Monthly Archives: April 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure

thanks to Ethan Gilsdorf

You are standing before a warrior’s clothespress
and must choose your armour.

If you select the coin mail, turn to page 20.
If you select the gauzy asymmetrical skirt, turn to page 23.

flip flip
flip flip flip

A harsh cold wind blows up your skirt as you face
the gaping chasm known as the Centre of Maldonia.
A Dark Creeper shuffles up to you, leering
as it bares a mouthful of rotten teeth.
“Windy out here,” it chuckles, its mossy tongue
running across cracked lips.

If you extend your middle finger at it, turn to page 56.
If you ignore it and keep your face buried in your Kindle, turn to page 58.

flip flip flip
flip flip

The Dark Creeper, failing to provoke any reaction,
scurries away. You are able to secure safe passage
with your fellow journeymen. You arrive
and enter the dungeon, hardtack intact.

But look! A Gelatinous Cube approaches,
absorbing everyone in its path, secreting a slimy trail
of non-digestible file folders and iPhones
as it oozes along. It is heading your way.

“Could you come look at my screen?” it burbles.
(Curious, because Gelatinous Cubes usually say nothing other than: “Cube!”)
“My Excel is being wonky.”

If you choose to confront it, turn to page 11.
If you choose to flee, turn to page 14.

flip flip flip flip

“I can’t really help you with that now,” you shout
as you run in the other direction.
“I’ve got this…thing…I have to go to.”

Stumbling through the corridors, you are suddenly
in a harshly-lit chamber, in the center of which is a table piled high
with glistening pillowy pastries. A nearby orc
informs you that these are leftovers from the Finance Committee
meeting that has just adjourned at the other side of the dungeon.
“There’s coffee, too!” it adds as it brushes past.

You have dutifully packed your own sustenance
for the journey but this meagre meal pales
in comparison with what is now before you.
You have heard tell of these delicacies
frequently refused by the shadowy figures
who make up this Finance Committee.

If you approach the table and eat, turn to page 40.

A Living Memory

My grandmother’s alive,
So before she’s gone
She can know
If she may not remember,
I remember,

I remember
Then there were trips
To the store, us
Smiling at neighboring dogs,
With names like Scrappy,

Chestnut trees
And sidewalks snarled,
Roots afoot like monsters beneath,

Chestnuts on the ground
Ready to be stomped on,

A solid jump will do,
Both feet planted like
A jam sandwich explosion

Sidewalls of the chestnut,
Big spikey green husk
A morningstar bursting,
Like a big rig tire
On the road side,

Like trees
Made toys
For fun.





Things I Have Done Since You Left Me

I have eaten fresh bread, hot from the oven. I have scalded my tongue with peppers ripe from the garden that I have planted. I have felt the stinger of a honey bee lodged in my skin and watched the poor tiny body swerve its way to a grounded death. I have later plucked the hard poison from my own red skin, numbing the area with a piece of ice that melted as it soothed. I have read that book you left on your nightstand, cover to cover, and I have cried into its pages when the husband decides to leave his wife but changes his mind after he is alone on a train headed somewhere else. I have broken promises to myself: Wake up early and go for a run; take a shower daily; make a hearty meal and eat it all; don’t stop loving things we loved together. I have kept promises as well, broken them again, kept them again. I have changed in ways that friends describe to me over tea and cookies that I have baked. I have dusted the spots on top of the tallest shelves. I have used a rubberband to open the lids on tightly sealed jars and bottles. I have cried when the rubberband doesn’t work, thrown things against walls hoping they will burst. I have moved pictures to cover dents in the walls where thrown objects have burst. I have thrown out that jar of pickled beets we bought in the Berkshires that we used to eat with pink fingers on the back porch. I have rearranged the back porch, and reupholstered the cushions on the patio furniture. Nothing is the same color anymore, nor is anything sitting in the same place.

Shark Grief

Stop and sink,
so just keep swimming;
always keep your fin up.

(Rest in Peace, Mama Cooter)

On the Eve of the Departure of Anne from Cleves

Nobody can tell you how it is. No amount
of provincial duchy living can prepare
you for the crossing, the preferences
for boxy headwear in this post-Boleyn
world. No one can tell you how to react
(with a modicum of modest maidenly delight,
it turns out) when he appears, stumping in
disguised as a messenger, as if he is still
nineteen, still Katherine of Aragon’s
Sir Loyal Heart, still as fine a specimen
of learned humanist virility as you are likely
to find in all of Christendom. No one can
prepare you for the smell of him, the stink
of suppurating ulcers compounding a
constant bouquet composed of herbal
possets and boar meat. Your portrait,
sent ahead of you, will be called false
advertising, the arrangement displeasing
enough to send once trusted advisors
to the block. No one can tell you this.
You arrive as you are, untrained, unseemly
by their standards. No one has taught
you the witty banter so prized by the court.
But you’ve been taught to play cards well
enough to know that your mannerisms
must not divulge your hand, lest you lose
something else. You will have to tell yourself
to keep cheerful countenance, to feign
ignorance of what goes where, to readily
agree to honorary sisterhood in place
of a crown on a head you will get to keep.

The Electricitiosaur

The Future comes
With wires, high-
Tech gadgetry galore,
Their coated black-
White power cords snake
Criss-cross across my floor

I’ve got extra air
To cool my
Power meter

(When you have
As much as I do
You become quite
The power eater)

All day I ate
Until I was an

Known for
Appetites of
Mega kilowatts
My power bill
My roar

I opened up a
Just to cool the thought

And Google-searched
The word I’d made
It’s mine!
See what I’ve got

Is a right power
Addiction, a need,
A thirst, a want,

Maybe I could return
The odd gizmo or four,
Send back the blender’s

But who would
Time the smores?
The toaster-oven has
An awful ticking crank,
The microwave’s too hot,
Next to the electric stove,
It’s all the heat I’ve got

To keep me thinking coolly
While other motors whir,
The mini-fridge, the table-
Lamp, the light above my door,

Three different kinds of
Laptops, Linux, Unix, Mac,

I see my operation flow
Project a warm electric glow
All beaming from my LAN

On a screen upon my wall,
I’ve dialed the speaker-stereo
To drown the cooling fan,

And the Bluetooth
Mouse and keyboard,
They eat batteries for snacks,
Single, double, triple A,
Their count falls
Through the cracks

Let’s not forget the toothbrush,
Charging by the sink,
I’ve printed out
A power schedule,

One that helps me think
A new, clear
Power plan

No interrupted internets,
How they must feel
In Japan, their future
In a wavy

In their
Fishing nets.

For Reasons Known

There are things she knows: The alleys are unsafe for a woman, even more so for a woman with a child; the water has been unsafe for drinking for some time now, but still safe enough for bathing, though some cities were reporting skin parasites that ate through the skin like acid.

There are things she doesn’t know: The names of the men who impregnated her with either of her children – Brice and Penny – though their faces, sweaty and disfigured from the physical protests of women before her, remain. At night she dreams of them, in three ways. There are the true-to-life dreams, with either of the men sweating above her, their grunts becoming one with her cries of disgust and pain. (She had tried to remain silent because it was known that they enjoyed those sounds, but the body under trauma does not ask permission.) Those are not the worst of the dreams – those dreams wake her before the men finish, before she can feel the heat between her legs followed by the cold, before the washing over of shame and regret that suggests guilt on her part. Those dreams end swiftly, returning her to her babies sleeping on either side of her: Brice, with his thumb in his mouth the way babies used to do, and Penny on her back with her arms behind her head as though she were on a beach somewhere.

Then there are the other dreams, which are worse. There is the one where she wanders the alleys where the men assaulted her. The first one, where Penny was conceived, and the other one where Brice was conceived while Penny crouched several yards away with her eyes squeezed tight and her tiny hands clutching her ears. (There had been blood under her fingernails when Rebecca bathed her.)

In the dream, she wanders those alleys – sometimes with Penny, sometimes without. She can feel her body tense, her jaws clench together like mother and child clinging to one another. The whole of the dream is her wandering, waiting for the horrible things that happened in those places. Though, in the dream, she knows she should leave those places, she cannot do it. Away from those alleys, unknown traumas await, and her dream-self prefers the familiarity of the approaching violence. In a world so unfamiliar, anything recognizable is preferred.

The third dream is the worst. She wakes into the dream, noting at first the softness of the bed and the feeling of being well-rested. She notes that the light behind the curtains is the yellow of memory rather than the gray of the present. She lies there a long while, unsure if movement will shatter the heaven she’s woken into.

It is always the sound of her children that stirs her. She jumps up with a twitch of her whole body and moves toward the sound of her children. She knows that if something has happened to either of them, she will have to burn the bed and shutter against the yellow light to remind herself what they cost.

She always comes upon the same scene: Penny and Brice sitting on a large white sofa, a white she can’t even remember as possible. They both giggle and invite her to join them. Then there is the sound of a man’s voice and the smell of pancakes. In the doorway to the kitchen is one of the men whose genes are the other assemblings of her children. Her joy at finding her children safe does not dissipate and she greets the man with a smile she can feel genuine on her face. He approaches and touches her face, but when he leans down to kiss her – her own face stretching up to meet his, which alone makes her afraid of sleeping – his mouth is a sour mix of old saliva, blood, and smoke. This is the moment that wakes her; the taste and smell all too familiar that her body reacts as though he is standing above her.

The dreams have become more frequent, and many nights she lies away trying not to fall asleep. She has grown increasingly irritable, and tiny moments throw her into a rage that Brice and Penny have begun to associate with their mother.

At bath time, Brice and Penny huddle in the chilling water. Rebecca uses a sponge to wash each of them, slowing over the boy’s face and squeezing water from the sponge each time she nears his mouth. He coughs and swallows and spits and cries.

The boy does not wake the next morning or the day after that, and Penny cries with her face in her brother’s chest in a way that makes Rebecca sure she has done the right thing.

Jungle Cruise Haikus

I am on a boat
cruising down to Mexico
with Mickey and crew.

Here’s a video
to hold you over until
I am back next week.

Oh yeah, and there are

Three Words

When I say, “How are you?”
I wish it would suffice, and
that I didn’t have to explain
what I actually mean, which
is, essentially,
                           “How have the other
aspects of life been since
I last saw you, excepting the obvious
and pressing situation of
a passionate and talented man
whose life was cruelly ripped away
from him, as well as from the rest of us,
which of course is the reason
that we’re all gathered here in
the first place right now, otherwise
I probably wouldn’t be seeing you
at all, but I am really glad to
be seeing you right now — not glad
because of the circumstances under
which I am seeing you here now
for the first time in a while, but glad
because you are a person
whose company I do quite enjoy even
though we’ve never been, like, super close
or anything, and I know we’ve never
been very good about keeping in touch
either, but that’s just how life goes
some times, so I want you to know
that I do want to know

how you are— again, obviously, other
than, well, ya know, the obvious
although I suppose that contributes
fairly significantly to your general state
of being, and understandably so — but I
guess what I’m trying to say is
that I don’t just mean it as a shallow greeting
that somehow feigns my sincerity, it’s
a question that I actually mean and
there is an answer that I would actually like
to receive — specifically, from you — but not just you,
obviously, there’s other people here
who I am excited to see, not excited excited
like happy because of this occurrence —
but right now I am talking to you, and I
hope to continue talking to you, whether
it’s about work, or your love life, or your new
band, or the last good book you read
that you think I might enjoy (not that I’m trying to
be selfish by seeking out things that I might
enjoy, just, ya know, offering up conversation,
interactions, personally meaningful dialogues
on both ends), all of those things which are
implied under the general auspices of

‘How are you?’ when the question is
posed in a less-tragic setting,
unlike the unfortunate kismet that
has reunited us at the present,
so I guess what I’m asking is

how could you be if you hadn’t
lost a friend so violently, so suddenly, even
though I realize that’s a rather integral part
of your greater life conditions and I wish I had
the chance to see you now under
better stipulations but life’s not
always fair as recent happenings
clearly and painfully show.”

How are you?