Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Monday, December 14, 2015
~This story previously appeared in Inkwell (2010).
~Selected by Kenneth A. Fleming, Assistant Editor
After the funeral, Abuela tells Marcela and Valentina to sort through their mother's belongings in the living room, which they do, wordlessly and tensely, each putting aside trinkets until they spy something both of them want: a pair of jeans their mother liked to wear out dancing.
"I remember seeing her in them," Marcela says. "I don't know when that was."
"Too small for you," Valentina says. "Perfect for me. Besides, you don't dance in the United States. Remember Tia Mercedes' Independence Day party in Miami?—all her fat gringo husband's fat relatives, sitting around in plastic chairs like at a meeting, drunk and boring."
Marcela can only stare, affronted and helpless. Honestly, she does not miss her mother, but she would rather not be condescended to by her younger, half-sister. And, inexplicably, she desperately wants these jeans with the swirls of glitter on the back pockets.
Valentina slings the jeans over her shoulder and puts aside other objects: a purse, a silver tube of lipstick, plastic hair clips.
Marcela sits on the couch. "They won't fit you either," she says. "Our mother was tiny."
"I'll show you tiny," Valentina says. She strips down to her cotton underwear and tube socks, then pulls on their mother's jeans with visible effort. She has to leave the top button undone. "You see? Perfect fit!"
"You think you should have everything you want."
Valentina flops next to Marcela on the couch and scrunches uncomfortably close, her breath hot on Marcela's neck. "And you are one cool cucumber," she whispers in unsteady English. "One smooth operator."
Marcela almost laughs, but Valentina pokes her arm and hisses. "I deserve these jeans because I lived with our mother for the entire fourteen years I've been alive. I had to identify her dead body. What have you had to do?"
She has had to move back and forth between this world and her own, that's what. She is the one their mother left behind in Boston. But Marcela doesn't say this, because no, she did not have to identify their mother's body, crushed by metal from her car and from the rock of a washed-out road. Marcela can't imagine what that was like and is afraid to ask. Valentina turns on the television and begins to flip through the channels mindlessly.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
~This poem was previously published in Connecticut Review (2009).
Leaving in a Beechcraft
Still night, the tarmac dawn.
The propeller drone begins to slant me
up from the dark ground,
where I was a daughter again,
and the urge to flee rushed back to me.
My mother told me not to wear pearls before evening
and reproved my pronunciation of the word cupola.
Corrections are entrenched in her memory,
and yet she confused her mastectomy
with her childhood appendectomy,
and I was adolescently
sullen—all over again.
Now, lifting on through the dark into the cloud cover—
with that black emptiness outside the window—
the plane moves slowly, heavily, noisily, diagonally,
and finally it breaks into space, where,
Orange sun, you seem to be expecting me.
Monday, November 30, 2015
Note: The Italian alphabet contains twenty-one letters: j, k, w, x and y are absent.
A is for Andiamo
Pronounced: [Ahn-D’YAH-Moe] Translation: Let’s go. Verb, plural. Italian.
Yet in the Molisan dialect I have spoken my whole life we say yammacheen. There is a great margin for error then, for confusion and class system to enter into casual conversations, trip up the tongue. I have this problem in two languages. Witness the time I pronounced acquiesce as aqua-size, making my roommate think a new class had been added to the schedule at the nearby YMCA. Or when I said trapezing but meant traipsing. “You can’t come trapezing through here whenever you feel like it,” I say, accusing my boyfriend of being a Barnum and Bailey’s acrobat, casually back-flipping and sailing through my apartment.
I have an intense connection to the expression “Let’s go,” an attachment to the idea of: leave this place, go elsewhere, come with me. I borrowed Eliot’s famous beginning from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock—Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky—to use as a caption under my high school grad photo, summing up my farewell thoughts in the yearbook’s allotted twenty-five words or less. No “Keep in touch!” No “THANKS to A.H, J.K. & G.T - YOU GUYS ROCK!!!” More a poetic invitation, let’s blow this popsicle stand.
B is for Bonefro
Pronounced: [Bone- NAY-fro] noun. A village in Southern Italy, region of Molise.
Bonefro is our beginning. According to my mother, this place gave birth to our fierce, proud, better-than-everybody-else’s bloodline.
We go back to the village for a summer the year I turn eleven. My mother’s health is deteriorating and she is convinced the climate of her youth will offer the best environment for convalescence. She wants to be close to her own mother.
Bonefro is tiny, chiseled out of the hillside, with buildings covered in cool rock tile that offer some relief from the unforgiving Mediterranean sun.
My Italian cousins find me curious. They find it difficult to follow the conversation as my parents and I flip between Italian dialect and mangled English in the same breath. Our speech is fragmented and sentences are splintered over forgotten words or incorrect translations. No one notices the problem until I ask Luisa to accompany me:
“Lu, yammacheen u – Papa, come si dice store in Italian?”
My father doesn’t hesitate to reply, “Store è…is store.”
Luisa frowns. Store is clearly not how one says store in Italian.
“Wait minute…u sach è…I know is…” My father is annoyed, frustrated that he cannot remember. He stares at the hand he has just been dealt in the card game Scopa and asks my mother to assist. She doesn’t know, doesn’t care. The word is gone, replaced. It’s not even on the tip of their tongues.
My grandfather wins the round while my dad is distracted. Nonno shakes his head at the floor and again curses Columbus for discovering America.
Monday, November 23, 2015
~This poem was previously published in The Ledge (2011).
Splayed on a table,
brow knitted against the light,
I hold my breath in the frigid room
where a white machine whines and hums,
its tedious song lulling, the shadow
of its calibrated arm passing over me,
slow, telic—an ancient gesture.
O deliver me from mechanical chants,
from keypad-decoded maledictions
transforming on black screens
into elegant images: this one,
a slim chain of white lace descending,
delicate, serpentine, its loose crochet
a portent of my unraveling.
A technician studies this apparition,
scrying Cassandra-like in a veil of pixels
the doom she must soon pronounce.
But I’ve already seen the future, minutes ago
in the crowded waiting room, a woman so curled
by vertebral collapse she could not look up,
wedged like an ill-used comma
between the daughter and grandson
commandeering both armrests,
the former thumbing House and Garden,
the latter the latest hand-held device.
The white-robed technician has typed a code,
zoomed in on my upper spine, pointing
to a cosmic image so riddled with black holes
it has all but vanished. “Crush fractures,”
she announces. The once-erect matriarch
still hugs herself in the waiting room, quietly
imploding, reduced to the reading of shoes.
“See?” the technician summons, holes
gaping at me like mouths of hungry infants,
the forced air sucked from the room.
I don’t see, can’t augur
what goes against nature. Flesh sags,
organs fail, but bones—O let them endure,
let them hold us together to the end and beyond
that they may be licked clean and weathered
to white crystal, their messages scribed
in the fossil record: dependable,
Monday, November 16, 2015
~This story was previously published in Slice (2010).
I hadn’t seen Big Becca Leonard in weeks. Not that I thought of her all that much, but suddenly there she was, bigger than ever, like a cartoon figure come to life, banging on our screen door.
“Now what do you want to show me?” I say from the other side of the screen.
Big Becca likes coming to the front door and grossing me out with dead animal skulls she finds or flattened frogs she peels off the street. Only this time, she just stands there, twisting her hands together, looking lost.
Big Becca nudges her thick glasses up closer to her eyes. “I’m locked out,” she says, rocking side to side, staring at where the tiny bird’s nest pokes out from the top of the address sign nailed to the brick.
“Those baby birds used to chirp all the time,” I tell her, “but not anymore. They probably got too big or maybe just bored living around here and flew away.”
“Maybe they’re hiding,” she says. “I think they might be hiding, like ghosts.”
“Why aren’t you in school?” Every morning a white van filled with kids like Big Becca picks her up and takes her to a special school two towns over.
“It’s meat loaf day. Last time it was meat loaf day I threw up. My mom’s supposed to make me lunch.”
Normally, on Wednesday afternoons, I’m not home either, but yesterday, the principal suspended me for punching Andy Dembeck between the shoulder blades at recess. The sun was out and everyone was running around going crazy because it was warm enough not to wear a sweater or jacket. Waiting my turn at tetherball, I looked over my shoulder and saw Dembeck blow me a kiss. When he turned to his loser friends and laughed, I ran up behind him, slugging him as hard as I could, knocking his glasses off onto the asphalt and cracking one of the lenses. Dembeck couldn’t believe I did it, and neither could I. First, he looked like he was going to cry. Then, after he got a hold of himself, he had this dumb look on his face like his dog just bit him in the leg.
It wasn’t just that one blow-kiss thing that caused me to snap. Dembeck has been harassing me the whole school year. He leaves hard candies sprinkled with pepper on my doorstep and follows me around at recess trying to give me handfuls of dandelion bouquets. Teachers think it’s cute, like puppy love, but I know the real Dembeck, the psycho who eats the fuzz he digs out of his belly button then moves his finger slowly up to his nose like he’s going to pick it just to hear the shrieks from his classmates.
Monday, November 9, 2015
~This poem previously appeared in PANK (2012).
My Mom’s Getting Plastic Surgery
Tonight on the phone my mom tells me she’s getting plastic surgery and I’m not sure what to say because it’s weird to think of my mom as a candidate for a facelift because she’s not Anna Nicole Smith or a Kardashian or an instillation art exhibit and besides, her face is the face I reconstruct when we talk from our bipolar country corners, it’s the face that used to drive me to swim practice at four a.m. and sit in the car while I lap-after-lapped and bring me donuts before school, it’s the face I’ve seen twist into every combination of swear words and sometimes apology as my adolescent asshole self told her I hated school and I hated life and I hated her goddamn fucking face so now that I don’t hate her goddamn fucking face I don’t know if she should change it because I’m used to her wearing it just like she’s used to me wearing that stinking rotting hoodie she bought me when I went away to grad school the first time and she’s seen it on me so often she begs me to get a new one, tells me she’ll give me the money if I’ll please just go shopping but I don’t want a new hoodie and I don’t want her to have a new face and her offer makes me feel extra bad because it leaves me wondering if I had the money, would I give it to her to get her face did or save it for that inflatable bounce house I plan to get for my thirtieth birthday party, which she better come to, new face or not, and better bounce in, because if she gets her face lifted she won’t have jowls anymore that would flap, and maybe if she had the surgery she wouldn’t call me on those drawn-out nights when my dad’s out of town as she channels her third vodka solipsistic assonance about how she’s droopier than our basset hound, how that shithead got his eyes done when they sagged so much the vet had to do emergency surgery so why the hell can’t she be more special than the dog for once, and I don’t know what she wants me to say so instead I ask what they do with all the extra skin because in my writer mind I’m imagining a huge quilt of lady necks and liver-spotted flabby folds pastiched into a modern art cannibal canvas, and it freaks me out because I’ve seen Face Off enough times to know how wrong face surgeries can go and she could come out of the operation with taut Spandex cheeks clinging to the scaffolding of her skull or looking like Connie Chung, and the face she’ll be staring out from won’t be the one that used to oogle google my brother while he drooled in his crib, it won’t be the same face that used to fishlips crosseyes my sister from the front window while she walked home from the bus stop, and I’m worried that when they revise her face, trimming and tightening the second draft, that the new dust jacket will forever take the place of the original.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
~This essay was previously published in Pivo (2003).
“So what do you do?” I ask, because he already knows what I do, we’re at my work.
“I’m a musician,” he says, and we both know that’s not all, that the twelve people in the private room and the tension in the dressing room on his arrival don’t have a lot to do with music. But we pretend it is, pretend we can have a normal conversation, pretend there’s lots to find out about each other and that we both care.
He’s nearly forty now, or perhaps on the far side, it’s hard to tell grey from blond. In the poster on the wall of my rented one-bedroom, over where the funky part of Dallas becomes a bad neighborhood, he’s thirty, or maybe a drugged-out twenty-five, fronting a band that will be famous always but always a little less famous than him. He’s drinking brand name gin and tonic, three green olives on a plastic sword balanced on the edge. I’m drinking champale, which is house code for a six dollar cranberry juice and ginger ale. I’m underage, my Poloroid’s on the Do Not Serve board in the back hall, but I don’t drink anyway. He’s either a boobs man or a brains man, because if he was an ass man, I wouldn’t be here, being a little softer around the backside than the rest of the Dallas girls. My bet is on brains. I’m hoping it’s brains. I figured out pretty quickly I wasn’t a Barbie body, was never going to be the tightest girl in the bar no matter how many reps I did, my money comes from conversation and climbing – they’ll pay twenty bucks for the fun of watching me climb two stories up, wrap my high boots around one of the cage bars, lean back and slide down, squeezing my thighs to stop short when my hair brushes the platform. Sometimes thirty.
We’re supposed to do two sets in the cages after two songs on stage, but he’s had a word with the manager, or rather, his manager’s had a word with my manager, and a girl who never liked me to begin with and now is into full-blown hate is taking my sets. Lock my locker for sure tonight, or better yet, take everything home, shoes, dresses, makeup, anything that can be ripped or cut with nail scissors or smashed on the tile floor. I learned in Florida never to leave money in a locker, as fast as you can make a hundred and eighty bucks it still burns to lose it. Dallas is better, there are house mothers who police the dressing room and iron and bandage and pass out cups of liquid latex in the clubs inside the city limits, where if the cops come in, your fake nipples have to peel off in one piece and be opaque to a dollar bill. Here outside the city limits, we’re bare up top, but in the Cabaret we’re also in dresses “appropriate for street wear” when we sit with the customers and we don’t cross the invisible wall in front of their knees, the barrier between us and their groins.
Monday, October 5, 2015
~This story was previously published in Little Patuxent Review (2013).
Isabelle wondered how long it would take for the police to arrive.
It depended on the store’s security system, she supposed. A silent alarm would be nice because then the racket wouldn’t disturb her (although she’d become quite adept at tuning out noise: conversation, TV, crying.)
What she wanted was right there in the window, a mere six feet away. She could scramble through the wreckage and have a few quiet moments before the cops shuffled her off in handcuffs. She would get caught, of that she was certain, but at least there would be no eyewitness to testify against her. This town shut down on weeknights, making it easy to stand here, undisturbed, at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday, with a cinder block cradled in her arms and a diaper bag spilling its contents on the ground a few feet away. She’d abandoned the bag—an oversized Vera Bradley with kitschy flowers and quilted material—after discovering the cinderblocks next to the warehouse. All that stuffing puckered between thick stitches reminded her of cellulite. When her mother-in-law gave her the bag, it had overflowed with poop-related paraphernalia including a bottle of something called Jr. Lil’ Stinker Spray Poo-Pourri.
“You spritz it on the diaper before it goes in the trash so it doesn’t smell as much!” her mother-in-law had said.
“Wow,” Isabelle had replied. “Who knew crap required so much crap?” and her mother-in-law had cocked her head and blinked the way she does when Isabelle mentions politics.
Monday, September 28, 2015
~This poem was previously published in Sin Fronteras: Writers Without Borders Journal (2011).
I have another X
so I am dragged from the tent
yowling as gray grandma chides
go sleep with the girls in the house
Boo and his buds can camp outside
they have a Y instead
can roll in red dirt and fart and squirt
moon the neighbors belch a song
and I should comb my mass of hair
wear a curly dress my brother would dare to see me in
ten is too old the wagging finger scolds
to sit on common mango trees shoot
the breeze with geckos grazing up my arm
I watch through glass
wild colts passing
under the weeping window watch me
Sunday, September 20, 2015
~This essay was first published in Fourth Genre (2013).
Once upon a time, there was a girl who was not an orphan tended by a woman who was not a nanny in a red brick house that could never be, by any calisthenics of imagination, a castle—
though there was a view of the sea.
That girl sitting at the table was me. That woman standing by the stove was my mother.
We lived then in the late splendor of catalogues. Everything we ever wanted could be found on a glossy page. Locate the little white letter in the upper right corner, then call and place your order.
I liked to linger in lingerie, with my scissors and my paste and my tablet of red construction paper. These were old catalogues, mine to cut and alter. My mother stirred a pot of something frothy and said, “Pack a suitcase.” This was only pretend. She wanted me to choose the clothes I would take on the trip that comes after the wedding.
If the man was there, the man who was every day less my savior and more my father, he would fill a glass with water and lean beside the sink. “Did someone order a honeymoon salad?” I never got it. I shook my head. Then, he’d chuckle—“Lettuce alone!”
I noticed over time the faces of women in the catalogues. There were not many of them, so the same woman wore garment after garment, sometimes with her hair let down or her lipstick lightly blotted. One face I loved—the dark curls, the pert nose, the creamy complexion. She posed in nightgowns, pajamas, matching bras and panties. Once, I found her in a black lace body suit. Though it seemed transparent, nothing was visible beneath it. I expected a glimpse of her real body, but she had none. She was like a doll arranged on a low chaise lounge: her elbow bent by someone else, a smile painted across her lips, her bright eyes unblinking.
“Have you found what you’ll wear on your wedding night?” My mother leaned across the counter as I tore the page free and trimmed its edges.
“This,” I said, triumphant.
“That’s a little racy,” she murmured. “Why don’t you try again?”
Monday, September 14, 2015
~This poem was previously published in St. Katherine Review (2013).
Blessed be the breadmakers of la belle France
who rise before dawn to plunge their arms
into great tubs of dough. Blessed be the yeast
and its amazing redoubling. Praise the nimble
tongues of those who gave names to this plenty:
baguette, boule, brioche, ficelle, pain de campagne.
Praise the company they keep, their fancier cousins:
croissant, mille feuille, chausson aux pommes.
Praise flake after golden flake. Bless their saintly
counterparts: Jésuit, religieuse, sacristain, pets de nonne.
Praise be to the grain, and the men who grew it. Bless
the rising up, and the punching down. The great
elasticity. The crust and the crumb. Bless
the butter sighing as it melts in the heat.
The smear of confiture that gilds the plane.
And bless us, too, O my brothers,
for we have sinned, and we are truly hungry.
Monday, August 31, 2015
~This nonfiction narrative originally appeared in The New Orleans Review (1980).
Editor’s note: This piece contains offensive language.
The Reign of the Gypsies
My stepfather slept with pistols. I have a memory from shortly after my mother married him and he moved the three of us into the blue house on the hill. I am sitting cross-legged on their bed. Marvin reaches into the drawer of the night table. This is Joe, he says, hefting out a stubby .38. He opens his coat. And Old Tom. A squarish .45 is strapped to a stiff piece of leather under his arm. The point of the display was that I was never to touch these things, which I became accustomed to as furnishings of their room, Joe on the night table with the medicine bottles and mystery books and Old Tom under Marvin’s pillow.
No one ever explained to me why Marvin armed himself. I doubt anyone could have. I came to understand on my own that he gambled and that his successful amusement company supplied local honkytonks with illegal slot machines as well as with nickelodeons and pinball. Our east Mississippi town accepted him as a benign sort of rich outlaw. Except for the benign part, he so encouraged this impression that I eventually decided his guns were props. Now I know it wasn’t that simple. No more simple than childhood, which I once thought was overrated as being a time of wonder.
Marvin feared gypsies. I didn’t know that gypsies had a history in our town and that a gypsy queen is buried there, and I didn’t know if gypsies were even real or if they were like the fantasy people in some of my books. Yet one afternoon after I came home from elementary school, he almost convinced me a gang of them had laid siege to the house. I remember charging at windows with my baseball bat and a favorite kitchen knife. Our excitable dogs roiled about me. Marvin joined in from his window chair at the kitchen table and shouted encouragement and warnings as I kicked paths through the dogs.
The game ended when he locked me indoors and took the boxers to guard outside. Through the picture window in the playroom I watched him standing at the top of the driveway overlooking an acre of yard. The boxers have run off. Breeze ruffles his silk pajamas and thick, perfectly white hair. He ignores a neighbor’s called greeting, cocks my BB gun, and sets himself to stare down a pine tree.
There were many pines in that yard, and woods lay beyond. He must have held the vigil until my mother came home from her work at his office. By the time she coaxed him inside, I was either picking at the house dogs or peering through snow on the new television set.
Monday, August 24, 2015
~This poem previously appeared in Callaloo (1999).
Improvisation #2: Charlie Parker Dies for Our Sins
exhale a blue dream and follow it up
hear heaven sing back to you
its majestic tone flatted a ¼ step as
it riffs your breath
don’t look down
Hail Mary and Praise Jesus will not save you though
a needle can prick the pain into
a single sixteenth under your skin
Thou shalt not wear brown skin boldly.
Thou shalt not cry in laughing notes.
Thou shalt not wallow in the bottom to reach the top.
these songs will be a burning bush in your mouth
the notes will buoy you up til you are
spoonfeeding each vibration
into God’s allergic ear.
God himself will remind you that
the wages of sin are death.
Saturday, August 15, 2015
We're pleased to introduce the new assistant editor of Redux, Kenneth Fleming, who has signed on to help review submissions and solicit previously published work from writers.
Kenneth A. Fleming is a fiction writer living in Silver Spring, Maryland. He holds a Master of Arts in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. He is currently finishing up a short story collection and working on a novel.
Kenneth A. Fleming is a fiction writer living in Silver Spring, Maryland. He holds a Master of Arts in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. He is currently finishing up a short story collection and working on a novel.
Sunday, August 2, 2015
~This story was originally published in Witness: Love in America and in Thema: The Road to the Villa (1999).
Americans like San Miguel, so he would take her there. He'd already shown her many things she liked: the Diego Rivera murals in the Palacio Nacional, the floating gardens of Xochimilco, the house of Frida Kahlo. She liked the house of Frida Kahlo very much. She'd never seen a house painted that color before. It was cobalt, a little darker than the color of her computer screen.
But some things she did not like: the beggars at the stoplights, the filthy-faced Indian children pressing boxes of Chiclets against the car windows, the garbage that littered the streets. She was nervous about any ice in her drinks. He took her to the new shopping mall called Perisur, but she didn't recognize any of the stores. She couldn't find her size in any of the shoes.
Her name was Greta. He liked to call her Greta Garbo because she was tall and she had honey-blonde hair and she had long thin hands and she plucked her eyebrows into the shape of boomerangs. He liked to think she was Swedish, especially when they had their clothes off. In fact she was Irish Catholic on both sides, from Seattle, Washington (where the apples were gigantic, almost square and waxy red). They'd met in Boston, at the end of their first semester in an MBA program; now it was summertime.
His name was Gerardo. He spoke English very well because his parents had sent him to Denver, Colorado for a year when he was in high school. He had stayed with a family that was very much like Greta's, he imagined. He'd liked them, despite their German Shepherd, a bitch that liked to pounce out from behind the La-Z-Boy and bite him on the behind. Not very hard, but it unnerved him.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
A Study in Chiaroscuro
Sometimes what feels good is the most dangerous.
Remember uncle sun staring down your décolletage.
Think the daintiest little bright mushrooms.
Whose fault is it if you won’t listen, if you
indulge too easily the heart’s clamor?
Inside a small screen, brown Bakelite exterior,
a cathode ray soul screams at each scuffle
closer to the goal line. Beyond, schoolmates
in penny loafers and knee socks shuffle down leafy
sidewalks, pressing loose leaf binders to the chest.
From the pellucid moment of this autumn morning,
you still can’t change the channel. You want to turn
blind eyes to that escapade. And to the airport angel
with her well-worn harp—could you afford to give
her absolution, say, an E-for-effort blessing?
If there were a God, do you think He would be
the red-shouldered hawk sheltering the fledgling,
or the fierce raptor seizing the gopher, greedy and slow,
clambering to its burrow? Shouldn’t the gopher be
warned by the shadow of the wings overhead?
Monday, July 20, 2015
~This poem was originally published in Western Humanities Review (2012).
“‘But what is it all about? People loose and at the same time caught. Caught and loose. All these people and you don’t know what joins them up.’”
–Frankie, from Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding
Living by myself in this house
which others have called home and then
not called home, each for their own
good reasons, reminds me to wonder
if what I have is a tourist’s
attraction to love. I’m reminded
how hard a tourist falls
when she feels herself set a little apart,
when she feels that old ache
in the eye, to see clear through
the signage that drew her
in the first place. To see through
is her mania – to see down
to the sacred bones of a sacred site
and through the bones
of the others who traveled there
(even those who traveled with her)
and clutter the air with their bright
t-shirts, their voices flashing
with a present tense
so annoyingly unshadowed
it won’t survive the glib back-glance
of Tuesday. Can you blame her
for wanting to dig down
to a bedrock Now? But I do. I
blame her. Looking through
has something of a look away
in its heart. An old desire of the young
to strip things down – dear
things, some – to an essence, bared like teeth
of the no longer living.
of Machu Picchu there, if you want
to know. The skulls, the sacrificed
virgins’ bones, the unmoved sacred stones…
It’s on my mind because this morning I stood
out on the porch of this house in Georgia
where I’m living temporarily, and where
Carson McCullers (now dead) once lived
as a child, less (but still) temporarily,
and I set up a card table – a pretty good copy
of the card table my grandmother put out in the den
for Gin Rummy with my sister and I
when we were kids – and I sat there
on the porch with the deck of cards
I bought earlier this summer in Peru
for Rummy with my sister
on trains and in the airport,
but today (and all week) I’ve played Solitaire
in Georgia’s late-summer, late-morning
heat, and on each card I slapped down,
a new dull snapshot shone
of Machu Picchu, blue sky
an ageless tapestry behind it. White spackle
of clouds. In a few, tourists
who must each, in that moment,
have felt the unyielding ground
supporting their feet, the reliable arch
of the view as it poured in like concrete
to meet the clarity of their eyes,
and not known another perspective
made them small, then guarded
by a two of spades, a jack of clubs, a diamond,
some hearts. It’s September now and still
nothing’s lined up, not once,
on the Solitaire front, so I go on
with the contented mania
of a slot machinist, more at home
with disequilibrium anyway.
Monday, July 13, 2015
~This story was originally published in The Kenyon Review (2003).
The cockatoo came in wheezing. Its owner, a tall young woman with tired eyes, scooped the bird from a plastic cat carrier and placed it on the table before the vet. “He doesn’t act right,” she said. “Since yesterday. Won’t eat or anything.”
The vet, Dr. Wendy Howard, slim, freckled, and boyish, set her hands on her hips. “Not feeling too good, huh?” she said to the bird, in the expressively sympathetic voice most people reserved for mopey children.
Cassandra, the technician, waited at Wendy’s left shoulder like a pink-smocked soldier at ease, ready in case she were needed. Though trained in numerous technical tasks befitting her title, her primary job, as it turned out, was to restrain the animals for the vet’s examination. This one, an umbrella cockatoo—a common variety the size of a small chicken—appeared too lethargic to need restraint. Otherwise she would have stepped to the table without being beckoned and taken hold, one thumb notched into the crevice beneath the cockatoo’s nutcracker beak and the other hand pinning the wings, leaving the sternum untouched so as not to interfere with breathing. In a year of handling exotics, she had learned to accomplish restraint so that Wendy almost never had to speak a word of instruction, whatever manner of bird, mammal, or reptile awaited her on the table.
She watched now as Wendy slid the towel from the bottom of the bird’s carrier and frowned at the droppings. The owner yawned, pressing at the sockets of her eyes, where the skin was deeply tanned and printed with the remains of yesterday’s mascara. She was maybe thirty, attractive, though she had the sordid, much-handled look of a child’s favorite Barbie. Her ponytail, long and striped with peroxide, looked less like a hairstyle than a convenient handle for dragging her around. Cassandra imagined she must have survived something, escaped and settled into a solitary life with this pet.
“His name’s Oscar,” the owner added, while Wendy set her fingertips along both sides of the bird’s jaw, as if to critically admire a beauty. The bird shifted its gray feet on the table and settled back to torpor. Its eyes, like the woman’s, opened only by half.