For a couple of years I volunteered
at the prosthetics center in the south wing
of St. Mary's Memorial. Every Thursday
I pushed the lab equipment up against
the walls, mopped the floor, moved it back.
I was basically a janitor, but they called
me a Lab Assistant, trying to make it
sound important. All the patients who
came in were missing something. Usually
it was an arm or a leg. A clean loss.
A stub that still moved. The kind of thing
you would think of. But other times
it wasn't. This one guy had skin
where his nostrils should be. A fire maybe.
This girl was missing three fingers and part
of her palm. Probably an accident
with a handgun, but she was so young.
I would mop the floor and try to guess
what had happened to everyone. Watch
as they practiced walking across the room
with silicone toes. Listen carefully
as they dropped spoons on the clean floor
from experimental hands.
Leslie Marie Aguilar
In this version, skin is a mask for Satan
& corn tortillas are hostias of fire
stacked on a rusted iron griddle. Here,
my mother is Eve. Standing half-naked
beside the ceramic sink in our kitchen,
she washes a clay bowl with both hands.
She whispers, a man can carry an apple
between his legs. One day I’ll understand,
I think, but I don’t I want to
understand. In this version, I’m
what-comes-next. My lover says,
babies are failed periods. When I tell
my mother she refuses to laugh.
It’s a cultural thing. This “white thing”
that dulls the color of his freckled skin.
She always warns, you shouldn’t laugh,
when lighting prayer candles with portraits
of la Virgen de Guadalupe etched in the glass.
It’s generational like knowing the difference
between Papa & Papá. I tell her I know,
as I lean over her trembling hands to take
the earthen bowl from her wet palms.
And Science is a turtle that says that its own shell encloses all things1
Albanian scientists drink rye whiskey and claim the moon is not a moon anymore. We are circles of smoke in the eastern sky. Pluto is sad, still, which must be expected. Expect rows of dead corn, a researcher says. Dark spots on the sun’s surface. Broken glass in the ocean. A list of things discovered in the stomach of a bull shark: seventeen teeth, a package of AA batteries. A theory for the disappearance of stars: blood. A theory for the disappearance of self: blood. Teenagers in England drink cans of paint on porches and look through broken telescopes. Pluto slinks into corners. The sun has many bruises. A government study finds empty cigarette cartons floating in the space around our bodies.
1. From Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned
Doug Paul Case
Aubade with Brad Pitt on a Tractor
this is long-haired Brad chiseled
Brad when was he not Brad
with the sun in his eyes & on his chest & glinting
off his belt buckle & between us & this is a distance
that seems farther than it is Brad
drive your tractor in my direction
Brad stick it in gear you know the direction
& how long it will take & how I’ve waited for your chiseled
body to rumble over these stalks Brad
has anyone ever looked so delicious Brad
riding across land built to feed this distance
Brad can only be crossed by your steed glinting
as fire does reflected on still water glinting
as fire did reflected on last night’s lake what direction
Brad is that from where we are what is the distance
Brad from where we were how chiseled
the map the route why did you leave Brad
when the water was so cool & the breeze steady Brad
why with my head so comfortable on your shoulder Brad
did you run off into the woods the fire glinting
then against the water over my body Brad
my clothes on the bank floating & searching for your direction
until certain it could not be found chiseled
determination could not overcome your distance
Brad what is distance
& why did you create it & what did you find Brad
that could not be found with me what did chiseled
determination get you when you ran glinting
under the starlight caught in your hair in the direction
we would all take if we could Brad
my body was too cautious to leave camp Brad
to follow yours away from shore so it was the distance
of depth that took me for a time the only direction
was there & then & without you & Brad
the chill was barren & glinting
firelight is not real warmth nothing like chiseled
muscles Brad nothing like pistons running Brad
won’t you drive your glinting body across this distance
the chiseled stalks collapsing in my direction
Getting in at the Dead Dad Club
There will be a password. It's the pet name
he stopped calling you
the second time you emptied
your little yellow bucket over the lip
of the tub. You were two. You looked him
straight in the eye. You did it
anyway. In the first dark vestibule
they will stamp your soft underside
of wrist, and it will be the shape of his
red right palm, the angry imprint
he left on your skin after lifting
you from the bath, laying you out on his long knee
and later how he wept and vowed to never mark you again.
Unlatch the rope yourself, brush the velvet
backwards. In the long hall there is only noise,
the PA buzzing brown haze, and below
that, the two-line lullabye he made up
and never wrote down. When the room opens
there will be the bar, recently burned,
and the stained vinyl booths, lamps in amber,
and everybody already in their places. Next
table over, men teethe swollen knuckles,
overpour their pitchers, listen hard
to the lyrics and believe that one person can speak
and another can make shapes with their hands
and make it mean something like escape,
from the inside out. See them try
to hold thumb and middle finger together
as though the joints never hurt. There, see
the dudes in lensless frames professing:
Everyone's dad is dead, and everyone has had to kill them.
Sure, those folks got in with fakes, but they're in.
El Chillón Means Crybaby
All I was was a chillón.
Neighbors lined up against our fence
while the nurse checked for fever.
Mamá Pati called me her ear’s fruit fly.
Backyard mangos begged god,
¡Callá este chillón diosmío!
This is what Abuelita tells me.
She says everyone brushed ash-toothpaste
with horsehair toothbrushes, that
Mamá Pati had a baker’s sleep schedule,
that before 4 am, bakers once baked bagels
for tourists. My town hates bagels. I’m nine
and I’ve never seen a bagel.
I don’t remember how tourists tipped.
Abuelita still does. Before I was born
she says the dawn’s locomotion of troops
was the town’s alarm. She says
the aftertaste of ashes is moth wings—
arid powder where names are buried.
Those gringos wore uniforms and threw coins
into the tide, she says, and boys reached for copper
from El Norte, where she knows
dusk is like honey. She says mangos begged god,
¡Callá estos gringos diosmío!
I know no one slept before my birth.
For years after,
still, no one slept.
Pump Water from the Well
This is no shatter and stone.
Come skip toes in my chest Salvador.
I’m done been the shortest shore.
¿And did you love all the self out of you for me?
I want you to torch the thatch above my head.
To be estero. To be mangroves.
There are mornings I wake with taste of tortillas in warmed up milk.
There are mangos no one listens to.
¿Is this the shatter you imagined for me?
Everywhere is war.
I want to scrape your hair as wind asks from stars.
Hold my hands above mine.
Whistle the patch of dirt I pumped water from to bathe.
Simmer down to chickens, dogs, parakeets.
This was my block.
The one I want to shut off with rain.
Where I want to plant an island.
Barrio Guadalupe hijueputa born and bread cerote que onda.
The most beautiful part of my barrio was stillness—
A rustling of wings caught in the pattering soil that calls me to repair it.
Don’t tell me I didn’t bring the estero up north where there’s none.
I’ve walked uptown. I saw Mrs. Gringa.
The riff between my fingers whispered in whirlpools.
Silence stills me. Pense quedarme aquí I said.
I don’t understand she said.
From my forehead, the jaw of a burro, hit on the side and scraped by a lighter to wake the
song that speaks two worlds.
The kind of terrifying current.
The kind of ruinous wind.
Valentin, can you
take your hands off your ears
and see how the nice ladies are making you
a swimming pool?
Madame is weary. Her charge hums
and stands on his toes, which we assume
means he is afraid of water –
but still she strips him
down to his makeshift diaper,
a miniscule pink penis
caught between two layers of gauze.
He hops back and forth with his legs apart
while we wrestle with the hose.
Cruel! Cruel to make him wait!
When the water finally comes, we
kneel and let him spray us too. For twenty minutes
he screams and screams and drenches our heads, even Madame's –
Is that you, Valentin?
Madame is fooling around,
but Valentin drops his hose
and turns to look for himself in the pool.
Are you there under your great curtain of water?
C. Dylan Bassett
This is the scene in which the devil is played by one woman and one man. First, it is very clear. God may or may not exist, says the man. The woman seems to be sleeping. She wears a white hospital gown. A voice enters but is not responded to. Not even the birds know where they’re going. SCENE. This is the scene in which the lake is a red door waiting. A child’s hammer. No one else for miles. Emptiness as a vehicle etc. Or, perhaps there is no mystery at all. No thunder.
The curtain opens and the audience almost recognizes her. The world at night, hands gesturing to illustrate a sinking ship. What’s lacking in the silent version? What’s felt in the invisible world? The water does not exist until she steps into it. “Would you rather be invisible or never born?”
This is the scene in which she eats feathers. October brings its grammar. Early sounds of waves, gradual loss of meaning. She does not leave the room, or else she cannot. She is not who she wanted to be, as if behind her mouth a second mouth pushes through.
A scene with always one more window to look through. The distance between light and dark is two birds. She’s been shaking her head no for twenty years, speaking her own language. Stairs, a door. All the points from which a departure can be made. There’s not enough time for her to forget.
In this scene, gravity is depicted as angels falling. The audience applaud when death addresses them directly. I want to show you how I disappear, she says.
This is the scene in which no one knows what to photograph. There is only the image of people. An explanation of tide patterns. (They won’t find the body until much later.) A room leading to a smaller room. And then another.
This is the scene in which the bodies are not well defined. Imagine a barn with a single wooden chair. The terror of a firetruck in the middle of the night. It’s a familiar song repeated. He leans over to kiss her, but kisses a bottomless map.
In this scene: he wakes to an explanation of music. A fruit falling on a field. It’s worse to hear the dogs and never see them. The world was orange since Tuesday. Not even one idea. More waiting than ever thought possible. More than the usual number of crows. Was it a dream? He doesn’t notice.
J. P. Grasser
Statuteswith a line by Justice
We ingest the photographs of a Tanzanian lake
so reflective, so salty, that birds crash and bleed
underwater and are calcified, no ossified, and turn up
as stone animals. We know the one about showing
Medusa the mirror. We have heard about avocados
the size of seedless watermelons. Potential energy
stripped like dirty linen, the bed-sheets that were
the very handkerchiefs of grief, wrapped tightly,
wrung and unwrung, pealed and repealed. You are petrified;
so am I. That’s the toll. I will die, and you will still
be there, with birdy-bones reformed as pencil-lead
and eyelids past rigor, in rictus, like a beak could
ever be a mouth.
Mummified Baboon, Unburied
When they come for me, they come with shovels,
augers and picks. A cloth still holds dermis
to bone, but barely, and when they raise me
from an oven of hot sands to daylight,
I'm a dazzlement of husk. They lay out
my face, my hips, the undeveloped strip
of my spine, all turned to anthracite hues.
Their catalogue—bone by bone—deems me whole,
and, amassed and outlined against the earth,
I’m turned from corn doll to brittle city.
They map and flag my parts, then break me up
to store me. And later, I am encased
and placed on display. What is this devotion?
A child peers inside the glass and strains to find—
beneath some bindings—fellowship in death.
But my face is in tatters. Someone says,
It was preserved so its soul would live on
after death. The formula's miscarried,
though; it's a far more cryptic sapience
that saves me now. It’s unguent and heat,
and years of subsoil basking that keeps me.
It is for these all too precious splinters
that I’m not received, but not forsaken.
The Queer Creatures that Rise at Dusk
Out of her burrow,
the long-eared hedgehog girl,
to get her girl, comes at dusk,
wobbling along the cooling sands
to find her lover,
compact and flac-soled,
with a pinprick mole
on her chin. With others, she pulls herself
in like a drawstring, but the long-eared girl
draws her out,
and her back, once quilled
and bristling, the size
of an enlarged heart,
relaxes, growing as soft-textured
as a doll’s brush.
When they meet,
their foreplay is gentle;
each takes turns sliding
their back beneath the belly
of the other;
they nip at their spines
and rub their snouts
along their warm fur,
anointed in musk
and sweet tufted grass.