fiction, prosetry

Fear and a Spirit of Hateful Accommodation

Yes, all those things are lovely, but it’s boring when all is said and done at the end of the day eventually in the final analysis after all—indecision can be a like standing in the middle of field of lilacs and sometimes we simply say too much. Speaking of lilacs and sometimes, I don’t do well on the fly, too little meaning caught in too many words, with “do” and “fly” being the operatives here, deep down undercover with fake mustaches and mirrored aviators for obfuscation. We all know “well” well enough, or so I tell myself, to hold the sentence together with minimal disambiguation. The sentence—life, with no possibility of parole, unless you’ve got a little imagination. We all step away sometimes, needing to, receding to or from or for with grimy presumptions of stiff finality all around, creeping up the walls like rot till they seem darker than the corners and we can’t remember how or why we serve the question, but we do. Insistent on the peculiar merits of placement, I seem predisposed to point to the energy and the process like it’s blame I’m placing, not credit, clinging to rhizomatic enthusiasms rooted in contexts so specific and references so obscure that the truth can’t go unnoticed. The truth. What is this appetite for absolutes? Strip that away, and what—the positive qualities of illusion suggesting that the walls and corners aren’t in fact closing in, that they simply have spirit? Having seen it done and having done it, I strain to model myself on something definitive, over and over, ever and ever, ever stepping away to return all over, mumbling mawkish mantras like Destroy, and piece it back together but this time with gold at the seams. Kintsugi, yes? and how appealing, no, how improving, with an orange-juicer twist drop of idealism plus the pulp. Each answer is formed of countless questions, as variegated as the languages with which we pose them, so thus I ask: Do we spill because we break or does our spilling do the breaking because we get too full?

Everything has to go somewhere (that’s definitive-infinitive); there’s action in the outpouring, but I could see it working either way, or both, finding a comfortably uncertain trajectory regardless, whether of containment or release, a course, of course, if you will, running roughly from vulnerability to repair and so on, with voice, agency, embodiment, and destruction all packed in and cozy snuggled between. And so on, and back again. Till it breaks again and I’m back here on the fly again, going nowhere till it feels too right to not be the wrong words for a story.

I had a rough day, she said, barely holding back tears and looking smaller and more defeated than she’d ever permitted herself to look. A hug and kiss were proffered as preludes to a word or two of unconvincing edification as I, draped in coat and bags, walked out the door and down the hallway to the elevator and another hallway to the parking garage so I could warm up the cold little car with rust spots on the hood and drive cautiously through heavy nighttime snow already covering the highway despite evening weeknight traffic to a hotel way out west of the city where there was a meeting of the old white minds that I had to endure the following day. The following day arrived and I woke up from an uncomfortable half-sleep with the outlines of a migraine that would gradually color itself complete as I tried to take notes and look like I gave a shit in a windowless conference room thick with recirculated air and coffee breath, wanting only the essentials of sleep, hydration, and a proper breakfast. The rest—freedom, love, pain—would have to wait.

 


Originally published on Art & Insolence.

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fiction, Uncategorized

There were Four Russians Outside of my Door This Morning

photo_2018-12-10_16-42-40My mother grew up in the 70s. This means that all of her favorite spy movies had eerily similar bad guys with names like Boris, Ivan, Ivan, and Boris. When my mother visited me in Russia, she stepped out of the arrival gates and said,

“Holy-fucking-shit, I’m here.

Since American media had already moved on to Arabs by the time I crawled into the world, I never thought of Russia as an enemy. But today there were four Russians outside of my apartment building this morning. They rang up, and I thought,

“oh, they are here to murder me–I am going to be taken to some dark room and tortured until I admit anything, they want me to admit. it won’t take long, I am so squishy and pink! Then I will be hung in the Red Square and I don’t even know any Morse code, so I won’t be able to send any secret messages to anyone and I get stage fright so even if they let me speak, I’ll probably just sweat and mutter until my neck snaps–“

My girlfriend–woken from the ringing–stormed passed, spoke through the receiver, buzzed the men into the building. On her way back to bed she looked into the kitchen. I was still half-hidden behind the cabinets, peering out.

She sighed and went back to bed.

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art, fiction, life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Pure & broken

Emily-DiDonato-Nude-Narcisse-Magazine-Spring-Summer-2017-Cover-Editorial03Lie in bed

Child

Lest what stands beyond threshold

Threatens calm

Waking to the sound of winter silence

Clutching at inanimate objects

The seen friends who do not reply

Delve deeper into the mind

Where disturbance is held away

By merciful imagination

How long can a child

Pretend

And make-believe?

The sounds of fighting through the walls

Even the deaf hear

The crack in plaster grows wider

Each day carpet higher

Till jungle swallows child

Alone

Her own words ingrowing

Dance when no one is looking

For nobody did

Turned faces absentees

Hunger for attention

At first an annoying shame-faced thing

Then the end of longing

Acceptance

You placed me in a room of my own and said

Thrive

I did not

Instead

Half of me turned into plaster and chipboard and carpet fibers

And half climbed out windows and got lost

Letting her feathers be plucked early

By stranger fondling hands and false words

Prophet’s without prophecy

Girls born without reason

Growing in one ache

The silence their lover and their torment

Sliced in half

One, a creature straining to survive herself

One the albatross of finely dressed humans

Absenting themselves from responsibility

She says

You damned me

You shut me up

You expected me to thrive and grow in darkness and coal

As you closed the door and said entertain yourself

She switched the camera on and let them come one by one

Watch her fall beneath the lights

Mayhap dancer, mayhap pornographer

No words escape her

She moves her pain

Above you like light streaming down

Pure and broken into prisms

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fiction, Uncategorized

some butterflies

It is late, the dark has started weaving nests into crannies. I’m drunk. We’ve only known each other a few weeks.

“I don’t want this,” I told her, a few minutes ago.

And so, she paces.

She stops.

“What are you?” she asks, her arms limp from nail biting.

I frown at her, drinking something–a beer, probably. “I’m a man?”

She frowns, “No–no! You are arms–yes, legs, eyes–yes, three hundred pages of verse, maybe–but you are not a man.”

She goes back to pacing.

I roll my eyes. “Why are you being so dramatic?”

“I’m not being dramatic,” she tells the other side of the balcony, “I’m being poetic.”

She walks back and stands over me.

She looks down, into me–about to cry or kill me, I don’t know.

“Some butterflies are beautiful for only a day and then they die,” she whispers. She kneels down, places her face on my leg. I put my fingers in her hair.

“Am I supposed to be a butterfly?” I ask, finishing what certainly seems to be a beer.

She shakes her head. “No–you are not so lovely a thing. You are a stomach ache, you linger–you do not die, not beautiful enough to die.”

She sits back on her haunches, she laughs. I laugh too, not understanding.

Like a blind man clapping at a magic show.

My laugh goes on much longer than hers. She kisses my hand.

“You poor boy,” she tells me.

She stands up and goes inside.

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fiction

End Of a Story

Another time—yes, there was another time, but only one other time, and that not really—I saw her acting out some obscurely tragic final scene, rushing from room to room in a space not entirely unlike that flat but cross-sectioned like a stage, lamenting and gesticulating. The melodrama, the motion, the volume—oh the things I’d say if I could wake up, I thought. Like Sorry, just forget it, forget it all.

What if, when it came right down to it, I spoke less breathlessly but with the same fight, in a manner more contrasted to my hurried thinking, trying less adamantly to push it all out before it’s gone? Less, more, less—that’s how it always goes and all I can think to do is paint, I told my friend the next morning in order to have something to say, but there are only three or four colors at my disposal, looking at the walls and the one frosty window in our “living” room, but meaning something else entirely. Please look away. Who can even begin to imagine such passion tailored to their person, so perfectly trimmed and fitted, and such trouble speaking when each word reeks of fantasy. But it never comes down to it. It just goes and goes and that’s it. Or that’s that, depending how your crow flies.

The sun rose over ancient Crete in my boyhood imagination and I learned as if looking in from the outside that paradise is a construct of color and sound. That, of course, was well before I learned the first thing about crawling out from under the weight of my intentions, but I did know the myth of the Theseus and the minotaur. It was love that helped him get back out. Do you have any idea what I push through every day just to be here? To whom do these thoughts indeed belong? I’d ask her that, if I had another chance, and tell her I didn’t ask for this—none of us did. We were just born into a world arranged by madmen and madwomen and expected to find a way in and through some private-public unicursal when in fact the journey, the real challenge and struggle, is to find a way out. My friend is out of his mind, but he conforms—and he lives just fine right there in his center so he doesn’t know it, doesn’t have to. I am out of mine, completely, imagining anyone can hear me when I’m alone out here on the fringes because it’s the only time I can hear myself.

Goodbye, Ariadne, till the next time I need some literary device upon which to hang my isolation. You guys go right on without me.

 


These are the closing paragraphs of a story I won’t post here or anywhere in its entirety because I hope to publish it elsewhere, so there. Originally published on Art & Insolence.

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fiction, Uncategorized

Never Forget the Whore

I wanted to learn more about a Russian’s perspective on World War II, The Great Patriotic War, or according to some, simply THE WAR. Since paper turned out to be even more revisionist than memory, I asked around for those who may have lived through it. My friend Ivan’s grandmother spoke a bit of English and he arranged for me to meet her at her house on Tuesday. Her face was a mashing of slate and limestone, she had a button for one eye. She might have had hair, but it was hidden under a musty-green bonnet.

Her apartment was an antique apocalypse, strewn about were books, kettles, chair legs, mummified jars of pickled mysteries, numerous floral patterns creating an eclectic field of colorful dust-bunnies. Great booming closets and mirrored shelves lined every wall, housing dead photographs of even deader relatives. She navigated it well. In the kitchen she sat me in a chair with a flat piece of plywood nailed to two of the broken legs. I gingerly sat and took out my notebook.

“Tea?” she asked.

“With milk and sugar, please.”

She bustled about the dusty sink, taking tea from a tin and setting on an old kettle.

“So, how old were you during the war?” I said.

She didn’t turn. “Wait,” she said.

I waited, looking out the window through a mess of dead plants at the people walking past. It was summer in Saint Petersburg, finally. Outside people wore T-shirts and shorts with a desperateness that only comes in a place where summer is born a dead-leaf. The old woman came and sat across from me, placing a mug of plain black tea on my notebook.

“So, I am collecting stories from the war, from people who were alive and—”

“Bread?”

“Uh—no thank you,” I said, nervously. “So, I thought maybe we could start with the Siege of Leningrad, Ivan said you were a child when it happened?”

She looked out the window, then down at my notebook and untouched tea.

“You want to talk about the siege, but you don’t want bread?” she asked. She stood up and took a half-load of bread from a squirrely spot in a dirty cabinet. She cut a chunk and put it on a plate with some butter and a slice of cheese. I waited.

“Thank you,” I told her after she placed it beside my tea.

I took a bite.

“I remember going with my mother to bring bread to her sister,” she waved in a direction out of the window. “She lived not far from here. My mother would bring me with bread–we were more fortunate. She lived on the top floor of her building and people used to sleep in her stairwell, sleep until they died and there was no one to take them away, so they moved them into the windows. They put them there one on top of the other until there was no light in her building. Her children had died. I didn’t know them very well, but they died. My aunt too, one day. In her building she died because she wouldn’t eat, and they put her in one of the windows, too. I remember the darkness in the stairwell and I remember my mother didn’t cry.”

I didn’t write anything down as she spoke. She looked out of her window through the plants and sunshine. Her face suddenly went dark and she scowled at a woman passing.

“Her,” she said.

I looked. It was a young woman, she was wearing a light summer dress and she looked happy.

“She is a whore,” the she said. “She has been sleeping with the Jew who lives just there.” She pointed at a window, two floors up and across.

“He’s married,” she said ominously.

“Oh,” I managed, and with nothing else to say, I took a bite of my bread.

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fiction, photography

THE BURDEN

Chris R-0329 Image by Christine Renney

As a boy I would daydream about having special powers. Super strength or x-ray vision, the ability to shift shape and form at will or to stretch my limbs and torso in order to reach far into the distance. Of them all it was the last that I would eventually find myself capable of. Not the coolest nor, as I discovered, the most practical and, over the years, I have contemplated long and hard as to why, of the special powers I conjured and pondered in my youth, this one was to be my gift, my burden.

I have always been tall and thin, freakishly so. I was bullied at school and had to endure a barrage of embarrassingly unoriginal taunts. Name calling mostly. Olive – that was the one that stuck – after Olive Oyl. I learned to live with it. I had to, but even after so long it still manages, on occasion, to cut me. Despite the fact that I excelled at all sports and was chosen for the football team and represented the school in the long jump and cross country, I dreaded Physical Education and having to undress in front of the others. They would gather around me, flicking with their towels, poking and prodding at my skinny frame, pinching and pulling at my skin.

In spite of my unnatural ability and incredible agility, after leaving school I never again participated in a team event or took part in competitive sport of any kind. I did continue to run, mostly keeping to the city. I pounded the pavements before and after work but at the weekends I would drive out into the countryside, taking to the footpaths and bridleways. I could push myself harder there, running for longer and further but I couldn’t counter the restlessness that, as a young man, I carried like an empty wallet.

When running I felt as if I were fleeing and I didn’t for a second feel that I was awkward and ungainly. In the city I held back, I had to, but at weekends I could let myself go although it wasn’t enough.

In hindsight I realise that something extraordinary was happening and that I had squandered my youth and all of my twenties. For more than a decade, clumsy and shy, I tried my best to hide away when in all probability I had been the fastest man on the planet. In middle age I brooded far too deeply on this but by then my life couldn’t have been more complicated and I had long since dispensed with any delusions as to whether running could ever be enough. But I am getting ahead of myself and need to backup a little.

After leaving school without the relevant qualifications to continue with a formal education I set out to find my way in the world. I didn’t have any trouble finding a job in the accounts department of a company which manufactured cardboard boxes. I had a propensity for numbers and became indispensable. I was a cog in their machine and best of all I was left alone. I found a corner in which to hide and I had a desk with a window above which looked out across the roof of the adjoining warehouse. I worked diligently with my back toward the world or at least to the rest of the office. I spoke when spoken to or not at all.

Then, miraculously, I was noticed by a woman, one of the many who over the years worked fleetingly in the office before moving on for pastures new. Remarkably, this young woman set out to ensnare me and happily I allowed myself to be snared. Suddenly my life turned around and I had it all. A loving wife and a happy home, the suburban dream, domestic bliss and then I started to stretch.

It happened without fanfare. We were having breakfast and I couldn’t reach something on the other side of the table. I don’t remember what it was but I didn’t ask my wife to pass it to me or push it closer. Instead I extended my arm the extra distance necessary and, after taking hold of it, let my arm slip back to its usual length, its normal length. My wife didn’t notice. I had been much too fast but I could have held my arm there or I could have extended it further still. I could have sent her screaming into the street in her nightgown.
I didn’t stretch again until I was alone. First one arm and then the other. Likewise my legs. I lay on my back, stretching both arms and legs together but when I felt my torso beginning to flex I restrained myself. The room wasn’t big enough. I needed more space.

Finding that space wasn’t ever an issue. There was the warehouse at work. I had the keys and it was deserted in the evenings and on Sundays and there was space aplenty but I delayed. Although I needed to stretch I was terrified of what I might find myself capable. At first I kept to the house and its cluttered rooms and for a while that was where I nursed my secret.

I did continue stretching in front of my wife in order to reach or kick something aside. As I have already explained I was fast and I was becoming ever more adept at cloaking it. Nevertheless, I limited myself to no more than doubling my arms’ length and it wasn’t long before I was stretching like this in front of my colleagues at the office, then the supermarket, in the streets, everywhere.

Unsurprisingly, in the end I hadn’t any choice and it was out of necessity that on a cold and blustery Sunday morning I let myself into the warehouse. The rain pelted against the roof, all encompassing and discordant it rang in the grimy half light as I stripped off my clothes and prepared to stretch myself fully for the first time.

I was in pain, had been for months, my every muscle and sinew aching, my body screaming for mercy and so raising my arms I stretched toward the roof. Thereafter, I visited the warehouse once a week without fail. Although I was always stealthy and swift those fifteen minutes each week were unceasingly traumatic for me and I was constantly concerned that I might be discovered hanging from the rafters. But I survived. I made it through undiscovered and unscathed. In fact, I have outlived them all, everyone I once, knew including my wife. Of course I am alone again, have been for more years than I now care to contemplate.

Whatever my circumstances at any given time, somehow I have always succeeded in finding a way but it was never as simple as it is here, in this rest home. At this place for the elderly I need only to step outside the door to my room and into the narrow and lengthy corridor beyond.

I have taken to laying out here after dark. On the plush carpet I can lose myself at last. Although I am long since past my prime, I am sure if I live just a little longer I will manage to reach and touch the doors at either end.

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