The man sitting in this coracle is composed almost entirely of his beard, and his beard is composed almost entirely of salt, and from this we know he has been here almost forever. He does not see the land that lifts itself from the horizon to wave at him because he is staring at the wrong horizon. He does not hear the seagulls who scream that the shore is near because he is listening to the wrong sound. It is the sound of water leaking into a coracle. It is the sound of a person leaking out.
He spends the day curled up in the bottom of his coracle, his magnificent beard draped over him like a blanket. All morning he imagines that he has no coracle and floats alone and helpless on the surface of the ocean. Sharks swim lazy circles around him as he tries to arrange his beard into a raft, but it becomes water-logged and starts to pull him under. All afternoon he imagines that his coracle is actually an island and that his quest for land is finally over. On the island there is a barber’s shop with a wonderful view of the sea. There are women on the island who might warm to a man with a well-trimmed beard and sea-dog tales to tell. He goes in for a shave. As night approaches he drifts into the deeper waters of true dream, where neither his coracle nor his beard can follow. All night they watch over him, and they are waiting for him in the morning when he wakes.
Lately I’ve wondered, Darling, whether you’re spending nights in the freezer. Once I watched after (you assumed) the house was asleep, watched you quietly pry the lid—it sighed, billowed icy air—& carefully remove the contents, setting each on the table: TV dinners, shredded spinach, near-empty ice cream cartons. I watched, riveted, as you fished for a stepstool, set it against the cool white exterior, & climbed in, pulling the lid closed as if sealing your own casket. I waited in the dark hallway to see how long you’d stay. Was it a brief penance or something more? Time passed & my thoughts wandered to polar explorers, to Robert Peary, fur-lined & beard iced over, that restless one who hid his half-Inuit son. All our secrets eventually come to light. I woke, still in that hallway, still dark, fearing what I’d find inside. I tiptoed over & cracked the lid but found no one. Had I dreamt it? ...could I too fit within?
When you, Mentor, broached this camping trip, I thought you meant someplace mountainous: Medicine Bow or Vedauwoo. But you packed your shopping cart full of supplies & pushed it a mere three miles to Black Hawk State Forest. That red plastic carriage, the hiking path, deciduous, ambling & aiming to do what few had done before. For sustenance, your sixty hardboiled eggs will only last a week & then it’s foraged violet petals, dandelion greens, sumac tea steeped in a campstove pot. You said, I will sling myself between two trees—which I hope aren’t too far apart. My own cart has a bad wheel & only goes in circles. I stay behind, cleaning & buffing the plastic frame, oiling the wheelworks ’til they glisten, tinker with the crooked one I can’t ever get straight.
This is the sound of Father tying a trout fly. He stands at the workbench, headlamp glowing. He cranks the pitted silver handle of a vise to hold a hook in place. It creaks like a sleepy autumn cricket. Perhaps he pauses to drink from a slightly cracked clay cup. The taste is earth itself. It’s fallen leaves and acorns. It is mulch. His hands are the gray of clouds before light rain, his sip the whisper of soft wind.
And there is a wren singing on the roof of the old red barn. Its song bubbles and twists in an ascending spiral. But without the bird, without wind, the barn has no sound. Until coyotes howl at night and rattle the door. Until an owl.
Here is the house of brick where no one lives anymore. It is muffled, like a shell held to an ear. From hereabouts you can hear a river slow. In the morning you can hear a final trickle.
A man grills his finger on a stove, thinking it’s peculiar that he should grill his own finger. But his wife says the baby is hungry.
Might it not be better, he wonders, to feed the baby milk or something more tender than a finger. But his wife says to become a man one must consume a man.
He understands. Still, when all his fingers are gone, how will he tear his heart out for the boy? But his wife says she has already done that. She chewed on it during conception.
The man notices then for the first time that his wife’s mustache has grown thicker. Ah, thank goodness. He thought he’d been kissing his reflection.
is clean and concise. There is no placenta, no webbed blood. The insides of Mary’s thighs don’t exist, but if they did, they’d be milk-white. A womb is a church no one worships at. Never once did she grit her teeth, though no one has seen the inside of her mouth. Blood will slit from Christ’s side later in life, wound and opening, all blood and water and milk, the manger’s unfinished business. Mary remains a marble-white mountain, a weeping statue with hands of infinite cleanliness, God-riven guts and all.
Sobbing, a Lexus, for the brim of the bridge. Some grittiness left over under the fingernails. They met right past each other. Abrupt syllables, plastic water bottles. Classic Amanda. Winter mittens. Aging at night, especially. Blazing under the bridge. With every light up there. Shooting stars, all of them. Though one needs cheering on. On Hastings, a fancy dish, a head of iceberg lettuce. Turn right at the butter, and make sure no one is watching. Against the backdrop, the hawks circle counterclockwise. Dodge into the barn for a career drink. Dangling modifiers and a shot of Vermouth. Stand by for several mentions. Veer off course. The people are home. Miniature intermissions.
I'm reminded of the sight of bison, shaggy but dignified. My skin hasn't been this clear since. Yesterday, I asked the cashier if it's been six months already. She stared past me, didn’t blink, said she didn’t think so.
The dental hygienist owns only blue pajamas. She longs for a pet peacock, and has promised one to herself, for her 50th birthday, despite knowing her husband’s quarrels with the idea, his preoccupation with city code and fussy neighbors. For now, her dog is her soul mate. Frederick is his name, but only when he’s piddled on the floor. When he’s cuddled next to her in bed, watching another Hallmark movie, he’s Freddy with a Y. When he’s slobbering in the kitchen, waiting for a treat on his small and poorly designed back legs (shih tzus were not built to beg), he’s Freddie with an I-E, which her husband claims is a silly distinction, what’s with the Y and the I-E stuff, and often finds himself mildly annoyed when she explains the spelling of her dog’s nicknames to visitors with a glee that borders on the frenetic. But then her husband’s name is Jim and there’s really no variation with him: he could never have been a Jimmy, nor a James or a Jamie, or, god forbid, a Jem, and she’s certain he came out of the womb with that placid, mildly indignant manner inherent to Jims. She’s a little afraid to research peacocks, in case Jim is right, in case it would be more bother than beauty is worth, like eyelash curlers and manicures. But she’d like to do something outlandish for once—just once—she whispers in her sleep, sometimes, dreaming of the peacock, though Jim imagines she’s dreaming of lovers, of sexual stratagems lying far outside their repertoire, and he gets a little jealous of the lovers he imagines his wife imagining, as well as of his wife, who he chose for her steadiness, though he’ll admit, at 3am, when she’s mumbling in her sleep, that sometimes he wishes one or the both of them had a little more...chutzpah, he guesses, is the word, which reminds him a little too much of shih tzu and of—he checks, the dog’s curled between their feet—of Freddy, who is completely lacking in anything resembling chutzpah. Jim sighs, rolls over and Freddy yips when he accidentally-on-purpose kicks the dog softly. He knows he’s second in some ways to this mop of a creature. He’s mostly okay with that fact; it relieves the tension at the small of his back to know his wife has a soul mate. Maybe he should get her a peacock for her birthday. Maybe it would open a new space in their relationship, like adding on a four seasons room to the house. Maybe they should add on a four seasons room instead and/or as well—maybe the peacock could fan its tail to the panels of windows and sliding glass doors like a preposterous blessing. He begins to fall asleep, soothed. He touches the small of his wife’s back. He imagines her hands in his mouth.
The day I stopped complaining the world dripped like a peach. Hanging swim trunks, a glass of beer, a duck lifting its weight from water. People who are tired of everything come here. Ice cream later, a canal melting from cone to elbow. The row of tourist motels bursting with stories: a paddle boarder who saw the senior flailing after his drifting air mattress—he fell asleep, then fell off. Drunk teenagers who were diving off the pier with the NO DIVING sign pulled up his body. Our server at happy hour smashed down on the stone floor with our tray of mojitos, and shards of glass shot coloured lights in all directions like sunlight under water. The wife screaming on the beach. Our lost drinks. There was nothing to do but watch the film.
Which fruit is better, the one that smells sweeter or the one that looks like it’s about to be born? I went to buy a dress, and I came back with a pair of overalls. At the baby shower, I looked like a child. What’s it called when you forget to make a decision about making a decision? What’s the French word for after age 26 your body begins a slow depreciation until death? I failed economics. I failed Hebrew school, but then again, I never did my homework. I could be a scholar, tucked away in some enchanted mountain lair with my stack of divine purpose, and instead I’m here, in the apartment with the lease that’s less than a year, wondering if I could have saved my basil if I’d paid more attention. In high school, my aptitude test said I should be a roofer or a clergyman. I should have known. There are always two choices, and you will kill someone on the train tracks either way. A synonym for potential is unrealized. There is a French word for singing a song without the lyrics, but it sounds like yogurt. I hope that astronauts who spend their lives in orbit don’t regret leaving gravity. I hope the Buddha was onto something. In another life, I’d grow a forest and live there like a beast.
A boarding kennel caught fire with seventy-five dogs inside. The news tells us they succumbed to smoke inhalation, most likely, not burns. Most likely not burns. So we see a room full of stacked wire crates filling with black smoke, and hear the barking and the clatter of the latches before silence. Not flames, or acrid melting fur, or the crescendo of whines. We built a memorial along the fence outside, printing pictures from Facebook for our friends, still out of town while their dogs died. Wove the stems of flowers through the chain link. We watched as the fire department brought their own dogs, trained to alert their handlers to the scent of accelerants in the ruins. To a dog, they say, smelling the ground is like reading the news. ♦