Tag Archives: pain

She Hates Numbers

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Pretzels & Chocolate, a poem



(rented room, cigarettes)

I am eating pretzels
and they are hard
but splinter into salty crumbs

with the merest bite
they only satisfy
part of my tongue

(rented room, cigarettes)

so I pick up the chocolate
greedy for it to melt
against my palate

sucking the firm square
feeling it mold to me
the way I imagine

my body molds to yours

(rented room, cigarettes)

retaining the character of sweetness
to complement the salt
to balance my mouth

I am eating chocolate
thinking of us

(rented room, cigarettes)

illustration mockingbird mimus polyglottos

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Heavenly Dances, Heavenly Intimacies, a short story

illustration heavenly dances heavenly intimacies

Heavenly Dances, Heavenly Intimacies, a short story

“Isn’t there any heaven where old beautiful dances, old beautiful intimacies prolong themselves?”

Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier

How can I be “dead” to any of the men I once loved?  They are not “dead” to me.  Not even H.  How can I be “dead” to H.?  They — even H. — are each as alive as when I was with them; as alive as the first time they touched me, whether tentatively or with confidence; whether softly or roughly; whether with passion or mere lust.  It is shocking and appalling how H. lurched so radically to the right after 9/11.  He began that journey to the Tea-Party-Mad-Hatter-Neocon-Bill-Buckley-Wall-Street-Apologist-Fringe-Brainless-Faux-News-Right when Ronald Reagan was shot; I was with him the very night it happened.  We had a short affair, right then, because we started thinking the end of the world had arrived and we decided, like the crazy college students we were, to get married to celebrate our courage in the face of chaos!  I realized very early on (but still way too late!) I was embarrassed to be seen in public with him.  Did you ever start seeing, and marry someone whom you later realized you were embarrassed to be seen with?  Perhaps the person in question was “dorky,” “geeky,” dressed “badly,” or had questionable “taste.”  H. readily admits he was a “dork” in high school.  He was on the debate team; need I say more?  When you can’t bear to be seen in your lover’s/spouse’s/significant other’s/partner’s company, things usually don’t work out.

Still, I put in ten dutiful years, trying to make amends for my mistake in marrying H.  The second he started making the big bucks, he dumped me.  He left me for my best friend!  I guess I deserved it, not taking control of my own life & filing for divorce two weeks after we married.  And I guess I deserved how my ex-best-friend S. ruined me, as she subsequently did.  She was in charge of the whole group we had socialized with:  dictating how everyone in our “circle” should think, speak, act, or react.  H. was dead wrong about most everything, but, to his credit, he was dead right about her.  At the time I thought him merely woman-hating, but I see now, even though he did hate women, there was something more than simply being a “woman” he hated about her.  He was covering up the fact he loved her by pretending to hate her.  Now, I have no desire to see her, not ever again.  She is definitely “dead” to me.  Yes, I understand intellectually, a living death (call it shunning) can happen to anyone.

The upshot of all this boring history?  I’ve been waiting for something a long time.  I can’t blame anyone but myself for my unhappiness, not anymore.  There is something dispirited inside me, something empty, drained, and beaten — something sick, something tired, something that has surrendered.  I gave up, when?  When my first ex-husband arbitrarily said no to children, breaking his solemn vow.  When I realized I couldn’t find happiness outside myself — not with an old love, not with a new love, not with any of my subsequent husbands, my friends, my eventual children, or my family.  Yes, to casual acquaintances and virtual strangers I am “happy, happier than I’ve ever been.”  And it’s true!  I’ve never been this happy, this contented, in my life.  Yes, there are still problems.  My oldest son is still half the world away, fighting an endless war on behalf of my “country.”  My youngest son still has an ignorant, racist, rabidly conservative father.  I am getting old.  My face is melting.  My neck is turning into a wattle.  I am drooping.

Still, I cannot imagine any of them, the men I have loved or made love to, being dead to me the way my former best friend, S., is dead to me.  Yet that is how they must feel about me, the way I feel about her.  Wanting her removed from my memories.  Wanting never to have met her.  Not missing anything about her.  She wants to see me, I heard from a mutual friend I still speak to.  I don’t want to see her, or even see the mutual friend.  I don’t even want to get as close as that!  Because of reasons.  Top secret, NSA, DOD, CIA, FBI, SEC, IRS, FDLE, GPD, ACSO reasons!  No further comment!

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what makes a good dominatrix, a short story

illustration what makes a good dominatrix

What Makes A Good Dominatrix

 1.  Married Men

I’ve had men, married men, fall in love with me and offer to leave their wives, just because I told them I had red hair all over. Years ago, I used to think I would never get involved with a married man. That was before my own marriage broke up and I realized just how bad it can be, trapped in that dry, crumbling life, that intimate desert. You’ll do anything for a sip of water. Anything. I’ve had married men tell me, before I met you, I hated to get out of bed in the morning. Yes, I’ve done things I swore I’d never do. Life carries certain traps for the unwary.

When my mother’s marriages broke up, she always took to the bottle. I haven’t done that yet, though the other night I did drink a whole bottle of wine by myself. Felt like shit the next day. Drinking kills two days, the day of the binge and the day after. When I got married, I thought it was forever. So did he. He was five years older. I only go with younger men now. Helps give me an edge, being female. Younger men are grateful to older women. One old boyfriend warned me that as I got into my thirties it would be harder and harder for me to find men. It hasn’t, though. Seems they pop up when I least expect them.

My soon-to-be-ex-husband, he’s even dating an older woman now. I call her the feel-good woman, because that’s what she does for him — makes him feel good about himself. I only remind him of everything he did wrong, all the mistakes he made that he plans never to make again. He thinks he won’t make the same errors in the future because he’ll be with a different person, and there will be a whole different load of emotional baggage to contend with. Do I sound bitter?

I should explain, the reason he has a girlfriend is because I have a boyfriend. It was unfortunate the way it happened — I did things out of order. I should have moved out before I got a boyfriend. I wasn’t thinking clearly. Was it my fault that after 17 years of not coming I went a little nuts?   Now, my husband admits he treated me in ways that make him ashamed of himself, but he’s not willing to make it up. He’s past all that, he’s healed, and he’s going to start rebuilding his life in a positive way. Wish I could. I’m not as quick on the uptake as he is. I had no idea how much my heart was woven into his coldness.

When he called me a slut in public the first time, we were out in front of our daughter’s gymnastics studio. You know the crowd that hangs out there — typical suburban moms — fashion coordinates, nice shoes, lipstick, sweet little clutch bags — I was inside a swarm of those when he laid that one on me. I tried to pretend no one was watching. I didn’t look at any of them, not even the one with the spangled t-shirt tied into a knot over her skinny hips. I stared at the sidewalk, counted to ten, inhaled, exhaled, and felt the moments wash over me like cool water. I thought about the endless waves of orgasms I planned on having that night with my lover, the way their magic would lift me up on their purple foamy crest and wipe all this ugliness clean out of my head.

2.  Love

In her early thirties, my mom’s sister was involved with a married man. He wouldn’t leave his wife because of the children. Aunt Frieda put up with his unannounced, late night visits for years. It’s all about men loving us. We love them without thinking, that’s the way our hormones take us. We’ve got to persuade them to love us in spite of theirs. I used to be so mad at Aunt Frieda for her lack of morals — I’ve since learned my moral desert is even more profound than hers. I was the first love of her life, she tells me now. She took care of me every weekend until I was almost two, used to chase me down the long dark hallways of my grandparent’s house, which I loved. I still love being chased down hallways, as long as it’s with a friendly intent. Everybody wants to be chased by someone who loves them, caught in their arms and held tight….

A couple days ago, I watched this documentary, about a lesbian sado-masochist. She seemed so calm, so together, so gentle and caring, and I’m not any of those things, so I paid her close attention. She said she gets put into bondage whenever she’s depressed — it makes her feel safe. I thought about all the ordinary power games people play out in the real world, and to twine it into sex seems perfectly natural. I can definitely understand why a person might want to dominate another, or be dominated by another.   The world is too scary; people have to put up with too many kinds of shit. They want to control when they get hurt.

This married guy I met in a bar, John, wants me to dominate him. His wife won’t, so he’s asked me. She thinks those sorts of people are weirdoes. Well, she’s right — but what’s wrong with being a weirdo? I mean, they’re not criminals. I think she’s just afraid she won’t be able to handle him. I love submissive men, the larger the better. That’s why you tie them up, see….

John was sitting there, looking perfectly normal, and a big beefy ex-football player. He bought me a drink, seemed harmless. We talked about his medical practice — he’s a chiropractor, the guys who crack your back. Big, strong hands; the way he held his drink at the bar was so graceful. He talked about his wife a lot at first. She’s perfect, he said. I mean, they’re soul-mates and everything. She just won’t dominate him. Isn’t it funny what people want? They want a little of everything, all at different times. Sometimes I really love to dominate a man. Other times, I don’t have anything but softness and submission in my whole body.

My soon-to-be-ex-husband will tell you how bitchy I am. My boyfriend says my husband didn’t know what kind of woman I was, but he did. My husband knew me to the core. He knew what was there, and decided one day he didn’t want any more of it. Talk about high maintenance! Some men will tell you they’ve never met a woman who wasn’t — but let my husband have his dreams. The bright, successful, completely self-sufficient woman. Like, what would she be doing looking for somebody like him then? For that matter, why would she want a man at all?

I’ve tried to do without men. I love women, I think they’re beautiful, I get along with them better than men — I just miss that crazy anatomical difference. Anatomy being destiny, and all.

3.  Loneliness

So John said, dominate me, please, Mistress. I said, how? But he can’t tell me, he doesn’t have enough words. I’m on my own to figure it out. He wants to be my slave. I guess I could pretend he’s my ex-husband, and go from there. John needs me to wear a leather jumpsuit, preferably red. He wants me to ride him like a big dog, make him crawl; lick the bottom of my shoes and stuff. He wants me to tie him to the bed and almost burn him with a cigarette.

He said the woman he used to do this with almost killed him. She sat on his face, started coming, and forgot to let him breathe. He had to bite her to get some air, and he explained what had happened, and she apologized for almost killing him, but then of course she had to whip him again for being bad. He said his dick springs into life when women are mean to him. He’s 6′ 3″, 235 pounds, and he wants to be powerless. He wants to surrender control. He wants the woman to have it all. It’s not whips and chains, it’s pure power.

I found this book called “What Makes a Great Dominatrix.” Full of practical pointers. For example, you have to be mysterious to the submissive person. You have to maintain a certain dignity and distance. If you’re too familiar, too chatty, evidently it ruins the illusion. Because it’s really the submissive who’s in control. A good dominant doesn’t do anything the submissive doesn’t really want. That torture thing is a myth. Nope, the submissives have to beg you for it. You’re doing them a big huge favor when you give them what they want. It’s so nice to be needed by someone. John needs me. Lots of loneliness out there in the world.

I don’t know whether I’m just afraid to be alone or whether I’m really loony over men just like my mother. She let it affect her mind, though — for her, it went way beyond the level of harmless hobby. Consequently, she lost a lot of things. One day, she even lost me. That’s when I knew it had to end badly. I knew she’d end up on somebody’s floor, naked to the waist, watch stopped.

I was crazy about horses — and boys — during my formative sexual years. Horses were all I drew, in the margins of my class notes, on the back of my class folders — the teacher’s voice would fade away, and all I’d hear was the clopping of hoofs, the whinnying of the great beast that could carry me away from all the pain. I wanted to run away every night, but didn’t because I didn’t know how I’d make my way in the world. I should have run away, it would have turned out better. All the things I would have missed, sure I think of those; but I would have been blissfully ignorant of many things. Such as the way my mother looked, dead on the floor, naked to the waist, watch stopped. Think of not knowing that, think of being spared that agony. Replaying in memory the nightly scenes, the gaunt body flung against my door, pleading for admission. Unlike me, she didn’t have what it takes to dominate anyone or anything. I think I’ve got what it takes. And yes, I still pray for amnesia every morning.


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a big fat A-hole

a big fat A-hole

leslie moreland gaines, “documentary filmmaker,” con man, artistic failure, hypocrite, and all around evil son of a bitch


April 24, 2014 · 11:16 am

Ojai is the Chumash Word for Moon, a prose poem

illustration ojai is the chumash word for moon

Ojai Is the Chumash Word for Moon

1. When I See the Moon She Comes Back to Me

Everyone else has something good to tell. This is what I have. This is what she gave me. Even now I see my mother’s face, soft and drunk, pale and frightful, moving through the darkness, soaring over me as mysterious and unreachable as the moon. Her affection waxed and waned, never constant. When she’d had enough Scotch, she loved me, but the way she went about her mother-love, pulling at me with sorrowful, clumsy arms given unnatural strength by liquor, made my flesh wither under her touch.

2. Possessions

My mother and father lived in a solidly built house, outer walls nearly two feet thick, in the oldest and grandest neighborhood in their town. They lived where people like them had lived for hundreds of years. My father felt comfortable with his mahogany furniture, his linen upholstery, his hand-woven Orientals. He collected, among other things, antique, cut-crystal decanters. They were displayed in a case in the living room, unfilled, sparkling, sharply defined edges, here and there a tiny chip but that only added to their elderly charm. Things weren’t supposed to be new; he took satisfaction in the fact he’d inherited most of the contents of his house. His life, its outward details — wife, child, home, furniture, and car, standing in the community, salary, and immediate circle of peers — had functioned for many years like a brick wall, and he found himself hiding behind that wall even as it started getting chipped away.

3. Fathers and Mothers are Our First Lovers

My mother had skin like rose petals, eyes like a deer’s. Too needy for most men, she could not be promiscuous — she was not strong enough for that. There were times when she forgot to be sad, if only when some equally sad-eyed boy noticed her. If a boy loved her to the point of obsession, to the point of contemplating suicide, she imagined she might find the strength within herself to survive, but she eventually rejected all such suitors, only wanting those who were unattainable, as her father and later her husband, my own father, were. Remote, a source of funds and orders and criticism, the two closest men in her life approved of her external beauty but not her soul. They didn’t care what she wanted — they wanted her to be like all the other girls and women, to be beautiful and obedient and never talk to dead Indian spirits. They broke her will; she broke their hearts. Distance was how they both managed her. If she could have hardened herself on the inside, if she could have seen either one of them as just another man she could conquer with her flesh, it would have helped.

4. Intimacy

My father and my mother were having sex one night, and my mother was on top of him and she got that silly, dreamy-eyed look, like when she read a romance novel. “Remember when you were little?” she said, still sitting on top of him, him inside her.

“What do you mean?” he asked. He and my mother were aliens to each other anymore.

“Don’t you remember sitting on your mother’s lap, in her arms?”

“My mother?” he asked.

“Wasn’t it good to feel her arms around you, as a little boy?”

He was inside her still and he felt his penis start to shrivel. His mother! What had she got to do with anything? “What on earth are you talking about?” he asked.

“Your mother, holding you in her arms, when you were a tiny little boy. It must have felt so good.”

“You’re sick,” he said, pushing her off him.

“Sick?” she said. “What do you mean, sick?”

“Asking me about my mother at a time like that, it’s sick.”

She rolled over and was silent, and then he heard her start to cry.

“Oh, Christ,” he said. “I’m going to sleep downstairs.”

“No,” she said, bolting out of the bed. “I’ll sleep downstairs.”

“That’s it, after this I don’t owe you anything,” he said to the ceiling after she was gone.

5. The Coastal Mountains Cut Off the Sight of the Sea

My mother was sent away at 14 to boarding school in Ojai, where she refused to eat. She wanted to turn back the years already. The moon drew her, she felt herself drawn to its inaccessible height, its untouched opalescent skin. Looking back as if from a far distance, she mourned her own childhood while it was still happening. Her eyes rolled back in her skull, the whites looking like two small moons. She howled at the moon without making a sound. Though she began menstruating at age 9, for years she shaved her pubic hair off in secret with an old, dull razor because she did not want to become a woman. Dreaming of the ocean, hidden behind the coastal mountains, she wanted only to be clean. She felt how the spirit of a Chumash Indian warrior possessed her. As she grew thinner, harder against the world, she rejoiced that there would be less of her to feel pain, less of her to bury. The other girls at school were as mysterious to her as stars. They sparkled while she could only reflect sadness. Her clothes hung on her bones and she was sent to a psychiatrist — that very night the moon was full and blue. They don’t understand me at all, she thought. In her own way, she was a visionary, a trend-setter. Doctors didn’t have a name, then, for what was wrong with her.

6. Anger

Finally, after 15 years of marriage the wall between my mother and my father fell. Then my mother wanted to figure out who she was. She wanted her own personal growth; she wasn’t able to focus on anything else. She needed space and time. At first, it was only the beginning of the process, and then it became the end. She couldn’t suffer any more, so she killed those feelings that brought her pain. She didn’t want to try to sort them out just yet, maybe not ever. In the end my mother’s feelings for my father were dead, gone. She didn’t know where they went.

7. She Owed Me that Much, Didn’t She?

She and my father lost their virginity with each other. Much later, when I knew her, she was memorable for simple things: her rose garden and her Scotch & water, her menthol cigarettes and her Pucci nightgowns, her ladylike hands and her A-cup breasts, her bitterness, her resignation, her unending string of sentimental, alcoholic boyfriends. She taught me how not to be. How not to live. A psychic told me she was my soul-mate, that my heart had been broken on the day I was born, that first hazy time I looked into her eyes and saw nothing there for me. One normal thing I remember is hanging clothes out to dry with her in the backyard when the dryer was broken. Once, she even took me out to the movies. Darker engrams always swamp whatever happy little memory-boat I manage to stow away in — like when she drove drunk for the umpteenth time and hit a kid on a bicycle, breaking his arm. I remember protecting her from the police, making sure she wouldn’t end up in jail, but later coldly stealing money from her wallet, cigarettes from her purse, clothes from her closet. In the end, she drank too much, and that killed her.

8. Madness

Toward the end, my mother said she was on fire from the neck down. Her arms and legs felt like they were glowing, orange-red, molten. But her head felt like a block of ice. She was emotionally or spiritually paralyzed, and worried about whether the condition was permanent. She felt like the nerves from her head down to her body were cut, and she didn’t know if they would ever grow back.

Right before the end, she said she could not distinguish life from dreams — she slept little, ate even less. She didn’t feel mad, she felt terribly, irrevocably sane. Everywhere she walked the ground seemed on the verge of opening up into blackness, into fire. If only she could go mad, she said. When they found her cold and stiff on the living room floor, she wore nothing but blue nylon panties and a wristwatch.

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Under the Stars, a poem

illustration under the stars

Under the Stars

My daughter and I are in a tent. We’re sweaty and tired, trying to sleep. Her father & I divorced two years back. This is my daughter’s second camping trip without him. The first, last year, was a disaster… pelting rain & wet dogs, and the fiancé I ended up hating.

All this afternoon, other parents kept joking, Is it time to turn in yet? A lot of times I feel I’ve ruined her life. It’s been a long, long day — hiking, cooking, comforting children.  They are so excited to be in the woods until the sun goes down. Married or single, my misery remains about the same.

My stomach hurts, my beautiful daughter says. My head hurts. I can’t get comfy. Was it a bad idea to come here? Was it a bad idea to marry her father? A screech owl calls, breaking the quiet with startling beauty. Of course not. I have my daughter.  I just don’t ever want to be that miserable & that alone again.

What’s that? she says, scared. Her fears appear and disappear just like that owl’s voice.

Just an owl, I tell her. I’m not a good mother. She’s eight, she can’t stay awake forever.

That wasn’t so bad after all, my beautiful little girl says in the morning. I am the opposite.  I dream of peace but wake to fear.


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the eternal conversation, a poem


The Eternal Conversation

Hard wood portends on my truth, I long to burn every tree,

I long to sift the gray ash of discontent

for the few teeth and bits that remain.

My body is full of small holes,

the better to let you pass through me.

You old vagabond, the sun is you,

the sun is your heart, the sun is your eyes.

Look at me, I will blind you, you will remember nothing.

You will remember only how it felt to come inside me.

I melt men like sugar cubes.

Give me fountains of blue wine to drown myself in.

Let me swill from your fountains.

Let me piss in your bed and make you love it.

Only give me glory and work,

and I will tell you all I know, gladly.

This is what I know.


Pretend you’re my father:  your one spurt of joy

caused me to begin ticking in your pocket.

Pretend you know my name.

Pretend you have always been with me.

Don’t forget me, don’t forget to wind me up,

don’t break the thin gold chain attaching me to your heart.

I am not a cat, I don’t have a plaintive past,

I can’t meow for attention.  I could try to scratch you,

but you would only fling me away in hatred, off to the floor.

Yet away you go, with soap to pass your outrage,

cleansing your sins like so much dry grit.

You boil your soup of amnesia,

burn your tongue with it,

lose the ability to taste anything, ever.

You are like a tourniquet of the breast,

keeping me tied to the earth.  I never let myself float,

I was always afraid I would never return to sanity.

I am an old vagabond, I will die without you.

But that is nothing new.  You abandoned me

on my first day.  You didn’t care what time it was then.

All you cared about was yourself.  You couldn’t live

your promises.  You are nothing.

You have no heart, you have only your tired words.

Taunt the people who are less fortunate than you.

Make them suffer even more, that is your duty and function.

Speak nothing without hunger and death

being always in your mind — these are

the only real problems.  This love, this is an illusion.

There is no love.  There has never been love.

There is only madness, heat and passion.

The game is to force myself out of myself,

into the bigger picture.  I want to be everyone,

all at once.  To rid myself of these cramps.

To stretch the labored muscles, to tear them,

to rend them from the bone, to flay the entire beast

and let it dry in the sun until it is harmless meat.

Dance with fossils without ceasing life.  The past haunts

but it does not weigh down our joy.  We can weep

and laugh simultaneously.  We do not need drugs for this.

I am finished viewing sickness at last.

I have no more patience for dying.  I will bury the dead,

but I will not visit their graves.  I will plant flowers

to bloom in perpetuity, then I will take my filmy scarves

and fly away toward joy.  I will sprout wings,

they will carry me to my own heart.

Those who have passed under my hand won’t suffer,

I am a slim ivory blade, sharper than a razor’s edge.

I am skillful at dispatching those who love me.

I am the merciful murderess, the killer who weeps

as she cuts the veins, sorrow for the blood but joy for the heat.

The others I have jettisoned are always sad,

they think of me with mingled regret and malice,

but they shouldn’t mourn, they’re better off without me,

this I know for I know where I have buried all the dead.

Courage for life, alleys are for the party afterwards,

the wake for the soul.  The body remains upright.

We live without life, we breathe without air.

We fuck without coming.  We give birth

without understanding the process.

The hospital where I will say my last good-byes

to everyone who harmed me, everyone who tried

to caress me.  I built the building, I know its every corridor.

May we all have a plain dance upon dying.

May we go stately to our blessed rot.

May we laugh as the teeth fall from our jaws.

I hope to see my destination, at least from a distance.

Will it be like a train through the mountains?

Will the air rush in to meet me?  Will the air

be like a baby’s kisses?

I see an old vagabond, moronic or just born,

and it is a mirror I stare at.  I have studied all the books,

but can remember only one thing.

Despair is a waste of time.

With artists, we dance my young age and love,

but white hair and rigor mortis are just around the corner.

I can get through anything in one minute segments.

I can breathe the pain through myself,

I can detach it from my body.

I am told when I was sleeping I was at my best.

That is when I hurt no one but myself.

In dreams, I am kind, I am eternal.

Respond to me, you seller of happiness.

Money can buy everything, didn’t you know?

They are only lying to you to keep you down.

The raw chicken sits on the board, weeping juice,

and it is cold under my hands.  To lift the carcass

takes more than I have.  How did my mother,

my grandmother, manage it?

I have been a good feaster of pain —

I have made the banquet from whatever bones were left.

I have seasoned the food until it does not remember

from whence it came.

Riches, I have dispossessed. I work hard

for tomorrow’s bread.  Someone will take care of me.

The poor are patriots, the poor can pass through the gates

into nothing special.  I am nothing special.

I am a very special nothing.

I have been asleep until I heard your voice.

I thought you despised me.  I tried to touch you,

but you were far away, and could not sleep.

You lost the paper with my name on it.

You forgot everything I taught you.

You old vagabond, you are maudlin and past.

I am the future.  I am the young blood,

the hawker, the fresh pain.

I hear what you say, I am only a poor man

but I will live to bury you.  I will live

until my energy is spent.  Then I will

tender my resignation.  Where is my combat pay?

The only true war is the war to be true.

Sharpen your teeth on my bones.

I have undressed the apple that moored me

to the board of my clothing.  There is no nakedness left

beneath this flesh.  I have fucked a thousand like you.

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hungry baby, a short story

illustration hungry babyillustration hungry baby croton

(originally published in Cenotaph)

Hungry Baby

Whenever I’m feeling close to the edge, a hairsbreadth from lunacy, I like to shop for groceries. I go up and down all the aisles, methodically picking out food. I throw boxes and jars and bags and cans willy-nilly in my cart, always stocking up for the big one, the storm that’ll tear the roof off. It’s a habit, one I learned as a child. The women in my family were bony, starry-eyed drunks, with bad skin and lank hair, but by God, they knew how to grocery shop.

I’ve fallen into this twitchy, nervous state because my mother showed up again last night. I don’t know if it was a dream: I hope it was. I opened my eyes and saw her standing next to the bed, almost touching the mattress. She didn’t smile or speak but simply shook her head. She seemed angry; I could tell she wanted to hit me. She was jealous that I was still alive, driving her car, watching her TV, wearing her jewelry. I met her fierce gaze without moving, then closed my lids against her image like hurricane shutters.

The room was so dark, she was like a column of gray smoke, rising over me. Knowing death hasn’t changed her face one bit. How is it that I still miss her? That is an embarrassing, childish pain, an overgrown mouth sucking a rubber pacifier. There will never be a second chance for her and me; I sure wish I could believe in heaven like I believe in hell. If she’d loved herself, or me, even a little, maybe she’d have pulled through the dark waters. But she was so full of self-hate there was no room for anything else. Now I’m afraid her habits are coming after me.

I confess it; often I hated her too, while she lived. I even killed her once, in my sleep. I stabbed her many times with a kitchen knife, and it felt right, like it was the only graceful way out for both of us. There wasn’t as much blood as you’d expect, though there was still enough to soak her nightgown all the way through. When I woke, clammy and trembling, I hurried to her room to make sure she still breathed. I knelt at the side of her bed, watching her scrawny chest. At first, it didn’t stir, and I almost cried out. Then I saw movement, enough to know she lived. Forever after, I feared the terrible anger in me. It’s always waiting, a tiger with ivory teeth and steel claws — waiting for me to stumble, to lose my grasp on mercy, on forgiveness, and throw open its cage.

Wishing my mother was dead half the time didn’t keep me from breaking down her door in a panic when I thought she’d overdosed. After the first incident, I wasn’t all that worried, I knew her to be too much of a bumbler, she’d screw it up like everything else. The door became only an excuse to use my rage, to make my hatred tangible, give it life, a physical existence. I used a heavy folding chair, swinging it over and over again, watching first the splintered crack appear, then the bit of light, marveling at how the door-frame itself gave way all at once and the entire door fell cleanly into the room. She sprawled on her bed, half-clothed, her knobby knees the bulkiest part of her, her wet brown eyes looking puzzled. Even with all the noise, she couldn’t figure out how I’d gotten in the room. Later, sober, she realized she’d underestimated me, she hadn’t known what I was capable of. Much later, when I left home, after a hundred false starts, she managed to finish what she’d begun.

I shopped hours for the perfect funeral dress; pulled grimly through all the racks, looking at everything dark. No, not dark, black. Nobody wears mourning black anymore, the saleslady said, but for my own mother I insisted. In photographs, I appear the proper, bereaved daughter. I spent three days wearing the black dress, feeling grimy by the day of the burial and glad of it.

We buried her in front of a croton bush, God, how she hated those things, crotons. I stared at her shiny marble urn where it sat in the little hole, the tacky brass plaque glued to the top. I couldn’t object to the shrubbery, not with the priest standing there, tall and lean and handsome like some Marlboro Man, chanting and swinging his billowy canister of incense on its copper chain, the black robes clinging to him under the harsh weight of the sun, his hand so big and hard when I shook it my knees almost gave way.

That night, I left the house long after dark, walked in shaky high heels down the street and around the corner, ruining the delicate heel tips on the asphalt. I decided to keep walking until I dropped; to walk forever if no one came running after me. I stopped only a couple of miles away, limp from the humid August air. Crickets vibrated, frogs exhaled, stars flickered; the glowing yellow windows of strangers were my last comfort, my final safe haven. Nothing but love for those strangers kept me from leaving for good, nothing but fear of the tiger kept me from going any farther after my mother; I stood alone in the velvet grief of that hot summer night, calling her name over and over again like a stupid, hungry baby.


Filed under short stories