Saturday, July 30, 2022

 Published in Otoliths, 2018

We Could be Them #1

I take my robot girlfriend, Goo-roo, to the drive-in. We watch The Dangerous Dukes from Uranus through the wiper fluid stained window of my blue Trojan. It's a feature film directed by Sidney C. Weller, an ex-Communist, harassed by FBI agents in the 50s, interrogated by McCarthy clones. He gave up three aspiring actresses who refused to be compromised. Goo-roo, herself, resembles a petite version of Jayne Mansfield, and whenever there is a sex scene involving androids, her ultra-violet eyes light up like a close-up of the universe. The nice thing about dating Goo-roo is that it's never Dutch; she doesn't eat, survives on a nightly regimen of charges and minor tune-ups. Plus, she always agrees with what I say. Which means there is no chance of interrogations and mixed loyalties. With her, there are no suspects. At night, sleeping as a faux-pair, I place my head on her hard breast. I listen to the slight hum, the underground flow of ionized particles; I imagine the complexity of her wiring loom. Then, the recurrent dream of a woman sitting on a park bench on a sunny afternoon. There is a pond and the swans and geese are free to play and shit. I approach the woman from behind as if there is some strange magnetic pull. She doesn't turn around. She never does. She might not have a face. Only dark glasses and a void of a face. But I know who she is. She's the woman whose disease I could not cure, not the pain in the night, nor fix the disfigured face after the car accident. She's the woman I once gave up to science.

We Could Be Them #2

I could tell she was from a mechanical world. Her answers were terse, abrupt, sometimes unconnected to the question. And the way she ran her fingertips over the edge of my non-stick frying pans, the reflective kitchen faucet sprout, the bottoms of my cherry wood cabinets that were free of dust. During a bout of timed sex between TV commercials for bleach and hair sprays, we almost missed each other. I asked her for another date. I was curious. She put on a white fur coat, short with a price tag still attached, and mumbled something in German or Russian. Maybe it was English. The next time I heard from her was when she called me from jail. She had been caught shoplifting and needed me to bail her out. As if I were her only contact. Standing outside the municipal building, I asked her what she stole. Oh, she said, things that were taken from her childhood: hex screws, needle pliers, sowing pins, roof nails, lace patterns, a plastic container of glue in the shape of a man. I stared into her eyes and tried to project meaning into shades of not-giving-anything-away. She stared at the bridge of my nose. Looking up, I tried to discern the patterns of homeless birds made crazy from distance. She never paid me back. I never saw her again.

We Could Be Them #3
There was a story, passed from generation to generation, that trees all over the world dropped pencils. Sometimes lovers would sit under the trees and grab the pencils to write each other love poems. Others said that the pencils had some mysterious powers that could endow any child picking up these instruments with amazing arithmetic abilities. This story was passed orally for centuries then dropped out of favor. Perhaps due to the natural disasters of flood or drought that blotted out all memory of the tale, perhaps due to plagues and contagious diseases. Then the story became revived. Some questioned its credibility, even for a tale. How can a tree simultaneously grow and drop a pencil? What is the mechanism? Describe the process. From these doubts, naysayers chopped down trees all over the world. They claimed such beliefs were heresy. So now there are no more trees and there are no more pencils. There is only the open eye of sky and the clenched fist of dirt.

We Could Be Them #4

I was dating a girl who was an electrical whiz. She could fix toasters, repair outlets, rewire the kitchen, fix the damn stove that kept clicking. Never spoke much about her childhood, perhaps a built in resistor to spilling secrets. I imagined a summer of hot wires and causalities, boys with frogs in their throats, trying to draw Venn diagrams, most distracted by their own lust. The tip of her one thumb was black. I was afraid to ask questions. I told her that I was a bad communicator, feelings like abandoned train tracks, the battlegrounds now shrouded in grey mist, ex-lovers never called me back. She said she knew how to fix it. She burned me.

We Could Be Them #5

She said her name was Julia and did most of the talking. She said she was a researcher in marine biology and hinted that in past relationships she was the victim half of the time. She offered little more. I could tell by her flashing brown eyes and smooth satiny skin, the sardonic smile with a slight quiver, that she was erotically charged. The way a Victorian woman could solicit you with a blank stare from a painting. At times, Julia had this same strange way of looking through me without conveying any emotion at all. I began dropping things at work. I wondered what it would be like swimming with her nude past everyone or treading in their life-stories and watching them drown. They were helpless. And we were helpless to help.

By the third date, I told her that I did not see any future for us--not much in common. Her jaw was too square for me and her shoulders too broad. She exuded the urge to dominate, perhaps to compensate for past slip-ups. Sitting across from her, I felt wooden and very small.

She reached for my hand over the dinner table at King Cosmo's and tempted me to sleep with her. I told her I would but it wasn't going to change anything. Before I left her apartment, I kissed her on the cheek. She was still as a photo and she didn't seem to be breathing. I passed it off as shallow breathing. Her profile resembled something otherworldly, reminded me of a 14th century painting of a saint, who with her mystic stillness, would not cry at her torture.

A few days later, strange things began to happen. I couldn't recall names at work. I had a strange thirst for seawater, a hunger for all kinds of tiny fish. I entertained visions of Julia underwater. She always wiggled away, leaving a vertical trail of bubbles. The light beams were something I couldn't explain. Spaceships underwater? I began to wake up in the middle of the night. I had a strange compulsion to walk out naked into the middle of the street. I stopped traffic. Cars honked. Men shouted obscenities. My white flesh clashed with the transparency of the night. I now had the power to stop the world, if only for a moment. After my hospitalization, I turned invisible. I escaped their shackles and their trays of insidious poisons. I roamed the heart of the city. I entered households and infiltrated the lives of others. I slept between husbands and wives. I saw tiny fish squirming behind their eyes at night. Fish that wanted to escape. I lived in their basements, watching their hamsters die from boredom and the mice from starvation. I entertained the notion of becoming anything and nothing.

Soon tabloids reported that there were unexplained disturbances at night. Men and women, who first blamed each other, later confessed (with no small amount of embarrassment) to being "molested" by a phantom. When asked if they could be dreaming, each said they knew the difference between this and that. And I remained a fixture, blending into the spaces among their lives. There were no hard borders. There was no fortress of a core to anything.

Kyle Hemmings is a retired health care worker. His latest collections of poetry/prose are Scream from Scars publications and Split Brain on Amazon Kindle. He has been published in Otata, Wigleaf, Haibun Today, [b]oink, and elsewhere. He loves 50s Sci-Fi movies, manga comics, and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s.

 Published in Otoliths, 2017

her chalky dry skin
sparked with pleasure
& painful space


the floppy white hat
sitting atop a stack
of True Detective


my moon-face murderer
apologizing in the corner
saying he'll try again another night


unsorted mail   the mysterious illness on the night shift


Published in Otoliths, 2019

M City, Plates 1 to 8

 Published in Otoliths, Winter  2018

Rommel in New York


pages from A Nuclear Fallout Shelter Primer (Otolith, 2018)

Wednesday, July 27, 2022


The Inner City (published in Pure Slush 2018)

In the apartment, with walls that bend in the heat, Kat is pacing in pink bra, panties, her oversized bunny slippers. She meanders from mirror to mirror, sticking her tongue out, which is meant for me. I mean the reflection. She can regress to a child in a matter of seconds.

It's the end of summer. In the city, birds fly from forgotten attics. Sooty-faced winos rise from manholes. Women are having more babies and the babies are taking over the world. In two days, I will be on a plane to Ohio, to prepare my future in a small college that reminds me of medieval castles and fortresses. Even the birds there know Latin.

Kat kneels between my knees. I'm sitting on an old cushy chair we picked up at a street bazaar one Sunday morning. She sinks her chin near my crotch. Her eyes are wide and tempting.

"You know what I'm going to say, Bugs." That's her nickname for me. Before that I was nothing. Not even a grasshopper in a jar.

"Yes," I say.

She never uses the word, love. It will lead to tragic consequences, complex life stories. For her, it's a metaphysical black hole.

"I'm afraid we'll lose each other."

"I will write and call. I will come home for the vacations."

"Not good enough. Do better. Don't go."

"My parents across the river would kill me. They'd kill you too."

She makes a face, screwing up her nose and upper lip. She reminds me of a close-up of Bjork from an old music video where Bjork might have been imitating Kat.

I won't tell her that I'll miss her, and the seventeen versions of her. I won't tell her that I'll miss the summer's heavy traffic jams or the breezy echoes of our breaths in the stillness of the night. I loved the fuzziness of waking up next to her, trying to hear her dreamy head hum.

She slides her hands back and forth over my thighs. It gives me goose bumps. It makes me feel powerful, regal, despite my allergies to her tobacco-scented perfumes. Her deep green-alien eyes lazer-beam mine. Who's the mysterious panther from outer space?

"Listen, I'm afraid too. The city is full of unfulfilled dudes. Guys with crazy mood-swings. The city is full of other bugs. They can bite and infect you."

She turns her head toward the wall, then back again. She looks reflective, wistful.

"Why don't we go to the roof and see if we can fly?"

I imitate Groucho Mark's jumping eyebrows. Mine are not as thick, but they're not fake.

"Really? Should we get a film crew? Don't we need a license to fly?"

Her eyes are big and sad. Not loveless.

"Seriously, Bugs. It hurts. And it's going to hurt more. I don't want to die like Emily Dickinson."

I feel clumsy and stupid. I fold my hands and look past everything. The way I sometimes do in class when at loss for an answer.

"I doubt I'll die like Lord Byron. Sleeping with every woman who read his poems."

"I got it," says Kat, snapping her fingers. "Let's fuck each other to death. Right here on the floor. CSI will discover traces of us on each other. A mutual homicide, sloppily planned by two unbalanced youths tottering on the wavering line of summer passing into autumn. Let's fuck until our hearts stop. Let's fuck until you have to leave. Let's fuck until we both disappear. Pleeeeease."

I smile at her.

She returns a funny face. A face that masks more mischievousness. Her eyes hold miniature carefree galaxies where everyone is allergic to gravity.

The news today claims that we will be drawn into a cataclysmic war with North Korea. Dictators across the world are cloning themselves. Everyone lies about disarmament. The way I am Kat's prisoner when she cries after sex. Or when sitting on the subway that will take me back to New Jersey and the fresh lawns of the suburbs. Everything is something else and potentially dangerous.

On this subway, everyone pretends that they wouldn't want to sleep with each other, not even for curiosity's sake. No one wants to give an undercover blow job. There's a fear of terrorists from every walk of life. But I'm still wearing Kat's scents. I'm coated with Kat. I'm oozing Kat juice. I am no longer afraid of allergies. I twitch as a commuter sneezes. I almost say "God loves you," before I catch myself. The train makes a sharp turn. I hold on to my seat and say "God bless you."