here is a playlist

stories + other forms



parts from//of ppl.

sum1's life, sumwhere.


{ they're my favorite } 

baltimore // analogues    like a zipper sailing through the horizon

baltimore // analogues

like a zipper sailing through the horizon

alex in the pink hotel    we used to dream of chicago

alex in the pink hotel

we used to dream of chicago

anna makes a mocumentary    anna banana fee fi fofana

anna makes a mocumentary

anna banana fee fi fofana

at the culinary & home decor store    she had light bulbs coming out her mouth

at the culinary & home decor store

she had light bulbs coming out her mouth

the foreigner    dimples break out around her open mouth    FADED-OUT

the foreigner

dimples break out around her open mouth


MOUTH    an account    BRIARS LIT


an account


Days    all ceilings are the same   ANTI-HEROIN CHIC MAGAZINE


all ceilings are the same


KINGS OF SALSA    Pepe’s name wasn’t really Pepe    EXPAT PRESS


Pepe’s name wasn’t really Pepe


my crush on alexandra kleeman    when she spoke, i was surprised

my crush on alexandra kleeman

when she spoke, i was surprised

hormigero     n  - a swarm


n - a swarm

wednesday    like sculptures


like sculptures

the mother as a woman   at a glance

the mother as a woman

at a glance

the patient’s lover    I woke up later in bed without you   HUNGER JOURNAL

the patient’s lover

I woke up later in bed without you


the baptism   how was church?

the baptism

how was church?

at the bridal shower    the divorcee, the mother, watches the bride

at the bridal shower

the divorcee, the mother, watches the bride

The Junkie Files, Nude  Franzi Sordon  { a dear friend & excellent artist, please support + check out her work at  @Frannygoesprint  }

The Junkie Files, Nude Franzi Sordon

{ a dear friend & excellent artist, please support + check out her work at @Frannygoesprint }


excerpts from upcoming novella woman | ize


I. seven

We are in the dentist’s office. My mother and I.


My mother wears a silk scarf at her neck, a pink dress and a light beige trench coat. Pearls in her ears, ring on her finger. Not a single bracelet. She has spoken quietly to the lady at the front window, the woman keeping track of our appointments and whom I do not see. From the back her calves raise sharply, the nude stiletto point casting a shadow on the shoe sole, very slightly worn, and I trace this all the way up her legs, past the drop of the thin coat to the curt, skinny bend of her elbows, hanging off the ends of the counter, her fingers tapping. This is where my gaze pauses, watching her golden ring lift up and down, the bones in her hand rippling. I envision the thin line her lips are making. We were late, it was my fault.


I didn’t know what to wear.


My mother had let me choose. She had assembled three outfits: a corduroy skirt, blouse and cardigan; a navy dress with a jacket, or pastel capris and a knit sweater. The white sandals would go with any of them, I already had the small diamond earrings in my ears. I had stood at the bed, baffled.


“Kom,” Mama persisted, “Pick one.”


My mother never lets me choose.


I was terrified of getting it wrong and none of them looked comfortable. I liked spreading my legs and I knew that this was the wrong thing to do. I didn’t want to embarrass the dentist. I didn’t want to wear a jacket or a sweater, but I also knew I couldn’t show my arms. Unless it was warm enough outside, and never a T-shirt. A sleeveless shirt. And if it was a sleeveless shirt, you’d wear a necklace instead of earrings. Never both. That was too much jewelry.


There was no sleeveless shirt on the bed.


I chose the capris. Mama lingered over dress, the polished nails of her fingers hovering, grazing the trim delicately. “Are you sure?” She asked. I nodded quickly. Her eyes flitted down and she swept it up, folding it in her hands, picking up the other outfits, putting them away. I began to get changed, too slowly, wondering if actually the dress would be more fun, the wind coming up between my legs and maybe spinning so I would feel the cloth, just a little when no one noticed, thinking I should maybe say this, but I didn’t want to upset Mama and then she caught sight of her watch and made a noise and we were late and suddenly she was hauling my arm, just as I was struggling to get into the sleeves.


My mother is coming toward me now, she smiles and squeezes my hand, sitting beside me, slowly bending into the chair, careful her dress doesn’t raise, a hand discreetly pressing the edge low over her thigh, then relaxing limp on her lap as she fully sinks into the seat. “It’s good you brushed your teeth before we came,” she whispers to me. Mama picks up a magazine, holds it out. “Look at her teeth.”


The model is in a bright patterned bikini, grinning and making a muscle. There are brightly colored words around and over this image but I don’t look at them. I know this pose because our teacher makes us do it in school after playing, to show how strong we are. “It’s good for you,” Mama explains, her finger now gliding over the lip of the model. “Very good things in here. Sometimes I get recipes from this magazine. Look.” Mama is showing me a cartoon picture, of a woman bent at a strange angle, and then unfolding, and then back again. Her arms are in weird positions. “See? This is my exercise in the morning.” I don’t fully understand the connection between this cartoon and my mother but that they share something in common interests me.


I see the ribs, the small pop were the bust is, the smile, very straight hair. My mother’s hair is shorter than the cartoon. I picture my Mama with long hair, picture her face there, a photograph pasted on top of the model.


I flip the page.


This page is filled with food, fruits and some sort of orange sauce dripping from the air, against a sky background, into a cookie crust. It doesn’t seem healthy to me, especially because on the side there is a big tin can in a burst of light, and we never buy canned food. Never.


Mama lets me flip again and realize the magazine is filled with women. I have seen these magazines in the house before, but I’ve never really touched them. Papa reads other stories to me. Now I am looking, and I notice they all look like mama, but maybe taller, and some are tan, which I know is also not healthy. Sun gives you cancer. I don’t see why the magazine is healthy, except for the woman look very healthy, and I guess it is the cartoons, but they’re confusing so I skip them.


Then I’m being taken by the arm again.


Into a small white corridor, fluorescent light, into a doorway, a small room with a big leather chair, all in shades of grey, the scent of plastic.


When I sit on the plastic chair it crinkles unpleasantly and I feel very heavy and big. The chair still stretches above my head and long past my legs but I want to get out of it.


I can’t. Not allowed to. Mama doesn’t say this, but the way she pointed at the chair, same way she did at a plate of something with a name I didn’t understand and had to eat anyway. There wasn’t a question.  


“Hi honey,” a woman’s voice says. I turn my head against the plastic chair to see Mama nod at a new woman. The woman is dressed all in green, green pants and green shirt and she fastens something over her mouth, a blue napkin with rubber bands on it. She’s fatter than Mama and a little taller. She has her hair in a short ponytail. She didn’t strap me in like in a car but she did put a bib on my neck and I felt humiliated but didn’t say anything.


“Wouldn’t want to ruin your clothes,” the woman says kindly. Her voice comes out funny and then she puts on huge goggles. She snaps on plastic gloves. I see she has cut nails and the glove ends are a little loose over the tips of her fingers. Then she pulls the big bright light over me.


I want to close my eyes but I also want to look.


I blink into the light until the black object in front of it becomes the woman’s face. It’s huge. I am horrified, peering into the gigantic nostrils inches above me, pinched a little in the middle the way a rubber band gets when you hold it upright between your fingers.


Her nose is full of hair.


“Open wide, honey,” the woman says, and suddenly her fingers are in my mouth. They taste like plastic.


Her enormous eyes flash, magnified by the goggles-- watery blue, googly and unreal. I can hear her breathing inside the napkin. I shut my eyes and then open them quickly, looking back at the portals of her nose.


I am fascinated. The hairs stick out in all directions.  I try to distinguish them, individually, almost squinting, picking them out from the black depth.


A cool touch is spidering around my teeth. To distract myself I try to count the hairs.  The woman is saying something loudly, clumsy and hot from under the napkin. How does she expect me to answer when her fingers are in my mouth? I’m not listening and so she gently props open my jaw further, splitting the lines of my teeth away from each other.


This woman could be a cartoon. Her face is so big! A huge flat forehead, swiping across those massive googly eyes, her nose pressed flat and round and bouncy in front of me, massive round cheeks looming up over the napkin. There’s nothing small and pretty about her face. It’s all flopping out, demanding. She probably has big droopy lips, big big teeth.


I fail at counting the hairs, envision furry caterpillars instead. Small creatures in the spikes of her nose. Some hairs are grey, like the highlights my mam gets. They all poke out at strange angles from the walls.


Mama and Papa got in fight about my hair. Not the hair on my head. The ones on my legs and my arms. Mama was worried about it. I heard them after I went to bed, after my shower. I forgot to pee and went back out and downstairs. Papa was saying “She’s seven. She’s supposed to be a little hairy now.” He sounded annoyed. “You don’t shave the legs of a seven year old. Wait till she’s twelve, thirteen.”


“You’re not a girl,” my mam says. “She shouldn’t go out like that when all the other little girls have nothing. She’ll be self-conscious.”


“Did you shave at seven?”


“I don’t remember. Girls develop sooner nowadays.”


“She’s not developed!”


“She is, Stefan. She’ll never have boobs, like me, but you can already see her legs get chunkier.”


There’s a pause and I hear my mom decisively, “I’ll sign her up for that kids running group. She’s seen us run all the time, she’s probably a runner.”


My father doesn’t say anything. Mam continues, “She hates her gymnastic class. Mrs. Senfel said she has no hand-eye coordination.”


“Okay,” Papa says finally. I had forgotten to pee again and I went quickly, shutting the bathroom door.


I know this woman should not have hair in her nose. I know she should not use a rubber-band to put up her hair. Rubber bands are wrapped and snapped around asparagus, around broccoli, around flowers, around the lids of peaches when you go to the country in the summer to can them, so you can grip them and unscrew them in the winter when you want sweets. Not for little girl’s hair.


And then the big light is pulled back up and flashed off, and the woman swings her face away from mine, lifts the blue napkin over her head, smiles and says “All done!” and she’s giving me a small plastic bag, because I’ve already moved my legs off the side of the big chair and I take the bag and I stare at it. I don’t look inside I just hold it.


I wonder what it would be like to stick my fingers into someone’s mouth.


We are about to leave. We’re standing at the sill, the counter sill again, my mom back at the window, talking to the invisible lady she has to pay, when a girl my age walks in.


She is wearing something I have never seen before.


Her mom has sunglasses on and doesn’t take them off inside and I know she isn’t supposed to do this, it’s rude and I can’t see her eyes but I’m not really noticing because I’m noticing the girl. She’s wearing a jacket and pants and they match, green like the dentist’s. But hers are lime green. She has gold sandals.


Unless it’s an actual metal, you don’t wear gold. Because it’s fake. Why would you wear anything that’s not real? But the girl’s tan feet look beautiful, strapped in that gold. And her jacket. Her jacket! It’s lace!


I have never seen lace on a jacket. Lace goes on dresses. And it’s white. This was green, and it was a jacket.


The girl comes right up next to me. Her mom is next to her at the counter, the two of us separating our mothers separated from each other. She smells very good and doesn’t look at me, focusing on the ground.


I want to say something but I don’t know what. The small holes in the lace make patterns breaking around, twisting across the fabric. There are so many! I never look at lace, especially this close, it’s pretty but not comfy and it’s only on dresses. But this is green and it’s close. The holes wrap into each other, fitting together perfectly somehow. To my awe when I  blink I realize they make the shape of flowers. Green lace on a jacket! Does it make the jacket fancier?


I get the thought that the mother must have cut up the dress to make the jacket and pants. Like my mom does when she buys new clothes, cutting and sewing because they don’t fit right, they’re always a little big.


Mam is squeezing my arm. “Don’t stare,” she hisses. Barely, but I can always hear her. Mama never hurts me the way some mothers do, but she pinches, very hard, in a way that no one can see. I always am careful to look at people’s nails. We leave the dentist. I don’t get to see the girl’s mom, but I should have. The girl watched me as we left.


The next week when my mother asks me to pick a new jacket I try and try to find a lace one. We don’t find it so I look for pants. When I find some I think she’d like she shakes her head.


“No. You need them to come up, up here.” Mama points at her belly button. “You can’t have them low on your hips.”


I look confused.


“You’re like me,”my mother told me irritably, “You are straight, all angles and no curve.”


Mam pulled the pants up over my legs, her fingers very cold. They always were, she had poor circulation. Not enough red meat, doctors would tell her.


“So we fake it, hm? When the pants come back up to here, it looks like you curve in.” I didn’t get it until I saw the mirror. Like a rubber band!


From then on I decided I would only wear pants.


Later I would always be fascinated by lace, lingerie in particular, lingering in the aisles, rubbing the material between my fingers, examining the intricate loops and holes stretched in precise shapes, coming to fit squarely together. My first purchase at fifteen had me in a secret, transcendent joy. But I never wore it. I never made those beautiful garments casual, routine purchases. I just liked to look at them.


II. Seventeen


The wall is cool and thudding, slightly. I know this because I’m leaning on it, my whole back, the backs of my arms. A little while ago I stuck my hands in my jeans, to avoid having my arms crossed. The wall’s a yellowed white and I can feel the slight bumpiness of its texture on my skin. The Haukland summer cabin paint has dulled.


The music is coming from the next room and I’m watching people tromp in and out of the kitchen in front of me.


One drunk blonde appears swaying in the doorway, makes her way to the sink. She doesn’t see me, stretches, going on her toes to reach up into the already open cupboard,  grabbing a glass and tipping it back so it falls in her hand. Later when I go back to America I will remember this, how parties in Norway always use glass and silverware.


I’m watching her plunge her hand in the sink, flip the sink lever up high so that the water gushes out immediately and violently. She has that thin blond hair, dirty blond, hanging almost greasily at this hour; strands that taper out at the ends, fall across bony shoulders, the thin black cotton summerdress. Great tan already for the summer, even some light freckles for good measure. She might be the sister of the girl who invited me to spend the weekend far away from the city. Invited everyone.


They’re dancing on the shag carpet in the next room, a chorus of mismatching voices rising loudly and then comically straining to hit the high notes. I can hear them stomping.


The girl doesn’t wait to fill the glass, snatching it out of the stream and letting the water run, drinking greedily. Water spills out as she drinks over her chin and she wipes her mouth with her forearm. She remembers the faucet is on and heavily slops a palm down on the lever, shutting it abruptly off.


It seems immediately quieter. The girl bends, resting the glass on the counter, then curls her other hand around the sink, pulling back her body from the counter yet anchored there. Her head hangs, the hair streaming down limply, covering face. I hear her breathing.


I am self-conscious of staring at her and then the boys come in.


“No,” she mumbles. She forces herself straighter, pushing herself up onto awkwardly erect arms, leaning her full weight on them over the granite, supporting herself sheerly through gravity.


“Aylaaa…” a boy sings out, laughing. “Aw, beauty queen.” They approach.


“What a mess,” says the other, curlier haired and wearing glasses. “Baby,” the first says, looping an arm around on the girl’s shoulder. Her elbows break out suddenly and she slumps into him, defeated. The boy is also blond, very tall, skinnier than is fashionable for a man. He’s not a man yet, only because he’s maybe the youngest boy here, around our age.


The one with glasses notices me. He must be our age too, but stockier and hairy enough to pass. He nods to me. We don’t exchange words.


The blond boy is murmuring to his girlfriend. Glasses goes to occupy himself to get a drink, shuts the open cupboard.


The stomping in the next room gets harder, to the chorus. I remember how the luxurious shag carpet feels under my bare feet, think it’s time to duck out of the kitchen. When the girls first arrive we all wear heels, it’s evening and the sun’s out, and then we don’t. At a certain point naked feet, little toes, smooth arches--become sexy. Free.


Ayla moans.


The dark haired boy looks disgusted and immediately exits, leaving the half-drunken glass on the table. His friend doesn’t notice and then tries to stand up to his full height, lifting his head. The girl drops back onto him and he realizes she can’t stand.


He turns, searching. His eyes lock on mine. “Hey.”


I know I’m supposed to help and so I push back from the wall slowly, come next to them. I see the freckles on the girl’s collarbone. She flutters her lips, making a childish sound, breathing heavily. “Grab her arms,” the boy instructs.


I step behind him, his thin shirt marked with vague impressions of sweat.


He moves and suddenly the girl is in my arms.


“Can you take her to the bathroom,” he asks, but he isn’t really asking, and he’s looking directly at me, so I nod and he nods quickly back. Is he her boyfriend ?  He leaves me with the girl, turning immediately around, padding away into the room with the voices and the shag carpet.


I’m holding her, lifting up her bulky, clumsy body against mine. She is breathing kind of heavily now, and moaning. I struggle in the direction of the doorframe, the bathroom.


Then I hear laughter out from under the bathrooms closed door. We need to get outside.


From the music room there’s suddenly cheering.


We make our way clumsily around the corner, the open living room in view.


The group has arranged themselves in a circle. Two girls are in the middle. They’re smiling at each other a little shyly but with a hint of daring. The group is chatting excitedly.


It is hard carrying the girl and I pause to catch my breath, watch. Against my chest she seems comfortable.


“You won’t!” a boy is shouting. “You think I won’t?” One of girls in the center shoots coquettishly back. The other makes a V with her fingers, playfully rolls her eyes back, wags her tongue between them. “Do it!” someone else shouts. “Do it! Do it!” A chant rises up. And then the first girl springs forward, landing her lips on the girl in front of her.


The room erupts in hoots and claps.


I lean closer to see, try to set Ayla down. She’s moaning more audibly now and we struggle there, and then I find the wall again.


As if enjoying the show the girls ham it up, moving their heads sensually around each other. Their mouths have come open, they are using tongue and you can see the muscles in their cheeks, their closed eyes. The brush of eyeliner makes them seem lush, in pleasure.


Something electric runs through me. I don’t want them to stop.


The girls come closer together as if they had done this many times, in crescendo, leaning on their hips so that they could lift up their hands, grasp the face in front of them, stick the fingers up through long hair. One of them makes a noise.


I snap my head back with new determination, pushing the body in my arms forward and ignoring the cheers. The door outside is close and I move the girl’s weight to the crook of one elbow, reaching out with the other hand, pulling the knob forcefully, almost pushing her outside.


We stumble out and it is cool. The girl is still moaning and I make her walk some paces away. Haukland is beautiful in summer, the wide barn houses and cabins far from the actual beach but placed randomly across fields, sprawling. The mountains encircle the lightly dotted plain in the distance. From here the water does not seem to have a single ripple.


I lower myself and the girl down. She buckles. I sit behind her.


In the house I can still see the group beyond the glass doors. The girls have stopped and there’s lots of clapping, and then a kind of a pause. Someone makes a loud comment that gets people to laugh. Then the room stutters into action, figures getting up, cutting against the light.


I look at the girl next to me, breathing deeply, her eyes closed. Her dress has bunched up around her butt, one leg jutting open and out, her underwear brightly visible. White with a lacy fringe. I don’t make a move to adjust this. Let her steady herself. I sit back on my arms, look up.


And then I notice the two girls have moved upstairs, in the window.


Just their heads, vaguely, one’s shoulder visible. They’re facing each other, not even looking out. Was it the upstairs bathroom? I try to see if there are more faces behind them, how big the room is. Neither girl is more masculine than the other. They seem to enjoy their conversation, they’re both grinning, maybe from the rush, but almost in that very specific way. The kind of way you see in movies.  


They get up, vanish.


The drunk girl in front of me has her hands in her hair, clumping it in exasperation. Her face is pushed up into pain, a taunt grimace. She sucks in her breath sharply. Gasps. “Rahhh!” she utters, moaning. “Make it stop, oh my god, make it stop, I’m going to puke.”


She throws herself down on hands and knees, like an animal. Her dress falls back down over her underwear and her hair drags on the grass. She grips the blades.


“You need to puke,” I tell her.


Her head shakes vehemently, mumbling. “I don’t wanna puke.”


“You have to.”


“No. I don’t want to puke,” she blearily insists again, louder. Her body is rocking forward and back, as though getting ready to race, lurch forward.


“Come on,” I say helplessly. I get down next to her. I don’t know what to do with her.


“Mmmmm.” The sound pushes loudly out of her, her lips firm, her head shaking furiously, no longer committing to words.


“Sit back,” I tell her.


She opens her mouth and breathes rapidly.


“Come on.” I move to her, gently pushing her shoulders down, then a little more firmly. “Sit back,” I say again. She stops swaying and then acquiesces, letting me push her to sit back on her heels. Her head is thrown back and she thumps down awkwardly. She swings her legs around, panting.


I walk on my knees behind her, carefully touch her hair, sweep it up between my thumb and forefinger, hold it back.




Her eyes are closed and then her brows furrow. She faintly shakes her head to the sky.




“I can’t,” she barks out.


“You just...stick your finger in your mouth.”


The girl doesn’t move.


I need to leave this girl. “Do it,” I say more savagely.


She picks up her hand, puts it weakly in her throat, a wince rippling across her face. Pushes, gags.


“You’re not going deep enough.”


She drops her head down and I let go of her hair. She launches onto all fours again. Lifts a dirty finger, tries again. Gags. Her breathing has calmed down. I move in front of her.


“Deeper. It’s supposed to hurt a little bit.”


She tries again, continuing to gag, spits weakly, tries to steady herself.


“Look up,” I say. She does.


“Open your mouth.” Her jaw drops obediently open.  


I peer briefly into the cavity and then stick my finger in, immediately striking. The girl’s hands fly instinctively to my hand, her eyes flashing open, gagging, but I hold her chin firmly in my other hand, turning my shoulder to ward her off, her arms batting weakly against the grip.


In her mouth the crevice grows smaller as I shove into the wet warmth.


Suddenly she lurches forward. I jump back. The rasp of fluid conjured up from her throat comes crudely out of her. Something splashes to the ground.


I wipe my hand on my jeans.


The girl pukes and continues puking, one after another, her shoulders heaving up around her and her body quivering, still on her hands and knees. I don’t reach for the hair, scraggly caging her face.


Then the girls who were making out appear in front of the house.  


I freeze.


They are creeping up to the hay bales. I hadn’t seen a square of light from the front door slide across the lawn, hadn’t had a concept of the world beyond the braying creature in front of me. The two girls climb up the bales.


Are they actually gay?


They could either sit there to see the beach, the Norwegian mountains a dark form against the sky, the faraway water a bright, distinct shape. Or they could plunge down inside to the bound, dry flat blades, pointed and sharp in unpredictable spokes. Or they could drop behind the rolls, to the grass.


My heart is beating and I feel something sweet, sharp and demanding inside my body. I want them to make out again. I want to see a hand snaking up the rolled denim shorts, reach into a loose summer shirts. I imagine a warm hand on my own breast.


The girls stop, standing on the top of the pile, balancing on the unsteady curve. I control my breath.


They jump down after a moment, moving away the bales, walking onto the road, disappearing. Unlike in cities you can watch someone leave in the country, see them grow smaller and smaller, rather than be assuredly engulfed in the coalescing crowd.


Next to me the girl has gone silent.


I look at her. She’s sleeping.


Her mouth is open and she is not quite beautiful but she is calm, one arm strewn over her chest, as if she had just fallen back after throwing up and never adjusted to lay down comfortably. She breathes quietly.


I study this unmoving face, all its details relaxed and bared. I could kiss her, on her beautiful, rotten mouth. She is still and jagged,  folded out of the world, unaware of the cooling summer air, the grass dew. I don’t kiss her. The scent of vomit infiltrates up into the clean night and I creep away, quietly, back to the house.


III. Eighteen


There’s the light.


It’s fluorescent and the ceiling tiles are cardboard, pocketed, with the plastic strip cutting them up into squares. Checkers.


On my right there’s a plastic white curtain. The mattress is plastic and white too, uncomfortable to the touch.


I’m in a hospital. There’s some shit clipped to my vulva.


I move and I feel it, a thin, flexible plastic tube curving down and cold between my legs. To my horror I realize I might not have been control of my bladder.


My fingers fumble and I yank the contraption off, a sharp pain biting behind it. I find the other tube taped down, stuck in the meat inside my elbow. The sharp point frightens me but only for a second, not more than the flimsy, half-full IV bag that hangs above it. This I take off forcefully, squeezing my eyes shut and wincing. A dull panic has risen in my chest. I swing myself upright, immediately dizzy. The tile is cold against my feet. I have to get out. Who knows I’m here?


I try standing, wavering. I shove the curtain aside weakly, standing and blinking in the leomelum hallway. There are nurses at machines, a long corridor of curtains, beeping.


“Hey!” A nurse has found me, purple hijab dark against her green uniform, black frame glasses. Impeccable make-up. I see her head half turned, glaring, rising from her bend over a desk. She straightens and I am moving, already looking on, searching for an exit. My clothes. I realize this too late because suddenly her hand snatches my wrist, the fingers spreading, curling tightly around my forearm. French tip. I look at her face. “Honey,” she says. She can’t be that much older than me. Eyeliner in swift wings. More gently. “You’re not ready to be discharged yet. Let’s sit.”


My throat has gone dry and I give up suddenly, nodding, following her. I slowly sink into the thin mattress, pull my legs in and hold them there. My eyes are closed as the nurse draws the curtain back around.


“I’m not going to hook the catheter back on to you,” she says. I keep my eyes shut. “But give me your arm. You need to eat.” This is all she says.


I extend an arm outward. She takes it in soft gloved fingers. I feel something cool and wet dab at the wound of before, cleaning it. Unfold the rest of my body slowly, blinking, not looking at her, not looking at anything but the fluorescent light blaring from the ceiling. I lay limply. Another small bite. I want to cry. I fight it, shut my eyes.


The curtain has only just slowly rustled shut behind her when it zings back across, more violently. I turn, hyper alert.




She stands there in jeans, a wrinkled band T-shirt. A sensation overwhelms me. Suddenly a lump swells painfully in my throat, pressing hard into my airway.


“Hey,” she says.


“Rachel.” My new college roommate’s face looks frightened. The freckles have become pale, sticking out, pinpricks against her skin. She seems sick, unsure what to make of me, the responsibility she assumed. I can see the lines between her eyebrows where wrinkles are going to form, how her frizzing hair is unwashed. I make myself swallow, forcing spit down my throat. “Thanks for bringing me.” I say this calmly. I suddenly know it’s true. “Of course.” She doesn’t move. I continue.


“I’m eighteen. I don’t have my ID on me but I’m eighteen. I don’t need anyone coming down for me.” By anyone I mean family. She knows this. She studies me, nodding carefully. “Did you call anyone on my phone.”


“No,” she says.


A girl materializes behind Rachel. She’s taller, skinnier. Long braids and amber eyes. “My girlfriend drove you,” Rachel says. I look over the girl. Neither of us say anything for a moment. “Thanks.” She accepts this silently. Nods.


“How you feeling,” Rachel asks.


“Okay. I guess. I mean. Tired.” I try smiling.


Rachel sits on the edge of the bed. “My sister…” she pauses, searching. “I know what it’s like.”


I just stare at her.


“I have five sisters.”




I can’t imagine being surrounded by five girls. I imagine girls that look like Rachel, arguing, tugging hair, shoving clothes into drawers, yelling as they slam the door. So many limbs, the scent of lotion, different perfumes. Chatter.


“Yeah,” Rachel says, finally grinning. Shakes her head. “We’re pretty damn Irish.” She snickers. “It’s fucking nuts.” Then her face changes. “I mean,” she amends, slowly. “I’ve just been through this sort of thing, so.”


“I had a lot to drink. Lot of liquor.” I’m smiling again. Confidently.


Rachel looks at me. She leans forward as though she might touch my leg, touch me at all, say something else and then leans back. The sympathy is there, painfully wet in her eyes.


“I feel you,” she says simply. Then, “The nurse has my number. Whenever you’re ready just call. We’re going to run out to Duane Reade, grab some snacks. Want anything?”


I shake my head on the pillow. “No, thanks.”


Rachel nods, looks up at her girlfriend. The whole time she has stood behind her, a hand on Rachel’s shoulder.


“Your cellphone was with your things.” The nurse has come in again, holding it out. She waits.


“Thank you,” I tell her expectantly. Stare. The nurse registers that I won’t call home in front of her. She hands me the phone, turns and disappears.


I sit up. The phone feels heavy in my hand. I press the center button, the icons flashing to life. Quarter battery left.


Rachel remains on the corner of the bed but her girlfriend squeezes her shoulder, moving to gently touch her arm. Rachel looks up and then gets up quietly, closing the curtain behind them as they leave.


I move, sitting at the edge of the mattress, feet hanging down. Home. I dial. It rings and rings and rings. I close my eyes. My heart races again, I tell it to stop, make it calm, breathe.


“Well hello.” Mama. My eyes are open. Bright voice, amused even. “How was your first week at school?”


“Great,” I say. Saturday. It must be Saturday morning. I hear her in the background of the phone, doing something.


“You having lunch?”


“Yes liefje. Right now.” Pans are rattling, there is movement. She’s opening cupboards, she’s bending down. She’s wearing a dress, an apron maybe.


“What’re you having?” I relax. My breathing slows.


“Oh, you know. Some salmon. A salad. I just got these cherry tomatoes from the community farm. I thought they were out of season, but you know. Some people really have a green thumb.”


I imagine the crunchy, peppered top of the fish skin. A thin, glistening slice of sweet pink salmon. I crave it suddenly, can conjure up the smell. “Sounds yummy.” Then I’m disgusted with myself. I turn to watch the drip of the IV tube, my stomach churning. My stomach must be empty, but I know the water-colored fluid is a trick. I am growing with every second. And then I feel actually sick. I look back at the floor, my chipped toe nails.


“Tell me more about school.”


“I like it. It’s fun. My roommate’s cool.”


“What’s her name?”


“I have two, Tom and Rachel.”


Over the phone the movement stops. “You’re living with a boy?” Her tone is ice.


“No, no. It’s a girl. Thomasa. She goes by Tom or Tommy.” I let my feet swing a little. “Haven’t seen her much.”


“Oh.” The movement resumes. Oil now, that the pan must be sufficiently warmed, that the spices are taken out, lined on the counter. The salmon breaded in a coat of all this, hard crystals of salt padding the skillet, just barely suspending the fish over the heat, steaming the soft underside.


“I’m glad it’s good. Your teachers are good, too?”


“Yeah. They’re good.”


There is quiet on the phone. I scan the rings of the plastic curtain above me, holding the sheet high along the metal rail. Like a shower curtain. Was I in the bathroom, when they found me?


Mam must be sitting now, on a chair between the oven and the window. She says it quietly. “Liefje, I think I’m moving back to Oslo.”


My head moves sharply, back to the blank white center of the curtain. Folds and shadows.  “What?”


“Yes. It’s time. You’re in college now. You know, in Norway we don’t have dorms. I lived with my mam up until the very end. I always commuted to school.” She pauses. “But here you go, off on your own. And I...I don’t know what to do here, schat. I’m...I’m bored, I’m, alone. What do I have here?”


Me. You have me. I want to cry out on the phone. Oslo?


“I miss my friends,” my mother says. Her voice is distant. I’m picking at the fine holes in my dressing gown, the small squares quilting across it, almost like a paper towel. It isn’t cloth, it’s plastic, like for wrapping food, not people-- firm, white, nicked in shades of grey. Checkered like the ceiling.


“I miss my country. I miss my language, I want good food, I want to wake up in a beautiful place. This isn’t the same, you know that.”


She’s getting up again. She’s checking the salmon, lifting the lid. Smelling it.


“When I came here with your father, it was a sacrifice. I didn’t know how to act, had to learn very quickly and don’t get me wrong, I love this country, it has been very good to me, to us--I mean, you were born here, it’s yours.”


Every summer I spent learning about you, trying to reach you mama, trying to reach the perfection there. Even when I was in it Oslo was so far away. I sculpted my body after you, my habits. My boyfriends, my passions, my tastes. Now I’m alone, with all this?


I’m looking at the ceiling. You’re going to live there. Okay. I breathe. Yes, squares and holes. I’m fenced in by all of this, the shivering sheet, the IV dripping that’s inaudible and I still hear it, plummeting into me. I still hear it.


“Yes,” she answers. I must have said it out loud. I must not be fully awake.


Does she feel helpless? Is that what this is? Giving up? The plastic strips, yellowing, running across the ceiling, holding the tiles.


“You’re a beautiful young lady.” Here she’s smiling. I can hear Mam smile over the phone. Through her sadness, maybe. I want to grab her. Her face. “I’m very proud of you.” I clutch the phone, hard.


“I know you’re going to do well. You’re very strong.”


“Okay,” I say, obediently. A whisper.


“Hey,” she says. I can hear the wickedness, the grin, the mischief-- “Guess what?”


I beat her to it. “I love you,” I blurt out.


She’s laughing. “I love you more. Call me again next week, okay? I won’t be moving for a while. Going to move into a cousin’s house.” She’s musing. “I’ll keep you posted.”


Hou van jou,” I say again, weakly into the phone.


“Love you. Bye liefje.”


“Bye.” Click.


I put the phone down slowly. The tips of my toes in circles, grazing the cold floor. Suddenly, I am starving. 

portrait of a class

excerpt available at FOGLIFTER PRESS


“Todos vieron la verdad; nadie lo vio intacto.”

They all saw the truth; they none of it saw intact.



Emely had left when she was fourteen. She had left her sister in the bed, under the thin sheet. The cool blue air of morning, with the birds and the empty road. Under her sneakers, dust. Soft. Giving.

Emely breathed.

All the houses, all the streets. The mountains. She trailed her hand over the stucco walls as she walked. Kept close to the corners, out of the sun. Out of the open.  

“No no, mijo. It was different.” His mother shook his head.

At the table, Arlin drank juice out of a plastic bag. They sold soda in bottles and cans in a closer store but he’d walked a few blocks, bought the bright pack instead. Naranjilla. Cheaper by fifty cents. It was sweet and runny, and he sucked in his cheeks. The kitchen was dark, it was mid afternoon.

His mother tapped out the rest of the coffee grinds into the trash, the clanging hard against an unpapered bin. “She took our cousin’s backpack without asking. It was bigger. She was stubborn.” Arlin’s ma sank against the counter, setting the tin coffee pot back on the stove. “Un testarudo. It was stupid.” Arlin could hear the implication in Mamá’s voice. The tk tk tk tk of the burner turning on. Emely would have rathered die than stay.

He glanced at the juice bag, now crumpled and deflated in his hand. Tia Emely had been raped. His mother didn’t have to tell him that.   


In the classroom, Stephany turned to him from behind her desk. “Hi,” she said, even though she knew Arlin spoke Spanish. It didn’t matter. She was taller, and whiter. She was fashionable for eighth grade. Had dyed a strip of her hair blue, wore Vans. Arlin wondered if she had a dad.


“Jordan?” His teacher asked.

“Arlin,” he tried again.

“Aaron?” she said, haltingly. Her brow furrowed. She was young. She didn’t want to be wrong.

“Yes,” Arlin said, finally.


Darrel, Emely’s brother, blamed it on los Yan-kees. “Fuck L.A.,” he told Arlin. He was drinking a beer on the couch, his sneakers kicked off. Arlin had tensed seeing the six-pack. “It’s the gringo’s fault,” Darrel swore. “They deported those fuckers. They sent them back.” Darrel’s neck moved with the fluid, a snake along his throat. He wiped his arm. “That made them stronger,” Darrel continued, into the cool, dark room. The TV droning. “The US,” he declared, “made them strong. They came back, picked people up like a bag of coka.” Arlin didn’t respond. Just watched the sun pass through the gold of the glass, the small square window cutting light around Darrel’s hand.


Stephany’s chest fell from her body. She curved. Her jeans curved around her, snug on her ass, thighs, hips. When the teacher asked a question, she raised her hand. She tried answering. She was good at explaining. Even if she did still use the dictionary. She had already been here for a year and a half.


There were four Indian boys in his class. No, one corrected him, I’m from Bangladesh. They’re from Pakistan. And Yeman, the other added.

Arlin nodded politely. He had never heard these names before. No. He thought about it quickly. Pakistan. He’d heard that one.

Two of them always raised their hands. They were always right. The other one talked constantly to the Taiwanese girl next to him. Arlin suspected flirting. The last dark-skinned boy stared ahead. He barely talked. He was the most handsome.


Stephany introduced him to music. “No,” she said, when Arlin asked. “Actually it’s from here.”

She put the earphones carefully up to his ears, the tinny noise suddenly becoming clear. The buds were cheap.

Arlin hesitated and then kept walking with them in, Stephany silent beside him. They padded down the grey sidewalk, the vacant street. Tall brick walls. Rows of windows. Everything in New York was the same. It was quieter than he had imagined.  

Arlin listened to the familiar reggaeton drums, softening now, now rising. His feet memorized the turns. Memorized the blocks.

The lyrics were in Spanish, but Arlin already sensed it: American-raised Latinos were different.


Another girl came to the school after Arlin. Her name was Salma. Salma sat at front of the class. She wore long, draping robes and pinned fabric to her forehead. Her skin was the color of ash. She had a narrow face and large eyes that loomed out of it. An elegant nose, a little bulb dew-drop at the end that reminded Arlin of the slender-stemmed cebollino, always young when pulled from the ground. Her lips were dark and soft and when she stood up he could see how skinny she was. She was a ghost, a bobblehead. Had long, tapering fingers and didn’t cut the nails, not in the stylish way. They were naked and plain. She repeated back the phrases to the teacher. She smiled. Salma reminded him of the word selva. Jungle.

. In her, he tried to find the Aladdin he knew from Mamá’s tattered children’s book. The pictures still vivid. As a child Arlin had loved it, had changed the captions, the story of the images. The book had originally been Emely’s.


When both his neighbors left, Arlin played soccer in the lot behind the houses. The dust rolling up with the ball, a long strip of sky. Little plastic bags and cans bordering the sides, a few skinny trees. The sound of birds.

Mamá was pretty sure she had a prima in Texas. Por lo menos una in Ari-zo-na too, but she wasn’t sure.

He didn’t stay out too long or too late. He was terrified of being recruited. They had already started with the beatings. Thrown rocks on his way to school. Once, a cop had watched. Arlin wondered how much it cost, to pay a cop to watch. How much he was worth. One man’s silence.

A friend explained it to him simply: “Your dad does it, you do it. Your uncle does it, you do it. Your uncle’s friend does it, you do it.” And if you didn’t, they’d rape your cousin, your aunt. Cartel, colateral.

Later, his friend stopped showing up to school. They had kidnapped his sister, then returned her. She hadn’t come back to school either.


“You have the rest of the period,” the teacher said.  

White rectangles lay face-up on the desks. The students bent their heads.

Arlin was translating words. He had come too late in the school year to take the test, opted out.

Salma began to rub her temples. Small circles.

“Spelling counts,” the teacher reminded them. She crossed her arms. “It’s a vocabulary test.”

Salma put her head down.

It took Arlin a while to find words in Spanish. He flipped the pages in the dictionary, the pleasant beating swish of paper rippling past his thumb. He tried to remember the alphabet song. He was grateful that he could read in Spanish.

The boys at his table were all frantically scribbling.

Salma’s narrow shoulders shook. A sound emerged, in dashes and hiccups. High, light.

Arlin stopped, putting the dictionary down. Salma’s eyes were shielded by the fan of her fingers.

“Yo,” one of the Pakistani boys hissed, his whisper low and sharp. He glared at Arlin. Quietly: “We don’t have letters in our language.”

Arlin nodded. Letras. The Pakistani boy kept glaring at him.

“No, serious,” the small boy said, slowly. He leaned over Arlin’s desk, drawing something on his paper.

Arlin stared.

“Fahad,” the boy said. “My name. My name is Fahad.”

Fahad’s name looked like the curls of wind drawn in a cartoon.


The Chinese boys never talked to him. One of them played games on his phone under the desk.

When a new Chinese boy came in, the teacher sat Boqin next to him. Boqin got everything right. “Can you help our new student, Boqin,” she said, brightly.

Twenty minutes passed without the boys exchanging a word.

The teacher tried again, attempting to get the boys to overcome themselves. She squatted down, murmuring.

“I don’t speak his language,” Boqin said stiffly, loud enough for Arlin to hear.

The teacher blinked. “Don’t you speak Chinese?”

“Not his Chinese.”

Around them, the class went silent.

“Did you...use the dictionary?”

“He speaks Cantonese,” Boqin responded curtly. “Not Mandarin.”

The teacher looked at him. She nodded slowly, feigning like she understood. “Okay,” she said.

She let Boqin sit where he wanted to.

“What is Cantonese?” Fahad asked the Taiwanese girl at their table.

“It Chinese,” she explained, “but not all Chinese same.”

Salma turned around from her table, hearing her. “They don’t have Arabic from Yemen,” she said. The Taiwanese girl looked at her kindly. Salma kept her dictionary closed too, even though the teacher had yelled at the class yesterday for not translating enough vocabulary.

Por lo menos,” Stephany whispered, leaning over to Arlin, “all Spanish is the same.” Arlin smiled. For some reason this made him proud.


One blond girl spent all day doodling Manga. Arlin wondered where she got her books. In Honduras, he had learned English by watching cartoons.

The teacher gave her a Russian dictionary. The girl didn’t touch it.

One day she came in with brown ink drying on her wrist. The small hand reached out, received the failing grade the teacher handed her. Arlin watched. La rubia didn’t seem to mind the F inscribed across the page.

“Amina,” the teacher said.

The teacher had came over quietly, when they were all writing down what they had gotten wrong. I Would Like to Improve.

Arlin listened, glancing surreptitiously over. “That is a nice henna,” the teacher said softly. “Did Salma draw it for you?” Salma, also, had a lattice of flowers and triangles spinning around her wrists.

“No,” the blond girl said. “It is Muslim holiday.”

The teacher fingered the Russian dictionary. “I see.”

“I’m not Russian,” the blond girl told her, simply. “My country is Uzbek.”

The teacher opened her mouth, then closed it.

“I am Muslim,” the blond girl said. She waited patiently for the teacher to leave.


In Honduras, when Mamá came home she woke him up. Sometimes she brought visitors. Often, she brought visitors.

They turned on the old radio, fed it CDs. Or they threw a phone into a porcelain cup and it rang out, muggy and loud.

Mamá taught Arlin how to dance. She clapped his hands, took his hips, shoulders.

Mamá smelled of sweat, snapping gum, and he watched the golden cruz around her neck. How it bounced against her chest, shot off flashes of light.

Men brought jugs of clear guaro, the room suddenly crowded. Cheap cologne, gasoline burning up from the motos outside. The blue house filled with cigarette smoke. It drifted out of the windows, kept away mosquitos.


The girl who sat at the back of the class and smelled of Vaporoo was named Camila. She was from Colombia. Her hair curled and flowed past her waist. She had large, plush lips. Green eyes.

Vaporoo was how Arlin knew she was Latina, even though she was as pale as Stephany.

“She told me to do something bad,” Stephany said. She was staring straight ahead at the chain netting. Two staircases, at the ends of the school building, were fenced in this way. Allegedly to keep the steps intact, kids from falling. Chips of red paint flaked off the banister, making delicate piles on the steps. Arlin thought, not for the first time, how poor los status unidos actually was.

He leaned on the hard netting, keeping himself still. They were skipping class. He relaxed his posture, made himself small. Approachable.

Stephany was silent. Arlin couldn’t tell if she was waiting for him to ask something, or if there was nothing more she had to say.


Some days, Arlin had helped Darrel paint. Stretch up tall, roll the big roller paint brush down, pat it into the paint. Rub the aluminum pan where the color pooled in a corner. Try a sip of Darrel’s beer as he dozed in the shade. Other days Arlin would walk around, talk to the viejitos. It was true that the old ones were the last unafraid to sit out on their steps, in front of their homes.

A lot of boys would just jump him. It was hard to gauge whether it was safer at night or in the day.

Three times Arlin was held up in a sweaty armpit, a bony forearm choking him, his face suddenly thrust to the sky. Bright blue cut by a tan jaw.

Y porque no luchas por tu Mamá, cabrón?” a hot, breathy voice hissed into his ear. On his neck, Arlin could feel the ridges of a blade.

Mamá had yelled at him.

“Y crees que tener amigos es fácil?” He couldn’t have friends, he decided. It wasn’t safe.

One time, it had been a girl who had pummeled him. Pummeled him, kicking him straight in the nuts first and then repeatedly after. She beat him for all he had. Didn’t say a word the whole time.

Anyway, the friends he made always moved.


Boqin threw a chair.

No one expected this.

Why,” he shouted, frustrated. “WHY ‘the’, WHY ‘a’? AN?” He yelled. “WHAT IS ‘AN.’ ”

His paper was marked with blue.

“It’s just an article,” the teacher told him, trying to calm him down.

There must not be article in Chinese, Arlin thought.

“WHY,” Boqin screamed. His long black hair was greasy. For the first time, Arlin noticed bruises. His clothes were too small.

“Boqin,” the teacher said.

Boqin stared at his paper. His expression sickened Arlin.

It was a look of pure hatred.

Boqin sat down. Than he stood up, walking out the door.

“In Uzbek, they neither have articles,” the blond girl whispered to Stephany.  

Arlin listed Spanish articles in his mind.  El. La. Los. Las. Having one article actually made Inglés easier.

“In China,” the new Cantonese boy said, slowly, trying to explain as the teacher rushed out, “We work hard. Even, in…” He paused to think. “Gym.” He pantomimed running in his seat. “Many far. More hard.”

Arlin had never had a gym class before coming here. He stopped going to school in third grade.


“Okay,” Darrel said. He put his eye to the gun, then lowered it down. His arm was straight. The metal gleamed as it passed from Darrel’s hand to Arlin’s.


Arlin was afraid of the noise.

“No, no.” Darrel grinned. His eyes filled with something. “It has a silencer.”

Darrel also taught him how to slash, downward-up, to use the forearm crossed over the chest as defense, instead of leaving the ribs exposed like un maldito idiota when throwing up the aiming arm, revealing the stomach before bringing the knife down. That’s just the way you did it with a switchblade, the fastest way, since your thumb was already on the handle like it was pressing a goddamn picture on your phone and not curled around a pinche knife. Try again. Rápido, con fuerza. Like dragging down the roller paintbrush at work, cabron. Natural. Es fácil. These were the exercises Arlin remembered.


“My math is really good,” Fahad bragged. Across the dining room table Arlin rolled his eyes. He scanned the homework, than spun the sheet away from Fahad to face him, copying rapidly.

Fahad just grinned, licking the last bit of Mott’s applesauce from his spoon. It was his favorite American food. Arlin quickly started copying answers.

“In Pakistan we do math all day,” Fahad said. He leaned back in the chair. He loved having Arlin over, loved showing off. “No, seriously,” he repeated.

“You’re being a fuckin’ nark.” A tall boy loped in, music beating thinly out of his earphones. One bud swung loosely as he bent down, opening the fridge.

“What’s a ‘nark,’ ” Fahad asked dryly.

“You need to study your English, Fahad,” his brother chided, grabbing the half-gallon of milk and standing up. He turned to the cupboards, unzipping his long black coat. Fur along the hood. “Where’s umi.” The tall boy poured cereal into a bowl. Flakes clinked against the sides.

Arlin couldn’t remember if Fahad’s brother was in highschool. Fifteen was much older than thirteen.

“Getting dinner,” Fahad said. Inspired, he took the full Mott’s jar in two hands, dumping it all out into his own bowl. Then he put it in the microwave, punching in a few numbers.

“You’re so extra Fahad,” his older brother said, watching him. He crunched a spoonful of Cocoa Puffs.

“Extra what,” Fahad asked, irritated.

His brother laughed. “Yo,” he said, swallowing, ignoring Arlin completely, “I’m glad you killed that shaqiq,” he waved a spoon, “because I just bought a whole pack of little lunch Motts for the sisters.”

What?” The microwave beeped. The room smelled of hot applesauce.

“You ate the whole thing,” Fahad’s brother answered calmly. “That’s not fair.”

“They hate Motts!” Fahad cried, livid. He shot up. “Give it to me,” he demanded. His small frame did him no favors. He looked like a child. “You’re just triggering me.”

“Nice, Fahad.” His brother grinned at Fahad’s attempt at slang.

Fahad darted to the fridge.

“Are you lying?” he demanded, his face buried behind the door.

“I’m broke, maynn.” Fahad’s brother smiled innocently.

“What the fuck, Ejaz!”

Arlin tried hard not to laugh. Once, when they were at the park, Fahad had yelled in his defense. “He’s not Mex-i-can mothafucker! Go to school!” Fahad had screamed after the boy, long after they lost the soccer ball. Little Fahad shouting this had seemed like the funniest and also meanest insult Arlin had heard.

Fahad’s brother slowly pulled out a small plastic container of Motts from his coat. “Chill.” He held it up in the air.

Fahad was immediately at his side, grabbing hold of his arm.

Chill,” his brother repeated. He palmed Fahad’s head easily, pushing him away with his hand. He stood up, Fahad glaring at him. “I’m savin’ this for later, when I get hungry.” The tall boy’s hair was slicked artfully back, and he wore a multitude of chains. “You’re such a fatass you won’t get hungry later, so.” Arlin told himself that half of the chains were fake. No one would wear that much money.

“We gotta do laundry,” the brother announced abruptly. “Okay?” He looked at Arlin, suddenly a pillar of authority. “Get the laundry bags. Bring homework.” Fahad looked down at his bowl, ignoring him. “Now.

Outside Arlin remembered how much he hated the fucking cold. Around the lumpy bag of laundry, his fingers turned to ice.

“Hold your breath,” Fahad’s brother yelled out suddenly, “We passin’ a precinct boys!”

Arlin took a breath and held it. They strolled quickly past. He glanced up, confused. He thought people only held their breath when crossing cemeteries.

Fahad’s brother caught his look and laughed. “You never know how many people died in there, my nigga.” He clapped Arlin on the back.

Arlin would remember took look up the word “ni-ga” later.


Pop-Eyes: Chicken Dinner, $5.29

KFC: One Piece Meal, $5.49

McDonalds: Big Mac Burger, $3.99

Burger King: Whopper, $4.19

Wendy’s: Burger, $4.19

None of them had fríjoles.


“Did you think he did a good job?” The teacher smelled clean. Sweet.

Arlin blinked. “Ah…” He thought about the boy in the book. “Yes.”


Arlin chewed the inside of his cheek. The teacher was very close to him. Fahad snickered.

“He was good,” Arlin said, ignoring Fahad. He tried to elaborate, hunting for the words. “He did de right ting.”

“How do you know?” The teacher was gentle. She looked at his page.

Arlin gave up. He shrugged.

“Do you know what this is,” his teacher asked him. She bent down, eye level with his desk. Leaned towards him on her elbows, irretrievably close. He could smell her shampoo.

“Do you know what this is?” the teacher repeated. She was tapping his paper, an immaculate white hand.

Arlin nodded.

“What is it?”

He smiled. Looked down.

“We have a word for this in English,” his teacher said. Her finger swept over the paragraph.


Arlin nodded.

“Can you say it?”

“” He said it slowly.

“You can tell me anything you want,” his teacher explained to him. “But I don’t have to believe you.”

She tapped the page again. “Ev-i-den-ce,”  she said. “You have to prove it.”


There were two routes from the store to the house. The backway and frontway. Sometimes Arlin skirted the walls, sometimes he didn’t. The sun was high. He slurped the bag of pink juice. Maracuyá.

He froze.

Across the street, two men burst into the blue house.

A shout. Darrel.

Clatter. The men were not afraid to make a scene.

Arlin couldn’t see into the small window.

From the side of the road, a gunshot.

Arlin stood perfectly still.

Realization flooded his body. Darrel was dead.

In his hand, he held a bottle of milk. Carefully, Arlin flattened himself against the wall.


Amina was in detention for the week.

Five boys had shown up to the nurses office that morning, sick and reeking of vodka.

Blond, Uzbek, Muslim Amina had, ingeniously, sold them alcohol in Poland Spring water bottles.

Passing Arlin in the hallway, she asked for colored pencils. The teachers had taken them from her. In addition to her folder of Manga sketches.

Whether or not Amina had learned the trick from her older brother, Arlin had to admit he was impressed. La rubia may have been failing, but she was quick with money.  


Mama left to visit the man in the apartment downstairs. When she came back upstairs, she was sleepy.

The man had given Arlin an old red nintendo and a handful of games. At first, Arlin didn’t play. He stared at it, angry at the scuffed corners, the way the man had opened his hand, how the device had laid faceup on his massive palm.

Now he and Fahad passed it between them, yelling. They learned English from the subtitles.


“I don’t want to,” Stephany began. Arlin saw her chin tremble, just a little. Something passed down over her eyes. November sky, an unbroken white. A sheet of cloud.

She had been smoking a cigarette when he walked up to her.

“I found it,” she said.

He didn’t comment. He knew when someone was lying. Stephany had a bag of cold McDonald’s at her feet. Arlin tried to think of a McDonald’s that was close by. Took a drag when she offered. He always liked the smell better than the taste.

“I really don’t want to,” Stephany said again. This time she was crying for real. She shoved a pale fist over her cheek, then pressed her yellow nail under the sallow of her eye, her eyes rolling up. Carefully she wiped off any residual mascara.

“I’m moving to el Bronx,” she told him. She looked up again at something Arlin couldn’t see. “I don’t want to be part of a gang family.”

They watched the cigarette burn away in silence.


After Stephany stopped coming to school, Camila started talking to him.

Oye,” Camila said. She watched him over a carton of cafeteria milk. “You really think it’s better over here? Than back there?”

She was asking Arlin in Spanish, and Fahad looked at him uneasily. She wasn’t talking about where they were sitting.

“It’s not, motherfucker.” This in English. Camila sipped her milk.

“She likes you,” Fahad told him.


Mamá’s teeth chattered.

Que frío,” she said. She repeated it, holding him close. Her small hands curled into each other, then pushed into the radiator. Knuckles straight into the hot metal. “Que frío.” Mama hadn’t painted her nails for days.

Mamá had been afraid to shower. So was Arlin. He tried to remember ever feeling cold water. Maldito desagradecido. He had been ungrateful.

They had not had heat for three days.


Camila had torn a chunk from Stephany’s hair.

“FUCK YOUR COUNTRY,” she had screamed. In the park, with the sidewalk chipping away.

Arlin thought she had moved already.

Kids weren’t playing now, on the old squeaky swings. Arlin did not like the metal, here or on the subway poles. It reminded him of the taste, being shoved up against it. A mouthful of something sour.

Camila pushed Stephany to the ground.

Stephany grabbed her arms, yelling, kicking Camila’s stomach with her knee. The girls wrestled on the pavement.

No kids chiquito here. Little kids needed someone to watch them at the park, and now was the time older siblings were in school.

“YOU’RE FUCKING JEALOUS YOU CUNT,” Stephany screamed back. She screamed it in English.

Camila slammed Stephany’s head into the concrete.

There weren’t many parks, and most of them had fences.

Arlin had come late.

Two men pulled the girls apart. The girls’ brothers.

The two men looked at each other. Something flashed between them. They recognized one another.

Their sisters screaming, screaming. Screaming.

Silently, almost methodically, the two older boys hauled the girls apart. The nuances fell away in that instant, the different families pulling from each other in almost perfect symmetry. A mirror image, split in half by the pavement, the pavement widening, widening between them as the girls kicked the air on either side, high, can-can kicks. On either side, a tall dark boy with dark hair; at his knees, clutching him, a screaming light-skinned girl. Her sneakers flapping up, hitting the ground. Shrieks clear in the stillness, the ribbon of pavement swelling thick until the the girls were flushed away completely, shuttered into the shoulders of their brothers, tucked behind the brick corners of this many edged city-- two sets of siblings, cleanly disappearing. And the sky, swept new and silent and plain again, smooth and white as though nothing had happened. What had happened?

Behind the chain fence Arlin shivered.

He missed trees.


Their house had been blue. Topped in bright, rounding orange tiles. It had been their house all of Arlin’s life, all of his mother’s and Darrel’s and Emely’s life, and all of their parents’ lives, too.

“I don’t like being scared,” Luisa said to Arlin’s mother. Arlin’s tía, or in practice anyway. The women were sitting on the steps, shading their eyes. Luisa’s hair was long and twisted up behind her, her ribbed tanktop tight over the pregnant belly. “It’s exhausting,” Luisa continued, letting smoke fall from the side of her mouth, waving her cigarette at Arlin as he passed through the door frame.

His pockets were stuffed with chicle and in the heavily draped room Arlin would pop off his shoes, the house dim and cool. Fling himself on the couch, sighing deeply. Que calor. What heat. Outside, his mother and her friend painted their toenails, and Arlin would nap and nap and nap. Until Darrel got home. The women would chat long into the dark, and when Arlin woke up again, they would be cooking at the stove, and sometimes someone would drop by, with some things they were leaving behind--pots, tools, clothes--because they too would be heading up North, try their luck with La Bestia, couldn’t take it anymore, just couldn’t--but right then Arlin was listening to the cicadas with his eyes closed, his head sunk in the couch cushions, blanketed in smoke, the smell of something frying on the stove.  


Salma was leaving.

Amina, so much littler and with a thick purple headband, hugged her for almost three minutes. Crowded by the classroom door waiting for dismissal, Salma’s thin arms clutched the little blond, enveloping the long braid. She shut her eyes, rested her chin on the small yellow head.

When Salma looked up at Arlin, eyes full of tears, he felt a little guilty about how beautiful she was.

“Why are you go-ing,” he fumbled. He didn’t know how to say goodbye. He held onto the straps of his backpack, elbows pointed awkwardly outward.

Salma hiccuped. She inhaled. “Em…” Amina darted over, bringing the cardboard tissue box. Around them, students bubbled up, fell away excitedly. Viernes. Friday.

“I am going back to my country,” Salma said, so softly Arlin barely heard.

He just nodded, feeling like an idiot.

She tried smiling. “I will miss school.”

Fahad avoided them, lingering in the back of the line. Arlin glanced at him. Fahad knew more, and he also, Arlin knew, would not talk about it.

The bell sounded, long and clear over the speakers. Salma turned, waving over her shoulder at their teacher. “Bye,” she called, ducking quickly. She hadn’t told the teacher that she wasn’t coming back. For weeks, teachers would call a number that rang and rang on an abandoned cellphone.


Mamá was crying. She smoked the cigarette in silence.

Arlin didn’t ask. He knew she had lost her job.

Gingerly he unwrapped the honey treat Fahad had given him. Arlin was addicted to it, the syrupy, flakey stickiness that he couldn’t pronounce. He had always preferred sweets to salt, even when his family doused meals in pepino and vinagre. Fahad had brought him two squares in lunch. Grandmother, jida sent them, Fahad said, grinning. She likes you.

Arlin hadn’t minded helping the old women. He could wash dishes forever, hot water running over his hands.

Cómo estás, hijo?

Arlin presented his mother with a sheet of a paper and the gluey square. The syrup had hardened with the cold.

A+. Great work! He translated the red ink and Mamá smiled, covering him in kisses.

Claro,” she beamed. My son. Por supuesto. Of course.

Arlin wondered if he was old enough to get a job.


“You know your dad?” Camila asked, after a pause. Her hair smelled strongly of gel.

They sat on the swings.

“No,” Arlin said.

“I did,” she said.

Arlin took care to keep his gaze somewhere neutral. He didn’t want to know his dad.

Camila offered him a Poland Spring bottle and Arlin took it cautiously, unscrewing and sniffing. Just water.

“He got deported.” It was a line Camila knew how to say in English.

She seemed sad. “Lo siento,” he said, quietly.

“I feel you,” she answered. Arlin looked at her. “Siento mean feel in English,” she explained, not without a flush pride, “not just ‘sorry.’ Siento mean sorry and feel in Español, but in English there is two word.”

She grinned and Arlin grinned back. He didn’t know what else to say.

They stared out for a while. An older lady with a bright handkerchief around her head passed, waddling slowly, pushing a stroller in front of her. She was speaking on a cellphone in language Arlin had never heard.

“I’m not really Colombian.”

Arlin turned to her.

“I was born there, but we moved back to Venezuela.” She twisted the bottle in her hands. “That’s where my family is from.”

“Really?” Arlin asked. He seemed to remember the countries were close.

“Yeah.” Camila paused. It had been bothering her. “I don’t really remember Colombia. Venezuela was bad.” She said this in English too. “It sucked.”

Arlin just nodded.

Camila wasn’t looking at him. Her eyebrows were drawn. “I want to remember Colombia.” She narrowed her eyes further. “Fuck Venezuela.” And then turned to face him once more, seeking confirmation. “Isn’t where you’re born where you’re from?”


In the vacant lot, along the abandoned strip of a gas station, Arlin and Mamá boarded a bus. On the bus men pulled caps low over their eyes. The windows had a clouded sheen. The seats were worn, faded navy.  

After a week Arlin would be sick them. Prefer to piss outside, behind a building rather than in the small, shuddering toilet that did not flush. After a week, Arlin and his mother would arrive in Woodside, Queens.


The day they left the blue house, Mamá kissed her two fingers and touched the door. They didn’t say a prayer. They left the picture of the Virgin Mary on the shelf, along with the cross. Mamá kept the chain she had from her mother, and Arlin kept Darrel’s. These were the only blessings they needed.


A few days later, it was supposed to rain, and because it was supposed to rain, no one was at the park.

On his fourteenth birthday, beneath a plastic slide, Arlin lost his virginity to Camila Michelena.

After, she bought him a lighter. She placed it on the counter, and the man behind it, his hair slicked smooth, regarded her. She stared back. The man gave her a slight nod.  

She swiped the green lighter up, dropping it in Arlin’s palm.


The most beautiful view in Honduras overlooked the mountains.

Not up them, but down them. An orange road curved along the bend, the cliff steep and crumbling into sand. Held back by a low, metal rail. Arlin knew at least three motociclistas who died this way. Over the cliff, into the ravine. La selva.

The only way to get to the spot was to pass the cemetery, which wasn’t a cemetery really, but a big white stucco building. The bodies were slotted in high cupboards, or stacked drawers, depending on how you thought about it. A painted wooden panel slid over the opening, the name and date scrawled in pen. Sometimes pencil. Like Darrel’s.

Past this, past the patio steps that opened up to that spooky place, there was a trail. A fingerling path that twisted down into the deep green jungle, into the hissing mosquitos, the jumble of giant, shiny leaves.

Somewhere in there, cocaine was being cooked. Methamphetamine. Guns, hidden and shipped. Women, hidden and shipped.

It wasn’t a secret. Everyone knew this.

But the view. It was beautiful, lush and wild, and young lovers were known to lean on the highway railing, dangle their feet over the edge. Kiss to the sound of purring cicadas.

And this would show up in his dreams, as often as his nightmares, this place, so close to death, so close to life. Mama’s breath in his ear, but we made it, mijo, Emely didn’t but we did, we made it and Arlin would wake up without a sense of language, of place, and memory rinsed over him and then vanished, so quickly, like a coin turning in the sun, flipped down on the back of hand. Some faceless child’s laughter, a lost bet, a game, sunlight, morning, morning rising up like any other, the memories and the dreams all the same.

b a l t i m o r e

baltimore // analogues 

I think of you back in Baltimore as I fly over Arizona.

Arizona is hued in red and checkered; below the plane the seams are fissures, weasley furry green. Sprouts between gridlines. I can feel its dust on my shoulders like a breath.

It could be the desert, it could be Kentucky.

We drove through the hills outside your city, falling down around us like drapes over a woman’s curved body and like a zipper sailing through the horizon we were golden, we were quiet, you didn’t say much but asked me if this is what Switzerland looked like.

I said yes, like Berg Am Irchel or the countryside around Quebec. All the cows past Baltimore were flags and they twitched and chewed and flickered as we passed. They’re all the same, wide sinless eyes like black sea pearls.

The plane plunges into white and for a moment I’m blinded to everything but my existence, the worn navy blue leather of the seats.

I forgot beyond Phoenix lies the sea, it cuts across the window like a geometric interruption, a blue triangle slowly eclipsed by my brother’s sleeping head. In the furious sunlight shadows move over his cheekbones, his eyelids slide into crescents, neither of us sleep with them closed, his adams apple a sort of coastline. I am frightened to remember that I am older.

Arizona is in the brick of Baltimore.

The city flanks itself up on elbows of peppered red, burnt clay brick and rusty metal, working men and men talking to themselves. Off the train it was raining, some homeless man counting quarters asked after you. “I like this city,” I told you later, “It reminds me of Philly,” and you said, patting your nameless dog, “I love it the way you love something you just want to take care of.”

A sock like a waving mitten is tied to your windshield where the wiper broke in some storm on the way to some party. Away away from your city the drive bristles around the car; the pines like Cape Cod, the grey sand reminding me of an LA beach.  On our way to the campsite we talk of giraffes. Your ex-girlfriend left you an almost life-size stuffed giraffe you keep in your room. “I hate it now,” you say, lying. Your shirt is either grey or green, your eyes bullets or marbles. “How does someone just dissipate?” you say, and drive and drive. “How do you just say how are you?” A calm landscape out the window like that from a plane. “Like I used to know you,” you say,  “All of you. Now you’re just, anybody.” We let your bitterness slide under us with the car’s passing shadow.

“It’s 75 degrees,” you say, “Feels like 80.”

I have a coffee. “Could have made that,” you said. You talk about how your new job is so much better than being a barista. You became an actor. “I can’t even picture you doing that,” I tell you. “Oh yeah,” you say. “I make a pretty good asshole.”

On the flight to Hawaii I think of the countless visits I’ve already paid in my head. I’ve been there many times. Every rock will be the same but different. The men, will remind me of other men. Nights spent walking, walking, walking. All the trees I have already seen, the fires that have already burned. And later they will unfurl and morph in my dreams of recollection.

At the campsite your tanned cousin adopted from Taiwan strums a guitar and sings atonally with his whole heart. He is a mere and precocious seven and fits into his pale, blue-eyed mother like a flute or a sapling from her home. The challah we eat soft and golden as morning clouds.

Curled around the lake was a highway, the fraying string of a child’s yoyo. We dipped slowly into the water like pH strips and pretended it wasn’t there, ignoring the hanging green exit signs in the distance, the stream of cars floating beyond us instead we discover a chest of aquaflorei swirling. Serpents or seaweed. The lake is still and cool as glass and it shimmers. Smooth and topois, gorgeous as sunset.

We could be anywhere. We could be anyone. We arrive back in Baltimore.

Summer is a flimsy and flaking space of time and we smiled at everyone like shy school friends and they smiled in return, watching your small buoyant cousin shout and play, the city melting around him, a wavering backdrop, he could have been our brother, he could have been our child.


the mother as a woman

excerpt from upcoming novella   woman | ize

Image from Melanie Lee. Please support her work at .  smellanie.jpeg on Instagram.  

Image from Melanie Lee. Please support her work at

smellanie.jpeg on Instagram.  


My mother greets me at the airport.


We have coffee, almost immediately.


In this city, it is served in tiny, almost miniscule porcelain cups. Espresso or cappuccino. The plates are rimmed with gold, every table has fresh flowers. There is nothing cheap, everything is seamless, simple, elegant.


She watches me over yellow roses.


“You’re gaining weight.”


I’m pregnant, I want to tell her. I don’t say this. It’s not true. But I feel like saying it anyway. I resist the temptation to go into the bathroom.


My mother’s nails are clean and manicured. Her eyes are large, a glowing green. A small, sharp face, precise and immediate. Dark glossy hair furling around the sides. Her tiny tiny body: bones and muscle. Years of running marathons, of sugarless, milkless espresso. Neutral colors; thin, elegant gold accessories. She looks at me. And then:


“Stop drinking,” she says.


“I hardly ever drink.”


I’m cheap. But I don’t say this.


“My osteoporosis is getting worse.” She says this abruptly.


I instinctively grab her hand. Goddamn her.  


“Are you drinking enough milk?”


“Tons.” She doesn’t add that it is skim.


Leaning closer, I can smell sunscreen and expensive anti-wrinkle lotion. She is silent. I love her, I hate her.


Briefly, the whole fuzzy golden restaurant comes to a standstill. The shadows and the swaying movement, the blurring clutter of the background, freezing into a delicate landscape.


The camera swings forward, all these shapes melt into one: my kitchen, my mother's kitchen, the tan walls.


A memory.


Not yellow, but warm beige walls. My mother’s favorite color, not in name but in practice: that cream brown that enfolds us in all her rooms- the living room, the bedroom, the bathroom.


She is laughing.


Mam appears like a doll in the corner of the kitchen, her eyes squinted up into bundles, her mouth richly open. Rising her round round cheekbones higher are all her white teeth, nothing huge, everything of modest but stretched proportion.


The gasps of her laughter are shrill.


Otherwise: she is in a baggy white T-shirt. Tiny. Holding a carton of half-melted ice cream.


Papa appears on the stairs, angular and long and slow. He is parallel to the thin, upright spokes of the banister. He bends over in a pressed blue shirt.


“I caught you!” I shriek, pointing a finger --rudely, I was taught never to point-- at mam: “Look! Look!” I am triumphant, delirious with joy at catching her with the toxic treat. I forget what I’m wearing, forget what time it is, forget everything.


Mama cowers against herself, center-screen. She tucks herself around the carton. Chocolate ice cream. The wooden chair she had sat in, turned toward the corner where the oven met the window, is abandoned. She acts in a reconstruction of this pointed alcove, hiding the ice cream and her secret ritual.


“I caught you!”


I don’t know what I’m doing, but I say this over and over again.


It is night, and mam is doubled over in laughter, laughing so hard she can’t breathe, her hair fluttering over her face, and her thin fingers over her mouth, struggling to keep herself in one place. But also letting herself fall, helplessly against the wall.


“Want some?”


I am grinning so hard my cheeks hurt.


“Save some for me.” Papa materializes next to his wife, scooping her into his chest. He is so much taller. She shudders with laughter against him, wiping away tears. “You monkey,” he says affectionately, kissing the top of her hair.  


This is it, and it dulls and melts into itself, a murk out of which the restaurant again regains focus, the shapes at first still and then the background music swelling into clarity, the conversations whirling around us, the figures regaining simultaneous rhythms, as though nothing has happened.


“Hey mama,” I say.


She lifts a brow. Holds the saucer in two hands.


She should have modeled. Been French. She wasn’t, but she could have been.


“Ik hou van je,” I say.


She smiles.


“I love you too.” A warm pause.


“But please,” the regal woman in front of me adds, “Don’t drink so much. Try not to have pasta. Are you joining a gym?”


I’m nodding, staring into the black wood of the table. Other memories surface, coalesce: various bathrooms, the monotonous routine of weighing myself daily. “No bread at dinner, liefje, please.” Discovering many articles of clothing from my closet thrown out. Practicing in front of a mirror with a quivering tube of lipstick. “Lentils Evie, they’re healthier protein.” Mam watching abstractly from the doorway. Rapidly changing cloths on the train. Rachel’s amused glance from the couch. “Who you dressing up for?” Scanning so many menus, already knowing what to ask for.


My mother orders in a clipped and precise way from the waiter. He nods. She studies his complexion without blinking.


I order quietly.


“Speak confidently,” my mother tells me. She puts the porcelain cup to her lips. Sofia would have been a better daughter. We sip, demure to the strangers filtering by. Watch the sun glint off the silverware against the tablecloth, the textures of the passing fabrics, skimming the brands scripted on glasses, noting perfumes.


“Thank you for coming,” she says, softly. She has been speaking English the whole time for me. Here she smiles, gentle.


“Of course.”


The waiter dips a forearm in front of me, a plate sliding off the white cloth draped over his arm. My mother thanks him, looks at me and winks.


With his other hand, the waiter moves opens his wrist and places my plate down in front of her. He nods to us both, wishes us a good meal.


She picks up a fork, the wedding ring on her finger glittering. The only breach of modesty. She catches me looking.


“I’m sorry it’s been so long.”


The green of her eyes like a wall. So clear they could be water, light. Her pointed chin. A beat. “You have your own life now,” she says quietly.


The plates of leaves, bright and shiny in front of us.


“Bon appetite,” my mother says, nodding, cheersing me with a fork crowned in arugula.


I smile, nod. Bite. Chew carefully. I notice what she is wearing. A pencil skirt. An elegant, form fitting black turtleneck. A simple chain. Her legs crossed.


Sometimes I wonder who is the mother, who is the child. She is so small. What would strangers say, looking at the two women quietly eating their salads, in fitted black shirts?


For the next week I will sit with her at tables like this, eating from painted plates. We will walk in the early, mist soaked mornings, the sun perfuming the air. It will be quiet, almost still. I feel it now, our silver knives slicing, ringing sharply over porcelain.


We will walk for days among the pink spattered country side, with tiny tiny, delicate flowers flouncing up like shards of bright ice. We will brew tea and serve it in dark blue ceramic cups, lacy gold twirled around rims. She will read and I will watch, we will sort photographs, the silence parsed out by the ticking of the old, magnificent grandfather clock. The evenings will wind down into ginger sharp salads, steaming bread for guests. 300 calories plus 80. Sparkling water, immaculately folded napkins. Wine is a whopping 120. We never drink it.


In Oslo, picking the fine from the fine in high, enormous stores. The elegant € of the euro sign, on carefully tucked, small, glossy tags. Large floor length windows overlooking cobblestone streets. Politely smiling from under our sunglasses, men who smell of good cologne.


I will try and draw it, capture the old stone and the buttered, flaking pastries in well-lit cafes. I will forget to call Robby, forget the States, forget everything. Focus on the gorgeous colored scarves, the twinkling jewelry. The warm feel of lipstick sliding over lips. Mam’s strained breathing in the mornings, precise daily exercise regimens in the other room.


In the restaurant my mother’s critical eyes rest on the river, over the many small plates of tapas and restaurant chatter, her draped shawl unsettling. Her critical glance towards the struggling kayakers in the water. She leaves some greens on the plate, the fork angled to the side like an arrow. Her own fridge is full of carrots, wasabi. Does she see the afternoon sliming down to a whisper before her, like I do?


Round, dark sunglasses, sharp heels, pointed ballet flats. 200 €, 500 €, 190 €. The shock of life insurance and how long it lasts for a woman, clicking from street to street, wood to tile to marble, an endless flow-- graceful, curt gestures. Adorned fingers.


We will weigh ourselves in the mornings in the city she has returned to. Pad across the Persian carpets in the hall inherited from her own mother. The silk Japanese scrolls that Papa bought her running down the foyers, the freshly cut roses, skillfully arranged by us before breakfast, snipped from her small garden. Twinkling in water on the table. One hardened woman’s existence in this beautiful city, unspooling like thin gold thread. An offering, stretched out to her daughter.



If I were to take you to the museum, we would walk there, you and I, down the path through the university, with the rust-colored stones all around, the sky grey overhead, a couple nearby taking a photograph. We’d walk somewhat fast, it’s hard to walk slow. The rust-colored stones rising and guiding us, unintentional labyrinth, unintentional paths but I know the right one through the stones all around, and we must walk somewhat fast. Outside the broad glass expanse in grand introduction to the small building, an Indian man is sitting on ledge with a golden retriever, cut flush diagonal. We approach. His hair is somewhat shaggy and he wears a black coat and grey turtleneck. He does not smoke a cigarette. He is just sitting. He watches us but we don’t watch him. We cross him. A glance does not inform me as to whether he wears jeans or not. We go inside.
I take you through the Japanese exhibit, the one of which my dad is so fond. Look at the urn, I tell you, look how they put it into an old wooden case within an old wooden case within an old wooden case, as if it were a precious Russian doll of porcelain. Look, I say, it has a name. The jar has a name originating from court poetry, it has a pedagogy. It is a hideous urn and large, mud colored. But the letters, in graceful, manic brushstrokes--note the flecks in the brown paint, they say, these are the flecks where the sparks hit the paint and burnt through the acrylic, to the clay; see the naked body glow through, the fineness of the kiln. They say, look at the delicate loops on which our intricate and meaningless blue knots of rope wrap, on the mouth, over the lip, around the waist. They say this tea urn Chigusa has been in my family for centuries. They say please, can I borrow Chigusa just for one night? They say take care of Chigusa, here are the instructions. They say, yes, Chigusahas safely arrived to address  – . 
You are reading this half aloud, explaining it to me, in wonder of a big Japanese pot that is actually Chinese and appropriated, ascribed significance, if it deserves any, a name, any [more than the tea]. But I am looking at the small room, four yoga-not-yoga mats fitted into a square, the hole in the middle where a fire and tea kettle would rest. Did you know that for the tea ceremony the host picks out each individual set of bowls and cutlery per guest? That I would personalize your utensils, your plate, based on your taste? That I would pick for you whatever pleased you best? Would you get it, or would you say, “Oh cool. That’s kind of a lot of effort. Isn’t that like so Japanese, to be pleasing and shit? I’m pretty sure that’s a major thing.”
The urn rests in a blue net, fitted round it, like a knapsack of silk, swung over the shoulder, over a stick. I picture somebody carrying it, carefully. All the knots wrapped round the Chinese appropriated red silk lid. We see them on display, a row of them, how large and elaborate. Would you say, ceremonial? Make a comment about aesthetics or pragmatics, like “how” (or) “why” –“would you make something like that?”
Would you understand, if I took you through the Japanese exhibit?

I say look, do you see the faint sparrow on the gold silk scroll on the wall by the exit? Behind glass? It’s faded but look at how delicate and old it is. They don’t know who painted it. He’s the same guy who did the portrait on the scroll over there, and dressed the guy in black instead of white robes? Because white means death in Japanese culture, but he didn’t want the guy to be memorialized that way? I wonder if he painted for the court only?

You are looking at the modest white, glossy urn in the center of the last room. “White, like bones. That makes sense,” you would say, looking at the urn. It is shiny, without flecks, it is the appropriated Greek ceramic method, it is painted rather than monochrome, it is made later, there are no accidental burn marks, there are black birds swooping over an ocean. It’s beautiful, you say. The ravens are so angry, I say, they’re attacking each other, they’ve got red eyes. It was commissioned by a warrior. Oh wow, you say, I didn’t see that.

I take you to the paintings.

The satiric ones, because some of them are funny, I’ll think that you’ll like them.

One is mocking a Famous French painting depicting a picnic. Except here it is cartoonized, and the picnickers are all one smiling Asian man in different outfits. It is hanging in the main foyer. “Ha ha,” you are saying, “That’s pretty funny. Look when it’s made. Fuckin’ communism.” But I say, look, do you see the curve of his smile, how perfectly it mirrors the curve of his head? How it looks like an apple, like the apples on the trees in the background? Look at the colors, do you see how undiluted they are, how the shadows are cut, how there are no gradients or tones? Look, do you see how the curve of his left elbow mirrors the curve of his right shoulder like that? Do you see how they all carefully fit the frame, each rounded body and splitting red smile, like they all evenly fit into a puzzle, with measured negative space between them? See how big this painting is? Do you see the geometry? Do you see the lines? How they all point in?

Across from this is a black canvas with cracks, 3D cracks that pop off like tar, a multitude of jutting shapes. We stand back to take it in. “It’s a city,” you say, “a black and dismal city.” Birds-eye view. I say, “Is it?” and I look at it for a while. I get up closer, so close to the canvas that is large enough to dwarf the other, see the cracks inside the cracks? The sweeps of streets, from where you are, or that of canyons, but what if it was an echo? An echo steadily losing traction?

You’re asking about the titles. I say, don’t look at the titles. You say, why not, what’s the point then? Because a title means everything about the painting and nothing about the painting. It changes the context, I try to explain, I try to explain about judging books by covers, I try to explain the titles to contemporary poetry, how sometimes you don’t get them, how it’s more relevant to the author than to you, how it might be a reference that you might understand but not its connection, and how that shouldn’t be relevant sometimes, how it’s more important to feel something than to understand it and how that’s just as valuable and you ask about the untitled ones, and I say, they get it. Those artists are unselfish, they allow you free interpretation. But I don’t actually say this. I say, forget about the untitled ones.

I take you to the strange paintings.

“Your favorite,” you joke or ask, smiling. But I am self-conscious, about taking you to the modern art and surrealism.
In the tall and narrow white room, the small sets of obscure images, there is the twisted flag. Unfurling like a woman over a desolate, barren landscape with littered vaguely with sharp objects. The Witches, in peeling tones of skin, petaling outward and disfigured, centered over a smudged forest, so tiny the frame is like a hand mirror—the orange foxes drenched in mud, leaping over the wispy blue elves, all of them swimming—if you step back, that looks like fire. Step closer, look at their expressions, they’re wearing hats but are naked, I think they’re laughing—and the canvas that has a bloody sun filling an actual tire wheel, an immense black sky and white plaster in which a hammer, a stethoscope and a pen is pressed in as though floating or swimming in the canvas and it is titled Feminism, or something like that—and the canvas that is raw scratches and drops and called The City, and would you say, “Which city?” or more knowingly, “All cities” and would I ask, “Maybe that’s what it brought out in him,” or, try to lighten it, to casualize it, say, “Maybe he’s in a mood. Maybe that’s how he paints.” Anything. Because I can’t stop thinking about the painters, beyond their paints. Because artists decide the titles, not the interpretation. Would you get that?
And if I were to take you to one of my favorite pieces, the blasphemously modern canvas of navy blue, perpendicular to the wall as though it were its own wall, or wing. Would you get it? Even when I try to explain, He’s trying to make you look at the color blue. To really look at it and value it. He’s trying to capture its essence, a perfectly even sample which is actually very difficult to paint, appreciate the rawness of color, he wanted to capture the purity of its glow, which is actually very difficult to paint and look, step closer, you see how actually it’s very subtly divided into five squares of differing hues? You see how when you step back your mind blurs them? You see how one blue is so many blues? Would you get it then? Modern art?
Or would you just smile/nod and say, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.” Would you keep walking, like everyone else, past and beyond it, the color blue? Just blue?
We walk through the Congo exhibit.
In it there are small and large wooden figurines with nails stuck through them like porcupine quills, they have large flat faces and wide eyes and jarring paint, they’re called nkisi and Power Sculptures and are used for voodoo to summon spirits. You read about how during the colonial period the chiefs appropriated the Belgian military uniform hats and jackets and stuck feathers in them, associating the clothing with power, “so fucked up,” you’ll say, and I’ll want to say, “is it?” and make a comment about Japanese appropriating Chinese pots, or the next object over, a New Orleans adaptation of Congese ritual: the Conga dance that spread across the United States, but I won’t say anything, and then you start talking about corruption but I tune you out, I am tuning you out, and you say, I want to save the world-- no you don’t say that, you say, I want to work for the UN and you are talking about American corruption and I am thinking about Colombia and I want to say, did I tell you about how my uncle Jime does business in Colombia? Would you get it, if I did, if I didn’t talk about Congo but of Colombia?
How we sat down in my grandmother’s dim parlor and Tio Jime asked what I was studying and then he asked, Where’s the money in that? And then I told him where I would work and he asked, Where’s the money in that? And I tried to reason it out, find a way to maximize that career and he asked, Where’s the money in that? Did I tell you how my grinning and ruggedly handsome Uncle Jime traded a farm for an apartment? That you can trade, like that, without papers, with a handshake? That he saw opportunity in every hormigero, a place so full and bustling it is analogous to a place swarming with ants, an ant-swarm, hormigeros like marketplaces and problems and vivacious children’s heads  –how people drove mopeds because they were cheaper than cars and villagers worked hard to get themselves out and registered in the city so my uncle gave the village police a sum so that he could set up a moped registration in a town, and then another in a different town? That not just the cops can look the other way for the right price but the mothers of the murdered to keep quiet, on the promise of protection and one less death of the next daughter down? Have you ever been to a place like that, seen the details and the people in the Big Picture, that everyone in my mother’s village knows the drug lords and the druggies by name, that they invite them to dinner, that my mother was the daughter of the wealthiest farmer in town but Peace Corps Americans came to her esteemed private school handing out milk and they didn’t know, that she was the daughter of the wealthiest farmer in town and that this was an esteemed private school, have you been to a place where someone like my uncle Jime made a deal with a mafia member for a plot of coffee beans, how the markets dropped a week later and he was almost murdered? That he took a big abandoned shack and put in a few walls and called it a storage garage for mopeds? With one lock and one key and a helluva lot of trust? Did I tell you that in Colombia the cemeteries are thin plaster tombs that look like cubby holes where the bodies are shoved in, a slab of wood over them, that some just have a last name and a date in scribbled in charcoal and you can see the ants crawling in and out of the cracks, that it looms like a towering bookshelf stacked with corpses and is painted yellow, is guarded by a smiling Jesus and is in fact next to my uncle’s storage building?
A few black women elegantly dressed with a lilting Southern accent tap at the glass and one says in a hushed voice, “You know, I have a theory on that,” to her companion, gesturing to the bright feather Belgian military cloaks with her long orange nails, and they walk by us quietly, and I want to know her theory but I don’t follow her, but you are listening to the music, the Congen music, saying something about blues or jazz that has been said before. So I look at the people in the video, how young they are, how they are mostly elongated children, and I want to know the date of the video, and I want to know if they knew they were being filmed or were smiling superficially, in the Congo, I want to know if they were having dinner afterwards, but you are talking about blues or jazz or something that has been said before and for no reason I want to scream, I’m going to do it, I’m going to scream, I don’t scream, and we keep walking.

If I take you to the Congo exhibit, would you understand?

A stout woman in a uniform with a long braid and round glasses informs us with her hands behind her back that the museum is closing, so you and I walk out, and you are talking about art and culture and Big Picture and I am thinking about the woman and her bright orange nails, wondering if it was her daughter she was addressing, and outside there are two Indian men on the ledge with a golden retriever.
They are arguing. One is American. One is Not. They are lovers. They do not pay attention to us. The Not says in a clipped, slightly British accent with much agitation, “But there, there is heart all over the street. There is heart smeared on the windows and on the doorknobs, on eyes.”
“You’re wrong,” his lover corrects him gently, “You mean hearts.”
“No!” He responds angrily/with annoyance. “I don’t mean hearts! I mean heart! Not plural, one. Heart all over the street, one heart, everybody. That’s the problem with this language. It is not hearts,” he enunciates, Is Not, in two separate words,
“It is not you and I or you versus I,
It is us,
It is our problem,
that we need to fix.”

You and I have slowed down.
You and I are listening.
In the winter there are no ants on the stones all around.
You and I keep walking.
Our heads are full to bursting but along the rust-colored stones through the university labyrinth we do not open our mouths.

at the bridal shower

The breeze at the bridal shower was nice.

“I live fine,” Ruby was saying. She had taken off her large sunglasses; they were sitting next to her empty tin cup of wine.

“I learn a lot, living on my own. I play jazz, I cook. You know, I never learned to cook, but now, I really, really like it, I play my jazz loud, sometimes I have some pot, a little pot, I say, what the hell, so I have a little pot,” she shrugs, waving her hand carelessly, leaning back from out of the white umbrella, “and my wine and I just have the whole house to myself and sometimes you know, the room is like it feels full of people, and the music is so loud and I say, oh my god I’m drunk, I need to go to bed!” The mother of the bride laughs; her eyes are large and liquid, they slope sleepily under her eyelids. Her eyelashes are laced in mascara, they are as sharp as butterfly tongues.

“I learn a lot on my own,” she says, nodding. You see her collarbones beneath the loose blouse. They are as sharp as her cheekbones; she has a face like a diamond, heart-shaped and pointed, splintering at her large, liquid eyes and shaped by the careful black bob. “I don’t like it what they say,” her Colombian accent glossing over the heavy words, “Ruby, oh Ruby is so lonely on her own. I learn a lot on my own. I learned how to cook, I never knew how to cook. At my house we always had empleadas, I never cooked, and I was never home! I left, I was out in the street, oh, I was…I liked it! I liked to be out in the street, I left home very early, I said, what the hell! I was, okay, I was a little bad girl. I didn’t like to work, and I liked to dance, I still like to dance! And I was never with my mom, my sister was with my mom. My sister was always with my mom; when I went to school I didn’t live at home, but Martica lived at home ohh…she lived at home very long time. She was always with my mom, so she cooks. And I see her and I think, wow, she is just like my mom, so like my mom, always in the garden, always with her finger, saying, “Listen!” just like my mom.” It is dusky now and the light has turned to a low simmer, golden.  A little chilly and around the table the other women trace the bottom of their tin cups.

“Let me get you some more, honey,” Ruby says, to the youngest one.

“No it’s okay tia,” she tells her, “I can get it. Where is it, in the kitchen?”

“By the fruit,” Ruby says, nodding.

The young woman gets up a little awkwardly from the heavy wooden deck chair and leaves.

Across the deck at a round table without an umbrella a man and a woman sit, a little older, with dusky paper skin, squinting and quiet. The women looks queenly; the man is smaller, rounder, something about him feels weak, even though he has a long curly red beard and his eyes, black and small, look bright. If you did not know he had been heavily into drugs for most of his violent life, you would take his small frame in his white uniform and tall hat for what he was, the chef and the daughter’s father.

The woman next to him has loose black hair and smiles very gently. She does not take her hand off of his.

“Here, do you want some too?” The young woman returns with the bottle, uncorked, liberally but carefully pouring it into the ladies’ glasses.

“Gracias miamor,” Ruby says, smiling. She is beautiful against the sun, and closes her eyes briefly.

“You know I am so happy for Paulina,” Ruby says suddenly, abruptly. “I mean sometimes it’s such a drag, none of my friends can go out anymore, or they want to go out with couples. Ugh, que peresa. And I say why the hell would I do that? No, now I have my places I can go out on my own, or I can go with Marga,” She nods to the permed red-head with thin eyes and thin lips, both outlined in smooth black charcoal, a sort of gypsy who is too drunk not to smile. “She is so happy,” Ruby continues. Behind her, her daughter Sara waves, grins, modelesque and tall in her heels, brown hair curled prettily- leaps giddily over to her father the table over, her heels making a light clicking. “And Chris is such a good guy. I love Chris,” Ruby declares, “And you know, so what, so what if they marry? Let them marry! They live together already, you know? And they are happy, so let them be happy! Let them marry, and then you know, eight years later so what if they say, my god, this is marriage?” She rolls her eyes but then laughs. “Ah…it’s okay, they’re happy, so what.”

“You don’t know that,” the young woman says gently. She makes eyes at the blond Russian woman, who herself has beautiful little blue eyes set against the pale warm folds of her face. She is dressed modestly and wears no marriage band; she has been nodding at Ruby this whole time with kindness. Every so often the Russian woman and Ruby get lunch together. “You never know what could happen,” the young woman follows quietly.

“That’s true,” Ruby nods, drowsily, thoughtfully, “That’s very true.”

After the guests leave Paulina sits down on the bench overlooking the pond and the patio, between her mother and her aunt. Her mother has now put on a purple hoodie, tucked her hair into headband, and changed into polka-dot boxers; her aunt remains in her white blouse and white pants. Paulina looks like a mermaid in her sweeping mint dress that she has clutched to her breast all evening, being a size too short to fit into her sister’s taller, gazelle frame.

“I love you,” she tells her mother, drunk. Kisses her.

Paulina’s hair is long and black and falls down her naked back. You can see a tattoo along the rim of the gown, just as it tucks into her torso. It reads I carry your heart, I carry it in my heart and refers to her sister, who has since left with the other bridesmaids.

She leans back against the two women. “I’m so fucking happy,” she says grinning. “You know what ma, Daddy did good. The food was fucking awesome.” Her tiny aunt Marta furrows her brows then quickly releases them, says nothing. “You’re amazing, tia,” Paulina turns now to the petite, put-together woman with sharp green eyes, “Your house is beautiful. And my girls…holy shit, my girls,” she laughs, falls back. Her mother smiles at her, then resumes closing her eyes. “I’m sorry tia Marta,” Paulina remembers to apologize carelessly, then continues, “I can’t believe how fucking happy I am. You know I didn’t even like Chris at first? I was like, ew, get him away. I was so fucking mean. I played with him. But then he took me to Atlantic city, you remember that ma? I wasn’t sure if I should go, and she was like, “Heijita, just go, all those perros you’re always with, just go—you remember that ma? She didn’t even give a shit, I was dating this Dominican then who she fucking hated…and so I was like, ok I’ll go, and it was kind of awkward at first, but then, tia Marta, the second night…I just told him, listen this is how it is. I just told him, straight up, this is how I am you know, and if you don’t like it, well then fuck yourself, I’m sorry, but fuck yourself, and he just…we just laughed, I fell in love with him in Atlantic city, I’ll never forget it, I tell him all the time, I fell in love with you in Atlantic city. I came back ma, you remember, and I said, I’m in love, I’m in love. And now we’re going to get married. And he’s my best friend. Chris and I, we can be totally ourselves and we totally get it and we have our own, our own little bubble” she crooks her elbow, makes a circling gesture with her index finger around it, “and like, everyone can come here, like right on the edge of the bubble, and some can even come in, I want them to come in, but like Chris and I are here, and this is our bubble, and this is our fucking space, and if you don’t like it, you can leave. We know everything, together, and just like, instantly. And you know what, Chris loves me so good. He loves me so good. I never was with a guy like that. Chris is my best fucking friend, and I tell him, and I know, he loves me, so, so good.”

Against the final burning orange that slips in the background behind the three women, Martha shifts, touching her niece lightly. Ruby looks as though she is sleeping, and Paulina stares out, her cup empty. “I’m going to have one more cup, and then I’m gonna go,” she says. “No, more wine?” Martha says, appalled, glancing briefly at her sister. Who promptly looks up and addresses her daughter, “No, are you sure?”

“I’m going to stay maybe like half an hour, and then I’ll go.”

“Are you sure? You’re going to be ok?”

“Yeah, yeah ma I’ll be fine. I know the way.”

Paulina exits, lifting her loose mint gown and holding it against her chest, Cinderella over the steps, into the house. The two sisters sit quietly for a moment, looking at the pond. A face appears in the doorway to the house. It is the young woman who consoled her aunt earlier, and now she called, “Ma, do you want me to start on the dishes?” Martha waves her hand. “It’s okay hijita, we’ll do it later.” The girl nods and disappears back inside, where she finds her cousin and kisses her, seeing her drunk and happy and beautiful, carelessly on the mouth. “You look gorgeous,” she tells her. “I love you,” Paulina says, smiling, hugging her to her chest.

She leaves shortly after. Ruby makes her young niece promise to visit her often in New York and bades them all a good night, and Martha calls her husband, telling him to come home. 


He sits with me on top of the building. He looks up at the sky and its sifting clouds with fascination and does not move.

There is a statue of a woman, faceless, armless, legless. 

She is leaning, sliding, curved, curling and her two breasts seem detached, two blobs dribbling off her chest, as if added as an afterthought. I think she is melting. 

“I hate that thinking takes away from me doing other things,” he says, to no one in particular and himself. 

I crack open him an orange and offer it as an answer.

There is a statue in the shape of a wheezing arrow on stilts. It is a black chunk that shines purple in the dusk light. I am tempted to sit on it, or pierce my finger on it, or something. 

He nods and laughs. He runs a hand over his hair. Buzz cut. 

I know what it feels like, but I do not touch it. I observe his face instead. It is long and thin, two coppery slits for eyes and a permanent, enigmatic smile. Thin lips.     “You’ve got good features,” I tell him. “High cheek bones.” He smiles, a film over his eyes. He does not understand. 

“What does that even mean?”

“Just really chiseled. It’s a good thing.”

He rubs the tops of his cheekbones. Thoughtfully. I notice his hands.

“Nice hands.”

“Too?” he questions, adds.

I nod. 

“What does that even mean?”

I take a hand that is not offered to me and tap it gently, turn it over, trace the contour of the fingers. I begin to explain. “They’re long and thin, artist’s fingers.” He blinks. “Musician’s fingers.” He smiles. His fingers are tan and lightly used. “You don’t have any calluses,” I point out, “and you cut your nails, and they’re a nice shape, square and round.” I think of the little stubs I see on chewn hands. Clumsy bear paws, thick, knobbed hairy worker’s hands. I think of the sleek white hands of a child and the bluish marbled paper of a grandmothers’.

He flips his hand back and forth in front of his face. His fingers are tan and lightly used. He has good hands. 

“You should do your work,” I tell him. 

He does not bother wrinkling his nose. 

It drizzles. It stops. It drizzles again.

He gets up and walks to the banister, leans out. 

The ebb and flow of people drift below him on the street and he watches, entranced, as they parade across his view.

I open a book and begin to read.

We are both barefoot.

The sun comes out and he sits above me on a concrete slab, still looking out, still thinking. I tell him this is a good thing. 

I eat another orange.  

“I could have gone to India,” he announces.

“Oh yeah? What would you do there?”

A shrug. Brief eye contact, then he turns his attention back to the sky. 


“You could do that here.”

“Yeah. I could. That’s why I didn’t go. I like the people here, they make me think.”

It occurs to me I seldom talk to him when not intoxicated. 

“There’s just so many distractions.”

A shrug. Brief eye contact, then I turn my attention back to the sky. 

“There’s distractions in India too. Good food, pretty girls.”

I get a smile. It’s followed with steady unsteady eye contact.

“My body is a distraction,” he agrees. Folds his arms and settles back. “It annoys me.”

I study him.

“You should talk more.”

He nods. “I like talking. No one wants to hear what I say though.”

“You don’t know that. Talk anyway.”

“I think strange things. I think too much.”

I give him a raised eyebrow.  

“Better than thinking too little.”

He smiles slowly, until he’s grinning. His teeth are straight and he meets my gaze. 

“I agree.” 

Someone has appeared on the stairs. She has dark blond hair and glasses and passes us. I realize I know her and wave, but she does not see me or chooses not to and does not respond.

“Who were you talking about Saturday night?’

I stretch my legs and rub them idly. I turn over potential answers my head. 

“An ex-boyfriend. I was cursing him off, probably. Don’t get me drunk.”

He nods, satisfied. Satisfied. Satisfied. 

“I figured as much.”

I yawn and let myself close my eyes for a second.  

“You were pretty miserable,” he adds, lamely.

“Thanks for helping me.”

“Didn’t really do a good job.”

“You did what you could.”

I half expect him to pull out a cigarette and offer me a drag. He doesn’t. I’ve told him this story before. He is thinking. I am letting him think. I flip a page in my book. 

“You fascinate me,” he tells me.

“I’ve never been told that before. That’s very flattering and very amusing.” 

He digests. 

“Thanks,” he says, after a pause. “I’m not sure that’s what I was going for. I guess I go for that with most things I say. Not flattery all the time though.”

A door opens. The girl has appeared again. This time she walks slowly, and towards us. She is smiling. We are smiling. 

“Hey guys. I haven’t seen you in so long.”

“What’s up, girl,” I ask her without asking. “How’ve you been?” 

“Good,” she says automatically. Flips her gaze up and down from our bare feet to the sprawl of our bodies against the cement. Rests it on him. “Seriously, I don’t see you. You need to hang out more.”

I respond for him. I nod. 

“I was just telling him he needs to talk more.”

He shakes his head. “Yeah, you keep saying that. I really don’t know if people would like what I have to say.”

“You should preach,” I suggest, “like at a podium.”

The girl nods. “On a box.” 

“I don’t have a box.”

“I’ll get you a box.”

“What if I run out of things to say?”

“You could make a list. Like a sign-up sheet. Just talk.”

“I’ll do it.”

“You should.”

“Dude, when can I see you?” she asks. Me. 

“Soon,” I tell her. I also tell her to visit. I know she won’t. She leaves.

The sun is a funny color and it makes things funny colors. The black shapes called statues have faded from purple to orange figures that scrape the sunset. The headless woman basks in it. The arrow sears through it. Another one depicts murder, a head throttled by a hand. It just stands in the sunset, like me. Juts against the background. The other ones are shadows that frame the milky sky blood. 

“I don’t know what to do,” he finally confesses.

I briefly wonder about the missing prelude to this sentence. 

“Do your physics work.”

“I don’t really have to do it. I don’t understand it.”

“Ask for help. People like that.”

An irritated shake of head. “I don’t.”

“You’ll get fired.”

“I won’t fired.” A pause. “I’ll get called into my boss’ office.”

I laugh. “Come on. Be ambitious. You’re smart. You’re good at physics.”

“You don’t know that. You haven’t seen me do physics.”

“No, but you’re really logical. You must be good at it.”

He considers. 

He gets up and walks around.

I flip a page in my book. 

He leaves. The drizzling has stopped.

I finish my orange. I stack the peels in a lopsided pile; one, two, three, four. It’s a little pyramid sprinkled with seeds. I gather the other peels. I stack the peels in a lopsided pile; one, two, three, four. It stands across the other pyramid and fixes its comrade with an accusing gaze. They topple without my say so.

I begin to read.

A squirrel chatters somewhere. 

A door opens, he is back and I greet him.

He gives me a hug without explanation.

I return the favor and press thanks into his shoulder.

“I think I needed it too,” he says.

Then he leaves again. 

I continue to read.  


alex in the pink hotel

Two rust-colored thumb prints like a butterfly. There, on the bottom of my jeans, the seam running innocently through. Soiled.


The wallpaper in front of me is peeling. A geometric design.


I wrap my fingers around the toilet paper mechanically, gingerly pull out the tampon. I get blood on my thumb, under my wedding ring. I dab at it.


In front of the bathroom mirrors two girls are laughing. I watch their trim brown ankles.


“Seriously, fuck him. Like I many better guys, you know? We know so many better guys. He’s just like not worth it.”


I let go of the tampon. It sounds. The person next to me probably thinks I’m shitting.


The two girls talk in loud voices.  


“I know. I know. It’s so…” There’s a pause.


I lean on the toilet, close my eyes.


“I know.” Abruptly. She might be apologizing.


Their ankles are still under the bathroom door and there is the sound of water running. One hand may have been let down over a shoulder, a fading, “...ancient history.” The door closes. A practical sound.


I miss them, their trim brown ankles. Their long hair. It must have been long.


I remember my hot fingers, the golden band. I want to flush it down the toilet. I visualize it in my head, the red water, the faint blink of gold, a dwindling sound.


There isn’t another tampon. Mechanically I roll wads of toilet paper, pad my underwear, rouse myself, unhitch the latch of the stall.


The mirror.


I don’t feel like washing my hands because I want the faucet to know how cheapened I am. Blood on my hands is regular. A woman walks in.


She is smiling benevolently, there is a young boy trailing behind her.


Kid still young enough to attend the woman’s bathroom. I could be a mother too, I want to tell her. I smile and I don’t tell her and she doesn’t ask, the murmured coos passing between the pink stalls.


What domesticity looks like: a child on a toilet, frank and innocent questions. I think of the divorce papers in the glove compartment. If I drive off a cliff they will burn without ever having existing, without ever having existed.


Outside the Oklahoma moon hangs low and full in its palpable ache.


Some teenagers loiter behind the diner, smoking cigarettes. The staff on break hunches, protecting themselves from the twang of young voices.  


I should start walking. So I do.


It occurs to me that I could break an arm if I wanted to. Two hands, gripping the elbow and the wrist, pulling down in a hard, quick motion: snap a forearm. I could walk up to every single one of those teenage boys and slap their face down a line.  


The destitute groups eye me and say nothing.


I think of the abortion I had when I was sixteen. Eric’s frantic, pale hands. Running over me, through his hair, jittery, panicked. Nothing was foreign, even after, just a slow peel of something sticky coming off itself.


I turn a corner, sit on the sidewalk ledge. The parking lot feels as large as an ocean, filling with moonlight.


When we drove through Missouri we stopped to walk through the wheat. A quick road trip, we decided, stoned and tired and aching for one another. All through the state in one night.


The empty road and the quiet, vast landscape in the dark. My dollar flip flops on the floor, my feet crossed over the dash. The window cranked down halfway. So that we could smell the air.


Lapping in, warm and fresh at once. Smelling of things that grow slowly, in solitude. Stepping outside the car, dangling a foot in the air, placing it down.


The pavement was warm.


Shut the dirty gold door, walk towards the fields in a trance. The corn was fresh but too tall to be welcoming, so we turned to the opposite side of the road, where the straw grew to your waist.


Our fingers against the silken plant heads. We moved in different directions, aimless. The night was sleek and cool. Bare shouldered in the summer.


Through the breeze, the warm scent of wheat.


When I was sixteen I named her Dolly.


Dolly was a waitress at the diner we went to. Of course she was a waitress in a diner. Eric made eyes at the tag. DOLLY pinned to her shirt, under the ends of her fried, curling hair. Dolly. Archaic, iconic. Ironic.


In the clinic Eric didn’t know whether he should look at me or not and I didn’t either. When I ate at the diner by myself after school I baptized the baby silently, after the waitress burnt my coffee.


Her hair would have been long.


Must’ve been a girl, to replace my mother. Who never burned coffee. Whenever I burned coffee I thought of Dolly, and in the moments like them. Sometimes I said it out loud, “Dolly.” Dol-lee. Doile. Like a grandmother’s garish, laced up house.


In the blank moonlight of the parking lot I wrap my arms around my legs.


Before you and I went to Missouri we used to dream of Chicago. At our tiny kitchen table, our tiny square bed, dream of Chicago. That rare and precious gem of the Midwest. Glamorous, studded streets, nameless music.


I studied androgynous fashion.


“I’m obsessed by it,” I would say into the damp, small office. The skeletal wooden desk. Nights spent sifting through stark photographs. Black and white, harsh lighting. I would look at the thin bodies, elegant designs. Ageless. Full of grace, power. There was something fascinating there, in the anonymity. Eyes of perfect coolness.


One nonchalant caption: “unable to encompass both the masculine and the feminine, this design embraces neither.” There was an unbearable exquisiteness to these creatures. I drew line after line. They looked like children.   


The Thanksgiving before I left John I waited outside the Nebraska gasoline station and watched a man watch Fox news. Nebraska was telephone lines, string lights, the scent of age.


I braced myself for John’s return; a pack of gum only, the melody he’d be humming. How full of surprise his blue eyes were. How sharp, in mellow, aging Nebraska.


The dingy gasoline station reminded me so much of home yet not at all. All the great states stretching on forever, cut up by roads.


As I watched the man finish paying for something I hadn’t seen, talk to the cashier boy in the oversized cap, I remembered my mother. She sliced tomatoes and told me not to be a waitress.


For some reason this memory meant I couldn’t visit John’s family. He paid, turned to face me.


I dreamed so much of New Mexico after that. Every shift at the diner once Mom left: dunes and beaches and spicy Mexican food. Every shift just as school let out, then during entire school days, every shift at the diner two streets from where Raquel worked at the dry cleaners, before she disappeared.


Two girls are walking across the parking lot towards me.


No. Diagonally by, to a different car.


I am grateful.


I want the girls to be lovers. I want them to hold hands, be progressive, something, stay the night at each other’s house and forget what time they fell asleep on some blue couch. They have their hands in their pockets.


Jeans, not shorts. They couldn’t have been the girls in the bathroom.


I notice my shoes are breaking at the sides. I suddenly am unbearably old.


I need a fucking tampon. And then I don’t. I want the kids to see my blood soaked ass. Would that be brave ? A puddle, after I rise.


The pregnant, swelling moon. Dolly hangs between me and my car like a jump rope, a limp memory. I don’t cry. Crying is reserved only for Raquel.


“Close that shit,” you used to say, later, when we realized we couldn’t afford to move. The friends I closed behind me like pages in magazines. I used to steal them from the dentist’s office.


I haven’t gone to the dentist since I was a child. For my hygiene I watch what a college-educated man once called a reputable news station.


Only sometimes, to talk to people from out of town when they order. Like you.


My wedding ring. Tight. I should throw it across the parking lot. Into the gutter next to me. Or take it off, look at it. I don’t.


The Oklahoma moon lets me come undone. I drive home, consider checking myself into the pink hotel where I found you with Alex. Youthful, fresh boned Alex. Or maybe the same age as me.


I don’t drive there. I probably never will.

at the culinary & home decor store

The store is shaped like a child’s scribbled heart. Veiny, pointed at the tip, two wings at the top. It is crowded and small and on a corner and we inch along the wall past the whisks to the welcome mats, a lady is standing there, excuse me, oh! It is Janet.

We rush to each other, her head fits under mine, her eyes fill half her face deep brown, her hair is light and curled, it is blond shot with grey, I become frightened, I embrace her again, she has a healthy glow.

We start talking. Her fingers are gloved. Her eyes fill half her face, her makeup is impeccable, she once lived in France, her hair is blond shot with grey, her daughter is there now, in France, designing lingerie, finally, after graduating, she asks, what are you doing, after graduating, and around us the store goes milling with Princeton’s white upper class.

We continue talking and her eyes fill half her face and her face is very small, very pointed, heart-shaped, smooth, she is nodding and speaks softly with many nods and high-pitched coos signaling agreement, in fact she does not speak very much, in fact out of her mouth ballooning out fall light bulbs, they are bright and round and glass and they fall to the ground.

Janet, I try and signal to her, you are spitting out light bulbs, they are falling to the ground. They are bright and round and glass and they shatter and they bloom out of her mouth, it is unstoppable, I cannot stop it, it is magnificent, I watch them pour out in a slow motion parade, I feel sorry for her and my eyes fill half my face trying to signal her. Her gloves do not rest on her lips. In fact I do not know where she put her hands. She is resting on top of black. It is the coat she is wearing. It makes her face have a healthy glow, she is beautiful, her daughter is beautiful, she is designing lace undergarments in France, Janet does not speak very much, her lips are thin and a light rose pink, they are perfect and well-kept, she opens them, light bulbs fall, shatter all over the floor. Janet, I am telling her, Janet lightbulbs are falling out your mouth, please, Janet, they are all over the floor, at first they are beautiful, but they are glass, through the curved translucent orb you can see distantly the hot metal coil, there is something antique about them, something quaint and pristine, and they break; Janet, please, and the lightbulbs keep coming, I can feel her dwindling, puddling, exhausted from emitting so many bulbs, it is like labor, mountains around her over her, she has such a pretty face, a heart-shaped face, a quiet mother whose husband lost his job whose daughter went abroad who wants to design clothing in Africa who is going to Mexico with her family who has her own business whose son does track and wants to be an engineer, there are the light bulbs, bulbous, filling her tiny delicate mouth, they are falling, around us, over the floor, I try to signal her, I fall into her eyes, I am embracing her, I am telling her goodbye, she closes herself, withdraws into her black coat, she is very small, she could’ve been French, never mind the glass on the floor, never mind.

anna makes a mocumentary

for Claudia Rankine


do not assume the ethnicity of these characters do not assume the sexuality of these characters do not assume the age of these characters do not assume the mental physical emotional capacity of these characters if I give you a description you summon an image this is how that works is that how this works if I specify a gender, accept it. give yourself room for ---- . relinquish what you have reserved. Do not hold reservations.


There is a woman she is walking

she is walking down a street the street is crooked by crooked I mean dirty, by dirty I mean not maintained by not maintained I mean neglected.


down the street there is a group of people

they may not be young but they are certainly not old

[what is the threshold limitation standard of these points, what is the range]

their age is arbitrary

ought to be arbitrary

the woman keeps walking

she also does not know their age they may not be old but they are certainly not young

What is the implication there is no implication.


Is the above paragraph subjective? It is at least not omniscient.

(see: omissive; in film: restricted narration. see: lie by omission. see: truth. is that subjective or)


do they stop the woman?

Why did you think that?

does the woman stop them?

A story must have action. Non-action is a flat line (heart monitors).

I believe there is a saying that goes ‘strength in numbers’ is this opposite ‘minority’ is this relevant here to this story: They stare at the woman.


The woman almost stops the woman. She thinks it too. By stops I mean involuntarily. By almost I mean does not, I mean checks herself, I mean carries on. Does she hurry? I don’t know. What’s hurry look like? Is she a fast walker? Does she have children? Are these things relevant or related?*


*Footnote A: It’s so much easier to zoom in than zoom out. I can’t see everyone at once. I have a focus and my eyes fade into periphery it must have something to do with their shape, a high ceiling sinks at the edges to two points, opposite but not opposed. Mouths, too, are shaped like this.


They: a coalition of individuals. Some of whom are hooded. What is the implication?

There is no implication. They are hooded.


hood: hood1



noun: hood; plural noun: hoods

  1. a covering for the head and neck with an opening for the face, typically forming part of a coat or sweatshirt.


head covering, cowl, snood, headscarf, amice

"they wore sunglasses and hoods to disguise themselves"

    • a separate garment similar to a hood, worn over a college gown or a surplice to indicate the wearer's degree.

  • a thing resembling a hood in shape or use, in particular.


    • a metal part covering the engine of an automobile.

    • a canopy to protect users of machinery or to remove fumes from it.

    • a hoodlike structure or marking on the head or neck of an animal.

    • the upper part of the flower of a plant such as a dead-nettle.


    • a folding waterproof cover of an automobile, baby carriage, etc.


verb: hood; 3rd person present: hoods; past tense: hooded; past participle: hooded; gerund or present participle: hooding

  1. put a hood on or over.


What is the slang definition for hood?

Ask somebody else. I do not know.

Let’s finish the story.

Stories are built like this:






    -falling action


    -then there is the setting and the style but these are more or less the same

    -then there is the tone and the mood and these are never the same. They are consequential and of consequence and perfume the air.


Pop quiz: Who are the characters in this story? Who is the protagonist?

Bonus: why?


If I say ‘they’ multiple coalesces into singular; they are standing alone and together and therefore apart does this make them a category and therefore exempt from protagonist because that is a singular, a single individual independent--


Independent: not dependent

[i/d variable: subject to change]


If I say there is a woman walking down the street why do I not say there is an Asian woman walking down the street?Why must I say there is an Asian woman walking down the street? If I do not say there is an Asian woman walking down the street does that mean that it isn’t an Asian woman walking down the street, what kind of woman is she if I do not say Asian? Will you think she is an Asian woman if I do not say Asian what kind of woman do you imagine when I say a woman walking down the street and what is she wearing? And what is she wearing if she is/is not an Asian woman walking down the street, is this relevant/related--


-yes, stories do look a certain way they look like this:


-a great big bump like a jolt or the result of a hit to the head not bump-y like heart lines or roads it is incontinuous it looks a very specific way of course this is not always the case but it is a standard [to be upheld? to be maintained? for the purposes of the principles of bumpy, like a bumpy road, like a twisting road, with many turns, like a forked road there are so many fucking cliches].


Other bullshit:

-Antagonist: a person who actively opposes or is hostile to a character; an adversary.


  1. adversary, opponent, enemy, foe, rival, competitor;

  2. BIOCHEMISTRY: a substance that interferes with or inhibits the physiological action of another



a character who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight particular qualities of the other character.*         

Not bullshit:

-Themes: a main idea or an underlying meaning of a literary work that may be stated directly or indirectly

-Motifs: an object or idea that repeats itself throughout


Are these relevant or related?


A boy/man [strip him down of age but not connotation: male] has a cigarette, maybe, it’s in his teeth and points out like a tongue or a finger or an arrow or a gun or actually it is a toothpick and not a tightly wrapped spliff or no, is it a toothpick, what is in his mouth well, it does not open at least not on command it drops a second later and what drops out blurs into the sidewalk, but you don’t really follow that because his teeth are so white and what drops out of his mouth is pure silence in fact the mouth dropping itself does not make a sound actually, side note, do you know that this male has a limp no you do not know that he hasn’t moved yet and when he does will it matter, by that I mean will you think about it or just register it like was it recent as in it’s more likely he was born with it or he wasn’t I mean is it chronic I mean he has a limp man, he has a limp chill out maybe he left his crutches at home or something wait so are you saying--shut up man, shut up--In fact you do not know where or if home exists for this male--also crutches, you have a vague memory of your armpits being sore, also the doctor’s office and your mom passing ‘card and insurance please’ while you watched the brightly colored fish. What is the implication there is no implication, you’ve been to the doctor’s before.


Let’s back track.

What happens is this: the woman starts to scream.

Let’s examine this closely please, let’s look at the footage here, I mean the interview tape, I mean--what she says, much later, is that she was never really athletic anyway and was a pretty vocal person like she always would talk about her problems because it helped her you know what I mean so and also she was told once that if you were ever afraid or alone or both I guess you should just sing very loudly but I guess it was instinct I guess you know like she wasn’t really thinking it just sort of came out like a scream and what the fuck kind of song would you think of anyway, at that point, anyway? She thought they were following her. Wouldn’t you think they were following her? Wouldn’t you think they would follow you? If they were walking in the same direction? Isn’t that kind of the same thing? She means no, she didn’t know there were girls there too she thought they were just a bunch of guys she doesn’t know, it was dark and they were wearing like baggy clothes hoodies and sweats [e.g.:/re: “sunglasses and hoods to disguise themselves” eg “a canopy to protect users” eg “a covering for the head and neck with an opening for the race, typically forming part of a coat or sweatshirt” eg “marking an animal” ] like she does too don’t get me wrong but you know it was late and so--


What time? Later she is asked, What time?

Is that relevant or related she doesn’t remember, it doesn’t matter, well it does, but it can’t, so.

So she mirrors the officer: raising, shrugging, dropping her arms. A high ceiling sinks at the edges to two points, opposite but not opposed. Arms resemble eyebrows in shape and in purpose, a folding waterproof cover. Culminating in the hands: a dying crescendo, rises, burns itself out-- she slices off the air in the room with a motion, a shrug, the tension slides off like a gown, puddles at her feet.


Do you care to know her name? Does that matter at this point?

You know I’m talking about that woman too much I think. She really is awfully pretty.

[is that relevant or related or I guess subjective, really]


[Or really, say I gave you a name is that like a hint

if I gave you a portrait is that like a name

is that enough? is that all?

who is that?

if I give you none of these things you will supply them

nameless people do not exist, invisible people do not exist

or some shit like that, I forget where I read that]

are these things relevant or related--


Sometimes characters are themselves impetuous events, causal and pivoting/pioneering the effect(s/events) and story, and their self transformation is in fact the turning point of the narrative.


Short answer: Who is the narrator? Are they reliable? Why or why not?  


[do not assume

the implication is

one event necessitates

it is a causal correlational chain react


actor, an actor, an actor: a stage please? A stage please. The world

is a stage --W. Shakespeare]  


For all intents and purposes, this woman does not have a name and in fact you are incorrect, she is not the protagonist, in fact there are multiple, in fact “in shape and purpose” like a synonym, an imperfect imitation, indiscernible identity that means the same or similar [enough] for all intents and purposes, she and they and you too are the protagonist also I am not exactly the author, here.


What is the implication? There is no implication. Foreshadow flashback: involve implication, implication is a thing to be inferred given evidence, in fact it could be argued that a story is just a large collection of alleged evidence and you are examining it make something of it so interpret it, interpret it, interpret it, dammit.


What happens next doesn’t really matter, actually. The falling action doesn’t resolve itself. Life goes on you know. The two females on the sidewalk, who had just met that day and would later marry, both had dyed their hair in different shades of red “the upper part of a flower”, the one named Lila and called Lil was first scared, then angry, and physiologically this happened in a similar fashion, where she also screamed and then her face made a shape where instead of everything fading out into the periphery, into her pricked-now-dropping-like-falling-action ears--everything instead of being pushed out into the periphery was pushed inside, concentrated and twisted into gnarled features all zeroed in on her face, eyebrows to nose eyes to slits mouth suddenly clamped and taut rising--everything an arrow and energy narrowed like a fist into a punch, straight--and it was this face she thrust at the unnamed Asian woman who still hadn’t found money to pay for rent and was already on edge and she screamed again, and this was like a siren for everyone, and this is when the cellphone came out, and where Barney tacitly, well not quite totally tacitly, informed everyone he had a limp which like his depression is in fact chronic and the shut up man shut up and Barney just had to get away from there man, couldn’t stick around after that you know you gotta bounce so he just ran or tried to, before he fell, but Redhead Jen stopped for him, luckily, she flicked off the cellphone too, which wasn’t as lucky.








is this a feminist story

is everything phonetics

is everything just how it sounds

just how its pronounced

how does that sound?

how is that pronounced?

what is pronounced?

what is that sound?

what does that mean?

what do you mean?

talk like what?

is this a conversation

are we having a civil conversation

I just want to have a civil conversation

We have to talk--]


A popular technique in writing fiction is Showing Not Telling. Occasionally this is very useful, as sometimes content is difficult to articulate, at least objectively, colorlessly, bloodlessly.


The woman’s name is Anna, by the way. Anna the Asian with Anxiety. None of that is a lie although it sounds kind of funny doesn’t it. The other names are Barney, Lila, Jenna, Abeo, Hector, and Biruk two of which are Hispanic and three of which dropped out of highschool four have jobs and one has a child all have contemplated and also discussed suicide, one has very bad acne, one is in community college and one already graduated [wearing a “separate garment to indicate wearer’s degree (?)], one is allergic to peanuts and two are allergic to milk one of whom drinks it anyway, the child’s name is Rosie, by the way. Does that help? Does that matter?


What is the implication there is no implication there is an implication: what would you prefer to infer, it’s not really a preference is it more like a habit, to not question shit do you know what happens when you start questioning shit do you vocalize it, like I do?


Essay question: Assess the quality of this story. Did you like it? Why or why not? Explain.


rising action: there is screaming

rising action: there is no screaming

climax: everything


In fact there is no resolution in fact did you know the word resolution contains solution, solve, re, which also means repeat, which is somewhat Hegelian as in there will always be conflict, for stories to exist and continue in flux many bumps and bumpy roads and does it re-solute a solute is a residue that is [not yet] mixed to dissolve, to be soluble means to merge seamlessly, resolution in fact is very similar to resolve--


My name is Anna I am an educated woman in a manner that may or may not be arbitrary I am going to acquire massive amounts of liquids in my entity and pee all over barnes and nobles bookshelves with the penis I will have acquired from the grace of God because he’s got to prove himself, he owes me one, pee is not fire, I do love books, I do love stories, and yours too, and mine too, and yours too, I do I do, I dododo, I don’t, I have indigestion constipation consummation jesus H christ no I will not burn the books, I will write them more and more people keep coming into the store I don’t know what is in their pockets is it wallets keys gum weed and sometimes and most times mostly always at least once it is [only] their hands.


*In some cases, a subplot can be used as a foil to the main plot.    

the baptism

“how was church?”

it is a text on a small bright screen.

it is a joke.

how was church?

there was a baptism.


At church the ceilings are vaulted and high like a waxen diamond except it is wooden paneling and it is more like a very airy cabin with rustic wide chandeliers, chandeliers that look more like spoons or glowing ladles dipping down and flanking the corners and in the center standing at the alter is a couple.


They are young.


Exceptionally young.


The woman (of course it is a woman), has more wrinkles than the man (of course it is a man) but we don’t know this yet; the man has a face of rubber and an elastic smile, he has strong framed black glasses and lush black hair cut down the middle and swinging, he looks like a nineties lawyer. The couple’s features are curved and blunt and symmetrical, they could be movie stars, they aren’t, this is a suburb, they are well dressed.


Exceptionally young.

How old are they?

They are not even thirty.

They want to baptize their child.


I think, “Jesus,” to myself and then realize that it is inappropriate and then realize that it is entirely appropriate and am stunned by this realization and say nothing.


The priest is a man in a blue robe with white hair. They say their names. They say, “Lauren Mensel” and “Adam Mensel”

“The child?”

“Bryn Ashton Mensel.”


An incredibly elegant woman walks in donning a long beige winter coat, identical to the color of her messy straw hair. Sharp, precise features, she slides in as discreetly as she can, everybody notices.


Bryn Ashton Mensel is sleeping. She.


I don’t know what the woman at the alter is wearing. Her face is impassive, her husband wears a suit, she wears something in a shade of brown.


The elegant woman’s presumed husband enters. He is Superman. Everybody knows it. He has eyes of crystal and a jaw of steel and his hair is waved brown and he is cut beneath his business-casual turtleneck, he is cut you can just tell, “I’ve never seen such a good looking man in my life,” some women whispers to her daughter, leaning away from her husband—there is a child the man is holding against his shoulder, a boy.


In fact everybody in the audience (of course it is an audience, it is a mass) is young and good looking for it. It is strange for the church regulars, they are in awe, they are pleased. It is the baptism. These young people bring children. They are Catholic. They are at church. This is a baptism. They see their friends. They bring their children. They are quiet and some are smiling.


Behind the couple at the alter stands a slightly more awkward pair. A woman and a man. The woman is Asian and heavier, she wears an unflattering loose shirt and long skirt, she is tall, she is the woman’s best friend, she is the godmother, they went to school together they were straight A students and studied and giggled together and she is totally sensitive to being watched but then again not at all, everything is written on her face, she feels, she is feeling, she is poking behind the couple, trying to see the baby, she is unafraid to do this, she is the blunt-featured brunette woman’s whose name should be Meghan not Lauren ’s best friend and the godmother and stands on tiptoe, trying to see Bryn.


The man at the alter still looks like rubber with that elastic grin, he still looks like he’s from a sitcom with that black haircut and those glasses and that suit and my mother is laughing, actually she is chuckling but she can’t seem to stop.


The man behind the man at the alter is his best friend and not standing close to the Asian woman. He has long unruly hair and jeans under his jacket and is decidedly less polished than the father, a double chin but carefully shaved, a hooked nose, a sense of franticness, a waft of the musician maybe, but his hand is on the other man’s shoulder, and he keeps it there, and you know it is warm, and you know they are best friends, even though this married couple is like their better halves, their halves before they met their halves, you know they are best friends, the pair behind the couple stands above them on a step like guardians or angels or parents.


Then the pair leaves the alter and the couple with the baby.


The pair descends into the audience.


There must’ve been some words in between this but I forgot them or they were murmured.


They part through the center of the pews and reach a tall, white candle. It was silent but now it is still.


They light the candle. The unkempt godfather holds it, shielding it with a hand, striding forward, they walk slowly, the parents at the alter silent, watching, the baby silent, sleeping. They approach the parents and place it down, they look at the parents, the parents hold back their smiles with tenderness towards their friends, the priest suddenly reappears. He is the middleman. He is the middleman only.


I don’t know why I’m crying.


The priest in the robe cups the baby’s head in a wet hand; three times, he rinses her small undiscernible forehead. It is not oil, it is water. It is blessed water. The baby does not make a single sound.


When I was baptized, I was naked and fleshy and they dunked me in a glass case of water. I was gulping, I was giggling, I don’t remember, I was cleaned.


“I’m kind of hesitant to do this,” the priest says, turning, facing the audience, the mass, gathered here today, “because she’s sleeping so soundly, but you can clap now.”


A roar of clapping. We are all standing. I forget how that happened. I cannot see the couple anymore. Then I do, uneclipsed, they are smiling. First at us, then at the child, then at each other. The godfather’s hand on the father’s shoulder, the godmother with a grin that splits her face. I believe it’s called beaming.


The ceremony mass finishes. There are children everywhere.


There are children everywhere.


I can’t stop crying. Nobody notices.


The children are frantic or idle but everywhere and uniform and cannonballistic and kaleidoscopic and I stop in the parlor of the mansion of God’s building, his arms wrapped round us for a second, just one—I stop there off center where they are standing, this man and this woman, this woman and this man, this girl and boy this couple these parents and infant, swathed in lace Bryn is beautiful and I cannot even see her, she is sleeping, and I start saying something but I can’t, an elderly lady with frail dyed red hair and a plush brown coat cuts in front of me, says something more graciously, I move on as if in a dream, up close the woman has more wrinkles around her eyes than the man and has strong legs and wears an autumnal brown dress and there are children everywhere. Outside the sun is bright and cold and the sky is an enormous vaulted diamond.

the corn reminded you of a woman

the corn reminded you of a woman  


Let your fingernails grow.


Pluck at every instance of your skin. There must be something to pluck, pull and tie round. Dock yourself to, against.


Night becomes morning and you drink coffee. Wear nice clothes, pull them off. Try your best to continue. Continue. And then: night milks itself out into morning.


In the end you give birth to child.


You don’t really believe it’s there, even though it’s screaming and dripping with your blood. It’s hard comprehend, comprehend its physical fragment reality of you. You blink. Horror or, responsibility. It smells. Your nose is wrinkling.


“Well, your hair,” she says. Her eyes masked in huge black lenses. Hanging over her brow, just skimming the cheekbones. Between her face and yours. Your thumb whittles into the inch of space above the table. Seeing its reflection in the spirals of the wood, your finger circle the whorls round and round, like magnets upon greeting each other. Unconsciously and not fast enough to illustrate surprise, you say, “I know, it’s grey.” Before she has a chance. What she would spit, out of her thin, heart shaped face. So small and shiny in the sun. There is a permanent sheen from the creams she applies, the wrinkles carefully and inconspicuously folded into themselves when she smiles.


The shades are unblinking and alien and chic.


“No,” the woman responds, “I mean, you have a lot of hair. It’s really nice hair.”


You laugh because you know few people keep their hair long, and you’ve dyed it, and she quickly asks about dye, about your wife.


Her husband asks you how you are. If you are busy. Across the table you stare at this nameless, open-eyed couple, the birds humming to themselves in the background.


Your wife is busy, you tell them.


In the dusk their wine is a softly glowing pink. It slides wordlessly between them, a single clear, slender glass. You drink beer. It’s cold and pickled in sweat and tastes likes horse piss. American beer they chilled for you. It fits snug in your hands. Rounded curl, a child’s grip.


The wick of their wine glass with springs up between their fingertips, delicately.

A sapling.


You vaguely mention streets. The ones they might remember, when they visited you. You may be, likely, talking too much. Anthony doesn’t mind. You would have been friends in school. Anthony uses his hands as though he was opening portals, stretching them out and explaining. You look into them curiously, politely deny another flank of steak.


You do not wear your wedding ring.


The corn twists on the grill like a flagrant yellow corkscrew. A gypsy begs, drips in Munich. Some thin parchment paper slip she wore, brittle in the summer heat. She had stretched on a concrete ledge over the pavement, the heat of the afternoon cracking her skin. Hair like a flag in strips; black, flapping.  She twisted, twists. Deeply tan, a form of roasting. Was she insane? You try to remember, don’t. You were younger when you had the time or made the time to watch her.


They ask about the children.


You move your hands, your head swivels planarly.


Think of the vacant, ambulant drifting. The girls in their soft blue summer dresses, their hair long and golden like their mother’s.


“Francisca fights all the time with Lina,” you say. You talk about how mothers cannot stand their daughters, how daughters will always remain daughters to their mothers, how mothers will always remain mothers to their daughters, how everything is a function of a relation to something else.


You think of your daughters, how the girls glide through the city as though passing along beach dunes, they roll their eyes up and stick burning things in their mouths. They hoot good-naturedly, flashing pretty fingers in peace signs, grin charmingly at parties and through bites of the small dark plums. They steal them, plums and apricots, swept up from the market stalls, casually picked, they swing off their bikes, to the bus, their teeth are small and curve up, at the corners where their skin meets their eyes. At the corners mischief softens into youth, blurs into blue, kindness warm like their mother’s. Their mother’s tranquility swimming there.


“Life stops for them,” the woman declares, serenely. A hard box in fine paper, either a challenge or a comment. She leans back in her chair but does not drape her arms over the rests. You (still) cannot discern her eyes and her mouth is an ambiguous horizon line.


“My daughter will always be my daughter, no matter how old she is.”


The knot where your heel and ankle fuse up into your standing support system burns. You remember a lifetime of running, of stairs.


“And you’ll always be her mother, no matter she is.”


Everything, you note, is a function of a relation to something else. Your father, for instance.


Rolls himself up from the heavy chair by the window, the city a dull childlike kuzoo. Anonymous and plastic and far and jazzy and muted below him—he rolls up the red medicinal review magazine alongside his hips, rolls himself up with a spine agile as a whip, that had sprung into rivers when he was a dollop of a kid, pale and watery like white early sun, a skeleton of morning, vanishing before the day came upon him. Remember when he showed you this lagoon far from the steamy city you ran towards, slouching and puffing his chest proud, heaving with emotion, remember when this square man opened his hands out like a king to the empty flatness of an olive lagoon, this square man that once had been scrawny with youth, that once had been mere lines, and the open palm, flat as a window.


Words are sticking in your mouth like gum. You briefly remember the days of dip, soaking in your teeth. You run a tongue over your molars, suddenly conscious of whether anything is stuck there.


“Her mother isn’t too good,” you tell them, sighing, “Her memory isn’t so good, and she wants Francisca there all the time. Fran says she’s fifty, she isn’t just a daughter.” You all start talking about irony.


The couple’s daughter is home to visit. She is young with pointed features and arrogant eyes. Thin, elegantly boney. Her hair piled messily and importantly on top her head,  the face drawn forth like an arrow. She angles herself against her chair, she has not slept; she is twisting a golden engagement ring. You can tell this and feel this, her eyes deep and dark, her skin translucent.


Restlessness is palpable, you remember. It slithers over her crossed arms, itchy and uncomfortable like an old, hairy feather boa in a grandmother’s closet. The one that seems to glow faintly and then hiss, crowning you with ancient, silent splendor and you tip, carefully, into and out of the mirror, lifting yourself from parallel realities. Consider the life of a movie star before you know the difference between stars and movies.


You want to reach out and stop the daughter. You want to make love to her. You want to tell her everything. She pales and glows and flashes in an instant. She can sense you’re horny. I have lived in cities, you feel like telling her.


“They are happy, the girls,” you say.


She is living in the cities now, lovers spinning behind her like revolving doors.


She exits. A train pulls through tunnels, distancing and smallening. Youth doesn’t aggravate anymore, but it surprises. A shot of something sharp at the doctor’s, so unfamiliarly sterile and clean.


The night has plummeted around the table and settled. The woman had discreetly set the small, flickering iron lanterns, the shadows teething at the light.  Cute. “From Morocco,” she explains, looking at you and smiling. Wrinkles web out around her eyes like echoes. Your wife is younger.


You suddenly realize that Anthony is due soon be a grandfather. Another dimension slides away.


In a sudden moment of clarity, you realize you are living a moment in a movie.


The wife excuses herself, slipping into the kitchen. She leans against the counter and moves along it mechanically. Begins to wash the dishes, looking out at the dark hills through the window. Moves her hands in smooth, even circles across the white plates.


You and Anthony speak German. Eventually you become conscious of time, of age, of manners. Slowly, like waking, you leave.


You drive through the silent American suburbs. The houses like people, with long yellow eyes and visions that spiral in and through them—flicker, shut, snap up, fading away behind you. Remembering the first time you ever rented a car deep in the heart of America. When your sweat didn’t bother you. This small silver car is scentless and you feel huge and then you don’t, are another anonymous seamless grey part, swiftly moving across the landscape.


Everything is rinsed in moonlight. Figures and objects look softer, like they are bowing. You drive and as you drive you vaguely get the sensation that you are wrapping something, as though this car and this motion were a ribbon, going around, along and over this town in a package. You consider playing the radio, but you don’t, and suddenly think about the enormity of airplanes and are overwhelmed.


The rise and fall of the familiar houses, the loom and drop of the familiar roads. They remind you of something. They are breathing, like you are, closing their eyes, taking in the dark. You pass them. In your mind’s eye, your childhood is playing, flickering like a flame, rolling over you like a teardrop. The American houses fall around you, drapes over women’s curved bodies and like a zipper sailing through the horizon you are as silver and quiet as your vehicle. Dull and small, worn leather—but these things are behind you, at your rear, you are steering, you do not look at them, you do not even look at the wheel.


When you pull into the hotel, you feel like getting up slowly and instead sit there for a moment, the engine running. You feel like the Titanic. You shut off the engine, go inside.  

my crush on alexandra kleeman

When she spoke, I was surprised.

She had a small voice, very small, thickened by a sort of accent, or speech impediment. She lisped delicately into the microphone. Tucking back her long long black black hair: small thin fingers, small pale hands. She wore black. Of course. Her hair was long and cut down the middle. Straight.

I saw her face in a square black and white photo on the back of a book. She was spread in angles so that her shoulders arched and she stared out at you from a mess of limbs. Her chin tilts up, her eyes narrow and simultaneously wide. Direct. Hair parted in sleeves, past sharp cheeks: across, down her chest. Something fitted, she is wearing in the photo; in the photo, she is slim and also broad, the tight shirt (black?) cutting just above her wrists, snug. Faintly patterned. Heart shaped face, possibly exotic-- eye liner. A tall Asian model, I thought.

Alexandra had said: "You too could have a body like mine." Among other things, she wrote, "On that day the world still felt crowded. The sky was above was pure undiluted blue, thick enough to mask how much emptiness lay behind it."

I felt her eyes acutely on me, afterward. Perhaps studying my back, my elbow along the bar, knuckle against my cheek. I drew the pen from my pocket slowly, conscious of how my hair looked as I glanced down. Jotted new author’s names on my palm as they read. When I smiled I felt it spread across my face in slow motion. Could she discern -- ?  My careful pleasantness. Was she looking? Afterward, I felt her eyes. 

The book covers are in deep, bright colors. No glossy photos stretching across, no simple pastel color scheme. Instead, almost goofy, they come in fire engine red with yellow lettering, or a lapis lazuli blue paired with orange. The kind of font you find in comic books.

Before she went (at the bar, a wide open room and a dusky mirror, crowdedcrowdedcrowded, some candles on low tables: sparse, dim), she had sidled out of an elevated booth. The one with the short ledge, barring it from the crowd. The one I had been leaning on. 

“Sorry,” she half whispered, half hissed, apologetic, gently descending. She slid past the couple in front of me. In a still frame of a movie, I saw her through the couple’s shoulder blades. Flanked by their jackets. In a still frame of a movie, a woman looks down, smiling. Bashful, in a long black shirt, touching her hair. Coming forward, between the panels of two nondescript olive jackets. Bashful, an instant adjective, and: dark eye liner. Two sheets of long black hair. She passes.

The smile without teeth, possibly, made me love her first. Silent lips, pushing in and up, her figure sliding forward. 

Her face was round. I hadn’t imagined her with a round face. Her nose was a little hooked. I asked myself: was this ---- ? As the woman passed me on her way to the bathroom I nodded to her. I may have smiled. I didn’t know until she approached the microphone. I didn't notice when the woman slipped back into the elevated booth.

At the mic she is imperfect. She looked plainly uncomfortable and somehow, unaware of how much her body betrayed her.

Later I would realize I felt a kinship with her. Inexplicably, wholly. I rooted for her.
It wasn't symmetrical, her face, in the yellow light. Small hooked nose, sloping cheek, the hair matted down. 

I could feel her movements, echo her circles, the flighty fingers through her hair. Shifted eyes, a quiet voice. A fluttering pulse, maybe: her fingers at her neck. 

She had a spotlight: a tawny yellow, lopsided circle. The lamp on the ledge, like something out of a grandmother’s living room, or nightstand. 

We are in a bar. We are in a movie, I want to tell Alexandra Kleeman. It was time for her voice over narration.

To speak, is to shudder, is to speak, into the empty echo of the room. Wholly, we could be the same, down to our hip bones. Later I would realize I felt a kinship with her.

We are in a bar. There is a table next to you, with books, and then the mic, in front of you, like a pillar. You are in between those two things. Shelf. Those are your books. Facing a mirror: in this bar, there is a great expansive mirror along the back wall. Dusky. 

Gleaming against the old fashioned beer taps this reflection, and from here to there the room is filled with people. Floating heads in chairs, bunched together in front of you. Glasses and scarves and kinds of color. Jittery, and looking at you. You are jittery, looking at them. We are at a bar. I love you. And: in the yellow light, your skin is tinted strangely. And: I realize your eyeliner is in fact heavily applied. You write about it, in your books, eyeliner. I realize eyeliner circles Alexandra Kleeman’s face thickly, that her face must take on new shapes in a shower, when she slept. 

(And if I ran my hand along her hip? The curved bone, jutting out like a hook, a semi hoop, a tusk crown? Was she beautiful, under those clothes? 

I imagined skin. Nakedness, smoothness. Frailty? Like every one of your fictions. A question: are you like every one of your fictions? Are we in a movie.  

A: Probably. She’s probably beautiful.)

At some point I realized I wasn't going to ask the woman to sign the lapis lazuli book. 

When Alexandra spoke she hesitated. After the first word we all shut up, strained our ears. She rasped over the air. It was late when we realized she had amassed power, that her voice took on a hypnotic quality, the kind that rolls and steals as it moves. As she speaks I am dimly aware of a glow, a glowing in my chest. Was this ---- ? She apologized once, barely whispering. “Sorry. She lost the page and fumbled. Otherwise she did not pause once.

Suddenly, collective applause. 

She descends. 

Or ascends. I lose her. Or, her voice. I remember the books. The books.
I buy the red book. In an effort to preserve her voice I buy the red book. Fire engine red, the kind of love you find in comic books. Now I had two, two volumes. The one I came with, the one I left with. Like lovers. Without signature. I stand at the table by the mic, in a halo of light. Somehow, I fit two books in my jacket pockets. It is winter, somewhere, Alexandra Kleeman is speaking with a lover.  

if i could make a novel out of a feeling 

in october, the children of san pedro   andes, c o l o m b i a

in october, the children of san pedro

andes, c o l o m b i a

bourdieu, cavell, pennebaker   we used to lay and watch the rain

bourdieu, cavell, pennebaker

we used to lay and watch the rain

i wouldn't. that's what poetry is for.

freezing a very specific moment in time,

magnifying it & stretching it & warping it.

fucked up bubble gum.


anyway, all i write r luv poems



christine   i dreamed of u


i dreamed of u

bones &amp; brick   on frailty

bones & brick

on frailty

teenage sex   we went outside

teenage sex

we went outside

oui   like this


like this

the specious present   ask me how, and when, and where i luved u

the specious present

ask me how, and when, and where i luved u

basel   soaked. the roses, the roses


soaked. the roses, the roses

let's talk about fingers, spindly n raw   the barn

let's talk about fingers, spindly n raw

the barn

a matter of confidence

My mother narrates herself to me, repeating the story out loud and again, a different angle, justifying herself, explaining the situation, aerating and solidifying, legitimizing it, “And I said,” “because don’t you think,” “You see,” everything becomes a sort of lesson, she’s a teacher and she doesn’t seem to know that I will always listen, offspring are different from students, and she talks herself into an answer, into acceptance, confirms her understanding, have me confirm her understanding, confirm her. In a sort of clarity she cannot have I see this, and entrenched in her story I watch her wade through her own head, not really looking at me, gesturing at the air, pacing, animated. I don’t say anything.

“I don’t really get attached to things,” you told me affectlessly, meeting my eyes without blinking. We talked idly of people that passed almost unnoticed from our lives as we waited for our trains at a stop I didn’t usually take. Your hands were folded in your lap and I never found out what you carried in your backpack, and out of all the frail things we let slide from our lips that day and slip away into the air that was all I remember.  

When she gets up in the mornings she walks around the room naked, and then remembers to put on her robe. Still, in the dark she won’t put it on unless she has to go out to the bathroom. “I think people think I’m more confident than I actually am. I actually just don’t care. Seriously I don’t, they can say whatever the fuck     they want.” She tells this to me bluntly, across the bed she is sitting on, and I ask her, “But caring is a matter of confidence, if you weren’t confident, you’d care more about what people think.” She looks at me and blinks, shrugging. “I guess,” she says.

He sends me a series of nervous and persistent texts. “Hey just trying to see if I could catch you when you weren’t busy. Give me a call soon, I’d like to hear from you” July 3rd; July 5th “Just wanted to add—I’m not going to the party, I’m sick of how the only way I get to hang out with my friends is by getting fucked up…If you end up going tell everyone I say hi though.”  July 6th he writes me a long email that I can’t tell is a reproach or an apology and July 8th he apologies for having written it. July 9th he texts “Hey how is your summer going? Are you learning a lot?” July 11th “How has your week been? Do you have any fun plans for   the weekend?” July 12th he texts me saying that I am helping him realize how he needs to grow up. I have stopped listening to the voicemails. I have never answered.

“I am trying to find the beauty there,” a friend of mine wrote me in a letter, ‘find’ darkly underlined in his thin, crooked script, “to make it there. It isn’t actually there.” He was speaking about math, and for some reason this floored me, because whenever he spoke of math, he made me believe that it was.

I left a hat full of tiny yellow indian mangos outside her door, feeling guilty about never visiting. She doesn’t realize it’s an apology, and thus never accepts the apology. She thanks me, neither of us ask how we’ve been, but perhaps with some guilt, she invites me to a get together with some friends later.

My godmother argues eloquently on my behalf. “Those that stick, stick,” she tells my mother, “Sometimes people drift, and that is natural, and that’s ok.” She is heavy and Swedish and in the sun her eyes poke out bright blue from her small round face. “Friendships are beautiful, relationships are beautiful, they take     a bit of care, but not too much, you know, if you put in too much effort, it really isn’t natural, or healthy.” My mother does not believe in distance. She does not trust forgetting, and condemns spaces that form between people. “We all breathe the same air,” she has told me many times, but I lose it among her countless other parables. I only ever see the images, not the captions per se.

My brother gets home late and has little patience for me. “Answer the fucking phone every once in a while,” he tells me irritably, “who cares if it’s the dentist or Ma or some 800 number? They’re calling you, so fucking pick up, be decent.” He reminds me of the time I used to sneak out of movie theaters when a particular scene made me uncomfortable. “Does everything make you uncomfortable?” he asks.

“23rd!” I shout, impulsively. “I’m coming down that weekend.” I am sure of it even when I’m not, and I can practically hear Steven grinning through the phone. “Good,” he says, “I’m glad you keep your promises.” I doodle a flower on the pad as we talk, and I remember a day in the park with some friends where we hardly spoke, but were for some reason very happy. I tell Steven this.

in october, the children of san pedro

ants over my knees and laughter, anybody’s laughter

spilling about, cotton shirt light over our shoulders

a band round my wrist, a spring

fall of water against hot skin, afternoon

twirls like an umbrella in the breeze


bite your straw down, a knee bent

heels knocking lightly, curiously against brick

in window sills we hang, snapping our gum

Waiters and beggars in eternal swing, elbows

charred with daylight and the stinging

cries of children—


red tile and brown eyes, here earth

is purple, and I like coffee beans

flock across mountains, we like iron

grasping windows against thieves and humming

gold patiently with morning—we like iron

fists against our thighs, our joy is absolute

and thunders through the air like music

drums and trumpets and snoring, alcoholics

and their mothers, from the mountains


I spy the eyes of lovers, swooping

over the hills and past the crescent of sky 

they alone see the air, they alone

command it


in my uncles stores the wares

are a continuous ticking, clicking

of nails against glass and puckered

lips, smiles and eyebrows a dog’s

tail wagging, give him a scrap we

are generous.


I had a dream you stepped out of your body like a suit and were a tall red head with freckles.

I had a dream you drove through a nameless dark city so heavy with pounding rain that the windshield was white, and we were late somewhere and I was grateful.

I had a dream we walked through a museum and you were carrying an otter or a package like child, walking through the slender corridors that were bursting with tropical plants, and you announced that it was your birthday, and I hugged you as we stepped on the escalator.

I had a dream I was tiptoeing through some silent suburban neighborhood in the early morning and I found my favorite mug in a tree, melted by a small yellow candle that had burned in its center. It was wet with dew, and I felt a curious sensation of happiness that it had been found and sadness that it was ruined.

I had a dream you met my brother and father at the bottom of a slopping incline of a white building dully lit by skylights showing the rain, the railed strip raised for wheelchairs or in lieu of escalators like those zigzagging up through the middle of Scandanavian grocery stores of many levels, to push or pull the carts laden with brightly colored packages or fruit, and you were quiet, holding your arms like a child by a leafy potted plant and my father wore a leather jacket and seemed to be in a terrific hurry.

I remember in my dream an overwhelming desire to buy chocolates, but the woman at the booth was thin and spindly and her eyes flickered black and forth like maggots, glaring under her fine, thin Swedish eyebrows like a witch or my highschool guidance counselor, orange hair pulled back in a loose bun, squinting in the sun, a long tattoo racing down her narrow shoulders.

I had a dream that I was lost in a building that spanned the entire city, overhung like a highway, but when I found myself on the top floor it was flat and smooth and I could see all the way across the pink speckled carpet, and you were leaning against a metal railing in front of tropical flowers that loomed in the glass behind you, and I thought to myself maybe I could have found my way back home in the morning, if it hadn’t been dark and raining so hard.

When I woke up you had sent me a picture, in the dark of an anonymous room across the continent making a face, you had no freckles and your skin had deepened with sun. 

the specious present

“Time is one-dimensional, so there are fewer tenses than there are spatial terms” 1D, a line, time is linear, earlier, before (now), after.




[spatial: there, here, far, away, from]


But./Also: complications, details: She had already typed the text when--. Linear, backwards.

PAST ← — D  (Event being located) — E (Reference event) — PRESENT → FUTURE

But./Also: complications, details: She will have typed the text when

PAST ← —PRESENT — D  (Event being located) — E (Reference event) → FUTURE

But./Also: “Then” : time is cyclical, circular, with a thoughtful then; pinned—at a culmination, at a circa; she saw him then, she will see him then—arbitrized, legalized, the sharp, then.


“Whereas the future is a mere potentiality and can be altered by our choices…only a 2 way distinction between past and nonpast, the latter embracing the present and the future.” The Now. A culmination.  


Realis: all that has happened or is now happening

Irrealis: what could happen. The hypothetical.

The thesis, the hypothesis. The Now.


Of our relationship, let us count the ways, rather than yes or no. Before or after. It is always the Now or the Never. Let us count the ways: I think, I am. I exist or I do not. It is one answer, one choice. Time, the specious present, a mere three, two tenses, one choice, one now. But no. Time is irrelevant, space is everything, let us count the ways.


I am with you I am not with you. Now.


I am about you. I am above you. I am across you. I am after you. I am against you. I am along you. I am alongside you.

I am amid(st) you, among(st) you, I am apart from you, I am around you, I am at you, I am atop you, I am away from you, I am back from you, I am backward from you,

I am behind you,

I am below you, I am beneath you,

beside you, between you, beyond you, by you, I am down from you,

I am downstairs from you,

I am downward from you,

I am east of you, I am far from you,

I am forward from you I am here to you I am in you I am in back of you I am in between you in front of you in line with you inside you into you, I am inward from you, I am left,

I am near, I am nearby, I am north, off, on you, on top of you, onto you,

I am opposite you, I am out of you, I am outside you, I am outward of you, I am over you, I am past you, I am right of you,

I am sideways of you,

I am south of you,

I am there,

I am through you,

I am throughout you,

I am to you, I am to the left of you, I am to the right of you, to the side of you,

I am together with you, I am toward you, I am under you, I am underneath you, I am up from you, I am upon you, I am upstairs, I am upward, I am via, west, with, within, without



Shall we count the ways? Let’s not count the ways. We exist, we do not exist. But how do we exist, not exist? Count the ways, if you care.


[Time is nothing. Space is everything.]


We do not track evolution. We evolve. Through a lens: “now.”


We do not like to contextualize.


We are bad at it. We are ego-centric. The now. See the frame beyond you. See the frame above you. See the frame encompassing them both. The other frames, the overlapping frames, the linking frames (the past, beside you); oh but we are ego-centric, and look, you are a frame (now, here, there), framing, you are part of a frame, of many frames, being framed. Oh I cannot look. I am ego-centric. I look at my hands, or my feet. The Now. Realis. This is real.


Neuroscientist Ernst Poeppel: “We take life three seconds at a time [not a moment at a time]” computation, processing speed; a step, a click, a sound, three seconds to register, note, catalogue. Realis. Irrealis: the unreal. Irr[ational], the not yet real, “the future is mere potentiality and can be altered” and then there was everything else.


The Now. Unfolding. This second, now this one, now this one, to the next, to the next…it is passing, Pick three, ABC:


TIME ORIENTATION you are located at the present with the past behind and the future in front, as in That’s all behind us, We’re looking ahead, She has a great future in front of her.


MOVING TIME MOTION OBSERVER time is a parade that sweeps past a stationary you, as in

The time will come when it no longer matters, The time for action has arrived, The day is fast approaching, The summer is flying by.


MOVING OBSERVER the landscape of time is stationary and you are moving through it, as in

There’s trouble down the road, We’re coming up on our anniversary, She left at nine o’clock, We passed the deadline, We’re halfway through the week


---and the next one, to the next, flying as you watch, look, to the next one, you see it? No, you saw it, it is gone—over the hill, look, catch it with a gaze, it is gone—so the irrealis succumbs to the realis. The unreal succumbs to the real. The hypothetical, to the past. The past to here, to now.*

*adapted from Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought  

bourdieu, cavell, pennebaker

I gather, I gather

        up my hands, into the delicate pink knots

    the small, pursed buds

              dropping: another pebble that rolls. I gather.


I worried

about the naked and boney ‘I’

a slender finger held to the lips, the tongue of a gun

the graceless peels it whittles itself from

falling apart and around it like leaves, words

swiftly overturn and flutter, yellow butterflies

across the ground, the trees

a lingering, lemon peach, bursting to pieces: around us, ashes

of sorts: something burns,

something erupts. In pursuit of

gravitas, we swim

in language. Toss a fishing line

we are lost in our language: understanding

is like a very fine line, and it loops

from one tooth of mine

round yours, and swings there

like a jump rope between two children

(settling. at rest. the minimum, upon which

we build, and we swing, and we swing—

growing, swellblooming like a pregnant

woman’s belly. Haven’t you ever heard

of a pregnant silence? Children waiting to be born

our words are children waiting to be born)


Lay beside me like a flower.

Collapse like cards, I could

collapse that way: the feathers

falling into one another: I think of birds

in the luminous trees, endless flight.


Of silent nature: in the spirals of a shell,

 in the bleats of your eyes—


           [per a second, per minute]

                     at one tic after toc, everything


goes sizzling. Of nature: you are sun

and you peel across the world in the low, sliding hum

a brass gong gold, everything swims

everything floats. I give up: I gather

myself from the folds of silence

hold on to you, surrender, cosmos

goes spinning, look at me and whisper

‘it is


bones & brick

with a body, sing a body

to a body, of a body, bodies sing


Of wrists and ankles, and things to clasp

small, wring round, something to grasp

--on all fours, an animal

(delicate, on wrists & ankles)

--on all fours, an animal

blown up from bottom air, back stretched,

back the skin of a balloon, paper

thin and billowing

a cat yawn[s]


springs, erect, at attention

--no, no

whittle away, the bone

sharp, plume, whittle into your sneakers


tissue, soft, pink, a puddle


you are standing in a puddle

conversely, you are a puddle


--with a body, sing a body

plastic, taffy

two bodies, sing

feel the strings of fibers, entwine

give substance to

this muscle, a rope thick

--snap, off, the harp strings




interrupts my skin


--of things that glow, that grow

eternal and whispering


your eyes, spellbound

your eyes

of a body, sing the body


--a song, arched, slung, a bubble

from the teeth of a child

blown, hung, wrung—


--a sound slips into the ocean

like ash thin

a wisp, a sheet, darted (in)




    interrupts the skin)


--of wrists and ankles


the fingers, cast

gems on some shore


twinkling, fast

    --quick beneath the sand, slither

a cockroach black


say my skin is perfect

I haven’t a single crack


from the inside it begins

this infernal stretch

ten thousand caves, labyrinth

melt, crash—

(& all your diamond crucifixes,

cross, criss cross, crosshatch)

the rubies, one hard and perfect

fits in my mouth

--try to pry it from my teeth

I’ll murder you

I won’t bat an eye


slipped the pearl from under my nail

they fell spilling, milk

shattered, lost glass marbles

--a girl smokes in the corner

twirls her cigarette like a baton


--swallow back the bird,

struggling in my mouth

dove tails down my throat,

a wet chute down

(no poison, not now)


take my body malleable

it’s an offering

I swear, the elements

I’ve never loved more

than when they tear

say in pieces, I am full

say in pieces, I am made

say I am a body

I am a slave



I will try again to describe it.

It soaks you straight through.

When I reached for the handle I slid back my hand. There is something holy

about living in a museum.

I wrote letters here years ago by the clock and the Arabian plates I loved so much.

My grandfather is whistling.

If he could answer I would ask if he remembered a time when the room was filled with family and noise?

Ella leaves the radio on for us. Outside, the rain on the roses. Orange is

my favorite, unshelling itself to the floor.

In Switzerland it is like this: through the stillness, you must cut through. Infinite streets, an eternal careen.

I am sitting across from the masks my grandfather collected when he

was young. A photo of my father, a glass bottle of coke. Mexico.

Peter said this to me: my last leftist strain. He was winking and tall, still handsome, asking my permission to forgive his age

One day will I too abandon my ambitions for traditions? –in Switzerland it is

like this: you must cut through the silence.

In Peter’s house: the stark mark of loneliness, a well kept garden and many photographs. He did not get many figs this year.

Everywhere there are birds, there is rain. This is

what I remember: open fields of wheat–

“I could never live here,” my mother whispers to me, clutching my arm along

the steep cobblestone

She talks about small cars and predictability: slowly, my father grows

into the slope of my grandfather’s back. Why is it so hard, to look

at photo albums, or the rain,

and to keep from crying? Switzerland is

like this: it soaks you straight through.


Against the roses many summers ago I wrote letters; lately, I’ve started to drift from myself that way

I don’t need to hear myself speak anymore, that vain consolation

of the sound of my voice: I have a voice, can you hear it? –a reassurance, just

to hear myself speak

To assert myself, against the unfurling, floating hills of wheat. The gnarled

cherry trees trailing across the horizon.

Shifting in the wind: low church bells, lavender. No one is here.

I run through the wooden villages. Off each window hangs flowers.


things I will say when I get back: I wouldn’t say they are friendly. They are very polite.


I’m going to make a movie that plays out every one of my fantasies.

They all start the same,

Variations on a theme. Maybe it’s like this, too: it all starts like this, variations

on a theme. I daydream about Lee, “Lee, baby! Wish

you were here…send me some nudies from Nepal

Enjoy your last stretch at Stanford, the real world is just the same, I promise you,” in my head I roll over grains of wheat

to the camera, point at the lush green folding itself in and over me, rippling out

in an endless sea, “My virtual letter, x’s and o’s” and it fading--

but of course I send her no such thing; and how would I explain it, the dust roads leading up, roads to the city down in tempered cobblestone?

David says since coming from Japan he has yet to make one Swiss friend. Of course I say nothing. It has been two years. His hair is curly.


We cut the cake, my grandfather and I. His hands tremble and my father’s eyes are blue. These are the realities,

The cake, the tea, the roses. It rains but we sit outside in shawls, the mountains acquire a lovely mystery,

Half veiled coquettes

in thin clouds, the cold

never bothered me

You have never seen a place so beautiful, so proud and so still. I want to ask Peter about loneliness

He talks about the color green; apparently, they are quite the same. In Meixco


my father’s camera was stolen- or no,

That was Peru, weiss du, I’ve always loved to travel, to get away–but all he had was music, American rock and roll

and he knew he would marry my mother to the tune, in that still photograph–but don’t you love the mountains?–I never crossed the room,

My hand stuck on the handle, something holy in the silence, and my father replied

“I could never live here,” and fortunately, grandfather is whistling, his eyes are soaked blue.


listen, I just ———

     I’m trying, so hard to 

remember how to feel, miguel

remember how to feel? Do you


—I swear to god, I swear

I swear I swear I swear

       no sadness such as yours


& the alcoholics, miguel

     when did you become—–

————–one of them, I


could only see his face,

   your father’s

coming in, not pale, no


    don’t believe in

                  machetes, shitty people

I just, miguel ———


   to understand,

the music, I know, makes it difficult

    every beautiful face,


–of course, floating, like smoke

     before you & yours

—did you know 

I was raised without enthography

independence is not to be fabled



       the drugs, the fucking



                   I knew a man

                   I loved a man

                      [who died, now]






—your father, aghast

 then, as I whispered

into the orange shirt

  of a weary cousin–

     "Oh,“ he said, holding up two fingers,

         "they’re both alcoholics” through his cigarette


—-And olga, on the corner


  & what seems to be a child

        actually an old, old women 

  slender, tan, teeny, I

couldn’t imagine, she

        strolling in the sunshine



the small man

   fire cracker tossed

      between his legs


cheap joke, mean joke

    holding his glass


They have a peculiar look

   the lost: stupid


   and just 




shriveled & mangy & brown, a breaching jaw jutting 

[off a cliff, a floundering]

    please, when I 

first saw you I thought you were beautiful


I know,

   this town

      it swallows


do not be one of them,








& the cop come to town,

    pays for our drinks

the handsome Iraqui, 




   the women, or

        the young, just

 ’‘I’m so thankful you’re beautiful’’





we were not always

     we are not always



your father left

  with a bottle of something clear

under his arm

  nothing, just

sound and gestulation 

                 to a stranger



Isamael told me

  (roaring motercycle,

     arms laced round,

        head bent

                just towards me

      as the color

         –houses, people–

              faded behind—)


“If I stay here, I 

    won’t progress”


         I do not 

             [ask you to]



oh, miguel


when I first saw you 

    I thought you were beautiful





when they sprung 

     from the tables as if

chicken feathers, toyed

  with air–spawning

machetes & shouts, we,

   arched our necks.



         the horror.

we [I] pushed into the bar, 

  threw the gates down, panic

      arose like a flower


          & you were jumping

—tell me what energy

             what cruelty


the bar tender, just

    another foolish, burly 



suddenly calming a child

    with a knife


their shoulders together,



the police late & only 

     breath before

motercycles tore

  tore, tore, tearing

across & beyond


—-do not tell me

   you will go with them)


Sing you a broken love song

    one not unlike

 the one you sung drunk, in the mountains

to/for nobody, everybody

    you clasped my hand, 'come’

on the bed, across

  the other, my cousin sleeping

 where I rose with elegance

    (oh, perhaps


& soothed her—

      upon my return, sense

  –or someone–

                 had taken you–



  today, a boy turned 18

you 19







                                            my god, only.


please, listen

      to the rivers

& the waters

            of your country, not

  the red earth, sand

        falling past

abandoned highways &

  honey-comb tombs—



       these colors,

  they are yours, bequethed



    your youth. —

[bequethed? I]


         am so

              unsure, only


I refuse to believe in shitty people

I refuse to believe in shitty people, I refuse to-

    & so I don’t



   as we ate fied chicken

from some boy with coffee-drop eyes and

 a sad smile (the taxi

driver, silent & listening…

    good night, have a nice night

       he turned the corner so fast)

            I thought of







          the others


“he’s crazy,” she said, but

     laughing, “he’s a good friend.”


         the crazies, on the street

  think of them

       as you dance

                     next to them

in the stupid, dizzying green light.  

teenage sex

well here was the way I gasped at the moon, do you remember how I howled at the stars it was very difficult breathing, I had forgotten because it had been some time–well anyway, down there from the ground it looked like the sky was covered in lace, through the lace of leaves of the trees twinkling things, showing the sky was lighter than leaves–lighter than leaves!–yes, there, the pale navy and twinkling things through the dark–dark!–lace of the leaves–and I remember thinking, God, it’s so beautiful, god, it’s so beautiful–and gasping, digging my nails into your back–well, I guess I remember that–I mean, don’t you–don’t you remember howling in the woods the backyard well did–did you get to see the sky, anyway, actually, since you were looking down I mean–you must have seen the dirt, the deep rich earth must have gotten under your finger nails I saw the next morning–and you were breathing in the dust, I think, and I the clean air the sky well–well no I don’t quite mean to paint it that way, I mean– do you remember the smell of it, clean, I keep wanting to say clean, it’s because it was raining, earlier, the promise about to burst forth from the clouds and so this scent of rain, and fresh, and clean–but it didn’t, that’s why we were there, I think, somehow we got there, I don’t quite remember how it’s all a bit fuzzy and I ought to have apologized for that later –and earlier too, and something, but–but anyway, what I remember–what I remember was that it was beautiful, god, it was beautiful, I remember that, and your skin, and scent and no horror, no, no stupidity, no, just, skin, yours and mine and sweat and the sky and the scent of rain and the ground, cold, chilly, it was chilly I remember afterwards, you pressing your body–no, not the rest of it but that, well yes, that I remember and it was only supposed to be for one night so–so whatcha do that for, going on and getting in my head no you don’t belong there you weren’t meant to go there anywhere else–god does that sound awful, anywhere else, I mean I just I mean no see–see, I love the way it is, at night, in a foreign place, the sky the scent of rain and people, I really really I do I love people and open and bare like the sky the sky was open like we were and something the moment I guess and something well ripe the moment I guess we ripe and the moment, rip the moment–see, I’ve never been one for–I just–transient adventure, well, I love adventure and I like the clean scent of night before rain and something about mountains, and transient well it’s permanency intimacy legitimacy that jazz it’s frightening you know?–and about hands and–do you know how decisions get made? How do decisions get made?–instant decisions and I don’t know, well, you–you were there, and I was, and–well it was only supposed to be one night, whatcha do that for, try to get to know me, to get through me? Aren’t you satisfied with the lace of the leaves and the scent of dirt and just some other girl–you know that, right, I really am just some other girl–isn’t that what you–I mean–I’m just some other girl, a name a memory an idea nothing more I don’t say that to be dramatic I say that because it’s the truth it is, it is, I’m just a, name stain, I will only stain your life for so long I’m already fading, see, first it’s my name then my face and then gone, see, because there are were will be countless other gorgeous–weren’t you satisfied with the crisp air and the silence, oh I forgot about that, slick grass and dew and crickets aside that light, sweet silence just like the air sweet and silent–but back, back to satisfaction–god, god, satisfaction!–so weren’t, weren’t you satisfied with the night and the lace and–won’t you go off on your burning, burning trail, backpack slung over your shoulder, beer in one hand, cigarettes in your pockets aren’t you waiting for more adventures to slink up beside you and tickle your nose and laugh robust and loud and all of it, all of it– I just picture you humming down some road or is it a greyhound on the highway I–you know, you’re going to get to New York, you’re going to get to that great big glamorous city and it’s going to swallow you whole and you are going to kiss its wet insides and I don’t know, man, you might never come back–I’m so positive, that you loved, love it all, all of everything and so, that’s what I picture when–and some girl, like the wind strong and light and graceful all at the same time and burning, too, because, see you, you, you burn too I’m almost positive and–I–it’s not me, the girl I mean, I, I was just, see, it’s just–see–I have no powers of articulation, really, I just, I’m no good at getting close to people really it has always terrified me even though I love people, I said that didn’t I and it’s true I do and/it’s because/ people are like pomegranates, I said that once to Joe and Rachel and they laughed but see, it’s true because you see someone and are like, they’re a cool-lookin’ fruit–but then you get to know them, they open up and all of a sudden you gasp because it’s beautiful, the inside of a pomegranate–a glittering myriad of red gems bursting and gleaming, an intricate, beautiful star-studded maze, so many rubies–I mean the skin is bitter, but–the seeds, man, those seeds, I could eat them by the dozens, secret-not-so-secret confession, I love pomegranate seeds)–but I mean, do you see what I mean, that’s why I like people and well, you’re a pomegranate too, but I don’t–I’m not about–would it be weird to say eat you? swallow you like that, let the juice trickle down my chin, wipe you off on my shirt and chew, slowly and quickly and savor like wine the flavor deep and spiced but–enough with imagery, man, what is it with words and fuck these powers of articulation man I mean, god, why do I say man and god and dude I just–I guess I’m trying to–well I’m just me, you know, just me, and that was–did you expect this? want it? I–why, why, I keep writing fucking ‘I’, I’m so selfish, I’m only talking about me but you–you, you you you, you are what matters, you–were there, are here now and I, I don’t know a thing, about what you saw and how you felt and why the hell you wanted–well, what do you want anyway, pray tell?–because I–I can only see swimming cities something about rumors and things that were said about you but hearing you tell it is different because it’s you and–you know what I like about you? I like how honest you are, and how you take a gamble–you gamble, you said it once, at casinos, see I remember, I was paying attention I was interested oh–you just go off across the country see and do a million zillion incredible–and talk to some girl and then–you–I only know about you, I don’t know you and I–am trying to explain myself the truth is I don’t really know myself (all that well I mean well– you would say, I’m sure you’d say–nobody does, but–see you’re so honest, and so good, I see why–just like the wind, strong–did I mention how much I love the wind, I said that was my counterpart in nature once, it was round a fire with two drunks semi-in-love but mostly just vain, and drunk, and something but I said no not earth not fire wind but why am I–I don’t know why you gambled and what you–I got it all wrong. I did, didn’t I? And now I’m writing this and my house is fuming with curry and it’s stormy out but–I don’t think it’s to apologize–it isn’t–well–it is, but not–you want to know something? Every single text made me smile. I was always happy to receive them. And that’s why I got–which is why–I’m glad. I’m glad you wrote to me and persisted and I’m happy I got to see, if only a glimpse, maybe, if that, but–your pomegranate innards, always more beautiful and complicated than we expect them to be and–I’ve grown to like you, and what you say, even if it’s not you and–and–and well, just–what I’m doing–I’m–afraid, okay, afraid, and that’s–and I’m confused, too, because–well I just keep getting it wrong, don’t I, but I don’t know anything, do I, about you/this/us this is all just speculation and internal monologue and letters unsent and–aren’t I just–wasn’t that just–don’t you–aren’t you–I do this thing where I tuck everything back and then put it gently, carefully away and consider it done but you’re–full of stringy seams, you know, now, I mean, does that make sense–I mean, it’s because I’m afraid, see, so I–subconsciously, as a a defense mechanism, I guess I’m trying to–I mean what are you trying to do? I’m trying to understand–I mean I think I understand, but that makes it no less–and here I am, writing this, I don’t know why I’m writing all this as though I could–I mean I hope–I do want you to read it, actually–but don’t, too, but–well mostly, I–okay, here’s how I see you, saw, or–just someone with a story, isn’t it, isn’t it always like that?–and a good one at that but that’s all I knew and expected I–okay, you’re not what I expected, but–but that’s a good thing, right?–and maybe this means nothing, just–lace of the leaves and–I don’t know what I’m doing, so if I do anything wrong forgive me, can you be clear with me? please? because you like the scent of the mountains and skin, no? and– who are you, and why–why are you bothering? I am not worth–I should call you, call you now–I will, as the storm thunders round me now, so far away from Pittsburgh–I’ll call you and I won’t ask but I’ll listen for an answer. And when I go off to Spain, be here, won’t you? Even if you go to the city, write me? Even if I was just a mouthful of dust, now–now, now, now—can’t we? Well–

let's talk about fingers, spindly and raw

Let’s talk about fingers, spindly and raw

about fingertips: pearled, light as petals.


There is a ringing in the air as you reach

to tear down the rafters: brown fingers, red wood.


Deep in the heart of your mouth there is an egg

: and it is popping, and it is popping: you reach in

to pull it out with your fingertips


against the skeletal light drifting through the barn

there is a silence and your fingers move listlessly


What animal sang out, one swift sharp sweet note

through the morning, into your palm, freezing your hand,

fingers open & flung out like a flower


And the barn that is red, and your mans hands

and autumn erupting against the walls: you will tear at nothing

with your fingers


nothing but silence falls around us

you trail your fingers through the dust, leaving strokes, leaving. 





a tooth translucent: a jagged thing corking up

     Scissoring & despondent

  find me under the tongue of sunshine

figuring uselessly in the jigsaw of sofa cushions


      & spurting free like prose & your breath

(the sea, a salty, rising thing)

     Lift me like the afternoon, surprise

 the air tastes briefly like sugar, & cold

     in your mouth, I am heavy

 I am the insistent beating of pearl marbled moth wings

this tinkling in your foresight, the last hesitation

        a bird points south.




I love you

 I hold up your face like a mirror

       an apple in the light: Eve

    examines. The thing about beauty

 is it’s always a promise, never a fulfilling

               it drains, it greeds.


  In my hands I cup your jaw

your cheekbones hissing under my fingertips

       this beautiful, heavy thing


hard under the skin, light to touch

  I hold it tenderly, like a child

                        you close your eyes.




    : to know, my god: knowing

mostly, deeply, a person

                 spinning & multiplicitous

         a thing that dazzles, a thing

   that slides down the curve of your cheek in the rain.