18 Apr

If you collected all the grime scraped out from under fingernails. If you deposited belly button lint in jars. If a life’s worth of dandruff was razored into elegant coke lines. If all the shits you’d taken had been set aside for the molding of a statue in your likeness.

And then there are other things. All the times you bugged your eyes at bar tabs before signing. The filter from every smoke you smoked, age 17-27.
Somewhere there’s a stuck-together sheet of spent condoms held fast by your seed. In my head it looks like translucent plywood bleeding milky sap.  

There’s a loaded gun in the drawer where you keep the hundred stolen Gideons.
I know you in your first-floor apartment. You criss-cross the parquet in your underwear with the blinds thrown wide, hoping to fuck that someone is watching.

Balthazar, pt. 4

14 Feb

“After I shot the old mayor and sat in his chair, the first thing people said to me was you’ve got to clean up that river. But I didn’t see the need. I like the fucking river. I like the red top, how it looks like blood. You notice that out-of-towners never come into town from this side, don’t you? Its the fucking river that scares ‘em off.”

I nodded. The mayor snorted some contempt and hawked a chunk of old honorable lung into the rust-weeds. “What is your take on my boy? You been nearly kin, bottle buddies, all these years. Tell me what my son is like.”

“What do you want to know, Honorable?”

“For starters,” he said, “I want to know about his nose. Does it hurt, the place where his nose used to be?”

When I thought back to Balthazar’s nose, I wondered where it went. The out-of-towner who’d bit it off, piss on his soul, had spit the bulk of it out. I remember the bloody meat sliding across the sawdusted floor of John Ewing’s bar. I remember going back for it later, after we’d sardine-packed their bodies into John Ewing’s pickup. But it never turned up.

“I don’t know if it hurts,” I said, “but he grabs at it.”

“Grabs at it?”

“Yes. Like he forgets it’s not there.”

The mayor was quiet for a few minutes. In those minutes I heard his wheeze like a draft seeping up from the cracks of a tumbled-in cave. If the wheezing were to stop, Balthazar would be mayor.

“I don’t like that,” he finally said. “The grabbing at his nose. My boy has never learned to let things go.” 

I didn’t have anything to say. There was a time, years back, when Balthazar and I’d been drinking near this river, further down by where the prostitutes washed their clothes. It was maybe why the prostitutes all wore red. They could wash in the river and, besides, it hid the blood. We’d had a banner night. I only danced on banner nights, and I’d danced for hours, had lost my jacket at a party where we’d poured homemade mead down our throats until it ran past our belt lines. I’d boxed an old schoolmate and knocked him hard enough to loosen an eye. When I bought him a drink we had fun with his stumbling, his walk slanted because of only seeing out the one unboxed eye. When I think of summer I think of nights like that, maneuvering downhill and mostly falling. We rolled down into the valley away from town. In the valley, the lower caste kept fires going, so that there was no horizon, just sky stars bleeding into the flicker of ground stars. When we walked through the valley, people gave us gamey meat they’d caught in the piss-woods, the sulfuric taste mostly licked off by the flames.

By the river we sat, just me and Balthazar, drinking the prostitutes’ plum wine and smoking marijuana. The low harvest moon flashed ripples across the water’s surface. Balthazar exhaled and coughed hard. The cough trailed tiny exhalations from the holes where his nose had been. “Ah,” he said, “It’s good to be the prince.”

 “And someday, king,” I said, passing the sack of wine. Beside the river we drank until Balthazar cried. He always cried when we were fully in the bag. But he smiled when he did it. I never met anyone else who did that, all wet-eyed and grinning like a painting if I knew how to paint.

 The old honorable mayor leaned back in his wheelchair. He farted and then glared at me, daring a reaction. Finding none, he sighed hard and spat into the wind. “I don’t want Balthazar to be mayor,” he said.

 And that’s when the mayor asked if I would kill him and sink his body into the fallow bed of the river.

Transformer

12 Jan

 

“Pass me the crowbar.”


I looked in Jans’s toolbox and passed him a screwdriver.

“No, you tweaker. A crowbar.” He elbowed across me and grabbed the crowbar. 

“Your boyfriend’s car is gorgeous,” I said to Jans. I thought of the car as sentient. I hoped that what Jans was doing didn’t cause it any pain. “Jans I’m serious. I wish I could actually be your boyfriend’s car. Just to–”

“My ex-boyfriend.” There was a metallic groan and something in the car popped where Jans was crowbarring it.

“Still,” I said, “this car.” It had muscular curves. “Like Jackie Joyner Kersee,” I said. 

“Hold this flashlight.”

“Like Michael Jackson when he morphs into a car. That’s what I want.”

“Fuck,” said Jans when the crowbar went sideways on him. 

“Or the Transformers. They got the best of both worlds.”

“Pass me the wire cutter.” I passed him the screwdriver and he looked like he might hit me but didn’t. He went deep under the hood like a surgeon.

“Jans, are we killing your boyfriend?” Jans was snipping at hoses. In a body, every connection serves a purpose. There is no waste in our bodies’ design, only in the things we do with them. 

“Ex-boyfriend,” said Jans, handing me the cutters. A shiver caught me, so I poured a line onto the car’s thigh and Hoovered it.

Jans said, “There,” and clammed shut the hood. We packed up and lidded the toolbox. 

The drugs ran through me like race cars on my Indianapolis veins. The air seemed to sharpen into high definition so that I felt like we were walking through a movie with a killer soundtrack. 

“I love you, Jans.”

Jans smiled. “Be careful,” he said, “I know where you park your car.”

Pyre

11 Jan

 

My daughter is five years old and crying because we are going to burn the family dog. Her mother is shushing her, trying to cajole her back off the porch and into the house, but my daughter is insistent; she’s dropped anchor on the edge of our porch. Our daughter wants to watch.


My neighbor’s name is Mark Thompson and he has stripped down to a beer-stained undershirt. He is helping me build the fire. His right forearm is bandaged with a pair of my wife’s panties and several layers of black electrical tape. His jacket is all that covers our Golden Retriever and we will burn that too. The dog’s tail protrudes from the jacket’s armpit and I hope to fuck my daughter cannot see its occasional twitch.

I usually build a campfire according to the teepee technique plainly diagrammed in my battered blue Cub Scouts handbook. But for this occasion we need a log cabin, with space in the middle for a dog-size nest. Mark Thompson calls it a pyre.  My daughter screams “Dusty! Dusty!” and I don’t turn around but I know that my wife is tightening her grip and petting our daughter’s head in the same way she’d pet Dusty’s just that morning.

Mark drops a log onto his side of the cabin and stretches his face in a quick grimace. We are both of us sweating and sticky with log sap. 

“Are you okay?” I wonder how much blood has pooled beneath the electrical tape and where it will go when there’s nowhere left for it to pool.

“Could use a beer.” I look to my wife, who is busy minimizing the trauma of this traumatic experience. I look to our daughter, whose sudden quiet unnerves me far more than her crying had.

“Sweetie, why don’t you get Mr. Thompson a beer?” she doesn’t say anything, but allows my wife to guide her inside off the porch. My daughter loves to get the grown-ups their beer.

“Is that enough?” I ask.

“A little more. It’s gotta burn through the fur and into the fatty parts.” Mark pauses to hold his forearm. “It’s gonna stink like a sonofabitch.”

We add to the lumber stacked like Link’n Logs until it’s four feet high. “Let’s do it,” I say, “Before she comes back.” It’s a minor miracle my wife has managed to keep our daughter inside. Perhaps we have run out of beer. 

We peel back the jacket, careful to avoid the sheeny wet inside. My dog is laying with legs splayed and curled tongue extended. The bloody mottle of fur just behind her shoulder blade has caked with dirt; it looks as though a crust has formed. I grab up between her front legs and Mark takes up the hind side. In death he’s gotten heavier, and I think for a moment how could a thing lose blood and yet gain weight?

Between the jacket and the fire is maybe fifteen feet, but in that distance something happens. Dusty suddenly kicks out, paws a hot gouge into my bicep, and we drop him. Mark shouts something and jumps back. Dusty’s choking a horrible whimper, almost horse-like, while pushing off the ground with one hind leg, so that he writhes a half-circle into the dirt. The dog is looking straight up at me with panic-blanched eyes when the gunshot rings out, and in the wake it’s echo cuts I can hear my daughter screaming from inside the house.

“Jesus Christ,” says Mark Thompson, “Jesus.” The dog lays bleeding from its second hole. “Fool me once-” says Mark Thompson, and doesn’t finish.

We burn the dog and the jacket and then I drive Mark to the hospital for the rabies. He gets a few shots and then a doctor stitches Mark whole again. “We took care of the dog,” Mark is telling the doctor, “burned the body like you’re supposed to. 

“That’s not for rabies,” the doctor says, “that’s for zombies.” 

Mark and I exchange looks. “Well,” says Mark Thompson, “It had a case of that as well.”

My daughter doesn’t talk to me for days afterward. When she does, she says, “Dusty smelled sweet, even when burning.”

Geography

10 Jan

 

It had become clear I’d gotten kinked somehow in my center, so that my way had been canted and walking straight never led me forward. It wasn’t the boozing or the not-eating or waking up a stranger to myself. It was the way I felt walking down sidewalks or tumbling toward bathrooms in back of bars. It was the way I pictured the violent dismantling of every face I passed.


I blamed it on the cold weather, though it’d been unseasonably warm that year. “Nonetheless,” I said to the girl in whose apartment I kept my things, “I need to get away.”

I took a bus. It was one of those cheap busses that travel from the Chinatown of one city to the Chinatown of the next. You feel like you’ve arrived in the same place you left and all the signs are unintelligible.

She’d made some noise about when are you coming back, etcetera, but by morning we were able to have that kind of sex that climaxes in laughter and she gave me the last half of our tequila for the road. We kissed goodbye. I didn’t leave anything behind that required an eventual return.

The bus put its back to the downtown skyline. When we were well past the edge of the city, the driver pulled off and did a head count. When it came up wrong, a panic luged through my insides. I was sure it could only have been me who’d fucked up the count. I felt like I’d ruined all of our escapes. But when the driver checked our stubs against his clipboard, it turned out to have been a middle-aged Hmong woman who didn’t have a ticket. They left her there, surrounded by her luggage, on some southern suburb off ramp. I later heard that they built a souvenir shop around her and that for two dollars you could get a picture taken beside her. Her luggage was printed with black and white flowers and painfully beautiful.

A young woman sat beside me on the bus. She read the first couple pages of a nursing school pamphlet before the road put her to sleep. We wove our way through foothills. They were more manageable than mountains, something my eye could almost hang onto. The young woman beside me was white with black hair. I snuck glances at the back of her neck, where the black head-hair met with blonde wisps of neck-hair. She bobbed and lurched with the curves and I suddenly hoped she would fall against my shoulder and stay there. It gave me an erection to think of us strangers pressed against each other while dreaming our weave through the foothills. 

The land began to drop beneath us, opening up a valleyed abyss just beyond my window. I felt the old violence drop down with it, felt it streaming off and away from me while we motored. 

The next turn confronted me with a bright-lit body of blue, a small lake held improbably aloft by a plateaued outcropping of mountain. It looked like a fountain for giants to sink wishes in. I’d never seen anything like it. I couldn’t keep it for myself. I nudged the young woman awake.

“You see it?” I asked her, “Do you?”

She looked up at me from the halfway space where sleep bleeds into wake and I saw that she wasn’t young at all, was in fact a much older woman with eyes a little cocked and wrinkles from too much crying or smoking or both. She coughed and said, “I’ve seen it a hundred times.” I nodded and passed her the tequila, thinking only of my own years slipping fast beneath me with the freeway’s surface.

Balthazar, Pt. 3

27 Dec

I awoke with the dawn thundering through me and a troll plowing its head through the window of my Airstream. “Mayor wants to see you,” said the troll.

I fell from my cot trying to grab at my flannel, to search for the cigarettes in the left-side tit-pocket. “Deputy mayor,” I said to the troll.

“No,” said the troll, smirking something grumpy and wicked, “it’s the old honorable father wants to see you, said he’ll be by the fucking river.” The river was the river that streamed down off the junkyard. It glowed a beautiful burnt red on account of the rusty bits that formed a skin over the top of it.

“He fucking said ‘by the river?’” I asked.

“’By the fucking river,’ he fucking said to me,” said the troll.

To get to the river I had to walk through the piss-woods. I had a head full of nails and eyes all static-backed. There was a bright white heat-less sun flashing down through the trees. It seemed to come from no real direction. I stumbled over roots that smelled of rank urine and trundled across fallen leaves like sour carpet.

These woods had once seemed infinite to me. As a kid I spent my days wandering the pungent shadows while my ma and old man worked the abattoir together. When I’d come home reeking of forest, my old man would say it weren’t Christian to come home smelling that way. When I got older I told him it weren’t Christian to come home covered in blood and offal, neither, and after he gave me my just deserved many times over whilst still wearing them white clothes all smeared over with spray, I stopped coming home altogether.

It was soon after that I met Balthazar in John Ewing’s bar, and though he was the deputy mayor and I was a self-made orphan, we were both nearing fourteen years and we hit it off over too many shots of brown and bottles of looselips. The thing we shared most of all was a cold bored-out hatred for our fathers. Years and years later, mine sorrowed out and died down, as did my father; Balthazar’s hate never let up and its object seemed bent on living to see the end times.

There was a creek bath up ahead that stayed warm through the year and left yr skin yellow and eggy. Out past that was a clearing where downed trees circled up and formed benches. It looked like a meeting room where no one met. Some of the town’s prostitutes arranged to do their business here, with both parties bathing in the sulfur bath. When they reemerged from the woods smelling eggy and sexed, everyone in town knew what they had done.

After this, the trees thinned out and the sunlight rose up in columns. Here the tree trunks had red veins and reddish blood-sap and then they too fell away and there was just the river and the old honorable mayor himself, straining against his wheelchair to watch the rust muck swirl fast over the river’s surface. If it wasn’t for the mayor’s ancient wheelchair anchoring him, the old man could almost lean and topple straight in. From where I walked up upon him, I thought for a moment that that was exactly what his body wanted and strove for. I coughed and then bowed my head until the mayor told me to sit.

Balthazar, part two

8 Dec

I bought another round from John Ewing and he set ‘em up in front of me and Balthazar and all the other boys. “Jayzus,” said Balthazar, “Ya’ll are a bunch of goddamn sponges!” Despite being the deputy mayor, Balthazar couldn’t drink the way his father could. He wasn’t a puker, but he vomited words, things a deputy mayor should never say in public. Whenever we went out boozing, I’d wake up with a message from Balthazar’s carrier pigeon, asking me if he made any “Inappropriate Mayoral Decrees” the night prior. I always knew when he was over the line—his eyes would start to cry without him knowing it.

“How many girls did the mayor impregnate?” asked Balthazar, “How many?” When none of the boys said anything, Balthazar slammed his stein on the bar top. “One! That’s how many. Just the one and out I came and was made deputy mayor before they snipped the goddamn tummy cord from me.”

“I remember that day,” offers one of the boys.

“Goddamn right,” said Balthazar. “And how many have I got?”

“Two, far as we know,” I said to my good friend the deputy mayor.

“Two and more on the way. Until I’ve got an army of them, an army of goddamn deputy mayors for whenever the old honorable finally kicks it!” We all splashed a bit of beer on John Ewing’s floor for the old honorable. “I’ll just breed this town full of little Balthazars, squeeze out some of the sponges and the out-of-towners who don’t know a thing about rules and propriety.” I put my arm on Balthazar and handed him my hanky so he could dry his leaky eyes.

“That’s a hell of a lot of Balthazars,” said one of the boys.

From another table a guy from out-of-town cleared his throat. “They all gonna be born without noses?” His friends from out of town guffawed like bloated mules. John Ewing walked over and locked the front door.

A couple hours later we finished weighing down their bodies with discontinued car parts and heavy rope. We lit cigarettes and passed some of John Ewing’s home-brewed plum wine while the bodies sank fast to the bottom of the town’s reservoir to join the others before them.

Balthazar, Part One

7 Dec

The deputy mayor was the mayor of our town, and a good friend of mine. Deputy mayor Balthazar took care of all the mayoral duties except for cutting ribbons. His dad, the mayor, could still cut ribbons if deputy mayor Balthazar helped steady his hands, maybe held up the big heavy ceremonial scissors, maybe helped him do the cutting if the mayor himself was feeling sleepy again. Deputy mayor Balthazar should have been made mayor several elections ago, except that his dad hadn’t settled on a way to die and Balthazar was too ugly to win if he ran against his dad head-to-head.

Balthazar had no nose. That’s part of what made him so ugly. He’d had a fight in John Ewing’s bar, and the bastard who he fought wasn’t from the town, and didn’t fight according to the town’s rules for fighting. He bit into Balthazar’s nose and chewed the thing right off while me and the other boys broke chairs and bottles over the fucker’s head and knocked him unconscious but still his jaws didn’t unclench until the nose was clean off and shooting an awful cataract of blood down Balthazar’s face and neck.

Before the fight Balthazar had been pretty ugly anyway, but he still managed to impregnate and wed Gertrude Heiner’s beautiful teenage daughter, being that he was deputy mayor and the town had rules and all. But after the fight in the bar that took away Balthazar’s nose, Gertrude Heiner’s daughter began sleeping in other places in town, either above John Ewing’s bar in those bed-bugged hotel rooms, or else in the pickup trucks of horny bastards from out of of town who didn’t know the rules of our town. It got so that Balthazar, with another election coming up and his dad’s health failing, had to have Gertrude Heiner’s beautiful teenage daughter placed into the House for Dangerous Individuals just beyond the town’s power plant. She’s locked there still; Balthazar visits her, though he tries to keep that fact under wraps since he has a new beautiful teenage wife who has just now been made pregnant. Balthazar told me being deputy mayor of our town was like holding a hundred separate live wires in one hand and trying to keep them from touching.

 

 

 

Halo

5 Dec

When Jason broke his neck they gave him a halo. The thing looked like a medieval torture device, bolts screwed into Jason’s skull, a ring of papery tissue encrusted around each bolt. When they put it on, Jason said he wanted to be able to wear his winter hat, so they drove the bolts straight through his black ‘Warroad Hockey’ beanie. By the middle of winter, Jason’s head stank like when my uncle left a half-dressed deer up in the garage on a weekend when the weather warmed enough to rot it out. Sometimes things stored in the rafters of the garage would come down still stinking of it.

The halo was braced by some steel girders that came down to rounded plastic shoulder pads that sat atop Jason’s shoulders. It made it look like Jason was constantly shrugging.

I sat behind him in fourth period algebra and had to stop myself from twisting the knobs. I kept wanting to reach out and grab the screws. They must’ve found their way to somewhere just short of Jason’s brain tissue. I think I read somewhere that the brain itself feels no pain. Maybe if you twisted one of the screws just right, Jason’s arm would jump out like an action figure. Or he’d be shot through with flashing lights, like twisting the contrast knob on the old teevee we had at our cabin.

Jason broke his neck trying to suck his own dick. Or trying to lick his own asshole. Or craning to sneak a peak up Sally Hinkelman’s skirt. We invented a gang of explanations, knowing that if Jason didn’t like the razzing, he couldn’t do shit.

When it got close to Christmas we made a Jason tree, hanging garland and cardboard ornaments from his halo.

“Hey Jason,” we said, “How you gonna eat out Sally Hinkelman’s pussy with that fucking halo in the way?” Jason just looked at us and seemed to shrug.

There was a house party at the Carlson twins’ parents’ house by the lake. We took turns making Jason hit the beer bong, one person holding the spout to his mouth, two people holding the funnel and pouring the beer. Jon Carlson poured some Yukon Jack on the back end of some beer and Jason blew chunks all over the front cross bars of his halo. It hung in viscous strings and we all screamed and fell down with laughter and said “Holy fucking shit” with tears in our adolescent eyes.

Jason got piss drunk, just like the res of us. He kept falling up against walls and tables, his halo banging and bouncing dents into the Carlsons’ parents’ walls. One of us started calling him “Pinball.”

We took shots from the shot stick, which was a hockey stick with shot glasses glued across the handle. Jason tried but poured vodka down the neck of his shirt. The girl I’d wanted to fool around with ended up fooling around with Paul Engels, my winger on the checking line. I felt the old fuck-it-all throbbing through my head and grabbed a hold of Jason’s halo and pulled him outside for a smoke.

I lit my cigarette and coughed because I wasn’t really a smoker. Jason looked at me. “Christ, Pinball, sorry,” I said and put one in his mouth, threading my hand over the pukey cross-bar of his halo. I lit it and asked if he was having fun.

He nodded and banged up against the Carlsons’ mailbox. “Aren’t you scared you’ll bump one of those spikes into yr brain?” I asked.

“Not really.”

We smoked. I tried to think of a new reason for Jason’s broke neck, but all the guys’d pretty much exhausted them. “You must be one clumsy fuck, Pinball, to fall off a fucking roof,” I said.

Jason looked back at the house through the left side of his metal head-cage. It was like an aquarium without any glass, I remember thinking. “I didn’t fall,” he said, “I jumped.”

“Well, then, you suck at landing.”

“No, I dove. Was trying to kill myself,” he said.

I remember thinking, ‘What a fucking idiot,’ and, strangely, wondering whether that meant he wouldn’t play hockey our senior year. “Jesus Christ, Jason. That’s fucking stupid. You ain’t gonna try that shit again, right?”

Jason didn’t say anything, only seemed to shrug.

John Patrick Henry Ford

1 Dec

A patch of hair like a humpbacked soldier whose lieutenant shouts get flat dammit do you want to get shot? Whenever I mow the lawn I think of genocide. My friend who says hair is political. If that’s true, I say. She says–my friend says–that she votes with her vagina. I oughta shave my head I say. And me with my disenfranchised cock. Let’s take a road trip. Just down the street a few jaundiced blocks. Pack luggage for a three day journey, camp every twenty-five feet. Take photos and buy caffeinated Doritos at Stop n Go and Cum n Pump. Some boys are selling lemonade outside the building where I live. The asking price is fair, but when the revolution breaks out I know I’ll raise my gun on them. T. Jefferson who said a little lemonade makes sweet the blood of slaves. Another friend of mine says she likes to be spanked with a hairbrush. It leaves your ass like a golf ball. In Belize a man asked me if was true about Americans. That they start each Sunkist morning with a fresh pair of socks and throw them out before bed. It’s all true, I said, all of it is true. We’ve evolved beyond bread and replaced it with chicken.

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