Amy Elizabeth Bishop is a senior creative writing major studying at the State University of New York at Geneseo. Her poetry has or will appear in Gandy Dancer, The Susquehanna Review, and Dialogist. She is currently a fiction reader for Wyvern Lit and managing editor of Gandy Dancer. You can find her on Twitter at @givealittlelove.
Meredith Blankinship is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Heavy Feather Review, Similar:Peaks::, GlitterMob, Sink Review, Finery, and Petri Press, among others. She is a recent transplant to Atlanta, GA.
Alexander Booth’s translations of German poet Lutz Seiler’s in field latin will be published by Seagull Books in 2016. Other poems & translations have most recently appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, PEN America Journal, Poems in Which, & Poetry Wales. A more complete list of work may be found at Wordkunst. After many years in Rome, he now lives in Berlin.
Ryan Collins is the author of several chapbooks, most recently Where the Wind Bends Backwards (with Erin M. Bertram, 918studio). His poems have appeared in American Letters & Commentary, PEN Poetry Series, Handsome, DIAGRAM, Another Chicago Magazine, Forklift , Ohio, and many other places. He curates the SPECTRA Poetry Reading Series in Rock Island, IL where he lives. A New American Field Guide & Song Book, from H_NGM_N Books, is his first poetry collection.
Katie Condon has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and Inprint. She graduated with an MFA from the University of Houston where she served as a poetry editor for Gulf Coast. Some of Katie’s recent poems appear in the anthology Hallelujah for 50ft Women (Bloodaxe Books, 2015). For more information and other poems visit www.katiecondonpoetry.com
Juliet Cook’s poetry has appeared in a small multitude of literary publications, recently including Arsenic Lobster, Diode, ILK, Menacing Hedge, and Tarpaulin Sky Press. She is the author of more than thirteen published poetry chapbooks, most recently including POISONOUS BEAUTYSKULL LOLLIPOP (Grey Book Press, 2013), RED DEMOLITION (Shirt Pocket Press, 2014) and a collaborative chapbook with Robert Cole, MUTANT NEURON CODEX SWARM (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015). Another new collaborative chapbook by Juliet Cook and j/j hastain, Dive Back Down, is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press later in 2015. Cook’s first full-length poetry book, “Horrific Confection”, was published by BlazeVOX. You can find out more at www.JulietCook.weebly.com.
Ryan Downum grew up and currently resides in Lake Zurich, Illinois. In fall of 2015, Ryan will be attending Columbia College Chicago to pursue his BA in Creative Writing-Poetry.
Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of 13 books including All You Ask for Is Longing: Poems 1994- 2014 (2014 BOA Editions) and Scything Grace (2013 Etruscan Press). His awards include two Pennsylvania Arts Council Fellowships in Poetry, a US Fulbright Lectureship to the Balkans, and an appearance in Best American Poetry 2014. He works in a pool hall in Erie, PA.
Molly Felth studied writing at the City University of New York and is a graduate of UMass Amherst. She currently works in the archives at historical museum in Connecticut. This is her first published work.
Brianna Flavin is from the Twin Cities in Minnesota. She recently received her MFA in Poetry from the University of Virginia and moved back home to write amid the lakes and snow.
Sarah Jean Grimm works at Penguin Random House and, with Zoe Dzunko, edits the online journal, Powder Keg. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Barrow Street, Coconut, Jellyfish Magazine, The Lifted Brow, Painted Bride Quarterly, Similar:Peaks::, & elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Matt Hart is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Debacle Debacle (H_NGM_N Books, 2013). A co-founder and the editor-in-chief of Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking & Light Industrial Safety, he lives in Cincinnati where he teaches at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and plays in the band TRAVEL.
Sophia Holtz is a writer, performer, and sometimes-illustrator. She has performed her poetry in bars, colleges, and the occasional basement throughout the United States. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in RHINO, decomP, Consequence, and Muzzle, among others. Her website is sophiaholtz.com.
M.J.Iuppa lives on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Between Worlds is her most recent chapbook, featuring lyric essays, flash fiction and prose poems (Foothills Publishing, 2013). Recent poems, flash fictions, and essays in When Women Waken, Poppy Road Review, Wild: A Quarterly, Eunoia Review, Andrea Reads America, Canto, Grey Sparrow Journal, The Poetry Storehouse, Avocet, Right Hand Pointing, Tiny-lights, The Lake (U.K.), The Kentucky Review, and more. She is the Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Visual and Performing Arts Minor Program at St. John Fisher College. You can follow her musings on writing and creative sustainability on Red Rooster Farm on mjiuppa.blogspot.com.
Esteban Ismael lives in San Diego. He currently teaches creative writing as an Adjunct Instructor with the San Diego Community College District and moonlights as a library assistant on his off days. His poems are forthcoming or have recently appeared in Ruminate Magazine, RHINO, Crab Orchard Review, and Verse Wisconsin Online, among others.
Currently pursuing a degree in English at NYU, Anna Kreienberg’s intersectional feminist poetics explores the representation of genders and sexualities in contemporary culture. She actively performs and writes in both New York and her hometown, Albany, where she is an editor for Anchorite Press. Her work has most recently appeared in Really System.
Ashleigh Lambert is the author of the chapbook Ambivalent Amphibians (Dancing Girl Press, 2013). Her poems and other writing can be found in Ampersand Review, Bone Bouquet, Coldfront, Diagram, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Rumpus, and Sink Review, among other places. She is half-heartedly plotting her escape from New York.
Gregory Lawless is the winner of the 2013 Orphic Prize for Poetry and the 2014 Red Mountain Poetry Prize, and he is the author of I Thought I Was New Here (BlazVOX Books, 2009), Dreamburgh, Pennsylvania (Dream Horse Press, forthcoming), Far Away (Red Mountain Press, forthcoming) and the chapbook Foreclosure (Back Pages Publishers, 2013). He is the poetry editor for Pangyrus.
Grace Shuyi Liew’s work can be found or is forthcoming in West Branch, cream city review, Twelfth House, Puerto del Sol, Madison Review, H_ngm_n, TYPO, Winter Tangerine Review, PANK, and others. She reads for Waxwing magazine. She is from Malaysia.
Domenic Maltempi is a writer, and performance artist. He lives in New York State. Please visit http://maltempitown.tumblr.com
Sarah Mangold is the author of the recently released Electrical Theories of Femininity (Black Radish Books) and Household Mechanics (New Issues). She is the recipient of a 2013 NEA Poetry Fellowship and lives near Seattle. Poems from this series are forthcoming in Conjunctions and the Kenyon Review. www.sarahmangold.com
Matt Mauch is the author of If You’re Lucky Is a Theory of Mine, Prayer Book, and the chapbook The Brilliance of the Sparrow. He edits Poetry City, USA, an annual collection of poetry and prose on poetry, and lives in Minneapolis, where he teaches in the AFA program at Normandale Community College.
Sam A. McCormick studied at the Art Academy of Cincinnati where she graduated with a BFA in painting. She currently lives in Cincinnati where she runs Trigger - a poetry journal founded in 2012, hosts a poetry reading series from her home known as TheGreenhouse, and frequently joins forces with her friends and heroes to partake in Poems While You Wait around the city.
James Meetze is the author of I Have Designed This for You and Dayglo, which was selected by Terrance Hayes as winner of the 2010 Sawtooth Poetry Prize and published by Ahsahta Press. He is also the editor, with Simon Pettet, of Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems by James Schuyler (FSG, 2010). A new chapbook, Dark Art 1-12, was published in 2013 and his next book, Phantom Hour, will be out from Ahsahta Press in March, 2016. He spends his time between San Diego and Los Angeles.
Tanya Olson lives in Silver Spring, Maryland and is a Lecturer in English at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Her first book, Boyishly, was published by YesYes Books in 2013 and was awarded a 2014 American Book Award. She has also won the Discovery/Boston Review prize and was named a Lambda Emerging Writers Fellow by the Lambda Literary Foundation.
Amy Orazio’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Curator, Revolution John, Bitterzoet and Crate. Amy received her MFA from Otis College of Art and Design; she currently lives in Portland, Oregon and writes with the poetry collective Partial Tongues (http://partialtongues.tumblr.com/).
Morgan Parker is the author of Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (Switchback Books 2015) and There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Coconut Books 2016). She lives in Brooklyn and at www.morgan-parker.com.
Jean-Paul Pecqueur’s first book was titled The Case Against Happiness. A chapbook To Embrace Sea Monsters was recently published by Greying Ghost Press. He currently teaches creative writing to fine arts students at the Pratt Institute and lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Abi Pollokoff is pursuing her MFA in poetry at the University of Washington. Her work has appeared in 14 Hills and is forthcoming in Bayou Magazine. A former editor in chief of the Tulane Review, she won the 2012 Anselle M. Larson/Academy of American Poets Prize for Tulane University and was a finalist for the 2013 Fellowship to the Writing by Writers Workshop.
Nina Puro’s work is forthcoming or recently appeared in Indiana Review, the PEN America Poetry Series, Washington Square Review, and other places. She is a member of the Belladonna* Collaborative and the author of a chapbook, Two Truths and a Lie (dancing girl press, 2015). The recipient of a fellowship to the MacDowell Colony, an MFA from Syracuse University, and a semi-finalist for the “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, she lives and works in Brooklyn.
Christopher Rizzo is a writer, scholar, and editor whose investigative poetics writes across cultural issues of ethnicity, gender, and class to explore the diversity of their lived relationships. His most recent collection, Of Love & Capital, was selected to receive the Bob Kaufman Prize for Poetry by judge Bernadette Mayer. His next book of poetry, Near Point Balance, is forthcoming from Skysill Press. His critical work on contemporary innovative poetry has appeared most recently in Reconfigurations: A Journal for Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture, Pierre Joris – Cartographies of the In-between, and Jacket. The founding editor of Anchorite Press, Rizzo currently lives in Albany, NY.
Nicole Rollender is assistant poetry editor at Minerva Rising Literary Journal and editor of Stitches. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, Radar Poetry, Salt Hill Journal, THRUSH Poetry Journal, and others. Her first full-length poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications. She is the author of the chapbooks Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio), Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications) and Bone of My Bone, a winner in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, forthcoming this year. She’s the recipient of poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Ruminate Magazine and Princemere Journal. Find her online at www.nicolerollender.com.
Philip Schaefer is the author of two collaborative chapbooks with the poet Jeff Whitney. Smoke Tones is available from Phantom Limb (2015), and Radio Silence was selected by Black Lawrence Press as the Fall 2014 Black River Competition winner (2016). Individual poems are out or forthcoming in Forklift Ohio, DIAGRAM, Sonora Review, Fourteen Hills, cream city review, RHINO, Columbia Poetry Review, Spork, BOAAT, and Whiskey Island among others. He tends bar at a craft distillery in Missoula, where he received his MFA from the University of Montana.
Alison Stagner resides in Seattle, where she is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Washington. She is on the prose board for the Seattle Review and teaches undergraduate courses in poetry.
Lizz Thabet is a multimedia artist originally from Raleigh, North Carolina. In 2010, she moved to New York to pursue her BFA at Rochester Institute of Technology, where she studied photography and visual culture. Lizz’s work addresses the intersection between language, experience, and images. Incorporating ideas from trauma studies, cyborg theory, and visual culture, her work is often driven by questions and a desire to make accessible what has felt inaccessible to her own understanding. Lately, she’s also been experimenting with presenting her awkward, stream-of-consciousness sketches. Check out more of her work online at www.lizzthabet.com.
Halie Theoharides lives in Western Massachusetts and is the managing editor of jubilat. A chapbook of her poems will be released by Factory Hollow Press this summer. Find some of her poems online here.
Matt Tompkins lives in upstate New York with his wife, daughter, and cat. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Post Road, the Ostrich Review, and a handful of other places. You can find links to more of Matt’s writing at his website: needsrevision.com.
Ellen Welcker has poems collected in the chapbooks “Mouth That Tastes of Gasoline” (alice blue, 2014) and “The Urban Lightwing Professionals” (H_NGM_N, 2011), and a book called The Botanical Garden (winner of the 2009 Astrophil Press Poetry Prize, judged by Eleni Sikelianos) to her name. She lives in Spokane, WA.
Chelsea Werner-Jatzke is a writer from NYC living in Seattle. She is a fiction editor at Pacifica Literary Review, editorial director at Conium Review, and is co-founder of Till, an annual writing retreat. She is, or will be, published by Sonora Review, Monkeybicycle, Everyday Genius, SpringGun Press, Beecher’s Magazine, and Tupelo Quarterly, among others.
Benjamin Winkler lives and writes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in RHINO, LIES/ISLE, and Makeout Creek. Find him online at www.benjaminwinkler.com, or on Twitter at @winkler_b.
Josh Wood received his Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from the University of North Texas. He is currently living in South Carolina, and is enrolled in the Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design Ph.D. program at Clemson University. His work has previously appeared in the North Texas Review.
Deconstructionista: A Love Letter
There’s me and you, walking through the desert.
We find the nomads’ traps on the second day. Small metal slipknots just above the ground, barely bigger than my ankle. Like the tripwire for an IED. But you bend down and prod it with a bare finger while I’m standing there frozen, caught in the leftovers of too many bad dreams. I feel like we’ve been here before.
“What’re they hoping to catch out here?” I say. “Snakes? Rats?”
You straighten. You’re a silhouette with a blonde halo in the sunset.
“Hares,” you say. “These are rabbit tracks. The fuck they teach you in the army?”
I look down at the ground. In the sand, just west of the trap, there’s a bit of scat that looks dried out.
“That’s old,” I say.
But you point farther. There’s enough grass here that something with enough grit and determination can make a home, but only just. And there, in the biggest growth, is a hole, barely big enough.
“I never did much hunting,” I say.
“Excuses,” you say. “You’re just fucking blind.”
You bend down again. I peek down your shirt, but there’s nothing inside but darkness. You pull a knife from its place on your thigh. It doesn’t take much effort. You cut the string that holds the snare in place.
“Come on.” Knife goes back in its sheath. “Let’s get some dinner. I’m starving.”
An invasion of nomads. That’s what they told us when they crammed the two of us into a heavily air conditioned office on the third floor of some Hollywood corporate high rise with some newly minted Veep of a newly acquired property. We’d all seen the movies when we were young, marveled at the screen. Never really wondered where the sets had gone, never had much use for those thoughts. In our minds, this all really was happening long ago and far away.
But with a new studio buying the rights to the franchise, looking to tighten its grip on all related properties, they want their sets returned. Never mind they hadn’t been there twenty years earlier when the sets were built. They’re the legal owners, these Hollywood suits, and by god, they get what they want.
“You’re supposed to be good at this,” the suit said, leaning on his desk. Couldn’t have been out of his twenties, his hair done up with enough product to be a fire hazard.
“And discreet,” you said beside me. “Who told you about us?”
I straightened my tie. Shifted. Pulled at my collar. The veep gave me a grin like a shark.
“That wouldn’t exactly be discreet,” he said. “Let’s just say, in my business, people do end up owing you a few favors.”
“Meaning telling you about the cleaners they hired,” I said.
He smiled. Behind him, a potted plant looked like it needed water.
“We need a hundred,” you said beside me. “Plus expenses. To start.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Just a hundred?”
You nodded. “Each. For starters.”
Then it was just haggling.
Out on the street, you already making arrangements on your phone, we went our own ways to pack. I didn’t have anything to pack. The suit I was wearing. That was all. All of my clothes were still in my kit back at the hotel. So I decided to go for a stroll, right there in Hollywood. I didn’t find much besides hookers and star maps. Wrong kind of stars. Not like anyone left in this town ever learned to read the real stars, anyway.
I found a flower box at a restaurant. The patio was empty so I stopped. I touched one of their drooping daisies. Daisies aren’t usually that hard to care for. But this one looked sad.
A waiter came up, frowning. “Can I help you, sir?”
I looked at him. A head shorter than me. Scrawny. I looked at us, both of our reflections on the window. My bald head and the tattoos reaching above my collar. I clenched my fists.
“Your flowers need water,” I said to him.
Before he could say anything else, I walked away.
Our dinner in the desert consists of MREs and canteens of water. We’ve got enough for another four days. After that, we exercise the Scorched Earth clause in our contract. If the owner can’t keep his property, nobody will.
I have enchiladas. They taste a bit like dry pasta. It reminds me of home, of being back in the desert, hundreds of miles north of here, on another continent. No showers, no shaving, no backup. Just a few men, a radio, our rifles, and the waiting game we played with the terrorists.
“What’d you end up with?” I ask.
You look at your container. “Says its Mac and cheese.”
We don’t say much. I look up at the stars when I take a bite. That’s one part of the desert you do miss. There’s enough stars hereabouts to lose yourself in.
“So where do you think they’re hiding?” you ask.
I shrug. “Well, they’re not in the huts. Probably heard us coming and made for better ground.”
“You don’t just up and leave a place like this.” You look over your shoulder, back to the village from another galaxy. Barely visible with the hills. “That well, the crew dug that when the movie was filming. It’s real. Probably still works too. Between that and the hares, this is a nice place to live.”
It hadn’t taken long to find their fires, or what was left of them. And the bones of all the animals that had fed the nomads, the bigger ones that the wind and the sun hadn’t made short work of.
“We should blow the well,” I say. “See if we can sweat ‘em out.”
You look at your canteen. “Then what?”
“Maybe then they bolt.”
“In the middle of the desert?” You shake your head. “An enemy force has just moved in, is trying to force you out of your home. They cut off your water supply. They have fresh water, food, enough gas to build fires for a year, and advanced weaponry you can use to hunt or trade to some local al-Qaeda for supplies you actually need. Where would you go?”
I choke down a bit of enchilada. “Not into the desert.”
“Me either,” you say.
The studio refused to spring for good seats. But with all the haggling, our take away pay is up to about fifty grand apiece. It’s amazing what a little threatening body language will do.
So we’re in economy class on the plane. All our guns and gear stowed in checked baggage. It’s amazing what you can still get away with in the world these days. It’s a long flight, with two transfers, so I’ve loaded my iPad full of movies. Specifically, full of Space Flight movies. I’m in the middle of watching a Sand Creature attack our hero on his first venture into the desert. The Sand Creature is played by a man obviously done up to look Arab, with a thick nose, olive skin, and a turban. He makes guttural noises as he swings his sword. The blonde hero doesn’t know how to fight yet, can only run. And the Sand Creature keeps swinging, destroying everything in his wake. In this case, it’s a bazaar. Several stands get cut in half as people of all different races, in all kinds of rubber suits and masks, go screaming and racing for cover. The hero cowers in fear, his blue eyes wide.
“I can’t believe you watch that crap,” you say.
I pause the movie as the slightly offensive alien is readying his death blow.
“Why’s that?” I ask.
“It’s pretty much like reading trashy romance novels,” you say. “It has no merit.”
I frown. “It’s entertaining. I don’t think it’s meant to have more merit than that.”
You sip your whiskey, your second little airline bottle.
“We can’t all read Anna Karenina three times,” I say.
You don’t look at me when you speak, turn back to your book. “Was the only book I had out there.”
As I hit play, the camera cuts between the terrified eyes of our hero, and the Sand Creature. The Creature lets out this terrible wail. His sword comes down. And another blade crosses it. Cut to an old man with a determined look. The hero’s mentor, stepping in at just the right moment to save the day.
That night in the desert, we fuck like wild dogs. We’ve been doing it for a while, nothing ever really coming from it. You’re hot, I’m decent looking. I guess it only makes sense. The moonlight coming through the tent lights up your tattoos, one on each arm, another on your back. I focus on that one, reach around, grab your tits, and come.
After, we sit in the dark. You sit up, wrap your arms around your knees. I can hear you breathing. I run a hand on your hip. It’s cool, which surprises me. You twitch.
“What’s on your mind,” I ask.
“I hate pillow talk,” you say. You stand and walk out of the tent.
I sigh. But then I stand and follow you. You’ve moved a few feet from the entrance, stark naked and unashamed, your shoulders thrown back and gazing up at the stars.
I walk up next to you and look up. Lean against the tree. My hand hits something, and I see a package of cigarettes fall from the branch. I look to you, but you don’t look at me. That’s the first time I notice you smoking, clutching the cigarette down by your thigh, trailing smoke upward and upward until it mellows out in the air above your head. I’ve never seen you smoke before.
“It’s too quiet out here.”
“Yeah,” I say. “But, you know, you get used to it the more time you spend out here.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” you say.
I look at you, look down at the village. Try to follow your gaze. So much of what goes on behind it is still a mystery for me.
“I still don’t know what happened to you in Afghanistan.”
You take a drag. “Do you need to?”
I shrug. “It’d be nice to know where your scars are.”
“You’ve seen me naked,” you say. “I think you know.”
I look you over. Yeah, I’ve seen them, the jagged lines in your flank, on your back. The one running the length of your left leg.
A breeze passes over us, and it makes me shiver, makes my naked junk shrivel up. You don’t budge.
“Not the kind of scars I mean.”
“Well,” you say. “Maybe I don’t have a story. Maybe I made it through without anything exciting.”
I grimace. Over the hill, I can see the igloo huts that are still left standing, all of them circling around a clearing, all of them like lanterns.
I look up. “The stars look better out here.”
You nod. “I still miss that in the city.”
“This feels more real,” I say. “Being out here.”
“Jesus,” you say. “If you’re gonna get all philosophical, I’m going back in the tent.”
I shake my head. The sand is rough against my feet as I walk toward you. I reach out, try to take your hand. You jerk away. Eyes on the prize.
We’ve been through some shit together, you and I. Once upon a time, this was a three man operation. But Clay’s been gone I forget how long. It’s been you and me against the world for years, it seems.
The first job we took after he left, we went to this place in New Mexico. A little startup company. One of this young up-and-comer’s more experienced competitors had hired us to come in and basically kill the kid’s chances at success. And we took it, because hell, we need to pay rent, right? But there we were, you and me. We came in that night with our sledgehammers and our torches and gasoline.
We cut the power before we went in, put on masks. Inside, we found anything that even resembled a camera and ripped it out of its place.
Then we took the hammers to the computers. Knocked all of them off desks and smashed them to bits on the floor. It was cathartic, letting all our pent up rage out on those computers. And then we took to the walls, the screens that hung on them, the company’s logo. Everything we could get our hands on. Everything that would break. And that was the first time we fucked, you and me, tearing into each other right there on one of those desks, most of our clothes still on, just enough. There, in the remains of our good work.
After we finished, we doused the place in gasoline. You pulled flares from your bag, I pulled mine. We struck them, and I saw the look in your eyes. The smile when we tossed them and the gas went up with its animal hiss.
We stuck around outside long enough to watch the fire catch. And I wasn’t sure if you got more out of the sex or the fire. Your face was the same for both.
After I go back to the tent, after you start snoring beside me, I drift off to sleep. And I dream. In my dream, I’m in the Space Flight universe. I’m taking on the role of hero. But I can’t find clothes that fit.
One day, I go to the market to find something that will fit. All I can find is rags and dark vests. Not the hero clothing I should wear. Not the white tunic, the khaki pants. That’s the kind of costume I should be wearing, but none of the sellers in their ramshackle stands seem to grasp that. They keep pointing me toward the villain’s clothes or, at best, the scoundrel’s. I turn all of them down, point to the clothes I’m wearing. But they just look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language.
And then the screams start. In the distance, I hear the nomad’s war cry. He steps toward me and says something in his guttural language. Everyone around me starts to run. He pulls his sword out of its scabbard, slow and meticulous like, beneath the hood of his own costume, he might actually be smiling at my fear.
I try to run, but I trip on something. I fall back, my hands scraping against the hard rock and sand that is the foundation of this bazaar. I look up. The nomad raises his blade above his head. The sun is behind him, but I see the layers he wears, the color drained out of his clothes by the sun and sandstorms of the desert. I almost feel sorry for him. I know what it’s like to live in a desert.
But none of that matters. He sees the hero, whatever wrong the hero has done him. I know, because I’ve seen this movie, that my only sin was invading his territory. He barks something final. Then the sword comes down.
There’s no mentor to save me now.
I wake up, gasping for breath, still flat on my back in our tent. I look over at you, your back toward me.
I’m drenched in sweat. On my neck, I can actually feel the blade, the pain of being a head shorter. I rub the phantom ache.
I walk over to the same tree. I’ve put on my boxers, so I don’t feel quite so naked, slipped into my sandals before leaving the tent. I reach up and take your cigarettes down, light one. I don’t think I’ve smoked since Iraq.
I look down into the fake village that our nomads have moved into. Take a few steps closer. There’s a fire in the middle of the circle, where there wasn’t anything before. But there are no people around it.
Hell with it, I decide. Let them have their fire.
The dream brings those old days back clear in my mind. Reminds me of the videos we used to watch online in Iraq when news of another beheading came out. We’d go searching for the tapes. So morbid, so curious, like little boys finding a body in the creek. We just had to see it one more time.
There were never any women in those tapes. But it’s amazing what your mind does when it has blanks to fill in. I imagine it was you, or your unit, captured by terrorists, blindfolded and put on your knees before a camera, waiting for the swing of the blade. I can’t imagine waiting, hoping for a rescue, knowing it would never come.
In the morning, we check the camp again. We bend over the fire in the center, poke at the ashes. There are bones scattered in the black dust.
“Son of a bitch,” you say. “They’re getting ballsy.”
“They know we’re here. For them,” I say. “What’s the point in hiding?”
“They’ve got other traps,” you say. You pick up a skull. I had enough survival training to recognize it as a rabbit skull.
You toss it back into the ash. When you straighten up, stand, you wipe the black from your hands onto your shorts.
We wander around the rest of the camp, trying to find anything that might have changed. I walk up to one of the huts.
Inside, you can see where the film crew built the frame, the wooden skeleton of the structure. There’s nothing pretty about it. It was not originally built for inhabitants. Twine has been strung between the wooden beams, and on that, someone has folded clothes. Faded shirts, robes, unrecognizable sections of fabric. Cracks in the wall let the light through, but it’s not bright enough to see clearly. You add your own flashlight to the mix. A pallet lies in one corner. On the other side, a hawk stares at us. Doesn’t make a noise, just cocks its head to one side. Keeps staring.
I step forward. The hawk eyes me. Still doesn’t move. Below it, boxes covered in sheets. Noises coming from within. Something scratching. I pull the blanket aside, and there are rabbits inside. They hop around. Someone’s strapped a plastic gallon jug to the side of the cage and jury-rigged a spout for them.
“Guess they don’t cook them all,” you say.
There are old plastic chairs, boxes piled in them. I don’t try to open them. I don’t want to. Clothes are stacked on top. There’s dust on everything here. Against the far wall, three refrigerators in various stages of rust and decay. But they’re humming, generators, wherever they are, still pumping in power.
The hawk still stares at me.
Next to the refrigerators, a line of five or six aloe plants rise up from pots, glorious and green, full-grown even in the desert.
“Come on,” you say, turning. “Let’s get out of here.”
But I don’t. Instead, I go over and run a finger on the nearest plant. It feels alive.
The hawk seems to have lost interest in me, its head sunk into its body, sleeping.
I open the nearest fridge and it pops the way breaking seals do. Light escapes, and it’s almost blinding in the hut. I blink. Inside the fridge, cold air and more bones, these longer than the ones outside, some of them curved in strange ways. And mixed among the crossed bones, mags for assault rifles, loose ammunition. And on the very bottom of the fridge, rolls of film, entombed in their little plastic cannisters, like I remember from when I was a kid.
“The fuck?” I say.
I shut the fridge and open another. Same story. Then another, and another, all the way down the line. Every one of them is stuffed with half eaten food, and ammo, and film. I grab one of them and shove it in my pocket. Make for the exit.
Outside, I can barely open my eyes. You help me out of the hut. But even squinting against the light, I can’t help shaking the feeling that we’re being watched.
We come back to our camp, and find footprints, deep impressions in the sand. Too deep.
“They want us to know they were here,” you say.
I shudder. I go into the tent, find my gun, and tie the holster in place on my hips. Breathe a sigh of relief.
When I come out, you’re going through stuff. Tearing the place apart.
“Weapons,” you say. “They take my fucking books but leave the weapons?”
You keep rummaging.
“Shit,” you say, as you throw an empty case to the ground. “They stole our fucking food.”
You reach down and, out of the box, hold up a dead rabbit, skinned and headless, glistening pink in the sun.
The rats pop on the spit, roasting over our fire. Of course we don’t trust the gift of the nomads. But they’ve cornered the market on hares.
“This is bullshit,” you say.
“Kinda thought you’d be used to high stake games by now,” I say.
“Fuck that,” you say. “In Iraq, everywhere. Nobody knew we were hunting them. Not until we popped one in the back of their skull. All the cleaning we’ve done, nobody’s pulled this kinda shit.”
I rotate the spit. Thankfully, they didn’t take all of our gear. The fire cracks. The spark lands on your bare foot. You don’t flinch.
We sit in silence for a while. When the rats are done, we eat. I never much cared for the taste, but when you’re hungry.
I look into the fire, already calming, the tongues of flame just barely rising above the glowing logs. I wonder what happened to you in Afghanistan, the parts you never talk about. The fact that I know you got there, you left, went Stateside for a few months, then got shipped back out to Iraq. I know all about Iraq. But Afghanistan is a void in your history.
You’re watching the fire too. Eating your dinner. You don’t look back at me.
Later, I wake up. The moonlight bleeds through the fabric of our tent. I sigh. I didn’t dream. Just a gap in consciousness. Like time travel. One moment, followed by another, nothing tethering them together, anchoring them to real time. Just moments. We’ve been here before. Consciousness still comes on as fast as it did in combat, my body tensing, waiting for the time there’s going to be someone there, holding a knife against my throat.
There’s no one this time. I want to go out naked again, but I think of that feeling in the village. Think of someone there, just beyond the horizon, watching. So I throw on my pants and grab my holster.
Tonight, the stars make me dizzy. I can’t concentrate on them. I can’t look up at them. I look down at the dying embers of our fire. I kick dirt into them. Sparks and fizzle.
You’re there too, tonight, sitting on the ridge beneath the tree, wrapped in a jacket, watching the town.
The sand is still hot under my feet. I think about going to get my boots. But my feet are already calloused enough that it feels like somebody else is doing the walking.
I sit beside you, pull my knees up to my chest.
The nomads haven’t started a fire tonight. They know we’re here, they’re wary. Not giving away their presence.
“Couldn’t sleep either, huh?”
You shake your head.
“They stole my cigarettes,” you say. “Every last one of them. My books and my cigarettes.”
I shake my head. “My iPad might still have a charge.”
“Not the same.”
I try looking up at the stars again. But I can’t make out any constellations. My head is starting to hurt. I blame the lack of food.
“I wanted to be a gardener,” I say.
You look at me.
“When I was in Iraq,” I say. “Before. My mom would always go and work in the garden when I was a kid, and I would help her. I guess it’s ‘cause of that. I don’t really get a chance to do it anymore.”
You just look at me.
“Not a noble profession I guess, but I always thought I’d do that when I left the army,” I say. “But I can’t even keep a houseplant anymore. I water them, give ‘em sun, do everything you’re supposed to do. I know I’m doing everything right. But. They just keep dying.”
You turn and look back in the direction of the village. It’s a long moment that passes without a word.
Then you say: “I wanted a dog. Too much traveling though.”
Silence. Desert wind.
I grimace. Nod. “Guess we’re just fucked up all over.”
“I want to hurt them,” you whisper.
Your eyes are fixed on the village.
“I want to hurt them,” you say again. “I want to kill every last fucking one of the bastards.”
I think of the plants in their hut. I remember the film in my pocket. But I don’t mention it.
“How would you do it?” I ask.
You shrug. “Do the thing I’ve been avoiding all this time. Blow the well.”
I nod. I think of the Sand Creatures from Space Flight, of how they never had kids, or pets, or anything. Just an abstract menace.
“So we plug the well,” I say. “And then, what, wait them out? Pick ‘em off one when they come up here for our gear?”
You nod. “Guess you did learn something from the army after all.”
The next day, we go down to the village. It’s empty. I go into the same hut I was in yesterday. The hawk is gone. The plants are gone. Everything valuable has been cleared out. The hum of the generators is gone, but the fridges remain, probably too cumbersome to move. I open one and, surprise, the rifle mags are gone. The only thing left in the fridge is dried out bones.
The film is gone. I reach into my pocket, rub my fingers along the ridged cap. Who the hell needs that much film? I think about putting it back, but what’s the point? It looks like they’ve already cleared out.
So what I do is I take it out, yeah, but I pop it open. Unroll it a bit, until I can see the first few negatives. Hold them up against what little light there is in the hut.
“What?” I say.
The first few pictures are of a kid, and even though there’s no color, I can pretty much guess that this is one of the nomad’s kids. It’s a boy, dressed up like the hero in the Space Flight movies. One of those department store costumes.
I unspool more of the roll. Photos of the huts. Photos of men in suits, wandering through the desert. In these huts, looking over the nomads’ things. A few frames of them talking to what look like government officials, shaking hands. In another, the same suit who hired us for the job. The way some of these are taken, you can tell that the subjects weren’t aware they were being photographed.
In other photos, a film crew, taking wide shots of the village. Then closer, on the threshold of one of the huts, a man dressed disturbingly like the hero of Space Flight. Then people entering a hut, then exiting. More filming.
And then back to the kids.
I roll out more film, but the rest of the photos are of the kids. There’s nothing else. I look at the empty fridge, like it could hold all the answers.
But there’s only dry bones.
I roll the film back up, put it back in its container, and then into my pocket again.
Outside, you’re already laying charges in the well. “You really think all this is necessary?” I ask. “I mean, it looks like they’ve cleared out everything.”
You don’t say anything. So I just go over and help you with the charges. We keep working, wiring them together, working up a sweat. The day’s getting hotter.
My eye catches on a dark shape on the hill at the far side of the village, the side opposite our own camp. I can’t make out what it is, or if it’s even in the shape of a man.
“They’re not gone,” you say. I look up at you, but you don’t stop moving. “They’re not. You know that. They’re still around. Maybe their women and children, their civilians, maybe they’re all gone. But the rest? They’re coming for us. And this thing just seals that.”
I stop and straighten. Look back toward the hill. But the figure’s gone.
When we blow the well, there’s no giant explosion. Just a tiny thud, and the ground shakes, and a few stones from the top of the well falls in. You go up to the well and start kicking. The stones don’t give at first, but you keep kicking, getting angrier and angrier, grunting with each kick. Then they start to fall into the well. No splash, no thud. They just fall.
We spend the rest of the day around our camp, gathering our weapons, securing a perimeter as best we can. It’s one of those muscle memory things again.
We have the high ground. But there’s only two of us. We take up position at the highest point we can manage without going up a tree, you facing the village, me the opposite way, the open desert road, hastily laid for the film crew, ages ago.
“What do you think will happen,” I ask, as the sun sets and we sit, back to back, waiting.
“Pincer maneuver,” you say. “It’s what I would do.”
I flex my grip on the rifle, it’s sling over my shoulder. It’s like coming home.
The desert is quiet as the night sets in. No city sounds. Nothing louder than thought out here.
I steal a glance at you. Your face unreadable, your jaw clenched.
“I always wanted more,” I say. “More than fighting, killing, watching other people die. I wanted a life.”
You take a deep breath, let it out slowly, controlled.
“That’s not us,” you say. “We don’t get that life. We’re past it. You and me, and everybody else out in the damn desert. All of us who killed people for no damn reason but we were told. We don’t get a happy ending. We’re fucking—fucking locusts. We take what we can, and then we move on. That’s us. That’s our life. Fuck your garden.”
I frown but you don’t see it.
“What are they doing wrong here, exactly?” I ask. “What are these guys doing that’s so bad? Live here?”
“Yes,” you say. “That’s exactly it. They want to live here. Someone else wants to use it for something else. Person B has a superior force. Person B gets their way. We’re the force. We’re the gun. That’s what we do. Kill the people we have to kill because we’re told to do it. We’re the deconstructionists. We tear things down. We don’t build. We wreck. We kill. And then we move on. That’s it. There’s been people like us forever. Don’t overthink it. Don’t philosophize. Don’t grow a fucking beard while you grow your fucking garden. That’s not us. You have to learn to love the process. You have to come to terms with the fact that the world has fucked you over and will keep fucking you over til you’re dead.”
My heart’s pounding. I look at the moonlight’s dull reflection on my rifle. Check its sights.
“All this time,” I say, “I thought maybe you and I would wind up together.”
You don’t say anything.
“Like, you get me, you know? You’ve been through the same shit I have.”
“I know,” you say. “Like I say, though. That’s not us. I don’t plan on giving any of this up any time soon. I need it. And if you wanna be honest with yourself, so do you.”
I think of the plants I have at home. Home being a tiny little apartment with nothing on its walls. Not even a dog waiting for me. I think of the plants withering and dying.
A sound near our camp catches my attention. I squint in that direction. Listen. Some sound, like an animal scratching, rooting in the dirt.
But it’s not an animal. There’s a figure there, crouched in the door of our tent. I pat you on the shoulder and nod toward the shape.
The next thing I do doesn’t even register at the level of thought. Rifle comes up, levels. “Freeze,” I call.
But it’s not my voice that comes out. It’s soldier-me.
The shadow turns, holds something out at me.
The rifle lets out three shots. Muzzle flashes. My arm tenses, catches the recoil. The shadow stumbles, then falls.
“Here they come,” you say.
I feel your body tense behind me. I know how all this goes.
A second later, three more come over my side of the ridge. Rifles across their bodies. I raise my rifle. No hesitating. Put three into the center one, and he goes down, just crumbles like paper. The other two hesitate. Raise their guns. Take aim. I put a round through one’s eye, somehow manage the shot. He falls back. The last one hesitates too long, and I pump three more rounds into his chest.
There’s no backup. No one else comes up the hill.
I turn to you. There’s still four on your side, further away than mine were, roughly 300 yards. One dead body lying on the ground. I raise my rifle, take out another. My shot hits his arm. He yelps, turns in my direction. Not quick enough. Another burst and he’s down.
One of the three left takes a shot, and I hear your sharp breath. Another shot hits the tree behind us.
I line up to take a shot at the same moment you say beside me, “Fuck this.”
The hill beneath the three remaining shooters explodes upward. When I look, you’ve got the remote in your hand, and you’re smiling.
I can see one of them limping away as quickly as possible. Apparently you do too. Because you walk after him, calm and collected, firing as you go. And you keep walking, keep shooting, until he finally falls.
You turn, start pumping rounds into every nomad you can find, even the dead ones. When your mag finally runs dry, you stop. Just stand there.
Somewhere, a coyote howls.
“Couldn’t shoot worth shit,” you say, sounding disappointed. You bend down and pick up one of their rifles, examine it. Shrug, check for ammo, and toss it back into the sand.
“The studio will be glad,” I say. I kick a rifle away from a dead nomad. One of the whole ones, fortunately. “They get their property back.”
“Fuck that,” you say. “The studio, the nomads. They’re all the same. And I’m not giving any of them jack shit that they want.”
I look at you. There in the moonlight. Covered in sweat, dirt. Your arm bound in a bandage, and the bloodstain on your shirt. Where do we go from here?
“You wanna go scorched earth,” I say.
“Damn right, I do,” you say. “That’s all I’m good at anymore. Tearing things down.”
I look down at one of the nomad’s. His eyes wide open, brown in moonlight. His mouth hanging open, covered in sand. Blood turning brown on his chin.
I think of the children, the wives, the people we never saw, the people the movies never cared for.
“I wanna burn the bodies,” I say.
You turn and shrug. “Good luck getting ‘em all down there.”
It’s a small thing, starting a fire. Especially when you already have the kerosene.
I put as many of the nomads’ bodies as I can find into a tarp and drag it down to the village. Toss them into one of the vacant huts without going in. Toss the tarp in after them. I try not to look at them.
More charges, around the edges of the village, at the base of every other building around the edges, at the base of each oddly placed structure in the interior. Aside from the wooden shells, these are solid constructions. We need the force.
I drown the buildings in kerosene, inside and out. I can’t stop shaking.
We don’t speak. Just work.
When I get to it, I go into that same damn hut. I shudder. I open all the fridges. All empty—except for the bones, too long, altogether too human. Curved in the wrong way. Snapped in places, their ends jagged, broken. I pull the film from my pocket, turn it over in my hand. Such a small thing. I think of the boy in his store-bought costume. Of my own dream, of being a hero.
I set it in the fridge and shut the door.
Someone else’s story, someone else’s world.
When I step out of the hut, I look around, trying to find you. Trying to feel like we’re being watched. But the feeling is gone. I scan the dunes. No figures draped in shadow. Nothing. The nomads move on, whatever’s left of them.
I find you outside the circle of buildings. Come up, stand beside you. Your eyes scanning the village.
When we’re a safe enough distance away, we turn. You pull out the transmitter and push a button. A second later, a charge goes off in the farthest building. Then another, and another, and another, until the buildings all start to crack, lines traced out in their roofs and walls, until finally it’s too much and the weight of them collapses, gives in to gravity.
The fires start to spread as soon as the first charges go off, even though we can only see them in glimpses. When buildings crack, we get a flash of light. Then nothing. Until the fire finally catches the roofs, spreads to the walls. It’s slow at first, but it only gathers strength as it goes. And soon enough, it’s spread to the entire village.
We stand there until the buildings have finished their collapse. I watch you, your face blank as the fire lights it, back and forth between day-bright and pitch dark. The only sound in the desert is the fire crackling. Otherwise, we’re alone. No animals. No gunfire. No nomads. Just you and me, under the stars we’ve forgotten how to read.
Walking Home in Ann Arbor, Fall
I am in a city alone
that is not really a city,
a sky pierced by white branches
& a thin skin of frost.
I go everywhere on foot
here under brandished knives
trees aim at my head
as I cross blocks, no one looking
me in the eye in this kind place
where everything else brown
& with any sense has left town or learned
to sleep away entire months
in the cold, away from the white shine
of noon, stand out in open spaces.
The only place I don’t feel obvious
is the bus station. My way home
is late. The dying tulips shudder
with me, the wind.
The sun replaced by a red edge
at the opposite end of the sky,
the magical ice vanished
until tomorrow morning, coming back
from a job a township over
that keeps me alive with spare money
& three hours of being
outside of faceless suburbs, walking past houses
that remind me of home—my best friend’s porch
except in snow, a corner store
where a woman that looks like my mother
squeezes an orange; a guy I would swear
went to my high school sells me a CD. Walking
in the starting dark I blend in for once
no one in sight on this last stretch
four buildings away from my apartment
until someone calls me child
the word sounding like the sigh that comes
before a hug, shakes the thousand miles
between here & anything close
to home. Someone on the ground, a woman
maybe the age of the grandmother
I remember as a child, sits on her ass
on an icy driveway, unable to stand. I pass these
senior apartments everyday. I lift her easily
as she lifts secrets from bones. At my arm
she says she’s been out for more than a half
hour yelling at people passing, & another
half hour alone asking sweet
to the last dandelions, sparrows
& pedestrians ducking behind the naked bushes.
This city’s hate smells like malt
liquor to her too. She stares into the eyeless
town when she walks. Neighbors
push their shoulders as handshakes
but scare so easily in the dark;
never seem to recognize the hallways
we’ve shared for a full year. I help her up
to her room, the whole way stinks of malt liquor.
She asks me not to judge her falling for
the sake of a damn cigarette. Or two. We do
what everyone else does, ignore the foot traffic
dragging slush on the curb in piles of brown
shit & call it something bearable like city-snow,
overlook the obvious beer cans in the gutter
& whatever else I can to stay
comfortable, sane. This kind of blind is
what can sustain us entire winters, over the slick
bullshit we slip on walking past ice glazed sidewalks,
manure heaps of city-snow in this non-city.
She only has two months left in this
apartment, another dispute with the landlord
& a pension sunk to the bottom
of the Detroit river, trapped under ice. I decline
whatever she offers in return for my help,
spend an hour on her couch
listening to her predict the heavy snow, forty years
of Detroit as it was. The heater sputters
in the corner & we hold our smiles, point
out the window to the dry street, rainless clouds
around a full moon.
A’ right so this’s a story ‘bout my unc’ Mikey on ‘ccount o’ whose mem’ry we’re ‘ere t’day a’ this App’bee’s ‘ch y’ know was ‘is fav’rite place it must ‘a’ been like three four years ‘go now me ‘n’ Mikey walk in ‘ere an’ Cal th’ bartender wave t’ ev’body Cal Cal says ‘ey Big Mikey ‘cause Mikey was in ‘ere all th’ time an’ ‘im ‘n’ Cal was p’ty tight far ‘s it goes ‘n fac’ Cal ev’n loan’ Mikey some money once an’ they come t’ blows over ‘t but no bad blood ’t’s water un’ th’ bridge an’ so now Cal says Th’ usu’l? an’ Mikey nods an’ heaves ‘i’self big-belly-first up on th’ stool an’ Cal slaps down a pape’ coast’r an’ thunks down a twen’y-two-ounc’r o’ Bud Heavy ‘ch y’ know ‘s Mikey’s drink an’ Mikey says Bott’ms up ‘r Five ’clock somewheres ‘r Nect’r o’ th’ gods ‘r no was early this case ten thirty ‘leven th’ mornin’ ‘cause we’d b’n stan’in’ out wait’n’ f’ someb’dy t’ unlock th’ f’nt door an’ Mikey ‘s feelin’ ‘barrass’d ‘cause what’s it say ‘bout ‘im waitin’ t’ get in f’ th’ firs’ beer o’ th’ day ‘fore noon nursin’ a hangover ‘r le’s face it a drunkover so Mikey says Brea’fas’ a’ champi’ns t’ sort o’ make it seem okay sort o’ poke fun like ‘f y’ c’n joke ‘bout it then ’s not a prob’m right an’ ‘e forces a laugh but th’ laugh turn int’ a nasty cough ‘cause y’ know Mikey was a heavy smoker ‘e lov’d ‘im ‘is Mar’b’s an’ prob’ly should ‘a’ quit ’r leas’ got check’d out by a doct’r but ‘e ‘i’n’t ‘ave ‘nsurance an’ doc’s ‘poin’m’ts i’n’t cheap ‘sides ‘s oth’ things come firs’ out ‘is paych’ck like ‘is beers ‘n’ smokes f’ ‘xample so anyways Mikey’s hackin’ som’thin’ fierce but ‘e jus’ picks up a co’tail na’kin off th’ bar ’n wipes th’ black phlegm out ‘is m’stache stuffs th’ na’kin in ’s jeans pocket an’ tha’s that no drama ‘cause Mikey was no-nonsense y’ know wore ‘is troubles on th’ inside kep’ it close t’ ‘is ches’ an’ so Cal turn t’ me an’ says What’ll it be young‘un so I’m like Y’ guys got Dew? ‘cause ‘course I wa’n’t old ‘nough t’ drink then an’ Cal’s like Nah Coke prod’cts so I’m like A’ right jus’ gi’ me a raspb’ry lem’nade an’ Cal nods t’ me an’ ‘en ‘e turns an’ starts chattin’ up ‘ese two waitr’sses who’re a’-right look’n’ but looks like ‘re ‘n high school ‘r maybe nineteen ‘r twenty a’ th’ mos’ so y’ got t’ fig’re somewhere in ’at barely-legal-if-’r’-legal-at-all range an’ Cal’s what forty forty-five an’ baldin’ an’ ‘s got sweat stains up ‘n th’ pitsa ’s polo ‘ch’s tight but not where ’e’d like meanin’ ‘s y’ c’n see ‘e’s maybe five-nine two-fi’ty an’ not muscly no ’ffense Cal jus’ sayin’ an’ so ’m thinkin’ c’mon Cal they c’d be y’r daught’rs f’ chris’akes an’ jus’ ‘s I’m think’n’ ‘bout sayin’ som’thin’ t’ that ‘fect Cal turns back ‘roun’ t’ us an’ ‘e’s like Yo Mikey h’ ‘bout I get y’ some boneless wings ’r some loaded skins y’ ought t’ eat som’thin’ ‘cause ‘e knows Mikey don’t get some food ‘n ‘im ‘e’ll be hurtin’ aft’ ’s secon’ beer an’ Cal’s got t’ d’cide now ’s ’e stop servin’ Mikey an’ get on th’ r’ceivin’ end o’ some misplaced temper ‘r keep on serv’n’ ’im an’ hope t’ Jesus Mikey don’t make a scene ‘cause y’ know Mikey’d make a scene ‘f ’e got riled an’ o’ course Mikey’s too full f’m all ‘at beer won’ ev’n touch th’ free pean’ts f’ Chris’ sakes so I fig’re ‘e ain’t eatin’ I will so I say t’ Cal I’ll ‘ave a chick’n ques’dilla wh’ch ‘ey do good ‘ere by th’ way w’ ‘at colby-jack blen’ good ‘mount o’ chick’n ‘em things o’ hot salsa ‘n’ sou’ cream f’ dippin’ an’ so now th’ two waitr’sses ’re standin’ by th’ hostess’ stan’ poppin’ th’r gum an’ th’ lunch crowd i’n’t in yet so what else they got t’ do ‘sides shoot th’ shit an’ one ‘em’s lookin’ our way she’s lookin’ a’ Mikey sp’cif’cly ‘n I c’n hear ’er sayin’ Oh god Madisyn look at this guy that’s so sad I hope I’m never like that or worse yet my boyfriend please just kill me you know I think maybe Tamryn might be an alcoholic did you see how drunk she got at Devin’s party last weekend but then again maybe she just likes to party right like it’s just a thing to do right but then I start wondering am I partying too much am I headed down a slippery slope should I be getting an internship or something an’ th’ other one jus’ shrugs an’ glances at ‘er phone an’ I’m thinkin’ shit I hope Mikey’s not list’nin’ to ‘em but I c’n tell ‘e’s not an’ ‘sides ‘e’s all flushed i’ th’ face now an’ y’ c’n see ’e’s feelin’ right w’ th’ world an’ ev’n ‘f ‘e heard ‘em ‘e prob’ly wouldn’ be bothered ‘e’d prob’ly jus’ laugh ‘t off an’ so now Mikey says Yo Cal gi’ me ‘nother an’ Cal’s like Maybe y’ need t’ cool it Mikey an’ Mikey’s like Th’ on’y thin’ needs t’ be cool’s th’ beer ‘n th’ f’ckin’ mug Cal-vin ‘e kinda shouts an’ slurs an’ stan’s up an’ starts wob’lin’ ‘roun’ man-tits sway’n’ an’ I’m thinkin’ shit what-all’s g’ hap’n now an’ Mikey’s turn’n’ green like ‘e might puke hold’n’ th’ bar rail t’ keep ’m steady an’ aft’ maybe ten sec’n’s Mikey stops sway’n’ an’ looks real serious an’ says real low-’n’-slow I said ‘nother beer Cal don’ make me bitchslap y’ an’ Cal’s eyes go real wide an’ I’m thinkin’ ah shit ‘ere goes but ‘en Cal cracks right up an’ nex’ Mikey’s laugh’n’ too god res’ ‘is soul an’ ‘en ‘e’s wet-hackin’ more o’ th’ tar int’ ’is phlegm-na’kin an’ ‘em two waitr’sses’re look’n’ like th’r eyes’re ‘bout t’ bug out th’r heads but y’ c’n tell th’re try’n’ t’ keep f’m laughin’ too an’ th’ tension jus’ goes right out th’ room an’ Cal thunks down ‘nother beer ‘n’ ‘nother raspb’ry lem’nade an’ ’s like Y’re a real s’n’bitch Mikey y’ know an’ I s’pose tha’s m’ poin’ Mikey a’ways knew ‘ow t’ ligh’n th’ mood ev’n up t’ th’ en’ when ‘s lungs ‘n’ liv’r ‘n’ pancr’s w‘s all giv’n out ‘e nev’ did c’plain leas’ not ‘t I heard jus’ liv’n’ ‘s life an’ y’d nev’ ‘a’ known ‘e w‘s dyin’ ‘at’s f’ sure leas’ not f’m ‘is d’mean’r tho’ m’be f’m ‘is cough’n’ blood ‘n’ phlegm an’ f’m ‘s faint’n’ spells an’ f’m ‘s green-gray c’plexion an’ th’ way ‘e di’n’ hardly know who ‘r where ‘e was ‘roun’ th’ en’ ‘ere but ‘e a’ways tried hard t’ lif’ th’ spir’ts o’ ev’body ‘roun’ ‘im an’ ‘at’s som’th’n’ t’ be said f’ ‘m ‘t y’ can’t say f’ jus’ ev’body so are-eye-god-dam’-pee Mikey y’ liv’d ‘til y’ died an’ it is what ‘t is an’ we’ ‘s all better f’ know’n’ y’ oh an’ don’t f’get th’ firs’ roun’ o’ Bud Heavies ‘s on th’ fam’ly an’ he’p y’se’f t’ a c’mem’tive pack o’ Mikey’s Marb’s on y’ way out ‘e’d jus’ stock’d up on a coupl’ o’ cart’ns ‘fore ‘e pass’d but i’n’t ‘at jus’ th’ way ‘t goes an’ y’ can’t take it wi’ y’ so le’s don’t let ‘em go t’ was’e.
The Elephant Bell
we had this elephant bell
she never used
she left it at my house
it was her dad’s
she never used it
I love her dad
I think he is a good dad
but I think one day
he must have rung
the elephant bell
and that’s when
everything fell down
that’s when she found
the dead birds in the freezer
that’s when she found
the dog food in her shoe
that’s when she left
the note about the tower
that’s when I saw
the drawing of the mountain
that’s when she started
wearing winter clothes
that’s when the elephants came
standing in a group
I think they wanted something
or thought he wanted something
and he did
but I didn’t think
we could get it there in time
I knew I could help
maybe in a different life
but I didn’t want to ring
the elephant bell
and I didn’t really
want it in my house