All Posts in Issue 2: Spring 2016
I have a cold and it is not cold outside today
so I am half certain that I am dying.
I mutter snot prayers into Kleenex.
Horoscopes. Yahtzee. Augury.
Something is rotten in the
steak from last night that cost too much and bled too little.
There are only a few terminal illnesses
that I can name.
Tuberculosis. Cookie dough. Living.
I know them from the sympathetic
cardboard display by the Broadbranch Market cash register
that eats quarters and promises cures, backlit by the Slushee machine.
I attend a college that has no science course requirement
so serves me right if I can't name what kills me.
H1N1. Fingerprints in the dining hall Raisin Bran. Lice.
If I went back in time I would be inconspicuously useless,
incapable of anachronism.
I couldn't build a socket or a circuit or recreate
a Science Fair potato clock. But people would love
the way I wash spoons with hot water. I go to the gym
where I think about how good I would be
at churning butter though I spend most of my time
on the elliptical which teaches me how to run
as effectively as a carousel teaches me how to ride a horse.
If I visited the rosy-cheeked stinking ancestors
I could collapse onto a horde,
half of them with undiagnosable cancers and the other half imagining.
Life back then is life now is as charming
as a tetanus shot and as useful as a pedestrian bridge.
I avoid STEM classes to prepare myself for the incurable.
Go ahead and crown my mourning bedside crowd with mob-caps.
The Slushee machine is clogged with butter.
I am walking backwards into the valley.
I lie atop my unyielding mattress and pull
the duvet up under my chin and look down at myself and pretend
I have no body.
Without my net of sinews and slush of muscles
there is no surface of me to rest condemnation upon.
I hope for a Richter 7 that would knock
me off my lofted bed without returning me to myself —
for forgetting the brain by animating the body
offers sweeter relief than shrouds do.
My automatic arms would move of their own accord amidst calamity
as food topples off pantry shelves
and IKEA chairs pitch themselves onto their sides.
I was the kind of kid
who in the bath would tie up my two Bikini Barbies
then when the water cooled I would undo the knots and say I saved you.
This was damp ceramic escape for all three of us.
I've learned to go upright since then
and by that I mean that I am mourning
the end of that easy adrenaline self-severance.
I overheat now under the merciful duvet,
muffling my unsavory parts with blinding cotton.
I'm Just Glad to Be Here
“I stopped the bleeding.”
Starting my physical assessment.
“Starting my physical assessment.”
Checking for DOTS.
“What are you looking for?”
“Deformities, Open wounds, Tenderness, and Swelling.
Checking for blood.
“So they’re bleeding from two places.”
“It’s not working.”
“Applying more pressure.”
“I’m going to pass.”
“Don’t say that out loud.”
“I’m going to fail.”
“Don’t say that out loud.”
“I stopped the bleeding.
Are you paying more this year?”
Do you still want the job?”
Quiet People Are Stupid and They Don’t Talk Because They Are Not Capable of the High Thought Processes That We Know* To Be Associated With Talking
No one quietly became President of the United States.
No quiet Vanderbilt ever built the railroads,
And no quiet son of Fred Chase Koch ever cracked oil into gasoline
Or pays your congresspeople their good, fine, American salaries.
The only reason I am in front of you now,
Is because I am a reformed quiet person.
Yes! I was once like you,
But then I became better.
And that’s what happens when you become a better person:
You talk more.
All of the greatest people in the world were great speakers,
And all great speakers are great people*.
Quiet people are rare, thank God, and unnecessary for a well-functioning society.
Their upbringing is a universal travesty.
Quiet people were breast-fed by quiet-breasted mothers,
Usually for far too long.
The sperm that produced them is generally among the slowest and most disappointing.
Everyone, especially the ovum, is shocked when the quiet sperm manages to develop
Into a quiet fetus.
Yes! I was a quiet child.
And I also used to kill cats for fun.
I never spoke up in school,
And I never, once, honored the holy Sabbath.
If you don’t think that’s important, you really don’t belong here.
The first thing that I noticed when I started to talk more,
Was that people started to listen to me more.
Sometimes people didn’t even know what to say back to me,
And that was how I knew that I was finally better than them.
Most people who listen to me are absolute idiots. (Not you, of course)
So if everyone could please take the hand of their neighbor and join me in a silent prayer,
In which we may all singly condemn the least productive members of our society,
The quiet people.
Close your eyes, too, please.
In fur in leather
I am Eunuch
to the Emperor: I
from whose mustache
the millet seeds
from whose glossen
teeth the far-heard
from whose purple lips the brightest
sequin on your underwear
I am he
who shuffles your papers
(Mister Nathan to you)
In language class, they give you a close-enough new name so it’s like close-enough being born again. My name is. My name is. They want you to repeat it to yourself so you’re sure of who you are. What’s your name? What’s your name? They always frame it like a conversation so you think with this new language, you will never be alone. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. We were partners before we were anything else. Paired up when everything else was pared-down.
The good language class instructors will cut the middle-man. They will point to a chair and they will not say the word in the language you know, they will name it something new to you. This eliminates the need to translate. This eliminates the need to think too much. Thinking too much leads to self-doubt and panic. It’s a kind of brainwashing, I guess, this re-learning. Every language class textbook has the same general lesson plan. You learn the words for the things they think count, like numbers so you can tell the time and the name for the place you’re in so you can locate yourself. They figure naming things makes them less scary so they give you the names for school things and train station things and kitchen things, the things they think surround you.
To continue this illusion that with this new language you will never be alone, they teach you words like mother and father and friend. You can’t yet say you’re a published poet / award-winning bowler / volunteer firefighter, so you learn to define yourself in relation to generic others. Daughter and granddaughter and friend and girlfriend. Is there a word for a regular at a coffee shop, and what do you call the boy you bore your bare self to? You can name the day of the week it happened, and the time, and the place but you don’t have words for why it still matters.
They teach you who / what / when / where / why fairly early on, so you know it’s okay to be curious.
In language class, they teach you words for the things they think you do so you know what’s normal. Waking up / getting up / brushing your teeth and not scrolling through social media / masturbating / singing Whitney Houston in the shower. You wake up at 6, but don’t get up till 7. You have eggs for breakfast every morning. You ride your bike twenty minutes to work. I know the outer lines of your days.
We’ve barely learned how to do things yet. We know what we are and how to be. We know emotions. We know how to feel basic things, like happy and sad but not the one where you’ve heard bad news and you feel frozen all over, and heavy, or the one where you’re both happy for your friend but also like you maybe want to leave an iron on their face. Or the one where it feels like you’re covered in ants, except the ants aren’t moving around, just trying to hold you back like they’re the people and you’re Gulliver, and where did ants get rope anyway? So maybe they’re spiders with webs, and the feeling is that the only way to get them off is to never stop moving at a steady pace. Is there a way to say you feel like you’re being pulled wildly in so many directions that you’ve never been more still?
We know temporary states of the body, too, like hungry and thirsty and tired. But is there a word for wanting to be full of something different? Like wanting a landscape inside you? What’s the word for when you finish something—it’s kind of like accomplished, but emptier.
A Couple More
A couple more minutes means not really. I hate crying in bed or when I have a cold. The act of becoming foreign. Movies make it nice but sometimes feel like dissociation. Falling out of love is my least favorite part of loving. The mountains alight purple-brown every day at dusk. As if in a play. Sometimes rain dims. Occasionally the sensation prevails. How much of it is always a metaphor for death? Hums in the common living room mean it is past evening and it is not the weekend. The sky has a way of glowing velvet here. Nature doesn’t let you forget about your problems. Good friends often attend meals together. They say strength in the blood makes for a good neck. Sometimes I wonder if anything is worth saying but usually the saying is what helps me back onto my feet. Language makes me feel funny. If people still wrote letters. I see when you’re online and then I know some part of your life. Ownership floats around.
In Praise of Being “That Blonde Bitch”
Hello! I am the newest member of the club
Of the Blonde Bitch Clan (BBC for short)
Because of this, I am nervous
I am nervous that they will find me out
Because I am the fakest of them all
I am that fake blonde bitch
Some people might think this would help me fit in better
But this is not the case
Because I am one big lye
(You could make ten bars of soap with me)
It’s the way the brown grows in on my lemon-shaped head
It is Muddy, Thick, and just Plain Gross
What if they think I am part of MTPG?
¡Ay, mi madre! ¡Dios no lo quiera! ¡No!
No one has yet to ask me what inspired
This drastic change of lifestyle
Not that I would tell them the truth
I don’t want to say Justin Bieber’s decision to go blonde reassured me
But it reassured me
I cannot tell you the exact day I made the decision
But I can tell you what I was wearing
A black, semi-shear dress and boots
Velvet and over the knee, my mud hair
Sitting on top of it all
It is now day seven of being apart of the BBC
And I can’t say things have gotten much better
I look in the mirror and my inner-photographer gets the best of me
“NOT ENOUGH CONTRAST” she says
“YOU LOOK LIKE A WAFFLE” she says
“But in a cute way?” I ask
“No, in a soggy without syrup way”
She really hit me where it counted
If I can’t convince myself
It’s only a matter of time before the others find out
And spit on me or throw dirt on me and say things like
“You dirty hippy!
Go crawl back into the ethnically ambiguous hole
From which you came”
I will do my best not to cry syrupy tears
But I cannot make any promises
I will continue to wear hats
Well into the summer time
When they ask if I want to go swimming
I will say I am allergic to water
With a very serious face
When they ask if I want to go to yoga
I will say I have already reached enlightenment
So it really wouldn’t do me any good
When they finally ask me why
“DON’T YOU TAKE OFF THAT STUPID HAT”
“I HAVE PERPETUALLY BAD HAIR DAYS, OK”
And that’s the story of how
I am no longer a member of the Blonde Bitch Clan
But at least I can finally
Scratch my head
And wash my hair
Without anything getting in the way
Once upon a time I was employable now I am God
of a beach town. I stagger to the stern and bid the sea
good-night. Wave trembling and mute, the dock refracts
my song across the bay and sings light off to the lighthouse.
The moment of first landing in a foreign city is a perfect
realization of forlornness. My tears are rain, my exhale fog.
My mortal enemies, the gulls, think they have won.
Their bodies burn and turn to salt in my revenge.
It is written I shall be capricious. A sheep has jumped
overboard and the vegetables are getting very dry.
My eye is never weary of the dark green waves. O drowsy,
grey and salt, under the ill-fitting coat of the sky,
the sheep struggles on the altar of sacrifice
and I’m holding court on the beach again.
Text in italics from Retrospective of Western Travels by Harriet Martinaeu (1838)
The day the bookstore caught on fire
I was busy arranging marriages
between dead poets.
The plump white cat escaped,
Barely. Here are some words
I almost heard once through a wall:
Fastidious, flammable, dust.
If Shelley wrote six volumes and Keats
has disappeared without a trace
I’m making the investigation a priority.
I’m still looking for a fire extinguisher
or a bucket of milk.
I’ll write this in archival ink
so as to make it outlast us
like a prehistoric insect in an amber
asylum. The black bug crawls up the damp
Windowpane. The rain has become quite insistent.
Puffs of white fur are burning
and dust is once again becoming dust.
Meeting, An Opera
I can’t talk long.
I’m just on my lunch break.
I thought about calling you,
And asking if you would want to meet somewhere else.
I thought maybe you’d want to meet somewhere warm.
No. This is fine.
It’s right between us.
This is fine.
That doesn’t sound good.
Travis: don’t try and take care of me—
No, no! I just think that.
The cold sort of carves you out and leaves you empty, right?
And that coat looks real ratty.
Why not go somewhere else?
Somewhere warm? //
Whatever you want, Travis.
Whatever you want.
// Here is fine.
You are so full of shit.
I’ve only got an hour.
They expect me back.
Empty churches are weird.
They make all the noise in the world –
Holy screams and hollers –
But without any sound at all.
Empty churches on a Tuesday afternoon in March
Are very weird.
You are so full of shit. //
What do you want, Travis?
(T tries to kiss P. P pushes him away.)
Stubborn as an ox.
Let me care for you.
I know you need it.
(He tries to kiss him again.)
I thought you—
You came to meet me.
On your lunch break.
Not for that, Travis.
I told myself you wouldn’t come.
And then you did. And so I thought…
What the fuck do you want, Travis?
My mouth is stuffed full of words
(Jumbled like alphabet soup),
And I can’t find the strength to spit them up.
This is hard for me; harder than you can know.
I still love you, Phil.
Can you see that?
I miss tracing the lines on your body:
The run of your hip like the lip of a
Brimming wine glass.
I miss tracing the lines on your body
Before you wake up and ruin me
With shrugs and nudges and pushes away.And scurry off to work.
I still love you, Phil.
Can you see that?
You are so full of shit.
We’ve turned this over four times before.
My teeth are caved in:
They don’t have anything for you anymore.
Phil, I still love you. I still love you.
What do you want, Travis?
By this church on a
Tuesday afternoon in March.
Give me more than “I still love you,”
Or I’m gone. I’ve got to get back to work—
It sits low in my gut
And makes me feel like
I’m going to shit myself.
You don’t know. You don’t know!
I’m gone. //
I know you’re sick, Phil.
The coughing, bringing up cancer-blood.
Not good, Phil. Really not good.
Disease of the lungs;
Shallow, empty breath.
How’d you guess?
James called me and James told me.
Last week. Not good, Phil.
You need someone looking out for you
If you’re sick. You need someone around.
And I still love you, Phil.
Like I know how.
Don’t try and take care of me—
Do you know that most mornings
When we were together –
When you would leave for work early
And abandon scattered-me in your bed –
I would make myself oatmeal and honey?
Because that’s all you had in your kitchen.
And no matter how many times I would
Make myself breakfast, I would always
Find that box of oatmeal full, full, full.
More than I left it the day before. It was magic.
Is that where all your money went to?
You’d always be working and
You’d only ever have oatmeal.
But endless oatmeal. Endless oatmeal.
Don’t worry about it, Travis.
You’d only ever have oatmeal. //
That coat! Looks like you sighed
All the warmth right out of it.
Always working, but you haven’t
Bought yourself a new coat in years.
Look: I know your wallet is empty.
The well’s run dry. I get it.
And hospitals aren’t cheap.
And doctors aren’t cheap.
I get it. So take this.
My love to you.
Full and rich,
Like the chocolates
You’d never give me.
(He tries to give him a wad of cash.)
What the fuck are you doing?
This thing I’m giving you.
It’s what I owe you.
I feel it heavy in my gut.
You’ve got to eat more than oatmeal
If you have cancer, Phil.
Oatmeal’s not going to keep you healthy.
Oatmeal is magic.
It’s the only thing
You know why?
Doesn’t try and
Take care of me.
It just fills me up.
I know you!
I know your demons
And your darlings.
I know you!
I know you are sick.
And I know that your
Apartment gets cold
With all those windows.
And I know that the only
Spoon you own is rusting.
And I know that you won’t
Buy yourself a new coat
Even though that one is
And I know that, for whatever reason,
You won’t spend money on things
To keep you full and good and warm.
If you can promise me
That you have the money to…
I’ll leave you alone.
But hospitals aren’t cheap, Phil!
I have to get back to work.
Where does all that money go?
Where does all that money go, Phil?
An empty pantry, but ONE endless,
Magic box of oatmeal.
Don’t reject me, Phil.
I’m not an easy thing,
You can blow off.
There’s more in me –
More I feel I owe you.
Why do you still love me?
I declared war on you
And my bedframe
Every night you came to me.
I left my convictions there
When we ended things.
I wasn’t good to you, Travis.
I wasn’t good to you at all.
I know that in my gut,
I can feel it swell in my
Stomach every time
I think of you.
But I still love you anyways.
Why do you still love me when you only know my mattress?
Understand this, Travis: your love is based on a lie
That you’ve made for yourself – that I could
Give you something more
Than you already have.
That’s as unfulfilled, but vital as the air.
I have nothing to give you.
I pounded you sore, sour
I pounded you reeling
Even when you asked me not to.
I pounded you hatred—
And you took it,
Even when you asked me not to.
I pounded you
Trying to hollow you out.
I still love you.
Try to explain it if you can.
I still love you.
No, you don’t. //
When I left you, scattered in my bed,
Early every morning, making endless
Bowls of oatmeal, I would come here.
I would leave my bed to come to this church.
And I would sit here for hours.
Until I spotted you on your way home.
Then I would run back
To hide on my couch,
To cough my way
Through re-runs of “I Love Lucy.”
Day bleeding to day,
Week wheezing to week.
What are you talking about?
There is no work.
There is no work.
There is no lunch break.
There is no money.
There is no work.
All a lie.
An empty thing.
Nothing on me.
Nothing to give me.
I’ve kept it all together:
The doctors, the knives,
The gasping, the fluid.
There is nothing for you to give me
Because there is nothing that you owe me.
Because your love for me is a mistake.
It’s all a lie,
An empty thing!
Then why do I feel this thing
Press from my inside out?
Why do I feel this thing
Playing checkers with my bowels??
What the fuck are you talking about?
You’ll take this.
You’ll take this
Thing I’m giving you.
You’ll take this!!
(He forces the money on him. He wrestles him to the ground and shoves it into his mouth, or his coat, or his pants. Anything.)
I’m fucking gone.
I have something growing in me.
That you gave me.
I can feel it – it’s a bull, stubborn like its dad.
I can feel its horns scraping against the inside of my intestines.
At first, I thought it was a beautiful thing
That you would come back to me for.
A beautiful thing that would make you kiss me again.
But now I see that it’s a lie:
An empty creature that keeps me full. //
Take the fucking money.
Take the fucking money!
Was someone here this whole time?
It doesn’t matter.
Those mornings I wasted
Dreaming of you at a desk
With a laptop and a ham
Sandwich for lunch.
These things I thought full
I am now finding empty.
Every day, my stomach grows
In time with your betrayal.
Here! Here! Feel it kick!
The monster that you planted in me
This voided beast that drains my life.
(He presses his stomach against P.)
You’re fucking nuts!
I loved you. I loved you!
I gave you money because
I still loved you!
Now, I am lost. I am lost…
You’re fucking nuts!
I loved you! I loved you!
(Church bells. End.)
A Brief History of How My Tongue Was Shaped
It was 1956 when my grandmother, Momo, was sent to the U.S. She was a light-skinned princess from San Salvador sent to Poplarville to learn English. Momo met Donothan O. Byrd at the community college. They played cards and traded cigarettes in the cafeteria. He was a Mississippi boy born and bred. He fought for our country. She talked funny, but she had light skin. She wasn't black. They married in '57.
It was 1980 when my first cousin twice removed made it out alive. It was the Salvadoran Civil War. He, Manuel (we call him Meme) was meeting with his comrades. He was a socialist. He was with the FMLN. They all worked inside. They had eyes and ears. They met in secret. It was 1980. He left the meeting early to check on his baby boy, Manuel (we call him Memine). His comrades, even Quique (especially Quique), were taken. They were shot and mutilated. Twelve bullets per body and an arm too. An old-fashioned roadside assassination. Meme, he made it out alive. It was 1980.
It was 1992 when Rodney King was taken out of his car and beaten to the ground. It was 1992 when Los Angeles caught fire. Mom, Anita with her light skin and chestnut hair, and Dad, Hector with his brown skin and Mexican tongue, held Diego, their baby boy with dark hair and olive skin, close to their chests. They wouldn't leave the apartment's walls. Mom had forbidden Dad from going out after that bigot yelled, "Go back to your country!" at his brown skin. It was 1992 when the rooftops fired their rounds.
It's 2015 on Día de los Muertos. I, Julia -- daughter of Hector and Anita, sister of Diego -- have a white face and auburn hair. Nobody here knows how my tongue was shaped. Nobody knows about '57 or '80. Some know of '92. It's 2015, and I have no chocolate for my pan de muerto.
Kiss and Tell
We say we won’t
kiss and tell tall
tales we’re wont to miss
the sick we picked
parted mouths and pricked
our tongues totally tattered
trace sores with our tri-
linguals lapping to taste
the buds we bore
each other bare to bone
on the floor we chose
a terrific tongue lashing
a tidal wave, heavy-
weight title to tell all
Translation from Canzionere by Umberto Saba
Non dormo. Vedo una strada, un boschetto,
che sulo mio cuore come un’ansia preme;
dove si andava, per star soli e insieme,
io e un altro ragazzetto.
Era la Pasqua; i riti lungi e strani
dei vecchi. E se non mi volesse bene
-pensavo-e son venisse più domani?
E domani non venne. Fu un dolore,
un spasimo verso la sera;
che un’amicizia (seppi poi) non era,
era quello un amore;
il primo; e quale e che felicità
n’ebbi, tra i colli e il mare di Trieste.
Ma perché non dormire, oggi, con queste
storie di, credo, quidici anni fa?
I can’t sleep. I see a street, a stand of trees,
that press upon my heart
where we went to be alone together,
the other boy and I.
It was Easter: the slow strange rituals
of the old. What if he didn’t love me
what if he didn’t come tomorrow?
And tomorrow he didn’t come. An ache;
by dusk a throb.
it was not ( I later knew) friendship,
it was love,
the first; and what happiness
it brought, between the hills
and the sea of Trieste.
But why can’t I sleep tonight, with these
stories of, what, fifteen years ago?
Dedicated to Juan Gelman
You / who suture human souls
with your hands / when mute sky /
could not sew back the pieces /
only you / pull back darkness / to reveal darkness
where nothing / when we reach out / can be touched
what noises do you hear / from the other side?
what downturned mouths utter
over your shoulder?
bones have mixed / with sediment
and who / have your shoes touched? / and how many? /
you’ve let them climb into you /
reach into your heart’s cage / and beat screaming / against it
Dear [ ] I miss you
You are funny and warm
full of light like a rich falsetto
rolling your ohs your ahs You make
my pen move Just kidding
This is an email but I still love you
Your name is Fanny B in my cellphone
Our conversations are neon pink and lively
We laugh we make the time
great Do you remember
that day on the boat It was like summer
I didn’t know life could be so bouncy
Resting on the rails My hair whip-slapping snake
-like Our feet leather-bound
I told you look at that bleeding fish
over there I’m that bleeding fish
over there but that Me is a pretty Me
in a God-way The color of the trail
red like cars and christblood
how it didn’t blame anybody
In the black eyeball of that dead fish is my body
looking at you holding our gaze
in my hands I’m that dead fish over there
Looking at your hands and your veins bubbled
and thick Dear [ ] you don’t understand
me when I get that silly But still
I wanted you to understand me [ ]
I told you (you looking at my fish-self)
that when our eyes touch its like
A five-headed fire groping for tree grass and body
saying help I am hurting I am burning
Pulling knife threads out of wet green cactus meat
and putting each of them back
A mirror in mid-shatter glass on glass touching
itself in a shiny rain saying I’m glad to be
rid of my body but touching it knowing it felt
That was a good day. Dear [ ]
every morning (when
my pillows are cold) I look for you
in my inbox You aren’t there
only pizza real estate low price high quality pharmaceutical pills
We should talk soon
Dear [ ] I miss you hard
I miss when you were soft for me Your voice
like wind on strings an A note looping around
Yes that’s how I feel Dear [ ] there is art
at our museum The one we made ours
when we were breathing in sync I was
at our museum walking breathing and it was only us
on the walls only us only in pictures of oil swirls of together
This is an email I will not send you
pictures of my body Please understand
that I understand that I sit on top
of your email lists (your material commitments)
Dear [ ] I will write to you tomorrow
when I have tomorrow experiences
and I hope to hear from you soon
You are heavenly like sweet bread
Anticipate my email thank you please
Sincerely, Sincerely Yours, For Today, For the [ ] Time,
Until Tomorrow, The Day After, Saturday, Sunday,
Until We Lose All This Foamy Language, Until
Your Picture Blurs and the Wind Goes Dull,
Until These Typing Bones Dry Stale, Sincerely,
A Chime in Budapest
The bread comes to bed with us,
and rises with us too.
In the morning we shrink
and bathe in the sink
First I wear white, and then
nothing (but you).
There's still blood in my shoe.
St. Stephen’s been skinning
achilles up to step
But in Kun Utca’s heat, zealous and dumb
His dome tastes like
the dark weight of a plum.
We said that we’d go find some figs,
We loved three times before lunch
and twice before bed.
Cities and Memory
“As this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks it up like a sponge and expands. A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira’s past. The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand.”
In Temporia, time runs dependent on objects. Upon entering the city’s limits, it seems quite ordinary. You are the same age you were at the town before, at the city’s outskirts. Your watch runs not a second fast or slow, the time zone remains the same. If you walk through quite quickly, without stopping for a coffee or to sit at a park bench, you will exit with nothing but a fleeting sense of the place, the knowledge that you walked through something, some blurry and indistinct shadow of a city.
However, (and I do not know what cosmic bend caused this, what wrinkle in time), upon touching a specific object, time folds, crinkling and bending, sometimes stretching or weaving, and you are transported to a moment in the object’s life. If you stop to sit upon a bench, expecting to rest and admire the flowers, you may instead zip through time, to another moment in the bench’s life, when a girl sat and wept, or an elderly man wrapped in blankets laid down to rest.
Not even a croissant bought from a corner bakery is safe, as the butter folded in it may bring you to a cow being milked on an unknown and distant farm, or the flour many years back to a field suffering from drought, its earth cracked and sore.
Those who are in a hurry to get someplace, or who simply have no desire to live another life, avoid Temporia or walk through quickly and stiffly, dodging even the slightest brush of a branch or a sip of water from a fountain. However, even the stones embedded in the street below their feet have a history, and many find themselves lost in strings of connections and time.
There are also those who make pilgrimages to the city, perhaps desiring to live in a different century, to escape their lives. There are also those who go to find someone lost, who are in search of a specific red-checkered sunhat that will bring them to their grandmother kneeling in her garden in late spring. Finally, there are those who go to touch every object in hope that one will eventually string them back to their past selves, to the day that their father kissed them on their heads and quietly shut their bedroom door.
“This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support…Suspended over the abyss, the live of Octavia’s inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities. They know the net will only last so long.”
Blood flows out of you when you prick your finger on a pin, skin your knee tripping over a rock, or donate it to the Red Cross. The blood that pearls up on your fingertip is brushed against jeans and disappears. The blood left on the sidewalk might evaporate on a hot day, reentering the atmosphere. The blood you donate exits your body through a tube, then is collected in a bag and pumped into someone else. Your body feels the loss for a bit, gets the spins, then regenerates, producing more. That surplus you had goes to someone with a lack, and balance is ultimately maintained. The same can be said for spit, as it travels down the drain after you brush your teeth, flows to a treatment plant, and reenters the environment as water. The same holds for sweat, urine, tears.
In Statera, however, the system is different. The city runs on these excretions, using its citizens’ blood and tears as power. On the outskirts of the city, there is a massive aquamarine lake, a collection point for all its residents’ tears. The tears are burned as fuel and power the cars, radiators, and washing machines.
The city runs most, efficiently, then, when everyone is crying. On the day of a national tragedy the transit system runs most smoothly, the trains are all on time. In the winter, when everyone is just a bit melancholic, the garbage is picked up promptly, and the Internet never slows down.
There is also a vast system of pneumatic tubes that crisscross the city streets, collecting the citizens’ blood and shuttling it to a power plant. Days when there is a five-car pileup on the highway, then, are marvelously efficient and well run. Hospitals are major suppliers, as are children who nick themselves in arts and crafts, who fall off their bike and get a bloody nose. On days without accidents or deaths, however, the lights are constantly flickering, the stoplights malfunction, the bathwater turns murky and grey.
Because of this system, the citizens of Statera find themselves torn, their bodies the fuel needed to power a city that they, in turn, need to live.
“In Chloe, a great city, the people who move through the street are all strangers. At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings which could take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no one greets anyone eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping.”
As a child, I always wished that I could touch someone and transmit my feelings. I felt that, if only I could touch my teacher after I skinned my knee and spread the feeling, she would know how badly it really hurt and I would no longer be alone in my pain, both of us suffering. This desire isn’t limited to pain. When I get an A on a paper, I wish I could touch my best friend and the feeling would be diffused between us, both of gleeful, sharing exactly the same emotion. If we could live like this, I believe that conflict would be greatly reduced. A couple would both be happy at the same time, I would know how much my grandfather’s arthritic knee hurt and wouldn’t begrudge him for not going on walks with me, we would never again be alone, suffering in solipsistic worlds.
The residents of Emelia are receptive to shared emotion in the sort of way that you and I both feel cold when the air conditioning is cranked up too high. When they are separate, they exist as we do, alone in individual worlds. However, with one touch, an emotion or feeling is transmitted. Because of this, at any given time there is often a larger sensation or emotion to the city. During large festivities with tightly packed crowds, all it takes is one sullen, tired child to bump into a stranger and set off a chain effect that turns the mood of the crowd sour and morose. At a funeral, if one person isn’t truly grieving and in fact is secretly quite gleeful, hugs a relative of the deceased, the whole sad event quickly turns cheerful.
The residents of the city are thus understandably terrified of a day when a chain reaction is set off that touches every single person in the city and imbues them all one emotion, glee, confusion or pain spreading across the city like a disease. Because of this, there are some that live their lives quite alone, fearful of touch and connection, waiting for the day when this massive wave of feeling strikes.
Cities and Names
“Only this is known for sure: a given number of objects is shifted within a given space, at times submerged by a quantity of new objects, at times worn out and not replaced; the rule is to shuffle them each time, then try to assemble them. Perhaps Clarice has always been only a confusion of chipped gimcracks, ill-assorted, obsolete.”
Diluvia is a small city on an island. The region around the city is moist and tropical, with dark and heavy plants that grow from every crevice. The environment is unsteady and at times violent, with whipping winds and massive waves that rise up from the shore. Nothing about Diluvia is made to survive. The island itself is on a fault line, and the city directly abuts the shore. Every few years comes some new natural disaster, sometimes an earthquake, other times a tsunami or a monsoon. The towering waves inevitably wipe out the city, leaving behind nothing but foundations and rubble. The inhabitants of Diluvia, perhaps because they truly love their city, or perhaps because they simply don’t know where else to settle on such a tiny island, rebuild exactly as they remember it. New stones are placed on top of the shattered remnants of the old, streets paved over again.
Looking at the wall of a house, you can see the strata of Diluvia that have once existed, been wiped out, and rebuilt, like layers of sediment. However, nothing can be rebuilt exactly as it was, and over the centuries, the city has slowly begun to bend and morph. The walls are no longer straight, but veer off at a sharp angle. The streets lead into each other, a jumbled web. And through the passing of time, after each natural disaster the generation that rebuilds Diluvia no longer knows how it looked at the very beginning, and builds it in their own vision of the city. Because of this, Diluvia has become twisted and strange, rising at odd angles and curves, and the city, which everyone prides themselves as having remained exactly the same since its founding, is nothing like what it once was.
Cities and the Sky
“For some time the augurs had been sure that the carpet’s harmonious pattern was of divine origin…but you could, similarly, come to the opposite conclusion: that the true map of the universe is the city of Eudoxia, just as it is, a stain that spreads out shapelessly, with crooked streets, houses that crumble one upon the other amid clouds of dust, fire, screams in the darkness.
Caelia is utterly dull, an average city with a mid-rate educational system, prefabricated buildings, and overall, a vaguely beige quality. The residents of Caelia, who are equally slow and passionless, are painfully aware of their mediocrity, but don’t know what to do to change a city that has been so deeply uninteresting since its birth. In such a mundane place, with equally mundane people, there is nothing to grab onto, nothing with which to pull themselves up. They are jealous of other equally boring cities that have somehow spawned a famous author, or were struck by a meteor and instantaneously became valuable. One man, who for Christmas received the gift of a star named after him from the International Star Registry, decides that the way to bring give Caelia value is to buy it a star. They identify the greatest and brightest star in the sky above them, purchase it for a low, low, price, and name it Caelia.
Instantly, the city becomes electric, alive. They call themselves “The Starry City”, and tourists flock to see this city that has such a direct line to the heavens. The residents of the city, too, are pulled out of their mundane existence, and begin to blossom, discovering passions and interests, wearing bright colors. They look up at their star overhead and thank it for this gift of light.
Something Caelia may not have grasped is that stars die. In particular, the most massive stars burn up their fuel supply the fastest and explode in a supernova after only a few million years of life. Smaller stars die too, but much more slowly, over trillions of years. By some twist of fate, the immense and glowing star that the Caelians chose burned out only a few years later. After an enormous flash in the sky, they looked up and saw nothing. Their star had vanished.
Although Caelia had become a thriving city full of innovation and excitement, the loss of their star cast them back into oblivion. They believed that the star had catapulted them into fame and success, and without it they felt there was nothing keeping them from their previous beige existence. Its inhabitants halted their exciting lives and returned to their prefab homes, and Caelia returned to the way it was, no longer a starry city, scarcely a city at all.
“He feels envy toward those who now believe that they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time.”
There is a hidden city that is built and exists only for a specific few. Selenia is found only on maps belonging to a married couple. However, there may be many other similar Selenias that exist exclusively for other people, cities that we cannot know about. Within Selenia are two identical, but slightly offset cities. The wife lives in and moves through one of the Selenias, the husband, the other. Both have the same streets, the same restaurant they both love, the same red brick house they share. However, it is important to understand that these cities are separate, running slightly off from one another. In her Selenia, the wife may at any point be several minutes ahead, or sometimes a bit behind. Because of this, she can call the husband as often as she wants, but the phone in his Selenia will always ring at a slightly different time, and thus he will always pick up to hear a blank dial tone. She will always arrive home at night a few minutes after he has fallen asleep.
Lest you misunderstand, let me make this clear. Selenia may sound like a city of nightmares, and perhaps for others, if similar cities do exist, it may very well be. However, in this city, the wife and the husband are exceedingly happy. They live in the same house and are married. The wife makes dinner and leaves it in the fridge, and the husband finds it. The husband brings home a nice bottle of wine, and by morning, they have both enjoyed it separately. The wife gives vague but positive updates about him to her friends at brunch, and watches him sometimes as he peacefully sleeps. He is comforted by the sound of the shower running and the shadow behind the steamy curtain, the knowledge that she is just beyond. In Selenia, they never fight about the upcoming election. She never makes the ticking nose with her mouth that he hates so much, or at least he is not around to hear it. She is never angry because he doesn’t know how to turn on the TV.
In Selenia, the husband and the wife are happy together, separately. They have occasionally tried to go on holiday to France or visit parents, but every time it has erupted into a furious fight over the restaurant, and they have cut the trip short and hurried back to Selenia, where the wife wakes up peacefully to the sound of the husband’s car starting.
for he has much been prayed for
I ate an entire centipede, swallowed it whole. It is my weakness of
that I always think the ocean is just over the mountains and the
inside my throat when I thread my phone charger down until it
my small intestine and I get on my knees to squeeze the lemon and
seeds come out, and spit up a hex and cook it into your dinner and
you were out on the highway in Salinas Valley feeding pea soup to
migrant farmers while I lay in my creekbed reconstructing my
the train station was hot like an indoor pool
The train station was hot like an indoor pool. I stepped over a
puddle of milk,
and went down into the guts which smelled like chlorine. Sometimes
I miss this
with a timbre that is socially unacceptable— the view of the port and
and the electric billboard. I would have napped with my head on
at one of the highway turnouts, but I was a tender fuel pump and
full of artifice.
If I could I’d take my devotional candle with me on the train, light a
under the bay burn my skin to a crisp and blow it out with my dying
I’d arrive on your doorstep with smoke coming out like a
someone who wants to lick the pavement in sf as badly as I do
who wants to die like kelp in sand at ocean Beach w/ me.
I do not know what unit to measure mud with, but if I did I’d sit you
and tell you all about the mud. As it is this will have to suffice—
telling you about the geraniums and the dome lights telling you that
I am trying to confirm my existence, and this is how it feels:
in the dining hall at 1pm the Saturday after Thanksgiving I made
eggs is my favorite way of worshipping god; telling you that
the basement kept flooding but I kept tacitly letting people in I kept
walking around the lake at night and thinking that
Oakland is fast and sincere like Sinai telling you that
I collectivized my mourning and turned it into a grocery store
that sold canned soup and green melons.
I remember how the smell of my mother’s lipstick would fill up the elevator.
I remember “Shamana”, a 25 year old alcoholic poet I was in love with when I was fifteen, chase after the taxi I got in that night.
I remember taking my friend to see Scratch the Floor, who were performing on Halloween’s Eve. But he got really drunk and cut his finger somehow. I remember looking at it and smiling. We rubbed the blood on our faces as the moon shined down and intoxicated people surrounded us, banging their heads, not questioning what we were doing.
I remember going to second base with the base player of that same band in this gallery’s shitty outside bathroom that had a colored light bulb. Red light spilled out the gaps of the old wooden door. There was a girl waiting outside, wanting to pee the whole time.
I remember a biker offering me straight tobacco, extending my hand, snorting it, feeling it tingle in my nostrils, and having to sneeze twenty consecutive times.
I remember my first cigarette; I was five and my grandfather let me have a drag.
I remember going on a drive on January the 1st with my drunken friend who was wearing a Santa hat.
I remember making out with this guy at a party in the ruins of an old restaurant after talking to him for the first time for two minutes. I remember he was wearing a sex-pistols t-shirt and was either actually a good kisser, or the vodka that was flowing through my veins developed a likeness towards him.
I remember waking up the next day with bite marks on my inner thighs that apparently weren’t his doing.
I remember the first time I got high. I remember feeling like my heart was going to break out of my ribcage.
I remember when I rode on my boyfriend’s new motorcycle for the first time. I remember the hand breaks didn’t work, nor did he know how to drive it.
I remember having to take twelve pills a day and mother discovering that the dose was too strong a year later.
I remember my friend Mikhail, who was so drunk he was tripping over his feet, pick me up unexpectedly to carry me over a huge muddy puddle while we were making our way home through the darkness. I remember clinging to his denim jacket, hoping he wouldn’t accidentally drop me into it.
I remember going to the woods to pee on so many occasions, they all blur together. I remember wiping the tops of my shoes with a leaf and feeling disgusted.
I remember being mistaken for a prostitute on the side of the road, twice. The first time, I was 14- crossing a bridge at night. A man and a woman in their thirties, they didn’t bother getting out of the car. The second time, I was 16- sitting behind a bus stop during the day. It was only a single man that time, also in his thirties. I remember he parked his jeep, waddled over, his stomach fat getting in the way of his thighs, and sat down next to me before going into his pick up speech.
I remember looking my reflection in the eyes and cutting my hair off when I was twelve.
I remember my friend’s father trying to kiss my breast in the elevator.
I remember feeling the needle go through my tongue.
I remember the look in my mother’s ivy eyes when she found a broken piece in my bag.
I remember making out with this girl on a rooftop, whose name on Facebook was “Slaughtered Vomit Pig”, right after we finished the bottle and threw it down- fourteen stories.
I remember having my heart broken for the first time.
I remember having so much dried blood on my legs that I couldn’t take my tights off the night I broke my nose. I was four. I don’t remember the pain. But I remember I was in a lot of it.
I remember losing five hours of my life after that last sip of strawberry skittles vodka at the Tbilisi Open-Air Festival 2012, apparently including a five minute walk to the entrance, security guards checking me and my bag, me showing them my ticket, getting stamped, getting photographed, and falling asleep in front of the stage on the grass.
I remember my mother yelling at me for wearing makeup when I was in middle school.
I remember thinking that I was going to die. I remember hearing the car hit the motorcycle. I don’t remember falling to the ground. I remember the motorcycle crushing into my leg and not being able to lift it off.
I remember watching my mother get ready to go out.
I remember the sirens and the crowd of people surrounding us, studying us silently.
I don’t remember them helping, or moving, or speaking.
I remember teaching myself how to paint my eyes.
I remember the first time I had sex.
I remember making out with a guy that was nicknamed “God” and how terrible it was.
I remember having to take so many tests that the natural anxiety we have towards needles completely disappeared.
I remember piercing my own frenulum.
I remember lighting a cigarette the wrong way.
I remember the way my mother smelled before she would go to sleep.
Looking out of the car window from the backseat, my eyes try to take everything in as my lungs subtly adjust- or readjust- to the city breeze. Even though it’s June and the air feels hot against my skin, it enters my lungs as a cool current. I close my eyes and face the window, letting the air hit my face, the speed my father is driving makes it impossible to breath in at times. My feet stick to the soles of the black flats I am wearing. I take them off and put my feet up on my seat, because I can do that here. It’s my father’s car, not a friend’s, or the school shuttle or a public bus. I could drift off to sleep and there would be no consequences, no stops would be missed or bags stolen. The safest place in the world- my father’s car- where I have taken many naps and created thousands of childhood window drawings.
My mother is sitting in front, twisted in her seat so she can talk to me. She says everything with a smile, laughs at everything I say and disregards things that normally would upset her. She always looks exactly the same; the one constant that remains unchanged. We pass through a graffiti-filled tunnel; I smile because I know most of the artists.
It’s hard for me to understand how quickly buildings seem to multiply in Tbilisi. They take over parks, forests; even children’s playgrounds. Half the town is made up of construction sites and the other half with, hollow houses that stick out awkwardly with their newly dried paint amongst the old Soviet structures. People don’t have money for expensive new apartments, and those who do already own more than one (the others locked up for future children or renters).
I missed the magical spring period, when everything turns bright celery green. Instead, I’ve arrived in mid June, just as the edges of leaves are curling into brownish yellow from the scorching heat. Everything about Tbilisi seems and looks different- is different- even if the difference isn’t visible at first glance, because time and distance leave nothing untouched. Nevertheless, I feel as if I never really left. My lungs are used to this air, and my skin to this sun. The feeling of belonging here is stronger than any other emotion I have ever experienced. Knowing what street leads where, exactly at what second one neighborhood ends and the other begins, which bus runs on schedule an how late, which stops are closer to your destination. Knowing that no matter what, there will always be a bed you are welcome in, a light left on, understanding how the city breathes, what it has for breakfast and lunch, what it drinks, what it smokes, what it wears, what it’s talking about. Knowing that any stranger in the street isn’t truly a stranger, because of how many things you know about their life: like where they bought the clothes they are wearing, or what kind of sheets they probably sleep in, what neighborhood they probably live in, and what kind of desk they sat on in elementary school (because you sat on the same kind), a wooden one with metal legs and curse words etched in ink, and because of the small size of the city, that you probably have been in the same bus or subway car at some point in your life.
We just passed another new Dunkin Donuts. It’s only been a year since the first one popped up, and now they are everywhere. It’s not surprising after the commotion they caused. Dunkin Donuts were the only form of sustenance anyone ate for those first seven days. People walked around with perpetually pasty fingers and sprinkles stuck to their lips, contaminating everything with sugary stickiness. People of all ages hoarded them and stuffed their mouths with the sweet circles, probably thinking, hoping they would magically ingest “Americanness” along with them. Mothers desperately fed them to their children, families had them for dinner and breakfast, they were carried around as presents, the whole city painted a mélange of white, pink and orange. So many donuts were purchased in the first week; they had to close for two days to restock. Tbilisi ran on Dunkin.
The closer we get to home, the more my emotions rise.
As the car turns onto our street I see the familiar shops and vendors. They have crates of vibrant vegetables, fresh fruits and spices in every shade of yellow. The space their shops are in used to be garages that people sold for three times the normal price, because they were on the street and could be turned into shops. The man in the shop is watching a Turkish soap opera in his tiny television, attached to the wall as he weighs carrots. I can see the bakery, its transparent walls offering a peak inside, where a man is bent into the giant, old-fashioned clay “stove” that’s used for making traditional long Georgian bread tonis puri or lavashi.
Coming back from Bennington, a small town in which a car is needed to get a pack of cigarettes and the sky is almost always filled with constellations, having everything at the tip of my fingers feels comforting. My street recognizes me as I recognize it. We have shared so many days and nights, experienced kisses and fights, seen and done and cried. We have painted on each other. I with spray-paint and it with mud. As I get out of the car and start walking toward my building I notice my footsteps, which are still engraved in the pavement outside the local grocery store.
An ice cream truck stuck in traffic the driver starting to get anxious no bored going home to a household plagued by white noise or is that a different household a different driver on their way home to a household plagued by white noise whose sound bustles up the stairs paint chipped stairs to a door that is kept open to hear the white noise bustling up the stairs through the open door with a lock but isn’t lockable into a room of large furniture nothing but large furniture corners filled by the furniture with drawers that stick but whose wood smells good and reminds them of another room with furniture and shoes shoes on the floor a suggestion of how they were taken off one in front of the other back stepping out one in front of the other toes touching heels toes touching heels
( on a floor scuffed by large furniture )
Black Earth, Wisconsin
It’s a long drive from the airport. In the backseat of the car I take comfort in the low hum of my parents’ voices and look out the window as the highway blends with thoughts of wherever I’m coming back from this time.
And then we’re here: Black Earth. To strangers the name sounds straight out of Lord of the Rings or some other dark fantasy land, but really it’s just what the Native Americans who were here first noticed about the soil: rich and dark.
For a small rural town in America’s Dairyland, Black Earth lives up to all possible preconceived notions. The town itself is surrounded for miles by red-barn farms full with saggy-skinned heifers waiting to give up their labors for cheddar, parmesan, and provolone. Fields sprouting corn and hay and soybeans stretch on for miles; you’ve never seen skies so wide and blue or smelled anything more rancid than the fresh manure continually being spread from acre to acre.
Thanks to the arctic glaciers that carved their way down the state ten thousand years ago, Wisconsin is not as flat as its other Midwest friends. Hills roll on and on, some cut high as mountains, or so I used to think. They are sheltered by quiet miles of forest, visited yearly by groups of neon-clad hunters in the fall.
Lots of kids wake up at dawn or earlier to milk before the bus comes. Every spring my old high school, a one-story brick building shrouded between cornfields, hosts Drive Your Tractor to School Day, and several giant red and green monsters can be seen resting in the parking lot from eight thirty to three. Girls wear cowboy boots under their prom dresses and boys have crew cuts; normalcy works as currency and the social scene is straight out of every American high school movie—someone is always throwing up in the bathroom, we are always reading The Scarlet Letter, we are always losing the big game. America’s heartland is composed mostly of clichés.
We’re turning into town and here it is: THE MIDWEST’S LARGEST SHOE STORE. In a village of few more than a thousand people, the Shoe Box takes up two blocks and employs a significant percentage of the population—a set-up similar to an old mining town, but instead of coal the local currency is Nike’s and bedazzled UGG boots.
The gigantic building glows with neon lighting all hours of the day and night, complete with a ten-foot cowboy boot on the front lawn and other foot-centric décor that comes and goes with the seasons. In front, facing the highway is a patio designated for Brat Frys and Girl Scout cookie displays, where cheerleaders do summersaults for cerebral palsy and the 20-foot welcome sign reads “Shoes 4 U!”
Inside, the walls are plastered inch-to-inch with sports memorabilia: plaques and signed photos, helmets and framed jerseys, ticket stubs and laminated newspaper headlines from the biggest big games. The owner, Steve Schmitt, also owns the local minor league baseball team and can usually be found wandering the store yelling at the staff to hustle. Some believe it a right of passage to be shouted at by him while either working or shopping there, and others make the drive to Famous Footwear to avoid it.
Even so, the most bizarre thing about the Shoe Box are the birdcages that hang throughout the store, in them chirping parakeets, tri-colored finches, and at the back one beautiful crimson macaw. She watches over as customers try on sixes, six-and-a-halves, then sevens, every now and then repeating something she hears, and I can never remember her name.
Coasting down Main Street we pass the bank, the bar, post office, and the library. Two more businesses have closed since I’ve been home—the only little restaurant, the Luckin’ Booth, where my brother served slices of pie to every local over 65, and the Meat Market that smelled (understandably) like a fridge full of dead things, but was worth braving for the gumball machine. My Black Earth has been dying since the day it was founded, but with every new loss I worry more about losing all of her someday, of coming back to suddenly find nothing at all.
We take a right then a left and arrive in a cul-de-sac. At the end of the circle sits a white-paneled house with a drooping oak tree in front, and as it appears a sigh of relief leaves my body. Beyond the house the town ends and the cornfields begin, Black Earth creek coiling through the middle. Whether the stalks are green and high, brown and dying, or the field is flat and snowy, it’s certain that the view is gorgeous and the air smells like shit.
Mountain, Sage, Obsidian
Rolling steppe of sage.
The road a mile West
motions. The dead here
don’t seem dead. The living
alive, look to mounds of obsidian
on the sand, and the Sierras,
West look like tired old ones.
And here, it’s all mutual.
Soft and slow, never stopping
but still and quiet, only
with the house finches on the rocks,
asking how we got so loud.
Two gulls above
the street and café
and blue sky.
to write down
Look up again.
One gull has left.
The other there
alone on the wire.
I put the Windex in the water I put the pepper in the cookies and it was not poisonous but I thought I’d killed my sister. My father said: When Sue told me, it was like hearing that you’d put a gun up to her head. I was eight years old. I said: I tied the bear up and set the dogs loose I hit my sister when she called me stupid I bit the boy next door when he wouldn’t play legos because he said I couldn’t make a good enough spaceship. I hit the pillow against the wall when the principal was a sexist asshole I got cold when you tried to hug me I walked away when you were eighteen I never spoke to you again I always let somebody else shoot the chickens when they had been torn up by foxes or raccoons from the night before (they usually came a bit before dawn). When the duck broke its leg, my father broke its neck, boiled and plucked it raw to give to the neighbors for cooking. You can’t make a cast for a duck, my mother told me. You have to end its misery. You have to be the responsible one.
I killed a spider once, I drove a herd of calves onto the trailer and rode them to the butcher. We had named them, and then we fed them and then we held them every day. Simon had just begun to trust me.
Who has the right to torture? Who has the right to conduct night raids, strip searches, waterboarding, who kills the duck to feed me dinner who shoots the man who might have shot me first? Is it violent for a lion to kill an antelope? Is it violent for a lion to kill a lion? Is it violent for a woman to kill a lion? Is it violent for a woman to kill a woman? Is it violent that I hit my sister and bit my friend, is it violent that I put Windex in the water, is it violent that I pay taxes?
I shot the duck I hit the girl I walked away I tied up the innocent I ate the meat I drank the milk I drove the calves I drove the truck I held the knife I cut their throats who will cut mine? I hit the spider with a book and wiped the book off with a paper and threw the paper in the trash. Who tortures the inmates in far-off prisons? I am not my money. Somebody else does it somebody else will go to hell for me, I’m clean I’m clean and my hands are in water and my soul is in water and my money is yours, my money is not me my money means nothing to me I can pay for something and then it isn’t mine.
I buy the torture of foreign men and women. I buy it and take it home to my father. Dad, I say, just look what I’ve done. I killed the duck this time. I held him underwater and he told me the truth. He was crying, that’s how I knew it was true. He would say anything to leave that room, so I shot him dead and brought him home for you. Preheat the stove. We can invite the neighbors to dinner tonight.
There's a Bull in My Kitchen
There is a bull who lives in my house. He is gentle and majestic, and coal-colored with an olivey sheen to his coat. His shoulders make it hard for him to fit through doors. Sometimes I worry he’ll kill me in his sleep, his horns are just so long. Sometimes he tries to turn around around and then breaks the china with his tail. Sometimes I bring him to bed with me, and sometimes he fits better in the kitchen.
A devil stands on my shoulder & I never want to shake her off no matter how hard she digs her claws into her perch, twists her hoof, kneads her paw. She makes me wince into smiles & cackle at the spite seeped below the surface. When my mouth sandpapers blood, she spits belladonna blackened by bats spattered on my breath. She flaps her wings & flicks her tail, envenoms every love song so what was sweet bitters—stale mugwort boiled in pewter. When I hunger for affection, she sinks our teeth into fresh flesh ripped to shreds in our wake. Where some leave hickeys, we leave scars—bloodstained moons swollen at dawn. Her sonar pricks at jinxes & rebounds with hexes of her own design—jet-green flashes—I imbibe her elixir, puff out embers from my lungs. At the demon’s hour we emerge with blades laced with melted mercury—tattoo ink for all who dare. When I awake from slumbering she hovers, sharpens her nails with her fangs, licks her lips—crimson bluish wine; my piss witch readies for her next embrace.
I remember graduating, with a smile like a chasm across my face.
I remember bounding home in a big yellow dress. It was huge, sun-sized, light all around my body. A weightless feeling like everything was all behind me, and only good things ahead. I remember coming home in a state of bliss, smiling at the sky the whole way home like it'd done something for me, something special for me, little old me. And then, when I got closer to the house and saw it burning, and saw my mum and Yuki parked outside of it wailing. I remember that too. My mum running her hands down her face, tearing her hair down. Yuki white and motionless in his stupid black suit, numbly clutching that black briefcase with his Chopin, in it, with his etudes in it. And I'm like what the fuuck—a long drawn out bellow of disbelief. Oh how I hated them on that day.
I come running across the lawn, my big legs thumping right through Mrs Wu's begonias. There is smoke and this awful smell. Half the neighborhood's there, spectating. Mum and Yuki at the center of it all. I come at them like I'm coming for them. I'm losing it, I'm already flying off the handle because I just can't believe what they've done. I want to take my mother in my arms and slam her back through the burning door. All my stuff's in there. What happened, I demand to know, and with that question I pin the blame right on them, sharp. My mouth is forming a big howl, and I feel my body slam into the ground, face first, and there I am ripping out clods of earth and grass with my fists.
It transpires that what occurred on this, the day of my high school graduation, but also unfortunately of Yuki's incredibly important audition, is that my mother, so wound up, so derailed by the stress of her eldest son's upcoming performance, and also by the rift that this caused with me, her second child due to the fact that in order to transport Yuki to his recital she had to miss my graduation, decided to break the hard habit of ten years and smoke a large Benson out of the front room window, while Yuki changed into his concert-wear upstairs. When we left England, my father decided that his Benson & Hedges were the one thing he couldn't live without, and ordered them shipped to him in bulk. Never mind his mother and father, dwindling away in a London suburb, his siblings. Never mind his friends from work, our house on the hill. I found out later that my mother also left a lover behind, which explains her bitter quiet, and her tight-lipped exclamations of love for Yuki and I during the first few years of our immigration, words which seemed so lined with hate, which seemed as though they were dragged from her mouth with a fishhook. Once we arrived in the States my father went to work for a bank and we rarely saw him, as he was often sent abroad—which seemed to defeat the point of our moving in the first place. Yuki and I were convinced that he had started another family somewhere far away. “Don't be ridiculous” my Mother said, “he can barely handle this one.” And she moodily stared down at the empty table, while massaging Yuki's shoulder, so hard that it left a red mark. True, we were left very much to our own devices—the three of us, my mother very much alone in a strange Californian suburb, without friends and unable to work due to visa complications. It was as if we stopped existing for our father when he went away. My mother missed him, but said things about him to Yuki and I that she never repeated to him. She had always painted, in our house on the desolate hill in the UK but now she'd stopped. She said she didn't want to get paint on the floor. The entire house was carpeted, and the act of tearing it up or covering it seemed far beyond her in those days “I didn't sign up for this!” we heard her howl at our father on one of the rare nights of his return. Yuki and I heard the noise of his answer, muted through the bedroom wall. Whatever he said to our mother must have enraged her, because she knocked over the nightstand, Our father came thundering down to the kitchen with our mother in hot pursuit. My father's black hair standing on end, his eyes wild and closed off—the usual stare of complete denial. “Leave me alone!” our mother begged, although it was clear that she wanted the opposite. She moved towards him, and he backed away. “I haven't done anything!” he protested, and my mother hurled a butter knife at him. It clattered at his feet. He went away the next morning. That night, my mother stalking my father through the house and hurling knives, so desperate to be heard, really heard, dissolved into one of many, their anger coming through the walls, furious, helpless and inevitable. She punched him once, on the side of the mouth, and he said nothing—merely withdrew, told her to stop getting so upset. Told her that she wasn't making sense, that he couldn't understand her when she became so emotional. “Jesus,” I said to Yuki, “Whatever you do, don't let me end up with someone like Dad. I need someone who'll at least hit me back.” Yuki didn't reply, only gave me that long-faced look which suggested I'd said something truly idiotic. His name isn't really Yuki, it's Eugene. Yuki means snowflake, among other things and is a girl's name. It's not even Chinese, it's Japanese. I gave the name to him. I think I was punishing him for being a piano prodigy, and for being half Chinese like me, and for being very beautiful unlike me. It wasn't his fault. The name stuck, and even my mother started to call him Yuki. “We're half Chinese,” Yuki protested. “Chinese. You can't call me that, it's Japanese.” “Yeah, but we all look the same don't we,” I snapped, “so who cares?” “You don't mean that!” My mother cried, from the front seat of the car. “Quiet whitey,” I snarled.
My mother went into my father's office, and nicked the cellophane around his imported carton of Benson's with her fingernail, peeled it off slowly. She shook a cigarette out of the first packet. She took it into the front room, and cranked open the window. She lit it with the stove lighter. She smoked it, and felt like she might faint from the pleasure of it. She did all this while venting to my Aunt Helen on the phone, crying, the tears very quiet and very warm. The white muslin curtain went up in flames, which reached all the way to the ceiling before my mum even had time to stub out the offending cigarette and scream. The sleeve of her cardigan also caught on fire, and then the rest of it, so that as she ripped her clothes from her body the curtain flame travelled through the room. Ultimately all she could do was drop the phone and run into the next room, up the stairs and into Yuki's room. She then dragged her eldest son (one arm in, one arm out of his jacket) back down the stairs. They both simultaneously remembered the piano, or as our father refers to it, “the thing that cost more than our house,” and perhaps, bearing those words in mind spent the next few minutes trying to drag that heavy shining creature from the burning house. As they are both fairly small people and the piano weighed about 400 pounds they accomplished nothing, and it was only as they lay slumped in defeat over the unmoved piano that they realized that they had not yet rung for a fire engine. This had just been accomplished, my mother and Yuki having run out into the front yard to watch in terror as the house grew hotter and hotter, when I arrived. On the way out Yuki had grabbed his briefcase, and my mother, two of the sofa cushions. Having failed with the piano they were determined to have something, anything. I got nothing. My beautiful feeling was gone, and I was just an overweight eighteen year old in an oversize yellow dress, lying facedown on the ground, losing everything.