Friday, February 10, 2012

Reticence -- A Love Poem

I need a brick to fill the empty face
your cunt left in my wall. The place
is falling apart. I haven’t slept in years.
I’ll fill the gap and paint the fence in crap
set house plants on it; topiary
sculpted to Ulysses. A pageant
of nic-nacs,  When

you return,
you will follow crumbs.
I’ve ripped up all my best
tee-shirts. Written dumb
haikus on em, tied
love notes like prayer flags
Hung bow-ties high and
lived among the elderberries

I’ll walk the town in house coats
wear slippers, slip bawdy notes
slip my toes in sloppy places, 
place your face in every mirror I find
I’ve broken.

Bob Putnam


Last night’s rental bed was 
wider than an ocean, my 
wife stranded by a hot flash
way over on the other side. I
woke up half past midnight
wanting comfort but was spurned by
climate change.

I walk sidewalks.
I am growing 
more invisible
with each step. I

food-less hearts of cities, 

groceries gathered 
to busier avenues. What
do you eat when
you are homeless?
Where do you go for food? 

No wonder
we are alcoholic

in this town were food stamps
trade at two for one. 
The liquor store
on Stone Street sells 
MD 20/20 for
two ninety nine.

This asphalt is
not as comfortable as
the Holiday Inn. Wide,
still warm, I roll
across the center line
drunk with dreams of being young. I
reach to find we are together, still
connected though the rest 
has come unwound.

Bob Putnam

The Brink

     A tall, thin, sinewy man, in over-sized blues, came into my city jail office, and said, “Do you know anything about relieving suffering, Mr. Felix Tadcaster?” He read my nameplate. I was a social worker helping inmates about to be released get federal disability, a job, reconciliation with family and friends who had shunned them, working out the bumps and gouges acquired inside jail and outside in the greater imprisonment
we all daily face.

    He had a nasty jagged scar on his cheek, his jailhouse haircut streaked red, jumpy fingers tapping the desk.

    “My white mama named me Ahab,” he said. “I know what you college educated, professional types think. Not that one, the other one, evil Ahab in the Bible.”

    “Is that your problem, you think you’re here not because of your possession convic-tion, but because your mama laid that name on you?”

    He stood up, pulled me across the desk, my head, neck, and shoulders on his side, then put me in a chokehold, the crook of his elbow squeezing my trachea. I could not breathe. My arms flapped like dying salmons, and I began losing consciousness, a world turned dark. Suddenly, he released me. He walked me back behind the desk and slowly I regained my breath. “But I can’t stop the suffering,” he added.

    “You could’ve killed me. I could charge you attempted murder. You’d do big prison time.” His eyes bore through me.

    “I could get you shanked, you know.” I had been threatened twice but never placed in a chokehold. “You won’t, I’m getting released tomorrow. How about having a drink with me to make amends?”

    “I never have contact with ex-inmates outside of here.”

    “Don’t worry. I can introduce you to a fine woman.”

    Divorced four years ago, my ex, Judith, now in law school studying criminal law, seeing me hopelessly holding her back, my confidence with women at an all-time low, my social life consisting of microbrews and HBO, coming to work with hangovers, friends hers, not mine, never contacted me which isolated me more, my salary nowhere commensurate with my potential. I got anti-depression pills from a psychiatrist I saw. I once took pills and drank bourbon but failed to kill myself. Why not take a chance with Ahab. Nothing to lose except my life. 
    “Tomorrow’s Saturday. Where would we meet?”

    “What’s your address?”

    “How about a drinking hole. I make it a rule never to give my address to anyone connected to his place, CO’s and even the warden.” I stood up, he too from the other side of the desk, and then he walked to my side and put his arm around my shoulders, pulling me close to him, and whispered, “I’ll bring a sweetheart we could share if you’re game.” I took his offer up.

    He came just after I finished my lunch. Dressed in khaki cargo pants, a red and green sport shirt, and wearing an Indiana Jones fedora, he stood outside the door alone. I saw no sweetheart.

    “No sweetheart?” I asked. Just then, a car pulled up, and though he partially blocked my view, a woman approached the house. He moved aside and Judith strode confidently up the walk, wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt with her university’s name running across her chest.

    “Hi, Felix,” she said as she stepped inside followed by Ahab. She saw my expression, how my mouth hung open like a grotesque gargoyle. I was positive it could not ward off evil.

    We sat around the living room, she seated in her favorite rocker, and Ahab sat down on the big couch two cushions away from me.

    “How’s law school,” I blurted. “Aren’t there enough criminal lawyers?”

    She smiled, her eyebrows raised as she rocked methodically, comfortably, and said, “Ask Ahab.” He turned towards me, and said, “She and I were partners in martial arts classes,” he said, unsnapped a pocket, and reached in.

    “Jude taught me all the chokeholds,” he said and pulled out a perforated spoon.

    “More to education than practicing law,” she said, cracking her knuckles, a habit I hated.

    He held the spoon close to his face. “She gifted me this antique absinthe spoon.”

    “It looks like you’re behind bars,” I said, hoping my comment passed as humor. He relaxed, his face placid, lips loosening, giving the scar clarity. He pulled a bottle out from is backpack. “I think of everything.”

    “What did you mean, ‘Ask Ahab’”? She drank absinthe after Ahab took a few sips and then passed it back to her. She sipped the green spirit.

    “I was his attorney. He paid me with money earned selling high potency Cannabis sativa.” She rose, offering me my first absinthe, and I drank a large gulp. Its dreamy hold overcame me. I thought Ahab and Judith my muses, I, great poet of the Western world.

    “Why are you telling me this, Jude? Attorney/client relationships are privileged.” I wanted absinthe to wrap me up in its kindness. Ahab drank some more, laid back, not in a stupor, but with keen eyes and tranquil face, listening to his iPod. Judith sat between us on the cushion nearest me.

    “Ahab told me he had you in a death grip. He killed a man that way.” She lowered her voice, not so Ahab could not hear, but let her words sink distinctly into my consciousness, as if life depended on every syllable. He flexed his muscles to the beat.

“He brings them to the brink, now.”

    “You too?” She answered yes. “What’s the point?” I asked.

    “Uses prompto facit,” she said.

    “Latin doesn’t impress me, truth does.” 

    “Practice makes perfect. Truth is the brink,” she said.

     She took three glasses from the kitchen, came back, and poured the remainder of absinthe equally into each glass. Ahab sipped his, Judith her, I mine. Ahab put the iPod in his pant pocket, Judith took the glass from his hand, placed hers and his on the low table before us, then my glass. She pulled me up from the couch and walked me to the middle
of the room. She stood in front of me, kissed me on the lips, then bye-bye waved.

    Ahab put his right arm around the front of my neck, squeezed hard, then put his left arm between the back of my neck and aside his head, finger-locking his grip with both hands and pushed my head down until I began to lose breath.

    “The rear naked choke, wonderful,” she said. 

    Why? I asked myself, sensing my purple face, breath nearly extinguished.

    Ahab abruptly released his hold and I slid onto the carpet.

    Hacking, phlegm gagged me, I dry heaved. Judith set me upright and opened a window.

    “Good, Ahab. Next time, I’ll be the choker.”  

     “No harm, no foul, Tadcaster.” Ahab gave me a bottle of water he stashed in the pack.

“H two O, oxygen will bring you back. Friends?” He reached down and shook my twitching hand. Rain pattered the windowpane. I smelled and sucked in ozone on the bushes and when the rain stopped I inhaled the street’s and the concrete driveway’s ozone. Optimism began flowing.

    “Next time?” I wanted answers. She stared at me and I could not decipher her expression. Its placebo effect emptied my heart just as it had the day she left me. A dose of nothing swirled inside me. I wanted them to leave, I wanted to be alone, I wanted to quit my small jailhouse office, I wanted to move far away. I wanted out. Ahab pantomimed a chokehold, the air my head and neck. Judith struck poses, moving her
arms, hands, legs and feet like a skilled master must. Each grunt signified another pose, another thrust, all the while her eyes tracked mine.

    “Another match, Jude.” He could have asked her ( “Another match, Jude?” ) but he made a statement.                                                                           

    “The leg triangle choke coming up,” Judith said. I thought I would die.

    When I recovered and breathed air in the backyard, she asked, “Are you OK?” Ahab towered over me. Sweat poured down my face.

    “I’m next,” Ahab stated. “It’s the gator roll choke, Felix. Game, Felix?”

    No, I was not. The brink offered no choice.  

George Sparling

Mr. Ka-Bar

    I was sixteen, living in suburban Chicago, vaccinated from the pains in bones of the world’s citizens who suffered, then died. My dad, a top lumber company exec, got me a summer job in one of the firm’s yards.   

    “You did fine for the first day. How about a cold one?” Rudy said. By that I thought he meant the next day would be cooler, keeping my spirits up. I had keys in my hand to my car parked in front of the yard’s office. Rudy scanned my face, gauging my reaction to “cold one.” He lived not half a block away from the yard’s entrance, Rudy’s house at the end of a dead-end street.

    “Come to Betty’s kitchen and we’ll have a beer,” he said, lunchbox in hand. He sucked on his cigarette as we walked abreast to the two story house, badly in need of paint.

    “But they’ll wonder why I’m late.”

    “Tell them you worked overtime, your dad will never know,” he said.

    We entered the house through the kitchen door. Rudy took off his hat revealing short-cropped hair, male pattern baldness, looking older than in the yard. He put the lunchbox on the counter, sat down, told me to relax, Betty will be here shortly.

    “Hey, hon, we have a guest,” Rudy said, raising his voice to summon her. 
     She was as old as my grandmother, maybe fifty-five years old, dressed in a knee-length red robe, sheer knee nylons exposing varicose veins, a Braille map of ragged lines indicating she had done a lot of factory work, standing at machines, or working in cafeterias. Unlike women cafeteria workers at school, Betty raised her bathrobe and showed off her white underpants. She had a red scar on her cheek beneath a yellow eye, as faded as the wallpaper. Maybe Rudy had cut her. 

    “It’s Jim,” Rudy said. “His dad’s a big muckety-muck. What does he do, Jim?”

    “Invests money. Passed the accountants’ exam the first time,” I told them. Shit, why boast about Dad? Rudy and hon will hate me for it. We drank beers, the TV in the next room our noisy companion.

    “When you’re finished that one, have another,” Betty said, her voice slushy from a day sitting around the house, sipping beer or eating the salty pretzels on the table. 

     “Watch soap operas today, hon?” Rudy said. “I like the good-looking men,” she replied.

    “I like the pornography I stash in my drawers,” he said, rubbing his crotch.

    “Rudy’s a real pal. Pretty hard to get through life without one,” she said. She scratched her bare arm. I saw hairy moles, and when she raised her sleeve, flabby skin.

    “I’m more than a pal, Betty, you’re playing nice with Jim,” he said, opening another round. Betty flushed from an all-day booze rush, high blood pressure blowing its stack? “Chug it down, my lad, drink eases everything.”

    I watched them down their beers in big gulps. I needed tiny fast ones before I emptied the bottle. Other beers went down swifter. Rudy’s face, redder than before, highlighted a scowl or was it hostility towards the bad old world. 

    “He’s lived here since ‘49. A war veteran. This stumblebum knocked on my door, and asked if there’s anything he could do for a meal or two. I sized him up and down, telling him, sure. He cleaned the place, gardened. Me living alone, my husband ran away, I needed help if you get my drift.”

    After more beers, Betty’s hand moved to my knee and towards my groin.

    “What if your tenants see us,” I asked.

    “Rudy’s my only one, love,” she said.

    Buddies of mine had girlfriends do this to them. Me, I was strictly virginal. Rudy stood behind her and massaged her breasts. She rubbed until I got hard, then unbuckled my pants, pushing them down below my knees. Rudy stepped back, undoing his overalls, and a big crooked pecker bounced out at a ninety-degree angle. Its big red knob surprised
me. Betty opened a cabinet, pulling out ropes. She said, “It’ll go better if you let me tie you up. A gentle tug with a rope around your neck makes for a better shot to the moon.”

    I was wobbly drunk, unable to fend her off as she tied my hands, and then the noose, knotted just like in movie execution scenes. “Thirteen knots, hangman’s noose” she said. “For pleasure, not death.” The rope was just beneath my Adam’s’ apple.

    Betty’s reptile hand hardened my dick. Rudy pulled the noose that begat my lust as Betty stroked my dong. I thought of hard two by fours I unloaded and slid down on sloped rollers to Rudy. She pulled off my jeans then sucked my hard-on. Rudy stuck his big one into her rear when Betty bent over. I could not tell if it was snatch or ass but it made her groan. Rudy grabbed me and forced my head to the floor and thrust his shaft into my ass, then pulled out. “Need some butter, Betty,” he said. He greased my rectum, sticking his meat deep into my asshole, and pulled the noose tighter.

    I had heard a boy in the high school washroom say, “It’s taint, neither ass nor snatch,” so I knew a bit about ambiguity. My bound hands above my head, I supine, Betty pulled me to the floor, angled my hard pecker into her vagina, her fat legs against my thighs, and I “Ahhhhed,” emitting a foreign gutteral sound. The noose tighter than before, pain made me think how lives died: the bestial fluid shot through my cock dizzied me.   

    Betty begged him, so Rudy took over, moaned, nasty-talked for ten minutes before he pulled out of her quim, splashing Betty’s naked rear end and robe. Afterwards, Rudy said,

“That’s how it’s done in stag films.”

    Betty stood up, adjusted her robe, covered her breasts and pudenda, and pulled up her nylons. She offered me a Camel.

    “I don’t smoke.”

    Betty loosened the noose. “The red marks will go away.” I rubbed my neck: blood stained my hand. 

    I was tired, Betty untied my red and raw wrists, and I coughed up blood, spitting into the sink: the beginning of my sexual history

    “I’ll light it for you,” said Betty. She put the cigarette between my lips, then scratched a wooden match. I puffed and deeply inhaled.

    “What kind of rifle did you use over there?” I asked hoarsely. I had to say something.

    “I used a flamethrower and if I still had one I’d burn that damn yard down.”
    “Dad told me that when arsonists torched a lumberyard, they’d get sexually aroused.”

    I wondered how safe I was, what the two of them might say. I was a wiseacre from a suburb wealthier than this town. Instead of retaliation, they grinned.

    “I was kidding about torching.” He handed me a beer. “One for the road.” 

    Betty set a slice of apple pie and two doughnuts on the table. “It’ll sober you up.”

I pulled my underwear and pants up, buckled-up and scarfed down the food. After I finished eating, Rudy gave me the pack of Camel’s, sliding it into my shirt pocket, and I said stupefied, “Thanks for everything.”

    I started the car and headed to Northwest Highway. I got sleepy driving and rear-ended a car at a stoplight. The driver got out, told me off, smelled my beer and cigarette breath, and cursed me. Finally, I made it home, trying to look sane and sober. When I entered, their eyes showed fear, their faces paler than ever.

    “I worked overtime. Had a drink or two with nice folks, smoked fags, had fun you said I should be getting around here, like going on dates.” I had zipped up the windbreaker which concealed my throat.

    Mom cowered at Dad’s side. “Where did you get that welt?” she said.

    “A boxcar did it.” I smelled my liquor as I breathed, smoke poured out my skin.

    “You didn’t keep your nose clean as I told you.” Mom had to hold back his arm or he would have beaten me bloody. I let him down and was proud of it. 

    I drank the warm beer slowly in my room, smoking the heck out of Camels. Not everyone had a partner who had used a flamethrower. Dad earned a Bronze Star for killing Germans. I worked in the yard till summer ended. Every Friday after work, the hangman’s noose, blood, and glorifying pain.

    After I graduated, an East Coast university accepted me. My parents expected me to graduate with a B.A. degree in Business Administration, but I never did.

    It was 1965, and two classmates joined the Marines. Rudy had served in WW II, my father fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

    I enlisted in the Marines, boot camp eons away from the roughest day unloading boxcars. We shipped out from Camp Pendleton, landing at Da Nang Air Base in South Vietnam.

    In a matter of days, our platoon worked our way through jungles of South Vietnam. After fifteen clicks, we came to a village and poked M-16s at scared old men, frightened old and young women. Children cried and stared at us like we were aliens from the planet Krypton. My fire team, three enlisted men from the Midwest, I the only suburban jarhead of the entire platoon.

    A private kicked in a door and found a pregnant woman holding a small child to her breast. The mother was a beauty, we four admitted aloud. A private said, “Sure looks like Suzy Wong, a great fuck. She must give good head in the bargain, too.” I yelled,  “Shut up, you pussy, she’s protecting her child.” The other three yanked the baby from her
arms, then ripped off her clothes with their hands, slashing them off with their bayonets. They each jammed their bones into her split-legged body, taking turns, the Suzy Wong private doing what he said was the rough bargain.

    I wanted to help her, knowing this was not what we learned in boot camp, getting rocks off rather than seek and destroy certifiable Viet Cong. Rudy and Betty burst into my mind, my eyes, my heart, he and Betty and I in the kitchen, the Dictatorship of the Limbic System, that sweet zone where anything goes. 

    After the three had had their way, I undid my deuce gear, tossed off my pack, pulled down my pants, then took out my Ka-Bar knife, grasped its leather handle and stuck the seven-inch blade into her belly and ripped out fetal shards, then gouged her in the vagina with the blade, moving it around quickly like a mix-master and then with my dick as she lay dead in the dirt.

    I stood up and blood from her womb covered my uniform. I stared at my bodywork, the corpse’s face mingled with wicked Betty’s face and what was left of her torso reminded me of blood seeping out my rectum. Rudy’s flamethrower prick lit the huts until the entire village burned down, all the while the hangman’s noose tightened around my neck. I could hardly breathe in the jungle heat, asphyxiation at my throat. I grabbed my neck with both hands then looked at my red-shredded-dead-fetus hands. I slid my bloody fingers over both flanks of my bare butt, and jammed my fingers into my anus. After sticking Mr. Ka-Bar into my rectum, four marines dragged me to earth.

    I served less than a month in South Vietnam, and hallucinated in my hospital bed during insomniac nights the face of the Vietnamese woman, her thin nose, dark-plum, blood-streaked eyes, her face blurred with Betty’s, a huge Ka-Bar image raised on a flag, its pole stuck atop a mountain of my buttocks. They gave me an honorable discharge. 

    Years later, after countless jobs, I work in a chicken processing plant, whole chickens hung by their feet pass me at eighty per minute as I kill them with a rotating saw, faster and faster the line speeds up, I the world’s great slaughterer.

     I’ll take Mr. Ka-Bar when I search and destroy Rudy and Betty.

George Sparling

Saturday, February 4, 2012

leaning over the sink i figured it out

leaning over the sink i figured it out
decided at some point i’d make up my mind
the patio creaking i saw pet bones below
the party had ended but nobody told the stereo
the same three discs kept skipping through songs
until a pretty silence at three am

dandruff on his sleeve sparkled in blacklight
each time he blinked the room shifted
he tried not to blink and started crying
people asked him what is wrong
when he said it was nothing
they took his response as secrecy,

he thought:
(i don’t need a flag when i wear it on my tshirt 
I don't need a flag when i have one as my tablecloth
swatting flies off the door
sweeping wings abdomen and
thorax into stray beer bottles)
he thought.

a sunrise somewhere will certainly be gorgeous she said
she wants to live where it is always like that
she smiled and went to sleep
had a tiny grin throughout the morning
the television repeated sports results
until even i knew who won
everything is irrelevant
even the dangerous darkness of immigrants
even the high cost of necessities

i didn’t care much for what was
on the mind and tongue of nearby humanity -
urinating in the grass
leaning on a tree,
kick aside a soda can
spill saliva onto a newspaper
an article about atrocities overseas

one kid at the bar lost track of time
he still walks around acting drunk
even in daylight he has his ‘social voice’ going,
knocking on bathroom doors
it is perfectly okay to go inside
no need to knock
there is more than one stall
there is a decently sized mirror.

Chris Bullock

he didn't have much experience when it came to fun

he didn't have much experience when it came to fun
so when he came of age he had a little too much fun
an overdose one night and an episode the next morning
he put a kid in her skin then ran away from his phone
the penthouse level windows seemed like low stars hovering
he couldn't believe his eyes, he thought his eyes were lying
so he got upset at his own eyes and closed them
neighbors thought he was blind but
he was just blaming both eyes
a woman held his hand and he got hard
he thought about his kid and he got soft

a voice said he was gay so he drank soda until he got fat
one night he was groggy he heard crying he found the crying
turned out it was his phone ringing but he missed the call
he fell into a memory nobody could remove him from
the wind blew especially soft around him as not
to disturb his disappearing haircut,
or provoke his precious personality
(awesome alliteration)

Chris Bullock

the party took a turn for the worse

the party took a turn for the worse
when the girls stopped talking
started cleaning the kitchen,
some of them crying
alone in different corners
then all together at the table
then alone again, each one
in the passenger seat
of a boyfriend's car.

out in the backyard:
gussied up girls
stood in soft grass
as boys sat on 
plastic buckets.
liquor stacked next
to the lawnmower,
crossed arms
unsure steps.
boys looked them up and down
then back up again with neither
an approving smile nor a

disapproving smirk.
the moon seemed a spotlight
shining its beam on a spot
where our swingset used to be
back when i was little
back when i hid in the bushes
back when i spied on parents
back when the porch hid
old tires and mosquitoes,
girls stood upstairs
at sliding glass doors

the moon seemed a coin
enough to buy a movie
or a ride to the beach.
boys hoping to fuck had no luck
so only traded apologies, not fluids.
everyone saying 'sorry'
between sniffles and
silent looks out windows,
driver waiting in his car
with his ten class rings.

no matter how much you have
there is always one drop left
either your own bottle
or somebody else's.
the backyard was deserted
when i went outside,
i saw the moon blink

it was then i knew it was not a spotlight
it was then i knew it was not a coin
it was then i knew it was an eye.

Chris Bullock

Born on Long Island, living in Denver.  Autoharp player, MS-DOS music conductor, found-object assembler, film photographer.  Poetry has a nasty way of letting you know, by consecutive failures, that you are horrible at almost everything (except poetry). Autoharp with MS-DOS & poetry:

loving and killing

     The door bounced open despite the boy’s repeated smacks to keep it shut. It was the familiarity that got to the old white woman. As if it were HIS house. Impudent little black robber. At first she kept her mouth closed tightly, as if stitched. She cowered behind the wooden rocking chair, but didn’t cower so much as maintain a defensive position behind a rampart. 
     Ray Bostick pushed against the knob. He closed the door on Brooklyn:  his (Bed-Stuy) and hers (Bensonhurst). He held the joint in his other hand. He jiggled the knob. He steadied the door. He pressed firmly on the hinges with two hands, joint dangling from mouth. He backed away from the door quietly as if it were a living thing. The knob gave way. Hafoofixat. Dangeroushit. 

     “Hafoofixahlady,” he said. 

     “Get out! Get out!” shrieked the reply. “This is not your house.”

     “Gabidness in this house Moms. Tuhkerama bidness I leaves.”

     “What in heaven’s name do you want?”

     “This what I want,” said Bostick, giving cough, waving joint, loosing airy sleet on the carpet. 

     Ashes to. And dust to. A man named Art Creely turned him onto dust. Making him feel like electrical cord plugged in. Bostick couldn’t get enough though he was learning  control when it reached critical mass. Like every painful or bizarreshit experience in his fourteen-year-old life compressed and milled into this nice powder. Breathed in like herb then poured out leaving him an empty thing. While the joint retracted, leaving ash to expand like merely material death. Tap it away. 

     “Those ashes are alight!” said the old woman. “You’ll burn us to death! That’s it I’m calling the pleece!”

     A slashing move ripped phone out, with enough violence to mutilate the jack, enough left over to have done damage to his victim. But she had precipitated her own downfall, moving too quickly on loose carpet, doing a jig before landing on her hip. Her screaming yelp fissured into low moans. 

     “Ain EVEN gon help you up Moms.”  

     Falls like that usually heap years on the old. But something had shaken in the old white woman, who thought of cream skimmed off milk. Many seconds, accumulated divisions and sub-divisions of time sloughed off, leaving a glistening larval moment. She rose to her feet, triumphantly, hatefully, haltingly, timidly, proudly, awkwardly, gracefully, self-consciously, unself-consciously. 

     “I don’t need help, from the likes of you. And I’m not your Moms.”

     Ray Bostick reached book down from bookcase. Flipped, one page then another. Faster and more skittish and more frenetic. It wasn’t just the dust. His mental juices were winterbourne, languishing in the warm months, backed up, until they overflowed at the beginning of  September. It was now the middle of October.

     “What do you want?” she said. 

     “Money, money, money!” shouted suddenly. 

     “Oh, for God’s sake! There isn’t any money.”

     Ray Bostick read like an eight-year-old balancing unwieldy letters: “How—not—have—pit—pity—when—walkin—in—fi—fields—with—they—lil—ac—”

     “Let me have that! Lilacs—how not to have pity when walking in the fields ... A great writer wrote that. Elmer Llewellyn. My cousin.

     “It you cousin wrote that lame shit?”

     “Learn to read before you criticise.”

     The old white woman opened the chapbook, which gave a loud crack. Some pages stuck together, needing to be cut. Ray Bostick obliged with his switchknife, forcing a gasp from the woman. She pursed her lips at Bostick. Then pursed her lips but not at Bostick. 

     “He never said nothing, ever. For years I thought it was because he was deep. We say ‘still waters run deep.’ Then I thought it was because he was stupid. I still think that. I don’t care a fig for this book or what they say about it—‘fields with their lilac trees’!”

     Dust gasped from the book as it snapped shut, and as she snorted. 

     “Lah-lac treeees—shee-it.”

     “Shit is right.” 

     She snorted again, and he laughed. Then she cackled, surprising the both of them.

     “Now I knows you got money.”

     A sheen but dull, not really a sheen but goo, had covered Candy’s birthed litter.  Five or six. Recoiling little girl horror, thought they were nothing but goo. Those labor cries of Candy—never heard dog noises like that. Following night ate three pups. Why’d she go and do? Fortunately she hadn’t been there to see. The moist film covering the money on the dresser looked like that afterbirth if you put your eyeball up to it. Within the moisture it was grainy like tapioca. The pups’ cowls too; like tapioca. Maybe why she gobbled them. She thrust the money at the black boy. 

     “Wha’s that?”

     “Money. Take it.”



     “They’s slobber all over it. Thas nasty. Some nasty shit.”

     “Now look you take this here money. It’s good legal tender. It’s just got ... mildew. Take it!”

     “Nah, Moms.”

     “I’m not—oh, for Christmas’ sake.”

     Christmas? Not for a couple months. The dust kicked in and reality did a jiggly dance, things separated out into constituent parts. Cells. Molecules. Particles. The repugnant pile on the dresser broke apart into atomised value, Legos of desire that Ray Bostick could rebuild into a Christmas present for his sister as he rebuilt bicycles out of throwaway parts. Anything you could work with wasn’t all bad. But that pile was oozing. 

Sliding with stupid grace of accident Bostick’s hand seized a sandalwood figure playing flute and rammed it on its mantlepiece setting, splintering it. 


     A porcelain ashtray was next, pitched in a strike zone above the white woman’s head, in the middle of a framed family portrait. 

     “All you know how to do is to destroy!” A step taken towards the glowing black boy. 

     “Money!”  Pushing back the glittering old white woman into a table. 

     A vase shaped like a fish was stamped on. Fancy lamp hurled up at the ceiling. A hanging tapestry slashed as if he were holding a brush in front of canvas instead of his switchknife. Evil gravity drawing him to memory-linked things he thought would do most hurt to an old person. Memories of the past shatter like those things. Like his perception shivered by the dust, everything breaking down into parts, perception-ligaments sliced, around him perceptual smithereens. His eyes dazed. The old woman’s eyes glazed, but still. Bostick continued smashing, one thing after another. Diaphragm regular; breathing calm. Objects hurled, crashed into bits. Memory unmoored; free. 

     “Why—” Thank-you. 


     Floating in the air is the glass-encased Sacred Heart of Jesus her great-aunt had bequeathed, levitating with aid of an irregularly muscled brown arm. By dint of a wrinkle in her gray matter the arm disconnected from the boy committing aggravated armed robbery in her house. It had come from Rome, the time of Pope John XXIII. Destroying that would be going beyond her, beyond her great-aunt, beyond that busybody of a Holy See, if not all the way to Jesus, then still beyond. But the boy did not lift the object to fling it down, rather to drop it in the pocket of his windbreaker.


     The old white woman was going to say something. All her life it was her wont to say something. She held her tongue. 

     “Shit be vayable. Wan day.”

     Yet it came out of the pocket of the hooded windbreaker to be set on a sideboard. Stood smack before the Sacred Heart of Baby Jesus, as Aunty Dora called him. It was not cracked, but nothing’s perfect. On the wall to his left a portrait of Dr. King, aglow, soft-textured, looking-not-quite-at-you, like portraits of Young Adult Jesus. Atop the latest Ebony and Time a folded Amsterdam News, yellowed program from the Apollo Theater, an old dreambook. Jackets of  78’s alternated grim and smiling R&B faces ‘neath elaborate shiny conks. 

     “Smatter chile?” came out of thin old white woman’s lips.

     “Donshoosaythat! DonbeSANEdat!”

     “Why--Smatter chile?” Saying it like a white woman just to aggravate him. 

     “Smatter chile?”  Exaggerated pronunciation, to mock. 

     “Smatter chile?”  Worst of all: tenderly. Just like Aunty Dora. With Aunty Dora’s voice, which she’d appropriated somehow. 

     Bostick toked, deliberately, and toked again, very deliberately, and again. As if this would speed things and take him to dismal but normalizing, that is opaque, comedown. N.O.T.Y.E.T. said the dust.

     “Make me something to drink, will ya honey?”

     “Dombee—”  A cough. 

     His respiratory system was sore. It made smoking more sensual. The smoky tendrils descended to fingerfuck his lungs. Much too deliberately he stepped to the bar and mixed gin tonic in a Texaco highball glass. 


     A trade effected : gin and tonic against a tray of bratwurst. Ray Bostick seemed to age as his face scrunched on the brats. While the old white woman became younger, the wrinkles softened, face smoothed, sheened by the alcohol.


     Like an old man Ray Bostick landed on the floor with resonating thud. Or was it the wall, which a force not gravity threw him against, splatting head against edges of different pieces of furniture as he hollered but not in pain. At the end of the spiralling fall he sat on the floor cross-legged and cross-eyed, the old white woman looking down upon him with com- plicity.  Pain was a commons, like the square near her home where she walked the dog she no longer has, sharing conversation and sunlight with her old friend ... who? A hole, orifice in memory, warm dark non-place where anything can go. Surprisingly pleasant to contemplate—as long as you still had the gray matter to do so from the outside. Once that was gone, and it was from the inside, then it must be terrible, what the little black ...? bent-over young ...? writhing sweaty ...? was feeling now that made him bellow. 

     “Donbelookin! GitOUTTAheah!”  Flopping on the floor like a fish in a pail, hands intending to rub his face, but smacking instead. “Donbelookin! GitOUTTAheah!”

     “Can’t leave my own house chile! Where on earth would I go?”

     Lucidity passed over her like cloud-break and she stood staring at the black boy.  

     Lucidity something that Ray Bostick had to push through chambers of skull, cotton wadding to jam though there. And punch out. He forced himself up and sprawled over the old white woman, holding her by handfuls of fabric at the shoulders. As if holding on to stay up but in a delibarate movement tore at her, ripping off the top. As she shrieked and fig-leafed with her arms he continued ripping at her clothes, now the bottom. Now the underthings. Now even her stockings. 

     “Now you stop that this instant!” came a schoolmarm’s voice even she didn’t recognize. 

     The old woman’s body was oddly, irregularly aged. Pale more than anything, as if she hadn’t exposed herself to swim sunbathe work in the outdoors for many years.  Body pale ectoplasmic; or like a premature baby. Depending on whether Ray Bostick were inhaling or exhaling. If her pubic hair was mousy matted brown the breasts with their nipples could have belonged to a much younger woman. 
Bostick was at the end of his joint, which he flipped away. To loom over the old woman as much as modest frame would permit. To go through motions: hands down—forcing knees apart.  Forearm up—blocking. Fingers in—inside her. Stroking—like searching pants pocket for a coin. Stopped by sweetness, the proximate air jasmined by fear emanating from the old woman’s cunt. Familiarity somehow stroking her. She gulped air convulsively, gulps of pleasure and confusion. 


     Lucidity passed over Ray Bostick like cloud-break, eyes wide as if pulled open by fingers. 
The comedown. N.O. It was impossible so soon. But something to compensate for. A constructed dream-perception of Aunty Dora. Only person for whom he could feel L.O.V.E., mother of his mother. Before him; still. Her words; enveloping. Big heart; with eyes. Gnarly hands; to wring sadness out. Missed her if he missed anyone, wife of his father. Just a compensatory D.R.E.A.M. But Ray Bostick thrashed open his fly, as if to pee on a tree trunk he did not appreciate. 

     With pants pinioning ankles he entered like a missionary. His dick throbbing blood meant reality always. Only a joint packed with phenocycladine was as real. The old white woman thrashed till she made him come. For some instants he kept on, emptied of fluid and feeling, trying to rescusitate himself. He withdrew and backed off, while she awoke to the situation. 

     “Why ... you little nigger! You black nigger! What we call your kind! How could ... I want to die! After you ... I only want to die! There’s only dying now! Nig!”

     She was lying by a heavy old-fashioned radiator. After he zipped up buttoned his fly he bent towards her took hold of her with his two hands under her jaw and around her head. Bashed the head against the cast iron. Blood blood-red like Easter egg food-coloring. Another white woman had them do that in school. She was a Jewish lady and some children had rolled pennies at her, making her eyes flutter, but she’d kept her calm, she’d stood her ground. An eggshell cracked. Brittle, thin, weak, like an eggshell.

     “Weren’t my fault,” he said. 

     Eyes serene, calm, not glassy, as they stared ahead. 

     “Weren’t your fault neither.”

     When Bostick positioned himself in front of her, just right, it was as if she were staring serenely at him. He bent forward as if to give a soft kiss to her dead but still-warm cheek. Then backed away, heavily, gravitas of the comedown. There was a siren sound he was sure was not for him. He headed for the door behind which lay life, and death too.

D. Keramitas

D. Keramitas was educated at the University of Hartford , Sorbonne, and the University of London , and holds degrees in literature and law. He lives in Paris , teaching English and law in the French university system. His short fiction has been published in many literary journals. His story “The Art of Flight” won the Paynton Scholarship at the 2010 Paris Writers Workshop. In addition, he has worked as a film critic for both print and on-line publications, and is a contributing editor to Movies in American History (ABC-CLIO). He has recently completed his first novel.