Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Of Faith

From the dark side
of the sunlit glass,
I watch a squirrel,
without fear, leap
from one trunk
to another tree's limb

Does her stomach drop
as the slim arm bends
down in surprise
and back up again?

Or is she merely an arrow
—the spoke of one thought—
indifferent to autumn's
vainglorious shouts

fixed on the task
of a half-complete nest
where the work of her body
must purse like a comma,
and pregnant —
with what comes  — 

after the tree 
has jettisoned its leaves
and the snow falls silent 
and godless
and cold 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

White Whale

("Moby Dick" by Ilya Nimo)

Angie read to her father, as he sat in the hospital bed she and Sadit had wheeled into the downstairs library, worrying the edge of his sheet with his fingers. His pajama top kept slipping off the knot of his shoulder, while his hair stood up like thistles.     

“Who’s that?” he said, as Ahab quickened the harpoon toward its target.

“Angie. I’m your daughter, Dad,” she said neatly, before picking up the thread of the story again.  

He looked at her with suspicion, fingers working double-time, eyes flicking around the wood-paneled room, dark but for the slant of light admitted by its one, westerly window. Angie tried to see what he was seeing because she knew he was lost, and needed grounding. 

They both settled on the picture of her mother, sitting beside the bottles, ointments and tissues on the bedside table. His brow cleared, fingers going quiet.

“Where’s Molly?”

“Out shopping,” she lied. 

Ahab launched the harpoon. The whale was struck. Her father set upon the sheet once more. 

She shut the book. The sound of the grandfather clock filled the room, as lonely as a sea. When Angie opened her eyes, her mother’s Staffordshire dog figurines stared past her. There hadn’t been a fire beneath that mantelpiece for two years now, but flames had roared there on Christmas Eves and winters past, dancing to her father’s directives. She could nearly feel their heat.

“You haven’t seen them in five months,” she said. 

He ignored her.  

“You haven’t seen your grandchildren in five months. The last time Kamal came into this room, you called him ‘boy’ and accused him of stealing the remote. I slapped you.” She looked at him. “I slapped you hard, old man.”

His eyes skirted hers, but she could feel him listening. 

“Right across the mouth, same as you did with us kids. And I bet I felt the way you felt back then. Big and terrible, both at once.” She took a breath. “Except—I’ve thought about that slap every day since. And you—what did you ever think about, Dad?”

The book slid from her hands onto the floor.  

“Hate came so easy for you. I almost envied you that. To hurt so casually one never had to suffer for it—or feel guilty—or—”

His watery eyes blinked onto hers.   


Standing, she walked to the hearth, feeling his eyes on her back. 

“It doesn’t even matter anymore,” she said, laughing a little. “Don’t you see? None of it has any weight.

It was true. He would never atone for crimes he couldn't remember. He wasn’t even her father anymore, really. Just a machine on the brink of powering off.

And it wasn’t pain she wished on him. It was knowledge. Ownership. Impossible things, like wishing for the moon, or a different name.  

Her eyes drifted to the window. Outside, on her parents’ back lawn—in view of the large, colonial house her small family had moved into, until this nightmare was ended—stood an albino fawn on the cusp of adulthood. One second it was there, a white ghost behind a vale of thinning trees, and the next it was gone. 

Hunting season would start in two weeks.

Angie’s eyes filled with tears.  

“I remember,” she said, her voice softer now. “I remember being two or three years old, and you carrying me around on your shoulders. I don’t know where we were. Only that it was high up, and I was scared.”

She walked over to him. Taking the comb beside her mother’s picture, she tried to tamp down the white fright of hair on his head, and failed. 

“I didn’t want you to put me down, Dad. You so seldom touched us. You were so rarely in the mood for me. I understood that, even then.” She placed the comb back on the table and sat on the edge of his bed. “But I still remember the pressure of your hands around my shins, holding me up—on top of the world—as I clung to your hair and tried very hard to be brave.” 

She looked at this man, her father.  

Reaching out, she pressed her hand against his cool, dry cheek. He flinched, then relaxed, the sound of time beating against their backs, pushing them toward sea. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Sword People

("Red Wood Cutting" by Vladimir Cush)

“Hey! What the fuck? There’s a sword in my chest!” 

This is how it begins.

You can’t believe it. You see the sword, you feel the sword, but the sword doesn’t register. The initial shock waves carry you through the first days, and then weeks. It hurts having a sword stuck in your chest, and what’s worse, it hurts to see other people—good people—in the same boat as you.

You recognize each other, from a distance. That is one consolation. These are your people now. All of you resolve, with frantic phone calls and nightly incantations, to never forgive the people who stuck the swords through your ribs, caressing your vital organs with their teeth. Because fuck that. Why would you? They knew what they were doing. Most of the sword stabbers admit quite happily to the desire to do it again. It seems they’ve grown an appetite for it. Babies wish they'd sleep so well.   

It’s exhausting waking up every day with a sword sticking out of your chest. It’s also—can we just say it?—a little boring. There are other things you’d rather be thinking about than navigating the world in this awkward, painful fashion. 

For the first year, you expect the sword to be removed, possibly by a hero-in-training or a magic spell conjured by a passing crone. But you’ve tried everything you can think of, and the thing won’t budge. It’s as if the sword was a sword, and your chest were a stone. And if that’s a crappy analogy, it’s because analogies are harder to come by now. Creativity? Yes. Also a stone. 

You’d like very much to forget your sword. But the damn thing keeps getting in the way. Even seemingly trivial tasks—like eating in a restaurant, or talking to your neighbor, whose chest is mercifully free of sharp sabers—takes special effort, provoking spasms of anxiety and second-guessing. 

You don’t want to hate your neighbor—who once lent you his grass trimmer, and who has two terriers he dresses in funny sweaters when the weather turns cold—but you’re troubled by his unblemished chest cavity, and the way his smooth, flannel shirt buttons all the way up his neck. More than that, you hate the way his eyes flash down to your sword whenever he’s speaking to you. You think you read contempt in his eyes, though it could also be allergies. Your judgment feels skewed. Is gravity off somehow? There is some added weight.

Oh, right. The sword. 

Sometimes, you’d like to butt him with it. Whack him good and hard, ass down to dirt. But you don’t. You won’t. You mustn’t. Because manners, for one. 

Also you’re better than them. 

It’s not like you to be angry or vengeful. You don’t enjoy anger, were never one of those half-cocked people who sucked on its fumes like astro fuel. Nor are you a saint. If it were up to you (and it’s not), you’d rather leave the disillusionment and uphill battles to others: the broken-hearted, the organizers, the artists and gardeners.  

Still, you have a sword sticking out of your chest and somebody—lots of somebodies—helped put it there. After the first year, you begin to examine their intentions more coolly, recognizing their contributions to their communities and families, how their soft metal reason had been hammered into armor by slick-tongued carnival barkers and money whisperers, probably to protect some monstrous sadness within (you hope). You begin to entertain the notion that forgiveness is conceivable, because if nothing else, you’re alive and you have the power to forgive. You imagine yourself lighter, angelic, free of all earthly entanglements. Jesus. You imagine Jesus. 

The truth is: that sword would be there, with or without your neighbor. Your boss. Your mother and father.  

Sixty-three million people helped wedge it in there, nice and tight, with a shrug or a grunt, eyes open or shut, depending on the deed’s distaste to them. Individually, each sinner’s sin tips the balance but slight. Perhaps it’s you who’s stuck, in some holier-than-thou state martyrs like to mix up for themselves. Life is short. Just ask the corpses with swords sticking out of their chests you have to step over on the way home from work. You might be the hero-in-training your neighbor, your boss, your parents require. You’re not just your flesh. You’re also the love you shine in the wo—

“Damn it!”

You wake up in the wrong position, and the sword has perforated an artery. Did somebody come into your room last night and sit down on your chest? Was that imagined? It seems unlikely. Have you been dreaming? 

Why is reality so—squiggly—of late? Do you need glasses? Is the car engine running? Who let the dog out? Oh, right. It was you. 

Oh, right. You don’t have a dog. 

A very real thing is the blood soaking up your sheets. Darn it. You stuff more gauze inside the hole in your chest, change your sheets, flip the mattress, but the pain persists, dull and affable. It’s a different flavor of pain, two years in, than it was at the outset. It has contours and confidence and throws its roots out like ticklers. But you are benumbed, detachment your drug of cowardice.   

Lately, when running across another sword person, both of you avoid looking at each other’s chests, are careful to position yourself in a way that reduces the incidence of any “ramming” or “clanging.” The sheer persistence of your maladies is embarrassing to you both. Even swords bespeak a powerlessness. And what’s the point in rehashing it all? Blindness is a kind of peace. 

Now, though . . . 

Is there a prescription outside of submission or pain? Leaning, hilt first, into the wall, you deliberate for many months, sliding in and out of consciousness, winter passing into spring, while sunlight spreads a sticky warmth across your eyeballs, like a tarnish marching over wedding silver. 

There is a sword sticking out of your chest. You think it will never quite finish the job. But right now, with your eyes closed, you can feel your heart protest its tip with each beat.  

It isn’t right. 

It’s still not right. 

You fill your lungs and breathe, pausing at maximum intake, before letting it out with a shudder. 


Your eyes open. 

You still hate those motherfuckers.

And that you can’t forgive. 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Kissing the Dirt

God help me, I’ve lost my faith in the world. 

Which isn’t the same as losing my love or my fight for it. Rather, I know where I am: on my knees, lips touching dirt, while something very large and distracted is pressing its boot to my neck. 

Why be instilled with a sense of justice, if justice means nothing. Everywhere I look, terrible people are getting away with terrible things, while their cheering sections jeer and crow, celebrating a superficial and cancerous certainty, replacing problems with wins. 

Meanwhile, spring has come, and nature is putting her hope in pretty things. Have you seen the daffodils? Do they still impress, when the sunshine fills them like torches and their brightness lights your way home from work?    

I want to join you there. I want so badly to believe it’s all that’s needed. I miss so much my reveries and dreams.

But I still remember a spring three or four years ago, when our dog discovered a nest of baby bunnies in our backyard and proceeded to swallow them, one by one, before I could do anything to stop it, the tiny creatures screaming from their pink and tender lungs, and me screaming from mine, long after the deed was done.   

You just ate 
You weren't even hungry

He wasn’t sorry, but for months afterward, I felt differently toward him, however unfair the charge against instinct and nature, which manages to be both pretty and terrible, without any evidence of internal contradiction. Then time stepped in and covered things up, as time does, and I gradually returned to finding him adorable.

He still goes out there at this time of year to eagerly sniff and paw at the ground. And I love the beast, in spite of his beastliness. I love this world, not like a child anymore—but like a parent does. Guardedly. Sadly. With loss always threatening, and making the heart sore.   

I have no control when it comes to politics, or the truth’s distortion, or the monstrous pretenders who have their hands on the ropes. 

All I can do is look for the baby bunnies each spring before letting the dog out, and fill my bird feeder with birdseed, and turn off Twitter when I’m choked with sadness or anger, and love my children—who just this year have grown taller than I—and keep putting pen to paper, to try and defend the charge of beauty for one more day and tender hour.