I was doing grunt work at the stable, filling water buckets, dropping bales of hay from the loft, cleaning grungy tack—and shoveling manure.
Kate and I—lone teens among the adults who rode at the small barn—cleaned stalls while horses were turned out to run around the ring, bucking, snorting and galloping, rolling in the August dust. She’d attack one stall, I another, our shared wheelbarrow in the aisle, both of us sweating, smelly, proud to be trusted with real work of horse care.
The nightgown in the painting crosses genres: detective and farce. It has a partial body – breasts – but not a face. You could say it’s peekaboo. You could say it’s diaphanous. Either way, it reminds Georgette of how her husband uses recurring motifs to create a story, or at least a semi-story, for a story full of holes is a story full of mystery, a mystery like lace.
How came Georgette to place herself here: married to Magritte and doting on their dear Pomeranian, Loulou? This question is without a clear beginning, middle, or end, like the short Surrealist films that Mag likes to make with their Surrealist friends.
Want to say “nigger” without taking the chance of getting beat the fuck up? Are you a white liberal tired of white guilt? Feeling a little transracial? Does everything about you seem black, but your skin? Do you sketch self-portraits using a brown crayon, instead of peach? Find yourself tweeting #blacklivesmatter, but still getting bussed to the #alllivesmatter side of town? What about that blackface frat party you always wanted to throw? Want to get shot for no reason? Can’t take advantage of affirmative action when applying for college? Is your blackness too hip to be down with that wigger shit?
We all had our money on the metalhead. The fight was supposed to take place in the usual spot, three miles from town in a clearing in the woods beside an abandoned shack and a seasonal creek that happened to be dry that time of year. The other kid, a redheaded pipsqueak about my size, was mouthing off beyond what anyone predicted, and the metalhead, whom everyone kind of feared because of his long hair and self-inflicted scars and tattoos and silent teeth-gritting lack of interest in all of our classes, the other students, the football program, and just about everything else our fourteen-year-old minds cared about—even girls!—this metalhead, whose name I’ve forgotten, was predicted to mop the floor with the redheaded kid in seconds.
When she first came to Epping after dropping out of art school in Boston, Davi loved the way everything in the farmhouse was old and falling apart, swollen in August, when she arrived, and then splintering all through the winter. Beth gave Davi one of her dead husband’s orange hunting hats to sleep in and Beth slept in a camo skullcap. The kitchen was so cold November through March, Beth wore cotton gloves in the morning when she sat at the Formica table drinking instant coffee. For the first few months after she moved in, Davi sketched the kitchen almost every day, usually more than once. The light was so nice in there. Beth liked the sketches and stuck them to the fridge with magnets from the dentist. Davi was over it now, mostly, and the sketches were a little moldy from the moist air seeping out of the freezer.
I am fairly certain that many people experience my pieces kind of like this: Judith Schaechter is an artist who makes images in stained glass of anguished women set against highly decorative backgrounds. People often see my works all at once as a group—presented in a show or reproduced in an article—but to me, each piece is vastly different and each one arose over long periods of time. But yeah, I get it: anguished women and lush, decorative backgrounds.
…which was written in ward D4-B at Butler Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island, Feb. – April ’12. My arms had been fettered to cloth, disclosing the ruined pink arm, the flesh, the lyrics I had angled in brutality and soft grief. They ran like calloused deer tracks across my arms, lengthwise and horizontal to God. The bandage only gave me a looser image, so that all there would confront me, and my arm would be turned over to inspection. Soon I removed the white press and when I laid out my arm on that table, exposed, nude – as upset-looking as the first pet you cherished, suffering that last peculiar vise of agony, it was something of a shocking sentiment. I had laid out the first Joker’s card in our game of confessional, imagistic Poker. I felt chaste.
My grandmother braids her hair with salt,
forgives my brother for every broken-legged deer
he coaxes out of the brush.
We draw their hot red flanks into our mouths
for every new meal we can afford,
antlers hanging beneath the chipped mantle
like sullen ghosts.
Years later he will graduate
to bringing women home for feasting,
their bodies smeared into want
on the basement floor.
Halfway through my seventh decade I realize I have gained in modesty, at least in the sense of exposing skin. It is partly because I have a clearer vision of my nerd body’s attractiveness. My face is a thing of no great beauty. My dear Cheryl refers, affectionately I believe, to my toothpick legs, and my cardiologist told us that my sunken chest added risk to the standard rib-cracking heart valve replacement procedure. There is little danger that the sight of my body will be inciting lust in the general public. But, mostly, I keep it well-covered because I’m a contrarian crank playing Canute to our post-modest times, in which a twerking Miley Cyrus thrives.
Unknown to the stewardess,
the stroke victim imagining
his fingers in 12-F. Knuckles
corralling a pencil, legs to
annotate a lap. Nerve endings
like eraser strands stowed
under a magazine’s staple.
If a celebrity crossword passes
the International Dateline, does
its star power last a day less?
My girlfriend Jackie and I came across the memorial in a cemetery near our house in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was a slanted stone slab low to the ground with two plaques on it. The smaller described a 1956 midair collision over the Grand Canyon between a TWA Constellation and a United Airlines DC-7 that killed 128 people. The larger listed the names of the sixty-six who were buried there: three Maags, four Kites, two Crewses, and so on. My eye found the groups of matching surnames, and my mind turned them into stories.
It seemed odd that this sunny patch of grass, tucked away in the aspens, looking more appropriate for lawn chairs and bocce, would be a memorial to decompression and falling and terror.
It’s all about thresholds.
When I walked up Shirley Creek trail
I knew some of my friends
to have done some wrong things right.
Blowing up gaslights
on suburban cul-de-sacs
with M-80s is not, once you
have the idea, difficult.
Jamming the gear shift,
both hands into Park,
and hugging your arms very tightly
around you as you throw
your body out the door, once
you have the intention,
is not any more difficult
than hugging something special good-bye.
JUNE FAIRCHILD ISN’T DEAD by Alexis Rhone Fancher she’s planning a comeback. she’s snorting Ajax for the camera. she’s landing a role on “I Spy.” she’s writing her number on a napkin and handing it to me at King Eddy’s Saloon. June Fairchild isn’t dead she’s just been voted Mardi Gras Girl at Aviation High. she’s acting in a movie with Roger Vadim. she’s gyrating at Gazarri’s, doing the Watusi with Sam The Sham. she’s mainlining heroin in a cardboard box. June Fairchild isn’t dead I saw her tying one on at King Eddy’s Saloon. she’s making “Drive, He Said,” with Jack Nicholson. she’s selling the Daily News in front of the courthouse. she’s snorting Ajax for the camera. June Fairchild isn’t dead she’s relapsing in front of the Alexandria Hotel. she’s working as a taxi dancer, making $200 a shift. I saw her vamping with Hefner, frugging on YouTube. …chop! chop! read more!
I find myself suddenly and deeply involved in the comedy world. It started with my ex-girlfriend, who is a comedian. She was one of those comics who did jokes that involved her body. I liked the way she moved on stage, like she wasn’t afraid of people staring. She had this one bit where she did this sort of booty shake. Kind of like a “twerk,” but more side-to-side, not up and down. It made me think about asses in a whole new way that I liked.
I’ve never been an ass guy. I believe in my heart that you can tell a whole lot about a person from her legs. Or his legs. I don’t discriminate when looking at people’s legs, necessarily. You can tell how much weight they’ve put on themselves, in like a deep way, not just physical weight, more like the intangible weight of a lifetime or something. It usually sounds better in my head.
In any case, I’m at a show right now, and one of my buddies is performing. He’s got legs like an ox. His jeans can hardly hide his girthy calves. The sheer mass of them holds power over the audience. He does a lot of frat boy jokes. Like stuff about bars and women and women in bars. He’s a self-deprecator, as most comedians are. Some people say it’s to hide their real emotions. I think anyone who wants that kind of abuse probably thinks he really is a piece of shit. They all drink and smoke before they go on stage. It’s a badge of honor. They either joke about how they’re alcoholics or how they used to be, but now they’re taking it easy and only smoking crack.
Katrine used to be fun, but ever since she got sober she’s as boring as the rest of them. Now it’s “My sponsor this, my sponsor that.” Now family get-togethers are that much more of a fork in my eye.
Before she became the queen of AA, Katrine and I used to hang out on Squirrel Beach, watching the kids splash around the lake. We drank the fancy $7 microbrews that Seth, Katrine’s husband and my obnoxious brother, bought at Whole Foods, and we made fun of all the ways my parents’ house sucked. Starting with: weren’t beaches supposed to be sandy, actually pleasurable to lie on? Not all rocks, so that even when we brought Mom’s soft, fluffy towels, the ones that were absolutely not for the beach, so we had to sneak them down, it was like lying on piles of acorns? Or the skulls of invertebrates. That was Katrine’s theory, that it was called Squirrel Beach because it was some ceremonial, small beast burial ground. She used to make me laugh, Katrine.
Hannah made a cherry pie and it relaxed her. Only when she was carrying the pie from her house to the neighbor’s, still warm in its tin, did she think it might be inappropriate for a barbecue. She should have brought a six-pack of beer, or some cheese and crackers, because a barbecue probably did not even make it to dessert. In any case, it was too late. Amy had come to her front door to let in a couple of people and spotted Hannah walking up the drive.
Hannah felt overdressed too. She was. She always was, now wearing a white sundress with pumps—Amy wore jeans and flip-flops.
“Oh, you weren’t supposed to bring anything,” Amy said, dragging her into a one armed hug, her other hand holding a glass of wine.
Hannah wanted to turn around and throw the pie in the trash, but Amy was pulling back the dish towel covering.
Se me puso ella fractal esta mañana, fractal, la cara toda triángulos & rombos & retorcida que se rompía. Pero ya que los mansos vamos a heredar la tierra quemada, esquivé sus reproches, grandes e infinitos como trenes carboneros…y yo, imbécil de mí, voy y me monto en uno, a lo errabundo, por discutir, porque son tan jodidamente largos y lentos, y me muero alto y claro en dos segundos. Ya incluso la cocina se sentía diferente, más lenta, como si estuviera bajo el agua. Y entonces miro al reloj y son las seis. La tía Rosa solía decir que una pareja es igualita que las dos manecillas de un reloj: por siempre separándose y rejuntándose otra vez, así que al mediodía hay amor lleno y a las seis, que es como una espada, sólo queda el odio.
No one really expected the world to end like this. For one thing, it took too damn long. People want bad things to happen like a pulled-off Band-Aid rather than the slow pushing of a knife. Instead, this is how it happened: gravity just plum up and left. Everything not tied down or deeply rooted floated away. Cars, umbrellas, little squirrels, everything. Big lakes seemed to erupt like geysers and their poor fish flapped and flailed in the atmosphere growing thinner and thinner and waited, with increasingly cloudy brains, for the splash that never came. People held their beloved family pets on leashes like balloons and children cupped their goldfish in upside down hands until they could figure out how to refill empty bowls. Some people seemed relieved, though, to no longer be burdened with the daily decision to live or not. They just let go and that was that. Others held on white-knuckle tight, pulling and floating their way into hardware stores for ropes and chains and bungees to tie themselves down with. Some people seemed to have been expecting something like this.
It is rarely what we imagine or expect, but always something burrowing beyond sight, hidden in the crevices or dreaming itself from the flurried wings of crows, my mother in the backyard setting down the tin plates of meat scraps or peanuts, the birds a frenzy of commotion. And here, beside us, is cousin Whitney, twelve that summer while my brother and I are eight and nine, and everything about her is simply wrong. Slow and stuttering speech. A staccato way of walking. Fingers touching even simple words she can barely read.
a hall three fourths full of echo (generally, many wrung bells)
a denture amid other fruits of maya; several identities
the word ‘tender,’ bled out, kept
quiet—other such by products
a flyover while you are in the bathroom (laughing alone)
howl of heaven when I
nothing ventured; some whens, whenevers
a tiny line of light through minor chords
a vagina flown through with ghosts—
Canned laughter sounded from the television, but no one was smiling in the kitchen where I faced my mother, our dog’s metal chain cold against my palm. She was close to six feet tall, and I was only eight, but I narrowed my eyes and glared at her. “I can hit you,” I said. “I can kick you all I want.”
She looked at me, her green irises bisected by the deep lines etched in the bifocal lens she wore. “Go ahead,” she said.
I whipped the chain forward as I sprung up in my shiny Mary Jane shoes. It was a clumsy attempt; I barely grazed her shoulder. I swung again. And again, stopping only when the chain connected with my mother’s glasses. I didn’t break them, but they hung askew on her shocked face.
A brother is a cistern and a bucket with a rope. The care with which
the rope is tied is not the same as knitting, but knitting is also a kind
of love. There are many, many boots. Years of knowing and
not-knowing but at least being present result in some impenetrable
surface. Waves on waves, water in the tank. During winters, we all
knock the pipes, which is to say, we suffer. Which is to say, we’re
human. Which is to say, we have each other in a contract of always.
It is, it is, it is – it’s you, cool as the night, scraping toothy wing on
wing. Yeah, man. Your it is is far from my it was, in this town
I never knew I’d know. Yo, first violinist of Washington Square,
slave picnic site, burial ground a shout from Independence Hall.
It is, it is – it is fall, it is here, it is you and I and your
The man across the desk was handsome in the way that young men could be without actually being attractive. That was one of the things Melissa had started to appreciate when she passed fifty; she could recognize the beauty of younger men without desiring them. So yes, the man was handsome. But tired-looking; he needed to shave. He leaned forward across the desk and smiled weakly at her.
I will tell you the first part of this story backwards, because that’s how I remember it. Starting with the fight. The chocolate is always an after-thought.
He was standing in front of the apartment door when I got home with groceries. My fiancé Francis was not yet home from work. The door to our apartment in Switzerland was at the end of a narrow hallway. Two could barely pass. Francis had said not to let his brother in when he wasn’t there. Francis had left the number to call the institution to come get him. His brother wasn’t supposed to get out, but every couple weeks he did. Francis had said his brother had killed their mother, but then he took it back. It was probably really the cancer. He repeated, probably. He’d left his brother alone with their mother and he’d pushed her, breaking her ribs. She never left the hospital. Francis’ brother was standing at the end of the very narrow hallway when I got home.
The air is glass. Leave the window open wide,
and I’ll tell you how the daylight is its own
kind of prayer. I’ll tell you the secrets
you mutter in sleep. You dream of rain,
and morning is breaking. You dream
of my hands, and your river heart is rising.
The brown water at my ankles, my knees,
my groin. The green waters at my chest
dragging me under. My bones on the riverbed,
For a butter knife it was sharp. My grandmother must have had it for a long time. Its blade was truncated by a fracture, rust collecting at the end of its one-inch length, at the site of the break. I was never sure if she kept it because of some sentimental attachment or a deep-seated sense of Soviet scarcity made more acute by the still fresh memories of the deprivations of the Great War, which was only two decades behind her. I was attached to my distorted reflection looking back at me from its heavy silver handle.
By the ninth year we believed it might never end and gave up trying to win it because trying to win a war is the surest way to make it go on; that is, when you try to win a war it’s only the war that wins. This was the sum of the wisdom we had achieved in nearly a decade; in fact, it was the solitary thing we had achieved in all those years of fighting and suffering. Now that we were pushing thirty we couldn’t bear that the war would go on and on, not just for another decade but for the rest of our lives. Nevertheless, simply laying down our arms and surrendering would be futile because of the swarms of gung-ho seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, weaned on tales of glory and revenge, who wouldn’t think of giving up, at least not for another nine more years. As for ourselves, our generation, we reckoned that it wasn’t the enemy that needed to be defeated but the war itself. It had already ruined everything it touched, from dairy farms to post-adolescence, from stone bridges to summer romances, from highway overpasses to bedside manners, from the pride of old men to the breasts of pubescent girls. So, by and by, we came up with a plan, desperate yet not inelegant. A dozen of us decided to organize a theater festival, as we announced, right on the front lines (of which there really weren’t any), right in the middle of the battlefield (though there really was no field). Our great production would stretch from the trenches to the rear echelons,