Infuriated nor’easter sylphs, clatter
slap sleet castanets against the upstairs
dormer; hijacking my ear from insulated
silence. Frostbitten tree fingers petition
the hearth, (glowing just beyond reach,
on the bright side of transparency)
tapping out ‘help’ in dots and dashes.
Timber wolf banshee screams cuff
the wind, castigating ornery gods
for cruel, and unusual punishment.
Like John Malkovich seeking Possum
in: “Places in the Heart,” I stupor
stumble through darkness, and three
foot snow drifts, toward stir-crazy
livestock I cannot see, eye-spliced
to a hemp rope guideline tied
to an unlatched barn door; flapping
like mother plover feigning a wound.
Arctic gusts body-snatch me, levitating
and flag-waving my limbs, shredding
denim into strip bandages. In one
climactic, turbulent squall convulsion;
spectral forces assert their fury:
wrenching my fingers from a lifeline
death grip, hurling me like an empty
feed sack into javelina tusked, barbed
wire holding pens, slicing through
frozen, anesthetized flesh, and impaling
my carcass like a pork belly hung
from a butcher’s meat hook.
On Seeing a Particularly Wacky Bumper Sticker
Driving home on La Canada Drive
I saw a bumper sticker that said
“Just Say No to Barry O,”
and I thought, well, that’s mean.
Barry O was the stage name of
pro wrestler Barry Orton, brother
of “Cowboy” Bob Orton, and
uncle of Randy Orton.
Barry was a preliminary wrestler,
what my father used to call “dog meat,”
unlike his brother, perhaps because
he refused to perform sexual favors
on World Wrestling Federation
higher-ups, ergo the wrestling
sex scandals of the early 90s.
Then I thought, well, Bob Orton
wasn’t a prelim guy, he had
success in the WWF, did he
play ball with these guys?
Then I thought, hey, you wanna
get yourself sued? But how can
I be sued for my thoughts?
So this sticker was pretty mean
because “no” was what the higher-ups
said to Barry O when he wouldn’t
do nasty things for them.
The next morning I Googled
“Just Say No to Barry O”
and found that Barry O is actually
So, of course this was a
conservative bumper sticker.
They love rhymes, those conservatives.
If Bush had been a Democrat,
I could have seen
“Say ‘Kiss My Tush’ to GW Bush”
stickers and T-shirts everywhere.
Then, I thought, well,
I did kind of say no to Barry O
because I didn’t vote for him,
which doesn’t make me a racist,
does it? You’ll say it makes me
a racist if you’re a liberal because
liberals love calling people racist
even more than conservatives
love political rhymes and more
than Barry O probably hates WWE
even though his nephew has been
one of their top stars for years.
On the night of the Gardner Middle School Christmas dance, Jack slow dances naked by himself in front of a full-length mirror in his bedroom, his eyes closed, his hands steadied on the invisible waist of Catherine Morris. “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men blasts from a black and gold Magnavox boom-box on the waterbed. Next to the boom-box he’s laid out his clothes: maroon sweater, white turtleneck, pleated khakis, brown braided belt and his dead father’s gold necklace. He slow dances from the mirror to the bed, dressing one item of clothing at a time. His movements are not graceful; he is still getting his bearings in his own body.
Once dressed, he applies Brut aftershave to his neck in two hasty splashes. In the weeks following his father’s death, Jack had slept in the bed in his father’s office, his face buried in the pillow. The scent of his aftershave still lived in the pillowcase. Jack had breathed in that scent, inhaling what was left of his father into his lungs.
He studies himself in the full-length mirror. He has a moon face, a soft belly, a penis like a cashew, hairless legs. He leans in close to the mirror until his nose and his lips are pressed up against the cool glass and he breathes and watches his breath spread out and then disappear. He rolls his tongue against Catherine’s tongue but it is not her tongue; it is just the glass, and the glass is cold and smooth.
Jack walks by himself to the dance, and once he is there, doesn’t dance. He stands on one side of the gym, Catherine Morris on the other. His sweater is too hot, his turtleneck too tight. His heart jumps when the slow songs start and he walks over to her in sweaty socks and they dance.
The eighth graders dance closer; some of them press their crotches together. He does not try this. He can feel Catherine’s slender waist beneath her green dress. He can smell her cotton-candy lip-gloss, her hair spray. He can smell the perfume on her wrists. Her cheeks are radiant with blush and glitter. He pulls her closer and listens to her breathe over the bassy gymnasium P.A. Every time she breathes his spine tingles. He is living in her breath. His world is a mouth, the intake of breath, the lips that bring the air in, the lungs where the breath lives. Sensing the end of the song, he lowers his head and leans in. She parts her lips—an invitation—and he kisses her bottom lip. It is slick with lip-gloss. It is sweet and warm.
When Jack returns home from the dance, the living room is dark, illuminated only by the blue and green light from the television. There is no sound, only the movement of the images and the shifting light. His mother is slumped in the recliner, facing the television, her back to him. She does not move when he walks toward her. She is so still.
“Mom?” he says.
Her blue robe is open, exposing her breast. He stares at it, tries to see her heart beating in it. He is convinced that she is dead. He will be alone in the house with his parents’ ghosts. He decides he will marry Catherine Morris and they will live here with their ghosts.
He leans over his mother, his ear to her open mouth. Her breath is there, but it is labored and sour with alcohol. He kisses her lips and they are dry and cracked from breathing in the air of this house, from the act of breathing itself: the reeling in of microscopic particles, the drawing of tiny universes into her.
How He Once Moved Them
We are on Mars.
We have colonized miles of red desert. And on certain days we can see that blinking blue twilight that signals Earth in the dead sky.
We are no longer young. Mars is not the place for youth. It is where the elderly are shuttled off to, the assisted living ranches of outer space. We sit on Mars under big glass domes and tilt our wrinkly heads toward the sky. They have us lined up on an infinitely long porch, our bodies connected to hundreds of computers, impossible machines that shout “Beep!” and “Yip!” complete with nugget dials and sensors with too many numbers that make us nervous. We cannot move. The machines are too big, unruly, all hooked in intravenously through our mouths, noses, ears, belly buttons, anuses, genitals.
We sway back and forth on the rocking chairs of our destruction.
Some of us listen to music. We avoid the old crooners, the Frank Sinatras and Dean Martins and Sammy Davis Juniors and Peter Lawfords and Joey Bishops or anyone else connected to the Rat Pack. We prefer gangster rap. We sit on our death rockers and tentatively nod to “Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G. and “California Love” by Tupac Shakur. We have forgotten which one of these urban youths died first, but either way it’s a tragic shame perfectly suited for a group of people whose hormones first went ape shit during the 9/11 attacks.
We are shocked at how old we have become. Liver spots! When we saw our grandparents’ hands as children it seemed like a sick joke, not something waiting for us in the future like a ticking nuclear bomb. Saggy skin. Pale complexions. Baldness. We look like babies! And maybe that’s all aging is. The universe was born and then it expanded. After a period of time it began to rapidly compress. Maybe the aging process is the contracting of the human spirit.
We are so very old.
No one talks much anymore. But we have Facebook on our machines. So we can make wall posts from time to time. We rarely do however. What is there to say really? Hi. I’m still on that porch on Mars. What up, playa? 8008Z. The people on Earth no longer use Facebook and it’s become a relic of the elderly, the antique victrola for the post-MTV crowd. So we sit and watch the dead sky and wait to die. Sometimes we play Nintendo games. Very few of us can even make it past 4-1 on Super Mario Brothers these days. The digital apparitions of our youth torment us so.
There are rumblings in the Mars dome that someone is coming to end our lives. Some think this is nonsense, while others believe with a level of devotion they never mustered for anachronistic Jesus Christ. There are reasons to believe. We were exiled to Mars because Earth’s young found us too embarrassing, too problematic, an ungainly reminder of what awaited us all at the twilight of life. So wouldn’t it make sense that the New Youth wouldn’t stop at hermetically sealing us on Mars? Shouldn’t it have been obvious that this was just phase one?
Because the sky burned out so long ago, we no longer have Earthian conceptions of time. But He comes at what was once referred to as midnight. It begins as a speck in the distance, a reminder of our former planet. But the speck grows larger. Fast. Fast. Fast. Within seconds He is above the dome with His arms extended. He sits in a diamond encrusted chariot pulled by six stainless steel horses. They breathe fire.
It is Kanye.
He beams down Star Trek-style and folds his arms over his muscular chest. His glasses reflect the black hole sun. He inspects us and we do the same. He has not aged a day. He is the same old Kanye we remember from our youth, hands outstretched to the heavens in a diamond shape. There are women—and even some men—who remember how He once moved them. These people want to shout and scream. They want to bask in the glory of this miracle, that Kanye West has returned from His adventure across the cosmos to learn how to cheat death, to end and potentially reverse the natural flow of time.
Kanye West has come to save us from ourselves.
Yet we are troubled. Why hasn’t He spoken? Why won’t He speak? We remember how He disappeared in the early twenty-first century, how He left in an Escalade rocket claiming He would only return when He’d discovered the meaning of life. Why are His hands above his head? Why won’t He speak?
We lean forward in our rocking chairs. Our machines gasp in agony. Our bodies have not experienced this much stress in centuries.
Kanye opens His mouth. He booms.
“The Kanye cometh! Thou have bequeathed your spiritual birthrights. I have naught come hither to save thee. I have travelled the stars and have returned to tell thee this: Thee have failed. The dearth of your anonymity astonishes. No one knows you. The world is not aware of your names. You are one of a crowd of billions. Because of that, you do not matter, you do not exist.”
Electricity cackles between His open hands. Then a solid yellow light. An explosion that blows everything back for miles, the endless porch decimated, the machines caved in, the rocking chairs shattered. Bodies everywhere. The dome explodes. We are blown into the emptiness of Martian space. Kanye returns to His chariot and rides toward the burning black tentacles of the zombie sun.
The sun slides down your spine and sticks at your heels.
I wake up to find you placing pearly gates on a high shelf before
smashing down every bulwark I’ve built, serpent in hand.
Christ. You ask me what this is, and I spin, and I say:
it’s a gold rush a protest march a marathon a fire alarm
a falling city a meteorite a trip to the god damn moon.
I’m sick of your dogma – piousness – gospel –
you put me up too high; I’m carping from my citadel.
Just your voice (alluding to the Bible)-
my skin is flushed your ring is cold my heart accelerates
and what are you looking at anyway? Beyond caution,
you try to drain me down the sink, keep me in a drawer,
kiss me on her roof, and God that charlatan’s grin,
those puppeteer’s hands. Those nights when the numbers
blur on your neon clock I say We are done.
And you sit up with some esoteric outpour and that
all-enticing wrong and you name all my bones and Lord
only knows how.
Suzanne R. White
O poor Baudelaire!
Well, I want to be a woman,
to be that animal,
satanic, always willing
to take phallus,
Your skin on mine
does some kind of
weird osmosis to my soul;
it’s given to you,
and I make a new one
in less than 24 hours,
or in an instant.
maybe you know now,
in your house beyond,
or wherever you are,
that all of your worries
Maybe you instigate orgies
in the halls of glory,
and art as pleasure.
Your mother’s furniture
has all been taken from your attic
and burned in the backyard.
Now runs a river,
cool and diamond.
Poem Composed Entirely with Last Lines in William Carlos Williams Poems
A woman in front of a bank,
like a winter wind,
flung outward and up—disappearing suddenly.
I think you are ready:
in the same way,
astonish me beyond words.
Poem Composed Entirely with Last Lines in Ron Koertge Poems
standing here tonight
its breath sweeter than I thought it would be
what a fucking guy
yellow, affectionate teeth
lit with human love
I thought would last forever
and kiss me harder than they meant to
and I loved him, the way the Bible told me to
In the Mountains
there you feel free
Eliot said. So did
the Partisans in Yugoslavia.
Who was being ironic?
Who reads late at night
without some doubts?
We wander the deserts
of language today with words
like M16 and IED,
words any child can pronounce,
words like the loss of love
which they cannot.
And we finally know what wracked
the 20th century
was a game.
Men involved with the
A prelude to the storms.
The houses are being bulldozed
across an imaginary line.
Guerrillas in the army of neglect.
Your heart is a new landing strip
from which real operations can commence.
Love is not a bayonet.
Thankfully, we turn in
to think, of the love
between our ape souls.
An M-brane universe
on universe, cataclysms
After the climaxes, you reminisce
of days, human-sized collections of moments.
And I whisper, hauntingly:
Sweetie, think of me
when our days have passed.
Each time you come,
it’s the calling:
Come with me to Philadelphia.
And I respond with,
every possible second:
“Don’t mind if I do.”
Chemistry of Rain (MWF seeks another)
Her fingers were like the first ten drops
of a monsoon squall, tacitly alive. Or, were they
tears unsaid? Memory chronicled the anthem-like coos
resounding about this stadium. Capacity: two.
Could this…would it whipsaw beyond the trawl?
Diary: I queried. (The foregoing notwithstanding,
Norman Rockwell’s dead…) Outside our arena
it’s 2 a.m. Descry if you wish the high, cold
quarter moon embedded in a frozen mix of countless,
random stars sparkling, as they should.
Another solipsistic conundrum. Another pass
of the hat to sanctify. Would her seemliness
have been footnoted by Sybarian scribes?
(…as is James Montgomery Flagg.) No such thing
as vulgar, darling, or a nimbus brighter
than silo light. Oh, but Diary, how I long to run
just one finger the length of her equatorial cleft.
A litmus test of sorts until abandon
hangs by its head. (Think Norm or Jim would’ve
illustrated a Henry Miller work in their prime?
Or’ve pled, in lieu of, to be steeped in formaldehyde?)
Heed if we must the ‘WET PAINT’ signs. No.
We’re not the bouillon we’d like to be. Did we
meet at a past-life tea? “Dumbwaiter, make mine a
Molotov.” My God! Is that her lipstick on my fuse?
All bets are down for another spin. Who recalls
if gravity always was when one’s resolve is petrified?
(Kilroy’s been there, too.) So,
here’s to the thickness of lightning,
equipoise, and Byzantine morning-afters. Upheaval
an existential palliative, welcome as the toll of thunder
to an arable watershed. And to the flows of circumstance
history may neither recant nor recall: the fool’s errand
replicates. (Until we’re granite letterhead.)
Unremembering the Tragedy of an Indoor Succulent
by Kevin Tadge
My girlfriend collects cactuses or something. They’re all over the apartment. I work at night and in the morning I feel like I find a couple that I’ve never seen before. Every morning. I wonder if she even knows how many she has. I decide to get rid of a few and see if she notices.
Every day I take one or two out. I hide them in my backpack or if they’re small enough, in the pocket of my winter jacket. Some are so tiny that I slip them into my shoes or hold them in my palm on the inside of a glove. I grow my hair out long and tuck them under the eaves. If I forget about them, I find them on the floor of the tub after I shower. She never notices but the cacti still keep multiplying. A week or two later I break up with her.
I’m on the street and I see a man selling a cactus. He keeps them inside of his cart. They’re planted on the inside in a foot of sand. The lid of his cart has a sunlamp shining on them. He tells me the cacti think they’re in the Gobi, but I don’t realize what he says until later since he whispers in a forgotten language.
I describe my girlfriend to the man. He knows her. I start to cry. I cry uncontrollably. I sob into his shoulder. He smells like an oasis. He pushes me away. He tells me I’m trying to kill his plants. He yells at me for wanting to over-water them. I buy a little one from him anyway. I point at a greenish blur through my tears.
I buy five bags of sand on the way home. I fill the floor of my bedroom and bury my new friend’s roots there. I call him Wan and learn Mandarin online.
Years later, I meet my former girlfriend on the streets of Urumqi. I’m wanted by the local government for stirring up some rebels. She has a doctorate in Asian literature. We speak in hushed Chinese through the night in the back room of a teahouse. She flies back to Kunming in the morning. At precisely noon, I ride into the desert and vanish in a storm.
Werewolf howling at the sanguine moon.
Jack Nicholson reprising his role from
The Shining, the renaissance that never ended.
He’ll tell you all about his medical history if you’ll
just follow him into the padded room: padlocked
in the barn with the real animals, spooked horses,
good luck charm around his neck. Molasses and blue
food coloring on the television. Water in the
basement of a borrowed house.
Take all your illusions about love,
string them together with three or
four basic chords, sell it to a record producer.
I wanted a lover so I could walk through
that door one day. I wanted a lover so I
could make someone cry. I wanted a
lover so I could talk like a predator. I
wanted a lover so I could make someone
cry. They’re turning my soul into a ghetto.
Can you gentrify this place, you who wish
to know me well? Can you scrawl
your mark across the wall of that old
establishment on Fiftieth and Roosevelt?
Remember when the bathhouse had
a neon sign? We should be home by now,
we should be asleep and dreaming.
It’s like living in a ghetto, where the drivers
are all stuck in reverse, where the artists all
fear for their lives. When they’re pressing you
for a name, then you’ve got to play it dull,
home alone agoraphobic with your soul
in a jar awaiting repossession. What do
you do all day when you’re so afraid? Do you
take the animal noises out with the garbage,
the flying saucer noises with a cup of tea,
do you take the horror movie soundtrack
and turn it into a song about true romance?
They’re striking the clock tower, twelve times.
I wanted a lover so I could make someone cry.
I wanted a lover so I could be cruel and unusual.
I wanted a lover so I could walk miles through
the darkening city with her hand in mine.
I wanted a lover so I wouldn’t be afraid.