four salves for loneliness

I spend most nights on the porch like it’s a new room in Hell, breathing smoke and casting dreams to mix with the motor oil and pulled weeds floating in the gutters. Soupy rainbows, pocket universe shouldering up against one another, sliding across the dirty rainwater. I leave my front door unlocked most nights. I’m filling a jar up with screams to save for the day when I need them most. I keep it under my seat, holding open a place in a book whose beginning I’ve forgotten. 

Look. Look here, at the speckling along your leg, fighting the losing fight against the gravity of your inner thigh. Like any kid, you took a Bic to your freckles and found the constellations embroidered on you. Ancestral memory on the hunt for the pattern that could unlock who you were. The Huntress. The Shivering Wolf. The Squid. The Sickle, arcing between your shoulder blades. But here, along your thighs, look. You told me it was a perfect representation of Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. You whispered it, thirsty for the cold well water it might hold.

Look. Look here, at the curve of Ursa Major, which is no great bear but instead a question mark. The all-stop to a question you don’t know or don’t want to share. I have guesses. I give you guesses, each pinging off in the dark like pebbles of hail against a tin roof. I cover that question mark with my thumb but still its weight persists. A dissonant chord awaiting resolution.

But you keep running a finger along your sides, your ribs, your back. The Old Bed. The Gravel Pit. The Unopened Gift. The Abandoned Game of Chess. You cover them as I covered that question mark. Look. Please look. You can’t erase them. You can’t.

The fallacy is in thinking we only measure our lives in years when other currencies will do just as fine. Such as breaths and heartbeats. There are only so many we’ll experience and then that will be the end of it. How many of these pulse-quick beats thrumming in my veins have I spent now, this night, waiting for you to pick up the phone? How many cold lungfuls sitting still in my chest, unable to exhale, knowing you’re avoiding the calls or worse. How many more until the morning when I can call again to see that you made it through the night? How many spent telling you Please, don’t go?

Oh God, for one more breath.

three stories for monsters

i.
Never knew Mother or how I burst her stomach, her poor body unable to pass the rack of horns crowning my infant head. She might have been lovely and likely didn’t deserve it at all. She lived in the estuary plain between the rivers and so I too live in the estuary plain between the rivers. The children in the nearby town dare each other to crawl through the reeds for a chance to see me and my bent spine and the nettled branches that grow like quills along my back and through my cardigans. They peek through the windows of my shack and confuse my black deer eyes for pedestrian darkness, until it’s too late. I’ve never chased them as they run screaming. They sink in the mud to their knees and are certain that death is upon them, or worse. What is it they think I will do to them that is worse than kill them? There was that hunter what killed his son by accident some winters back. Plugged him full of buckshot in the fading November light. The boy gasping there on the new snow. His own father did that, and no one runs screaming from him at the post office, I imagine. 

ii.
Of course I don’t even look like that, the horns and the quills. There’s only one mirror in that house I inherited from Mother. There’s only that narrow face that stares back, looking shrunken in these too-large clothes. It’s bile on the back of my throat. I’m the monster.

iii.
I’m the monster. No one has to be afraid of me but it’s me, the monster, it’s me. All that black staring up out of me, you’d think I’d be blind for it. Holding up my pants to keep them from falling, my teeth clicking. Run a hand along my back and feel the spine pressing up through the skin, a knobbed line that might as well be quills. There’s no one who should fear me but me. And there’s nothing to fear from the things I do to myself, to me, the monster. What’s the worse that I could do? Even if it’s killing me, what could possibly be worse than that?

The ball of rot and sharpened bones and nights too light to sleep.

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.