Flashes in the Pan

Flashes in the Pan

The Make-Over Bride (Pubbed in L.A. Review, 2009)

Your fiancé just broke up with you at a train station that was once a playground of little log houses and make-believe figures cut from trees. As she walks away, you want to ask her if it's someone else, but a crowd, scrambling to either side of the platform, blocks your view. It's almost rush hour.

So you go back to the bridal shop where she showed you the wedding dress she had picked out. You go inside and tell the salesman, you want both the manikin and the dress. He looks somewhat flustered and says to wait there; he must discuss this with the manager. You admit it's an odd request.

The manager listens to you with his fingers curled over his lips, the forefinger tapping against nose. Sometimes, his eyes skip up and down, as if he’s watching a game of jump rope. Eventually, they glare at your feet. You both agree on a price. You leave the store with a sense that you are a fool, but fools and manikins might make a good pair.

At the same train station, you sit the bride on a bench and turn her eloquent face slightly to the side, move one delicate half-open hand above the other. You step back. She is stunning and her far away gaze makes you needy, the way you once felt about log cabins in the Poconos, or little girls in leotards, performing pirouettes.

You step on the train, sit at the window, and watch the bride you left behind. People are beginning to ogle her, gather around. You sense they are missing the next Express to Princeton or beyond.

Good-bye, you think, waving at the manikin. People continue to crowd around and some attempt to talk to her. An elderly man actually kneels before her and traces the outline of her hand. Women are pulling their partners away. But the manikin. She looks as if she's fighting hard not to turn and say something to you. And all you will remember is what she could never say: The years we spent together will surely crush me.

from Amazing Animal Facts #1 (pubbed in Rumble Magazine, 2009)

In chapter 12 of her posthumous biography, Which Side of Helen, I mention that the impressionable soap opera star fell in love with a blue sea-turtle. She kept it in the pond of her reflected-mama thoughts. At night, beside her on the bed, it would perform a turtle’s version of a doggy-paddle and lie on its back at her command. It loved, (as she professed to me, whom she referred to as her shy bilingual housekeeper with the fake-as-alligator-tears limp,) to be tickled. She proposed to it and it said what only a sea-turtle could when cornered or hungry for scratch. On her honeymoon, the sea-turtle disappeared past the veranda, which overlooked white sand and orange-gold crust of sunsets. The actress, perhaps morose in the memory of her blue shell of a wedding dress or when she was stricken with polio as a child, or when she was made to perform tricks with her pudgy hands for her two stepfathers: one, half-blind, the other, semi-incestuous, ordered me to fill the bathtub to the brim with ice water. Puzzled, yet loyal to my mistress, I obeyed. Investigators are still looking for clues, but one vaguely described something he called “muddled pet sounds” coming from the bathroom pipes. C.S.Y. (or really seeing is why) has cautioned against jumping to conclusions as an autopsy(s) is on stone-cold hold.


Mousafa's Woman (Smokelong Quarterly, Issue 17, June, 2007)

I’m watching this woman by the goatskin tent pound millet in the hundred-degree heat. She’s preparing breakfast for Mousafa and me before we hop into my SUV. The leftovers, he told me with a wry grin, will be for her. His robe is flowing and his face is leathery and bluff.

We are in the town of Tajae in Niger. I will drive Mousafa to the town of Illela. He will bring back his runaway bellah, member of the slave caste. The woman’s new owner, Mousafa told me, deemed her unfit and is returning her. She was Mousafa's fifth wife. A slave can be a fifth wife here.

“You only take photos of me or the countryside. Right, cousin?”

“Only pictures to take back to London. Show my father.”

“No dreamt-up stories the BBC can exploit. Word spreads. People talk.”

“No dreamt-up stories. I take pictures all over the world. I won’t sell these. They are for family.”

We pass a labyrinth of mud huts in the sandy streets, donkeys carrying straw, a stocky Hausa next to a woman who is milking a camel. We are leaving Tajae.

In the SUV, I light up the last of my menthols. I think back some eight years ago: I was nineteen and Mousafa’s family visited mine in Soho. Mousafa’s father laughed at my poor attempts at French. I tried to teach Mousafa to play chess on the hard floor in the living room. He’d move a bishop as if it were a pawn. Each time I said “checkmate”, he’d raise his shoulders and grin. I gave up teaching him chess.

My mother served lamb for dinner. My father and Mousafa laughed often at the table, spoke in Hausa. Mousafa asked me what college was like. My mother chimed in that I was spoiled rotten, that I should have become an electrician or a plumber. Those are necessary skills, she said. The fine arts, she claimed, polishing a Teflon pot, are for the idle rich.

“I miss Aunt Timizgida,” says Mousafa, staring out the window,” I hope the operation will restore her vision in the one eye.”

“The doctors are giving it a 90% chance of success,” I say.

“90% is better than 50% or 40%. Here, you make do with one eye.”

My mother’s right eye, I want to tell him, is worth more to me than the price of the yellowcake uranium that is so abundant here.

We enter the outskirts of Illela. I spot longhorn cattle, goats and sheep milling about. There are few trees and I think of locusts devouring farmland. Whenever I try to bring up the subject of Mousafa’s escaped chattel, his concubine, his face tightens.

“She has caused me great embarrassment and I will say no more.” He says it was months before the woman’s new owner contacted him.

“Kadi, pull over,” he says. We are idling in front of a mud-wall compound with men sitting cross-legged in the dirt.

He orders me to wait while he takes care of business. He steps out. I watch him chat with some man wearing prayer beads and a gold robe. Then Mousafa disappears into a large settlement.

Men with open veils pass by the SUV, give me hard looks. I feel uncomfortable being a stranger; a stranger is to be distrusted. I peer at naked children plodding, stumbling close to adults, whose strides are more determined, exuding an air of self-assurance. An old woman stares wide-eyed at my vehicle.

My palms begin to sweat. They always sweat when my imagination, like a sandstorm, stirs, sweeps up everything in its path. Maybe he will beat and whip her. She will eat nothing for days. He will be kinder to his donkeys than to her.

I am mulling over a thought. Perhaps I will offer Mustafa a sum of money. I will take the woman back to England. My mother’s eyes would gleam at the thought of a new daughter, and, me, the thought of a new sister. I would spend hours teaching her English, telling her what to say at restaurants, dress shops. The right questions to ask at art galleries.

Or am I only daydreaming? The way I once did in my Humanities classes taught by stiff-faced professors to starry-eyed students, so eager to hear textbook fables about far-off places in the world.

I turn on the ignition. I think of my hotel room back in Niamey. This morning I heard reports of a sandstorm and I want to head into it. I want the sandstorm to spin my SUV around and around until I am too dizzy to be frightened.

I watch Mousafa saunter towards my vehicle. His head leans to one side and he is empty-handed. He opens the door and takes off a sandal. He rubs his big toe and shows his shiny white teeth as if he is holding a knife between them. He sits back, erect, and stares at a herd of goats before us.

“She took off again,” Mousafa says, “two hours ago.”

I pull out, beep my horn at a goat. This woman, I imagine, is walking with a glint in her eye, a gleam that shines through the dust-caked face. She will trudge through miles of furrowed sand, a red sea of it, until she collapses, her body, a tiny comma in the endless sheet of desert.

From the sand-speckled window, I look out at two women, maybe mother and daughter in dark robes, selling their earthenware goods. The daughter gazes into my face with a soulful and curious look. I step out, wishing to chat. She flashes a thin smile and holds up a freshly-glazed carafe of terra cotta. The older woman scrutinizes my face, lowers her eyes to inspect my toffee-colored sheepskin boots, mesmerized as if they were some kind of mirage.

Then, she turns away and leaves.


The Great Bank Run of 1912 (Subtle Fiction, Issue 1, March, 2011)

She bought her first gerbil at the age of nine. She wondered if he would die from endless logrolling. When he died from natural causes, she refused to look at him and kept a distance from the first boy who kissed her–Thomas J. Hobbit. The next year a twister swept through her best friend’s house, miles away on the plains. At school, she kept a close eye on the friend’s empty seat. Walking home from the schoolhouse, no bigger than a barn, she imagined an eye severed from the head. Passing through clouds, the eye looked down at her, then turned hard, fell to earth as an acorn. She thought about the hard lifeless body of her gerbil and why she couldn’t touch him. By the age of twenty, she felt like a bare tree.

At the Topeka dry goods store where she worked for Thomas Hobbit’s father, a stranger smiled at her and made a rude joke about churning butter. She blushed a rosy shade of wanting-to-be-dead. He kept talking as she swept the floor. The stranger said he lived out of a suitcase. “Really?” she said without looking directly at him.

“And may I inquire what line of business you’re in, mister?” she asked.

“Collecting things,” he answered, “I attract riches.”

“You mean like antiques?”

“Something like. I breathe new life into everything.”

His baritone voice was deep and magnetic. He then asked if she would like to ride in his motorcar and announced plans for the next three Sunday afternoons. She said in so many words that he wouldn’t get too far with her. She was raised as a good Catholic gal.

He said he didn’t believe in God or gods, that he made his own. “What’s the sense of believing in God?” he asked, with an ironic rise in his voice. “Everything dies here anyway.”

By his third visit, he admitted he had seizures. Sometimes, he said, he woke up on the floor, unable to account for himself. In that aura of twilight, he had no sense of clocks.

They eloped to Spokane where she wrote to her mother and older sister that she was happy and in love. Her mother’s replies were illegible. Sometimes the man was gone for days. She never asked what he did for a living but assumed he stole money or held up banks, causing them to fail. She liked that dangerous image of him that she nurtured within her raindrop of a life. When he brought home stuffed suitcases into their four room apartment, she’d giggle and later, think of the luggage under the bed, what was inside, how crisp new cash would feel. She never asked did anyone have to die? She assumed he was too clever to use a gun.

In their moments of love making, he would become a soft child and bury himself between her breasts. She’d stroke his hair and speak in a low sweet voice, the way her mother did before a mirror, combing her own hair with rigid motions, as if she were someone else. This, she imagined, was what she would do if he had a seizure. She would stroke and sweet-talk him. A seizure, she concluded, was nothing but a bad dream backing up, traveling downstream from the brain.

One day, the man brought home a suitcase of what he said were zebra finches. Or maybe some were waxbills. He said he saved them from the cold. They were all looking for a warm cage where they could sing. He told her to put her ear next to the suitcase. He said he was being serious and asked her to tell him what she heard. She listened for a long time and smiled. Then, she threw her head back and let out a long reckless laugh. Gerbils, she said softly.

Two Blind Birds (Pubbed in JMWW, 2009)

I live on an L-shaped island that was once below the sea and I've been steadily growing blind since The Ascension. Lucinda and I were to be married in two days. Sometimes we'd sit at the edge of Briar's cliff and watch the guillemots and kittiwakes, the puffins and razorbills, fly through the belly of a fog. But this other fog that envelops me weighs heavier than my old step-mother's warnings to not let her lamb stew burn, to not sleep too long. Even as a child, I was accustomed to darkness, walking around the house, on old creaking floorboards, with eyes closed, arms outstretched, imagining myself as a bird, perhaps like some red-billed chough who could make spectators with their heavy feet and books of classifications swoon. I was light of foot, quiet as a candle. As a bird, I never faltered in my stepmother's house. But since my eyesight began to fail, I’ve been thinking of lemmings off the coast. I told Lucinda to return her father's dowry and advised her to find a man who could build bridges and connect islands. Find yourself a Viking and not a wisp of man is what I said. She still comes around and I don't answer the door. I imagine the mist outside takes her away. But today is different. Today, I let Lucinda inside. I will try not to expose my floppiness, my tendency to tilt my head toward a sound, my fear of growing too weary to swim or fly. We make studied attempts at inane chit-chat, then become lost in an orbit of silence. "I'm really starved for fruit," I say. My cheekbones suddenly burn. I don't know why I said that. Now the slow determined footsteps towards me, light as those of a child who will raid the downstairs pantry. There is the rustling of clothes, the peeling of garments, the smell of strawberry girls and the pine cones in the hands of mid-morning virgins, the sweet chill they bring from the Mull of Kintyre. She guides my mouth to her exposed breast and I imagine the juice of a melon, the feel of a shaved peach in season. My fingers grope to the other breast and my thirst is no longer satiable. Rising, risen, we embrace and she whispers that we should take a walk. The air will revive me. It is such a morning. Since I am no longer a Viking, but rather a prisoner of my own house, I follow, her hand in mine. I've become her child groom. Her directions are simple and straightforward: "Step left" or "we're turning right." We’re crossing wooden bridges, then it seems we're climbing forever. I am short winded and mystified. We're standing at the edge of Briar's Cliff, she tells me. Her words strike me more as an innuendo than an announcement of location. I inhale deeply and take in the world above the world. We are now so high I can hear the thoughts of the birds flying overhead. They're carrying my stolen memories, my once acute vision. "Let's jump," she says. "But the fall will kill us," I say. "No," she says, "we are each other's blindness. There is no other way." And without further procrastination or wheedling words, we jump together, wing in hand. We're flying, flying. At least, I like to think so. And by the time we enter the blue abyss, way below the house that once sequestered my blindness, the sea will have married us.

We Are All Refugees of the World Kill Author, Issue One

She’s looking cross-eyed today, as she arranges tea cups on the counter in the shape of Australia. Picking up the one where Melbourne might be, she smashes it to the floor and Australia is now down on tourism by 17%. I try to hold her, if indeed you can hold a country this vast and fragile, but her heart I can tell is in Japan. Later, I pull open the medicine cabinet, and her broken parts are all there in the shape of assorted pills, round or rectangular, stacked like incongruous memories, not touched since we made our last treaty. If I were a true colonist, I would toss each one in the garbage and she would fluctuate between East and West. But today, I’m putting Australia back together.


China was once a huge beast with beautiful wings & heavy heavy feet. China wanted to make friends with all the animals in the forest, but the zebras got suspicious that China could perform aerial attacks & the green monkeys spread rumors that China was a little slow on the ground or that it had ADD when ambushed. Then the lions attacked & the white tigers & the giraffes who downloaded iPod alligator tunes. China ate every animal in the forest. China grew a big belly, burped from indigestion.

China died belly up
from loneliness.


Laos is sitting in the corner. Laos won’t take off her Halloween dragon mask.
Laos is throwing candy wrappers on the floor. Fuck you, says Laos, pick them up.
Laos is acting like the spoiled brat you were yesterday & the day before. If you talk to Laos very softly & tell her that mom doesn’t have favorites, Laos will sense your double-track lies, sleek as ballerina slippers, & will be in your face.


In the forest, the forest, the forest of tall trees and ferns, der wald der hohen bäume, I watch Germany bend down and pick the dry petals of poisonous plants. Das junge, das junge Mädchen. The girl, the girl and the sun above, the color of pus that bleeds across the sky and the love I feel is a mushroom that can’t be eaten, Germany, the girl, I can’t catch up, das junge, and the fronds of the tall trees hover over us like floating uncles when they were alive, and the forest is a music box of silence and rolling hills and where is Germany going? She is going is going to the waterfall, the girl the girl das junge Mädchen, is going is going, gehen, gehen, das gehen. Germany is going to the waterfall and the man with the long hat and coattails is following is following. The girl the girl is going to fall into the river to sleep to sleep and the man is the man from our nightmares, the girl is going to fall into the river to sleep to forget the man, the man in her dreams, my dreams, or the ground will open up like a nightmare and swallow us. Der grund öffnet wie ein Albtraum, der grund, der grund. The girl the girl is going is going is gone, gehen. das gehen. gegangen. I will follow I will fall will fall into the river where we will lie as one, and the memory of our mothers’ voices are a lazy lullaby, as a, as a, and the man the man the man with obscene hands and disfigured intent the man the man is us.


In a train station of neglectful commuters. In a room where Rhode Island’s lies about fidelity fit like a condom. Under the ugly rain that erases names. On the day when you tore up your report card, and your mother chased you down blocks of forever. Who got saved? In a Times Square of cool blue street walkers. In the crowd of dust. In the longing of Jesus. Under the tables of corporate compliance meetings. In the eyes of phantom men who mooch off your kind milk. In an old tenement house in the Bronx, style: pre-war. On the street, after you told him no, you have visions of Rhode Island being hit by a car. On the last page, a blank one, of a fairy tale book. In the chill of his car, after Rhode Island admits to molesting your little sister. The moment you discovered your breasts, their wholesale price in markdown, under the teacher’s chalky hands. On the night you noticed you were bleeding not-red. In the dream of roses and Mary Magdalene. In the grey fog of your own breath in someone else’s mirror.


The sun setting while we talk. The smell of buffalo meat touching my nostrils. I could blow up this mountain with two-hundred pounds of Triple-Fine. The way I feel. The evening chill. And we are nowhere closer than yesterday. Back in Tulsa, you said your name was Idaho. The pack horses are still and satiated. Fifty yards from a pinion tree. I love you in pine needles and northeasterly winds. A quart of grain for your true thoughts. How old are you? You wear your quiet lust like a green-hide moccasin. With a Lancaster, I could shoot a jackrabbit from fifty yards. The night will be a coat of grizzly. Tomorrow morning, we’ll slip into the tall grass. Pasquale’s bounty lies directly under a star. But you must hand over sunshine, dripping. Back in Cheyenne you said your name was Alabama. On dry trails, you make me dusty and hot. I love a woman who can cook.


Mumbai is my adopted child. Mumbai is running in the fields with arms like a star. The sky is a blue sari that covers our thoughts. Mumbai has a one crooked eye to the past. She never speaks about the men who sold the body parts of dead children. I will build a village around Mumbai. Nothing will touch her but love.

Aphelia and Leigh in Fried Chicken and Coffee,
September 7th, 2009

We were listening to Doodles Weaver crack jokes on Rudy Vallee’s radio show when it happened. We were catching dust from the open car windows, the dry wind from the Black Mesa. Maybe if Aphelia hadn’t driven her father’s rickety box-of-metal-on-wheels so hard, so reckless, the one she stole, along with his police revolver, it wouldn’t have broken down. Maybe if she didn’t hold up the pimple-faced kid shakin’ in his knickers at the grocery store back in Reynes for a bag of god-darn breadsticks, we wouldn’t be stuck in the middle of Cimarron County. The throb of nowhere. The black heart of everywhere.

And what the hell do I know about cars, clutch parts, seal or something bearings? I ain’t a boy. Whoever designed this motorcar is a man with a well-greased heart and a pair of tin hands that leaves his wife longing for flesh and flowers. I know a man didn’t design a woman. She came from dust.

“Fiddlesticks,” says Aphelia, kicking some stones off the dirt road. Under her cloche hat her green eyes are the same ones that sting me at night. They belong to a beautiful feline living at the bottom of a well that is me. Every law-abidin’ girl has within her a secret feline squatter.

Aphelia is twenty-five. She once worked as a punch press operator before the plant closed. I’m seventeen, used to sling hash part time with my mother. The diner is where I met Aphelia, one morning, wearing a large floppy hat, a distracted glow to her face, grease smudges on her flower-print dress. She said she had been helping her father fix the car and asked me if I knew anything about repairing one. I said I’m not a boy and we both got giddy.

She had been talking about stealing a bag of breadsticks for days. Half this country is waiting in soup lines and the other half is digging ditches in the rain. And Aphelia and me are rich on bread sticks and queer sunsets. But I don’t think this is about the breadsticks, or about how I feel, or what I want. It’s more about the distance from here to the New Mexico border, or from here to Colorado, and how I’ll never come back to Oklahoma. In some strange town, I’ll find another earth mother with salt-lick wounds, a queen of rain whose flesh, whose breasts, the Black Mesa wind cannot erode. I will call my new earth mother, Aphelia.

“Hey, Leigh,” says Aphelia, turning, wearing one of her love-is-free smiles, “you wanna play Flip the Frog?” It’s something she always says before we fall into each other’s pond and believe our shuddering reflections. Aphelia says that I make love like a Bolshevik. I’m not sure what she means. Do Bolsheviks shudder? Do they call each other in the heat of lovemaking–my crazy sweet-grass strumpet?

In the distance, I can make out the serpentine roads that appear, vanish behind hills, the wail of police sirens that will soon blot my thoughts. The cars are tiny misshapen dots growing larger.

I ask her the same question that I asked back in Reynes. “How many bullets you got in that gun?” I didn’t like the answer I got in Reynes.

“I already told you, darlin’. Just one.”

“Well, that’s just swell. You really plan ahead, don’t you?”

She takes two small steps towards me. It feels like she’s at the other side of the world.

“Like I said, the one is for me. I know where I’m goin’. But you’re gonna run. Run until you can’t run no more. If they catch you, lie about your age and tell them you’re fifteen. Make like you’re mindless–a witless girl who could only make a living capping mayonnaise jars. Tell them I took you as hostage. Tell them you didn’t know nothin’.”

If she had one more bullet, I’d follow her off the edge of the Black Mesa. But all I have to offer is a dustbowl of girlish brown-eyed love.

Slowly, I walk up to her. She’s smiling and I’m drowning. I kiss her, our tongues swirling, the dance of two water snakes in love with the other’s slither. She gently pushes me away.

The sirens blare louder. Closer.

“Someday you’ll get back on the main road. You’ll have a husband who’ll stand by you, work sixteen hours a day. You’ll have children who’ll obey, do chores for you. And when they grow bigger, when they grow wayward, tempted by something they can’t define, you’ll see me in their eyes. There’s no future for us, honey.”

I reach to grab the gun tucked in her pleated skirt. She wrestles my hand away, has a grip like a man’s. Her eyes are wild, her voice, firm, edgy. We are both breathless–the possessor and the possessed.

“I’ll stall ‘em, put the gun to my head. They’ll negotiate. It’ll give you enough time. When you hear the sound, it means I love you a thousand times.”

“No,” I say, shaking my head of sunshine ringlets.

“They’re not takin’ me alive. No callused fingers in my pond and the dirt from this dry country.”

I study my own fingers. So small. Fat twitching worms.

“Here,” she says, “take one of these. You‘ll need the energy.” She holds out the bag of breadsticks. I imagine how one will crack, like those tiny smiles in top soil, ones I will fall through. I close my eyes and hear the shot in the distance. I’ll never make New Mexico. I’ll drop from exhaustion and wake up with a different name. But the sound. The sound will stay with me for years, a reminder that I wa
s once stranded in the heart of Black Mesa country.

“Take one,” she says, “don’t be shy.”

One for you. And one for me.


Don't Waste Your Love On Me

(Pubbed in Night Train Firebox Fiction, 2008)

I promised myself I could make a hard-headed woman trip over her own defenses. Whoever said not to trust a dyed red-head with a fall-out childhood? And would self-hatred spread from her like something radioactive and unnoticed. Well, Baby Doll says to me as we're waiting in line at Taco Bell for two guacamole salads and two extra large cups of diet Sprite, would I like ranch, Thousand Island, French, Ceasar's, or sour cream? Sometimes she gets misty-eyed when she speaks to me like I'm her bastard child whose father ripped her off of one too many Sunday mornings. Even though, my bank account is dry, I tell her I can read. Flustered, she drives us back to her apartment, chintzy, but a lived-in flavor, like a pair of chinos you wore for days. She asks me if I want a glass of ice tea, then doesn't speak for minutes, just opening and slamming doors to the cabinets above the kitchen sink. What's wrong, I say. Is it because you're always treating me? I promise to pay you back and more once I get work. She screws up her face at me like she's the last survivor of some Alamo and is about to tell me how I don't appreciate what I have, which is mostly her. Even though she's approaching fifty and insists on wearing short skirts showcasing her overabundance of thigh, white as the taffy I used to suck on as a kid. How could you embarrass me like that, she says. Scolding me in front of all those people? I didn't deserve that. I'm good to you. She scampers off to the bedroom and I hear the rustle of her under a duvet. I stand over her, not exactly searching for the right words. It's just that I hate the feeling of standing in potholes and dust. Maybe you should find somebody else, she says, sipping the tea. You keep telling me I'm a control freak. And maybe I am. Maybe it's the age difference. No, I say, it's not that. It's just that my last girlfriend was Vietnamese and she had black hair and this habit of pinching me whenever she wanted me to speak up. She was always so self-conscious of her English. It drove me nuts that I had to do her dirty work. It doesn't seem to register with Baby Doll. There are things about you, she says, that bother me. Like what, I say. Like the way you never take off that stupid ten-gallon cowboy hat in restaurants, like the way you mumble in front of my brother, like the way you gawk whenever a hot chick passes by. Like I'm dog shit. Anything else? I say. I'm waiting for her to recount all the nasty things her brother did to her as a kid, or the time his friend forced himself upon her behind an old school bus in El Paso. She takes another sip of iced tea, closes her eyes, pulls the cover over her head. And with that I turn around and leave. In my apartment, across town, I sit on the sofa, watching Jerry Seinfield on the TV. On top sits a miniature replica of a red cinnabar tree that my ex-girlfriend, the Vietnamese one, gave me for a birthday gift. Actually, cinnabar is also a kind of rock, someone had once told me, mercury in its purest form. This is what I'm thinking about as I wait for Baby Doll to call, incanting that she's sorry, sorry, sorry. It happens like clockwork.


(Published in Emprise Review, 2009)

She fell in love with the detective she hired to find her missing boyfriend. With her extra large charm, her exotic mushroom breasts and folds of chin, she told him to call her “Fatty.” Please, she said, I’m not ashamed anymore. He made an inept pass, referring to her figure as cream puff, that heavy people always struck him as something light. Later, he confided that his mother made cream-filled pastries for an Italian bakery on the East Side. Something that was once ugly and cornered inside her–almost swooned.

The weight was something she learned that she couldn’t lose, unlike her skinny boyfriends. There was a history of them and they loved her lady fingers and her delicate biscuits. It was so easy for skinny men to grow cold or hungry. Or to become lost.

In bed, the detective brought all the tools of his trade: his wise-guy one-liners, his gun-metal hardness, his restrained passion that reminded her of falling pennies. Although he was somewhat older than most of her past steadies, he managed to lubricate her with the delight she recalled from her mother’s favorite black-and-white movies, where somebody whistled and somebody else opened the door. At times, she imagined the skinny boyfriend swallowed, deep inside her chest cavity, tortured by her fluttering cries, his audible construction of the perfect thin woman.

The detective sat up. He apologized for his quick-rise but rapidly deflating performance. Alluding to a recent marriage, he said his scars were fresh. She sunk her head against his back and offered him a jumbo breakfast of flapjacks, scrambled eggs and more sex over easy. Shaking his head, he stated that there was a new clue, but he didn’t want to get her hopes up. A pair of shoes, same style and size as the missing boyfriend’s, were located near a dock. Shoes, she asked. But the last time I saw him, she stated, he was wearing sneakers. She reflected on the silence, drowned in it.

Nevertheless, he still had to check it out, he said.

He turned to kiss her and the kiss felt like old candy, but it was edible and it would melt. The mouth of her missing boyfriend always tasted like menthol cough drops. He chained-smoked, suffered bouts of deep-water depression and complained of an eternally recurring sore throat.

I’ll be back, Fatty, he said.

She listened to the screech of his tires. She inspected the red love marks where he grabbed her too hard, too passionately, or the places he let go of too fast. There were no teeth marks she could become giddy over, like a new tattoo. Adipose was more impressionable than muscle. But it held water and she marveled at her ability to remain dense and solid-like, while others disappeared. She imagined this detective as once being thin and without shelter. She now saw a body lying at the bottom of murky deep waters. Today, ships would be ordered to strangulate in ports. Birds would mysteriously drop from the sky at an alarming rate. Children would wander aimlessly in a city of suspects. There’d be no explanations forthcoming. She wondered which one, if any, would return.


Opie's Promise

I kept my mother’s spirit in a Mason jar under my bed. At times, I would twitch with her pain, the kind that rode her slow death into another life, felt her swirl and sigh in my bones at the sight of something beautiful: a pink sky over evergreen, a rainbow of sunset, the song of a young girl whose voice could be heard over the sumac and the lime-green hills.

At night, like a crafty spy, my mother’s thoughts would infiltrate my dreams. She’d tell me to kill my father and build him a simple grave of thin wood under the Sycamore out back. Like the doctor who treated her in the last dry months, my father’s words were always full of double-meanings and rabid dogs. My mother kept saying my father never loved her and poisoned her with spoiled meat.

I’d sit by the shed and sweat my not-so-dry thoughts. My dogs were flea-bit and mad with mange. At night they would howl from their incontinence, their boxed in dog-lives. When spring came, there was endless rain, the ruin of preachers who had so much time. One misty April, my father blackened my eye. The drywall was not thick enough to insulate the bird-cries of his new girlfriend, barely past the glory of a teen-queen. I told him my mother still lives somewhere in this house, her eyes everywhere, inspecting the dust from his boots, measuring the spurt of my bones. One day her revenge would lash out swift and sharp as Solomon’s sword. A flood would wash away our rooms. Only the dogs would swim away.

Later, my father invented new meanings for silence. When summer came, I caught a bird. Her voice filled the whole house, the way my mother’s once did. He tried to chase her into the hearth, and when that failed, into the shed with broken handles and no tear ducts for its windows. He hoped she would fall deep into break lines, undiscovered fissures. In those days, he was just full of his tunnel-vision self. Then he became that tunnel and within it I could almost trap my mother's echoes.

One night in a dream, my mother visited me dressed in calico and the kind of long braids she always said she wore as a young girl. Her eyes were shut and her voice was Montana-cold. She told me to take the knife she was holding and use it to stab my father nineteen times because that was the age he married her. She told me to stab him until he bled out her words of simple intention, like spiteful children, and became motionless.

I told her I could not.

She raised the knife over my head. I couldn’t move or scream. The knife froze there and I imagine somewhere it is still hanging over me. Was it really a dream, after all, and could a simple jar could hold my mother's spirit?

One night, as if in a trance, I stepped lightly into my father's room, not dissuaded by his archipelago of snores and half-formed words, and raised the knife over his head. I became mesmerized by my own shadow by a flickering candle. It didn't resemble me, the tow-headed boy who had his father's horsefly eyes that could cheat women of their dowry and his mother's child-like gift at always being cheated. When he rolled over, I slipped from his room, from my own shadow, and slept in my bed with eyes wide open until morning. I couldn't remember where I hid that knife. The shadow above my bed resembled a woman and I imagined the lid to that Mason jar had been broken through.

There were dog days of August and the muddy rains of mule-stuck months when I wanted to kill my father while he was alive. He died in his sleep. I buried him out back along with the jar where I kept mother’s spirit. Later, I had visions of my mother growing younger until she disappeared completely and her words stopped echoing in my head. At times, I bled for no reason.

Soon it would be spring again, and there would be so much rain to forget and rows of corn to plant, the sky clear as glass with an occasional imprint of someone's breath.

The Three of Us Cannot Go On
(pubbed in Daily Love)

There. It’s over. She stands over their closed caskets, side to side. Elsie, with her black veil and blue eyes from the bottom of the North Sea, is too numb to make sense out of any of it. After all, it was love or some misshapen arrangement of it, wasn’t it? She, the sole survivor and the real loser, wishes to lie between them. Her British lover from MI6, Michael, and her husband, Otto, the notorious ex-Nazi, who British Intelligence had labeled as “Chameleon.” It is a day of low scuttling clouds that steal her breath.

In her black dress, she does not quiver. She works up a slow perfunctory smile, the lips pressed tight. Such control. She now thinks of escaping to a cold climate, where the whiteness of her lies will be replaced by the whiteness of snow. She wants Norway. There, she will invent a new identity and a new history. But for now, where she stands, still as a sculpture of glass, with her auburn hair that once took in the sun, she is nowhere near the North Sea.

It is Costa del Sol, a place redolent with apple carts and winding mountain roads, the rich and the jet set, in love with reflections, in love with the thought of love. Soon, for Elsie, Costa del Sol will be the distant cry of a southern bird.

As a young girl growing up in West Berlin, Elsie had seen many movies. But the one behind her eyes is the best, spliced and leaping in absurd juxtapositions.

In some scenes, her husband is the director and she is the femme fatale actress, girlish and charming and so utterly flighty, luring loved-starved men, mostly British agents, young and poorly instructed, into an endless cobweb. Michael, an MI6 assassin, who was brilliant at setting up targets, is the victim. But in the end, everyone falls down.

As the men lower the caskets into the ground, Elsie thinks: The three of them. Weren’t they so magnificent with their tortuous schemes and their jaunty rides up the Axargrua? Or the way she’d seduce Michael in a dusty room of some white-washed castle, peeling off her clothes with the unceremonious innocence of a madwoman making tea for no one. Didn’t their love rise high above the grape yards and the orange groves? Oh, Michael.

The film runs and loops. A different time. A young girl, homeless on the streets of Berlin. Women tear at each other for pieces of bread. Elsie has lost her family in an air raid. Sensing the stranger following her, she turns. Frightened, but offering friendship, she says, “Sehen Sie meine Puppe, Herr?” See my doll, mister? She’s as hungry as me.

He is towering. She is powerless. His face softens, the lips offer an ironic smile. His eyes talk. They say,” I will feed you. I will be your new father.”

She follows him home. She never leaves.

Years pass. They are constantly on the run and he invents new names. He makes her his princess, sends her to private schools. She is tall and beautiful. She can walk and sit poised like a model. He sees business possibilities. She can lure British and American agents. Then, he marries his own creation. He is now the most powerful man in the world--he makes love to his own creation.

She feeds agents the elusive bread of her body. They drown in a sea of her. When Otto tells them, they have killed a defecting Russian scientist, or a misidentified agent, they realize it’s a trap. Too late. He gives them an ultimatum: either work for me, or this information goes public. In Costa del Sol, Otto passes himself off as a wealthy Hungarian businessman. He pays off the police. He builds a whole network of ex-Nazis and young misinformed British and American agents. With some, they suddenly go missing. And Michael. He is tricked into killing a Russian defector at an opera house.

The film goes fuzzy, then, a close-up of Michael’s breathless face, his bare torso. He runs towards her on the beach, grabs her hands. Look, he says, lets run to Morocco. Tarfilalt. A place where there is nothing but sand.

He sees her limp smile, a look he has noted in so many photos of double agents.

My husband, she says.

The three of us cannot, he says.

The film fast forwards. She storms into Otto’s den. Her fingers shake. “If you touch one hair on his head,” and she stammers. “I swear I’ll leave you.”

Otto rises. Smiles. Smug. “You cannot leave me,” he says, “Blut ist Starker als Wasser.” Blood is thicker than water. His smile turns to water. “Have I really lost you?” he says. She trembles and begins to cry. She runs from the room.

In the backyard, she doubles over, feels nauseous. She takes slow steps towards the man-made brook. Her stomach feels like a fist.

In the top drawer of the desk, he keeps a luger. She looks down at the brook. The gun raises, cocked at his head. She looks down. Michael’s eyes at the bottom of the brook. Staring up at the sky that is an endless moor. She turns. Screams. The sound of the gun. A shot around the world. Hers. Otto slumps over. Leaves a pool of red lifeline no longer. She screams at the sky. An endless unnerving shriek.

On the plane, she holds a book of Norwegian phrases. She will settle in a small fishing village near the Hardengerfjord. When old woman ask her why a beautiful young girl like her is not married, she will say she is not ready. She will grow old in that fishing village. She will sleep alone at night. In middle age, she will write her memoirs. On the first page, it will read: “I had the luxury of loving so many men. But there are only two whose faces I still sleep with. . .”

- - -

The Jaws of Life

It’s 1971. You’re a bell-bottomed freak caught between prisons: June and September. You imagine your Daddy, who’s been getting up in the middle of the night, at a bar telling men with grimy hands and combustible tempers, sandwiched between a job and a marriage, how The Jaws of Life once saved him from an overturned car. Maybe next year, your brother will return home from the war with a thousand crimes under his tongue. He’ll still bust your head if you touch his Brut 44 or mess with his shoe polish. You have a feeling he won’t eat anything cooked with rice for a long time.

For now, you’re stuck in the warm belly of summer and you’re sitting on her bed. Goldie, the girl with mulatto skin and rainbow smile, that soft tragic cloud of a voice. She’s not exactly a flower child, but baby, she’s in bloom. She’s standing in her too short skirt, in her long and bare and innocent girly legs. Her back is turned and you have this itch to sidle up and undo her halter. You’re coming down with island fever.

In her room, there are posters of Dylan, Timothy Leary, psychedelic sun-goddesses. She’s putting a new record on the turntable: Vindicator by Arthur Lee. You tell her it’s great, even though you not exactly digging it. You’ve known her since grade school and even though you’ve never copped a feel, it gave you a strange chill when you heard boys talking about her breasts, pressing against madras or chamois with some devilish life force, or how one day she’ll fuck like a monsoon. A girl released from her own prison.

You want to tell her how this summer is making you feel suffocated, your bedroom walls closing in. You want to tell her that you have dreams portending the death of The Beatles. You rise and are tempted to plant your nose in her ponytail, the smell of lilacs and sweet butter. You think of white lies that will one day turn out true and inflict at least one burning casualty. Her body, playful and childlike in its grace/awkwardness, is killing you. Yet it is her body that will save you from the closing walls and your failure to thrive in summer’s heat.

And now, turning, with an ironic flash of a smile, she says,You know what? Get this. My brother’s lizard escaped! She giggles and doubles over. You don’t find it amusing at all. Somewhere in this house, you think, this lizard is getting into places it shouldn’t, and someone will find it when they least expect to. It might get crushed, even die of starvation. You sit back and close your eyes. This lizard is chameleon and very clever. You now feel its presence in the room, studying you, crawling under your pants leg, finding a home in your loins. This lizard is one motherfucker.

You now rise and press against the beehive of her body, wishing never to be unstuck. Honey. Honey. Honey. She turns with a queer glint in her soulful island eyes. And before she says how this can’t happen, that some variety of love is cooler and safer from a distance-- you’ve already come in your pants. You cover her lips with your hand and say, It’s alright. It’s alright. That lizard is safe.

Letter to the Netizen Posse of Red Hot Justice

This is hard for me to talk about. I mean, take that video for instance, the one that got passed around so much on the net. The woman in the video is middle-aged and Asian. She's wearing a plaid blouse, black leather skirt, and thick, extra thick stilettos. You might be saying, uhm, maybe something here doesn’t match. Maybe you’re saying a middle-aged woman in these thick stilettos and maybe black nylons makes you feel weird, cause you want to picture her as someone conservative, and I’m thinking like you up to this point. But let me finish, MopMySoul, let me finish. So the woman is standing next to a river, a peaceful river, blue as the color of what I imagine your eyes to be, or like maybe the kind of girl I’ve been looking for online. Now get this. The woman, who could be your mom, a woman who ironed your dresses and waited patiently until you graduated with top honors from prep school, bends down and gently, I mean ever so gently, picks up this black and white Siamese cat. You watch this video, and uhm, you see how this cat, sleepy eyed and pampered, is looking straight at you, as if to say, Take me home, wouldn’t you? I’m just so cute. Okay. Okay. So then this woman throws this kitty down and stomps it to death with her stiletto. Oh, fuck, you say, as you back away from the computer. How could this woman do this? She looks so kind and ordinary, the way your mother always looked so kind and ordinary, certainly not a monster, or some animal killer with years of pent up rage. And so you, a member of a human flesh-engine, a renrou sousuo yinqing, will look for clues in this photo, something you and your other netizens can use to hunt her down, have her humiliated in public, have this kitty killer fired from her iron rice bowl of a government job that lasts until retirement and pays a pension until death. You will find that this woman lives in Jiamusi in the Heilougiiang Province and her name is Mingzhu. And you still can't fathom how this otherwise respectable woman could have done such a thing, a woman who resembles so closely your own mom. And I can't fathom it either. This was a woman who prepared meals for her family each day without fail, a woman who never lashed out at her husband, whose love dangled in front of her, always just out of reach, a woman who put up with the insults and negligence of her three grown children who moved to America. A woman just like someone you know. Like someone you know. You know...



On TV seasons ago, she played Supergirl. Now running along the slip of beach, performing her mile jog and panting, she slowed and collapsed before my sand castle. Her body was no longer a fiddle, but rather, a cello.

"It's what being out of work does to you, " she said, with that innocent air of the everyday tragic, that inarticulate murmur between words.

We turned and forked our hands into sand, piled clumps of wet sand onto the castle. We were still like kids, I thought.

Later, we rolled over and welcomed the sun into the plexus of our pale bodies.

"You still don't love me, do you, Supergirl?"

She turned one slow sleepy eye towards me.

"It'll be the way it always was. I'll be your mermaid and I'll fuck like one. But when it comes to love, this old Supergirl will fly away."

She closed her eyes and turned her head towards the sand.

"That season ended a long time ago," she said.

I reached for her breast under the white bathing suit. It felt like ice or maybe, an imitation ice sculpture of a breast, melting.


The Seduction of Wally Cox

I'm not sure how long it was going on. I mean her sitting there, sometimes from dawn to twilight, on the front steps of my apartment building, a four story brownstone. From my second floor window, I'd watch her sit and stare out at the cars passing, school children flying by, Korean War Veterans still in uniform, walking stiffly or with a slight limp. Maybe she stared at nothing. Maybe she was aware of me staring at her from two flights up. Funny, how no one in my apartment building ever mentioned her, but then again, tenants in this dwelling hardly spoke to each other. Mostly, they came and went with their shopping bags or gifts wrapped in brightly colored paper. I could imagine the meticulous workings of fastidious hands in department stores. The ringing up of credit, the husbands' scowls at night, a secret bank account of shored-up anger. These same tenants climbed past her and might have attempted a "hello," but I'm not sure they ever did. From my window on the second floor I wondered who she was and why she couldn't move on. I hated the thought of inviting strangers to my place, but then again, I was a terrible cook. From my experience, I found out that strangers are often better skilled at making meatloafs or frying Spanish omelets without breaking the Spanish.

Gradually, I worked up the courage to ask her inside. After all, she wore that same grey swing coat, loose and double breasted, similar to the ones worn by so many pregnant women after the Second World War. Under that coat, I detected the H-line of a tunic suit and slim skirt with hemline creeping upwards. She always smelled of old closets. The cigarettes she smoked were the same kind my father did, filter-less, with a picture of a smiling man and woman on the cover. There was a crumpled pack next to her low heels.

Barely getting the words out, I introduced myself and invited her upstairs for a coffee. Looking for some anchor of distraction on the street, I said it was getting chilly and being out here all night, well, surely she'd catch a cold or something worse.

She looked up and cringed. Her face turned the color of a humiliated school girl. I focused on the tiny space between her front teeth and offered a hand.

"It's alright, " I said, "no one is going to hurt you. It's just not safe staying out here, day and night."

She reached for my hand and introduced herself and as Wanda Cates.

For the first few days, Wanda was reluctant to talk. Then I got her to admit that she left her husband because she believed he was having an affair with someone much younger and more beautiful than her.

I tried to change the subject. The silence was churning in my gut. "You can stay as long as you like," I said, "but with a few stipulations. One is that you must do the cooking because I'm a terrible cook. I can't even fry an egg without something catching on fire."

At least, I got her to smile. Later, Wanda inquired as to my romantic status. I told her that I wasn't married and the last girl I had sticky feelings for didn't even know that I existed. She was a schoolteacher named Edna Fuchs who had a wonderful childlike demeanor and a strange ability to remember trivial facts. When Wanda asked me what I did for a living, I said I did Vaudeville, that I excelled in flat one-liners, break-a-leg dance routines. I asked her if she ever heard of Milton Berle.

Wanda tilted her head and stared at me with quizzical blackbird eyes.

Over the weeks, Wanda cleaned and cooked. She could talk forever about the importance of making a perfectly timed egg or a poached one that wasn't too runny or hard. At times, she would stand in the middle of the kitchen, closing her fist, the sound of eggshells breaking, and lifting her eyes to the ceiling as if offering some higher power the proof of her wounds,

As for my part, I began to buy Wanda the kind of clothes that Edna use to wear--those braid trimmed skirts nipped in the waist, paper nylon petticoats, flat shoes. I even paid to get her the same gamine cropped hair of Edna's before it hurt too much to spy on her. Slowly, I was transforming Wanda into someone much younger and beautiful, and across the sunny side face of each morning without fail, Wanda made for me a perfectly timed breakfast.

Then one evening, after Wanda and I retired to the small living room, and I started to say that it's funny how slowly you resemble the people who eluded you, how like Edna, I have this nasty habit of telling people the inessentials and withhold the essentials. The few friends I have always point this out to me, I said.

Putting an intricate stitch in one of my suits, one I was to wear in the act following Pinky Lee, she stuck her thumb with a long needle and held it up to the light.

"Are you alight? It's not bleeding, is it?"

"No," she said softly, “I never bleed anymore.”

Afterwards, she began to talk about her ex. I asked her how she discovered that he was cheating. I had visions of her walking in on them and her breaking a scalding soft-boiled egg over the face of the ecstatic woman. I imagined how that woman's face would stay red for months.

Wanda looked towards the opposite wall, behind me. Her eyes looked sticky, or searching to stick to something. That kind of look you see often in children who've misbehaved.

"I discovered it while breaking an egg," she said. " I heard them. I heard their voices through the shell. And when I broke the egg, they fell. They fell and drowned in a pot of boiling water called the world."

Her bottom lip trembled.

And that's how it ended for us too.

One night while doing the mating method, me, mistaking her for Edna, or her, maybe mistaking me for the lover who could smash her perfectly-- her body broke into a thousand pieces. That morning I awoke to find scattered pieces of eggshells between the edges of our pillows. There was a note: The secret to a perfectly timed soft-boiled egg is when you break the shell, making just the right crack, not too wide and not too deep, and finding there is nothing inside. An act of magic.


The Invasion of Poland, 1939
by Kyle Hemmings

Her name is Minnie Minski, but she spells it with a y. She works as a cleaning woman, assigned to the third floor of the Algonquin, and divorced from a man who slapped her for not speaking proper English.

Now, turning the key, peeking through, spotting the man sleeping in a king-size bed, him, adrift as the immigrant she once was. She enters. He didn’t latch the chain. Her feet are the soles of squirrels.

She steals cash. Movie tickets. Key chains. Crumpled papers containing phone numbers. Alligator wallets of old photos and registrations. She pulls off and rolls up the sheets stained with dried semen. Sometimes, she stands over their beds while they sleep and thinks: I was once like you.

Back in Poland her mother once said, “After the war, you had to look someone in the eye before you stole.”

In America, you must wait until they are asleep.

She searches his trousers and wallet, her hands so quiet, flesh-turned-to-feathers. She takes thirty-five dollars and not five hundred.

Tiptoeing over, she stands over the man, so much younger than her, his face, like a model, the jet black hair, long, the dimpled tapered chin, . She bends down as if to plant a kiss on his cheek, as if to say you are so beautiful, so dangerously beautiful. But who do you think you are?

There are footsteps approaching.

After crouching, fitting her lithe frame under the bed, she feels she is breathing inside a Russian T-34 tank. She listens to the girl plopping down on the bed, imagines her groping for the man, mounting him, her back, arched, her arms, soaring birds.

Under the bed, she is the missing partner, inserting her silence between the heave and the bounce, between the yeah and the I like it. Isn’t it a great way to wake up, says the girl.

Under the bed, Minnie is the underground flower wishing to grow through the mattress, between the kisses of strangers, the suffocation, the distance. It’s a funny rain that helps her survive. But the sky is vast and it covers the world.

As a child, she always found her way under her mother's bed, the other woman, lying still as a survivor of the Warsaw resistance, her father, the attacker, the bed, a dark immovable cloud, and her--always the pale little flower of an inseparable trio.


The Enigma Machine

In front of the committee of indentured men, he took apart the Enigma machine, key by key, without regard for backward sequencing or scrambled encapsulations. One by one, each committee member rose to tell the most terrifying secret that haunted his life. Then, each one left. When finished, he lost the use of his lips, heard the muffled laughter of a woman at the end of a tunnel, his wife back home sitting in front of a cold dinner.

Past Tense Future

She was giving up bits of her life, cut into ribbons and twists he could easily digest, at times, tasting like black licorice. How she once lived at the fringe, the karma of bad lives, the sailor she accidentally suffocated in her grandmother‘s room, the anxious body squirming beneath her. He now imagined himself growing small, a child tossed into the ocean, his neglected cries, the last drops at the bottom of his shot glass.

Tom Swift
He was considering what words could break the sound barrier between them, how to use wave propulsion as an aerial warship, cannon, tank, or scout. But her mind, she said, was focused on the bottom line. Love for her was a diversion, but the invention of The Swift Pigeon Good Bye was advanced technology, worth more than a thousand private planes, the parts that no one could order through postal.
(published in The Catalonian Review, 2010)


The Mother/Son Synapse

(pubbed in Spilling Ink Review, Issue Five, 2009)

Driving mother home after the second stroke, past the oaks and hawthorns that lie about their age as if age is ever true, I listen as she talks in fragments, things that can never be melded except with dream and super glue: cuckoos and hawks are really the same bird in summer, the nurse on the day shift reminds her of the tragic actress who married a score of men but died alone, claims that her husband had such strong hands, remembers how he could fix anything until he himself broke, died waiting for a shipment of someone’s far-away-heart, donated to strangers with needy and numbed fingers. She speaks about him as if he is around somewhere raking leaves or tossing grease-stained rags into the old washing machine that still knocks and wheezes like an octogenarian who was warned to stop smoking but won’t.

Looking up at the mostly bare telephone wires, birds scattering, the subtle shift of clouds, I try to put her words together, as if making a train that will take us from South Jersey to Brooklyn without the need for further connections. She keeps speaking about this imaginary man with such deft hands and her young son who could add five digit numbers in his head while scooping layers of incredibly rich ice cream. Truth is I was always hanging upside down from trees and my real father couldn’t glue a paper plane. And just as this car sputters and dies– leaving us stranded in the middle of no man’s Jersey, me, clumsy with flashlights, inspecting car parts without knowing their proper names or true functions… how I wish that I had the strong and smart hands of the father my real father wanted to be.

My Date with Edgar Allen Poe (pubbed in Pequin, 2007)
> >
> > Now, if someone is tellin' you that she had a date with Edgar Allen Poe,
> you
> > might be tempted to say, "Hey, sister, what kind of drugs you be doin' for
> > the last two days?" But I swear on my Aunt Boo's chastity belt that's what
> > went down and with my kinda luck, shit like this is always going down.
> >
> > It starts out like this. My old man ditched me for some hussy sister from
> > Summer Street, who I thought was my best friend. Okay. Okay. I can deal
> with
> > it. I'm dealin' with it. Even though the way she be bouncin' her butt down
> > Springfield has got even the old geesers hootin' out of their windows.
> >
> > Just let it fly, girl, I say. Tomorrow Mr. Right might come your way. But
> > what's takin' him so damn long? He get lost down Central?
> >
> >
> > So, I starts like corresponding with all these internet people and all,
> some
> > weirder than my Uncle Toby who still be thinkin' he was married to Boo and
> > not Lenore. Hell, it was Lenore he was married to for forty years. Boo
> won't
> > put out for a man if he owned a house on East Hampton and owned seventeen
> > limos.
> >
> > So, I be checkin' out the prospects and this guy and me, who calls himself
> > Edgar Allen Poe, are exchangin' messages. I mean all I'm lookin' for is a
> > guy who can hold down a job more than a week, treat me nice, and maybe
> once
> > in a while, give me a bubble bath with some sweet flower-smellin' body oil
> > that makes me think I'm Oprah. Although I gotta admit the dude can't be
> the
> > Edgar Allen Poe they had me read out loud in school, some crazy shit poem
> > about a girl who be wearin' bells, or somethin' goin' bells, and in fact,
> I
> > think the sister's name was Belle.
> >
> > And hell, I'm thinkin' it might be kinda fun to date a white guy. Tell all
> > my girlfriends "Hey, you know what? I'm seein' a white guy. Tell all the
> > brothers." White as my Aunt Toby's fried pork chops.
> >
> > So, for the first date, I be dressin' to kill, wearin' this leopard print
> > dress and all, so tight that when I exhale I think the dress is gonna turn
> > see-through. And a pair of motha' pumps that give me an extra lift, so a
> man
> > knows what kind of sister he be dealing with. And just in case Edgar turns
> > out fruity. I throw in a can of mace, some scissors, hair spray, and a
 couple of cork screws just in case the waters get a little rough, you know
> > what I mean?
> >
> > Maybe Edgar just frontin' cause he's like that rich dude who lived like a
> > recluse and flew planes. I don't think he washed his socks none, neither.
> I
> > think he was married to that white lady, Dinah Shore.
> >
> > So, it's takin' me forever to find Edgar's house, out in the boondocks
> > somewhere, and the place ain't even on my damn GPS. All I'm seein' is
> trees
> > and hills and side roads and I keep callin' Edgar on my cell, and say "Yo,
> > Edgar, like where is this place? Do I need a helicopter to find it or
> > somethin', like Michael Jackson's? And he keeps tellin' me to keep makin'
> a
> > left, and another left and another one. Damn, I made so many lefts, I'm
> > probably back where I started.
> >
> > Well, finally I find this big dumb-ass house and this butler, all baldy
> and
> > stiff and bug-eyed, lookin' like he gets high on lard or somethin' opens
> the
> > door says, "Mr. Poe has been expectin' you, Madame." The door kinda
> creaked
> > open and I'm thinkin' Yo man, don't you guys ever hear of oil or elbow
> > grease or something?
> >
> > The house is huge. But it could use some dustin'. Be needin' a woman worse
> > than my Uncle Toby whenever he starts tap dancing all alone in his room.
> >
> > So, Edgar and I are gettin' cozy and all, sharing the same sofa, and he be
> > talking all kinds of shit. Things like "The beauty of your love is
> > unassailable." He's got me laughin' worse than Uncle Toby when he talks
> > about how he courted Aunt Boo when he means Lenore
> >
> > I ask Edgar if he lives here alone and he says no, he shares it with his
> > sister. But I ain't seen no sister yet, I mean, a blood sister unless he's
> > got one hidin' under the couch.
> >
> > After three glasses of red wine, Edgar says he wants to show me the
> upstairs
> > rooms. And I'm thinkin' hold on, girl, Edgar's movin' kind of fast here,
> > even though he don't know how to French kiss like the bartender from the
> > lounge.
> >
> > So, he takes me into this monsta size bedroom, and the bed's big enough to
> > hold me, Boo, Elinore, Toby, and the brother from the DLV lounge with room
> > to spare. And I'm just waitin' for him to make a move, like undress me
> with
> > his eyes and all, then the rest of my body parts. But I notice there's a
closed coffin in the room. What's up with that? What's a coffin doin' in a
> > bedroom?
> >
> > Well, the lid opens and there's this lady in a white fleecy nightgown and
> > looking like she just woke up after fifteen years of hibernatin' and Edgar
> > says "Oh, Lorelai, honey, you must get back to the cellar. We have
> > visitors."
> >
> > And I figure this must be his sister, the way she just be staring out, the
> > way Uncle Toby does after three pints of plum brandy. He takes her by the
> > arm and all and tells me he'll be right back. Yeah, like I'm gonna wait
> for
> > him. No way. This sister is out the door faster than a bat out of the
> > basement and I think Edgar might have some of them down there too.


Kyle Hemmings


I Kat!


Kyle Hemmings

I Kat!


Kyle Hemmings


Versions of these pieces have been published in: Apocrypha and Abstractions, Electric Windmill, Everyday Poetry, Paper Nautilus, Spittoon
Table of Contents

Paper Boys


Paper Boys

The boy Kat wants is made of paper. After five false starts, lines too thin around the edges, she cuts along the outline. His eyes are too big for her to contain herself. She names him Mamoru and her head is daffodil-May-Pull or May-Pole. Outside the long summer streets, she imagines children with runny noses and explanations meant to elude adults made of starch and dime-store talcum powder. She opens the window, pitches Mamoru to the silent applause of air, just so she can run down five flights of stairs to catch him. This paper boy, she thinks, has got a soul. It's the only reason why he can float. But she's jealous of other girls, girls not like her, girls made of paper but with no souls. They will tear up Mamaru, shred him, and toss him to the garbage where he will die under pretentious love letters, never sent. Kat holds Mamaru by the light and pokes a hole through him. It's the only way she can conquer her fear of darkness, of losing him, of forever being a light sleeper


New York City is in the grips of a heat wave. White smoky demons rise from car radiators. Old women feint from dehydration, fall through manholes in the streets, sewers below sewers. Kat rescues one such woman. In the back booth at a McDonald's, the woman paper-crowns Kat as Princess of the Speechless. She promises to be Kat's hidden guardian. Kat has a dream of the woman turning into a Persian with emerald eyes, the same one she drew for Manga class. Slowly, the heat lifts from the streets. The sky is not a hollow drum. Kat is seized by a mania for lanky boys with green eyes. There is a space between night and day where New York City resembles crystal. Words are too heavy to float. Victims jump from windows and live to grow tall. In his apartment over a narrow street of stunted elms, a boy with rubber soles dances for Kat. In her new love, she stretches beyond sunrise and winks at a familiar cloud, as clear as her own sky writing across city walls.

Rabbit Boy

At the party, an older man with a Dali thin mustache tells Kat that she has the kind of shape that can turn men's eyes into pirates. "You mean straight as a plank," says Kat with that cute college girl smile. "No," says the man, well on his third martini, "I mean the curves of half-fool moon." She excuses herself and listens as a NYU professor of Near Eastern Myth tells Quick Girl that we are not descended from apes, but rather--glass. "Is that why we either break in pieces or cut others? A regressive tendency?" she asks.

The girls leave and go to a club that is truly underground, several floors below anything. In one room, the DJ spins remixes for the eternally hung over. Arm in arm with Quick Girl, Kat spots him, Rabbit Boy, sitting by himself, under dancing strobe and black light, holding broken glass to his temple. Kat whispers in Quick Girl's ear. "It's him, the one I had a crush on, until I found out he tries killing himself every summer's end. He's working his way down to the jugular." "Was it serious?" asks Quick Girl. "Almost," says Kat, " we slept with curious intent but the darkness sliced us and we lost all track of weeping parts." Quick Girl rolls her eyes and lets out a sailor's whistle. Kat turns. Rabbit Boy is gone.

Several weeks pass. It's the end of August. Girls in skimpy skirts bounce down the street in optimistic pairs. Kat can't stop thinking about Rabbit Boy. In fact, she keeps drawing his features in Chibi art class. So she decides to visit him. Some part of her wants to keep him alive. The same part of her that loves summer and pirate seas. Up three winding staircases, Kat is short-winded but fairy-toothed. Before she knocks on his door, Rabbit Boy says to come in. He has this strange ability to hear shadows. She enters the room.

He is standing before a blank canvas and is holding a scissors below one ear. Kat says "No, Van Gogh was too many summers ago and if he had a face lift, he could have had any girl he wanted. And anyway, who were you going to send your ear to?" she asks. "To no one," he says. "That's really sad," she says. Kat undresses and says Draw me, in her best bluff and bare all voice. Rabbit Boy sheepishly smiles and drops the scissors. He draws her in loose strokes of charcoal, and when finished, he undresses. They embrace and disappear into the canvas of summer, leaving only rabbit ears and critter misshapen heart.

The Tragedies of Being Single in a Plural World

Kat keeps a private scoreboard for her simultaneous lovers, combustible, even when not full of hot air. One falls to his death from vertigo but keeps awakening in her dream of a man looking like Jimmy Stewart. The man keeps saying I want to paint you, but she keeps waking up, her eyes full of streaked watercolor. Another has the elastic stretch of a newscast but he's short on depth, at a loss for words when life is post-morning or not-yet-dark. Another lover, an ex-stutterer who took up weights, pronounces limp as limb and says The Sky Is Falling when he means rain. Kat loves his lyrics, weightless and incongruent, but can't score him.

Thick-skinned Cats Can't Hurry Love

Kat is looking for a boy with green pumpkin eyes, the kind that glow in the after-glow. Darkness may be his sister who died at a young age, falling from a tenement window. Nobody heard the sound. Nobody can confirm the progress of their own deaths. It's just another unspoken lie, the consistency of peanut butter eaten from fingers. Kat thinks she met this boy one night at the Soho club, Detritus from Stars. She was too drunk to laugh at the number of krazy girls falling on their asses or pretending to be suicidal cherry blossoms. It was obvious that nobody on the dance floor had any kind of glue.

The boy with green after-glow eyes was saying something about sole or soul, then he whispered into Kat's ear that they could both have type XX blood. He disappeared and Kat went home with a stranger who had an arthritic mother still living with him. On an old army cot, a real collector's item from the 4th Ave. Wars, they were quiet, palm against each other's mouth, dancing without the need for amphibious feet. In the morning, Kat slipped past the snores and goat-sounds of the arthritic mother, who slept with her shoes on. At home, Kat had the sensation of green fur falling from her life, which she associated with the boy she never got to know. She thought about him throughout her day at the paralegal office, among the Tupperware parties and the bosses banging shadows against walls, among the men who had given up on speaking and those who had become high-tech walkie talkies without the need for charging.

Kat visits the old magician, Octosullus, on the second floor above an antique lamp shop in Chinatown. She tells him about the boy who had whispered code into her ear, about the dream-type they might both share. Octosullus listens patiently; he has miniature fir trees in his eyes. The boy who will love you, he says in a voice of spark and red leaf, has a double X cut into his heart. But be careful at night. This is a city of serial killers who work slow and without electric drills.

The old man says that he needs to see Kat's heart.

Kat stands and pulls off her Tee shirt, the one with The DeathRock Mutants design. Octosullus reaches inside the body cage and pulls out the heart with the ease of pulling rabbit tails from under the streets. Yes, says the old man, inspecting the tortuous vessels, it has a double X near the coronary. He must have touched you in some way. You will find him on the outskirts of the city. Only at night. He can't sleep. He collects the edges of all sorts of things. He is bleeding from your wireless love. He might return to you when you feel love is impossible.

I never thought love was impossible, says Kat in a soft, wiry tone. I always thought it was improbable. But then again there are pigeons in the air.

Yes, says the old man, nodding, there are pigeons in the air.

Kat twists her head and torso through the Tee shirt. She sits down and stares pensively at the old man. His eyes are tired; the fir trees sink into a red dusk. She listens to the rustle on the pre-dawn street, the tough talk of jealous lovers: man to man, girl to guy, self to self. She sees herself and the green-eyed boy lying side by side near dumpsters, the next casualties in the 4th Ave. Wars. Perhaps murdered by the loveless mutants living on L-shaped streets, turtle-shell sub-lets. But the moon will still rise. Young girls with odango hairstyles, who loved being called "Bunny," will still pose before lonely mirrors. And the cats. The cats will survive too.

Plastic Flowers

It’s somewhere between body drop dawn and alarm clock wail. Kat and I traipse the streets, still high from the sugar of mixed drinks. The reflections off the sheen of cobblestone jump at us in ciphers. Dressed down in preppy navy blue skirt and white satin shirt with blazer, Kat is playing iTunes, downloading Morning Masume. At times, she is all sentimental Eurobeat; at others, she is all wild-eyed and mainline sugar freak. Her eyes, however, are still large, almond-shaped hazel, not really hers, and sensitive to light.

Overhead, a plane is going down in flames, its destiny: the Hudson River. There will be no survivors. Lately, all survivor statistics converge on zero.

“If I became a fetus in the sky,” says Kat, her eyes upward and unpeeling the skins of night, “would it be enough to save the children who’ve already dropped from clouds?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I spin to forget. I drink to become unconscious while on tiptoe. It’s good that South Korea has its R16. It gives the kids something to lock about.”

“And Paris had their Milky Way and B-Boys.” Kat breaks into an innocent whammy of a chuckle.

Just then I spot the boy from the corner of an eye. He’s yelling something like: “Get your plastic roses. Two for three, five for a fin. No organic botch up. A date. A mate. Make love –tonight’s inmate.”

Overhead, another plane is nose diving for the Hudson. It might crash before. Pre-morning is chilly, full of perpendicular side streets, metallic rasp and din. My head is still reeling from splotchy club remixes of Mice Teeth and Japanoise.

We approach the boy dressed in pin stripe suit and oversized men’s shoes. He doesn’t have eyes. What he has are two miniature globes that keep spinning.

“How can he see?” whispers Kat in my better techno ear.

“Yes, ma’am, no Ma’am, “ he says in a voice of monotone and static buzz. ”I can hear footsteps a mile away. I can see who will drop off the world in a year a day a scheme a dictator. But no ma’am, I can’t see you right now, there. I can feel you and you are beautiful in my world.”

I turn to Kat. She is cabbage patch sad and stuffed animal glare-eyed. She looks to be holding the world too. I offer to buy her some flowers. She ignores the offer and says that he is shivering. The boy is shivering.

No, I say, it’s you who are shivering. You are shivering, Kat.

She walks up the boy and puts her arms around him like some jump rope sister and hugs him like some brother little who wandered too far from underground shelters. “Get off the streets, my darling boy,” says Kat. “They’re never safe when you’re alone.”

I’m noticing a serial number stamped across the boy’s neck.

I can hear him ticking.


“Kat!” I yell in screech mode. “Get away from him. It’s a Pop-Boy. He’s a terrorist’s bomb inside the armor of a plastic boy.

“Break off!”

I snatch Kat and push her to the ground, covering her body with mine. The explosion goes off, a thousand parts over our heads and into the streets. After the smoke clears, I comb through the debris. There’s a piece of paper, somewhat larger than what one finds in a Chinese cookie. It keeps staring at me, as if the only thing that matters. I pick it up.

It reads: Don’t get Close. Highly flammable. Badly scarred war child. Nobody’s bad boy.

The Dum Dum Dog Man
At the club, Belladonna Jane, Kat listens as her girlfriends, Quick Girl and Bunny Jen, talk about their boyfriends as if pets. The two others, Chibiusa So and Spring Princess, complain about how the world treats them as pets. It’s so sick, yells Kat, up for another Mimosa Moss.

Half-drunk under scythe of moon, the five bop along Avenue C, cracking jokes about the best sailor sex they never had, adrift in a bed, a room of lonely sea. Kat spots the Dum Dum Dog Man sitting against brick, legs splayed, tin cup open to sky, big floppy ears that have heard the world seven times around. She stops, drowns in his eyes, the sad longing to be more.

Against the advice of Quick Girl, who warns Kat that he might carry a thousand night ticks, she takes the Dum Dum Dog Man home and feeds him his favorite dish: raw chop beef and hard biscuits the shape of bones. She tells him about her childhood, about the dog she never rescued, about the man in her dreams she had to put to sleep, how he kept returning.

The Dum Dum Dog Man, in turn, recounts the good old days when he could still growl at strangers, live under fences, poop on perfect squares of suburban lawns. At night, they sleep on a hard cot, her head nestled against his hairy chest, listening to his dreams of a thousand dogs in New York City breaking free. Their whine, she thinks, is too high to be heard.

And even though their dialects are somewhat different, her mistaking his gutturals for Pidgin-Dog or his plosives for implosions, she knows they both share this much: they've both been abandoned by beloved master or mistress.

One day, he admits that as much as he loves her like a favorite niece, he was never a cat lover. Actually, he envied them. He says that as kind as she’s been, he’s unhappy. He can’t stay settled down, the whole routine about leashes. She reads into his eyes the scars from old fevers, cruel owners. She gives him enough money to last a short street-life. It’s all she can afford. She tells him she understands and sets him free.

Several weeks later, she receives a call. A man with a deep thick voice is telling her to come down to the hospital morgue and identify a body. After asking him to repeat several strings of information, Kat understands that the Dum Dum Dog Man has been hit by a car.

The closest to any identification he had, says the doctor, is a crinkled note that read among other things: If found hurt or dead, return me to Kat, the only girl who took in this mangy stray of a man.

This number was on the note, says the doctor.

Kat says Yes, I was his only family.

In the chilly basement of the hospital morgue, the body is rolled out. With locked eyelids and crossed arms that remind Kat of two buried bones making an X, the Dum Dum Dog Man has a smile frozen across his face.

Kat returns it and howls.


For 17 earth years, Kat's nocturnal dreams have not turned her into a boy. Nor does she believe in chromosome 5 and the circadian tragedy of her pocket-size life. Her dreams are grey scale, and in all of them, her prince is a superhero rendered impotent by the lack of light. She wakes up sucking her own finger or believing she is a fruit bat. But today, the faces in her deck of cards predict otherwise. Buildings will still fall and hobo dictators will still rule on street corners, but she will find love. His nickname is MeatHead, a lowboy under clouds, all autistic heart and slow on arrivals. He sits in the back of the class and she does not turn or tell him later that she holds his breaths in the palm of her hand. She spots him after school, staring at his own absence in store windows. One day, she enters the store and climbs next to the manikins. Facing each other, they press their noses against glass. They blow little clouds that don't live for long. They pretend their finger pads are touching. She whispers to him again and again: I want to get pregnant. She smiles, imagines herself big as twin castles. He slinks away and is deaf to the world of noise. She sleeps with him and keeps his glassy blue eyes under her pillow. In her dreams, castles are underground and voices are pitch black. But she saves the prince from falling.

Strange Monsters

Whenever speechless clouds settle in her eyes, Kat goes shopping at the community center for low-cal peanut butter or garlic-flavored hummus. In her apartment, she does Pilates to make her hard to intruders but soft enough to dream of babies. She is in love with a boy named Masaomi, an installer of computer firewalls, an anti-spammer who tells her he fights strange monsters. You mean viruses, Kat once said with the smile of rain streaking across her East Village window. Since meeting Masaomi at The Knitting Factory, Kat sometimes mistakes strangers in a storm for parent duplicates. Sometimes they follow her home and stand next to her bed, staring, saying nothing. She hides her head under the sheets. She pretends to hug Masaomi. Sometimes she cries over what is happening inside her body, a subtle force of nature or an unnamed waterfall. Masaomi tells her that in the darkness, there are portals to other worlds, monsters who take normal shapes during their day jobs. A Starbucks addict on street corners, Masaomi says these monsters have been with us since childhood--they wore the faces of parents, teachers. In an abandoned building on Loisaida, Masaomi reveals that he is an assassin of Kat's fears. They hold each other still on a creaky second-story floor, while the night rushes past them and through the city. Tonight, he whispers, there are no monsters. Kat wants him to marry her despite her constant feeling of being air-lifted or homeless. She imagines waking up to Masaomi, who will have last night's peanut butter smudged against his lips. She imagines an imperfect love in the core of the city. She wants to marry him because someday a monster with hard-drive memory will corner her and she will be out of time.

Four Shorts

1. Kat’s Life in Manga

Whenever the weatherman predicts that Yucatan will only be visible by satellite, or that all the camel rides to Turkmenistan have been cancelled, I know that all my efforts to fly cold will fall south of the border. I will call in sick to work, and spend the rest of the day with the Umbrella-Moon Girls, burying old-minted pennies beneath huckleberry trees, causing giants to rise from the ground, never going home empty-handed or with a fair-weather friend.

2. Jump

I catch you in the afterlife, pull you in from the rain, Kitty-san. Fishhooks for eyes, bruises below your ocean that floats two-faced chibi dolls. You're the girl from the genba, dancing to kan & debo, a gentle wind blowing through your palms that allowed me to think I might be saved. You had a reputation for going home with the wrong demon boys. Your kites stuck in their trees, they made you confess how often you change your underwear. I must have died that same night. But i let you in, somewhere in my limbo of unsalvageable loves, my bed of sweet europop phrasings because i am not metal or deathrock in destiny. As i hold your body, plum wine and finished by morning, we look out the window: the rooftops of Tokyo, the blue-black pain of sky, the rain is burning. We are always the short-lived birds who jump.

3   Kat’s Claw

So your tall, dark and stingy lover took your animal passion and left you with little or no survival instinct. Reduced to a blind newborn kitten Dr. Phil might say. So what do you do? You climb the walls like a ... like a cat burglar! But in your house there's nothing to steal. The windows only stare back at you. Try reading self-help books. Try dumping men like rancid meat. Prowl the bars and the city's after hours until you find that stranger with the teeth of a rat, the skin of a lynx, stingy as a pompous Hollywood raccoon. His mark: He'll order what you're drinking but straight up.

Here's the deal: Get him up to your place. Put on some old Tom Jones. Light his cigar. Rub his toes. Spike his drink. Lure him to a cage. Shut off the lights. Walk out and keep walking forever.

Now pussycat pussycat.

That's freedom.


Kat City 5:00 a.m.

if you want to bebop with me, tabby-O, you'll have to get up on the downbeat, raise the hump on the catwalk, angora pouty, singapura smirk.

let's weave and bobtail in this club of city strays and some out-of-town ringed robins. those day jobs of neutering

night but under strobe lights bare nipple is all the rage. Perk up to all the words the DJ spins for us: sun hat, fat cat, hellcat, requiescat, scaredy-cat, magnificat, copycat.

I love you, silly cat.

by the time the lights go on, we'll be wrapped in each other's fur, us, chancing the back alleys of marble-still abyssinian eyes, tiny flashlights into the void of morning.

streets of fur-ball and phantom wind. catty hookers cracking over a lost shoe. slow dancer hung over mist.

Tales of Manhattan

She’d make a great catch in the rain. Because in the rain nothing moves. No cat girl of deep shade eyeliner. No saint of dark corners. Trouble was whenever it rained we couldn’t find ourselves. We became parodies of the Keystone Cops. She must have laughed with the flashing black eyes of a Daruma doll.

Since she was a part of me, mine, mu, that assumption of sticky fingers, I had to bring her in. We had gone to school together, PS 12 on 63rd across from Central Park. As kids, we flew paper planes there during recess. Our teacher was too busy collecting varieties of leaf and butterfly. In the shade of elm, she moved like a cat, had that sad glint in her eyes of a girl not afraid to be anything. “You’re going to be a bird someday,” I said, watching the paper plane float above us. “But with no wings,” she added, dancing in circles like some mad Nijinsky. She stole my virginity without ever touching me. By the time I graduated the Police Academy, no victim could move me.

Years later she became the infamous Kat Girl, connoisseur of what diamond-shaped love belonged to others: Marquise, Emerald, Radiant, Pear, Asscher, 24 Carat and beyond. She ripped off the Tiffany Porcelain ladies who resembled their manicured poodles. In her apartment paid for by another ill-fated lover, I imagined her dancing to Stravinsky’s Capriccio for piano, or collapsing to the floor practicing her graceful cat death. Across town, in a precinct of weak walls, I was promoted to junior detective.

I chased her through open windows, across floors with glass walls, up and down Soho’s side streets, a no go in Noho. In Chinatown, she vanished through crowds of serious-looking women, shoulder to shoulder. In skyscrapers, she disappeared through elevator cars perfectly timed and my timing was always too hard-boiled egg logical. At night, I fingered my torn pillow and imagined holding the fur of some jaguarondi jumping building to smoking building, and in my dreams a witch changed me into a white cat. In others, I drank Kat Girl’s blood, the only thing that could cure my St. Anthony’s fire.

She had become the rage of fashion society, of young girls tired of A.M. radio’s divas. It became chic to dress in black leather, gold hoop earrings, a vampish hand of black eyeliner, to pose with one hand on hip, the other against a graffiti-raped wall, that incredibly over-dramatic smirk that said Am I fuckable or what?

On TV, in the courtrooms, her close-ups mocked me. There was never enough to put her away. At trials, she would turn around and wink at me, as if to say Fuck you, I’m a Kat. One case was dismissed on the grounds of race alone. A DNA sample proved that she was part Russian Blue. We suspected she had seduced the judge with the sweep of her eyes, the keenness of her answers.

As I drove in patrol cars, everywhere written in bold reds and oranges of spray paint, from Spanish Harlem to Delancy Street: You’ll never catch me. In her palm, she had oil sheiks badly in need of new tricks in bed, and Wall Street brokers badly in need of blue sky. She always had me.

We met at a diner. She sat alone, dressed like a punk rocker in some Indie band that grooves in its own distortion, the short skirt, the green leg warmers, the tattoo on her shoulder of a raging cat, paws outstretched. I approached her table, smiled and sat down. I said that sooner or later everyone’s luck runs out.

She buttered her English muffin and said without looking up, “Do you find me fuckable?”

In my place back on Bleecker, we fucked like R.E.M. zombies in a rage of awakening, of having been dead for so long. We smeared ourselves with new voodoo and obscene ritual. We must have made a thousand babies with perfect blues eyes. After she left, I noticed my one hand was handcuffed to the bedrail. With the other, I found a two dollar bill under my pillow. I knew I’d never catch her.

A rainy night. We received a call about a robbery in progress on the upper East side. We fired the siren and drove through red lights.

The woman was in tears. Her best jewelry gone. It belonged to her grandmother from the old country, who in her youth kept a collection of jewel damselflies.

I caught a flash of her through the window. Like a fool, I chased her across rooftops, telling myself not to look below. We were light years up. The streets were lizards. The streets were snakes. She performed a magnificent jump, ledge to ledge. In the rain, through the mist, the hunched shadow yelled out, “Am I still fuckable?”

I squatted, tensed, and flew like a lousy invention. I realized that I was her paper plane from childhood that had turned into flesh and bone. My hands caught on the opposite ledge. My body grew heavy. I fell. I fell forever.

I woke up to a nurse taking my temperature. How bad, I asked. She said in a sweet melodic voice, that besides the concussion, I had some bad cuts, that one of them became infected, a gram negative.

I studied her. She had a tattoo of a cat on her forearm. There was a trace of eyeliner and that smirk.

“Is it contagious?” I yelled out.

She already left the room.

Feline Eye, Feline You

Kat is walking down the street, sidestepping monarch butterflies or painted ladies with one leg, grounded, perhaps crushed by children's hands. It's hot in the city, sneaker rubbing against talus and hungry spider vein, flashbacks of the night before: two sweaty bodies in solitude, post-coital despair by windows, kitchen sink drip drip, cats of the night, unlicensed and turncoat, screeching by dumpsters. The heaven-eyed boy whose profile lingers against moon clones. Kat smiles, recalls the hookers below her window, on night guard for pure love against fragile corners. Kat keeps bopping and the sun keeps ticking. She looks up: blue falsetto of sky, some straggling birds in retro-glide, a small piece of paper floating down maybe 10 stories, maybe a letter, maybe she shush shush shouldn't because curiosity killed the . . . But Kat does because the vessels of her heart are networked to a thousand tiny hands pushing up under the streets. The letter is a suicide note. It reads:

. . . by the time you have read this oh beautiful stranger, I will be dead, a jump head first through an incomplete roof, through another ceiling, and I will land on the floor of my favorite Dunkin' Donuts, which itself is a ceiling to the truly decaffeinated. But I will live through you. This letter is a magical letter, and whoever reads it will become me. Through you, accidental reader, I will love again what spits and kicks back. I can only imagine your blue hang-glide eyes, your sulphur and copper tongue. Our memory trace will mingle and breed, but don't burn your fingers in my coffee.

The letter is signed by the poetess, Low-ki, the famous subway rapper, diva of side street Slam.

Kat folds the letter, sticks it in a pocket next to an unused condom given to her by a boy of bad weather forecasts. She approaches the downtown fair. She smiles she cries she peeps in windows she mellows over deadlined lovers in coffee shops she's light on her feet she's all sugar and anarchy. Scents of hot sausage, chestnuts, red peppers, coppertoned flesh melting into the street. She spots the heaven-eyed boy, calling himself OddHat, entertaining the crowd high on health fizzes; he's pulling cats out of his baseball cap, stopping at number 9. He turns and stares hard at Kat.

What's in the back of her throat feels like goo and sludge, her tongue as if stapled to the floor of her mouth. "Low-ki," the boy yells out. The cats jump and disappear into the air. Kat runs, dodging bodies and food carts. "It was all a mistake," OddHat yells," you misunderstood me! I love you, not her, not Kat!."

But Kat is running down narrow streets that lead back to each other. She runs towards the last scrape of the island. She runs, closing her eyes, tasting her own salt on her lips. She takes the letter from her jeans and tosses it into the air. She imagines it flying over traffic, gliding into the hands of another soft-eyed girl. I can't be the one, thinks Kat, panting hard. It's me who needs saving.

As she jumps through the sun's last halo in the air, something that is invisible to the city's sanitation workers and flesh peddlers, Kat hopes that both she and Low-ki will not become soul-kill, but will land on all fours.


I wake up with a scream.  Mine. I always try to travel light at night but this. . . On the pillow next to mine, Kat opens one eye then the other.  When did you shave your head? I ask, shaking like a newborn pup that dropped and landed in our bed.

Oh, some guy crept in last night and cut it. I think he was a modern ninja. He said he wanted to bring my chestnut locks to his master. His master thought chestnut was just for horses. There might be a ritual involved. Maybe even barter. My lock for seven of your dribbling goats that you promised could talk like big shit mountain gods. I couldn’t see much of him in the dark, but he was kind of cute dressed as a simple wood gatherer. Then he flew out the window like a skylark. Or maybe the floor opened up for him. I bet he could walk on water too. Maybe surf on a wave of my hair. I don’t think it was a dream.

Very funny, I say.

I dive head first under the sheets. I’m Jacques Cousteau without a flashlight, looking for signs of hair.

Stop, Kat says, that tickles.

I’m on a mission, I say, just hold your breath.

You feel like a water spider.

How would you know what a water spider feels like?

A ninja crept into my room last night.

She catches my head in a leg scissors and says for me to say Ninja Uncle. Instead, I bite into her flesh that only remotely tastes like a soft salt pretzel.

You small time bitch, she says, muff diver, loser.  My ninja man would never bite me. If he knew, he’d kill you with a dart. Avenge my dishonor.

In black bra and panties, Kat walks across the floor with soft even foot-slaps. She opens the window and yells out over Avenue C: Anybody see my Water Spider Man? He got away with my hair.

I get dressed and turn on Canadian radio. A news report about a hiker, stranded in the wilderness for weeks, claiming to have lived on fly soup and bear paw. Returning home, he couldn’t adjust to society.

Fuck, says Kat, I got blood on my panties. These cramps hurt. Like worse than the worst. Make me crazy.

So, you got crazy and cut your own hair?

I said these cramps hurt. Most people listen with only ¼ of their brain. With you, it’s just the ear canal and no further.

Take some Black Haw. It’s good for cramps.

You speak from experience?

My ex, who loved to fuck listening to Insects in Minor Keys, said it worked.

Was she a grasshopper?

No, Aquarius. She was from South London.

Go to England and suck breast milk.

We spend the rest of the morning, chasing and humping each other’s shadow, waiting for the ninja to return.

The Man She Couldn't Forget

If he were light, he'd be a lotus petal. A fledging thought inside a girl, lonely on city streets, intuitive on mountaintops. Instead, he left a suicide note that read: The world is not a pond. I am a sturgeon. Everyone wants me for dinner. I'm not even that tasty anymore. I keep floating down. . . Miss tHing fishes him half-way from the water, imagines his eyes of negative space, the ferric taste of the stud on the lower lip, the body heavy, a gunnysack of body parts once fresh with her fingerprints. She decides: He is too waterlogged to be saved. She removes her orange silk top, the low cut jeans that were a real bargain in a city of drownings. Underwater, she tows the sturgeon-man to where he will be safe from swimmers, from wanna-be heroes with a missing limb. On TV, they have a whole channel to themselves. Towards bottom, it's dark, darker than any room where she ever slept alone or never quite woke up. She has the feeling that everything here is vigilant and pristine. A thousand eyes light up. A voice swims inside her head--Leave us be. Pretend you never saw anything. She returns to shore, spitting up gobs of what she can't remember. She looks up at the slate sky. Nothing is written down.

The Chekov Cats

Pixie Bob makes a living constructing sturdy houses and building bridges, cantilever or cable-stayed, that will never fall into rivers. But he's up in the air about his wife, Kat, a beautiful Scheherazade of a girl, a nurse who works tiptoe on the third shift, complaining of how she is spinning her life away in the grind of daily routine, getting the stains out of this and that and ruining every delicate fabric in her obsessed rubbing. She reminds Pixie Bob at least every other night post foreplay and pre-dead paw that money might be the only cure to marital yawn.

"But, baby, money can only buy things, and things never last," says Pixie Bob, every time Kat gets into the retro-tragic family thing, the Ibsen swans and the Dreiser-drowned sister, how her mother became a sexual veggie, her father, a back alley slayer of dead-end girls.

Pixie Bob worries that someday Kat might take off with a handsome E.R. doctor with incredibly soft and fast hands. And her Persian eyes, sometimes dark, sometimes transparent, would only become one more memory to haunt him. He wishes there was some formula to understand, to predict love, maybe like a Fibonacci Sequence. And like Kat, his childhood was full of long accidental spills and bad burns. He was constantly being chased away by strangers out of his mother's bedroom. He remembers the smell of sex like an open wound, the heat of his own misunderstood body. For this reason, he decided that someday he'd build truss bridges able to withstand so much pressure. They would be simple and rigid. All that weight from old cars.

Pixie Bob and Kat have a little daughter named Samantha. They're both concerned about her aversion to regular milk and her refusal to be potty trained. Left unattended, she will climb ledges or slip through open windows and will slither in the neighbor's untested soil. To date, she has given Kat three nervous breakdowns and one terrible lockjaw.

So, one day, Pixie Bob comes home announcing that he has a plan. A plan, a plan, always another plan, says Kat, scouring her pots with steel wool and occasionally, the tip of a painted fingernail.

"But this is different," says Pixie Bob, "we're going to play the lottery. A guy at work gave me the idea. It’s amaKatg what he does with simple hammer and nail."

"All my friends on the night shift play the lottery," says Kat without turning her head, immersed in her Bain Maries and colanders. "And the most they ever won was spent in a week."

"No," says Pixie Bob. "This lottery is different. Not money. It's a lottery of life endings. If you win, you get a great ending."

Kat turns around, flushed and falling lip.

"Like what have you been smoking at work? It must be some great shit. There's no lottery of life endings, if by endings you mean for keeps. I'd still prefer money. It doesn’t last, but I love the color"

"You'll see. You'll see," says Pixie Bob, mumbling under his breath as he slams the door on the way out. Often the two of them have tooth and claw fights over the meaning of their lives. Kat usually stomps upstairs to bed, saying Fuck you and your simple ways.

Pixie Bob will slip into the bedroom, standing by the bed in nothing but the moonlit coat of his flesh, and saying very softly, “Will we ever win?” or “You don’t know how much it hurts to love you.” He will try to kiss Kat, but she will turn over and dream something she can never remember.

On the day the winning lottery number is announced, Pixie Bob runs home, dances around Kat and exclaims that they have won, they have the winning number. At the table, Samantha is making little puddles with spoonfuls of brown gravy.

Pixie Bob is so excited that he convinces Kat to call in sick that night. He says they should stay up and make love. Kat calls in sick. But in bed, she falls asleep. Pixie Bob sits in bed, dreaming with his eyes open.

That morning, Pixie Bob paces the backyard while looking up at the sky, for the ticket that will float down. Sure enough, he sees it and catches it with his good hand. It reads: They lived happily ever after.

He shows it to Kat. Her smile is sad.

And the months go by. And Pixie Bob is happy. But he sees that Kat is not. He cannot understand why. After all, they won the lottery of endings.

Then, one day, Kat confronts Pixie Bob and tells him she is leaving. She says she isn’t happy. She says she will visit every now and then and that he should take good care of Samantha.

But why, says Pixie Bob. Is it me? I’ll promise I’ll change. Tell me what you want me to do. If it’s money, I’ll work two jobs. Even three.

No, says Kat, it isn’t you. It’s me. I was never meant to be happy. Maybe happiness is for grandmothers sitting by rain-streaked windows. Maybe it’s a tranquilizer gun. Anyway, I’ve fallen in love with someone else, someone younger than you or I. Someone dangerous and maybe like me—a little fucked up. Perhaps we will both die in trying to save the other. Perhaps we will both fall from bridges.

Kat leaves.

Pixie Bob drives to a bridge he once built. A long cantilever bridge over a river. He takes the lottery ticket and tosses it. He watches it flutter, float on the water, then disappear.

He looks up at the sky. The clouds are moving. He looks behind. His daughter is in the backseat of the car, perhaps fidgeting or wetting her dress. He imagines her a grown woman, coming to visit him in a nursing home. He’ll be in the TV room among people who never won the lottery. There’s that deadened gaze about them, so many medications, so much of nothing. His daughter will say to him—Teach me to be happy. Can it be taught as easily as French?  And in her eyes, he sees something falling.


I and Kat are standing near the rare record shop on Bleecker. She says she's not doing trade-ins anymore because all their stuff is scratched and anyway they don't have anything by The Ju Jus, a 60's garage band that is on the verge of being re-discovered. According to her. People pass us by in fast streams that diverge on side streets or gain momentum up ahead. I'm not sure who is in real time, them or us. I'm not sure who is watching Leonardo DiCaprio on their i-Pads.

Kat is dressed in the army fatigues of her very late husband who left this world with an honorable discharge. He was fighting underground czars disguised as cabbies, but his left leg went numb after he spoke of a vision of Christ singing “Hey Jude.” It wasn't long after that. I met him when he was still a boy, says Kat, and he gave me the sun. But now he's gone and the sun is poison. So each day, I take a knife, a wish, a prayer in Cyrillic, and try to bleed it a little. When it's cleansed, it will be winter, and we will start cold. A white sun.

Later that night, after failing to score a hundred faces with names that never stick, or finding excuses for drowned deals, I meet Kat in a building claimed by squatters. It's somewhere in The Bowery. The squatters are mostly crusty Punks, or victims of nuclear runaway families. You can only see their eyes, the rest is dark. You imagine a few of them cuddling for warmth, or they're already dead. It's nice to die in pairs. In a third floor room, where fall out is more than likely, we exchange paper rain for paper sun. When it's done, at least one of us has been ripped off. The other is still warm.


Kyle Hemmings

Miss tHing, I Think I Love You


Kyle Hemmings

Miss tHing, I Think I Love You


Kyle Hemmings


I’m the geek you meet on a train. A head full of hex code and sac spiders, I’m obsessed with things out of sequence. I can tell, Miss tHing, by your fairy tale mini skirt and high collar frill that you’re a train spotter, getting off at Tokyo, but wanting California, or you, switching signals, causing fake blue-eye lovers to crash. I must be the first car you’ve jumped all morning. We chance a berth, a cube of first-class darkness. Up closer, you almost look cute in a beret. You tell me that speed is the answer to everything. Love them and leave them in a blur. Kyoto still wants you. By nightfall, at speeds approaching 150 m.p.h., our porcelain bodies, bones rigid with memories, press against each other. Or maybe we are two sheets of paper, unevenly lined up, torn from different notebooks. I’m always taking notes and reading them back in a mirror. Your breasts are A) silicone B) Portabella or C) real human. After a cross town climax, the two of us cradled by some spurious silence, you tell me how you once slept with the deaf boys from the back alleys of Ura-Hara, just to spite some humanoid more experienced than you. Once a member of a death cult, he was an artist you nicknamed Wan-ton. His hands spaced then framed you. It’s so Brittany of you to whisper dysfunction in your own Valley-Girl-DirtySpeak. Maybe your artist and I are distanced by only six degrees of separation and some blanched islands in the sun. Maybe in his dream or mine, those deaf boys scream louder than trains.

Paper Moons

Miss tHing likes to get down with her paper moons, all scissors and cut-up fingers. Tipsy on Apricot brandy, flirty as the child she once was riding red bicycles downhill, stroking hard curves, bluffing every mama’s boy, or just your mama. “I stole your son’s bike," she announced from far corners, from screeching burn-outs. The sun was high and she flew solo. But now, seven weeks after rehab, three lunar months after a man scorched her with lies of his red desert existence, a space she could understand, a man whose burning feet she could love, she knows there are two people in the mirror: the tattered girl, the once-again love-urchin without a man or an alibi. And there’s the wanna-get-real her who gets reborn every happy hour, only to get aborted at the door.

Musical Genius

The song Miss tHing's piano teacher gave up on her plays in the voice of a man with shuffling boxcar feet, a body of accordion-squeeze. She would love to pack this little man in her briefcase before going to work, or play a friendly game of hiding him in the closet, just so she can find him again. Unlike her first and second piano teachers, this man will never reject her. She loves his fingering, his timbre mastery in her 4/4 toss and turn nights. So far her tally is: marzukas-20, etudes-30 and then some, polonaises-18, preludes and nocturnes--40 each. He's divorced and bald, a woman with no sense of count ruined his private boleros. One day, in the Fantasy of the Real, Miss tHing confronts him, says she loves him as if a soft hand inside her, but will never take away the pain, the treacheries of her early tutors. The next day, the little man stands in the doorway of her quiet apartment, a city for amateurs and the permanently tone-deaf, claims he has broken his fingers so she won't feel alone. She embraces him, tells him that it is only she who is impoverished. In the bedroom, under a portrait of a square-jawed man who could never play music, their movements are quiet, controlled, exquisitely shaded, with an occasional forte.

The Man She Couldn't Forget

If he were light, he'd be a lotus petal. A fledging thought inside a girl, lonely on city streets, intuitive on mountaintops. Instead, he left a suicide note that read: The world is not a pond. I am a sturgeon. Everyone wants me for dinner. I'm not even that tasty anymore. I keep floating down. . . Miss tHing fishes him half-way from the water, imagines his eyes of negative space, the ferric taste of the stud on the lower lip, the body heavy, a gunnysack of body parts once fresh with her fingerprints. She decides: He is too waterlogged to be saved. She removes her orange silk top, the low cut jeans that were a real bargain in a city of near-drownings. Underwater, she tows the sturgeon-man to where he will be safe from swimmers, from wanna-be heroes with a missing limb. On TV, they have a whole channel to themselves. Towards bottom, it's dark, darker than any room she ever slept alone in. She has the feeling that everything here is vigilant and pristine. A thousand eyes light up. A voice swims inside her head--Leave us be. Pretend you never saw anything. She returns to shore, spitting up gobs of what she can't remember. She looks up at the slate sky. Nothing is written down.

After Bagdada

Is something the matter? says the Major of Conquered Sands to army nurse, Miss tHing. Every mother's son, says Miss tHing, looking up and squinting at the crenellated walls of Target Village. Every Mother's son. She remembers the items found on last night's civilians, victims of a fire fight: half-crumpled packs of filter-less cigarettes, rings with semi-precious stones, watches with saw-toothed bands, chewed belts, a hickory cord wrapped around a shriveled, dismembered finger. In the distance, the peeling of bells and a donkey's bray. Some children were fighting near a wheelbarrow. The screech of a homemade rocket.

There is a smell of sewage and sinkhole drifting in. They are thirty kilometers from a recently discovered nuclear plant and under a vulture's swoon. Stepping over the slain, the soldiers who refused to be taken alive, the Major of Conquered Sands emits a scent of camel and burning leather. Miss tHing leans her ear to the lips of each corpse, the bodies still as pumice. Each, she believes, has a story to tell. Pfc. X whispers that he never grew tall enough for his father. Pfc. Y tells her that he lost faith in Mistwalkers and Dragon Quests, years ago. Pfc. Z asks her to close her eyes and give him a kiss. She does it with eyes open.

The hours out here are endless; the wages never enough. The fumes follow Miss tHing for weeks at a time, linger in her mouth, over the food she eats. She comes from a good family. In her town, there are few reports of drug lords or bug eyed men rawboned for loose change. The failed gasps of their victims. The nights are hollow-eyed but women get their beauty sleep, faces oozing with South American honey.

She follows the Major towards the truck. His steps are giant. She's almost breathless. Now she understands why the sky is a stillness of, a mass of yellow to white. It's the color of bone to bone.

 Back home, she will trip over her summer sandals, forget clothes at the Laundromat, smile blankly at people she went to school with. She'll turn down any weekend marriage proposal and switch to diet Pepsi. Back home, she will sleep for days, lose herself in the shafts between.

A Celestial But Sordid Past

Today, the astronauts have returned with their lunar soliloquies. Two of them are Miss tHing’s ex-lovers, the other, a closet android waiting to discover same sex with parallel partners. She invites the two Xs to her house and pulls gravity from under their feet. One panics. She’s reminded of her childhood parakeet let loose in the house. Poor neurotic thing dropped from exhaustion. Little Miss tHing went mad for weeks. Then she put on aviator goggles and withdrew from the world.

The other X says he'll do anything if she gives him back the ability to fall logarithmically, the vertical tendency towards dense. His lies remind her of the ease of gaseous exchange in a world of liquid need and solid resource. But since Miss tHing is already wearing space shoes, lead with custom soles, she has no need for men forever stuck up or always stuck to.

 Under Distant Microscopes

It’s a season of love & odd numbered pairings. At night, the crickets forget the B-side of their songs. Miss tHing works hard to decode the gravelly voice of the radio DJ, a survivor of throat cancer & his own second-hand smog. The song he plays: The Moon Is Down. It’s the truth, she thinks. That night, in the stolen warmth of a car’s front seat, her boyfriend remarks that there is no moon, only a shade of blue different from day and some dirty hands. His hands are great deceivers. The back of his tee-shirt reads: Rebels With Lost Teeth. She reminds him in her sweet-grungy Lolita voice that they are both under the stars. And the stars are really microscopes and the microscopes are the eyes of jealous trekkers who never found a way back to Planet Tokyo. From the slip of Miss tHing’s eye, she notices a white-silver sailboat floating in the sky. She smiles, knowing that some things are never lost. As they both sink deeper into the comatose of the night, the belly of a fog that is cut open but does not bleed.

I'm (Y)oung, (U)gly, & Too (P)oor to Afford A Bathing Ape

On the metro, Miss tHing makes faces at the Goth Lolitas of last year. She tells me, a boy she calls Tut-Tut, her sooty-face squeeze from a ruined matrix, that her best lovers had three eyes--one hidden while the other two pleaded no contest. Between pony tails, she's soft, blonde-dyed-on-blonde, and bad licorice chubby. In stolen cars, she's always getting flat tires. We get off by some Bauhaus-styled apartments in a Victorian rain. She loves Poe & a street artist called Dugged. Yesterday, she was almost expelled for handing the school nurse a plastic container labeled Frog's Piss. She even made her eyes bulge, then hyperventilated. The shit she does will crack me up for years or make me cry at my own pre-arranged marriage. Reading my palm in a college cafe, she says that we'll both die simultaneously--her, from a chemical overdose, me, from a noble suicide. You mean driven by a future wife who turned me into a voiceless toad, I say. Whatever, she says, shrugging. Later, after making love to demons in the form of each other, she shows me a glass jar, in which she stores the voices of her favorite ghosts. When I open the lid, she says, Grandmother tells me that she loves me, and this one strung-out No Salary dude, who did murals along Cat Street, tells me to rebel against slow buses. & dictators! They multiply like the frogs under our feet, the ones we never hear in traffic, the ones we leave for dead. Underground, she says, sipping her latte, you don't get representation. I ask her if my ghost will someday be in that same jar. Yes, she says, and points to my reflection off the glass. As we walk hand in hand towards Meji Dori, buildings bend, trees curve. I already feel that I'm inside looking out. I hear the frogs and know that I am not alone, that one of my three eyes is blushing from a freaky rain-on-me love.

Beautiful Friend

She's an introverted vampire who sucks the thoughts from her ex-boyfriends' brains, soft as tofu, failed nerve transmission I-XIII, a riot in the heart. Then Miss tHing uses their thoughts to blackmail them by saying that things have a way of getting around, you know? The dude she loves is superflat in affect but has good veins. She's into pepper stuffed sleeve shrug and Halloween pettipants. He's into Idol and looking goofy on dating simulations. At the clubs, she's known as Angry and he's Happy.

Angry is three heads shorter than Happy in sneakers. Happy wants death by Gunmetal Sulfide. Angry wants life with mint cotton and red licorice. At night, she has strange dreams of lying in an ultraviolet forest where wooden dogs lick her face. When Happy is not thinking about Angry, he's figuring out new permutations of the bean machine, or how to bend light by doing heel flips on a skateboard, or what it would be like to be a cut tongue sparrow, needing to be owned. When Angry is not biting necks or denying DNA evidence or dancing to Exist Trace in Fuck Up Drape at Club Echo, she pretends she's a frog princess with eyes in the back of her head. When Happy sleeps spooning her, he always dreams with one eye open.

Wild West

Miss tHing is a bird of paradise who turns out to be an aural vampire tone-deaf to mute spin. On rainy nights, skyscrapers nil, she's all saori destiny & melancholy squeeze box. When she slaps me with jungle or tooth organically grown nails, it's to let me know that she's anti-Metal & she ain't no BaBe with backhorn. I offer her a baroque love, devoid of funky monkey & boom, bump & gRind. Too trigger on pistol valve, she shoots my iceman. I try to explain the overdubbed love of the Plastic Porno Princess who raised me. I try to explain how I survived on tankas and crumbs and bumbling surrogate mothers. I try to explain how Miss tHing and I are both rats and stars. Miss tHing is all cool, z-chick & pink lady smile. I hold up my hands. I'm no Jello Biafra. I was once a blood stained child.


The Enigma Machine

In front of the committee of indentured men, he took apart the Enigma machine, key by key, without regard for backward sequencing or scrambled encapsulations. One by one, each committee member rose to tell the most terrifying secret that haunted his life. Then, each one left. When finished, he lost the use of his lips, heard the muffled laughter of a woman at the end of a tunnel, his wife back home sitting in front of a cold dinner.

Past Tense Future

She was giving up bits of her life, cut into ribbons and twists he could easily digest, at times, tasting like black licorice. How she once lived at the fringe, the karma of bad lives, the sailor she accidentally suffocated in her grandmother‘s room, the anxious body squirming beneath her. He now imagined himself growing small, a child tossed into the ocean, his neglected cries, the last drops at the bottom of his shot glass.

Tom Swift

He was considering what words could break the sound barrier between them, how to use wave propulsion as an aerial warship, cannon, tank, or scout. But her mind, she said, was focused on the bottom line. Love for her was a diversion, but the invention of The Swift Pigeon Good Bye was advanced technology, worth more than a thousand private planes, the parts that no one could order through postal.


The Problem with Watching TV Reruns When You're Too Sober on Cold Pizza (pubbed in The Planet Formerly Known as Earth)

I kept my mother's TV, one that I'd never throw out, black and white, equipped with old cathode and vacuum tubes. Only occasionally did something smoke. Maybe it was me. So I was sitting there, watching The Last Pony Express Rider, a close up of both man and horse, one desperate to leave St. Louis, the other so needy of sugar cube and water. Both horse and rider jumped out of the screen and into my room of clutter, paper designs of failed rockets, my old love letters written when I still believed in the future of science.

The rider, dusty from the trip, handed me the letter. His horse was still panting.

My dearest Harold. Forgive me my poor judgment. It was not meant to be that I would become the fair headed and lisping stage actress of Sacramento, the rage of failed gold miners. Alas, I am stranded here without money or promise of sustenance. Shall I sell myself to the angry moon and die hungry? If you could but come to my rescue one last time, I will never leave your side. Already, the dirt streets of St. Louis ring in my ears sweet as a choir. In my own unfathomable way, I have always been loyal to you. We are both creatures of what rustles through our brains at night--A Love So Unworthy--Wanda Tarrington-Cates.

The last name belonged to my mother's side. My mother, who in her precociously shut-off days in a hospital that resembled a resort, painted Impressionistic paintings of sunsets in crashing colors. Over time, those paintings, with an acquired cult following, commanded exorbitant prices on ebay.

I made out a check to Wanda Tarrington-Cates and proceeded to hand it to The Last Pony Express Rider. But his horse had turned to glass. His show being cancelled, he was nowhere to be found. From then on, I vowed to live on a diet of cold pizza, black coffee without sugar. The old TV set no longer worked, but its black rectangular eye kept watching me, as if someone far away, perhaps behind that screen, still needed me.


Bathing Chickens (pubbed in Winamop) (9/11)

It isn't like trying to get Miss Thing into a corner so you can whisper in her ear that she's got lice. There are days when you yourself feel flat-bodied and wingless, sucking on dry hair.

It's your problem too is what Miss Thing would say. It isn't like chasing a toy dog into its own shadow, just to hear Miss Thing laugh. Her eyes still reflect miles of Ohio grasslands, a childhood hoed by bony fingers, turned on empty smiles, lulled by insects chirping under the bed. In those years of false bras, Southern Ohio was slow in gravity. Later, a man appeared in her life with nine fingers. He never gave a satisfactory explanation, only that he killed chickens for a living. She left him out of fear; he never said much. But she still gives you goose bumps, those jitter critters under the skinny that makes you want to mate. Or squawk in your wire cage. You will soak the chicken you caught today with warm salty water. You'll remove any trace of slime, mucous. But because you suspect this chicken is sick, shot through with all kinds of antibiotics, you let it go. In the late afternoon, while your dad is buying pipe tobacco at a Quick-Check too far down the road, you spot the same chicken pressing one side of its head against the screen window. Maybe it wants to warn you. Maybe it's just plain nosy. And you and Miss Thing are busy making all kinds of wingless love. She calls it lice, spending entire lifetimes in the space, shaped like Ohio, where you and she intersect. In the night, after she's left, you sink in your own space, your resistance shattered.

a line, (a blue one)

Interview with Blue Boy

He spoke in subdued tones of gray mixed with cool. I had nothing sweet to offer him. He kept staring at a bowl of plastic fruit. Not real, I finally offered. He shook his head politely. Unable to resist my own leanings, I paraphrased Hamlet's Existential question--to live or to be still? In the silence, I thought about all the places or items I associated him with: cocktail coasters,

N.Y. Times fashion advertisements, scaled down copies adorning an abandoned room in a house. I remembered how his image stopped one show as the tableaux vivant back in'86. His eyes now focused downward, as if trapping some thought in their blue-tunnel gaze. I thought about patches of sea-green melancholy. A background mist. A young girl named Pinkie. There was something about him that was so intrinsically lonely.

a line, (a blue one)


This is not your father's Oldsmobile, the one with a transmission called a Hydro-matic. That car could travel. This is only a photo, a still of appearances, shades of grey. Time doesn't lie. But it doesn't tell the truth either. For only one freeze-frame of time, did you remotely resemble, Liz Taylor in National Velvet. This is you back when you wanted to be. Desire was perfect in itself. While your father was trying to polarize a 6-volt regulator, you imagined your heart with four terminals. You even labeled each one with letters. You pictured your father connecting each jumper wire, alligator clip, to the correct terminal. He could do it blindfolded. You had a weak heart. He said in time, it would need a mechanic. What? you said. He meant the car. The first boy who broke your heart picked you up in a white four-door bustle-back, Deluxe trim. This is not a picture of your father's first Oldsmobile or the one belonging to that tow-headed fast-pitching kid. This is about what remains after wrong wire to Terminal F. This is about what happens when you fall for a boy who doesn't give a darn about moving pictures. You're lucky there's still a spark.

a line, (a blue one)


I and Princess Marushka are standing near the rare record shop on Bleecker. She says she's not doing trade-ins anymore because all their stuff is scratched and anyway they don't have anything by The Ju Jus, a 60's garage band that is on the verge of being re-discovered. According to her. People pass us by in fast streams that diverge on side streets or gain momentum up ahead. I'm not sure who is in real time, them or us. I'm not sure who is watching Leonardo DiCaprio on their i-Pads. Princess is dressed in the army fatigues of her very late husband who left this world with an honorable discharge. He was fighting underground czars disguised as cabbies, but his left leg went numb after he spoke of a vision of Christ singing Hey Jude. It wasn't long after that.

I met him when he was still a boy, says Princess, and he gave me the sun. But now he's gone and the sun is poison. So each day, I take a knife, a wish, a prayer in Cyrillic, and try to bleed it a little. When it's cleansed, it will be winter, and we will start cold. A white sun. Later that night, after failing to score a hundred faces with names that never stick, or finding excuses for drowned deals, I meet Princess in a building claimed by squatters. It's somewhere in The Bowery. The squatters are mostly crusty Punks, or victims of nuclear runaway families. You can only see their eyes, the rest is dark. You imagine a few of them cuddling for warmth, or they're already dead. It's nice to die in pairs. In a third floor room, where fall out is more than likely, we exchange paper rain for paper sun. When it's done, at least one of us has been ripped off. The other is still warm.

Primary Colors (pubbed in First Stop Fiction)

This is what I don’t remember: bluebonnet Sundays under Southern elm, girls whistling through tall grass, a frog, a simple cobbler, a street the width of a song. My mother in a sundress, her skin smooth as a shaved peach, a kid’s vague theory about the alignment of stars. Then the nights grew cold and other moon-ly. The door opened a creak. A man as big as a space ship. The tall shadows interrogated my father and took him to a world without cables. By morning, they returned for me and my mother. They were Green men or men with Green ideas. Green being the color of what wasn’t the temper of my blood. Then weeks stuck in the waiting rooms of the Green People. Is this how they play games? I thought. Mine were simpler and more fun. And at least you could win something. What I don’t remember: My mother filling out forms, scratching out answers, asking questions, a Green Man telling her in Broken Green what to write. In our language, my mother whispered into my good ear, “Why don’t you try to sleep. Just close your eyes and pretend you’re home.” But I never saw home again. I cursed that Green Planet of Tall Shadows. My father calling to me from some crater, from some cell at the bottom of it. Growing up, I cheated the Green Men of lifelines, I taxed whatever could be declared as Green, I rolled from one Green Woman’s bed to another until I couldn’t recognize my true color anymore in their mirrors. This is what I don’t remember: Why some colors fade to grey.


The Brando Method Thing #3: Sal Mineo on Watching Brando at the Actors Studio
(Pubbed in Wigleaf, Sept. 2011)

I had a month of shiny subway tokens. My good-boy gabardines were wearing thin at the crotch. Buddy was tight chinos and the anger of a boy with too many stepfathers. The girls in class loved the way his muscles twitched and stretched like homeless snakes. They must've felt delightfully cornered.

There was sadness too in the way he moved and mumbled
the names of Caesar's assassins. If I were a cowboy, it would've felt like the death of a favorite steer.

Teach me to feel, I said to my acting coach, Stella Adler.

That year Brooklyn was losing its elm trees and suicides were kept out of the papers. I was in love with an opera singer named George. We were both poor, down on the shoeshine, but in love. I thought of us as two kites, slowly drifting apart, an artificial cloud between us. In time, I would be attracted to more dangerous men.

You're all in the anal stage, announced Stella to the class. Learn to let go. Let it out! Let all the shit out!

So I closed my eyes and became Brooklyn, felt its fierce strength though my veins, but inwardly I bled. I had lost all my old heroes.

Meanwhile Buddy raised a knife over his head. He was not Caesar but tragedy itself. Rocking his head back, he too closed his eyes and said, Death is everywhere. I can feel it. I will not run from it. He said, When Brutus knocks at your door, let him in. He will stab you three times. But it's not the fact of your death or that you could have prevented him from entering your house. It's the way you die that's the thing, groping for life, finally becoming the person you always pretended to be. No longer the little boy blue for your dead mothers.

He drew the knife across his pinky.

The class became silent.

We were mesmerized by the trickle and the drop.

Stella disappeared and came back. She threw an enormous white sheet over us. And we reached and grappled and frolicked through the sheet. With all our faces the same, we became each other's ghost. A strange electricity passed through us—an alternating current of love and rage.

And Stella's lesson then became clear: We were that sheet— No—
We were the whiteness of it.


The Night Visitor (Pubbed in Fractured West, Issue 1)
There’s a black girl dancing in my kitchen. She’s singing a song in a honeyed voice, spiraling, one that can only be meant for me. She keeps repeating the refrain, sustained end notes – I want you. Since my true skin colour has always been a translucent shade of need, I want her too. But because there’s another guest in the house, I escape downstairs to avoid some imagined complexity, the accusation of misogyny – boys who constantly sink underwater and girls who always come in with the low tide. Now, I’ve seen this girl where we brushed shoulders in someone’s house. Perhaps in another sub-Sahara quadrant of my deepest Africa. After opening my eyes, that soured feeling courses through me. I realize I‘ve lost her, barely remembering the shape of her curves, the white sugar of her smile, only hearing the floating voice for a few seconds between the ivory walls of my brain's palace. I am lucid enough to figure that the basement is always the coolest part of the house and perhaps the safest. As a kid, I always ran there to escape from embarrassing relatives or if I just wanted to be alone. But now I can feel the schizophrenic heat, like some crazy megalomaniac uncle, pressing me against walls, demanding slivers of half-reasons, and the girl’s voice from upstairs grows fainter, softer. I will go to look for her, this girl whose name I do not know, whose smile is my inner glow, hiding in some corner waiting to feed me.


Ducky (pubbed in Stanley the Whale, Issue 3, 2011)

The flying saucer crashed in the courtyard and evaporated into a green blob in the shape of a shrine with a mushroom head. I took “Thing” in and tried giving It a home. After all, the both of us, in some sense, were stranded. Thing on this planet, and me, in my self-exile on a small square of earth called Apartment 224c. I've been alone since She left me. I assumed Thing and I were two similar peas from different pods.

Each day after work, Thing would be waiting for me, playing with the TV remote, sitting on the couch with its revolving glass oval head, refractive metal body box, the spindly legs and arms. Thing’s hands were very white, as if wearing ladies' gloves. Sometimes, Thing, perhaps out of boredom, would try playing this game with me. It’d make a series of blips and half-way intelligible sounds in characteristic squeaky tones. I had to try to guess what Thing was saying.

"Duck?" I responded.

Thing’s head spun faster.

"Duck soup," I said. "You want duck soup for dinner? Is that what you want?"

It made two blips, a pause, and a jazz dash.

"Duck it?" I said. "You want to play a game of ducking it. Like ducking a ball thrown at you. As in dodge ball."

Thing’s head spun in an opposite direction. It made four Pascalian Blips, one amazingly long Mach 6 pause, and five concerted huffs in E flat. Thing attempted the sound again.

I leaned forward from the recliner.

"Oh, Ducky Doo," I said. That old farmer's song from the North. "Ducky Doo, Ducky Dee, Lucky you, Lucky me, A girl who fell from the sweetest tree."

In an act of what I interpreted as self-destruction, Thing began to rip out some inner cords connecting its soft gruffti to its hard armentium.

"Wait," I shouted.

I then strapped on the Delanium III Deuce Decoder, reserved for special occasions, as its energy consumption was high. After turning the knob to "max," I then realized what Thing was trying to tell me. Ducky was the name of my ex, who dumped me in a fit of jealousy and despair. Thing wanted to know if Ducky was still available. One thing about Thing. It knew me like a book. Thing could see through my hunger-denial synergy snaps and my raw Appolinian M traces. Thing loved to stay up all night, the little balls of its antennae flashing green like a cheap nightlight, as It browsed through my old photo albums or complained in indigenous raw-strand Hex code that I fart too loudly. It's just a difference in planetary cultures, I suppose. Later, Thing and I went driving, me at the wheel, It doing the Ganglionic Waffle Bug to a techno beat, as we'd drive all night if need be, looking for Ducky.


There Are No Cowgirls in My Sleep (pubbed in Pipe Dream, Sept.24, 2011)

You still find them there sitting in a row, so pretty in muslin, calico, and sun hat, perched on your truly modern lunar sofa. After all, it only took you two and a half lifetimes of a hunted buffalo to move from the suburbs into a fragmented space in Greenwich Village going for two grand a month. You might not last long.

“You might not last here long” is what you imagine one of them saying with her doll’s eyes still as empty perfume bottles that were never swept from under your porticoed past. In those days, there wasn’t the luxury of fire exits.

But there they are to greet you: your mother, the general of all engineered tragedies and armies of sons who cannot genetically get it right, with runny gruel passed off as breast milk. Although you cannot choose to un-love her, she smells of primrose and reminds you of all funnel-shaped oozing lives. She has the profile of Emily Dickinson. There are no belles.

Next to her is the girl who dumped you after you revealed that you’d discovered your true voice. “Which one is that?” She asked with laughing eyes and a feigned yawn. There was a silence of Gummy bears yearning to be eaten by something. After she lied for the umpteenth time about having your baby, you decided that the polarity between you both was too one-way. You told her that you wanted to try fringe, bi-sexual, and The New Theater.

Before she walked away, she said “They really ought to lock you up.”

You once had a feeling for her.

And on the extreme end is your father in petticoat, bonnet, and early stage drag. A whining cactus of a man who could do nothing but hurt, hurt others, and die from prickly heat. You wanted to love him, but somebody else had won the West.

The back of their heads face EAST. You’re beginning to like Greek food.

You try to stick to a schedule. Rehearsals are a bitch. You practice your lines on the subway, in the arms of a stranger who keeps a silent parrot in the bedroom. When you get an itch for a late night snack, the Korean deli is only a hop and three back-steps away. One woman keeps eyeing you as if she knows you.

But you keep waking up and the three of them are there somewhere—your little apartment is getting smaller. You keep thinking: End of Act III.

So you walk around. You try Indian on East 3rd. You immerse yourself in The Strand three days a week. You visit a museum. There’s a sculpture of two women and a man, their arms intertwined, faces hidden, bodies formed in impossible turns. You give the sculpture a name: There Are No Cowgirls in My Sleep. You look for the artist’s initials. They spell YOU.

You run away.

In a tavern on MacDougall, you strike up with a nice old man. You feel a certain safe zone, and even reveal that you’re an actor from a personal repertoire of unburied things.

He smiles and says “Hamlet.”

“Round Robin!” You say, and offer to buy him another beer.

Later, he confides that you remind him of a younger lover who died, lingering.

Something about him makes you feel like a prodigal son. You even take down his number, but you never call. You keep running into this man. And one day at The White Horse Tavern, you tell him about this strange obsession of imagining your mother, sister, and father on your sofa, holding conversations with you and smiling placidly as they pull you into low parched valleys.

The man reaches over and gently squeezes your hand. He takes a swig of Guinness. “Here’s my cross,” he says. “I’m fighting cancer. It was diagnosed two weeks ago. They’re giving me 50-50 with just radiation. And I keep seeing those cowgirls on my couch. They just have different faces and names than yours. They keep telling me that even though they still love me, there is no cure. I tell them that until the end of this long city block that stretches to morning, I will love myself blind.”

After months of botched rehearsals, an uneven score of lovers, and of standing under an open umbrella in the middle of the street, always afterhours, you keep reciting that old man’s lines.

Van Gogh's Peach Tree (pubbed in Short Story Libray, 2009)

(based on the painting Peach Tree in Bloom at Arles, C. 1888, by Vincent Van Gogh)
There is a boy. The boy is standing in front of a munificent peach tree in all the splendor and atrophy of his afternoon existing. Shadows? Yes. There are midday shadows, hiding and seeking, long and greyish to offset the bright reds and violets and oranges which reflect the sun’s mercurial dispositions, its flare of temper when one gets too close. The boy collects the peaches and sucks their sweet juice until the tree becomes very angry and says I am nothing more than a jealous pit, hollow. The boy is sinking into the ground, into the shade and soft dirt. The tree is pulling the boy into the ground with its long and winding roots. This tree, this trollop of a tree in its jejune existing. The girl. The girl enters the picture. About his age, nineteen years and summers under. She has a big heart and knows the boy from old schoolyards built over grass and stubborn weeds. She saves the boy from the sinking, and at her house, far from Arles, she sits him on a bidet, cossets and undresses him, savors the taste of his sticky skin and washes him off. Your tongue is warm, says the boy, like the sun. The sun has two faces, she says, and I am the one that shines at night. They grow and become branches off each other. Years later, they move into a house and produce a garden of Eurasian roses, schizocarpic fruit, pear trees that keep a gentle sway in the wind. The picture of the roses in a glass jar is kept on the wall of an old woman’s home in Arles. She loves to tell visitors that there’s a story behind that painting, how she saved it from the Germans during the occupation. She tells them how a girl once saved a boy from the gravity of his own shadow, the cruelty of a hypnotic sun. But as years passed, he did not survive the holocaust of roses under a barbed sky. As she tells them the story, she offers them a bowl of fruit grown in her own garden. She complains how her limbs are stiff, refers to herself as an old tree that can no longer sway. But I saved that boy, she tells her guests. In some way. Then she apologizes, perhaps denying that she was once someone reckless and very young, the taste of sweet jism on a hot afternoon, the torpor of heavy summers, the sun, like a schizophrenic parent, both kind and unforgiving.


The Punjabi Actress, Elizabeth “Baby Toons” Singh, Freaks Out in a Homeless shelter on Avenue C (pubbed in Danse Macabre, issue 41)
"Possible Reasons," from M2-Dash's poetry chapbook, The Scimitar Cult of Elizabeth Singh.

Possible Reasons:

Taking too many blue pills to obliterate the taste of Quick-Digest Red.

Too many men named Avinash with long curry tongues piercing the odhani of her genuine modesty.

Her love child, Sunny, cultivates five generations of a new breed of “Lancer rats.”

As a child, she has recurrent nightmares of Cary Grant entering her room at night dressed as a woman & raping her with the pigeon feathers from socially diseased porn stars.

Develops an increasing dependence on street barbiturates known as “Sinking Igloos,” or Sis, for short. In Alphabet city, they're referred to as “gloos”.

Her younger sister Upasana, who played the lovely snake girl in Tarantino’s remake of The Lady Inspector, is found sleeping with her acting coach, a garrulous Pakistani eunuch named Warish, who demands payment to keep soft-voiced.

In interviews with doting biographers who fake Hindi accents, Miss Singh repeatedly emphasizes that she is a transplanted Eurasian Poppy, a beautiful leper who exists to die on a square block of life in Alphabet City that spells "the Idiot Box".

What many believe pushes Elizabeth over the edge is her meeting with the school teacher she once idolized, Mrs. Vishal Prakash, who remarks, “Shiny, my true love child, have you been losing weight?”

Some of this is fuzzy true. None of this is pertinent. I killed Elizabeth Singh.


New York City (Reuters, Sept. 3, 1992)

At approximately 3.A.M. Tuesday night, a woman was found unconscious in the basement floor of a homeless shelter on Loisaida Avenue, East Village. The woman was identified as Elizabeth Singh, the once famous Bollywood “It” girl of the eighties & noted member of the “Terrible Tarantino Clique.” She was a rising star of the Panjabi New Wave "Cowgirl Shooter" Cinema & romantically linked with action star, Avinash Mehta. Miss Singh was rushed to NYU Medical center for detoxification due to a drug overdose of Sis & treatment of bite marks attributed to a virulent strain of the Lancer rat. By late morning, she was pronounced dead. Dr. Mark Strobeson, chief administrator of Acute Care, asks for the prayers of people everywhere.

Her most famous role was in 17 Girls East, where she played the neurotic chain-smoking Bua Hoon, claiming "Munchkins, I feel so cramped inside this idiot box. Give me a gun and one fast horse.”

Miss Singh is survived by a son and a sister, the actress/singer "Baby Habiscus."


They call me Khartoum Eddie. Frankly, and Frank is another name I’m called, I don’t give a scooter's spoke what they call me as long as I’m paid. If they send me to Africa to deliver m&ms to Kadaffi, I'll take my moot scooter and hope it glides across water. High turnover in this biz. Being a motor mouth will get you greased faster than saying M2-Dash's ass is wider than the Holland Tunnel. It's not koo-koo-ka-choo. Everybody's queer son has fucked M2-Dash. But you can’t say nothing because he’s got more connects than a nuclear arms dealer. Married with kids. Okay, it’s his business, he can stuff defanged schizophrenic gerbils up his ass for all I care. Hey, take it down. I got a part-time gig as a bassist in local bands: Metaphysical Penis Envy, Gothic C-Section. We packed The Pyramid, brought the house down. Backed up Nico, once. Sometimes I sucked mangly maw and didn’t show up. That I depend on running for a reliable income is what I’m saying. So it’s a rainy night. No, fuck, not like in those novels the uptown Ivanas read while their husbands still high on Reagannomics go in the shower to masturbate green. It was a paltry rain, a deflated rain. So I get a call from one of M2's "sweetpunks" to run some Big Sis to a place on Loisada. I make the pickup by Lexington, drive my piece of shit scooter with chicken claws for tires, and I’m gonna make the drop past a row of some pre-war cobblestone brick shit. The potholes on this street must be from the last blitzkreig when they were aiming for London and missed. Anyway, I’m thinking everything's koo-koo-ka-choo. I meet the contact inside this rat hole of a joint and he says the lady will pay me. I’m like what lady? Business don't work that way. Do I look whack jack? He says you deal with her or nothing. Pointdexter scoots downstairs. I follow. Taking it down. It’s like dark as M2's ass and more dangerous because every floor board creaks like my goose-necked step mother with two wooden legs getting laid by a Neanderthal stud high on testosterone rock. A rat almost the size of a water hydrant jumps out. I'm expecting fucking Nosferatu & the Lagosi dude next. Pointdexter flicks on a flashlight, the kind they use in the Boy Scouts when a campfire goes out & a few go missing. The woman, who frankly has seen better days, long stringy hair, eyes on separate moon paths, huddled in a corner of the basement, a dress that she must have worn since Dinkins got elected, & she’s talking some strange shit, like I’m tired of living inside this idiot box, can’t you see? & she’s looking at me all wild-eyed, her arms flailing, & I ask for the money up front, and after seven fucking times of repeating myself, she hands me the cash from the inside of a panty, which took her a whole ten minutes to find & which I’m assuming exists, because I didn’t exactly see it. The panty. She could be wearing Nosferatu's jock strap for all I know. So I hand her this mangly maw. Now you have to understand what Super Sis does to you. It can make a freaking polar bear dance on your kitchen table or pretend that it’s a kite. That’s what this shit does. Me, I don’t mess with it. I still wanna play bass upright.


Malcom Returns Home from the War (pubbed in Thieves Jargon, 2009)

It's a struggle to sit Malcolm upright at the table, especially with the dusty army fatigues that make me sneeze. And it's not even allergy season. He's stiff as a goat's carcass in formaldehyde. But I don't much believe in goats or wooly things that hem and haw in the night. Occasionally, a bombshell whirs, screeches over our house, and when it explodes, Uncle Bob comments how the neighborhood has been going downhill since the introduction of Sarin gas to power ovens, and for that reason, he always feels claustrophobic in subways.

Aunt Marcy sets an orange-glazed duck upon the table, the eyes intact, and they speak to me like fish underwater. A direct attribution. The most magnanimous thing you can say about a duck, says Father, is that it has legs. What's that old saying? A bird by the leg is worth two in the bush? Or is it a bird in the hand? Does anyone know who said this? Probably someone anonymous and hard as a terrorist. Not anyone slobbering soft as those hideous spongecake droolers.

Oh, no, corrects Aunt Marcy, adjusting her doughboy helmet, a gift from The General Formerly Known as Grandpa, they store precious amounts of food in their engorged livers. They make excellent bombing targets.

No, the legs, says The General F.K.A.G, that's the important thing. I'd trade my cataracts for legs, he says with a laugh that's a dark rich vacuum of sinusoidal frequencies.

Mother now claims that the quintessential problem is how to feed Malcolm when he doesn't instruct us on how he likes to be fed.

For Chrissakes, he can't talk, Gertrude, cries Uncle Bob, with a mouth of mashed potatoes that annihilates my crosshair view of his bridge of curvilinear teeth.

Another bombshell whizzes overhead. It explodes and the duck almost jumps in its aluminum-wrapped pan.

Mother yanks Malcolm's head, trying to force-feed him a handful of Birdseye sweet peas. Malcolm's sand-caked mouth remains a fortress and the peas fall one by one, little green causalities in a land of giants.

Uncle Bob wipes his mouth of orange crust and says, If you use a fork, you must employ a frontal attack. Whereas, if you choose the spoon strategy, which is what Hannibal once did with Rome, you can ambush the folds of his mouth. Think Clausewitz. Think Anzio. Think of my Angiotensin II inhibitors you threw out. No wonder my blood pressure soars like a Stealth.

An excellent strategy, declares Father, I always use the spoon analogy to explain things in the office. It results in slower turnaround time, but in the end, you get your duck, or how shall I say? Your foi grie.

Did you say Folgers? asks Grandma, who uses a microphone to amplify her slurred speech since the stroke. This is no time for coffee when a boy can't chew his food. And none of us are certified to insert an I.V. Perhaps we can use a snake to open up the alimentary canal. I've seen it done on Youtube with non-actors.

Are marigolds green? says Miriam Magpie, Malcolm's nymphomaniac lover before his being shipped out. In his absence, Miriam has declared herself Queen of the Dead Scots and can balance kitchen knives on her tongue.

Marigolds! answers The General F.K.A.G., who's talking about marigolds? Do you see me going out and picking marigolds? Hell no. You see me slithering in the backyard searching for landmines. A legless man has got to be practical and cautious.

We all rise, hover over Malcolm, trying to get this feeding conundrum done with.

He can't talk, says Aunt Marcy, because he's trying to chew.

But he isn't chewing, cries Mother, her voice shrill as a hostage's.

Well, that's why, says Aunt Marcy, he can't talk because he's too hungry. Feed them first, then they'll talk. I always teach my first graders this. One of the most valuable lessons to learn in life besides phonics.

A bombshell explodes nearby. The lights go out. A pair of iridescent eyes glow in the dark. It might be Malcolm's. But it could be the duck's.

None of you really understand, says Mother, sighing. It's just that he was always such a quiet boy and he never liked green vegetables.


Don’t Forget Your Manners (pubbed in Rusty Typer)

A renegade from double indemnity and crisp infidelities, she told him she was still a virgin at bliss. Sitting next to her on the bed, he played with the gun, the same .38 from so many stick ups. With poker face put-on, he said Oh, another stuck up girl, is it? It was his best De Niro snicker. He pointed the piece at her lips smeared with the grease of chicken wings. What do you want me to do? she asked in her best girly voice.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Other Side of This World
by Kyle Hemmings
Inspired by Jack Kerouac

Tonight at Happy Rooster’s everything is full of false smiles and buttery promises that swirl, swirl, until they don‘t. The girl next to me could laugh at a decapitation at the bottom of her drink, a color and consistency of tan shoe polish, as easily as she could order from Netflix.

Now, I’m thinking cosmos, quarks, & light years. A light year is 5.875 trillion miles which is the distance I took stepping backwards from the age of one & on & landed like an alien worm, here. HUH? She says, spilling her drink on my nasty Reeboks, soles worn paper-thin.

Shooting stars, I say. Asteroids. Meteors faster than hurling a rock glass at a trick. Suppose an asteroid crashed into this bar, I ask her. We’d be turned into incandescent matter, which is kind of nifty.

But all she can talk about is the guy she picked up the other night & how they did it doggy-style while she imagined her reflection on a dark TV screen. I mean, like she thought the dude would cast her in a porn flick and then write a biography about her tragic and exploited life.

At the hotel desk, I sign a name that rhymes with Buster or Chester or Wooster. & in the room, which looks like the insides of a nuked-out grapefruit, we fall across the bed like two wooden poles wrenched from the ground by poachers which doesn’t rhyme with my real name. If I can remember it.

& I’m thinking somewhere in a parallel universe is a king and queen reigning over an kingdom called New Papua, over transparent blue water & a beach studded with blue sea turtles that can fly and fly. & this king orders the cooks to serve sliced pineapples & goat’s cheese with some lemon rinds lemon rinds just to remind the queen what it’s like living in a parallel world called earth and how it sometimes leaks water from its perfect parallel sister, water now turgid, from ceiling cracks and holes & into my space-age Reeboks, over the creased soles of this girl’s bare feet sticking out from under the sheets, like two children in the darkness pretending to be ghosts.

Are we ghosts?

In the morning we walk through the city as if searching for a bar on the sun that serves Cuba Libres or tall glasses of Sprite to sweeten our hangovers. We are two astronauts stranded with our head gear and gravity boots ‘cuz we wince at each other's face, no longer recognizable & we yearn for our downtown selves that we donned last night. If I could invent a new world, it would be a bar that never closes and serves drinks that could transform you into somebody richer. The morning sun bruises my eyes.

& I think it was the same for a few moments, just a few, when Aldrin and Armstrong landed on a vast star, planting a flag recognized by neither the Vulcans or Klingons. & the way our heads hum with the vast solitude of space, like we‘re two hood hominoids, looking for a love, precious and destructive as Dilithium.

And me pretending that this crazy chick, who forgot her sneakers at the hotel, is really the Grand Qaal of Eulus, or just another outcast like myself exiled from the Federation of Planets. & I can‘t imagine anyone living in a parallel universe, who wouldn't want to be somebody else in movies & who doesn't suffer from hangovers after spending the night staring up into a florescent light & dreaming what life could be like on the other side of the sun.

Van Gogh's Peach Tree (pubbed in Short Story Libray)

There is a boy. The boy is standing in front of a munificent peach tree in all the splendor and atrophy of his afternoon existing. Shadows? Yes. There are midday shadows, hiding and seeking, long and greyish to offset the bright reds and violets and oranges which reflect the sun’s mercurial dispositions, its flare of temper when one gets too close. The boy collects the peaches and sucks their sweet juice until the tree becomes very angry and says I am nothing more than a jealous pit, hollow. The boy is sinking into the ground, into the shade and soft dirt. The tree is pulling the boy into the ground with its long and winding roots. This tree, this trollop of a tree in its jejune existing. The girl. The girl enters the picture. About his age, nineteen years and summers under. She has a big heart and knows the boy from old schoolyards built over grass and stubborn weeds. She saves the boy from the sinking, and at her house, far from Arles, she sits him on a bidet, cossets and undresses him, savors the taste of his sticky skin and washes him off. Your tongue is warm, says the boy, like the sun. The sun has two faces, she says, and I am the one that shines at night. They grow and become branches off each other. Years later, they move into a house and produce a garden of Eurasian roses, schizocarpic fruit, pear trees that keep a gentle sway in the wind. The picture of the roses in a glass jar is kept on the wall of an old woman’s home in Arles. She loves to tell visitors that there’s a story behind that painting, how she saved it from the Germans during the occupation. She tells them how a girl once saved a boy from the gravity of his own shadow, the cruelty of a hypnotic sun. But as years passed, he did not survive the holocaust of roses under a barbed sky. As she tells them the story, she offers them a bowl of fruit grown in her own garden. She complains how her limbs are stiff, refers to herself as an old tree that can no longer sway. But I saved that boy, she tells her guests. In some way. Then she apologizes, perhaps denying that she was once someone reckless and very young, the taste of sweet jism on a hot afternoon, the torpor of heavy summers, the sun, like a schizophrenic parent, both kind and unforgiving.


BEAUTIFUL FRIEND (Published in Leodegraunce, Issue 9, Oct. 2011)
by Kyle Hemmings © 2011

She's an introverted vampire who sucks the thoughts from her ex-boyfriends' brains, soft as tofu, failed nerve transmission I-XIII, a riot in the heart. Kat uses their thoughts to blackmail them by saying that things have a way of getting around, you know? The dude she loves is super-flat in affect but has good veins. She's into pepper stuffed sleeve shrug and Halloween pettipants. He's into Idol and looking goofy on dating simulations. At the clubs, she's known as Angry and he's Happy.

Angry is three heads shorter than Happy in sneakers. Happy wants death by Gunmetal Sulfide. Angry wants life with mint cotton and red licorice. At night, she has strange dreams of lying in an ultraviolet forest where wooden dogs lick her face. When Happy is not thinking about Angry, he's figuring out new permutations of the bean machine, or how to bend light by doing heel flips on a skateboard, or what it would be like to be a cut tongue sparrow, needing to be owned. When Angry is not biting necks or denying DNA evidence or dancing to Exist Trace in Fuck Up Drape at Club Echo, she pretends she's a frog princess with eyes in the back of her head. When Happy sleeps spooning her, he always dreams with one eye open.


Sweet Round Buddha (published in Jan. 2012)

Moe Tucker is talking to her father from a payphone inside the hospital. She repeats that her mother, a heavy smoker, divorced for two years, has just died. Moe Tucker says she was just sitting up in bed a month ago, and although, somewhat confused and bloated from a failing heart, she could still remember the words to Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” or “Is that all there is?”

Moe is 16 years old.

“She was just tired,” the father says. In a different part of the world, he's unrecognizable and remarried.

Moe shakes her head to mean “yeah,” then realizes the father can’t see her. It’s funny, she thinks, how the silence between them can travel long distance, then fade into somewhere, a place she has visited too many times.

She decides she will not go home tonight. She will not sleep alone. The house will be too cold, too silent, too pregnant with the mother’s absence. Everything has become too permanent.

She calls her friend, nicknamed Mutton, and asks if she can stay over. The friend says It’s okay.

In Mutton’s room, the friend is playing records at low volume: The Juju’s, The Alarm Clocks, The Benders. Moe is lying sideways on some shag carpet, playing with her hair, staring into space. She says to the friend, “Let’s bake some honey apples.” Lately, she’s been having strange compulsions. The friend gives Moe a flick of the eyebrows, a twist of the lips. She tells Moe they must be quiet, so as not to disturb the parents.

In the kitchen, they core the apples, fill them with honey, orange juice, and chopped walnuts. After heating them, Moe sprinkles the tops with nutmeg. She places the apples in the broiler for a glaze.

They sit facing each other at the table, each taking an apple. Mutton mashes hers with the back of a fork. She makes a joke about having sex with an old man, all that winkly dimpled skin.

Moe reaches for the friend’s hand. “You mustn’t do that,” she says.

Moe explains that there’s a right way to do everything, like cutting a baked apple into neat quarter pieces.

“My mom once said that if you don’t do something right, it will haunt you forever.”

The friend shakes her head sideways, and wears some weird smile.

“It’s just a thing,” says Mutton, “it can’t feel.”

“No,” says Moe, “it’s not just a thing.”

Moe knows this from browsing through her brother’s textbooks, a section here and there on Hindu philosophy, or from the strange auras a desk, a chair, an unmade bed, might take in the silence of an afternoon, when Moe feels she is no longer part of the world.

“Well, can that apple talk?” the friend asks with a smirk, a tilt of the head.

“Yes, it can,” says Moe.

Moe leans her ear against the apple, imperfectly round as the world. She can hear a voice, tiny, distant, the words, almost indistinct. It could be hers, or her mother’s. And there are many things that come and go. She knows that someday she will outgrow her wet crushes on boys in tight pants and girly bangs. But this she knows: that voice has traveled underground and through dense walls. It has remained silent for years within years. It has traveled through many miles of hard space. The voice says “I’m part of you.” And Moe suddenly is no longer hungry, no longer full of space.

BIO: Kyle Hemmings is the author of several chapbooks of poems and prose: Avenue C (Scars Publications), Fuzzy Logic (Punkin Press), The Lives of Rock Stars (TenPagePress), Amsterdam & Other Broken Love Songs (Flutter Press). He has been published in Gold Wake Press, Thunderclap Press, Elimae, Nano Fiction, Blue Fifth Review, Step Away, and The Other Room. He blogs at DogPunk & Psychedelic Stinky Cat.


Tokyo Girls in Science Fiction: White Bird

As a child, walking home from school in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo, Yami winked at the white bird that followed her home each day. She never told anyone, not even her best friend, Rin-Rin – who was in love with rain and the early Bob Dylan – that White Bird confided in her. Like how to glide in her sleep. Or how to navigate her personal dream wards, full of cityscapes, low and high risers. The adults complained that Yami never said very much or that she was too withdrawn, that someday her personal spiders would eat her. And it was true that after her first period, which coincided with a heavy storm, Yami often thought about suicide, even of hanging herself from the Harajuku Bridge. She believed she stayed alive because that White Bird stole all her weapons of self-destruction, took them to a nest too far north or outh, depending on one’s definition of the weather.

Then, close to twenty, Yami fell in love with a punk rocker named Akiho. To his friends, he was known as Soul Surfer. At night, Akiho remarked that after making love to Yami, he saw a white flash in her eyes. She said that it was just him looking too hard inside of her. He said that maybe it was him looking out from inside of her. She giggled, but knew White Bird had never left her.

One day, several months after Yami and Akiho married, a tsunami swept over the village where they settled. People were found drifting miles out at sea, faces down. Cars and trucks were overturned. Buildings were demolished. The house where Yami and Akiho lived was destroyed.

Years later, a house was rebuilt in the same spot where the two once lived. And on its roof, three white birds – mother, father, and baby – perched. They always spoke to each other about the girl who once lived below, who had really wished for a set of wings, but kept asking for a noose. One of the white birds explained she did all she could for this girl; after all, birds of a feather flock together. The other two chirped a hearty laugh. It’s not funny, not funny at all, said the mama bird. The three of them took off in a triangular pattern.


Miss tHing (pubbed at Circa, Issue 1, 2012)

The Origins of Miss tHing

When I was young enough not to remember, I constructed a cardboard robot. Called her Miss tHing. Now I had the power to control by remote. As in Come In. Do this. Was I dreaming or selling lemonade to relatives? Then, as in Now, children, Mrs. C introduced the new girl in class. Her name was Micheline, which was close enough to sound like Miss tHing. We became friends looking out at the world through bicycle spokes. When it rained, we were in separate shopping bags. We traded peanut butter sandwiches for cream cheese, as if any of it were only a matter of degree. I revealed to Miss tHing that she was my robot, that I built her with specific purposes in mind. Over the years, she referred to me as her bubble, something she could float inside of, yet somehow, feel safe. I commanded her to say things that would make me feel important. When she didn't, or when she spoke of sharing room inside a bubble, I invented the notion of a flat tire. The teacher reminded us to put on our galoshes.


High School

Me: Can you turn into a vampire with your chemistry set?

Her: No, but I can do something worse. I can make you fall in love. They say it only takes a whiff of Paris.

Me: If you bit me, what would I taste like?

Her: Green apples. But give me more time to think about it.

Me: You mean you’d spit me out.

Her: Undoubtedly. Hard on the teeth. And you were never good for my stomach.

Me: Taste my blood. You’ll love it.

Her: I have strong teeth. I might go through bone.

Me: Meaning?

Her: Meaning you’ll never forget me.

In College

She writes me. She writes me that she’s doing fine. Or that she might send me a book: Hula Hoops for Dummies. Because I can’t dance with my hips. I read in between the lines: She shares Russian tea with a professor of Comparative literature. She inspects his hands for warts. In bed, they both hear the voice of the desert, of desert monsters. Or they drown in themselves. A matter of degree. She has a thousand guys promising her star magnolias. Sitting on a chaise lounge, on the porch of some converted farm house in Upper Pennsylvania, she sips ice tea and considers the beautiful futility of love. A friend tells her: Glide on the surface of things. There are wide open vistas. Don’t fall in.

I drive up in a beat up box on wheels and visit Miss tHing every 7th or 10th weekend.

She tells me that one of her friends, a pretty girl with high cheekbones and dangerous curves, had committed suicide. She had an affair with a professor of Comparative Lit. One of them couldn’t let go until they had to.

You mean the same professor? I ask.

She says she doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

Outside, it’s autumn. We add up colors or subtract them from ourselves. I treat her to a breakfast of eggs over, rye toast with jam, double order of hash browns.

She burps and I say Excuse me.

Mechanistic Theory

I don’t tell Miss tHing, who is now married to an android passing himself off as a businessman, that I still love her.

At brunch, we talk about machines, how they sputter, grind, fall apart, dream of router-less love, or compose poems based on recent advances in fiber optics. This is what we are, I contend, my head jammed with so many useless phone numbers. I never have enough time. I never call the right people.

In bed, we fall apart.

I tell her it’s just a simple matter of getting oiled.

A lube job, machine grease, she says.

You are so poetic, I say.

They're your words, she says.

We try again, she, the lovable robot from a thousand 50s flicks, and I, the inventor without goggles.

The bubble bursts.

Three square miles from her house, I say Good-bye, wishing surge protection against separation anxiety.

She mentions the words-discreet and maybe.

I turn and ask her if she still eats Cheerios for lunch.

She’s gone.

In city traffic, I float away from the lights.

I can’t think of anyone to call.

Phone Conversation at 2:00a.m.

Me: I don’t believe in love.

Her: I believe that what goes up will come down in varying degrees of velocity.

Me: We are broken.

Her: We are priceless.

Me: Does that mean no price tags?

She Wants Me Even in my Old Apple Skin

Tonight, Miss tHing said Yes because maybe she believes she's too old to say anything else. Or maybe from the months of back-burner malaise that has left stubborn brown streaks on her kitchen ceiling, has ruined her Teflon selves. As a child, she must have seen the little taxmen

bringing their wives moth sex, fresh from a take out menu with the caveat: Fly at your own risk. As for me, I'm tired of dying at traffic stops, reading pulp fictions where the only good guys are the gangsters who start a war over a dumb bookie and a horse with a bum leg, named Slow Wheeze. I've been waiting on 5th story ledges, hung up on

the 11th hour ghosts of 42nd Street B girls, who died in cubicles, customer-less. I have been writing myself my own parking tickets that I never pay on time. Tonight, I'm going to get into Miss tHing's sublime panties that will stretch and snap at my grossly un-sexy imperatives. Later, we'll sit in the park like two clowns,

stupidly happy in their love. So under the skin, you know? Miss tHing and I were meant for a gorgeous death, our new DNR life together, cookies and jokes for breakfast, white birds under our rumpled sheets, dreaming of twigs falling from the sky, and we keep the names of old collectors under our unevenly clipped nails.


I turn to Miss tHing and say Let’s destroy old robots. Or maybe she’s grown use to the sound of little mechanical feet, badly in need of oiling.

It’s no use. She’s asleep inside her bubble. The bubble floats across miles of distant cranium sky. Mine, hers.

Her name almost rhymes with Micheline.

Or maybe, I’ve been asleep all these years.

What They Wore (pubbed in Postscripts to Darkness, Issue III)

On a block of shanty bars in Golden Gai, Shinjuku, Nakata hangs on her laundry line the garments of each of her three ex-boyfriends, as if washing the clothes over and over will bring them back, as if every designer shirt or pair of baggy jeans is the outer trapping of a lost self.

Each boyfriend has told her in one way or another that she was not altogether. I am, she told each one, it’s just that the parts don’t always work in sync.

The black hoodie and cuffed shorts belonged to a boy named Junichi. He collected photos of old movie stars and told her that with her slim figure and beautiful navel, she reminded him of a 90s Kate Moss. After rainbow sex, he told her that she rolled her eyes while straddling him and her face turned darker shades of night. He asked her if she ever thought of someone else when with him, maybe, like holding a phantom.

She said that with him she watched phantoms rise from the bed. She said that sometimes she felt floating over the top of Mount Fuji, taking in 36 views.

He became obsessed with wearing her.

One night, they were caught in the rain. She washed his hoodie and shorts, gave him the clothes of a old boyfriend. Warming himself by her heater, still wearing her robe, he asked her how many times would she drown for him; how many poisonous lizards would she chase out of her bed. How many glass jars would she fill with her-for-him. Just for him.

She said that she only loved him in pieces.

The sound of the rain tapered. Until there was nothing.

And he became a ghost.

She hung his outerwear on the line.

At times, she swore he spoke to her through the lips of strangers. Each stranger said he would return.

The half-sleeve blazer and cargo pants belonged to a boy who was too withdrawn to come out of corners, who was in love with the virtual girl who Nakata resembled. He loved telling her how his lack of ambition made his post-war uncles sigh. With him, she wore heels so high, he called her dangerous. She promised to sow herself to his skin so he would feel real.

He said his virtual girlfriend was expecting their first child.

At night, she invented the virtual girlfriend’s voice, the thousand shades of love, the heroic attempt at love at sunrise.

Nakata thought: I could be the virtual girlfriend.

When Nakata tried making love with him, he turned into a ghost.

She kept his blazer and pants.

She had a dream about the moon having a false pregnancy.

For nights, she cried. Outside her window, the sky was a swirl of orange and blue and red longings.

The graffiti style T-shirt and Panda print shorts belonged to the boy with twitching muscles, the one who performed tricks for her on street corners, jumped from rooftops, shoplifted in Shinjuku. Imitating a shogun warrior or super robot, he made her clap until her hands were too heavy to own.

He confided in her that when he became older, he would be a giant.

Or he would be a criminal catching criminals. He will join a biker gang.

They made love in panic-proofed rooms under shifting skies. Their love was superficially intense, could be bottled and exported. Increasingly, she felt diluted.

But she could watch him for hours juggling colored balls as if one of her many lives as a magic girl. He brought her night flowers that glowed. She gave him smoking mirrors and vague answers to his questions. His most persistent one: Have you been cheating on me?

In so many words, she hinted that she only loved him for his tricks and jokes and scams. He told her that if she didn’t say that she loved him for who or what he was, he would walk out of her apartment, naked. He would make her the conversation piece of laughing birds.

She dared him.

He was hit by a car.

He became a ghost.

At night, she dreams now of their clothes taking on a life of their own. She leaves the window open. The T-shirt and the shorts, the hoodie and the half-sleeve blazer, fly into her room. The clothes stand before her. She’s wearing a satin nightgown and rubbing sleep from her eyes. The clothes address her as “Princess.”

The graffiti styled Tee shirt says You didn’t love me enough.

The half-sleeve blazer says You tried to own me, but I was always immaterial.

The black hoodie says that he’s come to realize that fragmented love is better than no love at all.

All articles of clothing agree that they should all stay friends.

You can always wear us if you get caught in the rain, they say.

There is no love, one says, like a ghostly love.

We want to stay on your laundry line, forever, they say.

In the morning, she makes herself breakfast, feels strangely out of place in the apartment, she lives in. She vows that she will never get caught in the rain again, will never turn another boy into a ghost.

Sipping instant coffee, she looks out the window, checks the laundry line, the same clothes, hanging in the gentle breeze, winkle-free, as if brand new.


Laughing Kite ( to be pubbed in Fuselit, Issue 1)


After the burial, Yumi stands with yellow and red flowers in her hands. She's wearing a dark cape-collar two piece dress, one that was picked out by the other mother. Yumi's real mother, the one under the ground, never forgave her. For finding another mother. For running away. It was years ago. They didn't have as many names for clouds.

For a moment that lasts the eternity of childhood, Yumi feels the ground shaking. The tremors enter her body, ride circuits in her brain. She feels she might collapse and fall through cracks in the ground.

Then, like everything else, it stops. It was nothing at all.

After she plants the flowers, Yumi rises, stands stiffly. She remembers the time she said You are so mean to me.

Sometimes, the mother would laugh in Yumi's sleep. She saw in Yumi both the perfect child and the flawed daughter. Sometimes the mother would sing at the window. She loved her plastic birds in wire cages. Sometimes she was as distant as a kite.


Lately, The Only Daughter has been having dreams of the city being invaded by an immense squadron of kites. There are so many that they block out the sky. Each has a face painted on it. When the daughter wakes up, she is too light-headed to steady herself on the floor, to land anywhere but back in bed. She feels hunger pains for the mother who was too distant from her or too high to be touched. The one who died without Yumi's permission. The one who died while Yumi was in a different city.


The Only Daughter is standing over her mother's unmarked gravesite. The soil feels soft, silt-like. Then, a strange vibration from the ground. Yumi feels an itch in a moist place. The ground begins to break. Yumi, forever the stunned child, cannot run or call for help. A pair of hands come up through the ground. The hands are old, winkled, bluish and discolored in spots.

Touch me, the hands say.

Yumi gives in.

The hands pull Yumi under the ground. She tries to fight, to squirm. Dirt falls into her eyes. The hands are very strong. The grip relentless.

The hands pull her down into a small room somewhere under the casket. The room is the shape of a blinking eye. There is a tiny light, that disappears when the eye blinks.

The mother sits across Yumi. The mother who was never there. She wears a queer smile. She is dressed in a hospital gown. She seems younger by about ten years, the last time Yumi had seen her before the hospital stay. Before the brain tumor that dislodged into everything.

Can we please start over? says the mother in a sweet, if somewhat scratchy voice. Can we please put aside our stupid egos and false mirrors and be each other's tender hand?

Mother, says Yumi, can you really see me? In the hospital, you went blind.

Yes, says the mother, I can see you perfectly. Such a stunning child. I didn't deserve you. I tried to destroy myself through you.

And you are not dead?

They buried me too soon. They couldn't feel my breaths. They are so big with their machines and calculations.

The mother reaches over and takes Yumi's hand.

I found a secret place inside your brain where I will stay. I will be the tree rooted inside you. Not a fossil.

Now I'm ready to die.

The eye blinks. The ground above opens up. Yumi climbs out. She looks back. She cannot see the mother.


Yumi will either wake or she won't.


It is neither too hot or too cold. There is a single kite above and to the right of Yumi. It is a box kite and it seems to be laughing. Yumi smiles up at the kite. She thinks: I know who you are. The kite flies higher over the city, disappears over midtown, passes clouds in the shapes of boats. Yumi feels light on her feet. Wherever the kite wanders, she will be there too. She can smell the sea. She hears her mother's voice.


Yumi listens to the voice, coming from below the ground, from behind clouds, from a bottomless well of sleep: When you dream, I can erase mistakes.




He finds her lying on his land again. Some feet behind her is the wheelchair, and he imagines her fumbling attempts to stand, to walk, her collapse in the tawny, treeless field. The aliens have various names for her disability. They have names for everything.

She is still young, thin-framed and hollow-cheeked. She was once beautiful, a youthful Elizabeth Taylor with cropped hair and sparkling eyes.

"It was the aliens who brought me here. They always kidnap and abandon me." Her voice is flat. She purses her lips.  

"They always do, don’t they?" he says.

He slips his sinewy arms around and under her, then lifts. She tells him that he is still strong, that he could probably carry her all the way back home. The moist air frizzes her hair, makes her breathe harder. Hints of orange scent the air.

"No," he says, "these days, I run out of breath so easy."

He eases her down into the wheelchair, pushes her along a narrow dirt path.


She tells him to stop, that she will be fine--she will find her way home.

He stops, stares out at the open field, then stands before her.

She mumbles, as she sometimes does, about her life spent watching soap operas where the beautiful people never die inside glass bubbles. She talks about the little Work-From-Home jobs she has--stringing colored beads together, or breaking her fingernails or mailing envelopes to people she will never meet.

Still standing in front of her, the man looks up. Dark clouds roll across the sky.

"You better go," he says, "it’s going to rain."

She takes his hand, brings it to her cheek.

"I keep telling them," she says, "not to bring me back here. But they don’t want me. Even though I’m one of them. "

"You’re not," he says.

"Oh, I am," she says. "It’s a fact. I live my life according to facts. There is the fact that you were once my teacher. Your wife, you said, was no longer beautiful to you. There was the fact that I could once walk. But now I'm an alien. And they don't want me."

She smiles up at him.

"You once loved me," she whispers.

"I’m ugly," he says, "an ugly old man."

"No, she says, "it’s just that you can’t see me anymore. Not like you once did. I can no longer walk, and you can't see."

With lips soft, he kisses her forehead.

"Some people don’t believe in aliens," she says, "but how else do you explain being stranded on your own planet?"

He no longer has a car or a wife. The aliens took them away.

He watches, frowning, as if remembering her practice chord drills on the piano. The drills never amounted to anything.

After wheeling away from him and reaching a few yards in the distance, she turns and yells, I BELIEVE IN ALIENS!

Inside the kitchen, he listens to the deep thrusts of thunder.  He hopes she will make it home in time.

Woman with a Tin Can Heart (Cactus Heart Press)

He married a woman with a tin can heart. Whenever he sleeps next to her, he hears his own words echo as if someone else's. She says, Before you, I had a hole in my heart. I leaked the names of fairweather men who would never love me. She remembers the days of living in the streets, of being kicked or pushed around by The 10th Avenue Boys, how they made her swallow stones or regurgitate their reflections. They made her ugly. She claims. Rarely, she speaks of the father, who boasted about his collection of roadkill, about his extra shoestring or two of kindness. One night, the husband discovers that the wife with a tin can heart is gone. His bed is now a one-way street with no signs, only the faint footprints of a small animal. After it rains. He imagines the ping of coins in someone's cup. He listens to the rustle of his own thoughts: dry, unintelligable at the core, never fated to become trains. The weight of his peeping eyes turned inward. He imagines that he has a hole in his head. In that space, the sun will shine metallic.