When the City was Ours

We come in on either the beginning or the end of Damen. You: The end. Me: The beginning. Down a block is the Mountain of Fire and Miracles across from the Indian place. Neon JESUS shines onto chicken biryani when we pass.

How about we speak of the sounds?

Reggaeton provides the beat for a cellular scuffle and how many cars there are and the cars all drive. The bags swish at my side and the boxes make box sounds on your head as you balance them like a tribeswoman. I say I can take a box and you say Don’t understand, carry forth, and you actually say carry forth. The kids are melting into orderly lines in front of us and they step to locomote to homeostate to pass on their genes. We are here because of our love and the varied tones as it passes our ears. It can be silence or it can be thunder. You: Silence. Me: Thunder. I keep tapping your leg with a bag and you say Unobtainable and when you say it it’s a stranger’s voice and the kids are segueing into the sky in front of us. I ask you if you’re feeling okay and you intone Save. I put the bags down and I collect the daisies from an unknowing lawn and you sidearm them up over and onto the collapsed boxes that are your collapsed boxes.

There’s a scab on the sun as it sets and the moon’s picking at it.

You turn so you want to scream and you try but nothing comes out after all. I say we can pick up people who wait for public transit and stack them on your boxes. You say Keeping out the light. The kids who are transitioning are sixteen or seventeen or eighteen but no older. They say words to each other like licking ice cream feels and the moon is their moon and the street is their street and the city is their city just as these things once belonged to us. Now my legs are tired and your legs are not tired. You can continue to step to locomote to homeostate to pass on your genes. Your genes can mix with my genes or not my genes.

How about we speak of the sights?

I spy with my little eye you on the street that is a sea with a raft of your choosing and the planks underneath are swollen from the water, where I grab them, underneath, under the water. I say What do you remember lately and you say Nothing’s seen the same. Inside in our place there is a bag where the cat shit goes, but not our shit. Our shit goes down a pipe. The children with various ages and forms are being dabbed into the sky’s canvas, swirled into impressionistic whorls.

Here we are on Damen.

Elements were taken from the earth and heated and shaped and cooled to provide an escape from fire if fire ever comes. You drop the boxes and you climb to the top and you say Nothing and it’s the word, not like nothing nothing because even nothing’s something and I drop the bags by the boxes where your things will be contained and I climb and I sit, where you are, inhabiting space. The aged children collapse into starlight. When I touch your back I know you. When I kiss you I know you. When I do these things you can either understand or not understand.

You: Understand.

I: Understand.

We melt into Damen’s beginning like we did when the city was ours. We go back home.

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Henry’s List

urban volcanos


_ Henry’s son’s coffin’s wood’s grain had little knots and imperfections in it.

_ The little knots and imperfections were lowered into the ground on a Sunday.

_ Dirt hid them forever.

_ The pastor’s fingers’ sweat stuck pages from flipping chapters and verses and a fly went by.

_ The pastor had a name and everyone else there had a name.

_ Things still needed to be bought at the store.

_ The store stored people who could keep living and who needed their receipt.

_ Henry did not need his receipt or his change.

_ There was a Bible with mustard pages.

_ It had brittle pages. Paper pages.

_ Henry wrote in the margins and added footnotes and scrapped the whole thing and started a new draft.

_ The TV had a voice that synced with the birds who owned the sky outside.

_ Henry emptied his stomach onto his bed on a different Sunday.

_ There was a numbered list.

_ Laundry detergent was seventh. New bedsheets eighth.

_ Henry collected the empty cans that rashed along the train tracks next to his house and crushed the cans with his teeth and licked the rims but didn’t drink what was inside.

_ Lip balm was ninth.

_ Henry’s son’s mother’s house had an alarm system.

_ The alarm sounded like Os being called out in a storm.

_ Henry’s son’s mother’s lover had a dog that had teeth.

_ Antibacterial was tenth.

_ Is.

_ Henry is most alive in the half-awake morning seconds before memory catches up with consciousness.

_ Henry is running and watching things.

_ One of the things is a crushed brown leaf that doesn’t belong to him or anyone else and never will.

_ Henry’s son was eleventh. Henry’s son was eleven.

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Till Next Time

decay


There’s a place for mooring on the sunset end of my block where forgiveness can be swapped for a perfect circle. Forgiveness is a schedule I, so narcs gather on block’s periphery where the postindustrial pipe overhang hides them in shadow to make their busts.

Sometimes I dive into the waterlogged places where the concrete’s gotten through and dip and bob as the deals go down, with artificial waves lapping at pavement’s edge and erosion doing its job. There’s room for a gullfamily on one of the rock rafts, and they watch with me.

Here’s how it happens. The dealer puts forgiveness on little acid slips and little acid slips put forgiveness on little tongues and little tongues put forgiveness into little mouths and little mouths put forgiveness down little throats and then the little minds take their cut.

One lady offers everything she has to a circle scalper, but they’re going for five hundo each sans inflation and she got a family to think on and he should be ashamed of hisself for runnin that shit on this block. I kick away my shoes underwater. An unseen fish eats one and saves the other for his fishfamily.

Another guy dismantles his house and offers copper wiring, flaky mortar, withered brick. He says he’ll stack it into a palatial thing for the dealer, but dealer’s not buying. His son camps out in a tent nearby with his muddied feet and seaweed hair and starts every sentence with once upon a time like his daddy taught him to do.

I saw a human being take himself to pieces and give of them for a circle for forgiveness. He diced his ankles into bite-sized cubes and garnished them with powdered kneecap. Kept saying take my patella. His body stopped homeostating around neck level and the dealer turned down the talking head.

Now there’s a line stretching onto building-flanked fire escapes, crumbling mud rooftops, neighbors that are waiting their turn in water up to their necks beside me, baptizing tattered clothes and feeding the gulls the offerings they hope will put them on the dealer’s better side.

And here are the dogs sent in in couplets and quatrains, jaws snapping on denouement and not the type to pet on doggy beaches but here now, narclight sidling in as bodies scatter past and I’m here floating, amniotic as the flotsam gathers in wisps and draws and the dealer closes up shop till next time.

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How It’ll Happen

Whoever claims that childhood is a happy time, has never been a child

This is how it’ll happen. You’ll catch me peeking over some Penguin on public transit, gathering coins for the homeless who want to fly south for the winter too, and you’ll get off at the next stop. I’ll see your whispering prints erase themselves in the snow as soon as they come.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll be in my inbox, considering that ‘90s email catchphrase and implanting forgiveness into requests from the prince of Nigeria, pills for impotence. It’ll be said and you’ll never read it.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll dab mashed potatoes from your chin like you used to do from mine and hold up your bird elbow so you can touch my face. The bones that threaten your face’s skin will frighten me and you’ll put on a program. Program, not show.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll be rewinding old VHS tapes and catch the time Dad alluded to eating you out later as you watched me scutter down metal slide. It’ll be partially taped over and I’ll stay tuned for a brief word from our sponsors.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll break into the shack the neighbors kept the feral dogs in and wash up. Gather a little rabies foam and scrub it over the places where the light peeks through. I’ll see you through the cracks, but you won’t see me.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll show up with the Halloween costumes that never were and we’ll trick or treat together, decades removed. I’ll change costume after each house and you’ll egg the bastards who slashed our tires that one summer when Dad double-parked.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll be on the toilet swiping through my feed as they pull the tubes out. You’ll have glorious visions then, beautiful visions, and I’ll wonder why my internet’s so slow.

This is how it’ll happen. You’ll give me my answer right before you slip away and it’ll be a clean sweep. Presto change-o. I’ll see you through the foggy bubble world of tears and admire the pattern of the curtain the nurses have propped open because your skin could use the sun. Could’ve used.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll sit down and guzzle some rooibos, use my teeth as leaf filter and write you as I remember. You’ll hate it and maybe even me, but it’ll be there where you aren’t.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll bend down to earth with the little boy you never met and whisper things he can understand. He’ll wonder why he can’t go home and play and I’ll go to the ground. He’ll join me, his tinyfingers tracing whispering prints that erase themselves in the dirt as soon as they come.

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Alone Together

infinite jest

His alone and her alone had several vital differences.

His alone had matted hair, gnarled and tangled knots on sides where stale mattress intaglioed body-shaped initials in all the spots he’d see on bloodshot mornings when the faucet’s water was brown and sluggish and pseudopodded in his hands when he tried to make a cup. His alone laughed too loud at stories on the bus and traced profiles to collate and scan genetic material against known ancestry. His alone talked to the descendants of kings and prophets relegated to stooped bus shelters with overhang too low and fickle sunlight sliced open by 747s. His alone input data to watch blank, expectant white slide to green as voices tintinnabulated and grew calm as the day gathered age. His alone could be counted penny for penny at fortnight’s end and hummed in the quiet spaces he left for himself. His alone had sophisticated charm and allegorical weight; it liked to chew through the garbage can every time he took it out.

Her alone was different.

Her alone kept a four by four by four subterranean circadian rhythm with nightwatch to gather drops in the pots she kept outside. Her alone had all the markings of prolonged captivity and none of the benefits. Her alone contained jaundiced dabs and gamboge heat playing on palimpsested canvas where the figures once were. Her alone had a quiet dignity she’d picked up from racial memory transmuted through pretty little tasks she set for herself: dappling leaf edges with pot contents and reloading seed. Her alone was as virtuosic as it was myopic and she wasn’t about to get it corrected: a wheelchair for the eyes. Her alone donated plates with roses on them and counted tile chips on floors microscopic in stores whose names always ended in apostrophe S. Her alone gathered antebellum stories and ripped them to confetti for festive traditions just begun in place of waiting for a one who might never come.

Their alone was different.

Their alone was parched to cracking and sustained with clever shared sips at terminal hours croaked “…in the morning.” Their alone stole all the blankets and wrapped imaginary infants up in swaddling clothes. Their alone felt the bone underneath, neat and trim little rivets set on fault lines whose time was up and whose place was in the swollen belly with rotundity past seeing and feathered touches laying eczema trails. Their alone was a Nemo it’s a Nemo mommy in silver dollar waiting rooms with shirt tugs and defective physiognomy laid out neatly on clipboard ticks. Their alone was the cry past sound on muffled shoulder and the balloon tummy letting out its air. Their alone was sacrificing sleep for gathering seed at night with the light haloing and motors Dopplering past–silly little umwelts moseying on down. Their alone was fingers grazing past in all that dark, laying new seed to ground and pressing earth down pat.

Just like that.

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Queen of the Hill

Buried Johnny Pump: South Brooklyn

Dear M – – – – ,

They’re making me write this, and I’ll trash it when I’m done, so don’t expect too much. Dr. Charon wants us to write these to get it out. The Hurt. He wants us to capitalize it, and I know it’s all BS, but if I’m going to write a fake letter then I might as well go all the way.

Last week my roommate went out on a belt. I found her first. She’d made her bed up nice and neat, folded her socks, dusted her shelves and fluffed her pillows. Watered her hibiscus and fed her koi, then levered her belt over the closet rack and kicked over the books she’d stacked in place of a stool. They were all self-help books. My roommate was funny like that.

We had group session today. Dr. Charon led it, and he decided we needed Allegorical, so we did the circle routine. Share How You Keep Yourself Safe. Live Your Grief In One Word. That old chestnut. Anyway, everyone was blabbering about their Hurt and I was just sort of leaving the circle and Charon was trying to stop me but I continued. I ran into the girls’ and locked the door.

So there’s this stall I always pick. Nothing too special about it, only it’s right by the heat vent and if you unroll the TP just right the air sort of takes it and makes it billow like Mom’s dress used to outside on windy walks. I don’t know if you remember.

I liberated a couple pins from one of the RNs. It’s a messy job but I make do. You always wonder why I ask for the thick socks, heavy and woolen, even in summer. They’re best at hiding the blood. Razors are quicker but there’s beauty in the pins. Constellations form and expand underneath my pins. Singularities bleed to supernovae. Neat little streaks you can whirl into galaxy spirals. And all that. There’s an art to it.

Sometimes I don’t cut at all. Sometimes I sit and I breathe and I wait for someone to try the faulty paper towel dispenser. There’s a lot you can learn about someone from how they treat faulty equipment. The trick is to reach in and jiggle the sensing mechanism. One jiggle for one towel. But girls will bang on it, open palm slap it. One girl nearly broke her fist on it. And on those times I don’t cut, when I’m in my stall and a girl does it all wrong, I’ll wait till she leaves, get one towel for one jiggle, and go back to Allegorical.

Charon is a jellyfish. You can see through to the other side. He thinks I’m cutting to “assert my identity.” He doesn’t know about the star maps and the TP dress billowing for a while before I tear it off and stain it red. He doesn’t get it.

Do you remember Mom’s lint rollers? When her hair first started falling out and she thought she had to hide it? At first you could only tell from the scraggly jungles stuck to sticky paper in the garbage. The paper would stick to the bag like it wanted you to know. And the bandanas and the hats and the rollers scraped over every surface till she’d stuck every damn hair in the house–hers or not. Dr. Charon tried to take away my bandana my first week and I punched him in the face. I can wear it whenever I want now.

Sometimes I sneak away after Lights Out and get lost in the labyrinth under the Center. I only let the girls with smuggled cigs tag along, and even then I stick to the baby route. The belly of the beast can’t be shared. They whine about shit like boys leaving them and I fake it for as long as my cherry will glow in the dark. I head back with or without them.

They’re strict on Recreation since last week’s breakout. Clean getaway. That could’ve been my roommate, but she had to go out on a belt. I spend Recreation out in the parking lot, looking for your beater. The snow that the plows deposited over curbs and into bushes has turned into a mini mountain range that obscures my view, so I climb to the top and perch from there. This makes some of the girls uneasy, but I tell them to go fuck themselves and they suddenly find the view behind them very interesting.

I know you just want me to get situated before you come for me. I get it. So I watch snowflakes gather on the pane and remember construction paper days with Mom. Before it all fell out. Sometimes I think I can gather her in the fog on my window, but only my reflection shows.

I give Charon incident-less days, days where I sit rapt in Allegorical and smile and cry in all the right places. At first he made the mistake of commending me and I called him a twat. He doesn’t make that mistake anymore.

Dad–can I still call you that?–I’ve situated. Okay? Joke’s over. Ha ha. You can take me home now.

Charon wouldn’t give me a stamp, so I liberated one from his office. Should find its way to you. Don’t worry about finding me out here–I’ll be the one on the highest peak, peering down over all my domain: Queen of the Hill. I love you. Shut up.

Ariadne

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An Aesthetic/Anesthetic

alleyway

She came out of sewer grates, alleyways, locker- and bathrooms. Anywhere she could get equal footing. Had a stink about her. About was the best word because it was more descriptive than odorous: talcum powder sprinkled on week-old vomit. Feversweat collected under fat folds. Rank was kind. Rank was polite.

Followed behind, step for step. Would vanish when he’d turn around; fly into air ducts or toilet bowls or sticky corners. Stink would stay, though.

But she was A. listening B. watching C. smelling while he was 1. talking 2. walking 3. fucking. Hasty scribbles on pages where the answers go. Guess all of the above.

She’d put proofs in his head: “If God is omnipresent, then He/She/It is in the asshole of every diarrhea-addled creature.”

He wandered widely and sought answers in all the traditional places. Shared chifrijo at a greasy spoon down Avery with a Californian Zen master on Sundays. Said master heard what he said but didn’t seem to see her. The lady from the sewers. Suzuki and Watts on pages and tongues. Zen in the Art of Insert Here. Kids these days. I’ll get the check.

Would walk the cemetery alone most nights, looking for names he knew. She’d cling to his shadow and modulate to something like centuries of rot. Another proof: “If God is both omnibenevolent and omnipotent, then H/S/I isn’t good with definitions.”

He’d walk into Catholic Mass like the old C & E days sometimes. Strictly for an aesthetic reason, he assured you. Came out as anesthetic on the days when Father over-commited with the blood of Christ and didn’t want to drink alone. They’d fill paper cups to the brim and chat through the latticework. “You wouldn’t believe the things people tell me.” (After a couple cupfuls.) “Judas wasn’t as bad as we’d have you think. Someone had to do it.” (After half a bottle.)

She’d take the screen opposite Father and sit still, stare ahead. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he knew they were watching him.

Stood on ledges of old haunts and called appropriate ex-friends. Invited them to reunion hangouts while they tried to talk him down. Got a few free lunches this way. Nothing too snazzy, but hey. When he ran out of ex-friends he moved on to ex-girlfriends. A few suggested he jump. One just hung up.

He collected surfaces with which to reflect her. Phone screens. Parked cars’ mirrors. Those little plastic bubbles that quarter machine toys come in. Could’ve sworn he saw her this one time, but it turned out to be a half-naked homeless woman at the bus stop, trying to read texts over his shoulder. He was so relieved he let her finish reading. Used her suggested response, too.

Anyway, the bus stop lady said maybe he wasn’t suicidal. Maybe he was just sleepy and needed a nice nap. I could use a nice nap, she said. And he liked that, so he wrote it down and saved it for later.

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NO SUCH LUCK

85f0e7c6b656ea011782cc6c26697d79

My father’s become a giant baby. That’s not a metaphor.

Right now we’re gathering old bed sheets as swaddling. Turning jungle gyms into cribs. Swimming pool inner tubes to pacifiers. Should hold him till his next growth spurt, but you never know. My brother’s been taking off work just to change his diapers. Each load’s a couple shovels full.

He’s been teething on bald tires, babbling insensate and thrashing branches off trees. I’ve been trying to get him to say his new first word, but I’ve had no such luck.

On Saturday nights I load him into the back of a rented pickup and revisit old haunts. Last week was fishing at Busse Lake. Made a game of jiggling babyfat with mudstomps that sent up ripples. He swallowed a walleye whole, along with my pole. We don’t fish much anymore.

Doctor has terms. Physical abreaction. Recursive physiognomy. Maladaptive hyperthyroidic temporal stasis and/or reversal. Says he might go back to normal, or it might be terminal. Only time will tell.

Responds to nostalgic stimuli. Give him a keg and he’ll crack it open canwise, plop down right where his treetrunk babylegs stand and guzzle freely. Start screaming at you too, but it’s only babbling for now. Who knows what the future will bring.

Keeps me up most nights with his crying. I live down the street. Rattles jungle gym crib bars till I coo and shush and burp, which requires boxing gloves and some well-placed spinal jabs. Cross. Uppercut. One two. Haymaker. Barely shakes him. Used to shake me.

Show him VHS home movies and disposables sometimes. Have conversations like we used to, with baby silence to swap out the adult kind. I tell him he’s a fuck and he needs to stop growing. He laughs when I say fuck. Latent memory.

We’ve looked at homes. Most facilities are wanting, so they say. Not that they wouldn’t love to have him, but they’re just… wanting.

I’ve weighed the options. Adoption wouldn’t be too bad. There’s got to be someone out there who wants a sixty-seven-year-old giant baby. I’ll troll forums.

* * *

Something in him knew. Gave me a look as I fit him into his parachute onesie. Wasn’t a hint of baby in that look. A man’s look. Even opened his mouth to say something. Thought better of it, or else didn’t think at all.

* * *

Gave him a party before the adoption. Gallons of Gerber. Fridge-sized cake. Party hat that could double as a traffic cone. Couldn’t call him Dad. He was Baby. Baby he was when I signed him over, and Baby he is now. Just Baby.

Lot of space now. Plenty space.

Quiet, too. Plenty quiet.

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PERSISTENCE IS KEY…

perseverance

…because it only takes one.

My short story “Marly Marbles’ Shingles” is now forthcoming in Apocrypha and Abstractions! Pub date’s a little while off, but links will be provided as soon as they arrive! To all of you who support me with a read, a like, or a subscription… thank you. It means the world to me.

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SOMETHING LIKE A GLOW

Xu Lizhi

For Xu Lizhi.

The alley where the old man caught the jumpers was pebble-lined and puddle-shorn, with vestiges of pre-SEZ flora twiddling tentatively past cracks to smoggy sun. The windows phosphoresced right before a jump. Something like a glow. Juniper leaves on hoof-trodden hills came up and out of windows emptied of purpose and panes. Bodies hung no less fixed than his constellation of six in a sky coal gray and washed of natural light.

Shenzhen’s adverts screamed their insistence as masked faces moved and cars coughed and the old man stood apart from them, his gilded robe catching garbage water and his beard of white flowing beneath eyes like tired sickles, catching the phosphorescence of the windows before someone else would jump.

Another screw coming loose, another nail swallowed and put back into the machine’s cogs as a worker of words sat in a rented room, a room devoid of air and space, a room with no windows and yet with a view to the other side.

There were bodies clothed in garb no longer relegated to the western, minds consumed with figures and wages and hours and output. The smog came from many places.

Something like.

Dreams of a life set free from the humdrum repetition of the factory floor flitted past like insistent flies in the village back home, where the hills dipped lazily and the paddies stretched into the past with days spent watching rain gather and coalesce into vertical streams on windowpanes that would remain intact. Pages of print sat stacked in voided room’s corner, where he composed the nails and screws into neat rows for others to see.

His mother and father waited patiently for childhood’s wages, the yuan tallied and calculated down to the last. The old heroes and figures were sold to the highest bidder and divested of the robes that the old man still clung to down below, in the cloying light of a thousand generations come to pass.

Past the concrete sprouts that choke and squelch the green, the plasticine land held in place with mandates and dictates and acetate water gurgling in fetid streams. He looked out of his room with no windows, his room with a view, and saw it all.

Just one more to compose before time card’s last punch would be recorded and sent, one more thought in a brain meant to be cleansed of them.

Something like.

His words came out like jagged splinters on supple skin, the lines limned in light piercing through summer smog and winter’s too. Words that he couldn’t believe in because to believe was to speak and to speak was to die long before your heart stopped a beat kept counted and calculated to the second. A day’s wages for another beat, hours spent to watch mental landscapes erode and rebuild.

And there were the words of the poets and the bards streaming in from times kept boxed and stacked in another corner, history subjugated to the minds of those kept boxed and stacked in homes. A dragon of computer chips and unknown consequences, with a trajectory set for the sun and climbing against its better judgment.

Windowless room’s window was opened nimbly and gently to particulate wind. No jagged splinters of glass here. Only of words. Waves crested and fell beneath, limbed waves with places to go and people to see. Only the old man watched.

Descent slowed to a gentle lull in life’s last verse. Body held weightless and hovering over arms strong for their age. They phosphoresced as they went away together.

Something like a glow.

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