Buffalo, New York
The Hole in the Den
by Michael Martrich
Copyright © 2017

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

Excerpts of this novel appeared, in different form, in BlazeVOX and Otoliths.

Interior design and typesetting by Geoffrey Gatza
Cover Art: photo by Laura Stedenfeld

First Edition
ISBN: 978-1-60964-277-8
Library of Congress Control Number: 2017930016

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thinking about knowing others with secrets

Back into the yard again, Lucas slips startled backwards and the
motion-detector lights split the spitting dogwoods. Lucas slips
backwards arms out then on his ass. He dives rolling dark now in
a guffaw behind the spitting dogwoods and bowls somehow now
bodily into me, peering from behind the spitting dogwoods, both
of us laughing, in bodies in the dark now behind the spitting
dogwoods, where I’m weaker is my back pinned and, behind the
spitting dogwoods now, from where beams of motion-detector
lights splitting the spitting dogwoods, his weight into my stomach
squeezes, “Wait,” I squeeze, feeling his locked arms holding my
shoulders down in the lawn, “The cops.”
There’s a moment of silence taken seriously, stillness in the
grass, my shoulders still held against the ground, beams through
the spitting dogwoods, my hands in his loose shirt but not
touching him, and my hands are floating. (Nothing) is silence
taken seriously. Is nothing.
Just light beams through the spitting dogwoods and
everything stops. The brightness of the lawn and the house.

“Our fingerprints. The bottles,” is shaking out of the

He’s on all fours looking through the bushes at the house
with nothing against my shoulders, my hands still floating, shaken
out of the seriousness, nothing against my stomach. He’s on all
fours next to me. He’s forgotten about the bottles we left but sees
the lights from the house and the brightness of the yard.
The Hole in the Den

The light through the spitting dogwoods doesn’t whisper
while he looks past the spitting dogwoods into the light towards
the house and the brightness of the yard. “What?” He bobs his
head between the light through the spitting dogwoods somehow
dangerously into where the light is an abstraction, abstraction and
the house. The lights are houselights, turned on by motion-
detectors. “What?” The lights have been on forever, since Lucas
slipped startled backwards and he rolled into the spitting
dogwoods. It’s too long, much too long for the lights. They’ll
know there’s someone here. They’ll find us for sure is someone’s
watching. Looking for movement in the house. The door: maybe
someone’s there or the window. Or the cops.
“We left them. Our fingerprints on the bottles.” Still on my
back now I closed my eyes laughing into my hand in the dark and
forgetting when my hands were floating, how they floated when
Lucas pushed off from me in the dark behind the spitting
dogwoods where beams of light split through the spitting
dogwoods from the house. It’s the feeling, him now off of me,
feeling lighter that makes me laugh and forget, feeling lighter.

The sky borders the tree. The stars. The beams of light grow
faint in periphery. “On the green, remember?” The hand rubs my
face into my hair slowing my laugh is perfectly still and timeless in
laughing that seemed to happen and is gone, the beams in the dark
now faint in the periphery is an atmosphere’s slow sediment. The
stars. The stars, too.
“Jesse’s got my bag. Where the hell, he was right here,” says
Lucas squints a bright lawn through beams of light won’t go out
splitting the spitting dogwoods is not so faint recalls Day Timers
with the white cotton goo all over you
as landscapers out of high school that summer in green shirts
with arms sticky with visible spit when pruning that collected
stems for hugging bundles of dogwood branches against our shirts

The Hole in the Den

we loaded wheelbarrows. The spit left dark stains of spit on our
shirts. Cottony spit.
The noise from the house ducks hitting on my head on
Lucas’ shoulder
from each other and onto our backs laughing I
remember our hands towards our faces. The stillness is gone and
Jesse running from the lights through the beams where Lucas
slipped and the bright yard past the spitting dogwoods is still
bright with the house but Jesse runs into the dark towards the
cornfield dark beyond the first row of stalks against the lights
from the house if he might have seen us.
The lights still on bright in the yard and the yard is bright.
They’ll find us. They’ll find us for sure. The lights. The bottles on
the green. Fingerprints and we’re hiding behind the spitting

Just through the yard motion-detector lights Jesse shrieks
knowing straight a cop in these parts couldn’t catch his own dick
in his own hand if he were pissing. Lucas now up on his knees
whispers loudly hushed importantly, “Fuck were you?” to Jesse
past us running and laughing straight trips towards the corn trips
sideways, airborne with his shoulder forward, past where Lucas
slipped splitting the spitting dogwoods and past us hidden in the
dark behind the spitting dogwoods is fast and the lights still on in
the yard is bright when they’ll find us, Jesse crashing into a row
taking out a few stalks. Lucas already there whispers, “Asshole!”
into the dark gives up our stillness, running towards the corn
looking back thinking I hear voices and someone’s coming, to
quick look behind towards the yard, the cops see the houselights,
lights beams flash flashes shift beyond the houselights and below
the hill towards the woods. Running for the cornfield in the dark
looking backwards feels slow-motion. There’s a stillness in this
movement in getting away, in running. Behind me a movie. The

The Hole in the Den

bottom drops out, washes away. Behind me slow motion, a belief
in a stillness, like how Min looked at James.
“It doesn’t hurt. I feel fine.” And her eyes were no longer
big. “Let’s have one more dream together. Just one more.”

In the shallow end of the pool with Min, James straightens
his goggles. “Don’t look,” she said while James straightened his
goggles and suctioned them around his eyes. He heard her but in a
way when one hardly listens, like listens but it falls flat, like
periphery, the stars, like walking doesn’t consciously feel the
ground below, that in a second all that went into hardly hearing
what was said vanishes, like a foot leaving the ground over and
over again. Min tossed the pennies into the deep end and her hand
under the water let one drop next to her foot. “Alright.” James
takes a breath, slips in the water forwards towards the deep end.

(She let him go. “Just one more.”)

“Got four!” bursting from the surface is, “You sure you had
Min smiles, thinking of what it means to be missing, gone, or
invisible, if invisible is another infinity: the invisible penny she
simply dropped by her foot. Invisible’s not quite a liquid. Even
mist isn’t quite water. Maybe he’s right. But that’s the hole in the
den, sure, that we’re simply left here and deserted or:

the salamanders we found under wet leaves at the edge of the
mine hole and once the yellow-spotted we knew was so rare (our
fathers said so) and told us not to take them home with us if we
were to find them, the salamanders, and

insects we don’t know the names of underneath the rocks. We’re
left without a middleman if we’re not Catholic. But the arc, and

The Hole in the Den

then that none of us matter unless it’s right now, this visibility, but
then like underneath rocks and thinking only of our relations from
these rocks, to these rocks, our rocks, the rocks we know. “What
happens when you die?”
“Who cares?”
“Be so burnt won’t.”
In the tip of the flashing arc, the scythe shape, though
underneath our rocks that are mine and with us, flashes stationary.
The flashing arc in Tory’s vision came out of nowhere, out of the
invisible, but he can see it now. “Be so burnt won’t even know it,”
the other shook his head. But Tory sees the flashing of an arc in
his vision, in his head, is some sort of blunted headache or vision.
“That’s my plan.”
James walked around the stone wall and slid down the bank
towards the stream where Min felt like the picnoleptic little girl
with her camera, down the bank towards the picnoleptic girl
saying, “This way,” a soft power in directing James, behind
walking with the flow of the stream away from the red covered
bridge. Down a ways a smaller footbridge.
She let him go. “Just one more.”
She let him go. “Just one more.” She lets the other penny
drop next to her foot. It was there but he’d never find it. But he
knew there was a fifth. He knew it existed or had.

Maybe I don’t know.

we’re the worms and

insects, the salamanders,

The Hole in the Den

“That’s my plan,” who was eager to follow
slowly, like as James watched rain ripple across water. But some
nights before he’d slowly followed, slowly watched them (as if on
the outside) in the yellow lamp light softly countering the blue-
turning-black of coming night.
“Down here.” Min continued aside the footbridge and into
the stream balancing her feet on rocks, sacred, she said,
underneath the surface of the stream.
“I guess I’d be an elephant.”
“An elephant?”
“Just for the hell of it?” is, “You would be an elephant.” But
guilt had plagued James since he was a child, like, did he shake his
head to say no or was he just shaking his head in the face of the
question, out of disgust? Does he really not — after thinking of
them in the rain together, the rain she now damned, the
togetherness. He was walking to the house shaking his head like
she’d done something wrong. She just stood there watching him
shake off his jacket on the front porch and enter the house
without looking back.
But some nights before he’d watched them (as if on the
outside) in the yellow lamp light softly countering the blue-
turning-black of coming night. He stitched the scenes into place.
He held the conversation. But they hardly listen. The moon rose
over the deciduous hill and the script played into itself, an
everything that seemed to be a part of everything. Everything
turned into everything, like forgetting we’re looking at a sunset,
like forgetting we’re looking. As if this boy and girl had just
formed out of nothing and were delicate products, as the night
came from this organized scene of impulse,
it changes to then and we see a new now. James felt
separated until he felt a part of everything. And then he couldn’t
say anything, the complete opposite of them as they continue

The Hole in the Den

talking like the boy who tells everyone he could have been on the
billboard said, “That girl’s a bitch.” They’re always talking just to
say something. Like hardly listening. It’s the repetition of walking
that forgets each step, each touching of the ground. But I think of
the arc that flashes in my head, the fingerprint and the name I
have given it: Fingerprint. Too, something to the sound on the
leaves, too, on the fallen branches we call smooth wood to each
other when the poplar bark is peeled off like leather.
“So much shit to do and I ain’t even gonna do it,” says
“Bullshit. You always do your work. And who’m I gonna
copy off?”
“Your mom always makes you.”
“Still sits with you at the dinner table,” remembering when
the yellow-spotted salamander yawned, how its mouth opened,
the soft pink of its tongue, the salamander’s, against the perfect
black of amphibian skin, how we didn’t want to return it
underneath the leaves. But then the past that will become then
and then will be then and be cos we’ve called it so: that’s always
now, a present (a tribal world). And when it changes it changes to
then and we see a new now. And somewhere there invisible, those
we’ve forgotten or never knew existed, those separate. When does
that separation occur? It must at some point.
“Well, what do you think it is?”
We’ve learned to want effect.
And, yet, we need this each other. Stan says Kurzweil’s trip
prepares for of releasing from everyday is the threat. Like, the
after. Once internet is part of our brains, we’ll have one brain, it
will be like an afterlife; that’s the only way he can think of it. A last
trip. [The electricity trip in Pynchon, Slothrop’s son. “You don’t
come back,” he told his father.] If we only become electricity the
past that will become, you know, then, and then will be then and
be but, see, then it won’t matter, like it’s after knowing an after.

The Hole in the Den

“Memory’s such a disease to children.” Like hormones pray, “Object
and screw” is why you get married: is ungrounded, groundless. Children
spinning in circles is beautiful, more beautiful than objectifying is desiring, the
shapes that attract domination, the desiring. Spinning is the real dizzying of
love, events within the event.
“Well, what do you think it is?”
How does he know? thinking impossible is the telepathy or,
Stan brings up the internet in our brains, thinking from trees or
the sky, straight-from-the-devil consonants detached from the
vowel symbol, not the sound, or this space, in front of us now like
when John and I stood, just stood there after he
said, “The hell.” This is Tory meeting Stan, an English
teacher at Tory’s school. This is Stan seeing Tory off-chance in
the woods.
But I say it anyway, almost stuttering, “I think it’s a math,
like a fractal. Like a fractal, but it’s flashing. You know? Like a
math. A form.” Stuttering in my head — in my head — says Tory.
Stan thinks, a Form. “Sure, I know. I know: the Fingerprint.”
A Form.
That’s how he knows, the smoke and the smoking. He knows the
Fingerprint. “It’s magic,” says Mr. Casper. Tory watches him
intently. He said Fingerprint. He knows, and no longer thinking of
the running through the trails now and off the trails holding onto
smooth wood is my secrets and stop to watch John now ahead of
me. But John is there somehow, still, filling the air of an
atmosphere somehow, filling. I feel it always, tugging at my throat
and into the shape of my stomach.

A Form,

so he climbed the fence and I can only imagine what it was just
before letting go, if he, the one who would eventually become
invisible, a city now with one less cloud, looked out into the gorge,

The Hole in the Den

into the dark, the one who would eventually become invisible, if
he listened to the water below, as if it were invisible, and looked
out. But listened. Really listened.

Tory watches intently, watches him smoke the smell and
thinks, that’s how he knows — the smoke and the smoking,
that in the dream from these sparkling jagged shapes
grew scattered blue flowers. James knelt down and as he did he
was in the graveyard. It grew dark in the dream and the flowers
lost their shine, bowed their heads, and curled within themselves.
“James,” called Min. “Where are you? Stop messing around.”
James could see the dim blue light from her phone lighting up just
in front of her face. “This isn’t funny anymore.” Hiding behind a
bush and not saying anything, it was a joke. James felt the need to
stay apart. She’d never find him, and James smiled. As he watched
her phone stay blue for ten seconds before going out, and then
coming back on only to fade after another ten seconds, he felt a
cool wind. Once you play a trick on someone you can’t take it
back. It simply is what it is. It never returns from invisibility.
All this is just a trick
to where the river carved habit where gravity only played a part,
tipping at perching. A change in snake. Or the ocean, losing shape
inside. John Lurie’s story of the cow and the ants was not a fishing
tale. James stood on the bridge feeling like a flag and thought, “I
have arms, legs, will.” There was a metal railing, but no Ithaca
chain-linked fence to discourage the jump, a fence decorated with
letters to those who jumped, that a climb with fingers clenching in
the wires must have been some thought, the intensity. Did he
jump or did he just let go, or fall asleep like the cat in the poplar?
Like an old man on his back on the bottom of a boat and hidden
beneath the boat’s lip, the old man without his line, at what point
do stars break into their wavering and into absence? The hole in

The Hole in the Den

the den is John’s, but I wonder if I can still feel it or know it,
know it when John is gone.

So he climbed the fence lining the bridge and I can only
imagine what it was just before he let go, if he looked out into the
gorge, if he listened to the water below, looked out to where the
river carved habit where gravity only played a part, tipping at
perching. A change in snake, but some kind of arrow if we’re
separate, like from above the river on the bridge is a scientist
behind a microscope, an arrow like William had an arrow tattooed
into his right arm. A ray, actually, an arrow from his shoulder.
William found James waiting for him on a bench with his knees
hugged to his chest alongside the neon green light of the
James's intentions were of association like when Lucas pulled
up his hood in the snow and dragged each garbage can, one by
one, into barricade across the middle of Fourth St. is not caring is
the noise of scraping garbage cans through a thin layer of snow
against the street at 2 a.m., the cops showing up the next morning
after following footprints in the snow is the back door of his
mother’s house where he slept in the basement and, seeing the bag
on the coffee table they arrested him, took him in for a bit and
laid a fine on him. Maybe read it in the news and saw the site
weeks later. Maybe his father mentioned it at dinner. Like maybe
that was what he remembered, the news article but also actually
seeing the burn and char of the plane crash. Imagined a
newspaper clipping folded up along the edges had
yellowed frail. This isn’t theology. But has nothing to do
with faith cos it’s just something that happens and we observe
what we can. What we think we can. (But there’s faith in effect)
This is construction, constitution. This is what is done with a great
mess. With like the thought he remembered, the plane going

The Hole in the Den

down. The thought he remembered was the crash is the plane or
the sound from over the hill.
“Put it out!” we jumped
the outfield fence stomping at every flame
spreading over the dried grasses blackening was thinking hopeless:
what do we do? This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. John
bumping, stomps somehow, the last flames out and we made sure.
We swept the char with our feet. “Thought we were so fucked,”
and left laughing thinking the hell we were doing.
He put the lighter and gunpowder in his pocket and we
walked silently through the outfield towards third, towards the
row of pines behind the bench. Thought it severed, at least the
black ground with burn and char, the plane, unidentified metal
boxes, oval windows, the fence ripped down where there had
been basketball courts, the ones that hadn’t been touched up in
years and the ball took bad bounces on cinders and small stones
(you had to keep low always, knees and back bent). But we never
seemed to mind. We were kids,
and they think they know us all too well all because they’ve
seen us before at night and because of that, think we’re up to no
good. But they let us off, every time, after the routine: “Where’s
down the street?” Suburban patrol cars give us this for us wanting
to see the deer in the park at night (that’s all) where we feel
something, the something that is taken away with, “Where’s down
the street?” but makes us laugh. But we’re here to feel something
that’s more than laughter where it’s safe to be together without
talking. We felt something there in the park at night, where we
waited for the deer. Our fathers: they knew you barely needed
permission, knew the days when every street corner wasn’t a sign,
when drinking knew no age only the backhand from a parent,
when camping out as young boys was so perfectly normal they
knew what it meant to be close to the ground and to be out of
reach of the streetlights, out of reach of cops with their flashlights,

The Hole in the Den

a sort of escape.

felt the heat like wind

They think they’ve seen us before.

Lucas keeps up thinking like we keep
the trail between the woods and the cornfield like
lying down the dirt and the stars the hole in the den to lie down in
is sleep and the stars and the wind
focus on the hole in the den and sleep in and out is in and out of
sleep. “What do we tell them if they stop us?” with flashlights and
knew our fathers wouldn’t care so we didn’t. They knew — our
fathers did — the days when every street corner wasn’t a sign,
when drinking knew no age only the backhand from a parent,
when camping out as young boys was so perfectly normal they
knew what it meant to be close to the ground and to be out of
reach of the streetlights, out of reach of cops with their flashlights,
a sort of escape, you barely needed permission.
Their pointing just out of reach, Lucas dirty and his blood
they’ll search us walking this backroad late at night. They’ll know
the bottles on the green, know it was us, trace them to our
fingerprints. My long hair tied back gives it away. It’s the space of
trying to think, the deep inspection. Nobody says anything when,
“Let’s just hang here til morning,” is nobody says anything else
walking, like
when we headed back down the trail towards the mine hole
(we heard was dug in search of iron ore sometime before we were
born) from where we had wanted to keep the salamander just like

The Hole in the Den

the frog eggs attached to sticks we carried to my home in a plastic
bucket. We had emptied the frog eggs into the aquarium I used to
use for fish but was scolded for not keeping it clean — the
aquarium — for not cleaning
the algae from the inside of the glass with an old toothbrush
every week. My father said I couldn’t have any more fish and my
mother agreeing with her head to the side after the last fish floated
upside down at the top of the tank circling over and over, to and
from the filter and I wasn’t sure what it meant, what any of it
meant, thinking I was relieved for the fish who swam alone and
had no one.
I never watched him swim until he floated, alone, upside
down at the top of the tank circling and that’s when I watched
him and told the fish that by watching him I wasn’t sure what it
meant. Yet, I didn’t watch him when he was alive like I was
hiding, like I was, or like I was and he wasn’t, and now staring and
not sure of what it meant,
and quiet like walking with my father when I was young and
meeting the others in the parking lot at the foot of the woods trail
and stopping. That’s where — the foot of the woods trail —
where I first remember noticing the silhouettes of trees, the pines
particularly, against the twilight, how they looked and what it
meant to stay up at night and outside, how trees look against a
night sky and someone saying, “Listen,” and we did and as a
group listened and heard the owl.
Someone said, “Barn,” and another, “Gray- horned,” and I
remember winter that very year sledding down Glenwood Street
and reaching our record distance just past the Fenstermacher’s on
the corner at the bottom of the hill. The neighborhood kid we
called Ricky Bones fell off my back and jumped from the snow
with arms raised and shouted, “The record!” and jumped but we
quieted him, said, “Listen.” He stopped, quieted and looking
blankly, confused, but we heard the owl and

The Hole in the Den

I knew there was something more than breaking records,
more than distance. It was a silence listening to an owl and
knowing it was important, like trees against a night sky, now
watching a fish floating upside down in circles to and from in a
fish tank and my watching, watching hard but feeling empty, a
quiet where emptiness wells and feels important, something that
wasn’t fun for the sake of it or a laugh but something deeper,
emptier, more important,
like monks, maybe — I imagined far away, far away from
everyone and vague, in mists, South-Eastern ruins jungled over
and reading and writing that’s slowly and quietly, purposelessly.
It’s like that not kind of fun,
there — the night with my father at the foot of the
woods trail where the others walk slowly from the parking lot to
gather under the stinging orange of a streetlight, there at the foot
of the woods trail where looking into the woods there is a silence
that comes with darkness, a fading of the orange that makes
distance is a depth in silence in the dark beyond, into the woods
trail. They chat — the others — behind me. My father stays silent.
Focused on the dark and away from them, away from the
streetlight. without looking at them or my father, the chatter drifts,
slips from this sedimentation. I feel my father’s silence and make
it my own. The silence weighs heavy, to feel it, a weight.
And there is a sort of settling — a sedimentation — once
everyone is there, though still chatting. That’s when it becomes
quiet, though, the chatter fades away from the streetlight in
walking from the foot of the woods trail and into the darkness of
the woods, away, as people — now all silent and listening, hearing
a movement of footsteps, a scattered wind through the poplars —
following me and my father, there, together quiet, barely a rhythm,

listening for owls,

The Hole in the Den

and I think about John walking here next to me on the trail
towards the mine hole and if he listened to owls with his father
long ago saying, “Listen,” and had quiet thoughts that made any
sort of fun, like the others laughing in school, not seem as
important as the quiet and emptiness, imagining hollowed trees
and owls, a night sky, and wanting quiet secrets together, with
another, one who is quiet, one who says, “Listen,” but quiet, with
secrets we don’t know or understand between each other. But we
know they’re there — the secrets — in a silence not mentioned,
or to think about in quiet moments. And now I think about him
and not the owls. I think about John in the quiet.
But they won’t know me in these parts not by the park now
is the deer and John and the signs saying, “Closed at Dusk.” Not
with the hole in the den but I know it’s still there when I look at
the stars but seems hollow. But the emptiness is still a feeling, a
weight, a wading, away, away and distant. Being silent at night and
looking to the stars: not John — not anymore — but still silence.
And in the emptiness I feel John. That’s what I’ve learned of
“John’s prolly laughing right now,” brings a smile forgetting
the cops and the bottles. John’s laughing. And in that moment the
silence broken brought us together in bodies, an acknowledgment
of our same feelings expressed in voice and laughter in the dark of
a cornfield and
out of reach of streetlights.
The breath that makes lighter like walking to the park to the
woods now knowing Lucas thinking of John when I was thinking
of John like the night reminds us but not like me knowing
the hole in the den remembering when the screen door
slammed shut and our walking was not like the walking now but is
still getting lighter with a memory not of distance on the trail
between the woods and the cornfield and think to cut across the

The Hole in the Den

stream wanting mud’s another layer, a documentation, a tattoo.
The night covers us as dirt and mud, cornstalks and smoking
skywards from on our backs blown through the stalks passing off
to each other the smoke, the smoke reflects emptiness thinking
the hole in the den always a layer or surrounding like the bottles
left on the green < the flashlights > thinking I’m safe now. Now.
This is my family out of reach of the streetlights.

the sunken weight in night’s grid

Lucas keeps up thinking like we keep walking thinking to cut
across the stream and the intensity of walking that feels
purposeful means to means and breathing is a pattern of circles.
We’re only here. We’re only here and we forget about distance.
The cops could come and we’re only here. When without time
focuses on the hole in the den and sleep in our breathing is the
emptiness and stillness. “Listen.” When without time focuses on
our breathing. Lucas keeps up.
He calls them maths: gray-scale ribs, caged, tulip poplars and
their vines. It’s their pointing at the sky, he says, or scientifically
changing the sky, he says, from where we look. Stan was standing
there, in the parking lot, and said he’d take the Toyota by, “Screw
the money,” speaking with spitting spite like the boy who said he
could have been on the billboard. With a sort of fantasy
confidence but more believable than the boy who said he could
have been on the billboard. Said he’d be a professor and we
believed him and not worry, he said, who’s looking over his
shoulder. He was done with that, that looking over his shoulder
feels like shoulders, only devils who call themselves angels beamed
with knowledge or forgot they fell as if nothing could be written
down with the good benefits, these shoulders, with teaching these
kids who don’t know what they do with electricity but they go on
and do it and think they have the upper hand with smirks (but
don’t know the root of sophomore). They have themselves sitting in
the same seats. Know how with no ontological idea or

The Hole in the Den

phenomenology. Said he wouldn’t be a lawyer with, “Screw the
money. Screw the BMW and the loft in the city.” He has friends
he can visit in the city and not be jealous of.

The metallic diner where in the parking lot Lucas opens the
door is the driver’s seat is the inside that smells of after school in
the mesh seats is cigarettes.
These – Maths – Change – With – Steps in the parking lot to
the car or
is dodging thicket briar is Longaberger basket briar wire
cylinders or now staring at the sky and Lucas in the diner just
wants to go home. “Just tired,” he said, and we walked into the
parking lot looking at the sky on our way to the Tercel.
Fallen trees and branches, wires like garden netting and
Susan’s hair scratching from her hood, her hair always in a braid
and smells like that perfume smells clean like flowers crushed in
vodka (that John drinks, the stolen bottle from his kitchen he
might not return [the bottle] but keep it hidden in the woods
beneath a rotting log). The lights from houses and streets from the
city waver is distance. Trace it with a gun, and an individual with a
will forgets we’re not living in the eighteenth century on a farm.
From atop the water tower, the straight streets have streetlights
and traffic patterns, traffic lights that change and porch lights
unzipping the grid with a distance index and a thumb.
“You have that feeling you could just roll off?”
“Don’t. Just don’t.”
“No. I know. But it’s like. Just get this feeling of like letting
go, you know? On the edge. Like just rolling off and hoping
there’s nowhere to land, like those seconds from here to there’s
forever.” But he knew. He knew if the people down there in the
decentralized lights, there in the spaces of numbers, in houses and
cars on the highway, if they wanted to see him, they’d have to look
up. They’d have to really look. “We should light a candle up here.

The Hole in the Den

Have someone out there see if they can see it,” the candle on top
of the water tower, the candle in place, like the candles stuck in
the sandstone cave in the woods near the water tower where bats
were awakened into quick flashes with smoke, like leaves blowing
in the wind fast-forwarded on video, wishing maybe if he’d
smoked he wouldn’t be hiding in the hood and sleeves of his
sweatshirt deep in the sandstone cave is thinking if he’d smoked
he wouldn’t find his way out, the tight squeeze, the corkscrew
upwards towards the larger rock stuck in between the split, still
not quite near the entrance, not enough to see some sort of glow,
some sort of glow without flashlights, the outside, but the candle
strange to see from I-78 humps (slanted) over the mountain where
underneath is a tunnel inch-thin-layered with water where we’d
ride our bikes until the other end where it broke into a deeper
stream dumped a tire and hubcaps where jeeps off-roaded in the
70s, a time imagined, everyone camped in canvas and with Primus
canteens before the boulders blockaded the wide trails, and drank
from cans crushed empty they littered by old fire pits.
Or maybe Min’s cigarette or that Dave and Jessica don’t
know secrets; they keep no secrets. They spray-paint their names
onto trees. They don’t know anything. Except their sex: that’s a
secret. Once it’s uncovered, they move on to make it a secret once
again. Then her secrets, the waitress, that the shape of her secrets
is her sex, her clothes shaped over her sex, why she wears her
blonde hair always in a braid and smells like that perfume smells
clean like flowers crushed in vodka (that John drinks, the stolen
bottle from his kitchen he might not return [the bottle] but keep it
hidden in the woods).
But accustomed to the perfume that smells like flowers
crushed in vodka clean and know it’s the waitress.
“I don’t know if I like it,” when he takes a swig and bitters
his face, chin pressed against the side of his neck and I feel his
distance like space was distances with no direction, nothing, that

The Hole in the Den

James feared himself floating in space. He feared nothingness,
although as a kid he wanted to be an astronaut even after
everyone Indian-style on the carpet watching the Challenger, kids
in front of the TV just sitting there not looking at each other,
having learned just weeks before she was a teacher. Then learning
the names and the orders of planets (My Very Excellent Mother
Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas) when there was no confusion about
whether or not Pluto was still a planet and remembering Dennis
who named his planets packet OUT OF THIS WORLD so we all
named our planets packets OUT OF THIS WORLD feeling
slightly guilty but wanted to feel a part of the cleverness, or then
in rooms where walls and ceilings are not ends but that invisible
black of
sky-fake borders like my childhood bedroom at night, like a
flat map, false planetarium, the glow-in-the-dark plastic ceiling
stars, my room slanted from downstairs sounding like radio
signals, slanted walls, with the lights turned out, the news barely
audible from downstairs sounding like radio signals, remembering
when I heard from upstairs on the steps that Shannon Hoon had
died, a weekend night was inviting Ross Adams from two doors
down to listen to Hemispheres for the first time, back when an alley
fight was just a way to blow off steam or impress older brothers
and the neighborhood kids. For now, Min provided; she was a
string. He could just hang in his distance and tug.
But she was different. She was that insect: not the long,
skinny, thin-antennae ones in the sandstone caves or the ones like
long, thick centipedes that move slowly in their carapaces, smooth
brown-red and segmented bone armor we woke up to crawling
slowly like almost not at all all over us sleeping at the tree trunk to
frogs and waking up in shivers in just our sweatshirts and jeans
shook, “Get it the fuck off me, get it off me!” and forgot about
the cold, where the moon now glowed through the trees and on
the mine hole water, we ran shaking, disgusted but laughing, and

The Hole in the Den

the frogs stopped singing to our slapping at each other, “Get it off
me!” hitting off the large centipedes from each other’s backs (not
those, but the irrelevant ones dangled over the Preacher’s fire.
Distance was an index and a thumb.)
But, “He told me he believed. He told me so.” I
remembered my first day at work landscaping and pruning the
hedge surrounding the development he told me, too. And I
believed him. The day I heard: I kept my head down and just
mulched, throwing it out of the truck into a pile over the curb.
The borough foreman told me just minutes before in the truck
that he overdosed and said I could get off for the morning, maybe
the whole day. Emptiness is a feeling in your throat.
Then at the funeral the man said, “He told me when he
prayed it felt empty, like it wasn’t real. He wanted it to be real. He
wanted it, and he believed. Didn’t just want to go through the
motions.” We were sitting there in the first pew listening to, “No
matter the crowd he found here, he believed,” and it bothered me
that I’d shaved only for the first time that morning.
Why not when he was talking about us made me think of
him being sent away for months, sometimes a year or two, the
onion soup was all they got for lunch and dinner when he wanted
to believe when you could see his rib cage thin and the bones in
his face like skin stretched like the path that levels off where they
head to a lookout of rocks they call crow’s nest, a name taken
from the older kids. The older kids are different now. Watching
the older kids from behind the fence: we gathered tennis balls we
found in the retention briar alongside the tennis courts and hid in
the neighboring wood trail throwing at them shirtless on the
basketball courts where they paid more attention now to the girls
smoking cigarettes in the pavilion than the score. They took off
their shirts and acted like they had some shit going on and
shouting like this never happens to them with every missed shot
and stretching is an excuse while swearing tells girls they’re all old

The Hole in the Den

enough. Someone in the pavilion yells to the couple making out
by the tree, “You’re gonna get pregnant,” but that’s when we’re
whipping tennis balls we found in the retention briar at them and
just as they split for the trail behind the fence and after us we
dodge and duck into a deer path hiding with our hands over our
mouths and kneeling beside the chain-linked fence and in the
The boys with their shirts off running by with heavy steps
and red faces with their shirtless bodies scratched in thin traces of
southwestern sword-swiping from the overgrown thorn bushes
and we heard in our heads that we now know the woods. They
ran by pissed and serious like cops, no shirts, from paying
attention to girls smoking in the pavilion and there on crow’s nest
an opening outstretched from the height on the rocks. A space is
afforded. A space. And it opens. Into a presence without time.
We know these woods now; these are our woods.
(Magic like secrets, like the things you don’t know, yet. Like
why I want to know? Like the distortion of water that makes
things look more beautiful, the way rocks just below a low, clear
surface of running water look magical, sacred, as if magic stones.)
“Because you don’t understand it, right? But it’s right there,
maybe. Or it has nothing to do with understanding, but it’s like
magic. Like books we don’t understand and I don’t know, black
holes.” (This was what had attracted Min to her rain-soaked living
room windows.) It’s not just the black I’ve never worn, but my
saying in class, under their breaths, they say it, to their good
teammates rubbing their armpits with their sweaty shirts in the
locker rooms, the teammates who get open with ten fingers
flashing that becomes the ball and move quick. Eyes wide open,
taking something serious for once is showing off, is how quick
like when Aimee came back from Kentucky where she moved last
year, and she saw me on the steps and said, “Hi, Spry.” But I ran

The Hole in the Den

up the steps from her and shouted past her, through her, “Hi!”
Then embarrassed, remember her as some shade of blue from a
town of blue tint, heard she was dating Marshall in the eighth
grade, Derrick joked and called him General, I thought more
recently, best answer I could have given her, guilty like how we
never look to that tree where the cat had climbed and couldn’t get
down, and we pretended we forgot where it is. Look down and
away when we walk that path is how I know we pretend. The only
way was to jump, even if falling asleep to Wake! falling, stuttering
with paws suddenly.

the trail reminds me of a neck, a long neck

like wind in my lungs,

the trail reminds me of a neck, a long neck, when the quickness
fades fast, reminds me of the tap-slapping of squirrels up the
poplars, and everyone wants to leave for something else,
something quicker with fewer details and not thinking the
souvenir shop employees don’t care selling jewelry and postcards
and books no one would ever buy except in souvenir shops, and a
cat meowing, stuck forty feet up in a poplar with no way down
like a squirrel and if it could think, thinking it would never sleep

This, like wind in my lungs.