After every rain we’d take hammers out into the garden. We’d crack snail shells, get sticky film on the hammerheads. The best finds were under long leaf lettuce and at the base of the spinach and chard. Little circles of moving stones in the shade of the tomato plants, beneath the broad leaves of summer squash.
Once we tallied the results we’d fill our palms with table salt. We’d drop one grain at a time on brown slugs and see how many it took before they rolled over and showed us their grey bellies. The big ones fled. The small ones balled.
Sometimes, crows would gather. We’d grab our guns. If we downed a few, we’d tie up their legs with twine and hang them from the awning of the porch to scare the rest. Afternoons, we’d drink and watch them spin in the breeze. Within a few nights, they’d disappear, twine broken. We never found out what took them.
The Longest Part of the Night
Three Left Over
One day is wherever if it’s still there. In five minutes there might not be a third sentence. There is, this time, & here is as relative as I get.
I wasn’t born anywhere this year. Stripes walk in. I’m always non-birthday. Don’t you love a cigarette when it’s an Elliott Smith song? No one inherits social security. There isn’t a fucking way I’m showing my id.
In Front Of Me I’m Looking
I love you enough to not, include the rest. If there is a line this is one. The correct response after so much certainty is Where are my yellow Chuck’s? I don’t own or have any. In this way, everything is said all of the time.
Owls Do Cry
He told me a story about when he was a child in Missouri, when farmers in his town began keeping bison.
“Do you know how high bison can jump?” he asked me. I shook my head. “Neither did they,” he answered, explaining how the ranchers had rounded the bison up, not expecting them to spill out of the open-topped trailer like a waterfall. He was still sleeping when he felt the thunder of the stampede, the plastic dinosaurs falling off the shelf above his bed.
“Wow, why didn’t they try to stop them?” I asked him.
“You can’t stop a stampede,” he told me. “You just have to let them run until they get tired.”
I imagined him haunted by this notion that nothing could be done to keep them from running. He must have thought about it when his wife left him, taking his children with her. I thought about it when we made love, his hands roaming my body with an absent-minded lust.
You have to let them run until they get tired. They will not stay with homemade chili or impromptu sex in the bar bathroom.
So this is what it feels like when they leave.
Normal People Don't Live Like This
My neighbor stood in my front yard, talking on her cordless phone. Who knew why, but she had the person on the other end on speaker phone. While she remained her usual cold and stoic self, the woman she was talking to was sobbing in French, and I concluded that it must have been her sister. I had recently been informed that their mother had been diagnosed with a rare and inoperable form of brain cancer, and so I assumed that that was what they must have been talking about, but why she was in my front yard, and why she had her sister on speaker phone, for everyone to overhear, whether or not they understood French, I had absolutely no fucking idea. She seemed oblivious to the fact that I was sitting, in plain sight, on my front step, reading a book, less than ten feet away from her. Of course, I couldn’t understand what her sister was saying, but the anguish in her voice was universal – unmistakable – and it was only after a smiling woman walked past and greeted us both with a heartfelt "Good afternoon!" that she decided to continue her conversation in private.
Tomato tributary merging with watermelon river breaching mayo dam at counter’s edge and Tiger within a whisker of tripping Joey, knife in hand, and Sarah at the grill scorching eggplant. Sure, she’s old enough, Joey’s old enough, when you were their age…. And it’s art, it’s science…. And the rest return, hauling stuff-we-already-have from the roadside stand, chopping, peeling, whisking, sautéing, so certain they could soar if everyone would keep the hell out of their way. It’s in the downstairs freezer, not the deep freezer the refrigerator freezer and Tiger yowls and scratches from the laundry room. And Wow the steam from the corn is really making your hair frizz up….and Grandma did it this way and Aunt Josie did it that way and then I’ll do it this way and you will love it. Then it’s three months gone and there’s ruby sauce, congealing gravy, the roots, the warm and crusty, crisp duck skin, quince and cinnamon, and you save the last sip of wine for after the last bite and it’s too damn fast.
You Think that's Bad
Henredon and his wife sold their L.A. house in 1990 for $275,000 because she was lonely in L.A. They pull up to it and see new people in his living room. His wife says their living room. You can’t go back in time and please start the car so we can go back to Vegas. The car won't start. No, really. The battery is dead. The homeowners are named Packard. They love their house ($1.3 million). Their batteries work. The Packard man braces the battery clip and Henredon hopes Packard will fry, the wife too. How silly, says his wife on the way back to Vegas. We could never afford it now anyway and they were such nice people. People you will never see again, he says. She says nothing. She is a blackjack dealer and she will tell the story to all her players. She will say her husband should get over it and the tourists will agree because they want to win money. She will leave out the most important part of the story, the part where Henredon wanted those Packards dead. That way, she will get tips and maybe someday they can buy their house back.
She hated that he would wink at her. She hated that damned wink. She’d be talking and he would wink. And his shins were sharp enough to cut garlic. He wanted to wrap his leg around her at night, but what woman would stand for that? He proved with a tape measure that she was five foot six instead of five foot seven. It gave him pleasure, didn’t it? She hated his long eyelashes, and his big lips that seemed made for kissing, these beautifully shaped little red pillows. There were so many things about him that she hated that she could talk on about it without repeating material. Whenever he tried talking about himself, her list of stuff shut him up. She was coming out of her shell. She enjoyed telling him what a selfish bedraggled scarecrow he was, how lost he was going to be without her. He blew it. He would not be able, ever, to look in the mirror because he would know that he was just exactly what she told him he was: a scarecrow.
John Oliver Hodges
Gravity pulls at her toes as she sits on the couch, her legs dangling off the edge. Gravity stretches her legs into long, thin strands of plasticine. Gravity changes her DNA.
Her voice is softening into someone else's and her body is eating itself from the inside. She's lost several muscles and a lung already. She clutches her kidneys at night. She carries her heart inside her purse to keep it safe.
She lives with a man who loves her. The man shows his love by plucking out the hairs on her head and body. He does this while he fucks her, while they watch TV. Only a few strands remain.
Tonight, she drinks red wine and spins and spins. She covers her body with glitter and paint to transform it into something visible. Tonight, she flies, over her neighbor's balcony, over the bushes, the jasmine, and into the pool below.
When the man that loves her finds her there, floating in the pool, he notices how the water clings differently to her hairless parts. He mentions this to the forming crowd. They nod in agreement. The glitter and paint spread out from her body, forming wings in the water.
Once, they spent evenings at the defunct Drive-In. Movie screen as a billboard no one was watching. Its sun-bleached Wal-Mart logo. Weeds as tall as them, taller. Stalks like wrists. Cracks in the pavement you could lose yourself in. Sometimes they parked in a spot overlooking town. His house in the distance covered in fog or the permanent haze of post-industry. He munched popcorn. She told him, Isn’t it fun to watch the place where you grew up disappear, one foreclosure at a time? She lit a joint, inhaled, clouded the car. He brushed seeds onto coffee-stained floor mats. Later, at twilight, she rested her head on his shoulder, described the purpose of bioluminescence in mating. Her hands buttoned and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt. Moonlight blinking off pale brown shell with each movement of her fingers.
O Holy Insurgency
In this bleak topography I saw now composed only of shades of grey and smears of nonsense I reached out and painted lines of black and white, etching out borders and shapes and making the ethereal tangible. I traced the outlines of mountains and the boundaries of rivers and the bricks of castles and with this self-created, self-practiced cartography I am able to explore and claim and conquer.
Sometimes when I explore this world I think I am just conquering myself. Why? Because making sense out of nonsense is the human condition. Because I'm human. Because I can't see the colors and shapes that others do. Because all the world that is, is within the human mind, and I will exert my will--my will for you--over our collective castles in the air. Because intertwined with the physical stuff that makes humans beings are the arbitrary concepts of reality--there, beneath and around and embedded in the sinews and veins and all of them crisscrossing our bodies is what it means to be alive. Because inside you I know we humans, capable of higher thought, are equal part reality and equal part imaginary.
Michael D. Joyce
Don De Grazia
Jim rolls around in bed. He has to be at work in a few hours. There is cigarette ash on his stomach caught in sweat. He hates showering, and doesn’t. His woman is snoring next to his indentation in the mattress. Last night he was eating her pussy under the sheets. He had to swallow a little vomit. Despite it, Jim was proud he had still got laid. He gargled mouthwash before he walked out the door. When Jim got home there was food on the table, and she had on her thigh-highs and thong under her nightgown. He ate a couple plates, then took her to the bedroom so that life could go on.
She thinks about suicide the way you think about foreign lands you know you’ll never visit. When everything builds up in screams inside you, you think; I’ll run away to Figi. I’ll live in a hut on the beach and eat coconuts for breakfast and disappear my feet into the sand. I’ll disappear my life into the ocean and at night there will be so many stars. And you’ll fall asleep out there, the ocean kissing you with its heart beat as you count the stars and create your own constellations. Everything will be okay in Figi. When you’ve finally had enough, when it’s too much and you realize that if you don’t leave now there’ll be nothing left, you’ll get on a plane without even packing a bag. Freedom is not needing a toothbrush. You’ll go, you say, one day. And your screams come out as sighs instead.
Standing in the kitchen, her hands lying limp in the dishwater, thinking about her escape. Her screams come out in sighs instead. But somewhere, buried, you both know you’ll never leave.
Lost at Sea
Bryan Lee O'Malley
“You smell like oranges,” Danny said to Cara. They lived in the same building. She was taller than him and smarter. “Watch out for that witch down the hall,” Cara said. “She called me a boy when I helped with her groceries. I threw her poison nickels down the sewer. Anyway, the witch from Oz melted into a small, green puddle, but I saw butter melt and grow back into a long, solid lump, so no reason to believe any witch is dead.”
They ate blue pixie sticks until their tongues were punctured-purple. Danny’s face was paper-white and sometimes he screamed and Cara screamed with him. He liked that. His face was blotchy.
The day they started school, Danny hid behind the chalkboard that swung when you pulled it. He didn’t like crowds and school was full of them. Cara told her mom he hid at school and stared at her from behind chalkboards and under desks, but he wouldn’t talk, even to her. Cara wanted to whisper things to him. Mom said he was different, he would always be different and that’s why he hid like that.
So now, at school, when Danny stared at Cara; Cara stared back.
The Third Policeman
I am not feeling well.
My bathwater is black and sloshing over my bathtub and under my eyelids my sleep is black.
The doctor attributes this to arterial sclerosis. He says the blood in my head has thickened and is hollow.
Which in the village is called waiting. In the village they are hushed. In the village they are resting when everything tumbles over.
Way below the mountains, there across the plains. I am not well and the town is roaming down a road that has no direction, going somewhere or other.
* composed of the notes and scribbles I made while reading Herta Müller's Nadirs
Rings of Saturn