There was a notion he’d read in a bit of class reading during his undergrad, a small worm of cosmic speculation that he’d never properly shaken. ‘All life,’ the author had written, ‘here and elsewhere in the universe, is but a by-product of grander stellar designs.’
Accidental automata, all of it. From the barest bacterium to the entirety of human civilization. His mother and father, the dean of the college, the flint-eyed barista in the student center who smiled at him when she thought he wasn’t looking, all of it incidental and accidental. Microbursts of chemicals coming together and interacting in precision in the shadow of nebulae and star clusters. Germs nibbling at the crumbs spilt on God’s drafting table.
It calmed him, his immaterial presence. It calmed his pulse when loan collectors harried his voicemail or someone took his cab before he could reach it. ‘We’re all just bones that shouldn’t be,’ he reminded himself, breathing through the nose, the cosmic hum deep on the balls of his feet.
(Photo:  Maurycy Gomulicki)

There was a notion he’d read in a bit of class reading during his undergrad, a small worm of cosmic speculation that he’d never properly shaken. ‘All life,’ the author had written, ‘here and elsewhere in the universe, is but a by-product of grander stellar designs.’

Accidental automata, all of it. From the barest bacterium to the entirety of human civilization. His mother and father, the dean of the college, the flint-eyed barista in the student center who smiled at him when she thought he wasn’t looking, all of it incidental and accidental. Microbursts of chemicals coming together and interacting in precision in the shadow of nebulae and star clusters. Germs nibbling at the crumbs spilt on God’s drafting table.

It calmed him, his immaterial presence. It calmed his pulse when loan collectors harried his voicemail or someone took his cab before he could reach it. ‘We’re all just bones that shouldn’t be,’ he reminded himself, breathing through the nose, the cosmic hum deep on the balls of his feet.

(Photo:  Maurycy Gomulicki)

misfire

Brother told me that if anyone saw us, we were related to the elderly Bandy, who’d allowed us to hunt on his land, unless it were Bandy himself, then we were merely lost and trying to get back to our own property. And if anyone saw me with the rifle, I was sixteen and had a young face. And if I took down a deer, it was actually Brother who’d shot it, because he was old enough to buy a license. He hawked something yellow into the snow. ‘That about covers it,’ he said, never asking whether I wanted to be out there or not. 

We stuck close to the powerlines until the path deviated onto the Bandy tract, the northeast corner where the creek crossed towards the lake. Brother had me on the left side of the clearing, himself sweeping the right. He likened our movements to armed military columns. When we spooked up crows he mimed shooting them and reported how many Charlie he’d napalmed into carbon dust. I kept my barrel pointed high as I’d been taught, my fingers worrying the safety.

It went hours like this, the snow seeping farther into my boots. I nibbled on Big League Chew until Brother caught me and told me to spit it out. ‘The deer can smell that, ya little shit.’ Slowly I started drifting back.

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He’d stapled the Patterson report improperly. This his boss tells him in a two-minute dressing down at his cubicle. It isn’t shouting but it isn’t been quiet either. He concedes that yes, it is his biggest client load, if there’s one client to pay attention to it’s that one. He promises never to slack again. One time he’d been a nineteen-year-old. ‘You’re damned right it won’t,’ his boss concludes, stray locks falling from her bob, fanning her forehead into slices. He’d been nineteen with a hundred dollars, or less, in his pocket. Ansell had promised to run away with him. His boss closes her door. She never closes her door unless incurably pissed.

He remembers Ansell as he works the staples out of their incorrect corners. Remembers the brine of his lips, the buckshot freckles between his shoulder blades. They’d make it to the city, they promised to one another. Starve as artists, live forever in the lines of poems and frames of short films. One midnight he parked down the road from where Ansell lived with his parents, as they’d arranged, only Ansell wasn’t there. All the lights off. ‘Eh, it coulda been worse,’ a co-worker confides over the cubicle wall. He’d thrown pebbles at Ansell’s window. ‘A lot worse.’ Tck tck tck. One after another, bounding off the glass. Ansell will open his window, he thought to himself, rooting for more stones in the wet grass. He’ll help me escape. In the break room the coffee pot refuses to turn on. A tightness blooms in his chest.

We’re all of us oceans, kaleidoscopic shells beneath our surface, our depths populated with blind terrors scrabbling over shipwrecks.

lovers (cont.)

And then there was Shay, who took sugar packets from the dispensers at dinner and tore the paper into tiny strips. She bent her soup spoon backwards. She promised me that no matter what, she would be gone by the morning. She asked if that excited me and I said I didn’t know. She asked if it terrified me, and again I wasn’t sure. Maybe she wanted me to be sad at the prospect. Her laugh was bright and so obviously fake that I wanted to stop with the jokes, but how else are you supposed to have a good time?

I offered wine and she took whiskey. By midnight she’d dragged me into my own bed and had me wriggling and shirtless before asking if this was what I wanted. I breathed Yes in a handful of dust.

Only she paused and reminded me that she would leave before dawn. Nails curled and black hesitated on my chest, the thumbs torqued backwards. I told her that that would make me sad, very much so, and I might as well have been laughing with her voice.

'I think it's time to sleep now.' Her voice low, chirruping.

'Not yet. Just a little more time.'

'You'll always want a little more time.'

I woke lightly hungover and tasting iron in the back of my throat. In bed beside me, Shay’s clothes slumped deflated, empty. A baker’s dozen of sparrows flitted about the opposite end of the room. They hopped along my bookshelves and questioned one another in their sparrowspeak. I opened a window with one hand and covered my nakedness with the other, shooing the birds into the frozen morning. All but one took wing, the holdout flitting onto the windowsill. It squeaked once, twice. A third time, high and bright, fake the way a photograph is fake. A featureless simulacrum of the actual.

Then it too turned and sped off, laughing all the while.

The tragedy was, we thought there’d be more time for [blank]. [Blank] was so many things, but each one plugged in just as snuggly. For each one, there simply wasn’t enough time. With more time we might have [blank]ed more, and [blank]ed more, and let ourselves [blank] instead of waiting.

Every creative act is a defiance against the natural laws of the universe. Creating form when all things trend toward dissolution. It’s simple thermodynamics. Artistry as perversion against the inevitability that all matter will one day come to rest, not the barest burst of hydrogen daring to stir in the coldness on eternity’s brim. Writers and musicians, sculptors and dancers, the charcoal-smeared illustrators and grimacing poets, all composing in light of their own decomposition. It’s irony, it’s beauty, it’s tragic corruption! you clamor, wielding the pen as the stars continue to grow more distant.

A black ribbon of thaw runs through the center of the river but the bayous are still frozen. On a blank disc of ice, far from the safety of the reeds on shore, I spied a turkey. Ducks and unseasonal gulls cluster in the open water safety beneath the bridge but the turkey stands alone in the bayou center. The sight of such a bird near open water was itself an odd sight, but to be so far out in the open without so much as a thistle to blend in with. An improper image. A misaligned tooth, a miswoven wicker lattice, a ship’s prow rising from Mohavian sands.

The turkey did not move in the few seconds I could see it. I tried to take a photo but fumbled my phone in one hand and the car wheel in the other. The picture was a charcoal smear, the ice canting the frame beneath a frozen implosion of feathers and beak, a dark matter shrike caught in mid-transcendence. I doubled back for another shot only to find it had since moved on.

an optimist’s guttering candle

'You've got to take each day one at a time,' said the lonely man, believing it. 'Come what may, there are good things in store for you.' A darkness lapped at his ankles like bilge water leaking on a boat.