Louis Bourgeois

The Coward

And he just smoked my eyelids and punched my cigarette…
—Bob Dylan

Outside the window was a procession of Mardi Gras going on: huge papier maché faces from Anne Boleyn to Nixon, screaming topless women with tattooed breasts, a boa constrictor wrapped around a hippie’s neck, adultery in a second room flat, hand-clapping, a lot of green stuff, heavy jars of whiskey, a dozen real Indians…

Inside the house, Lucas and Kramer were not looking out the window. Lucas turned down the television and said, “Throw all the cats back in the boat.” He made himself comfortable in the worn plaid chair and stared tight-faced at the television, as if he were trying to ward off some unaccountable fix on his mouth. On the television, the two of them were watching what was going on out in the street. Kramer had an awful grin on his face because Jim Beam wouldn’t stop burning at his stomach. This was due to the fact that, during Fat Tuesday, Kramer made no apologies for taking big sucking gulps. Kramer sprawled out on the bird brown ripped up sofa and said, “How is the value of cat quantified anyway? Is a cat intrinsically worse off than a dog? Or does it have something to do with how a cat perceives life, thus making cats so detestable?”

Lucas, in a low voice said, “Cats are God’s children.”

There wasn’t anything left between Lucas and Kramer. This was due to the fact that Lucas still worked at the banana loading dock and continued his weekly consumption of acid every Friday night. Kramer didn’t do that anymore, as if he’d just found out it was illegal. And not only did Kramer go off and get a college degree, but he was to be married in a week, and in a month’s time, he and his wife were to settle down in the subdivisions of Metairie. Kramer’s visits to Lucas had dwindled over the years until they became something of a duty, done only for some distant respect for childhood.

Lucas, becoming rather nervous, said, “A cat is worth, at a minimum, ten dogs easily. I know you don’t like cats anymore, but that’s because you don’t look at things like you used to. Dogs don’t mind if you throw them overboard. They’ll keep coming on back with a full grin, licking you all over while they’re shivering from the wet. If you do that just once, perhaps twice, to a cat, he’ll hate you for life. Cats are moral. Dogs are too stupid for that, always forgetting, forgiving, neglecting. They’re always wet, too, a cat only gets wet once or twice.”

Kramer, liking Lucas less and less, said, “Well, my dear old friend, maybe cats need to change their ways. More people like dogs because dogs are obedient. They savor love, not morality. Cats need to loosen up.”

Lucas often thought of hurting Kramer with a lead pipe. He had one too, he called it Itchy. But during Kramer’s few visits nowadays, Lucas was overpowered by Kramer’s presence. Kramer had gained so much more than Lucas in life that Kramer had a tyrant’s rule over him. For instance, even though Kramer had told Lucas about the wedding, he had not mentioned if Lucas was invited. Lucas felt sick, sick, sick when Kramer said he was getting married, for Lucas was foolish enough to believe that a boyhood promise could be kept.

Kramer, with his insides burning, looked out the window and compared the parade outside to how it looked on the television screen. The camera held all the important context of Mardi Gras in the right perspective. It seemed to leave out anything mundane, superfluous, or disgusting. There was one important thing that Kramer had learned that he thought served him well, which was that you can never beat all the negative elements in life. Therefore, it was best to ignore what you could and hope that much of it wouldn’t come your way.

Kramer said, “I agree that dogs can be a little stupid at times. I mean, they can be a little silly, but I still prefer them to cats. Cats are just too goddamned mean and selfish. They get lost in themselves without thinking about anybody’s feelings.”

Lucas said, Oofish, Oofish, Oofish, a few times and then he said, “Maybe they don’t want their own feelings hurt, so they just keep to themselves, because they’re smart, they know how cruel everyone else can be. You know, Oofish, Oofish, Oofish, Oofish.”

Kramer, thinking of his fiancée, smiled and chuckled like he was the most satisfied accountant in New Orleans. He said, “You know, this is the first time I’ve ever thought of cats as cowardly. Cats aren’t noble or smart, they’re cowards. Dogs are brave and honorable.”

Lucas, grabbing at his eye, and dealing with a twinging lip, said, “Dogs are much bigger than the largest of cats.”

Kramer laughed and laughed and kept thinking about how good it was going to feel when he got home to his soon-to-be wife.

Lucas kept messing with his eye and sweated a lot.

Outside the window, creatures of various types crawled under a street light.

About a hundred yards from the house, and barely out of the frame of the television, six New Orleans policemen were hand-cuffing several rowdy, immoral, calamitous people from St. Bernard Parish. The trouble-makers were exposing themselves and shouting Maurice! Maurice! for no apparent reason. The police had no objections to either act. What did the St. Bernardians in was when one of them begot a contemptuous finger gesture intended for an extremely oversized horse-riding New Orleans police officer. Before the hand-cuffing was finished, several St. Bernardians had broken ribs and black eyes. A couple of them had very bad headaches.

Not long after that, a bare-footed and shirtless ten-year-old boy from Kenner had his foot crushed by a tractor pulling a float. The name of the float was What God Has Wrought, which featured twenty of the blondest blondes in the country. They, the blondes, were known as the White Goddesses. Each blonde had in her possession some form of technology never before seen until the White Goddesses gave their performance.

Nobody knew how this float got into the Krew of Eros, but it was by far the most popular. The closest runner-up was a float called Paraguay. It was an alternative that everyone forgot about when What God Has Wrought made its way following.

The ten-year-old boy from Kenner acquired a permanent limp.

When Lucas and Kramer were growing up in the suburbs of Kenner they swore to be different from their parents. They were to be real individuals. Lucas and Kramer were from divorced families and out of defiance, promised, with blood from a needle, that they would never get married, so as to stop the ugly flux of untruth. Kids from broken homes are often mad. When they were in high school, they still maintained this outlook on life and only went out with girls for ornamentation and primordial needs. They read only Existentialist literature and in their senior year started an underground press, but they were chided by their peers and got in trouble with the school and the cops.

Nothing had worked out. They were taught that it wasn’t in their nature to change their environment. They were beaten down and told that somewhere in their education they had misinterpreted the signs of what a decent human being is, according to the curriculum.

It wasn’t quite midnight on Fat Tuesday. At about twenty minutes till, the crowds outside were getting displeased. People were becoming careless and rude. A fat woman with a neon head bow was so drunk that she slipped on a small rubber ball and broke her leg. She was stepped on many, many times. Behind a dumpster a deranged man who had clear objectives went beneath, between, and behind an unwilling and very conscious woman. Right before she got into this mess, she had been looking for a corridor to the hotel. She missed it by what might have been miles. And Lucas had swallowed his last two hits of double-dipped coseismal acid. He sweated and sweated and sweated.

Kramer was indolently drunk; he turned from the television and caught site of Lucas having a hard time with the acid. Lucas had been eating acid all day long. He made little birdie noises, and thought his hands were God’s implements of creativity; then he started slapping himself.

Kramer said, “Another thing about cats, they can’t be trained to do anything. That’s why people hate them. They can’t be taught to have any fun. They’re so connected to their natural predisposition that it’s sickening. Cats are the loneliest of all things, next to the South American sloth. I hate cats.”

At midnight the crowds outside the window did not want Mardi Gras to be over and about twenty people decided they were not leaving the street, despite the police.

They were quite serious about it.

A black man from Algiers lost all his front teeth when he kicked the shin of a policeman’s brown stallion—a nice magnificent three-year old. When the black man got off the ground, he was a rabid, toothless, black man from Algiers (whose ancestry included cowboys from California) with a long-handled, thick-bladed knife. When the knife went in between the stallion’s broad shoulders, a bovine, blonde-headed, New Orleans policeman from Bunkie, Louisiana (whose ancestry consisted of stump grinders and root diggers) knocked the man from Algiers out of consciousness forever and forever with his gunmetal-blue club.

During this event, Lucas watched from the window and cried, “Get all the cats back in the boat. Dogs will kill you.” Lucas then sulked in the corner, trying really hard to thwart a bad acid trip, murmuring Oofish.

Kramer, reclining passively, and comfortably drunk out of his mind, watched all of this live on the television. The black man, in a body bag, was eventually carried off; passing right in front of the window behind Kramer’s back.

Louis Bourgeois is the Executive Director of VOX PRESS, an arts and education non-profit group based in Oxford, MS. He also the Director of the Prison Writes Initiative, a literacy and creative arts education program established for Mississippi inmates.

Lydia Davis

Five More Claims to Fame

 

Claim to Fame #2: Karl Marx and My Father

 

My father and Karl Marx both had daughters who grew up to become translators; both translated Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

 

Claim to Fame #3: June Havoc

 

My parents bought a small house in Connecticut from the actress June Havoc; June Havoc was a talented actress and tap-dancer, even as a tiny child, though she was not as well known as her sister, Gypsy Rose Lee.

 

Claim to Fame #4: Sally Bowles

 

My mother’s second husband, after their divorce, married the nightclub singer and writer Jean Ross, model for Sally Bowles in the musical “Cabaret”; their relationship resulted in a daughter, my half-sister’s half-sister.

 

Claim to Fame #5: Salvador Dali

 

My husband once, on his way into the Museum of Modern Art in New York City via a revolving door, looked up, saw Salvador Dali, who was opposite him on his way out, and stopped the door, deliberately trapping Dali inside it for a few moments; my husband then started the door moving again, ejecting Dali from the museum. He very much disliked the art of Salvador Dali.

 

Claim to Fame #6: Rex Dolmith

 

In Taos, New Mexico, in 1949, my parents in their rental apartment were bothered by the constant noise from the family in the apartment above them; their upstairs neighbors were the family of the Taos painter Rex Dolmith.

Lydia Davis’s most recent collection of stories is Can’t and Won’t (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014). Among other works, she is also the author of the Collected Stories (FSG, 2009), a new translation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (Viking Penguin, 2010), a chapbook entitled The Cows (Sarabande Press, 2011), and a long narrative poem entitled “Our Village” in Two American Scenes (New Directions, 2013). In 2013 she received the Award of Merit from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Man Booker International Prize for her fiction. She lives in upstate New York.

Alina Stefanescu

At Inappropriate Hour

We are watching that show about the psychic and all I can think is how lovely the way her front teeth overlap in two places and how esemplastic all intergalactic hinges because I like her teeth and hope stardust will solve her work-life balance in pixels. That one child might inherit hypnotic snaggle-teeth. /// All I can think is children not ready for school in less than four hours no lunches yet packed and your snore never settles into an earnest jazz-club clutter but always this jagged shaft coming up /// rattle stroke out rest /// always this uneven paddle when we canoe. I think who said the bed is a boat. Maybe they were married to you. ///// The psychic heroine pretends to look tired with that extravagant yawn since bags below the eyes are impermissible forms of carry-on luggage for females at security check points haggard leaves one stranded yet all I can think is how I promised tonight would not find me awake at the hour when Steve has gone silent. /////// Steve has gone silent anyway Steve is an unlikely name for the barred owl who nests in the tree near our bedroom window but what could you expect me to call a creature who foretells our deaths every night for the past seven months one of us will die in the morning eating all the Raisin Bran we have left without milk I forgot // All I can think is how a promise might be less than an omen as a toothache is less than a broken jaw as a head circles the room without one single landing strip in sight all I can think is how perhaps you are a better person at the end of the day when all is counted you close your eyes and become a shepherd while I scan the foreground for what comes next as if it can’t come come home without me watching as if I am some pretty tv-show psychic who looks sexy when she yawns and yawns and yawns and ///// I am the liar who lives in her head / let’s call it a day, let’s call it a bed / but promises to be there when you need me brewing coffee and muffins with bacon. /// All I can think is three nights in a row and this psychic show but nothing ever happens. Not yet.

In the Car I Savor Scars

It no longer excites me to drive without a seatbelt. Old yearnings fall off like patches or sun-baked scabs; wounds of former-wanteds neatly shut; little scars with lips seamed tight; a line of children saying they didn’t do it.

A line is a list of body parts waiting: an elbow speckled by silver scar coinage; knee covered skid marks, standard staples; palm you can’t read given the white lines scrawled over original fortune.

It no longer excites to be reckless and so I sit behind a song for whom bass is a scabbard and don’t even consider plastic surgery. Don’t permit a revision of history to make people feel better. To say no one got hurt. Don’t allow what has been dodge-balled to dislocate the scar’s merely-decent dazzle.

Car radios sing about love and bitches and oft-blandished objects. || A burgeon of limpid-cowboy-bathos. || A busybody-bunting of better-business-bureauing. || See how the words get sewn together. || See how the story piles up. ||| See my scars, my streetwalking versions of shameless self, each step slurring skin and good paper. |||||||

These scars must be savored, I announce to the duck crossing which keeps us from flying. And have you seen me nude with nothing but a blacklight? Have you seen what a blacklight does to my body? Oh, you would never stop looking.

We Are Not What They See We Are

To leave a look behind is to be seen forever. Long-lasting looks which others hold against us as evidence of the character who shares our name. Lookey-there looks. Here-comes-cookie looks,               We are not what they say. Nevertheless, we are something they have seen and confirmed in a look.                The family-portrait pout we wish we could take back for all the explaining required every Christmas. The pout that makes us look bad at funerals when what we want to look is sorry and mournful. The contemptuous teenaging look which repudiates our claims to having been angst-free and well-behaved throughout. The unhappy camper look that demolishes our reputation as profound and somewhat sensitive nature-lovers. The girl of the wild in doubt. We want to be pixies but the look is not a pixie look.                Devise                anodynes instead, correction of original bad choice. Knowing better now, this era of anodyne-paradigms pocked upon our model houses. We snap eons of selfies to repudiate the looks they say define us.                We post selfies everywhere. Post and post and post until our faces freeze into selfies.     Then pre-selfie faces and post-selfie faces.                It doesn’t take long for expectant-selfie faces to emerge. We are shameless selfie-faced. Two-faced is not enough for us. Two-faced is a trap and we want more than two faces to the three-dimensional human form.                We are not what they see we are in that look they save.                The look is a corpse in which they bury us. Even if they bring flowers we say it’s still a corpse and we won’t be part of it. We improvise solutions. Snapshitshot.

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with her partner and four small mammals. A Pushcart nominee, she is the author of Objects In Vases (Anchor & Plume, March 2016), Letters to Arthur (Beard of Bees, August 2016), and Ipokimen (Anchor and Plume, November 2016). Her first fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the 2016 Brighthorse Books Prize. She can’t wait for you to read it. More online at alinastefanescu.com.

Dennis Barone

Vast Oculus

Away from the window there is no searing flash of light. It is enough to stop the blows of the compass. Images upon an inkwell, it is all very confusing and mute resignation accompanies this section, the sunlight and fresh air. At the shop attached to the assembly hall we used to sing with a weary expression anything that made us feel excitement. Another world existed beyond the armchair — like the point of a rapier! Yet I was happy and seemed somewhere beyond the horizon. Who knew the tremendous emphasis placed on school? The ditch-digger managed to smile. Away from home I was restless, brooding, and took to wandering the streets. The doctor had gone and I started munching a sandwich. Experience taught us to discuss success, but the words would not come. The idea was that in everything new we have free passage. Once more life in a metropolis existed between excitement and a bored waiting for half that amount, two pages well-translated. What exactly fascinated and tormented children? It was the same old story. Shortly before, we finally got around to an important lesson which could never be bound to money. It was good enough for the outside world. It was as if the church might scheme to stay on with last-minute comments. It was the short-answer type of question and the place upside down. It was the accumulated dead and the boys working longer for a few barrels down in the cellar. This neighborhood of problems and casual talk: the beautiful new costumes, the days of tension and struggle. The deciding factor fetched downstairs among salves and dance halls. All this was in addition to those dishes still avoided at lunchtime. See how eager they become? Strike home with the truth, something preying on the mind for a long time. It was here in the new building until late in the evening and the students had walked out in protest. But the crowd and the police and the teachers, everyone had an uneasy feeling that somehow the permanent record would be marked in pencil.

He came without money which means defeat sometimes. He was, in fact, lean and sickly. Beside his bed, there was a child. He was forced to stay in bed. It was a horrible thing that he had to do: the immobile furniture, the weight of sunken desires, and a sort of silence that happens every day. In every house by the windows the heart remains in the night something wrong as if dust and brushes. There are some flowers on the window sill, a tangle of unmown grass. One fellow goes away from the world, gets up with scattered ash. Another voice says not to fear the truth, to understand the neighbor, the houses, and this land. Don’t say, here it is and God-knows that’s why and of course! He may dream a sky, a grey mirror over the vault, a whole day at the bottom of laughter, reeds and geraniums. And look, is he going to gesture open-eyed and independent? In the darkness he’ll be irresponsible then bewildered by sudden light. And, as if this were not enough, the continual uproar of a blast furnace meddles and nags this damning sentimentality of personal tragedy. He cannot let others talk. He doesn’t see sweet words, these features of a face in the air and old worlds meant to be obvious and noisier then any required simplicity, an apology to the admired fine slang of tenderness and hope. But we are not through. Let’s open the words themselves, a word moldy and trotting on, anything — the wrangle of sleep and dogma and color, the sky, the utterly impractical necessary. He was born and he has lived a little bit with the emptiness of forgotten inky pens.

The world originated in ferment. Nor was this all. Talk emerged in a pure unadulterated form. There are elements held out to decipher between them a fitting memorial, a spin-off of the true practice. Birds by any standard prospered as a force to contend with until too many years later they became our last resort. Reaching out to the suburbs had managed to be discovered and that welcomed their nests wide. They had no pressing business and would neglect social compromise. In no case was it said that certain food needed to be served; that they eased themselves over monuments and lost count at feasts. What is noticeable between tradition and a lone voice crying against abuse needs to be added to so many perfect gemstones. Let us cast some of this in more sophisticated terms. Elites by and large must be seen as overtures to a creative and decorous order, an assortment of friends. And they mutely support an old esteem for nature but keep community gifts bound to their paper creations. Seen in this context, exalted reason advances enough of us to force all creation toward the very best. To pick a rose works through their efforts nearly all of the hours. Closest of all as a model are the fateful syllables, the generalized ethos of this wood and that holiday. Turn back the dedication and continually use the already-cited names, the best construction that can be made of its marble so violated and brought to our chests. The fields in the first two verses have been a source of great pride for us and the last line may be intentional — a bearer of joy — or simply abandoned for a song.

It is not difficult to know what place makes us examine our remaining books. These works have everything palpable and known, a harmony that makes us forget the incontestable. We leap from the enormous weight and follow ideas without bodies: poetry. Let us then lose the world. Memory holds the rattle and peaceful feelings. A few words become embroidered in thought that should be a nest, a house. If we want to find such spectacles spoiled, then stray from each letter. Everything goes straight to the fireworks when we remember who said suffer horror, nothing positive, whatever. Then bitterness and fear unite in thoughts that start here in front of a better heart, the very best one. We make the spirit, the other roads into shadow; the glow and the fire. We speak of air and the moment igniting. We go into the step that reverberates like white wheels that will never diminish the surface of the day. Under us, this sun and yours too — space, everything, an infinite spin.

Dennis Barone is the editor of Garnet Poems: An Anthology of Connecticut Poetry Since 1776 (Wesleyan University Press 2012) and the author most recently of Sound / Hammer (Quale Press 2015) and Beyond Memory: Italian Protestants in Italy and America (SUNY Press 2016).

Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino

excerpt from Suicide by Language
(a flash-fiction novel)

I never knew such elation as the hours leading up to my suicide.

Soloiste! Soloiste!

They point at me and scream, Soloiste! Soloiste!

I scream back at them, Agoniste! Agoniste!

There are no flowers here. There is the dandelion, of course, but no daisy. How does your garden grow, I asked the fox, as she lay on her back with her mouth open pretending to be dead. Just as the Devil lies in wait to trap the unwary, I never run straight ahead, she said, but always follow a tortuous path.

My soul is among lions. I went through fire and through water.

Hath the rain a father?

I took the Vespa, because I want to have her arms around me always.

This is Bobbin. She was named for a mechanical part. If you want to stretch a sweater, sleep in it.

She fell asleep at the writing table. I took her in to bed. I returned to her writing and read, where it began in a letter to Cabala Girl, Angel, when I heard the news I made the sign of the cross for you.

She fell asleep at the writing table. I took her in to bed. I returned to her writing and read, where it began in a letter to Timon, Deliver yourself from revenge, that is your bridge to the highest hope. I have met him and the impression is not good. How does one say, sour breath and rotten teeth. Or, what is the opposite of charming. We read, Psalm 38, and there is no soundness in my flesh, for my loins are filled with a loathsome disease. We’re all looking forward to be meeting again in that great golden cornflake in the sky.

She fell asleep at the writing table. I took her in to bed. I returned to her writing and read, where it began in a letter to Justine, I cannot tell when you are lying. Ask yourself, is this someone you want to have a weekend with?

She fell asleep at the writing table. I took her in to bed. I returned to her writing and read, where it began in a letter to Supergirl, My favorite scene is where you are relaxing. I want to have cigarettes with you.

She fell asleep at the writing table. I took her in to bed. I returned to her writing and read, where it began in a letter to Juliette, There is a night I will never forget, and it is what I will remember you by always. It was not meant to be a sleepover. It was snowing, and it was snowing forever. You walked me to the door and I was about to leave but when I saw the snow I was taken by the most superstitious fear. You did not plan for me to stay over. And in the morning your mother (and her boyfriend—I remember him, he was a student) made waffles.

The next morning I read in Jung that the basket is a symbol for the maternal body (for the womb — a basket of fruit may symbolize fertility). A basket may also hide a secret.

To be poetic is everything. The poet’s mechanicity. Fabulosity. How do I love thee? You are my yellow submarine.

Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino’s most recent volume of poetry is The Valise (Dead Academics Press, 2012). He is founding editor of the online poetry journal, Eratio. For more from the novel Suicide by Language, visit suicidebylanguage.blogspot.com.

Laurie Stone

Bus

Richard said, “Get a cab.” He said, “Get an uber.” When he said, “Get a cab,” I said, “I’ll call you later.” I was sweating, and my hair was frizzled. It was 4 o’clock, and there was no shade along the eight-lane road, banked with baking vegetation and fast food. I crossed to the other side to wait for a bus. A woman was on a bench in the sun without a hat, her shoulders turning the color of a rib roast. She smiled and said a bus was due to arrive, and there it was, rounding a corner. The driver was large and beautiful behind the wheel with red lips and thick dreadlocks secured at the base of her neck. The bus was cool. I said to the driver, “A waitress gave me wrong directions to my hotel.” She said, “Of course, a waitress,” sniffing. I was in Orange, California and I had walked eight miles the wrong way. I had a phone. I had GPS. Nevermind. The driver’s name was Joanne. She said the ride was on her. Once when I was trimming an agave in our back yard, I was bitten by fire ants. I thought they would not bite me because I was helping the plant. Joanne was full of life’s happiness. I stood close to her, and when the bus stopped we looked in each other’s eyes. The smell of roses wafted in and disappeared so quickly it might have been an illusion. Only poor people ride buses here. Everyone was a little rickety from exposure. I was watching movies about women who trekked long distances in scorching conditions with inadequate preparation. Why women? I said to Joanne, “I will not forget you.”

Stathis

I see my sister, this beauty. Brown ponytail, heart-shaped face, round calves. She has met a man. She is 19 or 20. I am 13 or 14, and I am in the city with my sister and this man, a hairdresser, a Greek named Stathis with thick red hair waving back from his forehead. He cuts her hair, and they go out, and she is in love. She is in love with the sex they have. We have a meal in a Japanese restaurant. I have not seen sushi before. There is some pain. He wants me to like him. He pats my hand on the table. He wants to be right for my sister. Let’s say I see his apartment. Let’s say he lives in Hell’s Kitchen, and there are cooking smells in the hall. Let’s say I find it exotic my sister cares what I think. I understand I am a go-between. My parents think my sister is made for better things. She is going to run whatever life she finds herself in. That is what she is looking for, to run a life, and everyone can see this except my parents. Stathis is under the spell of my sister. She is beautiful. She laughs easily and looks at people as if they matter. I am interested in the sex spilling out of her half-closed eyes, and the day I spend with them is yellow amber with ancient bugs pressed inside. Stathis has large hands, and they smell good.

Laurie Stone is author most recently of My Life as an Animal, Stories. Her work has appeared in Fence, Open City, Threepenny Review, Creative Nonfiction, Anderbo, Nanofiction, and many other journals. Her latest collaboration with composer Gordon Beeferman, “You, the Weather, a Wolf,” will be performed in New York City in December 2016. To read more about her work visit lauriestonewriter.com.

Dale Smith


from Another Sky

All that time I had been thinking what love’s wild terrain cruised, like a pickup in the dark on rough limestone, flint outcroppings. Some distant scene of youth — fishing or hunting. Along scrub oak trails a pretended wilderness interiorized like dream energy, an origin or self-sampling of how to one day be. Grow wild in cobbled destiny — it’s yours. A rare turning or value like a view of battered moonlight you had known. Drunks stammered to their cars the parking lot lit up. Loud V-8s like nineteen seventy something. All those years to tear one up with are carried in shadows by hackberry, walnut. A beginning takes root in quiet circulation of blood and nerve we are.

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A first name in the coming frame of identity. Dogs and rabbits, private pets of shared circumstance. The sky rains fuel and snow. Pear blossoms open. Reinvent origin to suit late tale’s completion. Côtes du Rhone and crackers. My children read of distant lands, allow themselves to raid pathways of neglected deities. Through a window snow passes a glowing streetlight. In my memory days reach toward faceless, non-seeing expansion. Breath and light travel my spine.

In a cabin in Texas when I was fifteen drinking cheap wine for the first time staggering to piss under hackberry’s barky roughness, I saw my breath against porch light between me and black sky. Now unsettled, another rider approaches. Her eyes widen as if awakened by voices rendered by letters. No ease of seasonal surfaces.

When I stepped out of the car I smelled coolant as steam lifted from under the hood. Lake, summer, jerking off in an Oldsmobile. Radio and a sad bird sound, not a dove, but maybe a whip-or-will like a forlorn Midwest fantasy. We would hunt at dusk and the older boys sipped whiskey by the fire near our tents. Snow hardens in April cold. The stories will not focus — they spill. A mythic energy being raids the old fields quietly for sudden amusement. In those days the woods pulsed with lore of unknown origin.

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Faded Polaroid of a man and his son by the crow statue. Cerberus toy, an ancient hammer. Boys laugh, “rough-housing,” my father said. They brush teeth in a cold bathroom while wind rattles our windows. Like a ghost, another sky comes to waken the gene domain. A corridor in the skeleton contrives wild branchings. Elms heavy with snow.

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Oval window sky lifts white to see. Linear stances, wires. I had been hoping to reach an old memory, a place with pop and candy. My father’s station wagon and hunting rifles. This morning snow came thick, wet. A snow globe intensity of whirling motion. In the window light invited awe. Slushy ice on my boots. My children mixed batter for crepes. Now the sky’s reach eases anxiety. A mechanized bell. Sugar cookies packaged in Savannah. Turbulence and word pace. Pakistanis deported from Lesbos. An interior ache no bodily comportment can find.

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Like Houston heat and grackles. Gulf wetness, sun, oak branches. Serial departures from old friends. Past selves pillowed by labor or expansive regimens of age. Tonight in my parents’ house listening to my father cough; I drink Centenario and pilsner in a climate for those whose heart rates have reduced to a minimal capacity. Blood’s hot glow like bright live oak leaves newly burst. Days to drain approval or moody sustenance. Learning always by love’s distant visibility.

Or the talk of sentences, the beauty of an extended line of thought; a corporeal arrival of inner adherence to outwardly mobile deliveries. Eggs and hand-made corn tortillas with green salsa and habanero sauce. Bowl of fruit — juicy tangerine, apple, banana. Pine planks under bare feet. Climate of the Swiffer—party preparations. And sentiment’s strong course enlivens directed ethos, devotion. The personal’s impersonal endurance where friendship coheres not as meaning but as arrival again into our now.

And to hold in mind the certainty of erasure, a body’s absorption into nation’s intensity. Migrant child’s head shorn at Greek entry. Bearings or entrance, an enlivening of tongues to train whose warrant? Sound of an owl shapes twilight. Suburban deer, a fantasy of returning, daring. Never here, as in “here,” but prolonged by robust orders of misplacement. To say how we come to see begins a jubilant lingering in condominium morning. A pattern intervenes — we entertain its prescience, a driven nation. Not even the syntax means what we say.

This selection is from Shine, a prose/verse study situated in Toronto with global overlap.

Dale Smith is the author of five books of poetry including, most recently, Slow Poetry in America (Cuneiform 2014); he is also co-editor of An Open Map: The Correspondence of Robert Duncan and Charles Olson and Imagining Persons: Robert Duncan’s Lectures on Charles Olson, both forthcoming fall 2017. Recent essays and reviews appear in Brick, Boston Review, and Los Angeles Review of Books. He teaches at Ryerson University, Toronto.

Benjamin Hollander

Louise Victor, "White Lies"

Louise Victor, “White Lies”

Woman in Kimono

 

Except for unearthing the memory, nothing about the story they heard at dinner resembled De Kooning’s Excavation. After dessert, Louise, whose densely subterranean brushwork of figures and faces could be seen in a piece she called White Lies and which was hanging on loan in Eve and Benny B.’s apartment, turned to Eve and said: “you must see this painting at the Art Institute.” Since she could not be trusted with them, Eve told Benny B. to remember the painter and the painting. Two weeks later, walking through the Modern American Art Room in Chicago, she turned to Benny B. and asked: “what was the name of that painter and his painting?” Benny B. forgot but had a big thought instead, which he articulated like this to the security guard: “Excuse me, we were told there’s a painting here we must remember to see — can you help us?”

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Toshiro had come from Japan to study portrait painting in Paris in 1971, when Eve met him through her friend Eiko — at least this is how everyone at dinner heard Eve tell it. At the same time, Benny B. learned later, Willem De Kooning had returned from Japan under the influence of Sumi brush painting and calligraphy — which surfaced in his inks on stone and in a sequence of lithographs the genesis of which took place in Hollander’s Workshops in New York: washed ink prints named Love to Wakako and Japanese Village. This was, Benny B. thought, no coincidence, more like frames from parallel film strips unrolling backwards through time, momentarily frozen in order to have the chance of meeting.

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The way Eve told it, she was only twenty when he had come up to her at the entrance to the Hotel Henri IV and politely asked to paint her in a kimono. She nodded, both of them trying to not look shy and helpless sans the other’s language. Months later, after the painting was finished and she left Paris to return to New York, Eve started receiving what she thought were love letters from him, which she imagined, so she remembered, in a childlike miniature calligraphic French. She never answered them, though the thought occurred to her more than once over the years, and now at dinner she articulated it: “I’ve always wondered if I could be hanging in some museum in Paris?”

As they walked outside, Benny B. turned to his friend, Nick, a photographer and film editor: “Listen, Eve’s 60th is in a month and I’m stumped on what to get her.”

“Easy,” Nick said in a moment of inspiration, “give her the picture.”

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“A wild gesture,” Benny B. thought on the ride home with Nick, but which painting: the one he did not know the name of or the picture in her memory which had been lingering there somewhere over time? They seemed almost the same, with Time the subject of both. Two lost works — fallen into a universal Art wormhole. If the second one, then how to find it, how to realize the gesture, how to uncover a 40 year old painting that could be hanging anywhere from an hotel lobby on the Place Dauphine to a show of Contemporary Japanese artists in Paris, at least this is how Eve felt it could be, when she remembered it.

If only she had been Japanese, Benny B. thought years later, he could have easily imagined finding her image under the name, Love to Wakako, which was, as both paintings were, invisible to him.

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Benny B.’s first thought was: how could the French make this easy for him? He wondered: if it was possible over 40 years for the enlightened among them to undress “the stranger” among them by making it a crime to wear the Islamic veil in public, as they had done not so ironically during the so-called Arab Spring, why couldn’t they take a moment in the next month for the government to prohibit the public exhibition of white women in kimonos only to more clearly reveal their unwanted presence milling around in the spaces of the Liberal State?

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No such luck. So Benny B. went online, the de rigueur of the day, July, 2011, a month from her birthday, and started sleuthing.

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On the virtual highway, people, unlike objects in the rear view mirror, seem closer than they are. This is what Benny B. had no clue of when he immediately found Toshiro online, just as he had anticipated. Of course, he had to read the small print in his bio to see how far he had come from the young man he had heard of at dinner. His career, it turned out, had a taken a graceful yet forceful turn. He had made a name for himself as a dan in the Aikido racket: a foreign art student transformed into a Master Aikido instructor who once took on a cameo in James Bond’s Moonraker before going on to train a random host of Canadian militias in hand to hand combat. Instead of unveiling a romantic saga of auctioned canvasses and signature brushes from a suicided Japanese Bohemian in Paris who had fallen on a ceremonial sword and then lingered for 24 hours, Benny B. had to settle for you-tube videos in which the man he was looking for was flipping people half his age with sticks.

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Benny B. latched onto the first email address he could find online, an Aikido club in France:

To Whom It May Concern,

I hope you understand a bit of English. I am trying to contact a man you would know of as Toshiro. I am the husband of an American woman, Eve, whom he knew many years ago in France, where he was an art student. In 1971, he painted a picture of her. I was wondering where the painting is located today, since I would like to surprise her for her 60th birthday with, if not the canvas itself, then at least a photograph or slide of the painting. I can’t describe it in detail, since I’ve never seen it, but he could have named it, “Caucasian Woman in Kimono.” There can’t be too many of them around.

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That evening, he sent the email. The next morning it bounced back.

He thought of writing another, more local and forceful:

To Whom it Must Concern,

I imagine you understand more than a bit of English. I am trying to contact a man you know as Toshiro. I am the husband of a young American woman whom he knew in Paris and drew in a kimono when he was a student studying portrait painting before he became a Master Aikido instructor and appeared in James Bond’s Moonraker. People like this just don’t disappear. If it were me, I would have called the painting, Love to Wakako.

It bounced back again.

When he was about to surrender, Benny B. enlisted the Sisters of Eve in his search.

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“Artists like this don’t discard their paintings,” the Sisters wrote Benny B. “We found a club in France whose President is Mr. Tong. Write Mr Tong.”

He did —

At the same moment, Benny B.’s brother Solo wrote: “Little American brother, if you could read a bit of French, it would help,” as he attached an image of Toshiro and some information in the other language he had found online. “If this is your guy, he’s in Quebec, in a studio. Try their email and phone number.”

He did —

The woman who answered was bilingual. So Benny B. thought, “I’ll try English.”

“Hi, do you receive the studio emails for Master Toshiro?” Benny B. asked. “I’ve sent him several.”

“No, that would be Nicholas, his assistant, but he’s not in.”

“Is there a way I can reach Nicholas?”

“Yes,” she said with a trace of a French accent, “I give you his number.”

In the meantime, Benny B. covered his bases, imagined what could happen, and wrote the Sisters again. They started worrying about him, since they couldn’t tell if his email typos and omissions and repetitions were appearing naturally out of his birthday gift obsession or if he was letting the occasional alien tone of the people he was dealing with get inside of his voice:

Sisters:

I may need some help tracking down Japanese guy. I give you his name and you can find him on the internet. His name: Toshiro. You can find him on the internet. What I know is he’s Master Aikido instructor who was in a james bond film and studied art in paris in 1971, when Eve was there. (I have his last name, but I don’t know how much of this I should keep in confidence, and whether — should I be scared for my life. Should I not be confident? As I remember it now, I am married to Eve and she never answered his love letters, so what if he gets curious and asks for our address when I ask for the painting and he says, “yes, I will send it, but where do you want me to send it?” Am I getting ahead of myself?)

Warnings appeared like pop-ups in his head, as he wrote the Sisters:

The man has trained Canadian militias.
The man has worn an iron mask while thrusting at James Bond with otherworldly cries.
The man’s panting black shepherds have chased beautiful women in transparent pink dresses through the Amazon rain forest. The killing always occurs off-screen.
His love letters unrequited, the man has every reason for revenge.
The man has an assistant.
The man flips people with sticks for a living.

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After hearing Nicholas’ phone go unanswered, but before writing him, Benny B. imagined he could be more forceful, maybe about the nature of art itself, to make the point about the importance of recovering this painting as a gift, like a memory print. “De Kooning once said,” Benny B. was prepared to drop the quote, “Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented.” Or, to press De Kooning’s point even more forcefully for this Québécois, “its raison d’être.

Dear Nicholas,

I’m after the Japanese Aikido Moonraker guy in Paris who got my wife into a kimono in order to paint her, so he said. I have no French, as she had no Japanese, as he had no English at the time he wrote her love letters she never answered, it was 1971, so I am wondering if you have a bit English and if you have it can you make a French translation for Toshiro do me justice for this birthday gift for her. Do you believe in justice? Do you believe in making justice visible? Do you know that Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented?

He trashed it before it had a chance to bounce back.

He tried again the next morning:

Dear Nicholas,

I was told you could get in touch with Toshiro, who was an Art Student in 1971 in Paris and who painted a picture of a young American woman, Eve, who is now my wife. I have been trying for weeks to contact Toshiro to see if he still has the painting, because I would like to give it or a semblance of it to her for a 60th birthday present. Can you help make it visible?

The reply was instant:

Hello again,

I can help you. You can reach him at this email_______. If this does not work, I can reach him by other means.

It was one of the emails which had bounced back weeks ago, so Benny asked for other means, and surprisingly, this Man from Quebec came through in the American way, what Benny B. had always been perplexed by and called out as “American exclamatory friendly,” evident when grownups like their teenage children could not help but see this that or the other as “sooo cute” or “soooo amazing,” or when a young woman dropped a cell phone right underneath her seat on the train and a bystander picked it up and the woman, not missing a beat, said: “Thank you sooo much,” or when a waitress who in any other country would just be doing her job brought a diner a napkin and heard in return “Thank you sooooo much!” and so Nicholas began:

Hi there again!

How are you? I am good!
Toshiro is out for now, but he will be back next Monday. I will talk to him then. This is a very nice story. I hope he still has a painting!

The Sisters could not resist:

“Oh, we’re loving Nicholas. Toshiro must still have the painting — artists do not discard their paintings — they put them in storage. It must be around somewhere.”

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And so everyone waited. Weeks passed — Toshiro was still out of town. Benny B. sent reminders. Nicholas wrote back: “I spoke to Toshiro’s wife, who said he is still out of town, but she will tell him what you are looking for. Yes, this is a very nice story.” And Benny B. wondered: why does his wife have to find out? The warnings in his head re-appeared. He waited.

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To remind him of what was at stake, one day, back at the Art Institute in Chicago, he overheard Eve and her friend Sasha, who had roomed with her in the Hotel Henri IV in 1971, talking in one of the museum rooms about the past: “Do you remember,” Eve said, as they approached a De Kooning, “Eiko’s friend Toshiro and that painting he drew of me in a kimono? I wonder whatever happened to it.”

Sasha, who Benny B. had earlier clued in on the birthday search, looked back at him with a quizzical smile, not knowing how to answer Eve as they approached the painting. “Is this it?”

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“Is Toshiro back yet?” Benny B. asked Nicholas towards the end of their correspondence.

“I believe he is. I will speak to him tomorrow, and I hope for a good outcome!”

The news was not “a good outcome.”

“Unfortunately,” Nicholas wrote, “Toshiro does not have the painting anymore. He remembers it quite well and sends his regard to Eve. I am really sorry of this outcome. I would have like to be part in this really good birthday present!”

Benny B. did not want to let go of this really good birthday present, but the guy did not have the painting — he tossed it, he burned it, he sold it, it didn’t matter. Pressing the point by repeating things he knew he had mentioned in prior emails, but hoping for a different outcome, he wrote back, sounding like a child trying out magical thinking:

Hello Nicholas,

This is too bad. I was wondering: did he ever take a photograph or slide of the painting? Perhaps he still has a photograph or slide of the painting? Or does he know what happened to the painting? If he lost it, or does not know where it is, then let me know, please.

Benny B. wanted to be sure his questions were covering all bases, and that the possibility of a birthday painting could be found out of an answer to one of them. He got his wish:

Hello again,

I also asked him if he has any photos and he does not have one. He did take note of the request and should the painting come up he will let me know and I will send you the information via email.

Benny B. latched onto the discrepancy between the two emails. How could a painting which at first “he did not have” suddenly “come up” in the future? And the fact that “he did take note of the request,” meant that the request could be met, otherwise why take note. For sure, all this meant was that the painting had not been burned. Or it could still be buried in storage. Or it could have been sold for gold to some enemy combatant of Toshiro who had discovered it and promised for the right price not to tell Toshiro’s wife, which would have been a moot point at this moment, at least since Nicholas had told her, which meant it could be returned without risk, at some point if, that is, if it was not hanging somewhere, just like Eve had imagined when she remembered the story.

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Benny B. was depressed by the veiled possibilities. A month’s search, he thought, and he was back to where he started, or rather, to where Eve started, with the difference that now everyone knew the search had gone nowhere in public — the unrealized present of a painting which was only, in the end, a wild gesture. He called his friend, Billy, a poet, and told him the story:

“I’ll tell you,” Billy said, “that’s inspiring to hear.”

“No way,” Benny B. exclaimed.

“Think of it,” Billy reflected, “Nicholas never ruled out the possibility that the painting could still be hanging somewhere.”

“Well,” Benny B. replied without confidence, “that was only after my persistence put him in an untenable position. I have no idea if what Nicholas said is what Toshiro actually meant, or if Toshiro blew him off sensing a stalker in the Americas, or if it was a bad translation, or if it was just Nicholas sensing my desperation, wanting to be friendly and accommodating, and adding on whatever hope he thought I could latch onto. After all, he wanted to be a part of this birthday present from the start, right, so maybe It’s his way of wishing it still may arrive. Anyway — it doesn’t matter — I’m coming to her 60th empty handed. I’m stumped. What do I give her now?”

“Give her the story,” Billy said, “tell her what happened. Write it down. She’d love to hear it.”

“You must be joking,” Benny B. blurted. “Not only is there is no point in that, but there’s no justice in it, since half the story is speculation, invisible, maybe even untrue. I’ve got nothing to give her, just a month’s worth of detective work to surprise her with, innocent enough, to be sure, the way some lies can be, but no gift of a painting to show for it.”

“A Surprise of White Lies…”

“Kind of…”

“Don’t worry, she’ll never see through them,” Billy spoke with confidence, “and she’d love to hear what happened.”

“You think?”

“Yeah, I think,” he insisted. “This is the reason storytelling was invented.”

—for Rosemary

Benjamin Hollander (1952-2016) was born in Haifa, Israel and as a boy immigrated to New York City. He taught English, writing, and critical thinking in the San Francisco Bay Area. His books include: In the House Un-American (Clockroot Books/Interlink Publishing, 2013); Memoir American (Punctum Books, 2013); Vigilance (Beyond Baroque Books, 2005); Rituals of Truce and the Other Israeli (Parrhesia Press, 2004); The Book Of Who Are Was (Sun & Moon Press, 1997); How to Read, too (Leech Books, 1992); and, as editor, Translating Tradition: Paul Celan in France (ACTS, 1988). With David Levi Strauss, he co-edited the last several issues of Acts (including A Book of Correspondences for Jack Spicer), the literary magazine associated with New College of California and its Poetics Program of the 1980s. A tribute to his life and work by Joshua Schuster and Steve Dickison can be found in Jacket 2. An excerpt from In The House Un-American can be found in The Brooklyn Rail.

Louise Victor has worked in painting, printmaking, photography, installation, encaustic, and sculpture for over 35 years. She received her BFA from Northern Illinois University and pursued graduate studies at the University of Minnesota. Her work can be found in many public and private collections, and has been shown across the United States. Also a pilot, Louise was one of the first women to fly for a major commercial airline and the second woman in the world to become a Captain on the Boeing 767.

Laton Carter

Two Prose Poems

All the sailors are pigeon-toed. Their black shoes are the same size, and they climb the mast to save the ballerina who does not need saving. Hers is a dance of sails, and the salt air lifts her higher into the tradewinds.

Below, the cook is in love with the galley mate. He wants to dance too, and his ladle becomes the young man he dreams of before falling to sleep in his windowless quarters.

The chief’s mate is excellent at trumpeting warnings through a whistle. Everything deserves a warning, so the whistle blows often, and the crew scramble to their proper place, tripping over their toes and throwing glances. If the ballerina is proper in appearance, she is the least in person. Ignoring the straight lines of the boat and the physics of its ways, her passage serves to uncontain what, in the space of the vessel, is contained.

A heart does not contain love. But heaven is in the sky, and the ladle scoops away the clouds. Now the day is calm, and the chief’s mate takes to his afternoon biscuit. The cook has made them with bits of dried apricot, and he watches the crew, galley mate included, line up to try their first bite. He will never have him, the sailors will never have the ballerina, and the contained heart finds its way to break.

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Maybe she looks like Lyndon Johnson, but the hair doesn’t correspond. Her gaze on him is not really on, but through him — she’s thinking of something else. Still, the arm lays across both his shoulders, and the hand makes a claw of its work-blackened fingers around his arm. His breasts are larger than hers, and were it not for his suspenders, their nipples, through her polyester and through his cotton, might meet. This is their proximity, the half-embrace.

How long can two people live with each other? They swallow the would-be response, grin to an absentee audience, and forgive. Their roles have been pressed out as if into the fine veins of a map. This path takes you here. This one goes off course. One of us will die first.

The theater is of faces, the one again trying to read the other. The mind wanders. The secret life of daydreams rushes in.

Laton Carter has had work published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Chicago Review, The Fourth River, Narrative Magazine, Northwest Review, Notre Dame Review, and Ploughshares.

Eric G. Wilson

Bowl

W.’s wife stole his bowl. She hated the way he chewed his food, so thoroughly it turned liquid. He fled the small wooden house into the middle of a road.

W. saw that no car was going to kill him. The drivers were too skilled. They swerved away from him or stopped before they reached him.

W. took to the forest.

He wandered without food or water for many days, imagining this would be an easier way to go.
He still was not dead when he looked at his hands. An eyeball was embedded in each palm. He found he could see out of these eyes. With them, he studied his face.

He was no longer a man that he knew.

He was something quite different.

Was this how death was?

Maybe the hunger and thirst had worked. He closed his palms and willed his attention to the eyes in his head. If this was the land of the dead, he wanted to look through his old eyes. He noticed nothing different. There were trees, and on the ground, brown leaves. Stones large and small were about.

W. saw a stone the size of a head and remembered, I have a young daughter, and then he thought, I’ve got to go back.

She had lost her bowl.

W. had walked so long, he was lost. He looked at the sky. The sky was gray.

He lowered his head, and there was a small wooden house.

W. fled from the house into a road. He stood in the middle. Cars sped toward him. None touched him.
He rushed into the forest near the road. He walked. Hunger weakened him, and thirst.

W. tripped over a head-sized stone. With his hands, he broke his fall.

There was pain in his hands. His palms were gashed.

W. studied the cuts. Inside each, he glimpsed white. He recalled bones and eyeballs. He imagined seeing his head from his hands.

The head he saw was not the one he remembered.

Pain was in his hands.

He imagined seeing his hands from his head. The gashes were red.

The head W. had felt bigger than the stone he stumbled over.

He had a young daughter, a child, and she had nothing to eat.

He would save her.

How to reach her?

A house appeared, small and wooden.

Through a window W. saw a woman. She was holding a spoon before the face of a girl.

W. rushed onto the porch. He grabbed the door knob. The metal scalded his hand. He jerked it away. He stared at the palm. The shape of a spoon’s oval bowl reddened its center. There was pain there.

W. touched the shape to his lips.

Pain. Tongue, teeth, throat.

W. imagined living inside of the pain, seeing the world from there.

He saw three people before an oven, a man to the left, and a woman to the right, and in the middle, a small girl, who was holding the hand of the man and the hand of the woman. The girl was looking up at the woman. The woman was plump. The man was gaunt.

W. was seeing from the pain. He was starving. He was falling down. A small hand was holding the hand not burned. The hand slipped away and he fell.

From the leafy ground, he saw near his head the head of a woman. Where the woman’s eyes once were, was blood.

W. could drink the blood. He had no bowl.

He struggled to raise himself and flee to this vessel.

Eric G. Wilson has published three books of creative nonfiction, all with Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: Keep it Fake, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck, and Against Happiness. He has also published a memoir, The Mercy of Eternity (Northwestern University Press). He has recently published fiction in The Collagist, Café Irreal, and Eclectica. His essays have appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Georgia Review, The Oxford American, The Chronicle Review, and Salon. He teaches at Wake Forest University.