Monthly Archives: June 2010

Patience is Virtue

Didn’t manage my time well. Check back this evening for today’s story. Trust me, you want to give me the time to edit it. Until then, check out this amazing story by Allegra Goodman, set right in my hood: “La Vita Nuova.”

World Cup Haiku

I am watching the
World Cup today, so there is
no poem, sorry.

Broken Bells

The wine stains shattered
slate, fermenting still/s
off wild yeast; a strain
lost like Gospels in Crusades.
The lonely tree survives
somehow, through cavernous decay —
of course the urban kind, a
-theistically gentrified.
It persevered, despite
its persecution, thriving
safely in the tower’s shade.
The bell it once contained
would cry or beg for mercy
to be euthanized, if
it hadn’t already gone deaf,
dumb, and blind
in some mythical time
-before-time. Where its booming
tone had once reverberated,
low and resonant,
the sound has since
been replaced by over
-powered subwoofers,
speaking in too-small
Sedans. I tried to ring
the bell again to shake
the tree of fruit, but found
the padlock cut and the gate
rusted shut, keeping what
ferments inside from spilling
out and altaring our lives.

Ditto

I think Winston’s driving a school bus now, she said.

It was dinnertime, not gossip time but she didn’t seem to notice a difference those days, not since losing her job at the Dress Barn. Any chance she got, she’d talk about the misfortunes of others like she was comparing their hardships to her own until she’d get to crying and carrying on. Talking about her poor daddy and how the last time she saw him, he was standing outside the house he built–with his bare hands, what have you ever built with your bare hands?–like he was counting each brick. She had loved him but didn’t tell him enough and you’ve gotta tell the people you love that you love them and did John reckon that old daddy knew her love for him? Well. Did he? John just wasn’t sure how much more he could take of it. Not tonight after he’d run into Jane Leary in town and she’d looked at him with that diamond on her finger like they–she and him–were missing out on something. Like he needed one more thing he was missing out on.

“You going to finish that salad?” John had stopped being cautious long ago, agonizing over how to word his questions, his answers.

His voice had lost the pleading quality it once had and now it was tired without yet being defeated. The way he saw it, she’d keep on him until he sounded defeated or she put him in the ground, if they weren’t one in the same.

No, she said in her vicious tone, adding multiple syllables where there were none, to better enunciate her hatred of whatever he’d just done or said. I ain’t going to finish my salad.

He didn’t respond, waiting.

You wanna know why?

He’d come to treasure her questions as opportunities not to answer her, to withhold from her for a change something she wanted.

John! Do you want to know why I ain’t. Gonna. Eat. My. Salad?

“No, Nikki, I don’t.” He looked straight at her, not to challenge her, but to better gauge what it was she would throw at him. Her eyes always darted to the thing right before her red, swollen fingers snatched at it, like a thing possessed.

A couple times he’d actually caught the thing–a salt shaker, her ring, and a spoon. That made her the most angry. Then there was no time to respond, she’d start grasping anything within reach, flinging them before her fingers had fully clasped around it. Those nights he slept in their camper, the door locked, listening to her screaming from the house.

He stared at her, anticipating the sting of something against his cheek or the crash of her bad aim.

You don’t give a damn about anybody but yourself, you know that?

He laughed a little.

I hate you.

He started to say it back, started to pull his jaw toward his throat into the simple and overused vowel, but stopped himself, thinking of Niagara Falls making its way out of the United States, away from him. He thought of the mountains he wouldn’t climb, the nature trails where he’d never lose his affinity for oatmeal, the women he could have loved, that might have loved him back. Might not have hated him. He thought of the children, who looked more like Nikki, the only reason he could look at her anymore. He thought of Jane’s leather purse that made a sound like keys as their bodies pushed against it from either side, a casualty caught in the middle of their misplaced passion. He licked his bottom lip as if to taste her there.

Good Morning, Beorning

Little cub, little bear cub, strengthened
daily by your fights with gravity,

fights with dawn, fights with trolls and spiders,
fights with rivers, hills, trees, fights with birds,

fights with pine smokehouses, fights with air,
fights with men pretending to be kings

of the vastness, fights with other bears,
fights with the sound of yourself, fights with

doubt, fights with the long transformation,
fights with the hard consciousness of time,

fights with thorns, fights with dens, fights with snow,
fights with cold berries, all strengthening;

little bear cub, growing always out
into thickness and manhood, always,

and never back to before fighting,
when the woods were blank and powerful,

your wild life will ever be ahead
of you, your still, tranquil days behind.

The Third Policeman (part 1)

The plan was to be simple, at least the way that Thomas had been telling it. The Old Man — Mathers was his name — made his fortunes in fertilizer, dealt in cash that he kept hid beneath the floor boards. That night, we’d be waiting by the path to his house for to find him walking home, and we’d make damn sure he did’t make it.

“Damn sure.” Thomas’ words. He gave the first hit, bludgeoned with a tire pump to put him on the ground. Then he left the rest to me while he went to find the stash. “No witnesses,” he said. “Just an old man won’t be missed.” Not the way I’d hoped to do things, but we had to be sure. We had to.

I dug the spade into his head — that was all the weapons we had between us. It was a clean scoop, his brains like grits in a spoon. Too bad I’d lost me appetite. I used the bloody tool to dig a hole out in the woods. Not too far off the path — I needed the light, as little as it was, plus I had to keep an eye our two bicycles. Didn’t want someone to be stealing them while we were off making the grab, else we wouldn’t have a way to make it home.

See, the money was to be used for the book that I’d been writing since well before Thomas and I took up together. The Complete Annotated de Selby. There’s nothing in the stores that’s like it. My life’s work. But Thomas said we needed money for to publish it. And Old Man Mathers, well, he wouldn’t miss it. Or so Thomas said.

By the time he got back, I was nearly finished with the hole, digging with that tiny spade. “Aye, took you long enough,” I said. Thomas didn’t answer. He was a bit bent that I had left the corpse out on the path for all to see. I couldn’t carry him myself though, what on account of me leg. Thomas helped, and together we tossed him in the grave and closed it up, made our way up to his house to claim the prize.

When we got outside, Thomas stopped. Said I had to go in first, on account of he’d already been inside. In the interest of being fair and all that, just to prove his word.

I climbed in through the window, second from the left. The room inside was empty, but for a worn old wingback chair off in the corner. The cobwebs by the window sparkled by the moon, but the rest of them were covered up by dust and death. Thomas said the box was in the floor beneath the chair, hidden ‘neath the third board from the wall. I counted, then I double-counted three, just to be sure. Thomas was right — the board was loose, and I pulled it up with ease. It was much too dark inside to see below the floor, and I didn’t have me lamp, so I cleared away the spiderwebs and with me hand I felt around for anything resembled a money box. The angry little critters nipped at me, crawling up me arms, but I hardly noticed. I was too focused on the prize.

My fingers found it — a tin smith’s box, at least it felt like. “Thomas!” I cried. “It’s here!” I groped until I found something, a lid, or a handle, or something I could fix a grip on, and I pulled. There was a bright flash, something warm. And that’s…well, that’s when things turned a bit strange.

Today Is a Gift, That’s Why They Call It the Present

She didn’t want to think about it and had avoided the subject the entire six months of their relationship. She’d managed dodging conversations about exes in that time, not out of any guilt or unmended emotion, but as preservation. She’d never met anyone like Leonard, never expected to again; she didn’t need to hear about the woman who had let him go, who was probably plotting a way to get him back. She liked the way he looked at her, talked to her, and she preferred to imagine these were all firsts for him, as well, hated to see herself as a cardboard cutout replacing the last woman he’d touched the same way.

But she was dying now, the Ex, the Serrina she’d evaded like a pothole, the One (she assumed) That Got Away, though she had no evidence to back up that fear. It was the absence of evidence to the contrary, however, that confirmed the suspicion for her. It was the lack of an expression of disdain, of proclaiming the Girl’s inferiority to her that kept her awake most nights they didn’t sleep together and some nights that they did. This sequence of events made sense to her, like those number series questions on the SAT: 2, 4, 6, then __. Leonard doesn’t denounce his ex-lover, Leonard doesn’t declare Annie’s superiority, Serrina reenters the picture. Since he broke the news to her–I’ll be flying home to see her–her imagination had filled in the missing link in the sequence without pause. One night, post-coital, she pretended to be asleep, wanted to feel him staring at her, enjoyed the feel of his chewed fingernails tracing the arms that had just been clasped around him. She enjoyed feeling the duplicity of sleep and consciousness that pretending to be asleep afforded her, that is, until he gently pulled his arm out from under her and got up from the bed. She assumed he was going to the bathroom and adjusted herself to look as angelic as possible for his return. He didn’t exit the room, and soon she heard the soft tap-tap of the keyboard. She tried to gauge if he was being quieter than necessary for an innocent bout of internet browsing and peeked out from under the folds of the sheet and pillow cases to look at him. It wasn’t until the next day, scanning through his web history while he showered that she figured it out: he had bought his plane ticket home while she slept not five feet away from him.

The whole day following she wondered if he had been thinking about Serrina while they made love. If his eyes were closed, not caught up in moments of inexplicable ecstacy, but so he could picture Her more completely, see Her with more clarity than looking down at Annie’s crumpled and inadequate body would allow.

“Are you asleep?” he whispered. She wasn’t, of course, but considered letting him believe she was, letting him feel alone as she had felt all day.

“No,” she admitted, a little too loud.

He moved so their eyes were level. The whites of his eyes were bright in the dark room until he closed them and pushed his face into her chest. She reached around his head with her arms and forgave him everything. They fell asleep that way–Annie, then Leonard, and the moisture from his eyes had dried from her t-shirt by morning.