Forty-seven Forty-nine

A Flash Fiction

Published in Farside Review, 2021

Your grandfather could balance a checkbook for hours on end. For a man with skin like rice paper, he was indefatigable. When you told him that you had never done this, never balanced a checkbook before, he was incensed. So, you have to at least give it a try.

You’ve already made your coffee and booted up your computer. So, you pull out the plain black handbag that you carry with you everywhere. It’s filled with renegade lipstick tubes and crumpled receipts. The handle has begun to fray slightly. I should burn those loose threads, you think to yourself. Where’s the lighter? Too bad I don’t smoke. You raid the closet and find the silver Michael Kors handbag that your mother gave you last Christmas. You only use it when you’re going to see her. I’ve heard women who smoke get hungry less. Next, the red crossbody bag that you found at an import shop your friend Paula introduced you to. But I’d prefer to keep my teeth white.

You scour the contents of the bags, spilled breath mints and tossed out broken hair ties, until you have collected nearly fifty receipts from the last few months. Jesus, it’ll take too long to organize them by date, you think. So, you start from the top of the pile. The first receipt you pull reads:

                  Sultry Eyes 12 color palette….. $59.99

                  Makeup Blender, pnk………………… $19.99

                  GVY Bronzer, m…………………………. $64.99

                  Sales tax (8%)…………………………. $11.60

                  Total……………………………………….. $156.57

The receipt is from one of those pricey makeup shops that take up space in or beside malls. The ones that wrap your purchase in brightly colored tissue paper with care. Good thing, you think. For that price, the least they can do is give me a few sheets of tissue paper. You suck your teeth, thinking. You haven’t used the bronzer yet. It just looked a little too orange, a little too intimidating. You try not to blame yourself. Afterall, that Dutch blogger talked it up so much. What had she said? It makes you look chiseled, like a Greek statue. Something like that. You’ve used one of the twelve shades in the eyeshadow palette. A pale taupe that makes your eyes look sultry. At least, that’s what a man at the gas station said to you once over his steaming chili dog.

You type the number into your spreadsheet with apprehension. You haven’t used Excel since that Economics teacher in eleventh grade thought were going to become an accountant once you graduated. I told him that I didn’t even like math. You pull a new receipt out from the pile. I don’t think he listened to me. This one is dappled with oil. The ink is smeared, one long line of pale grey hanging above the sales tax like a foreboding cloud.

                  Double Chzburger….. $3.99

                  +XTRA pickle…………. $0.50

                  SML Fries……………… $1.99

                  MDM Soda………………. $1.99

                  =Cherry Cola

                  Tax (08%)…………..… $0.68

                  Total……………………. $9.15

You smile to yourself. This receipt is from only a week ago. You and Paula drove down the highway towards nowhere in particular, watching the walnut orchards blur beside you into nothing but hulking silhouettes of umber and green. There wasn’t much down some of those lonely roads but an old fast-food joint. The fries had been so crisp that the roof of your mouth throbbed. Your stomach churns eagerly with hunger now as you remember it. We should go back sometime. Maybe Tuesday. Afterall, that place is far enough from town that you and Paula are certain you would never run into anyone you knew. If my mom ran into us somewhere like that, you think, adding the total to your waiting spreadsheet, she’d be giving me Keto brochures for months. You stop smiling then.

You take a long swig of bitter coffee and pull out a third receipt. This one is crinkled into a stubborn ball. You pick at it until it unfolds. Your eyes scan the faded bit of paper. You pull your mug up to your mouth to take another drink but your hand stops. As you finish reading, you forget that you’re even holding the cup at all. This. This is the receipt from the pharmacy out of town. This.

                  RD Licorice, 8oz……… $1.99

                  Plan B, One Step……… $47.49

                  Sales Tax (8%)………… $3.96

                  Total……………………….. $53.44

You can remember the waxy taste of the off-brand licorice. The way it stuck in your teeth. How you paced the store for forty-five minutes, sweating through the prickling wool of your oversized pullover. I didn’t know where they were. How would I know where they kept them? You close your eyes tight, until the fireworks start. How would I know? You can feel him there still. You can feel the weight of him pressing the words right out of your lungs. His clumsy, blubbering tongue making it’s way past your sentinel teeth. No, no, no. Your head is bobbing, a balloon in the breeze. You’re dizzy.

You feel something wet hit your knee. A few drops of coffee slid down from the mug, now hanging loosely in your failing grip. You set the cup down beside your laptop and stand up.

The five steps to your bed are a challenge. You’re tired. Exhausted. Your body is closing tight and sure as a prison gate. And grandpa does this for hours. He never gets tired. You let nothing in. Never.

Broca’s Aphasia

A Poem

Published in Dunes Review, 2021

The mind’s great faculties worn away,

some slick of once-sturdy cerebellum washes away

in a steady stream of rain water,

down it goes,

down the drain.

Capitulating to God’s fierce fancies,

he offers up his kind language.

Goodbye to his goodbyes,

his easy greetings too,

all verbiage vanished.

These difficulties will remain unnamed,

for their names are too plosive, too severe.

The easy slurs come first.

We learn with him,

this new language.

This misarticulate mumbling,

this ballad of honeybees and wind.

We learn to hear what he is saying

as he learns to say it.

A Guide to Handling your Illness without Insurance

A Flash Fiction Piece

Published online with Storgy, 2021

Migraines– So, I’ve been dealing with this for quite a while now. The best thing to do is to get some quality ice packs. Not the hard-as-a-brick blue plastic Freezee King ones or whatever they’re called. Those things are for putting in lunch pails filled with egg salad sandwiches or coolers full of beer. You want to get the cold/hot kind that are flexible. The best ones are usually white on the outside with smiling snowflakes printed all over one side. Eye masks are a must-have to block out light. Buy a nice 20 dollar one. If you skimp then you might end up having to double layer them anyway. Unless, of course, you have black-out curtains. (Lucky you!)

Kidney Disease– Okay, so first thing’s first- drink lots of water! The tap water in SoCal is practically radioactive so if you live in a bad area like I do then consider getting a water-filtrating pitcher or buying bottled water (though that brings all the green guilt with it). Also, it’s best if you have a job where you can use the restroom whenever you need to, though I know that might sound inconceivable for some. Try not to eat too many oxalates. There’s a lot in tofu, raspberries, chard, and almonds. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot in black tea, coffee, and chocolate. I know, I know. It sucks. You’ll know if you get kidney stones. It’s like a small panther is trying to claw out of your lower back/side area. If you have any weed, smoke it. If not, you might have to wait out the pain. Tylenol won’t help (take my word for it).

Diabetes– We’ve all heard that trick about buying insulin for dogs or whatever but that only works for one type of diabetes and not the other. Not to mention that now that the idea of using veterinary insulin has made the rounds on Facebook, they’re really cracking down. Don’t fret- I’ve got a solution. Most of the insurance and pharmaceutical big-wigs have front and back property security cameras. So, it’s best if you get a can of black spray paint. Nothing fancy, just make sure it’s opaque and maybe bring a second can in case the first is a dud. Some rope is a good idea too. Hemp rope or ropes of other natural fibers can fray and unravel pretty easily so I’d suggest something dense and synthetic. Finally, you’ll want something intimidating and unassuming. A hammer or baseball bat is a fine option although a rifle will work fine if you take some steel wool to the serial number. You should be able to get an older or used rifle somewhere without too much of a problem. They’re easier to get than the insulin.

2098

A Poem

Published online with Snarl, 2021

When men envision the future,
polyester-clad chest over wrought-iron frame echoing
like the long, hollow hold of a wooden boat,
they see
little ray guns, shiny,
all chrome and lime green
shooting itty-bitty fireflies into the open air.

They see the Jetsons-pastiche of
a candy-apple red hovercar blazing
through the sticky tar-black backdrop of night.
A chorus of Tralfamadorians sing
Ave Maria.

When men envision the future,
in those candid paperbacks teeming with
big numbers and weighty theories,
you don’t see queers clad like
Neil Armstrong.
You don’t see hardworking women carrying
manila envelopes pregnant with
merit.

What a glorious future we have
to look forward to
in these visions of men.

A Calf for Veal

A Poem

Published in print with Saltfront: studies in human habit(at), 2021

They dared to force me,

all sinew and mother-scent,

into a plastic castle small enough

to force the air from a pigeon-lung.

When I was a god, I had castles

of marigold-perfume and gilded walls

with a gleam-and-glint brave enough to blind

the richest mortal man alive.

Now I stood all womb-leaked and blinky-eyed

in a space without motion.

I could eat and eat and eat and sigh

and stand in stinking stank and slopping-plop.

When I was a god, I had the sky for a tent,

all azure and sun-shameless for my days,

all moon-ever-vigilant for my nights.

And now, look at me.

And now, look what has been made of me.

No castle vast enough to house this hate,

no splendor, no sun, more beautiful than this release.

Out of the plastic, out of the stench,

and out of the flesh.

A Charming Video

A Poem

Published Online with Neuro Logical, 2021

You’re standing in the woods in North Carolina.

Everything is sopping-

the air, the timid trees that lean away from you with blushing bark,

the shallow footprints with little oceans all their own.

Your video is brief but charming.

China teeth and pressed plaid,

effortless elegance punctuated by some fitting ad,

some stream of births, successes, and vacations down south.

In some flighty flurry of happy teeth and circumstance,

you’ve offended those woods around you.

The rains don’t care for your sales quota,

nor do the casual lichens, the powerful persimmons,

and stubborn roots.

You didn’t ask them

before casting them in your tired charade

of desperate civility and cotton-clad capital.

And why would you?

They cannot cheer with silent voices,

cannot be jealous with wooden brains and thoughts of songs.

They cannot fall into your human faults,

so far below the sopping soil,

so distant from their honest shade.

What Have You Done

Published online with Wild Roof Journal, 2021

Clamoring into your Buick, your Ford,

your hunk of drab fiberglass and stained footing,

you set a gleeful course for somewhere once-mentioned,

somewhere once-photographed

and pasted to the edge of your mother’s headboard

with the foggy bloom of super glue

and the lonely mauve of waxy lipstick leftovers.

You bring your lovers, your brothers, your so-called-friends.

You picture them like deck boys, swabbing boys,

cabin boys,

all tousled hair and unwanted squawking

while you endure fifty-five, tease sixty, down the highway.

When you park and stretch your trembling legs,

when you first lay eyes on that postcard-place of childhood color,

the breath goes right out of you.

What have they done, what have they done,

with their lemon-lime-soda-can and their impish indiscretions?

The fields are parking lots, the parking lots are troughs,

troughs filled with bubblegum hills

and the glossy-dark stains of where-vomit-once-was.

What have they done, what have they done,

with their silly photograph-hopes and their colorless cars

just like yours.

Sweet Sixteen

By Holly Allen

Published online with Obelus Journal, 2020

Doug patiently waited over forty minutes for them to make up their minds. He dragged Lawrence off to an old electronics store at the west end of the mall, leaving Louise and Ava hovering over a stale cinnamon roll and a medium diet soda in the food court. He was happy to see Louise so excited, so full of energy. She’d woken up at six in the morning two weeks straight. She hadn’t pressed snooze a single time. Every morning it was coffee and catalogs, coffee and catalogs.

“Ava said she prefers tangerine invitations and napkins. What do you make of that?” she’d asked one morning, a big permanent marker in one hand and a bottle of low-fat creamer in the other.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he laughed, his mouth full of buttered bacon. “Isn’t that something for you girls to decide?”

After a moment of consideration, he’d said, “Well, I guess it’s not a very, uh, normal color for a girl’s birthday, is it?”

“Hmm, maybe you’re right. Pink is classic. Periwinkle isn’t bad either. Green is out of the question…”

Doug hadn’t seen Louise watch primetime commercials with such fervor since before they were married. He could recall the hungry way she had eyed an ad for a chrome four-slot toaster with the double browning feature, neck outstretched and bottom lip curled like a hunting dog. He recalled it lovingly.

“Dad, why didn’t we just stay with Ava and mom? What are we looking for?” asked Lawrence, glancing at a rack of wet t-shirt DVDs with a mixture of disgust and curiosity.

“We’re not looking for anything. We’re waiting.”

“For what?”

“For Ava and your mother to pick a damn color. They’ll head over to the print shop afterwards but, knowing them, it’ll take an hour or two,” Doug grumbled. He flipped through the nearby rack.

He bought Lawrence one of the tamer wet t-shirt DVDs. One with younger girls, legal but pretty and small enough to be his own age. It was covered in tacky graphic art- turquoise exclamations like “BARELY LEGAL” and “SWEET AS CANDY” with little pastel yellow stars and teddy bears along the spine of the case. It was cheap and only listed the running time at a max of thirty-two minutes. That’s way more time than he’ll need at his age, Doug thought with a snort of a laugh. Lawrence hadn’t asked for it and he looked thoroughly embarrassed when his dad approached the counter, but none of that really mattered. It was perfect.

When the whole family met up in front of the mall entrance, Doug was pleased to hear that his wife had convinced Ava to settle on pale pink invitations, delicately bordered with a repeating pattern of gold-print lilies.

“We can order the matching napkins and tablecloths for the dining room. Won’t that look nice?” Louise smiled, gently shaking Ava’s shoulder as they reached the minivan.

Ava nodded tamely, folding her skirt under her thighs as she climbed into the backseat. Lawrence hopped in, tossing the plastic bag from the electronics store into the far back of the vehicle before Ava could catch sight of it.

That weekend had been fully booked for the entire family. Louise had spent countless hours flipping through the yellow pages, calling her sister for advice, and doing online searches that ranged from “a smaller waist in just seven days” to “the staining resistance of silk versus satin.” They had revisited the same two malls eight times already. The same six-dollar Macadamia nut cookies the size of a golf ball. The same handwritten “OUT OF ORDER” sign plastered onto the bathroom stalls. The same, never-ending half-off sale at the men’s haberdashery.

Louise had visited and revisited every dress shop. Early on, Ava had asked for a quaint looking lime-green summer dress with massive sunflowers printed on it. Louise had called Doug over just to discuss the matter.

“She’s quite stuck on it…I don’t know what to do. It’s entirely backless,” Louise had whispered, pulling Doug aside while the kids stood awkwardly by a faceless, white mannequin.

“I think you girls should be able to make up your own minds without my interference… but don’t you think it would show a bit too much skin?”

Louise had shuffled her feet from side to side and her face flushed over. She hadn’t been so embarrassed in a long time. Doug could see it. It made her look a little younger, a little more alive. She was almost cute then.

“Yes… yes, I think so. I don’t know why she would suggest it. She should know better. Maybe it’s her way of lashing out.”

Doug had peered over Louise’s shoulder and watched Ava and Lawrence. Lawrence had begun to pull packages of pantyhose off the shelf. He’d freed a single pair of taupe stockings and was now pulling them up the thin legs of the nearby mannequin. Lawrence glanced around every now and again, vigilantly keeping a lookout for store clerks while pulling the stockings higher inch by inch. Ava looked desperate, as though she wanted to laugh, her chest heaving up and down under her frilled blouse, her cheeks puffed up with air. She withheld, silent but nearly sweating from the severe restraint. Doug smiled proudly.

“No, I don’t think she meant to lash out. I think it’ll be fine.”

Another thirty minutes of negotiation and Louise had convinced Ava to settle on a beaded ivory gown. The dress had cost nearly nine hundred dollars but Doug hadn’t complained. If the party went well, the costs would move on to another man and he would be free. The dress was sure to bring at least five gentlemanly offers, he was certain of it. The gown had full-length sleeves with lace trim and a high, buckled collar. The waist section tightened with the aid of eighteen reinforced straps along the rib and backbone area. As Doug passed his credit card over the counter, he had measured the skirt length three times over with his index finger and thumb, even holding it up twice to Ava’s front. The dress must’ve weighed at least thirty pounds. Doug’s wrist had cramped up a bit after he’d completed his feverish measurement, assured that the gown was truly “floor length.”

“The shoes don’t fit though,” Ava objected in a soft voice as Doug pulled into the driveway, slick with oil.

“They will,” her mother said placidly, adjusting her hair in the rearview mirror.

“They’re two sizes too small. I haven’t worn a size five since sixth grade.”

Doug put the car into park slowly, stalling in case his opinion was needed. He eyed the lawn, looking for any spot in need of water. He noticed a few tufts of crab grass popping up in between cracks in the cement pavers leading up to the front door. He would mention them in an off-handed way to Louise later and would be sure to place her pink and red gardening gloves near her nightstand that evening.

“I have some old bandages in the medicine cabinet, I think. Or else they’re in my sock drawer. I use them for wrapping my own feet for cocktail parties, especially on New Year’s.”

“Will that really work?” Ava asked, unabashedly.

“Yes, it should. I think your father has a few rubber bands stashed away in his work bench as well,” Louise sighed, giving up on her hair.

The next morning, Doug made sure to set up a sort of camp for himself and Lawrence. He arranged the two old armchairs in the living room just so, directly facing the wide television on the back wall. The coffee table was laden with two types of beer, pretzels, and orange soda. Unfortunately, there was not much on the television so early on Sundays. He settled for Wheel of Fortune.

“Why are we watching this?” Lawrence asked, leaning far to the left, looking down the hallway as loud electrical noises began to emanate from Ava’s room.

“There’s nothing else on,” Doug answered, turning up the volume slightly to drown out the white noise.
“There’s a documentary on frogs in the Amazon. And I think they’re showing old horror films on 317.”

Doug didn’t answer immediately; he watched the screen with a good deal of ambivalence as a contestant puzzled over the unfinished noun phrase S_ _ _ T S_ _ T _ _ _. Finally, after the first contestant drew a blank, they showed a pretty model in a tight navy dress shake her head disapprovingly.

“Jessica is the best model on the show. She’s got the best tits,” Doug smiled, too focused on the screen to see Lawrence look away awkwardly.

In a sudden flurry of scissors, air freshener, and French onion dip, Louise hurried through the living room, squeezing past her husband’s camp with heavy breathing. She pulled a large tray of tiny sandwiches and baby carrots from the lower shelf of the fridge and set it down delicately in the middle of the dining room table, adjusting it three of four times to make sure it was centered.

“Doug, dear, did you remember to call the doctor yesterday just to confirm the appointment today?” she asked nervously.

“Yep.”

“Good, good. I already drilled the stirrup attachments to the sides of Ava’s bed. Oh, and I draped the streamers from the window frames and bedposts as well… Do you think I ought to drape some along the stairwell?”

“Well that’s your choice dear but I’d say more is better.”

With that, Louise struggled and scooted as swiftly as she could through the living room, eager to finishing the last bits of decorating.

Within fifteen minutes, the first of the guests arrived. A few of Ava’s friends, all well dressed and powdered with soft applications of blush barely visible on the apples of their cheeks. A couple neighbors had been invited and not a single one forgot to bring a bitter salad or a thoughtful gift. The young men arrived too, tall and stern and single file, patiently awaiting the show. Doug eyed them inconspicuously from his cushioned armchair, analyzing their cufflinks and shoe soles with a discerning eye.

Another fifteen minutes and the doctor arrived. He nodded amicably to the man of the house and headed for Ava’s bedroom. The guests politely arranged themselves in two single-file lines once the doctor had announced the preparations were complete. Louise teared up a bit, recalling how this same event had been for her when she was Ava’s age.

The two lines slowly sifted through Ava’s room, about five to six people comfortably stationed up against the back wall at a time. With each passing group, the doctor reinserted the speculum, spreading the vaginal walls just far apart enough to display the intact hymen to the crowd, and stood aside. The guests smiled and clapped, sure to compliment Ava’s petite feet, her slim figure, or her expensive, ivory dress.

“Observe here, the girl’s chastity remains intact,” the doctor repeated in an everyday sort of tone.

The young men took a step closer, narrowing their eyes a little, leaning in close as Ava’s face turned bright red.

Louise cried a little more and was sure to thank each and every guest for being there. She felt fairly pleased with herself for not forgetting to buy decaf for those who couldn’t drink normal coffee.

As the guests made their way towards the hors-d’oeuvres, eager to see whether the little sandwiches on the table were ham or turkey, they heard a loud voice ring out from the television as the final Wheel of Fortune contestant solved the puzzle.

“SWEET SIXTEEN!”

Homeless/Gay/Lightless

Published in print in issue #44 of Sand Hills, 2020

There was no awards show for me,

no posts of amber flesh squeezed into navy linen, navy spandex.

No drunken hurrah! with a whiskey bite,

no toppled stack of printed shirts- all fuzz and color.

I was a no-toothbrush girl

with all the other no-toothbrush boys.

A few little words to my mother and it was all Shakespeare-

Out, out, brief candle.

But there are no lights under the overpass, no beeswax either,

just stink of canned meat

just foil-glint and muddied-shoe

just pitter-patter from the blue.

There was no awards show for me,

no boundary-breaking sitcom with those hollow laughs, all robot and diaphragm,

ha ha ha.

There was no awards show for me.

Thoughts on a Holiday

Published online with Funicular, 2020

We pile onto the creaking couch,

its skin splitting,

its legs moaning,

like young chicks in a feathered pile,

huddling for warmth against the

deep blue of the evening.

We’ve piled two thousand times before it seems,

it seems comfortable as old shoes,

it seems flat as an old sole.

Flashes of some Midwest-dream of a football game

no one’s watching,

watching the synthetic shine of

aluminum, plastic, and gold twine

snap in the yellowing of the light.

We pile into a single night,

elbows knocking,

desperate for breath,

it moves our fragile minds to

1983, 1992, and so on

for some nutmeg-melamine-dusty taste of

what-has-been

and so on,

and so on.

Michigan Green

Published online with Dewdrop, 2020

The waxy paper spouts
     of the sacred thorn-apples in the glen
          had fuzz-covered stalks the color of a frog’s underbelly
               without any thorns at all.
There were no apples, either
     to better that foul-smelling bush
          that made no appearance in the tanglings of the vestibule garden
               of the lonely Saint Francis.
At eleven, it seemed all Michigan green
     had lied to me in this bold-faced way-
          The black-eyed susans, ubiquitous squatters at the asphalt’s edge,
               were eye-less waifs of gold.
Even the animals were fabulists.
     I learned this with my cask of skin
            sprawled face down on a turbid bed of stinking channel-waste
               staring at the sunfish.

While Wearing Cotton

Published online with The Courtship of Winds, 2020

Cotton sometimes doesn’t feel like cotton
against the bareness of your skin
that conjoining of water balloons
slopping against some scratchy inch.

Cotton sometimes feels like dying
or the things that have already been dead
like a dog that wandered too far off,
thirst radiating from that summer-soaked coat.
The dog’s bones sank into the dry earth
into the sea of cackling cotton plants,
their stalks not bothered to bend
to look down
to feel remorse.

Cotton sometimes feels like, no, tastes like
the grainy salt, the taste of sweat,
the flesh that hangs itself up in the air too long
the deluge of work and tears and nine hours trudging
from dry knuckle to dry knuckle
working on some wizened loom
or a hand-me-down machine
of stitch-this and stitch-that
of needle dance
or tired eyes
or hollow hopes for going home.

It and Not It

Published online with The Courtship of Winds, 2020

The children that run in the skeletal remains

of what was once a great public pasture

of ornamental grasses and trees decorating themselves

with bulbous fruits, red and brown,

alien jewels or swollen bellies or

the freshly laid eggs of an imagined bird.

Under the dried-out corpses of those once colored trees,

the children chase.

They chase one another- it and not it

it and not it

in the solemnly fading light

of a weary February sun.

Novices at the sacred sport of watching games

would think that they are having fun

while they flee like unbroken stallions

bursting through the futile walls of an old pine gate.

They are wrong.

I am an experienced bench-sitter, a veteran of winter splinters,

I lived the renaissance of watching games

and I can tell you

firmly tell you

that they are afraid.

They know how other children hunt

with gnashing teeth and hot, hot blood

they know

because they have all been hunters before.

After-Swarm

Published online with From Whispers to Roars, 2020

I’ve begun to see my home

for what it is-

an apiary.

The cold corner by the bathtub

I sit, scrubbing. Scouring the

dull, dead flakes of faux-porcelain

and cheap linoleum that I outlived

once again.

Here I scrape out the bad brood,

here I wait

for some lucky Wednesday we’ll tumble

in the hard water together to pass some hours.

I stand at the kitchen sink.

We’ve lost fifteen minutes

or more

to hating one another again,

to accusations over royal jelly,

over nothing-at-all.

I made the wallpaper tremble with

the bluntness of my words.

Rinsing out a sorry mug,

the accusations come

tumbling out again

and

I am an

after-swarm.

These Simple Auguries

Published online with Rue Scribe, 2020

There is something wholly immutable
in these simple auguries
I will tell you-

1.Walking round the same two aisles
though the breads are stagnant patches,
same rye, indelible wheat, silent buttermilk,
until my head floats above my body
all proofs and prices meaningless.

2.Orbitting steady as planetary fiction
from fridge to stove, from fridge to stove,
to find the gutted onion to fry
to grab another twin-bellied egg
to toss into the cheap, old skillet without care.

3.Cradling a grieving broth in a simple spoon
as it dances under heavy breathing,
readying itself bravely for the mouth.

They are so unhappily every-day-ish
and unremarkably colored browns and yellow-browns.
Though they make smiling secrets on the tongue,
though they make sleep and sex and laughter
and sorrow and sweat and sauntering too.

Migraine

Published online with Heartwood, 2020

Here is a head.

It’s not the kind of head you can cut

with some plastic sham-of-a knife,

thinning out ribbons of lettuce that crackle like aluminum sheets,

yearning, pouting for some crushing touch

to put the water out.

 

It’s not the kind of head you can get

for twenty or fifty or more dollars,

blundering bills nervously fingered through the sheet-like shadows

to some embarrassed end in a grocery store parking lot-

some asphalt for a bed.

 

It’s the kind of head that’s broken.

Not a lump-covered hill of white nor the porcelain-screech

of one sorry cracked skull,

but the pressured thoughts of too-bold blood raging,

an illusion of lights, an amplified mess of sounds,

a thunder clap of emptiness.

 

Here is a head

that my mother once had said

was like a great chest for filling

with antiquarian treasures, aged scrolls, and happy secrets.

Like a whisper wants to be a roaring declaration,

I want to fill it to the brim,

I want those over-eager twelve-year-old hands again-

pawing pale and overpacking for a weekend trip,

hungry mongoose eyes aiming

for every date, every name, every crooked smile

left in life’s little gutters.

 

But

here is a head that is broken.

It cannot be cut but by its own hand,

some blade of air cleaving through open ends.

It cannot be bought but by its own time-

here’s ten minutes gone

ten hours

ten days

of hanging over the bleach-bone toilet in agony

praying for some memory

of peace.

My Wedding Photos

Published in Levee Magazine, Issue 02, 2019

 

My wedding photos came back and

I didn’t look like memory.

My face a powdered expanse without depth, flat

as a Byzantine Jesus or maybe

the asphalt even. My mother was

like a wax figure under an unforgiving flame, her eyes

fixed somewhere out of focus, out

of the shot. I don’t remember my mother

playing Icarus or me playing the saint or

anything like that.

I remember my feet were swine

packed into two cruel cages, my back was braced

by stiff taffeta and twelve-hour smiles

and wishing I was at home

sleeping instead.

Visit

Published in Juste Milieu, Issue No. 8 (Pop Art), 2019

 

I was a faith hunter, my eyes wrapped in wool.

I would stand, third grade height and smaller mind,

at the edge of your words with a sharp, crooked wisp of a stick,

burned white manzanita branch,

looking to spear what syllables best pleased me.

Somewhere in those childish lies there was a better lie,

a pretty lie,

something dressed up in big adjectives and pretty colors.

fairy tale. folklore. myth.

Those I took with me.

Thinking you’d be by early on those pewter-colored Sunday mornings,

two fistfuls of joy you’d carry with you,

eager to see my smiling face

before it faded into reason.

I Distinguished the Insect from the Herb

Published in Blue Unicorn, Volume XLII, 2018

 

On a solute Tuesday the gardener brings his rusty metal appendages,

his chemical adjurations.

 

The earth congeals and curdles its rainwater, small clouds fleeing the touch

of his crude feet, all in rubber.

 

His clippers clash in indignation while nearby gnats and ladybirds avert their eyes

in born convictions.

 

Cross-stitched gloves he wears with happy insolence, barely malleable barriers from life to life

and learned predator from the hollyhock.

 

 

Same Sex Summers

Published in The Slanted House, 2018

 

Wavering in bleached cotton,

thin-skinned muscle-twitches

ring out their juices

through faded eye-sockets

in the sticky not-so-supple air

drenched with night-colors.

 

The same-sex sinners

arrive

pregnant minds lay their anchors elsewhere

and so,

we reel them in with calloused hands

into tumultuous shores of

shallow depth.

Their bunkers we line with crucified forms,

their thoughts we line with formless crucifixions

for we are givers.

 

Rumbling engines, open-mouth

grating,

a Ford f-150 and a no-name Chevy

for the children whose names

their parents held hostage

to suffer a foreign soil

unrooted.

Uprooted,

a blazing summer to scald the skin

with sentimental falsehoods.

 

The first week watched their wandering

minds chained into places

made for the well-made

man-made

man.

I fear they might gently brush against me

on a walk to a smoldering fire pit

we take

WE TAKE

we take.

Lest I catch that unnatural ill

nature gave them

gifts

we unwrap like greedy children,

crinkled aluminum paper caught in between stubby, stubborn, fatty fingers

we wash like less than Pontius Pilot.

 

Singing in an unconnected circle,

cramped bodies squeeze out little

syllables

forced down throats.

Yowling non-notes writhe in air-

camp songs and hymns cruelly crushed

beneath ivory stamps to seal a soul with

tortured glottal stops

and scenes of bodies pasted with the crumpled flesh-wine of forced copulation.

 

Their quiet-enough-to-hear-distinctly-learned-helplessness

of unbreeded fevers,

the primary colors we stamp on

their weak torsos, the

heavy crosses and self-served flagulations of

social smiles.

To their cradles we return them

though we have suffered for

their suffering,

they have suffered us

well.