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Vol. VI The Digital Edition

Ampersand Books www.ampersand-books.com


Contents Angel-fer Martha Rzadkowolsky-Raoli ......................................... 6 6

Unwanted Things Adam Kovac......................................................................1 166

Horror Vacui Sam Snoek-Brown ..........................................................2 299

Orbits Decay Jim Coppoc........................................................................5 522

Because Jim Coppoc........................................................................5 533

Unbroken John Lambremont, Sr. ..................................................5 555

Self-Portrait as a Basketball Coach Douglas Basford ..............................................................5 566

Mourning Commute Martha McCay Canter ..................................................5 577

Cover Photo and Artwork By Julianza Kim Shavin


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Angel-fer Martha Rzadkowolsky-Raoli

The Post notes: In her newest movie, The Switch, Aniston plays a character that has no husband or boyfriend, which is decidedly inconvenient considering her time to have a child is running out. It's funny, cause that's the exact same situation the real Aniston wakes up to each and every morning (minus the stupendous dimmers that Brad Pitt personally installed in the house they lived in together, and the weighted knowledge that he now has six children that she did not give him).

Jennifer in the ER The nurses handle Jennifer’s hair with latex gloves. It slides through their fingers but they get none of the pleasure of a naked hand. Oh to feel the liquid gold of this hair! They pet it while the Dr. pulls out something from between her 6


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legs. A jumprope? A noodle? arrange their theories.

The nurses

“things these actors will do to their bodies… some kind of black market birth control…she hates babies…maybe a toy, meant to feel really good?...it’s not outside the realm of possibility.. Not Jennifer. That’s so Angelina, but not Jennifer.. Agreed. Bit of an ice queen this poor thing.” The Dr. pulls at the long tube like an African medicine woman pulls at a guinea worm. Hand over hand, she reels in whatever is at the end of that hose. And there it is: a flattened rubber balloon, wrinkled, bloodied, folded like those big balloons the kids blow up just to punch. The Dr. grunts a bit, like getting the balloon out is giving her some trouble. A nurse asks, Hit a snag? The Dr.’s mother was never much impressed by her daughter, the Dr. When she got assigned to chief obstetrician, the mom said, “It’s not as if you got a haircut named after you. Now that 7


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would be something.” This was the early nineties, and The Rachel had ladies running into salons dropping cash for a shagged, growingout look. She had since then harbored a secret but divine hatred of Jennifer. When Angelina stole Brad she was glad. And this? This Jen deserved too. The Dr. tells the nurses, The object has, um, grown like a barnacle onto the lower uterine wall, and a good deal of scraping will be necessary. May mess up her womb something awful, but, at this point, I don’t see what options we have. If we leave any piece of this balloon in there, there will be hell to pay. I better get it out. Pass the scope. The nurses play with Jen’s hair. It is ridiculous, this hair, even in the bad light of the operating room. The nurses each take a sharp scissor and snip off long inconspicuous strands. Later in the office they will examine them with their bare hands and determine that the hair is synthetic—extensions-- not human, but something better. 8


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Jennifer Talks to the American Press My character grows more pregnant throughout the movie. I think the audience will be surprised by how well I can create that illusion. No body double. The public knows my body too well. There’ve been studies actually. People can pick out my arms, my knees, my breasts, from a catalog of hundreds of other body part photos. It’s like scary.

Jennifer Meets the Balloon He asks her to open her legs, please, and starts to lube the balloon into her uterus with his own hands. I know it’s a barbaric way to conduct science but we are at the developing stages of this field. And what exactly do you call this field? Jen asks, squirming a bit. So far? Empathy Work. We think it sounds very west coast. Mostly our clients are men. Yeah, believe me. They want to grow big side by side 9


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with their pregnant wives. Sweet devotion, I call that. His hand has disappears into Jen. The hairy forearm extends from her waxed little crook. We haven’t firmed up the product name. Balloon Belly doesn’t seem right. It’s not dignified enough, I think. Scootch a little to the left there, give me a good kegel now. Anyway, I was thinking about Empty Pouch. What do you think? You think it has a nice ring to it? Jen says something. Hey, now that’s a good one. Pump-aBump! I really think you’ve got something there. That’s got pizzazz. And it’s entirely descriptive. As you know, Jen, you’re going to give this little bulb on the end of this tube a squeeze every day. Just a squeeze, and the balloon’ll grow right in there with ya. Just like the real thing

Ange Looks into Her Pants Have I grown a cock? I’ve transgendered again. I’m unlimited by my reproductive organs. I can impregnate myself. I can slide my penis inside 10


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of my vagina and make babies. There is no limit to what I can do now. I am complete. I am limitless. I am without end.

Brad Eats His Lunch You sound like a cow, Ange says, A hundred year old cow with no teeth. Do you know what the kids call you behind your back? They call you PigMouth, and SlopFace and DirtyBeard. Do you realize that most of your food is falling into your dirty little beard? You can feed entire villages in Africa with the food that you keep in that beard.

______The Children Tell of the Dark Angel She comes in long legs, she. And she signs of the healing hands: dark lines, dark like mud in the bowels. And she kissing us and she hugging arms, she. Ask us, Where is your water? How long will you live? Would you like a momma like me? Of course we say yes to this last one. 11


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Jennifer Coming out of Anesthesia The Dr. takes off her scrub cap and her mass of curly golden hair falls over her shoulders. Jennifer opens her eyes, blue, groggy, wet, says, Robert? Robert Plant? Oh could ya please sing Kashmir to me?

Jen Talks to the French Press “Jeniffer (French accent), tell us somezeen ze public would find surprizing about you.” She looks beautiful and says, I have lots of opinions, for instance, I think all the little old people in America should live in these cute little houses on the seaside. I saw some like this here in Biarritz. They were full of old people, and the nice little aproned French girls propped up their feet and fed them these sweet little yellow pills that they washed down with seltzer water. America has a lot to learn from France. “Jennifer, tell us about your role in zeez film.” 12


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Well, I play a not-so young ingénue, getting a little long on the tooth by American standards. She lives in Manhattan where she’s made a nice living for herself holly-golightly style,. By dating, if you will, rich men. But suddenly, on her fortieth birthday, she thows herself a big party and none of her suitors show up. It’s like she’s been erased. She sees them on the streets with all these young versions of herself. She can’t anymore afford her lifestyle, so her sister invites her to live with her, in a place where the older woman is still in very high regard. France, of course. But she has many falsehoods to confront, you understand. She is not a real ingénue. She is not French. And she is not, any longer, thin. She realizes she’s losing her body because she’s pregnant. And the more pregnant she gets, the more she has to confront the reality that she has built a life on her looks, on being a sexual object, and you know, she absolutely has to come to find another meaning in her life. And it all happens in the streets of Biarritz, and on the seashore. It’s a very pretty film. 13


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Angelina’s Mouth She licks her children when her desire gets the better. She could lick them in the dark and know which skin belonged to which of the six. For the black girl, the nannies are instructed to rub her limbs with oil twice daily. The oil taste is unmistakable-- sweet, but the texture comes through on the tongue as finely ground sandpaper. The boys from Asia taste refined, like sublimation, and she cleanses her palette with their skin. The twins from her body are salty with some offal on the nose. Her own tongue engorges on them, sends a signal to her breast and she ghost-leaks, a stream of air, though she hasn’t leaked real milk in over a year. The baby girl from her own body tastes and feels like her own insides must feel. The warmth and plush on the baby’s arms! The pulsing veins: these silk pink threads. This one she wants to devour. There is a way she can open her enormous mouth around the baby and she will find it. Angelina’s mouth is a vorpal slit 14


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so the baby doesn’t stand a chance. She takes the baby asleep. What the-? Brad enters, arms full of brown grocer bags. The baby’s head, arms (playing absently, in a sleep-state, with momma’s ears) stick out like a sandwich from Angelina’s face. She shoots a look to Brad that says, Keep it down! But the baby wakes up, opens her eyes, sees the bottom half of her body lost in her mother’s face. She will remember this day as the day she was born. Angelina softens the hinged mouth, pulls out the baby girl, applies her to her own chest and it latches on and milk comes into the baby’s mouth. See! I still got it! A year after the milk dried up, we have the cream, the sugar, the spring has sprung volcanical.

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Unwanted Things Adam Kovac

I sat in a comfortable chair in a corner of Lorenzo Montez’s rented room, watching the elderly gentleman get head from Copperfield. Mr. Montez lay half stretched on the Murphy bed he’d pulled from the wall, brown eyes following the Budweiser can I lifted from my lap to my lips. I did not look back at the old man; I was fixed on Copperfield, shirtless, the needle pricks highlighted by the hodgepodge of tattoos on his skinny arms. I sipped the cold beer and wondered where Copperfield had learned to give a blowjob with such panache. I did not start the day intending to be a guest of Lorenzo Montez. I did not want to take over for Copperfield; I did not want to partake in the same pleasuring from the old man on the bed, despite the crumpled $50 bill on the end table. I did not want to discover the combinations of man sex our trio could enjoy on a twin bed that folded into a wall. I considered 16


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setting the beer next to the lamp that shared the end table, walking out on Lorenzo Montez and Copperfield mid-suck. Instead, I settled in on the recliner and sipped, watching and waiting for whatever was to happen next. Copperfield and Mr. Montez were unaware that three days earlier, I’d witnessed death for the first time. I was certain no one knew, no one but the killer and the smack dealer whose wife’s head was taken apart by a baseball bat. I needed a place to hide. *** Delinquent told stories as we walked, prison life and how a guy on his cellblock who was trying to join the Aryan Brotherhood tore off his right ear. Delinquent had strangled his girlfriend to death with a telephone cord after he came home stoned one morning and she ambushed him with a frying pan, breaking his arm. He never said where he served time or how long before he was paroled or why he came to New York, and I never asked. Delinquent didn’t really say much when he was high, and he usually was. 17


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Delinquent’s drug binges were legend in the Lower East Side. I once watched him stand by the playground in Tompkins Square Park, strip off a sheet of acid and eat all 100 hits. When he nearly died from an overdose of China White, my roommates and I rolled him into a carpet and set him next to a dumpster near the rehab clinic. I also was among the runaway punks who Delinquent robbed with a .357Magnum, a necessary evil to fuel a 93-hour coke freak out. There were a few of us who debated why Delinquent didn’t give a shit about anyone or anything, but I knew the reason. I’d looked into his lemon-colored eyes and understood that the sickle cell had turned him into a walking dead man. Delinquent was going to repay the $13.86 he’d stolen from me and that was why I walked with him to see his boss. Fletcher was a punk guitar messiah who carried the band Oblivion during its 1978 European tour, solidifying the group’s survival in used record shops and flea-market bargain bins. Fletcher now controlled a tiny sliver of the heroin trade in Manhattan. He rarely ventured outside his two-bedroom garret, nestled in a swath of Hell’s 18


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Kitchen that I didn’t go to after dark. Delinquent was one of Fletcher’s deliverymen. As we walked, he mumbled he was sorry for robbing me and I would get my money back. I was more interested in seeing Fletcher, who I met only on one other occasion. He was a metaphor for why I’d abandoned the Midwest middleclass for squalor in the Big Apple. I imagined tea served by Fletcher’s sexy German wife, perhaps a story about drinking with Iggy Pop in Montparnasse before they defaced a war monument. Fletcher’s wife, tall and beautiful and exotic and old enough to be my aunt, answered the door holding an aluminum bat. Fletcher wasn’t home, she said, and invited Delinquent and me inside, where the payroll for the deliverymen was on the coffee table, separated in brown paper bags. She handed me the baseball bat and turned to the coffee table to find the bag with Delinquent’s name, saying Fletcher would be back anytime and there was a fresh pot of ginseng. Delinquent was uncharacteristically polite as he thanked Fletcher’s wife for her hospitality. We’d love some tea, he said. Then he snatched the aluminum bat from my hands and, as 19


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nonchalantly as a slugger in a batting cage, swung. There was a metallic ping as the bat ricocheted off the back of the woman’s head. I was in the hall in panic, scrambling for the fire escape, before Fletcher’s wife hit the floor. *** I spent the next three days riding the subway aimlessly throughout upper Manhattan, and parts of Brooklyn and Queens. I was paranoid but certain I’d be safe as long as I rode the trains. Still, I had to get off periodically to eat and drink, and heed the various calls of nature. It was during one of these moments – I was uptown outside the station having a smoke – when I ran into Copperfield, his Mohawk and unshaven skull dreadful in the Park Avenue splendor. Copperfield was some kind of piano virtuoso from one of the Dakotas who won a scholarship to study in New York. I’d heard he’d picked up the nickname Copperfield because when he made love to those black and white keys, even the Statue of Liberty disappeared. I had never seen or heard Copperfield play and 20


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by the time I’d met him, he was just like every other junkie who roamed the city trying to score another hit. Copperfield asked why he hadn’t seen me in a few days and if I knew Delinquent’s whereabouts, Fletcher was looking for him. I told Copperfield I’d picked up an extra shift at the messenger service, that I needed the cash for a trip I was planning and was in the mood for a change of scene. Copperfield bummed a smoke and said he knew just the thing – he was headed to a place where we could flop for a few days, hang and party. I could even earn a few bucks, if that’s what I was into. Just come along to see this guy at this rooming house, it’s not far, he said. “He’s a friend,” said Copperfield. “Real cool. You’ll see.” Copperfield handed me a business card as we walked, west somewhere. Printed on the card was the name Lorenzo Montez. In the top left corner of the card was a picture of a miniature television set, next to it a tiny martini glass with a tiny olive. In the middle of the card, under the address, Lorenzo Montez listed his occupation as “Friend.” 21


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*** The door to room 509 opened a crack and then closed. In a fifth-floor hallway, Copperfield and I stood while a series of locks and chains were undone and the door was opened wide, revealing the smiling old man who lived inside. “Oh, hello, my friends. Jack, so good to see you. Who is your friend? Is he to be my friend, too? You know, Lorenzo Montez is a friend to all.” Despite his manner of speech, there was nothing visibly sophisticated about Lorenzo Montez. He was at least 60, a few pale hairs poking out of the sides of his head and under the age spots dotting his face and hands was the retired shell of a day laborer. He wore a faded white button-up shirt and blue slacks, and gray socks that exposed his right big toe. Copperfield and I were invited into the closet that was the home of Lorenzo Montez, who greeted us individually with a pair of clasped hands and a whiff of diarrhea. “This is my pal, Frank Slovich,” Copperfield said, taking a seat at a solitary chair 22


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by a kitchen table in a room with no kitchen. “He’s from Ohio, or someplace, right, Frank? He’s cool, Lorenzo. We thought we’d hang with you a few days.” “You are sick again, yes, Jack?” Lorenzo Montez said, pulling two Bud tallboy cans from a small refrigerator under the kitchen table and handing them to his guests. “No, matter. I will order out, get enough for both of you. We have a wonderful time.” The old man turned to me, his face blank with adoration. “You’ll see.” Twenty minutes later, I was still working on my beer and Copperfield was still working on old man Montez, I set the can down, stood up and started for the door. I said I was going down the hall to the bathroom, that I’d be right back. I promised. Lorenzo Montez followed me with his brown eyes, which seemed to pool at the edges the closer I inched to his door. I turned the knob and stepped into the hall, taking a second to decide which way to go before heading right toward the stairwell, leaving the door open a crack. “Frank.” It was Copperfield. “There’s nothing but oblivion out there.” 23


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*** I walked east on St. Mark’s Place, alone, past the magazines and coffee table books the vendors hawked on the sidewalk. I’d like to be able to say I was prepared for whatever I faced at the hands of Delinquent, Fletcher, the cops, whoever found me first in Tompkins Square, where I would sit on a bench and wait. I wish I could say I was determined to stop running, from my mother and father, the school bullies and ex-girlfriends and fake friends back in Indiana, that I preferred doom to the slow death that was certain if I remained with Lorenzo Montez and Copperfield. In truth, I walked out on the junkie and the old man and headed back to Tompkins Square because I couldn’t think of anything better. There was just nowhere else to go. Fletcher found me first, three blocks from the park as I was walking by a deli run by a nice Polish couple from the old country. Fletcher sat at a table inside, alone by the window on St. Mark’s, and tapped at the glass as I passed. I froze for a moment and then walked in, where Fletcher motioned for me to sit at his table. We 24


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were alone in the deli, the old woman behind the counter having frowned and disappeared in back before the little bell over the door stopped ringing. There was half of a tuna sandwich on black bread in front of Fletcher, who was finishing a cigarette. Fletcher lit up two more smokes and offered me one, which I took and puffed, my hands shaking. “Listen, Fletcher …” “Shut up, Frank.” “No, I mean, Fletcher. You gotta know that I …” “I said. Shut. Up.” I closed my mouth and stared at Fletcher’s black coffee eyes, partially hidden behind a puff of smoke he had violently exhaled with a sigh of frustration. “I been around a bit, you know that, right?” I nodded. “And having been around I’ve seen a lot of things and met a lot of people. All types. Man, I could tell you stories. You know that, right?” I nodded again. “Good. And having been around and seen a lot of things and met a lot of people I’ve met a 25


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few people who are crooks. And I’ve met a lot more people who think they’re crooks. But they’re not crooks. It takes a special kind to be a criminal. It’s not TV.” Fletcher stamped out his cigarette and lit another, exhaled another sigh of smoke and looked out the window at the vendors and the people passing on St. Mark’s. “You are not a crook, Frankie. Your buddy, Delinquent or whatever he calls himself, also, is not a crook. He, in particular, is bullshit. Know how I know?” I shook my head. “You see, we all got guns. Everyone’s got one. Big deal. But the real ones, the real criminals, we don’t go waving them around whenever we feel like it. We don’t fuck with other people, like hitting women in the head with a bat, unless we absolutely have to. Otherwise, it’s bad karma. It draws, what is it the Japanese say? Unwanted things.” Fletcher pulled a gun from under the table and set it next to his sandwich. It was a nickel-plated .357-Magnum revolver, a Colt Python. It was Delinquent’s. 26


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“We only pull our guns, even bring them into public, to make a point. Get it?” “Yes,” I said, not looking at Fletcher anymore. Fletcher paused. “You hungry? Of course, you’re hungry. How about a bite to eat? Here, have the rest of my tuna. It’s good. They make a great sandwich here.” “It’s OK. Thanks, Fletcher, but I’m not …” “EAT, fuck-o!” I grabbed the tuna on black bread and shoveled it into my mouth. It was good. I listened as Fletcher continued to talk, his voice normal again, me fixed on the Magnum. “Your buddy, Delinquent, won’t be needing this. Delinquent needs a lot of things these days. Me, I need a new employee, for a one-time thing. And you kinda owe me” I looked up at Fletcher. “You like work, don’t you, Frank. Money. You got some kind of messenger gig, right? You deliver envelopes. Boxes. All over the city, right? I hear you’re dependable.” Fletcher took a brown paper bag out of his jacket pocket, put it on the table and slid it 27


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over, next to the Magnum. I looked at the table and realized I’d been given a choice, granted a gift. I had figured Fletcher would give me the option, suck this dick, or die, bitch. Instead, my actions, or lack thereof, after Delinquent killed his wife amounted to a bizarre, hoodlum’s job interview, which, apparently, I’d passed. “Deliver this to a friend. The address is inside. Then come back and see me. You remember where I live,” Fletcher laughed. “Think of it as repayment from that ass-clown Delinquent. Besides, I like you, Frank. You’re humble. Krishna would like you.” “Yeah. Yeah, man. I can do that. Thanks, Fletcher. Thanks.” I sat and peaked in the bag. There was a business card inside. I pulled it out and read it was meant for a man who lived uptown, a friend named Lorenzo Montez.

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Horror Vacui Sam Snoek-Brown “Finally, the only thing that matters is putting some turds in the toilet bowl once a day. They stay real somehow.” Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, Rabbit Redux When Samson learned that all his vomiting and bloody diarrhea issued from a ruptured ulcer, that his pallor and frailty came not from a failing constitution but from his blood draining through the puckered fissure in the lining of his stomach, he laughed at himself. His forehead was cold and damp with sweat he could not spare, and his bowels constricted to contain a new delivery of black and liquid shit, but he went on laughing just the same because in some way, finally, he’d done it. He had sworn five years ago, when the emptiness first stole upon him, that he would dig inside himself, deep, until he could break into the void and feel—feel—at last, something. And now, with 29


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the slender swords he thrust down his throat in hot novelty tents at the punk shows where he made his living, now he had finally dug too far. They came to his dim room in the small Kerrville hospital, his bed wired with elevators and monitors and other plastic, beeping appliances. They told him they would operate. They showed him a bulbous eye at the end of a coiled black cable, the eye glassy and ominous, the size of an infant’s fist, and they said they would guide this down his throat and into his bleeding stomach and with it they would laser a suture to close the wound. They said it would hurt, and that they would try to be gentle, but that he would first need to swallow a thin clear tube inserted through his nose, swallow it deep into his stomach so they could suction out the fluids. Then they would anesthetize him and guide down the camera and laser—his throat would be sore but it was necessary. He laughed at them, not jovially but viciously, his handlebar mustache bouncing on his lip. They did not know Samson, did not know that he had already been down there and seen what there was to see. It was dark in there, sluicing for the moment with acids and blood and other dark, 30


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corrosive things, but otherwise it was empty, devoid of food or drink or warmth or cold, of anything at all. He carried the moon in his gut; no, nothing so tangible, but only the thin light cast from such a thing as it drifted through his void. Not even the light of a moon. Nothing half so alive. But now there was this ulcer, this beating clenching angry thing that had dissolved the void and filled his gut with something: pain. It hurt him, and could never replace what he’d long ago lost, but it was something, something at last.

It had been a Friday, those five years back. He had been sitting on the toilet in his home, a clean house with white limestone siding and aged-honey trim in a sprawling country suburb with many identical houses. He’d used and flushed his toilet as he did every day, but on this Friday, he had felt the fouled water rush over the lip and spill down his calves in a wet and stinking mess. He shouted and leapt away, but he could only pace and curse as 31


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he ruined a towel drying himself. This was not uncommon—the toilet overflowing on the colorless linoleum. He had been plunging his system for weeks, and he prepared to do it again. He took the plunger and plumbed his toilet, pumping in a brutal stabbing motion, flattening the dark rubber against the drain again and again. He pumped this way, cursing, for several minutes until his arms ached and clenched and sweated. The water had stopped its rushing but the level in the bowl did not drop. He studied the murk; the filmy toilet paper floated forth like a ghost then submerged again in the bowl. Dark lumps of grime on the floor brushed his toes, and he cursed again and flushed again, and again the bowl spewed over. The soiled water was displaced by cleaner water as the muck diluted, came closer to clear as the refuse spilled over the edge, but nothing else improved. He called a plumber, who came with a great coil of steel knobbed on one end with a globular growth, and he called it what it resembled: the snake. Crossman—his name stitched on his small gray work shirt and painted beside his own bearded caricature on 32


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the small gray van outside—shut off the water to the toilet, then he unraveled the snake and sent it burrowing down the drain of the toilet and into the loops of piping buried in the home’s concrete foundation and then, deeper, into the earth itself. The plumber pressed hard, and he grunted as he worked. “I don’t know what sort of beast you sent down there, buddy,” he said, “but it’s hanging on like a sumbitch.” And then, after dozens of feet of coil were in the pipes, Crossman’s skinny, muscled arms slipped suddenly forward and the water gurgled and rushed down the pipes. The plumber retracted his snake, coiled the steel in loops in the tub, then reopened the valves to the toilet and flushed. The water came in and swirled and went down with new ease. “Yep,” the plumber said, leering through his thick pewter beard in violent triumph. His voice rose and fell, added syllables to the tiny word, reverberated off the polymer walls of the tub as though off the stark caliche hills outside. He kneeled and turned on the tap in the tub and began rinsing his snake as well as his arms up to the elbows while he spoke. “Had something mean clogging the pipes. It was quite attached 33


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to you, I think.” He turned his head on his thin neck and grinned at Samson. “But I beat the bitch, just pushed it on through to the septic tank. Sucker popped on out and dropped in the tank like a beaut,” he said. “I could feel it.” Samson choked and said, “But it’s still down there.” He looked at Crossman with pleading eyes, and his voice shook. “It’s still in there somewhere, floating.” That was when the darkness came, and that night, when he went half asleep to the toilet and sat on it again, he could no longer empty himself and flush himself away—he could send nothing down after the thing in the pipes. He knew what the surgeons would find in him. He just wasn’t sure what he’d lost.

Samson once worked at a battery dealer hidden in the juniper woods off Interstate 10. He kept inventory of the car batteries and tractor batteries and little lawn mower batteries they sold there. Sometimes, when the days were slow or the workforce short-handed, he would roll back his sleeves over his short, thick arms and pull on the heavy rubber gloves they wore 34


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when handling the batteries, and he would help sort, stack, even sell the batteries. He bought new clothes every other month because the sulfur-scented acid ate through everything. But he didn’t care. He had thick legs and a good stomach, and he could take almost anything. Taking things came easy. But losing something was a different matter, and whatever it was that he had condemned to the black septic hole behind his house had once been a part of him, and now he missed it. He called in sick and stayed home the day after he’d clogged his toilet, thinking how to get back whatever he had flushed into the earth. On his third sick day, it occurred to him that he could not shit. Nothing was left inside. He drank liquids and pissed, got drunk and pissed more, but nothing would fill his rectum and nothing would pass his dry, forgotten asshole. He ate laxatives, drank castor oil and sodium phosphate mixed in syrupy juices. He worked an enema up into himself, the little pucker of his anus sucking on the tube and then expelling the flush of warm tap water. But he expelled only water. He knelt at the toilet and pleaded to find something left inside himself, but if he had 35


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anything within, it was up there deep, lodged in tight. He felt pregnant with his own unknown evil. With a jar of petroleum jelly opened on the bathroom floor beside him, he had poked two fingers into his ass, opened them like chopsticks, and sought to take hold of whatever might be up there. To feel something. To yank it free, aborted but exposed and his to see. But his ass was a greasy void, empty of anything, even of shit. He scratched at the rubbery nub of his colon till his fingers came out bloody, but blood was all he found, and it wasn’t enough. He limped to his couch and lay, considered, decided: if he couldn’t dig it out from below, he’d push it through from above. In two weeks, his job forgotten and lost, he’d taken up the swords, wishing to prod to life the thing he hoped was still inside him. He had dug, thrusting pointed steel in long, slick stabs down his throat, the metal tangy and crowding his epiglottis as he wept, until finally he’d had the hanging flap removed. He plunged into his gut until the steel stretched open the sphincter at the end of his esophagus and sank down into the stomach itself, touching bottom with a rough bump and pushing there, trying to 36


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go deeper. When he had trained himself and had run out of money, he hired on with travelling carnivals and punk shows and prodded himself for a living. Day after day, in hot tents filled with half-interested crowds, he stabbed at himself and wept from resisting his gag reflex, oblivious to the lax applause. He would have driven the blades farther if he could, would have unraveled and stretched the twisted miles of his intestines, pushing until the tip came out some lower orifice, his anus or the thin shaft of his penis, the erection to end all. But so far, in five years, still—nothing. *** The pain brought him out of his sleep. Not the pain—his surprise at feeling pain. The dark and plunging eye with its laser and its coiled black cable, they were not slender and oiled and dull like his swords; they were bulky and hardedged and unforgiving. His throat hurt after all. The doctors had left the tube in his nose, and when he swallowed his throat constricted around it, squeezed it, and he heard a gurgle of suction come through the tube. It tickled his 37


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mustache. He croaked and gulped and attempted speech again. In all his five years of swallowing swords, he had never been required to speak around them, and his vocal chords strained against the invading tube, not the trachea they were used to but something hard and plastic and alien. A nurse came in. “Don’t try to talk,” she said. Her name tag, plastic pinned to her pale green scrubs, read Debbie. Her accent was hilly Texan, same as all the others. “Your throat’s still going to be sore. We need to try and get some fluid down you, to moisten your throat.” He nodded and the tube frictioned his nostril and throat, jabbed at the bottom of his stomach, and despite the pain in his nose he relaxed, because this sliding and bumping in his torso felt familiar. After he had swallowed skim milk around his tubing, he lay back and smiled at Debbie. She was younger than he, and by the ring he knew she was engaged, but he had no intentions. It only felt good to send a smile in a direction and know it would be received instead of floating off 38


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unobstructed to die. He did not try to speak; instead, he went to sleep.

*** Samson stayed in the hospital three days, watching two different movies in which Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan bickered because they were in love but didn’t know it. He found a channel that showed reruns of the Smothers Brothers and he watched them as well, marveling at Tommy’s yo-yo miracles. He watched M.A.S.H. and Mamma’s Family and home improvement shows on The Learning Channel. He slept. When the doctor or Debbie or a strange ethereal midnight man-nurse asked him how he felt, he only nodded. When they asked what he would like to eat, he pointed to the chicken breast sandwich or the macaroni and cheese, his throat feeling fine already—he amazed them. But he spoke only when they grew nervous and asked him a question he could neither smile or nod at nor point his answer for. 39


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In those days, he left his bed only to piss. With the ulcer sutured and the bleeding stopped, he had become again devoid of shit. Debbie noticed; his doctor brought in a colleague to visit—they discussed his five-year constipation, Samson nodding or counting on his fingers as much as possible in order not to speak. They decided it might be colorectal cancer, and Samson began to cry, pushed himself up on his bed and fidgeted with his iv. “Like a tumor inside?” he said. The doctors nodded. Samson said, “Finally.” The doctor looked at his clipboard and then at his colleague, as though to make sure, but he returned his eyes to Samson with conviction. “It’s just one possibility,” he said. “We’d like to do a colonoscopy.” “Like the camera,” Samson said. “You could find it.” The doctor and his colleague both nodded. “Can I see it?” Samson said. The doctor looked at him. He looked at his clipboard. He looked at Samson again. “We’ll run some tests,” he said. “We want to be sure.” “Can I see it?” Samson had begun to sweat. He pinched his iv and the doctor pulled his hand away. 40


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“You’ll be under anesthesia, like before.” Samson was rubbing his abdomen. “You should prepare yourself for a hard road,” the doctor said. Samson’s breath came in bursts, his eyes wide as his grin. “It’s still in there. I still have it.”

On Samson’s fourth day, the doctor came with a male nurse, who helped Samson swallow a new plastic tube then sat him on the hospital toilet and forced a chemical laxative down into his stomach. The nurse held his shoulder in one thick hand, kept telling Samson to breathe, to relax. “This stuff will clean you out,” he said once, “and then we can get a camera up in you to see what’s going on.” Samson sat, and breathed. Later, the nurse clapped Samson hard on the arm and said, “You know, they use this stuff in Dr Pepper.” Samson vomited, then apologized—“I can usually control my gag reflex,” he said—and they adjusted the flow of the solution as attendants mopped up the mess and sponged Samson clean. Still, for hours the solution pumped through him, swelling his abdomen until it pressed through his impacted 41


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colon and finally shot into the toilet. Samson never spoke again. He only waited, and hoped they would find the thing he’d been searching for. The next morning they came again and wheeled Samson away, dripped sedative into his veins, and while he slept they pushed the camera on its black cable up his colon to see what Samson had never been able to find. On the sixth day the doctor came, shut the door, and approached Samson’s bed, dragging a chair behind him. He sat, the clipboard flat on his lap. “Good news,” he said, and Samson held his breath. “We found a clot. It looked like a polyp on the camera, and we started to perform a biopsy, but it was just some old dried blood stuck to your intestinal walls.” “Can I see it?” Samson said. “It was just some blood. We’d like to keep you another day or two, but frankly, you’re in the clear.” Samson slid down his bed, collapsed into his thin blankets. He stared at the ceiling. It had been only blood. The last of him was gone, 42


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then—had been gone all along, flushed away into his septic tank. There was nothing.

When they released him, he drove himself home just as he’d driven himself to the hospital, and he took the mail—a single stamped card—from his box at his subdivision’s mail center, and he read the notice saying his mail had overflowed its cramped little bin. He turned around and drove to the post office and collected his mail, bills and offers for magazine subscriptions and post cards asking him to vote for Philip “Skippy” Gottenhower for school board trustee. He threw it all away, even the bills, and headed for the door. A man with a big gut tipped his ball cap coming in and said “How ya do?” through a tight friendly grin. Samson said, “All they found was an ulcer.” The big-gutted man said, “Say again?” but Samson had already left. At home, the first thing he did was stand before his bathroom mirror and cut off his mustache with a pair of scissors, but he did not shave; he left his lip patchy with ragged stubble. Then he went through his house and undid everything: He tipped all the plastic cups and paper plates 43


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out of his kitchen cabinets and spilled them across the counters, the floors, into the sink. He pulled the cushions away from his long couch and threw them against the wall so they bounced and landed according to their own paths. He popped the fitted sheet off his futon and flung it, and after it the pillowcases and then the pillows themselves. He went into the second bedroom, the office where he once did his taxes and played his computer solitaire and, until five years ago, kept the books for the battery dealer. He scooped every book off his one shelf and he let them fall spine up, spine down, however they wished, some opening to pages on car batteries and some landing closed, cover up, showing pictures of aliens and makebelieve planets and others showing sprawling ocher landscapes and men in cowboy hats and one, one showing a nude couple embracing on a bed. He ignored them all; he tipped over the bookshelf. He removed all the cables from his computer, then he tossed his keyboard toward the window, kicked over the computer tower on the floor, and heaved the monitor like a medicine ball to shatter inside the great gawking hole it left in the wall. He broke every 44


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light bulb, and he emptied every closet into its hall or its room. He collected his two dozen swords in their oiled scabbards and their velvet crimson wraps and he took them into the ruined kitchen, kicking aside cups and plates, and he oiled the blades in the sink, prepared them for his act. Then he walked out the back door to the old wooden deck that creaked and chafed against its rusted nails, and he hurled the swords one by one like javelins into the dirt of the cedar hill that rose behind his house. He walked back inside, pitched a lamp at the tv. He finger-painted the bathroom with the food from his refrigerator. He fell asleep in the bathtub, his feet kicked up on the faucet knob so it dripped on him all night. In the morning he woke and rolled stiff and wet out of the tub. He stepped in a mound of leftover mashed potatoes, wiped his toes on the hallway carpet, and made his way out of the house. He walked the two miles to the mailboxes barefoot, still in his yesterday clothes. His first hospital bill had already arrived. He dropped it unopened in the hunkering blue mailbox beside him. The town’s 45


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Tuesday newspaper was there, though it was now Friday. He unfolded it and pressed it flat and flung it like a Frisbee so it scattered in the air, individual pages opening like wings and spinning in many directions. There was an advertisement from a septic cleaning company. This set his heart thumping, and though he wanted to tear the thin paper into four pieces and eat each one of them, eat them there and swallow them all, he did not. He turned and turned the ad, studied it. On one side was a drawing of a subterranean tank, full to the top with brown ink, only a sliver of paper white remaining. There was an address for the company, and there was his address, printed in computer type, resident, 1312 scissortail road, boerne, tx, 78006. On the other side, there was the pitch. Did you know that all below-ground septic tanks need to be flushed and cleaned every ten years for environmental safety? We offer the quickest, cleanest septic evacuation service around, for a truly cheap price. We will be in your area in November—don’t wait any longer. Protect your health and your property. Contact us 46


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and it gave a phone number and the names of those who wanted to plumb his tanks, to open the ground and open the septic tank and suck out everything that was in it, the sewage and the rotted paper and the collected wads of tiny hairs and the condoms and used tampons from forgotten girlfriends you weren’t supposed to flush but did anyway, and the thing, whatever it had been, that was floating in there still. It was November now. November was already five days old. Samson trembled, the notice flapping crazily in his fist and the other, forgotten mail fast becoming a wasted ball in Samson’s other hand, and he stared and stared at the notice. They wanted to come and empty his tanks. They wanted to take away the thing he’d sent there. But Samson would not let them. He was terrified. He wanted to see what the thing in his plumbing had been, but he wanted to see it alone, wanted to keep it from anyone else, to leave it floating in the tank because in there with it, somewhere, hidden and safe, was the thing he had sent from himself and flushed away. He ran home, barefoot up the steep asphalt hill and around the roads that twisted like pipes, 47


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down his own gravel drive and through his open door. He crushed his mess under his sore and bleeding feet, and he swept into the bathroom. He stripped in front of the mirror, his skin, his face flushed and wet with sweat. He threw his clothes into the dripping tub and he sat on his toilet, naked, a hen on a nest, incubating, calling to the thing he’d put in his tanks. Whatever he’d touched inside himself, that thing that bled until stifled with the doctor’s lasers, it had spoken to him in his sleep. Even as it was burned and died, it spoke. Samson knew what he was meant to do now, and sitting there on his toilet, he would do it. He stayed. He sat and sat, not eating, breathing hard. He nodded off once, but the dull tingling in his legs woke him up, and the ache and then the absence of feeling at all kept him from further sleep. His stomach churned angrily, rebelling against his surgery and his refusal to leave the toilet for food. His legs turned blue. He grew weak. In two days, his back gave out and he slumped, his head between his knees, staring at the darkness beneath him in the bowl. But no one, no one would get to the thing in the septic tank. No one would get to him. 48


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Orbits Decay Jim Coppoc

and so when I say we are each other’s moons I have gravity in mind and velocity, two forces in constant opposition. A body in motion, almost uncontrollable, hurtling madly into space is curbed by another body in another motion, hurtling madly into another space, divining its own path based only on gravity, velocity, love and the laws of physics.

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Because Jim Coppoc

all matter expands and contracts, because all things make their place in the Grand Orbit, or orbital scheme, because all things are made up of other things, are made up of smaller things, which in the end can move through time as well as space, because of this, the saints and psychotics still believe that God breathes through them.

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Unbroken John Lambremont, Sr.

Go-Bots do not go to sleep, they lie awake in old toy boxes, amputee or headless weights just waiting for the signal sound to bring them back around to rape grown children that laid them to waste.

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Self-Portrait as a Basketball Coach Douglas Basford

At halftime, instead of telling my team what they were doing wrong or how to turn the tide, I stepped onto the floor in a dream that I'd show them how it oughta be done-me, a ghost coaching a junior college team inexplicably matched against the top seed in the tournament, the crème de la crème that for the first half had opened up a bakeshop that my guys, baffled, bought every éclair from, moves junior-high kids cook up and try out on their wobbly friends on the driveway blacktop. I drove, insubstantial, and glided up some, sank a shallow dunk in my twisting gray tanktop. No one watching, nothing I did would stop the rout. 56


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Mourning Commute Martha McKay Canter

We’re all on speed, every one of us— Coffee, Red Bull, Adderall Coke and Phendimetrazine each with his particular poison, silently negotiating between the lines. Sleep-deprived, drugs jammed between our knees, we drive in the dark, yielding reluctantly. Tomorrow, we’ll go again, blinking sleepy eyes against the disquieting regret and the nag of bad decisions that unite us.

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Ampersandanistas

Douglas Basford lives in Buffalo, where he teaches and manages persons with person numbers at SUNY-Buffalo. His work has appeared in Poetry, Smartish Pace, The Diagram, The Texas Review, The National Poetry Review, Anti-, Shampoo, Chain, Two Lines, American Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. He founded and co-edits the online poetry journal Unsplendid (http://www.unsplendid.com). Martha McKay Canter teaches English composition at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. She spends as much time as she can on a mountain in North Carolina where she peacefully coexists with legions of ladybugs and one determined cardinal. Jim Coppoc makes his living through some murky but evolving balance of poetry, pedagogy, playwriting and performance. He 59


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teaches in the Department of English and the American Indian Studies Program at Iowa State University, and in the low-residency MFA in Writing program at Chatham University. Current and forthcoming books include Blood, Sex & Prayer (Fractal Edge Press); Bearing the Pall (One Small Bird Press); Reliquary (Fractal Edge Press); Manhattan Beatitude, 1997 (One Small Bird Press); Tribal Ways of Knowing and Being: a Pedagogy Reader (Mammoth Publications); and Council Fires: a Digital Sourcebook for American Indian Studies (National Social Science Press). Adam Kovac is pursing an MFA in fiction writing at Northwestern University. This is his first publication. John Lambremont, Sr. is a poet from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he lives with his wife, their fat gray tabby cat, and their Jack Russell terrier runt. John recently turned pro by receiving five dollars in real money from a literary review for one of his poems. Martha Rzadkowolsky-Raoli is a street artist. 60


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Sam Snoek-Brown’s work has appeared in Red Wheelbarrow, Orchid, Bias Onus Quarterly, Amarillo Bay, and others. He has a doctorate in creative writing from the University of North Texas, and teaches and writes in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

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