Artwork courtesy of Amy Crockett and Chari Crockett
I was born in a bathtub underwater. No one has ever loved someone he saved from drowning. Our mother was a thin ghost bred of the ash at the pit of a cob pipe and we found you crying in the bottom of a deep gravel quarry in a fire burning. No one has ever loved someone in a fire burning and not ever has anyone loved someone, we've learned. For years we'd searched for the smell of it like steam in the bottoms of jars or in the morning grass, but grew content to sleep in the still terror of knowing something new of the world.
“We've learned enough,” we'd say.
You wanted to be an actress and carved the word in the webbing between your middle and index fingers with the head of a sewing needle. Thirteen—I drank the blood. We kissed to the fractured and distant applause of our mother beating the dust from the laundry line. You stood to take your bows. That night we found the glass of a flower vase tangled deep within your hair and you promised your life to a performance of a young woman growing treacherously old, clutching a dream of being loved and passionate between her fingers.
We grew together as orphans, coming to understand the nature of the world in observing the strange and dark colors of dawn—in wonder of times when there was a sky and others when there wasn't any.
We made love in singular thrusts spread hourly over the course of a month, falling asleep entwined and penetrated. On the thirtieth day you moaned an imperceptible frequency the exact pace of your lowering yourself into the bath and this was the manner in which I loved you, I said. In days, without a voice and still moaning, you wrote in a breath spread across the window:
“This is joy and may it be forever.”
You had me set a fire to char the kettle empty, standing stiffened in the far corner. The air inside it turned to smoke and nested in the rafters and together we grew hot and starving, the bones of our fingers rattling against each other the sound of wanting.
Our mother dead and we learned of your inability to harbor a child. I pressed my hand against you, thanking God in whispers while forever you exhaled a great bellow of warmly scented dust.
Tired, you tapped the glass at the birds, watching it crack into long and black spiderwebs in a trance or a kind of meditation you hadn't known yourself capable of. Small pieces broke into the sink and broke again, bursting into pinpricks of sunlight in an arrangement which could have meant something only to you—and you promising yourself to remember it always. Later you thought of digging a hole to bury it, bleeding into the meadow brush and again picking the glass from your hair.
You bore blood into the floorboards. We left it to scab black and high in the wood grain, for time to spread to dust.
You pinched between your fingers, walking the house in the pattern of fruit gnats and wandering spirits, your face sharp and soaked tar black—profound with an understanding of growing older. You bit your lip at the door off its hinges and the ivy vines pulling back the frame and wanted to know where something had gone that had never been there.
“Life is both violent and dull,” you said.
You were white with bathwater and rage and I poured a kettle over you. There was a fly dead in the water, touching your breast in a rhythm and our home had grown dark with the deaths of too many things.
“Life is violent,” you said, “terrifying and rapid.”
I poured the kettle again and you sank to meet the fly.
“I was born in a bathtub underwater,” I said, “and you, in a fire burning.”
You were a still fury and steam, then swallowed the fly and sank again. You sank and kept sinking down until you were the bottom of things. You sank and you were the bottom of things born in a fire burning—born in a bathtub underwater and born in a fire burning. I was myself and poured the kettle and you were the bottom of things born in a fire burning.
“No one has ever loved someone he saved from drowning,” I said.
Peter Ho Davies
They are prepared. They’ve dabbed perfume between their thighs, ripped the hair off their upper lips, strapped on heels meant for stages. They’ve tucked rubbers into their wallets, washed their balls with peppermint soap, withdrawn enough cash for anything. For drugs, women. Paying off a cop. They don’t know what exactly, but they can feel it coming, the adrenaline humming in their stomachs.
They’ve gathered at the clock to watch one year become the next, to see what they can glean from this final hour. Boys hurl fireworks that clear bald spots on the street, fireworks the crowd sees coming because faces are turned up, waiting for the clock’s hands to move from reclined to fully erect.
The cheer is unanimous for the girl who delivers, the one who is sober enough to climb the “Don’t Walk” light yet drunk enough to flash her tits. The crowd is relieved someone has finally mounted something. To this they raise their bottles, their plastic cups of champagne. MoreMoreMore, they chant and shove closer like believers vying to be beamed up first, like she is there to save them, to climb atop the clock itself and fuck the life out of its death march.
The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands
At first, I thought to slice off his face and wear it over my own. Our bodies were similar, though he was perhaps a little taller and perhaps a little thiner, but still close enough that she wouldn't notice. Nor would she notice the red seam running from my hair to my ear to my chin. She never looked that closely anyway.
Then, I thought it better to slice off my face and place it over his without his knowledge. Impractical as it seemed, I imagined I would laugh a gurgling, wet laugh from my new red face as her desire to look at him gradually diminished over the weeks. He'd weep through the holes in my old face as he came to understand what it meant to live in her radiant indifference.
In the end, I found the greatest joy in wearing her face over mine.
He is lonely like Adam with every rib. He does what he’s always done. He grabs his rifle and his hat to escape into the forest, the mountain spines, the only woman who will have him. Nature takes him back into her womb with a sigh of summer air; humid and thick with mosquito clouds. He searches diaries of mud and paw prints to escape his singularity. By the salmon-stinking river his feet stumble into water and his heart into joy. Steady now against the empty bed, the vacant sweaters, the spaces he can't bear to fill; the rifle butt kisses his shoulder as she used to. The old grizzly looks up just in time to hear the bullet song penetrate her skull. He touches the mountain of her withers and is alone again. Then he notices.
He cries with the two cubs.
Now that there are more zoos than animals, I am much in demand. I can play a marvelous monkey. I can swell in contained water to any size of hippopotamus you want. I’ve even done birds. The key is that not only will you believe I am that one animal you were wishing to see, but I will believe it, too. I will believe it like the taste of salt on sugar. I can be almost anything. For a short time, I can even be a box turtle. When my shift is done I merge quickly into the crowd and shuffle along as though I had been embedded in the populace all along: moving from empty cage to empty cage, peering in all the corners and hiding places just in case this is the cage that today has the animal, just in case I have found the one prize that today has been put out, sunning in the shadows. When I find it, I look at the animal face on, eye to eye, hackle to hackle: and I say this is not me, how dare they hire an imposter. This crowd deserves the best and there is no one better than me. I demand only the best for my crowd. And I have to be stopped from breaching the safety fence.
I sat on top of a Sycamore tree, comfy, and looked around, aimed here and there without any real passion for aiming until a girl appeared. She looked like Little Red Riding Hood without the hood. — The tale came back to me right away and with it a painful memory: how I’d wet the bed when my grandma first told me. Grandma in her own bed, blanket pulled up under her nose, our family’s nose, a little bulbous, strong-willed, strong sense of smell, grandma speaking Grimm into the dark. Both of us smelling the scent of the beast in the story. And then the ruckus when I peed myself! — I could smell the girl on the street now. She dragged a teddy bear after her and scolded him as little kids do: you stupid bear! I wasn’t sure she deserved to be shot at. I took aim: this was going to be tricky. I hit her between the shoulder blades. She turned, bent down, picked up the candy bar, dropped the teddy and ran off without looking up just as I imagined she would. The teddy on his back didn’t smile and he didn’t seem surprised either.
how they survive the upper peninsulaSarah only sings out of tune when she’s in the shower. Her eyes are shipwrecks in Lake Michigan. Francis masturbates in their bed as Sarah butchers low-fi indie pop. He decides not to leave their bed. He decides he is Lake Michigan. Sarah dips her toes into his shore. She breathes under his water and decides her neck has gills. While Sarah is underwater she builds churches, meets Elvis and buys insurance from great white sharks. Sarah emerges to kiss each of Francis’s toes. She tells him I have been baptized in menthol cigarettes, pennies and slot machines.
how they forget to water the plantsSarah flashes her clavicles to hungry stockbrokers. They yell stork legs, while fingering their five hundred dollar silk pants. Francis manages a bookie’s office. The bookie smokes chunks of plaster wall and mumbles my keyboard is on fire– ants, ants are everywhere. Francis displays small paintings of bicycle tires inside Sarah’s left ear. Sarah moonlights as a movie critic using the alias Leonard Maltin. When their heating bill is past due, Francis and Sarah record themselves fucking. They sell the video as an instruction manual on how to cure Aspergers Syndrome.how they talk with ghostsFrancis sculpts Sarah’s ankles with orange peels. Sarah thinks her most attractive features are her ankles and her laugh. Francis can’t draw her laughter but he says I will sketch pigeons as they flurry from your mouth. Sarah paints every door of their 1997 Ford Escort a different color. The rear driver door becomes a monument to Nas. Think graffiti and Uzis and black plastic and cigar guts. Think sharp pinky fingers. Francis and Sarah rattle a spray paint can. The ball inside chops off zombies’ heads, but not in the way you might think. It leaves the heads draped over telephone wires like so many Converse. The spray paint ball reveals itself to be a masterpiece on the rims of each tire: Francis and Sarah inside Urban Outfitters, building small deer.how they are an island in the sunThere is electric guitar fuzz on my face, you can’t really call it a beard, Francis says. And on the seventh day God created power pop, Sarah says. They listen to the entire Weezer discography while Sarah shaves Francis’s guitar fuzz. When his face is brand new, Francis talks to the rain. He watches James Bond movies in an empty theater. He dances with Sarah on their ceiling and they defend The Green Album. Francis and Sarah fuck every time Rivers sings about heartache. They fuck a lot. Francis comes as three chord anthems tickle Sarah’s neck. He says I will crush your pretty toenails into a thousand pieces. Sarah responds let’s sew our pants together.how they go to an a.a. meetingFrancis and Sarah move pixilated characters around a black and white screen. The pixels jump over gorges, rescue kittens and always make it home for dinner. Francis types c++ into their computer and the pixels begin to drink. Candle wax slides from their mouths. Sarah is turned on, she hides behind a Yellow Cab and touches herself. The pixels watch and drink and feel sorry for watching and drinking. By the time Sarah comes, the pixels have checked themselves into a hospital. Francis pawns his rosary beads to pay for the pixel’s medical bills. Minutes later, Francis and Sarah reminisce about the pixels and say they were bent carbon, dumb luck, a very small lake.
Seeking the Elusive Flower
Shiloh means “place of peace,” she tells me. I tell her that Freud endured thirty-three operations for cancer of the jaw. It’s already the afternoon when we’re visited by a man with sleep-tousled hair. Life has been reduced to the paper one accumulates passing through it. Years from now, we’ll make the rocks leap and split. Meanwhile, the circus bears must dance their creepy minuet.
I have a pale, wretched face, an injured hand, but your breath tastes purple to me and far from everywhere.
And when I fill you, you’re Atlanta, smoldering and in ruins, and I’m a cart loaded with the groaning wounded, we’re twelve grains of gunpowder floating mightily through the air, a new kind of pearl-handled combustion, and the only patch of snow to endure to evening on our quiet street.
Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa, 1880-91
When the preacher asked the question, Jim didn’t move. He felt stuck, like a piece of rusted machinery. From the last row, he watched Julie search the congregation. She flipped up her veil and looked right at him. That's when he realized he was standing, trembling, about to yell.
I know her face but forget her name; she works out at the same gym, sometimes beside me. Different in life clothes, hair down she’s almost attractive. She takes the other, longer line reserved for big ticket items and cash.
“I hear you crossed over to the dark side,” she says, arms full of packages tied up with string.
I laugh. “I didn’t want to but I had to.”
“We miss you, that’s for sure.”
“Yeah, I miss you guys too.”
Some man behind me huffs. I take two steps forward and then one more for good luck.
“Think you’ll ever come back?”
“Maybe. It all depends on the price.”
“Forty dollars is a lot these days.”
“You’re telling me.”
Some lady behind me giggles. I turn around into sagging skin, eyes void of brightness, eyebrows full of gray.
“What’s the dark side?” she whispers, leaning forward.
“Anything you want it to be.”
She giggles, and for a moment I feel free.
The Street of a Thousand Blossoms
I do not sleep. I lie in the night trying to hear a baby shrieking, an exploding howl leaking from its pink skin like some bird.
I wonder Did I swallow it? Did I eat my baby all wrong? Did my fork aim incorrectly, miss the peas, stab flesh instead?
Oh, my throat. My throat is sticky with much spit. I can feel it at night the most, when the stillness of my throat is submerged and resting in saliva. How many baby throats I could fit inside my large throat!
The husband, he has bulbous eyes on his face skin that close when he sleeps like well like a baby.
I was not raised on a farm with grandparents and babies but I remember it that way. I remember babies in the grass crawling up up up me. I remember my skin being soft and hot and my skin it woke open and ready.
There is a tear on my belly where they carved it out of me. My eggs have froth like sea foam.
The husband, he drinks tea while I swirl around, locating the missing hands.
I see they are naked too. Their breasts are tits and boobs. They are the life of their own libido. I look in their eyes and they register empty. They recognize nothing. They are not new. Not more than light. They are expenses of energy from within me and without me. They are moments already faded. Leaves crumble in the hand of a horny child. I love this child and the forest he crushes. These women are looking at me because I forced them to, because I forced myself to. This bondage is a bandage for the horny wound.
These women are expensive and tasteless.
These art forms are cheap and delicious.
When I’m dead, my eyes will look like the pictures I masturbate to.
Desmond Tutu. Mahatma Gandhi.
Tiger wakes rumpled, whiskers crinkled, the blue of her eyes soggy with sleep. This was not the morning she envisioned, summer turning in for the year, fleece blankets and long pajamas emerging and under-cover cuddling the way to get warm. She didn't sleep last night, and neither did I. I crashed, face-down like Tiger must have, into a corner of the airless green couch, turning my head to escape its sueded depths. John slept at ease. I curled myself into one position then another against his long frame to say silently he loved me. It seemed his pores could communicate an unconscious caring. Maybe mine could too, so if we lay together long enough, skin breathing in skin, he would start to believe. When he woke he struggled back into his shirt, asked for a soda to wake him up for the ride. I gave him my last cold one. He would call, he said. When he needed me, he would call.
The World I Live In
I’ve often wondered where cities begin and where they end. The polarities imply natural magnetism, direct currents in confluence with circuitry and the cathodes of memory. History seems marginalized by the only print people seem to read nowadays- restaurant menus. Tiger prawns, Kurobuta pork, Hackleback caviars- the lexicon of privilege, the scholarly diodes of culinary vibrancy. Deconstructionism is a matter of salad forks and steak knives, says my blind date, who’s also performing a phenomenological analysis on the culmination of sautéed recipes. She tells me her dream is to quadruple her weight so she can document her corpulence for an internet show. I ask her if she’d like to venture to a buffet after the meal, and her eyes glimmer in affirmation. I can almost see the thought bubbles above her- if only she’d grasp the poetry of grenobloise and rainbow trout, she’d emerge from irrelevancy into the palms of epiphany- or is that obesity?
A Passage to India