemail, I’d say. Machine. I’d sit and stare at the funnies. Then I’d behold the sky from the patio. I’d slow down. Reflect. Eventually I’d stand up and mix a drink, one for each of us, something that looked like it had mingled with it the last exquisite drops of sunset. I’d sit down again, and eventually talk would turn to the future. Histories, renovations, projected conquests. Maybe we’d get lively, maybe not. I was just scaring myself. It was summer. But by the time I’d reached the driveway the bulk of the daylight was already buried, concealed and cooling into a slab far beyond a range of glum blue clouds, preventing any refuge even in the whimsy of the moon. All the firearms, the entire arsenal of the world, trained upon my open mouth. I had all the time in the world. It was all probably nothing. No one would mind. Everything is usually nothing. I would call back tomorrow. Just then Becky and Hoffman sped past on their Schwinns as they cut a path across all the front lawns of the block, her bright white tires nearly catching my toes.
“Watch!” she yelled, glancing behind her. I opened the door. He was still there, at the kitchen table, dissecting our next twelve months. 6:46 post meridiem. I turned off my phone. “Hello, Tulip,” Felix said, the best of him shining in his eyes, looking up at me.
Right before the Veterans Expressway dumps its occupants onto Dale Mabry, it turns sharp and hard. The turn is deceptively in the middle of a few other meanders, As a warning it forces drivers to face a concrete wall about eight feet high, painted with arrows, urging the driver to turn left, now, as quickly as possible. The first time she drove her car home from school, Shruti took the curve too fast, in the naïve confidence of a 16year-old. The car veered wild and skidded off the shoulder; only a last-minute jerk of the steering wheel saved her from grinding into the concrete. The car whipped around back into the lane, overcorrecting. Too fast. For a brief moment, Shruti felt that she was entirely out of control of the vehicle, and that it might careen into the cars next to her, or swing off the shoulder and into the ditch to the right. It was Diwali and she had worn a shalwar-kameez to school at her mother’s bidding. The long dupatta was balled up in the passenger seat; she’d lost her bindi hours ago, in math class. The bangles on her wrist clanged against each other. Under her hands she could feel the car purring a life that felt as real as her own. And she thought: Oh god, I’m going to die here. She braked, skidded, stopped, put on her hazards, and broke down into shivering sobs, panicking. Her adventure had landed her half in a lane, half out, but the cars behind her had slowed down. She was lucky to not have been killed. A few other drivers stopped to make sure she was okay. No one was quite sure of what to do with a shaking Indian teenager in traditional garb, but the moment passed, and Shruti declined offers of help, pointing out that the car was not damaged, and she needed to return home.
She did not say a word of it to her parents, but that night at pooja, when the family gathered to say their prayers for good luck in the next year, Shruti silently said her thanks. She wasn’t quite sure who she was praying to, or what she was saying, but it seemed like the right thing to do. The car was an old Nissan Maxima, one of dad’s extravagances from the early days. When she was little Shruti used to trace the sticker on the side that said 4DSC, four-door-sports-car, thinking to herself that her dad drove a sports car, and that was cool. Inside it always smelled of cigarettes and his papers were strewn everywhere — an engineer is always on the job, he would say. As soon as he got a cell phone he was always on that, too, driving down Bruce B. Downs like a lunatic, only half-paying attention. After mom and dad decided to sell the old house and buy the big one in Tampa Palms, mom was insistent on selling the car, or even just scrapping it, so long as she could get it out of the driveway. Filthy cigarette-smelling car. I know those kalryos like the same car. What will people think, seeing us driving to functions in that? Then Smriti would say, mom, you can’t say things like that. Why not? Mom would demand, holding her rolling pin in one hand as she made chapatti in front of the evening news. Smriti was the only one willing to go through it all again with her, the importance of breaking down stereotypes, the argument that if we judge others on their appearances, others will judge us. Shruti, younger than Smriti but already too old for this, would watch mom as she pretended to understand, pretended to acquiesce, and then rolled her eyes when her American teenager turned her back. Anyway, Shalini took the car, saved it from the scrap heap. She was 15 when they moved to the big house and she persuaded Papa to let it stick around for another year in the three-car garage. Dad was always loath to throw away anything so it stayed, and Shalini and Smriti got into the habit of smoking cigarettes in the car late at night, because the smell could always be blamed on the preexisting smell.
Shruti was always the tagalong at these crucial adolescent events. Her older sisters Shalini and Smriti were close in age, just two years apart, and for a while had thought themselves to be the only ones. Shruti was just five years younger than Smriti, but it was enough, somehow, to alienate them. But they would never purposefully exclude her, even if it seemed most of the time that they spoke in a language no one else could understand — a language of immigrant children, forced into the role of raising their parents and themselves in an unfamiliar land. Smriti would bring her burned CDs to play in the car—mixes that had System of a Down and the Offspring on them. Shalini would pass off her fake IDs to Smriti and tell her how to sneak around with boys. The two sisters could not be more different, somehow, and yet they had formed an unshakable partnership, a codependency based on isolation and desperation. Whenever white people met them they would spend a few minutes trying to untangle their names—“sooo similar!” Mom and dad both had names that began with an S, and in India, it is not so strange for all of your children to have “matching” names. If anything, it marks you as a wanted child. Apparently Shalini was supposed to have been named Shruti, but at the last minute Papa had some kind emotional connection to the baby girl that he had hoped would be a boy and shifted it a few letters over to Shalini. Shruti got the leftover name when she came later, and her mother always said she was special because of that. But Shruti did not feel particularly special. She was accidental, incidental, leftover: the clean-up crew. She felt that keenly when Smriti left for college. Shalini had not gone far — to the state school a few miles away — but Smriti, ever willful, had chosen somewhere way up north, in Ohio. She seemed very happy and dyed her hair blue and never called home. Shalini would come by every weekend to drop off laundry and tell Shruti the stories of her boyfriends, giving her half-used makeup and nailpolish and trashy magazines. Papa was always glad to see Shalini come in the door, Shruti noticed, but Mom missed arguing with Smriti. With the girls gone Shruti found herself an only child, without anyone to speak the language of immigrant children to. She ran upstairs when she came home, uninterested in the neverending loop of Hindi serials and the nashto Mom put out. Smriti and Shalini would always invite her to their colleges, and sometimes she would visit, but she did not feel quite right there, either, hovering the background as white boys and girls groped and made out with each other.
In fact the only place she began to feel comfortable was the driver’s seat. Even though she’d gotten her license the latest of them all, Shruti was the steadiest driver—not distracted like dad, or anxious like mom, or careless like Shalini, or competitive like Shruti. She heard from a mechanic that everybody thinks they’re an above-average driver, and privately she thought that all of the drivers in her family were below average, destined to slam into a guardrail at some point. More people ought to think of driving as a skill to improve, like a language, or an art. Shruti could drive for hours without tiring, and knew her way anywhere, so after a while, whenever the family went somewhere, it went without saying that Shruti would climb into the drivers’ side seat, adjusting the chair for her long legs and short torso, holding her hair back with her favorite cap—a Florida Gators cap, a gift from Shalini. It never occurred to her to buy car magazines, or watch NASCAR, or tune into Top Gear, or anything like that. No one thinks of driving as a hobby, and 16-year-old Indian girls, least of all. The car went through Shalini’s boyfriends and late nights and through Smriti’s brief internship at a law firm in town. By the time it came to Shruti it had been abandoned at one end of the three-car garage, next to the disused Christmas decorations and the deep-freeze full of mom’s stored leftovers. She would still go in there and sit sometimes, lying down in the backseat with a can of Coke and her phone, inhaling the smell of smoke. When she did start applying to colleges, it was only to places that had campus parking; not for her an urban campus with public transportation. Mom almost forbade her from taking the car with her to school, because at this point it was 20 years old, knocked about and near-used up. But Shruti could not bring herself to let it go, and her friends in college nicknamed it Maximus, and took it to McDonald’s late at night. Shruti always drove, and never drank. The day after Shruti’s college graduation they piled up everything in Mom’s SUV, the twin-sized bedding, the textbooks, her cheap Target clothes, her plastic lamps. Mom and Dad were teary-eyed, watching their youngest graduate; Smriti and Shalini were affecting boredom, too recently out of college to not be jealous. Shalini missed the parties; Smriti missed the classes. Shruti did not think she was going to miss anything.
When the SUV was packed up the parents got into the front and started the three-hour drive home. The girls had a late lunch at Panera, smoking cigarettes on the patio, and then slid into the Maxima. Shruti pulled out to I-75 steady and smooth, feeling the familiar growl of the engine beneath her. Shalini sat in the front, flicking through the radio. Smriti was lying in the backseat. “Stop there. That one.” “What is this?” “What? This is Beyonce!” “I thought you didn’t like Beyonce.” “What! Since when? I loooove Beyonce!” “I’m the one that hates Beyonce. Helloo, memory fart.” “Look, it’s hard to tell you two apart, your names are really similar.” Shruti raised her hand and did the universal fuck-you hand motion to the backseat, sending Smriti into spasms of laughter. “Shalini, stop texting.” “It’s Kai.” Shruti and Smriti both groaned. “That guy? Again?”
“I thought you said you didn’t like him.” “I never said I didn’t, I said I wasn’t sure.” “It’s so weird you keep dating Indian guys.” “It’s so weird you keep dating not Indian guys.” After a moment, Smriti said: “I don’t want to end up like mom and dad.” Shalini nodded, as if it were a given. But Shruti looked in the rearview and said: “What’s so bad about mom and dad?” “Nothing exactly. But they’re so miserable.” “Mom is always watching those serials, it’s exhausting. Like, what is her life even about?” “And dad hates his job. Always has. That’s why he’s always buying stuff.” Shruti checked her driver’s side mirror as she changed lanes. “Well, maybe that’s as good as it gets.” This surprised the sisters into silence. Shruti was a little surprised herself. It never took long for Smriti to get faux-philosophical, and after a bit, she said: “Look at this. We’re all grown up. Even Shruti.” “Yeah, girl, how does it feel?” Shalini punched her arm.
“I don’t know. Good. Bad. I’ll miss college. But I’m happy I went.” “So you’re doing this med school thing?” Shruti hesitated, braking as another car cut in front of her. “I don’t know. I could. I did the requirements. I’m not a great candidate, but I’m reasonable enough. I could probably get into some kind of school somewhere.” “The Caribbean!” Smriti laughed. Shalini said, “Laugh all you want, but it’s med school same as everywhere else. And at least you’d get to be by the beach. I’d visit.” “I doubt I’d have any time to be by the beach.” “But Shruti,” Smriti said, sitting up. “Don’t you have stuff you want to do before you graduate? Don’t you have dreams?” “Dreams?” “You know. Things you want to do.” “Like how I wanted to go to New Orleans for Habitat for Humanity,” offered Shalini. Smriti snorted. “Yeah, and for Mardi Gras.” “And how Smriti spent two years living in her boyfriend’s parents’ basement trying to be a writer.”
“And getting laid,” Smriti pointed out. “I’ve thought about it,” Shruti said slowly after a moment. “I sometimes feel—I feel I’d like to go places. Somewhere different.” “Like where? Europe?” “India?” “On a road trip?” “Maybe. Maybe all of those things. Somewhere where I don’t have to feel like myself. Where everything is different.” “Without mom and dad?” said Smriti, sympathetically. “Without anyone. Without me,” Shruti said. “Without you?” Shalini asked, puzzled. It started raining. Shruti turned on the windshield wipers. They needed to be replaced, she noticed. In the blur she’d missed their exit. She was going to have to swing around, and come down the Veterans from the South. Odd. She hadn’t missed an exit in years. She slowed, braked, took the exit onto Hutchinson. Without thinking she swung back around onto the expressway, remembering only as she passed through the tollbooth that she could have just struck out home on local roads. She was cross with herself for making such a beginner’s mistake. This is where she’d grown up. She should know better.
Now they were going north towards home, the same route she used to drive from school. Up ahead the curve was coming, and Shruti would have started slowing down already, but she’d been distracted thinking, and now the concrete wall was coming fast. She’d seen her blood and guts spattered across the wall in her dreams before, the Maxima in pieces on the highway. Her family would not put a cross up because they were not Christian. Perhaps they would put up flowers. Perhaps other people would think to themselves, oh, someone else died here, maybe I should put down my cell phone—oh but wait, just one more call. Shalini was looking down and texting. Smriti had her back to the door, headphones on, eyes closed. This was her precious cargo, and there was the wall. No one would notice. She could feel it already, the crunch of the plastic bumper, the groan of twisted medal, the hard thud to her chest as the steering wheel went into her breastbone (because what was the chance the airbags even worked anymore?), Shalini’s characteristic stifled scream, Smriti’s cry of anger. Shattering glass, wheels spinning. Other cars might be involved. It would be an event. There might even be a picture on TV. In the end the problem was that the highway curved left, not right. Shalini was sitting on the leading edge of the crash that had not yet happened. Smriti had her back to it. Shruti had not done all that well in physics but logic suggested were she to send herself to the death she knew was waiting for her, she would send her sisters, too. A younger sister in India is supposed to call her older sisters “didi.” Smriti never got into the habit of calling Shalini that, because they were too close. Shruti called them both “didi,” without fail. The wall was coming so fast it was like a dream, but at the last minute Shruti pumped the brakes, following the rules she’d read online after her first near-miss. The car shocked and spun, and unexpectedly fishtailed out a bit, swinging its rear end into the next lane. In a panic, Shruti hit the gas, trying to turn the steering wheel in time, but it was too late. The front end of the Maxima crashed into the wall, and behind them the squeal of breaks denoted traffic desperately trying to avoid them. The airbags popped and blew, and Shruti fell against hers, held back painfully by the seatbelt locked in position, teeth coming together with a snap.
Shalini was screaming and Smriti was screaming too, it seemed, and for a moment Shruti thought that she had done what she intended to, and killed them all, but after a moment the noises stopped, and all she could hear was her own breathing, and it was so silent it was unbearably loud. She pushed at the airbag, trying to see something beyond it. She found her voice. “Didi—Didi—” Two hands reached out to find hers, one warm, one cool. “Are you okay? Are you okay?” One headphone had fallen out of Smriti’s ear, and Shalini’s phone had flown out the right-side window. The dashboard had shattered—that was the noise—but the glass was the kind that didn’t get sharp when it broke, and Shruti picked pieces out of her mouth and Shalini’s hair. Shalini’s knees hurt from the impact, and Smriti’s shoulder, but it did not seem serious. “What about you, Shruti?” She looked down at herself. Nothing. Not a scratch. The car had saved her. The Maxima was totaled, of course. It was barely worth the cost of its upkeep anyway. No one would ever drive it again. Shruti threw the keys out over the edge of the concrete wall when the girls extricated themselves, trembling but unharmed. Shalini retrieved her phone and called 911. Smriti smoked three cigarettes in a row. The ambulance came and inspected them, as did mom and dad, eventually, but they were fine, the girls were all fine. These goddamn American drivers, Papa said, haranguing the cops who showed up at the scene. And mom just cried and hugged Shruti, her baby, her baby. You could have been killed. To which Shruti said, “Hindus believe in reincarnation, mom. We would have been okay.”
Smriti said that an aggressive driver had forced Shruti onto the shoulder, where she lost control of the car. Shalini said the lanes weren’t clearly marked. Shruti said nothing. Anyway, Shruti thought to herself, you can’t drive a car to the Caribbean.
Transcript #2951 Air Date: December 10th, 1998 Run Time: 17:35 Note: Emphasis indicated in dialogue added by the transcriber. Voice Over: Bringing you the before-untold story, in her own words, on this episode of 20/15: Katherine Minola reflects on the Padua Speech, her success with Pet Centers around the country, and what’s next for the newly-widowed entrepreneur. Sharon Walters: Ms. Minola Katherine Minola: Just Katherine actually. And I haven’t been Katherine Minola since before I was married... and I don’t think I’ll go back. Kate is fine. SW: Of course, Kate. Welcome to 20/15, it’s a pleasure to have you. I want to start with a rather obvious, but important, question. You have, for the last thirty years, declined to interview with any major news source, or any news source at all, on any subject. Why now? Why us? Katherine: Well, I enjoy your style, your interview style, and I was a great admirer of your mother. I’m very sorry for your loss. SW: Thank you. K: And, your network gave me editing veto privileges, in my contract [laughter]. So that’s important. SW: Wouldn’t have it any other way. K: [laughter]. Exactly. As for the ‘why now,’ I assume that’s more obvious, but with my husband’s recent passing, I thought it would be an appropriate time to step up, more formally, into the public eye, as it were.
SW: There has been speculation that his passing - and not be indelicate, but - that his passing was what actually allowed you to step forward. That previously, he hadn’t let you to speak publicly. K: In a way, that’s true. Sure. In a way. SW: Can you elaborate? K: Well, like at the Pet Centers - and I’m sure we’ll get into more of this later, but - like at the Pet centers, it was his decision, one I disagreed with, yes, when he was alive, for many years. After he passed... I considered for a long time what would honor him, and honor us, best. I think it was hard for me to decide to do it - it was a hard decision, I mean - but with the recent controversies, I tried to imagine what he would have done. And I think he would have at least entertained the idea of speaking up for ourselves. It might not have been me, but there’s only me now, so... so it had to be me. I trusted what he had taught me, and what I knew of him - which was a lot! [laughterI]. Thirty years married to someone is a long time. And I thought, at this time, that it would be the right thing to do. SW: Well, we’re glad to have you. K: Thank you. SW: I wonder if you could take us back to the beginning, to what most people would say was the start of your career. The Padua Speech, as it’s been called. K: It’s funny, I’ve never much thought of it as a speech. But sure, yes. It was a... It was an early iteration of the beliefs I still hold today. SW: At the time, many saw it as a shift. It’s been characterized since as a fairly drastic shift, from the beliefs you held prior to giving the speech. K: It was. And that was mostly Petruchio. My relationship with him, I mean. I was young when I met him, and he taught me a lot, in those first few weeks together. We were married quickly, which I don’t regret, although at the time it was... it was something I was... well, I was fairly adamantly against it. SW: What changed your mind? K: He did. Or rather, he showed me that... that I had a choice in how I found my happiness. Up until that point, I had been very... People have used the word “bitchy,” although I prefer headstrong, or independent. And those are things I still think are at the core of the who I am. But it was exhausting. I was exhausted, all the time, and it was... such a fight, to be that way, in relationships, romantic or friendships, or even my family. Because a lot of what I believed was contrary to what other people believed, my whole life just felt like this endless fight. Even remembering it now, I get tired! [laughter]. SW: And it wasn’t a fight with Petruchio?
K: [laughter] Oh no, it was, at first. And then... well, I think it was when I figured out really how tired I was. It was when we were married, and he just... wouldn’t go away. That’s what a marriage is, really, somebody who is present in most of your life, and who will be there for your whole future, indefinitely. I couldn’t run away anymore, and I couldn’t take a break. I was constantly fighting, constantly contrary, constantly raging against him. SW: Until the Padua Speech. K: Well, it was actually a little before that. I hit a wall, on the way to the conference in Padua. I hit a wall of exhaustion, and - to be perfectly honest, I think I might have been a little mad. I was pretty sleep deprived, and I wasn’t eating. And I just thought “what if I humored him? What if I just... went along with it?” I don’t even think the thoughts were that coherent at the time. I think I just... didn’t have any more fight in me. I didn’t really have any other choice - not because of him, really, not because of anything he did - it just seemed that way, inside myself. SW: And so you did humor him? K: Yeah. Yup, yes, I did. I just... something gave way in me. People have said that I ‘gave up,’ they use those words a lot, but I think that’s wrong. I think I gave in, and that I gave in to something I had been waiting to give in to for a long time. And I remember - that night, the first night we got to Padua, the night before the speech - I remember sleeping that night better than I’d ever slept. Like, in my life. Yes, there were things that we did, places we stopped or things he ordered for dinner that I would have chosen differently, had it just been me. But choosing not to fight about it was... it was easier. And happier. So much happier. And he really turned around, then, and all the pieces started to fall into place. I saw who he really was, on that trip, and I remember this feeling of... excitement. Of possibility. Of what we could do together, how we could change the world. SW: The ideas for the Pet Centers happened that early on? K: Oh no, no. No, the first time we talked about Pet, or what would become Pet, was much later. About a year later, I think. But the feeling behind it - that feeling of being on a team, of having a leader, and mostly this... this incredible rightness - that feeling was there, instantly. It was such a relief, so comforting. I mean yes, things would be hard - there are hard parts in every relationship - but I knew they never had to be that hard again. And I was right. They weren’t. It was incredible. SW: A lot of people at Padua were expecting something very different from you. K: I disappointed a lot of people, it’s true. SW/K: [laughter] SW: Jezebel covered the speech, as did many other feminist outlets. Many characterized you as both a villain and a victim. My favorite quote from that week described you as a “traitor brainwashed by the patriarchy.” How would you characterize yourself?
K: I find that so interesting. I found it interesting that day, too. I made a choice, for myself, and for my relationship. I tried to iterate that choice as best I could. And if that’s not what feminism is about, I don’t know what is. SW: One of the major criticisms of the speech was the generalizations you made about gender - that it was all women, as opposed to just you as an individual, who should make these kinds of choices. You have not, in the thirty years since the speech, responded to those criticisms. Do you have anything to say to them now? K: I think they were... unnecessarily gendered, yes, I’ll give you that. I think my work with the Pet Centers, and the way our literature has changed over the years - I think that’s a big reflection on what I would change about what I said. SW: What would you change? K: I would put in a clause, I think. That in most relationships, the way the roles naturally break down is the same way they did for me and Petruchio. But not all. And that’s central to the first few weeks of any couple’s experience at a Pet center, too. We don’t assume what a given couple will choose for themselves, at all. It’s very important, for the longevity of the work we do, for it’s functionality over time within the relationship, for it to be absolutely, 100% the couple’s choice. SW: Recent statistics indicate that 90% of couples who emerge from Pet centers have chosen the male partner as the ‘head’ or ‘lead’ of the relationship. Many media outlets have speculated that this is reflective of socially ingrained concepts of gender, as opposed to an independent, individual choice. Do you have anything to say to them? K: I can’t tell you where the choices for individual couples come from. But I can tell you that the Programs are very careful about egalitarianism until the couples have made their choice. I assume most of your viewers have read our literature SW: I think most of the country has read your literature. K: [laughter] Yes, well. You can find more details on what we do and how we do it at our website, but basically, in the first few weeks at the Centers, each member of a couple is treated exactly the same. They wear the same clothes, they’re treated the same by the staff members, they have the same schedule, everything. We try to strip away anything that might cloud the natural dynamics of their relationship, or anything that might confuse their analyses of the relationship. Really get to the core of how they operate as a couple, independent of gender. And after the two weeks - during which they do almost everything together, from meals to games to counseling to reflective meditative practices - they get to decide who should take the lead, and who should take the follow. And it has to be a joint decision. SW: What do you mean by “has to?”
K: I mean we don’t allow them to continue unless the decision is mutual, from both parties. If they choose, they can repeat the initial two-week breakdown portion as many times as they like. I’ve known couples who’ve done it three, four, five times before they’ve come to a decision. SW: What happens after the decision is made? K: Well, they’re allowed more freedom in what they choose to do, then, what they choose to wear. We try to mirror a more real-world environment, to give the couples a chance to tackle problems that might come up after they leave us, within the new dynamic. SW: And what kind of problems are those? K: Oh, just, everyday things. Like, the follow partner wants to do something different for an evening date than the lead partner. Or the follow partner doesn’t want to complete a task that the lead partner has asked them to complete. Dishes, mostly, is what we run into with that one. Dishes and cleaning. [laughter] SW: Those would be considered traditionally female duties, by some. K: Sure. But we run into that with what we call ‘converse couples’ also. It’s more a question of learning how to deal with the new philosophies, the new practices, in a general sense, through the specifics of everyday interactions. I like to think of it - and I’ve used this in talks I’ve given at the Centers before, so it’s no secret... well, no secret to our graduates, anyway - I like to think of it as practice fishing, as opposed to dolling out fish, so that when they do leave us, they have the skills, and have practiced those skills, to be able to deal with whatever might come their way. SW: A recent study of post-Pet Center couples released some interesting data, which you mentioned before as a factor in the decision to do this interview. Can you share your thoughts on the data, or comment on the conclusions analysts have drawn from it? Do you have any conclusions of your own? K: I think it’s skewed. Or, I think the sample isn’t put into the right context. I’m not a statistician, so I can’t tell you how they do these things, but I think it’s important not to compare graduates of Pet Centers to average European or American couples. I think it’s important to recognize that, often, couples come to us when traditional counseling hasn’t worked, or when there’s an issue in their relationship that they can’t solve on their own, already. Things haven’t been easy for these couples, which is why they come to us. I think a more apt comparison would be to look at couples who have been in other kinds of counseling, or who cite major conflict in their relationships. I think that data would be more accurate, and I’d bet... well I’d bet that it would show very different results. SW: One of the most-reported datasets of the study found that ‘follow’ partners were 40% more likely than ‘lead’ partners to be on some kind of mood regulator. K: And again, I think those statistics are taken out of context. I think that, it could be said that - yes, I think it could be said that the follow role is, in some ways, more difficult to adjust to, for some people. But I think that adjustment period passes, and I think those statistics need to be studied over time.
SW: The survey was conducted over a three year period. K: Yes, and I think for some it’s more difficult than others. Sometimes adjustment can take years - a decade even. And I think it’s shameful to publish a study that... yes, that slanders a program like this, which isn’t necessarily intended to work instantaneously. How could it? We’re complicated creatures! [laughter]. But no, I think it’s unfortunate. I think the numbers - and the people who have offered analyses of those numbers - characterize the Pet Program very differently than anyone who’s actually been through it. Plus, after they graduate, there is absolutely no reason a couple has to stick with the program if they find that it really, truly doesn’t work for them. The bottom line - and it’s in our literature, you can read it - is that we want couples to find peace. We want to do some good, and find some healing, especially looking at what has happened to marriage in the last century. And if that’s with our program, as it has been for so many couples, then that’s wonderful. And if that’s not with our program, and something else really does work for those people, then that’s wonderful too. SW: Also published in the study - and this is probably the most shocking statistic K: Yes... the suicide rates. SW: Yes, that graduates of the Pet Program are four times more likely to commit suicide than individuals who have not been through the program, and of the suicides reported of Pet graduates, over 90% of those were ‘follow’ partners. Do you have a comment on that? K: Again, I think those rates need to be compared with other individuals, or couples, who have been in counseling, who have had the kinds of difficulties that couples usually have when they come to us. And also, let me be clear, there’s nothing that dictates that the follow partner has to stay in the relationship. If they choose to stay, there’s also nothing that says they’re under any obligation continue the Pet Program. We don’t make anybody sign a contract. There are no consequences for ending the program early, or dropping it after you graduate. Not even financial. SW: Your programs are tuition free? K: That’s right. Completely free. And that’s very important to us. SW: Some have argued, based on the power structure of Pet, that ‘follow’ partners might have a more difficult time leaving an unhappy relationship than K: Yeah, I’ve read those articles. And really, I mean, it boils down to individual agency. Never have we advocated for the giving up of individual agency. Every step of the program is about choice - and this comes back around to the feminist critique as well, and what happened with Petruchio. I made a choice - as our members do. I made a choice for peace, and sometimes yes, that choice came at the expense of my own preference. But at the end of the day - really, at the end of the day, to be able to sleep next to my husband in peace, or to be able to walk through life knowing that we wouldn’t fight with each other, that there was no... risk of that awful kind of exhaustion - that’s a huge, net gain. For me. It’s a different kind of gain than, say, always having to have your own way, and sacrificing
the peace in your relationship for that. But they are, at heart, the same balance, just shifted a different way. I happen to think that the way we’ve shifted it, and way we teach couples to shift it at our centers, is more sustainable. It results in more long-term happiness for partners, despite what results any survey might get. SW: There was another study, published shortly after this one. It surveyed a random selection of couples across the country K: I believe it was 10,000 or so. SW: Yes, 10,525. Sixty percent of those couples said that they had considered or would consider a Pet Center as a way to deal with ‘marital strife.’ The most recent figures from your institutions indicates that you’ve seen almost 30% of American couples to date, and almost 20% of European couples, with 95% of both those groups eventually graduating from the program. What do these numbers mean to you? K: I think they’re amazing. And it’s comforting, you know, to see that kind of evidence behind something I’ve always believed in so strongly. I think it means that we really are helping people. It’s magical - and little mindboggling sometimes, really [laugher] to think that an idea I had, or an idea that Petruchio helped me get to, an idea we nurtured together, has really reached so many people. And I think we’ll continue to do that, to offer our resources to those who need them. I think it’s marvelous. SW: Well, Kate, thank you very much for joining us today. K: It’s been a pleasure.
On a ladder in the air telling myself not to fall as if my mind could sing to my feet and hands faster than 1-mile-an-hour. It is thoughts that craft actions. hold onto rungs hold onto drill hold onto 4 screws hold onto tree hold onto earth 16 feet above ground is where the bat houses go. It will take 2 years for any bat to find me if they find me at all. This morning the Internet said: Dear Bat Lovers, What a roller coaster of a day it's been! Has it gone that way for you too? Maybe. I will silently watch the silent myotis may they come this May. Black flies! Black flies! Fly black bat, fly! If I fall, I'm fucked. Two kids and a wife. The bats too are waning. There is no moon.
α π όδοση
The sleeping country road crests over bramble and Budweiser can vine gutter meeting brook and fence post, broken at the corners, as stars shine sloganless in the billboard sky. All of these objects, coiled in this rucksack heart, strike: Return. Return to me. Now is the time for traveling but Penelope kissed her man gone.
απόδοση = Greek, Return. Pronunciation: apo*tho*see
It all seemed so simple inside the bone before the world was framed and the house of personality was filled with broken glass and shale. You worked in the ice grocery where minerals hardened. Now you watch your face crack blue - a diamond cutter splitting gravestone. What a sphinx this is. It is only the couch who knows you are here. Your body, an inconvenient jewel, hovers over the cotton plateau. You are a frame that can only be punctual, a brimful house of broken shade and ash.
A Particular Feel for My Subject Matter I. This idiot of shame is proving a worthy fleck of potato to peel away stress. In the meantime, I eat all my thunder, mopping & glowing with Talking Head zest. There is always the manor on Dykstra & Wu to love us & affirm us, to abnegate the Kleenex, sd Billy Jean Baker. But Saturdays & Sundays I smoke Panatelas in a smoker’s club downtown in Houston. To be foolish is to be an adult smothered in anchovies. To be satisfied is to watch the strange angels topple from tree boughs smothered in anchovies. They careen to the earth with 21 g force! Their faces are bright as 10 ripe persimmons! One of them’s a woman caught in the act of haughty condescension. The woman is a lemon, soft & bright as Avogadro ’s number. She watches her Pepsi sweat on the night stand. & answers her email—one finger shoved— Like spring Or summer Or winter Or fall— deep in her vagina.
II. Someone is watching the crows tonight covered in minestrone. They mutter What’s tallow? What’s all the fuss? knowing nothing of orthodoxy. My thoughts, as rank as mildewed honey, arrive salty in winter, having written this poem. I leave the door open, the breeze falls behind me; behind me stands iconoclast, Arthur Rimbaud. His face, in the glass, leaps like a dog to a heap of poisoned flesh & half broken images. Every one there is holding their breath. But no one says boo. & strung out like miles & miles of nothing to point at, I snap. & because I care for the kids on my block, the street goes up one way, like spider webs or shameful fiber optic cables, but not back down the other.
My Thai Religious Computer Nature Poem I. In this digital edition of self we think is the ink I reassemble my head howling VERBOTTEN! VERBOTTEN! like a lizard on a window pane every twelve hundred seconds. I am rough as two oars made out of pine. I die a little looking after you. At the pond in the distance I linger too long holding a steering wheel shaped like my head. But look at the fowl! How they seem to want more while asking for less!
II. The egos of chess men are solid as igloos distilled out of kindness I suppose making life a gift of our Eggos. The milk of human[ ]gone sour in tepid radio waves we are little-leagued with honey in the history of bees. In a pixel of dreamscapes this cowboy song is all I know. I am leading a butterfly down to the gravy boat. I am wood at the piano. & out over the desert while all the women came & went barefoot servants too I answer the silence we blur with a whistle.
III. You hand me a soda & then go away & vaporize yrself as someone makes soup out of the Marx Brothers’ duck. You step into a zoo not backwards in time. Is yr time machine brkn? I am a broken down system. I am one who looks on, signed the boys at Bell-Howell. I leave you this époque lacking an off switch. I hide in the ruins of digital misinformation. Someone we trusted has played us for fools. Is our dream-state a Wal-Mart? Do we dream we are sane? We are nothing like Oedipus— sitting around staring at mother.
We are holding the hills by the balls of our feet.
IV. In a whirlpool of blood— in a sits bath of urine flecked with clotted hemoglobin— facts are dirty, facts are strange, facts don’t do what you tell them to. We hear notes wafting from basements. We role-play giraffe & jackal. Someone must speak. But no one looks back. You picture yrself on a train in a station. The punk art of punk anti-lyrik gives you the finger. You stand & count dollars attempting a schism. You settle the carp down & go see a shrink. & crossing yr fingers with ice bergs in mind you tweak up yr space heater till the room you are in is one hot inferno.
V. The oceans are rising. They lag up yr pant leg. They climb to yr knees & beyond making a phone call. & you don’t believe in the still of the night come bats.
Embarrassed to See It, Encouraged to Feel It At this distance I talk about
elevated cell counts & silos a rat inhabits ---in poems. My love seems
an index. & so small
from this height above the city where time has no hands
& sex is a product sold only to those ---with the sheckles to pay for it. My mind is no matter.
I orbit around in my Virginia Slim cigarette head
& face. My poem is elastic.
& this makes me thankful & proud ---to be an American shot putter. An irrelevant cartoon.
Finally, my anvil is here! My teeth are the babies I save
when reading aloud a poem by Mark Strand.
Hail to you, Groucho Marx! I am painting a similar mustache. ---I observe you from my place in the scaffolding
as seven men enter & sit silently.
For what right-minded dog is on the basement
stair and coming up if not Hound Dog Houdini ---that word-chewing cur? I am dreaming of anvils.
& the corpses have names I change
with a nod. But this gets me
nowhere closer to the origins of music. ---So I rollick in bed with The Meaning of Meaning.
& once again the subject is knuckles—
a rodeo of bones dancing on ice.
My answers fall down folk-style ---in the soup I hallucinate equals a waterfall.
I mean I am acting. I hear nothing but static
emitted like ice cream from this pimped city wall.
If I type out a page on the street by my house ---slipping & skidding in dark Harlot Canyon
the luminous moon eats its own shadow.
My mind is on Demerol. The essence of which
has no visible breaking point.
The Paris Problem
Although there are technically two men in her life, she would never put it this way. To do so would seem, when gently worded, misleading, or more starkly, fraudulent. It would suggest romantic attachment. The truth is, they are using her, and she’s a willing collaborator. She gets something out of it, too. She adds them together, adds up the values of the scraps that fall from their tables, wanting the sum to somehow equal that of a third man who is gone. Math has never been her strong suit. The first man is a distant ex who calls when he has nothing better to do. When he wants to see her, they usually end up at a restaurant, where she sits across from him, picking at the meal he pays for, listening to him talk. He never asks her anything; he doesn’t want to know. Once in a while, they watch a baseball game or a boxing match or go to the movies, staring ahead in the dark, not touching. And only on the rarest of occasions, if he’s very, very drunk, they sleep in his bed, fully clothed. When she wakes in the morning, always before him, he’s wrapped around her like the man in the Klimt painting hanging on her wall: “The Kiss”. Only, they don’t kiss. The cold hardness he brandishes afterward is like a weapon, meant to punish, to teach her not to count on these aberrations.
Why does she always wake up first? The sensations of tangled arms and legs, of his heat juxtaposed with the coolness of the crisp, expensive sheets, of rhythmic, unified breathing, jar her awake. Being held like this now is like landing abruptly, unexpectedly, in a foreign country. The second man, the one she’s fucking, started out as a date. Or, she thought it was. Imagine her shock when, much further into the evening, he informed her that he’d been “seeing someone” for years. She marched out then and there, brimming with all the outrage and indignation one might expect. The thing was, she went back. She keeps going back. She’s ashamed of this, but not too ashamed to stop. He’s a serial philanderer; his past is littered with betrayed ex-wives and girlfriends. But it’s hard to care. Not when, on their second meeting, he has her pinned against a stranger’s car outside a crowded bar, yanking down her jeans, taking liberties with her that boyfriends hadn’t dared, even behind closed doors. His entitlement is infuriating. But these panting frenzies allow her, however briefly, to be nowhere, to feel and remember nothing. She rationalizes that they’re worth all that inevitably follows, when he has retreated to his real life, and she is swollen and alone. What do these men share? Neither cares how her day was, will ever meet her parents or friends. Neither will catch her if she falls. She tries not to think about it, and sometimes, mercifully, it works. But sometimes, it presses relentlessly, insistently in: full and vile knowledge of herself, of what she has lost, of what she has given away. It is as freshly hideous as a shimmering new wound. ***** They had known each other twice before.
The first time was as kids, when they shared an affinity for the broken and wandered aimlessly in circles that sometimes overlapped, trying to determine which drugs and clothes and bands defined them. These efforts were largely unsuccessful and often harrowing. The second time was in college, when he frequented the café where she worked. He was polite in an arms-length way, smiling often and saying little. She sometimes made speeches to him about the Beatles and his astrological nature and felt that he was humoring her on these occasions. He dated girls who, by her estimation, had little to commend them. This was the third time. It happened like this: when she saw him at the bar for the first time in many years, she deliberated, as she always did when spotting people from her past, whether to speak, unsure if he would remember her. He did remember, and to her great relief greeted her so warmly that she was immediately at ease. Through their embrace came her muffled exclamation, I haven’t seen you since your wedding! Funny you should say that. His smile was rueful. I’m getting divorced. A collection of peculiar circumstances, which some may call Providence, occasionally thrusts together two particular people in a particularly uncanny way at a particularly tumultuous time, which some may call crossroads. This causes them to do things they wouldn’t normally do. So he, feeling drastic during this obliteration of the life that until recently had been neatly mapped out before him, proposed this trip to Paris approximately two hours into their reacquaintance. It was a radical departure from his typically methodical nature and otherwise practical propensities. And she, demoralized by an ever-lengthening string of failed romances and in danger of becoming cynical, accepted his offer as a final act of faith. This was how they found themselves two months later on the curb at the Detroit airport, a pile of luggage between them, smoking their last cigarettes before the long flight. During takeoff, the plane abruptly dropped, bucked, shuddered violently. The groans it emitted suggested it was not destined to make it across the Atlantic, and several uneasy moments followed. Gradually, the silence was punctuated by small bursts of nervous
laughter and conversation, and soon, order was restored. The cabin darkened; most of the passengers dozed. But hours in, they were still wide awake, edgy with anticipation and nicotine withdrawal. She posed a question. “If we had crashed, and we knew it was coming but we still had a couple minutes before we went down, and you could make one phone call, who would it be?” He took his time answering. This kind of careful deliberation, she was learning about him, was characteristic. She waited. “I wouldn’t call anyone,” he said finally, his eyes fixed on her. Even in the dark, their liquidity and depth exposed her. “I’d just look at you, and try to see your soul.” She was learning this, too: he had a way of putting things, when she was simply making careless conversation, that left her suddenly gutted. Having found their hotel in Montparnasse, cranked open the tall, shuttered windows of their little room, and flung themselves across the bed for a nap, they wandered out into the evening and walked the Seine for the first time. A green-eyed, laughing blonde, she’d heard the river described. They passed the shimmering gold statues of the Pont Alexandre III, the sprawling glass-domed Grand Palais, the stalls of books and trinkets and Toulouse-Lautrec prints. And suddenly, venturing into a neighborhood and rounding yet another corner, they found themselves quite by accident gaping up at the Eiffel Tower. Afterward at a nearby café, they sat outside, shoulder to shoulder with their neighbors in a long row of tiny tables. The steaks brought by the high-spirited waiter were thoroughly bloody because this, they ascertained, was the way steak should be eaten, the only way, therefore making the American question of patrons’ preferences unnecessary. Her dessert was a dense chocolate mousse in a simple ceramic bowl, but his was an elaborate parfait adorned with streamers, something a little girl might order. This made them laugh, and the girl next to them paused in her incessant cell phone chatting to share their joke. She toasted them and asked if they were Israeli. On their other side was a man in biker leathers, who traded his Gauloises for their Camels.
They stayed for hours. They drank so much wine. They held hands across the table. And they shared a prevailing sense of extraordinary good fortune, having found the perfect café for the first night of such a trip, the perfect company, and the perfect beginning to their adventure. ***** The distant ex has stopped calling. He isn’t responding to her texts, either. Weeks pass in silence, and in an acutely lonely moment, she tries one more time: “Wondering why we’re not talking anymore. Gonna tell me ever?” A half an hour later, she gets her answer: “Started dating someone. Don’t want things to be weird.” That’s that; she has served her purpose. She wonders, again, what it is about her that makes her so easy to discard. ***** They each knew things that the other didn’t, like the language. After years of neglect, her knowledge of it was limping and survivalist; during one dinner, for instance, at the Marquise on Rue de Vaugirard, she meant to say something quite reasonable to the waiter, and instead asked him accidentally to come sit down with them. The waiter, only briefly bewildered, realized this was not her true intention and tactfully turned away. Nevertheless, her efforts were overall respectable and quite helpful in navigating the city. She also knew the cafés her beloved Hemingway and Joyce and Fitzgerald used to frequent, gleefully guiding him to each. “This is great,” she bubbled, as they sat on the terrace at Les Deux Magots, peeking over its screen of tall, slim shrubs at St. Germain des Pres. “We could live here.” We. He had incorporated this pronoun so readily in so many conversations- where we will travel next summer, the house we will share next year- that she had begun to do it, too.
“We could be just like Hemingway and Hadley. We’ll go to bullfights in Spain and ski in the Alps and eat well every day and be poor and perfectly happy.” “Okay, let’s.” He was laughing. “But we can’t be Hemingway and Hadley; you told me he left her.” She wrinkled her nose. “That’s true. But we could be them, you know, before that.” “Deal.” She grinned at him, and, sipping from her flute, was as ebullient as the sparkling gold liquid it contained. He knew about Napoleon, who fascinated him, whose tomb they visited at l’Hotel des Invalides. “Isn’t that a funny translation?” she had remarked about the massive military compound as they roamed it. “A hotel for invalids.” It was, he explained, where wounded soldiers had come to rest, heal, die. He also knew about the scientists whose names adorned the first tier of the Eiffel Tower, about their inventions. He told her about them as they stood beneath the structure, gazing up, intertwined. This French habit of constant touching, freely and without self-consciousness, was one they had noticed immediately and adopted with gusto. Their differences were complementary and their similarity was in their temperament, a perfect contentment to wander without plan. This was how they found the break dancers on Boulevard St. Germain and the shop where he bought a music box that played “La Vie en Rose”. This was what brought them to Notre Dame during Mass, spilling out into the plaza, the crowds bisected by long lines of priests offering Communion. Each was attended by an altar boy holding a large black umbrella over him for protection from the afternoon sun. This was what led them down to the quay with their panini on thick crusty bread from a street vendor. As they sat on the wall, eating and dangling their legs over the river, a group of teenagers stood nearby in a circle, hands and feet touching. Their game appeared some mysterious hybrid of Twister and Charades. They watched the teens and waved to the people floating by on open-air tour boats. They also found themselves, during “Hippolyte et Aricie” at the Garnier, bored by it. After the initial sheepishness of admitting this to each other during intermission, they laughed and finished their champagne and merrily embraced their joint defiance in
the face of propriety. Instead of returning to their seats, they roamed the grand opera house, taking in the sweeping marble staircase and lamp-lit balconies and the great gold-washed halls. Then they ambled outside to the front steps of the Garnier and joined the crowds there, drawn by a man playing Chopin. He had rolled his piano right up the sidewalk to the front of the opera house. They sat listening, having a far greater time than they would have inside, and eventually wandered off to a café in the surrounding neighborhood. There, they drank Bordeaux out of large fishbowl glasses and became a bit drunk and sang Beatles songs to each other and had a very lovely time indeed. “Where should we go for our next trip?” he asked, his eyes shining. “Anywhere.” She leaned toward him. “What do you want to do next?” “Everything.” He leaned in too and kissed her. “With you.” ***** The philanderer wants to see her. It’s been a while, and she quickly agrees—too quickly, she immediately thinks, regretting. The only thing she’s had going for her is her ability to seem nonchalant. This conversation takes place on the phone at ten o’clock on a Tuesday night. “So.” Her tone is carefully measured. “Where and when were you thinking?” He usually picks out-of-theway bars with little traffic, places he’s unlikely to encounter anyone he knows. “I could be at your place in an hour,” he offers. “Wait—“ she is taken aback—“Tonight?” “Yeah, why not?” “It’s kinda late, isn’t it? I thought—“ She pauses and tries again, hoping to sound less flustered. “I just didn’t know you were talking about tonight.” “Yeah.” His voice is soft, husky, wheedling. “I need to see you.”
“Do you want to meet somewhere? We usually go out…” She cradles the phone between her ear and shoulder, chewing anxiously at the chipped polish on her thumb. “Look.” Suddenly, he’s business-like, almost brusque. “I have a window. And I don’t know if I’m gonna have another one anytime soon.” She continues to chew her nail, to deliberate. Then, finally, “Okay.” “Good. See you in an hour.” It is well after midnight when she hears a light rapping on her front door. ***** They had, for the last two months, talked extensively on many things the way people do at the beginning of relationships, when they are new to each other, and the other person is a seemingly bottomless well. They wanted to hear all of each other’s stories. These talks had so far taken place primarily on her kitchen counter, with coffee in the morning or wine in the evening, Mumford and Sons or Mozart in the background, lasting for hours. They continued in Paris and turned, that particular afternoon in the Luxembourg Gardens, to her writing. He wanted to know about it, he said, his hand passing continuously over her hair. She lay perpendicular to him on the blanket, her head resting on his stomach. Her mentors, the two writers she respected most, had told her essentially the same thing: Stop writing about girls who are sad about boys. It’s so tiresome. But, she explained to him, that posed a problem, a violation of one of writing’s cardinal rules: write what you know. Girls who were sad about boys was all she knew. “If I’m ever truly happy,” she told him, “I’ll never write another word.” “If you’re ever truly happy?” he echoed. Then, quietly, “You will be. And then your writing will just change.” She considered this, stretched a little, turned her head toward the shouts and laughter. A cluster of children raced past, each clutching a small toy sailboat.
He propped himself up on an elbow and lifted her giant Jackie Os to see her eyes. “You should write this story. Our story.” He paused. “What would you need?” Having described her process, in which all things must first be handwritten on good heavy paper, he determined that she must also have a good pen, and that he would get it for her, here. The next morning, they struck out on his mission to find the famed pen shop he’d read about online, and they walked and walked, hunting for the obscure address he’d scrawled on the back of a receipt. When at last they found it and peered in the window, they saw only drop cloths and scaffolds and sheets of drywall. “No.” His face fell. He was so earnest, so crushed, that she held him there on the street as sweetly as she could. Thank you for thinking of it and for trying, she said; it was a lovely gesture. And though the pen was not meant to be, it hardly mattered, because something was happening as they searched for the shop and talked about writing and the importance of a good pen: a shift in her conviction that she could and would only ever write sad stories. ***** When the distant ex resurfaces, she rebuffs him in an effort to restore her principles. By the time he tries again, weeks later, her principles are wavering. A confrontation ensues. And finally, after another week, she wearily hoists her white flag. She needs company. They are on their way to their usual diner. “I just don’t see why we always have to talk about everything.” He’s driving quickly, talking quickly, staring straight ahead. Best to get this all out of the way now, so they can enjoy their breakfast. She is sitting shotgun. “I mean, you’re always so emotional,” he continues. “Everything’s a big deal with you. It’s like—“ He’s searching, drumming his fingers on the wheel. “It’s like you’re—“ Like you’re a girl who will always be sad about a boy. “Like you want something from me. I don’t know.” He pulls into the parking lot, steals a sidelong glance at her. She’s gazing out the window. “You know I can’t give you anything. Right?”
“I do know,” she says dully. For all his faults, dishonesty isn’t one of them. “Then are we cool?” He kills the engine. “’Course we are.” They head in. Sitting across from him in the booth, she pushes her eggs around her plate. She laughs at his jokes. She listens to him talk about his golf game, the car he might buy, his next trip to Vegas. She smiles and interjects, just enough, so he will think she is really there. ***** They spent their last full day wandering the Louvre, overwhelmed by its sprawl, pausing dutifully in front of the most famous works. The crowds fatigued them; they were ready to join all the couples in the courtyard by the pyramids. They lined the low walls of the fountains there, draped across one another, contentedly stretched in the sun like cats. But as they made their way out, a sculpture halted them: “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss”. “That’s beautiful,” he murmured. “It really is.” The intertwinement of the winged male figure and the woman he enveloped, who reached up to him beseechingly, was perfect in its symmetry, grace, reciprocity. This moment captured in marble the full realization of longing. They slowly circled the piece several times in opposite directions, studied it from different angles, met again in the middle. He smiled at her. “I’m so glad we saw this. I’m gonna remember this.” Heading for the exit, he rested an arm across her shoulders and cast one final look back at the sculpture. “I think,” he said, “that he is saving her from something.” She took one more look of her own and replied, “I think they are saving each other.”
The next morning, they packed, intersecting each other’s paths across the suite. It had a wrought iron balcony looking out across the porthole-windowed rooftops and down onto l’ Avenue de l’Opera; he had splurged on this last hotel. And as they finished, all the troubles waiting for him at home, which had been banished till now, crowded back in. She could see it on his face. “I can’t believe it all fit.” She tried to keep her voice light, gesturing toward the luggage. He looked stricken. She took a step toward him. “Everything’s gonna be okay, you know,” she said quietly. He looked like he was going to cry. She took another step, and he came wordlessly to her, encircling her, dropping his head on her shoulder. And that’s when the music box, the last thing to be coaxed into the last bulging suitcase, began to play “La Vie en Rose”. They stood listening in the middle of the room, still and interlocked, until the song dwindled, wavered, and died, mid-melody. ***** The philanderer, perhaps detecting a chill in her latest responses, has realized that he may need to lay the groundwork again. To reinstate the precursory outing, the ritual of seduction. He asks her to meet him at The Penalty Box, a squat, windowless pub with a bike rack out front for the DUI crowd. It is also a sort of hotel for invalids, a place for emotional cripples to shut themselves away from the world. “You doin okay?” he asks her, once all the catch-up and small talk is out of the way. They are sitting at the bar, a hodgepodge of particle board and plywood. His hand rests on her thigh. To an outsider, it may look attentive, tender. “Yeah, definitely.” She is awash in cheap, watery beer; tomorrow’s headache will be vicious. “You?” “Good, good. Everything’s good.” The resting hand starts to massage. “You just look a little lost. I’m not trying to ruin the night—“
What’s ruined: Mumford and Sons. Mozart. An entire country. Faith. “Not trying to get too serious. I just want to know if there’s anything I can do.” “Besides what you’re about to do?” She raises an eyebrow at the hand that is inching higher, becoming insistent. She thinks for a moment. Then, “There actually is something. Something you can tell me.” “Okay. Shoot.” “What would you do if we were on a plane that was about to crash, and you only had a couple minutes left?” A grin spreads across his face, still boyish and handsome, though he is well into his forties. “Easy. I’d take you in the bathroom. Might as well go out with a bang, right?” He chuckles a little at himself, then leans close. His breath is hot and electric near her ear. “Let’s get outta here. You done?” Yes. She’s done. She allows him to lead her to the car.
If she had died only two days earlier, Synthia Comer would have breezed her way into Heaven—not for the usual reasons (gentle disposition, exemplary behavior, etc.) but because she displayed an ardor for God, a passion without a caveat. It came out in gestures extravagant, imaginative, and illegal, such as diverting tens of thousands of dollars that she raised for the Dallas Civic Opera to Doctors Without Borders in Badghis. Synthia was interred at Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park, half a mile from El Lobo Grande where, on Sunday evenings before Katharine was born, she and John had shared the plata favorito. A trio of angels with stringed instruments hovered over the grave. A soloist sat at a piano in a pecan tree. The angels played the Liturgy of Crystal from Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.” It was hard to tell who, if anyone, heard.
Unfortunately, Synthia had her fatal aneurysm on October 5, 2001, when Saint Peter imposed a quota of zero Americans in heaven. God demanded an explanation.
“Americans are nothing but trouble,” Saint Peter declared. A doubt flickered in his hard blue eyes but passed away. “Moreover, even You cannot guarantee their security. Not after the bombing—” “—What bombing?” Saint Peter pointed God toward the visible spectrum. A radio wave passed through the divine ears. It carried the Secretary of Defense’s announcement approximately 32 hours before it was made: “Today, the President has turned to direct, overt military force to complement the economic, humanitarian, financial and diplomatic activities which are already well underway in Afghanistan.” God saw what he had made and, behold, it was no longer good. God cried for the physical world and every living thing. His tears fell as blossoms: apricot, orange, apple, plum, dogwood, and pear. They softened the world. They cushioned Synthia’s fall.
She landed on the frayed white border of a photograph. It depicted her, facing the camera and standing parallel to a mirror in Saint Paul Hospital. She wore a turquoise robe with deep pink seashells embroidered on the bodice and sleeves. She held an infant wrapped in a yellow blanket. Synthia positioned herself on her image. In this way, she became who she was in July of 1954. Her memory returned, lobe by lobe, as she cradled the baby. “Katharine?” Synthia mused. But of her two children, Katharine did not seem right. A voice from the hallway, having been foiled twice for lack of a medium, found enough air to move into Synthia’s room. Honey, said the voice. We have a boy. “Darling!” Synthia cried. But John had taken the photograph and could not come inside. The baby’s mouth found Synthia’s breast and sucked ferociously. “Robert,” Synthia whispered.
“baby Robert . . . oh, my God.”
Robert Samuel Comer was born with his aorta in the pulmonary artery’s place and the other way around. “Transposition of the great arteries,” the pediatric cardiologist said. In 1954 there was no treatment. For six nights and seven days, Synthia and John held Robert—memorized him. The faint pressure of his spine in the crooks of their arms. His smooth broad forehead, violet-blue lips, and damp black curls. The sound he made, halfway between a murmur and a whimper, as though to say I love you and goodbye.
Synthia tried to locate herself and the baby in time and space if indeed, she thought, such categories applied. You and I are matter. We have mass. We take up space. But you are dead. So I am . . . also dead? “Wah!” Robert cried. A teacart rolled into the room bearing a chipped white cup and saucer and a baby bottle. Synthia reeled at the cloying scent of Earl Grey. She glared at the ceiling. “One would think,” she remarked, “that somewhere in the divine dispensation, there would be coffee. Strong black coffee.” “Uh oh,” Robert said. His cheeks and lips, their deepening pinkness, moved Synthia to excuse God everything. “Where to begin?” she asked. “Big girls,” the baby said. “All right; big girl, that is—your sister, Katharine.” “Big girl,” Robert repeated. “Don’t be smart. “When you were born, Katharine climbed to the top of the bodark apple tree and refused to come
down. At bedtime I read poems, from Alice in Wonderland, out the attic window.” “Beautiful soup so rich and green,” Robert recalled. “As for John and I—” “—Daddy?” Synthia nodded. “When we closed our eyes, we saw your face. So we often stayed up until the test pattern went away and the news came on. “Bad news?” “Not always. Good news chased bad and sometimes caught it.” Synthia paused, remembering. “The Christmas after you died, Rosa Parks was arrested. Five months later, a U.S. District Court declared the bus ordinance that she defied unconstitutional. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling.” “I have a dream, ” Robert said. “How do you know?”
They stayed in Saint Paul Hospital for eleven weeks. Synthia taught Robert to whistle, tie a clovehitch knot, and count to ten in Japanese. She pondered her life. She wondered what, if anything, came next. Robert sensed this wondering and wailed himself blue. “Not leave, not leave, not leave!” Robert cried. He remembered being so so cold. He remembered gulping for breath, not finding breath. He remembered awakening nowhere and alone.
In those same eleven weeks, the United States dropped approximately 1,405 cluster bombs on Afghanistan. The bombs carried antipersonnel cluster bomblets, hundreds of which failed to explode on
impact and were buried as land mines in the soil. In the first five months of Operation Enduring Freedom, more than one thousand Afghan civilians were hit and killed. ْ َﺬﻳﯾﻦَ ﻳﯾ Yet life went on. Marriages were arranged. Babies were born. The dead were buried. “ﻤﺎ ِ ﺍاﻟﱠ ِ ﺴﺘ َ َﺠﻴﯿﺐُ ﺇإِﻧﱠ ْ ﻭو ﻢ ﱠ ۘ َﻰ ْ َ◌ ﻳﯾ ْ َﷲُ ﻳﯾ ْ َﺟﻌُﻮﻥنَ ﺇإِﻟ ٰ ﻤﻮْ ﺗ َﻤﻌُﻮﻥن َﺒ َ ْﻳﯾُﺮ, ” the Qur’an says. “The dead will God raise up, then unto Him shall ُ ُﻌﺜُﻬﮭ ﻪﮫ ﺛُ ﱠ ِ ﻴﯿ َ ﻢ َﺴ َ ﺍاﻟ they return.” Saint Peter likewise believed that the dead—those who had behaved on Earth—would return to God. Saint Peter had, however, inadvertently created an imbroglio in the mechanism: When he barricaded the pearly gates against Americans, a gap in the back fence appeared. Anyone at all could gain admittance. Saint Peter called for volunteers to mend the gap, but none came forth. Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer had aroused the opposition. She addressed Saint Peter with the same searing authority with which she testified before the Credentials Committee, on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, in 1964. Standing tall, without crutches or cane, her left eye clear as the right, Mrs. Hamer planted herself before Saint Peter. “What are you afraid of?” she demanded. “Some kind of jihad?” Saint Peter blushed. “Listen here,” Mrs. Hamer continued. “What do you think any self-respecting Afghan Muslims would want with this heaven, anyhow? We got nothing to drink but living water. They got wine. We got no marrying nor being given in marriage. They got whoopee.” A quartet of angels formed a semicircle around Mrs. Hamer. “It’s dry in this heaven,” she continued. They got gushing waters and flowering trees.” “Precious Lord, take my hand lead me home,” the angels sang. “And just suppose the Muslim brothers and sisters from Afghanistan (Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia,
Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria—I mean the whole nine yards) DO want to join us?” “Wel–ll?” the angels chorused. “Well then, Peter, you open those pearly gates wide, which is what you got to do anyhow—for the Americans. Yessir, I mean the white ones, too.” “When the darkness appears and the night draws near, take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.” Saint Peter lifted his eyes unto the hills. “Regretfully, we cannot revisit our decision at this time.” Mrs. Hamer shook him by the wings. “Shame on you! Who made you Pope?” Saint Peter looked to his right, but God had flown the coop.
On December 21, 2001, at dawn, when the veils between the worlds were frayed, a woman gave birth outside Mazar. As the Afghan baby crowned, Synthia lay Robert in his crib. As the Afghan mother pushed one more time, Synthia walked, as in a dream, to the mirror and was pulled through. She emerged in a defunct bus stop, a makeshift hospital with three rooms. The air was stale and sad. Half asleep on a fold-out cot, the Afghan mother cradled a newborn boy whose chest collapsed with each attempted breath. His lips were violet-blue; his forehead glistened. Synthia caught her own breath. “No,” she moaned. The doctor, a female obstetrician trained in Kabul, strained her ears perceiving . . . something . . . but not quite. Synthia pulled on the doctor’s gown. “Get on with it,” she pled. “Act fast.” She turned toward the infant’s mother. “There is an operation now. Your boy will be all right.” The Afghan mother opened her eyes. She saw a jinni, in deep distress, wearing a turquoise robe with
deep pink shells embroidered on the bodice and sleeves. “Lilaha va inna illaha raziun,” the young mother reminded the jinni. “My beautiful baby boy,” she murmured unawares. “There is an operation,” the doctor remarked bitterly. “All I would need is oxygen so the baby could survive from now until surgery. All I would need is a stethoscope to monitor his heartbeat. All I would need are prostaglandin and a clean intravenous needle to inject it.. . . All I would need is blood.” At the word blood, three medics rolled up their sleeves. “No,” the doctor sighed. We are all anemic as it is. We cannot transfuse again for at least a fortnight.” BLAM . . . BuhLAP It could have been anything. A nihilistic echo from the battle of Tora Bora. A rupture in the truce between Uzbek and Tajik warlords Abdul Rashid (“Big D”) Dostum and Ostad (“Teacher Atta”) Muhammad. A Pashtun wedding celebration. It turned out to be an ordinary bandit who, by the time the doctor gained her bearings, had shot dead one medic and toppled the other with a pistol blow to the skull.
There was a howl so violent as splintered the lamp, gouged the Earth, and sent the bandit running. A lightning bolt, a thunderclap, a transposition. A soft unfurling from emptiness to dreams to attenuated stillness, as between the crest and trough of an ocean wave. And finally an awakening under a Himalayan cypress in a moonlit garden. Tiny rafts floated on the breeze across a reflecting pool toward a fountain of blue light. Each raft ferried a birthday candle. A little boy counted the flames. “Ichi, ni, san, yon, go, roku . . . I forgot.” “Nana, hachi, kyuu, juu,” his daddy said. Synthia opened her eyes and saw the face of—
“—God?” Mrs. Hamer laughed so hard that the spreading wisteria contracted and the periwinkles telegraphed an alarm. At length she wiped her eyes with a tired cloth. “God’s not here. He’s making a new Earth. — What, this? This is the new Heaven. It’s almost done.” “Almost,” Synthia repeated, “but not quite.” Tucking her legs under her gown, Synthia leaned against the cypress, which softened to receive her like in a hug. “Something is missing,” Synthia mused. “Someone.” A howl of love gone horrible wracked the crepuscular atmosphere. The cypress stretched its roots to absorb the approaching footfalls, heavy with mortality and grief. It was Saint Peter. All that you could discern in the moonlight were his broken wings and thick white hair. He stumbled toward the reflecting pool and knelt within earshot of a little boy who was counting flames Saint Peter could not see in a language that he did not understand. He knew that boy, by his heart. Remembering, Saint Peter saw himself through the lens of his own pitiless gaze. He felt the boot of his contempt for mystery, the cruelty of his certainty. “Lord have mercy,” he whispered, “Christ have mercy.” Robert toddled toward the man with the muddy robe and pulled the tassel on his cincture like a doorbell. Saint Peter gazed numbly past the child, who leaned against his bony bent knee and, reaching way up, traced a tear trail down his cheek.
The first three stars in Heaven’s first night rose side by side. Starlight changed to music when, 38
trillion kilometers above the garden, it entered a pocket of deep space that contained a medium.
Not everybody knew Beethoven. Robert tasted the adagio cantabile as cool sweet milk. Mrs. Hamer felt it as a warm damp poultice wrapped in a chamois cloth. Saint Peter opened himself to receive it, but a ghost from Nicaea appropriated his laryngeal nerves. “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,” Saint Peter croaked, “begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.” The music wavered at the discredited confession and might have stopped altogether had it not perceived, beneath the fallen saint, the broken fisherman. Beloved and bereft of God.
Fracturetentacles i. Two octopi make love in a bowlful of milk that an unwanted kitten laps escape from burlap sack manic gasp jets the hole in its head scrabbling chameleonaut allofus the way a scarecrow losses its Hey! To float over the terrain grasp for the nipples in the inky cloud and the suckers line up suckering.
ii. Tho octopies wake love master wrigglebait in the milk jug contents frozen last Saturday(forgot to tell Sammy not to leave it curdled over vacationed) seent fulkwind in the steeples of alpine trespasses kitten lops ided chided and amend escape scraped kneescabs droppt from an alabaster sack. Saturate Louis in his silk suet pasteurizes from the whole in its head breathe breathe! Gone fishing! Gasping nipple in the inky cloud change colours! Frocked salmon Palpitations. The jug twisted open, raccoonknucklt kaugggght Suffer 8 fingers! And the suck ors line up Suck ring A bite bite apple pigshed frypan basinet!
People are not spoons you see
After Thomas Lux
people are not spoons but you can wedge them under lids and pry the nails back clawed hammers you can pallet board windows scream them like pterodactyls flay them fly their skin like bone kites carrion lollypops & overeager stewardesses you can lip the spit sit them on toilets and when you flush they go down round you can pile them to keep heaps of snowed sled dogs warm you can oath them pray them like steeple hands Gideon prayer books keep the bed level while they mirror you acreeking can re-eye them send sun through them to burn ants which resemble miniature versions of us while we flydrone to find new homes for the queen be careful who you put in your mouth.
A.J. Huffman A.J. Huffman has published five solo chapbooks and one joint chapbook through various small presses. Her sixth solo chapbook will be published in October by Writing Knights Press. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and the winner of the 2012 Promise of Light Haiku Contest. Her poetry, fiction, and haiku have appeared in hundreds of national and international journals, including Labletter, The James Dickey Review, Bone Orchard, EgoPHobia, Kritya, and Offerta Speciale, in which her work appeared in both English and Italian translation. She is also the founding editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press. http://www.kindofahurricanepress.com/
Allison Talucci is an undergraduate studying writing at SUNY Cortland
Benjamin Quigley I am a 26-year-old living in Cambridge, MA. I graduated from Vanderbilt University where I studied literature and biology. I taught science and English for my first three years out of school; I currently work in HR software. Benjamin Rader Benjamin Rader's currently enrolled in a BA/MA degree at Seton Hall University in Creative Writing and Literature. He's also in the process of applying for his MFA. Poetry and Fiction for him are one of the few genuinely pure things left in the world. Which might be a cliche, but he doesn't mind. He's very much interested in the contextualized absurd, the deep imagists, David Lynch, and Kafka. He can be reached at Benjaminrad3r@gmail.com He's twenty-three, and wishes that he owned a cat. Brandy Hickey I was born and raised in Houston, TX. I feel like I was born with a pen in my hand which lead me to obtain my BA in English from the University of Houston. I still have my day, job currently working in the human resources field,
which provides additional inspiration for stories and poems. I have always used writing as an escape and hope one day to make it a career. I previously had a flash fiction piece entitled, “Time to Say Goodbye” published with the online site, One Million Stories. bruno neiva bruno neiva is a Portuguese artist and writer. http://umaestruturaassimsempudor.blogspot.com/ http://umaestruturaassimsempudor.tumblr.com/ Christopher Suda Christopher Suda is currently a twenty-four year old undergraduate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His poetry has been published in The Aura and Rufous City Review. He is also a musician that's involved in three music projects: Philos Moore (singer-songwriter) In Snow (Instrumental), and Loveislight (Experimental Hip-Hop) when he is not writing poetry. Clarissa Grunwald Clarissa Grunwald is a freshman at Franklin and Marshall College. Her work can be read in Just Poetry! The National Poetry Quarterly. When not attending college she lives in her hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania. Clinton Van Inman I was born in Walton-on-Thames, England in 1945, graduated from San Diego State University in 1977, and a high school teacher in Tampa Bay. I live in Sun City Center, Florida with my wife, Elba. Craig Kurtz Craig Kurtz lives at Twin Oaks Intentional Community where he writes poetry while simultaneously handcrafting hammocks. Recent work appears in Out of Our, Randomly Accessed Poetics, Penny Ante Feud, The Bitchin' Kitsch and others. His first record, The Philosophic Collage, 1981, was reissued by BDR in 2012. He has been a staff writer for Perfect Sound Forever since 2003. Danielle Brawand
Derek J. Douglas Derek J. Douglas is a twenty-one year old writer new to short stories and just about everything else in life. Originally from Buffalo, NY, he has been working as a Hindi translator since 2011, becoming a seasoned traveler in the process. He is looking forward to growing as a writer. Douglas Korb Douglas Korb is the author of the chapbook, The Cut Worm, and his poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in magazines such as Tupelo Quarterly, Hobart, Versal, Barrelhouse, Spork, RHINO, Talisman, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. He is currently on the board of directors for the Collected Poets Series in Shelburne Falls, MA. His erasures can be found online at www.brokarthere.wordpress.com <http://www.brokarthere.wordpress.com> . He lives in Marlboro, VT, with his wife and two sons. Elizabeth Alexander Elizabeth Alexander’s short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Gargoyle, Golden Handcuffs Review, Defenestration, Archives of Neurology, The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Archipelago, Prick of the Spindle, and several journals named after animals—monkeys, mostly. She lives in Seattle. Eric Mohrman Eric Mohrman is a poet and freelance writer living in Orlando. His work has appeared in Counterexample Poetics, Prick of the Spindle, Moria, Defenestration, The Furnace Review, Portland Review, Big Scream, & other journals. He is currently working on a fashionably witty bio. It will presumably incorporate some degree of self-deprecation or selfaggrandizement & random reference to a fruit, fabric, or other innocuous-seeming item he strongly likes or dislikes. Erick Verran Erick Verran received a degree in English from Florida Atlantic University, where he was a 2012 recipient of the Aisling Award. His work has appeared in Coastlines and The Siren Gila Mon I currently teach high school in semi-rural Arizona. I have been writing poems and participating in poetry slams/readings for nearly 20 years, since an undergraduate at Arizona State University. I keep a little blog of worksin-progress limbo at http://dreaminginsatellite.blogspot.com/.
Heather Eloise Ceja Heather Eloise Ceja has been writing since she was nine years old. She lives in sunny southern California. She has been published in her college literary journal three times. As an English major, she also enjoys reading and teaching is her passion. She is married to a supportive man and is the stay at home mother to a beautiful little boy. Holly E. Dunlap I have an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Colorado in Boulder. I have a B.A. in English from Auburn University. I am a full-time mom and caretaker for my father, who has dementia. I teach part time at the University of North Alabama. J. Chester Johnson J. Chester Johnson is a poet, essayist and translator. He has published several books of poetry, the most recent of which is ST. PAUL'S CHAPEL & SELECTED SHORTER POEMS. His work has been published in THE NEW YORK TIMES, BEST AMERICAN POETRY, INTERNATIONAL POETRY REVIEW, GREEN MOUNTAINS REVIEW, TWIN SPACE (Italy), and elsewhere. Johnson has also composed numerous pieces on the American Civil Rights Movement, six of which are included in the Civil Rights Archives at Queens College. Jennifer Lesh Jennifer Lesh holds a Masters in American History from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is from Chicago and has the accent to prove it. A lover of a good story, a reader, and of course a writer. Ms. Lesh spends most of her time caring for her rescued dogs, horses, and cats. She lives on a hill along side the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico. Her writing credentials range from various on-line publications under her pen name Jennifer Aarons, to her more tame tales under her married name of Jennifer Houston. She now writes under her maiden name Jennifer Lesh. Her works have appeared in Medulla Review, This Literary Magazine, FortyOunceBachelors, Birmingham Arts Journal, Yellow Mama, Barrier Islands Review, as well as an assortment of others. Ms. Lesh struggles daily for the perfect word, the perfect sentence, and the perfect tale. She has realized there is no such perfection.
Jim Murdoch Jim Murdoch is a Scottish writer living just outside Glasgow. His poetry has appeared regularly in small press magazines from the seventies on. In the nineties he turned to prose writing and has published three novels His latest book is a collection of thematically-linked short stories entitled Making Sense. He’s not given up on the poetry though.
Joan Fiset lives in Seattle, WA and is a psychotherapist in private practice. Now the Day is Over, her book of memoir prose poems, was published by Blue Begonia Press in 1997 and received the King County Publication Award. "Namesake" will be published by Blue Begonia in the fall of 2014. Her work has appeared in Tarpaulin Sky, Trickhouse, the Seattle Review, and others and is forthcoming in Kudzu Review. Web site: joanfiset.com
John Greiner John Greiner’s fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous magazines. His collections of short stories include Shooting Side Glances (ISMs Press, Manchester, UK) and Relics From a Hell’s Kitchen Pawn Shop (Ronin Press, London, UK). John Raffetto A lifelong resident of Chicago. Some of his poetry has been published in print and various online magazines. Has been writing poetry for over 30 years. Currently has an online poetry site Bongo Wilderness. Holds degrees from the University of Illinois and Northeastern Illinois University. Worked as a horticulturalist and landscape designer for many years at the Chicago Park District. Currently a professor at Triton College. Juno Mak Juno Mak is a student writer born in colonial Hong Kong. Among other things, the handover of HK from UK to China and Diana's tragic death have a great influence on her as a child. She flew all the way to Northern Europe to study in Sweden and to travel around Scandinavia for a year for the sake of curiosity and for inspiration, discovering that life simply has no limits. Travelling is now her favorite outdoor hobby. Justin Vicari Kailyn McCord Kailyn tries to write every day, and most days, she makes it. She has previously been published in The Believer, The Rumpus, The Healing Muse, Tahoe Blues, and the Jung Journal. Her ideal literary lunch dates include Joan Didion, Margaret Atwood, Tim Winton, and Kurt Vonnegut. She sleeps, writes, and bakes sourdough in Akiachak, Alaska (accessible only by bush plane).
Kyle Hemmings Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Matchbook, and elsewhere. He loves cats, dogs, and garage bands of the 60s. He believes he was Arthur Lee in a past life. He blogs at http://upatberggasse19.blogspot.com/ Louis Armand Louis Armand is a Sydney-born writer who has lived in Prague since 1994 and currently directs the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory in the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University. He is the editor of Contemporary Poetics (Northwestern UP, 2007) and of The Return of Král Majales: Prague’s International Literary Renaissance, 1990-2010. His work has been included in the Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry and Best Australian Poems. His most recent collections of poetry are Letters from Ausland (Vagabond, 2011) and Synopticon (with John Kinsella; LPB, 2012). He is an editor of the magazine VLAK: Contemporary Poetics and the Arts. M. E. McMullen M.E.McMullen's work has appeared in numerous print and online journals and been cited for Editor's Choice, Pushcart, Hugo and EBSCO Free Fiction Library. His regular reviews of classic short stories appear at untowardmag-dot-com. Maggie King Maggie King is a native of Norwalk, Connecticut. After spending several years pursuing an acting career in New York City, she returned to school and is now studying at Smith College in Northampton, MA, as an Ada Comstock Scholar. Marcia Chicca Marcia Chicca is an artist from New Jersey. Her poetry has appeared in BlazeVOX and Shelf Life magazine. She currently lives in Texas with two roommates and a dog. Mark Mihelcic Mark Mihelcic believes poetry is inside all things. Like skin, he wants poetry to recreate itself for its readers. He started writing poetry as an adolescent after reading Freud (The Interpretation of Dreams) and majored in psychology as
a college student for this reason as well. He loves music almost more than anything. Mark lives in Houston, TX with his wife and son where he works as a high school English teacher. firstname.lastname@example.org Megan Schikora Megan Schikora grew up in Detroit and currently lives in Plymouth, Michigan. She teaches English at Wayne State University, Madonna University, and Oakland Community College. Her work can also be found in The Crooked Steeple, a forthcoming anthology of fiction and poetry. Michael Starr Master's student in biomedical engineering, part-time field entomologist/ecologist, and full-time dinosaur. Providing quality poetry and prose for those in need. Mitchell Krochmalnik Grabois Mouse Michael Cooper is an inland empire poet, PoetrIE member, MFA student, Veteran, and father of two great sons: Markus & Jonathan. You can find his work in Tin Cannon, The Pacific Review, The Chaffey Review, The Camel Saloon, Creepy Gnome, Milspeaks: Memo, Split Lip, and other fine (but wild) publications. Michael would like to make you aware that the splash zone includes the first 11 rows. Piper Daugharty Piper Daugharty, born and raised in Homer, Alaska, spends summers tackling halibut and winters in long, iceencrusted meditation. She just graduated from Southern Oregon University and now enjoys reading whatever the heck she wants. She continues to pursue her one, true, ever-elusive aspiration: to become a mermaid. Raymond Farr Raymond Farr’s is author of numerous books in print, including Ecstatic/.of facts (Otoliths 2011) as well as Starched, Rien Ici, & Writing What For? across the Mourning Sky. His latest book Poetry in the Age of Zero Grav is due out in 2014. He is editor of the experimental poetry zine Blue & Yellow Dog (http://blueyellowdog.weebly.com).
Riley H. Welcker I have many stories, essays, and poems bulging from my briefcase. I hold a B.S. in Business, a B.A. in English, and I am currently an M.F.A. student at the University of Texas at El Paso. My work has appeared in numerous publications including the Oklahoma Review, The Montreal Review, The Mindful Word, Mandala Journal, Whispering Prairie Press, the Taj Mahal Review, Syndic Literary Journal, and Passages North. Robert Kendrick Rudy Ravindra Rudy Ravindra attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (Summer 2012). His fiction has been published in Yellow Mama, Story Shack. His work has been accepted for publication in Enhance, Southern Cross Review, Bewildering Stories. He lives with his wife in Wilmington, North Carolina. Sheikh Saaliq Sheikh Saaliq is a freelance writer based in Indian occupied Kashmir. He has written for many organizations in the past . Saaliq is the founder and editor of an online magazine - www.thevoxkashmir.com, which is being published independently from Indian occupied Kashmir. Sonia Saraiya Sonia Saraiya is a writer in Brooklyn. She contributes frequently to The A.V. Club and is the founder of CATCALLED, a writing project about street harassment. She also podcasts about pop culture with David Sims at 2 Broke Girls and a Jew. Find out more about her at http://soniasaraiya.com. Tariq Shah Tariq Shah is a writer living and working in Brooklyn, New York. He has had numerous works of short fiction and poetry published in literary journals around the country, most recently in the Winter 2013 issue of The Rampallian. Originally from Lemont, Illinois, he remains suspicious of the goings-on at Argonne National Laboratory.
Terry Ann Thaxton Terry Ann Thaxton is the author of two full-length poetry collections. Getaway Girl (2011, Salt), which won the 2005 18th Annual Frederick Morgan Poetry Prize, and The Terrible Wife) (2013, Salt). Her essay “Delusions of Grandeur” won the The Missouri Review Editor’s Prize 2012); other essays have appeared in Seattle Journal for Social Justice and Teaching Artist Journal. Her book Creative Writing in the Community: A Guide is in press (November 2013 publication date) from Bloomsbury Publishing. She is associate professor of English at the University of Central Florida where she is also the MFA Program Director and Directs of the Literary Arts Partnership. Tyler Drenon I'm a college dropout from Springfield, MO. I write about sports most of the time, predominantly because distractions are what gets me by. I think I was published once in high school. Walter William Safar WALTER WILLIAM SAFAR was born on August 6th 1958 in Sherman , Texas . He is the author of a number of a significant number of prose works and novels, including "Leaden fog", "Chastity on sale", "In the flames of passion", "The price of life", "Above the clouds", "The infernal circle", "The scream", "The Devil’s Architect”, "Queen Elizabeth II", as well as a book of poems. Zachary Scott Hamilton Zachary Scott Hamilton is the author of The Orchestra of Machines (2006), Wallet of Hexagons and HAIR LAND. His work appears in various magazines including: Blaze Vox 12, Sleeping Fish, Metazen, Spinning Jenny 3000, and HOUSEFIRE. He Recently went on tour with the band Holy! Holy! Holy! And installed artwork with Molly Pettit for a photo series, which appears on-line at his website: www.infii.weebly.com <http://www.infii.weebly.com/>
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