On a rainy morning in October my son erased me during craft time at the library. We made a wind chime out of old spoons and gray yarn and colored beads in green and purple and orange and a jar lid with pre-drilled holes. The pencils were there to sign up for mommy/baby yoga the following day. A new three-year-old, Milo no longer qualified for mommy/baby yoga, but he still helped himself to a pencil. Ignoring the pointy end, Milo scrubbed the eraser over the ring finger of my left hand until the finger disappeared. Using my other hand to help the mother next to me attach the final string to her and her daughter’s wind chime, I didn’t notice until it was too late.chop! chop! read more!
Over dinner the Brazilian painter says she doesn’t believe in time, or maybe she says she’s skeptical about the measuring of time—I can’t be certain as we meet haltingly between languages. We are painters and photographers and musicians and one writer, me, in a crumbling Catalonian farmhouse at the foot of a mountain that looks like a pile of noses.chop! chop! read more!
Mary counts the ships. Rodney has just broken her heart.
“You’re like the ocean,” he points to the blue water carpet. “You will ebb and flow, you’ll see.”
There are five ships. A mother duck ship and four little ducklets. Last night, the radio talked of an oil spill.
“I hope those are rescue ships.” she says, “for the poor oily birds.”chop! chop! read more!
Instead of getting on the highway, Jake starts to drive deep into the woods, past the Savage Funeral Home and out 147, past Iona’s Country Bar. I can tell by now that this so-called spontaneous road-trip has been meticulously planned. I think, Iona’s in there, so is Lucky, so is Fran. I give a quick squeeze to my red rubber stress-ball. Jake’s got his box-cutter handy, for just in case we get into an accident and need it to free ourselves from our seatbelts.chop! chop! read more!
Every night, after a long day spent creating the universe, God removes his talents from inside His chest, like a handful of featherless baby birds, glossy with blood, and lays them on the bedside nightstand before turning out the light. “He’s a genius,” everyone says. “What He’s done with the universe, it’s just great. Can’t wait to see what His next project will be.”chop! chop! read more!
A girl at a house show expresses surprise and delight that I was from the Philippines. Her academic concentration is in environmental studies. She talks to me about conservation pursuits for American students, on the rivers and shorelines. I say, ha ha, yeah, we could use the help. Too glib: she thinks I mean it, or she just thinks I’m mean. Two years from that moment I write tongue-in-cheek poems about my mother, who waded in those rivers simply to scratch the red welts leeches left on her skin. How when she visits home now the tap water makes her stomach curdle.chop! chop! read more!
Like you’re supposed to hate winter, with its cold and mountains of snow and how slip-walking on ice is a bitch and all that shit. Honestly, I love it. Honestly, I’d move to Alaska or the Arctic Circle or the South Pole if anyone would let me. In another life, I’d beg to be a penguin. Or a polar bear, except they’re going extinct.chop! chop! read more!
Last night David Bowie sent a motorbike rocket, the first of its kind, into space, with a man having anal sex with a woman.
It has long been every female’s dream for a gay man to have sex with them.chop! chop! read more!
When we couldn’t dance around it any longer, we set mousetraps and started imagining our two toddlers, Henry and Suzanna, losing their fingers one by one: limp pinkies crinkled like sun-wilt, severed rings, scattered middles, dirty orphaned pointers curling into themselves as if for protection.chop! chop! read more!
ONTOLOGY OF FATHERHOOD by Luke Wortley Apparently Jack just learned the basics of genealogy. The lowest, sturdiest limbs branching out from roots of blood not my own. When I picked him up from school today, amid raindrops the size of a newborn’s hands, he told me about Memaw and Poppy and how they were Mommy’s mommy and daddy. “You’re my daddy,” he says. “Yeah, buddy, that’s right.” Though this isn’t legally true, yet. The Sperm Donor, as Poppy calls him, is in Chicago contesting my petition. “And Mommy is my mommy,” he says. “Yup. What’s Mommy’s name?” I ask. “Katie!” he screeches. “That’s right!” Something else about his friend Dontae having to go to the nurse and how it was Layla’s turn for computer time. Pause. Here it comes. “Who’s your mommy?” he asks. Over my speakers the buzzer cleaves his train of thought. Ringing weaves through our family tree. … chop! chop! read more!
One is waking up in a bedroom that you do not recognize. The scent of coffee makes your head ache, but you cannot recall what it tastes like. And you don’t understand because you thought you liked coffee, but now you are not so sure. You feel panic as it fills your fingertips and clogs your throat. The patchwork quilt stifles you, makes threats against you. The newspaper tells victims to put up a fight, but whose house is this, and what if they do not react well to strangers who thrash around in twin beds that creak?chop! chop! read more!
When we meet you will tell me you’re tired of the same old thing. You will look me up and down and see what you like.
I will nod and tell you I know, baby. I will show you all the ways that I’m different.
I like football and beer and steak.chop! chop! read more!
After I call Barney, I take a bath. I have my hair in a topknot, so it won’t get wet. But it’s been cold all day, and the hot water feels so good that screw it, I pull out the ponytail holder and submerge. It’s not like he hasn’t seen my hair wet 500 times before. It’s not like a date where you need to look your best.chop! chop! read more!
I lie on the couch wide awake, cramps gouging my uterus. In my stupor, I picture the trappings of a baby girl, her translucent skin, her nail-less fingers, her snake-coiled legs. She has Jake’s smile, I think, the way the edges of her lips twist up, the way her left cheek dimples. I wonder how her laugh sounds, if it comes from her belly like his.chop! chop! read more!
Waiting for a table at the diner, I won round after round of I Spy with my son. I spy with my little eye something green (the 7-11 sign across the street), something ephemeral (the time between now and when this boy will be too heavy to carry to bed), and also something getting truer (there is no silence left in this world).chop! chop! read more!
How am I supposed to know that? Maxwell thought. He didn’t go to Escher Middle School or the Dalí Institute like the rest of them. He hadn’t learned underivatives or nonce poetry or taken any anti-rhetoric! Frustrated, Maxwell scrawled “Why don’t marshmallows have bones?!” for the first question, and for all the rest he drew faces with tongues sticking out.chop! chop! read more!
A police siren echoes through the valley as a yellow bird I’ve never seen before glides into view from behind the mountaintops. The bird makes a sharp outline against the blue sky as it floats downward in loose, lazy zig-zags, almost too close to the treeline.chop! chop! read more!
Named after a 19th century British novelist by his professor father he was a boy I’d never noticed until we were grown and his mother told me he was far from home in his first real job and lonely I should write she said and so our seduction began with letters by two people who knew how to write them then emails then phone calls where he’d hold the phone up to Louis Armstrong playing on the Victrola he’d bought instead of paying rentchop! chop! read more!
Martha screams and runs to the bank of the cow pond when she sees her four-year-old boy walk into the murky water. His head is submerged by the time she arrives and her husband, running from the horses, peels off his shirt and dives in. She screams her son’s name for what feels like hours to the sky doming endless Oklahoma plains.chop! chop! read more!
She took the partial denture from her mouth and passed it to the boy. He’d lost two teeth in the scrum to leave the boat and even though the gum had healed it was hard for him to eat. He stared at it like it was a thing alien. She nudged his hand and, smiling, gestured with her own what to do. She was not an old woman, and so he wondered how she’d lost the teeth herself. He saw in her eyes tenderness and the knowledge of being hungry.chop! chop! read more!
It was a cold afternoon in Florida. December is often occupied by a pain-in-the-ass wind, but today the air was relatively humbled. This was after I’d just finished EMT school and was nearly fifty-years-old, the alcoholism under control again. My partner was a child, a teen who wouldn’t let me listen to the radio, insisting that he play some sort of robot music on his telephone. He was hyperactive with sleep deprivation. We were on a twelve-hour shift. The cows off to our left weren’t eating grass, weren’t walking, weren’t sleeping, were just standing there with a sort of monstrous close-to-suicidal depression. My partner looked at them and penetrated the sky with a horrific fake moo.chop! chop! read more!
“What is the lowest number?” my daughter asked.
“There is no lowest number,” I said.
“I know,” she said. “It’s zero.”chop! chop! read more!
In the photo half my face is showing but the focal point is a streak of silver white. I dye my hair dark but last year when I began growing out my pixie haircut, I let my temples keep their natural color. I had cut my hair short when my daughter was a toddler and I couldn’t stand a thick knot at my nape. But time was passing. My hair was growing. I was about to go for a run and when I tied my hair back I liked the look of it, the distinguished white and gray streaks.chop! chop! read more!
The thing about being the murdered actress is you set the plot in motion.
Your picture will be in the tabloids, your parted mouth, your half-closed eyes. She was so beautiful, people will say. So young. You’ll be loved, desperately. Photos of you cut out of magazines, pasted on bedroom walls; your name tattooed onto forearms, upper thighs. I’ll never forget her.chop! chop! read more!
I walked in my grandfather’s garden while my sisters took their turns saying goodbye. The peony bushes, now barren, were my grandmother’s favorite and, for her, he had always tended them. She had long forgotten who we were, but just that morning had told my sisters and I how much she missed peonies in the springtime. I walked past her still staring at the empty bushes through the window when I came inside to take my turn.chop! chop! read more!
A HISTORY OF WASHINGTON, D.C. IN NINE SCENES by Nick Kolakowski June 1792 My Dear Elizabeth, This is beautiful country. The hills are a verdant green & the river Potomack bountiful with fish & amenable to navigation & it seems agreeable that the Capitol of our new nation should find itself erected on this spot. Yet the ferryman conveying me across the muddy waters displayed a surly nature worthy of Charon. When I informed him of my intent to survey the boundaries of the federal district, he snorted & spat & declared the area a fetid swamp unfit for Civilized Man. Losing four fingers to a cannonball in our most recent War—so he informed me—seems to have put him off the idea of Governments in general. Once ashore I found a buzzing legislature of insects awaiting me with each one a hellion anxious to sip my blood. The humid air … chop! chop! read more!
This is what you do when you are out of diapers: you go to the store. You go to the store because your husband is out of town and can’t stop by on his way home from work. You go to the store despite the news warnings, despite the way the air has sunken into a disquieting yellow. You go to the store because last night the baby cried for two hours, kept you up from one to three, before you finally pulled him into your bed and placed him on your husband’s side, nestled him in a pillow that wouldn’t let him roll over. You go to the store because maybe someone will talk to you; maybe someone will wonder how you are doing while they hand over your change, and you will be able to smile and laugh and roll your eyes because, Well, you know how newborns are.chop! chop! read more!
When the seabird completed its third circle, the only cloud in the sky parted in two just as you said it would, and once the topmost layer of sand, thin like a vapor, blew across the beach and into the sea as an enormous wave collapsed on the shore, there you stood, like you’d been swimming under the wave all along, your trunks glistening black as you stepped forward, above me, your hair dripping cold sea on my sun-warmed skin, the two of us alone on the beach, pretending we’d been there together since morning, you swimming while I bathed in the sun, and our embrace and my tears that followed, were simply acts of impulse between us, then switching to laughter because for the first time that day…chop! chop! read more!
THE CAT APOCALYPSE by Mariah Gese When it happens we are prepared. The way we know it’s a real apocalypse: the portents of headless voles on our pillows. We divine it in the depths of carpet vomit, in the bones of small birds they bring us. The glorious future in the spilled water bowl. If it wasn’t meant to happen, then why the adorable begging eyes, containing within them the tantalizing fullness of our futures, round and perfect, like globes of sweet fruit that grow huge and pop on the vine? Why the delicate rasp of tongue, the ephemeral curl of tail? Their fur, too, that velvet smoothness we are forever petting for the drugged feeling it awakens in us. Cats are better than caffeine and sugar, chemically, they are better than mimosas or wholesome friendship or anything we used to love. They rearrange and better us inside, ideal parasites. … chop! chop! read more!
I was driving smooth along I-205 in the brand new GS F Lexus because I needed a car, not a bike, according to my parents, and Brad’s asking me, “Jeremy Lin? Like the basketball player?” because maybe Brad was wondering if I was the point guard for the Brooklyn Nets, but he didn’t want to be racist in case I wasn’t and he was also trying to sell me this car and silent rides weren’t good for a sale. I explained that while my name was Jeremy Lin, I was in fact, not the point guard for the Brooklyn Nets who went to Harvard without a scholarship and averaged twenty-six points per game. I didn’t even hit six feet. I knew all this because I knew everything there was to know about him (as I assumed most people would if they shared their name with a celebrity). I’d lived in his shadow for the past six years he rose to fame.chop! chop! read more!
It’s inevitable—they order wine for the table and the topic turns to death. Three drinks in and they’re all tipsy and tender. Ladies’ night out isn’t supposed to be about death. It’s about looking and acting alive—youth and vibrancy signaled by rouge on the cheeks, pink on the mouth.chop! chop! read more!
He started with her teeth because he was sick of the expensive foods she’d eat: crusty breads, chewy steaks, stubborn fruits bitten off their pits and stems. When he first told her, she was outraged and not at all compliant. But he knew her better even than she knew herself. She would come around, and she did. She was in pain for weeks but never complained. They ate soup three times a day and saved about fifty dollars a month.chop! chop! read more!
The floor of my Honda is maps stretched wide, the radio all static as I pass rusted mailboxes, farmland, orchards. Leaves are flushing orange—soon much of this scenery will break and fall. The plummet of fruits from boughs, the thick perfume of ripeness.chop! chop! read more!
Gloria Mastroantonio’s hair, like long coils of blood sausage, clung netted to the back of her head. Tucci, she said, was a bastard for opening that dive next door. Go-go girls in cages dangling from rafters. Streetwalkers with skirts up to their asses. The projects puking tizzones into the avenue. Drinking, doping, carousing all night. In the morning, sidewalks treacherous with smashed quarts of Colt 45. She’d give them Black Power. Time to stick the For Sale sign in the yard and poor-mouth out to the suburbs like the rest of the greenhorns.chop! chop! read more!
It was one of those days, those clear May days, where the clouds are short brush strokes of white, the sky is that one shade of blue, and the water is so clear the world above and below becomes one on the surface. We were walking by the river and we saw ourselves in the water, laughing and living. We saw ourselves, and we stopped and waved and yearned. We wished to be them–what made them better than us?chop! chop! read more!
It was midnight or a little after when the octopuses emerged from the ocean. They were doing it all along the beachfront. Suction-cupping their way away from water. Their bodies like a curtain’s hem—fluttering in the foreign air.chop! chop! read more!
The Torn Hat operates as a lunch counter from 10 am to 2 pm. The wood is petrified and glossy, like the Legion Hall’s. Walter arrives. The special is a ham sandwich, a pickle, a glass of beer with a refill for two dollars and fifty cents. The butter is in an open dish. Walter is a man’s man. He will talk about the Yankees, the traffic, Gordon Parks’s film. He delivers bread. Walter’s got a route. He saved five men in Korea. They are not close but they are best friends. His wife—he loves her—tried to throw away his fighting knife once, was tired of seeing it at the dinner table. He made her dig it out at the curb. He threw away his Purple Hearts. Those he let go. He likes to smear a little butter on the rim of his glass and keep his head down.chop! chop! read more!
I go grocery shopping for Mom. Her face bandaged, she remains in the car and hands over the list. She has done it to herself and yet, being seen in public is not an option. She tells me to only buy grapefruits if they’re less than a dollar a pound. I buy them anyway. I take the scold.chop! chop! read more!
It’s what your arms did when you fell on them, your bones osteoporotic from the decades you haven’t spent taking care of yourself. You like to say that you get more than enough calcium from all the cheese you eat, but it’s childish logic for a mother to offer. We both know why this happened. We knew the inevitability of this catastrophe, we just didn’t know how it would manifest itself.chop! chop! read more!
Hours before the British surrendered, Japanese soldiers entered the school being used as a hospital at the front lines. They bayoneted wounded soldiers incapable of hiding, gang-raped the nurses, and mutilated every single person inside. Carcasses were left out like empty schop! chop! read more!
When you reach the top, do not ring the bell. Keep climbing. Don’t stop until you have broken through the roof. The air will be cool when you take your first gasp of breath on the other side. You will notice you have not broken through the shingles of the roof. Instead, you’ll find yourself in clean-shaven grass. In front of you, there will be a golf ball tee. Place your chin on the tee and let go of the rope.chop! chop! read more!
Toni is a German shepherd. She shares my father’s name. She’s choking on Italian leather shoes and I take her out on the front porch. The utilities man brandishes the shutoff notice. He mistakes the red Fiat X-19 for my father’s girlfriend. The prospective tenant mistakes me for my father’s secretary. In the house, there is a flaming oven, which I mistake for a family argument. My baby sister totters from the half-baked rum cheesecake. I mistake her for my father’s ex. My father mistakes my middle sister for a lesbian. He mistakes me for a Christian. He presents me with a low-cut striped blouse.chop! chop! read more!
My friend BR gives me the manuscript of his novel because he wants to know what I think. I read it and we make plans to meet in a café to talk. The novel is mediocre, like almost everything BR writes. I give him my critique, which essentially rests on one problem: he tries to maintain too much control. As if he were afraid that the story he’s telling wasn’t enough for a novel, he stretches out his descriptions and rambles on.chop! chop! read more!
Oh, it will never happen here, the nurse says. If she is concerned, she is too nice to show it.
Everyone is so nice here. The nurses, the lawyer who helps us with the paperwork, the people from the refugee center who bring us clothes; even the doctor, the surgeon who amputated all of our fingers, except for one of my thumbs, is a really nice man.chop! chop! read more!
On the Mason jar she pasted a product label so as not to create any bubbles beneath it. The jar was made of extra-thick brown glass that distorted vision like coke-bottom spectacles. The label thus enabled the public to quickly pick the one they wanted. She was proud of her job. She put back the jar on the conveyor belt.chop! chop! read more!
“Women shouldn’t drive,” my chauffeur tells me.chop! chop! read more!
Back in 1962, German was still a popular graduate major at Stanford. The world was different then. That entire summer, Mary Lois and I turned out to be the only two grad students who’d stayed in town. We saw more of each other than I might have wished.chop! chop! read more!
“Ow! Shit! MOTHER of the dear LORD!”
My teenage daughter flies into the kitchen at this Sunday morning blasphemy and then freezes, as if the knife is meant for her. I freeze too, shocked by a surge of envy. I miss being her. Miss flirting with waves instead of the undertow.chop! chop! read more!
He was a little boy, and the sudden, spectacular storm had frightened him. Kenny had seen storms before but none like this. Lightning forked wickedly outside the trembling window, and thunder boomed inside his head, his chest. Torrents of rain lashed at the house.chop! chop! read more!
Holiday party season is once again upon us—a time of dough-forward cookie trays and ornamental cabbages, of feigned interest and conversational quicksand. This year, why not ride the crest of incivility that has taken our nation by storm? Say what you mean. Say whatever you feel like, then get the hell out of Dodge. Examples follow…chop! chop! read more!