Uncertain Light from Issue 50
Think of it not as a bed, but a platform.
The open window, a portal. Your son has to stand
somewhere to watch morning unpin itself.
All those disquieting layers. Ivy and brick,
leaning fence post, lilac cluster combing
itself full-how each thing shuffles his name
into broken syllables. Don’t step through
the doorway, or kneel beside the bed. Let distance,
with its shadows and misses, arrange him.
Resign yourself to graftings-hing of a knee,
nimbus of uncombed hair. Knowing what you
plant is never yourself, and always erasable.
Easier to trace the provenance of a blade
of grass or the exact ache your wife
danced you through on her way to conceive.
Now try walking away. Your son’s eyes still
testing the rough skin of the world. Your will
to possessㅡthe only dark thing in the room.
Youth Detention Center at Slate Canyon from Issue 95
I have signed myself in, locked away my coinage and cell phone, let a machine of state sniff out my dangerous metals, and signed a release form promising not to sue the county even if my delicate tabernacle comes back punctured or torn in half. In return, a deputy gives me a plastic ID and 1.5 hours inside the razor wire.
My meeting is not with the minor hoodlums of Cells A and B, but with the hardcore lost ones—those who have committed crimes against the body politic and the spirit transcendent, against Abraham Lincoln and Walgreen’s and Mother Eve and probably some of her unlucky daughters, against all things decent and many things too pricey to replace. But when they file into class they’re docile as dalmatians, these lost ones. Drowning in khakis and orange shirts, shaved and shorn, they look like kindergartners on a field trip. But also old and world weary, almost Mandarin, as if they spent their best hours each day drinking tea and playing Mahjong and dreaming of some former life: what peace we had as three-toed sloths, what rejuvenating naps!
I look them over, and think, not everyone believes in abortion these days. By which I mean someone once wanted them, as someone once wanted me. They look me over, and think, what freedom, what legit freedom. By which they mean, he can listen to midnight radio anytime he wants or buy a Red Bull at 7-Eleven before breakfast.
Only first names here. That way, when they’re released they won’t be tempted to burn Thank you into my lawn or hand wash my car with battery acid or discuss Sartre or abstract expressionism in my jetted tub. Therefore I am no longer a mister to them, just the noise of my name, and I have no hope of tracing a single lost face to a father’s loins or a mother’s weeping womb. Instead I pretend there is only one Tyrone on this tilt-a-world ride called Earth. One Antonio, one Alec, one Matthew. Make that two. Broken Window Matthew missing four front teeth. Not to be confused with acned Matthew, whose cheeks look like they’ve been scoured with nuclear sand. Neither Matthew doing much apostling of late.
Metaphor is our agenda today, our air guitar, our Big Gulp, our winning Lotto ticket, our piece of chewed gum stuck under a desk, so we launch ourselves. Rooting among clichés, we pig snout our way towards the new. Fences = spider webs made of steel. Tattoos = ink gardens. The sky meanwhile is an ocean you poop in—I mean the factories do the pooping, says one of the Matthews. And Jason’s girlfriend, well she’s just like a dark gray Honda Civic CX, with new mags and nitro boosters in the trunk—if you know what I mean, says Jason. And I do, though I pretend not to, scooting us onto other things. Like Alec’s sister, with her Hello Kitty lunch box, which doubles as an innocence machine. And tomorrow is an invisible castle, but today is a bear trap and will always be a bear trap, so put that in your xbox and smoke it.
When I turn them loose with pencils, all they can think about is that dark gray Honda CX. Pretty soon the whole world is a girlfriend. Dirt under their fingernails: girlfriend. A stuck kite shimmering at them from a tree outside the window: girlfriend. Dandelion, dental floss, disappearing ink: girlfriend, girlfriend, girlfriend. All they want is for her LEDs to light up their dark closet, or follow her train tracks all the way to Alaska and those beautiful white polar bears.
After they read and I clap, after I collect their pencils and walk the room high fiving each in turn, in that moment when they transition to better things, like an evening nosh session starring string cheese and fruit snacks, what do they do? They throw away their girlfriends. That’s right, they wad them up, they toss them. And what do I do? I gather them up and smooth out their creases, and save them in one of my books for some sort of later.
In the parking lot the aftermath of rain, as if the world had misbehaved and taken a good thrashing for it. I reattach my legs, rub my petty nomenclature into all the unnamed places, and money myself up with a wallet holding three dollars and a parking ticket. I take the wheel, my freedom hands at two and ten. My emancipation foot a little lighter on the gas. My good citizenship eyes scouring the road for hazards.
Beyond these houses an obscenity of gleam on the lake, a vulgarity of glisten. Look at it wink and ruffle and give back. Who gave this body of water permission? A lake bright as bullets, which I seem to lack. No bullets in the glove box, none in my trunk or on my person, how will I keep these paper girlfriends safe and from whom, no bullets stashed behind the Saltines in our kitchen, none hiding in the heating vent, none under my wife’s dampish hair fanning the pillow at night, trying to dry before morning.
In a Room With Seventeen Rembrandts from Issue 83
Look at her, a seven-year-old sketching herself—on the fly, on her portable
whiteboard, in the Louvre. Lacking a mirror, she touches her ear then draws,
pulls at a braided pigtail as if straightening a snake, lays down three twisted lines.
Now her left eye, now her right, now the freckled paradox of her nose. A
demanding operation, taking her face apart in three dimensions and
reassembling it in two, until even her crooked mouth disappears into art. She
adds crocodile tears to her alter ego—falling in pairs to create a puddle ocean
around the word “BORED.” Now both visages of despair make a circuit of the
room. Three patrons look away in French, one ignores in Italian, one clicks by
wafting a Dutchy perfume. How can my naïve American nod make any
difference? Still, I offer it up. I have traveled half a planet and forty-five years,
nine Metro stops and a case of jet lag to fall into Renaissance luminosity. Yet
what pins me to the moment is an impromptu ink face. And little girl feet,
squirming, as if she had to pee, as if we all did, as if our sentence, even in the
most storied of European cities, never changes: keep the body happy. We build
salons to store the destruction of time, then pretend to float above destruction.
Sometimes beauty wears me out. I would prefer to waltz the taciturn guard with
his oh-so-French moustache, hoist Scraggly Girl to my shoulders, maybe kiss
her mom, whoever she is, on her blind mouth. Smile at the sketch, Scraggly
Girl smiles back. Smile at her straight on, she looks away, surveying the room
for the quickest face to lose herself in—one of those dime-a-dozen Rembrandts
hanging on the wall.