A STATE OF UNBELIEF AND HAWTHORN BLOSSOMS ANDREW BORGSTROM
A State of Unbelief and Hawthorn Blossoms
Also by andrew borgstrom People I Havenâ€™t Seen In Years That I Will Attempt To Eat Lunch With Next Week
A State of Unbelief and Hawthorn Blossoms
The author would like to thank the judges of the 2008 Caketrain Chapbook Contest who honored this chapbook as an Also Notable. Grateful acknowledgment is also made to the editors of Caketrain, Kitty Snacks, and Pear Noir! in which portions of this manuscript first appeared. Copyright ÂŠ 2010 by Andrew Borgstrom. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Cover: detail of The Elephant Celebes (1921) by Max Ernst over hawthorn blossoms Book design by Daniel Casebeer Set in Garamond First Thumbscrews edition: January 2010 www.pearnoir.com
In memory of M.M.M. and for Charlotte
A State of Unbelief and Hawthorn Blossoms
Hi, Iâ€™m Jack: A little girl gifted me a crocheted cross and a palm of corn. I slipped on the god-damp ground and dropped the cross but not one kernel of corn. The roads mirror the sky, and when I look for my reflection, legions sled across my face. 25 minutes ago, I forgot the dryness and the mountains. I donâ€™t remember if bathroom doors lock and if ceilings give light or take it away. I can only make a snow angel in a flock of geese.
Hello, Anne here: I woke up in Frank Phillips’ mansion waving a dust rag over wood and glass. Reruns of mother’s words: “Be as wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.” Lucifer in the garden. My father says mother is a princess and that I need to honor her. I wrote, “Buy a crate of apples,” on the to-do list on Frank’s fridge. I wonder if my life is more important than a boat. I wrote this on the list too. I looked at the sky, then the road, then the neighbors, and wrote, “Smoke, watch wrestling, gospel rant, rot teeth.” I bought some pajama bottoms for father after seeing pictures of Frank and watched him dive into the last two steps of stairs.
Hi, Iâ€™m Jack: The lady at the pizza parlor scraped the tobacco from her cigarette with a toothpick and then stuffed the shell with crushed red pepper. Three seconds later, she exhaled fire into the parking lot, and I wanted to read The Hobbit again. A little girl handed me her crayon-drawn menu. I wondered where all the young girls kept coming from and decided to read Nabokov instead of Tolkien. I will forget how to make a snow angel, and the geese will fly away.
Hello, Anne here: A kid with a tattoo of vomit on his forearm walked my way. He said, “I’m German,” and he taught me how to say, “I hate you.” A seventytwo-year-old man dragged me into a home where empty vodka bottles consumed windmills, butterflies—model everythings, but mainly boats. I walked away with a 25 ml Smirnoff bottle swallowing a biblical donkey cart, dung included. When I turned to leave, he kissed my neck, and because he emptied the bottles himself, I didn’t feel chomped on by a Humbert, but like a grapefruit being tipped and slurped from, and I suddenly realize my empty pockets.
Hi, I’m Jack: The fridge holds my smudgy red menu as my stomach-to-anus struggles to digest the brisket pizza. I drove home on a railroad track passing the absence of antebellum houses. My neighbor balances golf clubs between his thumb and forefinger and whenever I pass says, “Yes, I am a sansei.” I smile and wonder when he will invite me to the Elks Club for church. I will have to say, “I have no clean shoes.”
Hello, Anne here: My vomit friend keeps telling me manana means tomorrow in German, but I’m sure it’s the name of a mango-banana smoothie. A golf ball missed my head by two feet, and both feet were mine. I wonder if there’s a world where golf and basketball don’t exist, where something causes the same silence of the one and cheering for the other, something besides a goddamn suspended ball. Idol worshipers live in the next room, probably this room too. We didn’t walk long before coming to a town with a yellowing brick road. Someone called my German Vomit a Polish Jew. We hitchhiked. Our driver sang, “Lord, I ain’t gonna bump no more with no big fat woman,” but I heard, “The nearer your destination the more you’re slip slidin’ away.”
Hi, I’m Jack: I walked my feet wet with blood and was greeted by a nude portrait of Marylyn Monroe. I examined its authenticity in exchange for medical tape and gauze. A Thai Kwan do master taught me the correct way to smoke a cigarette. Boy Scouts auctioned mother’s bulk in the church parking lot across from breakfast. If I tripped into a baptismal font, would I come out pure? The sun has not risen for three days. I placed my waitress’s tip on a fourth. I still cannot check the oil in my car without thinking a high school wrestling coach will squeeze my cock. Laundry mats in pool halls, and everyone smokes while they fold their clothes. A Thai Kwan do master would be disappointed in them all. I held a conversation with an eighty-three-year-old woman about prostitution, and I wonder if she thought we were talking about tractors.
Hello, Anne here: An igloo sat atop a cyclical bull while I waited to be shot at. I saw myself with my boyfriend at the airport and forgot to say hello. Every breath echoes in the center of the universe, and all I can think to say is oral. I fed my rejection sliced pizza and screamed into two oversized pillows. When I return for the home-school lessons, it will be in a pale El Camino.
Hi, Iâ€™m Jack: I slap the bare feet of everyone with bloody noses, yet I am never invited in for dinner or a tour of the stained glass windows. A traveling salesman unscrewed the sprinkler nozzle from the hose of a house that refused his offer, threw the sprinkler down the street, straightened his tie, and walked to the next house, the next hose. The railroad tracks follow the same route as the crows.
Hello, Anne here: A musty ached man caught four fish using our dialogue as bait. I helped everyone cutting their lawn. No one was cutting their lawn. They were all performing plastic surgery in golf carts. The collection plate passed over me as if I wasnâ€™t there. I watched the bluebirds and decided to shave my head. I no longer feel naked from the loss of hair, but the absence of birds. Another ached man called on me to pull his dog from the canal. He repaid me with a story of South American vegetarians who run one-hundred miles a day. When he told me he rode his bike one-hundred-and-fifty miles a day, I refrained from asking him why he didnâ€™t get the damn dog.
Hi, Iâ€™m Jack: The sprinkler-head droppings led to a backyard where three kids wailed on a stolen ATM machine with sledgehammers, and I decided to start collecting the tubes from bank drive-throughs. Eventually my trunk will hold 25 containers, and on this day, I will pull over on the side of a mountainous road and throw them into the trees in rejected doorto-door-salesmen fury. On the way home, a dog wrapped around my left leg, a toddler covered in macaroni and cheese around my right leg. They moved up and down on my calves, and, eventually, I didnâ€™t even have to lift my legs to walk.
Hello, Anne here: I gave my new coat to a bleeding homeless woman. A man called me a prophetess and handed me 25 cents. Another man tried to run me over. And by morning I will not be able to hear out of my left ear. A plastic surgeon took me out for Chinese where fishes swam by our table blowing kisses. Someone failed to translate the fortune cookies into English, signed Confucius.
Hi, I’m Jack: Porch-men with their beer-names argue over theological conduct. The good soap separates from the bad. The neighbor dreams of her dead father saying, “Come home.” She thinks she needs to go to church now. I asked her where home was and advised her to sleep less. A roach scrambled over the wall as I called home to not recognize the voices.
Hello, Anne here: Drunken men lick frogs and anorexic girls violate copyright law. At the retiremental home, a man had to decide to hack his foot off at the ball or saw through his knee. I bought a vinyl bookmark from the devil worshippers’ daughter and refused the letter opener. A parched lamp shade read, “You’re born, lose your hair, one of your legs, you’re dead.” I picked up a frog in the road, named it Oscar-Julio-SimonFrank, and then put him on the sidewalk.
Hi, Iâ€™m Jack: I crawled in the grass searching for caterpillars or stood in the rain watching for parallel parkers. I pulled tics out of my triceps without the aid of peanut butter. I drank root beer and did tramp-flips or drank milk and restored automobiles. Three neighbors needed help unloading 25 bags of cereal. An acre of tics in a lime clearing. I cannot remember when I learned how to make a bomb out of rock salt and petroleum jelly, but I remember why I get so turned on by bald females in faded bath towels. Four bags of Trix, dry and bowless.
Hello, Anne here: Humidity steeps and swirls groins, and the laughter corresponds with the popping wrists. 25 jugs of water intoxicated the landlord, and he told me, â€œThis eveningâ€™s atonements have fallen through.â€? Chains hold the women and their urine to the platter beds while the staff makes drugless music in the garage. My new kitchen table and a rooster act as surrogates for a boyfriend and a greased pig.
Hi, Iâ€™m Jack: Homemade angels watch over me and talk like Dolemite. I pressed the cigarette lighter into my forearm as a neighbor told me her dad molested her, her mom ran off with another woman, and her four pregnancies resulted in four miscarriages. She didnâ€™t see the lighter and thought I understood. Wind blew a black sky in our faces with carpenter precision, and I told her I could make lemonade out of the grass in the front yard.
Hello, Anne here: Street-fighters memorize the New Testament and name their children Mercy, Hope, and Faith. Their daughters smoke Swisher Sweets, wash out the ashtrays, and name their children by rearranging the letters of the neighboring towns. A contortionist said, “The Pastor wouldn’t let me eat. I don’t believe in God. God put food here for us to eat.” A disproportionate mannequin, named Buddy, balances, with dangling head, on one leg.
Hi, I’m Jack: Bulldogs bark and itch at their master’s dead ankles. The hot water heater doubles as a coconut opener, and coconut milk pours from the sink tap. A metal bar fell on my face while disassembling the bed. It didn’t leave a mark, but I think I’m allergic to cats now. I re-cut the hair of everyone who feels bad for the licensed barber with epilepsy. I sprint behind lawnmowers and still don’t get a tip.
Hello, Anne here: A little boy carrying four bags of groceries wanted to go where the sun is. I carry canned spray paint as a defense against angels and plan to patent the cake downside-up pineapple. Bricks move in chess formation. Saltwater toothpicks and ingrown toenails replace fresh bread in the windowsill. The fortune cookies taste of beta-carotene and contain postage stamps. All the streets and beds run one-way and sop wet. Someone has stamped my map with crows and swapped my conversations for railroad tracks.
Hi, I’m Jack: I climbed the boom of a tractor twice as big as the apartment complex they framed me for burning down. My accomplice painted me a tornado on a circular saw blade as a gift, and weapon. Dressed in black slacks and a black overcoat, I helped cram a dead body wrapped in black plastic into a trunk. They said, “It’s a Bullmastiff.” Bullshit.
Hello, Anne here: A five-hundred-pound man refused to conceal his left testicle. I closed my right eye as someone fired a shotgun into the pavement. The ceiling caved in and baptized me with forty days of rainfall. The water dried everywhere but around my kneecaps. Jogs got more answers than prayers, and a little boy urinated on my shoulders in the storm cellar.
Hi, Iâ€™m Jack: They slipped me 25 dollars for cereal and tacos. I used the money to have a chain-smoker, who speaks in tongues as she sews, replace the stitching in my crotch. Sox the Clown forced me to hug her dog before letting me borrow the machete. The Holy Spirit finally told my accomplice to purchase non-menthol cigarettes. After a porcelain midget kissed me, I told the accomplice to go back to menthol. The chiggers rot and swell my ankles.
Hello, Anne here: A plate of frog legs and a picture of a horse, a pacifier with a thermometer handle, and the next door neighbor washes dishes topless and has finally smoked her purchase of a dart board. I scraped at chipped paint for two of the same hours. The counselors said, “Just jive.” Someone is tracing my every 25th step. A little boy gave me a golf ball, looked into the sun, and said, “I want to go there.” I traded the spray paint for an axe.
Hi, Iâ€™m Jack: Southern women wanted to hold my hands and P.S. the Lord. Their couches smelt of goats-milk. I thumbed through two-hundred ABC books. One-hundred and-seventy-five started with apple. 25 with anteater. Zero with atheist. Augmented breasts bounced under the nativity.
Hello, Anne here: A gun in the mouth at the podium. Hysteric laughs, fists, sobs, and a neighborâ€™s limbs flew down the interstate at 25 mph. Metaphors ricocheted in dark alleys and down hills. She could not forgive the rapist. I could not forgive the rapist. She just forgave the rapist. I just castrated forgiveness, and the rapist.
Hi, I’m Jack: Sex and go-carts, on go-carts. Old men offered stacked decks in supermarket aisles. An owl flew into a decorative cotton spider web on the porch. The stitching in my crotch disagreed with the limbo, and the only seamstress I could afford used a staple gun. She said, “Pantpockets are for tired hands, gloves for cold,” and then she stapled my pockets shut.
Hello, Anne here: I hopped the majority foot to bruises while the environs slept off their sins. Interviewee interviewed for interviewing interviewer by the interviewed. The counselors changed their slogan to â€œjust take it easy.â€? The handcuffed sobriety tests lessen, but those willing to drink the leftover milk from my cereal multiply.
Hi, Iâ€™m Jack: The stretch marks on my neck equal the number of psychiatric patients and professional boxers lifted from the sidewalk. The distilled water offends a cul-de-sac. I drew white lines around ten live bodies. Twenty blocks of mythology, a key. Another thirty-one blocks, a doorknob. An additional thirty-five, a key-hole. And fifty-one more, a razorblade. Most just wanted me to look at their belt-buckles, but one wanted me to look at the nail marks in the palms of his hands.
Hello, Anne here: They asked if I rode sheep as a child. I answered with words like bust and mutton and no. They asked if I get homesick. I answered without words. The gazelle drank from the fountain without grace, and everyone stared at my larynx. Serial rapists disguised as Santa Clauses pulled the obituaries from their sacks. Two of the suicides rang through my breakfast.
Hi, Iâ€™m Jack: A neighbor fed me alligator and shark until my left shoulder blade smelled like tuna fish. I try to link all ailments to the toilet stopper, but someone always shoves a cupboard full of shit in my face. My dirty mind refuses brainwashing. After 25 hours, all the words start to fuck each other. Mattresses in pickups and pickups on mattresses. Highlighters float in vodka bottles before black lights. Trains and their tracks.
Hello, Anne here: The faces of shepherds if then if then if then if. The guesthouse fills with two years of comas. I called every mother and asked three questions. The beginning of broken nights and a fat elbow. My initials shaved into unfamiliar chest hair.
Hi, Iâ€™m Jack: Kids jumped from rooftops on trikes while the repo man slammed his fingers in the car door. A marriage arranged by the mafia and another by Warner Brothers. The snowman donated head lacerations to bystanders. Osteoporosis fades in, equilibrium fades out, and my drawer of underwear contains a planner and a Bible. I have paper cuts all over my ass.
Hello, Anne here: They painted the floor-boards the same color as my shoes. I constantly step from the nearest disintegrating ladder. Empty kegs and bras drape the porch. Drivers turned their perpendicular tires over borrowed boots, vanilla-pods, asthmatic teenagers, mislaid limbs.
Hi, Iâ€™m Jack: Trains again, their tracks again. Heralded by angelic visitations, succeeded by their husbands. A closet full of nuns. Cross-stitched, unshaven, ironed-on, but mainly as a substitute for none under the beds, in the sheets. One map for the roads, another for the crows.
Hello, Anne here: I talked empty-handed on the porch, except for those peanuts, 25 feet away. I should have been on the rooftop. Eight dogs pulled motivation around the yard. Then now then now then now then the feces of sheep.
Hi, I’m Jack: I memorized a page no one reads and recited it to kids who will someday be pastors, ministers, preachers, pastors. The driver’s brother’s pimp lumps spirit matter. The driver’s brother tries to find songs to pull his pants up to. The driver has cirrhosis of the liver and shits in church. Parallel dart throwers. Stepdaughters suckling green chilies. The physical body copulates with the spiritual body, and their offspring will walk around the house with a tape recorder around his neck.
Hello, Anne here: A creationist pointed to me, and proclaimed, â€œJesus did this.â€? Sixhundred phone calls to a suicide locked inside a jacket for pants. A little brother drowned in a mud puddle near the teeter-totter. I unintentionally made shadow-puppets. Father ran for the video recorder. Thirty-eight killed, 25 missing, hundreds in critical condition. Shoppers filled their grocery carts and strolled to the wounded.
Hi, I’m Jack: And other spices make my conversations unique and inimitable. Ground cumin does the same for my salsa. Every name associates with a two digit number. Number fourteen’s mother yelled at him for taking off a girl’s shirt. Number 25, across the hall, stared pant-less and lipped, “It’s just paper, but he thinks it’s more important than people.” Bird food upstairs. Sax players, balloons, ninjas and crucifixes down. The barn collapsed on the heads of they were such good kids. Six-hundred ripped cigarettes in the lap. I would have married the pregnant cheerleader right then. I don’t know what kind of pie they were feeding me right then, but it went well with the root beer.
Hello, Anne here: Three dogs licked my fingers clean, and the video recorders returned. Tag in the driveway on the anniversary of Mother’s Day. The creationist sang, “If I had one wish, it would be to open my eyes.” The cane remained against the window while the man strapped to the gurney screamed, “Get me out.” First, “His ammonia levels are high.” Then, “He’s slipped into a coma.” At last, “The services and burial will be held in Painfield, CT.”
Hi, I’m Jack: A rhymer or riddler broke a minute into sixty seconds and then into eternity. I cut the orange in half and used it to tunnel my way out. Some kid with a vomit tattoo smelt of ex-bacon and threw cabbies from car to car. He broke his grits on the wall and said, “Screw you” in German. We ate breakfast for dinner in the forest with guest speakers. After the exorcism, Vomit said something in German that sounded like “Damn you Satan” in English. He banged on the sink most of the night while I climbed cement trees dodging golf balls. Despite the conditions, I took off all the clothes not stuck to me. The nurse served Shepherd’s Pie and explained how God does not actively participate in the mortal dilemma. I hugged the winner of the wet t-shirt contest and thanked God. My ankle twisted while attempting to completely undress, so everyone could believe in a closed book.
Hello, Anne here: I avoided getting dressed indefinitely. The counselors wore necklaces from the Virgin Islands and fainted among the cats and canes and books. With one hand full of Vaseline and the other full of peanut butter, I diverted the young mother and her child away from the man holding razorblades and a rope. A felled tree in my path and someone knife-carved â€œJesus did thisâ€? into its bark.
Hi, I’m Jack: Shot in the head in a cot in their dreams. My spirit left my body, floated above trains, and slept in the sheets next to me. At stop lights, they asked, “Where are you from?” Eighty inches of rope, two inches soaked red. They try to separate the serious from the humorous. I combine them, and they hate me. I hate them in German and burn their pants while their showering. On a pillow on a crate on a porch under a white wet 25, I will draw pictures of tomorrow’s intricacies and gargoyles.
Hello, Anne here: They picked up the wrong one, and everybody thinks youâ€™re my lover. They sold the furniture for 25 hammers. I sat on the sun absent of all nails. Dirty dishes downstairs, naps upstairs, two-hundred face magnets on the fridge, leftover female protagonists inside the fridge.
Hi, I’m Jack: The white man who passed me in the street listens to prayer-tapes all day, places the prayer requests that fall out of his mouth under his pillowcase all night, renames his hallway prayerway, tapes pictures of black men on his window to prevent robberies, and when he prays for clothes, strangers hand him gold-plated socks. The alcoholics pick apart his plastic roof. Eleven full fish tanks in the basement. A beggar said, “I’ll wash your windshield, your house, or build you a barn.” His hidden gun went off between my legs, and I signed up for all three. He showed up in underwear and Alzheimers and pissed down his leg as I directed him to the neighbors.
Hello, Anne here: I changed clothes in red lettering. Long feral legs split across the dashboard. Dirty laundry strokes the urine and shit from grouted tile. Quadriplegic gargoyles painted on the wall and pubescent hairs baked into lemon meringue. Alone on a loveseat in the middle of Shoal Creek.
Hi, I’m Jack: Sirens wailed in the bathtub under a mattress. Chain smokers offended by homemade firecrackers with cheesecake. A tree branch poked me in the right eye, a heat advisory in the left. The air conditioner in the window wiped the words clean, and a camouflaged man in a red Volkswagen preached from the Second Book of Esdras. The children mopped the floor, a single man kissed a married woman with a gun in his mouth, and the children sang, “Happiness is a warm gun.”
Hello, Anne here: Zeus in a gas station parking lot wheelchair. Robots slashed at his elbows and pants with maces. The paralysis circus returned. A roll of film and fatherâ€™s forearm. Periodic arm squeezes, nipple rubs, and happy birthday dry heaves. I made promises then broke them vicariously. The chosen one hid among the little flock.
Hi, I’m Jack: Cowboys delivered stuffed dinosaurs, canned tomato sauce, and 25 Easter Island sculptures. Robbed by guns with guns, holes in the wall, a barrel dent in mom’s head, legs tied around faces. Colts in the front yard again. Car trunks locked with broken ignition keys. A fried sidewalk frog fit perfectly into an envelope, a buck into a backyard. Free belt buckles with free horse heads carved into them. The neighboring apartment complex burns the night. The power’s out. The milk’s spoiled. I will lob my shoes into the fire and await my first sinless dream.
Hello, Anne here: A cooler full of root beer and milk. My first blanket and second pig. Matchmakers sprayed carbonated water on the inmates then brought me a horse-head hamburger and a stone toothbrush. Bike reflectors hammered into the wall when the electricity shuts off. I picked up a crocheted cross in the road and dreamt of a boy fist-clenching cornâ€” Hi, Iâ€™m Jack; Hello, Anne here.
Fiction In A State of Unbelief and Hawthorn Blossoms, the möbian travelogues of our stereo speakers, Jack and Anne—twinned and entwined, calling out to one another, compelling us toward multiple, multilinear readings—shine queered light on a zone of symbols and superstitions, causality and improbability, creeping absurdity and sneaking hilarity. Orbiting a “Missouri” of Elks Clubs, Smirnoff, and Swisher Sweets, these dead ringers pass just enough familiar signposts on their serpentine ways to suggest their world might be our own, which may be Borgstrom’s greatest sleight of hand. With half-hearted apologies to rhyme and reason, we believe, steel ourselves, take the ride. Joseph Reed, co-editor of Caketrain Journal and Press An odd crossbreeding of surrealism and absurdity with an underlying sense of desperation builds into increasingly offkilter violent episodes until I feel trapped in a madhouse or loony summer camp or suburban neighborhood prison. The splintered response of a mind under duress and its disjointed attempts to cling to something homey in the midst of a mental emergency recall psychological torture and its effects upon a psyche over time. Juliet Cook, editor of Blood Pudding Press
In A State of Unbelief and Hawthorn Blossoms, the möbian travelogues of our stereo speakers, Jack and Anne—twinned and entwined, calling out...