Afterbirth

Greetings from a coffee shop state of pseudo-slumber. Bright flaming ball of essential daily nutrients in the sky, winged ants springing from sidewalk cracks in clouds before they settle into kitchens, spiders prepping complex webs and bracing for Hobo accusations, and pale peaking flesh gliding down the street attached to mouths munching stories about bicycle parts and allergies.

This thumbs up is brought to you by the end of January, the end of February, the end of every awful month that seriously needs elimination from the calendar. There’s never been a better case for hibernation than a slow walk down a rain drenched street on a shivering day where every shop owner says fuck it and just closes at five to retreat to the nearest bathroom for a little private mutilation. The rest of us adopt yellow pallets and stone sunk eyes, characteristics previously thought confined to addicts and dystopian novel characters, trying to summon inspiration through a cocktail of Vitamin B and Vitamin D and herbal hoodoo woowoo alongside wanna-be sunlamps and cancerous tanning beds. These attempts to self-resuscitate are chronicled on blogs and tweets and facebook, because internet communication is the only acceptable sport for sanitary sorts who arrive at Portland’s borders and instantly fall antisocial and ill. It’s retreating to caves, coughing and brooding, waiting for the rain to make moats and moss and green scenes so we remember what we’re doing this for. I hate you I love you I hate you I love you.

This is my oldest Sid and Nancy romance.

I’d like to reveal all the excellent events that have unfurled in the past few months, but as I already mentioned January and February don’t actually exist except to file your taxes and force you to attend expensive parties. What I really did was rewatch all six seasons of the Sopranos, and then spend hours considering minor scenes that involved submersion in water and horses, and whether or not Tony traded places with death, and what it all means in terms of self-absorption and the level of denial required to ignore or participate in heinous things. Yeah, that’s it, like the Milgram experiment that explained how the Holocaust could have happened, with the dude being shocked and people still pushing the button and maybe crying and still pushing the button, and…

Still: television exists to remind us that we’re all going to die, and none of us are going to wish we had watched more things before it happened.

So: Last night I organized my selves into a skin and stood while other people sat and made talking noises while dressed as a blue Keebler elf. This is apparently known as a reading, and it took place at Rain or Shine Cafe on Division at 6:30, and I sold four books. Two were sold through the Square, which is a stamped size piece of science you plug into the larger rectangle used to microwave heads, and then money happens. This is a much better use of a smart phone than talking. If you haven’t yet received this fantastic device in the mail, I highly recommend signing up. For all the complicated technology I can’t grok, my brain meats totally tossed this salad without error, and for the first time since its purchase I dared to love my Android phone for the three more days I’ll have it.

The crowd was also neat-o, and contained many of the kind Kickstarter contributors that allowed Psychopomp Volume One to make it to print. A small part of each of the three sections was read to introduce each of the four characters to the herd. At the end of each section everyone pawed the ground and cried “Four legs good, two legs bad!” so I knew I was really on to something.

It went well, and I hope to do more things just like this in the future.

The kind words that followed the reading made me think an audio production of the book should be in the works. When working on this beast I read it aloud to myself anytime my apartment was empty, a tip dispensed by more than one of my writing professors at Ohio University. This is a great means of detecting punctuation errors, and measuring whether or not dialog sounds authentic or like something Bob Saget would say when he’s under contract at a major network. It also zeroes in on garbage words and phrases that are utterly out of place in a paragraph and therefore need to be deleted. I used to consider this heartbreaking, but if you’re a writer you’re always going to write more. Clinging to a phrase you hope will one day arrive as someone’s tattoo to the detriment of the chapter results in a lot of people with ink they don’t understand.

Otherwise, I’ve been in a state of afterbirth, trying to get my body back, knowing all the while that the minute I can pull off a 50 mile bike ride I’ll be pregnant with book again. I mean it, pregnant: The time spent working on it is weird aches and pains and hormonal surges while fielding questions about how far along I am and whether or not I’m ready for this. When the golem makes its painful escape there’s no expectation of having to feed it and water it and clothe it and take it all around town in one of those strollers that swallows the sidewalk, smiling and squeaking, “Excuse me! Don’t you want to hold my baby?”

Then comes the doubt: what if I created a dumbass? Why did I bring this THING into the world to defecate in its pants? It’s totally gonna throw a tantrum in the coffee shop, and I’m going to have to sit there and rub it on my boob while everyone averts their eyes while circling me like the sun. This is bullshit. Who can I get to watch this for me? Can I leave it at Center Camp at Burning Man while I cover myself in blinky lights and run at the fire? I’m the Joan Crawford of authors, wearing lacy nightgowns and painted-on eyebrows and the sneer of someone who hasn’t had a pleasant thought in a decade. One minor disappointment of little consequence and I’m a tabloid, beating it with wire hangers, complaining about ingratitude for all I’ve sacrificed and how no one appreciates nice things, before I leave my book with the nanny and escape for another bender.

Still: I’m on the verge of my Steve Martin moment, where the sour is replaced with the glassy-eyed smile that makes parents often love their children despite their tendency to break things.

In the coming months I’ll be weaning, sending out more review copies, getting the ebook online, booking more readings, and trying to get Psychopomp to take care of itself. Then, Channel Insomnia and Psychopomp Volume 2, and with any luck I’ll have a crowded house and will feel overwhelmed all over again, which is a much more wonderful thing to experience than a hollow, empty bookshelf.

 

Observation Station: Bus #20, 3:45PM

I fold myself into invisible spaces. Like a cat, my tail forgotten.

The man next to me is foam packed, bloated with winter. A crooked old man hand escapes his sleeve and pulls me from my hiding space. He points: “I want to murder those birds.”

Other men who are never not drunk barely hold themselves erect and have lived in these seats forever. Each wears flannel shirt and wool knit cap and missing teeth from intentions and accidents. Each has never been young, ghost locked at forty and remembering.

The bus stops and the smell of whisky and crackers staggers upright to challenge his prison. He yells at the door, neglecting to note the gesture required to opensaysme. Resting his forehead against the glass he yells DRIVER again and again until one man holds his jacket to keep the marionette from earning his mouth more empty spaces, while another holds open the door. He doesn’t recognize this crack team responsible for another day without a head injury. Waiting for him is a woman bright orange and shit talking and far away from her own AA coin, waving a giant pillowtop mattress sign, half turned to her drive-by audience.

I can’t picture this man drinking from a straw, or wrapping a present, or repotting a plant. I can’t imagine him looking at the lines in my hand and comparing them to his own, wondering if they overlap and if they do will they click to key so we can both remap. I can’t imagine him having questions for the pharmacist, asking for more foam on his latte, coloring as a way to relax.

He probably can’t imagine me at all.

Teenagers travel in packs, wearing insides out, congested with canned laughter. Heart shapes drawn on cheeks and decorating tights and desperation, while others announcing the discomforts of business casual balance tupperware containers emptied of sugary treats a little too close to my head.

Valentine’s Day helps women hate each other. Velour balloons announce confections and give my face another something to dodge. Fat wads of fast dying flowers peek out of backpacks and wink at the downcast face of the sour-anointed someone who might just fatten her social network with ruminations on being alone. She adjusts hairclips cast as flowers that resemble stars. If such devices were used to puncture, she’d be left with wind spun hair.

Evidence that meth remains a problem despite the state-wide ban on effective allergy medication locks us all in place. It reeks of impatience and is sponsored by Apple. Some fucking fuck filled rant about whether or not a transfer is still valid, yells to move back move back, the snap of a plastic container being pried apart for a taste of cake and a guilty grin. Unwashed hair in front of me. Bleached hair beside me. All of us are itchy.

We pass strippers arranging themselves outside of clubs to smile at those looking for love. The unmarked graves of Chinese men and women who built this city in secret. Two elderly women with careful grey curls, holding a soup bowl between them. A pack of people dressed as sharks with paper hearts glued all over their bodies, twirling red gift bags and giggling. A sign that reads: “The really dangerous power lines don’t spark or slither. They just lay there.”

Arms arranged in triangles clutch poles and trap sounds. A single seat remains unclaimed, no matter the claustrophobia of passengers. Wrist tattoos drawn with hands sloppy or steady snake away from skin. Me, hoping to claim them. Me, slapped alive by earphones gone wild, the mortified wielder of the whip apologizing more and more. A pant leg hides something yellow. A sneak at something pink. Four rolling can of ceremony.

My stomach is in my hands.

Excerpt from Channel Insomnia: 1996

Everything in Channel Insomnia has been written with fewer than five hours of sleep. I did this today, working with a whopping three.

1996

My boss is wearing leather pants. She and her husband are sharing what most would call a midlife crisis, and what she calls remaining attractive. It hadn’t occurred to me to remain attractive post fifty; I figured as soon as your skin started sliding the best course of action was surrender.

 

Those two have something worked out, and it involves shopping at stores with exclamations for names alongside teenagers trying too hard. There’s something delightful about this, like the garments are finally being assigned their appropriate owners instead of stumbling into someone for more of the same. No adolescent body can own such accents; either there’s too much insecurity crossing arms over chest and slouching posture, or it’s all on display and the vultures are circling. Even a legit complement must be chased with another layer of something colored and bottled and chemical filled applied to hide what isn’t even there to conceal.

 

Really, adolescence is simmering, and everyone young should know it. High school is prescribed to vacuum the intelligence and beauty from your being and 19 is set to restore it.

 

And really, like my boss I’d say, you gotta be grown to own it.

 

She in turn doesn’t say anything about the transparent clothing I wear without even noticing, and the unclassified insect infecting my eyes. This is a new world, one where I’m suddenly eating food with ingredients I can pronounce that arrives hot and aromatic and without foil covering.  When a sound like a shot rings out it probably isn’t one. There’s a reason for going outside, other than to get to your car and to summon new complaints. There’s nothing to buy and I don’t miss it. Still, the startled expression translates to action and people with faces I can’t immediately read are trying to dissect what’s hidden. That’s mine. It’s in this place that I first consider snakes, as the sounds of coyotes bounce from hill to hill, chased by the returned cries of humans.

 

Her eyes track my descent, and fear of seeing one dim in my direction makes me a weaver of ladders.

 

My boss, she’s got scrolls of stories to unfurl. How she’s seen ‘O Brother Where Are Thou?’ too many times and is still going again next weekend. How the Kent State Massacre was a something that slid all over the country and made for strange days in Ohio. Boiling grief over the ongoing mass sacrifice of young men caramelized into a single incident. Being young then, boasting a body able to haul 50 pound bags of grain. Now she just wants someone to sexually harass her for God’s sake. She wants to retire with working heart and limbs. She’ll leave the work force before it leaves everyone else.

 

I wonder if the exclamation stores still find her. If her blackberry pie is still the best of them. If she knows it would still strip my insides to disappoint her, and that my clothes are soon slated for leather.

Generation Immobilization

The bitter old woman in me

This afternoon I broke from a sweat-soaked dream of fighting bears and garden snakes circling my ankles, to thoughts of self-destruction strangling voices from my slow-moving generation of internet thinkers and human-interaction dodgers. Friends and colleagues endlessly struggling with project completion and personal progression, understanding of self as independent entity and self connected to greater whole. Friends and colleagues struggling with an understanding of self, as they hamster wheel into obscurity.

As the most thriving parasite on satellite earth with no nameable opposing force greater than outraged oceans and man itself, it’s reasonable that a certain segment would suckle suicide by time.

Some succeed in dumbing and numbing through intentional wheel-spinning masked as accident.

Others lock into directionless courtesy of SOMA-stoked bored contentment, memory tricked into knowing the times before as instances where they were not themselves, victim to erratic emotions, unboxed and venom-fanged.

Others still reprogram impressionable mind-meat into regarding unpredictable terrain and internal missiles as those engineered to thwart the influence of logic, until the boys-don’t-cry rhetoric of the 50s has been cloaked in the garb of SCIENCE to keep them quiet, confused, disposable, and apologetic.

The bitter old woman in me claims that those dodging the charms of self-destruction most completely are those willingly disconnected from a comprehension of self with greater relation to the larger world. Those whose world view is informed by their day-to-day needs and the acquisition of stuff, who complain about the cost of gas without dot-connecting to the origins, who neglect to note that many of us are born equipped with transportation courtesy of functional legs.

The bitter old woman in me claims that those immune to this elixir are those who will drunkenly announce themselves to be evolved, no longer seeking the answer since they fuckin’ found it. This holy-fuck-I’ve-done-it world view is succinctly summarized on web sites and readily available pamphlets and paperback best sellers endorsed by your favorite talking head and televised wank fest. This sort of trumpeting seems to catch the ears of invisible listeners, who can’t wait to help the self-annointed guru stuff too many people into a sweatlodge.

The people who actually do something

However: there are plenty who, by whatever fluke of science and nature and love and work, somehow manage to engage with day-to-day reality without so much pacing, who find ways to pacify dark thoughts of shame and insecurity to commit to achievement of vision. Many drinkers have mastered the grumbling understanding that a majority of the human populace is destructive or useless. Only a few seem willing to truly consider their own capacity for greatness, which can’t be measured by externally constructed models, but created ones with personal means of measurement.

(Side note: others still don’t think about this shit that much. These are the people who look at me exhausted and wonder if addiction-commitment might derail my internal circle-jerk enough to stoke forward some semblance of laugh-riot. Sorry folks. I’m the hole in your garden hose.)

In a few determined hours I could produce a toilet paper roll of 10 point font names of courageous individuals thwarting pressure to mirror-mumble until expiration date. Each instance offers evidence of a combination of luck-prayer-hard work-clarity of will-sacrifice, though only some would agree on this list of ingredients.

Some would dismiss the luck component, neglecting the winning lottery ticket of being born in America where we don’t have to fear being recruited into a machete-wielding child army after observing the massacre of people we once adored.

Others might laugh off the prayer with a ho-ho-ho they won’t credit to Santa, insisting their repetition of heart’s desire was just for the sake of clarity — nothing was overheard.

And some of this group of achievers won’t even clock their achievements, will even shun the word success based on a definition constructed by some other, and will therefore express ingratitude, an inability to comprehend such good fortune. These are generally those who have achieved in a realm undefined by material rewards, who interact with culture in its birth canal, their material sacrifice for vision-preservation a mark of bravery without the badge.

Few among us planned on the luxury of so many decisions, only some of us even observing how many options truly exist, and many observing the endless rings with panic and paralysis, not willing to risk drowning to join a more interesting raft of refugees.

It’s important to take a moment to be astonished by human capacity to accomplish nothing. Even with no prison sentence offering boxes and walls to circumnavigate, no international crime lord rifling through plastic surgery records to uncover an assumed identity. No demands from a family of thirteen that each mobile adult take an extra shift at the shirt factory to provide a bag of beans that will last a week. No full body paralysis to explain the catatonic state.

So how does we crack alive? How do we muster together art and words in the midst of base survival, which calls for day jobs over daydreams, doldrums over danger, donuts over….just donuts.

How do we create anything to completion in the stranglehold of sloth, how do we break away from this pocked understanding that with science on our side we’ll live forever?

How do we smother the perception that opportunities are to be considered, not seized, as there will always be another chance for life and love and greatness?

And is it fear of death that keeps us locked behind invisible bars, or fear of life and our ability to navigate new complications that will inevitably present themselves as our decision-making grows riskier and our life choices become harder to defend?

 

America by Space Ship Part 1: The Badlands

Landlock after extended road travel leaves me sourpussed. Only 46% of my person percolates in the present; the rest continues merry wandering in the same rented Dodge Avenger we dubbed the Space Ship, a craft that accumulated 6,158 miles before we reluctantly surrendered the keys to Avis and accepted a deflated bus ride back from BeaverTRON into Portland proper. The other 54% of me has elected to re-visit newly collected haunts. First re-entry point: the strange space of South Dakota, where half the state is a waking nightmare pulled from the pages of Peter Matthiessen’s nonfiction masterwork In the Spirit of Crazy Horse; the other half is accessible only by invisible slide. My co-conspirator Dok Z and I Lewis and Clark’d this territory for two days, and my skin still smells of sage and is bronzed orange-red from awesome sun.

South Dakota: we arrived in Murdo sleep deprived and irritable, having narrowly escaped the Corn Palace insect-saturated South Dakota hellmouth. For endless exits there was nothing save for ghost town gas stations daring us to stop to clean the windshield. There we’d inevitably find a wiper and water bucket so thick with unidentifiable six-legged somethings that if a sample were collected and placed on a slide, it might devour the microscope. Aliens have arrived, people. They’re just very small…

Anyway, in Murdo the border of our motel (the only one with any vacancies) was lit with PINK neon, and as we exited the Space Ship the manager was waiting for us, and in some unseen nook or cranny Quentin Tarantino was waiting to film.

 

Other than the neon it looked like hundreds of other motels, a simple series of windows and doors arranged in rows, a parking lot filled with out-of-state license plates and construction worker pick-up trucks. Manager chap was nice enough, and inside the room was decorated with endless signs listing reasons to be excited about the hand towels, and reminding us to respect the queen-sized bed as a holy resting space.

JESUS IS REAL

While I can’t confirm the existence of secret passageways and have never been accused of super-sluthery, I can testify that throughout the night, whenever I looked out the window, the manager was going into one door, before exiting from another completely on the other side of the motel. Attempts to rub the funhouse from my eyes failed. Dok Z mumbled in his sleep about gunshots, then woke and asked if I heard them. Did I hear them? I was busy listening to the argument happening on my face, while negotiating the black cloud that entered the room to cowboy clock my sixth-eye closed.

Whether you’re inclined to indulge the hocus-pocus or are the type to stodgily insist that nothing is real until Mythbusters conducts the appropriate experiment, the fact remains that this motel was plucked from an unaired episode of Scooby Doo, bulging with entities eager to latch on and puppet unprotected people with ghostly tentacles.

In other words: South Dakota is a haunted holy fuck of a state. The 2000 census claims the population of Murdo is 612, and I suspect 40% of these folks have since been eaten.

Burning rubber back on to 90W we learned fast that the western side of South Dakota is equally haunted but wears a prettier face. Amazing scenery does not, however, slow the pimping of the waterpark, an aggressive boil on the butt of family tourism wank that begins blooming in diaper rash earnest with the Wisconsin Dells. It almost doesn’t matter what the Dells are, exactly, because every billboard coaxing your car towards exit doesn’t give a shit about this natural wonder. Advertisements ham-fist tease about dozens of hotels and lodges and mini-person prisons engaging in full-tilt street brawls for the coveted title of most HOLY FUCK water park, each featuring rides that inexplicably reference stinging land-based mammals and insects. Grinning faces of prepubescent youngsters on waterslides and body surfing through furious chlorinated water are framed by screaming comic sans demands to GET WET.

I know what you're thinking: why doesn't the boy have face paint?

 

Dok Z and I spent several dull-scenery minutes working on the marketing campaign for our hypothetical water park, WET AS FUCK, and while I don’t remember much of the proposed schematics and body pummelling near-drowning excitement, my current fantasy goes like this: at WET AS FUCK, the minute you walk through the hotel doors three retired firemen in Clockwork Orange uniforms immediately render the entire suitcase-baring family WET AS FUCK with the assistance of a firehose. Those dedicated cigar-smoking workers don’t let up until your whole family is unconscious and pressed into the concrete, clothing in tatters, shoes knocked loose, spinal deformities violently corrected. In this state the fam is directly deposited (courtesy of black unmarked van) to the Badlands, which has a way higher amazing-factor than anything involving a plastic slide and pee water.

Badlands National Park: Seriously, wow. Dok Z wasted no time in claiming this turf for his personal pleasure saucer, and I can’t fault him the quick action. We initially choked at the $15 investment required, but less than a mile deep I was pondering permanent relocation. Hiking the Enter the Door Trail exposed us to prehistoric landscape locking the bodies of undusted dinosaurs, and blue sky accented by golden eagles. The trail was not really a trail at all, just a collection of yellow flags tricking your eyes in a half-hearted attempt to direct your party away from permanent LOST status. Signs warning of rattlesnakes further activated my inspection of the dots and dashes pocking the cliff sides. I let the dust sink into my skin, invited it in, harvesting a new kind of high.

Off-camera: sense of purpose restoration

 

It was in this space that my nose-twitch towards other tourists switched. I wasn’t alone in my awe, and regardless of age or physical ability the terrain was explored with care and appreciation. Kids ran to have their pictures taken between rocks that framed their bodies and scrambled up the buttes, while older folks examined edges for footholds and let their eyes turn skyward on the lookout for birds of prey and incoming saucers. Sure, there was the lone marble-mouthed cell phone jockey blathering day-trader jargon into his sweat-soaked armpit while his unattended children played tiddlywinks with a cougar and plotted their forthcoming angst, but without those kids we wouldn’t have Marilyn Manson, and then what would their t-shirts say?

 

Dok Z, recasting his vote on the relevance of Creed

According to the National Park Service website, the 244,000 acres comprising the Badlands are “one of the world’s richest fossil beds,” functioning as home to bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, pronghorn, and black-footed ferrets. After exploring the visitor center’s winding corridors and informative, touchable science-things, we picnicked and examined the camping spots while daydreaming of future visits where we’d have the opportunity to linger. Then we traveled into the higher altitudes to spy prairie dogs running across roads and standing on top of little mounds, looking adorable in squeal-and-freak-out fashion. Higher still, a single goat with a collar, ear tag, and bored expression wandered into the road and dared the slow moving cars to accelerate to ramming speed, before enjoying the absurdity of a half-dozen white people ape-footing out of vehicles to ignite the possibility of an animals-attack style YouTube video.

When animals don't attack

 

Leonard Cohen was an appropriate companion. Next time I’ll stay longer than a day.

Next up: The waiting arms of WALL, South Dakota.

 

 

Snake chases her tail

Greetings blog-trolling human forms and spam robots!

Right now I’m systematically wading through hundreds (and hundreds) of pages of writing, in an effort to minimize accumulation of Hard Drive Rot (TM) and free myself from the literary phantoms spooking up my mirrors. This means discipline, which is confusing, since I’ve come to understand that word as one synonymous with punishment. Like a lot of you, most evenings I’d rather intoxicate myself on moon juice and monkey-slap my keyboard until nonsensical images formulate themselves for 135 character internet posting, which means something for exactly four minutes until I forget what I was talking about in the first place. Like now…

Anyway, the idea is to finish (and publish) two books that have lived and died and been plagiarized within the confines of my brain meat ten times over into exhaustion. Both books are some diet flavor of done, but require editing and word rearrangement to better meet my perfectionist face-slap standards. I assure you these standards don’t essentially amount to self-inflicted staple wounds and thinly-veiled self-loathing. Really. It’s useful. USEFUL.

While I’m doing that the snooze button on this blog has been pressed, which is probably for the best. When I started it the idea was to post goo-goo-ga-joo vomited onto the screen in 30 minutes or less, with no further editing, to activate the ability to write, release, and call it done. The experiment worked: sure, yeah, I can let something go now. Unfortunately, most of what got posted is clit-lit, verbal masturbation informed by whatever attractive human specimen captured my wandering coffee shop eye. A couple of things didn’t suck, but I shudder to think some unsuspecting sap will stumble upon this website and use what’s witnessed in e-form to measure my writing prowess. That’s bullocks, people. It’s better to buy the books. So I’d better get busy…

Anyway, if you have interest in supporting my completion endeavors (in the monetary sense) please buy the shit out of my stories on Scribd. You can find them here: http://www.scribd.com/fallsapart

Future postings will offer details on my haphazard progress towards completion, and whether my hand wringing has escalated to hospitalization or decelerated into happy space and aum. There’s all kinds of other somethings in between but I’m a chick of extremes and it’s unlikely that I’ll occupy such airspace. Gargle my thoughts, unsuspecting someones. GARGLE.

Love to you,
Amanda

Death Posturing

You’re done for. There’s one thing, then another, and there’s nothing after that.

What does that mean? A cleverly concealed pocket-knife could wiggle me away from a railroad tie-down, and suddenly my sour mid-life expiration could alter to paper-skin ancient, eyes pearled and body bent to occupy chairs that wheel and rock. Or maybe future-me belays from broken cells to cyborg, monocle red-laser eyes special-crafted to aggravate cats and melt thicker thoughts from enemies. Half of me bones braced for dusting, the other half sculpted new, locked in with hook and screw.

No: you’re done for friend. Tally your hoe for the waltz-step through endless white curtains before frail begets faint and both retinas blink blank.

Huh. Well, movies suggest quaint segments of life should be summoned from my switchboard for long walk companionship.

– A hair-pinned and pressed grandmother I never had, apron-clad and bespeckled and pulling a tray of cookies from an eye-level oven.

– Running around an endless oak my Midwest backyard didn’t know, not pursued by a bell-bottomed sister screaming and swinging a neon-green plastic bat.

– A chaste slow-dance sponsored by Hallmark, swaying driftwood to puritanical tracks bleating of love as candy-hearts and water-spun roses, embracing someone well-washed I wouldn’t love.

In this canned universe no one is giggling maniacally in a way that inhibits oxygen intake, and never at creatures who audibly sigh and scowl “Come on!” after eighteen agonizing minutes in a pharmacy line.

No. My friend, this isn’t a movie.

Switchboard triggered even still. Images summoned from sun-baked scalp:

– Me tent-locked during green-sky opening, water rushing underneath (vinyl surfing), testing stakes. Outside wind speaks a more threatening tongue and activated ears ask eyes to answer.

– Mambo bullwhip-crackling wet green ground to coax drummers furious as she summons lost Africa from belly slumber for Papa Legba. Oh, Papa Legba.

– Me fay-cozy between two monstrous redwoods, boots pressed to one trunk and back suction-cupping the other, daring tension to inch me upward, or rigid curve me catapult.

– Freshly plucked baby in my thrice-born arms, learning air without water. Me drinking in. Spirit lands unseen.

– Tomato caterpillars caged in Styrofoam egg cartons, round padded feet slow stepping fresh-clipped leaves for rapid gobbling post antennae inspection.

– Wild-haired man burdened by backpack, patterned and pierced, blue current skulking the street after me so I don’t leave – not then, not ever.

– Bodies thick on a fire escape suddenly more dangerous, talking in spirals about events that lightning struck uniform corpses to make us all mad magicians, striping our eyes, dotting our lines. Then many are two and touching.

– Lying on a blanket in the high desert plains, techno-blasted and cowboy-capped, dehydrated mouths calling sounds from lost dimensions where all are copper and exterior-wired.

So you’ve accepted death?

Not for a second. Three times this bell has rung for me, a stale drone from far-away towers eating air for the ankle-grip. Three times you’ve finger beckoned and I’ve snaked away in debt to doctors and water. I could still learn to swim a little bit better, could still highlight heart with a kinder crayon, could still find words to darken white pages (no curtains, no waltz) letter-sparked by anonymous alchemists to leave me better remembered.

Does any of it actually matter?

I can’t hear you. The sky is breaking. My palm boasts six stars.

No one’s read to me in awhile.

Kali-Ma (On Working for a Sexual Assault Hotline in the Appalachian Foothills)

Woman says: “Walked in on my boyfriend. He was with my four year-old daughter. He was touching her all kinds of places. Called the police, and they can’t find him, but I know where he is. I’m gonna kill him.”

She says: “I know what they’ll put her through. First they’ll give her this exam and stick objects she doesn’t understand in places she no longer loves to collect DNA on swabs they’ll likely lose. Then too much time will pass before they put her on a stand and hand her a doll and ask her to show the court what happened. They’ll say, ‘Did he use his thing? His private parts?’ And she’ll be scared and confused, and she’ll start to hate dolls, and the defense will call her an ‘unreliable witness’ and that’s when they’ll call me up.”

“I won’t need no doll. I’ll tell them what I saw. Don’t think every word I say will be sweet on their ears. And they’ll say, ‘Oh, you was angry at the defendant, wasn’t you? He was gonna break up with you. He never loved you. That made you angry, didn’t it?’ I’ll say I don’t know about all of that, all I know is he smelled like dead man the minute he sunk his dick into my daughter. He smelled like gun powder, just like my hands do now.”

“And they’ll say, ‘Is that a threat?’ and they’ll pack that man in a bullet proof vest and position one cop to the left and another to the right so I don’t do what needs doing – and we both know what needs doing.”

I’m nodding at the phone like I’m seen when she says: “Am I wrong for thinking this?”

Shuttered black eyes blink skulls to my feet, then I respond: “No. Where is your daughter? Is she safe?”

She says: “She’s settin’ in my lap. I told her she’s going to Nana’s for a spell. Jus a lil while. Jus a spell. She doesn’t want me to go, but I’m fixin’ to have myself an accident, if you know what I mean.”

I do. People have accidents all the time. Hell, just recently in Athens County a certain pedophile ate the wrong batch of brownies. He just so happened to die.

She coughs fire from her throat and asks: “What would you do?”

And I answer long-tongued: “I’d hide the body.”

She laughs, and so do I, both wondering if I’m serious. So I add with the rolling hill accent: “I don’t rightly know.”

In my daydream her head fills my lap, and comfort crafts saccharine speeches: There are children who don’t remember. Who wash it cleaner in their minds. Transform the memory into a less-fulfilling game of doctor. Some people become scientists, anyway. End up okay anyway. Some people do, anyway.

Instead something spools out about trusting the system and the wonders of counseling. It’s my job to talk this way.  I congratulate her for electing not to continue to share a bed with unfortunate company, for not considering her four year-old a hussy, like some might. Some might.

She snorts: “I don’t know about those women. I know about this one. I’m her mother. The night is long. I’m not even tired. And I know where he is.”

Career Day (Plotting of Future)

Mad Rambler

This uniform feels familiar. Unmonkeyed thanks to mittens, swaddling clothes for anxious digits twisting accusations. Thumb-tacked. Shoes shower-capped. Paper ribbons tied loose to yarn-spooled hair flat-ironed with heated horseshoe. Downright LUCKY.

No: unglued and unshoed. Everyone knows the only horse has feathers.

Fruit-juice in washpans from the bed of every foot at the foot of every bed from the spool of every head. This is the future friends, the future. Ask the army of ants exiting ear and evolving to pink-eyed plastic prior to window blind climb. War for the Pane, antenna-fired shots don’t bang or pop or pow or fizz, they squirt and pink eyes pin-drop. Koala with an x-marked spot escapes a neighboring narrative and inquires about the absence of bamboo. What the hell is there to eat around here? Giggle escapes mouth; not leather grip clutching wrist.

This is the future, friends.

Scavenger

Bottles and cans bottles and cans dumpster dive donut dollar rushing rusher bottles and cans bottles and cans thank you sir thank you ma’am bottles and cans bottles and cans.

Office Nutcase

Gather round wayward masses winking corner-office twinkies, foot shuffle downtrodden druthers! Did you see that one commercial with the guy from that show, not that one the other one, who wears the tie and does that thing with the football by the watercooler with that girl, the blonde one? Wasn’t that AWESOME? Oh tomfoolery, oh hapnappery, oh shenanigans hooligans happenstance, oh shitty mcfuckernuts, get me out of this habit or into a habit and unsex my dead nether forever. Required form in triplicate, two-6-dash-9-niner. Profits are down people, profits are down. Submit your request, submit submit, and for God’s sake get down from there, we only have the one bucket! Sign here and here and initial there.

Cult Leader

hallways slide from exit signs lined with sufficient logic for one uncomplicated thought colored neon with quotes from dead others, underscored passages in yellow holy books tucked quiet under eyelid. Agreement inspires declarations of being On To Something which satisfies small ego cookie starved since childhood. Now the stage is REALLY set. Little On to Something read this book and sign this paper and oh yes such a generous donation, I’m glad you were able to pay I mean play and oh here we go with that single thought (credit some other), giggle into the A-HA! more coaching and working of the One Thing already said (you’re really On To Something!). About this second thought – whoa, whoa, slow down, let’s not go complicating the story, let’s stick with what works, these methods have been tested and these thoughts have been thought out by other thinkers with thought pre-thunk for your thinking, so let’s just stick to the thought now why don’t we, don’t you think? This is love, my friend, a great bear hug swept under rug, oh come here fragile little flower, tucked and untucked, come here little hungry cookie drunkard for your mittens.

Firestarter (Arsonist)

CrackerJack offers a REAL PRIZE, fortune tidy foil-wrapped. Damp fumbling fingers scry the six-point font warning whispered through the 1950s into Emergency Exit of Here and NOW: THIS IS THE MESSAGE.

The beginning is only beginning.

This is the future, friend. The future.