The truth has stumbled home and she’s tired, gone to sleep. She’s hapless and mediocre. Who comes next? Apathy? Stains? A dance to mark the dissolution of the town at midnight? And all this time we knew—the reservoir’s always been coming whether or not we want it, whether or not our land’s been bought. Let’s hide our steeples and get out of here. The dust is riding along the field’s tops, just as the old men promised. The trees are broken right down the middle. This is not an appropriate game for children. Send the children to Salem. We’ve got bills to pay with the fine grease of our bodies, we’ve got to chop the trees correctly if only for the dignity of what we used to cradle. Let the water come or let it wait. It doesn’t matter, for we all plan to be ghosts here anyways, sulking in wet beds, tapping our neighbors with clay in the night.
Late at night J teaches me how to gamble. You’ve got to look at the mud on the track, he says. What’s the weather like? Where’s that cloud hanging? How big’s the jockey, how thick are his calves, and what’s he got on? He teaches me about all kinds of differentials while drinking a certain kind of beer. Listen, he says, there are so many things to take into account. He writes a long list with a tiny pencil in all capital letters. He never learned how to write in lowercase. The beast could die, he warns. You might never see it coming. The track could have glass shards in it that they never told you about ‘cause not one person on this earth is honest. Do you understand me? Never forget: when the bell rings, everyone’s watching. J takes me to a bridge in New York and says, Look. That’s where the bombs will fall someday. He says, we won’t be anywhere near there when it happens, because I know a thing or two about running. I can run on any kind of surface or layer. Even one that’s atomic. I'll grab you up when it happens, put you in my sidecar, so don’t you worry about anything, I’ve got all the numbers and their respective cards in my pockets. This country’s not going anywhere, not without me, he says. Not if I have anything to say about it, and I do. Just look at all these numbers. At least one of them is the answer. You have to win someday, it would be impossible not to, as long as you kept trying and never died. And he pulls all the paper and guitar picks out of his pocket, lays them out on his linty palm, leans in, and asks, Right? and says, Right.
J’s fake wife is on the stage again. He says, she’s the goal. That’s who you should be, might be, in time. Although it will be hard considering your heavy load in some places and your flat emptiness in others. You're just, well, listen—it’s hard to be beautiful when you’re a poet, he warns, you can’t have everything. It's hard to be beautiful when your straining is so clear. J’s fake wife shakes her jewelry and smells like wine. She says things like Come here baby, but no one even knows who she is talking to, and everyone wishes she is talking to them. In reality she’s talking to nobody but herself, who she is stranded within. Yes, like her, J says.
Now, if you'll remember, I met you at a hospital. You were very large and I had just arrived four seconds prior. You said, I’ve waited a long time for you to marinate enough to be alive. You’ll get bigger like a man, you said, no matter what your genitals. One day you’ll be bigger than a man, and then you will populate even me with your stories. You were right. I am as large as a sun and my words arrive just like I did, darkly and in the snow; by foot—very thirsty. More thirsty than any of my masters. Shiny and downwards like a sieve. I couldn’t have told you that I’d always known all this—I was too small then. But now I am a person, detached and sated, so far from tender.
Carolyn Zaikowski's fiction and poetry, as well as her critical work on feminism, veganism, trauma, and language, has been published widely. She is also the author of a novel, A Child Is Being Killed (Aqueous Books, 2013.) She holds and MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa University. Find her at http://www.liferoar.wordpress.com.