Pitch of Call

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And there were the birds.  The black ones, side by side, size so similar from as far away as we were, the two of us.  Their ruffled feathers were smooth against the distance and we adhered to the illusion that they may all be tiny congruous features; seemingly nonliving.  I remember them. 

And when they sat next to one another on the spanning power lines across the bay, they would block the sun, little stitches against it, they stood out; barbeque skewers against a hot plate. We waited next to the bridge, casual admirers, for when they came in the evening.  A pitch of seagull call in the salted draft signaled that they couldn’t be far.  Above us on the two lane highway, traffic pornographers rubbernecked at the cars intertwined for several miles up and down the road bumper to bumper.  Horns played semi-melodic tunes to one  another, a thick mess after a blue and silver SUV mauled a bicyclist much too liberal with the road.  They would be late, all of them, for wherever it was they meant to go.  We, though, waited for the birds.  Their resolve was quiet and final.  This is where they would spend the night; the birds didn’t give a damn. 

It was August, and we lived in the Cantina Del Mar, a bar inland with two apartments over it, one was Raul’s, the Del Mar’s owner, who had been there for three years.

His name was Raul, as in Ra-ool, he explicitly provided.  He bought the building when the market was low.  He said it was less than ninety thousand, and it came with a full bar, which he always said was, “Remarkable, these days.”  He washed the bar with a rag that was no cleaner.  He had worked in New York City. 

“When we all walked into the building”, he spouted,” The supervisor came to ‘inspect’ us.  He looked us up and down, and all I could see of him was the cuff under his chin; a rich roll of fat.” He spoke with his hands, “He looked us in the eye, passing each of us slowly (and we were wearing ten dollar suits mind you) and he said that if we didn’t come back from lunch, us twenty men, with at least a hat on our heads (they were a quarter a piece for a good one back then), and if we didn’t come back with a hat he said, we ought not to care to come back at all.  So we went down there, the two of us, myself and a man named Ira Krawiec, some Pollack without a hair on his head, and we got hats, the thin, cheap kind for twenty cents at a quality goods store–now mind you, that was dinner for my wife and I that night and I thought, well if she can’t deal a night without dinner, then she can’t weather the fair!  I mean, shit, what was I supposed to do?  We put down our dimes and bought two gray felt fedoras, mine had a dull white stripe right there along the base—”

He held an imaginary brim and ran his finger along the imaginary base of the hat as if he were displaying it to us.  And we looked upon it as if we might catch it in a flicker of barlight or maybe forge the charcoal grey of the invisible hat so well in our minds that we might force our eyes to discover it.  He continued:

“We paraded back into that office (it was good the Pollack had covered the shine of his head), and the supervisor came down again—we looked side to side.  Some of the men had bowlers, others trilbys, but we noticed there were six men gone.  He gave us another eyeing.  He said, ‘That shows dedication,’ and he cut us checks for a hundred dollars each and said ‘Show up Monday, you have the job.’”

Raul pulled my glass and wiped the underside clean of the perspiration.  He threw a napkin below it.  We met him there in the Del Mar, where we spent most of August.  He rented us the apartment for three hundred dollars a month. 

“Well, Raul, what did you do with the money?”  I asked.  He pulled his chest in pride, “I bought my wife and I a steak, I took her home, made love to her, then left and found myself a hooker down at the cat house.  You know the cat house, right?”  He leaned very close to me, dropping his rag, “Jefferson an Second?” He did a poor job of concealing what he was saying by covering loosely the front of his mouth with his wrinkled, liver spotted hand.  “That one, my boy, is full service, ha he e e.”  He curled the chuckle behind his thin lips riddled with scars. 

She wasn’t happy that we spent most of our time there. It was just the two of us then, she had a streak of blonde in her hair, naturally, a streak of dirty blonde she claimed never to have had before, in the midst of her auburn curls, past her shoulder, that would stretch to her nipples before she got them cut.  She would say, “It is your blond hair you are giving me,” she would laugh, “And you are marking me!”  She put a hand on my chest, “You’re marking me.”                           

The Cantina Del Mar was just down the street from Kimberly’s Salon where there was a marijuana distribution center.  We called it Kimberly’s Salon, I think it had another name, but no one ever used it.  We didn’t have membership cards, though; we waited outside of the salon, on the sidewalk.   Someone would come out and we might have to pay five or ten dollars more or maybe whoever got it would take a pinch.

We smoked near the bay.  I rolled a joint and by the time we smoked it it was after six o clock, but the sun had not set.  We lingered below the bridge, waiting for the time that it would, when we could rely on the birds and their stitches and their smell, and we could try to understand it.  From where we sat, the lights overcame the bay, the fluorescent red and blue flashes of emergency vehicles, colors like the little machine in the bar, the old video poker game Raul bought from a yard sale on the border, a group of Mexican families selling what they could make or find.  There were no advertisements.  There were only guards who would carry guns.  He bought it there, he said, in the eighties.  And she and I would play it, two or three times in a row, and she would say, “You have to let me beat you, quit being so competitive.” “I’m not beating you, we’re playing the dealer.”  “But you have more points.”  She got up and went to the bar.  “Raul, I want tequila.”  He approached her and then gazed to me.  She only drank beer, and rarely.  She never cared for it.  He stopped looking at me when she snapped at him.  “Raul, tequila—Here we go.”  She pounded an open palm on the bar.  He asked, “Chilled?”  “Nope, just how god made it.”  Her hand quivered and she threw it back.  It stuck in her cheeks for a moment until she pulled it down, droplets forming like tears in the corners of her mouth.  She was shaking.  I think it was then that I began to have some idea about it. 

A swift wind pulled under the bridge.  She was half in the water, still near the edge, in a fetal squat.  She had the edge of her thumb between her teeth and rocked side to side. Near the opposing bank, on the cement of the bridge, a hammer or pick cut SONNET 94, a blurry topography of spray paint juxtaposed.  Climbing the banks of the bay were sharp rocks, large ones, fifteen or twenty pounds each, and she had made the descent barefoot, slipping so often I was sure she would fall.  She had a dull yellow sundress hanging onto her collarbone.  Off the edge of her neck was a tattoo in script: Pilar, a cursive serif structure.  Her mother’s name—it was vivid then.  Her dress floated lifeless in the ebb of the tide, sand crabs sprinted around her feet, and her toes dug into the black dirt of the bay. 

When we drove near the coast, as we did some days when we had no money but only gas in the tank, she asked me, “Where is it?,” pointing at several signs as we passed, “Where’s the street where Josiah lives?”  I didn’t answer; she was rude to ask me.  Several two story shacks with red tiled rooftops to keep the homes cool in summer months, insulation, washers and dryers; they had white stucco and landscaped lawns.   “I don’t know what goddamn street it was—and stop calling it that.”  I realized the radio was spitting static almost inaudibly, but when I turned it off, the underliers emerged.  The wind hollowly spit against the windows and the scrape of the tires assaulted the pavement.  We could hear it when one of us opened their mouth to say something, but didn’t.  Fabric moved uncomfortably against the cloth seats.  “I don’t remember,” I lied. 

We passed it finally, I turned the car inland, and drove home.  We remained taciturn, a quiet that was unlike the droning caw of the gulls on the power lines that reverberated, always restarting, like a child’s first attempt at a mower engine, filling the space below the bridge, it jarred against itself, a pull, an angry twang, the drip of noise and liquid; a sound, disturbing, that euphemized defeat and futility. 

She was pale there in the water (the birds had yet to show up), not even the freckles on her nose bared themselves. She seemed skinnier, even more so than usual, the girl weighed exactly nothing.  “Let’s move to New York,” she told me, watching drops of water fall from her extended fingers, hung like palm fronds.  This was not the first time she had asked, “Why would you want to do that.” She turned and eased into a flat grin backed with little enthusiasm as she already knew the response, it was as if her mind was intentionally overcoming itself, a defense mechanism that was far too weak, she allowed herself to believe that it were possible, however half-assed.  “Alright,” I said.  A swift wind filled the space under the vulgar bridge; she tensed, but didn’t move.  “You can wear a hat like Raul.”  “Sure,” I said, watching the hair along her shoulders float in the breeze like sea weed in the tide, “Sure.”

She never cooked anything.  She would go without food if I didn’t feed her and look after her.  She couldn’t do anything on her own.  I grilled fish over rice mostly.  It was damn near the only thing I knew, except rice pudding, I could make that, or enchiladas, but I never made either, I only knew how.  I would make halibut or other times mackerel that I would catch off of the pier, you didn’t need a license and the air was good, the surrounding wooden fencing covered in the little guts of bait fish and squid, the Vietnamese were the best fisherman.  A Vietnamese man, who told me to call him Sinh, had more than four rods cast at a time affixed with varying tortured hooks, rusted most, he helped me catch mackerel.  He also told me how to cook them.  “First,” he said it in a heavy squeaked accent; his voice was very high, “You cut along the stomach and pull everything out,” he tossed the excrement and innards over the railing, “Then you cover this fucker in oil and put it on the grill.”  His teeth were far apart from each other, and all shown when he smiled.  He was very comforting to be around, a spirit, one could say, that endured the end of the dock for what seemed like morning until night.  He wore a black baseball cap over a twisted t-shirt on his head.  The shirt draped down over his neck and his long sleeves and pants covered most of the rest of him.  It was hot, then, but he never sweat; he was an anomaly to me. 

One morning in late August I went to the pier with a small white squid and when I arrived, Sinh was gone.  There were three other Vietnamese men in his spot, I asked about him.  Only one of them knew who I was speaking of, they fished mostly off of the Coronado Pier, “More stingrays,” one of them told me.  None of them had seen him, and though I went back several times to the pier, he was never there.  Sinh had disappeared, or better yet, departed.  Every once in a while, though, I would still cook the mackerel the way he indicated, and we would eat it over rice, she and I. 

She ate much like the birds, pecking away with her fingers; it was no wonder she was deathly skinny.  She wore a thin grey dress when she was in the house; so thin that the fabric proved nothing hidden.  It had a long neckline that fell below her breasts, and she was an extraordinary sadness in the thing, so frail. It clung to her ribs and the dimples in her ass, it made her a bland beautiful that I could rarely resist and we spent most of our time, in August, in the small apartment, naked.  The patio a favorite spot, several times over, we had nothing else to do or occupy our time, but it wasn’t love, she knew that.  This was near all that excited us, it was all that kept us together.  But she never cooked, that much I remember; she couldn’t do anything on her own. 

The sun was near down, and still the lines were bare.  Above us, the cars sped up on the bridge and the flashes of light had mostly subsided.  She drew something curved in the dirt with her hand.  “Would you marry me?”  She asked without raising her head.  Her spoken efforts yielded the inclusion of the word ever.  As in, would I ever marry her?  “No,” I replied, “No, I don’t think it would be a good idea.”  I added, “Maybe once, but probably not then either.”  Her head jerked around, “I would have married you once—I would have.”  How coy, “Of course you would have, why wouldn’t you?”  I laughed, not in any way withheld, it was malicious.  “You would have done anything for me.  You would have lived in that shit apartment and fucked me for the rest of your life if it hadn’t happened, wouldn’t you?”  It was so much more a statement. 

“You didn’t have to come with me.”  “No, I guess I didn’t.”  “So I didn’t invite you.”  Her head was down, her hair forming protective drapes over her eyes.  I stopped laughing. 

In the neighborhood where the white stucco covered walls and the red clay rooftops clung to one another, I stood outside smoking a cigarette.  And when it was out, I smoked another.  I wished that I had been to Kimberly’s Salon recently.  When we left the apartment that morning, Raul shook my hand when she wasn’t looking.  I don’t know why, but he nodded as if for a farewell.  She wouldn’t have heard anything he said anyway, she ignored everything around her by then, she had lost vitality in a wave of nihilism, now mostly despondent.  I smoked another cigarette.  Where had Sinh gone?  Another pier?  Who knows anything about anyone these days.  It was sunny, then, the cirrus clouds blended with the smoke I exhaled, I had to buy a hat.  If we were going to move, I remember thinking that I had to buy a hat, I wanted to look like someone from old movies, maybe get one to match a suit, but that was too far in the distance, first I needed a hat, one like the grey fedora with a white stripe, a worthy hat. 

She walked out of the building in the same vein as she walked in, “Let’s go.”  She took my hand and pulled me to the car as I put out my cigarette under my foot.  “Are you alright?”  She opened her door and got in the car, grinning behind the glass, the sky glared back off of the window, she was barely visible. 

The sun was half down and they came almost all at once, landing solid.  They stretched across the wire, stitches, barbeque skewers, and the drone began.  She stood up and kissed me on the cheek.  “Are we moving to New York?” Her head on my shoulder, “Yeah, alright, I can buy a hat there.”  The sun, burned brown, filled her face with color, previously devoid, she asked, “Are we getting married?”  Her hand rubbed the small of my back.  “No, we won’t ever get married,” I twisted her to face mine; the blonde streak fell between her eyes, “Don’t ever ask me that again, do you understand?”  She nodded and I kissed her forehead.  “Let’s go before we lose all light.”

Behind us the tiny congruous figures sat on the power lines, each of them pitching call.  The sound was enormous and it echoed wall to wall under the bridge—though they slept here nightly, they cast a beacon into the wind that could be heard for miles calling home the strays.  The coveted organic static had arrived.  Above, the streets were clear and traffic had eased.  Soon it would be dark and the birds would spend the night here not giving a damn.  And that was for the best, those birds.  I remember them.

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arrogant, I

 

if I could breathe underwater I would pull you

deep, to the bottom of someplace, a cave amongst coral: polychromatic

and keep you there—dying.

but I breathe freely, watch you like a sycophant and wait for you to die,

I breathe and wait for you to die so we will remain forever there.

no one will bother us.

 

when the ocean films your eyes, lynch-ing them with creamy white paste

and the paleness of your blues rests somewhere behind the hollywood makeup

I will kiss you, using my hands

to beat the parasites, the urchins and anemones that come to suck the salt

off your skin.

 

you would forget most things.

I can be all things forgotten.

I am your evening television

I am your laundry detergent, the smell of wet grass

I am your glass of honey-whiskey,

drag of a rolled cigarette.

 

we can dabble in sodomy, I relax your jaws and make you speak

those bothersome idiosyncrasies of yours,

my fingers in your mouth can twist your smile, and I see you are not symmetrical—

I knew this.

 

I would hum for you.

through the water like sonar.

you hear me humming <la vie en rose>

little vibrations tangled amongst the cerise seaweed

your arms dancing like kind, fleshy eels,

you the conductor,

leading a box waltz.

 

and I would hum for you—

and watch

and hum.

***********

La Vie en Rose

Admire, Perhaps, Abernathy

First of all, I should mention that her name was not Abernathy.  Instead it was something completely different, a name that seemed to say, yes, I am a name that directly reflects the tragedy of personage I tend to be linked to, in this case, the brunette, maybe twenty five, skinny and littered with attractive freckles upon her nose.

I was in the middle of a draft beer, or nearing the finish, wondering where my future as an opportunist might lead when I first met her.  I doodled in the margins of some ridiculous novel about two men and one woman as they most tend to be (and have no fear, this is not so different, sans the fact that there are really only two in this story, a man, who is of course, myself, and a woman who is Abernathy, or for that matter, the tragedy of personage) until I noticed a commotion at the doorway of a famous thrifting shop from the table set for one outside of The Commodore, a mostly unknown diner that was not nearly the caliber of celebrity of the thrifting shop that seemed to be the catalyst for all of the commotion.

Two men dressed in proper blue black attire, that is the kind with a walkie-talkie attached to the shoulder and a mag light at the waist to insinuate authority, though without the necessary water pistol or .38 J.P. Sauer (that’s what the Nazi’s used) that denote policemanship, simply security for the celebrity that was the thrifting shop, were pulling a bag away from a brunette, and I’m sure you can guess whether or not she had attractive freckles upon her nose.

For some reason, overcome, I finished my beer and struck the King of Hearts into my book and wandered from my table toward the noise.

The first of the men was speaking into his walkie-talkie and pointing his flash light at the young woman.  The second was pulling the bag away from her, a black oversized bag that seemed more suited for long periods of backpacking through some Colorado county than her supposed thrifting.

She, at the opposing end, a woman (girl), who weighed, possibly, one hundred five (certainly no more than one hundred fifteen), against a man with a gut that could have weighed the same.  She had the look of an inmate or of a Burmese tiger (I had seen one in the geographic not long ago) and he the face of a fat man, dimpled and forced, an older version of a fat child’s disenchantment as the ice cream truck pulls just out of reach.

On the ground in front of me was a flyer for a local art gallery, a broken pen and cigarette butts, no good use for any of them, but in my right pocket I felt my metal flip lighter and smoothed my thumb against it.

One look at the spectacle (I should note that I was not the only one taking in the scene, a crowd gathered, not only on the outside of the celebrity shop, but also from the inside of the store, a mix like an hourglass, the sand sifting at the point of the handbag’s straps) and I pulled the lighter from my pocket, aimed to the window of the shop’s door, and threw the damn thing as hard as I could past the head of the fat man.

The window burst and the sound was triumphant, the musical had come to an end; Climax! I shouted, and the guard lost the bag, holding his arms over his head to block the surely oncoming sand, the other on the ground now threw his flash light in my direction, I missed it and it hit a parked car, not staying to see the damage, I ran, as did Abernathy, south down the street past widows and street musicians, turning at a corner, we ran next to one another.

She, a smile like car headlights, me, a wave of cardiovascular despair, it was seven blocks before we slowed.

Hello, she said, between short breaths, Would you like to catch a drink?

We made it to another place that was overlooked, a bar down a series of steps, up to a door painted green with bars over its small window.

She ordered two beers, I paid for them, and she set one in front of me.  The music was train wrecked blues and the tables were oil slicks in the Pacific ocean, blue green mixed paint that might have been psychedelic thirty or so years ago.  I asked her what was so special in the bag.  She asked me what I did for a living.  I’m a writer, I said, and we left it to that.

I focused on something near the back wall; a suicide of a piano and a rotted bench.  Abernathy told me she needed the bathroom.  I drummed a few keys and waited.  Two men threw words under their chins and glared at me from the bar, the scattered notes coming from the untuned strings were distracting them.

I went back to the oil slicks, two more beers, and I waited.  It became apparent she was not coming back.  What a sinister Irish farewell.

It was over two months later that Abernathy returned to my line of sight, October plaguing, she had a worn black pea coat against the rain but no umbrella, her hair hung wet against her neck.  She exited a bookstore, one of the fashionable ones without any used or returnable books, and I called to her.  She put her finger to her lips and gave me the headlight smile.

I nearly called Abernathy to her, but that wasn’t her name, so I didn’t, but she came over to me anyway.  Once again, she asked if I would like a drink, only this time at her home near the village.

When we got there, we were not the only ones.  The room was out of Tennessee Williams head, not like Salinger, not like Plath, and certainly not like Fitzgerald, it was sparse screaming ‘Stella’ from the moment we arrived.  One of the three people in the apartment introduced himself as Rick, he was twenty, maybe twenty one with a full beard that seemed to flow from his scalp instead of his face; he was dressed in plaid and denim.  He waved to me as if we were old friends.

Two girls sat next to one another, arms entwined, neither with shirts on, nor brassieres, nor anything covering their full breasts and gave me blank stares, the kind that come from lesbians finished with their due amount of insult from a hateful society and embracing (literally) the flesh of their choice.  They looked like pale ghosts.

Abernathy took a bottle from the floor and handed it to me pulling the cap from its neck, and then passed out clothing, books and assorted groceries from out of the black bag.  Rick began to read immediately.  He nodded his thanks.  The two lesbians let go of each other and took a loaf of bread, peanut butter and honey and began to make sandwiches (to my surprise offering the first to me).  Abernathy sat in the middle of the room and pat the floor next to her.  Scanning, I saw that the only furniture in the room was the small couch that Rick seemed to be fully occupying, and so I sat.

This is Rick, from Mexico (He didn’t look Mexican), and that’s Lona and Mira.

I smiled to each of them.

I was speaking of you not a week ago, you and the guards, and so I knew I would see you again.

Mira said: Thank you.

I said: Don’t worry about it.

Abernathy said: Read us a story.

So I did.

I read a story that I had recently completed about one man and two women and they acted as if they liked it, but stoically.  I suggested that since Rick had finished the bottle of whiskey that I may go buy another, the girls laughed, Rick grinned (barely visible from under the smoke of his beard), and Abernathy told me that they didn’t pay for anything.

My emotion clearly disjunct, she said, We don’t pay for anything, it defeats the purpose of living, but we only take what needs to be taken.

I asked if whiskey needed to be taken and she let her bangs drift in front of her face, Of course it does, this time perhaps only a moon sliver smile.  I said, Well, then I should be the one to do it.

Down the street and to the left was a grocer (Jubilee?) and it was Abernathy and I and that black backpacking bag.  We moved like water, an osmosis of thievery, and put three bottles, one of whiskey, one of vodka and one of gin in the bag and I picked up three limes and paid for them (though Abernathy was very displeased) to put the owner and clerks off of our trail.

When we returned to the apartment up four flights of stairs (the elevator was out), then twisted like razor wire around invisible corners, we were back in the studio.  The lesbians were asleep and Rick was still reading, though I forget what, maybe something about two men and one woman.  Abernathy gently woke the sleepers and we began to drink heavily.  The first two bottles fast, the whiskey slow and I kissed her.

We kissed several times and she tasted like freshly baked scones with cinnamon.  Then she pulled away from me.

It isn’t that I don’t find you attractive, she said, In fact I find you overly attractive, or drastically or tragically or some other irritating adverb, it’s just, you see, that you speak in too many appositives.

She pushed me to the floor and laid her head upon mine.

And you bought the limes.

I promise, I recall saying in my defense, That I will never buy another thing for as long as I live, and that, I hope, I will never again fill my words with appositives, only my writing.  She fell asleep, I wondered if that much would suffice.  I was sure I would dream about it.

When we awoke in the morning, it was only Abernathy and I (I hope the lesbians put shirts over themselves before they left as it was growing colder outside in the mornings, they might catch chill and that would certainly be noticeable, like railroad spikes coming out of their chests) and she told me Rick must have gone for breakfast.  I asked her if I could stay, she said yes.  I asked her if I could stay indefinitely, she said no, none of us can stay indefinitely.  I asked her if she and I could stay together indefinitely, headlights.  I suppose that meant yes, but who could tell behind those freckles that spoke independently, small voices each more intriguing than the next, to each other quoting Byron and Yeats, they spoke in sonnet form or haiku.  They embraced, were married, were fathers, mothers and children.  They were priests, scientists and socialites, they each lived in mansions and had guest homes with painted fences and English Ivy climbing the gutters and servant’s quarters near the stables, and if you listened very carefully you could hear them whisper over the vast landscape: So This Is It!

I wished I had packed my travelling bag, because the guest homes seemed very cozy.

Rick returned with eggs and hamburger meat.  They had a hot plate that burned blood orange and used a tuna can to make the eggs and a soup can to prepare the meat.  When they were done we had cylindrical breakfast that was more satisfying than novelty, though mostly I wished to eat nothing if only I could watch her, see the small movements in her jaw, down her throat and into the small package of her belly.

Let’s go to the park, she said, and so we did.

She stretched her arms and legs in a mighty X to the sky, lay back over thinning grass and I impersonated Hamlet after his mighty duel, falling to the ground, dead and poisoned with an epic thump, next to her.  Rick climbed a nearby tree and made binoculars with his hands gazing over the landscape.

Don’t get too close to me, she said, so I didn’t.  Instead I made friends with the ants, one was Horace, the other McMurphy, one Esther, one Rasputin, one Django, and the queen (unavailable for a personal meeting) was Mary Queen of Scotts, reincarnated or moved slightly through invisible power lines and for some reason a bit irritable from what I could hear amongst the workers.

Alright, Abernathy turned to me, You can kiss me again, and so I did. This time, her mouth tasted of maple smoked honey biscuits.

When the sun set, it was time to find food again, but we could not allocate a place that didn’t send a teenager to follow us around the store with a green apron concealing his arousal (from the responsibility) poking out like a bird perch.  So, as a symbol of our revolution, we went hungry; I didn’t mind.

We played cards in candle light and Rick told us stories from Mexico, San Antonio and New Orleans.  I read another story from my notebook and then a poem, Abernathy liked the poem; she said it reminded her of Cummings on methamphetamines, I didn’t see the resemblance, but it didn’t matter.  Someone once told me that the carrot in front of a poet’s dick are the words he uses to illicit sex, but mine had a funny way of rejecting that notion, sending the clever girls running back to the sun beaten roads of the Midwest or some black mining hills south of Dakota.  It is what it is, but she liked it, that was all that mattered to me, so I worked on another while she and Rick played rummy (Abernathy always won in cards).

There was a little whiskey left, so we drank it.  The lesbians arrived soon after they finished their game and I, my poem, it was only four words long: So This Is It!  I didn’t take credit for it, I signed it: Freckles.

The lesbians had a man with them, an old man maybe sixty or seventy or one hundred and eight (hard to discern past the cataracts in his eyes) with them.  He said he had been in a war, now he just smoked pot, so we put some pot in a large paper and smoked it and I thought I wanted to write another poem, but the pot slowed me down and I can only write fast, so I dropped my pen and put my head into Abernathy’s lap.

She leaned over me until her hair tickled my face.  She was like that sometimes, or maybe it was only in my mind, the vibrant headache; a love that fell like her strands of auburn hair over my face like the sprinkling October rain or pin pricks or salt in ocean wind, her love was miniscule though I was constantly affected by it.  I can’t remember, but I think I fell asleep that way, in the shortage of her crossed legs.

The next day we awoke, again alone, and Abernathy took some coffee mugs from the windowsill near the couch and put something that looked like dust into each of them, then with a newspaper wiped out the soup can used previously for hamburger and boiled some water.  She poured it over the dust and we drank it, it tasted how it looked though she assured me it was somehow healthy dust.  She suggested we spend the day looking for something to paint with.

Along the road we came to a group of workers doing some kind of construction and I lifted a can of orange spray paint, dayglo and with a tip that shot straight forward to mark arrows on the ground.  Just for fun, I drew some arrows that led to nothing in particular.

Then we found a can of paint, yellow gold behind a strip of manufactured homes with brick and basements, in the alley where there was a cat with raccoon eyes.

Later we found a large cutout of someone running for local office, a giant life size cutout just inside the doorway of a bank, so we took it, we ran like three headed dogs, but we got it and took it back to the apartment.  We covered it in yellow gold and made it grin dayglo orange and Abernathy said it needed something else, so I took my felt pen from my notebook and we took turns writing, So This Is It! In small, medium and large text all over the yellow man.

I believe she named him, because I could not find the name easily, she called him Orpheus.  In smaller letters near his heel I wrote: Don’t look back.

That night we slept together.  The lesbians were not there.  Rick was not there.  And we slept as lovers do, against our flesh, two knots on a rope, two moths on a streetlamp, two cigarette burns on a tattered blanket in a forgotten basinet.  We slept together as if we would never reappear in daylight, as if our come would, at climax, pull the flesh from our bones and the voice from our throats and the god from our souls.  We slept together and it was only the yellow man who looked upon us.  His judgment was visible in small, medium and large text.

The next morning I awoke, this time truly alone, to the sound of something striking the window.  Struggling, I slipped past the yellow man, over the coffee mug windowsill and pushed the pane open; the stickiness of the old paint causing it trouble.  Below me on the street was Abernathy, hand full of rocks, blew a kiss, headlights, and it was the last time that I saw her.

Her quick feet took her into the subway, my own were rigid against the floor, my movement akin to the yellow man, we stood next to each other and I felt the words in small, medium and large text across my face, abdomen and legs.  My heel ached.  A letter pushed under the door.  It said: Eviction, and though I tried, I simply could not recognize the name on the lease, but no matter, it surely belonged to someone with a terrible tragedy of personage.

*Published in the Superstition Review April 2010

Vae Victis

It was not yet three o’clock in the afternoon, but the cloud cover made any indication of time very difficult to discern. I stood on a post made of cement and took a deep pull from my cigarette. Every so often I would crane my neck and tilt it a bit to see over the crowd. Someone stood in the center of this mob waving a giant plywood cross from side to side in front of him.
“Justice comes to those who choose to find it—Find it in him Jesus Christ the Lord, may he be by your side at all times to help you give up the drugs of death and the Devil’s broth—You prostitutes, you whores, cover yourselves in public and quit using the gifts God gave you to fornicate and spread your evil disease. This is the fault of the whores, gentlemen. The fault of those who tempt us, keep them in their place and away from the temptation of sin.”
Rhetoric; the crowd had morphed around him in a spirited way, people pushing through the swell to get close enough to take a swing. The preacher kept his cross swaying in front of him, as to fend off the evil spirits, or perhaps employ as a weapon. He began to speak direly of homosexuality. I hopped off of my perch and strolled away. I let my cigarette fall to the ground.
Crossing the mall near the library, the grass felt good beneath the soles of my shoes, so I took them off and pressed my toes into the ground. Late spring gave the impression that weather was a strong point of the city, but not today. I placed my bag next to me and stared into the distance at the group surrounding the preacher, I could hear his voice soft in the background. I lay next to my bag and fell asleep.
“Are you alone?”
I awoke slightly to see two women standing above me clutching handbags close to their chests.
“I suppose so.”
Pulling my hat over my eyes, I felt a wayward slice of sun warm the calf on my right leg.
I awoke again when dripping bits of pain stabbed me in several places on my body. My dreams reflected the pain, issuing images of small creatures covered in thick black hair matted to their entire bodies. These beings were no larger than cats, though very rotund. They attacked endlessly gnawing at my chest and body, pulling the skin from my fingers and the cartilage from my ears. Attempts to bat them away were futile. A burning mountain rose from the ground growing enormous in the middle of a continual field of gravel, spitting hot flame to the sky. The creatures now ripping at muscle tissue, I ran with full force swinging the remains of my arms in every direction hoping to curb the dark army close at my heels, and I flung my body to the flame. I accepted this death and with the fire I was purged.

I awoke in the rain.

I gathered my small bag and rushed to a covered area nearest, the overhang of an old building. The crowd was gone, and I was alone in all directions. I crouched my body, cradling my belongings and made my way to the bar.
While it was raining there were few crowded around the square. The bar itself was mostly outside. There were tables and chairs incongruent drowning on two decks adjacent to the bar, which stood as an island in the center of the place. Large eaves raised from its sides to form makeshift coverings for those gathered around it on wooden benches. I joined.
In moments there was a change, my empty hand was filled, but the object in it felt foreign. It was the same bottle afforded to me many times before, perhaps there was something changed about my hand, or perhaps it was something about the bottle changing the way it wished to be felt. I took the bottle and retrieved a long pull from the neck. Two police officers trotted by on their horses patrolling the street. The air from the animals’ nostrils smoked, and reminded me of the flames from my dream. Looking in, they gave me bad eyes; I looked back to the bottle.
“So where you been man?”
A fat man with cheeks of blubber slobbed slightly out of the corners of his mouth, gathering spit in the creases of his flesh. He wiped it then offered me his hand. I nodded to him leaving my own palm in its rightful place.
“I think I’ve been here.”
“Well Hell man, don’t you know?”
He lowered his hand. I noticed his fat breasts were collecting rain while his underbelly remained dry.
“Yeah, I’ve been here.”
“Well, shit.”
He smiled at me.
Behind my sunglasses I shut my eyes and struggled to smile back. When I opened them again, the man was gone, over to the other side of the bar, and I could hear him speak, “So where you been man?”
I finished the bottle and left.

When I finally arrived home, the air was damp in my small apartment. I should clean, I thought. The fridge had a half empty bottle of port wine; I filled a glass and stared at the counter tops in my kitchen. Ants were in a frenzy over a plate crusted with red sauce. There next to them sat the cleaning fluid with a nozzle attached. I began to spray the ants, then I sprayed more—I kept spraying and spraying until the plate was covered in a thick sludge. The ants squirmed their last. “Væ Victis,” I spouted, “Sleep well my comrades.” The floor beneath me stuck to my right shoe. I untied it and left it there, abandoning it for the comfort of my mattress lying on the floor next to the stack of luggage and torn books. The luggage was for a trip I planned to take, perhaps. The books were shit. They frustrated me with their uselessness and deserved to be desecrated in a disgusting manner. This is not to say that I do not have equally good books atop a table across from my bed, kept in stable condition, ready for repeated consumption. But at times when reading, it would take two pages, or sometimes thirty for my brain to realize their worth and then I would discard them.
The radio was droning, repeating the same tape front to back, back to front; I had left it on since this morning; it played a good noise though, so I left it looping. The entirety of this room is pasted with paper; clippings and such I found important at the time, it is my nesting instinct. I felt safe and warm as I lay into bed, and I fell into the abandoned thoughts of self-gratification. The preacher swims through my mind, the fat man, the two women, and I realize that it has been a good day, one full of tranquility and little foresight.
I took two pills and retreated from life; the frenzied ants seemed so much calmer now

Flash Cards and Pinky Fingers

The television set swells the living room with the sound of falling anvils and hysterical laughing so loud I can barely sleep through it. The twins fight in the hall, outside my door.

“Give it back!”

“I got it, so its mine, not yours, cause you don’t have one, so’s its all mine.”
“Is not, you just found it under my bed, so its—
“Its mine fairs fair.”
I could hear my mother intervene.
“Boys, give me that—Oh!”
“It’s mine mamma, he stoled it from under my—
“What in the world was that doing under your…is it dead?”

I put Monday, or any other day, at the top of my notepad, then threw it on the floor and lost myself in the fluff of my pillows.

“Lucy, wake up, it’s already past noon! You’re gonna sleep the whole day away!”

My mother appeared through the slit of my left eye.

“Oooh, look at the ridge…someone’s trying to climb it.”

Rolling over, I struggled against the light to see the face of the mountain a couple of miles away through my bedroom window; there was a person about halfway up. My mother frowned at the room around her through crossed arms, “You know, you really should pick up this mess, papers and clothes everywhere.”
I slammed my head back into the bed, “Tell me if that climber falls.”

“Lucy, honestly.”

I could feel her eyes; I pulled the dirty brown afghan up close to my ears. “You certainly are a lazy twelve year old,” she sighed, “All of this around you and you just sleep all day.”

All this heat melting the rocks and killing the trees and everywhere cow shit and rattlesnakes and scorpions and junk. What crap. The door creaked closed and I sat up again.  Outside, I could see the climber, almost to the top.  Grabbing my notebook, I put a little asterisk: Why in the world would someone want to do something like that? Underneath, I drew a snake biting an elephant.

The twins ate hot dogs at the kitchen table while my mother quizzed them with math flash cards.

“OK, Devan, what’s this one?”

She has a candy sweet something about her voice that she uses whenever she pulls out those flash cards. This card read two times seven.

“Twenty-seven.” He says through a mouth packed with bread and processed meat.

“Well, I guess they aren’t going to be brain surgeons.”

“Lucy, they’re only five. Now Dexter, what’s this one.” She holds up another card, four times two.

“Twenty-seven.” He replies without looking up.

“Oh, I give up…look, sweetie, that climber is just lying up there, he hasn’t moved since he reached the top.”

“Cool,” I got myself a hot dog and spread relish over the top.

“I wonder—

“Wonder what? He’s probably just tired.”

“Well, maybe your Dad should go up there.”

“If they got themselves up there they should probably know how to get down,” I took a big bite out of my dog, “Unless they’re some kind of idiot.”

“Oh, Lucy…still, I hope they’re alright.”

She put the cards down on the table and stared out the window. The sun beat down on the valley and reflected off of some of the red rock, rays of light shooting back up to the sky.

“Isn’t it nice outside?” She said to herself.

Sometimes, I think she just says stuff like that to convince herself that she likes it here. This was my grandpa’s ranch, but he died three years ago and gave it to her. I guess it sort of reminds her of him. She didn’t change it much, the outside has cracking white paint and rusted nails, and a front porch with those stupid rocking chairs that don’t have any seats in them—but the inside is alright. There are a bunch of leather easy chairs and big thick rugs with blotches of white in them to look like cowhide. And there are some dead animals on the walls (We had to get rid of the ones that gave the twins nightmares, like the spotted owl and javelina head) and some paintings of the mountains, usually during a sunset or sunrise or something, done in watercolor. It was just the kind of thing you expect to find out here, but it belonged to my grandpa and now it belongs to her.

The door swung open and my father came in, sweating everywhere.

“It’s a hot one today.” He said, shutting the door behind him.

It’s his job to watch the cows and sheep for the week. My grandpa has workers, who still help with the animals, but it was their week off, and only my father and an old Indian named Joe were feeding them and keeping them in line. My father wore blue jeans and some old cowboy boots that belonged to my grandpa. They were too big for him, and kind of made him look funny.

“Honey,” My mother looked over his sunburned face, “That climber hasn’t moved in almost two hours. I thought that if you were done with your work today…you could go and see what was the matter.”

Looking down at the oversized boots he said, “Well, look sweetheart, I still have a little bit to do with the—

“I’ll go,” I said, taking a gulp of milk.

“Really?” My father gave me a funny look.

“Well, Lucy, I don’t know if—

“Let her, sweetheart, it’ll be good for her.”

I knew he didn’t care if it was good for me or not, just that he was tired and could care less about he climber.

“Yeah, really.”

I finished lunch and got ready for my trip, they made me wear this really stupid floppy, pink hat that my mother wears when she works outside. It was too big and sort of covered my head and shoulders like a messed up umbrella. I had one of the twins’ Batman thermoses and a first aid kit in my backpack along with a little map that my father drew so that I could find the trail; and I had my notebook. The map was a bunch of squiggly lines doodled across a piece of construction paper—now I know where the twins get it. I squinted at the outline of the mountain from the porch, but couldn’t see the climber; the sun was far too bright behind me. I could only see the shape of the ridge rising massively from the ground.

“Watch out for snakes, Lucy!” the door slammed shut behind me. The sundial on the front porch had a shadow over the five.

The mountain range makes a crescent shape around my Grandpa’s ranch and a valley in the center of the moon will take you straight to the top. Trekking over the red earth, kicking stones at the cacti, watching for snake holes and occasionally taking a gulp of kool-aid out of the thermos, I felt the ground beneath me get steeper and my breath got heavy. I was right at the tree line, where the valley edges up for about half a mile to the top of the ridge, but to get there you have to find the trail, otherwise you get stuck in all of these trees. They weren’t so much trees, though, as they were scraggly white branches. The spring made them bloom, but the summer burned them dead, baking them into sharp thorns that can put deep scratches on your arms and tear your shirt wide open; and they’re thick, and they are everywhere. I pulled out the map, and could see the squiggly lines point toward the East edge of the ridge where the trail was supposed to lead me up to the climber.  The sun lessened its glare on the mountain, and I could again see the place occupied by whoever it was. But they were gone.

“See,” I thought to myself, “Stupid climber.” I sat down and dug into my backpack, pulling out my notebook.

Why did I come? Just to get out of the house, away from the twins, away from my mother—my mother and those flash cards, she never did that for me. ‘You were already too advanced for those cards, Lucy,’ she would say in that candy wrapper voice; I don’t care about those things anyway, they’re just for kids, just like the dumb twins.

On the ground a spider darted from rock to rock, his little legs moved so fast. I drew a little spider next to the elephant.

I wish my legs moved that fast. Everyone is faster than me, except for the retarded kids, those kids with weird eyes and little hands who have recess with us. They usually stay on the swings, but sometimes they want to play with everyone else. I’m glad I’m faster than them, I guess.

I drew a retarded person.

“FUCK!”

It came from somewhere behind me, somewhere on the ridge. I heard it right; my father says it all the time. I pushed the floppy hat down on my head, shoved my notebook back into my bag and turned to the mountain running into the trees. I crouched down and crawled underneath the scratchy branches on my hands and knees being careful for the fire ant piles that were everywhere.  The little white fingers caught my backpack and tried to rip my shirt, but I got through, and eventually the path cleared and I could stand again. Dirt covered my clothes and broken twigs were caught up in my hair and hat. I shook them off and wiped my hands over my knees, but my skin was stained by the rusty ground. In front of me there was a small clearing and a little irrigation stream that the ranch used for the livestock. I sat down next to it and took off my shoes and socks. The water was warm. I washed my knees and splashed my face, drenching the front of my shirt. The mountain covered the sun by this time, and I could finally see the mountain face completely. Lying next to the stream I could see the climber coming down the big stair steps cut into the rock.  From here, I could tell that the climber was a man. One of his hands was close to his body and he used the other to guide himself down. He moved very slowly, holding on to tree roots and lowering himself to the ledge by ledge covered in gravel and dirt. I thought he might fall.

“Hey,” I yelled, “You’re gonna fall!”

He was still too far away. He lost his footing and slid hard, landing with an angry ‘thwack’ about ten feet down. I shot up to see where he was, but he had fallen all the way into the dead branches. I told him he was going to fall; I should have told him that only an idiot would climb a mountain if he didn’t know how to get down. He was only a little ways off from the stream now, but I couldn’t see him anywhere.  I took out my thermos; the kool-aid was warm. “Nothing to do but wait, I guess.”  My notebook was bent and all of the pages were messed up from my backpack, so I smoothed it out against a rock and opened it to a fresh page.

I wonder what he looks like up close. He’s probably a lot older. I bet he could buy me cigarettes. Maybe, if I help him, he’ll buy me cigarettes. I wonder if he’s cute, maybe he’s cute, Roy McNeil is cute. I saw him in the pool changing room through a crack in the boy’s restroom door—his little thing was hanging there between his legs, it looked like a pinky finger.

A brown lizard crawled out onto one of the larger rocks; he just laid there absorbing the heat. I drew him perched with his mouth open and his tongue flopped out.  His neck puffed into a red and yellow Adam’s apple when he sucked in the hot air.

A crashing sound erupted from the trees in front of me; it sounded like a wild beast charging, like a javelina. I grabbed my things, and leapt behind the lizard’s rock. The storm grew nearer and I raised my head like an alligator’s out of water over the top of the red stone.

The first thing I could see were massive arms swinging through the dense brush to make way for the man’s head, covered in a stained blue bandana. Plowing through the brush he fell to the ground. His arms and legs were spewing black blood, as he crawled towards the water. I heard his breathing scrape the inside of his throat. He pulled off his shirt and unfastened his belt, taking off his shorts; he rolled into the stream naked.  His thing was much bigger than Roy McNeil’s pinky finger. He lay there for a while without moving, and I watched it wash him clean; thin red streams floated through the water like tails off of a kite. I crept across the desert floor until I was right above his head. His eyes were closed. He had a short black beard and a thin face. His hair was long and swam in the water.

I poked him right in the middle of his forehead, “Hey.”

His eyes opened under thick brown eyebrows the same color as the hair on his chest.

“You’re wearing a funny hat,” he said to me still wheezing softly.

“You said fuck.” I returned, “I’m here to save you.”

“Oh, is that right,” he closed his eyes again and rolled over onto his side away from me, “Well, I think…I’ll be fine.”

His right hand was swelled and his entire body seemed littered with bruises and scrapes.

“I think you’re kind of an idiot.” I sat back on the bank of the stream and put my hands behind me to lean on.

“How old are you?” He turned his head back to me.

“Do you have any cigarettes?”

“Heh,” he laughed softly, “I don’t even have pants on.”

I reached over and threw his shorts to the other side of the stream.  He pulled them over his wet legs.

“I didn’t think anyone was out here.”

“So, how come you went up there if you couldn’t get down?”

His back was to me and his head in his hands.

“Do you have any water?”

I got my backpack from behind the rock and pulled out my thermos.

“The kool-aid is warm.”

He drank the rest, then lay back down dropping his head in the water.  My first aid kit had ten band-aids; I used all of them on his legs.  He didn’t move.  The sun was all the way behind the ridge by now, and the air started to feel nicer.  I turned over my notebook and drew a picture of the man on the brown cardboard.  I drew his mouth open and his arms and legs cut up.  I drew the band-aids, too.

I could see my Grandpa’s house down the valley, the lights were on.  My mother was making dinner, the twins were watching television, and I bet my father and Joe were drinking beer.

“Do you live down there?”

He sat up from the stream and pointed at the house.

“Sometimes.”

“You never said how old you were.”

I still stared at the house, “I’m twelve—I’ll be thirteen in two months.  How old are you?”

“Oh, about forty.”

I turned back, “Liar.”

“Ha, well, you caught me.”

He stood up and walked over the stream.  “I am glad you came up here,” he said pulling his shirt over his head.

“My mom sent me; you were just laying up there.”

“A damn scorpion stung me.” He raised his hand, “That’s when I got up.”

I gave him the first-aid kit and he rubbed antiseptic all over the back of his hand then wrapped it up in his bandana.

“It was too big.”

“What?” I asked.

“The ridge—it was too big.”

“That’s why you couldn’t—

“That’s why.”  He sat down next to me, “So, who are you?”

His name was Charlie and he was twenty-four and had family in Texas and didn’t know that he was trespassing on my Grandpa’s land and he said he was sorry for that; I didn’t mind.  He liked my picture of the lizard and said that it wasn’t so nice to draw retarded people.  I didn’t let him see any more.  The crickets hummed around us and the shade grew darker on the inside of the crescent.

“Well, kiddo, how do we get out of this mess?”

“How good are you at reading maps?” I asked handing over my father’s construction paper.   He flipped it twice then pointed left.  The squigglies made sense to him.  We elbowed through the brush and found the trail.

“See over there,” he pointed, “That’s where I started.”

“Looks steep.”

“Well, one step at a time, little by little.”

“You got to the top.”

“What’s that?”

“You got to the top, so it wasn’t too big for you.”

“Yeah, well it’s not looking so friendly right now.”

I pushed the hat down on my head, the air breezed soft and warm over my face.  The sky was burning orange, outlining the clouds like a neon sign.  Charlie asked me about my school and my brothers and I told him about grandpa and the chairs on the front porch without any seats in them, then he asked about mother.

“She’s doing flashcards or something with the twins.  Or else she’s watching the Family Feud on TV.”

“The Family Feud, huh.”

“Yeah, I think it’s a stupid show.” I dug my hands into my pockets.

“So why did you come all the way up here, just for me?” He asked.

We were getting close to the house; the mountain and the tree line were far behind us.  Charlie stopped.

“Well, kiddo, my camp is over this way.”

I saw a small tent pitched against an oak tree near the dirt road back to the highway.

“Yeah, well, I’ve got to get dinner.”

He looked down at me underneath those brown eyebrows.  The darkness sat in his wrinkles and made him look handsome.  “Charlie,” I said, “Find a smaller mountain next time.”

“Little by little, kiddo.  Thanks for the hospitality.”  He smirked and spun around trotting down to his camp.

“Charlie!” I threw down my backpack and dug inside.  I tore out the lizard picture from my notebook and signed it “Lucy.”  Running down to him, I held it up, “Here.”

He looked at my lizard and chuckled.  “Thanks, kiddo.”  He folded it and put it in his pocket.  “Take care.”  He looked as though he weren’t sure if I would or not.  I said OK.

Walking back to the house I pulled off the pink floppy hat and shook my hair out.  The sun was down, but the watercolors still stained the sky.  I could see the kitchen window and could make out my mother holding up those white cards.  Little by little, I thought.  I heard a backfire and turned around.  The tent was gone and dust spit up behind a jeep pulling down the dirt road.

*Now Published in the University of Texas Literary Journal “Analecta #34”

Woman

dont you feel like when you drowned

our baby you did not leave

enough water in the tub,

barely six inches.

your dress was wet then.

i remember it stuck to

your inner thigh like cellophane

around a greased watermelon we

used to throw into the pool

and let the children fight over

who could carry it to the other side

kicking bruises into fresh chins.

his mother died

a year later when

i thought

i knew loss.

En Route

there amongst the breathing trees could

be a hole to the place where

we found the small bone

you rubbed it against

your calf and it

left a chalky film

mostly though it

burned like wicker

and dusted the ground with

ash

we could find the bone

again, perhaps

but the breathing trees

are gone