Windows and bullets.

 

42 years old

roughly half a million words floating

around out there published

not too many, but too few, I think

there should be more

there should be millions

but tonight there could be anything

a long walk, a drunk drive

or sitting here at the table watching my dog

or there could be suicide

and that’s no bullshit

the idea of it has never been about guts for me

or about what I would miss

what I haven’t seen or done

none of it plays a factor

I haven’t played my last card yet

but it’s coming

not to fucking reach out or

whine or

be weak or

give up or give in

suicide has always seemed

like a good out to me

but my dog, the typewriter, the laptop,

the sun-torn highways

are enough to keep my flesh

above earth

until they go at once

I keep writing

I keep burning toward

something

there.

 

from Gutted Rose & Other Stories, coming soon…

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Mozart, Slayer, reverence, and fiction.

1988. California. Thinking about my first time, thinking about the ocean 25 years back, a room, the gorgeous faux-beach-spiritual and her place: one room, a kitchen table with one chair and a bed. And on that bed, being introduced to a few firsts as a teenager. In between the first—a healthy bong rip—which now just makes me laugh because it became such a rare occurrence in my life, and the third, sex—which also makes me laugh for the same reason—I was introduced to Slayer on the FM radio. Some kind of thrash metal hour in San Diego. Later, when I would see them live, I would watch the insane, hair-farmer culture thrashing around possessed, which was fine, but I wondered if they got the genius of Slayer, the writing, the speed and placement of sounds in the album Reign In Blood, speed and grace to the likes of which I wouldn’t hear again until I heard the track Sugar Coated Sour by The Dillinger Escape plan. Anyway, this isn’t a fucking music review, it’s about how I considered Slayer to be Mozart for the 20th century. It made enough of an impact on me to throw their name into a couple of works of mine, debuting in March of Time and Skin:

“I asked her to tell me her life story. Halfway through it, my forehead lifted from my skull, stretching the skin above my brow. Then it stopped, shook the skin loose and the skin ballooned softly. All of the people in my life were released from my brain, and they hung there lightly. All of their words and movement slowed down to the energy of ghosts floating through me, through my chest. I heard bits of her story, but I really heard the music on the radio next to her. It was technical and evil. I wanted ask her who it was but the DJ came on and said it was a block of Slayer.”

25 years later, in a motel in Arizona while on a book tour, I pound coffee and listen to South Of Heaven and write this post. Also, more than happy to read this review.

Listening to Slayer because they never get old, reading a good review about one of your books, keeping an eye on the pool outside while on the road promoting another book, is a feeling I can only describe as surreal, regardless of the long and weird road taken to get here. Few precious things need not be forgotten in my mind, and things like this that make the cut laugh me through the dark and light ages.

AL11

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Dirty south, desperation, Dead Birds Hot.

She tossed her smoke and stumbled toward me, leaned down and put her hands on either side of my waist.

“Want a lap dance?”

“Sure.”

I loathed strip clubs, could count on one hand how many times I’d been in one, and it only took three fingers. But she was obliterated there, and I was in the Rome of that place. She corralled the pugs into her room with her and closed the door. I stared up at the painting again. The horses didn’t look happy to me, they looked trapped. They were running around the property line to blow off steam so they could deal with where they were. She returned holding a CD, wearing a short dress and heels. She loaded the disc and hit play. Rebel Yell started, and she moved her hips to the song, staring down at me through a mess of wavy dark hair, her nose sitting there the way it was, her eyelids heavy with drink. She gyrated off-beat to the song, and lifted her dress up and off. She lost her balance and stumbled back into the stereo, and a few things fell from the shelf. She kept going, made her way over to me, turned and spread her ass in my face. The thong was blue, and the tampon was still in. She slapped her ass and pressed her hands to her knees and shook it for me. Ricky walked out and grabbed a coke from the fridge. He was in his boxers, half awake, and he glanced at the room casually, popped the can open, nodded to me, then went back to his room. She kept going, and the CD started to skip. She walked over and beat on the player, and kept beating on it, and then she beat it even harder until it started to break apart. The stereo was her life, the state, a man on the couch that didn’t care if she lived or died, but a man she thought she needed. I looked above it all to the painting. They were definitely trapped. I watched a few cars lurk down the street and waited for her to finish. The noise stopped and she stood facing me. The stereo was destroyed. I expected her to break down crying, but she didn’t. She stared at me, her face flushed and reckoned with hatred. Without breaking eye contact, she pulled the tampon from herself and dropped it to the floor. The rawness of it ran hot in my blood. She walked over, pulled me to the floor, ripped off my pants. She rode me hard and mean. I pressed up into her and let her go at it. Her face was angry, and she shuffled back and forth onto me and dug into my chest, then hauled off and punched me in the face. It was a hard hit, a right cross to my jaw. My skull echoed and she went harder. I stared at the tampon. It laid there looking sorry and pissed. She reached over and threw it across the room. It rolled under the sink.

—Excerpt from “Rebel Yell” in Dead Birds Hot.

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Gutted Rose

Motel 6. Arizona. Small break on the tour for the Lolly book, a commercial book of sorts for which I was hired. It’s been interesting for me. The main reason I took the job was because of the stricturesto have a company ask me to write their story without any hard profanity, sex, etc. presented a whole new take for me concerning the novel, to extend a clean form for length. And to see the writing take a fresh form, to feel that rush of being outside your comfort zone; it’s something every writer, musician, painter, actor, directorcreators of all formsshould do once in awhile. Whether it’s a job writing a book for a company that has a bizarre, beautifully odd story they want readable for everybody, or whether it’s an exercise behind the keys to keep you sharpened, to keep the writing new. After nearly 25 years of writing (since I was a teenager) the feeling remains the same, the salvation of the words, not be dramatic, but the feeling that is unfailingly home regardless of how far you take it, twist it, pervert it, shine it, or take a break from it; it remains. And the right project outside of your steady work can be good on a few levels, actually. For me, getting back to my “vintage” stuff has been like seeing an old friend or my dog after a long separation, but a necessary one. This morning it’s good to get back to some missing teeth within the smile of the pages. Here’s an excerpt from my new book, Gutted Rose & Other Stories, being released next year.

***

Elsa sat on the floor and waited. The floor was easier when she was hurting. Why, she had no idea. Maybe because she saw the room from a different angle and it threw off the pressure. She heard the hallway door open and the sound of Dag’s freewheel being pushed up the hall. She sat the table and opened a book. The door was always opened, and Dag pushed his bike in.

“You know you were just sitting on the floor.”

“Oh, fuck you. No I wasn’t.”

He kissed her scalp and sat across from her. He raised an eyebrow. She shrugged, “Where were you?”

“Had to outrun a cop. They got those fuckers thick as flies down there now, on mountain bikes. More than usual.”

She didn’t care. He was there now. And he didn’t care that she would rather run it up than see him alive. They were both fucked without it. He cooked her up while she set the rig out. She thumbed what was left in the baggie.

“Are you getting in on it?”

“Don’t worry,” he watched it cook with her, “I just sorted myself out on the way over.”

“The cop saw you finishing?”

“Exactly. Didn’t kill the course, but it was really shitty timing on his part.”

She smiled into the spoon. She would probably love Dag even if they were both clean, but she couldn’t love him if one of them were. They’d tried that. One toppled the other, then that one toppled the other. They were connected to fall. Dag had enough for the rest of the week, and what he’d given Elsa would get her by until then, unless a cop popped him and he did another ten days in county, which meant nine days in medical. When that happened, Elsa sold some ass. When Dag was out, he was constantly hustling to keep them both covered. Dag shot her up and they fucked, then walked down the street and watched a plane get ready to land off to the northeast of the bridges.

He stepped off the plane and pulled his fedora low on his brow. It was slow at the airport tonight, but old habits in public died hard. He’d had a good time in the city on set, survived the wrap party, gave a long interview with Playboy about his life as an actor, then blurred back to Portland to spend two weeks with his family, or his mother, really. His father didn’t have much to say to him, never did. A couple of fast whispers as he walked through the baggage claim, a few cell phone shots, and he was in the back of the car. The driver looked in the rearview and smiled.

“You know who you look like?”

He stared at the driver and smiled. The driver was an old man. He wanted to make the kid laugh. Hell, the kid was 40, but he was still a kid, he still had his baby face. He was famous for it. He’d seen the kid grow up. He pulled onto the access road.

“Saw you on Late Night. You’ve been busy.”

“I’ve been going non-stop. Good to be home, friend. Name?”

The driver laughed, “Like you’ll remember. Lenny.”

“I like Lenny.” Alex said. Brubaker smiled at him. They played the same game every time. Brubaker was older now, a lot older. He’d been a driver for the old man before the old man retired from film. He was the only one in the family anyone could fully trust, including the people in the family. Alex thought about it. His cell rang. He looked at Brubaker, “I have to get this.”

Brubaker raised the window between them. Alex put the phone to his ear.

“Hi, baby.”

“That was fast.”

“I told you I had to come here last weekend. I offered to bring you with me—”

“Yeah, as your fucking buddy from the city.”

“Don’t do this to me, Christian. You know what I’m up against.”

“Oh, bullshit.”

Alex rubbed his eyes. Brubaker glanced back. Alex stared off over downtown. He made Brubaker take the same way every time. The Fremont Bridge onto 405.

“You know what it’s about, babe. Please don’t do this. I’m fucking begging you.”

“I know what it’s about. I can’t hide like this anymore, Alex. Your head’s so far up the ass of your

Alex hung up and texted him that the call was dropped and he’d call him from home. A text came back: CHICKENSHIT.

Alex watched the city from the bridge. He loved Christian, he burned for him. The world had their suspicions, jokes were made on SNL, Comedy Central Roasts, references to him being gay, but he wouldn’t admit it. The bridge was in the mirror. Brubaker rolled the glass back down.

“You gonna tell ‘em this time, kid?”

Alex squinted at him in the rearview.

“Tell them what, Bru?”

Brubaker shook his head, “Gonna leave that elephant in the room again.” Alex reached into his pocket and lit a cigarette, “Mind your own business.”

“Old car.”

“Bullshit. Let’s go down Burnside.”

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Without mercy.

The Native down in the corner cell with the shower, I don’t like the motherfucker, and he doesn’t like me. He was getting released in the morning a month back, when a female C.O. walked by and caught him jacking off with his back to the door. She popped the little bastard with an indecent privacy charge, and he received one year in county, in the same cell. He shaves his head bald due to his receding hairline, which I find odd in a Native so young, his early 30s, and he works out constantly. During the time when we have to stand in front of the cells, spoons in pockets, waiting to be waved down for chow, he shoots me steady, hostile looks, but I can’t take him seriously. In light of what happened to him, I can’t take him seriously.

I got a letter from Jack, or rather legal mail, the interview with Mia that he did, his letter of summary to Zane and therefore the DA. I read it. It was good. She was honest with him about me, about the two of us having sex, the whole nine yards. I tossed the envelope in the shelf space cut into the side of the bed. It reads #4 on the envelope over my name and SID number. Pod 4. I started to think about it, and my brain snapped open, a part of it that has been shut off, the thinking part, really, and I started jotting down things that ran across my mind with 4:

4 legs to a dog.

4 quarts to a gallon.

4 body systems.

4 primary body tissues.

4 gospels.

4 rivers from Eden.

4 pecks to a bushel.

4 oceans.

4 elements.

4 seasons.

4 business quarters.

4 quadrants to a circle.

4 suits in a deck of cards.

4 limbs.

4 horsemen.

4H clubs.

4th dimension, the coordinate dimension to the existing three dimensions, related as time, to describe any event. Einstein derived that there is an extra 43 seconds of arc per century relative to Mercury’s orbit.

4 Rushmore heads.

4 food groups.

4 directions.

4 faces of God, or rather Ezekiel’s vision of God:  4 living creatures.

4 is the last description of basic grouping: 2 is a couple, 3 is a few, 4 is several or more.

4 to an ideal family.

4 outer spheres.

4 layers of earth.

4 colors of race.

4 phases of life: youth, adult, middle-age, elderly.

4 main principles of evolution: embryology, morphology, biogeography, paleontology.

4 sub-sections of evolution: population genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and genomics, which is basically machine-driven genetic sequencing.

4 rows of checkers/back row of chess.

***

Impatient today, languid, angry, a man unkind. I would seriously not wish this upon my worst enemy. I want to be whole again, to feel the air pulsing around me, the beat of the city, the warmth of life. All this dead time, though it occurs to me that I’ve spent a great deal of my life in a small room writing, and it also occurs to me that being able to leave that room was part of the glue that held me to the writing, because what was on the other side of the door was the enemy. The jobs, the faces, the human race going on mechanically, all of it was the enemy in my youth. It’s reversed in here, like how obesity once meant wealth. And nothing is more mechanical than jail. Shit, all those hours I thought I was beating the rap, all the time I saw the general public as something to avoid. I was a young fool in love with the word, and that’s all there was to it. Knowing that now hardly lessens the grip I have on that time. It calls me back to it, actually, but there is nothing further from the romance of life than jail. Nothing. Even death is a release, a peace, or it must be. It’s hard to imagine seeing any of these guys on the outside. Like I can’t imagine Bates in street clothes.

What I wouldn’t give to be in a bookstore again, to have a selection of true literature from which to pull, to see a novel of mine perched upon their shelves like a trophy. I have to beat this case, Helena, I have to see the impossible through. Let their evidence tower over me, but let three jurors see the burning truth, see through the contrivance of the state, the bullshit of the state and the corrupt police work, the lies from the midget whore, with her freakish, little hands holding a tissue to her nose. Let the state throw me at the wall. I have to be heard.

Small disgusts are luxuries now. Boredom, a day trapped in the house due to weather, a shitty job, bills, one beer until payday, a flat tire, a bad driver in front of me, a parking ticket. Luxuries.

Hardwood floors, and the carpet of a staircase. Closing the door behind me in the bathroom, a toilet seat, hot water. A living room past a kitchen, a cup of coffee on the table by the couch, the sweet taste of music, the idea of drinking whiskey after the sun falls. All of it, and so mad am I with love for the world in this cell that it breaks me into tears.

***

Over breakfast, I heard about an inmate who last year smashed a deputy’s face in with his fist, grabbed his keys and got out of the pod and down the hall to the final door before the outside, when he was tasered. On top of the 15 dollar charge for the taser cartridge, he was thrown in the hole, given a muumuu to wear and has existed on bread loaf and water since. He just sits there and rots in the dark. I watched the deputy and the jumpsuits. My whole life has been spent getting away from shit like this, on a larger scale. The uniform of life, the blindness of ignorance and the lack of question. I chose the metal to live, to burn upon the dense air, the road and the sunlight, the words and wander, the feeling of the words leaving my fingertips and entering the keys in long rips of light and grace, the burning of fog and swamp, long lines of blood without the mercy of fading.

***

A barber’s chair, a clean haircut, clean neck and ears. A black t-shirt, jeans, sneakers. A fucking belt. Change in my pockets. Contact lenses, and not these old and scratched glasses, mismatched nose pads, cracked and dated. Being able to again own fingernail and toenail clippers without having to check them out from the pod desk. The mania of being in here has created a pair of palms compressing my chest and back together at all times. I know I have to stay strong, I know that I have to fight this. I miss you and our time behind the machine together so goddamn much it’s crazy. The resentment of this place has easily and effortlessly crossed over to hatred. The faces, the fucking faces, Helena. Seeing the young faces is especially sickening. Eyes filled and frozen in the rictus of paranoia and morbid fascination, but mixed with an evil numbness. I don’t hear any older inmates scorning the younger ones, no warnings imparted, zero edification. Misery does not love company in here so much as misery eats itself. The cards shuffle, paranoid and desperate questions spark self-doubt, the long and dark miles of not knowing your fate, but thinking you do, and what you think is based on what you see, the worst possible outcome.

Basketball games. I should be thankful for them. They get the cell doors popped open, depending on the deputy, who is usually a fan of sports, and it keeps the population in here seated and mesmerized, freeing up the phones and tables. It’s the dawning of a raw time, Helena. I can’t tell you how important you are to me. It’s not comprehensible. I know things have to work out if I am ever going to be seated in a soft chair with my music, your solar eyes resting beneath the keys, waiting for the right feeling to trigger the right sentence, so you will awake and pull me down home.

-from Bad Jacket.

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Life for all of this

 

A lot of ex-cons and drunks lived in the building.  My room was the corner spot on the 3rd floor.  The old man in the room next to me was deaf.  The girl in the room across from me was a diagnosed schizophrenic.  She almost never wore clothes.  She was maybe 25.  The government gave her 500 dollars a month.  She kept her door open.  Big black men walked in there and shut the door.  It was a shitty place to live.  The bathroom was never occupied when I had to use it.  I was the only one in the building who showered regularly.  But the toilet was well used.  Every time I walked in there I came face to face with a bowl full of dead shit and sometimes a syringe on the floor.  The bathrooms on the other floors were worse.  I had a sink in my room.  I pissed in the sink late at night.  I was the youngest tenant, and the only one with a job.  I had to walk past the landlord’s office to get up to my room.  I’d walk in and deal with him.                                                                                         “How was workin’ tonight, young man?”                                                                                         “It was work.”                                                                                                                             “Anybody asks you anything about this building you tell them you don’t know.”                     “Right.”                                                                                                                                             “Don’t tell them my name, neither.”                                                                                              “I’d rather die.”                                                                                                                                 “And don’t bring no girls up there, neither.”                                                                                     “Alright, Dave.”                                                                                                                                “Fact, don’t bring nobody up there.”                                                                                                   “Got it.”                                                                                                                                                     It was almost the same scene every night.  I’d get in my room and shut the door.  Then he’d knock.                                                                                                                                                     “It’s Dave.”                                                                                                                                            He’d sit on my bed.  Dave was tall and slim and black.  Dave smoked menthols.  He was fifty.  He had the job and nothing else.  I never saw him laugh.  The world was out to get him.                                                                                                                                                        He sat down and lit up.  I leaned on the desk.                                                                           “Feels like I just saw you, Dave.”                                                                                                       He nodded to my typewriter.                                                                                                          “You writin’ stories ‘bout me an’ this hotel?”                                                                                      “No.”                                                                                                                                                      “See to it you don’t.”                                                                                                                          “Let me have a menthol, Dave.”                                                                                                           “Can’t do it.  I have one every hour.  I have the pack timed.”                                                 “Bullshit.  You’re on your second smoke since I walked in.”                                                           “Still can’t do it.”                                                                                                                                      I lit one of my own, “Dave, and don’t take this personally, you need to get out of the building once in a while.  This place is getting to you.”                                                            “Can’t leave.  One a you might try somethin’ on me.”                                                                “Like what?”                                                                                                                                   “Sneak somebody in, move out without notice.  I run a tight ship here.”                                  “The place is fucking destroyed, man.”                                                                                        “You have any stories about me here?”                                                                                   “Seriously, Dave.  Take a walk down 23rd or something.  Ease your mind.”                               The front buzzer sounded.  Somebody had walked in downstairs.  He jumped up and ran out of the room.  I locked the door, closed the blinds and laid in bed.  I listened to the street and the wind, the hours taken by the jobs and the rain, the repeating day and night varied only by a new tenant getting the boot or a new story that I would start and maybe finish.  The winter and the cancer air of the hotel had become a morbid process, and my job was another tumor that had grown from it.  I closed my eyes and thought about hot sand.

 

−Excerpt. ‘Life for all of this’ from Dead Birds Hot

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Car hoods and space.

The desert met us at nightfall in New Mexico, but we had stopped in the Texas Panhandle to look at the stars.  They were bright and close to the desert, dusty and forever, and bulging from their firmaments −swirls of galaxy and all things mysterious, the beauty of our pilgrimage wept in blinks of white and silver, and flashes of modest reds from the convex sky.  And there at the turnout, we undressed and fucked on the hood of the car, and our bodies were a speck of tongue writhing beneath giants and fleeting space junk.

Flotsam for Jetsam

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Calculating Infinity; the grace of near-death.

 

The boat was rocking so bad you could run up and down the door frames.  People like to imagine the ocean as being blue and beautiful.  I used to imagine it that way.  When you’re that far out at sea the water is black.  Day or night it is black and deadly looking, like obsidian in slow motion.  Black as far as you could see.  The boat was small, anyway.  We were going side to side like the boat was plastic.  Everyone was grabbing their survival suits.  Some were crying and some were scribbling down their wills.  I laid in my rack and drank from the flask.  Let them fire my corpse.  I sat back and thought how it figured that I would end out there.  I masturbated one last time, emptied the flask and closed my eyes.  If the boat capsized then their survival suits were useless.  The boat crashed through the swells and you could hear the waves roaring into the sides.  My last thought before I made myself sleep was Helena.

It was calm and dark.  I didn’t know what to expect.  There was no light or movement.  I heard nothing.  I reached out and pulled the curtain back and stood in the dark.  Then I felt it, a gentle rocking beneath my feet.  I walked to the door and went outside.

It was warm out there.  I was shirtless.  The Sun sat dark red on the horizon and it was huge.  You could look right at it.  The black water stretched out far to reach it.  I breathed in and held the handrail, watched the horizon melt around the Sun.  How small we were against the grace of the heavens.  Our petty dreams, our need for self.  Our weak assurances.

I was the only one out there.  I saw a whale emerge from the water and twist out there in front of the red.  It hung there upside down in front of the Sun, it hung there careless and lazy, totally oblivious to us, to the human refuse of the boat, sacrificing our luck and lives for a goddamned dollar.  It went back through and my heart swelled in my chest so fast that it cracked my bones.  Something happened to me which I could not understand.  I wept.  I stood there and wept at the beauty of what I saw.  I wept when I thought that the moment was meant for me and me alone, as I so badly wanted it to be that way.  I so badly wanted to be chosen by God there, to be pulled out amongst the clean cold blackness of the water, to stand naked on the back of a whale before the harmlessness of a sun which was now trained for damage.  I wanted that scene, I wanted to be transcended into that scene forever.  I wanted everything to be beautiful again.  I wanted to be beautiful again.

 

March of Time and Skin

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Teeth, bruises.

 

My father moved in a whore and her son when I was at work.

My clothes were folded behind the couch.  I saw their suitcases.  They were in the kitchen talking.  I walked into my room, sat on the bed and looked around at his things.  My father walked by and looked at me.  I asked him what had happened.  He threw me disgust.  I walked into the kitchen where they stood.  She was a fat brunette, high hair and a glittering dress, her fat feet crammed into pumps.  Her face was whiskey and batter and trade.  Her son was a skinny, long hair in the back and wired on speed.  My father walked in,                                                                                                                                                        “Jeff.  This is your new family.  Billie and Brett.”                                                                        She gave me a slimy nod.  Her son tilted his head back and stared me down.  I looked at my hands, walked into the bathroom and ran the water.  My palms were bloodied from a spill on my bike riding home from work, working double shifts to save for a car.  My father rushed in and slammed the door.  In the mirror he asked me why I was being so rude.  I kept washing my hands.  He asked me again.  Through the mirror I could see that he had been up for days.  I could see that he had just met her at the bar, and I could see him moving their suitcases up the staircase into our apartment.  To my left on the counter I saw a clear vanity bag containing make-up, hair brushes and a small glass pipe.  I looked back to the sink.  He caught the side of my head with a solid right.  It echoed in my skull and left my ear ringing.  The hit knocked me into the wall.  I resumed washing my hands.  He told me that this is the way life was, that if I didn’t like it, to pack my shit and get out.  He closed the door quietly.  I collapsed to the floor and held my ear with both hands, coming up with blood on my palm.  The pain was incredible.  I washed the ear, walked back into the bedroom and sat on the bed.  It occurred to me that this would be the way it was.  I walked into the bathroom and grabbed up my things.  In the living room I saw her chopping lines of cocaine on the coffee table.  They watched the blade and nothing else.  I sat back on the bed and began putting the things my father had missed into one of my pillowcases.

I heard the whore whisper to her son to come talk to me.  He walked in and stood over me while I sat on the bed.  He nodded down to me and curled his lip back,                               “What the fuck are you doing in here?”                                                                                          He was sweaty junk.  His lower jaw was orbited his skull, and his eyes were disgusting.   My father and the whore appeared in the doorway, and my father smiled.  In his smile I saw terrible things.  The whore yelled at her kid,                                                                 “Brett!  That is no way to treat your new brother!”                                                                      He ignored her and twitched, “I asked you a question, faggot.”                                                     I looked at my father.  He told me I had to fight my own battles.  Her son nudged my shin with the toe of his sneaker,                                                                                                              “Get out of my room.”                                                                                                                         My father laughed.  He said that if he were me he’d get out of the room before Brett taught me a lesson.  I asked him if he’d lost his mind.  He was unresponsive.  Her son flipped his fingertips against my sore ear and told me to get out again.  I stood up and        punched him in the teeth.  A few slipped back.  He fell into the closet doors, and they fell off their tracks.  It was loud.  My father came for me.  I ducked him and her son was up, hand over bloody mouth.  He had tears in his eyes.  My father had fallen behind the side of the bed.  He was grumbling threats, and trying to stand.

I caught her son with a left this time, in the throat.  He fell back into the closet and screamed like a girl.  His mother came at me in a blind rage.  I kicked her hard in the crotch.  She stumbled back and dropped in the hallway.  I felt a hand on my shoulder spin me around, a flash of meaty knuckles and my lights were turned out.

I woke up hours later.  My head was pounding.  It was dark in my room.  I was under the covers with my shoes off.  It occurred to me in the dark that I had turned seventeen the day before.  I sat up and walked into the bathroom.  The place was pitch black.  I flipped the light on.

The whole area above my eyebrows and down to the center of my nose was dark blue and kidney shaped, like a dark birthmark.  My neck was stiff.  I touched the bruise.  Shockwaves of pain rolled around my head.  There was the clear vanity bag to my left.  In a cup in the medicine cabinet sat a plastic cup with dentures at the bottom.  I walked into my room and put my shoes on.

Through the bathroom light I could hear them passed out in the living room, down from days of speed.  I watched the room from the doorway.  My belongings were no longer packed behind the couch.  In the bathroom I lifted the dentures from the cup and crushed them under my heel, returning the crumbs back into the cup.  They floated there.  I closed the medicine cabinet.

 

March of Time and Skin

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Living in the city

 

I came back and sat at the table.  I nodded to the empty table where the couples were.       “Cops take off?”                                                                                                                                Dave smiled, “You caught that.”                                                                                                           “It’s that snarky vibe, also the tension of never being fully relaxed.  The haircuts didn’t help.”                                                                                                                                                    Tom shook his head, “Suburban cops.  Brain-dead and blissful.  But even those dullards have to hit the city once in a while, have a night out like everyone else.  They left a ten spot on the table.  Gave it to Mikey.”

“You scored, Mikey,” I said.  He was lost in The Matrix.  He’d seen it in the theater something like 18 times.  Mikey obsessed like that, though.  Dave once told me that Mikey had read Blade Runner repeatedly for a year, after he’d seen the movie, which Tom had on VHS, but that Tom got pissed when they watched Apocalypse Now together at the shop, because Mikey didn’t get the brilliance of it, the perfection.

Christine woke me up with my cock in her mouth.  I stiffened my torso and shot.  She came up and kissed me on the neck.  I took her out for breakfast, we came back, ran Lucy around the park, and I wrote Rick a check.  Rick was alright.  He was supposed to be an apartment manager, the way a P.E. coach was born for the job and no other.  Rick had a short haircut and an angular face, round wire glasses and a thin build.  Nasally and reasonably intelligent, he would probably own his one building one day.  He was a perfect warden for the free.  He stood on my stoop and held the check at his side.                     “Fuck, man.  I’m sorry.  Roger’s a huge dildo.”                                                                                 “Don’t worry about it.”                                                                                                                     “But it’s not like you’ve been any kind of trouble.  I told his ass that you’re quiet, no mess or problems whatsoever making rent.  In fact you’re the only one here who hasn’t incurred a late fee.”                                                                                                                                                “Rick, it’s honestly no big deal”                                                                                                         He shook his head at the ground, histrionic yet sincere.  He lingered there and threw some gossip around about the other tenants, like the old crazy fucker across the courtyard and upstairs who tried to fake a nervous breakdown to avoid a late fee.  Then there were the ones he called Lethal Weapon, black and white roommates in their mid-twenties who left their empties scattered on their stoop and blasted rap at 4 a.m. until the cops had to show up and squash it, the cute Japanese student across the courtyard and to the left who works out naked, not that he’d meant to see it, and if I’d heard some banging above me late last night it was because he’d met a girl and brought her home.  I hadn’t heard anything.  My phone rang.  Christine held it up in the window.  I said later to Rick and stepped in.  She hung it up.                                                                                                                                     “Called from my cell.  I could tell you were getting lost at sea.”                                                  “I was in the seductive throes of schizophrenia, interracial cohabitation, voyeurism, and Rick’s red hot night of silent fucking.”          “Awesome.”                                                                                                                                               I sat on the couch next to her.  Lucy barked at the sound of people on the porch.  Billy and Amanda.  I waved them in.  Lucy ran up and met them.  He had a six pack of Becks.  He handed me a bottle.                                                                                                                            “Thought we’d drop by and hang out.  Sorry I didn’t call first, but−”                                    “But you’re not gay?” I took the bottle.  He laughed.  Amanda sat next to Christine.  Billy took the loveseat.  Christine drank her beer, “Wait, who’s at The Alley?”

 

−Excerpt from Flotsam for Jetsam, out this winter.

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