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!
Speed-free for two days now and stuck waiting on the 116th Street A train southbound platform with a hard two-train hour down to my job at the Gansevoort Meatpacking District, I have this packet I got at the bodega at 113th and Broadway, this over the counter Ephedrine bullshit in its bright blue waterproof packaging, and this is what I’m reduced to, trying to pound two little pills to dust without splitting the plastic, using my fist against the greasy wooden subway bench, and though there are five or six other people waiting, no one is going to say anything to me, not at 3 a.m. at 116th Street—maybe not anytime—and finally I have it powdered but with nothing to snort with, not even a single dollar bill; just a pocketful of tokens supplied by my girlfriend Kiley the way a parent might pin a child’s lunch money to his coat along with a note, I have to lean my head back and pour half down each nostril, snorting as hard as I can and it’s worse than speed, the burning and the small sharp shards that didn’t pound cutting into my nose and soon I have another nosebleed going and the train still hasn’t come and after this there’s another switch at Columbus and another wait, then ten hours of hard work and the whole thing in reverse and it has got to be the worse but given all this, it’s still better than staying home, waking up to her and all that goes with her.chop! chop! read more!
The wind hesitates, the sky like to sing, so blue. Tiny Boy writes his name in dirt, slow and careful. The Lockett’s hound jitters in dream and the same old flies circle and circle. The day is Thursday and Tiny Boy will eat his dinner with Gran, pork chops he hopes, and applesauce. She don’t make pies anymore which is a loss to all concerned, meaning Tiny Boy and her church-friend, Marla. Down the street, shirts hang on a line in the backyard of a house gone empty months ago. Bleached now, in sun streaks. Tiny Boy tries to whistle. Carter tried to teach him 3 or 4 times but he still can’t get out but a huff. Carter’s gone now, too, like the people in the house.chop! chop! read more!
The slow snow first and then the hard snow with left and right men shoveling, cars swerving, stalling, spinning out, and drip by drip the icicle daggers sharpening, waiting to descend as we women lug logs up the porch steps and the dogs slink off, shivering, tails between their legs.chop! chop! read more!
Am I sweating? Goddamn Jack Kennedy, may he rest. I never cared about the faults in my face before that SOB. Thank God for Pat. Smile, shake hands, remember key points: differences, future, enemies. Smile. “Hello, hello.” Smile. Breathe. Do not bob your head. Clasp hands behind. Clear throat. “Ready?” Yes. OK. Breathe. “Mr. Vice President…” Shit, my nose itches. “As we look to the future.” Forget the fucking nose, Dick. “We must realize that the Government of the People’s Republic of China…” You are announcing history. “We will have differences in the future…” This, this will be my legacy.chop! chop! read more!
There must be more of them than you suspect, here in the Midwest—maybe every tenth, every fifteenth woman you pass. Those who used to ride clinging to some guy’s leathery back, bruised and battered and passed from one biker to the next, and then re-applying makeup in the fender’s reflection. Like the one who dropped by my office last week, her second skin peeled back to reveal her trinity: Harley, Triumph, BMW. Her name was Lorca, after Garcia Lorca, I hoped, imagining one of his dark Gypsy ballads recited at her conception.chop! chop! read more!
The kid rides the dad’s buggy fast and quick. It’s him and her in the buggy with the handlebar and the seat he sits in with the kid standing at his back. He’s got a rare type of osteoporosis that only affects men, see, and though it hasn’t been diagnosed he knows this is what it is. He’s seen the weird hunched-over ladies with their reusable totes lugging veggies and fruit back and forth. Each time he sees them he thinks, You and me both, sister. The symptoms haven’t yet showed but he knows it’s coming. He can walk just fine if he wants. The buggy is more a preventative measure than anything else. Plus it gets his kid and him from A to B real quick. She’s in school, elementary, you know, the one where she’s gotta be there 8:30 a.m. or he gets a call. And he gets more than enough calls that’s for sure.chop! chop! read more!
As he trudged through the water-logged grasses, the weight of the canoe’s bow suddenly doubled in his hand. When he turned to look aft, his daughter knelt in the mud.
“Are you okay, Monkey?” he asked. His neoprene waders hobbled him and kept him from rushing to her.
“Why does it have to be so dark?” She shook mud from her hands as she stood.chop! chop! read more!
I grew a maple tree behind my shutter board house. It blossomed despite the stuffed weave of city streets. The first time I saw it, a single leaf had sprouted and turned its face to the sun. Those rays of light that the leaf caught fed the single branch, which pushed against the cobbled patio, displacing old bricks. It is a waking giant, I thought.chop! chop! read more!
We let our socks sear on hot concrete. Twelve laps around the pool then we jump in. We splash dead frogs onto each other and croak with towels around our bony shoulders, shaking like biology class skeletons. We put our pruned palms together, trying to align the ridges against one another. Connected by skin, we smile.chop! chop! read more!
Inside the Piggly-Wiggly, picking out beans, P-Nut suppressed the headache brought on by the bruise on the back of his neck. He’d gotten the bruise from the can of beans that his wife chucked at him, before it bounced off him and clattered into the sewer. So he walked away to fetch them the dinner of the can of beans. Was it the same can of beans that she would then chuck at him? He was losing track. But he knew this: Van Camp’s was the right kind. Hormel was not the right kind. The red stamp and the dent said so. The register blinked .79. So, .79 cents was the cost of magic beans.chop! chop! read more!
The orange sticky-note is hard to miss—the corner peels off, pricks me as I pluck it from the headboard of my bed. Your handwriting is large and round. ‘I hope your interview goes well tomorrow. Remember to be yourself!’ I toss it into the garbage and get ready for bed. The next morning, I pause in front of the mirror and I dig the note out of the bin before shoving it into the pocket of my dress pants.chop! chop! read more!
Sylvia works stain into peeled orangewood counters while the sunset peeks in muted veil through kitchen window milk glass. The month of flowering is nearly finished and this barren women has a wedding to attend. Too stressed by her own state of affairs, she daren’t dream herself into any others—she for(goes/gets) the gift.chop! chop! read more!
It is August when her boyfriend, the pornographer, takes her to the beach with her two boys, one pale like her, the other dark. They bring beer and bologna sandwiches in a crinkled grocery bag, lay stolen motel towels out across the sand. The boys dart off into the surf, shrieking, laughing, ignoring the Pacific chill.chop! chop! read more!
A burning witch on midsummer eve smells like campfire, like tobacco, like men standing in a circle as they smile and sing. She is only an effigy, a cartoon with her green skin painted onto her plywood face, her body a sack of coarse black fabric scraps stitched together and overstuffed with hay. She rides a broom and has a long warty nose that was carved by hand. The time it took to give her two warts instead of one.chop! chop! read more!
Most people think electric eels are eels when they’re, in fact, knife fish. They’re solitary, shallow, made with enough electrolytes to kill a man.
“They can kill a man, but not themselves. Sometimes, they wish that they could.”
Cadence was always saying I never listened to her, when the truth was, I heard everything.
I listened while she rambled about the oceanology books she’d brought home from the library, her actual courses festering in her backpack. She’d cook me ramen or sprawl out on the floor with her sketchbooks, drawing herself into more contained circles. Indie music would flow through the apartment while she told me about the nine things I didn’t want to know lurked at the bottom of the ocean. If I spoke back, she snapped at me for breaking her concentration. Then moments later she would turn to me and say, ‘Hey Ezekiel, did you know electric eels can’t feel their own shock?’chop! chop! read more!
The girls never kissed the boys. The boys that walked down the hallway in packs, smelling of Cheetos and drugstore cologne. The girls never went to school dances, out to movies or late night pizza. They never wore jewelry. Never a spot of makeup, their skin fresh like new snow. If their mama caught them trying on her church heels they were beaten. They never showered with the other girls in gym class but they snuck glimpses of their breasts. How their nipples were large and not pink like their own. They wore plain dresses in forgettable colors: beige, olive, navy. Their hair pulled back into a bun. Tight. Uncomplicated.chop! chop! read more!
Have you tried Amma’s ghosht tarkari and ghee paranthas? Oh you must. Succulent lamb chops served in earthen ware while Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle croon through an old radio. She runs a dhaba, a roadside food stall not far from Yamuna Expressway. Next time you are on your way to see the Taj Mahal, you should try her food. The cauliflower and carrot sabzi is sold out in an hour after she makes it. Potatoes, carrots, onions and cauliflowers grow in her backyard. She doesn’t bother with tomatoes because they require a moist soil throughout the year and water is a scarcity in and around Delhi.chop! chop! read more!
I left a bouquet of fake flowers tapped to Water Wheel Stand’s door in memory of Sharon and those long fall afternoons when I lugged pumpkins from the refrigerator truck to the trailer for customers, the afternoon when I was hyper and jabbering about the current rewrite of my book and how she turned to me and said, “Sara, you need a boyfriend”, the summer Saturdays of handing boxes of plums, pears, tomatoes, and green beans out of the truck to open for the morning, the fall evenings my brother would pick me up from work and help us close.chop! chop! read more!
We’ve had these fights before, the ones in which the decision we make means a lot more than the thing we buy, or don’t buy. Take our car, for example. We almost divorced deciding whether to buy a car to fit five or six; in the dealership while our older boys climbed into and out of fresh trunks you drummed your hands on your pregnant belly and stared into backseats that couldn’t handle any more of us. When we took our shiny new five-seater home it spent its days on our corner, where we could watch it from our living room window, minding it through the hum of Philadelphia life as it stood resolutely through all Kensington’s comings and goings.chop! chop! read more!
He walks under an onyx set of moons whose one good eye blinks like the cherry top called to that last moment in his old life. Yesterday, the warden warned the leaky faucet would not be tolerated, and so it became the last domino to topple, and how true they all fell. Now he draws on his jeans under the mirror of clouds. It was time to reset his watch, as well, the cheap Timex from Aunt Alice, set it to a more auspicious hour—perhaps Twelfth Night off Dame Street in a drawing room where they were dancing in quadrilles and pansy skirts. Or to an hour of privacy where the fairy tale poet still searches vodka in the closed garage that tilts to Africa.chop! chop! read more!
She found it under her bedside table curled like a sleeping black snake. She stared at it for a second, then grabbed it and ran back down the stairs, thinking maybe this would save them. But when she flung open the door he was already gone, and then it was just her squinting into the bright sunlight, holding an old belt in her hands like a sad wish.chop! chop! read more!
We pulled off at the fruit stand halfway between the hospital and the funeral home.
“The peaches are in season,” Father said to Mother in the passenger seat.
“It was just like he was sleeping,” my aunt said to herself in the back, her eyes never leaving the rear window.
With the exception of my aunt, we got out of the car. Mother leaned on the passenger door. Father examined the stacks of wicker baskets piled on the makeshift plywood table.
“How much for a bundle?”chop! chop! read more!
Morning makes itself bluer by the minute. Colder, too, as the temperature falls. In my friend’s apartment, we sit in her breakfast nook while the bay window lets in light. Steam rises from white plates, broccoli omelets and the scent of garlic and salt. My friend lists places in the tourist district we’ll visit today, leads me to an expansive map stretched across a wall. The Czech Republic’s outline etched in black. All the country’s borders linked and locked by land; the Vltava a thin, persistent reminder of thirst twisting through. She points to Malá Strana, the John Lennon Wall where people paint a layered collage of lyrics on brick.chop! chop! read more!
Today I walk past boys and their mothers. I’m parallel to them as they disobey traffic laws and take risks. I remember my mother telling me to ‘look both ways’ while I watch their heads remain constant and straight. This boy has a clear path, it’s safe even if he takes some risks. I’m eating a croissant and it’s burnt. If you burn a croissant even just a little bit it tastes salty. My boy left the taste of salt on my tongue and I guess he is a man. I’ve known the taste of true salt longer than I’d like to admit. I’ve known the taste longer than I’ll say. I watch boys defy the law, the written law and the laws of physics. I have seen their bodies suspend and twist in ways my body will never move. I feel inflexible. Sometimes when I bleed my leg goes numb, just one, but the leg is variable.chop! chop! read more!
March in Seattle roared like a lion, that is if a lion sneezed pink cherry blossoms and pelted your face with ice pellets the size of golf balls. It wasn’t global warming, it was spring. At least it felt like spring.
Merrin had watched the Groundhog discover his shadow on television last month, so she was pretty certain that spring had sprung as she dashed from her car into the safe haven of Safeway in the middle of an unexpected hail storm. The damn cat had shredded her last roll of toilet paper and she was in dire need of a Diet Coke. Merrin’s plan had been to give up Diet Coke for Lent, but that had lasted exactly twenty-seven minutes. She could have given up something else, but she didn’t have the heart or the willpower.chop! chop! read more!
Jessica unzipped the frog’s belly with a pair of sharp scissors. As its skin slipped away, revealing the jewels buried inside—heart, lungs, kidney, stomach—she tried to ignore the uneasy feeling in her own stomach, her heart’s reluctant sprint.
When her biology teacher announced they would be dissecting frogs at the end of the year, Jessica protested the practice along with a few other girls. Her teacher, however, was not moved.chop! chop! read more!
He’s in his bed, crying. Except for the blond tresses of the moonlight billowing through the open window, darkness reigns—in the corners, on the bookshelves, and in his heart. His pillow is soaked, heavy with tears spilling down the sides of his bed, covering the floor, slipping beneath the door out into the hall, into the street, a veritable deluge.chop! chop! read more!
The old man woke up when the five fifteen train thundered past his one-room house. The walls trembled and dust dislodged from the wooden roof and rained down on him. His bones rattled for a while after the train had given a final desolate hoot and moved on in its journey.chop! chop! read more!
I live in the middle of a really small pool in the middle of a really big room below a really circular hole in the really high ceiling. When the sun shines through the hole, the animals come and watch. When the moon shines, they go away. I don’t know where they come from, but, every morning when I wake up, they’re there. I’m not sure if they’re the same ones every day. They’re animals; they all look the same to me.chop! chop! read more!
Lighting for your soul in purgatory, for deep nights at the end of the dock, for gravetenders on vacation, for the silencing of aspersions. Discounts for camping without a lantern, for al fresco dinners at the café of nevermind, for attending the flatbed truck parade, for packing a canyon with parabolas. Call for a second lighting tomorrow, for delivery of your complimentary rope ladder, for the flame annuity option, for your name on this grain of pollen. Twelve tapers included.
What Phi Dees saw that morning may have disturbed him. At least he has not forgotten and has noted the way the memory prowls unfettered in his mind. What happened would seem to be a simple matter; indeed, natural. A neighborhood cat down low in the grass, inching toward the feeder, leaping through the air to bite a finch off its perch. No skirmish or even sound of a ruffle. There and then not. And the cat turning to look back in his direction.
But what he saw was this: a view of himself, looking up from his reading, observing too quietly the silent scene. Even waiting for its denouement, not unlike when he once watched someone fall slowly down a flight of stairs.chop! chop! read more!
A red-stemmed vase of lightning lifts the sky toward heaven’s permanent farrago of space and time: heavy, religious, worth thinking about, we agree. God might rest easier tonight blessed by our toast, a toast raised above the fold, the mad superciliousness of the headlines, the narcosis of the many. Lincoln, you would’ve reminded me, lives on in the few. We do well, I might have replied, to thank the weather for this breeze, and that bottleneck guitar climbing those angelic blues might be the ultimate apotheosis, yet another reason to go on living as if this day might last forever. Lilacs and a shot of bourbon, neat.chop! chop! read more!
You could say that the fundamental difference between them was that she was a glass half-fuller and he was a glass half-emptier. Or that she drank water, and he drank.chop! chop! read more!
Fractious was the Word of the Day, peeled off the doorstop-sized calendar block and stuck to the refrigerator door with a magnetized map of the London Underground, a relic of LBB. LBB — Life Before Benny — was Anna and Keith’s term for a time when their living room wasn’t littered with plastic toys and bits of food. Only eighteen months ago Anna had posted a photo of their freezer, filled with tubes of breast milk, on Instagram. “Our life now,” she’d written. “LBB is in a galaxy far far away.” They’d laughed, but Anna had thumped the next bottle on the shelf with a little more force than necessary.chop! chop! read more!