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THE PAINTER has entered her turpentine period, spends all day erasing away years of landscapes that no longer exist. First, those clearly unreal leaves, then, the branches of the trees drip weakly down the easel. Tonight, she shuts off her cell, locks the studio door and proceeds to uncover even more. Behind a stand of yellow birch, a crooked yield sign is revealed. Wherever the river recedes, blue USB. Look at the eyes of the old steed; he can’t possibly compete with Valvoline Instant Oil Change. She feels so Un-Columbus, un-da Gama; this is dirty, this business of stripping the wool pants from Pan. The painter, she peeks out her window— as she strains to see the planes that thunder by, she can’t help but wonder why the city’s streets are so empty.


On the other hand, what’s left out there but an ugly truth, an off-white canvas?

[national parks] [invisible ink] [Pandora] [abandon] [a monument to the past itself] [shantih]


ACTUALLY, the pebbles in the stream do not sing, and the truth is that none of the swans, not even the whitest one, can tell from your eyes what you’re thinking when your subconscious is whirring away, deconstructing arboretum into its roots. You are, you were, you is—it’s as predictable as the path the water follows. Rain. Sun. Melody is propelled through your earbuds by a conga line of ones and zeros; no one knows the whole truth, how this happens. That night, you can see Bowie was right about the moonlight being serious, about the red shoes and the blues, which makes you wonder who’s listening to your silent trembling. The crickets couldn’t care less, and the whole milk moon is much too busy being a whole note to worry about your part in all of this.

[Reincarnation Instant Breakfast] [humanize] [harmonize]


[Exercycle] [demons] [the voice] [the echo alone]


THE HAIRDRESSER EXPLAINS in no uncertain terms that she can, in fact, she will tell your fortune by reading the clippings of hair that fall to the floor around you. Her fingers could be crossed. She was careful to cup her hand around your ear while washing your hair. It’s hard to know what’s real these days. You need a shower before you can tell if she’s right, if it looks alright, if you’re still yourself.

[the backdrop of satellite radio] [the scissors’ rhythm] [the syllables’ rhythm] [Polaroid] [avoid eye contact] [her promise] [her elbow] [yourself]


THE WIND is so strong it rips the pants off the boy, makes him cry. He stands there in his underwear, half in shock, half aware that this is his new name, his true identity, revealed by nature, incontrovertible. He wishes he were a trick candle, wishes he hadn’t wasted his third wish on that kite.

[exposed] [frozen] [the question of destiny] [photographic memory] [memory, sculpted] [sense]


THE YELLOW BIRD is a prizefighter, is like a logo for an energy drink. Its song is a metaphor for something even smaller. In thirty years, I’ve never seen another like it—sour candy feathers, an Elmer’s Glue bottle top for a beak. Which begs several questions. I’m happy enough to read a book all by myself, sip some juice while the featherweight skies get ready to rumble to knockout.

[the obsolescence of nature] [its tiny eyes] [coloring book] [yellow-bellied] [alone] [float] [sing]


UNDER THE PORCH a jar of pennies is believed to be buried. Or was it a box of rare baseball cards? The progress report—three C’s and a D. If you’re not careful, you’ll unearth a dead pet instead of that bottle of Jim Beam. Just before dinner, it gets crowded down there, all of us digging for what’s missing.

[echolocation] [love letters] [a dirty dirty magazine] [your mother, whose cooking leaves something to be desired] [missing] [listen] [the hiss of the snake]


FOR A QUARTER I can coax the crane up and over, let its claw hang open and waiting above a sea of plush neon then fly off like a hawk who’s given a family of mice matching aneurysms. Beware: my pocket change turns weak Greeks to stone, sends sidekicks running home, utility belts around their ankles. Listen to the bald Irish girl— I don’t even want what I haven’t got. Please don’t disturb me, plebes—I’ve got some reruns to watch. This is the one with the claw. [Centipede] [a seven-ten split] [the locus of control] [mind over matter] [baseball hat, backwards] [empire]


WHEN I tell Tom I’m reading Pynchon, he says it’s about time, which is half true; the other half is where it gets iffy. The truth about truth is that sometimes the pages get stuck. If the narrator gets unreliable, she’ll sleep until noon and assume you had the same dreams as her. In the book, I end up finding something important— Washington’s name signed with Jefferson’s pen. In real life, the pen swears it’s a fraud, and the paper agrees.

[no return address] [a magnifying glass] [a guilty look on the TV] [the real monotony] [curse words]


WHEN, INEVITABLY, the porcelain tub needs reglazing, ask around—the contractor with the whitest van isn’t necessarily the most trustworthy man. Don’t be afraid to check the tires for slow leaks, the tailpipe for rust.

[the counterclockwise nature of draining water] [the clipboard] [red jacket] [yellow logo] [exhaust] [trust] [rust]


AFTER SUCCEEDING in building a better mousetrap, she moves on to a self-salting bucket of popcorn and a self-reflective line of action figures. Then she has to accept that her gift is gone. The garage door opener stops listening to her questions. Or if it still listens, it has lost all interest in the answers. Her husband comes home late after a night of dancing, smelling like everything but dancing, inventing excuses for the ruby shoes he’s wearing.

[filaments excited by electrons] [the death of “sudden death”] [nothing as unsubtle as lipstick stains] [dreams of machines] [transformer] [Tranströmer] [capacitor]


IN CANADA, if you want to see The Karate Kid, you have to pay to park in the McLarens’ backyard. It’s well worth the twoonie to see the crane kick projected on a queen-size sheet. Mrs. McLaren will bring a bag of microwave popcorn right to your car, but she always overcooks it, trying to get that last kernel.

[paint the fence] [first kiss] [burnt] [imperfect] [the word maybe]


THE WORLD MAY BE A MESS but who has the time to worry about the uneven soles of some stranger’s shoes? Find a slope to stand on, I say. Is it a crime to man the handlebars of your own moustache? I’m not the first dead white man, and I won’t be the last. How many of us ghosts of the past are losing sleep over the problems of the present, haunting newsrooms to wail about whales and fuel cells? If the planet can’t survive, let Darwin do his thing. When that fat lady sings, you’re dead— I don’t give a shit what the thunder said.

[Nero’s fabled fiddle] [Dharma] [drought] [give up] [simple thighs] [remote control]


THE HORSES, before the race begins, seem bothered by all of the women in silly hats, the persimmon bowlers and apricot Easter bonnets. They sense a sort of mismatch, an anachronism, and wonder whether it’s all above board today. Or will the race be run in black and white, the whole track transported back in time, making it tough to know which direction to go, which is win and which is show? A jockey rubs his horse’s nose, shows that he’s got no answers either.

[bowties] [long lines at the betting window] [Pierce-Arrow] [seersucker]


PENNY isn’t sure if it’s the nature of death or the death of nature that scares her more. Dust to dust must have some truth to it— hooray for dust mites, she supposes. To the funeral, she brings paper roses and three cans of Deep Woods Off. She decides that she wants to be mummified when it’s her time, tin-foiled and vacuum-packed with that infomercial contraption. Flash-frozen, even. Photoshopped into a decent plot on a hill with a decent domain name.

[rational fears] [suburban sprawl] [all the marbles] [Flash re-animation] [impatiens]


IT TURNS OUT the swing set was always so small; it’s the memory that makes it big. And so the whole playground, and so on. And when did I learn the importance of being important? The apparent lies about giants felled with well-aimed stones, ants who can carry plants bigger than ants? Maybe it’s really about the way the paint was peeling, the feel of the rust, the squeal of the swinging itself. In truth, it’s the slant of it that stands out.

[swing set as arrow, pointing up] [an upset stomach] [off-white lies] [grown men and women on bicycles] [an age of bigness] [short poems]


IT’ IT’S OKAY to stop at a café or a convenience store for a bottle of juice; it’s a nice day, and some juice might make it nicer. Try to ignore the orphans, their parade, their bullhorn refrains, all the blood they’ve written their demands in. Last week, it was the minimum wage. Next week, animal rights will be all the rage. Still, it might not be prudent to pop open the bottle until after they’ve all passed. Then, from the park bench, it will be safe to say what you mean, under your breath, so as not to be seen as an agitator. Enjoy your juice. It’s June first.

[queen-size sheets] [police] [papaya] [near riot] [sodium citrate] [Boston Common] [the new democracy] [old excuses] [subway music]


TALK WITH ME eurythmically. Cut your hair severely and look me straight in the eye when you tell me what needs to be done. I’m no stranger to a pitchfork and a nondescript sedan. I’m not afraid to admit that grey skies make me an anathematic man. Pain hurts me if it’s my pain. The rain doesn’t care where it falls, who it touches. I can be that rain, the voice whispering the worst advice.

[steel] [the kill] [sinking] [lightningless thunder] [another kind of devotion] [flesh] [ash]


NO ONE KNOWS when the body will wash up on shore, but it will. It will still have a tattoo of a star in the vicinity of its appendectomy scar, which will help the authorities narrow down the possibilities. Hold my hand. Let’s pray for the body together. Let’s remember the struggles the body survived, then the mercy that brought us all here. Come with me, all the way to the end of the pier. See, the volleyball nets are already starting to slice the salty wind into french fries, the body already accepting its fate as cotton candy.

[wet sand] [to handle the paperwork] [the friends of the body] [the lack of friends] [gossamer, but sweeter] [Sunday] [Monday]


GIVEN ANOTHER CHANCE, would he line up all the cells in precisely the same way? Penny wonders if Walt would still kill Bambi’s mother or if this time he’d at least have the heart to show us the hunter. She likes her flipbooks better in reverse, her hands letting the engine idle as long as she likes. Life is a game of give-and-take— maybe Mickey should turn those magic beans back into his cow, make the most of the loaf he’s got, skip the oaf and all his gold. Next time, maybe the old magic will be digitally restored. Maybe the Mutoscope won’t let the men know what the butler saw. Penny clicks, drags the eraser across her screen until all her ideas are gone.


[corruption of the young] [Song of the South] [pinball plungers] [Alcor Life Extension Foundation] [wireless mouse]


Rob MacDonald lives in Boston and is the editor of the online journal Sixth Finch. His poetry has appeared in Octopus, Hanging Loose, Tears in the Fence and Beacon Street Review. He can be contacted at rob@sixthfinch.com.


Illustrations by Erik Otto

Scantily Clad Press, 2009


"Last New Death" by Rob MacDonald