In This Issue — 04
J. A. Batty Darkness Dreaming Two Ghosts Fire
Meghan Bliss This Morning a Clump of Hair Fell Out and Formed a Treble Clef on the Shower Floor These Women Are Hungry & Beautiful After “Countess P—’s Advice for New Girls” by Natasha Trethewey
Natalie Easton Corroborator Things We Did After Your Death
T. J. McLemore Easter, Northampton
Safwan Khatib A Foreword to Armageddon
Susan Milchman In Relation To
Michael Albright False Dawn
Erin Cisney Crystal Park
Tom Carrigan Sin Sabor
Timothy Dodd The Industrialistâ€™s Passing
Alina Rios Inheritance
Simon Perchik Untitled Untitled
Howie Good Cyanosis
Abra Bertman His Venom Cup
Andrea DeAngelis moth-eaten
Sara Emily Kuntz The Squirrel Cage
J. A. Batty
Darkness Dreaming Rain-washed green stalks ferry Petals made pink-cheeked by breezes cut with the last bite of winter Yearning toward the light, faith pushing them up through the chilled soil Knowing that what will come is not what is Knowing dayâ€™s candle was there, waiting, waiting all the time they slept in darkness dreaming of warmth
J. A. Batty
Two Ghosts Two ghosts linger by me Each pulls in a different direction One to the past, one to the end One is cool and soft, soft quiet like new snow Just a sigh left to give The other travels a hard path, sharp stones in my shoes, stumbles in the dark, keys, faces, momentsâ€”a river of loss runs from a hole in my never-empty pocket Stillness not a choice Which hand to take?
J. A. Batty
Fire The fire crawls on my back Clawing and rapacious as it writhes for purchase Its heat sears from compass point to compass point No destination in mind, just a body to consume Hollowed sockets and bone-dry caverns left behind A withered snake skin waiting to be blown away To be away What a dream
This Morning a Clump of Hair Fell Out and Formed a Treble Clef on the Shower Floor Billie, on what might be NPR, sings blue moon, now Iâ€™m no longer alone â€”the song that eased my father into his perpetual sleep & I nearly nick my knuckle on the cutting board between strawberries & sherbet-soft melon wedges. I turn her off. In the heavy present quiet, the fissured cantaloupes on the counter are skulls in rough-hewn burlap skin.
These Women Are Hungry & Beautiful It’s 1:07 a.m. where is your daughter? Brittani Mae is having her hair done by Christian who also has frosted tips & last month’s overdue rent & a mother in Illinois who hates the big city scene but the big city scene is a basement in an anytime anytown with lights, camera, action! & a box of condoms deep enough to feed a, well, we don’t use condoms here anymore because they kill the vibe & we need to keep our customers happy. Isn’t youth happy? Youth is scratch-proof, incombustible: Youth is the edging of orange, the lock of ghosts and goblins behind you as you fly over crunching ice in knee-high boots and thigh-tight leathers, stilettos and spiderling lashes catching feathery snow. Youth is a thousand women swallowing inhibition for the camera because that’s where they belong, because you can’t buy a D-cup and let it go to waste. Youth is beauty, silly girl. You can’t run away from it.
After “Countess P—’s Advice for New Girls” by Natasha Trethewey See yourself through his eyes— your neck stretched long and slender, your back arched—the awkward poses he might capture in stone… As a general rule of thumb, wait for permission to come undone. Don’t think you can just take your shoes off at the front door or call your mother the moment a man’s hand lingers too long at your back. You will learn to say yes when he asks for too much. You will learn to let him unlace your spine one notch at a time because he cares for you; he says so, and you must believe him. You will learn to wear an empty stomach like a star, each tumbling ache a strand of sapphires, your gemstone navel bright with hunger. He will feed you grapefruit, whiskey, three solid meals of flattery to keep you full, and you will learn to believe that, too. Finally, when he gives you permission, if he does, do so gently, like a dandelion releasing one pale frond at a time. Don’t kick your shoes across the room, wail into the phone, or binge on leftover potatoes and pie, and for the love of God, don’t mess up your hair.
Things We Did After Your Death The truth is shameful: I couldn’t bear your naked body, the one that made you cry like an abusive ward forces a child to cry–as if for pleasure. In the moment I didn’t know my reasons why, only my discomfort. I had no sympathy or gentle croon that hadn’t known the backlash of your anger the way scent links intuitively to taste. I was afraid of what I would awaken, what horrified part of you might have tried to articulate humiliation through the muddied pathways of your brain; I didn’t want to see your eyes light with suspicion again that way. And before I found this realization I still discounted the people who told me that this is a routine issue between an ill parent and her child. Avoidance was mostly for me. I lifted your weight despite my back, and later, it didn’t even hurt, but I couldn’t wipe you after the bathroom or soap over the scar on your chest. At the same time I knew you would say, “Don’t let me go to the grave dirty.” So after you died, while my stepfather turned away and wailed, I took a damp rag and wiped your face, special attention paid to the corners of your mouth, where the medication I’d fed you in your morphine sleep had escaped as I’d watched your closed lids for any sign that you might come to and berate me.
However much beer that mouth drank, however many times it humorously cussed, or said “I love you,” however many times it kissed a pet or chided a husband, it had closed and was now being touched for the final time by me. For all I knew you felt it still, just as you heard me telling you it was okay to take your last breath and you agreed. By this point the cat had disappeared and would not be seen for days. Just weeks before, when I had visited, she’d yowled in the living room at night like a proponent of old wives’ tales until I came downstairs to stare, and she gazed back so matter-of-factly that I knew a number of things. Bad news: after you left, your husband let the cat go at a farm; that classic line. Rest assured I have no doubt he was being literal. She just wanted to be free, he said.
Corroborator The kitchen was dark, stillness exacerbated by the poor light coming through a window: day but late, house clean and inert as a hand under shadowed bath water, palm open, empty. Iâ€™d wake eventually, a little version of Mom to scale, scaled right down to the lizard brain. Surviving this: a laughing father friendly enough to unpack a mack truck and make a friend, laughing father needed enough to be reigned in from long-haul fucking to short-haul home-late. The crabs came from a toilet seat and coincidentally he moved a mattress that day, no pun intended. A laughing father timing grocery store runs shouting the closed windows to a rattle signaling bedroom lights off: black boys heâ€™d say and checkbook, or disrespect if someone spoke of his saintly mother, ghost-thighed, who oversaw their marriage in a church basement where broken artifacts reign
holy in sight of no one. How to love oneself in one’s self-deprecation. And Sister in the back yard on the swing with a boy. Sister pillow-thighed. Sister in the vice principal’s desk scouting liquor. Sister missing and me in the back seat, knees to chest, praying for her invisibility or mine. Sister thrown against the wall, lollipop clutched in one hand, the dimes not spent at the payphone in the other, ready to laugh about this later. Sister to a movie camera, sister to a security camera. Sister to a space telescope. Sister resented, Sister I hated. Sister illustrated on a leaf of my brain like a book I’ve closed. First book I wrote. First book I’d save from a burning house.
T. J. McLemore
Easter, Northampton April waits indifferent in wet snow, groundmelt. The parks cast off their coverings to try again their green. It’s a long way back to spring. Easter, the raising season, but that hope’s slippery, inchoate as these spilled words, wine rings wiped in time from the table. A late rain opens the town’s pores wide. Almost visible, the musk of mulch and the sting of brine rise from the ground in waves.
A Foreword to Armageddon he spoke thus: let the lungs of the eyes breathe sun and air then collapse unified beneath high noon oh god oh god oh stiff grey-blue diaphragms, our grey-brilliant goddamned minds like frayed hands unheld and immersed in a scalding sea
In Relation To I feel like you left weeks ago, but it’s only been three hours. the scaffolding of your dismantling climbing up my windows. Days are longer than years on the planet Mercury. do my eyes look paler to you? because when I’m on fire, they twist like a snake into the color of snow. and when I’m falling, they skid into blue. but not the pretty kind of blue. Messages from your brain travel along your nerves at up to 200 miles an hour. people often state the relevance of time after the unimaginable happens. It happened so fast is the universal translation for This can’t be real. tragedy doesn’t mail out invitations. no need to buy a new dress. The twilight zone is the layer of ocean above the dark zone and below the sunlit zone. how long do you have to live before you feel alive?
how long do you have to live before you feel dead? do you ever live long enough to have both of these feelings dance together in the lifespan of your favorite song? The Sun is 400 times larger than the moon. some things canâ€™t be boiled down into digestible nuggets of fact. some things canâ€™t be taught. like how to outrun a hurricane. or how to swim across the ocean without any hands. or how to watch someone you love go mad. About 95 percent of the stuff in the universe is invisible.
False Dawn I wanted the aurora to oversee your christening, but the Sun refuses to appear. I thought first light was imminent, but it soon became apparent that the glow on the horizon was the arc lamps from the prison, spilling on the clouds like so much mercury and argon. Forgive me, little get; Iâ€™m sorry you will die before anyone knows your name.
Crystal Park The park where I swing at midnight, where I once choked on pills and boys hide glitter-eyed in the pavilion calling me by my red hair, asking for a light. A lifetime laced across the picnic table, fortunes scratched in splintered wood while clammy handed, impatient, I catch fire my mouth around a metal pipe. In times like these, it helps to be moon-vacant and crystal cut, anyoneâ€™s convenient circumstance hidden in public space. Chain link glides icy smooth, painful between fingertips. Touch me and Iâ€™ll keep secrets, like the playground I can be tagged with any name, vandalized and given new meaning.
Sin Sabor For Ron Vawter, who drove ahead The play reading ran late, a circle of breathy voices giving endless emotional cpr to a breakup scenario. A miasma of pause-inflated dread filled the lofty ceiling space, floating from the windows and into the streets of Chelsea. It rises and falls, restless among the leafy branches, like a python with indigestion from swallowing something massive and insoluble. The sky rumbles. In my car on West 16th St, I’m huddled like a mouse caught with a stolen crumb, stuffing a taco from the lone truck, Idolo, into my mouth, glorious juice of the chicharrón en salsa verde, barbecued ears of the puerco, trickling down my wrists and into my lap. I consider the meat, surrendering its complications to the dark blur of a man behind the greasy clouds of an acrylic window. He could be a priest
in a confessional, he could be a therapist, poking at this marinated stuff, turning and turning it with the long-handled tongs of consoling acronyms. The heat is so low it is almost ashes. What are they, the pieces, at this point, without the gentle embrace of the tortilla? I squeeze tighter, to cram it in, to wrap my teeth around it. The floppy ends drip clear and green, smelling like wet corn, an escape as endlessly teasing as a joke dancing away from a punchline that can’t quite catch up. Through the car windows footsteps feel like an echo, and a couple emerge from the shadows of Angel Street Thrift Shop, laughter trailing like wind chimes, hesitating when our eyes meet, with the tremor of a puerco whispering hola to the cleaver. Yes, I want to say to them, it can come down to this, fumbling in the dark for shreds of a leaking, split-apart taco on your car seat, which in the dark can feel for a heartbeat like velvet.
The Industrialistâ€™s Passing They once believed grandfather would live forever, such strength must control its own destiny. But now they travel to collect his shell, deliver it to the ground, for death has taken him and his belongings no longer serve a purpose. Wagon wheels lift dust on the old road. The family inside bounces over the bumps in their best black and calico. The night has not softened high temperatures. Trees have not yet returned, but saplings have emerged in the cracked tar. In heat, a cat howls like a child-ghost over the windâ€™s wheeze and whir or is it a carâ€™s phantom skating over the distant highway and a child-like ghost howling like a cat in heat?
Beyond lie the shadows of skyscrapers once raised from the marshland, monolithic, cavalier he was, with steel that hid plum jam behind automated-teller machines. Decomposition has begun. Elbows no longer can bend at ninety degree angles, water does not pass through the throat, and arteries are clogged. His time has passed; silly they thought it never possible. The bloated remains do not fit in their wagon and the suitcases are insufficient for his possessions. Ill-equipped for his burial, such was the magnitude and wealth. Feral pigs, lichen, and rain water must now help before the dust collector agrees to a deal.
Inheritance 1. Ivory watch face, hands stopped over the big “R” and “A” of ROSSIA, a silver puzzle of wrist band my fingers know, prayer beads he doesn’t want me to touch. Before I can think, I touch. Immediate comfort. A wooden Koh-i-Noor pencil, warn-down from endless circles in an engineer’s compass. A human life. A half-empty box of Belomor, filter-less. No half measures. Shiny war medals worn once a year. Bravery is quiet. A brown-leather book, weighted with dreams, coins and papers with foreign faces. Don’t collect your dreams. A box of found things waiting to give birth to new things. If I knew how.
2. Hands, solid and soft like newly packed dirt ‘round a fresh planting. No father, but him; no bond but love. Hearth fire of his voice recites Pushkin’s Onegin, fingers adorned with herring innards. Eyes study me, from under the snow-dusted eyebrows; A smile sleeps in the bullet-marked lips. 3. Cherry blossoms in the arboretum, pink angels landing on his smooth head. Tears of guilt I mistake for sadness in grandma’s eyes. Pay attention. 4. He lies with an enemy he couldn’t beat. No medals for living. Telephone requiem in morning’s cathedral. “He left, he passed, he’s not.” 5. I remember, not saying good-bye – a quiet inheritance.
Untitled This rock no longer tries though you give each grave the tool it needs —does it matter you haven’t looked here in years —you bring the dead and your forehead each day closer to the ground easy to grab, hold close let it harden, already scraped for the powder that cures, can stop the breathing.
Untitled Finished—no new graves though yesterday you counted boats —side by side, adrift breaking apart under the rocks —done! here you are adding rafts to the way each sea long ago learned how deep inside the storm there must be a very big number —a half-finished arithmetic where you can’t carry over by one the hand so close to the other pulling on weeds so you can include your fingers take hold as if these dead would never let go and their great weight, their place waiting in line.
Cyanosis An angel had descended uninvited via a system of ropes and pulleys. “Who would you rescue,” the angel asked the first few men he met, “if you could rescue only one – your wife or your children?” He beat and kicked the men to get them to answer. I covered my eyes. Others less resilient chose suicide. “I’d much prefer to be drinking coffee,” the angel commented, but then invented jokey epitaphs for their tombstones.
His Venom Cup tree frogs, fungi almost all uncrushed anti-serum dawn against the dark man with asp and cup purses mouth and measures night like a pocked drink the tail of morning wide as her face behind him fronds, rain in the hills fangs generous as earth the good doctor gathers a growing triangle his venom cup, her crooked smile martini-open cloudy and clear
moth-eaten I You are a moth beauty always hiding your protrusion of a belly your wings are dusty and you are greedy. Or at least this is what we’re taught but maybe you’re just empty so empty you’d consume yourself if you ran out of victims like The Yellow Submarine vacuum sea monster. When my brothers and I caught that film on tape the images of psychedelic fireflies captured under glass we watched it on perpetual rewind for two weeks until my grandma confiscated our obsession. But that was before you, before you took me in and I learned to keep my Beatles fantasies to myself an Astrid wannabe afraid to cut her hair that foursome seemed silly in the face of your stretch jeans, tasseled leather jacket and Megadeth. You weren’t afraid of anyone, they were afraid of you.
You had a boyfriend in the seventh grade from another school and dorky too but nonetheless an accomplishment. I thought I was just like you misunderstood, too I thought I understood you, you talked about things girls weren’t supposed to. I withdrew from the popular girl, Jo giving me a tour of my new school to sit with you at the freak table. I knew I belonged there beside you, the girl with spazzy hair who spoke sci-fi and fantasy I didn’t realize that was all of your language and you didn’t live in reality. I learned later you were careless with everyone’s confessions you swallowed them down secreted them into silk wearing their stories as your own.
II Your hair is tinged green from all the chlorine you shake off the water with spit and teeth castrating the idiots at school who donâ€™t understand heavy metal and Anne McCaffrey. Lounging by my parentsâ€™ pool once plump and spongy but by eighth grade you have shed yourself all the undesirable weight now you are immune from doing what is asked of you. You are no longer a caterpillar who will drown and bloat in the shallow bird bath all your multiplying lies distend and extend your abdomen providing you with a surprising buoyancy. I believed everything you told me because you were old and I was not yet young. Butterflies dance and moths swarm everyone loves a butterfly and everyone wants a moth to die.
III You said you were homeless in Morristown the summer before junior year but that was Chrissy, her face dented in, her tough hair peppered with spray paint but her fragility was wet to touch. Your boyfriend died, you lied but he wasn’t yours he was your other best friend, Rachel’s and you tried to get with him in the far back of my parents’ Oldsmobile after they picked us up from ski club. You kept trying to straddle him but he kept throwing you off. You showed up to his funeral with a skirt slit to a very short there with enviable legs, you wept prodigiously your lies were always of abnormal size. Later you wept that your sister died but your sister was still alive that was Shelly’s sister your sister was slow and lived in a special home you didn’t want anyone to know.
I don’t know how many other stories you stole I believed everything you told me because you were old and I was not yet young. IV You confessed you were molested with hot breath but you were never molested by anyone you didn’t want. When you steal my story be sure to check your facts but fiction was your facts. And you got my details wrong when you decided to spill my guts for me telling a whole captive audience at the Dobbs Ferry Poetry festival that my grandfather had touched me. But it wasn’t him those details were important to me but they weren’t to you because they weren’t yours you could pick and choose what to take and what to fabricate I felt like breaking. It’s okay to feel dead sometimes.
Sara Emily Kuntz
The Squirrel Cage From the wooden booth I saw my ghost walk by: her hair falling in her face, gait confident in that nervous way women in their early 20s have. I ate the cherry and then sucked on the stem, twirling it between my teeth. Twisting with my tongue, I pulled out a nice slippery knot, placed it: red and wet on the white bar napkin. Kate and I used to make lists— traits we wanted in a lover, the perfect apartment. She put down “claw foot tub” and I scoffed at the improbability. You have to be specific, she insisted. So I ordered another whiskey sour, two cherries.
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Rust+Moth is a literary journal featuring poetry, photography, short fiction, and art.