6/29/13

Sampson Starkweather

Some General Instructions

When faced with a moral or ethical dilemma
always use your imagination,
do not be alarmed by asparagus pee
or its cousin, beet-pee, there is no guide to being alive
just a lot of electrons and time, unfortunately
it’s true, people cannot be trusted,
but do it anyway. It’s great! Trust me.
I have proof. If you encounter a beached whale do not call
the authorities, at least not right away, take some time
to walk around the large mammal, you should not waste
the opportunity to touch one of mother nature’s most astonishing creatures,
look it in the eye, and if the feeling comes over you, say something
to the whale, for far too long we have neglected whale-human communication,
and after it all, it’s beached, and could use some company, they travel in pods
and are not accustomed to being alone, so I imagine it would be very scared,
and maybe for a few seconds, exhilarated to be on land, an entirely different
surface, surrounding, and set of rules, I won’t say world, but we can agree
on “otherworldly,” as if one is suddenly flung onto an un-understood materiel
or profane sphere, but of course it can’t breathe, so about now you should probably
be calling the nearest whaling authorities, assuming you have a cell-phone, but you should,
if for no other reason than beached-whale emergencies, but also so you can simply call all
the people you love anytime you want, so you can hear their voices and talk to them
about nonsense things or make plans to see the movies, or dump your problems and fears
on them, which is okay, but try to allow them time to dump their problems
or anxieties on you too, or at least let them talk— this, I’ve found
is a fantastic time to fold some laundry,
if you work with people, you should probably know their names, think of it
as currency that you can buy things with, in this scenario, work is not unlike a bodega,
for the most part you should Bcc when writing to large groups of people, but sometimes it’s nice to Cc everyone and pretend it was an accident, and then without warning it’s like this big party where everyone can see everyone else and maybe think of some of them and what they might be doing or remember some time they got drunk and took fake family portraits gathered around
a giant mounted moose-head at either some really fancy, or really sketchy bar, or you biked
to the beach and talked about publishing and a new kind of poem and the importance of
creating arcs in manuscripts while not really believing it, and drinking cans of weird beer
with some regional quality to them that makes you feel a part of some secret, and somehow impervious to time until you realize the exquisite sunburn you’ve acquired, of which you will be caught picking dead skin from in an editorial meeting on Monday but not really care because the girl who caught you could never understand the complexity and radiant circumstances behind such a sunburn, so you doddle something sexual or comic or both,
the point is there are reasons, that are beautifully beyond validation, to Cc large groups of people from different parts of your life from time to time so they can get to know each other or at least open the channel to the possibility of communication or who knows, LOVE, or
at least, the pleasure one gets from reading a list of email addresses
of generally creative and intelligent people,
toast depends on the toaster, period,
there are such things as Japanese-apple-pears, but for reasons we don’t have time to go into here,
they only grow in New Zealand, and watch out, apples in general are much juicer in New Zealand, people live a lot longer there too because they have nothing to do,
go ahead, ruminate on that for a while…good, now where were we, oh yes
taking a saltshaker into a tomato patch is never a bad idea,
do not underestimate the gravitas of sandwiches,
one should make a sandwich with great care and love and imagination
sure, you could say that of all things, but it’s not true, you don’t need much imagination
to take out the trash or love to the do the dishes, sandwich-making is on a higher plain
similar to the holiness of jumping, science and experience cannot explain why, for no
apparent reason, humans will jump, however it appears to happen less as one grows
older, my advice is to make it a habit to jump every now and then, imagine what people
will think seeing an adult just jump, imagine the surprise and joy you can enact inside
people merely by a random jump, poetry does this, poetry is constantly jumping, which
is one reason those of us who love it, love it, and probably not one of the reasons
that those who don’t love it, don’t love it, people who don’t love poetry jump less
than people who love poetry, and that’s a fact,
writing a poem does not make you sensitive or dorky or deep
it just makes you poor, but don’t let that stop you, there is pleasure in writing poems
that is like fixing a problem or building a house, okay maybe not quite like building a house,
but building something beautiful out of wood, something that perhaps you can use,
even if in an unconventional way, although it can be hard sometimes
to do, but don’t be paralyzed by a poem or an un-poem, meaning the poem
you have yet to write, you can relax, in the grand scheme of things no one is really
going to read it, besides perhaps a few friends who know it’s just a poem with no value and yet  cherish it, or more likely forget it, but eternalize it regardless, without effort or will,
and if it happens to be good or have the luck to do what poems can sometimes do,
it becomes a part of those few who happened to read it, and not unlike a gland or organ
will lie inside us, dormant, until the time comes for it to synthesize some substance
into our bodies that temporarily saves us, besides there is nothing that can’t happen
in a poem, and who doesn’t want to a little bit of that!, so just put it in play
and stay attuned, I mean you wouldn’t daydream during a racket ball game
would you, well maybe you would, but you might get a red rubber ball smashed
in your crotch too, food for thought,
wear clothes that fit, no excuses, whenever possible
try to have your picture taken standing in front of giant paintings, it’s not important
what kind, but ideally, the more abstract, the better, when viewing art
it is important to look at it from a distance until a general impression is formed,
then to get closer and closer until the work is totally unrecognizable,
there is a name for this phenomenon and you should learn it and use it as much as possible
at parties, drugs, alcohol, and sex should be deeply experimented with,
but so should forgiveness, kindness, and empathy, cocktails of the stuff!,                       
smiling is the shit, seriously, I know it’s not cool to talk about, but just do it, a lot!,
it will make all those complicated organs and viscera inside you work better,
think of smiling as a tax-break
for your vital organs, and you know what, your unvital organs too, I’m sure the tonsil
and appendix and spleen are all lifted of a burden each time you smile, and what’s even better
is to make others smile, which might not help your viscera much,
but it will make you happy, and there are very few things,
perhaps none, that will make you happier than making another person smile, and assuming
there is such thing as a soul and or spirit, it’s safe to say making people smile is the equivalent
of food and light and oxygen and water in this life as we know it, come to think of it,
the spleen is pretty important, laughter too is vital, and more importantly will give you
a chiseled jawline, when flying
try to bring a range of reading material, always back up
your files, one trick is to email yourself all your poems, hold on to the dream
of getting hacked and the hacker turning out to be a famous publisher who wants to publish
your collected works, be kind to animals, remember people are animals too,
a general appreciation of death is healthy, I think, at any time you have the choice
to do the New York Times crossword puzzle, or get up and visit the grave
of a family member or friend, have you ever gone to visit someone’s grave,
there is nothing like it, and afterward you feel sad but strong and you can feel and smell
and taste things differently, at least for a day or two, until you’re swallowed up
by internal to-do lists and allergic reactions to shellfish,
if you see a gorilla, I don’t know,  just try to appreciate it,
surrealism can be fun (partake), if you work in an office make an effort to be mischievous
and creative, paper airports por ejemplo, or take Wallace Stevens for example,
before executive meetings he’d have his secretary pick up delicious sticky buns
from the best bakery in Hartford, “extra sticky,” then place them in the middle
of the table for the hungry execs, of course he made sure his secretary didn’t bring
napkins, and as the execs devoured them, a certain panic and confusion and
embarrassment settled, an internal weather, leading to great pleasure
for its architect and only later its victims, which I believe should be considered
an extension of Mr. Stevens’ poetry, although maybe I made this up,
but that only illustrates my point further,
tennis courts are without question more interesting at night,
fears, trains, and dreams are all related, but I’ll leave it to you to discover how,
people are often afraid of the ocean, and they should be,
this is the part where someone says people are afraid of what they don’t understand,
but that’s baloney, I don’t understand most things, and most things
that I truly love deep down are utterly beyond me
and likewise I am afraid of the things I do understand, like getting hit by a truck
or developing heart-disease or my friends and family growing old and dying, 
but getting back to the ocean for a minute, I have found that there are at least two methods
of entering the ocean that redefine the sublime,
the first is to lie on a beach-towel, or if you’re a brave enough soul, directly on the sand
on a hot sunny day and to stay there thinking thoughts or whatever it is that you do when you lie still and close your eyes, until you start to sweat and feel your skin
begin to burn, then, and this works well with a friend, to bolt upright, and run as fast as you can
toward the sea, not stopping until you are knocked down by a wave,
the second method is start walking at a methodical and deliberate pace without stopping
from the parking lot on a windy day when the water is still cold, and stripping off
all your clothes on the way as you continue to walk, without looking back, right into
the freezing ocean with a serene face and zombie-like determination
through wave after wave until you your feet can’t touch anymore
and you are essentially floating, be careful,
people do weird things around bridges
and somehow this is comforting and the way it should be,
snow can be annoying and romantic,
you should not tip based on your emotions, and remember gypsy cabs factor the tip into the fair, but you should tip them anyway, because it will make you both feel better,
when tipping at a bar don’t worry if when you go to put the tip in the jar,
the bartender suddenly turns around and doesn’t see you,
go on with your drink, with your night, with your life,

somehow the bartender always knows.


Sampson Starkweather's First 4 Books are now available from Birds, LLC.

6/28/13

Sommer Browning

BEST OF

These new pinking shears won Best of 2012 New Pinking Shears.
          When I hear walking in the shadows I think of Fleetwood Mac.

This icicle won Best of 2012 Icicle.
          When I hear moo shoo gai pan I think of Wayne’s World.

Fresh eggs won Best of 2012 Fresh Eggs.
          For god so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son reminds me of The Bible.

Your movienovel won Best of 2012 Movienovel—sorry, I meant Movienovel soundtrack
          Someone hates these cans! See, there, now I’ve touched it. Looking good, Billy Ray. Feeling good, Louis reminds me of being a child.

This coffee stirrer won Best of 2012 Cylinder.
          Skype reminds me of Cindy King. Postcards remind me of Brenna. When I hear rigamarole I think of my father.

Blagojevich’s prison sentence won Best of 2012 Prison Sentence.
          This screw won Best of 2012 Sex.

Hypnotherapy reminds me of Kristin Prevallet, Beth’s play, Herzog and how I could have stayed at his house once, had a whisky in his glass, would have to keep it a secret, but I can tell everyone that I didn’t.
          This branch, this eyelid, this limp won Best of 2012 Branch, Eyelid and Limp, respectively.

Fourscore reminds me of Abraham Lincoln.
          This pulse won Best of 2012 Sign of Life.

Alison reminds me of Buckminster Fuller, and Buckminster Fuller reminds me of Alison.
          Montana won Best of 2012 Empty Place.

Kelly also reminds me of Buckminster Fuller.
          Kelly won Best of 2012 Buckminster Fuller Reminder.

Hope chests remind me of chiffarobes which remind me of Hazel Motes which reminds me that everyone is a church and I bow in you.
          Flannery O’Connor won Best of 2012 Flannery O’Connor until we renamed the award.

The thorax reminds me of misery, of the washing of hands, of the edges of puzzle pieces, of teeth filed down, thin layer of oil on all the lakes.
          Dibujos remind me of Orlando.

Avi file formats won Best of 2012 File Formats. This is actually the only winner I’m sure of.
          Casey’s other names are C!B!, Goosey Gander, Case & Queso American because if the world is infinite, perfection exists.

The square won Best of 2012 Non-Circle.
          Be the change you want to see in the world reminds me of boiling water, of ironing, of cardboard.

Have a good one won Best of 2012. Period.
          Yeah, I walk through the valley of death and I, like, fear nothing.


WE’RE CALLING

our bar Fingerbang, we say.

One atom carbon, one oxygen, the tailpipe says.

This is the day of the expanding man, you hear Donald Fagan say
and ask the Food Lion cashier, How much for the dead mums?

Finger her … like in a line-up? says the comedian, you say.
If we have a boy, we’re naming him Donald Fagan, I say.

One atom carbon, one oxygen, my mother says her father said
as he listened to the anti-zeitgeist. beeeeeeeeeep,

they make Eddie Murphy say.

Only two drops under the tongue, the homeopathic remedy says.
A spoonful of sugar, the unrelatable entity says.

How much for the dead mums? I say to remind you that I remember what you say.
-------------------, my husband says.

A man without language is an ugly, balding woman, I think I hear everyone say.

Happy minute, the bartender at The Buffet says and we agree,
the Assisted Suicide is a good name for anything.


I LOVE MUSIC AND I LOVE PEOPLE, BUT I HATE SHOW AND I HATE BUSINESS
—Bettye Swann
for Julia Cohen

I’m right back where I started. The piano is religious in its corner.
The ocean laps everything breaking its surface.
The rhythm dissolves the polyester over the speakers.
Is it true that digitally, anything?
And the always foolish heart, victim of also, victim of saxophone, victim of women. Good things come,
The merry-go-round, then money records, Jehovah, just you.

Won’t it make you feel bad? The pair, then one triggermoon?
Vibraphone rots true cello heavy-love.
Katydid swims in my perm.
Four-track tile heart & soul.
Backup singers;
no, really—get back.


Sommer Browning writes poems, draws comics and tells jokes. She lives in Denver and is the author of Either Way I'm Celebrating and The Presidents and Other Jokes.


6/27/13

Noah Eli Gordon

LUGGAGE ARRIVES IN THE WORLD WHERE IT WAITS
for Oren Silverman

just as two lines arrive in the poem as a couplet
so two policemen arrive at the edge of the world

one in front of the other, but from a different angle
simply parallel, proving authority’s only the arrival

of an imposition imposing its rule on whomever
allows the flower to wilt in the tiny world of its water glass

what is the image of happiness if not when
alarms ring out in the world & we ignore them

all the police aimlessly wandering through our poems
the sad pride of all the police aimlessly wandering

how wonderful to sit here and hum
purposefully alive with the fires of boredom


from The Year of the Rooster

You & Roo’s collaborative poem
on the ills of capital
You & Roo’s condemnation of nudity
with all clothes removed

Blah, blah, blah… the body, etcetera

La-la-la… Lacan, etcetera

All these poets disgusted by flowers
ashamed of the semen covering everything in sight

Blah, blah, blah—the body
La-la-la—Lacan

This bare spot where bark’s abraded
is perfect for carving your name

Go ahead, throw a tantrum
Tumultuous terrible eros pierces everything

          so like a dance whose choreographer insists
          each participant know only her own part
          producing on stage the genuine surprise
          life otherwise lacks


WHY I AM NOT AN ACADEMIC


There’s the sun

And there—the culture of sun

The first word spoken in its shadow was a verb

The first spoken in the shadow of its shadow, an adjective

One dances to decorous music

The other hardly moves at all

Noah Eli Gordon's latest book, The Year of the Rooster, is available from Ahsahta Press. He operates various levers behind Letter Machine Editions, The Volta, Subito Press, and CUBoulder’s MFA program.

6/26/13

Rachel B. Glaser

The Clumber Spaniel

Two boys played under the top bunk, grabbing for the pocketknife. Al got cut, but laughing licked up the blood. Way past David Letterman, Cub coughed, tasting the soft- serve caught in his throat. Al had the cut dream. All boys that are cut later drop to dream, folding into a typical variation of the cut dream. In the dream, the staircase is longer or shorter, depending how big the cut.

The boys ran down the highway and the day wagged on after. Al wasn’t mad about the cut. During laser tag, the future sang Tom Petty “Freefallin’” into open ears. The boys found themselves in front of an old pinball game and felt the private feeling of manning a machine. The metal balls felt wet and smart, jumping among the gleaming junk of the machine’s irrelevant theme. The FBI, the major leagues, everything evened out to the same. All pinball machines endure a shadowy wait. It seems like ages until the next warm quarters.

A Fat Cat happened by when nothing else was happening. Fat Cat wasn’t fat. He was eighteen and like a big cartoon cat, unshaven and mooning on his sax. There was much to moon about. It kept coming to their heads in montage form. The mooning was about the moon and how it looked up there whole, like a balloon stuck on the ceiling.

The boys were worth locking up in a locket, worth leaving class without a pass. But now there were no classes. Now there were no passes. There were girls, but not close by. Their seventeen years lit up like a dollar bill. Nothing ever felt necessary. The sax said, “Keep it—this generous boredom."

The boredom zagged and slept. They remembered girls as girl Snoopys, pouting tears, skipping happy, saying their half asleep abstractions into the pillow. Laying in the dark, the boys heard the ghost songs of Native Americans, a lonely flute losing to the wind. They smiled and left their screennames logged on.

The boys shared their mini pizza bagels with the Clumber Spaniel, who dragged himself around the house and then hours later around again. He lay in afternoon sun. Around him, the living room spread out on all sides. A dusty collection of figurines sat on the windowsill; a rubber Donald Duck stood even with an Empire State Building. TV was projected over the flowered wallpaper. A long striped couch faded from the sun. On top of the Persian rug were the demolished remains of a massive card-house. The Clumber Spaniel snored. The Andy Warhol self-portrait moped on his wall.

The boys took frivolous naps, filling their heads with unreal preoccupation, wonderful combinations, and a gentle anxiety that clamped their foreheads like the sax’s highest note. Sleep ate their days into pieces, but there were too many to begin with. The soft-serve machine hummed next to the washer and dryer. Once you had one of those it was soft-serve every night until it was as usual as cereal—only a guest could have gotten excited.

“All I really want to eat is toothpaste. No one ever let me.” They could do that, the toothpaste, and sitcom marathons too. Too many in a row and sentiments started to swim. On the show and in the boys. Sympathy tied itself in a neat bow, but once the TV powered off, reality was back there coughing. Raw eggs had never looked so predictably bizarre.

When they needed their hands in things, Cub stuck his in the cool whip and Al had his with the spoons, in their sectioned-off drawer. “What beautiful gloom,” said Fat Cat, but that was about the dog and what was arranged around him. Monopoly sat messily underneath the Spaniel. They’d tried the board games, but their imaginations couldn’t be touched. America’s Funniest Home Videos persisted on top of the flowers. “There’s something amazing and confusing about Bob Saget.” The boys stared without blinking. Al nodded, “The things he says aren’t jokes.” Cub chewed his tongue. “What are they?”

The hungry brown of the Spaniel’s iris took up his whole eye. To successfully flip an ear open was to see the waxy galaxy that hid inside. Cub pulled his hand from the Spaniel and changed the channel. Sometimes the Andy Warhol eyed them wearily; other times his approval radiated between the pink and the red.

They’d been sitting so long their butts were sleeping. It was a dull decade to teenage in. Old film had convinced them wholly, and now they sat around squinting. “How come the seventies had different colors?” Al asked. Fat Cat was privileged to be born in ‘79. He’d stuck a fat baby foot in, before the door slammed shut.

The boys said words that made their mouths satisfied. “Have you seen any Antonioni?” Any parental influence was trapped in the amber of the thorough movie collection left behind. “Kurosawa, Werner Herzog, Terrance Malick.” Taped on a VHS was the mother pregnant with Cub on a late night talk show, patting her fat belly and joking with the host. The footage made Cub feel locked from the whole laughing world. The boys taped it over with America’s Funniest Home Videos. They brought their beers to the bathtub, and the Clumber Spaniel watched with heavy eyes.

There are no pictures of the Clumber young. When it was young they didn’t take pictures, though all of them felt giant relief. Its mouth was new and pink. They’d bought themselves a beginning. It would pant, a dog grin, then, all of a sudden shut its mouth and look serious, reality stricken. Then just as suddenly, let its tongue back out panting. Something finally liked them and for no reason. They weakened the dog into a pet. They could leave and leave and go, and it would wait, wanting all and some and more of them.

Cub lay back on the bottom bunk, his ankles prisoners of his pants. He reached one hand under the bed and pulled out an old music box. New York used to look so shiny at night. Cub wound up the music box and it played willingly. By the end of New York City, NYU had overrun its boundaries. No other flower grew but the NYU flower, a perennial pansy genetically modified by university ag-grad students. The purple markings had been approximated into the school’s logo, spotting the white round petals. He could hear Al kicking the Clumber’s water bowl, making the sci-fi sound. Sometimes the Yankees symbol looked like a swastika. He let his eyelids fall shut. America is a studio audience, he thought, smiling into his pillow. The Clumber Spaniel was peeing in the living room. An acoustic guitar would give you as much as you gave it, plus a little more, thought Cub. An electric guitar would give you even more than that. A distortion pedal could make a note into a conversation. The soft serve machine whirred on.

With their faces in the fields, it hit home just how many little spikes of grass there were, blind and unnumbered, laid out and waiting like everything else. The weather was just a little too cold. “That how it’s supposed to be,” Al said, “you’re supposed to feel it.” The wind was constant back and forth, washing hair in air, coolly blowing their eyelashes. It was dog weather, but the Spaniel looked the same. Unconsciously it followed them out of the house, into the fields, then circled and sat in the dead grass, but wouldn’t chase a wispy tennis ball for anything. He bit his feet, sniffed nostalgically at the grass, and sat with a dead blade of it in the valley of his tongue. “This tennis ball is like prehistoric,” Al said, throwing it in Cub’s face. Cub looked at its white under-bone, “It’s just from the eighties.” Al let the tennis ball roll slowly away, “Give it some time.”

**

A highway winded through the fields. One side had woods, the other side had nothing. Ashley and Mary Kate sat in the back seat with their elbows on the elbow rest. “Do you realize,” they chirped, “that we’ve never swam in a lake,” they sniffed, “ever?” The bodyguards smiled despite their fat necks and pointed at the clock display.

“Your father.”

“Whatever,” Ashley said with little breath, “please stop though, I have to pee real bad.” The woods stared blindly from the side of the highway. “I have to too,” Mary Kate said, pleased. The bodyguards had lost all but their huge bodies and a nagging inner voice that couldn’t stop reasoning. The twins walked calmly away from the car. Muddy and fun, muddy and fun, were the words beating with Ashley’s heart. The bodyguards stood by the SUV smoking cigars. The twins walked in back of the bushes and kept on without pause, their fancy sandals sinking mud.

The twins kept on through the woods. Trees are weird shapes, Ashley thought, but then she changed her mind. Highway woods are haunted, she realized all at once. “Its like we’re in Midsummer Night’s Dream,” said Mary Kate. Ashley kept on behind her, kicking at stones. Mary Kate looked at her, “The Shakespeare play with the fairies.” Ashley kicked the stones expressionlessly.

The sky was a powdery blue-like eye shadow. The sounds in the air were the twins’ feet on stones, the bending of branches, and the two heartbeats beating away. Mary Kate breathed full breaths like yoga, like the doctors. This woods was for her. Ashley kept her eyes on Mary Kate. She was Mary Kate, watching from behind like a religious prophet. A special cat who could think complex thoughts. She was Mary Kate, walking in front of her, if she made her head think so. She nodded her chin down to her neck, and with her tongue grabbed the gold script Ashley into her mouth. She sucked on the name. She sucked on the chain. If she died, she could just live inside Mary Kate.

The woods were littered with bottles and flip-flops, potato chip bags and cigarette cartons. Still, Ashley found herself far away enough that she could now understand the world from high up. Nail polish always smudged before it had its choosy chance to dry. Girls were different than boys, in more than appearance. Were there enough hobby magazines for all the new hobbies? Lots of things had changed before anyone realized it. Science had made more and more things possible, but some of the things were stupid. It was terrible how they had dried up strawberries and packaged them in with the cereal. Ashley sighed. America had seemed so great. Astronauts kept exploring outer space, even though outer space wanted to be left alone. Then there was a girl who looked like Stephanie from the show. She was leaning against a tree. The three girls locked eyes and Mary Kate ran as fast as she could towards the girl, damaging her sandal.

Stephanie’s hair was a little shorter, but her jaw sat the way her jaw always sat. The trees swayed in a hush around them and Mary Kate thought, It’s like a Botticelli painting! Only our hair is very different. Ashley remembered her question. “What did crystal meth feel like?” Stephanie looked through them like they were light.

“Bugs crawling on your arms.”

Ashley imagined what that would feel like. Mary Kate frowned and pulled at her Mary Kate necklace.

“Do you still talk to John Stamos?”

“No,” Stephanie pushed her sneaker toe in dirt, “Why?”

“Looking back,” Mary Kate began, “I thought that boyfriends were supposed to be like John on the show.”

Ashley sucked on her name, “What?”

“It defined my idea of cool,” Mary Kate whispered.

“Weird,” Ashley didn’t want to die and have to live inside Mary Kate. She would live out her own years in her own body.

Mary Kate smiled to herself, but her smile was so big they could see it. How beautiful and perfect to come across Stephanie in the woods of the prairie on Father’s Day, with Ashley with her as always! “Do you feel like we are all sisters?” Mary Kate did a small dance in her sandals.

“No.” Stephanie’s eyes burned into the sun. She wished the sun would burn back, but the sun was almost set now and gave out only a weak burn, which did nothing but redden the sky in one place.

**

No people lived next to the boys’ land, a grassy sprawl that said, “Andrew Wyeth was right, Andrew Wyeth was right.” But past an idling SUV, where the winding road met Route 46, there was the part that was all furniture stores. Sofas Plus, Crib City, Teen Furniture. The showrooms stretched hundreds of square feet. Kitchen alcoves with the old type of “modern” lighting. Eighties couches with sloppy zigzag prints. This is where the Comfort Kids slept five mattresses high, a gang armed with knives from the kitchen displays. The Comfort Kids walked the highway divider. “Bill Clinton is my dad” was tagged over the highway exit. “The Dali Llama smokes Marijuana.”

On past 46, the mansions built on landfills. The pornographers still working on their masterpiece; tap dances in milk, an orgy with every country represented. Past that, the country club, with Cub’s Mom living in one of its rooms. Her head in the Jacuzzi while her friends played bridge in the social room. Oldies music sang from the intercom. Daily news briefings in the news briefing room, continuing ed. classes, a softball league, talent shows. The group included Tom Selleck and Tom Hanks. Fame wasn’t fame anymore. The Toms just lived there like anyone else.

**

Cub and Al turned off near the field. There was a wolf call, but it wasn't a wolf, it was a little kid—Al could tell. The boys ran down the hill and stood on the baseball field with their shotguns. They stood for a good half hour. The deer hadn’t passed yet, they were busy being angels around town. The fireflies lit up like jokes. Al leaned on his shotgun. Cub shivered in his fleece. “What’s the deer’s natural enemy again?”

Al sneezed into his sleeve, “Cars.”

“Oh,” Cub leaned on his shotgun too. A branch crackled in the woods and the boys’ tongues jumped in their mouths. Beyond the rusted bleachers, a buck stood chewing grass. Al shot him dead. The boys stood still; their skin felt goose bumps, their minds dreamily blank. The body had turned to meat. The boredom turned to beauty.

**

Tears decorated the face of Mary Kate. “Ashley is lost,” she explained to the two bodyguards. She looked at the guns in their hands. “Ashley has run off,” she blurted, then felt immediately more at ease. Then she told them about “Stephanie” because it had been truly amazing. One bodyguard stayed in the black SUV and listened to a more detailed account, how it had felt like Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Shakespeare play, how it had looked like a Botticelli painting but not quite, how fate itself had smiled upon the three sisters. The other bodyguard, heavy in his shoes, ducked his way into the woods. Miles away, Ashley dallied around the house, peaked into a window and found her eyes inside Warhol’s. She decided that finding a house by yourself right as the sun is realizing it’s pretty was way cooler than double look-alike babies, than Father’s Day dinner, than mini-TVs on the SUV seatbacks.

The sun dragged out its sunset. Cub saw kids in the woods. Looked behind for the Clumber Spaniel but the Clumber was in the house. A howl sounded again in the night. “A wolf?” Cub whispered to Al. “A kid,” Al sneered once more. A Comfort Kid stepped forward and accused the boys of stealing the Andy Warhol. Al looked at Cub. Cub looked for Fat Cat to make a joke and fix it. But the only other watchers were trees, the blind eyes of the dead deer. Was Fat Cat mooning on his sax, for all the cassette tape ribbons in trees, for all the zoo animals gone extinct?

Fat Cat was up by the house, waiting for soft serve, nose to the window watching the Clumber stumble and the Warhol smirk. Catching a glimpse of a girl from TV and wondering. Al held his gun like he meant it. The big kids had butcher knives. The little Comfort Kid had a pocketknife like Cub’s. On its side was an engraving of a flowering branch. Could it make the cutter feel better about cutting? Was it a little symbol of life, nudging the cutter, natural order, letting things lie? Or was it showing flowers cut, trees as wood, all parties end.

There in the Wyeth, the littlest Comfort Kid redly remembered what defiant ghost used to hang in his living room. A judge shown out in silkscreen dots. The flowering branch was covered with kid fingers. The Wyeth watched the knife make another cut. Al had blood like the deer. Guilt overrode the cutter, and he didn’t want the painting. Nervous laughter between the boys and the kids until Fat Cat’s Dad drove over and did stitches. The Comfort Kids cried. To have a Dad grandly around, knees in the dirt, face figured out, but then away on his motorcycle! Left in the Wyeth, they took painkillers, all of them, because Fat Cat had enough. Al was okay, but shame and painkillers convinced the Comfort Kids to camp uncomfortably in the grass.

Al coiled up in his sleeping bag and dreamt he was on a staircase. He laughed a little, the unreal friendliness of too much fun with the mirror. He laughed at the idea of himself. He laughed that he was laughing. He could walk up the stairs, or he could stay put; he could do either.

**

Intuitively laying his fingers to the piano, Cub felt he might figure a symphony by mistake. Then the doorbell, he tip-toed over sleeping Al, opened the door, offered up soft-serve. Laughing girl and boy Snoopys, a joint’s uneven end. Cub and Ashley in the extra room, the Ashley in Cub’s mouth. Only the Stone Temple Pilots CD was dumb enough for them to be naked without smirking. In the bare bulb light they did the fun of almost having babies. Clouding each other’s minds until an image appeared, Judy Jetson in a 50’s style interior, until a phrase said itself in a circle. But the last Clumber Spaniel snuck off to be alone. He slumped against the wall and let his eyes wet. His eyes wet, and he threw up. He threw up and then ate the throw-up. He bit his feet.

Rachel B. Glaser is the author of Moods and Pee On Water. She lives in Western Massachusetts.

6/25/13

Paula Bomer

Breasts

Lola Spencer had the sort of breasts that define a woman; they were big and she was small; they were gorgeous perfect things, pink-nippled, shaped like cantaloupes, firm and white. The rest of her seemed to exist to accentuate her breasts; her hips were narrow, her waist a tiny circle, her little pale legs ended in feet not much bigger than a child’s. Her head was small and heart shaped, her features pale and slightly receding. It’s as though every other part of her got out of the way to make way for her breasts. Yes, Lola’s breasts were the sort of breasts that made a girl feel special, feel as if she were not destined for an ordinary life. So when she dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen and took a bus from Detroit to New York City, she had high hopes. Vague hopes, but high hopes.

It was 1986 and it was the end of June. New York was a shithole; the filthy stink of summer had begun to descend and crack addicts or frightening men in suits alternately ruled vast parts of the city, depending on where you were. When Lola got off the bus at Port Authority, she grabbed her duffel bag and her fake white patent leather purse that she’d held primly in her lap the whole ride, and with these two worldly possessions, she snaked her way through the dark tunnels until she managed to take an escalator up to the street. The sun slapped her face with a hot hand, and the air was rich with the stink of urine and car exhaust. She blinked and froze, momentarily. Large people, big people, loud people, people towering over tiny Lola—were walking and screaming and going in every direction. Blindly, she marched forward. She had the address for a YWCA, but she also had other ideas. Vague ideas, but ideas nonetheless.

In her white fake patent leather purse—a clutch—she had five hundred dollars. She’d made the money quickly, working the drive-through at a McDonald’s in Detroit, where her enormous chest strained against the polyester shirt of her uniform. Occasionally, she popped a button, and the white lace of her cheap bra would spill forth. There had been an older gentleman who came every morning for an Egg McMuffin. He drove a beige Cadillac and when his window rolled down with the touch of a button, the smell of leather and cologne wafted up to Lola. It was the best smell Lola had ever smelled. It smelled of money, of course, but of something else, too. He thanked her solemnly and gave her a dollar tip. And in those two words—“thank you” —and in his dark eyes and dark skin and hair, she sniffed something very exotic, very foreign. The dollar tip turned to five and soon enough, she couldn’t wait to hear his voice in the telecom, asking gruffly for an Egg McMuffin. She’d unbutton her uniform just a little, and she’d wet her thin lips. The months went on and at Christmas he said his thank you, his voice thick with appreciation, and gave her two one hundred dollar bills. She never saw him again, but by June, yes, she had five hundred dollars in her purse and was on her way.

As luck would have it, Lola just so happened to march downtown as she marched away from Port Authority. Her little feet were encased in tight, strappy sandals with four inch heels, her infantile toenails were painted a cherry red. She marched and marched. A man stopped and watched her walk by. A few blocks later, another man yelled something in Spanish at her. Lola, a brave soldier, went onward. A few more blocks later, an overweight man sitting on a beach chair in his doorway said, “Nice tits.” Yes, she was special. She’d been special in Detroit, at her high school. The looks, the lewd comments, the occasional grabbing. But what good was that, being special at John Adams High School in a run down section of Detroit? She was in New York City. She’d come to the right place.

Her feet began to die on her. The sun had begun to set, the cement everywhere turned a cooler shade of gray. She marched forward, more slowly now, but there was blood on her feet and her arm ached from carrying her duffel. How long had she been walking? At one point, she turned left, and she found herself surrounded by the sort of people she always imagined she should be surrounded by. Skinny guys with spikey hair and bad pockmarks, weighed down by the metal in their belts. Girls with breasts like hers, tightly encased in tank tops, their dyed red hair the color of a clown’s nose. The make-up! The cigarettes! She was in the east village, but she didn’t know that yet. What she did know was that she was going to cry if she had to keep walking and cry she did not want to do. No, not Lola. She was tough. She wasn’t going to cry just because her feet were bleeding.

On the corner of Second Street and Second Avenue was a small bar. Lola liked it immediately; she liked small things, being small herself—well, for the most part. She went in and sat on a barstool, dropping her duffel bag to the dirty ground, her white clutch in her hands.

“What can I getcha?” said a muscular, dark-haired girl.

“I’ll have a peppermint schnapps, please.” This had often been the drink of choice when cruising the strip in Detroit.

The girl raised her eyebrow, literally. Lola noticed it was a very thick eyebrow, thick as a cigar.

“How ‘bout a bourbon?” Then she leaned forward and whispered, “I’m helping you out here. You can’t drink peppermint schnapps.”

Lola sat up a little straighter. “A bourbon, then.”

It was a welcome burn and Lola quickly had two more. Her feet were feeling better already. Men came into the bar. Women, too. Occasionally, Lola waved at someone, but nothing seemed to happen as she thought it would. Four more bourbons later, the bartender had taken her upstairs to where she lived and laid her out on her futon couch. Lola had never seen a futon. She immediately threw up, but the bartender handled it well.

The next morning, Rebecca, the bartender, made some tea and toast.

“Where you from?”

“Detroit. Thanks for the tea.”

“You can stay here until you find a place.” Lola sat up.

“You know, I’m not hungover.”

“Great.” Rebecca got down on the floor and started doing sit-ups. “But if you keep waving hello to strangers like you did last night, you’ll be dead before you’re ever hungover.”

“Strangers are all I have here. You’re a stranger.”

“You’re not in Kansas anymore, Lola.”

“Detroit ain’t in Kansas.”

“You know what I mean.”

Lola thought for a minute. “No, I don’t.”

Rebecca was silent, finishing her sit-ups. When she did get up she went to Lola on the futon, and held her face gently in her hands. “You don’t know what I mean, do you?”

“That’s right. I don’t know what you mean.”

Rebecca kissed her gently and Lola felt a fluttering. She’d had a boyfriend briefly in high school. But this felt different. Rebecca picked up Lola’s swollen, blood stained feet and began to lick them. This went on for a surprisingly long time, until Lola began to get very, very sleepy. Then Rebecca took off Lola’s shirt and pulled down her bra, leaving it hanging there awkwardly, around the bottom of her breasts. “Damn,” Rebecca said, and then she was lost in them. Lola leaned back, and let the fluttering feeling go on.

**

Lola worked Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights and Rebecca worked the rest. It had been easy to get Tom, the other bartender, fired; he was rude, stole from the register and drank a bottle of vodka a night.

The first thing Lola did was buy a pair of sneakers, but this proved too painfully realistic; she didn’t look like a lot of the other East Village hipsters who wore high tops, she just looked like she was five with huge breasts. So she found a pair of boots with a nice sized heel on them and that did the trick.

Mondays and Tuesdays she made about two hundred dollars. Wednesday were better. That first day she walked from Port Authority, when she felt she’d brought her breasts to the right place, had faded to quaint memory in little over a month’s time. She was glad to be where she was, but she was surprised she wasn’t getting bigger tips, better offers. Men had looked, men gave her money, one even offered her a job to dance naked at a dive in Tribeca. But nothing felt right. Nothing had felt right since the day Rebecca took her in, and she was getting restless. Lola appreciated Rebecca, very much. But she knew it wasn’t forever.

Four weeks into the job and it was heading toward August, the July heat giving way to a numbing, stifling weather and filth that was, well, August. The bar had no air-conditioner and the two fans whirred on in astonishingly loud fashion. Lola tied her pale hair back in a ponytail; otherwise, it whipped around and stuck to her face. Clear tear drops of sweat dripped into her cleavage. It was Wednesday; the beginning of her shift, but her mind was already on the night being over. She’d have four days off to read magazines and shop. She’d clean up, too, which Rebecca liked her to do.

“What do you have on draft?” He said and she stood up right away, as if she were in the military and he’d just barked an order.

He sat and drank and looked at her breasts.

“Wipe that lipstick off you face.”

Lola took a white bar napkin from the neat pile she’d just made and rubbed at her mouth.

His name was Christopher. He was six foot three and thin. He had black hair and black eyes and a tattoo of a dragon on one forearm and the name “Marcy” tattooed on the other. His father was in jail and he was grumpy about this. He had a motorcycle and he smoked filterless Pall Malls. He took her home that night and it hurt, but it was the right thing to do, she knew. She woke up the next morning in an apartment very much like the one she shared with Rebecca, and only a few blocks away, but she her life had changed forever.

He left that day, without saying where he was going. She got to work cleaning up his place. It wasn’t too much work—he didn’t have much there to clean. When he got back around four, he did it to her again, but this time it felt good. Not as good as Rebecca, but it didn’t matter. She was his now and that’s the way she wanted it.

Lola sat next to him on the couch as they both held bowls of canned raviolis on their laps, and let her knees gently touch his.

“We’re going to rob that bar you work at. Tonight.”

Lola thought for a minute. The only thing she could think was, “Rebecca’s working tonight.”

“Who fucking cares? You got the keys, right?”

“No.”

“Well than we’ll have to do it before she closes.”

**

They drank on Avenue B. Occasionally, he leaned into her and she thought that he smelled a lot like that man in the Cadillac, the man who made her move possible, the man who helped fuel her dreams. Where was he now? Driving into his driveway in Grosse Pointe, or some other posh Detroit suburb. Going home to a family? A wife who loved him? College aged children with futures? The music in the bar was loud. The air conditioning felt great; Lola’s nipples hardened up into little hard puckers of kisses. She leaned against the bar and arched her back a bit. Yes, Christopher had that smell, the smell of a man, the smell of something exotic, foreign. It was destiny she told herself, it was out of her control, just like the size of her breasts.

It was nearing four AM and the bar was closing. It was only four blocks away. Four blocks, and everything would change. She’d have that future she always dreamed about.

“Hurry up.”

Lola skipped along behind him, trying to catch up with his long strides. She was wearing her boots, but it still wasn’t easy keeping up with him. But she liked the view from behind, yes. His filthy black jeans, the nunchucks sticking brazenly out of his back pocket. The way he stooped over. Did he have a gun? She doubted it. It was all about his hands, his large, hairless hands. A few feet from the bar, a black man, a seemingly homeless man, white spittle around the corners of his mouth, the stench of rot coming from his body, a tiny little crack vial in his hand, tried to stop Christopher.

“Man, man, can you spare some change, I’m hungry, man…”

They were seconds from the bar. The lights were out. For a moment, it was as if New York had gone dark, and the only thing glowing were the white of the black man’s eyes. Lola saw Rebecca pulling the gate down, but she hadn’t locked it yet, no, not yet. Christopher was a bit ahead now, she scurried to catch up. She saw the nunchucks come out of his pocket and for a moment, she wasn’t the woman she thought she was. She was afraid. She looked away, in fact, she looked down, and she saw that she, too, was glowing, her pale breasts glowing, and with a little effort she could hide her face in that whiteness, with just a little effort from her arms, she could close herself up in all her luck, in all that beauty.

Paula Bomer is the author of Baby and Nine Months, a novel. This story will appear in her new collection from Soho Press, Inside Madeleine, which will be out in Spring 2014. Paula also runs the small press, Sententia Books.