After the Pause Volume 5, Issue 1 Spring 2018
According to the Vikings, a coward dies a thousand deaths while a warrior dies but once. We believe that artworks, if not the artists, never die. Pearse Anderson is a photographer and writer specializing in environmental and speculative art: more of his work can be found at pearseanderson.com or on his @pearseanderson Instagram. Maayan Avery is a bohemian in pursuit to learn strangers' untold stories. Kevin Casey was a mariner that tarried in Arvernien. Gannon Daniels is often running away from and towards the same thing. Gardner Dorton is a hopeful manic hoping his poetry is better than it sounds in his head. Jonathan Dowdle is: A bibliophile, philosopher, and logophile who has traveled the US, he currently resides in South Carolina. Emily Ellison is an MFA poetry student at Texas State University. Danielle Epting is an undergraduate student at The College of Saint Rose, and her work has appeared in Nailed Magazine and Thought Catalog. Charlotte Freccia is a washed-up child actress. Nikita Gill is a writer, artist and nomad. Marissa Glover shares her thoughts more than necessary, which she considers a form of charitable giving; if it counted as a tax deduction, she'd be rich. Cade Hagen is a husband, a father, and a fan of planned naps. Michael Hammerle is a writer living in Gainesville, Florida. Bob Iozzia is a two-time contributor. Jury S. Judge is an intentionally published artist, writer, poet, and political cartoonist. Allison Kade is a writer of many things, including the novel she's currently working on. Coen Ketter is a teenager in South Texas who writes in his free time. Adria Klinger, LCSW, is a semi-retired psychotherapist residing in Nyack, New York. Sarah Ann LaFleur is a writer who resides in New Jersey. Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu writes from Nigeria. Ailey Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Toole is trying her best. Sunayna Pal writes from her heart.
David Romanda is blinking. Tim Rousseau is a writer and film producer based in Brooklyn, NY and can be contacted at www.konstantineproductions.com. M.S. is as old as she can get which is somewhere between 'Flavoured Yogurt = Dessert' and 'Batman's Better than Superman. Duh!' Sanjeev Sethi is an Indian author whose poems are published in venues around the world. Kelli Simpson is a poet, a mother, and a human (?). Michael Grant Smith is at various times a musician, writer, live sound engineer, marketing associate, carpenter, automobile mechanic, and rancher; he wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. Joseph Earl Thomas is a writer from Northeast Philly whose writing can be found in "The Offing," "Philadelphia Stories" and "Philadelphia Printworks. Laura C. Wendorff is professor of English, Ethnic Studies, and Womenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. John Thomas Wetmore is a poet and science fiction writer who teaches Creative Writing at Arts at the Capitol Theater in Willimantic, CT--his other work has recently appeared in Bone Parade, Bop Dead City, and Liminality. Jasper Wirtshafter is learning to write happy poems.
A Girl is Born
to spit fire, Mother. To turn from some worm of a man. To be claw and beak not his sweet, dark dirt to flow through. To bite the hand, Mother. To bite the hand that feeds her in two. To spit fire, Mother. To be fire, Mother, like you.
Joseph Earl Thomas
Interlude in My Mother’s Mouth
Because you were never given oral tradition I try to find everything you couldn’t say. To climb inside the times I refused your lips, my cheek colder than that winter in 96’ when I watched you freeze, blacken, crack outside with other junkies--all contemplating metaphor and symbolic victory between loosely chattering teeth.
More Like a Lullaby
He left no note, but protested in town for several years about the new interstate-the same, worn strain about the endless sighing of cars and trucks north and south from the far side of the ridge that smothered the whippoorwills at evening, and the robins at daybreak, and kept him mostly sleepless and frantic. I thought of him last night, hanging in silence from a rafter in his hay mow, the metronome finally stilled, as I dodged an electric car in the feed store parking lot, the only sound it made the hushed crunch of tires on asphalt. Sometimes I wake to the wail of a train across the lake and a loonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s matching complaint, and wonder how many years must be traveled before the distant crankshaft clatter of a piston engine itself becomes an antique sound, comforting and lonesome, the highwayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hectic cadence soothed into a song more like a lullaby.
Sarah Ann LaFleur
Inheritance in Utero
I The day of your death your six sons gathered round your deathbed and listened to your breath sputter, waited for your life to gutter out. Your eyes were shut and you hadn’t talked in two days. The hospice nurse said your earlobes curled up, an omen of imminent death. Your oldest tried to divine you from a difficult passing with an amends he whispered in your ear. He was sorry for the estrangement, the ways he couldn’t learn to accept you were not who he needed you to be. Your wife played worried couch potato on the sofa. Your six boys sat vigil in the room, counting the paces to heaven with the ticks of a clock. Your breath went out but never came back. You died one hour after your last son arrived from Nebraska. Someone left the room to tell your wife. Everyone’s favorite brother, my father, called with the news. His voice was raspy and still, like he was talking in church. I came fifteen minutes after they took your body. My uncles dispersed without long
goodbyes. They carried snowfall in their eyes, the blue-gray of late November when the sky sags with winter and cries cold without asking for an end.
II. In the house my grandmother is bursting with secret things like a teakettle rumbling with heat. She is drunk with widowhoodâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s vastness, feels dazed in this new world like a black piece of driftwood drifting to no end in the sea. She tells me you worried about what money would be left to take care of her, how you went on medication strike and refused pills by stamping your teeth together. Provider, silent martyr, to the end. The day of your death your six sons stood guard over your white-haired rapture and held you in your un-knowing of how they would hold their own lives without your eyes to keep watch. They paid your pressure to be the men you wanted them to be back with permission to let go of your legacy.
Let go, they urged, not knowing how or to what. Come home, something only you could hear called out. Why things must end only you know in your wisdom falling back from us like waves retreating from sand. After your passing your six sons will pretend to know peace so they donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t squirm
with sorrow in the beds youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve led them into only to fall forever in your own sleep. They will stare at their childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s faces and wonder what of their father is left, examine their own gray hair and tremble with ironies, how you fetched them from invisible places, how they delivered you back as a debt they never wanted to pay.
Woman in the Dock
She confesses her body in blason prayer
heart, hands, mouth a hymn to the Creator
lungs, soleus, wrist reminding God
ears, ribs, breasts that he once saw her naked and decreed
It is good.
Possum Creek Skateboard Park
Like the emotional flood of a wounded veteran, with time, my ebb and flow had stilled as the waters deepened. I had to shut my eyes to remember my first time back at the park: without strength—legs that’d shake as if my limbs had fears of their own. How a weak chick approaches the edge of its nest, for a second time, hoping to fly for the first. Here the sun heats your back like the breath of a lover rouses an idle body from rest. I’m galvanized in the warmth like foliage after a fall night. Every stomp defies being a dead-horse limping. I ride here, fall here, I pick myself up, and I laugh here with my brothers. Tongue-wag grin, ignoring our aches like dogs. Other times I’ve walked here with a mother and buried Dusty’s skateboard; with it a piece of me. I’ve broken myself here and built myself back up. We are going on without you, little brother. And I keep comparing myself to a veteran, seeing the gun shot, seeing my brother dead. The black suit framing him, his face and his hands for all to see, and the other details I will never say even though the words burn a hole in my chest and still wont fall out. There’s an urgency to put into words and there’s a guilt of having said anything. It has been six years and the story still doesn’t feel like it is mine to tell.
when we were young
we caught fireflies in flame-retardant hands, bringing knuckles of clasped prayer to our lips like we were sucking inferno. somehow those winged beasts escaped & flitted down our throats, mutating as puberty with the bildungsroman (stress the second syllabic prophecy). harvesting shimmering swarms of malevolent intentions, shallow advice, iridescent philosophies, the pack waxed until my corporeal fancies budded phosphorescent contingencies: job status, physical appearance, gender specifications. reincarnated larvae sprout from between our legs, spread open as mason jars.
the broken bird feeder
she wants it and for that reason i want it
Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu
these are not the formative years of the butterfly
if you come inside my house through the back door now, now, not an hour later, or a day later, there's a work of clay in the shape of a short-necked chalice, placed along the corridor. inside it are hot coals sprinkled with chopped sandalwood the result of this erupts into air lazily, dances as though through the veins of the house my sister is lying close to it, held down by the cleric from whose mouth troops out an entourage of arabic she tried yesterday to cut herself when it is all over, her eyes have dimmed again there's lesser life than before the cleric tried to give more and i know these are not the formative years of the butterfly i will ask my father later if he will think again about my suggestion and he will say again, that allah and his word are sufficient for him and i will ask again about the part of that word that owns my suggestion and he will shake his head again dismissively
The first person, who said that, "the kettle is hotter than the tea," clearly never heated anything in the microwave, with a cheap quality plate bought from the dollar store, where I go to find substitutes for my eager desires that sometimes didn't even exist until I entered the store, or was told in the commercial of a completely useless sitcom that helps me pass time and life.
The Blood-Stained Terrain
We still talk about it like a secret, because In a way, it is. The blood-stained terrain of Howling shouts against God, against man, Against all things; and it still rains down, Even now. We know Our stories aren't important, Small victories against the language That forms in a thousand alleys, In a thousand broken corners of Small apartments, and buildings So big they outdare The emptiness of the hearts That live within them, Small victories against Pain, which must create more Pain to speak its language. Our stories, aren't important. We are marked and catalogued With toe-tags inside The mind's own morgue, Dead before arrival, and this is The ghostly procession of how Life, and the world, narrates It's sums; but not us, no, We want to climb and clamber Beneath the skin until We feel the beating pulse of The person who is Speaking to us, we dare
To say with a pulse, That word: Life, and Return to it Even for a moment A meaning. There were days, Yes, The thousands of stories from Hollow graves inside Hearts Split us open, Broke us wide, But we built our bodies From that brokeness, and Still pray To live and die As better men.
In long-established fasteners of familial zippers, my aloneness leaves me unfurled. We are so easily robbed when we give ourselves to others. Who will want to be a professional boxer if epistaxis is the only reward? When kindness is home no one eyes the egress.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Rat
with a nod to Wallace Stevens
I Among twenty grimy subway cars. The only moving thing Was the tail of a rat. II I was of three minds, Like a branched track On which there are two rats near the third rail. III The rat frolicked on the greasy steel. It was a small part of the commuter nightmare. IV A man, a woman and a condo Are one. A man and a woman and a rat Are not. V I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know which skeeves me more, The silence of roaches Or the stealth of rats, Insects or rodents
Or just imagining them. VI Debris littered the track wells, Condoms and candy wrappers. The shadow of the rat Creeping to and fro. The dinginess Increased by the shadow, Inexplicable to tourists. VII O greedy exterminators, Why do you dream of giant mutated rats? Do you not see how even a mouse Circling the feet of humans Increases your net worth? VIII I know cats in heat And loud inescapable parties at midnight; But I know, too, That the rat is involved In what I know about Gotham IX When the rat fled out of sight, He took me for a fool But I knew heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d return. X At the sight of rat packs Fleeing the F train, Even the Dalai Lama
Would experience schadenfreude. XI He rode over Willamsburg On the L train, Once, a fear pierced him, In that he mistook The shadow of his fedora For his ex-wife, the rat. XII The trash is moving. The rat must be lurking. XIII It was Hurricane Sandy all drought. It was flooding And it was going to flood. The rat sat smugly On a yacht in NY Harbor.
on the argument that men should not be prevented from getting jobs in their field after being fired for workplace sexual assault
My best friend tells me she doesn’t think Kevin Spacey should be prevented from ever working as an actor again just because he raped that boy that one time and suddenly I am 14 again and my high school soccer coach who is also my biology teacher is inviting me back to his house after the tournament, sliding his hand up the small of my back as he tells me he has plenty of beer and, “Maybe we could have a good time together.” I am too young to know how to say no. My mom tells me that just because a professor is fired for sexually assaulting a student doesn’t mean he should have his livelihood taken away even if it was an abuse of power and suddenly I am 18 again and my chemistry TA has me pinned to a park bench, slamming himself inside of my soft pink flesh and I can feel the bruises rising on my back but I don’t tell him to stop because I know I’m not supposed to, I know that because I told him I wanted it at one point that I have to let him have this, even if it’s hurting me. JK Rowling releases a statement about hiring Johnny Depp for her new movie despite his wife’s allegations of domestic violence and suddenly I am
20 again and my manager is grabbing my ass every chance he gets, telling me how badly he wants me and there are those words again: “Maybe we could have a good time together.” Even as he presses his erection against my thigh, I know that saying no will at least cost me my job, if not a flurry of physical attacks because haven’t you heard about all the girls who have been killed for saying no? What am I supposed to do when a man who has power over me demands I give my body over to him? How do I say no to these men when doing so means risking everything I’ve built? Don’t you dare tell me that these men deserve to keep their jobs, to remain in positions of power, to continue being paid while taking advantage of women who can’t say no. Don’t you dare tell me that they shouldn’t be stripped of their livelihood after they’ve stripped me of my ability to ever feel safe, to ever trust a man, to ever be able to have sex without worrying about how to say stop if I decide I don’t want it. Not when those men are taking away my right to my own body. I am almost 23 now. I have learned that saying no is not easy. But I have also learned to scream. No one can take that from me.
What If I Didn’t Have a Personality Disorder
After “What If God Had Said It Differently” by Christina Stoddard
Let there be tapestries and Russian nesting dolls. What if this body didn’t wear crazy so well? Let there be girl inside of girl inside of girl. Count your injuries – isn’t that proof that you’ve been saved? Let us have tourniquets and sutures, mood stabilizers and defibrillators but not too many of any. Let there be the soft glow of dollar store blankets and cinnamon spice candles. Let the minds be full of mania, let this body no longer be a graveyard. Bring on the dark matter changing direction, no more thunderstorms or lightning, tsunami winds or tidal waves. Let there be more to falling than finding the ground. When the heart quickens, let the muscles relax,
wrapped in drug store gauze, soothed by warm milk with honey.
The Thomas Fire erupted on Dec. 4th, 2017, on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Barbara, who confronted suffering with faith, and saw the torches used to burn her go out in her assailants’ hands.
Six fires are currently strangling California and here on the East Coast I watch them burn on Youtube. Wrapped in a wooly blanket, I lick Girl Scout cookie crumbs off my fingers and watch as this young smokejumper packs herself in padded kevlar, her parachute-pack strapped, double-checked, ready for the fall. Even choked with smoke, the Santa Barbara air is a quiet witness, its silence only broken by the occasional pop of sap. The drop plane’s reliable engine groans in its low altitude— rust whistling a blues tune as the ailerons bank and roll. As she forces herself out of the door, yawing
aluminum reminds the jumper that humans, born without wings, can only hang above the open mouth of danger for so long— two-hundred thousand years might even seem a few too many. However, surprisingly few die in her line of duty— at worst you crush your knees or get smacked silly on a pine branch. Maybe it really is better to plunge headfirst into heat. Still, one really has to want to do it—to dive into the fires—the calescent clearings, the blistering gulches from which even birds have fled, abandoning their nests and sometimes their young— helpless chicks who peep and flop over one another, dreaming of escape before suffocating blindly. The New England winter and its White Christmas helps me forget the scout plummeting into flame, the quills liquefying
on little wings. My hot cocoa a comfort right up until I hear the thud of boots on my rooftop and force myself through the door and footslog into the night in fuzzy slippers to watch the blaze glowing on the hillsides. How long before we’re all sleepily sidestepping the saw-boxes floating down like presents from Santa? Our noses wrinkling at the stink of chemical retardant as we settle into the midst of our own inferno— jumping like chastised animals at the pop of sap, peeping and flopping as our nests become kindling— the smoke shoving us blind and wingless into the hungry air.
Through the Mirror
When you want to know how things really work, study them when they're coming apart. --William Gibson
The nurse brings the mirror for you to shave because your heart is too weak to lift you. In it you witness metamorphosis: first a black question mark splits your face like a brood of vespertine moths hatching from a full moon. Through the telescope of a hollow vein you recognize machine parts grinding inside your reflection, the hands of time foxtrotting over open surgeries and scaling palatial stairwells of sensation’s infinite architecture. It seems the Venus de Milo is your surgeon— she sheds latex gloves like glass slippers in your chest cavity and you find they stretch over any appendage that squirms for love, strangling your sick heart in the process. Meanwhile rats roast dinner on the floor of the burn unit and in the lecture hall a cell phone screen flickers like the translucent wings of a wasp as Venus’ severed arms convulse, snapping selfies during the professor’s talk on anatomical sketches of the early Renaissance.
Vesalius’ stolen corpses strobe in cold succession on the professor’s Powerpoint as cyborg interns on sports scholarships memorize flayed human landscapes at 100 frames per second, each preparing to watch illness dismantle you. When your shipwrecked face bobs to the surface of the mirror you realize your jaw is the muzzle of a rusted cannon packed with wet gunpowder, unable to repel your loved ones. In the ICU, Venus’ kidneys decay and her marble aortas piss poisoned blood into her patients’ wounds. Through the mirror, your reflection is a kaleidoscope—a hallucination constructed from the rapid thrash of stretched retinas. Inside your mouth, teeth plunge pearl daggers into the Holy Roman Emperor Tongue. On the other side of the glass you imagine some intelligent insect nests. It stares back as you transform from dying body into swarm— blindly crawling eye-first from the chrysalis.
Every now and then, when I think of how they tore me untimely from the womb, I remember that my father is a tattoo gun and my mother a disembodied swath. Then there’s me: a slim cylinder of bruise-hued ink bursting purple— eternal umbilical smudge spread across her belly’s serrated landscape. I have always been a hurricane warning on a lost continent, a square of salted earth losing its flavor to evaporation, generating lift, drifting away from mama’s globe until I disappear in her horizon. I am fumbling infant fingers forever waving an astronaut’s goodbye. I am my father’s wide-eyed test case— a wordless howl inside the helmet of a loyal dog strangled by stratosphere. But here in purple ink, transfigured into palm-sized poem, I am again and again newborn—a hungry lung waiting for the slap, begging to tattoo the universe with a record needle dipped in lyric’s endless inkwell. In her orbit I will always struggle to breathe. Even two hundred miles up,
not a single patch of dirt lets me forget that doctors had to dig me out, that no word for mother holds enough gravity to accept my weight.
One does not become fully human painlessly. --Rollo May
Since she and I both love Nick Drake, I think I’ll start by telling you that the drake is a creature that sings with fire. If my words could devour like flame instead of always becoming prey, this poem would become a dragon and destroy me. For now it remains in a larval phase, nibbling on syllables pretty as the phlox petals that bloom under a pink moon. I meant to carve teeth for this poem, but the thought of her leaving has been tough on me— everything I say seems caught in a bird’s beak. The verse gets strangled, stifled, grows old and toothless—unable to swallow despite the gargantuan gular pouch of the page. I want to tell you about the one who was almost gone. She was my student—seventeen, diminutive and brilliant when she tried to take her own life. I want to tell you how the rouge and rosewood scar
squirming on her arm looked like a bundle of crucified earthworms; how the wound slithering its cold body over her stapled veins recalled a serpent whispering amidst olive roots; how her hand reaching across the table for the cookies I brought looked like a baby’s (its soft, knuckleless landscape nothing like a killer’s instrument); how the oversized gown they draped her in became a spotted dove’s wing designed without aileron as she spread her arms to hug me. I want you to know: nothing tells her story quite like the smoke trailing across the distance she drifted while going down in flames. When I left the hospital and got in my car, I considered the first pop song on the radio a benediction; for once I wanted to listen to something simple, happy, and formulaic. I wanted to celebrate us all being alive at the same time. I don’t think I’ll ever be closer to anyone than I was with her in that visiting room, our only objects notebooks, novels, and pens— not a cellphone in sight. Now I’m back
to watching everyone disappear down time’s corridors—my promise of a brighter later collapsing like a neutron star as April’s pink moon chases my heart into late December. Some nights I can feel the darkness plug my wounds by five o’clock. And though I think I’ve gone crazy from loving her and every other kid too much, I fear I’ll be the one to teach you how to say goodbye with a decade of slow-churned silence. I worry we’ve all gotten pretty good at falling out of touch, that it’s easier than expected to become meaningless—to replace your own name with a stranger’s moan. Erasure: the eighth sacrament only poets talk about, the moment God rubs you off the hood of his car with a dirty rag. It’ll happen to all of us, but in the meantime you should know that there are no bad moons, just good folks driven crazy while living under them. You should also know that people are like stars—beautiful from a distance, though it sometimes seems impossible to exist in their proximity. Did you know Nick Drake was twenty-six when he swallowed all of his amitriptyline? Did you know that 2019 will be the farthest we’ll ever get from the sun in our lifetimes? I’m twenty-eight now, and the past two years
have taught me a lot about people. For one, we all come back to orbit whether we like it or not. In fact, try as we might, we never really leave the light. Just think— it seemed like Nick couldn’t keep himself alive until his song stumbled like Lazarus into a Volkswagen commercial, cluster chords dangling around his voice like grave-cloth. Now here’s Pink Moon and Bryter Layter resurrected, spinning like their own solar systems in our living rooms. If I ever come to haunt you after we’ve parted, let the vinyl and the record player be ours forever. We can share its needle across distance and time— sound the only opiate we’ll ever need. But before you go, listen closely: maturity is realizing that never growing up means becoming a vampire—making everybody else’s neck and paycheck your umbilical cord. I’m so glad you’re here right now to listen to this ode to all the poems you’ve left on life support. I can hear them, their rhythm a muffled metronome singing at the ends of the universe’s convalescent hallways. There are some people who just don’t believe poets when we say that poetry is an older form of fire than flame— I think they are the same people who dump the burden of proof on biologists to convince them that bacteria is actually alive. In both cases, skeptics always ask for a microscope
even though the evidence is everywhere, all over and inside our bodiesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; everything alive and writhingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; burning all the time like a dwarf star in the belly of a firedrake.
In the auto shop, I am between two women talking about gallbladder stones and Alzheimer’s. An old man, with his dog, tries to join in but he can’t hear.
One woman moves to sit next to the other. The old man smiles. We’re so quick to trust.
I am sitting in the corner wishing they would stop saying the word hospital, wondering if we bond more over suffering than laughter.
Late Winter in Wisconsin
Wet, graytone landscape. Barren but for the oaks, who retain the memory of deep rustiness and last fallâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s crispness. We long for reversal, the return of wings, for green and humid thickness. Snow, mostly melted, makes soft ground makes yellow, red, and purple promise me, please:
hold my hand,
steady the sun, burrow the heat deep inside me, down to my bones, curl it up, like a nesting mouse, until time hesitates, turns, and becomes luminous.
for Kate Bornstein
Grandma Tranny tells me not to worry hun, live dangerous, have kinky sex like, get into the real weird shit learn a little bit about Buddhism, and learn to be kind sooner in life than she did. She tells me that if her advice is wrong and I go to hell sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll go in my place. She tells me this through sequins and pepperoni pizza. (Weird that neither of us was vegan, right?) We both know that we have cut open our bodies and pasted them back together and that in hindsight these were acts of self-love, which she tells me can be a brutal thing. This is what a tranny will do for love.
You’re always so critical! Why don’t you just leave? So I did— brushed the soft snow from the roof of the car, yelled once more at my livid husband, and turned east into a blue-pink sky crossed by four thick jet streams, two white Xs in the early-morning stillness. Gray smoke rose in vertical cylinders from resolute chimneys as the car creeped down vacant streets, tires sounding sgrreeeg on the unplowed road. The headlights of an approaching car were round white moons hovering above a frozen arctic sea. All was cold and quiet like a cave or a morgue or an archeology of regret
Second Generation Immigrant
I do not use the word “home” anymore. Too many lands have rooted themselves inside these sinews, weeds in this bone marrow. I do not know when the word “belong” began to feel like a stranger sneering instead of a homespun being taking my hand. Mother tells me the strangeness in my pupils that found its way under my blood began when I was born in a extraterritorial land. When the pale doctor who was bringing me onto this earth from her womb world, botched the epidural and blamed her “dark chocolate” skin. (Mother does not weep when she says this, instead the story brings forth a version of her that has not yet healed, yet endured on fury) Something doomed has been crawling somewhere inside my mind ever since. Calling my name in the darkness like it “belongs”. No one told me this would haunt my feet when I reached the shores of this land again. No one warned me
to teach my outer coating the shade of silence Wearing this skin is rebellion, no one told me this, speaking this foreign tongue is a battle cry, no one told me this, carrying my heritage is a soldier’s march, no one told me this. They will look at you like you are war. No one told me this the way the phrase “Paki Whore” did.
Gertrude Stein’s Money
In hopes of appreciation I play them poets reading their words aloud.
If I told him would he like it. Would he like it if I told him. They follow along with print secretly unsure.
At first exactly and first exactly and do they do. The first exactly. And do they do. This one’s stupid— What does it mean? Shall I play it again? Yes, says the boy in the back.
Presently. Proportions. Presently. Play it again, the same voice murmurs.
Was there was there was there what was there was there what was there was there there was. Again.
This time the others turn a cool stare to close him, but I press the button.
A note. They cannot A float. They cannot. They dote. And the girl with purple hair mouths the words she has already memorized.
One. I land. Two. I land. Three. The land. the two behind her stand wave their straight arms toward her to join in and coax her onâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; she lets the sound connect.
Miracles play. Play fairly. Play fairly well. I play it again.
Let Further Breath
The Prime Observer (Meteoromancy)
Jury S. Judge
Break Me a Wishbone
Jury S. Judge
Sometimes when you kissed me I would open my eyes and see that you had your own eyes closed. At these times I would worry that you had your eyes closed not because that was standard kissing procedure, but because you didn’t want to look at my face up-close. Other times you would kiss my neck, and in between exhalations of gratification it would occur to me that maybe you were kissing me on the neck not for the purposes of my own arousal but because you didn’t like the way I kissed you back, and so you avoided being kissed by me by kissing me anywhere other than the mouth. Once I told you that you made me crazy. You responded that you couldn’t have made me crazy, because I’d already been crazy when I met you. I’d always been crazy, all on my own. You refused to have anything to do with it. The epithet that you threw at me––crazy––you threw at me with none of your usual tenderness. Admittedly, however, there was some truth in your cruelty. I was––I am––crazy. It is something I know and have known, as surely as my own first name. And yet I maintain that you did little to subvert my preexisting craziness and instead exacerbated its effects. I laid in bed with you on the first night that you ever touched me, the dormroom sized twin mattress barely enough to accommodate all of us, together. When my roommate came in you quickly pulled your hand out from under my shirt. We weren’t, at that point, doing anything improper––your big hand had been resting lightly on my stomach; me soft, you warm––but still you didn’t want my roommate to see you touch me. You wanted us to exist only within us. Another time, we were sitting up in your bed under the big window and you told me how pretty I looked in that light. You were––are––an artist, and it was an artist’s compliment. I relished those moments I spent adhering to your aesthetic, and spent the next three weeks trying to follow, chase,
recreate that light in which you thought I looked pretty, though I often have trouble accepting compliments from people with whom I am intimate. (I tend to worry that shared experiences of sexual expression undermine the verity or authenticity of the compliment. Case in point, I actually said, in a sudden jolt of teenage inhibition which seems shocking to me now, to the boy to whom I lost my virginity: “You only tell me I look pretty because you know that I’ll blow you later on.” This was, as he insisted then and as I know now, or at least aspire to know, very untrue; yet my insistence on skepticism and cynicism is yet one more example of how I am what you say I am––crazy). Once, you were on top of me and wrestling with the zipper of my jeans and I said to you, “You’re so hot.” You were embarrassed. I’ll never forget the bashful way you said, “Thank you.” I’ll never forget how soft your skin was under my shaking hand, so soft it made me hate myself, a little. You see? You did make me crazy. Crazier than I was before I met you. I never introduced you to my friends. I didn’t even cry over it when I knew you were done with me. But every night for the rest of the semester, as I walked home from the library or the radio station or the bedrooms of boys with rougher skin and smaller hands I passed by your dorm, and often paused, trying to determine if I could make you out in the window of your room, sitting at your desk and drawing, or if I was imagining things. Sometimes I thought I saw your new girl in your room with you. She was much prettier than me, but that didn’t bother me. After all, you were prettier than me, too. Like most women, I have more often been the one who is looked in upon than the one who does the looking in, and this role reversal was uniquely humiliating. When men become obsessed with women, we call them stalkers, call them invasive, call them frightening. But when women become obsessed with men, we call them crazy. Obsessive men are to be feared, while obsessive women are to be ridiculed. But there is some power, some dignity, in being feared, while in being ridiculed, there is none. This could have turned into a rumination on the problematics of the ways in which these fearsome men fetishize women. But it won’t. Instead, it will turn into a rumination on the problematics of the ways in which women relate to their own experiences of
obsession. Most women, influenced by their own latent narcissism, willingly negotiate the boundaries between being stalked and being adored. The woman who has been stalked may be imbued, by other women, with a certain glamor––here is a woman so beautiful, so captivating, so unique, that she led a normally rational man to such madness, we think. I am not nearly so beautiful, so captivating, so unique, we think, because I have never been pursued with such alarmingly dogged resolve. Never mind the fact, which we know, that all instances of stalking are pathological and violent in ways either symbolic or very, very real. For us, the crazy, the obsessed, being stalked is just a sexier, edgier, higher-stakes version of being loved. Crazy men break into women’s houses to sniff their underwear and read their mail. Crazy men follow women home from work and write threatening letters to their partners and leave cryptic messages in piss across the snow-covered front yards of their houses. Crazy women look from an uneasy distance into the windows of men who might have loved them but don’t. Crazy women write forlorn, distressed essays about the softness of men’s skin and the size of their hands. And yet one is considered pathetic and pitiful, and one isn’t. And that is why, despite the violences associated, most women would prefer to be stalked than to stalk themselves. Better to have had the violence done to you than be the one doing the violence. Better to know and conceal your own crazy than to be called crazy by a man who really doesn’t know the half of it.
Narrow Paths and Eyes of Needles
God’s never read Deuteronomy. He tried once, really gave the college effort, but threw in the towel. Said life’s too short for that. That was what Gabriel told Connie, anyway. She thought he was lying, being coy, acting like a little shit, she would say if she were willing to use the word. She’d expected so much better from him. Bending down because he was tall and she was short, although her demeanor was not that of a short person—or perhaps was exactly that of a short person—Gabriel ribbed her with his elbow. “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” he said, winking. “I have time for that, Gabriel.” He shrugged. “Suit yourself. And call me Gabe.” Connie grunted. She would not call him Gabe. She hoped to not have to call him anything, given his behavior. She hoped her time with him would end soon. He was her first impression of this place, and he made a bad impression. She shook her head and they continued the welcome tour, but she soon stopped again. “Is that...” She pointed. “No. Is that Beatrice?” Across a pond—glimmering such that she couldn’t look directly at it— stood her cousin who died three years ago at the imposing age of ninetyfour. Now, she looked no older than twenty-five, beautiful, vibrant. She waved. Connie didn’t return it. “Good ol’ Bea.” Gabriel grinned. “Helluva canasta player. Maybe the three of us can get a game going later tonight?” “She’s gay,” Connie said. “Kangaroos can’t hop backward.” “What?” “Thought we were playing non-sequitur.” “Why is she here?” Connie crossed her arms.
“Where else would she be?” He cocked his head and reflected confusion brighter than the pond. Connie flicked her eyes decisively downward, in that direction of which they’d so often warned others. “Oh.” He laughed, a sad sound. “Oh.” He walked on, pointing out more landmarks. A gym, a sauna, a community game room, all made of gold and pearl and elephant-free ivory. Connie pinched her mouth shut. Finally, Gabriel stopped in front of an outdoor stage with plush, purple, velvet curtains drawn. He turned back to Connie with eyebrows high and full of hope. “I’ve saved the best for last.” “Mm,” Connie said, eager for him to be done and on his merry way. He flung his arm behind in a swishing flourish, and the curtains opened. “No,” Connie said flatly. “Con!” Larry’s aged beer gut was replaced by the same flat stomach he had when they met, but his movement past the curtain and off the stage could only be described as lumbering. “God, I’ve missed you, Connie!” She held up a hand, still, even here, even now—beyond life and death and space and time—able to stop him in his tracks. He and Gabriel shared a moment of confusion. “It’s...it’s Larry,” Gabriel said. “He’s younger, of course, but don’t you recognize him? It’s your husband, Connie! You haven’t seen him in almost thirty years!” “Why is he here?” Connie felt a tightness in her chest, almost like the tightness she felt the day before. The final day. Alive, terrestrially, she’d kept the tightness in, and it killed her. She refused to let it happen again. She released it. “Why? Why is Larry here? God liked his constant swearing? He liked his constant irreverence? God liked it that he skipped every Sunday service to watch the Vikings, did He?” Larry and Gabriel stood still. “You...you don’t want me to be here?” “I told you, didn’t I?” Connie said. “I told you where you’d end up if you didn’t change. And you didn’t change, did you? You didn’t! So how can you be here?” “Connie.”
“I loved you, Larry, but you did it wrong! You did the whole thing wrong! So how can you be here? How can Beatrice be here?” She pointed around, her arm a windmill propelled by fury. “Those men in turbans? My goodness, and look at those two. Are they—they’re going door-to-door with The Book of Mormon! That kid over there has a wizard boy in glasses on his T-shirt!” Connie thought she let it out, but the more she yelled, the more the tightness pressed and pinched until she felt like there were a small snake coiling around her heart. A snake that squeezed and squeezed and hissed from behind her throat and flicked its forked tongue against the back of her own until she knew, until oh God oh Jesus, she knew she knew, and she feared. Her knees bowed and she nearly fell, but she caught herself on the stage. She closed her eyes. “I did it right,” she whispered. “I read my Bible. I went to church. I wiped the dust from my feet. How could I be here? How could I be here?” She looked up at Gabriel and saw unending wells of experienced pity where his eyes had once been. And in that moment, she knew he’d seen her before. Not her, but a million others like her. A million others who had done it right but gotten it wrong. And he was sad for all of them. “How can I be here?” she said. Larry brushed her shoulder. Love and hope and faith and charity swelled and flowed from his touch. “Con, no. It’s okay.” “This is—” “—not hell.” He sighed. “You don’t go to hell for picking the Vikings.” She looked at Gabriel, who nodded. She saw everyone around her, Beatrice, the boy with the wizard shirt, the turbaned men and Mormon missionaries, she saw choirs and popes, disciples and deceivers, tribes and nations, saints and sinners, worthy and unworthy. She saw the people, all of them. She said, “Then what was it all for?” From behind her, in front of her, all around her, a voice like a bullwhip of thunder and a lullaby’s lilt: “Good question.”
Raising a Murder
I remember the first time I saw my killer. He was beautiful. A Gerber baby, with bright, blue hooded eyes that scanned the room with reticent intelligence. Skin – soft, pure, creamy – seemed as if it was poured out of a carton. His beak, by god, his beak – the doctors ruffled their black feathers in jealousy of his beak. Long and dainty with a tip that curved downward, perfect for tearing into flesh of forest fauna. I knew then, as I stared into the swirling galaxy hidden inside his beady, black eyes, that he would pluck apart my plume, split my skin, and feast. I smiled and nuzzled him into my chest. My husband stood beside us, the primate hair of his arms still standing from the worry that enveloped him before. He didn’t understand. He means well, but he doesn’t understand. He never will. *** I remember the day I taught my killer to fly. I sat, legs crossed, perched on our home’s power-lines. My toddler had started to speak with less coos and more caws, signaling the incipience of his childhood, and he was on my lap. The boy’s feathers had come out not like mine or my fathers. They were not gray, but obsidian, like the darkness at a point the universes’ spirals hadn’t reached yet. I ran my talon through his feathers. A thousand miles away on the ground the boy’s father was calling out. He’s not ready yet! he shouted. He’s just a child! Please get down from there! I have the sunflower seeds you like! I drowned out his voice. On the ground to the left of him there was still the spot Marcia’s kid left last week. I can still trace out where the kid’s head hit the pavement and cracked open like a
tropical coconut. Her kid was twice as old as mine, but his feathers were faded and his beak chipped at the fringe. What did she expect would happen? I kissed my child on his forehead, and he cooed for the first time in a long time. Then, I let him go. For a moment, I felt a twinge of hope. It was in the seconds he spent plummeting towards the spot beside my husband, tumbling through the sky like a shard of hematite flipped off a building. But he shook his wings, opened up, and flapped towards the setting sun, with a confidence and certainty I never had, and never will.
*** I remember the day he turned sixteen. He left in early twilight with a sack lunch and a half-heatedly accepted kiss on the forehead. He flew into the shadows of his friends, walking to school on the wire, flapping his feathers at the canaries that flew beside him, and left us. We waited hours. Sequestered in the night, lit somber by a candle that stood above a maudlin birthday cake. “He’ll come around,” my husband said. “I know he will.”
Bullshit, I thought. He never will.
*** My husband passed away in September of never, eating a bowl of cereal, the metal of the spoon grinding against the tip of his palette. Nothing like how we rehearsed dying. My son, the Sotomayor, heard him softly thud in his nest halfway around the world, and flew as a lone killer, without his murder, to come see me. He met
at my house. He had my eyes. He gently laid his coat and hat on the rack, and uncurled his striped, business-casual tie. Softly, he said, “Mother. I think it’s time.”
If One Afternoon Your Lover Says
It is three o’clock in the afternoon, and you are sitting on the couch reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. He tells you while wearing his old, orange t-shirt that says “Life is Good.” You stare at the wine stain on the couch from the night before and try to remember how many glasses you had. Two? Three? Did you spill the wine? You may feel sick after thinking of all the wine you did or did not spill. Ask him how the stain got there, maybe he knows. He says that he does not know. He is rigid and serious and has been seeing someone else for how long? Decide it does not matter. Make him say the words. “I don’t love you anymore,” he says. Notice the wine stain is in the shape of a smiley face. You might not believe him at first. You feel as if the stain is mocking you. If you begin to feel angry at the stain, do not, under any circumstances, yell at the wine stain. Ask him if she is someone you know. He will say that she isn’t. Moving out will be easy. You never really liked this neighborhood anyway. You detest the loud music that always plays next door and the way the sun shines in at just the right angle, waking you up every morning. Collect everything you can. Do this in a dramatic manner, so he knows you are serious about leaving right this second. Think about taking your toothbrush with you. Instead, leave it in the aqua cup on the bathroom sink next to his. Later, you will regret not taking it. In your new apartment, you will need help paying the rent. Put an ad on craigslist that says, “Wanted–roommate who will not be home often.” Your new roommate decorates the apartment with lots of plants. Ask her what she likes about plants. She will say she doesn’t really like them, but she likes the idea of them. They will die after a few weeks. You will be the one to throw all of them away. Take up a hobby to fill your free time. Begin running around your new neighborhood. Walk most days, but try to run. Buy a pair of fancy running
sneakers that you know you will eventually live out their days in the back of your closet, alone and forgotten. When running around your neighborhood, begin to notice all the changes your neighbors are making to their houses. Notice who mows their lawn regularly and who doesn’t. Feel as though you are acting a bit like a stalker. Remind yourself that good observation is a sign of a well-rounded individual. Book a flight for your dream vacation because you have earned it. Spend two weeks in Hawaii swimming with dolphins, snorkeling for the first time, and hiking the Stairway to Heaven in Oahu. You may feel as though you’ve found yourself. Do not actually go on this vacation. Simply get a haircut instead. Dye it a fancy color and cut it short. Hate it. Vow never to do it again. Register for a class in women and gender studies to better your understanding of the oppression of women in this patriarchal society. Your professor will wear strange outfits and talk about how many ex-husbands she has. She will ask questions like, “Why is it hard for women to recognize their own marginalization?” and “How do we begin to do something about it?” You will drop the class. On your way home after a long day, you will see a stranger in the street and think it’s him. Duck behind the steering wheel of your car. Realize it’s not him and feel ridiculous. You may even feel depressed. Online, find a therapist whose specialty is “Care of the Soul and Personal Growth.” At your first appointment, tell her you think you are going crazy. She will tell you that crazy people do not think they are crazy. There is a slight chance you will still think you are crazy. Invite your mother over for dinner. Make her something to prove you are doing just fine, like eggplant parmesan or pecan crusted chicken. She will ask how everything is, and you will say good. She complements you on your cooking and asks for the recipe. You say you will send it to her. She wants to know if you will be keeping this haircut. She asks if she would be able to meet your roommate, but your roommate isn’t home. Your roommate continues to buy plants and hang them in your apartment. She wakes up every morning at six to do yoga, and tells you it is time for you to get back out there.
She sets up a Tinder profile for you. In your bio, she writes, “looking for,” then asks you what you are looking for. You will not know. She fills it in for you so that it will read, “looking for a good time.” You swipe right on most of the profiles you look at. Or is it left? Decide to go about this in a practical manner. Make it a project. You date men with the same names of the first 10 Presidents of the United States of America. This will not be difficult. James Madison will be the first president you can find on Tinder. Arrive thirty minutes early to the restaurant. Five minutes before James gets there, leave. There is a man outside the gas station next door smoking a cigarette. You have never smoked before. Ask if you can, “bum a smoke.” You will be unsure if you say it correctly. He will look you up and down before giving you a cigarette and ask you, “What do I get in return?” Decide to never smoke again. Go back to the restaurant and apologize to your date for being late. He will assure you that it is no problem. He tells you that he is fluent in pig Latin and works as a professional juggler. You don’t remember reading this about James Madison in your middle school history books. Thomas Jefferson takes you to a fancy restaurant and orders your food for you. When the bill comes, he leaves an illegible signature. You will be disgusted. How is he to declare the freedom of the thirteen colonies of America from Britain with handwriting such as that? You go on the rest of your dates with the Presidents, though you cannot find all of them. At your weekly appointment with your therapist, tell her you are getting back out there, but you will most definitely lose your mind if you cannot find your William Henry Harrison. You leave your appointment and drive to all the places you used to go with your lover. Ex-lover. At his favorite ice cream shop, “The Big Cone” you notice the lights are out for the letter E. That evening, you return home to four dead plants. You get in a fight with your roommate. You tell her it is not healthy to repeat these types of patterns. You tell her that she needs to find new interests, other things to occupy her time, and decorate the apartment with something, anything else. She tells you it is her apartment too and that she can do as she pleases. You call her crazy.
This offends her. She says you are being ridiculous and that they are only plants. You can’t believe the way she is acting and think she must see that she is only bringing these plants home to die. If she truly can’t, then you are certain you are right, and your roommate must be undeniably and completely insane. One day, when you are walking to meet the last date of your project, you will see a stranger on the street and think it’s your ex-lover again. But this time it is him. He looks at you quickly and then back again, confirming you are a person he has been acquainted with before. You will simply stare. He crosses the street to get to you. For a moment you imagine a car hitting him and his body being thrown like a puppet into the busy street. When he makes it across safely, you think of running away or pretending you are not you. He looks the same, except he also has a new haircut. He asks how you are and you tell him you have been good, great actually. He says that he got a new job and started bowling. You tell him you learned pig Latin and how to juggle, and that you now collect plants. He seems impressed by this. He tells you he is running late and that he has to go. You say that it is fine, and you were just on your way to meet your date. He will say something like, “Oh” or “Don’t let me keep you,” and you will walk away while waving goodbye to him. On your way to meet William Henry Harrison, you will feel a sense of anticipation, of urgency to get to the restaurant. After all, he could very well be the one.
I was parched for privacy yet surrendered every secret to Lauren’s probing. My empty desire not to divulge was a failed rebellion. My first day behind a taupe cubicle, she leaned against the breast-height divider and announced she was my mentor. “I know everything that goes down here.” She sideswept her aggressively blond hair. “These fools would shit their pants if they knew all the secrets I own. I could crush anyone here like a bug. But you’re smart, I like you. I’ll take you under my wing.” It wasn’t a question. I was acutely aware of the biking shorts under my skirt, conscious where the waistband hit my stomach and created small hills of fat. “Like, Jenny isn’t coming to your welcome-to-the-office happy hour tonight.” As I sat, Lauren levitated over my left shoulder. “She might as well hang a neon sign saying, I’M APPLYING FOR OTHER JOBS. Here’s my first piece of advice: Always go to happy hour. And never forget that the minute you start applying for other jobs, I’ll notice.” I was twenty-one and Lauren was twenty-five, which, in my first year out of college, at my first job, was a millennium. We traded instant messages like friends. While our boss John strolled around the office like a don, Lauren outlined her plan for obliging her reluctant boyfriend to move in with her, and ousting Jenny so she could steal her job. Within two months, both goals were achieved. As we ate desk salads two feet away apart, Lauren told me with her fingers that she excelled at blow jobs. I wanted to flee the conversation, but I also wanted to learn more. She taught a seminar for friends with wine and cheese and bananas, but I wasn’t invited. I felt relieved at this, and also disappointed. Lauren’s warty neighbor wouldn’t close his bathroom blinds so she blew her boyfriend while he watched from a building ten feet away.
I’d given a blow job once, in college, to little success. I only knew what to do because of YouTube. Lauren asked if I was a virgin. I told her to guess (i bet u did it just once, like u let him put in the tip & then freaked). I joked about sexual harassment before sheepishly confessing I was a prude. It’s not that I didn’t want to have sex, but I’d waited too long for the right person until my virginity started to scare all the not-right people off. We played kill-fuck-marry and Office Survivor, imagining our coworkers’ dicks inside of us and exiling them to islands.
u like john, huh? My fingers froze.
bet u wanna get him on an island I typed three letters, deleted.
remember the first rule of being my mentee: total honesty I speared lettuce. Yeah, I guess a little. goin for the boss! u must have a thing 4 powerful men. do u think of him when u touch urself? When I was in third grade, our teacher made us keep journals. She drew smiley faces and said to highlight anything we didn’t want her to read. Once, she asked us to write our bedtime rituals. In elementary scrawl I described exiting the shower’s steam and touching my pre-pubertal vagina. Conscious even at eight that a highlighter was an insufficient talisman against curiosity, I wrote simply that I touched my veggie before draping my nightgown over my body. I highlighted it in bright yellow. A crouton crunched on the other side of the laminate divider.
do u? Lauren demanded I delete the chat logs from my company computer. She promised to do the same, though we both knew she had collateral on the whole office and these chats were her insurance against subterfuge. Not that she expected anything in particular, but manipulators are always on guard against manipulation, Machiavelli and stuff. All I wanted was to be left alone. Once, I emailed an incriminating conversation to myself before purging it from the hard drive; for a week I was paranoid she’d installed keystrokeloggers on my computer.
itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ok if u do. johnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hot. i bet u get wet and touch yourself whenever u think of him Every single night, haha. Neither of us laughed. Two feet away, she poured balsamic vinaigrette over her salad and took a bite.
Something Edible From Sunlight
Elliot says snakes leak through my wall fissures sleep, my irises two Roman numerals.
Elliot wants to be my pollen, tattoo,
sooty tongue-, I embroider zigzags on sweaters, hydrate off saliva. about Elliot-- about the mottled sheets; cactus on scar tissue.
I lied I am
already splinters and lathe shavings, with nicknames like mid-life
I turn to organic soap, change my mattress,
comatose, verbatim, questioning the not, the isn’t, concept of, choosing Elliot, coughing shredded lungs in parking lots, mead chalk, my body rings machinery of thunder,
before I used Elliot’s yoga mat, now I memorize our
litany, I learn to tell miracle from metaphor, without witness of chipped glass, outland, I try drowning the sofa, house ferns, the moonrays’ cat cradle, folk legends, breakfast tea, my sleeping arteries, no more mother in me--- Elliot, the atlas. Elliot, the cocoon. Elliot, the spin helix, lost language I killed. I save the laundry for decades, cut loose seams, the rips that remind me I’m the daughter of ash.
Michael Grant Smith
When Love is a Hostage Chained to the Radiator of Your Heart
Your neighbors dwell in boxes of wood or brick and send random confessions to each other. These messages in bottles become glass mosaics that tile the oceanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s floor. Fly to Huntington Beach and chase the waves. You expect sand but how will you find traction to push the tide back toward the moon? Everyone thinks they can do this job. Charleston is below sea level. When you arrive, ask promptly for directions to higher ground. If no one answers, tread the path you find most tiring. New Orleans is not a second choice destination; in the ways we understand, it is already gone. In Boston you must adapt to local customs and be more like the natives. Speed through the seven-way intersections. Aim at obstacles: other vehicles, people, pets. This takes precedence over avoidance. A key to the city could be your reward. Catch a train to Chicago and tell everyone you meet that the hot dogs are better in New York. If you survive, flee to New York and declare the hot dogs are better in Chicago. Provided you are still alive, all of the people are ants and you are their master. Go to Las Vegas and play in the traffic. Win everything the casinos can't pay you. No one will be convinced you were in town for a wedding. Even less certain will be their believing you were both bride and groom. You havenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t experienced direct eye contact with another human being in over thirty years. When you're asked for a comment, your hand reaches for an empty bottle that isn't there. Your older brother, who was never conceived or born, would have known exactly what to do in situations such as this one.
The Duke of Earl at the O.K. Corral
Long ago—but not as long as it seems to take your grandfather to make a point—there lived a gunslinger misplaced in era and environ. He was a puffed out, foppy aristocrat who dressed in silk and feathers and claimed to live in the only non-drafty castle in some English region he called Earl. No one he encountered had ever heard of Earl, and gave him crap about it and his apparel, but this never ruffled his feathers. His indifference led me to believe he was a liar who was hiding something. A typical alpha male, especially one of that period, would fight to the death anyone who so much as didn’t compliment his outfit, let alone ridiculed it. Besides, who ever heard of a non-drafty castle? Or a 17th century European swell sporting a double holster with a six-shooter on each hip? Or a Brit who frequently whistled the 1930s American cowboy song “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”? Of course when I say “…who ever heard of a…” I mean besides his best friend and senior consultant the Wizard of Westwood, which I guess is/was near Earl. The Wiz was a practical and grounded sort and the perfect yin to his friend’s yang, as well as yan to his ying. As so often happens in fiction, the path on which they were traipsing on their way to trade magic beans for a cow suddenly and violently transformed into a portal to an abrupt twist in the story. After they were hurled through literary space and time for what seemed like a three-hour tour, they landed with a cartoon-worthy thwack/kabloom/splat. The Duke of Earl lamented to the Wizard of Westwood, “Oh, drat, I suppose I shall never possess a cow; how shall I ever become a cowboy … whatever that is. Whatever shall I do?”
“You may want to consider helping me out of this horse trough and attending to my hemorrhaging head gash,” the Wiz—henceforth to be known as Larry— answered the Duke’s rhetorical question. Still pouting about the cow, the Duke—henceforth to be known as Ricky— reluctantly and eventually helped his friend and wondered where and when they were. “Judging by that conveniently placed newspaper that has blown onto and somehow stuck to your chest feathers, we appear to be in some place known as Tombstone, Arizona,” bloody Larry said. “And the crudely-fashioned sign overhead narrows our location to a dreary pen known as the O.K. Corral. Are you not impressed with my reading acumen?” Ricky boast-asked. “Yes,” Larry answered. “‘Yes’ you are not impressed or ‘yes’ you are impressed?” “Does it matter? I doubt you are still focused on this conversation,” Larry said, both from personal experience and from Ricky having traipsed away twelve words ago, fascinated and confused by the manner of speech and dress of an approaching swarm of smelly men. “Who the hell be you clowns and what am y’all supposed to be—clowns?” the smelliest and obvious man-in-charge asked. Had they thought about it, Ricky and Larry would have been dumbfounded by how the language they were hearing was somewhat similar to their King’s English but as spoken by a clever monkey with a mouthful of wasp-stung swollen tongue and mule jerky. After the smelly men stopped laughing at Ricky’s question of, “Pray, what is thy preferred manner of being addressed?” the smelly swarm opened fire with the collective wrath of Thor with irritable bowel syndrome but the aim of Helen Keller with a paddle ball.
Perturbed a smidge at their rude welcoming, Ricky blasted the smelly men to kingdom come (kingdom unknown). The force of his blitzkrieg propelled them through another abrupt-twist-in-the-story portal to Chicago mobster George “Bugs” Moran’s headquarters on February 14, 1929. Their sudden materialization startled Moran’s seven henchman, who were exchanging Valentine’s Day presents of bonbons, chocolate-covered bullets and fingerprint removal kits. “Who the hell are you clowns and what is you supposed to be—clowns?” the henchiest of the henchmen asked. “Why are we being asked if we are clowns on these abrupt story twists … and what are clowns?” Larry asked as he nonchalantly deflected a hail of weaklythrown bonbons and chocolate-covered bullets. But Ricky had already been story-twisted back to the O.K. Corral, where the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday congratulated him for wiping out the Clanton Gang. “That was some mighty fancy shootin’, cowboy,” Marshal Virgil Earp said, “but I think it best if you keep your trap shut about who done this good deed, seein’s how nobody who ain’t loco would believe a clown done all this damage. So we’ll just say we done it.” While Ricky was still uncertain what a clown was, he was thrilled to be called a cowboy, even if he was also clueless about its meaning. “I say,” he said to the air, “perhaps clown and cowboy are one and the same. Still, it would be splendid if I knew their meaning. Until I do, it is no doubt dangerous fashion to adorn myself with either or the combined title.” In addition to the air, a used meat traveling salespoke named Phineas Balough—henceforth to be known as Rodeo Bozo—heard Ricky’s musing about clown and cowboy perhaps having the same meaning. And although not yet invented, a light bulb went off in his head. Thus was born the first rodeo clown, which illustrates how one person’s abrupt story twist…Moses
and Vlad the Impaler walk into a bar, and Moses asks the bartender if his establishment serves peasants. The bartender says, “Yes, of course we do.” Moses says, “Great. I’ll have a Singapore Sling and my friend will have a peasant.”
Papa was off getting firewood and I could hear him rustling a few hundred yards away. There was already a stack beside the fire, but he said we needed more for the evening. I whittled at a smaller stick that would not have burned for long enough to be useful. Papa had gotten the small pocket knife for me on my tenth birthday. I threw a log on and watched its surface blacken and embers start to form in its pores. The smoke whipped around with the wind, briefly choking me. I coughed twice and shifted away from it. Papa called. “You ok?” “Smoke in my eyes.” “I’m coming back now.” “Enough wood?” “I think so.” I heard footsteps in the leaves and he was beside me with arms full of branches. He dropped them and hacked them to manageable lengths with the small camp-axe he had hiked in with. I listened to the rhythmic cutting and the accompanying sizzle and closed my eyes. A crisp wind blew from the trees and over my exposed face. Papa cleared his throat and threw a freshly cut log on the fire. It exploded with a wet crackle. “Do you love me?” “Yes,” I said. He continued stoking the fire and I opened my eyes. It was late but I wasn’t ready for sleep. “I am really proud of you.” “Thank you.” I looked away from him into the dark. The fire flickered on the outline of the surrounding foliage. I could just make out the general shape of the trees but nothing else. “I like being out here with you.” “Good.”
“I forgot how good it smells with the smoke blending with everything else.” “It makes me happy too.” He held the camp axe in his hand and worked the blade with his fingers. The fire glinted off the head. I watched the light flicker over his face and wondered what he was doing. There was still more wood to be cut. He ran the blade over his palm and drew blood. It pooled in his hand and he watched with the shadow of pain on his face. He set the axe next to him and squeezed his hand until the blood came out the sides. “Our Father, who art in Heaven—“ I sat up and joined. “Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done. On Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread—“ He had stopped speaking and was in tears. His body shuddered and his head bent so the flames no longer illuminated it. He turned his head toward me and his tears refracted the dim light. All I could see behind him was dark because the fire blinded me from everything beyond our small camp site. “Forgive me my sins.” “Papa.” “I love you.” He drew his hand down my cheek as he spoke. I felt the blood left behind on my face. I was crying too. I locked eyes with him. He swung the axe and missed. The pocket knife was still in my hand and I drew it through his ribs. He gasped and I gasped and he slumped to his right side and exhaled and was still. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever and ever.” I cried harder. I did not want to be rid of him. My whole life he had kept me safe. Beyond the fire was dark and he would not be able to gather more wood for it. I did not know when morning would come. I hoped for the sun but only had the fire. I took the axe from the ground where the head was buried and, through tears, tried to finish cutting the wood he had gathered.
The head had broken on a stone and was no longer sharp. I couldn’t see well enough and gave up. I did not know why he would swing at me and I sat terrified. The firewood ran out before morning and the embers only lit the surrounding stones. I held my eyes to it, clinging to the light that would soon be gone. The trees cast shadows over me. I had moved Papa’s body away so it wouldn’t light. It would not be right to use it as fuel. I crossed his arms and shut his eyes and let him sleep an honorable death. He knew the way here and had earned that. The embers went out at the end of my vigil and I found myself blind. By touch, I found a small twig and the ember heat. I prodded and found a glow but it soon died too. It could not last exposed to the chilly air. A cold wind blew through my outer layers and I shivered as much with anxiety as with the cold. I pushed my hands through the ashes and felt the heat dissipate. I looked up to the heavens with my tears mixing into the dried blood on my face. I saw the separation between the tree line and the sky. The trees were a green-black behind the deep blue sky. There were no stars. The sun was not risen. I could not see around me but I could see the difference of light in the sky. I stared at the line between tree and sky and waited.
All That Remains
Do you ever worry you have too many plastic bags? You know what I’m talking about. The twisted polyethylene mass that grows, as we speak, under the kitchen sink, in the nook where you once kept that fabulous gravity bong. You’ve got quite the collection: Wal-Mart, GameStop, 7-Eleven, Panda Express, Jamba Juice. The bags are like the people from your hometown: thick, white, and transparent in key places. But unlike the people from your hometown, it hasn’t been ten years since you last saw the bags. No. You see the bags every damn day. They’re waiting for you every time you reach for dish soap, or Windex, or toilet bowl cleaner. And every time you come home to reluctantly make an addition to their ranks, the bags rustle in fervent, mocking excitement, as if aware that they will someday break from their lives of bondage in the cabinet to reach the promised land; broad, uncolonized, cigarette-reeking carpet. You can see it now. You’ll get up for work and wade, bags up to your chest, to the door. It’ll be fun, like living in the ball pit of a McDonald’s PlayPlace. You kept the bags because you always figured that you would need them to pick up dog shit, if you ever got a dog. Five lease terms, two jobs and three girlfriends later, there’s still no dog. How can you use them? What goes into a plastic shopping bag after it’s emptied of the purchases that necessitated its use in the first place? Trash? Too small. Bills? Only if Bernie Sanders survives until 2020. Memories of Girlfriend Number Three? You already have a spot for those—the liquor cabinet. What do other people put in their bags? What storage requirements do they have that you don’t? One night, as you lay in fidgety pursuit of sleep, you find yourself unable to stop thinking about them. Instead of sheep, your tortured mind counts bags, leaping gracefully one-by-one over a sagging barnyard fence. At midnight, when streams of warm air begin to ebb and flow from the vent
under the cabinet, you’re convinced you can hear the bags stir, as if aroused by the latticework touch of the heating system. You imagine them inflating with hot air and taking furtive flight, like electric jellyfish in a wine dark, notso-distant sea. In sleep-deprived delirium you drift over to your tiny bedroom window and gaze down at the city streets. They are utterly deserted, save for a single wanderer, his lonely noir silhouette illuminated far below in the moon-cheese yellow glow of street lamps as he labors onward with his cart, heavily bundled, into the deeper, windswept gloom. A chill creeps down your spine as you briefly but seriously entertain the notion that your life is, in reality, an eternally recurring Bunuel film. Why, oh why did you ever leave Canada for this? They certainly won’t go away on their own; plastic bags, you’ve heard, can live up to a thousand years in the wild, and probably even longer in captivity. Maybe your neighbor, Mrs. Vladislava, will take them off your hands. You knock on her door. “Too many bags!” She exclaims. “Do you know how many bags I had when I came to this country? Zero. I had no bags! I was bag-less!” “Look, Mrs. Vadislava…” You protest. She cuts you off, her voice thick with a finality only widows and generals can muster. “Young man, young man, I will not hear of it. Keep your bags. You never know when you will need them, especially at your age.” If she won’t take them, perhaps the homeless, who you’ve noticed possess an abiding fondness for bags of all kinds, will. Better yet, you could take them for a scenic country drive in your Toyota Corolla and then abandon them on the side of the highway. This might be the most humane way; the bags would be able to catch a ride on a westward zephyr to the other side of the continental divide, then make their way by drainage ditch and tributary to join their brethren in the Pacific. True satisfaction, however, requires violent disposal. You could tie them to railroad tracks, drop them into a missile silo, or fill them up with someone else’s dog’s shit and light them on fire on Girlfriend Number Three’s new boyfriend’s front porch.
These are all good options, but you know itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s impossible to get all the plastic bags out the door. The problem, you see, is that you have nothing to carry them with.
About After the Pause is an online literary journal based in Indianapolis, IN, featuring poetry, flash fiction, and artwork, published quarterly. We also publish a yearly print anthology whose proceeds go to charity. We look to feature the best creative arts from new, emerging, and veteran creators. We also run a small, nonprofit press called a…p press, which publishes titles of experimental poetry and fiction. Find us here: afterthepause.com or @afterthepause The managing/founding editor of After the Pause and its entire doings is Michael Prihoda.
Purpose We believe art is a product of life experiences, from the joyful to the heartbreaking to the absolutely mundane. Life throws pauses at us. Art follows the pause. We want to share the best art we can find and bring hope through those artworks.
Cover Art “Ithaca Gun” by Pearse Anderson
Departure Until next time.
Copyright 2018 All rights of the material within belong to the authors.