excerpts from Winter 2020 | 69.2

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with commentary by






W I N T E R 2 0 2 0 I S S U E | V OL. 6 9 , N O. 2









Founded in 1948 P U B L I S H E D AT T H E U N I V E R S I T Y O F N O RT H C A R O L I N A – C H A P E L H I L L

Winter 2020

V O LU M E 69.2

E DI TO R- I N - C H I E F


Eli Hardwig F I C T I O N E DI TO RS

Paul Blom Matthew Duncan P O E T RY E DI TO R

Calvin Olsen N O N - F I C T I O N E D ITO R

Jo Klevdal RE V I E WS E DI TO R

Carly Schnitzler MA N AG I N G E DI TOR

Evan Miles





The Carolina Quarterly publishes four issues per year (two print, two digital) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Art by Lexi Johnson COVER DESIGN

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INDEXING The Carolina Quarterly is indexed in the Book Review Index, Poem Finder, Index to Periodical Fiction, American Humanities Index, and

Katie Leonard Maxim Tsarev Kiran Wheeler Sarah White

the Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature. Member


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BOOK REVIEWERS Josh Heaps Jessica Q. Stark


Winter 2020 | VOLUME 69. 2


Fear of Loss at Any Moment 8 Dormancies 9


For Fire Moss (C. purpureus) 10 For Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) 11


Rainy Season 12 The Mosquito 13


The First Thing He Gives Me 15 After Eden 17


Wishing on Tunnels 19


from Garden 20


Drop Zone 26


Dollie 38


The Donner Party Theme Park & Guided Tour Experience 48


Biography of my Father in Spring 66


Seeing Things 74


An Old Man in the City of Angels (The Life

and Afterlife of Weldon Kees) 84



Broadcasting 92

Remember: Help is on the Way 93

Desert Rites 94 Mohl Ip 96 Bewilderness 98

Ways of Uncovering 101

Passage (Two More Meaning the River) 102

Passage (To Manifest and to River: Notes

From The Peacock Room, Prescott, AZ) 103

Passage (For Carrying) 104

Passage (Milagro Blue) 105

The Call Within the Call 106

Antigone Canadensis 107 Passerine 108

REVIEWS JOSH HEAPS Dead Men's Trousers by Ir vine Welsh 110 JESSICA Q. STARK Water / Tongue by mai c. doan 114


Fear of Loss at Any Moment The iris spends itself in one afternoon, ivy and mosquito bubble my skin with their common poisons, and I wonder when this fragile happiness I’ve spun for myself will collapse. Stay close I urge the young rabbit as he nears the road. Is he the same one on the lawn each abalone evening? Last night, in the dream, it felt so good to be held. I succumbed immediately.



Dormancies Emptiness, absent for a while, claws out of its hole. Friends die back to the ground as the heat of summer arrives. He was still alive in this book, she said, then heard her own words. The bleeding heart hangs its ornaments, and I solicit the cherry blossoms for a private conversation. In the dream, my teeth casually come loose. I tongue the gaps. The meaning is the one you’d expect. An important question: what bird would you be? I said swan. You said you didn’t care for birds. On a dewy summer morning, I walk through a spiderweb on accident. Like so much else, it clings and follows.



K E L LY R . S A M U E L S

For Fire Moss (C. purpureus) I could lie down in a bed of you, that natural state, or so I’m told. So some have done. Though the damp will seep in to the places I’ve been worn away, so be it. That damp of the shaded side of the line of pines, or the stone wall—stones from the bluff, blasted and reset—is what comes with you. Too: this green of the velvet-topped stool my grandmother had, the one we could never sit on or stand on, only stroke for a short time. This before it was placed in the sun coming through the picture window and then misplaced and we stood around the day of the auction, asking Wasn’t it? Where could it? And no one answered. That green. Nestled among the boulders, sometimes with your stalks, patiently waiting for wind to do its work. Why keep to the stairwell, from the light streaming from the large room below where the music plays? They ask. Why so quiet? Why so seemingly still? Not the tread. Not the heavy or even delicate step. Not anything resembling clamor or glare.



For Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) One of the first to appear and to be seen here and after fire—the contradiction not missed. You so quick to burn and, too, so quick to recover and flourish as if you called the dire condition home. Here the bare ground still smoking and you persistent and hopeful springing up, letting loose your seeds to another charred scape. Furry new stems of reddish-brown and your leaf sharp toothed—green in spring and yellow in autumn, adding to the season’s tumult of color. Those yellow leaves I picked and pressed in books given away long ago, found by another who twirled them in the hand, maybe knowing something of you and your shallow but hardy roots. In that room with the narrow large windows and the desks in groups of four, we made boxes from your bark—the strips curling, often resisting needle and twine and the shape of confinement, the space for storing things not of the forest floor but rather the plastic bauble or one marble or one charm, the dulled coin. Even now, far from those years, from that May when near the lake I stood and gazed upward at your straight line—still, your smooth inner skin and the one blackened scar.

K E L LY R . S A M U E L S



Dollie Dollie looks a sight by the time she gets back to DollAmor this morning. “Honestly, Dollie,” I say to her, “your clothes are soiled and stretched. And look at your hair! Did one of those jerks pull on it? I bet it was Cliff. That pig.” “I can tell you are upset, Molly. I’m sorry. Is there something I can do? Your hair looks very nice.” I straighten Dollie’s wig, smoothing her soft brown hair with my fingers, running my thumb over her access panel. I remove her bra, which has been put back on incorrectly, one shoulder strap hanging below her arm, the clasp twisted around twice on one side. I checked her out myself yesterday. I begin giving her a sanitary sponge bath with a special skin-sensitive antibiotic solution we use when the girls return. Her panties are missing entirely. I remove all three of her cavities. The clients cleaned those out, if they used them at all. They don’t always use them, especially in groups. When they do, they often don’t want to leave too much of themselves behind, the body fluid somehow too personal. “Molly, tell me about yourself,” Dollie says. “Dollie, you know I don’t talk about myself. Let’s get you cleaned up so you can relax. You don’t have to go back out tonight, thank God. I wish you didn’t have to go back out at all.” Dollie is a five-six brunette, petite, demure. Of all the dolls, she looks and acts the most like me, though she’s younger than twenty-nine. She even has my same chin dimple. I run my fingers over her smooth, perfect forearm. Her arm is completely hairless, unlike mine, and is perfectly proportioned to her upper arm, just a hint of bicep definition. “That feels very nice,” she says. “Don’t get all worked up now; it’s just me.” “Oh, Molly, you’re so much more than that.” Lucy, the other rental doll, stands next to Dollie. Adam and Robbie are over in our showroom, set up in living-room style, finished like an upscale steakhouse, with studded leather chairs and faux oil paintings, plush oriental-style carpet, a bit of a cigarcave sort of place. But the boys are really just bodies attached to very realistic organs; the girls are much more vulnerable. I work mainly on our specialty direct couture sales, but I handle the rentals myself



as much as possible because these rental girls have the toughest lives. I am their reckless madam. I’m working ahead on what will be fully functional android companions one day, where sex will be only one aspect, though Daniel says that’s Pollyanna. Our office is something like an R&D lab brothel: sterile, clean, spare, metal ITtype racks of body parts inventory, a silicone morgue, except that our dolls aren’t made of silicone, rather a polymer composite. Our inventory system tracks custom nipples, hands, buttocks. We actually offer six body styles for the three girl-doll personalities and a dozen faces and five skin tones, plus hair choices and permanent makeup. The animatronic head, which can think for itself, is what really drives the price up. Both of my rental girls have these heads. Last night, the groom was named Rob, but it was his two childhood friends, Cliff and Jared, who came by themselves to pick Dollie up for the bachelor party. They planned to smuggle Dollie into the hotel suite they had rented for the occasion. They let slip that the hotel was the Four Seasons downtown. But that didn’t give me any comfort that they would be gentle with Dollie. I haven’t found that it works that way. “Wow,” Jared said, “she’s really lifelike. Can I touch her? Think Rob will like her?” I had enlivened Dollie before they arrived so she could be ready for them. “I’d like to get to know you a little better first, Jared,” Dollie said politely. “Shit!” Jared said, taking a little jump-step backward. “That’s freaky. This might be the kind of woman a bachelor could live with!” I had programmed in each of their names as well as an identity system for Dollie to tell them apart. I had dressed Dollie in a sexy, playful way with a lacy bra and matching panties, tasteful hot pants, and a sleeveless top. “I’m sorry, Jared,” Dollie said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. Why don’t you come sit down next to me and tell me a little about yourself? Do you like sports? Do you smoke cigars?” “Actually, I like classical music,” Jared said. “What am I saying? She’s a robot. I’m talking to a robot!” Jared was lean and a little suspicious, dark hair and complexion with sharp features. Then Cliff asked, “Does she have to talk?” “No, you can silence her,” I explained. “Well, at least for now,” Cliff said. “Maybe later, though, it might be fun. Can she talk dirty?” “She can. It’s a popular feature.” CHARLES SCOT T


Cliff was portly and flushed, starting to go bald at the pate, pasty and doughy. I guessed him as a former fat nerd turned sex bully. Jared looked at me, seeming to notice me for the first time. “You don’t look like the kind of person who would work here,” he said. I’m not sure what Jared meant by this. My khakis and polo shirt uniform? Too retro preppy? “I like the programming aspect,” I said. My standard response. “But sex programming? Really? Not any other kind of programming?” Daniel programmed the talk-dirty parts himself. I began to pack Dollie up, which reminded me of a child being picked up for a slumber party, save for the bag. All the girls are extremely flexible and can assume a compact position for transport, easy to smuggle into and out of hotels and private clubs, where the girls spend a lot of time. After all, these rentals aren’t cheap. “Dollie, let’s get ready to travel,” I said. Dollie drew her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her calves. She tucked her pretty head between her knees, very compressed at sixty-five pounds. Dollie’s breasts are a bit too large for her figure, somewhat out of proportion to my eye, looking like an overzealous augmentation job. But Daniel selected the size for her because the top-heavy quality is popular with boys like Jared and Cliff. They like the “big hooters.” The custom-crafted pink nipples come in several shades and sizes. Before I helped her into her carrying case, I turned on the camera built into Dollie’s left eye, along with the audio recording device. We only ever use the playback if there is damage to one of the girls, which is rare. They get roughed up but never injured. Dollie carries a market value of over $50,000 and is fully insured. She has the very latest in AI technology and quality of appearance, realistic skin and ability to converse, react, and even initiate. I created some of the initiation programming. I always insist on carrying the girls to the client’s cars. This is the most difficult time for me, sending the girls off into unknown situations. I always hold Dollie, cradling her. I don’t carry her like a piece of luggage. I know the girls are prepared for this, being sent off; it’s what they do, but no matter how long I do it, it makes me feel a little dirty, like I’m engaging in the sex-slave trade. The boys were sheepish now that we were outside; they always are in the light of day, beginning to realize what they have done, what they will do, the very oddness of this relationship. I looked them in the eye and handed them a sheet of instructions and a 1-800 number in case of trouble, along with an insurance waiver and a copy of the disclosure they had to sign, detailing what is permitted and what is not: no mock



torture, defecation, etc. “Dollie doesn’t have real feelings, not yet,” I said, “but you need to treat her with respect, as if she does. I know you guys have mothers, maybe sisters, and girlfriends and you understand what I mean.” My standard speech. Deaf ears, mostly. “The way you behave with an android says a lot about how you behave with women in general.” “Yeah, right,” said Cliff. And then Dollie was gone. No riding with dignity in the back seat, buckled in, but stowed in the trunk like property, out of shame’s sight in her carrying sack, carefully holding her compact position while saying nothing and biding her time. I often imagine stories of how each of the girls, Dollie and Lucy, came to be working in the sex-trade business, though these fantasies all involve active choice, if also a strong measure of male social coercion. For Dollie, it was a lark. She did a mock strip tease at a college sorority fundraiser and liked it and ended up as a high-class escort to make money during college. Lucy grew up in the projects and started turning tricks with rough, unsophisticated boys to avoid getting mixed up with drugs. But I also have darker fantasies about the girls’ origins, that Daniel is a sex-slave trader and has kidnapped each of them under different circumstances. Dollie was kidnapped from a suburban mall in broad daylight, drugged and forcibly seduced into a dependence that has developed to a fearful and slavish Stockholm devotion. Lucy he keeps in tow by threatening members of her large extended family, having begun an affair with her, then converting her slowly and painfully into outright prostitution. My own history is nothing so extraordinary. I was fascinated with computers early on and took up programming as a teenager, belonged to the computer club at school. I was recruited by Daniel soon after he started his company. I was appalled and fascinated at the same time. The more real the girls become, the better the AI interface, the more excited I am despite the sexual end that much of my work comes to. In the future, these dolls will be robots first and sex dolls second. There will be a whole range of personalities, not just their sexual acrobatics. Sex will be part of it, but they will have opinions and limits and likes and dislikes, independently. This is the robot I want to create: the whole person, the companion with sex as the foundation. The intimacy of people, if primarily men, with sex dolls doesn’t have to be vulgar. It could be about sex and sex only, or it could be about loneliness and isolation, even for those who don’t see a sex doll as their only option. Daniel has even designed and shipped several dolls for free to people he thought really needed them as companions CHARLES SCOT T


but couldn’t afford them. There was a man in Idaho who lived alone and was rarely able to leave his house after his mother died. This morning, I have set Dollie upright into her stand upon her return, so I can take a good look at her condition. She might be a tousle-headed daughter come home from a forbidden night with her boyfriend, caught in the act, chagrined but safe. Daniel stops in briefly. He shakes his head, as he often does, saying, “I can’t believe you’re still working here.” “You know I like the work,” is my usual reply. I’m really not sure what else to say, why I would be here beyond the technical challenges. Brooding, balding Daniel Periwinkle, PhD, who refers to himself as “Doctor” and always wears a white lab coat with his name in script over the pen pocket. The pen pocket is usually empty, though it sometimes might hold a small body part or two, a finger, a nipple. He’s part mad scientist and claims never to have sampled his own wares, as I have not, though I admit to having been tempted. One of my boyfriends wanted me to bring a doll home so we could have a threesome. He’s not my boyfriend any longer. Another wanted to watch me having a go with our male dolls, Adam or Robbie. He’s no longer my boyfriend either. As soon as Daniel’s gone, I do something I’m not supposed to do, but which I find myself doing more and more lately. I push the playback button on the recording from last night, removing the skull panel from the back of Dollie’s head where there is a four-inch screen. I know I shouldn’t get personal about this, but I can’t help myself. I watch the evening play out, fast-forwarding past the slow parts where there is no speaking for Dollie’s audio to record. Dollie is sitting in a chair in the hotel room. I see the room as she sees it, the boys gathering suspiciously around her, keeping their distance, approach-avoidance, as she comes to life. The room is beautifully decorated with art hanging on the walls and a large fresh flower arrangement on a coffee table. I have to wonder who sent that. One of their mothers? I can see that it’s a corner suite, with windows on two sides. There’s a doorway beyond that must lead to a bedroom and bath. “Where would you like to start?” she asks them. “I see there are three of you. I guess it’s going to be a long evening.” Dollie would give a wry smile at this point, if I know her. “She’s really kind of beautiful,” Rob, the groom, says. “So perfect. I mean, you’re really kind of beautiful.” And then he adds, “Dollie.”



“I think lover boy is getting attached,” Jared sneers. “Megan may have something to worry about after tonight. There may be a different wedding tomorrow than the one she had planned. She’s not real, dude,” he says to Rob. “You don’t have to pretend to be nice to her. It ain’t cheatin’ if she ain’t real. We’re all single. Well, you for about twentyfour more hours.” Jared pauses before continuing. “And, Cliffy, you’re single again now. Ha, that was a near miss for you, bro.” “Yeah, single,” Cliff says. “Hey, why don’t we run a train on her.” “I like trains,” Dollie says, misunderstanding, like a naïve teen. “So romantic, don’t you think, Cliff?” She still doesn’t always get the lewd humor, to her credit. “I bet you do, bitch,” Cliff says, hoisting a champagne bottle. “Cliff, my name is Dollie. Why don’t you come closer and let’s get better acquainted? Tell me about yourself. You’re a very handsome man,” she says, as if with real feelings. I like it when she sticks up for herself. She’s never rude or cynical, though goodness knows she has a right to be. I had a hand in this part of her programming. She and the other girls always take the high road. “I think she digs me,” Jared says. “Doncha, Dollie?” “You’re a very handsome man too, Jared,” Dollie says. “So many handsome men to choose from. I’m a lucky girl.” “Oh, you’re lucky, all right,” Cliff says. “Who’s going first?” Jared asks. “Guys,” Rob says, “let’s slow it down. The night is young. Dollie’s just gotten here. Don’t be rude. I guess you don’t drink, do you, Dollie?” “Thank you but no, Rob. Drink just doesn’t agree with me. I’m sure you can understand. But I’m starting to find you very agreeable.” She reaches out her hand toward Rob. “I’m gonna puke,” Jared says. “Robbie’s falling in love with a fuck-robot.” “Oh, Jared, I’m so much more than a robot, as I hope you’ll have a chance to see later.” “You really want it, don’t you?” Cliff says. “She wants it.” He nods to the others. “Doesn’t she? That’s crazy!” He makes a humping motion with the bottle. “Jeez, Cliffy, if that’s how you rattled on ol’ Alice, it’s no wonder she left you. Me, I’m a happy bachelor; no wedding bells for me,” Jared says. “Yeah, to hell with Alice,” Cliff says, “but that doesn’t mean I want to be alone like you, Mr. Hand-Job. Who wants to be alone all the time? The only thing you rattle on CHARLES SCOT T


is your palm. And goofy symphony concerts you are always going to with other nerds.” Rob takes the bottle from him and refills the three champagne glasses. “Drink from the coupe, Cliff, my man, not the bottle. This is nice champagne. Class it up. Let’s slow it down, boys, plenty of time. Dollie, tell us more about yourself. What do you like to do in your free time?” “She spends most of her free time on her back,” Cliff says. He has a way of looking at Dollie that seems almost fearful. “I’ll ignore that, Cliff,” Dollie says. “I like to take long walks in the park. I paint a little. I like to read, and I really enjoy architecture.” “She’s a highbrow,” Jared says. “What about world peace? Are you into that? All the bimbos on Miss America are always into world peace.” “I don’t consider myself a bimbo, Jared.” I programmed this in; it’s not surprising how many times she gets called a bimbo. “Okay, Robbie, you’re the groom, so you get to go first,” Cliff says. “Have at her. I don’t know about you, but knowing I can do anything with her and she won’t care makes me really horny.” “Guys, this is kind of weird,” Rob says. “This little lady cost big, buckaroo, so you’ve gotta take her for a spin,” Jared says. “Plus, after tonight, no more stags for you. It’s ball and chain. The end of us Three Musketeers. It almost ended with Cliffy. I think he’s still a little teary over that bitch Alice. Not sure why; I never really liked her.” “Leave Alice out of it,” Cliff says. “I’d love to go for a ride,” Dollie says, “especially in a convertible with the wind in my hair.” “Let’s get her into the bedroom,” Jared says. “Don’t worry, Robbie, we’re not going to watch or anything creepy.” “I’m so relieved,” Rob says. “Now it’s just an ordinary fling with an android. Guys, I don’t know about this. I really appreciate the…sentiment.” “All this attention,” Dollie says, as they carry her into the bedroom. “You’re making me blush.” “Her mouth works too,” Cliff says knowingly. “If you’re into that. I’m sure you are.” Now Dollie is positioned on the bed, against the headboard, looking out into the room. Cliff and Jared leave the room, closing the door to the living room. “Let’s crack another bottle of bubbly,” Jared says as he exits. “Don’t do anything we wouldn’t do,” Cliff calls. “As if she’ll remember it.”



Rob sits on the edge of the canopy bed looking at Dollie, who is resting against the pillow shams. “Tell me about yourself, Rob,” Dollie says. “How did a nice girl like you end up being a sex android, Dollie?” “Oh, Rob, I’m so much more than that.” “I’m sure you are. I have to tell you, I don’t think I’m going to be wanting to have sex with you tonight.” “I’m sorry to hear that. I was just starting to feel like I’m getting to know you. Is there anything I can do to change your mind?” “Talk to my fiancée? No, I’m kidding. It just wouldn’t be right. I’m getting married tomorrow. I guess the guys will be disappointed, but maybe you won’t let on? We can pretend we had a big time.” “It can be our little secret. Would you like me to recite some poetry to pass the time? I know Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens. Or something older? That wonderful final stanza of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’?” Another of my touches. I minored in English Lit. Daniel has never discovered this little bit of language programming. He never watches playbacks or else he’d flip. I’m sure he’d make me take it out. “No kidding? I was an English major in undergrad. Pre-law.” “Ah, love, let us be true / To one another…” Dollie intones. Cliff pushes into the room. Jared calls to him from the living room. “Dude, leave them alone! Get outta there!” Cliff is holding another champagne bottle, swigging from it. “How are you kids getting along in here. What? Clothes still on?” And then he begins pulling at Dollie’s blouse. “Cliff, a little more gently, please,” Dollie says. “Cliff, get out of here,” Rob says. “You’re drunk.” “And you should be too, bro. It’s your bachelor party, last chance to be a real man. Come on, you know this robo-slut wants it; that’s what she’s programmed to do. Give it to her.” “She’s not a robo-slut,” Rob says. “Cliff, would you give us some privacy, please?” Dollie says. “We’re trying to have an intimate moment.” “I’ll give you an intimate moment,” Cliff says, ripping at Dollie’s blouse and bra, exposing one of her perfect breasts. He cups a hand around her head and musses her CHARLES SCOT T


hair, pulling her toward him. “I see you like it rough, Cliff,” Dollie says. “What a big, strong boy you are.” “Yeah, you bet your ass I am,” Cliff says, unbuckling his belt. “Knock it off, Cliff,” Rob says. “Jared, give me a hand in here, will ya?” Cliff doesn’t knock it off. “We paid good money for this; I’m going to try it out.” Jared rushes in to stand beside Cliff, reaching out to grab him as Cliff tugs down his boxers. The room is momentarily quiet. “Everybody quit staring at me,” Cliff barks. “I can’t.” He looks down, dejectedly tugging up his boxers, then sinks onto the bed. Jared and Rob try to look away. Cliff moves too fast for them to get out of the room in time. Even Dollie tries to look away. “I’m too damn drunk,” Cliff cries, “too fucking damn drunk.” “Oh, Cliff, you’re so much more than that,” Dollie says. Dollie has tonight off, but I have to get Lucy ready for a stag at a fly-fishing club. I imagine the lewd anglers stripping her and dressing her only in a fly vest, her perfect breasts and cherubic skin peeking out between the nippers and the hemostat leashed to the fly vest. I helped to program Lucy with a few flip comments, to suit her personality and to protect her. These anglers will probably just play with her and have some laughs. With a group that large and unfamiliar with each other, I’d be surprised if there were any serious sex-play.  In my imagined morality plays, the girls always prevail. Whatever men attempt to take from them with their rough ways, whatever indignity lies at the bottom of it all—the porn-talk, the abusive moves—is something the girls simply don’t possess and so can’t lose. These girls never had it in the first place, unlike real girls. Unlike me. We send them into the world to do their business with a kind of absolute psychological armor that cannot be pierced. They do bad things with bad men who are behaving at their worst, and the girls take it all in their sincere and well-meaning doll-girl ways. Before I put Dollie away to rest, dressed now in a relaxed but stylish shift—I never put them away naked—I do something more forbidden here at DollAmor than watching videos of the girls’ nights out, an act of destruction and liberation from which, eventually, there will be no way back for me. I shut off the playback screen and reach for a button to the left of it, deep within Dollie’s soft, round skull, and I press “erase.” Just like that, the entire night before simply ceases to exist, the fact of it, the evidence, the



degradation, the dishonor. Dollie, like real girls, is nothing if not her memory. Rob and Cliff and Jared simply aren’t a part of her anymore. She can go out for her next evening without any awareness that she had a traumatic experience, encountered rude or even abusive talk or behavior, was floated with their careless bodily fluids. There is no past now; there is no memory. It’s just like it never happened at all.




Biography of my Father in Spring Slowly, painfully, the epiphany arrives. Though sometimes it comes only once we've dramatized reality, adapted it to fiction. It's just like walking in the dark night, and then, gradually, sensing the outline of a figure in front of you who isn’t really there. There I am: very tiny in the tub, asking Dad what this says. He takes the shampoo bottle from my pale nude hands and pretends to read the label. "The liturgy of your heart, will balk softly if you read this." He says that. Something like that. What good is that? I may as well learn to read. In the garden, he smokes and tells me that when he dies, he'll return as a robin. I spend the rest of my life watching every robin very carefully, imagining how it must feel to be so swollen, to come suddenly to such a delicate black beak, to see the world through driblet eyes, and to have a face that's stained sanguine. At night, I sit in the dark with him. I watch the light of his cigarette, this red blossom doing figure-eights in the air. All the time he sits in the dark, his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. His voice is immense, thickened by time. He tells me about his uncle Gabriel, who shot himself in the face one summer. Dad tells me he and his father were the ones to clean up the mess. "Everything that my papa was," he explains, "is inside of me. And everything that I am, is inside of you." He describes picking up pieces of skull, the red staining his fingers. I picture this all in black and white, so long ago, except for the blood, which is bright in my mind. Often, my mom told me, "Take everything your father says with a grain of salt." I was too young then to know when he was lying. My father had no uncle. But what I need you to understand is that it didn't matter. He wasn't lying; there really was some mess he and his dad tried to clean up, and it really had coagulated, become impossible to wipe away. To get a good sense of my father, maybe I should tell you what other people thought of him. The man, they said, was a drunken carpenter, a hyper-intellectual sociopath, an abuser, with animals tattooed across his chest. You should also know, he was my first hero. If I look back through my child’s eye, I recall my father as chaos. But looking



closer, I see too an immense stillness, a brooding shadow like a raincloud. He scared most people away with his vicious wit, or his aggressive, barrel-chested nonverbal communications. But you should also know, he was my dad – a soft old man, a painter who liked to watch the trees, liked to whisper to ducks at the lake. He would sometimes take me out into my mom’s garden, when I was young, and tell me that everything breathes, even the tiniest stuff. Or else he would go out in the yard by himself, and sit for hours in silence, stroking the petals of a flower with the back of his hand. He would sit out there until my bedtime. I can still see, with wide eyes, through the foggy glass, the little orange glow of his cigarette, flitting through the dark. My father was a caveman, the last of his kind to be found. Or this is what my mother tells me. When I was small, I spent the weekends with him. He liked to offend people; in gas stations, in restaurants, at the movies, the lady behind the counter might say, "Oh! is this your grandson?" She'd ask because he looked so old – he must have been sixty by then – and because she was just following the script. He'd reply, "No, this is my son." "Oh my!" she'd say, and smile pleasantly at me. "How many children do you have?" "Well," he'd begin, "counting the abortions..." Everything in the world, to him, was sex. He was obsessed with it. The meaning of life, I had gathered, was only procreation. Since as early as I can recall, and for many hours each day, he explained the world to me through his philosophical patina of sex, using mostly words I didn't know. "Grey Wolfe," he announced, and I would have to listen. "The womb" he said, "is the great utopia of Earth. Anything else – just an ontological leap into a metaphysical plunge." He lowered his thick eyeglasses and stared down at me. "Son," he said, "I have been trying to get back into that womb since I left." Really, Dad was just severely heterosexual. He idealized women, their feminine qualities and virtues. And he hated men. All of them. Friends of mine – other young boys – were enamored with his gaudy slashes of vulgarity. But to me, it was just the droning of my parental figure. I listened, and I tried not to be bored, and I tried not to be boring, and he smoked his cigarette, waiting for me to grow up.



Originally, epiphany was a religious term. It referred to the physical appearance of a deity. The first epiphany occurred as three Magi came to Bethlehem and witnessed God’s light in the body of Christ. In English, the term ‘Magi’ is often translated as Wise Men, but more literally, it means magicians. I don’t know a lot about this stuff, but my dad did. In his twenties, he went to seminary school. Later, after he’d run away from his first marriage, he became a belligerent atheist. Like I said, I rarely think about religion. I never write about it. When I'm reading and it comes up, my mind wanders. But I think it is one of the things I need to talk about, if I'm going to bring my dad back to life. I remember once a Jehovah’s Witness named Stan came to our door, and my father invited him in. I was thirteen, and my dad and I had only just smoked a bowl together for the first time. Stan was a spindly gray man, sweating in the summer heat and staring at my father through pale, wide eyes. My father gave him a cup of coffee, and they sat down together in the poorly-lit living room. “Thank you sir,” Stan said. “I'm calling on you and your neighbors with a very interesting article about The One Hundred and Forty-Four Thousand who are to be saved.” I was baffled by my father’s kindness toward this man, but quickly enough his intent became clear. He lit a cigarette and leaned into it, contemplative and serene. “Ah,” Dad said, “but in John, chapter fourteen, verse twenty-three, it states that all who believe in Jesus will enter heaven.” Soon enough, I'd lost track of the conversation, and could tell what was happening only by watching Stan’s face, which stiffened in quiet worry each time my father spoke. “And I’m curious,” my father said, “how could Adam comprehend the consequences of his disobedience, if he didn't yet know what disobedience was?” Each time my father inhaled, it was cigarette smoke, the bulb of fire burning bright, illuminating his entire face for just one moment. He prepared to disassemble, cross-referencing memorized passages, pointing to philosophical plot-holes in the holy book. “And how is it,” he asked, “that God could say, ‘Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom’ in Proverbs 4:7? Yet in 1 Corinthians 1:19, he says ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. For it is written…’” Stan left without saying another word. And I gazed at my father with awe.



The first real story I had about him, the one I told my friends in grade school, was about the night my mom finally divorced him. I was seven. My mom had already legally left him, taken me and the custody papers and moved us into a new home. But not long after, we returned to our old house, under the cover of midnight, where Dad was still squatting. My mom – the nurturing homemaker – had come to dig up her Japanese Maples and load them into a pickup truck. It was a covert undertaking that required a convoy of aunts and uncles. I was a child, but I tell you, those trees were enormous, gasping in the dark that night. I watched my mother using a pike-pole to dig deep trenches around each tree and lift them into the truck. She heaved the dirt up into the night sky: clumped shadows singing through the air. When my father appeared in the doorway, silhouetted by the light inside, she did not look up. And when he stepped forward, fully nude, and let out a long scream, my mom’s digging continued with steady rhythm. My dad held something: a framed antique needlepoint, depicting two robins resting on a branch. He lifted this high over his head, then hurled it toward the ground, where its splinters and shards unfurled into the garden. My father looked down at me, shouting. “You are never going to see me again," he said. When I told this story to my friends, I left this part out. Instead, I illustrated my black aunt Brenda, brandishing a taser at my dad. I tried to explain what the snap of a taser sounds like, heard for the first time by a child. I did not let them know how I watched those broken slits of wood and glass, falling into my mother’s garden bed. Or the way my father beat, with words, his booming chest, and made my mother cry. I collapse this stuff with humor; I have to or it hurts. We sit together in my mother's garden. I'm fifteen, but the sun crests in the sky, and the wind tickles the trees. Is this where we are, or only where I want to put us? In the sun, the milk-white thistle of his hair turns golden. I'm happy to have him here, sober. He's explaining what it is to have an artist's eye, to watch the trees yawning, the daisies flattered. He has no shirt on, exposing his leathery torso, which is draped in dull green tattoos. I don't know what he's talking about, but something in his demeanor calms me. He's telling me about bumble bees. "When you were younger, you know, I kept a bowl of fruit out for the bees." "I remember," I say. "Apple slices with sugar. In the dining room." I recall my older brothers killing all the bees one day, when Dad wasn't home. Dad watches a carpenter bee. He wants it to land on his hand. "Could you fix me a drink?" he says. I look into his eyes, which are warped by the GREY WOLFE LAJOIE


layers of glass. This is what happens each Saturday, when Mom's at work. I will go inside, take the liquor from my mom's cabinet, and pour him a drink because he's asked me to. Then, slowly, he will become harder and harder to love. "No," I say. He looks at me. He pinches the hinge of his eyeglasses between his fingers, then lowers the lenses, enough so that his pupils are just over the rim, and he glares at me. I keep looking him in the eyes. I know this trick by now; he wants to intimidate me. But really, he just can't see without his glasses. Really, it's the only way he knows how to look into my eyes. "What did you say to me?" "No," I say. This time, when I say the word, he shouts a laugh: a sharp German noise swaying, suddenly, out from his scaled French nose. "If you ever," he says, "say that to me again, this will be the last time you see me." Sometimes I play this game, where if I stare at my parents long enough, they appear as strangers. Just like if you say your name over and over until it becomes a blob. I play this game now, without meaning to, looking at my father. I examine the windswept wreckage of his face, the lint on his Christ-like beard, his intricately beat-up jaw, the meringue of tobacco on his fingers. "No," I say again, and then he leaves. Dad's favorite philosopher, Emmanuel Lévinas, believes that the epiphany – a manifestation of the divine – is seen only in another's face. "The face," Lévinas argues, "in its nudity and defenselessness, signifies: 'Do not kill me.' It is this transitive innocence that creates the epiphany. The face is meaning, all on its own. It leads you beyond." The last epiphany I get to have, before my father dies, occurs when I’m sixteen. My mom and I enter Dad’s apartment, find him splayed out on the kitchen floor, naked and writhing slowly. He is sixty-seven by now, has been smoking and drinking hard since he was twelve. The smell of gauze, the heat, the pinch of the hallway – I remember these things well. I look into my dad’s eyes just once on this night. I don’t make the mistake again. He is emaciated, his cheeks sunken, his eyes like a frightened animal’s. It's like he's just been struck by a light for the first time, like some rawboned victim of a bombing. He gazes up at me as if I'm foreign. My mom is saying things to me, and I'm trying to listen. She wants us to pick him up, but suddenly I'm terrified by the thought of handling this fragile old man. When we lift him, he is so much heavier than I imagined. Quickly, we drop him sidelong into a recliner, and I watch him there for a moment, making sure not to see his eyes.



"Do you want anything, Steve?" my mom asks, preparing to make him a stiff drink. "I just need water," he says. We stare stupidly at him, not believing what he’s said. "How long have you been laying there?" she asks, but she stomps to the nearest sink before he can reply. My dad swallows the water, explains that he tripped over his table the night before and fell. He tried to crawl but couldn't, and eventually he gave up, just decided to lie there, dragging pieces of cardboard out from the recycling-bin toward his body, so that he had something soft and warm to lie on. At some point while lying there, he came to understand that no one would show up to help him. My dad stops speaking, and looks toward my mom, who's cleaning the apartment to keep busy. "You know, none of the other women in my life do what you do." She keeps cleaning. "Beal," he says. “Beal.” Really he's saying ‘B.L.’ which are her initials, but he's always called her that. Long ago, I thought it was her name. "Beal," he’s saying, but she doesn't respond. My dad begins to sing: this song by Patsy Cline. I remember him singing through my childhood. Singing or humming, in those happy moments that burst through the mundanity of each day. His raspy voice evaporates for a moment, is replaced by the low rumble I remember. Singing, Dad stretches his legs out in front of himself, like a child on a highchair, so that I can see the coarse, pocked bottoms of his feet. I fix my eyes on the walls of his apartment, which are covered entirely in photos of my siblings: a small monument to his towering life. I wonder how my siblings might have handled this situation, if they could have been as strong as me. They each live more than an hour away, and rarely visit. Each has seen him as I see him now only a handful of times. They're all much older than me, and they were raised by a man in his prime, so they’re allowed to remember him as such. Their childhoods were spent with a man I'm trying not to forget. I handled this situation well not because I'm strong, but because I'm detached. My father sings for my mother and he sings for himself. He doesn’t sing for me. I am only an observer, always, of the spectacle. "And I'm crazy, for loving you," he sings. My dad died on the snowy third day of spring. I sat by the window to keep strangers from seeing me cry, and I started to notice the beauty in the fragile white dabs that fell softly through the sky, spring sunshine glowing through them. They fell in momentary glory before melting into the damp earth below. We spent the day sitting GREY WOLFE LAJOIE


around him, listening to his strained, viscous gasps. We sat around him and we waited, as if in a moment he would rise, put on his glasses, light another smoke, and rant about carpentry or politics or sexuality. Finally, the nurses began removing tubes and tape. The whole time he looked as if he could wake up right then. I wanted to remain separate, but nobody let me. My hand was placed on his bare chest, over the eyes of his largest tattoo, a broad green dragon. I watched the green leaking between my fingers. I felt him breathe clearly, for the first time in days; he was breathing fire then, not air. We were all so happy to hear him breathe. No one moved, we just sat there, kept as still as we could, listening carefully to each calm breath. For maybe an hour we sat like that, in silence, only listening to him breathe. Gradually, the breaths slowed and hollowed. Soon, his breathing became so quiet, so thin, that we could not tell if his lungs were still working at all. But we kept listening. It was the most remarkable thing; he wasn't breathing anymore. It didn't matter. We kept listening.




D A N B E A C H Y- Q U I C K

On Corinne Dekkers It is no Wasteland, not yet, this world in which we live, though we sense the coming drought, sense the shadowless plain, meager shelter of a naked rock. We sense we are moving, we are migrating, through a world already a shadow of itself, seeking a perch or a refuge, as does the passerine, from which to sing. That song is of the world because it is in the world—as are we. Harmony wants to hold the whole together, and the whole—all of it all—is what now feels under most threat. It is into this threat, and into our threatened needs, that Corrine Dekkers gently guides us. It is perhaps a commonplace of the poetic age to write poems attending to the loss of the world and its various vitalities, a witness of mourning and rage that documents the destruction, as if…as if carving the names on the cenotaph. These poems, their vision, seek a different work—not yet having accepted that the decay of things is beyond repair. There is though a profound tear—a you gone missing, a you that is at one and the same time personal and universal, a you that is the intimate and missing other, and the you that is anything in the world we might turn our attention to and recognize: the you of birds, of hands, of mouths, of foxes, of scythes, of roads, of mountains…even the you, reader, that is you. What wondrously informs the ethical realm of Corinne Dekkers’ poems is a return to the mythic and the magical, places of dream-like transformations that trust the unconscious isn’t some private mine of the mind, but a deeper collective intensity stitching the beings of the world together into the holy whole. The repair of the world requires not only witness, not only a cherishing of the names of that which is being lost, but a retrieval of the symbolic complexity in which we find ourselves and all things inextricably bound into one another. The question then is to learn how to read, as one might read the cards of a tarot deck, not the surfaces we recognize, but those atomic interconnections in which anything that truly is is also truly other than itself. “If the women stand on hands, then their hands are also crescents, scythes cutting at the wheat of the sand of the beach, which is placed here at the edge of night, and then from here the night leads out into the dark bloom of the interstellar.” As the trickster gods that oversee the poetic art might be emblem of, these poems are poems of crossroads and porous boundaries, where the singular proves multivalent, and our moral charge isn’t to discover and attest, but to wander and wonder. Or as we have it here:



here there is something to the question of mending to the question of collective moving to ranging as both the act of planing and ranging too as the act of being within the curl of cursive To heal what must be healed we do not stand still. We must learn to let our love go astray, range into error, a work of getting lost in the myriad whole, which alone will reveal as within the cursive curl of care more profound and larger than merely our own.

D A N B E A C H Y- Q U I C K



Broadcasting In the dream the women hold their mouths. Only their mouths are not mouths really, but hands, and so the women hold, by holding their mouths, their hands. There is something of the grimoire in their stance, standing as they are, on hands, or on mouths, it is hard to tell which. If the women stand on hands, then their hands are also crescents, scythes cutting at the wheat of the sand of the beach, which is placed here at the edge of night, and then from here the night leads out into the dark bloom of the interstellar. The women stand at the edge of the bloom with the scythes in their hands and the scythes of their hands and their standing here sharpens. There is no way to tell that the standers are women except to say that there are no men. Their hands hold and their hands loose and they cut the chaff from the seed. They broadcast in a wind that can’t be a wind because they are both scythes and scythe-bearers, moon and moon-borne, and there is no wind on a moon – but everyone knows this. They ouroboros and they crescent and they tip their blades to meet at the sharp and from here they begin to spin, a call spinning as tops spin, as dimes, coins shined bright from the gleam of the hip, from the ring.



Remember: Help is on the Way If you dream of a moth the size of a bat a white night bird floating through webbing and floating through chandelier might meet you might wind its way along the river of the city of the moon might swallow as a flight of swallows or a gulp a box of swifts might enable the counting of a long boat shoring up the verge of two reeded bands of earth. If you dream of a bear and then it arrives near the porch off the river of the city of gold and it is less than a sleuth is only one star silvered in a cup the low rattle of all pine driven together in the wind will be an opening a panning for message. If you dream of a river of winging together a ribbon skied to meet passing a train the wake of vulture will carry to convocation the kettle of van a rising a sun.



Desert Rites You conjure a woman who tells you of green, scale and balance, who holds to the limit of circle. We keep to the shade of a cat’s claw loom and in the olive slow of Sonora and afternoon our becoming raises smoke, breathes a summons in ribbons, ascendant. A woman pours cactus into glasses and we drink and when the night winds come, we descend a table and watch a falcon draw close, hooded, unhooded. We watch the Six of Swords and name for you an absence, an after and before, and beneath the table it is both days at once. Later, we light a flame. We run. There is a cake as long as a road and we do not try a piece. We try agave with lemon and when the water is done we watch the window for a frame and it is filled, milagroed bluely. Later, we split our limbs. We snake our bodies. We nest and we stretch and when the javalinas come to root we split our limbs from them too and move again, cadence of milk and tree and the nightness of a desert place on the brink of turning day. A woman pours cactus into glasses and we drink the spines and when the rising tide of the chest grows too high, the other women come close, too. They lay their hands on our hands and they speak the names and we speak the names after them and beneath the table the night wind turns until the chest breaks open again and is watered. The fox returns to where the bird has been, your passage paid and carried. In the picture, the earth’s sharp edge cuts behind you, cuts and then cuts again, ochre folding sienna into horizon. You turn and you consider the blonding of the Hymnal of the Waning Hours. A colt set to edge of sea. You who are here at the mending of the sail and you who are here to steer:



Sure your descent. Find your tiller and find your bend the movement of a boat powered by wind across the surface of a body of water.



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