My second wife in five years brought her hand to my hair.
She intended to point my head at the moon. I pressed her arm with my hand as if to consent, or in minor mourning. Or to press it. I bit that arm a little.
This was in a major city, cars and grey gouts of smoke going by, over a short bench without much to surround it. All of this activity blew her hand away from my hair. Or else she found no use for her hand there.
“Like this,” she said.
“This moon out here,” she said.
“I’m not sure what to say to you,” she said.
Eventually she knew to locate the moon with her index finger. It looked bright, solid, and still the same as ever. A cannonball in ice.
“Yes,” I said.
“This is what you remind me of,” she said.
At once I thought of my father, who I thought was not appropriate to think of when such a thing is said.
I clutched tightly an empty paper bag from probably McDonald’s. It wasn’t mine. I had found it in the park and I kept holding it and occasionally I breathed into it for air.
I thought of him anyway.
Last spring I was hospitalized for a very long time.
That same night, we took the subway back to her low-rise apartment. Her roommate interrogated us. It was hard for him to believe we were married. I tapped on the parquetry with my shoes and I tapped on tables with my fingertips. She looked at him, in this interrogation, like he knew what went where.
“I don’t believe in things like this ending,” I said. I didn’t. I was not sure of anything.
I know for a fact she slept with this roommate while we were together, or at least talked to him about it for an extremely long time. She was just trying to relax, she said.
We went to the roof and sat on the concrete, looked at the moon and they described it in certain terms.
“It’s so big,” they would say, “and so bright.”
You always have to climb a long, long ladder to get to this roof, and it frightened me. A lot of the time I couldn’t do it.
I thought I might send my wife and roommate to the moon. They would be happy there, I thought. I stood up. When I lifted my palms they were black. There is altogether no reason to be on the roof.
“My father used to take me out to see the moon,” I said.
“Like on dates?” my wife’s roommate said.
“No, you fucker,” I said.
The roommate and my wife went back inside. I could hear them tinkling down the ladder.
“Goodbye, Jerry,” my wife said.
I began to dread eventually climbing down that ladder alone.
The moon got covered in black rain clouds. I wiped my hands with my shorts, sighed in agitation. I missed everybody so slightly.
I fell off the roof, then. It wasn’t a long fall.
That it’s so high is one of the main disadvantages of being on a roof.
I thought I was going to freeze where I was. Even though it wasn’t so cold. Now it’s different. Now I’m drowning.
My wife visited me in the hospital. The roommate did, too. They visited together, always right after some phlegmy meal.
“We’re sorry,” they said.
“What for?” I said.
I won’t lie. They had a lot to be sorry for. They’d brought me up so high in the first place.
This was shortly before I fell out of the third story window of the hospital. Not long, I suppose, before I stopped talking.
David W. Pritchard
for Christina and Michael
It is 1:30 and I am on my way to a show
Yes! my head is didactic it says
PAY ATTENTION TO ME
only not quite so simply as that
it is more like Ezra Pound
with a reference to the Greeks
or some book I never read that doesn’t exist
buried beneath the hammering
but what of that?
I remember everything I said
and I wish you hadn’t asked me why don’t you like my poems
it isn’t personal and some of what you write is very good
you’ve got heart and talent
will I ever stop quoting Ludlam?
but those first two were as uncompromising
as my hangover and
I thought I was smart and all alone
with no comrade in arms
or in verse in that little basement
Why are we in a basement and not on the street
where we could all play
comparing our headaches (I think I’d win
today) and writing about the cars and
college students who I would never sleep with
despite my growing frustration
as long as I beat Tom I’m OK
I’ve got 5 years I should be OK
But we should play, not pander or politick
or stick our revolutionary flags in the air like noses to defend
our bad poetry
oh! There I go in the wrong tense again
I try to keep politics and poems separate
who cares about my socialism?
Maybe Nick but he’s a bit ridiculous himself
anarchy is so childish
there! now I’ve made myself into a quaint little hypocrite
Instead of living as angrily as possible
why not live as variously as possible?
I could be obsessed with Frank and I am
I could be wrong I could be a liar I could be silly I could be
a terrible poet
I could end up exactly like Ezra
all brains and no beauty
except for those two really nice lines
teaching me how to sing
but I think for now I will keep pretending that I know what I am doing
so that I can do what I am doing and feel fulfilled
every time I write a new poem which isn’t as often as it should be
but I’m busy
who cares! Oh look now I’m being self-conscious and
discursive and this was supposed to be a gift
more of a nightmarish farce
what a joke get to the point
I am trying to thank you for everything but I don’t know how to do it
not even in a poem so this is a mess
an analog for my ability to walk
which is why I am thanking you
you are wonderful and never stop caring about poetry
don’t let him either
or I will drive into myself
a dune buggy to be like Frank and Vlad at the same time
the poet not the dictator
but anyways my fantastical and somewhat alarming fatalism aside
I had a wonderful time that I don’t want to waste but I’m always so ungrateful
so I am writing about it instead
Michael G. Donkin
Composition with Drawings and Mackerel
The snow was falling.
He was in need of a sprinkle of scented water.
A waiter now, please, we cried.
He did a card trick for our benefit.
The snow was atop a pile of synagogues.
Suddenly, a velvet nickel. Then a fire drill.
You should not be so languid, he warned, gently.
With a golden tincture, he began:
The loaves are forging idols. He will be a good soldier, I know it.
I will need a better drill bit for that purpose. The purpose of consternation.
And what for that patch of green.
It hums with a sinister aspect. It threatens to mourn us.
Unless there are veined knives in that drawer.
Of green. Oh, how fond I was, back then, of the color green.
But mostly I became concerned about the war, in Moreau.
And whatever happened to my mother still eludes me.
That very Belgium. Dear Genevieve.
In that year of plenty I was born thus. A neighboring town, called Sand Dollar.
One of those deaf children who can read the news, they said. I quickly ascended in rank.
The Celtic major about that time was arbitrarily sent to his death.
I can still recall it. The rule of law being atrophy. In the red month of September.
He ate mackerel, his favorite fish.
He was once a sort of canyon.
Just before he destroyed my drawings he told us about his life.
He had repetitious tics, I remember them.
He also hated women. He was a pugilist.
A larger than life character, sightings are still reported. Psychotic ideation.
Goes without saying.
Invitation to a room
In the day of my father, men
and women married whatever they wanted.
You could want a yacht freighted with reindeer
and not have it,
and still marry it.
I still haven’t made it to the post office and sometimes I slur my words.
These boots make good friends,
like a broken box fan
and August in the room with you.
That, friends, is remembering.
It doesn’t matter where you are.
You can get anywhere from there,
even to events that never happened.
My father could approach wounded bison
and marry them.
Something about being downwind.
When the wind moves into the room,
the fan blades court each other.
I cannot remember whose boots these are.
I invited you here tonight
because you are kind and discerning
and you will tell me
what I resemble.
Your real name is Donny.
Donny, it’s time to go home now.
The day got away from me &
I took the opportunity to stock up
on night crawlers & hoolapoppers.
A magistrate in full wig & robe
ran into me, saying, “Squire,
have you a few ducats from this
realm?” I handed him my MN
game fish collector coin—Musky.
Truly the lunker of the bunch.
Then, the magistrate deeded me
an Earlship & a modest estate
outside Derby. I’ve been pipe-
puffing in the clubhouse & learning
how to row the violin, or leching about
on the continent for the last ten years.
These are my memoirs. It turns out
that during this time I was part of a
long term anthropological study
on fondling techniques. Now I’m back
in Duluth & pretty much everybody
from high school is at the bar.
Index of first lines
I was sopping and wind raw by the time we got there.
A moaning barge woke me.
There was a bucket of drowned mice where she left the rain barrel.
The floorboards in the kitchen sounded like crying children.
One of the tubs was reserved for snapping turtles.
She and her brother built a houseboat each spring and floated to Oklahoma.
There was no radio and we only spoke aloud out of doors.
Kids coming off the freight knew to head for her house.
We ate like bullheads in a river of drowned cows.
No locals asked what went on in that house.
Sundays we shucked cards until one of us owned the others to their toes.
The couch was reserved for the wounded.
I thought we were a cult, but The Priestess was her given name.
Her houseplants almost survived.
She invented a new art form every week.
She filled the other tub with a Delaware remedy.
She could read backwards and cook anything from cabbage.
She fitted the chimney with a mast and asked which watch I wanted.
Once I woke up underwater.
I never saw her hands.
I cut the nests of enormous animals from our gutters.
The basswood in the back lot never bloomed or rotted.
Her brother didn’t know how to ride a bus or speak with anyone he didn’t know.
I think people left potatoes at our door, not the gods, as he contended.
He carried a cinderblock, he said, in case he wanted to sit down.
He barbequed refuse to confuse the neighbors.
He said he had seen her birth a live fawn.
He bolted a telephone to his door, he said, to know which numbers come next.
Somehow you could see Cincinnati from the roof, some said Chicago.
You had to swim to the basement.
She refused to nurse pigs or lizards.
I realized one night that it was just the three of us.
Now it’s your turn, she said, and walked off.
That’s the way, her brother said, that she arrived.
It logically seemed more logical to pick up a magazine and just read it.
Better than staring at the receptionist’s window, with its frosted glass but, more ominously, slid shut.
The chairs were no help, sitting there not doing anything but holding other people who had [n]othing to do with Seth’s condition.
Seth’s condition could’ve sat right in one of those chairs, they were so close.
Seth’s condition could’ve been one of those people waiting to get up.
But his condition decided it was just safer to float there, and wait.
Waiting was always the best part about floating.
Conditions didn’t have to do anything, really.
Conditions could just look like they were levitating, or something.
People would just stare at someone’s condition and wonder what the hell it was it was waiting for.
Conditions could contemplate the bigger things in life, like, “What am I waiting for?”
Seth’s condition sometimes found it might look silly to someone who didn’t confuse not having something to live for with not having anything to read.
The people waiting in the waiting room, hiding their faces behind magazines, they were wondering what Seth’s condition was waiting for.
They wondered about themselves, too.
Seth’s condition couldn’t’ve been the only condition there, could it’ve?
It was almost like everyone there, their conditions were imaginary, made of ice, and someone kept them in a glass box on a shelf above a radiator.
One day, when they were children, they saw their imaginary conditions melt into a clear liquid, the kind used in aquariums.
But Nothing floated in theirs.
Then Seth’s condition came along and floated into the waiting room at Dr. Coffin’s office.
And these people, they weren’t sure how they felt about it, hadn’t yet gotten used to adjusting.
They knew Seth’s condition was there, but where were their conditions?
The receptionist’s ominously frosted glass window slid open.
“Seth’s condition?” the receptionist said.
Seth and Seth’s condition both looked up at the same time, and in stereo said:
“The doctor’ll see you now.”
“Here goes,” Seth’s condition said.
Seth took Seth’s condition’s hand.
“Don’t be nervous,” he said. “You’ll do just fine.”
“Thanks,” Seth’s condition said.
Seth’s condition floated through the waiting room and over to a nurse who waited for Seth’s condition at the doorway to the examination rooms.
Everyone else almost forgot where they were, why they were there.
Seth picked up a magazine, flipped through it, wondered that, too.
Notes of a Doctor of Moral Diseases
A recommendation form arrives in the mail, like a severed ear from kidnappers, with a note saying would I please. . . . Her problems with boyfriends, roommates, bills, a dying grandfather were my problems, too, through midterms and padded term papers, and then spring opened its arms, and what I had taught her was all I would ever teach her, the involved chemistry of bodies dissolving in lime pits and incinerated in ovens. I glance over the form and try to summon her face from the rows of half-remembered faces flickering yellowly like prayer candles. How long have you known the applicant, in what capacity, your candid opinion, and at the bottom space for additional comments that might but won’t save us.
The god of my fathers should have been here long ago. I start to imagine the worst – horse thieves, daughters named for characters in soap operas, leaves that whisper to each other, spreading insidious rumors of disloyalty and upheaval – but stop, like a man whose wife ridicules last night’s dream when he attempts to describe it. I can feel the machine lurking in the corner. It stands on two legs, one a bit shorter than the other, and its blades are encrusted with spots, like small, dull eyes. Just then someone bangs on the door. I jump up to open it. He wears a false beard to hide his grin.
The TV was broken, but my father kept turning the dial. There was something he wanted to watch that night. At the kitchen table my mother was drawing in her eyebrows. Children I knew from school lurched down the road in the front of our house with suitcases held together by rope. It wasn’t dark, and then it was, and the flames swayed despite the lack of wind. The poet gestured to me to follow him over the high railing of the bridge. I looked around for help. A woman stood on the corner with her hip thrust out. Six years passed in a minute. Such things are true if you believe them.
LOST CATS THAT SHOULD STAY LOST
Until Banjo vanished, I never saw Zdzislawa as someone I could get serious about. I console her by whispering that at 108 years old, her little miracle mouser just went off to find somewhere to cross the rainbow bridge in privacy, peace and dignity. I’m downing my 18th glass of water in the last 90 minutes. Admittedly, next to something like “an erection that lasts for 4 or more hours,” dry mouth may not impress as a side effect, but try living with dry mouth around the clock. Other than the dry mouth, Zyrtec and I were happy together.
My boyfriend eats his cereal staring into space while the Times is sitting right there in front of him still in its blue wrapper
from Craigslist turns out to work in the same department as Zdzislawa. Are you awake or is this a nightmare? Who could possibly see that coming?
I never saw Zdzislawa as the type of person you could have a few drinks with and then spend three hours discussing the role of the pure and the defiled in the work of Roland Barthes. Then again, R.B. never saw the laundry van coming.
Who would have thought that such a dirty girl would have such a clean cat? Remember walking behind the guy whining into his cellphone that “Everything was fine until the OCD kicked in”? If Banjo had his little Gouda meatball in the morning, it didn’t kick in! He would curl up and doze, his dreams as pure as the stained-glass windows of the cathedral of Notre Dame.
Who would have thought that such a gentle girl would have such a vicious cat? Remember walking behind the guy who was using a crutch and arguing into his cellphone and all of a sudden he went ballistic and starting smashing windshields with the crutch? That was Banjo, if he didn’t have his little Gruyère meatball in the morning. If he didn’t get the meatball he brought evil and disobedience into the world.
“Animals don’t experience withdrawal the way people do.” I remember the outrage I felt when I first read that sentence in a novel. What hubris! Nothing is more offensively anthropocentric than the kind of holier-than-thou I’m-not-anthropomorphic sentiment that the sentence’s unfounded claim exemplifies. Please forgive me, when I feel crappy I get all cranky and verbose.
I used to be a big believer in loss. In the happy past, I subscribed to the philosophy that it’s human to lose, and human to feel loss. It’s inhuman to numb loss. Numbing loss is for…losers. No way I would have gone anywhere near Banjo’s Prozac. I would have endured the human ordeal of loss.
On morbid obesity in pharmacists
In the happy past Zdzislawa liked nothing more than to pose hypothetical dilemmas. “Which is more offensive to the senses, a decomposing opossum or a rancid nosegay?” (Zdzislawa had a weakness for this kind of Nabokovian style of English.) “Which is more incongruous, to purchase a bialy from a shiksa named Kirsten, or to have your hypertension prescription filled by a pharmacist who resembles Jabba the Hutt?” Now my sadness is compounded by discovering that it wasn’t all hypothetical. The pharmacist does indeed resemble Jabba the Hutt. Poor Banjo. If I were to find you alive and well and living in some shed on my way back from the CVS, I would bring you home with me and split your refill with you. We would both be happy and healthy for exactly half as long as if you stayed lost.
When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.
— Raymond Chandler
A man comes through a door with a gun in his hand.
A second man comes through the door with a gun in his hand.
“What are you doing here?” the first man asks.
A third man comes through the door with a gun in his hand. He’s followed by a fourth man. The fourth man has a gun in his hand.
“What’s the big idea?” the third man asks.
Two more men come through the door, each with a gun in his hand.
“What are you all doing here?” someone asks.
Another man comes through the door with a gun in his hand.
Their palms are becoming wet against the steel of their pistols.
Now three more men come through the door, each with a gun in his hand.
The men are packed tightly into the room. It’s unbearably hot. Someone knocks over a lamp. The lights go out.
The door opens.
I worked as a waiter in a restaurant called the Gallery, but I kept screwing up the checks, under-charging, over-charging. Sometimes I brought out the wrong orders, and once I tried to convince a guy that what I’d brought him, pasta, was better for him than the veal he’d ordered. I told him quit being so rigid, open up to the pasta, but that didn’t go over.
The owner, Mr. Katz, was nice about firing me. He said I should think about completing my education or maybe work in an office somewhere. He shook my hand and said I had a bright future. I went out and got another restaurant job, except my new manager wasn’t as nice. He told me I moved too slow, like I was thinking about something else. He began calling me Dreamy Boy. I’d be standing in the kitchen waiting to pick up an order, and he’d say, “Let’s get a move on, Dreamy Boy.” After about two weeks, he told me, “I’m gettin’ rid of you.” That’s how he fired me. I walked home angry, wanting to throw a rock through the front window of the restaurant. But it was enough to think about throwing the rock. I lay in bed at night toying with the idea, imagining the crash, the sound of the glass breaking, and it made me tense. I wanted that crash, that breakage, was hungry for it, aching almost. I wanted something, but I didn’t know where to start. So I went and worked in another restaurant, a place just opening called Dmitri’s. I lasted a whole year, was too scared not to do a good job.
Then one night I had this couple at my table, and the man had bushy sideburns all the way down to his chin. I didn’t like him right off, couldn’t take those sideburns. Who would wear such sideburns? He started ordering me around, telling me to keep the water glasses full, stuff like that. I’d had about enough of him, and I walked by his table and flicked Russian dressing at him. I’d used Russian dressing–scooped some into the palm of my hand–because it was the house dressing, thick and creamy, and I figured it would dangle nicely in those sideburns. I missed–I think I hit the back of somebody’s chair–but the manager saw the flick, and so I had to say goodbye to Dmitri’s.
It was time to move on anyway, but it was too bad, because I liked the people there. I remember one of the waitresses, Stacy, a pudgy, sexy girl. We’d smoke pot together in the back alley and talk about how the rats were taking over the city, and one time she confessed to me that she liked to pee in the shower. About a year after flicking the Russian dressing, I ran into her in a Radio Shack, but she hardly recognized me. I had to remind her about Dmitri’s, and she still didn’t seem sure. She said, “See you,” and was out the door. Later that evening I found myself marching along a busy block carrying a scuffed up baseball I’d found beneath a parked car. I didn’t know what to do.
A Brand of Closing
The illusion of gray, the flying owl’s apparition
Echoes graying fortune of its levitating
Shadow. Angles equate, algebraic
Certainty, replacing body with body,
Name for the self-name switch
Eyes find most delicate inside
Sporadic wander. As with a hand’s
Man defines as self, illusion is
The defining body
Constant in the change
Devotion will chase until
Death is the responsible reality
Of metaphoric closing.
Parallel act of Disparate Leaving
Death alive in
Morning’s many brands of rushing:
Hackneyed garden of reinterpretation.
On the gnarled dimension of antiquated sidewalk
Scented memories of vertical tones,
The swaying tones softly pushed within
Wind’s playful whimsy.
A passerby arrived:
He, devotional to resuscitation,
Once failed to reenact reviving
The wife of his youthful years,
He brought a pin, hers of
A red rose now veneered with
Put the symbolizing pin
Near foot of the brightest flower,
Imitating the alive mother
Crying toward the silence of
Her child’s dissipating reveal.
EXPERIMENTS IN PRAYER
Douglas Prufrock Sycamore, age 26, was driving
southbound on the I-5 through the unincorporated
community of Gorman, population 1,224,
following an unexpectedly lengthy client
meeting that had concluded with a signed statement of work
on wildly favorable terms to Douglas’s employer
and a pump-action-style handshake whose aggressiveness
and duration Douglas regarded as indulgent,
but who had found himself, a green-behind-the-ears
(though wholly capable)
junior sales associate on his first-ever unaccompanied client visit,
reciprocating with a commensurate degree of physicality
which the client—
who had walked Douglas to his car and placed a hand on his shoulder
as Douglas smiled and said something inconsequential
about the just-signed statement of work—
had appeared to misconstrue,
when Douglas noticed in the golden hills,
alongside of which ran the southbound I-5,
a single, vertical crease, or rut,
whose topmost point ended
at the inverted apex of a large,
triangular patch of dense shrubbery,
and found himself reflexively putting his turn signal on
and angling across the highway and pulling into the emergency lane
his gaze fixed on the triangular patch of dense shrubbery
the whole while,
and he slid his seat back,
tilting it at a more accommodating angle,
and with one hand gripping the steering wheel
and the other clenched over his lap, he prayed to the Lord Jesus
in a voice that made his request sound more like a demand.
N. God Savage
The Ponendo Machine
The Ponendo Machine is not a machine but a person. It has female genitals, but is cognitively male. The Machine lives by a set of simple rules, and the rules have hard edges – each rule is separate from the others.
I visit the Ponendo Machine every Tuesday, and I am a collection of vague aches which the Machine cannot understand. I have taken the Machine’s hands – I call them hands, but they are more like cold paddles – and placed them against my lower abdomen so that the Machine might come to feel my aches, but never with any success.
Whoever constructed the Ponendo Machine tried to make it look like a person. This is evident from the extraneous limbs that protrude from the metal torso. I could remove these limbs, so that the Machine was a mere box of rules – crudely bolted along its left side – and this would not compromise the function of the Machine.
The Ponendo Machine occupies the very centre of the room in which it is housed. The base is bolted to the floor – the arms and legs jut out awkwardly, so that the Machine resembles a mechanical baby reaching out for affection. Sometimes the Machine is agitated, and its limbs jerk about robotically. If the Machine was not mute it would no doubt cry out as it struggled. I look away when the Machine is agitated, because I cannot bear to see its helpless shuffling.
The Ponendo Machine is connected wirelessly to its subjects. The results of the Machine’s calculations come to fruition as the thoughts of these subjects. Thus the Machine can act by proxy – it manifests itself as the rationality of its subjects. A person must have a dangerously low IQ to qualify as a subject of the Ponendo Machine.
I took the woman I loved to see the Machine. She was gracious and kind, and only wanted to make the Machine feel loved. She smiled at it, touched it affectionately with her warm palms, laughed exuberantly – her mouth wide open, eyes sparkling, head whipped back, abandoned as she cackled. If I had known every one of the Ponendo Machine’s rules then I would never have taken her to see it.
Among the rules of the Ponendo Machine were the following:
#13. If a women laughs loudly in public, then she is a witch.
#47. Witches must be burned.
When we emerged from the room they were waiting. They were like zombies, thin stretches of drool caressing their denim shirts and yellow work boots. I couldn’t stop them – no words or actions can override the conclusions of the Ponendo Machine. They took her and they burned her, and I could not bear the fact that they did not know any better.
I dismantled the Ponendo Machine piece by piece – took apart and abandoned the logic that had failed me. I cried as I dismantled her – my aches overflowed their boundaries and became one ache, centered on my stomach. The final piece of the Machine was its spine – a thin rod of gleaming copper. I held it above my head as if it were a rope that I was hanging from, then brought it down, hard and fast, deeply jabbing the centre of the one ache.
And I extinguished the ache. But the ache had become the whole of me, and so I extinguished myself by the same stroke.