The slightest breath would crumble
the delicate skeleton. Misgivings derail
each concocted composite of strange symbols
deemed of meaning. The brittle bones break,
disintegrate, leaving a perplexed ponderer
looming over ashes and dust, unsupported
and writhing in desperate despondency.
Gatubela y Niño
Leigh Ann Kyle
I can pin point the day
The day I started to notice all of your subtle details
The wide smile that grew when you were talking about your passions
Your eye quiver when you stopped yourself from being cruel
Your messy hair in the mornings
When more caffeine was needed than the world could provide
Your deep breaths that only meant you were trying to take in the world
If only for a moment
You crossed your fingers when you thought of that brilliant idea
And it always was a brilliant idea
The glaze over your eyes when you were truly laughing at something
Or how you bit your lip when you thought nobody was listening to you
That slit of missing hair on both sides of your jaw
The small oval shaped scar on your palm from childhood
I can pin point the day
The day I started to fall in love with you
Learn to Play
Michael Franklin “Turtle”
Listen while the vinyl plays 1
The kettle, rimmed of boiling water, steams over 2
A younger version of you, appears ghostly seated on the stairs 3
A dog whimpers carries over the music 4
The house sits silhouetted under a black rose 5
A beautiful morning to watch everything fall 6
Everything’s continuous spring blends into fall 6
Sit outside to watch youths perform a screen play 1
Infusions of life, are filled like a blooming rose 5
Optimism loss weight, so swings over 2
Absent of sound, but feels like music 4
No is no difference, only changed a perception of the stairs 3
We limit ourselves by our progression or regression of stairs 3
Praying loved ones never fall 6
Feeling chords of music 4
Everything we like to play 1
Feelings under, yet never over 2
Pricked by the rose 5
Scents hit the nose, reminiscent of the rose 5
Ghosts of yesteryears drift up the spiral stairs 3
Until you stuck under, looking up, over 2
Hoping too soon, you wont fall 6
To think, you thought a play 1
But you do fall a sleep, to the sound of the music 4
You dance out loud to the sound of the music 4
They ask are we going to play? 1
You say play, play until we fall 6
Roll down the stairs 3
Roll with laughter, till it pricks like a rose 5
Then we start all over 2
Then over again, then over and over 2
Until there is none left to play 1
Bitterness stings the tongue like the thorn of a rose 5
Once spiral, now lay flattened stairs 3
Until with exhaustion we fall 6
To no sound of music 4
There’s nothing left over2, to cover the rose 5
No more music4,that rises over stair s
Some fall6, while others try to play 1
On Saturday, I fall in love.
Snow sings across the pavement,
and my dreams retire.
A platter of light begets growth,
the music of the landscape,
blue splendor. In her slender frame,
I merge with rain,
but who will write of such things?
She is fruitful and unclenching,
turning verses in her palm,
rendered in a lilt,
a savored page for me to swallow.
And would I breathe
for fortune, I’d spill my poems
in the breeze. To lay in elegance.
To fall in love.
Brian Baker Andrade
Red Suede Shoes take the sad boy
to skid row. With the riches of plastic jewelry,
with the lust for starving ribs
streams of piss and tears on the sidewalk cracks help the weeds grow.
Red Suede Shoes take the sad boy
to the alleys and corners behind the hipster cafes.
Steel factories blowing up barbie dolls and mickey mouse sweatshirts
purple smogs and underpaid mothers make the poison sun go round.
Red Suede Shoes take the sad boy
to the forest lawn where the dead flowers and dead humans are
under the grass, Earth’s pubic hair.
He stands over his father’s corpse, talking and talking, mostly a one-sided dialogue.
Red Suede Shoes take the street boy
to the winds. Away from the white abyss of walls and wood and knobs
safe from the suffocating carpet, lamb’s pubic hair.
Where the experience is rot but rot is real and real is beautiful.
Red Suede Shoes accompanied with
pain, curiosity, and the soles of his feet
take the once sad man
to his enlightenment.
And he kisses the dirty pair, caressing their laces
because he loves them,
he fucking loves them.
These pills will increase your dick size in 8 minutes. Get laid tonight with a princess. Want
to cheat on your wife? Young sluts are ready to get intimate at 2 A.M., and if that doesn’t
work for you,
you should try this other site.
And when my future looks bleak, I remember there’s as much porn on the internet as water
in my body to scale, varying models of Daddy’s little girl up for sale.
for credit cards,
God, they must think I’m lonely.
a cassette is placed into a VHS player
play: winter had arrived and brought with it all its discontents
fast-forward: Richard Stark holds his head high, and winter had passed. but the snow had yet to melt.
back: a San Miguel. A Chilean brunch. Chatter of things that i had never mustered
back: i am on the bus bringing you your books
forward: you giggle at a stroke joke in a silent room.
forward a little more : atop the Tate Modern, we warm ourselves, coffees in hand. my heart beckons me to leap into the Thames.
back: a first snow, cityscapes petty fogged in black and white, freedom as a man, a revisited lost dog in Tokyo, love found in a factory alongside Klein and Moriyama
ff a little more: this is where it goes down, my dear. here or nowhere. regret tossed into the fog.
ff x 20 : a symphony and the splashing of lights at my first retrospective in the factory where my heart was dumped all those lifetimes ago. Readymades, handcrafted sculptures, and large scale video installations fill the corridors where a man-made sun once swept through.
ff x 50: the last refuge. a Dali is burned for warmth. the bombs are headed our way. the color in our hair is faded into an eternal. bridges may be falling. “they’ll never find us here”, you say. this is where it happens. where it began is where it should end. the locust descend on the factory. but they’ll never make it in. we’ll preserve ourselves in cyanide with the sharks until new british youth find us.
back: you’re quiet. the outcome is not unexpected.
back: i forget your name almost instantly. but not the long walk in the snow-rain.
forward and forward again: Ted Mosby’s narrative is distinctly not my own. A pair of pants that are just too tight to put on.
ff: those wandering days alone in named cities trying to expel you from within me.
ff: promises made of a lifetime of connection that will be broken as the Atlantic surfaces.
back: red lights and labyrinths and another leap into another river. this won’t work either.
forward: I’ve been drinking too much. there is no way to hide it anymore.
freeze: we press the fast forward button together to schemes untold to others, to things that will better outline who we are meant to be.
ff x 10: in a dream we confront one of my nightmares on a set you’ve designed. I am sitting back smiling. we won’t get the take that day but it’s ok. there’s a banquet waiting for us at home.
back: on the hill the red ants sprawl across my tears. “i miss her, i miss her” i hear myself say.
back: through dustiness, you’re still there. “someday you’ll see i’m just a girl.”
ff: that day hasn’t come yet.
back: rainbows in Barcelona emerge from your hair
freeze: cathedrals and hot chocolate from a play you’ve designed.
forward: the ants carry cement around my feet, sticking me into the hilltop
back: in a box of gold you celebrate. but he never showed.
back: Duchamp squeezes Paris into a bottle
forward a little more: I unearth that vial from the hilltop. don’t ask me how it’s not important my dear. Paris is yours. Duchamp too. And me as well.
ff: you just won’t shut up about it as a rolling press corps berates you. awkward answers are given. i may have invaded the rest of Europe but one conquest eluded me. and isn’t it always the ones that didn’t happen, the ones that count?
back: i navigate the mazes of SOHO trying to shake you but you’re never far behind me.
ff: I want to set a livestream to tune you into my now. you’d love it all here. you’d want to call it home. we wouldn’t be so sad, so apart. but you are here already. You’re the the NSA, Big Brother. And Snowden didn’t even need to tell me.
slow: cobblestone cathedrals and pink rainbows encroaching you.
ff: the cruel summer extends. Comfort in old gods. Across pyramids & new potentials
ff: you’re still the nagging demon that no exorcism can do away with.
ff: I am no spy, I tell myself
Present: so connected to make distances centimeters away.
ff: The National is having a concert in my living room. They stop midset and tell me “do it.” half drunk, half knowingly assured I do.
ff: the cables are cut. there is no way to repair them without you knowing.
Back: Jesse and Celine tell me of a different time. When chance, connection, love, fate even, were closer to one another. No promises made. Nothing to tether them to each other. No rear windows into the unknown bits. Something endlessly tangible.
Now: I’ve been contracted to work for the NSA
Back: a deal is struck to keep ghosts tethered to boxes. But it will be short lived.
Slow: cathedrals ring in your city in a fever dream.
Now: realities compress. Jesse and Celine can’t be heard through the static. There is here. There is everywhere. And I realize I never returned here.
Now: no more false cuts to black. This is the last time. This is the last time. This is the last time..this is the last time…
slow: amidst a parade of wine it’s just us. just us, Jennifer Lawrence on the steps, you facing me…
pink smoke emits from the VCR machine. Alone, I choke on it until it is red.
The VCR is broken. It won’t rewind anymore. Only go forward.
My Long Lost Blue
I remember when I stopped
trying to retrace faded lines
so that each stroke
would have a depth worth feeling.
And as I laid back, I slipped
into a sailing breeze
that carried me through
a romantic melancholy mist.
Buried within myself
and unearthed like a sad secret,
I retrieved my still waters
and poured them back in me
only to hear the trickling cries.
These days were perfection.
A lone and simple oneness
as distinct as a spectrum of light.
And later, when I had been unfurled
out from within the clouds,
crashing upon the barren hollow of apathy,
my blue was taken from me.
The age old drowsy heart-ache
that reminds one of once being loved.
I miss its wistful whispers
that spoke of other worlds
where we could run.
We ran together everywhere,
and in time its soft edges
became heavy with
each moment it collected.
I watched it sulk
to a boiling indigo
before it became
so hot I dropped it
to the floor; letting it
grow cold and dull.
it has grown grey.
As indifferently deafening
as ringing in the ears.
Its constant eyes
staring aimlessly dead
But I remember you, blue.
And when you first fixed yourself
to my life, I resented you.
Though now that you’re gone
I see it all too clear.
You were the dutiful and ugly.
The strong and encumbered.
You watched me,
with the last ounce of life.
You fought with everything
to keep me upright,
despite all screaming hellfire tears
and promises of abandonment.
You held on as long as you could,
and it was enough.
Though now you are gone,
on some quiet days
when the ringing isn’t loud,
I stare out at the sea
or the clear sky
and I look for you.
The ocean was restless, tossing the USS Petra every which way. Simon hadn’t found his sea legs yet and doubted he would any time soon. The officers on board glided across the deck with ease, and even the prisoners they escorted—chains snaked around their limbs—managed to get by.
The waves had their way with Simon, though. He stumbled all the way to his meeting with Captain Peterson, who grinned at him under his salt-and-pepper whiskers.
“Mr. Lee. You’ll walk comfortably among us one day, I’m sure.” The captain’s hand slammed into his shoulder, and he nearly lost his balance. “You can barely walk, but you’re still here on time. I think like you already.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Simon said. They were paying him more money than he’d ever seen before, but he had no idea why. He’d stumbled around the boat for three days and hadn’t been asked for so much as a tissue.
Captain Peterson held out his hand, and a man in a police uniform handed him a manila folder. The guard carried a stack of folders in his hands, and Simon noticed the gun and baton nestled in his belt.
“Do you know why else I like you, Mr. Lee?” the captain asked, thumbing through the papers in the folder. Simon shook his head. “This is what your previous employer had to say about you: ‘When I tell Mr. Lee to jump, he doesn’t ask how high. He doesn’t ask where or why or when, either—he just jumps.’” He fished a cigar out of his pocket with his free hand and stuck it in his mouth. It wobbled while he talked. “Yes, Mr. Lee, the United States government will not regret hiring you—I’m sure of it.”
Simon stood with his back straight and his head down, hands behind his back. The breeze blew in a fresh scent of salty ocean air, a smell he didn’t have in his memory, growing up in Missouri. His nose rejected it, and the food in his stomach rose a little, trying to escape.
“Walk with me,” the captain said. He marched off, and Simon stumbled behind him with the silent guard bringing up the rear. “Give me a light, Lou.” The guard lit his cigar, and Simon heard the captain mumble things like “good” and “hmm,” while flipping through the papers in the folder.
“Says here you passed your drug test. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t, of course.” Captain Peterson turned and looked him in the eyes, exhaling sweet-smelling smoke. His bouncing between light-hearted smiles and strong stares put Simon off balance more than the incessant waves. “Tell me, Mr. Lee, have you ever done illegal drugs? Obviously, your blood’s clean now, but did you ever…I don’t know…puff a doobie with your frat brothers back in college?”
Simon paused. “I—“
“You can say ‘yes’. You’re already on the boat—you’ve got the job. I’m not gonna throw you overboard.” He had this odd ability to laugh without opening his mouth, and he used it here.
“Well, I, uh, I did in high school one time, captain.”
“Tsk tsk tsk, The smart answer was ‘no’.”
Simon’s eyes grew wide. “I’m sorry, it was only one time! Just once, I swear!”
The captain closed the folder and stopped walking. “Ask me if I’ve ever done anything illegal.”
“Have you ever done anything illegal, sir?”
The captain had a gaze like ice, and it froze Simon in place. “Nope—never. I never smoked pot in college. I never phoned an escort service, either. They never sent me this gorgeous Romanian brunette, and my roommate absolutely did not walk in on me drilling her like a Texan oil well. It never happened.” Captain Peterson had a long drag on his cigar and blew a bundle of smoke toward the ocean. Then he tossed the cigar overboard. “Ask me if I’ve ever dumped trash into the ocean.”
“Have you ever dumped trash into the ocean, sir?”
“Not even once. Never littered in my entire life. Good American citizens don’t litter, and that’s what I am—a good American citizen. Now, again, Mr. Lee, have you ever done anything illegal in your life?”
Simon rubbed his nose with his finger. “No, sir.”
“Good. Down this way, now. It’s about time you learned what we do here.” Simon’s insides shook with excitement and anxiety. Captain Peterson led him down some plain metal stairs, through plain, heavy doors that opened to reveal a small, plain room. Everything about the ship was emotionless—built from cold steel.
The room did have some amenities—a circular trapdoor in the floor, wide enough to fit a large man, and a steel lever sticking out of the wall. There was also a second door as heavy and plain and cold as the first.
“Welcome to Purgatory, Mr. Lee.” Captain Peterson pointed to the trapdoor. “These are the Gates of Hell.” He jerked his thumb back toward the lever. “And that’s Saint Peter.”
“I don’t think I understand.”
“You will in a minute.” The captain turned to the guard, who had floated in behind them like a ghost. “Start the train, Lou.”
Lou nodded and left through the second door. Simon heard the sound of metal swinging and banging and clinking around, until two guards entered, leading a man in an orange jump suit. Chains snaked around his body, connecting all of his limbs to each other. Lou stood behind them, carrying a large, heavy-looking bag that hooked up to the prisoner’s maze of metal links.
“You know what’s in that bag, Mr. Lee?” asked the captain.
Simon shook his head, but his heart knew—it started pumping blood at uncomfortable speeds.
“A rock. A nice heavy rock.” Lou placed the rock directly over the trapdoor. The prisoner’s eyes opened wide with a fearful comprehension that spread to his arms and legs. He flailed and thrashed, but the guards’ hands shot to their belts, and they each cracked him over the head with their batons. Blood trickled down his cheeks, and he lay still.
“No, man, please,” moaned the prisoner, barely conscious. “I’ll do anything, man.” He started sobbing and coughing up blood.
Captain Peterson tossed Simon’s file on the floor, and flipped through a few folders before sticking to one and saying, “Trevor Young. Let’s see.” He scanned the document inside. “Strike one: armed robbery. Brooklyn, New York.”
“Please, man, that was a long time—“
“Strike two: assault with a deadly weapon. Also, in Brooklyn.”
“I won’t do it again, man. That’s not me anymore, I swear.” Trevor struggled some more, but a baton to his face stopped him.
“And Strike three: possession of illegal narcotics in Albany. Trevor Young, you are outta here!” Without so much as an extra breath, Captain Peterson slammed his palm down on Saint Peter.
Crank went the lever.
“Shit man, don’t—“
Thunk went the trapdoor.
Splash went the body.
The trapdoor closed again. Simon’s limbs turned to stone. They stayed like that until a wave nudged the boat, and he had to hug the wall to keep from falling.
“And that, Mr. Lee,” said Captain Peterson, “is what we do here.” He handed the other folders to Simon. “I’m gonna need you to fetch the right ones. Their pictures and ID should be inside.” He turned to the guards. “All right-y, Lou, send out the next one.” Lou left with the other two officers. Captain Peterson fetched a pad of ink and a stamp from his pocket and pounded the word “deceased” over Trevor Young’s picture.
“You look like you’re gonna vomit, Mr. Lee. Should I open the Gates for you?”
“No!” said Simon. “No. I’m okay.” He took a deep breath, and his legs moved him farther away from the hole without his brain even noticing. He imagined the trapdoor swallowing him up until the ceiling grew smaller and smaller, and he landed with a splash right next to Trevor Young, who dragged him down to the ocean floor. He could see Captain Peterson stamping “diseased” over his own file, and his mother crying when the captain broke the news. Would he even break the news?
“Won’t Trevor Young’s family wonder what happened to him?” asked Simon. “What if they find out?”
“What if they find out what?” the captain said. “I don’t dump trash into the ocean, remember? So what would they find out? That their asshole son or brother or husband was shanked? Or hung himself? Or caught ebola? I don’t know, Mr. Lee. Well, I imagine they’d be sad. Or not. They might not even care. If you ask me, they’re as good as dead the minute they strike out.”
Simon said nothing and stared at the trapdoor. The captain eyed him and said, “I know people like you, Mr. Lee. And you wouldn’t be on this boat if you weren’t one of those people.” The captain ran his hands over the handle on the lever. “There’s a question floating around in that brain of yours. You’re too smart to ask it, but it’s there. You wanna know why. Why are we here in this room right now?
“I love my job—that’s why I’m here. I like to think of myself as our nation’s janitor. People waking up to a clean country puts a smile on my face.” The captain laughed that closed-mouth laugh again. “But I’m guessing what you really wanna know is why the government’s paying us to be here.” Simon nodded. “Well, that’s classified.” Again, the laugh. “But, like I said, you’re a smart man—I’m sure you could figure it out. Prisoners eat and drink and shit away dough that belongs in Uncle Sam’s wallet. Killing ‘em properly costs even more and isn’t always allowed. And they just keep coming, one after the other—a train of money-sucking scumbags. Prisons are fat with the bastards. Why buy new pants, when you can lose the weight?”
Lou returned with two other guards, carrying a rock attached to a female prisoner this time. Her skin clung tightly to her bones, and her curly hair stuck out in every direction.
“W-what’s going on?” she asked with a voice familiar to Simon. “W-what are you gonna do to me?”
Captain Peterson stuck his hand out toward Simon, who found a picture matching the woman on one of the folders. He handed the folder over, and the captain flipped through it. Lou placed the rock on the trapdoor, while the other two guards restrained her.
“Michelle Perez. Welcome to Purgatory.”
She started trembling. “I don’t—“ Her eyes locked on Simon’s. “Simon Lee? Is that you?” Simon looked down at the trapdoor and said nothing. “It’s me, Michelle! Don’t you remember me?” He did. She stole his homework once to copy from it, and when he found out, she wrapped her arms around him and put her bubble gum lips on his to shut him up. And he let her. Another student walked in, and she shoved him away, screaming, “Shithead!” and ran out.
“Strike one,” said the captain. His voice bounced loudly off the steel walls and through Simon’s brain. “A prostitution charge in Phoenix, Arizona. Naughty girl.”
“They were kicking me outta my place! You gotta believe me! Simon! Tell him! I’m not so bad! Tell him!”
Nobody moved. Simon kept looking down and the guards kept holding her and the captain kept talking. “Looks like another prostitution charge in Los Angeles. You get around, lady.”
“Please! Let me go! I’ll do anything!” she struggled against the guards, but they barely felt anything.
“I’ll let you fuck my brains out! All of you! Just let me go!”
“—possession of illegal narcotics.”
“I’ll get clean! I swear! Simon, look at me! Look at me goddammit! Look at me you shithead!”
“And she’s outta here!” Captain Peterson made a gun with his fingers in his free hand and pretended to fire right as—
Crank went the lever.
At the last second, Simon lifted his eyes and connected to hers.
Thunk went the trapdoor.
He saw the terror in them until—
Splash went the body.
He needed some air, but he didn’t say anything. He needed to think, but he didn’t say anything. He needed to say something, but he still didn’t say anything.
“Let’s keep the train rolling!” shouted Captain Peterson. Lou and the other two guards went back through the door.
Simon’s forehead was a waterfall of sweat. “Oh,” he said, rubbing his stomach.
Crank went the lever.
Simon crawled over to the Gates.
Thunk went the trapdoor.
“Don’t fall in,” the captain said.
Splash went the vomit.
“I had high hopes for you, Mr. Lee. You gonna quit on me?”
“No, no. I’ll be okay. It’s just a lot to take in.”
“I get your reservations. The trick is not to see them as people. They stopped being people when they stepped on the toes of good American citizens like us. They’re just rocks now—rocks we’re sinking to the bottom of the ocean.” Captain Peterson looked at the trapdoor. “And like rocks they don’t change. They sit around for ages, tripping and smashing and crushing people to death.”
Simon thought of erosion and coals turning into diamonds, but, yet again, said nothing.
The captain looked toward the door to the prison. “Take it from me, Lee. We’re better off without ‘em.”
Crank. Thunk. Splash.
The three sounds echoed through the room and through his ears and in and out of his brain.
Crank. Thunk. Splash.
The rhythm of it almost grew pleasant after a while.
Crank. Thunk. Splash.
“Mr. Lee,” said the captain. “You do the next one. You’ll see, there’s nothing to it.”
Simon had an urge to bolt, but he stayed and nodded.
“Remember, we’re just dumping rocks here. We’re good American citizens.”
Lou returned not with a rock, but with a boulder of man, each muscle an entire rock on its own. His eyes wrestled Simon’s and Simon lost, looking away. They moved on to Captain Peterson’s, but the captain’s stared right back, sneering.
Simon realized he hadn’t given him the file yet.
“That’s me,” Simon lost his balance again and held the wall, not sure if the boat rocked because of the wave or because of the prisoner’s voice.
“First degree murder and sexual assault in Detroit,” said the captain, his voice more tremulous than normal.
Michael’s eyes connected to first the lever then the captain then the trapdoor then the rock behind him, and he put the puzzle pieces into place.
“I know who you are—I remember you from the courtroom,” he said. “You’re the girl’s father.” The captain walked up to him, drew his own baton, and cracked the prisoner in the cheek. He grunted and said, “Ah, the U.S. government’s justice. A lot more cost-efficient than real justice. Or is this personal?”
“Don’t act like you don’t deserve this, you murdering piece of shit.”
“No less than you. I’m guessing I’m not the first one to stand on this mouse trap today. Whose gonna pull the lever on you?” Michael offered the captain a cuffed hand as well as he could. “Come on, let’s go for a swim.”
Captain Peterson stepped in close and said, “The bottom of the ocean’s for killers and rapists like—“
Michael’s bald head snapped forward, and Captain Peterson toppled over, nose painted red.
The room exploded with sound, as Lou put a bullet in the back of Michael’s shoulder. He roared like a bear and dropped to his knees, trying to hold the blood in with his hand. Simon covered his ears and shrank near Saint Peter.
The captain stood up. His foot found Michael’s nose, spraying its blood all over the trapdoor. “Now we’re even.” Without taking his eyes off of the form at his feet, he said, “But even isn’t good enough. Lee, send this piece of shit to hell. I wanna watch him sink all the way down.”
Simon placed his hands on the cold steel lever, and hesitated. “Goddammit, Lee, pull the fucking thing.”
A wave pushed the boat again, but Simon kept his balance for the first time. In place of the bleeding, moaning man, he pictured a giant boulder and slammed his hand down.
Crank went the lever.
Michael’s eyes grew wide just like the rest of the prisoners that day. Captain Peterson aimed one more kick at his face.
Thunk went the trapdoor.
The kick never made it. On the way down, Michael’s good arm struck like a cobra and latched onto the captain’s leg, mirroring the rock attached to his own. The captain’s eyes grew wide, too, right before—
Splash went the bodies.
Behind the Color Part I.
I laid naked on top of him while I ran my hand over his incoming stubble. I loved when he didn’t shave for a couple of days. It gave him that edge that drove me crazy. His fingers danced along the small of my back while he kissed my forehead, leaving one at a time. I didn’t want to move, but only fall deeper with him. Unfortunately, Eric and I had to take short trip down south. Heat and hell was what I thought of when the south was mentioned. We both had stories that we could have been working on. I just really didn’t want to go.
It wasn’t anything like Cali where my mom raised me, but it still had a touch of home to it. My great auntie Lulu still lived there. She was 67. There were acres of land surrounding the house, with tall grass all around. It was a cute rural country area. On the stone pathway up to the door, one rose was stuck in a bush of lilies. At first I wanted to pick the rose. But at second glance it was the lilies that were in danger. The inside of the house was completely remodeled and modern which was a surprise. Different hues of red were in every piece of furniture and piecing’s on the wall. Lulu really tried to spice up the place.
While Eric did some looking around outside, Auntie Lulu gave me the inside tour.
“Well look at ya, got yaself a white boy. Ya’ll California people just do anything,” said Auntie Lulu. An uneasy laugh came from her.
“Ahh Auntie Lulu, I don’t want to hear it. I already know about Olivia and all that.. I love Eric, a lot.”
“Kiera, if I was youngin’ I’d love him too. Eric is a handsome man. Very smart. But my momma always said black girls are only for the experience and pleasure , not for love. Now I can’t tell ya what to do. But ya be careful ya hear?” Auntie Lulu thought she could pull off good quotes from Cicely Tyson and sometimes it worked. She began to sang as she left out the side door.
Later that evening we had dinner scheduled with Eric’s mother, who I’d only had the pleasure of meeting a few times. And I’m lying when I say it is a pleasure. She was the biggest bitch. The second time seeing her she told me it was strange that I was a pretty girl with a dark skin tone. She then went to say, “You aren’t Eric’s type at all. But I guess he’s just having fun. Right. Its college.” I wanted to show her face the back of my hand with all the nice nasty talk she had going on. Instead I finished the red cherry kool aid she had made for my arrival. “I put extra sugar because I that’s how you’ll like it,” and then she laughed. All he could say was “Mom”.
How could she produce someone like Eric? The story was she was here for business for a week. I’m sure her business consisted of some type of voodoo ritual to make people around her miserable. (I heard they do that down here) After that she was going to Spain, hopefully forever. So Eric flew down to spend some time with her and tell her the good news. Me, well I came to see Auntie Lulu and experience some good ole southern hospitality or just the food would make me happy.
I went out and got Lulu’s mail when I saw the mailman leave. Eric was outside somewhere, and Lulu was still out. There was actually mail addressed to me. Three dusty and slightly torn envelopes from Nicholas Monsoon. I didn’t know a Nicholas Monsoon, but apparently he knew me, K. Smith. I rubbed my stomached as I smiled a little and sat on one of the couches. I wondered who this little person would turn out to be. I opened the first envelope.
Her skin was dark. It was beauty, beauty that I understood. It was similar to drinking from a river of flowing chocolate. Her lips were full but took only a little space on her face. Those eyes stayed big and slanted on the side. She could be a China person if she was pale. Her hair stayed long and braided down her back with a red ribbon around the end. The only time it came loose was when she came to bed with me. It would fall over her full breast while she sat nude in front of me, free. Luckily I saved most of her skin from being burned and scarred by my mother.
Our plantation was one of the biggest down here. Mama had very few nigger women working in the house. And the ones that did were dark, ugly, and scarred, except for my Olivia Rose. All the fair skinned nigger women, Mama sold. When I was a child, she caught my father, often, between the legs of one. His love remained for her and the woman carried his child until Mama sent her away. No one knows of course exactly how, but Mama did more than send her away. Pa couldn’t leave unless Mama said it was alright.
Every evening Mama had a whipping cast on a poor nigger. And every morning when Pa wouldn’t come home the previous night. On one of the nights I had laid with Liv, was her first whipping. I remembered she said, “Nicholas, I’m not allowed to be in here this late. I have to leave before your mama comes for me.”
“I would never allow my mother to touch you. Promise. I’ll come with you.”
“I’ll be fine. Promise. I know ya save me.”
After she had left my room, Gordon, one of mama’s overseers, caught her descending the stairs. He dragged her to his small living quarters that was attached to the kitchen. Mama was a heavy sleeper, yet the screams that would come would awaken her. I made a rush down the stairs to Gordon’s quarters. He stood tall and thick, his breath heavy, over Liv. His trousers sank into the boarded floors around his ankles. Liv’s ankles were locked in his grip, trapped when I came in. Her gown had been torn down the front.
“Gordon, my heavens, what is it you think you are doing?” He stumbled as he pulled up his trousers.
Olivia stood holding her gown together. “Sir, he-,”
“Ya hush up now! Ain’t no one talking to ya.,” he yelled and pushed her on the floor. “Sir, this here girl was creeping around in the house. She was trynna steal something I assume.”
“And do you have any proof Gordon?” But before I could reach for Liv, Mama walked in.
“Nicholas, what is this?”
“Mama no matter here.”
“Now don’t make me ask again. Why is she in here?”
“Gordon was attempting to take this woman. But I won’t allow it.”
“Oh my dear Nicholas, she is just a filthy nigger girl. But I guess we don’t want any yellow niggers running around. When they get older they feel they’re worth something. Gordon? “
“She was trynna steal ma’am. I was teaching her a lesson.”
“No ma’am. I wasn’t trynna steal-,”Olivia said before Mama gave her a strange look mixed with confusion and anger.
“Steal huh? Well Gordon, give her 10 whippings for the hour. She’ll learn then. “
“Mama no. I will decide the punishment. Gordon only wants to possess a woman against her will.”
“My dear boy, please don’t tell me you have become smitten with this here? That you have laid down with this? Hmm?”
“No I haven’t.”
“Good. That’s what I was lookin’ to hear. Gordon ten whippings.”
“Go find some other poor nigga to beat,” I managed to mumble.
“Gordon, take her out now. I would like to get some rest for the morning.”
“Five whippings and that is all I’ll allow.” Liv put her face in her hands and sobbed. I hoped she felt thankful I had been there for her. Gordon grabbed and took her out. Before Mama followed them out, she turned to me with a small grin on her lips. It was gone before she spoke.
“Very strange that her hair is loose. I’m sure Gordon didn’t have time for that. This is your warning. If her eyes wandered anywhere near you, it will be ten whippings… a day.”
Liv’s screams echoed in the dark with the crack of the whip that tore into her skin. Her cries followed me up the stairs into my room, long after the beating had stopped.
In the Heart of the City
A man yells into the boulevard,
The cadence of a type-writer,
Words shot in short, rapid, bursts,
Crushed by bus tires,
Rusty brake pad responses.
From the blackness of missing front teeth,
A man peddles pills to passersby.
Little blue rubies roll in a dirty hand,
A twenty year old, looks twenty years older
hawking twenty dollar rubies.
The number lost its T’s just as
its speaker lost his teeth.
Legal smack sold to get illegal skag.
Follow the blue poppers
to find the tracks on hands and arms,
A path of blissful self-destruction.
Tiles drawn by children,
Laminated by men in reflective orange vests,
Scratched by the wooden soles of
plump, well groomed men.
Rolling suitcase, wheels bent out,
Bow-legged and haggard,
Bungie cord intestines bulge
As they criss-cross a ripped abdomen.
Sweater with sleeves cut off,
Paint stained cargo shorts,
Margaritaville Dress shirt,
Burnt auburn beaded blouse,
Rubber jelly flip flop, thong pulled through,
Poured out and dragging.
A humble hobble precedes
the herniated suitcase.
A pristine Nike, right,
Two dirty socks, left,
Big toe, cracked nail, pushed through.
A child painted a sun with a smile,
The reflective orange vest put it next to a
three legged dog,
The plump men supplicate to cell phones,
Distracting themselves with instant-order coffee.
Double shot Vanilla latte with Soy.
Five dollar stained teeth,
Three hundred dollar home whitening kit.
From a graffiti etched bench
Come the tenacious words of a feeble toddler:
“That bag is hurt!
It’s all tored up!
Do you see!?”
A bundle sleeps in the corner-front of a store,
Windows dark and reflective, empty.
The bundle shakes out a little life
From under a leaking goose-down blanket.
Once gilded letters laid in the corner walk up
Thrifty – Drugstore
Memories of Ice Cream cones,
Pink checkered paper hats,
Smiles and sticky hands.
And then it all slips away,
A soft, ruffled, goose-feather on the wind.
A paper-skinned man stares at a tree,
Sounding alive with baby birds.
Blank eyed, crooked backed, cat circled feet,
He mumbles to the birds in Tagalog.
A bird is pushed from the nest,
The chorus sings a slow fall,
The cat licks its lips.
The line is ended, unexpected.
The Sheriff’s bus leaves Men’s Central,
Three strikes to the Courthouse.
Men sit in jumpsuits,
All adorable in barcoded plastic bracelets.
The chain links of handcuffs are passed through
Long, clean finger nails, pink and white,
Praying the Rosary.
An old woman waits at the bus stop,
Ashy skin flaking onto a tight dress,
Pulled over a small shrinking body.
She waits today just as she did yesterday,
An oily head wrap holding up once intentional dreads,
Legs crossed, left hand painting right finger nails,
Lacquered so thick they bow outward.
In rings around her, others wait for the bus,
One that will actually come, One they will actually ride.
They breath heavily through their mouths as they
Brace their noses against embarrassment.
Fried dough sold off a cookie sheet
Wedged in a baby stroller.
Tapatio slipped into the baby bottle pouch,
Plastic catering tongs, sugar-crusted,
Looped over the rubber grip-stripped handle
of the dilapidated perambulator.
Baby sits on the stoop behind the cart,
bare-diaper on red-paint, molded concrete.
Superhero t-shirt, oversized, like a dress,
Wispy hair waves to the passing bus.
Passengers turn to potential customers
Before this Rugrat, learning the trade.
Below the typewriter voice,
Across town from the bungie cord intestines,
In front of the dilapidated perambulator,
Out of the singing tree,
Unleashed from chain-link Rosaries,
Near memories of gilded letters,
Beside the blue rubies,
A Silent Subway station hosts a strange guest:
A fertile, white, fist-sized pollen spore,
floating above the tracks.
All waving arms and a dancing body,
The thing is alive,
Defying the concrete burial vault.
It lives suspended, a moment of beauty,
A shimmering calm before the chaos.
There’s no thought of the train,
No concern for the weight of fertile wisp,
For now, all is focused and made right
On that spindle arm, a miraculous anomaly,
In the heart of the city.