“If you could do all that stuff and then be dead, I’d say do it.” I dreamed of writing the piece that started like this in the restive moments of waking this morning. It was funny and strange and about death, what would happen afterwards. I can’t remember it now, but I think I knew that would happen. It always does. But it was about this size, maybe a little bigger. If you can let yourself imagine, it was also quite a bit better than this one. I’d be grateful if you did that. Imagine it better. Please do.
Flash Fiction / Prose Poetry
I am from bruised thigh, junk drawer, box of borax on the top shelf. I am from vowel hard to pronounce, disordered creek bottom, bloody heel. I am from set of three. I am from formula, jar of baby teeth, sharp-bearded fish. I am from February, from Saturday, from many specifications of the abstractions time and space. I am from hand of my mother, bone of my mother’s ear, mother of my mother’s mother. From a tome of like characters. From filth, from undesirable car parts, from trundled spoilage.
Before the lizard gods, I was shaped from blue clay, my eight fins pinched, scales combed, gills lifted like crescents. I trembled my fins, tested my mouth on coral and young clownfish, dove deep. Above, lands shifted and crashed, drawing lava from my ocean floor. The reptiles rose and fell. Things began to take to the … is it air? New primates grew greedy. I dove deeper, leaving the shallows to those who dared go out in tree shells.
the beginning and the greatest good is prudence
Its 94 at noon on a heated desert morning after two weeks of boutique and backroom antics with their scaly echo of that first gill-to-lung-sac thing crawled up from a polluted creek, antics that could only result in unreasonable headaches, love’s alarm disarmed, and end where no amount of languor can mask the bad girl whine from the pineal gland that knows-it-all when the subject’s betrayal and no amount of wishing can take back the clack of chips from the business isopods turning out their Travelsmith pockets at security. This story is my traveler’s tell-all, starts in idiot default. Dopamine disease, not failure, causes risky behavior. What’s the difference you ask, between my life and the lives of others who also smell of a place where the mermaid gave up her tail on her journey from fish to goddess—only a lifetime learning to hesitate, a modest Epicurean eye, the necessary mediation that tempers a wild urge, the hand that gives off a slight organic hint of fountain, leaves behind a wide-awake woman with her slide & scale & glisten.
I saw the first punch coming and was able to duck. Sheila had just come out of the blue house, the one that always smelled like smoke, and she was holding something in her hand.
“Come look at this,” she said.
“What is it?”
“Come closer, take a look.”
Five minutes earlier Sheila had been crying as she ran inside. Her knee sprouted a raspberry where she had hit the driveway, and for some reason it was my fault. Michael was there too, the fat one who lived in the purple house. I lived in the red house, although it wasn’t entirely red. We had both been chasing her when she tripped.
“Get over here, you’ll like it.” She held her right hand in a tight fist.
I walked to her even though I knew what she was doing. When the punch came it was easy to avoid.
When the second punch came I stood there. It wasn’t any faster, I don’t know why I didn’t move.
Maybe I had pushed her a little.
“I am large, I contain multitudes.” —Walt Whitman
How, exactly, do I address you, Mixotricha paradoxa? The pronouns get caught in my throat. There’s the core of you—a paramecium sorta guy—but hairy. Those hairs, though, all quarter million of ‘em, are each tiny curlicue bacteria, other beings, rowing in synchrony, pushing you around that sludge inside the termite’s gut you call home. Who’s the coxswain? More little beasts live on your surface, others churn out energy inside, and all schlep together to help that termite digest wood. Are you four separate critters just hanging out inside another? Have you melded into one? Are you an I or a we? Are you contrived from genius, or spit out by random Darwinian thrusts of genes? And why in the world do you have your own Facebook page? How many people want to be your friend?
I was ten years old the first time I butchered an animal. It was early winter, the sun low and cold. I huffed from running after the beagles as they chased a rabbit. The dogs howled as they ran, spreading away from me, galloping feet tracing lines in the snow. I fired once at the rabbit as it crossed to my side. The ear ringing mark of the shotgun echoed among the maples and oaks, long clear of leaves. I ejected the shell, took in the metallic whisper of it. I stood sniffling from the cold, looking at the lump of gray fur that no longer moved. My stepfather came behind me as I stepped silently towards the rabbit.
I wedged the rabbit’s head into the crotch of a tree branch as my stepfather growled instructions. He was a cruel man, always ready to raise his voice and hands. This is the man who kicked my brother in the stomach for forgetting to flush the toilet, who threw me down a set of concrete steps for raking leaves incorrectly, who left bruises the size of oranges just below my mother’s elbows from where he grabbed her and forced her to answer to a slight. Out there among the brambles in the squat forest, he smacked the back of my head and pointed to where I should make the first cut.
I didn’t say prayers at the butchering, didn’t offer thanks. I didn’t think I needed to. My stepfather said it was only a rabbit. Earlier that morning, as I walked the forest on my own, I shot a white-throated sparrow for no reason. I took aim and blasted the small bird into fluff as it perched in a thicket. I had imagined, briefly, that the bird was my stepfather’s eye.
Beijing’s north wind skewers bundled tourists rushing through the gates of the Forbidden City. A late afternoon, mushroom-orange, smog descends upon the capitalist infestation. Bug-eyed, the travelers scatter as parade troops enter: link arms, push them under eaves, and against walls. Make way, the leader growls, important people coming—not you, as a diplomatic entourage rolls past in flag-waving Mercedes. A riotous veneer of red-lacquer anxiety crackles through the gilt of the courtyard; a Kafkaesque scene unfolds.
in the back of throats:
The group’s whisperers animate when the military leave. Elderly women peek into non-public areas behind grime-etched windows. They cluck, and tut-tut, at the pieces of teak furniture piled high, draped in rags and dust. The guide gestures toward the grand courtyard where “The Last Emperor” was filmed. The artful elegance of what was, now, a carapace, valueless to its owners, except for the yuan the gwai lo tourist trade brings.
The late start limits the time which can be spent in the hollow undecorated rooms. A New York Indian couple bemoan the fading sunlight and lost opportunities. Dwarfed by the architecture of the building, and the entering police cars; the group scatters, disturbed like wasps in a hive. The guide’s attempt to lasso the laggards meets with only minor success. Reality has, yet again, not lived up to the New Yorker’s imagination. They are hesitant to leave without their rupee’s worth.
speakers blare on
the police car in the park:
the bus is running
littered with canary bones, feathers and beaks swallowed by asthmatic shafts. Abandoned mine land’s muscles lean close, fingers curl into palm, never let go. Where birds kept singing, tunnels stretched deep, wooden support forests grew so well in that dark. Children heed stay out stay alive, magnates wind through sediment toward swelter.
The rind flat on the pavement is by chance a circle—whole but empty where she shimmied out of her skin-tight skin. Around the corner, naked Clementine hangs out on a concrete ledge. She would swing her legs if she had any, puckered around her empty center, bold as anything under the sun’s blaze. When night turns cold, Clementine shivers her regret for peeling off there in the street, wishes she had not left so loose her spicy attire behind. She is sticky-sweet and irresistible to the wasp, his gold tooth shine disappearing inside.