What are your Bones made ofâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;
temenos Fall 2016
â&#x20AC;&#x201D;steel or sand?
temenos Fall 2016
© Copyright 2017, temenos All rights revert to the authors and artists. Published by: Temenos Anspach 215 Central Michigan University Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859 temenosjournal.com
Cover art, “Keep Out” by Laura Kiselevach. Cover designed by Regan Schaeffer. Book designed by Amee Schmidt and typeset by Regan Schaeffer, with temenos and poem title fonts in Rockwell, edition titles in Papyrus, Herculanum, Desdemona, and Chalkduster, and with text in Adobe Garamond Pro.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
Temenos Staff Editor-in-Chief Zachary Riddle Managing Editor Miranda Schaub Fiction Editors Carrie Polega Kenneth Otani Poetry Editor Maye Zerull Non-Fiction Editor Amanda Larson Website Designer Rebecca Conklin Layout Editor Regan Schaeffer Social Media and Advertising Editor Karli Henning Faculty Advisor Robert Fanning
Table of Contents Keep Out / Laura Kiselevach Cover Temenos Staff 1 Immersion / Amanda Shepard 3 Near the River Wye / Jane Blanchard 4 On Filing a Missing Person Report / Claire Scott 5 Photo Negatives / Joanne Esser 6 72 Hour Leave / Jenny Ferguson 7 A Bagful of Smiles / A. J. Terlesky 9 Antique and Collectible Mall / Richard King Perkins II 10 Mount Pleasant, MI / Katy McAllister 12 Barbie / Katy McAllister 13 Botanical Garden / Colin Anderson 14 Second Skin / Mary Makofske 15 #179 / Matt Gold 17 PICC-Line / Alan Harris 18 Birdâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s-Eye View / Alan Harris 19 Where Desire Comes From / James Champion 20 Corydon Waits / Jane Gilchrist 21 Disjointed / Airica Parker 29 Once I Saw the Face of The Origin of the World / Peter Marcus 30 Interior Decorator / Andrea Hackbarth 31 Committed / Alice Jackson 32 At Seven Weeks / Lilah Galvin 39 A Deconstructed Love Letter to My Period / Emily Way 40 A Sister Named Jennifer / Rob Cook 41 Crow Sings / M. A. H. Hinton 48 Crow is Reborn / M. A. H. Hinton 49 My Father / Claire Scott 50 Cane / K. S. Lack 52 Chasing Saturnâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;Hestia / Virginia Mallon 53 Bittermilk / M. Wright 54 Field & Fly / M. Wright 55 Contributor Bios 57
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
Near the River Wye Though I like to think I shall soon return, Do it all again, Make it better yet, I know much too well Such will not occur, So I tell myself: Once can be enough.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
On Filing a Missing Person Report I had been on hold for four hours & forty-seven minutes when finally an annoyed clerk picked up clearly I was disturbing his scrutiny of an OkCupid profile a most promising woman who likes sushi & sex in no particular order provided there is plenty of both I said I wanted to report a missing person who is more & more missing each minute you didn’t pick up the phone (may you choke on spider rolls) he asked when the person went missing I heard him typing a note to the woman with a flurry of keystrokes & kisses looking for fun & free to meet you at Kabuto’s say eight o’clock I said, Hard to tell exactly, maybe as early as last May or even the May before he paused, his train of thought adrift somewhere between sushi & sex then said he needed a detailed description & returned to typing his message (may you get salmonella from elderly shrimp) which one? the man who ran six miles each morning wrote articles for Quanta Magazine explaining leptons & quarks chaos & complexity held me when he crawled into bed long past midnight diagrams dancing through dreams or the man sitting across the room slumped in a chair slopping tea on his shirt staring into space books unopened on the floor
Photo Negatives Remember the envelope in the back of the black-and-white photo album, the collection of negatives our mother would never throw away? How we used to hold the thin plastic strips up to the light, see the world made light, the light darkened, everything familiar become strange. Ghostly figures, shadows of people we knew, smiling stiffly at the camera as if from some alien place where snow is black and trees glow luminous. The flimsy transparency, bodies we could almost see through, standing on pale ground, ominous skies pressing heavily down, weighing on those people from a simple day long ago when our souls were nearly visible, but only in retrospect. On the day we were actually there, the veil of the immediate clouded it all with color, noise, the short-sighted illusion of definition. How easy it was then in that mess of perception and youth to believe that appearances were the only true things.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
72 Hour Leave A woman tells you she picked you out of a line up, it’s on you to take her seriously. That’s what Ainsley says, eventually, once you’ve given in. Ainsley says a lot of things. Like that first meal, she brings her kit to your table and sits herself down. Says something like, she’s an eighth White Mountain Apache, but she married a Polack and her kids don’t carry enough of the good blood to get benefits, and that’s why she’s sucking back this shit food in a shit country wearing desert fatigues when green suits her better. That’s her hey-how-are-you, name’s-Ainsley, and-buddy, we’re-going-tofuck-someday hello. I’m married. I have two kids. I’ve got ten years on you. And boy, I picked you out of a line-up. She says all these things. You believe her. About the White Mountain Apache line, too. Even if it’s just an affectation she’s putting on to keep the enemy on his toes. Even if this enemy doesn’t have one lick a sense what an Apache looks like. To this enemy, it’s a machine, not blood and fuckin’ bones, as Ainsley would say. She’s got a mouth on her. As bad as the worst of the men. She’s proud of that, sure she is. And she picked you out of a line. Feels a little like a backwards compliment, and you like her, even if she can shock you when she lets off at the mouth, and that’s why you tell her you’re in love with your cousin. First cousin, full cousin, not-adopted cousin. You lay it out there, plain. You wait for something like, sick bloody bastard, or for her to pick up her kit and move herself to another table. She says, I’m in love with my husband. She says, her youngest is almost three and that’s the last time she remembers rolling her husband. His two tours, back-to-back, the first happened when the baby was born. Once he got his ass back stateside, she passed off the kid and told her Polack husband it was her fucking turn and he could clean up the oozing liquids coming out all ends of the baby for the next nine-to-twelve months. Her five-year-old, she says, agreed. She says, and I’m not going to let a little puppy love get in the way of what I want. You laugh. She says, she won’t tell your cousin shit. And her husband understands. You really laugh. She says, think about it. Seventy-two hour leave happens at the midway point for us, and if we make it that far, there’s a hotel room in some shit German or Dutch town with your name on it. She’ll make you forget your cousin for at the very least seventy-two hours straight.
She’s got a bit of a Spanish look to her. You notice this in a shit town in Germany, after a shit flight out of a shit country, for a three-day stretch where the other guys are talking about finding some German hospitality. You’re making like that’s not something you’re willing to do—the others know about your cousin too, funny how here everything’s out—and they think it’s sweet, and they tease you, but they all secretly think she’s flown over to keep you company for seventy-two hours straight, so they don’t check up on you. Not once. Whatever Ainsley said to keep them off her ass, you’ll never know. And she was right. It’s the fastest seventy-two hours of your life. You never have the chance to think, in three weeks, she’ll be dead too. Joining Jonno and Fields in boxes in the belly of an airplane, heading to whatever shit town they called home. And what you’ll want to do is tell her Polish-American husband, and her Polish-American-some-bit-White-Mountain-Apache kids that she was a good woman, the kind that didn’t judge, the kind who thought your own obsession with your cousin was something almost-fucking-cute. You’ll want to tell them, she was warning you, and you should have listened. But you didn’t.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
A Bagful of Smiles I like to collect smiles for home. I tear them, unnoticed, from people passing by and place them in a plastic ziplock bag. The one-gallon size. (I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t fuck around.) When lonely, I pull them out. Soothed by the crunchy sound of plastic, the sweet asphyxiation of their sheath. I toy with the wrinkly lipstick-lined smiles, rub the velvet newborn mouths between finger and thumb. I never share my bag of smiles. I am selfish that way.
â&#x20AC;&#x201D;A. J. Terlesky
Antique and Collectible Mall Stealing from family and acquaintances here come the heroin kidsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; just out of high school bringing the best merchandise to sell: Victoriana, gold jewelry, original carded Star Wars figures but I reluctantly have to pass on the Tiffany lamp because itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s probably intimately photographed with a separate insurance rider. Sometimes the addicted young women show up with nothing to sell except their mouths which I also pass on because the guys have mentioned more than once that the girls are all HIV positive from the rich Iranian dude who owns the trailer park.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones Twenty years later I sometimes wonder about those poor tortured souls having seen the faces of addiction in so many forms. Like a compulsive simian I climb a ladder to my attic at least once a month to light up a shade of hand painted black-eyed susans on mosaic glass which I finally just had to buy from a gaunt young woman for two hundred bucks. I should have passed on the hand job, but she threw that in for free.
â&#x20AC;&#x201D;Richard King Perkins II
Mount Pleasant, MI You’re slouched against your truck in the parking lot after work, pale grey hoodie, your hands jammed deep in your pockets, cigarette pursed between your lips. I’m scraping frost off my car with a credit card. I’m in love with the tragedy of you, with the skinny boy kicked out of Dad’s house, sleeping on a friends couch, drunk on Popov at fourteen now twenty-three and six months working steel in Detroit glad to come home to a shitty rental with your hands still in one piece. White trash has never been sexier than on you. We don’t talk about how bad you want to kiss me as you pull a scraper from your truck. I watch the steady rhythm of your arms as you clear my windshield. You are why I have to leave this town.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
Barbie I am home from college and walk in the forest behind my childhood house. I find the body of a dragon, Her vertebrae rusted, patchy amid scales, glittering dust beneath the skeleton, fallen as flesh decayed. Sister and I brought Barbie here when ferns and gnarled grass brushed against our breastless chests and tangled our feet. How many babies will Barbie have this time? I ask the dragon. Roots ensnare Her ribs and moss gathers green in the hollows of Her pelvis. I do not fill Her womb. Inside me, a tiny gemstone forming. Inside me, a tiny someone I do not want. Under one arched claw something sparkles. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Barbie. One eye rubbed away, hair matted, an arm torn off, her jumper fluorescent pink with a rhinestone belt.
Botanical Garden The sidewalk was four feet away and it was evening we were runic symbols in the dirt splayed out telling a story too cryptic for anyone to care extending our bony fingers skyward I’m sure I mentioned god and you probably told me to shut up you said something about wanting to put the entire bottom half of your body underground so only your head was sticking out and you wouldn’t die you would just stay there and not do anything else you’d be the guy who was buried up to his neck on a college campus in the botanical garden and I would steal carrots from the cafeteria to feed you when you were hungry and you’d tell me stories about being a head sticking out of the ground And I wondered why we never did that
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
Second Skin The minute she pulled me on, I knew we were meant for each other. Even then she was round and doughy, not fat, but fleshy. Not a muscle visible, but I could be those muscles. I knew where she needed to be pulled in, compressed, made firm, so her derriere wouldn’t jiggle when she walked down the street. So the slight paunch of her belly wouldn’t sag in her slim skirts. So her thighs wouldn’t shake when she ran for a bus. She warmed me. I loved the pulse of her body. She was complex to my simplicity. She thought I shaped her body, but she shaped mine, too, . Embodied me, you might say. And she was my vehicle, carrying me into the world, though I would never see that world, nor the world see me. At least, that was the plan. To be invisible. To be the miracle with all-way control. As I was made, so too would she be made, contoured from waist to thigh. She had pores, I had pores. She breathed, I breathed. She sweated—though, perspired was what young ladies did then—and I was soaked with her sweat, both of us damp and hot in the haze of summer. When we first met, she was sixteen, and her mother, seeing the peachy ripeness of her body, took her to Sears to find the proper undergarment, he armor, the chastity belt of its day. I waited in a narrow tube to be chosen. Flesh-colored, supple but strong, crying out “Meet a New You— slim as an arrow, lithe as a bow, free as a Spring breeze.” Though I could tell as she pulled me on in her room later that day that she did not feel free. I pressed her intestines, still processing the milkshake and hot dog she had eaten at Woolworth’s, toward her spine, squeezed her hips and thighs, realigned her posture. She held her breath, then gradually drew air in. Suddenly conscious of her body as unyielding, she touched a cautious finger just below her navel and marveled at the firmness. It didn’t feel like flesh at all anymore, but rather like something molded of plastic. Cautiously, she bent to touch her toes, felt the fold at her waist, a bar sinking in as if to divide her in half. She felt a moment of panic, as she did in elevators when she closed her eyes, waiting to hear her floor called so she could escape. But then she turned to the full-length mirror. The rumpled, soft curves of her body were smoothed to elegance. Not slim, she would never be slim, but disciplined enough to fit a narrow-cut dress or skirt. The slight bulges where her thighs met her torso, so embarrassing when she wore a bathing suit, had disappeared. Marveling, she ran her hand down her side, from waist to knee.
The next day she wore me to school. At lunch, she went into the Girls’ Room and pulled me down to pee. My seams had left slight indentations in her body. She noticed that the musty smell that both embarrassed and intrigued her was even stronger. She sighed deeply, braced herself, and struggled to pull me up again, adjusting the stockings clipped to my garters. She was almost late to class. At graduation, she sat in the hot sun under the gown that made her body invisible, but even then I hugged her close. After the ceremony, she stripped off the gown and stood, stomach flat, tail tucked, thighs firm in her white dress. By then, I was almost part of her—a second skin. I held her on the first day of her typing job in town, when her fingers flew across the keys to prove she was competent, and my support gave her a businesslike, almost regal air. Though she was only 5’2” and the beginnings of fine, dark hair were beginning to show above her lip, she didn’t blame me. She didn’t blame me if she sometimes went home with a backache or a stitch in her side. And she was grateful when a man behind her on the bus tried to pinch her, but could find no handhold. When she was nineteen, her boyfriend, who after weeks of dates finally kissed her on the front porch, then took more liberties, all above the waist, and finally drove her to park out past the cornfields. Her pulse racing, she didn’t know what to expect, but her body, though I held it close, loosened under his hands. Between her legs she felt a tingle, a fever rising as his mouth pressed hers, as his hands edged down her leg, gliding under her skirt. I lost some of my rigidity as they squirmed and struggled. I was amused by the strangeness of humans, their passions, their desire to merge with one another. Then I felt myself ripping along her backbone. Pressed almost supine, she shot upright, but too late. I shrieked and split right down to the focus of their attention. “What the hell was that?” he said, and she began to cry. I was the injured one, I would never be the same. I would end up in a garbage heap, but she was embarrassed. Embarrassed not by her flaming body, not by what she was on the verge of doing, but by me. “My girdle,” she wailed. “It broke.” And there she was, ripe flesh warm and loose. He laughed and said, “Oh, good.”
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
PICC-Line a needle inserted into a venous cavity built for the long-haul transporting fluids a modern medical miracle designed to deliver nutrients or stealing another sample of blood to measure the ineffectiveness of the designer drug du jour it saves poking around by amateur vampires in hospital gowns intent to transform me into a pincushion instead, theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve turned me into a number on a chart an occupied bed another over-medicated dreamer tubing in the revenue stream of tomorrowâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s healthcare merger floating on a placenta made of gel foam and rubber sheets wading in the darkness waiting in the light for the doctor to cut the PICC-line the umbilical cord and send me home
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
Bird’s-Eye View my doctors inspect me with one eye embracing their version of the truth their perception limited by the confines of a single dimension which they define as the standard of care with no depth no texture simply the flatness found in pre-Pixar animation while I am but a 50’s cartoon caricature Wile E. Coyote in a hospital gown to their feathered protagonistic prognosis our communication is void of words while their biased outlook is bolstered by cruel imaginary lines as they pray for the imaginary train to pierce the imaginary hole in the imaginary mountain standing between us
Where Desire Comes From A starved loon over the lake mistakes its shadow for a bluegill. The oaks offer a leaf. It falls into the lake. The lake falls into a hole. The hole falls into the pit of my stomach. I fall in between your breaths. In this way, I take responsibility for your stuttered heartbeat. I do not blame the loon. It’s those trees— trembling as if there were wind, struggling to hold up the bottom of the sky. The moon has fallen into the ocean tonight. Its light is the firefly’s bastard. I am not in on the secret— except when you put your hand in my hair, mimicking the wind. Except when the wind puts its hand in my hair, mimicking you.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
Corydon Waits The deaf mute creates dinner, the man guzzles scotch, the child explodes a monster, and I gaze out our bay window at a grove of oak trees, a weeping willow, sunflowers with heads ten feet above the ground, and thick wild grass tangled with purple lupine. The neighborhood association sometimes asks the man to mow this untidy lawn, there being a rule about that. The man replies that he has decreed his wife (me) to be the boss of the lawn, but when the association asks me to comply, I tell them to ask the manâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;my designated caretaker. They know they are being mocked, but what can they do? Fine us? The man and I are rich. Fines are nothing to us. The man does not explain to the association that he cannot abide the sound of a mowing machine and will not have one on the property, nor does he say that he is even more distressed by the noise of a vacuum cleaner and wishes his wife would be merciful enough to vacuum when he is not at home. He does complain to me, however, loud and long. I object that my mornings are spent jogging, answering e-mails, taking brunch prepared by the deaf mute with emphasis on fruits, cheese and exotic breads, sweeping the parquet floors, mopping where necessary, dusting if I see any dust, and making phone calls to Miss Betty, a friend whose tongue goes on about nothing well into the middle of the afternoon. After I have done all that, I go into the library to select a volume willy-nilly from thousands of serious books in a collection acquired over the generations by my husbandâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ancestors. Our library would be an excellent resource for a scholar, but I read only to pass the time; the child shows no interest in anything that does not blow apart or have fangs; and my husband, although unwilling to part with a single book, never opens one. Sometimes I discover that I have read a certain book before and was moved to make a comment in the margin, back in the days when ideas interested me. Now that Corydon waits for me, however, I do not bother with ideas. The words in front of my eyes keep Corydon at bay, and when my eyes are tired after an afternoon of shifting them back and forth on the page, I vacuum the carpets. Into that noise, the man comes home from work to have his ears assaulted. I am sorry. I truly am. I love and appreciate the man more than he will ever knowâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;but vacuuming must be done when it must be done. B. C. (Before Corydon), I had a staff. I employed a secretary and two maids in addition to the deaf mute. The maids did the vacuuming in those days at an hour when the man was at work.
A.C. (After Corydon), I fired the secretary and the maids because I wanted to do for myself what they had done for me: ordinary but necessary tasks. My hours needed a purpose and my schedule had to be maintained. Of course, I could not be so cruel as to deprive the man, the child, and myself of exceptional cuisine. Our talented deaf mute still comes by bus every day to nourish us. Soon she will ring the dinner bell, and I will turn away from the window knowing full well that after dinner has been eaten; and once the man and I have made love, I will go off to my private bedroom to achieve ethereal stimulation. I first met Corydon in my thirty-fifth year. In those days, as I have mentioned, my staff looked after the house. The child, aged nine at the time, was in school all day. I was therefore free to wander into the city to shop, lunch, see a movie, or enjoy a drink in my own good company. Corydon, perched on a bar stool, caught my attention. He was neither young nor old—small, pale, and beautiful. The irises of his eyes were speckled. Like the eyes of a cat. I stared at them. “Do I know you?” he asked. “I don’t think so. I wonder whether I might take you to bed.” “Why would you want to do that?” “Your irises are speckled.” “Yes. Mottled. A family trait.” “They give you a primitive look.” “And that’s why you want to take me to bed?” “Yes.” He became angry. “If I exhibited a Hapsbourg lip, a cleft palate, or a clubfoot, no one would dare comment.” “Have I been rude?” The specks in his eyes vibrated. “No,” he decided. I wanted him right off the bat, and he claimed that he was not averse to taking me at once, either, but weeks passed without copulation because he kept forgetting to buy the necessary equipment. “I must wear a very special condom.” “Then we will be doubly protected, Corydon. I wear a diaphragm because I already have a child. One is enough.” “A diaphragm cannot protect your eggs from my little devils.” It was a kind of love we made when he was at last supplied, but it was not the sort of love that had caused the man and me to conceive our child—not the love that makes me sad when I am forced to vacuum in the man’s presence.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
Corydon’s small body, strange eyes, and rough tongue were playthings. I felt in charge, drawing the experience out for my own pleasure. His own pleasure, however, seemed to be denied to himself more by his own volition than by my selfishness. He could have implicated himself, but did not. It annoyed me that his eyes did not glaze over with desire. The man was a much more expressive lover than Corydon, I had to admit, but surely, I thought, I shouldn’t complain about Corydon’s lack of passion. He is the servant of my desire, keeping his own head so that he may be ready for whatever urges come into mine. More fool I. The man at one point became annoyed by my absences from the house. He had no idea what I was up to, but he did notice that the household was no longer being properly run. He was, he said, holding up his end. He worked like a galley slave to pull forward a very big firm with more than a thousand employees. Surely I could lift a manicured finger to manage a staff of four. “They are taking advantage of your lax supervision. Things are not done on time.” “Do you want to confine me to home to whip them into shape? Am I to have no fun anymore?” The man’s eyes narrowed. He was perceptive, always. “Are you having an affair?” I considered what lie I should tell, and then realized that he knew the truth already. “Yes, I am.” He was for a moment weighed down by a sadness so heavy that I could feel him lifting it and becoming, for my sake, nonchalant. “And are you enjoying yourself with your lover, my dear?” It was a pertinent question. Whenever Corydon came, an alarming odor gushed forth. It was becoming stronger with repeated copulations. “It will soon be over,” I said, surprising myself with my own conviction. “Be careful,” he said, relief shining in his eyes. “A rejected lover can be dangerous.” “Yes. I think I’m in trouble,” I admitted. He hugged me. “Do you want me to send somebody to deal with him?” “I don’t want him hurt. Can your men convince him without killing him?” The man laughed as he swept me up in his arms, carried me to our bed, and plunked me down with such gusto that I bounced. “I don’t order bodily harm…I get results, though. Your lover will be a piece of cake.”
I slept all night beside my husband as had been the case all during the body-on-body stage of my affair with Corydon—a wife cheating on her husband with another man in a rented room and then making love to her husband that very night—but what was different was that I believed I had shed all desire for my little lover. He stank. He had weird eyes. His tongue was like a washboard. He was not quite human. However, it did occur to me that my objections to him were what had attracted me to him in the first place. I might fantasize about him, might I not? Turn his perverse attractions into an occasion for solo gratification? Intrigued by the possibility of enjoying Corydon as a phantom lover, I asked for my own bedroom. The man said I could have it, of course. “It’s just that I’d like to play music at night and might disturb you. I know how much you need your sleep.” “Very thoughtful.” There was irony in his voice, but I did not heed it as a warning against upsetting the balance of our union. I was in a state of bliss, avoiding Corydon all day with the household tasks that kept me safe from him, making love to my beloved husband at the appropriate time, and afterward reaching solo climaxes with my invisible lover. And then, just when all seemed thrilling on the home front, my lack of feeling for the child began to worry me. I saw him off every morning done up in his gray school uniform, and I was increasingly glad to see him go. I had never loved that boy. Not even when he was plump and without guile. How, then, could I learn to love him now that he was skinny and trying to get away with things? I must try harder, I decided. If I sent him into the larger world convinced that his mother had not loved him, what hellish things might he do? I must start by warming myself toward him. I entertained Miss Betty in the sitting room with stories of the boy’s exploits. It was hard to think of any real ones, so I made them up. Eating a scone and sipping tea, Miss Betty mulled over my story of the child and his recent pony ride at the municipal zoo until her lips curled. She did not believe, she said, that a child could make a pony jump over a fence. I was bragging about my child because my own life was not exciting. Insulted, I told her about Corydon. She ruminated, crumbs leaping from her mouth, and reached a decision: “It’s never a good idea to go to bed with people we don’t know.” “I have given him up, Miss Betty. I will never have actual sex with the real man again. He isn’t quite human,” Coming from dull Miss Betty, the look she gave me was sharp. “What do you mean?”
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
“The irises of his eyes are spotty, he has a washboard for a tongue, and there is the smell of death in his semen.” “My God! He’s a demon!” Odd that it should have been silly Miss Betty who first identified Corydon. Not me. Not my husband. Miss Betty. “I know all about demons,” she said, and for once it seemed to me that her tongue might be worth heeding. “We had one in the desert where I grew up. Did I ever tell you I grew up in a desert? It was blazing hot, which is where they do best. You really cannot fool around with those buggers. Ours had a forked tongue. You have to get rid of him! Have you consulted a priest?” I had not, but a priest was involved in my life. The child was being prepared for his first communion by Father Maxwell, an old priest with a roly-poly body and an apparently untrammelled mind, who recognized and forgave my lack of real love for the child. If Father Maxwell was sophisticated enough to appreciate how hard it is to manufacture devotion, he might be able to tell me just who it was that had made love to me on rented sheets, and whether I should be confident that I had rid myself of danger by confining him to my own bedroom without a real body. Betty’s word, demon, I would not mention lest he think I was an idiot. The children were playing a game of blind man’s bluff, and Father Maxwell and I were at the side of the hall, our discussion shielded by the noise they made. “You pretend to have sex with a lover that you don’t trust for the real thing anymore? “That’s right.” “Most women who come to me about their affairs claim to have been seduced. ‘He was so much nicer to me than my husband,’ they say.” “No one could be nicer to me than my husband.” “Your husband is, by reputation, ruthless.” “In business, yes. No one is safe with my husband when it comes to business. But with me, he is an angel. I simply wanted Corydon as a lover, Father. I know the Church finds that dreadful…” “Oh, well, it’s a sin, of course—and unwise, certainly—but love affairs are the mainstay of novels, and we priests like a good book as much as the next man. You say your lover had something wrong with him, though?” “Not at first. At first, Corydon was extraordinary…small, yes, and odd, yes…but capable of satisfying me in ways my husband had never thought of. After a while, though, he became…stinky.” The priest shot me a glance of alarm.
“So I stopped going to him and imagined him into my bedroom. I make love to the image of him in my own mind. Safe sex, you see, Father.” The old priest bristled at my little joke. His face grew red with anger, his body shook, and he struggled for breath. The children noticed that our peaceful chat was becoming interesting. Father pulled me into the chapel, seated me in a pew and sat in the pew in front of me, twisting himself around so that we were face to face. “You can’t keep a thing like that. You must expel it. It’ll be difficult, of course, now that you have taken it where it wants to be. You cannot take a thing like that into your mind. Your mind is your soul. It’ll get hold of your soul, you ridiculous woman. You will lose your soul. Come with me to the altar, and we will pray together.” “I’m not used to being shouted at. I don’t believe in what you are talking about,” I said, and I meant it—although I was deep down terrified that Father Maxwell and even silly Miss Betty might be on to something. I ran from the church and shooed my child into a taxi, detaching myself from Father in order to get in. I slammed my door. Father’s face was crushed against my window; his eyes were filled with tears. Without evidence of any kind and against common sense, I felt that he was crying for himself, not me. It was impossible for me to consider returning to the church, so I paid a reliable woman to escort the child to the rest of his communion classes, and my husband went alone to the actual service. I said I had a terrible headache. He knew I was lying, and he was disappointed in me. Not to love the child was one thing; not to feign love when necessary was another. Father Maxwell accepted nothing, not even my right to be left alone. He sent letters and emails and tried to get me to answer his phone calls. He was obsessed with my fantastical dalliances with Corydon. The more bizarre side of religion—the demons, the possessions, the hysteria—should be outside the purview of a practical, intelligent parish pastor like him, I told him in a couple of e-mails. Surely he was supposed to look upon faith as an everyday, sentimental matter—like the faith in that old Bing Crosby movie with the bells in it. I, however, a sane woman of unsentimental sophistication, could damn well enjoy a private recreational fantasy! A year has now passed, during which I have ignored Father Maxwell’s entreaties and demands and lived as I wished without much caring that my husband seemed less and less fit, nor that my boy was becoming more and more surly.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
However, today has become a special day and also, I am afraid, will become a special night that is different from the usual days on which I do my necessary chores and nights on which I have relations with my weakening husband, dally with an invisible Corydon, and fall asleep content. As I wait for the dinner bell on this unusual evening, gazing at my lawn with its willow and sunflowers and lupine while the man guzzles scotch and the child explodes monsters, I realize that I am beginning to wonder whether there is any chance on this blue Earth that I can stay sane. My fear has to do with what happened this afternoon. I received a note from the man’s doctor saying that my husband did not want me told that he had cancer and was refusing treatment The doctor insisted that it would be ridiculous not to treat a cancer in order to avoid worrying a wife who stood to lose her husband if he, the doctor, were not permitted to intervene. The last line of the note was the worst one: “Your husband seems to feel that he has lost your love already, and that his life is therefore not worth saving.” Shocking, searing guilt took hold of me. Sure that I had no right to wallow in it, I put my desperate self into a taxi. Mass was going on when I entered the chapel, but Father Maxwell was not the one offering the blood and flesh of the Lamb. A much younger man was officiating. I sought him out in his office after the service to find out whether my own priest was still around. I told him I wanted to kneel down with the old man to pray for my husband. The young priest blinked. “He’s dead.” “I’m sorry to hear that.” “Was he a friend of yours?” “Yes, I think he was. How did he die?” The young priest sat back in his chair. “Badly.” “Cancer?” I asked, having it on my mind. “I don’t like to say, but I do want to say. It preys on my mind.” “I don’t understand.” “There isn’t a polite way to describe what happened, but maybe you can explain it to me. It would be an act of charity, Madam. I loved Father Maxwell. I was first his acolyte and then his colleague. For twelve years, I knew what he thought on every issue…looked to him for kindness and guidance. Everything a soul-mate needs I had from him, and he, I like to think, took comfort from me. Although, of course, I was not up to snuff in certain respects…I couldn’t erase his fear or keep him from drinking too much. I told him we must go to Bethlehem and pray for an end to his foolish fear. He believed there was a demon, you see, right here in the city. I should have reported him to the bishop, but instead I urged him to go
with me to the Holy Land where he would no doubt have gotten over his nonsense. Our airline tickets were bought. Our hotel reservations had been confirmed. The bishop was pleased to be able to do something for his old, dear colleague and happy to have me go along to keep him safe. He had found our replacements for a whole month. We were impatient to be off. “And then one night he did not come home. I waited all night in a chair but fell asleep at one point and was not sure whether he had come in. I knocked on his door and got no response. I was worried so I went in. He was not there. I tried to stay calm and focus on what might be the most likely place to start searching for him. “I chose an avenue where we had often taken walks. It had huge, beautiful maple trees, you see, and we enjoyed just…seeing them, and also seeing the houses that had become with the years such splendid ruins. Father was sitting in the doorway of one of them, naked and dead.” The young priest opened a drawer and took out a bottle of whiskey and only one glass. While he was serving himself, totally absorbed in his grievous need for strong drink, I waited for something more, but he had nothing to add except a question. “How could he do that to me?” Although it was hypocritical of me, considering my own lack of sufficient empathy toward my son and husband, I was somehow inspired to tell him that it was probably God who sent him to find Father. I added that it was merciful of God to have sent Father’s best friend to cover him and take him away, but he shook his head. “I didn’t do that,” he said. “I turned my back on him and went home. He had deserted me so I deserted him. Whatever lured him there we could have defeated together. He had only to kneel down beside me at the altar to pray for deliverance from his demon.” That word shocked my mind into making a connection. “Did Father Maxwell know a man named Corydon?” “Yes. They regularly played chess.” Standing at the window, waiting for the dinner bell, gazing out over the lawn on this darkening evening, I am both desperate to make the man believe in me again and hopeless that it can be done, I make no sound of dismay and feel no intensity of emotion when I spy my lover Corydon perched on a giant sunflower. I know that he is waiting for that moment when, realizing that I have killed my husband and failed my child and become the chattel of a demon, I will follow my master, lost at last, mad at last, into a splendid ruined mansion.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
Disjointed Western medicine labeled our top vertebra as Atlas shouldering cognizance as a cranial sphere, a singular awareness. Atlas is also a word for knowledge of Earth, yet vertebrae stacked beneath remain anonymous, categorized as a muted map.
Once I Saw the Face of The Origin of the World I toured the pale landscape of your waist, several times circled your navel where the sun goes below the horizon into the black meadow of mons pubis, arriving at the gates of swelled labia: Callimorpha dominula among the loveliest moth wings on earth, fluttering near the spout-flower of your anus. Lush thighs with their mortal heft, vagina a glowing pillar. Courbet severed you at the neck, leaving your mind unreachable, languishing unsold and unhung in attics and the backrooms of bric-a-brac shops for more than a century. Some critics assert, he divided you in order to protect you from public derision: the wrath of clergy, prosecution by the constabulary. I wonder, while imprisoned in 1871, if he re-imagined you, if covetous memories prodded him to drink himself unconscious? The self needs little assistance in splitting; reattaching is always the difficult work. I too desired you the moment I first saw you, though looking now at the revelation of your face only produces gloom: your insular mind tarnished by sorrows, angled toward an open window as you watch the clouds and their shadows, a wall of stone, wishing while awake to remain dreaming.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
Interior Decorator You could clean me out, redecorate, tuck this beating heart behind a knee cap. Imagine the ecstasy of this body ripped open. Imagine the slicing of tendons, the shattering of bones leaking marrow. You could engineer connections straight from cortex down to clitoris, pinky finger right to tongue. You could turn square joints at cubists’ angles. Go ahead: I trust you’ll get it right. Myself, I’d end up over dressed, intestines twirled around my neck, their ends dangling, sinuous, luminescent.
Committed “The police are coming for you, Alice. You better be ready to go,” my mother told me. I was out of tears. Quick breaths filled my lungs. My heartbeat thumped in my ears. I coached myself onward. Be calm. You need to look normal. Grab your backpack. Pack your homework. I was still in high school, but I had just turned eighteen. If my mother decided on a whim to kick me out, I had no right to ask to be let back in. No eighteen-year-old has a right, so to speak, to live under her mother’s roof. The night she tried to have me committed, I wasn’t safe and my mother knew it. This was my mother’s plan: get me to a hospital emergency room, where a doctor would hear her version of events. The doctor would deem me mentally unstable, and commit me to a mental institution. How would she get me to the hospital? She’d enlist the police. Upon their arrival at our home, she’d emphasize my instability. Then she’d suggest going to a hospital in lieu of pressing charges. This would make her sound appropriately concerned. Helpful. Mom had threatened to call the police on me many times. It was the empty threat tossed around on the nights she told me to shut up or get out. Those nights all began the same way: I ventured into the basement, where my sister Laura slept. The basement was always cold. Most of its square footage was taken up by a large ping-pong table, where we deposited unwanted clothes and empty boxes. The basement smelled like a mixture of laundry detergent and rabbit litter. The previous owners had converted the basement pantry into a bomb shelter, which is where our rabbit lived, in a cage no one cleaned. Laura’s bed was a busted-up futon stuffed into a corner near the stairs. Laura was sixteen, two years younger than me, but more adept at being a teenager. I was the oldest, the bookish one. Francesca, our baby sister, was twelve, perpetually sunny and adorable. My mother called her “Franny Bird” or “The Baby.” Francesca had straw-colored hair and long thin arms. We almost lost her to a bout of pneumonia when she was three, and ever since we’d all protected her, like a piece of fine china. Laura was pluck in the middle, with a personality to match her birth order. She was invited to all the right parties, but acted like she could care less about going. She dated older boys who played in bands and skipped school. She’d committed to seeming perfectly disenchanted with her surroundings. She’d toss her long, thin brown hair over her shoulder with a flick of her confident wrist. Her lips curled naturally into a sneer. She was green-eyed,
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
thick-browed, and obscenely tall. By the time she was sixteen, her beauty was the scary kind, the sort that requires a lot of mascara. I was not as tall, a blue-eyed blonde fit from years of swimming, and blessed with good skin that never broke out. In other families, I would have been considered pretty. My mother set money aside for Laura’s upkeep. Laura had a stock of Clinique products encased in luxurious mint green packaging that my mother would refresh every few months. When there was only enough money for one of us to get braces, it was Laura who got hers first, even though I was older and my teeth were more messed up. My mother was a teacher, a single mom to three girls. Dad lived in Italy and didn’t pay nearly enough child support. By the time Laura had been appropriately outfitted, there was very little cash to spare. So I stole Laura’s stuff sometimes, recalibrating the scales. The punishment for getting caught in the act of stealing Laura’s stuff was a beat-down. From 1994 through 1998, the years I was in high school, Laura hit me so regularly that the beatings felt like part of my daily routine, scheduled between dinner and homework. She was indiscriminate, kicking my shins, knocking me upside the head, pounding on my arms. I never fought back. I’d like to think there was a philosophical reason behind my nonviolent resistance, but it just wasn’t a fair fight. I never stood a chance against Laura, who was taller and stronger. Punching came easy to her. During the beatings, I’d raise my arms in front of my eyes to protect my face. Laura would make contact a few inches below my wrists, the plum-colored bruises blooming on my forearms the next morning. Once, I ran upstairs from the basement after one of Laura’s beatings, howling and crying, begging my mother to intervene. My mother told me to pipe down, to go away, to give it a rest, to shut up. It was my fault, I suppose her reasoning went, because when I cried about the violence I was much louder than the violence itself. The night my mother tried to have me committed, instead of punching my arms, Laura had switched it up, grabbing me by the wrist. She bit into the white flesh she’d raised to her mouth, and my right arm became a chicken leg. I tried to shake my arm free. I could feel her teeth digging in deeper. First, the cuspids, pointy, vampire-like. Then, just when I thought it was over, the hard, dull pain of the lower incisors. She clamped on for what must have been a matter of seconds, but it felt like minutes. When she let, go she pushed me away, dismissively. I bored her. I wiped her saliva onto my shirt and noticed blood, where she’d broken through skin. I started for the stairs. My arm was throbbing. “Maaaahhhh...” I wailed for my mother.
A small part of me was happy that Laura had gone full-throttle demonic. Before, even if Laura had left me all bruised up, my mother would find a way to make the beating my fault. But now that Laura had graduated to biting, my mother would care. This time, she would take my side. I reached the top of the stairs. I could see the imprint of teeth on my skin, which had turned puffy and red. I could have taken my pulse by holding an index finger to the bite. The stairs led into the kitchen, where I found my mother. She’d abandoned her post in front of the television. “Mom, she bit me! Mom!” She glanced briefly at my arm, but the bite did not register. “Mom, please, look. I need to go to the hospital.” “I swear, Alice, I’m calling the cops on you this time, if you don’t shut up,” was my mother’s response. The last time she’d threatened to call “the cops,” I’d tried to talk to her about Laura, but my tears had messed with my delivery. My mother had laughed, and told me I should watch it, lest someone outside our family realize how “psycho” I truly was. Her response to anything I complained about was to tell me I was crazy. “The cops will take you to a hospital...if that’s where you really want to go,” she told me that night, all the while smiling a joker’s grin. I saw a flash of blond hair out of the corner of my eye. Francesca had poked her head out of her bedroom, surveyed the scene in the kitchen, thought better of it, and retreated back behind her bedroom door. Her appearance snapped me out my stupor. I tried to calm down, to reason. I lowered my voice to a whisper. “Please help me. Mom...” We were still in the kitchen. My mother turned to the sink and started doing dishes. From behind, she was still the woman who’d tracked down an early edition of Little Women for my ninth birthday, the woman who’d picked up Italian, her fourth language, in a matter of months. When I was five, and my mother was pregnant with Francesca, we’d moved to Italy, where my father had landed a job at the UN. When my parents split up six years later, my sisters, my mother and I left Rome for Kalamazoo. We moved in with her parents, and she traded her cat-eyed Italian glasses for a Lenscrafters pair. Three years passed before we moved out of my grandparents’ home, at which point, something inside of my mother broke. In our new home, she polished off a bottle of red wine every night, and passed out snoring in front of the television. She’d taken to slapping my face without warning. “You little bitch,” she’d say, spit landing in my eyes. “You little fucking
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
bitch.” I adored my mother and spent many years wondering what I’d done wrong. Now, I thought the bite might change things. But in families like mine, there are no surprises. That night, just like all the others, I was seen as the source of all problems—and getting rid of me was my mother’s way of solving them. After washing and drying a few glasses, she turned around. “You do need help, Alice, that’s for sure. And we can get some help for you at the hospital. Is that what you want?” She wiped her wet hands on the front of her jeans and stomped toward the living room, where the phone sat on top of a dusty piano. She uncoiled the long knotted cord, and dragged the phone into her room. She slammed her door shut so that the conversation couldn’t be overheard. I thought she was bluffing, but she emerged minutes later, still smiling. I sucked in a gulp of air. I had just a few minutes to get ready. My movements became precise, fueled by dread. I lifted my red Jansport backpack by its fabric handle, sweeping it off the floor and depositing it on the dining room chair, where it landed with a thunk. I pulled at the metal zipper with my thumb and forefinger, praying for it to glide, please God, without catching. It opened up and I packed my provisions. First, the calculus textbook. Next, the folder that held my homework exercises. I knew without checking that the front pocket held a supply of mechanical pencils, some with sullied white eraser tips, some with fresh ones I’d yet to break in. It was late evening on a warm day in early May, a few weeks before prom, and only a handful of months stood between me and college. The cop car pulled into our driveway and parked behind my mom’s white Ford Taurus. That car embarrassed me. Back when my mother had been a different person, she wouldn’t have been caught dead in a car like that. “Miss, you’re going to have to get in your mother’s car.” The police officer was keeping his distance. I didn’t respond. I just complied. The cops followed us to a hospital. We walked into the emergency room, whose doors slid open on cue. I was taken to an exam room. My mother stayed outside and the cops disappeared. A doctor walked in, his head in a chart. He didn’t look up to greet me. “So, you and your mom are having a rough night?” His head was still down. He didn’t care about me, but I didn’t need him to. There was only one thing I wanted him to notice: the heavy book I’d pulled out of my backpack and was staring at with all the intensity I could summon. “Yeah, rough night, I guess.” I sighed, making it clear that he was inter-
rupting me. I closed the textbook. I moved my hand to be sure the doctor could read the cover. “Calculus, eh?” “Yeah. The AP test is coming up. I have some homework due, and I need to stay on top of it so that I’m ready for the test. I want to be ready for Calc II in college.” “Good for you. I loved Calculus...” Good. I had finally registered with him in a way he could relate to. This is why I’d packed the book in the first place. “Me too. It’s like a puzzle. But I already know I want to be a lawyer,” I told him, carefully selecting each nugget of information for maximum impact. “A lawyer? Wow. So where are you going to school this fall?” Once I’d answered this one I’d have the tactical advantage over my mother. The doctor and I would be in the same club. If I could get the doctor to think that I was like him, it would be harder for my mother to convince him that I was crazy. “Northwestern.” “Wow! Northwestern. Good school.” The doctor didn’t ask me anything else. He scribbled something in the chart and mentioned that a nurse would be in to take my vitals. Before he left, he told me to hop onto the hospital bed. I stayed in the plastic chair to the side of the bed. There were still two ways this night could go, and one of them involved me ending up in a mental institution. Hopping onto the bed like a person who needed to be examined was a step in the wrong direction. I reopened my textbook. And then, a middle-aged nurse wearing teddy bear-adorned scrubs pulled back the exam room’s blue hospital curtain. She couldn’t have been more different than the doctor. She looked right at me, before looking at my chart. She had short brown hair and a warm, open face. She didn’t say anything at first, but something about the way she took her time let me know that I’d have a chance to explain myself. So I let a little warmth back into my own face and forced a half-smile. “Hi hon,” she said. Her tone was gentle. “Hi there,” I said. “Tell me what happened.” She hadn’t judged me yet. She stood next to me as I laid it all out, and I kept my eyes focused on the floor. I told her everything, racing against the clock, trying to win her over before she stopped listening and decided
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
to go along with my mother’s wishes. And then I showed her my arm. “Teeth?” She swallowed hard. “Laura’s...teeth.” I willed myself not to cry. “You’re not going to be admitted tonight, Alice.” She rested her arm across my shoulders. My skin tingled, not yet ready for human contact. “This is what you’re going to do. At home, I want you to be quiet. If you need anything from the basement, you’re going to go downstairs, once, when your sister Laura isn’t home and grab only what you need. Then you’re never going to go down there again. Ever. I want you to just stay out of the way, Alice. Just stay out of the way.” “Yes,” I nodded. Plan sounded good so far. “Take your laundry to your friends’. Eat as much as you can at school, so that you don’t have to get food from the kitchen at home when anyone else is there. Do you have a job?” I nodded. “Good. Work forty, fifty hours a week, so you never have to borrow five bucks for gas. Ask for more shifts. Save as much as you can.” “Yes.” I wanted to take notes. “When does school start?” “September. Northwestern’s on the quarter system.” “Okay. September. That’s four months away. Okay. You can do it.” “I can do it.” I sat up straight. I started to believe her. “Alice, look at me. If she brings you back here, it’ll be the second time, and that will show a pattern. I might not be here. The doctors won’t stop her. They will commit you. It’s up to you, now, do you understand?” “I understand.” My breathing steadied as I committed to her plan. I was led back to my mother. She looked pissed off, her lips pursed in failure. She held her bag close to her side, her knuckles white, her fingers clenching the cheap leather strap. It was a silent ride home. Six weeks later, I was standing on stage at Miller Auditorium and delivering the first speech at my high school graduation. I quoted Teddy Roosevelt, St. Jerome, and some sentimental crap from Peter Pan about Wendy’s last night in the nursery. I could see my mother in the audience, crying as though she had something to do with my accomplishments. “You’re going places, Alice,” my friend’s mother told me after the ceremony. I hoped so. The first step was getting the hell out of Kalamazoo. I’d go away—first to college, then to law school, and I’d never come back. There would be no more basement nightmares in my future. I’d almost trashed my speech at the last minute. I had nothing to prove.
Graduating first in my class had been just one part of the plan. My lips had moved through the words in front of me as though someone else was speaking them. Graduation wasn’t a true milestone. September became my finish line, and I crossed it. The nurse’s emergency room instructions, my mantra: “Just stay out of the way, Alice.”
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
At Seven Weeks They scraped you out of me like curls of chocolate, slurped your needle bones into the yawning mouth of a hungry glass jar. You could have been waste in the pipes under Grand Rapids, and made your way to lake, to sea. You could have fed the krill which feed the whales— an amalgamation of blue eyes and spinal fluid, swimming through gaping holes of vertebrae like the tadpole you were inside of me. But you survived the ripping my body took to purge you, and now you’ve got nine teeth, fingers dipped in mischief from one year outside my body. Each breath you sip and sigh should give me some small comfort I didn’t break you, that I didn’t mar your face— but I can’t suppress this guilty rime built up from never unknowing, that you’ll always be the baby I killed at seven weeks.
A Deconstructed Love Letter to My Period Even before I met you, the women in my life had planned our wedding. My sister made cranes from red paper, mobiles from low-rise bikini bottoms; she secured them to our dining room chandelier with tampon strings. They dripped like water from a faucet. My mother told me you’d come eventually, that your name was Period, that you were messy and came from a place called O’vary. Sometimes I would walk past the airport hoping to see you exit the plane. I imagined you were Italian, like my grandmother, and had saffron hair that curled around your gold earrings. At age eleven under the monkey bars in Wilson Park, I felt you for the first time between my thighs; sticky like caulk and sweet-smelling. I went home and sat on the bathroom floor wrapped in a damp towel. You nestled into the bud of my pubic bone, kissed my fallopian tubes as you left home to rest in painted circles on the grout. You departed the next day, your one-word apology in cardinal cursive on my sheets.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones
A Sister Named Jennifer My sister lived across the hallway from me. I stayed in my room, on some other world. Sometimes the noises I was good at making crossed the hallway to her room; my distorted guitar flowing in torrents through my little practice amp that sounded like an unfed animal. I called it “Flange” after my flanger, an effects pedal I purchased as a way of bribing away all my mistakes. My sister, who does have a name, will not be addressed by that name. Not that I have disowned her. Not that I even dislike her. Sadly, she informed me early on that her name when spoken from anywhere in my direction was an obscenity. “It doesn’t sound anything like my name!” she’d shriek until I left her alone. It’s true that when I was two years old I dreamed of having a sister named Jennifer. The day my mother and father informed me that a sister was forming somewhere in our house, I started dreaming of Jennifer every night. Jennifer was the name of a girl my age whom I had seen at my doctor’s office. She had long blonde hair and freckles that made her look like a puzzle I’d tried and failed to put together, which filled me with a longing common to no toddlers I know of. But seeing her, I felt okay about not having been able to put the pieces in any kind of order. I knew her name was Jennifer because that’s what the nurse called her when it was her time to see the doctor, who wore a surgeon’s light on his forehead, which was kept in place with a black headband of sorts, making him look like a Cyclops. And so from that moment on all I knew was that I wanted a sister named Jennifer. That’s how easy it was for me to fall in love, at two years of age. I could barely walk and was not even as tall as the taller grass and already I had met my soul mate. The girl did not see me. She had no knowledge of me. But she was mine. Of course, I never told my sister. I never told my mother, either. And my father? I never told him anything. Once my sister was born and I could see what she looked like, I forgot about Jennifer. She was no Jennifer. Although I will not name her, I can say with complete honesty that my mother did not name her Jennifer. It would have been difficult for my mother to have chosen that name on my behalf, not having been informed of my wishes. I soon forgot about Jennifer and even went on to hate the name. It didn’t matter. My sister looked like someone else, if not something else entirely. One or two or even twenty people might have said we looked like brother and sister, which became too much sometimes, for both of us, as nothing about my sister ever quite agreed with me and if you asked her, under even the most sensitive conditions, she would say the same of me.
Beyond having the same asymmetrical facial structure—I like to say we both look like the same sneer—and the same sideways hiss in our voice, the same brown hair, my sister and I are nothing alike. My sister loved the water and the water seemed not to have anything against her. “Bob’s sister is such a water rat,” my mother would tell people who sometimes had water rats of their own. I was either terrified of the water or of others seeing what I looked like without a shirt. I was not a water rat; I did everything possible to hide myself from the water, which always seemed to be looking for me. A day camp counselor tried to cure my water-based fear by luring me from the picnic table where, because I was busy eating with the other kids, they assumed they could catch me off guard. They were wrong. Even my ham and cheese and lunch box mildew sandwich was on alert. A woman who looked like she was forty but was probably eighteen asked me to take a walk with her. It was one of those questions that wasn’t a question at all, but a command. She was wearing a black bathing suit that covered the area between her legs and the place where her dangling necklace ended. There was no belly button anywhere. “Robert, your parents want you to learn how to swim. How would you like for me to teach you?” she asked, again in her non-asking tone, the one with no cotton candy lilt at the end. “I don’t like the water,” I told her. “You’ll love it. Once you conquer it, you’ll never want to leave the water.” “No. I don’t like the water,” I told her, this time with more than one hole in my voice, more than one hole and each filling with the hard smells of chlorine. “You’ve got to do this. You constantly worry and fuss. You and your constant ‘do we have to go swimming today, do we have to go swimming today’ is getting under everyone’s skin. You give all your peers the creepy crawlies. They don’t like you. Don’t you want them to like you? Don’t you want friends, maybe one friend at least? I can be that friend. Just do this for me. Will you?” We had arrived at the pool and were headed directly for the deep end, which was twelve feet deep, and close to the diving board that always looked safe to me only because it was so far away, so far from anything I would even consider part of reality. “Will you try, at least? Just once?” she asked again, quicker this time and more rushed, like a true grownup. I tried to answer but the hole in my voice got bigger and nothing came out. I was eight years old. At the time I did not consider that my sister was four and already the more grown up of the two of us, and that it would stay this way. Instead my thinking regressed in loud inhalations of panic
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as the counselor picked me up, held me close to her body so that my face was buried in her cleavage, and jumped into the pool, telling me to hold my breath. I did not hold my breath. Under the circumstances, I did not understand the command “hold your breath.” I did not think the counselor meant to take my breath out of my mouth and hold onto it tight enough for it to survive the impact of the water, which felt like a much bigger, much greater mouth, and that after a few moments inside the gnashing water we would come back to the surface, where I could put the breath back inside my body where it belonged. I also did not think she meant to quit breathing. It sounded like pure trouble and I panicked, waving my arms—thankfully she did not force me to remove my shirt—and we plunged beneath the blue, chlorinated sheen into the depths that always terrified me, and it was not as terrifying as I had feared, but a torture far more traumatic than anything I believed possible. Thankfully, she swam us back up to the sunlight, the oxygen, the world that would never be the same again, though all she did was try to help. I kicked and screamed and punched at her and she just left me beside the lifeguard’s chair and said, with a smile and a squint that was supposed to look friendly and reassuring but didn’t, “We’ll do this again tomorrow. Don’t worry. It will get easier.” It never got easier. It did not happen again, and I made sure of it. I spent my remaining two days watching out for the black bathing suit lady, whose name I learned was either Donna or Miss McNeil, and ducked behind a tree or a trash bin every time I saw her approaching, swinging her lifeguard’s whistle around and around like a yoyo. The camp was not exactly a surveillance state—its counselors and directors never ate any of the campers, not that I was aware of, and I think I would have known if kids were being eaten there—because of the loose security apparatus, the cameras that were still gestating inside the earth for a future decade, I learned at this camp that I could hide anywhere. It was my one true gift. Unlike swimming, the art of hiding got easier and easier. I was, and still am, a natural. Present me with any obstacle and I will disappear, on command, in plain sight. A member of the club for kids who refused to leave plain sight, my sister never disappeared. She talked a lot and I could tell that most of what she said, or tried to say, did in fact make sense. What I mean by “tried to say” is that I could never decipher the cognitive frequency she used when sharing information. Often she seemed to shove her words in some other direction—not in terms of sense, but of intonation, volume, the heft of
something being spoken and subsequently left on a desk or inside a drawer somewhere, so if she told me that dinner was ready, I would go looking in the living room for what she’d just told me. Somehow I never found anything. No words under the lamp or in the bowl of seashells or behind the pictures of rivers and landscapes. My sister seemed always to know what was coming next, even if she couldn’t always speak clearly. It didn’t matter. Everything seemed to already be walking in her direction. She liked school. She had friends, and enjoyed opening her books more than once and applying the correct pencil markings when called upon to do so, which made it seem like she actually chose to get out of bed in the morning and was looking forward to the day, whereas I had to be forced from my blankets and pillows because I dreaded everything about the day, which was like a great formless beast with its mouth open. I was young, though I didn’t yet realize that the monster I could not see clearly, the monster I only sensed at the edges of each slow minute, was the entire world. My sister woke to the same petite brain tremors each morning at exactly the same time: 6:47 am. No one believed her. How can a person wake up at the same minute with as much consistency as she did? Who would ever keep track of such a thing anyway, and why? She did not argue. Instead she went on to expand what already seemed an exaggeration. “I wake up at the same second every morning. The thirty third second in the minute between 6:47 and 6:48, i.e. 6:47:33 am.” Because the clocks had been forced ahead by one hour the day before, she got asked if her wakeup time had moved an hour into the future, to 7:47:33 am. Her best friend Peter asked this question every year, but as my sister would say, Peter is charming but imprecise. He doesn’t notice the small, significant details that separate each minute from every other minute, and each second from every other second, and each millisecond...She always had the ability to adjust to the clock’s seasonal changes, when the ticking from one minute to the next sounded faintly of a garden’s earliest stirrings, the song of a just waking sparrow, the tickle of a golf ball still safe in its cocoon. “Yes,” she replied to his question. “I do make the adjustment. Everything about me moves exactly one hour forward in time. It’s what makes me smart and special. It’s why I know so much more than you. I can fit an entire civilization into the elegant complexity of one short hour. My starting point is always one civilization ahead of yours.” My sister might have said this to me, or I might have heard her telling Peter this. She only wanted to tease him. I was pretty sure of it, though my sister did have a way of bending the future backwards, so she didn’t need
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to squint or risk making her eyes permanently smaller. Peter was the same as me. He needed to squint and look behind every word and the answer to every math problem to see if there was a future, and if there was a future, he had to make sure it stayed the same, so he’d be able to recognize it when he caught up to it. All throughout the Carter, Reagan, and Bush administrations we ate dinner at the same table: my mother, my father, me, and my sister. Before we ate the real food, we usually had an iceberg lettuce salad with pale sickly tomatoes and Kraft Catalina French Dressing. We put the salad in our mouths, chewed and swallowed, but I wouldn’t have called it eating. The lettuce and tomatoes looked like a bloodless massacre and would most likely remain in our guts for the rest of our lives, encouraging the diseases that would one day kill us. But then we’d pour on the Kraft Catalina French Dressing and the salad looked less scary, if a bit bloody, and the blood the wrong color at that. My father, a high school history teacher, liked to talk about the kids who were either going to Harvard or who might someday be going to Harvard, and he often waxed prosaically on this topic while the rest of us ate our food and listened. One particular night, we had scrambled eggs and ketchup and grilled cheese sandwiches that were baked in the oven on a cookie sheet. It was how my mother always made grilled cheese. I complained and my sister told me to shut up—not just for the moment, but from now on—and did so using only her eyes. Whenever she spoke, she mumbled. But her eyes never mumbled. There was never any question about her feelings toward anything as long as she was able to twist and contort those brown eyes of hers. “The grilled cheese tastes so yellow,” I would say, as if that meant anything. But because it came out like a long, descending sigh, my sister attacked me with her eyes, which were enough to reduce one to the caste of ants and other house bugs. “Grow up,” she would sneer, though this stock phrase of hers often sounded like “Go us” or “Throw mop” or “Slow up.” We never fought. The distance between us was too great. I occupied my place at the table and chomped on my food like I did three to four times a day, every day, while she sat directly across from me as far away as Korea, which my father talked about sometimes because Ray Konkle, who owned the Konkle Funeral Home, had adopted two Korean children who went to the same school as my sister and me. “I don’t feel good,” I said to no one in particular. The next day my fourth grade gym class would be going to Blair Academy to use the swimming pool. Two summers had passed since day camp, and I had managed since
then to hold off the water that was searching for me, the water that was still peaking around and trying to fish me out of hiding. “Just eat your dinner. You’ll be fine,” my father said with a hint of impatience. “Bob is always saying he’s sick,” my sister said, not quite in a tattling voice, yet also not as if she was concerned about my health. “I can’t help it if my stomach hurts,” I said feebly. “It’s just gas,” my mother said. “Take a papaya pill after dinner. That will help.” My father rubbed his forehead and grimaced. “Bob, just settle down,” he said, even though I was already settled down. I hadn’t even gotten started. My stomach wasn’t hurting yet. But by around 5 am it would be. At least the rest of my family would think so. I needed to set up my escape from the Blair Academy Swimming Pool before I ended up there, having to make up a believable excuse on the spot. I picked up my fork and attacked my eggs and ketchup. There would be time later to build a believable stomach ailment. Our dog Snoopy Goliath started barking outside. The sound got loud very quickly. It sounded dangerous, like he was about to break his chain and eat one of the neighbors who must have been walking past our house. My father made no sound, no further grimace, and then he got up from the chair and went outside to fix the world. Inside, at the kitchen table, which was unmapped and not in any history book, though it could have represented all of the world a good portion of the time, the drama that meant nothing continued. “Bob’s class is going swimming for gym class tomorrow,” my sister the water rat said. “I wish my class was going swimming.” She always knew what I was getting worked up about and would try to undermine my efforts to avoid physical and emotional harm. This time she didn’t attack me with her eyes. She was a water rat. So of course she would want my fate as her very own. No greater paradise than a swimming pool full of likeminded rodents. “Did they give you a permission slip?” my mother asked. “They need to get the parents’ permission first. Where is the slip, Bob?” I looked inside my head and could not decide what I did with the slip. I knew where it was, but I did not want it loose in the house, or anywhere in the world. My sister said nothing for once. She was busy nipping at her grilled cheese sandwich.
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“I’ll look for it,” I said, having no such intention, hoping the matter would be resolved by avoiding all further mention of it. “I want to know where it is at this moment,” my mother said. “I don’t know.” The overhead light, which looked like a ceramic spider dangling upside down from the ceiling, dimmed to a momentary yellow. My sister perked up. I saw the spit gathering in her left eye, the eye that was a little meaner than the other. She watched my mother for the correct response. It did not come. Our cat, Celeste, clawed from outside the window over the kitchen sink. “Okay,” my mother said. “Just let me see it tomorrow morning.” Snoopy Goliath’s barking had stopped. My father re-entered the room, took off his shoes at the top of the cellar stairs, and returned to his chair and resumed eating. I felt relieved and was then able to continue feeding with no thought of how to devise an unquestionable emergency situation involving my stomach, the only place such an emergency seemed likely. The light returned to its normal color: the water, once again, no matter how much of the planet it covered, no matter how deep it got inside my body, no matter how many it had drowned or made happy, no matter how many ships had followed it from England, would not have its way with me. I thought I would remain safe, always. This was the way in which I began to be destroyed.
Sun is mighty but he hides from the night trees are mighty but they are rooted to the ground Moon is mighty but she soars alone behold world I am Crow
â&#x20AC;&#x201D;M. A. H. Hinton
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Crow is Reborn
I hold my wings into the wind the world falls away behold gods today I have become one of you
â&#x20AC;&#x201D;M. A. H. Hinton
My Father I told him I loved him as he lay there, a Malevich White on White except with a trach staccato words rasping get-me-the-fuck-outa-here belly swollen, toothpick arms IVs tick-tocking into refractory veins this man at least once removed more often twice or thrice confused our names, called me Samuel or Stuart strode past our birthdays like a track star in a four-minute mile racing to meet the CEO of Tumblr or Twitter or Twank this man never read us Treasure Island or played pirates with eye patches & wooden swords and yet, and still he looks so small against the pillow his face collapsed, his eyes pleading I told him I loved him to spare me from being marooned in nights of restive sleep days of self-loathing, self-lashing eating bone soup and hardtack riddled with weevils
Skin Suits and Bare Bones guzzling bottles of rum never enough never to chase away lingering ghouls of remorse I told him I loved him my voice choking on brackish silt I held his hand he looked almost like someone I loved some long ago someplace pure, White on White
Cane your worn cherry-wood handle so oddly shaped —a double-ended hammer eating itself up from the inside— nestles within my hand perfectly you were made for me i know every scar marring your once perfect body so many tiny wounds i am not gentle in my use of you your long leg of black carbon steel never buckles your neck of titanium never seizes your clubfoot cylinder of micro-cell foam never twists in a sudden spasm of pain my need for you is not an abstraction i long to let you go
—K. S. Lack
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Bittermilk My blood box curdles when the centuries inside my body start to spoil. A cow has one nose and one short life with no after dinner comes dessert. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s why I cough up antiquity chunks like dinosaur bones and fossil rock. I tie my shoes because it makes sense and I am me. In the up-chuck sand between my feet is a wedding on a beach. There are no cows and two fish. This is what it looks like when I know the savory of love. The order of things. If I pasture-die from the clamor of coos or the thud of a body falling again and over inside my arteries, living will drop slowly from this veil of leaves and I will feel that wind trim me down.
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Field & Fly So much, in the mouth of a cow like cud and dirt and circuses. On its tongue, a pool of foam for the flies. Before I leave I look at its spotted shoes and skin and tits and will remember them when I shower. I wanted to put my finger on its magic eyeball but I was afraid it would shake and say without a doubt and without regret. I am certain its deathstory is about me.
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Contributor Bios Colin Anderson is a fifth-year senior at Central Michigan University and is majoring in Information Technology, with a minor in English. He spends his free time writing, playing drums, and playing Magic: The Gathering. Jane Blanchard lives and writes in Georgia. Her poetry has recently appeared in Blue Unicorn, The Dark Horse, The French Literary Review, The Lyric, The Rotary Dial, and U.S.1 Worksheets. Her first collection, Unloosed, is available from Kelsay Books. James Champion is a full-time drummer. When he is not drumming, he writes poetry and fiction about drumming. Three words that describe Jim are: drum, drums, and drummer. And drumsticks. Rob Cook lives in New York City’s East Village. He is the author of six collections, including Asking my Liver for Forgiveness (Rain Mountain Press, 2015), Undermining of the Democratic Club (Spuyten Duyvil, 2014), Blueprints for a Genocide (Spuyten Duyvil, 2012), and Empire in the Shade of a Grass Blade (Bitter Oleander Press, 2013). His work has appeared in Asheville Poetry Review, Caliban, Fence, A cappella Zoo, Tampa Review, Minnesota Review, Aufgabe, Caketrain, Many Mountains Moving, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Colorado Review, BOMB Magazine (online), Sugar House Review, Mudfish, Pleiades, Versal, Weave Magazine, Wisconsin Review, Ur Vox, Heavy Feather Review, Phantom Drift, and others. Joanne Esser writes poetry and nonfiction in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has taught young children for over thirty years. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Hamline University and published a chapbook of poems, I Have Always Wanted Lightning, from Finishing Line Press in 2012. Her work has appeared in The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Water~Stone Review, Third Wednesday, Iconoclast, Young Ravens Literary Review, and others. Jenny Ferguson is Métis, French Canadian, an activist, a feminist, and an accomplice with a PhD. She believes writing and teaching are political acts. Border Markers, her collection of linked flash fiction narratives, is available from NeWest Press. Feel free to get in touch with her at http://www.jennyferguson.ca or @jennyleeSD.
temenos Lilah Galvin is a graduate student at Central Michigan University pursuing her masterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s in creative writing. She likes writing, reading, kayaking, and sarcasm. She cannot wait to pay off her student loans. Jane Gilchrist lives in Montreal. She grew up in Iowa and studied short story writing with Philip Roth and Vance Bourjailly in the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa. Jane is a member of Playwrights Guild of Canada, and six of her own plays have been produced in Montreal and Toronto. She has worked as an actor in plays including Guys and Dolls, and in films such as Get Smart and The Woods. Matt Gold lived in Bloomington, Indiana for fifteen years before recently relocating to Brooklyn, NY. He divides his time between pursuing his musical career, acting auditions, and photography. Some of Mattâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s music can be found at www.mattgold.net. As evidence of the democratizing nature of this approach to photography, Matt has no formal training in the visual arts. When he took a simple picture of his cat on his Sony Ericsson Z310A flip phone, Matt was amazed by the quality of the camera. He continues to use this technique today, despite the advancement in current cell phone technology. Andrea L. Hackbarth lives in Palmer, Alaska, where she works as a writing tutor and piano teacher. She holds a BA in English from Lawrence University and an MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Some of her work can be found in Mezzo Cammin, Gravel, The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review, and other print and online journals. Alan Harris is a hospice volunteer and graduate student who helps patients write memoirs, letters, and poetry. Harris is the recipient of the 2014 John Clare Poetry Prize as well as the 2015 Tompkins Poetry Award from Wayne State University. He is also a two-time Pushcart nominee. His work has recently appeared in The Lake, Poetry Breakfast, and Great Lakes Review. M.A.H. Hinton grew up in Montana, lives in Minnesota, and has been writing for more than 40 years. His publications include poetry in both Spitball and in an upcoming issue of Aji. He has also published several Western short stories. He does his sketching while listening to jazz or the Grateful Dead.
Skin Suits and Bare Bones Alice Jackson is a law professor. Her writing has appeared in Foliate Oak, Intima, BUST, Ms., and The Huffington Post, among others. She has lived in Arizona, California, Illinois, Louisiana, and New York, and now calls Idaho home. Laura Kiselevach decided to pursue her passion for photography after twenty years of working as a visual designer and photo stylist for clients such as Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY, and The New York Times. Using only her well trained eye and a smart phone camera, she captures both the grandeur and minutia of her everyday life. Laura’s work has been published in Rip/Torn, Roadside Fiction, Temenos, Short, Fast and Deadly, Wilde Magazine, Quickest Flipest, The Casserole, Muzzle Magazine, among others. Her work has also been exhibited at galleries in New York City, Florida and Los Angeles. A native of Pittston, Pennsylvania, Laura lives in New York City. K.S. Lack is a writer and letterpress printer who lives in New York. Her work has been shown at Proteus Gowanus, the Art Directors Club and the London Centre for Book Arts. She has been living with disability and chronic pain since the age of eleven. Mary Makofske’s fiction has appeared in Iris, The Gamut, Calyx, and other journals. She is also a poet, author of Traction (Ashland, 2011), winner of the Richard Snyder Prize, as well as Eating Nasturtiums, winner of a Flume Press chapbook competition, and The Disappearance of Gargoyles. Her newest book of poetry is forthcoming from Aldrich Press in 2017. Virginia Mallon is a painter, photographer, and blogger with a focus on both human and environmental subjects including urban landscapes, nautical spaces, and personal histories. Her goal is to reflect and comment on the current state of the world and the psychological undercurrents of contemporary society. Recent projects in photography include Chasing Saturn, which folds Greek and Roman mythology into contemporary dreams and memories. Peter Marcus’ poems have appeared in The Antioch Review, Boulevard, Crab Orchard Review, Nimrod, Notre Dame Review, RATTLE, Southern Review, Spillway, and Witness. He has been a recipient of a Connecticut Arts Grant and residency fellowships at Vermont Studio Center, Marble House Project and Norton Island. He is the Academic Coordinator for Elms College Off-Site Programs in Psychology.
Katy McAllister is a garden enthusiast from Michigan who one day hopes to live in a cabin in the mountains surrounded by plants. Airica Parker’s works appear most recently in Camas, Driftwood Press, CALYX, The Fiddlehead, and Lalitamba. The Poetry Foundation selected her as a 2011 finalist for the Ruth Lilly Fellowship. An accomplished performer, instructor, and healer, Airica makes her home in Colorado. Learn more at airicaparker.com. Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, with his wife, Vickie, and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best of the Web nominee, whose work has appeared in more than one thousand publications. Claire Scott is an award-winning poet who has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. Her work has been published by the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Healing Muse, and Vine Leaves Literary Journal, among others. Her first book of poetry, Waiting to be Called (IF SF Publishing), was published in 2015. She is the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry. Amanda Shepard is a recent graduate of Central Michigan University, where she specialized in children’s and young adult literature. Most of her creative works are fueled by copious amounts of coffee, and when she’s not writing or drawing, she can probably be found with her nose stuck in the latest young adult book. A.J. Terlesky, a Canadian native, moved to the United States from New Zealand five years ago, and has since been an active participant in the Atlanta poetry scene. Her work has been published in “The Skinny” Poetry Journal, and will also be featured in upcoming issues of MockingHeart Review, and SPANK the CARP. She holds a Masters of Creative Writing and English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University. Emily Way is an emerging poet who has been published in the Fall 2015 edition of The Central Review. Her poem, “The Sexy Terrible,” was also read and discussed with Natalie DeFour in The Central Review’s companion podcast in February of 2016.
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M. Wright is a writer and full-time graduate student. He received his bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Minnesota. He is the winner of Weisman Art Museum’s ArtWords and recently received second place in the Into the Void Poetry Competition. His poems have recently been published in The Rising Phoenix Review, Maudlin House, and Barely South Review. In 2017, he will be one of the 24 featured poets in the Saint Paul Almanac’s “Impressions” series. Both “Bittermilk” and “Field & Fly” can be seen in his forthcoming chapbook of poetry, a boy named jane (Bottle Cap Press, 2017).